outside lands concert

Outside Lands Contract Approved; Goes to Supes

By Thomas K. Pendergast

It is too early for singing, high fives and victory dancing, but sponsors of the Outside Lands concert moved closer to getting a 10-year extension on their contract after the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission approved the deal. 

In a unanimous vote on January 17, the commission sent the deal to the SF Board of Supervisors for final approval. The City’s contract with the Outside Lands Art and Music Festival expires in 2021.

The festival started in 2009, and in 2012 the contract was revised and renewed after making changes in response to complaints from neighbors, while also increasing the amount of money going to the SF Recreation and Parks Department. 

Now the company that runs the festival, Another Planet Entertainment (APE), is asking for an additional extension for another 10 years, through 2031, because festival organizers say they need to plan three years in advance to line up artists and gear. 

According to the department’s Dana Ketcham, revenues from the festival started at $815,000 that first year, but increased over time, until last year the annual three-day concert garnered them $3.3 million. APE also contributes to funding a park gardener with $85,000 annually, plus supplies to keep the polo field in good shape and reimbursement to the department for all of the overtime for its staff, which comes to about $100,000 per event. 

The concert has drawn roughly 2 million visitors to the City since it started, although the department estimates that about 25 percent of those attending the concert are from San Francisco. 

“The funds to benefit the local community are increasing,” Ketcham told the commission. They are now at $10,000 per year but will go up to $50,000 per year in the new contract, split equally between Districts 1 and 4, and by 2026 those funds will be at $60,000. 

She also told them that the department had received 25 letters in opposition to renewing the contract, mostly from the Richmond District but also a few from the Sunset, and about three-quarters of those complained about sound and noise levels. 

The department also received five letters of support, from residents and small businesses, and organized labor.

During the public comment period, several small business owners expressed their support for extending the contract, but some residents opposed to it complained about the noise levels they had to put up with.

Stephen Somerstein lives in the Richmond District and said he had a problem with the way they were dealing with the noise. 

“Outside Lands can make their noise any way they want with no requirements preventing them,” Somerstein said. “There should be standards and they should be electronically monitored, professionally. At present, Outside Lands has no prohibition or quantitative standards whatsoever. This is not acceptable in any city in the country, yet San Francisco is allowing this. I recommend that quantitative standards be reinstituted like we used to have before, and that they be reasonably followed.”

But Ketcham said they are making a significant change in the new contract to deal with the noise issue. They will open up the complaint hotlines during the Thursday sound check instead of just during the show, and they will have a defined and set number of sound monitors to gauge the volume. 

“Instead of just an unclear number of sound monitors, (there will be) at least three sound monitors, and then they have to be adjusted annually based on responsiveness,” Ketcham said. 

Jim Angelus owns a café called Bacon Bacon on Frederick Street and a bar called Kezar at Cole and Carl streets. He said he counts the extra money he makes from this concert into his budget. 

“Being on the outside of Golden Gate Park, the festival still has this incredible impact on my business,” Angelus said. “It’s something I can plan for yearly when I’m doing my budgets and it is significant. In the struggling restaurant scene, to have that additional amount of volume and visitors come to the city is really impressive, and it’s something that I look forward to as a small business owner.”

Gregory Thorne told the commission he lives in the Richmond District and he has attended the concert a couple of times with his family. 

“We moved to San Francisco from New York City four and a half years ago,” Thorne said. “This event is great…. We are fully in support of this event and extending the contract.”

After public comment, commission President Mark Buell indicated that although he likes the concert, the noise complaints are a significant issue for him.

“I simply want to encourage staff to continue to find ways to make those numbers fewer and fewer and work with the community for that goal,” he said.

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