By Thomas K. Pendergast
The last obstacle to extending the contract between the Outside Lands music festival and the City’s Recreation and Park Department was removed when the SF Board of Supervisors rejected an appeal to turn down the deal.
The board unanimously voted against an appeal by Andrew Solow, who wants quantified numerical limits placed on the music festival’s noise level in the surrounding neighborhoods in the Richmond and Sunset districts.
Before the vote, Solow’s attorney, Richard Drury, made his case to the supervisors.
“First, I want to make it clear, we are not opposed to Outside Lands. We just think it’s too damn loud,” Drury said. “And so there ought to be a numerical decibel noise limit to make sure that the noise stays under control. We don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
He claimed that the City has such a noise limit for music festivals at Sharon Meadow (now renamed Robin Williams Meadow) of 96 decibels for a five-minute average or 102 decibels for an instantaneous sound level.
“Outside Lands has no numerical noise limit,” Drury said.
Instead, he explained, the festival’s producer, Another Planet Entertainment (APE) does its own measurements, not the City, from which it decides how to adjust the noise “as required.”
“Well, that’s not a limit,” he said. “Imagine if there were a speed limit where you have to adjust your speed ‘as required.’ It’s not enforceable.”
Drury showed the Board year-to-year figures for noise complaints, and according to those numbers there were 384 noise complaints in 2011. The numbers steadily declined to a low of 46 in 2015, they then went back up to 80 in 2017 and jumped up to 212 last year.
“So, there was a massive spike, but Outside Lands didn’t violate anything because there’s nothing to violate. All we’re saying is, there has to be a number,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Rec. and Park, Dana Ketcham, acknowledged the spike in noise complaints last year.
“San Francisco, with the climate, the atmosphere, whether it’s fog or clouds or wind, the sound bounces in different ways literally from one hour to the next,” Ketcham said. “Unfortunately, in 2017 a little bit and in 2018, the sound spiked. It’s not something we wanted to see. It was particularly in the Sunset, we were trying to identify what was creating this movement and we worked really hard to adjust speakers so that we went from 118 complaints on Friday down to 31 on Sunday, but that’s not enough.
“Outside Lands has hired a sound consultant to further study it this year. And the 2019 amendment … mandates a minimum number of sound monitors and requires them to be increased if they are not responsive enough and it actually requires them to give us a report afterwards on what adjustments were actually made, so that when questions come saying you don’t know they did anything, we’ll have a report that shows exactly what they did.”
The current contract expires in 2021, so APE asked for an additional extension for another 10 years, through 2031.
According to Ketcham, revenues for the department from the festival started at $815,000 the first year, 2008, but increased over time until last year the annual three-day concert garnered $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. It also reimburses the department for all of the overtime for its staff, which comes to about $100,000 per event.
The concert has drawn roughly two 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.
“We have no ability to make any objection whatever because that means there’s no sound limit,” Solow said after the board’s vote. “That’s why it’s so important to have some kind of a limit. Exactly what the sound limit should be really should be up to the Recreation and Park Department, but there should be a limit, a distinct, enforceable limit.”
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