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Santa Monica Wants to Scale Down Pier Concerts

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

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Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

January 9, 2014 -- Santa Monica officials want to tone down the Pier’s annual summer concert series because they say the crowds, sometimes in the “tens of thousands,” have gotten too much to handle.

The Twilight Concert Series, which Santa Monica started 30 years ago to boost the then-dilapidated Pier as a community gathering place, has become a victim of its own success, drawing crowds larger than the bayside city can safely accommodate, officials said.

If the City Council approves staff’s recommendations Tuesday, it could mean and end to big-name acts on the bill, restrictions on concert-goers sitting on the beach, fewer people being allowed on the Pier during concerts and even possibly charging a “nominal fee” for admission to the currently free concerts.

“The Pier Concerts that were originally intended to enliven the Pier and serve the local community have ballooned into regional draws that encompass far more beach than Pier with crowds in the tens of thousands and pose significant health and safety risks,” City Manager Rod Gould told The Lookout Wednesday.

“The goal is to bring the beloved concerts closer to their original purpose and footprint, while keeping them safe, free and fun,” he said.

One major change staff recommends is removing a large screen above the stage that allows people to view the concert from the beach.

According to City officials, picnickers on the beach “drink alcohol or smoke during the performances,” both of which are prohibited.

“But, on the beach, because of the density of crowds, it is very difficult for police personnel to control it,” City officials said.

“And, the behavior increases safety risks and enforcement challenges on the beach because it impacts the judgment of individuals and groups, particularly in their interactions with police or in time of emergency,” they said.

Last year’s concert by reggae legend Jimmy Cliff drew a crowd so large that the City, to meet the County’s new safety standards for mass gatherings -- over 5,000 people -- it would have needed a minimum of 10 Fire Department personnel to patrol the area.

In 2012, officials estimated that over the course of the 10-week concert series, 119,000 people attended the shows.

One way to draw a smaller crowd, officials said, is to not book big-name performers.

“Booking emerging local talent, rather than a performer with established name recognition or a regional, national, or international fan base, would reinforce the TCS (Twilight Concert Series) as a community-based event and likely draw a crowd that could mostly fit within the revised deck capacity,” staff said.

But making the event smaller also means less revenue from sponsors.

“Sponsorships from MySpace and approximately 40 other local and regional brands including media outlets, banks, hotels, grocery stores, restaurants, transit, entertainment and community partners generated $450,000, which made the series financially self-sufficient,” staff said.

Scaling down the events will likely mean that City Hall will have to kick-in about $200,000 in “gap funding” to mitigate the anticipated loss of sponsor money, staff said.

The popularity of the Twilight Concert Series isn’t the only problem the City sees. The Pier recently hosted “Festival Supreme,” an event that drew thousands to see some of comedy’s biggest names including Adam Sandler, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, David Cross and Bob Odenkirk.

“It was highly problematic because the crowds were so large and unruly that we could not ensure the public’s safety, traffic became horribly snarled, and we received dozens of righteous complaints from residents, businesses and Pier goers alike,” said Gould.

City officials went before the Pier Board with their proposal Tuesday. The Board is expected to make a recommendation at a special meeting Friday before the proposal goes before the City Council next week.


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