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City Council Votes to Right Size Santa Monica Pier Summer Concert Series

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

January 17, 2014 -- After 30 years, the days when visitors to the Santa Monica Pier could catch a free summer concert by the likes of Jimmy Cliff, Ozomatli, Joan Baez or Dick Dale are over.

Responding to concerns by Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks that larger crowds increase the possibility of “eruptions of mass rage” and “riots,” the City Council voted to only book “emerging” talent, as opposed to “commercially successful” bands, for its free Twilight Dance Series in the future.

The Council also voted to eliminate the jumbotron screen, which allowed concert-goers to watch from the beach, as well as scale-back advertising for the event.

“What we used to have at the Pier was a very carefully curated series of top-notch acts from around the world who weren't necessarily commercially successful,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.

Started in the 1980s to promote the languishing Pier as a destination, the Twilight Dance Series has hosted the likes of Latin jazz superstar Poncho Sanchez, gospel diva Mavis Staples and, most recently reggae legend Jimmy Cliff.

It is unlikely that any of these acts would be considered “emerging.”

It was the Jimmy Cliff concert, which drew an unprecedented crowd of about 30,000 to the beach to close out last summer’s Twilight Dance Series, that has public safety officials worried.

“The Jimmy Cliff concert was an anomaly,” Pier Board Chair Judy Abdo told the Council. “We have never seen a concert that size before.”

Abdo, along with the Pier Board, lobbied the Council to implement the reforms over a two-year period so as to be able to see which policies accomplish the goals of keeping crowd size manageable without adversely impacting sponsorship for the event.

McKeown was vocally opposed to the continuing use of the jumbotron screen. Concert organizers also use the screen to display sponsors’ logos, which McKeown didn’t think was necessary.

With the jumbotron gone and more restrictions placed on advertising, the Pier will lose about $200,000 in sponsor funding for the event, leaving the City to pick up the bill.

“This is a community party where everybody is welcome,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said Tuesday. “Our Pier is not a commercial concert venue.”

Some on the dais weren’t sure that cutting back on advertising and booking only unknown bands would stop people from coming.

“It's clear to me one way or another, we're going to spend money,” whether it’s paying for the lost sponsorship or for increasing the number of public safety personnel, said Councilmember Gleam Davis.

Davis said that with the Expo Light Rail connecting Santa Monica to USC, Culver City and Downtown L.A. by 2016, the Pier concerts are likely going to become an even more accessible regional draw.

“To some extent, it's out of our control,” she said.

If the crowds continue to grow, City Manager Rod Gould estimated that it could cost as much as $300,000 a year to make sure that there are enough public safety personnel at the events.

About 20 speakers turned out Tuesday night, nearly all of whom didn’t want to see the Twilight Concert Series downsized.

“It's up to the seven of you to decide what the right size is,” said former mayor Mike Feinstein. He said it would be “bad karma” to try discourage people from flocking to the beach for the events.

Feinstein, like the Pier Board, wanted to see the new policies implemented more slowly.

But he also argued that the best way to help promote unknown bands was to pair them with acts that are well-known.

For now, the Council will allow the speakers that broadcast the concerts to beach-goers to stay.

“There's nothing at all wrong with it being on the beach,” McKeown said.

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