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City refuses to stifle Outside Lands permits despite complaints

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Western neighborhood residents say noise is overwhelming, but Board of Supervisors’ reaction muted

A crowd of thousands in Golden Gate Park, with the Outside Lands stage far in the distance. Photo by Sterling Munksgard

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved a ten-year extension for the annual Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park, despite neighbors claiming that the annual ruckus is too much to bear.

Mount Davison resident Andrew Solow and Richmond District-based photographer Stephen Sommerstein filed a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) appeal with the city in February, saying that lawmakers should not renew Outside Lands’ permits unless the festival agrees to constrain its noisome ways.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Sommerstein and Solow’s lawyer Richard Drury told supervisors that the concert itself was not the problem.

“We are not opposed to Outside Lands. I play in a rock band. We just think it’s too damn loud,” said Drury.

Although residents can call in noise complaints to the festival’s organizer, Another Planet Entertainment, the city has no set rules about how loud an event can be in most of Golden Gate Park.

“The city has a numerical decibel limit for concerts at Sharon Meadows,” Drury pointed out repeatedly. But Outside Lands, which is located in a larger section of the park, “has no noise limit.”

Drury claims that in 2018 noise complaints from the concerts spiked 400 percent—to over 200—but “Outside Lands didn’t violate anything, because there’s nothing to violate.”

Solow repeated his lawyer’s sentiments about the concert, insisting, “I support the annual festival” but noted that “some of the complaints come from residents who live more than three miles from Golden Gate Park.” He called the unchecked acoustics a nightmare for neighborhood residents.

Jean Barish, a Richmond District resident who lives on 27th Avenue, likened the festival to “a home invasion,” quipping that it was “an invasion from Another Planet.”

Many locals also showed up to defend the good name of Outside Lands, including a parade of contractors and union workers who praised the regular seasonal work that Outside Lands brings.

City Planner Chelsea Fordham testified Tuesday that, despite the noise complaints, Outside Lands was not violating any rules and that the appeal was insubstantial.

“The appellant has not provided any substantial evidence that there is reasonable possibility of a significant environmental impact,” said Fordham.

Photo by Josh Withers

Dana Ketcham, director of permits for SF Park and Recreation, said that Sharon Meadows’ sound cap was put in place years ago because the meadow was a bustling concert venue. The limits were “meant to apply to sound impact that could occur every week.”

The rest of Golden Gate Park has no similar regulation because the city has never deemed it necessary for temporary outings like Outside Lands, said Ketcham.

Supervisors unanimously voted to extend the festival’s permits without further debate.

After the vote, Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer said that she sympathized with her District Two constituents who hate the noise, but added, “I’ve heard overwhelmingly that [most residents] absolutely adore this festival.”

Outside Lands’ current permits are good through 2021; Tuesday’s extension clears the way for festivals until 2031.

Ketcham said the renewal needed to be done a few years early because of how far in advance promoters must begin planning future festivals.

Outside Lands 2019 is scheduled for August 9-11. Paul Simon headlines this year, along with acts like Childish Gambino (Donald Glover), Kacey Musgraves, and Mavis Staples.