Del Mar, Solana Beach address concerns over Kaaboo festival

The cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach are working with the agency that runs the Del Mar Fairgrounds to address community concerns about a three-day music, food and drink festival.

Publicly announced in late February, the inaugural Kaaboo Del Mar festival will feature seven stages and more than 100 music acts and performances over the weekend of Sept. 18-20. Although organizers have planned the event for months, Del Mar and Solana Beach learned about the star-studded lineup when the public did.

“The event is already planned,” said Corti in an interview. “It would have been nice if they would have communicated to us what the event was before it was announced.”

Del Mar council members first brought up concerns about noise, traffic, security and other potential impacts from the event during the March 2 council meeting.

Since then, Kaaboo organizers have given a presentation about the event to the fair board’s Community Relations Committee, which includes representatives from both cities. Del Mar Mayor Al Corti and City Manager Scott Huth, along with Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner, Councilman Mike Nichols and interim City Manager David Ott, attended the March 10 meeting.

“We voiced our concerns to the fairgrounds, and they indicated that they want to understand better what the impacts are and come to some understanding of how they’re going to be mitigated,” Corti said. “Hopefully, we can figure that out.”

Said Heebner in an interview, “I felt assured that they heard us, and they will work with us. The team does seem quite expert at what they do.”

In an interview, fairgrounds CEO and general manager Tim Fennell said he asked festival organizers to make a presentation to the Community Relations Committee, but because of scheduling conflicts, the earliest it could take place was in March.

Still, Fennell said the event was first made known in January 2014, as organizers originally planned to hold the festival in September 2014.

Fennell said the event was first discussed during a Community Relations Committee meeting in January 2014 and at the fair board meeting later the same day. He added that board member David Watson, chairman of the committee, reported on the event.

The festival was also addressed at the board and committee meetings in January 2015, he said, before the board’s February approval of a $1.95 million contract with festival organizers HorsePower Entertainment.

“It had kind of been mentioned, but this is the first time we’ve had a detailed discussion and learned specifically what this is all about,” Heebner said.

Corti, who joined the committee after former Mayor Lee Haydu’s recent retirement from the council, said he had just learned about the event.

“No one understood the magnitude of this,” he said at the March 16 council meeting.

Described on the event website as a “mix-perience,” Kaaboo will offer dancing, dining, an art fair, massages and hair and nail services, in addition to dozens of music and comedy acts. The concert lineup features artists across multiple genres, including No Doubt, The Killers, Zac Brown Band, Snoop Dogg and Foster the People.

Event organizers are marketing the festival to an affluent, older crowd.

Single-day tickets are not being sold. Prices for three-day passes range from $199 to $2,499, with cheaper passes already sold out. A limited amount of onsite lodging also will be available.

“I don’t think it’s going to be Coachella at the Del Mar Fairgrounds,” said Heebner at the March 11 Solana Beach council meeting.

With the festival geared toward a different audience from Coachella, Heebner said she thinks “it has the possibility of being a positive event.”

“We just really hope that is the case,” Heebner said. “There’s no question that the fairgrounds is a regional asset, but there’s also no question that the two cities of Solana Beach and Del Mar pay for that regional asset with an impact.”

Del Mar officials seemed more skeptical.

During the March 16 Del Mar council meeting, council members questioned whether their efforts could really make a difference, since the event has already been planned with a lineup in place.

“In the last few years, we’ve been working hard to try to improve our relationship with the fairgrounds and identify ways we can work together,” said Councilman Terry Sinnott. “This is kind of a disappointment.”

“What’s the point of a Community Relations Committee if they work on something this major for a year and don’t bother to tell us about it until these level of commitments are already made?” Worden asked. “We can try to influence them, but we probably can’t.”

Councilman Don Mosier, who has sat on the Community Relations Committee for some time, said the fair board works closely with the city, but not the management.

“The management should listen to the board, get board direction,” he said. “That hasn’t happened. It’s the other way around. Until we can get a stronger board in place, we’re not going to be able to change this kind of behavior.”

Three community members also spoke about potential impacts from the festival at the recent Del Mar council meeting.

“At this point, I’m feeling like I’m going to be captive,” said resident Robin Crabtree.

“To me, this is Kaa-boom,” said resident Bill Michalsky. “It’s all about the guys who are putting it on making big money.

“It’s TFO — it’s a typical fairgrounds operation. Tim Fennell may be doing the right job financially for the fairgrounds, but he could give a rat’s about Solana Beach, Del Mar, the adjoining communities.”

Kaaboo organizers estimate the event will generate $1.5 million in sales tax revenue, fill 10,000 hotel rooms that will generate $200,000 in occupancy tax revenue, and provide 2,500 jobs. After expenses for security and other services, Fennell said the fairgrounds should net more than $1 million.

“I’m very confident it’s going to be a very successful event,” he said. “It’s going to be low-impact from a traffic and noise standpoint, but a very positive impact from the economic standpoint.”

Fennell expects about 40,000 daily festivalgoers, which he said is a “slow day” at the San Diego County Fair. The annual fair has an average daily attendance of about 66,000 people.

Outdoor performances will end by 10 p.m. each night. Indoor activities will run until 2:30 a.m.

Organizers, Fennell said, already have effective traffic management and security plans in place.

“I anticipate that this is going to be a very, very safe and secure event,” Fennell said.

However, Corti said such plans were not presented at the committee meeting.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll have a meeting and objectively try to figure out what the impacts are and how they’re going to be mitigated,” he said. “Until then, I remain somewhat skeptical that the fairgrounds is really listening to us.”

For now, fairground and Kaaboo representatives plan to work closely with Del Mar and Solana Beach city staff, Fennell said. Representatives from each entity are scheduled to meet March 24 for an operational meeting, said Kristen Crane, assistant to the city manager, at the recent Del Mar council meeting.

Kaaboo representatives will also make presentations at the Del Mar and Solana Beach city council meetings in the coming weeks.

In the future, however, Del Mar and Solana Beach officials hope that the fairgrounds will work more closely with the local communities when planning events.

“It was a big mistake on their part to not contact us in advance,” Heebner said. “We feel that they’re kind of playing catch-up now.”

Said Corti, “In the future, I hope the fairgrounds takes a proactive approach. Before they plan these events, we should understand the impacts and figure out the mitigation. It’s something that a good neighbor should do.”