Council approves funding for summer events

Cost concerns loomed over Tuesday night’s City Council discussion of Santa Monica’s most popular events, as growing crowds and scope mean escalating budgets for both the Twilight Concert Series and COAST, the City’s new open-streets event.

The City Council approved a $300,000 contract with an outside company to produce COAST, expecting that closing the streets and public safety costs could push the total budget closer to $400,000. For the second year, COAST will combine – or effectively replace – the Santa Monica Festival. The Festival usually attracted around 10,000 people and cost about $130,000 to produce, according to staff estimates. While COAST is much more expensive, it is also much more popular, drawing 50,000 people in its first year. COAST will take place in October this year.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich felt staff made the decision to blend the two events without sufficient oversight from the Council.

“I was really surprised to see that a decision had been made without discussing it with us,” Himmelrich said before becoming the only councilmember to vote against funding the event contract.

“We heard very strong desire to repeat COAST,” City Manager Rick Cole said after apologizing for not giving the Council more of a say in the direction of the new event. “We had a one-time success. A lot of people liked a lot of it.”

The 2016 COAST event coincided with the opening of the Expo Light Rail stop in downtown Santa Monica. The City closed two miles of streets to cars, allowing restaurants to pull out picnic tables and cyclists and rollerbladers to take over the roads.

“I’m a little concerned about moving forward with something that’s going to cost us at least twice as much as what we’re accustomed to doing and then we’re going to be asked when we get to the Pier, additional costs as well,” Councilmember Tony Vazquez said.

Sure enough, a few hours later the Council was asked to approve a million dollar budget for the Twilight Concert Series. Just three years ago the City contributed about a fifth of that amount to the series. When the event started in 1985, the Arts Commission budgeted just $7,000 for a seven-week series.

Lately, the concerts have faced criticism in the wake of escalating security costs and overtime pay for police officers who monitor the growing crowds that stretch out on the beach beyond the Pier. This year, the City will seek to employ more private security at the event to save money.

A victim of its own success; the City is also cutting back. This summer the series will feature eight instead of ten concerts that will begin in mid-June to reduce the strain on resources during the summer season.

“I think we need to start thinking about the concert series and it’s current model that you have to get sponsors to pay for a lot of the costs, which means you need to get eyeballs to pay for the sponsorships which means you need to get more security to handle all those people – we’re in a vicious cycle,” Mayor Ted Winterer said.

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