SM PIER — Get off the beach!
Because of safety concerns, City Hall wants to downsize the three-decade-old Twilight Concert Series (TCS) at the Santa Monica Pier starting with the unofficial beach seats.
A proposal set to go before City Council next week would, among many other things, unplug the beach speakers and the jumbotron.
Beach-goers make up more than half the total attendance for the free concerts, according to estimates from City Hall. But the beach overflow is also becoming a hazard during the popular shows, city officials said.
A long-term option that may be considered to help fund the concerts is to make people pay a nominal fee or make a donation to the pier.
(The Santa Monica Daily Press’ sister publication, SMDP Custom Publications, produces the Twilight Concert Series spectator guide on behalf of the pier.)
When the concert series started in 1983 — an attempt to publicize the pier after winter storm damage — the total budget was $7,000. This fiscal year, City Hall will give the Santa Monica Pier Corp. $482,000 for events, including the concert series, city officials said.
Beach overflow was first recorded in 2007, officials said.
In 2012, 119,000 are estimated to have attended the 10 summer concerts, city officials said, with only 30,000 to 50,000 watching from the pier.
“There had been discussions about the growth of the beach crowds for TCS beginning in 2012,” Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek wrote in an e-mail. “It became clear during several of the 2013 concerts — English Beat, Trombone Shorty — and particularly Jimmy Cliff that the ability to ensure the public’s safety both on the pier and on the beach was compromised due to the size of the crowds.”
The beach overflow causes significant public safety challenges, city officials said. Attendees often drink and smoke on the beach. Crowds, sometimes approaching 30,000 people, have no real protocol for coming or going. In the case of a fire or shooting on the pier, both of which have occurred, people would likely swarm, city officials said.
Katharine King, who helped create and produce the series for over 25 years, said that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the shows would gain too much buzz, she’d schedule lesser-known acts to try to cool the crowds off.
“I think that the powers that be when I was there sort of felt that it was worth it to have a little bit of blind eye to people, you know, respectfully and quietly having a little wine,” she said. “They sort of saw it as Hollywood Bowl at the beach and didn’t want to have a heavy hand by police.”
Since the introduction of the jumbotron and beach speakers in 2011, city officials estimate that at least 8,000 watch from the beach regardless of the line-up. Upon recommendation of the police and fire departments, city officials want to pull the speakers and jumbotron for some of the 2014 shows.
City officials acknowledge that this might not immediately cut back on beach overflow, but they believe that it will cause a decrease in attendance over time.
Police declined to comment on the Twilight Concert Series until the issue is settled but noted that Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks will be speaking on the matter at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Pier Corp. representatives “feel strongly that the jumbotron and beach-directed speakers are an integral part of the event,” according to city officials.
Judy Abdo, chair of the Pier Corp. board, said that while the board offered input to City Hall, they have yet to take a position on the proposed changes. They are holding a special public meeting at the Main Library at 3:30 p.m. today, Jan. 10, to debate the new plan. Until the board discusses the plans Abdo will not comment on the changes.
Pier Administrator Jay Farrand said he takes the public safety concerns “very seriously” and is working with City Hall to make the layout safer while preserving the concert experience.
“We are optimistic that we can arrive at a solution that makes all parties comfortable and preserves the Westside’s favorite summer tradition,” he wrote in an e-mail.
City officials propose creating six areas on the beach for overflow crowds to watch from. Each area would have lanes on either side so public safety officials can navigate the crowd.
The fire marshall found that no more than 8,020 people can fit on the entire pier. During the Twilight Concert Series, 4,742 people could fit on the pier, fire department officials said.
“It’s always been a fairly mellow scene,” King said. “I can see where they’re coming from because they’re the ones who are responsible, but I’m not sure it’s quite as dangerous.”
Aside from public safety, City Hall is concerned with advertising used to fund the events.
Municipal code prohibits off-premise signs that display messages that are not associated with the space at hand.
“Signs would need to face inward toward the event,” city officials said. “No more than 30 percent of such signs could be taken up with corporate logos.”
The concert series alone brought in $450,000 in sponsorships last year.
With the reduced signage, lack of a jumbotron, and the likely reduced attendance, the Pier Corp. estimates that the sponsorship dollars will get cut in half.
Attendance numbers were used to determine how much companies are charged to get in on the act.
In response, city officials propose giving the concert series an additional $200,000 this year.
One long-term option, suggested by city officials, is to charge a fee, less than $5.
The impacts of the changes to sponsorship and capacity will likely cut back on privately organized events, city officials said.
Events, like last year’s Festival Supreme, which city officials acknowledged overtaxed the pier, or Way Over Yonder could hold up to 6,000 people, city officials propose.
“It is likely that events that were previously self-sustaining or provided revenue that was redirected to free community events would not be able to adhere to this framework and break even,” officials said. “Event promoters would choose to move to another venue or discontinue the event.”
Martin Fleischmann, who promotes many pier events, said he wasn’t yet familiar enough with the proposal to form an opinion.
While the proposed changes sound drastic, King said that the pier concerts are always changing.
“Let’s face it, beyond being a non-traditional venue, it’s a venue that was just sort of created out of nothing,” she said. “It was never designed to be a concert venue so you’re always just sort of making up as you go along.”