City staff: Twilight Concert Series should go on hiatus in 2018

Kate Cagle

Daily Press Staff Writer

The fate of the iconic Twilight Concert Series will be in the hands of the City Council Tuesday night as Santa Monica’s elected leaders grapple with an event too popular for its own good.

A scathing City report filed in anticipation of the discussion alluded to a “deep and growing concern” over the “problematic” concerts.

As the free concerts drew crowds from across the region, the cost of policing the event ballooned to over $1 million this year – $400,000 more than the city had budgeted, according to the report.

The City’s Pier Administrator Elana Buegoff is recommending the City take a break from TCS in 2018 because of cost, trash and public safety concerns. The money saved by going on a hiatus would offset the overages from the 2017 season.

“While suspending the 2018 TCS may be unpopular to many in the community and in the region who consider the series a cherished part of their summer tradition, a one-season hiatus, rather than a complete cancellation of the event, would provide the City, the community and the SMPC with adequate time to plan and consider an alternative event program,” says a report submitted to the Council by Buegoff.

Organizers had attempted to scale back the concerts this year by shifting the dates earlier and limiting the number of nights to eight instead of 10.

However, on the very first night of music the crowd swelled and overwhelmed the Pier and the beach, causing the police chief at the time to call the concerts dangerous.

That crowd – which official estimates put at around 30,000 people – was an anomaly in 2017. The other seven concerts drew less than 15,000 people per event. The Pier itself can only hold about 4,300 people.

Sponsors fund the production of the series, which reached about $700,000 this year. The City paid for police, fire and cleanup – a total of $1,055,672, a 25 percent increase over the previous year.

“The unprecedented number of attendees at the first concert heightened public safety concerns for the remainder of the season,” the report says.

“The tragedy at a music festival in Las Vegas in October, along with other events where public places have been the targets for mass casualty events has also played a role in City officials’ assessments regarding the public safety concerns related to TCS.”

The staff report details more than danger – also dirt. Beach Maintenance staff collected 15 tons of garbage on the beach after that initial concert this summer. By the time the series is over, crews replace the sand that had been degraded with trash and overuse.

After a hiatus, staff recommends any concerts be restricted to the Pier by removing speakers that project toward the beach, relocating the stage and requiring either sponsors or the Pier Corporation (SMPC) to completely fund the event without any contributions from the City.

Last month dozens of TCS enthusiasts pleaded with the SMPC to keep the concerts during a public hearing on the 33-year-old event. In response, the corporation is urging the Council to keep some sort of event for 2018, recommending a “one-day transitional summer celebration, followed by a range of musical experiences in the Fall of 2018 and beyond.”

Members of the public will have an opportunity to plead their case once again on Tuesday when the City Council makes the final decision on what to do.

If TCS’s multitude of problems cannot be addressed, staff has put forward the option of canceling the series all together.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press