Twilight Concert Series, 2017

Santa Monica’s most beloved and bemoaned public event survived another battle this week, as the City Council unanimously voted against police and staff recommendations to put the Twilight Concert Series on hiatus over safety concerns. Over the past three decades, the concerts have grown from a local event to promote The Pier to an iconic summer party that attracts thousands of regional tourists, traffic and trash.

The sponsor of the event, Snapchat, may have saved this year’s series when its billionaire CEO showed up at City Hall Tuesday night and offered $1 million of his own money to cover the costs of policing the series.

“I worry about this conversation because what we’re effectively saying is diversity and inclusion (are) really important unless it is expensive and inconvenient,” Evan Spiegel said.  “I think we can do better.”

While the show will go on, the Council gave the Pier Corporation and staff broad authority to take measures that will reduce crowd size.  In 2018, the concert series will span no more than six nights after Labor Day when children have gone back to school and the summer tourist season has ebbed.  The Council dedicated just $400,000 for public safety (which cost over a $1 million last year) with the mandate to suspend the series when the money runs out.

After years of experimenting with ideas to deter attendance, it is unknown whether staff will be able to keep fans from turning out to the beach.

“The reality is, it’s going to take real effort to stop the momentum,” City Manager Rick Cole said.

Santa Monica’s interim police chief says the department can safely police The Pier; it’s the tens of thousands of people on the public beach that cause the most concern.  There is no way to control entry and check bags south of The Pier, much less install metal detectors.  In the past, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department sent in resources to help police the beach.

In the wake of terrorist attacks and mass shootings, the current head of SMDP says the event fills him “with dread and foreboding.”

“In its current form…we cannot safely police that event even if we doubled our current resources,” Interim Chief Kenneth Semko said. “To get to the middle of the crowd when something occurs before it swells to something catastrophic…I can only imagine. It keeps me up at night. People running. Running in a sea of humanity like that. The injuries and carnage that would occur, if that were to happen…”

The Pier Corporation will consider removing the speakers that face the beach and moving the stage to take away the view from the sand.  However, TCS crowds already extend far beyond the point where attendees can reasonably hear the music playing.  Both Semko and Fire Chief Bill Walker said the traffic impact of the high attendance adds to the complexity of responding to an emergency on the beach.

“Fall is a good start but it’s 80 degrees today,” Semko said. “It’s hard to imagine what it’s going to look like.”

Looking ahead to the 2028 Summer Olympics, staff may also look at infrastructure to provide more security at larger scale events.  Staff will engage outside resources to develop an assessment.

The Council also approved the Pier Corporation’s budget and work plan as well as an update to their bylaws.  The work plan includes continuation of several other marquee programs at the Pier, including Front Porch Cinema, Paddleboard Race and Ocean Festival, STEAM Machines, LA Opera and other arts and education programming.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press