By most accounts the Wonderfront Music & Art Festival which was held Nov. 22-24, 2019, was a successful venture. According to event promoter Ernie Hahn, who appeared before the Port of San Diego’s Board of Commissioners March 10, 2020, the multi-site festival designed to activate the waterfront had 57,000 attendees over the three days, generated 10,000 additional room nights in local hotels and created more than 27 million media impressions.
What the Wonderfront event didn’t do was abide by their Coastal permit, regarding noise generated from the festival. Jennifer Rubin, who lives in close proximity to the Ferry Landing and is President of Coronado Coastal Conservancy, Inc. said, “The Port is very interested in hosting events to draw the public to the waterfront, which is a really worthy goal. Wonderfront was an egregious example of the event exceeding noise levels of 100 decibels on many occasions, with the event being unpoliced and unregulated. Yet these conditions were not only permitted for a single day, they were permitted unabated for three days. This endangered the health and safety of Coronado and other residents.”
Coronado Resident Marilyn Field, who attended the meeting of the Board of Port Commissioners, said of Wonderfront Festibal, “The noise levels were overwhelming. We couldn’t watch TV, we couldn’t talk on the phone, have a friend over or hold a conversation. The promoter’s own documents show the sound levels were greatly in excess of the levels that can damage hearing, from 98 to 108 decibels. The promoters agreed to 85 decibels and they did not attempt to moderate the sound to achieve that. The sound was intrusive, and you could feel the vibrations of the music with the doors and windows closed. It was inescapable. Children, elderly and sick people live there and there is a hospital close to the waterfront. This went on for 12 hours a day for three days. They checked sound levels at 7:30 a.m. in the morning. The promoters didn’t show compliance with the permit and the sound levels agreed to weren’t abided by. There was no off-site monitoring. We begged for a hotline number and it was for the Harbor Police. The Harbor Police said, ‘Don’t call us, it’s not our problem.’ The reason they didn’t get more than 51 complaint calls is people didn’t know who to call. What is needed here, if there is a permit to go forward, is an automatic cutoff on the amplification devices, with noise monitoring on both sides of the Bay. Please do something about this. If there is a permit for next year, we have to do something for sound.”
The City of Coronado supported the residents’ cause in at least two ways. First, City Manager Blair King wrote a letter to the Port Board of Port Commissioners, which said in part, “Because the waterfront was not designed to be a music venue, we anticipate continued noise impacts to Coronado residents unless adequate mitigation measures are carried out.” The measures requested by King in his correspondence included the installation of off-site monitoring equipment in Coronado, with the specific location of the sound monitoring equipment determined by the City; the Port District of the event sponsors would pay the cost of City personnel to monitor and evaluate the off-site equipment; and unacceptable levels of noise should be immediately mitigated to reduce noise to acceptable levels. The requested measures would apply to the KAABOO San Diego event proposed for September 2020, and the new Bayside Performance Park to be operated by the San Diego Symphony.
Second, Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey appeared before the Board of Port Commissioners March 10 and said, “The City of Coronado generally is supportive of the Port’s effort. As it relates to the Wonderfront Festival, it appears to have been a success with the headline performances and media presence. However, as it relates to festival noise mitigation efforts, the previous efforts leave a lot to be desired. Saturday and Sunday the festival sound levels were measured on 33 occasions and they were in violation of the event permit 32 times, exceeding the allowable decibel level.” He then expanded on the points presented by King and added, “There needs to be a working phone hotline in real time. The cutoff time for music should be 10 p.m. sharp, and not an additional 30 minutes for technical issues. And someone from the Port District needs to be on-site to ensure real time compliance. We want to do it right and have the tools available to hold people accountable so our residents can enjoy their quality of life.”
Coronado Port Commissioner Garry Bonelli said, “The bottom line for me, as public policy makers, we try to not make an advantage or a disadvantage to any part of the Bay. We’re not making a decision today, but if we go ahead with the Wonderfront Festival, we have to lock down on the sound management. If I’m living in my house for three days, I don’t want it that loud.”
Port Chair Anne Moore said, “It’s important to consider our neighbors and the noise monitoring. I would like us to hire experts to create a monitoring program as a design feature that works. Commissioner Dukie Valderrama said, “As Ernie is well aware, certain decibel levels were exceeded. And as a new event there are going to be problems and we need to be sure this is rectified moving forward. This is something that can be addressed and taken care of. The staff is instructed and directed to make sure the necessary safeguards are there. Being able to activate the waterfront is a tremendous thing. It’s up to the staff that when it comes back to us, the safeguards are in there and we make sure the contract is lived up to. We have a win-win situation and we need to make sure we address the problems.
Commissioner Dan Malcolm took a similar approach. After praising the activation element of Wonderfront he added, “But I also have to say when there is a Coastal Development Permit and the permit has various features and requirements, they have to be followed full stop. End of story. People’s quality of life and the lives of people around the Bay need to be taken into account as well. What I would ask is to have the staff look into what happened this time, the stage direction, the speaker direction and technology to limit sound. We need to have a sound attenuation expert hired to make sure if we do decide to move forward, that we achieve compliance for the event next year.”
Jennifer Rubin said of the Port Commissioners’ meeting, “If you look at the video, the Port Commissioners gave the staff direction to research and hire an expert to come in and research the issue. I’m very pleased about that. It appears they are taking our concerns seriously. The conditions imposed on the Wonderfront folks were completely ignored. Going forward we aren’t worried about the Symphony, just if they rent it out to a third party and there’s a ‘blow the roof off’ type situation. The Symphony will be a wonderful boon to the waterfront. We’re thrilled to have them.”
So, the first two rounds of this civic battle were evenly split. And the combination of Jennifer Rubin, Marilyn Field and the rest of the 10-person Coronado Coastal Conservancy is ready to go the distance.