Calaveras County policymakers were largely in agreement Thursday that the permit system for “special events” is in need of an overhaul.
County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission members met in a special joint study session to figure out how to reign in activities that have drawn thousands of people in recent years, like “bump” parties at Lake Tulloch, the “Wood Whomp” music festival in Mountain Ranch and the infamous Furthur Festival at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds
They also talked of making it less burdensome to put on small fundraisers for nonprofits and community groups.
Large-scale “spring break-type music festivals” and “Woodstock-like overnight campouts and concerts” would become subject to conditional use permits, Planning Director Rebecca Willis said. That means a four- to six-month-long process with public hearings and a $4,764 application fee with no guarantee of an “OK” at the end, Willis said.
Conditions placed upon approval would include things like controlled road access, a first-aid station and a paramedic on-site, she said.
“We probably shouldn’t have to rely on 911 and an ambulance wading through all those people and traffic,” Willis said.
Bernadette Cattaneo, owner of the Lake Tulloch Resort that hosts the “bumps,” said she agreed when Sheriff’s Department staff suggested a medical tent to her and plans to go a step beyond and have an on-duty physician at the next party scheduled Aug. 18.
Cattaneo doesn’t think a costly and lengthy conditional use permit process is the right way to go.
“Anything they’d ask me to do, I’m already doing on my own. Basically, they’re going to choke out all the small businesses. It just becomes so much work that nobody will do anything,” she said. “It’s trying to control your business and what you can and cannot do. Last time I checked, that’s not how the Constitution reads.”
The resort’s neighbors have complained about noise, traffic, trespassing and general unruliness from the parties. Likewise, two years of three-day Wood Whomps have driven that early summer event’s neighbors batty.
Dennis Bullock told supervisors and commissioners that “we have to hear 72 hours of constant thumping in the background” and residential roads get torn up by the traffic.
“We have nowhere to turn except you people and the laws need to be pretty stiff,” Bullock said. “This county’s easy. That’s why they’re here and they’re all over the county.”
Calaveras County Sheriff’s Capt. Jim Macedo warned that a one-size-fits-all approach will not resolve problems.
“I think you need to allow staff to be able to identify which events are problematic,” Macedo said.
After 64 arrests at the 2010 Furthur Festival, multi-day fairgrounds concerts have since been uneventful, he said.
Though they are remote enough that residents won’t hear them, events that drew hundreds of teens from Southern California to the Stanislaus National Forest and a hip-hop show at the south shore of Camanche Reservoir have proven troublesome for the department, Macedo said.
“By the time we come and talk to you about an event, it’s become more than problematic,” he said.
Even a section of the proposal calling for an elimination of administrative use permits for church bazaars has the potential to be abused, Macedo said.
“People will manipulate the definition of a church,” he said. “It’s happened in this county before.”
Supervisors and commissioners agonized about how to formulate a code to protect time-honored traditions like Murphys Irish Day and West Point Lumberjack Days while putting a crimp on the newer events that have shown to be less popular with residents.
“The bump events and the Wood Whomp events have no philanthropic aspect involved. … It’s simply greedy individuals who are lining their pockets and have no concern for other people’s property,” said Supervisor Darren Spellman.
Supervisor Steve Wilensky said it is vital to give law enforcement the ability to shutter events that get out of control.
“We have not given them the tools to intervene properly when things have gotten out of hand. When you take a look at a thousands of people paying admission, a fine is just a small part of doing business,” Wilensky said.
He suggested one warning to violators and then a bill for cost of payroll and materials for first-responders.
Every hour of overtime, every gallon of gas ... accrued and assessed to the violator,” Wilensky said. “After six visits to Wood Whomp, my guess is if they had to pay for that, they’d reconsider.”
Willis’ basic outline for improving the system relies on defining small and medium-scale events as well as the largest ones and reaching out to business and agricultural organizations to hear what they would like to see in a special events permit process.
Small temporary or one-time activities like Christmas tree stands and fireworks booths would be subject to a $25 over-the-counter permit. Medium-size events like car shows or carnivals could generate a $100 fee.
As it stands now, either are subject to a $100 fee and 30 days’ advance notice.
“That seems to be overly bureaucratic especially for events that are fundraisers,” Willis said. “We think in these economic times, businesses need to have some other way to enhance their business.”
Potentially, the door opens for increasing the number of weddings or “special gatherings” each year where space is available, Willis said, in a county known for its wide-open spaces.
“Lodi is shutting down those type of events,” she said. “We have the ability to have those type of activities where it does not impact your neighbors.”
Don Parker, whose 272-acre Dodasa Ranch in Burson hosts a pumpkin patch and occasional weddings, looks forward to expansion in that realm.
“I think we’re what this is designed for. All my neighbors are on the other side of the hills,” Parker said. “I really hope you consider it and help businesses like ours to prosper. We really need jobs in this county so people are not commuting.”