Residents appeal Outside Lands permit extension over noise concerns

Residents who say the annual Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival can be heard as far as three miles away from Golden Gate Park have filed an environmental appeal of plans to hold the event for another decade.

The appeal from residents Andrew Solow and Stephen Somerstein calls on the Board of Supervisors to control the volume levels at the three-day festival, which draws noise and traffic complaints each year from the neighboring Sunset and Richmond districts.

“We would like to emphasize that we are not opposed to the music festival, but only seek to have reasonable, quantitative noise limitations, similar to those that have been implemented for other events,” Richard Drury, an attorney for Solow and Somerstein, said in an email to city officials.

At issue is the preliminary decision the Recreation and Park Commission made last month to extend the festival permit until 2031 without the need for further review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The appeal filed Thursday requires the Board of Supervisors to decide within a month whether to uphold the CEQA review exemption.

One of the residents who filed the appeal said in a letter to the Rec and Park Commission last month that despite living on Mount Davidson, two miles from the Polo Fields at Golden Gate Park, the sound from Outside Lands inside his home office “was frequently overwhelming.”

“And I had all of my windows and doors shut,” said Solow.

The residents filed the appeal a day after the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee unanimously voted Wednesday in favor of the permit extension, which needs the approval of the full board.

At the hearing, Rec and Park Department Director of Permits and Property Management Dana Ketchum said festival promoter Another Planet plans to implement new technology to mitigate noise impacts this year in response to a spike in noise complaints during the last festival.

Each year, Ketchum said sound monitors measure decibel levels including the sound of the bass in adjoining neighborhoods and send the information back to the “sound board so real time adjustments can be made.” This year, Ketchum said the adjustments will be recorded.

In addition, Ketchum said the promoter plans to install “sound baffling” technology to reduce the level of airborne noise.

“We take this very seriously,” Ketchum said. “We will remain vigilant in ensuring there are adequate ways to address the sound issues.”

But in his letter, Solow said the proposed permit extension “does not specify what acoustical standards must be met and what testing protocols must be used to control noise levels at the festival and in the surrounding neighborhoods.”

“It only requires Outside Lands to monitor noise levels and adjust them ‘as required,’” Solow said. “And, ‘as required’ is not defined.”

Solow said that means “no matter how loud the music is, the affected residents will have no right to object.”

At the hearing, Richmond District Supervisor Sandra Fewer, whose neighborhood is one of the most impacted by Outside Lands, voted in support of the extension.

Fewer said the festival raises much-needed “entertainment dollars.”

“I know that there is an impact on the community for these three days but we are weighing also what this concert actually brings to the city and county of San Francisco,” Fewer said.

The festival has drawn 2 million visitors to San Francisco and is estimated to generate $66 million annually in economic benefits, according to Ketchum.

Michael Barba
Published by
Michael Barba

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