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Sheriff Says No to Pignic

Mendocino County Sheriff Jim Tuso wants to pull the plug on the Laytonville Hog Farm’s Pignic festival held over Labor Day Weekend.

In a strongly worded letter written by Sheriff’s Office spokesman Captain Berle Murray, the County’s Planning and Building Department is informed that Tuso wants the event ended based on a number of objections and concerns, including what he terms a “bad faith element here we find disfavorable.” The memorandum, written several weeks ago, was originally intended as the position statement of the Sheriff’s Department for the since-canceled December 12 public hearing on the expanded use permit. The memorandum reads as follows:

“The Sheriff is not in favor of this event occurring this year. In the past years there seems to have been the impression given by the presenters that the event will only have 999 attendees. Then the day of the event thousands show up and attend. There seems to be a bad faith element here we find disfavorable. We haev received many communications from persons residing in the Laytonville area that wish the event not to occur as the major disruption it causes to their lives and the forced association with persons of alternate lifestyles during the event’s duration.

“Beyond our objections to the event, we have other concerns. One being the individual camping areas size being large enough and that they should be individualized. We feel the access (roadways) should be large enough for two-way traffic with sufficient margin for pedestrians. We  have a major problem with the Labor Day weekend. The MCSO is taxed to the limit during that weekend. Add this to the mix, we are unable to police it or the County, in general, adequately.

“We understand that the presenters are doing their best to meet the objections of the agencies requested to service the community and the event. I would suggest that when they meet all of the requirements presented them the event will be better. I can’t ignore the people that have voiced their disfavor of the vent and wish it didn’t affect their lives. This event has a negative effect on the community and you should hear their discontent. It is for this reason we are still not in favor of the event being permitted.”

As reported previously, the Black Oak Ranch Partnership, better known as the Hog Farm, is requesting County officials to approve increasing attendance at the annual Labor Day weekend Pignic from 1,000 to 5,000 attendees. Hearings on the matter began in September and were then continued until December 12. However, shortly before the continuation was to be held, Planning and Building staff postponed the hearing and rescheduled it for February in order to receive public comments and agency input on a proposed environmental impact review. A few days following that action, P&B reversed course, canceled the February hearing, recommended that an EIR was not required and expedited the case to the Supes for a January hearing.

Controversy surrounds the pending permit application as many Laytonville-area residents are sharply divided over the two-day event’s impact on the community. Pignic supporters point to the social and economic benefits the rural area enjoys from a fun festival with overnight concert-goers spending money at the concert site as well as in Laytonville, located approximately five miles south of the event.

Those opposed to granting the application argue that Pignic sponsors have for the last several years violated the existing permit which limits attendance to 1,000 through 1997. Almost from its inception in 1993, the Pignic has attracted crowds well in excess of the thousand-attendee ceiling. Estimates for the most recent concert this past fall placed attendance at approximately 6,000. Opponents complain that the bigger crowds have resulted in the town experiencing an increase in drug and alcohol-related incidents and arrests, pan-handling and general public nuisance problems.

Pignic sponsors, including Laytonville resident and long-time Bay Area concert producer Bob Barsotti, have acknowledged recent problems associated with the event, and have promised to take corrective action. Barsotti has held a number of meetings with wary Laytonville residents and has also met with various local public safety agencies to discuss plans to improve such thins as ticket distribution and security (both at the event and in town).

Caught in the middle of the dust-up is Supervisor John, whose sprawling 3d District includes theHog Farm property. To date, Pinches has not 

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Whether Tuso stepping into stepping into the Pignic fray will influence Pinches’ decision on the Hog Farm’s expanded use permit is anybody’s guess. In a number of meetings with the Laytonville constituents over the Pignic dispute, Pinches has stated he does not believe it is proper to use the permit process to legislate against “alternative life styles.” He told one gathering it would make as much sense to ban the Pignic because of “hippies and pot-smokers” as it would to terminate Laytonville’s annual rodeo because “some people don’t like a bunch of drunk cowboys in town.” However, other than those comments Pinches has not tipped his hand as to the actual merits of the application.

The Supes will hold the public hearing on Monday, January 13, in their chambers at the Admin Center in Ukiah. It is scheduled to begin at 9am and will be open for public comment. Also, written comments on the use permit application will be accepted until January 10. Written comments should be sent to the Department of Planning and Building, 501 Low Gap Road, Room 1440, Ukiah, CA 95482.

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