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Supes OK Bigger PigNic

With 3rd District Supervisor John Pinches walking point and clearing the political minefield, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors approved an expanded venue for the annual Labor Day weekend PigNic concert campout held near Laytonville.

Technically, the 4-1 vote last Monday (1/13) constitutes conceptual approval of a multi-conditioned use permit on which final action will be taken on January 27. The two-week delay is to allow Planning and Building staffers additional time to complete a final draft of approximately 40 conditions set by the Supes in okaying the two-day event, which includes a music concert, craft fair, and overnight camping for 5,000 people.

Since September of 1996, sponsors of the PigNic, the Black Oak Ranch partnership -- better known as the Hog Farm -- has had an application before the County requesting that attendance be raised from the permitted 1,000 to 5,000, as well as extending the duration to five years. The Hog Farm's request had drawn opposition from the Sheriff's office and Laytonville-area residents who cited concerns about public safety, drugs, trespass, inadequate environmental review and the sponsors failure to comply with previous limits set on attendance. Just as vocal in their support were PigNic proponents who countered that the festival is a true family-oriented event which pumps money, culture and good will into the Laytonville area.

On Monday, the Supes heard from just about anybody who had something to say about the PigNic, as the Board sifted through almost six hours of public comment and recommendations from local agencies. In the end, even 1st District Supervisor Mike Delbar, who cast the lone vote against the expanded permit, stated the PigNic appeared to be the kind of community event he would favor, but said he could not overcome concerns of crowd size and fire and sheriff's officials' warnings of inadequate resources to handle major problems or emergencies at the PigNic. Delbar also stated that given attendance in the past two years had greatly exceeded allowable limits, he needed it proven to him that sponsors could demonstrate "that a thousand can work without any problems." Supervisor Patti Campbell also expressed anxiety about crowd size but voted with the majority after stricter post-event review procedures and tougher security measures were made conditions of the permit. Other conditions mandated by the Supes included posting No Parking signs on neighbors' property, erecting a security fence along an adjacent property line, traffic signs indicating the concert is sold out, off-site security, a ban on "in-out" traffic at the event, a left-turn lane off US Hwy 101, a wristband control system for concert tickets, a method for clearly identifying security personnel and reimbursement for law enforcement and overtime expenses.

Prior to making their decision, the Supes heard from approximately 50 members of the public, fire and law enforcement officials and staff from Planning and Building. Altogether, there were well over 100 in the audience in the Supes chambers. Sheriff Jim Tuso said his office had a "genuine concern for public safety based upon events of last year" and, therefore, opposed expanding the event. Tuso explained in recent years the PigNic has "gained momentum" ... and "last year it exploded and caught us off-guard" when 5-6,000 people gathered at the site. Tuso stated that "the impact of 5-6,000 folks taps our resources" during the Labor Day weekend because a rodeo in Covelo and Paul Bunyan Day in Fort Bragg are also occurring at the same time. "That means we only have one deputy to handle the rest of the north County," the Sheriff informed the Board.

Tuso said that last year his office handled incidents involving drugs, illegal camping, littering, dumping of garbage, shoplifting, vagrancy, and other types of nuisance complaints. Many of the incidents occurred in Laytonville when prospective concert-goers were turned away from the gate because the PigNic was sold out. He also cited the accidental death of a two-month old baby at the PigNic, and said he had turned his report over to the District Attorney that morning. However, later in the day, DA Susan Massini announced she would not file criminal charges in the case because it was a "tragic accident... Even the most reasonable of humans could not have foreseen the result."

Tuso said that if the Supes were to approve the permit, they should order sponsors to reschedule it for another weekend. He also pushed for controlling crowds through the issuance of wristbands with "the last wristband issued as the cutoff." He also stated it was imperative for law enforcement to be "aggressively involved in the planning of security" for the event, and the Supes agreed to add that provision to the list of conditions.

On the subject of drugs, Tuso stated that PigNic producer, Bob Barsotti -- a Hog Farm member and long-time Bill Graham Presents VP -- agreed that the use of narcotics would not be condoned at the event. Tuso also reported that when he told Barsotti that members of the Narcotics Task Force would "pay a visit" to the PigNic, Barsotti supported the idea.

Lance Whitely, chief of the Laytonville Volunteer Fire Department, said that last year his department was "overwhelmed" by response calls to the PigNic. He stated that the rural department does not have the resources to "make a major response" for 5,000 people. Richard Matlock, a governing board member of the fire district, told the Supes, "Moving 5,000 people into Laytonville is taxing our ability, our EMT and ambulance services." He asked the Supes to consider whether "the economic benefits being derived from this event outweigh the problems it is creating?"

Barsotti explained that the PigNic had grown beyond the original 1,000 attendee ceiling through events beyond anybody's control. The 1995 PigNic swelled to almost 6,000 due to the death of Grateful Dead founder and leader Jerry Garcia that summer. Bob Weir, another Grateful Dead member, played with his band Ratdog at the 1995 PigNic. Fans wanting to pay tribute to Garcia trekked to the PigNic because of Weir's appearance. In essence, Barsotti told the Supes the genie was now out of the bottle, and the days of keeping the crowd to a thousand were gone forever. In recognition of that fact, Barsotti said he filed the revised permit application three months before the 1996 PigNic but it was not scheduled for hearing until several weeks after the event. When the excess crowd showed up and was turned away, many went into town to hang out. Barsotti said when he heard that problems were occurring in town, he made the decision to allow those without tickets back into the concert to alleviate the troubles downtown. 

On the positive side, Barsotti estimated that combined Hog Farm economic activities (PigNic, Camp Winnarainbow, fund-raising, etc.) generate approximately $1 million for Laytonville's coffers. He told the Supes he was confident given his long experience with Bill Graham Presents that PigNic sponsors could successfully manage the expanded 5,000-attendee event.

Barsotti's contention was backed up by numerous supporters, such as Barry Melton, an attorney and member of the Public Defender's Office. Melton, who used to play with Country ("Hell No We Won't Go") Joe and the Fish, assured the Board that the Bill Graham organization had worldwide recognition in all areas of concert production, including crowd control and security. Melton also informed the Supes that when he performs at the PigNic he refuses payment "because of the vast number of non-profit causes that benefit from the PigNic."

Berk Snow, a Laytonville resident, advised the Supes that rejecting the application would be akin to "not only trying to look a gift horse in the mouth, but kicking it in the teeth."

Bill Evans, a Laytonville Earth First!er, said he had "no objection to the PigNic itself, if it is kept within contained limits." Evans, who addressed the Board wearing rose-colored glasses -- "which I received from John Pinches" -- charged that the Hog Farm "is engaged in a commercial venture that is trying to circumvent the environmental review process."

Marsha Smythe, also of Laytonville, echoed Evans' allegation and said there was a "serious need for a re-zoning on the Black Oak Ranch" because the expanded concert activities are not compatible with its agricultural surroundings and uses. She also requested further study by the County on a possible archaeological study for the concert site. She said that the privacy rights "of residents are challenged by the intrusion of 6,000 concert-goers." She demanded the County "guarantee enforcement of (any) permit" issued to the Hog Farm. Smythe went on record as supporting an event with 1,000 attendees with strict review by the County. "The PigNic sponsors do not deserve the chance to fly the victory flag until all issues are corrected," she advised the Board.

On the subject of non-compliance with the 1,000 attendance cap, Laytonville businessman Bill Bailey commented, "You can't blame the promoters for taking any amount of money that comes into that PigNic because there's no consequence for (violation) of the use permit process. I think the Board needs to try and ensure that the nightmares that occurred last year never happen again anywhere in this County."

Vic Weaver, whose property borders the Hog Farm, requested that the Board order PigNic sponsors to post a bond for protection of neighbors against fire, trespass and property damage. Tony Ciotta, Laytonville Senior Center Director and Assemblyman in the California Senior Legislature, also favored the posting of a bond and told the Supes, "Seniors felt they couldn't venture out that weekend because of the environment in the town."

Evan Engber, Hog Farmer and Laytonville School Board member, told the Board that the group has spent over $100,000 on restoration of both Ten Mile and Streater Creeks which run through Black Oak Ranch property. Responding to calls for an archaeological study or a detailed EIR, Engber stated that at least five times (in the process of creek restoration work) he has received clearance from agencies that have approved negative declarations for archaeological sites and endangered species of plants and animals.

Of the 50 or so people who spoke at the hearing, approximately two-thirds supported the expanded PigNic permit. Supervisor Charles Peterson estimated that written comments from the public "ran two- or three-to-one in favor." Supervisor Richard Shoemaker compared the PigNic favorably to the Gilroy Garlic Festival and predicted the threat of revocation would give PigNic organizers "more than enough incentive to make sure everything works."

Pinches stated that in the past "too many things have been stopped because of problems. If there's a problem, let's deal with it," otherwise the County should be encouraging growth in the economic sector. He said he was convinced there was "overwhelming support" for the bigger PigNic from the Laytonville community. At the end of the hearing he stated, "It's been proven to me they (PigNic sponsors) can handle it at 5,000."

Pinches also related the time 25 years ago when he helped found the Laytonville Rodeo. According to Pinches, organizers built the original rodeo facilities without permits. Speaking on how times have changed, Pinches told the crowd, "When we started that rodeo 25 years ago, we did it without getting any permits. We wouldn't even have a rodeo today if we would have to go through the permit process [back then]."

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