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Reggae On The River Returns Home

Aah, Reggae. Scenes from 2012, by Zac Mansfield.
Aah, Reggae. Scenes from 2012, by Zac Mansfield.

Having gained county approval, Reggae on the River 2013 is set for the first weekend in August at its home site, French’s Camp.

It’s another milestone in the festival’s storied 28-year history, as the Mateel Community Center is exclusively managing it for the first time as a four-day festival with camping.

The Mateel had been operating it at the Benbow Lake Recreation Area as a non-camping event in the wake of a messy legal battle with the former manager, People Productions. The conflict was part of the county Planning Commission’s Jan. 3 discussion on the festival’s permit and a condition of approval mandates that the permit terminates if the Mateel is not the festival’s main manager.

The commission unanimously approved the permit and an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the festival after reviewing its impacts and the methods of mitigating them. The five-year permit’s conditions include setting an attendance of 8,000 people, including staff and performers, for the first year and a maximum total of 10,500 people in subsequent years.

The commission will review the permit annually and can revamp the attendance conditions. Security provisions and numbered wristbands will seek to ensure that attendance is accurately tallied and enforced.

Vehicles entering the site will be screened for leaking fluids and re-directed to areas away from the river bar if problems are detected. Post-event site restoration, noise monitoring relevant to potential marbled murrelet nesting, water storage during high river flows and a range of traffic control measures are also included as conditions.

Senior Planner Michael Richardson highlighted the requirement for an annual report to the commission. “You will have the benefit of hindsight in tweaking any of the mitigation measures to make this a safer and more successful event,” he told commissioners.

With the festival in the Mateel’s hands and at its original location, the fights of the past seem distant – but not entirely. Commissioner Ralph Faust noted that the original permit was held by Tom Dimmick, who organized Reggae Rising with People Productions at the adjacent Dimmick Ranch site.

“It might be reasonable for an average person to assume that that permit was stolen and the landowner asserted legal rights, under the wording of the permit, to take the permit from the community center,” he said, addressing Deputy County Counsel Davina Smith. “It was unseemly at a minimum and resulted in litigation that was probably unnecessary.”

The so-called reggae war was resolved with a settlement payment to the Mateel and split festivals. Dimmick ran Reggae Rising on his property in 2009 but was denied a permit in 2010 due to failure to meet its conditions and the offshoot festival has dissolved.

Smith said that if factionalization re-emerges, “We could potentially have another litigation event over who owns the permit.”

The exchange led to Faust’s proposal to name the Mateel as the definitive festival manager in the permit.

Later, Mark Arthur, of the Arthur Family Trust, the owner of French’s Camp, told commissioners that “as far as Dimmick’s use permit, I think that point is moot because the Arthur Family will not allow him on our property again and part of his use permit was using our property.”

Faust also asked why keeping the festival at Benbow isn’t cited as an alternative in the EIR. The question evoked an ongoing issue with the festival’s level of popularity – some have criticized its scale as being too grand.

Doug Green, the Mateel’s board president, said a festival with camping has been a unique communal phenomenon. “It was a very magical thing that happened there, that made people want to come back,” he said. “Reunions take place there, people get married there, we all know, certainly, babies are conceived there – there is a tremendous amount of heartfelt feeling for that venue.”

There was no criticism of the festival during a public comment session but nearby business owners asked that the Mateel do more work to ensure customer access, as the California Highway Patrol is requiring that there be no pedestrian crossing of Highway 101. That aspect was added to the permit conditions.

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