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Reggae Fest Gets Go-Ahead

An appeal of the Reggae on the River festival’s county permit was denied by a majority of the Board of Supervisors but traffic flow conditions at the event’s main entrance remain a concern.

Capping a long, well-attended hearing on Feb. 11, the board’s denial motion included a directive for the Mateel Community Center, the festival’s operator, to seek future access alternatives to the French’s Camp event site.

The appeal was filed by the owners of the Patriot gas station located across Highway 101 from the site. The station’s owners claim that a prohibition against pedestrian crossings and lack of auto access from Highway 101 north will result in loss of business and economic harm.

But representatives of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) said that since total attendance for this year’s festival is being limited to 8,000 people, it’s likely that vehicles coming from 101 north will be allowed to make left turns into Patriot.

Reggae on the River will take place the first weekend of August and its return to its original French’s Camp site is a milestone. It follows the “Reggae War” caused by the 2006 festival, which lost money and led to a prolonged legal fight between the Mateel and the former festival managers, People Productions.

The festival’s French’s Camp pilgrimage hasn’t been devoid of conflict. Supervisor Rex Bohn noted that when the Planning Commission approved the permit last January, there seemed to be an agreement that the Mateel and the gas station owners would have a “Kumbaya” moment involving access arrangements and allowing the station to sell goods as an onsite vendor.

It didn’t happen and Will Kay, a Eureka-based attorney for the appellants, said there’s an “impasse” in the negotiations. “The event as presently configured will negatively impact my client’s business, causing him injury as a certainty,” said Kay.

He added that his clients are asking for more time to negotiate, as “once the appeal is denied, there will be no incentive for the Mateel to resolve the access issue.”

The festival’s permit approval includes provisions for a shuttle to transport people from the event site to Patriot via a turnaround at the Richardson’s Grove campground, however. And CHP Commander Adam Jager said his agency and Caltrans are open to conditionally allowing vehicle access to the gas station.

Bohn and Supervisors Mark Lovelace said the Patriot won’t lose any money due to the festival and Lovelace framed the issue as being one of maximizing profit.

Keith Bowman, who’s a “stakeholder” in the Patriot along with other family members, said Tom Dimmick is in bankruptcy and his former Reggae Rising festival site is being offered for sale. It could be used for improved access, Bowman continued, saying that “the Mateel has absolutely shined this on and has not even approached this idea to look for a different way to enter the site.”

Bowman said collaboration has been snubbed. “The Mateel has not worked with us whatsoever,” he told supervisors. “In their opinion, they’ve been reasonable but they have not been.”

But Katz Boose, the festival’s operations manager, said the Mateel has not only offered the shuttle for affected businesses but 24-hour security as well. She said the Patriot’s owners were offered space for an onsite store but they demanded a 70-foot by 80-foot space that would be as big as the fest’s stage.

The negotiations ultimately collapsed because the store site would have been on property owned by the Arthur family, Boose continued. She said there’s resentment because the Bowmans dumped a large amount of asphalt waste from a reconstruction project on the Arthur’s property.

Doug Green, the president of the Mateel’s Board of Directors, said dealing with the situation has been difficult. “I was told by Zach Bowman and Keith Bowman and one other property owner many months ago that ‘you will give us what we want or we will shut your show down,’” he continued, qualifying that the quote is a paraphrase.

“I think this is an extrapolation of that,” he said.

Supervisor Estelle Fennell has a long and involved history with Reggae on the River. She said she’s gotten a “number of letters that came into me from local businesses,” with the “unanimous input being, ‘let’s work this out, let’s compromise.’” That would be a worthwhile approach, she continued, noting that the Bowmans have hired an attorney and “there might be a lawsuit.”

There seems to be little room for mutual agreement, however.

Candace Arthur said her family had allowed the Bowmans limited use of their property, which abuts the Bowman’s Grandfather Tree business, specifying that no waste depositing would be involved. “They dumped four dump truck loads of broken, gas- and oil-soaked asphalt onto our property without our permission,” she continued.

“Give an inch, take a mile — that has been the Bowman’s M.O. ever since we had that property line,” said Arthur. She added that Keith Bowman called her on the phone, “threatening me, saying that I had to give him a lot line adjustment big enough for his son to put his store there or he’s going to kill Reggae on the River — now, that doesn’t seem like very good negotiating tactics to me.”

Eventually, Fennell’s motion to deny the appeal but to have the Mateel work on the access quandaries was approved, with Bohn casting a dissent vote. As a former management employee with Renner Petroleum, he’d had a professional relationship with the Bowmans. He said that after the January Planning Commission meeting, he’d expected an agreement to be worked out and “you guys have got to get along and get this worked out.” ¥¥

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