It’s uncertain whether the debt-ridden Reggae Rising music festival will be held this year but those who are wondering will find out on June 17.
That’s the deadline that Humboldt County has given to Tom Dimmick, the festival’s owner, to pay the money he owes to a range of agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol (CHP), and satisfy their concerns about the event.
Humboldt County’s Planning Commission set the deadline at their June 3 meeting, where the annual report on the event was reviewed. Before the deadline was set, Dimmick told commissioners that if he can’t pay his debts to police agencies, “They are not going to support this event and the rest will run its course here.”
Without the support of the Sheriff’s Office and the CHP, Dimmick will be in violation of the festival’s Conditional Use Permit. Members of the commission, frustrated by what they view as Dimmick’s forfeited promises, used the term “pull the plug” to describe what action they’d take if things don’t improve by June 17.
Dimmick also owes money to festival vendors, staff and consultants, said County Planner Michael Richardson. He summarized the contents of Dimmick’s written annual report, which upholds the installation of a new wastewater treatment system and the elimination of traffic back-ups on Highway 101 as meaningful strides.
A water testing consultant would later tell commissioners that human impacts to the Eel River have been minimal, but Richardson noted that the testing report was handed in late, on the day of the meeting.
And that’s the least of Dimmick’s problems. Richardson said the annual report is “deficient” because it lacks the required support letters from the multiple county and state agencies that service the event. Asked by Commissioner Dennis Mayo if it’s “normal” for them to be unpaid at this point, Richardson said it’s not — that “the standard operating procedure would be for all the debts to be paid on an annual basis so you wouldn’t have these carry-over debts into the next event.”
The situation is particularly troubling for Commissioner Bruce Emad. In past hearings, Piercy residents objected to Reggae Rising and its impacts, but Emad credited the event’s economic assistance to non-profit groups and the community. Last week, he clearly showed a loss of patience with Dimmick’s apparent inability to pay his debts.
He said increasing the event’s attendance capacity to 14,440 people “has always been predicated on them delivering those promises and clearly, they have not … if they’re not smart enough to pay the Highway Patrol and the Sheriff’s Department, that just boggles my mind.”
Emad said the only way he’ll support the festival is if Dimmick creates an escrow account with at least $250,000 in it and pays all his vendors and all the agencies.
Dimmick told the commission it’s unlikely he’ll be able to set up an escrow account in addition to paying his debts. And the debt payments hinge on his ability to secure a new credit line.
He said that he arranged a “multi-million dollar line of credit” to pay outstanding debts from the 2007 and 2008 events, which saw “significant” losses. Dimmick also paid off a $500,000 debt to the Mateel Community Center, for the settlement of the divisive Reggae on the River litigation.
The 2009 Reggae Rising festival was a “modest financial success,” he continued, but that summer, the recession surged and his lender cut his credit by 30 percent, causing a “massive cash flow vacuum.”
Dimmick said that he’s “very optimistic” about a new financing arrangement whose approval is pending. If he gets it, he can pay his debts and the deposits for this year’s event. Asked by Commissioner Denver Nelson what will happen if he doesn’t get the financing, Dimmick said he’s “secured a back-up venue outside of Humboldt County.”
Dimmick has also taken the “dramatic step” of contracting with Miller Event Management of San Luis Obispo to run Reggae Rising’s traffic management, parking and security, he said.
During public comment, Undersheriff Mike Downey said payment delay is only one issue. By this time in past years, plans have been place for running the festival, he continued, but not this time.
“We will not participate in this event due to these conditions,” Downey said. The Sheriff’s Office will respond to calls, he continued, but will not contract with Reggae Rising. “I have concerns about the safety of those who will attend this event based on the fact that here we are, June 3, and we still do not have any clear direction about where we’re going,” he told commissioners.
Adam Jager, the commander of the Garberville CHP office, said that in the spring of 2009, his agency was given a check for about $16,000, which would have covered half of the debt from 2008 if it hadn’t bounced. A payment of $3,000 later emerged but the debt is now in the hands of a collection agency, he continued.
He shared Downey’s concerns that “there has been no planning whatsoever” for the upcoming festival. The festival has sold about $218,000 of advance tickets, Jager continued. “Where’s that money, Mr. Dimmick?” he asked.
Jager said Dimmick spent the money on booking bands and advertising, as well as “his mortgage, and he’s paid personal loans — I have a concern with that and I’ve shared that with the District Attorney.”
He added that the festival is attended by “a different group of people now,” including “gangs from L.A. and all over the United States.” In an interview after the meeting, Jager said police have seen known gang members at the event.
Keith Bowman, who owns land adjacent to the event site and the Cooks Valley Campground used by festival-goers, said he’s also owed money but “we’re still willing to put everything we have on the payment and the financing of this venue.” He told commissioners that there is a plan in place and “it’s much more professional than anything we’ve ever seen.”
He contested the portrayal of gangs, saying that 4,000 people were on his property last year with a fistfight being the only disruption. The event’s past managers will be paid back, Bowman continued, but some of them got “huge, huge salaries,” contributing to the “financial turmoil.” He said those kinds of salaries can’t be paid anymore.
Bowman also said the event will be smaller this year, with 8,000 to 10,000 people.
Commissioners continued the meeting to June 17, saying that if the concerns of police and other agencies aren’t addressed, the festival will be in violation of its use permit.