SF Sets No Maximum Volume, Extends Outside Lands Permit Through 2031

The crowd at 2017's Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park.  (Estefany Gonzalez)

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a 10-year permit extension for the Outside Lands music festival on Tuesday, extending the city's contract with event production company Another Planet Entertainment through 2031.

The popular festival, which debuted in 2008, draws hundreds of thousands of attendees to Golden Gate Park every year. According to Dana Ketcham, the Recreation and Parks Departments' permit director, last year's festival resulted in an estimated $66 million economic impact on the city and created 700 jobs. 

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The board's decision to extend Outside Lands' permit came after an appeal from two residents, Andrew Solow and Stephen Somerstein, who lobbied for a maximum decibel limit as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Their attorney cited an increase in noise complaints about the festival; indeed, there were 212 Outside Lands-related noise complaints in 2018, a big jump from 80 in 2017—though it's unclear whether the festival got louder, or neighbors became less tolerant.

"We don't want to shut it down. We want it to continue, we want to continue those good jobs, we want to continue the tax revenues coming into the city," said the appellants' attorney, Richard Drury. "We just want a noise policy that's enforceable and reasonable."

The Board of Supervisors opted not to impose a decibel limit as part of the permit extension.

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Ketcham said that Outside Lands' sound engineers who adjust the volume on site worked to mitigate the issue last year, and complaints dropped from 118 on Friday to only 31 on Sunday. Still, she said the festival and city plan to do more. The permit extension requires a minimum amount of noise monitors, who will report out the adjustments they make after the festival is over.

"When questions come in saying 'You don't know if they did anything,' we'll have a report showing exactly what they did," Ketcham said.

Several local residents spoke at the hearing in support of Outside Lands, including musicians, parents, teachers, business owners and union workers.

"Every single year [the festival] has improved. They've gotten better at traffic, noise, litter, the cleanup," said longtime Richmond District resident Jason Hancock.

"Outside Lands is a continuation of the history of rock 'n' roll going on in San Francisco since 1968," said Douglas Taylor, a stagehand who works at the festival. "Outside Lands goes above and beyond anyone I've ever seen in dealing with complaints."

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to extend the festival's permit. Outside Lands is slated to return to Golden Gate Park Aug. 9–11 with Paul Simon, Childish Gambino and Twenty One Pilots as headliners.

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