Coachella fest's once-angry neighbors change tune
1:15 AM, Apr. 21, 2012
Written by Xochitl Peņa The Desert Sun
INDIO — One-hundred-year-old Roy Salazar sits on his front porch, legs crossed with a vodka tonic in hand, watching the excitement around his house unfold.
On the east side of his modest ranch-style home, separated by only a chain link fence, is the artist parking lot for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Sporadically passing back and forth in front of his Avenue 50 home are concert revelers — many headed to the VIP entrance located yards from his driveway.
From the main stage on Sunday, Santigold's funk pop beats fill the air.
"I like it. It doesn't bother me,” said the centenarian who lives directly across from the Empire Polo Club.
His son, Dave Salazar, and niece, Anna Gravner, laugh.
“It's because he can't hear,” said Dave Salazar.
For 13 years, the venue across from Salazar's house has played host to an internationally renowned music festival that has evolved into a cultural phenomenon.
This year, an estimated 95,000 people are in and around the grounds each day of the festival.
Since the beginning, residents living near the grounds have complained about the pounding noise, traffic congestion and trespassers who urinate, defecate or pass out on lawns.
Many braced for double the trouble this year, with promoters adding a second weekend with a lineup that mirrors the first.
Instead, some of the loudest critics have changed their tune.
“Honestly and truly I have no complaints. There hasn't been anything like there was last year,” said Dave Salazar, who travels from Colorado each year during the concert to stay and care for his 100-year-old father.
The drastic improvement, some residents say, is thanks to the concerted efforts put forth by promoter Goldenvoice and Indio and La Quinta officials in response to resident concerns last year.
“I think they recognized us. We appreciate Goldenvoice listening to us,” said LaVerne Sprinkle, a resident of La Quinta Ridge mobile home park on Monroe Street.
The changes are “unbelievable,” she said.
Saturday afternoon, while Zeds Dead mixed music in the Sahara tent, and the faint wails of the Kaiser Chiefs drifted by, Sprinkle and a handful of her neighbors made their own fun.
They gathered with drinks, snacks and played the yard game “washers” — similar to horseshoes — in a common area next to her mobile home.
Last year, Sprinkle said they wouldn't have been able to hold a conversation at that time because of the reverberations.
She thinks the speakers were moved to lessen the impact on the neighbors.
“We can live with this,” she said of the noise level.
The Sahara tent, which hosts mostly DJs, can be seen by peering through the oleander-covered chain link fence behind the park's common area.
Last year “you couldn't sleep. It was horrible. Much different,” said Ellen Williams, who's lived at La Quinta Ridge for 10 years.
“Compared to what we've been used to in the past, it's good,” she said.
Clearing the air
A series of about 18 meetings between Goldenvoice, Indio and La Quinta city staff and residents from both cities were held last year after the concerts.
The goal was to listen to resident frustrations and devise a plan to address those issues.
Community outreach started after the 2010 concert with two meetings, but really ramped up in 2011.
“I started noticing the high amount of complaints when you started talking to people,” said Councilman Sam Torres.
He and Councilwoman Lupe Ramos Watson sat on an ad-hoc committee created to help find solutions.
“By calling for these meetings, we were able to address specific concerns,” he said.
To ease up on trespassing and vandalism on private property, pedestrian traffic in certain areas around the venue was restricted and will continue to be restricted this weekend.
Monroe and Madison streets between Avenue 49 and Avenue 52 are closed to pedestrian traffic. Pedestrians also are not allowed on Avenue 50 between Hjorth and Monroe Street.
In order to gain access to the closed streets, residents who live in the area get color-coded passes that correspond with their addresses to hang from their rearview mirrors.
Wristbands allow them to walk up and down the streets.
Goldenvoice is also reimbursing gated community HOAs that hire added security during the festivals.
And as a thank you to the community, Goldenvoice on Friday released a limited amount of general admission passes for this weekend's sold-out festivities that residents from across the valley could purchase.
“It's taken a lot of hard work over the past nine months,” Skip Paige, vice president of Goldenvoice, said of the changes.
A general parking lot and festival entrance also were relocated away from La Quinta Ridge in an effort to curb the number of festivalgoers cutting through the gated community to gain access to the venue.
Other problems in recent years — such as impromptu pool parties thrown by trespassing concertgoers — has stopped, said Diana Fitzgerald, a resident of La Quinta Ridge for six years.
“Our biggest complaint was (that) we felt ignored,” she said.
Some still upset
Barbara Pye lives in the gated community of Carmela on Monroe Street in La Quinta, about a mile and a half from the concert venue.
She said she appreciates that the festival provides an outlet for youngsters and is aware of the economic boon it brings to the city of Indio, but she thinks three weekends of concerts is too disruptive.
Stagecoach country music festival — which this year will be held over three days — is next weekend. It is sold out.
“I think that's too much for a community. Goldenvoice ... they want to be good neighbors. If I lived besides one of these fellows and I had a party three weeks in a row, I don't think I would be considered a good neighbor,” she said.
Ben Guitron, spokesman for the Indio Police Department, understands not all residents will be happy. But he does think the community outreach efforts have significantly improved communication between all involved parties.
“We've received compliments and constructive recommendations. Overall we feel pretty good,” he said.
Dave Salazar said he had one criticism: City officials were being too restrictive with resident passes.
“I can't believe we need to wear bracelets to walk around,” said Anna Gravner.
“The first year I was here we were walking up and down, now it's difficult to do anything,” she said.
Still, Dave Salazar sees a much better overall situation for him and his father.
The guard placed directly in front of his house by Goldenvoice has helped deter lost concertgoers who may want to find some respite on his lawn.
“I think it's a lot better. The cooperation between city and residents was tremendous,” said Dave Salazar.
“There wasn't as many people (walking by). There wasn't as much conflict,” he said.
“Dad had a wonderful time.”