I hope you fellow community members can join me in the near universal excitement for the approval of a music festival site here in Kern County. Like most of us, I am concerned about the ongoing safety and quality of life in our community. As I study our future, I see innovative economic development projects such as a music festival venue as a particularly effective way to protect the Kern County we so dearly love.
Yes, it’s true that we enjoy one of the lowest individual tax burdens in California and, yes, we have clearly expressed our opinion at the ballot box, declining to raise our own taxes for roads, libraries and even hotel taxes placed on those who visit our county. Yet, we also know that long-term dependence upon oil and agriculture has placed us in a position of declining tax revenues even when the demand for public safety and quality of life are ever growing. The truth is that we are in a bind and one that requires thinking beyond our status quo.
I grew up in the Coachella Valley and attended Indio High School. I knew that desert well, and I knew Indio well. Sure, there were pockets of successful agriculture businesses, but they were surrounded by significant economic challenges everywhere else. In 1996 with one show, and then in 1999 as an ongoing venue, local leaders with uncommon vision saw an opportunity to develop a world-class music festival setting and created the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in Indio.
The transformation is remarkable — from a sleepy desert town to a robust economic engine with cultural events and a new quality of life that are immeasurably beyond what existed when I grew up there. As an example of the economic impact, the 2017 festivals will generate an estimated $400 million dollars in spending for the Coachella Valley economy.
When someone first told me of a world-renowned music festival called “Coachella,” I remarked, “Are you kidding me? This should be in Kern County.” Well, we now have our own local leaders with uncommon vision. Phil and Daniel Rudnick know that a music festival venue can enhance public safety and our quality of life and would do so without any additional taxpayer commitment. The Rudnicks were born and raised in Kern County, are successful farmers and are a significant part of the philanthropic fabric of our community.
The economics of their music festival project could annually generate $100 million in local spending from outside sources. Yes, it needs to be done safely and done well, of which they promise it will. This Tuesday, the Rudnicks are asking the Board of Supervisors for a three-year conditional permit to demonstrate just that.
Today, there are those who suggest that the only way to fund public safety and protect our quality of life is to raise our sales tax and/or become dependent on revenue from federally banned substances. Instead of supporting efforts antithetical to our way of life, I suggest we do what Kern County does best — allow our own entrepreneurs to develop industries that grow our own economy to fully support our local government.
Let’s protect our way of life and ask our Board of Supervisors to approve the Music Festival project.
John Nilon is a retired county administrative officer and Bakersfield resident since 1977.