The Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted down the proposed Cal Centre music festival project Tuesday afternoon.
The project would have brought 65,000 people to an outdoor concert venue a few miles northwest of Bakersfield for up to three days a year.
Project developer Daniel Rudnick urged the five supervisors to think about the dramatic financial benefit major festivals like the one he was proposing can bring to a community.
The bottom line, he said, was that his project could deliver culture, fun and tens of millions of dollars in economic development cash to Kern County.
“If you want to have a thriving community, you have to have parks and museum and schools — and you have to have cultural events,” Rudnick said.
But supervisors said they couldn’t support the idea even though they agreed it’s a good one.
Supervisor David Couch asked questions about the impact of the project on traffic, law enforcement and adjacent business owners.
Couch represents the area where the project would have been located.
He said he couldn’t give the Rudnicks his support.
“I think we support the concept but we have to think about the worst case scenario. I looked for a way to support this project. But I’m going to support the staff recommendation,” Couch said.
That recommendation was to deny the Rudnicks' appeal and deny the project.
Other supervisors touted the idea but not the location.
“What a great idea,” said Supervisor Mick Gleason. “It brings culture. It brings fun. It diversifies the economy.”
But he said the other side of the coin has some good arguments. He said public safety concerns and the potential for traffic problems give him pause. But his biggest concern, he said, was for the county’s critical agriculture economy.
“Our agriculture community is under significant stress from a million different directions,” Gleason said.
He said he was very disappointed that he couldn’t approve such a great idea and bring the project “into the end zone.”
Rudnick brought a noteworthy collection of supporters to speak in favor of his festival plans.
Jimmy Engleman of OnTrack Event Management said the group will be handing the transportation logistics for events at Cal Centre and they are experts in the field, having handled major events including a Super Bowl.
Bob Hampton of Westside Waste Management also spoke in favor of the project. He said he’s excited about handling the trash from the development.
Marcella Ives said the project would be a net boon to Kern County.
“This isn’t about putting money in one person’s pocket. It’s about improving our community,” she said.
Rick Davis, the former head of the Kern County Board of Trade, spoke up in support of the project as well.
“We had a saying at the Board of Trade: ‘Bring ‘em in, load up their Visas, send 'em home happy,’” Davis said.
Taft City Councilman Orchel Krier said the project is needed to keep westside communities from turning into ghost towns.
But the county supervisors also heard a lot of concerning information about the project's impact.
Kern County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Larry McCurtain outlined the massive need for Sheriff’s resources if the festivals were approved.
The Sheriff’s Office didn't oppose or support the event, he said. But he said 260 officers would be needed every day to staff an event of the venue's proposed size and scope. That outlay of personnel would exceed the Sheriff’s staffing resources.
Most of the opposition came from major, long-term farming families that operate near the proposed festival grounds.
Farmer Fred Starhh said the project would decimate agriculture in that area, calling it “The disaster on 7th Standard (Road) and I-5.”
“We farm in that area,” Starhh said. “You can’t operate around a deal like this. You can’t imagine the confusion it would create in that area.”
Farmer Daniel Palla said the location of the project would create millions of dollars of liability for his family if they were to have a pesticide drift that hit the project.
Delaying a spray until after the festival is gone could cost them crops.
But even if there is never a problem, Palla said, the thought of putting 65,000 people next to active farming operations is just a bad idea.
“This would be the equivalent of putting a shooting range next to a school,” he said. “Even if a bullet never hit the school, people at the school would be concerned to constantly hear gunfire.”
Daniel Rudnick dismissed his neighbors' concerns that mixing their pesticide use with a music festival would create a dangerous situation. In 35 years, he said, there has never been an overspray situation on their property from neighboring agricultural fields.
“The existential threat to agriculture in the valley is not a music festival. It’s water,” Rudnick said.
If farmers in the Semitropic Water District continue to use water at the same pace they have for decades, they will suck the water table dry and agriculture will die, he said.
After the meeting Rudnick said his team would be working to find a new location for the Cal Centre project. He said he not giving up on what everyone says is a good idea.