East Bay Music Festival Venue Revamps Permitting Process

The Port of Oakland and another agency are working to streamline the permitting process at a popular outdoor venue.

The Treasure Island Music Festival has been cancelled indefinitely, event organizers said recently on the show’s website.

The precise cause remains unclear, but the organizations responsible for managing Oakland’s Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, the space where the festival took place last year, are working to make it easier to put on events there in the future.

When Another Planet Entertainment and Noise Pop, the production companies behind the Treasure Island Music Festival, disclosed its cancellation last week, some speculated that it was related to paperwork and permitting issues.

“Bringing the festival back to life last year following the relocation was a massive undertaking, but with the new issues facing the site location, we feel strongly as though putting on a festival… is simply not possible,” the organizers said in a joint statement.

Neither production company has given on-the-record interviews detailing the cause for the cancellation. But the Port of Oakland, which owns and manages Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, says that the event was never even on its radar for 2019.

“Not sure if ‘cancelled’ is even the right word. ‘Never scheduled’ is the right word,” Mike Zampa, a spokesperson for the Port of Oakland, told SF Weekly.

The two-day music festival began in 2007 on San Francisco’s Treasure Island, and has featured high-profile musical acts like Ice Cube, Pusha-T, deadmau5, Outkast, and CHVRCHES.  In recent years, it averaged between 20,000 and 35,000 attendees.

Music festivals of that magnitude can take several months or even an entire year to book, plan, and organize.

It appears likely that issues between the Port and another agency that must sign off on events at the park came to a head well after any decision about plans for the music festival would have been made.

The festival only moved to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in 2018, after losing its place on Treasure Island in 2016 due to the start of construction on a $6 billion development.

The park in Oakland, however, has several governing bodies attached to it. Event organizers talk to the Port of Oakland if they want to hold an event there. The Port, in theory, then needs to get permission from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, or BCDC, a regulatory agency concerned with the environmental protection of the Bay and its shoreline.

Whether the Port obtained the necessary permission for events is disputed. The BCDC issued a cease-and-desist order on July 3, in which it ordered the Port to stop using Middle Harbor Shoreline Park for anything that isn’t free and open to the public unless it gets written permission from the commission.

The order says that for many years, from 2005 to 2013, the Port failed to seek permission from the commission; in recent years, the paperwork came in too late for BCDC to make any changes.

The commission, in addition to maintaining the environmental well-being of the Bay, is charged with keeping some portion of the park open to the public even during a ticketed event. It cited the Second Sky Music Festival from June as an example of the problems caused by events. “According to a complaint received by BCDC, the festival closed off the entire park to public access from June 13th through 18th,” the order states.

The Port concedes that it has been at fault in the past.

“We have been inconsistent at the least in getting permission,” Zampa says. “We need to get better in that regard.”

While the cease-and-desist order may have put a damper on immediately upcoming events, the commission and the Port are working to change the permitting process to more easily allow ticketed events at the park in the future.

Currently, the Port has to fill out requests for each event at the park. Both sides are working on an amendment to the regulations which would allow the Port around four events per year at the park under specific, pre-arranged parameters.

“Frankly, it will make everyone’s life easier,” says Brad McCrea, regulatory director at BCDC. “It makes the event planner’s life easier, because they know the rules for the event already. It makes the Port’s life easier because they don’t have to get permission for each individual event, and it makes our lives easier because it reduces the amount of paperwork and process.”

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