City Beat

Gibson Ranch operator apologizes for problems at City of Trees music festival

Fans cheer for Halsey before she performs at the City of Trees music festival at Gibson Ranch on Aug. 15, 2015. Many fans complained about traffic, a water shortage and overflowing garbage cans at the event.
Fans cheer for Halsey before she performs at the City of Trees music festival at Gibson Ranch on Aug. 15, 2015. Many fans complained about traffic, a water shortage and overflowing garbage cans at the event.

Doug Ose, the developer and former congressman who operates Gibson Ranch Park in Elverta, apologized Monday to fans who felt burned by logistical issues at the inaugural City of Trees music festival and said, “We can do better.”

Ose addressed fans who dealt with traffic jams, long lines at water stations, unlit parking areas and uncollected garbage at the festival on Saturday. And, with the much-larger Aftershock Festival looming just two months from now, Ose said organizers of that event have already discussed ways to address some of the issues that marred City of Trees.

“Unfortunately, we made some mistakes,” Ose wrote in an email to The Sacramento Bee. “We want our customers, friends and supporters to know how badly we feel about these failures, that we recognize them as failures and that we are determined to not repeat them.”

Concertgoers reported several issues with City of Trees, which drew a crowd of more than 9,000 on a day when temperatures hovered near 100 degrees. Some said they were stuck in traffic for more than two hours trying to leave the park, while others said it took almost as long to get into the venue.

“It was an amazing lineup, but I don’t know why they chose that place,” said Alejandro Bupara, 20. “Getting out there was trouble.”

Ose is four years into a 10-year agreement with Sacramento County to operate the 325-acre Gibson Ranch. Prior to that arrangement, the county had closed the park for a year due to budget cuts.

Ose, who served in Congress from 1999 to 2005, touted his management of Gibson Ranch as a model of public-private partnerships last year in his unsuccessful Republican campaign against Democratic Rep. Ami Bera. In 2010, he faced criticism from public park advocates when he pitched county officials on operating the park as a private, for-profit endeavor. The Board of Supervisors agreed in 2011 to lease it to him for a base rate of $1 per year.

Critics at the time worried that Ose would profit from the venture at the expense of maintaining the park’s natural beauty. But Ose said this will be the first year his group will make a profit on the park and that he expects to make about $25,000.

He said Monday he’s hoping to land 12 to 15 large events each year. Gibson Ranch has hosted large music festivals before, including Day in the Zone, the Heritage Festival and Country in the Park, though the two-day Aftershock Festival in October is expected to test the park’s limits.

Ose said the promoters running Aftershock have among their ranks a traffic specialist who helps at the Rose Parade. While traffic control was limited Saturday to the streets near the park entrance, Ose said officers will be on hand at eight intersections for Aftershock. Those intersections include the corner of Watt Avenue and Elverta Road, among the key trouble spots on Saturday.

In addition to the main gate on Elverta Road, Ose said a back entrance and a parking lot on an adjacent property will be available for Aftershock, which is expected to draw 25,000 fans per day. Fans could use only Gibson Ranch’s main entrance to get into City of Trees.

City of Trees was sponsored by Radio 94.7 and featured a deep lineup of indie rock, punk and folk bands, headlined by Cake and Of Monsters and Men.

On its website, Radio 94.7 wrote that issues raised by fans “will be addressed and solved before our next event.”

“We’ve received a lot of overwhelmingly positive feedback about the event,” the statement read. “We’ve also received feedback about things we will improve in the future, like the traffic flow after the show. That was frustrating and we apologize. One-way in and one-way out creates a painfully long wait.”

“Gibson Ranch is a great setting for CITY OF TREES and other concert events,” the statement continued. “We take full responsibility for making the final part of future CITY OF TREES experiences better.”

The concert let out around 10 p.m., causing a major backup along the park’s main road. Ose blamed some of the situation on pedestrians. Many concertgoers took ride-sharing services Lyft or Uber to the show, but those fans had to walk out of the park to meet their rides.

“We’ve got to figure out a dedicated pathway that’s lighted for pedestrians to use and stay out of the vehicle lanes,” Ose said in an interview. “It’s our fault, we didn’t anticipate (the number of fans using ride-sharing services). We screwed up.”

Concertgoer Shelly Miller said friends of hers who attended with their kids left early because of the long lines at the food vendors. And when she tried to refill a water bottle, Miller said, the line was too long.

“I would have completely forgiven the water fiasco, except that we waited over an hour and a half to leave,” she said. “I’ve never been in a situation like that trying to get out of an event like this. We literally sat in the car, in line to get out, without moving for well over an hour. People were hungry, there were no bathrooms. A guy behind me called the cops.”

Ose acknowledged many issues raised by fans, largely on social media.

He wrote “there were not enough bathrooms,” but that the situation “will not happen again.” He said “trash collection was not done well” and that the lighting in the parking lots was “woefully inadequate.”

The lines for water were long, but Ose said fans could have refilled water at one of three water fountains inside the venue. He said providing sufficient water at the event was “the responsibility of the promoter.”

The Radio 94.7 statement said the venue never ran out of water. “The tank at the free water station required only one refilling,” the statement read. “During that time event staff distributed unopened water bottles to all who were in line.”

Ose suggested that City of Trees was a learning experience.

“On any given event, we’re going to make mistakes and our goal is to get better,” Ose said. “We’re turtles – we just keep inching forward, trying to improve the park.”

Related stories from Sacramento Bee