The city of Indio has postponed signing a contract with Coachella festival promoter and organizer Goldenvoice, following pressure from the neighboring city of La Quinta for an environmental review of the popular music and arts festival. The festival thus faces the possibility of delay from its April 13, 2012 start date.
The Indio City Council voted for the postponement earlier this month, following La Quinta City Council's request for them to delay approval of the contract. La Quinta wants Indio and Goldenvoice to conduct an assessment under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to evaluate the environmental impact of traffic, noise and pollution generated by the festival, owing to the fact that its length will be doubled this year, to two weekends in April. If Indio complies, the review process could extended well beyond Coachella's scheduled opening date.
As Coachella has grown over the past dozen years, so has the affluent town of La Quinta, whose population of about 40,000 has nearly doubled in the last decade. The city now borders two sides of Indio's Empire Polo Field festival grounds and has become a popular place to stay for the 60,000 to 75,000 people who attend Coachella daily. Already wary of the wild partying from attendees with vacation rentals in the area, many residents of La Quinta were not pleased to learn that Coachella had extended its length, hence the demand for an Environmental Impact Review under CEQA, whose environmental protection policies apply to Coachella. CEQA is a self-governing statute, so while La Quinta can't actually force Indio to conduct the review, the former does have the right to seek its enforcement through private litigation if Indio doesn't address La Quinta's concerns to its satisfaction.
According to the Desert Sun — which covers Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley — at an October 4 La Quinta City Council meeting, Coachella patrons were described by some locals as “the people who destroy our environment.” Barbara Bishop, the president of a La Quinta homeowners association, claimed that 80 percent of the community's security incidents occur during Coachella and the popular Stagecoach Festival, usually held the following weekend at the Polo Field.
Both La Quinta and Indio have complained about the festival in the past — trespassing and “riding horses without permission” are among their grievances, KCET notes. The new contract, however, gives Indio less of a reason to complain — and to want to conduct the lengthy review — than its much wealthier neighbor: in addition to expanding Coachella to two weekends (April 13-15 and April 20-22) and adding an additional day to the Stagecoach Festival (April 27-29), the new contract would give Indio a portion of ticket sales earnings from both festivals. Indio City Manager Dan Martinez said at the Oct. 4 meeting that the new contract includes a series of penalties and fines to help reduce environmental disturbances, but La Quinta officials said that wasn't enough.
La Quinta asked that the signing of the contract be postponed for 30 days to address the concerns of residents and the need for an Environmental Impact Review. If the review is deemed necessary, then the process – which includes a recommended 75 days of public comment on its findings – would likely extend well beyond Coachella's opening date in April.
Indio officials were wary of engaging the review process. While admitting that neither they nor Goldenvoice can spare a month for review, they instead asked for two weeks to produce progress reports for La Quinta about how its concerns are being handled. Considering the Coachella Valley reaps $35 million from the festival each year, it's likely that some sort of compromise will be reached to get the festival started on-time.
Still, we can't help but be reminded of Silver Lake's escalating clashes with Sunset Junction over the years. As Coachella continues to grow, it seems likely that heightening controversy is inevitable.