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Promoter touts X-Fest safety

Concert promoter Chris Ricci contends he has a proven safety record hosting downtown Modesto's annual Xclamation Festival.

But heading into his eighth year assembling the summer concert, he's facing a new round of questions about whether X-Fest's mix of crowds and alcohol are too dangerous for Modesto's burgeoning downtown core.

This time, the concerns are coming from Modesto City Councilman Will O'Bryant, who worries X-Fest could become the scene for career-ending injuries for public safety officers.

He also fears the 12,000 people who flock to X-Fest each year could crowd out emergency responders if someone inside the concert suffers a serious injury. O'Bryant and the rest of the council on Tuesday face a vote on approving X-Fest 2007 for July 21.

"I know that Chris Ricci has worked very well with the police and fire to address everything we've brought up — especially me — in the past," said O'Bryant, a retired Alameda County sheriff's detective. "I give him credit for that, but sometimes these things go past what's reasonable."

Ricci counters that he's coming off X-Fest's safest year yet.

About 200 private security personnel and 100 police officers patrolled the event last summer. They looked for people who flashed gang signs, wore gang clothing, picked fights, created other disturbances or were overly intoxicated.

Ricci reimbursed the Police Department $40,000 for their work that night.

Officers arrested 11 people, about a quarter of the arrests they made at X-Fest the previous year.

"The way you prevent major problems from happening is you prepare," Ricci said. "You work with police, you work with the fire, you work with American Medical Response and you spend the money to make the risk as little as possible."

Pairs of paramedics and emergency medical technicians walk X-Fest each year. The concert keeps 24-foot fire lanes and the Fire Department has extinguished a blaze in a 10th Street restaurant at a previous X-Fest.

Some of the restaurants in the X-Fest area hire their own security guards to make sure their patrons don't buy drinks inside and carry them onto the street.

William Solazzo, manager of Fuzio Universal Pasta, said the two guards the 10th Street restaurant hired for last year's X-Fest cut down on some of the problems it experienced in 2005.

"Last year was excellent," Solazzo said.

Assistant Police Chief Mike Harden and Fire Chief Jim Miguel wouldn't say whether they think the council should sign off on X-Fest next week. They said they'd work with Ricci to carry out the council's direction.

"As long as they continue to control the event and continue to cover our costs to ensure those people's safety, we'll continue to work with them," Miguel said.

In five years as a council member, O'Bryant never has voted to block an X-Fest concert. He said his concerns mounted when he saw a Police Department video prepared for public television that showed an aerial shot of X-Fest 2006 with throngs of people clogging downtown streets.

That video prompted O'Bryant to argue with Ricci at a recent council subcommittee meeting about whether the concert was worth the risk it presented to the city.

O'Bryant said he was especially concerned about an intoxicated crowd getting out of control. He said he favored family-friendly events for downtown.

'We've come too far'

Two downtown disturbances that occurred since September in which police called in dozens of backup officers from throughout the area solidified O'Bryant's worries.

"I'm not knocking everything downtown," O'Bryant said. "I'm talking about the violence, the late-night violence, and it's all alcohol-related. So how do you draw the line?"

Ricci said banning concerts such as X-Fest would be a step back for downtown, which boasts a thriving nightclub scene.

"I believe that Will is a person that's resisting change and evolution," Ricci said. "Our city's growing drastically, and I think he perceives us to be a much smaller, less diverse community than we are right now. I think he's trying to run the clock back, and at this point, we've come too far."

Ricci has supporters on the council, too. Councilman Brad Hawn said Ricci plans well for the events he hosts, which ensures safety for the people who attend the concerts. That's the main difference between X-Fest and the downtown brawls in September and March that caught police off guard.

"The event's been a good event as far as responding to the needs of the city and there haven't been any problems," said Hawn, who scoped out last year's X-Fest in its closing hours. "It may not be an event I personally would want to go to, but as a City Council person, I need to think broader than that about what people that go to that event like to do."

The City Council meets Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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