Modesto downtown music festival X-Fest lives another year

X-Fest promoter Chris Ricci addresses the Modesto city council to during a city council meeting in Modesto, Calif., on Tuesday, April, 26, 2016.
X-Fest promoter Chris Ricci addresses the Modesto city council to during a city council meeting in Modesto, Calif., on Tuesday, April, 26, 2016.

X-Fest lives.

The City Council voted 4-3 Wednesday morning to grant this year’s permit for the annual music festival that draws about 15,000 people downtown for one night in August to party at what the promoter calls Modesto’s Mardi Gras.

The council’s decision came after a roughly four-hour discussion that started Tuesday night and included comments from about three dozen audience members, nearly all of them X-Fest supporters.

Mayor Ted Brandvold and Councilmen Mani Grewal and Bill Zoslocki voted “no.”

Zoslocki questioned whether the festival could be safe given the reductions in recent years of the law enforcement personnel assigned to it. That includes the off-duty officers hired by the festival and on-duty officers paid by grants who work the event. That number has dropped from 171 in 2013 to 81 last year, according to Modesto police. The on-duty officers have come from several agencies.

Brandvold and Grewal wanted the festival’s final security plan to come to the council for approval.

The council’s approval of the permit is contingent upon X-Fest promoter Chris Ricci completing the security plan to the satisfaction of Police Chief Galen Carroll. The chief must approve the plan no later than May 30. As in past years, Ricci must meet other city requirements, such as having sufficient insurance coverage, or face having the city cancel the event.

Council members also asked city staff to provide them with a report on how this year’s X-Fest turns out.

Carroll said the security plan places more responsibility on Ricci for ensuring a safe festival, which the chief called a private, for-profit event held on public streets.

The plan calls for X-Fest to hire 300 licensed security guards, up from last year’s 200 guards. Another change is that the 35 off-duty Modesto officers hired by Ricci will be stationed outside the festival, which takes up several downtown streets and is encircled with temporary fencing. The officers will handle problems outside the festival and respond to problems inside the festival as needed.

Carroll has said that many of his officers do not want to work the festival because of the festival-goers who consume too much alcohol and become hostile to officers.

An additional change is that 120 of the security guards will work two hours beyond the festival’s 1 a.m. closure, and 12 of the officers will work until 6 a.m. Carroll has said in past years the security guards left when X-Fest ended. This year’s festival is scheduled for 5 p.m. Aug. 20 to 1 a.m. Aug. 21.

Carroll said many incidents, such as fights, happen after the festival closes, which can tie up the officers who are working their normal shifts patrolling Modesto. That can lead to slower response times elsewhere in the city. For instance, he said, after last year’s X-Fest a resident had to detain a burglar for an hour until police arrived.

The police also raised concerns about how much drinking takes place at the festival and its potential for problems. Police suggested several steps to curb alcohol consumption, including limiting it to beer gardens. X-Fest representatives said the suggestions are impractical and sales at the beer booths have declined. Alcohol sales will be handled the same way as in past years.

As he did at the council’s April 5 meeting in which it discussed X-Fest, Ricci criticized city officials Tuesday. For instance, he said, they only care about crime in Modesto when it is associated with X-Fest. City Manager Jim Holgersson and Carroll challenged those claims.

“Eighty percent of what you say is disingenuous,” Holgersson said. “We want to work with you.”

Ricci said X-Fest includes 20 stages featuring 140 bands and called it the Valley’s biggest party. “It’s not a gang event or something that attracts criminals. We’ve never apologized for what we are. ... For one night in Modesto, we have a Mardi Gras-type festival.”

The festival draws a younger crowd, and in recent years the music has been largely hip-hop.

X-Fest, which started in 2000, is a boon for hotels and some downtown restaurants and bars, though other downtown businesses say it hurts their sales or they close for the festival. Downtown Improvement District board member Steve Rank told the council Tuesday that his agency conducted an informal poll of downtown businesses. He said 293 responded, with 77 in favor of X-Fest, 30 opposed and the rest not having an opinion or not caring.

This is the first time issues between Ricci and the city have been made public. City officials have said Modesto has had issues with Ricci in past years over his completing the requirements of his permit. For instance, Carroll said he came close to canceling last year’s X-Fest after his department learned that X-Fest had hired 150 security guards and 50 other workers and not 200 security guards as required. The festival scrambled to hire the additional 50 guards.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316