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County supervisors green light a second Symbiosis festival

Also Tuesday, supervisors agreed to sell the former Honor Farm to Camp Taylor to use for camps for children with heart defects.
Also Tuesday, supervisors agreed to sell the former Honor Farm to Camp Taylor to use for camps for children with heart defects. Modesto Bee file

The date is set for a second Symbiosis Gathering and Music Festival at Woodward Reservoir regional park north of Oakdale, despite neighbors’ complaints about the first event held a year ago.

Stanislaus County supervisors approved a permit Tuesday for Symbiosis LLC to hold the festival Sept. 17-20 next year. Before the 4-1 vote, supervisors said event organizers had agreed to changes that should address noise and traffic issues.

Supervisor Bill O’Brien was opposed. He got an earful from residents in his district about the September 2013 event and said he could not “jump on board” with a second festival. O’Brien did say he was satisfied with a July test that concluded Symbiosis could reduce noise from the nonstop festival music.

Symbiosis LLC has held events in California, Nevada and Australia featuring music and artistic expression designed to create a transformational experience. Festivalgoers next year will camp at the 6,000-acre recreation area and immerse themselves in live music, art, workshops and social interaction.

County leaders hope the 2015 festival will boost fee revenue and bring visitors to the county. Of the 8,000 who attended last year’s event, almost 40 percent came from outside the state and 6 percent were from other countries, including Canada, China, Japan, Brazil and European nations.

To better control traffic near the park, Symbiosis will provide a staging area and monitors to handle festival traffic on 28 Mile Road. Flaggers and additional signs will ensure that nonfestival traffic runs smoothly on Woodward Lake Drive and 28 Mile Road during peak traffic times.

Organizers agreed to reconfigure the stages and speakers, use sound barriers and stay within decibel limits so the live music is not projected outside the park. Residents will be able to call a hotline with any complaints. The mainstage sound limits will range from 95 to 108 decibels during the day and drop 5 decibels at night.

The county paid an acoustical engineer $4,950 to assess the noise from concerts held at Woodward Reservoir and develop measures to protect the closest neighbors, who live more than a mile away from the county park. Symbiosis conducted a sound test in July after the county sent letters to 6,500 residents within a 5-mile radius of the lake, asking them to call if they heard noise.

The county Department of Environmental Resources received nine calls from residents who could hear some sound during the mock concert. According to a report, callers heard noise off and on or said it was tolerable.

Neighbors complained about a low, thumping sound that rattled their windows during the 2013 festival, and some of them spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.

Jim Ruddy, who lives in the area, said he was kept awake for four straight nights last year.

Richard Gilton said he wasn’t bothered by the mock concert and sound test in July but questioned whether the festival organizers will comply with the new rules. “If they are not going to abide by the rules, who is going to enforce it?” he asked.

Another resident said the highest sound limit of 108 decibels could damage the hearing of festivalgoers.

Supervisors said the county blew it with last year’s festival, but the proposed limits should protect residents in the area. “I think we have a handle on this. I don’t think the noise is going to be a problem,” board Chairman Jim DeMartini said.

Supervisor Terry Withrow said he was willing to give it a second chance. “It was a problem last year and I think we have done our due diligence that it won’t be a problem this time,” he said.

The county expects to collect $87,000 to $134,000 in park and vendor fees depending on whether drought restrictions are in place next year. The reservoir is a drinking water source for cities in San Joaquin County. Symbiosis will pay a flat fee of $75,000 if the reservoir level isn’t high enough to allow body contact with the water. With no water restrictions, the county will collect a park fee of $5 per person each day, which would generate $120,000 if at least 6,000 people attend the festival.

Officials said Symbiosis wants to hold a May 2016 event at Woodward if next year’s festival is a winner.

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