DEL MAR — A small but vocal group of about 15 people attended a July 6 community meeting to make some noise — mostly about noise — from a three-day entertainment and arts festival held last September at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
KAABOO Del Mar organizers held the gathering at the state-owned venue to update residents and garner input as it prepares for the second annual event Sept. 16-18.
“We know we didn’t do a good enough job last year,” production manager Jim Dorroh said. “And we’re all over it this year.”
Prior to last year’s inaugural “mix-perience,” as it is called, residents expressed myriad concerns about increased traffic congestion, parking issues, crime, trash and noise.
Ultimately the latter was the only problem reported, especially on the last day, when abnormally high heat, wind and humidity caused the sound to increase and travel farther than anyone expected.
Residents from miles away said their windows shook and they clearly heard lyrics as well as the music.
“I had to turn up my television to hear it,” said a woman who lives off Del Mar Heights Road who declined to be identified. “It was unbelievably loud. I was livid. This should not be happening.
“I wanted to scream,” she added. “I hear the fair (noise) but not to where my windows shake.”
Betsy Milich, who lives just south of the fairgrounds on Seaview Avenue, said she consistently hears all the local noises, including those coming from trains, motorcycles, emergency vehicles and concerts during the fair and thoroughbred race meet.
“I also have a beautiful view so I’m not complaining,” Milich said. “But when KAABOO started I was shocked. I couldn’t block it out. There were areas (in my house) I might as well have been on the stage. I honestly never thought this would come back it was so loud.”
KAABOO will return to the fairgrounds, potentially for the next 10 years. In April, the board of directors that governs the venue approved a multiyear contract that includes a fine of up to $150,000 for noise violations and a termination clause.
It also guarantees the fairgrounds more than $1.1 million annually for the next five years.
To ensure KAABOO runs more smoothly and with fewer noise issues, the organizers are holding community workshops to learn where the problem areas were.
“We want to be good neighbors,” Julie Coleman, director of community relations, said.
“That’s why we’re having these exchanges. We don’t want to have the same situation we had happen last year. That is not our goal. Our goal is to fix this issue.”
Organizers have made several changes for the upcoming event.
Using a sound engineering team with members who hold doctorate degrees, the audio system was redesigned and stages have been angled and repositioned “to make sure we really contain the sound onsite,” Coleman said.
Technology is being used to manipulate sound waves and the use of sound blankets will be increased.
But the two major changes include the addition of up to 10 roving monitors who will travel through neighborhoods to provide real-time feedback so the sound team can make immediate adjustments.
Last year only stationary monitors on the fairgrounds were used.
“What we found, after it was all said and done, was they did their job but they didn’t give us the information we needed at the speed we needed it,” Dorroh said. “And they were on the property so we didn’t get information offsite.
“When we found out something that happened we couldn’t react to it real-time,” he added.
Additionally, the performers will be contractually required to maintain sound levels dictated by KAABOO.
“At the end of the day we control the right to control the overall volume of the performance,” Dorroh said. “We will be able to override their console. … If our audio engineers tell them they have to come down some more, then they have to come down some more.”
Monitoring will begin about a week before the event start.
“It’s not like, when the bands show up and they start playing, that’s the first time we get to react to this,” Dorroh said. “We’re going to be proactive and get in front of this thing.”
To address complaints last year a hotline was set up. Callers were prompted to leave a message. Coleman said she returned nearly all of the 91 calls received.
Resident Debra Mills was not one of them.
“I called this so-called hotline,” she said. “I was told somebody would return my call and of course nobody did. … I’m sure that I’m not the only one. As big as this is and as many residents as this affected, I’m not buying the 91 callers. I’m really not.”
“We returned … every call we have a record from,” said Coleman, noting a call log was maintained so the organizers could keep accurate records. “That’s the first time I heard that.”
Other residents said their calls were returned and action was taken as noise levels seemed to decrease after the first night, when opening act No Doubt hit the stage.
“They were our first big headliner on our first night of our first year,” Dorroh said. “We felt like all day we had been doing a really good job and (Gwen Stefani) went out there and we all realized there was an issue and we started addressing that. And I feel like we got better on Saturday and we got fewer calls.”
Lee Haydu, a fair board director who can see the facility from her home, sympathized with other residents.
“I hear all the noise,” she said. “I understand what everybody’s saying. … Friday night I felt like Gwen (Stefani) was in my living room.”
Haydu said fairgrounds officials worked with representatives from the neighboring cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach to ensure the contract would address and mitigate complaints.
“I’m sure it’s not going to be perfect but we hope it is going to be better,” she said, noting the benefits KAABOO brings to the region, such as increased tax revenue and employment.
Organizers also donated about $73,000 to local charities
“We want to have it,” Haydu said. “It’s good for the cities.”
Del Mar Councilman Dwight Worden said he believes the efforts being made to improve the event are sincere.
“They’re going to try to make it better this year,” he said. “It is going to be better. Whether it’s good enough remains to be seen.”
Coleman said she will look into personalizing the message this year and creating an interactive online forum to address complaints.
“We understand 100 percent that the community is not happy,” she said. “We will do a better job on noise. Our goal is to fix the noise issue.”
Dorroh described the noise as “a complex problem,” which is why organizers brought a team of sound experts together “to address this across the board so that the artists have a great experience, the fans have a great experience and the people that live here 365 days a year don’t want to leave for the three days because we’re here.”
“This is still a big work in progress,” he added. “It’s something we’re constantly working on. We feel like right now we have a great plan in place but as we work through it we’re finding ways to improve it. … As we see a challenge we’re going to have to address it and use all the tools we have at our disposal.
“I don’t know if we’re going to be absolutely perfect,” Dorroh said. “But we’re committed to being great neighbors and doing everything absolutely within in our power to make your lives enjoyable for the three days that we’re here in your neighborhoods.”
Residents said they appreciated the efforts but some were skeptical.
“I think you’re going to be chasing your tails,” one woman said. “I really commend you on everything that you’ve done and your approach to everything but I really think that this is going to be a mighty big challenge to conquer to appease everybody. I don’t see how it can be done.”
“We’re sorry for the problems we had,” Coleman said. “We’re appreciative of what you told us tonight. We’ve heard it and we’ve taken it to heart.”
A few attendees had questions about potential problems with public safety. Coleman said the Sheriff’s Department reported no uptick in crimes of any sort, including drug use.
“Our demographic and our lineup does not speak to a large drug component,” she said, noting the average age of attendees last year was 38. “We didn’t have drug problems last year and I hope we don’t have drug problems this year. It’s not our scene.”
Visit kaaboodelmar.com for information about tickets and this year’s lineup of artists and comedians. Discounted tickets are available for some area residents.