DEL MAR — Bigger seems to have proven better when it comes to community impacts from KAABOO Del Mar.
According to preliminary reports, the three-day entertainment and arts festival held Sept. 15-17 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds had the largest attendance numbers but the fewest complaints since it began in 2015.
“It was nothing like previous years,” event spokesman Joshua Goodman said. “Saturday there was not a single noise complaint. At one point I called the hotline myself to make sure it was working.”
He said of the approximately two dozen calls received, some were from people seeking general event information and a few were about noise from an aerial advertising plane not associated with KAABOO. He said organizers made calls anyway to ask that it stop flying over the fairgrounds.
Del Mar City Manager Scott Huth confirmed Goodman’s assessment during preliminary comments at the Sept. 18 council meeting. He said there were fears about noise from a stage that had to be relocated this year to the main parking lot.
“The noise concerns associated with that did not play out quite the way we thought,” Huth said. “The number of complaints we’ve received were minimal.”
He said the new stage location also changed the traffic flow pattern and where people parked.
“So the impact that we were anticipating was far less in Del Mar,” he added. “Still an impact … but far less than what we had seen in the prior two years.”
A designated area for ride-hailing services “was fairly problematic” Friday night, Huth said. “We learned some lessons from that. I think Saturday went a little bit better.”
Goodman said some drivers got impatient and went into the surrounding residential neighborhoods. He said the no drop-off and pickup areas were extended Saturday and Sunday and signs prohibiting it were posted in lawns in front of homes.
But given the number of people who used services such as Uber and Lyft, “it was pretty incredible how quickly and smoothly everyone got out.”
In 2015 there were 123 calls to the hotline, mostly complaining about noise. Organizers successfully reduced that but traffic complaints increased the following year, during which 56 calls were received.
Before the third annual KAABOO kicked off, the major issue centered on hospitality workers. Premier Food Services usually provides bartenders and other food-service employees for the 300-plus events at the fairgrounds.
This year KAABOO, as it is allowed to do, bought out the Premier contract for $150,000 and used Spectrum Staffing Services instead.
According to the agreement, however, KAABOO was required to give Premier employees first rights to those jobs. Goodman said only 14 of the 204 workers who submitted applications were not offered positions.
Some Premier employees who worked the event were disappointed with the conditions.
“No mats were provided,” said a bartender who asked to remain anonymous. “We all suffered from leg and back pain. … Bartenders who have 20 years of experience were put in places where they were lucky to make one drink. Other bars had long lines and limited things to sell.
“The bottom line was, they had way too many bartenders working,” the server added. “On the first day, some people didn’t even have a bar so they just took off and watched the concerts, which means they did not work but got paid.”
Another employee enjoyed working the event but agreed the pay system was unfair.
“All credit card tips were split evenly by all bartenders and bar backs,” the employee said. “My pay was only $17 per hour for credit card tips. I worked much harder than that. If Premier had the job I would have kept my own credit card tips.”
Another Premier server said volunteers worked at some bars and the wait to get to off-site employee parking at the end of the night was two hours after the last act.
“On this suggestion of too many bartenders hired, obviously KAABOO is not going to apologize for creating too many jobs,” Goodman said.
Some workers said they plan to attend the Oct. 17 meeting of the board of directors that governs the fairgrounds.
Huth said according to his estimates, peak attendance for KAABOO this year was 47,000 people on Saturday. Goodman said the organizers don’t release attendance figures so he couldn’t confirm or deny that number.
Huth said he will provide a full report at the Oct. 2 council meeting. Solana Beach officials did not return multiple requests for input.