Guest column: SnowGlobe, a story of unplanned issues (opinion)
March 7, 2018
SnowGlobe has been a popular local event to those who attend; a frustrating bombardment of sound to nearby residents; safety and logistics planning for Lake Tahoe Community College, South Lake Tahoe Police Department, South Tahoe Public Utility District, Barton Hospital and other local public services; and a story of unplanned issues for both the city of South Lake Tahoe and those running SnowGlobe.
This event began when then City Manager Tony O'Rourke brought the event to town. The first year included no defined noise limits at all and there were many complaints. The complaints were so bad that SnowGlobe offered those with noise sensitivities to go to Murphy's Irish Pub for drinks and appetizers on them.
Nancy Kerry, then spokeswoman for the city of South Lake Tahoe, arranged for bass levels to be turned down and had one night end early.
The following years the city negotiated the 95 decibels (dBs) based in discussion with SnowGlobe. It was eventually agreed that three city employees would test for 95 dB levels with hand-held meters and ask SnowGlobe to turn down the sound if it peaked over 95 dBs.
Only if there was sustained sound over a 10 minute period above 95 dBs would there be a violation. Considering the typical EDM song runs 6-8 minutes it is unlikely a violation will occur. Plainly these regulations were not thought out in terms of length of song, the venue itself or how the sound radiates to neighboring areas.
Other cities have hired sound engineers to evaluate a site before a concert is brought in. Typically there would be limits established that are cumulative just as the effects of these sounds are cumulative on those subjected to those sounds. Levels might be set for the sound booth (loud), the perimeter of the venue (moderate) and in surrounding areas like neighborhoods (lower).
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Also, using decibels or dBs does not account for Low Frequency Noise (LFN) or bass, which is one of the root sounds used at EDM concerts. The city and SnowGlobe have failed to plan for the noise from this event from the very beginning.
The same story can be found with regard to the play fields. There have been discussions on how to protect our fields from heavy trucks, tents and 20,000 people. But there has not been any requirements beyond having the city Parks and Recreation staff inspect the field and using plywood boards to protect the ground when heavy equipment is in use.
SnowGlobe has talked about million-dollar ground coverings and are responsible for repairing our play field but there currently are no defined requirements to protect the turf from 20,000 people jumping up and down to the sound of thumping bass. Only now, after seven years of use, are standards being established by our Parks and Recreation Department who are on the agenda for the next City Council meeting.
SnowGlobe is seeking a multi-year contract. If the sound issues, specifically LFN or bass sound management is not addressed, our local homes will again be bombarded with sound that has been an on-going problem since this event started.
If the fields are not protected they will yet again get destroyed and the new field the public paid for will be little more than a rebuilt field not available until late summer (digging rules prevent repairs from happening before spring).
SnowGlobe also is suggesting that the current $50,000 in cash that the city subsidizes this event with may go away and they are hoping to expand to 27,000 people. More people will mean they need louder sound because all those people's bodies absorb the sound (this is also why testing sound levels in a crowd doesn't work). Another 7,000 people on these fields is not going to improve the fields. Do we really want to grow this event when we are already having major issues?
The city cannot make any changes for 2018 unless there is a breach of contract. Coincidentally, SnowGlobe held an impromptu after party event at Bijou Park this year. It was well after the negotiated turn off time and in the Bijou Park.
Maybe this is the time to cancel the contract and look at other venues. Wouldn't an off-season event at Sierra-at-Tahoe when our city could more use the business and rooms are empty be amazing? How about SnowGlobe at the old Echo Summit Ski Area with kids bussed up from town?
I would suggest Harvey's Outdoor Arena but Douglas County has strict noise restrictions that prevent this option. There are other options, it is just a question if our City Council will have the courage to pursue them.
Remember, SnowGlobe moved here because another town in Avon, Colorado became frustrated with exactly these same issues. Google "snowball Avon Colorado" and the same story can be observed.
Scott Ramirez is a South Lake Tahoe writing on behalf of the No Globe Alliance.