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Troubled waters for ‘Bump’ festivals

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Posted: Friday, September 28, 2012 9:38 am | Updated: 8:45 am, Tue Oct 2, 2012.

Popular Tulloch event target of lawsuit

Calaveras County is looking to quiet Lake Tulloch Resort’s oft-debated Bump parties in court, seeking a permanent injunction against events the county describes as a “public nuisance.”

The Sept. 4 lawsuit centers on whether Bump parties, which routinely draw between 1,500 and 3,000 attendees, qualify as a legal land use under the resort’s decades-old administrative use permit.

Resort owner Bernadette Cattaneo believes they do. Despite a handful of written warnings, Cattaneo has no plans to apply for a separate county permit she feels she doesn’t need.

“I don’t think their ordinances are broad enough to cover what we do here,” Cattaneo said. “I’ve spoken with four other counties that border us, none of them have something that would fall into our (conditional use permit) category and all of them say ‘You’re grandfathered-in under your old permit.’”

The county, citing multiple Bump-related noise and traffic complaints, disagrees. County Counsel Janis Elliott declined to comment directly on ongoing litigation, though she was able to address the broader topic of code enforcement policy in an email last month.

“The county’s code compliance policy is that as long as the landowner is seeking the entitlements necessary to legalize all uses on the property, there will be no administrative code compliance action or legal action,” she wrote.

“If a landowner chooses not to file an application for entitlements after being put on notice … The county can either pursue administrative code compliance, which results in fines and penalties, or can go to court to resolve the issue if fines and penalties are not likely to stop the illegal use.”

Elliott went on to write the county “only investigates written complaints turned into the (Code Compliance) department.” Those complaints are not made available to the public, leading Cattaneo to question when or whether complaints referenced in the lawsuit were put on file with the county.

Code Compliance Officer Todd Barr declined to comment except to confirm the existence of complaints on file against both Bump parties and Mountain Ranch’s unpermitted Wood Whomp festival.

He said those complaints had not yet been referred to his office, adding only that he was not aware of any written complaints received regarding unpermitted land uses at Ironstone Vineyards.

Cattaneo’s wariness over applying for a conditional use permit (CUP) is backgrounded not just by suspicion of those written complaints but by the recently proposed retooling of the permitting process itself.

The recent effort to streamline a bulky special events approval process has heightened scrutiny of county compliance policy, thanks in large part to a conditional use permit that has eluded not just Cattaneo’s Bump parties, but the Kautz family’s Ironstone Vineyards concert series and Stewart Alberts’ Wood Whomp.

Only the latter organizer has faced administrative fines, a fact that’s left Cattaneo feeling singled-out.

“I’m very disappointed that my business is being targeted,” Cattaneo said last week. “The county cutting us off from doing (Bump events) is going to effectively shut us down.”

“The problem with an application for CUP is there is no guarantee you’ll get it,” she added. “Their application fee is $4,764, just to turn it in.

Intended as a means of vetting those events with more than 1,000 expected attendees, the CUP application process involves a rigorous public hearing and environmental review, one Planning Director Rebecca Willis admits can take months and cost applicants upwards of $10,000.

That includes permit hopeful Ironstone Vineyards, who paid $11,402 for a CUP and two planning amendments applied for in April. Willis hopes to have Ironstone’s application wrapped-up this spring. She reports while the county has yet to receive a written complaint on the application, agency comments on the Ironstone permit have run the gamut from Air Pollution Control’s concerns over dust mitigation and “exposed serpentine gravel” to City of Angels’ alarm over traffic impacts at two Highway 4 intersections and along Murphys Grade Road.

“We are trying to accommodate everybody, trying to be business friendly,” Willis said Wednesday. “But I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all process. Some events are more of a public health and safety issue than others and when you’re talking about the spillover they see (at Tulloch), that’s a safety concern.”

Lake Tulloch Resort has, like Ironstone Vineyards, entered into law enforcement contracts reimbursing the county for per-hour costs associated with pulling deputies from patrol to backstop special events.

Cattaneo’s contract, for two deputies per every 250 attendees, comes in well above the cost of an older agreement signed between the Sheriff’s Office and the Kautz family.

“The bill for the last bump was $9,500 to the county as per my contract with (the Sheriff’s Office)” she explained.

That’s some $8,000 more than what Ironstone owner Steve Kautz quoted as enforcement costs at his last event, a markup that Cattaneo sees as but one many policy gaps in the county’s approach to CUP-sized events.

As of 2007, Ironstone’s contract stipulated they must reimburse the Sheriff’s Office for one deputy per 1,500 people.

“I’m very passionate about government taking advantage,” she said. “The other thing is, I’m not selling tickets, I don’t get a dime for tickets sold, all I do is provide food, alcohol and rooms and I allow people to sell the tickets. So I’m really starting to feel (the county) doesn’t like me.”

“We used to be somewhat consistent about charging for one deputy per 1,000 people,” Capt. Jim Macedo countered last week. “But we’ve learned from experience that you need to have flexibility in staffing, because some events require more attention than others.

For Macedo, contract consistency “has always been a goal,” but one that necessarily takes a backseat to public safety. “We’re just trying to avoid subsidizing events where we’re not being reimbursed. We have contracts, with Hogan, with (East Bay Municipal Utility District), those ones you sometimes don’t have to staff at all, so you just need flexibility.”

Longtime District 4 Supervisor Tom Tryon agreed. He said it has always been the county’s intent to take an even-handed approach to permit policy.

“They’re being handled concurrently,” Tryon said of the county’s approach to Wood Whomp and Tulloch. “Ironstone is different, they’re getting their permits. But we’re looking at Wood Whomp the same way as (Lake Tulloch Resort). It’s just tougher to find someone in charge of (Wood Whomp). So no, we’re not just targeting one over the other.”

© 2015 Calaveras Enterprise. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Charles Dudley Jr posted at 6:08 am on Tue, Oct 2, 2012.

    Charles Dudley Jr Posts: 1281

    ya get rid of the events and kiss county sales taxes collected good bye = less money in the county coffers for things people are complaining about. [thumbdown]

  • shifty posted at 2:34 pm on Mon, Oct 1, 2012.

    shifty Posts: 93

    The bump parties are a thing of the past, they need to go away... this NOT about lake Tulloch

  • Zeke posted at 2:15 pm on Mon, Oct 1, 2012.

    Zeke Posts: 12

    I only wish that were true.

  • Mike Bullard posted at 12:14 pm on Mon, Oct 1, 2012.

    Mike Bullard Posts: 564

    Again, reasonableness. I'm done.

  • Zeke posted at 11:49 am on Mon, Oct 1, 2012.

    Zeke Posts: 12

    I should resist the temptation to respond to you but will. READ the posting. GIVE THEM GUIDELINES TO SUCCEED. I do not know what those will be...maybe relocating a noisy event, maybe regulating the time it goes on, who knows. Maybe the event does not work where it is, so move it to an area that can conform to a higher level of noise.

    You are correct, rights are rights, the people putting these events on have rights also. We are so willing to stress over a new county ordinance for this or that, then lets figure out ways to make commerce work. That does not mean you let an event run wild. Make it work, help the business entrepreneur be successful in Calaveras County. Not everyone is in retirement age with a pension supporting them, with double digit unemployment in the county we need to seek commerce, not throw it out.

  • Mike Bullard posted at 6:10 pm on Sun, Sep 30, 2012.

    Mike Bullard Posts: 564

    There's a lotta ways a county could amass revenue at the expense of tax paying residents' and property/venture owners' rights. Too loud, too late, wild and too often on a mountain of homes and families musta gotten to be so much a nuisance they needed a law to mandate reasonableness. If the county offered permits or arrangements for occaisions that'd be more'n fair, but somebody wouldn't work with somebody and that's when Mom's gotta step in. So what if this new law moves real estate, brings in families and retried folks and their money who want a peaceful place to call home - and bring jobs, goods and services, blah blah... would you rather have a "loudest amplifier rules" mountain and the chaos of it all?
    Rights is rights.

  • Zeke posted at 5:13 pm on Sun, Sep 30, 2012.

    Zeke Posts: 12

    Must be all the extra commerce the county has, do not need to encourage anything new.

    This is not my type of gig but it is business. If it does not work, then try to find a way to make it work. Give them guidelines, streamline the process, etc. We are so good at chasing business away, it is very sad.

    Lets see, 3000 attendees. Lets say on the average they drop $50.00 in our county on retail needs, etc. That is $150,000 in commerce (probably about 12-15,000 bucks for labor). That is like giving an extra 1500 labor hours for some of those people who want to work. Then lets say ten percent of them come back to the county cause they just got a warm and fuzzy feeling when they were here. Those 300 returnees drop about $300 in non-Bumping twice a year (boating, lodging, dinners, etc., not hard to do).
    That is another $180,000 in commerce and a whole bunch more work.

    Imagine how much those Ironstone concerts mean to the county. Maybe a Wood Whomp or a Bump gathering is not for me, but I sure like knowing those cash registers are ringing with some local resident operating them.

    I guess we do not need that.

  • Ray posted at 7:31 pm on Sat, Sep 29, 2012.

    Ray Posts: 30

    Money grab ! thats all it is no matter if its the feds or state or County. FIRE FEE ! Whats next ?

  • Cleareye posted at 10:35 am on Sat, Sep 29, 2012.

    Cleareye Posts: 623

    Let's see. A 'Bump' party can have 3000 attendees, and the county wants $9500 for 'fees?' A 1 deputy per 250 people that amounts to 12 deputies needed. $9500 divided by 12 = $791 per deputy. Nice gig!

  • Charles Dudley Jr posted at 2:14 pm on Fri, Sep 28, 2012.

    Charles Dudley Jr Posts: 1281

    This is total BS!! The resort at Lake Tulloch is obviously Grandfathered in with it's original agreements of long ago. The County is just trying to Milk every last penny it can out of every private sector business that is making money and trying to stay afloat in this fading economy. Way to go Calaveras County Stuporvisors, you will kill off the county's economic growth yet. [thumbdown]