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Rock Music Bill Raises Loud Protest

Times Staff Writer

The senator’s intent, quite simply, is to turn down the volume on loud rock music acts that have been a persistent irritant to residents near the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa.

But when state Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) presented his bill Tuesday before the Senate Agriculture and Water Resources Committee, the loudest protests were from operators of rural county fairs, not fans of Jefferson Starship, Black Uhuru or Sheena Easton.

Fair operators said Seymour’s bill, giving the City of Costa Mesa authority to police noise standards at the 18,000-seat amphitheater, would set a bad precedent. The fair operators say the Seymour bill would encourage other cities to try to impose controls on county fairs around the state.

California’s 54 county fairs, all held on state property, are not subject to city ordinances.

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Some senators on the committee echoed the fair operators’ concern.

There was no vote Tuesday. Instead, Seymour agreed to write amendments into the bill, defining specific noise levels that would be allowed, and to present it to the panel again for a vote July 2.

Seymour said he would amend the bill to spell out county noise standards, to which the amphitheater operators agreed to abide in a 1980 pact with the city and fair board.

Seymour said his bill will make music promoters “more sensitive in trying to control the hard rock” but should not cause any serious economic hardships for the two-year-old amphitheater.

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Fairgrounds State Property

The amphitheater is on the state-owned Orange County Fairgrounds, which borders residential neighborhoods in Costa Mesa. Since singer-pianist Barry Manilow appeared in the facility’s premier performance in July, 1983, nearby residents have complained about noise bouncing through their neighborhoods during concerts, some of which last until the early morning hours.

A neighborhood group, the Concerned Citizens of Costa Mesa, sued Ned West Inc., which operates the amphitheater, charging that Ned West did not amend its environmental impact report when the planned 5,000-seat outdoor arena was enlarged to become the largest outdoor concert facility on the West Coast. That lawsuit is pending before the 4th District Court of Appeal.

Meanwhile, the City of Costa Mesa, which has contributed $4,000 toward residents’ legal expenses, has also tried a number of largely unsuccessful legal tactics of its own.

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Based on noise levels at a April, 1984, concert of the Scorpions, a heavy metal group, the city tried to prosecute the operators of the facility, but a judge threw out the case.

Then last December, the city changed its strategy and cited the performers themselves. But the case, involving Jefferson Starship, Black Uhuru, the Pretenders, Rod Stewart and Sheena Easton, was dismissed and the amphitheater operators won a court order prohibiting the city from citing performers.

Although operators of the facility did not appear at Tuesday’s hearing in Sacramento, they were represented by veteran lobbyist James Garabaldi.

City-State Revenue Source

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Garabaldi said if the city has its way, Ned West Inc. will not be able to bring in the top rock attractions that bring the largest crowds into the facility.

“It would close (the amphitheater),” said Garabaldi, who noted that the amphitheater makes money for the state, the city and the fair.

But Garabaldi said the key question is whether city governments should have control over county fairs.

“It’s the precedent of the thing. That’s why the fairs are all up in opposition to it,” Garabaldi said. “They don’t want to be covered by any city administration.”

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Seymour said he is confident he can win passage of his bill, once it is amended to spell out noise standards.

Last year, Seymour tried to bring the amphitheater under city noise standards as an amendment to a bill regarding state fairs. The measure was approved and signed by the governor, but the Senate rejected Seymour’s amendment before final passage.


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