ONTARIO — The City of Ontario has opted to waive fines related to permit violations for the Snoop Dogg Concert that was put on for free on Oct. 5 for the grand opening of Hotbox Farms.
In lieu of citations, Steven Meland co-owner of the third recreational marijuana dispensary to open in Ontario, will be footing the city’s out-of-pocket costs for the event, which total $12,730. Included in this amount is $2,496 for a drone pilot and video footage.
Meland didn’t tell city officials that he was bringing one of the biggest names in the cannabis industry and rap music to Ontario until after they heard about it early the day before. In so doing, he avoided obtaining the necessary permits, one of which that would have required advertising the event well ahead of time.
If he would have applied for these, he might have been denied, based on the fact that the well-known musician’s concerts can often draw tens of thousands of people.
“I can’t think of any site in Ontario to handle twenty-, thirty-, or forty-thousand people at one time,” said Dan Cummings, community development director, adding that the airport might be able to, but it would have to be shut down.
He said, with the concert drawing in about 5,000 people with a little more than 24 hours notice, “it proves you would” get a larger crowd with longer notice.
As Ontario’s Police Chief Steven Romero hails from Los Angeles, he has dealt with these crowds before.
“Some turn into a total disaster, and can bring gang people out to get into fights,” Cummings said.
The possibility of a huge crowd may have been the impetus of Romero’s decision to beef up on-duty staff in his department; the fire department did the same. The labor totaled $4,665 for 100 combined hours for 11 personnel for the police department; and $1,976 for 7 personnel for the fire department. Each added other costs, with City Manager Adam Brown showed up as a $430 charge on the breakdown for police costs.
After the concert, Romero stated that by going ahead with the concert even after a verbal request was denied late Friday afternoon, Meland placed the community in jeopardy, by not allowing officials and first responders to adequately prepare for the event.
‘Stuff of concern’ in drone video footage
In addition to beefing up staff, the city hired Great Basin Aerial Imaging, out of Notus, Idaho, to get a bird’s-eye-view of the area near the concert for the duration of the event, which spanned from about 4 to 10 p.m.
Drone Pilot Darren Tracey, said he hovered his UAV above the Oregon Department of Transportation Department parking lot, where the city had a command post. The drone averaged a height of 247 feet, with the highest height reached being 295.6 feet. Tracey said he was testing out his new extreme zoom lens, a Z-30, which came with a claim it could read a license plate from a mile away.
“That’s a false claim,” he said.
However, in panning over the concert from about a-third of a mile away, Tracey said he could absolutely “make out faces and stuff like that.”
And once he started reviewing footage, he said saw “some stuff of concern.” Tracey then contacted Romero about it because he thought he might be interested in it.
“We went over it and he said, ‘Oh, yea,’” Tracey said. “I don’t know what he’s doing with it.”
Chief Romero did not respond to a request regarding how long the city is going to keep the footage or if it is being used for any sort of investigation.
Brown however responded that the city would have to follow the state retention laws for that imagery.
According to information on retention records posted on the Secretary of State’s website, it appears the length of time police can keep video footage is 30 days, unless it is being used for an investigation.
In addition, Great Basin Aerial Imaging offered their services at their own risk and responsibility, and also offered to provide their services free of charge if Meland would not pay for them.
“It just happened to be the best tool available to us that night as we had no where near the force needed to be on site,” Brown said.
‘More important to … collect the actual costs’
And while the Snoop Dogg concert was a near Black-Friday hit for some local businesses, the crush was felt by the crowds and some businesses reported not having enough staff on hand and running out of items.
And when costs incurred by the city stacked up, Brown says he asked Meland to pay those, and he agreed.
”We felt it was more important to our citizens that we collect the actual costs, which were much more than the two $1,000 fines,” wrote Brown in an email.
Except for any late fees or penalties, $2,000 was the most the city could have recovered, according to Cummings, if they had opted to cite Meland for the two permit violations.
“Yes, we could have gone after both [violations], but with Mr. Meland willing to cover our costs it was more important for the City to collect the costs uncontested,” wrote Brown.
Meland says he has not seen the invoice yet, but added that due to the reason that Hotbox offered the concert as a free community event, they wanted to keep it that way.
“Ultimately, it did cost the taxpayers” in the response from fire and police personnel to beef up staff for the event. “The last thing we ever wanted was for the city to morph this into something that wasn’t free by shifting the burden to the citizens.
And that’s the reason, he said, they decided to pay the city’s costs.
“We have commitments from department heads in the city to work with us in future next time,” Meland said. “As long as we give fifteen days notice, they have committed to finding a way to say yes to our events and not use this event as any reason in future to deny us any future events.”
Meland said Hotbox is committed to bringing more events like this to eastern Oregon and to playing like “we’re all on the same team.”
“We live here in Ontario together — live and play and work here together — this is a place we could be better together,” he said.
“We can all argue about whether the price is fair or if the response was needed,” Meland said. “But that doesn’t discount the fact that city leaders chose that response and accrued costs.”
The costs are being paid for the community, he said, rather than getting into a drawn-out legal battle over fines for permit violations.
The event was put on so fast that even the Oregon Liquor Control Commission wasn’t notified so, according to Cummings, the state agency followed up with city officials to see whether alcohol was served at the event, because the law doesn’t allow any on cannabis sites.
The development director also said Meland told city officials that even he only had short notice of the star’s agreement to do the show.
“If he knew nothing about it but two days ahead of time, then people need to hire them to put events together,” said Cummings, noting the sound stage and security at the concert. “If that’s true, they are miracle workers.”