Alameda backtracks after calling for SF festival’s cancellation

Portola Festival attendees dance inside of the Warehouse at the Portola Music Festival on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

Less than a week after formally asking San Francisco to squash the Portola Festival, the city of Alameda reversed course, stating its intentions to work with event organizers in future years.

After Pier 80’s electronic music festival broke noise complaint records in its inaugural year, organizers pledged to turn down the volume on the second annual event — even going as far as to set up sound monitors in San Francisco and Alameda to track and adjust noise levels in real time. But after a spike in noise levels on Sunday night — which just happened to coincide with Skrillex’s 90-minute headlining set — Alameda city officials declared that organizers weren’t doing enough. 

“The bass, in particular, caused vibrations that shook people’s homes and apartments,” Alameda City Manager Jennifer Ott wrote in a letter to the San Francisco Entertainment Commission.

“Therefore, the City of Alameda formally requests that you discontinue the Portola Music Festival,” the letter continued.

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But after a Tuesday, Oct. 10, meeting with the San Francisco Entertainment Commission, city officials changed their tune. 

The city said that it would continue partnering with the Entertainment Commission and Portola’s organizers, according to Entertainment Commission executive director Maggie Weiland.

Weiland told SFGATE that she hoped that event organizers and the entertainment commission would  “continue to keep [Alameda] in the loop and try to continue to improve their sound mitigation plan.” While the city of San Francisco does not require Alameda’s approval to throw the event, Weiland stressed the importance of being “good neighbors.”

In spite of Alameda’s complaints, Weiland maintains that the festival’s second year was more successful than its first. “I can tell you from looking at that data myself that the numbers — and Alameda — were not significantly impacted,” she said, in reference to the data from Goldenvoice’s noise monitors in Alameda. “… However, that does not discount the fact that residents could have been feeling those low frequencies like the sensitive vibration that you might feel from bass.”

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Noise complaints increased on Sunday night, leading some to speculate that Skrillex was to blame for the excessive noise, but Weiland pointed to a more likely suspect: cold weather. 

Portola’s noise complaint hotline began ringing early in the evening, around the time that a cold front blew in and dropped the temperature by 25 to 30 degrees. Colder air carries sound more effectively, Weiland said, so while Alameda residents likely couldn’t have identified Skrillex’s transitions from “Chicken Soup” to “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” the bass frequencies likely did travel more easily across San Francisco Bay.

In an Oct. 4 Facebook post, Alameda invited residents to email noise complaints to the San Francisco Entertainment Commission. Weiland said that of all the emails she received, 52 were positive, only 21 were complaints, and three were neutral.

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