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Sleepy East Bay city relents on demand to shut down San Francisco’s Portola Music Festival

English synth-pop band Hot Chip performs at the Portola Music Festival’s Pier Stage on Sept. 30, 2023. Joel Umanzor/The Standard | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

San Francisco and Alameda city officials met Tuesday to hash out sound issues with the second Portola Music Festival, which the latter city called attention to in a terse Facebook post following the electronic music event. 

“I think we turned the conversation around,” San Francisco Entertainment Commission Executive Director Maggie Weiland told The Standard in a phone call. “There will be more outreach and Alameda will get updates on the plan.” 

The two parties agreed to continue conversations on ways to mitigate sound from the raucous festival after Alameda complained that the festival generated myriad complaints from residents. 

“Our staff will continue to work in partnership with festival organizers and the San Francisco Entertainment Commission to understand what happened and what additional steps can be taken to mitigate this ambient sound in the future,” a spokesperson for the City of Alameda said in an email. 

The festival, which is held at Pier 80 and showcases electronic dance music, generated complaints around the bay last year along with promises by San Francisco and promoter Goldenvoice to keep a handle on the noise this time around. 

The spat between San Francisco and Alameda apparently reignited Oct.1 during the second and final day of this year’s festival, when Sunday headliner Skrillex’s heavier-than-usual dubstep beats were sonically bounced across the bay by a drop in temperatures. 

And while the Los Angeles-based DJ and performer’s set didn’t quite set fire to the stage, it apparently left some Alameda city officials pretty burned up. 

Alameda City Manager Jennifer Ott fired off a terse letter to Weiland, formally requesting that San Francisco discontinue the festival, and describing how “the bass, in particular, caused vibrations that shook people’s homes and apartments” and generated “countless complaints.” 

Alameda’s noise ordinance allows for sound levels of up to 70 decibels at night, and sound monitors there never recorded levels above 61.4 decibels during the festival, according to Weiland. Additionally, the city is in close proximity to two international airports and was once host to a Naval Air Station

City of Alameda personnel also posted a notice on its Facebook page announcing the request and encouraged residents to forward their own complaints to San Francisco. However, most comments either supported the festival or made light of the complaints. 

“I was triple-shocked,” Entertainment Commissioner Ben Bleiman, speaking on his own behalf, wrote in a text. “First, Alameda put up a Facebook post encouraging residents to complain to San Francisco. Second, that same post gets ratio’d so hard by their own people in FULL SUPPORT of the festival.” 

Bleiman noted the irony of the city celebrating the arrival of the Blue Angels, who “blast out everyone’s eardrums with jet engines” in a subsequent post. 

“It played out like a lost episode of Parks & Recreation,” he said.