The annual Grateful Dead concert, recently resurrected by the Ventura County Fair Board, seemed to have cleared its final hurdle this week when Ventura city officials said they have no authority over the event.
The fair's Board of Directors had voted 5 to 4 last week to approve a two-day performance by the rock band at the fairgrounds June 11 and 12, provided that city officials issue a permit for the shows, which have been the target of vigorous criticism.
But City Atty. Donald S. Greenberg told the City Council on Monday that there is no such thing as a city permit to be either granted or denied.
Rather, he explained, there is a document that has mistakenly come to be known as a permit, but is really just an agreement between the city and the concert promoter to contract for police services.
"It's gotten loosely termed 'a permit'--and mistakenly so," Greenberg said. "The fair was mistaken to think it was yes or no. . . . It's their decision."
Jeremy Ferris, fair manager, said he had assumed the city did issue permits for such events, but said he would simply strike the condition of a permit from the fair board's April 25 resolution.
"We thought it had been a permit," he said. "Now we know it isn't. As far as I know, we're going to have a concert."
Ferris said the board's decision to make the concerts contingent on such a permit was never intended to be anything more than a way of involving Ventura officials in planning for the event.
"I think the board just wanted to make sure the city had some input," Ferris said, "not on what's going on at the fairgrounds, but what's going on in the community."
The fair board had voted in March to cancel the concerts because of the nuisance created in downtown Ventura by some of the 56,000 people who saw the band last year, Ferris said.
"I think we've mitigated those community complaints," he said, noting that concert promoter Bill Graham had agreed to pay for additional security and portable bathrooms both inside and outside the fairgrounds.
In a three-page letter sent to the fair board on Monday, however, City Manager John Baker said he was not convinced those remedies are sufficient. He attached a letter from the city manager's office in Irvine that recounted numerous difficulties in controlling crowds that arrived there for a three-day concert by the Grateful Dead in April.
Twenty people were arrested on drug-related charges and for unruly conduct at one hotel during that weekend, and other problems involving trespassing, illegal camping and public defecation were noted by Irvine police, wrote Paul Brady Jr., Irvine's assistant city manager.
The letter was made public at Monday's council meeting, and reaction by City Council members was mixed.
Councilman Richard Francis said the letter's tone was antagonistic to the variety of cultural events he would like to see in Ventura.
"It seems to me what's happening here is a little bit of cultural discrimination," he said. "Maybe what we're doing here is choosing between cultures . . . saying some cultural events are appropriate and some are not."
"It has nothing to do with culture," Councilwoman Nan Drake said. "It has to do with specifics: how big we are and how much we can hold."