Sanford out at helm of concerts
by Ryan McDonald
Saint Rocke owner Allen Sanford will not be returning to put on the Hermosa Beach Summer Concerts in 2019.
The show, city officials say, will go on. But after Sanford had run the popular summer concerts for nearly a decade, the city plans to put the management of future concerts out to bid. And although they have thanked Sanford for his work, invited him to submit a bid, and said he stood a good chance of being selected, Sanford said he has no plans to apply.
The concerts in recent years have drawn thousands of people to the sand just south of the Pier each Sunday in August. And while they draw visitors coming from other parts of Southern California, many of the attendees live in Hermosa or the other Beach Cities, hauling chairs, blankets, snacks and the occasional bottle of wine to the beach by foot and wagon, lending the concerts an outsize place in local politics.
In interviews and public statements, Sanford described an acrimonious dispute attributable to a cultural shift in Hermosa and driven by city leadership.
“And slowly, with the culture of the Council changing, the partnership that I once entered into with Hermosa Beach a decade ago slowly dissolved through the transition of a culture and a people I no longer recognize,” Sanford wrote in an op-ed that appeared in Easy Reader.
City officials, however, insist that the reason for putting the concert process out to bid was not personal, but was instead an act of fiduciary caution. The agreement under which Sanford put on the concerts concluded in December of last year, and Sanford balked when his proposed extension terms were met with a request for disclosure of financial information.
“I would expect more criticism from the public for not being fiscally responsible and conducting a thorough, fair and transparent process,” than what may be generated by going out to bid and potentially losing Sanford as a producer, Councilmember Mary Campbell said in an interview.
The City Council voted 4-1 last week to issue a Request for Proposals to put on the summer concerts for 2019. The morning of last week’s meeting, a staff-wide memo detailing when the RFP process should be used was appended to the agenda. The memo, which according to posted dates was last revised in June 2015, states that an RFP is “required when fees for professional services are expected to exceed $30,000 on an annual basis,” and that, when a price of less than $30,000 is expected, a “less formal process” may be used, but that “principles of fairness and competitiveness shall be maintained.”
Thirty-thousand dollars, or $7,500 per concert, is the amount Sanford requested as compensation for putting on the concerts in October 2017, when he entered negotiations with the city to extend the agreement to put on the concerts, with a 3 percent annual increase. (The former contract gave Sanford the right, but not the obligation, to put on the concerts in the summer of 2018; Sanford had hoped to secure a new arrangement before putting on this summer’s concerts, but ended up doing it without one.) It was the first year Sanford had sought compensation specifically for his time producing the concerts, and the $30,000 request produced arguably the touchiest area of disagreement.
Under the terms of the contracts governing the last eight years worth of concerts, Sanford would be responsible for securing artists and setting up the events, and in return could sell sponsorships and backstage passes to the events; no money was specifically set aside to compensate him for his time. In an interview following the meeting, Sanford said the arrangement presented several challenges. The typical revenue sources for a music promoter — ticket and food and beverage sales — were foreclosed to him, and he said he lost money for the first few years of running the concerts. He had managed to make it “into the black” in recent years, primarily by securing more sponsorship revenue. He declined to say by how much sponsorship and VIP ticket sales exceeded operational costs, but argued that his comfort with stepping away from the concerts indicated that it was not overly lucrative. He had, he said, “no problem with going on vacation this August.”
“If Saint Rocke was financially benefiting in a significant manner from these concerts, why would it be so easy for us to walk away from something we’ve spent 10 years building? Wouldn’t we have kept the status quo?” Sanford said in an email.
Last December the council asked Sanford for financial information as part of considering his proposed terms. Sanford declined, saying that the information was either contractually protected or valuable intellectual property. Council members said they were willing to provide compensation to Sanford or another provider, but not without some kind of market comparison. At last week’s meeting, Councilmember Justin Massey said he could understand a business’s desire to maintain proprietary financial information, but the situation was different when public funds were at stake.
“When somebody comes to us and simply says, ‘This doesn’t make sense for me anymore, you need to kick in X, and you need to take my word for it,’ that’s a problem for us as public servants,” Massey said.
However, the policy memo governing when to rely on the RFP process was evidently in force at the time the city agreed to both of its contracts with Sanford; although these did not include compensation clauses, they did impose direct and indirect costs on the city that approached or exceed the $30,000 threshold. City Manager Suja Lowenthal, who came to Hermosa in mid-September, said she planned to hew strictly to procurement policies during her tenure. But the discrepancy caused Mayor Jeff Duclos to question whether the council was “making an example” out of Sanford.
“The optics of what we’re doing, in my opinion, are all wrong,” Duclos said.
Prior to Sanford assuming control, Hermosa had hosted summer concerts on the beach for years, often featuring prominent but past-their-prime acts like the Temptations and Dick Dale. Then, in July 2009 at the summer’s second-to-last concert, reggae-rock headliners Rebelution drew a raucous crowd that generated public safety concerns from residents. (According to Easy Reader reports from the time, there were two arrests at the Rebelution concert, both of whom were Hermosa women.) Sanford’s contribution, in the eyes of his supporters, was to modernize and grow the concerts by including more relevant acts, without repeating the mistakes of the Rebelution show.
But although the council repeatedly complimented Sanford on his handling of the concerts and said they recognized the benefits they brought to businesses in the city, their decision was partially influenced by a belief that those benefits would not disappear if someone else were in charge. Councilmember Hany Fangary noted that no businesses had come to the meeting to advocate on Sanford’s behalf.
“I sit here tonight and I don’t see a single business here, and I don’t see the Chamber of Commerce,” Fangary said.
Several council members declined to comment on Sanford’s claim that the decision to go out for an RFP was the result of a cultural shift in Hermosa and its city government. But they did say that, if the decision to go out for an RFP constituted a change in operating procedure, it was a needed one.
“If it is a different process for the summer concerts than the process that we’ve followed in the past, my personal opinion is that it’s an improvement,” Campbell said at last week’s council meeting.
The city will have to move quickly in choosing an event producer, in order to give the person or entity time to book talent and coordinate logistics by the first Sunday in August, the concerts’ traditional start date. Last week’s vote means the city will, as soon as this month, begin soliciting offers to put on the summer concerts. The Parks, Recreation and Community Resources Advisory Commission is expected to offer guidance about how to structure the ask in its meeting next week.