Forever Never Land festival prompts concern from Avila residents

Concerns about noise, traffic and drunken drivers dominated an informational meeting Thursday about a 21-and-over “music and fun” festival expected to attract 8,000 to 10,000 people to Avila Beach in September.

About 70 people gathered at the Avila Beach Community Center to learn about Forever Never Land, slated to take place Sept. 13 and 14 at the Avila Beach Golf Resort. Many expressed concern that it and similar events are threatening to change the nature of this tiny, usually tranquil beach town.

“This is absolutely the wrong event for this town, and I am vehemently against it,” Avila Beach resident Susan Segal said. “This is better for the desert or Las Vegas.”

Community members’ concerns were echoed by the Avila Valley Advisory Council, which decided Thursday to send a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors listing several recommendations regarding Forever Never Land — including requirements for coastal access, parking, security and street cleanup.

On Thursday, Forever Never Land founder and CEO Valerie Wang outlined her plans for the first-year festival and fielded questions from the crowd.

According to Wang, Forever Never Land aims to help adults reconnect with their inner child.

The festival will feature four interactive “lands,” including neon-lit Future Land and foodie-focused International World.

Pirate's Cove will have beach volleyball and inflatable waterslides, while Castle Land will feature bounce castles, rock climbing and a 100-foot zip line. (Water will be trucked in by Nipomo-based Central Coast Industries, Wang said.)

Performing on three stages will be bands and DJs including Everclear, RJD2, Vertical Horizon and Sublime with Rome.

Wang said Forever Ever Land will target attendees in their mid-20s to early 30s. To attract that demographic, she’s timed the festival to take place after Labor Day weekend and before Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara students return to school.

Wang, who is based in Marina del Rey, predicts 61 percent of festivalgoers will come from Southern California, with 29 percent coming from Northern California and 10 percent from San Luis Obispo County.

Wang also discussed the festival’s plans for safety, security and traffic control, which include working with the California Highway Patrol and county Sheriff’s Office.

The festival is also partnering with nonprofit organizations including the Avila Beach Civic Association and Avila Beach Community Foundation.

Key among community members’ concerns Thursday was the idea that Avila Beach — which relies on a single thoroughfare, Avila Beach Drive, to move people in and out of town — lacks the infrastructure to support such a large event.

In particular, residents warned that traffic would bottleneck at the intersection of Avila Beach and San Luis Bay drives.

To ferry festivalgoers, Wang said organizers will provide up to 59 shuttle buses at nine stops in Pismo Beach, Shell Beach and Luis Obispo. An onsite parking lot can accommodate 500 vehicles, she said, adding that organizers are negotiating with Cal Poly to use a 4,000-spot lot on campus.

Susan Lea Sturgill, who has lived in Avila Beach for a year, worried that the festival’s 21-and-older focus will lead to intoxicated eventgoers getting behind the wheel.

She asked for more proactive ways to prevent drunken drivers, such as a sobriety checkpoint.

Other community members discussed parking, fire prevention and emergency planning.

Wang said no roads will be closed during the event, and bicyclists and joggers will be able to use the Bob Jones Trail as usual. Perimeter fencing will block general access to the golf course, she said.

One of the few attendees in support of Forever Never Land was Lisa Newton, an Avila Beach resident for more than three decades. She said that residents should “rejoice and be happy” about the fact that the festival wants to come here.

But Boris Pilch, who moved to Avila Beach five years ago, isn’t pleased about the town’s popularity with visitors.

“It’s wrong that I have to leave my house every single time they have an event,” said Pilch, explaining that he and his family leave town every Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day weekend to avoid crowds. “This is not why we live here. We live here to enjoy beautiful Avila Beach.”

Meeting on Tuesday

On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors will consider Forever Never Land’s application for a temporary commercial outdoor entertainment license, which is required for events attended by more than 3,000 people.

If the application is denied, organizers said, the festival will limit ticket sales to 3,000.

Tuesday’s meeting starts at 9 a.m. at San Luis Obispo County Government Center, 1055 Monterey St., Room D-170, in San Luis Obispo.

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