Coachella 2012 in Limbo Over Environmental Issues

To most people, Coachella means cutting-edge music, celebrity sightings and three days of unadulterated fun (well, six, now that the perennially sold-out festival has been extended to back-to-back weekends).

But the residents of nearby La Quinta, CA are calling festival goers “the people who destroy our environment”, and they could keep Coachella from getting a permit to hold the event next year.  They’ve asked Indio, the city that hosts the festival, to assess the need for a thorough “environmental review” of the event  under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Such a review would evaluate the environmental impact of traffic, noise and pollution generated by the festival and would last well into the Spring or beyond. Therefore, the status of next year’s Coachella (scheduled for the weekends of April 13-15 and April 20-22) is now up in the California desert air.

In response, Indio agreed to postpone signing a new two-year contract with Goldenvoice, the promoter of the event, and asked for two weeks to put together a report about how the concerns of La Quinta residents are being handled.

Coachella started in 1996 and has boasted an impressive line-up every year since with artists like Radiohead, Madonna, Jay-Z and Daft Punk. Last year it sold out in less than two weeks and welcomed over 75,000 music fans from all over the world. Indio and La Quinta residents have complained about the festival in past years; including traffic, late-night rental house parties, and even “riding horses without permission.” According to mydesert.com, “Barbara Bishop, president of the Mountain View Country Club Homeowners Association, said 80 percent of the community’s security incidents happen during the Stagecoach and Coachella weekends.” (Stagecoach is a county music festival held on the same grounds). With the announcement that Coachella would be extended to a second weekend, many residents of the area are saying they’ve had enough.

When Coachella started, La Quinta was mostly vacant lots and desert. Now, it’s been developed into private gated communities of mansions surrounding golf courses. The fact that it is a wealthy area experiencing a population boom clearly plays into the local politics – the economic stimulus that comes from hosting the event means little to the well-off residents.

I remember last year waiting in line to enter the Coachella camping grounds. There were neon words of “peace, love, and music” all over the cars. Everyone was blasting tunes and getting amped; ready to let go of all worries and enter in a new world of three days of pure fun. Little did I realize that by letting go of my real world stress, it was creating stress for folks in the surrounding towns.

When I left Coachella, I saw all those neon signs on the ground, the overflowing trash cans, and could still hear the echoes of electronic sounds at 6 AM. My soul could also hear the citizens of La Quinta calling us “the people who destroy our environment.” So when I go back to Coachella this year — whatever weekend it ends up happening — I will make sure to bring my raver sunglasses, and also my respect for the land and the people living on it.

Tell your friends!