OakHeart organizers want bigger festival



COUNTRY TUNES—Simi Valley resident Jenna Ryin and Aaron Crankshaw of San Diego, members of country music band The Other Words, perform “Days Like Gold” during at thefifth annual OakHeart Country Music Festival last June hosted by the Rotary Club of Westlake Village at Conejo Creek Park South in Thousand Oaks. SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers

COUNTRY TUNES—Simi Valley resident Jenna Ryin and Aaron Crankshaw of San Diego, members of country music band The Other Words, perform “Days Like Gold” during at thefifth annual OakHeart Country Music Festival last June hosted by the Rotary Club of Westlake Village at Conejo Creek Park South in Thousand Oaks. SUSAN WEININGER/Acorn Newspapers

Organizers of Ventura County’s largest annual outdoor music festival are trying to capitalize on an embarrassment of riches.

The team behind OakHeart Country Music Festival reached out to two headlining artists to perform at its 2018 show. Both said yes.

With two of country’s brightest stars potentially on board for the June 2 concert at Conejo Creek South in Thousand Oaks, organizers are asking the venue’s owner—Conejo Recreation and Park District—to allow them to sell an additional 1,000 tickets.

The current agreement with CRPD allows OakHeart to sell up to 7,000 tickets (up from 6,000 in 2016). Tickets to last year’s concert sold out.

But at a Dec. 5 CRPD meeting, director Joe Gibson told his fellow board members that the district would run afoul of the California Environmental Quality Act if staff did not first conduct an impact study before approving OakHeart’s request.

Gibson, an environmental planner by profession, said events, not just construction, can affect the environment, and discretionary acts by the board, like issuing an event permit, are subject to regulation and review. He said the park district has a responsibility to make sure the venue and surrounding neighborhoods don’t suffer from overuse.

“What is too much? Are we at that limit?” he asked.

He said he would have insisted on an environmental impact report before the first ticket increase but he was not present at the Nov. 7 meeting where it was approved.

Oakheart co-founder Brian Hynes, who runs the Borderline Bar and Grill, said he would like to maximize fundraising efforts through the extra ticket sales but the appearances were not contingent on the board’s approval of a larger crowd.

The bulk of the proceeds from the show each year goes to The Rotary Club of Westlake Village. “We have no problem waiting for a report,” Hynes said.

Park administrator Tom Hare said the additional 1,000 attendees would have minimal impact on Conejo Creek South, the district’s most popular outdoor venue and home to AYSO Region 9, the city’s largest youth sports organization.

Hare did say it would require the use of nearby Conejo Creek West and Conejo Creek Northwest parking lots, adding $525 to the $13,650 OakHeart pays to rent the venue for five days.

CRPD staff said the added foot traffic would create a benefit for the community at little cost, and they recommended approving the additional tickets.

Last year’s festival brought in $88,000 in net income, with $71,000 allocated to Rotary charities. The remaining funds went to repaying debt or into a bank reserve, according to staff reports.

CRPD general manager Jim Friedl said he thought the venue could handle the extra people because the annual Nowruz festival at the smaller Conejo Creek North venue across the street successfully hosted 8,000 people last year.

But maintaining the condition of the grass fields at Conejo Creek South, which are also used by AYSO soccer teams, have been a priority for the CRPD board in recent years.

The park district made changes to the footprint of rides, trailers and heavy equipment at Conejo Valley Days to reduce harm to the grass. The annual Chili Cook-Off and Classic Car Show sponsored by The Rotary Clubs of Thousand Oaks and the Conejo Valley moved from Conejo Creek South to Conejo Creek North out of concern for the soccer fields.

Conejo Creek South hosts many of the largest events in Thousand Oaks and sees around 1 million visitors a year, according to staff reports.