While a mass gathering permit for June’s What the Festival was quickly approved Wednesday evening by the Wasco County Board of Commissioners, several apparently unpermitted gatherings at another rural property are now drawing scrutiny.
The commission unanimously approved the permit, taking no further testimony from nearby residents who oppose the gathering due to noise, fire danger and other issues.
Jeff Handley of The Dalles owns about 800 acres of land bordering the Jackson Ranch, at 8550 Walston Grade Rd. in The Dalles and operated by Greg and Brian Jackson. As one of three people who spoke about the issue, Handley told commissioners March 19 that three large outdoor gatherings were held on the property without proper permitting procedure. The most recent occurred the weekend of March 14.
“Now I don’t live up there,” he said. “The land is used primarily for grazing, but we did have opportunity to witness several structures being built on the property and about 100 cars parked around the site. There wasn’t any music that we heard, just voices from an obviously large gathering of people.”
Handley said his main concern, however, lies in an event advertised on the Jackson Ranch Facebook page as “Sangsara,” a music and arts festival currently scheduled to take place May 23 through May 25.
This event, unlike the last, will feature live music over a three-day period, several performance stages, themed campgrounds and a variety of workshops for ticket-holding participants. Ticket prices and packages range from $50 to $350, according to the Sangsara event page, and only nine remain available in the most expensive, deluxe category.
Under current law, Handley said, the Jackson’s are required to have at least 90 days between mass gathering events and should not legally be able to advertise non-permitted events at all.
Conscious Collaborations LLC, the coordinators responsible for organizing the mass gatherings at Jackson Ranch, list at least three past events on their official Facebook page as occurring within the last year.
Unlike What the Festival, unpermitted events like these are potentially acting outside state regulations, which require provisions for adequate water supply, sewage, emergency medical facilities, fire protection, refuse storage and disposal.
Wasco County Planning Director John Roberts an event like Sangsara, without a permit, would be considered unauthorized by the county
“Several adjacent property owners have been keeping us informed on the situation,” Roberts said. “We are aware that these events have been taking place without the necessary permits and we are working with the Jacksons and have informed them of what they need to do to meet the state requirements for their events.”
Roberts said the Jacksons originally had one event set to occur over Spring Break that the Planning Department worked with them to cancel.
“We’ve been working to try and educate them on the correct avenues to obtain the appropriate outdoor mass gathering permits, and while we understand they’re currently trying to get a permit for an event scheduled to take place at the end of May … The timelines for that one are not looking good.”
The outdoor mass gathering and approval process, Roberts explained, involves not only putting together a successful application, but also noticing and public hearing requirements that take considerable time and effort to schedule.
“I just don’t see how it will work in time to meet all the requirements, address the community’s concerns and draft the staff report,” he said. “I don’t want to say it’s impossible, but I just don’t think it’s a realistic goal, given the narrow window of time they have to accomplish it.”
“We’re continuing to communicate with [the Jacksons] about their end of May event and how it violates state statutes and certain permitting requirements,” Roberts said. “The last thing we want is a bunch of people showing up at an event and then having to shut it down at the last minute. The sooner we can get this whole thing resolved, the better.”
Meanwhile, he said, the Planning Department has tried to “be proactive” by taking steps to inform local law enforcement and District Attorney Eric Nisley of the situation.
“We’re working with Eric to issue an injunction if it comes to that,” Roberts said. “Once he has an injunction, then law enforcement can respond. I think it’s safe to say that the county is prepared to do so if necessary, but hopefully it won’t have to.”
Commissioner Scott Hege also expressed concern regarding the possible need for legal intervention at the most recent county meeting on April 2.
“I’m not exactly sure what we can do, and it concerns me that from [the Jackson’s] standpoint, they obviously appear to be moving ahead,” he said. “If we slap an injunction on them right at the end, I don’t think we’ll be able to resolve this in the way we want to.”
“The Planning Department is not a police force—they can’t be everywhere at once,” Commissioner Rod Runyon added. “At this point, the only way [the Jacksons] are going to be able to move forward with the event they have planned is if they do so without a permit.”
“The Jackson brothers have been very conscientious as they’ve begun preparing their application,” Roberts said. “All we really want is for them to be held accountable to the same standards as What the Festival is— those are the things that need to be addressed.”
Roberts said the Planning Department will continue communications with the Jacksons and will keep the board of commissioners updated on their progress as the May 23 event date approaches.
The Jackson Ranch property owners could not be reached for comment.