Wasco County Commissioners discussed pursuing an injunction against Jackson Ranch property owner Greg Jackson at the May 7 commission meeting in response to the Planning Department’s request for further action that would help prevent future unpermitted mass gatherings from occurring.
The ranch, located at 8550 Walston Grade Road, The Dalles, “has had several gatherings over the last year and half — all of them under the radar,” said Planning Director John Roberts. “We’ve been made aware of these by adjacent property owners’ noise-related complaints and have also been informed that several work parties have taken place off and on during this time as well.”
What really caught the Planning Department’s attention, Roberts said, was a spring break music festival originally set to take place in March under the direction of Conscious Collaborations LLC, an event organization company also owned by Jackson.
“We interpreted it as a mass gathering and determined they would need a permit to hold such an event on their property,” he said, “So we worked with [the Jacksons] in January, explained to them the nature of the permit process and they agreed to cancel it.”
Sangsara, another music festival the Jacksons had previously scheduled for earlier in May, they elected to move to Memorial Day weekend as a result of their discussion with the Planning Department, but Roberts said they later informed the Jacksons they would be likely be unable to obtain a permit and legally host the event within such a narrow timeframe.
Greg Jackson, owner of Jackson Ranch and Conscious Collaborations, said at this point he decided to delay Sangsara until spring 2015.
“I have every intention of fully complying with the Planning Department and we will not have any events at Jackson Ranch in the future without the proper permits,” he said.
Jackson also said the delay was clearly stated on the Sangsara Facebook page, if not on all the other Jackson Ranch related pages.
“We did have three gatherings at the property without permits,” he said. “As soon as the county let us know that we needed permits for gatherings, we cancelled all future plans with the property and devoted ourselves to getting the proper permits.”
Jackson said Wasco County’s mass gathering laws are “extremely undefined,” and that he “was used to other counties in Oregon where the bottom end cutoff for a mass gathering permit is 300 people.”
He said because the events held on his property had fewer than 300 attendees, he assumed he did not need a permit to legally operate.
When asked about the “work parties” several neighbors had made complaints about, Jackson said, “They usually bring around 20 people, it’s free and it’s on private land. If the planning department is going to tell me that I need to have a permit to have 20 people on my land, that’s a First Amendment violation of my right to peaceably assemble. All that occurs at these work parties is landscaping and cleaning up fallen wood debris to reduce fire hazards for myself and my neighbors.”
Since meeting with the Jackson family about a month ago, and based on reports of further activity from adjacent property owners, Roberts said he and County Administrative Officer Tyler Stone paid a visit to Jackson Ranch on April 30.
“It was evident that there’s a lot of illegal buildings and structures that appear intended to be used for a mass gathering out there,” Roberts said. “The state only allows mass gatherings if after the event it appears as though it never occurred, meaning no permanent structures or major alterations to the property.”
From what it looks like, he said, these guidelines have not been followed by the Jacksons thus far.
Apart from the number of events that have occurred on the property, Roberts said there is “a combination of structures and buildings” that exist, including what he described as a “large storage shed clearly over 200 square feet,” which is just one example of an unpermitted building.
Other problematic features include what appears to be a “half-built stage, a dilapidated Burning Man type of structure and five hand-built privies of varying degrees.”
“We are in the process of tearing down all structures on the land in accordance with the county and state’s mass gathering laws around permanent infrastructure,” Jackson said. “All the buildings that are on site are temporary and are being removed.
“Now that we are informed of all proper procedures to follow for the permitting process,” he continued, “we will be submitting an application for [next year’s] spring time gathering sometime in the next 4 months.”
After emphasizing his and Conscious Collaboration’s willingness to cooperate with local government agencies, Jackson described his vision for the property’s future.
“I have other plans for the property that go far [beyond] simply hosting music festivals,” he said. “I am working diligently this summer to establish permaculture farming activities on my property so that it can be used as an educational resource for the county… Many of the activities we will be hosting in the future on the property will be free for the community and far less intrusive than music festivals.”
While Roberts said he has had contact from Greg Jackson through email in which Jackson assured him there were no mass gathering events planned to take place on the ranch in the near future, he maintains that an injunction still might be necessary.
Commissioner Scott Hege asked what evidence Roberts had that an unpermitted event was still going to happen.
“It’s ridiculous that we’ve consistently been unable to reach them by phone, get a response and have an actual conversation,” he said. “But everything I’m seeing here is different.”
Gayle Ordway, an owner of property that borders the Jackson Ranch on two sides, said in all his dealings with the Jacksons, he would describe their general attitude as, “We’ll just do it and ask for forgiveness later.”
“Greg is the one we see mostly,” he said, “and we think his actions are in line with that same philosophy: He’s going to do whatever he wants and face the consequences.”
Ordway said that within the last two weeks, he and his wife have witnessed some kind of construction activity being done “on top of the ridge” of the property, although they were unable to get a clear view due to a screen of trees that obscured the activity.
“However, if much of this is just hearsay,” Hege said, “just as Gayle has said their actions have shown a lot of different things over the years — how much evidence is there really?”
“On the one hand, we have one promoter who’s moved events, bent to the requirements and even exceeded our expectations in some areas,” Commissioner Rod Runyon said, referring to the What The Festival operators’ past cooperation with the county and their decision to halt musical activity at midnight in response to area neighbors’ concerns. “While on the other we’ve been so willing to work with [the Jacksons] and it’s been to very little avail. It’s just crazy.”
“The real issue is the venue,” Hege said. “What they’re trying to do is build a venue which is completely and totally illegal and which is never going to be acceptable if they continue the way they’re going.”
The commission named Commissioner Steve Kramer liaison to the Jacksons and resolved to make one final effort to negotiate with Greg Jackson before beginning injunction proceedings.
“At a minimum, the county is still going to move forward in preparing the paperwork to file an injunction,” Roberts said. “It’s been a frustrating process for everybody—staff, neighbors and property owners … This is challenging stuff and we’ve been working on resolving this issue since January. We [at the Planning Department] are not against outdoor mass gatherings by any means; we’re just trying to do our job.”