FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — JULY 23, 2014 –
By Steve Marschke
(EDITOR’S NOTE: the News-Ledger is seeking some additional information on the city’s approval process for this special event. There may be a follow-up story in an upcoming edition of the newspaper.)
At least a few residents of rural Southport were upset to learn that the “Great Horror Campout,” a spooky interactive event for overnight campers, was coming to their neighborhood last Friday night.
The event’s web pages describe it as a carefully controlled scary experience featuring a kind of a scavenger hunt and various frights, for around $99.
Several residents of Burrows Avenue came to Wednesday’s city council meeting and protested the special events permit being considered for the commercial event on Dave Vierra’s nearby farm. The event was scheduled to start just two nights later.
“While this is an agricultural area, it is really a neighborhood,” Burrows Avenue resident Don Johnson told the council. “(The event) is a horror show on steroids where there will be several hundred people with loudspeakers camping there all night long going through some regimen or routine. My concern is I found about about it this afternoon . . . This is something where they practice bondage. There’s Satanic rituals, according to their web page.”
(The News-Ledger used city video of the council meeting for some of the content of this article.)
Neighbor Kimber Goddard said the preparation at the property made it look like “a refugee camp,” and then reported what he said he found on a Youtube video of a previous “Great Horror Campout” event.
“I see a picture of individuals dressed in apparently witch-like costumes, birthing a baby, cutting off the baby’s penis and throwing it to screaming teenagers with bloody hands,” said Goddard. (A “Great Horror Campout” representative later rebutted that description, saying it was the fake baby’s umbilical cord that was cut.)
Goddard added said that neighbors of the farm had not been notified in advance – as required by the city’s special event permit process.
“The police chief is supposed to notify the residents. That didn’t happen. That apparently didn’t happen. The landowner did not notify the residents.”
A pair of representatives of 1031 Productions in Los Angeles, which produces the campouts, answered some of these concerns and charges.
Melissa Meyer, the company’s chief operating officer, said:
“If you look at our history, we have zero complaints. It’s an interactive haunted camping experience. We take the creepy horror haunting allure and turn this into a haunted event.”
There’s no bondage, she said, although campers sometimes have pillowcases placed over their heads as they are led blindly from one place to another. And there are no Satanic rituals, said Meyer, although there are professional dancers leading something called a “voodoo dance.”
Meyer added that the organizers would keep the sound levels low, placing loudspeakers as far from homes as possible.
As far as whether the public was notified of the proposed city event permit:
“That’s something I do apologize for,” said Meyer. “That’s something (our representative) wanted Dave Vierra to do,” she added, referring to the landowner.
Another concerned neighbor was pediatrician Dr. Linda Copeland, who said she and her psychiatrist husband bought their home on Burrows as their “sanctuary.”
Copeland said that while some people aren’t harmed by participating in make-believe horrors like those in the “Great Horror Campout,” others – such as high-functioning autistic people – can be damaged. Copeland said she has “already been harmed” by the event, as she learned of it while still grieving for a pair of acquaintances in Davis brutally murdered by “a deranged young person who went to horror events.”
“I don’t think the 1031 company has done adequate screening of who attends,” said Copeland. “They are not experts in mental health issues.”
Responding to the comments, city officials generally said that the permit was in the hands of the police chief, who could only judge it based on impacts such as traffic and noise – not on whether they like the content of the event.
Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said that once the city sets down its zoning regulations, it has to enforce them impartially:
“The rules of the game have to be stated clearly and consistently and stably and applied equally across the board to everyone in advance,” he said. There wasn’t anything the city could do about this event on short notice, he said – but Cabaldon did allow that city officials might be able to learn from what happened and adjust its procedures for the future.
City council member Chris Ledesma asked staff to look into the question of whether the neighbors had been notified of the permit application as required, but the council did not otherwise take up that issue.
The News-Ledger called the property owner – Vierra Farms – after the event, and spoke to farm manager AnDee Solis.
How did everything go?
“Perfect, no problems,” said Solis. She said she was not aware of any complaints from neighbors either during or after the event.
“Not a word. Everything went perfectly. 1031 Productions did an outstanding job as far as security and everything.”
The News-Ledger also reached neighbor Kimber Goddard – one of those who had protested the event’s approach at the council meeting.
“I’d say that because there was such close scrutiny of it, it was better than it might have been,” said Goddard. But “the loudspeakers went all night with profanity – bad words, bad phrases, bad content.”
“I guess the thing I was happiest about was the commitment of the city council to review the special event permit and review the procedure,” added Goddard. “This one didn’t belong where they put it.”
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