CARLSBAD — The city will host nine outdoor concerts at municipal parks next summer under enhanced security measures due to law enforcement’s concerns with the event’s increasing popularity.
Started in 1986, the TGIF Concerts in the Park series has become one of Carlsbad’s largest community events. After completing its 36th season, the concerts, formerly known as TGIF Jazz in the Parks, are the longest-running, city-sponsored outdoor concert series in San Diego County.
“The size and shape have changed over the years from a more intimate setting to now over 30,000 participants a year attending our concerts,” said the city’s Library & Cultural Arts Director Suzanne Smithson.
Last summer’s six-concert series marked the first time since 1990 that there had been fewer than nine concerts in the series, apart from the back-to-back seasons (2020, 2021) that were canceled entirely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic caused a significant rise in the cost of labor and materials needed to host the event. In 2022, the city used leftover funding from previous years to maintain the nine concerts, but prices continued to rise. The cost of putting on six concerts in 2023 (about $214,00) was about the same as the cost of putting on nine concerts in 2022 (almost $218,000).
“We would have had to ask for additional funding if we had continued the nine concerts,” Smithson said of last year’s reduced slate. “Even with that reduction of six concerts, it saw our highest attendance on record.”
Next year, the city anticipates the concerts will cost $40,000 each, bringing the total for nine concerts to $362,250. Carlsbad Friends of the Arts is a primary support group that raises funds for these concerts and other cultural arts activities. Since the organization was formed in 1987, the group’s annual donations for the concert series have ranged from $25,000 to $44,000. Last year, Friends of the Arts donated $30,000.
The city is responsible for covering the remaining costs. Roughly $150,000 of the city’s $200,000 allocation for 2023-24 will go to the Library and Cultural Arts Department and $50,000 to the Carlsbad Police Department to bolster safety measures at the well-attended event.
Last summer, Concerts in the Park averaged roughly 5,600 attendees, with the final performance at Alga Norte attracting a record-setting 8,170 people in attendance. However, the increasing popularity of the concerts has raised concerns from law enforcement related to potential active shooter scenarios.
Police Chief Mickey Williams said there are five areas law enforcement would like to improve upon to align with current best practices for safety at large events, including establishing a “controlled event location” or using fencing or barriers to create a secured venue for the concerts.
This measure ensures clear boundaries, distinguishing participants from non-participants and enhancing safety and security within the concert area, Williams said.
Carlsbad police will assess each of the venues — Stagecoach, Poinsettia, Calavera Hills and Alga Norte community parks — and limit the number of attendees accordingly, possibly requiring reservations or tickets for admittance. On admission, law enforcement would screen concertgoers for weapons, similar to large-scale sporting events or music performances.
Williams said the department would like to contract with private security to increase security at access points.
“There isn’t a statute or a law that requires us to do it,” Williams said. “However, I firmly believe that if we desire as a community to host concerts that draw thousands of people, based on what we’ve learned from across the country with these incidents, the number of active shooter-type situations has increased dramatically over the last five years in the United States. These are events that we should plan for.”
Additionally, Carlsbad police would like to use specialized equipment to monitor the event and provide information to an incident commander assigned before the concert. In the event of an emergency, there is a designated commander with up-to-date information who can quickly respond.
According to Williams, the establishment of a unified command system, with both police and fire managers present before an incident occurs, ensures prompt and effective coordination of resources if needed.
All of these updates increase the cost of security from about $6,500 to $23,500 per concert. A substantial portion of that funding will go toward securing the venue site through fencing and barriers.
“Chief Williams, I’d like to commend you on going forward before this council and requesting this,” Councilmember Carolyn Luna said. “I don’t think a lot of chiefs in a lot of other jurisdictions would do that and I thank you for thinking of our city, being proactive and strengthening the safety of these concerts that we value.”
The council voted unanimously to approve the $200,000 to accommodate these changes. Since the concert season includes the end of fiscal year 2023-24 and the beginning of fiscal year 2024-25, the funding will go towards just the first two concerts. City staff will request additional funding for the following seven concerts to be included in the city’s 2024-25 operating budget.
In the future, the city is open to exploring private sponsorships to help support the growing costs.