The Portola Music Festival took place this past weekend, September 30 and October 1, at Pier 80 in San Francisco. Last year, when the festival premiered, the music could be heard loud and clear across the water by the residents of Alameda. This year, Alamedans whose windows rattled late into the night in 2022 anxiously awaited Portola’s return. Adjustments were made and Saturday’s performances did actually appear to disrupt the island significantly less. But then Sunday came and residents were literally, by the bass, all shook up once again.
The 2022 Portola Festival had a huge turnout—it was the largest electronic music event San Francisco had seen in several years, with an attendance count of 30,000. As with any first-time festival, Goldenvoice, the organizer of the weekend and the promoters who cultivate Coachella, ran into some hiccups during their premier. One of the biggest issues they faced was an outpouring of neighborhood noise complaints.
To address the noise issue this year, Goldenvoice placed the outdoor stages in a slightly different configuration with the intention of better isolating the sound, SFGate reported. They hired a new audio vendor in hopes of improving the noise pollution that, last year, could be heard from 7 miles away. The production team also put together a noise complaint hotline for people to call so they could make sound adjustments in real time.
Stephanie Brown lives in the middle of Alameda and “couldn’t believe how loud [the music was].” She thought her neighbors were having a party and blasting dance music. She started noticing the noise and bass vibrations around 8 p.m. on Sunday.
“I think the reason I was upset was because it happened last year,” she said. “How have we not dealt with this? I know people were really upset by it and I know the City was aware. Perhaps you can’t hold events like that late into the night on a work night at a pier that juts out into the bay. Maybe that’s not a good location.”
Brown said the noise she experienced for nearly three hours was not comparable to fireworks from the coliseum and other regular local noises that come with living in the East Bay.
“Yes, you hear fireworks from the coliseum once in a blue moon, but you don’t hear it for two and a half hours straight,” she said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this in Alameda for the 20 years I’ve lived here.”
Laura, who requested only her first name be published here, is a new mother. Like Brown, she initially thought the noise was her neighbors hosting an out-of-control house party.
“I went to put my baby down for bed and her nursery was literally vibrating from the bass and I couldn’t get her to settle,” she said. “I’ve never minded these types of events before, but now that I have a baby these noise disruptions are that much more of a nuisance, especially on a work night.”
Alameda resident Michael Devine is a fan of some of the musicians who played at the Portola Festival, but was miserable in his home Sunday night due to the intense low-frequency audio.
“I can’t overstate the distress I went through [Sunday] night,” he said. “And that sound is impossible to tolerate.”
Devine made multiple calls to the San Francisco Police Department. They told him they’d send officers over to the festival to check out the noise. He also called the event complaint hotline and got through to a couple of people who assured him that they would relay his concerns to their technicians and adjust their levels accordingly. But Devine feels the music only got louder as the night went on.
He also called the non-emergency Alameda line to make a complaint. He said they told him they were being inundated with similar calls.
“I’m gonna do everything I can to see that they don’t get permitted ever again,” Devine said.
In a statement to the Alameda Post, festival spokesperson Dennis Dennehy said Sunday’s lineup actually operated at a lower decibel level than on Saturday, despite an increased sound drift that impacted Alameda.
“Festival sound levels remained compliant with limits set by both counties, and decibel levels were measured onsite and across the surrounding areas throughout the weekend,” he said. “Real-time decisions were made onsite Sunday evening in response to community concerns, and as always, we will factor in all new information when planning future events at Pier 80.”
A source affiliated with the festival also noted: “The wind changed and the temperature dropped, which resulted in sound traveling further than anticipated.”
Lieutenant Alan Kuboyama with the Alameda Police Department confirmed that the City only received calls on Sunday (not on Saturday) that were confirmed to be in response to the festival.
“It looks like we have six calls logged on Sunday as being associated with the festival,” he said. “Not a whole lot compared to last year. Part of this was because of the city’s strategy to push out information before the event to let people know that there’s a hotline set up that goes directly to the festival.”
Dyanna Volek lives in San Francisco and attended the festival both years. She’d heard about the noise complaints that accompanied the festival in 2022. Volek said she noticed some possible changes made to this year’s sound system.
“On Saturday, one of my friends mentioned that maybe the speakers were smaller or lower because it sounded less loud,” she said. “Being there, sound quality isn’t the easiest because the stages are so close to each other so there’s a lot of overlap. And the warehouse stage is pretty bass-y.”
When it comes to the difference between the noise pollution on Saturday and Sunday, Volek has a hypothesis that there were just more techno acts on Sunday resulting in greater bass.
“Saturday was Nelly Furtado and Sunday was, like, Skrillex,” she said.
Ricky Contreras attended the Portola Festival for the first time this past Saturday. After the COVID-19 pandemic, he made a promise to himself to seek out more fun and, for him, that includes music festivals. So this past year, he’s been quite the music festival connoisseur. As a festival goer, he thought the sound was at a good level.
“It wasn’t too loud to where I needed to put earplugs in, but it wasn’t too quiet to where I wanted to scream, ‘Turn the volume up!’” he said.
Contreras went to the festival mostly to see Nelly Furtado. He and the friend who accompanied him happily danced to the “Promiscuous” singer as well as other Saturday acts. He said the atmosphere was friendly and the vibes were good.
“I felt like such a teenager again,” he said. “It took me back to a place where I felt young and happy and free. It’s cool that festivals can do that.”
Hopefully, in the future, East Side festival goers can soak up all the magic an event like Portola Music Festival has to offer with less of the disruption to their neighbors across the water.
Editor’s note: On Wednesday, October 4, the following was posted to the City of Alameda Facebook page:
“The Portola Music Festival in San Francisco caused significant noise impacts to Alameda residents again this year, despite changes made by the operator to try to address the noise impacts experienced last year. As a result, the City is formally requesting that the San Francisco Entertainment Commission discontinue the event next year or move it to an alternative venue that ensures Alameda residents will not be impacted. If you would like to share your concerns with the Entertainment Commission directly, please email [email protected].”
Editor’s note: Updated October 10 to remove part of a quote that was retracted.