County plans “one big meeting” for citizens and commissioners over C3

PRESIDIO COUNTY – Commissioners court rejected plans for a citizen advisory committee intended to provide public input regarding the planned C3 Presents festival at last Wednesday evening’s county meeting. Instead, the county will hold a hearing regarding C3 in early October and is inviting all public comments, along with written and typed statements for submission.

Judge Cinderela Guevara stated her goal is to have the meeting no later than October 2, a Wednesday, and then have an application that is approved by October 9. Pressed on the importance of passing it by then, Guevara said that in the new fiscal year, the commissioners will not be meeting as frequently as they have previously, due to legislative changes.

Judge Guevara in the Wednesday meeting read opinions from the county’s two legal counsels that advised against the formation of a citizen advisory committee. County Attorney Rod Ponton and Attorney Philip Arnold both counseled against the formation of an official committee with judicial power. Arnold stated that the committee would give more power to specific citizens, which he advised against.

Citizen Shelley Bernstein spoke at the meeting asking for more citizen input and at one point holding up a sign that read “180+ 37.” The sign referenced a claim that Judge Guevara had met with concerned citizens for 37 minutes and C3 officials for over 180 minutes thus far.

The rejected committee had originally been proposed by members of an organization called Marfa Says No, and county commissioners had tentatively agreed to allow the committee’s formation during a previous meeting.

Marfa Says No is an organization of locals that formed in opposition to C3 Presents’ plans to bring an art and music festival, named FORMAT, to ranchlands north of Marfa. The grassroots organization first began by meeting in public, then in participants’ homes, hoping to organize a movement against the festival.

In a statement from the organization’s email address, the group said they remain intentionally faceless because “no one person is more important than any other as this is a collaborative effort.”

At county meetings, participants in the organization have raised a wide variety of concerns about the festival, including noise and light pollution, environmental damage, fire risk, public safety questions and the extreme limits of the region’s medical infrastructure.

C3 organized private meetings with county and city officials in response, hoping to hear the concerns and assuage them. Though C3 had originally organized a public meeting in April 2019, it was eventually cancelled ahead of the event date. The organization has said they will hold a public meeting once they have more information to present, but nothing has been publicly announced since.

As Marfa Says No took shape, the group began formally requesting that Presidio County form a citizens advisory committee that would speak on behalf of the citizenry’s interests. Marfa Says No also hired an attorney and established six participants as researchers.

From there, the group wrote a counter-proposal to County Attorney Ponton’s proposed Presidio County Mass Gatherings Permit Application, which any festival over 2,500 attendees will be required to submit before having their event approved.

The festival is proposed to host 6,000 attendees in its first year. The Austin-based event production company, a subsidiary of Live Nation, is eagerly awaiting the county’s approval of a Mass Gathering Permit application, so that they can proceed in their planning.

Through all of this action, the Marfa Says No organization has remained relatively faceless. Their website outlines their basic ideals and asks interested citizens to contact public officials. It also hosts a significant trove of data regarding festival impacts. Nowhere on the website is a person in the organization identified.

This month, bilingual Spanish and English mailers arrived in Marfa post office boxes with no names attached. The piece of mail stated, “This proposed festival will attract more people than our limited resources can support,” and that “C3 Presents has refused to put any cap on attendance,” stating the organization has plans to make the event compete with Burning Man, an event with 65,000+ attendees.

With the county judge hoping to pass a permit application by early October, the “one big public meeting between the public and the commissioners” that Guevara spoke of seems to be the last opportunity for citizens to weigh in on this part of the process. The meeting will occur no later than Wednesday, October 2.