Like many California cities hit hard by the real estate crash, Indio (near Palm Springs) has been forced to make steep cutbacks to avoid bankruptcy. But unlike other cities, Indio hosts the highest-grossing music festival in the world — Coachella — which wraps up this weekend. It has made city leaders eager to capitalize on Coachella’s riches.
Sam Torres, plumber by day, Indio city councilman by night, says he was prepared to become the most hated man in the city, and he very well may have achieved that goal. His offense? Proposing a 6 percent tax on Coachella tickets.
“I didn’t look at these guys as the first source of money to buy sofas for City Hall,” he says. “I looked at these guys as a way to maintain our city.”
Sipping a beer on the polo fields where the festival is held, Torres says he looks at Coachella with a mix of awe and envy. When promoter Goldenvoice started the festival in 1999, it nearly went bankrupt. Musicians worried whether they would get paid. At the same time, Indio was prospering in the housing boom. Now their fortunes have reversed.
Even though they cost a minimum of $349 dollars, all of Coachella’s tickets get snapped up as soon as they go on sale. Roughly 160,000 people come to the desert to see acts like the Yeah Yeahs Yeahs, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Wu-Tang Clan.
“We had to step up this plate like a business,” says Torres. “Everyone says government has to be more like business. When a government acts like a business, everyone says ‘What’s wrong you?’ You’re supposed to be like Mother Teresa and sponsor these events and get nothing in return.”
Goldenvoice is known for its secrecy, and for this story it declined to comment. As reporters were leaving the polo fields, four security guards walked over and told them to leave.
“You can’t have any recording equipment here,” one of them said. “You gotta go.”
The ticket tax got an even more unwelcome reception. Torres’ fellow city council members wouldn’t even bring the proposal to a vote last summer. When Torres said he would take the ticket tax directly to voters, Coachella threatened to leave Indio. Panic ensued, and Torres backed down…
Read More: npr.org