The San Diego Padres proposal to to do a $20-million redesign of Gallagher Square was met with anger and frustration by a group of East Village residents who live near Petco Park.
Padres CEO Erik Greupner calls the team’s proposal “a new and improved community amenity.”
A grass-roots citizens group disagrees. Joseph Sims, spokesperson for the Residents Concerned About Noise From Gallagher Square, believes the Padres are attempting to quietly turn the public green space into the team’s own profit-driven amphitheater.
He says that effort would be at the expense of park access by the public.
The access aspect could affect many residents–especially dog owners. Frequent users already grumble that Gallagher Square is closed now more often than it had been in recent years.
Meanwhile, Sims says some East Village residents have been focused for years on excessive noise stemming from concerts held in Gallagher Square.
Formerly called The Park at the Park, Gallagher Square is located just outside the ballpark’s left field seating area. An annual schedule of Live Nation concerts is held there on the Sycuan Stage. Some events attract more than 5,000 attendees.
When Petco Park opened in 2004, there was a smaller version of a stage in place at The Park at the Park. In 2019, Sycuan Casino acquired naming rights. The stage was fortified to allow 90,000 pounds of sound equipment to support bigger and louder concerts.
The Residents Concerned About Noise From Gallagher Square want the public to recognize the difference between music concerts held on the ballfield inside Petco Park and those held on the Sycuan Stage at Gallagher Square.
Mega stars like Madonna, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Elton John, Garth Brooks and a Stadium Tour that featured hard-rockers Motley Crüe, Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett have performed for upward of 50,000 people on the field inside Petco Park.
“Those big concerts inside the ballpark are not the problem,” Sims says. “Those are great and the community loves them.”
He says the issue is the concerts held outside the stadium at Gallagher Square–especially ones by Electronic Dance Music (EDM) and hard rock groups with songs that deliver bombastic baselines.
Why? Inside Petco Park, concert speakers are pointed south (toward home plate), away from nearby residential areas. In addition, Petco Park itself acts as a noise buffer.
On the Sycuan Stage in Gallagher Park, speakers point north into a residential zone. There’s no noise barrier between the outdoor concert area and nearby condo buildings such as Parkloft, The Legend and Diamond Terrace.
The Concerned Residents Group and The Padres disagree on whether Gallagher Square concerts are in compliance with San Diego City Noise Codes.
Dia De Los Deftones
A Dia de los Deftones concert was held at Gallagher Square on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. The musical lineup started at 3:30 p.m. The headline act was the alternative metal band Deftones (see Gallagher Square concert video footage from YouTube, above).
Shortly after 9:30 p.m. that night, I began hearing noise through the closed windows of my own East Village apartment. It sounded like a combination of music and distressed chanting.
Opening the balcony door, I determined the sound was coming from the vicinity of Petco Park, which is 10 blocks away (roughly 0.8 miles from my building). I walked down Ninth Avenue toward the noise. As I got closer the sound became louder. I could discern profanity within the echoing din. It was the Deftones performing onstage at Gallagher Square.
I could hear the concert from nearly a mile away. Downtown residents who live within a block or two of Gallagher Square say concert noise is having an extreme effect on their quality of life.
Starting in January 2023, the Residents Concerned About Gallagher Square Noise have collected 79 statements representing more than 100 residents who feel adversely impacted.
Specific issues include: Loss of sleep by children. Negative effects on physical, emotional and mental health. Inability to work from home. Rattling of windows, ducts and other infrastructure. Fear of lost property value.
Most say complaints made to the city, police department and the Padres have not been adequately addressed.
Here are a sampling of individual survey responses collected from from Gallagher Square-proximal residents:
- “The concern is the escalation in size of events, setups with more speakers, strobe/laser lights and the noise levels which are making my unit uninhabitable during the events and having to leave with my pets,” says Legend resident Kathryn Kanaan. “The EDM and Heavy Metal concerts over the past 3 years have affected my hearing, offended me with a barrage of foul language and vibrated my windows and frames…”
- “In our densely populated neighborhood, there are families with babies and small children,” says Diamond Terrace resident Pamela Young. “There are workers and retirees who reside in homes to which they go to enjoy, relax and replenish. The installation of the Sycuan Stage a few years ago was something none had expected. Since that installation, the disruption to our lives has gotten worse and worse, affecting us in the sanctity of our homes.”
- “The least I am due is an environment that does not condone breaking the law and affecting my ability to enjoy my home without the dreading of noise levels so high that I cannot watch TV (without captioning), not able to engage in normal conversation with my wife, and gets so loud that my walls literally vibrate,” says The Mark resident Paul S.D. Berg.
- “I cannot see Gallagher Square from my condo unit, but the volume and vibration of the concerts make a misery of my home,” says Parkloft resident Janet McDaniel. “Specifically: my windows and utility vents shake; I cannot hear my own music or television programs; I cannot entertain at home (and never have sufficient notice to plan ahead for that); I cannot use the common area courtyard for our building.”
Groups that support the Concerned Residents’ call for sound mitigation by the Padres include the homeowners associations from Parkloft, The Legend and Diamond Terrace, as well as the East Village Residents Group, Cortez Hill Residents Group and the Downtown Residents Group.
Padres Vice President 0f Public Affairs Diana Puetz says the team has spoken with the city about noise concerns raised by the community.
We take these concerns seriously and we act accordingly to ensure compliance, she says. “That said, we are operating a live sports and entertainment venue that generates noise. Those who choose to rent or purchase in buildings adjacent to the ballpark are aware of that fact.”
City of San Diego and Padres Share Revenue
The City of San Diego owns Petco Park and the adjacent, 2.7-acre Gallagher Square park. The Padres manage the properties. Both share non-baseball revenue in a 70% to 30% split. The city gets the smaller share (reportedly nearly $4 million in the last fiscal year).
This partnership puts the city in the position of being the regulator of the Padres in a business venture in which both share revenue.
“The concerts are violating city noise code,” says Sims. That’s a claim he says is backed up by a professional Environmental Noise Report paid for by the residents of Parkloft. “It’s time for the city to listen to our issues and to get involved.”
In early June 2023, City of San Diego staff is expected to decide whether to issue a ministerial permit or require a discretionary permit review of the Padres newly proposed redevelopment of the park.
A ministerial permit does not allow for community comment. A discretionary permit would require the team to undertake a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review.
At a minimum, Sims says a discretionary permit review, a CEQA review and a public process are needed.
“The Padres believe the renovation of Gallagher Square is a ministerial decision,” Puetz says. “The onsite uses today are the same ones as those proposed in the renovation. Additionally, the project is covered under the original ballpark EIR.”
A spokesperson for District 3 City Councilman Stephen Whitburn said he is focusing on a homelessness ordinance and did not want to comment on the Padres until after next week.
Mayor Todd Gloria’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Noise Complaints Unheeded
Despite the Padres’ claim of listening to fan and community feedback, a significant number of downtown residents say they’ve been trying to get noise complaints heard for several years, to little or no avail.
The Concerned Residents group has a paper trail of correspondence with team officials and City of San Diego elected officials and staffers.
Puetz acknowledges she’s seen documents submitted by the Concerned Residents.
Wayne Metlitz, current president of the Concerned Residents, spearheaded the Environmental Noise Report that was done by RNS Acoustics, a leading expert in the field.
The RNS report measured decibel levels in Parkloft units and on balconies. It was done during a Gallagher Square concert headlined by EDM groups Tchami and AC Slater on January 21, 2022.
The report showed decibel levels in and around the condo building exceeded the city’s maximum levels as set out in the San Diego Municipal Code.
The city’s Noise Ordinance maximum allowable levels vary throughout the day, and average 55 decibels. During the concert measured by RNS, levels reached as high as 80 at 10 p.m. on a Parkloft balcony.
The Padres’ defense of its lack of mitigation of noise emanating from Gallagher Square concerts has been tied to the final Petco Park EIR imposed in 1999. That FSEIR suggests that decibel levels for a concert may not exceed 95, as measured at the event’s main soundboard.
Padres officials tell Sims the decibel level does not exceed 95 at the soundboard at Gallagher Square concerts. However, that number was recommended for Petco Park concerts. Not for events held outside the park.
That’s stated in a letter to Metlitz from Hans Giroux, dated March 14, 2020. It was Santa Ana-based Giroux & Associates that did the original 1999 noise study for the Petco Park EIR.
“In our noise study for the Petco Park EIR, we did not explicitly analyze Park in the Park concert noise because we anticipated events before an evening game or after a late Sunday day game. We expected family type concerts such as a mariachi band, a mellow tribute band, a dance troupe, etc. We cannot support use of the ballpark proper mitigation standard for the Park at the Park situation. As a minimum we would encourage noise measurements during music events compared to the city standards. Section 59.5.0401 of the Municipal Code lists the allowable noise levels that are allowed from one source impacting an off-site receiver. We would also recommend preparation of a CEQA study for the project as it represents a “new” source of impact not previously evaluated.”
Playing Ball Together
Petco Park is a special place. The ballpark is annually voted best in Major League Baseball in polling by USA Today. Padres management, spearheaded by team chairman/owner Peter Seidler, has invested nearly $250 million in player salaries.
That payroll is unprecedented in small-market San Diego. It’s currently the third highest in MLB, trailing just the New York Mets and the New York Yankees.
Since the NFL Chargers bolted from town, the Padres have seen increased awareness and fan support in San Diego–even as the high-salaried team has started the 2023 season underperforming on the field.
Next year will be the 20th anniversary of Petco Park. The proposed $20-million renovation of Gallagher Square is being billed by the Padres as a celebration of that two-decade milestone.
A May 28 press release from the team touts the renovation as a source of “enhanced amenities, while building on the Padres’ decades-long commitment to delivering ‘More than a Ballpark’ to San Diego.”
Proposed highlights include:
- An improved, expansive playground and play area with equipment for a wider range of age groups and abilities
- Fenced, off-leash dog park
- Improved Play Ball Field
- Temporary Pickleball courts
- Public art displays showcasing the talents of local artists
- Enhanced noise mitigation measures during events
- New Tony Gwynn Terrace fan viewing deck, which can be used as a community picnic space during public hours
- Upgraded Entry Gate at 9th and J Street for improved security and accessibility during events
“This space has been a defining feature of America’s #1 Ballpark,” Padres’ CEO Greupner says in that press release. “…and based on fan and community feedback our renovation will make it an even more vibrant and impactful part of the ballpark experience and asset to our Downtown community.”
Note that “Enhanced noise mitigation measures during events” is part of the bullet-point highlights.
While restating that the Padres are already in full compliance, Puetz says the team’s new proposal will include “new directional speakers and repeaters that will create a surround sound experience. This will have a mitigating effect on sound from concerts and games in the stadium and at Gallagher Square.”
Sims is skeptical. “Why don’t they go ahead and do that now?” he asks.
Two other major downtown outdoor music venues–The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park and Waterfront Park in Little Italy–measure sound levels during concerts at the edges of their property. Sims says his group has been told by the Padres they only measure decibel levels at the soundboard.
Sims wants to be loud and clear about the Concerned Residents’ goals.
“We are not interested in preventing any activities in what I still call the Park at the Park,” he says. “We are only interested in making sure the city will enforce the rules that they put in place for noise levels. Don’t stop the concerts. Just turn the volume down.” SDSun