Los Lobos at Loma Vista Gardens | Joe Livernois
By Kate Woods Novoa
Everyone seemed to be excited about the first live music event of the year in Big Sur. After months of pandemic shutdown, a familiar concert promoter known as (((folkYEAH!))) was bringing Los Lobos to an all-new music venue for two shows on May 29 — the Saturday of a busy Memorial Day weekend on the South Coast.
It was a sublime day, the event space at Loma Vista Gardens was nice and cozy, and Los Lobos was rocking as ever. Music fans seemed to love the venue, a welcoming little spot in the sunshine, wedged up behind the iconic Big Sur Bakery and under comfortable Big Sur Valley flora. Al Jardine, the Big Sur Beach Boy, even showed up to play a couple of songs with the band from East L.A.
But something was amiss behind the scenes. County officials had ordered Loma Vista Gardens operators to cancel the show because a special events permit from Monterey County had not been secured.
“They were not allowed to proceed with this event, and we were told up to the Friday before the event the event had been cancelled,” Elizabeth Gonzales told me in a written statement. Gonzales is a supervising planner for the Monterey County Housing and Community Development.
On May 28 — the Friday before the concert was scheduled — Loma Vista Gardens posted a notice on its website saying, “We are sad to announce that are (sic) upcoming Big Sur fundraiser on May 29th has been put on pause due to extenuating circumstances outside of our control.”
A similar message was posted on a website for the Coast Foundation, a purported nonprofit that was supposed to receive some of the proceeds from the concert. But few of the music fans who lined up outside the gates before the concert were aware of the problems; none of them had seen the notices on the websites. In fact, earlier in the day, (((folkYEAH!))) had sent a batch email to ticket holders urging attendees to minimize traffic by car-sharing and advising them where to park for the event.
The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office was notified when it was apparent the concert was being staged anyway, but no immediate action was taken. Six days later, on June 4, Hilary Lipman, operator of Loma Vista Gardens, was issued a citation for the “unpermitted assemblages of people for events” and ordered to cease future operations. The citation included fines and reimbursement of the county’s administrative costs of about $27,000.
By Monterey County standards, the prices for tickets to the Los Lobos shows were expensive and they could only be purchased in lots of twos and threes. Two tickets cost $275, but it was a trade-off Los Lobos fans were willing to make: the relatively small venue — not more than 125 people could fit into the space — ensured a unique and cozy show.
I had known that Joe Livernois, a Voices of Monterey Bay editor, had tickets to the afternoon show. I had already been sleuthing around about the event and was aware of the permit issues, so I let him know on Friday afternoon that the show might not go on after all.
Livernois contacted (((folkYEAH!))), and received an email at about 11 o’clock that night that Los Lobos would indeed be on stage at Loma Vista Gardens the next day.
And, in fact, both shows went off without a hitch despite the county’s order.
But questions linger: Not only did the event proceed without permits and in violation of an order to cancel, but the nonprofit the concert was supposed to benefit, Coast Foundation, has not been established as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
In fact, I first became aware of the Coast Foundation after seeing the concert poster, and I fell into a week-long rabbit hole trying to track down what the Coast Foundation is, who was behind it, and why no one in Big Sur had ever heard of it before, even though Coast Foundation’s website used photographs cribbed from other nonprofits that benefit Big Sur and Northern California parks.
I found I was not the only Big Sur resident curious about who and what this organization was. Among others, the Community Association of Big Sur (CABS) was also trying to determine if Coast Foundation was a legitimate nonprofit.
Originally, Coast Foundation claimed to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which is the U.S. Internal Revenue Code that allows for federal tax exemption for bonafide charities and foundations.
I was unable to find evidence of their nonprofit status with the state and federal agencies, so I questioned the organizers about the foundation’s status via their contact page and by email because I did not receive an immediate response.
However, soon after my written inquiries, the 501(c)3 claim was dropped from the website, and it now only mentions that Coast Foundation is a “California nonprofit.” The site does not mention who the founders are, who serves on the board of directors and who the foundation’s officers might be. In fact, no individual is mentioned at all in connection with the organization.
With help from others in the community, I determined that Blaise Lipman, son of Loma Vista Gardens owner Hilary Lipman, was the originator of Coast Foundation. After repeated attempts to learn more about the foundation, I was eventually told that the group is still trying to get its board of directors together. I was also sent a federal employer identification number for the foundation, but that number can’t be found on database websites for either the California Secretary of State or the IRS.
Blaise Lipman also insisted that the photographs on Coast Foundation’s website and literature were from stock agency sources. But they have since been removed from the website after complaints from the originators, including a photograph taken by the Parks Conservancy in San Francisco to promote its volunteer academy classes. Clara Wallace, manager of the volunteer group, said she asked the Coast Foundation to remove the photo on May 27.
After I told Blaise Lipman of other photos on the Coast Foundation site that had been cribbed from other organizations, the photos started to be removed. And by June 8, the home page for the Coast Foundation website has been password-protected.
Meanwhile, Blaise Lipman said he is working to correct the issues and would ask CABS officials to help him create a legal nonprofit organization. And until the violations are cleared up, there will be no further events at Loma Vista Gardens.
However, there are plenty of other musical events at other venues that have been scheduled this year in Big Sur, some to benefit valid nonprofits, including the Henry Miller Library.
The annual Bal Masque, which benefits the Big Sur Fire Department, will be held again this year at Nepenthe at Halloween. And (((folkYEAH!))), which appeared to be unaware of the issues revolving around the Loma Vista Gardens event, continues to promote concerts in Big Sur, including the annual HipNic at Fernwood Resort & Campground on Sept. 24-26.
Joe Livernois contributed to this report.
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