Request for Public Commentary: SDCAP Land Purchase

The San Diego Collaborative Arts Project (SDCAP) is exploring purchasing land to use as a venue for YOUtopia and other events aligned with our mission. As part of our exploratory process, we are soliciting community feedback and want to hear from you! Please tell us what you think of this idea – the good, the bad, the creative, the concerned. If you want to go straight to the feedback form, it’s here.

For additional context about this issue, read onward!

Land Ownership in General

Purchasing land is something SDCAP has been talking about for years. Our collective motivation to pursue it has been bolstered by past board members who were hot and heavy for the idea and then tempered by the sweet setup we had renting the La Jolla Indian Campground (yes, the hills are rough, but it has water and trees, and being on tribal land allowed us to avoid permitting issues).

Speaking of permitting, that’s one of the biggest driving factors in our decision making process about where to purchase, if at all. We know from other comparable events that permitting issues vary wildly from county to county in Southern California, and we want to be sure that if we do buy land it’s in a county where we will be able to get the permits we need. The other mission-critical qualities we’ve identified are:

  • Within 2-3 hours of central San Diego
  • South of Los Angeles (because it’s the San Diego Regional Burn)
  • Terrain that will allow us to burn art
  • Lacking neighbors who would be upset about sound

If you’re familiar with the rural and unincorporated areas outside San Diego, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “hey, that sounds like Imperial County!” That’s what we’re thinking, too. We’re certainly open to other ideas, but we have more concerns about permitting (and cost) in Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino.

Why Now: YOUtopia 2019

For the past 9 years, YOUtopia’s home has been the La Jolla Indian Campground. We’ve enjoyed a good relationship with the tribe and have taken pride in our additional donations as well as our extensive Leave No Trace (LNT) efforts, always leaving the campground in better condition than we found it. As one would expect, the cost to rent the campground has gone up significantly over the years, but it’s always been a relatively predictable increase (review our financials here). This year, when we contacted the tribe to begin our annual contract negotiation, they informed us they wanted more than double the amount we paid them last year. We attempted to negotiate and they then informed us they are considering no longer hosting any festivals at all due to complaints from residents about sound, but if we were willing to pay their asking price, they would still have us back in 2019. We reviewed our financials, and determined there is no way we can pay that amount without dramatically raising ticket prices, so we exited the negotiation.

Since then, we’ve been exploring all manner of other options for rental venues. Yes, of course we’ve reached out to the campground down the road from La Jolla. Yes, of course we’ve reached out to our regional neighbors to the north. Yes, we’ve been exploring other venues in San Diego County. A variety of options are on the table in terms of renting a venue for 2019, but none have come to fruition yet.

At the same time, we have begun talking about a land purchase. If we’re being honest, part of what spurred us on is that for the amount of money we would have to pay to rent La Jolla for 1 year, we could buy similar acreage outside San Diego and own it permanently. Pretty appealing.

We’ve done a couple scouting missions of properties in the desert, and there are some cool spots out there. They would be tremendous shifts in the look and feel of YOUtopia. It’s highly likely that any property that could truly sustain our event and allow us to burn the way we want to burn is going to be a lot more like Black Rock City than a cushy campground with amenities. We’ll be trading creature comforts for a blank canvas. In some ways it’ll be harder and in some ways it’ll be easier. We’d be lying if we told you we’ve haven’t fallen a little bit in love with the idea and believe the timing is right.

While we’re not going to rush into anything, we are quietly keeping our fingers crossed for some serendipity so we can do this in time for YOUtopia 2019. We know that’s super soon, and that there’s only so much planning the YOUtopia Team can do until we have a venue locked down.

We also know lots of folks have been wondering about the details for YOUtopia 2019. Once we have a venue and a date finalized, tickets will go on sale. We promise. In the worst case scenario, if we have to take a year off to make sure we buy the right property at the right time, we’ll make a public announcement by early August.

How Can YOU Help YOUtopia?

Most importantly, tell us what you think about land purchasing by filling out the survey.

You can also come chat with us about it in person at an upcoming Board Meeting. We meet the 2nd and 4th Weds of every month from 7-9pm at CoLab and we’ll be carving out a big ol’ chunk of agenda time for public commentary about this, at least for the next few meetings.

Beyond that, if you know of any properties for rent or purchase that meet the criteria outlined above, please let us know! We need about 100 usable acres for the whole enchilada.

And finally (shameless plug), there are ongoing opportunities to get involved with SDCAP and YOUtopia. The SDCAP board is a little light right now (we have 7 members, but prefer 9), so if you are interested in a “Mid-Cycle Appointment,” please get in touch by messaging bod@sdcap.org. The YOUtopia Team also still has some Department Manager positions open. Management positions are usually filled by people who have volunteered with YOUtopia in the past and have direct experience with event operations, but folks with special and specific skill-sets are always welcome and encouraged to apply. For more information, get in touch with the Production Leadership Team (PLT@sdyoutopia.com).