Reno Gazette Journal covers Pershing County Cops Settlement

In a 3-page story entitled “Burning Man: As law enforcement moves in, Burners remain in Playa bliss” (a subtle warning, perhaps?), the Reno Gazette-Journal delves deeper into the agreement Burning Man reached with Pershing County.

A crowd gathered around Larry Harvey at Burning Man’s Center Camp last year, as he spoke about the history of the 28-year-old event.

The Burning Man founder’s stories detailed the early years of the festival, which started on a beach in San Francisco in 1986 and moved to the Black Rock Desert in 1994.

Harvey made mention of a couple of deaths on the playa in early years. His main point was to acknowledge law enforcement’s growing presence at the event, and the then-pending lawsuit between San Francisco-based Black Rock City LLC, the company that organizes Burning Man, and Pershing County.

“The first instance of working with authority gave us license to build a civilization out here,” Harvey said at the time. “It’s an ongoing conversation with the authorities and a crash course with real world issues, like politics, economics. This is a business and it takes money to create it. What we all have in common is general concern with public safety.”

He continued, “I wouldn’t go without police. You’re free to hate them all day, but when you need one, they’re here.”

It’s not just a party…it’s a civilization. Ruled not by democracy, but a weird combination of team-based despotism and crowd-sourcing.

The story reveals that the agreement reached between BMOrg and Pershing County specifically allows nudity and the presence of children. For 10 years, if we interpret Judge Jones’ comments correctly.

pershing county flagEarlier this month, BRC and Pershing Co. finally reached an agreement that ended a year-long dispute over fees, law enforcement, nudity and minors at the eight-day eclectic arts and culture event in Gerlach that brings roughly $35 million to the region each summer.

The county will continue to provide law enforcement services, which it did for the first time under the agreement — despite pending litigation — in 2013, and will work as an integrated police unit with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Burners in Reno get it. We make the party. Burners, not authorities.

in Reno’s burner community, the fight over money and police has not put a damper on the spirit of the event. They say the organization that operates Burning Man and being a burner are two separate things.

…“Burning Man is a lifestyle, a culture, an interest and way that we live our lives,” Bar said. “There is law enforcement at Burning Man for a reason and I know that they are there doing their jobs.”


The lawsuit started when BMOrg objected to the $1.50/person fee that Pershing was asking for. They capitulated after the police presence was noticed this year by Burners as the #1 issue in our post-Cargo Cult poll (it’s still open if you want to vote, you can put Exodus specifically under Other).

Black Rock City filed against Pershing Co. a year ago, challenging the constitutionality of a new county ordinance that required the company to pay a $1.50-per-head fee for festivalgoers.

In late November 2013, the Comprehensive Festival Ordinance Waiver, Law Enforcement and Settlement Agreement between BRC and the county, agreed on by both parties last October, was halted by residing U.S. District Senior Judge Robert C. Jones.

He blasted both sides, calling the agreement “absurd” and “illegal, unenforceable, fraud and an abuse of the judicial process.”

He further found fault with the inclusion of children at the event, stating the agreement “implies the County cannot prevent minors from attending the event even with state and local laws concern child endangerment, child delinquency or child trafficking are implicated.”

In a hearing Jan. 10, Jones concluded he did not have jurisdiction to void the agreement and therefore, the settlement stands.

“We have an agreement in place, but Black Rock City can appeal the decision,” Pershing County District Attorney Jim Shirley said. “If they do that, we can go back for an appeal on it. Ultimately when you do a settlement, you give and take a little from each side. The county commissioners gave and BRC gave and then you arrive at the (standing) settlement agreement.”

BMOrg chose to make a Constitutional stand on Freedom of Speech grounds, and supported State law being changed so that they would only have to deal with BLM. Instead of working out in their favor, this backfired when BLM and Pershing County joined forces, placing Pershing County in charge of the local operation and processing all arrests. Incidentally, we haven’t received any information this year about the arrest count. Perhaps the cops are happy with their deal? It doesn’t seem like BRC “gave” so much as they “caved”. Burners had to suffer and get busted as a result of their decision (and, of course, because they broke the law) to teach BMOrg that they could afford $1.50 per Burner. Their response? An average $15 per Burner ticket hike. Gotta cover legal costs too! And pay for all those arrests to be processed.

 Under the new fee schedule, BRC will pay Pershing Co. for law enforcement services for the next 10 years based on the number of participants. For 70,000 participants, for example, BRC would owe Pershing $240,000.

BMOrg obviously failed to take our advice that their lawyer criticizing the judge to the media, is not going to help any future Burning Man-related matter that ever comes before him. Now BMOrg’s PR spokesperson is weighing in on the Judge’s interpretation of the law in his Courtroom.

megan miller nbc“We are very pleased to have reached a mutually-beneficial settlement and to have ended litigation,” Burning Man’s public relations manager Megan Miller said in an e-mail. “While Judge Jones took issue with some aspects of the agreement, the Judge doesn’t have jurisdiction to void the agreement with Pershing County so it remains intact.”

Injure yourself at Burning Man, a $30 million annual event with 70,000 participants? In the past there have been deaths, severe burns, falls, rapes, all kinds of serious injuries. Well, the best you could hope for in a lawsuit would be $1 million:

In addition to the fee schedule, BRC also agreed to take out a $1 million insurance policy for the event and reimburse the sheriff and district attorney for costs related to prosecuting crimes at the festival, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Reno last week.

It seems a little light on the insurance side, given the nature of the event.

Local Winnemucca BLM chief Gene Seidlitz says that the BLM’s 3% cut is only from ticket revenue, and that the event is quite profitable to them. I believe this is not actually correct, that in fact they get a cut of all Playa revenues such as Plug-n-Play camping fees.

Winnemucca District Field Manager Gene Seidlitz said the BLM provides BRC with an estimate that details the costs associated with pre-planning, implementation and monitoring of the event. He said the BRC pays the BLM 3 percent of the gross ticket receipts.

He estimates the federal agency typically makes from $500,000 to $600,000 a year on the event.

“A good chunk of money comes back locally,” Seidlitz said. “It goes toward projects, improvements, staffing and maintenance within our district, national conservation area and for the field office. Some of that money also goes to partnered groups that are passionate about that landscape and want to help us. We still have quality control. We can no longer do our jobs alone, these groups are really part of the BLM staff and part of our mission to improve the public lands.”

 The RGJ shares some Burner feedback:

morris hotelJim “Jungle Jim” Gibson is owner of the first burner hotel, the historic Morris Hotel on Fourth Street. He said the legal struggles of Burning Man affects burners in that they continue to add fees and costs to the event. He said it gets to where the average burner has a hard time coming up with $400 to go to the event (tickets cost $380 in 2014) [plus $30 vehicle pass – Ed]. On average, he said, a burner will spend $2,000 to $3,000 at Burning Man.

“This is also the largest single event in the Reno community for raising money,” Gibson said. “There is more money spent on Burning Man than any of the other event in Reno.

There is a lot of politics involved, and sometimes the burner community doesn’t always understand. There are people who understand Burning Man, the organization and what they do, and then there are people who think the organization is getting rich off of the event and it’s really not that true. They make money, they should.”…

...most burners don’t pay attention to what is happening. He said. they focusing on living life with the most potential, creating art and building communities. When things are happening in politics, he said, they let the people handling politics deal with it.

“We are artists and we are here to create art,” [hotel manager] Bar said. “We do what we do to bring the art and other people do what they do in politics to make sure we will be able to bring the art. It’s the principle of communal effort and everyone doing his part.

The burner culture is about community, art, leaving no trace. Then there are the people that do the paperwork, handle the lawsuits and meet with the judges. They are two separate things.

Oh dear. Leave the politics to the politicians, a recipe for disaster if ever I heard one. And so much for radical inclusion! The Burning Man lawyers and paperwork people who I’ve met go to Burning Man and get the culture.

Of course we understand that they make money from the event. That’s a prerequisite for understanding BMOrg. I’ve just been in remote parts of Thailand where anyone spending that much money on a ticket to a dance party would be considered obscenely rich, almost beyond comprehension. I’m sure that is the case everywhere along the Silk Road that we’re celebrating this year too. So “rich” is relative. There is absolutely no doubt that the Burning Man organization takes in tens of millions of dollars a year, more than it’s costs. Which is good, since it is supposed to be a non-profit by now. It should be out there doing a lot of good with all those millions, in the name of Burners.

17 comments on “Reno Gazette Journal covers Pershing County Cops Settlement

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  5. It’s getting to the point where these stories read like something from the WSJ, and I have about as much interest in spending a week camped out on the Wall Street trading floor. It’s for rich people, like the Cannes Film Festival, and their lawyers. I would say that the one-week $7 million-cost event has been eclipsed by the 51-week $7+ million drama of overhead (lawyers) and profit. The event in the desert is now largely disjoint from the ongoing BOrg drama, only providing the money to fund this theater of the absurd.

    I will watch the Burn from what’s on the web, and have fun at the many other Stone Soup Art Events where the cost of admission is less than $100, and I can afford to put together a theme camp and have some fun, absent the political idiocy (and LE attention) that the BOrg has earned for BRC. I guess the BOrg milk has soured sufficiently that many of us veteran Burners will treat the installments of the BRC drama as just another episode of Shark Tank, with Larry as Mr.Wonderful.

    • Nomad, much obliged for your comments. The recent decisions and changes do suck, purposed for the massive cash out, not for the benefit of the Burner community. As the rubbish $40 vehicle levy and doubling of event revenues perchance are purposed.

      Don’t let this, nor a dwindling few from the organisation’s social media crew hating on any querying the org, dissuade you from holidaying to the playa. There remains massive awesomeness – the remaining old school Burners and Burner culture, 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock, fire troupes, mutant vehicles, camps as Porter Venn’s Planet Earth, Thunderdome, other Esplanada camps, Distrikt, Greeters, artists, artistic endevours, the man burn, the temple burn, most org workers, and regionals keeping the org at spears length – Flipside, Saguaro Man, Alchemy. Massive awesomeness.

      Venture to the playa and do as most, be a Spectator. Strive for gentlemanly C’s in Participation, rather than remaining emotionally invested in doing your two bits of throwing the party. Bring your theme camp and make pretences in interactivity for placement purposes. Separate the emotions towards the few, apart from the emotions towards the awesomeness of many. Venture forth, and enjoy a holiday brimming of happiness and awesomeness.

      • I have – been there and done that – five times. The dwindling number of veteran Burners shown in the last BRC attendance shows I would be a statistical outlier if I went. I have given up on the BOrg recovering from the hole it has dug, and continues to dig now as a full-time activity.

        The saving solution would have been to shop the Burn to various venues, like the Olympics, and see who wanted the economic benefit. In that scenario the locals would put pressure on LE to be nice to the guests and their money. But once I realized that a) the BOrg was playing games with the non-profit facade; and, b) BOrg members had bought up properties around BRC for profitable rentals, there is no hope. We are only watching them arranging the deck chairs.

        I have moved on. New, better places for my theme camps.

        You can’t go home again.

      • Yes! That is the answer; go to Burning Man and have a great time. Contribute, volunteer, and have an amazing vacation. Sure you may be more exhausted at the end of the vacation than at the beginning, but it’s worth it. What’s the point of even commenting on any of this is you have lost interest in going to Burning Man? All of the things that make Burning Man great are still there, just a lot more people too. Whatever the politics and economics of it all, it’s still the most interesting city in the world for a week.

  6. Thanks for your bitchy, whiney, moaning, complaining arm-chair quarterbacking comment. Do you have a more positive opinion about this topic that you could share? Because I don’t see that angle. Fees increase to them $1.50 and to us $15, that’s supposed to be a happy thing?

    • My comment isn’t even about the specific topic, which is actually interesting, but about the general theme across postings of this blog that BMOrg is some sort of oppressive hegemonic group of overlords who are doing it all wrong, just want to make themselves rich and famous, and are ruining Burning Man, while the writers of this blog could do it so much better. I’m sure you do a fine job volunteering hundreds of hours of your time for some department on-playa (and maybe off), and would have handled the issue with Pershing County so much more effectively. It is possible to write about the issues of Burning Man without acting like you’re a muck-raking reporter uncovering the horrible corruption of the evil BMOrg. I have seen some of your other posts, and you personally don’t always do this, unlike Whatsblemthecomplainer, so this is not aimed at you individually, but at the tone of many postings.

      • fair enough. That guy’s gone BTW, in part because I agree with you. Somewhat. My position which is consistent across all posts is that they’re perfectly entitled to make money. But let’s not pretend anyone is saving the world here. It’s a party – a great one, the world’s biggest art festival. Whoever came up with that should be getting paid. Also, because it is crowd-sourced, the Burners who come up with the essence of the party – and always have – should be able to get paid too. A rising tide lifts all boats, and BMOrg would only benefit from treating their customers well, even considering them as partners in their goal of spreading Burner culture.

      • But the BOrg IS some sort of oppressive hegemonic group of overlords who are doing it all wrong, and just want to make themselves rich and famous, and are ruining Burning Man.

        For example, if there is some logic behind the way the new car passes are sold, that could be explained. But absent that cogent explanation, the only conclusion is that it was made up by an oppressive hegemonic group of overlords who are doing it all wrong, and just want to make themselves rich, ruining Burning Man in the process.

  7. Everything written on this “blog” is ALWAYS bitchy, whiney, moaning, complaining arm-chair quarterbacking. So very very annoying.

    • The hollow sound many of us hear is the “you are haters” chorus, with never a compelling explanation or response to the questions and arguments.

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