Victory! But for Whom?

by Whatsblem the Pro

Nevada State Assemblyman David Bobzien (D)

Nevada State Assemblyman David Bobzien (D)

The Nevada Assembly passed AB374 in a 26-15 party line vote today.

The bill, which prohibits county commissioners from imposing fees or regulations on festivals operating under a federal license or permit, was sponsored by Assemblyman David Bobzien (D). The version that passed this morning is the second rewrite since our last report on March 30th of this year.

Opponents of the bill sought amendments to remove county liability and responsibility of prosecuting crimes, due to the high costs of providing law enforcement at Burning Man. Republican Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks said the bill would undermine the county’s authority, and make funding law enforcement difficult. In response, the bill was amended to give the counties the right to contract with and charge the Burning Man organization (and other event promoters) for law enforcement services. The new provision reads as follows:

2. A board of county commissioners may:

(a) Enter into an agreement, with a person or organization which has been issued a license or permit by a federal agency for an assembly, event or activity occurring on federal land, for the county to provide reasonable and necessary law enforcement services for the assembly, event or activity and to receive compensation for the provision of such services; and

(b) Regulate or license, or require any type of permit or fee for organizing, managing or attending, any assembly, event or activity occurring on federal land that is the subject of a:

(1) Lease between the Federal Government and the county; or

(2) License for recreational or other public purposes from the Federal Government to the county.

What this means is that while the corporation that holds the trademark on Burning Man will be more profitable thanks to the elimination of the necessity to pay county authorities for permits or other fees, the Org may still choose to contract with the counties to bring their law enforcement personnel to Black Rock City. It’s possible that this won’t even be a choice; one of the “special stipulations” of the 2012 BLM permit, after all, was this:

23. BRC shall complete formal agreements with all affected parties e.g. Pershing County Sheriff’s Department, Washoe County Sheriff’s Department, Nevada Department of Public Safety-Investigations Division, Nevada Highway Patrol, and Nevada Department of Health and Human Safety for the purpose of addressing concerns and impacts associated with social services e.g. law enforcement and emergency medical services and physical infrastructure e.g. transportation systems and human waste disposal. Written evidence of these agreements showing compliance with this stipulation must be provided to the BLM by BRC 30 days prior to the start of the event.

Since special stipulation #23 demands compliance but doesn’t spell out what compliance actually involves beyond “complete formal agreements,” we’re left to speculate. Doesn’t this put huge leverage into the hands of Washoe and Pershing counties? They can simply demand that one or both of them be contracted with to provide law enforcement services – and be paid for doing so – or threaten to take their ball and go home; no formal agreement means no BLM permit.

It remains to be seen how the Burning Man Org will actually handle this; they could demand a renegotiation of the special stipulations, given that the terrain has changed significantly in the wake of AB374. Given their track record, however, I predict that nothing in particular will get better for those who attend the event. The Org will become more profitable, as is their apparent primary goal always, and the rest of us will be graciously allowed to eat whatever cake we can find in the middle of the desert. The only question is if the Org will be willing to bend over so far backward to county law enforcement that the heavy increase in on-playa officers continues at the alarming pace of the past few years.

How happy I would be if I turned out to be wrong about that.

Black Rock, Red Earth: Burning Man in Australia

by Whatsblem the Pro

A typical Aussie, hanging onto the Earth by his toes

A typical Aussie, hanging onto the Earth by his toes

  In 2009, a small gathering of about thirty people came together in Bellingen, New South Wales, Australia, to have an informal burn of their own. It went so well that it became an actual event in 2010, with over four hundred in attendance. Burning Seed was born, and with it Red Earth City.

  The event was moved to Matong State Forest, NSW in 2011, and it just keeps getting bigger, with over 600 burners making the trek in 2012, and considerably more than that expected this year. The site lies nestled in a forest of Cyprus pine and gum trees in the middle of the Riverina District of New South Wales, a huge agricultural center featuring vast expanses of lightly rolling pasture.

  I was privileged to work with some of Burning Seed’s prime movers on an art project in Reno back in 2012, so when the shadowy cabal of grossly amoral alien oligarchs that controls from behind the scenes (exposé coming soon!) commanded me to investigate this new wonder down under or suffer their reptilian wrath, I cowered and tugged my forelock respectfully. . . and then I got in touch with Bradley “Big Deal” Ogden, head of Burning Seed’s Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DPI).

Bradley "Big Deal" Ogden, head of the down-under DPW

Bradley “Big Deal” Ogden, head of the down-under DPW


So tell me: what’s your role with Burning Seed, and how did you discover Burning Man?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN I run the DPI (Department of Planning and Infrastructure), which is our version of Black Rock’s DPW. I work with different teams to deliver the town plan (we’re still a town, not a city yet), and all of the town’s infrastructure – marquees, generators, toilets, etc. – everything that’s not the Temple or the Effigy.

I was planning a trip to America in 2009, and a friend told me to go to Burning Man. “Trust me,” she said, “you’ll love it!” I trusted her, and I loved it.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO How big is your DPI crew?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN The DPI is just four people pre-event, and two during the event.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO Aside from being that much smaller and on different terrain, how does Burning Seed differ from Burning Man?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN There are lots of the same things going on, but as you say: on a much smaller scale. It’s a lot more tight-knit than Burning Man. . . you can really feel the community. We have all types there, with healthy participation of locals from the immediate surrounding area, along with the people who show up from all over Australia, New Zealand, and the world.

I must say, the quality of what is going on, for a small event, is just amazing. . . slick theme camps, great art, and this year we’ll see our first fleet of art cars!

WHATSBLEM THE PRO How do you apply the ten principles differently?

Burning Seed's Effigy loves you this much

Burning Seed’s Effigy loves you this much



BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN We try to apply them in much the same way, actually.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO What kind of arrangements do you have to make with the authorities? Are you harassed by law enforcement? Do they even have a presence at your event?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN Arrangements are made with the New South Wales State Forestry Department for use of the land. They’ve been hugely supportive of the event over the last three years, as has the local community.

Being in a State Forest and surrounded by farmland poses a few problems for us, namely fire hazards. Australia is very prone to bush fires; in fact, a lot of our native flora relies on it to reproduce. . . so we’re lighting up a 12.5-meter effigy in the middle of a tinder box. We work closely with the RFS (Rural Fire Service) and State Forestry to keep the risk down. I bought a fire truck this year, which will act as Red Earth Fire and Rescue’s first unit.

As for law enforcement, we have a minor police presence; two or three officers who just pop in and out over the course of the weekend. They also are supportive of the event!

All the burn, none of the dust

All the burn, none of the dust

WHATSBLEM THE PRO Who handles the money, and where does it go?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN Phil Smart and Jodi Rivet handle the money, which all goes back into the festival. The financial info is made public everywhere; we donate some money to the local school every year, as well.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO How have things changed at your event since you began? What are the goals for the future?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN Our internal organizational structure and processes have evolved remarkably quickly, and by leaps and bounds; our overall group of Team Leads has grown, in people and experience; event attendance has blossomed and continues to grow rapidly.

For the future, we’d simply like to stay on the track we’re on, and get bigger and better. Personally, I’d like to see this become one of the world’s great burns in the next five years. I think we have the right ingredients here, and more and more people come out of the woodwork to join us every year. It’s exciting times; we’re expecting 800 or more this year.

Seeing more collaboration in future between burner groups in Australia and New Zealand would be awesome too, both at our respective burns and in Nevada. That’s already starting to happen; I went over for KiwiBurn to work last year, and we had three of them over for Burning Seed in 2012. Two of us went back for KiwiBurn 2013.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO Tell me about the differences between Burning Seed and Kiwiburn

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN The differences between Burning Seed and KiwiBurn? [laughs]

Do I have to answer that one?


Dance party with Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, and Bruce

Dance party with Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, and Bruce

FACT: Australians also have asses, much like our own

FACT: Australians also have asses, much like our own

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN They’re two entirely different festivals, almost. Not totally, but the vibe is a lot different. There are lots more student/hippie types at KiwiBurn, and we’re a bit more Mad Max. I think our theme camps are better. . . much better, in fact. The crew on both sides of the ditch are awesome, though. So basically, we have fewer hippies here in Australia, although they’re still there.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO I wish I could make it! Maybe I could sell a kidney or kidnap an heiress or something for the airfare.

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN Yeah, who needs two? You’d be welcome, mate, come on down and we’ll find something for you to do.

Burning Seed 2013 will be taking place October 2nd to October 8th this year. First-tier tickets are going for AU$125, and full-priced tickets for AU$165 ($131.81 and $174 in U.S. dollars, respectively).

The Man vs. the Man: Will Local Authorities Be Booted From Burning Man?

by Whatsblem the Pro

Big doings in the Nevada State Assembly! The website of the Washoe County Republican Party reports:

BOB-ZI! BOB-ZI! BOB-ZI! Photo: David Bobzien

BOB-ZI! BOB-ZI! BOB-ZI! Photo: David Bobzien

“Earlier this morning, the Chamber supported AB 374 in the Assembly Government Affairs Committee. This bill, pushed by Assemblyman David Bobzien, came about because of threats by some rural counties to start charging local permitting fees and increasing costs for the Burning Man festival that comes to the Black Rock Desert every summer. This bill would prohibit any local government from interfering with a federally-licensed event on federal land. We strongly support this concept because of the enormous positive economic impact that Burning Man attendees have on our region.”

AB 374 began life as a different bill, introduced by Nevada Senator Pete Goicoechea and State Assemblyman John Ellison, intended to allow grazing in Federal fire restoration areas as a means of limiting the growth of cheat grass, which creates repeat fire hazards. Under the leadership of Bobzien, that bill was amended with some canny provisions aimed at getting the State and County authorities’ hands out of Burning Man’s pocket.

Assemblyman Bobzien – who also sponsored AB 304, a previous bill that clarified and simplified permitting for fire performers – had this to say on the subject:

“I for one prefer to keep politics away from Burning Man. My own experiences on the playa are thankfully partisan-free, and AB304, a bill that enjoyed broad-based support from Democrats, Republicans and Governor Sandoval, was a true example of non-partisan problem solving to help constituents. And by the way, these are constituents who are part of a culture with economic importance in northern Nevada- it’s estimated that the Burning Man festival alone pumps $15 million into the local economy every year.”

As AB 374 has gained support, the authors of the original bill have moved to distance themselves from it, and now openly oppose it. Goicoechea and Ellison expressed their opposition to AB 374 during a conference call last Friday.

“If you have an outdoor activity on public lands of over 1,000 people, then the county has no involvement or enforcement on that activity at all,” said Goicoechea. “It all goes to the Feds. We’re not prepared or ready to let our police powers go. Technically they’d be on the hook for all the emergency services but wouldn’t have the ability to enforce any of their laws or public safeties. It’s just another intrusion into the County and the State’s rights when it comes to any type of enforcements on public lands.”

Pete Goicoechea and John Ellison - Photo: R. Dalton

Pete Goicoechea and John Ellison – Photo: R. Dalton

John Ellison agreed, noting that the bill as rewritten will have an affect on the ability of every County in the State of Nevada to regulate large festivals held on Federal soil. “If we open Pandora’s box and we allow this to happen, this could be on every event on public lands,” he said.

The full text of AB 374 can be found at the Nevada State Legislature’s website.

In an unrelated story, astronomers report that the stars over Nevada have spontaneously rearranged themselves to read “FYD PETE & JOHN.” Authorities at NASA were unavailable for comment.