A Shakespeare in the Park performance in 2015 at Old Mill Park. Courtesy image.

What groups and organizations should be able to use City of Mill Valley parks, and for what purposes, and how often, and at what volume, and at what cost?

That’s a lot of questions to answer.

For the second time this year in response to an unsigned letter from one resident near Old Mill Park “seeking a substantial reduction in the number of events, activities, noise, disruption, etc.,” according to the Marin Independent Journal, the Mill Valley Parks & Recreation Commission takes up the matter this Wednesday, Aug. 7, in the Council chambers at City Hall (26 Corte Madera Avenue).

The letter specifically took issue with the Curtain Theatre, the nonprofit organization that has been producing free theater in the park’s redwood-laden amphitheater since 2000, saying, “The duration of practices and performances needs to be addressed.” At a hearing on March 6, the commission also delved into uses such as private events like weddings to one-off fundraisers and the usual gleeful shrieks of children, well, playing in the park.

The unsigned letter also sought to limit Old Mill Park event rentals, which are currently limited to three rentals per day each at the amphitheater, the Redwood Grove and the group picnic area, and also suggests hiking rental rates for wedding ceremonies from $100 to $4,000.

​In March, supporters of the Curtain Theatre created a “Save the Curtain Theatre” online petition, collecting more than signatures to date. “The outpouring of support for the Curtain has been truly heart-warming,” said Stephen Beecroft, a producer for the theater, at that time.

The City’s staff report on the issue doesn’t address the Curtain Theatre’s use of Old Mill Park’s amphitheater specifically, but does says that any user of the amphitheater must get permission and pay a fee to access its electrical outlets; must get approval to use large objects like arches and stage props; must not drill anything into the stage; must keep amplified ( and approved) music below 70 dbA.

In an email to Curtain Theatre supporters, Beecroft wrote, “This is the Curtain’s 20th year of producing high quality performances on the Old Mill Park stage and we hope to continue the tradition. For many residents and visitors, it is one of the highlights of the summer. Whole families come to enjoy our shows with many children getting their first exposure to Shakespeare via the Curtain. And as we perform for free, no one is excluded by cost. As a Mill Valley resident myself, I cannot think of a better or more community-building use for the stage.”

In its report, Parks staff indicated that it has created a Park Use Policy, like the City’s Field Use Policy, to help guide future park rental requests. In doing so, staff took the following actions to address neighbor complaints and the needs of those using City parks:

  • Gave neighbors with direct contact information for its facilities staff in the event that issues arise during park rentals.
  • Added staff to all Old Mill Park rentals to ensure compliance with rental rules at large rental events
  • Reduced the number of large-scale events allowed to one per day.
  • Altered wedding permits to only allow ceremonies, not sit down dinner events.
  • Eliminated all food trucks and catering.
  • Increased enforcement of the “no music amplification” rule in the park unless approved by commission.
  • Required all large-scale events to include shuttle busing and transportation plans to reduce traffic and parking congestion.
  • Reduced the number of Movies in the Park at Old Mill Park by relocating some screenings to the Community Center’s Friends Field for Summer 2019.
  • Increased trash removal from Old Mill Park.
  • Added a lockbox to the amphitheater electrical outlet.

Want to have your say? Send your comments to Parks & Recreation Commission, 26 Corte Madera Ave.
Mill Valley, CA 94941 or email at recreate@cityofmillvalley.org.

If you can’t be in the room, watch the live stream on August 7 here.

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