By Marcel Honoré and Xochitl Peña
The Desert Sun
Indio — The petition for a new ticket tax in Indio is still alive, even as the promoters of Coachella and Stagecoach vow to move the popular music festivals elsewhere — and possibly out of the valley — if the measure makes the ballot.
But Councilman Sam Torres said he would no longer pursue the petition if he can join negotiations with Goldenvoice for a long-term deal to keep the festivals at the Empire Polo Club for years to come.
Torres, elected to the City Council in 2010, has come under fire recently as one of the tax proposal’s chief proponents. It would impose a 5 percent to 10 percent tax on admissions starting in 2014 to entertainment events with more than 2,500 people.
Some 2,664 Indio registered voters are required to sign the ticket tax petition in order for it to qualify for the ballot.
“Paul’s words have been ringing in my ears,” Torres said Monday, referring to Goldenvoice President Paul Tollett’s threats Thursday to move the festival out of Indio over the proposal. “He’s got a strong will. He can definitely make good on it.”
But Torres said he believed Tollett might also have been “positioning” and “posturing” to get a better deal. The councilman wants to join the city’s latest ad hoc committee to negotiate with Goldenvoice and help work out a deal that better benefits Indio residents.
Mayor Glenn Miller has the sole power to appoint people to such a committee. The committee to negotiate Goldenvoice’s present two-year deal with the city included Miller, City Manager Dan Martinez, the city attorney and the city’s finance director.
The council won’t discuss who should join until its next regular meeting on July 18, Miller said Monday.
The mayor said he would pick only those who are best qualified. Miller declined to address Torres’ request to join as a condition to drop the petition because he had not spoken to Torres directly.
“I’m not against Mr. Torres being on it, but I’m not going to pre-pick anybody,” Miller said Monday.
Miller also noted that there are other main backers of the petition besides Torres.
Two of those proponents, John Bingham and Al Meza, who paid the $200 application for the petition, said they would agree to drop the effort if Torres is selected for the committee.
“We’re open to any reasonable consideration,” Bingham, a member of the Indio Citizens’ Finance Advisory Commission, said Monday. “I think certainly what we’re after is some kind of permanent payment from them. I think some tax is reasonable for all entertainment features.”
Bingham said he is not deterred by the threats to move the concerts.
Another main proponent of the tax, Pastor Carl McPeters of Kyriakos Christian Center in Indio, said Torres recruited him to lend his support.
“He contacted me and (shared) his intent to take it to the voters and his reasoning for the ticket tax,” said McPeters, one of three Indio residents whose name will appear on a legal notice requesting the ballot measure and intent to circulate the petition.
“I don’t understand what all the uproar is over a ticket tax that will benefit the residents of Indio,” McPeters added. “From what I understand Goldenvoice has not committed to staying here anyway beyond next year.”
Last week, Torres provided The Desert Sun with a recent series of text messages he exchanged with Goldenvoice Vice President Skip Paige.
Paige’s messages indicated Goldenvoice had decided it would move from Indio after signing its latest two-year deal in 2011. The messages also indicated that no negotiations had taken place yet for a long-term deal.
However, Tollett said last week that Goldenvoice hadn’t decided to leave, and that it still wants to stay in Indio.
Tollett declined to weigh in Monday on Torres’ conditions to drop the petition.
“It is not appropriate for us to dictate who the city chooses to represent them in any negotiations, they need to run the city the way they see fit,” he said in a statement Monday. “Throughout the years our communication and cooperation with the city has been one of the main reasons these shows are so successful. I would like to see that continue.”
Desert Sun reporter Bruce Fessier contributed to this report.