Sunset for the junction?

In need of a makeover

Update: The Board of Public Works denied the permit on August 24, canceling the festival.

For the past 30 years my neighborhood has hosted a street festival called Sunset Junction, which is also a nickname for the nearest major intersection to my house. This year’s event is scheduled for this weekend, the last “real” summer weekend before Labor Day. For two days, a stage that’s pretty much at the bottom of my street will ring with big-time acts like k.d. lang and Lil’ Jon. You’d think it would be a great time to meet up with the dozens of friends we know who live in the neighborhood. Oddly enough, almost no one I know goes to this festival.

Today, a Board of Public Works commission recommended that a permit for the festival be denied due to the fact that the festival owes the city almost $400,000.

Yes, that is $256,484 they didn’t pay last year. Plus the $141,978 they have not yet paid this year. I snagged this paragraph from the commission’s report, which is filled with all sorts of other baffling details, like the fact that the permit papers were turned in late, emails were not returned, and a collections effort went unanswered. You can download the entire PDF and read it yourself. (Perhaps more disturbing than the fact that the organizers couldn’t get their act together is the fact that it took the city this long to take action against people who are obviously taking advantage of the city financially. But I digress.)

Just looking at my Twitter and Facebook streams today, and based on my conversations with my neighbors, I can say with confidence that most of the people I know are happy that this festival might be dead. It wasn’t always this way, I hear. I went right after it started booking national acts, in 2002 and 2003, but when it was still a “suggested donation”—and when I was still young enough to chug a dozen $8 beers and sneak into Isaac Hayes’s private party at Tantra. (Ah, the good old days.) But since I’ve moved here, I’ve realized that it’s mostly attended by people who live far away, park illegally on our tiny streets, and leave glittering piles of puke in our driveways. It has flat-out failed in producing the sense of community it was meant to create. Unless you count how we’ve all banded together against it.

The big argument for the festival was that the organizers were using the proceeds for programs that benefitted the community, like working with local youth and supporting the farmers market. But now the organizers are trying to raise $100,000 fast from fans, which basically admits those funds were mishandled (uh, what happened to the money from last year’s ticket sales?). I feel horrible for the local bands who have been booked to play and vendors who have bought booths. It’s obvious they’re never getting their money back. Local businesses have already lost big time, as they’ve been blocked out or marginalized in recent years by bigger sponsors and national vendors. Now they’ve been robbed of the bump in sales they expected from the weekend, even if it came with huge inconvenience.

If this version of the festival is indeed cancelled, I say we take back our block party. We don’t need closed streets and funnel cakes and Butthole Surfers to show our neighborhood pride. Let’s shop at our local boutiques, eat every meal out at a Silver Lake restaurant, pick produce at the farmers market, relax in the Meadow, check out a book at the library, climb some stairs, play music on street corners, drink cocktails with our neighbors at bars we can walk home from (and hopefully not puke in anyone’s driveway). I’ll be out of town unfortunately (why do I always miss the good stuff?) but if I was here I’d spend the entire day at Pazzo Gelato, sampling every flavor, soaking up the last August weekend in one of the greatest neighborhoods in LA.

If you live here, please consider doing the same. Let’s show that Sunset Junction isn’t just some festival that we hate. Let’s prove that it’s an actual place—that we love.

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  • Nate Schulman

    I live in Frogtown, partially for economic reasons (slightly more affordable), and I very much appreciate hearing feedback on Silver Lake from someone who lives there, and not I or others who claim to hate it, ‘cos it’s ‘too mindie’ (mainstream indie, citing hipster-runoff), too gentrified. To be honest, it is pretty great, I’m jealous of it, and this kind of writing is a good perspective on that. I myself hate that I go to Cafecito Organico and wonder what ‘community’ is nowadays (shy writers like myself, sitting on our Macs, drinking expensive coffee? hrmmmmmm.)

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  • Carren Jao

    I just heard the news on the radio about this! I’m glad you took the time to write it, because hearing a local’s point of view makes me think that one doesn’t need to have a massively ambitious event to cultivate a sense of community. One just needs a way that people end up leaving an event knowing a little more about their neighborhood and the people that live there.

  • Will Wright

    Alissa, I completely agree with your perspective – and yes, alas, will be out of town, as well – otherwise, I think simply enjoying the heck out of the neighborhood is a great thing to do.    This year’s Bloomfest reminded me of the spirit and openness that used to be Sunset Junction back 7, 8 or 9 years ago.  Instead of a ‘must purchase ticket’ policy, donations were accepted and anyone and everyone was encouraged to enjoy time together in the Arts District neighborhood.  

    From what I’ve heard, one of the prime disadvantages of Sunset Junction is that it is managed by an uncooperative citizen named Michael McKinley who has operated Sunset Junction to his own personal betterment, as opposed to the wide interests of the community.  That is sad.  I suppose it is simply an extension of that age old adage! 

  • Ron

    when they stated fencing off everything from the lil shops and charging $20 a head.. Thats when it started to suck.  i used to do security when i was 17 we all had those yellow tshirts.. lol.

  • Jjzavala97

    totally agree with you!!!! thanks for posting!

  • Victoria Byers

    I’ve been living in Silver Lake/attending Sunset Junction since the mid-80s, and don’t share a lot of the gripes I’ve been hearing for the past decade. Yeah, the price has been escalating, but there’s always been a presence of local bands, albeit during the daylight hours.
    A lot of friends have loudly protested, and boycotted the event. That’s their loss, as the Junction is one of the most amazingly fun things about living here. I look forward to it all year. And yes, it’s changed, but so has the neighborhood. Rents were affordable when I moved in. I remember my 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment with a view, a pool and a parking space for $650 in the 90s.
    Gas cost a lot less then, too.
    Ok, the promoter is quite clearly an avaricious fuck who wants to squeeze as much cash out of the bohos as he can, but he delivers on the goods. Bands have always been great at SJ. They got better. Cheering for the death of such a great event is really missing the point. We had something really special. The locals just couldn’t get behind that. Now we got nada. You get what you want. Happy??

  • Jay Floyd

    See, Victoria, you enjoy the sprawling punk-fest that the Junction had become.  Those of us who can’t stand it lost nothing here.

  • David

    thank you for bringing some reason. All these people who’ve shelled out the fee to get in and enjoy the festival finally get what they want. The SJ put Silverlake on the map, artistically and financially years before most of you moved here. The businesses have flourished over time because of the exposure SJ has given Silverlake. Understandably the man on top created this debacle but to express your disdain over how it’s unraveled doesn’t really paint such an inviting picture of the neighborhood.     

  • Advercite

    Actually it WAS the locals who got behind it, all of these years. The locals supported it from the beginning, spending the money and supporting businesses all year long, not just during the event. Silver Lake was already “on the map” without the festival, unless you mean the mass attention it’s received in the last few years, which has ended up overpriceing local residents and some businesses out of their own neighborhood. This attention was not due solely to the fair – other L.A. neighborhoods are also becoming gentrified and hipsterized for various cultural and economic reasons; for McKinley and anyone else to claim Sunset Junction “created” Silver Lake in some way is ridiculous. And far from cheering for the death from the event, this piece actually is suggesting something really positive – showing up anyway to shop, eat, sightsee and enjoy the area, the way the locals already do. And her criticism of how it unraveled is actually pretty restrained considering the very unsavory aspects of the SJNA, which are many.

  • Advercite

    Sorry for the typos, ugh.

  • Notahipster

    As your neighbor and as a reasonable human being, I couldn’t agree with you more. Bravo!

  • mike kelley

     There’s two distinct things going on here

    1.The  horrible public relations of the organizers who failed to engage the local community and address grievances. That’s been a disaster and this result was a foregone conclusion one way or another.

    2. As far as  the the BIG Sunset Junction the actual festival I’m a long time resident and had a business for six years in the heart of the Junction. It is loud, dirty, noisy AND FUN. I think allot of prople need to take the stick out of their ass and lighten up its one weekend out of the year. I have to agree with the psoter David who mentioned that the Silver Lake that people now love is a direct result of the Junction. It’s not the same as it was 10 or 30 years ago!?!who gives a shit what is. It still benefits the community in many ways not the least of which is putting on smaller local acts (of which there a several every year) on the bill with National bands and draws attention to the areas music culture.

    One other thing don’t be fooled by the so called overwhellming hatred of the festival by the locals. There are a small but vocal group who hate the organizer piggybacking on the more legit general gripes of the locals. Among them are many including the neighborhood council who would like to wrest control of the Junction for their own benefit. This vocal group has sorta acted like the union agitators of the 30’s flamming the fan whenever possible. There’s  a lot of naivety among them about how much work it would take to put on a festival beyond a bunch of stores staying open. You hear this group calling for an all volunteer army to to return the fair to its roots. The origin of the  festival was to bring together the gay and Latino community, ease tension by having  some fun. That tension is long  gone, buffered even further by  gentrification. What they really mean by ” returning it to its roots” is to create a largely yipster,  local business and local government centric fair.

    The neighborhood and the real voters, the 30,00 to 60,000  of people who came out are the real losers and that sucks.

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