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.