Update: When news broke about today's decision, "Sunset Junction" became a trending term on Twitter for the Los Angeles area. The official account for the festival then posted a hopeful message to Twitter: "Evidently we are the hottest TRENDs- Please do not panic, stay tuned for updates at sunsetjunction.org we will have good news in 24hrs!!!" A spokesperson declined to go into specifics, but said an announcement would be made soon.
A city panel today voted to deny a permit for the Sunset Junction Music Festival scheduled for this weekend, but the move could be reversed this Wednesday. By law, festival organizers behind the 30-year festival in Silver Lake owe the city of Los Angeles $141,000 in fees for anticipated services before allowing the event to take place. The non-profit that runs the event, which also owes the city over $265,000 for last year's festival, said it does not have the money.
On paper this is a dispute over a financial transaction, but the dialogue during the three-hour meeting represented the bigger story that has plagued the Sunset Junction Music Festival over the past decade. The two-day neighborhood festival began 31 years ago to peacefully bring gangs and the gay community together while raising money for programs for the non-profit Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance. Over its first two decades, the festival grew exponentially begetting an entrance fee, at first a suggested donation, and today is one of the biggest and well-known festivals in the Los Angeles, complete with big-name headliners, a $25 entrance fee and at least 30,000 people a people a day.
Comments made by the public ranged from artists looking forward to performing this weekend to former gang members who now have jobs thanks to the festival and non-profit organizer; and local business owners that have lost money on festival days to neighborhood council representatives asking the festival be denied permits if bills are not paid.
Festival representatives said they are unfairly charged more than other events in the city, but officials say the high costs are due to such assessments as closing Sunset Boulevard and the large police force of 150 to patrol the event. For example, the Eagle Rock Music Festival does not include alcohol sales, lasts a half-day and does not close down one of the city's main arteries.
Commissioners for the Board of Public Works acknowledged the non-profit's service to the city with its anti-gang program and other community projects like its two farmers markets and community beautification work, but ultimately sided with a strict city ordinance that states payment must be received up front. The vote was 3 to 1.
If Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance can come up with fees for this weekend's event by Wednesday--they offered $50,000 today--the board has the option to first reconsider their action and then vote approve or deny the permit. Both actions would require majority approval of the board.
A lawyer representing the festival disputed the fees, saying they were too high, but city officials said if the fees are overestimated, a reimbursement would be given after the event.