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Arts and Entertainment

Sunset Junction Founder Doesn't Like What Paper Finds in Tax Records, Although He Won't Say Why

Photo by Joséphine Runneboom via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
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One of the founders of Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance is firing back at a piece by LA Weekly that delved into the tax records of the organization.

Reporter Amanda Becker concludes that the high-profile fight over jacked-up city fees aren't what killed the festival this year — it's the program's high overhead. Even during years that the event didn't have to pay city fees, there was little money leftover for its youth outreach program, The Weekly reports:

Though the festival generated nearly $400,000 in 2009, the most recent year for which tax records have been filed, by the time organizers paid the musical acts, permits and other expenses, less than $500 was left for youth outreach. The year before, the festival just broke even, generating nothing for its youth-employment project at the now-closed Tsunami coffeehouse on Sunset Boulevard — or for its sports or school programs.

That's where the paper came up with its punchy kicker: "The so-called charity spent $12,000 on lobbyists. Needy kids got $500."

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Michael McKinley calls these numbers "completely inaccurate" in a statement, and says he doesn't know where they came from: "We are not clear on what facts allowed Ms. Becker to determine this numerical equation of monies going to the program's at risk youth."

At the same time, McKinley doesn't offer any alternative to what Becker presented or clarify how much the Alliance divvied up money for youth programs, lobbying or overhead.

He does seem to fess up that the organization had some bad years, and he chalks this up to a bad economy:

Like every other business or organization, Sunset Junction is not immune to the current economic downturn. Every business and organization fluctuates from year-to-year depending on many variables that effect the economy and that are out of our control.

Now that the Alliance is facing insolvency, McKinley casts his organization and the festival as a sort of jobs program:

We are trying to empower the youth in the neighborhood in which they live and to provide work and life opportunities that they may not ordinarily receive. Our staff works with 50- to- 60 youth at a local high school to coordinate the last period sports program. Our youth and staff operate our farmer's market which takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Our youth and staff also work for one year to produce the annual street fair and they also staff it accordingly.

But The Weekly says that most of those programs are funded without help from the festival:

Tax filings for 2009, when the organization's revenue was $668,433, show that money spent on youth outreach was modest: about $14,037 for Tsunami coffeehouse, and $56,084 for other programs.
A document provided to the Weekly by City Councilman Eric Garcetti's office shows youth program expenditures from September 2005 to August 2006 were higher: $81,048 for the coffeehouse, and $72,520 for other Sunset Junction youth programs.