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Goodbye Sunset Junction Street Festival?

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Gareth Kantner looks over an empty Sunset Blvd. from his office during the Sunset Junction Festival back in August, 2008 | Photo by Zach Behrens/LAist

"It's like your invited to the party but you have to stay in the bathroom," explained Gareth Kanter, owner of Cafe Stella and the properties at Sunset Junction (the red ones like Intelligentsia and The CheeseStore of Silver Lake). As the festival was in progress north of Sanborn St., south of it, where Kantner's and a plethora of other businesses are located, was empty with no booths, stages or any kind of festivity, even though it was blocked off and considered festival grounds. Kantner compared his side of the festival to the movie "I Am Legend."

Problems over the past seven years have persisted with the now infamous Sunset Junction Festival. From suggested donation entry prices that no one knew were supposed to be donations to leaving out local businesses, this year the complaints hit a tipping point. One big problem: despite a city document signed by the head festival organizer that said admission could not be charged and people were not to be denied access to the street in exchange for a street closure, the exact opposite happened. Even worse, merchants and employees trying to get to their jobs were told they had to pay to get to work.

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A festival debrief meeting held by Councilman Eric Garcetti's office at the end of September was attended by 49 community members along with city officials to meet with festival organizers. Guess who didn't show up? "It is unfortunate that [festival organizers, Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance,] could not send representatives despite being strongly encouraged to do so," wrote Garcetti in a follow up letter obtained by The Eastsider LA (kudos to Jesus Sanchez for the sleuth work). The letter continues:

Most community members voiced negative experiences with the Sunset Junction Street Fair and a frustration that they could not voice them to you, the organizers. The consensus was that the event was valuable to the community but that planning and execution of the event should be done by someone other than the SJNA. In addition, the majority of these businesses and residents, by show of hands, indicated that they would like to have an event that is reflective of its original community atmosphere: particularly one that is free of charge and returning to its original location. The Sunset Junction Street Fair has changed throughout the years but your responsibility remains the same; build strong support for the event within the community. Closing any public right of way is a privilege and must not be taken for granted. I was disappointed to learn that up to the start of this year's event, there was an effort to exclude businesses along Sunset between Sanbom and Edgecliffe. Furthermore, merchants and employees within the festival area were told they would have to pay an entrance fee to get to their jobs. That is simply unacceptable under any circumstance. I have heard the outcry of the community, and the experience of my office in working with you has not been positive.

My staff looks forward to discussing these matters with you at your earliest convenience. Until that time, support from me for next year's event is far from certain. [Emphasis Added]

Joe Keeper of Bar Keeper, one of the businesses left out of the festival this year, said the consensus of the community was that the festival should go away, go back to its original ways or be taken over by new organizers. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.