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L.A. denies permit to Sunset Junction festival

August 24, 2011 | 11:46 am

Sunset Junction street fair
Dealing a stunning blow to promoters, volunteers and an array of bands, a Los Angeles city panel refused Wednesday to give a last-minute lifeline to the Sunset Junction Street Festival days before the event was supposed to happen.

The Board of Public Works, a five-member panel appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, unanimously turned aside desperate pleas from festival promoters to provide the proper permits after the group failed to show up with a check for $141,000 to cover this year’s fees.

Instead, the nonprofit Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance had Chase Bank send a fax showing that the alliance had recently received a deposit of $100,000 in its account. That deposit was a last-minute loan from concert promoter Live Nation, said Phil Tate, a lawyer for the festival group.

Board president Andrea Alarcon called the group’s response a disappointment. “This is not an indication to me … that any funds will be available for issuance of a check to support the special events permit,” she said. “I do see a deposit of $100,000, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot.”

“Fail me once, shame on you. Fail me twice, shame on me,” Alarcon said. “This organization has failed this city time and time again.”

The fate of the festival has been a cliffhanger for much of the month, with city officials voicing dismay that, in the middle of a municipal budget crisis, event organizers still owe $260,000 from last year's festival to the city. Meanwhile, backers of the event described critics of the festival as “haters” and implored the board to change course.

“It would really break a lot of hearts to have this not happen,” said Sunset Junction booker Jennifer Tefft, breaking into tears.

Michael McKinley, the group’s executive director, did not appear for the meeting. But his lawyer, Phil Tate, was repeatedly grilled with questions about the organization’s bank account, nonprofit programs and frayed relations with nearby Silver Lake residents and businesses.

When the day started, Tate said McKinley was at the bank attempting to cut a check. But the fax from Chase Bank did not say what Tate had planned.

Tate implored city officials to keep the festival alive while allowing his client to provide a check on Thursday morning by a specific deadline. And he warned the board that the city would likely never see the $260,000 in permit fees that his client owes from last year if the festival is killed.

“You’ll be one of many creditors standing in line waiting to get paid,” he said. “Because if this falls, the vendors, the bands, they’re not just going to quietly slink off into the night and this organization is probably going to go away.”

City Councilman Eric Garcetti, whose district includes Silver Lake, was on vacation Wednesday. But Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said the councilman supported the board’s decision and accused festival organizers of trying to “flimflam $400,000 from the taxpayers.”

“The fact that they came up with a large sum -- not the full amount, but a large sum nonetheless -- in just 36 hours, shreds their credibility even more. They should have spent the last 12 months coming up with the full amount.”


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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: An attendee at the Sunset Junction street fair in 2008 takes a photo of stilt walkers. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times