By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
It’s not often that McKinley attends community meetings. Typically, if the SJNA makes an appearance, the organization sends someone else. Where once McKinley was known for going from shop to shop, passing out posters and festival wristbands, now many in the neighborhood say they rarely see him outside his office, in the basement of Tsunami Coffee House on Sunset.
Ask him about the beginnings of the street fair, and his face conveys a look that’s a lot like first love. The Sunset Junction Street Fair was born out of the gay-rights movement, conceived to promote peace between the neighborhood’s gay and Latino communities with a party instead of through protest. “We were one of the first people to celebrate all of the differences we have, and to celebrate the community,” McKinley says.
The first event, attended by at least a handful of people who now stand in opposition to SJNA, was a small affair, not terribly different from your standard block party. It quickly became a local institution, a free party where all were welcome. And, by all accounts, everyone got along well. SJNA then parlayed this success into charity work, and afterschool programs for local youth, including soccer teams and computer training, painting and mural refurbishing. There was also work at the nonprofit Tsunami Coffee House, a student-worker project that developed from roundtable sessions McKinley held with local youth following a series of “perceived gay-bashing” incidents at Silverlake Lounge in the early ’90s. It was because of the expense of running Tsunami that the fair began asking for, but not mandating, donations. Undoubtedly, McKinley has done some good with SJNA. There are the young adults who, as teenagers, found some purpose through the organization’s outreach programs.
Neighbors have formed friendships through the street fair. But when McKinley says emphatically that the festival “will get bigger,” and mentions the name of a major rock band he would like to see play there, it’s hard not to think that SJNA may have strayed from its mantra, “in harmony with our neighbors.”
“We know what’s going to happen,” Joe Keeper said shortly after the March meeting, where the Neighborhood Council voted not to support the festival in its current format. “He’s going to get his way, just like last year.”
Where in previous years Garcetti has supported the festival, this time around, his position is not so clear-cut. Two months before the festival, Garcetti’s staff is still weighing the situation. Officially, they have requested that SJNA meet certain criteria before gaining the council’s support, the most critical of which is submitting a written proposal addressing all concerns raised by Silver Lake residents and business owners. According to district representatives, without this, Sunset Junction’s permits will not be approved. Garcetti declined to comment for this story.
The stress of the past year has clearly raised tensions. While fielding comments at the March meeting, McKinley abruptly turned on one concerned resident. With anger in his raised voice, he detailed fragments of a story about taking her backstage to meet Isaac Hayes. The crowd sat uncomfortably still, listening as McKinley’s argument grew more convoluted and the resident’s criticism faded from memory.
After that, John Brown, a member of SJNA since its early days, took over the position of public speaker. Brown, a confident voice, always gives the impression that he’s listening to locals and that their views matter. (Of the past year’s exclusion of the businesses between Sanborn and Edgecliffe, he says, “It’s very regretful.”)
But even a charismatic spokesman hasn’t been able to ease tensions. For many on the opposition, Brown’s pleasant demeanor doesn’t change underlying problems, particularly since tickets for this year’s festival — with a lineup including War Tapes, Arrested Development, and Sly & Robbie — have gone on sale. Business owners continue to raise questions about finances, but that’s nothing new. For years, festival critics have wondered about what they call the “$20 in a garbage can” payment method at the entrance. But SJNA’s public financial records offer little insight. Sunset Junction Street Fair isn’t just SJNA’s biggest fund-raising project, according to its tax documents — it’s the nonprofit’s only fund-raising project. In 2007, the event brought in $796,738. The cost of putting together the festival was $450,375. Entertainment eats up a major portion of SJNA’s fair budget, and adding to its expenses are hefty city-service fees it must pay now that the fair is no longer considered a special event.
Brown and McKinley say that the $20 cover fee exists, at least in part, because these city fees are no longer waived by Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council. However, Garcetti’s office says that Sunset Junction no longer has special-event status because it charges for entry.