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Is Sunset Junction on a Collision Course?

Sunset Junction's fate has yet to be determined.
Lina Lecaro

Last Thursday night, the auditorium of Micheltorena Elementary School was packed with supporters and opponents of the annual Sunset Junction Street Fair, for a special meeting held by the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. The three-hour session was intended more as a means to gather information, with representatives from LAPD, LAFD, Council District 13 and Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance — the organization behind the street fair — fielding comments and questions. This was the latest in a string of meetings meant to facilitate some sort of cooperation between SJNA and locals whose discontent with the festival has increased in recent years.

Opinions in the audience were varied and the exchange of ideas frequently heated. As with previous Neighborhood Council meetings, a large group of local residents and business owners arrived to voice their contention with Sunset Junction on various counts. Residents are primarily concerned with parking and cover charges, the combination of the two making it difficult to leave their homes for one weekend in late August.

Last year, business owners on Sunset Boulevard between Sanborn and Edgecliff saw their shops and restaurants close for an entire weekend thanks to a last-minute change in the location of the party. Their position — that something about the festival must change — has become increasingly popular in recent months. In March, the Neighborhood Council voted unanimously that it would not support Sunset Junction Music Festival “in its current format.”

Similarly, Council District 13, the office of Eric Garcetti, recently initiated three criteria based on this community’s hot-button issues: The festival must move its footprint to include Sunset Boulevard establishments between Sanborn and Edgemont; organizers must provide tickets for businesses located within the footprint; and there must be a change in management. The last stipulation has the greatest potential to raise eyebrows and, as a brief conversation with CD13 representative Ryan Carpio indicated, it’s the most open-ended of the requirements. While it might be interpreted to mean that another group could take over the festival, it could also simply call for another member of the SJNA to act as a community liaison.

Unique to this meeting was a hefty coalition of Sunset Junction supporters in attendance, including, but not limited to, group volunteers and a handful of teens who benefit from the group’s youth-oriented programs. Allies of SJNA argued that the charity’s involvement in the community — including operating the local farmers market, afterschool programs and beautification projects — mitigates the inconveniences of one weekend. At the same time, supporters praised organization head Michael McKinley (who was not at the meeting) for incorporating an “entrepreneurial” element into the nonprofit model.

“To close down such a model of success at this time is insanity,” said one local resident who did not give her name.

John Brown, a longtime volunteer and current board member of the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance, represented the nonprofit organization at the meeting and noted several changes for this year’s festival. In an attempt to alleviate the nuisance of street closures, residents within one block of the closures will be allowed free entry. Businesses within the Sunset Junction footprint will be allotted tickets for employees scheduled to work that weekend. Event organizers are trying to secure additional lot parking to clear some of the congestion on side streets. Brown also agreed to provide copies of the group’s financial statements to the Neighborhood Council.