Why Is L.A. City Hall Paying $100K for 'El Grito' Festival, After Canceling Sunset Junction?

In late August, without a peep of opposition, your elected L.A. officials voted to transfer almost $100,000 from various cultural-affairs and general-purpose funds to tonight's El Grito festival -- a celebration of Mexico's independence from Spain.

It's vetted as a city-family affair, with hugs all around. One Spanish-language paper reports that Councilman Tony Cardenas will "kick off the celebration by shouting 'Que Viva Mexico!', flanked by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and a full house of L.A. political royalty. From there, the cultural debauchery will ensue, as musicians and dancers take the stage.

Political blog Mayor Sam, however, is way skeptical of the city-subsidized festival, so close on the heels of a very similar event's closure:

The beloved, three-decade-old Sunset Junction festival was denied a permit just days before it was to rock Silver Lake this August. Andrea Alarcon, president of Board of Public Works and political heir (her father sits on the L.A. City Council), told organizers she couldn't forgive the roughly $250,000 they owed in permitting fees from last year, and kicked them off the city calendar cold-turkey.

There's no doubt that Sunset Junction screwed up. Though officials now say they only wanted to understand what such exorbitant fees were for, before forking them over to Public Works, the whole mess should have been taken care of long before the week of the festival.

But the city's cold-hearted decision affected more than higher-ups. It was a devastating blow for ticket holders and vendors who had already paid their way, not to mention the artists who were expecting to play. Moreover, it had become an institution of summer revelry for the Eastside-ish indie crowd -- before it was so suddenly pulled out from under them.

Which brings us to Mayor Sam's core suspicion: Do City Councilmembers, who are paid fat dime to represent all their constituents, favor Latino tradition over that of L.A. hipsters?

[Update, 2:30 p.m.: Mayor Sam says we're "off base in insinuating a possible racial component to this take on 'pay to play politics' at City Hall." In other words, they're setting their crusade against La Raza aside to comment purely on the bedfellowship between City Hall and All Access Entertainment, the company it has commissioned to throw tonight's event. Just so happens that all AAE's events are in line with the "Viva Mexico" schtick; we still think the partnership largely hinges on that. But yeah, Sunset Junction: Might consider buddying up with a mayoral candidate for 2013.]

The El Grito setup looks almost identical to Sunset Junction's, only in Spanish:

It must be noted that the rightbloggers over at Mayor Sam, bless their hearts, tend to be extra skeptical of anyone or anything Mexi that enters L.A.'s political sphere. When the Weekly's Dennis Romero expressed gladness that Latinos had become the largest minority group at American universities, he had the Sammies frothing at their mouths -- calling him a "bloggin commandante" and presenting the failures of our city's Latino leaders as proof that we can't let La Raza infiltrate higher education in California.

That said, the El Grito bias is glaring.

In final meetings with Andrea Alarcon, Sunset Junction offered the city almost $150,000 it had secured in last-minute loans (even though festival heads still really, really wanted to know why they owed a quarter-million dollars). In other words, had the city forgiven them $100,000 -- the same amount they're now paying, not just forgiving, El Grito -- thousands of concertgoers could have gone home happy.

Sunset Junction organizers, for their part, believe 100 percent that they were the victims of city discrimination. They were extremely offended when, during talks with Alarcon, she called them a "No Function Junction," and they never did figure out where those giant permit figures came from:

"This is ten times more than any other comparable citywide event that shares the same footprint/demographics, and it is substantially more than the Hollywood Bowl pays for a year of street closures and police, along with the Oscars, for their street closures and security."

We have contacted Councilman Cardenas' office for more information on the planning and funding for El Grito. But the Spanish-language paper's description of the event location is pretty telling:

Olvera Street, Plaza Olvera, or Placita Olvera as it is affectionately known, is the site where the City of Los Angeles was founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles. Today, the area is formally called El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, a city department run by a general manager and a commission -- all appointees of the mayor.

To add irony to insult, native Olvera Street shops say they don't benefit from El Grito (like Silver Lake businesses would have, from the Junction crowd), because "the promoters bring in vendors who compete directly with the stands and family owned businesses."

Overall, our position tends to be more parties, the better, but El Grito's cushy spot under the City Council wing is straight unfair. Hipsters are people too, man. And all this dramatic Mexican-independence staging, on a street where City Hall has already been seizing buildings from the locals and filling them with its own skewed, singular vision of L.A. history (excluding, for example, the whole American-Indian thing), is downright totalitarian.


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