LAPD officers dropped by last weekend’s Sunset Junction Street Fair, and,
as in past years, they didn’t like what they saw: staffers charging $10 admission.

The Silver Lake bash is a city-sponsored event on a public street and organizers
can’t charge people to get in or sell advance tickets. Donations are voluntary
and can only be suggested.

“We advised the organizers that if they insisted on charging $10 we would consider pulling their conditional-use permits for alcohol and loud music,” said LAPD Sergeant Art Sandoval. “We intervened and said it was a donation only and you can’t strong-arm the people into giving you money.”

Two weeks ago, Shane Goldsmith, a Silver Lake deputy with Councilman Eric Garcetti’s office, said that she asked fair organizer Michael McKinley, who runs the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance, the nonprofit that puts on the fair and provides outreach for youth at risk in the Silver Lake and Echo Park areas, to post “suggested donation” signs. However, most of the gates had no signs, or signs were posted periodically during the two-day event. McKinley, when called for comment, hung up the phone twice.

The fair began in 1980 as a way to ease tension between gangs and the gay community. Despite a mid-’80s riot, the peace effort was deemed a success, and the fair became an institution, with people paying whatever they could afford to get in. In 1997 McKinley fenced in the fair and began charging an entry fee. Since then, questions have arisen about where the fair proceeds are going and if it is “reducing community frictions and problems” in the community or just causing more. City streets are blocked off for the fund-raising event, and every year the city waives the $28,000 in fees. It is estimated that the fair draws more than 100,000 people.

In 2003, Garcetti’s office held a series of meetings to ease community tensions, and formed an advisory committee that came up with recommendations for fencing, alcohol sales and posting “suggested donation” signs. The committee also asked McKinley to show financial statements 60 days after the event. (The 2003 financial statement showed a profit of $83,000.) However, the committee was short-lived. “There were less complaints, and we had a change in staff,” said Garcetti’s acting chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, who has yet to receive the fair’s 2004 financial statements.

Next year, Garcetti’s office plans to hold public meetings to once again talk about concerns. But some community members wonder why this happens year after year. “Nothing is going to change unless someone gets involved who isn’t afraid to look into it,” said Silver Lake resident Dorit Dowler-Guerrero. “No one wants to be the person who shuts it down because it won’t look good when they run for higher office.”

LA Weekly