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Final Thoughts on Sunset Junction

When the City killed Sunset Junction Street Fair, the dispute was not simply about a debtor holding an unpaid bill. It was about a vindictive landlord studiously evicting a modestly delinquent family on a holiday eve.

To see so many people in civic government and local media parroting specious arguments legitimizing our City government's eleventh-hour actions killing Sunset Junction Street Fair has been nearly as disappointing as the cancelling of the thirty-year festival itself.

Despite what the neighbors say, Sunset Junction Street Fair has not suddenly become a nuisance to its residents and nearby merchants--it has always been a nuisance to these. A merchant as far away as Echo Park told me yesterday that "for decades, we've just written the weekend off." Which is fair enough, but let's not pretend that this concern about Sunset Junction is a new one. It has been a nuisance to neighbors three days a year out of 365--for three decades.

Such concerns are very small minded, indeed selfish, when laid next to the greater good brought to the wider audience. Very small minded. Neighbors to music venues around the City have far less say over far more sustained disturbance. The residents of north Vermont Avenue are deeply disturbed by the traffic the Greek Theater fetches throughout the summer. I'm sure if you even asked the Bunker Hill Towers residents if they'd like to get rid of the Disney Hall, they'd consider the nuisance it causes the neighborhood four evenings a week from October through May. The perimeter houses adjacent to the Day of the Drum and Watts Towers Jazz Festival endure the kind of temporary nuisance the neighbors of Sunset Junction do. But we see a greater good in maintaining these.

I'm sure Mardi Gras was once a pleasant little street-gathering as well. One notes that New Orleans did not shut it down because it became too popular.

The anomalies regarding the fee payments to the City are not unusual to the Board of Public Works; in fact, they are typical. Just last week, Public Works admitted to Council that it had no idea how much money it was supposed to receive from a bus bench vendor because it felt the vendor didn't submit the right paperwork through the past few years.

If the City switched vendors in that case, which they did, why did it not consider switching promoters earlier in this case, at the first sign of problems? Once again, when dealing even with an underpublicized Board, there is no consistency at all. And a source tells us that the Sunset Junction folks even signed their last contract, in 2010, under protest, potentially invalidating it as a binding document. Wouldn't that be warning sign enough?

I asked several City administrators yesterday if it was their own experience as residents of the City that the City occasionally sends out spurious bills hoping for the best, and one protested that there's an appropriate appeal process that wasn't followed in this case. Are they still expecting an appeal, then? That seems an admission that the City still doesn't know whether the bills it sent are legitimate or not. It's also worth noting that the bills were made delinquent following a Council Ordinance fashioned less than two years ago.

There's one other thing I believe that especially needs clarifying. Media have consistently repeated the same meme about Sunset Junction: that it was originally founded to allow Silver Lake's Latino and Gay and Lesbian communities to interact and forge a broader understanding of each other. Language suggesting this is found on Sunset Junction's wikipedia page--but if it's true, I sure don't remember it this way. In its earliest days--the nascent days of the AIDS epidemic--Sunset Junction Street Fair was a de facto gay and lesbian pride event that featured music and also community booths. Latinos had a presence and an involvement, and it was a proportional one, but it wasn't an especially defining one.

The reason gay and lesbian communities came to define Sunset Junction was because of the historic legacy of the Junction itself. A civil disturbance at a gay bar in 1967--two years before Stonewall--made the intersection and the term "Sunset Junction" itself a rallying cry. West Hollywood only became an incorporated City in 1984--Sunset Junction was a gay ghetto even in the 1950's.

The media's performance over these past few days, telling the story in a way that gave City government full voice while vilifying the promoters, has been as disgraceful as the City's actions itself. In the age of social media, print media especially are increasingly irrelevant to the promotion of the festival. Don't think that print media in their coverage of this civic fiasco weren't also moaning over the loss of ad revenue and allowing the fact to influence its coverage of this exasperating execution.

When the City killed Sunset Junction Street Fair, the dispute was not simply about a debtor holding an unpaid bill. It was about a vindictive landlord studiously evicting a modestly delinquent family on a holiday eve.


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