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Insurance Costs Kill Sunset Fair This Summer

July 03, 1986|LARRY GORDON | Times Staff Writer

The Sunset Junction Street Fair, the enormous Silver Lake festival aimed at promoting understanding between homosexuals and Latinos, has been canceled this year, primarily because of a 500% jump in the cost of liability insurance, its organizers say.

However, there are plans to bring the fair back in 1987, perhaps in a scaled-down version.

'We want to come back stronger but not necessarily larger," said Priscilla Warren, board member of the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance. The group began the fair in 1980 and oversaw its evolution into an annual summertime event. In two days last summer, occupying six blocks along Sunset Boulevard from Fountain Avenue to Edgecliff Drive, it attracted more than 200,000 people.

Insurance Problems

Alliance officials, most of whom are homosexual, said they were unable to obtain private insurance at all this year. They said that proposed $1-million coverage under an arrangement with the city of Los Angeles would have cost $24,000, about five times what they paid a private firm last year. Additional private riders would have been needed because the city policy would cover only municipal property, not private parking lots and buildings, they said.

"That would have been money very difficult to raise," said John Brown, co-chairman of the alliance.

A year with no fair, he added, will give the organization time to raise money and investigate joining with other groups for self-insurance. He said the group also will watch the effects of Proposition 51, the recently passed ballot measure aimed at easing the crisis in obtaining liability insurance.

The fair, whose $10,000 in profits last year went to local charities and social service agencies, did not charge admission and got most of its revenues from beer sales. Yet the presence of alcohol makes it difficult to obtain insurance, officials said. Organizers considered dropping the beer sales and moving the fair from Sunset Boulevard to an enclosed area where admission fees might be charged.

However, alternative sites were either too small, as in the case of school parking lots, or neighborhood opposition was too strong, as in the case of the park at the foot of the Silver Lake Reservoir, according to Larry Kaplan, chief deputy to Councilman Michael Woo, whose 13th District includes the fair site.

So the alliance recently voted to cancel this year's fair, which had been scheduled for Aug. 16 and 17.

"It was a very sad decision to make, a very painful one," said Ken Vannice, who was to have been this year's coordinator.

The fair also faced other problems this year. El Centro del Pueblo, the youth organization that counsels Latino gang members, was considering dropping out as a festival co-sponsor after six years of working closely with the alliance.

Such a withdrawal would have struck at the very reason for the fair's founding: to lessen tensions between homosexuals and Latinos in the wake of anti-gay violence and fears by some Latinos of displacement by affluent homosexuals moving to the area.

El Centro's teen-agers worked as street monitors for the fair and helped arrange a gang truce for the weekends. Police say the fair was peaceful except for a few incidents last year, including one in which an El Centro volunteer was hurt in a tussle with police and arrested.

El Centro officials said that the man was an innocent bystander and that police overreacted to what began as a small fight brought on by extremely hot weather and a resultant increase in beer drinking.

"We really had to be cautious. We did not want that kind of thing to happen again," Sandra Figueroa, El Centro's executive director, said, explaining why her organization had not committed itself to the fair this year. She added that a final decision on participation was put off to see if the fair could get liability insurance.

Several members of the Sunset Junction Alliance said they were not sure whether the fair would have been held without El Centro even if affordable insurance had been found.

But they stressed that the insurance was the main problem and pointed to similar experiences at other fairs and parades around the Los Angeles area this year. The gay-pride festival in Long Beach in May was able to obtain insurance only by dropping alcohol sales, and a similar fair in West Hollywood last month was in jeopardy until that city and the California Department of Transportation decided to sharply lower the amount of insurance needed for permits.

Smaller Fair

In any case, the Sunset Junction Street Fair was to have been smaller this year than last, according to alliance co-chairman Brown.

"The reason we began the fair was to have a community event for Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz," he said. "It became much more, and we wound up producing an event for a much greater group of people. It may have become less enjoyable for the immediate community as a result of becoming larger."

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