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Publication Date: Friday, March 02, 2001

Afribbean Festival to go forward Afribbean Festival to go forward (March 02, 2001)

Council gives unanimous approval to popular downtown festival despite complaints by some downtown businesses

By Justin Scheck

The future of the Afribbean Festival, one of Mountain View's most popular downtown events, was the subject of heated debate Tuesday as a small group o downtown businesses, backed by the Central Business Association, tried to move the event out of downtown.

The city council voted unanimously to allow the event to continue on Castro Street this summer.

In a letter to the city council dated Feb. 7, CBA President Lynette Koehn outlined the concerns of eight downtown businesses who wanted the festival moved due to problems with large crowds, uncollected garbage, and loud music in the downtown area.

And while council members responded to these concerns in a Tuesday night meeting, residents, particularly members of Mountain View's African- American community, questioned the motives behind the effort to move the city's most popular multicultural event away from the city center.

"I have always said this is the only festival the council reviews with a fine-toothed comb," said Rosiland Bivings, a community member who has long been active in local issues.

"It's like this every year, except for last year, which was an election year... That concerns me," Bivings continued.

One Mountain View resident, author Jah-mes, read the California Civil Rights Initiative to the council, asking how the city could use a "personal judgment" to single out the Afribbean festival from other downtown events.

Karen Cabello, CBA executive director, said Afribbean "is a victim of its own success."

"It seems as if it has outgrown (the downtown area) in terms of the number of people it attracts," said Cabello. She pointed out problems with garbage cleanup and excess noise, as well as complaints by businesses that the festival is a hindrance to shopping.

However Jetin Grewal, Afribbean's founder and organizer, said she has been willing to work with downtown businesses, and has discussed the CBA's problems with Cabello.

"Are these problems legitimate? All problems are legitimate, and if someone has a problem it needs to be addressed," said Grewal, adding that, after the 1999 festival, she cut down on advertising so as to keep the crowds from growing.

Council members and Grewal alike questioned whether the eight businesses' comments were an accurate representation of the sentiments of the 300- plus businesses who are members of the CBA.

"There seemed to be a concerted effort on the part of the CBA to bring some of the negative comments to the council... But there did not seem to be an effort to collect positive comments," said Council member Rosemary Stasek.

Koehn said the CBA did not do a survey of members' thoughts about the festival, but speculated that, if CBA had solicited comments, "I think that there would be more against than for, would be my guess."

"I don't think eight out of 280 merchants should speak for the majority," said Grewal.

"The Central Business Association organizes other events, and then, every other year, they will do this to us," Grewal said.

Cabello maintains that Grewal has not made an effort to properly address the problems.

"Jetin has said to me that she needs to look at the location... And she's chosen to expand the event in San Jose and try it in San Francisco at the expense of merchants in Mountain View, and that's just not fair," Cabello said.

The issue of what benefits the festival brings to the city was also discussed Tuesday.

Koehn said that, aside from the garbage, crowd, and noise problems, she does not feel that downtown Mountain View reaps the rewards from Afribbean that it does from other downtown festivals.

"Our other objection is that it's not a Mountain View-based event, whereas (Chamber of Commerce events) are Mountain View-based... It is our downtown. The CBA's fundraisers (the KKSF Listener Party and the A La Carte and Art Festival) are within our downtown business district," said Koehn.

But Grewal, a Mountain View resident, said the event began nine years ago in Mountain View, and has been held in San Jose for the past four years as an offshoot of the Mountain View festival.

Council Member Sally Lieber said she enjoys Afribbean because of its Mountain View roots.

"I hear negatives about all the festivals. I do hear positives about Afribbean. The complaints I hear about festivals like Art & Wine is that it's the same as what goes on in Los Altos or Palo Alto," said Lieber.

And while nearly $7,000 of the $19,000 profit the festival made last year was donated to local charitable organizations, questions were raised at the meeting about the amount of money Afribbean gives to the community.

"There are needs for the black students in Mountain View for after- school programs," said Faravelli, commenting on the possibility of the organization making a greater charitable commitment to the community.

"I don't understand who these black students are, what they're not getting, and why it's my responsibility," said Grewal.

She said that, after the charitable donations, she paid herself $14,000 for her annual salary as festival director. "My income comes from other sources, not Afribbean," Grewal said.

She said that, while other events get city subsidies in the form of police and fire service, Afribbean receives no subsidy, and pays the city for these services.

Richard Musante, owner of Postcards, Books Etc. at 341 Castro, was one of the business owners who complained to CBA.

"Some businesses Afribbean is probably good for, but if you're a destination business, as is our business, it is not good," he said.

Musante said he had problems with drunken revelers urinating in the alley next to his store and threating the integrity of his plate-glass windows.

"Pretty much our entire exterior is glass that the public walks by, and we had someone thrown against a plate-glass window last year," he said.

Musante said that, in his three years at the current site, Afribbean has become more and more problematic.

"It's a different crowd than the other festivals. I don't want to say it's a cultural difference, and I don't think it is a cultural difference, but the Afribbean certainly draws more young people than the other festivals," said Musante.

He said that most of the problems he has witnessed have come within three hours of the festival's closing time. 


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