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Publication Date: Friday, January 18, 2002

@pullquote:"If this is not resolved quickly, there is no event this year."

Afribbean organizer Jetin Grewal
@pullquote:"The festival has been singled out since its inception."

Resident Rosiland Bivings

Afribbean in limbo Afribbean in limbo (January 18, 2002)

Organizer says office, website has been hacked; businesses want festival out of downtown Organizer says office, website has been hacked; businesses want festival out of downtown (January 18, 2002)

By Bill D'Agostino

The extremely popular but divisive Afribbean festival _ an annual music and cultural street fair held in downtown Mountain View _ is facing a possible closure this year after hackers damaged the office of the company that runs it, making it unable to continue their business.

Festival organizer Jetin Grewal made this announcement during a city council study session on Tuesday night during a council discussion on possibilities for the future of the festival, a two-day event celebrating multiethnic culture and music that typically runs in the summer along Castro Street.

A few months ago, Grewal related, her office computer equipment was hacked, cutting off her company's ability to communicate with the city, clients, and other business partners.

Since then, the company, Grewal added, hasn't been able to receive mail or phone and has been effectively shut down as a result. Although she has filed reports with the police and FBI, she fears the damage could spell the end of the Afribbean festival.

"If this is not resolved quickly," Grewal told the council, "there is no event this year."

As she was leaving Tuesday night's council meeting, Grewal said she believed the hacker who disabled her equipment was "in this room," but would not speculate further about the identity of the suspected criminal.

Jim Bennett, spokesperson for the Mountain View Police Department, said Grewal filed a repot on Nov. 7 of last year.

"She called to report that she was having problems with her computer system, and she believed that someone had gained access to her website without her permission and had tampered with it in a way that she was unable to access her network," said Bennett.

He said Grewal also reported that she believed someone had been illegally using her cellular telephone account.

But, Bennett added, the matter is still under investigation.
Objections from businesses

In addition to city council members, city staffers, and city residents, the room also contained local businesses owners who were in attendance to speak against the festival being held along Castro Street this year.

In recent years, business owners have spoken against the festival, claiming it hurts their business on the weekend when the festival runs. Some in the community have asserted that the owner's desire to move the festival as racist, saying they wished to move the festival because the attendees are typically more racially mixed than other.

"The festival has been singled out since its inception," said community member Rosiland Bivings, who spoke in support of the festival.

Bivings pointed out that some of the businesses complaining about the festival moved to the city after the festival's beginnings. "It's like they built a house next to a train station and now they want the train to move."

Nick Chaput, president of the Central Business Association (CBA) and the owner of the Dana Street Roasting Company, said he was upset that the "race card" was being pulled on an issue that for him simply comes down to "dollars and cents."

Chaput added that he wants to see the event continue in Mountain View, just not along downtown.

In past years, there have been attempts to move the festival. This year, there appeared to be more of a consensus among council members to move the festival. Council member Rosemary Stasek said the festival had simply outgrown downtown.

Grewal said she was planning 2002 to be the tenth and last year of the Afribbean festival, which she started in 1993. The festival grew exponentially over time, according to the city, from an estimated attendance of 3,000 the first year (when it was a one day event) to over 200,000 people last year.

With the attendance explosion, problems with downtown businesses arose. Last year, for instance, 12 downtown businesses closed during the festival. Owners also reported that the loud music hurt business, and that there was public urination and drug use.

Late last year, the CBA passed out a survey to gauge their member's views about the festivals held downtown. According to the survey results, businesses overwhelmingly felt the Afribbean festival negatively impacted their businesses, especially as compared to other downtown festivals.

Although only 33 of the 172 downtown retailers responded to the survey, 93 percent of those who did said that the A la Carte and Art festival had a positive impact on business; 88 percent said the Art and Wine festival had a positive impact, but only 36 percent of the respondents said the Afribbean festival had a positive impact on business.

Jim Dullaghan, the owner of Global Village Café, said he was lobbying to have the festival moved off Castro Street because he lost 60 percent of his business on the Saturday night the festival ran. It's a financial issue, he said, not a racial one.

Dullaghan called the festival is "a good thing that's gone wrong."
Festival still owes money to city

At Tuesday's meeting, it was also revealed that Grewal's company, Global Culture and Arts, still owes the city over $10,000 for costs from the 2001 festival, held on July 27 and 28.

Grewal said that the reason she had not paid the money was because her company had still not received payment from the city of San Jose from another Afribbean festival held on that city's streets in August.

Although she knows she is in debt to the city, Grewal also pointed out that she has still not received an invoice for the money, owing that problem to her technical difficulties as a result of the hacking. The city said the invoice was sent on Oct. 31, 2001.

In the city staff report presented on Tuesday, the city's recreation manager Carolyn McDowell wrote, "It is staff's observation that there may be insufficient leadership and organizational skills in the Global Cultural Arts, Inc. organization which leads to many of the concerns expressed."

Among other problems, the report pointed out that the leaders of the festival had not returned phone calls in a timely manner. The report also said that the festival organizer's "approach to problem-solving is frequently reactive and lacks sensitivity."

Grewal attributed the delays and ill communication to the technical difficulties she faced as a result of the hacking.

Council member Ralph Faravelli suggested that if the festival were to go on this year, it be moved to Shoreline Boulevard and Charleston Streets. Grewal said it was an idea she would consider and pass it along to her board at a meeting scheduled for later in the month.

If the festival does continue this year on Castro Street, city staff has recommended that some changes be made to the festival to lessen some of the concerns of the businesses, including shortening the hours, requiring a staffed command center to handle problems as they arise during the festival, and extending the cleanup requirements.


 

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