City gives up on Echo Park’s Lotus Festival as budgets get chopped

First the Echo Park lotus bed withered away and now it looks like the Lotus Festival will do the same. A city Recreation and Parks official told a room of community leaders last night that the department can no longer afford to pay for the giant festival, which draws tens of thousands a people a day to Echo Park Lake during the second weekend in July. If community groups or a private organizer does not step forward, there will be no dragon boat races, Asian dance performances, fireworks or endless stalls selling chicken teriyaki bowls this summer. Actually, a couple of summers could pass before another Lotus Festival is staged in the park since Echo Park Lake is scheduled to undergo a major renovation to improve water quality beginning in 2010.

“It’s been a difficult decision to make,” said Metro Region Supt. Debby Rolland, who said the decision to stop funding the Lotus Festival was made internally late last year. “Festivals are nice but they are not part of our core mission.”

With the notable exception of the Police Department, nearly all other city departments and agencies are looking at deep cuts in the coming years as the recession eats into tax revenue. Rolland said that she was faced with the prospect of either laying off part time staff and other services or paying for the festival, which last year cost more than $444,000 (who knew that temporary pond and garden on the island cost $13,600!). Meanwhile, corporate sponsors and donations from the Lotus, Inc., a nonprofit created to raise money for the event, generated only about $112,000 in income.

Earlier in the day, Rolland’s boss, Rec & Parks Department John Mukri warned of other service cutbacks, including eliminating pedal boats in Echo Park and MacArthur park lakes, according to stories in theLA Times and Daily News. In addition to budget cuts, Rec & Parks faced having to pay for at least half of the $54,000 in special event fees (to pay for such things as police and trash services) that have been waived in the past for the Lotus Festival and other events.

It’s not the first time the Lotus Festival, which started more than 30 years ago, has been canceled because of budget problems. It happened last during the early 1980s but it took several years for it to recover, Rolland said. A representative with Councilman Eric Garcetti said last night that the council office would seek to get bids to operate the festival if no community group came forward, which means coming up with more than $400,000 and organizing a giant event in about five months. That seems unlikely unless the event was radically scaled down.

With the Lotus Festival as we know it most likely gone this year and questions raised about Silver Lake’s privately-operated Sunset Junction Street Fair*, it looks like this summer will be a quiet one on the Eastside.

* Update: Sunset Junction director Michael McKinley said the street fair will be held on Aug. 22 & 23.

Dragon boat photo by Tammy Manet via Flickr
Dead lotus photo by Martin Cox via Chicken Corner/LA Observed

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