Breaking news, everyone: It turns out that downtown business groups and pot-smoking hippies don't always get along. The powerful Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) sent a letter asking the city to deny Hempfest's permit this year—it is scheduled for the third weekend in August—saying the pot festival, which boasts hundreds of thousands of attendees, has outgrown Myrtle Edwards Park.
"The noise, trash, and traffic congestion resulting from an event of this size—over three days—has a direct negative impact on the thousands of residents who live within a 1⁄2 mile radius," says the March 29 letter, part of a bulleted list of concerns cosigned by the Belltown Business Association and Uptown Alliance. Unfortunately, the groups continue, their concerns about Hempfest (it is too large, lasts too long, and is messy and unpleasant for neighboring residents and businesses) outweigh any of the festival's benefits to the neighborhood.
Hempfest must move out of the waterfront park, the groups say, unless it meets three conditions: (1) Hempfest's attendance is limited, (2) it is truncated to one day—as opposed to the three days it ran last year—and (3) the city improves traffic control, police patrols, parking enforcement, and trash pickup in the park and a half-mile radius beyond it.
Just a couple reasonable little suggestions! Cut your attendance, slash the event's time span by two-thirds, and get the city to kick in more money to mitigate its impact.
Why are they suddenly taking issue with the pot gathering, which has been held in Myrtle Edwards Park since 1995? DSA spokesman James Sido says his group sent the letter after Hempfest came to them directly, asking for neighborhood feedback.
That's some feedback.
In a letter obtained by the city, Hempfest director Vivian McPeak shot back a response last month addressing the DSA's critiques point by point, in most areas strenuously disagreeing with their arguments. Where the DSA claims "customer access to waterfront businesses is virtually halted... at the heart of the critical tourist season," McPeak says Hempfest's own research shows the fest is a "positive opportunity" for waterfront business, and he points out that many Hempfest attendees come from out of town, bringing spending money with them. DSA says attendees leave trash for "multiple blocks in every direction"; McPeak says volunteers spend days picking up trash and debris from the area.
McPeak, who didn't return calls for comment, also writes that they've already "examined all park venues and the Seattle Center repeatedly in past years," as recently as last year, and they're sure that Myrtle Edwards and its surrounding park areas—Centennial Park and the Olympic Sculpture Park—are the right (and only) place for their event.
Reached by phone, Sido insisted the "sole focus" of his association's letter "was to give [Hempfest] any kind of feedback or constructive criticism that we could," and maintained "it has nothing to do with the nature of the event; it's certainly not a condemnation of Hempfest." It's just about "logistics."
When I told him the letter sounds like a bit more than "constructive criticism," he said there's "a chance that it could come off as more critical than intended."
To boil it down: Hempfest asked the neighborhood for feedback, DSA's feedback was "Don't hold it here," and Hempfest countered that there's nowhere else to hold it and they're going to keep having it there, thank you very much.
The city, perhaps having learned its lesson in past years (it has often tried to stomp on Hempfest, and it never wins), is siding with the potheads. James Keblas, the director of the city's Office of Film & Music, and the man to whom the DSA's letter was addressed, tells The Stranger by e-mail that as long as Hempfest fulfills permit requirements, "it is the City's intention to issue a permit for Hempfest this year by June 1," a permit that will include "a cover letter from the City that address[es] concerns from all parties."