The city flatly denies that Mardi Gras paranoia had anything to do with the cancellation. "It had nothing to do with that," says Christopher Williams, director of the south division of the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, who said he wouldn't even dignify that theory by repeating "those words [Mardi Gras]." "It's a policy that's been around for years, and the event organizer [Sheridan] did not follow the proper process."
According to Williams, city officials repeatedly told Sheridan since April that the "proper process" involved getting a special-events permit, because the rock fest's anticipated turnout was going to impact the surrounding neighborhood and would require a substantial police plan regarding traffic and crowd control.
However, Sheridan says he was not told about the special-events permit until July 30 (the event was slated for August 10-12). He also says the city's worries about "20,000 attendees" were absurd: "They kept repeating that number to the press, like they actually believed it. I told [the city] repeatedly that we were hoping for between 500 and 1,000 attendees per day." And, as Sheridan points out, the event had not required a special-events permit in its five previous incarnations. (NPA has organized the last two Alki Beach Music Fests in direct partnership with the parks department.)
No matter. Williams told The Stranger that partnering with the parks department isn't grounds for waiving a special-events permit; the issue, he says, was the number of people expected to attend this year. Williams cited Sheridan's jacked-up promotional campaign as the root of the city's worries. "This year, the event had hoped to expand public participation," Williams says, " [by] mailing out 16,000 handbills and doing radio ads."
Again, Sheridan is dumbfounded. "There were no radio ads," he says. "We did hand out 16,000 flyers. But last year we handed out 10,000, and we had about 150 people at the festival at any given time." (Simple radio announcements were scheduled, but there were going to be fewer than last year.)
The bottom line: On August 3, the city's special events coordinator, Virginia Swanson, informed Sheridan (with a nasty letter that included aggressively all-capped sentences) that the event was a no-go. "You have not applied for, let alone obtained, any of the necessary City permits. For an event of this size, we would expect at least 12-16 weeks lead time," Swanson wrote.
What keeps all of this from being a ridiculous "he said, she said" story--and what turns it into the latest display of our city's incompetence at handling public events-- is the paper trail showing that the city actually signed off on the Music Fest prior to canceling it.
In June, the Department of Neighborhoods awarded NPA a $10,000 grant to help pay for the Music Fest. And it's a matter of course, according to Neighborhood Matching Fund project manager Shireen Deboo, that the parks department itself would have signed off on the event, in order to send the neighborhood grant through the city's bureaucratic pipeline. (In other words, Parks and Recreation okayed the event.)
Heck, the Music Fest even got a June 26 congratulatory letter about the grant from Mayor Schell: "Congratulations on your award!" Schell wrote. "The Department of Neighborhoods has completed its review... and your organization will receive funding for... the Music Fest Alki Project."