No News is Good News, Berkeley's Juneteenth Festival is Doing Alright


Organizers of the Berkeley Juneteenth Festival have been speaking at recent City Council Meetings expressing their concern that the decades old street festival celebrating African American freedom was going to be canceled two years running.

"We seem to be having conditions imposed upon us that other festivals do not have to meet," Sam Dyke, Berkeley Juneteenth co-president told Council at the last meeting on May 5th.

"Every time we meet [with the city], we get a guideline, we meet those guidelines, then we get new guidelines...We jump through hoops and then we get a higher hoop."

Berkeley Juneteenth was canceled at the last minute in 2008 for reasons that were never entirely clear.

Despite speaking out at public meetings, Juneteenth organizers were reluctant to go into greater detail about the nature of their disagreements with the city while negotiations were still taking place.

This month, the Council was considering an old item from Max Anderson who represents the district where Berkeley Juneteenth is held, to co-sponsor the 2009 festival, but instead delayed voting yet again at Anderson's request.

Mayor Tom Bates asked if another delay meant that the clock was running out on the festival, but Anderson expressed confidence that issues would soon be resolved between festival organizers and the city, despite the strong words.

According to Lisa Caronna, Deputy City Manager, nothing different is taking place with this festival that any other large public gathering would not have to go through.

Caronna says the city is just looking for a clear plan from organizers, who's in charge, what time does it end, what's the plan for garbage, and so on. She says that vendors are reluctant to stop selling food if people are still buying it, and people are reluctant to clear the streets and go elsewhere when they are still having fun, but the City is requesting that organizers provide them with assurances that when the agreed upon conclusion to the festival arrives they will have cooperation closing it down.

Berkeley Juneteenth Organizers and the City met Tuesday evening to iron out these concerns and according to Gerald Baptiste, co-president of the Berkeley Juneteenth Association Inc, things are looking up this year.

Baptiste is extremely proud that despite tension and discord, all parties came together to work on the common goal of bringing a family oriented festival back to the streets of South Berkeley.

He says that there's one more meeting May 26, for organizers and the city to plan a successful festival. City Council gets one last chance to affirm co-sponsorship of Berkeley Juneteenth at it's May 19th meeting.

The 22nd Annual Berkeley Juneteenth Festival is planned for Saturday June 13th 2009. Details to be announced.

Eric Klein