ENCINO - Each spring, tens of thousands of Persians gather at the edge
of Lake Balboa to celebrate the Persian new year.
however, the so-called Nowruz Festival planned for the Sepulveda
Basin park falls on Easter Sunday - sparking a multicultural and
Critics contend the popular
Encino park cannot handle both
the expected 12,000 Persian revelers and the thousands of Christians
who celebrate Easter by its banks, and have long sought a change in
time or place.
Supporters say they have done everything to appease their critics but cannot change the date of the 3,000-year-old Nowruz festival, which they say will fence off only a tenth of the Lake Balboa park.
In addition, they say they have reported a
that falsely said the park would be closed on Easter "in deference to
the Iranian New Year."
While neighborhood councils
have voted both pro and con, city officials have been unwilling to move
the festival venue or date.
"They've chosen to celebrate it on Easter Sunday when they don't need to," said Glenn Bailey, co-chairman of Friends of Lake Balboa, an advocacy group. "A lot of people go there after church, or instead of church.
bottom line is, every year Lake Balboa is
extraordinarily crowded, more so than normal, on Easter Sunday. They
could hold their festival the weekend prior, or (at) Woodley Park."
year, Persians greet the Iranian new year with a Nowruz - or New Day -
festival that runs for 13 days after the first day of spring.
In greater Los Angeles, many of the estimated 350,000 Iranians gather with their families at local parks, preferably near water, to celebrate
for nearly 10 years, Lake Balboa has become one of the
most popular Nowruz hot spots - with paid admission to a fenced-off
area with music, vendors, food and cultural tributes.
is the most important Persian New Year's celebration,"
said Bahman "Moe" Mojallal, of Lake Balboa, organizer of this year's
Lake Balboa festival and a professional event planner. "It just happens
to fall on Easter Sunday.
"We don't set this, the
calendar does it. The Iranians want
to traditionally celebrate it at the lake, with a view, with greenery,
being with nature. And Lake Balboa has all of that."
said he was particularly offended by an anonymous
flier circulated at Lake Balboa. The flier, imprinted with American
flags, said it was fine for Iranians to celebrate their holidays, but
not for city officials to "impose their will on the rest of us."
Balboa is a public park and Easter Sunday is an
American holiday," the flier said. "What's more - we intend to keep it
Bailey said his group neither supports
nor condones the
anonymous flier. Instead, he said he and others have appealed to city
officials since last year to change the time or date of the Nowruz
In past years, they say the Nowruz festival
has not only
posed traffic and parking problems, but has forced non-paying visitors
to the far-off reaches of Lake Balboa by taking up the south end of the
They say it has also not conformed with city
or federal permit requirements for the Sepulveda Basin.
line is there are too many people in the park," said Sharon
Brewer, another Lake Balboa advocate. "And the people coming to the
park for Easter will not be able to have access to the universal
Critics also contend the city handed a
contract to Mojallal
while ignoring two other Persian bidders who agreed to change the venue
to Woodley Park, or move the festival one week before Easter, which
falls on April 4.
Shahbod Noori, who ran the
Nowruz festival from 2002 to
2008 but lost a bid for this year's festival, said it doesn't have to
fall on the Christian holiday.
"They could go one
week before or after, nobody will mind,"
said Noori, CEO of the Persian Relief Center, a nonprofit agency in
Tarzana, and publisher of the Tehran International Weekly. "These
people won't do it, and it's not fair for all communities. Everybody
should be able to enjoy the park."
say everyone can still share a piece of the park.
"The park is open for all families and cultures as all public parks should be," said Stacy Bellew, spokeswoman for Councilman Tony Cardenas, whose district includes the lake.
"Ninety percent of the
will be open to all families for free, and 10 percent will be open for
Nowruz, which is also open to all families for a fee."
officials said other parks will be open to the public
on Easter and that police and transportation officials will be out in
force and may not be available at another date.
for his part, said if he could hold Nowruz on
another weekend, he would. The festival must be held the first Sunday
at the end of the 13-day Iranian New Year, he said.
said he's paying the city $10,000 for the use of the
park and 68 vendors, as well as $60,000 for police and parking
officials - much of that in overtime and holiday pay.
addition, he said he's organized a multicultural event that includes
Armenian musicians and a Jewish caterer.
the Nowruz event, with tickets at $15 each, will be a wonderful
"It's just one day of the year we have this, but one day," Mojallal said. "And the park is open for everyone that day."