ENCINO - Each spring, tens of thousands of Persians gather at the edge of Lake Balboa to celebrate the Persian new year.

This year, however, the so-called Nowruz Festival planned for the Sepulveda Basin park falls on Easter Sunday - sparking a multicultural and intercultural dispute.

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 xenophobic flier 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.

"The 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."

Each 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

And 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.

"It 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."

Mojallal 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."

"Lake Balboa is a public park and Easter Sunday is an American holiday," the flier said. "What's more - we intend to keep it that way."

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 event.

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 lake.

They say it has also not conformed with city or federal permit requirements for the Sepulveda Basin.

"The bottom 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 playground."

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."

City officials 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 2,000-plus acres 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."

City 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.

Mojallal, 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.

He 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.

In addition, he said he's organized a multicultural event that includes Armenian musicians and a Jewish caterer.

He said the Nowruz event, with tickets at $15 each, will be a wonderful multicultural celebration.

"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."