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Petition drive started against Downtown Auburn street party

Black & White Affaire described as sedate version of Black & White Ball
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Opponents of what is being billed as a more sedate, downsized version of the Black & White Ball in Downtown Auburn are going on the offensive to stop it. A petition drive has been launched against holding the Sept. 15 event on the streets of Downtown Auburn. Instead, the petition will be attempting to provide strength in numbers to an effort to prevent the Auburn Chamber of Commerce from gaining a permit from the city to hold a nighttime event with music, food and drink. But a chamber spokesman said Monday that organizers have addressed concerns appropriately and the Affaire is a community event that needs to take place Downtown. Chamber President Richard Hall, whose law office is located in Downtown Auburn, said plans in place should return the Black & White event to its status as a fun, relatively sedate party for the community. And it belongs in Downtown Auburn, Hall said. “We’ve had it at the fairgrounds and the airport,” Hall said. “But neither has that special ambience, particularly with the Central Square being such an attractive area. The Downtown is the penultimate expression of our community and it’s important to be there.” Chamber officials announced their intentions last week to put on a revised version of the Black & White Ball, which had drawn as many as 5,000 people. The final ball was three years ago, ending an 18-year string of late-summer parties. Tickets this year would be limited to 2,000 and initially distributed through business sponsors. Ben Asgharzadeh, co-owner of Golden Swann Jewelers in Downtown Auburn, said Monday that the drive had already gained 50 signatures since the petition was first circulated on Friday. Plans are to present at least 150 signatures of people and businesses opposed to the Black & White Affaire during the public comment period at Auburn City Council, he said. Citing public rowdiness and lewd acts, drunken-driving risks and a spike in arrests, Asgharzadeh said the event must be moved to the Gold Country Fairgrounds. “We’re not against the Black & White Ball,” Asgharzadeh said. “But this is a private party in a public place and doesn’t raise money for anything but the salaries of the people who work at the chamber. They’re bringing miserable, horrible stuff to Downtown.” In unveiling Black & White Affaire plans to a select group of Auburn business and political leaders last week, organizers said they recognized that there is opposition but that the idea of resurrecting a community event like the ball – albeit smaller – was a product of continuing demand for its return. In an attempt to allay concerns about raucousness at a ball-type event, the chamber had even agreed to a request from city officials in charge of providing a permit to a rule requiring men to wear collared shirts and neckties. Ron Solomon, a member of the Affaire organizing committee and owner of Downtown's Auburn Jewelry & Loan, said it’s a misperception to believe that the Chamber is merely providing an opportunity for drunkenness on public streets. “Responsibility falls with the individuals – it’s not different than a restaurant or bar selling alcohol,” Solomon said. “I like the changes they have made, including not providing a full bar and limiting the number of people.” Solomon said that businesses have one afternoon, where customers would have a slightly harder time getting to some stores. Mickey Bennett, owner of Downtown Auburn’s Mickey’s Boots, signed the petition and will be supporting a move to the fairgrounds. “It got to be a drunkfest and a meat market, with most of the people coming from down the hill,” Bennett said. “And that’s unfortunate.” Bennett said he found that each year the ball was held Downtown, business in that time period dropped. “We had unhappy customers who came from out of town who couldn’t get in,” Bennett said.