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But Black says a unique mob mentality, such as at Electric Daisy, where 160,000 attended over two days, arises: " 'We need a chick, we need a bag of pills, we need to jump the fence.' It scares me that that many people can go to something like that. It's actually horrible."
Veteran L.A. rave promoter Tef Foo, who got his start promoting raves and techno clubs 20 years ago, says dangerous drug use has subsided. But at L.A.'s government-backed raves, "They lease out booths to concession people — the guy who sells the T-shirts and the glow-in-the-dark items and all that stuff," he says, and many booth operators are "the source of drugs."
Former Los Angeles Police Department narcotics officer Trinka Porrata, a rave-drugs expert who has testified in lawsuits against venues and promoters, is among the most outspoken critics of government-hosted raves and taxpayer-paid policing.
She says she's seen security guards let partygoers in for a cash bribe in return for not checking their backpacks. She taped video footage of "drug deal after drug deal" inside a Coliseum rave, and estimates that about 85 percent of rave crowds are taking Ecstasy or other drugs.
Charles Fox Haskins, an electronic-music producer who's been going to parties since his midteens, says, "When you have that many thousands of people, it turns into mob structure. Is this fucking Ringling Brothers?"
The Coliseum Commission is made up of nine political appointees who are granted the prestigious posts by city, county and state elected officials, including the governor. A half-dozen security guards in formal jackets waited outside the last commission meeting, where members' cars, including Caruso's Rolls-Royce, were parked.
Current members Caruso, Knabe, Parks, Sanders, Yaroslavsky, David Israel, Fabian Wesson, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Jerome Stanley and nonvoting executive Lynch have become key proponents of the nation's biggest raves.
Nothing in the United States comes close to Electric Daisy's record-setting attendance of 160,000. Miami's big, annual daytime party, the Ultra Music Festival, had 100,000 ticket buyers in March.
Commission president Sanders, one of the most outspoken backers of government-driven raves, argues that similar events are "at the Hollywood Bowl" — a white wine–and–picnic basket venue that would never allow a rave.
Sanders is muddling together two different realities: the 18,000-seat Bowl, which rarely sends concertgoers to the hospital, and two huge venues in which several Hollywood Bowls could be neatly tucked, and where youths are dying with regularity.
Most of the commissioners have never been to the raves, which attract a crowd younger than most of their own children.
The politicos' ignorance about megaraves plays a key role in their embrace of the events. Essentially, the oldsters on the Coliseum Commission think county-backed megaraves are concerts, just bigger. And some of them bristle as the deaths and bad PR mount on their watch. L.A. City Councilman Parks, the former LAPD chief of police, who supports the government-backed events, is so defensive now that he stops people in midsentence if they call them raves.
"Not raves," Parks told the L.A. Weekly after a commission meeting in November. "Coliseum doesn't do raves." he intoned, "Raves by definition are underground, illegal events."
The former chief says, nostalgically, that when he was top man at the LAPD at the turn of the millennium, "People were saying the identical things about groups like Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones. ... It's been going on at concerts since there were concerts."
But MDMA is a different drug — and this is a different scene. Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon told the Weekly in November that raves are a different beast when it comes to enforcement, crime and problems. Crowds approaching 100,000 at USC football games at the Coliseum need about 125 officers; they generate few arrests and hardly any hospitalizations. A rave at the Coliseum or Sports Arena requires a boost of 360 percent in officers assigned, or about 450 cops — almost all due to drug-related crises and crime.
On rave nights, Gannon shifts nearly one out of every three officers normally assigned to the high-crime communities south of the 10 freeway over to the Coliseum. This New Year's Eve, with a huge rave set for Friday at the Sports Arena, taxpayers will be footing the $200,000-plus bill for all those badges.
Gannon told the Weekly he shared his findings with the Los Angeles County rave task force, whose work was integral to the Coliseum Commission's decision making on raves. The task force was made up of medical experts, promoters, ravers, DJs and police. He says he wasn't invited back.
The task force gave the commission and the county Board of Supervisors a list of recommendations, most of which the commission adopted. The new rules, like keeping out 16-year-olds, are binding only for the Coliseum and Sports Arena.
White Memorial's Johnston, who served on the county's rave task force, says his warnings and those of other medical professionals were shoved aside. Yet, he says, "I did not hear one other physician raise their voice in support of raves — not one."