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Then in early November, an 18-year-old USC student who had attended a ravelike Halloween festival fell six stories from a USC campus residential hall. Jackson Roddy reportedly had taken Ecstasy. He underwent several surgeries at California Hospital Medical Center, where he spent weeks recovering.
In response to all the bad news, L.A. defenders of raves have begun taking the harm-reduction approach preferred by Yaroslavsky: Young people on Ecstasy, they say, are safer at a publicly owned venue like the Coliseum or Sports Arena, with all those police, paramedics and, now, drug-education messages.
"We have people on 54th Street, they would find a building under construction and they would have a 'flier party' there every weekend," Councilman Parks said in November. Having legal festivals at the Coliseum, he says, is a better way.
"We're in the business of renting out the Coliseum and putting a high level of safeguards on these events," Parks says. "We don't know that the commission, the police and the promoter can totally be responsible for what happens."
Parks calls it "very unfortunate that a 15-year-old passed away, but I don't know if it's been verified that the consumption was done at the Coliseum. ... We cannot substitute ourselves as the parents."
Yaroslavsky says the harm-reduction proposal is the answer. There will be an "in-your-face campaign from the moment they step on Exposition Park property to explain to people and inform people what the risks are that are associated with this," he says.
Yet he admits he's never been to a rave, where it's likely participants will find a government education effort absurd. Yaroslavsky says he might just show up to Together as One at the Sports Arena on Friday, "but my wife has to OK it."
In early December the Weekly checked out a small warehouse party on the eastern edge of downtown, in a clean, concrete-floor building near the L.A. River — the nonpermitted, illicit kind of event abhorred by the members of the Coliseum Commission, including Sanders, Parks and Yaroslavsky.
By midnight a few hundred people had showed up. Some were refugees from a "massive" that was supposed to happen at Los Angeles Center Studios west of downtown, which moved to San Bernardino after the studio pulled the plug following a routine inquiry by the Weekly about getting on the press list.
The move to San Bernardino proved somewhat disastrous, at least if you're a 17-year-old raver. Patrons complained that Winterfresh had moved too far from central L.A. Via Twitter, partygoers reported multihour waits. Promoters had to book three San Bernardino venues and spread the festivities over two days.
And 14-year-old Ayana Lopez, who attended the party, went missing until the following Monday, when she showed up safe and sound. Her mother, Ruby Lopez of Santa Ana, spoke to the Weekly that day. "I went there myself last night to look for her," Lopez says. "I saw kids halfway naked, I saw kids having sex in the parking lot. ... I was ignorant."
The unofficial and unsanctioned party the Weekly attended, Bwomp!, was a big contrast — well-behaved, civilized, with a hint of marijuana smoke in the air. Crowds of kids weren't passed out on the ground, an eerie but typical sight at megaraves. No one was taken to a hospital. No one was arrested.
Some Winterfresh refugees showed up. "We waited in line four hours and didn't get in," explains 20-year-old Jordan Bello of L.A.
To Sanders, Parks, Yaroslavsky, Knabe and the rest of the Coliseum Commission, Bwomp! — the far safer, far better–managed yet nonpermitted downtown "underground," which featured a bar for those 21 and older, DJs spinning dubstep music and a live graffiti-art installation — is the bad guy.
The politicians who say their embrace of megaraves provides safe havens for kids who would be in danger at smaller events are "full of crap — they're completely full of crap," says former LAPD narcotics cop Porrata. "Most of the kids end up laying around on the ground," she says. "There are such masses of them it's hard to even see what's going on. The vast majority of them are on drugs."
Longtime Moontribe party co-organizer Dustianne North, while loath to criticize big parties — she thinks the focus on harm-reduction is good — points to how safe the smaller events like hers are. In one rare case at a 1998 rave, a raver fell more than 40 feet down a desert cliff to his death.
ER doctors at key Los Angeles hospitals say they don't see an increase in patients from any raves — except those held at the Coliseum and Sports Arena.
North says of the smaller, unlicensed raves, "We notice [when] people are new, and when someone is acting a little out of control or not preserving their safety, it's very likely that one of us is going to walk up to them and see if we can help. It's just a very different animal. It's almost like apples and oranges to compare them."