L.A. city Councilman Bernard Parks has been an ardent supporter of the four-times-a-year raves that were fixtures at the publicly owned L.A. Coliseum and Sports Arena since 1998.
Parks, a former LAPD police chief, is a law-and-order guy through-and-through. And if you ask some top cops, including Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon, those parties are hotbed of “blatant drug use” that have required hundreds of extra officers at taxpayer expense.
For some reason, though, Parks has been more gung-ho than an 18-year-old holding glowsticks:
He has compared raves favorably to events at the Hollywood Bowl, rock concerts and even the Democratic National Convention. He doesn't even call them raves, and he'll correct you if you do: They'e electronic music festivals, he says.
The rave that has received the most press is Electric Daisy Carnival, a product of a company called Insomniac Events and its owner, Pasquale Rotella. In 2010 in attracted about 160,000 people over two days, saw more than 200 medical emergencies, and was home to about 60 mostly drug-related arrests.
A 15-year-old girl who attended the party soon died of an ecstasy overdose, too, setting off a firestorm of criticism: Why are these things being held on public property, with the approval of the public Coliseum Commission on which Parks sits?
Parks wasn't having it. He told the Weekly this last year:
We also find that in events such as soccer or USC football there are times when people over imbibe and have to be arrested or escorted away. We don't talk about stopping USC from playing football [at the Coliseum].
But why would such a bean-counting, abide-by-the-rules guy support these events? Even after the EDC controversy broke out underage people were getting in despite a new, 18-and-up mandate by the commission.
We might have found a clue.
Based on Coliseum documents received under a California Public Records Act request made by the Weekly last February (and only this week fulfilled), we found that the two main rave organizers who hosted parties at the property have contributed a total of $40,000 to an annual event promoted by Parks' office, his “Annual Exposition Park 4th of July Fireworks Extravaganza” which is, apparently, a way to reach out to the constituents.
(His office disputes this characterization and says it is only one of many organizers of the event, although Parks' own council website describes it as “brought to you by … The Office of Councilmember Bernard C. Parks”).
That money, according to documents, was then essentially refunded to the promoters as a discount for their Coliseum facility rental fees in 2008 and 2010.
Such an arrangement, says Center for Governmental Studies' former president Bob Stern, is probably not illegal.
This is how people gain access to public officials — by giving money to nonprofits and events connected with them.
At the same time, he says, “It sounds strange … Why was the Coliseum Commission subsidizing this?”
Coliseum Commission president David Israel, a critic of some of the Coliseum shenanigans reported in the Los Angeles Times and someone who's fairly new to the gig, says:
This is something that we just came to understand recently. It's something that needs to be taken up by the staff and by the commission.
Bernard Parks Jr., chief of staff for his father, notes with some truth that the councilman has been one of the more vocal critics of the Coliseum's management and finances. “We've been the most vocal in dealing with these financial issues,” he told the Weekly.
In terms of the promoters' $40,000 worth of contributions to the 4th of July community event on Coliseum property at Exposition Park, he says:
We have no knowledge of what happened. We are concerend primarly with the fireworks, which we pay for. The city pays for the fireworks, and that's it. The other dealings … were separate from what we were doing.
In other words, Bernard Parks Jr. says, the event wasn't a product of his father's office, but rather a festival organized by a few community organizations, including the city.
In fact he singled out the group A Better LA has having received at least one of the contributions in question, one from Insomniac:
A Better LA wanted to get involved years ago. They hooked up with Insomniac, which paid for entertainment. The fireworks was separate from everything else. At least three organizations used our fireworks. Talk to A Better LA, who supposedly they wrote the check to.
A Better LA executive director Brian Center tells the Weekly the group was only marginally involved with the event for the three of its most recent years, not including 2008, and that it had nothing to do with its money.
We had nothing to do with the money aspect of it. We helped coordinate some food trucks, Jumpees … We would bring a guy we knew who gave away free toys.
A source who works in the rave promotion business says that Bernard Parks gave one of the two big party organizers a signed letter of recognition of thanking him for his contribution to the 4th of July event.
The documents (see them here) tell some of the story:
A Coliseum “event billing/invoice report” for the June 28, 2008 Electric Daisy Carnival rave shows credit for “4th OF JULY CONTRIBUTION (1/3)” in the amount of $10,000, which is deducted from Insomniac's bill.
A Coliseum “event billing/invoice report” for the Aug. 9, 2008 Love Festival rave by Go Ventures shows credit for $20,000, which was deducted from the bill. The report states the “cash advance” deduction is for “4TH OF JULY.”
A similar report for the June 25-26, 2010 Electric Daisy Carnival, the one that caused the ruckus, shows a $10,000 deduction for “4th JULY CONTRIBUTION.”
A billing/invoice report for the “4TH OF JULY FIREWORKS DISPLAY” shows a contribution listed as such: “06/30/10 EDC (PASQUALE ROTELLA) $10,000.”
Documents also show that Go Ventures contributed $24,577.56 to the Los Angeles Section (CIF) Football Championship held at the Coliseum Dec. 11, 2010. The promoter of that event is listed as Los Angeles Unified School District.
Coliseum interim general manager John Sandbrook didn't have much to say on the matter, offering only this:
It's better for me to have a full conversation with the members of the commission before there's any public comment.
Insomniac gave us this statement today:
Insomniac has a long history of giving back to the community. Our philosophy stretches beyond the thousands of fans who attend our events and into the communities we serve. Insomniac is committed to and supports community, civic, educational, cultural and human service organizations.
Parks' office also appears to have left a $40,000 bill unpaid for its 2004 fireworks show, as we reported here. His son says that the bill, if it exists, belongs to the city. He added that former Coliseum general manager Pat Lynch agreed to have the venue swallow the red ink.
But Lynch's 2001 employment contract (check it out here) forbids him from spending money like that without the approval of the full commission. Bernard Parks was president of the Coliseum Commission in 2004.
The item remained on the books as unpaid for years, we're told. Speaking on that matter, Coliseum prez Israel says, “Nobody likes a deadbeat — if in fact he didn't pay the bill.”
This money is small fries compared to the $1.5 million or so that the Los Angeles Times alleges former Coliseum manager Todd DeStefano took from rave promoters and others who rented out the public venue.
In the wake of last year's rave controversy the Coliseum and Sports Arena have so far shut out raves. And at least one commission member is asking if the body should consider self destruction.