It was a day of magical thinking Wednesday at the L.A. Coliseum, where officials essentially said yes to another edition of a two-day rave that saw 60 mostly drug-related arrests, more than 200 medical emergencies and the ecstasy-related death of a 15-year-old attendee.
That's fine. But the lies and half-truths uttered before the Coliseum Commission so that it could approve the events at public venues with a modicum of self-respect were harder to swallow than a huge pill of ecstasy (with no water, either).
As people in the commission meeting room held handouts with statistics on the four raves held at the sister Coliseum and Sports Arena venues, general manager Patrick Lynch said this:
“The numbers of [medical] transports have gone down.”
Eva Rodriguez, aunt of the teenager who died last June after attending the notorious Electric Daisy Carnival, looked at her sheet and shook her head in disbelief.
It shows transports for the last party at the Sports Arena, New Year's Eve's Together As One, at 17. The one before that, Monster Massive, saw 15. The one before that, Love Festival, saw three. We reported that 2009's Together As One saw 18 transports.
And the numbers didn't even go past 2010. An emergency room manager told us he knows of one death a year in the last five years related to Coliseum/Sports Arena raves.
Up at the Bay Area's Cow Palace, officials were so flustered by the consistent numbers of ecstasy overdoses at raves there — despite taking measures similar to those imposed by the commission in November — that they pulled the plug on the events.
In fact, even after the commission imposed all kinds of new rules, including an 18-and-up policy, more cops, more security, more medical personnel and more “harm reduction” education about the ills of ecstasy, the transports remained pretty predicable: 18 one year; 17 the next.
As commissioner Rick Caruso, one of three to express serious reservations about the events, noted, “We're putting people in harm's way. We're shifting city resources for a group of people .. some of which come here to use drugs.”
Or, as commissioner Jerome Stanley said:
” … It's also kind of creepy you know. We're doing all this … We're really preparing for something that's very bad and that's why we're doing it. It's almost counterintuitive. We're giving it (drug education material) out because we expect people to get in trouble. I'm hoping that we can turn it around.”
But the magical thinking continued.
A doctor brought in by the promoter compared the numbers of injuries at raves to those at marathons, NASCAR events, Olympics competitions and even Papal visits. Caruso wasn't having it.
“You are comparing the pope's visit to a concert where there is a lot of drug use
and a marathon where there are people running.”
Police brass, a city fire battalion chief, the doctor, the event's producer, and promoter Pasquale Rotella were all lined up at one table (literally) to give testimony as a slate in favor of the party. No critics, including the area emergency room doctors we talked to who said the events bring them a spike in casualties the likes of which they rarely see other times of the year, were invited to testify (at least according to appearances).
It didn't matter. The deal was done. In fact, the public commission which last month voted to have EDC come before it with its plans for specific approval, decided a vote wasn't even necessary.
This commission appears to work in a vacuum, and it's clearly seen more news cameras in connection with the rave controversy than it has probably seen in the last five years. The body didn't even discuss the fact that, even after strict age guidelines and procedures were implemented, the Together As One party last month saw IDs go unchecked.
Caruso introduced a motion that would have (again) required a specific vote to approve EDC's plans, but no one would second it — not even the outspoken Stanley.
That's how things in L.A. work, folks.
Ten, fifteen years ago you think public officials would have supported raves?
Now, after EDC's promoter hired a well-connected lobbying firm (the firm is no longer representing him), pols and officials are falling over themselves to defend a scene they clearly know little about.
A lawyer representing the family of Sasha Rodriguez, the 15-year-old who died after she attended EDC last year, said raves represent nearly 30 percent of the annual income at the Coliseum and Sports Arena.
During the meeting general manager Lynch said the venues were “about a million dollars below our budget.”
Caruso said the commission's support of raves is “profit-driven.”
Promoter Rotella, meanwhile, compared his events favorably to the Ultra Music Festival in Miami and Movement – the Detroit Electronic Music Festival in the Motor City.
While they're also electronic music showcases, they are different beasts. (Not that most of the commissioners would know any better).
Ultra has traditionally been a day party during the dance industry retreat known as the Winter Music Conference. Sure, people party there. But a rave it's not.
And DEMF, as it's sometimes known, is also a daytime celebration of that city's techno roots and history. Again, there are probably people who get stupid, but it's not a rave, and Rotella knows it.
It's funny. The name of Rotella's company (like the names of other rave organizers) is rooted in drug culture: Insomniac Events. You know what makes you stay up all night and dance? Yeah.
Here's what Rotella told a Fox 11 News crew outside the commission:
“Last year was a very tragic situation, but the first. And we plan on it being our last.”
Really? We documented several deaths at parties over the years, including an overdose a little more than a year ago connected to … Together As One, a party Rotella co-promotes.
Even police officials had a hard time giving straight answers.
Asked to calculate how much the extra 300 officers assigned to most of the Coliseum/Sports Arena raves cost, two high-ranking LAPD officials talked around it.
Here it is: $201,000 a day, not including possible overtime. That's $401,000 of taxpayer money so kids can rave, go to the hospital, and sometimes die.
Commissioner Bernard Parks, the former LAPD chief, rightly noted that the city often staffs public events that enrich L.A. culturally or bring in tax revenue. He mentioned the Lakers championship parade, the Democratic National Convention, and the Olympics.
“There is a culture here that is different than going to the DNC (Democratic National Convention) or going to the Olympics,” Caruso said. “The comparison is interesting by highly irrelevant.”
Caruso asked the police officials if having 300 cops at a rave would mean there were less officers patrolling surrounding areas of South L.A. An official again talked around the answer, stating that she would prepare and staff-up for events to ensure areas were covered.
However, Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon told us, essentially, that the staffing would “penalize the communities” of South L.A. unless the promoter stepped up to pay for the extra cops.
(He told the website CityWatch, “I know they're [raves are] wrong. It's been a huge problem for us. We've had overloaded trauma rooms. Am I really overly concerned? I think we are sanctioning things at these types of events.” We're going to take a wild guess here and say he wasn't invited to be at the promoter's table Wednesday).
Grace Rodriguez, Sasha's mother, told us she was okay with the commission's stance.
“My main concern is the safety of the kids,” she said. “People shouldn't have to suffer for other people's mistakes. If you're going to do it, do it right.”
Former raver Kimberly Keith, 31, came to testify before the body Wednesday. She said she was disappointed by the commission's inaction.
She criticized Parks for his continued insistence that a rave “by definition” is an illegal, underground party, and that the likes of EDC are concerts.
“The principal behind the events are the same,” Keith told the Weekly. “The reality is the drug use is excessive. You have people lying all over the floor.”
“I'm highly disappointed,” she said. “They [the commissioners] love to wear blinders.”