New rave rules may not be party pooper for California 

After two people died of alleged drug overdoses at a rave at the Cow Palace in 2010, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma began working to make the events safer. (AP file photo) - AFTER TWO PEOPLE DIED OF ALLEGED DRUG OVERDOSES AT A RAVE AT THE COW PALACE IN 2010, ASSEMBLYWOMAN FIONA MA BEGAN WORKING TO MAKE THE EVENTS SAFER. (AP FILE PHOTO)
  • After two people died of alleged drug overdoses at a rave at the Cow Palace in 2010, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma began working to make the events safer. (AP file photo)
  • After two people died of alleged drug overdoses at a rave at the Cow Palace in 2010, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma began working to make the events safer. (AP file photo)

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma vowed to ban ravelike parties on state-owned land last year following several fatal incidents. But she quickly met a wall of opposition and softened her stance, and the new law the industry ended up with appears to merely reinforce existing safety practices.

Rather than banning raves, Ma’s Concert and Music Festival Safety Act, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, requires local fair boards to assess potential health and safety threats at large-scales events — such as raves, rodeos and music festivals — held on state property.

If the board decides there is a “strong probability that loss of life or harm to the participants could occur,” event promoters are required to develop an “event action plan” to ensure adequate law enforcement, medical personnel and, in the case of raves, lots and lots of free water.

“I spoke to attorneys and found out you can’t ban raves,” Ma said. “So we thought, ‘How do we make these fairgrounds safer for all types of events?’”

Rave safety was a hot-button issue last year after two people died from alleged drug overdoses at a Cow Palace rave and a 15-year old girl died at a massive Los Angeles Coliseum dance party.  

But how much safer these events will be due to the law remains to be seen, as many of the new requirements are already practiced by promoters.

“All of these things are already happening,” said Syd Gris, a LovEvolution festival promoter. “I doubt these extra precautions would have prevented those tragedies.”

Last December, Ma unveiled the Anti-Rave Act of 2011, which would have fined anyone who conducted an unlicensed public event at night that included prerecorded music and lasted more than three and a half hours.

“Raves foster an environment that threatens the health and safety of our youth,” she said in a statement at the time.

She immediately met resistance from civil rights attorneys, free speech activists, nightlife advocates and a fierce band of incensed ravers who coalesced on a Facebook page called Save the Rave.

“She was shocked,” said Alix Rosenthal, a board member with the California Music and Culture Association. “We went out to coffee and she said, ‘Holy moly, what just happened?’”

Ma started devising an alternative plan. She held a summit bringing together law enforcement, public health officials, the Drug Policy Alliance and organizers behind the Save the Rave effort. She also attended a rave.

“It was total capitulation,” said Daly City Councilman David Canepa, who wants authority for public venues such as the Cow Palace turned over to local law enforcement. “What this demonstrates is that the rave lobby in San Francisco has tremendous influence.”

But even if Ma had brought a fight, state Sen. Leland Yee, who opposed the original bill, said it likely would have died on the Assembly floor.

“I think she realized it would have been difficult to get it out of the Legislature,” Yee said.

Nathan Messer, president of Dance Safe, an organization that promotes health and safety within the rave community, applauded Ma’s willingness to compromise.

“This is more or less what we advocated for,” he said. “We said there are some subtle things you can do to make these events safer and it looks like she agreed.”

Regardless, there won’t be any raves at the Cow Palace any time soon. A ban issued by the governing board in November 2010 still stands.


A string of overdoses at raves in California led to legislation designed to make the events safer.  

May 2010: Two people die after allegedly overdosing at a Cow Palace rave; five others are hospitalized in critical condition.

June 2010: 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez dies of a drug overdose at the Los Angeles Coliseum; 120 others are hospitalized.

October 2010: A dozen people attending a Halloween party at the Cow Palace are hospitalized after taking drugs.

December 2010: Fiona Ma introduces AB 74, the Anti-Rave Act of 2011.

April 2011: Title of AB 74 changed from the Anti-Rave Act of 2011 to the Concert and Music Festival Safety Act.

October 2011:  Gov. Jerry Brown signs AB 74 into law.

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Paul Gackle

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