LA County chooses not to ban raves, EDM music festivals

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors declined Tuesday to ban music raves outright, voting instead to move forward with an ordinance that allows case-by-case consideration of "mass gathering events'' expected to draw 10,000 people or more on county property or in unincorporated areas.

The Electronic Music Festival Task Force, which includes Pomona police, sheriff's deputies and public health and fire department representatives, offered recommendations to improve safety following the drug overdose deaths of two teens who attended the HARD Summer music festival last August.

The task force suggested restricting access to those at least 18 years old, banning backpacks and large purses, searching everyone entering an event, using drug-sniffing dogs and staffing at least four sworn peace officers per
1,000 attendees, among a much longer list of recommendations.

Department of Public Health interim Director Cynthia Harding said the ordinance as envisioned would allow officials to set different rules for music festivals -- where age restrictions might be set, for example -- and other big events at the Los Angeles County Fairplex.

The group "really tried to take into account the community's concerns,'' Harding said. Allan Gelbard, a lawyer and advocate for music festivals, told the board, "When properly regulated and controlled, (festivals) are a benefit to
society,'' reminding them that "these types of events draw a significant amount of revenue to the county.'

A representative of the Drug Policy Alliance spoke in support of most of the task force recommendations, but objected to the use of undercover police officers and drug-sniffing dogs. "When people see these drug-sniffing dogs, they tend to take all of their substances at once,'' Morgan Humphrey of the DPA said.

Residents living near the fairgrounds pressed for a ban, citing the widespread use of alcohol and drugs and talking about finding kids passed out on lawns the day after a rave event. "The deaths aren't the only injuries,'' resident Judith St. John told the board, citing reports of kidney problems, seizures and music-goers ending
up in comas following similar events. Adding that "the county doesn't know'' what happened to the others treated on site at the HARD Summer festival, she urged county officials to track and publicly report medical treatment at the music raves.

Supervisor Hilda Solis praised additional safety measures taken at last fall's Halloween-themed HARD Day of the Dead festival, which included free water, on-site emergency room physicians and a greater law enforcement
presence, including sheriff's deputies.

However, another resident cited a 60-bed setup at that festival as proof that "the county is well on notice that there will be medical emergencies.'' The Fairplex is the home of the county fair and dozens of other events,
including swap meets, athletic events, car and dog shows and various expos.

A former planning commissioner told the board, "It's very important that we keep this dynamic engine that is the Fairplex running.'' The county receives a share of revenues generated by the fair and other events.

Tracy Nguyen, an 18-year-old UCLA student from West Covina, and 19-year-old Katie Rebecca Dix of Camarillo died last August after attending the HARD Summer music festival at the Pomona fairgrounds.

The county coroner confirmed that Nguyen's death was caused by an overdose of Ecstasy. Dix, a Cal State Channel Islands student, is also suspected to have died from a drug overdose.

Those tragedies were preceded by the overdose death of 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez at the 2011 Electric Daisy Carnival at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Electric Daisy Carnival has since moved to Las Vegas.

The board unanimously directed county lawyers to draft the relevant ordinance and approve the task force recommendations. "The health, safety and well-being of all attendees are of paramount importance and these measures are a step in the right direction to ensure this," Solis said.

County Counsel Mary Wickham said once the ordinance was in place, a threat assessment would be made of each event to determine whether there is risk of loss of life and then health and safety officials would set rules on a case-by-case basis.

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