A rave not held in the Bay Area since it was driven out of the Cow Palace after two drug-related deaths in 2010 will return Saturday, when its pulsing lights and pounding music hit a crowd of about 12,000 at Oakland's Oracle Arena.

POP2012 is this year's edition of the event that went on hiatus after two young men died from taking MDMA, known as Ecstasy, at least eight were sickened, and police made about 70 drug arrests among the more than 16,000 in attendance. The trouble prompted hard talk from politicians and calls to ban raves at such publicly owned facilities as the Cow Palace.

Yet the electronic music dance party's promoters say they have always been committed to safety and work closely with police. They note the criticism about the event is akin to the moral pronouncements made on Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones in their day.

News of the party's return was disturbing for Angelina Mata, 81, who still imagines that her grandson Anthony Mata, 23, will come through the door of the Santa Clara home they shared. Mata died May 30, 2010, after attending POP2010, from a dose of Ecstasy strong enough to shut down his organs, officials said. MDMA causes visual and emotional euphoria, but can also result in higher body temperature and dehydration. Mata was horrified by the news that the party, which has not changed its name, will resume in Oakland despite her grandson's death.


Advertisement

"I don't want any family to go through what we are going through," she said. "I don't know what these people are thinking."

Jason Sperling, owner of event promoter Skills DJ Workshop, said the "management philosophy" hasn't changed since POP2010. They provide free water, cooling-off areas and medical care to revelers, who must be at least 18 to attend. This year's event will even have a new text message system for people to report problems.

"Skills is dedicated to producing well-planned, well-run electronic music events with the highest standards for safety," Sperling wrote in a statement.

Oakland City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, who also chairs the commission that oversees the publicly owned Oracle Arena and O.co Coliseum, defended the event. He said Skills put on an electronic music party at Oracle in September 2011 and there were no problems.

"You have got to take every possible, reasonable safeguard you can. At the same time you have to maximize the use of the facility," De La Fuente said. "That is the only way the county can afford the bill."

Event tickets were selling for $75 on Friday, according to Ticketmaster's website.

In the wake of the deaths of Mata and Trung Nguyen, a 25-year-old San Jose man, Cow Palace officials stopped short of banning rave-type events at the state Department of Food and Agriculture-owned venue. That changed after another electronic music event in October 2010, Subsonic Spookfest, ended with a round of drug- and alcohol-related hospitalizations. The Cow Palace board voted in November 2010 to enact a rave ban, which remains in effect, CEO Joe Barkett said.

"When eight to 10 people are being transported (to the hospital), something is a bit out of control," he said.

After the Cow Palace deaths, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, proposed a bill that sought to ban raves at publicly owned venues. But facing a withering backlash from the entertainment industry, she dropped the ban and settled for a law requiring risk assessment of big events.

Legislation from state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Mateo/San Francisco, that proposed giving local officials more control over the Cow Palace also fizzled. Yee plans to gut the bill and re-purpose it, according to his staff.

Sperling, who said POP is in its 16th year, said legitimate promoters such as Skills thoroughly plan and carry out their events. He said Skills has been commended for its emergency medical planning and noted the company frequently surpasses the required number of guards recommended by venues.

"Electronic music is only facing the same treatment that Elvis and the Rolling Stones faced back in the day," Sperling wrote. "We expect that when the next big movement in music happens, that too will risk being branded in the same way."

Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.

---