A 50-year-old city ordinance that restricts obscene dancing and lewd behavior at indoor entertainment events has been replaced with one that addresses more pressing concerns: police security and fire safety.
The City Council Tuesday night approved an ordinance that regulates parties of more than 150 people held in buildings, such as residences, which are not certified to accommodate crowds. For events involving alcohol, the ordinance requires sponsors to notify the fire marshall and chief of police at least five days prior to the event, provide a fire safety checklist and hire an appropriate number of security guards.
“This mainly affects people who want to sponsor parties of over 150 people in their home,” said Assistant City Attorney Zach Cowan, who helped write the ordinance. Such parties have resulted in incidences of property damage, minor fires and public disturbances, according to Cowan. The ordinance also applies to raves held in residences or other locations not approved for use as entertainment venues.
Deputy Fire Chief Debra Pryor said raves have been increasing in popularity around the state. “We are concerned with the life safety and fire protection issues around these kinds of events,” Pryor said. The department is concerned that the buildings may become overcrowded and may not have adequate egress.
“The fire department brought to our attention that there have been a number of parties that constituted a fire hazard and they haven’t had the explicit authority to shut them down,” said Cowan. The ordinance requires those responsible for the parties to give the fire department advance notice when such events are going to occur, and allows the department access to the space beforehand so they can review it for safety.
“The ordinance gives us the ability to work with whoever is hosting an event so they can know our expectations, we can educate them about the necessary safety requirements, and we can hold them accountable if they don’t meet those standards,” said Pryor.
The ordinance also sets guidelines for security, requiring that event sponsors provide security of up to one guard per 25 event-goers. According to Cowan, such requirements could mitigate occurrences like the riot and looting that ensued after a Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity party spun out of control Oct. 14. After the party overflowed from UC Berkeley’s Pauley Ballroom onto Telegraph Avenue, some 1,200 revelers took to the streets, smashing windows, looting shops, robbing pedestrians and inciting brawls. “If you have more security, you might have less drinking, more care to keep people from doing what they’re not supposed to do and for acting in an orderly manner,” observed Cowan.
Rave DJ Omero Mendoza, who has been involved with the staging of numerous raves around the East Bay, expressed concern that the ordinance could make it more difficult to hold the dance parties. “Big promoters are used to dealing with the city,” said rave DJ Omero Mendoza. “But for smaller, underground parties the ordinance would change things. It could benefit the scene in that it would make it more safe for kids to have a good time and it would be better, if anything bad happened, for the police know about the event in advance.” But, he said, he worried police might keep the events from happening if they learned of them in advance. He also expressed concern that the costs of hiring additional security guards could make the cost of staging raves prohibitive.
Asked if the ordinance would prevent some events from happening, Pryor said, “that is certainly not our intention. The intent of this ordinance is to ensure the safety of events, not to limit them.”
The ordinance was pulled from the council calendar in May due to objections by the Associated Students of the University of California, which contended that it would restrict fraternity, sorority and co-op events. In response to the ASUC’s concerns, the ordinance was rewritten to allow large membership organizations to have private parties of up to 500 people without having to comply with the restrictions. “We certainly want to encourage young people to have parties and have fun,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “We just want to make sure it is done safely.”
The ASUC has also called the ordinance’s recommended security standard of one guard for every 25 people “too harsh,” according to Andy Katz, director of the ASUC Commission on Student Life. “The ordinance would triple or quadruple the cost of having an event.”
ASUC had recommended a ratio of one guard per 75 participants. The City Attorney’s Office has called this “inadequate,” referring to the events of the Kappa Alpha Psi party as proof of needing greater security. The ordinance, however, allows the police chief to approve a lower security presence.
The Indoor Events Ordinance follows regulations the City Council enacted this summer governing outdoor events held in parks. Large outdoor parties had resulted in numerous problems with traffic blockages and neighborhood complaints about noise, particularly around the San Pablo and Codornices parks, according to Don Coykendall, Berkeley community services manager. The Park Events Ordinance requires gatherings of 50 or more people over the age of 12 to obtain permits for their events. It also allows the city to asses damages of up to $10,000 for parties that get out of control and to deny permits to people with a history of causing complaints.