The Public Eye: Late Night Parties at the Gaia: An Open Letter to the Community

By Anna De Leon
Thursday October 30, 2008 - 09:45:00 AM

Patrick Kennedy outdid himself Saturday night, Oct. 24, at the Gaia Building. He rented the theater to Hip Hop party promoters, with no notice to the Police Department. The “party” became a melee in the street. I operate Anna’s Jazz Island, a music venue sharing the entrance lobby with the Gaia theater which is routinely rented out for huge private parties in clear violation of its Use Permit. 

This “party” began with deafening Hip Hop music and hundreds of young adults in long lines: up Allston to Oxford for the women and down Allston and around Shattuck for the men. All were fully searched, one at a time, on the sidewalk at the lobby entrance by seven huge security guards armed with guns. Armed guards on Allston Way at my entrance! The entrance and the sidewalk and much of the street were mobbed. Hundreds entered and hundreds more young people arrived, trying to enter, but were turned away due to over-capacity crowding. 

At about 10 p.m., I called the Fire Department, requesting the presence of the Fire Marshall out of concern that both my customers and the hundreds of party-goers already inside could all be trapped in the building in an emergency, unable to get out, by those blocking the exits. One of the promoters told an early arriving police officer and me that the promoter group paid $4,000 for the use of the theater space and were told that capacity was 450 people, including the roof, so I had no right to complain. 

From 9 p.m. on, I received calls from my customers distressed that they could not get near my entrance due to crowds standing in the street. By 10:30, the security guards let no one into the building, or into the lobby I share with the theater, since the mob was then out of control. A large group of young men jumped into the window of Anna’s Jazz Island, over the seating and tables as the music was playing, and ran through the club to enter the party through the back. Virtually all my customers left at that point. 

The Hip Hop cars began slowly driving up Allston, signing and radios blaring, people jumping in and out of the cars. The Berkeley police arrived in force at about 10:30, sealing off the block at both ends with twelve police cars in all. In a large show of force, with the security guards yelling at the hundreds of milling young people on the street, police officers ordered all partygoers to leave. The crowd was moved down to Shattuck, away from the Gaia Building. The shutting down of the party took well over an hour. 

The musicians at my club stopped playing early since almost all my patrons had fled. Due to the mob on the street, and at a musician’s request, police officers escorted his elderly parents to their car. The musicians were unable to leave the premises until after midnight since they were unable to pull up their cars and load their instruments. My staff and I left at about 12:30. 

Many young people were angry that they were being forced to leave a party for which they paid $20. In spite of that, all the Berkeley police officers were stellar—calm and professional, even when taunted. Both Lt. Files, the Watch Commander, and Sgt. Smith were very helpful. 

The Gaia Building Use Permit requires 100 percent cultural use. This has been the subject of litigation because the City of Berkeley refuses to simply enforce the Use Permit, which does not allow these huge private parties. Nor does it allow the two evangelical Christian churches that meet in the theater on Sundays and Mondays with no permit, with the Church office off the lobby. Gaia party attendees regularly drink alcohol and act out on the sidewalk in violation of the law. And this is not the first out-of-control party that cost the citizens thousands of dollars on crowd control. Recall, at an earlier “party,” during crowd dispersal, bottles were thrown at the police. Saturday night was foreseeable, even likely with no oversight. Even so, the City Attorney says Use Permit enforcement is entirely discretionary. Mayor Bates, Councilmembers Capitelli, Maio, Moore, Olds, Wozniak and City staff have all supported non-cultural uses and have voiced no objection to the parties. 

Saturday night’s winners? Patrick Kennedy, the party promoters and the security guards. They each made a bundle. The losers? The Citizens of Berkeley who paid thousands of dollars for police officers to control the crowd, Anna’s Jazz Island, Island staff who made very little money, music lovers who could not come in, music lovers who became fearful and were forced to leave for safety reasons, the musicians who had almost no audience and who had to stop the music. 

Anna’s Jazz Island was voted the “Best Jazz Club That Isn’t Yoshi’s” in 2007. We are often called a treasure, feature local musicians playing live music at affordable prices for all ages. The Mayor, the Council and City staff profess a love of the arts and their benefit to the City. How long will there be a Jazz Island when the City allows the unlawful profitable private parties and churches to overwhelm the promised cultural use to our community? How much are citizens willing to pay for the police to enforce crowd control for this non-permitted private profit? How many people need to be hurt if the hundreds had gotten to the roof, if people had been trapped in a fire, a shooting or other calamity? 


Anna De Leon is the owner of Anna’s Jazz Island, in the Gaia Building.