Once again, this past Friday evening, a riot in downtown Berkeley, with fighting and gunfire, was created by another out-of-control party at the Gaia Arts Center. Although the use permit does not allow private parties, and allows only cultural use, the landlord continues to rent to huge hip hop parties, attended by literally hundreds of teens and young adults. Party attendees then text message their friends who arrive by the hundreds, mobbing the streets. This event was closed down by dozens of Berkeley police officers at 9 p.m. It took two hours for police to move the crowd to Shattuck where, in front of the movie theaters, the fighting and shooting ensued. Imagine parents sending their children to the Shattuck Cinema only to be ensnared in a riot as the movies let out.
Anna’s Jazz Island shares a lobby entrance with the Gaia Arts Center. After 8:30 p.m., virtually no one could get in or out of Anna’s due to a mob at the entrance. The sponsors of the party told me they were admitting 300 inside, with security guards patting down the young men for weapons in the lobby. Hundreds more mobbed outside the door. The police arrived at about 9 p.m. to shut down the party and move the crowd to Shattuck Avenue. For two hours, dozens of police officers attempted to control the crowd who refused to disperse. Police cars blocked off Allston Way at both ends of the block. These young adults were understandably angry that they were forced to leave a party they had paid $15 to attend. I heard eight gunshots from Shattuck Avenue, after which dozens of terrified youth ran past the officers and back into the Gaia Building. They were ultimately forced back to Shattuck. From 8:30 p.m. on, I received calls from my customers distressed that they could not get to our entrance due to crowd blocking it. Cancun restaurant next door closed two hours early. Shattuck businesses were harmed. Berkeley’s downtown revitalization efforts have been damaged.
This is the third riotous Gaia party closed by police. In late October 2008 the City determined that the Gaia is a “Public Nuisance” and posted that finding on the premises. This new event will require payment of a fine, much less than the rental of the premises. The police report from the last party states that 27 officers were required to control the mob. This time, many more were needed. This use of dozens of police personnel leaves the rest of the city unprotected from criminal activity, at enormous financial cost to all of us.
The city will be liable for any injury that results from these riots because the city has voiced its approval of these parties. In two separate litigations brought by Berkeley residents to stop these dangerous violations of the use permit, the city has argued in court and legal papers that it has complete discretion to enforce any city use permit, and that the only citizen remedy is to sue the landlord for damages resulting from a violation of the permit. City staff have also supported the parties with full knowledge of their impact.
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 these unlawful and dangerous private parties? 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 gunshots had hit someone, if the hundreds had gotten to the roof, if people had been trapped in a fire or other calamity?
Anna de Leon is the proprietor of Anna's Jazz Island, located in the Gaia Building on Allston Way.