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After overdose deaths, San Bernardino will consider ending two of Southern California's largest raves

After overdose deaths, San Bernardino will consider ending two of Southern California's largest raves
Valerie Henry, left, president of the Devore Rural Protection Assn., and Karen Slobom are pushing for an end to electronic dance events at San Manuel Amphitheater in Devore. Slobom is angry that the festivals have continued even though people died. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

After the overdose deaths of concertgoers, electronic dance festivals were halted at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the recently shuttered Sports Arena and the county fairgrounds.

Now, San Bernardino County is expected to consider ending two of Southern California's largest raves at San Manuel Amphitheater in Devore, a rural community north of San Bernardino.

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Two people have died of overdoses since the Beyond Wonderland and Nocturnal Wonderland multi-day raves began at the county-owned amphitheater more than three years ago. In March, nearly 250 people were arrested at Beyond Wonderland for offenses including public intoxication, trespassing and possession of Ecstasy for sale, and 20 were taken to local hospitals.

Residents of the small surrounding community of large-lot homes, where many people keep horses and other animals, say they are fed up.

Karan Slobom, who has lived in Devore for more than 40 years, said she was angered that the festivals continued even after young people have died.

In September 2013, 22-year-old Arrel Cochon died of an Ecstasy and methamphetamine overdose after collapsing at Nocturnal Wonderland. In March 2015, UC Irvine student John Hoang Dinh Vo, also 22, died after collapsing at Beyond Wonderland. He was later determined to have overdosed from Ecstasy.

"I think people's deaths are important," Slobom said. "They had a mom and a dad.... These kids don't even know what they're doing."

The concerts also upend residents' lives, Slobom said. She and others describe music so loud it rattles the windows of homes more than a mile away and unnerves animals. Concertgoers frequently urinate and defecate on private property, residents say.

Valerie Henry, president of the Devore Rural Protection Assn., said the raves were different from other events at the outdoor venue.

"Most of the other concerts they have here, yes it's noisy, but it's not intrusive. With the raves, you can actually feel it in your bones," she said.

Both women noted that Live Nation Entertainment's Hard Summer Music Festival, which had been held at the Los Angeles County fairgrounds, would be moving to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana this summer, after the deaths of two concertgoers last year in Pomona from apparent overdoses and the hospitalization of dozens of others.

Fontana officials should be asking themselves, "Why is it Pomona doesn't want them [and] L.A. doesn't want them?," Slobom said.

Fans of the concerts say it feels as if they are being pushed out of Southern California.

"It seems like there's less and less venues and locations that are OK or happy to host large-scale events like this," said Greg Wasik, editor of EDM Life, a website that chronicles dance music news.

To him, the festivals are a place where "everyone is accepted, everyone is happy," he said. Though some consider drug use a part of the experience, Wasik says they represent a small percentage of concertgoers.

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"If there was some way to 100% prevent Ecstasy use at these events, I'm pretty confident you would see just as many people attend and be just as happy. You don't need to take a pill to have a good time at these events," he said.

The festivals at the San Manuel Amphitheater are staged by Insomniac Events, a division of Live Nation Entertainment, which leases the facility from the county. Insomniac did not respond to a request for comment. Melissa Zukerman, a spokeswoman for Live Nation, declined to comment.

County spokesman David Wert said Live Nation had worked with the Sheriff's Department to develop several safety measures for the events, including requiring ID scans, increased patrols, deploying undercover deputies and having so-called "surrender bins" at entrances to allow patrons to dispose of contraband before entering.

Supervisor Janice Rutherford, who represents several communities surrounding the amphitheater, said she decided to ask her fellow supervisors to revisit the county's contract with Live Nation after receiving numerous complaints about the festivals.

"The residents who live in Devore, Devore Heights and Crestline are just absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of noise and the lateness.... It is impeding their quality of life," she said.

She plans to ask the board to consider rolling back a provision in the contract that allowed for four electronic dance festivals per year at the amphitheater ending at 2 a.m.— three hours past the end time required for other concerts.

The contract allows the county to end the events should they become "a safety hazard due to illegal or unsavory behavior … or in the event that the neighboring community complains of noise or other nuisance behavior."

The festivals began at the county-owned amphitheater in 2013, after complaints of noise and drug use at Insomniac events at the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino raised tensions with police and local residents.

After the county approved the raves, Supervisor Josie Gonzales, who represents the area where the venue is, told The Times that officials were confident they could make the concerts safe. If not, she said, she would urge her fellow supervisors to ban future events.

On Friday, Gonzales said in a statement that she has received very few complaints. She declined to comment specifically on Rutherford's proposal, saying it hasn't been submitted to the board, but noted that the large number of arrests at the raves can be attributed to "a successful effort to stop drugs and other problems from entering the venue in the first place."

The events have been managed well, she said.

"It is incredibly sad when a young life is lost, but there is no connection between a tragic personal decision to abuse drugs and how well an event is managed," she said.

Twitter: @palomaesquivel

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