Over the Memorial Day weekend, the emergency room at Seton Medical Center in Daly City activated its disaster plan for the first time since the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Five patients arrived by ambulance within about 45 minutes of one another, sending medical staff members scrambling for reinforcements.
Four of the patients were critically ill, and all five required hospitalization. Symptoms included seizures and temperatures spiking as high as 107 degrees. The three sickest patients suffered multiple organ failure.
“This is the largest number of patients — presenting all at the same time — that I’ve ever seen that were so critically ill, akin to a natural disaster which was of catastrophic proportions,” said Dr. Irwin Shelub, a pulmonary and critical-care physician.
The event that prompted the hospital to activate its disaster plan was not an earthquake. It was a rave called Pop2010: the Dream, which drew 16,000 people to the Cow Palace in Daly City on May 29. Sixteen people left the arena that night in ambulances, according to San Mateo County American Medical Response, which transported 12 of them.
Three weeks later, the cost of Pop2010 is still being calculated.
The event — which took place in an antiquated state-owned arena — siphoned scarce resources from strapped law enforcement agencies and Bay Area medical centers, at a growing expense of hundreds of thousands dollars, some of it borne by taxpayers.
Two rave-goers died of suspected Ecstasy overdoses, and several others remain hospitalized, medical officials said. Dozens of drug cases are making their way through the courts, the result of a law enforcement operation that involved 120 undercover officers from 30 local, state and federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Caring for the five patients sent to Seton Medical Center from Pop2010 cost the hospital more than $350,000, said Elizabeth Nikels, a hospital spokeswoman.
The Cow Palace, a World War II-era arena owned by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, made over $150,000 from Pop2010, including parking and concessions, the facility’s chief executive said.
But Adrienne Tissier, a San Mateo County supervisor, said: “From my perspective, it’s not worth it. We spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions, on law enforcement, courts, medical costs, and then you’ve got the cost of these lives.”
Dr. David Goldschmid, an emergency physician at Seton, questioned why the Cow Palace would host the event.
“You cannot stop people from doing illegal things,” Goldschmid said, “but to have a public venue like the Cow Palace, which is owned by the state, sponsor something like this just seems unreasonable.”
Joe Barkett, the chief executive of the Cow Palace, said, “Frankly, we cannot always control how people will act before they come to the event.”
The Cow Place opened in 1941 and has hosted the Beatles, John F. Kennedy and Evel Knievel, among many others. But the relationship between the arena and its neighbors has grown contentious in recent years.
“The facility is dilapidated,” said Adam Keigwin, chief of staff for State Senator Leland Yee, a Democrat who represents the district in which the arena is located. “As a result of that, you’re getting the types of shows that bring other problems to the community.”
This spring, the Cow Palace hosted a marijuana trade show, which was the first in the nation to offer legal pot smoking on the premises.
Pop2010, produced by Skills DJ Workshop of Oakland, was widely publicized; tickets cost $40 to $85. Teenagers as young as 16 were admitted.
(Below, view eight minutes of a video recording of the Cow Palace rave, captured by one attendee.)
At the entrance, attendees received notices that the county had “zero tolerance for the possession and distribution of illegal substances” and that “large numbers of undercover police officers will be at Pop2010 aggressively attempting to solicit illegal substances from persons in attendance.”
The law enforcement operation began at 6:30 p.m. By 6:35, the first two arrests had been made: teenagers from Concord and Lafayette. They were the first of 5 juveniles and 68 adults who would be arrested for drug dealing or possession.
The authorities seized roughly 800 tablets of Ecstasy, with a street value of $16,000. Of the 73 people who were arrested, just three were from San Mateo County; some had come from as far away as Seattle and Los Angeles.
Inside the Cow Palace, disc jockeys performed on a rotating stage in the center of the arena floor surrounded by thousands of exuberant fans.
With no air conditioning and poor ventilation, the building grew oppressively hot and muggy. “There was so much condensation in the building, it was creating a foggy climate in there,” said Lt. Marc Alcantara, the commander of the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force. “The walls were wet. There were pools of it on the floor. People were soaked in there.”
Anthony Mata, 23, of Santa Clara and Trung Nguyen, 25, of San Jose became seriously ill and died. While the official causes of their deaths have yet to be determined, officials said they suspected overdoses of Ecstasy.
On New Year’s Eve 2002, two people died after overdosing at a Cow Palace rave organized by a different promoter.
On June 8, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution asking the State Legislature to pass a bill that would limit raves at the Cow Palace.
Yee is considering proposing legislation that could impose new conditions on events at the arena or give Daly City and San Francisco more of a voice in what events are held there.
Jason Sperling, owner of Skills DJ Workshop, said in a statement that any ban on electronic music performances would “represent a major loss to the cultural vibrancy of the Bay Area.”
This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.