Burning Man by the Bay 

Alameda snubs the Exotic Erotic Ball. Promoters promise lawsuits.

In an alternate universe, 3,500 perverts swarmed into the bucolic bedroom town of Alameda island last Saturday, and nothing bad happened. They waved vibrating dildos over their heads and dosed a few soccer moms with liquid Ecstasy on their way to a huge late-night rave and sex party at Area 51, housed in an old hangar at the former Naval Air Station. AC-DShe played. Porn stars attended to grand marshal Eric the Midget.

But our universe is a bit less weird than sex parties stocked with forty-year-old male kinksters. So on March 9, the City of Alameda ended attempts by the Exotic Erotic Ball organizers to throw their first-ever East Bay Spring Shwing at the base on April Fool's Eve. City manager Debra Kurita denied party permits to the facility operators.

"We got fucked," says Exotic Erotic PR man Chris Buttner, who accuses Area 51 owner John Walker of lying to him, thus costing his company thousands of dollars in wasted marketing and logistics. Walker counters that he told Buttner the city wouldn't go for the sex party idea. Buttner and Spring Schwing organizer Howard Mauskopf are threatening a lawsuit. City officials, meanwhile, have cited several reasons they nixed the event: noise, late hours, potential sex assaults, and too many out- of-towners.

After touring the town and hangar, and contacting all parties, it strikes me that Walker may be the most blameworthy. But both promoters deserve ridicule for even considering such an event in the Land That Time Forgot. I ask Mauskopf whether he's ever been to Alameda or the old base. Of course he hasn't. Entering the twelve-square-mile island via bridge or tube is like being transported to Main Street USA circa 1950. Alameda's 25 mph speed limits are legendary — people who never get tickets get them here. City laws ban buildings taller than thirty feet, and there are no condos either. Ample dog parks have separate areas for small dogs and big dogs.

Contrast that with the 28-year-old masquerade and fetish costume party held every year at the Cow Palace around Halloween. Picture fat dudes with beer bellies and cameras alongside porn stars in skimpy teddies, all watching George Clinton live onstage. Now move that whole scene to the tip of Alameda, past a long-abandoned military checkpoint. Area 51 operates at a converted hangar near the edge of the base that has hosted the TV show MythBusters, Matrix movie sets, and corporate events such as Scion's tire-squealing test track.

Mauskopf says he attended six meetings to organize the event logistics and claims Walker told him the permits were a "mere formality." Their dealings ended, the promoter claims, when he sent Walker a signed contract and $10,000 deposit that was banked prior to February 27, and Walker signed off on the press blitz for the event.

Walker declined several interview requests, but he did say he never received a contract or signed off on a campaign. Mauskopf says the truth will come out in court when he presents bank records and e-mails.

Lisa Goldman, the assistant city manager, says Walker needs permits to hold any event at the hangar, which he leases from the city, and adds that the city shot down Spring Shwing before he could even apply. No votes, no minutes, no meetings were needed: City staff simply heard about the Shwing from community members who saw ads for it online. On March 9, Walker got a fax from the city, effectively telling him to forget about the ball. Mauskopf and Buttner say he waited until March 13 to tell them.

Mauskopf speculates that Walker is strapped for cash and booked the Shwing out of desperation, hoping to coax the city into letting it happen. "We're hurting for clients," confirms Craig, Area 51's office manager and security guard. "And the city wants a permit for every freaking tent we put up."

The Area 51 debacle illustrates the local government's agenda. Alameda wants to grow, but only if growth won't change it too much. Last year, a huge consortium picked to build 1,800 homes and provide nine thousand jobs at the old base balked at the city's specifications. Two weeks ago, another company pulled out for similar reasons. Now, only three groups are competing to be the master developer — an unenviable job that requires mediating between the Navy, builders, money-minded developers, an ossified City Hall, and more than a few political gadflies.

On April 4, the City Council is scheduled to pick the new developer. But there are no guarantees it won't drop out too after dealing with a city that welcomes change so long as everything stays Main Street USA. And Main Street USA doesn't have adult bookstores or DJs spinning psy-trance until 3 a.m. Even rookie promoters know that much.

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