A fight among partygoers outside the Woman's Club of Palo Alto on Friday night that allegedly involved one person being threatened with a gun has neighborhood residents furious.
The incident began at about 8 p.m. on Sept. 10, when several members of a large gathering at the venue, which is located at 475 Homer Ave. and Cowper Street, began arguing, said neighbors who asked to not be named out of concern of retaliation.
About 10 to 15 people gathered in the street at the intersection in the 800 block of Cowper and began shouting and cursing, neighbors said.
"We heard loud party noise all afternoon. People parked everywhere, blocking driveways and out in the street. We also had people sitting on our Homer Avenue wall, smoking and throwing trash around. No one was wearing masks. … Then suddenly, the noise and disorder grew into something else in the evening. … I could hear the sounds of an obvious altercation involving shouting and cursing. Someone had pulled a big SUV/truck to block Homer, as if to form a fight ring. There was a brawl going on in the headlights. Several big guys screaming, pushing and shoving," a male resident wrote in an email to the Woman's Club the morning after the incident.
A female neighbor said she was alerted to trouble when she heard several people shouting. "I heard one guy say 'you put a gun in my face' while others tried to break up the fight," she said.
She saw a man put a gun in the waistband of his pants, and a white SUV drove up and people inside the vehicle yelled for the man to get in, she said. She spent much of her time lying on the floor when she realized the potential for violence, she said.
Four or five police cars arrived, driving north on Cowper Street, the male resident said.
"They were backed up. It looked like a partygoer had intentionally blocked the police by going head to head against the leading police car, facing in the wrong lane. Lots of people from the party out there on Cowper around the cops … shouting, screaming, cellphones out filming."
Many neighbors stood cautiously as they watched from the sidewalk. "Then more cops arrived driving south on Cowper from the University side. Another set of cops arrived, coming the wrong way down Homer from the west. .. I heard one scream, 'Get back!'" the male resident said.
Another female neighbor sent an email to the Woman's Club expressing her dismay.
"This is unacceptable. We are a Neighborhood! Not a space for violence and garbage. And from what I heard, suspected gang violence."
The male resident said this level of disorder in Woman's Club parties is unusual.
"Parties are often loud, people sometimes park illegally and throw trash around, but folks usually quiet down and leave without this kind of chaos. … This one definitely put the neighbors and the neighborhood at risk. But this is not the first time a party has turned violent. We had a quinceanera in the past where rival gang members tried to crash, and it turned into a gang fight," he said.
In August, he wrote to the Woman's Club to complain about trash being left behind by partygoers. Woman's Club President Pat Emslie wrote back that the club would remind guests about using garbage and recycling bins.
"We also have a person on site now during events, and we will ask him to check around the perimeter," she said in the email.
After Friday's incident, however, neighbors awoke to "garbage everywhere, cigarette butts, broken glass, party favors, plastic bottles, plastic cups, masks, napkins" and other trash, the male resident said.
He has asked the Woman's Club to require renters to pay for on-site security from a provider authorized by the club; require valet parking, using an authorized provider for traffic and parking control; require renters to pay for post-party cleanup of the surrounding street and neighbors' properties; and require all attendees to follow Santa Clara County public health guidelines, such as mask mandates.
Emslie said in an email that the event was a wedding that was supposed to have around 150 people and was to be finished at around 8 p.m.
"In response, the Woman's Club has decided not to rent to large groups, and any groups having events after 5 p.m. must pay for a security guard of our choosing. Our events manager went out today and picked up garbage that was left in the neighbors' yards. Renters do pay a deposit, and any cleanup fees are deducted from that," she said.
The Woman's Club has not had many complaints, with the exception of two weeks ago when a few bottles were left in a gutter after an event, she said.
"We strive to have rentals that are not disruptive to the neighborhood, and we feel that our new changes will prevent any incidents such as the one last Friday," she said.
On Monday, police Lt. Brian Philip said that officers broke up the fight and there was no report or arrests.
Neighbors' names have been withheld to protect their safety.