Castro leans toward no more Halloween
by Zak Szymanski
Neighbors suggested everything from blaring Barry Manilow songs to keep the kids away, to advising residents not to have private parties of their own for a while. But in the end, most of those at a meeting last week were in agreement that Halloween in the Castro cannot continue as it has for so many years, and steps need to be taken to both secure the neighborhood on that night and create a different event where would-be city visitors could go.
"It seems to me that it has evolved to a point where we can't manage it," District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty told the crowd that had gathered for the Wednesday, July 26 public meeting on how to deal with the infamous event that at its worst saw several stabbings (in 2002) and at its best is still a venue for hundreds of thousands of outsiders to look for trouble while locals feel imprisoned and unsafe in their own homes.
The meeting began, as most Castro Halloween meetings do, with a history of the event and its troubles. Many organizers expressed their belief that without the entertainment stages and admission gates, people would still come to the neighborhood, and thus it was better to give them something to do.
"No one has died," said San Francisco Entertainment Commissioner Audrey Joseph, who has managed the party's organization since the city takeover of the event in 2003. Joseph said keeping people safe has been the priority of the city-organized event, and she and others noted that previous attempts to move or stop the party have been unsuccessful because people prefer coming to the gay neighborhood.
"There's no greater thing [to visitors] than gay people in costumes," she said. "There's always been a mentality of fag bashing."
"We have never been serious about getting this party out of the neighborhood," a neighbor soon countered, adding that the standard of nobody dying set the bar too low. "If someone is coming into my neighborhood to fag bash, that is not acceptable."
Although it will probably take several years to train people not to come to the neighborhood on Halloween, many believe that this year presents a good opportunity to take the first steps, because the holiday does not fall on a weekend.
Possible solutions were discussed on how to discourage the giant street party. A police presence and a no-alcohol policy will remain in effect regardless, said Dufty. Media messages could be used to persuade people not to come. It may be best to keep most of the streets open; one man in the audience reminded San Francisco Police Captain John Goldberg of what he told the Bay Area Reporter in an article about the violence after Pride â€“ "Traffic tends to be one of our best friends," Goldberg had said, noting that opening up the streets to cars discourages people from congregating. Another question is whether to use barricades; last year, the line between the free-for-all city streets and the stricter, police-patrolled Castro meant more of the crime simply occurred on the perimeters of the event.
If the Castro says no to Halloween, then the city will probably need to sponsor an alternative, and Castro neighbors floated the idea of having a Halloween party at the transit-friendly Embarcadero. Such an event, they said, must not be mediocre or else both sites will attract more chaos.
As the B.A.R. went to press on Wednesday, August 2, Dufty met with Mayor Gavin Newsom and others to discuss possible solutions. In an e-mail to the B.A.R. on Tuesday, August 1, Dufty said, "My concern is that I have worked in a city-community partnership for three years to reclaim Halloween. Numbers have continued to grow, far beyond what a residential neighborhood can safely absorb. There has also been an undercurrent of gang activity that is ominous and threatening. People from the neighborhood have not returned."
Pride Sunday, said Dufty, "was the tipping point for me." Hundreds of underage youth descended upon the neighborhood, and there were several fights and arrests of young people with weapons.
"I have a responsibility to protect the safety of people in my district," said Dufty. "Even if it's unpopular in some quarters."