Supervisor Considers Ending Halloween Blowout In The Castro

Castro HalloweenSAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – After years of working to tame the Castro’s famed Halloween festivities, Supervisor Bevan Dufty is thinking about pulling the plug over safety concerns.
What once was a neighborhood party has gotten too large for its locale — and too violent, said Dufty, adding that his worries increased after he saw a fistfight that ended with several young girls kicking a drag queen at the close of June’s gay pride festivities in the Castro.
“I could tolerate (Halloween) if it weren’t so big, but it keeps growing,” said Dufty, whose supervisorial District 8 includes the Castro. “I don’t know if I can guarantee people’s safety.”
After a number of late-night stabbings at the 2002 Halloween event, several city agencies stepped in to help control what historically had been a spontaneous event.
The San Francisco Police Department set up barricades to close streets, added a fire lane and enforced a no-alcohol rule inside the cordoned-off area, said Capt. John Goldberg of the Mission Station.
Those efforts have helped, residents said Thursday. But they haven’t completely solved the problem of what happens when up to 300,000 people pour into the small community, clogging streets, parking and sidewalks, and leaving behind trash, vomit and graffiti when they depart.
Locals who once frequented the party now stay inside while visitors from around the Bay Area take over the neighborhood, some residents said Thursday.
“I usually go early, take a look at what’s going on, and leave, because it’s simply too crowded,” said Gustavo Serina, 58, who has lived in the Castro for 28 years and seen the event evolve.
Dufty said he’d like to see the event moved to a larger, nonresidential venue, such as the Embarcadero. At public meetings, including one in the Castro Wednesday, residents have told him they’re OK with having what has become an annual headache moved off their streets.
No one agency has been responsible for Halloween in recent years, Dufty said. His office has worked with the Entertainment Commission and police and fire departments. Now, he’s asking for a meeting with Mayor Gavin Newsom to discuss the problems.
Closing down Halloween in the Castro, however, is likely to be a difficult task. The party grew to its current size and fame mostly by word of mouth, and that kind of publicity is hard to control, Goldberg said.
“I don’t know that there’s actually been an open invitation to ‘come on down,’ ” Goldberg said. “I think it just kind of happened.”
Some neighborhood residents — even those who agree the event is out of hand — laugh at the idea that the city could halt the fete just by saying it’s not happening.
“I think people are going to come and gather anyway,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a local political advocate from the gay community. “The whole idea of canceling Halloween in the Castro is ludicrous.”
Goldberg agrees it could be uphill work. Even if the event is publicly canceled, the Police Department almost certainly will have to staff it, the captain said.
“It really depends on what, if anything, is done as an alternative,” he said. “If nothing’s done, certainly people are going to show — and no matter what happens, there’s going to have to be a police presence.”
Halloween in the Castro started in the 1960s as a chance for children to show off their costumes in front of Cliff’s Variety store, according to several residents. As the neighborhood became known as a gay community in the 1970s, the event changed, said Mecca, a local advocate and performer.
“People go to the Castro for Halloween because Halloween is in many senses a gay holiday,” Mecca said. “It’s been known as a time for people to feel free and express gay identity and have fun.”
In recent years, however, many Castro residents have shut their doors on Halloween to what they say the once-great event has become: a voyeuristic chance for out-of-town partiers to look at a world-famous gay community, and not always in a nice way. Gay residents have been threatened both verbally and physically, they said.
“The people that come have no respect for this neighborhood,” said Paul Moffett, president of the Merchants of Upper Market & Castro. “They come because they think it’s an opportunity to party.”
And that’s an affront to the tight-knit, welcoming community, he said.
Not everyone is ready to say goodbye to the Halloween activities. Viko Gracian, a cashier at A Different Light Bookstore on Castro Street, said the annual event is a great way to bring people together.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Gracian, who’s had four of his six sisters visit from Brazil for the past two Halloweens. “I think it would be really disappointing if we didn’t have Halloween here in the Castro.”
from The San Francisco Chronicle

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