Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Attention turns to 2008 Halloween


Supervisor Bevan Dufty. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Amid the grumblings over the false promises, abandoned plans, and behind-the-scenes meetings for this year's Halloween, city officials are already zeroing in on Halloween 2008. With the holiday falling on a Friday that year, there is acknowledgement that not having a city-sanctioned party, as is the case this October 31, isn't a realistic strategy.

"We cannot have a no-go policy in 2008," said District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty. "I am personally not willing to go through this next year. There needs to be multiple events next year. It's a Friday night, which presents a whole other set of challenges."

Neither, it seems, is having the mayor's office or the Entertainment Commission in charge of planning for next year's holiday a tenable option. A Civil Grand Jury report on the commission released in July stated that the jury's investigation "was unable to discover" why the mayor's office took over the planning and supervision of last year's Halloween, when a man fired a gun into the crowd, leaving 10 people injured.

The grand jury concluded that the Entertainment Commission, not the mayor's office, should coordinate planning for Halloween and all major non-sponsored events. But it also found that the commission staff is "too small to handle any responsibilities other than facilitating the permit process for clubs and places of entertainment."

Instead of handing over control of large events to the commission, there is growing consensus at City Hall for the creation of an Office of Special Events to oversee such public gatherings as Halloween. Such an office could be formed as a nonprofit entity that could raise funding on its own to cover the costs of the events.

Shortly after initial plans to move this year's street party from the Castro to the city's waterfront collapsed in August, Dufty requested that city Controller Ed Harrington investigate the possibility of San Francisco creating such a "dedicated and separately funded" office to oversee annual events like Halloween. The controller's report should be completed sometime this month, and if deemed appropriate, a special events office could be in place by next year.

"The Entertainment Commission's first mission is to permit and bring into compliance nighttime entertainment establishments. It doesn't have the staff for large events," said Dufty. "In the next two weeks we should have the initial report on creating an Office of Special Events. The mayor agrees very strongly on it."

Newsom said in August that he decided to shut down this year's Halloween party in the Castro for fear someone could be killed. Whether the city should abandon that approach next year, his spokesman said this week that it is too soon to make such a judgment.

"Let's take this one Halloween at a time. We need to focus on depressing turnout for Halloween this year first," said Nathan Ballard. "Once we have a chance to gauge our efforts this year and see what worked and what didn't work, then let's see what we need to do next year."

Ballard did say the mayor has been working with Dufty on the plans for a special events office and thinks it is a "good idea."

"The mayor is inclined to support Bevan's legislation," he said.

Entertainment Commissioner Audrey Joseph, whom Newsom tapped last December to oversee planning for this year's Halloween, also voiced support for creation of the office.

"It would answer a lot of problems," said Joseph. "It needs to get funded and would be able to raise money on its own. It should be an independent entity."

Ostensibly the hope is such an office would alleviate the problems that plagued the planning for this year's event and solidify decision-making power into the hands of one person. As it stands now, numerous city agencies play a role in overseeing non-sponsored events and no one person is in charge.

Paper trail

Newsom, Dufty, and the Entertainment Commission have faced endless criticism and questions since last November, after the mayor publicly said he would convene a community task force to plan for this year's celebration but a month later privately assigned Joseph the task of overseeing planning for this year's Halloween.

As evidenced from public records obtained by the Bay Area Reporter, the arrangement soon became victim of bureaucratic morass as questions from Castro residents on the status of the task force mounted.

More than half a dozen community members offered to serve on the task force, ranging from supporters of seeing an organized party to Castro merchants and residents pushing to see the event shut down or moved out of their neighborhood. Dufty indicated meetings would be held sometime in January.

By the end of the month, with no task force established, community leaders began voicing their concerns. In a January 29 e-mail to one of his board members and CCed to Dufty aide Rachelle McManus, Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association President Dennis Richards noted he had "expressed concern that it has already been 3 months since Halloween and we haven't heard anything further
on next year's planning for the event." Richards also wrote that McManus "indicated that she is trying to get this in front of Bevan (in terms of
his priorities this coming month)" and requested the person call Dufty to express "that you are
interested in getting started right away."

At the same time, the public records show, Joseph was having her own troubles moving forward. After meeting with Dufty and police department officials, Joseph attempted to arrange a preliminary meeting regarding Halloween with the mayor's staff in mid-February, including chief of staff Phil Ginsburg and Wade Crowfoot, director of the Mayor's Office of Governmental Affairs.

By late March, with a meeting time still to be arranged, an exasperated Joseph e-mailed Entertainment Commission staffer Jocelyn Kane. In the March 22 e-mail, Joseph wrote, "They are avoiding this meeting – I have called Wade several times. It is time to call the mayor direct or we just let it go – I have been making this effort since mid-January and I am over it."

It wouldn't be until April that a closed-door meeting would take place to discuss Joseph's proposal to relocate the Halloween party to several piers owned by the Port of San Francisco. Afterwards, Newsom appointed out lesbian Julian Potter, his deputy chief of staff for public safety issues and a Castro resident, as the point person for Halloween in his office.

In a subsequent e-mail, Crowfoot wrote that he "would characterize the mayor's position on the events as supportive of moving forward to explore the feasibility of this event."

More problems

Other wrenches soon popped up, including hesitation on the port's behalf of using its piers for the event and unwillingness on the part of most local promoters to oversee the Halloween event. After word spread that the city was looking to use the parking lot near AT&T Park, Giants President Pat Gallagher cautioned in a May e-mail to Joseph that not only was an extreme sports event planned for November 1 but "unfortunately (or fortunately!) if the Giants play in the World Series in late Oct or Nov 1 at the latest, it would take priority over everything else."

The first public meeting regarding Halloween would not take place until May 30, and at the time, both Joseph and Dufty would only confirm that the city's intent was to relocate the Castro street party to near the ballpark. Since the city's plans were still in flux, the two told the audience there was no reason to hold an earlier meeting.

By the end of June the Entertainment Commission had entered into a preliminary agreement with Greg Wynn of Shanghai Triumph and Dawn Holliday, the principal owner of Big Billy Productions and owner of Slim's nightclub, as promoters of the event.

However, approval of the agreement by City Hall dragged at a glacial pace. The promoters signaled their concerns at the lack of progress in a June 29 e-mail to Joseph.

"As time goes on though, the chances of this being a success begin to fade. We have been discussing this production for almost two and a half months and we most now insist on a deadline for the city to give us the green light," wrote Wynn. "We must be able to start work no later than July 11. It will be very disappointing but past that point we will most likely have to walk away."

Six days past the July 11 deadline the city signed an agreement with Holliday as the promoter of the Halloween party. Only weeks later Holliday would pull out due to illness and in early August Newsom made the decision to simply cancel having an official party anywhere in the city.

"I don't think it was a mistake for the mayor to turn to us. It was in the legislation that we would take care of Halloween," said Joseph. "The problem was there was no vehicle for the city to step in and fund the event with actual dollars when the promoter pulled out. They could fund an event with police, but there are no dollars to pay for a sound system, entertainment and promotion."

Had the waterfront party progressed, the city would have faced other problems, particularly accusations from residents near the selected site that the agreement with the promoter was illegal. Tony Kelly, president of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association, in late July sent off a letter to supervisors in which he criticized the lack of public oversight of the negotiations and requested the board void the agreement and cancel the event.

Joseph said she never placed Halloween on the commission's agenda because it had never discussed plans for the Castro street party when it managed the event from 2003 through 2005.

"It never occurred to me. We never had Halloween on the agenda before," she said. "The whole commission doesn't work on it."

A community group launched last month is already pushing City Hall to host public meetings on next year's holiday. Calling themselves Citizens for Halloween, they have pledged to hold their own public meeting after this year's Halloween.

"All the meetings have been with city department heads and the Entertainment Commission. It has not been very public," said Gary Virginia, an organizer of the group.

The goal is to see an advisory board set up to discuss plans for Halloween 2008.

"We want the community involvement back into the equation. We have three decades of community experience organizing large street fairs," said longtime gay activist Hank Wilson, a founder of the group. "Other cities have decided to embrace what we seem to be paralyzed in fear of. If we have an opportunity, the community will respond."

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