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

Online extra:
Police detail Halloween plans


David Perry displays a flier as part of the city's campaign to keep people out of the Castro on Halloween during a Police Commission hearing Wednesday. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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The Castro and Church Street Muni stations will be closed Halloween night. Parking restrictions will be in place. An unprecedented amount of safety personnel will be on hand. And there could very well be portable toilets.

As detailed by police officials at the Police Commission meeting October 10, the city's plans for this year's holiday sound eerily familiar from years past, with one caveat: the actual party part of the night is canceled.

"We are not shutting down the Castro. We are shutting down the party," said Police Commission President Theresa Sparks.

Gone are the sound stages, entrance gates, costume contests and, so far, five of the area's gay bars, all of which have decided to close early October 31. Another two bars will be holding private parties, while those that remain open will face intense scrutiny Halloween night. City officials are vowing to close down any bar that exceeds its capacity.

"Certainly it is not a happy evening for us to be here to try to figure out a way to keep people from coming to the Castro," said District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty. "It is not conceivable from a public safety standpoint to allow this event to continue. It is simply unmanageable from a geographical and tactical standpoint."

Dufty said police officers will be stationed outside those liquor stores that remain open that night and fire officials will be ensuring that bars and clubs do not pack their establishments.

"It is a disincentive to those establishments who think they can overcrowd their establishment and just let 20 or 30 people go and get only a slap on the wrist. They will be closed," he said.

Police and city officials hope their plans will detract the upwards of 200,000 people who normally come to the Castro to party that night. Instead, they hope they opt to stay home or party elsewhere.

For those who ignore their pleas, they can expect a no tolerance policy from police. Anyone found violating the law – from drinking on the street or being publicly intoxicated to urinating or defecating on people's doorsteps – will be arrested.

"The hope is not to see massive crowds of people descending into the Castro area," said Deputy Chief of field operations David Shinn. "We will be looking for people who come to the Castro to create problems and to commit crimes."

Mission Station Captain John Goldberg, whose district covers the Castro, said no matter what does happen come Halloween night, the police are ready to deploy various strategies that evening.

"Our hope is it is a cold, rainy night and no one shows up in the Castro. Or we have hundreds of thousands of people show up and we have to close the streets," he said. "We don't know how effective the outreach will be. We don't know what the weather will be or who is going to show up. It is really hard to say we are going to do X, Y, or Z."

In case the crowds do arrive, police will already have barricades waiting in the wings to shut down the streets. Both of the city's parking lots in the Castro – behind Walgreens and the Castro Theatre – will be shut down that afternoon and parking will be restricted along two blocks of Market Street and Castro Street as well as portions of 18th Street to prevent cars from being trapped in the area if police need to cordon off the streets.

Deputy Chief Antonio Parra, who is assigned to the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, said he will have squads of parking control officers stationed throughout the Castro and will be pre-deploying tow trucks to the area to expedite any calls about blocked driveways or illegally parked vehicles.

"We want to ensure the safe flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, as well as transit," said Parra. "We would rather not shut down the streets. Keeping traffic moving, we believe, is key."

Due to the ongoing replacement of overhead wiring in the Muni Metro tunnel, the transit system's L, K, and M lines will stop running between the Van Ness and West Portal Stations at 8:30 p.m. Halloween night. Buses will be used to carry riders between the two stations, though the J-Church and N-Judah Lines will continue to run that night.

Commission concerns

Commissioners expressed various concerns about the police's plans for the evening. Sparks, while saying it was not the commission's job to set city policy, expressed doubts at how the city has gone about its Halloween strategy this year.

"As an individual it seems to me there is going to be people in the Castro. We have to plan for it. It seems like we are sticking our heads in the sand," said Sparks.

Commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese, a civil rights attorney, questioned if Castro residents who want to go out for dinner or drinks that night would encounter problems on their way home.

"If I live in the Castro and come walking home after a few drinks, I hope I am not going to be arrested," he said.

He also requested that the police fully explain to bar owners what they can expect to have happen if there are problems on Halloween.

"It is not fair to the bar owners," he said. "It could lead to lawsuits that we really can't afford."

Police Chief Heather Fong said people will be allowed to walk the sidewalks as long as they are not drunk.

"If people want to come to the Castro there is nothing wrong with going into a venue to have a drink or having dinner. That is not a problem," she said. "If people think they can walk on the street, be drunk in public, or pop open a can of beer, well, that is a violation of the law."

Commissioner David Campos said his main worry is having police target people in the Castro solely because of the way they look.

"I hope the police will not be targeting them because of their ethnicity, what they look like, or the way they are dressed," said Campos. "I want to make sure it is not a problem being a person of color to be walking around the Castro that night."

Fong said officers will be briefed prior to Halloween night on how to approach people in the Castro. She stressed police cannot stop someone based solely on their appearance.

"If they appear drunk that might be a reason to contact them," she said. "But how someone is dressed is not a reason for officers to be contacting them. Maybe to say hello."

Critics of the city's plans continued to decry the decision to shut down the Halloween party but thanked the Police Commission for holding the meeting. It was the first public meeting held to discuss Halloween since city officials hosted a town hall forum in May.

"There is an event. It's called Halloween," said Ted Strawser, an organizer of the Citizens for Halloween group. "The plan is to end the fun, not to plan for protecting the public's safety. We are planning for mass arrests."

Dan Cusick, manager of the Castro Country Club, said "We are going to have the largest nonevent in the history of this city and you have done nothing to address it."

City unveils TV ads

David Perry, a Castro resident and public relations professional who is overseeing the city's "Home for Halloween" campaign, unveiled three television ads Wednesday meant to drive the message home to residents outside San Francisco. The ads feature Starlight Room owner Harry Denton, San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist and stand-up comic Michael Capozolla, and artist Donny Lumpkins of New America Media.

The three recite the same script, telling viewers that, "Halloween has gotten a bit scary. I'm talking about the freaky characters that swoop into San Francisco's Castro with bad intentions." They then beseech people to "stay home this Halloween" because "this year the Castro is not where it's happening."

The commercials urge people to visit to find alternative Halloween parties and events to attend that night. The ads are already up on YouTube and are being aired by local television station KRON 4, which produced the public service announcements. They will also be dubbed over in Spanish, and will be broadcast on several of Clear Channel's radio stations.

"It is not just about keeping people out of the Castro but encouraging people to look within their own communities throughout the Bay Area for things to do on Halloween," said Perry.

In order to reach youth, Perry said he is faxing fliers to Bay Area schools and teams will be distributing notices to students outside their schools. Probation officials are also warning their juvenile charges to avoid the Castro that evening, and probation officers will be in the neighborhood that night to apprehend those who do come.

Alix Rosenthal, who since last year when she ran for supervisor against Dufty has assailed the city's approach to Halloween, said telling teenagers not to come to the Castro will have the opposite effect.

"When you tell them not to do something, they do it," she said. "I am afraid we are doubling attendance."

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