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San Francisco 2006 Halloween party may be canceled

By Brigid Gaffikin, Bay City News Service

July 28, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - The city-sponsored Halloween party in San Francisco's Castro, which in recent years has drawn a crowd of around half a million, may be canceled this year -- and for the foreseeable future -- because many people in the surrounding community believe it has grown too big and too dangerous for the neighborhood, according to Rachelle McManus, an aide to Supervisor Bevan Dufty.

At a community meeting Wednesday evening at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy neighbors voiced concerns about the size of the celebration.

Entertainment Commission Executive Director Robert Davis said residents are working with Dufty and the Entertainment Commission to shut down the event, which started out as a small community party around 40 years ago and has mushroomed into a celebration of Halloween that brings in a large crowd from around the Bay Area.

Halloween brings public drunkenness, violence and often graffiti to the area once night falls, but even before the official party starts, local merchants are frustrated by street closures and a lack of parking for shoppers, Davis said.

For many people living in the Castro, "There is no upside, there's only a downside" to Halloween, Davis said.

McManus said that many local residents don't even go to the street party.

Dufty's concern about Halloween solidified after a spate of violence during the June San Francisco Pride celebrations and he now feels there's no longer a way to manage the risk of an event as large as the Halloween party, she said.

The proposed cancellation of the Castro celebration comes just three years after the city took over the six-block event in an effort to curb public drunkenness and violence, following five stabbings during Halloween revelry in 2002.

Halloween in the Castro "has gotten better" since alcohol was banned outdoors, and the city's police force has also helped ensure festivities are safe, McManus said.

The city's involvement has also smoothed transportation in and out of the area by coordinating with Bay Area Rapid Transit to provide trains for partygoers, Davis said.

But the size of the party, which has been promoted outside San Francisco, has also made it unmanageable, McManus said.

The alcohol ban has also prompted the growth of alternative, alcohol-fueled Halloween parties in the Castro neighborhood's side streets and neighbors have complained about a lot more noise, fistfights, and public urination, Davis said.

Whether the party is moved or completely canceled, police and emergency services will still work to keep the area safe on Halloween this year, he added, acknowledging that the city would have to work hard to get the word out that the official city-sponsored Halloween party has been canceled.

In the meantime, the Entertainment Commission will work with the city and residents to nail down a solution and will look at all options, including moving the party to another part of the city, although this could just move problems like drunkenness and violence to another neighborhood, he said.

"We'll speak on behalf of the city but when a decision is rendered it will be a consensus decision," Davis said.

"We have to make a decision very, very soon. October's right around the corner," he added.

The Entertainment Commission will reconvene in August to discuss whether to move or shut down the party.

McManus said that she was "pretty confident that there's going to be no entertainment in the Castro this year."

"Basically what the idea is, is to put out publicly that it's canceled, (to) have no entertainment but maintain the level of security," she said. "The idea is to plan for the worst and to create an environment where it's not that fun."

The message is going to be "Please don't come," she said.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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