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Halloween in the Castro
2003 Preview

With Halloween 2003 only days away, the annual Halloween gathering in the Castro plans to be a much different event from years past.

After last year's event, which attracted an estimated 300,000 people from all over the Bay Area and beyond (nearly three times the average attendance), was marred by several acts of gang and alcohol related violence resulting in 30 arrests, the SFPD promised changes. Shortly after, City and other government officials began meeting to decide the future of this event.

The city has long wanted to control the Halloween festivities in the Castro District, even going so far as to start their own celebration several years ago in the Civic Center in the hopes that it would draw people away from the Castro celebration. The isolated violence last year gave them the perfect excuse to come in and "organize" the event to make it "safer" and more "fun".

Now with the prized plum of San Francisco events firmly in hand, the city has dropped its plans to continue Halloween festivities at the Civic Center and promised the following changes to Halloween in the Castro:

First, perhaps the most significant change in this year's celebration will be the banning of alcohol sales and consumption on the street. Both on- and off-site vendors of alcohol will have SFPD officers posted at their doors to remind customers that alcohol will not be tolerated on the streets. On-site vendors will also have additional door security and signs posted to enforce the street alcohol ban. Only residents with proper ID will be allowed to purchase and transport alcohol inside the event. Those caught consuming or selling alcohol on the streets will have the alcohol confiscated. It is unclear at this time if they will be arrested, escorted out of the area, and/or face criminal charges.

Second in the long list of changes, the entire area will be gated off and SFPD officers will be searching those who enter the area for contraband. Dumpsters will be provided to dispose of contraband for those who do not wish to walk back to their cars or residences. For a map of the area to be gated off see the More Information section below.

Third, $3 voluntary donations per person will be collected at each gate for entry into the area. The proportion of the donations collected that will benefit the charities that provide the volunteers to collect the donations will be 50 percent. The balance of the donations collected will go to defray costs of entertainment and related security costs to the stages and informational materials. If any money is left over, it will be rolled into a fund for next year so that the celebration can be improved.

Fourth, volunteers and police at gated entry points will check Halloween revelers for "Bad Costumes".  Terrance Alan of the San Francisco Halloween Working Group 2003, has described a "Bad Costume" as any containing gang colors, dangerous weapons, knives, and swords.

Fifth, Halloween in the Castro will be shut down promptly at midnight rather than 2 am as in years past. According to organizers, this is to allow attendees ample time to make it home via public transportation or continue on to the after-party of their choosing.

Sixth, there will be four stages of entertainment throughout the area with over 100 performers who have volunteered to work for free this night. Market and Castro will have the "Main Stage" featuring performances by Trannyshack and costume contests. On Market and Sanchez will be the "Tantra Underground Stage" featuring electronic dance music. On Market and Noe will be the "Live Stage" with live music and dance. The last stage, the "Dance Stage", will be located on Castro and 19th and will feature local club DJs. 

Seventh, over 500 officers (up from 300 last year) including police, fire, sheriffs, and special patrols will be performing various aspects of crowd management and intervention as well as DPT officers controlling traffic and reporting disturbances on the side streets surrounding the event.

At Haunted Bay we're worried that the fun and spontaneity of Halloween in the Castro may be draining away and the city's response may be somewhat of an over-reaction to last year's isolated violence. Some disruption is to be expected when a crowd the size of a medium sized city congregates in such a small area. It is both very sad and very unfortunate that some people were injured last year. However, the violence was reported to be largely gang related and the exception, not the norm. The police have stated that alcohol was the primary culprit in the problems that the event had last year. In fact, there were only eight minors cited for underage drinking and a total of 30 arrests including those for the gang violence and disorderly conduct, which may or may not have been alcohol related. This equals 0.01 percent of the crowd getting into some sort of trouble. A percentage that, at least in our opinion, does not merit drastically changing the event. 

 While event organizers claim "The public was involved in as much as they wanted to be.", as people who have followed Halloween related news for some time, we heard nothing about it until yesterday. Queries to the city, police department, BART, and MUNI went unanswered until the beginning of October and then it was only MUNI that replied and told us they would send a press release with route changes "two weeks before Halloween". For an event that has grown from a small community event to THE city's Halloween event with international awareness, it does not sound like anyone wanted public input.

We understand wanting to make something as fun and safe as possible and to recoup the investment in law enforcement and clean-up, but the reason the Castro was fun was that it was a spontaneous non-structured event. For those who wanted a rigidly structured city-sponsored event there was the Civic Center.

Haunted Bay is interested in your thoughts on the changes to the Halloween celebration in the Castro. Please join the discussion in our forums and tell us what you think. Join the discussion here!


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