City bringing Halloween back to life

Like Victor Frankenstein in his lab, city leaders are attempting to reinvent a new Halloween identity for San Francisco.

Since 2006, when a series of violent Halloween parties in the Castro culminated in nine shootings on Oct. 31, city leaders have been trying to restructure the event in a way that keeps everyone safe and doesn’t hurt the booming business that the holiday festivities generate in The City.

That’s proving especially difficult in a year when the cards are all lined up to encourage the biggest spook-day party in years. Oct. 31 will be a Friday and it will coincide with the popular Critical Mass bicycle event. It will also fall the weekend before a major election — one in which gay marriage may be banned.

Last year, in a last-minute decision that relieved some and miffed others, the party was officially killed when some city leaders convinced stores, bars, and public transit to stay shuttered that night – a move described by Supervisor Bevan Dufty as a “hard reboot” of the holiday.

Dufty, whose district includes the Castro, promised that a cancellation would not happen this year, but that promise has meant city leaders have been scrambling to prepare for the holiday.

The plan this year is a large-scale private party on Parking Lot A next to the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Ballpark and a campaign to encourage folks to party in their own neighborhoods for Halloween. Castro businesses will remain open, but Castro streets will not be closed off, as they were in years past.

“Halloween is this grand experiment, and we have a whole year to talk and think about it, but every year is different,” Dufty said.

The party will include a free event for families outside the parking lot. The private party will cost $31 and will include local artists, DJs and musicians.

City officials planning the event, however, say it may prove difficult to keep people from heading to the Castro – particularly because many may choose that weekend to celebrate a wedding, since the Nov. 4 election will be the following Tuesday.

“It’s somewhat daunting, because you can’t control everything,” Dufty said. “You can’t really say to (police), there will be so many thousands in the Mission, so many in Fisherman’s Wharf – because we just don’t know yet.”

But police seem prepared to take on the new challenge. Police spokesman Sgt. Wilfred Williams said the police have capably handled security in holidays throughout the year – like New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day – and they’ll be able to handle it again on Halloween. This year’s Halloween party at the AT&T parking lot is expected to draw about 30,000.

Katy Laddell, president of the Mission Bay Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood is somewhat lukewarm about the proposed party at the ballpark.

“Our stand is that if it works, great. If not, we definitely won’t welcome it again,” she said. “But I’m just not sure that people will want to come to San Francisco and then go to Parking Lot A for a party. If they want to go to the Castro, they’ll go to the Castro.”

Castro resident Rob Gaddi agreed that there may not be a vast emptying of the Castro and rush to the waterfront.

“I think it’s a lovely idea. I do enjoy a good theory. I’m not convinced it’ll happen,” he said.

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