Era ends as city moves Halloween away from Castro

A strong message is going to be sent to the tens of thousands of Halloween revelers who descend upon San Francisco from throughout the Bay Area — the Castro party is officially busted.

This year, fun-seekers will find no party set-up — no barricades, no portable toilets, and no entertainment — in the historically gay neighborhood, said Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who represents the Castro.

“The streets will be open and the traffic will be flowing down Market Street,” Dufty said.

Over the years, the decades-old celebration has grown into a massive event with costumed revelers, dancing and stages of free entertainment. Portions of Market and Castro streets in the neighborhood are closed to accommodate the large crowd and BART provides additional train service for the event.

Dufty is also asking Castro stores, restaurants and bars to close by 8 p.m. Several have already agreed, he said, including cafes La Mediterranee and Squat and Gobble.

As the crowds increased, the atmosphere has turned from playful to unruly, say some neighborhood residents and merchants. Incidents of violence have also marred the celebration: Last year, despite the presence of more than 500 public safety officers, a gunman opened fire, wounding nine people. In 2002, four people were stabbed.

As an alternative, city officials are hoping to lure the party to a parking lot by AT&T Park, by creating a large-scale event that would include a top-name entertainer. Free shuttle buses from the Castro to the waterfront area would be provided, Dufty said.

“It’s going to be something that people would want to see,” said Audrey Joseph, a member of The City’s Entertainment Commission who has coordinated the Halloween celebration in recent years.

Joseph is reviewing proposals by promoters interested in putting together the South Beach event — which she anticipates will cost several hundred thousand dollars to produce. The City will invest no money in the event, Joseph said.

A hypothetical possibility, she said, would allow the promoter to recover costs through sponsorships, food and beverage sales, and perhaps a $10 to $20 fee for those who want to be stage-side.

This is not the first time city officials have tried to move the event out of the Castro. From 1996-2001, the city sponsored a Halloween event at Civic Center, but tens of thousands of people still flooded the Castro, doubling the work of police.

“People are still going to go to the Castro,”said Ted Strawser, founder of the San Francisco Party Party, a group that has rallied against recent crackdowns on city events and festivals. “Without services, they’re just going to pee in the street, and without entertainment, mischief will occur.”

beslinger@examiner.com

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