S.F. activists push for Castro pumpkin party

San Franciscans from a group called Citizens for Halloween say canceling this year’s celebration in the Castro is akin to axing New Year’s Eve in Times Square and that thousands of people will still turn out despite The City’s effort to kill the annual street party.

The group — led by Alix Rosenthal, who ran against Supervisor Bevan Dufty to represent the Castro last year, and Ted Strawser, founding member of the S.F. Party Party blog — is demanding answers from leaders at City Hall today, asking how they plan to keep the Castro safe when droves of people arrive Oct. 31.

“The idea is not to attack The City’s plan, because we don’t even know what the plan is,” Rosenthal said.

Recently marred by violence, the Halloween celebration in the Castro has grown into a massive event that attracts tens of thousands of people from throughout the Bay Area. Last year, a gunman at the event opened fire, wounding nine people, authorities said. In 2002, four people were stabbed.

City officials decided to cancel the event and alert people to go elsewhere. Expecting some partygoers to ignore the rules, The City plans to deploy police officers to the neighborhood, as well as to implement contingency plans to divert traffic and install barricades if the crowd becomes too large.

“We will be prepared to deal with anything that may unfold,” San Francisco police Sgt. Steve Mannina said.

While city officials plan to roll out details on additional safety measures in early October, members of Citizens for Halloween say they want answers now, including where the public safety officers will be deployed, if medical services will be available, and if there will be portable toilets.

Hank Wilson, a long-time neighborhood activist who founded the Community United Against Violence group, added, “In the past, hundreds of thousands of people have come to the Castro, and there have been no posters telling people to come to the Castro.”

In another attempt to cancel the neighborhood party, The City sent at least 130 Castro businesses letters asking the owners to shut down as early as 6 p.m. on Halloween.So far, 13 businesses have agreed to close early, while two others are leaning toward hosting private, ticketed events.

Annie Flores, a Castro resident who has owned Marcello’s Pizza for 20 years, has decided to stay open as late as she safely can, which is what she does each year. She typically hires two security guards for the night and gives employees a bonus for working a holiday.

“It’s important that the street is not abandoned,” Flores said. “If I were closed, I would feel like I had to be in the building anyway in case my window was broken or something.”

arocha@examiner.com

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