San Francisco seemingly reached a tipping point last Halloween, when nine people were shot in the Castro, and a repeat of last year’s nightmare clearly would have been unacceptable. Accordingly, The City made the decision to cancel tonight’s renewal of the decades-long neighborhood street party and is backing that move up with a beefed-up law-enforcement presence. Under the circumstances, City Hall’s decision was understandable, though difficult to make, and we’re going to hold our breath its plan will work.
Last year’s ugliness transpired in spite of the fact that more than 500 public safety officers were mobilized, and the San Francisco Police Department won’t say how many officers will be on duty in the Castro tonight. Mayor Gavin Newsom told The Examiner’s editorial board Friday that there “will be enough officers” to deal with any contingency. And that will be critical tonight, as Halloweens in the Castro in recent years have drawn as many as 200,000 revelers, a few of whom have engaged in a variety of criminal activities — for which the SFPD has said it will have “zero tolerance.”
Still, we remain concerned about the lack of details regarding what exactly the police assigned for duty in the Castro will be doing. The shroud of secrecy covering SFPD plans leaves residents and businesses in the Castro skeptical, with many fearing the possibility that hyper-policing will generate a violent public backlash.
The City shouldn’t just rely on its presently under-wraps, yet expected, massive show of force, as a public relations campaign to dissuade potential partygoers from coming to the Castro is important as well. But that drive, “Home for Halloween,” has depended on rarely seen fliers and media coverage to get out its message and could have been much more Bay Area-pervasive as well as better funded.
“The party has outgrown the Castro,” said David Perry, owner of apublic-relations firm that is coordinating the campaign for The City, who, as a 20-year resident of the Castro, rightly expressed the frustration of many neighborhood residents overwhelmed by an increasingly out-of-control Halloween fete.
Thirty-one businesses in the Castro with nighttime hours, including 13 bars and nightclubs, are encouragingly not participating in the “nonevent” tonight by heeding The City’s call for them to close early this evening. And even if potential partygoers insist on trying to make the trek to the Castro, they will find it more difficult to get to the neighborhood, as BART is closing the Mission and 16th Street station at 8 p.m., and Muni will shut down the Castro, Church, Forest Hill and West Portal stations 30 minutes later.
The City plans to have an alternate site for the Halloween party in place by next year, according to Perry, and that is some of the longer-range planning we would like to see City Hall concentrating on. Ultimately, though, all the plans for tonight are what matter right now. We can only hope for a safe, fun Halloween wherever people in the Bay Area celebrate it, and we will find out soon enough if San Francisco officials’ vaunted public safety strategy for the Castro pays off.