Ghostbusters

Can the city really kill Halloween in the Castro?
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sarah@sfbg.com

Entertainment commissioner Audrey Joseph is, by her own assessment, a tough cookie. She successfully beat back a developer's efforts to close her old SoMa nightclub. She attended her first Halloween in the Castro as a windup doll. And when skinheads targeted the famously gay Halloween event in the late 1980s, Joseph helped form the Gay Guards. But for all that, she is the first to admit that her latest gig — which involves helping Sup. Bevan Dufty and Mayor Gavin Newsom move Halloween festivities out of the Castro — won't be easy.

"Sometimes I feel like a whipping post," Joseph told the Guardian the day after she gave the city's first public presentation of the Dufty-Newsom plan to move the event into a parking lot behind AT&T Park — a lot that just happens to lie in the district of Newsom nemesis Sup. Chris Daly.

With Dufty stuck in traffic, though he did show up later, and Newsom nowhere in sight, Joseph was flying solo May 30 as she laid out their plan to an audience that was composed primarily of middle-aged Castro business and property owners. The city won't close Market and Castro streets, and it won't provide portable toilets or entertainment in the Castro, but it will police the area, and Castro merchants will be asked to voluntarily close early.

"We'd love to see the Castro dead," Joseph said as she laid out plans to lure Halloween revelers into the stadium parking lot by holding a concert featuring an as-yet-unnamed mainstream entertainer.

Some Castro residents expressed ambivalence about killing off what one attendee said amounts to "a sacred holiday" for the gay community, others pointed out that it would take a major hip-hop artist to lure the bridge-and-tunnel crowd to a concert that will cost $10 to $25 a pop, and bar owner Greg Bronstein questioned the sanity of closing early on what is the busiest business night of the year. Deputy police chief David Shinn pointed out that unlike New York's 30,000-strong police force, which can encircle the Big Apple's Halloween parade, the San Francisco Police Department's 2,400 officers cannot ring the Castro.

"We've heard everyone's cries about wanting Halloween out of the Castro," Joseph told the crowd. But her headache stemmed from the fact that her audience represented a small but highly vocal fraction of the 49,839 registered voters in Dufty's district — and similarly small but vocal groups exist in Daly's district too. Rincon Tenants Association president David Osgood decries the proposed plan as "the worst case of NIMBYism."

"This is an obvious effort by one neighborhood to get rid of their own event," Osgood told the Guardian. "But people are going to go to the Castro anyway. Halloween in the Castro has a flamboyance you don't get anywhere else. Moving Halloween to the Embarcadero is like trying to move Mardi Gras out of New Orleans to Omaha. It's just not going to work. It needs to be planned where it is."

But Joseph has high hopes for AT&T Park as a Halloween site, even though she has had a hard time finding event promoters. "The site is bigger, there's less residential impact, it's right on a Muni line, and we won't have to stop traffic on the Embarcadero during rush hour when we're setting up," she said.

Defending the lack of community meetings about Halloween in the past six months (something Newsom and Dufty had promised), Joseph said, "The city had to debrief from last year's event, make a plan, and get Supervisors Dufty and Chris Daly to sign off on it, since both districts are involved, then meet with the mayor, the port, and a string of musical promoters."

As for concerns that people will just show up in the Castro or drift there once the city pulls the plug on the stadium parking lot concert at 10 p.m., Joseph said, "I'm open to suggestions.