Dead town

San Francisco hosts a Halloween celebration suitable for suburban San Diego

Every reporter assigned to the Castro on Halloween knew right away that the story was, in fact, the nonstory.

There were no outlaws. No shootings or stabbings as in the past. There weren't even many of the scumbag bridge-and-tunnelers police feared most. The mayor's plan worked: two decades of fun in the Castro on Halloween died in 2007.

"People are leaving in droves," one man said into his cell phone around 10:30 p.m. "We can't drink."

By that point the San Francisco Police Department could count the total arrests on one hand. A few people were cuffed for public intoxication. One man had outstanding warrants. Another jaywalked. Department spokesperson Sgt. Neville Gittens — not someone reporters know as typically cheerful — was in a startlingly good mood.

"There aren't enough people out here to urinate or defecate anywhere," Gittens told the Guardian that night while standing near a cordoned command and control center the city had planted at 18th and Collingwood streets. "You can see the streets. They're pretty empty. They're pretty quiet, and we're very thankful for that. What we set out to accomplish as far as discouraging this party, so far it seems like it's working."

The Mayor's Office, in fact, called the night "an incredible success." Nathan Ballard, the mayor's press spokesperson, added, "We are pleased with the way Halloween turned out this year. [Police] Chief [Heather] Fong did an excellent job of keeping the peace, and Sup. [Bevan] Dufty deserves praise for showing real leadership and representing the interests of his district."

But that success came at a cost — the Castro on Halloween night was under the tight control of a massive contingent of police. Barricades blocked the streets. Cops kept revelers (and anyone else who happened by) from setting so much as a toe off the sidewalk.

While the crowd totaled just a fraction of what has appeared in years past, Gittens said well over 500 law enforcement personnel were assigned to the area, including officers from the probation department, the BART Police Department, the Sheriff's Department, the California Highway Patrol, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Even the San Francisco Chronicle, an institution that hardly embodies unbridled countercultural fun — deemed the law enforcement preparations "almost militaristic."

The tab for all of that police presence — and for the lost tax revenue from bars and restaurants and the hit to the tourist industry — will almost certainly run into millions of dollars.

At times members of the media even appeared to outnumber partygoers. When an ambulance and two vans from the Sheriff's Department began backing into an alley between Market and Castro, a camera operator and a reporter rushed to the scene. It was nothing, it turned out. Just a woman splayed out drunk next to a Dumpster.


The last-minute announcement of the shutdown of the BART station at 16th and Mission streets, Gittens said, probably did the trick more than anything else. But that decision enraged some business owners, who told us they were worried that fewer transit riders would threaten revenue during what is usually a profitable holiday.

"Small business is the heartbeat of San Francisco, and the Mission district itself endures enough difficulties on a regular basis," Jean Feilmoser, president of the Mission Merchants Association, wrote in a community e-mail Oct. 30. "To cut off the arm that feeds the economic engine on one of the busiest nights of the year is cruel and unusual punishment."

The dramatic transit shutdown earned harsh criticism from two local officials, BART board member Tom Radulovich and District 6's Sup.

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