Spooked

With five weeks to go until Halloween — and no public plan — Castro residents are getting nervous
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sarah@sfbg.com

Dressed to kill in a firehouse-red pantsuit and matching stilettos, drag queen Donna Sachet stood in the Eureka Valley Recreation Center on Sept. 22 and fondly recalled how four years ago she lauded Sup. Bevan Dufty when he announced that he wanted to make Halloween in the Castro a safer, more enjoyable event.

"Bevan said, 'Come and celebrate, but no bad behavior,'" Sachet purred.

But things have changed — dramatically — and this year Sachet was helping moderate a heated meeting of a group called Citizens for Halloween, at which residents raised myriad concerns about Dufty and Mayor Gavin Newsom's secretive plans for Halloween.

Dufty and Newsom's plans have morphed from a failed and furtive attempt to move this fall's event to the waterfront to an ongoing PR campaign that asks businesses to close early on what traditionally has been their busiest night of the year and implores the public to stay away from the famously flamboyant Castro on Halloween night.

There will be no city-sponsored porta-potties and no street closures.

But locals are haunted by a belief that it's about as easy to kill Halloween in the Castro as it is to kill a bloodthirsty vampire on a rampage and a fear that the city's current plan could leave the Castro less safe than ever.

Sachet, who has lived in the Castro for 13 years, recalled that since the city's gay population migrated from Polk Street to the Castro, the numbers attending the annual Halloween in the Castro party have steadily swollen, to 100,000 in 2006.

"There have been many concerns over the size of it," Sachet said, recalling how, after four people were stabbed in 2002, increased community involvement and police presence and the creation of emergency lanes made Halloween 2005 one of the most peaceful in years.

"Then in 2006 we got word from the city to hem in the event and end it sooner," Sachet said, reminding the crowd that Newsom promised to convene a task force two days after nine people were shot and one woman was trampled on Halloween 2006 — an incident that was triggered by someone throwing a bottle into a crowd of young people, one of whom pulled out a gun and fired nine shots in retaliation.

The bottle incident occurred shortly after the city pulled the plug on the music and began chasing away the costumed crowds with water trucks in an effort to break up the party early.

But despite Newsom's promise of a task force, no public presentation was ever made, and longtime Castro resident Gary Virginia, who applied to be on the panel, said he "never got any communication back."

Public records show that Newsom and Dufty held closed-door meetings with city department heads and members of the Entertainment Commission last winter in an effort to shift Halloween from the Castro into the backyard of Mission Bay residents.