Many questions, some answers and an unbelievable number of utterances of the word "potty" at packed Police Commission Castro Halloween meeting.
By Joe Eskenazi
Two days ago, no one knew who Michael Staley was. Now he’s been quoted by every newspaper and television station in town. He’s the port-a-potty guy.
Staley, a Castro resident for the past dozen years, took up the group Citizens for Halloween on its offer to help anyone who wanted an outhouse in front of their home to get one. But, on Tuesday, the Department of Public Works informed him that it would violate city bylaws to issue him a port-a-john.
Yet after taking in a well-attended Wednesday night Police Commission meeting, if I were a betting man I’d lay money on Staley ending up with the port-a-potty of his dreams -- and plentiful outhouses in the Castro come Oct. 31.
The notion that obstinate city officials could help revelers convert the Castro into a cesspool...
was a running theme on an evening when the police and other agencies finally revealed some of the specifics of their Oct. 31 plans. Castro residents, however, angrily criticized the city for shutting them out of the planning process and allegedly running an “intimidation campaign” to force Castro businesses to shut down on All Hallows Eve.
The 6 p.m. meeting – which would last a James Cameron-esque three hours – kicked off with the city’s hired P.R. gun David Perry playing the three public service announcements he hopes will dissuade revelers from gathering in the Castro.
The ad urged partiers to stay home or head somewhere other than the Castro, “Because this year, the Castro is not where it’s happening” – and, forebodingly, drew uninvited laughter from the standing room crowd of more than 100. Worse yet, the ad, ostensibly aimed at Generation Y, was read by Harry Denton, owner of the Starlight Room. Apparently the Brown twins were unavailable.
“I was asked…if I think this will work. I wouldn’t be in this if I didn’t think it would work,” said Perry, defiantly. Incidentally, that’s the exact phrase Quintin Mecke used to describe his prospects of unseating Mayor Gavin Newsom.
Police Chief Heather Fong headlined a phalanx of cops present at the event; at least a dozen men and women in blue lined the wood-paneled walls of City Hall room No. 400.
In a nutshell, the city’s plans include the following:
• Deputy Chief David Shinn will receive reports every half hour from command stations throughout the city; Mission Station, the post nearest the Castro, will be led by Capt. John Goldberg. At Shinn’s discretion, police can be redeployed throughout the city as needed. Shinn described a “zero-tolerance” policy for drunkenness, public urination and other likely offenses (he originally used the term “aggressive enforcement” but changed his wording when Police Commissioner Theresa Sparks told him that “aggressive enforcement” conjured up mental images of Tiananmen Square).
• Shinn and at least half a dozen other officials made pains to note that Muni buses and drivers will be available to ferry “platoons” of cops around town like troop transports. The notion of the police taking Muni to travel about town rapidly was greeted with barely a snicker, by the way.
• Unlike the past, the streets will only be barricaded on an as-needed basis. Also, less of the Castro will be off-limits for parking than in the past. The restricted zone will include the 300 and 400 block of Castro and Market Street between Castro and 15th. Also, the Castro and Church Muni stations will close at 8:30 p.m.
• Large numbers of Parking Control Officers – aka Meter Maids – and tow trucks will be on-scene, to expedite the towing of cars in the no-parking zones, driveways or sidewalks. While these matters were handled by the cops in the past, this year it’s the Department of Parking and Traffic’s gig; Deputy Chief Antonio Parra implied the police would be busy elsewhere.
• California Highway Patrol officers will be manning DUI checkpoints, though Shinn could not answer Commissioner Joe Marshall’s query of how many CHP officers will be available, stating “that number is not set in stone.”
Commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese, who sipped on a bottle of lemon-lime Gatorade throughout the night, didn’t toss many softballs to the city officials. He wondered how the police could keep him from going and having a Halloween drink in the Castro “without imposing Marshall Law,” and noted that a crackdown in the neighborhood could prove costly.
“This ‘aggressive enforcement’ issue on a certain neighborhood in San Francisco throws up some huge red flags I don’t want to read about in the paper the next morning,” he told Fong.
“I hope you’re careful on this one because this could be the source of lawsuits the city really can’t afford. Good luck to you. You’ve got a tough job.”
Veronese, a civil rights attorney, also pointed out that by canceling the official Halloween event and opting not to barricade streets, the city had no legal right to subject random citizens to a weapons check as it did last year. Capt. Goldberg agreed – yet noted, disturbingly, that the weapons checks undertaken last year were cursory at best and, obviously, didn’t prevent nine people from being shot.
Great! I feel much better now!
The commissioner was far from the only critic in the house. Ted Strawser, a co-founder of Citizens for Halloween, blasted the police plan as being more about busting up a Castro party than providing for the safety of people on the streets.
“They stated several times that their No. 1 priority was to keep traffic flowing. Historically, the No. 1 safety feature is to separate people and cars [which isn’t happening in this plan]. But by keeping traffic moving, they’re just dispersing drunk drivers out of the Castro.”
Castro resident Denis Johns echoed many attendees’ complaints when he lambasted the city for high-handedly planning an event – or non-event – without community input.
“I am so disappointed. Nobody in this room in all their presentations involved one member of the Castro in their planning. I didn’t hear anything to indicate any residents were invited to participate in the city with these plans.”
A number of Castro denizens went on to angrily accuse Supervisor Bevan Dufty, the mayor’s office and the police of attempting to intimidate local businesses into closing on Halloween – as the Weekly noted in its latest print edition.
Dufty, in fact, sounded pretty intimidating at the meeting. He said police would know how to “deal with” situations involving “nuisance alcohol outlets – and I mean corner stores.” More ominously, he noted that, on a night when he’s taken pains to keep people off the streets, he won’t tolerate overcrowded bars or clubs dispersing portions of their crowds into the neighborhood. The area’s recreation spots will receive a “prior visit” and “if they can’t comply” with attendance limits “they will be closed. That’s a disincentive for those who think they’ll get a slap on the wrist and profit off of the evening.”
The District 8 supervisor left about midway through the meeting to cast a vote in a marathon Budget Committee session. Interestingly, though, a City Hall official later stated that the Budget Committee adjourned at about 7:30, so Dufty could have returned to face the hostile crowd – but didn’t.
And that’s a shame. He missed story after story from Castro residents who caught Halloween revelers defecating in their yards (this article’s headline is a verbatim question asked of Chief Fong by Michael Staley). After at least the 10th mention of the word “piss” at an official government event, Veronese and fellow Commissioner David Campos intervened.
“Are Castro residents going to wake up and find that people have gone to the bathroom all over their front doors? Are we planning for that?” asked Veronese.
And, despite Staley’s rejection by the DPW on technical grounds, first Fong and then Martha Cohen from the mayor’s office said the nixing of port-a-potties is not a done deal.
And thank God for that. Because if you’re going to plan to accommodate hundreds of thousands of revelers by assembling hundreds of cops and sheriff’s deputies and juvenile probation officers and coordinating multiple city agencies – well, then, you might as well give people somewhere to pee.