Smashing pumpkins: Halloween saga continues

Support for the city’s tough stance against Halloween appears to be waning lately, as downtown business owners and neighborhood associations have joined students in expressing doubts about the city’s crackdown.

Following last week’s decision by Chico State’s Associated Students, the Downtown Chico Business Association (DCBA) also refused to sign a letter to Chico citizens asking that they not come downtown or invite out-of-towners to Halloween festivities this year.

DCBA director Katrina Davis said that, while the association supports the city and police in their efforts to end the drunken violence that has become synonymous with Halloween in this town, the letter the city wanted her to sign contradicted the association’s goal of bringing more people to downtown businesses.

“Ninety-eight percent of the letter was something we could support,” Davis said. “But we cannot go against our mission, which is to promote downtown businesses. The DCBA most definitely doesn’t want to see things get out of hand, [but] when I see the city saying, ‘Downtown Chico is closed, don’t come downtown,’ I have to look at the big picture.”

Davis said she also worried the letter’s tone would cut into attendance at the DCBA-sponsored Treat Street event, which last year brought 2,500 children and their parents downtown for trick-or-treating with local merchants.

Some bar owners also complained that the city is misrepresenting them on its official Web site by stating that bars will curtail alcohol sales after midnight on Halloween. In fact, most bars are staying open, and some are planning special events that bar owners say are designed to keep people off the streets and out of harm’s way.

“The worst bar is better than the best street party,” Brian Buckley, part owner of downtown’s Crazy Horse Saloon, said. “If you look back over police logs … there have been no serious incidents [on Halloween] at any licensed establishment.”

Buckley and others said they would rather see the city work with businesses to replace the Halloween mayhem with a more manageable event. The idea has been tossed around for a while, they said, but no one so far has been willing to take the risk.

City Manager Tom Lando said he wasn’t surprised by the recent defections of student, business and community groups and that, overall, residents understand that action needs to be taken in order to stop the violence.

“I think there’s broad-based community support,” Lando said. “We’re not taking an opinion poll—people know it is a dangerous event.”

Lando said the city had exhaustively studied its options for turning the event around, taking bits and pieces of strategies from other communities that have attempted to quash street revelers in their own towns.

“We looked at any city that has had any [similar] problem,” he said. “There’s no model. We don’t know if we’re doing this precisely correctly because we’ve never done it before.”

One community group’s spokesman had dire predictions for this All Hallows Eve.

Calling the city’s strategy to intimidate and arrest potential troublemakers an example of “How to Create a Riot 101,” Bob Ray, a resident representative for the South Campus Neighborhood Association, said people in his neighborhood are preparing for what they think might be the most destructive Halloween ever.

“People are scared witless” by the city’s get-tough approach, Ray said, adding that some are hiring their own security to police their property that night.

“A crowd will react to whatever environment is created for it. We think the city is creating an environment that is dark, unclean, unsafe and hostile.”

Ray said he served for two years on a city task force that looked at possible solutions to the problem of out-of-control street parties. The task force looked at solutions other cities—like such well-known party destinations as New Orleans and Palm Springs—have implemented in trying to control party crowds and presented a report to the city.

"We had a whole list of recommendations that I guess have been thrown in the garbage," he said. "It’s ridiculous. Right now there’s nothing for people to do on Halloween but walk around in a circle and invent things to do."