City Seeks Alternatives to Hellish Halloween – November 8, 2011
Kevin L. Hoover
PLAZA – What began as a sweet, colorful celebration of H Street’s re-opening on Halloween ended with a near-riot, dozens of arrests and unprecedented destruction to the Arcata Plaza.
As the last strains of the Marching Lumberjacks died down and the candy bags of trick-or-treating children swelled to maximum capacity, more than one kind of darkness fell on the Plaza.
Halloween night celebrants roved the town square, many with bottles in hand and their numbers swelling as the night wore on.
As the crowd grew denser, behavioral standards loosened until, as has become the standard for holiday Plaza celebrations such as New Year’s Eve, the more adventurous members of the crowd – mostly college-age youths – climbed up on the statue of President McKinley.
Several of the McKinley-mounters pretended to engage in sexual activity with the stoic statue, while one man reportedly urinated onto spectators from it.
Meanwhile, carefully cultivated planter boxes were thoroughly trampled by hordes of carousers. Numerous bottles were broken, the glass crunched into the Plaza grass.
Arcata Police made more than two dozen arrests (see below), though nowhere near the number of actual violations.
“There could have been hundreds of arrests,” said Lt. APD Ryan Peterson. He said that the 14 officers on duty arrested only those who were extremely intoxicated and a danger to themselves or others.
“We got outgunned,” Peterson said. “We did the best we could to prevent mayhem. The ones that were arrested were definitely arrestable.”
The individual who was reported to have jumped off the Alibi and broken his leg was actually a former guest who had been ejected from the Hotel Arcata. He’d apparently climbed up on the bar’s roof as part of a re-entry gambit, but, said Peterson, “He obviously didn’t make it.”
The next morning, the crowds had dissipated, but their residue remained in the form of destroyed foliage, broken glass, overflowing garbage cans and a McKinley statue whose base was coated with multiple spray-painted tags.
“A wave of anger just swept over me,” said City Manager Randy Mendosa. This is a level of destruction I’ve never seen in my career in Arcata.”
He said that the City has to address the problem, because as bad as the destruction was, things could have taken an even uglier turn.
“The potential of what could have happened with that many intoxicated people crowded together and breaking bottles – one person does a stupid thing and you have a riot,” he said. “We can’t tolerate that.”
According to Parks Supt. Dan Diemer, some 51 bags of trash and recyclables totaling 3,000 pounds were removed from the Plaza. McKinley’s base was pressure-washed to remove the graffiti.
Public Works and Parks workers were diverted from other jobs to spend the day restoring the Plaza to safe use. This delayed or prevented other work from being done, including maintenance, construction, sports field preparation and other tasks.
The total cost of the cleanup, not including the destroyed landscaping, was $3,600, Diemer said.
City officials will address some of the problems during the monthly liaison meeting with Humboldt State officials tomorrow, Nov. 10.
A Community Meeting will be held Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 8 a.m. at City Hall to consider ideas for preventing a reoccurrence.
Mayor Susan Ornelas said counterprogramming might be one approach to abating the problem.
“Some ideas I have had are to hold a sanctioned event there, with wristbands to get in, have cool old, maybe black and white movies being shown on the walls of buildings around the Plaza,” she said. “I have also thought that HSU should have a really rockin’ reggae, or whatever great dance band up at the college that night… On the punitive side, I want to charge the bars and liquor stores something for their part in fueling the mayhem.”
She said she also wanted to set up a citizen group to study whether the City could invigorate the nighttime entertainment scene with more wholesome late-night entertainment alternatives.
Peterson said the Halloween celebrants are a different kind of animal. “This is a unique crowd,” he said. “It’s not like the 4-20 crowd or the New Year’s Eve crowd. It’s almost like they put on a Halloween mask and they can become lawless.”