The 2019 downtown Santa Cruz scene captured by dwdE115. Watch their video below.
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Civic Life

Halloween will return to downtown Santa Cruz, but not in full street party fashion

After being canceled in 2020, Halloween festivities are coming back downtown. Unlike previous years, roads will remain open to mitigate large gatherings, and facial coverings are recommended. Santa Cruz police will also bring back safety enhancement zones with triple fine penalties.

Halloween festivities will return to downtown Santa Cruz after last year’s pandemic cancellation — just not in the full pre-COVID-19 street party ways just yet.

Historically, Halloween in downtown starts early in the day and carries on well into the night. But officials say they’re expecting a much smaller crowd this year and are not closing down Pacific Avenue to car traffic, which has traditionally created a street festival atmosphere that has attracted thousands of costumed revelers.

“This is not a sanctioned event,” said Santa Cruz Police Deputy Chief Bernie Escalante. “Don’t come downtown and just take over the roadways. Come downtown all you want, enjoy yourselves, but stay on the sidewalk. It’ll be a little bit different this year. We’re hoping that with the pandemic, it’s still a little bit scaled back.”

Early events for the kids, families

Trick-or-treating will return to Pacific Avenue from 2-5 p.m., a family-oriented event that typically draws more than a thousand people. Jorian Wilkins, executive director of the Downtown Association, says almost all 250 downtown businesses have participated in the event.

“We’re not trying to necessarily advertise and make a big promotion out of it like we might do in times where we’re excited to draw large crowds,” Wilkins said. “I think this year we just want to be responsive to the families who want to come down and celebrate Halloween and be ready for them, and so the businesses are definitely going to be doing that.”

Wilkins has been in contact with the Santa Cruz County health department to ensure the event is COVID safe. The agency recommends all attendees wear a facial covering regardless of vaccination status even though the event will be outdoors. The department also recommends businesses hand out candy individually to discourage children from reaching into containers — and that everyone wash their hands before eating their treats.

Police preparations include triple fines

In addition to the COVID-19 safety recommendations, the Santa Cruz Police Department will not be shutting down Pacific Avenue to vehicle traffic on Halloween, an effort to discourage large crowds.

Escalante said the department hopes vehicular traffic will encourage attendees to stay on the sidewalk. Over the past two decades, Halloween night downtown has turned into the biggest party of the year and has become the city’s largest unofficial gathering.

By nightfall in 2019, crowds in downtown were estimated at over 8,000. Escalante says Halloween is right alongside the Fourth of July as the busiest day of the year for Santa Cruz police, with 23 arrests and 59 citations downtown alone in 2019.

From 5 p.m. on Oct. 29 to 7 a.m. on Nov. 1, SCPD will enact a safety enhancement zone encompassing all of downtown from Center Street to the San Lorenzo River. The safety enhancement zone authorizes the tripling of fines for violations that include littering, public consumption of alcohol and obstruction of pedestrian or vehicle traffic. In 2019, about 74% of citations given in downtown were triple-fine violations.

Triple-fine violations in the safety enhancement zone also include:

  • Public urination and defecation
  • Firing or discharging firearms
  • Noise that is unreasonably loud, raucous, or jarring, particularly between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.
  • Graffiti
  • Trespassing
  • Failing to comply with orders from a police officer or fire department staff
  • Stopping or parking in streets or no-parking zones

Escalante said the triple-fine violations are just one piece of the overall effort to make Halloween night safer in Santa Cruz.

“I think the downtown will look different in the sense that we’re not blocking off the whole downtown for people to come down and have a big party,” Escalante said. “Enjoy yourselves wherever you choose to partake in the festivities, but make good decisions.”

Other events across Santa Cruz leading up to Halloween include 13 Days of Halloween on the wharf, Creepy Carnival and the Halloween Horrors film competition at the London Nelson Center, and the Costume Family Roller Party downtown.

“We’re aware that everyone’s going to be celebrating holidays differently and we’re just really happy that we can be part of traditions that are really important in people’s lives,” Wilkins said. “We love the traditions downtown and we’re happy to be part of it.”