By Sam Laird

By now you’ve probably seen the full-page advertisement depicting a handcuffed clown heading into a Santa Cruz County Jail cell. "Stay smart and sober," it warns, because "this Halloween there is nothing funny about clowning around downtown."
This ad is just one of many the city of Santa Cruz has placed in local print, radio and television media in an effort to clean up and calm down its spirited Halloween downtown street party.
Last year, when up to 20,000 revelers arrived on Pacific Avenue, seven people were stabbed in gang-related attacks and 44 were arrested for being drunk in public.
Mayor Cynthia Mathews described the night as "a maxed-out situation."
This year, however, the city is taking extra precautions-bringing in 100 law enforcement officers from the Santa Cruz Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and other local police departments to keep watch.
In an apparent move aimed at protecting public safety, health, and welfare, the City Council has also declared the downtown area a "Safety Enhancement Zone," meaning that from noon on Halloween until noon the next day, many Santa Cruz Municipal Code violations will be subject to triple fines.
Among other violations, drunken debauchers could end up paying the following after triple fines and court costs:
$480 for an open container of alcohol.
$576 for noise control or urinating in public.
$1,056 for abuse or mutilation of trees, plants, and lawns.
Mathews told City on a Hill Press that the city budget for the evening is $35,000, with most of it going to cover overtime for officers, additional lighting, and the preceding media campaign.
"There was general acknowledgment after Halloween last year that things have gotten very out of hand. We are on the precipice of some very serious consequences," Mathews said. "Someone could have easily died in the stabbings last year, so you don’t just wait passively for that to happen again."
Mathews said that last Halloween the county’s ambulances were all occupied elsewhere, forcing wounded victims to be airlifted to emergency care by helicopter.
"After last year, different city departments, university representatives, downtown merchants, and the local ambulance company formed a task force to provide better logistics for emergency access as well as severe consequences for people coming downtown and acting inappropriately," Mathews said.
One outcome of the task force was the ordinance allowing the city council to declare date-specific and geographically-confined Safety Enhancement Zones. These may also be used for other large, boisterous gatherings, most likely New Year’s Eve. Similar strategies have been used by other cities, such as San Luis Obispo and Chico, to curb their own wild celebrations.
This Halloween’s Safety Enhancement Zone is the rectangular area outlined by Chestnut Street, the San Lorenzo River, Water Street, and Laurel Street.
However, the zone’s increased fines have struck some as unduly harsh and misdirected.
"It doesn’t seem fair if annoying but relatively harmless drunken college students and locals end up paying a huge price because a bunch of gangsters ran around stabbing each other last year," said Kristy Nguyen, a third-year College Ten student.
Mayor Mathews said that gang violence isn’t going to be officers’ only priority; the triple fines are "intended to deal with all situations that are a threat to public safety."
"Officers always use their judgment, but if they see some activity that’s a threat to others, then they will intervene," she said. "We wouldn’t have taken such expensive precautions unless we believed there is a significant safety threat."
William Scott, who has worked at Pacific Ave Pizza & Grille downtown for three years, said that Halloween is so good for business that his store has to put an extra person on shift that night. Last year, one teenager smashed a skateboard against the store’s front window near closing time, though otherwise the evening was "not that bad." Scott said he understands the need for enhanced security measures, but hopes they aren’t too strict.
"I’ve noticed in the past that police have been pretty lenient for a lot of things," Scott said. "Hopefully they’ll still be lenient on people that are just drunk having fun. But, the police are there for our safety. For a lot of people, gang violence is very unnerving."