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West Hollywood warns of curfew, fines if revelers show up for canceled Halloween Carnaval

A man with a long white snake around his shoulders in the middle of a street festival
A man argues with sheriffs Saturday night, October 31, 2020 in West Hollywood. The annual West Hollywood Carnaval on Halloween was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
(Francine Orr/ Los Angeles Times)

It’s typically one of the biggest parties of the year in West Hollywood, but like so many other events canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Halloween Carnaval won’t be happening in 2020.

Citing “super-spreader” potential, the city is reminding residents that its annual Halloween festival was canceled and said it will not hesitate to issue a curfew or citations if crowds show up.

The decision to nix the celebration — which regularly draws thousands of costumed revelers, DJs and partygoers to Santa Monica Boulevard — was made in May, but the West Hollywood City Council issued a reminder Thursday.

“We never come to these decisions lightly,” said West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath. “Of course we love to celebrate West Hollywood’s Carnaval every year and welcome people to the boulevard, but we know this year it’s just not safe to do that because of COVID-19.”

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L.A. County public health guidelines prohibit public gatherings of more than 10 people, Horvath said, and that limitation is just “not possible” with the crowd size the event typically draws.

As a result, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will be on hand to monitor compliance with local requirements and may issue a curfew, the city said. In addition, fines of up to $300 may be given to people and businesses that fail to follow public health protocols.

Sgt. Eric Moyer of the West Hollywood sheriff’s station said officials are hoping people will follow the guidelines but are taking steps to prepare for a crowd, just in case.

“Based on all the protests that went on in the summer, we just don’t want to be caught with our pants down on this,” he said. “We’re all getting prepared throughout the county, not just here.”

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L.A. County is reporting an increase in coronavirus cases, which has been linked in part to celebrations following the Lakers’ and Dodgers’ championship wins. Horvath said she doesn’t want West Hollywood to become the focal point of an outbreak after Halloween.

As a deterrent, she said, the city will not be closing Santa Monica Boulevard to vehicles as it usually does on Halloween.

“We won’t have the public safety setups that we normally do, with road blockades and closure redirection, so if people try to [congregate], it’s going to be a real mess,” she said. “It’s not going to be like years past.”

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The decision to cancel the Carnaval follows similar measures that West Hollywood took after canceling its annual Pride festival in June, and it will expand to include New Year’s Eve events, officials said.

West Hollywood’s Halloween Carnaval began in 1987 and has grown year by year. Over 100,000 people attended in 2019, according to the City Council.

But the Carnaval is more than just a party, said City Councilman John Duran. The holiday carries deep meaning for the historically inclusive city.

“I don’t know if people realize the significance of the holiday for LGBT people,” Duran said, noting that gay men and lesbians were once subject to arrests for cross-dressing. “We play dress-up all the time — we pretend to be straight, we pretend to be average or normal, we pretend to fit in — and Halloween night is one of those nights when we can finally let our hair down and be anything or anyone that we want, and it’s really deeply ingrained in our culture.”

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Duran said he has attended the Carnaval for more than 40 years, long before he joined the City Council. And although he supports the necessary public health measures, he is also said that it’s not the first time the LGBTQ community has been faced with a pandemic and that officials have to be realistic about people’s desire to be together.

“I imagine tomorrow night I’m going to see masked-up Ruth Bader Ginsburgs, Donald Trumps and Stormy Daniels out on the boulevard,” he said, “so we have to be practical. People are going to dress up, they’re going to celebrate Thanksgiving, they’re going to set up Christmas trees, they’re going to light their Hanukkah candles, and they’re going to want to gather. Let’s start to talk about a mask as being a modern-day version of the condom for the AIDS epidemic. Put on your mask!”

But it’s not just the LGBTQ community that will take a hit. West Hollywood businesses and restaurants that look forward to the annual boost in foot traffic will be limited to takeout, delivery and other options that meet current public health guidelines. Horvath said that West Hollywood has already seen a 10% to 15% revenue reduction in 2020 because of the pandemic but that public safety has to take precedence.

“We’re not going to be able to open up more businesses, we’re not going to be able to get back to that nightlife state that everyone loves in West Hollywood, until we know we can keep everyone safe,” she said, “and so it’s really important that people stay home.”

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In place of the spooky bash, West Hollywood is imploring community members to stay home and partake in safe Halloween activities to prevent the spread of the virus. Permissible activities include online parties, drive-by events, drive-in movies, yard decorations and pumpkin carving.

Health and government officials also recommend skipping trick-or-treating. Día de los Muertos celebrations on Nov. 1 and 2 are also canceled, the city said.

Councilman John D’Amico had one additional suggestion for people looking for safe ways to celebrate the holiday this year:

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“Do something really spooky on Halloween, like read up on all the ballot propositions and candidates, discuss them with family and friends, fill out your ballots and make a plan to drop them off at an official drop box or polling place,” he said.


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