F. Castro /SFVS

Gustavo Santiago is waiting for trick-or-treaters at his frighteningly-decorated home near Newton and Fifth Streets. The City of San Fernando is not prohibiting trick-or-treating, but it is discouraging it along with the health guidelines.

Some cities like Beverly Hills have banned trick-or-treating this Halloween. Other cities like Santa Clarita will allow it.

After postponing a decision for two weeks, the San Fernando City Council decided at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 19, to follow the county health guidelines and simply discourage trick-or-treating due to the continuing health pandemic.

When Halloween activities were first brought up during the council’s Oct. 5 meeting, the body could not agree on how to approach the annual tradition this year. Councilmember Sylvia Ballin said she was in favor of allowing trick-or-treating — albeit with some precautions — and other council members even floated the idea of a drive-by candy giveaway.

On Monday, the Council opted to follow the county’s lead in recommending against trick-or-treating, leaving the decision to go out in search of candy to families and individuals.

The City plans to place electronic traffic signs notifying residents that door-to-door trick-or-treating is not recommended. The San Fernando Police Department would place those signs along an area that annually draws hundreds and even thousands of people costumed as ghosts, witches and superheroes on Oct. 31. That area — Orange Grove, between Fourth and Fifth Streets — is “very busy, traditionally, that night,” noted Police Chief Tony Vairo at the meeting.

Indeed, the location attracts a heavy amount of pedestrian traffic on Halloween that spills into the streets, and lasts well into the night. In recent years, all kinds of vendors have set up shop there.

“We’ll do our best to get the sign up and activated, and get the message out as quickly as possible,” Vairo said, adding that SFPD officers will also try to be “as visible as we can” on Orange Grove on Halloween, adding more patrols in the area.

City Manager Nick Kimball said city officials could also place K-rails with large signs on the sidewalks in high-traffic areas, holding up large format printed signs that have information recommending against trick-or-treating.

The idea is to avoid the tradition this year because it could pose health problems for children and people coming into contact with one another without masks or social distancing.

The Los Angeles county Health Department recommends against trick-or-treating, and has banned carnivals, festivals, live entertainment and haunted house attractions this year. Instead the department recommends having online parties, costume contests, and drive-thru events where occupants remain in their vehicles at all times.

Still giving out candy

Some residents are still planning to hand out candy, but in a socially distant manner.

One of them is Gustavo Santiago, whose front yard is an amalgam of skeletons, skulls, tombstones and pumpkins.

Inspired by his kids, Santiago loves to decorate his home, located near Newton and Fifth Streets. The scary setup changes yearly — adding lights, including a new frightening element here and there, or eliminating others. It has become a tradition, and on Halloween the illuminated display is a favorite for photos and children looking for candy.

Santiago said this year he plans to hand out goodies using an 8-feet long PVC pipe to offer the pre-packed candy bags to trick-or-treaters, and ensure safe distancing. That way there’s no close contact with trick-or-treaters.

“I think that with some precautions, you can still give candy,” Santiago said. “Each home has to have its [setup] so kids don’t have to touch things.”

 He expects there to be fewer trick-or-treaters this year. But there will still be some out there, even amid the pandemic. That’s why he plans to halve the $200 he usually spends on candy.

“It won’t be the same as other years. There will be less people, but there will be some,” he says. And Santiago will be ready to hand them some candy.

Other Council Items

The City is still accepting applications for food basket giveaways for eligible residents. So far, 78 households have received the baskets loaded with products worth about $250.

Work continues along a 1.27-mile stretch of Glenoaks Boulevard, between Arroyo and Hubbard Streets where about 21,500 cars pass each day. The work involves new traffic lights with protected left-turn signals, new asphalt, creation of ADA sidewalk ramps and driveways and LED lights.

Matthew Baumgardner, director of Public Works, said work on the $3 million project — paid in part by a $1.3 million grant, as well as city sewer and water funds — should be completed in November.

J. Diego Ibanez, director of finance, gave a preliminary report saying the City had $3.6 million in its reserves — an increase of $1.8 million from the last fiscal year—as of Sept 30. But the pandemic is expected to have a detrimental impact on San Fernando’s finances; it has already led to a freeze of large capital purchases and 10% reduction in all City department spending (except for the police department), as well as a deferral of loan payments and a retirement incentive for eligible workers.

Ibanez said the City spent $250,000 in PPE (personal protective equipment) in fiscal year 2019-2020 that ended June 30, and another $111,000 so far for this fiscal year.

The City has already spent its $311,000 CARES Act money allocation, he said.