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“Pass system” and extra bathrooms developed to help downtown businesses on Zozobra night

SANTA FE, N.M. — Ray Sandoval thinks he has figured out a way for patrons to get access to downtown businesses when Zozobra is burned on Aug. 29, while protecting those merchants from an invasion of festival-goers needing a bathroom.

And while some 20 or so merchants getting a briefing from Sandoval, Zozobra Event committee chairman, Monday afternoon appeared to retain some skepticism of his plan, several expressed gratitude that he was trying to work with them.

“I’ve been in business here 25 years and I’ve never been invited to a meeting like this,” said Clarice Coffey, owner of Clarice’s Custom Tours on the Plaza, thanking Sandoval for his efforts.

A major issue in the past has been that people headed for dinner, an overnight stay, or shopping at Plaza-area businesses have been shunted away from that area on the night Old Man Gloom was being burned.

John Dressman, owner of Dressman’s Gifts, said he once was denied access to his own shop.

Sandoval said many of the problems stemmed from the time, some 17 years ago, when the Kiwanis Club switched Zozobra from being burned on a Friday to a Thursday, responding to violence that followed a Friday night burning.

Police and city officials were afraid that people would descend on the Plaza and try to take it over in protest of the change, he said. But, all these years later, they’ve been operating on somewhat the same security assumptions, he added.

Sandoval has designed on online “pass” system through which people making reservations at local restaurants and hotels can print out, or install on their mobile device, a credential saying they are OK’d to get through. Questioned about the potential for just anyone filling out such a credential or making copies, Sandoval contended that security systems are built in.

Actually, no pedestrians should be stopped from entering the Plaza area before the burning, but the credential is meant to be a backstop in case law enforcement personnel continue to enforce past practices and are unaware of the changes, he said.

The only time pedestrians will be barred from the Plaza, including those coming to or leaving area businesses, he said, is when people are leaving the Zozobra burning en masse fromĀ  9:30-10:15 p.m.

And, he said, portable bathrooms with lights will be set up outside the grounds at Ft. Marcy along the route where attendees are being routed. While the event will be set up to handle 50,000 people, Sandoval said he expects a crowd more in the neighborhood of 35,000 to 40,000.