Tense meeting topples Alan as Castro Merchants' prez

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday May 4, 2023
Share this Post:
Castro Merchants Association President Terrance Alan, right, fielded a question from Alex Lemberg, far left, during a tense meeting May 4 that saw Alan ousted from his leadership position. Photo: John Ferrannini
Castro Merchants Association President Terrance Alan, right, fielded a question from Alex Lemberg, far left, during a tense meeting May 4 that saw Alan ousted from his leadership position. Photo: John Ferrannini

Terrance Alan, president of the Castro Merchants Association, was ousted Thursday in a leadership shakeup following a tense meeting that saw tempers flare and even threats of a lawsuit.

A gay man who is the proprietor of Flore Dispensary, Alan ran for the board but was not reelected.

When asked for a statement, Alan stated to the Bay Area Reporter that he will "need some time."

Alan had been under fire in recent weeks from merchants who said he was not accurately representing their views on the Castro Theatre. But disagreement over the association's own governing rules also played a role. Earlier in the meeting Alan had proposed moving the election to another time, which was opposed with shouts and boos from association members present at the meeting.

The association's new officers, who were elected to the merchants' board the same meeting, include both familiar and fresh faces — Cliff's Variety co-owner Terry Asten Bennett, a straight ally and past president, was elected president; Local Take owner Jenn Meyer, a straight ally, was elected vice president; Academy SF owner Nate Bourg, who is gay, was elected treasurer; and Eureka Sky co-owner Desmond Morgan, who is gay, was elected secretary.

Asten Bennett told the membership at the meeting that she wants to focus more on "things we can do," like addressing street conditions block-by-block, as opposed to things she said the association can't, like forcing reluctant landlords to rent empty storefronts.

"I can't change the police presence or laws that impact [street conditions] but I can make sure we have a loud voice in the places where those things can be changed," Asten Bennett told the B.A.R. after the meeting. "We can keep clean storefronts and cameras. I want to encourage that. ... I really want to move forward with positivity and getting good results for all the merchants."

She noted in her first address as president that the association's good relations with City Hall and police are jeopardized if the board's public statements don't reflect the membership's views.

"Regardless of whether I agree or disagree, my job is to represent you," she said to the membership.

The new officers of the Castro Merchants Association are, from left, Terry Asten Bennett, president; Nate Bourg, treasurer; Jenn Meyer, vice president; and Desmond Morgan, secretary. Photo: John Ferrannini  

Dispute over bylaws
Dissatisfaction with Alan had grown in recent weeks. Asten Bennett, Meyer, gay Auto Erotica owner Patrick Batt, gay MX3 Fitness owner Dave Karraker, and others accused Alan of trying to change the organization's bylaws in an April 26 board meeting that the members had not been notified was happening.

Alan was also accused, by his former co-president Karraker, no less, of giving prospective board candidates less than 12 hours to reply to an email to be listed as candidates for the election. Alan said he'd made a verbal announcement at the prior month's meeting.

Alan initially was not going to allow any write-in candidates, or any members to declare their candidacy the day of the meeting.

"Changes in bylaws ... need to be sent to the members," Asten Bennett said. "I'm prepared to file a lawsuit."

Alan questioned the assertion that members had to be notified, saying these were not "significant changes." Terry Beswick, a gay man, who until Thursday served as treasurer, agreed, saying "previous bylaws do not require a notification of a special meeting."

Attorney Alex Lemberg, a nonbinary person who is president of the Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, said that in any case, state law supersedes the bylaws, and California Corporation Code 7150 requires that members approve the bylaws.

Asten Bennett and Batt, also a former president, argued that the long-standing precedent of the organization is to allow people to declare their candidacy at the time of the election.

"In past elections the membership could stand up and say 'I want to be on the board,'" Batt said.

Karraker argued that the absence of a secretary made any bylaw changes null and void.

Castro Theatre
When Beswick said, "the reason we are having this conflict is the Castro Theatre," the room swelled into an uproar.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, the Castro Community Benefit District circulated a petition among neighborhood business owners unconditionally endorsing Another Planet Entertainment's plans. The CBD did so without informing the merchants' association.

APE, which took over management of the theater in January 2022, wants to, among other changes, remove the orchestra seating and replace it with a movable floor to allow for film screenings and dancing at concerts.

Last month, the merchants' association voted to endorse APE's plans but with conditions.

"We do not see eye-to-eye on APE," Lemberg said to Beswick, referring to a difference of opinion on the Castro Theatre with Asten Bennett, who supports APE. "But we are completely 100% aligned" on the bylaws issue.

Asten Bennett told Alan that in the face of overwhelming support for allowing people to declare their candidacy that day, he had no choice but to yield.

"If you don't allow it, you push us to go to a no confidence vote, which you don't want," she said.

After the membership voted sweepingly to allow the election to move forward with write-in and same-day candidates, Masood Samereie, a straight ally and former president, nominated himself and made a plea to the members to unify.

"I miss the community we had — the camaraderie — and the support in the pandemic," said Samereie, who was the group's leader at the onset of COVID-19. "Everyone was there to make it happen. ... We can make it happen again."

The process to change the bylaws will start from scratch with the new leadership, Asten Bennett said.

"For a change that massive, particularly things that change how the members vote, that has to be vetted by the membership, so we are going to go back to the drawing board," Asten Bennett told the B.A.R. after the meeting. "Bylaws are literally a contract between the membership and the board and when there's such a massive overhaul there has to be membership buy-in."

'Peace in our time'
Regarding the Castro Theatre, one of the merchants' conditions was that gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman's office accept an economic impact report from APE and that APE complete another one if the first report is found unacceptable.

But on Thursday, Mandelman said that while he "appreciates the confidence and trust placed in my office by this august gathering of small business leaders," he did not feel competent to ascertain whether APE's economic impact report was sufficient.

The other condition was "APE's good-faith participation in negotiations convened by Supervisor Mandelman."

This was the result of a compromise between Alan, who'd proposed three conditions initially, and Asten Bennett, who had signed the CBD petition of unconditional endorsement for APE.

"I did not say I would do this," Mandelman explained.

Alan said, "It would be my hope your office would forward" the report to San Francisco Controller Ben Rosenfield; Karraker argued that because Mandelman excised himself, the conditions should be stricken.

When asked if both sides in the theater imbroglio were negotiating in good faith, Mandelman said, "Yeah. I asked them to come and they did." Then he seemed to backtrack when he was informed that was a condition of the merchants' approval.

"It's a hard thing to say," he said.

Mandelman said there is an "existential" disagreement between the Castro Theatre Conservancy, which supports the orchestra seats remaining fixed, and APE. An agreement was close but the gap could not be bridged, he added.

"I want us to have peace in our time, but it's where we have an existential disagreement," he said.

Nonetheless, "we're still a democracy that does not control all private actors," Mandelman said.

The merchants will reconsider the APE endorsement decision at its next meeting, June 1, the first day of Pride Month, Asten Bennett said.

The remainder of the new merchants' board consists of Aria Properties owner Samereie; Art House SF owner Max Khusid; Skin on Market owner Leon Shannon; Castro Street Chevron President David Shagun; and PO Plus owner Steve Martel.

The board has a maximum of nine slots, all of which were filled in Thursday's vote.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.