SF supervisors delay vote on Castro Theatre legislation after 'technical' amendment

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Monday October 16, 2023
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A Board of Supervisors committee has delayed a vote affecting the Castro Theatre after an amendment was added. Photo: Scott Wazlowski<br>
A Board of Supervisors committee has delayed a vote affecting the Castro Theatre after an amendment was added. Photo: Scott Wazlowski

One of the last hurdles for renovations to begin at the Castro Theatre was delayed by a Board of Supervisors committee Monday due to a technical amendment involving second-floor nighttime entertainment.

Without a change to the zoning for the main corridor in the city's LGBTQ neighborhood, the new operators of the venue will not be able to have a bar on the second floor for liquor sales.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors' Land Use and Transportation Committee had to continue its voting on the allowance for second-floor nighttime entertainment in the Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District to its next meeting for the second time in a row due to making amendments to the item.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who attended the meeting but is not on the committee, stated the motion to continue the item to October 23 was necessary because the amendment — which states that "the non-residential use size limitation shall not apply to Article 10 Landmark buildings located in the Castro NCD" and was approved 3-0 — was a substantive one.

"It's pretty technical but it eliminates a size restriction on nighttime entertainment uses that would otherwise apply to the Castro Theatre," Mandelman stated to the Bay Area Reporter after the vote.

If the committee votes yes next week, the issue will be forwarded to the full board, which will then have the opportunity to remove one of the last barriers to Another Planet Entertainment's plans to make extensive renovations and changes at the Castro Theatre, which it took over managing in January 2022.

B.A.R. readers will recall that in June, the board voted to remove an amendment from an interior landmarking designation it was voting on that would have landmarked fixed, orchestra-style seating at the Castro Theatre. APE's renovation plans hinge on being able to remove the fixed orchestra seating to make way for seating arrangements that can be moved in and out of the venue.

Following the supervisors' vote, the historic preservation and planning commissions on June 15 both approved a zoning ordinance that allows a conditional use authorization for second floor nighttime entertainment throughout the Castro commercial district.

No one appealed those votes, and now the board needs to weigh in with the proposed ordinance allowing the second-floor nighttime entertainment.

Theater issues

The imbroglio over the theater began nearly two years ago, when APE — which runs the Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium downtown — was announced as the new operator of the 101-year-old Castro Theatre.

Some Castro neighborhood organizations, and LGBTQ and film groups — such as the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District and the Castro Theatre Conservancy — formed the Friends of the Castro Theatre Coalition in opposition to the proposed changes.

APE has stated that it will screen films about one-third of the time the theater is open, which has dismayed moviegoers and many others.

"There's been a lot of talk about the Castro Theatre in this committee and at the full board," said Mandelman, who represents the Castro, at the October 16 committee hearing. "This is the tail end of that conversation — a change of zoning in the Castro that makes sense with or without the APE project."

Mandelman was followed by Audrey Maloney of the city's planning department, who reminded the committee that it had recommended the fixed, orchestra-style seating be landmarked back in May, but that this was rejected by the full board.

Maloney was followed by public comment: five people spoke in favor of the ordinance, two were opposed, and two wanted the issue returned to the planning department for more study, though they weren't opposed, per se.

Andrea Aiello, a lesbian who is the executive director of the Castro Community Benefit District, said she asked the bars and other businesses in the neighborhood what they thought of the proposed ordinance.

"Not one of them opposed this zoning change, and in fact several said they don't even see this as a change because pre-pandemic the people running the Castro Theatre would often get catering permits to bring in entertainment or alcohol-serving activities on the second floor," she said. "So they saw this as formalizing a practice done through a cumbersome permitting process, as a one-night kind of thing."

Mike Murray, a gay man who's co-chair of Neighbors for a Restored Castro Theatre, also urged a yes vote.

"APE's project has faced many months of delays, during which time the theater continues to deteriorate," he said. "Allowing nighttime entertainment on the second floor will remove one of the last remaining barriers to the project moving forward."

M Rocket spoke against the proposal, saying, "the threat to affordable housing on second-story venues is potentially threatened by this."

Tina Aguirre, a genderqueer Latinx person who is manager of the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, asked that the effects be studied more by the planning department.

"We'd like the planning department to be utilized to consider the impact on housing units for this type of legislation," Aguirre said. "The restaurant across the space from the Castro Theatre, that used to be a Thai restaurant, could be purchased to become a live event venue that would be detrimental to people living around the venue."

Jen Reck, the cultural district's advisory board executive co-chair, asked for a noise study and for limits on the hours of operation.

"We are not objecting to the change in the code itself," Reck said. "We are asking for the planning department to conduct additional study to ensure the change will be beneficial and not detrimental to the neighborhood."

Myrna Melgar, District 7 supervisor and chair of the committee, which also includes Board President and District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, all straight allies, motioned for the amendment, which was approved 3-0. The supervisors then voted 3-0 to move the vote to next week.

Gay APE spokesperson David Perry stated to the B.A.R. after the vote that "the matter was continued as expected today owing to a minor clerical change in the text. We expect the full board will take up the item in the coming weeks so we can get to work restoring the Castro Theatre."

The conservancy did not return a request for comment for this report as of press time.

The proposed ordinance was first brought to the committee October 2. At that time, Mandelman told the committee, "We learned just last week there was an amendment proposed by the planning commission that had not been added so we would appreciate two weeks."

Other LGBTQ actions at the committee

In another matter, the committee unanimously voted October 16 for a resolution of intent to establish a street plaza at Eagle Plaza, in the city's South of Market neighborhood.

"Our group has been among three hosting a monthly art event in Eagle plaza — SOMA Second Saturdays," said Angel Adeyoha, the head of Folsom Street, which puts on that street fair and the Up Your Alley street fair, during public comment. "I do think that, as is kind of illustrated by other items on the agenda, we have a tendency to mark history more than current and future needs, and while our history is important in the leather district, our current and future needs are kind of dire. So to have a space ... open and free to our community is crucial."

The committee also voted for a resolution authorizing plaques to be installed on the sidewalks at various historic locations in the Transgender District in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood. The resolution, introduced by gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who represents a sliver of the district on the Sixth Street corridor between Market and Howard streets where the plaques will be placed, initiates a process in the Public Works Code "to provide for the creation of a program for and installation of commemorative plaques" in the district, it states.

Breonna McCree, a woman of trans experience who is the co-executive director of the district, told the B.A.R., "Transgender history is crucial for promoting inclusivity and understanding within society."

"It highlights the diverse experiences and contributions of transgender individuals, enriching our collective knowledge of human experiences," McCree added. "Learning about transgender history helps combat prejudice and discrimination by shedding light on the challenges transgender people have faced and the progress that has been made in advocating for their rights. Understanding transgender history is a step toward a more equitable and accepting future, where everyone, regardless of their gender identity, can live authentically and without fear of discrimination or stigma."

Updated, 10/17/23: This article has been updated with comments from the co-executive director of the Transgender District.

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