SF supervisors to vote on measure affecting Castro Theatre second floor plans

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Monday October 23, 2023
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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is set to vote Tuesday on removing one of the last hurdles to renovating the Castro Theatre. Photo: Scott Wazlowski<br>
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is set to vote Tuesday on removing one of the last hurdles to renovating the Castro Theatre. Photo: Scott Wazlowski

A committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to forward to the full board one of the last hurdles for renovations to begin at the Castro Theatre that will determine if the movie palace can sell liquor on the second floor.

The board is expected to vote Tuesday, October 24, on the allowance for second-floor nighttime entertainment in the Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District. However, the Land Use and Transportation Committee voted to send it on without a positive recommendation at its October 23 meeting.

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

District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar, the committee's chair, had made a motion to send it on as a committee report with a positive recommendation. But board president Aaron Peskin asked Melgar to withdraw it.

"In order to stay consistent with my previous positions as it relates to the Castro Theatre, I would ask we send it without recommend as a committee report," Peskin said.

Peskin cast the lone dissenting vote against landmarking the theater's interior without including fixed, orchestra-style seating back in June, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. He has also been critical of Another Planet Entertainment, which took over theater operations last year.

At a land use committee meeting in April, Peskin admonished APE and said it had not met its obligations at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, which it also manages, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

When asked by the B.A.R. Monday if he plans to vote against the ordinance, Peskin responded, "I just want to be consistent with my earlier votes."

The Board of Supervisors' June decision to go forward with the landmarking without protecting the orchestra seats was the death knell for those forces hoping to stop APE's plans for making significant changes to the space.

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.

Melgar withdrew her motion, made the motion Peskin asked for, and then the committee voted 3-0 to forward the ordinance to the board without recommendation.

Only two people gave public comment at the October 23 committee meeting — Andrea Aiello, a lesbian who is the executive director of the Castro Community Benefit District, and her associate, Ralph Hibbs, who is on the CBD board.

"I was here last week but I wanted to come again to affirm the CBD board's support for this ordinance and zoning change, bringing the Castro NCD in alignment with the rest of the neighborhood as far as zoning is concerned," Aiello said.

Added Hibbs: "I'm here to support what Andrea said."

The ordinance was voted on after having been pushed back twice, on October 1 and October 16. Both times it had to be pushed back because it required a technical amendment, according to gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro neighborhood on the board.

Tina Aguirre, a genderqueer person who is director of the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, spoke last week about the need for further study about the potential effects of the ordinance on the neighborhood.

"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."

Aguirre stated to the B.A.R. on October 23 that "my understanding is that today's voting to forward this to the whole Board of Supervisors without a positive recommendation is that it will allow for more discussion amongst the supervisors."

Aguirre reiterated that the planning department should investigate and report on how the ordinance may change the Castro neighborhood.

"My hope is that the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District will be part of a discussion with SF Planning on each instance in which a space is changed to an entertainment business," Aguirre stated. "This will help ensure that renters, residents, and small business tenants of the neighborhood will be considered when a space around them changes use to become an entertainment-focused business. The impacts include soundproofing, hours of operation, and ongoing and open communication regarding sound issues between entertainment businesses and the people around them. The cultural district also looks forward to working with the Entertainment Commission on future votes about these issues on a case-by-case basis."

David Perry, a gay man who is a spokesperson for APE, stated that "we look forward to a vote by the full board that will allow for the long needed renovation of the Castro Theatre."

Joe Sangirardi, a gay man who is co-chair of Restore the Castro Theatre, hopes the board approves the ordinance.

"APE's plans for the Castro Theater have broad support from the Planning Commission, the Historic Preservation Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and most importantly the community," Sangirardi stated. "We hope the Board of Supervisors will remove one of the last remaining hurdles to the project by approving the proposed planning code amendment."

Mandelman and the Castro Theatre Conservancy did not return requests for comment.

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 aforementioned 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.

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