SF supes approve Castro Theatre second floor plans

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday October 24, 2023
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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has voted in favor of an ordinance that would allow liquor sales on second floors of buildings in the Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District. Photo: Scott Wazlowski
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has voted in favor of an ordinance that would allow liquor sales on second floors of buildings in the Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District. Photo: Scott Wazlowski

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 to remove 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.

Board President Aaron Peskin was the lone dissent at the October 24 meeting regarding an allowance for second-floor nighttime entertainment in the Castro Street Neighborhood Commercial District. Since the measure is an ordinance, a second and final vote will take place next week.

Peskin sits on the Land Use and Transportation Committee, which moved the ordinance to the full board October 23, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported (https://www.ebar.com/story.php?ch=news&sc=news&id=329272). At Peskin's request, the committee moved the ordinance forward without a positive recommendation.

Peskin also cast the lone dissenting vote against landmarking the theater's interior without including fixed, orchestra-style seating back in June, as the B.A.R. 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. October 23 if he planned to vote against the ordinance, Peskin responded, "I just want to be consistent with my earlier votes."

Peskin told the B.A.R. after the October 24 vote, "I continue to believe that the historic Castro Theatre should remain the renowned film house that it has been for decades and that it is still economically viable."

The Board of Supervisors' June decision to go forward with the landmarking the interior of the theater 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 the board had to weigh in with the ordinance allowing the second-floor nighttime entertainment.

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 by the three-supervisor panel after having been pushed back twice, on October 1 and October 16. Both times it had to be delayed because it required a technical amendment, according to gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro LGBTQ neighborhood on the board.

Mandelman hailed the ordinance's passage to the B.A.R.

"I'm glad of course that the ordinance passed," he stated. "The zoning change would have made sense with or without APE's project. I am now looking forward to APE's restoration of the Castro Theatre and eager to see its full activation as soon as possible."

Tina Aguirre, a genderqueer person who is director of the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, told the B.A.R. Tuesday, "I have requested that Supervisor Mandelman meet with the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District to discuss questions we have regarding the impacts on residents and small businesses."

"We have not received a set day and time for this meeting," Aguirre stated. "I have hope that we will be able to work with the supervisor's office on how this rezoning legislation is implemented on a case by case basis so that tenants' (including renters and small business proprietors) needs are taken into account when spaces change use to an entertainment business."

Mandelman told the B.A.R. that he hadn't heard of the request, stating, "I'm always happy to meet with the District; not aware of Tina's request."

Joe Sangirardi, a gay man who is the co-chair of Restore the Castro Theatre, stated after the vote, "We're thankful for Supervisor Mandelman's leadership. The Castro Theatre's future is bright and so too is the future of our neighborhood. Onward!"

Aguirre also spoke last week at the committee meeting 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."

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 and the conservancy did not return requests for comment for this report by press time.

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.

Updated, 10/24/23: This article has been updated with comments from the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, Supervisor Mandelman, and Restore the Castro Theatre.

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