Castro Merchants prez Asten Bennett cruises to reelection

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday April 4, 2024
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Cliff's Variety co-owner Terry Asten Bennett was easily reelected as president of the Castro Merchants Association at the group's April 4 meeting. Photo: John Ferrannini
Cliff's Variety co-owner Terry Asten Bennett was easily reelected as president of the Castro Merchants Association at the group's April 4 meeting. Photo: John Ferrannini

Castro Merchants Association President Terry Asten Bennett and other incumbent board members rode an easy path to reelection at the organization's April 4 meeting.

In other matters, members heard about parking enforcement, and the need for donations from the volunteer safety group Castro Community on Patrol.

Association elects leaders

Asten Bennett, a straight ally who co-owns Cliff's Variety at 479 Castro Street, years ago served as the merchant group's leader and stepped up last year to again head the organization after the former president was ousted, as the Bay Area Reporter reported at that time. This year she was unopposed.

"I love our community and I am proud to serve as the Castro Merchants president for the well-being of our community," she stated to the B.A.R. "I can't do the impossible but it doesn't stop me from trying.

"And if you are a merchant in the Castro, and you haven't yet joined or renewed for this year, it isn't too late," she added. "The more merchants we represent, the louder our voice is heard."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman was present at the meeting; he thanked the board candidates for stepping up to the plate.

"Thanks to all of you who've stepped up to run for the board," Mandelman said. "This is a very important organization and Terry: thank you for your work, and your second tour of duty. Terry has been on us about the many challenges on Castro Street."

Those include commercial vacancies, which have declined in the past year as the B.A.R. recently reported, as well as tent encampments and drug use.

"There's still a little party in the Castro at night and if you wake up at 6, 7 in the morning, as I do, you see the effects of that," Mandelman said. "At a larger level, San Francisco needs to be doing more — as I've said for years — to try and end unsheltered homelessness."

The board is rounded out mostly by other incumbents, with the only newcomer being straight ally Dimitra Fanourgiakis of Agean Delights at 545 Castro Street. Fanourgiakis' business opened during the COVID pandemic.

"All my life I've supported freedom, equality, justice, and volunteered with nonprofit organizations," she said, making her pitch to the members. "It's not just a shop; it's a place to promote love and acceptance, and that's why we chose the Castro. We love the Castro and I'd love to be on the board and I'd love to bring more people."

There were two elections. The first to elect people to the board was done via secret ballot. The second election to board positions was done by a show of hands.

Nate Bourg, a gay man who is a co-owner of The Academy SF, a social club at 2166 Market Street (where merchants hold their meetings), was reelected and was subsequently reelected treasurer with zero no votes and no abstentions. He said he is "enthusiastic to do it again and serve to the best of my ability."

Desmond Morgan, a gay man who is co-owner of Eureka Sky, a cannabis dispensary at 3989 17th Street, was reelected and was subsequently reelected secretary with zero no votes and no abstentions. Morgan said he "would love to continue to help bring more foot traffic back to the neighborhood."

Jenn Meyer, a straight ally who owns Local Take, a gift shop at 4122 18th Street, was reelected and subsequently reelected vice president with zero no votes and no abstentions. Meyer did not return a phone request for comment as of press time.

The board was rounded out by members Fanourgiakis; Patrick Batt, a gay man and former merchants president who owns Auto Erotica at 4077 A 18th Street; Max Khusid, who identifies as an LGBTQ advocate and owns Art House SF gallery at 2324 Market Street; Steve Martel, owner of PO Plus at 584 Castro Street; and Leon Shannon, owner of Skin on Market at 2299 Market Street. All nine positions were filled. (Martel and Shannon were not present at the meeting.)

Traffic enforcement up in Castro

In other news, Thomas Harvey, captain of the San Francisco Police Department's Mission Station, told the merchants that parking enforcement in the station's purview — including much of the Castro — is up.

In February, officers issued 150 moving violations for traffic enforcement in the area. "That doesn't cover advisements," Harvey said, referring to situations in which only a verbal warning is given. In March, 270 moving violations were issued, he said.

The reason for the uptick, he said, is that "from time to time we get specific complaints" about an area having traffic issues.

Mandelman said that "we are super excited, grateful and glad" for the parking enforcement.

"It's still a fraction of where they were at 10 years ago, and it's not entirely their fault," Mandelman said. "We have changed the rules on them, because of all the paperwork, but we need to do this to reduce fatalities and crashes."

Harvey briefly mentioned a sideshow that occurred at Market and Castro streets around 12:30 a.m. March 17. He said sideshows cause "great concern for everyone," but it's "hard to predict where it might happen." As the B.A.R. reported at the time, a sideshow is an illegal demonstration of auto stunts, sometimes held on freeways, at intersections, or on vacant lots. Police are searching for vehicles that participated in the one in the Castro, which began after police broke up another sideshow at South Van Ness Avenue and 13th Street.

In 2025, upper Market Street should be getting a camera the city is adding in an attempt to stop speeding, Mandelman said. According to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency it will be on Market Street from Danvers to Douglass. Another one near Liberty Hill on the edge of the Castro district will be installed on Guerrero Street from 19th Street to 20th Street.

There are currently 13 intersections with red-light cameras, none of which are in the Castro, according to SFMTA's website. The California Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that red-light cameras are constitutional, though some legal experts disagree.

Eureka Sky's Morgan asked about the forthcoming ban on right turns at red lights at some 200 mostly-downtown intersections. SFMTA approved the bans last month, supported by Mayor London Breed, as a way to reduce traffic fatalities; while most cities allow right-on-red turns some, like Seattle or Washington, D.C., have citywide bans on the practice.

Mandelman emphasized this is not a citywide ban, though some, he said, believe that would be a good idea.

"If we prevent the behaviors most associated with running someone over, that's the thinking," he said.

Castro patrol seeks donations

Finally, merchants heard from officials with Castrol Community on Patrol, the volunteer safety group in the LGBTQ neighborhood. As the B.A.R. previously reported, CCOP will be formally honored by the FBI on April 19. (Local FBI agents presented the award in San Francisco last month so that people could join in congratulating the group.) CCOP also recently received commendations from Breed and the Board of Supervisors.

However, the recognitions come during troubled times for the organization. It had been fiscally sponsored by SF-SAFE, the nonprofit that is now the subject of a criminal investigation by the San Francisco District Attorney's office for alleged misuse of public funds.

A city controller's report found that SF-SAFE spent $80,000 of public money from the police department on expenses not eligible to be reimbursed, including a trip to Lake Tahoe and limousine service. The nonprofit's executive director, Kyra Worthy, was subsequently fired.

Mission Local reported that SF-SAFE — which is now out of money and no longer receiving police funding — owes half a million dollars to its landlord at an expansive space in the Mission neighborhood. Former workers at the nonprofit filed a labor complaint late last week to try and get some of their unpaid wages.

In November 2023, weeks before the scandal broke, SF-SAFE ended its affiliation with CCOP without explanation, according to Greg Carey, a gay man who is chair of the 18-year-old volunteer safety group.

"We were told in August we had $82,000 available in funds from the city and private donations and then we were told in November we have $0 available and had bills of $11,000," he said. "We are now looking for donations to pay off the people we owe money to, and then continue with our services."

CCOP is asking people to donate through a GoFundMe, which has raised $1,980 as of press time. Alternatively, in order to avoid the 3.9% GoFundMe handling charge, checks can be mailed to Castro Community on Patrol, 584 Castro Street No. 731, San Francisco, CA 94114.

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