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Politics & Policy

Battle over SF’s Castro Theatre comes to a head in pivotal board vote

The Castro Theatre’s marquee brags about the “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once” premiere in San Francisco on March 20, 2022. The googly eyes are a reference to a joke in the film. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

This week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will hold a pivotal vote in the ongoing saga over the Castro Theatre. The board will also vote to approve a labor agreement with the city’s firefighters and urge a name change for one of Golden Gate Park’s more charming attractions. 

Apart from regular business, supervisors may also address the closely-watched Banko Brown case: Board President Aaron Peskin said Monday that he’ll be introducing a resolution urging the California Attorney General and the U.S. Department of Justice to review the evidence after District Attorney Brooke Jenkins reaffirmed her initial decision not to charge Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, a Walgreens security guard who fatally shot Brown last month.

Later in the week, the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee is scheduled to hold multiple hearings on some of the city’s hot-button topics, ranging from police overtime to the political antics of one of San Francisco’s most influential affordable housing operators. 

As always, the wonks can sift thoroughly through the details in this week’s agenda

Castro Drama Premieres at the Full Board 

On Tuesday, a pivotal vote on the future of the Castro Theatre will likely dominate the board’s regular agenda. 

At issue is one in a number of planned changes to the landmark status and zoning uses of the legendary cinema—in this case, what changes the operator Another Planet Entertainment can make to the main level. Another Planet is seeking to modify the floor to accommodate uses other than film screenings.

Preservationists have other ideas, and the result has been public comment marathons at the Historic Preservation Commission and the supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee

People in the Castro Theater in San Francisco
The 100-year-old Castro Theatre was the site of raucous town hall on Aug. 12, 2022, as cinema fans and LGBTQ+ community members voiced opinions about Another Planet Entertainment’s planned changes to the venue. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard

The commission approved the proposed changes. But Board President Aaron Peskin and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, both members of the land use committee, amended the plan to mandate fixed seating and sent it to the full board. Peskin also has a beef with Another Planet over promised renovations to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium that reportedly haven’t materialized

Committee chair and District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar opposed the amendment, and the Castro’s home supervisor, Rafael Mandelman, isn’t a fan either. He’s announced that he will offer amendments to change the legislation back

“It has been my hope all along to find a resolution that […] activates the Theater as much as possible, contributes to the neighborhood economy and allows for much-needed and long-deferred investments in the building,” said Mandelman in a statement. 

Given the number of people who have been organized over this issue, the Castro Theatre discussion will likely take up most of the board’s time on Tuesday. The vote on the matter will also be close. Hopefully, there will be an intermission, but you’ll have to bring your own popcorn. 

And in case you thought this was the end of the Castro Theatre saga, there’s almost certain to be sequels. The Planning and Historic Preservation Commissions are holding a joint meeting Thursday to discuss more changes to the theater, including zoning changes to allow nighttime entertainment and bar uses on the first and second floors. Stay tuned. 

Firefighters’ Agreements, Stow Lake Name Change

Firefighters carry equipment along 22nd Avenue. | Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

The board is also set to approve new labor agreements for the city’s firefighters Tuesday. The agreement includes wage increases of 10.75% over three years, retention and holiday premiums, and a pilot program for emergency childcare reimbursement for those working mandatory overtime. 

The agreements were recommended unanimously by the board’s oversight committee on May 4, despite concerns over yet another major department relying on mandatory overtime to provide full service. During public comment, firefighters testified to retention and staffing issues.

The board approved $65 million for additional overtime for ambulance personnel May 2, and $25 million in additional overtime for police March 21 after a long political fight

Another notable vote Tuesday is a long-percolating resolution urging the Recreation and Park Department to come up with a new name for Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. 

The lake’s namesake, 19th century Assemblymember William Stow, was a virulent antisemite who actually proposed a “Jew Tax” designed to bankrupt Jewish-owned businesses. 

Thursday Hearings Star TODCO, PG&E

John Elberling poses for a portrait on Aug. 29, 2022. Elberling is the vice president of TODCO—a SoMA-based affordable housing group that exercises significant political power in the city. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Wonks who are tired of the Castro Theatre drama might wish to save their SFGovTV viewing for this Thursday’s meeting of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee, which will feature several blockbuster hearings:

  • Pacific Gas and Electric’s fire and outage response issues. Peskin requested this hearing over slow response to a March 26 fire in Jackson Square, which ended up causing a five-day power outage affecting almost 10,000 customers.
  • City contracts with controversial affordable housing operator TODCO (Tenants and Owners Development Corporation). As reported earlier by The Standard, TODCO and its powerful director, John Elberling, diverted funds that could’ve gone toward tenants to political campaigning. Over the last 10 years, TODCO has more than doubled its revenues while cutting the share of revenue it spends on its low-income and disabled residents. Instead, it’s ramped up political spending, including $450,000 on an ill-conceived “Amazon Tax” that had to be yanked from the ballot last year. 

No word on what the reviews will be, but there’s definitely something for everyone here.