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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

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News + PoliticsMaybe, finally, a decision on the Castro Theater

Maybe, finally, a decision on the Castro Theater

Plus: Do we have too many pot stores in SF? And a developer giveaway that can cost the schools millions. That's The Agenda for June 4-11


San Francisco may finally get some clarity on the future of the Castro Theater this week, as the long-delayed landmarking vote at the full Board of Supes is slated for Tuesday/6.

The measure before the board, as approved by the Land Use and Transportation Committee, includes language that would protect the existing theater-style seating and raked floor. That would interfere with the plans of promoter Another Planet Entertainment, which wants to turn the theater into a night club with live music and a dance floor. APE’s plans call for removing the existing seats and installing removable seats on platforms that would allow for some film screenings.

The future of the theater is still in limbo

Sup. Rafael Mandelman has proposed amending the landmarking bill to remove the specific protections for the existing configuration. So the first and most crucial vote will be on his amendment.

The last time this came up, three weeks ago, Sup. Catherine Stefani was away, and Mandelman told me that neither side had six votes. That potentially puts the District Two supervisor as the swing vote on an issue that is hugely important to the Castro neighborhood and the LGBTQ community.

To add another element: The Castro Conservancy has confirmed to me that it has lined up a donor or donors who would fund the first two years of operations and renovations and has a plan for the complete overhaul, which could cost $15 to $20 million.

So if APE walks away, the conservancy says it would be willing to take over the lease and preserve the facility as a movie theater.

The meeting starts at 2pm, and this is the second item on the agenda (although sometimes the supes move the more contentious items to later in the meeting).

The full board will also consider a plan to stop accepting new applications for cannabis outlets, essentially freezing the number of stores and delivery services at the level of existing outlets and those in the current application pipeline.

It’s partially about some neighborhoods feeling overwhelmed by the number of pot stores, although most areas have found that the outlets are more than good neighbors; with the required street-level security, they actually make residents and other merchants feel safer.

The more pressing reason, according to the sponsors: The market is getting pretty flooded, and with all the applicants seeking permits, the existing stores will barely survive on the amount of traffic they get—and Equity applicants will lose out.

The city currently has 33 permanent recreational cannabis businesses, 31 of them storefronts and the other two delivery services. There are 15 temporary permits for delivery services, and 32 medical cannabis dispensaries, many of which have applied for permits to sell recreational cannabis.

About 100 verified equity applicants have permits pending, and another 71 from non-equity applicants. From the bill:

Based on data from the Office of the Controller regarding profit trends among cannabis retail businesses, it appears doubtful that the San Francisco market can sustain additional Cannabis Retail businesses in a number greater than those already in the application pipeline.  In addition, new applicants for Cannabis Retail business permits slow the pace  of the permitting process for earlier applicants, as limited City resources must be distributed to process pending applications. Many Equity Program applicants qualify for a reduction or waiver of permit fees, so the burden of processing additional applications must largely be borne by scarce General Fund revenues.

The equity applicant issue is big: The city has a special process for people who have faced the impact of the failed War on Drugs, but so far, the number of equity operators is fairly limited.

The Cannabis Oversight COmmittee recommends that the supes change this to a two-year moratorium on new outlets and to encourage more equity applicants:

Although the Committee recommends such a moratorium (motion approved with four Ayes: Jamalian, Flynn, Stout, Richard; two Nayes: Parks & Cry), we want your offices to be aware that the comments from the community expressed a great concern that the process into permit and licensure is still inequitable and that ceasing to provide an opportunity to submit applications does not help to make a more equitable playing field for people who have been harmed by the “War on Drugs.” Community members shared that those harmed by the “War on Drugs” are trying to play catch up in acquiring knowledge and skill sets to set up businesses in a heavily regulated cannabis industry.

The city’s cannabis office recommends that the legislation sunset after two or three years, and that the city “provide all Verified Equity Applicants and those seeking to become verified with an additional six months after the date of enactment to submit a cannabis business application for retail activity.”

Everyone at City Hall is talking about the concept of turning empty office buildings into housing, but developers are generally dubious. It’s an expensive process, since the plumbing and electrical in office buildings is very different from residential buildings (many offices have one bathroom for an entire floor, which could become ten apartments, which would all need their own bathroom facilities, with water and sewer pipes). Plus, offices have large interiors with no window or natural light access, and that’s required for residences.

My suggestion that we turn those buildings into artist lofts (and let the artists do much of the work, in exchange for equity) doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of traction.

But now the Mayor’s Office wants to create all kinds of incentives to get the developers to consider residential conversion. The latest: Exempt office-to-residential conversions from all city fees except the affordable-housing requirement.

That would remove, among other things, the requirement that developers contribute to a fund for the public schools.

The school fee is there for a reason: People who move into residential units in San Francisco often have or will have kids, some of whom will attend public schools, so building housing has an impact on school capacity. That doesn’t change just because the housing used to be an office building.

The current fee is about $3.75 a square foot, so if you take a 400,000 square foot office building and turn it into housing, the schools should get about $1.5 million.

Except if this passes, that goes away.

The legislation comes before the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/6 at 1:30pm.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


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