By Stephen Malm
For the past several weeks, casual Sunday visitors to the Tower District have been met by an animated scene of demonstrators at the corner of Wishon and Olive avenues. Signs of “Keep the Tower Queer,” “The Tower is for Arts and Music” and “No to Re-zoning” are typical of the many held by young and old, gay and straight, and people of all hues and persuasions.
Most feel that the proposed sale of the Tower Theatre to the conservative Adventure Church will impair the open and colorful nature of the district, lessening its attraction and affecting other businesses economically. In addition, for many members of the community, their very culture is at stake. Preserving the present welcoming orientation to this openly gay community is an important issue.
Jaguar Bennett’s day job is as a marketing director, but at night he is a frequent comic performer in the Tower. Bennett’s point of view represents that of many in the Tower. He is emphatic that those resisting the purchase by the Adventure Church are not against the church itself but rather the change in zoning that must accompany the sale. Such a change in favor of the church might impact the sale of alcohol or the artistic expression of performances.
Countering what he sees as a potentially lengthy process, Bennett says, “The issue is not going away, and we’re not going away.”
The theater’s present owner, Laurence Abbate, has already been fined by the city manager, who has informed him that the church’s assembly is improper under current zoning limitations.
Importantly, however, as of the March hearing on Sequoia Brewery’s temporary order restraining escrow, Judge Rosemary McGuire has ruled the sale can go forward. In legal jargon, Sequoia has been given adequate notice and its “first right of refusal” has been satisfied.
In light of Judge McGuire’s ruling, the Save the Tower Theatre Demonstration Committee will return to the fight to preserve the existing zoning of the Tower Theatre.
“We may not be able to stop the sale, but citizens have a right to be heard about land use in their neighborhood,” says Bennett. “A zoning change will have to pass several community review boards before going to the City Council, and we intend to organize business owners and residents to voice their opposition every step of the way.”
As such, the Tower community awaits anxiously any measures that would forestall the sale. It awaits another Sunday where its point of view and concerns will be displayed across the street from the Tower Theatre, believing the purchase by a conservative church would impose unwanted restrictions on its image and lifestyle.
It appears that as this issue unfolds, so will the signs against it.
Stephen D. Malm is an attorney and an officer of the Central Valley Progressive PAC.