Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Castro area arcade games rule change approved by planning commission

Several of the vintage arcade games on offer at Brewcade, which opened last week on upper Market Street.

Several of the vintage arcade games on offer at Brewcade, which opened last week on upper Market Street.

A change in how the city regulates venues with arcade games in the Castro’s upper Market Street corridor sailed through the Planning Commission today.

The oversight body unanimously voted 5-0 to approve the updated rules, but only for what is known as the Upper Market Street Neighborhood Commercial Transit District.

The commissioners rejected a staff recommendation to have the revisions apply to all commercial districts throughout the city.

Such a change should require more noticing and communication with neighborhood groups before the commissioners felt comfortable moving forward with it.

“It is a little premature to go citywide with this but certainly upper Market makes sense,” said commissioner Dennis Richards, a gay man who lives in the Duboce Triangle neighborhood just off upper Market Street.

The revision now heads to the Board of Supervisors, which will take up the legislation in the New Year. Sponsored by gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, the rule change would allow a business on either the ground floor or second story storefront to have arcade games.

Andres Power, an aide to Wiener, told the commission that “arcades are fun, nostalgic and a great addition to our commercial corridor.”

Under the current rules, only ground floor businesses on Market Street between Noe and Church streets that fall under the classification of an “other entertainment” use can seek approval to have up to 10 “mechanical amusement game devices.”

Attention to the rule was raised when the owners of Brewcade, a new bar that opened last week in a storefront in the new building at 2200 Market Street, first proposed to theme it around offering vintage video games like Ms. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. They were forced to limit the number of such games they could offer due to the zoning codes.

Diego R. Sánchez, the planning department’s director of legislative affairs, noted in his report to the commission that “these regulations are largely based on older notions of arcades.”

When the rules were first adopted in the 1980s, residents and city leaders were mainly concerned about increased congestion on sidewalks around arcades, wrote Sánchez, as well as “the accessibility to arcades by minors during school hours and an increase in crime and other anti-social behavior in areas near arcades.”

Those fears have since dissipated, noted Sánchez, with there now being a nostalgic affection toward classic video games.

“The current interest in arcades is in large part led by Baby Boomer and Gen-X hobbyists, collectors and nostalgists,” he wrote in his report. “These groups view arcades as venues for social interaction and for forming community around friendly competition. As a result of this attitudinal change, and in conjunction with increased regulation on smoking and gambling, popular concerns about possible nuisance have subsided.”

The city has been revising its arcade game rules throughout the city, and specifically in the Haight. Last month the new rules, pushed by District 5 Supervisor London Breed, were signed into law by Mayor Ed Lee.

Citywide, there was a relaxation in the police code’s regulations for venues with such games. The city eliminated several permits that business owners had needed to seek approval from the police in order to have arcade games.

“In the 1980s these were considered high impact uses. It is completely different now,” said the city’s planning director, John Rahaim, who is gay. “We don’t see them any different than other uses.”

— Matthew S. Bajko, December 18, 2014 @ 4:59 pm PST
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