BAL Theatre owner Dan Dillman in front 
of the theater’s marquee in 2014.

The BAL Theatre, San Leandro’s last Art Deco performing arts building has proven scrappy in keeping its doors open while attracting former A-list Hip Hop and R&B acts from the 80s and 90s to an underutilized area strip of East 14th Street.

The theater, though, under Dan Dillman, a colorful former San Leandro mayoral candidate also known for his hobby as an UFO hunter, has undergone a number of improvements over the years with more needed, including an overhaul of its seating.

On Monday, the San Leandro City Council approved a $400,000 personal loan to Dillman to pay off the theater’s debts. Separately, the council approved an additional $150,000 forgivable loan from the city to Dillman to pay for theater improvements. The forgivable loan will be issued over three years to Curtain Call Performing Arts, the non-profit that operates the theater, and allocated as reimbursements for theater improvements.

Councilmember Lee Thomas urged the
council Monday night to revisit a plan
to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes.

“There is some risk in this project,” said San Leandro Assistant City Manager Jeff Kay, who described the theater as a “cultural asset” to the city and its strategy to revitalize the surrounding South San Leandro area. The city, though, believes the risk is mitigated to taxpayers in the event the $400,000 personal loan is not paid off by the value of the land, which Kay said is conservatively estimated to be around $380,000, roughly the same amount of the loan.

Some councilmembers voiced concerns over the city offering a personal loan to a local business and resident. “There’s not a parallel to a city loan in the past,” Kay told the council. Councilmember Pete Ballew said he supports the theater’s efforts, but was hesitant to back a personal loan. “That’s the jobs of banks,” said Ballew, who voted against the resolution that was approved, 6-1.

Later, after Councilmember Ed Hernandez attempted two friendly motions to increase the portion of the forgivable loan to as high as $200,000, Councilmember Lee Thomas, an early backers of the city’s loans, said the council should first secure the public’s trust in relation to the deal. “We need baby steps,” said Thomas.

The council, however, settled on approving an extra $50,000 above the city staff recommendation of $100,000, by a 4-3 vote. Mayor Pauline Cutter Russo, Councilmembers Deborah Cox and Thomas voted no, citing other potential requests from the community for funding in coming months. Absent staff identifying new revenues during the mid-year review of the city budget, said Kay, the extra $50,000 in forgivable loans to the BAL Theatre will come from its reserves.

–DISPENSARY DEADLINE EXTENDED– San Leandro city staff appears to be assuming someone may eventually appeal a still-pending conditional use permit for the Davis Street Wellness Center to house its medical cannabis dispensary on Teagarden Street. The council voted, 6-0, to extend once again an Oct. 20 deadline for approval of the dispensary’s site plan to Jan. 30. The Board of Zoning Adjustments approved the plan on Oct. 5, but the issue is scheduled to return to the BZA on Nov. 2, nearly two weeks after the council’s deadline. “We want to see this come to a good ending,” said Cutter, “and have a dispensary that is going to make the city proud.” Another reason for extending the deadline, according to city staff, is to create time in the case of the BZA’s findings being appealed, along with the resulting hearing for the council render a decision.

Robert Selna, a well-known Oakland attorney specializing in cannabis who represents the Davis Street Wellness Center, claimed Monday night that city staff’s report presented earlier this month was not based on substantial evidence and, instead, “focused on concerns and opinions and beliefs of staff.” In addition, said Selna, since the city staff neglected to prepare findings in favor of the dispensary site plan, stymied the approval process. “These are irregularities that have slowed this project. But for them, the BZA would have approved this at their last meeting,” said Selna.

–GOODBYE GRAPE CIGARILLOS– A second reading of San Leandro’s ban on the purchase of flavored tobacco products was approved Monday night. One slight amendment was successfully attached to the ordinance by Councilmember Hernandez that delays the effective date of the ban by nine months. The exception was included to allow San Leandro retailers to exhaust their current inventories. But similar to two weeks ago, Councilmember Thomas urged the council to revisit a discussion to add menthol cigarettes to the ordinance. “The conversation of menthol needs to happen he said, repeating the sentence twice for effect. Also similar to two weeks ago, Councilmember Benny Lee voiced support for convenience store owner, many of which he says belong to minority communities, merely “working hard for something to try and sustain their families.” Lee said the ban is disingenuous since the city utilized no data to prove its case, while San Leandro retailers over the years have a 100 percent record of compliance when it comes to laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors.