Volume 41 Number 06

November 8 – November 14, 2006

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Keep police discipline public


OPINION Three years after San Francisco voters passed Proposition H, the landmark police reform initiative, the San Francisco Police Commission finds itself at a crossroad. At the heart of the matter is how the commission deals with one of the worst decisions to come out of the California Supreme Court in recent memory, Copley Press v. Superior Court. In that decision the court held that records reutf8g to police officer disciplinary proceedings are confidential and not subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act.
Citing the Peace Officers Bill of Rights, the court even held that an officer’s identity in disciplinary proceedings is confidential. How the Police Commission deals with this ruling will determine the level of openness with which the commission — and consequently, the Police Department — will conduct its business.
In turn, this may well determine the extent to which the promise of Proposition H — transparency and accountability for the police — will become a reality.
In an effort to protect transparency and accountability, the three undersigned police commissioners, as individuals, proposed what we believe is a commonsense approach to Copley: let’s comply with Copley’s requirement of confidentiality, but let’s only be as confidential as the decision requires us to be. Stated differently, let’s follow the law — but let’s be as open as the law allows.
This is why we proposed a rather simple and measured idea — since Copley only requires the confidentiality of records in police disciplinary proceedings and since the state legislature never gave police officers the right to confidential settlements, why not continue to handle such settlements out in the open, the way they’ve been handled for 14 years without ever facing a legal challenge? To be sure that our idea would pass legal muster, we asked the City Attorney’s Office to draft a resolution that would be legally viable and could survive legal challenge. That resolution was submitted for the public and the Police Commission’s consideration last week.
One would think a resolution reflecting a tried-and-true process that was never challenged in more than a decade, a process carefully vetted with the city attorney, would satisfy even the strictest of legal constructionists. And yet, not surprisingly, the San Francisco Police Officers Association has come out against our proposal to openly handle settlements in police disciplinary cases. Without citing any legal authority, the POA argues that police officers have the right to settle disciplinary cases through backroom deals without ever revealing their identity or the terms of the deal to the public.
The POA’s position seems to be shared by a number of other commissioners, and a counterresolution essentially changing how settlements are handled was recently introduced. Both our original resolution and the counterresolution are scheduled to be heard Nov. 15. Even though it’s unclear which resolution will pass, we remain hopeful that the Police Commission will not grant police officers a right the legislature never bestowed on them — the right to cloak settlements in secrecy. This is especially true since several commissioners come from communities adversely impacted by police actions and have a long legacy in support of civil rights and public access.
Openness in the handling of settlements in police disciplinary hearings has been the norm in San Francisco for more than a decade. There is no reason to change course today. SFBG
David Campos, Petra de Jesus, and Theresa Sparks
David Campos, Petra de Jesus, and Theresa Sparks are members of the San Francisco Police Commission.

Preparing for scary


› sarah@sfbg.com
Nine people were shot during this year’s big Halloween celebration in the Castro, prompting city officials to announce the convening of a task force that will examine the event and its future in San Francisco. Supporters and event planners say such early attention is crucial for a gathering of this magnitude — and that the lack of proper planning contributed to this year’s problems.
Concerns that the event has gotten out of control prompted some Castro residents and Sup. Bevan Dufty to announce in July that they wanted the event cancelled, moved, or drastically scaled back. Instead, the plan was hatched to increase the police presence by 25 percent, adopt a zero tolerance policy for public drinking and other crimes, and end the event at 10:30 p.m., which they announced just days before Halloween.
More than 100,000 people showed up anyway, passing big groups of police clumped at the edges of the event but rarely undergoing even cursory searches for weapons and other contraband as they entered the cordoned area. Just after the music was turned off at the one stage (down from three last year) and police announced, “The party is over,” a conflict between two San Francisco gangs escalated, with someone being hit by a bottle and then someone pulling out a gun and opening fire in retaliation. There were no fatalities, and the shooter escaped.
Other than that one incident, which most attendees weren’t aware of until the next day, the event was pretty tame. More striking and upsetting to most who came was the fact that the event ended just as its numbers were peaking and that the end was reinforced at 11 p.m. by water trucks and street sweepers that cleared the still-large crowd.
Mayor Gavin Newsom seemed to acknowledge the lack of preparation when he told KRON-TV, “We’re not going to wait until the last few months before the event. We’re going to start planning right away.” Nonetheless, both Newsom and Dufty praised the police and the planning efforts, with the mayor telling the Chronicle, “We’d done everything we could imagine doing.”
Yet critics say that if that’s the best city officials can do, we’re in no shape to host other large events, such as the 2016 Summer Olympics, which Newsom is bidding for.
“If San Francisco wants to host the Olympics, it can’t go around telling the world that it can’t keep a party under control one night a year,” Ted Strawser of the SF Party Party told the Guardian. “Halloween is like gay Christmas. It’s a travesty to talk about canceling it.”
Other cities seem to be up to the task. Take New York’s Village Halloween Parade. Twenty-five years ago, when its crowds first topped the 100,000 mark, New York celebration artist Jeanne Fleming began working closely with local residents, schools, community centers, and the police to maintain “a grassroots feel and prepare for future growth.”
Today, the New York Village Halloween Parade is the biggest in the world, a fact organizers actively advertise on their Web site to attract sponsors and fill the city’s coffers with $80 million worth of tourists’ money annually, thanks to two million spectators and 60,000 parade participants.
And while Newsom, Dufty, Police Chief Heather Fong, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, and Sheriff Michael Hennessey deliberate whether the party should continue and how to make it securer if it does, the NYPD hails the Village parade as a valuable public service that makes Halloween safe for New Yorkers.
“Maybe the SFPD needs to talk to the NYPD,” Fleming told the Guardian, noting that the Village parade has changed routes four times over the years in response to merchants’ fears and neighborhood concerns without losing its original identity. “Instead of putting up walls, San Francisco needs to open up its mind.”
That’s what Alix Rosenthal (the domestic partner of Guardian city editor Steven T. Jones) had been urging during her campaign against Dufty for his seat on the Board of Supervisors.
“Bevan Dufty has accused me of playing politics with Halloween, but he should have started working on this plan at least six months ago,” Rosenthal said at a day-after press conference. She believes that more entry points, entrance fees (with higher fees for uncostumed attendees), and a parade leading away from the Castro would be helpful. “Getting out the word that there are going to be changes has to be a huge PR effort.”
Paul Wertheimer of LA-based Crowd Management Strategies told the Guardian that talk of canceling the event is “an understandable reaction if you know you can’t do it right.”
“Organizers often fail to recognize the changing demographics and popularity of events,” Wertheimer said, pointing to the success of New Orleans in managing its Mardi Gras parades despite narrow streets and huge crowds. “You can’t have a hippie, anything-goes mentality. Once an event gets bigger than 3,000 to 5,000 people, it has to be organized and planned with the proper resources, but it can be done, because the techniques and plans are already laid out.”
Wertheimer hopes the SF Halloween task force will assess what worked and what didn’t, take a break, then begin planning no later than six months out. “And merchants’ issues have to be addressed. Merchants are always concerned, but if they can be shown ways they can benefit and be protected from vandalism, they’ll be for it.”
Or as Strawser put it, “We need to put the dollars into better management, not police overtime. Former mayor Willie Brown learned that lesson in 1997 when he tried to cancel Critical Mass. We’re a city that handles the Love Parade, Gay Pride, and Bay to Breakers. To cancel what began as a gay event because of fear of gay bashers and violence would be to give in to the terrorists.” SFBG

Bollywood dreams


› news@sfbg.com
It was the proverbial phone call every aspiring actor waits for. An agent for a TV producer rang Raj Vasudeva in 2003 to say he would be perfect for a role in a new show that needed a dynamic lead.
Vasudeva, 33, eagerly invited the agent over to view his modeling portfolio and acting tapes. The agent flipped through a book that featured shots of the former Mr. India California crawling through the surf seductively with a dress shirt fluttering open. The agent said he was impressed. Vasudeva thought he had the role, but then the real audition began.
“‘Can I be blunt with you?’” Vasudeva recalled the agent saying. “‘Are you ready to get your ass fucked by men and older women?’”
Vasudeva laughed at the sleazy suggestion and said no. The interview ended abruptly, and the agent tossed the following advice at Vasudeva as he left the meeting in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay: “If you’re coming to Bollywood, you have to be shameless.”
Welcome to Bollywood, or as they say in India, Bollywood mein aap kaa swaagat ho. Vasudeva, who was born in Delhi but spent much of his life in San Francisco, is trying to accomplish something no US resident has ever done: become a top star in the world’s largest film industry.
For anyone still not familiar with Bollywood, it’s entertainment on a scale that can make your average Hollywood production look like Saved by the Bell. The films are a brawling mix of Broadway-style song and dance, bling that rivals a 50 Cent video, and dizzying scene changes across two or even three continents. The pictures often mash up elements of drama, comedy, and action into a single bursting-at-the-seams melodrama that can last more than three hours.
Bollywood has grown increasingly popular in the United States over the last five years. While it was a lackluster summer for many of Hollywood’s big summer releases, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (Never Say Goodbye) grossed $1.4 million in US theaters during its opening weekend in August — the best showing ever by a Bollywood movie in this country. The film shows Nov. 11 at 8:15 p.m. in the Castro Theatre as part of the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival (www.thirdi.org/festival).
Vasudeva’s transformation into an aspiring actor might work nicely as a plot for a Bollywood film. Vasudeva came to the States in 1990 to attend college. He graduated with a degree in industrial management and seemed to be headed down the path to a respectable, if somewhat unfulfilling, white-collar future.
His acting career began as little more than a hobby in 1997. He began taking classes at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. Later, he took a job in sales at Oracle in Redwood City. His friend Paul Chopra recalled Vasudeva renting a bunch of Bollywood films and then practicing lines from them in between fielding service calls to Oracle from India in the dead of the night.
He graduated to theater and film productions at the San Francisco Academy of Art, which was followed by his first feature film, Indian Fish. It traces the journey of an Indian software engineer as he makes his way through unfamiliar American culture. Vasudeva, who is tall and has boyish good looks, burnished his résumé by snagging the title of Mr. India California in 2002 on the strength of a performance of a monologue from a Bollywood film.
Vasudeva then starred in Khwaab, the story of another Indian immigrant who gives up a career in the tech world — against the wishes of his parents and friends — to pursue an acting career. Vasudeva declined to discuss whether the movie parallels his own struggles, but the similarities are striking. He said his parents were initially upset about his career choice but eventually came around.
With some solid acting experience to his name, Vasudeva decided to make the leap to Bollywood in 2004. He packed up his San Francisco apartment and moved to Mumbai. It was a shock for him.
Vasudeva found the Mumbai film industry was more freewheeling than the one in the United States. Contracts are often nonexistent; producers hit him up for money to complete films and sometimes bounce his paychecks. Then there are the thickets of “secretaries” — movie agents who serve as intermediaries for actors looking to land roles.
“There are secretaries that will squeeze every penny from you,” Vasudeva said.
Occasionally, the action off the screen seems as dramatic as that on it. The Indian underworld has been accused of threatening — and even killing — actors who won’t pay it protection money or act in its films.
It hasn’t been easy, but Vasudeva managed to get his first break by placing in the top 10 in another contest, called Grasim Mr. India, which was broadcast nationally in India. He compared the contest to Bravo’s short-lived Manhunt USA, which pitted aspiring models against each other to win a contract with an agency. A publicity photo for Grasim Mr. India shows Vasudeva was right on the mark. It features him and a stageful of hunky guys decked out in mesh shirts. (Unfortunately, mesh shirts seem to be a staple fashion for male actors in Bollywood.)
Vasudeva’s showing in the event prompted the interview with the sleazy talent agent. He has since landed a role in Kaho na Kaho, a Bollywood remake of Notting Hill. (Bollywood often liberally borrows from American films and music because, for the most part, artists in the West have not paid much attention to Bollywood, although this is coming to an end.) And he’s starred in a remake that would seem an unlikely choice for Bollywood’s romance- and family-centered cinema, The Ring. The movie is called Second Day. Both Kaho na Kaho and Second Day have yet to be released.
Lisa Tsering, who has covered Bollywood for the newspaper India West for 10 years, said Vasudeva’s chances of making it in Bollywood are “not too good.” And it has little to do with his talent.
“I think that NRIs [nonresident Indians] don’t have a certain quality they are looking for in India,” Tsering said. “They feel NRIs are too complacent and too well fed. They’re not hungry enough.”
An American has yet to crack Bollywood’s A-list, although Canadian-born actress Lisa Ray (who starred in Deepa Mehta’s Bollywood/Hollywood and Water) has generated buzz recently. Tsering said non-Indians are also at a disadvantage because many don’t have the family connections that are so important to making it in Bollywood. Unlike in Hollywood, where actors often try to obscure their family connections by changing their name (think Angelina Jolie and her father, Jon Voight), blatant nepotism is part of the game in Bollywood. It is so pervasive it has become a running joke among Indian film fans, who often complain about the latest pudgy, bad-haired, leaden-acting relation who is foisted on them. Vasudeva may be able to capitalize on this nepotistic trend: he is related to Gauri Khan, an actress and the wife of megastar Shah Rukh Khan, star of Never Say Goodbye. (Vasudeva said he doesn’t trade on his family connections.)
Vasudeva’s current role could be his most challenging yet. In the psychological thriller tentatively titled Boomerang he plays three separate characters. The movie is based on the story of a famous London crime novelist who returns to his ancestral home in India to write a novel. The novelist, played by Vasudeva, soon realizes that someone has followed him there. Drama ensues.
Vasudeva’s choice to pursue a career in Bollywood instead of in the States says as much about Hollywood as it does about the Indian film industry. Despite the exasperations of Bollywood, he’s happy with the choice and doesn’t plan to return to this country anytime soon.
“I didn’t want to spend my career playing a cab driver,” Vasudeva quipped about the limited roles for Indians in Hollywood. SFBG



The Guardian turned 40 this year, and the Goldies — our annual arts awards — are now 18. Which makes them a bit like the paper’s child, a many–gendered and splendored one that reaches the US’s idea of adulthood this year. An event like that deserves a party and — after a private award ceremony in honor of this year’s winners — we’re throwing one at 111 Minna Gallery.
It’s free — a San Francisco value.
Dance is at the heart of any ceremony that matters and any party worth remembering, and it’s at the heart of this year’s Goldies thanks to three winners that demonstrate the diversity of its forms. Our cover stars, the extraordinary Benjamin Levy and LevyDANCE, prove it is past time to explode the cold post that’s been lingering in front of the phrase modern dance: close to two years after the first time I saw them perform, I still remember specific images of aggression and tender respite from their pieces. Local Hip Hop Dance Fest mainstays Funkanometry SF take the movement language of B-boys and music video choreographers, add their own signature style, and electrify and take over any room in the process. This year’s Lifetime Achievement awardee, Pandit Chitresh Das, introduced Kathak dance to this country; more recently, he has tapped into its connections to tap.
This year’s Goldie winners were selected by the Guardian’s Johnny Ray Huston, Kimberly Chun, and Cheryl Eddy with valuable input from our writers and critics, as well as members of the Bay Area arts community. The people in the following pages make noise that’s transcendental and meditative, use film to look at toxic currents of contemporary life, stage works that leap across boundaries, and vivify — and add impish prankishness to — visual art. Join us, and them, at this year’s party.