Volume 42 Number 01

October 3 – October 9, 2007

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Metro Kathmandu


› paulr@sfbg.com

On the list of pleasures a restaurant can offer, let’s agree that unexpectedness sits pretty high. Scene: you are drifting along Divisadero in the lower Haight, a still-scruffy region filled with filling stations, along with cafes and liquor stores whose signage has faded. You are hungry and not feeling especially picky. You stop in front of a place that used to be a decent French bistro, Metro, and note that it is now called Metro Kathmandu. You wonder if it has become a French bistro serving Nepalese food, in some wrinkle of a twist of a trend. Stranger things have happened — they happen all the time. Clearly something has happened; change has come. You shrug your shoulders and, because you detect pangs amidships, you step inside, not supposing that when you emerge, an hour or so later, you will scarcely be able to remember how modest your expectations were as you went in, nor how wildly they were exceeded.

Metro Kathmandu opened over the summer under the auspices of Jacques Manuera, a name that gives us a clue as to why the place is so good so soon. For one of Manuera’s earlier ventures was Baker Street Bistro, an astounding little French jewel tucked into a side street near the Presidio’s Lombard Gate. Manuera knows how to run small restaurants to the highest standards, and with the help of a partner and co-owner, Roshan K, and a gifted chef, Bishnu Chaudhary, he has done it again, this time with a Himalayan accent.

The foods of Nepal aren’t completely exotic here. For the past several years, the adventurous have had a choice between Little Nepal, in Bernal Heights, and Taste of the Himalayas (which replaced a Tibetan restaurant, Lhasa Moon) on Lombard. Those places are good, in their way, but Metro Kathmandu is remarkable, bringing forth dish after splendid dish at low prices in an appealingly modern setting. My dinnertime confrere, never one for fatuous praise ("I don’t need to come back here!" is an oft-made comment), allowed that the restaurant is among the best he’s ever been in.

Well, what is the secret? Little touches, of course, combined with some subtle surprises. Because Nepal lies along the border between India and China, its cooking is Indochinese in the broadest sense, a blend of influences from these two huge neighbors. At a given moment, you could easily mistake chicken momos ($6) — steamed dumplings filled with chicken, garlic, and ginger — for Chinese pot stickers (except they’re not seared on the bottom), and the next moment you are dunking your momo into a chutney of sesame and tomato while daydreaming of the Taj Mahal.

That said, the food seems more Indian than anything else. The department of bread offers roti ($2) and buttery paratha ($3). The kitchen, having presented your table with a complimentary dish of pickled daikon radish, turns out a splendid, creamy dal ($3) in which the red Indian lentils are puréed into a thick, peach-colored sauce for the al dente cooking of dark green (possibly Puy) lentils. This is an unusual and elegant multilayering. Pakodas, or fritters — whether of shrimp ($7) or a vegetarian combination ($6) of baby spinach, onions, and cabbage — are made feather light, yet golden crisp, by a coating of garbanzo bean flour. And saag paneer ($7), spinach cooked in spices with cubes of fresh white cheese, is none the worse for having been enjoyed many times before.

Despite the preponderance of Indian and Chinese influences, the cooking occasionally ranges farther afield. We caught a hint of Thailand in the shrimp masala ($9), whose intensely flavorful sauce seemed to carry some of the thickness and sweetness of coconut milk. And the menu offers an array of kebabs, including a daily fish kebab ($8). One day’s fish was tilapia, which I found a little uninspiring, but at least the kitchen gave the flesh a good spicing up before grilling it, then plated the pieces with quartered tomato slices and long slivers of green bell pepper (though no skewers).

Two dishes were novel to me. The first was chana chatpat ($5), a chickpea salad that differed from its better-known near relation, chana masala, in dispensing with a curry sauce in favor of a toss in a lemon vinaigrette, along with tomato slices and rings of sweet onion. The second, lamb chhoila ($7) featured several kebablike chunks of boneless lamb meat, seared and tossed with a sharp-edged ensemble of ginger, garlic, and chile pepper.

Given the high style of the savory cooking and the handsome redo of the now vividly red dining room — modifications include an encircling belt of Swiss-cheese mirrors, black chairs in an updated taverna style, and clusters of fanciful light fixtures, like big parade balloons with their bottoms cut off — the dessert menu is perfunctory. We did, one evening, treat ourselves to a carrot-cardamom pudding ($5), a molded disk of seasoned, lightly sweetened carrot shreds. I wouldn’t put it on any best-dessert list, but it was unusual, not fattening, and better than the usual choices at such places.

The "metro" in Metro Kathmandu reminds us of the restaurant that once occupied the space, of course, but it also sends a subliminal signal of urbanity. Metro Kathmandu is in some sense an "ethnic" restaurant, and its cooking, while sophisticated and impeccable, is more conservative and traditional than was the case at, say, Tallula, which for a few brief but memorable years fused subcontinental and French themes in the Castro. At the same time, it is a date restaurant, full of style and atmosphere and suggestive energy. Now all you need is a date.


Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner: Tues.–Sun., 6 p.m.–1 a.m.

311 Divisadero, SF

(415) 552-0903


Beer and wine


Moderately noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Eating Houdini


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Gatorgator, my guest for dinner, asked to know some things about the chicken we were about to eat, so I set down my fork and started talking. It was almost like Grace. There was a very simple chicken broth with just pastina and scallions, à la Grandma Leone. And there was chicken pie, à la me. Gatorgator is vegetarian.

As you know, one of my favorite things in life is feeding meat to vegetarians. I love it when their taste buds go ding. I love it when that other thing kicks in, part yin, part yang, mostly neither, as the meat rips through their incisors. I love hearing about their hallucinations and trippy gut trips they go on after, because they don’t have any meat-digesting enzymes anymore.

Anyway, Gatorgator hasn’t been a vegetarian for very long. I used to eat meat with her all the time. Then she got fed up with hearing about chicken industry cruelty, and instead of cranking the stereo, or holding her ears and going woowoowoowoowoo, she became an ethical vegetarian. These are the ones that I prey on.

Hey, I have a happy happy chicken for you to eat, I tell them. It lived a long, soulful, free-range life and ate bugs and grass, and I sang songs to her and tried to teach her how to play the steel drum and lied down in the dirt with her, because that’s the kind of chicken farmer I am.

They say, "Huh?"

Trust me, this chicken was highly entertained, and loved, I say. It died in my hands, and by my hand, and it died quickly and it died alive, and it will probably taste like crap because it was so old and outdoorsy. But it’s not a chicken industry chicken. Want some?

Sometimes they do!

"The chicken had a name," I said to Gatorgator, in lieu of God. It was Grace. Not the chicken. This. This is Grace. The chicken’s name was Houdini. "The chicken’s name was Houdini," I said, eyes cast down. "I don’t normally name them, but this one I did. I named her after Houdini, the other chicken that I named after Houdini Houdini, the escape artist." And I told my guest all the stories I have already told you, how she couldn’t stay on one side of a fence, just like me, and got in trouble with the neighbors, just like me, and really loved pork, just like me, and developed a taste for her own eggs, just like me, and thereby distinguished and endeared herself to her farmer, even while signing her own death sentence. Just like me!

"Did you cry when you killed her?" my guest asked.

I was almost crying just talking about it. Gatorgator seemed on the verge too, and I was beginning to question the advisability of saying Grace before eating Houdini.

"I always cry when I kill a chicken," I said. "I sing to them, and I cry, and then after the ax I hyperventilate. It takes my breath away. With Houdini, I almost couldn’t do it." I told her what I have already told you, how I had to go to sleep and wake up in the middle of the night, practically, and do it in my sleep, in the dark, without coffee. Gatorgator didn’t know how close we came to having my hand for dinner.

"Delicious!" she said in her thank-you e-mail. "Houdini was awfully tasty," she said. "I feel privileged to have been able to take part in her life — or afterlife." No mention of any druggy dreams, or bursts of surreality.

Sockywonk, who came in late for leftovers, e-mailed, "That chicken pie was the best thing I have ever had in my mouth!"

I hesitate to review my own meals, but it was surprisingly good — the soup, but especially the pie. This was by far the best I’ve ever yet done with one of my own. So either I’m getting better at cooking down tough old hens, or Houdini had one last act of magic in her.

I know she had one last act of rebellion, one last laugh at my expense, as both Gatorgator and Sockywonk will attest, since they both saw me going around with packs of frozen peas rolled up in my shirtsleeve, and then bandages, salves, etc.

To them it probably looked like any old bad burn, but I’m being only partially poetic when I say that, three hours into her souping, while I was trying to break into her for some actual meat, finally, for the pie, Houdini jumped out of the pot and bit me.

I hope it scars.

Just do it


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

That nursing column wasn’t real, right? I’m all for attachment parenting — in fact, my three-year-old is still co-sleeping, and we’re just grateful that he sleeps at all. But we have a spare bedroom. We have a couch. Hell, we have a kitchen table and the living room floor. They must be able to find a place to have sex that isn’t directly next to their sleeping child?

I’m glad the column is going to venture into the realities of sex after parenthood, even if I’m going to be squicked out all day now.


Gentle Reader

Dear Gen:

Sorry for the squickage (although it does tend to come with the Alt.Sex territory, doesn’t it?) and I’m glad somebody likes the parenting stuff! It’s not always easy for me to reconcile my print life as a (one hopes) sexily knowing know-it-all with my current real-life life as a slightly befuddled toddler wrangler in a faintly besnotted T-shirt.

The letter was, as I admitted, a work of fiction by an online friend who was squicked herself by the tendency in some quarters of the Interweb to turn enlightened parenting into a competitive sport. "Attachment parenting," for those not playing along at home, is supposed to foster in your children such a secure sense of loving support at home that they feel safe exploring the world independently. Those people happily boasting online that they obviously have to homeschool because their six-year-olds simply aren’t ready to wean yet are missing the point, probably on purpose.

And what, besides breasts, does this have to do with sex? Enough, I figured, since even those of us sensible enough to avoid getting into ridiculous babes-in-arms races feel the pressure to privilege baby above all. While wearing my sex advisor hat (and what does that look like? one wonders somewhat nervously), it’s my job to worry about the grown-ups.

So what of noncrazy parents struggling to maintain a sex life in the face of a sudden incursion of tiny, extremely demanding people into their lives and beds? Even people who started out absolutely determined that crib is crib and bed is bed often end up with a small person occupying essential real estate. What does one do? I’m glad, for instance, that you have a spare room and a coffee table and a large macramé plant holder to hang from, or whatever you listed there, but do you really use them? Do you leave the baby sleeping quietly in your queen-size and sneak off to disport yourself in the garage? Good for you if so (and no, I’m not being facetious — I mean it: good for you), but I think many people mean to and hope for the best, but end up sighing and kissing goodnight and sinking gratefully into Morpheus’s arms instead of each other’s. It’s understandable. We’re tired!

The other conventional wisdom beloved of (presumably baby-free) sex advisors is to take a weekend away just for the two of you (or, in the interest of inclusivity, the three or more of you, if that’s what you’re into). This is nice on paper, but if you have a baby, let’s face it: you’re not leaving him or her for an entire weekend to go golfing on the Lost Coast. You’re just not. If your children are old enough to understand that Mommy and Daddy, or Mommy and Mommy, or Mommy and Daddy and Mommy (enough — inclusivity makes me tired) are coming back, then maybe. But the price tag on a weekend away plus 24-7 nanny time is scarifying enough to kill Mommy and Daddy’s buzz three counties away. So mostly a "no."

If I didn’t believe so strongly that a decent sex life really is key to a decent home life, and that happy people make better parents, and that better parents make healthier babies, I’d be tempted to say, "Aw, screw it, just give up and hope you’ll get your mutual mojo back in a few years when the kid’s over needing Mommy and Daddy all night." I do, though, so I’m going to suggest sneaking him back into his own bed in the sleep-like-the-dead early dawn instead. And getting a relative (or hiring a teenager) to take the kids out on a weekend morning twice a month. And getting TiVo to record The Daily Show instead of wasting precious baby sleep time staring at the tube.

Again, more later. In the meantime, my bedside table may have held more exotic objects in its time, but it currently boasts a copy of And Baby Makes Three, by John M. Gottman and Julie Schwarz Gottman. I don’t ordinarily waste my time on self-help lit, but Gottman is the man who made a science of saving marriages, or at least accurately predicting which ones are capable of saving themselves. He’s the one who determined that rolling your eyes with contempt when your partner speaks means you might as well start dividing up the CDs. So don’t do that, people, and I’ll be back with a book report.



Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.

Whose bionics?


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Of course I tuned into the series premiere of Bionic Woman last week. Some of my earliest TV memories are of watching the first Bionic Woman, a hopelessly and gloriously 1970s series about Jamie Sommers, a tennis player who gets bionic implants that give her super strength in her legs, one arm, and one ear. She was a cyborg before cyborgs were cool. And every week, she would fight bad guys and do bionic stuff for great justice.

Now ultimate women’s lib heroine Sommers is back, all spruced up for the 2000s, and the results are rather strange. Thirty years have passed, and time seems to have gone backwards — except the bionics, which have been updated to a nanopseudoscience involving something called anthrocites. This time around, Jamie isn’t an independent career jock: she’s a 23-year-old bartender and college dropout who has just gotten pregnant and is about to marry her surgeon boyfriend. When she asks said boyfriend why he likes her, despite her lack of professional success, he replies, "You’re the one thing my father didn’t plan for me."

This kind of weirdly retrograde treatment of Jamie and her relationship is all the more perplexing because the show is produced by David Eick, whose other show, Battlestar Galactica, is known for its strong female characters. Indeed, when Eick talked about Bionic Woman before the show debuted, he claimed it would focus on how we feel about women’s roles now that we know women can do anything men can. Jamie is hardly the kind of woman to tell that sexual equality story. She’s in a low-status, low-paying job, looking down the barrel of her future as little more than a rich man’s wife.

All that changes, however, when she gets into a nearly fatal accident and her boyfriend takes her to his secret lab at Wolf Creek, where he gives her a secret surgery that turns her bionic. Anthrocites in her blood mean she heals instantly; implants in her eye and ear give her super senses; and she has those superfast legs and a superstrong arm. Even her superpowers come to her via a sexual connection with a dude. And, it turns out, so do the superpowers of her nemesis, a bionic lady (Katee Sackoff, who plays Starbuck on Battlestar) who had sex with another guy who works with the ultrasecret bionic lab.

Now that Jamie has these new powers, however, she doesn’t have to be a bartender. What will she do with her bionic upgrade? Apparently, she’ll have to do exactly what the dude who runs Wolf Creek tells her. He points out that she has about $50 million worth of his equipment inside her body now, and he has a business interest in making sure she toes the line. So the entire premise of the show — that Jamie becomes a "saving the world" type — is founded on the idea that she has no choice because her body literally does not belong to her. Most of her body parts are the property of a corporation. We are left to assume that if she refuses to do what Wolf Creek tells her, they’ll take their toys back and she’ll die. Or maybe they just won’t give her any upgrades and she’ll be infected with some kind of bionic virus that makes her scream "Viagra!" or "Mortgage!" over and over.

So let’s assess our new-school bionic babe, keeping in mind Eick’s comment that this show is about how "we" feel now that we know women can do anything men can. Apparently "we" feel that women only become powerful through their sexual relationships with men. "We" also feel that even when women are powerful, it’s probably because men implanted something inside them that the men continue to own and control.

Sure, there a few ways the show tries to nod to feminism. Though Jamie isn’t educated, we’re told that she has an IQ higher than the Wolf Creek director who owns her. And her little sister is a hacker. So we know that women can have brains, that they aren’t powerful solely because of things that male scientists surgically attach to their bodies.

Nevertheless there’s something deeply wrong about a science fiction show, allegedly about a woman of the future, whose message seems taken from a past much further back than the show’s origins in the 1970s.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who will, in spite of all her protestations, be glued to Bionic Woman every week for the next season.

Guards hit streets


› news@sfbg.com

More than 100 security guards from more than 20 buildings in the Financial District, including the Transamerica Building, participated in a three-day unfair-labor-practices strike before returning to work Sept. 27 as contract talks resumed.

After three months of working without a contract, security guards are seeking higher wages and access to affordable health care to be able to support their families, as well as proper training for the safety of buildings and their occupants.

Service Employees International Union Local 24/7 representatives were mostly pleased with the job action, although the union had to defend three guards who were locked out as the strike ended. Universal Protection Services had planned to permanently replace security officers Robert Ravare, Kevin Coleman, and Jesusa Villena, but the issue has since been resolved, and the three employees returned to work on the morning of Sept. 28.

Abbas Emady, a security guard for Universal, told the Guardian he resents security companies for not providing adequate training for their employees, which devalues the important role guards are likely to play in a disaster. And low wages and poor benefits exacerbate the problem by creating high turnover rates for guards.

"If there’s a terrorist attack or a fire, we’re the first to go," said Bobby Randall, who works for Securitas as a security guard at the 50 Fremont high-rise. Without sufficient training, security guards may have difficulty assisting police and firefighters in an emergency, a point the local police and firefighters unions reinforced with votes of support for the strike.

Security guards risk their lives to protect multibillion-dollar properties, yet they don’t receive the same wages or health coverage as janitors, window washers, parking attendants, or operating engineers who work in the same buildings. In fact, a security guard with two and half years of experience only makes $11.85 an hour, while a janitor with the same experience makes $17.05 an hour, according to the SEIU. A union-run "Justice for Janitors" organizing campaign a few years ago helped that group make progress.

"It’s an unacceptable double standard," SEIU Local 24/7 spokesperson Gina Bowers said.

Armando Yepez, who participated in the strike, told us he works two full-time jobs as a security guard, at a downtown high-rise and at a construction site, in order to pay for housing and other expenses. Yepez commutes between his home in Richmond and his job locations in San Francisco five times a week, leaving him with less than five hours of sleep each night.

Security officers often find themselves paying for medical expenses out of their own pockets because their health insurance does not cover all of their needs and does not provide family benefits.

On Jan. 1 security guards were offered a free but severely limited health plan with Aetna, which has a cap of $4,000 for outpatients. For Sue Trayling, a security guard working for Securitas, all it took was one night in the emergency room and a couple of doctor’s appointments to max out her Aetna plan. Trayling clocks in 421/2 hours a week yet still had to dish out $2,400 in cash to pay for additional medical expenses.

According to Trayling, security guards were offered health care plans with Kaiser Permanente for $26 per month before Jan. 1. Since then, however, premiums have gone up to about $140 per month, and the copayment has doubled from $20 to $40 per visit.

The first strike among private security officers in San Francisco found some official support — the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Sept. 25 in favor of the security guards. Sup. Tom Ammiano stood before a small crowd of workers clad in purple T-shirts on the steps of City Hall and expressed the city’s support for higher wages, affordable health insurance, and proper training.

Mayor Gavin Newsom also issued a statement saying, "I urge the involved parties to work more diligently towards a fair and reasonable settlement — one that recognizes the economic concerns of the workers while at the same time respect[ing] the employers’ need for operating flexibility within the wide range of facilities in which they provide security services."

Newsom also asked commercial-building owners and managers to involve themselves in the negotiation process with the security companies in order to set new industry standards. The Building Owners and Managers Association did not return our call seeking comment on the strike and related issues.

The crime of being homeless


› amanda@sfbg.com

Sleeping in the park, urinating in public, blocking the sidewalk, trespassing, drinking in public — these and about 10 other infractions are commonly and collectively known as "quality of life" crimes because they affect the condition of the common spaces we all share in San Francisco.

For a homeless individual, they’re also called "status" crimes, committed in the commons because there is no private place to sleep, go to the bathroom, or crack a beer. For years the District Attorney’s Office hasn’t bothered to allocate time or resources to prosecute these petty crimes, and advocates for the rights of homeless people have contended that to do so results in unfair persecution of those who have no place to call home.

Elisa Della-Piana is an attorney with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and has spent much of the past three years in traffic court arguing against fines for homeless people who have received quality-of-life citations. As of this summer, Della-Piana said things have changed down at the Hall of Justice.

Now every time she stands up to represent a homeless person in traffic court, someone from the DA’s Office gets up too, fighting for the other side. Though there’s no way to tell from the traffic court calendar if the defendant is homeless, Della-Piana and Christina Brown, another attorney who represents through the Lawyer’s Committee, have witnessed prosecutors ignore quality-of-life citations that didn’t appear to have been collected by homeless people.

"When the person is homeless and the DA stands up and prosecutes, that’s selective prosecution. They’ve done that in the past with other populations in San Francisco," Jenny Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness said, citing historic crackdowns on queers and Asians.

Deputy district attorney Paul Henderson denied the DA’s Office is selectively prosecuting only quality-of-life citations received by homeless individuals. "We’re prosecuting all of them," he told the Guardian, confirming this is a new task for the office. "In the past the DA’s Office wasn’t staffed to have people in the courtroom. I think we’re there every day now." He said more staff has been hired, and a team he heads is now devoted to the issue.

When asked why this was a new priority for the DA’s Office, Henderson said, "We felt that people weren’t getting the help they needed. The public’s interest wasn’t being served. [These issues] were not getting addressed in the traffic court without the DA being there. Neighborhoods and communities have been complaining about the lack of responsiveness, and so we’re trying to address that."

Henderson called the day in court an open door for a homeless person to walk through and access services. "We want to handle them responsibly to make sure there’s some accountability for breaking the law, but try to do it in a way that’s an intervention."

But advocates for homeless rights say that’s not what happens.

"They’ll tell you we’re there to offer services to homeless individuals," Della-Piana said. "Which is a piece of paper. In fact, what they have is the same list of services the police pass out. They’re not actually doing anything to connect people to the services. They’re just offering the list. They could offer those services in the street. There’s no reason to go through the court system."

This list of homeless resources is updated every six months by the San Francisco Police Department’s Operation Outreach and is offered on the street, according to Lt. David Lazar, leader of the 20-officer branch of the SFPD that interfaces directly with the homeless population.

"The accountability is a problem, and the process they go through is not working," Lazar said. "There’s a large population we’re seeing that doesn’t want services." He listed three reasons: inadequacies in the shelter system, a desire to be left alone, and a mental health or substance abuse problem that impairs judgment. "If we could house absolutely everyone, what would they do during the daytime?" he asked. "You need intensive case management, job support, substance abuse support."

But homeless-rights advocates say the stability of housing is the first step toward improving the quality of life for the homeless. Della-Piana said, "Ninety-five percent of my clients come to me and say, ‘I’m getting social services.’ They point to something on the list and say, ‘I’m doing this.’ They’re doing everything they’re supposed to be doing, but they don’t have housing yet. That’s why people are still sleeping in the park."

Henderson said critics of the new tack "aren’t recognizing that laws are being broken. People’s qualities of life are being dragged down by these violations. If it’s your street, your door, and there’s feces on it every day, that affects your quality of life."

Ticketing the homeless is not a new thing. Two homeless-rights groups — Religious Witness with Homeless People and the Coalition on Homelessness — have a standing Freedom of Information Act request with San Francisco Superior Court that provides a monthly tally of the infractions likely committed primarily by homeless people. According to their data, for the past 15 years the SFPD has averaged about 13,000 quality-of-life citations per year. Last year Religious Witness released a study showing that more than 31,000 citations had been issued during Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration.

"For the police, the sheriff, and the court cost, we estimated it cost almost $6 million for those 31,000 citations," said Sister Bernie Galvin, executive director of Religious Witness. Galvin said a new study, to be released at City Hall on Oct. 4, shows that citations and costs have skyrocketed in the past 14 months. "Now we’re putting in the dramatic new expense of the DA," she said, adding, "Everyone wants to prosecute a greater number. It’s like it makes it justifiable to issue these 31,000 tickets if we can prosecute them. Actually, it makes it crueler and more expensive."

Media reports have characterized the tickets as empty pieces of paper, issued and then metaphorically shredded when a homeless individual fails to pay the $50 to $500 fine. In a recent San Francisco Chronicle story, Heather Knight reported that "all quality of life citations are getting dismissed." Yet when they don’t — and violators either don’t show up in court or can’t pay the fine — infractions become misdemeanors or an arrest warrant is issued, both of which become problems for people trying to access services.

"It backfires," said Christina Brown, an associate at O’Melveny and Myers who volunteers time in traffic court representing homeless people through the Lawyer’s Committee. "When people are served with warrants, they’re precluded from services." Even if the person cuts a deal with the DA to access services in lieu of paying a fine, they still have to return to court to prove they’ve done that. If they can’t get the paperwork or can’t make it to the court in time, it becomes a misdemeanor.

"The criminal justice system is actually making it harder if they want to find somewhere else to sleep," said Della-Piana, who related an anecdote of a client who had a few open-container infractions. The client was afraid to go to court when she couldn’t pay the fines, so a warrant was issued. She’d spent the past seven years on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s waiting list for public housing and got kicked off because of the misdemeanor.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi expressed concern that a dragnet is being created for arresting homeless people committing status crimes they have no control over. "We have to be very careful we’re not trying to legislate services through the criminal justice system. We do too much of that already," he said. "This approach assumes that if a person is in trouble, they’re more likely to accept the services. I haven’t seen that is true."

Henderson doesn’t necessarily agree that the criminal justice system shouldn’t play a role in assisting homeless people: "I want this citation to serve as a wake-up call for you." He thinks people need to be held accountable and would like to see the city adopt the plan for a Community Justice Center, modeled after New York City’s, a vision that his boss, District Attorney Kamala Harris, and Newsom also share.

"We believe San Francisco has a unique infrastructure and need for the Community Justice Center. That’s why we are proposing to pilot this initiative in the Tenderloin and South of Market area, where more than a third of the city’s quality of life offenses occur," Harris and Newsom wrote in a May 13 editorial in the Chronicle. "The center promises to give relief to the neighborhoods most affected by quality of life crimes."

During an Oct. 1 endorsement interview with the Guardian, Newsom said he hoped to open the new center by December. Lazar, who sits on the committee that’s still hammering out the details for how exactly the center would work, agreed with Henderson that it’s the next step in more direct connection with services: "We’re trying to put the criminal justice system and the social justice system together."

Della-Piana said this still ignores the black marks that misdemeanors leave, which become good reasons for some service providers to save their limited resources for people with clean records. "The two ideologies don’t mesh," Della-Piana said. "My homeless clients want housing. There currently is not enough of it to go around. Arresting them instead of citing them for sleeping and other basic life activities will not change the availability of the most needed services."

Green City: PG&E’s two faces


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY If Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is really working to become "the nation’s greenest utility," as it claims, why is it opposing more renewable energy in California? Pending legislation — which PG&E opposes — would require a larger percentage of the state’s energy to be produced from renewable resources by 2020.

The fact that PG&E is against Senate Bill 411 doesn’t jibe with its self-proclaimed goal of going green. Current law — established as the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) — requires investor-owned utilities like PG&E to procure at least 20 percent of their energy from renewable resources by the end of 2010. SB 411 would increase the amount of required renewable energy to 33 percent by 2020. It makes sense that a green-aspiring company would want to support renewable-energy generation, right?

Yet PG&E is struggling to meet the current deadline of 20 percent by 2010, as the Guardian reported in "Green Isn’t PG&E" (4/18/07) and San Francisco Chronicle business reporter David R. Baker wrote Sept. 27. By way of explanation, Baker wrote, "California currently doesn’t have enough windmills, solar panels, and geothermal fields to do the job."

Jim Metropulos, legislative representative for Sierra Club California, told us the issue is one not of resources but of priorities. "PG&E has continued to make investments in fossil-fuel generation while not investing as much as they should in renewables." In other words, PG&E is in danger of not meeting the RPS deadline — and actively opposing more renewable energy generation in our state — because it’s been choosing to put its money elsewhere (such as front-page "Green is …" ads in the Chronicle and other campaigns to greenwash its image and fight public power).

PG&E did not return our phone calls seeking comment, but the "opposition argument" against SB 411 listed on the California Senate Web site reads, in part, "Opponents argue the bill … eliminates opportunities for utilities to identify potentially less costly means of meeting requirements."

This is a seemingly innocuous sentence, but it brings to mind another piece of pending legislation, Assembly Bill 809, that is currently on the governor’s desk, awaiting his signature. This bill would enable utilities to meet the current requirement of 20 percent by 2010 by changing the legal definition of renewable energy. AB 809 would effectively dilute the definition of renewable and give investor-owned utilities renewable credit for power generated by environmentally destructive large dams.

Under current law, hydroelectric plants that produce fewer than 30 megawatts meet the standards of renewable. AB 809 would extend the definition of renewable to include larger hydro plants that implement "efficiency improvements."

Instead of investing in legitimately sustainable means of producing energy, PG&E seeks to water down the standards and gain RPS credit for already existing hydroelectric plants. Nice way to cut costs, eh? As Metropulos puts it, "PG&E supports AB 809 since they get a lot of power from hydro."

Again, the question at hand is: if PG&E is seeking the title of "the nation’s greenest utility," why is it working against green energy in California?

Aliza Wasserman of Green Guerrillas Against Green Washing said the answer is simple: "Their actions are blatantly hypocritical." She sees PG&E as a duplicitous entity, pandering to the public with its "Let’s green this city" marketing blitz while simultaneously lobbying against renewable energy.

Wasserman notes that while PG&E is touting itself as a friend of the environment and sponsoring "every environmental event and organization in town to appear green," it only generates 1 percent of its energy from solar and less than 2 percent from wind. Comparatively, 24 percent of its energy is from nuclear generation, an energy source that produces toxic by-products and harms aquatic ecosystems.

SB 411 comes up for vote again in January 2008, pending a feasibility report by the California Energy Commission. "This is a critical moment in history," Wasserman says. "Are our legislators going to sell out or step up?"

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian‘s weekly environmental column, can be sent to news@sfbg.com.

Injunction dysfunction


› news@sfbg.com

When seven people were shot in the span of 12 hours in June at the Friendship Village and Yerba Buena Plaza East housing complexes in the Western Addition, city and community leaders decided immediate action was necessary to remedy the increasing level of gang violence.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the area, demanded 24-hour police patrols as a temporary measure. Rev. Regnaldo Woods of Bethel AME had a broader vision — get the gangs to call a truce. But City Attorney Dennis Herrera already had his own plan well in the works, a controversial approach that has nonetheless been embraced at City Hall by leaders desperate for solutions to the intractable and escautf8g problem of gun violence.

Herrera and his staff in July announced they were seeking civil gang injunctions in the Western Addition and the Mission District modeled on a similar effort last year against the Oakdale Mob in Bayview–Hunters Point. He went after alleged members of the Norteña gang in the Mission and targeted three gangs in the Western Addition, all centered on Eddy Street and the public housing complexes that stretch from Gough to Divisadero: Eddy Rock, Chopper City, and Knock Out Posse.

Two Superior Court judges, Patrick Mahoney and Peter Busch, heard arguments for and against the injunctions Sept. 18 and are expected to issue rulings at any time. The injunctions would prevent the alleged gang members they name from associating with one another within a prescribed area, among other restrictions.

The injunctions have pitted Herrera and his allies against Public Defender Jeff Adachi, civil liberties advocates, and some community groups, who have rallied to stop the injunctions and criticize them as a "criminalization of people of color," a charge Herrera stridently rejects and has publicly condemned as "race-baiting."

But beyond the emotional politics of this controversial tactic, there are some practical problems with the injunctions, particularly in the Western Addition, where they may stifle community-based solutions to the problem of gang violence.

"[The injunctions] slowed us down considerably," Woods, a life-long Fillmore resident, told the Guardian. "It’s going to impact the movement if it stays as it is. I think there needs to be changes."

Woods and other leaders from Bethel and from his nonprofit, Up from Darkness, met with the gang members a total of 43 times throughout the summer. When word of the injunctions spread, Woods said he had to restart from square one. Rather than bring people together for a dialogue, he had to explain why this was happening, what the injunctions meant, and how the injunctions would affect those included.

Woods planned to hold a summit, which "shot callers" from each of the gangs would attend and at which they would call a truce as well as receive access to employment guidance and mental health services. The summit never happened, but gang violence in the Western Addition nevertheless decreased rapidly in the following months. Northern Police District Capt. Croce Casciato said there hasn’t been a gang-related homicide in the district since May.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the injunctions will strip alleged gang members of due-process rights and give police a roving warrant to harass whomever they deem a gang member. Adachi and Kendra Fox-Davis, of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, said their offices have received numerous complaints from youths in the Mission and the Western Addition that police are already using the injunctions to hassle people even before they’ve been approved.

"There’s been a tremendous amount of misinformation about the injunctions," Adachi said. He questions the effectiveness of injunctions and said these give police carte blanche to harass anyone they suspect of being affiliated with gangs. His biggest issue, though, is the fact that the alleged members don’t have the necessary resources to contest the label.

Herrera derided the racial implications levied by Adachi, and in an e-mail to us, press secretary Matt Dorsey wrote, "The fact is, the debate over these proposed injunctions — most especially the one in the Mission — has been characterized by increasingly dishonest and inflammatory rhetoric. This isn’t just someone’s innocent misunderstanding, either: ‘the criminalization of people of color’ is wildly misrepresentative, and it’s deliberate."

Herrera acknowledges people’s concerns, but he stands by his decision.

"I really wish it wasn’t necessary that it has come to this point where I say, ‘Hey, this is a tool we have to pursue,’" Herrera told us. "But the facts are the facts. We have a gang problem in San Francisco. I think I’d be neglecting my responsibility if I didn’t bring another tool to the table to help address the issue."

Woods doesn’t raise the same racial concerns that Adachi does, and he isn’t too animated about the civil liberties issues. To him, the injunctions are just too broad and counterproductive to the community-based approaches that have the best chance of addressing the problem. He thinks the gang members themselves must help solve the problems they’ve created.

"It’s us getting together every day and doing something positive," said Steve Johnson, a 27-year-old targeted member of Eddy Rock, which claims the Plaza East housing complex as its turf. "It has nothing to do with the injunction. We’re trying to get all the different complexes in the Western Addition together."

Paris Moffet, the alleged leader of Eddy Rock, added, "We’re the only ones stopping the violence. We needed to. We are going to stop this."

It may come as a surprise that reputed gang members might be helping to stop the violence that was once a part of their daily lives, and several members of Eddy Rock acknowledged they have a long way to go in reshaping their images.

But, they say, they are committed to reforming themselves, and they recently held a barbecue at the complex parking lot to display some of their positive work. In the small community center at Plaza East — locally known as the OC, for "Outta Control" — Eddy Rock, with the help of Woods and others, has created Open Arms, a nonprofit geared toward educating the younger kids in the complex about staying in school and computer literacy.

Asked about the sudden turnabout by Eddy Rock, Marquez Shaw, a 26-year-old alleged member of the gang, explained that the level of violence at Plaza East had taken its toll on everyone, not just uninvolved residents. "[The violence] affected me, very much so," he said. "There’s been more bloodshed here than anywhere else in the community. We’re the only ones man enough to do something."

But Herrera said the recent relative quiet in the area doesn’t make up for more than five years of chaos. "Has there been a lull? Yeah," he said. "But earlier in the summer there were some brazen shootings. June isn’t that long ago."

Woods acknowledged that the members shouldn’t be given a free pass, considering their troubled past. "They’re not angels," he said. "But let’s try to help them before they go to prison. That way you might save the old lady’s life. You might save a youngster’s life. If they had something to do, they wouldn’t do the shootings."

At the Aug. 14 Eddy Rock barbecue, about 50 or so people from the Plaza East complex snacked on ribs, chicken, hot links, and spaghetti. Two beat officers from the Northern Station stood in the distance and oversaw an impromptu football game between juveniles and alleged gang members.

A clipping of a newspaper article hangs on the wall in the community center; it’s about how director Spike Lee is urging inner-city youths to make films about their experience growing up with violence and to use the Internet to broadcast them to others.

Given a camera, Shaw has done just that. During a recent visit to Plaza East, he was using iMovie to edit a video that he planned to post on YouTube. On the video, an older black man says, "Now it’s time to look at what’s going on, not what’s happened in the past."

Nas’s "I Know I Can" plays on Hannibal Thompson’s video as he flatly explains how the area is deprived of proper resources and lacks preventative measures. Thompson, a 20-year-old named in one of the injunctions as a member of Eddy Rock, says six of his friends have been murdered since 2005 — three of them less than a block away, at Eddy and Laguna, where cameras affixed to streetlights are meant to deter criminal activity. He said increased police presence and the work of Woods have led to the decrease in violence, something he embraces.

"The best thing that ever happened to this community was the 24-hour police patrol. That’s way better than the injunction," he said. "They should have done that years ago."

Casciato doesn’t doubt that Eddy Rock, which has terrorized residents for years, might have turned the corner. But he calls the injunctions one additional tool to fight the long-term battle against gang violence. Casciato said it was too soon to tell how an injunction would affect regular police procedure. Like others in the community, though, he emphasized the effectiveness of outreach work.

"There has been a great collaborative effort on the community’s part," Casciato said. On gang members reforming themselves, he said, "I’m sure they did. Success is going to come from within, not from the outside. All our efforts are for naught if there’s no buy-in."

Under the current terms of the injunctions, the aforementioned barbecue would be prohibited, since it involved literally the whole gang. The targeted individuals could freely associate with one another inside the community center but would need to go in and out separately, which critics say is not a realistic scenario. If targeted members violate the injunctions, they can be charged with misdemeanors and put in jail for up to five days.

The injunction tactic "undermines antiviolence efforts of community advocates and organizations working in the Western Addition, like Woods, by effectively preventing the individuals most in need of support services from participating in them," Fox-Davis wrote in an e-mail.

Herrera and his deputies submitted more than 4,000 pages of evidence, including expert declarations from the gang task force, which detailed the reign of terror of the three gangs. He said they’ve been careful to name only shot callers in the injunctions and to carefully detail the case against them.

Fox-Davis and other critics contend the Western Addition injunction is too broad, unlike the first one in Oakdale, which only covered four square blocks. A total of 15 blocks are designated as the "safety zone" in the Western Addition, stretching from Eddy and Gough in the east to Eddy and Webster in the west, bordered by Turk and Ellis to the north and south, for Eddy Rock.

For Chopper City and KOP — which had in the past aligned themselves against Eddy Rock — the safety zone is a six-block area north of Turk to Ellis, between Divisadero and Steiner, which includes the Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King housing complexes. In Bayview, only one of 22 targeted members lived in the housing complex, whereas a total of seven of 19 identified members of Eddy Rock live within that purposed safety zone, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

"The restrictions that are proposed in this injunction go far beyond what is necessary to address the nuisance the city attorney claims is being caused by gang violence," Fox-Davis said.

But Herrera says the "nuisance" amounts to communities being terrorized by violence and his office would be remiss to not address the problem. A total of 11 homicides in three years have been linked to the three Western Addition gangs, according to court documents.

"I’ve never been one to say we should be dissuading communities from being involved and trying find solutions and making contributions to solving the problem. To me it’s not mutually exclusive. It’s not an either-or proposition. I think it’s important that we get the community to be a vital stakeholder in trying to stem the tide of violence," Herrera said. "But there has to be accountability."

To quell critics’ concerns, Herrera said his office has included numerous safeguards, including training cops to properly enforce the injunctions. Targeted members also have a "buyout option," meaning if they can prove that they are no longer involved in gang activity, they can appeal to have their names removed from the list.

Herrera points to the perceived success of the injunction in Bayview as proof that the tactic is effective in restoring calm and peace to neighborhoods once plagued with murder. Herrera also notes that the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution almost unanimously that supported injunctions by the city attorney.

Mirkarimi, however, said his support of the current injunctions being sought was "tentative at best" and said he considered them "an act of desperation." He too said community work and traditional police enforcement — like the 24-hour patrols — are better ways of addressing the root causes of gang violence.

The alleged members of Eddy Rock agree.

"We just need something to do," said Maurice Carter, 32. "We did the crime, we did the time. Now we just want a second chance."

Endorsements: Local offices



Endorsements: Local ballot measures


Proposition A (transit reform)


This omnibus measure would finally put San Francisco in a position to create the world-class transportation system that the city needs to handle a growing population and to address environmental problems ranging from climate change to air pollution. And in the short term it would help end the Muni meltdown by giving the system a much-needed infusion of cash, about $26 million per year, and more authority to manage its myriad problems.

The measure isn’t perfect. It would give a tremendous amount of power to the unelected Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a semiautonomous agency created in 1999 to reform Muni. But we also understand the arguments of Sup. Aaron Peskin — who wrote the measure in collaboration with labor and other groups — that the MTA is free to make tough decisions that someone facing reelection might avoid. And the measure still would give the Board of Supervisors authority to block the MTA’s budget, fare increases, and route changes with seven votes.

We’re also a little worried about provisions that could place the Taxicab Commission under the MTA’s purview and allow the agency to tinker with the medallion system and undermine Proposition K, the 1978 law that gives operating permits to working drivers, not corporations. Peskin promised us, on tape, that he will ensure, with legislation if necessary, that no such thing happens, and we’ll hold him to it.

Ultimately, the benefits of this measure outweigh our concerns. The fact that the labor movement has signed off on expanded management powers for the MTA shows how important this compromise is. The MTA would have the power to fully implement the impending recommendations in the city’s Transit Improvement Project study and would be held accountable for improvements to Muni’s on-time performance. New bonding authority under the measure would also give the MTA the ability to quickly pursue capital projects that would allow more people to comfortably use public transit.

The measure would also create an integrated transportation system combining everything from parking to cabs to bike lanes under one agency, which would then be mandated to find ways to roll back greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2012. And to do that, the agency would get to keep all of the revenue generated by its new programs. As a side benefit — and another important reason to vote for Prop. A — approval of this measure would nullify the disastrous Proposition H on the same ballot.

San Francisco faces lots of tough choices if we’re going to minimize climate change and maximize the free flow of people through our landlocked city. Measure A is an important start. Vote yes.

Proposition B (commission holdovers)


Proposition B is a simple good-government measure that ends a practice then-mayor Willie Brown developed into a science — allowing commissioners to continue serving after their terms expire, turning them into at-will appointments and assuring their loyalty.

Members of some of the most powerful commissions in town serve set four-year terms. The idea is to give the members, many appointed by the mayor, some degree of independence: they can’t be fired summarily for voting against the interests (or demands) of the chief executive.

But once their terms expire, the mayor can simply choose not to reappoint or replace them, leaving them in limbo for months, even years — and while they still sit on the commissions and vote, these holdover commissioners can be fired at any time. So their jobs depend, day by day, on the whims of the mayor.

Prop. B, sponsored by the progressives on the Board of Supervisors, simply would limit to 60 days the amount of time a commissioner can serve as a holdover. After that period, the person’s term would end, and he or she would have to step down. That would force the mayor to either reappoint or replace commissioners in a timely manner — and help give these powerful posts at least a chance at independence. Vote yes.

Proposition C (public hearings on proposed measures)


Proposition C sure sounds good: it would mandate that the supervisors hold a hearing 45 days in advance before putting any measure on the ballot. The mayor would have to submit proposed ballot measures for hearings too. That would end the practice of last-minute legislation; since four supervisors can place any ordinance on the ballot (and the mayor can do the same), proposals that have never been vetted by the public and never subjected to any prior discussion often wind up before the voters. Sometimes that means the measures are poorly written and have unintended consequences.

But this really isn’t a good-government measure; it’s a move by the Chamber of Commerce and downtown to reduce the power of the district-elected supervisors.

The 1932 City Charter gave the supervisors the power to place items before the voters as a check on corruption. In San Francisco it’s been used as a check on downtown power. In 1986, for example, activists gathered enough voter signatures to place Proposition M, a landmark measure controlling downtown development, on the ballot. But then–city attorney Louise Renne, acting on behalf of downtown developers, used a ridiculous technicality to invalidate it. At the last minute, the activists were able to get four supervisors to sign on — and Prop. M, one of the most important pieces of progressive planning legislation in the history of San Francisco, ultimately won voter approval. Under Prop. C, that couldn’t have happened.

In theory, most of the time, anything that goes on the ballot should be subject to public hearings. Sometimes, as in the case of Prop. M, that’s not possible.

We recognize the frustration some groups (particularly small businesses) feel when legislation gets passed without any meaningful input from the people directly affected. But it doesn’t require a strict ballot measure like Prop. C to solve the problem. The supervisors should adopt rules mandating public hearings on propositions, but with a more flexible deadline and exemptions for emergencies. Meanwhile, vote no on Prop. C.

Proposition D (library preservation fund)


In the 1980s and early 1990s, San Francisco mayors loved to cut the budget of the public library. Every time money was short — and money was chronically short — the library took a hit. It was an easy target. If you cut other departments (say, police or fire or Muni or public health), people would howl and say lives were in danger. Reducing the hours at a few neighborhood branch libraries didn’t seem nearly as dire.

So activists who argued that libraries were an essential public service put a measure on the ballot in 1994 that guaranteed at least a modest level of library funding. The improvements have been dramatic: branch library hours have increased more than 50 percent, library use is way up, there are more librarians around in the afternoons to help kids with their homework…. In that sense, the Library Preservation Fund has been a great success. The program is scheduled to sunset next year; Proposition D would extend it another 15 years.

If the current management of the public library system were a bit more trustworthy, this would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the library commission and staff have been resisting accountability; ironically, the library — a font of public information — makes it difficult to get basic records about library operations. The library is terrible about sunshine; in fact, activists have had to sue this year to get the library to respond to a simple public-records request (for nonconfidential information on repetitive stress injuries among library staff). And we’re not thrilled that a significant part of the library’s operating budget is raised (and controlled) by a private group, Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, which decides, with no oversight by an elected official, how as much as 10 percent of library money is spent.

But libraries are too valuable and too easy a budget target to allow the Library Preservation Fund to expire. And the way to fend off creeping privatization is hardly by starving a public institution for funds. So we’ll support Prop. D.

Proposition E (mayoral attendance at Board of Supervisors meetings)


If it feels as though you’ve already voted on this, you have: last November, by a strong majority, San Franciscans approved a policy statement calling on the mayor to attend at least one Board of Supervisors meeting each month to answer questions and discuss policy. It’s a great idea, modeled on the very successful Question Time in the United Kingdom, under which the British prime minister appears before Parliament regularly and submits to questions from all political parties. Proposition E would force the mayor to comply. Newsom, despite his constant statements about respecting the will of the voters, has never once complied with the existing policy statement. Instead, he’s set up a series of phony neighborhood meetings at which he controls the agenda and personally selects which questions he’s going to answer.

We recognize that some supervisors would use the occasion of the mayor’s appearance to grandstand — but the mayor does that almost every day. Appearing before the board once a month isn’t an undue burden; in fact, it would probably help Newsom in the long run. If he’s going to seek higher office, he’s going to have to get used to tough questioning and learn to deal with critics in a forum he doesn’t control.

Beyond all the politics, this idea is good for the city. The mayor claims he already meets regularly with members of the board, but those meetings are private, behind closed doors. Hearing the mayor and the board argue about policy in public would be informative and educational and help frame serious policy debates. Besides, as Sup. Chris Daly says, with Newsom a lock for reelection, this is the only thing on the ballot that would help hold him accountable. Vote yes on Prop. E.

Proposition F (police pensions)


We really didn’t want to endorse this measure. We’re sick and tired of the San Francisco Police Officers Association — which opposed violence-prevention funding, opposed foot patrols, opposes every new revenue measure, and bitterly, often viciously, opposes police accountability — coming around, tin cup in hand, every single election and asking progressives to vote to give the cops more money. San Francisco police officers deserve decent pay — it’s a tough, dangerous job — but the starting salary for a rookie cop in this town exceeds $60,000, the benefits are extraordinarily generous, and the San Francisco Police Department is well on its way to setting a record as the highest-paid police force in the country.

Now it wants more.

But in fact, Proposition F is pretty minor — it would affect only about 60 officers who were airport cops before the airport police were merged into the SFPD in 1997. Those cops have a different retirement system, which isn’t quite as good as what they would get with full SFPD benefits. We’re talking about $30,000 a year; in the end, it’s a simple labor issue, and we hate to blame a small group of officers in one division for the serious sins of their union and its leadership. So we’ll endorse Prop. F. But we have a message for the SFPOA’s president: if you want to beat up the progressives, reject new tax plans, promote secrecy, and fight accountability, don’t come down here again asking for big, expensive benefit improvements.

Proposition G (Golden Gate Park stables)


This is an odd one: Proposition G, sponsored by Sup. Jake McGoldrick, would create a special fund for the renovation of the historic (and dilapidated) horse stables in Golden Gate Park. The city would match every $3 in private donations with $1 in public money, up to a total of $750,000. The city would leverage that money with $1.2 million in state funds available for the project and fix up the stables.

Supporters, including most of the progressive supervisors, say that the stables are a historic gem and that horseback riding in the park would provide "after-school, summer and weekend activities for families and youth." That might be a bit of a stretch — keeping horses is expensive, and riding almost certainly won’t be a free activity for anyone. But the stables have been the target of privatization efforts in the past and, under Newsom, almost certainly would be again in the future; this is exactly the sort of operation that the mayor would like to turn over to a private contractor. So for a modest $750,000, Prop. G would keep the stables in public hands. Sounds like a good deal to us. Vote yes.

Proposition H (reguutf8g parking spaces)


It’s hard to overstate just how bad this measure is or to condemn strongly enough the sleazy and deceptive tactics that led Don Fisher, Webcor, and other downtown power brokers to buy the signatures that placed what they call "Parking for the Neighborhoods" on the ballot. That’s why Proposition H has been almost universally condemned, even by downtown’s allies in City Hall, and why Proposition A includes a provision that would negate Proposition H if both are approved.

Basically, this measure would wipe out three decades’ worth of environmentally sound planning policies in favor of giving every developer and homeowner the absolute right to build a parking space for every housing unit (or two spaces for every three units in the downtown core). While that basic idea might have some appeal to drivers with parking frustrations, even they should consider the disastrous implications of this greedy and shortsighted power grab.

The city has very little leverage to force developers to offer community benefits like open space or more affordable housing, or to design buildings that are attractive and environmentally friendly. But parking spots make housing more valuable (and expensive), so developers will help the city meet its needs in order to get them. That would end with this measure, just as the absolute right to parking would eliminate things like Muni stops and street trees while creating more driveways, which are dangerous to bicyclists and pedestrians. It would flip the equation to place developers’ desires over the public interest.

Worst of all, it would reverse the city’s transit-first policies in a way that ultimately would hurt drivers and property owners, the very people it is appealing to. If we don’t limit the number of parking spots that can be built with the 10,000 housing units slated for the downtown core, it will result in traffic gridlock that will lower property values and kill any chance of creating a world-class transit system.

But by then, the developers will be off counting our money, leaving us to clean up their mess. Don’t be fooled. Vote no.

Proposition I (Office of Small Business)


Proposition I got on the ballot after small-business leaders tried unsuccessfully to get the supervisors to fund a modest program to create staff for the Small Business Commission and create a one-stop shop for small-business assistance and permitting. We don’t typically support this sort of after-the-fact ballot-box budgeting request, but we’re making an exception here.

San Francisco demands a lot from small businesses. It’s an expensive place to set up shop, and city taxes discriminate against them. We supported the new rules mandating that even small operations give paid days off and in many cases pay for health insurance, but we recognize that they put a burden on small businesses. And in the end, the little operators don’t get a whole lot back from City Hall.

This is a pretty minor request: it would allocate $750,000 to set up an Office of Small Business under the Small Business Commission. The funding would be for the first year only; after that the advocates would have to convince the supervisors that it was worth continuing. Small businesses are the economic and job-generation engines of San Francisco, and this one-time request for money that amounts to less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the city budget is worthy of support. Vote yes on Prop. I.

Proposition J (wireless Internet network)


It’s going to be hard to convince people to vote against this measure; as one blogger put it, the mayor of San Francisco is offering free ice cream. Anyone want to decline?

Well, yes — decline is exactly what the voters should do. Because Proposition J’s promise of free and universal wireless Internet service is simply a fraud. And the way it’s worded would ensure that our local Internet infrastructure is handed over to a private company — a terrible idea.

For starters, San Francisco has already been down this road. Newsom worked out a deal a year ago with EarthLink and Google to provide free wi-fi. But the contract had all sorts of problems: the free access would have been too slow for a lot of uses, faster access wouldn’t have been free, there weren’t good privacy protections, and the network wouldn’t have been anything close to universal. Wi-fi signals don’t penetrate walls very well, and the signals in this plan wouldn’t have reached much above the second floor of a building — so anyone who lived in an interior space above the second floor (and that’s a lot of people) wouldn’t have gotten access at all.

So the supervisors asked a few questions and slowed things down — and it’s good they did, because EarthLink suddenly had a change in its business strategy and pulled out of citywide wi-fi altogether. That’s one of the problems with using a private partner for this sort of project: the city is subject to the marketing whims of tech companies that are constantly changing their strategies as the economic and technical issues of wi-fi evolve.

San Francisco needs a municipal Internet system; it ought to be part of the city’s public infrastructure, just like the streets, the buses, and the water and sewer lines. It shouldn’t rely just on a fickle technology like wi-fi either; it should be based on fiber-optic cables. Creating that network wouldn’t be all that expensive; EarthLink was going to do it for $10 million.

Prop. J is just a policy statement and would have no immediate impact. Still, it’s annoying and wrongheaded for the mayor to try to get San Franciscans to give a vote of confidence to a project that has already crashed and burned, and Sup. Aaron Peskin, the cosponsor, should never have put his name on it. Vote no.

Proposition K (ads on street furniture)


San Francisco is awash in commercialism. With all of the billboards and ads, the city is starting to feel like a giant NASCAR racer. And a lot of them come from Clear Channel Communications, the giant, monopolistic broadcast outfit that controls radio stations, billboards, and now the contract to build new bus shelters in the city with even more ads on them.

Proposition K is a policy statement, sponsored by Sup. Jake McGoldrick, that seeks to bar any further expansion of street-furniture advertising in the city. That would mean no more deals with the likes of Clear Channel to allow more lighted kiosks with ads on them — and no more new bus shelter ads. That’s got Clear Channel agitated — the company just won the 15-year bid to rebuild the city’s existing 1,200 Muni shelters, and now it wants to add 380 more. Clear Channel argues that the city would get badly needed revenue for Muni from the expanded shelters; actually, the contract already guarantees Muni a large chunk of additional funding. And nothing in Prop. K would block Clear Channel from upgrading the existing shelters and plastering ads all over them.

On a basic philosophical level, we don’t support the idea of funding Muni by selling ads on the street, any more than we would support the idea of funding the Recreation and Park Department by selling the naming rights to the Hall of Flowers or the Japanese Tea Garden or the golf courses. On a practical level, the Clear Channel deal is dubious anyway: the company, which runs 10 mostly lousy radio stations in town and gives almost nothing of value to the community, refuses to provide the public with any information on its projected profits and losses, so there’s no way to tell if the income the city would get from the expanded shelters would be a fair share of the overall revenue.

Vote yes on K.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

The mayor of San Francisco stopped by Oct. 1 to tell us why we should endorse his reelection, and I walked away with a lot of information. For starters, the mayor is unhappy about a lot of things: he’s unhappy about the murder rate, he’s unhappy about Muni, he’s unhappy about the Housing Authority … he’s even unhappy about his mayoral ride (the Town Car ought to be running on alternative fuel). In the hour-long interview, he must have said he was "not satisfied" a dozen different times.

Which at least shows that he recognizes that the city has a few problems. And there’s no doubt that Gavin Newsom has come a long way in four years. He’s much more self-assured and confident in his positions.

In fact, he was argumentative a lot of the time; he kept saying he wasn’t going to accept the premises of our questions, most of which had to do with major areas in which he’s falling down on the job — Muni, violent crime, housing, open government, public power, and overall leadership, among other things. You can listen to the entire interview, unedited, here. But let me talk a bit about housing, since that’s the biggest issue in the city — and Newsom’s comments were a perfect explanation of why things are getting worse.

I asked the mayor if we are moving in the right direction on housing, since most of what the city is building is housing for the very rich, the city’s General Plan says that 64 percent of all new housing should be below market rate, and there’s absolutely no city plan to get there.

"I’m not going to accept the frame of your question," Newsom said (although he didn’t explain why).

He talked about the money (much of it federal and state) that he’s spent on affordable housing, then went on to say, "Since I’ve become mayor, we have permitted more housing than we have literally in a generation…. We’ve also been building as a consequence of that more-affordable housing. Is it 67 percent? I’m not sure it is in Chicago, New York, or LA. Maybe it is in Belgrade, [Serbia,] but I’m not sure it is in the United States, and I’m not sure any city can achieve that ambitious goal overall."

Me: "What you’re building is expensive, for-sale condos … virtually no rental, virtually no families with kids…. You’re bragging about building 6,000 new units of market-rate housing [per year], but it’s not doing anything for the city."

Newsom: "I’m not bragging about it. I’m saying we can do better and we can do more…. [But] we are not a socialist society. We cannot come in and say we are just going to build this housing without the ability to fund it."

Allow me to translate: Newsom thinks a large part of the answer to the housing crisis is to build more condos and be happy that the developers give the city a few morsels. In other words, he’s OK with a city where 80 percent of the new housing is only for the rich. And he thinks that in capitalist America, we have no other choice.

But no developer has a divine right to build anything in this town, and there are all sorts of ways to raise money for affordable housing, and blaming it all on capitalism won’t fly. I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor, but I’m just not satisfied.

Filling Ed Jew’s seat


EDITORIAL It took a while for Mayor Gavin Newsom to make the obvious move and suspend Sup. Ed Jew, but here are much deeper politics here than just the dubious future of an elected official who should have resigned long ago and will almost certainly be forced out of office.

The mayor has appointed Carmen Chu, a political unknown, to fill Jew’s seat — for now. Technically, it’s an interim appointment; if and when the supervisors vote to remove Jew from office, after what could be a lengthy process, Newsom will be able to name someone to take over the District 4 seat until the next election. And since the mayor won’t say who will get that post, the future of the board is in limbo.

There are plenty of scenarios floating around at City Hall. The way some rumors have it, Newsom will try to pick up not just one but two seats in this play.

Jew, for all his conservatism, was not a loyal Newsom ally, and the mayor couldn’t count on his vote. Replacing him will presumably give the mayor another loyalist to join Sups. Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, and (sometimes) Bevan Dufty. Political observers have been specuutf8g that Newsom may try to find a job that would entice Sup. Gerardo Sandoval — whose final term is winding down — to leave the board early; the obvious way to do that would be to convince Assessor Phil Ting to move into Jew’s seat as a permanent replacement, then give Sandoval the assessor’s job, which he ran for unsuccessfully in 2005.

In the end, under that sort of scenario, the mayor could wind up with as many as five allies on the board — nearly a majority. That would be a dramatic change in local politics and could raise the prospect of the progressives completely losing control of the board in 2008.

It also means that Newsom will in effect be asking the supervisors in the next few weeks to vote on removing Jew without giving them any idea who will replace him.

The politics shouldn’t directly influence the Jew vote; if the suspended supervisor is, in fact, guilty of misconduct (and the evidence looks pretty damning), then the board should remove him from office. But Newsom has a responsibility to play fair too; the mayor needs to tell the public, before the final vote on Jew’s fate, whom he plans to appoint to that seat.

In an interview in the Guardian office on Oct. 1, Newsom strongly implied that he has no plans to try to free up another seat on the board, that there’s no political deal or backroom move in the works. But he also refused to commit to telling the public whom his final choice will be for that seat and said he reserves the right to make any moves that he legally can under the City Charter.

If Newsom isn’t playing games here, fine: what’s the harm in saying, now, what his intentions are? It would defuse the rumors, end the political speculation, and allow the board vote to be exactly what it should be — an up-or-down vote on removing Ed Jew.

No bus shelter secrecy


EDITORIAL Clear Channel Communications, the notorious national media conglomerate that has been monopolizing (and dumbing down) radio for years, is poised to take over the contract to rebuild the city’s bus shelters. The deal gives the company, which also dominates the local billboard market, the right to sell ads on the shelters for 15 years. It’s worth a lot of money — and it’s not at all clear that the city is getting its fair share. That’s because Clear Channel refuses to open its books and allow the public to see what sort of profits it expects to rake in through the program.

Keeping that information secret is probably illegal under the city’s Sunshine Ordinance. It’s certainly bad public policy. The supervisors should block this deal until the financial figures come to light.

The bus shelter program is a classic example of the city using a private partnership to provide a service that ought to be paid for with tax money. The deal requires the vendor to build and maintain shelters at more than 1,000 bus stops, something the city, which hasn’t been aggressive about raising new revenue, can’t afford to do. In exchange, the vendor gets to sell ads all over the shelters, turning Muni stops across the city into commercial marketing devices.

It’s too late to stop that train altogether (although Proposition K would slow it down a bit). Clear Channel has won, in a competitive bidding process, the right to negotiate a final contract with Muni. But the deal will have to go before the supervisors eventually, and when it does they should demand that Clear Channel release its financial projections.

That’s already the intent of city law. The Sunshine Ordinance, passed by the voters in 1999 as Proposition G, includes language specifically tailored to this kind of circumstance. Section 67.32 states, in part, "The city shall give no subsidy in money, tax abatements, land, or services to any private entity unless that entity agrees in writing to provide the city with financial projections (including profit and loss figures), and annual audited financial statements for the project thereafter, for the project upon which the subsidy is based and all such projections and financial statements shall be public records that must be disclosed."

It’s pretty hard to argue that allowing Clear Channel to build advertising structures on city land, as a part of the city’s bus system, with millions of captive customers who are city transit users, is anything but a subsidy within the meaning of Prop. G. City Attorney Dennis Herrera should look into that, and if necessary the supervisors should ask for a specific opinion on whether the city can legally do any business with Clear Channel on this deal before the company releases its finances. The Sunshine Ordinance Task Force should hold a hearing on the deal and advise the mayor and supervisors on whether it complies with the Sunshine Ordinance.

But lawyers can wriggle around words like subsidy, and even if Herrera and the Clear Channel legal team come up with some strange argument allowing the contract to move forward, the supervisors should have none of it. If a giant media monolith wants an exclusive right to sell ads on city property, then the city ought to know how much money is involved so that city officials, in full view of the public, can determine if the contract is a good deal. Clear Channel argues that it’s a private company, and that’s true — but the contract is exclusive, so there are no competitive issues. And if Clear Channel doesn’t want to comply with the city’s sunshine requirements, Muni should put the contract back out to bid and find someone who does.

Silver Griffin


LOCAL LIVE Silver Griffin is composed of three extremely competent musicians, the kind who turn toward one another and half-smile after the execution of a particularly tricky harmony or a successful groove. The band traffics in a muscular, half-danceable brand of indie rock that’s notable mostly for the meticulous slickness of its composition — airtight, but not quite suffocating.

The trio took the stage Sept. 22 at the Rockit Room, breezing through a note-perfect set of songs alternately slinky and strutting. The gig served as a CD release party for the band’s self-released debut, a collaboration with veteran producer Sylvia Massy (Tool, Prince, Red Hot Chili Peppers) titled Here in the Night. The tunes are mostly built off frontperson Liam McCormick’s lilting lyrics and lithe leads, which culminate in chiming eighth-note chorus chords and the vocalist’s wistful, high-register crooning.

Silver Griffin’s songs occasionally evince jazz underpinnings, which might explain the well-honed musicianship that makes the group such a satisfying live act. On record, however, otherwise taut tracks are plagued by meandering horn solos and swells that recall a horrific combination of smooth jazz and Maroon 5’s discarded ideas, convincing at least this reviewer that collusion between indie and fusion is not in anyone’s best interest. McCormick is also a thoroughgoing abuser of the falsetto "Ooo-ooo" vocal technique, often choosing to deploy such dolphin-language scat antics at precisely the point in the song when a memorable lyric would be a bonus.

These caveats aside, Silver Griffin has its fair share of moments, especially when the songs play to the strengths of the talented rhythm section duo, Greg Black and Seabrien Arata. Set standouts included "Taste My Kiss" and "Goldfinger," a shaken-not-stirred homage to the classic Shirley Bassey James Bond theme.

SILVER GRIFFIN Sat/6, 9 p.m., $7, Time Out Bar and Patio, 1822 Grant, Concord. (925) 798-1811, www.timeoutconcord.com

“You Should Stop Editing”


REVIEW I should stop editing? Well, an unedited issue of the Guardian has sprung to my wild or tired mind more than once, whether it be rated X or composed entirely of photocopied press releases. In the case of Ema Harris-Sintamarian’s show at Jack Fischer Gallery, the phrase "You Should Stop Editing" might function as a creative credo — one that allows the artist to range freely within works and between mediums. To put it bluntly, what the exhibit lacks in posturing, it more than makes up for in intricate intensity. These metalandscapes of ink and gouache on velum bloom from a technique that verges on digital design or ancient lithograph in its exactitude yet maintains a hand-drawn, idiosyncratic charm.

Nostalgia and science-fiction dystopia tangle and tango in idiosyncratic ways within Harris-Sintamarian’s mazes, grids, and matrices. Upside Down: The Story of Air suggests the skeleton of a spacecraft — and are those construction workers suspended above a roller coaster made of city halls? Elsewhere the cellular and the architectural entwine, sometimes in disturbing, dead-end fashion. Spaghetti, intestines, musculature, bridges, canoes, eggbeaters, machine guns, movie projectors, vaulted hallways, and decorated ceilings ricochet elastically through time and space. At times, as in Lullaby on C, the carefully open-ended result suggests a page from a sophisticated coloring book before its spaces have been completely filled. Gertrude Stein seems to peek from the background of one piece, and Eugène Delacroix is invoked in another, but for the most part the artist’s cosmology is her own. As she has hinted in statements about her work, she’s remaking Alice or trying to find her in the wicked wonderlands of a life that has spanned from Romanian Communism to Californian capitalism. Just as filmmakers such as Cristi Puiu herald a new wave of Romanian cinema, Harris-Sintamarian shows that acute dreaming can be born abroad.

YOU SHOULD STOP EDITING Through Oct. 25. Tues.–Sat., 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Jack Fischer Gallery, 49 Geary, SF. (415) 956-1178, www.jackfischergallery.com

Gavin Newsom: The Guardian Interview



A theocratic democracy?


My old friend Reese Erlich is remarkably optimistic about Iran, which is a pleasant perspective. I’m glad somebody is.
In his insightful, if sometimes choppy, new book, The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis, he offers an alternative view of a nation and a culture that has been either ignored or demonized by the mainstream press for more than 30 years. His basic thesis — that US policy toward Tehran is moronic, driven by foolish politics, bad information, and greedy geopolitical aims — is hard to dispute. His subtext — that there’s real hope for democracy in Iran — is a bit of a tougher sell.
Erlich has done what few US journalists ever do: he’s visited Iran, repeatedly, and taken the time to meet not just with government officials and activists but with ordinary Iranians. Almost across the board, they condemn the United States and support the Islamic state.
We’re presented with “liberal” politicians — which might be a bit of a stretch — and radical activists, including Marxists, who offer a vision of a democratic Iran. Me, I’m dubious about any hope for theocratic democracy; as a proud atheist, I think that separation of church and state — strict, inviolable separation — is essential for any functioning democracy.
But Erlich’s willing to give other cultures and ways of thinking a break, which is one of the main reasons he’s such a good reporter. And in The Iran Agenda he presents a picture of a nation far more complex than the caricatures we’ve seen depicted by the administration and the evening news.
That’s the real value of this book: you get a sense from a veteran journalist of what you’ve been missing all these years. Erlich tries to sort out the ethnic geopolitics of Iran and explain which groups are aligned with whom (and why the United States supports some of them). It’s all somewhat dizzying, but that’s part of the point. This situation is more complicated than most American opinion makers are willing to admit.
And for all that, it’s a good read.
By Reese Erlich
PoliPoint Press
192 pages, paper
Sat/22, 2:30 p.m., free
City College of San Francisco, Mission Campus, Auditorium (Room 109)
1125 Valencia, SF
Sat/29, 7 p.m., free
Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera
(415) 927-0960
For information on more Bay Area events, go to www.p3books.com.