Volume 42 Number 06

November 7 – November 13, 2007

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Goldie winner — Dance: Shinichi Iova-Koga


Shinichi Iova-Koga’s work is grotesque, beautiful, and funny. As a dancer he is never less than mesmerizing — ephemeral like smoke, limpid like a vernal pool. And yet he is an accidental dancer. The son of two painters, he was initially drawn to photography; at age 12 his bathroom doubled as a darkroom. Then, at San Francisco State University, he became a film major. "All the while," he says, "I was involved in theater, but I thought my main line was behind the camera."

The Oakland-born Iova-Koga also trained in Tadashi Suzuki’s method for actors, through which he was introduced to Butoh. Another influence was the investigative method of Ruth Zaporah’s Action Theater. His most formative teacher, however, was Butoh dancer Hiroko Tamano: "While we were making rice balls one day, [Tamano] asked me if I wanted to join Harupin-Ha [Butoh Dance Theater]." After a while, like many of Tamano’s pupils, Iova-Koga needed to strike out on his own. He traveled to Japan and Germany to study and work with other Butoh masters and, not incidentally, learn to adapt the genre to his expressive needs.

Thanks to these shifts in focus, he has developed a personal form of mixed-media dance theater that integrates contradictory impulses — the ancient and the technological, the chaotic and the formal, nature and nurture. He might be called a dancer at the edge. To Iova-Koga, this may well be a compliment; he has said that "only a dance at the edge reveals the honest life." His process blurs the distinctions between categories of thinking, being, disciplines, and performing. He likes to dig into both humorous and horrible subjects. The resulting works have taken him around the world.

One of his early works, 1996’s Desert Body, showed dramatic flair but not much personal voice. Ironically, he says, "I first started with Butoh so that I could be a better director. Now by chance I am a dancer." He is very precise about what this means to him. Dancing, he has said, means "focusing on the body being danced. To mentally construct a choreography that ignores this is to create a false dance."

Iova-Koga is an avid solo performer as well as a collaborator; he is often inspired by the people around him. His harrowing Tasting an Ocean — influenced by his father’s having lived through the atomic bombing of Nagasaki at the age of five — kept a 2003 audience at the tiny Noh Space on the edge of their seats. His most recent, highly acclaimed solo, Milk Traces, which he has performed in Europe and Japan, was prompted by the birth of his daughter. He calls her his main teacher now: "I follow her without questions."

In ensemble pieces such as Heaven’s Radio, an adaptation of a Samuel Beckett radio drama, and this summer’s Our Breath Is as Thin as a Hummingbird’s Spine (cocreated with Nanos Operetta), Iova-Koga has worked with other Bay Area theater artists (Nils Frykdahl, Ken Rudstrom, and Allen Willner) and Butoh dancers Tanya Calamoneri and Leigh Evans. The duet Ame to Ame, featuring Yuko Kaseki, another Germany-based frequent collaborator, finds the two playing out a riotous male-female relationship in terms of both meanings of the word ame, Japanese for "candy" and "rain." The absurdist Cockroach casts Kaseki as the ghostly wife to Iova-Koga’s husband; she dances through his tea-slurping last moments. His newest enterprise is C(h)ord, which he’s collaborating on with Seattle’s Degenerate Ensemble. It premieres at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on April 24, 2008.


Goldies 2007


The Guardian Outstanding Local Discovery awards — the Goldies — have gone through many phases since 1989, the year they first honored a group of Bay Area artists. They’ve sparked some anarchic celebrations and hosted some quiet and even tasteful affairs. They’ve honored close to two dozen people in one year and paid tribute to less than two handfuls the next. But whatever form they have taken, the Goldies have never been about courting or capturing target markets. They’ve always been a chance for the Guardian, which writes about what’s happening every week, to flip the script and do some curating of its own — to set its own date to celebrate actors, artists, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, writers, and people who do things that can’t be categorized.

"FREE FREE THIS WAY TO HEAVEN FREE." So reads a bit of text captured by the camera of the great photographer William Klein. In recent years the Goldies party has been a free affair. It makes sense: the Guardian is still a free newspaper, built on the ideals of a free press, so the Goldies party should be free to everyone. Though this issue is on the stands for a week, months of effort go into it, and the best and final reward is to see the winners meet one another and discover their fellows’ work, then invite their friends and everyone — that means you — to a celebration.

This year’s Goldie winners were selected by the Guardian‘s Johnny Ray Huston, Kimberly Chun, and Cheryl Eddy after discussions with our writers and critics, including Robert Avila, Rita Felciano, and Glen Helfand, as well as a wide range of people who make, show, and see art in the Bay Area. Look through the pages that follow and you’ll find a muse of cinema, food as weaponry, and even a different definition of sex toys (in this case, toys that have sex with each other). You’ll also find 13 reasons why the Bay Area is awesome.

Click below to find out more about this year’s Goldies winners






















Goldie winner — Music: Wooden Shjips


Wooden Shjips released their "Dance, California/Clouds over Earthquake" 7-inch single (Sick Thirst) last year in much the same way as they had their instigating, self-released Shrinking Moon for You 10-inch: packaged in an unassuming, clear plastic sleeve with hardly any information besides song titles. Beyond sending bloggers and journalists into a tizzy over their sexy, squalling grooves, this set confirmed Wooden Shjips as essential California. While Devendra Banhart and Vetiver reel in mellow ’70s album rock and Comets on Fire carry the torch of scraping psychedelia in the key of Quicksilver Messenger Service, Wooden Shjips recover the dark star lurking behind flower power in groups like Blue Cheer and yes, the Doors. The A-side is all feverish face melt, but it’s on "Clouds over Earthquake" that the band really sets the agenda. A shapely guitar lead dissolves into the heat waves of a droning pulse, eventually giving way to band leader Ripley Johnson’s echo-chamber vocal: "Fire / The sun is rising / Cut through the black clouds / Over earthquake."

Their early records sold out their limited pressings long ago, a fact the band took into consideration when packaging the first 2,000 copies of its eponymous first album (Holy Mountain) with a bonus CD compiling all of the singles’ tracks. Besides being a warm gesture to new fans, the comprehensive packaging has the effect of consecrating Wooden Shjips’ reputation. It seems certain that this band is now at the helm of San Francisco’s ever-burgeoning psych-rock scene. There is also evidence of serious if subtle musical progress being made, from the cryptic garage rock of tracks like "Death’s Not Your Friend" to the artfully expansive arrangements of Wooden Shjips‘ culminating diptych, "Blue Sky Bends" and "Shine like Suns."

In keeping with their scattershot release history, Wooden Shjips have released a new 7-inch on yet another label, Sub Pop. Although many musicians are tailoring their work to iTunes, Johnson’s moved in the opposite direction, recognizing that the material nature of his band’s releases seals their music’s aura, which, redolent of ’60s and ’70s minimalist garage rock, occupies a very specific, romantic spot in many record collectors’ hearts. "It was inspired in part by private-press and limited-press records, like George Brigman’s Jungle Rot [self-released, 1975]," Johnson writes from New York, where Wooden Shjips recently played a round of CMJ festival shows. "More in the sense that if you make a record and put a lot of care into it, someone might discover it someday and dig it."

Long cognizant of the fetish for mystery objects, the singer-guitarist even went so far as to give away the first several hundred copies of Shrinking Moon for You. The gamble paid off nicely, judging by the piqued curiosity inspired by early raves the 10-inch drew from tastemakers like the Wire‘s Byron Coley and Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke. These reviews ignited the dash among critics to tease out the elements of the Shjips’ suggestive sound as so many influences; the Velvet Underground, the Doors, Terry Riley, and Spacemen 3 are most frequently named, though I’d also refer listeners to the burned-rubber daydream of Monte Hellman’s classic 1971 road movie Two-Lane Blacktop.

It would be silly to contend that the Shjips don’t work from the fierce template pioneered on the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat (Verve, 1967), but their cobalt blue jams hardly tell of an anxiety of influence. What matters with Wooden Shjips is the evident relish they take in reconfiguring the shards of a particular music history and the sense of utter bliss in their fire-and-brimstone sonic landscape.



Goldie winner — Visual art: Jenifer K. Wofford


Hey framer, don’t try to frame Jenifer K. Wofford. She’ll turn that frame into a threshold. Her creative identity ricochets from teacher to student to painter to performer to director to curator with a self-determining force that exposes the mutability of such labels.

In May, Point of Departure, Wofford’s evolving series of postcard-size portraits of Filipina nurses, was a highlight (along with understated contributions by Bill Jenkins and Alicia McCarthy) of the UC Berkeley MFA show at the Berkeley Art Museum. In late July and early August, Wofford and 8 of 14 other participating Bay Area artists — including 2007 Goldie winner Michael Arcega — journeyed to Manila, the Philippines, for the first of three installments of the traveling exhibition "Galleon Trade," which she conceived and organized. (The show’s next stop will be at San Francisco’s Luggage Store, and from there it will venture to Mexico City.)

It usually takes a large institution with major funding to assemble a project of "Galleon Trade"<0x2009>‘s scope, but Wofford can not only skewer a museum’s lust for colonialist decoration (as one third of the performance mob known as Mail Order Brides and in solo pieces such as 2005’s Chicksilog) but also do the cultural exchange work that these establishments somehow fail to achieve with all of their resources. "The word that came up for all of us was serendipity," she says, discussing "Galleon Trade"<0x2009>‘s Manila manifestation, which required last-minute scrambling between the city’s thriving visual art and experimental film and video venues. "The entire time we were there, there was just one intersection after another where things fell into place."

The community goals of Wofford’s "Galleon Trade" are counterpointed by her solo art endeavors, which repeatedly tap into transitional spaces and isolated states of being. Hospitals (in Point of Departure and 2006’s drawing-video project Nurse) and motels (in 2005’s installation Motel Cucaracha) are just two liminal zones that Wofford is drawn to as if they were magnetic fields. She explores both in a manner that pinches people’s assumptions about privilege and servitude and what makes an insider or an outsider. "I’m fascinated by borders, or places where people don’t belong," she says. In fact, for her next solo show (at Southern Exposure) Wofford plans to spotlight and perhaps parodically re-create metal detectors in order to tap into their tragicomic potential. This idea takes on another facet when Wofford mentions that her "bullshit detector" goes off anytime that she reenters the art world just after teaching in high school.

"I just can’t not be inappropriate," Wofford jokes, the triple negative demonstrating her affinity for the truth that often resides in awkwardness. "Comedians of color like Dave Chappelle know that you get heard by being funny — the court jester gets to stay in the court. Also, humor can be disarming for a lot of people." This quality, partly forged through her work with fellow MOB artists Eliza Barrios and Reanne Estrada, is present whether she’s displaying the absurdist properties of the Flip-Flop on a Stick (in a hilarious video homage to a hand-fashioned bug-killing contraption she found at a market in Manila’s Quiapo District) or proving Yma Sumac will have her revenge on Hollywood. "Most of my projects have been born from some infantile Beavis and Butthead moment," Wofford goes on to confess, the pop-cult reference pinging off the gray-hoodie poses she and her sister Camille adopted for the 2006 performance-painting Woffords, Paint. "After I stop laughing, I start thinking about why I was snickering."

Where do we come from, and where the hell are we going? Wofford has a keen sense of just how impossible it is to answer those questions, which means she’s as good a person as any to follow into the future.


Goldie winner — Film: Kerry Laitala


A casual observer might simply call Kerry Laitala a filmmaker and leave it at that. But anyone who’s seen her spooky, intricate, delightfully creative works, including 2003’s Out of the Ether, 2005’s Torchlight Tango, and 2006’s Muse of Cinema, would certainly disagree. A self-described "media artist-archaeologist" whose art hinges not just on subject matter but on the physical manipulation of film stock, Laitala makes movies for viewers who’re willing to leave their preconceived notions about cinema at the screening-room door.

"Ninety-nine point nine percent of the people in the world don’t know what [experimental film] is," she said from the living room of her San Francisco apartment. The eclectic decor includes an array of Halloween decorations that Laitala displays year-round, stacks and stacks of books, and curiosities seemingly plucked from a cabinet of dusty Victorian delights. "A lot of people don’t like [experimental film] because it doesn’t fulfill their expectations of what cinema should be. They’re not interested in engaging with something that they’re not familiar with. That’s just human nature."

Having a limited audience doesn’t bother Laitala, who’s been making films since high school. She was first inspired after seeing a 16mm archival print of the Hindenburg explosion. "I was blown away by the paradox of how beautiful it was and how tragic it was too. How horrific and simultaneously incredible it was."

In college at the Massachusetts College of Art and grad school at the San Francisco Art Institute, Laitala pursued experimental filmmaking. At MassArt, "I saw Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart when I was 18 or 19 years old. That was where I became interested in experimental film and working with a medium in a way that’s more personal."

Since the late 1980s, Laitala has completed an impressive array of short films, installations, and projector performance works (including 2007’s Hocus Pocus, ABRACADABRA, recently staged at Francis Ford Coppola’s Napa Valley winery). Her art has screened all over the United States, Europe, and Asia, and she’s about to head down under for her Australian debut. The reason for her international popularity is clear: even if only point-one percent of the population embraces experimental film, Laitala’s works are exceptional — and anyone with a pair of eyeballs, even a befuddled popcorn-movie fan, can see it. Muse of Cinema, a 20-minute re-creation of the experience of going to the movies when movies were still being born, makes use of a serendipitous flea market find: antique magic lantern slides. The result is inspired, multilayered, and visually astonishing.

Five years in the making, Muse of Cinema also highlights Laitala’s technical skills. I asked her to explain hand processing, the technique she uses to create her vivid images. She told me, "After you’ve exposed your film in the camera, you have an image on the film, but you can’t see it. It’s a latent image. In order to bring the image out to the viewer’s eyes when you project it, you have to process it. You can either have a lab do that or you can do it yourself. When you process it yourself, you can manipulate the material. You’d have the pay a lab a lot more money to do that, but also [when you do it yourself] you have a lot more control. Oftentimes it has a handmade look to it because there might be certain kinds of idiosyncrasies with the way that you do the hand processing that’s different than how a lab would do it, where everything’s in a very standardized, sterile setting. With hand processing you can get a lot of interesting effects that are very hard to replicate digitally."

Muse of Cinema‘s soundtrack, created in collaboration with Robert Fox, is similarly complex, an evocative mix of sound effects and music snippets. Because they require her to gather plenty of material for her images and her soundtrack — and endlessly manipulate both to achieve the effects she desires — Laitala’s films are labor-intensive, which is part of the reason she enjoys making them. "I get a lot of ideas during the process of working with the material," she said. "You discover things that you would never set out to achieve if you had everything mapped out from beginning to end. I think a lot of artists work that way. People keep saying, ‘You gotta stop using the phrase experimental film, because experimental film makes it sound like you don’t know what you’re doing.’ It’s a really tricky thing. A lot of people call themselves film artists. You’re working with a medium in the same way that a painter would work with paint. You’re working directly with the stuff itself."

In a follow-up e-mail after our meeting, Laitala further explained herself: "My process is organic, utilizing elliptical forms, allowing my projects to evolve and become entities unto themselves. I am more interested in ideas that arise in a nonlinear fashion where my images can carry myriad meanings, for literal connotations are limiting." And there’s no limit to what this talented artist can achieve.


Goldie winner — Dance/Performance: Keith Hennessy


"Citizens. Wake Up. A new day is dawning in San Francisco and all over the world."

Keith Hennessy, "A Speech to the Poor Artists," San Francisco City Hall, Oct. 4, 2000

Keith Hennessy has made work in the Bay Area for more than 20 years, yet he has stayed at the margins all this time. Yes, his audiences are good, and they show up time after time to watch his latest work, but he hasn’t gotten the grants that would allow him to do big tours or reach a more mainstream audience. Maybe he prefers it that way. Maybe big audiences wouldn’t be comfortable with hearing what he has to say. But Hennessy is that rare artist who succeeds in transutf8g fierce social concerns into artistically satisfying creations that enlighten and entertain.

"Why are you wasting your time researching the grace, beauty, and strength of the human body in motion?"

Hennessy started out as a competitive social dancer in his native Canada and worked his way to San Francisco by clowning, juggling, and doing political street theater. In the Bay Area he studied with Lucas Hoving; in 1985 he became a founding member of Contraband, the most radical dance-theater group of the period. He has had a roller coaster existence ever since, pushing himself to develop new theatrical expressions that allow him to explode the conventions of form in order to speak to and about the marginalized: the poor, the victims, the ostracized, and the homeless. Against all odds he believes in art’s power to reassume its ritualistic and healing function.

"Stop trying to hack your way alone through hostile jungles in the dead of night. Take the FreeWay. It’s paved and easy, and a 24-hour SafeWay is always available."

One of Hennessy’s most daring and controversial pieces was his 1989 solo Saliva, for which he collected spit from willing audience members, mixed it with pigment, and painted his naked body with it. It was an extraordinary act of defiance, courage, and solidarity — as well as spectacular theater.

Spectacle, Hennessy has discovered, is a way to draw in audiences, not to expose them to mindless entertainment but to amuse and challenge them. This can be an intoxicating mix. During his four years with the French circus Cahin-Caha, he became an experienced aerialist and refined his skill of using circus, cabaret, and other popular art forms to create works that foster a sense of community and a set of shared values that are difficult to resist. Hennessy believes in the power of the imagination and in art as a spiritual practice. He also allows his collaborators the full range of their own imaginations.

Last year’s double bill "How to Die" was raw, violent, and difficult to watch. Both pieces examined the erotics of death. SDF USA (Sans domicile fixe, i.e., homeless) paid tribute to the many homeless people, primarily male, who kill themselves every year. American Tweaker honored disco diva Sylvester and an era of unprecedented sexual abandon and sense of liberation within the gay community.

This year’s Sol Niger is probably Hennessy’s best work yet. Looking at the devastation humankind has brought on itself — up to the present day — through a series of tightly structured vignettes, the work celebrates and laments the glory and the frailty of being alive. This is activist art that works — as art and as a call to action. Sol Niger returns to Project Artaud Theater from January 16 to 26, 2008.

"Citizens of San Francisco. Citizens of the second millennium. Wake up. The global city is yours. Blessed be."


Goldie winner — Film: Samara Halperin


It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re watching the films of Samara Halperin. Take, for example, the minute-long Plastic Fantastic #1 (2006). Jaunty bleeps keep the beat as a pair of ketchup-and-mustard-bedecked hot dogs are shredded into meaty octopuses. Freed from their buns, they frolic across a checkered tablecloth and embrace atop layers of sauerkraut and relish.

All of Halperin’s works — especially the ones that use her trademark technique, stop-motion with plastic toys — convey the filmmaker’s ability to find gleeful joy in unexpected places, be it a construction site (as in 2006’s Hard Hat Required), the Wild West (1999’s Tumbleweed Town), or the homoerotic subtext of Beverly Hills, 90210 (2001’s Sorry, Brenda). Her films also reflect her love of bright colors and, especially, pop culture.

"I grew up a few blocks from where they would shoot Sesame Street," the New York City–born, now Oakland-based Halperin explains. "I’ve always had this disconnect where I didn’t really understand that television wasn’t real. I saw Snuffleupagus on the street! So from a very early age, I was deep into [pop culture]."

As a child, Halperin dreamed of becoming a cartoonist and later worked in ceramics. After she entered the Rhode Island School of Design, she realized filmmaking was her calling.

"I’ve always made shorts, and [in 1989] I started making films that I wanted to see that I didn’t see, like queer youth represented or really queer people represented at all," she says. "I got a lot of shit for [my queer subject matter] in the beginning. It just wasn’t fashionable yet."

Now, of course, there’s an entire TV network devoted to queer programming. Logo screened Tumbleweed Town — Halperin’s eight-minute graduate thesis project for California College of the Arts — when programming in response to the Brokeback Mountain renaissance. A marvel of mise-en-scène in miniature, with expressive plastic characters and a score by Corner Tour that perfectly complements the action (another characteristic of Halperin’s films: pitch-perfect musical choices), Tumbleweed Town had a genesis that was equal parts imagination and inspiration.

"I had never done animation before," Halperin recalls. "I’m not really an animation person, but I am a toy person. [The cowboy toy looked] so gay, I thought I’d find a boyfriend for him and build a world where they could be gay together. I’d just moved from Texas, where there were real, handlebar-mustachioed gay cowboys shining boots in the bars. I’m a New York Jew, and I’d never seen anything like this."

Tumbleweed Town is Halperin’s best-known work besides Sorry, Brenda, a black-and-white marvel of suggestive reediting that’s a must-see for anyone who was ever addicted to "BH Niner."

"I really loved the show," she says, inching up her pant leg to reveal a 90210 tattoo on her calf. "I always thought, ‘[Brandon and Dylan] are so gay’ — I just wanted to bring out their relationship and show people what I saw." The piece made its way into the hands of Conan O’Brien, who discussed it on the air with the Brandon Walsh.

"Jason Priestly loved it," Halperin says. "He stole the tape to show to Luke Perry, so that was the crowning glory for a fanatic such as myself."

When she’s not tuning in to new pop-culture craziness — like MTV’s "revolutionary" celebration of bisexuality, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila — Halperin teaches at Mills College and works on an array of new films: a sequel to Tumbleweed Town set in early 1980s New York City; a live-action, nonnarrative homage to her beloved Coney Island, Astroland; and a video project that pays tribute to Richard Simmons and "loving yourself, no matter what you are."

On that note, Halperin’s final thought is especially fitting: "I encourage people to make movies. It’s my personal view that the world can be changed through art."


Goldie winner — Theater: foolsFURY


One of the first things to strike you about a foolsFURY production is its sheer kinetic energy and rigorous physical vocabulary. Hovering somewhere between modern dance and mime, or maybe the fashion runway and the circus, the movement of the actors onstage suggests tightly coiled regimentation and an unpredictable, acrobatic freedom. Bodies rewrite the most seemingly inconsequential gestures as larger than life or in an altogether different register, so that you might suddenly see and wonder at them.

But the next thing to strike you will surely be the words. From its first outing nearly a decade ago to recent San Francisco and New York runs of artistic director Ben Yalom’s translation and staging of The Devil on All Sides (French playwright Fabrice Melquiot’s magic-realist rumination on Yugoslavia’s civil war) and the remounting in September of its exquisite version of the Henry James ghost story The Turn of the Screw (directed by company member Rod Hipskind), foolsFURY remains wedded to deep, often darkly comical, and alluring texts steeped in the mysterious potency of words.

The physical athleticism and stylization onstage — grounded in a unique, evolving synthesis of techniques from Tadashi Suzuki and Viewpoints to commedia dell’arte and Jerzy Grotowski — are, of course, inseparable from the company’s approach to such texts, whether they’re Martin Crimp’s silky and sinister ellipses (Attempts on Her Life), Don DeLillo’s gloomy, incantatory wisecracking (Valparaiso), Kirk Wood Bromley’s neo-Shakespearean, post-American rag (Midnight Brainwash Revival), or even Shakespeare himself (in one inimitable take on Twelfth Night that went solely by its telling subtitle, What You Will). This pairing of soaring physicality and textual depth has been a driving force behind the success of the small but restlessly active, ambitious company (which has also become a vital teaching center in the theater community) since its noteworthy debut in 1998.

Together with other choice elements — including the sensitive use of music, sound, and scenic design — foolsFURY’s heightened theatrical language is, at its best, a surprise and a challenge to audiences, inspiring and even requiring them to develop new ways of receiving a performance. Yalom concedes that it has taken some time to achieve all of this, including a stable group of like-minded, technically practiced actors. He claims he wasn’t thinking beyond a single play when he almost inadvertently founded the company. "I had no idea what it meant to be a professional theater director or artistic director," he recalls. "I was working with a couple of companies, trying to get them to hire me to direct a play — specifically The Possibilities, the Howard Barker play. After a while I started to get to know the scene, and it became pretty evident that that wasn’t going to happen. So I decided I was going to produce it myself."

Novice though he was, he had long been thinking about what makes theater different and vital, a train of thought the company members have since taken up together. "After spending a lot of time experimenting, we started to find certain aesthetic forms that were interesting. But to me it really comes down to the larger question ‘What should be the role of this art form in our contemporary culture?’ Because, frankly, if it doesn’t have a specific value and something that is unique about it, then, much as I love doing it, it would be irrelevant. I don’t think that’s the case [with foolsFURY], though it’s taken me a long time to figure out how and why."

And the name? "I made it up," says Yalom. "It really fit the Barker piece, and I think to a certain extent it fits [the company]. What underlies a lot of our sensibility is a collision of things that are uncomfortable and things that are funny because they’re uncomfortable. We’ve done a couple of shows that would be categorized as comedies. The far greater amount of work has been things that have been funny but funny because they are challenging and thought provoking and, certainly sometimes, very upsetting. The Barker was a perfect example of that: the ‘fool’ and the ‘fury’ just sort of crammed together."

Goldie winner — Music: The Finches


We wish they all could be California girls — or pure products of the Bay like the Finches’ Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs. On the phone from New York City, where she’s playing a series of CMJ-related shows, the singer-songwriter is as laid-back about scheduling an interview ("Whatever’s clever!" she says merrily) as she is playfully lickety-split with a quirky quip, a roll-off-the-tongue rhyme, or an unguarded revelation (of a new Los Angeles job that requires the 26-year-old be on her feet all day, she says, "I wear a knee brace. I already dress like a grandma — now I can own it all the way"). She’s scattered, maybe even flighty, but in the most charming way imaginable. "I feel like my heart is in the Bay and my head is in LA and my feet are in New York City," the rootless songbird trills. "I’m disconnected, but flexible."

That ability to sink, swim, or sing on the fly has served the East Bay–bred Pennypacker Riggs well. It doesn’t hurt that she has a wonderful voice — a pure, unadorned soprano that disarms as simply and sweetly as her weaving, bobbing, winsome thoughts. It gracefully complements such refreshingly unpretentious folk numbers as "June Carter Cash," "Last Favor," and the title track of this year’s Human like a House (Dulc-i-Tone) — all concerned are plain of speech, untrammeled in spirit, yet uncannily right on and resonant in the way they transform everyday language into memorable songs. With accompaniment by guitarist-vocalist-bassist Aaron Morgan (Roots of Orchis), Human, which is beautifully packaged with Pennypacker Riggs’s fairy-taley woodcuts, builds on a 2006 self-released EP, Six Songs, and shows that the Finches are here to stay, despite the fact that Morgan has recently flown, and that Pennypacker Riggs still harbors a palpable longing for a nest "by the bay … looking out the Golden Gate."

The songs emerged — and continue to find their shape — through Pennypacker Riggs’s footloose wanderings: "I guess I kept thinking about the Bay Area, how I’d never be able to afford a house there. Will I ever be gainfully employed? That kind of quarter-life crisis." Thankfully, the songs are portable. Many were written while she was living in Germany in 2004, pining away for Zachary’s pizza. Later she and Morgan, a kindred UC Santa Cruz graduate, tracked the tunes during various school breaks. Human‘s numbers were first laid down in San Diego with Morgan’s dad before the pair completed the LP — with contributions from Vetiver’s Alissa Anderson, Roots of Orchis’s Justin Pinkerton, and Pennypacker Riggs’s mother, Susan, on recorder — in El Cerrito among Pennypacker Riggs’s music-loving brood; her father, physicist Carlton Pennypacker, also writes, namely operas about scientists. "I considered majoring in physics when I started college," Pennypacker Riggs says with a laugh. "But I learned to do real art, and it was too much lab time for me!"

With a new EP coming out with live takes recorded in Austin, Texas, and at WFMU in Jersey City, NJ, and new songs featuring the Papercuts’ Jason Quever, the Finches seem to be finding a delicate foothold, one that has been musically compared to ’80s UK group the Marine Girls but might also be gently, loosely held against the work of local legend Jonathan Richman. It’s music out of time, away from any hipster posse — something that initially riveted Dulc-i-Tone head and Revolver staffer Matt Roberts. "That’s what I like about them," he writes in an e-mail. "Music not connected to a scene is timeless music. These songs could have been written in the ’60s, the ’70s, or the ’00s — it’s just good songwriting."



Goldie winner — Music: Kirby Dominant


In hip-hop the path to wisdom passes through comedy. It’s been that way since Biz Markie got people thinking about romance and friendship and De la Soul got touchy-feely over Steely Dan samples. Think of Prince Paul, who could teach Woody Allen a thing or two about using psychoanalysis as a filter for funny societal commentary. Think of Kool Keith, a man of many masks who has riffed on medical authority as creatively as Prince Paul. Kirby Dominant is adding hot-like-fuchsia chapters to this tradition. He’s got the wisdom: having been through lockup and UC Berkeley, from which he received a degree in urban economic development, he knows the block from every angle. He’s definitely got the comedy: his Kirb and Chris mixtape Niggaz and White Girlz and second solo effort, Starr: Contemplations of a Dominator (Rapitalism), are the funniest and most imaginative recordings — in and out of hip-hop — of the past two years.

"I like to shock you with words, put them where they’re not supposed to be," says Dominant, who defines domination as living life on one’s own terms. "I’m into wordplay. I like Shakespeare. I like lyricists from Joni Mitchell to Kool Keith. A lot of times people in hip-hop try to tell their whole life in one fucking song. I study songs and think, ‘How come you can’t write a song about waking up in the morning and how the sun looks right before your girl wakes up?’<0x2009>"

The sun rises on the latest chapter of Dominant’s story during Starr‘s "Come Outside," the kind of effortlessly loose jam OutKast struggled to make after hitting crossover pay dirt. Before the track segues into a distorted guitar freak-out Cody Chesnutt might covet, Dominant delivers a singsong threat to smack talkers that’s plain irresistible. If the already classic Niggaz and White Girlz — with its genius new wave thug revisions of tracks by the Smiths, Talking Heads, the B-52’s, and more — is irreverent toward everyone, Starr is, as the title states, more contemplative. (Though on Daddie Flaire in White World, one of the album’s DVD video-skit extras, Dominant flips the script of Niggaz and White Girlz, sparking laughs while showing that racism is uptight and in effect.) In Dominant’s world, hip-hop is maturing more interestingly and unpredictably than it does on an MTV or VH1 reality sitcom.

"I want to release music as much as I want to, when I want to," Dominant says in an interview segment of Starr‘s DVD. Free from the sample fees that dog so many MCs because he knows how to make the keys of a Korg or a white Yamaha piano sing, he’s doing just that through his label, Rapitalism, which takes its name from his first solo collection, 1998’s Rapitalism: Philosophies of Dominant Pimpin‘. On that recording from what his peer Lyrics Born on Starr‘s DVD calls the "Telegraph [Ave.] era," Dominant sometimes appealingly drops knowledge with a flow akin to Dr. Octagon over DJ Krush–like grooves. Today he’s developed a style and sound wholly his own, which allow him to rhyme freely about joy and pain over live sounds from Roy Hargrove.

On the new compilation Rapitalism Records Presents Poppin Alwayz (Rapitalism), Dominant relinquishes total control in the name of friendship, allowing his labelmates Stephen Padmore, Chris Sinister (of Kirb and Chris), and the Kevin Riley Experiment to take the mic, though his track "Nauzeated" is an undeniable highlight. As for the days ahead, he knows the full workings of the city lurking in the title of his next solo venture, The Dominator: A Psychological Journey through Egocentricity. Kirby Dominant: he’s what French people call stylistic.



Goldie winner — Lifetime Achievement: Creative Growth


The second I step into Creative Growth one late Friday morning, I feel slightly elated. It may have something to do with the sunlight streaming through the ceiling windows of the wide-open space, a white-walled relative of the equally amazing (in an entirely different manner) Paramount Theatre a few blocks away. It may have something to do with the fact that almost 100 people are making art at the same time and instead of hearing snippy criticisms, I’m meeting a guy named Jorge Gomez, who likes to hug. Whatever it is, it isn’t an accident. A few hours later I read an excellent profile of Creative Growth by Cheryl Dunn in ANP Quarterly, and she describes the same overwhelming and singular sensation that comes with encountering "the ferocious energy of intense art-making and creative energy being mined from the deepest levels of human consciousness."

Since 1974, Creative Growth has served artists with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities. It’s the oldest and largest studio of its kind in the world. It has not only exerted a deep influence on today’s Bay Area visual art (to cite an immediate example, at least two other 2007 Goldie winners have connections to Creative Growth) but also been the home studio of artists such as George Kellogg, Dwight Mackintosh, Donald Mitchell, William Scott, and the late Judith Scott, each one distinctively visionary. Creative Growth and all of its artists, past and present, deserve the Lifetime Achievement Award, though the world has yet to catch up with what’s happening at 355 24th St. in downtown Oakland.

"Working in the midst of 150 living artists making things every day has been an incredible experience," Jennifer O’Neal, Creative Growth’s gallery director, says to me as we sit at a table within the gallery, which is connected to the space’s studio in a manner completely at odds with the sterile insularity of commercial art spots. "It’s art doing something very real. Art can be a privilege, and this place turns privilege on its ear."

In the seven years since Creative Growth’s executive director Tom di Maria arrived from the Berkeley Art Museum — and the five years since O’Neal ventured over from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art — the Creative Growth force field has extended across the country and around the world; for example, both the space and William Scott have had shows at New York’s White Columns gallery space, just two of at least a dozen such shows happening in different cities and countries this year. "William’s mother and sister traveled with him," O’Neal says, remembering Scott’s solo exhibition, every piece of which was sold. "Now, at the age of 40, he can start to take care of them."

Scott may or may not be at the studio the day I’m at Creative Growth. After admiring his fantastic paintings of San Francisco and the Bay Area since 2004, when local painter Timothy Buckwalter first told me about them, I’m a bit starstruck — especially when Creative Growth teacher Spike Milliken (after waving hello to fellow practicing artist Tara Tucker) shows me some of Scott’s latest large-scale, increasingly intricate paintings of a penthouse-free Frisco, where sites such as Orlando Towers and Hallelujah Village thrive. "Check out the depth of feeling," Milliken says, pointing to the individually nuanced lights within the windows of a Scott-rendered building that looks uncannily like Fox Plaza. Ten minutes later I marvel at some enormous Frankenstein’s monster heads in the corner of a storage space. It turns out that Scott, who loves Halloween, made them.

Milliken gives me a whirlwind tour of Creative Growth, showing me Stanley Rexwinkle’s narratively complicated yet spare work, Chuck Nagle’s big sculptures, some dessert-themed art by the witty Terri Bowden, a T-shirt featuring John Martin’s drawing of a fly ("It might represent wildlife in his landscape"), and William Tyler’s ’50s-sensibility interiors. All of these people are featured in One Is Adam, One Is Superman: The Outsider Artists of Creative Growth (Chronicle Books), which pairs their pieces with deeply candid photo portraits by Leon Borensztein, but to see their art in person is something else entirely. I’m momentarily hypnotized by stacks and stacks of Mackintosh’s and Mitchell’s drawings. Then Milliken opens a drawer filled with the NECCO-shaded, gender-bending glam dandies of Aurie Ramirez, and I’m wowed once more.

"If we considered alcoholism a disability, there would be no more distinction between artists and artists with disabilities," Milliken says as we once again cross from the gallery back to the studio and check in with Nick Pagan as he works in Creative Growth’s ceramic space. That type of thought is one I’ve entertained often in recent years, after making art with many of the same materials found at Creative Growth played a huge role in digging me out of the depressive side of manic depression. Within the art world and the academy there has been a lot of writing about definitions of and responses to outsider art, but much of it usually makes me want to simply go straight to the source — the art itself — and to early texts such as Roger Cardinal’s sadly out-of-print 1972 book Outsider Art (Praeger), which engages with Jean Dubuffet and art brut while presenting pieces by Adolf Wölfli and others that cry out for color-plate treatment. Who is outside and who is inside, anyway?

Outside Creative Growth, many if not all of the space’s artists are treated like outsiders; inside Creative Growth they’re in touch with their selves in a manner that exposes the ignorance of increasingly automated urban ways of being. "Matthew Higgs has said something [in an article by Buckwalter] that stuck with me," O’Neal relates at the end of our conversation. "Creative Growth serves a 24-mile radius of persons with disabilities around the East Bay. If you were to take a compass and trace a similar circle around any urban center, you’d find that talent."

Get out your compass and start tracing.


Goldie winner — Visual art: Colter Jacobsen


Four years ago this month Colter Jacobsen got his biggest break, his most bruising teardown, and his greatest opportunity in one 24-hour period. He’d been tapped to do a project in a much-talked-about exhibition, "17 Reasons," alongside John Baldessari, Jeremy Deller, Trisha Donnelly, and Chris Johanson, organized by California College of the Arts curator Kate Fowle and Mission gallerist Jack Hanley. Jacobsen worked for weeks on the sort of public art-slash-intervention the curators wanted, "inserting new works into street life," and finally draped the midsize bronze commemorative tablet erected by the state at the corner of Albion and Camp with a sculptural suite of water-stained packing boxes and fruit crates, altered with paint, glue, collage, watercolors, and pencil into a text-laden carousel of raw forms (and, incidentally, a tribute to Kylie Minogue). When the art walk began all was well, but as afternoon wore into evening road workers discovered the desecration, and by morning the piece had been demolished. Luckily, Matthew Higgs, whose work was also in "17 Reasons," had viewed Jacobsen’s project just before dusk and invited him to stage an even grander installation at White Columns in New York City.

And when New York Times reviewer Roberta Smith singled out Jacobsen’s work at the resulting 2005 exhibition, his crew in San Francisco cheered from afar. Since then it’s been one thing after another for our lad. (He appears in and created the titles for The Key of G, Robert Arnold’s 2006 documentary on the struggles of Gannet Hosa-Belonte, who lives with Mowat-Wilson syndrome in the Mission. Jacobsen was one of his caregivers for several years.) Finally, with gallery representation and a growing international fan base, Jacobsen, now 32, can devote himself to his art full-time. In a town rich with brilliant visual and conceptual artists of all stripes, it can be hard to get attention; in some ways Jacobsen’s lucky, and he knows it. You won’t find a humbler guy.

At a recent Jack Hanley Gallery show Jacobsen tried a lot of new things, but you couldn’t get away from the doubling. A found photograph of a baptismal scene in a spooky arts and crafts church hung low on one wall. Across the gallery, just as low, Jacobsen had hung a tiny painting of the same scene — same muddy colors, same dimensions. His delicate drawings seem to be already in ruins, as if commenting on the urban realities of life in the Mission. Many are what he calls memory drawings — each an image taken from life and then matched with an identical one drawn from memory. The work’s sort of scary that way, recalling Mr. Memory in Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps, who keeps the terrorists’ secrets locked up in his brain and recites them under compulsion.

Just as impressive as Jacobsen’s draftsmanship is his brilliant infusion of old-school, Mission school, DIY junk assemblage with a sophisticated gay semiotics. When the poet and curator Bill Berkson uncovered a series of texts he’d written 25 years back, he decided, well, Joe Brainard’s no longer around to do the job, so why not ask Jacobsen? (The result, Bill, in 20 panels, was included in the spring exhibit at Hanley.) I wonder if you can judge a person by their artistic heroes; Jacobsen’s wild grab bag includes Brainard, Fran Herndon, Jack Smith, Jess, Kenward Elmslie, Denton Welch, and Jack Spicer — artists and writers with a vision off-kilter and sublime. Just like a burning radio, Jacobsen gives off sparks and a crazy echo of music.



Goldie winner — Music: Non-Stop Bhangra


A swish of beaded cerulean silk, jingles of hammered gold, the rousing ring of a tabla — and it’s on, desi darlings. Over the course of the past three years, the monthly Non-Stop Bhangra club night has drawn to the Rickshaw Stop’s dance floor hundreds of often barefoot revelers eager to lose themselves in the rum-tum-tum of the deep dhol drums, the rippling chimta claps, and the spiky electronic accoutrements that make up the unique and funky, Punjabi-by-way-of-London bhangra sound.

Gloriously collaborative, Non-Stop Bhangra got its start in 2004, when DJ Jimmy Love joined forces with Suman Raj-Grewal and Vicki Virk of the Dholrhythms dance troupe to bring bhangra and the popular art of Punjabi dance to a larger audience — and to bring the party, of course. Each Non-Stop Bhangra night includes live dhol drumming and other accompaniment; an eclectic roster of global-minded DJs mixing traditional Punjabi tracks, new compositions, and tabla-tinged remixes; better-than-Bollywood visual projections; and live painting by Marcus Murray, who creates a different piece of art for each event. The night is capped off with performances by the gorgeous Dholrhythms dance troupe, whose stylized whirling and fluid poses send many a heart a-flutterin’, this writer’s included.

"Bhangra is such a joyous form of expression and can be done by anyone, regardless of age, size, gender, and background," the Punjab-born Virk says. "It’s truly universal." A former attorney licensed with the California State Bar Association, she left the staid world of lawyering to pursue her dreams of dance and helped found Dholrhythms in 2003. "I’m just so incredibly pleased that we’ve had such a successful three years bringing this form of music and dance to a larger audience and to expand the scope of people’s impressions about it all," she says. "It’s quite a dream come true."

Virk believes firmly in the spiritual association of music and dance with what she calls people’s "duty as divine beings to discover passion and manifest our highest potential in order to fulfill life’s purpose," and with Raj-Grewal, she has initiated dozens of Dholrhythms students into the world of bhangra bliss. (Non-Stop Bhangra nights also serve as showcases of her students’ newfound Punjab prowess live onstage.) But beyond the spiritual sphere, the event has also served as a nexus of the Bay Area’s world music scene, embracing, supporting, and absorbing sounds as disparate as the stony Jamaican dub pyrotechnics of the Dub Mission crew, the lively Southeast Asian electro and breakbeat mischief of Surya Dub and DJ Maneesh Tha Twista, DJ Cheb i Sabbah’s longitude-hopping dance music fusion, J-Boogie’s urban hip-hop amalgams, and the Francophone Afrobeat stylings of Soul Afrique — all of whom have made storied appearances behind Non-Stop’s decks.

Earlier this year Non-Stop’s nonstop popularity was affirmed with a packed headline gig at one of Stern Grove’s summer Sunday concerts, and the crew has recently performed at 1015 Folsom, Pier 39, the Harmony Festival, and the Power to the Peaceful Festival in Golden Gate Park, where the Dholrhythms dancers were greeted rapturously by an audience of 40,000. "Bhangra has grown into something the US can embrace, because we believe in a scene where a mix of cultures can all come together to dance and enjoy wonderful music," Virk says. "Non-Stop Bhangra is about nonstop expression — and acceptance of yourself and others."



Goldie winner — Visual art: Michael Arcega


Make your way through the twists and turnarounds of Michael Arcega’s visual puns and titular wordplay — exhibit one: El Conquistadork, the 2004 Spanish galleon constructed of Manila folders that he launched in Tomales Bay, a point in the historic trade route between Mexico and the Philippines — and you’ll find yourself connecting the dots to the Manila, Philippines, native’s first artistic incarnation: an elementary school graffiti artist who once went by the tag Design.

"Then I switched it to Sen, then I got turned in and dwindled," Arcega says, recalling his eventual bust at Upland High School in Southern California. Yet school still rules the San Francisco Art Institute graduate’s world. The 34-year-old is currently hiding out in his Stanford studio, buried in first-year course work for an MFA. One can only wonder what the teenage Arcega would have made of the immaculate grounds of the so-called Farm — he remembers thinking when he first made the move from Eagle Rock High in Los Angeles to Upland, "Oh my god, the walls are so clean here!" — though today the artist clearly channels his subversive, pranking tendencies into pointed works executed with a meticulous hand and a puckish wink. Informed by ’90s multiculturalism but intent on moving forward, Arcega’s pieces, primarily sculptures and installations, upend language and probe the hybrids formed by cultural colonizers and the colonized.

Arcega’s exhibition at the de Young Museum, "Homing Pidgin," part of the "Collection Connections" series in which local artists make new art that reinterprets the museum’s objects, seems tailored for the San Francisco resident. He riffs off the Oceanic Art collection with the acuity and seemingly personal perspective found in such previous pieces as Terrorice, in which he conflates the United States’ "aid" supplies of arms and food with the construction of a rice AK-47 and grenade. Lingering in that zone where ha-ha morphs into aha, Arcega’s massive wooden Spork wittily spears the cultural-culinary invasions of fast food and the popular carved or painted salad utensils that populate souvenir shops in the Philippines while referencing the fact that most tribal cultures ate with their hands before the arrival of European explorers. The museum’s clubs, used in war and in ceremonial dances, are made over by Arcega, reenvisioned as intricate warships and barges topping ax handles and dance clubs — one even emits pulsing disco lights — perched on table legs. The artist also revisits mystery meats of the past — and explodes them — with Spam/Maps: Oceania, which replicates every teeny Pacific atoll using the canned luncheon meat and US occupation–era military ration whose name is an anagram of maps.

It’s powerful stuff from a punny guy. "He can move seamlessly between media, with the highest level of creative skill, to create pieces that disseminate his point of view in both political and historical terms," Arcega’s gallerist Heather Marx pinpoints via e-mail. "His brilliant use of humor subtly challenges the traditional notions of art practice, thus veiling the weightiness of his messages."

Arcega has certainly traveled far from the moment he first glimpsed and then imitated the graf art in the basement of his elementary school. He’s since leapfrogged from illustration to painting, sculpture, performance, and installation before, as he says, "discovering text as a medium. Now I just pick from an arsenal of past explorations." But right now the rigors of the academy call. "I wanted to put things on hold while I was at school so I could play without consequence," he says happily. "It’s stepping back to leap forward."





› paulr@sfbg.com

It would be possible to enjoy a visit to Bodhi without eating anything at all, and this is not because the restaurant’s Vietnamese food is unworthy, but because the setting itself is so rich in allure that just sitting there (perhaps in the company of a good conversationalist, just to be on the safe side) is pleasure enough. Bodhi’s atmospheric magic is the magic of Europe’s public squares and has to do with architecture, artfulness, and the weaving of the private threads of human lives into a community fabric.

Food is central too, of course, in the casting of this enchantment. But let’s begin with the building, a gracious old brick structure that’s been subtly brought up to date with a good sandblasting and new windows, which are to a facade what new glasses are to a human face. Inside, the restaurant consists of two boxy, high-ceilinged dining rooms, connected by a grand passageway, like a squared-off proscenium arch, and the walls are hung with colorful abstract art. I have my doubts about abstract art, but I have even graver doubts about restaurants with no art at all on the walls. Art in public spaces, even public spaces devoted to activities other than art appreciation, isn’t a luxury and shouldn’t be considered discretionary. It’s an indispensable ingredient in the flavoring of mood, the temper in which people gather to eat.

Years ago, when a freeway viaduct still blighted the area, the space was occupied by a pan-Asian restaurant called the Window. That enterprise moved to Cathedral Hill and then became a Chinese restaurant. The viaduct, meanwhile, came a-tumblin’ down, and, in the vicinity of Valencia and Duboce, it was as if the sun were finally peeping out after years of sullen cloudiness. It didn’t hurt, either, that the public housing project across the street was demolished and rebuilt according to a more humane ethic. Inner Valencia still has something of the flavor of undiscovered country, but if Bodhi is a predictor, then the Valencia restaurant corridor could soon reach all the way to Market Street.

Bodhi’s food, unlike the Window’s, is pretty much straight Vietnamese, as that cuisine has come to be understood in this country, although there are a few little cross-cultural twists and turns here and there: spring rolls filled with Peking duck, for instance, or grilled beef and pineapple, in a brief curtsey toward Hawaii. A representative introduction to the kitchen’s style is Bodhi’s sampler ($15), a likable hodgepodge of nibbleables and noshables whose members include crispy rolls (stuffed with pork, taro root, carrots, and onions), summer rolls (filled with shrimp, cucumbers, and lettuce and presented as stubby cylinders, like nigiri), sugarcane shrimp (which look like tiny corn dogs), noodle patties, and a long berm of lemongrass grilled beef, suitable for scooping up with lettuce leaves.

After all that, you wouldn’t necessarily be panting after soup, though we liked the sweet corn soup with Dungeness crab meat ($5), a kind of egg-drop number with cameos by a couple of big stars. (Seasonality buffs will notice that corn and crab are an awkward combination; the first is a summertime treat, the second a holiday season delicacy. If there is overlap, it would have to fall about now, in midautumn.)

Satay fish ($13) attracted my attention not least because I wondered if we were walking into a disaster. Delicate fish don’t always like being skewered and don’t always take kindly to the harsh, dry heat of the grill. One foresaw crumblings, disintegrations. But the whitefish filets (of tilapia?) turned out to have been marinated in coconut curry and threaded carefully onto the skewers, and the result was a surprising intactness, with sly but distinct flavors.

More in the extrovert line was citrus chicken ($10), a low mountain range of boneless cutlets that had been breaded and fried until tender gold, then drizzled with an orange reduction, like a spicy-sweet syrup. White rice or cold rice noodles made adequate accompaniments, but you’re not likely to miss them if they’re not there.

At lunch the servings are, if anything, even more generous than those in the evening. I struggled through a rather vast plate of garlic noodles ($7.50) tossed with shreds of sautéed beef, while a green papaya salad ($6.50) — a formidable mound in its own right — was augmented by steamed shrimp, halved lengthwise. The papaya in this salad was crisper than what I have found to be usual and also dressed with a bolder, more acidic lime vinaigrette than is typically the case. Only the seafood combo ($8), a jumble of shrimp and calamari in a lively amber sauce, with green beans and zigzaggy tabs of carrot thrown in for color, was reasonable enough in size to finish without being incapacitated for the rest of the afternoon.

Bodhi, as a culinary experience, isn’t the match of a place like Dragonfly, which lifts Vietnamese cooking to a sublime level without doing violence to its basic character. But even the grandest restaurant is never entirely about food; a meal in a restaurant is a holistic interval whose meaning and value turn not merely on what is eaten but on whom it’s eaten with and in what setting. In this enveloping sense, Bodhi is unlike any other place I can think of on Valencia Street’s ever-longer restaurant row; it’s the sort of place you go to when you want to keep talking to whomever you’re with long after the last platter has been cleared and the conversation has turned to the subject of art, abstract art, perhaps, pros and cons — cons first, please! *


Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–11:30 p.m.; Sun., noon–10 p.m.

211 Valencia, SF

(415) 626-7750


Beer and wine


Pleasant noise level

Wheelchair accessible

Be my burger


Last week’s rovings included a stop at Bistro Burger, in the basement of the Westfield San Francisco Centre — centre! Please. We’re not at Wimbledon. But the burger transcended its deracinated, strip-mall, airport-prison, why–am–I–in–Las Vegas setting. The meat (Niman Ranch, of course) was tender, juicy, intensely flavorful, and cooked medium rare, as agreed. A slice of pepper jack cheese was present but not overwhelming, and the bun was plump and soft, like a good pillow, but also not overwhelming.

You need not resign yourself to beef here. Any of the burgers are available with a turkey patty or some sort of vegetarian option, though since we showed up rather late in the evening (having completed our other urgent, mall-related business), they’d run out of turkey. Unburgers include a respectable sandwich of grilled mahimahi (a lovely fish but not too exciting: snag a mayo packet or two), while the seasoned curly fries are better than Jack in the Box’s, and that is saying something. Really. They are just decadent. You will have to block out the next day as a fat holiday.

Some days later: a late dinner at Masala (reviewed in these pages aeons ago), on Ninth near Lincoln, near the penny-factory de Young Museum and the recently unswaddled reincarnation of the Academy of Sciences — a splendor of glass. The two structures could hardly be more dissimilar: one incorporates the past and, in its lightness, seems to be at peace with its sylvan surroundings, while the other …

Masala is still pretty good. Less fiery than memory insists. Prices are moderate, and the setting is handsome and proper enough for parents. We found the service to be slightly sluggish, perhaps because it was a weekend night. The restaurant was busy though not full, but a fair number of the people who came to the door weren’t looking for tables but sackfuls of carryout.

D before H, except … It was with a certain tingle of what V.S. Naipaul calls "horror interest" that I recognized I’d misspelled "Stendhal" (10/24/07). It was also too late to fix it — "too late," as Othello says to Desdemona, then strangles her. May I be spared such a fate. As for the unexpected Stendahl: Could he or she be a Scandinavian playwright, of the obscure school?



› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS On my last night at my mom’s house, Jean Gene the Frenchman brought over a pile of greens from the garden where my sisters live. It was starting to get dark, so I had to wash and chop in a hurry. No electricity. What once was a hard-working, law-abiding kitchen sink is surrounded by white buckets and rust-tinted glass jars of water.

I didn’t ask where the water came from, just poured a couple of cups into a bowl and washed 10 pounds of greens in it, concocting a brackish sort of health food soup for chickens: all bugs and grit.

While I was working, Uncle Sonny and Cher, my mom’s brother, came over to talk about property. In question: 12 acres of swampy scrubland and prickly woods outside Youngstown, Ohio, the poorest place in America (small-city size and up). The property is worth about 85¢. My uncle uses it for hunting deer and harvesting mushrooms.

He bow-hunts — hasn’t killed anything there for years — but the land is important to him. It’s important to my mom because she lives on it. There’s another brother and another sister. Like me, they all grew up there and have strange, dreamy connections to the weeds and ditches, the crippled trees, the smell of mud puddles, and 85¢ worth of security. My guess is that they are going to need lawyers to sort it out.

"Papa said never sell the property," my mom assures or reassures her brother. "As long as you have the property," she says my grandpa said, "you will never starve."

The night before, for dinner, we ate dandelion greens and chicory. For dessert: purple-tipped clover — sweet but calorically wanting. After, I found some old popcorn in a closet, popped it in olive oil over a propane stove in the garage, and ate it at the wood stove, in the dark. My mom wouldn’t have any, on account of salt. Oh, and oil.

It’s very quiet at night. You don’t even hear frogs or crickets, let alone refrigerators, and I slept like a baby in the bed in the living room, which Grandma had just died in. After three nights on a train, sitting up, I was going to sleep no matter what, but my mom, on the couch, lullabied me with a soft, hypnotically cadenced lecture on the health risks of synthetic estrogen. In a nutshell, I was going to die. Blood clots, breast cancer, liver disease … somewhere between a stroke and a heart attack, I lost consciousness. My dreams were untroubled.

Woke up to my mom’s voice complaining to a local politician over the phone about I forget which chemical in the water. Then I knew that she was going to be OK.

Aunt Sonny and Cher, Uncle Sonny and Cher informed me later that day, is jealous of my hair. I took the greens out to the garage and sautéed them in olive oil with garlic, onions, and hot peppers. I found two dusty bottles of homemade wine, one half empty, the other half full, both long turned to something beyond vinegar. I figured this would either preserve my room-temperature greens for three more days on the train or kill me immediately.

If there is one thing that I would like this column to accomplish, it is to dispel the myth that there is anything to eat on trains. Where did this rumor get started? Johnny Cash? ("I bet there’s rich folks eating in them fancy dining cars / Prob’ly drinking coffee and smoking big cigars.")

Well sir, while Amtrak might be one notch above the airlines, eats-wise, it’s many, many notches below your neighborhood greasy spoon. The burger, whether you get it from the lounge car snack counter or sit-down style in the dining car, starts out frozen. Pizza’s limp and lame. Even the grilled-chicken Caesar salad is prepackaged. Why? They have refrigeration.

I did not have a cooler. Without beef jerky and a bag of apples I would have perished on the way out. For the way back I had this 32-ounce container of preserved greens to keep me alive and, ur, regular. They tasted great until day three, until now. Reno just came into view. It’s lunchtime, and I’m afraid of my greens.

Last night, for the sake of argument, I had a half-chicken dinner in the dining car ($12.50). It sucked. Still, I highly recommend train travel. West of Denver the scenery is spectacular. And you meet people.

Guys are hitting on me, for example. Two guys, currently. One drinks beer for breakfast, and the other is wanted in New Jersey. "Nothing serious," he assures me.

I believe him and am charmed.

Duck’s breath


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I just found your column by accident, and I love it! Major props to you for being such a talented sex columnist and a mother!

My problem: Between the ages of 19 and 31, I had bulimia. I’m now 37. I love going down on my man, but I feel I gag more than I should. I’ve wondered if it has anything to do with the purging I engaged in when younger. Do you have any ideas for how I could retrain myself so that my gag reflex is not so prominent (if such a thing is even possible)?


Gag Me

Dear Gag:

Forget being a writer-mother (most female writers have accomplished that, haven’t they, without feeling the need for extraspecial acknowledgment?) — props to you for getting over your bulimia. It can be pretty intractable, as I’m sure you know, and it can leave physical and emotional scars that are hard and sometimes impossible to heal. So yay you.

While it’s true that bulimics can get good at gagging, I haven’t found anything to support the idea that they train their gag reflexes into overactivity under normal circumstances once normal circumstances resume, as yours have (and so again, yay you). Quite the opposite, actually: "loss of gag reflex" shows up on most of the symptom lists I’ve found in the literature, and that is some extensive literature, let me tell you. So I think what we have here is in fact your normal gag reflex reasserting itself. Isn’t that nice?

OK, not really. I get that. But a normal response means you can take normal, even simple measures, and my usual prescription for gagging downgoers is so simple that I’m always amazed I have to mention it — I don’t remember anyone ever teaching this one to me! — but there ya go. Wrap your hand around the base of his penis. Slide it up if there’s still too much length to take comfortably (unlikely, if you do the math); slide it down to expose the desired length. It’s like those "no sew" curtains from Ikea: just pick the length you want — and you don’t have to iron anything either.

There are exercises out there, but since they’re mostly the poking yourself in the uvula with a tongue depressor sort of thing, I rarely recommend them; in your case it’s expressly contraindicated. There are a lot of people promising good results with hypnosis as well, but frankly, that’s kind of creepy, and besides, the hand thing works perfectly, so why bother? I do think you can do a little deep breathing and imagine your throat muscles hanging out on a lovely tropical beach listening to calypso tunes and all that, and I do think it helps, but I don’t think you have to do anything more complicated or programmatic than that.

You may also find that after you’ve had enough gag-free, thoroughly (and mutually) pleasant experiences with this, you’ll simply gag less because you’re expecting to gag less. If not, though, hand trick!



Dear Andrea:

In a previous column [3/12/03] you established that it’s safe to ejaculate inside a woman when she’s on the pill. My question is, what should be done then? Does she need to clean it out or can she just leave it in there? If the former, how would you clean it? And if the latter, wouldn’t it drip? It all seems awfully inconvenient either way.



Dear Con:

Oh, bless your heart. Whatever made you think it was supposed to be convenient? Nature is not convenient; she is messy and kind of a bitch, as has often been noted, often enough by me. Here in the column, for instance, I have covered not only duck rape and homosexual duck rape but also homosexual necrophiliac duck rape. Twice. Which reminds me that I never linked to the articles about how female ducks have begun evolving baroquely twisty and turny oviducts to confound the males (properly drakes, I guess) who have been evolving complexly twisted, outrageously outsize phalli that look like they might have been designed by Antoni Gaudí.

From World Science Net (www.world-science.net/othernews/070501_duck.htm):

"[Study lead author Patricia] Brennan hypothesizes that the female waterfowl have evolved these anatomical features to block male attempts at reproductive control. ‘Despite the fact that most waterfowl form monogamous pairs, forced copulations by other males … are common,’ said [coathor Richard] Prum. ‘In response to male attempts to force their paternity on females, female waterfowl may be able to assert their own behavioral and anatomical means of controlling who fathers their offspring.’"

I mean, how cool is that? I wish I’d known about it back when I was doing feminist street theater, because how great would those costumes have been?

Um, what? We weren’t talking about duck rape but about used-semen drippage? Ugh. No wonder I was so eager to veer off topic. As quickly as possible. No, please don’t "clean it out." Yes, it drips. No, nothing bad happens, and nobody’s the wiser — unless you rush straight from bed to nude yoga class, so I advise against that.



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.

Carbon indulgences


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Airlines from Virgin Blue to Quantas have been touting new ecofriendly programs under which passengers paralyzed by enviroguilt over all of those jet-fueled carbon dioxide emissions can pay an extra carbon offset fee for tickets. The money these passengers pay — sometimes as little as $1 — is supposed to go to renewable energy or unspecified green causes and therefore make airline travel carbon neutral.

Carbon offset fees may be new, but the underlying notion goes back to the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church sold wealthy people indulgences to offset the spiritual cost of their sins and assure a place for them in heaven. And yet at least the kids in 1380 knew that indulgences were bullshit. Geoffrey Chaucer’s classic work The Canterbury Tales, written in the late 1300s, makes fun of the thoroughly corrupt pardoner character, a bombastic weirdo who constantly tries to sell everybody official-looking papers that would pardon them for their sins. Chaucer was just one of many thinkers at the time who criticized the idea that any sin can be forgiven with a little gold.

Polluting the environment isn’t a sin in the Christian sense, and yet carbon offset fees are clearly indulgences for a modern, scientific age.

I don’t mean to say that money doesn’t help ecocauses. But the problem is far more complicated than we want to believe. Our planet is in such sorry shape partly because humans are trying to better themselves. China is industrializing in order to make its citizens richer, but last week the Chinese National Population and Family Planning Commission published a report showing that environmental pollution from coal mining has caused the incidence of birth defects to jump 40 percent in the past six years.

There’s no carbon offset price you could pay to fix that. Nor is there an easy way to prevent such disasters from happening in the future if most of the world agrees that industrialization is the road to wealth. Do we use our carbon indulgence money to fund Chinese populations’ return to preindustrial life, thus dooming that nation to a second-class economic status? Perhaps we could use our money to fund education that teaches Chinese kids about alternative energy. But what kind of energy will they use in their classrooms while waiting for scientists to invent something that combusts cleanly and renewably forever?

Preservationist Marc Ancrenaz and his colleagues get it right in a recent article for PloS Biology in which they argue that preserving biodiversity must go hand in hand with eradicating poverty. "Most traditional conservation efforts were typically designed to exclude human residents," Ancrenaz’s group writes. "This failure to consider the interests of local communities has resulted in a general lack of support for conservation and subsequent degradation of protected areas." In other words, if you don’t help the people in a region, it doesn’t matter how many carbon offsets you buy — the area will still suffer.

Ancrenaz discusses two novel preservation programs that incorporate community development in their biodiversity agendas: the Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Project in Borneo and the Tree Kangaroo Preservation Program in Papua New Guinea. Both programs train and hire locals as researchers who can help preserve the habitats of orangutans and tree kangaroos, respectively. I don’t want to offer programs like these as panaceas. Improperly used, they are no better than carbon indulgences. But at least they aim to address the deep connection between human poverty and environmental suffering. Even better would be programs that help locals develop new sources of wealth without requiring them to engage in logging or factory farming to earn money.

I’m not saying you should quit buying your carbon offsets, because maybe some of that money will make it into the right hands. But you should recognize your actions for what they are: guilt-inspired payouts that assuage your conscience rather than thoughtful remedies for problems that won’t be solved with indulgences alone. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who once paid a Linux sysadmin to forgive her for using Windows.

Rent control under attack


› news@sfbg.com

San Francisco’s rent-control and affordable-housing laws could be struck down by a statewide initiative that appears to be headed for the June 2008 ballot.

The measure is sponsored by a coalition of conservative property rights advocates under the guise of limiting the government’s ability to seize property by eminent domain.

Cities and progressive organizations are fighting back by trying to qualify a competing ballot measure that would restrict the ability of governments to seize owner-occupied homes but would invalidate the more radical initiative. Groups from the San Francisco Tenants Union to the League of California Cities are actively mobilizing to gather the needed signatures by the Dec. 3 deadline.

SFTU director Ted Gullicksen told the Guardian, “180,000 rental units stand to be affected in San Francisco,” and argued that the invalidation of rent-control laws would rapidly gentrify the city. He noted that environmental groups have lined up against the measure because of ambiguous wording that “could also impact the revamping of the Hetch Hetchy Dam as well as the work on the levees and the delta.”

His group is mobilizing volunteer signature gatherers to qualify the competing measure — which would need more votes than the right-wing measure to quash the latter — and trying to educate the public through the Web site www.eminentdomainreform.com and a Nov. 14 rally planned for noon at the State Building at Van Ness and McAllister.

Eminent domain laws have been a hot-button political issue since 2005, when the US Supreme Court ruled in Kelo vs. City of New London that the Connecticut city could use eminent domain to seize land for a private development project. The furor over that decision triggered last year’s Proposition 90, which would have restricted eminent domain and defined “regulatory takings” so as to cripple local governments’ ability to enforce environmental laws and other restrictions on property use.

Prop. 90 was narrowly defeated (by 47.6 to 52.4 percent of voters statewide, but 29 percent in San Francisco), and advocates for the constitutional amendment titled Government Acquisition, Regulation of Private Property hoped to learn from the experience in crafting this new measure, for which they say they’ve gathered 850,000 signatures and plan to have one million by the Nov. 26 deadline for turning in 694,354 valid signatures of registered voters.

That measure “had a substantial amount of baggage in that it delved into regulatory takings,” Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, told the Guardian. The latest proposal, he said, “is a fairly tightly drafted measure that deals with eminent domain.”

Actually, as the Attorney General’s Office has concluded in its summary of the measure, it would also strike down rent-control laws, a key source of affordable housing in San Francisco, Berkeley, and a couple of other California cities. The measure’s broad prohibition on laws that “transfer an economic benefit to one or more private persons at the expense of the private owner” could also be interpreted as invalidating inclusionary housing laws, which require developers to create a set percentage of below-market-rate units, and other laws that regulate property.

Coupal admitted the measure attacks rent control and told us, “We think that’s part and parcel of complete property rights protection.” But he noted that units are only removed from rent-control protection when existing tenants move out. And he denied that the proposed act would affect inclusionary housing laws, citing a section that reads, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit or impair voluntary agreements between a property owner and a public agency to develop or rehabilitate affordable housing.”

Yet he also admits that it’s an open question whether affordable-housing requirements for developers will always be deemed voluntary. He said, “The issue of what is voluntary is currently being litigated in a number of courts.”

Public safety, back on track


OPINION About a year and a half ago, James was dealing drugs on a street corner in San Francisco. He wasn’t a hardened repeat offender, just a young man with little education and few prospects. He got arrested and soon faced adult felony drug charges for the first time.

California law sets the punishment for selling narcotics at up to three years in state prison. But we know that 7 out of every 10 people we send to California prisons will commit a new crime within three years of being released — the worst recidivism rate in the nation. If James ended up in state prison, there was a 70 percent chance that he would go straight back in a few years after his release, and we would actually be less safe, not more, for our trouble.

So instead of business as usual, we decided to try something new. We sent him to Back on Track, a program established by a reentry initiative created by my office in partnership with Goodwill Industries, other community service providers, and the business sector. After a year and half, Back on Track had put this former offender into the workforce and gotten him off the street.

Since we launched the initiative, more than 100 former offenders have successfully completed Back on Track. In the process, we’ve learned a lot about public safety and how to change the broken policies of the past that have crowded our prisons and jails without making us safer.

For decades, beginning with the war on drugs, there were only two brands of law enforcement: tough and soft. For decades we’ve chosen to get tough, but it’s mostly been tough on us: we’ve filled our state prisons to the breaking point with low-level offendersmostly drug offenders.

Isn’t there a smarter way to keep us safe?

Through Back on Track we’re initiating a new brand of law enforcement. Low-level drug offenders are referred to Back on Track, where they face swift sanctions for making bad choices and clear incentives for making good ones. The participants receive the basic opportunities for living crime-free that most of us take for granted: concrete job training and employment; union-based preapprenticeships in the building trades; college enrollment and help navigating financial aid; tutoring, money management, and banking instruction; child care, anger management, and parenting support. That’s the carrot, but there’s a stick too. Drug sellers must plead guilty to enter the program, and if they are rearrested or terminated from the program, they go straight to jail — no excuses.

Fewer than 10 percent of Back on Track graduates reoffend — and the program costs only $5,000 per participant, compared to $35,000 per year to house them in jail.

In October we held a graduation ceremony for Back on Track, one of four we’ve hosted since we launched the initiative. James was among the 13 young men and women who graduated. Today all 13 have full-time jobs or are working while they go to school. None have reoffended. More than 100 people currently in the program are following in their footsteps. Every day they’re teaching us that even a modest investment in people, coupled with accountability and clear guidance, can keep our community safe.

Kamala D. Harris

Kamala D. Harris is San Francisco’s district attorney.

The ghost of the Barleycorn


Supporters of the John Barleycorn Pub lost their 10-month battle with new landlord Luisa Hanson on Oct. 27, when the nearly 40-year-old Nob Hill institution closed its doors for good (see "John Barleycorn Must Die," 10/17/07). But members of the Save the Barleycorn Coalition (www.savethebarleycorn.org) won’t let the ‘Corn’s spirit die. Owner Larry Ayre dismantled the interior and is storing its historic decor — including the cobblestone fireplace and the rafters made from an old chicken coop — in Santa Rosa in hopes a finding a new home for the beloved bar. In the meantime, some of the 4,000 people who signed a petition to keep the ‘Corn open have started a Web site, barleycornsurvivors.org, to keep the community together. "Half the place was the location and what we affectionately called our ‘old crap,’<0x2009>" former ‘Corn bartender and coalition cofounder Tony Antico said. "But the other half was always the people."

A polluter could cash in


› amanda@sfbg.com

Mayor Gavin Newsom wants to give Mirant Corp. a $2 million credit to shut down its Potrero Hill power plan and is offering to devote two full-time staffers to helping the company move forward a new development for the site, documents show.

An Oct. 30 agreement between the Mayor’s Office and the Atlanta energy company, obtained under the Sunshine Ordinance, lays out a generous city program to encourage the shutdown — even though city officials say the pollution-spewing plant will almost certainly be closed anyway.

Negotiations are moving forward on the city’s plan to construct a new fossil fuel–burning power plant with two "peakers" between the Dogpatch and Bayview neighborhoods — a project that supporters say will make the Mirant plant economically unviable and lead to its closure.

The 145-megawatt single-cycle natural gas–burning power plant, part of San Francisco’s Electric Reliability Project, is necessary to meet a need for in-city energy reliability, according to the California Independent System Operator, a state agency that controls the power grid.

But the city’s Public Utilities Commission argues that the peakers will obviate the need to keep the Mirant plant running — and Cal-ISO has agreed to pull the company’s lucrative contract for providing power and transfer it to San Francisco once the new city-owned turbines are in place.

Critics are worried that the southeast part of the city could wind up with the worst of all worlds — that Mirant would keep its plant open and the peakers would operate too, increasing the level of airborne pollution in a neighborhood that has suffered environmental injustice for decades.

Now it appears the city has secured a solid guarantee that Mirant will shutter its Potrero plant — at a price.

"Mirant is committing to shut down once the plant is no longer needed for reliability," Jesse Blout, chief of staff of the Mayor’s Office of Workforce and Economic Development, told us. "It’s not economic to run that plant once our plant’s in place."

The city is now seeking a legally binding agreement to secure that closure — and offering a sweet deal to get it.

According to a copy of the current term sheet that’s being negotiated between San Francisco and Mirant, in exchange for the company agreeing to close the plant once it’s no longer needed for reliability, the city "will agree to immediately designate a senior staff member from each of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the Planning Department" and "agree to review and process on a priority basis a completed application for a proposed site plan."

Additionally, the term sheet reads, "In light of the public benefits associated with expediting closure of the Potrero Power Plant, the city will agree that … Mirant will receive a credit of up to $2,000,000 — without interest — against certain city fees and costs, as described below, that would otherwise be payable in connection with review and approval of the site plan and any development project."

Felicia Browder, director of media relations for Mirant, confirmed that closure of the plant is imminent, once the state contract is terminated. However, she would not discuss details of the future use of the 27-acre site, as the deal is not finalized, something that’s supposed to happen this week.

Blout told us a deed restriction prohibits residential use of the land, and he predicted some kind of light industry for the area. The property, located at the bay’s edge between 22nd and 23rd streets, is also home to some of the toxic spoils of industry, which Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the original owner of the site, agreed to clean up to nonresidential standards when it sold its holdings to Mirant.

PUC members expressed satisfaction with the pending shutdown and voted unanimous approval of an Oct. 31 resolution authorizing the commission’s general manager, Susan Leal, to move forward with the plan. The resolution also includes clauses banning the sale of energy for profit from the three combustion turbines at the in-city facility and exploring whether two instead of three CTs could meet reliability needs.

The financing and control of the peaker project is also changing. Initially, the city negotiated a public-private partnership with JPower, a Japanese energy company with an Illinois subsidiary, to finance the $230 million project for two plants — the 145 MW in-city facility and another 48 MW plant located at San Francisco International Airport. Under the original deal, JPower would own and operate both plants for a period of some years before turning them over to the city. Now, however, the city is committing to financing the project and owning it outright, and the contract with JPower will be for operation and maintenance. "It makes more policy sense," Blout said, adding that after 12 to 14 years, "we will own the units free and clear." He said the city plans to issue tax-exempt bonds but at this point was uncomfortable stating how much they would be for.

Though JPower will be staffing the plant for the city, it will not be making a profit. "In the contract it will stipulate they can only run when Cal-ISO calls for them for reliability," the PUC’s Tony Winnicker said.

However, the 48 MW plant located at the airport will still be owned and operated by JPower for a 30-year period, and that plant is licensed to operate for 4,900 hours a year. "JPower will be able to operate that unit up to its limit," Winnicker said. "That’s part of what makes the deal profitable for JPower."

A mixed bag of environmentalists, social justice advocates, and Bayview and Potrero residents who are neighbors of the new and old plants still opposes the city building any new fossil fuel power plants. The Brightline Defense Project is currently representing the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Californians for Renewable Energy, and two citizens in litigation seeking to halt the building of the new plant.

Eric Brooks of Our City, a local public interest group, expressed skepticism of the plan to swap one power plant for another. "We would send the worst possible message to the world by building a fossil fuel power plant in our city limits at the very beginning of what must be a renewable-energy century," he told us. He’s also urging the city to let lapse Mirant’s water and air permits, which are set to expire in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

Other opposition to the city’s power plants has come from PG&E, through the Close It! Coalition, a group the utility company founded and financially supports. "These new plants will further our reliance on fossil fuels and contribute to global warming," the group states on its Web site. However, PG&E has a 20-year contract with a similar peaker plant under construction in Fresno and is building three new fossil fuel plants of its own in Antioch, Eureka, and Colusa. PG&E, of course, also wants to keep any hint of public power out of San Francisco.

Dead town


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

Every reporter assigned to the Castro on Halloween knew right away that the story was, in fact, the nonstory.

There were no outlaws. No shootings or stabbings as in the past. There weren’t even many of the scumbag bridge-and-tunnelers police feared most. The mayor’s plan worked: two decades of fun in the Castro on Halloween died in 2007.

"People are leaving in droves," one man said into his cell phone around 10:30 p.m. "We can’t drink."

By that point the San Francisco Police Department could count the total arrests on one hand. A few people were cuffed for public intoxication. One man had outstanding warrants. Another jaywalked. Department spokesperson Sgt. Neville Gittens — not someone reporters know as typically cheerful — was in a startlingly good mood.

"There aren’t enough people out here to urinate or defecate anywhere," Gittens told the Guardian that night while standing near a cordoned command and control center the city had planted at 18th and Collingwood streets. "You can see the streets. They’re pretty empty. They’re pretty quiet, and we’re very thankful for that. What we set out to accomplish as far as discouraging this party, so far it seems like it’s working."

The Mayor’s Office, in fact, called the night "an incredible success." Nathan Ballard, the mayor’s press spokesperson, added, "We are pleased with the way Halloween turned out this year. [Police] Chief [Heather] Fong did an excellent job of keeping the peace, and Sup. [Bevan] Dufty deserves praise for showing real leadership and representing the interests of his district."

But that success came at a cost — the Castro on Halloween night was under the tight control of a massive contingent of police. Barricades blocked the streets. Cops kept revelers (and anyone else who happened by) from setting so much as a toe off the sidewalk.

While the crowd totaled just a fraction of what has appeared in years past, Gittens said well over 500 law enforcement personnel were assigned to the area, including officers from the probation department, the BART Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, the California Highway Patrol, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Even the San Francisco Chronicle, an institution that hardly embodies unbridled countercultural fun — deemed the law enforcement preparations "almost militaristic."

The tab for all of that police presence — and for the lost tax revenue from bars and restaurants and the hit to the tourist industry — will almost certainly run into millions of dollars.

At times members of the media even appeared to outnumber partygoers. When an ambulance and two vans from the Sheriff’s Department began backing into an alley between Market and Castro, a camera operator and a reporter rushed to the scene. It was nothing, it turned out. Just a woman splayed out drunk next to a Dumpster.


The last-minute announcement of the shutdown of the BART station at 16th and Mission streets, Gittens said, probably did the trick more than anything else. But that decision enraged some business owners, who told us they were worried that fewer transit riders would threaten revenue during what is usually a profitable holiday.

"Small business is the heartbeat of San Francisco, and the Mission district itself endures enough difficulties on a regular basis," Jean Feilmoser, president of the Mission Merchants Association, wrote in a community e-mail Oct. 30. "To cut off the arm that feeds the economic engine on one of the busiest nights of the year is cruel and unusual punishment."

The dramatic transit shutdown earned harsh criticism from two local officials, BART board member Tom Radulovich and District 6’s Sup. Chris Daly.

"Transit riders have been unfairly singled out in the city’s War on Halloween, and BART’s proposed closure is an insult to the community [that]
relies on 16th Street Mission Station," the two wrote in an Oct. 30 letter condemning the move. "People and businesses that depend on BART and Muni will have their mobility compromised by this campaign to suppress the Halloween celebration in the Castro."

Alix Rosenthal, who lost a board challenge to Castro district Sup. Bevan Dufty in 2006, was appalled by how little the public knew about the Halloween plans in advance. Rosenthal helped found Citizens for Halloween, a group that argued revelers would show up despite city hall’s insistence that the event be cancelled this year.

"I think it was really great they were able to keep the Castro safe," Rosenthal said. "But at what cost? The cost of fun. The cost of Halloween. The cost of transit riders. The cost of merchants."

Several businesses — including sex shops, bars, and restaurants — relented to pressure from the city and closed early. Officers clad in riot helmets and zip cuffs filled the entryways, seeming to overshadow civilians and bored-looking TV reporters.

The Edge bar at 4149 18th St., Osaki Sushi around the corner, the Posh Bagel, Chinese Dim Sum, the Sausage Factory, and even Twin Peaks, a bar that stands at the northeast entryway of the Castro and normally serves as a sort of de facto welcoming committee for the neighborhood, were shuttered. The restaurant A Bon Port at 476 Castro stood dark with a chalkboard sign in the window: "Out cruising," it read hopefully.

San Francisco Badlands, one of many Castro bars owned by area entrepreneur Les Natali, closed at 10 p.m., and two perturbed-looking private security guards in orange vests informed loiterers that they weren’t allowed in any longer. Harvey’s (on the southwest corner of 18th and Castro streets) remained open, but there were few people inside.


The folks who braved the police and the lack of transit tried to liven things up. Just south of the Castro Muni station, two friends protested with signs reading, "Don’t tell us what to do — we’ll come if we want to." One of them, Erik Proctor, splits his time between the East Bay and San Francisco and said residents who move to the neighborhood should expect rambunctious annual celebrations.

"Partly why I’m out here is because last year they said people from the East Bay were the problem," Proctor said. "I represent the East Bay also. I come over here to have a good time. I don’t come over here to cause problems."

With the crowd under control, the cops had plenty of time to chat about their paychecks. "Are you on OT?" one officer standing south of 18th Street casually asked another.

"I think so," he responded.

"Well, that’s good."

A handful of costumed celebrants graced filled the sidewalks, but there was still plenty of breathing room, and traffic moved swiftly and easily along Castro Street, which was lined with steel barricades. One step into the street would elicit a hand on the chest and a hasty warning from a police officer: "Back on the sidewalk."

A handful of men went near-commando in little more than elastic thongs, but few people were shocked, and most of the costumes were far from scandalous. One woman dressed as a bag of groceries from Trader Joe’s.

Among the people most directly impacted were foreign tourists — the very folks the city spends money to attract every year. Activists walking through the Castro and interviewing people found visitors from 19 countries who had come to see the legendary celebration. Most walked away disappointed; they won’t be back next year.


At least one business that stayed open felt a bit of official pressure. Koch Salgut, who owns Ararat on 18th Street, didn’t close early, even though he was repeatedly asked to do so.

"I kept it open because I was against" the shutdown, he told us later. "All the merchants rely on the business."

To his surprise, he got a visit that night from the San Francisco Fire Department. The inspectors told him he didn’t have permits for the candles on his tables.

"This is the second business I’ve had. I never heard there was a regulation against candles," Salgut told us. "The Fire Department gave me a little hard time. It wasn’t threatening, but it was an ugly situation."

Salgut has no doubt what was going on: "They were trying to give me a hard time because I was open, I didn’t close."

Calls to the SFFD seeking comment were not returned by press time.

John Lewis, a bartender at Moby Dick on 18th Street, wasn’t working Halloween night, but he lives in the neighborhood — and when we talked to him Nov. 1, he told us he wasn’t at all happy about what went down. The city had promised to fix the problem, he told us — not shut down the entire event. He complained that local bars were asked to close early and then reminded that they could be cited for exceeding occupancy regulations, for public displays of drunkenness, and for open containers on the street. Halloween has traditionally been the one time of year when the city doesn’t strictly enforce those rules.

Dufty has taken credit for shutting down the party and keeping the city’s plans for security under seal, but he admitted Oct. 31 to the Chron‘s gossip hounds, Matier and Ross, that next year’s event could look different. It’ll be on a Friday.

Police Commission president Theresa Sparks said she’s been told the event cost the city half what it did last year, including overtime for law enforcement, but she still hadn’t received dollar figures when we reached her Nov. 1. She had been skeptical that the crowds could be contained, considering that the city’s scheme was simply to announce that there would be no party. "But I think it was extremely well coordinated…. It went off better than expected." But she still believes planning should have begun far sooner. Police Chief Fong will give the commission a report about Halloween on Nov. 7.

So is the answer to shut down the Castro every year? No, Sparks said, but Halloween has to be made into "a citywide celebration, not just a neighborhood celebration."

Steven T. Jones and Sara Knight contributed to this story.