Volume 42 Number 07

November 12 – November 20, 2007

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Bop City. The Blackhawk. The Jazz Workshop. The Both/And. Keystone Korner. Kimball’s.

San Francisco’s world-renowned jazz club heritage has always been a part of the city’s matchless cultural identity. But the je ne sais quoi’s been missing for decades, because there hasn’t been a jazz club regularly booking national and international touring musicians into the city for more than 20 years.

That all changes this month with the Nov. 28 opening of Yoshi’s San Francisco. There’s been a Yoshi’s in Jack London Square for 10 years, the descendant of a North Berkeley sushi bar that morphed into a restaurant and music venue on Claremont Avenue in Oakland. Down by the waterfront, Yoshi’s became synonymous with jazz and was revered as both an artist- and an audience-friendly venue.

The brand-new club and restaurant at 1330 Fillmore holds down the ground floor of the freshly minted Fillmore Heritage Center, a 13-story mixed-use development that hopes to jump-start a renaissance in the scuffling Western Addition historic area. "Truthfully, I really don’t know why there hasn’t been another jazz club in San Francisco," says Yoshi’s artistic director, Peter Williams, the man charged with making sure the music part of the business stays in business. He’s been booking the artists at Yoshi’s for the past eight years. "Jazz is very risky," he continues, "and maybe people were feeling like they didn’t want to take the chance. These owners felt there was an opportunity."

The owners are Kaz Kajimura, one of Yoshi’s founders, and developer Michael Johnson. Their opportunity is costing $10 million, with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency kicking in a $4.4 million loan as part of the total $75 million redevelopment project helmed by Em Johnson Interest, Johnson’s company.

Their idea of a new jazz club in the Fillmore District took shape four years ago, after a series of false starts with other developers and other discussed flagship venues, such as the Blue Note. Johnson sent out requests for proposals to jazz clubs around the country; Kajimura received one, and when he met with Johnson, the two hit it off. "Michael could see Kaz’s vision, and vice versa. That made it happen," Williams says. The building, designed by Morimoto, Matano, and Kang Architects, has a performance venue of 417 seats, 317 on the ground level and 100 more on a mezzanine. The restaurant, serving a modern Japanese cuisine created by executive chef Shotaro "Sho" Kamio, seats 370 in its combined dining and lounge areas. Success on the food side is a likely slam dunk — it’s in jazz presenting, much like three-point shooting, that percentages decline.

Williams is counting on Yoshi’s reputation among jazz professionals — musicians, managers, and agents — as a starting point. "We’ve put a lot of care into presenting the music in as respectful a setting as possible," he says. "I think that’s paid off for us."


But jazz club culture has receded in the past 20 years, with the music finding support from institutions like SFJAZZ, which stepped into the developing void in the city 25 years ago. SFJAZZ executive director Randall Kline has always looked to organizational models like the San Francisco Symphony in terms of sustaining and growing the jazz art form. "What has happened is jazz has moved more into the concert hall and into more of a special-events format than a club format," Kline says. "There hasn’t been a great growth of jazz clubs in the country. But there’s a proliferation of festivals."

There are jazz clubs — Jazz at Pearl’s, under the strong stewardship of Kim Nalley and Steve Sheraton, is certainly a necessary element of North Beach, and farther north on Fillmore is Rasselas — but Kline believes there just aren’t as many live music clubs as there once were.

Still, despite the fierce competition for eyes, ears, and dollars, the fact remains that musicians need to play. Performance has always been one of the most effective ways for jazz artists to sustain themselves and build their audience. Not only is there no substitute for hearing the music live, but venue sales have also become a larger part of the overall sales picture, observes Cem Kurosman, director of publicity for Blue Note Records.

"Now, with fewer and fewer TV, radio, and mainstream press outlets covering new jazz artists, touring has become more important than ever," Kurosman says, "although there are fewer jazz clubs on the national circuit than ever before."

The Bay Area is one of the top four jazz markets in the country, and it behooves artists to gain exposure here. That wasn’t really a problem while the region was consistently supporting the music, when the music was here in the clubs and jazz seemed to swing up from the streets.

But times have changed, and no one recognizes that better than Todd Barkan, who ran Keystone Korner in North Beach. When Keystone closed in 1983, it was one of the last San Francisco clubs to regularly book national and international touring jazz groups. Barkan is now the artistic director of Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the jazz club operated by Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and he’s also a highly regarded producer who works with numerous domestic and European jazz labels.

"The reason there hasn’t been anything in San Francisco proper for some 20 years is that it’s a new era," Barkan says. "San Francisco is not the bohemian place that it was when I started the Keystone in the early ’70s, which itself was a holdover from the psychedelic era."

While Barkan’s place could not rightly be called a dive, it was a funky little crowded club. From the stage to the bar, the setup at Keystone was significantly removed from the state-of-the-art amenities at Yoshi’s. In some ways, Yoshi’s splits the difference between the club and the concert experience, the hope being that the artists and the audience get the best of both worlds.

Barkan says the primary jazz audience now has different expectations than it used to. "It took a number of years to get the business set up to have the right kind of a club that could really be competitive and cater to a much more upscale audience, which is where the real jazz audience is now overall," he says. "For better or worse that’s where it’s at."

That audience is also spread throughout the Bay Area, which is important for a San Francisco–situated club to keep in mind. "San Francisco’s a little town," Barkan says. "With all due respect, ‘the city’ is only about 800,000. The Bay Area is 4.5 to 5 million people, but it’s very spread out." His North Beach club got a tremendous benefit from the freeway off-ramp at Broadway, which made getting into that part of the city from the Bay Bridge simpler.

But Yoshi’s San Francisco won’t survive on jazz alone, as Barkan and Williams acknowledge. "To do the kind of numbers and volume Yoshi’s needs, you have to have a diversified musical program," Barkan says.

Williams spins the challenge of putting butts in the seats as an opportunity to be creative. "I’ll have to branch out a little bit in what we do," he agrees. "I don’t think we’ll be able to do just jazz all the time." At Yoshi’s Oakland, Williams has added salsa dance nights on Mondays, and he consistently books fusion and smooth jazz performers like Keiko Matsui and neosoul acts like Rashaan Patterson.

The San Francisco spot will likely see a similar mix, though the inaugural performers are a mainstream ensemble called the Yoshi’s Birds of a Feather Super Band, which includes vibraphonist Gary Burton, saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Kenny Garrett, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and bassist John Patitucci. Veteran drummer Roy Haynes leads the band, which Williams created specially for the club’s opening.

Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band follow, and later in December, Chick Corea, Charlie Hunter, and Rebeca Mauleón will perform. Next year will see guitarist Pat Metheny, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, vocalist Cassandra Wilson, and guitarist Bill Frisell in multinight runs at the club. Williams will try various things, particularly in the early months. "December is mostly artists coming to San Francisco with one band and then going to Oakland with another," he says. Corea, Hunter, and Taj Mahal will all pull double Yoshi’s duty.

"It’s gonna be a learning experience to find out what works and what doesn’t and how the two clubs can work together," Williams says. He will also have bands play the first part of the week in San Francisco and then Thursday through Sunday in Oakland, reasoning that San Franciscans are looking for more things to do early in the week. And he wants the club to be a platform for local artists — probably early in the week as well — but says Yoshi’s will have to focus on national touring acts simply to get people into the club.

Local saxophonist Howard Wiley is bullish on the new club, hoping that, if nothing else, it brings some notice to jazz instead of more exploitative forms of expression. "I’m so tired of hearing about Britney [Spears] and strippers and all that stuff," he says. "I’m hoping and praying the pendulum will swing back and people will cherish things of value again. I always love it when more attention can be brought to the music."

Currently Intersection for the Arts’ composer in residence, Wiley put out the self-released Angola Project earlier this year. The music is based on African American prison spirituals with roots primarily in songs and stories from the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. While Wiley hopes Yoshi’s can bring in artists like Billy Harper and David Murray, not necessarily household names even in mainstream jazz homes, he recognizes the reality of booking the club. "I’m not so into Rick Braun, but I understand," he says with a laugh, referencing the smooth jazz trumpet icon. "I just hope the club represents the music to its fullest, because it’s the only American contribution to global art."


Former club owner Barkan hopes the new Yoshi’s anchors a reinvigorated jazz scene in San Francisco, one that can support another, smaller club as well, something with around 150 seats and less of an overhead, which a savvy veteran promoter like, say, himself might book. A smaller room certainly would make music more accessible to audiences. It might also underscore the notion that there just aren’t the headliners in jazz that there once were — the names needed to fill a room the size of the new Yoshi’s. "When the Keystone was up and running, we had Dexter Gordon, Elvin Jones, Gene Ammons, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderly, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Freddie Hubbard," Barkan says. "The list was pretty inexhaustible.

"More than anything, jazz needs committed, dedicated presenters," he continues. "Yoshi’s is to be commended for what it does. They’re unsung heroes of this whole scenario."

The long-ago memories from San Francisco’s jazz club past sound like misty urban legends. Bop City, for instance, was the spot where Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker played. Saxophonist John Handy was just 18 when he joined John Coltrane onstage. Across town in North Beach, Miles Davis recorded his first live album at the Blackhawk. Charles Mingus recorded one of his best live LPs at the Jazz Workshop, and Adderly got famous from the one he recorded there. Do you remember Sun Ra’s expansive band flowing off the tiny stage at Keystone Korner? Jazz fans may have to resign themselves to the fact that it may never be like that again.

But there’s a San Francisco jazz continuum that includes those clubs, writers like the late Phil Elwood, producers such as Orrin Keepnews, and musicians including Joe Henderson, to name just a few. There have been many other forgotten heroes and great moments. And even though CD sales have slumped in recent years, reflecting the faltering music industry as a whole, there are as many good musicians around as ever, and most observers think an audience is there as well. For any live music scene to work, there have to be the players, the audience, and the venue to bring them together, and Yoshi’s hopes to do that for the Fillmore. "I just hope the Bay Area jazz community will band together, check this out, and make it work," Williams says. "It’s a huge undertaking. It’s going to be a beautiful room, there’ll be beautiful music, and if people come, it’ll be a success."


Nov. 28, 8 and 10 p.m., $100


1330 Fillmore, SF

(415) 655-5600


Behind the Bey empire


Editor’s Note: The Chauncey Bailey Project, a collaboration of local media outlets including the Guardian, is investigating the circumstances surrounding the Aug. 2 murder of Bailey, an Oakland journalist who was reporting on the financial dealings of the Bey family’s Your Black Muslim Bakery at the time he was killed. For more information, including audio, video, and updates on the case, click here.

Since 2003, Esperanza Johnson, a former key figure within Oakland’s Bey organization, and her husband, Antron Thurman, have acquired nearly $2 million worth of East Bay real estate through a string of controversial deals tainted with allegations of deceit.

In five cases those deals led to litigation. Johnson, of Antioch, who also goes by the name Noor Jehan Bey, has twice been accused of fraud. Court records indicate that one of those transactions involved falsified documents.

One sale involving Johnson, a licensed real estate broker, led to criminal charges: Alameda County prosecutors in 2006 convicted a Johnson associate on fraud charges stemming from a deal that cost an East Oakland couple their home.

A broad array of characters have tangled with Johnson and Thurman in court, including a disabled Berkeley bus porter forced from his family home, an Antioch couple now facing foreclosure, and East Bay Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that builds homes for the poor and struggling. Combined, they claim to have lost at least $1.77 million in property, cash and equity in the deals.

The revelations about Johnson and Thurman come as authorities scrutinize the extensive real estate dealings of the Bey family and their bankrupt business, Your Black Muslim Bakery, including Johnson’s role as the broker for an Oakland woman named Paulette Arbuckle who is attempting to buy the bakery’s San Pablo Avenue headquarters. Johnson bore four of the Bey family patriarch’s dozens of children.

Bakery CEO Yusuf Ali Bey IV, 21, jailed without bail on kidnapping and torture charges, also is charged with real estate fraud: prosecutors say he bought an Oakland property under a false identity.

And bankruptcy trustee Tevis Thompson, who is overseeing the liquidation of Your Black Muslim Bakery’s assets, has claimed in court papers that Bey IV transferred $2.28 million in bakery properties to his mother, Daulet Bey, in a bid to “defraud creditors.” The trustee has sued for those properties’ return.

Devaughndre Broussard, a 20-year-old bakery associate, is charged with the Aug. 2 shotgun slaying of Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey as he walked to work in downtown Oakland. Police say Broussard made a confession – later recanted – that he killed Bailey because the journalist was working on a story about the bakery’s finances and bankruptcy case.

Johnson, whose state business registration was suspended more than a year ago for failure to pay taxes and who with Thurman has more than $1 million in state and federal tax liens recorded against them, didn’t return numerous telephone calls and emails, and didn’t answer the gate at her Antioch home on two recent occasions.

Thurman refused to speak to reporters who approached him recently in Oakland.

A Los Angeles real estate consultant who reviewed Johnson’s transactions for the Chauncey Bailey Project said the trustee and judge handling the bakery’s bankruptcy should examine Johnson’s record.

They “should be made aware that a realtor on a transaction which requires the trustee’s approval has a murky… background,” said Eric Forster.

The attorney for the court appointed bankruptcy trustee charged with liquidating the bakery said Johnson’s transaction history would be probed.

“Obviously it is of some concern to us and we’re looking into it,” Eric Nyberg, attorney for trustee Tevis Thompson, said when informed of the cases.

He also noted that Arbuckle may not, in the end, be the highest bidder for the bakery. A hearing on her offer is scheduled for Nov. 29. If the $899,999 bid of Johnson’s client, Arbuckle, is successful and Johnson is “entitled to receive the commission, then we really don’t have an issue with it,” Nyberg said.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Real Estate, Tom Pool, wouldn’t discuss the Johnson and Thurman transactions.


Markus Machado and Gail Mateo said that when they wanted to buy a newer and bigger home in 2005, they went to a real estate broker they thought they could trust: Esperanza Johnson.

A Compton native, Johnson became involved with the Bey organization, a spin-off of the Nation of Islam, at the age of 12, taking the name Noor Jehan Bey.

She’s returned to using the name Esperanza Johnson, though she’s been listed in judgments against her by banks and credit-card companies as Nellie Bey, Nuri Bey, Noojean Bey and Noor Jehan Esperanza, a review of records by the Chauncey Bailey Project shows. And, in 2005 testimony, she said she still occasionally uses the name Noor Jehan Bey.

Johnson had hired Machado, a graphic artist, to create flyers for her Signature One Mortgage and Real Estate.

In a recent interview at his lawyer’s office, Machado described her as warm and gregarious – at first, anyway. Machado said Johnson arranged what seemed like an incredible deal: the couple could sell their 50-year-old Pittsburg house and move into a spacious four-bedroom home in a verdant Antioch subdivision, an ideal place to raise their three children and grow old together.

Johnson promised they’d pay about $1,600 a month for the new home, only a little more than their mortgage at the time. Machado said Johnson even agreed to forgo her usual commissions “because we were like family.”

They said Johnson had told them their credit was poor, and talked them into selling their Pittsburg house to one of her employees, Araceli Moreno, for $350,000 while putting the new home and mortgage in Moreno’s name as well. They expected to refinance the loan in about a year, when Moreno would sign the house over to them.

It seemed perfect – until the bills arrived.

The payments were $2,700 a month and soon ballooned higher, they now say in court records. And then Johnson – who in sealing the deal had diverted almost $58,000 of equity from their old home to others, and had won large commissions for herself by getting them an unfavorable mortgage – stopped taking their calls, Machado said as his wife sat next to him weeping.

The couple had trouble making the payments almost immediately and Moreno began receiving calls from the mortgage company. She sued Machado and Mateo last year.

“The point of (Moreno’s) lawsuit was to get them to refinance to get my client’s name off the loan and for her to go ahead and salvage what of her credit picture she could,” said Moreno’s attorney, Richard G. Hyppa of Tracy.

The couple counter-sued in November 2006, naming Moreno and Johnson as defendants, claiming that Johnson defrauded them. They are now months behind on the payments and stressed to exhaustion.

“I don’t sleep. Gail doesn’t sleep,” Machado said. “I was very naive. We were led down this primrose path because I trusted (Johnson) implicitly.”

After paying off what they owed on the Pittsburg house, about $190,000 was left over that should have been used for the down payment on the Antioch house. But the suit alleges that Moreno used only $77,973 toward the down payment.

Meanwhile, court records say Johnson arranged for another $10,000 to be paid out to Moreno, and for someone named Harry Hawkins to get $45,830 as “repayment of loans.” Machado’s lawyer, Ken Koenen, said attempts to locate Hawkins have been fruitless.

The suit also claims Johnson structured the Antioch mortgage so monthly payments would increase dramatically after a year, and so Machado and Mateo would have to pay an $18,000 penalty in order to refinance – thereby earning her a much larger commission.

Machado and Mateo now are several months in arrears on the mortgage in Moreno’s name. Default notices have arrived at the house.

“It’s an extremely painful thing,” Machado said. “We have been robbed of our peace of mind. We have to make decisions about whether to put food in the refrigerator or gas in the car. We’ve not even sure we’re going to have a place to live.”

Johnson hasn’t responded to the couple’s lawsuit and will likely be subject to a default judgment, Koenen said.

Chicago D&P
Johnson and Thurman in 2004 acquired a Hercules home after a federal judge had ordered it frozen as an asset of an investment company, Chicago D&P, that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had accused of fraud.
The property was supposed to be sold to help pay back investors – reportedly including at least 30 active-duty Marines and several churches – which had been cheated out of millions through Chicago D&P’s pyramid schemes.
The daughter of the company’s president had bought the property years earlier using a straw purchaser – a friend with better credit – as a front, according to court records.
That friend had been trying to get her name off the title for some time, and the daughter’s attorney – Githaiga Ramsey, who also worked for Thurman and Johnson on another case – persuaded her to sign the house over to them. Records shows Ramsey offered the friend $20,500 to complete the transaction but that the payment was never made.
The transfer of the house occurred after U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer ordered the property frozen. Thurman then turned around and sold it a month later to one of the employees of his bail bond business, Jamie Bonilla, for $460,000. Johnson filed Bonilla’s loan application.
Most of that money appears to have eventually gone to pay mortgages against the property when Thurman and Johnson acquired it for free. But first, Thurman received $60,213 from the deal’s escrow; and Ramsey got $31,000.
It remains unclear who lived in the house after Bonilla bought it.
Stephen Anderson, the receiver representing Chicago D&P’s bilked investors, wrote in April 2005 that he believed Johnson’s daughter, Nisa Bey, had lived there.
Other documents show Madeeah Bey – another mother to several of patriarch Yusuf Bey’s children – used it as her mailing address in two December 2004 real estate deals.
It’s also unclear whether Thurman and Johnson knew of the court order freezing the house when they took possession of it. But in February 2005 Breyer held Ramsey in contempt of court for defying his order.
Ramsey and Thurman both repaid the money they received from the escrow when Thurman sold the house to Bonilla.
Bonilla, within a few months, then sold the house for $625,000 – a profit of $211,690 from a property that the receiver had originally wanted to sell to help repay the defrauded investors.
Anderson said a long legal battle to regain title to the house would’ve been too costly.
“We made an economic decision,” he said. “The objective of the receiver is to return as much money as possible back to the investors, and it was not difficult to determine we were going to get more money” by taking the $91,000 from Thurman and Ramsey than by “trying to unscramble that whole mess.”
Ramsey, who surrendered his law license while facing disciplinary charges from an unrelated case, wouldn’t discuss this case or others in which he was involved with Johnson and Thurman.
“My God, am I never going to get away from this?” he said. “I’m not involved and I don’t want to be. I’m not in contact with these people anymore.”
Bonilla could not be located.
Habitat for Humanity house
Antron Thurman married a woman named Sharon Clements in December 1987. Records show they separated seven months later and eventually filed for a divorce that was never made final.

In early 2000, Clements, as a single mother, moved into a home on 105th Avenue in Oakland built by the low-income housing nonprofit East Bay Habitat for Humanity. It gave Clements a no-interest $112,000 loan with no down payment.

Clements died in April 2003, leaving no will. Usually either there’s a clear legal inheritance, or else the nonprofit passes the deed to someone qualified for low-income aid, executive director Janice Jensen said. But Clements’ son was still a minor.

Clements’ home stood vacant for three years while her estate was sorted out in Alameda County Probate Court.

Then, in mid-2006, Thurman argued he was entitled to the low-income property as Clements’ surviving spouse, records show – even as he listed his address as Johnson’s Antioch home, and other records showed that in the previous few years he had bought and sold in excess of $1 million in East Bay real estate.

“Frankly, I didn’t even know about Mr. Thurman,” Habitat’s Jensen said. “I had no idea who he was or that he even existed until the attorneys got involved. When we looked at the deed, she was the only signature, so she bought that home herself.”

Still, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Marshall L. Whitley awarded Thurman the house, which had restrictions in place to preserve its affordability for low income people.

Thurman then sold it back to Habitat for Humanity for the $13,500 in equity that had accrued during the three years Clements owned it.

Alana Conner, an attorney for Thurman at the time, said she couldn’t independently recall details of the case and declined to discuss it.


Mitzie Peters befriended Brandy Stewart in 2001, studying the Bible with her eventual victim, court records say.

Peters persuaded the cash-strapped AC Transit bus driver to deed the home at 1565 77th Ave. – which Stewart had inherited from her mother, and in which she, her husband and her three children lived – into Peters name and use Peters’ credit to get an equity loan. Peters promised to return the deed after a few days, keeping $12,000 from the loan as a fee.

“She said that because she loved me so much, she would never, ever think about doing this for anyone else, but she would help me to get the house refinanced,” Stewart would later testify.

Stewart deeded the house to Peters on March 11, 2003. But rather than sticking to the deal, Peters drained the property of all equity and gave nothing to Stewart, court records show.

Peters couldn’t have conducted the transaction without Johnson and her family.

As Peters’ broker, Johnson submitted a series of loan applications reporting Peters’ income as increasingly higher until the bank accepted the deal; she also allegedly coached Stewart in writing to the title company and falsely claiming Peters was her cousin.

Johnson’s sister, Ruquayya Jasmine Pennix, prepared Peters’ tax returns to send to the loan company, showing self-employment income that Peters later admitted was bogus; it’s unclear if Pennix knew that at the time.

Another of Johnson’s sisters – Fatima Ismail, who worked in Johnson’s office – drew up a phony lease showing Peters had derived rental income from Stewart’s house, according to court records.

Three months after she took title to Stewart’s house, Peters sold it to one of Johnson’s sons, Amir Bey. Under oath, Amir Bey later admitted he was just a straw buyer for his mother.

When arrested and charged with unrelated public benefits fraud, perjury and grand theft in July 2004, Peters made bail with Thurman’s Sinbad’s Bail Bonds.

As investigators also began probing her real estate activities, Peters gifted her Hayward condo to Johnson’s daughter, Nisa Bey, who sold it a month later for about $400,000.

Peters then lived with Nisa Bey in Pittsburg until going to prison. Because her bail had been secured with the condo, Thurman later asked a judge to exonerate the bail and return more than $50,000 – to Nisa Bey.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s office interviewed Johnson, Thurman, and their attorney, Githaiga Ramsey – who had represented Peters until just two months earlier, and who had just arranged the Chicago D&P deal for them – in September 2004.

“Johnson seemed evasive when questioned about irregularities in the loan and application process,” inspector Paul Wallace wrote in court papers.

But Johnson wasn’t charged.

“We didn’t think we could prove the case against her beyond a reasonable doubt,” Deputy District Attorney Alyce Sandbach said. “We didn’t have enough to make her on a case of fraud… of having made knowing misrepresentations.”

Among additional charges filed against Peters in November 2004 was a felony grand-theft count for equity and title to the Stewarts’ home; she pleaded no contest to that and 15 other, unrelated counts a year later, and was sentenced in February 2006.

The Stewarts got the $50,374.10 bail money Thurman had tried to direct to Nisa Bey. A judge in January ordered Peters to pay $486,083.90 in the Stewarts’ civil lawsuit, but they haven’t seen a dime, their lawyers say.

Amir Bey and Johnson tried to evict the Stewarts, court documents show, but backed off when the couple obtained free legal help.

The Stewarts then sued Johnson, Peters and Amir Bey; Johnson eventually offered to deed the house back to Stewart, but with the equity drained, the Stewarts couldn’t afford the higher mortgage payments.

A judge in September 2006 ordered Johnson and Amir Bey to pay the Stewarts $100,000 – $20,000 up front and $1,667 per month for 48 months.

Rebecca Saelao, the Stewarts’ attorney, said this civil judgment became a lien on the house, and was subordinated to massive mortgages Johnson and Amir Bey had taken on the property and eventually defaulted on. The house was sold at auction last year for $80,900, public records show.

The Stewarts got only about $5,000 from the sale of the home they’d lost. They no longer live in the Bay Area, and couldn’t be reached for comment.


Wrapped in a thin, sea-green blanket, Donald Taylor lay in a narrow bed at a Stockton nursing home recently, his frail 61-year-old body ravaged by diabetes and hypertension. His wheelchair was parked at his bedside, a walker he wants to learn to use, a few feet away.

Taylor is broke and relies on Medi-Cal, the state insurance program for the indigent, to bankroll his care and board at the Elm Haven Care Center.

His room is dingy and, fluorescent-lit with peeling blue wallpaper and a television, foil wrapped around its rabbit-ear antennae, issuing forth static-filled sound. He spends his days “just doing nothing.”

He said he wonders what his life might be like now if he never encountered Antron Thurman. “I think about it quite often, but there’s nothing I can do… I think about how they took the house from me,” Taylor said haltingly in a soft, gravelly voice that contained little emotion.

In the 1950s Taylor’s parents bought a cozy two-bedroom home on a tree-shaded street in north Berkeley. He grew up there and lived there still as an adult, while working as a bus-station porter. When his parents died, he and his sister, Loretta Alexander, inherited the house; the mortgage was paid off.

In early 2001, according to interviews and court documents, stepbrother Frederick Myers Jr., approached the siblings with a plan: He would help them form a company to manage the house and another property they had inherited, an undeveloped Lake County parcel.

Myers asked them to transfer the two deeds to the new corporation, which he would helm for them. Taylor said he agreed at his sister’s urging, believing the three of them could profit from development of the Lake County parcel.

But Myers suddenly sold the Berkeley house to Thurman, pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars and disappeared, court documents say, catching Taylor and Alexander completely off guard.

“I felt I had been cheated,” Taylor said, adding that he believes Thurman and Myers worked in concert. “Fred Jr. took the house and sold it to (Thurman) and it’s been downhill ever since. He sold it out from underneath us.”

Myers could not be located. Thurman, asked if he remembered Taylor, refused to answer as he climbed into a Cadillac Escalade outside a home in the Oakland hills.

Alexander’s son, Tony Cole, expressed disgust at the way his mother and uncle were played. “That property slipped right out from underneath them,” he said in a phone interview. “They didn’t have the business sense to know what was going on.”

Taylor and Alexander in 2004 sued to reclaim the house. Myers never appeared in court, but Thurman – represented by Githaiga Ramsey – responded by filing his own suit, claiming he had legitimately bought the property for $374,388 and demanding that Taylor pay $1,500 in monthly rent or get out.

Taylor and Alexander eventually settled the case for $55,000; it took Thurman 10 months to pay them, court records indicate. Taylor’s attorney, Frederic Harvey, refused to discuss the case.

The two-story, beige stucco house with a large garage has steadily appreciated in value. Public records show Thurman sold it in 2004 to Madeeah Bey – the same relative who used the Chicago D&P house in Hercules as her address – for $520,000; she sold it for $850,000 less than a year later. The house is now assessed at $867,000.

Alexander died last year. Taylor lost most of his possessions including photos of his mother when he left the property.

“I’d like to tell him to go (screw) himself,” Taylor said of Thurman, his legs twitching quietly under the blanket.

University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism students Lisa Pickoff-White, Robert Lewis, Nick Kusnetz, Vianna Risa Davila, Marnette Federis and Lucie Schwartz contributed to this story.

Thomas Peele and Josh Richman are staff writers for the Bay Area News Group; A.C. Thompson is a free-lance reporter working for New America Media and Bay Area News Group-East Bay; Bob Butler is a freelance reporter and president of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association.

How you hate me now?


Hated (Special Edition)

(Music Video Distributors)

Our Favorite Things

(Other Cinema)

DVDS I must have passed the G.G. Allin documentary Hated (1994) a dozen times in the video store over the years without ever mustering the nerve to rent it. Having finally watched it, I can only ask myself, "What took me so long?" Not because it’s a pleasant viewing experience, but because it’s such a massive train wreck: the (il)logical end point of years of self-destructive punk shock tactics and performance antics.

Hated was filmed by Todd Phillips — who went on to direct Old School and Starsky and Hutch — while he was a film student at New York University. It depicts what ended up being the final few years in the life of a genuinely disturbing and disturbed dude.

The film is built around — but not limited to — in-the-trenches footage of the tattooed, scarred, and frequently naked and/or bloody Allin onstage with his band, the Murder Junkies. This footage is not meant to showcase his vocal range — he had none — or the band’s sterling musicianship. Instead, it finds Allin assaulting audience members, getting wrestled down by cops, and genuinely scaring the crap out of everyone in the room. We also see footage from a surreal appearance on Geraldo and an appalling "spoken word" performance at NYU that ends with Allin sticking a banana up his tailpipe, the cops coming — a recurring theme — and Phillips nearly being expelled for booking the whole atrocity.

The rest of the video shows that, for better or worse, Allin’s live act really wasn’t an act. He was a genuinely angry, sociopathic fellow who lived his life as recklessly as he performed, in constant squalor and literally on the run from the police. This DVD reissue adds a recent interview with his poor mother, whose reclusive, mentally ill husband insisted on naming the boy "Jesus Christ," whence the nickname "G.G." originated. There’s also two full audio commentaries from Phillips as well as the Beavis and Butthead–like duo of Murder Junkies Merl Allin, G.G.’s brother, and Dino Sex, the band’s sicko naked drummer. I absorbed every second of it.

Next to Allin, Bay Area cutups Negativland might look like Goody Two-shoes, but don’t be fooled. Granted, you won’t find them cutting themselves or shitting onstage. In fact, you won’t find the group’s members at all in most of the videos on their recent anthology Our Favorite Things (Other Cinema). Make no mistake, though: there’s something to offend just about everyone on this DVD.

Pushing people’s buttons is nothing new for Negativland, but what’s striking about this release is how well the video format suits the group’s meticulous cut-and-paste approach. The editing sleight of hand is simply amazing at points. These are some of the most involved, detail-oriented music videos I’ve ever seen, which may sound like faint praise given the laziness that’s typical of the medium, but stay with me here.

Drawing on music from throughout their career, Negativland go after such familiar targets as firearms (the found-footage extravaganza of "Guns"), advertising ("Truth in Advertising" and perhaps one too many videos from the Dispepsi CD), and religion ("Christianity Is Stupid," in which a series of Hollywood Pontius Pilates are seen driving nails into Jesus’ hands in sync with the song’s thumping industrial beat).

That said, some of the best moments are much less pointed, including the eerie "Time Zones" — an oddly entertaining bit about the number of time zones in the Soviet Union — and the short and surreal "Over the Hiccups," a bunnies-in-outer-space Claymation piece that is black comedy at its most brutal.

Yes, Negativland are as relentless — and self-referential — as ever on this DVD, and if you watch it for long enough, you’re bound to get annoyed at something. But when has that not been the case with this group? Even so, Our Favorite Things is one of the best things they’ve done in any format, with moments that are as jaw-dropping in their way as anything on the grisly Hated

I feel pretty


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

"Make my world beautiful," commands the (drag) queen (Flynn Witmeyer) of her corseted courtiers. The incantation naturally has something defiant and (given our location in a loft on Capp near 16th Street) maybe even a little urgent about it, summoning the new Eden as an unruly if royal realm of gender-blurring sexual role play and uninhibited frolic. Naturally too there’s bound to be trouble in paradise, the intruder in this instance being no snake but rather a pair of slithering fish-head waiters. But in theater group elastic future’s Beautiful it’s a party all the same.

A "gender-bending theater party," to be exact, which the company first staged in a more limited run in 2005. Set in the round among a haremlike arrangement of sheer curtains and floor pillows — on which audience members are encouraged to sprawl with a complimentary bottle of wine — the play presents a campy battle between the forces of good sex and evil prudery, or liberation and conformity if you like, with the aforementioned fish-topped waiters (the impeccably over-the-top Meghan Kane and Christopher P. Kelley) meting out a snooty version of Old Testament–style chastisement with a lot of modern-style prying, voter pandering, and enhanced interrogation.

While the piece was reportedly revamped somewhat from the original, it’s not entirely clear why the restive young company has chosen to revisit this early effort. (It has since brought out another cushion-and-two-buck-Chuck affair called The Greek Play, coproduced with Root Division in tandem with a like-themed gallery show, as well as a wonderfully original play–cum–rock show at the bar Amnesia about a famous real-life pair of sibling rock goddesses, The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Deal.) As a troupe bent on appropriating and reinventing the classics (whether of the past couple of millennia or couple of decades) in site-specific performances that eagerly engage audiences in the conceit, elastic future cultivates a certain brash fervor that excuses some retracing of its theatrical trajectory. That said, the production comes across as highly uneven in conception and execution. The script by company member and cofounder Sue Butler (who also penned Kim Deal and Greek) is fairly freewheeling but thin, surviving on animated one-liners (played for all their worth by the expressive Witmeyer) amid somewhat stilted dialogue and on other eccentric touches here and there. It lacks a satisfying degree of character and plot development, and for all of the heated foreplay, which at one point bursts forth into a riot of spanking, the play remains surprisingly tension free.

Beautiful bills itself as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show of the experimental theater world," and if that self-description seems to pull in opposite directions (having the paradoxical ring of something quaintly cutting-edge), it kind of fits nonetheless. The plot’s mock battle between good and evil and decidedly unshocking transvestism and BDSM pantomimes, accompanied by a rock soundtrack only slightly more up-to-date than Rocky Horror‘s, amount to a harmless debauch akin to dress-up at the midnight screening. The "experimental" part of the outing, meanwhile, rests largely with the show’s enthusiastic mesh of performance and party.


In American Conservatory Theater’s production of N. Richard Nash’s The Rainmaker, budding spinster Lizzie (René Augesen) may not be a great beauty, but she will gladly settle for being called pretty, a designation made to seem suddenly possible only by a barnyard brush with traveling salesman, charlatan, and stud Starbuck (Geordie Johnson). You’ll know the story thanks to the cringingly saccharine yet admittedly fixating movie starring Katherine Hepburn and a wholly outsize Burt Lancaster. The surprise is in director Mark Rucker’s wonderfully cast and perfectly pitched staging, which is a real beauty to behold. Augesen’s assured and generous performance leads an ensemble effort that is melodramatic manna for three acts. *


Through Dec. 1

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m. (no show Nov. 22–24), $15 ($10 if dressed in drag)

Space 180

180 Capp, SF



Through Nov. 25

Tues.–Sat., 8 p.m. (also Nov. 21 and Sat., 2 p.m.); Sun., 2 p.m., $14–$82

American Conservatory Theater

415 Geary, SF

(415) 749-2228


Man with a mission


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER J Church’s Lance Hahn was possibly the only vocalist-guitarist ever to front a punk band wearing slippers (translation for mainlanders: flip-flops). A longtime presence in the Mission District anarchist punk scene until his move to Austin, Texas, in 1999, Hahn died down south Oct. 21 at 40 from complications after a lengthy battle with kidney disease. Although we were both from Honolulu, and the same small but spunky punk scene at that, I never really knew him, though throughout the ’90s I saw him around town and behind the counter at scruffy, sunny Epicenter, the punk zine HQ and hangout high above 16th Street and Valencia.

He really found a home here, on the other side of the Muni tracks that inspired his band name. That much was evident Nov. 11 at Hahn’s packed memorial, organized by friends like ex–J Church drummer and current Aquarius co-owner Andee Conners. Watching the Super 8 films of Hahn as a child and surrounded by copies of old J Church posters, I was struck by the realization that an era — not just a man — had truly passed. He’d had an impact on punk scenes here and elsewhere. Never mind that he played guitar for Beck from 1994 to ’95 — Hahn was more than that. He was an unassuming everyguy who happened to front a fine punk unit named after the streetcar line that carted him to work and provided a space for his songwriting — and an artist who touched a lot of people with his music, the words he wrote in zines like Maximumrocknroll, and his presence in the ’90s SF anarchopunk scene.

At a time when punk so often comes off as yet another stale, mall-purchased arena pose, Hahn is a reminder of how politicized the music was in the ’80s and even the ’90s — and what an act of will it was to be hardcore in those prewired days. You had to make the effort to scour Factsheet Five to find the zines to connect with other voices in the wilderness or to get your grubby meat hooks on the 7-inches that you could never find in your small-town record store. When I first encountered Hahn, he was playing with a few of the smarter, more committed local misfits in Cringer, a Honolulu punk combo known for its superior songwriting. Other like-minded, passionate souls were few and far between, which may have been why Hahn garnered a reputation as a warm, approachable figure, even as J Church found punk renown.

I heard he had moved to Los Angeles to work for nuclear disarmament group SANE/FREEZE and then finally relocated to San Francisco, where he worked for the activists as well as Revolver and recorded with J Church for such imprints as Lookout! and Honest Don’s. The year he moved to Austin, Hahn was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and in 2006 with kidney failure and — once again — congestive heart failure. In the months before his death, he went through numerous outpatient surgeries, struggled through dialysis, and stressed out about his lack of insurance, although he continued to plug onward, running Honey Bear Records, publishing his zine, Some Hope and Some Despair, and working on a tome of anarchopunk history.

He’ll doubtless be a part of that history, thanks to fans and friends like Gits drummer Steve Moriarty, who e-mails, "Lance’s purpose was more than to be a musician in a punk band. He was an inspiration and center of a very positive and progressive music scene during the ’90s" — and Adam Pfahler, who drummed for J Church as well as Jawbreaker and Whysall Lane. "Aside from being one of the smartest, funniest people I’ve known, he was a Mission District fixture and the glue that held the San Francisco punk rock community together through J Church, setting up shows, his writing, volunteer work, and most importantly, his friendships," Pfahler writes in an e-mail. "Even though he moved to Austin years ago, he was somehow magically just around the corner ready to pick up right where he left off. I wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up to his own memorial, going, ‘Oh holy shit! What’s going on?’<0x2009>"


Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart has a lot going on: a new book, Xiu Xiu: The Polaroid Project (Mark Batty), of postshow Polaroids tirelessly snapped by tour manager David Horvitz and culled from three tours’ worth of film sent by fans, and an album, Women as Lovers (Kill Rock Stars), due Jan. 29, 2008. Now the Oakland dynamo’s helping to put together "Give In," a Nov. 16 dance party benefiting the Nyumbani AIDS orphanage in Kenya, with Kill Rock Stars matching all donations. Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki and Why?’s Yoni Wolf will DJ along with Stewart, who dreamed up the idea with friend and orphanage volunteer Angela Seo. Like gloom with your get-down? Stewart will satisfy: he told me he plans to play only Joy Division, Smiths, and Cure songs during his 40-minute set. "People are either going to love this or hate this!" he says gleefully. "It’s my idea of heaven on earth. Hopefully, it will be other people’s as well." 2


Fri/16, 9 p.m., $7–$20, sliding scale

LoBot Gallery

1800 Campbell, Oakl.


Beer, sweet beer


In beer’s ongoing search for a place at the table set with a white linen tablecloth, dessert presents itself as an unlikely but promising niche. Reputable brewers seem convinced that their offerings match up at least as well as wine with many savory dishes, in part because beer tastes less strongly of alcohol and is therefore the food’s servant rather than its competitor, but during a recent beer-and-high-cuisine dinner at Rubicon, I found myself yearning for some nicely acidic wine — red, white, champers, I would gladly have taken a glass of any of it, though the menu had been chosen to flatter and be flattered by the accompanying beers.

The dishes certainly sounded beerworthy: crispy buttermilk-marinated quail (a tony relative of fried chicken) on a bed of tart onions and preserved lemon, followed by a slab of beer-braised beef short ribs, with carrot puree and roasted wild mushrooms. The fact that all of this was basically glorified pub food didn’t diminish its tastiness, nor its compatibility with beer — but it was also cripplingly rich. Just one of these dishes would have filled my richness quota for a month. But there was dessert too.

The sweet course was remarkable not so much in itself — an oat crunch cake, spiced like a carrot cake and served with a pat of chocolate ice cream fortified with stout — as for what it managed to do for a pair of libations. Under its penumbra of sugariness, a dark cream stout tasted almost like black coffee, while a beer-derived postprandial liqueur — rather cloying on its own — acquired a steadying deepness on the tongue to accompany its deep, slightly cloudy caramel color.

The beer cordial (Utopias from Samuel Adams, if you’re curious) is being marketed as a cognac and port alternative and is priced accordingly. On its own it was shapelessly sweet; it lacked cognac’s clarifying fire and port’s engulfing grapy richness. But this is America, and in America, apparently, there is no such thing as too sweet. While cognac and port have their grown-up stringencies, Utopias is soft and lovable, even when served in a sophisticated-looking brandy snifter. It is, however, 27 percent alcohol, which means that, like a chocolate martini, it’s stronger than it looks. Be careful or you’ll get tipsy, knock over your snifter, and stain the white linen tablecloth.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

Divining truth


› mirissa@sfbg.com

"Basically, it’s a mystery as to why someone who is brought up in Western Europe and is primarily the product of French and English culture should hear Ali Farka Touré at the age of 19 and feel like a thunderbolt just bashed them on the head," Piers Faccini says.

It was the late ’80s, and after spending much of his childhood in rural France, Faccini was back in his native London, playing in a band that covered the Smiths. While digging through record bins he stumbled across the sounds that swiftly changed his musical path: Touré’s Sahara-swept grooves, as well as the down-home Delta blues of Skip James. "Many musicians had no interest in that kind of music," he recalls by phone from Italy. "But to me it was like being in Ali Baba’s cave."

Faccini was smitten, although, he explains, "you can’t fall in love unless you recognize something. That’s why when you fall in love it always feels like you’ve known each other before." Faccini immediately wanted to sell his electric guitar.

"It sounded like everyone else was beating around the bush and this guy went straight to the bull’s-eye, straight to truth," the singer-songwriter says of James. "I wanted to make music like that. Of course, I realized it doesn’t come that easy." He laughs. "You’ve got to work at it."

After toiling on his music for many years — in the late ’90s in a band called Charley Marlowe — something clicked in about 2002, when Faccini found his voice, one that resonates from the nexus of his Italian, English, and Gypsy bloodlines and the music of the Mississippi Delta and the North African desert. What’s so striking about his sound is its ability to pay homage to musical traditions near and far without falling prey to exoticism or sonic carpetbagging.

Faccini’s solo debut, Leave No Trace (Label Bleu, 2004), was heard by storied producer JP Plunier, who came to see Faccini during his tour with the Malian duo Amadou et Mariam. Faccini soon joined the posse of earnest songwriters fostered by Plunier, including Ben Harper and Jack Johnson, an opportunity he describes as nothing short of serendipitous. "I played him my new songs, and two months later we were in the studio," he says. "He was a great guy to hook up with and an incredible foil to have in the studio…. JP has an incredibly instinctive mind and heart."

The resulting album, Tearing Sky (Everloving, 2006), was recorded over 12 days in Los Feliz in Los Angeles. It’s a hauntingly timeless work that showcases Faccini’s ability to divine essential truths of human experience. Unafraid to jump into the heavy stuff, Faccini writes lyrics that touch on universal themes: being born, dying, loving, hating — sans platitudes or overly personal narratives.

Faccini has been on the road opening for Harper on and off for the past year, and the experience has exposed his music to a broad swath of new fans. The reception has been overwhelmingly positive, and many listeners have approached him with their interpretations of his music and stories of how it’s affected their lives. Nothing could please him more. "When I’m playing music and people take it to mean a certain thing, I’m really happy, because to me a song belongs to whomever hears it," Faccini says. "To me that’s what music is, something that should be used in a personal way." *


With Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals

Sat/17, 7 p.m., $37.50–$47.50

Paramount Theatre

2025 Broadway, Oakland

(510) 465-6400


Sail away


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Jason Lakis is proving to be his own best bandmate. The former frontperson of Bay Area country-slowcore outfit the Red Thread, which split this summer after three stellar LPs, has lately reemerged as Mist and Mast — a solo act, though you wouldn’t guess it. Mist’s eponymous debut, which Lakis released on his Oakland Petting Zoo label, finds the artist playing every part — and sounding sneakily like some well-rehearsed group. On "Green Eyes," say, a sweet spell of country-tinged and harmony-heavy college rock, the so-called group might be the young REM with the vocalist seeming to shy away from the mic. How like the young Michael Stipe.

Being your own full band is becoming ever easier, thanks to increasingly sophisticated home-recording options, but that doesn’t make it any less weird. So when I met recently with the bespectacled, enthusiastic songwriter over Kronenbourgs at Whiskey Thieves in the Tenderloin, these were some of the first things I asked: Is it strange making music by yourself after all that time in bands? Do you even know how to play all the instruments?

"I’m not great…. I could just barely get by," Lakis said, speaking of his virtuosity, not his emotions, and reminding me that he used to drum with the late-’90s Bay Area brooders Half Film. "And I’m a big fan of the lo-fi stuff and, like, old Kinks stuff. They were great. I hate when I hear bands that just play so perfectly." He admitted that it may be a "cop-out" to prefer imperfection as an aesthetic when your skill level doesn’t allow much else. But Lakis seems to come by that taste honestly, and he’s put it to valid use on the record. The Kinks comment struck me because on Mist and Mast I’d heard occasional wisps of an even more affably imprecise ’60s British pop act: Syd Barrett–era Pink Floyd. Though the album has little of Barrett’s essential psychedelia, Mist‘s acoustic chords tend toward early Britpop’s shambling, lullabylike quality. Certainly, Lakis was excited by the notion. "I’m a huge Floyd fan!" he exulted.

On Mist that ’60s brand of slight sloppiness, whether by necessity or intent, makes an intriguing match with the more modern fumbling of Lakis’s native slowcore. Textured, plunky guitars were a Red Thread centerpiece, and they remain prominent in the solo work. The album shows its devotion to the theme by opening with a casually dueling pair. And yet, absent the band, the guitars don’t fix on any standard indie arrangement. They’re as likely to be married to ELO-style organ ("Campfire Went Out") as rollicking folk-rock rhythms ("Eyes Adjust to the Dark").

All of this interdependence stems from a new songwriting style, which Lakis described as a gathering of discrete pieces. "It was the first group of songs where I kind of felt when I was writing like I could hear all the parts," he told me. These arrangements were originally intended for a band, but given that Lakis was conceiving all tracks in advance, the collaborative process that fueled earlier Red Thread work seemed doomed. "I’m not [someone] who can easily tell people, ‘Hey, can you play this?’" the songwriter confessed. The seemingly casual recording he’d been doing in his Oakland home — "I would have my door shut, and my dog would be going grink, grink, grink at the door, and I’d have to put foamcore and a blanket up against the door, and it would get superhot in there" — suddenly became the main event.

Writing and recording piecemeal over an extended period of time and without the keel of a band and a studio can make for a messy album. And Mist and Mast is, at minimum, eclectic. The obvious outlier, "New Water," would surely have seen its programmed beats cut by another label. Lakis was fully aware of this. Rather conveniently, another thing he decided to dismiss — along with being good at everything he played — was having it all make sense together. The Red Thread albums, in contrast, were "really samey-samey," he explained. He chose to be content with Mist and Mast being, as he put it, "far from a concept album."

Was that another friendly cop-out, like calling shoddy playing charming because you "like the first Sebadoh albums"? A little, sure. But Lakis seems to be risking more by distancing himself from any single scene. How much simpler would it have been to play up the latent twang and latch onto an alt-country tag or trim a few bad moods and dub the music psych-pop? Instead, Mist and Mast feels more like a recent history of the man who made it, a trade we should be glad to make. *


With the Dying Californian and the Winks

Sat/17, 9:30 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923


Redevelopment blues


James Baldwin said it most eloquently and publicly: "Urban renewal … means Negro removal" — during a 1963 TV interview on meeting a boy displaced by the Fillmore-area redevelopment projects of the ’50s and ’60s. Wondering what happened to the Fillmore’s vibrant jazz, blues, and R&B clubs — which once drew musical giants like Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington and fostered local neophytes like Etta James and Chet Baker? Look to the two phases of the Western Addition Project, which swept over at least 30 blocks and affected more than 17,000 residents from 1953 to 1967.

Long before the bulldozers arrived, the Fillmore was renowned as one of the most diverse neighborhoods in San Francisco, a magnet for Japanese and Filipino immigrants. A few African American families had been living in the neighborhood prior to the 1906 earthquake, and when World War II brought the removal and internment of the Fillmore’s Japanese and Japanese American residents, the African American population exploded as workers moved from the South to the West Coast to work in the shipyards. Their arrival led to the blossoming of black-owned businesses and the Fillmore music scene. Hollywood stars could be spotted in back rooms, experimental filmmaker Harry Smith painted murals on the walls of Bop City, and marquee names such as Lionel Hampton would jam with local talents like Jerome Richardson and Vernon Alley and take them on the road.

Yet after the war, despite the early protests of community leaders, the Fillmore was slated for redevelopment — one of many "modernization" projects spurred by US redevelopment agencies created in the late ’40s that inevitably pinpointed neighborhoods populated by the poor and people of color. The two-lane Geary Avenue was transformed into a six-lane thoroughfare to speed commuters toward the Financial District, thousands were forced to move, and by 1967, when the Western Addition Community Organization managed to win a lawsuit against the city to stop demolition, only two venues had survived: the third incarnation of Jack’s Tavern, currently the Boom Boom Room, and the Majestic Ballroom, now the Fillmore.

More than 5,000 displaced people were left with "certificates of preference" promising dislocated residents and business owners spots when they returned, which few did. Instead, many moved away and lost contact with the Redevelopment Agency, chalking up their losses to false promises; still others have fought to have their certificates honored, such as Leola King, the owner of jazz-era nightspot the Blue Mirror (see "A Half-Century of Lies," 3/21/07).

King lives just down the street from the Fillmore Heritage Center, which houses Yoshi’s, the Jazz Heritage Center, and 1300 on Fillmore. It’s the final piece of the puzzle and fills the last remaining lot left by the redevelopment begun in 1953 — more than 50 years after the fact.

As the devastated dirt lots have remained barren for decades, the Fillmore has become more associated with crime and shattered dreams than the hot sounds and wild times of the 1940s and ’50s. When the Fillmore Center, with its Safeway, was finally built in the late ’80s, the community hoped for an economic renaissance which never quite arrived, old-timer Reggie Pettus of the New Chicago Barber Shop recalls. Jazz — in all its permutations — continues. And the oft-cited villain of the piece, the Redevelopment Agency, has attempted to redress its wrongs, producing booklets about the Fillmore’s musical heritage to spur developers to build in the neighborhood renamed the Fillmore Jazz Preservation District.

"The signs here always cracked me down because there’s nothing left to preserve!" says Elizabeth Pepin, coauthor of Harlem of the West (Chronicle, 2006), who initially learned about the neighborhood at the behest of Bill Graham as the Fillmore theater’s day manager in the late ’80s. "It’s all been bulldozed down. It shouldn’t be called ‘preservation district.’ It should be called ‘resurrection district.’<0x2009>"

All that’s left are memories and photos, which she and coauthor Lewis Watts gathered for their book and curated for 1300 on Fillmore’s walls. Pepin has done her share of work for the agency and the neighborhood, helping to fill the empty storefronts with posters of the area’s musical history, and is all too familiar with its fumbles. "The Redevelopment Agency just can’t get out of its own way — a disaster over and over again. Even the best intentions — for example, they hired me to do these names." She points to the monikers of local musicians like John Handy on the bricks of the sidewalk, running perpendicular to pedestrian traffic. "Why did they turn them this way? You put them the other way so people can read them as they’re walking, and then they’re so small nobody notices them!"

Still, she has her hopes, like everyone else who loves the Fillmore: "I want it so badly to succeed." The arrivals of Yoshi’s and 1300 on Fillmore are exciting, she agrees, though she wonders whether the old scene can truly be re-created. "One, when jazz was here in the ’40s and ’50s, it was superaffordable. Two, it was the music of the day, the rap music of the day, and all the people went out and danced," she explains. "It does worry me that everyone is pinning their hopes on this one corner to bring back everything else."

"Oddly enough, the Fillmore jazz district is probably more well-known in Europe among jazz collectors than in our own backyard," says Guardian contributor and cohost of KUSF’s Friday Night Session Tomas Palermo. He believes the area’s jazz history should be included as part of the core curriculum at SF public high schools, and he urges Yoshi’s San Francisco and other "jacket-and-tie" jazz outlets to "open up to new sounds," citing London’s Jazz Cafe, which books everyone from Roy Ayers to 4hero. He agrees with other watchers: the last parcel of land razed by the redevelopment wrecking crews shouldn’t become yet another exclusive club for the moneyed elite who roll down Fillmore from Pacific Heights and across the bridges. It has to be accessible to the community and the creatives who once made it what it was and what it could be, taking it even further from what Pettus once described as "Fillmo — no mo’." "Now," Pettus says, taking a break from cutting heads, "it’s ‘Fillmore — maybe!’"

The Fillmore mess around


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

San Francisco’s Fillmore District, Willie Brown once said, "had to be the closest thing to Harlem outside of New York." The Fillmore was in its golden era when the future mayor, then a teenager, arrived in 1951 from segregated Mineola, Texas. The 20 blocks that constitute the heart of the Fillmore then bustled with commerce and culture. It was a vibrant African American community, renowned for its nightlife.

People from throughout the Bay Area and around the world came to clubs such as Bop City (1690 Post), Jack’s Tavern (1931 Sutter), Elsie’s Breakfast Nook (1739 Fillmore), the Blue Mirror (935 Fillmore), and the Booker T. Washington Hotel’s cocktail lounge (1540 Fillmore) to see local attractions like Saunders King and Vernon Alley, as well as such national stars as Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Slim Gaillard, Art Tatum, T-Bone Walker, Roy Milton, and Ruth Brown. It was not uncommon for audience members to bump shoulders with Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Robert Mitchum, Sammy Davis Jr., Dorothy Dandridge, and other visiting celebrities. Saxophonist John Handy remembers jamming with John Coltrane at Bop City, then going around the corner to Jackson’s Nook (1638 Buchanan) to share tea and conversation with the then-little-known musician, who was in town with Johnny Hodges’s band.

"Coltrane was quiet," onetime Bop City house pianist Frank Jackson recalls over a plate of short ribs at 1300 on Fillmore, a new upscale soul food restaurant two doors down from the new Yoshi’s San Francisco club. Willie Brown is dining a few tables away.

By the time Brown became mayor of San Francisco in 1996, the Fillmore was pretty much a ghost town and had been for some two and a half decades, the victim of a botched redevelopment plan. Small groups of aging African American men gathered on corners and in vacant lots that stretched for blocks, bringing folding chairs and tables to play dominos or poker.

In a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle about 20 years ago, an African American minister from the Fillmore who was opposing plans to revitalize the area’s nightlife claimed there had never been much of a jazz scene in the area. But those old men, as well as many musicians from the Fillmore’s heyday, knew better. Visual proof can be found in page after page of historic photographs collected by Elizabeth Pepin and Lewis Watts in Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era (Chronicle, 2006). Many also fill several walls in 1300 on Fillmore’s lounge. Some can be viewed in rotation on a screen above the bar and outside, on the Eddy Street side of the building, which also houses Yoshi’s, the Jazz Heritage Center, and 80 condominiums.


"The Fillmore was hot," says trumpeter Allen Smith, who moved there from Stockton in the late ’40s. "You could hit two or three clubs in one block, each with a band. Racial prejudice was practically nonexistent. You gotta remember that blacks weren’t even welcome on the east side of Van Ness Avenue — but all the races could mix in the Fillmore. You could be out all hours of the night, partying with whomever you cared to, and you didn’t have to worry about anybody mugging you or bothering you. It was just very cool." The 82-year-old musician — who has played in the Benny Carter, Benny Goodman, and Gil Evans orchestras — will perform as a member of the Frank Jackson Quintet on Dec. 3 at the new Yoshi’s.

"There were a lot of after-hours clubs," says Jackson, also 82, a Texan who settled in the Fillmore with his family in 1942. "Bop City was about the most popular thing in this area. I was one of the house pianists. I would play different nights. We would all fill in for each other. If you got a better gig, you’d go and take it. There was always somebody that could take your place."

Bop City was owned by promoter Charles Sullivan, who in the 1950s and early ’60s was presenting such attractions as B.B. King, Bobby Bland, and Ike and Tina Turner at the Fillmore Auditorium before Bill Graham ever set eyes on the building. The after-hours club opened in 1949 and was originally called Vout City, with Slim Gaillard as host and attraction.

Famous for such songs as "Flat Foot Floogie," "Vout Oreenee," and "Popity Pop," Gaillard was a vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and purveyor of jive talk. "He spoke several different languages and invented some of his own," says Jackson, who was a member of Gaillard’s band at Vout City. The eccentric Gaillard was as likely to bake a cake in the club’s kitchen and serve it to customers as he was to perform. After several months Sullivan let Gaillard go and hired Jimbo Edwards to run the room.

"Jimbo was a used-car salesman downtown or somewhere," Jackson says. "He knew absolutely nothing about jazz, but he got his jazz lessons right there with Bop City as his workshop. He got to know exactly what was going on and who was doing what and whether they were good at it."

Besides such then–resident musicians as Handy, Pony Poindexter, Dexter Gordon, and Teddy Edwards, Jackson remembers playing during his seven years at Bop City with many out-of-town talents, including Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Frank Foster, Stuff Smith, Art Blakey, Chico Hamilton, and Philly Joe Jones. And he especially remembers the night his idol, pianist extraordinaire Art Tatum, came in to listen but not to play. "They gave him a seat right by the piano," Jackson says. "I did not wanna play. The place was packed. There were seven or eight piano players in the house, but nobody wanted to come up and play."

Edwards relocated the club to Fillmore Street in the mid-’60s, but it closed shortly thereafter. The action had shifted to Soulville at McAllister and Webster streets, where younger players like Dewey Redman and Pharoah Sanders jammed, and to the Half Note on Haight Street, where George Duke led a trio with vocalist Al Jarreau. And just down the street Handy’s explosive quintet with violinist Michael White appeared regularly at the Both/And, which also presented such touring artists as Betty Carter, Milt Jackson, Roland Kirk, and Archie Shepp.


By the end of the ’60s, however, jazz was all but dead in the Western Addition. Only Jack’s, which had moved from Sutter Street to the corner of Fillmore and Geary in the building that is now the Boom Boom Room, survived into the ’70s. Some, like Handy, blame the decline of jazz on the popularity of rock, others on rising crime and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency.

"To me, they just destroyed the area," Jackson says of the city agency. "They took away the music. They took away homes from people. They were in a hurry to get people out of their homes."

Allen Smith’s son Peter Fitzsimmons has long been active in efforts to bring jazz back to the Fillmore and currently runs the Jazz Heritage Center, which includes an art gallery, a screening room, and a gift shop. "There were a lot of variables in place that kinda brought down the jazz scene," he says. "The music trends went away from jazz into the big stadium-rock concerts. There were some black families moving out of the Fillmore, so there wasn’t as much nightlife. And it got a little more dangerous. Like in major cities everywhere else, destitute people, drugs, and other things came into the sociological picture.

"In the ’50s and early ’60s, Jimbo was there," Fitzsimmons adds. "He marshaled his club. It wasn’t a dangerous place. People were coming from all over the world to go to Jimbo’s." Fitzsimmons and a lot of other people are confident that jazz in the Fillmore will again rise to such heights. *


Dec. 3, 8 and 10 p.m., $16–$20


1330 Fillmore, SF

(415) 655-5600


Can jazz save the Fillmore?


Yoshi’s unveils the live-music centerpiece in the once-hopping African American nightlife district that’s been devastated by redevelopment. Our critics talk to the venue about the challenges of opening a new jazz club in San Francisco and look at the jazz-era history of the Fillmore and the legacy of redevelopment.

>>Pick up the beat
Yoshi’s arrival in San Francisco raises questions about whether jazz can revive the Fillmore
By Marcus Crowder

>>The Fillmore mess around
Players recall the once sizzling, oft-forgotten Western Addition jazz era
By Lee Hildebrand

>>Redevelopment blues
Devastation, hope, and history in the Fillmore
By Kimberly Chun

>>Leona King’s Blue Mirror Club
Classic photos of Fillmore jazz’s golden era from 1953

Remain in light


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

"The body, and its pleasures and powers, is rarely far from the spirit in California," Erik Davis writes in his introduction to Isis Aquarian’s firsthand account The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13, and the Source Family (Process). Many generations of Californians have enjoyed a mix of healthy eating, nature appreciation, and magical thinking, but few have done so with as much colorful exuberance as the Source Family, a group of angelic longhairs that thrived in the Hollywood hills in the late ’60s and early ’70s under the guidance of Father Yod (a.k.a. YaHoWa, Shin Wha, and Jim Baker), a fast-talking rascal with the hair, beard, and robes of a latter-day Zeus.

What began as a small commune of hippie restaurateurs (the group ran the Source, the veggie restaurant where Woody Allen has his Los Angeles lunch with Diane Keaton in Annie Hall) soon swelled into the hundred-plus-member Source Family. As Baker grew more assured in his Father role, so too did his leadership become more outlandish, both in terms of teachings (which dabbled in many incoherent mystical strands) and practices (which infamously incorporated tantric sex rituals and polygamy). The family’s experiment in living had stops in Hawaii and San Francisco (the Guardian‘s classified section is mentioned twice in The Source) before Father Yod died in a hang-gliding accident in 1975, a notably quiet way to go in a decade that also saw the Manson Family’s carnage and Jonestown’s horror.

Three events this week — an audiovisual-enhanced discussion at Artists’ Television Access, a signing at Aquarius Records, and a live performance at Cafe du Nord — commemorate the publication of Isis "Keeper of the Record" Aquarian’s Source Family primer, a stitching together of testimonies and primary documents. As is often the case with informal accounts, the book is wracked with cliché, most frustratingly in the form of new age truisms used to elide meaningful experiences. There are, though, more than enough weird and wonderful details to make it an enjoyable read (for example, the rainbow diet of avocado, eggplant, red onion, banana, filberts, tomatoes, and alfalfa sprouts), and something like pathos emerges when family members reflect on their experiences ("Probably 60 percent of my memories come from one single year of my life").

Still, it’s their glamour that holds our attention. There were dozens of similar-minded spiritual groups at the time, but nothing quite like the Source. Comparing the group with the earthier Love Israel Family, Aquarian writes, "[We] had a house in Hollywood and served organic cuisine to rock stars; our women wore custom-designed jewelry…. They had trucks, and Father had a Rolls Royce." The Source Family cut a path defined more by aestheticism than asceticism, and one of the chief pleasures of Aquarian’s book lies in the ephemera — commandments, names, menus, costumes — that, even in their most disposable forms, explode forth with the group’s high hippie style. Davis makes the crucial point that for the Source Family, "spirituality was a creative act of avant-garde exploration. In this regard, cults can be like art collectives."

This is certainly the case with the music, most of which came under the aegis of Ya Ho Wa 13, a core group capable of the thundering Dionysian grooves necessary to underwrite Father Yod’s commanding vocal presence. Besides being incorporated into Source Family meditations, the band played in town (a supplementary CD to Aquarian’s book includes a surreal performance at Beverly Hills High School) and cut numerous one-take albums (she estimates 65 in a two-year period, though many have been lost). The band’s changing permutations and relentless output anticipated the working methods of collective groups such as Acid Mothers Temple and Sunburned Hand of Man.

Can one enjoy the art without being a kind of spiritual tourist? It’s a difficult question, but one worth asking in light of the Source Family’s reemergence amid major excavations of the Age of Aquarius (see: freak folk, hippie chic). It goes without saying, but the various sponsors of this week’s Source events are impeccably hip: Other Cinema, Aquarius Records, and the locus of much of the current Aquarian fever, Arthur magazine.

What distinguishes today’s backtracking from the brief vogue for peace signs and psychedelic guitar washes in the early ’90s is the depth of the fascination. Seekers aren’t contenting themselves with the usual icons; they’re hungrier than that. How else to explain reissues of everything from Terry Riley to Karen Dalton, the popularity of Arthur, and the crowds when Alejandro Jodorowsky’s fantasias (El Topo, The Holy Mountain) played at the Castro Theatre some months ago? A week before the Source Family gathering at ATA, the same venue hosted another convergence of ’60s esoterica: Ira Cohen (the publisher and filmmaker behind the mirror- and mind-warping Invasion of the Thunderbolt Pagoda) introducing Julian Beck’s documentary Paradise Now: The Living Theatre in Amerika.

As the cultivation of influences matures, younger artists and musicians begin to reshape the past in more interesting, nuanced ways. One such avatar is the LA-by-way-of-Baltimore blues banshee Entrance (né Guy Blakeslee). Booking him as the opener for the Ya Ho Wa 13 reunion is a brilliant stroke, since it properly asserts the bill as a cross-generational dialogue. Did Devendra Banhart consult the Source Family group shots before convening his own family portrait for the cover of Cripple Crow (XL Recordings)? Might there be something of Father Yod’s TEN (the eternal now) teachings locked in White Rainbow’s recent bliss-minimalism opus, The Prism of the Eternal Now (Kranky/Marriage)? I’m inclined to think so, especially after having learned that certain taste-making record producers love to gab about the Source Family. It would seem that the sons of Father Yod have become elders in their own right.

Elements of Aquarian culture will always be at best ridiculous and at worst morally vacuous. As Father Yod could pass megalomania off as free-spiritedness, so too is the current crop of (mostly white) aficionados sometimes guilty of confusing creativity with fetish: for surface, ornament, texture, and, inevitably, Native American signifiers. And yet, now as it was then, much of the work being produced is vividly realized and buoyantly energetic. Flipping through The Source, one does indeed experience a kind of timelessness quite apart from the star gates, comets, and prophecies. Forty years later, the book’s disarming photographs do not seem to represent individuals so much as an ideal, a vision of beauty that endures. *


Sat/17, 8:30 p.m., $7.77

Artists’ Television Access

992 Valencia, SF

(415) 824-3890



Sun/18, 1 p.m., free

Aquarius Records

1055 Valencia, SF

(415) 647-2272



With Sky Saxon and the Seeds, Entrance, and Ascended Master

Sun/18, 8 p.m., $12

Cafe du Nord

2174 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


Bistro 9


› paulr@sfbg.com

It was déjà vu all over again when we stepped into Bistro 9 on a mild October evening.

"So when did you take over from Park Chow?" I asked our server. There was no doubt in my mind that Bistro 9 was the successor to that long-running Inner Sunset sanctum of casual comfort food. The heated sidewalk loge, the long bar, the warmth of brick and wood, the garden in the rear — it was all just as I remembered from my last visit to Park Chow. Bill Clinton was still president then, so this would have been sometime in the previous millennium, and memory does have its sell-by dates.

"Oh, Park Chow’s still there," she said brightly. "It’s just a few doors that way, toward Irving." She motioned, and I nodded, feeling the same confusion Captain Kirk must have felt in "The Mark of Gideon," when, unbeknownst to him, he was beamed onto a fake Enterprise. Later, after we’d paid and left, we strolled briefly along the block, just to make sure, and there indeed was Park Chow, with crowds milling outside and in. Heated loge set with tables at the sidewalk, warm yellow light pooling in the dim interior.

The sense of parallel universes is strong, then, if subtly skewed at points. The restaurants share a layout, look, and crowd — young, UCSF-ish, collegiate and postcollegiate — but they part company, congenially enough, in the matter of food. Park Chow tilts toward the Italian, whereas Bistro 9 (which opened late in the summer and is a sibling of the Citrus Club) finds its bliss farther east, in the methods and flavors of the Middle East. Here you will find kebab-style skewers to rival those at Asqew Grill — along with moussaka, couscous, and zataar flat bread. And if these fragrant whiffs of Turkey, Morocco, and Arabia don’t appeal, there are such standbys as pizza, burgers, rotisserie chicken or beef (from the splendid machine that stands at the heart of the exhibition kitchen), and even Provençal rack of lamb.

In this landscape of gastronomic peaks and valleys, there is a great deal of earthy satisfaction to be had in the folds of the second (although the rack of lamb is something of a deal at $19.50). Skewers are cookout food, party food — but Bistro 9 offers them in a wealth of possible combinations and sophisticated treatments. There are cubes of souvlaki-style lamb (wonderfully garlicky marinade, slightly tough meat), chicken breast perfumed with mint and cumin, shrimp and scallops with bell peppers, and spicy summer sausage. The last looked benign enough, with a pale color suggestive of veal and a smooth texture that reminded my companion of hot dogs. (I like hot dogs; he, being from Germany, regards them as overprocessed and aberrant.) But spicy meant spicy, as in "nearly incendiary." We both liked that.

Skewer plates ($7.50 for one skewer, $10.50 for two, and so on) include, besides a bed of wonderfully plumped rice grains, a choice of side dishes. These were superior, except for tabbouleh, a cracked wheat salad that was fine but not memorable. Greek salad, on the other hand — a jumble of tomato quarters, cucumber wedges, olives, onions, and feta cheese crumblings in a lemony vinaigrette — carried an enchantment of fresh mint, while grilled artichokes had a lovely lemon breath and were surprisingly tender, if not quite in season. Grilled corn, late in what has been a fine season, was still summertime sweet and dripping with melted butter. And the macaroni and cheese (you can get it separately, for $5.50) was just stupendously good, best in show in a field that’s grown quite impressive in the past few years. The kitchen uses cheddar, jack, and Gruyère, hardly an unknown combination in today’s world of mac-and-cheese connoisseurship, but the result is a creaminess and intense depth of flavor that leaves one longing for more, even though the serving crock is not small.

The Bistro 9 burger ($8, plus another buck for cheese) is made from Niman Ranch beef, which manages to remain tasty and juicy even when slightly overcooked. I’d ordered mine medium rare, which maybe is such a common expression that it no longer registers in the awareness of busy servers. Medium well isn’t ruinous for a burger, just faintly disappointing. A nice pillowy bun helped soften the letdown, as did a stack of fresh french fries, some with bits of skin still attached.

A word on the soups: try them. (All right, two words.) The signature soup is a hearty lentil ($4.50 for a cup), semipureed and sweetened by a raft of caramelized onions. A sometime offering is red bean with vegetable (also $4.50 for a cup), a full puree the color of tomato soup, decorated with pipings of crème fraîche and summoning the spirits of both minestrone and chili. It’s like a blind date for soup that works out.

For dessert, how about a shameless wallow in the brownie sundae ($6.50), several scoops of ice cream plopped over warm, chocolate chip–studded brownies, with a heavy lacquering of hot fudge sauce? It’s plenty for two and then some. The only issue is likely to be in agreeing on what kind of ice cream you want, since you get a choice. I demurred in the selection and heard, from across the table, chocolate being chosen. Chocolate ice cream with chocolate chocolate-chip brownies and chocolate sauce? And how about a tube of Clearasil on the side?

Still, we left happy. We even waved at the Park Chow people before slipping off into the night. *


Daily, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

1224 Ninth Ave., SF

(415) 753-3919


Beer and wine


Comfortable noise level

Wheelchair accessible

Praise the lard


By L.E. Leone

› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS The problem is, I don’t like applesauce. The solution is to start liking applesauce. There is no other way, given the ridiculous bounty of Sonoma County’s apple harvest this year, plus the clanking, cavernous, empty chill I feel every time I open my checkbook.

I have two apple trees in my chicken yard. Since I wandered and roamed all summer and most of the fall, missing blackberries, missing peaches, missing the pears I poach from a tree down the street and the grapes I borrow from all of the vineyards around here, I am especially determined to use my millions and millions of apples — even the ones that have already fallen and have worms swizzle-sticking out of them since there ain’t no chickens yet to see to this.

I don’t like apple cider. I don’t like apple juice. Apple pie is not my favorite kind of pie. I mean, I eat applesauce, but it’s not a thing to get all excited about, like beet greens or getting to ride up front.

What I do like is apples — crunchy, juicy, crisp, ripe apples. In my hand, while I’m sitting in the tree, under it, or on a ladder. So I eat what I can, and I hand apples to people, like on the train. Or at Sockywonk’s art opening, when I went around the room and handed everyone an apple from my tree.

There’s something sexy about handing someone an apple.

I’m not religious, but sometimes a crazy-ass Bible story can point to something worth something in real life too, like how Jesus turned water into wine, and the next thing you know the French are making French toast out of stale bread. I myself have turned cream into butter, and my brother hammered spigots into trees and turned goo into maple syrup.

Voilà: breakfast!

To hand someone an apple is to say, Take a walk on the wild side!

Whereas there’s nothing at all sexy about applesauce. It’s baby food. It’s windfall, it’s "drop," it’s old. It’s easy to make. Just cut ’em up and cook ’em. Last year I made and canned a load of applesauce, and, so I wouldn’t have to eat it, I gave it all away. And no one made love to me. Well, that’s not true, but it was meat related. It had nothing to do with applesauce.

The year before that it was apple chutney, which didn’t go over so well with the Thanksgiving turkey. I’ve made and canned apple barbecue sauce too. It’s okay.

This year I am determined to learn to like applesauce.

Now, the number one tried-and-true all-time best way to start liking a thing that you didn’t like before, everybody knows, is to put bacon in it. I looked online, but none of the applesauce recipes had bacon in them. Cinnamon. Sugar. One said honey, but the closest any of them came to bacon was butter. I didn’t look real close. Anyway, the lesson of Jesus is to not use recipes. I shut down my computer and galloped into town to buy me some bacon.

My mother wonders if the serpent that spoke to Eve in the Bible story was perhaps actually honey, oozing out of a hive and slithering down the tree of life. Never mind that honey is even less likely to learn a language than snakes are — my mother has been wondering this now, she admitted to me recently, for at least 30 years.

I think she’s brilliant. And persistent. Yet flexible. Thirty years ago, for example, she was keeping bees and eating honey instead of sugar. Honey was good for you. Now it’s the root of all evil.

I never liked honey, and I found out recently that neither does Ruth Reichl, and neither did M.F.K. Fisher. So that’s my literary mom and grandma (they shudder and turn over, respectively, at the thought) and now my mom-mom too. My grandma-grandma couldn’t care less, being dead, but I come from a tradition of honey hating, apparently, and not even bacon is going to change that.

As for applesauce …

If there is in fact a root of all evil, I would like to find out what exactly it is and learn to cultivate and cook with it, like carrots, potatoes, beets.

If there is a root of all good, it’s bacon fat. I cooked the apples in it, slow and long, over the wood stove. Sprinkle of water. Speck of cinnamon. When finally I had what seemed like applesauce, I crumbled the bacon back into it, and now, praise the lard, guess who just loves applesauce?



› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I just read your question in the Slate article (www.slate.com/id/2174411) that asks sex columnists what puzzles them. For you, it was, in short, "Why homophobia?"

I’m convinced that boys learn it from their peers. Once a person is labeled gay, that person is marked for ostracism. A boy who comes to the defense of a gay boy pretty much guarantees that he’ll be lumped in with the gay boy, so a powerful taboo is set up. If he joins in the ostracism, he’ll be rewarded with membership in the brotherhood of dudes.

I’m sure I’m just touching on the situation here, and it’s sort of a chicken-and-egg solution, because who taught the meanies homophobia in the first place? And finally, I’m from Hawaii, where folks are a tad more tolerant of gays. It’s not a Shangri-la of acceptance, but Hawaiian culture is more inclusive than mainland American culture. So I guess I can end with another question: why are some cultures more homophobia prone than others?


Island Reader

Dear Island:

Yes, I was asked come up with something that I just don’t get, and I picked homophobia, or rather, the kind of semidispassionate, delayed-gratification, frighteningly organized sort of homophobia that results in anti–gay marriage legislation, not the kind that results in broken heads. The latter I can understand, sort of. The people who break heads — with their inarticulate, reflexive need to Hulk Smash! whenever they feel their shoddily constructed senses of self crumbling at the margins — are not the people who coolly invent laws to ruin other people’s lives from a distance. Those are the ones whose motivations fail to connect with me, so every time I try explaining them to myself (they sincerely believe their gay neighbors are breaking God’s laws and must be punished; they feel very strongly that only heterosexual marriage can protect Western society from the barbarians at the gates; they want to save Ellen and Portia from sin; etc.), the brief, bright light of understanding flickers out, and I find myself wondering why those people will not go away and leave the rest of us alone.

It’s not that I’m entirely at sea as to where homophobia comes from or why people feel it. I believe quite strongly that we are wired to be exquisitely sensitive to sameness and difference and that once upon a time recognizing one’s own was a vital survival strategy on the Serengeti, as anything strange was far more likely to be foe than friend. I also believe that humans evolved with an extraordinary gift for pattern recognition and an accompanying discomfort around things, especially people, that fail to categorize neatly. Just ask any transgender person or any parent who has been subjected to the surprisingly aggressive grilling that old biddies on the street feel entitled to initiate: "Are you sure she’s a girl?" "Yes, quite." "Then why is she wearing a blue hat?" People are extremely invested in knowing who’s a what and who isn’t. This maintains order, and we are order-loving animals. Obviously how order loving varies: compare, if you will, the behavior of Israelis attempting to board a bus with that of the Swiss — those kinds of small variations probably account for the slightly less homophobic milieu of your island home, if in fact you’re not imagining it.

We know these things about our primitive behaviors, and we know that, like violent sexual jealousy and rape as a reproductive strategy — among many other unattractive behaviors from our prehistory — they’re no longer adaptive. We are now forced to live crammed into the same cage with others of all sorts, with the cheering side benefits of cultural liveliness and hybridity, but our inner ape-man will take a while longer to be bred away, if he ever goes at all. I sincerely hope that we are not someday living in off-Earth colonies, all evolved and beige and Starfleety, and still occasionally passing laws against the one group (besides fat people) it’s still OK to subject to state-sponsored discrimination.

Now check this out: back at Slate, where I went to catch up on the Human Nature column, there was this very appetizing column fodder: "Genetic brain manipulation can change sexual orientation in worms." Seriously! Of course, they were worms, and our concept of "sexual interest" can be applied to them tenuously at best, but it does seem to imply that, at least for worms, the capability to "think" like a male worm is present from the beginning, awaiting only the kiss of a genetic engineer to awaken it. Not conclusive, certainly, but hella intriguing. The story is here: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-10/uou-sas101707.php.



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.

Why I voted for Josh Wolf


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Last week’s mayoral election in my hometown of San Francisco was one of those weird moments that make you think you’re living in a Philip K. Dick novel, looking at hundreds of alternate futures peeling away from the present like little slivers of psychosis. It was a dismal election, in which the incumbent, conservative–for–San Francisco Gavin Newsom, was the only candidate who had any hope of winning. He was practically unopposed, but there was, technically, a cornucopia of candidates, spanning the gamut from qualified but unpopular to completely unqualified and silly, who were on the ballot running against him.

Things being what they are, the silly candidates got the most attention (albeit not most of the votes). Some guy named Chicken, known mostly for his participation in the art festival Burning Man, ran on a campaign pushing people to vote for him as their second choice, since San Francisco has ranked-choice voting. He definitely had great posters, given his connection to the arts community, but not much of a platform. Then there was the sex club owner Michael Powers, who ran on a platform I never quite understood. Powers does have one of the nicest sex clubs I’ve ever seen, called (appropriately enough) the Power Exchange, and I wondered briefly if that might qualify him to run the city. But in the end, he got the fewest votes. And Chicken did not come in anywhere near second.

As I said, there were a few candidates, like Quintin Mecke, with relevant experience, but none had big enough constituencies to pull off a win. So when it came time to fill in my ballot, I voted for a guy who isn’t a joke and has the kinds of political experience that might get him elected in 2035: Josh Wolf.

Media geeks may remember Wolf as the blogger who was sent to prison for refusing to identify for the police some protesters in video he posted of a political demonstration that turned violent. After he got out of prison he went on the Colbert Report, where he came across as well intentioned and with a burning passion for free speech. In the mayoral race, he ran on a platform that emphasized open democratic processes and a good wi-fi plan for the city. Nobody in his campaign thought he would win, and indeed he only garnered about 1,500 votes. But that’s saying something in an election with only 17 percent turnout.

So why didn’t I vote for somebody like Mecke, who had a good position on dealing with homelessness and had already done some work in city politics? Because, as I said, I felt like I was in this Dick novel looking into a zillion possible futures right there in the polling place. There were the sure-to-fail futures represented by good candidates with no hope of winning, and then there was the dark future of creepy joke candidates like Chicken, whose mockery of the voting process was probably part of why so few people turned out for the election. Why vote when running for mayor had been turned into a joke?

So I voted for the best possible future I could find, the future in which, eventually, smart young people who care about freedom of expression online become mature politicians who understand new technologies and the socioeconomic conditions associated with them. Maybe Wolf won’t grow into that politician, but somebody like him will. And that person will probably understand things like how to organize Internet access for low-income city residents and why entertainment companies shouldn’t be allowed to sue people for hundreds of thousands of dollars because they’ve been file-sharing. That person will also understand how easy it is to violate people’s privacy online and will push for regulations that prevent companies and governments from dipping into private digital data supplies.

Of course, the future in which we have politicians like Wolf may never happen. We can’t predict what will become of him, and we can’t know if digital natives will mature into progressives who care about access and privacy reforms. There’s always room for wired neocons and digital Puritans, whose intimate history with the Internet will make them particularly good at legisutf8g censorship purges and invasive data mining. That’s not the future I voted for, but I am always having to remind myself that’s the future I may get. *

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who is living in an alternate future right now.

Good-bye to my city


EDITORIAL My marriage to the city is ending. Yes, the one on a peninsula tipped with astounding beauty, filled with rich cultural communities and the fullness and complexities of the growing inequities in American life.

It is the city that has witnessed the nurturing scenes of my adulthood on the West Coast of North America since 1966. I was here as the beat generation turned over my new city bride to newcomers during the Summer of Love. They called us hippies. Later I witnessed the tear gas flows at Haight and Ashbury the year that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis. I watched television with Students for Eugene McCarthy on Haight Street on the warm June night when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.

Although my city bride is scarred and worn down, like any bride would be with too many lovers fighting over each blink of her aging eyes under a wrinkled brow, how can anybody leave after a 41-year love affair?

Sadly, the deepening citywide housing crisis, well documented by the Guardian, has now reached our rental home near our beloved Unitarian Church and Center.

I have been in the "good fight" for most of those 41 years in San Francisco, where I have been arrested in solidarity with homeless people, witnessed for peace and justice, and engaged the body politic at City Hall on behalf of sound environmental and planning policies. I have worked continually for better public TV and radio services, including 10 years of elected service on KQED’s Board of Directors.

Now what is a responsible lover of a city bride to do? Jump ship? Leave on the next voyage of the SS Bilge Rat?

As an aging groom, however, my choices are few.

Along with my human bride, Jean, I could live in the cramped, crowded, and often dangerous gray ghetto for folks of limited income. Perhaps we’d win the California Lottery so we could "afford" the city’s lottery for a so-called affordable-housing condo.

We could continue to mount the barricades, trying keep our bride from being dressed up for dates with the limousine-and-caviar set and the arrivistes of wealth and power who want to steal her remaining treasures.

Instead, we are now heading toward building a new community in Boulder, Colo., where my life in the West began nearly 50 years ago as a college student. We will be members one of America’s first cohousing villages designed by elders who are now building an intentional community of self-managed affordable and market-rate units in a city where there are successful policies geared to meet the housing needs of all income groups.

In many marriages facing uncertain challenges, at times ties are dissolved unwillingly. I will miss my haughty, imperial, and strangely vulnerable city bride called the city of St. Francis — in Spanish, San Francisco.

To you, the remaining citizens of San Francisco: I have had a wonderful relationship with my city bride, with many gifts from insightful people. It was a time of great love, affection, expectations met and unmet, with disappointments and frustrations and — of course — laughs and tears. I have had them all with you.

Henry Kroll

Henry Kroll moved to San Francisco in 1966.

Trattoria Pinocchio


REVIEW My mission was to find a restaurant in North Beach that doesn’t serve Italian food. This was more out of curiosity than resolve; Italian food happens to be my favorite, but I wanted to find an oasis of originality amid the monotony of Columbus Street. After two hours of slowly eliminating the Afghan, Indian, Vietnamese, and Mexican restaurants I had found online because they had closed permanently, only opened for dinner, or had moved across town, I was coming to the conclusion that there is a very active Italian consortium in North Beach driving away all challengers. Plus, my curiosity was eroding under the steadily lapping waves of hunger. I finally cracked and decided to patronize the next cozy little restaurant I came to, provided it wouldn’t break my bank account.

This happened to be Trattoria Pinocchio, a nice-looking establishment with a hostess who spoke fluent Italian as she boasted that the restaurant’s pastas and breads were made fresh every day. With a claim like that and with prices comparable to those of all of the other places I had been passing ($12.95 for a salad and pasta), it deserved a shot at pleasing my exceedingly discriminatory pasta palate. I even made it easy by ordering one of my all-time favorites, linguini al pesto.

Unfortunately, my salad was so oily, it dripped onto my shirt and left stains on the way from the plate to my mouth. The dressing was not quite orthodox and mildly unpleasant, but tasty enough once I added black pepper, so I continued with the greens — with little help from my waiter, who was suspiciously absent most of the time. On my first bite of the linguini — when it finally came — I realized that I had been rudely cheated. While the pasta was cooked well enough, it certainly didn’t taste like it was made fresh that day, and the pesto sauce was more cream and (you guessed it) oil than basil. As I left, I half-expected the hostess’s nose to look longer, but no dice.

TRATTORIA PINOCCHIO Mon.–Thurs. and Sun., 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–midnight. 401 Columbus, SF. (415) 392-1472, www.trattoriapinocchio.com

Green City: Solar solutions


› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY When Berkeley mayor Tom Bates recently announced a creative city plan to financially assist homeowners who want to dress their roofs in solar panels, people across the Bay wondered if San Francisco could come up with something similar.

It’s happening. Sup. Gerardo Sandoval is working with the City Attorney’s Office on legislation to make solar panels more affordable for property owners. "The idea with my proposal is the city would use its very high credit rating to borrow money at almost zero cost," the District 11 supervisor said. That money would be turned over to citizens as low-interest loans to be paid back through a monthly assessment, similar to a property tax, with a very low interest rate. "It’s going to be a lot cheaper than what homeowners can do on their own."

A photovoltaic array for a typical home can cost the owner as much as $40,000, though state and federal incentives can reduce the cost by about $10,000. Systems are typically guaranteed by the manufacturers for 20 to 25 years, and the cost is recouped over time in reduced energy bills.

But the initial investment is high enough to discourage many would-be solar users. "The main challenge for many homeowners is the substantial upfront cost. It could easily cost you up to $50,000 to upgrade your home," Sandoval said of the bill for items like insulation, solar panels, and wind generators that can help modify a building to use less energy more efficiently.

Under this new financial program, the entire city would be declared a tax assessment district — similar to a Mello-Roos, or community benefit, district — with a resident opting in by deciding to buy solar panels. Both Berkeley and San Francisco are charter cities, which gives them the ability to tweak state laws, like the one that permits the creation of Mello-Roos districts, to meet local needs.

The plan to help private property owners has a number of public benefits. By generating most of their power on their roofs, homeowners will draw less juice from the grid, which is heavily dependent on fossil fuels (and is ultimately inefficient, as much energy is lost through transmission from distant power plants).

San Francisco is fast closing in on its 2012 deadline to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, and a July Civil Grand Jury report found the city would have to triple its current reduction rate to meet that goal. Sandoval’s plan would help. According to a federal study, one kilowatt of solar electricity offsets about 217,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Additionally, the city is aiming to provide 31 megawatts of solar power capacity through Community Choice Aggregation, which Sandoval sees as part of his plan.

"Both programs are about organizing our city to get off the grid and get off fossil fuels," he said, adding that he hopes this financing model will expand to all renewable-energy and efficiency upgrades to homes and businesses.

The plan is still in its nascent stages, and a few administrative and legal questions remain.

It’s unclear which city department would administer the program, although San Francisco Public Utilities Commission spokesperson Tony Winnicker said, "We already have a framework to administer something like this," citing the management infrastructure of the city’s water and sewer systems. The Department of the Environment has also been suggested. Sandoval said, "There are a lot of different city agencies who see benefits of administering the program." He was clear that it should remain in the public sector, with the possible assistance of community-based nonprofits that understand the local needs of their neighborhoods.

Sandoval also sees his proposed program as a way to foster the right kind of industry in San Francisco. The volume of solar business could bring more manufacturing companies, and City College of San Francisco and other educational programs could partner with manufacturers to train consultants and installers.

Barry Cinnamon, CEO of Akeena Solar, a Los Gatos PV installer, expressed enthusiasm and support for the plan. "It’s really commendable that cities like San Francisco and Berkeley are trying to find ways to do this."

Sandoval hopes to see the program up and running within a year, and said, "If no one accuses me of conflict of interest, I’ll be among the first to sign up."

Supervisors approve campaign finance reforms


On Nov. 6, while voters were casting their ballots, Sup. Chris Daly and a veto-proof supermajority of the Board of Supervisors approved four ordinances that seek to tighten loopholes in campaign finance law and increase the public financing that will be available to candidates running for at least six openings on the board in 2008.

"The impact of these changes is going to have significant reverberations," Daly told the Guardian. "If these changes had been in place during the 2006 election race, I would have had $200,000 more in public money available during my reelection race. And that’s always helpful. You can always influence an election with that kind of money."

As of 2008, circulators of initiative, recall, and referendum petitions will be required to display a badge stating whether they are volunteers or paid and to disclose on request the names of the proponents of the petition.

Also beginning in 2008, independent expenditure committees that pay for mass mailings to support or oppose candidates for city elective office will be required to file campaign disclosure reports with the Ethics Commission, as will those conducting or paying for push polls, which deceptively try to influence voters under the guise of gathering information. Push poll workers will also have to disclose their sponsor to those they call.

Equally significant for the 2008 election is the fact that the expenditure ceiling for supervisorial candidates receiving partial public financing will be raised to $140,000. Daly argued the current bar of $86,000 is on the "low side of the political spending cycle."

The new limits will allow serious candidates to have a budget of about $200,000, which, Daly said, "more accurately reflects the cost of running a significant campaign…. As we’ve just seen from the mayor’s race, it’s not just any candidate that can get partial public financing."

With the progressive balance of power on the board at stake in next year’s supervisorial races, it wasn’t surprising that Mayor Gavin Newsom’s top field marshal on the board, Sup. Sean Elsbernd, argued against raising the cap, claiming it would be "inappropriate" and "unethical" to do so given that three current supervisors could potentially benefit next year. Elsbernd suggested delaying such a raise until 2010.

Board president Aaron Peskin countered that "if this is good public policy, it should be passed on its own merits. At any time, members can be up for reelection, but actually the vast majority [of supervisors] are termed out."

In November 2008, Sups. Peskin, Jake McGoldrick, Tom Ammiano, and Geraldo Sandoval will be termed out, while Elsbernd and Ross Mirkarimi will be up for reelection. The election to replace suspended Sup. Ed Jew will also likely be held next year, depending on when and if he is permanently removed for his various ethical problems.

"It’s fair to say that partial public financing has severe limitations," Daly added, citing his 2006 reelection race, in which independent expenditure committees with ties to his challenger, Newsom ally Rob Black, spent "gobs of money" but didn’t declare them until the last minute, thus tricking Daly into limiting his expenditures to $86,000.

Daly said it doesn’t make sense "to subject dozens to a program that doesn’t work and has flaws because we fear three individuals may gain." But, he said, it is good for "three individuals to run with public financing on why they disagree with the incumbent, Sup. Sean Elsbernd’s, record. This is not necessarily good for incumbents, but I do think it’s good for democracy."

Ethics under attack


› amanda@sfbg.com

A group of political campaign treasurers who regularly handle the financial nuances of reporting election cash have signed a letter disparaging the operations of San Francisco’s Ethics Commission.

"Fewer and fewer of our members are willing to accept San Francisco local candidates and committees as clients because of the hostile environment that now exists," reads a July 23 missive addressed to the five Ethics commissioners and posted by the Los Angeles–based California Political Treasurers Association.

The letter includes a laundry list of gripes, including that Ethics staff treat treasurers like criminals; the audit, fines, and penalty processes are too slow; forfeitures of campaign donations for minor reporting errors are unfair; penalties for some infractions are unjust; there’s been no guidance on a new law banning donations from corporations; and that when screwups occur the paid, professional treasurers are treated more harshly than volunteers.

Twenty-one CPTA members signed the letter, and several echoed its contents at a Nov. 8 meeting with Ethics staff.

"Honestly, our firm will probably never touch a San Francisco ballot measure again," said Stacy Owens of Oakland’s Henry C. Levy and Co.

However, Ethics staff refuted some of those complaints.

For example, the treasurers universally decried the requirement that a donor have a street address as well as a post office box. "It’s stupid," said Kevin Henegen of the Sutton Law Firm, who did not sign the letter but did attend the Nov. 8 meeting.

But it’s a law throughout California, not just in San Francisco. "The state considers this very serious," said Oliver Luby, the fines collection officer of the Ethics Commission and the most outspoken staffer at the meeting. He pointed out that a street address can be used to verify the physical existence of a donor, while a PO box can easily shield a false identity.

Some of the treasurers said the quick pace of campaigning can turn the search for a simple street address into a battle, and the threat of a fine or forfeiture from the Ethics Commission causes them to consider not reporting the donation at all until after the election, when the address can be less hurriedly determined.

That’s a problem, according to Charles Marsteller, a good-government watchdog instrumental in the drafting of many of San Francisco’s campaign rules. He told us he’d like to see legislation that addresses the treasurers’ concerns while ensuring timely disclosure: "We don’t want to see a situation where two days before the election a large donation is not reported because the donor fails to disclose an address or occupation. This might give a handy excuse to justify not reporting things like large 11th-hour media buys."

The treasurers further complained that their being on the hook for a fine, fee, or forfeiture when a client screws up isn’t fair and that the past errors of a group shouldn’t affect how it’s treated in the future.

If a committee breaks the law and owes money, the treasurer is legally responsible, but these paid professionals could act as filers instead and leave the name of treasurer and any monetary penalties to one of the committee members, as Luby told us.

While the treasurers complained that forfeitures of donations for reporting errors are a penalty that no other California jurisdiction imposes, Luby said that San Francisco hasn’t enforced them since 2002.

He also penned a detailed 17-page memo responding to the CPTA’s complaints, which includes a matrix showing that most of the signers of the letter don’t do business in San Francisco and only 4 of the 21 have had to pay fines here since 2002.

While he argues that those four are disgruntled professionals who have tangled with Ethics in the past, he does not entirely dismiss the CPTA’s observations of serious management inconsistencies at Ethics. In particular, he cites the perception of unfairness when routine late fees and fines, which he handles, are wrapped up in campaign investigations — which are conducted, in secret, by another sector of Ethics and can result in different monetary penalties. Over the years the standards for fines have dissolved as secret deals have been cut to settle investigations.

"Since my arrival in 2002, my mantra for penalties has been consistency, consistency, consistency," Luby writes. "By routinely being a stickler for standards over the years, I have detected the Commission management prefers greater flexibility when regarding when to grant a waiver. In particular, waiver standards have been applied inconsistently when late fees and forfeitures are incorporated with investigative penalties."

The CPTA asked for a task force to fully vet solutions to some of Ethics’ problems, which Commissioner Emi Gusukuma said she’d be willing to join. "This is a great first step," she said of the Nov. 8 meeting, which she and Commissioner Jamienne Studley attended. "But it’s still a big, meaty issue."

John St. Croix, executive director of Ethics, said the agency will be taking these issues seriously. "There’s a lot of frustration because people don’t know what our processes are," he said. "If we are being unfair, we can normalize our processes."

CPTA’s letter to Ethics
Oliver Luby’s Response to CPTA
Luby’s supporting documentation

Fisher fails


› news@sfbg.com

The crowd at El Rio, the Mission Street dive bar, was reaching capacity election night when Sup. Aaron Peskin climbed onto an unstable bar stool to announce a political victory that had been very much in doubt just a few weeks earlier.

“They said it could not be done. We drove a Hummer over Don Fisher!” Peskin said, referring to the Republican billionaire and downtown power broker who funded the fight against progressives in this election, as he has done repeatedly over the years.

Indeed, the big story of this election was the improbable triumph of environmentalists over car culture and grassroots activism over downtown’s money. The battleground was Muni reform measure Proposition A, which won handily, and the pro-parking Proposition H, which went down to resounding defeat.

It was, in some ways, exactly the sort of broad-based coalition building and community organizing that the progressives will need to help set the city’s agenda going into a year when control of the Board of Supervisors is up for grabs.

“I just felt it at El Rio — wow, people were jazzed,” said campaign consultant Jim Stearns, who directed the Yes on A–No on H campaign. “We brought in new energy and new people who will be the foot soldiers and field managers for the progressive supervisorial candidates in 2008.”

Maintaining the momentum won’t be simple: many of the people in El Rio that night will be on opposite sides next June, when Assemblymember Mark Leno challenges incumbent state senator Carole Migden, and they’ll have to put aside their differences just a few months later.

Downtown, while soundly defeated this time around, isn’t going to give up. And some parts of the winning coalition — Sup. Sean Elsbernd, for example, who helped with west-side voters, and the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), which helped bring more moderate voters into the fold — probably aren’t going to be on the progressive side in Nov. 2008.

But there’s no doubt the Yes on A–No on H campaign was a watershed moment. “I’ve never seen this kind of coalition between labor and environmentalists in the city,” Robert Haaland, a union activist who ran the field campaign, told us. “New relationships were built.”

During his victory speech, Peskin singled out the labor movement for high praise: “This would not have happened if it were not for our incredible brothers and sisters in the house of labor.” He also thanked the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and environmental groups — and agreed that the labor-environmental alliance was significant and unique. “This is the first time in the seven years that I’ve been on the Board of Supervisors where I have seen a true coalition between labor and the environmentalists,” he said.

It’s not clear what we can expect in 2008 from Mayor Gavin Newsom, whom the latest results show finishing with more than 70 percent of the vote, better than some of his own consultants predicted. Newsom endorsed Yes on A–No on H, but he did nothing to support those stands, instead focusing on defeating Question Time proposition E, which narrowly failed.

Will Newsom continue to pay fealty to the biggest losers of this election, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Fisher, who funded No on A–Yes on H and became this year’s antienvironmentalism poster child?

Or will Newsom — who has said little of substance about his plans for 2008 — step to the front of the transit-first parade and try to drive a wedge in the labor-environmentalist-progressive coalition that achieved this election’s biggest come-from-behind victory?



The Yes on A–No on H campaign was a striking combination of good ground work by volunteers committed to alternative transportation and solid fundraising that allowed for many mailers and a sophisticated voter identification, outreach, and turnout effort.

“We worked the Muni a lot in the last days, particularly in areas where we thought there were a lot of young people,” Stearns said.

Polls commissioned by the Yes on A–No on H campaign showed that Prop. H, which would have deregulated parking and attracted more cars downtown, was winning by 54–39 percent as of Aug. 30. By Oct. 25 that lead had narrowed to 40–41 percent, a trend that gave the campaign hope that a big final push would produce a solid margin of victory, particularly given that more detailed polling questions showed support dropped fast once voters were educated on the real potential impacts of the measure.

Prop. A was much closer throughout the race, particularly given that both daily newspapers and left-leaning Sups. Gerardo Sandoval and Jake McGoldrick opposed it and even the Green Party couldn’t reach consensus on an endorsement.

“This could have meant a lot of arrows from a lot of directions,” Stearns said.

Campaign leaders Peskin, Haaland, and Stearns were so worried about Prop. A being defeated — and about not having the money for a big final telephone canvas in the final days — that they decided to make last-minute appeals for money.

“I’ve been a nervous wreck about this,” Haaland said of the campaign on election night.

On the evening of Nov. 3, he placed an anxious call to Peskin, suggesting that the latter make an appeal for money to Clint Reilly, a real estate investor who has often helped fund progressive efforts.

Peskin agreed and asked Stearns to help him make the pitch — and the two men drove to Reilly’s Seacliff home at 10 p.m. on Nov. 3.

“Prop. A just struck me as a nice, decent, positive message,” Reilly told the Guardian at the election night party, which he attended with his wife, Janet Reilly, a former State Assembly candidate.

Sharing Peskin and the campaign’s concerns that Prop. A was in trouble, Reilly cut a check for $15,000, which was enough to keep the phone banks going and help give the measure a narrow margin of victory.

But the money alone wasn’t enough for this mostly volunteer-run campaign.

“The push we made on the last five days of this campaign was just incredible,” campaign manager Natasha Marsh told us. “We had close to 500 volunteers on that last four days.”



The campaign also developed an extensive list of potentially supportive absentee voters — fully half of them Chinese speaking — who were then contacted with targeted messages.

Rosa Vong-Chie, who coordinated the voter outreach effort, said the messages about climate change, clean air, and Fisher’s involvement worked well with English-language voters. Chinese speakers didn’t care as much about Fisher, so campaign workers talked to them about improving Muni service.

The absentee-voter drive (and the push among Chinese-language voters) was unusual for a progressive campaign — and the fact that Prop. A did so well among typically conservative absentee voters was a testament to the effort’s effectiveness.

Elsbernd, one of the most conservative members of the Board of Supervisors, crossed many of his political allies to support the Yes on A–No on H campaign, and his involvement helped win over west-side voters and demonstrated that environmentalism and support for transit shouldn’t be just progressive positions.

“It’s great for public transit riders. It reinforces that this is a transit-first city…. Public transit is not an east-side issue,” Elsbernd told us, adding that the election was also a victory for political honesty. “It shows that people saw through the campaign rhetoric.”

The Fisher-funded rhetoric relied on simplistic appeals to drivers’ desire for more parking and used deceptive antigovernment appeals, trying to capitalize on what he clearly thought was widespread disdain for the Board of Supervisors.

“The attacks against the board didn’t work,” Peskin said, noting that in election after election the supervisors have shown that they “have much longer coattails than the chief executive of San Francisco.”

“I think it’s a pretty thorough rejection of Don Fisher’s agenda. He was not able to fool the voters,” said Tom Radulovich, director of Livable City and a BART director, who was active in the campaign. “This was about transit and what’s best for downtown. We should be very proud as a city.”



The day after the El Rio party, at the monthly Car Free Happy Hour — a gathering of alternative-transportation activists and planners — there was excited talk of the previous night’s electoral triumph, but it quickly turned to the question of what’s next.

After all, progressives proved they could win in a low-turnout election against a poll-tested, attractive-sounding, and well-funded campaign. And given that the number of signatures needed to qualify an initiative for the ballot is a percentage of the voters in the last mayor’s race, it suddenly seems easy to meet that standard.

Some of the ideas floated by the group include banning cars on a portion of Market Street, having voters endorse bus rapid-transit plans and other mechanisms for moving transit quicker, levying taxes on parking and other auto-related activities to better fund Muni, and exempting bike, transit, and pedestrian projects from detailed and costly environmental studies (known as level of service, or LOS, reform to transportation planners).

“There’s a lot of potential to move this forward,” Haaland said later. “We can talk about creating a real transit-justice coalition.”

There’s also a downside to the low turnout: downtown can more easily place measures on the ballot or launch recall drives against sitting supervisors, which would force progressives to spend time and money playing defense.

But overall, for an election that could have been a total train wreck for progressives, the high-profile victory and the new coalitions suggest that the movement is alive and well, despite Newsom’s reelection.

This oil spill — and the next


EDITORIAL The first headline the San Francisco Chronicle ran after the Cosco Busan crashed into a Bay Bridge protective fender Nov. 7 implied that nothing terrible had happened. It read, almost comically, "CRUNCH!" Initial reports suggested that only a few hundred gallons of fuel oil had spilled from the gash in the 810-foot freighter’s hull. Caltrans assured the public that the system had worked: the fender had absorbed the blow, the bridge had suffered no damage, and motorists had no cause for concern.

It wasn’t until much later in the day that the public learned just how big an ecological disaster was unfolding in the bay. And the most disturbing evidence is only now becoming clear: this was an accident waiting to happen. The regulations and processes in place to prevent a catastrophic oil spill in the bay — where thousands of ships with tanks carrying foul and toxic fuel oil sail through a fragile ecosystem every year — were, and are, tragically inadequate.

Just look at the record so far:

The Coast Guard’s Vehicle Traffic Service on Yerba Buena Island, which has extensive radar and electronic tracking devices, was clearly aware that the container ship was heading for a collision — but was unable to stop it.

The fog was thick, and the ship, which had just made a wide S turn out of the Port of Oakland, was far from the center of the 1,200-foot-wide channel under the bridge. The Coast Guard could hardly have missed what was going on.

In fact, according to news reports, a VTS staffer radioed the bar pilot at the helm of the ship minutes before the crash and warned him that he was on an errant course. "Your [compass] heading is 235. What are your intentions?" the VTS staffer asked (essentially saying, in nautical-radio speak, "What the hell are you doing?"). The pilot, John Cota, insisted he was heading right for the center of the span and not to worry, his lawyer told reporters.

Imagine, for a moment, what would happen if air traffic controllers at San Francisco International Airport saw a commercial jet flying off course in zero-visibility fog and heading for the top of San Bruno Mountain. The controllers wouldn’t ask the captain what his intentions were; they would announce an imminent crash and order him to immediately increase altitude, change course … whatever was necessary. The captain wouldn’t argue that his or her instruments said everything was fine; the airliner would change course at once and sort out the question of instrument accuracy after it was out of harm’s way.

But traffic regulators on the bay operate under different rules. Even a minor course change would have prevented the accident — but according to VTS rules posted on the Web, the Coast Guard has no authority (other than in times of national-security alerts) to directly order preventative action. Under centuries-old rules of the sea, the captain of a ship is in total control and can’t be told what to do, even if a disaster is looming — and modern safety regulations haven’t caught up to that tradition.

The ship was sailing under terrible conditions, with almost zero visibility, and even some bay captains say running a 70,000-ton vessel in an area like this in fog that thick is a bad idea. But the shipping companies have so much money on the line that nobody wants to slow down the schedules.

It’s no secret where the fuel tanks are in a ship like this. The moment the ship took a gash that size in the hull, the authorities should have assumed that a sizable and extremely dangerous spill was in the works and begun immediate emergency containment procedures. But somehow just about everyone seemed to believe the initial reports that the crew of the ship had transferred the fuel away from the hole and only a trivial amount had escaped.

Remember, we’re talking about a rip of 100 feet, one-eighth the length of the ship, right in the part of the hull where half a million gallons of nasty bunker fuel were stored. Emergency responders should have known a spill was inevitable and gone into action right away.

Yet hours passed. No public warning was issued. Bay swimmers continued to take their morning natations — and some came back covered with oil. Nobody knew what was going on.

The day after the spill, when it was clear an ecological disaster was happening in the bay, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom split town and went on vacation.

So far, the taxpayers are picking up the tab for the cleanup — and in the end, it may prove difficult to get the owner of the ship to pay, even if faulty navigation equipment on the Cosco Busan was at least partly the cause of the spill. The companies that own these big ships use layers of dummy corporations, legal tricks, and secretive contracts to protect them from liability. In this case, the Chronicle has reported, the Cosco Busan is a Chinese vessel owned by either a company in Cyprus or one in Hong Kong and managed by a separate Hong Kong outfit. It’s going to take years to get to the bottom of who should pay for this mess.

Meanwhile, the crab-fishing industry is out of business, and the economic impact will be dramatic.

There are obvious lessons here — and the first is that the public and all of the regulatory and response agencies at every level of government have to stop taking a nonchalant, hands-off attitude toward the ships that represent an ecological time bomb in the bay.

Shipping is part of the lifeblood of the local economy, and everyone who lives in the Bay Area has to live with the fact that giant steel vessels loaded with toxic fluids are going to be passing through a diverse and easily damaged ecosystem every day of every year for the foreseeable future. But there’s a lot that can be done to make it safer.

For starters, the VTS ought to have the mandate and the authority to regulate shipping traffic in the same way that air traffic controllers regulate planes. Among other things, the service should keep ships in port when the fog is that thick and conditions aren’t safe. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is mad about the spill response, and that’s fine — but she and her Bay Area congressional colleagues ought to push for legislation that would allow the Coast Guard to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

There’s a desperate need for a bay spill early-warning system, something that could go into effect the moment there’s a possibility of oil fouling the water — and get containment crews on hand quickly and let the public know the hazards. That’s something the State Legislature should move on immediately.

Perhaps Congress should mandate that ships passing through US coastal waters post an accident bond to ensure they don’t escape liability for disasters. But for now, the federal government needs to seize the Cosco Busan, impound its cargo, and make it clear that nothing is going anywhere until the bill for this catastrophe is settled.

And the state and federal governments need to compensate the crab fishers — and then collect the money from the ship’s owners to cover those costs.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I called labor activist Robert Haaland a few days after the election to chat about what the victory of Proposition A meant, and I wound up interrupting his vacation in Maui. I shouldn’t feel so bad — anyone who takes his cell phone on vacation and returns calls from political reporters has nobody to blame but himself … but still, I wanted to get off the phone quickly and let him get back to his sun and sand and Bikram yoga.

It wasn’t happening. Even from Hawaii, even with all of us in a celebratory mood over the way the progressives stomped Don Fisher, Haaland had a somber note to share.

"Queer progressives were missing in action on Props. A and H," he told me. "I think they were spending all their time fighting over Mark and Carole."

What he meant, of course, was that people active in the LGBT community spent their energy these past two months in organizing (and bickering over) the Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Democratic Club’s endorsement for the June 2008 State Senate race. The two candidates, Assemblymember Mark Leno and incumbent Carole Migden, are both, generally speaking, progressive politicians. They both have active, loyal groups of LGBT supporters, and they have both poured considerable effort into getting the Milk club endorsement, which puts a stamp of progressive legitimacy on the winner.

But if you’ve followed the whole mess on the www.sfbg.com politics blog, you know it’s been nasty and bitter. The meeting at which the club decided (or maybe didn’t decide) when to schedule its formal endorsement vote was a mess of procedural questions, shouting, alleged violations of Robert’s Rules of Order, utter confusion at the end, and recriminations afterward. A lot of people who used to like one another are still steaming about it, using epithets we typically save for the Republicans in Washington DC.

I’ve said this before, and I’m going to do it again, as loud as I can:

Knock it off. All of you.

Look: Leno is running against Migden. You can think that’s a bad and divisive political idea or you can think that he has every right to seek office in a democracy and hold an incumbent accountable. It doesn’t matter; the race is on. Next June we’ll all be voting for one or the other.

And five months later control of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will be in the balance, and we will desperately need a united progressive front to make sure that Gavin Newsom’s allies don’t win. We can’t afford to be mad at one another. We can’t afford an ugly progressive split. We can’t afford to let the Leno-Migden race devolve into personal attacks. We can’t be demonizing one another.

Don’t start with your he-did-it-first-she-did-it-first stuff either. Nobody’s completely innocent here; both sides have said and done things that have inflamed the situation.

I’m an idealist and an optimist; that’s how I survive. I actually believe that this city, and this movement, is mature enough politically to have a race like Migden vs. Leno without leaving lasting scars that will hurt all of our causes for years to come.

But when I mentioned to a downtown operative the other day that I was worried that people like Debra Walker and Howard Wallace will wind up hating each other, he told me gleefully that "Don Fisher would happily pay money to see that."

Think about it.