Volume 42 Number 21

February 20 – February 26, 2008

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› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS One week you smell like bacon, and the next week it’s skunk. Life is like this.

And do you know what a skunk sounds like? They make one of the most sinister noises in the animal kingdom, I think. They speak in a kind of wheezy, whiny murmur that forebodes death and disaster like a bunch of gangsters with head colds complaining about the service at a Chinese dive.

First I thought they were trying to make a hit on my chickens. It was three in the morning and I was in the throes of my depression. So the last thing I needed to wake up to was a pile of smelly, bloody feathers. Wait. I think skunks are like weasels. They pull the chickens’ heads off and suck out their brains, then leave the rest.

Either way, not a cheerful scenario.

So I dragged myself out of bed and went to my closet for something farmerly to wear. I couldn’t decide between overalls over a union suit and a Western shirt with a denim skirt. Overalls look great with a shotgun, and Western wear goes better with handguns. Of course, I don’t have either kind of gun. I just wanted to look convincing because the last time I raced outside in the middle of the night to defend the honor of my chickens, I was essentially laughed back to high school by a gang of possums, I assume because of the pajamas I was wearing.

In any case, my self-esteem suffered. They can be a cruel lot, these woodsy types that I hang with. Possums, foxes, bobcats, skunks … Eventually, after trying on several outfits, I settled on a "safe" floral-print flannel shirt and tight blue jeans under a long oversize coat that isn’t a trench coat but looked pretty good in the half dark in the mirror, especially from the side, I thought. And I went outside with a flashlight and walked around the chicken coop, trying to act casually curious, if not cool.

At the exact same time I realized that, gasp, I was wearing socks with Birkenstocks, I also saw, spotlighted in my flashlight light, the skunk. Also looking at my feet, shaking its head, like, "Loser!"

He wasn’t interested in my chickens after all. He’d been messing around behind the woodpile. I think he had a girl with him, or vice versa. In any case, this skunk was now smack between me and the door to my shack, and it turned its back to me, still shaking its head and muttering something about "pathetic hippie chicks."

I’m going to smell really bad for a really long time, I thought. But miraculously, it didn’t spray.

I was almost offended. What do I have to do to look threatening around here? I wondered, tiptoeing back around to the porch. Inside my shack I stood in the dark with my back to the door and breathed again. Then I threw my coat on the floor, kicked the old Birks way under the bed, and got back under the covers. Way under.

The fucking skunks fucked all the rest of the night that night, and when they weren’t making love they were complaining in those whiny, whiny undertones, right outside my window. I think someone wasn’t seeing to the other one’s needs or something.

It smelled a bit bad, but not as bad as it did a couple of nights later when the same skunk or skunks — or a different one — mixed it up with a feral cat in the crawl space beneath my shack. That was on Friday, and five days later I still smelled it on every single aspect of my life. Everything I own, and everything I have on loan from the library.

My dreams. My thoughts. My food. My songs, my singing. My writing. It all stinks right now. My cat, Weirdo the Cat … She doesn’t seem to mind. I smoke a lot of pot. And I keep a pan of bacon grease just sort of simmering on the wood stove.

Trying to get it back.

My new favorite restaurant is Fruitful Grounds. It’s just a little coffeehouse on Fulton near Masonic, but it has a good choice of good foodstuffs. Like French toast with bacon for $7.50. Huge portion. Delicious. And you can also get omelets, burgers burritos, smoothies … and, of course, bagels or pastries.


1813 Fulton, SF

(415) 221-1876

Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 9 a.m.–7 p.m.

Beer and wine

Cash only

Going solo


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

Regarding the recent column on women who can’t have orgasms [1/30/08]: I hate to say it, but it looks like you phoned this one in. Where are the partners in the equation? If you were the boyfriend, wouldn’t it seem rude for your girlfriend to say, "I’m going to put you on hold while I play with toys to feel better sexually"? I think it would be better for her to say, "We need to talk," then describe what’s going on with her sexual responses and feelings. Why shut him out? That doesn’t help the relationship. They can figure it out together; maybe it can even be a playful exercise in experimentation. If he can’t deal, then he wasn’t the right boyfriend for her anyway.

I really do enjoy your column.


All about the Teamwork

Dear Team:

Hey, that’s OK. I really do enjoy your feedback. I actually didn’t phone this one in, though. I told the young women to put their boyfriends on hold for a while because partnered sex was not working for them. And desperately trying to have a good time works about as well in bed as it does out on the town on New Year’s Eve, which is to say, not at all. If I neglected to tell the young women that they ought to at least notify the boyfriends that they would be checking out for a bit to do some exploration on their own, well, that was sloppy, and I do apologize. (Girls, tell your boyfriends why you’re not having sex for a while, OK?) But I stand by my original suggestion that they should, indeed, skip the partnered sex in favor of masturbation until they can at least say with some conviction that they know what an orgasm feels like.

I said in the original column that it isn’t fair, but women often get out of touch with their sexual responses in a way that’s pretty rare for men. And although women certainly have no lock on extreme self-consciousness, what gets in our way is a mostly female blend of "Oh no, he’s looking at me and he’ll see I don’t look like [insert current icon here]" and "Oh no, I’m taking too long. What if he thinks I’m selfish or gets bored?" plus fear of losing self-control and looking slutty. And sometimes the only way to ditch all of that stuff is to run away alone.

I also mentioned Lonnie Barbach and Betty Dodson but somehow forget to include Julia Heiman and Joseph LoPiccolo, whose Becoming Orgasmic (Prentice Hall, 1976) has been around since the ’70s and originated some of the ideas I toss around as though they were obvious, which I realize they are not. Heiman and LoPiccolo do not begin their program with "tell your partner what you like" or "masturbate in front of him" or any of the other fairly advanced techniques that sex experts throw at women who are having trouble with orgasms (I’m sorry, I’m enough of a geek that I can’t see that phrase without thinking, immediately but unhelpfully, of tribbles). Instead, it starts way back, with examining your history and your ideas about sexuality before you even get close to literal physical examination — and when you do get there, you get there alone. (For those who prefer their sex help with early ’90s hair, there is a video version, also called Becoming Orgasmic [Sinclair Institute, 1993], which you can order online.)

The idea of solo exploration before allowing the partner back into the bedroom reminds me of something else (besides tribbles, that is), and now I realize what it is. It’s all very similar to the late, lamented (he seemed like a nice guy, and he sure wrote a useful book) therapist Bernie Zilbergeld’s well-known program for overcoming premature ejaculation in his (please forgive me) seminal book The New Male Sexuality (Bantam, 1984), which was rooted in the work of Masters and Johnson. You start slowly, with guided imagery and masturbation, and not even particularly fun masturbation. Gradually, over weeks or months, you add partnered activities. The program works much better for men in stable partnerships, but that doesn’t mean the partner is involved every step of the way.

So no, I didn’t mean to imply that the anorgasmic girls’ club ought to nail up a permanent "No boyz allowed" sign, and of course I think it would be silly and almost certainly destructive to embark on such a program without fully informing any partners first. But if the problem is compounded of various parts self-consciousness, bad messages, fear of judgment, and just plain fear, then no, I don’t think taking one’s very first, faltering steps toward sexual self-confidence in front of an audience is necessarily the best idea.



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.

Double talk


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

PREVIEW I approached a meeting with Gilbert and George, the joined-at-the-hip-since-the-late-1960s so-called living sculpture, with some trepidation. How does one interact with such a well-honed identity in a way that resembles a real conversation? How do you talk to a work of art?

Thankfully, the pair are a burnished public entity with manners — and demeanors that may seem a bit canned but not exactly insincere. They wear their trademark suits: Gilbert, 65, the shorter, Italian-born half, in gray tweed, and George, 66, the slightly ruddy-skinned, bespectacled Brit, in beige. Their time-honored uniform sets them apart, though at the same time they could be ordinary insurance salesman: these suits don’t seem like designer artifacts. The only hint at a subversive side are matching ties with splotches suggestive of some body fluid or another. The artists are warm and friendly, like real people, like a pair of eccentric uncles. Frankly, I’m a little disappointed that they’re not particularly quirky, theatrical, or difficult to engage. Then again, a 40-year life and art partnership can result in a comfortable public face.

They give me a tour of their in-progress de Young Museum show. Even without much lighting, a magisterial, pop art stained-glass-window effect is apparent. The pieces are huge and colorful and address urban conditions, religious hegemony, and boys, boys, boys. There’s barely a female figure to be seen in these galleries not long ago inhabited by Vivienne Westwood.

"Gilbert and George" is a reduced version of the Gilbert and George retrospective presented at the Tate Modern last year: "It was four times bigger," Gilbert states. (He seems to be the practical sort, frequently pointing to facts while George philosophizes.) Apparently, it was the largest such show the British museum has ever presented. A working model of the gallery is a key part of their process in plotting out their exhibition, and there’s one on a table with tiny, hand-drawn versions of the expansive pieces on the wall. "We do all of this ourselves," Gilbert announces, referring to the layout, although more than once he makes that claim in terms of the production of their work. The tinted photo-collage work used to be done by traditional photographic and hands-on graphic arts techniques, though they shifted to working on the computer in 2001. "But you can’t tell the difference," he boasts.

Among the first things they tell me is that a piece from 2005 titled Was Jesus Heterosexual? was edited out of the show’s United States tour by the Brooklyn Museum for its religious content — not a shock given that was the site of the 1999 "Sensation" controversy that involved another generation of English artists and Christian icons. "All the American journalists in London say, ‘How uptight you British are,’ when it’s really the other way around," George says wryly. I get the impression they enjoy the ruckus, as their work regularly generates lively debate: for example, their big pictures of turds, including a panoramic one on view here.

It comes as no surprise, then, that they’re tickled by double entendres and randy references. Pointing to a typically large-scale work with the term spunk in the lower right corner, George expresses concern that it may not make sense here: "Do Americans even know that word? What is it here, jism?" I wonder if this is a playful, flattering ploy, as he speaks as if these were obscure terms, like I’m in on the secret. In a similar spirit, he asks me to identify a fuzzy gray image, instantly recognizable as a crab. "And not the kind you get at Fisherman’s Wharf," Gilbert giddily interjects. As they make repeated references to a kind of authenticity — "We photograph everything ourselves," they say — I ask where they got the subject. "Same place you would," George lobs back quickly.

That comment is more than a characteristic bon mot. Though Gilbert and George are not exactly ordinary characters, their subjects are as elemental as piss, shit, and blood — not to mention bottles of booze — which inform some of the earlier works seen here. These elements’ associations are hardly rarefied topics. As we’ve worked our way backward, we end up at a wall of small black-and-white photos of the pair posing together beneath trees in 1971. "We were so young and innocent," George confesses, revealing that beneath the bolder proclamations of their work, there’s even some love.


Through May 18

Tues.–Thurs. and Sat.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.; Fri., 9:30 a.m.–8:45 p.m.; $6–$10 (free first Tues.)

De Young Museum

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive

Golden Gate Park, SF

(415) 750-3614


Bent empire


REVIEW Holy glowing gonads! That’s what popped into my head — as my eyes popped out — when I entered the second room of the de Young Museum’s gorgeous "Gilbert and George" exhibition, which encompasses 30 years and 65 pieces of the British duo’s video, graphic, and two-dimensional sculpture work. There, two neon-explosive series of four humongous photomontages — Death Hope Life Fear (1984) and Shitty Naked Human World (1994) — are hung directly opposite each other, tugging the viewer into a phosphorescent hallway of actual shit and roses.

The first quadripartite series is peppered with the pair’s customary images of ethnically diverse underage hustlers, English roses, and collaged ziggurats of the artists themselves, magically combined to suggest all that was evil and delicious about the Thatcherite ’80s. The second, famously, floats giant turds against a backdrop of luminescent color and naked shots of the artists’ ass cracks and shriveled penises. Both sets are gloriously naughty, and when I caught a glimpse of prim society matron Dee Dee Wilsey standing perplexed beneath World‘s giant ball of flying crap, I almost lost it.

The rest of the exhibit goes on like this: feces fly, sperm spurts, blood boils, men and boys bare all, and enough sacred cows are roasted to fill a few Sizzler menus. And always, the deadpan artists peek through the mayhem like two chipped teacups adrift on a postcolonial ocean of desire. Even though Gilbert was born in Italy, the inseparable pair, with their matching worsted suits, impeccable manners, and sexually coy public personae, are so very British. Surely they’re commenting, from their tidy little studio in Spitalfields, East London, on the wreck and temptations of empire?

The show’s first room, dedicated to the artists’ early graphic work, contains some excellent aesthetic tingles but mostly concerns itself visually with a rote investigation of the possibilities of red, white, and black. You can sense Gilbert and George limiting their palette to a trio of fussy tones perhaps to excuse their content, fairly outré for the ’70s fine art world: spray-painted penis graffiti (1978’s The Penis), sticky puns on orientalism (1974’s Cherry Blossom No. 1), and other furtive steps into the realm of rebellious hyperinfantilism they would soon make their own.

It was during this nascent period that Gilbert and George developed their singular style: mixing multiple photographs of themselves with those of their immediate environs to make a single image, then blowing it up enormously and subdividing it into a grid of framed panels hung flush with one another, like a stained-glass window of perfect squares. As their artistic journey progressed and as the show winds through the basement galleries, their pictures burst with clashing tints and increasingly weirder experiments with displaced symmetry.

Various themes — ’80s youth-culture fetishism (for hipsters infatuated with fluorescent leg warmers, this is the show of the century), the tormented and fashionable spiritual journeys of the ’90s, a pungent streak of antipapism, and more than a few dips into pedophilia — are given the scatological Manic Panic rainbow treatment. Then the 2006 Terror pictures arrive, made in response to the London bus bombings, and the palette recollapses into a stunned black, red, and white, the English roses become torturous thorns, and pilfered headlines like "Police Quiz Bomb Suspect’s Father" are scrawled across each panel. So maybe there are limits?

You cannot afford Mars


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Mars used to teem with life, but now it’s a dead world. I’m not referring to actual Martian history, which we still know very little about. I’m talking about the way humans used to think of Mars and how they think about it now. As recently as the 1950s, Mars was packed with scary, incomprehensible creatures and hulking buildings set in a web of gushing canals. But now it’s a cold, dry land full of rocks that are fascinating mainly due to their extraterrestrial nature. We even have two robots who live on Mars, sending us back pictures of mile after mile of beautiful emptiness that looks like the Grand Canyon or some other national park whose ecosystem is so fragile that tourism has already half-destroyed it.

Mars has, in short, been demystified. It’s not an exotic source of threat or imagination; it’s a place to which President George W. Bush has vowed to send humans one day. And Feb. 12 to 13, a conference was convened at Stanford University to discuss the feasibility of a United States–led mission that would send humans to the Red Planet. The attendees, mostly scientists and public policy types, were all pragmatism.

Reuters reports that consensus at the conference was that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration would need an additional $3 billion per year to plan for a Mars mission that would leave in the 2030s. (NASA’s current budget is $17.3 billion per year.) So the question geeks like to ask one another — "What would you take with you to colonize another planet?" — now has a depressing and very non-science-fictional answer when it comes to Mars. It’s $75 billion, paid out over the next 25 years.

But just to put things in perspective, a congressional analysis done in 2006 pegged the cost of the US war in Iraq at $2 billion per week. Last year the total amount of money spent on the war surpassed $1.2 trillion.

So it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to colonize Mars than it is to colonize our own planet. Still, it’s too expensive. US aerospace geeks are hoping that we can turn to Europe, Russia, and perhaps Asia to collaborate on a Mars mission because nobody expects that NASA will ever get even a sliver of the budget that the US war machine does.

There is a tidy way to wrap this up into a lesson about how we’re willing to spend more on destroying life as we know it than extending life to the stars. About how we’d rather burn cash on war than healthy exploration of other planets. But that’s not the whole story.

Let’s say the US government decides to leave Iraq alone and spends $2 billion per week on a mission to Mars instead. A mission that would culminate in a human colony. We could follow a plan somewhat like the one outlined in Kim Stanley Robinson’s book Red Mars (Bantam, 1993), in which we first send autonomous machines to create a base and begin some crude terraforming. And then we send a small group of colonists, to be followed by bigger and bigger waves of colonists, who eventually live in domes. And who wage wars and rape the Martian environment.

I think the problem with colonizing Mars is that it would look all too much like colonizing Earth. We might even be killing a fragile ecosystem that we’re not yet aware of. But most of us haven’t demystified Mars enough to realize that. Sure, we know it’s not packed with cool aliens, but we haven’t realized that hunkering down on another planet isn’t going to solve our basic problems as humans. On a planet, given the chance, we’ll exploit all natural resources, including one another.

It’s not that I’m against a mission to Mars. I just think getting the money for that mission is really the least of our problems. What I’m worried about is what humans tend to do with money when they aim it at something, whether that’s a nation, a people, or a planet. Maybe it’s better for Mars that we can’t afford to go there.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who would rather live on an artificial halo world than a colonized planet.

Citizens vs. spies


› news@sfbg.com

A Bay Area man and a San Francisco nonprofit are at the center of an epic, ongoing battle over privacy rights involving all three branches of the United States government. The outcome may determine the lines between national security and personal liberties in the 21st century.

The story begins in December 2005, when the New York Times exposed the George W. Bush administration as having illegally eavesdropped on US residents without required court warrants. The next month a former AT&T technician in San Francisco came forward with information about how that company (and Verizon and MCI, it was later learned) was gathering Internet and phone data from its customers and illegally routing it to servers controlled by the National Security Agency.

Mark Klein saw that a splitter was diverting the normal information traffic of domestic customers to a secret room at the AT&T Folsom Street plant. He knew that NSA people were around the company’s buildings as early as 2002, and it didn’t take him long to figure out what was going on. "It was obviously some big government hush-hush thing," Klein told the Guardian in a phone interview.

Klein realized he was not in a position to do much at the time, so he "made a note and moved on," he said. He also came across company documents spelling out the technical details of the operation, which his "fortuitous knowledge" allowed him to understand and explain. Klein stowed them away and kept them when he retired in May 2004.

Klein contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy-rights group, in January 2006 and became a key witness in a class action lawsuit filed by the organization on behalf of AT&T customers. Hepting v. AT&T was the first of nearly 40 cases filed by citizens in Northern California against telecommunications companies and the government. In June 2006 a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds of state-secrets privileges. The government and AT&T appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco.

On August 15, 2007, EFF lawyers offered their opening arguments to a three-judge panel, urging it to allow AT&T customers to continue to fight against illegal spying on their Internet and telephone communications. In transcripts from this session, Judge Michael Hawkins surmises the matter: "As I understand, in this case what the plaintiffs are saying is that AT&T has provided telecommunications information about its subscribers to the government without a warrant."

This action runs afoul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which established a special court to issue warrants for government surveillance and which set standards to prevent abuse, although the court has rarely refused to issue warrants, which could even be obtained retroactively for emergency situations.

The Bush administration has sought to revise FISA for the post–Sept. 11 world, and a major component of this overhaul would be immunity for telecommunication companies that have served as dragnet information collectors for years. Government and AT&T lawyers argued before the judges that the data collection was in the interest of national security and that the industry giants were acting in good faith, so they cannot be held liable.

Reiterating this position, company spokesperson Walt Sharp wrote in an e-mail to the Guardian, "AT&T is fully committed to protecting our customers’ privacy. We do not comment on matters of national security."

A decision in the case is still pending, and according to Rebecca Jeschke, media relations coordinator for the EFF, "We have no idea when they’ll have a ruling for us. Delays for a year are not uncommon."

Meanwhile, Congress is debating whether to essentially legalize the actions of the Bush administration and the companies and is hashing out two conflicting piece of legislation. The Senate voted Feb. 12 to reject an effort to strip the immunity provisions from the FISA Amendments Act, opting to protect the companies from legal scrutiny.

The House of Representatives has its own surveillance measure, which would loosen up some FISA restrictions but not include the immunity provision. That legislation, House Resolution 3773, was passed in November 2007 by a 227–189 vote. The bills now head to a Senate-House conference committee, which will work out the discrepancies, if that’s possible. As Jeschke explained, "The two bills will become one law or no law."

Bush has repeatedly said he will veto any bill that does not include immunity, while hawks in Congress say national security will be compromised if the government has to gather information without corporate assistance. In a Feb. 15 press release, Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected this assertion: "[The president] knows our intelligence agencies will be able to do all the wiretapping they need to do to protect the nation…. [He] should now work in a cooperative way with Congress to pass a strong FISA modernization bill that protects our nation’s security and the Constitution."

Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill told the Guardian, "Her position is that we have to make sure that this is consistent with the Constitution…. She is not in favor of immunity."

HR 3773 is "far from perfect," according to the EFF Web site, but it "provides far more congressional and judicial oversight of the Executive Branch’s domestic spying than the FAA."

Klein, the former AT&T technician, whistle-blower, and key witness, also became an unpaid lobbyist for EFF when he traveled to Washington DC in November 2006. He described the experience as "very tiring, exhausting," and said that over the four days, "we were much more successful in media coverage, but in terms of Congress, it didn’t do very much."

He concluded our interview with some foreboding words based on his experience. "This is more than about another bill," he said. "This is about fundamental constitutional issues, and many people are unaware."

Money grows on trees


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY A lone fisher casts his line off the wooden dock of Candlestick Point, his favorite spot and one at risk of closure from state budget cuts.

"The tide is too low today to catch anything, but supposedly there’s halibut now after the rain," Ernesto Perez told the Guardian as he walked back to his car empty-handed, hoping to return later.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office has proposed closing 48 of the 278 state parks by July 2009 because of a projected $14.5 billion state deficit. A big chunk of that shortfall is from the car tax Schwarzenegger repealed when he took office, triggering threats to schools, parks, and social welfare programs.

The parks with the lowest revenue or highest maintenance costs were placed on the closure list. Nine Bay Area parks could be affected, ranging from the small Candlestick Point to Henry W. Coe State Park near San Jose, the largest in Northern California.

Although the state could save $13.3 million if the parks close, the governor hasn’t calculated how much would be lost in tax revenue from the businesses these parks sustain, nor does he seem interested in the intrinsic loss of valued public assets.

"Look at how important Hearst Castle is to the central coast’s economy," Roy Stearns, spokesperson for California State Parks, told the Guardian.

The agency was asked to reduce its 2008–09 budget by about 10 percent, achieved mostly through layoffs and closing parks. Rangers will provide rudimentary maintenance of the closed parks, mostly monitoring illegal campers and fires. The state does not know how much money it would need to reopen the parks or when such funds might become available.

"In essence the state is abandoning the parks," Barbara Hill, vice president of the California State Parks Foundation, told the Guardian. She fears poaching, arson, and illegal dumping will proliferate. "How will they be able to properly secure the borders?" she asked.

The CSPF, a nonprofit that helps to preserve state parks, recently secured $17 million to restore tidal marshes in Candlestick Point. If implemented, the project would create the largest contiguous wetland in the city. The plan is now on hold, forcing the area into further decay.

Nature lovers are not the only ones concerned about the state parks’ cuts. If the 48 parks do close, the expected 6.5 million person drop in visitors will certainly impact the revenues of cities, counties, and the state. According to the California Division of Tourism, 73 percent of visitors come to the state for leisure purposes, and each county earns about $1.5 billion per year from tourism.

"It’s a shame to close Candlestick. I don’t know how it will affect my business," Andy Hung, owner of 88 Fishing Tackle on San Bruno, told the Guardian. "Even now there aren’t enough public piers to fish from." If Candlestick closes, Hung believes fishers will migrate somewhere else.

Across the bay in Benicia, people are worried. The city’s main attraction, the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, is on the parks closure list. "It’s our most significant building, and we’re lobbying so the final budget cut won’t include it," Amalia Lorentz, Benicia’s economic development manager, told the Guardian.

A 2001 study by the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo found that visitors to Morro Bay State Park contributed $15 million to the local economy over two years and were responsible for the creation of 364 jobs. Benicia has almost three times the population of Morro Bay. Although the Morro Bay park will remain open under the budget cut, eight other parks in the area will close.

Officials say they doubt higher entrance fees are the solution to saving the parks. "We’ve raised fees three times in the last seven years. They’re the highest in the nation, and we don’t want to price people out," Stearns said. Funds to the state park system have been slashed consistently since the 1980s, and parks have been relying more on entrance fees than state funding. Because of a 233 percent increase in day fees in the past six years, California park attendance has dropped by about nine million people, according to state park officials.

Several organizations, including the CSPF, are collecting signatures and donations to encourage Schwarzenegger and the legislature not to sacrifice California’s parks to political expediency.

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

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

There comes a time in any campaign, a political consultant once told me, when you just have to hang up the phone, stop looking at polling data, walk away from the office, and leave it in the hands of the voters. You do everything you can; you work every angle, make the case every possible way you can … and in the end, someone else is going to decide. You can only hope that if you told the truth, played by the rules, and showed why your side was right, in the end you’ll come out on top.

And sometime around the day this issue hits the stands, the Guardian‘s case against the big national chain that owns the SF Weekly will go to the jury. We have the facts on our side. We have the law on our side. We have the truth on our side. And all we can do now is hope the jury sees it.

If you haven’t been following this on the blogs or in the paper: we’re suing the Weekly and Village Voice Media, which used to be known as New Times, for predatory pricing. Our claim is that the Weekly (and until recently, the East Bay Express, which VVM just sold) has been selling ads below cost for the purpose of hurting a local, independent competitor.

Over the past three weeks I’ve been in the courtroom almost every day, watching the story unfold. I’ve learned a lot: the Weekly, for example, has lost money every single year since New Times bought it in 1995. In the past few years the losses have only escalated (to nearly $2 million per year). The paper is still publishing because the corporate parent in Phoenix has shipped more than $16 million to San Francisco to prop it up.

That’s pretty good evidence of the first part of our claim: if the Weekly keeps losing money, the paper is clearly selling ads below cost.

I’ve also seen evidence that the Weekly prepared special Guardian reports every month to send to Phoenix, that the Weekly‘s publishers devoted a special section of their regular financial reports to competition with the Guardian, and that the senior staff regularly talked about the war they were waging on us. Three witnesses testified to hearing Mike Lacey, one of the principals of VVM, announce that he wanted to drive the Guardian out of business.

I’ve seen memos and heard testimony showing the Weekly paid its sales staff bonuses to take ads away from the Guardian. I’ve seen a study showing that in 91 percent of key accounts, the Weekly sold below cost — and in 66 percent of those cases the Guardian either lost the ad or had to deeply discount rates to keep it.

I’ve heard witnesses from the Weekly‘s side testify that the Guardian was just one of many competitors in the market and that they treated it no differently than any other publication. I’ve heard misdirection and lies so blatant that I’ve wanted to stand up and point my fingers at the witnesses and call them out and demand they be indicted for perjury.

And now a jury will have to sort that out. In the end, I think this is a pretty clear case: we are a small, locally owned independent business under assault by a chain competitor that is vioutf8g state law in an effort to take monopoly control of the market. I think we’ve proved that. We’ll know soon.

The real FISA problem


EDITORIAL It’s no secret that the nation’s telecommunications companies have been spying on Americans without any sort of legal warrants. The New York Times broke that story in December 2005 — and not long after that a San Francisco man who had worked for AT&T came forward to describe how private calls were routed to a secret building on Folsom Street where the feds could listen in.

The courts are sorting out whether that was a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which contains at least some limited provisions protecting privacy. But in the meantime, the George W. Bush administration wants to update FISA — and include retroactive immunity for the telecom companies. Even if AT&T, Verizon, and others broke the law by allowing federal agents to snoop on their customers, Bush says, they should pay no price.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other public interest groups have been pushing to block immunity; unfortunately, the Senate (with California’s Dianne Feinstein on the wrong side) has gone along with what Bush wants. The House has a better bill, and the two are headed for a conference committee. Activists are demanding Speaker Nancy Pelosi stand firm and refuse to allow passage of any bill that protects the phone companies from past misdeeds.

That’s the right approach, and we agree. But we have to ask: why are the Democrats so willing to support this law in the first place?

FISA was created in response to the Counter Intelligence Program abuses of the 1960s, and it provides some modest protection for citizens. But it created a special secret court that could authorize wiretaps with very little oversight. The government’s warrant requests have almost never been rejected. Sometimes the court has issued them after the fact, retroactively approving wiretaps that have been done with no judicial oversight at all. The current version of FISA is better than what Bush wants — but it could be vastly improved.

We’ve never been fans of secret legal proceedings and special, shadowy courts that operate as an arm of law enforcement. The entire premise of FISA seems awfully shaky: if the FBI or the National Security Agency needs to tap someone’s phone, why can’t it go before a federal judge, using the normal procedures for wiretap and search warrant authorizations, just like everyone else? Is there any evidence that the federal courts are unable to handle that job or that the judiciary is too unwilling to allow the government to use all of the tools it needs to track terrorists?

Is the United States any safer with the authority to spy on Americans almost entirely removed from the oversight process established by the Constitution?

The real threat here is the growing one to privacy and civil liberties — and the best way to address it is to simply refuse to reauthorize FISA, start from scratch, hold hearings, get public testimony, and rewrite the law in a way that protects the public, not just the FBI, the NSA, and telecom companies. That’s what Pelosi ought to be pushing for.

Crime cameras for the defense


EDITORIAL We’ve always been dubious about San Francisco’s crime cameras. Filming everyone who passes through a public space creates severe civil liberties problems. There are real First Amendment issues. And as far as we can tell, the spy cams don’t work very well: none of the 178 cameras on Housing Authority property have ever led to an arrest in a homicide case. Chief Heather Fong told the Police Commission on Feb. 6 that her officers have requested footage nearly 80 times but only twice was it at all useful.

From the first days when the city began talking about installing the cameras, the American Civil Liberties Union and others pointed out that all the electronic surveillance on high-crime street corners would do was drive crime to other places. The commission has mandated that the cameras be turned off during political demonstrations, and some critics, including commissioner David Campos, are watching very closely to see if all of this intrusive electronic surveillance is making the city any safer.

But if we’re going to have crime cameras, they ought to be used to protect the innocent.

As G.W. Schulz reports on page 16, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office has an interest in using the footage. Last August two young African American men were arrested and charged with robbing a pair of airline workers at the corner of 14th Street and Mission. The alleged robbers insisted they hadn’t been at that corner; in fact, they said, they were two blocks away, at 16th Street and Mission, the entire time.

That should have been easy to prove: there are cameras at 16th Street and Mission. But the city’s Department of Emergency Management refused to turn over the video footage to the public defender. Only by chance and the intervention of a conscientious police inspector was the lawyer for the two men able to get the tapes — which proved that the young men, who faced long prison sentences, were entirely innocent.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi says there are at least a dozen other examples of incidents when the cameras could have proved one of his clients innocent — but the local law enforcement authorities won’t give up the pictures.

That’s crazy. If the cameras can be used for prosecution, they ought to be available to lawyers for people who want to establish an alibi. There’s little or no risk here: defense lawyers are officers of the court, sworn to protect confidential evidence, and they are routinely given access to sensitive law enforcement information. The entire principle of a fair trial requires that the defense have as much opportunity to prove innocence as the prosecution does to prove guilt — and in most cases all of the state’s evidence has to be turned over to the defense. If cops and prosecutors can see the city’s crime-camera tapes, why can’t the other side?

Sup. Gerardo Sandoval, a former public defender, has introduced legislation that would allow defense lawyers access to the tapes; it’s a sensible, practical measure that ought to win easy approval. But Kevin Ryan, the Republican former United States attorney who runs Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office of criminal justice, is trying to scuttle Sandoval’s bill. This is exactly the sort of thing we were worried about when Newsom gave that job to an old-fashioned law-and-order type.

Newsom needs to show his cards on this issue. Does the mayor really think the cameras should be used only to lock people up and never to set them free? That would be an astonishing stance for a San Francisco mayor. Instead of leaving this to his aides, Newsom needs to come out in support of Sandoval’s bill and give Ryan a little primer on justice, San Francisco–style.

Sharing the Panopticon


› gwschulz@sfbg.com

When two airline workers were robbed at 14th and Mission streets last August, the victims called 911 and described their attackers to the dispatcher as a pair of African American males.

At the time, several groups of people stood two blocks away at the always manic intersection of 16th and Mission streets, a high-crime area where the city installed four public surveillance cameras as part of an ongoing pilot project that began in 2005.

Police nabbed two suspects there whom they believed fit the description, and the victims later identified the duo as their attackers. Case closed. Except for one problem: the suspects claimed they were standing at 16th and Mission streets the whole time and never ventured two blocks away, to where the robbery occurred.

So a deputy public defender, Eric Quandt, tried to obtain footage from the city’s controversial public safety cameras to confirm their story. He was denied access to it by the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management because, according to the city’s Administrative Code, only police officers with a written request can review the recordings.

Other government agencies must get a court order, and since the recordings are held by the city for no more than seven days, by the time defense attorneys realize crucial evidence might exist, it’s likely to be long gone.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s expansion of public surveillance cameras across the city has been the subject of regular criticism from privacy advocates who say no substantial evidence exists that they reduce crime or provide valuable evidence to prosecutors. But few imagined Big Brother could serve as an alibi proving someone’s whereabouts when police placed the wrong suspect at the scene of a crime.

Quandt managed to get the footage in time after appealing to a police inspector, and 23-year-old Neil Butler and 21-year-old Robert Dillon, who had served 70 days in jail, were freed. However, the city’s elected public defender, Jeff Adachi, said there have been almost a dozen or so other instances when his office believed surveillance footage from the cameras could refute a prosecutor’s claims, but city officials have barred PDs from accessing it.

"These two men would have faced decades in prison," Adachi told the Guardian, "so I find it shocking that law enforcement would object to the defense obtaining these tapes. It has to be a two-way street."

"[City officials] act as if they have a proprietary right over the footage," added Rebecca Young, the managing attorney for Adachi’s felony unit. "We are officers of the court. We should not have to deal with bureaucratic red tape to access and review the footage."

Few cities in the United States have rules in place reguutf8g the use of surveillance footage to begin with, so determining procedures for how defense attorneys might use the cameras to free innocent people once again puts San Francisco on the cutting edge of public policy.

After learning about the robbery case last August, Sup. Gerardo Sandoval decided defense lawyers need access to the recordings if they could be used as evidence to free people wrongfully charged with crimes.

Sandoval’s legislation would require the city to preserve the footage for 30 days instead of seven, giving defendants more time to access the footage. Their lawyers would only need to submit a written request to the Department of Emergency Management, which controls the tapes.

But Newsom’s newly appointed top criminal-justice aide, Kevin Ryan, and the mayor’s chief of staff, Phil Ginsburg, want to kill the legislation, claiming it would cost the city too much money and could potentially compromise ongoing criminal investigations by exposing witnesses or confidential informants who appear in the footage.

"It’s safe to say that they tried to derail the legislation," Sandoval told the Guardian.

Ryan, you may recall, is the former US attorney for the Northern District of California who attempted to define his law enforcement career by prosecuting the steroids scandal in major-legal baseball and later the stock options backdating imbroglio that consumed Silicon Valley.

His last major imprint on the public, however, came when the White House ousted him from the Justice Department along with seven other chief federal prosecutors. While his colleagues were said to be let go because they weren’t fully cooperative with the GOP’s political agenda, it was reported that Ryan was asked to resign because of mounting criticism that he’d poorly managed his office and alienated staffers, despite being an eager loyalist of President George W. Bush.

After that, Ryan worked briefly in the private sector before Newsom surprised the city at the beginning of the year by making him director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. While a prominent San Francisco Democrat making a Republican devotee his top aide on issues related to crime raised eyebrows, Ryan’s inaugural act in that capacity epitomizes the outlook of a conservative law enforcement official.

Sandoval has attached to his ordinance a string of amendments to satisfy law enforcement, such as instituting punishments for defense lawyers who publicly disclose videos and allowing the district attorney and the Police Department 180 days to review footage and block its release if it’s deemed too sensitive for any reason.

However, the supervisor says he’s still not sure that Newsom, through his new conservative crime-fighting proxy, will accept making a traditional tool of law enforcement the new weapon of public defenders who serve indigent criminal suspects.

"I got the impression from Ryan that he outright opposed it," Adachi said. "But I’m not sure where the mayor stands on it."

Ryan and mayoral chief of staff Ginsburg did not return calls for this story, nor did the mayor’s press spokesperson, Nathan Ballard, respond to a detailed e-mail.

But Ryan has already shown a willingness to flout Newsom’s caution on the cameras. After the Feb. 6 Police Commission meeting, Ryan told the San Francisco Chronicle that police should be permitted to monitor the city’s surveillance cameras in real time to identify crimes about to occur or already in progress.

When the safety cameras were first launched, however, Newsom made a major concession to privacy advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California most notable among them, by prohibiting law enforcement officials from watching the cameras live, in part to protect against potential voyeurism or racial profiling.

Ryan’s desire to expand the camera program is "all the more reason to make sure there’s a process in place," Adachi said, for defense lawyers to obtain the footage.

The Police Commission, meanwhile, has made it clear that the footage should not be widely available as public records and the cameras ought to be shut off during political demonstrations to protect First Amendment rights and keep federal agents from using them to target undocumented immigrants.

"If the public defender or a defense lawyer needs it, to me that’s an appropriate use of the information," police commissioner David Campos told the Guardian. "The concern should be: is there any way to keep the feds from getting this footage? We don’t have a way of doing that right now."

San Francisco launched its surveillance program in mid-2005 with two cameras outside public housing tracts in the Western Addition. Two and a half years later, 74 cameras are spread across the city in 25 locations, even though city officials were still calling this a pilot project as recently as this month.

The city was supposed to provide the Board of Supervisors and the Police Commission with a report by last year that evaluated how well the cameras were performing, but city administrator Ed Lee has missed several deadlines, and now it’s not due until March.

Jennifer King, a research analyst for the University of California at Berkeley’s Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic, is leading the study and says it’s one of only two that she’s aware of taking place in the US at this time.

A preliminary report done by the Berkeley team will only include an analysis of crime statistics, but a second study will involve comparing camera locations with control sites that are the same size and have similar demographics and crime profiles, because "there could have been changes in the background crime rate citywide that had nothing to do with the cameras," King told the Guardian.

In the meantime, Police Chief Heather Fong told the commission Feb. 6 that inspectors had requested footage nearly 80 times but in only two instances was it "useful in a prosecution."

At another public meeting last year, an official acknowledged that of the 178 cameras controlled by the federally subsidized San Francisco Housing Authority, none has ever led to an arrest in a homicide case, despite the fact that a large percentage of the city’s violent crime occurs in public housing developments.

Even Sandoval’s not convinced of the cameras’ efficacy: "We have to do everything we can to make sure everyone has fair access to the cameras…. But I’m fairly certain that the cameras really are just an intrusion into our privacy and the risk greatly outweighs any benefit."

No shelter from the budget storm


› news@sfbg.com

Arriving at the steps of Buster’s Place on a cold night is a familiar, comforting act for many of the city’s chronic homeless people. Or rather, it was until recently, when a sign was posted informing clients the facility will be closing its doors for the first time in almost a year.

Buster’s Place, the only centrally located 24-hour drop-in center in San Francisco, is on the chopping block to meet the demands of one of the city’s most drastic midyear budget cuts in recent history. The $1 million cut (roughly the one-year operating cost of Buster’s) is only a piece of the $9.25 million the city’s Department of Human Services must trim from its annual spending.

Buster’s has logged more than 34,000 visits from an estimated 700 clients in the past year. The center serves all walks of life, from lonely elders to those who cannot manage the complex shelter reservation system to newcomers who don’t know where to turn. While staff and resources are limited, Buster’s provides easy access to essential facilities like showers, bathrooms, and laundry rooms. It’s the stop of last resort, as I learned during my recent undercover investigation (see "Shelter Shuffle," 2/13/07, and "Search for Shelter," on the Guardian‘s SF blog).

"There’s a need for this place," Louis Ramon, who is the only case manager working at Buster’s and has been at the center since it opened, told the Guardian. "This is where the too sick, the too paranoid, the too mentally ill come who cannot be housed. Nobody is working with these clients — the really hardcore ones."

Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director for the Coalition on Homelessness, has been a leading advocate for 24-hour homeless centers and is pressuring city hall to reinstate funds to carry Buster’s through the end of the year.

"It’s frustrating when the mayor makes random and arbitrary decisions without consulting relevant community-based organizations or the homeless themselves," Friedenbach told us. "This is another attempt by the mayor to put a nail in the coffin of overnight shelters."

In a Feb. 14 press conference Mayor Gavin Newsom held with Dariush Kayhan, his newly appointed homeless czar, Newsom discussed plans to redesign the city’s shelter system, as well as the midyear budget cuts. "We’ve got a lot of resources that are being spent, but they could be spent more wisely by coordinating strategies," he said.

"With respect to 24-7 access, we’re going to have that with the [Mobile Assistance Patrol] vans, to ensure that people still have that. People can, in rare instances, come to the shelters directly if they’re in a dire emergency and access a bed if needed," Kayhan said. "And we also want to engage those folks because we don’t think sitting in chairs, around the clock, at night — and especially since a lot of those folks are seniors and disabled — that’s not a proper place to be."

Less than five months after it opened last year, Buster’s was slated to close during the regular fiscal-year budgeting last June. Homeless advocates came to Buster’s rescue and had the Board of Supervisors reinstate most of the funding for the center.

However, many homeless advocates and Department of Public Health officials are less optimistic about this round of budget reductions. For one thing, midyear cuts are generally more reactionary, made with little public deliberation, and made because the deficit is bigger than expected.

"This year is much different because the amount of money we need to cut is much more severe," said David Nakanishi, coordinator for community programs at the DPH and responsible for spearheading the planning of Buster’s Place. "Last year Buster’s was the only cut being made to homeless programs, so the community could rally around that one issue. The fiscal situation is much more dire this year. The supervisors will probably not reinstate the money."

Sup. Chris Daly, whose District 6 includes Buster’s Place, isn’t optimistic. "I will fight, but I won’t be successful," he told us, referring to his reduced power on the board after being removed as chair of the Budget Committee last year. "The cut list resembles very closely the list of board priorities from last year. The board cannot compel the mayor to spend."

Over the past year, Buster’s Place has had an uncertain future. The center was created after the temporary closing of the McMillan Drop-in Center, the city’s previous 24-hour drop-in center, at 39 Fell Street. Homeless-rights advocates campaigned for the creation of a 24-hour facility until Daly lobbied the DPH to keep an all-night drop-in center open. The city then contracted the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics to open Buster’s.

However, since the DPH established the center on a short timetable, it did not follow standard procedures for awarding the contract. The DPH is now going through a request-for-proposals process for a 24-hour drop-in center. Of course, if the midyear cuts are approved, this process will stop.

During a night at Buster’s, visitors can count on a few things: hard plastic chairs, restless sleep (if any), and good conversation with familiar faces. While Buster’s provides 24-hour shelter, it also serves as an important social hub for the homeless community. Elisa Frank, who handles shelter reservations through the city’s CHANGES system at the 150 Otis Street administrative office, sends up to 60 people per night to wait for beds at Buster’s.

"Buster’s is a community for a lot of people. They want supervision so they’re not just on the street doing dirt. Some people even have houses. Some who are in [single-room occupancies] and even some who just live alone come to Buster’s just for company," she told us.

One 31-year-old homeless client at Buster’s told us he has been in and out of shelters and illegal housing for most of his life. He has been staying at Buster’s occasionally over the past year and hopes to get his own apartment.

"When I don’t have a place to stay, I get suicidal," he told the Guardian on a chilly night outside Buster’s. "More people are going to die on the street if this place closes."



OPINION It seems that everyone, from current politicians to former friends and lovers of Harvey Milk, is scrambling to serve as a spokesperson for the new Hollywood movie about the life of Milk, the first openly gay elected official in a major United States city.

Milk joined the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, only to be assassinated (along with then-mayor George Moscone) one year later by Dan White, another member of the board.

Cleve Jones, who worked as a student intern in Milk’s City Hall office (and later started the AIDS Memorial Quilt), is now serving as a consultant for the Gus Van Sant film. At the Castro Theatre on Feb. 4 he encouraged a crowd of extras gathered to re-create the candlelight march that took place after Milk’s murder by saying, "We made history on these streets, and we’re gonna do it again tonight."

But remaking historical moments from the pain and glory days of the past is hardly the same thing as making history in the present. In the 1970s queers fled abusive and stifling families and places of origin to move to San Francisco by the thousands and join dissident subcultures of splendor and defiance. Of course, queers still flee similar conditions; it’s just that the hypergentrified San Francisco of 2008 barely offers the space to breathe, let alone dream.

The excitement around reenactment obscures the reality that some of the same smiling gay men who came to San Francisco in the 1970s have consistently fought misogynist, racist, classist, ageist battles — from carding policies to policing practices to zoning and real estate wars — to ensure that their neighborhood (Milk’s Castro) remains a home only for the rich, white, and male (or at least those who assimilate to white middle-class norms).

Check out a quote from Dan Jinks, one of the producers of the movie, in the Dec. 27, 2007, Bay Area Reporter: "Our great hope is this will revitalize this district and make it a major tourist destination."

Revitalize the Castro, where you’re lucky if you can rent a flat for less than $4,000 or buy property for less than $1 million? Everyone who’s ever set foot in the Castro knows it’s filled with tourists from around the world!

Oh, I know what Jinks means: straight tourists. Some gay people are so anxious to participate in their own cultural erasure.

After White’s 1979 trial, at which he was convicted of manslaughter instead of murder and given a lenient sentence, rioting queers torched police cars and smashed the windows and doors of City Hall. Later that night vengeful cops went to the Castro and destroyed the windows of the Elephant Walk (now Harvey’s), entered the bar to beat up patrons and trash the place, and swung their batons into anyone they encountered.

I’m wondering if the new Van Sant film will end at the candlelight march, thus avoiding talk about such market-unfriendly issues as systemic police violence and property destruction as a political act.

Unfortunately, San Francisco is now more of a playground for the wealthy than a space for the delirious potential of dissidence. But there are still plenty of reasons to protest. Got housing? Got health care? Got citizenship? Nope, we’re just getting milked.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (www.mattildabernsteinsycamore.com) is the editor, most recently, of Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity (Seal Press, 2006) and an expanded second edition of That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation (out in June from Soft Skull Press).

Solo budgeting


› sarah@sfbg.com

Mayor Gavin Newsom is giving his department heads until Feb. 21 to draw up a list of services and positions to be reduced and eliminated, but Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin notes this isn’t how city government is supposed to work.

"Technically, things aren’t being cut," Peskin told the Guardian. "Instead, the mayor is signaling that he is refusing to spend the money that has been appropriated by the board in the budget that was voted on and signed last year."

Last summer the Board of Supervisors used the add-back process to appropriate funds the mayor hadn’t sought, thus funding services such as the Workers Compensation Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital and Buster’s Place, the city’s only 24-hour homeless shelter, until the end of fiscal year 2007–08.

But now these same services are being targeted midyear. The mayor announced last November, shortly after he was reelected, that the city faces a projected $229 million budget, so he was demanding an immediate hiring freeze and across-the-board cuts.

As mayoral spokesperson Nathan Ballard reportedly told the San Francisco Chronicle last fall, "Although he wants to trim the fat, the mayor made it abundantly clear he doesn’t want to see a reduction in people sweeping streets or police officers walking beats."

But while city department heads spent the past few months trying to tighten belts, the mayor apparently expanded his, according to budget analyst Harvey Rose’s Feb. 13 report, which details the monetary impact of changes to Newsom’s staff — changes the mayor first announced Jan. 4.

"Don’t think that the irony of the revelations that have been made over the past few weeks has been lost on anyone," Peskin told us, referring to how Newsom added two entirely new positions, increased the pay of senior staff and newly appointed department heads in the Mayor’s Office, and raided the budgets of other agencies to pay for it all.

According to Rose’s report, the budgetary impact of Newsom’s staff changes amounted to an increase of $553,716, with other city departments funding about $1.34 million in annual salaries and benefits for 10 positions assigned to the Mayor’s Office.

These include two newly created jobs — namely, the mayor’s climate change director, Wade Crowfoot, and the mayor’s homelessness policy director, Dariush Kayhan.

Peskin admits that the spending Rose identified is a relative drop in the bucket, compared to the city’s $229 million deficit. "Yes, it’s not enough to significantly close the gap or save a significant number of services, but it’s symbolic," Peskin said, noting that even as homeless shelters are being fingered for elimination, the Human Services Agency is paying $169,624 annually for the mayor’s new homelessness policy director.

"And when voters approved more money for Muni, the mayor used it to hire people to pound out messages about climate change, when the best way to reduce greenhouse gases is to get people out of their cars," Peskin said, referring to Newsom’s new climate change director, hired at an annual cost of $130,112, using the Municipal Transportation Authority’s Safety and Training funds.

"It’s very frustrating and unfortunate," Peskin said, further noting that the $401,392 to terminate Susan Leal without cause as general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will come from the city’s water fees.

"This is indicative of the misplaced priorities of the mayor," said Peskin, who doesn’t deny that spending control is required in the face of a looming deficit but resents how the mayor has been trying to do it unilaterally and not in cooperation with the board.

"The budget, by design, is a two-way street," Peskin observed.

Sup. Chris Daly claimed the services being targeted for Newsom’s midyear elimination are "a who’s who of the board’s priorities…. These are human and health services that the mayor has proposed be cut multiple times."

Daly’s legislative aide, John Avalos, who is running for District 11 supervisor, notes that while Daly wanted $33 million for affordable housing, a onetime amount, the mayor took a budget surplus and used it for multiple years, with the police, firefighters’, and nurses’ contracts accounting for his biggest expenditures.

Asked why the city’s deficit has ballooned by $144 million — from the $85.3 million the Controller and Budget Analyst’s offices identified in March 2007 to the $229 million that Newsom’s administration was suddenly projecting last fall — Tom DiSanto, budget and revenue manager for the Controller’s Office, cites an extra $82 million in salaries and benefits.

These include the four-year contracts that nurses and police and fire departments secured last summer, along with five extra police academies, said DiSanto, who also listed $7 million in police crime laboratory debt service, $7.4 million for sheriff inmate housing (required by last year’s Supreme Court order that prisoners can’t sleep on floors), and the $29 million transit set-aside that voters approved last November when they passed Proposition A.

But as DiSanto explains, the city’s budget problem is due not to lack of revenue but to baseline funding and rainy-day reserve requirements, not to mention the political process.

"Right now, with baselines and reserves, 96¢ out of every dollar goes into set-asides, and we’re required to adopt a balanced budget," DiSanto said. "That’s where the cuts come in. If we could access all the city’s revenues, we wouldn’t have a $229 million projected deficit," he added, noting that revenues are up, property taxes are higher than budgeted, and the hotel tax continues to be strong.

Ken Bruce, senior manager at the Budget Analyst’s Office, notes that unlike the federal government, the city of San Francisco has to balance the budget. He also says the current deficit projection comes from the Controller’s and the Mayor’s offices, not the Budget Analyst’s Office.

"In mid-March we get to do a joint forecast," Bruce told the Guardian. "It may paint a better picture, less of a doomsday scenario, but it still leaves us facing difficult policy choices. [The deficit] won’t drop from $230 million to $100 million."

Peskin envisions several long-term solutions, hopefully including positive changes in the White House this fall.

"With every passing year, as the federal government has abandoned the cities, we’ve taken more of a burden, and labor and capital costs have increased," says Peskin, who is mulling changes to the real estate transfer tax and closing a loophole whereby lawyers and accountants in limited liability partnerships have escaped paying payroll taxes.

That said, Peskin sees no easy fixes in the city’s upcoming budget hearings:

"It’s a fluid situation, and it’s all bad."

Noise Pop: Hot shots


Mika Miko

Los Angeles’ proudly punky ladies have been busy tearing out new tunes back home. Expect them to show their hand in their constant quest to drive the audience bonkers. Also on board is more of their characteristically dark imagery. "There’s nothing worse than happy-joy-joy," drummer Kate Hall says. "You gotta go through some dark stuff." (Kimberly Chun)

With DJ Amp Live and Tempo No Tempo. Tues/26, 8 p.m., free for badge holders and VIPs. Rickshaw Stop, 55 Fell, SF. (415) 861-2011


Indie pop rarely gets sweeter — or more radio-friendly — than in the hands of San Francisco’s preternaturally poised Minipop. The foursome found an avid listenership early in their career, and the recently released A New Hope (Take Root) finds the unit looking fondly back at the dreamy alt-pop of the early ’90s, with graceful nods to 4AD forebears. (Chun)

Feb. 27, 8:30 p.m., $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

The Mumlers

Perhaps the Mumlers were channeling the spirit of William Mumler, a mid-19th-century man famous for claiming he could photograph ghosts, but once all seven band members touched their fingers to a Ouija board’s planchette, the board, they claim, spelled out their group’s name. Regardless, it’s clear their swaggered ruckus pop channels dead folk musicians galore. Despite the ghostly origins of their handle, the Mumlers’ live appearances tend into turn to lively celebrations, with the outfit dancing about the stage. Their repertoire of instruments rivals any philharmonic’s and includes guitars, drums, upright bass, various keyboards, euphonium, French horn, trumpet, clarinet, tambourine, pedal steel, and recently, eagle whistles from Mexico. While the tunes give old-time music an indie pop sheen, beneath the group’s sprawling arrangements the lyrics and vocal delivery compare to those of Johnny Cash’s later recordings — with a touch of early Bob Dylan. (Alex Felsinger)

With the Entrance Band, honey.mooon.tree, and Golden Animals. Feb. 27, 9 p.m., $14. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com

The Morning Benders

This group has no shortage of hooks and crescendos, and with a lighthearted indie pop style familiar enough to capture anyone’s attention and enough creativity to hold it, they stand out from their peers. Listeners have drawn comparisons to Voxtrot, the Shins, and Of Montreal for good reason, but in the end the Morning Benders’ biggest debt is to the Beatles. So far they’ve recorded all of their releases at home but have always managed to mimic that old analog sound, even when using nothing but a laptop and one microphone. With their upcoming debut, Talking Through Tin Cans (+1), they’ve successfully stepped into hi-fi wonder without losing their homespun feel. The Morning Benders don’t break any musical molds, but their solid songwriting and smooth deliver serve pop tradition well. (Felsinger)

With Kelley Stoltz, Grand Archives, and the Weather Underground. Feb. 28, 8 p.m., $14. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com

The Blacks

SF’s grungy indie rock band the Blacks sound so much like the Pixies that they ought to be called the Frank Blacks, but they trump the re-formed Pixies in stage presence tenfold. Vocalist JDK Blacker doesn’t sing much at all but rather focuses his energy on livening up the audience: sometimes he’ll help drummer Gavin Black smash cymbals, or perhaps he’ll simply thrash around with his trusty tambourine. Vocalist Luisa Black holds the group together with solid alternating rhythm and lead guitar, while Gavin Black’s drumming shines with stripped-down, solid beats. The Blacks take the simplicity of ’70s punk and garage rock and jump-start the attitude: the concept isn’t new, but then, a combo doesn’t need to be entirely original to rock. (Felsinger)

With Cursive, Darker My Love, and Judgement Day. Feb. 29, 8 p.m., $18. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com

Jeffrey Lewis

Crass saved punk. They never fit the part, never ripped off the Rolling Stones, and never tried to become famous, because they genuinely wanted to create a better world and thought they could do so through music. But in the past four years every kid with a leather jacket has picked up an acoustic guitar to sing against the war and capitalism, recorded some songs on their PowerBook, then thrown them up on MySpace. Folk punk has swept the nation’s underground to the point where 924 Gilman Street Project hosts a monthly Acoustic Night. Bringing it full circle, New York City’s Jeffrey Lewis recently released 12 Crass Songs (Rough Trade), composed entirely of acoustic versions of Crass numbers, including some of the group’s best. Lewis came out of his city’s so-called antifolk scene — a Crass cover LP ought to be deemed anti–folk punk, right? — and his vocal patterns have a hushed, somewhat raplike flow. The CD’s best track has to be "Punk Is Dead," which Lewis delivers as a wistful ballad. Hearing a folk singer recite the lyrics 25 years after the first recorded incarnation makes more sense than ever — because the words are certainly truer today. (Felsinger)

With the Mountain Goats, OKAY, and Aim Low Kid. Feb. 29, 8 p.m., $18. Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus, SF. www.bimbos365club.com

British Sea Power

Do You Like Rock Music? is the provocative title of British Sea Power’s new Rough Trade LP. Well, sure, but do I like their brand of grand indie? Their engorged drums and highly dramatic overtures just might get them discounted as the Big Country of the ’00s, though their quieter moments and more experimental textures hint at increasing — and welcome — complexity and nuance. (Chun)

With 20 Minute Loop, Colour Music, and Off Campus. March 1, 9 p.m., $14. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com


These SF vets of Evening have come a long way from would-be bell-ringing bouts, taking on an epic yet poppy, synth-dappled alt-rock veneer with the self-released Novakinesis. (Chun)

With Panther, Wallpaper, and Distraction Fit. March 1, 9 p.m., $10–$12. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. (415) 861-2011

Port O’Brien

One might note that the flowing harmonies between the four members of Port O’Brien work so well onstage that the audience would be doing a disservice to the band if they joined in. But that would be an unfair request. Port O’Brien’s music emits the instant atmosphere of a warm campfire sing-along. The group’s more intimate acoustic concerts are now only rare gems, and their recorded efforts tend to fall short of capturing the same level of energy, yet their glowing personalities and dedication to the crowd are still evident at their amplified full-band performances. (Felsinger)

With Delta Spirit, What Made Milwaukee Famous, and the Mayfire. March 1, 9 p.m., $10–$12. Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com

The Virgins

Imagine Julian Casablancas with a freshened-up adenoidal approach and jaded ‘tude intact, backed by sloppy-cool disco-rock rats. Equipped with a taste for that tatty late ’70s intersection where punk and disco met, snarled, and duked it out on the train on the way back to the boroughs, these New York City decadance-kins seem likely to outshamble Babyshambles and their louche ilk. Too bad you can only be a virgin once — wonder what the combo’s next trick will be? (Chun)

With Airborne Toxic Event, the Blakes, and Man/Miracle. March 1, 9 p.m., $12–$15. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

Scatterbrain Jamboree


PREVIEW How many times have you heard this before? "There’s no good local rock scene in San Francisco! It’s totally a DJ city!" Sigh. Before resigning yourself to a safe and steady diet of well-known touring indie bands — "Why risk $10 on an unknown local band that could suck?" you ask — while bemoaning how much cooler the scene is in other towns (Brooklyn! Montreal! Portland! Oh my!), check out the Scatterbrain Jamboree at Thee Parkside. Sponsored by Stanford radio station KZSU, 90.1 FM, this two-day, all-ages local band–palooza features 19 groups, including some of the freshest new talent this city has to offer.

Highlights include: French Miami, headlining Feb. 23, who manage to combine the anthemic, sweaty-basement-party spirit of Japanther with the speed and prowess of a math rock band (think finger tapping) and the harmonized guitars of the Fucking Champs. Channeling Frank Zappa, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and Devo, the six members of Battlehooch create a fantastic racket that makes you want to scream your way right into a straitjacket. Little Teeth play raspy, effervescent freak folk with hints of Animal Collective’s raw psychedelia and the quirkiness of bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and the Moldy Peaches. Finally, Master/Slave is the ultradanceable electropop brainchild of guitarist Matt Jones and makes for a remarkably tight live show. But perhaps the best thing about the jamboree is that it’s a benefit for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

SCATTERBRAIN JAMBOREE With White Pee, Pidgeon, Mumlers, Schande, Make Me, Holy Kiss, Top Critters, and DJ Nate Nothing. Fri/22, 8 p.m., $10. Also with French Miami, Master/Slave, Death of a Party, New Centuries, Battlehooch, Shitkickers, Settler, Little Teeth, Thunder Thighs, and Bug Pedals. Sat/23, 2 p.m., $10. Parkside, 1600 17th St., SF. (415) 252-1330, www.theeparkside.com