Volume 42 Number 50

Up in smoke?

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SPOILER-LADEN TV RANT What’s wrong with Weeds? The Showtime dramedy about a pot-dealing MILF is in its fourth season, and was recently renewed for two more — but who’s gonna keep watching? A few choice moments aside, the once-mighty Weeds has pretty much sucked this season. To recap: at the show’s start circa 2005, recently widowed suburbanite Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) "put the herb in suburb," per Showtime’s cheeky coinage, by dealing greenage to well-off clients, including her sleazy accountant, Doug (Kevin Nealon). With her ever-present iced coffee in hand, Prius-driving Nancy slurped her way into a new routine: keeping her two growing sons in line, butting heads with neighbor nemesis Celia (Elizabeth Perkins) and troublemaking brother-in-law Andy (Justin Kirk), doing business with local suppliers like no-nonsense Heylia (Tonye Patano), opening a bakery as a pot-shop front, and dating a single dad (Martin Donovan) who turned out to be a DEA agent.

Season two followed a similar shenanigans-amid-McMansions plot, throwing in a Snoop Dogg cameo and thickening tension surrounding Nancy’s DEA dude and her ever-growing (ha!) business. Season three teetered ever-more on the edge of believability, and Nancy’s cushy community was eventually consumed by a wildfire that could only have been the result of arson and a desperate push to give the show new life.

Weeds creator Jenji Kohan and company aimed for change by moving the Botwin clan south, from Los Angeles suburbia to a beachy town near the Mexican border. Fresh scenery has allowed the show to introduce new characters like Esteban (Demian Bichir) — the suave mayor of Tijuana who happens to be a drug kingpin running pot, weapons, heroin, and god knows what else through a hidden tunnel beneath Nancy’s strip-mall maternity store. (Naturally, Nancy begins sleeping with him almost instantly.) Some of Weeds‘ familiar touchstones remain, like Celia’s destructive presence and Doug’s sleaziness, but there’s a sadness to coke-sniffing Celia and a creepiness to Doug (now obsessed with a beautiful illegal immigrant) that’s become increasingly less fun to watch. The show’s quirkier moments — like the priceless season two episode when Andy explained to Nancy’s youngest son about the wonders of jerking off into a banana peel — have all but vanished. What’s it gonna take to bring Weeds back? Did the magic flame out when "Little Boxes" ceased to be the theme song and suburbia faded from view? And how does a show called Weeds get away with showing so little actual pot smoking? Parker’s oft-awarded performance is still the best thing about the show. Pretty soon, though, it’ll be the only good thing.

WEEDS airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.

Knuckleballin’

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW I don’t know if it helps to have a strategy at the San Francisco Fringe Festival. The nature of this annual animal — the 17th installment opened Sept. 3 — resists forethought. You study the program, listen to the buzz while getting yours on in the Exit Theatre Café, read the audience reviews online, but in the end you never know what you’ll get. This year I led with my gut and — it being that kind of year — decided to go for all the dark stuff: the ugly, the brutal, the profane. So I started with clowns.

In truth, the choice to see physical comedy troupe Pi’s After-Party on opening night had less to do with anything inherently transgressive about clowns than with the juggling, which I’d glimpsed at the Fest’s Sneak Peak show last month, and which was great enough to merit a second viewing. I could watch those jugglers for hours: the courage, the concentration, the ingenuity, the balls. Also the bowling pins and knives. A glow-in-the-dark routine was nearly balletic; a bloody mishap with the blades, almost operatic — if in a jocular, low-key sort of way.

As it turned out, the rest of the troupe’s routines, while uneven — a few bits felt either too familiar or underdeveloped — offered fresh and fine moments, with antics delivered expertly by a youthful, progressively endearing ensemble. Themes touching my heart included varied use of a casket and several walk-on appearances by the Grim Reaper. The grand finale — an all-out bone-crushing melee done in slow-mo — could have gone all night judging by audience guffaws and my own joyful tears. These are serious clowns, and their work is extremely silly.

The evening only got better and darker as I headed into Knuckleball, a drama whose sophisticated, thematic blend of love and baseball begins, naturally enough, with a star-spangled blowjob. This excellent two-hander, produced by New York’s EndTimes in association with Mortals Theater, is the best dramatic work I’ve seen at any Fringe. It’s one uninterrupted, dynamic, wildly unpredictable conversation between Ross (Shawn Parsons) — a Midwestern welder whose former glory days of high school baseball are overshadowed by the loss of his teammate and best friend — and his high-class girlfriend Trish (Judy Merrick) — whose polyglot, jet-set life masks a sordid past Ross must unexpectedly confront. Sounding distant echoes of Tennessee Williams and maybe Richard Greenberg, William Whitehurst’s hard, unsparing, humorous, and humane play, sharply directed by Jeremy Pape, is lit up by two fine, gutsy, focused performances that grip from the first and don’t let go.

Next came My Friend Hitler, rounding out the evening with swastikas and a wicked little footnote to the history of the Third Reich. Yes, with friends like these, Ernst Röhm — the head of the Nazi Party’s paramilitary brownshirts, executed by Hitler’s minions in 1934 in the "Night of the Long Knives" purge — needed no enemies. But are we meant to feel sorry for Röhm? Hardly. Are we meant to sympathize with longtime friend Adolph’s tough choices? Nah. In this solo performance, inspired by Yukio Mishima’s play and delivered by Washington, DC performer Zehra Fazal in Hitler drag, there’s not much to latch onto beyond the (unconvincingly personalized) political machinations of a waxing tyrant. Larger themes remain indistinct in this set of one-sided conversations, which Fazal delivers with animated but histrionic conviction. Hard to believe Nazis could be so dull, but maybe there’s a political lesson in that somewhere.

The following night’s fare included two back-to-back solo shows by women travelers. With the sparest of stage properties and a cheery but overly static stage presence, Katherine Glover details adventures in Central America, Europe, and Africa in No Stranger Than Home. These rarely rose above what you might expect to hear from a 20-something, white, middle-class American woman, but to her credit Glover is not entirely unconscious of this, using it to advantage on occasion. My Camino, by Canadian Sue Kenney at least takes a stab at mise-en-scène by reutf8g the story of her 780-km trek across a medieval Spanish pilgrimage route while walking on a treadmill. Perhaps the most affecting aspect of Kenney’s natural delivery is her understated treatment of her private sorrows.

A trip to the Center for Sex and Culture ended night two with the lighthearted yet evangelical infomercial/tutorial/educational variety act, Peg-Ass-Us, a duet by a real-life couple exploring the joys of pegging (which Webster’s declines to define, but involves a woman with a strap-on and a receptive partner). Sporting Barney-esque songs, a little audience participation, and lots of lube, it actually lasts longer than sex, which may be a drawback.

SAN FRANCISCO FRINGE FESTIVAL

Through Sun/14

For the schedule and details, go to www.sffringe.org

Too hot

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› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER Turn down the grill, puleeze — last week felt like a little time-traveling trip to Nellyville (Universal), a throwback to ’02, as in "I’m getting too hot / I wanna take my clothes off." That snatch of "Hot in Herre," Country Grammar king Nelly’s collabo with the Neptunes, could have been the recurring refrain throughout the 80-degree-plus Indian summer sizzle engulfing San Francisky. And frankly I prefer Nelly’s get-nekkid vision of toasty times to the heat that seems to be driving the kids on my street to shoot each other up. Nightlife shouldn’t mean a fight for your life, and who can blame the Mission District teens who want to get out of their suffocating family apartments? Still, you wonder drowsily, when roused at 4:45 a.m. to the sound of five gunshots and some murder-minded creep speeding off: why do the shooters have such ready access to firearms?

I say, let’s cut the vengeance-minded, pistol-packing heat and up the glammed-up, sexy swelter instead. We can use a little more ye olde "Hot in Herre" and less hot-under-the-collar shoot-’em-ups. So the timing was perfect to check in with Nelly, a.k.a. Cornell Haynes Jr., about his latest album, Brass Knuckles (Derrty/Universal), on the verge of an intimate national tour alongside his chums St. Lunatics.

The finished product took a great deal of tweaking — hence the multiple delays, says the soft-spoken rapper, fashion impresario, and collaborator with everyone from T.I. (Creatively, "he’s a beast," swears Nelly) to Tim McGraw. Though Nelly’s intent on trying out new sounds, fans seem to prefer the rapper’s smoother R&B side, as exhibited by the popularity of his Suit disc over his hip-hoppier Sweat full-length (both Derrty/Universal, 2004). And the third single off Brass Knuckles, "Body on Me," which brings the St. Louis rapper together with Akon and rumored squeeze Ashanti, has done considerably better than his fun-loving, shout-along foray betwixt crunk and hyphy, "Stepped on My J’z" ("My ode to the joy of the sneaker," he says).

But all that doesn’t mean the Charlotte Bobcats co-owner wants to skew toward safe choices amid industry uncertainty and his own tussles with Universal ("Definitely I was unhappy with the situation," Nelly says of the negotiations that led him to make the 2007 throwaway "Wadsyaname" single. "Sometimes I think the only leverage that entertainers have is the music."): after all, he did try to assemble a vocal threesome with Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson for Brass Knuckles as well as a bro-down with Bruce Springsteen.

"Don’t be afraid of change," he tells me over the phone. "I think that’s the thing that scares people the most. You can’t tell fans what they should buy. You can’t tell fans what they should like. It looks funny! ‘Yo, don’t buy that — buy this. You’re wrong!’<0x2009>" The still-budding thespian within — Nelly will appear in the CSI: NY season opener — rears its head as the rapper imagines a bullied fan. "’But, but, it’s my money!’

"That’s something you don’t want to get into," he continues, reassuming his proper role. "You’re always a student."

This time around, Nelly says, "I wanted to do things a little differently — bring an energy to the album that I maybe haven’t in a while as far as tempos and selection of people that I used." To support that he wants to spend this tour "just explaining the songs and explaining what went into the album."

Apparently there’s more than a little of the down-home Midwesterner in the rapper, who continues to reside in his hometown of St. Louis. There, keeping it real — and cool — means knowing when to lay low. Having finally finished the album a week and a half ago, he’s now in the middle of promotions, marketing, and tour preparations, and his typical day can mean doing interviews at four New York City radio stations in one fell swoop, or "a good nap all day because I’m exhausted," he sighs. "Because I’ve probably been up for four or five days in a row. No exaggeration. It’s something that stays on you." *

NELLY

With St. Lunatics and Avery Storm

Sat/13, 9 p.m. doors, $40–$55

Mezzanine

444 Jessie, SF

(415) 820-9669

www.mezzaninesf.com

COME OUT SWINGING

BEATEN BY THEM

The native Australians — and onetime San Franciscans — hammered out a fascinating Signs of Life (Logicpole/Thrill Jockey, 2007) at Tiny Telephone studio. With one f and the Healing Curse. Wed/10, 9 p.m., $6. Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St., SF. www.hotelutah.com

FLOATING CORPSES, HUNX AND HIS PUNX, AND YOUNGER LOVERS

Wreak havoc with Roxy Monoxide alongside Gravy Train!!!!’s punk poobah and Brontez’s ever-lovin’ latest. With No Gos and Bridez. Sat/13, 8 p.m., $5–$7. 924 Gilman Street Project, Berk. www.924gilman.org

MARY HALVORSON AND JESSICA PAVONE

The Brooklyn chamber-folk experimentalists are on critics’ short lists for On and Off (Skirl). With Xiu Xiu, Evangelista, and Prurient. Sat/13, 9 p.m., $12–$14. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF. www.bottomofthehill.com

JANET JACKSON

Jacko may have snubbed his sis at her BMI lifetime achievement ceremony, but she continues to "Rock Witchu" despite turmoil with Island Def Jam. Sat/13, 7:30 p.m., $37.50–$123.25. Oracle Arena, 7000 Coliseum, Oakl. www.livenation.com

TRICKY

The trip-hoppin’ hip-hopper delves into his tough council estate upbringing with Knowle West Boy. (Domino). With Sonny. Sun/14, 9 p.m., $30. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com

Jam econo

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› duncan@sfbg.com

Look, I can’t tell you, OK? It’s not that I don’t want to, but when I tell someone it’s "off the record," it’s off the record. It’s not like divulging the day job of Nicole Laurenne, super-saucy singer and Farfisa player for the Love Me Nots, would be some kind of huge, Valerie Plame–style leak, but I refuse to be the Scooter Libby here. Let’s just say she wants to keep her professional and garage-rock lives separate. Brain surgeon? Test pilot? Miniskirted, go-go-booted commando, doing the swim behind enemy lines? "Just tell them I’m a spy. I work for the CIA," Laurenne says during a phone interview from her office in stifling Phoenix, Ariz., or, perhaps, from her secret lair in the caldera of an extinct volcano.

Whatever it is she does, let’s just say Laurenne and the rest of her black-and-white-garbed, pin-sharp quartet aren’t quitting their day jobs any time soon. Not because the band doesn’t pack enough full-throated, ’60s soul, Mosrite fuzz, and hip-shaking, back-alley R&B stomp to rock the door off the proverbial garage — because they do, in spades. This is clearly evidenced by their 2007 debut, In Black & White, and their newly dropped Detroit, both produced in a chicken slaughterhouse-turned-recording studio in the Motor City by Jim Diamond (the White Stripes, the Romantics, the Charms) and both on Love Me Nots’ Atomic a Go Go imprint. "Our day jobs pay for everything," Laurenne tells me. "We’re very careful to work around them. We decided a long time ago we didn’t want to live in a van for a month and play on Tuesdays in Wichita." This allows them to practice an approach that more seasoned touring bands like Les Savy Fav have turned to after decades of midweek dates in nowhere towns: the tour as surgical strike. "We’ll go out to the East Coast and do New Jersey on Thursday and New York on Friday and Boston on Saturday and fly home on Sunday," she says.

I can hear it already: "Man, that’s not punk rock. Where’s the DIY? I’m revoking their indie street cred." Sell out? Hardly. The Love Me Nots are an example of a new paradigm, or at least a rare one: they actually put the horse before the cart. While grinding away in various Phoenix garage outfits over the years — with the exception of their new bass player, Kyle Rose Stokes, a 26-year-old grad student, they’re all in their 30s — the Love Me Nots realized they had to make money so they could do it right from the get-go: they release their own music on their own label, do the distribution, copyrighting, publishing, artwork — not to mention writing songs, rehearsing, and playing gigs. They may not be gluing together 7-inch sleeves, but they’ve got more in common with the DIY ethos of bands like Minor Threat and Black Flag and the labels they created, Dischord and SST, than trustafarians trying to scam street cred by sprinkling a steady diet of ramen with cocaine binges, hoping to float to hipster heaven on the sparkly fart of the first A&R douchebag who recognizes their Casiotone genius.

"You’ve got to give ’em what they want," Laurenne advises an unnamed "little girl" as Detroit nears its crescendo, before adding, "without losing what you’ve got." And while it’s delivered as romantic advice, it sums up the band’s outlook: deliver the goods, on your own terms, in your own time. You can have the career, and the band, and the love life — Laurenne and guitarist Michael Johnny Walker recently got engaged — and not have to slack off on any element of being alive. It is, however, somewhat of a balancing act. "We try to avoid doing stuff that’s too connected," the vocalist says when I asked her if the band’s been asked to play Christmas parties. "We definitely don’t mind people who enjoy that style of music coming out and enjoying it. They certainly need their own release. And, honestly, a lot of people in this type of suit world have other, non-suit interests too, and I think they feel validated, like, ‘Oh, I guess it’s OK to be a sort of renaissance person. You can pursue your own interests, and it’s not shameful anymore.’<0x2009>"

Perhaps it’s my brief stint in the dirty, amoral trenches of mind control, er … "advertising," that immediately leads me to a tag line: "The Love Me Nots: Making It Safe for the Squares to Dance," I tell Laurenne. "That’s your next T-shirt."

THE LOVE ME NOTS

With the Hi-Nobles and the Laundronauts

Fri/12, 9 p.m., $8

Annie’s Social Club

917 Folsom, SF

www.anniessocialclub.com

Lose yourself

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Every big city hosts its fair share of great bands that attract crowds with centrifugal force. While other performers flyer mercilessly only to play to the opening act and bartenders, some draw a crowd only money can buy. But money seems to have little to do with it — some acts are just really fucking good.

I sat down with Ty Segall in the Lower Haight last month to find out what he was putting in the water. "If I put out a hundred records in my life, I’ll die happy," Segall said after a good, hearty spiel praising Billy Childish.

Segall sets the scene physically. Onstage, the 21-year-old can be sighted in tight jeans and a striped T-shirt, crouched over a guitar in front of a bass drum with a tambourine duct-taped haphazardly to the front. The reverb is turned up so high you can hardly tell where the lyrics end and guitar begins. Then imagine it sounding great — almost like you’re listening to an old record. Every pause between songs is heavy with echo and the hiss of amplifiers. Suddenly you realize that punk’s not dead — we just weren’t doing it right.

"It’s all about the sound … the old, live rock thing," he explained. "Childish is famous for saying you don’t need more than a day to record something. That’s how I feel recording should be done. Quick, on the fly, fast — real."

The new sound is the old sound. In a media-saturated culture where you can listen to anything from GG Allin to the Shangri-las without having to have a cool older brother, the only place to turn is your roots.

"For me, there’s nothing better than oldies stations," Segall said. "All the girl groups and Buddy Holly — it’s real rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not even the song. It’s how it sounds. It’s got soul. The style of recording, the real, live sound, and the real feeling it portrays. You can feel the live, on-the-fly mentality."

Ask Segall about his influences, however, and you’ll get a lot more than Childish. You’ll get an array of genres and styles: surf music, glam, the Stooges, and local bands. Segall has basically jumped into a dream.

"I’m the luckiest person in the world," he said, referring to his upcoming US tour with indie greats Thee Oh Sees and the Sic Alps. "I’m touring with two of my favorite bands in the city. This is as far as I ever wanted to take this project, and I’m already there." And the man has gone even further: Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer is releasing Segall’s new self-titled album on his Castle Face imprint, though at this point he has released only one other recording — by his own band — on the label.

But then everyone gets carried away and forgets him or herself when they see Segall live. In fact, you almost forget to dance. His songs are so spot-on and inspired that you lose your focus on the surroundings. Instead you glue your eyes to his performance the same way you fix on a TV set when you’re hungover. People already consider Segall’s SoCal-ish lo-fi ballad "The Drag" a classic, and I have the hypnotic, Syd Barrett–inspired "Who Are You?" on every playlist on my iPod.

I mean, I don’t want to get all afterschool-special about it, but if you want to see something new and don’t want to waste an entire night, catch Segall the next chance you get. And you know what? If Segall puts out a hundred records in his life, I’ll die happy too.

TY SEGALL

With Thee Oh Sees and Sic Alps

Thurs/11, call for time and price

Eagle Tavern

398 12th St., SF

(415) 626-0880

Also with Master/Slave and Girls

Fri/12, 9:30 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

www.hemlocktavern.com

Girls, Girls, Girls

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

On Feb. 15, the auspicious day after Valentine’s, Café Du Nord hosted Girls’ debut — a perfect night to showcase their music, which is full of heartache and romantic longing. I witnessed the birth of a pop sensation that night. I’ve never seen San Francisco rock kids so unhinged for a band that had never previously played out — they sang, in a state of unrestrained fervor, along with songs only available online.

Those of us giddy in the crowd that night haven’t been alone in feeling it. In three months, the SF outfit sold out all 500 copies of their recently released single on True Panther. In fact, 200 of those records were sold on pre-order, and the group has received notice on Pitchfork and various blogs and in Spin magazine.

The rapid and rapturous reception would turn anyone’s head. But the boys of Girls — JR White on bass, Christopher Owens on guitar and vocals, and an otherwise rotating lineup — are wary of overly speedy success. When I sat down with White and Owens at the Ferry Building last week, I asked White why he thinks listeners respond so keenly to their songs. "I think they’re honest," he replied. "It’s the first thing I noticed, and it’s the first thing a lot of people say." Girls’ music, he added, "lacks the pretension in a lot of pop music."

Girls emerged from a living-room recording project that Owens brought White, a recording engineer. Excited by Owens’ music, White suggested they form a band. A musician since age 15, the bassist confesses that this is the first time he feels no ambivalence about playing in a group. According to White, the project evolved as if by "divine intervention — a gift from everything that’s happened in your life."

I possess a reflexive Gen X cynicism and would normally respond to such an avowal with skepticism. However, there’s nothing contrived about Girls’ sincerity. In fact, the similarly charming Owens owned that descriptor, claiming, "Essentially I am just really an earnest, sincere person.

"I came to the realization at the last show that we would probably be the easiest band to make fun of," he continued. "You could read the lyrics and just mock it. So I feel super-vulnerable. I don’t think we get up there and right away, people are saying, ‘Yeah, this is the best thing ever.’ We kind of have to win them over, but it’s kind of a cool thing to go through from the beginning of the show to the end of the show. Every show has kind of been excruciating to play. The end is great."

In any case, Girls’ lyrical earnestness was treated to a skilled studio work-over on their recordings — a full-length is due this fall on True Panther. The songs shine with brilliant arrangements that layer echoed vocals and reverbed guitars. The touchstones for such massive sound swirls are Spiritualized and various shoegazer outfits, but Girls can’t be pigeonholed as a strictly genre band. For one thing, White rarely buries the vocals at the back of the mix, so we hear Owens’ supple voice upfront, albeit through the pleasant gauze of lo-fi tape hiss. They also have written several dazzling three-minute-or-so pop songs, brightly realized with major chords and handclaps.

According to a commenter on Girls’ MySpace page, the band’s music smells like summer. Laugh or no, it’s true. Their sound resembles all the parts of the season: the bright happy mornings, the long gorgeous days, the nostalgic end-of. "Morning Light" evokes that perfect buzz after a great night out and the walk home on a summer dawn. "Hellhole Rat Race" resembles the summer waxing in September, dusty and wistful. "Lust for Life" gives off the whiff of a perfect pop song: you’re cruising in a car maybe to the beach, in search of beers for breakfast, and your friends are all around.

I don’t know why this music triggers synesthesia in me. I suspect it’s because these gorgeous numbers make my skin literally tingle. The tunes are so classic and pure, yet churn so massively, and the language is so full of want. It’s an imperfect world, and boys and girls do each other harm. But, hey, sometimes a song can be your salvation.

GIRLS

With Master/Slave and Ty Segall

Fri/12, 9:30 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

www.hemlocktavern.com

Gore, no?

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› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Akashic Books’ initial 2002 publication of High Life was not much of a cause célèbre in the larger literary world. But the ultraviolent novel of sex, murder, and scatology in mid-1990s Los Angeles was a definitive moment in the development of the so-called "torture porn" subgenre. As the debut author for Dennis Cooper’s Little House on the Bowery imprint, Matthew Stokoe became both a disciple of glorious S-M writers like Cooper, Bret Easton Ellis, and Samuel R. Delany and a centurial groundbreaker. Now a reprint edition of High Life (Akashic Books, 330 pages, $15.95) is belatedly securing Stokoe’s rank as either a literary assassin or putrid gore hound.

Set in the seamy pasteboard backlots of Hollywood, High Life centers around doughnut worker Jack and his prostitute girlfriend, Karen, who goes missing after a sordid organ donation. When Jack discovers Karen’s mutilated body some days later, he sets out on a sociopathic journey through the city’s back alleys and fetish clubs. Along the way he meets a twisted vice cop, Ryan — a psychological foil who elicits unspeakable fantasies from Jack — and Bella, a femme fatale whose character seems to have sprung from the pen of Georges Bataille rather than the typewriter of James M. Cain. While most of High Life obsessively centers on themes that are requisite to the noir genre, the graphic detail and repetition with which scenes of necrophilia, rape, mutilation, and coprophagy are recounted seems mechanized, if not completely militarized.

Written on the cusp of 2001’s radical political, cultural, and social turn in the wake of 9/11, High Life is a strikingly prescient view of a celebrity death culture that teeters between antebellum fantasia and post-Lapsarian horror. Stokoe’s novel arrived at the very cusp of a post–9/11 glut of torture porn, or, as David Edelstein of New York magazine described it (in a portmanteau of gore and porno), "gorno."

As characterized by Edelstein, gorno is a cross-generic exploration of graphic violence and sex alongside themes of terrorism, collective anxiety, and xenophobia. Commercial films like the Hostel series (2005; 2007) and Saw series (2004-2007), as well as Wolf Creek (2005) and Grindhouse (2007) introduced the movement’s adrenalinized visual tropes to the largest audiences, but the art and literary worlds have their controversial contributors, such as the Chapman brothers and the writer known as J.T. LeRoy. When asked to defend their creations, most of these artists use a common refrain of confrontation — that they are out to challenge the last remaining taboos, the increasingly militarized capital of the West, and a society where fear has literally mutated the body.

As if anticipating the shield behind which they would slice and dice their work, in 2000 the postmodern theorist Paul Virilio wrote of artists out to break "the taboos of suffocating bourgeois culture … the unicity of mankind, through the impending explosion of a genetic bomb that will be to biology what the atomic bomb was to physics…. Without limits, there is no value; without value, there is no esteem, no respect, and especially no pity: death to the referee!"

Yet such analysis leaves gorno artists like Stokoe in a critical limbo. Are they heroes of a new kind of anatomical avant-culture emancipated from capital and the military strictures of biopolitics? Or are they fetishists whose claims of degeneracy-as-art are a camouflage for something far more sinister? High Life hardly solves the conundrum, as Stokoe’s professed role is not as satirist or philosopher but pugilist; he refuses to ponder the possibilities of answers, only the certainty of bloodletting.

Buddha system

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› superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Gadzooks! I’m lunching with Sen-Sei at Prana, the nifty Thai resto attached to zentastic club Temple, Sen-Sei’s hazel eyes reflecting the brilliant curlicues of my ginger-garlic prawns. No, I’m not assuming the lotus position. Not in these heels, Dharma.

Scenesters know Sen-Sei as the classically trained pianist who’s been plugging his keys into mixers and tapping out sen-seitional "live house" since the early ’90s. But his day job is Marketing Genius for Temple — or, more accurately, for Zen Compound, the new downtown Buddha-themed complex with more business arms than a wriggly Vishnu — and he’s giving me the downward-dog scoop.

Besides luscious Prana, the compound houses a production studio for the Temple Music Group label, a soon-to-be-opened school for yoga, tai chi, and more (wait for it: "The Zenter"), and an Irrawaddy Delta’s worth of antique Buddhist artifacts — srsly, it’s like Raiders of the Lama Ark up in there. Plus, of course, the zenterpiece: Temple nightclub, a spiffy, vast space that includes the generous first-floor Shrine Room, and, beneath that, the blinding white Destiny Lounge and cozy Catacombs. The joint also admirably touts its commitment to sustainability — it’ll be rocking a gonzo solar-paneled float at LoveFest on Oct. 4 — but much of the green’s attached to grants and guidance from PG&E, so, environy.

Listen, huge clubs scare me. They do! You know that clubber nightmare where you’re busting fierce moves to some comfy old-school funk — when suddenly you look up to find yourself on the floor of the Republican National Convention, surrounded by rickety ‘nillas awkwardly "getting down"? Then you vomit fluorescent begonias? Gurl, I’ve been there — mostly at some megaclub megacatastrophe. When you have to fill a couple acre’s worth of dance floor every night to break even, drink and cover prices usually soar while crowd quality plummets. B&T + LCD = nightlife tragedy.

Temple isn’t that — Sen-Sei tags it as not a megaclub, but an, er, "ultraclub" — and although it can get crowded with far-Bay playa-wannabes puking on their knockoff Jimmy Choos, the stellar talent booked is often off-the-karma-chain, and there’s always a core of dedicated dance fans near the speakers. This can lead to some real Siddharthan surrealness — like the night me and 20 others were losing our mandalas over breakbeat gods LTJ Bukem and MC Conrad in the Shrine, while below us 200 cologniacs ground out tired threeways to Jeezy in the Catacombs.

"We’re trying to achieve a balance," Sen-Sei says, appropriately, "between staying afloat and still appealing to an open-minded crowd willing to be musically educated. But I swear to you, we’ll never be Ruby Skye."

And I believe him. For one thing, the whole ball of bodhi-wax is owned by DJ Paul Hemming, a bass-heavy synth-techno nut who takes to the decks most Saturdays. For another, almost everyone I met on the business end of the club had already made legendary names for themselves as DJs or promoters — it was like the ’90s all over again! The good part, not the black tar.

For a third, despite its slightly belabored Orientalism, Temple does follow an enlightened philosophy: "Fuck all that same-sounding superstar DJ Paul Van Dykenfold-Tiësto bullshit," Sen-Sei advised. "’Oh, look at me, I can beat-match in a stadium.’ Big deal. We just want to bring back the love, build a dance floor family, and take it into the future. Is that so impossible now?"

TEMPLE

540 Howard, SF

www.templesf.com

Sex and salad

0

› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I was crying long before my cleaver touched the onion. The trick, when slicing onions for a salad, is to slice them so thin that they flop like fettuccini. I like lots, white and worming, in my salad. The onion, I’ve decided, is going to help me die.

A guy told me about The Tibetan Book of the Dead. On a date! I was going, mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm, and all the while I was thinking about onions. That will be the thing for me to focus on while I let go of my last breath. Probably in a cracked up car, or underwater, far from any real chance of salad. My eyes squeezed tight. The onion, hot and sad, on the tongue. There it is. Sexy, sweet, tearful, complex, layered … and out.

Whereas the best place to eat an apple is under the tree! Sitting down, hopefully, on a log, and alive. Very much alive, I was sitting on a log under my apple tree, eating apples. Just now, in the failing daylight, writing this in the dirt. Which never fails. The dirt. My apples, like me, are tart, juicy, and very green. They are wormy and temporary, also like me.

Today instead of being a writer I had online sex and phone sex, both for the first time. That I know of. I’m on OkCupid now. Imagine me — the chicken farmer — mixing it up with cool people and hipsters! They’re all polyamorous and spiritual and shit, and so far I have learned what "tats" means, and some other things, but I forget what. Mostly I don’t know what anyone’s talking about. What’s ttyl?

Here’s the context: a couple of pictures of the same penis from different angles, and the message, "here are a couple of pics for ya. ttyl." Um … T-Bone? Tabasco? You? Liver?

Tats means tattoos.

A married couple wants to do me. They’re into barbecue. Hey, me too! Then there’s this "generous" gentleman, also married. He wants to do me. And wants pictures. Of me … in lingerie.

I have lingerie. I have a camera. What does "generous" mean?

I’m going to meet all these people within the next week or two, and I’m going to do them, I don’t care. I already know that, like dirt. My profile clearly says: long-term dating, don’t need friends. Used to be a boy.

Nobody believes me, which is flattering, since my pictures are recent, and real. My strategy: to flush out all the too-cool-for-school hipsters and then school them. In chicken farmerology. They say they’re adventurous and open-minded. They think outside the box.

And I write them and say, "I have a box for you to think outside of." Bam! They are gushing over my hair, my smile, my sense of humor, and in one case my nose (?) … perhaps wondering (or not) about the faint scent of chicken shit. And onions.

Meanwhile, the really cool, really open-minded guys are contacting me. And they get it. And want it. Today I was just beginning a long-overdue e-mail to one of my many, many vagina-having girlfriends who wrote to ask me for Wine-Bottle Wiener’s phone number, and all of a sudden in the background, on OkCupid: Instant Message! Which — I just learned how to do this yesterday.

So, friend forgotten, me and this mister are typing back and forth, in my opinion setting up a check-you-out coffee date, when all of a sudden he’s, like, "What are you wearing?"

And I’m, like: What? You mean for coff — . Ohhhh … this is that thing. My first-ever what-are-you-wearing moment<0x2009>!

The truth: last night’s baggy hand-me-down pajama bottoms and a long-underwear shirt. It was 2 p.m.

"Just panties and a tank top," I typed. "It’s HOT up here." Lucky him, I’m a trained fiction writer. "What about you?"

When, eventually, my woodsy wireless connection failed us, we moved to the phone. And by the time his cell phone battery died, my actual clothes were all over the floor and I was crumpled on the bed, wormy and warm, craving a good, crisp salad and an even better cry.

———————————-

My new favorite restaurant is Saigon Cuisine. I needed a bowl of soup badly, to drown a very specific sorrow. Very specifically, the sorrow was that China Light, my old favorite restaurant in Santa Rosa, had closed. So instead of eating roast duck noodle soup, I ate pho. Great! I used all the jalapenos, and then a lot of hot sauce. And stopped crying almost immediately.

SAIGON CUISINE

Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–8 p.m.

320 W. Third St., Santa Rosa

(707) 528-8807

Beer & wine

MC/V

Freaks of nature

0

› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Andrea:

I suspect there is no solution to this problem, but it cannot hurt to ask. I recently met a wonderful woman and, while we have only been together a few weeks, we can envision being together the rest of our lives. The one fly in the ointment is that she is very tight and I am pretty big, and we have not been able to have sex that is pleasurable to her. We have tried it a couple of times, but it just hurt her — and if that continues to be the case, I don’t want to go there again. We are mature and experienced and know about lubricants, etc., but this is just not working. We enjoy toys and oral too, but — damn! We want to have sex.

Love,

Bad Fit

Dear Fit:

"I suspect there is no solution to this problem"? Way to get me interested in answering your question there, dude.

There are size-discordant couples who are just never, ever going to fit, but they are necessarily kind of freaky — and unless both halves reside on the extreme opposing sides of your basic human-variation bell curve, it’s really not that likely to occur.

You’ll need to figure out what exactly is happening here (we know what’s not happening) before you can craft a solution. Is she really too tight, or too short front-to-back, or capacious enough but not managing to seize control of her own semi-voluntary muscles? If she’s too tight or too clamped down, or if you are actually that great rarity among men, the Guy Who Is Too Big (no matter how many used to call the San Francisco Sex Information line claiming membership, that is one exclusive club), she may be able to accommodate you with a little work. Using fingers — her own or yours — or geeking out and acquiring a set of dilators or graduated dildos may produce results (the process can be variously entertaining, tedious, or traumatic, depending). If she is too short, well, there’s a finite amount of space to work with but adjustment of angle can move things around in there to a surprising degree (make sure you’re sliding under her cervix, not into it). And be sure her legs are as far apart as comfortably manageable — it’s amazing how much the internal topography can be altered with some external manipulation.

And finally, I need to point out that you are already having sex! I totally get that you want to have intercourse, and I would like you to have some too, but all that stuff you’re doing already? Sex. Do some fingers, some oral, some shallow intromission and some X-treme frottage (a lot of lube, a lot of careful positioning, and a lot of wet sliding). Have orgasms. Follow with cuddling. Do you really not feel (and look, and smell) like people who just had sex?

Love,

Andrea

Dear Andrea:

I’ve tried three different vibrators and, without exception, they left my labia and clitoral hood numb and swollen for a day afterward. In fact, if I rub my clit with my fingers (my preferred method for orgasm) too vigorously or too imprecisely — just a few millimeters off — or if my fingers aren’t wet enough, the same thing happens. And partners can’t suck on or even lick my clitoral hood for too long, to say nothing of rubbing me with their fingers. Is this a serious medical issue or just another prank of human physiology? Also, I hated coming with the vibrators: it felt like my body was just going ahead without me, and left me irritable and unsatisfied. Am I the only woman in the world who doesn’t like vibrators? Have I just not found the right one yet? (Experimentation in that regard has proven depressingly expensive.)

Love,

Ouchy Girl

Dear Girl:

You’re just a sensitive girl and, yes, the victim of a physiological prank. (Nicely put!) I suggest using barriers between yourself and any stimulation-producing member, human or otherwise. Since these are not safe-sex barriers as such, they can be sexier than your standard latex — silk underwear, for instance. You already know the other measures you have to take — if it hurts when done too this or too that, don’t do it that way, and don’t be shy about instructing others to take similar precautions. Also, have you tried a cool compress afterward?

As for the vibrators, there’s one that might work — this thing that’s supposed to simulate oral sex and has a whole bunch of intensity settings (not the fake-tongue thingies, which are kind of creepy, but the high-end British "smart" vibe called a SaSi) — but it’s crazy expensive and nobody will send me one to review. You could try one of the ones you’ve already got, with a towel (or many pairs of silk underwear) between you and it and see how that goes, or you could accept, with relief, the fact that you really don’t like vibrators anyway. And no, you’re not alone.

Love,

Andrea

Got a salacious subject you want Andrea to discuss? Ask her a question!

Also, Andrea is teaching! Contact her if you’re interested in (sex)life after baby classes. Her new blog is at www.gogetyourjacket.com, but don’t look there for the butt sex. There isn’t any.

Friends of Dorothy

0

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

As a child I remember being transfixed by the cover to Electric Light Orchestra’s 1974 album Eldorado, A Symphony (Warner Bros.). I think I saw it before I ever actually watched Victor Fleming’s 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, from which the album’s art is taken. Designer Sharon Arden — now Ozzy Osbourne’s wife — was undoubtedly riffing off of the concept album’s storyline about a journey through a fantastic land. But she also probably keyed into what caught my young eyes: the primary pop of red, yellow, and green, and the contrast between the girl’s glittering, covetable shoes, the ghoulish mint hands that reached toward them, and the shower of sparks that divided the frame.

Looking back now, my fascination with that image almost seems like a joke about gay predestination — even though my pre-teen self knew nothing of Judy Garland or the Cowardly Lion’s sissy shtick. But I know I haven’t been the first pre-queen or proto-wicked witch to be drawn to those heels. Since The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in 1900, and transformed by MGM into the iconic musical four decades later, the peaceable kingdom created by Frank L. Baum has been visited, amended, annexed, redrawn, and reclaimed by readers young and old: friends of Dorothy; contemporary fantasists such as Gregory Maguire and Geoff Ryman; bric-a-brac collectors; librettists; and last but not least, Pink Floyd–loving stoners and artists.

It is that last group whose contributions to the Oz mythos comprise the Wattis Institute’s inaugural exhibition for the fall, "The Wizard of Oz." It’s not for lack of brains, heart, or courage on the part of curator Jens Heffman that the show is a mixed bag. Granted, exhibits organized around themes are often erratic affairs, but perhaps it is the Oz mythology’s chimerical ability to be all things to all people (witness the interpretive turns the novel and film version of Wizard of Oz have been subjected to, from populist allegory to pre–World War II national rallying cry, to ’70s fry toy) that makes some responses to it seem odd while allowing others to shine as revelations.

In three tightly-packed rooms, history abuts fantasy and artifacts mingle with reproductions. A fragment of Harry Smith’s kaleidoscopic, stop-motion animated remake of Fleming’s 1939 film flickers kitty-corner from Walker Evans’ portraits of ’30s sharecroppers — their ambivalent gazes providing a stoic historic counterpoint to the MGM film’s Kansas sequences. Mass-produced ’70s-era Scarecrow and Woodsman bookends hold up a rare turn-of-the-century set of all 13 Oz volumes. A playful Oz alphabet mural by Donald Urquhart serves as a primer on the series’ significance in postwar gay culture (Q is for Queer Icon; J is for Judy’s hand, supposedly severed before her funeral), while William Wallace Denslow’s doll-like renderings of Dorothy for the first edition of Baum’s book might surprise all those friends of Dorothy accustomed to Garland’s oddly mature visage.

Many contributions make overt references to the realm of Oz, yet oblique treatments of the broader themes evoked by the book and film — escape, the power of fantasy, and the uses of nostalgia — result in some of the exhibit’s strongest pieces. Evan Holloway’s kinetic sculpture Tin Man, in which an ax set in motion by a pulley mechanism takes a small chip off a log, generates discomfort. It does so through the disparity between its pathetic result and the violence of its noisy operation. Rivanne Neuenschwander’s 2003 Eu desejo o seu desejo cleverly plays on wish fulfillment, asking viewers to own up to their desires by taking a ribbon printed with a variety of wishes — some altruistic ("I wish for peace"), some selfish ("I wish for an easy death") — before leaving a handwritten wish in return.

One of my wishes was granted, if from a distance. The famous ruby slippers — or at least a pair that looks like them; the originals being housed in the Smithsonian — are indeed there, under glass like some reliquary. Scrawled inside the satin lining, in a slightly sloppy script, are the words "Judy Garland." Suddenly, I’m not in San Francisco anymore.

THE WIZARD OF OZ

Sept. 2–Dec. 13

CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, Lower Gallery

1111 Eighth St., SF

(415) 551-9210

www.wattis.org

Democracy in St. Paul

0

› news@sfbg.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The bright white light of flash bombs can be seen everywhere among the scattering crowd. Loud explosions of concussion grenades mix with the lighter, metallic tinkling of tear gas canisters bouncing along the pavement. Lines of police dressed in full riot gear stretch beyond the sulfur-green clouds of smoke bombs. Shouts come from all directions in the darkness, suddenly lit up like a war zone.

"What are you doing? We’re peaceful!" some people scream.

"Turn around! Go back!" police shout.

People are scattering now despite cries from some protesters to stay together. As they retreat, demonstrators bump into police lines blocking off escape routes. The police — on horses, motorcycles and bicycles, in squad cars, even driving dump trucks with lowered snowplow blades — attempt to herd the crowd.

"No more tear gas!" some people yell as they try to escape, their eyes red and watery as medics attempt to help amid the chaos. Others scream, "Where do you want us to go?" as officers plug them with mace.

Still others are getting angry. "Fuck you, pigs!" they shout in defiance, attempting to hold their ground, at times hurling projectiles at the police as the explosions continue.

Despite attempts by police to herd the crowd, people are running wild through the neighborhoods surrounding the Minnesota Capitol Building in St. Paul. They dart through parking lots and unblocked streets, trying to escape and hoping to regroup. Cars screech to a stop and bystanders are swept into the mass as they, too, attempt to sidestep the onslaught of police firing from all directions.

Beginning with nearly 1,000 people, this demonstration has been reduced to around 200. It started earlier as an antiwar rally on the Capitol lawn, the latest in a week of protests and civil disobedience, a citizen response to the Republican National Convention taking place at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. It is Sept. 4, which means John McCain would soon be inside, offering his version of the next four years of America.

By the end of the convention, more than 800 people, including journalists, street medics and legal observers, will have been arrested in RNC-related protests, many having experienced a similar use of force by police.

There had been showdowns between zealous police and protesters all week.

On Aug. 29, police raided the headquarters of the RNC Welcoming Committee, an anarchist organization that says it was here to provide assistance to people who wanted to disrupt the convention through direct action and civil disobedience.

Police said the raid was the culmination of an undercover operation that began a year ago, in which officers claim to have heard discussions about plots to disrupt the convention. During that raid and subsequent raids of the homes of some local activists, police said they found caltrops for popping tires, buckets of urine to throw on police, and hand links for creating human barricades, among other items that could potentially be used to disrupt the convention.

The RNC Welcoming Committee refuted the police claims. "The raid was an effort to derail RNC protest organizing efforts and to intimidate and terrorize individuals and groups converging in the Twin Cities to exercise what are supposed to be their basic civil rights," said Tony Jones, a member of the group.

"We are not the terrorists," another spokesperson later said. "The terrorists are inside the Xcel Center."

Among some 10,000 protesters in St. Paul last week — far more than the contingent that protested at the Democratic National Convention the week before — was a strong contingent of self-proclaimed anarchists, whose direct-action style of protesting led to a near-continuous conflict with police. This became the focus of local and national media coverage, and while to some degree it represented the vibe on the streets, there were also thousands who came to engage in peaceful civil disobedience.

Despite last-minute revisions to the RNC schedule, thousands gathered on Sept. 1 for the March on the RNC protest — the largest of the week — to kick off the opening day of the convention. Throughout the day, confrontations broke out between police and autonomous groups of protesters attempting to block roads and bridges around the city. Some became violent, and there were mass arrests.

Tuesday night, the Poor People’s March For Our Lives" protest provoked confrontation, when several hundred people who marched to the free speech "cage" — a barricaded area outside the Xcel Energy Center reserved for protesting — refused to disband after police issued three dispersal orders. Like the previous day, police began firing tear gas into the crowd, eventually pushing the people to a park, where some 60 were arrested.

The Sept. 4 rally was permitted, but the march was not. The Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, which organized the event, made clear from the beginning it intended to march to the Xcel Energy Center to try to disrupt McCain’s acceptance speech.

At the rally, which preceded the march, a speaker commenting on the mass arrests of protesters asked the crowd, "Are the people responsible for the criminal war on Iraq and the war at home on the poor ever held accountable for their actions?"

"No!" came the reply.

Police had the rally surrounded and intermittently plucked people from the crowd, placing them under arrest for unknown reasons — the most common charges were unlawful assembly, felony property damage, and felony riot. Large clusters left the main body of the rally and surrounded the police, prompting tense stand-offs as the police removed those under arrest.

"Stay together," Katrina Plotz, an organizer with the Anti-War Committee, screamed from the stage. "They’re trying to steal our protest — we have to ignore the police intimidation."

What became a battlefield here in the streets of St. Paul began with a series of sit-ins, as impenetrable police lines continually stifled marchers not looking for a serious fight with police. Frustrated with repeatedly being halted — a slow process in which police used horses to divide groups and arrest only some protesters — demonstrators engaged in an improvised maverick march that went wherever it could, for as long as it could.

Now, in the quieter moments between concussion bomb blasts that pushed the group toward its ultimate fate in the Ramsey County Jail, a small debate broke out among some of the protesters about how effective their direct action was at this RNC.

"It makes sense at a WTO conference like Seattle in 1999, where policymaking can actually be halted," one said of the police presence. "But more than anything else the RNC is ceremonial."

Still, as the police ultimately herded this crowd onto a bridge that police then blocked on both sides before placing everyone under arrest, it was clear those here tonight were angry. Judging from chants throughout the week, most felt they could not meaningfully participate in the political system in any other way. They obviously wanted to be heard.

"The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!" they shouted as police shot pepper spray into the crowd, forcing its last few steps onto the bridge.

This report first appeared in the Louisville Eccentric Observer. Sam Stoker is a freelance reporter based in Chicago. Like many journalists covering the protests — including Amy Goodman and two of her DemocracyNow! producers — Stoker was arrested and charged with "presence at an unlawful assembly." Police confiscated his notes and camera gear.

Moment of truth

0

› news@sfbg.com

The controversial and long-awaited Eastern Neighborhoods Community Plan — which includes a thicket of thorny planning and financing issues that will largely determine San Francisco’s socioeconomic future — has finally arrived before the Board of Supervisors.

Neither developers nor community activists are happy with the plan approved Aug. 7 by the Planning Commission, which sets zoning, policies, and funding levels for new development in the Mission District, eastern SoMa, Potrero Hill, and the Central Waterfront.

Developers objected to the fee levels and affordable-housing requirements, saying they would discourage growth, but the compromise plan of less than $16 per square foot in development fees (which vary widely, depending on many factors) and a maximum 20 percent affordable-housing requirement have left public needs severely underfunded. San Francisco Planning Department estimates indicate the fee structure will yield only about $150 million for the area’s $400 million in infrastructure needs.

“The plan right now is not balanced in favor of diversity and real neighborhood needs,” said Sup. Tom Ammiano, who plans to introduce a long list of amendments to the plan in conjunction with Sup. Sophie Maxwell and neighborhood groups that include the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, the South of Market Citizen Action Network (SOMCAN), and the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association.

On the other side of the equation, the Residential Builders Association and other developers say the city will end up with little development activity if they ask for too much, and they’re threatening legal action if the city pushes too hard. “Our members certainly aren’t happy, and the industry isn’t happy,” RBA president Sean Keighran told the Guardian, saying the plan allows for too little development. “Many of our members are meeting with attorneys and considering their options.”

The Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee will begin working through the myriad conflicts Sept. 15 with a series of at least four hearings running through Sept. 23, when the plan could head for the full board. But given the complex political dynamics at play — and the fate of Proposition B, the affordable housing set-aside measure that could help narrow the funding shortfall — key parts of the plan could be delayed until at least January, when the new board is seated, making the stakes of this November’s election even higher.

Political priorities will determine the plan’s emphasis, and the balance of power on the board now seems to favor increasing the amount of affordable housing that will be required in the eastern neighborhoods, home to much of San Francisco’s remaining working class. The supervisors also are leaning toward asking developers to pay more for parks and other infrastructure needs.

Planning Department staffer Steve Wertheim said the goal has been to “make the fees as feasible as possible” for developers and “to find a sweet spot” that will satisfy developers as well as community activists. While he said the commission “was as aggressive as possible with the tools we had available, we would have to subsidize every house if we want [more] affordable housing.”

Planners say they are constrained by city studies indicating that developers won’t build if required to offer more than 20 percent of their housing units below market rates. “As a resident of San Francisco, I would love to see housing cheaper. But we can’t make affordable housing requirements so high that we end up getting no housing at all,” Wertheim said. “We’ve done as much as we can, but the whole city has to commit.”

Indeed, the plan’s funding shortfall raises citywide questions. Tony Kelly, president of Potrero Boosters, said the unspoken assumption in the Eastern Neighborhood Plan is that voters will need to approve Prop. B: “This plan is a big argument for the housing fund.” Either the proposition passes or San Francisco simply becomes steadily less affordable for working families.

Keighran thinks there’s been too much focus on affordable housing. “This one goal should not take priority over the other goals,” Keighran said. “We feel we’re being asked for so many different things from so many different people.”

Yet the activists argue that San Francisco will lose its working class and families if the market alone is allowed to determine what kind of housing is built. The city’s own general plan states that 64 percent of new housing should be affordable. The activists are urging the supervisors to prioritize community needs over developer profits.

“It’s a huge, sprawling plan that has a lot of detail, and the details we wanted to see aren’t there,” said Nick Pagoulatos, coordinator of the MAC. “In terms of the housing, it’s a complete disaster for our housing needs…. The housing we’re seeing is the same old housing we’ve always seen in our neighborhoods, which is mostly market-rate housing.”

Given the amount of light industrial land in the plan area that would be zoned for housing — enough for an estimated 7,500 new units — Pagoulatos said the community has gotten very little. The Planning Department estimates that less than 30 percent of the housing developed under the plan will be considered affordable — less than half of what the city needs — and even getting to that level will require more funding, perhaps by creating new redevelopment districts.

Among other problems in the plan, Pagoulatos said there isn’t nearly enough land set aside for the fully affordable projects that nonprofit entities seek to build with city affordable-housing funds. “If we don’t get that, then we didn’t get anything for all the concessions that we’ve made,” he said.

While the plan now includes modest new affordable housing and community benefits requirements for developers who want to exceed the plan’s height and density limits, activists say the community isn’t getting enough for offering this carrot. They propose to require that 100 percent of the units exceeding current entitlements be affordable.

“Our main concern is there isn’t enough affordable housing in the plan,” said Chris Durazo, community planning director for SOMCAN. “We want the Board of Supervisors to get involved and take this seriously. They need to understand how this community is growing. The families here now should be able to remain here.”

SOMCAN formally appealed the Planning Commission’s approval of the plan’s environmental impact report, which didn’t include detailed traffic studies that must eventually be completed. “We’re appealing it based on them punting the traffic and transportation plan,” Durazo said.

Kelly said that was emblematic of the cursory approach planners have taken toward sizing up and providing for the needs of residents in the affected neighborhoods. “This whole plan is going to move forward with less than half the money for neighborhood improvements they say are necessary,” Kelly said. He notes that the population of the 94107 ZIP code could double under the plan, which makes no provisions for increasing transit services for that higher population or securing new land for parks.

“The gap in affordable housing and the loss of light industrial jobs is matched by a lack of funding for community improvements,” said Kelly, who said his association focuses on that latter issue but is supportive of community groups that focus on housing and jobs.

In fact, there has been an unprecedented level of community organizing and collaboration among groups of all political stripes around this plan, work that is expected to pay off more at the board level than at the commission level.

“Because the board and the commission are two very different political bodies, others may come out that weren’t at the commission hearings,” said Wertheim, noting that developers were well-represented at the commission level. “But the one thing I’ve learned from this whole process is not to be surprised.”

Keighran seemed to sense the changing dynamics. “Planning takes methodical procedural work,” he said. “Politicians are not best suited to doing planning.”

But the activists say this plan should be a reflection of the city’s values, not simply a product of discussions between developers and planners. Yet they understand that politics can cut both ways, particularly during an election season.

“Of course we need more housing, but building $6 million condos isn’t the answer,” said Marc Salomon of the Western SoMa Task Force, which broke away from the Eastern Neighborhoods planning process — a process he criticizes. “It’s not about housing people, it’s about investment. It’s ‘How do we give the developers what they want and give the natives the bare minimum, or just enough that they don’t burn down City Hall?'<0x2009>”

Salomon fears the Eastern Neighborhoods will continue to suffer from political pandering. “The [supervisors] are all looking for their next move,” Salomon said. “The discourse has moved so far to the right that you can’t be against market-rate housing. And what they’re doing is developing market-rate housing to suit developers, and at the same time purging this city of progressives.”

Why SF needs Prop. H

0

OPINION San Franciscans don’t need the Clean Energy Act for political reasons. We need the Clean Energy Act — Proposition H on the November ballot — because we should have a say in how our electrical needs are met. We need it because San Franciscans should be able to demand more clean, renewable energy. We need it to have input on how our electrical rate money is spent. We need it to get a dollar’s worth of service for a dollar’s worth of rates.

The current electric power provider in San Francisco has a monopoly. That provider, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., is not responsive to San Franciscans. And San Franciscans have little influence over PG&E. Here are some examples.

San Franciscans have wanted more undergrounding of power lines. There’s a good reason for that — overhead power lines are a potential public hazard. Besides, they are just plain ugly. PG&E says it doesn’t have the money to continue undergrounding power lines. There is evidence to the contrary — but undergrounding is just not a priority for PG&E.

San Franciscans have made it clear that they support clean, renewable energy. Yet PG&E, according to its own records, has a power portfolio that uses 68 percent combined fossil fuel and nuclear energy. And, as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) has moved forward to prepare to put clean and green power into new developments at Hunters Point, it has been met with resistance by PG&E.

San Franciscans have invested billions of dollars over the years building and maintaining the Hetch Hetchy power system. The SFPUC produces power in the high Sierra and transmits that power 140 miles to the Bay Area. PG&E charges a significant markup to transmit that power the last 25 miles to San Francisco. The result is that PG&E is charging as much for the last 25 miles as the SFPUC charges for the first 140 miles. And in 2015, PG&E is prepared to raise these transmission rates even higher. We are definitely not getting a dollar’s worth of service for a dollar’s worth of rates.

Opponents of the Clean Energy Act are raising the specter of freewheeling issuance of billions of dollars of revenue bonds without any public accountability. Their claim couldn’t be further from the truth: the reality is that revenue bonds cannot be issued unless they are approved by the mayor, the supervisors, and the city controller. Also, the financial rating agencies must review any potential bond issuance and rate its viability. If the proposal isn’t viable, the bonds won’t get sold.

Besides, the SFPUC, like many other municipal utilities, already issues revenue bonds for its water and wastewater systems — and remains financially sound. It proudly provides San Franciscans with a dollar’s worth of service for a dollar’s worth of rates by providing some of the best drinking water in the country and maintaining the highest environmental standards with its wastewater systems.

San Franciscans need the Clean Energy Act because it will bring about more accountability and less waste of ratepayer dollars. We need the Clean Energy Act because it makes economic and environmental sense.

Susan Leal

Susan Leal is a former general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The buzz on urban bees

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› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY One would hardly even notice there was a beehive in the garden behind the Mission District’s Kaliflower Collective, except for the winged traffic shuttling industriously between the four-tiered bee box and the fruit trees flowering just overhead.

It’s not easy to imagine, given the scant handful of visible bees, that as many as 50,000 bees might be contained within the modest hive which, at less than two feet square and about three feet tall, looks as innocuous and unthreatening as a stack of closet organizers. It’s also hard, in this tranquil setting, to fully appreciate the crisis situation of colony collapse disorder (CCD), which has been quietly decimating honeybee populations nationwide since 2006. Some beekeepers report up to 90 percent losses. Since bees are responsible for pollinating a wide variety of urban plants — from fruit trees to garden veggies, from clover to cactus — beekeeping is more than a curious hobby. It’s an essential link in the chain of life as we know it.

The even-keeled behavior of San Francisco’s backyard bees is appreciated by most urban beekeepers. Roger Meier, a Castro District-based beekeeper whose home-produced honey appears in several local markets under the label Mint Hill, admits that despite their proven usefulness in city settings, the idea of kept bees can cause some consternation among the uninitiated. Swarming bees in search of a new hive (such as a recent incident in the Mission reported on SFist.com) is cited as a cause for alarm by nervous neighbors.

"It’s pretty frightening to wake up and find a big swarm of bees in your backyard if you don’t know much about them," Meier says. His neighbors have come to appreciate his honey-making habit over the years, not to mention their own well-pollinated apple trees, which he calls "happy with fruit." That Meier, like most experienced beekeepers, actively maintains his hives to prevent swarming also helps keep potential public relations problems in check.

Since swarms mainly occur when a hive gets overcrowded, Meier and his fellow apiculturists monitor the population growth of each hive and split their broods into empty bee boxes when necessary — a process known as "forced swarming." Despite these precautions, swarms can occur, but people are urged not to panic or reach for the Raid. Instead, the San Francisco Beekeepers Association offers removal referrals on its Web site, www.sfbee.org, and many urban beekeepers are happy to inherit a new brood.

Peter Sinton, president of the association, estimates there to be around 60 active beekeepers in a club with a membership of 171, a number that seems initially low until you consider that most beekeepers run multiple hives. Kept bees can be found across the area in backyards, rooftops, community gardens, the Alemany Farm, and the Crystal Springs watershed. Spreading the bee population over far-flung neighborhoods is one way to ensure the continued survival of diverse flora and means that even if the beekeeper loses one or two hives to infestation, infection, or CCD, there will be some survivors.

It’s not just a passion for pollination that brings nascent beekeepers into the fold. Nancy Ellis, animal exhibit coordinator at the Randall Museum, began her journey into apiculture when she became responsible for the upkeep of the museum’s exhibit hive. Nearly nine years later, she cares for four hives in various locations and bottles her honey harvests under the label Bee Bop. She waxes somewhat rhapsodic on the unique benefits of honey: "It’s bactericidal, like Neosporin," she explains, "and its chemical makeup keeps it from spoiling or getting moldy." Another unique benefit of honey is its reported effect on sufferers of pollen allergies, whom Ellis encourages to take a small dose of locally-produced honey per day to "inoculate" themselves against the allergens present in surrounding flora.

But it’s not just the medicinal that lures folks into apiculture. Suzi Palladino, youth program and compost education manager at the Garden for the Environment, cites her interest in urban sustainability and self-sufficiency as key to her forays into apiculture. Peter Sinton refers to the meditative state his beekeeping encourages.

"Handling bees is like tai chi," he says. "Do it with calm and grace, and bees usually do not get riled up."

PG&E’s $107 million lie

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EDITORIAL The entire focus of the campaign against the Clean Energy Act is the claim that the measure will cost you money. This isn’t rocket science: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has clearly paid for expensive polling and focus groups, and concluded that this is the best way to attack Proposition H. It’s brutally cynical. The PG&E strategy assumes that San Franciscans are essentially selfish and would be unwilling to spend a little more money on electricity in exchange for radically reducing greenhouse gases. In Marin County — admittedly, a wealthier area — polls showed the opposite to be true: residents were willing to pay more to save the planet. And if you asked San Franciscans the question honestly, most would probably answer the same way as their neighbors to the north.

But the most astonishing part of PG&E’s claim is that it’s utterly false.

As Amanda Witherell reports in this issue, Prop. H will save consumers money. It will save the city money. Like most modern clean energy proposals, it challenges the notion that greener has to be more expensive. Prop. H, our analysis shows, would allow the city to cut electric rates, dramatically shift away from fossil fuels — and still wind up with a surplus.

In fact, if the city cut rates 15 percent — saving the typical ratepayer $400 a year — a municipal utility would wind up with $107 million in surplus revenue every year — after paying off the cost of taking over PG&E’s system. That’s enough to fund massive investment in renewable energy, keep the power infrastructure well maintained, and leave extra money on the table to fund other city services.

If the city keeps rates at what PG&E currently charges, the surplus would reach $214 million.

The reason is simple. Prop. H not only sets aggressive targets for renewable energy; it opens the door for a city-owned and city-operated electrical system. And as the charts on page 14 show, residents of every community in California that has a publicly-owned electric utility pay lower rates than San Franciscans pay to PG&E. Most of those cites generate significant revenue from their publicly owned utilities.

Again, this isn’t rocket science. PG&E is a private company that pays exorbitant salaries to top executives. Your rates cover that. The company also has to make a profit every year to satisfy shareholders; your rates pay for that as well. And as the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office has shown in legal briefs, PG&E has taken millions of dollars of your money out of town and used it to invest in power projects (including many fossil fuel projects) all around the world.

PG&E will never have an incentive to shift to decentralized renewable energy (for example, solar panels on homes) because the company makes no money from that sort of generation.

City-run utilities pay more modest salaries to managers, are under public scrutiny, and aren’t out to make a profit. The goal is to serve the public — and if the best way to do that is to encourage every resident and business to have renewable generation onsite, the public agency isn’t forced to consider the impact on its bottom line.

It’s no surprise, then, that public power systems like the Sacramento Municipal Utility District are leaders in alternative energy — and that PG&E, which operates a nuclear power plant and continues to build new fossil fuel generators, can’t even make the modest state-mandated targets for renewable power.

This needs to be a central part of the campaign for Prop. H. PG&E calls the measure a blank check — but the truth is, PG&E gets the equivalent of a blank check nearly every year from state regulators, who allow the company to raise rates, pay luxurious bonuses to executives, and waste hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that have nothing to do with providing electric power to San Franciscans.

Prop. H is both a money saver (for residents and businesses) and a money maker (for the city.) Every politician who has signed on to PG&E’s campaign of lies needs to be asked the obvious questions: did you know PG&E was misleading the public? If not, why didn’t you check the facts? If so, can you ever be trusted to represent the public interest and hold public office again?

Editor’s Notes

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› tredmond@sfbg.com

Let’s look at what happens when a mayor who lacks political courage decides to run for higher office.

On Wednesday, Sept. 3, shortly after returning from the Democratic National Convention, where he sought to impress the bigwigs, Gavin Newsom announced that a plan to issue municipal ID cards to undocumented immigrants would be put on hold.

Newsom had always supported the plan. His staff realized it made tremendous sense: when thousands of city residents aren’t eligible for drivers licenses or passports, and can’t prove their identity, then they become a permanent underclass. They can’t open bank accounts (and are preyed on by unscrupulous check-cashers). They fear even talking to the police, since they can’t provide ID on demand (and thus are reluctant to come forward as crime victims or witnesses). They can’t take books out of the public library or easily access the public health system.

A city ID card costs the taxpayers almost nothing and helps prevent crime. It’s part of a very sensible Sanctuary City program, based on a time-tested premise: if official San Francisco doesn’t intimidate or threaten to deport the city’s undocumented residents, those residents won’t live in fear of official San Francisco. That’s better for everyone, immigrants and citizens alike.

But over the past month or so, the San Francisco Chronicle has been running a crusade against the sanctuary laws, digging up a few immigrants who committed felonies and managed to avoid deportation and using those stories as fodder for a sensational assault on the policy.

There was a time, I think, when Newsom might have stood up to it. But now he wants to be governor, and the notion that the press (and his competition in both parties) might portray him as soft on crime and too friendly to immigrants has scared him silly.

So Newsom decided to tell the press that the ID program — a very small part of the overall sanctuary ordinance — would be suspended "until a thorough review has been completed to ensure that every aspect of the program complies with all applicable state and federal laws."

Never mind that the ID program, sponsored by Sup. Tom Ammiano, passed the Board of Supervisors 10-1. It’s city law; Newsom has no authority to suspend it. And the City Attorney’s Office has already done a thorough review to ensure that it’s legal — that happened when Ammiano first introduced the bill.

Never mind that Ammiano — who was infuriated by the mayor’s statement — has been meeting with Newsom’s staff and is convinced the plan will go into place this fall, pretty much as planned.

Never mind that the entire episode will just scare off potential applicants for the cards and undermine a program that the mayor’s advisors know makes good civic sense.

See, this isn’t about San Francisco anymore. It’s all about Sacramento. It’s about the Governor’s Office — which means it’s also about Orange County, and the Inland Empire, and all those more conservative places where voters don’t like immigrants and think San Francisco is too liberal. If Newsom wants to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger, he needs votes in those parts of the state — and instead of standing on principle and saying that he’s a politician you can trust even when you disagree with him, he’s pandering to the lowest common denominator.

The governor’s race is still two years away. This shit has only started.

Canadian shakin’

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Every year, I run into someone at the Toronto International Film Festival who asks me, “How’s your festival going?” Your festival is an appropriate term, actually — the event is so huge you could probably pick out a dozen attendees who’ve seen none of the same films. As I write this, a little over halfway though this year’s visit, I haven’t yet had a defining Toronto fest moment. Sure, there was the moment I became aware of just how jaded I am — when I passed by a mob of gawkers and flashbulbs and realized I didn’t give a rat’s ass about which celebrity had incited such a tizzy. But so far, I haven’t seen a film that truly dazzled me.

In spite of this, I will admit that “my festival” has had some standout moments. Thrillers Vinyan and L’Empreinte de L’Ange (The Mark of an Angel) both pay tribute to the enduring love a parent feels for his or her child — a theme shared, in some ways, with Witch Hunt, a disturbing look at the rash of child-molestation cases (all eventually proved false) that plagued Bakersfield in the 1980s. Vinyan, helmed by noted mind-fucker Fabrice Du Welz (2004’s Calvaire), follows a Euro couple whose son was lost in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. When they begin to suspect (with precious little evidence) that he survived the wave but was kidnapped in the aftermath, they take an ill-advised plunge into the hostile jungle. L’Empreinte de L'<0x2009>Ange is one of those tense family dramas set in the comfortable world of lavish children’s birthday parties and ballet recitals; the less said about the twisty plot, the better. Intense stars Catherine Frot and Sandrine Bonnaire and a jarringly creepy soundtrack keep this one from Lifetime Network territory, though its mothers-in-crisis plot ain’t far from what you might find thereabouts.

The theme of family also finds its way into The Brothers Bloom, from Brick (2005) writer-director Rian Johnson, and Appaloosa, directed by its star, Ed Harris. Since the pairs of men in both films aren’t actually related, I’ll take this opportunity to declare that the bromance trend of 2008 (Pineapple Express is one example) is alive and well at TIFF. A determinedly whimsical tale of con men (Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody) who decide to relieve a kooky heiress (Rachel Weisz) of a few millions, Bloom has enough going for it that it’ll please, say, Wes Anderson fans. But Brick devotees (like me) might feel a bit cheated — an overdose of self-conscious cleverness can do that to a viewer. By contrast, Appaloosa is a bare-bones oater about a pair of gunslingers (Harris, Viggo Mortensen) hired to tidy up a town terrorized by the Wild West equivalent of a mob boss (Jeremy Irons). The particularly witty script is a nice surprise; as the stranger who blows into town with no purpose other than creating conflict, Renee Zellweger’s character becomes more tolerable when it’s revealed she’s not nearly as prim as she pretends to be.

For pure fun, I checked out American Swing, a jaunty doc about infamous New York City swingers’ club Plato’s Retreat — with its subject matter, colorful music and editing, and copious bare-butts-in-the-1970s footage, it’d make for a great double-feature with 2005’s Inside Deep Throat. And not to be missed — even though I thought it could have been a lot more awesome given its rich potential — was JCVD, billed as the comeback movie for Jean-Claude Van Damme. Playing himself, the Muscles from Brussels is unwittingly drawn into a bank robbery; delightfully, he can still kick a cigarette out of someone’s mouth — and, even better, has enough temerity to crack wise about Steven Seagal’s ponytail. (Cheryl Eddy)

For additional coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival, visit www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.

 

MO’ FROM TO

Wendy and Lucy: Following the footsteps of Kelly Reichardt’s tender 2006 film Old Joy, this even smaller experience trails Wendy, a Midwestern girl (pricelessly played by Michelle Williams) driving across the country to start a new life in Alaska. This heartbreaking journey beautifully confronts the tiny issues that arise from being out of step with modern society and will be particularly celebrated by anyone who felt Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (2007) was frustratingly misguided and overly romanticized

Vinyan: When a rich Caucasian couple’s child goes missing, the parents make a trek through the tsunami-destroyed bowels of Thailand, searching all the way into Burma. The shrill sound design, claustrophobic camera work, and xenophobic storytelling perfectly punctuate the Harvey Keitel–ish hysterics unleashed by French heartthrob Emmanuelle Béart and UK toughie Rufus Sewell (who gave a similarly audacious performance in the overlooked Sundance gem Downloading Nancy). As the pair descend into utter madness, this hypnotic hybrid of The African Queen (1951) and Don’t Look Now (1973) could be read as a brutal attack on Western tourism. Throw in a hundred creepy jungle kids and some controversy about the filmmakers’ alleged insensitivity toward tsunami victims, and you’ve got a genuine cult classic in the making!

JCVD Jean-Claude Van Damme decided to star as himself in Belgian director Mabrouk El Mechri’s deconstructive thriller (à la 1975’s Dog Day Afternoon). Van Damme gave up his control issues, allowing the director to expose his most intimate flaws (including a monologue given directly to the audience that jams a frog into the throat of even the most jaded, ironic hipster). The sold-out Midnight Madness audience was so completely stunned by Van Damme’s solid and moving performance, I hope the filmmaker gets some credit for creating a genuine tribute to this genuine genre actor.

More to come from the second half of the festival: Wong Kar-Wai’s Ashes of Time Redux, the Dardenne Brothers’ Le Silence de Lorna, and supposedly the most violent horror film ever made: Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs. (Jesse Hawthorne Ficks)

 

Cleaner and cheaper

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>>Click here for our chart explaining how San Francisco can take over PG&E’s system — and wind up with $214 million a year in extra revenue. (PDF)

>>Click here for a comparison of public power and investor-owned utilities on rates and renewable energy. (PDF)

>>Click here for a comparison of Mark Leno’s Sacramento PG&E and SMUD (public) bills. (PDF)

› amanda@sfbg.com

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has been saying that if the Clean Energy Act passes, it will cost the city $4 billion — and electricity bills will go up $400 a year per household to cover the costs.

But according to a Guardian analysis, a publicly owned utility could cover the costs of taking over PG&E’s system, finance enough renewable energy generation to make the local grid 50 percent green, and still generate $214 million a year in surplus income — without raising rates a dime.

In fact, the city could cut electricity rates by 15 percent — so that the average San Francisco home using 1,000 kWh a month would save $400 per year — and the system would still make $107 million profit annually.

Our analysis is based on conservative assumptions, and probably underestimates the city’s potential revenue. The figures all come from publicly available sources.

The bottom line: PG&E’s campaign materials are, at best, gross distortions of the truth.

WHAT PUBLIC POWER WOULD COST


The Clean Energy Act, which will appear as Proposition H on the November ballot, mandates that the city undertake a study to determine the most cost effective and expeditious way to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

If the study determines that a publicly owned utility would provide the cheapest, cleanest energy, the first thing the city would need is a distribution system — the wires, poles, substations, breakers, and all the other physical infrastructure required to provide power. The legislation authorizes city officials to issue revenue bonds to build a distribution system or to buy PG&E’s, either through a negotiated sale price or eminent domain.

In 2001, the last time the city voted on a public power measure, PG&E said its system was worth $1.4 billion. Seven years later, although much of the system has deteriorated, the price has jumped to $4 billion. But utility officials freely admit they have no hard numbers: in a letter dated July 24, David Rubin, the director of service analysis, wrote, "PG&E has not done an inventory of its system, but it is readily apparent that the fair market value of PG&E’s electric system exceeds $4 billion … "

There are, in fact, hard numbers on the value of the system — numbers that both PG&E and state tax officials have used and agreed on for years.

The state Board of Equalization is tasked with determining property values on utilities and levying taxes accordingly. In 2007 the board reports, PG&E paid taxes on property worth $1.2 billion in San Francisco. That’s what the state auditors say is the value of everything PG&E owns here, including both the electricity and gas distribution lines, the buildings on Market and Beale streets, the service center, vehicles, desks, computers — much of which the city would have no interest in acquiring.

According to documents acquired through a public records request, the city controller’s office assumed in its ballot analysis of the cost of Prop. H that 50 percent of the assessed value was utility related.

We’ll make the same assumption. If the San Francisco controller and Board of Equalization are right, the actual value of PG&E’s electricity distribution infrastructure is $595 million.

That could be a bit low or a bit high — real estate appraisal is an inexact science — but at least it’s derived from a solid number. Even if you assume that the board’s appraisers are off by a few tens of millions of dollars in either direction, the number PG&E has put forward is wrong by about 600 percent.

Rubin’s letter to the city controller outlined how PG&E determined $4.18 billion as the system’s worth — by using "replacement cost new less depreciation" (RCNLD) as a measure. "California law specifically approves RCNLD as a method for valuing improvements to land, such as the electric facilities at issue here," Rubin wrote.

But appraisers disagree with Rubin. "The Code of Evidence section they are referring to mentions RCNLD as one of many pieces of evidence that can be considered in valuation cases," a veteran appraiser with knowledge of PG&E’s system, who requested anonymity, told the Guardian.

Because PG&E is a regulated utility that passes all the capital costs of doing business onto customers, many valuators argue that the rates those customers pay (reflected in the BOE figures) indicate the true value of the system.

"The value is the value is the value," the appraiser said. "Both PG&E and the BOE agree that fair market value is approximately equal to rate base." That, in this case, would be about $600 million.

William Marcus, a lead economist on utility issues for JBS Energy with 29 years experience in the field, told us that the standard method employed by the BOE in valuing energy utilities is original cost less depreciation and deferred taxes. "I’m not going to tell you RCNLD is $4 billion because PG&E has been known to come up with very high values," Marcus said. Even the RCNLD value is "almost certainly a serious matter of controversy." Marcus, a Yolo County resident, witnessed the 2006 public power battle between the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and PG&E, and said, "There was almost a factor of four between what PG&E was saying and what SMUD was saying and they were both using RCNLD."

"A reviewing court might look at RCNLD but would also look at original cost," Marcus said. "So you’ve got a high end and a low end."

The city would pay an interest rate of between 4.5 to 5.5 percent on revenue bonds, according to Ken Bruce in the Board of Supervisors Budget Analyst’s office. He pointed out that revenue bonds are repaid by dedicated revenue streams that are identified prior to the bond issuance, which can affect the interest rate. "It would be subject to a lot of scrutiny by rating agencies," he said. With this in mind, we used the high end in our analysis, and assumed annual payments at 5.5 percent. If the city buys the system at the price the Board of Equalization and Controller’s Office estimates, and the bonds are repaid over 20 years, the annual cost would be $49.8 million.

CLEANER THAN PG&E


Prop. H sets ambitious standards for renewable energy — but our analysis shows that a city agency could easily afford to increase dramatically its alternative energy portfolio.

Some public power utilities (like private utilities) still rely on dirty coal and large hydropower — but this isn’t true of public power in California. Of the five major public power utilities we surveyed, all except the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power are doing a better job at developing renewables than PG&E.

Just across the Bay, Alameda has enacted a very aggressive renewable-energy plan. "As we go forward, there’s a chance we might be 100 percent renewable if the price is reasonable," Alan Hangar of Alameda Power and Telecom told us. In November, the Alameda city utility will ink two new deals for energy produced at landfills and boost the agency’s percentage of renewables from 55 percent to almost 70. A deal for more hydropower is also in the works.

Hangar said the utility was able to purchase more renewables without raising rates "because we’re tight-fisted. We don’t have a lot of solar because it’s so expensive. But if the price came down we’d look at it."

Even though public power agencies aren’t under the same state mandate of 20 percent renewable by 2010 that investor-owned utilities like PG&E are required to meet, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District set its own renewable power goal — and has already surpassed it. "Being a utility with a board of directors elected by the public, there’s more pressure there to get renewable energy in the mix," said SMUD spokesperson Chris Capra. "The voters here told us they want more solar and green energy." SMUD recently started offering customers solar power from a 1 MW array owned by a private company that sells the power to SMUD. Because the sun is an infinite resource, unlike natural gas, oil, and coal, the utility was able to lock in a long-term affordable rate for the power. "Now we can get solar power to customers who can’t do solar on their own," Capra said.

For calcuutf8g the cost of renewables, we used figures from the city’s Community Choice Aggregation plan. If Prop. H passes, the CCA plan would be implemented as the first step toward the overall goal of 100 percent renewables by 2040.

According to the plan, over the first three years the city would phase in 360 MW of renewable energy, greening 50 percent of our grid. The Board of Supervisors already authorized the use of revenue bonds to finance 150 MW of new wind generation, 31 MW of photovoltaic cells, 72 MW of distributed generation, and 107 MW of enhanced conservation measures. The CCA plan calls for a three-year investment of $129 million for solar and $170 million for wind.

The supervisors have already passed the CCA plan, and it’s been signed by Mayor Gavin Newsom. That legislation authorized $1.2 billion in bonds to finance the plan — more than enough to get the renewable energy ball rolling.

Other financing possibilities exist. For example, PG&E’s energy efficiencies are paid for by a public goods charge levied by the California Public Utilities Commission, which for San Franciscan ratepayers totals $7 million per year. The city-owned system would manage that money instead — and that surcharge is already included in the average rate we calculated.

Furthermore, there are state and federal subsidies that can be applied to renewable energy purchases — these would be given to customers to purchase rooftop solar panels, wind turbines, and other distributed generation that could contribute up to 72 MW of the initial 50 percent in the first phase of the CCA plan. The city already gives $3 million in solar incentives to residents, and this program could be expanded with additional revenue generated from the power business.

We assumed the city could generate a substantial portion of the power it needs from renewables. For the first few years, power would still need to be bought on the spot market; we included those figures in the expense column.

The total costs for operating the system — including operations and maintenance, power purchases, and replacing the taxes that PG&E currently pays to the city: $524.45 million.

THE REVENUE SIDE


But after all the expenses are added up, selling electricity is still a lucrative business. If the city kept power rates at the same level PG&E currently charges — that is, if nobody’s electric bill went up or down at all — the city would clear $214 million a year in surplus revenue from the system. That’s almost as much as the current budget deficit.

Of course, a public power agency — run by accountable public officials — might decide to cut rates instead of banking cash. So we ran a scenario in which the city would cut rates by 15 percent. The bottom line: San Francisco still comes out $107 million ahead.

How can a city agency sell power so much cheaper and still make money?

For starters, PG&E has a guaranteed profit margin of 11.7 percent, approved by the state. A city-owned system doesn’t have to please shareholders with its profit — any surplus here could be folded into the general fund, remain in the San Francisco PUC piggy bank for future infrastructure needs, or be refunded to taxpayers. This is the basic difference between public and private ownership of a utility — and it translates into lower, more stable rates over time.

"For a number of years, we had no rate increases at all," said SMUD’s Chris Capra, who explained that the agency was able to stave off rising natural gas prices because of bulk purchases locked in at low rates. Last year the elected SMUD Board voted for a 7 percent rate increase to cover rising power costs and replace equipment.

The agency’s rates are still far lower than what San Franciscans pay to PG&E — and the private utility has announced it will seek a 6.5 percent rate increase in January.

Elite Cafe

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› paulr@sfbg.com

How too perfect that we find the Elite Café smack in the heart of Pacific Heights. Since Pacific Heights is full of … well, you know. "Elite," I have noticed, is a word that has acquired a sheen of infamy in our demotic times and, along with its close relation, "elitist," is often spoken in a tone of hissing accusation, like "monarchist" or "communist." Yet there is no Monarchist Café, not even in Pacific Heights, and even if there were, its food would likely not be as good as Elite Café’s.

The Elite Café has been in business since 1981, but a few years ago it fell into the hands of Peter Snyderman and Joanna Karlinsky, who have each been a neighborhood force in recent years. Snyderman was a principal in the Fillmore Grill and Alta Plaza — once the last word in A-list gay bars — while Karlinsky was the owner (with John Bryant Snell) of the Meetinghouse, a marvelous restaurant that foundered in the aftermath of 9/11. Its atmospheric setting, a onetime apothecary shop, later became the home of Quince, but now Quince is moving downtown. Meanwhile Karlinsky, after tours at the Hotel Utah and, very briefly, Moose’s, has come back to upper Fillmore, bringing to the Elite Café the Meetinghouse’s wondrously flaky biscuits and signature shrimp-and-scallop johnnycakes.

More than 20 years ago, I had dinner at the Elite Café with a few friends and came away with the impression that it was basically a seafood grill in the old-line style of Sam’s and Tadich. Certainly it looked the part, with a long bar along one wall and, along the other, a train of remarkably enveloping wooden booths that conferred a strong sense of privacy. But according to the restaurant’s Web site, it was — and remains — a purveyor of New Orleans–influenced cooking. Possibly my younger self wasn’t paying proper attention. Yet today’s look, while freshened, is pretty much the same as it was then, and the menu, while unmistakably touched by the flavors of coastal Louisiana, still offers plenty of seafood options.

Karlinsky, the consulting chef, deals in (choose your label) modern or new American cooking, ingredient-driven and seasonal, which helps explain the presence of the biscuits ($4.75 for four) and johnnycakes ($12.50) — the cakes positively gravid with shrimp, festively piped with lime cream, and served with a coarse compote of roasted peppers. These dishes aren’t out of place on Elite’s menu, but they were just as nice on that of the Meetinghouse, whose accent was hardly southern. ("Meetinghouse," incidentally — or perhaps not incidentally — was the term used by colonial New Englanders for "church.")

But … Elite’s menu is replete with New Orleans–ish offerings you wouldn’t likely have seen at any of Karlinsky’s other restaurants. These range from standards such as jambalaya and gumbo — both solid — to a clever "fondue" of crab meat and puréed artichoke you scoop from the cast-iron pan with points of oh-so-San Francisco sourdough toast.

Let us begin with the gumbo, which can be had in three sizes. The smallest (at $10.75) is apparently a starter — the dish is listed among the starters as "California seafood gumbo" — while the bigger sizes are meant for bigger appetites. It’s possible that the largest, at $25.50, is meant for parties or family-style service, since the midsize version, at $21.50, was presented in a hemispherical bowl I could have dunked my head into. The gumbo was chockablock with shrimp, scallops, crab, and oysters — whose liquor added a distinct note of earthy minerality — but what was most notable (apart from the size of the bowl) was the broth, which was as rich and muddy as the Mississippi itself. Floating around in there, along with the seafood, were strips of red pepper and okra and grains of rice, but all this substance was somehow secondary to the tasty murk it was suspended in.

Jambalaya is also available in more than one size, but here the downsized version ($18.50) seemed rather niggardly: a small cast-iron pan filled with shrimp, chunks of andouille sausage, shreds of duck confit, and a token sprinkling of rice. I would pronounce this dish a disappointment were it not for the confit, whose dark and glossy richness was redemptive.

Blackened redfish ($26) — that Paul Prudhomme classic from the 1980s — is made with real Gulf redfish and is worth the carbon-footprint penalty points. There is a local fish, sold under the name red snapper but actually a kind of rockfish, that also has reddish flesh and is sometimes substituted in these sorts of dishes, but it’s no match for the buttery intensity of the Gulf variety. The kitchen does give the dish a distinctly California elaboration, though, with a salad of fennel ribbons, quartered artichoke hearts, fresh green peas, salsify, asparagus, and roasted red-pepper coulis.

Cajun fries ($4.75) could have been a little crisper, I thought, and were underseasoned, but they were served with a chipotle mayonnaise that was like silky fire. Even simpler were spicy collard greens ($5.25), slow-cooked to a deep, gleaming green and deeply satisfying. This might be the most authentically Cajun dish on the menu and also, in its direct simplicity, the most Californian.

Despite a long presence (the restaurant’s predecessor, Lincoln Grill, opened at the Fillmore Street location in 1928) and an attention-getting name, the Elite Café seems slightly anonymous at the moment. When people think about New Orleans food in San Francisco, they think about other, newer places, and more power to them. Let the Elite Café remain a secret for the happy few.

ELITE CAFÉ

Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 6–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 6–10:30 p.m.; Sun., 5–9 p.m.

Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

2049 Fillmore, SF

(415) 673-5483

www.theelitecafe.com

Full bar

AE/DISC/MC/V

Moderately noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Volume 42 Number 50 Flip-through Edition

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Collaboration! Dance & Music 2008

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PREVIEW Hope you’re hungry to see a big show, because for this concert you need an appetite for the unruly, the new, and the short. Collaboration! Dance & Music started 10 years ago in Marin County as the brainchild of Dance Outré’s Lorien Fenton, who wanted to showcase new work primarily by Marin artists. But the event took off and several years ago it traveled from the tiny Marin Center Showcase Theater across the Golden Gate Bridge to the 437-seat Cowell Theater in Fort Mason. In the past the pieces have come in all shades and colors, from jazz to Kathak to modern to Butoh. Part of the fun is seeing which choreographers hitch up with which composers. In dance, collaborating with musicians has long been a storied tradition, even back when Tchaikovsky’s colleagues thought that working with such intellectually inferior arts as Marius Petipa’s ballets was below the composer’s dignity. Yet Stravinsky’s most-frequently played scores are the ones he wrote for Balanchine. And it was through Martha Graham that Aaron Copeland’s most popular piece got its name, "Appalachian Spring." It’s unlikely a masterpiece will emerge from the 10-minute collaborations by this year’s 10 choreographer/composer couples. Still, the principle stands: two artists from different disciplines putting their heart and soul into a work can come up with some amazing stuff.

COLLABORATION! DANCE & MUSIC 2008 Fri/12–Sat/13, 8 p.m.; Sun/14, 2 p.m. Cowell Theater, Marina and Buchanan, SF. $17–$20. (415) 345-7575.

Berkeley Old Time Music Convention

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PREVIEW It’s strange for a music to be called "old time" if it’s played today. Granted, webbed fingers because your parents were cousins might keep you out of Internet distribution, and Deliverance (1972) didn’t help any, but old time music really is more than country music’s hillbilly brother.

The Berkeley Old Time Music Convention fiddles away four days of concert performances, square dances, contests, and tailgate string band sessions. San Francisco’s swanky Make-Out Room opens the festival with a square dance: expect straw on the floor, bolo ties, and polished boots.

All hat but no cattle? Learn to support your cowboy swagger at Ashkenaz on Sunday with a clogging workshop, or at Thursday’s panel discussion at UC Berkeley’s Hertz Hall. If you play, polish your chops at one of Sunday evening’s JazzSchool workshops (unfortunately scheduled too late to prep you for Saturday’s string band concert). The convention’s main event, the string band competition, pits band against band, with the winner awarded a trophy of gilded roadkill and second place taking home a jug of moonshine and homemade candles.

For professional fare, Freight and Salvage and Ashkenaz bring the best out of the woods for nightly concerts and square dances showcasing fiddler Benton Flippen, banjo player Paul Brown, and guitar player Frank Bode — all southern Appalachian born and bred.

Not to drape a flag, but for the oldest form of North American traditional music (other than Native American music) to host its festival on 9/11 seems particularly fitting.

BERKELEY OLD TIME MUSIC CONVENTION String Band Contest, Sat/13, 11 a.m., free. Civic Center Park, Martin Luther King Jr. and Center, Berk. (510) 848-5018, www.berkeleyoldtimemusic.org. Convention runs Thurs/11–Sun/14, see Web site for details.

Eccentric and unclassified

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PREVIEW We — the proud, the few, the musical eccentrics besotted with both Michael Hurley and Harry Nilsson, both Hazel Dickens and Lee Hazlewood — have it good in the Bay. We’re at the ground zero of a highly unofficial appreciation society for the aforementioned, unclassifiable sounds. And that’s why nifty string-strewn, jangle-happy xylophone-plonkers like Okie Rosette exist and neato noise-loving, cacophony-cagy urban-rusticators like Little Teeth persist, alongside other neo-okies like Or, the Whale and Port O’Brien.

The restless, chaotic imagination of small children enraptured by rickety musical instruments and down-home noise-makers alike supercharges the manic locals of Little Teeth and the two-year-old threesome’s just-out full-length, Child Bearing Man (Absolutely Kosher). So where do the rousingly anthemic melodies of songs like "Between My Ears" and "Applegate" come from, blasting through the washtub thump, accordion bleat, and the banjo pluck? Makes me nuzzle Little Teeth as they howl at the moon, toss their untamed manes, and shake their small fists at the sky with tears of inchoate joy and rage in their wild eyes.

While Little Teeth seemingly sprung fully blown from the brow of hillbilly Zeus, the lyrically folk-rockin’ Okie Rosette rose gracefully from ashes of Bay Area critical fave Granfaloon Bus. Todd Felix Costanza initially got together with fellow ex-Granfalooners Jeff Stevenson and Ajax Green to make Okie Rosette’s new Leap Second (Monotreme) — though Costanza gives equal credit for the disc to background movers like Dee Kesler of Thee More Shallows: "We plugged away in his studio in west Oakland, and he turned my skeletons into people." And beauteous, quirk-filled people they are: imagine Grey Gardens‘ Little Edie warbling backwoods dancehall numbers when Costanza croons, "It’s starting to rain so put on your trash bag." So how to explain the okie label? "But my family tree has had more than one redneck fall from it," Costanza writes in an e-mail, "and I loved The Grapes of Wrath."

OKIE ROSETTE With Emily Jane White and Winters Fall. Wed/10, 8 p.m., $10. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. (415) 861-2011, www.rickshawstop.com

LITTLE TEETH With Jel and Lovely Public. Sun/14, 9 p.m., $10. Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016, www.cafedunord