Volume 43 Number 06

Bill Berkson


Bill Berkson’s poetry is a tortoise-and-hare countryside — no one’s watching the clock, although it’s lunchtime in early fall. When you read his poems, you say, "They’re doing it for me, I’ll do it for them." His life in art (first as a self-described "kid on the scene of the first New York School," later as a sleeper cell in the New York–Bolinas "axis of poetry evil") could be signified by a freshly minted tarot card: Collaboration. See the new magic of this year’s Bill (Gallery 16 Press, 45 pages, $25), with Colter Jacobsen’s great two-way mirror drawings and Berkson’s fugitive lines spun in juvenile detective silk. Bring your own tightwire.

A teenage crystal hanging by a thread — or as he puts it, a "human blood medallion" — spins through Berkson’s folio. An alphabet of poets and artists from Ashbery to Guston to Waldman to Warsh shows up in his prism, ricocheting light — "a puzzling brightness" open at all points where points leap into the second dimension. "Bands of distracted emotion snap" their fingers to a Hart Crane tune: "I have no system / but there is a motor," Berkson writes in the 1973 Angel Hair collection Recent Visitors, "primitive / American / sophisticate." And yet: "I insist on the poem having its own life, its own existence," he explains over the phone during a recent visit to Los Angeles, where his son Moses Berkson’s photography is on view at Constant Gallery.

What about Berkson’s art writing? His reviews read more like travelogues, with an equivalent claim to autonomy. In 2003’s The Sweet Singer of Modernism & Other Art Writings (Qua Books), he gives form to "the parallel text" through a string of dispatches from inside paintings. The poet’s eye becomes a 360-degree liquid camera unfreezing Franz Kline’s bridge spans: the paint is wet to us. Elsewhere, in reviews and in last year’s Sudden Address: Selected Lectures 2001-2006 (Cuneiform Press, 114 pages, $10), there’s a sweet-tooth accuracy of description — Wayne Thiebaud’s SF Victorians are "each a different pastel tone like those of Necco wafers" — paired with fluent shoptalk. It’s so much fun to be here.

"Functionally, art writing serves as commercial expository prose," Berkson explains. It’s often a portrait of the artist painting portraits of the market, and that’s why Berkson left it behind, mostly, for 15 years. (Artforum buttonholed him for monthly reviews in 1984. "Arrogant as ever," he explains, though at first it’s easy to mistake arrogant for elegant, "I thought I could make a little difference." Later: "I love to describe things — something that stays still…") Yes, for Berkson, "the sentences in a review turn up in a kind of order," but here comes the doozy: "Cracks in the order may show an alertness to, and duplicitous tolerance for, the actual chaos occurring in the mental space between the reviewer and the work."

What’s throwing all that heat called "actual chaos"? The birth of trust? Berkson’s pages are like starlit nights above the suburbs — to their own devices left, eyeing attic windows in Transylvania, they’re at home among "a host of secret, ephemeral, and often unspeakable perceptions." Best of all is their mysterious shimmer, which appears when an older writer gets replaced by a younger experience. A snapshot of Berkson’s out-of-body landscape as seen from the air: rivers of molten brass with tributaries of friendship bridged by action. Wonderful stuff. A great deal of valuable work. Fifty years of slow-dawning epiphany.



Welcome to the other side. There’s got to be a morning after, and here it is. It brings 14 reasons why the Bay Area doesn’t just create its own political discourse — through art, it charts wonderlands and hells beyond any campaign promise.

The Guardian Outstanding Local Discovery awards turn 20 this year. The Goldie Awards have manifested as marathon-length award ceremonies, wild parties, and even as formal affairs. They’re usually rough around the edges, and always as great as the people they honor. Four years ago, in the immediate wake of George W. Bush’s reelection, Lifetime Achievement winner Bruce Conner exorcised a desolate awards night by dancing. This year’s awards, in part a celebration of all the winners of the last two decades, are dedicated to his memory.

This year’s Goldie winners were selected by the Guardian‘s Kimberly Chun, Cheryl Eddy, and Johnny Ray Huston, with valuable input from our writers and critics, including Robert Avila, Rita Felciano, and Glen Helfand, as well as members of the Bay Area arts community. The people in this issue turn apartments into stages and art galleries, transform entire theaters into stage sets, and bring the changing face of San Francisco to the screen. They make guitars sing, and in turn they sing like well-tuned strings. They write the history of modern art and poetry. They know the force of a cosmic ray. Join them, and us, on Tuesday, Nov. 11 at 111 Minna — 11/11 at 111 — for a celebration. It’s free. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Click below for more on our winners. All winner portraits by Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover Photography

The winners of the 20th annual Goldie Awards



Anything but a vanity press
By Ari Messer

The monkish punk elder of counterculture in the Bay
By Kimberly Chun



Focusing on the mess humans manage to create for themselves
By Rita Felciano


Viewing the city — and its displacements — through the prism of a relationship
By D. Scot Miller

Creating a lively forum for critical engagement with aesthetics
By Matt Sussmanr



Fifty years of slow-dawning epiphany
By Julien Poirier



Sublimely interwoven acoustic and electric guitars and lushly appointed folk-rock
By Kimberly Chun

Concocting a sound that verges on epic, minus muddle
By Johnny Ray Huston

Wembley-sized dreams for the contemporary Krautrockers
By Michael Harkin

Different buzzes in different circles, consciously
By Garrett Caples



It’s often the warped glass that furnishes the truest picture
By Robert Avila



Endangered species to champagne-and-SpaghettiOs
By Johnny Ray Huston

Behold the warp of truth, infinite
By Marke B.

An approach that always includes inviting others into the fold
By Glen Helfand

V. Vale and RE/Search Publications


Call him the monkish punk elder of counterculture in the Bay and fringes wherever they may fray. Behind a monochromatic, black-clad, black-banged façade and unassuming demeanor, V. Vale is a man of so many interests and accomplishments that it’s hard to know where to start. How about with Vale as Punk Showman?

"In 1984 I’m sure I put on one of the greatest shows ever to celebrate our J.G. Ballard book," the 50-plus publisher says. He’s tucked beside a thermos of tea in his book- and collection-crammed office-apartment in a North Beach edifice that, legend has it, Janis Joplin, Odetta, and Paul Robeson once dwelled in. Survival Research Labs and an S-M group were on the Fort Mason bill, and in honor of the occasion Vale visited the junkyard and had them deliver two cars that he selected. "I’m sure people had died in them — there was so much blood in the interior — and they were all crushed down. There’s no way you could survive that!"

Naturally, Vale and SRL rigged up the two bloody junkers to simulate a sex act — doggy-style while yet another car with square wheels and a huge battering ram attacked the humping death-mobiles. The, ahem, climax: a performance by Public Image Ltd.

If that’s not punk — in the classic, highly original, high-low San Francisco style, full of hard-scrabble high spectacle and an edge you can lacerate yourself on — who knows what the fuck is?

It’s just one of many tales — about shooting pistols with "Uncle Bill" Burroughs or watching exotica innovator Martin Denny field a $25,000 royalty check — that emerge during an interview with this lifelong interviewer. His own narrative is just as riveting: he grew up, as part of a minuscule Japanese American minority, in a small town in Riverside County, raised on welfare by a mother who suffered from mental illness. The young Vale read voraciously, from the kitchen table to the bed, which led to his acceptance at Harvard, though an antipathy toward ivy made him choose to attend UC Berkeley instead. In the ’70s, he worked at City Lights, and in 1977, while ripping off the covers of unbought magazines and returning them, he formed the idea to start his own zine about the punk scene combusting right around the corner at Mabuhay Gardens. Search and Destroy was born, with $100 seed money from Allen Ginsberg and matching funds from his boss Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Now lauded as an invaluable document of early punk and a graphic design rule-breaker ("We’d do a layout meeting: ‘Here’s the text. Here are the pictures. Your job is to make this interview as rad as you can’"), Search and Destroy also became a way for Vale to make critical connections between the work and thoughts generated by punk groups and those formulated by artists in other media, as interviews with Vale’s mentors Ballard and Burroughs made their way into the zine.

When the Mabuhay scene turned toward servicing a younger, violent hardcore audience, the zine-maker’s interests shifted as well. Tapped to start a stateside headquarters for Rough Trade in 1980, he convinced founder Geoff Travis to fund a new tabloid, RE/Search, during an all-nighter. Three issues later, Vale moved on to launch a typesetting business, RE/Search Typography, which he ran in North Beach until he sold it in 1991 when he saw that the home computer had finally arrived.

In the meantime, the RE/Search series had become the equivalent of an ever-unfolding countercultural bible: essential reading not only for punks — all the books, Vale swears, are informed by that revolution — but artists, musicians, cultural fire-starters, and trouble-makers of every nonconformist stripe. In turn, Vale built a bridge with his paperbacks between the cultural movers around him and the world of books that has succored him. "I learned long ago that reading is not a passive process," says Vale. "I like to mark up my books. My books are heavily interacted with. I look at books not as books, but as conversations."

The RE/Search volumes Vale is most proud of, on Burroughs and Ballard, resuscitated the former author’s career and threw a proper coming-out party in America for the latter. Vale went so far as to help organize Burroughs’ tour with Laurie Anderson. Meanwhile, RE/Search’s sibling compendiums, Incredibly Strange Movies (1986) and Incredibly Strange Music (1993, Vol. 2 1995), were pivotal in placing filmmakers like Russ Meyer and Herschell Gordon Lewis and music-makers such as Yma Sumac and Ken Nordine in a new canon for culturally conversant hipsters, leading to crucial reissues and reappraisals of their work.

And then there’s RE/Search’s biggest hit. "The most influential of all the books is Modern Primitives [1989], which sparked the whole mainstream mass interest in piercing and tattoos and body modification," says Jello Biafra, who first met Vale in 1978 when Biafra was simply an admirer of Search and Destroy and the vocalist for a then-new band called the Dead Kennedys. "There was very little of that going on compared to what happened after that book came out. Of course, now even secretaries and bank clerks and Bush administration bureaucrats have tattoos, and who knows how many pierced penises are on the Republican National Committee!"

With a new publication, prOnnovation? Pornography and Technological Innovation, just out, and books on Timothy Leary, Burning Man’s Piss Clear newspaper, and steampunk on the horizon, Vale doesn’t have time to be bitter that so many have grabbed ideas from his tomes and run with them. "I would say I’ve had a disproportionate amount of influence," he says. "People tell me, ‘Your Pranks [1987] book inspired Jackass, Punk’d, and god knows how many other TV shows.’ You just keep thinking of your next project and never look back."




"You have different buzzes in different circles," Trackademicks says. "But when everyone’s talking, it sounds like one big noise."

Few know this better than the 27-year-old rapper and producer born Jason Valerio. In San Francisco and Berkeley, the Alameda native is known as a conscious hip-hop performer whose sound embraces electronica,’80s R&B, and new wave. In Oakland, where we’re chatting in his Cool Collar Scholar Productions studio, Trackademicks is perhaps better known for production, making beats for hood rappers like J-Stalin and Mistah FAB.

"FAB put me on," Tracks says. "I gave him a beat disc. He called back hella juiced. I started running around with him, meeting everybody out here." FAB, however, disputes this account.

"He put me on," FAB says, laughing. He used six of the beats on Son of a Pimp (Thizz, 2005). "He gave the album that twist where people will always remember it."

"He reminds me of the Neptunes," Stalin says. "He ain’t the average hip-hop producer. He produces techno."

Though he finds it imprecise, Trackademicks is used to the "techno" tag.

"I don’t do techno," he says. "But people aren’t sure what to call it. What I produce for myself I don’t give to people. I match what I do with what they do. I won’t give someone a track like,Go rap on this,’ and they’ve never rapped over 160 BPM. There’s a right way to do everything."

This approach is evident on Track’s midtempo number on Stalin’s new Gas Nation (Livewire/SMC), "Millionaire Status," which highlights futuristic soundwaves atop the ’80s-style 808 drums that characterize Stalin’s music — a perfect blend of what they do. Like Tracks says on his own song "Grocery Bills," "I get mob when I make instrumentals."

Even as he’s branched out nationally, producing for Kid Sister and Phonte of Little Brother, among others, Trackademicks is primarily an artist, working solo and with his crew, the Honor Roll. While shopping for an album deal, he’s about to drop his first official solo release — a 12-inch, "Enjoy What You Do"/"Topsidin’" — on the Fool’s Gold label. With its improbable throwback chorus — from Wham’s "Wham Rap" — and an electronica/go-go-style groove, "Enjoy" is one of the most original hip-hop tunes I’ve heard lately. Its quotation of Digital Underground’s "Doowhutchalike" is apt: like DU, Tracks combines streetwise knowledge with more uplifting themes.

"My aim is to build bridges," he says. "I’m black and Filipino. I feel at home in a lot of places.

"My goal is to have every kind of people at my shows," he continues. "Not just every race — let’s go deeper. It’s about class, about culture. People say they want everybody, but how are you speaking to them? I’m taking steps to speak to different audiences." Part of his success has been avoiding preachiness in favor of celebrating the typical joys of rap — girls, cruisin’ around, looking sharp, having skills.

"Kids believe the hype," he says. "You should let them know — you need a job to live. We have a responsibility as artists to report the truth, all sides of it. The important thing is to articulate, to communicate all facets of a person as opposed to one thing."

As for his own multifaceted artistic life, Trackademicks is content. "I don’t worry anymore. Real recognize real, game recognize game — that’s how it’s going to be."


Margaret Tedesco


Walking down the street the other day, Margaret Tedesco was struck by an oddly inspiring slogan on a slick poster for a Las Vegas spa: Live vicariously through no one.

"I saw that and thought, ‘This is me,’" she says enthusiastically. "I have my own agenda, and the biggest thrill of all is the surprise I find living it myself."

The indie spirit of that comment may sound a bit self-centered, but Tedesco’s approach to that agenda always includes inviting others into the fold. Whatever she puts her mind to, be it performance (often involving film and a persona-altering blonde wig), choreography, photographic works, publications, or, most recently, the cozy, artist-run [ 2nd Floor Projects ] gallery in the Mission, it invariably brings people together in dialogue and shared experience.

Tedesco’s performance and wall-based art are in public circulation — she was included in "Bay Area Now 4" at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, is contributing a live piece to a program at Slaughterhouse Space in Healdsburg this month, and is currently part of a group show of artist-gallerists at Blankspace in Oakland. There, she has raided her archives to present images of her history, including her participation in political activism in the late 1960s.

But it’s [ 2nd Floor Projects ], which Tedesco debuted in April 2007, which has garnered the most consistent attention, both locally and in the international art press. The gallery is very much her space, and it functions as a Sunday afternoon salon, a place where you can count on finding interesting art and conversation. Chances are, Tedesco will tell you about another event that evening — a notable writer, perhaps, giving a reading in a similarly salon-like setting — or she’ll introduce you to another artist who just came in to see the show. She’s lived here two decades, time enough to know hundreds of creative souls, and she’s worked for years as a graphic designer at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she is as much a mentor to students as a support to faculty.

Tedesco, it seems, knows just about everyone, and not only within a single genre box. Her community is truly multimedia. It includes writers, artists, filmmakers, thinkers, activists, eccentrics, and adventurers of all stripes. And she actively brings people together as a component of her work. Combining her keen interests in art and writing, she produces a limited-edition publication for each of the exhibitions in her space, pairing a writer with an artist. For a randy show of rarely seen drawings and paintings by twin brothers and legendary filmmakers George and Mike Kuchar, poet Eileen Myles created a broadside. Novelist Dodie Bellamy wrote an appreciation of British artist Tariq Alvi for his exhibit at the gallery. For an upcoming show of works by the late filmmaker Curt McDowell, Tedesco has tapped filmmaker/writer William E. Jones, who, she learned, is planning a McDowell biography. I know from experience — Tedesco invited me to write for a show by Nao Bustamante — that the goal is to generate writing that exists outside the standard art magazine form.

This type of matchmaking is one example of the kind of vicarious thrill Tedesco thrives on. "The joy of any exchange is watching it perform before my eyes. I get to be surprised," she says. And so do we.


Kamau Patton


At the cacophonous intersection of Sun Ra’s wheeling jazz cosmology, P-Funk’s psycho-disco logorrhea, Clarence 13X’s alpha-beta-culto Five-Percent Nation, the early ’90s vainglorious hip-hop of X-Clan, Isis, and Blackwatch, and The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly (1950-64), that sprawling, tinfoil-bedazzled outsider masterpiece by Washington, DC, handyman James Hampton, lies a crazy-ass aesthetic of African American visual and performance culture — the culture of flash. 36-year-old Kamau Amu Patton taps directly into this interstellar shine-on-shine look and feel, jettisoning — or maybe out-transcending — the quasi-theological messages in order to dazzle the mind’s eye blackwards.

Consider Patton’s Talk Show (2007). Two archetypal afrocentric public-access cable hosts, both played by Patton, decked out in on-point dashikis and shells before a pixel projection of Hampton’s Throne, dissemble circuitous phrases. "Knowledge is the foundation of all that is existence … You must respect the thing you observe as being real!" one declaims, while the other sighs loudly and eggs him on: "Ah, damn — that’s the truth." A little silver prayer bell is rung and a 1-800 number flashes across the screen. Telephone message: "Behold, the light has come! Speak on!"

Talk Show‘s blank parody should dead-end in hilarity for anyone familiar with these types of folks. But the dreamlike accumulation of gaudy signifiers, as well as the sense that this is a completely unexplored cultural trope, rockets the video into more thoughtful realms. "I wanted to point up the tautologies of that kind of discourse, to capture the exact aesthetic while highlighting the circular rhythms of delivery, the language of persuasion," Patton says. "But at the same time I felt a responsibility to perfectly perform these characters, the kind of people I grew up with in Brooklyn, who were on my street corner preaching like that. I really freaked out over getting the sunglasses exactly right."

That will to performance perfection, evidenced in several of his other live works, is grounded in Patton’s educational background. He holds a sociology degree from the University of Pennsylvania and completed field coursework at the London School of Economics. "I grew disillusioned with sociology because it seemed the opposite of what I felt I was interested in," says Patton, who educates Bay Area kids on the artistic legacies of their particular communities. "I wanted to start with something tangible, or several things, and use them as a jumping-off point to continuous abstract revelations. It’s a generative aesthetic kind of thing. To keep going down a certain illuminated hallway in my work. At the same time, I’m a black man in America, so I have a certain perception or set of experiences that I can draw on as well. I’m definitely drawn to the shamanistic and the kingly — especially African American representations of the kingly. I can go off on what Eric B. and Rakim were wearing on their first album cover for hours."

Other Patton confluences of the statistical and the flashy: his performances as part of the hip-hop and fashion collective Official Tourist; this year’s gorgeous self-published book Edge Theory of Dematerialized Consciousness, a wiggy, chthonic numerical-poetic tract punctuated by eerie nature photographs; and an unnamed retro-digital-video assemblage, viewable at www.kamau.org, in which Patton, as a voodooistic priest, writhes around a hissing explosion, whose glitchy "digital dropouts" and color-balance freakouts are meant to be Cézanne-like portals into other dimensions. Currently, the Emeryville-based Patton is artist-in-residence at Southern Exposure. He’s represented there by a retina-searing collaboration with photographer Suzy Poling called "Glasshouse," which uses e-wasted CRT screens to bend light into hallucination. Behold the warp of truth, infinite.




There is an Alfred Jarry quote at the top of kino21’s Web site: "It’s always those who can’t who try." Jarry’s pithy observation might seem like a backhanded compliment on what motivates the underdog, but it also nicely encapsulates the risk-taking and politically provocative sensibility that kino21 founders and organizers Irina Leimbacher and Konrad Steiner bring to their screenings. "We wanted people to see films as a community, to talk about them as you see them, rather than about them, privately," reflects Steiner over the phone. "It’s always hot and cold — it depends on the show. It’s hard to say if the goal is ever reached, but the point is that we have consistently been showing these films."

Leimbacher and Steiner joined forces in February 2007 to create a more moveable and multivalent forum for the kind of curatorial work they had been doing together at San Francisco Cinematheque from 2003-06, when Leimbacher was associate curator, and then artistic director, and Steiner was on the curatorial committee. Since their inaugural screening of Yvonne Rainer’s Journeys From Berlin/1971 (1980), a freewheeling personal investigation of the psychic and political fallout of violence, kino21 has presented films by canonical members of the avant-garde such as Chris Marker and Warren Sonbert. They’ve also expanded cinema through events such as the New Talkies or Neo-Benshi Cabaret, and their multimedia reinterpretation of Jarry’s The 10,000 Mile Bike Race.

While kino21’s array of events is certainly eclectic, Leimbacher and Steiner pay attention to the order of things when filling out their calendar: the question of how different screenings will resonate with or deflect off each other is always kept in mind. One example: Schindler’s Houses (2007), Heinz Emigholz’s meditative portrait of modernist architect Rudolf Schindler’s constructions, was screened on the heels of a double bill consisting of Kamal Aljafari’s The Roof (2006) and James T. Hong’s This Shall Be a Sign, which both investigate the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by way of architecture and urban development.

Even when programming older work, such as last April’s screening of Bruce Baillie’s rarely-exhibited 1970 Quick Billy or Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (1973), Leimbacher and Steiner aren’t, in Steiner’s words, "trying to recuperate or resuscitate someone’s reputation, but to show their continuity with the present moment." As he puts it: "To draw historical work back and make it relevant, rather than nostalgic — that’s what we hope to accomplish."

Kino21’s most ambitious and certainly timely project is the current five-part "How We Fight" series. Evoking Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series of World War II-era propaganda films for the United States, "How We Fight" presents international works that investigate the various ground truths of those doing the fighting. "We wanted to show films that looked at war, but not from some specific ideological or moral perspective," Leimbacher explains. "Instead [they] actually explore and visually convey the experience of what it means, in the short and long run, to be a soldier." From Joseph Strick’s historic interviews with My Lai veterans, to recent footage shot by soldiers and mercenaries on the frontlines of Iraq, to Stefano Savona’s controversial, diaristic portrait of Kurdish terrorists, the films in "How We Fight" demand an honest emotional as well as critical response.

A forum for this sort of critical engagement with aesthetics, in fact, is exactly what kino21 creates. "There’s an aspect of art where we use it to better our lives. But there’s another aspect where we use it to investigate our lives," Steiner says. "We try to do the latter."


Jonas Reinhardt


He doesn’t seem like someone who’d perform at an arena, but Jesse Reiner’s aural ambitions as a contemporary Krautrocker are Wembley-sized. "I would love it if we were playing in stadiums," he says of his solo synthesizer project, Jonas Reinhardt, citing no interest in celebrity but expressing a deep amazement at the apparent scale of Tangerine Dream’s gigs in the ’70s. "They were a big band! It amazes me that people had that much patience for that."

This amazement folds neatly into Reiner’s shimmery present-day endeavor, which only recently, with the advent of Norwegian space-disco and the West Coast’s various strands of tripped ambient, did he feel might draw any audience at all. It’s clearly a liberating undertaking for the Berlin School enthusiast: much of our conversation at a bar in the Mission is gladly given over to his influences, ranging from Klaus Dinger’s caveman-like "motorik" drum sound in Neu! to the heavenly, droning thrum of White Rainbow up in Portland, Ore. Many may know Reiner for his synth and guitar contributions to Ascended Master, Crime in Choir, and Citay, which he left earlier this year. While his first record for Kranky as Jonas Reinhardt is deeply influenced by German electronic sounds, the project in no way sounds like a non sequitur alongside his other bands.

It was some time ago — the mid-’90s — when Reiner was won over by analog synths as a college student, discovering such electronic/ambient innovators as Michael Garrison, Klaus Schulze, and Manuel Göttsching. He and a friend entertained the idea of making a record they could pass off as a lost recording by two imaginary Düsseldorf academics: "Wilhelm Freuder" and "Jonas Reinhardt."

The moniker has become useful again as a vaguely defined face for the launch of this new project. As Reiner describes it, Reinhardt is a "suave European guy who makes very continental, European-type electronic music and lives in Monaco." Goofy as the premise is, placing the project’s image at a remove from the actual musicians behind it has proven appropriate, as Jonas Reinhardt is a solo endeavor in the loosest sense of the word: performances have happened as a trio with Damon Palermo of Mi Ami on drums and Kenny Hopper, also of Crime in Choir, on bass. Just recently, the band took on a fourth member in guitarist Phil Manley of Trans Am and the Fucking Champs, who provided tape treatments for the project’s debut, which Reiner recorded himself.

The full-length, Reinhardt’s second release after this summer’s Modern by Nature’s Reward EP on iTunes, is a shiny, cerebral pleasure where the synths hiss and gleam through a set of tunes that often feels as improbably bubbly and vintage as Matmos’ recent all-synth undertaking, Supreme Balloon (Matador). There is grit to the Reinhardt beat, however, and its sound takes on a more danceable form live, as could be seen at its YouTube-d Big Sur appearances, the first of which was an after-party gig for Kraut legends Cluster. Basic tracks have begun for the next record, which Reiner predicts will be more beat-driven. For a fictional character, Reinhardt is quite eager to collaborate, too: Reiner hopes to record various "Jonas Reinhardt and So ‘n’ So" discs in the coming months and years.

Barry Jenkins


Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy was one of the biggest successes of this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, but it almost didn’t happen.

"We shot the movie fast and thought maybe we could pass it around to friends," Jenkins says. "I started cutting it and said to myself, ‘This is really coming together. Fuck it, let’s try to get it into the San Francisco International Film Festival.’ I looked on the website and the deadline had already passed. But I’d stopped (San Francisco Film Society Executive Director) Graham Leggat coming out of the bathroom at another film festival — it was rude, you should never stop someone coming out of the bathroom — and he remembered me and gave my film a fair viewing. God bless him."

Medicine For Melancholy, Jenkins’ first feature, is a love story about Micah (Wyatt Cinach) and Jo (Tracey Heggins), two black San Franciscans who come together and fall apart over a 24-hour period. Race, displacement, and resentment play into their affair in surprising and subtle ways.

"I had the idea for this movie years ago," Jenkins says, "and I’d placed it in Chicago or New York City, but to me the city had to be a character. That could only be San Francisco. It would be silly for Micah to be so into Jo in New York or Chicago. [Meeting] Jo here makes him like an explorer in the Amazon who has come across an endangered species. He wants to run everything that’s happening, to him and the city, by her. If he would shut the fuck up, he could get the girl."

Though framed as a romance, Medicine tackles one of the most pressing — and overlooked — issues in San Francisco: black people, and the city’s lack thereof.

"Micah is based on this person I became after my first functional interracial relationship dissolved," Jenkins says. "When I moved to San Francisco, I was viewing the city through the prism of this relationship, living in this great, multi-culti San Francisco. When that relationship ended, San Francisco became a different place. There’s a great indie arts scene here, a great indie music scene, but they’re predominantly, if not entirely, white. You don’t consciously become aware of it until one day you look around and say, ‘Oh shit, I’m the Last Black Man on Earth!’

"The question became: Is there a place for me as a black man in San Francisco? Sure, there is. In LA, I couldn’t write for two years. I come to San Francisco and over the first eight months, I’d written five screenplays. One of which became my first film. But it seems like nothing can stem the tide of the migration of all people of a certain economic background — people who’ve had to leave San Francisco, and who are now commuting to keep the city beautiful for people who make tons of money.

"For a time, there was a proliferation of gentrification in San Francisco, but it is shifting to displacement, and not just displacement based on race, but displacement of anyone who cannot afford to live here. And I think the reason it has proliferated is because not enough folks have taken the city to task. There have been folks, like the Guardian, who write about this shit all the time, but a lot of folks have been afraid to speak out."

This writer is here to tell you: it’s not too late.


Matt Furie


There is no emoticon that captures how it feels to look at Matt Furie’s art. But if anyone could create one, it would be Furie. Funny, frightening, disgusting, and endearing all at once, his drawings and paintings and comic books are both direct and unpredictable.

This past year brought a number of new shows by the self-described "Lord of Moldovia," who has brought space-hopping creativity to Bay Area art over the last five years. "Nature Freak" at Jack Fischer Gallery blasted the 49 Geary first-Thursday crowds with sexually graphic and seriously morbid imagery — but in a good-natured way. Vine-veined creatures cradled infant-size mates. A cadaverous Mother Nature and a two-legged beast with a beaked asshole for a head took a doggy-style page from The Joy of Sex. "I researched the Black Plague, and thought about the whole modern dilemma," Furie explains with typical low-key candor, as we sit outside a Russian Hill café and watch people yammer into cell phones on their way to the gym. ("This is an SF Weekly neighborhood, people here don’t read the Guardian," he jokes.)

No Bay Area art show this year matched the uncanny pleasure of Furie’s show "Heads," at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery. He crammed the small space with hundreds of drawn or painted heads, solo and in groups: a scrappy chick (as in female bird) with a sideways ponytail and a heart-shaped pendant; frogs and gators with mirrored shades; a triple-scoop ice cream cone sporting a bereft expression; a tough and pissed-off hot dog with an ear-piercing; hamburger-bun eyes. An installation that crammed stuffed animals beneath a giant fan evoked Mike Kelley, but Furie’s deeper passions run from Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Bruegel ("He’s the master") to R. Crumb and Charles Schulz. Beneath the comic imagery — and within his talent for rendering personality — lurks truly imaginative social commentary. "There’s a balance between having fun and being conscious of the views I have," Furie says. "I’m concerned with ecology and animal welfare. It comes out, but I don’t want to do it with a heavy hand. I want it to sneak up on you."

Attention readers: Also in 2008, Buenaventura Press published boy’s club and boy’s club #2, where the artist (who appreciates the absurdity of the Geico gecko and of Mystery from VH1’s The Pick Up Artist) uses a Sesame Street palette to render the antics of a Furie-ous four: easygoing and smart-assed Andy, stylin’ and energetic Bret, prankish and party-ready Landwolf, and everyman-with-a-frog-face Pepe. Unlike the unnamed characters of “Heads” — an acid-spiked Kool Aid mass portrait of San Francisco hipsterdom with perhaps more breadth and wamth than the subject deserves — the comic-book bros of boy’s club are drawn from aspects of Furie’s personality. "I’m going back to a time in my life when I didn’t think about factory farming," he says. "Growing up in Ohio, I did a lot of goofing off indoors."

From the growing number of endangered species to the perils of a champagne-and-SpaghettiOs diet, you can count on Matt Furie to get it all down on paper. "It’s better than working in a slaughterhouse," he admits. "Or being a politician."


Erin Mei-Ling Stuart


When Erin Mei-Ling Stuart packed her bags to leave her hometown of Fresno in 1992, she included her viola — because she had won a scholarship to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Here, however, she played so much that she developed tendinitis and had to take a break. That’s when dance kicked in. Big time.

The viola went into the closet, and Stuart started to study modern dance — she had dabbled in ballet as a child — first at City College and then in just about every studio she could find. She turned herself into a liquid, sensuously vulnerable performer who learned to work with anybody who piqued her interest. Some were choreographers who sought direct input from their dancers — Erika Chong Shuch, Jesselito Bie, Stephen Pelton, and Chris Black — while others, like Nancy Karp, Jennie McAllister, and Deborah Slater, created along more traditional, formal lines.

Stuart learned from both approaches and expresses no preference. "There is such freedom when you can make up movement, but also it’s wonderful when you can just show up and dance," she explains.

Along the way, Stuart started to choreograph, often creating vignettes with casual looks that belie the attention to detail behind their making. These sketches and miniatures are frequently funny, evoking not a guffaw but a chuckle. They bring to life characters we probably have known or whose experiences we have shared. And Stuart does so without a word — she works purely through movement. Remember your prissy elementary school teacher and the know-it-all class brat? Stuart did in Continuing Education (2006). Have you ever been in an elevator with one other person so different from yourself that you felt creeped out? Stuart has, in Between Floors (2002). Do you walk in a neighborhood of lost souls who nonetheless furtively relate to each other? You’ll recognize its inhabitants in Songs for You (2004). And do you live with roommates? She does in her most recent work Keyhole Dances.

Stuart freely confesses that her commitment to create formally cogent dances "rubs up against a desire to examine often overlooked aspects of everyday life," and that she likes to work with "the shared intimacy of daily experience." She knows that she is old-fashioned that way. "I can’t help it," she says. "I like to make dances about relationships."

What she sees — on the bus, on the street corner, in the coffee shop — is us, more or less bungling our way through the day-to-day grind. That’s where she gets her material. If there is a political component to her work — and I happen to think that there is — it is an implied criticism of the social institutions to which we commit ourselves or by which we let ourselves be trapped.

Stuart does skewer, but does so gently, focusing on the mess humans manage to create for themselves. For her recent excursion into a mess — Sara Shelton Mann’s My Hot Lobotomy, which looks at the difficulty of staying sane given our environmental policies — the dancer took her viola out of the closet.


The Dodos


At the beginning of 2008, San Francisco knew about the Dodos. Eleven months later, a lot more of the world does. This is largely due to Visiter (Frenchkiss), the group’s vibrant second album. Mojo, NME, Pitchfork, and a few dozen other musical arbiters have joined a chorus of praise for the 14-song collection decked out in kid-drawing sleeve art. Mention Led Zeppelin’s III (Atlantic, 1970) and Physical Graffiti (Swan Song, 1975) here, cite the influence of West African syncopation there, and you have the ingredients of a typical rave for vocalist-guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber. But the appeal and the rewards of Visiter transcend such reference points, tapping into something individually instinctive and collaboratively intuitive. It’s there in the spirit of Krober’s rhythms, a spirit which has nothing to do with the contrivances of the current indie Afrobeat vogue. It’s there in Long’s vocal melodies, which possess a rare, casually natural aplomb. It’s there in the way they work together.

"It’s a really slow process," Long says when asked about the sing-your-life quality of his tenor vocals. "Something has to sit with me for a really long time. I’ll happen on a rhythm or melody and take it with me wherever I go. It’s a practice."

Sequestered in his bedroom for much of the last month because of mono, Long has been writing new tunes in between the occasional trip to the corner store or walk around the block. "I have this [unfinished] song stuck in my head — it’s worked its way in and I don’t like it," he says. "But I’ll probably love it eventually and it’ll become my favorite song." While many critics might think that Robert and Jimmy or John and Paul are the songwriters Long aspires to match when he croons to a girl ("Jodi," "Ashley") or renders masculine foibles ("Men," "Beards," "Fools"), that isn’t necessarily the case. He’s just as likely to strive for the effect of a less canonical duo: Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. "I’ll know something is good because it reminds me of OMD," he enthuses. "It sounds like home."

The Dodos have recorded both their albums — Visiter and 2006’s self-released Beware of the Maniacs — in Portland, Ore., with John Askew. That producer’s past studio experience with the Northwest’s plethora of indie and punk duos informs the surprising scope and dynamics of his work with the Dodos. While labels like K and Kill Rock Stars and groups such as Beat Happening and the Spinanes have revealed the merits of a two-piece approach, the Dodos build upon that exploration, concocting a sound that verges on epic without ever becoming muddled. Long views the group’s initial formation as a matter of economic practicality as much as aesthetic tactics and, indeed, a third member, Joe Haener, has recently joined the group.

For much of this year, Long and Kroeber have been touring. "It gets to the point where you’re playing and performing and it’s all about muscle memory," Long says. The repetition of life on the road, of playing the same songs over and over, has something to do with that feeling. But Long and Kroeber’s music is physical — it gets down into the veins and bones and heart. It’s simple, really. The Dodos move you. (Johnny Ray Huston)

The Dodos play with Kelley Stoltz Thurs/6, 8 p.m., at Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus, SF. (415) 474-0365.



The Cutting Ball Theater


If you were at the latest Cutting Ball show, avantgardARAMA!, you entered a theater that looked like an art installation, already buzzing and flickering with video images on a screen suspended in front of a shimmering mirror-box set, accompanied by a soundtrack of voices and droning tones. It was like some serenely wicked room in a purgatorial funhouse, where all you’ve been and all you might become could be reflected at you, from every possible angle, ad infinitum. As it turned out, it was an environment perfectly suited to the material sharply staged that evening: three short experimental plays on war, power, and betrayal by three women writers — Gertrude Stein, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Eugenie Chan — whose bold narrative loops and lacunae literally rebounded off the walls.

The stylish, jarring, exhilarating effect: our sleepwalking world was dramatically distilled into fractal-like figures that somehow made it real again. This is the oblique strategy of the Cutting Ball Theater, a passionately intelligent and skillful company with a declared commitment to poetic truths over superficial naturalism.

As it approaches its 10-year milestone, Cutting Ball transitions from dogged itinerancy into luxurious residency at Exit on Taylor, a satellite stage of the Exit Theater complex in the Tenderloin. Much as a ball rolls forward by turning full circle, the move marks something of a return for the company, which launched its career in a production of Richard Foreman’s My Head Was a Sledgehammer at the Exit-sponsored San Francisco Fringe Festival in 1999.

"That was the last time you had to stand outside at 3 in the morning and camp out," associate artistic director and actor Paige Rogers recalls of that time, before the Fringe established its lottery system. Rogers, and husband and artistic director Rob Melrose, established both the company and a family that year, more or less simultaneously. Melrose did the camping out and rehearsed the play by night at an Alameda Catholic school where Rogers was teaching music.

(As with many a start-up theater, overlapping accommodations was the name of the tune: when the school’s principal expressed surprise at happening upon a late-night rehearsal of Foreman’s madcap dream-world in the kindergarten, Rogers deflected further inquiry by joyfully announcing, "Marilyn! I’m pregnant!")

Cutting Ball has mixed new plays and "re-visioned" classics ever since. The visual metaphor is apt since Cutting Ball productions are nothing if not strikingly designed. For years, the company has had a talented core of collaborators that includes designers Heather Basarab (lights), Cliff Caruthers (sound and electronic music), and Michael Locher (sets). Together in close collaboration with the astute, Yale-trained Melrose, they regularly produce some of the best designs to be found on any Bay Area stage, large or small. Add artistic associates like playwrights Kevin Oakes (2003’s The Vomit Talk of Ghosts) and Eugenie Chan (whose A Bone to Pick was a highlight of this theater season), as well as dependably strong acting from Rogers, Felicia Benefield, Chad Deverman, David Sinaiko, and David Westley Skillman, among others, and you have the makings of some great small theater.

The new residency marks another return. Its ninth season will be inaugurated by a rarely staged early play by Eugène Ionesco, Victims of Duty, a work Melrose says he’s waited 15 years to direct. Centering on the abrupt crisis-ridden invasion of a bourgeois couple’s placid bubble-world and their equally staid conceptions of theatrical art, Victims is a fever-dream of a play that not only sounds strikingly contemporary but echoes the company’s own MO. When theater "holds the mirror up to the world," it’s often the warped glass that furnishes the truest picture.


Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Books


The first book I held close to my heart was Italian poet Antonio Porta’s 1987 Kisses from Another Dream, number 44 in the ongoing City Lights Pocket Poets Series. I bought it on a trip to the city from Santa Cruz when I was around 17, and I savored every line, whipping out the book at coffee shops and other high school hangouts, in attics late at night, at beach bonfires, and even for a speech at one friend’s funeral. It wasn’t just the eerily direct poems that turned me on, nor the delightful format (which has remained basically unchanged in the series aside from modernized cover designs), but a feeling of participation in a tradition that began with the first City Lights Publications book, founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Pictures of the Gone World in 1955, and that has continued with wordsmiths and thinkers from Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski to Tom Hayden, Terry Wolverton, and San Francisco poet laureate Jack Hirschman.

I am biased about City Lights, but isn’t that the mark of good publishers — to increase readers’ bias toward purveyors of quality writing and thought? To this end, City Lights has participated in a type of conscious branding of which Americans can be proud. The publisher and North Beach bookstore continues to be marked by fierce, heartfelt works that seem to emanate from their instantly recognizable Y-with-an-O-on-top logo of a human in a state of ecstasy, outrage, celebration, and/or soothsaying.

Having worked in numerous positions in the small press world, I continue to be annoyed by the oddly prevalent idea that putting out more books — including those of low quality which you think will sell — somehow guarantees success. Despite this type of bingeing, the information age has ushered in a new set of consumers whose interests, resources, and appetites run so wide that they crave guidance across the board. From the Slow Food movement to Bookforum.com’s daily online roundups, people are willing to research and improve most areas of their lives. Publishers have long served this need, and under the guidance of the current executive director, Elaine Katzenberger, and others such as editor and Guardian contributor Garrett Caples, co-owner Nancy Peters, and Open Media Series acquiring editor Greg Ruggiero, City Lights is increasing the potential of real and literary democracy.

At a publishing-world dinner a little while back, Katzenberger impressed me with her eloquent dedication to publishing good writing without unreasonable marketing goals. Obviously City Lights wants its books to sell, but there’s no reason to expect Oprah’s Book Club-type numbers. Part of the reason the press is still in business is that it has taken risks on good but unknown writers, not on bad but marketable mishmash. In his introduction to 1995’s City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology, Ferlinghetti writes: "The function of the independent press (besides being essentially dissident) is still to discover — to find the new voices and give voice to them — and then let the big publishers have at them." He goes on to remark that although City Lights initially tapped into the Beat scene, it has continued to respond to current circumstances: "From the beginning the aim was to publish across the board, avoiding the provincial and the academic, and not publishing (that pitfall of the little press) just our ‘gang.’ I had in mind rather an international, dissident, insurgent ferment."

In a recent column for Slate, Emily Yoffe noted that taking offense — especially taking offense at taking offense — has become a "political leitmotif" during the seemingly endless election season. Any actual discussion disappears into the mist. City Lights’ political output, whether you agree with individual authors or not, has certainly worked against the reactionary bullshit and political fluff that plagues politics everywhere. It’s been good to see them bringing this cultural literacy to more art-related titles of late, including 2007’s All Over Coffee by Paul Madonna and this year’s Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun by Wafaa Bilal and Kari Lydersen, a much-needed evaluation of Bilal’s controversial project.

One of the poems in that heart-close Porta volume is "You Continue to Ask What Silence Is." If poetry comes from silence, and politics from the space between dreams and reality, then City Lights knows what silence is, and this is why its authors scream so sweetly. A Lifetime Achievement award is as much a hymn to co-owner Ferlinghetti’s life and early organizational skills as to what City Lights has become. Though he has technically passed over the editorial reins, Ferlinghetti remains involved in the press and also, in terms of his own writing, intentionally uninvolved: he has kept New Directions, over on the other coast, as the publisher of his own writing, ensuring that in an age of celebrity and numbness, City Lights is anything but a vanity press.




"There’s lots of ways to be a Guitar Hero. I just think it would be cooler if people tried to be real guitar heroes. I want people to find their inner guitar hero."

Amen, Ezra Feinberg. The Citay songwriter freely admits he’s never played the game, but we know exactly what he means: why add the competitive veneer of a sporting match to something as inherently pleasurable as playing guitar? Feinberg needed no prod when he started practicing. "I was really nerdy," he recalls of his hermetic early music-making sessions. "I wanted to learn my instrument really well, and I was really into guitar technique, and I used to sit in my bedroom and learn complicated guitar parts like Van Halen."

Then one day he realized, "Wait a minute, it’s much more fun and interesting and cool to work on songs and work on playing with different people and in different styles rather than sit in my room."

Metal, classic rock, jazz, fusion, punk, indie, and "weirder" sounds all left an impression, but after putting in time with the Piano Magic collective and the "stonery" Feast, Feinberg seems to have finally found his voice amid Citay’s fragrant blend of psychedelia, folk, synth-rock, and AOR. Taking its name from a Feinberg mixtape of songs utilizing that only-in-rock pronunciation ("The Journey song is included, but there’s also ‘Living for the City’ by Stevie Wonder and ‘Fool for the City’ by Foghat"), the onetime home recording project assumed a life of its own after Feinberg’s move in 2004 from Brooklyn to San Francisco, in collaboration with Tim Green of the Fucking Champs, who had previously recorded Feast.

Seemingly bursting full-blown from the brow of a rock ‘n’ roll Zeus, Citay’s startlingly excellent 2006 self-titled debut found a home on Important Records, inspiring Feinberg to tell people "we were their Partridge Family, next to all the found sound shit, Merzbow, Axolotl."

Naturally, Feinberg adds, "The next challenge was to see if these songs could be pulled off live because it was a studio-centric project." But no worries, he managed wonderfully, with the help of, at various times, Green and members of Tussle, Ascended Master, and Skygreen Leopards. The latest additions — following the amicable departure of Jesse Reiner of Jonas Reinhardt and Crime in Choir, and Adria Otte of the Dry Spells (Feinberg also drums with that band of kindred Bard graduates) — are Sean Smith and Josh Pollock of Daevid Allen’s University of Errors. And how does he rope in such talented players? "I’m pretty gregarious," drawls Feinberg, sounding like those nerdy homebound practice sessions are far behind him.

Still, judging from the sublimely interwoven acoustic and electric guitars and lushly appointed folk-rock streaked with sweeping synthesizer found on Citay’s most recent long-player, Little Kingdom (Dead Oceans), perhaps the onetime bedroom-rocker’s guitar hero — and musical visionary — days are here to stay.

Citay perform at the Goldies party, Tues/11, 9 p.m., free. 111 Minna Gallery, SF. (415) 974-1719



My kingdom for a dumpling


› paulr@sfbg.com

As kingdoms go, Kingdom of Dumpling is a rather Lilliputian affair — a runt, actually, if that word can be used in conjunction with "kingdom." Dumplings are small objects, of course, even the Bavarian ones made from potatoes, also known as knödel, and they seem even smaller when described in the singular. Kingdom of Dumpling? Is there only one kind of dumpling, or only one permitted per customer, or (our worst-case scenario) only one of one kind permitted per customer? The answers are No, No, and No — but I leap ahead.

The Kingdom (an adjunct of Kingdom of Chinese Dumpling, on Noriega) opened last spring, in the snug Sunset space once occupied by the excellent David’s Kitchen. That restaurant was a culinary multilinguist, fluent in the major idioms of east and southeast Asian cuisines; it was like a miniature Straits Cafe. The new place has retained much of that spirit, right down to the Magic Marker board that hangs above one corner of the dining room proclaiming the day’s specials, such as duck curry. David’s Kitchen offered a similar dish, if I remember rightly.

What is different is the massive infusion of dumplings, steamed buns, and general dim-summery. If you’re a haunter of noodle bars, this is an alternate universe. It’s as if some restaurant geneticist created a hybrid by mixing the DNA of a pan-Asian place and a dim sum house — and did so in a space that would feel crowded with a dozen people inside. But the space is still an attractive shade of creamy yellow, the tables and chairs are comfortable, and the food is excellent.

The truly fresh, handmade Chinese dumpling is a revelation, when you actually find one and bite into it. KoD’s are warm and juicy inside their soft pouches of dough; eating one is like biting into a piece of perfectly fresh fruit that’s been warmed by the sun, except the flavors aren’t fruity but (in the main) meaty, with generous tweakings of ginger and garlic. I liked the pork dumpling with napa cabbage ($5.95) slightly better than the chicken dumpling with corn ($6.45), mainly because the chicken didn’t assert itself with quite the same quiet sensuousness as the pork, and the peak-of-the-season corn was a little too sweet. But either way, you get a dozen for about six bucks, and the individual dumplings aren’t small.

The appeal of warm food is primal — does the heat sound an ancient echo of fresh kill? — but cold dishes have their own charms, especially when they’re as tasty as KoD’s. Marinated seaweed salad ($3.95) is a treat I associate with Japanese restaurants, but KoD’s is just as good, if in a quite different way. The seaweed itself, for starters, isn’t a mass of green, crinkled threads but a bowlful of what look like julienne poblano peppers, or perhaps tiny eels that have only just stopped writhing. And while Japanese seaweed salads are typically dressed with some form of ponzu sauce, KoD’s carries another charge, more savory and with less citrus-tart balance.

A salad of bean stick ($4.95) consisted of flaps of bean curd — corrugated, like Ruffles potato chips — and tossed with plenty of chopped cilantro. With some minced garlic and grated ginger, this simple ensemble became addictive, and the fact that was served cold — not cold, really, more on the low end of room temperature — faded from one’s consciousness, bite by bite.

More minced garlic was assigned to enliven crispy lotus root ($5.95), an enormous platter of cream-colored disks punctuated by vacuole-like interior spaces. I had the brief sense of examining a cross-section of bacteria under a microscope. The root sections themselves were indeed tender-crispy, as if they’d been briefly stir-fried, steamed, or otherwise tenderly handled; lotus root is really a starchy rhizome, and while some authorities compare it to potato, it reminded me of a cross between jicama and daikon. The root is rich in various vitamins and minerals as well as dietary fiber and is widely enjoyed throughout east Asia.

XO sauce, as browsers at Asian markets may know, is an irresistible, if pricey, confection — a lumpy paste — of dried seafood (including shrimp and scallop) along with various seasonings and degrees of chili heat. It’s quite good right out of the jar, as I am embarrassed to say I know from personal (though not recent) experience. How much better, though, to use the precious XO to flavor a dish like beef chow fun ($6.95), a Cantonese festival of wide noodles, strips of tender meat, and bean sprouts. The color palette here was a little too thoroughly earthen to be ideal, but the glistening of the noodles and beef did bring a bit of joy to the eye.

It’s not surprising that a restaurant serving food this tasty, interesting, and carefully prepared at such modest prices should attract young people, nor that — given the restaurant’s location deep in the Sunset District — so many of those young people should appear to be of Asian ancestry. Their presence suggests that some kind of college or university campus must lie nearby, but we couldn’t think of one. City College? Not too close. San Francisco State? Closer, though hardly at hand. The Sunset might be a neighborhood not a kingdom, but it’s a pretty good-sized neighborhood that shows signs of reinvention and renewal — and now it has a place where you can eat like a king, for a lot less than the king’s ransom.


Daily, 10 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

1713 Taraval, SF

(415) 566-6143


Beer and wine


Bearable noise

Wheelchair accessible

Corporations do


› steve@sfbg.com

No amount of feel-good advertising can counter the perfect populist storm that has been brewing around Chevron, the giant Bay Area-based oil company that for the last month has spent $15 million plastering billboards and the airwaves with slick, heartwarming appeals to use less energy.

Few expect the greenwashing campaign to do much good in a political climate that has had everyone from Barack Obama to Sarah Palin bashing "Big Oil." And in the week leading up to an historic presidential election, Chevron was looking bigger and badder than ever.

The week began Oct. 27 with the start of a landmark human rights and corporate responsibility trial in federal court in San Francisco, in which Chevron stands accused of complicity with Nigeria’s authoritarian government in the torture, murder, and abuse of those protesting Chevron’s exploitation of the Niger Delta.

And the work week ended Oct. 31 with Chevron announcing record quarterly profits of $7.9 billion, more than double what the oil giant earned a year earlier, when the company’s $3.7 billion in profits triggered calls by Obama and other political figures to levy higher taxes on such windfalls.

That’s exactly what city officials in Richmond were trying to do this election with Proposition T, which would steeply increase the tax Chevron pays the city for its Richmond refinery. The measure would assess a tax based on the value of raw materials being processed, increasing to about $26.5 million per year, 440 times what it currently pays the city through a payroll tax. (Election results were expected after the Guardian‘s press deadline, so check www.sfbg.com for more.)

Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer rights and the author of Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom and What You Can Do About It (Penguin, 2003), said the combination of events creates a moment that makes significant reform possible.

"They make a very juicy target for people who want to show that oil companies do not share the values of the American people," Court said. "I think this trial could very well become a defining moment for how public opinion moves policymakers in Washington to real energy reform."

The case, Bowoto vs. Chevron, breaks new ground in seeking to hold an American corporation responsible in US courts for atrocities committed half the world away. The complaint, first filed in 1999, alleges that "the military, at the request of, and with the participation and complicity of Chevron, killed and injured people, destroyed churches, religious shrines, and water wells; burned down houses, killed livestock; and destroyed canoes and fishing equipment belonging to villagers" who were peacefully protesting Chevron’s pollution and destabilization of the region.

The trial, which is expected to continue until December, was brought under the little-used, 219-year-old Alien Tort Claims Act. Unocal faced a similar lawsuit for its alleged abuses in Myanmar and settled the case in 2004. But the Chevron case is the first of its kind to make it to trial.

Michael Watts, a geography professor who directs the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley, said the political momentum has been building against big oil companies for a long time and the combination of this case, record profits, and the election create an opportunity for reform.

"The case is very important for a lot of reasons in and of itself, even if there was nothing else going on in the industry," Watts told us. "This is a big, precedent-setting case."

Not only could Chevron be hurt financially by the verdict, but the precedent could affect multinational corporations of all kinds that do business with regimes around the world with poor human rights records. And it could fuel political efforts at home to rein in corporate bad behavior.

"If you’re running up these kinds of profits, why would you let a case like this go to trial in the first place?" Watts asked.

Chevron officials did not return calls for comment.

Chevron is also facing another landmark trial in Ecuador, where Texaco (which Chevron bought in 2001) is being sued for billions of dollars to compensate for widespread environmental degradation of sensitive rainforests from its oil extraction efforts there, a case in which US courts have refused Chevron’s requests to intervene.

Will this perfect storm lead to reform? That depends on the social movements and the political leadership that takes office in January.

Can have



CHEAP EATS Me and Boink at the counter, aprons on, hands washed, ready to go … "I’ve been looking forward to this all week," I said. "You’re my new favorite person to cook with."

He looked up from his step stool with all the earnestness in the world, which seems to be his for the asking, and asked, "Do you love me?"

"I do, Boink," I said. And I kissed him on the head. "I love you very much."

He said he loved me too, and asked if he could kiss me. (So polite!) I said that he could, and he gave me a cute little peck on the cheek.

You were expecting what? Diarrhea? Well, I did get sick again. The thing about working with kids is that you wind up with every communicable disease in the world, on a daily basis, especially if you kiss them and eat food right out of their mouths, like I do. Gotta stop that. I’m getting sick of being sick.

On the other hand: I, your chicken farmer truly, bought a new (as in new new) car. Thanks to Boink, and Popeye the Sailor Baby, and Big Chunk and Little Chunk de la Cooter, and all their various and sundry parents, I can now afford to make me a monthly payment or two, or 60. And, yes, for the first time in my farmerly life, I am the proud driver of an actually reliable motor vehicle.

All the gears work and everything! Horn … Check this out: it has seatbelts that actually lock when you get in an accident. And, most meaningfully to me, what with winter coming, you don’t have to pop the hood and leave the vehicle to turn the headlights on!

How stylin’ am I?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re going to miss my little tales of sitting on the side of the road for exactly 52 minutes, waiting for my old pickup truck to start, aren’t you? I know I’m going to miss all the colorful people one meets in such a manner. Tow-truck drivers, police, drive-by mechanics, and so forth. Yesterday, out of habit, or nostalgia, or both, I stopped at my local car parts store. I bought a roll of paper towels.

My new pickup, which I named Alice Shaw after my hero, Alice Shaw, is the ever-popular Honda Fit pickup truck. Light blue, almost silvery. It’s so beautiful I cold lick it, and often do.

Now I’m not a car reviewer, I know, but this Fit is the damnedest thing on four wheels. A miracle of modern engineering, it’s the first car ever to be twice as big inside as out. Even more cargo capacity than my old Chevy Sprint! You can carry two bales of straw at once, and still have room prolly for a sack o’ feed and a little load of scrap wood.

First thing I did, before I even drove it off the lot, I folded the back seats down. "Pickup truck mode," I said to the dealer, who nodded unknowingly and handed me my balloons, for the kids.

Then I drove around town looking for Dumpsters, playing with all the buttons, and just generally showing off.

"Wait till you put your first ding in it!" all my friends keep saying.

I don’t know what they’re talking about. I dinged the dang thing at the dealership, I was so nervous. I’ve never been in debt before, not even a credit card debt. Are you kidding me? I had to scratch the driver’s door with my key just to get myself to sign my name.

The idea here, so you know, is to teach myself that I can have and might even deserve something nice in this world. Because I didn’t grow up knowing that. You get so used to can’t have that you forget how to even want. I thought of this a lot, last few months, dating married men, creepy redneck couples, and other unloveables.

My new blue beautiful car = can have.

And I tell you this now so I can say I told you so when you see me, one day, walking around the world with a loving, shiny, and reliable man. With a ding in one cheek.


My new favorite restaurant is Hometown Donuts #7. It’s in Richmond, off the same exit I take to go to my favorite Dumpster. So I needed a haul for my new car, and a haul for me. Check it out: two things, plus rice for under five bucks. Chinese. Fried and barbecued. I got spicy pork and a fried chicken thigh hot out of the fryer. Yum! A pretty plasticky place to eat, but I’ll take it. And a donut to go, please.


2315A Cutting, Richmond

(510) 237-2652

Mon.–Sat., 5 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sun., 6 a.m.–7 p.m.

No alcohol

Cash only

Going topless


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

(Andrea’s on vacation! Check out this oldie but goodie, originally published in the Guardian 7/5/06).

Dear Andrea:

My girlfriend is really into BDSM. At first I tried and played a convincing (I think) top/dom, but it just wasn’t hot for me, so I looked some stuff up to get inspired. As I was reading/watching, I would really get off on it, but the sex with my girlfriend still wasn’t hot. Then I realized that when I was masturbating to all this, I was fantasizing about subbing. Oops. I am way in love with my girlfriend, but she is a bottom, period. She might switch it around if it meant a lot to me, but I would know that it wasn’t really making her happy. I don’t know what to do. Can I become a top? Can I teach myself to like it? I’m going to do it either way, but I really want to get into it, so please help! I want us to be good in bed together, but two bottoms don’t make a top. Help!



PS: We’re lesbians, if that matters.

Dear Tops:

It sure doesn’t, but thanks for the info!

I was just thinking about this last night when a friend was catching me up on her latest dating adventures. She was lamenting that some potential dates seem to come equipped with a set of kinks perfectly matching her own, and although that sounds good, it is, of course, no use at all.

As you have discovered to your frustration, one wants a date with a complementary set of kinks, not a matching one. It’s not an uncommon problem, and its most common manifestation is exactly the one that’s driving you nuts: there are too many bottoms in this world and nowhere near enough tops to keep them satisfied. Why this is (beyond the fact that topping is hard work), I couldn’t tell you for sure, but I bet any number of eager grad students are currently proposing theses on the subject to bored advisors who have read enough similar stuff already.

Here’s my theory. There are people for whom BDSM is a core part of their identity, running as deep as, say, homosexuality or monogamy. Some may always have recognized this element in themselves, even before they had the language to express it (these are the kids who always want to play pirates or whatever game involves somebody getting tied to something or the intentional infliction/receiving of pain, even when the other kids are long since ready to move on). Others don’t realize it until they’re exposed to S-M in some more adult context, but then it just clicks in, key into lock, and they know. Your girlfriend sounds like one of those BDSM lifers, who tend, in my experience, to be pretty set on their preferred role even if they do switch experimentally on occasion (a good idea, if only to find out how painful/exhausting it is to experience/produce any particular sensation).

Then there are the "anything goes" people who are happy to pick up a flogger or don a dog collar, what the heck, as long as it’s fun. This type of player may not identify as an S-M person per se, but may enjoy a little power exchange on the occasional Friday night, no biggie. You may fall more on this end of the spectrum, but even "what-the-heckers" usually discover some sort of preference, as you have. The perfect 50-50 switch is almost certainly as rare as the perfect 50-50 bisexual.

Plenty of people find something to like in either role, and I think you can develop an appreciation for topping and get some satisfaction out of a job well done (there are resources like The New Topping Book, by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, to help you). But you can enjoy and get good at it without ever really becoming a top the way both of you are currently bottoms. Be careful about taking on a role that isn’t really "you." Nobody loves a martyr, and you’re still going to want to bottom sometimes. I worry about you starting to resent your girlfriend for getting to have all the fun.

I have a suggestion that might save your relationship or might strike you as all sorts of wrong and make you hate me, but here goes: you two find a willing top, maybe somewhere in your social circle, maybe online or in a BDSM social organization, and bottom together sometimes. This kind of shared adventure can be hot, hot, hot and very bonding, sort of like getting lost in the woods together and surviving through mutual trust and inter-reliance — but a lot more fun. I think if you do that sometimes, and play top sometimes, and stick with the vanilla sometimes, you’ll probably be OK, provided you both take care of getting your itches scratched. Love conquers … much.



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.

On the Obama campaign trail


OPINION I live and have always lived in a bubble, isolated from most of America. I grew up in Los Angeles, where I attended a high school so liberal that almost the entire student population wore black the day after Bush won his second term. Now I attend UC Berkeley, a historically ultra-liberal university in one of the most progressive cities in the United States.

That’s why I decided to join 30 of my fellow UC Berkeley students and go to North Carolina to campaign for Obama the final week before the election. Not only did I want to make a difference I felt I couldn’t make from California, I wanted to experience first-hand what the rest of the country is like.

In some ways, North Carolina was exactly the way I expected it to be: full of white steepled churches, swirling autumn-colored leaves, and drive-through fried chicken restaurants called Bojangles. In other ways, it wasn’t. I thought I’d be talking mostly to undecided voters and people leaning toward the right. Instead I worked mostly with Democrats, making sure they know where their polling locations are and how to protect themselves against voter disenfranchisement.

I talked to all kinds of North Carolinians. I visited student dorms, low-income housing complexes, and beautiful Southern-style mansions. The Obama campaign was thrilled to have so many Californian volunteers at its disposal: there’s a large Hispanic community here, and few native North Carolinians speak Spanish. My Spanish isn’t perfect, but if I hadn’t gone around to Hispanic communities asking Ya esta registrado? on Nov. 1st, the last day to register in North Carolina, many people wouldn’t have gotten the chance to vote.

While I encountered a few ultra-conservative crazies (one man told me he wasn’t voting for Obama because he was "probably" the Antichrist), most people oozed Southern hospitality. I probably gained five pounds from all of the free food thrust at us at every polling station. One generous volunteer let all 30 of us stay in his house.

My cohorts and I snuck into a Sarah Palin rally one night. Unfortunately, we had to leave before she spoke (according to our campaign manager, there were more productive things for us to do than gawk at children carrying "Pro-lifers for Palin" posters). But I felt like I was a spy in an enemy camp, surrounded by people in pink "pitbulls with lipstick" T-shirts. I was definitely far away from my little liberal bubble.

Most satisfying was the feeling I got every time I inspired someone undecided to vote. I spoke with a man one day who was somehow under the impression that Obama was nine points ahead in the North Carolina polls. When I assured him that that was far from the case, he decided to vote. I’ve never felt so powerful before.

In completely unrelated news, I am no longer a vegetarian. I decided to sample a different fried chicken restaurant every night. I highly recommend the Bojangles fried chicken biscuit sandwich (with extra honey) if you’re ever in the area.

Guardian intern Katie Baker sent this piece from the campaign bus.

Shift happens


› news@sfbg.com

Since the beginning of the presidential campaign, Americans have been bombarded with one big concept summed up in one little word: change.

It was Barack Obama’s slogan from day one and represented many people’s hope for the future, an idea that so appeals to beleaguered Americans that the Republicans eventually adopted it as well. Both parties recognized that the country would have to make big adjustments to salvage the economy, environment, schools, and health care system.

They each cited factors that point to the big changes that are coming — but they didn’t mention a huge one that has been bearing down on our species for nearly 5,200 years: the colossal transformation of solar system and our collective psyche that the ancient Mayans and their modern day supporters believe will take place Dec. 21, 2012, the day the Mayan calendar comes to an abrupt end.

Erick Gonzalez, founder and spiritual leader of Earth Peoples United, a nonprofit organization that works to bridge indigenous values with modern society, says the event will deeply disturb our minds and bodies here on earth. Nearly 300 people from around the world gathered Oct. 31-Nov. 2 during a 2012 conference at Fort Mason Center.

Some enthusiasts predict an apocalypse, while others foresee a shift in human awareness. Yet they all believe that big change is coming.

The Mayan calendar was developed by ancient astronomers who concluded that Dec. 21 was the sun’s birthday, noting that the winter solstice marked the beginning of the sun’s return from around the world.

Gonzalez, who has been studying Mayan culture for 33 years, says Dec. 21, 2012 will be a monumental birthday for our sun, when it will shift to the dead center of the Milky Way galaxy, on the galactic equator, for the first time.

The Mayans believed this was the precise spot where the sun — and all life — was created. Followers of the ancient theory claim the Milky Way will give birth to a new sun and a new galactic cycle on this day, marking the beginning of our world’s transformation.

"For the Maya, this is like the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve," said philosopher Roderick Marling, a Tantric yoga teacher who has spent the last 36 years researching yoga meditation and expanding consciousness, in addition to writing numerous papers on religion, mythology, history, and archeology. "The galactic clock will be set at zero point, and a new processional cycle will begin," he said.

As our planets shift overhead, believers say our awareness of the Earth, political issues, and each other will also change. Conference co-organizer Christian Voltaire says many of the changes in 2012 will be tangible, such as revising our current financial model or switching to alternative fuels. He points to former presidential candidate Ron Paul, who advocated for extreme change in monetary policy — abolishing the IRS and the Federal Reserve, for example — and Obama, who has pushed for transforming the economy with green jobs. "They’re at least conscious of the fact that something has to change," he says. "And, as we’ve been told by our prophesies, change is coming."

But skeptics have their doubts. Wouldn’t we be pushing for green energy anyway? And how could the shifting planets cause the financial meltdown — or even the actual meltdown of our polar ice caps? University of Florida anthropologist Susan Gillespie says the theory is a media myth and nothing more. Susan Milbrath, author of Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars and curator of Latin American art and archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, believes it’s unlikely the Mayans could have predicted such events.

Believers remain undeterred. Last Gasp Books employee and conference attendee Eliza Strack says her 2012 obsession started as an innocent topic of conversation many years ago. She believes alternate realms of existence and multiple dimensions of time could collide, allowing us to access our past, present, and future in one moment. "We spend a quarter of our lives in a dream state where alternate realities are playing themselves out," Strack says. Gonzalez backs her up, arguing that the alignment of the sun in 2012 will create a powerful magnetic force, and human protons and electronic will react to it.

Lifelong Mayan researcher John Major Jenkins, who has written several books on 2012, brings up the possibility of the sun inverting the earth’s magnetic fields. But according to Vincent H. Malmström, professor emeritus of geography at Dartmouth College, there’s no hard evidence to support Strack’s claim. Besides, how could a magnetic pull bring our dreamlike realities to life? Malmström writes in his paper The Astronomical Insignificance of Maya Date (www.dartmouth.edu/~izapa/M-32.pdf): "It would seem that Jenkins has advanced our understanding of the Maya from the sublime to the ridiculous."

Although we have four years before the astral shift, Voltaire says it’s crucial to hold 2012 conventions now. "The weekend before the election carries a vibration of anticipation of the future. We wanted to connect with that." The Southern Californian didn’t know much about the 2012 theory before last March, but he says he’s constantly alert and keeps a subtle ear out.

"I kept hearing the subject of 2012 in my consciousness — at events, on the radio, at yoga class," he says. "Everyone was talking about it." After making a few phone calls, he partnered with 2012 author and filmmaker Jay Weidner, a native Oregonian who has been studying the subject for nearly 20 years. Sponsored by Weidner’s company Sacred Mysteries Live, they organized their first convention in Hollywood in March 2008 and were blown away by the response.

Their conference last weekend was even bigger. With interactive panels and community circles, participants could share their ideas about 2012. Voltaire and Weidner say it represents something different for everyone: change, chaos — even beauty. In the midst of it all, the organizers premiered 2012-themed films and documentaries that filmmakers submitted along with an entry fee of — $20.12.

The conference also offered critical analyses of some related prophecies: the Mayans, Tibetan Buddhists, Incas, and the mysterious Cross of Hendaye. They lived in different times, and had different notions about the events that would take place around 2012. Conference organizers say Inca texts prophesized "a world turned upside-down" around that year, while Tibetan Buddhists predicted the mythical city of Shanballad would be constructed at the end of the current era.

Voltaire says the Cross of Hendaye — a 400-year-old monument in the coastal town of Hendaye, France — holds the key to the paradigm. The cross was first described in the 1926 book The Mystery of the Cathedrals, written by an alchemist named Fulcanelli. In 1995, before learning of the 2012 stories, Weidner was hooked on this book. He worked for years to decipher the messages behind the cross, deconstructing a Latin inscription carved into its top, and finally claims to have discovered its meaning: "It represents a world crisis that will end this time period.

There’s exactly one presidential term left before the end of this time period, which has witnessed everything from financial crises to homelessness to global warming. But will a new era end the problems of the current one? It’s hard to imagine how thousands of San Francisco’s poorest residents will acquire homes, or how our ozone layer will suddenly thicken.

After rifling through more books, Weidner says he discovered another secret behind the cross: that the Earth’s greatest changes will take place between 1992 and 2012. During that time so far, we’ve seen the birth the Internet, economic globalization and overextension, mass extinctions and global warming, terrorism and imperial hubris, exploding populations and rising discontent, and the end of the age of oil coming into sight. Then again, 20 years is a long time and life moves fast these days, with or without a mystical cross.

Nevertheless, since his supposed discoveries, Weidner has written two books and one film about the Cross of Hendaye’s secrets. In addition to a simpler belief that attributes a natural, geological pattern to these changes, three other prophecies predict some version of disaster or shift around 2012. Weidner admits this could be an incredible coincidence, but he thinks we should be aware of today’s experiences anyway. "There’s no doubt this is one of the most incredible time periods in human history."

While no one knows what will go down Dec. 21, 2012, Strack likes to put a positive spin on the brewing events. She wonders if 2013 will bring sweet-smelling city air, friendly neighbors, and tricycles for old folks to ride to the grocery store. After all, who believes that a shift in consciousness would be a bad thing?

Many followers even look forward to the date and equate it with the second coming of Christ, when they will be blessed with knowledge and euphoria. "Those are the happy thoughts," Strack says. "Yin-yang that shit and you find the darkest, most terrifying possibilities." She says she has had multiple apocalyptic dreams, leading her to ponder World War III, death, chaos, betrayal, and everything else that could hit the fan in 2012.

This sort of anxiety has led some people to use the term "doomsday" when describing the last day of the Mayan calendar. Although the theory has no solid academic backing, it is catching on. YouTube hosts countless videos of asteroids striking earth, tsunamis, tornados, and incidents of chaos linked to the date. Many devotees are preparing for hell on earth. But Voltaire says 2012 isn’t all about doom and gloom. "Our prophecies are about facing the facts and bringing up new ideas, acknowledging indigenous cultures of the past and present and truly listening to what they have to say, not brushing them off."

During our country’s time of change, we may not have heard many full-blown prophecies coming to pass, but we have all witnessed powerful people raising fresh ideas, such as rapidly shifting to new energy sources, developing international standards of human rights and controls on the use of force, and attacking poverty and disease worldwide. Like the 2012 followers, we’re listening and trying to remain open-minded.

If you chose to listen — to the prophecies or the new president — you might ask yourself how you’re supposed to prepare for the future. Voltaire says that "if you’re conscious of the changes, you’ll be able to roll with them, like if you’re in the ocean swimming with the tide. But if you’re unconscious and you suddenly wake up, it’ll be a lot harder to deal with."

Voltaire and Weidner say that our president will need to prepare too. They think that for him to be successful, he will have to address issues such as green energy and global warming brought forth at the 2012 conference.
Whether we’re believers or not, our country’s in for some big changes, whatever the solar alignment.

Bait and switch


> sarah@sfbg.com

The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency has endorsed a draft financing plan for Lennar’s massive proposed Hunters Point Shipyard/Candlestick Point development project, one that increases the company’s housing entitlements and profits.

The agency’s endorsement came during a hastily convened Oct. 27 special meeting, raising the eyebrows of Lennar’s critics. So did the details of the agency’s non-binding financial agreement with Lennar, which two citizens’ committees in the Bayview–Hunters Point community had jointly endorsed a week earlier.

Bayview–Hunters Point resident Francisco Da Costa claimed that "there was almost no public notice of the plan," while Leon Muhammad, who sits on the Bayview–Hunters Point Project Area Committee, fretted that some committee members have business ties and connections with Lennar.

"A group that supposedly represents the interests of the community needs to have transparency and full disclosure," stated Nation of Islam Rev. Christopher Muhammad, who has been a staunch critic of Lennar ever since the developer failed to properly monitor and control asbestos adjacent to his group’s K-12 University of Islam school.

"Lennar never intended to do anything with this land but bank it," Muhammad opined about the public land that Lennar is getting for free. "And now they are hoping to squeeze more profit out of the deal, so they can hedge to where they can make it more attractive to sell."

Alicia Schwartz of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) observed that the deal is likely being driven by Mayor Gavin Newsom’s unrequited desire to see the Olympics come to San Francisco — a dream that was squashed two years ago, Schwartz recalls, "amid a hoopla around toxicity at the shipyard."

Sup. Chris Daly, who has argued that Lennar’s recent $500,000 settlement with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District over Lennar’s asbestos violations was "too small and poorly handled," said he wasn’t surprised by the latest deal: "That Lennar wants to pull a fast one is not news."

But with the financing deal likely headed for the full Board of Supervisors this month, Lennar’s critics are worried that the city is being rushed into a deal that has already changed since voters approved Proposition G in June, supporting the vague outlines of Lennar’s project.

They note that while Prop. G specified that the project would create "between 8,500 and 10,000 homes" in the depressed southeast sector, the financing deal that Redevelopment endorsed last week specifies 10,500 homes —and a demand that the agency and the city cooperate to help increase Lennar’s annual rate of return.

Stephen Maduli-Williams, the agency’s deputy executive director, told the Guardian that it was always the agency’s intention to finalize Lennar’s draft financing plan by the end of 2008. Asked if Lennar increased the number of proposed housing units by reducing unit size or increasing building height, Maduli-Williams told us, "They did it by finding a way to squeeze more units into the existing space. They redesigned one of the roads."

"Things are probably going to change again in the next year or two," Maduli-Williams said. "This is a living document. And overall, it is a really nice real estate deal."

Yet critics of Lennar are openly wondering whether it’s nice for the beleaguered company, which had rapidly plummeting stock value even before the recent real estate meltdown, or nice for the city. Maduli-Williams said the deal works for all parties.

"We have strong financial partners," he said. "Any investors that look at the deal know that is it really solid. It includes mostly $600,000 homes, which are cheap by San Francisco standards. And we are not looking to break ground for another three years, by which time the economy, hopefully, will be in good shape."

Maduli-Williams also observed that despite nationwide housing woes, San Francisco remains "one of two or three top destination spots where there is only so much land left and where folks have very high incomes."

But the health of the San Francisco real estate market (compared to the rest of the nation) combined with Lennar’s ongoing financial woes, including a June 8 bankruptcy at Mare Island, is precisely why some folks are questioning Lennar’s increased profit demands. But Maduli-Williams said, "San Francisco cannot be compared to Mare Island."

According to the draft financing deal (which is non-binding), Lennar, the city, and the agency "will work cooperatively to reduce risks and uncertainties" and "find additional efficiencies and values," to achieve Lennar’s proposed 22.5 percent annual profit margin.

As Maduli-Williams explained, if the developer puts up $800 million in equity and wants a 22 percent return, it would have to get $1.2 billion in land sales. "And just like any developer, they want to get the highest return possible," he said, adding that the project’s proposed community benefits are "hard wired into the deal" and thus are "not threatened" by Lennar’s proposed target return increase.

Lennar’s proposal, which represents a 7.5 percent increase over current project projections, has also received validation from CBRE Consulting, which is a subsidiary of CB Richard Ellis — a global real estate firm headed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum.

In an Oct. 15, 2008 memo (coincidentally written the day President Bush announced a partial nationalization of the US banking system) to Michael Cohen, who heads the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, CBRE’s Mary Smitheram-Sheldon and Thomas Jirovsky observed that, "Based on Consultants’ extensive experience in evaluating large scale mixed-use developments, including military base reuse plans, we are of the opinion that the proposed 22.5 percent per annum target return …is reasonable."

Earlier this year, as Lennar spent $5 million to support Prop. G, CBRE declared that 50 percent affordability in Lennar’s proposed mixed-use development at the shipyard, as was being recommended in Daly’s Prop. F, was "not financially feasible."

At the city’s request, CBRE analyzed Prop. F and concluded in a memo to Cohen that it would reduce Lennar’s revenue by at least $1.1 billion. Reached by phone this week, Jivorsky acknowledged that his firm has done work for different developers around the country for years, including Lennar.

"But we are not working on anything for Lennar in San Francisco," Jivorsky told the Guardian. "Our client is the city of San Francisco and we take our job very seriously. We would never make recommendations that we didn’t believe were in the city’s best interests."

Meanwhile, Cohen told the Guardian that the strain for real estate capital is likely going to push the rate of return demand up even more. Noting that the city agreed to 25 percent returns at Lennar’s previous Treasure Island and Hunters Point Shipyard deals, Cohen said, "Real estate is considered to be a greater risk than it was six months ago, even in San Francisco. So, it’s not so much that we have to negotiate this as have to understand what is required for private capital to invest."

Cohen believes that when the construction plans — which currently have few details spelled out — get more detailed, they will help increase the project’s rate of return. "Which is why," Cohen added, "the developer’s partners are willing to spend a boatload of money."

On Aug. 19, the Redevelopment Agency approved the addition of Kimco Developers and MACTEC Development Corporation as Lennar BVHP’s retail and infrastructure partners, and Scala Real Estate Partners, Hillwood Development, and Estein Associates USA Ltd. as Lennar BVHP’s equity partners.

Cohen also hopes that the 49ers’ intentions towards San Francisco will be resolved by November 2009, when Lennar hopes to enter into an agreement with the football team. The 49ers continue to pursue plans to relocate to Santa Clara, and have not signaled any desire to remain here.

To date, Lennar’s draft financing plan includes an agreement that the developer will contribute $100 million in cash toward construction of a new 49ers stadium, and that the city will enter a long-term $1 ground lease with the 49ers for a 17.4-acre Hunters Point Shipyard site.

Meanwhile, disgruntled community advocates claim that since January, when Feinstein, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mayor Gavin Newsom announced $82 million in federal funding for the cleanup of the Hunters Point Shipyard site, those funds have gone primarily to cleaning up the potential 49ers site.

Power possibilities


By Amanda Witherell

› amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY San Francisco’s energy future is in flux. On Nov. 4, voters decided the fate of Proposition H, a plan for 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. On the same day, the Board of Supervisors was set to consider a proposal from Mayor Gavin Newsom to retrofit the 32-year-old Mirant Potrero power plant to meet a state mandate for local electricity generation.

The results of both votes occurred after the Guardian deadline, but either way, the city’s energy policy is uncertain, particularly after serious doubts about the viability of the mayor’s proposal were raised at an Oct. 22 Land Use and Economic Development Committee hearing.

The retrofit was hastily developed as an alternative to longstanding plans to replace heavily polluting units of the Mirant plant with new, cleaner, city-owned peaker plants. That plan was derailed after a meeting in May between Newsom and seven Pacific Gas and Electric Co. executives, who were apparently concerned about the city generating its own power.

The Mayor’s office calls the retrofit a "bridge" to a renewable energy future and contends it can be cheaper than and as clean as the city’s peakers. Yet at the hearing, Mike Martin, who’s evaluating the retrofit project for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said no retrofits have ever reached the emissions goals cited in Newsom’s proposal.

Jeff Henderson, senior project manager for Mirant, defended the $80 million price tag for the project (which is about $30 million cheaper than the city’s plan) but also said that they were "giving a price on a project that’s never been done before." Martin said the permits alone would be twice the price stated in a Mirant-commissioned feasibility study.

Chair of the committee Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who represents the district where the plant is sited, cast cost aside, saying that human lives and the lowest possible emissions were more important to her. Her district has the highest incidences of asthma and cancer in the city.

The retrofit would still emit more nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter than the city’s peaker plants but the Mayor’s Office is banking on it operating less, thus emitting less overall. The numbers crunched for the study by CH2M Hill presume Mirant operating about 156 hours a year, though it is permitted for 877 hours. The city has sued the company in the past for exceeding its permitted hours.

When questioned if the 97 percent emissions reduction proposed was possible, Henderson said, "The only thing that leads us to believe that is we had vendors who would say they could meet that under contract."

Maxwell invited three potential vendors to the hearing. All said the industry standard was 90 percent emissions reduction and that it was infeasible, if not technically impossible, to reach 97 percent. To try may even result in a net gain of particulate matter emissions because the plant would need more ammonia catalyst.

But the Mayor’s Office remained confident in the project. "The experts that presented before the committee were all experts attached to the CT project, so I would not consider them independent third-party experts," Newsom’s director of government affairs Nancy Kirshner-Rodriguez told the Guardian.

Bruce Schaller, vice president of Kansas-based power company Sega, said he wouldn’t bid on this job under the current parameters because, "We would be associated with a project that was a failure."

Tom Flagg, president of Equipment Source Company, said the project was "completely illogical and impossible to do." He pointed out that emissions vary widely. "You have surges in emissions levels. Sometimes it’s 94 percent, sometimes it’s 84 percent … A 97 to 98 percent reduction is impossible because in order to maintain that they have 100 percent reduction at times. It’s an average."

The need for new power generation in San Francisco has been pushed by the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), but environmental groups have urged the city to challenge that mandate. Former California Public Utilities Commission president Loretta Lynch, who spoke against the retrofit plan at the hearing, told the Guardian afterward, "The ISO are ideologues, not engineers. They have no basis in fact that we need any peninsula power production."

Supervisors passed a resolution asking the SFPUC to develop a transmission-only plan to meet Cal-ISO’s reliability demands. The SFPUC said it will present something within the next couple of months.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

In Milk, the new Harvey Milk movie, the hero (as in real life) is well aware that he’s a target and faces regular death threats. He also makes the point – and it’s kind of a theme in the film — that the movement he represents is far bigger than he is. It’s about the movement, not any one person, he keeps telling his supporters.

And that’s what we have to remember now that the Nov. 4 election is over.

Thanks to the weirdness of old-fashioned print publishing schedules, I’m writing this well before election day, and by the time you read it, Obama will have won the election. It’s a giddy feeling, actually winning a campaign on this level after so many bitter disappointments. And that’s fine — we should celebrate while we can.

But we should also remember that the real work starts now — and that’s the work of making sure that President Obama is accountable to the people who put him in office.

No other candidate in my adult life has had the kind of grassroots support that put Obama over the top. From the early days of the primaries, he has raised money on the Internet from tens of thousands of small donors. People who have never worked in a political campaign came out to volunteer for him. He has offered hope — and that’s a dangerous commodity. Because now he has to deliver.

We can’t expect too much too fast — but we can demand that he gives the progressive side of the Democratic Party its due. We don’t want the war to drag on. We don’t want the rich to keep gaining market share. We don’t want big business to derail environmental programs. We actually want change, real change — and we have to keep pushing for it.

Electing a president is necessary, not sufficient. It’s still about the movement.

(And if I’m all wrong, and John McCain is the next president, we all better start singing "O Canada")