Volume 44 Number 21

In the Whispering Pines

11

This is the year when your scribing cowgirl returns wholly to the barn — or at least the fabled Cabin-in-the-Ppines where folks used to pick, grin, and get up to no good throughout my father’s youth in southwest Georgia. And sho’nuff the Whispering Pines’ fine, self-released debut, Family Tree (self-released), will be in tow alongside the potbelly stove, vintage Akan gold weights, and patchwork spreads courtesy of my late great-aunt, the hedonistic quilter Kate.

Family Tree served as fitting accompaniment not just to holiday doldrums but also the tail end of sonic voting season — when the results of the Nashville Scene‘s ninth annual Country Music Critics Poll, which I contributed to, heralded the genre’s likely future. While I don’t disagree with anointing Brad Paisley and Miranda Lambert for a soon-come twang Mount Rushmore, and would give my right pinky toe to cut a record with the great outlaw heir Jamey Johnson, the psychedelicized wing of cowboy music needs more recognition as its revival reaches its maturity. And it seems we ought not to wait a year or more to claim what’s worthy. So here’s stepping out in Topanga dirt at the ghost site of the ole Corral on behalf of the Whispering Pines’ efforts.

Family Tree, reaching back to twang’s glorious midcentury of pioneering fusions to fetch sounds for envisioning the near-future, is surely as much of an aesthetic atlas for country’s current progression as Brother Johnson’s stunning commingled pathos and mirth on “Mowin’ Down the Roses” or “Women.” Of course, the long-haired and denim-clad quintet of Brian Filosa (bass, vocals), Joe Bourdet (guitar, vocals), Dave Baine (keys, guitar, vocals), Joe Zabielski (drums, percussion), and David Burden (harmonica, percussion, vocals) abide and create in a vastly different space than Music Row or the plains and Rust Belt enclaves of Midwestern alt-country. This is reflected in the sunny clarity of their sound and sometimes mellower lyrical concerns. Silver Lake’s Whispering Pines is part of a loose, freewheeling confederacy of young SoCal-based solo artists and groups who purvey what some used to call “wooden music” and my friend Zach a.k.a. DJ Turquoise Wisdom has taken to terming “bootcut.”

This movement has bubbled under during recent years, yet has seemed to enjoy quite a spike recently. Over the last 18 months, several colleagues released histories of Laurel Canyon; maxi dresses (or “town gowns”) were deemed chic in downtown Manhattan and Los Angeles’ Echo Park; and Kamara Thomas’ Honky Tonk Happy Hour at assorted New York City venues reminded audiences that the East Coast has a rich stake in cosmic country, too. Likewise, Hair‘s ballyhooed Broadway run and Taking Woodstock reacquainted the fickle masses with festivals and freaky-deak; Neil Young dropped volume one of his storied Archives; SoHo sported a vintage store actually called Laurel Canyon, replete with embroidered western shirts, perfectly-scuffed boots, and Gunne Sax; my friend Henry Diltz’ iconic images of CSN and their friends crowned a blockbuster exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum; and Levon Helm just won a Grammy for Electric Dirt (Dirt Farmer Music/Vanguard Records). This past month, New Jersey’s Wiser Time put out their strongest evidence of a northeastern-minted “Southern rock,” Beggars and Thieves (Wiser Time). A slate of Essra Mohawk reissues is in the wings.

The network for the emerging acts intent upon reinfusing the “western” part of what used to be country and western into their sounds stretches in an illusory but potent line from New York, where Filosa used to hold down the low end for the lovely Maplewood, to Northern California, where assorted Devendra Banhart boys hold sway. Indeed, I first became aware of Whispering Pines via its association with folk-rock magus Jonathan Wilson. Less than six degrees of separation from Wilson tends to yield artists with a deep host of ideas excavated from the lode overseen by beloved Gram Parsons and the Band’s Richard Manuel. Whispering Pines is definitely in the Cosmic Americana camp: deriving its name from Manuel’s fragile beauty; covering the likes of J.J. Cale (“Crazy Mama”); spinning as far out as Les Brers and their San Franciscan soul mates from the Grateful Dead on “Stars Above” and the rollicking boogie of “Grapevine Blues.” The band displays clear affection for Scott Boyer’s lost, lamented Capricorn label gem, Cowboy.

Maybe it’s just because I spent the entire fall in thrall to pre-Sufi Mighty Baby, but I can dig where Whispering Pines is comin’ from; there is a winning light in the chorusing of the four voices. Although neither hillbilly-tooled enough to compete with Trace Adkins nor polemical enough to address the amber waves’ current disarray, Family Tree is still a great record for 2010, militant in its mellow as corrective to the gray of our times. Early adopters and ecstatic praise for Family Tree have typically come from Europe, where they’re unafraid to unfetter their ears.

Back East and down the road from Nashvegas, Valerie June is also pointing a fierce way forward for country by looking even farther back. She harks back to the prewar mountains of the Carter Family and rural blues vainglory of Jessie Mae Hemphill and Elizabeth Cotten. Born in Jackson, Tenn., the Memphis-based Valerie June has been percolating on her local scene, with several forays to busk in California and make connections in the East, independently releasing collections of her “organic moonshine roots music” such as 2006’s The Way of the Weeping Willow and 2009’s Mountain of Rose Quartz along the way. It’s not that we haven’t seen such leanings before from assorted folk revivalists over the past two decades, but they almost never spring from the soul of a black woman in her 20s. Sistagirl’s womanist, unabashedly burlap manifesto “No Draws Blues” delineates these tensions.

While our brothers and sisters of European descent were riding the wave of Woodstock/Altamont’s 40th anniversaries last year, and the country establishment was wrapping its heads and resources around the chart- and Opry-bound breakouts of former Hootie Darius Rucker and Rissi Palmer, alternative black country artists were not really traveling the canyon circuit, even if they popped up at Merlefest or Bonnaroo. During his downtime from the Mayercraft, David Ryan Harris’ solo turns and the Soul of John Black’s great, underrated Black John (Eclecto Groove) showed new fire in the so-called soul-folk vein, even as Still Bill, Damani Baker and Alex Vlack’s stirring documentary on the genre’s grand master Bill Withers, made its way from SXSW ’09 to a theatrical run in Manhattan.

Several NYC-area events honoring the late folk titan Odetta provided another necessary spotlight for rising luminaries of the “black banjo movement,” like the legendary Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee’s son, Guy Davis. Bela Fleck’s Africa project Throw Down Your Heart traces from Western Sudan to the Southeast’s hollers. The sad passing of Jim Dickinson unleashed two cross-cultural celebrations on Memphis International of world boogie and twang reclamation from his elder son, Luther: the dirge catharsis with the Sons of Mudboy, Onward and Upward, and the South Memphis String Band’s deep tread into bluenotes via Home Sweet Home. Even John Legend has surprised with a riveting spin on Richie Havens’ chamber-rock rearrangement of “Motherless Child” at George Clooney’s Haiti telethon.

Considering this, when sister Valerie recently rode into NYC to play Mercury Lounge — with Clyde (her trusty six-string), Mose (her banjo), and them boys from Old Crow Medicine Show in tow — her real pretty renditions of “Wildwood Flower” and original songs all seemed part of an auspicious moment. It only remains for the two strains of independent roots music to truly have a reckoning some time this year. This would likely be even more hallowed if it goes down far from the thronged fields of Manchester, Tenn. in June. I’m scooting my boots now toward that distant point of power-light.

Underground and proud

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THEATER It’s difficult enough to want to perform in San Francisco without the added hardship of not quite fitting into someone else’s concept of “performance.” And the unclassifiable Dan Carbone must surely be one of the hardest acts to shoehorn into a hapless festival curator’s vision. As a performer who regularly skirts the way-out edge between the surreal and the downright schizophrenic, he’s had the dubious honor of being shut out of the comedy club circuit, kicked off the stage at San Francisco’s now-defunct Dadafest, and not selling out the house of numerous local and national “standard” venues.

But Carbone’s ability to evoke the most unconventional of worlds — beginning with his classic one-act Up From the Ground, involving a mysterious giant flower in a Southern cornfield, and most recently with his “one man space opera” Kingdom of Not — has been discomfiting and astonishing audiences and critics on for more than 10 years, and he has the accolades, if not the ticket sales to prove it.

“The SF theater world has no idea what I’m about,” Carbone confesses via e-mail. “They don’t know what to do with me.” Originally an experimental filmmaker, Carbone’s off-kilter performance aesthetic and penchant for dream logic meshes more readily with his silver screen collaborators (including the inimitable Kuchar brothers) than with his more traditionally linear solo show peers. So what’s a decidedly noncommercial, genre-shredding, avant-gardian to do to widen the scope of his influence? Start his own damn performance series, of course.

To kick start this series with a serious bang, Carbone is hosting professional provocateur-comedian Rick Shapiro in his second San Francisco appearance. A former drug addict and homeless rent boy, Shapiro’s own slow rise (literally, up from the ground) serves as ample fodder for his mercurial rants against the status quo, and his unstructured, stream-of-consciousness performance style once earned him the moniker “the James Joyce of comedy.” Or as Carbone puts it, “He’s the only guy on the circuit who not only tells dick jokes but also riffs on Sartre and Kierkegaard — and does so simultaneously.” Their shared inability to write for the mainstream, which has precipitated this joining of forces, will test the theory that art is at its best when designed to suit its creators — not its curators.

March 6, Carbone performs his two most celebrated solo shows, Up from the Ground and Here be Monsters, and premiere a show of works April 3 (both at the Dark Room Theater; check Web site for details). But his ultimate goal is collaboration. “The lesson,” he concludes, “is I need to start my own scene.” Dan Carbone and Rick Shapiro Sat/27, 10 p.m., $8 Dark Room Theater 2263 Mission, SF (415) 401-7987

www.darkroomsf.com

Volume 44 Number 21 Flip-through Edition

0

Bin 38

1

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE If we agree that the Marina District is a sort of Castro District for heterosexuals — the het ghetto, or hetto — it should follow that food in the neighborhood’s restaurants is something of an afterthought. Restaurant food in the Castro has long been a swamp of mediocrity (though there are signs of improvement), and restaurants in the Marina have likewise tended to be more about convenience, speed, and affordability — like refueling race cars — than an experience in their own right.

At a glance, Bin 38 would seem to conform to this pattern. The restaurant and wine-beer bar occupies a narrow storefront space on a run of Scott Street between Lombard and Chestnut streets already chockablock with eating places pitched to the young. From outside it looks like a typical box, but once you’re inside the door, you find a dodge-and-weave of rectangles: an entryway with host or hostess, a bar with a nest of intimate tables opposite, a passageway, another dining room rich in alcoves, yet another passageway, and a garden. There is a snug, cave-like quality to the layout — it reminded me of a lost beloved, Rendezvous du Monde, which back in the 1990s occupied a similarly burrow-like abode on Bush Street in which splendid food was served.

I could say that Bin 38’s food is as good as Rendezvous du Monde’s. That’s saying something, and it is as good, but what is most immediately notable about the dishes emerging from head chef Matt Brimer’s kitchen is how gorgeously everything is composed and plated. The designs aren’t so fussy that you feel like a Visigoth trashing the treasures of Rome when you start eating them, but they are striking in their combinations of shape, color, and texture. I hesitate to describe food as art, but I hesitate a little less here.

Color is perhaps the most arresting aspect of food that has yet to be eaten, and winter, the bleakest season, offers surprising possibilities to the color-minded chef. Beets, for instance, of gold, ruby, and rose. Bin 38’s roasted-beet salad (part of a $29, three-course prix-fixe) looked like the contents of a jewel box: an array of richly gleaming disks, arranged on mache with dabs of mild, creamy French feta, and scatterings of equally jewel-like pomegranate seeds. The whole thing is dressed with a citronette, basically a vinaigrette made with lemon juice instead of vinegar. The finishing touch was the platter itself, a long narrow rectangle such as might be used for presenting a sushi roll.

Just as colorful was a wide, shallow bowl of hand-cut tagiolini (also a prix-fixe item), ribbons of pasta a little wider than fettucine, tossed with a colorful mélange of spinach, tomato, baby carrot, turnip, and chunks of braised pork, with flavor amendment provided by olio nuovo and square flaps of Parmesan cheese. What was most remarkable about the sauce was the way in which the various ingredients kept their individual identities while managing, at the same time, to become part of a greater whole.

If I mark down the winter salad — again, prix-fixe — a bit, it’s mainly because the color scheme wasn’t quite as intense: Belgian endive (white with hints of green), fennel shreds (white with even fewer hints of green), sprigs of watercress (green but small), sections of blood and mandarin orange (gorgeous), and pink peppercorns (too small to add much visually). The arrangement was appealing, though, with the leaves of endive neatly lined up along the platter like canoes tied up in the marina of a summer camp. Dressing: cherry vinaigrette.

Bin 38 enters the burger derby with the BIN burger ($13), a well-seasoned disk of ground beef enhanced with smoked gouda and mayonnaise, served on an English muffin and presented with a heap of sliced cornichons. You have to order fries separately, which isn’t the worst thing. You might want a small bowl of spiced nuts ($3) instead — better for you — though they’re at least as sweet as spicy. Or you might want neither, if you opened with wild Gulf prawns ($12), served sizzling on a fajitas-like cast-iron platter with chile arbol oil, very spicy, and garlic, and levain slices for mopping up.

Desserts are also arty. A toasted almond panna cotta arrives as little hemispheres that resemble white-chocolate truffles, topped with chunks of strudel, interspersed with blood-orange segments, and bathed with a reduced hibiscus tea that looks as if it leaked out of a joint of beef. Chocolate pudding cake is distinguished mainly by the pat of brown-butter gelato on the side, tasting rather caramely. Hetto heaven!

BIN 38

Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 5:30–10:30 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.; Sun., 5:30–9 p.m.

3232 Scott, SF

(415) 567-3838

www.bin38.com

Beer and wine

AE/DS/MC/V

Wheelchair accessible

Connecting flights

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE The buzz surrounding the Akram Khan Company’s second Bay Area visit — they first appeared in 2003 as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival — proved that sometimes pre-performance excitement is not the result of marketing hype. A copresentation by San Francisco Performances and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Khan’s bahok (2008), a 75-minute evocation of displacement in a world constantly on the move, proved witty, humane, and haunting, despite its sentimental ending.

Though bahok (“carrier” in Bengali) is set for an international cast of eight, this was of less interest than the way Khan peeled away each dancer’s anonymity. The piece showed individuals who tease, love, fight, and ultimately find commonality despite linguistic and cultural differences. Each, some more clearly than others, was a “carrier” of the cultural forces that shaped them. But that’s not all they were.

Tall Taiwanese ballerina Cheng-Fang Wu’s character was an image-obsessed show-off. Her duet with the much shorter Indian Saju was pure Marx Brothers. Seoul-born Young-Jin Kim appears hopelessly lost in an interview with an immigration official but becames a determined peacemaker when breaking up a fistfight. And what about the neurotically self-possessed Spaniard Eulalia Ayguade Farro? She’s the one who breaks the ice by picking up a bag dropped by the catatonically staring Sung-Hoon Kim.

bahok is set in a place of transit, an airport, a bus station — but also, perhaps, a center for processing migrants. In Fabiana Piccioli’s somber lighting, the sense of nowhere numbs spirits as well as limbs, as those assembled wait for their numbers to come up. From anonymity and suffocating stasis, Khan built bahok into something like a community of hope — still waiting, but bathed in what looked suspiciously like a sunrise.

With an immaculate sense of timing, Khan layers individual dramatic episodes with fiercely physical dancing that rebounds from the floor even as it gives into it. The work started slowly with tiny movements from the seated dancers. A leg opens; an arm drops; papers are rustled. The immobile Sung-Hoon Kim seemed planted in front of a babbling electronic message-board, yet he had the first big solo, in which he sliced space with fractured fury only to melt into the ground. Then, one by one, the dancers opened themselves.

Among the most complex characters was a gymnastically flipping Farro, who raced around like an errant firecracker and turned into an attack dog when somebody dared to touch her precious papers. She just about ate the glued-to-his cell phone Saju when he didn’t seem to know all that much about Indian mythology. The dynamic Saju, who has a flair for the deadpan, later defended himself in a hilarious, but matter-of-factly delivered, pan-Asian solo.

Khan doesn’t shy away from metaphors; he slips them unobtrusively into his physical language. South African dancer Shanell Winlock, who tried to facilitate the interview with the non-English-speaking Young-Jin Kim, tells the invisible interrogator that she carries her father’s shoes in her bag. Later, having donned a man’s jacket, she stepped into them and haltingly performed a half-remembered version of an over-boot dance invented by South African miners.

One of bahok‘s wonderfully humorous duets showed Slovak Andrej Petrovic trying to wake up his floppy-doll Korean girlfriend, Set-Byeol Kim. Her resistance drives him to distraction, but they make a go of it, her still-sleeping form sitting on top of him as they try to find a common rhythm for their competing arms. Their bumbling was touching, funny, and all too believable.

I just wish Khan’s ending had not literally spelled out bahok‘s meaning on that otherwise well-used message-board. There was no need for that. We got it just fine.

The battle for the forgotten district

24

sarah@sfbg.com

This November, when voters in District 10 — the largest, sunniest, and most diverse of the city’s 11 supervisorial districts — replace termed out Sup. Sophie Maxwell, they’ll be making a selection that could have pivotal implications for the entire city.

That’s because the next supervisor from southeast San Francisco inherits a district that is home to some of the city’s biggest environmental and public health challenges, as well as the most potential for development that will determine what kind of city San Francisco becomes.

District 10 is where you’ll find the most polluted and most underdeveloped lands in San Francisco, areas that could either be transformed into models of a sustainability or, in the words of Tony Kelly, the president of Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association, “be turned into a toxic Foster City.”

District 10 is where the slaughterhouses, tanneries, and glue factories set up shop and used the bay as a dumping ground. It’s where the smokestacks of coal and oil fired power plants polluted the air. It’s where the Navy filled the Bay, built a shipyard at Hunters Point and loaded parts of the first atomic bomb onto the USS Indianapolis in 1945.

District 10 is where the bottom fell out of this industrial economy in 1974, when the Navy left, taking with it people’s jobs, pay, and hopes for a home of their own and a better future, particularly for what was then a predominantly African American population.

And District 10 is ground zero for plans that will triple the population and double the number of homes — homes that likely will only be “affordable” to Google executives and retirees from Marin, forever changing the face of San Francisco’s southeast sector. Critics fear that will accelerate what has been a steady exodus of black residents, replaced by megadeveloper Lennar’s vision for a new D10.

It’s against this dark history and difficult present that a wide open field of more than a dozen candidates are vying to replace Maxwell, who came to power in 2000 and has had a mixed voting record in her decade on the board. Sometimes, Maxwell was the eighth vote that let the progressive majority on the Board override Mayor Gavin Newsom’s veto and pass trailblazing legislation. Other times, she was the swing vote that allowed the moderate minority to carry Newsom’s water.

So, in addition to D10’s many internal challenges, this seat could determine the political balance of power on the Board of Supervisors, placing all the more importance on voters in this long-marginalized part of town.

 

DISTRICT OF DISCONTENT

Eric Smith, a biodiesel activist who has thrown his hat in the D10 ring, says that there is a lot of frustration in the air, and looking at the problems the district is facing, it’s hardly surprising that it has what nearly every candidate agrees is a fractured political culture.

“The Bayview, the Hunters Point Shipyard’s toxic Superfund site, the homicide rate, unemployment, poor public transportation, dwindling services and community resources have made D10 one of the city’s largest melting pots of discontent,” Smith said.

Smith’s words were spoken while the Elections Department was verifying signatures earlier this month on a second failed effort to qualify a petition to recall Maxwell.

Bayview resident and D10 candidate Marie Franklin didn’t support the attempt to recall Maxwell, but she understood it as “a frustration movement.”

“People are sinking in the sand, we’ve already lost so many of them, and they felt Sophie wasn’t doing anything for them,” said Franklin, who praised Maxwell for helping get Franklin’s apartment building complex renovated — a job that was completed 18 months ago, at a cost of $65 million, creating 500 local jobs.

“There are 654 units here, and they were uninhabitable,” Franklin said. “There was black mold, rain falling inside. We had people living worse than Haiti.”

Franklin, who said she is running because she “knows the history,” came here in 1978, when she and her son were living in a car after a fire left them homeless. She said the Bayview was a totally isolated area, barely part of mainstream San Francisco.

“There were no taxis, no services,” she recalled. “Nobody would come here, it was the stigmatized area where no one was accountable to provide services.”

The Bayview — which in some ways is the heart of D-!0 — wasn’t always a black community. But African Americans have been living here for 70 years, dealing with all the racism, denial of services, poverty, and pollution. And it bothers Franklin that 85 percent of the 10,500 homes that Lennar plans to develop won’t be affordable to the elderly, disabled, unemployed and low-income people who currently live in the Bayview.

“We need to preserve the diversity of the community and make sure their issues and information will flow to City Hall,” she said. “You must give the people a handle. If you don’t reach out, they’ll slip. That’s why folks out migrated.

Whoever succeeds Maxwell will be a central player in addressing some very big and dirty issues: the future of the Navy’s radiologically impacted shipyard at Hunters Point, Lennar’s massive redevelopment plan for the Shipyard and Candlestick Point, the polluting power plants, replacement of stinky digesters at the sewage plant, and the SF Hope public lousing rebuild.

There’s also the chance to address violence and crime. James Calloway, a candidate who has long worked in Bay Area schools, told us he believes that education and jobs are part of the keys to rejuvenating the district.

“Job opportunities are not as plentiful in the district,” Calloway said. “When I was a kid, you could walk down Third Street at 2 a.m. Now I wouldn’t walk down it at 9 p.m., and I know the area.”

Calloway is hopeful that the massive redevelopment plan, if done correctly, could start the district’s comeback. “Not a lot of black folks stay here when they have extensive education,” he said. “But it’s not only them. Many were displaced by redevelopment and had no way to go back.”

 

ELECTION UP FOR GRABS

The largest of the city’s 11 electoral districts, D10 is a huge triangular piece of land in the city’s southeast sector that was used as an industrial dumping zone for decades. Today, the district runs from the Giants stadium at AT&T Park to the 49ers stadium at Candlestick Point and encompasses Mission Bay, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, India Basin, Portola, Little Hollywood, and Visitacion Valley. It’s also crossed by two freeways that isolate it from the rest of the city, and is home to a large number of crumbling housing projects that are in the process of being rebuilt.

Candidate Ed Donaldson grew up in the projects until he was 10 years old, when the Redevelopment Agency kicked his family out in the 1970s. “We landed on our feet, but others weren’t so lucky,” said Donaldson, who works as a housing counseling director at the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation.

“There is a sense that the Bayview and Visitacion Valley have not been included within the San Francisco family,” Donaldson said. “There is a sense of being forgotten.”

In 2007, Donaldson co-founded the Osiris Coalition to tackle the city’s dormant Certificate of Preference program, in which the Redevelopment Agency issued a document to displaced residents and businesses in the 1960s promising that they could return.

He also tried to rescue some 700 foreclosed properties and recycle them as affordable housing stock. And now he is trying to prevent the city from bulldozing seven SF Hope projects without guaranteeing residents that they have right to remain.

In 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom and Maxwell convened an African American Outmigration Task Force that didn’t get a public hearing about its findings until August 2008. The timing angered some, who questioned why the report’s findings and implications for urban planning weren’t released before June 2008, when the residents of San Francisco voted for the Lennar-led Proposition G, a proposal to build 10,000 market rate homes at one of San Francisco’s last remaining black communities, which Newsom and Maxwell endorsed.

The taskforce didn’t publish its recommendations until the end of 2009, allegedly because of insider squabbling. Meanwhile, gentrification was going on actively, and many blamed Newsom, and by extension Maxwell, for failing to do anything with the group’s findings as D10 residents continued to suffer from high rates of asthma, cancer, unemployment and an ongoing black exodus.

It wasn’t always this way. In the 1940s, the district’s black population exploded when migrants from the south and World War II veterans came to work at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. Some moved to Alice Griffith Public Housing complex, or Double Rock, which was built as military housing in 1962. Others relocated to the Bayview when the Redevelopment Agency took over the Fillmore/Western Addition in the ’60s and ’70s as part of a controversial urban renewal effort.

But when the Navy abandoned the shipyard in 1974, unemployment hit the black community hard. Today, hundreds of the city’s lowest income residents live in Alice Griffith’s crumbling units and endure sewage backups, no heat, cloudy drinking water and leaking ceilings, as they wait for the projects to be rebuilt.

“Generations have been trapped in the silo of public housing and cannot get out, because of lack of opportunity and education, so when we legislate, we need to take that into consideration,” said candidate Malia Cohen, whose grandfather came from Texas to work at the shipyard where he met her grandmother, whose family came from New Orleans.

“My grandfather’s father was a longshoreman. He worked with the infamous Leroy King [a commissioner at the city’s Redevelopment Agency] and he has fantastically vivid stories of racism,” said Cohen, who works for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, previously served on the executive staff of Mayor Gavin Newsom, and has already raised over $18,000 in the D10 race and qualified for public matching funds.

“My family came here to work hard, they lived on Navy road in the projects, and then they bought a house here. My parents were born here, and we were all public schooled,” Cohen recalled as she took me on a tour of D10 that ended up in Visitacion Valley, an increasingly Chinese-American neighborhood that reflects a district-wide trend.

Census data show that by 2000, Asians were the largest racial group in the district (30 percent), followed by blacks (29 percent), whites (26 percent), and Latinos (19 percent). By 2003, according to the California Urban Issues project, the trend continued. Asians were the largest racial group (32 percent), followed by blacks (27 percent), whites (21 percent) and Latinos (17 percent) of the population.

This means that D10 candidates will have to garner support from more than one ethnic group to win. Over a dozen candidates have already filed papers in the race, but so far there is no clear front-runner.

Also frustrating the prognosticators is that fact that D10 has had the lowest voter turnout in the city, so the winner will also depend on who goes to the polls.

D10 candidate Geoffrea Morris, who is the grand daughter of longtime Bayview activist Charlie Walker, has been knocking on doors and participating in voter registration drives.

“We need new blood,” Morris said

Getting elected will be a complicated equation. Although Bayview’s population was 50 percent African American at the time of the 2000 census, it didn’t turn out the vote. In the 2006 election, only 14,000 of the district’s 37,000 registered voters went to the ballot, and 50 percent were from whiter, richer, and more Asian neighborhoods.

“It’s very important to the future of the city that the ethnicity diversity of the board be maintained and that the African American community have representation,” former Board President and current Democratic Party chair Aaron Peskin told the Guardian.

Maxwell recently told the Guardian that she’s not ready to endorse any D10 candidates yet. “I’m waiting for people to have a better understanding of what this community is, what the common thread running through it is, and how to use rank choice voting,” she told us.

The only candidate who currently holds elected office is BART director Lynette Sweet, who had her answers down pat when we reached her by phone, and even used wording that was eerily similar to Maxwell’s words.

“D10 is a pretty diverse district, but there is only one common thread: the need for economic development,” Sweet told me. “That’s true in Potrero Hill, Portola, Dog Patch and the Bayview. It’s the same mantra: a lot of small businesses need help, and the only way to help them is through economic development. In Potrero Hill it’s about land use. In the Bayview, it’s about the shipyard and better transportation and truancies.”

 

THE COMMON THREAD

District 10 is ground zero for the Lennar’s $2.2 billion plan to develop 10,500 market rate condos at the Shipyard and Candlestick Point. The plan will allegedly create thousands of jobs and new parks, deliver on an historic community benefits agreement that labor groups claim is so “lawyered up” that the developer can’t renege on its promises.

The package is framed as the one and only way to revitalize the southeast’s formerly vibrant economic engine. Indeed, any time anyone tries to slow down the process—to take time to thoroughly read the draft EIR and see if it adequately addresses the impacts of this massive urban reengineering project — a chorus of “no delays” starts up, either from residents of the housing projects desperate to see their homes rebuilt, or the labor contractors who hope to get jobs.

“It’s as if the city is playing checkers, while Lennar is playing three-dimensional chess,” Eric Smith observed.

Lennar has stated that it will contribute $711 million to finance this massive project. The remainder will be leveraged by Mello-Roos bonds, state taxes based on the use and size of a property and intended to raise money for needed services, and tax increment financing, which creates funding for projects by borrowing against future property tax revenues.

The conceptual plan won Maxwell’s backing but environmental groups are critical of the draft EIR.

During DEIR hearing, environmentalists questioned the wisdom and the cost of filling the Bay to build a bridge over Yosemite Slough, and building condos on Candlestick Point state recreation area, the only open major open space in the district.

But the city’s Planning Department also has 20,000-30,000 units of housing in its pipeline. This means that if all these plans get approved in the next decade, they’d account for 80 percent of residential development citywide. And D10’s population could triple, further skewing the district’s already shifting demographics.

In other words, D10 as we know it could become nothing more than a historic relic in a few years, and the next supervisor will play a key role in deciding whether that happens. SFHDC’s Ed Donaldson warns that any supervisor who does not understand the complexity of the city’s largest district can expect a similar recall backlash in future.

“There is no one homogenous voice in the community,” Donaldson said. “The grass-roots organizing that brought about the recall effort was a result of a changing political structure in the area, but is not yet on par with other districts in town. We still allow our politics to be controlled from downtown.”

Fellow candidate Eric Smith warns that the issues—and politics—are complex.

“People were emotional, angry, and desperate because they feel no one listens to them,” Smith said. “That’s part of the problem here; they would rather have a supervisor go down swinging for them, rather than watch one seemingly side with Lennar, PG&E and the mayor on issues contrary to their interests. That’s the terrible irony and one of the biggest problems in District 10. Folks are so mad, they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make them feel they have a voice in the outcome, even if it’s potentially worse.”

Smith cited the sequence of events that culminated last year in the Navy dissolving the community-based shipyard Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), which for years has reviewed technical documents and commented on the Navy’s clean-up proposals. But in December, the Navy made its official decision to disband the RAB, citing dysfunctional behavior and off-topic discussions that got in the way.

“Some of the same folks who were frustrated by the process, tried to send a signal to the Navy that they weren’t being heard and for all their well-intentioned efforts got the RAB dissolved,” Smith said. “I truly feel for them, it’s absolutely heartbreaking, but at times, they can be their own worst enemy.”

One of the looming issues about the shipyard is that the land has been polluted and needs to be cleaned. The shipyard contains radioactive debris from ships towed to the shipyard, after a 90-foot wave washed over them during an atomic test gone awry. The Navy burned 610,000 gallons of radioactively contaminated ship fuel at the shipyard, and workers showered on the shipyard, raising concerns that radioactive materials got into the drains and sewers. And questions have been raised about radiological tests on animals at the yard.

 

LEAKS AND FLOODS

It’s not just the shipyard that’s toxic. Even the buildings that were constructed to house workers 50 years ago are a serious mess.

Realtor Diane Wesley Smith, who grew up in public housing projects, took me on a walking tour of Alice Griffith last week to see conditions that tenants will likely have to endure until at least 2014, if the city sticks to its plan to relocate people into a new replacement unit in the same geographical area, if not the exact same site.

What we found was pretty messed up.

“The water sometimes comes out brown and feels like sand. It’s been like that for a year,” one resident said.

“The water is cloudy, the bath tub isn’t working and the sink keeps stopping up,” said another.

A woman named Silvia showed us how the water from the tap in her elderly mother’s kitchen flows out cloudy and then doesn’t settle properly, like foamy beer.

“The roof’s been leaking for years, the sewage backs up, but they just fixed the lights,” Silvia said. A neighbor named Linda was using her oven as a heater.

“The toilet backs up a lot, and my grandson’s been coughing a lot from asthma,” Linda said.

“Roaches is always a problem,” said a woman named Stormi, dressed in black sweats and a black T-shirt that read, “Can’t knock the hustle.”

“They’re trying,” said Stormi, a member of the Alice Griffith Residents Association, as a couple of Housing Authority trucks pulled up to do repairs.

“They promise that you will not have to leave your unit, but if they try to move us down to the waterfront, well, there’s a reason there’s no housing there, and it’s because the land will flood,” Stormi said.

“If we don’t end up at the table, we’ll end up on the menu,” Wesley Smith warned, as she stopped to chat with a group of young men, who were worried they would pushed out of the Alice Griffith rebuild through the criteria being established.

“Fred Blackwell, the executive director of the Redevelopment Agency, assures me that’s not the case, but Alice Griffith is a Housing Authority property, and empty promises have the potential to be great promises provided they are made in writing,” Wesley Smith said as we walked out of the projects and onto the road where a yellow and black sign announced “flooded” next to Candlestick Point park, where Lennar wants to build.

Malia Cohen expressed concern about Hope SF residents, as we drove through the Sunnydale housing project.

“We have to be diligent and mindful that people are not pushed out,” Cohen said, noting the sweeping views at Gleneagles golf course above Sunnydale, and the value of housing for a golf course community. “When public housing gets taken offline, we must work with Redevelopment and the Housing Authority to make sure no one is changing the rules halfway. We have to make sure the talks and walks line up. We need to be equal partners. We cannot be bulldozed by City Hall.”

Geoffrea Morris is a Calworks employee, at the Southeast Community College facility on Oakdale, which was built to mitigate the city’s expansion of the sewage plant in 1987. She cited concerns about the literacy levels of people who live in the 2200 public housing units that cluster D10. “A lot of people in Alice Griffith don’t even know the dates or when it’s going to be reconstructed,” Morris said. “Folks like to be told stuff like that, but the city gives you a stack of papers. Some will read them, but others rely on folks they think are trustworthy. They need stuff in layman’s terms written on one sheet of paper.”

Morris is a fan of the Internet who posted a community survey online, and made sure every housing project got some literature telling people to get informed. She worries about the digital divide in D10:

“A lot of folks don’t have computers and access to important information,” Morris said. “And let’s talk about the way ‘affordable’ is used to trick people.”

Michael Cohen, Newsom’s top economic adviser, recently stated in a memo that over the expected 15-20 year phased build out, Lennar’s Candlestick-Shipyard development would include, “up to 10,500 residential units, about 32 percent of which (3,345) will be offered at below market rates.”

“But 892 units of this ‘affordable category’ will be sold to folks earning $100,000,” Morris said. “So if you subtract 892 units from affordable unit category, you’re back to 25 percent affordable.”

Candidate Kristine Enea, an attorney and a former RAB member, chairs the India Basin Neighborhood Association, which administers a US EPA grant to hire experts to translate the Navy’s cleanup documents into plain English and comment on them She was frustrated by the Navy’s decision to dissolve the RAB.

“The lack of a forum does nothing to bolster the community’s trust in the cleanup or the redevelopment process,” Enea said.

Enea generally supports the Lennar project, but has concerns about whether it will adequately mitigate increased car traffic, or result in commercial development that benefits her neighborhood.

“India basin is a pocket of Hunters Point right along the shoreline,” Enea said. “Right now, we have no shops or restaurants, no ATM, no groceries, nothing beyond one liquor store and a few industrial businesses.

Potrero Boosters president Tony Kelly told us that District 10 residents can think for themselves. “D10 residents don’t need to rely on corporations to solve their problems,” he said.

“Folks in the eastern neighborhoods came up with a better revitalization plan than what the city proposed and community activists managed to close the power plant, after the city said it was impossible,” Kelly recalled.

And there’s no shortage of good ideas.

Kelly suggested that an urban agriculture center could immediately put low-skilled folks to work by erecting greenhouses on unused land. Smith said the industrial zone could be “incredible eco-park made from sustainable sources.

‘D 10 is the dumping ground for everything, including all the city’s waste,” he said. “We could be a shining example, not just for D 10, but the rest of the state.”

The D 10 candidate line up includes Calloway, Cohen, Donaldson, Smith, Enea: civil rights attorney Dewitt Lacy, Morris, Potrero View publisher Steve Moss; District 7 BART director Lynette Sweet, Wesley-Smith. Bill Barnes, who works for Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier, and Linda Richardson, who was appointed to the Human Rights Commission in 2007 by Mayor Newsom, have also expressed interest in the race.

In such a huge field, name identification will play a major role. Sweet is in office, but BART Board is not a high-profile job and won’t give her a huge advantage.

Cohen has a slight edge right now in that she’s raised $18,505, including $500 from former Newsom flak Peter Ragone, making her the first D. 10 candidate to qualify for campaign financing. The oldest of five girls, Cohen recalls how her mother got laid off from her city job as a school-based mental health worker and then rehired, as part of the city’s budget cuts.

“We felt that pinch and the frustrating games that are played out between the leadership and the rank and file,” she said.

Cohen who worked for Newsom in his first term as mayor, but has since left his administration , said she is uncomfortable at being framed as Newsom’s candidate.

“Because I’m not, but I am one of the few candidates who has seen how the mayor and the Board work—and don’t work—together,” she said.

Moss sees the city’s southeast as a “district in transition.” Over coffee at Farley’s in Potrero Hill, he told me that the southeastern neighborhoods could be “launching pads for environmentally sustainable growth.”

“The district’s been in a frozen period for 30 years, But despite the problems, people are deeply committed to and in love with their community.

“This district is the future of San Francisco and its social fabric—the diversity, income –and its problems are leftovers from the city’s industrial age.”

 

 


 

DISTRICT 10, BY THE NUMBERS

Total Acres: 5,650

Average household income: $85,000

Population: 73,000

Registered voters: 37,700

Average housing price: $335,000

Ethnicity (2003 figures): Asian 32%, African American, 27%, white 21%, Hispanic 17%

Development status of land: 18% residential, 38% is commercial, 38% undevelopable

All figures the latest available. Sources: SFGIS, Association of Bay Area Governments, U.S. Census, California Urban Issues Project. Ethnicity and income data is from 2003 and almost certainly has changed.

Changes/chances

0

superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Sorry to put a slight damper on the socks-knocking, thrillingly complex, and exuberant nightlife decade we’re just rafting into. (Listen to Tensnake, Move D, Matías Aguayo, Minimal Wave, Zombie Disco Squad, and recently reinvigorated legends Jeff Mills, Greg Wilson, and Todd Edwards for clues to the new.) But I’ve got to launch some shout-outs to some Bay club people and places no longer with us. Clubwise, the consistently excellent techno-plus happy hour Qoöl (www.qoolsf.com) ended its 15-year run at 111 Minna last month, so founders Spesh and Jondi et al could concentrate on their label, Loöq, and larger affairs. And high-voltage, bare-fleshed electro blackout BlowUp (www.blowupsf.com) quit after five years due to capacity overflow at the Rickshaw Stop.

On sadder notes, promoter Chantal Salkey, who revolutionized the womens club scene with her summer Mango tea-dances, upping the party power of lesbians of color into global sounds, passed away, as did David Kapp, the former manager of Deco (and several pre-gentrification Polk Street bars), who brought conceptual disco and wet alternaqueers to the Tenderloin. Let’s dedicate an extra twirl this week to the pioneers.

 


BASS GAMES: MARIJUANA CHANCES

Light one up and get pixilated with the true-electro kids of Party Effects (www.partyeffects.biz), as they skunk out swank palace Otis with unthinkable low-end roll and passionate blips. Live P.A.s from Adeptus, Dade Elderon, Marnacle, and Tarythyas dust it, while glamourpuss hostesses Domonique and Alexis pinch it tight. With $10 bottomless drafts, it’ll be slow-motion anarchy.

Thu/25 and last Thursdays, 10 p.m., free. Otis, 25 Maiden Lane, SF. www.otissf.com

 


KISS MY BLACK ASS

New York City’s great and kiki classic-house KMBA party, helmed by Quentin Harris — my vote for house producer of the ’00s — is landing at Triple Crown with Harris and SF’s David Harness. Expect energetic cuts with generous dollops of sass: at the last KMBA I attended, Quentin dropped all eight minutes of his slinky edit of DJ DeMarko’s “Drop a House.” The red lights flashed.

Fri/26, 10 p.m.–4 a.m., $10. Triple Crown, 1760 Market, SF. www.triplecrownsf.com

 


REBEL RAVE

This party, put on by the Crosstown Rebels label, confuses yet delights me. The intriguing featured players — Damian Lazarus, Deniz Kurtel, Jamie Jones, and Seth Troxler — possess unassuming demeanors and ravaging musical intellects that span the neo-edit, house revival, minimal, and techno-pop genres. Yet the joint’s being marketed harder than a Steve Aoki appearance in 2k7. TV cameras! Hookah room! Wear your “Rebel Rave” gear! Fortunately, the potential greatness and actual fun of the music should cut through the hype static.

Fri/26, 10 p.m.–4 a.m., $20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com

 


CUTE FANG

Possibly no one has done more to sustain the classic SF techno sound — chunky, funky, sample-heavy, breaks-laced, and often unabashedly rave-y — than homegirl Forest Green. Her recent, bass-blasting productions on Daly City Records and her own Cute Fang recordings have bravely updated the groove, prepping it for its inevitable third or fourth comeback. She’ll be celebrating her birthday with a roiling lineup, including Clairity, Ethan Miller, Dragn’fly, Triple D, Raydeus, and more.

Sat/27, 8 p.m., $5. Shine, 1337 Mission, SF. www.forestgreen.org

 


MARTIN KEMP

Is UK Funky a trap? One of the most exciting sounds of the past couple years, the British genre revived two-step beats, added dubstep atmospherics, and incorporated R&B, tribal, and Latin flourishes. But the organic sheen of the music — bongos, vibes, strings — soon rubbed off, leaving UK Funky in a strange electro No Man’s Land (full of men, of course). Future-eared brothers Martin Kemp and Brackles are the best current candidates to move the movement forward, infusing their DJ sets with enough experiment to keep it fresh while playing with UK Funky’s natural air of loveliness that grabbed ears and asses in the first place. Kemp will turn up the gas at the banging new Icee Hot party.

Sat/27, 10 p.m., $5. 222 Hyde, SF. www.222hyde.com

This kiss’ progress

0

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC Tino Sehgal doesn’t like objects. But it’s not just the thing-ness of things he shuns; it’s also the traces of things. In addition to refusing any recordings of his work, Tino (his last name is too “thingy” even for me) also refuses to deal with artist statements or written contracts, or anything, really, that might leave a material residue. (Digital photos? Sorry, they can be disseminated and printed.)

Tino is formally trained in dance and economics (not visual art). One starts to wonder if he doesn’t share the same eccentric anxieties and crackpot economic theories Ezra Pound did about usury. Pound loathed interest precisely because it left a trace; it created a thing (money) out of a non-thing (borrowed time) and refused to disappear. And this usurpation competed with the clean, rigid images and lines of Pound’s Vorticist vision and poetics of precision.

Despite Pound’s and Tino’s shared aversion for extraneous excess, there is one fundamental difference: if the Vorticist and Imagist movements attempted to “capture movement in an image,” then Tino’s work is attempting to release movement beyond the image — and into the realm of lived experience. But before I delve into the ontology of materialism, let me walk you through his current show at the Guggenheim Museum. (Those who plan to see the work in person should stop reading now.)

With a steady flow of people ahead and behind, you pass through the revolving doors at the Guggenheim’s entrance and are spit into the atrium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed rotunda — a naturally bright, open chamber that resembles an indoor shopping mall with circulating escalators, or the inside of an enormous Energy Dome (that Devo hat) flipped upside down and bleached white. Either way, when you look up, you feel vertigo. When you look back down, you see Tino’s first piece, Kiss (2004), and you start to feel dizzy again, but erotically so.

Kiss is two young things caught in a slow, exaggerated embrace of seamless looped sequences blending makeouts and dry humps all at about the speed of 2 frames per second. The couple is entirely absorbed into each other as they transition from standing to lying down and back again. And you become entirely absorbed in their absorption. It’s like watching a soft-core in slo-mo. You start to get aroused, but then a grandmother chides her grandson in that grating “New Yawk” accent, and your gaze breaks. You roll your head slowly, exhaling, then head for the ramp nearby.

After the first bend an elated, eager child steps in front of you and offers his hand. “Hi. This is a piece by Tino Sehgal, would you like to follow me?” “Sure,” you say. Then the precocious or extremely caffeinated kid asks you what your understanding of “progress” is, and you respond a bit sarcastically, “It’s a word.” But the kid doesn’t give a shit what you think or say; he’s just cataloging your responses in order to hand them off to the next interlocutor — a teenager with an opinion.

“You think “progress” is a word?” asks the confident teen, who anticipates your answer with a reply before you’re able to split your lips. You argue back and forth about the merits and semiotics of progress, and whether or not it’s even a real thing. The philosophical banter is fun for a moment but then you realize the jerk is basically repeating everything you say but with a contradictory spin. So you quicken your pace and by the next bend in the road the succeeding generation’s representative inserts an anecdotal non sequitur in stride.

“So the other day I lied about something really petty … You ever do that? Lie about stupid things?” Or “After I graduated law school, I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer and am now doing voluntary work….” Or some other minor/major consciousness shift where one becomes concerned and aware of one’s life and its recursive trajectory. This is where the conversations actually start to “progress” and you find yourself engaging with a stranger who otherwise feels like an old friend — albeit a needy, unstable one.

At this point there are maybe two revolutions left in the rotunda. Your adult friend gets siphoned off somewhere into the building’s innards, and a weathered, smiling face greets you in relief. The two of you walk slowly as the senior agent massages a memory and focuses on the importance of restoring phenomenology. Your attention oscillates between boredom and intrigue as you offer “ums” and “uh-huhs” and the occasional “wow, really?” Then you reach the end, and Wisdom vanishes.

You start to wonder about the disingenuous aspects of Tino’s pieces — how some of the conversations felt artificial and scripted, not genuine and spontaneous — and if the experience was real. Like really real. As real as the people or walls you bumped into along the way, and as real as the vertigo-induced anxiety now screaming through your body as you look over the hip-high ledge and down the spiraling corridor at Kiss below. Kiss is now in its dry-humping stage and looks 100 percent flat, like a 2-D painting — a painting depicting a deformed centaur’s suicide: three legs, two heads, and one arm sprawled in an outline. But then it moves. Slightly.

“When you look at a painting,” Tino tells me in an interview back on ground level, “you know that you might like it or you might not like it, but you don’t have a similarity to it. With my work, the medium of the work is the same as you. And as a visitor, one has all the resources there as well.”

The interactions, Tino assures me, “are not scripted. They might repeat something sometimes, but that’s not what they’re supposed to do. They get information about you, and then they react to you. It’s a loose structure.” The only restrictions the conversationalists have: “They can’t talk about art, and they can’t talk about the piece itself.”

It’s this last part, the refusing to talk about itself — refusing, for instance, to call itself “This Is Progress” — that makes Tino’s work surpass a role as just the latest “Death of Art” incarnation in the Fountain and Brillo Box evolutionary chain. And because Sehgal’s work desperately needs you — an audience member, a participant — to exist, a sustainable and open relationship develops and lasts even after the museum’s doors close.

CCA Wattis Institute is currently hosting Tino’s first U.S. solo exhibition, a constantly evolving work incorporating pause, through April 24. It’s on a much smaller scale than the Guggenheim’s Sehgal show, but well worth the visit.

TINO SEHGAL

Through March 10

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

1071 Fifth Ave., N.Y.

(213) 423-3500

www.guggenheim.org

TINO SEHGAL

Through April 24

CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts

1111 Eight St., SF

(415) 551-9210

www.wattis.org

Siteseeing

0

FILM If America garlanded a filmmaker laureate, who would be better than James Benning? After helping thaw the structuralist/abstraction divide in the 1970s and ’80s, he’s since embarked on several adjoining 16mm contemplations of the American landscape, as marked by trains, lakes, paradises lost and alienation found — in the course, this son of Milwaukee has produced a matchless western oeuvre. In Ruhr (2009), his latest, Benning migrates to Europe and digital, but the bedrock is safe.

The constant of Benning’s films is a multilevel engagement with time. Within the structural demands of the audience (you will sit and watch these 10-minute takes), different measures of duration are overlaid — if you find yourself contemplating industry, geology, historical revisionism, prophecy, chaos theory and, indeed, the meaning of contemplation itself, you are following Benning’s path.

An earlier work screening this weekend, American Dreams (1983), is an intriguing bit of watch-making. The hour-long film tracks three chronologies, roughly aligning with image, sound, and text. Benning’s immaculate collection of cards and memorabilia plots Hank Aaron’s record-busting career (the home run king started as a Milwaukee Brave); the sound excerpts political speeches, newscasts, pop songs, and jingles concurrent with Hammerin’ Hank’s mounting statistics; and finally the text, in Benning’s own script, sources the 1972 diaries of Arthur Bremmer (also from Milwaukee), the man who shot George Wallace. On the one hand, we can’t take it all in; on the other, we never can. After RR (2007), it’s tempting to conceptualize the film’s historiography kit as a "if one train leaves the station at 2 p.m." problem, and indeed, the pleasure is not unrelated to that of an elegant math proof.

The question of whose story this is lingers, as does the trifurcated quicksand of history as progress (the home run chase), rupture (the news briefs) and maelstrom (the sociopath’s diary). At the root of American Dreams’ archaeology is the triangulation of Aaron, Bremmer, and Benning’s respective quests (the latter as artist and collector), all encoded as different figures of masculinity. If the subject of his artist’s talk Sunday afternoon is any indication, Benning continues to work through this enigmatic mode of portraiture. Two years ago, he built replicas of a pair of all-American cabins: those of Thoreau’s Walden and Ted Kaczynski’s own private Montana. It takes a lively mind to discern this hermetic dialectic — and a brave one to turn it back on his own practice.

"DARKEST AMERICANA AND ELSEWHERE"
Fri/26, 7 and 8:15 p.m., $10
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
Sat/27, 7:30 p.m., $10
Presentation Theater at USF
2350 Turk, SF
Sun/3, 3 p.m., $10
McBean Theater at Exploratorium
3601 Lyon, SF

Trapped in the museum

0

VISUAL ART Have you heard? SFMOMA turned 75. There is a lot to take in across the museum’s related exhibits, from the “Anniversary Show” centerpiece to the small retrospectives devoted to specific artists that SFMOMA has fostered relationships with over the years. While everything is certainly worth a gander, below are some pieces worth more than your while.

 

SINGLES GOING STEADY

Next to Bruce Conner’s Ray Charles-and-found-footage shotgun wedding Three Screen Ray (2006), in the other media gallery, you’ll see a series of music-related or somehow “musical” single channel video works (cannily titled “The Singles Collection”). Media arts curator Rudolf Frieling has played DJ with the archive, going from Steina’s 1970-78 violin-powered video-drone to Cory Arcangel’s hilarious crotch-centric re-edit of footage of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1984 Central Park reunion concert.

The chart-topper, however, is undoubtedly Michael Bell-Smith’s dizzying 2005 piece, Chapters 1-12 of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet Synced and Played Simultaneously. As explained by its title, the piece exploits the identical backing track used throughout Kelly’s magnum opus, introducing a new audio and video layer with each successive repeat of the bass hook until all 12 chapters are going at once. Bell-Smith’s condensation of Kelly’s soap opera reduces the series’ increasingly labyrinthine narrative to pure affect, in a sense exposing R&B’s McLuhanian truth that the medium is the message. As the visual field moves from palimpsest to whiteout, so too does the audiotrack transform, kecak-like, from discernable speech into a buzzing monsoon of indecipherable chatter, melisma runs, and huge swells of nonverbal emotionality. The idea and execution are so simple and brilliant as to come off as almost self-evident (alternately, I wonder if Kelly just didn’t plan it that way). Here’s hoping Bell-Smith will make a sequel with the other 10 chapters.

 

BAD BOYS AND BEESWAX

Recently, art critic Roberta Smith humorously posited the three career stages of artistic bad boys: “beginner (there’s still time to turn back), over the top, and over the hill.” I wonder where she would slot Matthew Barney. SFMOMA has had a long relationship with the SF-born artist: the museum put on Barney’s first non-gallery retrospective in 1991, followed by the co-acquisition with the Walker Center of the Arts of Cremaster 2 in 2000, and most recently, the massive Drawing Restraint retrospective in 2006. Certainly, there is something of the “beginner” in the 1991 installation Transexualis — part of a “Focus on Artists” exhibition that include sections on Diane Arbus, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, and others — with its petroleum jelly-cast decline bench set in a walk-in cooler. Like a teen bodybuilder, its aesthetic perfection is visually arresting, yet there is something about such over-development that is off-putting and faintly obnoxious. Such is the vanity of youth, perhaps?

Robert Gober’s beeswax torso in the adjacent gallery, made a year before Barney’s Crisco home gym, takes the opposite tack. Slumped on the floor like a throw pillow, Gober’s untitled Eva Hesse-like form simultaneously welcomes you with the upright repose of a postcoital lover (that happy trail that leads the eye up and down from a small cloud of chest hair is made of human follicles), only to then take on the cast of something long past its prime to be taken out with the trash. It is a body many of us have seen, or had, or have. It is a wingless Pyrrhic victory that still manages to fly miles above Barney’s Super Bowl half-time show deconstruction of masculinity. Who’s bad?

THE ANNIVERSARY SHOW

FOCUS ON ARTISTS

LONG PLAY: BRUCE CONNER AND THE SINGLES COLLECTION

Through May 23 (“Anniversary Show” through Jan. 16, 2011)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000

www.sfmoma.org

Unhappy days

3

FILM Brother Theodore had a way with words. Possessed by a message he had to deliver, in monologue he’d refer to days of yore when his articulate charisma could cause “duchesses [to] laugh freely and dance like dervishes” and “the sick at heart, same-day cleaners, women’s clubs and horseflies [to follow] me in a whirlwind of ecstasy.” Those last three words, so pulpy they’re worthy of George Kuchar, are vintage Theodore. With his trademark guttural voice shifting from deep rumble to surface quake, he’d compare his sweaty skin to “rancid pork” and say he’d “rather be a contented pinworm than a tormented Brother Theodore.” But a tormented Brother Theodore he was, an E.M. Cioran-caliber comic of melancholy and misery who viewed life as a fatal disease.

Jeff Sumerel’s documentary portrait To My Great Chagrin layers performance footage of Brother Theodore (birth name: Theodore Gottleib) from different eras to create a baying chorus of Theodores: young ones, older ones, almost always sporting a furrowed brow and a silly mini-bouffant haircut. Sumerel also has small puppets mouth Theodore’s words, in a nod to the existential curse at the core of his subject’s dramatic philosophy — a philosophy born from life experience and unflinching intelligence. It turns out that the boy who became Brother Theodore played chess in a Vienna apartment with his mother’s lover, Albert Einstein, before the Nazis annihilated his family and changed his fortune from one of tremendous wealth to abject poverty.

To My Great Chagrin is at its best when it presents unfiltered — and even magnified — Brother Theodore. A fixture of the New York stage who in some ways presages performance art, Brother Theodore dedicatedly honed his monologues over the course of decades. His mid-’80s appearances on Late Night with David Letterman were such a revelation to me as a teenager that my first visit to Manhattan had to include a trip to see him perform in Greenwich Village. His hostility towards that fraternal show’s host (I remember him likening Letterman to a “fishwife”) paved the way for similar though less substantive TV stunts and pranks by the likes of Crispin Glover. In the YouTube era, those clips of Brother Theodore are beginning to find an audience again, but Sumerel’s movie provides a much fuller dose of the Teutonic titan’s towering, glowering torment. Through the wonders of recording, this fiery orator and cosmo-dynamic personality lives on, long past the prime of his senility.

TO MY GREAT CHAGRIN: THE UNBELIEVABLE STORY OF BROTHER THEODORE

Thurs/25, 7:30 p.m., $8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787

www.ybca.org

 

Meaning what?

0

MUSIC Michael Sempert, frontman of Oakland synth-folk outfit Birds & Batteries, has a talent for avoiding questions. Sitting across from me in a Mission District café near the studio on Cesar Chavez where his band practices, he evades my hardly tactful attempts to adhere a concise creative vision to his efforts as a songwriter, producer, and multiinstrumentalist. "I think that meaning isn’t fixed, no matter the intention of the artist," he resolves. "The same song can mean something different even to the same person every time."

Well, Sempert’s right, and I might qualify that my predicating Birds & Batteries as synth-folk at the beginning of this article only begins to hone in on the project’s constantly evolving hybrid aesthetic. The 2007 full-length I’ll Never Sleep (eightmaps) contains robust, electronic toned folk-rock, including a crackling cover of Neil Young’s "Heart of Gold." In contrast, last fall’s EP Up To No Good (eightmaps) pulls as much from "Atomic Dog" electro-funk as from warm 1970s studio pop. Most hybrid bands experimenting with pastiche tend to get lost in the process, but Birds & Batteries finds ways to craft strangely charming and captivating music.

A brief tale at just short of 20 minutes, Up To No Good summons a playfully dystopian mood and story line. At first, we follow a roguish protagonist in the wake of some apocalyptic catastrophe that struck the heart of a sprawling city. "Now I believe in the villain/ I believe in the thief/ Who steals what he is given/ Keeps it in his teeth," a husky-voiced Sempert croons during "The Villain."

Eschewing conventional choruses, Sempert lets rhythmic tides carry the songs forward in alternating patterns, layering them with haunting synth arpeggios and mellifluous string cords. An enchantingly ominous world emerges — one populated by verdant creatures that shape-shift among the animate and robotic and ghostly — inciting revelry more than any horror. The effect is similar to that of watching a John Carpenter film or reading a Phillip K. Dick novel, where we can drop our critical guard, at least for a moment, to take ironic pleasure in the evils of the world and a less than promising-looking future. That pleasure might also arise from the numerous strands of the familiar that ring in Up To No Good, sparking nostalgia for a sort of childlike innocence before we had to be so crafty in our coping.

The climax takes a propulsive turn in "Out in the Woods." A bubbling, boogie-funk bass line quickens and slows as the melodic chords warp unexpectedly, mirroring the racing thoughts of the supposed villain who loses himself in an enigmatic black forest. "Up to no good/ But we’re up to no bad/ We are only what we are," Sempert sings over a howling whistle that sounds like a synthetic gust of wind.

"With music, I try to get at the unexplainable," Sempert says. "The lyrical content deals with the climate of moral ambiguity." Such conceptual play on the notions of good and evil casts the Up to No Good EP with the aura of a pensive and cautionary fable, despite its tongue-in-cheek facets.

Birds & Batteries’ oncoming third full-length — set for release this summer with the tentative title Panorama — will follow similar explorations into right and wrong. However, that might be the only solid thread linking it to the highly polished Up To No Good, even though the tracks were recorded during the same time frame. "[Panorama] is informed a lot more by the live show and live process," Sempert says. "It’s a shift back to earnest and uplifting music."

The dynamic nature of Birds & Batteries is born from Sempert’s restless character and overarching creative control. "It takes months to make music," he says. "Over the course of that period, I’m grappling with all the possibilities and all the different potential meanings. My relationship with the music is fluid. That’s why I hesitate to pin down a meaning."

BIRDS & BATTERIES

With Memory Tapes, Loquat, Letting Up Despite Great Faults

Sat./27, 9 p.m., $12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455

www.bottomofthehill.com

The haunt of fear

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MUSIC Something wicked this way comes when you put on a Shackleton track. Tinny hi-hats, shivering vocal snippets, and water drip snares skitter about like panicked rats as synths bellow like distant foghorns, announcing the approach of the bass.

Oh, that bass. Shackleton’s bass doesn’t drop, but rather lodges itself as a formidable presence within a track’s darting double-, sometimes triple-time rhythms; an iceberg whose total, intimidating mass is never truly perceptible beneath the black depths it floats on. Low end-heads and melancholics alike will get a chance to deep sea dive with the reclusive British producer when he hits Club Six’s Darkroom for his first San Francisco appearance on Sunday in support of last year’s Three EPs (Perlon).

Although he’s most frequently identified with the dubstep scene, Shackleton’s debut on Europe’s most prestigious house and techno label isn’t that surprising. Many of the releases on his now defunct Skull Disco imprint treated dubstep as a template to be toyed with and stretched. Tracks evoked vintage Muslimgauze and Chain Reaction’s hazy pulses as much as the latest white label played out by Mary Ann Hobbs. It was a crossover cemented in his 2006 track, the haunting "Blood On My Hands," which minimal techno expansionist Ricardo Villalobos remixed into a post 9/11 elegy that rivals William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops (2062) as one of the most powerful artistic response to that tragedy.

Four years on and a decade after the towers fell, Three EPs doesn’t offer much in the way of solace. The sampled chants of "He’s got the whole world in his hands" on "Asha in the Tabernacle" come off as a threat rather than a reassurance. The only thing certain is what’s waiting for us in the dark, what’s waiting for us in the end. It’s a sentiment echoed in the lyrics of the Bob Dylan song "Slow Train," summoned in name and spirit on Three EP ‘s most dirge-like track, "There’s A Slow Train": "Man’s ego is inflated, his laws are outdated, they don’t apply no more /You can’t rely no more to be standin’ around waitin’ />In the home of the brave, Jefferson turnin’ over in his grave /Fools glorifying themselves, trying to manipulate Satan /And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend."

SHACKLETON

March 7, 9 p.m.

Club Six

60 Sixth St., SF

(415) 863-1221

www.clubsix1.com

Sing, spelunker, sing

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arts@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER How many degrees of separation can be charted between the soulful, indie-folk natural men of the Cave Singers and the cut, tanned, laundered, and pugnacious bruisers and thugettes of Jersey Shore? Way fewer than you, or Snooki, would think.

“I’m all about it. It runs in my veins,” says Cave Singer Pete Quirk from downtown Seattle, taking a lunch break from his toils as a bike messenger and struggling to be heard above the din of jackhammers and a seemingly invisible, stalking squeeze-box player. He grew up on the shore, albeit on a more rustic stretch, which fostered mischievous fun like pool-hopping rather than cop car riding. “I’ve only seen the commercials, and I was so frightened by it. I got a glimpse of a guy punching a girl — so horrific.” Still, he adds, “Things seem a little less dramatic when you’re a kid. It wouldn’t be on TV if it wasn’t overblown.”

Of course, who knows what sort of reality show would focus on the Cave Singers, though the group’s origins could read like the stuff of potentially high drama considering songwriters Derek Fudesco, ex of Pretty Girls Make Graves and Murder City Devils, and Quirk, once of Hint Hint, share the same house — best friend-style, not Surreal Life-style. (Drummer Marty Lund, formerly of Cobra High, bunks elsewhere.) “People would fall in love with us, you know,” speculates Quirk, 34, gamely. “We’re just three lovable guys cruising around the country. It’s like that movie 3 Men and a Baby — just no baby. Music is the baby.” Quirk would like to be the Tom Selleck of that bunch. “But I’d probably Steve Guttenberg. But Guttenberg is cool because he’s down to earth.”

That’s an asset for these beach-, cave-, and nature-loving nu-folkies, who dive deeply into a breast-beating, witchy breed of acoustic rock on their brighter, more upbeat second long-player, Welcome Joy (Matador, 2009). A fleet of frisky, Feelies-like rhythm guitars drone with infectious optimism on “I Don’t Mind,” transmogrifying into kick-off-your-shoes pop bliss for “W” and the plucky, clickety-clack climax of “Hen of the Woods,” before taking it down a few gleaming notches for a bongo-laced, incantatory “Shrine.” The arc of Welcome Joy‘s tracks is crucial, miming the passage of a fiery orb across a midyear sky.

Why such joy? “We all went to therapy together like Metallica, y’know,” quips Quirk. But really, folks, Quirk qualifies, “we always sit around, and Derek will play a guitar line, and we’ll just be jamming, and it will bring up a cinematic image, and we’ll go with that. A lot of the songs at the time seemed joyful, for whatever reason. It seemed like there was a lot of beach imagery, or just youthful things we remembered doing in the past.”

It’s all organic down in the Fudesco and Quirk basement, where they practice and demo, decorate and sing freely, as Quirk puts it. There’s safety in that man cave — and in this band, apparently. “We’re best friends and housemates,” Quirk offers, amid the city clamor and chatter of kids with petitions. “We’re each other’s second wives or something — we help each other when we’re down. It’s like a Rotary Club down there.”

THE CAVE SINGERS

With the Dutchess and the Duke and the Moondoggies

March 9, 8 p.m., $12–$14

Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

www.theindependentsf.com

 


JOHNNY CASH TRIBUTE

Speedy’s Wig City cashes in with the seventh annual event showcasing Glen Earl Brown Jr., the B Stars, the Royal Deuces, Big B and His Snake Oil Saviors, the Mystery Men, Whiskey Pills Fiasco, and Misisipi Mike and the Country Squires. Thurs/25, 8 p.m., $10. Knockout, 3223 Mission, SF. www.theknockoutsf.com

 

ZAIMPH AND STELLAR OM SOURCE

Double Leopards diva Marcia Bassett serves up metal-flake No Fun noise candy alongside electronic dreamweaver Christelle Gualdi. With Vodka Soap and Bill Orcutt. Thurs/25, 9 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com

 

TAKEN BY TREES

“Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Steinbeck, and South Asian exotica are a few of the touchstones for ex-Concretes vocalist Victoria Bergsman. With El Perro Del Mar. Tues/2, 9 p.m., $15. Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. www.cafedunord.com

Brick by brick

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TOY-NAMATION Denmark has given us so much. In the past few decades alone it has gifted the world with live-sex club acts, Brigitte Nielsen, breakfast pastries, and Lars “Antichrist” von Trier. In 1969 it became the first country to legalize pornography, and two decades later did likewise for same-sex marriage. It is also currently designated the least corrupt nation on earth, with the greatest income equality.

But predating all these wonders was that cultural juggernaut we call Lego. Toymaker Ole Kirk Christiansen named his company that in 1934; 15 years later, he began producing interlocking plastic bricks, though it was not until 1958 that the perfected current design debuted. (Thus, 52-year-old blocks remain compatible with ones you could buy today.) In 1988, Lego Group’s last patent on its fortune’s literal building block expired, resulting in a rash of cheap imitations, most manufactured in (surprise) China. But a Lego is a Lego is a Lego. Like Kleenex, it is a brand name more familiar than the object’s literal description. What five-year-old wants his “interlocking plastic brick”?

This week sees the (direct-to-DVD) release of the first feature-length Lego movie. The first thing you notice about Lego: The Adventures of Clutch Powers is that there’s been some heinous error: how can this not be stop-motion animation, but CGI?! What’s the point if we’re not seeing actual crazy Legos-constructed figures moving around an all Lego-landscape?

That said, it does sport a certain blocky design theme, and the early-1980s Cars-type songs with handclaps and synths seem just right. Clutch is an all-American, thrill-seeking, planet-saving blowhard who learns the value of teamwork by being forced to cooperate with a girl (plucky!), musclehead (jerky!), and egghead (German!) on an intergalactic voyage to defeat an evil wizard and his army of skeleton warriors. There’s a little Indiana Jones here, a little Shrek there, a lotta Lord of the Rings hither and yon.

But these 82 innocuous minutes are just a blip in the ever-widening Lego cosmos, which includes umpteen subsidiary toy franchises, clothes, video games, books, theme parks, “Lego Serious Play” (for business consensus-building!), and independent uses that run from elaborate Lego reconstructions of live action movies to epic online biblical illustration The Brick Testament.

Legos are timeless and cool. The company is laudable, not just for inviting action and imagination from kids, but for being a good global citizen. Lego’s corporate responsibility bylaws regarding environmental impact, charitable contributions, and treatment of workers are the sort of “socialist” stuff that would be lobbied out of existence here in five seconds. Oh, those Scandinavians — when will they realize all their prosperity, public benefits, and high overall happiness index is really a living hell in sheep’s clothing? Surely they need an angry Tea Party movement to protest a society that actually takes care of its own. 

www.legoclutchpowers.com

Economy vs. environment

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By Adam Lesser

news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY The Port of Oakland has long been a battleground that pits economic development against environmental justice, a dichotomy that has become all the more fraught with emotional baggage during the current recession.

For years, West Oakland residents, environmentalists, and public health officials have demanded that government officials do something about the long lines of old, idling diesel trucks that spew toxic emissions that have sickened the surrounding community (see “The polluting Port,” 3/24/09).

When the state finally mandated expensive retrofits of the oldest trucks at the start of this year, truckers and their allies reacted angrily to what they called a job-killing regulation. But rather than viewing such fights in isolation, a new Bay Area movement is seeking to broaden the debates within what it labels the “toxic triangle” extending from the Port of Oakland to San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point to the city of Richmond.

Citing concern for how to effectively address the cumulative impact of pollution, community groups including the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and Asian Pacific Environmental Network are sponsoring the Toxic Triangle Hearings. The first hearing was held Feb. 13 in Oakland; the next two hearings will take place later this year in the other two triangle points.

At the first hearing, supporters introduced their cumulative impact pledge, a request that agencies ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency to the California Air Resources Board work together to define emission limits for an entire area and to collectively adopt reduction strategies. The ultimate goal is an environmental justice ordinance that would require any new project to receive an “EJ permit” before a proposed project was allowed to move forward.

The city of Cincinnati approved a similar system last June, but it was put on hold this month due to concerns about the cost of implementing it during these hard economic times. The delay in Cincinnati points to an emerging theme in the narrative from lawmakers and corporations. With high unemployment and huge government budget deficits, can we afford to further regulate pollution?

California Assembly Member Nancy Skinner, who represents Richmond, was on hand at the Toxic Triangle Hearings. Questions arose about the ongoing legal battle between community groups and Chevron, which wants to expand its Richmond refinery. The refinery is the largest in Northern California, with a capacity of 240,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

The retrofit is on hold after a court rejected the project’s EIR, asking Chevron to clarify whether the expanded refinery would process heavy crude oil, which generates more pollution. A Jan. 19 editorial in the Contra Costa Times made the pro-business argument, claiming that Chevron “is poised to shut down its Richmond refinery operations” and laying blame on environmentalists.

“All we know is that the Chevron people have talked of change — there’s been a shift,” Skinner said. “They’re looking at all their North American operations. That doesn’t mean we just roll over. But it means that we have to be aware of that when we sit at the table.”

But environmentalists question whether closing the Richmond refinery is a realistic threat from Chevron, or merely a negotiating tactic. “There is no credible scenario in which this refinery will close anytime soon for business reasons,” said Greg Karras, a senior scientist for Communities for a Better Environment. “The issue is whether Chevron can move to heavier oil and whether they have to disclose that. It has nothing to do with jobs.”

The Toxic Triangle Hearings highlight this perceived conflict between the economy and the environment. But Karras called the dichotomy a “false choice,” arguing that the greatest potential for job growth lies in innovation and green jobs, not a refinery expansion.

APEN’s State Organizing Director Mari Rose Taruc agreed: “We want people to have jobs and make it out of the recession. But we’re not going to trade our health and the ailing conditions of our community for something worse.”

Taruc sounded frustrated, similar to the tone Karras expressed when faced with the question of the economic impact of environmental regulation. For now, she said the rationale for delay is the recession, but “when the economy is good, there would be another excuse.”

Fixing the Foundation

1

 

By Anna Widdowson

news@sfbg.com

The Foundation of City College of San Francisco is seeking to shield its financial dealings from public scrutiny under a new agreement that could limit the college district’s oversight of fundraising done in its name.

The agreement establishes the formal relationship between the foundation and the district, renewing a document that expired last June. But it became controversial when the district sought to make the foundation into an auxiliary organization, which would allow greater oversight by the district and the public, while the foundation sought greater autonomy and secrecy surrounding its fundraising operations.

The two sides have been in strained negotiations for months, but the freshly inked compromise agreement will likely be on the Feb. 25 Board of Trustees’ agenda as a discussion item so that public testimony can be taken and changes can be made before it’s formally considered for approval.

The backdrop of the dispute — and the reason it’s so contentious — is last year’s criminal indictment of former City College Chancellor Philip Day for a money-laundering scheme using foundation accounts. Last July, Day was charged with eight felonies for misappropriating more than $150,000 in college funds, including using the foundation to funnel public money into a political campaign and maintaining an unregulated slush fund. The trial is set to begin later this year.

But the foundation, which controls more than $19 million in scholarships and other assets for the district, says that corruption is precisely why it wants to back away from the college, which managed the foundation’s finances under the previous agreement that expired last June.

Peter Bagatelos, the foundation’s lawyer, said Day’s missteps have cast a shadow on the foundation that has impeded its ability to fundraise. He explained that many donors mistook the district’s actions for those of the foundation and were scared away from donating, which is why the foundation is seeking to be an independent body.

Yet a Guardian investigation (“On shaky ground,” 3/5/08) unearthed documents showing that the foundation helped Day launder $35,000 in public funds into a 2006 political campaign, although an internal audit couldn’t find evidence that foundation directors approved the transfer and, as Bagetelos told us at the time, “It was never done with their consent or knowledge or participation.”

Now the foundation is asserting that it cannot fundraise successfully if it is turned into an auxiliary organization, as some trustees are seeking, which would subject the foundation to public records, open meetings, and other sunshine laws that Bagatelos derided as “a lot of bureaucracy and entanglements.”

“They just want to go out and raise money to help the students,” Bagatelos said. As for why transparency hinders that cause, he said: “There are many donors who don’t want to be made public.”

“The foundation is not a public agency, it’s a private corporation,” he noted.

A rough draft of the agreement, which is still under review, lays out the steps the foundation will take to gain greater autonomy, including hiring and paying its own employees, and adopting a structure comparable to other nonprofit entities to make it more attractive to prospective donors.

But some college trustees, including President Milton Marks and Vice President John Rizzo, believe they should be given greater oversight over the foundation’s finances. “The district [and the foundation are] equally tarnished by the activity because they enabled [Day],” Rizzo said. “I just want to get enough sunshine in there that goes beyond what they have to report by law, so if a future chancellor does something like that, we’ll know about it.”

Bagatelos said the foundation will still be subject to monthly reviews and regular audits as outlined by the laws governing all nonprofit organizations, but the district may not have access to donor and fundraising information.

Hao Huntsman, president of the Academic Senate, which represents the college faculty, said this lack of transparency would hurt the ability of both entities to rebuild their reputations.

“The foundation raises money using the City College name. We have a lot of investment in that name and are very sensitive to how that name is being used and the kinds of places we are soliciting money from,” he said. “We don’t want to be taking money from firearm manufacturers and tobacco companies, for example.”

But Rizzo explained that the college has no control over where the foundation gets its donations. “They could collect money from PG&E or Chevron and give scholarships and the district would have no say,” he said.

This leaves the college wide open to efforts by corporations to make donations that direct the course of research at the college, a phenomenon that has blighted many a public school over the years. “We are concerned that there won’t be the same degree of knowing,” Huntsman said. “If the college doesn’t have a say in the control of that money, it could be used for something other than what it was intended for.”

As it stands, the foundation primarily raises money for scholarships. Rizzo would also like to see the foundation give the college from $3 million to $5 million annually to help cover operational costs and close the budget deficit. “It’s great to have scholarships, but if we don’t have classes the scholarship can’t mean much,” he said.

Rizzo and Huntsman also want the new agreement to require the foundation to turn over upwards of $3 million raised by faculty members independently of the foundation.

Rick Knee, a member of the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force who has tried for years to bring City College under its oversight, said the potential agreement raises concerns about the foundation’s ability to wield unprecedented political clout.

“It might enable them to do some arm twisting,” Knee said. “If the foundation wants to make a clean break from the Day era, they should give the current Board of Trustees a chance to make their case and demonstrate that they’re not Phil Day.”

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said that an agreement in which there was both independence and transparency for the two parties would strike an appropriate balance.

“The irony here is that you have the college and the foundation saying the exact same thing,” he said. “The college is worried that unless they have control the foundation will threaten its integrity, and the foundation is saying that without autonomy the school will tarnish its name and make it harder for them to get donors. They are both right in light of what happened with Day.”

Lawyers on both sides agree that, as a nonprofit, the foundation has the right to control its own assets. But that doesn’t mean they should keep the district in the dark, say the trustees, who want the foundation to open its books to the district, if only to ensure a modicum of public accountability.

Rizzo, who was on the negotiating team, told us that the agreement currently maintains donor secrecy but allows for some financial oversight by the district, including monthly audit reports and notification of instances when district funds enter foundation accounts. “They’ll have to report some things to the Board of Trustees, then the district will make them public,” Rizzo said. “But they do not want to report donor names and that will be an item of discussion.” *

Steven T. Jones contributed to this report.

Editor’s Notes

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Tredmond@sfbg.com

Gavin Newsom never got any traction in the race for governor, in part because he completely alienated the progressive base in his hometown. And when you have unionized city employees holding protests outside your campaign fundraisers — and you’re in a Democratic primary in California — you’ve got serious problems.

And now, oddly enough, the progressives in San Francisco may be his biggest allies in the race for the second-place job of lieutenant governor.

There are some good reasons for that.

For starters, a lot of us thought that Newsom, whatever his positions on issues, wasn’t ready to run California — to deal with all of the massive problems the state faces and to take on the brutal politics of Sacramento. And I think his behavior during his brief gubernatorial campaign demonstrated that we were right.

But the Lite Guv job is a lot different. You don’t have to balance a state budget that’s $20 billion in the red; you don’t have to solve water problems. It’s a place where you can learn about state politics on the job, without really screwing things up.

And if his real goal is to run for U.S. Senate down the road, say, when Dianne Feinstein retires, he’ll be in a good place to launch that campaign.

But let’s face it. A lot of this is practical politics. With either Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman in the Governor’s Office, the state will continue to be screwed up and it will be even more important that cities take on their own economic destinies. And Newsom, as a bitter lame duck, simply can’t do that.

The progressive political community isn’t unanimous at all. But a lot of people are thinking that if Newsom’s ascension to Sacramento means that the district supervisors will have a chance to appoint a progressive mayor, it’s worth the trade-off.

No more silence on Prop. 16

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EDITORIAL Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has found few allies in its effort to halt the spread of public power in California. The Sacramento Bee has come out strongly against PG&E’s initiative, Proposition 16 on the June ballot. Los Angeles Times columnists have denounced it. Six Democratic leaders in the California Senate have called for the company to withdraw the measure. Even the California Association of Realtors, hardly a radical environmental group, has come out strongly against the measure, in part because it’s so badly worded that it could halt residential and commercial development in large parts of the state.

But PG&E has already set aside $30 million to try to pass this thing — and since the cities and counties that would be hit hardest can’t use public money to defeat it, elected officials across the state need to be using every opportunity they have to speak out against it.

Prop. 16 is about the most anti-democratic measure you can imagine. It mandates that any local agency that wants to sell retail electricity to customers first get the approval of two-thirds of the local electorate. The two-thirds majority has been the cause of the debilitating budget gridlock in Sacramento, and it will almost certainly end efforts to expand public power or create community choice aggregation (CCA) co-ops in the state.

It actually states that no existing public power agency can add new customers or expand its delivery service without a two-thirds vote — which means, according to former California Energy Commissioner John Geesman, that no new residential or commercial development in the 48 California communities that have public power could be given electricity hook-ups.

It also, of course, eliminates the possibility of competition in the electricity business, making PG&E the only entity legally allowed to sell power in much of Northern California. That’s a radically anti-consumer position that most residents of the state would reject — if they understood it.

And there’s the problem. With PG&E spending $30 million (of our ratepayer money) promoting this, using misleading language and a campaign based on lies, and with very little money available for a counter-campaign, it’s going to be hard to get the message out.

That’s why every single elected official, candidate for office, and political group in the state that isn’t entirely bought off by PG&E needs to loudly oppose it, now.

And there’s still a lot of silence out there.

State Sen. Mark Leno and Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, to their credit, are not only opposing Prop. 16, they are helping lead the campaign against it. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has helped build the coalition that’s running the No on 16 effort. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has passed a resolution opposing the initiative. Sup. Bevan Dufty, who is running for mayor, is a public opponent. State Sen. Leland Yee’s office told us he opposes it (although he hasn’t made much of a big public issue of the measure). Same for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

But where is Mayor Gavin Newsom? Where is District Attorney Kamala Harris, who is running for attorney general? Where’s Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer? Where’s the City Hall press conference with the mayor and every other elected official in town denouncing Prop. 16 and urging San Franciscans to vote against it?

The silence is a disgrace, and amounts to a tacit endorsements of PG&E’s efforts.

And it’s happening at the same time that the supervisors are pushing against a tight deadline to get the city’s Community Choice Aggregation program up and running.

San Francisco is the only city in the United States with a federal mandate to sell public power, and the city is moving rapidly to set up a CCA system. This is a monumental threat to the city — and everyone either in office or seeking office needs to recognize that and speak out. Prop. 16 and CCA ought to be a factor in every local organization’s endorsements for Democratic County Central Committee and supervisor this year, and any candidate who can’t stand up to PG&E has no business seeking office in San Francisco.

An open letter to the Transit Workers Union

18

 

By Gabriel Metcalf

OPINION Last week, the Transit Workers Union refused to accept a deal with San Francisco that would have modestly reduced major service cuts and eliminated another increase in discount fares at least for this year. The proposal would have involved two things: first, a one-time contribution by drivers to their own pension plans (worth $8.9 million for next year, almost precisely cancelled by the automatic raise of $8 million the drivers will receive next year); and second, a change in work rules that would have required drivers to actually work 40 hours in a week before earning overtime, which would have saved $3.8 million over the next 14 months.

Muni is facing a deficit of at least $17 million in the current fiscal year and around $55 million next year. Future years will be worse. Given these pressures, the TWU is getting ready to re-vote. I presume that, eventually, union members will accept the deal. But either way, given how utterly marginal this deal is for the riders, progressives need to begin a public conversation about what responsibility the union has for making Muni work better.

The problem is not that TWU salaries are too high. The problem is the work rules. These include: drivers not having to let their managers know how long they will be absent from work, making it impossible to set schedules; drivers earning overtime pay before actually working 40 hours a week; and perhaps most significantly, a set of rules that makes it virtually impossible to hire part time drivers. Currently, Muni is forced by the work rules to pay drivers at full hourly rates to sit around between the morning and afternoon peaks. That rule costs MTA about $11 million each year.

If the TWU is willing to give on just the overtime and part-time driver rules, MTA would save $12.4 million in next year’s budget — and this savings would grow in the future. Other work rule changes could save much, much more, while dramatically increasing service to riders.

Probably the underlying cause of Muni’s work rules is the fact that the TWU, unlike other bargaining units in the city, has its salary and benefits set by formula in the City Charter — which means that management has nothing to offer during labor negotiations. Friends of mine in the labor movement argue that TWU is just doing its job in trying to get a good deal for members. I would argue that TWU needs to do more than that, and needs to begin taking responsibility for building a transit system that works well and can grow over time.

Maybe this public sector union needs to take a page from the Swedish labor movement.

Early into the post World War II economic boom, the Swedish unions learned that, since they controlled the government and increasingly controlled the boards of directors of the corporations they had organized, they were essentially always going to get their major demands met. This forced a big shift in their culture, causing them to have to take responsibility not just for cutting a good deal for their members, but for ensuring the profitability of the companies. Labor could easily “win too much” and drive the companies out of business, thereby returning its members to unemployment. Once labor controlled the businesses, it had to come up with a proactive agenda for how to run them successfully.

Closer to home, we’ve seen the teachers union accept cuts and changes to their equivalent of work rules in order to prevent teacher layoffs. And we’ve seen the Service Employees International Union at the national level put immense resources into passing health care reform — something that will benefit all Americans, not just SEIU members.

Something similar needs to happen now at Muni.

Muni workers deserve a good wage. It’s a hard job under the best of circumstances. And as Muni tries to keep service on the streets without enough money for equipment and maintenance, workers on the front lines will bear the brunt of the bigger problems. But a lot of people resent the things the union has chosen to ask for in addition to a good wage.

Muni’s troubles are multifaceted. They involve bad management, bad street design, bad land use planning, and certainly insufficient funding. But work rules are undeniably part of the issue as well. It cannot be progressive for the TWU, in the middle of the worst financial crisis to hit our country since the Great Depression, to cling to the same work rules it has had in the past. Muni needs TWU to help it be successful.

Gabriel Metcalf is executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR).