Volume 44 Number 31-

May 5-11, 2010

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Appetite: 3 culinary gifts for mom

Last minute Mother’s Day gifts needed? Here are a few delectable possibilities:

WINE OF THE MONTH CLUB
There’s nothing like having Mom reminded of your thoughtfulness and love all year… no, not a Christmas Vacation disappointment like the Jelly of the Month Club. Something better: wine. This is the “original” (family-owned since 1972) Wine of the Month Club with a slew of gift options from 1 red/1 white per month for four months to one year of reds or whites only. The club averages $29 a month for the Classic Series or upgrade your wine selections to Vintners Series ($39) or Limited Series ($49). With hand-selected wines from literally all over the globe, the biggest plus if Mom doesn’t like one of the wines is that they promise to send out another selection, no questions asked. In trying out the club for a short time, I can say the Classic level is not for the wine expert as the red in any given month might be a 2007 Frosted Cake Merlot from Napa or a 2006 Gerard Bertrand Syrah/Mourvedre from France. So upgrade your membership if Mom is a wine snob, or if not, she’ll enjoy a broad cross-section of solid wines for every day imbibement, with descriptions, tasting notes and stories behind each region, winery and wine itself. All gift memberships come nicely wrapped so your Mother will feel like it’s Mother’s Day all over again every month.

CLARINE’S FLORENTINES
First trying local (Berkeley) Clarine’s Florentines at the Chocolate Salon, I was impressed… trying them again later, I was hooked. I think your Mom will be, too. This buttery, crispy, golden Almond Brittle on Guittard bittersweet chocolate, is a recipe from Clarine and her Mother, so even the roots of the product have special meaning for Mother’s Day. You can buy a bag at shops around town like Bi-Rite or order directly from Clarine’s to have it shipped.

KUSMI TEA
A favorite of late has been Kusmi’s luxurious teas. Founded in St. Petersburg in 1867, these Russian-style teas have been Paris-based since 1917, so there’s an Old World elegance and refinement with modern sensibilities (even Lady Gaga is a big fan, though that may not be as much of a selling point for Mom!) They’re offering Mother’s Day blends, like Rose Green Tea, though there are crowd-pleasers everywhere, from a lovely Moroccan Spearmint to Sweet Love, a blend of Black China tea, pink pepper, licorice roots, guarana seeds and spices. If Mom’s on a health kick, their Detox mate/green tea with lemongrass is particularly popular… and a rich antioxidant.

Pantheistic party

caitlin@sfbg.com

CULTURE “I get asked by friends and family constantly about what pagan means,” says JoHanna White, president of the Pagan Alliance’s board of directors and parade coordinator for Berkeley’s Paganfest. So, hey, what does pagan mean? “I always tell them the Alliance’s definition: earth-based, nature- and justice-centered, and observant of polytheistic faiths and traditions.”

That’s a lot to wrap one’s brain around. But be it Wicca, Hellenism, shamanism, or adherence to traditional indigenous faiths, more and more people are turning to paganism these days, evidenced by soaring attendance at events like Pantheacon, an annual gathering of rituals and healing circles that has regularly outgrown venues since its inception 16 years ago. White’s colleague, Alliance cofounder Arlynne Camire, attributes the growth to “people’s awareness of what’s happening to the Earth,” concerns over climate change, and other worrisome trends.

Camire helped start Paganfest in 2000 as a way to raise public awareness about the pagan faith, to render themselves visible. That first year involved a fair in People’s Park and a procession down Telegraph Avenue. These days the fair includes several pavilions (druid storytelling, green, arts and crafts) and a dazzling array of community altars. A ritual is usually conducted and there are prizes for best kids’ costumes and artworks. “There are pagans in every walk of life,” says Camire, a Hayward city planner. “Paganfest is essentially a pride festival.”

Public manifestations are important for any minority — especially one like paganism, a belief system that many come to in solitude, not knowing that a welcoming community of believers awaits. Festival organizers regularly provide masks to pagans who haven’t yet made the decision to share their faith publicly, a process the community has dubbed “coming out of the broom closet.”

As White tells me about the anxiety that can be associated with becoming an “out” pagan, I remark that it sounds a lot like coming to terms with one’s alternative sexuality. “You should talk to this year’s Keeper of the Light, Joi Wolfwomyn. She’s a radical faerie and knows a lot about this stuff,” she counsels. I take her up on the advice. Days later, I sit in a coffee shop in Oakland awaiting Paganfest 2010’s parade marshal, realizing I neglected to ask Joi what she looks like. I needn’t have worried. In walks a person with green dreadlocks down to the small of the back, piercings galore, and leaves tattooed over a bearded face, carrying a wooden staff and a fuzzy rainbow backpack. Joi, is that you?

It is. We talk for more than an hour and, by the end, the articulate trans person STET has taught me a lot about paganism: its inclusiveness (“To me, paganism just means you honor the earth.”), its presence in pop culture (“Avatar was a very pretty piece of paganism propaganda.”), and the advantages of embracing one’s beliefs and values publicly(“By creating myself as I have, all people have to do is be within 100 feet of me to think.”)

Of course, not all pagans have etched their faith on their epidermis. Wolfwomyn is emphatic about the community’s diversity in this respect. “There are pagan Republicans, there are pagan anarchists, there are pagan everything — but we all honor the earth.” It’s inspiring to meet a person so open to the possibilities of belief. In an instant, the possibilities of such an expansive faith dawn on me. A new kind of acceptance beckons. What has monotheism ever done for our society, anyway? 

PAGANFEST 2010

Sat/8 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m., free

Civic Center Park

Martin Luther King Jr. and Allston, Berk.

(510) 872-1188

www.thepaganalliance.org

 

Are you experienced?

THEATER José Sarria is many things: performer, activist, trailblazer, legend, Latino, diva, tenor … So just how many José Sarrias are there? In the latest meta-theatrical reclamation-and-floorshow from playwright-director John Fisher (Medea: The Musical, Combat; Ishi: The Last of the Yahi) you’ll meet several but get no strict count. That’s part of the point and much of the charm in SexRev: The José Sarria Experience, a production of Theatre Rhinoceros, currently ensconced in residency at queer performance incubator Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory.

First, there’s the Sarria of memory, in the mind of our ingenuous, ebullient narrator (Donald Currie), a gay man in middle age reminiscing about his precocious sexual awakening via “the Nightingale of Montgomery Street” in a certain storied postwar/Beat-era bar known as the Black Cat Café. At one point in this fourth-wall–smashing show, staged in the round as the invitingly sleazy Black Cat itself, audience members are invited to share their own first-hand impressions of the pioneering San Francisco drag performer and gay rights activist.

Then there are the Sarrias we meet on stage, played to the hilt by Tom Orr and Michael Vega. Each actor is responsible for an aspect of the Sarria “experience,” but in the insouciant critical consciousness of Fisher’s play, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will go unchallenged. “But José Sarria was brown!” shouts a “heckler” at Orr. “You’re not brown.” The contradiction and ensuing kerfuffle provide Fisher and the audience one way into the continuing political relevance and volatility of his subject matter, of course, and some productive laughs come out of it too. Add to this the real possibility of the “real” José Sarria showing up in the audience one night, and you get a sense of the tangled politics of art, and art of politics.

Frenetically staged, often very funny, endlessly self-referential, and indeed — as one character doesn’t hesitate to complain — a bit long, “SexRev” moves fitfully back and forth across the last several decades of San Francisco queer life and politics. But as a history lesson, a widening of horizons, and a spur to political vigilance on behalf of freedom for everyone, it’s a hell of a lively night out.

Volume 44 Number 31 Flip-through Edition

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“Chronic” 2010

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arts@sfbg.com

LIT/NCIBA Because poetic subjectivity is by and large an exclusive undertaking

in which the poet attempts to impress upon the reader, via the use of poetic conventions, his fundamentally unknowable immanence, it often results in complete discursive failure. Those who’ve ever experienced a poetry workshop surely recall the gentle "make it more concrete" euphemisms directed at those well-meaning but misdirected poets brave enough to tackle personal catastrophe with verse — the results of which are usually a mire of intimations, associations, and abstractions that in no way resemble poetry or even, on a basic level, communication.

"If it were that easy, we’d all be doing it" is, in this case, true. Few poets can convey complex interiority with such deftness, originality, and precision as D. A. Powell. He can rework what would otherwise be affective sentiment into a lucid and devastating articulation.

With his latest and fourth collection, Chronic (Graywolf Press, 64 pages, $20), Powell offers his best work to date, the winner of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Award in poetry. Its cavalcade of lyricism keeps tempo with phonic and syntactical playfulness (Powell is often compared to Gerard Manley Hopkins. Framing the poems in the collection is Powell’s epigraph, taken from Virgil’s Ecologues (itself a reworking of Theocritus’ Bucolica): Time robs us all, even of memory: of as a boy I recall/That with song I would lay the long summer days to rest./Now I have forgotten all my songs.

The result is a brilliant use of Virgilian source material as a formal element that provides a frame of reference for Powell’s own subjective experience. Among the book’s best pieces is a "redux" of Virgil’s second Ecologue, which tells of love and erotic longing between two male shepherds:

what was his name? I’d ask myself, that guy with the sideburns

and charming smile

the one I hoped that, as from a sip of hemlock, I’d expire with him

on my tongue

silly poet, silly man: thought I could master nature like a misguided

preacher

as if banishing love is a fix. as if the stars go out when we shut our

sleepy eyes

("corydon & alexis redux")

Even readers unaware of the fact that Powell is gay and living with HIV will not miss the dark subtext of the hemlock reference. The same themes, deeply personal to the author, are present in the book’s title poem. In "Chronic," Powell’s idiosyncratic verse structure — its syntactical breaks, lilting and elliptical sounds, lines that are unpunctuated yet entirely expressive — are employed to great effect in a lengthy, but quickly moving, rumination on ecological devastation:

and so the delicate, unfixed condition of love, the treacherous body
the unsettling state of creation and how we have damaged—
isn’t one a suitable lens through which to see another:
filter the body, filter the mind, filter the resilient land

and by resilient I mean which holds
which tolerates the inconstant lover, the pitiful treatment
the experiment, the untried & untrue, the last stab at wellness

("chronic")

No matter the overarching topic, each poem in Chronic is watermarked with Powell’s distinctive voice, one that his previous books Tea, Lunch, and Cocktails (things that, along with chronic, make for a satisfying afternoon) helped establish. The homoeroticism, pop culture references, adroitly inserted colloquialisms that lent charm and personality to past works are all present, but the scope has become more expansive and more complex. I am greatly looking forward to the next stopping points on Powell’s poetic horizons.


THE 2010 NORTHERN CALIFORNIA INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLER ASSOCIATION (NCIBA) BOOK OF THE YEAR WINNERS


FICTION

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese (Knopf)


NONFICTION

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (McSweeney’s)


POETRY

Chronic by D.A. Powell (Graywolf Press)


FOOD WRITING

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter (Penguin)


CHILDREN’S ILLUSTRATED (award to illustrator)

Zero is the Leaves on the Tree illustrated by Shino Arihara (Tricycle)


CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko (Penguin Young Readers)

TEEN LIT
Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman (Delacorte Young Readers)

REGIONAL
Tamalpais Walking by Tom Killion and Gary Snyder (Heyday Books) *

Pigs in Oakland

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arts@sfbg.com

LIT/NCIBA One gets the sense that Novella Carpenter can do anything. A girl from rural Idaho, she knows how to hack it in "scruffy, loud, and unkempt" Oakland, the murder capital of the United States, amid the drug deals, gun fights, and open prostitution on the urban fringe. She also maintains a healthy, active relationship with her auto mechanic boyfriend (described as "a love sponge"), her many friends, and her local community.

On top of these already impressive competencies, she probably knows as much as Laura Ingalls Wilder about farming: she can grow more types of vegetables than most of us have eaten or even heard of; harvest rainwater; keep bee colonies; make honey; and raise and slaughter chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, goats, and — Jesus Christ!pigs. You learn all this and more in Carpenter’s urban farming memoir, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (Penguin, 288 pages, $16), winner in the Food Writing category of this year’s Northern California Independent Bookseller Awards. Unlike many others who’ve published books on their stellar accomplishments, Carpenter is bitingly funny, an immensely gifted storyteller, and likeable throughout.

Carpenter always knew that farming made her happy. But recalling the solitude she felt as a child growing up on a farm in Idaho, "a place of isolation, full of beauty — maybe — but mostly loneliness," she "chose to live in the city." At first she couldn’t decide which city she wanted to live in, despite the dearth of progressive cities to choose from. Portland was out of the question for being "too perfect." Austin was "too in the middle of Texas," and in Brooklyn there was "too little recycling." San Francisco was "filled with successful, polished people." So she chose to move to Oakland, which was "just right." In Farm City, Carpenter points to Oakland’s "down-and-out qualities" — the music scene, the scruffy citizenry "who drove cars as old and beat-up as ours" — that made it feel most like home.

Moving to Oakland was the first leg of Carpenter’s journey. The next was to turn her small part of the city into a "modified, farm animal-populated version." Indeed, it is Carpenter’s relationship with her fellow animals that provides the biggest, most startling revelations in Farm City. If you’re an animal lover at heart, as Carpenter is, it seems nothing short of barbaric to raise your own animals, grow to love them, and then stoically kill them one day. But Carpenter thinks the matter through in philosopher’s terms, describing animal husbandry as "a dialogue with life." Raising her animals to be eaten is not a matter Carpenter takes lightly — she recalls the many hours spent Dumpster diving for enough food to feed her ravenous pigs — and, part and parcel, she assumes their slaughter as her responsibility. To render the experience is one of her duties as a writer.

But turning her Oakland habitat into a farm was not an easy process. Farm City, which begins with a cheeky nod to Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa ("I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto"), chronicles the obstacles, frustrations, fumbles, and profound satisfactions of achieving a major accomplishment through innumerable and successive trials and errors. Carpenter may have a clucking henhouse today, but at one point she had to use Q-Tips and, when they failed, her own fingers to remove backed-up fecal matter from the "blocked buttholes" of her baby chicks (when you have them shipped, they tend to develop digestion problems). In her learning process, Carpenter leaves no stone unturned and no detail — not even baby chicken butts — unexamined.

“Cell” out

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction

(Ubisoft/Ubisoft Montreal) PC, Xbox360

GAMER Sometimes you play a game like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction and think, “Did the people who made this even bother to play it?” Questions begin to boil over. Why would you make a game in which you can skip some cutscenes and not others? If it’s really necessary to include unskippable cutscenes, why must they precede the three parts of the game most likely to cause the player to die and reload? My fingers got tired while playing the game, but not from the controller — from scratching my head in angry confusion.

Conviction has its satisfying moments, to be sure, nice visuals, and a distinguished pedigree of stealth-based, third-person titles. But the overall impression it leaves is of a game that is frustrating, uneven, and short. For every ambitious step that Ubisoft Montreal takes forward, it takes two in the opposite direction, mimicking the actions of the game’s protagonist, grizzled superspy Sam Fisher as he tries to creep up on a unsuspecting henchman. Clever set-pieces, like the one in which Fisher must eavesdrop on two villains with a remote-control surveillance array, are quickly overshadowed by the game’s profusion of sour notes, including a truly wretched take on the timeless “dodge the laser beam of instant death” mechanic.

The Splinter Cell series has always been about sneaking around in the shadows, and Conviction mostly hews to this dogma. Except when it doesn’t, and you’re suddenly expected to gun down enemies by the bushel while running at a full sprint. The developers seem to take a perverse pride in forcing you to unlearn the lessons of completed gameplay. Getting used shooting enemies in the head? Wait until you come up against their magical, bulletproof helmets as the game limps toward a conclusion.

Michael Ironside is a gem as the voice of Fisher, and he growls his way doggedly through a plot full of Clancyite conspiracy gibberish. Another amusing touch is the Zombieland-style floating text that shows up on the walls when the game is trying to get you to do its bidding. Less appealing, as far as pop culture goes, are the creepy, 24-style “torture is cool” minigames. We all play video games to be empowered. But if your idea of fun is bashing an unarmed prisoner’s face into the wall using the B button, please, seek help. At the very least, I can hope to avoid partnering you in the Conviction‘s entertaining co-op modes.

Space is the place

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LIT/FILM “I’m a lifelong space fan old enough to remember the Apollo era and grow up on Star Trek — when I was little, the Apollo missions and Star Trek merged in my mind,” says Megan Prelinger. “I lived my life, but kept one eye on space, watching and waiting to see what would happen. As I got older I realized that the general public is disenfranchised from having an opinion about or experience of space. I thought I could make an intervention — an intervention into space.”

Prelinger’s intervention has taken the form of Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962 (Blast Books, 240 pages, $29.95) a flat-out awesome full-color collection of illustrations of American aerospace coupled with a historical critique of a time when the sky wasn’t definied by fear and terror and the outer reaches were aligned with ideas about potential. Prelinger’s book is a work of Bay Area dedication and intellectual independence, akin to everything from Jacques Boyreau’s and Jenni Olson’s published collections of movie poster art to Trevor Paglen’s books on the hidden machinations of U.S. forces. It couldn’t arrive at a better time, with Carl Sagan warning us that aliens won’t be friendly, and President Obama demonstrating a marked lack of faith in the space program.

“The Obama administration wants things both ways,” says Prelinger, when the President’s most recent statements on the subject are broached. “They want to be committed in the long run but cancel everything in the short run to reformulate. The plans he’s laid out are too general. They’re almost hard to interpret. In the short run, he wants to stop spending money, and I can understand that, but the long term plans are underfunded and underarticulated. The jury is out.”

The jury may be out, but for the time being, the curious are invited to see a space-related film program that includes vintage short films selected by Prelinger. This weekend, “Atomic Age Artifactuality” brings Prelinger’s-choice archival treats such as Birth of the Orbis Electronic Computer and All About Polymophics to the screen, along with Laura Harrison and Beth Federici’s new documentary Space, Land and Time: Underground Adventures with Ant Farm. The ideas in the program should ricochet interestingly off of the recent Cold War treatise Double Take, by another Other Cinema regular Johan Grimonprez. “There’s a really complex interaction between tech and society in the Cold War, where it’s used to express utopian and dystopian possibilities,” Prelinger observes. “Those two dissonant possibilities exist side by side through decades.”

As for today, Prelinger’s vision is clear. “Our space program belongs to all of us,” she says. “We should think about what we want from it, and ask for it.”

(Johnny Ray Huston)

ANT FARM AND MEGAN PRELINGER: “ATOMIC AGE ARTIFACTUALITY”

Sat/8, 8:30 p.m., $6

Other Cinema

992 Valencia, SF

(415) 824-3890 www.othercinema.com

New York story

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FILM The central characters in Nicole Holofcener’s new film, Please Give, Manhattan couple Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt), display a fluency in the language of large round numbers that is occasionally disturbed by bouts of self-inflicted sticker shock. The proprietors of an up-market vintage furniture store — the hunting ground of interior designers and affluent nesters with a taste for midcentury modern — they troll the apartments of the recently deceased, redistributing the contents at an astonishing markup that occasionally leads to soul-searching exchanges like this: “How come you feel OK about this?” “Because it’s OK.” “OK.” Whether or not it’s OK, clearly it’s a living, since the couple has purchased the entire apartment of their elderly next-door neighbor (Ann Guilbert). Waiting for her to expire so they can knock down a wall, they try not to loom in anticipation in front of her granddaughters, the softly melancholic Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and the brittle pragmatist Mary (Amanda Peet).

Holofcener has entered this territory before, examining the interpersonal pressures that a sizable income gap can exert in 2006’s Friends with Money. Here she turns to the pangs and blunderings of the liberal existence burdened with the discomforts of being comfortable and the desire to do some good in the world. Kate’s hand-wringing, while reflexive, keeps her up at night, and as she ably acquires the furnishings of the dead, she suffers crises of conscience about preying on the ignorance of their bereaved but busy adult children. Unfortunately, her penance is often embarrassingly misdirected. While her teenage daughter (Sarah Steele) suffers the less-abstracted agonies of bad skin and low self-esteem, Kate offers her leftovers to a black man waiting outside a restaurant for a table, mistaking him for a homeless person, and presumptuously weeps over a group of developmentally disabled teenagers playing basketball.

In scenes such as this, the film capably explores the unexamined impulses of liberal guilt, though the conclusion it reaches is unsatisfying. Like Holofcener’s other work, Please Give is constructed from the episodic material of mundane, intimate encounters between characters whose complexity forces us to take them seriously, whether or not we like them. Here, though, it offers these private connections as the best one can hope for, a sort of domestic grace accrued by doing right, authentically, instinctively, by the people in your immediate orbit, leaving the larger world to muddle along on its axis as best it can. (Lynn Rapoport)

PLEASE GIVE opens Fri/7 in Bay Area theaters.

Seasonal, effective

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johnny@sfbg.com

FILM In taking on the subject of family in the documentary October Country, co-directors Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher face some imposing specters, and I’m not just talking about the varied stories of the Mosher family, who step in front of the camera. If there’s any micro-genre within documentary that has become embattled over the past decade, it’s the family portrait, thanks to controversial or contentious works such as Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans and Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation (both from 2003), son-of-Gray Gardens freakouts which incited claims of exploitation and sensationalism on their paths to a larger public profile.

Palmieri’s and Mosher’s movie is a quieter work, yet it isn’t folksy in a complacent Sundance manner, either. (It’s worth noting that October Country has picked up its fest-circuit awards outside of Park City.) The list of the maladies plaguing the Mosher clan — physical abuse, drug abuse, war trauma, custody battles, and abortion, to name a handful — would provoke an ambulance-chasing impulse in some filmmakers, blood ties be damned. But Palmieri (who edited and did cinematography) and Mosher (a former San Francisco resident whose photo essays on his family were shown at Artists’ Television Access) realize these are common American problems, and their treatment of them is at once deeper and more ephemeral. They use the passage of a year from one Halloween to the next to reveal the changes wrought — or evident — on a person’s face, and when they can, a person’s life.

While volatile men have left a mark on the Mosher women, October Country makes a quiet case for the family as an enduring matriarchy by beginning with introductions of its female generations: grandmother Dottie, daughter Donna, granddaughters Daneal and Desi, and infant great-granddaughter Ruby. (Wiccan sister-in-law Deniece soon hovers at the fringes of the domestic drama, in semi-alignment with co-director Donal’s Halloween framework.) Tweenage Desi is the film’s chief scene-stealer, through gruff observation rather than cutesy antics. "Videogames don’t really make you smarter, but they make your hands move faster," she observes minutes into the film, describing the hobby as "education for your fingers." The stoic and sole father of the house is Vietnam vet Don. Foster son Chris deploys his callow charm while nursing penchants for pill popping, weed dealing, and shoplifting. By film’s end his masculine good looks show signs of giving way to gauntness and gender ambiguity.

October Country has a light touch, rarely giving way to easy associations, and avoiding the reality television ploy of inciting arguments in all but one scene. Its look at Daneal’s young motherhood is just a side of a many-sided die, yet more perceptive than whole hours devoted to the subject by MTV documentaries. Cigarettes in hand, Dottie, Donna, and Daneal hold forth on life, while the camera lights upon abandoned GED books and other forms of abandonment signified by clutter. If this sounds grim, the beauty of the cinematography — attuned to the colors of fall and winter and the beauty of these people and their home — offsets the futility and depression. The structure of the story is loose enough to allow the filmmakers to sync up with Desi’s playful creativity and droll truths ("Nobody is fighting for anything" in the war, she notes later on) and the harsh American irony within Don’s fear of 4th of July fireworks.

This is the kind of documentary that looks closely enough to notice the sensitivity on a person’s face after she has been forced to break one of her creeds. Yet Mosher and Palmieri are selective as to when they allow their point-of-view to merge with that of the person on camera, only allowing this to happen once the family has become more familiar to the viewer. The story comes to a close where it began, on another Halloween, but with most everyone dressed up in costumes that hint at their true spirits, some more repressed than others. The moment brings one back to the film’s beginning, and its dedication to the Mosher family. A movie that might help its subjects understand and appreciate one another better, October Country also manages to look good in the process. All praise queer sensibility.

OCTOBER COUNTRY

Opens Fri/7

Roxie Cinema

3117 16th St, SF

(415) 863-1087
www.roxie.com

Slightly off-key

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superego@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO "I was just in the bathroom splashing water on my knob," my excitable amigo Scottish Andy breathlessly dished at a mid-Market bathhouse-disco club last Saturday night. (You have to imagine this entire anecdote related in a hyper Scottish-Californian brogue. Like Highlander on poppers.) "And I heard someone majorly tooting in the stall. Snort. Snoooort. Like that. I thought, ‘someone is really sniffing the fuck out of their baggie in there.’ But then my friend came in and swung open the stall door and no one was in the stall.

"Marke! There’s a ghost doing coke in the bathroom!"

Perhaps that’s a metaphor for what dance floors around the world have sounded like for the past three years? Not just the whole disco-house-electro-wave-whatever revivalism thing, but a kind of ectoplasmic Hoovering of all of dance music’s past into a digital flush of half-heard echoes?

I drifted, boozily, from that club up to Triple Crown to check out Boston’s Soul Clap (www.soulclap.us), for my trick money the most rewarding DJ-production duo on the planet. The pair perfectly embody the now sound — ranging in reference from Motown to French electro, early blues to micro-house (with a special emphasis on late-’80s R&B) they smoothly discombobulate retro-fetishism to the point where you suddenly realize you’re throwing down hardcore to Chris Issak. Or are you? Soul Clap’s mid-tempo, ahistorical edits are cheeky sleight-of-ear. "There’s that wobbly brass blast from that early Heaven 17 12-inch floating over that Boyz II Men bass line," you think. But when you finally track it all down, you realize your self-satisfied trainspotting was slightly off. Soul Clap is making sounds that only sound like those sounds. Simulacrum disco. They have that now, on computers.

BONER FIESTA

Look, there are gonna be a lot of Cinco de Mayo parties — right now the thought of a shit-ton of drunk Americans celebrating Mexico seems, frankly, a relief. But only one party takes a sequin-sombreroed Alf as a mascot. That is electro-rock god Richie Panic’s weekly Wednesday Boner Party, and it will truly squeeze your lime and pop your piñata.

Wednesdays, 10 p.m., free. Beauty Bar, 2299 Mission, SF. www.beautybar.com

AYBEE

DJ Said’s soulful afro-house We & the Music monthly was off-the-chain at its April premiere (get there early) and shows no sign of stopping, this time around bringing in the fantastic Aybee of Deepblak Recordings. If you’re in the mood for dancing with a grin, I can’t recommend this enough.

Fri/7, 9 p.m., $7. 222 Hyde, SF. www.222hyde.com

SHOWNUFF

"I wanted to provide a remedy for music lovers who don’t usually catch live music late at night, a location that suits them, and prices that are easy on the pocket book," says promoter Conrad Schuman of his new Friday live-music happy hour, this week pumping with 11-piece funk explosion Stymie and the Pimp Jones Luv Orchestra, DJ Chris Orr, and Phleck. Don’t argue!

Fri/7, 5 p.m.-9 p.m., free. 111 Minna, SF. www.111minnagallery.com

THE TWELVES

Another intriguing duo, this time focusing on new electro from Brazil. I’m sweetly humming their new poppy-cowbell redo of Two Door Cinema Club’s "Something Good Can Work," which shows their range extends quite a bit beyond the "Rio de Janeiro’s answer to Daft Punk" descriptor they’ve been tagged with.

Fri/7, 10 p.m., $15. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com

CHROME

The boys behind queer punk-rock extravaganzas Trans Am and Sissy Fit have revived their monthly nightlife ode to fixed-gear hotties (or whatever that new thing all the bike kids are into, I forget its name, I walk). DJs Pickle Surprise and Le Perv pump the rock and roll disco faggotry, while live electronic whiz SamuelRoy tunes the tranny.

Sat/8, 10 p.m., $5. Club 93, 93 Ninth St., SF.

Little Chihuahua

2

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE On the hunt for the Little Chihuahua one unsettled April evening, we came upon … a little cockapoo, or maybe a Tibetan terrier. The dog, wrapped in a coat of shaggy fur the color of milky coffee, was moored to the façade of a Lower Haight storefront and had been provided a stainless-steel water dish, which seemed superfluous. Since the storefront was occupied by the Little Chihuahua, a Mexican restaurant opened by Andrew Johnstone two years ago, we naturally wondered whether the dog was just waiting for its person (or persons) to finish eating within or was a mascot of sorts. Did Little Chihuahua’s chihuahua take the day off? The dog lay on the sidewalk, staring intently through the open door, which I interpreted as a clue that a vigil was being patiently held. Or maybe the smell of the food appealed.

Mexican food gets my vote as one of the world’s most underappreciated cuisines. Recently I made this claim to a health-nut friend, who scoffed at first but gradually warmed to the evidence. This includes: the dominance of whole-grain corn (in many varieties and cultivars), the omnipresence of beans, a light hand with red meat, a wide range of vegetables, herbs, and spices, many of them indigenous, and of course salsa, whose flavor-to-calories ratio is unmatched among condiments I can think of.

Little Chihuahua lays out an impressive salsa bar to enhance the chip-dipping experience, although the chips are pretty good naked — warm, with just enough salt to make the corn flavor pop. The salsas themselves range from a rather mainline version (tomatoes, garlic, chili, cilantro, lime), to a spicy tomatillo kind that looks like melted emeralds, to a chipotle-charged concoction with the innocent face of ketchup.

A small irony of pozole, the wonderful soup-stew of hominy in chili broth, is that it traditionally features pork, a meat brought from the Old World by the conquistadores. La Chihuahua’s pozole ($7.95) deploys pork, in the form of a small semi-slab of baby back ribs, but its most striking elements are the rich, slightly viscous guajillo-chile broth and an abundance of hominy kernels and pinto beans. It’s more stew than soup and very sustaining.

If Mexican food’s reputation has suffered on this side of the border, a good part of the blame must be attributed to the burrito, a neither-here-nor-there hybrid that emphasizes mass at the expense of just about everything else and, worse, comes wrapped in a flour tortilla. The flour tortilla must have its virtues — I’ve never seen burrito-sized tortillas made from masa — but we eat more than enough wheat flour in this country already. Having said that, the quesadilla with shrimp ($8.95) is lovely, with a blistering like that of a good pizza crust and a pronounced melody of marine sweetness proclaiming itself through the cheesy murk. For a bit of refreshing balance, the spicy cabbage salad ($3) makes a good choice; it’s basically like cole slaw without the mayonnaise (and fat) and is a bowlful of virtue, though we didn’t detect much spiciness, just plenty of lime juice.

There is a slight party atmosphere to the Little Chihuahua. Seating is mostly at long communal tables, and the clientele is young. So it’s no surprise that the nacho plates pack some real throw-weight. Even the meatless one ($7.95) will keep three or four hungry people busy for quite a few minutes. Of course it isn’t quite meatless if you get it with the refried pinto beans, which are spiked with chorizo and bacon. But there is a wealth of avocado, salsa, and sour cream, along with enough melted white cheese to make it seem like somebody spilled a bottle of Elmer’s Glue all over the chips.

The one element of Mexican authenticity the Little Chihuahua seems to lack is the presence of actual Mexicans. The crowd is heavily Anglo, and somewhere in this detail is a story about a hipster neighborhood that simultaneously resembles and differs from the city’s great hipster neighborhood — the hipster superpower — the Mission. It might also help explain why the Little Chihuahua will soon be expanding, not to 22nd and South Van Ness streets but to 24th and Castro streets — the heart of Noe Valley. That’s as dog-friendly a neighborhood as there is in this town. *

THE LITTLE CHIHUAHUA

Continuous service: Mon.–Wed., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Thurs.–Fri., 11 a.m.–11 p.m.;

Sat., 10 a.m.–11 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.–11 p.m.

292 Divisadero, SF

(415) 255-8225

www.thelittlechihuahua.com

Beer and wine

MC/V

Noisy

Wheelchair accessible

 

Human, nature

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE If Deborah Slater had not grown up into an artist, she might have tried her hand at science. She bases her dance theater pieces on extensive studies of physical reality. Her inspiration can come from concrete objects like furniture (Hotel of Memories) and paintings (The Desire Line) or less tangible phenomena like sleep (The Sleepwatchers), perception (Passing as … The Mathematics of Being), and death (A Hole in the World). Accessing Slater’s works can take patience, but her creations stay with you because they are formally inventive, finely crafted, and engage the mind and heart long after you leave the theater. But rarely have the many strands she weaves together resulted in a piece as sprawling, ambitious, and poetic as her 20th anniversary premiere Men Think They Are Better than Grass.

Seen at a preview performance, Men — the title is not anti-male, but refers to humankind — takes on nothing less than the destruction of the environment that started probably as soon as humans were given "dominion" over the earth. Instead of reiterating well-rehearsed arguments, evidence, and position papers, Slater and codirector/dramaturge Jayne Wenger went to poet W.S. Merwin. Excerpts of his writings provide the backbone and scenario for this evocative, richly textured canvas of sound, color, language, and movement. The poetry, heard on tape and — helpfully — reprinted in the program, was recorded by a number of well-known Bay Area artists.

Men explores human alienation from nature in a series of imagistic episodes that, though loosely structured, build momentum. They are dark (dancers rushing about in increasing desperation), funny (Justin Flores transforming himself into a man made of briefcases), and dreamy (people trying to dig up the firm ground of history that proves to be unexpectedly porous). Perhaps most remarkable was the way Men deepened its sense of entropy, barely alleviated at the end by something, at least, suggesting a way out. As the piece darkened, the confrontations between the dancers, who had stripped off their business black to reveal battle fatigue greens, became increasingly agitated. They intensified to the point where they had a Lord of the Flies aspect to them. You also wanted to gasp for air every time the dancers crushed themselves into an ever-smaller piece of terrain.

Still, at this point, the choreography worked best in the small units: Travis Rowland heaving one woman after another, Private Freeman on a "war path" to protect his potted plant, and the fierce Kerry Mehling in anything she lent her regal body to. Some of the ensemble sections, particularly the unisons, needed more of a profile; they sometimes looked tense and rushed beyond what I think the intention was. All the dancers — Natalie Green, Kelly Kemp, Wendy Rein, Breton Tyner-Bryan, Shaunna Vella, and the others already mentioned — contributed to the choreography.

Men was a collaborative enterprise in other ways as well. Thom Blum and Floor Vahn’s soundscape of natural and animal sounds beautifully evoked the natural world, so increasingly absent in the lives of these depraved-deprived people. Elaine Buckholtz’ videography added its own poetry. Allen Willner designed the dramatic lighting, Laura Hazlett the fine costumes. What did not work was Mikiko Uesugi’s metaphoric use of plastic sheets for chopped-down trees. *

MEN THINK THEY ARE BETTER THAN GRASS

Thurs/6-Sat/8, 8 p.m.; Sun/9, 5 p.m., $25

Z Space at Theater Artaud

450 Florida, SF

www.deborahslater.org

Color forms

0

arts@sfbg.com

VISUAL ART It’s not immediately apparent walking around Catharine Clark Gallery’s four white, well-manicured rooms, but the space’s three current shows — by two white men and one Asian woman, from diverse locales — share some attributes. Visually, they go by the name Red No. 40, Yellow No. 6, and Blue No. 2; and conceptually, by the terms artifice and appropriation. Together they make for pleasant artificial coloring and sweetening for the eye and brain. Yet as conscious consumers know, that shit leaves traces of guilt, and worse, carcinogens.

Yes, the metaphor is slight and out of context, but so is the entirety of the work at hand. This is intentional, as both solo exhibits — Charles Gute’s "The Corrections" and John Slepian’s "the phenomenology of painting" — and the walk-in-closet-sized-room containing Stephanie Syjuco’s "Beg/Borrow/Steal" function via recontextualization.

For Slepian, whose exhibit sits at the back of the gallery as well as a semi-hidden curtained room in the front, this involves pulling from the dustbins of modernism to reframe staid paintings as video projections that pop, puff, and pivot. One such piece draws from Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color series and puts those famous static colored squares into action to irritating sounds not unlike those found in Fisher-Price toys. This lazy analogy is actually quite apt since the entirety of "the phenomenology of painting" looks and sounds cheap. The projections, while pretty, look like 20-second looped .mpegs you might expect to find in a Introduction to Flash tutorial. And the sounds, well, the young woman working the gallery’s front desk said they weren’t driving her sane. These qualities are surely intentional, as Slepian used the words "silly" and "playful" more than a few times to describe his work during a walk-through discussion on April 10. But the cool tech component doesn’t wow beyond the room’s exit.

In the adjacent room, despite being tucked awkwardly along the gallery’s hallway, Stephanie Syjuco’s works do work. Presented as an introduction, as opposed to a proper solo exhibition (Catharine Clark Gallery promises that early next year), the small survey "Beg/Borrow/Steal" packs a polemical punch. These pieces use their cheapness — sweatshop-aesthetic woven fabrics, rasterized jpgs, blocked and blobbed-out text and pics — for inventive political provocation.

Compared to Slepian’s position of playfulness, Syjuco’s work is disturbingly heavy, physically and conceptually. One of the room’s safety hazards — the other being the "black market goods" buried in black rock and lined precariously along a shelf — is a thick stack of newspapers titled Towards a New Theory of Color Reading (El Dia, Houston, Forward Times, Manila Headline). It illustrates its point through nonillustration: blocking out and color-coding all the content in Houston’s local ethnic newspapers, Syjuco cogently politicizes ad, editorial, and pictorial space via swaths of gaudy red, yellow, and blue.

Charles Gute’s "The Corrections" resides near the gallery’s entrance, and somewhere between Slepian and Syjuco on the heavy-to-playful scale. An art publication proofreader by day and artist by night, Gute wondered what would happen if he were to blur these two roles. The result: copyediting marks derived from, but in lieu of, an original art text context. In other words, circles and squiggles as art in and of themselves.

On paper, Gute’s pieces look swell. The cute and clean abstract shapes might make little to no sense, but they at least appear perceptive. In concept, they balloon — questions surface regarding what is and isn’t art, especially when extracted from within an art industry context, as alienated labor is made visible much to the embarrassment of the original authorial content. The proofs, like those blocks found on Syjuco’s newspapers, politicize the source material, making those sweet, colored marks difficult to ignore. *

CHARLES GUTE: "THE CORRECTIONS"

JOHN SLEPIAN: "THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF COLOR PAINTING"

STEPHANIE SYJUCO: "BEG/BORROW/STEAL"

Through May 15, free

Catharine Clark Gallery

150 Minna, SF

(415) 399-1439

www.cclarkgallery.com

All the young Turks

1

arts@sfbg.com

HAIRY EYEBALL Welcome to Hairy Eyeball, a bimonthly rundown of visual art. We don’t aim to be comprehensive, just opinionated. First Thursday is tomorrow, so enough with the introductions. On with the shows.

CCA is unleashing a new batch of Fine Arts MFA students into the wild Thursday night. With 66 artists total, this year’s MFA show (which runs at the San Francisco campus through May 15) is one of the largest in recent memory. The cream from CCA tends to rise to the top pretty quickly, so here are some names worth looking out for in white cubes, near and far, in the future.

Llewelynn Fletcher’s interactive sculptures aren’t aiming to take a particular pulse, but will probably slow yours down. For Please Lie Down, she has created several enclosures of lead, ceramic, wood, and felt that completely cover the head, forcing you, per the piece’s title, to lie down on the floor (thankfully, she’s also constructed camping-style palettes for comfort). The mini-meditation huts, evocative of beehives as well as certain medieval torture implements, have the additional effect of transforming the wearer into something of a sculpture.

Maggie Haas’ mixed-media pieces could easily be mistaken for installations-in-progress. But her arrangements and treatment of construction site detritus — sawhorses, wooden slats — cannily gut minimalism, This Old House-style, by preferring to hang out in the workshop with Donald Judd et al., turning the means of production into the piece itself. Endless Escape in particular performs a neat rope trick that yokes Robert Smithson and Yayoi Kusama with the ease of an Eagle Scout.

Hilary Wiedemann’s installations, which frequently combine sculptures and projection, are far more elusive — and unsettling. In Untitled, a plaster cast of what looks to be a bullet hole-riddled surface (glass, perhaps?) leans against the wall; on the floor, laminated sheet glass has been contorted to resemble discarded tissue. Both components record the violence of the transformational processes that have brought them to their current states. It’s not comfortable viewing — as if you’ve stumbled on a crime scene before the police tape has gone up.

Someone put Doron Fishman in touch with a textiles manufacturer, stat. His gorgeous ink-on-paper works, all black tendrils of liquid smoke, let it bleed. They’re begging to be transferred to chiffon. The witchy Mulleavy sisters, of Rodarte fame, would be smart to look him up.

Well worth the trek to the other side of Potrero Hill is Ping Pong Gallery, which is currently showing Gwenael Rattke’s dark, hypnogogic collages (through May 14). The collection’s title, “Oktogon,” refers to a street intersection in Budapest and also to the Ottoman-style “Kiraly” baths built during the Turkish occupation in the 16th century. These layers of history, architecture, exposed flesh, and power are not wholly self-evident in the psychedelic grandeur of Rattke’s straight-razor wizardry — which recalls, among many associations, the graphic punch of Tadanori Yokoo and Keiichi Tanami’s 1960s poster designs, the homo-plagiarism of Jess’ massive Narkissos (1978/91), and the profondo rosso beloved by Dario Argento. Rather, they form the deep structures to these mandala-like works in which Op-Art geometrics collide with Art Nouveau scrollwork and leather daddies are refracted into Busby Berkeley chorines. The corner in which 14 of these pieces have been hung draws you in, like some black hole. Proceed with caution, and awe.

Also closing toward the end of the month (May 22 to be exact) is Beverly Rayner’s “Accretion” at Braunstein/Quay, an elongated housecoat covered in the day-to-day paper ephemera — greeting cards, bills, receipts, inspirational quotes, correspondences — that one accumulates over the course of a lifetime. “Go paperless” is one takeaway. That such a load is too much to bear — psychically as much as environmentally — is another. *

CCA GRADUATE THESIS EVENTS

Through May 14, free

California College of the Arts

1111 Eighth St., SF

(415) 703-9500

www,cca.edu

GWENAEL RATTKE: OKTOGON

Through May 14, free

Ping Pong Gallery

1240 22nd St., SF

(415) 550-7483

www.pingponggallery.com

BEVERLY RAYNER: ACCRETION

Through May 22, free

Braunstein/Quay Gallery

430 Clementina, SF

(415) 278-9850

www.bquayartgallery.com

Our 2010 Small Business Awards

culture@sfbg.com

The mallification of America continues apace, with faceless conglomerates training new generations of shoppers to look for the cheapest deals at bland big box outlets, regardless of what “cheap” might actually mean in terms of pollution, transportation, labor, and the local economy. (For starters, out of every $100 dollars spent at a big box, only $43 remains in the local economy, compared to $68 if you buy local.) But in San Francisco at least, the little guys keep on swinging, maintaining unique shops and service companies with a vibrant local feel and contributing to the patchwork of optimism, individuality, and community effort that make the city great. Each year, we honor several of them for sticking to their guns and pursuing their visions.

 

WOMEN IN BUSINESS AWARD

DEENA DAVENPORT, GLAMA-RAMA SALON

“The higher the hair, the closer to God,” a wise Southern drag queen once said. Here in San Francisco, one of our own heavenly salons, Glama-Rama, is about to get a whole lot more divine, expanding from its homey kitsch digs in SoMa to a new 2500 square foot space on Valencia Corridor, creating 16 new jobs. The driving force behind that expansion is owner Deena Davenport, who combined her hairdressing talent, natural business acumen, and deep connection to the local arts scene into a formula for sheer success when she opened Glama-Rama 11 years ago.

“My dream was not to have a business, but a community space,” Davenport told me. “I wanted a place for all my gifted friends to express themselves. Not just our excellent stylists, but artists, designers, musicians, event producers — we all came together to make this happen. I think that’s the key to our success. We work with all kinds of styles and we don’t price ourselves out of the nonprofit sector. That allows a great mix of clientele, and an element of comfort for everyone.”

Davenport, a creative blur, plans to kickstart a Valencia Corridor merchants association once she gets settled in, and dreams of a future in politics. (She currently hosts a show on Pirate Cat Radio and appears onstage in local productions.) “I’m fortunate to have always had great friends and great landlords — and to be in a business the Internet can’t compete with,” she says.

“By the way, the new space will be two shades of cream with gold accents,” Davenport adds, ever the stylish professional. “We’re taking off our Doc Martens and putting on some heels.” (Marke B.)

GLAMA-RAMA

304 Valencia, SF

415-861-4526

www.glamarama.com

 

GOLDEN SURVIVOR AWARD

CAFÉ DU NORD

It’s no secret that nightlife in San Francisco has taken a big hit lately. A combination of economic woes and persistent crackdowns by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and local police, a.k.a. the War on Fun, has taken its toll — even on 100-year-old live-venue mainstays like Café Du Nord.

“It’s been tough for us and for everyone out there,” says Guy Carson, who took over the space with Kerry LaBelle in 2003. “They don’t call it ‘hard times’ for nothing. But we love what we do, and we know how to run a quality business. I’ve been promoting live shows since I was nine years old, so you know it’s what I love. You have to be willing to weather the storms.”

The intimate basement space retains its speakeasy vibe and velvet-curtained, cabaret-like setting, while playing host to mighty big names and burgeoning local upstarts. As a “venue with a menu” that serves food and puts on all ages and 18+ shows, Café Du Nord has been specifically targeted by the city and ABC for what Carson calls “differing interpretations of the law.” He looks forward to the upcoming launch of the new California Music and Culture Association, which will bring together several local venues and nightlife activists to fight the tide of local nightlife repression. “When we all work together, we can return the city’s nightlife to its former glory,” Carson says. (Marke B.)

CAFÉ DU NORD

3174 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016

www.cafedunord.com

 

GOOD NEIGHBOR AWARD

OPPORTUNITY FUND

Eric Weaver put his first nonprofit loan package together in 1995. His small startup, called Opportunity Fund, helped brothers who wanted to expand their pet shop borrow $17,000 for aquariums and fish. The deal worked out well; the pet store prospered, the money got repaid, and Opportunity Fund was on its way to becoming one of the most successful microlending outfits in California.

Weaver, a Stanford MBA and the fund’s CEO, now oversees a staff of 35 that makes loans to small businesses, most of them minority owned, that might have trouble getting financing from a traditional bank. And the nonprofit continues to grow by helping entrepreneurs in the Bay Area get the financing they need to create jobs and build community businesses. “We just made our 1,000th loan,” he told me. “We’re on target to make 200 loans this year, more than ever.”

Unlike most banks, Opportunity Fund sees its clients almost as partners. The staff takes time to help borrowers work up a successful business plan and learn how to manage their finances. “We do one-on-one business counseling with almost all of our clients,” Weaver said.

The group also helps finance affordable housing developments and offers individual development accounts (IDAs)— special savings accounts that come with financial training and grants — for everything from education to home purchases to putting aside the cash it now takes to become a U.S. citizen.

A recent study showed that Opportunity Fund has created or retained 1,200 in the Bay Area. “With a median loan size of $7,000, and a focus on making loans to people who have historically been underserved by banks, Opportunity Fund has been a particularly valuable resource for women, minority, and low-income entrepreneurs,” Weaver noted. He added that 73 percent of Opportunity Fund borrowers are members of an ethnic minority, and 90 percent of borrowers have incomes at or below 80 percent of area median income.

Imagine a traditional bank making a statement like that. (Tim Redmond)

OPPORTUNITY FUND

785 Market Street, Suite 1700, SF

408-297-0204

opportuityfund.org

 

CHAIN ALTERNATIVE AWARD

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERS ASSOCIATION

Independent booksellers are a wonder. Up against giant chains like Wal-Mart, facing technological changes like Kindle and online behemoths like Amazon.com (which doesn’t even have to pay state sales taxes), it’s hard to believe they can even survive. Yet they do — in fact, the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association keeps growing.

“The mainstream press wants to write about bookstores closing,” Calvin Crosby, NCIBA’s vice president, told me. “But actually, stores are opening. We have two new members this year.”

The booksellers group keeps the small, community-based stores in the public eye, with promotions, events like the annual NCIBA awards (see page 28) and political lobbying (NCIBA is a big supporter of a bill by Assembly Member Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, that would force Amazon to pay sales tax).

One of the group’s biggest tasks is education — reminding the public that local bookstores serve a critical function. “I was at a book-signing recently with a major author, and a bunch of people showed up with books they bought on Amazon and they wanted to trade them for signed copies,” Crosby, who is community relations director at Books Inc., recalled. “I had to explain to all of them that Amazon doesn’t pay taxes and hurts the locals.”

And with 300 bookseller members, NCIBA is helping preserve the notion that buying a book from someone who actually cares about books is an idea whose time will never pass. (Redmond)

NCIBA

1007 General Kennedy, SF.

415-561-7686

www.nciba.com

 

SMALL BUSINESS ADVOCATE AWARD

KEITH GOLDSTEIN

“Money spent in a small business — far, far more of it stays here in the neighborhood than with a chain store,” says Keith Goldstein, president of the Potrero Hill Association of Merchants and Businesses. A Potrero Hill resident since 1974, and owner of Everest Waterproofing and Restoration, Inc., Goldstein has spent the last six years with the merchant’s association promoting a sense of community in the inclined blocks of Potrero.

He’s overseen the growth of the Potrero Hill Festival from what he calls “a small affair” to a yearly event that’s “great for residents and businesses,” and also serves on the Eastern Neighborhood Advisory Committee, where he works on issues, like new transit plans, that affect local businesses.

Somehow he has found the time to start SEEDS (www.nepalseeds.org), a group that provides infrastructure and health support to underserved Tibetan villages, and is involved in Food Runners (www.foodrunners.org), an organization that links homeless shelters to food sources.

The superlative community member incorporates the ‘buy local’ mentality into every aspect of his life, even placing the administration of the health care plan for his 50 employees into the hands of a fellow Potrero Hill Merchant’s Association member. “It’s all richly rewarding,” Goldstein says of his hands-on role in his neighborhood’s economic viability. “I like to walk around the hill and be able to chat with my neighbors about quality of life issues.” (Caitlin Donohue)

KEITH GOLDSTEIN

Potrero Hill Association of Merchants and Businesses

1459 18th St., SF.

(415) 341-8949

www.potrerohill.biz

 

EMPLOYEE-OWNED BUSINESS AWARD

RED VIC MOVIE HOUSE

“Once it got going, it was like a perpetual-motion machine. And I have to say, I think it was the collective nature of the thing that’s kept the Red Vic going this long,” says Jack Rix, long time worker and cofounder of the Red Vic Movie House, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

The Red Vic’s employees put a lot into the neighborhood theater’s showings of unique and classic flicks. Each worker-owner does a little of everything, from sweeping the lobby floor to washing dishes. “We’re all utility players here, this is very much a labor of love,” Rix says. Launched in 1980 by community organizers, the theater’s focus has not only been on providing great movies but doing it sustainably, installing solar paneling on the roof and eschewing paper products. “Back then I don’t think the phrase ‘green’ existed,” Rix recalls. “We were trying to be ‘green’ and we didn’t even know it!”

The Red Vic’s workers aren’t the only ones with a certain affection for the theater’s bench seating, environmentally friendly ceramic coffee mugs, and wooden popcorn bowls. Rix says some Upper Haight residents will wait for blockbusters to make their way out of “corporate” movie cinemas to the Red Vic’s second-run screen. “We’re very much a community theater,” he says proudly. (Donohue)

RED VIC MOVIE HOUSE

1727 Haight, SF

(415) 668-3994

www.redvicmoviehouse.com

 

CHAIN ALTERNATIVE AWARD

OTHER AVENUES

Nestled in a part of the city best known for its tiny pastel homes and bracing sea breezes, Ocean Beach’s Other Avenues is everything you could desire in a neighborhood grocery store: Warm atmosphere, vast swaths of bulk food bins, and a well-edited health food selection, including vitamins, medicines, and cheery shelves of produce. Plus health insurance for all its knowledgeable employees.

Trader who? No need for big box stores near Other Avenues, which has earned a loyal clientele in the 36 years since it first opened its doors. “Since we’re a co-op, I like to think of us as a giant organism,” says Other Avenues worker Ryan Bieber. “Occasionally we lose parts and regrow them. A lot of customers have been coming here for 10, 20 years.” Their loyalty might be in response to Other Avenues’ commitment to keeping its beachside clientele healthy and well. “The aim is to make sure that people have access to things like this,” says Bieber.

Asked what he thinks would happen if one of the chain grocery behemoths encroaches on the shop’s territory, Bieber is unconcerned. “I think people will come here regardless. [We] have been doing this forever and we take pretty good care of ourselves. I think our customers really respond to that. We wouldn’t want a world where there was only Whole Foods — that’d be too boring!” (Donohue)

OTHER AVENUES

3930 Judah, SF

(415) 661-7475

www.otheravenues.coop

 


ARTHUR JACKSON DIVERSITY IN SMALL BUSINESS AWARD

RAYMOND OW-YANG

Raymond Ow-Yang tends to downplay the impact he’s had on the North Beach-Chinatown artistic landscape. The owner of New Sun Hong Kong restaurant, Ow-Yang put up the funds to have the iconic Jazz Mural painted on the Columbus and Broadway walls of his Chinese restaurant. The artist Bill Weber approached him in 1988 — securing an approximately $70,000 aesthetic gift to the community that Ow-Yang has never sought public recognition for.

“Back then you’re young, you have no brain. I thought, this is nice — it’s something you do because you feel like it,” Ow-Yang recalls dismissively.

“Nice”is an understatement. The mural, which depicts famous San Francisco figures and scenes, has become one of the neighborhood’s visual joys, stopping tourists in their photo-snapping tracks. The gift reflects Ow-Yang’s commitment to the streets he grew up on

He immigrated to Chinatown from Canton in 1962, at age 13. A lifelong entrepreneur, Ow-Yang owned a photo studio, a floral shop, and a restaurant in Oakland’s Chinatown (the original Sun Hong Kong) before opening at 606 Broadway in 1989. The restaurant is open until 3 a.m. every day — a timetable residents can appreciate for more reasons than just Ow-Yang’s post-bar won ton soup. “Before, people were afraid to walk through this area,” says the businessman. “Now there’s a lot more foot traffic — the city even put up traffic lights. With the bright lights [from New Sun Hong Kong], it’s a lot safer in this area.” (Donohue)

RAYMOND OW-YANG

New Sun Hong Kong

606 Broadway, SF

(415) 956-3338

 

A roar from underground

0

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC When asked if it’s a good time in history to be in a sludgy, uncompromising heavy metal band, High on Fire’s Matt Pike stifles a chuckle: “It is for me, man!” Reached by phone in Los Angeles as he prepares for a show at the El Rey Theatre, Pike is far from loquacious, but clearly enjoying the arrival of hard-earned, well-deserved success. His band, a thunderous, heavily-distorted power trio, bastard son of St. Vitus and Slayer, just signed on for a string of European dates opening for Metallica.

Before they set off across the Atlantic, High on Fire will appear at Oakland’s Fox Theater to play a concert called the Missing Link, a weighty omnibus of a heavy metal bill that brings together two potent touring packages, their itineraries cleverly fused into one mammoth night of music. Pike’s band is joined by tour-mates Priestess, Bison B.C., and Black Cobra. Headliners Mastodon deploys its own retinue of support: Between the Buried and Me, Baroness, and Valient Thorr.

The bands at the top of the bill are living proof of this epoch’s friendly attitude toward challenging, underground heavy metal. Mastodon charted at No. 11 with 2009’s Crack the Skye (Warner Bros.) and Between the Buried and Me hit No. 36 with The Great Misdirect (Victory). Oakland native sons High on Fire stormed into the limelight in February 2010; Snakes for the Divine (E1 Music) debuted at No. 62. Baroness’ Blue Record (Relapse) was the critical darling of 2009 — Decibel magazine named it album of the year — and it peaked at No. 117.

Those still working their way up from the bottom are no less optimistic. Speaking on the phone while peregrinating around L.A., Jason Landrian, singer/guitarist for crushing S.F. duo Black Cobra, is loving life. “I think it’s a great time to be in a heavy band. There are a lot more people paying attention and taking the music a lot more seriously.” Black Cobra, which was recently signed by legendary label Southern Lord Records, has ample experience with and appreciation for the bands it will share the stage with at the Fox. “For us,” Landrian says, “it’s a thrill to be involved with what seems like a cross-section of what’s going on right now in the underground scene.”

Superficially, the bands on the bill are easy to circumscribe within geographical boxes. Mastodon and Baroness both hail from Georgia, a state that is quickly becoming one of the nation’s most fertile breeding grounds for independent metal. Between the Buried and Me and Valient Thorr are also from Dixie, storming out of North Carolina university towns Greensboro and Chapel Hill, respectively. Priestess was founded in Montreal, and Bison B.C. in Vancouver (in the eyes of American rock critics, everything Canadian seems related). Black Cobra and High on Fire represent the Bay Area.

Yet this sort of convenient compartmentalization is redolent of a scene-based musical analysis that is rapidly becoming obsolete. A generation that came of age during the sodden triumph of the “Seattle sound” has matured into an army of bands that defy physical space. The insidious tentacles of social networking and the exponentially expanding capacity of cheap bandwidth have enabled independent musicians to bridge vast distances, to identify kindred spirits and isolated fans. Early Black Cobra material was written while the band’s two members resided on different coasts, swapped back and forth methodically with the click of a mouse. The Internet has been a boon to concert bookers and promoters as well, allowing them to ferret out undeserved markets and spread the digitized word.

Looking back through lists of past tour dates, the connections and inter-pollinations among this underground army of heavily distorted road warriors are practically infinite. It seems as if every band has toured with every other band on the Missing Link roster at least once. “We’ve known those guys forever,” Pike says when asked about Mastodon, and it’s only partly hyperbole — the members of Mastodon met at an Atlanta High on Fire show in 1999.

Though today’s metal vanguard takes advantage of technological innovations, it’s the relentless touring that reaps rewards. And while life on the road has its costs, the new century’s burgeoning crop of itinerant headbangers can depend on a tight-knit nomadic community — bearded and unwashed — that grows stronger by the day. “It’ll be a reunion with friends, which is a cool thing,” says Landrian. “You end up meeting all these people, touring around, and when you get a show like Missing Link happening, everybody knows each other.”

Armed with vans, smart phones, and arsenals of crushing riffs, the bands of Missing Link have the entire continent at their disposal. It’s a far cry from the specter of the 1980s, poisoned by feuding thrash titans and the internecine, hair-sprayed fist-fight for scraps from the Sunset Strip table. “That’s the thing about this underground metal scene,” Landrian says beatifically. “Everyone’s working together. There’s not a lot of ‘Oh, we’re competing with these bands to be in a position of honor.’ There’s a lot of camaraderie. Everybody sees each other in the same light.”

THE MISSING LINK

Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me, High on Fire

with Baroness, Priestess, Valient Thorr, Black Cobra, Bison BC

Sat/8, 4 p.m., $35

The Fox Theater

1807 Telegraph, Oakl.

(510) 302-2277

www.thefoxoakland.com

 

Wiped clean

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS You never know where in the world you’re going to be when the time comes to regroup. Or in my case re-re-re-re-re-re-re-regroup. I keep having to have these little sit-downs with myself. Or lie-downs, if I happen to be at home alone or in the woods, where one can assume a fetal position and howl without attracting too much comment. Is it possible she knows what I’m going through?

For example: Greenbrae.

Must stop wondering. But is it a state of mind, or a suburb of San Rafael? Or Larkspur? Or is it Larkspur? Whatever the fuck, a river runs through it, or at least a creek. And there is also the Bon Air Shopping Center.

The best way to forget Angela Kreuz, according to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, is to meet, make, and fall in love with new people. Since Rachel (Mila Kunis) is a fictional character, I decided to focus my attention on men again. Why not? They are reliable and brave, and, if one day Angela Kreuz changes her beautiful mind, I could just tell my future ex-husband, "Oops, I’m a lesbian."

And what could he say? He would just have to sit there and be brave and reliable — while I explained who Angela Kreuz was: some woman who doesn’t respond to my e-mails but does Google herself; someone I’d known many, many years ago who pretended to be a man but wasn’t, but it didn’t matter because I loved her beyond gender, beyond fear, who tore my heart out one New Year’s Day morning in Germany, before coffee. Then wrote to France to tell me, in some of the most poorly worded English I had ever seen in any language, that I was mentally unstable, she’d been afraid to eat with me in the end because she thought I might poison her —

"Wait!" My future ex-husband, having been handpicked by me from all the world’s really top-shelf men for precisely this purpose, would bravely, reliably interrupt me. "Before coffee?"

So, yeah, so that was pretty much "the plan" as I drove my brother’s shitty van to the Bon Air Shopping Center in Greenbrae. To meet a man I’d met online who must, I don’t know, live in Greenbrae or some such something, because why else would you drink your coffee in a shopping center?

Not to mention meeting your future ex-wife there.

But the really depressing thing is — and after this sentence it’s going to be all sunshine not only to the bottom of the page but sideways into next week, I promise — that I find myself willing to overlook all these crap shortcomings (e.g., drinking coffee in shopping centers) to potentially meet the potential doofus-of-my-dreams, because — hey — who knows? Right?

They know. Immediately. She drives … that? Wait, did she just spit getting out of her car? Is that a sunflower seed shell between her teeth? Hay in her hair? And what’s that smell?

My soccer scrapes and bruises don’t show up on photographs. I do let my adoring male public know, before they behold me in actual person, that I am essentially a chicken farmer, but what’s charming in words, and missing from pictures, breaks deals in person. Or in other words: dudes ain’t buyin’ it. Still. And I had to wonder, sitting by myself at the fake fire pit outside on the sidewalk, Bon Air Shopping Center, beautiful Marin County evening, how much longer … Who? … What? … I just had to wonder.

Which you can only do for so long, in my experience, before you need a hamburger. Or better yet a pulled-pork sandwich with fried onions on it. Besides Peet’s, the Bon Air Shopping Center has a goofy surfer restaurant called Wipeout.

Like a good faux cowgirl chicken farmer, I ate at the faux fire, dripping real pork juice and hot sauce all over my favorite jeans, and I swear, just when I started to think, Fuck Angela Kreuz, I’m going to become a man-hating old-school lesbian … my cell phone shook. An accidental poem from a beautiful woman in Hollywood: "I love your punctuation. Your sentence structure turns me on. Especially your use of colons: like this."

WIPEOUT BAR AND GRILL

Mon.–Thurs. and Sun 11 a.m.– 10 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m.

302 Bon Air Center, Greenbrae

(415) 461-7400

MC/V

Full bar

Dude, where’s my car share?

2

By Brady Welch


news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Owning and storing a car in San Francisco is neither cheap nor efficient, so car-sharing companies have become increasingly popular in recent years. So why can’t individual car owners share or rent their vehicles? Right now, insurance law makes that difficult, but new legislation could make it easier for people to share their cars.

California Assembly Member Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), a candidate for Insurance Commissioner, unveiled the legislation during an April 28 press conference in San Francisco. Flanked by City CarShare CEO Rick Hutchinson and Sunil Paul, chief of a car-sharing start-up called Spride, Jones outlined legislation that would allow car owners to rent their vehicles to car-sharing organizations without risk of losing their individual auto insurance. Think of the idea as a more decentralized — but not quite DIY, at least not yet — version of other successful car-sharing organizations.

Hutchinson said there would likely be little difference between current City CarShare members’ experience and these new ventures. The change would be most significant in less dense areas where economic and logistical conditions prevent companies like City CarShare from expanding. By contracting with individual car owners, Spride is proposing to cut out much of the financial and logistical overhead, bringing the benefits of car sharing to a wider array of people. Folks would still reserve vehicles online or over the phone, and the cars would be maintained and tracked using City CarShare’s technology.

Vehicle owners could potentially earn "hundreds of dollars" per month through Spride, Paul said. Although owners wouldn’t be able to set their own rates under Spride’s pilot program, Paul did mention the possibility of pricing "flexibility" if the model proves successful. Owners would set the hours for the vehicle’s availability.

California law is unclear about the insurance ramifications of individual car sharing. The snags concern commercial use of the vehicle and insurance liability. Currently, if you charge people to borrow your car, insurance companies can technically revoke your insurance. This, in turn, leads to the issue of whose insurance policy covers the person who is driving at any given time.

Jones’ bill would clarify that. "Participating in car sharing is something we want to encourage," he said. The legislation would specifically define personal vehicle sharing in car sharing organizations as noncommercial usage. This is significant because commercial insurance is more expensive than personal insurance. By "expanding what City CarShare has pioneered" with the company’s technology and network of members, Jones said that California can "take it to the next level" by promoting and expanding the practice to new markets and individuals.

Even so, the bill still doesn’t address the ramifications of person-to-person car sharing, so don’t rush off to Craigslist in hopes of renting out your Pinto for some extra scratch. It’s still legal to lend your car to friends and family for free, but if donations are offered, you might want to keep that secret from your insurer.

The Association of California Insurance Companies opposes Jones’ legislation. But according to ACIC vice president Mark Sektnan, amending it could bring the group’s members on board. "We want to make sure that people who put their cars into these operations are protected. And we want to make sure the car sharing organization fixes" the vehicle if it’s involved in a crash. As currently written, the bill only provides the car owner with liability insurance. Sektnan wants something more comprehensive. "The car sharing club has to provide appropriate insurance to the people who lend the cars," he said.

Sarah Moussa, a field representative in Jones’ office, said it’s an issue Jones is working on. "The bill only addresses liability, but they want to see more comprehensive coverage," she said. "Right now, we’re working closely with the insurance industry to make sure those amendments are addressed."

Jones noted that the legislation would play a big role in promoting clean air and mitigating traffic congestion. If this change passes and works well, it could be the first step toward getting the most efficiency out of the least green transportation option.

The voice of fun

0

steve@sfbg.com

In the midst of a crackdown on San Francisco nightlife, club operators, promoters, entertainers, and supporters of a vibrant urban scene have formed a new lobbying group that seeks to offer a united voice in favor of fun.

The California Music And Culture Association (CMAC), a nonprofit advocacy and education group, launches its first chapter in San Francisco this week.

Discussions about the need to organize have been going on for years among the owners of local nightclubs such as Bottom of the Hill, Mighty, DNA Lounge, and Café Du Nord. They were initially triggered by arbitrary enforcement actions by the California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and persistent noise complaints by a handful of NIMBY neighbors (see “Death of fun,” 5/24/06 and “Death of fun, the sequel,” 4/24/07).

But in recent months, conflicts between the culture-creators and enforcement agencies have come to head, driven by an aggressive crackdown on parties and clubs led by ABC agent Michelle Ott and San Francisco cop Larry Bertrand (see “The new war on fun,” March 23) and efforts by Mayor Gavin Newsom and other officials to blame youth violence on the entertainment industry.

“This is certainly as bad as it’s ever been,” said Guy Carson, owner of Café Du Nord and a CMAC board member who has run San Francisco nightclubs for 26 years. “We needed an organization that can speak for us.”

So dozens of nightlife advocates have pooled their resources to create CMAC. The organization is supported by membership dues and aims to follow a model similar to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which has more than 11,000 members and has been effective at advocating for their interests.

What’s at stake, Carson said, is San Francisco’s reputation as a vibrant, world-class city that nurtures its artists and welcomes those who come into town for parties and events.

“Do we want to look like Walnut Creek?” Carson asked rhetorically. “I came here because I like a vibrant arts scene, and that requires an infrastructure. It doesn’t happen in a void.”

He said City Hall and the enforcement agencies have lost sight of the important role nightlife plays in creating the city’s culture, and how aggressive enforcement efforts can push club owners — many who are “struggling to survive,” Carson said — over the edge.

“There is a void in the political and public perception of nightlife,” said Frieda Edgette, an employee of the politically connected firm Barbary Coast Consulting, which helped launch CMAC. Edgette added that the group’s goal is “to empower and provide a voice for a constituency that hasn’t had a voice.”

Beyond advocating for the interests of members at city and state levels, CMAC will serve as an information clearinghouse on best practices for maintaining good neighborhood relations and research into the importance of the industry to the economy.

“I’m not sure club owners do all they can to foster good relationship with their neighbors,” said Tim Benetti, owner of Bottom of the Hill, a former deputy city attorney, and current CMAC board member. “So we can play a big role in educating our members.”

Yet he said that a far bigger problem has been the polarization between the nightlife community and entities that try to demonize and scapegoat it for problems ranging from noise to drugs to violence. “There is an antagonism that has developed between nightclubs and enforcement agencies, and we want to end that antagonism,” Benetti said. “Right now, there’s no dialogue.”

Or as Edgette said, “We want to bring all the parties to the table to have a holistic discussion about nightlife.”

So far, efforts to open up that dialogue have gone nowhere. Attorney Mark Webb, who represents some of the victims of harassment and brutality by Bertrand and Ott, publicly called on Newsom to mediate the dispute in March. But he was rebuffed, so last month he filed a racketeering case against the city, arguing that police shakedowns of legal activities amount to a criminal enterprise.

“I was quite disappointed at the reaction to this case,” Webb said. “It’s fallen on deaf ears in terms of trying to get Newsom or others in power to deal with it. Now it’s just in the pile of lawsuits.”

Last week the City Attorney’s Office had the case bumped up to federal court, and Webb said he has subpoenaed police records and sought depositions from Bertrand and his supervisors. Another lawsuit, brought by promoter Arash Ghanadan after he was arrested and, he charges, brutalized by Bertrand in retaliation for filing an earlier complaint, is also being contested by the city.

“We are in a battle for Bertrand’s personnel file,” said Ghanadan’s attorney, Steve Sommers, who is also seeking to depose Police Chief George Gascón about the matter.

State Sen. Mark Leno has helped to mediate the disputes and has been in touch with ABC chief Steve Hardy. “I think we’re going to see some improvement,” Leno said. “I don’t know how aware he was of the activities at the local level.”

Those activities include citing nightclubs for not serving enough food, repeatedly harassing customers at certain disfavored clubs, pursuing noise complaints on behalf of particularly sensitive neighbors, and announcing a crackdown on bars serving infused liquors.

Leno welcomed the creation of CMAC and said that it will be an important voice for a vital and under-appreciated industry, both in San Francisco and in Sacramento, where Leno unsuccessfully pushed legislation to extend the operating hours of nightclubs a few years ago.

“I applaud this effort,” Leno said of CMAC. “There is great wisdom to advocating for this on a statewide basis.” 

CMAC LAUNCH PARTY

With DJs J Boogie, Motion Potion, and more

Thu/May 6

7–11 p.m., $10

Mezzanine

444 Jessie, SF

Pension reform: don’t blame workers

8

 

By Larry Bradshaw and Roxanne Sanchez

OPINION Members of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, who make up about half of all San Francisco city employees — the lowest-paid half — are currently at the negotiating table with the Mayor’s Office working out a deal to give back $100 million toward the city’s deficit over the next two years. Last year our members gave back $48 million.

Now San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi is proposing a new charter amendment to make city workers pay huge increases in their pensions and health care coverage. Never mind that he draws no distinction between the highly paid managers and the lower paid workers, between those feeding at the trough and those who toil to make and fill the trough. It’s all the rage these days to blame the economy’s woes on public workers, whatever the facts are, no matter who the culprit really is.

Wall Street speculators crashed the stock market, causing workers’ pension funds to lose billions and wiping out their other retirement savings. The losses require local and state governments to spend more to keep the funds solvent. So who do Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman — and Adachi — blame? The victims: the workers.

Insurance companies continue to raise premiums on health care coverage, making money hand over fist. They use those funds to lobby against reforms, from single-payer to the public option. When they win, the costs of continuing to cover workers and their families continue to escalate. Who do Schwarzenegger, Whitman — and Adachi — blame? The victims: the workers.

In an op-ed piece published last week in the right-wing Republican blog FlashReport, Schwarzenegger came out in support of a SB 919, a measure that would significantly increase employees’ contribution to the pension fund and decrease their pension payments upon retirement.

Whitman, who is spending millions of dollars of the money she made at Goldman Sachs in quasi-legal transactions, is proposing to not only double employees’ contributions to their pension fund and reduce the benefit, but to increase the retirement age and eliminate the defined pension benefit for new hires.

Into this company comes Adachi. He is concerned with the deficit since budget cuts have meant that his office has been unable to cover all the cases it is mandated to defend, and now some of those are being contracted out. Welcome to our world, Jeff.

Adachi has only two months to gather at least 70,000 valid signatures to get the required number to qualify for the ballot. It’s highly unlikely that can be accomplished without hiring signature-gatherers.

Herein lies the irony. Adachi is going to have to turn to downtown interests, the very financial and corporate interests that tanked the stock market, and the pension funds, for the money to penalize workers for Wall Street’s crimes.

Certainly San Francisco is facing financial problems. But instead of attacking workers, perhaps Adachi and his friends should join us in attacking the real problem. We are working on ideas for ballot measures that can raise new revenue for the city. Now that the city’s unions have stepped up and given back together $200 million, it’s time for downtown financial interests to contribute. *

Larry Bradshaw is a paramedic and Local 1021 vice president. Roxanne Sanchez is president of Local 1021.

A bit of fairness for Prop. 13

1

EDITORIAL Behind the crisis in the San Francisco schools, behind the city’s fiscal nightmare, behind the state’s intractable budget deficit is one gigantic policy mistake that dates back to 1978. It’s almost impossible to talk, even today, about repealing Proposition 13, the measure that limits property taxes. Millions of homeowners love their low taxes, and even the liberals among them are dubious about giving up their cherished perk.

But it’s entirely possible — and absolutely necessary — to look at amending the measure to end the most blatant inequalities and make the state’s property tax system a little more fair. AB 2492, a bill by Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, would do just that — and it deserves the support of every elected official, every community leader, and every voter who wants to save the state’s basic services and prevent the once-vaunted California education system from falling into irreparable collapse.

Ammiano’s bill starts with the basic premise that commercial and residential property should be taxed differently. There’s a good reason for that: Prop. 13 allows tax reassessments only when property changes hands, and residential property turns over far more often than commercial property. So over the past 32 years, homeowners have been taking on more and more of the property-tax burden.

Then there’s the popular scam big companies use to avoid higher assessments. The legal details are complicated, but the basic deal goes like this. A real estate investor or investment group sets up a corporation called, say, Big Building Inc. and buys a commercial office building. A few years later, when the property has doubled in value, the investors sell to a new group — by transferring 51 percent of the stock in Big Building Inc. There’s a new owner of the property, of course — but on the assessment roles, it still reads "Big Building Inc." — and the owners say that means no ownership transfer and no new assessment.

San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting has been complaining about this for years, and a few of these investors have been busted and forced to pay the proper taxes. But it’s hard to keep track of every deal — and expensive to fight the legal battles every time some corporation sets up a convoluted structure to hide an ownership transfer.

Ammiano’s bill would put an end to that. AB 2492 would make state law clear: Any time 50 percent or more of the ownership interest in a company changed hands, all of the real property that company owned would be deemed to have changed hands and could be reassessed.

In fact, the bill would create a rebuttable presumption that all property owned by any publicly-traded corporation would be assumed to have changed hands every Jan. 1. If the company wanted to prove that its stock holdings were substantially unchanged in the past 12 months, it could make that case; otherwise, the buildings get reassessed.

The impact on the state’s finances would be massive, in the multiples of billions of dollars. Local governments would see their budget problems diminish; schools would get more money. And the property tax burden would start to shift back off of homeowners, who now pay far more than their fair share.

Ammiano told us that Speaker of the Assembly John Perez is supportive. Even so, passing even such an obvious, fair amendment to Prop. 13 will be a massive struggle. Mayor Gavin Newsom needs to make a strong public statement of support; so do the mayors of every other Bay Area city. School boards, city councils, county supervisors — this is going to be a battle royal, and they all need to be on board. With this reform, an oil severance tax and reinstating the vehicle license fee, California’s budget problems could be nearly solved. What are we waiting for?

Editor’s Notes

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Tredmond@sfbg.com

I’m glad to see Mayor Gavin Newsom finally opposing the anti-immigrant bill in Arizona, and maybe, kinda, sorta, being willing to support some sort of boycott. He’s right that the Arizona law practically mandates racial profiling; he’s also right that it’s an utterly inappropriate way to address immigration and crime issues.

The problem is that the Arizona policy is awfully close to what Newsom has implemented in his own city.

As Angela Chan, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, points out in an opinion piece at sfbg.com, the mayor’s policy — which mandates that juvenile probation officers report young people to federal immigration authorities if they suspect the youth may not be in the country legally — also pretty much mandates racial profiling. It also tears apart families. And makes no sense.

It’s easy to criticize a state like Arizona, run by right-wing nuts who follow the lead of nativist bigots. And that’s fine; I’m on board. But let’s not forget what’s happening right here in San Francisco, where the Democratic mayor is taking the same essential policy approach as the Republican governor of the Grand Canyon State.