Volume 44 Number 32

Mission possibility

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Meklit Hadero’s voice exudes music. A casual conversation over morning coffee can feel like an impromptu personal performance by the San Francisco jazz musician, because even her speaking voice has rhythm.

Assured with the spoken word, Hadero pauses at all the right times, naturally crafting an underlying melodic or poetic content to her dialogue. The intonation floats up and down like a line from one of her songs, as the buzz of the bean grinder, the clanking ceramic cups, and pings of a cash register replace traditional percussion. Opening and closing her eyes between thoughts, she carefully constructs each sentence.

“There is an art to not saying things too quickly,” she blushes when I call her out on this distinct way of speaking. “You have to be open to letting the words come. If there’s too much conversation in your head, the poetry runs away.”

Hadero is all about feeling out the right tempo. And whether it’s in regard to speech or daily duties, she’s established a beat. But as her musical career has grown in the past couple years due to residencies at both the Red Poppy Art House and the de Young Museum, her to-do list has simultaneously matured into a demanding beast, distracting her creative process and throwing off her internal metronome. When she does get a day off, it’s all about coffee and taking time to breathe.

 

“I’ll sleep in, enjoy the view from my apartment, and trick myself into not using my computer — I hide it in my car. Well, just kidding … but maybe I should do that.”

It’s on these days that Hadero is able to create music. Soul-filled vocals dance with jazzy, playful bass for a sound that references Nina Simone and suggests a more vibrant Norah Jones. This week she releases her debut album, On A Day Like This … (Porto Franco), a collection of plush, bright songs woven from the world of influences Hadero’s been collecting throughout her 30 years of life.

Hadero was born in Ethiopia, spent her childhood in Brooklyn, and has since lived in a dozen other places, including Germany; Washington, D.C.; Iowa City; Seattle; Miami; and New Haven, Conn., where she earned a degree from Yale. While she’s most comfortable in “nomad mode,” if there’s anywhere that’s home for her in this country, it’s here, Hadero says.

“The artistic community here is not something to take for granted. I’m coming on six years here in San Francisco — that’s the longest I’ve spent anywhere,” she pauses to reflect on this realization. “I will always be a person with multiple homes — because for me, home isn’t a physical place.”

For Hadero, home is made up of the people who inhabit a space and the rich exchanges that happen among them. It’s the diversity. The mountains. The water. The coffee shops and the music. On A Day Like This … is her ode to California.

“All the songs were written in San Francisco — they’re a culmination of my first period here. My Mission community of artists are all on this album, all the people I’ve been working and playing with for years. These are my moments in the Mission.”

MEKLIT HADERO CD RELEASE PARTY

With DJ Jeremiah Kpoh, and art by Great Tortilla Conspiracy

Thurs/13, 8 p.m., $15–$18

Bimbo’s 365 Club

365 Columbus, SF

1 (877) 4FL-YTIX

www.meklithadero.com

 

Appetite: A couple April openings worth visiting

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Parada 22 brings some much-needed new blood to the Upper Haight. It’s cheap, tasty Puerto Rican food with Cuban influences in a bright, aquamarine space showcasing an eclectic mix of South American antiques and knick knacks, while Latin jazz plays over the speakers. The concept is current and breezy: order at the counter, eat at picnic tables or stools, or take to go. I’ve been twice so far and the food has been consistently good… it’ll will be even better once they’re serving Sangria from next door neighbor, Cha Cha Cha.

Early menu recommends: Camarones a la Criolla ($11.50): sauteed shrimp, tomato and onions in a light pepper cream sauce. Pernil Asado ($9.50): confit-like roasted pork leg in garlic and oregano sofrito. Cubano ($9): pork, sweet ham, pickle, Swiss cheese, mustard, pressed sandwich. Maduros/Plantains ($4.50).

PARADA 22
1805 Haight, SF.
(415) 750-1111
www.parada22.com

 

Lafitte’s delectable Iberian pig. Photo by Virginia Miller.

Lafitte comes with revolutionary manifesto and stunning waterside perch along the Embarcadero. The menu is a moving target as it evolves daily, not just due to available ingredients but also inspiration and vision from Dissident Chef Russell Jackson. Jackson leads his team, many who were with him during his Dissident Chef dinner days, in an open kitchen showcasing their creative style. This approach will surely not please everyone, requiring strong vision to execute with room for variance from one meal to the next. Having visited twice, for dinner and their newly launched weekend brunch, I experienced deliciousness and high quality ingredients, even if sizes were too small at brunch. Read more in The Perfect Spot.

Early menu recommends (check the website for a limited menu of the day, ranging from $8-28 – appetizers on the lower end, entrees in the $20’s): any dish with prized Ibérico Pig Jackson has shipped over from Spain; Anchovy Onion Tart;“Bangers and Mash” (sausage over mashed potatoes in duck jus; also available at brunch for $12); Fried Duck Egg over butter-grilled asparagus, Green-Eyed Monster Cocktail ($12): Hendrick’s Gin, green chartreuse, jalapeno, lemon and sage; brunch non-alcoholic drink, The Dandy ($7): lemon, thyme, bergamot zest, cream, egg white, soda.

LAFITTE
The Embarcadero, Pier 5
(415) 839-2134
www.lafittesf.com

Volume 44 Number 32 Flip-through Edition

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Court to Chevron: consider climate change

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By Adam Lesser

news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY When a California appellate court rejected Chevron Corporation’s attempt to expand its Richmond refinery without clarifying whether it intends to process heavier, more polluting crude oil two weeks ago, planetary concerns loomed even larger than local impacts.

Environmental and local groups celebrated a ruling against a project that would have fouled Bay Area air, but legal experts have pointed out that the long-term impact of the ruling may have less to do with crude oil refining and more to do with global warming.

Justice Ignacio John Ruvolo took nine pages of the 35-page decision specifically to address the fact that the environmental impact report (EIR) failed to outline how Chevron was going to mitigate the approximately 898,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions the refinery expansion would create. The Richmond refinery is already the largest emitter of CO2 in California, clocking in at just under 4.8 million metric tons annually.

The appellate court’s ruling is the first to state that it is illegal under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to defer to a later date the mitigation of greenhouse gases. Ruvolo, representing the 3-0 ruling, wrote “incremental increases in greenhouse gases would result in significant adverse impacts to global warming, the EIR was now legally required to describe, evaluate, and ultimately adopt feasible mitigation measures that would ‘mitigate or avoid’ those impacts.”

Ruvolo goes on to point out that if the greenhouse gas mitigation is worked out later, the public wouldn’t have a chance to comment on how best to offset those emissions. Or worse: maybe adequate mitigation isn’t even possible. An amicus brief filed by the Center for Biological Diversity pointed out that mitigating 898,000 tons of greenhouse gases is equivalent to taking 160,000 cars off the road. That’s a tall order, and the appellate court wants a better EIR that lays out adequate measures to offset the added emissions.

“There was absolutely no specificity on whether the mitigation could be accomplished,” said Matt Vespa, who wrote the amicus brief. “There needs to be a clear road map of what will happen.”

Possible mitigation measures include internal efficiencies at the refinery, ranging from improved heat exchangers to carbon sequestration. But Vespa and Earthjustice attorney Will Rostov, who argued the case, are hopeful that a plan could include measures that would aid the Richmond community, such as retrofitting low income homes or installing clean sources of energy like solar panels.

The issue of mitigating greenhouse gases comes as Democrats in the U.S. Senate prepare to introduce a cap-and-trade bill. Rostov expressed concern that mitigation could occur far away from Richmond, where residents could suffer environmental harm and receive no benefits from Chevron.

Chevron has not yet said what its plans are, only that it is reviewing its options. They include cooperating with a new EIR, halting the expansion, or appealing the ruling to the California Supreme Court. On the possibility of appealing, Vespa commented, “I certainly don’t think the decision was a stretch in terms of the law.”

For now, the community waits. Richmond has a 19 percent unemployment rate and there have been mixed reactions to the project ever since a Contra Costa Superior Court halted the expansion last summer. The project had support from trade unions in need of jobs, although many residents are fearful of more pollution from a corporation it views as a bad and untrustworthy neighbor.

The political fight between the city and Chevron got worse this year as a battle over how much utility tax Chevron should pay became irresolvable. The situation is heading for a showdown in November, with both sides authoring competing ballot measures and the potential for the city to lose $10 million in revenue. A proposed 15-year agreement recently has been outlined.

The conflict over taxes is another milestone in a difficult relationship between Chevron and the citizens of Richmond. The near-term victory for those living in Richmond is a legal framework for holding Chevron responsible for pollutants it puts in the air Richmond citizens breathe.

“CEQA has been around for 40 years and it’s been protecting air and water,” Rostov told the Guardian. “This case shows that CEQA is going to protect the public health from greenhouse gases.”

The sound of the city

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STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO Do you have a favorite musician who plays outside in San Francisco? I’d name many, if I knew their names. There’s the kid no older than 10 who led a two-piece rock band (himself on voice-guitar) through a great show to a growing crowd at Dolores Park, then played soccer immediately after. There’s the guy at 24th Street BART who sounds like Johnny Cash. There’s the man with the white guitar by San Francisco Center, and the guy who used to sing opera by Macy’s. It’s all too easy to miss the sound of life when your ears are plugged by little headphones. With that in mind, and with Heddy Honigmann’s great 1998 documentary The Underground Orchestra as one inspiration, it seemed right to talk to some of the people who make music for those who listen. Thanks to Elise-Marie Brown, Nicole Gluckstern, D. Scot Miller and Amber Schadewald for their contributions to this piece. (Johnny Ray Huston)


Name: Antone Lee

What styles of music do you play? I play a mix of folk and modern country on my guitar. Most of my music is original.

Where are your favorite places to play? I usually like to play down here (Civic Center BART station) because of the great sound and acoustics in the hallway.

How long have you been gigging on the streets or underground? I’ve been playing on the streets since I quit my job 3 years ago. This is what I do for a living. It’s pure joy.

What do you like about it and why do you do it? I like vibing off of people as they come and go. It’s nice to play whatever I’m feeling at the moment.

What don’t you like about it? Sometimes the people walking by can be sort of distracting. I usually just close my eyes and sink into the song.

Do you have recordings or a Web site? I have a MySpace (www.myspace.com/antoneleemusic) where some of my songs are, but I have about thirty songs that I’m waiting to record.

What street musicians and other musicians do you admire? I really like Fiddle Dave. He’s got a great original bluegrass sound. I also like Federico who plays more gypsy-styled café music.(Elise-Marie Brown)

Name: Ilya Kreymer

What styles of music do you play? I play eastern European music. A lot of Klezmer, Russian and Balkan music.

Where are your favorite sites to play? My favorite places to busk are the BART stations in the Mission, and also farmers’ markets. I usually like to busk two or three times a week.

How long have you been playing on the streets or underground? For five months.

What do you like about it, and why do you do it? I like the fact that it gives me a chance to practice and I get to see how people react to the music. The acoustics in the 16th and 24th BART stations are especially good. It’s also a good way to meet other musicians.

What don’t you like about it? Obviously there’s a lot of outside noise. You never know when you might be interrupted. Sometimes I might be doing really well and no one will be there to listen, but when I mess up more people might be around.

Do you have recordings or a Web site? I’ve actually got some recordings on reverbnation (www.reverbnation.com). But I’m hoping to update it soon with more songs. I’m also working on having a band that plays Russian music, too.

What street musicians or other musicians do you admire? There’s an accordion player that plays down at Civic Center. I think during morning rush hour. He also does magic tricks and wears outfits that match his accordion. He’s a longtime busker who I really admire.

What’s been your best experience playing? I had a really good experience at the Alemany market recently. A friend of mine was working at the farmers’ market. I was busking next to her booth while she danced. People were stopping by and taking notice, so that was really nice. (Brown)

 

Names: The Haight Street Vagabonds: Peter, Bucky, Crisp and Jack

Where do you play? Fisherman’s Wharf, on the sidewalk next to Cold Stone Creamery.

What styles of music do you play? Gypsy music, folk, Russian Folk. We jam. That’s like asking what kind of music the Grateful Dead play.

What are your usual instruments? Broken mandolin, harmonica, pots and pans, guitar, hand drums, children’s toys, hands, feet.

Why do you play? For fun, to entertain, and to keep our spirits up. I don’t want the money — then I feel like I’m whoring myself out to capitalism. I want food, beer, weed, cigarettes, and the best thing — instruments!

When do you play? Everyday. Sometimes the members change. Sometimes people walking by will join for a few minutes, hours or days.

How many years have you been playing on the street? Crisp has been playing for a year, Bucky since he left home four years ago at age 14.

What’s your philosophy about music? The best music has never been recorded. The best music is played for family and friends, at night, around a campfire. Or when you’re alone. (Amber Schadewald)

Name: Benjamin Barnes

What styles of music do you play? I play guitar and viola, but violin projects better and I know a lot of repertory. I’ve got maybe 3 hours of Bach memorized. It’s a meditative thing. There are six sonatas and six cello suites, and I play the cello suites on viola and violin. They’re nice profound pieces and sometimes people will stop and listen. I was playing Bach’s Chaconne and this guy stopped and listened to the whole piece and tipped me afterward.

Where are your favorite places to play? The Mission BART stations. The acoustics aren’t bad — you get a little reverb like you would in a hall. The first place I played was Powell Street station. It was 1989. I put my can down and basically practiced and made 15 dollars. I packed it all up and went home and threw the money on my bed and laughed. I was working at a coffee shop and putting myself through school.

I had a string quartet (the Rilke String Quartet) and we used to play at Montgomery and Embarcadero. We called it guerrilla musicianship.

What do you like about it, and why do you do it? It’s fulfilling to play these great pieces. I’ve been working on memorizing all these pieces and finding new ways to interpret them.

I was just in NY and saw people busking in Central Park and Greenwich Village. There’s a famous violinist, Joshua Bell, who played in the NY subway for a couple hours, and no one recognized him or that he was playing on a Stradivarius. Most people walked by or gave him a dollar, and one kid played air violin. He made 26 dollars.

Do you have recordings or a Web site? I have a lot of songs and string quartet and solo viola stuff that I’ve written and played on my website (www.benjaminbarnes.com). You can download it for free. There’s a spot where you can make a donation. I’ve gotten about 26 dollars. (Laughs)

I’m playing a free show at Caffeinated Comics on May 16th. We’re going to play an acoustic show, with songs I wrote and Bowie covers, Beatles covers, Led Zep and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” (Huston)

Name: Anthony

Where are your favorite places to play? Montgomery Bart Station, sometimes Fisherman’s Wharf.

What styles of music do you play? Love songs.

What are your favorite songs? “All The Woman I Need” by Luther Vandross, and anything Barry White.

How many years have you been playing on the street? 10.

What are your necessary accessories? Sparkly blue nail polish, mini Bible, Newports.

How long do you play? I stay until my dick gets hard and then probably longer.

Why do you do it? To entertain people and make some money. I don’t play for my health. (Schadewald)

Name: Brass Liberation Orchestra

When was the BLO founded? 2002-ish

How many members are there? Probably about 20 at the moment. 50 or more for the life of the band.

Where are your favorite spots to play? How do you get the word out? We play for change: picket lines, street marches, demonstrations. Wherever people want to dance in the street. We mostly play at events that other people are publicizing, (but) when we do our own shows, we use email and word of mouth.

What’s been your most memorable performance? Depends on who you ask! Demos at the start of the Iraq War where the band was arrested en masse? Oakland Oscar Grant marches? Whole Foods “Hey Mackey” pro-healthcare protest?

Are there other street bands you admire? There are many street bands whose music we admire. Some bands with similar political orientation include Rude Mechanical Orchestra (NYC), Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble (Montreal), Cackalack Thunder (Greensboro, NC). We also respect the youth work of Loco Bloco in the Mission, who are currently facing a budget crisis and could use some fundraising support.

What’s your favorite song to play together? A lot of us love New Orleans Second Line, and also Balkan brass music. One song we play at almost every gig is “Roma Rama,” a simplified Balkan-style tune written for us by Axel Hererra. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Name: Federico Petrozzino

What styles of music do you play? I play mostly folk and Beatles covers.

Where are your favorite places to play? I’ve played at Mills College and Ireland’s 32. But I make my living as a street musician playing around here (Powell BART station).

How long have you been playing on the streets or underground? I’ve been out here for about 3 months since I got in to town from Argentina.

What do you like about it, and why do you do it? It’s nice when you feeling like you’re doing good and people will walk by and smile or give you a wink.

What don’t you like about it? To be honest, I love the bums. But sometimes they can be crazy, which can turn some people away. It’s a distraction, but we try to be respectful.

Do you have recordings or a Web site? I have some of my stuff at purevolume (www.purevolume.com/fefon). The next step is to play at more places in the area.

What street musicians and other musicians do you admire? Frank Lynn. He’s been down here for over 30 years and is kind of a father to all of us street musicians. He’s an amazing musician and only plays on two strings. He has such a deep voice and everyone respects him.

What’s been your best experience playing? Just watching parents teach their children to appreciate music and give money. It’s great to see them learn how to be humble and respectful of the arts. (Brown)

 

Name: Larry “Bucketman” Hunt

How long have you been playing music? I’ve playing drums for 49 years. My first kit was a set of buckets when I was three years old.

I’m not from here. I’m from Kansas and I’ve had the chance to play with some of the greats all across the United States — Jimmy Smith, Pearl Bailey, The Drifters. I played with John Lee Hooker when he opened up the Boom Boom Room. This is what I do.

Where are your favorite places to play? 4th and Market, Powell and Geary (with New Funk Generation).

What don’t you like about playing music on the streets or underground? Old Navy, the Flood Building, their security is chasing me off now. I’ve been out here for fourteen years, was in Pursuit Of Happyness with Will Smith, and now they’re trying to get rid of me. They call the cops. The cops don’t want to do it, but they have to. (D. Scot Miller)

 

Eyes of the city

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arts@sfbg.com

STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO Two packs of beer, five cameras, and a ridiculous amount of camera equipment are hauled up the narrow staircase and onto the Guardian’s sunny rooftop on Potrero Hill. The four members of Caliber, a talented group of Bay Area photographers, immediately strap on their cameras and secure their lenses.

Running to the edge of the roof, spinning in circles, pointing up, down, and side to side, they take snapshots. The sunset, the traffic, the sidewalk below — Caliber shows that it’s possible to find a beautiful angle in every direction.

“It’s like we’ve never taken a picture before,” says Caliber member Julie Michelle, smirking after a series of shots. A couple of minutes of later, beer lures the rest of the pack — Stuart Dixon, Travis Jensen, Troy Holden, and his visiting brother, Dylan — around the picnic table to talk about their love for street photography.

Photo by Julie Michelle

The group met through Flickr in October 2009, after admiring each other’s varied styles. They decided to collaborate in an independent fashion, putting up a Web site filled with genuine San Francisco moments only residents can experience. When they aren’t lurking with a camera in alleyways or roaming along sidewalks and through parking lots, Caliber’s male members work 9-to-5’s, while Michelle races around the city photographing for her own Web site. Caliber’s images are a sheer labor of love.

Dixon is all about using “weird gear” and putting a new spin on classic shots of the bridge, Bay landmarks, and traffic. The group describes Jensen as a legit street photographer who captures kick-flips, drug trades, and intimate portraits of wizened or withered people. Holden “defaults to high buildings,” abandoned warehouses, and construction zones. Michelle loves architectural details and stumbling upon “lonely” timeless moments.

Photo by Travis Jensen

“As a group, we’re not taking Hallmark postcard pictures. This is the San Francisco we live in. It’s not a sunset at Crissy Field or the Painted Ladies,” Michelle says.

“It’s the nitty-gritty city stuff,” Jensen clarifies.

Every day, the Caliber Web site features a minimum of four new photos, a click from each member caught in their digital nets while walking to work, riding the bus, or on a Sunday morning stroll. From intimate portraits to the beautiful cityscapes, Caliber’s photos capture the real San Francisco from the dirty ground up.

Photo by Troy Holden

“Getting the perfect shot is very mathematical. And this is me being nerdy, but it’s recognizing when every element is in its right place,” says Troy, noting that sometimes it takes a hundred snaps of a single scene to get it right.

“It’s like panning for gold, finding the nugget,” adds Michelle. “And all you need is one.”

www.calibersf.com

Street stars

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rebeccab@sfbg.com

A few crafty, courageous souls have learned to live off of San Francisco’s streets, supporting themselves with tips from random strangers at high-traffic destinations.

Fisherman’s Wharf is such a popular spot that the Port of San Francisco has a map dividing the sidewalk turf into specified performance locations. Between Piers 39 to 41, crowds may encounter break-dancers, spray-paint artists, musicians, or balloon sculptors. Then there are strutters and statues, clad in head-to-toe silver or gold, dancing to tunes blasting out of boom boxes, or frozen still until a tip lands in their tin.

Across the city, a writer has carved out his own street niche. Lynn Gentry pecks away at his Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter, peering through cat-eyed spectacles at the unevenly inked text. A young black poet sporting an inch or two of vertical hair, seated upon a fold-up wooden chair before a makeshift miniature desk, his gig is summed up in a hand-written sign: “Pick a subject and price then get a poem.”

Gentry isn’t the city’s only busker hocking poems off an old-fashioned typewriter, but he is a regular fixture at the famous corner of Haight and Ashbury. Rather than tailoring his work to a specific style, he spins out spontaneous, lightly punctuated poems and prose, emulating the Beats. Tourists stop often and tip generously, but the locals seem to like him too. One has dubbed him “Professor.” Another seemed excited to pick up a poem he previously ordered, about Libras.

“I chose the Haight because you’ve got a lot of different things going on right here,” Gentry explains. “The longer you sit here, the more you meet the people who live right here, and who were part of the neighborhood’s history.” When not writing, he offers tales and odd historic tidbits. He talks about the 1966 Trips Festival, acid tests, the CIA, and the Summer of Love.

A trio of skinny young women approach, dressed as if they have stepped directly out of that era, and request a poem about “Supercute.” Turns out, it’s their band name.

Gentry first encountered a busking poet when he saw Jacqueline Suskin at the Oregon Country Fair. The son of a poet, he’d written mostly song lyrics before. Now, he says, he’s making ends meet with the street gig. The toughest customer request yet? “Ode to a Menstrual Cycle,” he admits. “It’s the only one that’s taken me three tries.”

Meanwhile, back at Fisherman’s Wharf, a crowd gathers to watch the masked street performer clad in head-to-toe gold. Poised atop a gold milk crate, he shimmies forward, hips swinging, shoulders rolling, and the milk crate shimmies too. He turns a 360-degree spin, and the milk crate spins too. He pauses for a photo with two wide-eyed blond children. Vacationers pause to snap pictures and tip. They might never guess that the man behind the mask is 51 years old.

At Fisherman’s Wharf, everybody sitting on the benches nearby seems to know Shaba, a spry black man who introduces himself as Shabadaba the Gold Man. He wears a gold top hat and an enormous gold clock around his neck. He does his street strutting right across the way from the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and says he’s been entertaining at Fisherman’s Wharf since 1977.

“I even beat the Bush Man out here,” he says. (The Bush Man may have the most bizarre self-made gig of all. He conceals himself behind a cluster of bush-like boughs, and then shakes them around, hollering, to scare unsuspecting passersby. It works every time.)

Shaba wasn’t always gold. He used to be silver, but too many others followed suit, so he switched colors. There’s another Gold Man, too, who rolls his tip can up and down his arms, and a few silver performers. One, who calls himself Silver Man, paints his entire head silver — except for an off-center star, which traces across his eyes and down his cheeks — and dances to Michael Jackson tunes wearing star-print pants, a red shirt with wings painted down the back, and one white glove.

“I’m kinda like Father Time out here,” Shaba says. He notes that things have changed over time, and that some performers are now paying the city for permits to be guaranteed a slot, though it isn’t mandated. He springs up suddenly, mumbling something about being unable to sit still.

Back at Haight and Ashbury, Gentry plucks a poem from the typewriter, proofreads it carefully, and hands it over. Here’s an excerpt: “San Francisco keeps trying as I hear the accents of the old neighborhoods that left them behind years ago to start a new life as writers still praise them from afar and the locals hold dying history confused to where they are….”

Democratizing the streets

steve@sbg.com

It’s hard to keep up with all the changes occurring on the streets of San Francisco, where an evolving view of who and what roadways are for cuts across ideological lines. The car is no longer king, dethroned by buses, bikes, pedestrians, and a movement to reclaim the streets as essential public spaces.

Sure, there are still divisive battles now underway over street space and funding, many centered around the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which has more control over the streets than any other local agency, particularly after the passage of Proposition A in 2007 placed all transportation modes under its purview.

Transit riders, environmentalists, and progressive members of the Board of Supervisors are frustrated that Mayor Gavin Newsom and his appointed SFMTA board members have raised Muni fares and slashed service rather than tapping downtown corporations, property owners, and/or car drivers for more revenue.

Board President David Chiu is leading the effort to reject the latest SFMTA budget and its 10 percent Muni service cut, and he and fellow progressive Sups. David Campos, Eric Mar, and Ross Mirkarimi have been working on SFMTA reform measures for the fall ballot, which need to be introduced by May 18.

But as nasty as those fights might get in the coming weeks, they mask a surprising amount of consensus around a new view of streets. “The mayor has made democratizing the streets one of his major initiatives,” Newsom Press Secretary Tony Winnicker told the Guardian.

And it’s true. Newsom has promoted removing cars from the streets for a few hours at a time through Sunday Streets and his “parklets” in parking spaces, for a few weeks or months at a time through Pavement to Parks, and permanently through Market Street traffic diversions and many projects in the city’s Bicycle Plan, which could finally be removed from a four-year court injunction after a hearing next month.

Even after this long ban on new bike projects, San Francisco has seen the number of regular bicycle commuters double in recent years. Bike to Work Day, this year held on May 13, has become like a civic holiday as almost every elected official pedals to work and traffic surveys from the last two years show bikes outnumbering cars on Market Street during the morning commute.

If it wasn’t for the fiscal crisis gripping this and other California cities, this could be a real kumbaya moment for the streets of San Francisco. Instead, it’s something closer to a moment of truth — when we’ll have to decide whether to put our money and political will into “democratizing the streets.”

 

RECONSIDERING ROADWAYS

After some early clashes between Newsom and progressives on the Board of Supervisors and in the alternative transportation community over a proposal to ban cars from a portion of John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park — a polarizing debate that ended in compromise after almost two acrimonious years — there’s been a remarkable harmony over once-controversial changes to the streets.

In fact, the changes have come so fast and furious in the last couple of years that it’s tough to keep track of all the parking spaces turned into miniparks or extended sidewalks, replacement of once-banished benches on Market and other streets, car-free street closures and festivals, and healthy competition with other U.S. cities to offer bike-sharing or other green innovations.

So much is happening in the streets that SF Streetsblog has quickly become a popular, go-to clearinghouse for stories about and discussions of our evolving streets, a role that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition — itself the largest grassroots group in the city, with more than 11,000 paid members — recently recognized with its Golden Wheel award.

“I think we are at a tipping point. All these little things have been percolating,” said San Francisco Planning Urban Research Association director Gabriel Metcalf, listing examples such as the creative reuse of San Francisco street space by Rebar and other groups (see “Seizing space,” 11/18/09), experiments in New York and other cities to convert traffic lanes to bicycle and pedestrian spaces, a new generation of more forward-thinking traffic engineers and planning professionals working in government, and more aggressive advocacy work by the SFBC, SPUR, and other groups.

“I think it’s all starting to coalesce,” Metcalf said. “Go to 17th and Valencia [streets] and feel what it’s like to have a sidewalk that’s wide enough to be comfortable. Or go ride in the physically separated bike lane on Market Street. Or take your kids to the playground at Hayes Green that used to be a freeway ramp.”

Politically, this is a rare area of almost universal agreement. “This is an issue where this mayor and this board have been very aligned,” Metcalf said. Winnicker, Newsom’s spokesperson, agreed: “The mayor and the board do see this issue very similarly.”

Mirkarimi, a progressive who chairs the Transportation Authority, also agreed that this new way of looking at the streets has been a bright spot in board-mayoral relations. “It is evolving and developing, and that’s a very good thing,” Mirkarimi said.

Both Winnicker and Mirkarimi separately singled out the improvements on Divisidero Street — where the median and sidewalks have been planted with trees and vegetation and some street parking spaces have been turned into designated bicycle parking and outdoor seating — as an example of the new approach.

“It really is a microcosm of an evolving consciousness,” Mirkarimi said of the strip.

Sunday Streets, a series of events when the streets are closed to cars and blossom with life, is an initiative proposed by SFBC and Livable City that has been championed by Newsom and supported by the board as it overcame initial opposition from the business community and some car drivers.

“There is a growing synergy toward connecting the movements that deal with repurposing space that has been used primarily for automobiles,” Sunday Streets coordinator Susan King told us.

Newsom has cast the greening initiatives as simply common sense uses of space and low-cost ways of improving the city. “A lot of what the mayor and the board have disagreements on, some of that is ideological,” Winnicker said. “But streets, parks, medians, and green spaces, they are not ideological.”

Maybe not, but where the rubber is starting to meet the road is on how to fund this shift, particularly when it comes to transit services that aren’t cheap — and to Newsom’s seemingly ideological aversion to new taxes or charges on motorists.

“We’re completely aligned when it comes to the Bike Plan and testing different things as far as our streets, but that all changes with the MTA budget,” said board President David Chiu, who is leading the charge to reject the budget because of its deep Muni service cuts. “Progressives are focused on the plight of everyday people who can’t afford to drive and park a car and have to rely on Muni. So it’s a question of on whose back will you balance the MTA budget.”

 

WHOSE STREETS?

The MTA governs San Francisco’s streets, from deciding how their space is allocated to who pays for their upkeep. The agency runs Muni, sets and administers parking policies, regulates taxis, approves bicycle-related improvements, and tries to protect pedestrians.

So when the mayoral-appointed MTA Board of Directors last month approved a budget that cuts Muni service by 10 percent without sharing the pain with motorists or pursuing significant new revenue sources — in defiance of pleas by the public and progressive supervisors over the last 18 months — it triggered a real street fight.

The Budget and Finance Committee will begin taking up the MTA budget May 12. And progressive supervisors, frustrated at having to replay this fight for a second year in a row, are pursuing a variety of MTA reforms for the November ballot, which must be submitted by May 18.

“We’re going to have a very serious discussion about MTA reform,” Chiu said, adding, “I expect there to be a very robust discussion about the MTA and balancing that budget on the backs of transit riders.”

Among the reforms being discussed are shared appointments between the mayor and board, greater ability for the board to reject individual initiatives rather than just the whole budget, changes to Muni work rules and compensation, and revenue measures like a local surcharge on vehicle license fees or a downtown transit assessment district.

Last week Chiu met with Newsom on the MTA budget issue and didn’t come away hopeful that there will be a collaborative solution such as last year’s compromise. But Chiu said he and other supervisors were committed to holding the line on Muni service cuts.

“I think the MTA needs to get more creative. We have to make sure the MTA isn’t being used as an ATM with these work orders,” Chiu said, referring to the $65 million the MTA pays to the Police Department and other agencies every year, a figure that steeply increased after 2007. “My hope is that the MTA board does the right thing and rolls back some of these service reductions.”

Transit riders have been universal in condemning the MTA budget. “The budget is irresponsible and dishonest,” said San Francisco Transit Riders Union project director Dave Snyder. “It reveals the hypocrisy in the mayor’s stated environmental commitments. This action will cut public transit permanently and that’s irresponsible.”

But the Mayor’s Office blames declining state funding and says the MTA had no choice. “It’s an economic reality. None of us want service reductions, but show us the money,” Winnicker said.

That’s precisely what the progressive supervisors are trying to do by exploring several revenue measures for the November ballot. But they say Newsom’s lack of leadership on the issue has made that difficult, particularly given the two-third vote requirement.

“There’s been a real failure of leadership by Gavin Newsom,” Mirkarimi said.

Newsom addressed the issue in December as he, Mirkarimi, and other city officials and bicycle advocates helped create the city’s first green “bike box” and honor the partial lifting of the bike injunction, sounding a message of unity on the issue.

“I can say this is the best relationship we’ve had for years with the advocacy community, with the Bicycle Coalition. We’ve begun to strike a nice balance where this is not about cars versus bikes. This is about cars and bikes and pedestrians cohabitating in a different mindset,” Newsom said.

Yet afterward, during an impromptu press conference, Newsom spoke with disdain about those who argued that improving the streets and maintaining Muni service during hard economic times requires money, and Newsom has been the biggest impediment to finding new revenue sources.

“Everyone is just so aggressive on trying to raise revenue. We’ve been increasing the cost of going on Muni the last few years. I think people need to consider that,” Newsom said. “We’ve increased the cost of parking tickets, increased the cost of using a parking meter, and we’ve raised the fares. It’s important to remind people of that. The first answer to every question shouldn’t be, OK, we’re going to tax people more or increase their costs.

“You have to be careful about that,” he continued. “So my answer to your question is two-fold. We’re going to look at revenue, but not necessarily tax increases. We’re going to look at revenue, but not necessarily fine increases. We’re going to look at revenue, but not necessarily parking meter increases. We’re going to look at new strategies.”

Yet that was six months ago, and with the exception of grudgingly agreeing to allow a small pilot program in a few commercial corridors to eliminate free parking in metered spots on Sunday, Newsom still hasn’t proposed any new revenue options.

“The voters aren’t receptive to new taxes now,” Winnicker said last week. Mirkarimi doesn’t necessarily agree, citing polling data showing that voters in San Francisco may be open to the VLF surcharge, if we can muster the same kind of political will we’re applying to other street questions.

“It polls well, even in a climate when taxation scares people,” Mirkarimi said.

 

BIKING IS BACK

It was almost four years ago that a judge stuck down the San Francisco Bicycle Plan, ruling that it should have been subjected to a full-blown environmental impact report (EIR) and ordering an injunction against any projects in the plan.

That EIR was completed and certified by the city last year, but the same anti-bike duo who originally sued to stop the plan again challenged it as inadequate. The case will finally be heard June 22, with a ruling on lifting the injunction expected within a month.

“The San Francisco Bicycle Plan project eliminates 56 traffic lanes and more than 2,000 parking spaces on city streets,” attorney Mary Miles wrote in her April 23 brief challenging the plan. “According to City’s EIR, the project will cause ‘significant unavoidable impacts’ on traffic, transit, and loading; degrade level of service to unacceptable levels at many major intersections; and cause delays of more than six minutes per street segment to many bus lines. The EIR admits that the “near-term” parts of the project alone will have 89 significant impacts of traffic, transit, and loading but fails to mitigate or offer feasible alternatives to each of these impacts.”

Yet for all that, elected officials in San Francisco are nearly unanimous in their support for the plan, signaling how far San Francisco has come in viewing the streets as more than just conduits for cars.

City officials deny that the bike plan is legally inadequate and they may quibble with a few of the details Miles cites, but they basically agree with her main point. The plan will take away parking spaces and it will slow traffic in some areas. But they also say those are acceptable trade-offs for facilitating safe urban bicycling.

The city’s main overriding consideration is that we must do more to get people out of their cars, for reasons ranging from traffic congestion to global warming. City Attorney’s Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey said that it’s absurd that the state’s main environmental law has been used to hinder progress toward the most environmentally beneficial and efficient transportation option.

“We have to stop solving for cars, and that’s an objective shared by the Board of Supervisors, and other cities, and the mayor as well,” Dorsey said.

Even anti-bike activist Rob Anderson, who brought the lawsuit challenging the bike plan, admits the City Hall has united around this plan to facilitate bicycling even if it means taking space from automobiles, although he believes that it’s a misguided effort.

“It’s a leap of faith they’re making here that this will be good for the city,” Anderson told us. “This is a complicated legal argument, and I don’t think the city has made the case.”

A judge will decide that question following the June 22 hearing. But whatever way that legal case is decided, it’s clear that San Francisco has already changed its view of its streets and other once-marginalized transportation choices like the bicycle.

Even the local business community has benefited from this new sensibility, with bicycle shops thriving around San Francisco and local bike messenger bag companies Timbuk2 and Rickshaw Bags experiencing rapid growth thanks to a doubling of the number of regular bicyclists in recent years.

“That’s who we’re aiming at, people who bike every day and make bikes a central part of their lives,” said Mike Waffenfels, CEO of Timbuk2, which in February moved into a larger location to handle it’s growth. “It’s about a lifestyle.”

For urban planners and advocates, it’s about making the streets of San Francisco work for everyone. As Metcalf said, “People need to be able to get where they’re going without a car.”

Vandalism Manifesto

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Editor’s note: An earlier edition of this manifesto was scrawled onto the walls of an abandoned underground Muni tunnel somewhere in the Sunset District.

STREETS ISSUE The magic of the word — VANDALISM — is terribly offensive. Vandalism offends all the right people and launches an offensive against all the wrong people. Wait, vandalism converts our doublemoralspeak to honesty. Vandalism affirms a number of precarious values: freedom, justice, the art of unmediated living, etc.

Vandalism is not just a word. It’s a gaseous engine powering subversion, all saturated in viscous honey. A lifestyle set on boundless hope. A toy monkey you can buy on Haight Street. A self-imagined adventure ride in your Disneyland theme city of choice. A movement determined to strategically undermine deceptive imagery in favor of immediate experience — the sort of primitive amoebic goo that inspires the gorgeous muck of truthfulness. Vandalism lives in dirt and filth — the only organic material left unadulterated.

Vandalism has a healthy diet: iIt devours the monopoly on spectacle and excretes into the vast wastelands of intergalactic oil spills. Vandalism likes thrills: It’s a hyperdérive on the brink of the familiar, gathering as much intensity as possible before fluxing the rules of the game into a vortex of momentous vision. Vandalism wants to hold your hand. Vandalism is so charged that you might already feel an electric rage surging forth while reading this. If you don’t, you will. Does it burn and singe and bend and twist into the antennae of your fingertips? Channel that rage into acts of vandalism.

Vandalism is an awfully new phenomenon. It takes up arms all over the world: in big cities like New York and London, and in not-so-famous towns like Bakersfield and Danville. Well, maybe not Danville. Just wait, Danville.

Vandalism is an awfully old phenomenon. You can see nature desecrated, I mean subliminally mysticized, in the caves of Lascaux. Since we no longer live in pure nature but in concrete labyrinths built on top of iron cage islands, we must bring the caves of Lascaux and beaches of Eden and tornados of Jupiter to bear on today’s jungle city. We must subliminally mysticize the streets. Cue air horn.

Vandalism is so important that there are white wall guardians who repress it with nervous glances and waving arms. Byzantine policies regulate it. Laws have been established to punish transgressors. Yet vandalism doesn’t go away. Too many dreams fuel it. Too many imaginations keep it vital. Word on the street is that Werner Herzog is making a movie about it.

Vandalism doesn’t insist on art. It doesn’t get involved in arguments about whether something is or isn’t art. That conversation is terribly boring. Have you been to a modern museum lately? Didn’t you get the joke? OK, I admit, that conversation is irresistible. Here’s a clarification: Vandalism is an art form even if the graffiti itself is not artistic — a shrouded word meaning ultimately, technically savvy, or educated and properly executed. To this, I summon the ghost of a severe-faced vandal, Norman Mailer: Art is not peace but war! And war ain’t always pretty, or concerned with legality, soljah.

Vandalism would prefer to mark its ephemeral existence on the city skin, gushing down the fermented joys of unsanctioned life, mummifying itself in the cold caverns of a culture mausoleum. It would prefer to make you smile and laugh and wonder mercilessly to what happens in galleries: first confusion, then self-consciousness, and finally, the lingering pain of feeling slightly cheated. (Confession: I kinda stole that from Banksy. VANDALIZED!) No, vandalism doesn’t demand legitimacy in order to die in a sea of sterilized artifacts — all rotten fish skins and busted gall bladders in excessive frames. Museums sanctify the past. Vandalism prophesies the present.

History lesson: Street kids baptized vandalism in the slums, reconfiguring our country’s criminal policies of benign neglect into an acrobatic dance. They spun windmills into the future and set their gaze on the heavens. Among buildings reduced to rubble — a bombed out third world — they flipped the script and defined vandalism as bombing. The kids crucified monotony and sacrificed the crushing industrial rhythm of authority. They called themselves writers and painted their neon-tinted altar egos onto the shining armor of the behemoth subway trains and all over the walls. The names projected a faith in identity among the noise of polluted prayers.

Writers became pseudonymous in an abysmal well of city hustlers trying to make a legacy for themselves — billboard important and newsworthy. Writers preferred this life, fleeting and necessary and beautiful in the quixotic eternity of the now. The indifferent had no choice but to reckon with the writers.

Over 40 years strong, the writers still scour the marrow of their bones to re-enchant the lifeblood of the city. They craft enigmas out of the geometric lines and curves of the alphabet, making ferocious animals out of huge letters, feral and gunning in the jungle. The animals promulgate like bacteria, spawning writers-turned-shamans who cast spells of cryptic iconography wherever they go. Mummies, giraffes, and spaceships populate the jungle. An aura of prophecy emerges in the streets.

Writers wage war against the ubiquitous icons of worship mounted across the empire: those branded images manufacturing a spectacle of insurmountable desire and Sisyphean frustration. The marketers might have the money to buy permission to assault your eyes and make you feel bad about yourself; writers have the courage to forgo bureaucratic approval, stake claim on what rightfully belongs to all of us and conjure up a moveable feast. We believe in innocent pleasures, impulsive and vibrant, in order to dismantle the tyranny of monotony! More air horn, please.

Vandalism is degenerate. It’s not here to promote cleanliness and genteel manners of etiquette. Vandalism will replace honorifics with its own stamp of affirmation: Vandal Basquiat, Vandal Futura 2000, Vandal Taki 183, Vandal Debord, Haring, Burrows and Proudhon. But more than any of that, all the lower-case vandals on Muni set to burn their names on your retina.

Vandalism doesn’t care about rights to property. Vandalism stands by this ancient principle: property is theft. Vandalism doesn’t care about copyright. Copyright smacks of self-indulgence and greed. Quote me on that. Vandalism is universal and limitless, unwieldy and unbalanced, completely unhinged and frighteningly beautiful. It’s dangerous but welcoming. Come on. Give vandalism a try. Vandalism is the new gentrification; everyone’s doing it. It’s pushing emptiness and dullness out of the city and raising the quality of life to unpredictable heights of magnanimity. Your neutral walls do violence to our integrity. Whatcha got against color?

How does one live well and good? By doing vandalism. How does one become anonymously famous? By doing vandalism. With a flick of the wrists and a swagger of the step. Til’ one can’t stop and certainly won’t stop. It’s a terrible habit, an awfully time-consuming obsession. How can one get rid of everything grotesque and in bad taste? Vandalism. How do we reassert ourselves in the midst of corporate homogeny and increasing pressure to normalize? Vandalism. By what means do we establish our will to communicate freely and openly in the public sphere? Vandalism.

Vandalism cannot be bought or sold in your local Walgreens (maybe in Giant Robot, though). No no, vandalism is a nebulous thing, an utterly cosmic thing, dirty and scurrilous and always operating in the shadows, always slipping away from sterilization and appropriation like a rat with rabies on the run. What a charming nuisance. What a credible way to live! Street credible. The streets is a mother, and good ol’ vanguard vandalism — the first lesson.

Vandalism once brought down the Roman empire. We have yet to rebuild the world in its depths. (Wooley Van Dahl)

Time travel

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arts@sfbg.com

LIT Sometimes when I’m bored walking around Union Square, I wonder how many of the well-heeled white guys heading toward the Financial District are really criminal types who should be followed. Say, maybe some higher-up at Wells Fargo or Citigroup who helped rip off thousands through subprime loans before getting a nice slice of that sweet Wall Street bailout money.

When I’m feeling that way, I’m under the influence of a seminal 20th century writer who spent his most productive years in San Francisco. Here’s a passage that sends me there:

She walked on down Post Street to Kearny, stopping, stopping every now and then to look — or to pretend to look — in store windows; while I ambled along sometimes beside her, sometimes, almost by her side, and sometimes in front.

She was trying to check the people around her, trying to determine whether she was being followed or not. But here, in the busy part of town, that gave me no cause for worry. On a less crowded street it might have been different, though not necessarily so.

There are four rules for shadowing: Keep behind your subject as much as possible; never try to hide from him; act in a natural manner no matter what happens; and never meet his eye. Obey them, and, except in unusual circumstances, shadowing is the easiest thing that a sleuth has to do.

The narrator so hep to the ways of the tail is Dashiell Hammett’s “Continental Op,” an operative for the fictional Continental Detective Agency, whose adventures in print include some of Hammett’s finest San Francisco tales.

Don Herron’s walking tour of landmarks associated with Hammett’s time in San Francisco is well worth making for anyone curious about the history of the author of The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, who helped create hardboiled crime fiction and was one its greatest practitioners. At three to four hours of often hilly trekking, it’s a bit of a commitment, but at $10, it’s an affordable way to engage in the next best thing to time travel.

Herron, author of books about pulp actioneer Robert Howard and noir craftsman Charles Willeford, has been informally conducting the tour for three decades. It started in 1977 as part of a “free college” known as Communiversity. The Dashiell Hammett Tour: Thirtieth Anniversary Guidebook (2009), which updates earlier versions, is a nifty package that belongs on the shelf of any self-respecting San Francisco denizen with a passion for our city’s often twisted past. It’s a lively combination of biographical material about Hammett, assorted related trivia that never seems trivial, and Herron’s memories from 30 years of accompanying a broad spectrum of writers, fans, and eccentrics through the former stomping grounds of Hammett and his fictional creations.

The tour starts near the former site of the San Francisco Library Main Branch, now the Asian Art Museum. In an era of economic collapse papered over with massive subsidies to the same financial entities that brought us to collapse in the first place, lessons from earlier belt-tightening eras are useful. Hence it’s only appropriate to tip our fedoras to the memory of an autodidact left-winger who never finished high school but, by devoting years to reading in public libraries, got a better education than most who did. Though Hammett was making good money from writing crime fiction by the late 1920s, when he lived at 620 Eddy St. in the early 1920s, he couldn’t afford books and the library was a lifeline. The 1923 photo on page 66 of the guidebook, of what Heron calls “Hammett’s Reading Room” in the old main library branch at 200 Larkin St., is a beaut.

When Hammett and his family lived at 620 Eddy, their landlady was a bootlegger. Hammett’s wife later recalled cops rousting people in front of their window to the street. As Herron notes, today’s prohibition on hard drugs is about as effective at deterring users as the earlier one on alcohol, and equally effective at creating endless business opportunities for motivated entrepreneurs. If you’re not legally blind and are paying any attention at all, it’s likely you may see one or two such enterprising businesspeople on the streets of the Hammett tour. It’s also a safe bet they might bear a resemblance to the Continental Op’s self-description: “My face doesn’t scare children, but it’s a more or less truthful witness to a life that hasn’t been overburdened with refinement and gentility.”

The 1920s in San Francisco were wild, wide-open years full of fast living and dodgy characters. The late venerable columnist Herb Caen wrote of the period: “The Hall of Justice was dirty and reeked of evil. The City Hall, the D.A., and the cops ran the town as though they owned it, and they did … You could play roulette in the Marina, shoot craps on O’Farrell, play poker on Mason, and get rolled at 4 a.m. in a bar on Eddy.”

Hammett toiled on his used Underwood typewriter late into the night, creating characters and stories based on what he’d seen in that milieu. During World War I, he contracted both Spanish influenza and tuberculosis. When his TB got so bad that it was hazardous to the health of his wife and baby to maintain a family abode, he moved out and lived in a succession of apartments, including one up the hill from Eddy Street at 891 Post St., at the corner of Hyde. In a corner apartment on the fourth floor of that building, Hammett pounded out his first three novels. If you’re lucky, on Herron’s tour you’ll be buzzed in and get to see where Hammett typed, ate, drank, and smoked furiously — and sometimes pulled down the Murphy bed to sleep. The apartment of The Maltese Falcon‘s tough detective Sam Spade was based on the snug little dwelling.

The current occupant is Bill Arney, an architect and Hammett fan. When he showed the tour I was on around the small one-bedroom unit, I noticed a great compilation of “crime jazz,” soundtrack music from black and white crime movies and TV shows, on top of a pile of CDs. Appropriate, since Arney serves as announcer for the Noir City film festival local mover and shaker Eddie Muller puts on at the Castro Theatre every January.

Hammett left a permanent mark on San Francisco. Specifically, on the block-long street that used to be called Monroe, which runs south off Pine in the block between Powell and Stockton. From what is now called Dashiell Hammett Street, walk east on Bush and on the right, at Burritt Street, just before the Stockton tunnel overpass, ponder the plaque that reads: ON APPROXIMATELY THIS SPOT/MILES ARCHER,/PARTNER OF SAM SPADE,/WAS DONE IN BY/BRIGID O’SHAUGHNESSY.

We are lucky to be in a city that commemorates one of its most accomplished past local residents with a plaque honoring a killing that was a product of that writer’s imagination. *

MORE ON SFBG.COM: Johnny Ray Huston’s illustrated look at the Vertigo tour

 

360-degrees “Muralismo”

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caitlin@sfbg.com

STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO In the late 1960s, when the muralismo movement began gaining strength among artists and community organizers in the Mission District, or in the 1970s when pioneer female street artists Mujeres Muralistas first picked up their brushes to trick out Balmy Alley, they probably weren’t thinking about the de Young Museum and slick coffee table books.

But, to appropriate Jay-Z, street art’s got a new bitch — the fine art world. With the 2009 release of Precita Eyes’ eye-popping Street Art San Francisco: Mission Muralismo (www.missionmuralismo.com) and the corresponding year-long event series the picture book of the storied mural hood has spawned at the de Young museum, neighborhood tags and tableaus are gaining a stronger foothold in the world of high art. That is to say, the world of art that people pay big money for.

Banksy’s recent film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and the attendant media frenzy about several tie-in works appearing around town, is the hyped-out crest of spray-can crazy that’s got San Francisco in its grip. Galleries like Project One, White Walls, and 1AM are selling works for hundreds and thousands of dollars that you once saw on the wall of your neighborhood elementary school or liquor store. High class Union Square Hotel Des Arts offers visitors the chance to sleep in well-appointed rooms designed by “street” artists Apex, Shepard Fairey, and Chor Boogie. It’s hip to be street, stay up to get down, yadda yadda.

So what’s new? After all, Jean-Michel Basquiat zoomed from asphalt to canvas, sparking a meteoric career that collectors loved to cop a piece of in the 1980s. In graffiti’s early days, New York taggers struggled to retain control of their art in the face of soaring price tags, grasping middlemen, and ad execs who recognized the power of the bubble letter to sell. Past generations of SF artists like Twist and Mars One have graduated from the streets entirely. “You need money to do bigger and better things,” White Walls curator Justin Giarla told me. “Galleries are another possible venue to find yourself in history books, museums.”

Mission Muralismo offers a seductively jumbled history. Its pages, a nonlinear whirl of street art celebrated in situ, are perfect for a disparate neighborhood art movement that includes Latin American freedom songs, urban rustic neo-folk, and unapologetic civil disobedience. Editor Annice Jacoby says it took years of “digging through people’s closets” to create.

“You have to find a container that reflects the contradictions and surprises of the street,” Jacoby told me. “This whole place [the Mission] is like a gallery, proliferating and procreating.” To encapsulate the movement’s feel, she took images of temporal art — murals tend to last no more than 12 years before they start to deteriorate — and laid them alongside thoughtful essays by artists and other key Mission figures.

It would be easy to mistake the whirl surrounding Muralismo as another round of outsider art profiteering. Easy, that is, if you didn’t know Precita Eyes’ history of sponsoring social justice-based community murals. Easy, if you forget that the de Young events don’t directly commodify in the murals depicted in the book by swallowing them whole — those murals are pretty well stuck to their walls. Easy, if you’ve never seen the diverse crowds the events draw and the enthusiasm and respect shown by all sides.

“You mention Basquiat, and what happened there is that collectors started recognizing his work and showing it. This is different — we’re not bringing in the art,” de Young director of public programs Renee Baldocchi. Her museum’s First Fridays Mission Muralismo events, part of its Friday night “Cultural Encounters” series, are more than opportunistic book tie-ins. They aim to focus on the culture of the artists themselves. Key figures in the mural movement featured in the book like Juana Alicia, the Billboard Liberation Front, and Jet Martinez (muralist and artistic director of the Clarion Alley Mural Project), come in to lecture — street artists, lecturing? — to packed crowds on what they do, why it’s important, and how you can do it too. “We’re hoping that by inviting them in to talk about their art, it makes more people aware of them in the world,” Baldocchi says.

“The [de Young] events, I see them attracting a lot of young people,” says Jaime Cortez, an artist who coordinated the Galeria de la Raza digital billboard campaign in the 1990s and AIDS awareness mural projects. “I think that’s because of the big name graffiti artists the events draw.” Perhaps these functions are less about changing the meaning of the murals they celebrate than the high art venue they’re being celebrated in.

“It’s not like they’re having a show of muralists [at the de Young],” says Martinez, who has feet in both the street and gallery art worlds. Jet spoke at the Mission Muralismo event highlighting Clarion Alley. “They’re providing a forum where we can speak about this art,” he said.

Hopefully there are some lifted conversations going on, because the color and uniqueness of the Mission’s public art is pretty dope. “You’re dealing with a monumental subject,” Jacoby acknowledges. “You have to find a container that reflects the contradictions and surprises of the street.”

Debates don’t get much weirder than ones about where art “belongs.” But what’s certain is that with all the attention — the de Young events, the Banksy histrionics — more people are seeing the writing on the wall. “Oftentimes we’re in a hurry; we don’t stop to look at the murals,” Baldocchi says. “This is providing a forum so that when we do go down into the Mission, we can look at them and think about what’s being said — especially the social justice side.” *

MISSION MURALISMO

First Fridays, 5 p.m., free

de Young Museum

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., SF.

(415) 750-3600

www.famsf.org/deyoung

 

Beauty lies

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MUSIC Let’s get this out of the way: Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson writes beautiful music. His string sections shiver and swell, his melodies alternately soar and ache, and the electronic textures that he often weaves in amid the more traditional orchestral instruments are unobtrusively massaged into the mix. This is music that doesn’t take warming up to, but rather cocoons you with its immediate approachability and occasional familial resemblances to members of the classical canon as well as more modern film composers such as Nino Rota and Elmer Bernstein. (In fact, many of Jóhannsson’s albums started as original soundtracks, or have been used as such.)

“Prettiness is not something I strive for, even though I know that most people’s initial reaction to my work is to say that it’s beautiful,” Jóhannsson counters bluntly over the phone when I ask for his feelings on the subject. “I don’t think beauty is the main goal. I think it’s more a certain emotional quality. I work in a very visceral way and I try to make music that affects you viscerally and that affects you physically.”

This has certainly been my experience of Jóhannsson’s music, starting with Englaborn, his 2002 debut on the Touch label, and up through his most recent release, last year’s And In the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees (Type), in spite of — or perhaps because of — its beauty. Listening to these classical-not-classical albums, it is hard not to feel that familiar tug inside — the affective prelude to either laughing or crying — that often occurs when one encounters something beautiful.

Composer Benjamin Britten once wrote that “It’s cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful.” Britten then cataloged the different types of cruel beauty music allows the listener to access: there is “the beauty of loneliness and of pain: of strength and freedom,” “the beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love,” and “the cruel beauty of nature and the everlasting beauty of monotony.”

The kinds of beauty described by Britten — beauty attenuated by pain or loss — are present in Jóhannsson’s music, enriched by the context of its conception. Englaborn’s icy and delicate arrangements were conceived as a compliment to the violence and emotional ugliness of the play it originally scored. Fordlandia (4AD), Jóhannsson’s monumental 2008 album, was inspired in part by Henry Ford’s abandoned prefabricated industrial town built in the Amazonian rainforest in 1928, itself a monument to failure. And In the Endless Pause … is an expanded soundtrack to Marc Craste’s animated eco-parable Varmints, a critique of the environmental costs of unchecked urbanization told with a cast of rodents. When asked who his ultimate fantasy collaborator would be, Jóhannsson immediately names the late, great depressive Belgian chanson specialist Jacques Brel.

Despite the unabashed emotionality of his music, with its darker spells of sturm und drang , Jóhannsson discusses his work matter-of-factly. “I think what I’m interested in is the clash of culture and nature, or of technology and nature,” he says. “I don’t write ‘absolute music.’ It always starts with a nonmusical idea.” Better to leave the gushing to the critics, I suppose — a charge that could certainly be leveled at this particular profile. But I know I won’t be the only one reaching for a handkerchief when Jóhannsson and his six-piece ensemble take to the Great American Music Hall’s stage. Yes, it is cruel that music can be so beautiful. But hearing it is nonetheless sublime.

JÓHAN JÓHANNSSON

With Christopher Willits

Fri/14, 9 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.), $21

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

1(888) 233-0449

www.gamh.com

 

Secret agent “homme”

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NEW-OLD MOVIE The Cold War heated up a public appetite for spy adventures well before James Bond became a pop phenomenon. In fact, Ian Fleming hadn’t yet created 007 in 1949, when Jean Bruce commenced writing novels about Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, a.k.a. Agent OSS 117 — eventually more than 90 of them. When Bruce died (crashing his Jaguar — what a man!) in 1963, just as the screen Bond was taking off, his widow wrote another 143. Then her children wrote two dozen more, as recently as 1992.

Needless to say, this French superspy was ready-made to join the ranks of umpteen 007 wannabes, appearing in somewhere between six and 11 films (it’s unclear whether all involved de La Bath, or were just Bruce-based) through 1970, played by at least four actors. The series remained well-known enough to get a new life in 2006 when director Michel Hazanavicius and top French comedy star Jean Dujardin sought to spoof 1960s espionage flicks a la Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997).

That was a big hit, so now we’ve got a sequel. OSS 117: Lost in Rio isn’t as fresh or funny as the preceding Cairo, Nest of Spies. But it’s still a whole lot fresher and funnier than Austin Powers Nos. two (1999) and three (2002). Dujardin’s de La Bath is the very model of jet-set masculinity, twisting the night away at a ski chalet with umpteen soon-to-be-machine gunned “Oriental” lovelies in the opening sequence, flashing a pearly, superconfident smirk at the neverending stream of multinational babes elsewhere, wowing them poolside with his top-of-the-mid-1960s-line male physique (nice, but don’t expect visible abs). Of course such pleasure pursuits take place strictly between car chases, shootouts, and karate fights.

Posing (badly) as a reporter to root out Hitlerites hiding in Brazil, our lone-gun hero is distressed to discover he has help from Israeli Mossad agents, one a mere chick. “Hunt down a Nazi with Jews?” he exclaims, complaining the target villain “will recognize them … their noses, obviously.” Beyond its pitch-perfect recreation of swinging ’60s cinema clichés (Naugahyde-lounge muzak, slightly feverish Technicolor, etc.), these films’ main joke is how cluelessly, casually racist, sexist, and xenophobic de La Bath is. The joke is on him, but his charm is remaining blissfully unaware.

Agreeably silly, Lost in Rio doesn’t go for Hollywood-style slapstick and grossout yuks. Instead, its biggest laughs are usually droll throwaways, as when 117 explains a shocking sudden costume change with the unlikely declaration “I sew,” or during an LSD-dosed hippie orgy proves quite willing to go with the flow — even when that involves another guy’s groovy finger breaching security up the pride of French intelligence’s derriere.

OSS 117: LOST IN RIO opens Fri/14 in Bay Area theaters.

 

Southend Grill ‘N’ Bar

2

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE If “i” comes before “e” except after “c,” then “bar” comes before “grill” … well, I would have said always, but recently I came across an exception to this rule. This would be Southend Grill ‘n’ Bar, which opened toward the end of March in a Valencia Street space long occupied by Café Arguello.

The flipping of these two words from their familiar, not to say ossified, positions is more than just a bit of wordplay or a flouting of some alphabetical-order rule. When “bar” comes before “grill,” the subtle implication is that drinking is the first order of business and that food, while not exactly an afterthought, is supplemental. Eating while drunk can mean that standards loosen as to what one is eating (and, for that matter, drinking). Putting “grill” first, on the other hand, advises us that a place isn’t serving food just to help move the booze — that while the feel might seem little different from a standard B&G, the emphases have shifted.

Southend doesn’t look much changed from Café Arguello. The long, high-ceilinged box of a dining room (which sits right at the corner of Valencia and 26th streets) still has a slightly formal, slightly hushed tone; the walls have been repainted, but they’re still hung with artwork, including an impressive piece by Rafe Mischel, and candles still flicker in the evening air.

And the bar still stands, in a far inward corner of the dining room, where perhaps it serves as a kind of magnet. At dinner one night we bore stoic witness as three raucous female police officers whooped their way through the dining room to the bar, where they whooped some more before departing (with yet more whoops) in the direction of Mission Pie.

The food is very different from the Spanish cuisine of Café Arguello days, of course. Southend’s kitchen takes its cues from around the world — though not from Spain. There is a certain amount of bar food, including firmly crispy onion rings ($4), a dish I dislike as a rule, but not here, and potato skins ($7) baked with cheese and bacon and served with sour cream. If there is a food more redolent of 1980s happy hours at boîtes in the suburban Midwest, I can’t think what it would be. These were slightly underseasoned but plush to the tooth and very satisfying. Also a bit underseasoned was a bowl of (meatless) pinto-bean chili ($5), although a skin of melted cheese and a strong cumin charge made up most of the deficit; I just had to add a sprinkle or two from the tabletop salt shaker to bring the chili into trim.

Little flaws permeate the cooking, but without seriously diminishing its pleasures. The ground beef in the Thai lettuce wraps ($7) was a tick or two past well-done, but it remained tasty and quite spicy. And because the lettuce leaves were fresh and moist (as if just sprayed by one of those sprinklers you see in supermarket produce sections), the meat’s lack of moisture wasn’t fatal.

We were told that spinach ravioli ($10) was dressed with what our server described as a “creamy” pesto sauce. (You can also get the ravioli with alfredo sauce.) The pesto might indeed have been creamy when made, but when tossed with the ravioli it turned soupy. Still, the dish remained flavorful. And we did find real creaminess, along with the dulcet breath of tarragon, in a side of cole slaw ($4). The crispness of the cabbage shreds (a mix of red and green) suggested that it had been made just recently.

Bigger appetites will be drawn toward the chicken milanese ($12), a full (not half) boned breast of chicken, breaded and sautéed until crisp and golden, then served on a bed of wilted arugula. Chicken is often quietly dissed as characterless, but, as this dish proves, it can sometimes stand on its own without high-powered sauces and rubs.

A salmon filet ($14) didn’t get the breading, but otherwise it was similar, with wilted spinach substituted for the arugula and a nice pool of spicy aioli as a further enhancement. Our only squawk here was that we’d ordered the salmon burger. Our server did acknowledge the mistake and took responsibility for it; she also said she would charge us only for the burger but only knocked 20 percent off the filet instead. The multiple stories irked me more than the few dollars, but it is probably a sign of how tight things remain that those few dollars matter.

Consolation: an ice-cream sandwich ($5.50) made with oatmeal-raisin cookies. We whooped, discreetly. *

SOUTHEND GRILL ‘N’ BAR

Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 5–10:30 p.m.;

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

1499 Valencia, SF

(415) 648-8623

www.southendsf.com

Beer and wine

MC/V

Not as noisy as you might expect

Wheelchair accessible

 

Original’s sin

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS This Cheap Eats column is going to be the most carefully researched and least relevant Cheap Eats column I ever wrote, just to warn you.

I woke up early.

I threw some clothes into a bag. I threw a half a stick of salami, a chunk of cheese, a knife, and a couple of leftover bagels into another bag, and put it into the same bag with my clothes.

I walked to BART, took BART downtown, a bus to Oakland, a train to Bakersfield, and another bus to Los Angeles, where I have spent the last 24 hours flicking poppy seeds off of my arms and legs, picking them out of my belly button, brushing them out of my hair, and grinding them out of my butt crack.

For the latter I did have help. Ladies and gentlemen, of all the straight men and German posers I have ever befriended and/or bebonked, never have I ever once been treated with more sweetness and chivalry, or fucked harder, than I was by this L.A. lesbian chick I was trying to tell you about.

Problem: I like it soft, and slow.

And there was some of that too, but I knew from the moment she picked me up at the train station with a big colorful bouquet of flowers, then raced me real fast around town in her cool, dark green sports car, talking beautifully with me and laughing and gesticulating, meanwhile receiving and responding to text messages with her other hand … I knew. I was in for a ride, a wild one, and would not be sorry I came.

Her cozy, cool Hollywood apartment was filled with tulips, my favorite — she’d asked! In fact, she’d gotten me more flowers than all my previous lovers (in this millennium) ever got me, combined. In the bathroom there was a towel and washcloth, a fresh bar of soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, all piled neatly under a cute card with my name on it, and three more tulips.

Hollywood drew me a bubble bath, and I washed all those trains and busses off of me, dried, and dressed in my favorite new brown skirt and cool lacy brown print shirt, plus 2 million, 500,000 poppy seeds.

Then, as promised, she took me to Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles.

But I forgot to mention that when I came out of the bathroom, she greeted me with a file folder full of information about Roscoe’s in particular, and chicken & waffles in general. Which was not only unnecessary but impressive, considering she’d never been to Roscoe’s, or had chicken and waffles together on the same plate, and would clearly have preferred to take me to Animal, or any of about a hundred other shall-we-say higher-brow L.A. eateries she’d mentioned in her e-mails and in conversation.

No, but I had to know about the legend, the original, the Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles, which — I am sad, sorry, and chagrinned to report — sucks.

The waffle was mush and the fried chicken was dead-dry — and I’m talking about the juiciest of jucies, the thigh. The worst chicken and waffles I’ve ever had in the whole history of the San Francisco Bay Area was 10 times better than the legendary original Roscoe’s in Hollywood, proving yet again that authenticity is overrated, or that we do everything pretty much better than pretty much everyone else in the world, give or take pizza.

As if she needs another workout, my new friend and new favorite lover is with her personal trainer and I am sitting at her desk in my underwear, writing real fast so when she comes back we can go eat at five or six better L.A. restaurants.

Which I promise not to write about.

Tomorrow early I will wake up before it’s light out, make her bacon and coffee, make her French toast, make her drive me back to Union Station, then bus, train, bus, BART, and walk back home. And next week, I promise, you will read about at least one of San Francisco’s recent rash of chicken-and-waffle spin-offs. *

ROSCOE’S HOUSE OF CHICKEN’N WAFFLES

Daily: 8 a.m.–12 midnight

1514 N. Gower St., L.A.

(323) 466-7453

MC/V

Beer and wine

Immigrant rights – in Arizona and at home

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By Angela Chan


Mayor Gavin Newsom and City Attorney Dennis Herrera have publicly opposed the anti-immigrant bill, SB 1070, in Arizona. A diverse coalition of civil rights organizations — including the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Asian Law Caucus, Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, Central American Resource Center, Community United Against Violence, Equal Justice Society, La Raza Centro Legal, National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, POWER, and Pride at Work SF — applauds both city officials for taking a strong stand against the Arizona bill. At the same time, we urge Newsom and Herrera to firmly and unequivocally support the implementation of a local policy that protects the due process rights of immigrant youths in San Francisco.

As with SB 1070 in Arizona, the mayor’s policy of requiring juvenile probation officers to report young people to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) before they receive due process has opened the door to racial profiling and torn many innocent youth from their families.

Since July 2008, pursuant to Newsom’s draconian reporting policy, more than 160 youth have been reported to ICE right after arrest, before they even have had a chance to be heard in juvenile court. That means that youth who are completely innocent of any crimes and youth who are overcharged have been reported to ICE.

Despite the veto-proof passage of a policy by the Board of Supervisors last fall that moves the point of reporting from the arrest stage to after a youth is found to have committed a felony, Newsom has insisted on ignoring the new city law. Herrera, in turn, has yet to advise implementation of the new law.

Like the Arizona bill, Newsom’s policy requires reporting to ICE when local officials — in this case juvenile probation officers — merely have "reasonable suspicion" that an individual is undocumented. The factors that probation officers are required to use to determine reasonable suspicion have come under fire for codifying racial profiling into law.

In March, a year and a half after the mayor’s policy went into effect, Chief Probation Officer William Siffermann admitted before the Rules Committee of the Board of Supervisors that the latter factor could lead to racial profiling. A few days later, Herrera stated that this factor had been removed from the policy. However, if any changes have been made to the written policy, they have not been made available to the public.

Another similarity with the Arizona bill: probation officers in San Francisco have not been properly trained and do not have the expertise in immigration law to accurately determine which youth are actually undocumented. Rather, these officers rely on race, ethnicity, language ability, surnames, and accent as a basis for assuming immigration status.
Much like the Arizona bill, Newsom’s policy goes well beyond any obligations under federal law by requiring that probation officers report suspected undocumented youth to ICE. Finally, as with the Arizona bill, the mayor’s draconian policy only compounds the harm to immigrant families caused by an already flawed federal immigration system, which is in drastic need of comprehensive reform. We need humane reform at the federal level. But in the meantime, Newsom and Herrera need to take swift action to restore due process and protect family unity by ending San Francisco’s draconian policy. *

Angela Chan is a staff attorney with the Juvenile Justice and Education Project at the Asian Law Caucus.

Editor’s Notes

1

Tredmond@sfbg.com

San Francisco has a lot of streets. Take a look at an aerial picture, or just look at the land-use statistics. More of this city is devoted to paved roads — pathways used largely and designed primarily for private automobiles — than any other single use. Parks, for example, don’t even come close.

That’s partially a matter of urban density. In more suburban-type cities like Berkeley or Portland or Seattle, the lots are bigger, yards are bigger, houses are bigger, and there’s more space between the strips of pavement.

But that density gives us a choice other cities don’t have. Maybe we don’t really need that much pavement.

I know it’s kind of a crazy thought, but imagine what some San Francisco neighborhoods would look like if we closed down, let’s say, one out of every four streets. I don’t mean open that land up for development, either — leave it as a passageway, a thoroughfare — but not for cars. Tear up the concrete, plant grass, make pathways for walking and biking … make the streets places where people can gather, kids can play, stores can enjoy the kind of traffic that only comes with a pedestrian mall, and restaurants can have outdoor seating in what would amount to a strip of mixed-use urban parkland.

Closing streets to cars creates plenty of problems, but I don’t think they’re insurmountable. Seniors and disabled people might have trouble with eliminating bus routes and parking in front of their houses, and that’s a legit concern. (Of course, the number of pedestrian seniors and disabled people killed or maimed by cars might go down too.) So maybe some streets could be turned into one-lane strips, and only people with disabled placards could use them. And ambulances and police and fire vehicles can already drive on car-free pathways in parks. And Muni could run a fleet of electric golf carts to ferry people with mobility issues up and down the grassy lanes.

Those of us who have cars would give up a certain amount of convenience; people without cars would get more of the benefits. That might discourage car use, which is good.

But even for drivers, I wonder. Would I be willing to give up the relative ease of parking near my house in exchange for letting my kids just open the front door of the house and run out and play in a safe, vehicle-free park that used to be a street? Would you?

The world is changing; the days of car culture driven by cheap oil are almost over. More and more people are going to be living in cities (that particular demographic trend is one of the most consistent in modern history). When we talk about the Streets of San Francisco, let’s stop for a moment and ask: does it all have to be about cars?

Muni reform that might actually work

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EDITORIAL The 2007 ballot measure that was supposed to give Muni more political independence and more money has failed to provide either. It’s time to say that Proposition A, which we supported, hasn’t worked — in significant part because the administration of Mayor Gavin Newsom hasn’t allowed it to work. It’s time for a new reform effort, one that looks at Muni’s governance structure, funding, and the way it spends money.

There are several proposals in the works. Sup. David Campos has asked for a management audit of the Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, and that’s likely to show some shoddy oversight practices and hugely wasteful overtime spending. Sup. Sean Elsbernd wants to change the way Muni workers get paid, and Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and David Chiu are talking about changing the way the MTA board is appointed. There are merits to all the reform plans, but in the end, none of them will work if they don’t address the fundamental fact that Muni doesn’t have enough money to provide the level of transit service San Francisco needs.

The basic outlines of what a progressive Muni reform measure would look like are pretty obvious. It ought to include three basic principles: work-rule and overtime reform; a change in the way other departments, particularly the police, charge Muni for work orders — and a sizable new source of revenue.

The work orders are, in many ways, the easiest issue. Last year, the San Francisco Police Department charged Muni more than $12 million in work orders. For what? Well, for doing what the Police Department gets paid to do anyway: patrolling Muni garages, putting cops on the buses, and dealing with Muni-related traffic issues. And a lot of that $12 million is police overtime.

The labor and revenue issues are trickier — mostly because they’re being addressed separately. Elsbernd, for example, wants to Muni workers to engage in the same collective bargaining that other city unions do, which makes a certain amount of sense. But he’s wrong to make it appear that the union and the workers are the major source of Muni’s financial problems — and that approach won’t get far. The bus drivers and mechanics didn’t make millions on large commercial developments that put a huge strain on the transit system — and the developers who profit from having bus service for the occupants of their buildings have never paid their fair share. Nor is it the fault of the union that car traffic downtown clogs the streets and makes it hard for buses to run on time.

We agree that the transit union needs to come to the table and talk, seriously, about work-rule changes. Every other city union, particularly SEIU Local 1021, whose members are among the lowest-paid workers in the city, has given something up to help the city’s budget problems.

But any attempt to change Muni’s labor contract needs to be paired with a serious new revenue program aimed at putting the transit system on a stronger financial footing — and traffic management plans that give buses an advantage over cars. The city can add a modest fee on car owners now, and if a Democratic governor wins in November, it’s likely that state Sen. Mark Leno’s bill to allow a local car tax will become law. That’s part of the solution, as is expanded parking meter hours. (And someone needs to talk about charging churchgoers for parking in the middle of the streets on Sundays.) But Muni also needs a regular stream of income from fees on developers.

And a seven-member MTA appointed entirely by the mayor does nothing for political independence; at the very least, the supervisors should get three of the appointments.

The city badly needs Muni reform — and the elements are all in place. But it can’t be a piecemeal approach.