Volume 44 Number 34

A public power landmark — and the battle to come

1

EDITORIAL It’s been 97 years since Congress passed a landmark law mandating public power in San Francisco, 67 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the city was violating the law by allowing Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to operate a private monopoly in town, and 42 years since the Guardian first broke the story of the Raker Act scandal and launched a campaign to bring public power to the city. And now, even operating under a tight PG&E-imposed deadline, the San Francisco is moving very close to establishing a modest type of public power.

Community choice aggregation (CCA) isn’t what John Edward Raker and his supporters had in mind in 1913 when they allowed San Francisco to build a dam in Yosemite National Park, breaking John Muir’s heart. The idea — which the city explicitly accepted in a formal written agreement — was to use the dam not just for water but for electricity, specifically to create a public power beachhead in Northern California that would prevent any private company, specifically PG&E, from getting control of the electricity grid.

CCA leaves PG&E’s private grid in place and allows the investor-owned utility to continue to sell power in the region. But it also allows communities to offer an alternative — to buy cleaner power in bulk and resell it at comparable or cheaper rates to residents and businesses.

Since 2002, when the state Legislature passed a bill authorizing CCAs, the concept has slowly started to take hold. Marin County launched its CCA this spring. San Francisco last week reached an agreement with PowerChoice LLC, a vendor that will oversee the procurement of electricity, to begin service here, and the contract is headed to the SF Public Utilities Commission and the Board of Supervisors for approval.

That’s a huge step forward for public power — but the city faces a tight deadline. PG&E has placed Proposition 16 on the June 8 ballot, which would require a two-thirds vote before any local agency could get into the electricity business. That’s an almost impossible threshold (see: the state Legislature). Prop. 16 may still go down to defeat, despite PG&E’s $45 million campaign to pass it.

But even if it passes, any existing agency — that is, any community that has its CCA in place before the election is certified — will be grandfathered in.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera argues, with good authority, that San Francisco is already protected from Prop. 16. The city already has taken enough steps to implement CCA (the implementation plan has been approved by the supervisors) that the inevitable lawsuit by PG&E will probably fail. But every step the city takes to bring the process closer to completion provides more protection, and the stakes could not be higher.

With CCA, the city will have control of its own energy future, be able to offer power that doesn’t contribute to global warming — and be able, at long last, to take a step toward complying with the Raker Act. (And remember: the law says, and the Supreme Court confirmed, that the federal government can move at any time to seize the Hetch Hetchy dam and uproot the city’s entire water system for failure to comply with the 1913 agreement.)

It seems almost certain that by June 8 the city will have a contract with a vendor and state certification that defines San Francisco as a CCA. Then, whatever the outcome of Prop. 16, the city needs to move forward with the program. And if PG&E sues to block it, then every official in San Francisco will have to be prepared to wage the legal and political battle of all time. PG&E can and probably will take the city to court — and the city can immediately start talking about breaking the 1930s-era franchise agreement that gives PG&E a low franchise fee in perpetuity, and enforcing the Raker Act, and taking the corrupt utility to task on every possible front.

Volume 44 Number 34 Flip-through Edition

0

The meme generation

0

arts@sfbg.com

VIDEO We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes …

YouTube is five. In his latest video, Chris Crocker prefaces his birthday wish for the site that effectively birthed him by announcing that he’s speaking as someone who is “part of YouTube history.” This moment of historical self-consciousness seems odd coming from Crocker, whose métier has been the in-the-moment double-blitzkrieg of unmediated emotional outpouring and laser-guided queeniness. If anything, Crocker has refined his androgynous self-presentation and ADD-addled delivery. More important, he has lived to tell. He is a part of YouTube history who seems to have come out the other side of the meme machine with some perspective, in addition to an increased “media profile.”

We’ve got five years, what a surprise …

“I hope YouTube will become more and more like the community it was in ’06 and ’07 (you all know what I mean),” Crocker says. I don’t really know what he means, but he goes on to lament how “corporate” YouTube has become. In the video’s intro note, Crocker writes, “Now with all of the corporate channels, and the constant YouTube FAVORITES featured and on the Popular list, It feels nearly impossible to be heard unless your video is featured or on a popular blog site.” Crocker’s idyllic evocation of “community” is offset by the whiff of sour grapes that his criticism gives off, but I also think he’s getting at something that’s as tangible as it is ridiculous-sounding: YouTube has become a more jaded and self-conscious medium than ever.

We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot …

The codes are known for those who want their 15 seconds on YouTube’s front page (and the subsequent gimlet-eyed post from Gawker). YouTube stars are now self-manufactured, no longer born to be discovered. This is a postlapsarian world in which, within a matter of days, “experts” are already raising suspicion that Greyson Chance — the 12 year-old Oklahoman whose show-stopping rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” has launched him on the path to become Bieber 2.0 — could be the product of canny media manipulation. Then again, is the question “Is he for real?” even relevant in the context of YouTube?

We’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got.

I asked myself both questions when I watched PhatGayKID’s videos. PhatGayKID is the username of Jonnie, another extremely effeminate, young white gay man whose videos are starting to get attention from blogs. Slightly chubby and armed with a giggle that could cut shatter glass, Jonnie — who warbles out numbers from Glee and Ke$ha in the oblivious soprano of Florence Foster Jenkins — could be anywhere from 16 to 30 years old (his profile says 20). He claims to live in Beverly Hills and that his friends and family tell him he’s “way too good for American Idol!” Comments are sharply divided between homophobic dismissal and enraptured validation. Then there are those, like me, who wonder about Jonnie.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nap2McCq-xk

Jonnie’s mannerisms and delivery seem too perfect and canny a distillation of the kind of fan performances that now comprise one of YouTube’s most prolific genres – a style of performance that, thanks to someone like Chris Crocker, has become codified in certain ways. Both Crocker and Jonnie are naturals at hiding their deep self-awareness of what they’re doing. But Crocker’s accumulated performance of “Chris Crocker” came out of the offline hell of being young, gay, and irrepressibly femme in a small, Southern town (memorably dubbed “Real Bitch Island”). I don’t know much about Jonnie’s life, except that for someone who’s only just getting started he’s already welcoming “business inquiries” on his channel’s home page. Slog, the blog of Seattle weekly The Stranger, posted one of Jonnie’s videos under the title “Trying to Go Viral,” and a clip of Jonnie was used in SkunkPost’s satiric video made in the wake of Chance’s overnight success, “How to make it big using YouTube in five easy steps.” Regardless of who Jonnie actually is, and what exactly it is that he’s performing, he is committing one of the venal sins of YouTube: trying too hard.

The eyes of Skye Thorstenson

0

arts@sfbg.com

VIDEO Birds chirp and branches part like curtains in the opening scene of the music video for Myles Cooper’s anthem “Gonna Find Boyfriends Today.” Suddenly the pristine wilderness scene is shattered and, along with pulsating beats, a big-lipped strawberry greets us with Mickey Mouse paws. A Cyclops-peanut runs across the screen and leads us to a stack of televisions; zooming into one we catch Cooper singing, “It doesn’t matter what you wear/It doesn’t matter if you have money/We’ll find guys to buy us drinks/And tell us that we’re young and funny.”

“I think Myles’ video tells it best, because it’s this kinda caffeinated euphoria,” explains Skye Thorstenson, the mastermind behind the wild imagery of the video. “It’s unrealistic and there’s a little melancholy imbued in it, because this is sooo not the way life really is. There are no cupcakes who are going to help you find boyfriends.”

WHAT? No, wait, hold up. But I thought … So the mountain topped with lollipops looking like Candyland isn’t real? Without realizing that he’s burst my bubble, Thorstenson continues, “But I like that. I like to hide the fact that life is boring. What the world needs is some more color.”

“I never imagined myself doing music videos. For Myles, it was all about the music,” Thorstenson explains. “I wanted to do some visual thing. I told him it won’t be a music video, but it might be like a short film.” In the course of the narrative, Cooper finds puppet lovers, a chorus of gassed angels, and becomes the man-in-the-moon. In the end, a vagina dentata resembling Aunt Charlie’s Lounge — a dive-bar at Turk and Taylor streets— literally eats itself. “I feel like an Aunt Charlie’s is always going to be there, and it’s always going to eat its predecessor,” Thorstenson says. “And there are always different nights there, and sometimes they survive and sometimes they don’t. But what Myles and Alexis [Penney, who cohosts the club night High Fantasy with Cooper] created will always be there, or some essence of it.”

Throughout Thorstenson’s repertoire, he constantly plays with the notion of a fragmented past and explores how essences persist into the present. He is currently filming an experimental documentary that he named after Roland Barthes’ S/Z. It’s an extension of his earlier film, called Gunk Land, which starts at Wisconsin’s Oneida Indian reservation where Thorstenson’s mother lives. “I wanted to do a documentary on my identity: who I am and where I come from,” he explains. Highlighting the ambiguous — possibly fake — moments of documentaries, as in Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, which glamorizes pre-World War II Germany, or The Thin Blue Line, which reenacts a murder scene, Thorstenson utilizes reenactments with different edits and different actors playing him to construct an ambiguous reality. “With S/Z, it’s going to be more how I imagined it and colored in some ideas based on what my mom told me about my past.”

As with “Gonna Find Boyfriends Today” and Gunk Land, S/Z finds Thorstenson working with a mess of “floating fragments” left over from a childhood spent watching PBS specials and Disney movies. Pieces of puppets, stereotypes or songs — “like the plastic floating in the middle of the ocean,” as he puts it — are smashed together. In the 1970 book S/Z, Barthes explores how narrative works and how we recollect memories. Instead of linearity, Thorstenson explains, memory offers “more of a pastiche of experiences and sensations that are pulled together to bring an experience.” This, he adds, is how authors often work: the reader fills in the gaps and links the situations together.

Thorstenson’s take on S/Z turns this idea into a visual experience. It will be released online in pieces that can be navigated like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and a path through separating branches might reveal the same scene reenacted with different actors, or the same scene with alternative edits. In this way, varied connections and present-versions of Skye are constructed, based on how the past is perceived. “You’re meant to know it might’ve gone differently,” Thorstenson says, “and you can’t trust anything.”

Even the way Thorstenson speaks parallels this fragmented pattern, as he seamlessly jumps from one memory to another or from one project to the next. “The music inspired that video and we worked closely together for four months,” he explains about his work with Cooper. He also has done videos set to Xiu Xiu and Antony and the Johnsons’ songs, to local music-maker Adam Finken’s “Firebird,” and is about to undertake a movie-themed project for San Francisco electronic duo johnathan. In all of the music videos, there’s an interaction between the mood, beats, and lyrics of the music and the visual narrative. “With me, it’s more about improvisation, and something magical happens. I have no idea how it happens, but I don’t intend for people to react. I’m always surprised at how people react to something.”

In undergrad film school at the Academy of Art, Thorstenson was taught how to look at film from a business perspective — it has to look clean, polished, and intentional. Grad school at CCA, along with a filmmaking crew he befriended, dubbed Nightmare City, allowed Thorstenson to think more about process, forcing his aesthetic to evolve. “I decided I’ll show faux interpretations of my process because I was curious about what is actually real.” These are readily featured in his work and create meta-moments, which make the viewer aware. “So I’m playing with this fake façade, and the truth hidden behind all these bright colors,” he said. “It’s the same thing with Myles’ video. There’s something behind all that happiness.”

www.skyethorstenson.com

Infectious

0

arts@sfbg.com

VIDEO What brings down a presidential campaign, makes Stephen Colbert break out his lightsabers, and inspires protest in Oakland and Tehran? The alpha and omega of online video: YouTube and my camera phone equal a jillion eyeballs and our itchy mouse finger clicking “Play” and passing it on. All those moments, all those sticky little memes, are now forever linked and embedded in the cultural fabric, touchstones certain to become engrained in our collective unconscious as the grainy image of the Beatles playing Ed Sullivan or the Challenger exploding on camera.

At all of five years old, YouTube can claim more than 2 billion views a day. Twenty-four hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute and admittedly few of those snippets find traction in the stream of life. Yet the evolution of online video is just beginning. So say knowledgeable observers like Jennie Bourne, author of Web Video: Making It Great, Getting It Noticed.

“Viral has become a dirty word in Web video because people’s concerns in going viral tend to be linked to trying to monetize a web video, and very often a video that’s getting a lot of views is not making a lot of money,” Bourne explains. And while the rise of citizen broadcast journalists and DIY documentarians is laudable, she adds, “I have to say the flip side of that — people walking around with cameras on their foreheads all the time video blogging — can get a little boring without a structure and style. I think there will be a shakeout at one point, and Web video will mature. It’s not there yet — it’s effective as a distribution medium and effective as a social medium but still developing as a commercial medium.”

For now, what do some of the last five or even (gasp) 10 years’ most widely distributed viral videos say about this generation’s particular sickness?

With the advent of camera phones, the revolution will be webcast Is it any surprise that moving images activate us more than words? The outrage over the BART station shooting of Oscar Grant was fueled by the sights captured by viewers with camera phones. Six months after Grant’s death, the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan during the Iranian election protests was captured by multiple observers, causing it to become a flashpoint for reformists and activists. The videos depicting what one Time writer described as “probably the most widely witnessed death in human history” ended up winning last year’s George Polk Award for Videography.

Pre-online video, the mainstream news media likely would have shielded the public from these images in the interest of so-called public decency. But the availability of these videos online — and the reaction they generated — triggered a rethink. The shadowy online presence of the beheading videos made by Islamist terrorists following 9/11 might have prepared some for the horrors of the very real faces of death, but obviously the intent behind more recent spontaneous acts of DIY documentation has been radically different. Consider this the nonviolent, amateur response to Homeland Security-approved surveillance — a quickly-posted flipside to the filter of traditional journalism.

We appreciate raw talent There’s the professional article, like the demo tape of Jeremy Davies’ lengthy Charles Manson improvisation. But viewers often prefer to feed on more unvarnished talent-show-esque efforts: the stoic, high-geek style of Tay Zonday’s “Chocolate Rain,” or Eli Porter of “Iron Mic” infamy. As one aficionado said of the latter, Porter is an “enigma, for no one knows where the FUCK Eli is! His battle was done in 2003, and he sort of vanished, leaving legions of fans wanting more.” The invisible — both the private ritual and the would-be performer striving for a public — is made visible. This is why recent clips such as a little girl dunking through her legs or the “Dick Slang” video of circle-jerking hip-hoppers shaking their penii like hula hoops are so wickedly sticky.

The reveal can’t be concealed You can’t hide your anger management issues, whether you’re a Chinese woman punching and kicking on Muni or Bill O’Reilly flipping out about getting played out with a Sting song (“We’ll do it live! Fuck it!”). Nor can you forget that pesky Katie Couric clip if you’re Sarah Palin: the notorious snippet of the wannabe vice president attempting to explain her nonexistent foreign policy experience lives on in a YouTube feature box. If you decide to get more than 1,000 prisoners in the Philippines to replicate the “Thriller” video, rope a slew of tarted-up tots to do the “Single Ladies” routine, or organize a flash mob of dancers for your (500) Days of Summer-cheesy proposal in New York City’s Washington Square Park, you can bet it won’t stay a secret. Especially when a good portion of the bystanders blocking your shot are hoisting up cameras and phones of their own.

We like to play with our food and gobble pet vids The dancing fountains of “Diet Coke and Mentos” and the elegiac meltdowns of so many innocent, candy-colored sundaes and ‘sicles in “The Death & Life of Ice Cream” rock our pop, though they’re no match for sneezing baby pandas, dramatic chipmunks, very vocal cats, and dogs either verbalizing, skateboarding, or balloon-munching.

Passion counts Especially when it comes to Chris Crocker’s “Leave Britney Alone” protestations, Obama Girl’s undulations, the kakapo parrot shagging a hapless nature photographer’s skull, and Zach Galifianakis’ hilariously bad “Between Two Ferns” interviews. Even Soulja Boy’s vlogs, in which the pop tell-’em-all cranks the virtues of the Xbox, seem obsessed — with getting the viewer’s attention. That also goes for the “Numa Numa” xloserkidx singing along to O Zone’s “Dragostea Din Tei” and the twirling, ducking, and capering Canadian high-schooler in the “Star Wars Kid” video, which marketing company the Viral Factory estimates has been viewed more than 900 million times.

Just gird yourself for the edit “Star Wars Kid” is one primo example: it inspired Stephen Colbert to kick off a viral loop of his own, challenging viewers to edit and enhance the green-screen video tribute of his own lightsaber routine. No one is exempt from a little creative tinkering, an inspired tweak or 2,000, be it “Longcat”; Ted Levine in Silence of the Lambs; or pre-YouTube animated vid “All Your Base Are Belong To Us,” the classic mother of all video hacks, where images ranging from beer ads to motel signs are Photoshopped with the Zero Wing Engrish subtitle. And you thought the remix was dead.

Digital glam

2

Read our full interviews with the beauty gurus here!

cheryl@sfbg.com

VIDEO Back in April 2001, I wrote a Guardian article about home shopping networks. These days, I have a new fascination, no doubt originating in the same part of my brain that latched onto QVC: YouTube’s beauty gurus. I never did pick up any samurai swords from Shop at Home’s knife guy, but I can now do winged eyeliner like never before.

Filming themselves at their kitchen tables and bedroom vanities, the gurus (YT-speak for “expert”) upload opinions on everything from high-end mascara to dollar-store lip gloss. There are “Tag” videos, which get passed around from guru to guru (“Top 10 MAC Eye Shadows”), popular perennials (giveaway videos score high), and “haul” videos, which detail shopping-trip spoils.

Haul videos have earned mainstream media attention, with a recent New York Times story detailing how some women are making mad cash thanks to YouTube’s revenue-sharing partner program. The ultimate success story? Probably Lauren Luke, a.k.a. panacea81, a bubbly Brit who parlayed her YouTube fame into her own makeup line.

While not all gurus make money off YouTube, many have received free products from companies eager to tap into each channel’s unique audience. Late last year, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that “bloggers or other ‘word-of-mouth’ marketers” must disclose their material connections with a company when endorsing its products. You’ll notice many YouTube beauty vids now have FTC disclaimers (“I got this for free …”) accompanied by guru disclaimers (“… but this is my HONEST opinion!”) tucked into the video description box.

But them’s semantics. Most gurus, paid and otherwise, also provide tutorials of hair and makeup looks using favorite products. If you’re stressed about appearing professional at a job interview, or sexy on a date, YT gurus have got you covered. And they review everything: if you’ve been waffling over whether to drop $23 on a Nars eye shadow, fear not. Someone on YouTube has already bought it, tested it, and deemed it worthy (or not). The best gurus have the kind of charisma that can transfix thousands of viewers — even when the subject at hand is a 15-minute discussion of nail polish.

YouTuber: Lisa Freemont Street (www.youtube.com/user/LisaFreemontStreet)

What you’ll find on her channel: classy vintage hair and makeup techniques inspired by Old Hollywood and pin-up girls.

Her favorite kind of video to make: “My series called ‘Diamonds and Dames’ consists of requested looks by my viewers, based on their favorite hairstyles [from] classic films. These are the most fun for me because they require the most research. I have to figure out what setting was used to create the style or how to tailor the look to my own hair texture or length. I also include music from the year the film was released, to lend some extra credibility to the video, and I tend to really get into character by the end of filming.”

Her audience: “I have come to realize that my viewers range in age from preteen to octogenarian. I love that! The one thing I hope they take away is that if you enjoy and appreciate a vintage style, you should not let the world’s trends sway you. Stay true to yourself and feel pretty all the time, even if you get a few odd looks along the way.”

Her favorite beauty product: “A plain white concealer stick. It can be used to provide a pale base for eye shadow or as a highlight for brows and cheeks.”

YouTuber: Pursebuzz (www.youtube.com/user/pursebuzz)

What you’ll find on her channel: upbeat videos offering hair, makeup, and nail advice. Also, her “How to Fake Abs” makeup tutorial has over 13 million views. Respect.

Why she started making videos: “I started in 2006 on a separate channel to show my friend some makeup tips. After that I received some comments and that grabbed my interest. I was shocked that someone else wanted to know what I had to say. At the time I only saw professional makeup artists applying makeup on models, but there weren’t any videos with makeup artists applying makeup on themselves or on everyday people. I knew I had to start somewhere and I have always read in magazines on how to get (insert celebrity) look. So I broke down Carmen Electra’s look in her Max Factor ad, [showing] it step by step. I have loved it ever since.”

Her most rewarding YouTube experience: “I am huge on understanding that your internal beauty is most important and makeup is just an accessory to your look. So it is rewarding to know that I have reached out to so many people and showed them how to be the best version of themselves.”

Her favorite beauty product: “My love of/obsession with makeup began with my MAC Parfait Amour eye shadow.”

YouTuber: Vintage or Tacky (www.youtube.com/user/vintageortacky)

What you’ll find on her channel: vibrant, colorful eye shadow looks.

Her audience: “I hope that my audience gains some perspective from watching my videos. Yes, I have a beauty channel, but I don’t always go on camera looking picture perfect. I showed my hair when I had a botched dye job, I’ve gone on camera without makeup. I try new hairstyles, hair colors, and makeup. It’s not always pretty, but it’s honest, it’s fun and creative. I hope they learn to have fun with their looks, but not to be ruled by them. My motto is ‘Be vintage or tacky, just be yourself!’ That and to wear sunscreen.”

Her most rewarding YouTube experience: “When people send me messages telling me how much my videos have helped them, with makeup or skincare or self-worth and self-esteem. Knowing that some people just like me and value my opinion and my videos has made me a more confident person.”

Her favorite makeup brand: “MAC, because of their quality and price, their palette system, their diversity of items, their pro line, and their recycling program. And, they don’t test on animals.”

YouTuber: Michele1218 (www.youtube.com/user/michele1218)

What you’ll find on her channel: wearable neutral looks demonstrated in easy-to-follow tutorials.

What inspired her to start making videos: “I have always had a passion for makeup and beauty products and for as many friends as I have, none of them ever shared in my passion. When I stumbled across the beauty community on YouTube, I was hooked! I watched videos for about three months, learned so many amazing techniques, learned so much more about makeup, and found new products that I never knew existed. Once I started to feel comfortable with myself and felt confident, I thought ‘Hey, this might be fun!’. I knew how inspired I felt just watching some of these girls, and I thought it would be great if I can help inspire other girls as well! The rest was history!”

How YouTube has changed: “With so many companies finding out about all the YT beauty gurus it seems like more and more review videos are becoming paid advertisements. Therefore viewers and subscribers are becoming more and more skeptical of the products people are reviewing. When I make a review video, it seems as though I always have to defend it by saying my own money was spent and I was not sent free products or been paid to review. It’s unfortunate because there are a lot of girls including myself that never accept paid reviews and because the ‘bigger’ gurus do it is assumed that we all do.”

Her favorite makeup brand and beauty product? “My favorite makeup brand is MAC and my favorite product is mascara. I don’t care what brand but I can never leave the house without it on!”

Read complete interviews with the beauty gurus.

 

 

King Z

2

FILMMAKER INTERVIEW In the event of an actual zombie outbreak, legendary horror director George A. Romero would no doubt survive. For one thing, he stands an imposing six-feet, five inches, and happens to maintain an anti-zombie stronghold — er, getaway — in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where he’d just been vacationing before the press tour for the sixth film in his "Dead" series, Survival of the Dead. Plus, Night of the Living Dead came out in 1968, meaning Romero has more than 40 years of experience wrangling the undead. I asked him about that, and more, on his recent visit to San Francisco.

SFBG Did you ever think in 1968 that you’d still be making zombie movies in 2010?

George A. Romero Never. And I never thought of it as a series — it was a film. I didn’t want to make another one, especially after [Night] got "discovered." I said, I really can’t do another one unless I have a strong idea. Ten years later, I knew the people who were developing the first indoor shopping mall that any of us had ever seen, near Pittsburgh. I went out to visit it before it was even open, and the trucks were bringing in all this stuff, and I said, "Jesus Christ, it’s like this Taj Mahal to consumerism" — and then I said, "Ok, this might serve."

Completely serendipitously, I got a call from [Italian horror filmmaker] Dario Argento, and he said, "George, please, you must make another." He flew me over to Rome, stuck me in a little apartment, and told me to write the script [for 1978’s Dawn of the Dead]. That’s when I first started to think, "Boy, I could have fun with this." I could express myself, express my politics a little bit, poke a finger at society, and bring the zombies out every once in a while. The first four [Dead movies] were more than 10 years or more apart from each other. And I liked the idea that they were snapshots of different decades, stylistically and everything else.

After Land of the Dead (2005) — which was the first sort of big one, and I’m not sure I should have studio’d it up, if you know what I mean — I wanted to do something about emerging media and citizen journalism, so I had this idea to go back to Night [for 2007’s Diary of the Dead], go back to the roots, do it real guerrilla-style. Just like with Night, I thought it would be a one-shot deal: "I’m gonna take this little sidebar now, and try to have fun while I’m at it." [The company that financed the film] gave me final cut, creative control — first time since the very early films that I made — and [since] I stayed within a certain budget range, even though it had a limited distribution, it wound up making a lot of money. That’s why [Survival of the Dead] is here.

SFBG Survival of the Dead spins off a minor character from Diary of the Dead. Did you have that story line in mind while you were making Diary?

GAM When [the financers] said, "Well, we made so much money, we gotta do it again," I said, "OK, what if we do it again, and it makes a lot of money? You’re gonna want to do it again. So why don’t we go in thinking of a plan? I could take these characters from Diary, I had ’em all picked out — we could make three films, and I know exactly where they’re gonna go. And I will interweave the stories and introduce plot elements that recur, and characters that meet each other again." Which is something I always wanted to do, but I couldn’t with the first four films because they’re all owned by different people. So I said, we’ll take a broader topic like war, enmities that don’t die, and do this sort of structured set piece. Small budget but bigger scope. Then I thought, well, let’s play around with style too. So I got the idea for doing it like a Western, which came from an old William Wyler film called The Big Country (1958) — it’s the same two old farts shooting at each other. The next one, if we do it, I’d love to do it noir.

SFBG The zombie attack is already underway when Survival begins. The human survivors are almost jaded by their presence — the undead take a back seat to the human conflict more often than not.

GAM Yes, in this film, more than any of the other ones that I’ve done. In a way, if you think of it, my stories are all about the humans, because the zombies could be almost any disaster — it’s just that zombies are more fun for me and for horror fans. But in this one, they’re almost just an annoyance, like mosquitoes. Also, except for Night and Diary, they’ve always started with the thing well underway. I think there’s also a horror tradition there, too — from the second Godzilla movie on, it’s, "Oh, it’s just Godzilla."

SFBG Zombies seem to be enjoying a particularly high pop culture profile these days. What do you think is the reason behind their neverending popularity?

GAM I think video games really popularized them. There’s only been one real blockbuster zombie film, Zombieland (2009), and that’s very recent. It started with Resident Evil, House of the Dead. Now there’s this huge thing, Left 4 Dead. Zombies are perfect targets for a first-person shooter — they’re like the coyotes of monsterland. It’s fun to see them eat a stick of dynamite. But zombie walks — I’ve had my voice piped into Budapest for a zombie walk. What? Thousands of people coming out and doing this. It’s sort of a happening — go out and get drunk. It’s cheap costuming — smear up your clothes, slap some goop on your face, and go stumbling out. Even if you’re drunk, you can still stumble.

SFBG Do you watch the new zombie movies, like Zombieland?

GAM I don’t like them very much. As I said, I think it all started with video games — they have to move fast in video games to make the game fun. So filmmakers like Zack [Snyder], when he did the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004), made the zombies run. I thought that was crazy. That whole evolution seems to have just warped it. To me, zombies should be like my guys, kind of stupidly stumbling along, and only have power in numbers or when people make mistakes.

SFBG Final question. Do you ever get tired of talking about zombies?

GAM [Laughs] Yeah! *

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD opens Fri/28 in Bay Area theaters.

Depravity’s rainbow

0

VIDEO What is Trash Humpers? Is it filmmaker Harmony Korine’s rage against his experiences making 2007’s Mister Lonely? Despite being characteristically bizarre, with tales of celebrity impersonators and flying nuns, Mister Lonely was Korine’s most technically polished (i.e., expensive-looking) film to date. By contrast, Trash Humpers, shot on the quick and mega-cheap, literally looks like “an old VHS tape that was in some attick [sic] or buried in some ditch,” per the film’s charmingly lo-fi press kit.

There’s also Trash Humpers’ rather, uh, subversive content. Basically, it’s 78 minutes of shenanigans, starring a trio of ne’er-do-wells who are either wearing elderly-burn-victim masks or are actually supposed to be elderly burn victims. (Nimbleness during some basketball scenes suggests the former, but who knows?) The creepy crew and their pals cavort through an unidentified Nashville, smashing TVs, slipping razor blades into apples, guzzling booze, spanking hookers, setting off firecrackers, cracking racist and/or homophobic jokes, eating pancakes doused in dish soap, and humping trash cans. Lots of trash cans. Primitive video technology (the film was edited on two VCRs) makes everything look even worse, if that’s even possible.

Now, if you or I submitted Trash Humpers, the programmers at the Toronto International Film Festival would chuckle condescendingly and fling it into the nearest (humpable) trash bin. But you have to consider the source: Salon recently dubbed Korine “the most hated man in art-house cinema,” which if true is probably the director’s most cherished triumph. Indie film fans are familiar with his bio (wrote 1995’s Kids, directed 1997’s Gummo) and prickly reputation. He’s also an extremely intelligent guy. He obviously knows that Trash Humpers is going to baffle, amuse, bore, and outrage audiences; he also knows that you’re secretly writing him off as a hipster who makes deliberately crummy art.

So, what is Trash Humpers? I refer you to an interview I did with Korine when Mister Lonely made its way into theaters: “I always wanted to make movies that consisted entirely of moments. I always felt like, in movies, they waste so much time getting to the good part and resolving after the good part. I was just like, why can’t you make movies that consist only of good parts? I like to make things the way I want to experience them. I create an image because no one is giving it to me.” And no one can take it away. 

TRASH HUMPERS

June 3–5, 7:30 p.m.; June 6, 2 p.m., $6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

Sparkle motion

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM The wind blowing through the California Palace of the Legion of Honor courtyard would chill ordinary mortals to the bone on this Monday morning in early May. The museum is locked tight but the organ music that keeps wafting through its majestic outdoor columns seems oddly appropriate to the cavorting of two very slender, bare-chested young males and the object of their teasing attention, a spectacularly adorned ballerina. San Francisco Ballet dancers Jaime Garcia Castilla and Martyn Garside, and Trannyshack favorite Matthew Simmons, a.k.a. Peggy L’Eggs, apparently don’t mind a bit of physical hardship in the service of dance. They are the stars of Paul Festa’s new film, The Glitter Emergency.

Commissioned by ODC Theater, Glitter is the centerpiece of Festa’s full-length theater work, The Violin Show which will premiere in fall 2011. Right now on this gray day, the trio — with SFB dancer Myles Thatcher acting as choreographer — is dancing to music that only Festa hears.

He has had the score, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, inside his head every since he first heard it as a teenager. Planning a career as a concert violinist, he started to play it at 15. “It’s music I always thought should be a ballet,” he explains in a phone interview from his home in San Francisco. To his ears it sounded like leftovers of some ballet music. Considering that the Concerto was written in 1878, one year after Swan Lake, that is not a surprise.

Growing up gay in the 1980s when there was a “huge closet door” in the way of role models, Festa was always latching on to historical figures who might have been or were rumored to be gay. So the Tchaikovsky concerto was a natural match. He remembers the first movement, in particular as “so extremely joyous, so over the top, so excessively pushing boundaries” that to him it overflowed into camp.

Drawing on his experience performing at the Trannyshack, he decided to perform at least part of the score in drag, pretending to lip-synch the music while actually playing it live. He tried it a few times but it didn’t work. For one thing, Festa remembers, “it’s very difficult to act and play the violin at the same time.” But he also found that, though he could make fun of something that he also deeply loves — an essential ingredient to contemporary drag — he himself could not physically embody that experience. “What I needed,” he explained, “was a drag queen.”

He found her in Peggy L’Eggs; a few years ago, he had accompanied her in a one-legged, roller-skating rendition of Fokine’s Dying Swan. She became Peg-Leg Ballerina, Glitter‘s Cinderella who desperately wants to become a dancer but whose dream seems unrealizable because of a substantial physical handicap. Two evil stepsisters (Rumi Missabu of the Cockettes and Eric Glaser) hold the poor thing captive until the arrival of superhero Stringendo (Festa on live violin) and his two pixie assistants.

It’s not by chance that Festa went into the world of ballet for this parable about hope and transformation. Ballet has long resonated in queer culture, probably in part because of its presentation of an “unnatural,” aestheticized, and idealized body — female and male. In many ways ballet is an absurd art. It shouldn’t be possible. Additionally, it embraces giving pleasure as an end in itself. In some eyes, this makes the art intellectually suspect, unlike modern dance, for instance, which supposedly deals with weightier, more substantial issues regarding the human condition. But for those outside accepted norms of being, ballet can be welcoming.

Since he is comfortable in both worlds, Festa structured his 20-minute ballet film as “a mashup between silent film and music video.” Growing up in San Francisco, he remembers every Friday night going to the Avenue Theater for its double bills of silent movies with live accompaniment. Interestingly, he thinks that silent film may be making something of a comeback, in part because of the work of Lady Gaga.

Though Glitter shimmers with rhinestones, confetti, and silliness, like a lot of ballets, its heartbeat is steady and strong. “Do not turn away from the magic inside you,” exhorts one of the film’s copiously strewn-about subtitles to which our Cinderella responds with the longest batting eyelashes ever seen on a would-be princess. It’s a lesson she will apply when she finally meets her “better” self (SFB dancer Sylvie Volosov).

It’s also a lesson Festa himself had to learn. And he too had a mentor. While still at Juilliard, focusing on becoming a concert violinist, he developed a hand ailment that stopped a budding performance career in music. At the same time, he entered a 15-year long friendship with one of his professors, Albert Fuller, a pioneer in advocating the use of original instruments, who also taught performance practice at Juilliard.

“He and I used to sit at his bar for hours late into the night and listen to music and he would narrate his theater of the imagination.” A Schubert quartet would become a dramatic opera, a Poulenc organ concerto a horror film, and an old washerwoman would dance to Bach. But Fuller also taught him how to live his life. “He had a mantra that he kept repeating: ‘fantasy comes before fact.’ ” It may take a wise old professor or an outrageously silver-clad violinist in seven-inch platform shoes to turn dreams into reality, but as Festa’s Glitter attempts to show, it can be done. And we can laugh all the way through the journey.

Glitter will be shown with Festa’s homage to Fuller, Apparition of the Eternal Church (full disclosure: I have family members who appear in Apparition), a film inspired by Olivier Messiaen’s music.

THE GLITTER EMERGENCY AND APPARITION OF THE ETERNAL CHURCH

Thurs/27, 8 p.m., $10

Supperclub

657 Harrison, SF

www.theglitteremergency.com

 

Chile Lindo

1

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE “Errata” is one of those delightful words with an undelightful meaning. It means, basically, “oops” — assuming we are in polite company. In less polite company, you would probably hear a number of variations on a plain Anglo-Saxon word beginning with f.

For a writer, there is scarcely a more mortifying experience than to realize — too late! as Othello says to Desdemona before snuffing her — that some hideous mistake or error has leaked into print. When I was in college, we used to type up our essays on erasable-bond paper, so if you messed up you just rubbed out the offending words and phrases and typed in the right ones. But newsprint does not offer this luxury, although the cheaper sorts of ink do sometimes smear your fingers.

In years past, I wrote a side column on this page in which, from time to time, I noted various blunders of my own. In part, these acknowledgements helped salve my own conscience (yes, I was wrong or wrote something stupid, but I admit it); but in larger part, they amounted to a small public service. Although an error printed in a newspaper is not erasable, at least it can be mooted by more accurate information.

Foul-ups are, along with death and taxes, an inevitable part of life. One’s fondest hope in this regard is not to reach the epic heights of Gerald Ford, who in a 1976 presidential debate claimed that Poland was not subject to Soviet domination, to audible groans from the audience. This writer is content to bungle much more modestly than that, as in (as once happened) getting the title of a book under review wrong. Or, more recently, in asserting that La Trappe (discussed in these pages on April 21), “could be” the only Belgian restaurant in town. Leaving aside the spongy equivocation, the claim overlooked the years-long (and spreading) presence of Frjtz, which the errant writer (i.e. me) had once reviewed. I would only add that, because in error as in myth there is often an element of truth, La Trappe is a full-service (i.e. full table service) restaurant, whereas Frjtz wasn’t, at least when I last went. (You ordered at a counter and carried a little number to your table so the food-bearers could find you later.)

Of more import was the granting (on May 5) of “wheelchair accessible” status to the Little Chihuahua on Divisadero Street when in fact (according to an irate reader) there is a blockading step at the entryway. Of less import was the misuse of the Japanese term “izakaya” (March 24), not a descriptor for a particular style of cooking but a noun for a place where that particular style of cooking is offered. I can’t imagine anyone was misled or otherwise inconvenienced by this (what in the law would be called “harmless error”), or by the misspelling (March 10) of “matcha,” the green-tea powder that has an unfortunate way of ending up as a flavoring for ice cream.

These are the recent boo-boos I know of. If there others (and how could there not be?), I would be glad to hear about them. Well, maybe not glad. Maybe grateful. Also mortified.

“Empanada,” the second of today’s E-words, means, basically, “embreaded” in Spanish. We in California tend to associate these calzone-like stuffed envelopes with various Latin American cuisines, but they were brought to the New World by the Spanish, and to Spain by the Moors, whose Muslim roots reached deep into the Middle East. So the heritage of empanadas is entangled with that of pita and lavash.

At Chile Lindo, a tiny empanada emporium on 16th Street near Theater Rhinoceros, the menu consists of three kinds of empanada, each $5. The traditional ground-beef stuffing is known, in Chile, at least (the owner is Chilean) as pino (made here with Niman Ranch beef), and there is also a vegan version made with soy. Each strikes a distinctive balance between savory and sweet. One is aware of the presence of both black olives and raisins — a signature combination of the eastern Mediterranean — and also of cumin and paprika. If you were served either of these in Turkey or Israel, you wouldn’t think twice about it. Only the cheese empanada, stuffed with melted jack and cheddar and lengths of japaleño pepper, strikes a note we might think of as Latin American.

Chile Lindo does offer limited seating on a line of barstools on the sidewalk under the window, but plenty of the traffic appears to be takeout. There is also a giant, gleaming espresso machine for morning people. Chocolate empanadas would be a nice touch in this regard — patience, my pretties! *

CHILE LINDO

Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.–6 p.m.

2944 16th St., SF

(415) 621-6108

www.chilelindoempanadas.com

No alcohol

Cash only

Street noise

Problematic wheelchair access

The chicken ‘n diet

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS We went down there, the Mountain and me, way down South of Market, and we found the little alley, placed our little order at the window, and sat on the loading dock, our feet dangling in the street. We sipped sweet tea and ate our breakfast out of boxes, with our hands. All my other friends, even Earl Butter, are fasting, doing cleanses, or otherwise flirting with vegetarianism by way of getting healthy — in response to which I have been eating nothing but chicken and waffles.

There’s good news out there. I’ll tell you what it is, and then I’m going on strike. But I wonder if I can trust the Guardian to print a blank page with just the words "Cheap Eats is on strike" in the middle of it. So maybe I’ll hold the spot with dada and gobbledygook … but wait, but that would be pretty much business-as-usual.

Hmm. It has also occurred to me of course to write restaurant reviews until my demands are met — to review the most boring restaurant(s) I can find, in the most boringly straightforward language I can mustard.

Think: completely unbuttered sentences without any grill marks whatsoever, stacked one on top of the other until you feel bricked in by important information, yet entirely unentertained.

Scary, innit?

Well, certainly flavorless, but I can do this, I think. The problem is it would be way more work than I am accustomed to, and I’m not sure that when you go on strike you’re supposed to work harder. Help me, labor organizers. It’s a topsy-turvy world, my world, and I am essentially (don’t forget) a chicken farmer. I don’t know anything about getting anything — except maybe eggs.

So …

Waffles. Chicken. Here’s what I know.

Farmerbrown’s Little Skillet is a good place to get greased, goo’d, and sweetened. And I mean all over your clothes, too, because there aren’t any tables to eat at. That’s OK, we’re human. This is why we have Laundromats. Not to mention napkins, but I don’t always remember about those.

You place your order at the window, then you eat across the alley on a loading dock or little wooden bench. And if you think that sounds just wonderful, wait’ll you crunch your teeth into that juicy fried chicken. It was the best I’d had since Auntie April’s, which was the best I’d had since Gravy’s. And suddenly we’re saying something.

Suddenly, chicken and waffles are alive and well — maybe even trendy — and not in Oakland this time, or even L.A., but right here in the city known as "The City." Where I live.

Auntie April’s Chicken ‘n’ Waffles is on Third Street in Bayview, and it’s an actual sit-down restaurant. Their Belgian-style waffles are about as satisfying as Gussie’s, but the chicken (fried to order, of course) is way, way better. And the combo is cheaper.

Even Farmerbrown’s Little Skillet, which is associated with Farmerbrown’s fancy-pants Tenderloin soul food restaurant, is cheaper than Gussie’s. Two pieces and a waffle for $8. Pick your pieces.

Not bad, considering one piece and a waffle at Gussie’s is $7.79, $9-something if you want a breast. (You don’t.)

Farmerbrown’s waffles, also Belgian style, were perfect: crispy outside with a soft middle. And their sweet tea was spectacularly sweet. Probably goes better with the pulled pork sandwich — which I think was the only other thing on the menu.

So I don’t know what to say. Slight edge to Auntie April for the fried. But Farmerbrown’s got her beat on the iron. Guess I’ve got two new favorite restaurants. Maybe more. There’s Frisco Fried, also in the Bayview, and Sockywonk says Hard Knox is doing chicken and waffles now too.

It’s an exciting time to be a restaurant reviewer. On a chicken-and-waffle fast. Send money. Someone. *

AUNTIE APRIL’S CHICKEN ‘N’ WAFFLES

Daily: 8 a.m.–3 p.m.

4618 Third St., S.F.

(415) 643-4983

Cash only

No alcohol

FARMERBROWN’S LITTLE SKILLET

Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

360 Ritch, S.F.

(415) 777-2777

Cash only

No alcohol

Gay outta Hunters Point

0

Maybe now that Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul has won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the art film world can be forgiven, but many of my favorite movies of the past few years have been made for Vimeo or YouTube more than for DVD rental, let alone the big screen. I’m thinking of Damon Packard’s SpaceDisco One, and most of all, I’m talking about music videos shot right here in San Francisco: Skye Thorstenson’s fantasia for Myles Cooper’s “Gonna Find Boyfriends Today,” and Justin Kelly’s numerous videos for Hunx and His Punx. Where else are you going to find a world of arcane rituals, giant boomboxes, bigger phones, and mustard-and-syrup food orgies, populated by a cast of personalities that might make John Waters pine for his youth and Andy Warhol rise from the grave?

On a sunny Saturday, Kelly picks me up in his 1980 Mercedes and — amid talk of rabid crowds stripping Hunx naked at show in Paris — drives me to his shared warehouse at the very point of Hunters Point. His look is a less corn fed All the Right Moves-era Tom Cruise. When we reach the place where the magic happens, there’s a basketball net in the main room, along with an assortment of six-foot fluorescent pointy plastic plant life. Kelly’s friend and longtime collaborator Brande Baugh mixes up some Campari and orange juice, enthusing about Campari ads in Europe featuring “slutty full-on animals with big tits wearing bikinis.” It’s time to talk movies.

Kelly and Baugh have been friends since they were 14. They could have walked right off the pages off Francesca Lia Block’s great SoCal young adult novel Weetzie Bat. “We were geniuses in our own mind,” says Baugh. “I’d dress like a drag queen every day at school. I had no eyebrows — I’d draw them on. Our history started because we both had these crazy urges. We’d go to the mall and take pictures of each other being dead on the floor.”

“Brande would go to punk shows,” says Kelly, “and I was just looking for any event where I could dress up and be expressive, from Rocky Horror to raves. She took me to my first gay pride [parade].” Moving away from home at 18, Kelly checked out the fringes of movieland, playing a nerd with acne in Ghost World (2001) and working as a set PA on Almost Famous (2000). He lived on Hollywood Boulevard, then he and Baugh each got their own studios at a place called Sunshine City Apartments. “On Hollywood Boulevard, we’d have these weird Elvis impersonators around us,” Baugh remembers. “It was fun to poke fun of that and rehearse our camp.”

But San Francisco is where Kelly and Baugh have made their creative home. Back in 2005, when I profiled Kelly’s early music video efforts, he’d made less than a handful of clips, but already had a very precisely honed vision, formed from close scrutiny of — and enthusiasm for — ’80s-era MTV in particular. In the past few years, this vision, combined with the music of talented friends such as Alexis Penney and Seth Bogart of Hunx and His Punx, has flowered into something uniquely energetic, hot, and vividly colorful. Kelly’s videos are stylish yet lively. The clip for Hunx and His Punx’ “Cruising,” for example, is an almost DePalma- or Hitchcock- or Ophuls-type feat of tracking shot trickery, a faux-one shot 360-degree dance through a variety of horny and sweaty tableaux that revives William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) in a celebratory rather than bloodthirsty way.

Lensed by frequent director of photography David Kavanaugh, Kelly’s recent video for Harlem’s “Gay Human Bones” is another step forward, with a superb central performance by Baugh, who stares down the camera with silent movie star hypnotism, and a memorable bespectacled cameo by Scout Festa, one of the stars of Cary Cronenwett’s sailor epic Maggots and Men (2009). (“We call her ‘One Take Festa,'” Baugh says.) Here, the attention to detail that Kelly brings to movement and editing (an area where Baugh often chimes in) takes on a ritualistic aura. Both “Gay Human Bones” and “Cruising” possess choreographic grace.

This doesn’t mean Kelly is veering away from direct imagery. His clip for Nick Weiss’s RIP NRG remix of Hunx and His Punx’ “Dontcha Want Me Back” discovers new vivid hues while reveling in the tastiness and grodiness of food. An upcoming clip for Alexis’ home run of a debut single “Lonely Sea” (produced by Weiss) captures the formidable Penney in full-on Janet Jackson or Madonna-level diva mode, storming into the ocean. Except in this case the setting was a freezing Ocean Beach, where Penney had to yell to himself that he was “Alexis, Queen of Sex!” in between freezing-cold and even hail-ridden shots. “He was shaking so hard,” Kelly says. “I freaked out and thought, ‘Oh my god, he’s going to die and I’m going to jail!'”

While music video is where Kelly has been thriving, the feature film world is where he’s been learning, from his early Hollywood and Indiewood experiences on through to a gig as editorial assistant on Gus Van Sant’s Milk (2008). This summer, he’s traveling to Oregon to work on a feature by director M. Blash that stars Chloë Sevigny and Jena Malone. He’s also continuing to work on his feature film debut as director, after shorts such as Front (2007), a cryptic slice of queer youth which starred Daeg Faerch before Rob Zombie cast him as the young Michael Meyers in his 2007 remake of Halloween. As for that project, mum’s the word right now, but know one thing: a lot of people in this town will be talking about it.

www.denofhearts.com

Beating the reaper

1

rebeccab@sfbg.com

The wholesome-looking woman in the Pacific Gas and Electric Co.-funded Yes on Proposition 16 commercial seems trustworthy. "Voters should have the final say," she intones over a background of soothing music, "because we’re paying the bills."

TV-friendly slogans aside, many have deemed PG&E’s $45 million (a new figure well over the $35 million initially committed by the company — paid for by ratepayers who had no say) Prop. 16 campaign to be a subversion of the democratic process and corporate deception at its worst. And it’s aimed in part at stopping San Francisco — one of PG&E’s most lucrative territories and the home of its central office — from implementing a modest public power program called community choice aggregation (CCA).

But San Francisco may be slipping under the deadline. With a last-minute push by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi and other public-power supporters, it appears that the city will have the legal underpinning of a CCA program in place before the June 8 election.

It’s still complicated and a bit tricky, but under questioning by Mirkarimi April 21, SF Public Utilities Commission general manager Ed Harrington said that the city is going to meet all the necessary deadlines.

Prop. 16 seeks to require a two-thirds majority vote before a local government can move forward with a municipal electricity program. Voter approval of the measure on June 8 would effectively weed out any potential competition within PG&E’s service territory, particularly given that PG&E overwhelms all campaigns with multimillion dollar propaganda blitzes.

Paul Fenn helped craft the state law that created CCA, which allows local governments to purchase power on behalf of their citizens, a vision for an alternative to PG&E that lies squarely in the crosshairs of Prop 16. "Unfortunately, it’s mostly up to Republicans in Southern California how it turns out," Fenn said, because this election will attract conservatives to the polls to decide between gubernatorial candidates in the GOP primary. "Unless people in the Bay Area become aware."

BEAT THE CLOCK


Public power advocates are fighting to stop Prop. 16 — but at the same time, in San Francisco, there’s a frantic effort to gets its own CCA in place. The city is poised to have completed a CCA contract by June 8 — election day.

Although the contract will not be finally approved by committees, the Board of Supervisors, and the mayor until after the election, City Attorney Dennis Herrera says the steps are solid enough to protect the city against the inevitable PG&E lawsuit.

The approaching election day has sent the SFPUC scrambling in a months-long race against the clock to seal the deal on CleanPower SF, the CCA program that envisions offering energy customers the choice of a climate-friendly, 51 percent renewable mix by 2019.

Had the city agency failed to strike a deal with Power Choice Inc. (PCI), the program’s service provider, before the June 8 election, years of effort to get the clean power program off the ground could have gone down the tubes. Mirkarimi, City Hall’s strongest advocate for CleanPower SF, urged the SFPUC to get into gear, nicknaming Prop. 16 "the grim reaper."
Things grew tense in April and May as contract negotiating sessions wore on without success, green-power advocates sparred publicly with the SFPUC, and the "grim reaper" approached. A breakthrough came May 21: the SFPUC announced at a meeting of the city’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) that it had finally signed a term sheet agreement with PCI.

A contract based on the terms is expected to be prepared by early June, Harrington said, adding that it could be introduced to the Board of Supervisors on June 8. A month-long review period is expected to follow.

"Today was an announcement of a very critical milestone," Mirkarimi, who chairs LAFCo, noted after the meeting. "I’m delighted to see us turn a corner, and I think … having a term-sheet signed, having a CCA implementation plan approved by the CPUC, and having literature sent out in three different languages to 250,000 households in San Francisco is all a testament that we are, as a city, absolutely serious in implementing and delivering our clean power energy program."

He nonetheless kept cracking the whip on advancing the goals of the program during the meeting. "Any hiccup whatsoever on timelines is a dangerous hiccup," Mirkarimi said.

"We fully expect to meet all deadlines," Harrington responded.

Public power advocate Eric Brooks, who has helped move the CCA program forward since the outset, expressed trepidation at a stakeholders meeting about the SFPUC’s commitment to the program, saying he believed that the city could have cleared the deadline months earlier without having to worry about Prop. 16 as a deadline.

Brooks advocated for Local Power, Fenn’s firm and a city contractor, to play a more central role in program design, saying that as long as the SFPUC remained at the helm, the program would be shaped by "the same inside-the-box thinking" and limited enthusiasm.

LITIGATION LIKELY


Despite recent leaps forward, the common wisdom around City Hall is that CleanPower SF is nonetheless unlikely to escape PG&E’s litigious wrath — particularly if Prop. 16 gets a thumbs up at the polls. If it passed, Prop. 16 would become effective immediately, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

"It’s not a foregone conclusion that Prop 16 will pass," City Attorney’s Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey pointed out. And if it does? "In our view," he said, "San Francisco has already implemented its CCA program," making it capable of withstanding a legal challenge.

"We are talking to the city attorney every single day," Harrington noted during a recent SFPUC stakeholders meeting.

But Fenn warned that a complicated lawsuit could still inflict damage. "Litigation processes can outlast political possibility," he cautioned. "San Francisco may be caught up in the courts." Or, if Prop 16 passes and the program moves forward as planned, "[CCA] might be a weird new variant that only exists in San Francisco and Marin."

Marin County’s CCA program is already up and running, and the Marin Energy Authority recently began providing power to its customers. PG&E — which is bound by state law to "cooperate fully" with CCA implementation — fought it by contacting customers to persuade them to opt out of the program via mailers sent in violation of CPUC laws that only allow CCAs to solicit opt-outs. PG&E earned a sharp rebuke in a May 3 letter from CPUC executive director Paul Clanon, specifically warning the company to "refrain from sending any mailers of this nature in the future."

On May 12, Clanon was back with a second letter. "On May 4, PG&E mailed a letter to every customer that had not opted out of MEA’s service, formatted in a manner that directly conflicts with the direction I provided to PG&E just one day earlier," he wrote. This time, he warned the utility that it was "in danger of the commission’s imposing significant and continuing fines and other penalties."

PG&E responded by saying the mass mailing of illegal opt-out notices had been an accident, and apologized. "They accidentally licked envelopes, accidentally stuck the stamps, and accidentally sent them out?" asked an incredulous Ben Zolno, a Prop 16 opponent, in a phone conversation with the Guardian.

"Nobody quite remembers PG&E acting so outrageously," Sen. Mark Leno remarked to the Guardian in the wake of the debacle. The CPUC later determined that any opt-outs solicited by PG&E’s illegal mailers were void.

At a May 20 meeting, the CPUC bolstered restrictions prohibiting PG&E from printing false statements about CCA programs in mailers but made no move to impose penalty fines. City officials characterized the decision as falling short of the action needed to halt the utility’s attempts to sabotage Bay Area CCAs.

"We would expect the CPUC to tell them to cooperate," Harrington told the Guardian. "What the CPUC said was ‘you can’t lie.’"

Meanwhile it’s up to the CPUC to decide whether to honor PG&E’s request for a $4 billion rate hike, which will amount to an average 30 percent increase on customer bills over three years. "They’re not always guaranteed to get what they ask for," CPUC spokesperson Andrew Kotch noted. Public hearings on the increase are coming soon, with a final decision scheduled for December.

"There have been other sizable rate increases and PG&E keeps coming back for more," says Dwight Cocke of The Utility Reform Network (TURN), which is also part of the Prop. 16 opposition campaign. "Up until recently, PG&E was shutting off 15,000 customers per month" for nonpayment, forcing customers to pay extra deposits and reconnect fees to get their electric service back.

"For a lot of people on fixed incomes and low incomes," he said, "it spirals out of control."

Read up: www.prop16.org; www.powergrab.info

Violence in the Bayview — and solutions

5

By Chris Jackson

OPINION The outpouring of emotion surrounding the tragic death of Tian Sheng Yu — the elderly Chinese man who was savagely beaten to death by two African Americans — resonates with me. My family has been in the Bayview for more than 40 years, and I know firsthand the pain caused by street violence.

I, too, have witnessed what seems to be going on now: the polarizing of people who use race as a shorthand to determine who is dangerous and who is not. It’s a sad realization to see these sorts of divisions creep into the public discourse in San Francisco in 2010.

Let’s be clear. The Asian American community has every right to feel outrage over being targeted for violent attacks. As a black elected official, I am the first to stand with them in solidarity — violence against my neighbor is violence against me. Pure and simple.

But there is more to this story, as is often the case. For as it turns out, in San Francisco, African Americans are also prime targets of violent crime, and at a disturbing rate. My neighborhood is a good example of what’s going on. In District 10, which includes the southeastern part of the city, 36 percent of our residents are Asian American, and 28 percent are African-American. But if you take a look at the last 136 reported aggravated assaults, African Americans were targeted 89 times — that’s more than 68 percent of the total aggravated assaults.

Pitting one racial group against another is cowardly and wholly misguided. Recent reports of community meetings where inflammatory language is used to divide us by race do nothing to solve the underlying problems. The truth is, we are all suffering and need to work together to find solutions to make our community safer.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi’s legislation to mandate foot patrols is a good start. We need a real community policing model that emphasizes on-the-ground, respectful contact between the police and community members.

But our main focus should be on preventive measures. We need to expand drop-in center hours from one afternoon a week to five days a week beginning this summer. Crime happens every day, not just once a week.

Our youth should be put to work on neighborhood beautification projects. If young people are busy working to beautify their neighborhood, they will take more pride and personal responsibility for what happens in it.

We need to get back to the basics as well, and address the poor lighting that exists in areas of high crime. As a city, this is a cosmetic fix that can reap big rewards.

These are simple solutions, and the problems unleashed by Tian Sheng Yu’s death run far deeper. But every journey starts with a first step. Let’s just make sure that first step takes us forward, to a place of shared concern so we can all contribute to making our community safer.

Chris Jackson is an elected member of the Community College Board and lives in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood.

 

Media experiments

1

news@sfbg.com

With traditional journalism outlets still struggling through the Great Recession and into an uncertain future, some interesting new media experiments have been popping in San Francisco, including much-anticipated The Bay Citizen, an initially well-funded newsroom that launches this week.

It will join a media landscape filled with a wide range of new ventures: general news websites ranging from the nonprofit SF Public Press to the theoretically for-profit SF Appeal; niche sites such as the popular SF Streetsblog; the Spot.us media funding experiment; and the MediaBugs accountability project. And it isn’t all online — McSweeney’s magazine put out the one-time San Francisco Panorama newspaper in December and SF Public Press plans to print a similar demonstration newspaper next month.

But for all the high hopes and talk of using strategic partnerships and new funding models to overcome economic and readership trends that have hobbled the San Francisco Chronicle and other big media companies, those who run The Bay Citizen and other start-ups still need to prove their worth and sustainability.

Whatever The Bay Citizen becomes, it will break new ground — nobody has ever put this level of money into creating a nonprofit, online-only daily newspaper in a major market, or had such significant media partners, ranging from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism to The New York Times, which will run the newsroom’s content as its twice-weekly Bay Area section.

Some people think this is the future of journalism; San Francisco-based financier Warren Hellman, who provided the seed money, thinks it’s worth $5 million or more to get the project off the ground. But since there’s no model out there, the crew at The Bay Citizen will be making it up as they go along. And at this point, even with what most Web publications would consider a huge amount of money, it’s clear that The Bay Citizen will not be replacing the Chronicle any time soon.

Jon Weber, the publication’s editor, knows the world of mainstream daily journalism (he was a writer for the Los Angeles Times); the world of high-paced big-money startups (he ran the Industry Standard); and the world of low-budget fledgling operations (he founded the small online magazine New West). And the first thing he had to figure was exactly what this new online daily was going to look like.

With a staff of just six news writers — and a regional focus — The Bay Citizen can’t try to cover breaking news the way the Chronicle, Examiner, or even Bay City News Service do. So the publication will be different from a traditional daily, with more enterprise reporting and less of the types of features dailies typically offer.

There will, for example, be no daily sportswriter. “There won’t be stories on every game, every day,” Weber told me. “We’ll pick our spots with enterprise reporting.” The Bay Citizen won’t try to compete with the Chronicle on national or international stories, either: “It’s a Bay Area focused site,” Weber said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t cover national stories when they impact the Bay Area. But that’s not part of our beats.”

The reporters will cover land use and environmental issues; health and science; education and social issues; business and finance; crime; and government and politics. The politics reporter won’t be able to cover San Francisco City Hall every day, either — he or she (that’s the one slot still open) will have to stay on top of local and statewide issues.

But what could make the Bay Citizen truly unusual is the extent to which Weber plans to partner with existing local bloggers and nontraditional news outlets. “We hope we can be a supporter of the local media ecosystem,” he said.

That could eventually set The Bay Citizen apart — and provide a new model for daily journalism. The publication has pending agreements with a dozen local Web sites and bloggers, some of them well-established and funded, and some more homegrown efforts. It’s also working with New American Media, which for many years has represented and encouraged ethnic news outlets.

Yet this isn’t exactly a new idea. SF Gate, the Chronicle’s Web site, has been running content from local blogs, including SF Streetsblog, for more than a year. But it doesn’t pay for that content and so far there have been few discernible benefits for either side of the equation.

“That’s been an experiment for us, but I’m not sure we see much of a return,” Streetsblog SF Editor Bryan Goebel told us. “The question is how you make these partnerships sustainable.”

That’s a question he’ll continue to explore with his newest partner, The Bay Citizen, which is promising to pay bloggers $25 for each post they run and to partner with them on larger projects. Although he’s still waiting to see a contract from Weber, Goebel said, “The model Bay Citizen is using could potentially work.”

Goebel needs something that will work. After 16 months in business, he said SF Streetsblog has 14,000 weekly readers and a loyal following among those interested in transportation and urbanism, but it’s funding (primarily from two rich individuals) has dried up to the point where he’s worried about the site’s future.

“I was hired to be the editor, but now the onus is on me to also keep it going,” Goebel said. “If the community likes this valuable resource … then the community needs to step up and support it.”

The Bay Citizen is also relying on that community-supported paradigm, using a four-part plan to pay the bills. At first The Bay Citizen will be heavily dependent on big donations. But Weber wants to see the operation transition to a more independent program that will rely on public broadcasting-style memberships (small donations), sponsorships (read: ad sales), and the sale of original content (syndication).

There’s already been some grumbling in the local blogosphere about Bay Citizen, from noting the outsized salary of the project’s president and CEO Lisa Frazier (a media consultant who led the search and then took the job at a reported $400,000 per year) to concerns about this big venture exploiting small local partners.

Frazier answered the salary question by noting that she has been working on the project for 14 months and emphasizing her business development experience. “This is a difficult problem we’re taking on and we need to put together a sustainable business model,” she told us. “It’s about results and our fundraising response has been fantastic.”

Another eyebrow-raiser is the background of The Bay Citizen’s Chief Technology Officer Brian Kelley, founder of the Web site ReputationDefender, which promises to remove negative items from the Internet searches of its paying clients — an antithetical mission for news organizations that expose the misdeeds of powerful figures.

Kelley downplayed his former company’s role in countering good journalism, telling us, “I do intend to take that knowledge here to promote our online content.”

Weber said the new venture won’t use its considerable initial resources to try to steal the show, and they’re bringing something truly valuable to the local media scene: a paid staff of journalists to counter the steep declines in local news-gathering.

“Listen,” Weber told us, “I was there for five years. I was running a little start-up with no resources. The last thing I want to do is hurt the smaller outfits. We think we can work together in ways that benefit everyone.”

SF Public Press has pursued a model like Bay Citizen’s for two years. But without millions of dollars in seed money, it’s still hobbling along as basically a volunteer newsroom despite getting around $35,000 from San Francisco Foundation, another Hellman-funded enterprise. “It’s an uncertain model. It’s a leap of faith for the writers to get involved with this,” said project manager Michael Stoll.

Yet Public Press is still moving forward with a newspaper (due out June 15) featuring content culled from a wide variety of local partners ranging from the Commonwealth Club and World Affairs Council to local public radio stations, local blogs, and The Bay Citizen. “We’re calling it both a pilot and a prototype,” Stoll said. “We want to get people’s reactions.”

Weber says he’s also eager to see how people react to The Bay Citizen when it launches May 26, because it will need to quickly establish itself. At the rate The Bay Citizen is spending, Hellman’s money won’t last more than a couple of years, and the financier told us he may be willing to put in a bit more, but he’s going to want to see a plan for financial stability that doesn’t involve him underwriting operations forever. It’s an experiment, but one most observers say is worth trying.

“We need to keep experimenting,” Goebel said, “because not every experiment is going to work.”

Insecure Sanctuary

9

Sarah@sfbg.com

The Board of Supervisors is urging San Francisco officials not to participate in Secure Communities, a controversial federal-local fingerprinting collaboration set to be activated June 1. But opting out of a program that threatens to make debates over “sanctuary city” protections of immigrants irrelevant may not be easy.

Speaking at a May 18 rally, Sup. Eric Mar warned that the use of Secure Communities by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could cause the deportation of innocent residents and destroy local community policing efforts. “The police-ICE entanglement will hurt our communities and many people accused of minor crimes will see families torn apart,” Mar warned, as he urged the city to opt out of the Department of Homeland Security initiative, which identifies immigrants who are sitting in U.S. jails and may be deportable under federal immigration laws.

Cosponsored by Sups. John Avalos, David Campos, David Chiu, Chris Daly, Bevan Dufty, Sophie Maxwell, and Ross Mirkarimi, Mar’s resolution was scheduled for a May 25 vote that would make San Francisco the first jurisdiction in the nation to pursue withdrawing from the system.

“The shadow of Arizona is starting to cover other cities,” Mar said, referring to Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation, SB 1070. “We can’t let Arizona come to San Francisco.”

ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice said the program’s focus is on criminal aliens. “These are folks who have been charged with or found guilty of felonies and have ignored deportation orders,” Kice said.

But ICE statistics show that the program mostly deports those with minor offenses. Between October 2008 and March 2010, Secure Communities submitted 1.9 million sets of digital fingerprints and deported 33,326 people nationwide. Fifteen percent of those deported (4,903 people) had criminal histories that included major drug and violent offenses such as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and kidnapping (Level 1 crimes). The other 85 percent (28,423 people) were deported for less serious drug and property offenses (Level 2 crimes) and other minor charges (Level 3 crimes).

Kice admits that Level 2 and 3 offenders constitute the largest percentage of SC cases. “That’s because representatively more people are arrested for Level 2 and 3 offenses than Level 1,” she said. “That’s probably fortunate, because Level 1 crimes are very serious.”

But American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Joanne Lin warns that Secure Communities allows the federal government to circumvent local sanctuary policies and fast-track deportation. “It allows the Department of Homeland Security to identifty everyone who is booked, whether they are here lawfully or their charges are subsequently dropped or dismissed,” Lin said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom said he has no reservations about the program, which the Bush administration first announced in March 2008. “Sanctuary city policies were never meant to protect criminal behavior,” mayoral spokesperson Tony Winnicker said May 7, when San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey blew the whistle on the federal-local fingerprinting collaboration. “At the end of the day, federal officials should enforce immigration laws. We report — we don’t deport.”

The program links local law enforcement databases to the Department of Homeland Security’s biometric system through interoperability agreements with states, allowing instantaneous information-sharing among local jails, ICE, and the FBI.

ICE implemented the program in North Carolina and Texas in October 2008. Under President Obama, the program has been activated in 169 jurisdictions in 20 states. ICE plans to have a Secure Communities presence in each state by 2011, and in each of the 3,100 state and local jails nationwide by 2013, according to its Web site.

Under the program, participating jails submit fingerprints of arrestees to immigration and criminal databases, thereby giving ICE a technological presence in prisons and jails. An overview conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan National Immigration Law Center observes that “the critical element” of the program is that, during booking in jail, arrestees’ fingerprints will be checked against DHS databases, rather than just against FBI criminal databases.

“ICE asserts that the purpose of the Secure Communities program is to target violent criminals for removal,” NILC observed. “Advocates had criticized the program’s operation because it took place at the beginning of the criminal process and therefore indiscriminately targeted persons arrested for crimes of all magnitudes, rather than persons convicted of serious crimes.”

“The underlying purpose may be to lay the groundwork for real immigration reform,” NILC concludes. “But the mechanisms put in place will be difficult to dismantle, and the civil rights violations they produce cannot be undone.”

Scott Lorigan of the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information signed an interoperability agreement with ICE’s John P. Torres in April 2009. Since then, the system has been activated in Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Imperial, Los Angeles, Monterey, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, and Ventura counties. Now it’s set to get switched on in San Francisco.

Campos thanks Hennessey for blowing the whistle, and lays the blame at Obama’s door. “None of us would have known this was happening,” Campos said. “This is the time for all San Francisco’s elected officials to stand up in support of the principles that led us to establish a sanctuary city. It’s not just the board, but also the mayor who needs to step up and say what just happened is not acceptable. This program eviscerates sanctuary city.”

Hennessey has written to California Attorney General Jerry Brown asking for assistance in opting out of the ICE program. Brown’s office is reviewing his request. “The California Department of Justice manages the statewide database of fingerprints that are essential to solving crimes, but we have no direct role in enforcing federal immigration laws,” Brown’s press secretary Christine Gasparac clarified. “We were informed by ICE that they will work with counties to opt out of their program. Because that is a process directly between the county and ICE, we’re advising local authorities who want to opt out to contact ICE directly.”

But it’s not clear what opting out will achieve. ICE’s Kice said jurisdictions can choose not to receive the immigration-related information on individuals who are fingerprinted, but that information will still be provided to ICE, which can act on it. Kice said that after an arrestee’s biometrics are forwarded to the feds, the information is bounced off FBI and DHS databases, and the information that comes back says if they have a record.

“What comes out is a recap of whatever relevant information is in the database,” she said. “For example, whether there has been a prior formal deportation or a prior arrest. It also shows if they have an adjusted status — whether they have legal permanent status. It will indicate if they are naturalized, in which case they are not subject to removal. That’s the information the community could cut off.”

“ICE always did these checks, but it was only available to local law enforcement agencies if they queried the system themselves, which required them to take a couple of extra steps,” Kice continued. “And it was name based. And that could be problematic, given duplicate names in system. That’s what fingerprints eliminate. Our concern is that municipalities are dependent to a large extent on information provided by the individual at the moment of arrest. We think the use of biometrics will ensure that folks who provide false information to local law enforcement officials don’t escape detection.”

Kice acknowledged that not everyone in the database is a violator. “The fact of having a record does not mean that you are a deportable alien,” she said. “And we understand that someone may get arrested and may not get convicted on their current charges. But what about a prior history? We know that folks have eluded detection, escaped, or been released from custody. So the individual may be someone who has other prior convictions. It’s the totality of their record that we are talking about here.”

At present, the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department only reports noncitizens who are booked on felony charges. Hennessey expressed concerns about the unintended consequences of ICE technology interfacing with that of the Department of Justice’s fingerprint database.

He also warned that the 2,000 or so ICE referrals his office makes annually could explode. “We’ll be fingerprinting 35,000-40,000 persons annually,” Hennessey claimed. “And ICE has a record of secrecy. They won’t tell me what happened to folks they pick up. They won’t say if they are still in custody, been released or deported. The basis of sanctuary city is to protect immigrants who are not doing anything wrong or serious. When ICE grabs someone who failed to pay a traffic ticket and that person is supporting a family, I don’t think those crimes should rise to the level of deportation.”

Editor’s Notes

1

Tredmond@sfbg.com

Even the San Francisco Chronicle, which is not know for its fiery progressive editorials, took all of the major candidates for governor to task May 22 for failing to offer any real solutions to the horrific budget problem: “[A]ll three are presenting the types of phantom savings (‘Let’s slash waste, fraud, and abuse! Cut across the board!’) and the panacea of collaboration (‘Everyone to the table! Appoint a blue-ribbon commission!’) that substitute for real leadership on the campaign trail.”

It makes me want to throw up. This is not a game; there are literally people’s lives in the balance. Even Jerry Brown, the Democrat’s best hope, is ducking madly. Jerry says that the folks “with the biggest belts should tighten them.” Sounds good, but what the hell does it mean?

Well, according to his press spokesman, it means nothing at all. I called the Brown for Governor campaign last week, and asked Sterling Clifford, who handles press for Jerry (that’s got to be a tough job) whether his boss was talking about higher taxes. No: “I think he has been very clear that there will be no new taxes unless the people vote on them.” (Actually, since the Public Policy Institute says two-thirds of Californians would support raising taxes on the rich to pay for education, a vote would likely be positive — but the campaign would be expensive and Brown would have to lead it.)

But he’s not willing to commit to any specific cuts in any specific programs. He’s not saying which belts he wants to tighten.

Here’s the hard, cold fact: You can’t solve California’s budget crisis by cuts alone, not unless you want to utterly abandon the state’s commitment to public education and social services (oh, and let about half the people in prison go free). Meg Whitman wants to lay off thousands of state workers (and create more unemployment). But even if you fired every single one of the 238,575 people who work for the state of California, you still wouldn’t cover a $19 billion hole. (The state’s total payroll in April was about $1.4 billion, or $17 billion a year.)

And we’re still stuck with billions in debt from the past few years when the governor couldn’t deal with reality and bumped it off into the future.

Maybe Brown thinks the economy will magically improve when he takes office, and the problem will solve itself. But it won’t. This is a structural issue, and until everyone, including the news media, accepts that, we’re just going to get into deeper and deeper doo-doo.

Arizona strikes out

1

By Adrian Castañeda

The backlash over Arizona’s recently enacted Senate Bill 1070, which requires law enforcement to demand proof of citizenship if an individual is suspected of being in the U.S. illegally, is spreading faster than crude in the gulf, bringing America’s favorite pastime to the political battlefront.

In nearly every city the Arizona Diamondbacks have played baseball in during the last month, they have been met by hundreds of activists protesting the law as unjust. Beginning May 29, the San Francisco Gigantes will host the unintended ambassadors of bigotry for a three-game series. San Franciscans are already gearing up for a strong show of force with a protest march that begins at Justin Herman Plaza at 4 p.m. and follows the waterfront to AT&T Park.

Although batter’s box may be far removed from the governor’s desk, as David Zirin of The Nation reported May 10 in “Diamondbacks Owner Ken Kendrick Continues to Support SB1070,” Kendrick has stated his opposition to SB1070 but held a May 20 fundraiser for Republican Arizona State Sen. Jonathan Paton. The fundraiser for Paton, a supporter of the bill who is now running for Congress, was reportedly held inside the owner’s box during the Diamondbacks 8-7 win over the Giants in Phoenix.

Even before The Nation broke the story of using the publicly-funded stadium as a hub for Republican fundraising, bloggers and commentators were railing against Kendrick for his half-hearted attempts to distance the team from the political uproar. “The fallout from recent state legislation has a direct impact on many of our players, employees, and fans in Arizona, not to mention our local businesses, many of which are corporate partners of ours,” says a press release on the team’s Web site. Many take the statement as a sign that the demonstrations are working.

Articles on Kendrick’s political activities spurred the nationwide protests, but every city’s protest seems to be locally and spontaneously organized. Brian Cruz, part of the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights, said that although the May 29 event may not have much economic impact on the Diamondbacks, it is a political statement: “We are boycotting the game because we need to do what we can to stop the state from implementing this law.”

Cruz hopes the protests draw national attention to the issue and force President Obama to take action. Cruz advocates for immigration reform and amnesty for those in the country without papers. “We believe in a world without borders,” Cruz told us. Cruz believes that U.S. foreign and economic policies are to blame for immigrants leaving their home countries, and that America’s rich people are merely using undocumented people as scapegoats. “We see it as a racist attack against immigrants that demonizes those who come to this country to work,” Cruz says of SB 1070.

Jevon Cochran, a student at Oakland’s Laney College, has been organizing along with others to boycott the law he says is racist against all people of color, not just Hispanics. Cochran says the protest is crucial in overturning Arizona’s law and preventing similar laws from spreading to other states. College campuses have been huge sources of support for immigrants’ rights with a wide variety of student groups coming out against the law. Most recently, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the largest black fraternity in the U.S., cancelled its 40,000-member convention in Phoenix. The move came at great personal cost to the group but represents an even greater loss in revenue for Arizona businesses. “We want to strangle Arizona financially,” Cochran said.

In addition to the city’s resolution to boycott Arizona, Sup. Chris Daly called on the city and fans to protest at the Giants games against the Diamondbacks, home and away, and asked the Giants to wear their Gigantes jerseys in solidarity with the protestors.

But the Diamondbacks aren’t the only team facing scrutiny. Many teams, including the Giants, are being asked by immigrants’ rights groups to boycott Arizona by relocating their spring training camps to other states. The site (www.movethegame.org) hosts an online petition demanding MLB move its 2011 All-Star Game to another state. According to the site, there is a historical precedent for targeting professional sports for social change. In 1987, Arizona decided to ignore the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The NFL responded by moving the 1993 Super Bowl to from Tempe to California, costing Arizona millions in lost revenue. When Arizona later began recognizing the holiday, the 1996 Super Bowl was held in Phoenix.