Volume 44 Number 37

Appetite: NYC food cheat sheet, part one


During my latest visit to my beloved New York for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, I spent eight days gleefully eating my way around the city, as I have done on countless trips past. I am continually asked for NY recommends as many of us in the Bay Area are either East Coast transplants, do business in both cities, or are savvy frequent travelers to the Big Apple. Check out my Perfect Spot newsletter archives for much more NY food and drink, but this week, I give you a mini-list of recommends in varying categories:

PIZZA THAT FEELS LIKE HOME Roberta’s, in the Bushwick area, has the spirit of both Brooklyn and classic Neopolitan-style pizza, the likes of which we see almost to the point of overkill here in SF. At Roberta’s, every aspect of the place dares you not to be crazy about it: a sketchy, off-the-beaten path location in Brooklyn reveals a warm dining room with wood-fired pizza oven and rustic, eclectic decor. Eat at picnic tables indoors or head out back to the tiki bar (alas, no cocktails, but wine and quality beers on draft, like NY’s Ommegang), where there are more picnic tables, thatched roofs, smoking area off to one side, expansive garden and nursery growing herbs you’ll find in your meal. The menu offers charcuterie, cheeses, sweetbreads, cuttle fish, tripe and killer, blistered pizzas, like Millennium Falco, with tomato, Parmigiano, pork sausage, garlic, onions, bread crumbs and basil. You’ll feel like you never left SF.

OLD SCHOOL NY BAGEL EXPERIENCE Russ & Daughters, a fourth generation, family-owned, Lower East Side deli has been around for over a century… and is quintessential New York. With amicably crusty staff, this pristine shop is efficiently doles out Bagel & Lox, the salmon cut fresh before you. Put it on an “everything” bagel with horseradish cream cheese and you have perfection. There’s a wide array of joys here, such as pickled herring, caviar, and a lovely whitefish salad.

CHEAP, DELICIOUS AREPAS Caracas Arepa Bar is a cheap, utterly satisfying NY meal: Venezuelan homemade arepas stuffed with all kinds of goodness. The tiny, charming East Village spot became so popular, there’s a to-go side and now a Brooklyn location. Everything is under $7.50 and waits are long unless you arrive early, but you can order Camburada (banana cinnamon milkshake) and Guasacaca & Chips (Venezuelan-style guacamole with plaintain and sweet potato chips) while you wait outside. I love the La de Pernil Arepa stuffed with tender pork shoulder, tomato and spicy mango sauce.

Deep red bells


A few months ago, Impact Theater premiered Enrique Urueta’s Learn to Be Latina, a raucous satire of market-driven multiculturalism that pivoted on the ethnic dos-and-don’ts of the music industry. That production only partly prepares one for Crowded Fire’s premiere of the Bay Area playwright’s latest effort, Forever Never Comes. There’s a notable strain here of the effervescent humor that propelled Latina (beginning with Forever ‘s blithe subtitle, A Psycho-Southern Queer Country Dance Tragedy), as well as a similar concern with the trials of cultural and sexual identity, familial roots, and the will to be oneself. But Forever is a darker, more complex story, a working-class gothic that draws inspiration from Urueta’s own background as a gay Latino growing up in a small Virginia town. But if the play’s reach is admirably wider, its focus is disappointingly fuzzier.

Its central character is Sandra (Marilet Martinez), a young Latina burdened with guilt after the suicide of her gay brother Ricardo (Shoresh Alaudini), and living again in semirural South Boston, Va., with her sad, widowed mother (Carla Pantoja) whose first language is somewhat ominously slipping away from her like her disintegrating family.

Sandra, stalked by a mysterious demon named the Fox Confessor (Lawrence Radecker), “has a debt to pay” associated with feelings of culpability for her brother’s death, and Fox Confessor is keen to collect it, haunting her dreams (including in several ghostly folk dance sequences) and menacing her small circle of friends and loved ones. Although the other characters do not see him, we witness this mischievous, brooding underworld figure alternately pacing the stage or revealed, courtesy of Marilee Talkington’s eerie video design, in isolated “snapshots” of the action that appear projected onto a screen at the back.

While running from what seems like the mythological incarnation of her grief-stricken conscience, Sandra reconnects hesitantly with ex-girlfriend Deborah, now called Dylan (a compelling Kathryn Zdan). A transgender preop bent on escape to San Francisco, Dylan is back in town to visit her pregnant unwed sis, Beth Ann (Marissa Keltie), on the eve of their parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. Dylan remains smitten with Sandra. Sandra, however, seems almost as uncomfortable with Dylan’s physical transformation as Dylan’s mother (Michele Levy), a compulsively chatty, addled woman stunned into a rare moment of silence by the unexpected arrival of her one-time daughter.

Beth Ann, meanwhile, negotiates life with her oddball family; haunted best friend Sandra; and abusive, domineering boyfriend Hunter (a solid Daniel Petzold) while confining herself to soda pop at the local watering hole and doing her best not to smoke another Virginia Slim. Soon a tragic accident — if it is an accident and not the handiwork of the increasingly impatient Fox Confessor — throws everyone off-balance, and Dylan and Sandra back into each other’s arms, while setting up a parallel between two grief-stricken households and their contrasting crises of identity and unity. As Fox Confessor stirs up more and more trouble, the way forward remains unclear, multiple possible endings hovering over the action thanks to an out-of-sequence scene in which Sandra and Dylan flee for the West Coast in a blood-stained car.

Sandra and Dylan’s relationship adds momentum to the story, which otherwise tends to dissipate among its various subplots. Ironically, the central issue of Sandra’s guilt and her debt to Fox Confessor lacks the requisite poignancy and urgency, at least partly because there’s little sense of a relationship between Sandra and her deceased brother (who has only a flickering afterworld presence here, despite a key intervention near the end). The only hint of a tangible sibling connection comes when Sandra, in one of the more comical moments, repeats Ricardo’s detailed impressions of San Francisco to Dylan, at length and seemingly verbatim.

Director Mary Guzmán (who also helmed Learn to Be Latina) gets some nice performances across a generally strong cast. But the staging — around Emily Greene’s elegantly elemental thrust stage, complete with intermittent sheets of rain heralding Fox Confessor’s serious mischief — can be lackluster. The dose of underworld dosey doe, for example, proves sluggish and repetitive, despite sound designer Colin Trevor’s steady injections of the gorgeously moody songs of Neko Case. In the end, the play’s defiantly romantic spirit has charm, but Forever Never Comes leaves too much hanging.


Wed-Sat, 8 p.m. (through June 26), $10–$30

Boxcar Playhouse

505 Natoma, SF

(800) 838-3006



Dear John



HAIRY EYEBALL What does it mean to call John Waters’ art “bad”? The question is hard to shake while surveying “Rush,” the filmmaker and part-time San Francisco resident’s fourth show at Rena Bransten Gallery. It’s tricky with Waters, whose creative practice has always exulted in its bad taste. He would probably respond to my query with a knowing smile.

Time has certainly been on his side. What was once reviled someday becomes celebrated, and so even Waters’ most extreme examples of cinematic filth are now part of the cultural canon. In his post-Hairspray crossover years, Waters has settled into the role of practiced raconteur, having whittled his biographical anecdotes and wry observations into a recombinant set of talking points.

This stand-up-like approach has informed his visual art as well. Waters’ early stabs at photography — horizontally grouped freeze-frames from Hollywood classics, obscure gems, and gay porn, all shot from the television screen — riffed on the innate humor of their subjects, further underscoring the awkwardness of each pause through canny juxtaposition.

The photo-collages in “Rush” are more aggressively puerile. Less documents of the chance encounter between a TV set and a camera, they offer up a series of crudely Photoshopped one-liners: a bevy of Hollywood royalty are given hairlips; Charlton Heston as Moses holds a can of soda; Audrey Hepburn’s swan-like neck is covered in monstrous hickeys.

The sharper collages — like the series of characters lying in state — elicit a chuckle. The dumber ones recall in their approach Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Gottfried Helnwein’s frequently copied, cheesy Hollywood riff on Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Again, I sense Waters would be just as proud having his work compared to Helnwein’s as he would to his more obvious precedents in business and in art: Koons and Warhol.

Instead of cardboard Brillo boxes, Waters — or, one presumes, a workshop — has fabricated bigger-than-life versions of an ant trap, a spilled bottle of Rush-brand “liquid incense” (from which the show takes its name), and a tub of the exorbitantly priced facial cream La Mer. There’s also an Ike Turner doll, posed on bended knee, holding a smaller marionette of Tina Turner, called “Control.”.

The sculptures are by far the smartest works in the show — gaudy, oversized lawn ornaments to hucksterism, the fleeting nature of pleasure, and the futile postponement of time’s onward creep through conspicuous consumption. In short, they are monuments to the follies and vanities of the art world itself, which, judging by the show’s price list, is willing to pay top dollar for a spanking from John Waters.

For those of us who are simply content with our dog-eared copies of Shock Value and our Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living DVDs, “Rush” is too often like that overturned bottle of poppers: all flash but no high.



While in 77 Geary, head over to Marx & Zavattero for a different but no less trashy example of queer sensibility. James Gobel’s yarn, felt, and acrylic paintings construct a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp for bears in which hirsute and chubby fanboys do their best Jem impressions in truly outrageous color combinations. More interesting are Gobel’s “couture beanbags,” whose doughy amorphousness and “designer” plaid covers evoke the physicality and dress of his painted subjects in a far more tactile manner that’s as inviting as it is unsettling. Gobel understands that with subcultures, as with lovers, snuggling can sometimes turn to smothering.


Through July 10, free

Rena Bransten

77 Geary, SF

(415) 982-3292



Through July 17, free

Marx & Zavattero

77 Geary, SF

(415) 627-9111


Now voyager



MUSIC What might Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s status be? Casual but committed, relaxed yet extremely productive sounds about right for the Alps music-maker, Root Strata label head, On Land festival organizer, and now the third leg of the recently formed Moholy-Nagy.

Not another reunion band-cum-supergroup — Cantu-Ledesma, Danny Paul Grody (the Drift), and Trevor Montgomery (Lazarus) were founding members of Tarentel — the new SF project shares a moniker with the Bauhaus movement mover-and-shaker, although the trio is much more unassuming than all that.

“I think Danny and Trevor had been playing for a couple months, and they called and asked if they could borrow one of my synthesizers,” recalls Cantu-Ledesma on the phone, taking a break from his day job in operations at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “I said, ‘No, but I’ll come down and play it’ — an asshole move on my part, but that’s typical of me.” You can practically hear his tongue being firmly thrust in cheek.

Very casually, but consistently, in the spirit of a “nerding-out recording project” with the members switching instruments and utilizing a “junky analog” ’70s drum machine Montgomery found on eBay, the threesome hunkered down in its longtime Hunters Point practice space, making what Cantu-Ledesma describes as the “most synthesized thing any of us has ever done before. It’s largely improvised around bass lines or drum parts, so things weigh it down and other things can have freedom around it.”

“It’s more like hanging out with friends having some lunch and getting some coffee and making music,” he adds. “It’s not like, ‘Dude! We’re in a band!'<0x2009>”

Easy-going but quick to step back and see the folly or humor in whatever’s before him, often issuing a loud, bright laugh, Cantu-Ledesma seems less than impressed with self-important “band dudes,” even after years spent in an influential combo like Tarentel.

“Oh, gosh, are you picking up on that?” he replies, dryly ironic, when asked about it. “Well, even with the Alps, when you look at it on the surface, it looks like we’re writing songs, but we’re not writing songs. We just want to create stuff and not so much worry about the fidelity of recreating things.”

But what things Cantu-Ledesma makes, judging from the haunting watercolor tone poems of Moholy-Nagy — music that could easily slip into a cinematic mood piece like Zabriskie Point (1970) or Paris, Texas (1984) — and the alternately motorik-beatific and insinuatingly delicate experiments of the Alps’ new Le Voyage (Type). For Cantu-Ledesma’s forthcoming solo album, due this fall, he’ll dig into his more shoegaze-ish background, but for Moholy-Nagy, he gets to “exercise another side. I’m a total knob-tweaker kind of guy, but we get to move around a lot more than we get to on other projects. Things are tending to sound more quirky or funky than other things we’ve done.”

In a way this project is an extension of the San Francisco Art Institute painting and sculpture graduate’s interior, rather than audibly exterior, work. “I’m going to say this, and I’m not trying to be new age,” he confesses. “But honestly, I used to be really intense about stuff happening a certain way. But I worked on my own development and became more secure with my own personality. and that really helped in terms of — without sounding too Californian — just letting it flow.”

That goes for his collaborations with filmmaker and kindred SFMOMA staffer Paul Clipson: a DVD of their Super-8 films and sound pieces since 2007 comes out this summer and coincides with an August performance at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. “We love what we do, but there’s no plan behind any of it,” Cantu-Ledesma ponders. “I know this probably sounds facetious, but I’m not really motivated to make things happen — though obviously with things like On Land, you’re booking and buying plane tickets and stuff.”

On Land is firmly grounded in Cantu-Ledesma’s Root Strata imprint, which materialized in 2004, inspired by SF collectives like Jeweled Antler and then-Bay Area-based performers like Yellow Swans, Axolotl, and Skaters. It’s a way to present artists that Cantu-Ledesma and co-organizer and label cohort Maxwell Croy like and have worked with in the last year, in a “nice venue,” otherwise known as Cafe Du Nord. In early September, label musicians and friends like Charalambides, Grouper, Oneohtrix Point Never, Zelienople, Dan Higgs, White Rainbow, Barn Owl, and Bill Orcutt will appear, with video collaborations by Clipson and Nate Boyce, at the second annual gathering.

“Does the Bay Area need another music festival? Probably not,” Cantu-Ledesma quips wryly. “But you’re not going to see Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy or Vampire Weekend. We’re trying to show a different strata of stuff from California or Oregon, kind of a West Coast underground, or people who just fit into our tastes, which are idiosyncratic and weird.”


With Brother Raven and Golden Retriever

Wed/16, 9 p.m., $7

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk, SF

(415) 923-0923




The devil vs. Miss Jones


By Lilan Kane


MUSIC A contemporary throwback, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings sound like they stepped right out of Curtis Mayfield’s 1972 soundtrack for Super Fly (Rhino/WEA). Authentic soul music is hard to come by these days, but recording on 8-track reel-to-reel with some of the funkiest live musicians and one of the baddest soul singers on the planet, the group has successfully recreated and updated a late 1960s to early ’70s soul sound. In the process, it has captured a devoted fan base, selling out shows worldwide and gigging everywhere from the North Sea Jazz Festival to The Colbert Report. This journey has been no easy task, as made clear by the title of a new album: I Learned The Hard Way (Daptone).

The super soul sister with the magnetic je ne sais quoi has had some strong trailblazers to look to along the way. Asked over the phone who she would most like to perform with, Jones answers without hesitation: “I always wanted to sing with Mr. Brown.” Indeed, her favorite memory is meeting the Godfather of Soul in April of 2006. She’s also covered his track “I Got The Feelin’.” James Brown “changed my life,” Jones says. A longtime lover of soul music, she had difficulty finding her place in the industry. Breaking the mold of Disney tween sensations and autotuned pop stars, she faced rejection and prejudice. Music industry image and its underlying injustices allowed record execs and DJs to tell her she was too black. Her response? “Damn right. I’m black and I’m proud.”

Brown hasn’t just been a key influence for Jones — he also helped inspire the music and the sound of the Dap-Kings. In 1996, the group’s bandleader and bassist Gabriel Roth (a.k.a. Bosco Mann) invited Jones to sing backing vocals on a Lee Fields session, an experience that prompted a friendship and musical relationship between the two. An avid Brown fan, Bosco has collected every obscure JB record he could get his hands on since college. Over the years he’s brought together some of the best musicians in the New York area to form the Dap- Kings. The band is highly sought after for session work, especially after its contributions to Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black (Republic, 2007).

Jones fans know and love her brilliant remake of Janet Jackson’s 1986 hit “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” Interviewing Jones, I had to ask who had the genius idea of covering the song. Turns out it was a family affair — Bosco’s sister brought the song to the table, and Bosco made a killer arrangement, resulting in one highlight of the 2002 debut, Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (Daptone). People can’t be blamed for thinking that Jackson had covered a Jones song, and this time-tripping is characteristic of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings’ sound. The group’s first 45s were undated, and even soul music collectors often were fooled into thinking they had somehow missed them while on crate-digging missions to discover the most underground soul recordings.

I Learned the Hard Way is, of course, soulful. But beyond that, it’s socially and politically aware. Jones’ favorite track, “She Ain’t A Child No More,” is about an abusive mother and the painful yet newfound triumph experienced by her grown child. The subject matter is heavy indeed, but the song is written and performed in a way that exudes strength and courage. Another song, “Money,” is a clever twist on unrequited love. Recorded five years ago, it has finally made it onto a record — with perfect timing. “Money, where have you gone?” Jones wails. “Money, why don’t you like me?” Many people will find themselves singing along, mad that the money has up and left. With 10 other wrenching songs, the whole record packs some serious heat.


With the Heavy and DJ Harry Duncan

Fri/25, 9 p.m., $22.25

The Warfield

982 Market, SF

(415) 775-7722


Imported cheese


CINE DE CULTO It’s impossible to undersell the extent to which everyone was space travel crazy from the 1950s through the early ’70s. Even nations not actively involved in the Cold War race for space “supremacy” shared the giddy thrill as U.S.S.R., then U.S. efforts successfully launched projectiles toward the cosmos. Those technological leaps and Cold War-fueled fears that the bomb could end life as we know it turned science fiction from an infrequent cinematic genre into a popular, prolific one.

Different nations put their own spin on this celluloid space race, the Soviets for instance treating it as territory of soberly scientific national pride. On the other end of the spectrum, Mexico did sci-fi wackier, cheaper, and often with more inspiration than its neighbor up north. These movies often ended up cut, retitled, and badly dubbed for U.S. consumption at kiddie matinees and on late-night creature feature shows, where they inevitably provoked howls of laughter.

Some camp value definitely remains, but next week’s Pacific Film Archive series “El Futuro Está Aqui: Sci-Fi Classics From Mexico” offers a rare chance to see several choice nuggets in their original-language form and in pristine prints. As a result, they seem more conspicuously well-crafted (on par with major studio Hollywood B movies of the ’50s), even — dare we say — dignified, than you’d expect. Which is not to say they aren’t frequently nuts as well.

Nothing says Mexploitation more succinctly than Santo vs. the Martian Invasion, a 1966 adventure that was one of the immortal masked wrestling hero’s last in B&W. Aliens in flying hubcaps — I mean flying saucers — seek to invade Earth by making people disappear with their ray-guns and interfering with TV transmissions. They also wear silver Mylar pants without shirts (dudes) or low-cut onesies (chicks). These Martians are hot. But they insist on world peace, so of course they must be stopped.

What could be more terrifying? Civilizations ruled by women, of course! In the prior year’s Planet of the Female Invaders, abducted Earthlings find themselves on Sibila, where that terrible reversal of the natural order has come to pass. But fear not: as lost visitors from the normal world soon discover, the women secretly long to be fussed over and told what to do by he-men.

Also in the PFA series are 1959’s lunatic The Ship of Monsters, which manages to encompass singing cowboys, Venusians in taped-on J-Lo dresses, vampires, and more. As for 1957’s The Aztec Mummy vs. the Human Robot, it involves … well, you figure it out. (Dennis Harvey)


June 24–27, $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249



Volume 44 Number 37 Flip-through Edition


Reel groundbreaking


FRAMELINE Appropriately enough, Kathy Wolfe — founder and CEO of this year’s Frameline Award winner, Wolfe Video — realized her calling while attending a Frameline screening.

“Somewhere around 1979, I went to a Frameline screening of [pioneering 1977 doc] Word is Out. Within the body of that film, there’s a challenge to make a difference,” she remembers, speaking from her San Jose office. “I started working in my local public access television station, and for four years I studied and worked in every aspect of video production. At the end of that, I actually had a few documentary-style pieces and some women’s music videos I wanted to sell. In order to get more serious, I took out a business license, and that was in 1985. But I very much was inspired by the challenge in the movie. Our mission today is very similar to the mission we had at that time: to make these images more available to the world at large so that people would feel empowered to come out.”

Today, Wolfe Video is the leading exclusive distributor of LGBT films, which they do via film festivals, video stores, video on demand, and the Internet, including their website, Wolfevideo.com. Their catalog includes hits like Big Eden (2000) and Claire of the Moon (1992), as well as the entire performance catalog of Lily Tomlin — whose early support helped the company make key contacts with distribution networks and retail outlets. According to president Maria Lynn, who joined in 1993, the fact that Wolfe Video is celebrating its 25th anniversary is a testament to the increasing popularity of LGBT films.

“[In 1985] the gay genre, as it were, was considered small and unknown. Now it’s a very significant genre in independent film. Between Wolfe distributing them, and filmmakers making them, and festivals like Frameline screening them, it has created its own category within independent film,” she says. “We have a lot of movies now that have a more mainstream appeal, for example Undertow, which is going to be a centerpiece at Frameline, is a beautiful film from Peru. And the way people talked about Brokeback Mountain as being about love — people will talk about this one similarly. It touches people very deeply and it is not limited to a gay and lesbian audience as well. That’s one of the biggest things that’s changed: the filmmakers have really been able to branch out, whether it’s with casting, or better stories, or bigger budgets.” 


With Undertow Tues/22, 7 p.m., Castro

Super stories



FILM It’s film festival season, which means one thing: stories. Lots of them. And not just the ones that happen on film, but all the ones that happen before, during, and after the tapes get mastered and the crowds go home. While this is certainly true of all films, it’s especially true for the Queer Women of Color Film Festival, held annually at Brava Theater Center in the Mission.

Each year the festival premieres 25 short films made by and for women of color, who travel from across the Bay Area, and sometimes the state, to a small workshop in the Sunset District and learn the ins and outs of video production. The end results are nuanced, gripping, and often hilarious stories of how amazing, awkward, and complex love can be. So even though the festival’s yearly themes may be heavy — last year’s focused on immigration, this year’s celebrates queer indigenous communities — crowds pack the theatre, enjoy free food, and see that there’s more than enough to smile about.

This year’s festival brought a variety of movies. In Ferment Me My Heart, one Korean Canadian woman used animation to explore her love-hate relationship with kimchi and what it tastes like to be an outsider. Home is Where My Mother Is showed that all ain’t pretty in the world of queer families, as one woman confronted her lesbian mother over a traumatic interracial relationship. Bulldagger Women and Sissy Men paid homage to the Harlem Renaissance’s queer characters. A mother and daughter bonded over basketball in Hoops, and Passing Through Like Water followed three generations of Iranian women as they navigated how to deal with change and one another.

The festival also included a sacred ceremony for indigenous queer communities, and related films that unearthed the lessons of Cherokee elders and explored what Proposition 8 means to native women. If you missed out, you still have a chance to see some highlights when “F**king Traditional Values: Queer Women of Color Shorts” screens at Frameline.


Sun/20, 4:15 p.m., $8

Victoria Theatre

2961 16th St.

(415) 863-7576




Star on the rise


FRAMELINE I’ve had a bit of a crush on the young Argentine actress Inés Efron since Frameline31, when she played one corner of the teen love triangle in Alexis Dos Santos’ Glue (2006). There was something in the way Efron used her gangly build and heavy-lidded eyes to telegraph her character’s mix of trembling desire and adolescent ungainliness that brought to mind Kids-era Chloë Sevigny.

Efron’s ability to allow her physicality to articulate what her characters can’t would be even more fiercely on display when she returned to Frameline the following year, front and center, as the conflicted, intersexed youth Alex in another equally strong Argentine debut, Lucía Puenzo’s XXY (2007). Efron is back at Frameline this year, as is Puenzo, in the director’s sophomore effort, The Fish Child. The film actually made its festival debut last year, in one of the last-minute TBA slots, but fans of the duo’s previous collaboration would do well to catch its proper run this time around.

Part cross-class lesbian love story, part crime telenovella (with a touch of magical realism), The Fish Child is a flashy departure from XXY‘s brooding coming-of-age character study. Puenzo displays a tight grasp of the film’s various narrative strands as it jumps back and forth across time and geographic borders (she did adapt the script from her own novel, after all), but much of the film’s emotional impact comes from the performances of its leads.

Looking ever more the gamine, Efron plays Lala, the teen daughter of a wealthy Buenos Aires judge (Pep Munné), who is as in love with the household’s 20-year-old Paraguayan maid Ailin (Mariela Vitale) as her father is. Lala and Ailin’s dream of escaping to Lake Ypoa in Paraguay, Ailin’s childhood home, becomes complicated when Ailin winds up in jail and Lala flees to Ypoa alone, where she discovers more about her lover’s damaged past. Efron’s Lala lets us be sympathetic to her love for Ailin even as we see the ways in which her star-eyed optimism about their future life is as enabled by the privilege she refuses to acknowledge as it is by raw passion. She’s a rebel with a cause, but she just can’t ‘fess up to it yet.

As Efron grows older, it’s going to become harder for her to keep convincingly playing the hormonally-charged and dissolute (see also her supporting role in another recent Argie art house hit, Lucrecia Martel’s 2008 The Headless Woman). Clearly, though, she has a good agent and even better instincts. I’m excited to see what she does next.


Thurs/22, 9:30 p.m., Elmwood

Fri/25, 9:30 p.m., Roxie

Get thee to the gym



FRAMELINE It’s a little-noted fact that the gay community is absolutely thick with twins. Not biological, but the kind that grow more identical when they take their shirts off.

Whoever said opposites attract clearly never went to the Folsom Street Fair, where every body type runs in packs of two (or several). Sure, mom said looks aren’t everything. But was she a gay man? It’s brutal out there. Combine a sophisticated, compartmentalized urban gay scene like San Francisco’s own with the Internet’s heightened judging-book-by-cover — no actual book reading implied — and you’ve got a recipe for looks obsessiveness that can snare even the safely off-market.

An older friend who said at 40 he’d eventually retire from gym habituation because “I don’t want to be a 50-year-old face on a 25-year-old body” is now a 60-year-old with a 35-year-old bodybuilder’s torso — plus the blown-out knees and other ailments decades of body-sculpting punishment have wrought. What for? Not for his committed partner, one assumes, but for the accustomed thrill of feeling the breeze shift from swiveling heads.

A number of films in Frameline’s 34th edition (Skinnyfat, BearCity, The Adonis Factor, Bear Nation) address the complicated landscape of gay male body image issues. They’re not always pretty — at least emotionally. Although it is generally also the business of people in movies to be pretty. It is also the business of these particular movies to question just what pretty is, and why the hell it has to be so important.

The topic is taken head-on — if also superficially, which is ironically apt — by The Adonis Factor. Its interviewees from various gay terrariums (SF, Palm Springs, West Hollywood) say things like “Gay men tend to have more of an appreciation for beauty in all aspects, whether it is other male bodies or just antiques.”

Leafing through relevant issues magazine-style, from circuit parties to surgery to eating disorders, Christopher Hines’ documentary ponders endemic, sometimes compulsive shallowness while providing a lot of eye candy. “If you’re gonna be gay, you’re just gonna have to experience the wrath of the A crowd,” one perfect 10 in search of an 11 attests. Some of us are just too allergic to house music to hazard that.

A mutable “culture of desire” has spawned myriad subdivisions based on body type, the greatest latest boom being bear-ish. But Malcolm Ingram’s documentary Bear Nation finds fissure in a movement supposedly all about including the excluded. One specialty magazine publisher bluntly insists “bear” means hairy, not big (save musculature), and who asked these fat fucks to the party anyway? If there was a fetish mag focused on the proudly obnoxious, he’d rate the cover.

Frameline34 — so old! who’d sleep with that?! — features a lot of films that in one way or another uphold a beauty standard. Among them are conventional gay romcoms like Is It Just Me?, whose John Cusack-y protagonist — torso more rectangle than triangle — is appalled by the looks-ist superficiality of the L.A. gay scene he’s just moved into. But of course there’s a selfless hunk who, amid Cyrano de Bergerac-inspired contrivances, is eager to love him for his mind.

Foreign films — like such excellent Frameline entries as Undertow, Children of God, or Francois Ozon’s Hideaway — tend to be less rigidly codified in terms of physical casting. Their protagonists are attractive but natural, not conspicuously pumped by hours of gym devotion. Still, their soft-pedaled sexy glamour seems contrite alongside the futurist masculinity line-blurring of Frameline flicks like tranny-band survey Riot Acts: Flaunting Gender Deviance in Music Performance. Or Jake Yerra’s Open, whose ethereal dramatic panoply encompasses a femmy boi in love with a pregnant FTM as well as an intersex couple undergoing surgery to become identical. “Being average in a world of physical perfection is the worst kind of gay purgatory,” a character says in Is It Just Me? Maybe worse: being slave to that sensibility.


June 17–27, most shows $8–$15

Castro, 429 Castro, SF; Roxie, 3117 16th St., SF; Victoria, 2961 16th St, SF; Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 2966 College, Berk.

Frameline short takes


The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (James Kent, UK, 2010) A BBC production set in the northern English countryside of the early 19th century, James Kent’s The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister depicts the amatory adventures of a gentlewoman landowner (Maxine Peake) in search of a “female companion” with whom to live out her days. The narrative is somewhat breathless, the seductions equally so and yet a bit anemic, and our strong-willed, fearless heroine is admirable without being entirely engaging. Still, besides tapping into the Jane Austen slash fiction demographic, this tale of pre-Victorian bodice ripping and skirt lifting among the female gentry offers the considerable thrill of being adapted from the actual secret diaries of the titular Miss Lister, decoded by a biographer 150 years after her death. A documentary in the festival, Matthew Hill’s The Real Anne Lister, offers a complementary version of her story. Thurs/17, 7 p.m., Castro. (Lynn Rapoport)

The Owls (Cheryl Dunye, USA, 2010) Expectations are high for The Owls: writer-director Cheryl Dunye again collaborates with Guinevere Turner, V.S. Brodie, and other notable queer performers —compels you to think of classics like Go Fish (1994) and The Watermelon Woman (1996). The Owls isn’t quite at that level, but it’s a fairly thought-provoking piece. Four middle-aged lesbians — played by Dunye, Turner, Brodie, and Lisa Gornick — accidentally kill a younger lesbian and try to cover up the murder. Their ages are central: the fear of getting older is a major thematic concern. So, too, ideas of gender identity, with the introduction of androgynous Skye (Skyler Cooper). But Dunye breaks the fourth wall, staging her film as a pseudo-mockumentary with both the characters and the actors offering commentary. At just over an hour, The Owls can’t sustain all the back-and-forth, and too many intriguing ideas are left unfinished. Fri/18, 7 p.m., Castro. (Louis Peitzman)

Dzi Croquettes (Tatiana Issa and Raphael Alvarez, Brazil, 2009) Whatever magic fairy dust fuelled The Cockettes’ glitter-covered hippy drag must’ve drifted down south to Brazil to inspire the similarly named Dzi Croquettes. Of course, that’s not the real origin of the equally colorful cabaret troupe, whose fantastic story is told in Raphael Alvarez and Tatiana Issa’s riveting and rollicking documentary. Blending Ziegfeld Follies-style glamour with agitprop, Dzi Croquettes were more polished and more overtly political than their North American sisters; something which frequently landed the group in hot water with José Sarney’s dictatorship. Finding an unlikely and unexpected advocate in Liza Minnelli, Dzi Croquettes fled their homeland in the mid 1970s, becoming the unexpected toast of Europe until AIDS began to take its toll. Filled with delightful archival footage and insightful interviews with alumni, Dzi Croquettes is a joyful affirmation of the power of art (and a feathered boa or two) to effect positive change. Mon/21, 11 a.m., Castro. (Matt Sussman)

Undertow (Javier Fuentes-León, Peru, 2009) This sexy and delicate drama is a bisexual triangle that continues beyond the grave. In a Peruvian coastal hamlet, fisherman Miguel (Cristian Mercado) loves his pregnant wife and fellow church leader Mariela (Tatiana Astengo). But he’s also having a secret passionate affair with Santiago (Manolo Cardona), an urbanite who moved there to paint the land and seascapes, and who chafes at the restrictions Miguel places on their relationship. At a certain point, one character dies and writer-director Javier Fuentes-León seamlessly handles Undertow‘s transition to magical realism. The leisurely story doesn’t go where one expects, ending on a perfect grace note of bittersweet acceptance. Tues/22, 7 p.m., Castro. (Dennis Harvey)

Howl (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, USA, 2010) Beatniks get the Mad Men treatment — with a cast that includes that AMC hit’s Jon Hamm, playing the lawyer who defended the publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s quintessential rebel yell, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, against obscenity charges in San Francisco’s most celebrated trial of the 1950s. It’s fun to see that anally nostalgic aesthetic translated to ramshackle North Beach apartments and sophomoric, filthy-mouthed literary heroes. Not so much fun: the overly literal animation chosen by the directors (famed documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman). Yes, parts of “Howl,” the poem, are animated — unfortunately in a style that calls to mind bad 1980s French Canadian pseudospiritual arthouse schlock. Still, this brief slice of beats is juicy, confined to the trial and the tale of Ginsberg’s poetic and sexual awakening. James Franco is wonderful as the young, self-obsessed, epically needy yet still irresistible crank. It was the first time I found myself wishing to see more of Ginsberg naked. June 27, 7:30 p.m., Castro. (Marke B.)


June 17–27, most shows $8–$15

Castro, 429 Castro, SF; Roxie, 3117 16th St., SF; Victoria, 2961 16th St, SF; Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 2966 College, Berk.


Can the ban



SUPER EGO Don’t blame it on the rave. You may have heard about the tragic deaths of two men, ages 23 and 25, who overdosed on ecstasy during the humongous Etd.POP 2010 party at the Cow Palace over Memorial Day weekend. (Eight other people were hospitalized.) Now state Sen. Leland Yee and San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier are calling for a ban on raves at the Cow Palace. Must this tired anti-rave misguidedness pop up again?

Here are the facts. The Etd.POP thing is an annual affair, drawing up to 16,000 people, ages 16-plus. Two people died at a similar party in 2003. According to CBS 5, 73 people, mostly from out of town, were arrested this year on drug-related charges. The promoters, Skills DJs, enforced a strict no-drug policy and even, somewhat creepily but understandably, welcomed undercover cops into the venue. They immediately made a sympathetic statement after the hospitalizations and are cooperating fully with authorities.

There’s no evidence that the adults who died took tainted drugs. According to the Chronicle, a spokesperson for SF General, where the injured were treated, said those affected “were suffering injuries consistent with someone taking drugs, dancing, and not getting enough water and of being in a hot, closed environment.” I’ve been to the Cow Palace during megaraves, and it gets hot as blazes. This year several people complained about the heat online, and even headline trance DJ Armin Van Buuren tweeted that it was “really warm.” As for water, it needed to be much more available. Skills sent me the venue map they handed out at the entrance, and it gives directions to two water fountains and two beverage vendors, all outside the main arena. Not enough, folks. The three most important words when throwing parties of any size: Free. Water. Everywhere. Yes, there’s also a danger of overhydration, but even the non-Eing can collapse in a “hot, closed environment.” If you can’t afford to give out water, then why are you flying some DJ in from Amsterdam?

Look, as a matter of personal musical taste, I’m all in favor of banning raves at the Cow Palace. And please bust dealers who target kids. But beyond that, hysterical rave-banning is bullpucky. Newsflash from 1968: some people take drugs at (more likely before) parties. These adults are responsible for their own choice. Force the Cow Palace to get better ventilation. Require promoters to hand out free water on the dance floor. But don’t deny the thousands of drug-free young kids getting together to dance — rather than, say, ethnically cleanse Uzbekistan — their opportunity to have some electronically fueled, and by now old-fashioned, fun. You can blame rave for a lot of things, but it doesn’t kill people.



Tired of disco? Unphased by wave? At last, the backlash against our dance-floor obsession with the past has begun. The LOWSF crew is dedicating this monthly to recently released bangers and jams only. Get fresh at the weekend.

Fri/18, 10 p.m., $3. Showdown, 10 Sixth St., SF. www.lowsf.com



OK, but here’s more of the past — in an irresistibly goofy vein. The delirious 1994 party returns, with revisionist fashion shows, questionable tunes, and tipsy sing-alongs aimed at a new generation of beer-goggled nostalgists. Slap bracelets!

Sat/19, 9 p.m., $10. Paradise Lounge, 1501 Folsom, SF. www.club1994.com



How can you resist? Multimedia artist Bryan Von Reuter is turning the Lab into a giant game of Tetris, projecting that old-school video game — the key to the world, really — onto the walls and letting you play, mega-style. Tunes by DJ Middle D stack the blocks.

Sat/19, 8 p.m., $5–$15. The Lab, 2948 16th Street, SF. www.thelab.org



It’s been a long time since Larry Heard, a.k.a. Mr. Fingers, helped invent the quintessential Chicago house sound — heck, he’s even based in Tennessee these days — but the soul shivers still rain down when he lets his decks do the walking.

Sat/19, 9 p.m.-4 a.m., $25. SOM, 2925 16th St., SF. www.som-bar.com




DINE When the Giants opened their new baseball stadium on China Basin 10 years ago, an improvement in ballpark food was immediately noted. You could have ahi tuna while watching Barry Bonds, and this was — at least for some, at least for a time — an ethereal combination. The ballpark even had a fancy restaurant attached, Acme Chophouse, but the shift in food culture rippled beyond the stadium proper into the surrounding blocks, which were rapidly becoming residential.

Because baseball is the core of all-Americana, it isn’t surprising that baseball-influenced food has a definite American flavor. Yes, in many ways San Francisco is the least American of American cities, and we love our ahi tuna, but we like mac ‘n’ cheese too. And no place I’ve been to lately in the environs of the baseball park more nicely captures in food this complex sense of city and country than Ironside.

The restaurant opened last autumn on Second Street, just a half-block or so from the ballpark. And if you sit at a window table on a mild evening, watching the crowd either assembling or dispersing, you have the pleasant sense of peeking in on a Fellini film: faces, body shapes, clothes, shoes, conversations, emotional fields, all drifting past like fish in a huge aquarium.

Not that the inside is hard on the eyes. It’s a handsome confection of wood, brick, glass, and stainless steel, the blending of rustic-industrial and über-urban that at its best, as here, is simultaneously minimal and warm. The look is a cozier version of nearby Zuppa’s. The food, though, is another story — a lovable hodgepodge executed with verve and presented with exuberance.

In the American grain we have the mac ‘n’ cheese ($9), made with Gruyère and (for aromatic effect) smoked cheddar cheese — just enough style to be distinctive but not so much as to become an overwrought mess. Also: meatballs ($8), in a spicy tomato sauce and presented with elegant but semi-useless points of toasted baguette. Incidentally, are meatballs American, Italian-American, Italian, or Swedish?

Salads (for me) seldom command much interest, but Ironside’s arugula salad ($10) is a modest masterpiece: a green carpet of baby leaves dotted with chunks of crispy prosciutto, ribbons of shaved fennel, spicy pecans, and sections of blood orange. The binding agent is nominally a white balsamic vinaigrette, but really it’s the lovely balance of salty, tart, sharp, and crunchy. To get the full reaction you have to be sure to get a bit of each constituent in every bite, which can be tricky.

Flammenkuchen ($10) is the German word for the Alsatian flatbread known in French as tarte flambée. I haven’t seen one of these on a local menu since the demise of mc2 in the dot-com crash of nine years ago. Ironside’s toppings — of bacon, beer-braised scallions, and crème fraïche — are pretty much the traditional ones. We liked the light, crispy crust but found that the pie as a whole needed a bit of salt, maybe because crème fraïche isn’t as salty as cheese.

Bigger plates are at greater risk for becoming dull than are their smaller siblings, probably because a main dish in our culture is usually a big chunk of flesh that tends to overwhelm everything around it. A seared filet of bluenose sea bass ($19) the size of a bar of soap is a sizable piece of protein, but at Ironside it isn’t permitted to take over the dish. In fact, it could almost be seen as an accompaniment or condiment to the large, colorful heap of shelling beans on one side of the plate and the berm of crispy kasha on the other, with a cordon of luminous carrot beurre blanc — a wonderful, simple idea — to sew things up.

Such a final saucing flourish would have helped at least one of the desserts, the brownie and banana sundae ($7), which was really more of a big — and chewy and moist — brownie flanked by banana halves and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some whipped cream, than a sundae, which, strictly speaking, would be ice-cream-centric. The drizzling of chocolate sauce seemed unequal to the task of holding all this together.

Our handsome young server could have been an extra from Milk. I hadn’t seen such evocative facial hair since those long-ago days when actual clones roamed the earth. He thanked us profusely for everything. As Joan Crawford might have put it, just whom is thanking whom here?


Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

Dinner: Tues.–Sat., 5:30–10 p.m.

680A Second St., SF

(415) 896-1127


Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible

Love streams



DANCE Dance Continuum SF’s artistic directors José Ivan Ibarra and Peter Litwinowicz danced and studied with Bay Area José Limón disciples Gary Masters and Cheryl Chaddick. Though they are their own men, the lineage shows. Limón’s weighted yet luminously airy style and his taking on of momentous topics without a whiff of irony is not much in fashion these days. So the old man would have approved when the four year-old company called its June 11-13 concert “Life, Love and Rituals.”

To a contemporary viewer, the ability to translate emotionally resonant material into movement language that communicates clearly and simply is refreshing. No wonder Continuum has attracted a group of beautifully trained dancers who seem to thrive in this capacious environment. They are, in addition to the choreographers: Blane Ashby, Kyla Farrow, Heather Glabe, Lindsay Shapiro, and Jennifer Wright.

The ambitious program featured five world premieres. Of the two choreographers, Ibarra has the more theatrical bent. Sometimes his movement language can look a little facile, but it doesn’t unduly undermine his expressive intent; Ibarra creates solid dramatic structures. With the dark Picasso Blue, he turns commedia dell’arte inside out. Starting out lightheartedly, he tightens the screws until Harlequin’s (Ibarra) heart is broken; Columbina has gone mad; and Pantalone (Ashby), the old fool, turns out to be a devilish manipulator. The puppetry’s mechanism is awkwardly conceived and the double duets looked unbalanced. Still, despite the oddly chosen Brahms quartet, my heart wound up in my throat.

In the trio Love Shirley, Ibarra’s lover/pimp character gets his comeuppance from Farrow and Glabe’s entertainers/hookers. The piece’s ambivalent relationships strike a note of disease. But even as you root for the women, it’s disconcerting to watch how Ibarra evokes the insidiousness of shifts in power. It makes you sit up.

Perhaps the lyrics in the finely crafted Café o Canela anchor its three sections too literally, but the piece plausibly portrays a disintegrating relationship. Listening to Ashby’s icy self involvement, after having watched Farrow’s plangently but strongly danced solo about marital loneliness, is chilling. The two call up the memory of a perfect love (Ibarra and Glabe in Mexican costumes) observed on their honeymoon. The lovey-dovey duet looks charming, but also like a saccharine projection of “native” life. In the climactic tango-inspired duet, Ashby and Farrow elastically drift and float until they finally cut the thread.

Litwinowicz’ two premieres, Rituals and Lonely, but not always alone make their own statements about what it means to be alive. In the simple but pristine Rituals (Farrow, Glabe, and Shapiro) different-colored scarves suggest the time passing of time and changed circumstances. Their fluid usage also evoke continuity within familiarity. Making excellent use of stage space, the dancers’ dissolving and reconfigured unisons, gentle canons and the periodic solos flow on top of a bed of constancy of, at the very least, purpose.

Lonely is one of the best dance/video works I can remember. The two media interlock tightly yet with flourish. Dancers on stage lusciously express — and sometimes shape — the thoughts and dreams of their video counterparts until Glabe reverses direction. Individually, in its distinct episodes and as an accumulation, Lonely convinces because it is smart, funny, and poignant.

True grit



FILM Winter’s Bone has already won awards at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival, but it’s the kind of downbeat, low-key, quiet film that may elude larger audiences (and, as these things go, Oscar voters). Like Andrea Arnold’s recent Fish Tank, it tells the story of a teenage girl who draws on unlikely reserves of toughness to navigate an unstable family life amid less-than-ideal economic circumstances. And it’s also directed by a woman: Debra Granik, whose previous feature, 2004’s Down to the Bone, starred Vera Farmiga (2009’s Up in the Air) as a checkout clerk trying to balance two kids and a secret coke habit.

Drugs also figure into the plot of the harrowing Winter’s Bone, though its protagonist, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), is faced with a different set of circumstances: her meth head father has jumped bail, leaving the family’s humble mountain home as collateral; the two kids at stake are her younger siblings. With no resources other than her own tenacity, Ree strikes out into her rural Missouri community, seeking information from relatives who clearly know where her father is — but ain’t sayin’ a word.

It’s a journey fraught with menace, shot with an eye for near-documentary realism and an appreciation for slow-burn suspense. Who says American independent film is dead? I spoke with Granik and Lawrence when they were in San Francisco before the local premiere of Winter’s Bone at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

SFBG How did you two come together?

Jennifer Lawrence I read the script, and it was the best female role I’d ever seen, and such a good movie. I basically wouldn’t let them not hire me. I was in L.A. — that’s where I auditioned — and then when I heard they were auditioning girls in New York, I flew to New York like a psycho.

Debra Granik She didn’t act like a psycho, but she did have one thing going for her: she came off a red-eye.

JL I did not look glamorous!

DG In my mind I was like, “That’s so right on.” In American filmmaking, the expectations of physical perfection can sometimes be almost a jail cell, if you will. And it can be the one thing that makes a character not believable. Everything about them is shouting, “This couldn’t be your life experience!” So it’s something actors really have to make a commitment to, and be open to that. And not everybody is.

SFBG Winter’s Bone depicts the Ozarks as an extremely closed-off world, even for a character who is born into it. How did you get access?

DG It took a lot of brick-building to get there, and a lot of repeat visits. It took having people read the novel [by Daniel Woodrell]. We had certain proposals: “This is what we’d like to do. Your property has these houses on it. It could really populate Ree’s world, but please read this book and know what it’s about.” Over time, and with the help of a man from the local community, that dialogue continued — we needed someone local, absolutely, to make the discussion meaningful and honest between everybody.

SFBG The supporting cast includes known faces like Deadwood‘s John Hawkes, who plays Ree’s unstable uncle, but also several amateur actors. How was it working with them?

JL I love it. They’re very natural. They’re not straining to think, “What should I say next?” I thought they were terrific. I thought they were better than I was.

SFBG Popular culture loves to portray backwoods folks as banjo-picking hicks, but Winter’s Bone avoids stereotypes. What was your approach?

DG The first thing that comes to mind — the overarching concept — is the word “and.” Ree Dolly can have a chemically dependent uncle who’s a big problem, and he has some very intense loyalties to the family in his own gnarly, difficult, convoluted, tragic way. [The film isn’t trying to] make an ethical or puritanical judgment on drug taking or anything. This has left her in a very raw and difficult position, and she’s got really intense family values of her own. She cares about her two siblings. So I think people recognize the and. That’s our hope — that audiences will vibe off the and of the whole thing.

WINTER’S BONE opens Fri/18 in Bay Area theaters.

Tale of two landfills



Everyone should make a pilgrimage to the landfill where their city’s garbage is buried. For San Francisco residents to really understand the current trash situation — and its related issues of transportation, environmental justice, greenhouse gas reduction, corporate contracting, and pursuing a zero waste goal — that means taking two trips.

The first is a relatively short trek to Waste Management’s Altamont landfill in the arid hills near Livermore, which is where San Francisco’s trash has been taken for three decades. The next is a far longer journey to the Ostrom Road landfill near Wheatland in Yuba County, a facility owned by Recology (formerly NorCal Waste Systems, San Francisco’s longtime trash collector) on the fertile eastern edge of the Sacramento Valley, where officials want to dispose of the city’s trash starting in 2015.

Both these facilities looked well managed, despite their different geographical settings, proving that engineers can place a landfill just about anywhere. But landfills are sobering reminders of the unintended consequences of our discarded stuff. Plastic bags are carried off by the wind before anyone can catch them. Gulls and crows circle above the massive piles of trash, searching for food scraps. And the air reeks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is second only to carbon dioxide as a manmade cause of global warming.

It’s also a reminder of a fact most San Franciscans don’t think much about: The city exports mountains of garage into somebody else’s backyard. While residents have gone a long way to reduce the waste stream as city officials pursue an ambitious strategy of zero waste by 2020, we’re still trucking 1,800 tons of garbage out of San Francisco every day. And now we’re preparing to triple the distance that trash travels, a prospect some Yuba County residents find troubling.

“The mayor of San Francisco is encouraging us to be a green city by growing veggies, raising wonderful urban gardens, composting green waste and food and restaurant scraps,” Irene Creps, a San Franciscan who owns a ranch in Wheatland, told us. “So why is he trying to dump San Francisco’s trash in a beautiful rural area?”

Behind that question is a complicated battle with two of the country’s largest private waste management companies bidding for a lucrative contract to pile San Francisco’s trash into big mountains of landfill far from where it was created. This is big and dirty business, one San Francisco has long chosen to contract out entirely, unlike most cities that at least collect their own trash.

So the impending fight over who gets to profit from San Francisco’s waste, a conflict that is already starting to get messy, could illuminate the darker side of our throwaway culture and how it is still falling short of our most wishful rhetoric.



The recent recommendation by a city committee to leave the Altamont landfill and turn almost all the city’s waste functions — collection, sorting, recycling, and disposal — over to Recology (see “Trash talk,” 3/30) angered Waste Management as well as some environmentalists and Yuba County residents.

WM claimed the contract selection process had been marred by fraud and favoritism, and members of YUGAG( Yuba Group Against Garbage) charged that sending our trash on a train through seven counties will affect regional air quality and greenhouse gas emissions and target a poor rural community. Observers also want details such as whether San Francisco taxpayers will have to pay for a new rail spur and a processing facility for organic matter.

Mark Westlund of the Department of Environment told the Guardian that negotiations between the city and Recology are continuing and the contract bids remain under seal. “Hopefully they’ll be concluded in the near future,” Westlund said. “I can’t pinpoint an exact date because the deal is still being fleshed out, but some time this summer.”

Under the tentative plan, Recology’s trucks would haul San Francisco’s trash across the Bay Bridge to Oakland, where the garbage would be loaded onto trains three times a week and hauled to Wheatland. Recology claims its proposal is better for the environment and the economy because it takes trucks off the road and removes organic matter from the waste before it reaches the landfill and turns into methane gas.

But WM officials reject the claim, noting that both facilities will convert methane to electricity, energy now used to fuel the trucks going to Altamont. The landfill produces 8.5 MW of electricity annually, some of which is converted into 4.7 million gallons of liquid natural gas used by 300 trucks. The Ostrom Road facility would produce far less methane, using it to create 1.5 MW of electricity annually.

Recology officials say removing organic matter to produce less methane is an environmental plus because much of the methane from Altamont escapes into the atmosphere and adds to global warming, although WM claims to capture 90 percent of it. Yet David Assman, deputy director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, doesn’t believe WM figures, telling us that they are “not realistic or feasible.”

State and federal environmental officials say about a quarter of the methane gas produced in landfills ends up in the atmosphere. “But they acknowledge that this is an average. Some landfills can be worse, others much better if they have a good design. And there is no company that has done as much work on this as Waste Management,” company spokesperson Chuck White told us, citing WM-sponsored studies indicating a methane capture rate as high as 92 percent. “The idea of 90 percent capture of methane is very credible if you are running a good operation.”

Ken Lewis, director of WM’s landfills, said the facility’s use of methane to cleanly power its trucks has been glossed over in the debate over this contract. “We’re just tapping into the natural carbon cycle,” Lewis told us.

But Recology spokesperson Adam Alberti (who works for Singer & Associates, San Francisco’s premier crisis communications firm) counters that it’s better to avoid producing methane in the first place because some of it escapes and adds to global warming, which Recology claims it will do by sorting the waste, in the process creating green jobs in the organics recycling and reducing the danger of the gases leaking or even exploding.

“But what has Recology done to show us that the capture rate at their Ostrom landfill is on the high side?” Lewis asks. “Folks in San Francisco say it’s not possible, but we’ve got published reports.”

Assman admits that San Francisco won’t be able to ensure that other municipalities that use Ostrom Road will be focusing on organics recycling. While questions remain about how that facility will ultimately handle a massive influx of garbage, Altamont has been housing the Bay Area’s trash for decades. And even though San Francisco’s current contract will expire by 2015, this sprawling facility nestled in remote hillsides can still handle more trash for decades to come.



Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Altamont landfill is the 30-foot-tall fence that sits on a ridge on the perimeter of the facility. It’s covered with plastic bags that have escaped the landfill and rolled like demonic tumbleweeds along what looks like a desolate moonscape.

Wind keeps the blades turning on the giant Florida Power-owned windmills that line the Altamont hills, but it also puffs plastic bags up like little balloons that take off before the bulldozers can compress them into the fill. Lewis said he bought a special machine to suck up the bags, and employs a team of workers to collect them from the buffer zone surroundinge site.

Although difficult to control or destroy, plastic bags are not a huge part of the waste volume. San Francisco has already banned most stores from using them, and the California Legislature is contemplating expanding the ban statewide in a effort to limit a waste product now adding to a giant trash heap in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

“Plastic bags are a visual shocker,” said Marc Roberts, community development director for the city of Livermore. “In that sense, they are similar to Styrofoam. It’s pretty nasty stuff, can get loose, and doesn’t break down. But they’re not a major part of the volume.”

Yet Roberts said that these emotional triggers give us a peek into the massive operations that process the neverending stream of waste that humans produce and don’t really think about that often.

“Our world is so mechanized,” Roberts observed. “Stuff disappears in middle of night, and we don’t see where it goes.”

San Francisco officials confirm that the trend of disappearing stuff in the night will continue, no matter which landfill waste disposal option the city selects.

“No matter what option, it’s going to involve some transportation to wherever,” Assman said. Currently, Recology and WM share control over San Francisco’s waste stream. But that could change if the waste disposal contract goes to Recology.

A privately-held San Francisco firm, Recology has the monopoly over San Francisco’s waste stream from curbside collection to the point when it heads to the landfill. Waste Management, a publicly-traded company that is the nation’s largest waste management operation, owns 159 of the biggest landfills in the nation, including Altamont, the seventh-largest capacity landfill in the nation.

San Francisco started sending its trash to Altamont in 1987, when it entered into a contract with Waste Management for 65 years or 15 million tons of capacity, a level expected to be hit by 2015, triggering the current debate over whether it would be better to send San Francisco’s waste on a northbound train.



Creps, 76, a retired school teacher, warns folks to watch out for rattlesnakes as she shows them around this flood-prone agricultural community.

“This is an ancient sea terrace, and now it’s fertile grazing ground between creeks,” Creps said as we walked around the ranchland that Creps’ grandfather settled when he came to California in 1850. Today he lies buried here in a pioneer cemetery, along with Creps’ adopted daughter, Sophie, who was killed at age 27 after she witnessed a friend’s murder in Oakland in 2006.

Creps’ cousin, Bill Middleton, who grows walnuts on a ranch adjacent to hers, worries about the landfill’s potential impact on the groundwater. “The water table is really high here, so you’ve go a whole pond of water sitting under this thing,” Middleton said.

Wheatland’s retired postmaster, Jim Rice, recalled that when the landfill opened on Ostrom Road in the 1980s, individual cities had veto power over any expansion plans. “But Chris Chandler, who was then the Assembly member for Sutter County and is now a judge, carried a bill in legislature to do away with veto power,” Rice said.

“So we lost out and ended up with a dump,” Middleton said.

Creps believes the landfill should be for the use of local residents only. “There’s a lot of development going on around here and the population is going to grow,” she said. “But at this rate, this landfill will be used up before Yuba and the surrounding counties can use it. And that’s not fair. They think they can get a foothold in places off the beaten path.”

Yet not everyone in Yuba County hates San Francisco’s Ostrom Road plan. On June 7, the Yuba-Sutter Economic Development Corporation backed Recology’s plan to build a rail spur to cover the 100 yards from the Union Pacific line to the landfill site.

EDC’s Brynda Stranix said the garbage deal is still subject to approval by San Francisco officials, but will bring needed money to the county. “The landfill is already permitted to take up to 3,000 tons of garbage a day and it’s taking in about 800 tons a day now,” Stranix said.

If the deal goes through, it would triple the current volume at the landfill, entitling Yuba County to $22 million in host fees over 10 years.

Recology’s Phil Graham clarified that Ostrom Road is considered a regional landfill, one that has already grown to 100 feet above sea level and is permitted to rise another 165 feet into the air. “So even with the waste stream from San Francisco,” he said, “we’ll still be operating well under the tonnage limits.”

“The world has changed. Federal regulations come in, and landfill operations change,” Recology’s Alberti said as we toured the site. “And there really are no longer any local landfills. This one is already operating, accepting regional waste.”

He claimed that Livermore residents had similar concerns to those now expressed in Yuba County when San Francisco’s waste started going to Altamont. Livermore and Sierra Club brought a lawsuit around plans to expand the dump, a suit that forced WM to create an $10 million open space fund.

Alberti said he understands that people like Creps are concerned. “But we are not seeking an expansion. The only thing we are asking for is a rail track.

“From our point of view it’s simple,” he continued. “We have the facility; Ostrom Road is close to rail; and it’s not open to the public. So it’s a tightly contained working area.”

Graham, the facility’s manager, also dismissed concerns that the landfill might harm the groundwater or the health of the local environment. “A lot of people don’t know how highly regulated we are,” he said. “That’s why we are having public meetings. Our compass is out in the community. These are people we work and live with.”

Alberti said YUGAG and other opponents of the landfill aren’t numerous. “If we draw the circle wider to the two-county area, how many people even know a landfill is operating here?”

Graham takes that as a testament to how well the facility is operated. “I consider that a compliment. Obviously, we weren’t causing any problems.”



Those who run both landfills say they recognize that their industry’s heyday is over, and that the future will bring a more complicated system that sends steadily less trash to the landfills.

“Eventually we will be all out of business,” Alberti predicted. “One reason we changed our name was knowing that landfills are not sustainable. And that’s a significant difference. Waste Management is the largest landfill owner in the world. Recology is a recycling company that owns a few landfills and, for that reason, does innovative things like the food scraps program.”

But the company with the new green name has traditionally been a powerhouse in San Francisco’s trash industry, becoming a well-entrenched monopoly after buying out two local competitors — Sunset Scavenger and Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling — a triad that has long held exclusive rights over the city’s waste.

The 1932 Refuse Collection and Disposal Ordinance gave the company now calling itself Recology a rare and enviably monopoly on curbside collection, one that had no expiration date and would be difficult to change. “So legally, it’s not an option,” Assman said.

Retired Judge Quentin Kopp, a former member of the Board of Supervisors and California Legislature, got involved in an unsuccessful effort to break Recology’s curbside monopoly in the 1990s when the company then known as NorCal Waste asked for another rate increase. But he found the contractual structure to be almost impossible to break.

“The DPW director examines all the allowable elements and makes recommendations to the Rate Board,” Kopp said. “And the Rate Board consists of three people: the chief administrative officer, the controller, and the general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.”

SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington says Recology’s curbside monopoly is unusual compared to other places, but it also makes the company a strong contender to the landfill contract. “It comes down to economies of scale. If you don’t have a contract with a facility that does recycling or waste disposal, you can collect the garbage, but where are you going to take it?”

Harrington said the situation was better before Recology purchased Sunset Scavenger, which mostly handled residential garbage, and Golden Gate, which mostly handled commercial garbage. Today, he said, the city has little control over commercial garbage rates or Recology’s overall finances. “That made it more difficult, and we only set the rate of residential garbage collection,” Harrington observed. “They have never come before the rate appeal board over commercial rates. I have asked who subsidizes whom, the commercial or the residential, and they say they think the commercial. But we have no ability to govern or manage those rates.”

WM’s Skolnick said a positive outcome of the current contract negotiations would be to break Recology’s monopoly on curbside collection. “We have to work to keep our business. That’s the competitive process. But we have a competitor that can encroach into our area even though we can’t encroach on San Francisco. And they claim to have one of the most competitive rates in the country — but try getting those numbers,” he said.

WM’s David Tucker added: “We’d like if San Francisco jumped into the 21st century and had a competitive bid process.”



The battle between WM’s local landfill option and Recology’s plan for a longer haul but with more diversion of organic materials is complicated, so much so that the local Sierra Club chapter has yet to take a position.

Glen Kirby of the Sierra Club’s Alameda County chapter told the Guardian that the Sierra Club’s East Bay, San Francisco, and Yuba chapters are taking a “wait and see what becomes public next” stance for now. But insiders say the club’s national position is against landfill gas conversion projects like that at Altamont, possibly favoring Recology’s bid.

Recology proponents claim the Sierra Club didn’t initially oppose landfill gas conversions because its members in the East Bay benefit from an open space fund that WM pays into as mitigation for a 1980 expansion at the Altamont. And Alberti claimed that WM’s analysis of greenhouse gas emissions from the competing waste transportation plans was flawed.

“Their calculation is a shell game. And it relies on Recology using diesel when we are using green biodiesel trains. This is not your grandfather’s train any more. One train equals 200 trucks,” Alberti said.

But WM’s Lewis defends the company’s analysis, which showed Recology’s bid to be worse for greenhouse gas emissions than WM’s.

“Landfill gas is a byproduct of an existing system,” Lewis said, noting that 43 percent of the trash buried at Altamont comes from San Francisco. The implication is that a large part of the methane in the landfill comes from — and benefits — San Francisco.

“We are delivering waste products that contain organics,” he said. “We realized that we could flare methane [to burn it up] or produce electricity. California has very aggressive landfill gas requirements, and the collection rates are relatively good at most sites. But once you’ve collected it, what to do? Historically, they flared the gas. Twenty years ago, there was not a lot of technology to allow anything else.”

Lewis says WM began producing electricity from the gas in 1987. “What we do in the future is decoupled from what was giving us the methane in the past,” he said. “Today we are managing what was brought here 15-20 years ago. It’s your hamburger, cardboard, and paper that has been sitting up there since 1998. We’re doing something good with something that we used to flare.”

“If Altamont was closed today, the gas yield coming off it would be enough to produce 10,000 gallons a day for the next 25 years,” WM’s Bay Area president Barry Skolnick interjected.

And Lewis observed that if you take organics out of the waste stream, as Recology proposes, that matter has value, whether in a digester to produce energy or a composting operation. That complicates the comparison of the two bids.

“We agree that if you can get that waste out in a clean form, that’s a good thing,” Lewis said. “But composting is a very highly polluting approach. In the process of degrading, it gives off a lot of volatiles and carbon dioxide. So air districts have not traditionally been very positive on sitting aerobic composting facilities.”



The contract that San Francisco has tentatively awarded to Recology is for 5 million tons or 10 years, whichever comes sooner. As such, it’s a much smaller contract than the city’s 1987 contract with WM, mostly because the future is uncertain.

But trucks will remain a part of the equation. Recology is proposing to continue driving 92 truckloads of garbage over the Bay Bridge per day, possibly to keep the Teamsters happy, frustrating transportation advocates who believe direct rail haul or barges across the bay would be greener options.

In December 2009, Mayor Gavin Newsom and Bob Morales, director of the Teamsters Union Waste Division, cowrote an op-ed in the Sunday Sacramento Bee, in which they argued the case for increased recycling and composting as a “zero waste” strategy for California and as a way to generate green jobs and reduce global warming.

“Equally important for the future of our green economy is that recycling and composting mean jobs,” Newsom and Morales wrote. “The Institute for Local Self-Reliance reports that every additional 10,000 tons recycled translates into 10 new frontline jobs and 25 new jobs in recycling-based manufacturing.”

Newsom and Morales clarified that they do not support waste-to-energy or landfilling as part of their zero waste vision.

“It makes no sense to burn materials or put them in a hole in the ground when these same materials can be turned into the products and jobs of the future,” they stated.

Yet WM’s Skolnick sees a certain hypocrisy in San Francisco turning its back on the methane gas that its garbage helped create at Altamont over the past three decades. “Here’s a very progressive city, and we want to take their waste from the last 30 years and use gas from it to fuel their trucks,” he said. “But they want to haul waste three times as far to Wheatland. What does that say about San Francisco’s mission to become the greenest city?”

David Pilpel, a political activist who has followed the contract, agreed that San Francisco officials can’t simply walk away from Altamont and call it a green move, but he would like to see the city use rail rather than trucks. “Instead of putting stuff on long-haul trucks, put it on a rail gondola and haul it around the peninsula to Livermore,” he said. “The Altamont expansion was for San Francisco’s purposes. So to say now, ‘We’ll go elsewhere,’ is lame.”

Sally Brown, a research associate professor at the University of Washington, acknowledges that landfills have done a great job of giving us places to dump our stuff and can be skillfully engineered to release less methane and capture more productive biogases.

“However, we are entering a new era where resources are limited and carbon is king,” Brown wrote in the May 2010 edition of Biocycle magazine. “In this new era, dumping stuff may cease to be an option because that stuff has value. and that value can be efficiently extracted for costs that are comparable to or lower than the costs — both environmental and monetary — associated with dumping.”

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on the contract later this year, deciding whether to validate the Department of the Environment’s choice of Recology or go with WM. Either way, lawsuits are likely to follow.

Voters are pissed


By Guardian News Staff


After spending more than $70 million, two big corporations failed to convince Californians to vote their way. After spending nearly $70 million, the former head of a big corporation easily convinced Californians to vote her way. And that outcome is not as schizophrenic as it sounds.

On one level, the outcome of the June 8 election was a sign of the anti-corporate anger seething through the California electorate. “BP, Goldman Sachs, PG&E — anything that seems connected to a big corporation is in serious trouble right now,” one political insider, who asked not to be named, told us.

Yet two candidates who were very much corporate icons — Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina — won handily in the Republican primaries and now have a real chance to become the state’s next governor and junior senator. What’s happening? It’s fascinating. The voters in the nation’s most populous state are pissed off — at big business, at government, at the oil spill, at 10 percent unemployment, at Washington, at Sacramento, at Wall Street. It’s an unsettled electorate, uncertain about its future and looking for something new, and definitely despising power.

There’s a populist fervor out there, and it’s going to define this fall’s expensive, dirty, and high-stakes battle for California’s future.



Addressing a crowd of supporters gathered at Yoshi’s San Francisco on election night, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom — who easily beat opponent Janice Hahn to claim the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor — said he was excited to be part of a crucial political year for the Golden State.

“We’re very proud to be in a position to be the Democratic nominee and to work with the other Democratic nominees,” Newsom told supporters. He lavished praise on the Democratic nominee for governor, Jerry Brown — the man who just last year he was trying to beat in a primary — telling stories about his father’s long relationship with the former governor and expressing his admiration. “I couldn’t be more proud to quasi- be on a ticket with Jerry Brown,” he said.

The race for lieutenant governor may prove one of the most interesting this election season — and not just because a victory for Newsom would transform San Francisco politics. Newsom’s opponent is Abel Maldonado, a moderate Republican who enjoys popularity among the growing, influential Latino community, and who Newsom’s team said will be a formidable challenge.

The campaign could revolve around an intriguing question. At a time when the Republican Party has been taken over by virulent anti-immigrant politicians — Whitman and Fiorina have both made harsh statements about illegal immigrants and vowed never to support “amnesty” (that is, immigration reform) — will Latino voters go for a white Democrat over a Latino Republican?

“You talk to them about all the same issues you talk to all voters about: jobs, education, and health care,” Newsom political strategist Dan Newman said when asked whether Newsom could win over Latino voters. “Latinos, like all voters, will appreciate someone with a proven record of success.”

Pollster Ben Tulchin also downplayed the trouble Newsom could encounter in winning the Latino vote. “With what’s going on in Arizona, they are very wary of Republicans,” Tulchin said, but then added: “We don’t want to underestimate the challenge we have. There’s never been a moderate Latino on the statewide ballot.”

Newsom sounded another alarm. If Whitman decides to help Maldonado, the race will get even tougher. “We’re running against Meg Whitman’s checkbook,” the mayor said.

“Expect to see Meg and Abel together a whole lot in the next few months,” one consultant predicted.

If Newsom wins, San Francisco will get a new mayor a year early — and the district-elected Board of Supervisors will choose the person to fill out the last year of Newsom’s term. Technically, the current board will still be in office then, but the task may well fall to the next board — which makes the local November elections even more important.

“Everyone is gaming this out and trying to figure out what happens,” political consultant Alex Clemens said during a post-election wrap-up at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association office. “There will be a lot of dominoes to fall and deals to be cut.”

Meanwhile, Newsom’s nomination for lieutenant governor places many San Franciscans in an uncomfortable position, one that was illustrated well by Newsom’s victory speech, in which he proudly rejected taxes. Although most San Francisco progressives are disenchanted with their fiscally conservative mayor, few would rather vote for Maldonado.

Tim Paulson, the SF Labor Council president, was at the Newsom event gritting his teeth as he talked about the opportunity progressives now have to work with “a mayor of San Francisco we have issues with.” Now, he noted, “There is going to be a real campaign around this man. It could establish a narrative for what California is about.”



At Delancey Street on election night, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris talked about getting “tough and smart on crime,” addressing gang-related criminal activity but also focusing on corporate criminals. She talked about cracking down on predatory lenders, supporting health care reform, and protecting California’s environment. And she made a point of dragging in BP.

“It must be the work of the next attorney general to ensure that the disaster and tragedy that happened in the Gulf of Mexico never happens in California,” she said, warning of attacks on AB 32, which set California’s 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal into law in 2006.

Of course, Harris now has to take on her southern counterpart, Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley, who is a moderate but comes in with much stronger law enforcement support. If Harris wins, it will go a long way to prove that opposition to the death penalty isn’t fatal in California politics, and that voters are finally ready for a women of color as the top law enforcement official — a first in state history.

But she and Newsom will both have to overcome likely attacks for the San Francisco’s crime lab scandal, one of many hits to be magnified by the size of Whitman’s war chest.

Whitman, who trounced opponent Steve Poizner in the primary, is riding the crest of a new wave of Republican-style “feminism,” starring her, Fiorina, and Fox news pundit Sarah Palin as female champions of the right-wing agenda. A few short months ago, it looked as if Brown was in serious trouble. But that was before Whitman and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner got into an $85 million bloodbath that left the winner of the GOP primary badly wounded. Whitman wants to play off the populist uprising by portraying herself as an outsider running against a career politician; Poizner gave her a huge scare by hammering her ties to Goldman Sachs.

That Wall Street narrative is one Democrats will push against Whitman and Fiorina. “I think it is stunningly politically tone deaf to nominate two Wall Street CEOs to the top of the ticket,” Newman said. Voters will decide whether they are fresh voices with new ideas or corporate hacks who laid off Californians and made fortunes with dubious stock market deals.

Brown leads in the polls — narrowly — but he’s vulnerable. He’s taken so many stands over so many years and Whitman’s fortune will hammer any openings they see. Brown is only slowly getting into campaign mode, but it’s no secret what he has to do. If the campaign is about Jerry Brown, unconventional politician, against Meg Whitman, Wall Street darling, then he wins.

But to take advantage of that, Brown has to offer some concrete solutions to the state’s problems — and he has to start acting like the progressive he once was. “If I were him, I’d run hard to the left,” a consultant who isn’t involved in any of the gubernatorial campaigns said.

The conventional wisdom had Barbara Boxer in trouble, too — but she’s a savvy campaigner who has beaten the odds before. And while the senator appears ripe for attack — almost 30 years in Washington, a voting record perhaps a bit more liberal than the state as a whole — her opponent, Fiorina, has baggage too.

For starters, Fiorina’s entire pitch is that she — like Whitman — would bring business-world savvy to politics. But as CEO of HP, “she was about perks and pink slips,” Newman said. “She laid off Californians and shipped those jobs overseas while enriching herself.”

Her own primary pushed her far to the right (at one point, in an embarrassing sop to the National Rifle Association, she actually argued that suspected terrorists on the federal no-fly list should be able to buy handguns). And speaking of feminist values, her anti-abortion positions won’t help her in a decidedly pro-choice state.



The defeat of Proposition 16 will go down in history as one of the most remarkable campaigns ever. It was, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi noted, “a righteous win:” The No on 16 campaign spent less than $100,000 and still captured 52 percent of the vote. Another narrow corporate-interest measure, Mercury Insurance’s Prop. 17, faced a similar fate.

One reason: PG&E’s $50 million campaign backfired, making voters suspicious of the company’s propaganda. Another: it lost overwhelmingly in its own service area, the company rejected by those who know it best.

Now PG&E CEO Peter Darbee, who pushed to mount the expensive campaign, must return to his shareholders empty-handed — and that’s going to cause problems. “I assume the leadership of PG&E will be called to task,” Clemens said. “They truly rolled the dice.”

The day after the election, PG&E shares dropped 2.2 percent, a possible sign of shaken investor confidence. Mindy Spatt of the Utility Reform Network (TURN), a nonprofit that worked on the No on 16 effort, described the situation succinctly. “Peter Darbee’s got egg on his face,” she said. “Big-time.”

Mirkarimi has witnessed other battles with PG&E, and said this probably wouldn’t be the last. “PG&E, every time we want to have a seat at the table, tries to take us out, like assassins,” he said. “If they were smart, they would take us up on what we asked many years ago, and that is to abide by peaceful coexistence.”

On the statewide level, the bold and expensive deceptions pushed by PG&E and Mercury Insurance were countered by only a handful of super-committed activists and a broad cross-section of newspaper editorials, a reminder that newspapers — battered by the economy and technological changes — are neither dead nor irrelevant.

One of the wild cards of the election was Prop. 14, which will eliminate party primaries for state offices — and potentially shake up the state’s entire political structure. “This is a big deal even if we don’t know how it’s going to play out,” consultant David Latterman said at the SPUR event.

Interestingly, the only two counties that voted No on 14 were the most progressive — San Francisco — and the most conservative, Orange.

Progressives did well in San Francisco, expanding their majority on the Democratic County Central Committee. “In an environment where it was about hundreds of millions of dollars from PG&E and Meg Whitman and Chris Kelly outspending us, we showed that San Francisco is San Francisco and we support San Francisco values,” DCCC chair Aaron Peskin told us.

Money used to define the debates in San Francisco, but the dominant narratives are now being written by the coalition of tenants, environmentalists, workers, social justice advocates, and others who backed a progressive slate of DCCC candidates, which took 18 of the 24 seats on a body that makes policy and funding decisions for the local Democratic Party.

“This time it was the coalition that really made the difference,” DCCC winner Michael Bornstein said on election night. “Frankly, our people worked harder.”

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu agreed, telling us, “For the Central Committee, the message is people power wins.”

The lesson from this election is that people are starting to get wise to corporate deceptions. And they’re realizing that with hard work and smart coalition-building, the people can still prevail.

Steven T. Jones, Rebecca Bowe, Sarah Phelan, and Tim Redmond contributed to this report.


Us vs. SF Weekly: the next step



The California Court of Appeal heard oral arguments on the Guardian’s lawsuit against SF Weekly and its chain parent June 11, and the discussion focused almost entirely on the Weekly’s assertion that it’s too easy to prove predatory pricing under California’s Unfair Practices Act.

Justices James J. Marchiano, Sandra L. Margulies, and Robert L. Dondero peppered the Weekly’s lawyer, Dennis Maio, with questions as he attempted to argue that state law needed to be brought in line with federal standards.

The Unfair Practices Act bars companies from selling products below costs with the aim of harming a competitor. The Guardian sued the Weekly and its parent company, New Times, under that statute, claiming that the chain had deliberately sold ads below cost with the aim of driving a smaller, locally-owned competitor out of business.

In March 2008, a San Francisco jury found in favor of the Guardian and awarded more than $6 million in damages. Judge Marla Miller trebled some of the damages, and with attorney’s fees and interest, the judgment is now close to $23 million.

Maio argued that the intent of the law was to protect consumers, and that below-cost sales are often beneficial. “Low prices are good,” he said. “Below-cost prices are even better, because they’re cheaper.” He compared the Village Voice Media chain, which owns SF Weekly, to Costco, suggesting that the justices might shop there for better prices.

The thrust of Maio’s claim — and the heart of the Weekly’s appeal — is the argument that the Weekly shouldn’t have been held liable for predatory pricing unless the Guardian could prove that the chain would be able to recoup its losses after its competitor was gone. The federal courts have adopted that approach — and the result has been the effective end of predatory pricing suits in federal court.

But there’s nothing in California law that requires so-called “recoupment” proof, and the justices focused on that in their questions to Maio.

Maio argued that antitrust law was all about protecting consumers, and that the only danger of below-cost sales is if they lead to higher prices later, when a monopoly company has driven away competitors. “Causing a competitor to lose money isn’t a violation,” he said. “The purpose of the statute is to protect the public.”

Under questioning, Milo admitted that there’s no mention of recoupment in the Unfair Practices Act, and no discussion of it in the legislative history.

In a somewhat bizarre diversion, Maio tried to argue that the UPA had anti-Semitic roots because it could have been devised to hurt Jewish-owned chain stores. Then he compared below-cost pricing to pro bono legal work — although it’s hard to make any rational argument that SF Weekly owners were attempting to do a charitable act by putting the Guardian out of business.

Ralph Alldredge argued the Guardian’s case. “This is,” he said, “a plain and simple matter of statutory interpretation.

“This is black-letter law,” Alldredge continued. “You can’t take the preamble to a law and use it to add things that aren’t there — especially to add things that are completely inconsistent with the terms of the statute.”

When Dondero asked why there are so few cases under the California Unfair Practices Act, Alldredge explained that until 1987, federal antitrust law took the same approach as the state, so most cases went to federal court. The federal judges added the recoupment standard — “and essentially closed the door to these cases,” Alldredge said.

“And that’s what they’re asking this court to do.”

Alldredge pointed to a number of cases where state antitrust law goes beyond federal law. He also said that the standard or proving below-cost sales and intent to harm a competitor has been tested in other cases “and the Unfair Practices Act has sailed through all those tests.”

Maio then tried to bring up the issue of whether New Times, now part of Village Voice Media, could be held liable for the actions of the Weekly, but the justices cut him off, saying they’d already read all the relevant briefs and testimony.

A ruling is expected in several weeks.

VVM’s Executive Associate Editor Andy Van De Voorde, whose coverage of the trial has been nasty, bitter, and personal, took a remarkably muted approach to the Court of Appeal hearing. The Chronicle’s Bob Egelko turned in a typically clean, accurate account of the proceedings.

Editor’s Notes



I went through the house the other day and sorted out all the old toys my kids never play with any more. They’re 8 and 11 now, so they’ve outgrown a lot of stuff. Some of it went to Goodwill, some of it went to friends who have younger children, some of it went out on the sidewalk with a “free” sign — and still, there was a pile left over.

Broken plastic. Shit nobody wants. Can’t be recycled. It went in the trash.

And now, as Sarah Phelan reports in this issue, it’s probably sitting in a landfill across the bay, taking up space and waiting a couple thousand years until it becomes the archeological remnants of our civilization. Stuff from the ancient world is valuable because it’s fragile, and there’s not much left; our society is leaving an excellent record. That plastic will never decompose.

And now two private companies are fighting for the right to pile up my trash in a landfill, either at Altamont or in Yuba County. It’s a high-stakes battle; there’s a lot of money in garbage. And it’s a little disturbing to realize that in San Francisco, the entire process of collecting, recycling, composting, and dumping our solid waste stream is controlled by private companies.

What if we actually succeed in reducing our waste stream to zero? What if we reach the point where we’re buying less, tossing less, reducing the 1,800 tons of crap that flows into landfills from SF every day? Isn’t that what we ought to be doing? And what interest does a private landfill owner, who makes money from my kids’ broken toys, have in seeing the flow of detritus — and thus the flow of money — cut off?

I’m not arguing that we municipalize the trash system (not today, anyway; let’s do electric power, cable TV, and Internet first). But while she was working on the story, Phelan kept telling me that the city ought to look at keeping all the trash in town. If you could see that horrible mountain of crap right out your window, maybe you wouldn’t throw so much of it away.

She was kidding, of course. Sort of.

PG&E’s greed backfires


EDITORIAL The single most important number to come out of San Francisco on election night was this: 67.49 percent. That’s how many people in this city voted against Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s monopoly measure, Proposition 16. It’s a statistic that ought to be posted somewhere on a wall at City Hall to remind everyone in local government that the voters sided overwhelmingly against PG&E and in favor of a public option for local electricity.

It’s a landmark victory. On the state level, the defeat of Prop. 16 showed that unlimited corporate spending on a ballot initiative doesn’t guarantee victory, that an underfunded coalition can defeat a giant utility — and that a majority of those in PG&E’s own service area are unhappy with their electricity provider. Public power activists all over the state should take this as a signal that PG&E, and its once-formidable political clout, are on the wane.

In San Francisco — the only city in the nation with a legal mandate for public power — the vote was the most lopsided of any California county. It was the strongest local mandate for public power since the passage of the Raker Act in 1913.

That should be a huge boost for the city’s community choice aggregation (CCA) program. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who has been leading the fight for CCA, was pushing hard to get a contract signed before the June 8 vote; like a lot of observers, he feared that PG&E’s vast war chest would overwhelm the opposition. But now that Prop. 16 is dead — and nothing like it will be back in the near future, if at all — the city has a bit of a breather.

That doesn’t mean all work on the contract should slow down. The San Francisco PUC has been mucking around with this deal for more than a year, and needs to bring it to a close. And the city needs to start preparing to answer PG&E’s propaganda campaign with a concerted effort — from the mayor’s office on down — to remind San Franciscans that CCA power will be greener, safer, and in the long run, cheaper than the energy we’re now forced to buy from PG&E.

Any San Francisco politician who stands with PG&E and opposes CCA will do so at his or her peril.

And while San Francisco is moving to implement a modest public power program, state Sen. Mark Leno is moving in Sacramento to limit PG&E’s ability to try another Prop. 16 move — or to spend tens of millions of dollars trying to block local power initiatives. Leno has introduced a bill that would limit the utility’s ability to use ratepayer money on political or public relations campaigns.

The measure doesn’t have a number yet, but the language is brilliant. It directs the California Public Utilities Commission to disallow any political spending that PG&E tries to add into its regulated rates. And since the company has no source of income other that the money it gets from ratepayers, the impact would be to deny PG&E the ability to spend money working against the interests of ratepayers and the public.

"Over the past 10 years, PG&E has probably spent $150 million on political campaigns — and that’s money that came from the ratepayers," Leno said. "This bill is to protect ratepayers."

PG&E will howl about its First Amendment rights — and, indeed, the Supreme Court has of late given corporations who want to influence political campaigns and legislative issues a good bit of leeway. But the fact remains that PG&E is a regulated utility in California, and the state has every right to determine how much the company can charge its customers and to limit how that money is used.

Leno’s bill, of course, could radically change local politics. If PG&E couldn’t spend millions to defeat public power measures, the city would have far more options — and activists should be thinking about how a future campaign to take over the company’s infrastructure might work.

The Board of Supervisors should pass a resolution endorsing Leno’s bill, and the coalition that worked to defeat Prop. 16 should be working to get other cities and counties around the state to sign on.

PG&E’s greed in putting Prop. 16 on the ballot is starting to backfire — and it can’t happen too soon.

All is bacon



CHEAP EATS I had lunch with my agent, and then we talked all afternoon and wound up going to a party together. One interesting thing is that I don’t have an agent. I haven’t had an agent since the early ’90s.

"Write a novel. Write a novel. Write a novel," my old ex-agent used to say, because of course she couldn’t sell my short story collection.

So I wrote a novel, and she couldn’t sell it. In fact, she didn’t try. She read my manuscript and very efficiently dropped me, I think because my main character, who was pole-vaulting over a prison wall at the time, lost her nerve and, as a result, wound up suspended in the air for days — up over the barbed wire there, like a flag. As I recall, she was attempting to break into the prison. So that might have had something to do with it.

Anyway, I have never had an agent since then. Nor have I exactly needed one, thanks to my friend who isn’t my agent, but did help me get two of my books published in exchange for steak dinners. Which … I’m not sure, come to think of it, that I wouldn’t have gotten off easier at 15 percent.

Anyanyway, in a heroic effort to remind me to write another book, she came over. She brought me four books and a really pretty bra that doesn’t fit, but looks nice hanging from a hook in my closet. And then, as if that all wasn’t inspirational enough, she took me to lunch at Limon Rotisserie.

Where, though it is by no means a downscale establishment, you can eat half of an amazing chicken with two awesome sides for under $10!! Until they see themselves in Cheap Eats and raise the prices, that is.

In the interim, this will be my new favorite restaurant.

And my secret agent lady (slash) literary yenta Sally, or Sal the Pork Chop (as I call her for short) is my new favorite person — not only for bringing me book ideas that come with an editor already attached, and bras. This chick loves pork so much she dates a cop! With a pet pig! I mean, a cop with a pet pig!

Oh, but it ain’t so simple as it sounds. Get this. Um. Well, hmm, so the pig itself is technically the police officer’s ex‘s pet. He has custody. So let me see if I can say this without scrapping my last little shred of journalistic integrity …

Yes! You know how I sometimes substitute the word bacon for anything else in life that is divine and wonderful, such as good news, an amazing time, or love itself? In which case, one’s lover might also be described (by me) as their bacon. Right? Okay then. So one way of describing the situation would be that the pig’s ex-bacon’s pig is coming between the pig and the pork chop.

Necessitating couples therapy and so forth.

So I got to hear all about that, and she got to hear all about the other thing. But before I forget about this

The rotisseried chicken at Limon, in addition to being the best bargain on the menu, is marinated in something heavenly, rubbed by pure herbal bliss, and spin-roasted to perfection. In other words, it’s bacon.

We also had the ceviche mixto, which was shrimp, calamari, and halibut, and delicious — but, to warn you, it’s a small plate for the same price as half a chicken.

For our sides we chose vegetales salteados and yuca frita — that’s the fried cassava root, and I’ve had it before elsewhere, but never as good as this. Perfectly seasoned, crunchy outside, and soft-centered. And the other one was just different-colored string beans, but it tasted like, like, different-colored bacon, or something.

I love it when something simple, like beans, makes you want to sing or write poetry and books. We were walking. There was a special police car with a big white star on it — Special Task Something Something — blocking the crosswalk.

"You don’t look special," Sal the Pork Chop sassed into the passenger cop’s open window. I just stared at the star itself, and made me a little wish. *


Sun.–Thu.: noon–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat.: noon –10:30 p.m.

1001 South Van Ness, SF

(415) 821-2134


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