Volume 44 Number 39

Ride the Iron Horse


There’s a mysterious paradox present in the fact the Golden Gate Bridge was essentially born in the pit of the Great Depression. On the one hand, this marvel of architecture and beauty stands for potential and optimism as made manifest in the dreamiest haven of California. On the other, the Golden Gate is like a metallic siren, known as a place where those who have lost contact with American life go to disappear.

In Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge (Bloomsbury Press, 224 pages, $23) the esteemed historian and state librarian emeritus Kevin Starr focuses on the positive side of the landmark, even if he notes tragedies such as the deaths of ten workers near the final days of the bridge’s construction. Starr isn’t seduced by the romantic or melancholic image of the fog-shrouded structure so much as committed to celebrate — with great acumen and an oft-oratorial voice that unites broad yet vital references in a turn of phrase — its greatness. His book is as well-ordered and constructed as its subject, with cleanly presented chapters outlining the bridge’s relationship to subjects such as politics, money, and design, saving the more ambiguous — yet also perhaps richest? — areas of suicide and art for last.

As such, Golden Gate is complimentary to Donald MacDonald and Ira Nadel’s more illustrative, text-based 2008 tome Golden Gate Bridge: History and Design of an Icon (Chronicle Books, 144 pages, $16.95), a well-designed hardcover with a cover that pays homage to the International Orange color of the bridge itself. Another recent book that pairs off and contrasts well with Scharff’s is Gary Snyder and Tom Killion’s Tamalpais Walking: Poetry, History and Prints (Heyday Books, 160 pages, $50), in the sense that Starr, ever mindful of context, is keenly attuned to the bridge’s role in connecting nature and urbanity in Northern California. In the latter stretch of the book, he takes time to explore the contested role of BART in relation to the bridge.

In the “Art” chapter of Golden Gate, Starr makes cursory mention of the scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo in which Kim Novak hurls herself into the water at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Anyone who visits this cinematic landmark, whether alone or on a group tour, will discover that after Sept. 11, 2001, it has been fenced off. So, while safeguarding against real-life suicides has not (at least yet) resulted in overt changes to the look and structure of the bridge, the possibility of terrorist attack has led to some tiny degree of visual blight near it. It’s curious, and contradictory, and the type of detail — complete with the added twist that a hole ripped into the metal fence allows for good photography — that Starr might enjoy. He isn’t interested in singing the praises of the bridge’s famous creators, such as Joseph B. Strauss, as he is in demonstrating the meaning of their accomplishments. Trains and boats if not airplanes brought us the Golden Gate Bridge, and Scharff shows why its Art Deco subtle majesty — those paradoxes again — is here to stay.


July 8, 6 p.m., $7–$12

Commonwealth Club

595 Market, SF

(415) 597-6700


July 13, 7 p.m., free

Bookshop West Portal

80 West Portal, SF

(415) 564-8080


July 14, 7 p.m., free

Books Inc.

2251 Chestnut, SF

(415) 931-3633


July 15, 6 p.m.

California Historical Society

678 Mission, SF

(415) 357-1848


First-person shooter


Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

Tom Bissell

(Pantheon Books/Random House, 218 pages, $22.95)

In the fifth chapter of his essay collection Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, author Tom Bissell meets “Al,” a staffer at the 2009 DICE convention, an annual game industry event held in Las Vegas. “By 2020,” gushes Al, “there is a very good chance that the president will be someone who played Super Mario Bros. on the NES.”

There exists an entire generation who grew up alongside video games, and while it might well include a future president or two, it also contains a handful of talented writers eager to vivisect their childhood obsessions. Bissell is a model for this new breed of video game journo — schooled in the discourse of academic criticism, tempered in the crucible of high-stakes, highbrow publishing, and possessed of an unapologetic love for the medium — and Extra Lives is an important, relentlessly perceptive book.

Bissell began as a travel writer, and his background gives him a gift for evocative descriptions of video game vignettes that sketch the aesthetic and technical particulars in deft, efficient strokes. Each of the nine essays in the collection is roughly centered around a single game; the limited corpus, chosen with conviction and care, skews toward recent games like Bethesda’s Fallout 3 and Bioware’s Mass Effect.

This modern focus is a reaction to a game design sea change, one that privileges story and artistic ambition over technical achievement and mindless action. But games have a long way to go, and Bissell is determined to unpack their puerility, along with his unblinking acceptance of it: “If I were reading a book or watching a film that, every 10 minutes, had me gulping a gallon of aesthetic Pepto, I would stop reading or watching,” he opines. “Games, for some reason, do not have this problem. Or rather, their problem is not having this problem. I routinely tolerate in games crudities I would never tolerate in any other form of art or entertainment.”

Veering constantly from the personal to the theoretical, Bissell proves that it’s possible to ruminate on the past, present, and future of video games in a way that is both intellectually rigorous and consistently entertaining. The book’s only flaw is its relative brevity, especially considering that two essays (“The Grammar of Fun” and “Grand Thefts”) already have appeared in print in an abridged form. Nevertheless, games and gamers should count themselves lucky to have Extra Lives on their side.

Madam majesty


“Who do you think you are, the queen of fucking England?”

That’s Joe Pesci to Helen Mirren in Love Ranch, a film that takes Mirren about as far as possible from her titular role in 2006’s The Queen. She stars as Grace Botempo, co-owner of Nevada’s first legal brothel alongside her husband, Pesci’s Charlie. The fact that the regal British dame is entirely convincing as an American madam speaks to her impressive versatility.

In fact, Love Ranch is more of a showcase for Mirren than anything else. While the movie as a whole is engaging — insofar as it’s a 1970s period piece about legalized prostitution — the plot is mostly predictable. Grace finds herself drawn to the Argentinean prize fighter her husband forces her to manage. In Bruza (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), she gets the attention and appreciation Charlie can no longer offer. In Grace, Bruza gets a woman who looks damn good at 64.

The unlikely relationship between the two is actually Love Ranch‘s weakest element. It’s clear why they’re drawn to each other, despite the age and cultural gaps between them, but the affair plays out like an indie flick cliché. From the moment Grace and Bruza meet, you sense where things are going — and that takes away most of the excitement from the eventual consummation.

Still, there’s a lot to like about Love Ranch, which should be taken as more of a character piece anyway. Aside from Mirren, who carries most of the weight, Pesci returns to form as the violent and volatile Charlie. Then there are the prostitutes, a veritable who’s who of sexy, seedy actors: Bai Ling, Taryn Manning, and Gina Gershon, who turns in her finest work since 1995’s Showgirls.

Obviously Love Ranch is in a different class than Showgirls, but there is something charmingly trashy about it regardless. Part of what makes it so enjoyable is seeing Mirren in this context, watching her get ravaged by a much younger man, break up girl-on-girl fights, and say things like, “I’ve got 25 psychotic whores to manage. That’s a full dance card.” It’s doubtful the film would be worthwhile without Mirren’s efforts. We care about Grace because of her sympathetic portrayal, but also because she’s Helen effing Mirren. And though there’s something disingenuous, perhaps even gimmicky about that, it works despite itself. We’re drawn to Grace, even when Love Ranch‘s third act proves disappointing, and that’s enough to keep watching.

LOVE RANCH opens Wed/30 in San Francisco.

Free art school


Yes, it is summer. And yes, you look great in your tankini chewing ice cream and leathering your face. I am aware that school is out of session and out of fashion. And I know the institutional dinosaurs in tweed make you sneeze. But school is cool again — or at least it’s not as stale and stubborn as it once was.

I’m referring to experimental art schools, or “artist-initiated schools.” Their history lies in previous alternative art education models like the Bauhaus school or Black Mountain College, which served to explore other, more inventive ways of teaching and creating. Current models are everywhere. Coupled with the reach of today’s technologies they’ve grown into nebulous networks that spread like rhizomes in response to (or refusal of) what’s been called “a crisis in contemporary art education.”

Two recently published books address the height of this concern and the new shifts occurring within art education: Rethinking the Contemporary Art School (Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 234 pages, $25) and Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century) (MIT Press, 268 pages, $30). To get a grasp of how this has affected the Bay Area, I met with independent curator Joseph del Pesco to discuss some of the history and impetuses of these schools locally, including one of his own.

Pointing to Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius as a precursor, and his edict-turned-trope “art cannot be taught,” del Pesco says artist-initiated schools begin with “the idea that artists need an informal education,” which includes “informal spaces” away from art world market pressures and “collectors who cop the studios of the best MFA programs.”

These informal spaces might take shape in a proper building or institution, but they’re also known to saunter in the streets, rub elbows in Chinatown bars, and wander nomadically from site to site. The loose, open structure of these spaces is meant to compliment and encourage the artist as autodidactic, self-orienting, and adaptive. This as opposed to the more conventional learning institutions that structure education through rigid class times, grades, diplomas, and linear teacher-to-student pedagogy.

Regarding local experimental school models, del Pesco cites the Independent School of Art as “the most important example in the Bay Area.” “ISA was run on a barter-based tuition system and you basically got a free education from Jon Rubin [ISA’s initiator], who was teaching at CCA and SFAI at the time.” Although the school only ran for two years (2004–06, at which point Rubin took a teaching position at Carnegie Mellon University), del Pesco emphasizes ISA’s ability to function completely untethered as a nomadic network of artists who successfully organized projects and events. ISA’s endeavors included black market auctions where students made and sold forgeries of famous art works, then used the money to fund more ISA projects.

Del Pesco’s own “experimental school-without-walls,” Pickpocket Almanack, is slightly less ambitious in its approach. Instead, this “school” (del Pesco is highly reluctant to use this term and insists on its metaphorical value to dismiss any anxieties it might harbor) functions more as an “algorithmic calendar.”

“I think some of the most interesting things we have here in the Bay Area are the public programs. The lectures, the panel discussions, the screenings — those are our creative strengths,” del Pesco says. “And part of Pickpocket Almanack — part of its impetus — was to take advantage of that.”

Just as the name implies — “stolen calendar” (the “k” added as a nod to Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack) — Pickpocket Almanack “steals” from the slew of free public programs offered by the Bay Area’s art institutions and organizes the best into individual courses via the prowess of an appointed team of “experts” or faculty. The faculty involved in Pickpocket’s spring 2010 season ran a wide gamut: Claudia Altman-Siegel, owner and director of Altman Siegel Gallery; Jim Fairchild, Modest Mouse guitarist; Amy Franceschini, artist and member of the Futurefarmers collective who organized Playshop, another Bay Area artist-initiated school; Renny Pritikin, curator and codirector during one of the best eras of the now defunct alternative space New Langton Arts; and Jerome Waag, artist and chef involved in the experimental restaurant collaborative OPENrestaraunt.

Partnered with SFMOMA, one might suspect Pickpocket Almanack’s “experimental” claim to be somewhat compromised. Although this relationship might carry with it a few bureaucratic implications, del Pesco assured me that Pickpocket’s faculty isn’t expected to include any of the museum’s events into its courses. If anything the pairing provides a consolation prize for Pickpocket’s participants (“students” is another term del Pesco avoids): an SFMOMA ID card that allows free access to any public program.

“It’s kind of like a gesture that makes the material real in some way,” del Pesco says. Since Pickpocket’s participants sign up through the website and discuss events primarily through e-mail, an initial launch event and final wrap-up meeting have also been incorporated to give some semblance of actual participation. But there’s no set structure. Some faculty have organized events outside of the course calendar, among them Fairchild, who facilitated a conversation with musician John Vanderslice.

While participating, as in any community setting, there’s always a fear of lame ducks. The misanthropic can technically remain anonymous throughout the course. “But there’s some incentive to actually meet each other to make it not a community but a kind of informal network of relationships,” del Pesco says. He likes to think of Pickpocket as “a special encounter with knowledge, where you don’t have the weight of school and education and a degree and grades and all that other shit. It’s self-guided; it’s social; it’s about the relationship between you, the people in the course, and the faculty — the informal production of knowledge and making visible certain events going on in the Bay Area.”

Pickpocket’s next season begins in September. So you have plenty of time to get dumb in the sun. 


Lips, Inc.


SUPER EGO Pride was huge and mostly cute, although I was bummed out by all the trash. (The litter, I mean.) I say next year everyone who goes has to prove their queer credentials by designing dazzling outfits recycled from castoff compostable cups, clove butts, loose boa feathers, meat-on-a-stick sticks, leftover rainbow Smirnoff wristbands, and broken drag newbie heels.

Stand and wobble with me, sustainable sisters of the night!

Still, it was nice to see Pride acknowledge the tastes of its changing demographic with an expanded emphasis on Latin music, soul, and hip-hop at the dance stages. That replaced classic diva house and disco with an alternative musical history of Pride, and it was a lovely change. This year, it fell to the radical faeries of the Freedom Village to preserve that certain old-school strain of gay celebration with rare disco tunes, historical shrines (walking through the rest of the celebration, you’d have been hard-pressed to find any visual evidence that Pride was older than Rihanna’s hair), and, of course, a drag queen named Margaret Cholo drinking her own urine as she lip-synced to “Party in the USA.” Pride.

I’m on a homo-historical bent lately because word just came down that my spiritual pen mother, the ever-saucy nightlife gossip columnist Sweet Lips of the Bay Area Reporter, is retiring at age 87 after 39 years of covering a vibrant slice of the San Francisco gay scene. Child, she did not go easy — for the past few years she was homebound, but that didn’t stop her from sending her “spies” out into the bars and reporting all the scandal and drama. I was terrified of these spies. Sweet Lips knew all, and wasn’t afraid to say it.

In 39 years I’ll be 42, and I write about all kinds of scenes besides the gay one. But I stand on the padded and studded shoulders of Sweet Lips, Mr. Marcus (her leather-scene chronicling coworker who passed away earlier this year), and all the other dishy, insomniac, probably slightly alcoholic, definitely devoted nightlife columnists who came before me. Thank you, Ms. Lips: Long live the mouthy queens.



If you haven’t tuned in to this Angelino master of Princely funk — or at least tripped out once to the deconstructed ’80s wonder of his recent Toeachizown — then you crazy. Live, he’s even better, and will be joined by synth-loner Nite Jewel. (They’ll both join forces for a Nite Funk performance as well.) DJ Pickpocket presides.

Thu/1, 9 p.m., $15 advance. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com



Let’s get sweaty! Far-too-hip Los Angeles dance instructor Ryan Heffington is coming to town to Olivia Newton your John on the dance floor. Think Richard Simmons without the peek-a-boo shorts and closet. Fauxnique and Husband host, DJs Pee Play and Stanley Frank lube up the legwarmers.

Thu/1, 10 p.m., $7. Paradise Lounge, 1501 Folsom, SF. www.paradisesf.com



With his weekly Deep parties, Marques has pretty much held down the L.A. fort for soulful house music, single-handed, for the past 13 years or so. His sets can get heady — he’s not afraid to take you into some fierce and spiritual headspace — but build so much organic rhythmic momentum that you won’t mind leaping into the void. With M3 and Jayvi Velasco.

Fri/2, 9 p.m., $10. Triple Crown, 1760 Market, SF. www.triplecrownsf.com



Bay homeboy Janaka wickedly melds classical Indian sounds to deep dub and dread bass, and new album Pushing Air is full of sweeping melodies and haunting breakdowns. He’ll be supporting the rumbly nodding of our own Mighty Dub Killaz at one of SF’s raddest weekly parties, Dub Mission.

Sun/4, 9 p.m., $8–$11. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com



An annual July Fourth weekend tradition, Stompy and Sunset’s 12-hour extravaganza on the patio of Cafe Cocomo brings together some of the best names in funky house and techno in town. This year, they’re adding legendary deep house pioneer Kerri “Kaoz” Chandler as headliner. Could it get any better? Hell yeah, there’s a BBQ before 9 p.m., too

Sun/4, 2 p.m., $10–$20. Cafe; Cocomo, 650 Indiana, SF. www.pacificsound.net

Redneck dawn


If it left here tomorrow, would you still remember redneck rock? In the 20-tweens, you might hear it rushing through the purple veins of Southern gothic TV: within Jace Everett’s growling poster-boy blues, “Bad Things,” which opens True Blood, and Gangstagrass’ hip-hop-drenched banjo-and-fiddle hillbilly vamp, “Long Hard Times to Come,” the theme to the trigger-happy Justified.

In 1974’s The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, author Jan Reid defined the genre as Texan through-and-through, based in irreverently reverent Austin and embodied by Willie Nelson, Kinky Friedman, Janis Joplin, Doug Sahm, Townes Van Zandt, and Billy Joe Shaver. Reid sees the Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, and Stevie Ray Vaughn as its unlikely descendants, but that’s only one blood line. The rusty dust of redneck rock can also be found rising from the sound of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama” and the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man” and “Blue Sky” on classic rock radio. Or whenever 38 Special’s soft-rock stab at Top 40 popularity, “Caught Up in You,” pops up, be it in a biker bar or a key girl-power moment from Drew Barrymore’s Whip It. Redneck rock lives wherever the Nuge wanders, crossbow in hand. Do the ghosts of redneck rock lurk wherever Buffalo Bill beards and American Gothic facial hair may roam?

Today, Nashville yields few answers: you’d be hard-pressed to hear anything beyond the “new rock” recent past in the OTT bounce of the Kings of Leon, apart from the sinewy guitar snaking beneath the pelvic thrust of, say, “Sex on Fire.” Though perhaps this year’s watery disaster — evoking the legendary 1927 Mississippi floods that inspired a generation of blues songwriters — will bring in a new wave of soul-searching.

You’re likelier to find remnants of redneck rock in the fiery ambitions of Louisville, Ky., combo My Morning Jacket. Or out west, in the Cali-rock dreams of Howlin Rain and the Portland folk-psych ruminations of Blitzen Trapper. These bands are also fans, unafraid to demonstrate their allegiance to those enlightened rogues the Allmans — shred-savants in the name of “Jessica” and the still-astonishing “Whipping Post” — or the Band, the group whose wide, deep catalog likely has the biggest impact on post-punk’s redneck rockers.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, with the recession continuing to bear down unsparingly on the music world, but neither My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon, nor Howlin Rain has released a studio album since 2008. The exception is Blitzen Trapper. Enigmatic storyteller Eric Earley and company came to most critics’ attention with their third full-length, Wild Mountain Nation (Lidkercow Ltd., 2007). That recording dared to reclaim a kind of back-to-the-backwoods, Green Man-tapped mythos, complete with saintly tramps, critter call-outs, country caravans, and a genuine-dandelion-wine “Wild Mtn. Jam.” The new Destroyer of the Void (Sub Pop) yields further clues to the ensemble’s redneck of the woods.

The four-eyed Minotaur on the cover of Destroyer replaces the spectral Bigfoot skulking through Wild Mountain Nation‘s underbrush and the changeling wolf-boy in the title track of Furr (Sub Pop, 2008). In the opening title track, this Destroyer stalks a spaghetti southwestern dreamscape awash with rolling stones, wayward sons, and other rock ‘n’ roll archetypes, pieced out with harmonies more akin to “Bohemian Rhapsody” than “Good Vibrations.” Is this a rustic-rock mini-opera variant on the Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away”? Instead, Blitzen Trapper appears intent on chasing away yawning distractions, the enemy of imagination — bounding over Rockpile hill and dale on “Laughing Lover,” fluttering after acoustic-guitar-glittered butterflies in “Below the Hurricane,” then finally settling down for a tale about “The Man Who Would Speak True,” a protagonist who destroys all who listen with his terrible honesty.

Does this fear point to why Blitzen Trapper prefers to take refuge in a lush, obfuscating thicket of folk tales, rock ‘n’ roll tropes, and unexpected sonic switchbacks? Truth is feared, and healing sanctuary can found in the natural order. No wonder Blitzen Trapper treats its windy musical changes — the roaring fuzz-guitar-and-B-3 overture of “Love and Hate,” the dying trees and elegiac piano and strings of “Heaven and Earth,” and the minor-chord yet blissfully sweet “Dragon’s Song” — as mysterious, unchanging, and impossible to tame.

“Sadie, I can never change,” wails Earley, in a feather-light tip of a cap to “Free Bird”‘s “This bird you cannot change/Lord knows I can’t change.” It’s a slight, very specific turnaround from the proud, loaded declaration of independence hammered out with such lyricism by Skynyrd: Blitzen Trapper stands its ground in fertile soil, part Mississippi Delta and “The Weight,” part A Night at the Opera and Village Green Preservation Society, its melodies — and heart — ever unresolved, its notions semi-nonsensical and wild-eyed.


With the Moondoggies

Wed/30, 9 p.m., $20


1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000


Appetite: Bar buzz


Shuffling action around SF’s best bars has been steady in recent weeks: Neyah White leaves Nopa to become Yamazaki’s brand ambassador, Brooke Arthur exits Range to head up the bar at brand new Prospect, Reza Esmali departs Smuggler’s Cove to revamp Long Bar on Fillmore, Steven Liles journeys from Fifth Floor over to Smuggler’s Cove… Thankfully, there are others holding steady offering new seasonal menus or launching a new pop-up bar:

RICKHOUSE — It’s been a rewarding summer thus far for Rickhouse and its talented bar manager, Erick Castro, already. First, Castro won one of two mixologist of the year awards at StarChefs Rising Stars, then Rickhouse was nominated for three awards (more than any other SF bars) in the international nominees list for Tales of the Cocktail this year: Best American Cocktail Bar, World’s Best Cocktail Menu, World’s Best New Cocktail Bar. So it seems as a good a time as any to re-visit Rickhouse to try their brand new Seasonal Summer Cocktail menu — with eight original drinks plus one new punch — especially when they’re as good as Ginger’s Trois ($8).This was tops of the few I tried last week, effervescent with sparkling wine, smooth with Plymouth Gin, fresh lime and mint, balanced with bitters, lightly spicy with ginger. I hope this is a permanent menu fixture. A Cherry Blossom Cobbler ($8) is a sno-cone tower of ice, topped with a cherry, rich with Yamazaki 12-year whisky, organic cherry blossom jam and lemon juice. On the spirituous side is a Paper Plane ($9), refreshingly strong with bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino and lemon juice.
246 Kearny, SF


CLOCK BAR — Clock Bar’s fairly new GM, Phillip Barcio (formerly of Ramblas), launches his first seasonal menu, one of three throughout the year (“seasons” being grouped by produce): a May-September/berry season menu ($12-14 per cocktail). At a preview night last week, it was a joy to witness farmers and producers congregated at Clock Bar who provided much of the produce or ingredients for the menu’s cocktails.

Clock Bar’s inviting decor

The menu is ambitious, playful and farm fresh, with every drink featuring a different spirit and seasonal produce or local and house-made sodas and syrups. An Oregon 609 is complex but bright with Bols Genever, olallieberry marmalade, Cynar, Benedictine and lemon, though maybe my least favorite of the three I tried. Carl is a lighter take on absinthe (featuring Swiss Kubler absinthe) with apricot reduction and a zippy house root beer. Nutty, creamy dessert comes in the form of a Mission Flip with Pampero Aniversario Rum, house cane syurp, Mission fig reduction and a whole fresh egg. It seems a locally-embracing new season has dawned at Clock Bar.
335 Powell, in Westin St Francis Hotel, SF
(415) 397-9222


PICKLED at ABSINTHE — Yes, it’s a pop-up bar called Pickled, happening on the last Monday of every month in Absinthe’s private dining room, with ever-changing drinks created by bar manager Carlos Yturria.

Carlos Yturria behind the bar at Pickled at Absinthe

I stopped in inaugural night, June 28. A wide range of spirits are represented, from armagnac to mezcal ($10-12 a cocktail), and there’s also a revolving offering of bar bites to go with. Pisco showed itself beautiful in Carlos’ crushed ice presentation with figs, sage, lemon and a candied fig chip on top. Kudos for using my new local favorite pisco, Encanto. Close the night with a little finish of Carlos’ candied strip of rhubarb.
Last Monday of every month, 5:30-10pm
388 Hayes, SF.
(415) 551-1590

The people’s court



HAIRY EYEBALL Amanda Curreri wants you. Like the open-ended phrasing of its title, "Occupy the Empty," Curreri’s second solo show at Ping Pong Gallery is both a basic statement of what an artist does within an exhibition space and a call to action soliciting the viewer to step in, step up, and take a stand. Or perhaps the phrase should be "take the stand," since, as the artist explained to me during a recent gallery visit, the arrangement of the installation’s components roughly mirrors the layout of a courtroom.

A heavy wooden bench sits to the right of the gallery entrance, evoking where the witnesses, lawyers, and spectators sit; leaning against the wall to the right is the "jury box," two long panels silk-screened with six life-size images of chairs apiece; a sculpture in the gallery’s center, which looks like a segment of the kind of pearl necklace both Jackie O and a porn actress would wear, becomes the balustrade that typically separates the actors from the observers in legal proceedings.

On the wall opposite the bench hangs a canvas covered in carefully painted grayscale rectangles — an abstract approximation of TV static — that’s next to a TV set elevated on a stool off of which hangs a compilation of last words of various famous figures (it’s hard to top Karl Marx’s final trump card: "Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough"). This is what Curreri refers to as the "power spot" in the room, "either where the judge would go or where the witness stand would be."

Our conversation is occurring after I’ve just "stepped down" from being videotaped by Curreri, and her telling collapse of the judge’s bench and the jury box sums up my experience: I wasn’t really under oath, but I wanted to be true to myself, since my act of testifying and its record are now part of "Occupy the Empty." She’s been asking people who come by the show to sign up and share their thoughts on the subject of last words. On July 9th, just before the exhibit closes, these conversations will be played back on the TV set, which until then has remained off.

Curreri started formulating "Occupy the Empty" last year after participating in a court hearing in Massachusetts concerning her late father. It turns out this was the same courthouse in which Italian-American anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced to death in the early 20th century. Curreri, also of Italian-American descent, started thinking about the judicial system as a kind of democratic theater in which one’s mandatory performance carries incredibly high stakes — including, as with Sacco and Vanzetti and thousands of other tragic cases, death.

"I wanted to bring some gravity into what we do as artists," Curreri explains, reflecting on the stakes of participation in her art. "I really value the way people put their lives together and present themselves. So I wanted a work that would necessitate some commitment on the viewers’ part."

When Curreri starts remembering the conversation she had with her father on his deathbed, I think of the collage hanging on the wall opposite the silk-screened jury box, in which Curreri has surrounded a copy of the moving letter Sacco wrote to his son on the eve of his execution with childhood photos of her and her dad. This fusion of the personal with the historic is simultaneously touching and troubling (Sacco’s words are not those of Curreri’s father, even though the two men are aligned graphically), but it is rooted in the common impulse to ground our present by finding solace in the past. Last words are comforting in this regard. They are epigrammatic reminders that we will have our say.

At its core, "Occupy the Empty" is about just that: having a say. Or as Curreri phrases it: "I’m asking people to stand in a moment of silence and occupy it and project."


"3+3," a group show of local marquee names at Haines Gallery, contains a lot of eye candy. Shaun O’Dell’s delicate ink-on-paper exercises in moiré pattern interference and Leslie Shows’ graphic reconfiguration of a brush-painted Chinese landscape scroll via cut-out comics and Benday dot sprays are particularly lovely stations in this curatorial relay: Haines selected O’Dell along with Kota Ezawa and Darren WatersTon, who in turn chose Emily Prince, Taha Belal, and Shows, respectively.

Prince’s contribution stands out because the beauty of its craft comments on the nature and history of its craft. In two identical wooden square frames hang what appear to be identical lace doilies, although the one of the right seems more brittle and aged. Closer inspection reveals that the second doily is in fact a to-scale, scanned, and intricately cut-out paper replica of the one on the left, which the wall card indicates was crocheted by the artist’s grandmother. Prince’s handiwork is no less delicate — or "auratic" for that matter — than that of her grandmother’s, and this tribute to "women’s work" is no less genuine for containing a facsimile.

If you want to have a conversation about the place of craft within fine art, you’re first going to have to navigate through these two skeins.


Through July 10, free

"Last Words" viewing party July 9 , 7–9 p.m.

Ping Pong Gallery

1240 22nd St, SF

(415) 550-7483



Through July 10, free

Haines Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 397-8114

Nobody but you



FILM The couple on holiday is one of modern cinema’s quintessential sites of anxiety: Voyage to Italy (1954), Bonjour Tristesse (1958), Weekend (1967), and L’avventura (1960) all chart its precipitous course. The merely inexorable ennui of the vacationing lovers is the existential flipside of the couple bound by oblivion, like so many Bonnie and Clydes. That may be heady company with which to introduce Maren Ade’s pairing in Everyone Else, her second feature, but in so laying bare the behavioral excesses of characters struggling for authentic expression, she’s made a distinctly modernist romantic comedy — one without air.

Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eidinger) are failing miserably at basic communication. This happens on vacation. Without the steadying rails of vocation, moods and unintended remarks are pursued further than they would be otherwise. Everyone Else figures holiday as a stage, in which the principles grasp for their roles in relationship to the other. Acting is brought up early and often. After a dangerous conversation about Chris’s masculinity, Gitti laughs at his "bad acting" when he casually throws his arm around her. "I didn’t know I was acting," he mutters.

They are a young, bourgeoisie German couple staying at his parents’ villa in Sardinia. He is a disappointed architect, she a music publicist. Already, though, this capsule betrays the film’s methodical mode of exposition, whereby facts like "his parents’ villa" and "in Sardinia" are realized in conversation, later than we expect. Before then, we’re privy to inner jokes, private nonsense, and gestural rapport. Rather than using such minutiae to ingratiate us into Chris and Gitti’s quirks, Ade is embedding us in the relationship’s interior.

We realize how deeply during the course of two dinners with an architect acquaintance and his wife, the first at the new couple’s house and the second at the villa. The other pair stands in for the "everybody else" of the title, and, in their outsized performance as a couple, acts as a convenient cipher for Chris and Gitti’s bottomless insecurities. As an afternoon champagne toast for the other’s couple’s pregnancy (one of many reminders in the film that Chris and Gitti are not expecting — a baby or anything else) gives way to sour bickering, Chris and Gitti’s conventional appearance cracks under the stress of false pretenses; just sitting on the same side of the table seems like a lie.

Both characters trail inconstant emotions without having resolved their meaning beforehand, but there’s a far greater dynamic range in their body language. Ade’s staging of Minichmayr and Eidinger’s bodies forms a vividly choreographed counterpoint to the many doublings in her script. Twice, Chris roughly embraces Gitti after she’s told him that she loves him: a false show of decisiveness masking indifference. Gitti wraps herself around Chris’ body when she’s most insecure of his love: hardly subtle, and, tragically, with an effect precisely contrary to her desire for comfort.

In screwball comedies, a couple’s disliking each other is a sure sign of their chemistry — it looks like fun, especially when the plot throws obstacles in the way of the inevitable consummation. Chris and Gitti are not cold fish — their passion is intense, if swollen by doubt — but the fact that their relationship’s obstacles are self-imposed leads to a certain captive mentality, in which staying together means being marooned from the outside world.

EVERYONE ELSE opens Fri/2 in Bay Area theaters.

La Briciola



DINE Seven years ago — I long to say, “four score and seven years ago” but that would be stretching a point — I considered an Italian restaurant, Vino e Cucina, on a SoMa stretch of Third Street notable for its grit. After dark, in the shadows of the crumbling viaduct carrying traffic to and from the Bay Bridge, you could easily imagine yourself being inside one of Tim Burton’s Batman movies, and to step into Vino e Cucina was to find refuge.

These days the neighborhood’s aspect is quite different. The viaduct has been rebuilt, tony-looking housing has popped up all over, and Vino e Cucina is now La Briciola. The refuge angle is less sharp now, but La Briciola is still welcoming in that distinctive Italian way that manages to be informal and formal at the same time. The interior is done in shades of brown and cream; if it were a cup of coffee, it would be a macchiato, an espresso marked with some foamed milk. And the service staff practices a well-mannered demonstrativeness that will probably seem familiar to anyone who’s ever eaten at a trattoria in Rome.

The food, rooted mostly in the cuisines of Tuscany and Piemonte, tells us a nuanced tale about Italian cuisine’s complex relationship with innovation. If a dish has been made the same way for generations — has, in effect, been perfected — then why tamper or fiddle around with it? Yet this is America, where newness is celebrated with an almost religious fervor. So which will it be, perfection or newness?

Executive chef Gian Luca Toschi’s best dishes are the traditional ones, though these aren’t necessarily old warhorses. For instance, I’ve never seen fagottini ($14) or Italian crepes on a menu before; these turned out to resemble a pair of giant dim sum pouches, wrapped up like gunny sacks and filled with chopped mushrooms and carrots. The earthiness of the filling was enhanced (and that’s putting it mildly) by a cream sauce of mushroom and truffle oil.

Veal, on the other hand, tends to be ubiquitous in north Italian cooking, and La Briciola offers a lovely version “alla valdostana” ($22), the name referring to an alpine region known for its fontina cheese. The veal was cutlets, pounded thin and rolled around a core of fontina cheese and speck (smoked prosciutto) into stubby cigars. If you like chicken kiev, you’d like this.

At the side of the plate lay a berm of vegetables, lightly steamed but still bright with color — broccoli, carrots, quartered new potatoes. If food were a game of chess, they would be pawns, worthy but not of enormous interest. These pawns did attract my interest, though, because they were exactly the same as those on a plate of food across the table, seared tuna with sesame sauce ($22).

The fish was fine. The sauce, like liquid amber dotted with black sesame seeds, was beautiful rather than flavorful despite the presence of shallots and vin santo. Sesame belongs mainly to the cuisines along the rim of the Indian Ocean; it’s not a natural part of the Italian kitchen, so it wasn’t shocking that the kitchen didn’t do much with it. But it was the sameness of the vegetables that captured my attention. It was as if they’d been slung onto passing plates in some kind of hash line. Of course restaurant kitchens are assembly lines, and of course economies of scale are important — but so too is the illusion that each plate has been carefully and lovingly assembled by hand, like a Louis Vuitton bag. And the illusion is so easy to create; a single variation — green beans instead of broccoli — would do it.

And speaking of green: green is a color, and a little color would have been welcome in the octopus salad ($12), which consisted of pale white octopus flesh, (white) cannellini beans, and whitish barley kernels. Some color was provided by pickled carrot shavings, but these were ungainly and awkward to eat. Still, the salad, as amended with squeezes of fresh lemon, satisfied, and it did reflect the Italian ethic of simplicity.

Chocolate volcano cake ($8) has been widely done, but it seemed strangely appropriate to find it in an Italian restaurant since Italy is among the more volcanic of lands, and Italians do love their chocolate. An issue with these cakes is that the chocolate magma can sometimes be molten enough to burn your tongue, but here it was pleasantly very warm, not hot. This was a welcome variation.


Dinner: Sun.–Thurs., 5:30–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5–10:30 p.m.

Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

489 Third St., SF

(415) 512-0300


Beer and wine


Reasonable noise

Wheelchair accessible


Powder keg



Ask any pollster, political consultant, or academic who studies the American electorate about the mood of the voters this year and you’ll get the same one-word answer: Angry.

Everyone’s pissed — the liberals, the conservatives, the moderates, the people who don’t even know where they fit in. It’s an unsettled time and, potentially, very bad news for a progressive agenda that seeks to address issues ranging from poverty and war to the long-term health of the public and the planet.

The Democrats, who swept into power with an enormously popular president just 18 months ago, may lose control of Congress. The tea partiers have driven the Republicans so far to the right that some candidates for Senate are openly talking about eliminating Social Security. The unemployment rate — the single most important factor in the politics of the economy — remains high and doesn’t show any signs of improving.

And the progressive left seems frustrated and demoralized, particularly in California. The Golden State, which once led the nation in innovation and enlightened social policy, now seems to be leading the politically dysfunctional race to the bottom.

The nation could be headed for a dangerous era, rife with the potential for right-wing demagoguery and other nasty political schisms. The state of the economy could easily fuel a more powerful movement to shrink the scope of government and a continuing backlash against the public sector — and the financial backers of the antitax and antiregulation movement are drooling at the prospect.

But there’s also a chance for progressives to seize a populist narrative and shift the discussion away from traditional disagreements and toward those areas, particularly the destructive influence on government by powerful corporations, where the grassroots right and grassroots left might actually agree.

The anger that voters feel toward a government that isn’t meeting their needs is starting to find other outlets. People are as mad about the abuses of big business — the Wall Street meltdown, the bailouts, the BP oil spill, the political manipulation — as they are about the failures of Congress and the president. If you ask Americans of every political stripe who they least trust — big government or big business — even conservatives aren’t so sure anymore.

For 30 years, the central narrative of American politics has revolved around the size and effectiveness of government. Now there’s a chance to shift that entire debate in American politics toward the largely unchecked power of corporations. It is, populist writer Jim Hightower told us, “an enormous opportunity handed to us by the bastards.”

But so far, none of the Democratic leaders in California are taking advantage of it to start dispelling damaging myths and crafting political narratives that might begin to create some popular consensus around how to deal with society’s most pressing problems.



There have been many polls gauging voter anger, but one of the most comprehensive and interesting recent ones was “Californians and Their Government,” a collaborative study by the Public Policy Institute of California and the James Irvine Foundation that was released in May.

It shows that Californians are mad about the state’s fiscal problems, disgusted with their political leaders, divided by ideology, and deeply conflicted over the best way forward. An astounding 77 percent of respondents say California is headed in the wrong direction and 81 percent say the state budget situation is a “a big problem.”

But the anti-incumbent message isn’t necessarily an anti-government message. Most Californians are willing to put more of their cash into public-sector programs, even during this deep recession. When asked to name the most important issues facing the state, 53 percent mentioned jobs and the economy . The state budget, deficit, and taxes only got the top billing of 15 percent.

And contrary to the conventional wisdom espoused by moderate politicians and political consultants, most voters say they are willing to pay higher taxes to save vital services. “Californians tell us they continue to place a high value on education and want education to be protected from cuts. And they’re willing to commit their money to help fund that,” PPIC director Mark Baldassare told the Guardian.

The survey found that 69 percent of respondents say they would pay higher taxes to protect K-12 education from future cuts, while 54 percent each say they would pay higher taxes to prevent cuts to higher education and to health and human services programs. In other words, voters seem to recognize where we’ve cut too deeply — and where we haven’t cut enough: only 18 percent of respondents would be willing to pay higher taxes to prevent cuts to prisons and corrections.

Baldassare said the June primary results also showed that people are willing to pay more in taxes for the services they value. “Around the state, there was a lot of evidence that people responded favorably to requests by their local governments for money, particularly for schools,” he said.

Both the California Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are held in very low esteem with voters, according to the PPIC study, and Schwarzenegger’s 23 percent rating is the lowest in the poll’s history.

Barbara O’Connor, political communications professor who heads the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at Sacramento State University, told us that voter unhappiness with elected leaders is no surprise. Right now, most people are afraid that their basic needs won’t be met over the long run.

“The common narrative is fear, and fear channels into anger,” O’Conner said.

And that fear is being tapped into strongly this year by the Republican candidates, who are trying to scare voters into embracing their promises to gut government and keep taxes as low as possible.

“If there’s any lesson to be learned from Meg and Carly’s early ads, it’s fear-mongering, fear-mongering all the time — and that doesn’t create a very positive narrative,” O’Connor said of gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina.

O’Connor noted that Barack Obama’s campaign had great success in using a positive, hopeful message and said she believes the right leader can also do so in California. “I talked to Jerry [Brown]’s people about it and said you can’t just run a negative campaign because that’s what Meg is doing.”

Despite the tenor of the times, O’Connor said she’s feeling hopeful about hope. She also believes Californians would respond well to a leader like Obama who tried to give them that hope — if only someone like Brown can pick up that mantle. “I think the environment is right for a positive message. But the question is: do we have people capable of delivering it?”

She said the no-new-taxes, dismantle-government rhetoric has started to wear thin with voters. “The real fiscal conservatives are badly outnumbered in Californian,” O’Connor said. As for the corporate sales jobs, O’Connor said voters have really started to wise up. “They aren’t going to be scammed.”

The results of the June primary election showed that voters across the spectrum were also disturbed by big special-interest money. Proposition 16, backed by $46 million from Pacific Gas and Electric Co., went down to defeat — even in counties that tend to vote Republican.

And this fall, with two rich former CEOs spending their personal wealth to win two of California’s top elected offices and energy companies pushing a measure to roll back California’s efforts to combat global warming, there could be great opportunity in a narrative targeting those at the top of our economic system.



Some observers say that whatever their shared feelings about corporate scams, conservatives and liberals in the state are just too far apart, and that there’s little hope for any substantive agreement. “People are becoming more polarized,” said consultant David Latterman, who often works for downtown candidates and interests. “I think we’re beyond compromise.”

Allen Hoffenblum, a Los Angeles-based Republican strategist, agreed. “The voter are all mad, but they’re mad at different things. I just don’t see where they come together.”

But Hightower, who has spent a lifetime in politics as a journalist, elected official, author, and commentator, has a different analysis.

“As I’ve rambled through life,” he wrote in a recent essay, “I’ve observed that the true political spectrum in our society does not range from right to left, but from top to bottom. This is how America’s economic and political systems really shake out, with each of us located somewhere up or down that spectrum, mostly down.

“Right to left is political theory; top to bottom is the reality we actually experience in our lives every day — and the vast majority of Americans know that they’re not even within shouting distance of the moneyed powers that rule from the top of both systems, whether those elites call themselves conservatives or liberals.”

In an interview, he told us he sees a lot of hope in the fractured and potentially explosive political ethos. “There’s all this anger,” he said. “People don’t know what to do. And I think the one focus that makes sense is the arrogance and abuse of corporate executives.”

In fact, Hightower pointed out, the teabaggers didn’t start out as part of the Republican machinery. “Wall Street and the bailouts sparked the tea bag explosion,” he said. It wasn’t until big right-wing outfits like the Koch brothers, who own oil and timber interests and fund conservative think tanks, started quietly funding tea party rallies that the anti-corporate, anti-imperial edge came off that particular populist uprising.

“At first, the teabaggers didn’t even know where the money was coming from,” Hightower said. “You can’t be mad at the teabaggers; we should have been out there organizing them first.”

There’s plenty of evidence that anger at big business is growing rapidly — and rivals the distrust of big government that has defined so much of American politics in the past 30 years. The bailouts were “the first time in a long time that people have been slapped in the face by collusion between big business and its Washington puppets,” Hightower noted.

Then there’s the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. In January, a sharply divided court ruled 5-4 that corporations had the right to spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing political candidates. Progressives were, of course, outraged — but conservatives were, too.

Polls show that more than 80 percent of Democrats think the decision should be overturned. So do 76 percent of Republicans. “This is a winner for our side,” Hightower noted. “But our side’s not doing anything about it.”

Sure, President Obama denounced the ruling in his State of the Union speech and promised reform. But the bill the Democrats have offered in response does nothing to stop the flow of money; it would only increase disclosure requirements. And in response to furor from the National Rifle Association, it’s been amended and is now so full of holes that it doesn’t do much of anything.

Political consultants advising Whitman are clearly looking for ways to direct the voter unhappiness into a demand for lower taxes and smaller budgets. She’s already vowed to fire 40,000 state workers, and her most recent campaign ad attacks Brown for expanding public programs and raising the state deficit.

So far Brown hasn’t challenged that narrative — and some Democrats say he shouldn’t. It would be safer, they say, for Brown to get out front and demand his own cuts in Sacramento. “Going after public-sector pensions is a winner,” one Democratic campaign consultant, who asked not to be named, told us. “If Whitman beats Brown on those issues, she wins.”

But that approach is never going to be effective for Democrats. If the argument is over who can better cut government spending, the GOP candidates will always win. The better approach is to see if progressives can’t shift the debate — and the anger — toward the private sector.

As Hightower put it: “You can yell yourself red-faced at Congress critters you don’t like and demand a government so small that it’d fit in the backroom of Billy Bob’s Bait Shop and Sushi Stand, but you won’t be touching the corporate and financial powers behind the throne.”

That’s where the discussion has to start. And there’s no better place than California.

The Golden State is a great example of what happens when the tax- cutters win. In 1978, the liberals in Sacramento, operating with a huge state budget surplus, couldn’t figure out how to derail the populist anger of property tax hikes. So Proposition 13, the beginning of the great tax revolt, passed overwhelmingly. Over the next decade, more antitax initiatives went before the voters, and all were approved.

Now the state is heading toward fiscal disaster. The schools are among the worst-funded in the nation. The world-famous University of California system is on the brink of collapse. Community colleges are turning away students. The credit rating on California bonds have fallen so far that it’s hard for the state to borrow money. And there’s still a huge budget gap.

The tax-cut mentality that led to the so-called Reagan revolution started in California; a political movement that shifts the blame for many of the state’s problems away from government and onto big business ought to be able to start here as well. And it’s potentially a movement that could bring together people who normally find themselves on opposite sides of the fence.

A case in point: the measure the oil companies have put on the November ballot to repeal the state’s greenhouse gas limits. The corporations backing the initiative, led by Valero, argue that California’s attempts to slow climate change will cost jobs. That’s a line we’ve heard for decades. Every tax cut, every move toward deregulation, is defended as helping spur job growth.

But the past four presidents have done nothing but cut taxes and reduce regulations — and the result is facing Americans on the streets every day. There is also growing evidence that even Republican voters don’t believe everything big businesses tell them anymore. And they’re starting to grasp that sometimes deregulation leads to outcomes like larcenous CEOs and unstoppable oil leaks.

So the potential for a successful progressive populist movement is out there. But it’s not going to happen by spontaneous combustion.



On the national level, one of the factors creating this gloomy electorate is the failure of President Obama to keep the coalition that elected him active and engaged. The intense partisanship in Washinton has turned off many independent Obama voters, while his progressive supporters have been disappointed by issues ranging from his escalation in Afghanistan to tepid reforms on health care and Wall Street.

“One of the narratives now is where are the Obama voters and will they participate?” Jim Stearns, a San Francisco political consultant who works mostly on progressive campaigns, told us. “They still love Obama but they’re not moved by him anymore.”

Perhaps more important, they have lost the sense of hope that he once instilled. The Republican Party’s descent into right-wing extremism and the strong anticorporate narratives that have emerged in the last year — from BP’s oil spill to PG&E’s political manipulation to Goldman Sachs’ self-dealing to the prospect of unrestricted corporate campaign propaganda unleashed by the Citizens United ruling — have created the possibility that the negative narratives by the left may crowd out the positive ones.

“Meg Whitman is someone you can hate. She’s the rich Republican CEO trying to buy her way into office,” Stearns said. “But it’s a depressing message.”

But Stearns said there is another, most hopeful political narrative that is emerging in San Francisco, one that might eventually grow into a model that could be used at the state and federal levels. “We’re lucky in San Francisco. Progressive voters are engaged.”

He noted that San Francisco’s voter turnout was higher than expected in the June primary, and far higher than the record low state number, even though there really weren’t any exciting propositions or closely contested races on the local ballot — except for the Democratic County Central Committee, where progressives maintained their newfound control. And it’s because of the organizing and coalition-building that the left has done.

“What you’ve seen over the last few years is a coalition of labor, neighborhood groups, environmentalists, and the progressives now operating through the Democratic Party. That’s a great coalition with a lot for people to trust,” Stearns said.

Meanwhile, downtown has all but collapsed as a unified political force. “They don’t really have a political infrastructure,” Stearns said of downtown. “Normally it would be the mayor who gets everyone in line and working together.”

Even Latterman, the downtown-oriented consultant, agrees that the business community is no longer setting San Francisco’s agenda because it’s become fractured and unable to push a consistent political narrative: “There’s certainly been a lack of coordination.”

He also agrees that progressives have become more organized and effective. “Clearly, the Democratic Party of San Francisco has become a conduit for progressive politics and politicians, but not issues,” Latterman said. “What a lot of people get wrong in the city is the difference between politics and policy.”

Part of the reason is economic. With scarce resources, a high threshold for approving new revenue sources, and a fiscally conservative mayor unwilling to talk taxes, it’s been difficult to move a progressive agenda for San Francisco. And in Sacramento, it’s barely part of the discussions.

“The people of California have been held hostage by a handful of Republicans who are making us cut everything we care about,” while in San Francisco “Newsom is taking an entirely Republican approach to the budget,” Stearns said.

Looking toward the fall races, Stearns said the progressive coalition and majority on the Board of Supervisors will be tested on issues such as Muni reform, and the question will be whether fiscal conservatives like Sup. Sean Elsbernd can blame Muni’s problems on drivers, or whether progressives can create and sell a broader package that includes new revenue and governance reforms.

“The drivers are going to get their guarantee taken out of the charter, that’s going to happen. But people know that isn’t all that’s wrong with Muni,” Stearns said.

But to craft a more comprehensive solution, he said the progressives are going to need to use their growing coalition to connect the dots for voters. “We need to run a citywide campaign around a whole constellation of issues,” Stearns said, citing Muni, schools, taxes, resistance to mean-spirited measures like sit-lie, and the larger issues raised by the Brown and Barbara Boxer campaigns. “We need to figure out a way to put all that in the same coalition and run one campaign around it. And we can do that because progressives retained control of the DCCC.”



Although they’ve made great strides, San Francisco progressives are still struggling with a mayor who sees the solution to every budget crisis as cuts — and with a growing number of efforts to blame public employees for the city’s fiscal problems. Even Jeff Adachi, the public defender once considered a standard-bearer for progressive causes, is pushing a ballot measure that would require city workers to pay more for their pensions.

Gabriel Haaland, who works with Service Employees International Union Local 1021, made the right point in the pension debate. “Big financial institutions crashed the stock market,” he said recently, “and now they want to blame city workers.”

In a blog post on the political website Calitics, Robert Cruickshank put it clearly: “The notion that ‘everyone needs to give back’ just doesn’t make sense given our economic distress. We’ve already given back too much. We gave back our wages. We gave back our ability to afford health care and housing and transportation. We gave back the robust public- sector services that created widespread prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s. We gave back affordable, quality education. And too many of us have given back our future.

“No, it’s time for someone else to give back. It’s time for the wealthiest Californians and the large corporations to give back. For 30 years now they have benefited from economic policy designed to take money and benefits from the rest of us and give it to those who already have wealth and power.”

That’s a message that ought to appeal to anyone who’s hurting from this recession. It ought to cross red and blue lines. It ought to be the mantra of a new progressive populism that can channel voter anger toward the proper target: the big corporations that created the problems that are making us all miserable.

If Jerry Brown could adopt that narrative, he could change the state of California — and the state of the nation.

Let us entertain you



STAGE It’s not every day that I have a circus all to myself. And it’s making me exceedingly nervous. Mark Wessels, one of Circus Bella’s veteran clowns, is being installed by his coworkers on a unicycle whose dizzying height — which already recalls that of a vintage penny-farthing — is further exacerbated by its position on a five-foot platform. “I’ll be fine if I fall,” Wessels says. “I’ll try not to fall.”

It’s the professional-grade Circus Bella’s first full rehearsal of the year, one month before its July 3 performance in Yerba Buena Gardens, and I’m the lucky audience of one to its beautiful madness. Between superhuman feats, the affable Bellas come up to introduce themselves. Contortionist Ariana Ferber Carter rearranges her vertebrae in a lung-constricting backbend at my feet. “I can’t keep my back warm all the time,” the 18-year-old cheerfully deadpans after telling me she “only” stretches three hours a day, max.

“We try to run a tight ship here, but have fun. We use the word ‘delight’ a lot,” Abigail Munn tells me during a break. She’s the fetching aerialist and costume designer who cofounded the troupe in 2008 with slack-wire walker David Hunt. The two had noticed a dearth of traditional circus in the Bay Area. Everyone was all into the “Montreal thing,” as Hunt puts it — Cirque du Soleil-type concept theatrics. He recalls the moment when we said “What the hell is wrong with the ring?”

As veterans of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Zoppé Family Circus, and New Pickle Family Circus, Munn and Hunt wanted to take the circus experience back to the days when women wore sequins and the juggling was done by people with big red noses — not faceless cerulean orbs. Bella performers each develop their own acts separately, taking a page from classic troupes. Band director Rob Reich composes original scores after viewing the performers practice. The whole show takes place in a single ring, demarcated by a big blue ground covering splashed with gold stars. Best of all, Bella keeps prices accessible; indeed, most shows are free.

But running a circus, unsurprisingly, is somewhat of a balancing act. The cost of costumes, three new troupe members, the full band … on closer inspection it seems as if Circus Bella’s most awe-inspiring feat is its very existence. Munn acknowledges that retaining the troupe can be challenging, but that the circus game is the same one all struggling artists play. “We try to maintain a medium level of starving,” she tells me, only half joking. The group is accepting charitable donations as we speak, and about half the troupe’s nine in-ring members have day jobs teaching kids’ classes at places like the Circus Center near Kezar Stadium or have their own solo act side hustles.

After meeting the gang, I realize that I caught the Bella show last fall at the Yerba Buena Gardens by happenstance one cloudy day, not long after I moved back to the city. I like to think it was a uniquely San Francisco moment — to be walking through downtown’s concrete megaliths and suddenly run across a trapeze aerialist. Munn flipped high above my head in a sparkling blue unitard. The clowns alternated physical comedy that tickled the little ones in the audience with balancing tricks of the oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit persuasion. I don’t know, maybe that happenstance magic arise elsewhere in the world. Vegas, maybe. Still …


Sat/3 12, 2:15 p.m., free

Yerba Buena Gardens

Mission between Third and Fourth streets, SF

(415) 205-8355


alt.sex.column: Don’t care


Dear Andrea:

I’m 41 and finally starting to wonder why sex has never been as big a deal for me as it seems to be for most people. Early on in a relationship it’s pretty interesting, but that fades pretty fast (for me, not the guy) and then … nothing. Am I dysfunctional? Or asexual? Is there a pill for this?


Dreary Doris

Dear Doris:

Sadly, no. I’m a big fan of the quick fix and if there were a pill I would be all over that sucker, but there is not.

Not that people aren’t trying. Female sexual dysfunction is a matter of some keen interest over there in Big Pharma and in the herbal remedies section of the Crunchy Mart. Hippie chick or desperate housewife, everyone wants that pill, and everyone else wants to sell it to them. It’s just, there’s no such thing and possibly never will be. Sigh.

We ‘re forever hearing that some 40 percent of women report some sort of dysfunction or major dissatisfaction. Most are desire disorders and anorgasmia, but true sexual aversion and physical pain are also players. None of these are anywhere near as well-understood as one might wish. There is even some controversy over whether low desire is even dysfunctional as much as just a regular point along the human spectrum. As ever, it’s only a problem if it’s a problem for you.

So, is it possible your low libido is hormonal or caused by a current situation like exhaustion or resentment or a partner’s perceived lack of affection or support? Is it a leftover from some earlier traumatic event or equally desire-snuffing history of bad sex? Where does anorgasmia leave off and lack of interest set in? Is it a woman’s duty to “fix” something she really doesn’t think is broken, just to please a partner? How about to save a marriage?

There is nothing yet available in the way of an “aphrodisiac” for women. Plus, needing to feel loved, respected, desired, and appreciated before the sexual response cycle can fire up is going to be pretty hard to “fix” with a pill. I’d like to own stock in the company that comes up with one, though.

There is no universal aphrodisiac out there. The closest thing we’ve got is testosterone, in that both female and male desire looks to be T-driven at some level. But supplemental hormones are tricky bastards and do weird stuff, and you can’t just throw extra T into the mix and expect it to neatly adjust one system without messing with another. This is serious see-your-doctor stuff.

All this is interesting but beside the point for you. You don’t sound all that dysfunctional; maybe on the cool end of the sexy-o-meter but by no means all the way to “cold fish.” You’re into it enough with a new guy. Are these the wrong guys? Or are you somehow shutting yourself down, or shutting them out? I think this is more about partner choice or relationship skills, yours or theirs, and I know for sure they don’t make a pill for those.



Got a question? Email Andrea at andrea@mail.altsexcolumn.com

Lennar’s litmus test



None of the many stakeholders tracking the progress of Lennar Corp.’s massive Candlestick Point-Hunters Point Shipyard redevelopment plan registered surprise when the Board of Supervisors received three appeals to the Planning Commission’s June 3 certification of the project’s final environmental impact report (FEIR).

Instead, everybody who has been watching the political juggernaut that has been pushing for quick approval of the project over the past month said they anticipated that the FEIR would be appealed, and perhaps litigated. But the real question is whether the project will be substantially changed.

In the seven months since the project’s draft EIR was released, the Planning and Redevelopment Commissions have repeatedly rejected all arguments and recommendations made by its critics to improve or delay the plan, rushing the approval along on a tight schedule (“The Candlestick Farce,” 12/21/09).

The rush job occurred even as numerous groups and individuals warned that the DEIR comment period was too short, (“DEIR in the headlights,” 02/03/10) and complained that the city and the developer had dismissed crucial data and testimony while exploiting fears the San Francisco 49ers would leave town if the city didn’t act quickly (“Political juggernaut,” 06/02/10).

What’s less clear is whether the Board of Supervisors has the political will to heed these appeals and correct what opponents say are serious flaws in the city’s FEIR. The appeal that the Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon Society, California Native Plant Society, and San Francisco Tomorrow filed June 21 lists nine deficiencies.

These included the FEIR’s failure to look into an alternate Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route around Yosemite Slough or adequately assess impacts resulting from the landfill cap on Parcel E2 and the transfer of 20 acres of public shoreline land in Candlestick Point State Recreation Area (CPSRA) to build high-end housing.

“The FEIR failed to analyze those elements of the project’s sustainability plan that could have significant environmental impacts, including two proposed heating and cooling plants (which appear to be power plants) to serve 10,500 housing units and a projectwide recycling collection system,” the coalition further charged.

The appeal also voiced concern that the FEIR failed to adequately assess impacts resulting from the construction and maintenance of the development’s underground utility matrix, impacts to the bird-nesting in the proposed 34-acre wetland restoration project at the state park, and delays to eight Muni lines.

But the Sierra Club-led coalition also indicated that by removing provisions for a bridge over Yosemite Slough, transfer of land in the state park, and compromised clean-up efforts at Parcel E2, resolution of many of these disputed issues could be expedited.

“If the Board of Supervisors acts promptly, revisions to the EIR may be made quickly and result in a minimal delay in the progress of the project,” the coalition stated.

The Sierra Club’s Arthur Feinstein told the Guardian that the coalition’s top three concerns are “very important, but the six other issues are also very real.”

“Here we have a city cutting 10 percent of its bus service while saying that eight bus routes will need to be improved because of the project, and admitting that the development will increase air pollution in a district that has the highest rates of asthma and cancer without identifying mitigations such as reducing parking spaces in the proposal,” Feinstein said.

POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) also filed an FEIR appeal June 21 listing a broader range of environmental and economic justice-related concerns.

These included the FEIR’s failure to analyze and mitigate for displacement that would be triggered in the surrounding neighborhood by developing 10,500 mostly market-rate housing units in the area and “failure to provide for adequate oversight and enforcement of the terms of the early transfer” of the shipyard from the Navy.

POWER also cited the FEIR’s failure to adequately mitigate against the impact of sea level rise, the risks associated with potential liquefaction of contaminated landfill at the shipyard in the event of an earthquake, and health risks related to chemicals of concern at the shipyard. The group also faulted the city’s failure to get the Navy to prepare an environmental impact statement on its clean-up plan before the FEIR was completed.

Finally, Californians for Renewable Energy (CARE) filed a five-point appeal June 23 charging that the project contravened the intent of Proposition P (which voters approved in 2000, urging the Navy to remediate shipyard pollution to the maximum extent possible), that the project’s FEIR is incomplete because the Navy (which still retains jurisdiction over the project lands) has not yet completed its EIS, and that the FEIR approval process was tainted by 49ers-related political pressure.

“The pre-set goal of maintaining the 49ers in San Francisco has colored the environmental analysis of this decision,” CARE noted, referring to the city’s rush to get the project’s FEIR certified on June 3 — five days before Santa Clara County voters approved a new stadium for the 49ers near Great America .

The appeal filings mean the Board of Supervisors is required to hold a hearing within 30 days, a move that places a roadblock, at least temporarily, in the way of the city’s tight schedule to secure final approvals for Lennar’s megaproject before summer’s end.

Board President David Chiu told the Guardian that the Board’s Land Use Committee will move forward with a July 13 meeting to hear a list of proposed amendments related to the underlying plan along with the FEIR appeals.

“We are back at the board Land Use Committee July 12 with 10 items related to the project,” said Chiu, who is a member of the Land Use Committee. The three-member committee is chaired by Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who represents the project’s District 10; Sup. Eric Mar is vice-chair.

“The next day, July 13, has been tentatively set for a full meeting of the full board,” Chiu continued. He acknowledged that the FEIR related materials are dense and complex, telling us that “they form the largest pile on my desk, and it’s about five inches high.”

But he wasn’t about to prejudge the outcome. “We do need to clean up the area and rebuild it in such a way that it will dramatically increase affordable housing and jobs and support a livable diverse community,” Chiu said. “Obviously there are still a lot of questions and concerns about the proposed project and the board will push to make sure all these issues are adequately addressed.”

CARE president Michael Boyd said he hoped the board would take his group’s appeal seriously and fix the plan’s fundamental shortcomings. “That means going back to square one,” he said.

But others were less sure that the board would seek to overturn the entire plan. “Everyone in the community would like the best level of clean-up,” said Saul Bloom, whose nonprofit Arc Ecology has tracked the proposed shipyard clean-up for three decades. “But what’s possible and practical? And will the city be supportive of that or the most expeditious solution?”

Bloom reserved gravest concern for plans to cap, not remove, the contaminants from the shipyard’s Parcel E2. “The concern is that if you put a cap on E2 without a liner then contaminants could scootch out during a seismic event, or over time, and cause problems because of the parcel’s close proximity to surrounding groundwater and the San Francisco Bay,” he said. “But to place a liner in there is very expensive because you’d have to excavate E2, at which point you might as well replace it with clean soil.”

Bloom acknowledged that the Navy has argued that excavation would cause a nasty smell and nobody knows what is going to be released in the process.

“But long-term Bayview residents like Espanola Jackson have made the point that the community already lives within nose-shot of the southeast sewage treatment plant and would rather put up with a few years of nasty smells, given the relative benefits of cleaning the yard up,” he said. “And how do we know a cap will be protective given the Navy’s argument that we don’t know what’s down there?

“The thing that makes the most sense here is to clean up the shipyard to the best possible extent, but the city isn’t planning to do that,” Bloom added. “And the environmental community’s bottom line has always been the bridge [over Yosemite Slough, which the Sierra Club opposes]. So the sense is that if the bridge goes away, so does their problem.”

Put new taxes in the budget


EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom still wants to balance this year’s municipal budget with no new taxes (although he’s happy to raise the fees to use city facilities). The supervisors are looking at a different approach: John Avalos, chair of the budget committee, told us he’d like to see $100 million in new revenue on the table.

Some of that might come from a fee on liquor sales. There’s a hotel tax measure being circulated, and the supervisors are also looking at raising the real estate transfer tax on high-end properties and imposing a commercial rent tax. All but the liquor fee would require a majority vote on the November ballot.

So far, Newsom hasn’t given any indication that he’ll support any new taxes — and that’s due in significant part to his campaign for lieutenant governor. The mayor doesn’t want to get hit by his Republican opponent as a tax-and-spend liberal, so he’s holding the line, cutting essential services instead of looking for progressive ways to bring in new revenue.

But voters up and down the state have shown their willingness to approve new taxes to save essential services, and it’s likely that San Franciscans will do the same — particularly if the folks at City Hall are united in their support.

So here’s an idea for the supervisors: why not include that new revenue as part of this year’s budget?

There’s no legal reason the budget can’t be balanced in part on the assumption of new income. November is almost halfway through the fiscal year, but more than $50 million of that revenue would be available for the 2010-11 budget.

There are distinct advantages to including that money in the budget, starting with fewer budget cuts and layoffs now. There’s also a clear political advantage: if the voters realize what’s at stake — that the money has already been earmarked and that voting it down would mean immediate reduction in vital services — the message of the importance of approving the tax measures would be even stronger.

Equally important, it would force the mayor to show his hand. Newsom would almost certainly prefer to duck the issue, to take a neutral stand on the tax measures ("let the voters decide"). He might wind up opposing all of them. But if the money’s already in the budget, what can he do? Without that tax money, the budget won’t be legally balanced. Without his support, that tax money might not come through.

It’s a risky move. If the voters reject the tax hikes, the supervisors and the mayor would be forced to make painful midyear cuts. But they’ll have to make those cuts anyway, either now or in November. And once you shut down services or eliminate nonprofit contracts, it’s much harder and more expensive to start them up again.

So this might be the year to take the calculated gamble: assume that money’s going to be there. Then everyone, including the mayor, can help make sure that it actually is.

Editor’s Notes



Jane Kim, the San Francisco school board president running for supervisor in District 6, has a tough question to answer. When there’s already a solid progressive in the race, Debra Walker, someone who has lived in the district for years and agrees with Kim on almost all the key issues, why is Kim running?

She gave a hint at her campaign kickoff June 24 on how she’s going to portray herself: "I’m not part of anyone’s machine, and I’m certainly not part of anyone’s master plan." It’s an attractive statement — nobody likes machine politics — and the idea that she’s an independent candidate makes her all the more appealing.

Except that it also says something about the progressive movement in San Francisco — and that’s a little disturbing. Because no matter how you try to spin it, when you say you aren’t part of anyone’s machine, you’re implying that maybe your opponents are.

Let me take a step back here, because this is important stuff. There’s a fine line between an effective, organized political coalition that can actually win elections and a political machine, which stifles political innovation and grassroots candidates. And in part it’s about motivation.

When Willie Brown ran San Francisco, it was all about Willie Brown. I’ve never believed the guy had much of an ideology or that any political cause really mattered to him; he loved power, he knew how to use it and he didn’t want to give it up. That was the bottom line.

Now that he’s pretty much out of the picture — although he was at Kim’s party, he’s not a factor anymore — there’s a very different power balance in this city. There’s nobody at City Hall (or in Sacramento, or Washington, or downtown, or anywhere else) who has machine-style control of local politics.

There are people who can build coalitions that work — Aaron Peskin, for example, did exceptionally well with putting together a campaign to elect progressive Democratic County Central Committee elections. And there are people who would love to be power brokers.

But I’ve been around politics here a long time, and I can tell you: Aaron Peskin doesn’t have a machine. Neither does Mark Leno, or Gavin Newsom, or Tom Ammiano, or David Chiu, or anyone else. Thanks in part to district elections, there aren’t many call-up votes on the Board of Supervisors these days. In fact, the left in San Francisco is famously unable to agree on much of anything half the time. Note, for example, the fact that Chiu — often called a Peskin ally — is not supporting Peskin’s candidate in D-6. He’s with Jane Kim.

The thing is, unlike the players in a typical political machine, most of the progressives care about issues. It’s about a shared ideology more than it’s about power. That’s a hugely important difference.

The way the mainstream media has it, the San Francisco left is either fatally fractured and can’t do anything — or it’s becoming a machine. For the moment — a great moment — neither is true. Let’s all keep that in mind. Because when we beat each other up with words like "machine," we undermine the whole progressive movement.

Bad way to start a campaign.

Fiscal solidarity


OPINION As Mayor Gavin Newsom prepares to skip town for the bleak limelight of Sacramento, he has left a resounding parting shot with massive budget cuts to those San Franciscans most in need of public aid: seniors, youth, homeless people, folks with mental illnesses, health clinic patients … the list goes on.

Newsom has balanced his final budget (and his campaign for lieutenant governor) largely on the backs of the poor, working-class, multiracial, and immigrant San Franciscans, as well as the nonprofits and city workers who deliver vital services.

The Newsom budget actually adds costs: by cutting services for the treatment and prevention of substance abuse and for youth crime prevention and supportive housing, for instance, it destabilizes lives and forces people right back into the treatment systems that are being cut — adding new human and fiscal costs.

"Every cut has a constituency," Newsom’s PR people say repeatedly. And that’s precisely what the mayor is counting on — that each "constituency" will fight on its own, for its own fiscal scraps. He’s wrong.

As members of a broad coalition of community and neighborhood-based organizations, labor unions, and civic leaders and residents across the city, we stand together in opposition to Newsom’s cuts-only budget and his attempts to divide "constituencies."

Fiscal solidarity means we recognize that an injury to one is an injury to all. "Constituencies" are in fact people whose lives cut across multiple budget line items. Cutting city parks is also a senior issue, as well as a youth issue. Closing mental health programs for the poor is not only an unnecessary moral outrage — it’s a public health and safety issue.

As members and supporters of unions and nonprofits, which are sometimes pit against each other in budget cut wars, we declare mutual support. The mayor’s cuts will mean drastically reduced services for those who need them most and deep staff cuts for city employees and nonprofit workers. We may work for different institutions under different budget line-items, but we’re fighting together as one community — one big "constituency."

Budget wars artificially divide communities that overlap and intermingle. Expressions of unity are put to the test by the budget "add-back" process that forces community groups to scuffle for scraps of cash — groups serving populations in critical need are set against each other, and whole communities are reduced to line-items.

We’re standing against fiscal wedge politics and demanding a real alternative. The budget must protect those most in need and be balanced by cutting first from the top instead of the bottom.

We are united for solutions — progressive tax measures on key wealth sectors that can and must pay their fair share to keep San Francisco the beautiful, thriving, diverse, and culturally rich city it is. We’re standing up for the city Newsom’s leaving, for the communities he’s cutting, and for progressive revenue — a tax to make downtown hotels pay their fair share, and a gross receipts tax on large businesses for starters.

Mayor Newsom: if you cut one of us, you cut us all.

This statement was signed by Christopher Cook, Budget Justice Coalition; Gabriel Haaland, SEIU 1021*; Gordon Mar, Jobs with Justice*; Eric Quezada, Dolores Street Community Services*; N’Tanya Lee, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth*; Jennifer Friedenbach, Coalition on Homelessness; Guiliana Milanese, Jobs with Justice*; Christina Olague, Senior Action Network*; Sheila Tully, California Faculty Association, SF State*; Chelsea Boilard, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth*; Joseph Smooke, Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center*; Carl Finamore, delegate, SF Labor Council*

* names for ID purposes only

Complicating the simple



GREEN CITY San Francisco can legally give more street space to bicycles, even if it delays cars or Muni in some spots, a policy that enjoys universal support among elected officials here. So why have all the city’s proposed bike projects been held up by an unprecedented four-year court injunction, despite the judge’s clear affirmation of the city’s right to approve its current Bicycle Plan as written?

The answer involves a mind-numbing journey into the complex strictures of the California Environmental Quality Act and its related case law, which was the subject of a three-hour hearing before Superior Court Judge Peter Busch on June 22 that delved deeply into transportation engineering minutiae but did little to indicate when the city might be able to finally stripe the 45 bike lanes that have been studied, approved, funded, and are ready to go.

Anti-bike activist Rob Anderson and attorney Mary Miles have been on a long and lonely — but so far, quite successful — legal crusade to kill any proposed bike projects that remove parking spaces or cause traffic delays. They have argued that the city shouldn’t be allowed to hurt the majority of road users to help the minority who ride bikes, urging the city and court to remove those projects from the Bike Plan.

But Busch repeatedly said the court can’t do that. “That’s the policy question that’s not for the court to decide,” he told Miles in court, later adding: “I don’t get to decide that the Board of Supervisors’ policy is misguided.”

Yet city officials have offered detailed arguments that the policy of facilitating safe bicycling isn’t misguided, but instead is consistent with the transit-first policy in the city charter and with the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving public health, and even alleviating overall traffic congestion by giving more people good alternatives to driving a car.

Busch hasn’t indicated that he has any issues with that rationale. Instead, the question is whether policymakers had enough information — in the proper manner spelled out by two generations’ worth of legal battles over land use decisions in California — to make their unanimous decisions to approve the Bike Plan in 2005 and again in 2009, after completing a court-ordered, four-volume, two-year, $2 million environmental impact report.

Miles argues that the EIR is legally inadequate in every way possible, employing such gross hyperbole in condemning it as a hollow document that does nothing to explain or justify any of its conclusions that Busch told her at one point, “That’s such an over-argument, it leaves me wondering about the rest of your argument.”

But he’s certainly considering the rest of her argument that more analysis was required, going into great detail on the questions of whether the city studied and spelled out enough alternatives and mitigation measures, how much of the voluminous traffic survey data should be in the plan, whether there was enough support for the thresholds of significant impacts, and what the remedy should be if he finds some minor errors in the methodology.

Yet even Busch said there wasn’t a clear regulatory road map for the city to follow on this project. “There probably has never been an EIR for a project like this,” he acknowledged. It was the city’s decision in 2004 to do a Bike Plan that mentioned specific projects without studying them that led to the injunction and this extraordinarily complex EIR, which did detailed analysis on more than 60 projects.

“Once you get that complexity, the toeholds are everywhere to fight it,” activist Mark Salomon, who has long criticized city officials and bicycle activists for their approach to the Bike Plan, told us.

But Kate Stacey, who heads the land use team in the City Attorney’s Office, says the city will be in a good position to quickly create lots of bike lanes once this plan passes legal muster.

“The city can now go through the specific bike projects without having another step of analysis,” she told us. “I think it’s a complete and elegant approach even if it was more time-consuming at the outset.” Busch asked both sides to submit proposed orders by July 6 and responses to those orders by July 13, with a ruling and possible lifting of the injunction expected later this summer.

The sporting life



CHEAP EATS In defense of Emeryville, there’s the Emery Bay Public Market, where you can get duck noodle soup for $6, or almost anything else in the world. There’s a Caribbean booth, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Afghani, Cajun, Mexican, pizza, Peets … You can sit outside, if you want, and watch the trains go by.

There are train tracks in Emeryville.

Today I had a gyro. On a big screen near the main entrance to the market, South Korea was playing Nigeria, and on a small TV up over the Caribbean food, Greece was playing Argentina. I took my gyro to Jamaica. Tonight I have a date with an Argentinean with at least four names in his name, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have something to say on the subject in case he’s a soccer fan.

As you know, I’m not. But I am.

What in the world I’m doing in Emeryville — hanging out at the Emery Bay Public Market, drinking Peets, watching trains, and dating Argentineans who may or may not have anything to say about soccer — has everything in the world to do with my friend Kiz.

This may sound somewhat time-lapsed, but Kiz found her man, and they moved in together and got engaged and now they’re in Hawaii! He’s great, but he has a dog, is where I come in.

At first I didn’t want to do it. Why would anyone choose to be in Emeryville. For a week! With a dog. I’m more of a cat person. I love where I live and don’t like being more than one building away from Earl Butter (who lives upstairs) for hours and hours, let alone days at a time. But then I started thinking about it: Kiz and her man have a TV. Cable. DVR. And their apartment complex has a swimming pool and hot tub. I could record and watch soccer and soccer and soccer. I could throw my drool-soaked soccer-watching shirts in the dryer (which they have), jump in the pool, soak in the tub, and check out yet another international delicacy at the Public Market across the street.

So far, my favorite is Sergio Ramos of Spain. Although, damn, there’s this one guy on the Greek team … But I’m rooting for Argentina. Today. Tonight.

To boot, I became a basketball fan (also by accident) just in time to see the Celtics lose to the Lakers in game seven of the NBA Championship. Really and truly I was looking for fried chicken, of course; but I’d heard that it could be had in fine fashion at a bar in Emeryville called Scends.

My informant being a literary editor who has published and paid but never perked me, I accepted his invitation to dine there together. I use the word dine loosely. We sat on a bench by the backroom exit, eating off of paper plates in our laps and jostled by drunken sports fans hooting and hollering at a big screen TV behind our heads.

In other words, my kind of place!

The fried was perfect. They have wings, oysters, catfish, snapper, and prawns. But my favorite was the lug nut in the porkpie hat who kept yelling above all the rest of the din: "Fumble!!!" And "Touchdown!!!"

Christ, I love people. Especially ones who can fry fried stuff the way Scends does, with lots of crispy crunch and — same time — enough succulence to float the sinkingest of ships, like me. Christ, I love juicy meat, and oysters. And mac ‘n’ cheese with lots of hot sauce on it.

So here’s to Scends, and here’s to Ponzo the Dog, whose shit I almost actually sort of don’t mind bagging, and Sloop the Non-Slacking Editor, whose shit I have not until this very sentence had any occasion to even think about — damn my convolutedness!

But it was Sloop’s idea to go there, also not realizing it was game seven of the NBA finals, and his tenacity and elbowing skills found us a little corner to imbibe in. Not to mention his hard-earned dollars that paid for our fried and beers.

So, yeah, so … Emeryville. Who knew? All this, and choo-choo trains. And all I have to do is walk Ponzo three times a day and find funny ways to cover up all the bridal magazines.


Hours: Mon. 2–8:30 p.m.; Tue.–Thu. 2–10 p.m.;

Fri. 2–11 p.m.; Sat. 3–11 p.m.; Sun. 3–8:30 p.m.

3627 San Pablo Ave., Emeryville

(510) 547-9238


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