Volume 44 Number 44

The deal is done

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Mayor Gavin Newsom was quick to frame the Board of Supervisors’ 10-1 vote for Lennar Corp.’s massive redevelopment proposal for Candlestick Point-Hunters Point Shipyard on July 27 as a sign that plans to revitalize the Bayview are about to begin.

“Now we can truly begin the work of transforming an environmental blight into a new center of thousands of permanent and construction jobs, green technology investment, affordable housing, and parks for our city,” Newsom claimed in a prepared statement after the board (with Sup. Chris Daly as the lone dissenter) approved Lennar’s 700-acre project.

The proposal calls for 10,500 residential units; 320 acres of parks, retail and entertainment facilities, green-tech office space; and a San Francisco 49ers stadium if the team decides not to move to Santa Clara.

But Kofi Bonner, who worked for Mayor Willie Brown before becoming Lennar’s top Bay Area executive in 2006, said the vote means he can start shopping the plan around. “Now we have to find some money to move forward with the project,” Bonner told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Given the stubbornness of the recession, Bonner’s revelation that Lennar has yet to find all the necessary investors means local workers and public housing residents could be waiting a long time for jobs and housing in Bayview. If and when the project finally breaks ground, it will involve building condos in the Bayview’s only major park.

These realities undermine the claims of Lennar, which used the mantra of “jobs, housing, and parks” in 2008 to sell Proposition G but made no mention of a bridge over environmentally sensitive Yosemite Slough or selling state parkland for condos.

Also disturbing, says Sierra Club local representative Arthur Feinstein, is the lack of any economic analysis to support Lennar’s claims that the bridge is needed.

Indeed, the only thing clear to longtime observers of the plan is that the much vaunted jobs won’t happen soon, most of the housing will be unaffordable to current Bayview residents, and Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, the only major open space in the Bayview, will be carved up so Lennar can build luxury condos on waterfront land.

These concerns have led the Sierra Club to threaten a lawsuit over issues on which Board President David Chiu was the swing vote in favor of the Lennar and Redevelopment Agency plan. Yet Chiu told the Guardian that the process got him thinking that it might be time to reform the redevelopment process.

“Now might be a good time to address concerns about the potential for inconsistency between Redevelopment and the city when it comes to land use and planning visions,” Chiu said. “And I have concerns about the tax increment financing process.” Tax increment financing allows the Redevelopment Agency to keep all property tax increases from the project, up to $4 billion, to use in redevelopment projects rather than into city coffers.

Chiu says the amendment he offered July 12, which narrows Lennar’s proposed bridge over Yosemite Slough by half, was based “on the belief that having a connection between jobs and housing is important. And I had understood that it would cost the developer an additional $100 million if the bridge was removed.”

But Feinstein counters that it’s hard to imagine that building a bridge over an environmentally sensitive slough will attract investors that support green technology. He is concerned that the development is expected to attract 24,465 new residents but that the Lennar plan fails to mitigate for transit-related impacts on air quality. “The Bayview already has the highest rates of asthma and cancer in the city,” Feinstein said.

Chiu says the supervisors can introduce separate legislation to address this concern. “It’s my understanding that an air quality analysis could be implemented by the board,” he said.

Although the board’s July 27 vote was a relief for termed-out Sup. Sophie Maxwell, its failure to support the no-bridge alternative, increased affordability standards, and an air quality analysis could result in expensive and time-consuming litigation, Feinstein warns.

And although Sups. Chris Daly, Ross Mirkarimi, David Campos, John Avalos, and Eric Mar supported all three of these amendments, they were ultimately thwarted by a redevelopment law that limits the city’s control of such projects.

During the meeting, Daly acknowledged that it would be impossible for Lennar to meet his 50 percent affordability amendment. But he noted that if the project becomes too expensive “there’s going to be a pretty new neighborhood with lots of white folks living in the Bayview.”

But after Michael Cohen, Newsom’s top economic advisor, said the project would not be financially viable with 50 percent affordability, Sups. Chiu, Maxwell, Bevan Dufty, Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu, and Sean Elsbernd voted against Daly’s amendment.

These same six supervisors voted against Mirkarimi’s proposal to eliminate plans for a bridge across Yosemite Slough, even though Cohen was unable to point to any economic analysis to support Lennar’s claims that the bridge is necessary.

Arc Ecology owner Saul Bloom, whose nonprofit did studies indicating that an alternative route wrapping around the slough is feasible, says Lennar’s plan illustrates the problem that San Francisco has with development. “Elected officials couldn’t do anything,” he said, except give the nod to a plan he describes as “developed by a mayoral administration and approved by that mayor’s political appointees [on the Redevelopment Agency board],” Bloom said.

“The message that the environmental community takes away from all this is that it doesn’t pay to play well,” Bloom continued. “No matter how much you spend to try and ensure that litigation is not the only way to obtain the desired outcome, ultimately the message that comes back from the city and the developer is ‘sue us!’ That brings out the worst political conduct, not the most appropriate.”

Feinstein wouldn’t confirm that a Sierra Club lawsuit is imminent, but predicted that if the coalition — which includes Golden Gate Audubon, the California Native Plant Society, and SF Tomorrow — goes to court, it’s likely to win. “If we do litigate, we’ll probably do it on a wide range of issues,” Feinstein said. “They approved a fatally flawed document, and they could provide no documented evidence of the need for a bridge — and admitted that publicly.”

Feinstein contends that Lennar’s plan has been a runaway project from the get-go. “The idea was to march it through before the mayor is gone with little regard for process. And despite all the much vaunted public meetings, little in the plan has changed,” he said.

Feinstein added that he was disappointed in Chiu’s stance on the bridge. “There were five supervisors in the Newsom camp, but as board President, Chiu had a responsibility to be more vigilant,” he said. “We told him what’s wrong with the bridge plan, but he didn’t share our view.”

“This is a rare opportunity,” Maxwell said before the board’s final vote. “It focuses public and private investment into an area that has lacked it in the past. It’s unmatched by any development project in San Francisco. This project is large and complicated, no doubt. But let us not be fearful of this project because of its scale, because how else can we transform a neglected landscape?”

But project opponents say everyone should fear a deal that required the board to ask Lennar’s approval to amend a plan that was pitched by the Newsom administration and approved by a bunch of mayoral appointees on the Redevelopment Commission with little chance for elected officials to make changes.

Mirkarimi said the problem with a process in which redevelopment law trumps municipal law is that it creates a shadow government in those few municipalities in California where the Board of Supervisors or City Council is not the same entity as the Redevelopment Commission.

“This is not the first time Redevelopment’s plans have trumped the concerns of local residents,” Mirkarimi said, referring to the agency’s botched handling of the Fillmore District in the 1960s, which led to massive displacement of African and Japanese Americans.

“I’ve been told, ‘Don’t worry, Ross, this is not going to happen, we’re not going to use eminent domain.’ Well, jeez, that’s a consolation, because even when we’ve exercised our legislative influence and given our blessing, [Redevelopment] unilaterally changed the plan after it left the board,” Mirkarimi said, referring to Lennar’s decision to replace rental units with for-sale condos when it first began work on the shipyard in 2006. “That suggests a condescending role in which the developer is able to go to the Redevelopment Commission and make a unilateral change.”

Mirkarimi’s concerns seemed justified after Cohen, Bonner, and Redevelopment Director Fred Blackwell huddled in a corner of City Hall during the board’s July 27 meeting to decide which of the supervisors’ slew of amendments they would accept. When Cohen returned with the amendments organized into three categories (acceptable as written, to be modified, and completely unacceptable), Mirkarimi’s no-bridge amendment had been sorted into the “unacceptable” pile.

“With regard to your insistence on the economic reasons [for the bridge], please point to which document says that,” Mirkarimi said, leafing in vain through the project materials.

Cohen mentioned “a lessening of attractiveness,” “a lower-density product,” and a reduction of revenue available through tax increment financing to pay for the bridge.

“Yes, but I’m still trying to look for the information and all I’m hearing is this pitch,” Mirkarimi said. “The economic study is absent. There are no supporting documents here. This is why I feel it’s justified for us to have a review of this.”

Cohen rambled on about “rigorous public discussion over a number of years” and claimed that a “huge amount of studies had been done.”

“But there is no economic study,” Mirkarimi repeated.

The board then voted 6-5 against Mirkarimi’s amendment after deputy City Attorney Charles Sullivan said that the only way to remove the bridge — since the project’s environmental impact report had rejected that option — would be to reject the entire plan. “I wish we had been able to eliminate the bridge,” Campos told the Guardian after the vote. “Part of the challenge we have is to reexamine how Redevelopment works and explore the potential for taking it over.”

Daly believes the bridge has nothing to do with connecting the neighborhood to the city. “The idea is to allow white people to get the fuck out of the neighborhood,” he said. “And it connects a different class of people to a new job without having to go through a low-income community of color. That’s why the bridge is needed.”

Mirkarimi said he was satisfied that he had dissected the arguments against the no-bridge alternative but fears that institutional memory is lacking on the current board. “A lot of my colleagues have not been involved in the debacle,” he said, referring to decades of problems with redevelopment in San Francisco. But Maxwell was all smiles. “I did my homework a long time ago — that’s why they couldn’t touch the core of the project,” she said. “They just added to and augmented it.”

alt.sex.column: Vanilla Shake

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Dear Andrea:

My husband and I are in our early 40s. We have been together 15 years and married for nine. We have sex about once a week, which is all we can manage with two little kids, two full time jobs, and everything else.

For about the past five years much of our sex has centered around light B&D play. We both find this kind of play arousing. At first, my husband needed some encouragement, but now it’s all we do. Even though it is sometimes super-hot, I’m also, sometimes, a tiny bit bored. I sometimes wish he found me as sexy and irresistible as mySELF as he does when I am in my submissive, subservient role. However, I notice that on the rare occasions when we have non-B&D sex, it is not as exciting for either of us. And my master … er, I mean husband … is capable of very tender acts of lovemaking, but only, it seems, when I am blindfolded and tied to the bed. Is there any way to make non-B&D sex as arousing as our little games?

Thanks,

Sign me Mwlf

Dear Mwlf:

You’re actually doing fine in the “how often” department. Once a week may be few people’s fantasy, but it is something like most people’s reality. You are — surprise! — normal.

As for what you’re doing fine with … here are your kudos for branching out a good 10 years into your relationship. Despite constant exhortations to try! new! sex! tricks!, most couples tend to gradually contract their repertoires, not necessarily on purpose, but out of habit, lack of attention, and the sense that “good enough” is actually good enough. Don’t get me wrong, good enough actually is good enough, often enough. But just as often people stop exploring and then end up wondering why the surrounding territory looks so damned familiar and, dare we say it, dull.

You are hardly the first to find it hard to reacclimate to so-called vanilla sex after a sojourn in kinkland. I don’t believe you can get “addicted” to silk scarves and stilettos. Neither do I believe that our bodies/psyches/neurochemical receptors inevitably build tolerance to sexual sensation and require ever more extreme whatever-it-is to achieve the same response.

I am not sure that the answer for you lies in “making non-B&D sex as arousing as your little games.” Sure, that would be good, but remember how in all those columns about female libido it keeps coming back around to women responding strongly to feeling desired? Or, as you put it: “I sometimes wish he found me as sexy and irresistible as mySELF?”

You may well be a bit bored, of course, but I think you’re feeling a bit under-appreciated, a trifle invisible. You need him to see you, not just the damsel in distress he has tied to the railroad tracks. Tell him. And try not to think of BDSM and vanilla as opposites. This is, like practically everything else, more of a spectrum than an on/off switch. Try the S-M -inflected vanilla for a bit. At least it would be different.

Love,

Andrea

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

Volume 44 Number 44 Flip-through Edition

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Chaos channel

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC The first song on Crystal Castles’ new LP, “Fainting Spells,” is a test, a real Indiana Jones-style booby-trap, to ward off unwitting tourists. It opens with a high-pitched squeal, then a driving drum beat — if it came on in the car while your iPod was on shuffle, you’d probably leap out of your seat. The screeching and squealing continues for about two minutes, then plateaus for a breath, and when they return it’s like hearing them for the first time. In the context of a new back-beat, they make you nod your head a bit and notice they’ve been harnessed into a pattern.

Crystal Castles’ sounds are harsh, but they are a band keenly aware of what a difference a little context can make. I’m reminded of that old Jim Thompson quote: “A weed is a plant out of place. I find a hollyhock in my cornfield, it’s a weed. I find it in my yard, and it’s a flower.” Crystal Castles has made a career out of understanding the difference.

Crystal Castles their began their musical career as a lo-fi electronic outfit in Toronto made up of producer Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass. Although they claim the name came from She-Ra’s sky fortress and not the 1983 Atari game, their sound has a catchy MIDI game soundtrack feel to it that makes you wonder if it wasn’t the other way around. When the band first started out, it was Glass’ ferocious voice and raucous stage show that claimed most of the attention. But on the duo’s second self-titled album released earlier this year, Glass’ fierce vocals and Kath’s exploratory coarseness are focused, so they stay harsh while coloring within the lines.

Make no mistake, although the duo’s sound has cleaned up, it’s still not the kind of music you want to spin at your grandparents’ anniversary get-together. The punk-rock attitude suits Kath and Glass just fine, and they return the favor tenfold, first with those aforementioned booby-traps. The albums’ initial single “Doe Deer” headlines a blazing guitar riff under Glass’ chaotic screaming, and has a structure not unlike “Fainting Spells,” where Kath builds on chaos then channels it. But songs like these recall the patchy design of the band’s 2008 debut. Much more surprising are the quieter moments, which see the band embracing the fact that no matter how punk its aesthetic, people are still dancing to this stuff.

Kath continues to experiment with vocal sounds, using repeated syllables that move to the beat and a wide array of samples. I thought “Year of Silence” had Glass singing either in German or backward; a little Googling revealed it not to be Glass at all, but a Sigur Rós sample. Crystal Castles’ 14 little experiments are tighter and slicker than on previous releases, a shift that was hinted at with last year’s “Baptism” single. The song returns here, retooled with additional beats and a quickened tempo that suggests Kath and Glass have more than a passing interest in real rave-style trance.

I don’t know, maybe aloof indie kids are afraid of the words “trance” and “rave-music,” envisioning a sea of candy bracelets and pacifiers. But in taking a punk music approach to electronic music, Crystal Castles is making it easier to convert the suspicious. Kath’s consistently imaginative use of crude noises and familiar-but-disassociated vocals makes Crystal Castles at once a profoundly jarring and catchy album. In an electronic landscape largely still populated by house and ambient, it’s nice to have a band that can churn out such beautiful flowers where other artists see pesky weeds.

CRYSTAL CASTLES

With Rusko, Sinden, and Proxy

Aug. 6, 7 p.m., $35

The Fox Theatre

1807 Telegraph, Oakl.

(800) 745-3000

www.thefoxoakland.com

The yellow wallpaper

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arts@sfbg.com

HAIRY EYEBALL New York City construction workers at the World Trade Center site recently unearthed an 18th-century ship hull. More interesting is that scientists believe that the structure was part of the massive landfill that extended lower Manhattan further into the Hudson River. You don’t have to read too deep to hit on the symbolism of this story, even if the occurrence at its center isn’t so uncommon in a city as densely developed and old as New York (see the 1991 discovery of a 200-year old African burial ground, also in lower Manhattan). Beneath the site where the Twin Towers fell lies further wreckage, older ruins. Nothing is ever truly gone. What lies buried will eventually surface. The present is always haunted by the past.

The same could be said of the art world, which has recently been holding some flashy curatorial séances of its own. Two exhibits don’t necessarily make a trend, but the Berkeley Art Museum’s current “Hauntology,” recently reviewed in this paper, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Musuem’s ongoing exhibit “Haunted: Contemporary: Photography/Video/Performance,” both summon the specters of late-1980s academic theory (Derrida in name and word, in the case of BAM’s show) in their selection of works that address the unseen yet felt presences — aesthetic, historical, political — floating amid the present.

You can also add “Now, It’s About What You Can’t See” to the list, although this group show at Triple Base Gallery of paintings, drawings, and installations is not as enthralled by its organizing principle — what is absent may not be forgotten — as the previously mentioned exhibits are to critical theory and now-old debates around appropriation in photography. As Triple Base’s statement declares, though the artists vary by age and medium, their works, “provide faint shadowy traces of moments to imagine what once existed and hint at an ever-evolving history.”

The faintest traces belong to Rachel E. Foster’s wall installation, which is practically invisible from certain angles. Only by moving back and forth in front of the surface does the repeatedly painted word “ghost” emerge from the seemingly contiguous white field of the gallery’s wall. As in her older works involving text, here, Foster cleverly collapses medium and message, using a representational strategy to bring a word’s meaning to life. In this case, the word “ghost” becomes just that.

Unfortunately, it’s hard not to read Foster’s installation as a commentary on the small group of Eleanor Kent’s early oil paintings, which are hung on the same wall. Inspired by her life in Noe Valley in the 1960s when she was still associated with the Bay Area Figurative movement, Kent’s small-scale domestic scenes — her son playing, a couple talking over dinner — aren’t by themselves elegiac. But Foster’s apparitional wallpaper imbues Kent’s facelessness figures and rough outlines with an air of loss that might not be present otherwise.

Wallpaper is put to different use in Mara Baldwin’s How to remember where you put something, the sharpest and most moving articulation of the show’s preoccupation with absence and memory. Baldwin, it appears, has removed and rehung a large section of old wallpaper. The yellowish pattern of red and yellow flowers has faded with age, as revealed by two brighter rectangles near the section’s center that suggest the spaces where perhaps art or photos had once been hung (curiously, no nail holes are visible). But looking closer, you realize that the paper in the less-faded sections is not the same paper at all, but a continuation of the wallpaper’s design in watercolor.

The piece’s two painted sections aren’t simply indexes for what’s gone missing (which may not have even existed in the first place). Executed by Baldwin’s steady, patient hand, the painted sections also draw attention to what they are intended to replicate: the banal, mass-produced wallpaper that surrounds them. By flattening background and subject, Baldwin makes painting the aid to memory of the piece’s title, while also suggesting that “putting on a new coat of paint” always involves some form of erasure. Chechu Alava’s soft-focus portrait of a sylph-like young woman in a slip is more conventionally ghostly, but not nearly as haunting as Foster’s hidden graffiti or Baldwin’s yellow wallpaper.

 

MORE TOPOGRAPHICS

As I wrote two columns ago in my review of the multi-gallery show “They Knew What They Wanted,” the George Eastman House’s 1975 exhibit “New Topographics” — currently hanging in a reassembled version at SFMOMA — continues to cast its shadow over contemporary art and curatorial practice, particularly where landscape is concerned.

“Land Use,” at Oakland’s Swarm Gallery, could easily be a satellite to both exhibits. Bill Mattick’s color photographs documenting the ecological cost of urban and industrial development in Southern California are the closest relatives to the grim indictments of such “New Topographic” participants as Joe Deal, Robert Adams, and Lewis Baltz. Chris Sicat’s pieces of reclaimed wood “colored in” with soft graphite pencils are less successful as sculptures than as documents of the artist’s attempts to work within natural form of his materials. Sculptor Reenie Charrière takes a similar tack with manmade waste, aggregating the plastic bits that don’t make it to the recycling center into playful, biologic forms.

NOW, IT’S ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE

Through Aug. 29

Triple Base

3041 24th St., SF

(415) 643-3943

www.basebasebase.com

LAND USE

Through Sept. 12

Swarm Gallery

560 Second St, Oakl.

(510) 839-2787

www.swarmgallery.com

The kids aren’t alright

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM The Kids Are Alright isn’t the only film this summer that subtly skewers the suburban upper-middle class by following a seemingly well-adjusted family as they’re thrown into crisis when a shadowy father figure attempts to enter their orbit. Only in the case of Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime, instead of a sperm donor, Dad is a convicted child molester.

A quasi-sequel to 1998’s Happiness, Life picks up 10 years later to survey the still-damaged Jordan sisters. After discovering that her husband Allen (Michael Kenneth Williams) is still making sexually harassing phone calls, mousy Joy (squeaky-voiced British actress Shirley Henderson) flees to Florida, where her older sister Trish (Allison Janney) has attempted to start a new life for herself and her children. Oldest Billy (Chris Marquette) is now a bitter college student, and youngest son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) still doesn’t know the horrible truth about his father Bill (Ciarán Hinds), who has just been released from prison. Third sister Helen (Ally Sheedy), has had success in Hollywood, but still feels victimized by her family.

Despite the entirely new cast, happiness remains just as elusive as before. Pleasure, when it can be found, is fleeting. Characters’ awkward conversations with each other inevitably sputter and stall, and even the best intentions are no measure against disaster. Solondz may be a scathing observer, but he is not above being sympathetic when its called for. Neither does he gloss over the serious questions — what are the limits of forgiveness? When is forgetting necessary? — Life grabbles with, something that was quite clear when I talked with the affable Solondz in his San Francisco hotel room.

SFBG Why did you decide to return to these characters?

Todd Solondz When I finished Happiness, I never imagined I would. But it just shows that my imagination wasn’t so fertile, because about 10 years later I wrote the first scene of Life During Wartime and I liked what I had written. Also, knowing that I could recast the movie freed me up to have fun and get at things I hadn’t gotten before in quite the same way.

SFBG Diverse casting is another hallmark of yours, and you always get such strong performances from your actors. Do you have specific people in mind once you’ve written the script?

TS I like to shake it up and try out different people. For this film, I knew I wanted Ally Sheedy but I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get her. Almost everybody has read everything for my movies because I don’t have much in the way of rehearsal. Usually the audition is the rehearsal since we usually can’t afford anything more.

SFBG Your films elicit this queasy response. The audience’s laughter always seems nervous. How do you find a balance between humor and sadness?

TS It’s a moral challenge. As an audience member, you’re highly attuned to the laughter you like and the laughter you don’t like, and it becomes a moral decision — laughing or not laughing. My movies are comedies, but terribly sad comedies.

SFBG Life During Wartime interrogates the possibility of “forgiving and forgetting.” Yet you’re always careful not to condemn your characters too harshly, no matter how antisocial or appalling their behavior.

TS Yes, but you have to be careful. I have no sympathy for [Hinds’ character] Bill Maplewood or someone who could commit those crimes, but he is tragic since he also loved his son. People want to embrace humanity or love mankind, but those are abstractions so they don’t really mean anything. Rather, to what extent can you allow someone like Bill Maplewood into that embrace of humanity? To me pedophilia has no inherent interest. It’s how it serves as a metaphor for that which is most demonized, ostracized, and feared that interests me. I think in this country more people would rather have dinner with Osama bin Laden than with Bill Maplewood.

SFBG Can you divulge anything about the film you’re working on now?

TS The title is Dark Horse, and all I can say is that there is no child molestation, rape, or masturbation in it, so I know what’s left. But we’ll see how marketable it is.

LIFE DURING WARTIME opens Fri/6 in Bay Area theaters.

The man, the myth, the legend

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM When Dennis Hopper died May 29 from prostate cancer, many obituaries — usually a place for polite, laundry-listed achievements — included unusually unflattering observations calling Hopper “difficult,” “unpredictable,” even “a pain in the ass.” It takes a lot to merit such treatment precisely when people are customarily at their most hypocritically respectful. But Hopper had about 55 years to drive directors, fellow actors, wives, friends, and sundry crazy.

The wild-man tendencies that made him a longtime hipster fan favorite also got him sued, blacklisted, and nearly killed. (An incensed John Wayne reportedly chased him with a gun on the set of 1969’s True Grit, likely not an isolated incident.) He burned though five marriages — one to The Mamas & The Papas’ Michelle Phillips lasting eight days — and was divorcing his longest-lasting latest wife on his deathbed, solely (she says) to disinherit her.

After years of world-class alcohol and drug abuse, he cleaned up in the early 1980s. At which point the hippie rebellion icon from Easy Rider (1969) became a Reagan Republican, dumping on the counterculture lifestyle he’d lived and promoted. Yet he remained a major avant-garde art collector, as well as a modernist painter and photographer of some repute. What’s not to like? Probably everything, given close proximity. Yet from a safe distance, Hopper somehow remained dead cool.

The Castro Theatre pays posthumous tribute with “Dennis Hopper: Misfits and Outsiders.” The five-day mini-retrospective strictly hits popular highlights: Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956), in which he appeared with James Dean (whose tic-ridden Method acting and unprofessional work habits were a major bad influence); the very dated Easy Rider, his hugely influential directorial debut; plus 1988’s Colors, the Sean Penn cops-vs.-gangs drama that commercially peaked a more mainstream return to the director’s chair.

There are also three disparate 1986 features that reignited his acting career: as harrowingly crazy Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (a role he told David Lynch he had to play because “it’s me”); the barely-less-freakish drug dealer in River’s Edge (facing off against spiritual heir Crispin Glover); and as a town drunk redeemed in inspirational sports drama Hoosiers. That last, natch, snagged his Oscar nomination.

Hopper undertook more villains in films like Speed (1994), Waterworld (1995), and Land of the Dead (2005). Plus recurring TV roles (24, Crash), voice work (videogames, cartoons) and just about any other job that fell into his lap, good or ill.

The Dennis Hopper retrospective I’d really like to see might, admittedly, roll tumbleweeds down the Castro’s aisles. But it would do the man’s crazier side, and craziest decade, justice. For during the 1970s, Hopper was basically a Hollywood outcast, roaming the globe in shambolic distress, choosing odd projects to bedevil. Every last one is interesting, eccentric, or simply unknowable.

His directorial career imploded in 1971 with endlessly delayed Easy Rider “follow-up” The Last Movie, possibly still the most experimental feature ever released by a major studio (an appalled MGM). Hopper then fell into French obscurities like 1972’s Crush Proof (costarring Pierre Clémenti … and Bo Diddley) and 1978’s Flesh Color (Veruschka and Bianca Jagger!) Good luck finding those.

He appeared in Orson Welles’ aborted final feature The Other Side of the Wind. In 1977 he played an unraveling Vietnam vet in pal Henry Jaglom’s still-most-serious first feature Tracks, then drove everyone nuts on-set as 19th-century Australian folk hero Mad Dog Morgan in Philippe Mora’s underrated 1976 film of that name. (Unfortunately it’s hard to see save in severely cut versions.)

He had a rare international success as a berserker edition of Patricia Highsmith’s sociopath Ripley in Wim Wenders’ breakout existential noir The American Friend (1977). Hopper sprang back into U.S. mainstream consciousness as another druggy nutjob — last stop before Brando’s black hole — in 1979’s Apocalypse Now. In all these he is a combustive element in a mad universe.

Equally if not more revealing are two little-known features also made on the cusp of the ’80s. Silvio Narizzano — a Canadian incongruously best known for Swinging London classic Georgy Girl (1966) — directed the incredible surreal tragicomedy Bloodbath, with Hopper as pathetic hippie-trail junkie “Chicken” and erstwhile Hollywood glamazon Carroll Baker as retired sex goddess “Treasure.” Both tempt doom, and get it, in a Spanish village that only tolerates Western decadence and wealth so far. Eventually Buñuel-type heavy symbolism requires a climactic slaughter both martyring and morally corrective. It’s amazing that a parable so thoroughly anti-bourgeoisie yet ruling-class paranoid — in short, so 1970 — was made as late as 1979.

Hopper often seems utterly mad, or at least mega-wasted, in that delirious film. Ditto 1980’s comparatively (barely) sober Out of the Blue, on which he was hired as actor but took over as director when the original one was fired. He plays a total fuckup just released from prison (having committed multiple manslaughter in a horrific school bus accident while drunk) who reunites with his drug-addicted wife (Sharon Farrell) and supremely alienated punk teen daughter CB (the extraordinary Linda Manz, from 1978’s Days of Heaven).

Out of the Blue offers genuinely shocking family dysfunction, as well as a little-heralded but great first-generation U.S. punk depiction. (Which nonetheless threads bits from the acoustic half of Hopper friend Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps through an eclectic soundtrack.) It’s terrific, exhilarating, arbitrary, and merciless. Apparently public domain, you can find it in DVD discount bins. Likewise Bloodbath, never released to DVD, can be had on used VHS for a couple of bucks online.

Those few dollars will get you closer to Hopper’s boastfully self-loathing perversity than anything on the Castro schedule. He might have been hell to work with — an easy rider who rode everyone else’s nerves raw — but the public expressions of his interior mess were always fun to watch.

DENNIS HOPPER: MISFITS AND OUTSIDERS

Wed/4-Fri/6 and Sun/8, $7.50–$10

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120

www.castrotheatre.com

 

Brisas de Acapulco

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paulr@sfbg.com

DINE Across the street from Brisas de Acapulco, on a breezy stretch of Mission Street, is a concern named Roccapulco, a salsa-dancing venue that’s also a supper club. Roccapulco does serve food, in other words. So it was with a sense of mild bemusement that we found ourselves, on a recent (breezy) evening, watching a party of four young, or at least young-ish, men jaywalking their way from Roccapulco straight into Brisas. Ahead of us. The implication of this journey seemed to be that Roccapulco was fine for salsa dancing, but if you were hungry, you might find crossing the street to Brisas to be worth the trouble. One of the jaywalkers was an interestingly fantasticated drag queen wearing a dress, wig, and black, blocky spectacles. Is there a Jonathan Lethem look-alike contest at Wigstock now?

Inside we found — under an almost threateningly low ceiling — an elderly, perhaps Mexican couple having dinner while watching World Cup tumult on a flat-screen television mounted in a high corner and tuned to a Spanish-language station. The Roccapulquistas took a table almost directly under the screen. And … everyone lived happily ever after. If water is the universal solvent, then food — particularly good food — remains the great uniter. And while Brisas de Acapulco might be a neighborhood joint, its neighborhood is wildly interesting, an exuberant splashing of subcultures, languages, social practices, and ethnicities worthy of a Jackson Pollock painting.

And its excellent food (Mexican and Salvadorean) reminds us that there’s no cooking like home cooking, really. Yes, how marvelous that aspiring young chefs are sent off to expensive schools to study food — to dissect and analyze it, deconstruct and reconstruct it, then be duly approved by an educational bureaucracy. But there is much to be said for folk wisdom, for the passing along of old ways, old recipes, into new hands. The New World — new, at any rate, to some if not to others — was born in revolution, replacing an ancient human mosaic by another one, restless, innovative, and brash. These are the qualities that have come to define us. We believe in revolution and the scientific method, and we have little use for old knowledge.

But even the brashest and most revolution-minded among us would probably like the tostada de camarones ($4.95) at BdA — a flat, crisp tortilla heaped with shredded lettuce, cilantro, and countless bay shrimp seasoned with plenty of garlic and lime. It’s simple, elegant in its way, and unimprovable. Also shareable.

Given Acapulco’s balmy coastal setting, it isn’t surprising to find seafood besides bay shrimp figuring prominently on Las Brisas’ menu. There is an excellent, puckeringly tart ceviche ($11.95), as well as a wonderful dish of knuckle-sized prawns ($13.95) sautéed with garlic and chilies that melt into an addictive red sauce with just the right hint of heat. Caveat: although the prawns are headless, they remain in their shells. At first I failed to notice this and found myself with a mouthful of quite tasty shell. No doubt cooking the prawns in their shells adds to the flavor, but there is no graceful or spatter-free way for a patron to shell cooked shrimp swimming in sauce the color of blood. Recommendation: shell the prawns, please.

Despite the abundance of seafood at Brisas, meat is not neglected. If the gold standard for carnitas is set by Nopalito’s paper-wrapped version — at, say 24 carats — then Brisas’ version is 18-carat gold. The meat was crispy-moist, intensely flavorful, and shredded but not overshredded. It made a superior filling for a taco ($1.95), where it was by far the principal ingredient and did not find itself having to compete for shelf space with bales of lettuce or huge blobs of salsa and sour cream.

A little — all right, a lot — less tender was the guaracha ($10.95), a very thin beef steak laid atop a tortilla smeared with bean purée. Considering how much pounding the meat must have absorbed to become that thin, it nonetheless remained surprisingly tough. But then, “guaracha” means “old shoe.” Tough cuts of meat are often the tastiest anyway.

There is no shortage of ancillary starch. Dinner plates are laden with rice, beans, shredded lettuce, and tomatoes, while warm tortillas appear in those little tortilla warmers and the basket of chips, with salsa, is replenished and replenished. The house salsa is superior, with just enough chili heat to be noticed, adequate salting, and (an underappreciated quality) a viscosity that helps it adhere to the chips. The chips rocked too — incidentally. 

BRISAS DE ACAPULCO

Continuous service: Sun.–Thurs.;

10 a.m.–midnight; Fri.–Sat., 10 a.m.–3 a.m.

3137 Mission, SF

(415) 826-1496

Beer and wine

MC/V

Somewhat noisy, and an intermittent jukebox issue

Wheelchair accessible

 

Eye fidelity

0

This year, the Guardian’s photo issue brings you something new, takes you out for a wild night on the town, and gets sexy in bed — not necessarily in that order.

The six photographers showcased in our annual collection of Bay Area visions include a trio of young artists with new visions of portraiture. Cover artist Dean Dempsey mixes realism and artifice to reimagine a personal history involving lost limbs. The photos of Amanda Lopez and Parker Tilghman are supercharged by a love of California and of queer life, respectively. The issue’s other three artists — Seza Bali, Sean Desmond, and Katherine Westerhout — reveal otherwise unseen (and in at least one case, tricky) beauty within the local landscape.

 


Seza Bali


Highway 1 Overlook (from “New Landscapes”), 2010, archival pigment print, 16″ x 54″

ABOUT THE PHOTO With this body of work, I combine traditional photography and digital technology to create images that speak of fabrication, illusion, and truth in photography. Questioning photography’s nature of representation, the images explore the ideas of real versus imaginary, scenic beauty, and the sublime. Oceans get stretched; land masses change orientation, disturbing the landscape’s passive quality. By expanding and collapsing space and changing the perception of the real, I create a new experience of a place. I am interested in this construction of impossible lands to speak of fantasy and to challenge the viewer’s beliefs about the existence of these places. By creating these idyllic and unconventional scenes, I search for the true meaning of landscape: a place mysterious and unknown to me.

CURRENT/UPCOMING SHOWS “Counterpoint 2010: Approximating Truth,” through Aug. 21. Togonon Gallery, 77 Geary, second floor, SF. Reception: Thurs/5, 5–7 p.m. (415) 398-5572, www.togonongallery.com. “Root Division’s Ninth Annual Art Auction,” Oct. 21. Root Division, 3175 17th St, SF. (415) 863-7668, www.rootdivision.org.

www.sezabali.com

 


Dean Dempsey


The Director (“Artifice” series)

Hand/gun (“Fragmentations” series), both 2010, transparency in light box, 36″ x 24″

ABOUT THE PHOTOS I’m showing from two bodies of work that share parallels in biographical history to examine personhood, normality, and social agency. In “Artifice,” I create an alienated, othered person as a way of discussing hybridity and gender in the context of the viewer’s gaze, exposing paraphernalia of process and production while simultaneously staging unreal and slightly grotesque figures. In “Fragmentations,” I anatomically deconstruct the body as discourse of origin and paternalism to retrace sights of trauma. Both series are ongoing, and I’m expanding on them in unison to construct a wider and interrelated narrative.

CURRENT SHOW “Counterpoint 2010: Approximating Truth,” through Aug. 21. Togonon Gallery, 77 Geary, 2nd floor, SF. Reception: Thurs/5, 5–7 p.m. Artists’ talk: Sat/7, 4 p.m. (415) 398-5572, www.togonongallery.com.

www.deandempsey.com

 


Parker Tilghman


Untitled (Red), 2009, c-print on glossy paper, 16″ x 20″

ART AND LIFE I believe in Gilbert and George. They refuse to distance their art from their daily lives and insist that everything they do is art. While I don’t quite take it to such an extravagant level, I do think it’s important to incorporate my work into everything I do. Otherwise, all is for naught. I utilize traditional, analog processes the wrong way to produce unexpected results. I am rather interested in exploiting and manipulating the dying aspects of the photographic medium in order to achieve surreal and dreamlike images. I spend hours in the darkroom experimenting with and fine-tuning processes that I stumble upon in my explorations. I often take inspiration from those around me. We are so fortunate in San Francisco to be surrounded by beautiful, creative people with a lot of energy to give. With their help, I want to build a new queer history.

SHOW “Spectrum Art Auction for Access Institute,” Oct. 17. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. (415) 861-5449, www.accessinst.org.

www.icaughtaglimpse.com

 


Amanda Lopez


Chandra, 2009, c-print on Fuji Crystal Archive, 20″ x 30″

ABOUT THE PHOTO This photo is part of a series I’m working on called “Cali LOVE.” The series is inspired by Dia de los Muertos, and is a collaborative project with makeup artist Jenni Tay and hairstylist Justina Downs. Chandra is a friend and agreed to let me take her picture as part of the project. Thus far, I have photographed 18 people. All of my subjects are friends or family members.  

UPCOMING SHOWS “El Tecolote: Imagining the Mission — Pasado, Present, Futuro,” Sat/7 through Aug. 29. Mission Cultural Center, 2868 Mission, SF. (415) 643-5001, www.missionculturalcenter.org.

www.amandalopezphoto.com, www.amandalopezphoto.blogspot.com

 


Katherine Westerhout


Wards VII, 2001-07, pigment on rag paper, 20.5″ x 25.5″ and 30″ x 40″

ART AND LIFE Closely related to the language of dreams, photography reveals reflections that inform my life. Within abandoned buildings, an echo punctuates human absence; carried on the light is a harbinger … These buildings are full of mystery and promise, and the longer one lingers the more embraced one feels by a presence, beyond the prosaic, in a sweeping realm, conjoined and familiar. I want others to feel a part of these places, to feel connected to the light within. True to the initial exposure, the photograph speaks directly. This photo is of Montgomery Ward’s former Western Distribution Center in East Oakland. It was taken during the site’s demolition in 2001.

CURRENT SHOWS “Wondrous Strange: A Cabinet of Twenty-first Century Curiosities,” through August 28th. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Artists’ Gallery, Fort Mason Center, Bldg A, SF. (415) 441-4777, www.smoma.org; “Degrees of Separation: Contemporary Photography from the Permanent Collection,” through March 14, 2011. San Jose Museum of Art, 110 South Market, San Jose. (408) 271-6840, www.sjmusart.org.

www.katwest.com

 


Sean Desmond


Untitled (from “The Tenderloin Project”), 2009, 35mm Giclée print, 40″ x 60″

ABOUT THE PHOTO This image is from an ongoing artistic endeavor I’ve been working on in the Tenderloin since November 2008. Through photography, I’ve had the chance to interact with the community and its residents, seeking to capture a compelling and honest portrait focused on the art of living. A common thread I’ve heard from people living on the street is that, hardships aside, they enjoy the freedom that the streets afford them. Like birds, they have no roof or limiting boundaries. For me, the photo evokes this freedom and also the capabilities that we as humans all possess. The pigeons, like the human subject in the frame, are ascending and going forth. They embark into an unknown future, where perhaps optimism will conquer adversity. It’s all in tune with my project’s aim, displaying a sense of benevolence and hope through art in one of San Francisco’s most marginalized communities.

UPCOMING SHOW “The Tenderloin Project,” Aug. 14–Sept. 7. Butter Gallery, 2303 NW Second Ave., Miami. www.buttergallery.com, www.thetenderloinproject.com

The curve of the lens

0

arts@sfbg.com

PHOTO ISSUE It wasn’t until Julian ArtPorn (www.ArtPorn.com) was taping the back hem of my red and white polka dot dress up over the seat of my Nishiki road bike that I realized the Coppertone dog-girl duo of yore is, in fact, one of our most visible illustrative renditions of boudoir photography. Then, my derriere suitably exposed to his basement studio — the most revealing shot of our session — and he had arranged my hips just so, and coached me on the appropriate pin up “surprised” face, ArtPorn resumed with the flash bulbs.

“So cute!” he giggled sweetly. I vamped to his praise. A girl could get used to this.

And it would appear that many have. Boudoir photography, that classic art form old as photography itself, is a growing market, burgeoning alongside its onstage cousin, burlesque. Many wedding shutterbugs are now including a clothing-off (or clothing artfully draped over favorably lighted curves) session with the bride to value-add to their package promotions. It’s a version of risqué that newbie subjects can control completely: a good way to be bad, a cute way to be sexy?

Photo by Julian ArtPorn

But for the photographers I spoke with for this article, boudoir photography was more than a means to a paycheck. ArtPorn, who in his bohemian upbringing was “hitch-hiking alone and smoking pot at the age of five,” finds the preservation of his subjects’ sexuality a precious task. He shoots almost exclusively on a bright white background, gleeful captures of countless freaky people he’s photographed both on the Burning Man playa and his basement studio in Excelsior.

Julian’s into people’s natural sexiness — whether it takes the form of one of my “cute” booty-baring bike photos, or something rather kinkier. He’s shot ecosexual porn stars, randy leather couples, women hanging by ropes from the ceiling. Whatever gets you hot, dig? Sexuality is “one of the most magical things about anybody,” he tells me after our shoot. “It’s an amazing, powerful, and wonderful thing. The media doesn’t do a great job of representing that.”

Michelle Athanasiades, whom I meet sipping white wine in a Moroccan lounge next to Dollhouse Bettie, her Haight Street lingerie shop (www.dollhousebettie.com), would concur. “The standards that are set for beauty — they seem so unattainable in so many ways that the idea of giving yourself the freedom to express your own sexuality and beauty is a gift.” Athanasiades got into the boudoir photog game by necessity, shooting models in her retro silk and satin whispers back when her undie trade was conducted solely on the Internet.

Photo by Michelle Athanasiades

New to photography, she’s never shot outside her third floor Edwardian flat, decorated only with her romantic aesthetic and the “best diffuser ever,” San Francisco fog outside the windows. Customers began to come to her to look like her catalog of Mae Wests and Bettie Pages. “People are captivated by the elegance and sexuality of the pre-women’s liberation era,” Athanasiades tells me between sips. “There were women back then who embodied that pioneering spirit and also that sexuality.” Still a side gig to Dollhouse Bettie, her clients want photos for wedding/engagement presents, a fun thing to do with their girlfriends, or just to have ravishing, seductive photos of themselves.

As for the bike shoot — well sure, it was for the article, of course! But now that the vital background research is accessibly located in my computer hard drive, I click open the photos when I want a reminder of beauty. It was massively fun to pick out which frilly panties I wanted to sport, to bring my beloved bike along for the ride when he suggested I come up with a fun prop (even if it lacked the star quality, perhaps, of his other subjects’ interlocking nipple rings and patent leather corsets). And if I look particularly fetching, comfortable, happy in my skin — well gosh, you’re too kind! — we must consider it a reflection of the photographers themselves.

Gods of distortion

0

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC No one can agree on how guitar distortion was invented, or by whom. The only thing the experts do concur on is that, like many of humanity’s most excellent leaps forward, it was a complete and utter accident.

Whether it was created by a punctured speaker cone, a faulty cable, or a malfunctioning vacuum tube, distortion is now inescapable. Distorted guitars birthed rock ‘n’ roll, and rock ‘n’ roll birthed the idea that anything worth doing is worth doing to excess. For Greg Anderson, founder and proprietor of cult metal label Southern Lord Records, amplified excess is more than just an artistic pursuit — it’s a philosophy. This August, Anderson will appear on stage with his band Goatsnake as part of the Southern Lord Mini Tour, a three-date testament to distortion that will batter the United States’ Western coast with an avalanche of overdriven, fuzzed-out guitar tone.

The guitarist is best known for his work in experimental outfit SunnO))), bane of eardrums and copy editors, whose ribcage-rattling drone compositions and be-robed stage presence were the subject of a widely-read New York Times feature in 2009. If Anderson can be considered the pontiff of an experimental, distortion-worshiping subculture, then SunnO))) is his Easter Mass. But it is his day-to-day work at Southern Lord’s Unholy See that has the more profound effect on the musical landscape.

 

A CAVE OF WONDERS

Reached by phone in, as he put it, “the caves of Southern Lord,” Anderson is eloquent and good-humored, and though he perches at the absolute pinnacle of metal coolness, he discusses the music in the earnest tones of a die-hard fan: “I’m a seeker, man … when I find out about a band, I want to know everything about them — what other bands the members have been in, who’s influenced by them, who their influences were.”

From the point of view of this kind of music junkie, Anderson is living the dream, effectively populating his label with bands that appeal to his personal taste. Rather than being a vanity project, however, Southern Lord performs an important cultural role, curating a uncompromising collection of metal bands that push the boundaries of the possible by wringing the most out of their distorted electric guitars.

Spread thin over three decades and thousands of miles, this underground community can be ephemeral and capricious. Armed with his own significant talent and an omnivorous musical ear, Anderson rides herd on an army of devil-worshiping iconoclasts, elevating up-and-coming acts to positions of prestige, while simultaneously cultivating older bands that have either been long forgotten or driven deep into the cultural topsoil.

 

HEAVY BREATHING

Anderson’s description of his newest signing (and Southern Lord Mini Tour opening act), Seattle death metal-crust punk hybrid Black Breath, typifies the former process: “Over the last couple of years, especially playing with SunnO))), I really turned away from, or wasn’t listening to, much aggressive music. I was actually really into jazz. And then something snapped. I started listening to old hardcore records. I wanted something that was the complete opposite.” Newly re-attuned to the D-beaten tones of hardcore, Anderson received a demo — a four-song, 12-inch vinyl record — in the mail, and couldn’t believe his luck. The album — Black Breath’s self-financed Razor to Oblivion EP — was a distorted revelation. “The font of their band logo was stolen from Celtic Frost, and they listed Poison Idea and Dismember as influences!” Anderson effuses.

Soon after hearing the record, the label headman was due to return to Seattle for the holidays, where the incendiary quintet had a show scheduled. Speaking by phone from his home in Seattle, Black Breath guitarist Eric Wallace describes the madness that ensued. “The details are kinda hazy,” he begins, “but we’ve been telling people that our guitarist Funds [real name: Zack Muljat] and Greg [Anderson] were having an argument about a song that was playing on the jukebox … Funds was arguing that it was S.O.D., and Greg was arguing that it wasn’t, and they were putting bets down and stuff. We ended up singing with Southern Lord after that. It may or may not have been part of the bet.”

 

CORRODED AGAIN

Though Anderson’s fingerprints are all over the forthcoming Southern Lord Mini Tour, his band Goatsnake will not headline. That honor goes Corrosion of Conformity, a legendary underground metal band founded in Raleigh, N.C., in 1982. Though they charted in the early ’90s with two albums’ worth of thick, Southern-fried Sabbath worship, C.O.C (as they’re often called) started as a lightning-fast hardcore trio, churning out political anthems over adrenaline-soaked pogo beats. This summer’s tour boasts the reunited three-piece lineup of guitarist Woody Weatherman, drummer Reed Mullin, and bassist/singer Mike Dean, who will perform the group’s seminal 1985 release Animosity (Metal Blade Records) live in its entirety.

Anderson and the Piedmont power trio go way back. “They stayed at my house in 1986, when C.O.C played in Seattle, actually, on the Animosity tour.” While band’s output in recent years has been limited to 2005’s under-appreciated In the Arms of God (Sanctuary Records), Anderson’s curatorial instincts were ever-vigilant. Reached by phone as he decompressed from a tour rehearsal, Dean explained how it went down: “He reached out to us. He was looking to reissue some of our old stuff. We mentioned that we were gonna record a new release. We just started talking to him about doing that, and he said, ‘Hey, you wanna play some shows out here?’ and we were like, ‘Oh yeah!’ It kinda lit a fire under our ass to get some new songs down and go out and play ’em.”

The existence of new songs was of crucial importance to both parties. For better or worse, reunited metal bands has been emerging from their dingy practice spaces lately like underfed jackals, and results are mixed. To avoid getting lumped in with the rest of the Lazarus-rock scene, Dean wrote songs: “The only thing I can do to allay my feelings of not wanting to be part of that is to attempt to offer something new. At this point, we have four or five new songs that we can perform. We’re doing this as part of readying ourselves to do something new.”

Despite all the hand-wringing about illegal downloading, Anderson attributes this explosion of reinvigorated headbangers to “the fact that information is so easily available, cataloged, and documented meticulously on the Internet. It’s like a trail, a path you can get on, on which you find one thing, and it leads to another thing, and it’s just a snowball effect. It makes it possible for these bands to come out and play to three to four times as many people as they did in their heyday. It’s a real testament to the fact that this music is valid and incredible. It needs to be heard, and it needs to be given the respect that it’s due.” With people like Greg Anderson keeping watch for the young talent and shepherding the old, it definitely will be.

THE SOUTHERN LORD WEST COAST MINI TOUR

Corrosion of Conformity, Goatsnake, Black Breath, Eagle Twin, Righteous Fool

Tue/10, 7 p.m., $25

DNA Lounge

375 11th St., SF

(415) 626-2532

www.dnalounge.com

Schoolyard bully

6

news@sfbg.com

The San Francisco Unified District is facing scrutiny over its decision to move a charter high school into Horace Mann Middle School for the 2010-11 school year. Parents and teachers at Horace Mann and even members of the Board of Education were not informed of this decision until it was finalized last month, sparking questions about how this decision could have been made without communicating to all the parties involved.

This is the third time in recent years that the district has moved charter schools into public school facilities without notifying employees and parents before a decision is reached. In 2008, the district decided to relocate Excelsior Middle School to International Studies Academy High School, notifying parents of the move just months before the school year started. The charter school City Arts and Technology took over Excelsior’s site and was notified of the move a month before Excelsior parents.

In another case from 2008, district officials made a decision to co-locate Denman Middle School with Leadership High Charter School, again without informing the community of its decision until it was finalized. Now the charter school Metro Arts and Technology High School is moving from Burton High School in the Bayview District to Horace Mann in the Mission.

San Francisco Board of Education member Jill Wynns didn’t know about Metro’s move until parents brought up the issue at the June meeting. She said it’s hard to let the community know about impending decisions because balancing community involvement and trying to avoid “public hysteria” is a difficult task. “Our commitment is to involve the community, but they are not allowed to make the decisions,” Wynns told the Guardian. “We want them to know, but the decision is not up to them.”

Still, Horace Mann teachers said that the district’s habit of not notifying the community of its decisions isn’t fair, especially since Metro parents knew about the move months before they did. “The process is really disrespectful to the parents and it’s happening consistently to the disempowered,” a Horace Mann teacher who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, told us. “This is happening to schools with high amounts of people of color and low socioeconomic statuses.”

Envision Schools, the Oakland-based organization managing two charter schools in San Francisco, including Metro, wrote a letter to Superintendent Carlos Garcia on Oct. 15 requesting to move Metro to another facility, citing lack of natural light in its classrooms, lack of offices and spaces for administration, inadequate science labs, and lack of an identifiable school front entrance. Metro is protected under Proposition 39, a law voters approved in 2000 mandating that school districts must accommodate charter schools with facilities comparable to those used by other students.

Wynns said part of the problem is that Prop. 39 gives charter schools too much power. “The regulations are all biased in favor of the charter schools, and the charter schools rights are paramount,” Wynns told us. “We had Metro in a facility that, in my opinion, was more Prop. 39 compliant than the facility they will be going to now. And now we are going to crowd them in a middle school.”

Board members who criticize the deal say that the district didn’t follow district policy in this case. Wynns said that while some members of the board were under the impression that Metro was staying at Burton or that Horace Mann was only a consideration, district officials had already made the decision that Metro was moving to Horace Mann without notifying the board — a violation of board policy.

In an April 1 memo, the district finalized the offer for Horace Mann and then took the offer back and offered the Burton site in an April 30 memo. Metro lawyer Paul Minney responded in a May 11 memo, demanding co-location at Horace Mann and threatening legal action. The district responded by reinstating its initial offer of Horace Mann in a May 28 memo.

“Districts have a legal obligation to provide all charter schools with appropriate space to run a quality educational program. Consideration has to be given to determine if a designated school site is able to share facilities without having a significant impact on either school’s day to day operations,” district spokesperson Gentle Blythe told the Guardian. “In the case of Mann and Metro, the decision to co-locate was a matter of pending litigation and the ideal process was usurped by legal constraints.”

Board member Rachel Norton said that much of the miscommunication was the result of informal conversations between Envision Schools CEO Bob Lenz, Superintendent Garcia, and Horace Mann Principal Mark Sanchez about the impending move. In an e-mail dated March 11, Lenz contacted Garcia about their upcoming March 17 meeting and stated that Sanchez thought a partnership between Metro and Horace Mann would be “revolutionary.” According to board policy, negotiations are made between Director of Charter Schools Mary Richards and the head of the affected charter school. Although these informal conversations aren’t a violation of board policy, Norton said that these conversations created miscommunication.

Lenz wouldn’t comment on Norton’s remarks, but said, “It’s most important to look at how the district and Envision Schools could be good partners together. Rather than look back, we look forward to participating in a transparent process with the district going forward with the Prop. 39 process.”

According to Horace Mann teachers, Garcia and Sanchez claimed they were not aware that they had agreed to a final, binding offer, although correspondences suggested otherwise. E-mails dated March 30 included final offer copies of facilities for Metro to Garcia and Sanchez, who did not return our calls seeking comment by press time.

“I’m not quite sure who knew what, when,” Norton said. “I think it’s pretty clear that people were notified about the final offer that went out. Whether or not they saw that notification is another question. I’m certainly not accusing anyone of lying, but I think that there were just two levels of understanding because it wasn’t a clear process.”

“Its hard to believe that as previous president of the school board, Mark [Sanchez] did not know that this was a final offer,” a Horace Mann teacher said. “This has put a huge strain on the relationship with the staff and the principal.”

Despite tensions within Horace Mann staff, newly appointed Metro Principal Nick Kappelhof said he’s looking forward to the next school year. “I view this as an opportunity to partner in ways that’s not common in other co-locations,” Kappelhof told us. “Our philosophies are aligned and we’re excited to learn from them. I see it as a rich opportunity between staff and a great community.”

Metro has a one-year lease with Horace Mann and will occupy eight classrooms in the sixth-grade annex building and five rooms in the main building. Although many parents have fears about these middle school and high school students interacting, staff members at Horace Mann and Metro plan on organizing different bell schedules and designating separate areas for the two groups.

As the school year draws nearer, Horace Mann staff hopes for ways to get past this messy situation. “I hope Envision doesn’t feel the need to retaliate against the public school system, and that they think twice before they threaten a lawsuit because it’s easy and it’s the first thing they go to,” a Horace Mann teacher told us. “I hope there are lessons learned on both sides about how to do this successfully in the future. I think it can be a positive experience — co-location doesn’t have to be hard.”

But Wynns and Norton fear Metro will pressure the district to let the charter school remain at the site, whether or not students and parents there now think it’s a good fit. “I will be very surprised if their Prop. 39 request [for facilities following this school year] will not say Horace Mann — and I believe [it] will,” Wynns said of Metro.

“I want us to do everything in our power to protect ourselves against that happening [Metro extending its stay at Horace Mann],” Norton said. “I don’t know precisely what that would be, but I think we have to take steps to make it clear that the site is unavailable for them next year.”

With an uncertain future, Horace Mann will open its doors to Metro this month, becoming either another example of a growing partnership or another public facility fallen prey to charter school takeover, depending on one’s perspective.

The politics of unity and division

7

steve@sfbg.com

These are strange days for the San Francisco Democratic Party, which is seeking to overcome bitter divisions on the local level and come together around candidates for statewide office that include Mayor Gavin Newsom, whose fiscal conservatism and petulant political style are the main sources of that local division.

The tension has played out recently around the Board of Supervisors deliberations on the new city budget and November ballot measures and in dramas surrounding the newly elected Democratic County Central Committee, where the battles during its July 28 inaugural meeting previewed a more significant fight over local endorsements coming up Aug. 11.

Almost every elected official in San Francisco is a Democrat. Newsom, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, has been the main obstacle to new taxes that progressives and labor leaders say are desperately needed to preserve public services, deal with massive projected deficits in the next two years, and quit balancing budgets on the backs of workers.

“We balanced the budget without raising taxes. I don’t believe in raising taxes. We don’t need to raise taxes,” Newsom said proudly at his July 29 budget signing ceremony, during which he also effusively praised the labor unions whose support he needs this fall: “Labor has been under attack in this state and country. They’ve become a convenient excuse for our lack of leadership in Sacramento and around the country.”

That hypocritical brand of politics has been frustrating to his fellow Democrats, particularly progressive supervisors and DCCC members. At the July 27 board meeting, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi and Board President David Chiu reluctantly dropped their pair of revenue measures that would have raised $50 million, bowing to opposition by Newsom and the business community.

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has become such a vehicle for antitax and antigovernment vitriol that the DCCC on July 29 approved a resolution calling for the organization — which hosted a speech by Republican National Chair Michael Steele in June — to renounce the platform of the Republican National Committee.

“The Chamber is not a knee-jerk right-wing organization,” Chamber President Steve Falk felt compelled to clarify in a July 28 letter to DCCC Chair Aaron Peskin, closing with, “Anything you can do to avoid painting the Chamber as a pawn of the GOP would be greatly appreciated — because it just isn’t true.”

Yet Rafael Mandelman, who sponsored the resolution and is a progressive supervisorial candidate in District 8, told us the Chamber’s fiscal policies are indistinguishable from those pushed by Republicans. “They’re the leading force pushing the Republican agenda in San Francisco,” Mandelman said, calling the stance short-sighted. “It’s not in the long-term interests of the business community for our public sector to fall apart.”

Chiu’s business tax reform measure is a good example of how conservative ideology seems to be trumping progressive policy, even among Democrats. Only 10 percent of businesses in the city pay any local business tax, and the measure would increase taxes on large corporations, lower them on small businesses, create private sector jobs, bring $25 million per year into the city, and expand the tax burden to 25 percent of businesses, including the large banks, insurance companies, and financial institutions that are now exempt. But even the Small Business Commission refused to support the plan, prompting Chiu to drop the proposal and tell his colleagues, “There is still not consensus about whether this should move forward.”

Sup. Chris Daly, the lone vote against the budget compromise with Newsom and the removal of revenue measures from the November ballot, noted at the July 27 board meeting how the business community has sabotaged city finances, citing its 2002 lawsuit challenging the gross receipt taxes, which the board settled on a controversial 8-3 vote. “This is a large part of our structural budget deficit,” Daly said.

But antitax sentiment has only gotten worse with the current recession and political dysfunction, causing Democrats like Newsom to parrot Republicans’ no-new-taxes mantra, much to the chagrin of progressives.

“A lot of this is being driven by statewide politics. [Newsom] needs to not have taxes go up but he also needs the support of the labor unions, so we get weird stuff happening in San Francisco,” Mandelman said.

The situation has also fed Newsom’s animus toward progressives, who have enjoyed more local electoral success than the mayor. Newsom responded in June to the progressive slate winning a majority on the DCCC by placing a measure on the November ballot that would ban local elected officeholders from serving on that body, which includes four progressive supervisors and three supervisorial candidates.

Nonetheless, Newsom then unexpectedly sought a seat on the DCCC, arguing that his lieutenant governor nomination entitled him to an ex officio seat (those held by state and federal elected Democrats) even though the DCCC’s legal counsel disagreed. While noting the hypocrisy of the request, Party Chair Aaron Peskin took the high road and proposed to change the bylaws to seat Newsom.

Some progressives privately groused about giving a seat to someone who, as DCCC member Carole Migden said at the meeting, was “picking a fight” with progressives by pushing a measure she called “disrespectful and unconstitutional.” But in practice, the episode seems to have hurt Newsom’s relations with progressives without really strengthening his political hand.

Newsom ally Scott Wiener — a DCCC member and District 8 supervisorial candidate (who told us he opposes the mayor’s DCCC ballot measure) — proposed to amend Peskin’s motion to change the bylaws in order to seat Newsom with language that would allow Newsom to continue serving even if he loses his race in November.

That amendment was defeated on a 17-13 vote that illustrated a clear dividing line between the progressive majority and the minority faction of moderates and ex officio members. Even with Newsom and District Attorney Kamala Harris (who was seated as the Democratic nominee for attorney general) being seated — and counting the one absent vote, Sen. Leland Yee, who is expected to sometimes vote with progressives and sometimes with moderates — progressives still hold the majority going into the process of endorsing local candidates and allocating party resources for the fall campaign.

“Presuming that 17 people of that 33-member body all agree on something, then the presence of Mayor Newsom doesn’t change anything,” Peskin said. He also noted that even if Newsom’s measure passed and the progressive supervisors were removed, “the irony is that the chair of the party [Peskin] would appoint their successors.”

Also ironic is the political reality that it is Newsom who most needs his party’s support right now, while it is progressives who are adopting the most conciliatory tone.

“We should all be working to turn out the vote and help Democrats win,” Peskin told us. “I implore our mayor and lieutenant gubernatorial candidate to work with us and get that done.”

Yet after Newsom gave a budget-signing speech that included the line, “At the end of the day, it comes down to leadership, stewardship, collaboration, partnership,” he told the Guardian that he has no intention of removing or explaining his DCCC ballot measure, saying only, “If the voters support it, then it would be the right thing to do.”

Chiu responded to the news by telling us, “I hope the mayor can move beyond the politics of personality and build a party vehicle that is about unity.”

Face-offs

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS One day Clara de la Cooter would like to go to Ohio and play with my nieces and nephews. One day she would like to play soccer with me. And baseball. One day she wants to take the BART train. One day she would like to have pierced ears, and wear earrings, and ride a motorcycle. It’s cute to hear her begin all these distant little longings with, "One day" …

She’s three years old.

"One day," she asked me the other day while I was making cheese-eggs for her and her little sister, Kate. "One day," she said, "can I wear Kate’s head?"

My friends are all closet vegetarians, or in San Diego. Or Hawaii or Florida, for the week. Earl Butter has never quite recovered from the cleanse he went on. And here was a little girl who wanted to wear her sister’s head! Which can’t be a very healthy idea for either party, but you hate to discourage these things out of hand.

"Absolutely!" I said. "Of course you can one day wear Kate’s head, Sweetie!"

I’m just kidding. I said, "It would be really, really hard to take someone’s head off."

"Uh-huh," she said, looking up at me like she does when I’m explaining something important, all eyes and heart, and then for days and weeks and sometimes months afterward she repeats her little life lessons back at you, in the form of a question, by way of locking it in.

She’ll surprise you with them. A million new adventurous and wonderful things have happened in the meantime, and then all of a sudden, between poaching plums from a neighbor’s tree and sitting on a stone wall watching deer down below in the fog, she will turn to you and say, "It’s really, really hard to take someone’s head off?"

"That is correct," I say, and leave it at that. Later I’ll explain some of the legal, ethical, and medical implications — like maybe when she’s five. Telling a three- or four-year-old that her little sister might not like — let alone survive — a thing, only sweetens the trend toward experimentation.

Boink used to bonk his baby sister over the head with a hammer, until he turned five and — seemingly overnight — was able to grasp the concept of metaphor. We have more fun than ever now, and one day will own a restaurant together. And be in a band. We’ve already started a newspaper, which we sell to his mom for a nickel. I’m the food editor.

Speaking of which … something about hamburgers … oh yeah, Earl Butter still hasn’t recovered from his cleanse. It’s been months! For my birthday, he watched me eat buffalo wings. And that was in May! And he’s from Utica!

He has a blog about pineapples, which is, if anything as good as his last blog, which was about tuna fish. Seriously, they are both the funniest blogs ever written, but he will not eat a burger with me. Earl Butter! Meanwhile, we have made butternut squash curry with wild rice, like, five times! (It’s good, to put it mildly.)

I tried to trick him by inviting him to shop with me at Rainbow. Alice Shaw, the Person, told me about a new little burger place right behind the store, on 14th Street. I thought after we filled up my brother’s van with quinoa and red lentils and shit, he’d get a little hungry for lunch and then …

But no. He had work to do. He gave me his 20 percent off coupon and asked me to get him dried lima beans and whatever other kind of beans looked "fun."

I couldn’t get Alice Shaw the Person, either, on short notice, so I ate my burger alone. I got the one with grilled pineapples on it, thinking maybe I’d start my own blog, by way of healthy competition. But I’m scared. Earl Butter’s good.

But so is the Hawaiian cheeseburger at Café Zazo. Grilled onion, bacon, cheddar. Fresh cut fries. They serve breakfast all day and the pancakes look fluffy enough to put under your shirt, and be entirely comfortable.

Yep, it’s a friendly little family-run gem, and I thought you should know about it.

CAFÉ ZAZO

Mon.–Fri. 10:30 a.m.–7 p.m.;

Sat.–-Sun. 11 a.m.–4 p.m.

64 14th St., SF

(415) 626-5555

AE/D/MC/V

No alcohol

Reinventing San Francisco

8

By Christopher D. Cook, Karl Beitel, and Calvin Welch. 

OPINION It’s hard to trust hope these days — to imagine that our world, or even our city — could be different. But for the next 10 or 15 minutes, as you read this, we invite you to suspend the cynicism and disbelief that hang over contemporary life, and allow your mind to imagine that, yes, a different San Francisco is possible. Just for 15 minutes, although we hope this helps kick-start a much longer-term revival of hope and urban reimagining.

It’s time to create something new in San Francisco — a visionary movement for constructive change that’s bold and unapologetic. Imagine, for instance, if San Francisco became a national model for how cities can reinvest local profits (public and private) and assets to expand economic opportunity and social equity. Imagine if, instead of promoting a dispiriting and volatile blend of corporate development and Darwinian “free-market” anarchy, San Francisco transformed how American cities define success by creating concrete alternatives to the chaos of capitalism.

Now imagine that San Francisco had its own public bank — a fiscally solvent, interest-generating financial force (potentially a half-billion dollars strong) dedicated to public financing and economic stimulus, that functioned as a vigorous incubator for homegrown industries and sustainable, true-green job creation.

We are proposing no less than a reinvention of San Francisco — a dramatic shift in priorities, resources, politics, and culture that marries the very best in both creative innovation and urgently needed reforms to make our city socially equitable and sustainable, both ecologically and economically.

Toward this end, the Community Congress, Aug. 14-15 on the University of San Francisco campus, will stimulate ideas, discussion, and planning to reinvigorate civic engagement and inspiration and create a concrete, locally actionable agenda for reshaping the city. You’re invited. (Visit www.sfcommunitycongress.wordpress.com for more information.) The congress is a conversation starter and idea incubator — an opportunity to begin reimagining San Francisco as a socially equitable, racially inclusive, ecologically sustainable city that grows its own food, supplies its own energy, and is an affordable haven for working-class people, immigrants, artists, and creative folk of all stripes.

We humbly propose a city that embraces cosmopolitanism and international exchange while empowering its residents to achieve a decent and livable quality of urban life. We are not trying to turn back the clock; we are trying to create new forms of social and economic value that give people meaning and sustenance, and hope.

 

WHY A COMMUNITY CONGRESS—WHY NOW?

Couldn’t we save such sweeping aspirations for a rainy day? The sky isn’t falling yet, is it? Not quite, but the present constellation of crises San Francisco is ensnarled in — massive and rising structural deficits, a boom/bust economy that’s profoundly unstable and inequitable, deepening economic and social divides that destabilize communities, to name a few — is simply unsustainable.

San Francisco’s economic and fiscal crisis is not a passing moment. Rather, it signals long-term structural flaws in the city’s economic policies and planning. San Francisco has lost roughly 45,000 jobs since 2000, and each “recovery” is marked by steadily higher unemployment rates (currently resting at 9.2 percent). More critically, as jobs and wages have grown more precarious and housing prices have steadily risen (over the long term), thousands of San Franciscans have been displaced.

Any serious vision for change must incorporate race and class dynamics. Consider the economic evisceration of much of the city’s African American population, which has plummeted from 13.4 percent of the population in 1970 to just 6.5 percent today (more than 22,000 African Americans left the city between 1990 and 2008). The gutting of communities of color is intrinsically intertwined with issues of job and wage loss and soaring housing costs. This is particularly acute in the geographic and political dislocation of African Americans in San Francisco. Add to this picture intense overcrowding and poverty in Chinatown and in Latino and immigrant communities, and you get a set of inequities that are morally unacceptable and socially untenable.

Like other major American cities, San Francisco faces a crucial historical moment. Global warming and fast-dwindling oil supplies require a transformative shift in how we conceive (and implement) economic development far beyond the city’s current piecemeal approach to “green procurement.” The Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force, appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 2007, concluded that a full 86 percent of San Francisco’s energy use comes from fossil fuels, primarily petroleum and natural gas, and a small amount of coal. Given the world’s fading oil supplies and mounting climate chaos, this is simply unsustainable.

The specter of a looming energy and environmental crisis, combined with economic instability marked by persistently high unemployment, rising income inequality, systemically entrenched homelessness, consumer debt, and the deepening crisis of cutbacks to critically needed human services and affordable housing call for a radical shift in how society — and San Francisco’s economy — are run.

Transforming San Francisco into a truly sustainable city will mean dramatic shifts in what (and how) we produce and consume, and aggressive city policies that promote local renewable energy. Our economy — how our food, housing, transportation and other essential goods are made — will have to be rebuilt for a world without oil.

These and other limits mean we must redefine growth and profit—fast. Work and sustainability must become fully intertwined, and we must think creatively about how jobs can produce social and community value, instead of profits concentrated at the top.

Creating truly sustainable and equitable cities for the 21st century will also mean dramatic shifts in how we produce and consume. There is no better place to begin than here in San Francisco, long an incubator in progressive thinking and genuine grassroots action and innovation. In an earlier Community Congress in 1975, residents and groups from across San Francisco united in a movement of ideas and organizing that led to district supervisorial elections and successful campaigns to stem the tide of downtown corporate development, helping to democratize politics and economics in San Francisco.

The 2010 Community Congress is aimed at reinvigorating local movements for lasting change, both on the policy level and in the relationship between people and their government. We hope to inspire a spirited and creative shift in the city’s culture and politics — with concrete, politically actionable policies to democratize planning and development and a more sweeping transformation of our expectations — toward a far richer and deeper engagement of people and communities in their own governance.

 

A NEW FRAMEWORK FOR URBAN DEVELOPMENT

What would this City of Hope look like, and how would it work? Consider what we could accomplish with a municipal bank. The City and County of San Francisco currently has almost $2.6 billion in highly liquid reserves, about $500 million of which could be used to fund a Municipal Bank of San Francisco. Once established (and federally insured), the Municipal Bank could take additional deposits and use this to issue more loans. The bank could promote economically viable worker-run cooperatives that produce goods and services addressing community needs — be it day care, urban gardening, or ecologically sustainable light industry that creates meaningful employment for local residents. The bank could provide competitive small-interest loans to help stimulate small-business development — the key economic engine of the city. Currently, access to credit is one of the primary impediments to small business growth in San Francisco.

The city could also start a Municipal Development Corporation to produce goods and services that meet essential needs, boost local employment, and generate surpluses that would be available for local reinvestment. San Francisco could launch itself on the path to local energy self-reliance with funds from the Municipal Bank, together with revenue bonds—raising large pools of capital to finance large-scale alternative energy investments such as solar panels to generate energy for sale to local businesses and households.

The proceeds could help subsidize community-based development such as urban farming projects that could grow food for our public schools. The Municipal Development Corporation could explore other initiatives like large-scale medical marijuana cultivation and development of a commercial fiberoptic network. Other ideas can be developed; we need to engage our collective imagination to envision what can exist if there’s enough people power and political will.

By expanding access to credit, municipalizing a chunk of the city’s assets, establishing an economically viable municipal development enterprise, and democratizing city planning and development, San Francisco can enable long-disenfranchised communities to create sustainable and diversified development — instead of fighting over “jobs versus the environment” and other false choices and getting nowhere for decades.

It’s time for proactive, community-led economic development that addresses urgent needs, from local hiring and training, to creating a diverse base of neighborhood-serving businesses, to ecologically sustainable and healthful development and planning that is driven by communities and residents.

San Francisco’s job creation policies can be transformed to prioritize community needs over corporate profits by linking major development contracts to strict local hiring and training, community benefits agreements that invest in social goods like childcare and in-home health services, and ensuring dramatic increases in the city’s stock of affordable housing.

We need to build new forms of public participation in local government in ways that address people’s everyday needs. For instance, the congress will propose a new partnership between residents and Muni to make Muni work better, involving current riders and drivers in a new, more powerful role in how Muni lines function.

We need to find better ways to sustain a diverse population of working-class, people of color, artists, writers, musicians, and others. We need to make sure development isn’t just code for finding new ways to gentrify neighborhoods and displace existing residents.

Specific proposals will address how the city and community-based nonprofits deliver critical health and human services to our neediest residents. We propose making this an integrated part of the budget process, not a last-minute afterthought. Toward this end, the Community Congress will present actionable proposals to create innovative “resident/government” partnerships to improve local government responsiveness and efficiency.

 

RAISING—AND SPENDING—THE BENJAMINS

One of the keys to unlocking the city’s stagnating economy is progressive revenue generation and more democratic participation in budgeting. We must enlarge the public pie while reapportioning it in a way that stimulates job creation and shifts the tax burden onto the large businesses that reap vast private benefits from public goods and services. The city’s budget process must be dramatically reshaped and democratized. Communities need a seat at the fiscal table when the budget is being crafted — instead of lobbying tooth and nail at the end of the process just to retain funding that barely keeps programs afloat.

How can we build a participatory budgeting movement that brings residents and communities into the process? For instance, community budget councils composed of elected and appointed residents from every supervisorial district could assess neighborhood needs and incorporate them into drafting the budget. Whatever form this takes, the goal is to put the needs of residents at the forefront of how the city spends its resources.

The Community Congress can also help redefine fiscal responsibility. Taxing and spending must be accountable and transparent and respect the fact that this is the public’s money. Let’s be honest: much of what passes for government excess is due to management and executive bloat at the top, not salaries of frontline workers like bus drivers, social service providers, and hospital workers. True fiscal responsibility also means investing in prevention: education, healthcare, and services that help people build their lives.

 

RECLAIMING HOPE

It’s time to reclaim the public sector as the sphere of our shared interest. Rather than thinking in terms of the old paradigm that counterpoises “government” and “the market,” let us envision a new citizen movement to create a more participatory, democratic, and accountable system of self-government.

The San Francisco Community Congress is about bringing people together — community activists, those working in the trenches of our increasingly strained social services, our environmental visionaries, our artists, the urban gardeners and permaculturists, poets, bicycle enthusiasts, inventors … in short, assembling our pool of collective knowledge and wisdom, and yes, our differences — in a forum to discuss, debate, share concerns and viewpoints, and ultimately produce a working template that is both visionary and can be implemented.

The Community Congress will create a space for all of us to participate in defining our own vision of San Francisco. It is a first step toward reasserting popular control over economic development. It is an invitation to be visionary, rethinking in fundamental ways what it means to live in the 21st century city, and a forum for creating real, practical platforms and proposals that can be implemented using the powers of local government.

We want to propose a new vision of urban governance. Not more bureaucracy, more commissions, more departments, but the creation of new institutions that are democratically accountable and place new kinds of economic and political resources in the hands of ordinary citizens.

We don’t have any illusions. There are limits to what local government can do. Ultimately, deep change will require actions by higher levels of government. More profoundly, it will require a deeper change in citizen awareness, a rejection of life dominated by the pursuit of narrow self-interest, in favor of a more ecologically sustainable, socially just, and more democratic way of life.

But we can begin at the local level, here and now, to envision and implement the kind of changes that will need to take place if we want to insure that our city, our country, and our planet will be the kind of place we want our children to live. Please come. Bring your hopes, passions, and ideas. This is our collective project, our shared wisdom, our joint vision of the kind of city and society in which we want to live.

Christopher D. Cook is an author, journalist, and former Bay Guardian city editor (www.christopherdcook.com). Karl Beitel is a writer, scholar, and activist. Calvin Welch is the director of the San Francisco Information Clearinghouse and a long-time affordable housing advocate. This story was funded in part by www.spot.us

 

A new community congress

0

EDITORIAL The first time a group of activists from across San Francisco met in a Community Congress, it was 1975 and the city was in trouble. Runaway downtown development was creating massive displacement and threatening the quality of life. Rents were rising and tenants were facing eviction. An energy crisis had left residents and businesses with soaring power bills. The manifesto of the Congress laid out the problem:

"Every poor and working class community in San Francisco has learned the hard way that its interests are at the bottom of the list as far as City Hall is concerned. At the top of the list are the banks, real estate interests, and large corporations, who view San Francisco not as a place for people to live and work and raise families, but as a corporate headquarters city and playground for corporate executives. By using their vast financial resources, they have been able to persuade local government officials that office buildings, hotels, and luxury apartments are more important than blue-collar industry, low-cost housing and decent public services and facilities."

The Community Congress hammered out a platform — a 40-page document that pretty much defined what progressive San Francisco believed in and wanted for the city. It included district elections of supervisors, rent control, public power, a requirement that developers build affordable housing, and a sunshine ordinance — in fact, much of what the left has accomplished in this town in the past 35 years was first outlined in that document.

Beyond the details, what the platform said was profound: it suggested that the people of San Francisco could reimagine their city, that local government could become a force for social and economic change on the local level, even when politics in Washington and Sacramento were lagging behind. It called for a new relationship between San Franciscans and their city government and looked not just at what was wrong, but what was possible.

That’s something that too often gets lost in political debate today. With urban finances in total collapse, the progressives are on defense much of the time, trying to save the basic safety net and preserve essential programs and services. It seems as if there’s little opportunity to talk about a comprehensive alternative vision for San Francisco.

But bad times are great times to try new ideas — and when the second Community Congress convenes Aug. 14 and 15 at the University of San Francisco, that’s exactly what they’ll be trying to do. It’s not going to be easy — the left in San Francisco has always been fractious, and there’s no consensus on a lot of central issues. But if the Community Congress attracts a broad enough constituency and develops a coherent platform that can guide future political organizing efforts, it will have made a huge contribution to the city.

The event also offers the potential for the creation of a permanent progressive organization that can serve as a forum for discussion, debate, and action on a wide range of issues. That’s something the San Francisco left has never had. Sup. Chris Daly tried to create that sort of organization but it never really worked out. The city’s full of activist groups — the Tenants Union, the Harvey Milk LGBT Club, the Sierra Club, and many others — that work on important issues and generally agree on things, but there’s no umbrella group that can knit all those causes together. It may be an impossible dream, but it’s worth discussing.

The organizers of the Community Congress discuss some of their agenda in the accompanying piece on this page. It should be based on a vision of what a city like San Francisco can be. Think about it:

This can be a city where economic development is about encouraging small businesses and start-ups, where public money goes to finance neighborhood enterprises instead of subsidizing massive projects.

This can be a city where planning is driven by what the people who live here want for their community, not by what big developers can make a profit doing.

This can be a city where housing is a right, not a privilege, where new residential construction is designed to be affordable for the people who work here.

This can be a city where renewable energy powers nearly all the needs of residents and businesses and where the public controls the electricity grid.

This can be a city where the wealthy pay the same level of taxes that rich people paid in this country before the Reagan era, where the individuals and corporations that have gotten filthy rich off Republican tax cuts give back a little bit to a city that is proud of its liberal Democratic values.

This can be a city where it’s safe to walk and bike on the streets and where clean, reliable buses and trains have priority over cars.

This can be a city where all kids get a good education in public schools.

Despite all the economic woes, this is one of the richest cities in one of the richest countries in the history of human civilization. There are no economic or physical or scientific or structural constraints to reimagining the city. The only obstacles are political.

In the next two years, control of City Hall will change dramatically. Five seats on the Board of Supervisors are up in November, and the mayor’s office is open the year after that. The progressives have made great progress in the past few years — but downtown is gearing up to try to reverse those advances. The community congress needs to address not just the battle ahead, but describe the outcome and explain why San Francisco’s future is worth fighting for.