Volume 44 Number 49

Appetite: SF Cocktail Week is coming September 21-27


Last year’s San Francisco Cocktail Week was a full-but-chill week of parties and cocktails at some of our best bars. This year, the fourth annual SF Cocktail Week steps it up with a whole slew of events I’m excited (and proud) to see us throwing in the name of the cocktail, especially as our city has been one of the two leading the cocktail renaissance long before the rest of the country caught on.

This year we celebrate in a big way with the unveiling of a new Center for the Beverage Arts, the Boothby Center (named after Cocktail Boothby) on Cocktail Week’s opening night. Cocktail Carnival Gala is the big shindig held at the magnificent Old Mint and co-presented by The Bon Vivants. There are daytime seminars, late night after-parties and a cook-out (including ferry ride) at Hangar One/St. George Distillery. Some events are free, while tickets range anywhere from $10-$95.

Decide which ways you will imbibe, knowing your tickets support our city’s rich drinking and cultural heritage via the event’s presenters, Barbary Coast Conservancy of the American Cocktail (BCCAC), founded by H. Joseph Ehrmann (Elixir), Jeff Hollinger (Comstock Saloon), and Duggan McDonnell (Cantina).

Check the schedule for events you most want to hit. I’ll see you at the Ragtag Rabble Gaming Soirée on Thursday, or maybe the Cocktail Carnival Gala Saturday night? Oh, “whimsical” attire is recommended, so do what San Franciscans do well and dress to “impress.”

This year’s official event cocktail is “Papa Ghirardelli”, a moniker honoring Ghirardelli’s founder, Domingo Ghirardelli. Italian-born, but living in Peru where he first became successful with his confections prior to moving to San Francisco, the drink gives a nod to his dual roots with Campari (Italy) and Pisco (Peru), using Encanto Pisco. You can try the recipe at home before raising a glass next week:

Papa Ghirardelli
1.5 oz Encanto Pisco
.5 oz Campari
.5 oz Martini & Rossi Rosato Vermouth
.25 oz Benedictine
.5 oz Lemon Juice
Seltzer Water, to fill
Orange Slice, for garnish
Combine Encanto Pisco, Campari, Rosato, Benedictine and lemon juice in an ice-filled shaker and shake for 10 to 15 seconds, or until chilled. Strain over fresh ice into a Collins glass, and top with seltzer. Garnish with a slice of orange.

Purchase tickets for Cocktail Week here.

Subscribe to Virgina’s twice-monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot

Appetite: Drinking in the Wente Vineyards Concert Series


There may be other Bay Area concert winery venues (Mountain Winery, for example), but none like family-run Wente Vineyards in Livermore. Run by the same family for five generations and set on a 3000-acre expanse of golden rolling hills and vineyards, Wente is managed by delightfully down-to-earth members of the family who keep the business alive, yes, with wine-making, but also with a scenic golf course, a restaurant, and the aforementioned concert venue.

It’s magic sitting out under the warm Livermore night sky, cradled by palms, vineyards and foliage, in a venue big enough to feel like an event, small enough to offer visibility. On August 19, I trekked out for a Chris Isaak show. I was a fan in high school, pleased to say he’s utterly charming in person, maintaining old-fashioned showmanship and witty banter in a sparkly, classic country/Elvis-style wardrobe. The setting could not have enhanced the enchantment of his music more. The range (and randomness) of Wente shows is wide — with appearances from my longtime hero, Harry Connick, Jr., or the likes of Liza Minnelli, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Fray, even ZZ Top (!)

The rest of this year’s line-up includes Willie Nelson with Ryan Bingham on Monday, September 13, the one-and-only Harry Connick (sadly, his show is sold out) on September 21st, and a just-added Don Henley show on September 20th. Tickets are pricey, running just shy of $90 to nearly $150 for seats, or anywhere from $150 to just below $300 with dinner, whether it be outdoor picnics or a multi-course meal, wine included, in their restaurant. Of course, you can eat at the restaurant on non-concert days without concert prices.

But the combo of the two certainly makes for a memorable special occasion or date, and what surprises most is the quality of the food in a full, three-course dinner. My dinner was paired nicely with bottles of 2006 Murrieta’s Well, a melon, vanilla-tinged white Meritage ($11 glass; $40 bottle), and a 2006 Annika Syrah, rich with plum and wild blackberry ($24 glass; $96 bottle).

Executive chef Eric Berg uses produce and herbs from their own organic garden (there’s even a master gardener, Diane Dovholuk, on staff) and unusual offerings, like bison tenderloin tartare with yellow beets, green onion, creme fraiche, sorrel puree and beet greens. It was a treat to eat bison raw, tender and fresh with garden accents. Simple and pure shines in the case of Frog Hollow Peaches with red onion, toasted hazelnuts, mizuna greens and pancetta vinaigrette. A perfect Summer dish.

Liberty Farms duck breast “scaloppini” with leg confit, horseradish gnocchi, charred lemon zest and smoked eggplant puree was appropriately prepared medium-rare with the confit leg adding succulence. Wagyu flatiron steak & Maine lobster is a pleasing “surf and turf” combo, prepared with stewed heirloom chiles, fingerling potato fondant, in a lobster-veal sauce.

Though I especially liked the sound of frozen horchata with hibiscus soup, local strawberries and mint, it was more like a bright palate cleanser than spiced with horchata flavor, while a local nectarine tartlette with sweet corn ice cream and salted caramel lingered longer and pleasurably.

Needless to say, it’s a hefty splurge, but the whole package, both dinner and concert, is a uniquely California experience: vineyards, palm trees, garden-fresh cuisine, even an Old West feeling of remoteness out among dry, rolling hills, create a bewitching evening.

New twists on the Negroni challenge the original


Those who know me well are aware of my love of the Negroni. The perfect aperitif and a favorite since my first visit to Italy 11 years ago, I crave Campari’s bitter crispness balanced with gin. I concur with Victoria Moore who says in her book, How to Drink: “The negroni is a beautiful thing, garnet in color, sweet-astringent to taste, and decisively highbrow. Drinking it feels like taking a sip of Florence, Renaissance frescoes, students swooping about on scooters…” My typically adventurous palate sees no reason to vary from a traditional, already perfect Negroni recipe (http://www.imbibemagazine.com/Negroni), but the skilled bartenders in our fair city and the makers of a brilliant new product, Gran Classico Bitter have been opening my eyes in recent months to other Negroni vistas.

TEMPUS FUGIT NEGRONI at Spoonbar — Scott Beattie offers three versions of Negronis at the wonderful new Spoonbar in Healdsburg. The Tempus Fugit Negroni ($8.50) particularly wows. Made with Ransom’s (http://www.ransomspirits.com) impeccable Old Tom Gin, Dolin Rouge Vermouth, orange zest and Tempus Fugit’s Gran Classico Bitter, it’s a musky, full revelation.

PISCO NEGRONI at Cantina — Duggan McDonnell at Cantina showed me another way as realized as a classic Negroni: a Pisco Negroni. Out of all four here, this one tastes most like the original, bright with pisco instead of gin, Gran Classico instead of Campari. It’s lush, almost caramel-y with his lovely Encanto Pisco, while the favored bitter/tart Campari offers is illuminated in the Gran Classico.

Brian MacGregor’s NEGRONI d’OR — Brian MacGregor is shaking cocktails for his last week at Jardiniere, a loss for that bastion of 1930’s, supperclub-style elegance, but a gain for the upcoming Locanda, opening in the Mission from the Delfina crew, where MacGregor will be Bar Manager. He went all the way to Cognac, France, for the G’Vine Gin World Finals with this pristine beauty that comes unadorned in a wine glass. It’s golden-hued and smooth with G’vine Nouasion gin, Dolin White vermouth and, yes, Gran Classico. It may no longer be on order at Jardiniere once MacGregor departs after 9/9, but if you ask nicely, he might be able to make it for you in his new digs.

LO SCANDINAVO at 15 Romolo
The gifted crew at 15 Romolo continually does it right, pushing boundaries while maintaining taste and classic standards. The Negroni gets a Scandinavian makeover with the Lo Scandinavo ($11), aka Aquavit Negroni: North Shore Aquavit, Gran Classico Bitter and Carpano Antica. Here, an astringent smoothness is accented by a slice of lemon peel. The aquavit forms a clean foundation for the bitter qualities to shine.

Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot

Let’s date!



CHEAP EATS While the Maze’s mom was fighting for her life, he sat and stood by her side, in San Diego, and talked to her, even though she couldn’t hear him, or respond.

Her coma was induced, more-or-less medically, according to the Maze, who went to med school. After seven days, they more-or-less medically weaned her back into life as we know it. Where you breathe, you know, air, and eat, you know, food, and go to the bathroom. When he left San Diego, she could do some of the above, plus take six steps.

Coincidentally, as misfortune would have it, for the two weeks the Maze was with his mom, the woman the Maze dates was also bedridden back home here, on account of broken legs and surgery and shit.

I gave her a lot of movies, and some lasagna, but that was about it. And I thought about her a lot, and the Maze’s mom, who was only in her 60s. And the Maze: how the women in his life were all down, but not for the count.

Nor did it escape my attention that I am, in many respects, a woman in the Maze’s life, so I was careful to look both ways before crossing streets, drive defensively, and wash my hands many times during a day. I might have even eaten more healthily, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Whatever the reason, I was very, very hungry when the Maze called me from the airport on Monday. Did I want to get something to eat?

"I do!" I said. I told him I’d been thinking all day about barbecue. This meant nothing to him, not because he’s cruel but because he knows me well. I might as well have said, "All day long my heart has been pumping blood through my veins and arteries."

Or: "Yep, I checked, and I still have hands!"

Since the Maze is one of many friends I suspect of being a closet vegetarian, we settled for pizza. At … Delfina Pizzeria. Finally!

Because I live on one side of it, and park on another, I have been walking past this place for years, often with my one-string water-jug-on-a-toilet-plunger bass, the smell of diapers all over me, or some other symbol of my not being able to eat there. And I have slowed down and stared. Not at the beautiful people who litter the sidewalk in front of Delfina, lunchtime and evenings. I have stared at their pizzas.

I think it’s cruel and unusual for establishments to serve food that looks and smells that damn good on narrow sidewalks with a lot of foot traffic in not entirely affluent neighborhoods.

I’ve seen me some pies with some pretty amazing things on them, like fried eggs, and I have fantasized about sitting down with some party of two or three and pretending like I know one of them. Or just grabbing a slice and flying. I’m pretty fast for an aging ex chicken farmer.

It’s not like Delfina’s out-of-reachably expensive, either. I think of it as a date place. I just don’t, as a rule, have dates. So when the Maze nixed my barbecue idea and suggested Delfina, if there wasn’t a line, I jumped on it.

Here was a special occasion. His mom was alive! He was coming home! I still had hands! And — and this is a big and — it was early enough that we wouldn’t have to wait in line. So there we had it, and you have it, everything stacked up so that at 6 p.m. on a Monday. I ate my first Delfina pizza.

It was good. As good as it always looked. And in spite of the fact that we didn’t get one of the meat ones, the Maze being a closet vegetarian. I think the pizza, with broccoli raab, olives, mozzarella, and hot peppers, was $14.50. Share-able, sure, but barely so. Put it this way: either one of us could have eaten the whole thing alone.

Plus salad plus drinks = yeah, not cheap eats. But damn good ‘uns. I can’t wait to have dates.


Mon. 5–10 p.m.; Tue.–Thu. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.;

Fri. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Sat. noon–11 p.m.;

Sun. noon-10 p.m.

3611 18th St., S.F.

(415) 437-6800


Beer and wine

Mr. In-Between



STAGE During a lively discussion of aesthetics, Lord Henry Wotton (John Fisher) and painter Basil Hallward (Jef Valentine) pry open a Pandora’s box of idolatry, narcissism, and moral quicksand called The Picture of Dorian Gray. Oscar Wilde, author of the novel, is of course the aesthete par excellence. But this genuinely creepy, darkly sexy, and thought-filled Gothic — now imaginatively brought to life on the stage by Theatre Rhinoceros artistic director and playwright-director Fisher (Medea, the Musical) — reminds us that Wilde was a man prone to paradoxes that were anything but facile.

If Wilde was uncompromising in his aestheticism (not to mention his admirable embrace of social frippery), these qualities came charged with a devastating, subversive wit and an unquiet, compassionate intellect prone to probing questions about so-called human nature, as well as the nature of the social world he had inherited (still familiar in its essentials today, a century later). In a way, Dorian Gray is the dark dramatic counterpart to Wilde’s “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” his still must-read essay on the cultivation of the individual as the basis of a just society and vice-versa.

But to the play. The preternaturally beautiful young man of the title (essayed here with the perfect balance of innocence and ruthlessness by a captivating Aaron Martinsen) is a privileged orphan who comes under the wing of a painter, but the hierarchy is immediately inverted: it is Basil who comes under the power of the initially oblivious Dorian. So possessed (as opposed to merely “inspired”) is Basil by his subject that he paints a portrait well beyond his usual powers and jealously guards it from public eyes. Reluctantly introducing the boy to his friend, the consummate aristo-hedonist Lord Henry (played with a slightly brooding manner and delicate raunch by Fisher), Basil loses Dorian to the pull of Watton’s morally unbounded worldview. Soon Dorian utters a fateful wish: his soul in exchange for the eternal youth represented by his portrait. Wish granted, the portrait bears all the scars of aging and debauchery and evil in his stead, as he spirals into a moral abyss that consumes more than one life along the way.

In the principle roles, Fisher, Valentine, and Martinsen are worthy vehicles for the play’s elevated language and heightened realism. Valentine’s smart and engaging performance as Basil carries real weight and is a fresh surprise coming from a talented actor seen more often in drag than “straight” clothes (though even here, his natty, late-19th-century threads and pointed mustachio suggest a refugee from a barber shop quartet). The principals get strong support from Maryssa Wanlass and Celia Maurice in a variety of parts, and inconsistent help from the hard-working but less versatile Stephen Chun and Adam Simpson.

Fisher’s staging is apt and frequently inspired in a manner that suits the idea-driven material. The Eureka’s ample stage remains empty but for the odd chair, with an occasional sheen of light and shadow (from lighting designer Anthony Powers) suggesting the outdoors. This stark approach emphasizes the actors, whose smart period costumes, courtesy of the able Christine U’Ren, do most of the visual work in setting a period mood. The play’s characters are serenely unmoored in a way that compliments the story’s moral drift, swift conflation of time, and ethereally — and sexually — in-between quality.

Balletic, operatic touches (including light but compelling movement from choreographer Lia Metz, amid occasional bursts of Wagner and other Romantics) enhance the more lurid moments lovingly, while filling out the action with the most economical yet graceful of gestures. When modest theater actress Sybil Vane (a sharp and appealing Wanlass), victim of Dorian’s caprice, jumps to her death, the moment shifts from sturm und drang to a tragic tranquility. The actress throws up her hands and recedes slowly backward upstage, already of another world, as the back wall stops her cold, her vertical pose perfectly in line with the audience’s sight line as it follows her down to the ground.

The production has minor flaws. Chun and Simpson speak into offstage microphones to substitute for onstage servants and other minor parts, and the disparities within sound quality and volume, along with the tossed-off line readings, prove jarring. But any missteps are small ones. Moreover, despite a nearly three-hour run time, the play’s length isn’t a problem. Every word of Wilde’s put to use here — and Fisher has elegantly managed to include a lot of them — feels relevant, enticing, and necessary. If anything, the subtlety and thematic density of the speech demands a certain period of adjustment, and the two sets amount to full immersion in the heart of Dorian Gray. *


Wed.–Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 3 p.m.;

(through Sept. 19); $15–$20

Eureka Theatre

215 Jackson, SF

(800) 838-3006


Editor’s Notes



California politics starts early. The campaigns in this state were underway long before the traditional Labor Day launch of the fall campaign season. Except for Jerry Brown, who only in the past week has started acting like a candidate for governor of the most populous state in the nation.

And that’s not a mistake.

Here’s how I’m seeing things shape up at what is more accurately described as a midpoint in the campaign season:

Jerry Brown’s starting to hit back. The once and maybe future governor has much of the state’s political class mystified; with Meg Whitman blanketing the airwaves, promoting herself and whacking away at him, why has he waited so long to fight back? Actually, it’s a calculated strategy, Jerry’s version of the old Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope. He knew he couldn’t match Whitman blow for blow — and he also suspected that at a certain point, she’d start to punch herself out. It’s been working: after spending more than $100 million, Whitman hasn’t cracked 45 percent in the polls. And some polls now show that the more people view her ads, the less they like her.

So now Jerry Brown appears — a 72-year-old career politician who’s going to look like a fresh face. And all he has to do is knock her back a little and the race is his.

Barbara Boxer’s nailed Carly Fiorina where she’s most vulnerable. Boxer’s got incumbency trouble — that is, everyone’s sick of incumbents. But she has an opponent who has something even worse — a record of sending jobs offshore while collecting $100 million for herself. Boxer hammered that point home in the first and only Senate debate — and I can see that clip appearing in TV ads all fall.

And I hate to say it, but those two campaigns are going to eat up all the statewide campaign oxygen between now and November. Between those four candidates, we’ll see upwards of $120 million in TV spending — and the rest of the campaigns probably won’t even be able to buy much time in major markets.

That could be good for Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris. They’re Democrats in a state where Democrats way outnumber Republicans, and Republicans only win when they make a strong case that the Democrat sucks. Whitman can try to do that, and so can Fiorina, but even if they had the money, I don’t see Abel Maldonado or Steve Cooley, the GOP candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general, getting their messages heard in the cacophony that will be the top of the ticket.

So maybe Whitman is not only hurting herself with her excessive spending. Maybe she’s hurting the rest of the party, too. Not that she cares.

Strong Weekend



MUSIC: THE NEW SHOEGAZE Oh sure, I like to swoon and glide, and I stayed for all of “You Made Me Realize” when the reformed My Bloody Valentine played at the Concourse. But a million easy divers and slow Rides have stretched shoegaze out of shape, forgetting the loaming fury for déjà vu-ridden ecstasy. As with all pseudo-genres in the MySpace era, a premium is placed on affect: the shiny/skuzzy veneer that rewards your click. M83’s admittedly spectacular records (Before the Dawn Heals Us, Saturdays=Youth) were early harbingers of this tendency. Like big-budget fantasies of the early shoegaze sound, their effect is at once lush and deodorized.

That may be a circumspect way of introducing Weekend, but it helps me get a handle on my initial crush on the trio’s “All American”/”Youth Haunts” single (Mexican Summer). Both tracks hitch the familiar layers of ultraviolet feedback to a throbbing, post-punk core—the band approaches shoegaze as a means of attack. The songs are long, but only because they’re stalking another crescendo, like the blizzard of cymbals at the close of “Youth Haunts.”

The striving momentum of those two tracks made even more sense when I saw Weekend perform. Mission of Burma came to mind watching the band make Dionysian waves while remaining buttoned-up and steady. There was much unifying pounding, but at such a volume that the instruments seemed to be discordantly ripping at a beautiful cloud. When I ask bassist and singer Shaun Durkan why their forthcoming album is called Sports (Slumberland), he replies, “Because the record is about episodes of conflict and opposition.” That insight extends to the album’s minimalist cover art, designed by friend and fellow CCA grad Jeff Brush, and redolent of post-punk’s class of ’79.

Weekend plays loud enough to conjure little sonic hallucinations that compliment the band’s subtle, New Order-ish melodies. “We all come from punk and hardcore backgrounds where it’s really not a big deal to have a cranked half-stack,” guitarist Kevin Johnson explains when I meet up with him, Durkan, and drummer Abe Pedroza one sunny afternoon. And yet, the blown-out passages always channel back to the hook that was there all along. “I think that’s been an idea in our band for a long time,” Johnson adds, “having stuff that sounds really abrasive on the surface but that the listener can’t help but find the melody.”

This careful calibration surely owes something to Weekend’s long gestation. Durkan and Johnson first met as sixth graders in Novato, and though Johnson moved to Reno before a band could form, the two remained in close touch, scheming a band. They started Weekend in 2009 with drummer Taylor Valentino, who was replaced by Pedroza when he moved to Boston. Aside from the first single and a split 7-inch with Young Prisms, the band quietly logged weekend sessions toward Sports with local producer Monte Vallier, who played with Durkan’s father in Half Church, one of San Francisco’s early post-punk groups.

The finished album, set for a Nov. 9 release, recalls Sonic Youth’s mid-1980s records in its plateau-hopping sequencing and cohesive instrumental passages. Opener “Coma Summer”‘s wilting chord progression and slashes of noise suggest that while the band still probably sounds best in a basement (“We’ll play your Sweet 16,” Pedroza jokes), they grasp the dramatics required of a larger room. “Monongah, WV” would kill either — it’s one of those charmed post-punk tracks that simultaneously lilts and thrashes, overflowing a tightly wound three minutes. The more self-conscious stabs at transcendence, like slow-churning “Monday Morning” and epic “Veil,” can seem a little ponderous, though the kaleidoscopic fusillade climaxing the latter is worth the wait. Throughout Sports, the rhythm section works a full-court press, a nice counterpoint to the shambling side of the San Francisco sound.

Sports comes out the same day the band opens for the Pains of Being Pure at Heart at the Independent, and the guys are clearly basking in the company of the Slumberland revival. While several of the new additions to Mike Schulman’s label play at fey, Weekend steers back to the edgier sounds of groups like Whorl, the Lilys, the Ropers, and Schulman’s own Powderburns. “It’s a crazy legacy that we’re learning more and more about,” Johnson says. Like all the Slumberland acts, Weekend wears its ’80s and ’90s influences on its sleeves, but I’m struck by Durkan’s answer when I ask about the group’s touchstone albums.

“Most of the records that inspired us are pretty obvious: Loveless, Unknown Pleasures, Disintegration, Psychocandy,” he writes. These records were made painstakingly, and we were inspired by that thoughtful process of creation…. That process of discovering love for a record, having to work at it, always leaves me with more of an appreciation than when I’m instantly won over.” Rearticulating the slow victory of great records is a welcome gesture indeed from a still young Weekend.


with Tamaryn; DJ sets by oOoOOO, and Nako and Omar

Sept. 15, 9pm, $8

Elbo Room

647 Valencia, SF

(415) 552-7788





MUSIC/THE NEW SHOEGAZE The Waves. The title of the first album by Tamaryn is big and elemental. It’s also dramatic and literary, invoking the writing and the death of Virginia Woolf and evoking the ocean’s fatal pull in a classic Romantic sense. Tamaryn’s music is all of these things.

The vast, vague, cacophonous yet harmonic sound that Melody Maker deemed shoegaze back in the late 1980s has made a strong return in recent years, but Tamaryn — comprised of Tamaryn and producer-instrumentalist Rex John Shelverton — distinguishes itself from the pack through epic scope and high fidelity of production, and most of all, through sheer force of presence. Shoegaze so often buried rock’s persona in noise’s capacity for jouissance that the sound became (and remains) a too-easy way to mask a lack of musicality and personality. Not so on The Waves. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more confidently unique rock album this year. On “Haze Interior” and “Dawning,” the result is literally awesome.

Tamaryn lives in the Bay Area, but I have to go through a publicity company to arrange an interview, and our conversation takes place over the phone, on a hot afternoon, after she’s found a place to park her car in the East Bay. This roundabout route to getting in touch with the lady herself is fitting, since much of The Wavestension generates from the mysterious way in which Tamaryn moves through the huge and dense sounds that Shelverton generates. “To go into something that loud and overwhelming and do something completely restrained — that was the real challenge,” she says, after sizing up my own voice as that of a young person. “You play music like that in a practice space and you as a singer don’t hear a note coming from your voice. You have to go from muscle memory. It’s about finding your place in the sound.”

It’s easy to connect with Tamaryn on the subject of music, because her appreciation of it is as immense and intense as the album she’s made. When I mention that aspects of The Waves remind me in a flattering way of the ’90s group Curve, she’s appreciative. “The British [shoegaze] bands were all so specific and very restrained,” she says. “Bands like Curve were more in your face. Curve is what Garbage wanted to be — you can see the direct line.”

Tamaryn’s lyrics, guiding the listener through deep oceanic contours, ranging from choral winters to coral flowers, possess a strong sensory quality. She agrees. “Sensory is a perfect way to describe it,” she says. I wrote the lyrics in response to my experience of the music — my experience of being part of the song. There are performers that realize they are not playing an instrument — it’s almost like they are a participant, a part of the audience that is moved by the music to respond and perform. Ian Svenonius of the Make-Up had another band where he’d walk onstage and go, ‘I like this music,’ and start to be inspired. I always thought that was really cool.”

Without a doubt, The Waves is a San Francisco album, with lyrics written at Fort Funston, and music by a surfer — Shelverton — from Half Moon Bay. The album’s final track, “Mild Confusion,” draws from notes on a psychiatric patient that Tamaryn came across during a day job, and it brings the more classical doom-laden aspects of the opening title track to a specific, realistic modern realm. “It’s very extreme here, with water on three sides, and it can be totally inspiring,” Tamaryn says, amid talk of the Golden Gate Bridge’s beauty and tragic lure. “If you come to San Francisco with plans to destroy yourself, it will let you. But if you come self-contained, with a strong personal or creative identity, you can use the energy of the city to inspire you.”

At the moment, one of Tamaryn’s chief sources of inspiration is fellow singer and recent Guardian cover star Alexis Penney. The night of our interview, she assists Penney onstage during a Some Thing drag performance at the Stud that concludes with Penney being pelted with long-stemmed roses. Penney is also the nude star of the video for Tamaryn’s “Love Fade,” which uses Derek Jarman’s films for the Smiths as a touchstone. “Alexis is like everybody’s muse,” Tamaryn says. “He’s amazing.” The friendship makes perfect sense, because Tamaryn is no slouch when it comes to iconic and androgynous imagery: she looked to the rare monograph Trans-figurations, Holger Truzsch’s photo collaboration with Veruschka, when putting together band portraits for The Waves.

A few nights later at Honey Soundsystem’s BUTT Bias mixtape listening party, and then later by text, Penney is more than happy to repay the compliment. “I remember the first time I saw Tamaryn,” Penney writes. “She is so striking and startlingly beautiful, with a piercing gaze, and you can tell she knows exactly what she wants. She’s definitely lived a life and is full of stories, but also retains that same real-life mystery that pervades her music. Her music is so her in essence, almost as if she was even singing the guitars and drums. Composed, but very raw and real and spontaneous, with a voice that is so powerful. Which is funny, because when she’s speaking she’s so girlish, but when she sings she’s definitely channeling spirits — there’s primal earthy old magic in her voice, even when she’s whispering.”

The Waves is an album of staying power and growing rewards because of the subtle and understated way Tamaryn adds human emotion to the Slowdive-like dinosaur yawns and Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine blur of Shelverton’s guitar. Tamaryn makes no bones about the fact that she has set out to create an album that can stand alongside those bands’ best recordings, and the work of Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis, who she simply refers to as “my heart.”

“The kinds of things I write are always bittersweet,” Tamaryn says, as our conversation falls again into the subject of favorite music. “It’s my experience of life and that’s the music that makes me feel better. I feel that music is so liberating and it has the biggest impact on you because it captures how you feel about yourself. I’ve given up on my dream of having a fulfilling personal life — I’m more interested in making sacrifices in order to make the music I want to make. Being able to make a record I’m proud of is more fulfilling than some day-to-day activity.”


with Weekend; DJ sets by oOoOOO, and Nako and Omar

Sept. 15, 9pm, $8

Elbo Room

647 Valencia, SF

(415) 552-7788


Stone age drop out



MUSIC Dopesmoker (Tee Pee Records, 2003) begins with a move characteristic of Al Cisneros’ style. Striking a series of low to mid-range notes, Sleep’s bassist and incantatory vocalist draws forth a series of monster bass tones that warp and disassociate as they decay.

As the listener focuses on the subtle permutations in the drone-overture — sometimes Cisneros’ bass notes vibrating into ever-smaller tonal subdivisions, at other moments, they radiate volume ever-outward — the DNA sequence for an unfolding doom metal magnum opus begins to take shape. The double kick bass follows in a steady trek to the foreground of the mix, followed by the guitar, which sounds almost grafted onto the bass, like a membrane of barbed amplifier fuzz circumscribing Cisneros’ hypnotic line. The riff snakes Geezer Butler-like into crevices and apertures, then rises to a Tony Iommian trill before pausing against a rain of cymbals — Black Sabbath as ancient, unstable organism.

With its relentless, uninterrupted hour-plus length, Dopesmoker unfolds like one of those naturally occurring geographical wonders that embodies thousands of years of passing time. Granite sheets, city-sized coral reefs, and Sleep’s culminating musical statement: all sprawling patterns dependent on vast expansions and mutations. This is what the undiluted version of Sleep’s masterpiece has over the abridged Jerusalem, released unofficially five years after Dopesmoker was completed. Where Jerusalem is divided and fragmented, seeking to place this freakish growth in track-length components and excising some of the weird arabesques of feedback that emerge at the margins, Dopesmoker, like Sleep’s music itself, evolves into ever more bizarre shapes via its own unintelligible logic.

Sleep broke up in 1995, after the band’s then-label, London Records, famously didn’t “get” Dopesmoker. The label felt (probably correctly), that a 60 minutes-plus quasi-Wagnerian “fuck you” to brevity would be career suicide for a band making its first foray on a major. In a sense, it was. It’s almost poetic that the album — a time-bending epic about traveling through sonic time and space — was released posthumously and out of chronology.

In the interim, Sleep has become the quintessential band for people who like their metal baked and ponderous. Following two discrete reunion shows at London’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2009 with Jason Roeder of Neurosis replacing Chris Hakius on drums, the group is set to reunite for a series of U.S. dates. As if this long dreamed-of tour wasn’t enough to make metal heads across the country flip the fuck out, the band’s set is to be comprised of Sleep’s Holy Mountain (Earache, 1993) played cover-to-cover, as well as excerpts from the now semi-mythical Dopesmoker. The returning sonic titans are set to once again engulf the Bay in a haze, one which smells mysteriously like the backroom of a T-shirt shop. But even if the band is notorious for its heroic weed consumption and all-around stoney pedigree, Sleep’s body of work — as challenging as it is impenetrably heavy — demands a staggering attention span on the listener’s part.

None of the San Jose trio’s albums reveal themselves on first listen; nor is Sleep’s catalogue by any means “feel good music.” Sleep purveys dark, unsettling grooves; its music ruins your buzz. Consider “Holy Mountain,” where Cisneros’ chant-vocal — like a Gregorian monk after a particularly harsh bong rip — approximates the desolate textures of his “earth drenched in black,” while Pike’s insistent riff (here anticipating High on Fire, perhaps) circles back in on itself like it’s spiraling toward the menacing “ohm” that distends across the mix of the titular track. This is heavy metal warped and skewed; an exercise in bad vibes that pulverizes thought in the same way that ultrasonic waves are used to crush kidney stones.

I can’t recall the specifics of picking up my copy of Sleep’s Holy Mountain, but what I do remember is hearing Matt Pike’s opening lick on “Dragonaut,” and the ensuing maelstrom of psychedelic electricity — maze-like and abstract, like the interlocking web of shapes on the album cover, only suffused with dripping, inexpressible colors. This is perhaps why Sleep’s sound has always been infinitely more compelling to me than feel-good psychedelia. Of all the bands to engage in the doom tradition, Sleep makes the increasingly relevant (sub)genre entirely its own. Familiar Sabbathisms — pentatonic bass grooves, monolithic power chords, a savvy manipulation of the lexicon of the blues — become building blocks within a phantasmal landscape of drones and echoes.

I also can’t help but feel that, as natives, Sleep has created a sound that forever superimposes itself over the Bay Area, so that cityscape surroundings, such as an ivy-choked chain-link fence or the cavernous opening of a BART tunnel (which doesn’t extend to their San Jose home) take on a weird, fantastical dimension, oscillating between solid matter and buzzing amplifier fuzz like the weird nebulas that seem to obsess Cisneros.

The way I hear music has been informed by Sleep since I first heard Sleep’s Holy Mountain in high school. Seventeen years after the album’s initial release, it still manages to yield stretches of unexplored musical terrain, as if it has been reproducing via osmosis while we were away. Like the elite cadre of spacey predecessors to the Great Drone, Sleep uses metal as a kind of vehicle for processing experience through rhythms and patterns, abstract tones and intricate layers of sound synching up with surroundings (like that Wizard of Oz/Pink Floyd thing you tried when you were 16, but in this case it actually works.)

The underlying genius of Sleep is the way the band manages to diffuse the atomic foundations of its monolithic riffs throughout entire albums and into a sprawling, seemingly endless landscape, a sonic cartography that — like a good Lovecraft yarn — perpetually expands past the next horizon point. The shape-shifting resonances of a decaying power-chord or bass fill flesh out the contours of an interminable sonic desert, a labyrinth of sound we find ourselves compelled to reexplore ad infinitum. “Drop out of life” are the first words we hear Cisneros chant on Dopesmoker. 


Sun/12–Mon/13, 8 p.m.; $23–$25

With Thrones (Sun/12) and Saviours (Mon/13)

Regency Ballroom

1290 Sutter, SF


Stimulating voltage


Don’t ask synthesizer inventor and electronic instrument designer Don Buchla (appearing Thu/9 as part of the 11th Annual San Francisco Electronic Music Festival) for a CD of his music. He’s more interested in following his curious muse — in this case, through the oft-uncharted territory of performance — than documenting his many experiments.

“It’s hard to have a CD that hasn’t been done yet,” the soft-spoken, even-keeled Buchla quips, deep within his Berkeley Victorian. He’s tucked behind a desk in a beige-carpeted, orderly studio-basement dotted with instruments — a hulking vibraphone dominates the space — and a few rainbow-colored 1960s- and ’70s-era lights. “None of my music can be recorded,” he adds. “It’s all theatrical in nature and involves a lot of visual simulations — stimulations.”

Buchla’s last performances were with saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum in Europe. His next appearance, a rare Bay Area one, will be in collaboration with Nine Inch Nails player Alessandro Cortini, for whom he made one of his Buchla Series 200e analog synthesizers. Using the 200e, a Thunder tactile surface MIDI controller, and various pieces of percussion, the two are making electronic and acoustic music with a distinct “element of chaos.” Buchla says they are striving for “unpredictability — allowing things to happen that we didn’t anticipate.”

In the meantime, forget about procuring a document of any of the practice sessions. Still, the inventor — who came out with his first modular synthesizer just months after Robert Moog in 1963 and created the first analog sequencer, among many other instruments — has made live CDs in the past. Indeed, his audiences would sometimes get a CD of the first half of a concert once the performance was completed and receive the second half in the mail. “If you want a record of the music,” he says, “the record should be the music you heard.”

If the live-recording-as-you-wait approach reminds you of the tape heads who devoted their energies to the Grateful Dead, you’re not far off: the Dead were onetime Buchla clients. He built their sound system — as well as the system on Ken Kesey’s bus — around the time he was doing sound and light at the Avalon Ballroom and the first Fillmore auditorium, as part of the North American Ibis Alchemical Company. Owsley Stanley, the Dead’s soundman and the onetime LSD cook, enlisted Buchla to make a Series 100 system for the band. “He wanted it to be very unique, so I painted all the panels candy-apple red,” Buchla remembers with a chuckle. “It was quite dazzling. It’s in their museum now, a collector’s item.”

Buchla’s instruments have all become collector’s items, from his Series 500, the first digitally controlled analog synth, to his all-in-one-paintbox Music Easel. “I usually can’t afford to keep them myself,” he says, laughing. “If I had, I’d be wealthy now.”

The first synthesizer that Buchla built in 1963 for composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender at the San Francisco Tape Music Center was the fruit — the silver apple — of the UC Berkeley physics graduate drop-out and musique concrete composer’s roving curiosity. He’d learned that the Center had a three-track tape recorder, a marvel anywhere outside film studio contexts at the time. “I observed what they were using to compose electronic music,” Buchla remembers. “I proposed that instead of using the radar and gun sights and physics lab equipment and Hewlett-Packard oscillator, they build instruments intentionally geared toward electronic music. That was a revolutionary thought.”

In the 1984 book The Art of Electronic Music, Subotnick tells Jim Aikin that Buchla synthesizers are notable for “the way things are designed and laid out, so that a composer can impose his or her own personality on the mechanism. For example, Don always disassociated a voltage controlled amplifier from its control voltage source. That meant that the voltage source could be used for controlling anything. It wasn’t locked into a single use … That kind of sophistication has given him [a reputation] as the most interesting of all the people building this kind of equipment.”

The first Buchla Box, using touch-sensitive pads or ports rather than a standard keyboard, was funded with a $500 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Today it’s permanently ensconced at Mills College. On a side note, Buchla estimates it would easily go for $30,000. Buchla still tackles new designs — he has a multichannel filter that can serve as a Vocoder coming out next month — and his instruments, it seems, “don’t depreciate at all, so they’re good investments.”

“But I prefer to build them for playing.” 


Wed/8–Sat/11, various times, $10–$40 (pass)

(Alessandro Corti and Don Buchla perform Thurs/9, 8 p.m., $10–$16)

Brava Theatre (except Fri/10 at de Young Museum)

2781 24th St, SF

(415) 861-3257


Agony uncle



FILM Alternately slavish and critical, simultaneously buying into and subtly resisting the hype, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector is a bit like the renowned producer himself, who said this to biographer Mick Brown in 2007’s Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: the Rise and Fall of Phil Spector: “I have a bipolar personality … I have devils inside that fight me. And I’m my own worst enemy … I would say I’m probably relatively insane.”

Director Vikram Jayanti coproduced the Oscar-winning When We Were Kings (1996), yet seems to be more interested in American celebrity Babylons of late, à la The Golden Globes: Hollywood’s Dirty Little Secret (2003). You can see why he scored the interview with Spector at the center of Agony, since he gets on board the musicmaker’s bifurcated, multichannel tip. The doc is both fascinating and monotonous, respectful of Spector’s achievements as well as the sensation surrounding his blighted celebrity. The filmmaker stays away from the specifics of the night in 2003 when Lana Clarkson was found dead at Spector’s mansion, while recontextualizing the producer’s words and music with images culled from the murder trial and other footage. The end result is an innuendo-laden pastiche that resembles an echo chamber reverberating with all the doomed dramatics of “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).”

Unavoidable, weirdly unblinking, and placed like a crazy diamond in front of John Lennon’s ivory “Imagine” grand piano is the wiggy wonder himself, rambling about such tidbits as his explosive courtroom ‘do (“It was a tribute to Albert Einstein and Beethoven. That day it got a little extreme”). In conversation, Jayanti dwells on the sunnier side of Spector’s checkered history: no mention is made of his alleged pistol-waving at the Ramones during the making of 1980’s End of the Century, or his reputed mistreatment of ex-wife and Ronettes star, Ronnie Spector — likely a condition of the interview. But the director manages to get in a scattershot series of thrusts and parries concerning the man and his guilt or innocence, pairing courtroom scenes — the image of a spent gun beside Clarkson’s twisted feet, a sphinx-like Spector in all his pop-Godfather pin-striped finery — with B&W TV clips of his now-classic, far-from-disposable songs.

The musical roll call is impressive, including the eerie, elegiac “To Know Him Is to Love Him” with Spector himself strumming guitar as part of the Teddy Bears and warbling to his dead father (who, eerily, committed suicide by “blowing his brains out,” as Spector puts it); the truly exquisite “Spanish Harlem”; and such rock ‘n’ roll Rosetta stones as “Then He Kissed Me” and “Be My Baby.” Subtitles by author Brown blow up the historical importance of the music, which could have easily stood on its own, and add to the po-mo swirl of information surrounding the man, the career, and the comedown. Yet we don’t hear from Spector’s crucial vocalists, who, like Darlene Love of the Crystals, struggled to find recognition beyond the producer’s Wall of Sound power, or the artists, who arguably tended to chafe against the producer’s overriding vision.

Still, to the Jayanti’s credit, Agony‘s strange parallels stay with you: Clarkson, in blackface, impersonates Little Richard (in a failed bid to resurrect her comedy career), around the time Lennon is heard on the soundtrack singing “Woman is the Nigger of the World”; Spector rattles on about how he wasn’t surprised when Lennon was shot (“People wanted to become famous by killing him, and if you were neurotic and crazy enough … “) before a prosecutor offers, “Lana Clarkson wasn’t an anonymous nobody who deserved a bullet to her head.” Over it all looms the so-called legend — a victim, yes, as he implies at the start, but one who has fallen prey to his own press, and to his own eternally flaming ego.


Mellow noir



FILM Every nation’s cinema has its share of memorable contributions to the narrative category of amour fou. But since the French came up with that term in the first place, we might as well grant them a certain supremacy. They definitely tend to arrive at the madness of a self-destructive love with less high melodrama (let alone misogyny) than is the U.S. norm.

Consider such prior Gallic exercises as Duvivier’s 1937 Pépé le Moko, Malle’s 1958 The Lovers, Truffaut’s 1981 The Woman Next Door, or Resnais’ recent Wild Grass (2009) — all strong in incident yet restrained in execution and complex in psychology. Many of these movies might be classified as "noir," the label French critics applied to postwar American thrillers first.

But their country’s films seldom replicated the sharply-defined good vs. evil conflicts between character, circumstance, fate, and gorgeous black and white stylization in those Hollywood B movies that created an eventual transcontinental cult. Instead, they were essentially intimate dramas whose roiling domestic emotions hurtled toward fatalistic, often fatal yet low-key implosions.

Stéphane Brizé’s new Mademoiselle Chambon is like that, a movie whose protagonists lunge toward each other — even though they shouldn’t, for their own sakes and everyone else’s.

Grave-voiced, craggy-faced Jean (Vincent Lindon) is a construction-site laborer; Anne Marie (Aure Atika) his assembly-line worker wife; Jeremy (Arthur Le Hourerou) the eight-year-old offspring who’s already better educated than either of them. One day Anne Marie suffers a temporarily disabling factory accident, leaving Jean to pick up Jeremy from school.

There, Jean first encounters Jeremy’s teacher, Véronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain). She has the willowy body of a veteran ballet dancer and a naturally refined air — at least by his limited experiential standards.

There’s an immediate if unadmitted spark between them, amplified when she asks him to address her fourth-grade class (there’s been a cancellation) on career day. He unexpectedly enthralls them describing how a house or school gets built — then she hires him to repair a drafty apartment window. As payment he asks her to play the violin, something she hasn’t done for anyone else in so long she plays with her back to him. You can imagine where this sequence’s heady repressed emotions are heading.

Yet Mademoiselle Chambon doesn’t get cheap about it. None of these people are more than ordinary, kinda-attractive. Forty-something Jean has working-class-hero brawn but also a beer gut. His wife is a French Talia Shire circa Rocky (1976), and slightly younger Véronique resembles a more starved Agnès Jaoui.

As temptations and related tensions unravel their stability, Brize allows his characters to slip grip gracefully. No one behaves well, but they do behave credibly. This isn’t the outsized universe of Hollywood noirs 60 years ago, where men were men and women were frequently duplicitous, bullet-bra’d Shivas of destruction. Nor does it echo the medium’s occasional role-reversals, in which intoxicated family man turns hapless stalker. Or even the stop-me-please-I’m-having-too-much-good-sex-to-maintain-sanity likes of Last Tango in Paris (1972) or Betty Blue (1986).

Instead, Mademoiselle Chambon sees rational folk with well-organized lives stubbornly resisting a mutual pull whose logical outcome will surely suck for all concerned. It’s a fine, measured drama presented with typical Gallic insouciance — tenderly discreet even when conventional art and commerce shout for something more crudely dramatic.

Indeed, Brizé ultimately aligns over-much with the Brief Encounter (1945) school of thwarted-passion pathos. His refusal to artificially underline such emotions, however, is what elevates this from so many good movies nobody in their right mind would confuse with reality.

MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON opens Fri/10 in Bay Area theaters.



It’s impossible for me to think of Big Freedia without exploding into happy feathers. As the fierce national face of New Orleans’ bounce music movement (along with her drag daughter, Sissy Nobby), Freedia’s been shoehorned into several media narratives that don’t necessarily do her justice — popular performer who bridges a supposed gap between flamboyant gayness and macho rap, evidence that original regional roots music is still being generated in our monocultural-seeming musical world, post-Katrina beat-healer of ravished communities, anthropological curiosity. But she’s all that and more: a canny, hard-working force of nature who can really turn you out.

Bounce, with its quick-step, butt-thundering beats and hypersexual call-and-response template, has done a lot to push New Orleans back to the forefront of the American dance music scene. That a shoulder-shrugging attitude toward its superstar’s transgender appearance and cartoonish sexuality accompanies the sound should only surprise those who somehow missed Little Richard and Prince, not to mention Cameo and Cam’ron. Still, Freedia’s matter-of-fact, out-and-proud “Queen Diva” stance is all too rare in hip-hop. First-time listeners, after taking in Freedia’s feminine peacocking, still get floored when her gravelly voice orders straight crowds to “bend ovah like I told ya!” in her hit “Azz Everywhere.” (And then they do.)

Outsiders have called Freedia’s style “sissy bounce” — a niche label she rejects, and one that’s pretty inaccurate. Freedia’s first appearance in the Bay, last year at a San Francisco drag party, left the sissy audience completely befuddled. This time around, she’ll be in Oakland at a mixed affair put on by the fab Le Heat and Hella Gay parties. And now that she’s been featured everywhere from Diplo’s blog to The New York Times Magazine, Bay crowds may be ready to “jump back, shoot it up now, bitches get down” the Big Easy way.

Big Freedia Wed/9, 9 p.m., $10. The New Parrish, 579 18th St., Oakl. www.thenewparish.com



The jazz-educated Frenchman could have been beamed up after he gifted the world with orchestral house classic “Deep Burnt” in 1999 and still been lionized. But he’s consistently delivered deep-streaming tracks that drop at just the right moments. He’ll be headlining the Staple boys’ ear-ticking Darkroom monthly with Fil Latorre and Javaight.

Thu/9, 9 p.m., $10. 222 Hyde, SF. www.222hyde.com



Attack of the Swedish techno giants! Drumcode label head Adam Beyer and “Disco Volante” hitmaker Ida Engberg bring news from the detail-oriented Stockholm scene to the perfectly curated weekly Base party at Vessel. My longtime local bass-maven crush Nikola Baytala warms up.

Thurs/9, 10 p.m., $15. Vessel, 85 Campton Place, SF. www.vesselsf.com



The debut of this dark wave, minimal synth, and rare post-punk party last month was fashionably bananas — don’t miss the follow up with DJ Justin of Nachtmusik, Banshee, Dreamweapon, Julian DeStrukt, and Nary Guman of Warm Leatherette.

Fri/10, 9:30 p.m., $7. Cat Club, 1190 Folsom, SF. www.sfcatclub.com



Aw, already? Meet and greet the new freshman class of clubgoers, probably wearing even more fantastically mismatched ensembles than previously imagined, at this electro blowout put on by the Blow Up kids. Tenderloins, Udachi, Sticky K, Lucky Date, Jeffrey Paradise, and more stoke your higher learning.

Sat/11, 9 p..m.–3 a.m., $15 for 18+, $10 for 21+. Kelly’s Mission Rock, 817 Terry Francois Blvd., SF. www.blowupsf.com



Bmore funk and booty jams from DJs Davo and Bunnystyle for two floors of hot queers in a Chinatown dive. ‘Nuff said!

Sat/11, 10:30 p.m., $5. Li Po Lounge, 916 Grant, SF.



It’ll be a classic hip-hop throwdown when the Beastie Boys DJ and mind-warping rapper join forces at this Electronic Arts shindig. There’s something about a ” sexy exotic cars” showcase, too, but why burn the fossil fuels when you can inflame the brain cells? With DJs Sake One, Ren the Vinyl Archeologist, and more.

Sat/11, 9 p.m., free with RSVP at Mighty website. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com

Izakaya Sozei



DINE A specter is haunting America — the specter of deflation, according to the worthies at the Fed, who, having played no small role in conjuring said specter, are now kind enough to warn us of it. Let the excellent adventure begin, but first, a stop at Sozai (full name: Izakaya Sozai), a twice-reinvented Japanese restaurant in the mid-Sunset, where the crush of youth is so massive that even the most slithery of specters would have a tough time worming their way in.

One tends to associate youth-crushed restaurants with Valencia Street, those droves of 30-year-olds in jeans and black shoes with disposable incomes adequate to support restaurant-going as a form of entertainment. Irving Street would hardly seem to be a serious competitor to the Mission extravaganza, and Sozai looks demure from the sidewalk: Japanese-style screens over the large windows and modest signage. But once inside, it’s all energy. The space seats only a few dozen, and as we all remember from high-school physics, compression produces heating.

The clientele is substantially Asian, which makes for a complex comment on the food. Despite the name, Sozai is far from a traditional Japanese restaurant. Its nearest relation is Namu, which stitches together Korean, Japanese, and Californian influences into a new piece of small-plate cloth. At both places, overflow spills onto the sidewalk, where wait-listers can be observed in deep communion with their smart phones, fingers jabbing away.

Sozai’s menu does offer a base of recognizably Japanese dishes, including otsumami, sashimi, nimono, and yakitori. The kitsune udon ($7) — fat wheat noodles in broth — is wonderful, despite a difficult-to-eat block of tofu floating on top. But the more exciting action is posted on the chalkboard; there the dishes can slide away from categories, and in some cases from Asian influences altogether.

An octopus ceviche ($8) served in a martini glass, for instance, with a gap-toothed fence of tortilla chips ranged around the lip, was like something you’d find in tony Peruvian or pan-Latino restaurants. The marinade was splendidly tangy; the octopus itself tough. But where would you look to find chunks of boneless, slightly fatty duck meat ($6) grilled on skewers after a bath in blueberry port? The port was vanishingly unpresent, while the meat itself was gamy and chewy, neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Equally oddball were skewers of brussels sprouts ($5) wrapped in bacon and grilled. I am a big believer in both grilling and combining bacon and cruciferous, but here the method — which left the vegetable in a semi-raw state while failing to crisp the bacon — did not impress.

Pulled-pork croquettes ($5) resembled a pair of whole-wheat English muffins but lacked any crust or crispness and, worse, were seriously underseasoned. If it hadn’t been for the side dish of ginger-charged hoisin sauce, we might not have finished them. The bed of daikon threads did offer a subtle heavenly quality and some texture, but no flavor.

The kitchen’s best dishes seem to be the simplest and the most Japanese, and maybe this shouldn’t surprise us. Mackerel, or aji, tataki sashimi ($10) was about as straightforward as it gets, a low heap of fish strips with skin still attached. It looked like a gathering of eels.

A salad of yuzu-dressed mozuku seaweed ($4) couldn’t have been improved upon while acquiring a sheen of elegance from the martini glass it was served in. And a plate of blanched baby yellow carrots ($4) needed only a shallow dish of lumpy miso paste on the side to offer a complete, and remarkably vivid, experience.

Taking chances does raise the risk of failure, and Sozai’s kitchen takes more chances than most, perhaps with the understanding that even serious culinary failures are almost sure to fall well short of inedible disaster. But one of the desserts, fig tempura ($5) arguably crossed the line. It consisted of halved figs, dipped in a light tempura batter and fried just enough to be crisp (why couldn’t the croquettes have been this crunchy?) and arranged around a helmet of vanilla ice cream.

The figs were neither sweet nor mealy inside, so call that a draw. The ice cream was fine. But why oh why drizzle everything with a too-tart balsamic reduction? It looked nice, like chocolate syrup, but knocked the dessert off balance. If not for the ice cream, the figs and balsamic could have been served as an hors d’oeuvre. As a dessert, it left us deflated.


Dinner: Wed.-Mon., 5:30–11 p.m.

1500 Irving, SF

(415) 742-5122


Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


alt.sex.column: A good fit


Dear Andrea:

I want to have anal sex with my boyfriend. I read that you can wear a butt plug beforehand to prepare. True?



Dear Will:

Good grief. What do you think people did before the advent of the novelty marital-aide industry? Sit on pinecones? You don’t need weeks of prep to achieve what may be in some senses an “unnatural act” (the rectum being far better at pushing things out than it is at taking things in) but is nevertheless performed regularly and pleasurably by normal people everywhere. I’d certainly suggest you try a smoothly manicured finger first to see if you even like this sort of thing. Use a bottle of lube. It may take time, but by time I mean minutes or hours, not weeks.





Dear Andrea:

My boyfriend and I are planning to start having sex. I feel kind of silly saying this, but I am really scared! I’m afraid he won’t fit! Should I try stretching first with something? Or is that just ridiculous?



Dear Tight:

First off, please stop using words like “silly” and “ridiculous” to describe yourself and/or your perfectly reasonable concerns. And second, yes, it would be pretty ridiculous to resort to something like vaginal sounds or graduated dildos to do what your very own vagina so cleverly evolved to do for itself. That said, it is far more likely to be successful when you are hot and bothered and ready to go. It will not, however, take weeks of preparatory homework and a specially-fitted case full of precision instruments.




Dear Andrea:

I am just starting to date a new woman. I find her very attractive but frankly, she is BIG. Do I have to figure out some new positions or angles?



Dear Skin:

You might, but I’m guessing she may know something about this herself. You may want to consult her when and if it comes to that. I enjoyed this summation of how not a problem your problem is likely to be, from the “Fat Sex” page of Dimensions Magazine’s website: “Those authorities who have taken the trouble to investigate the matter report that obesity is rarely, if ever, a barrier to intercourse.” … Or, as Marvin Grosswirth put it in “Fat Pride”: “To put it bluntly and squarely, no woman is so fat that her vagina is inaccessible.”



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

Play at work, or more at play?



There’s a long-standing perception in San Francisco that certain development firms are treated more favorably than others thanks to insider politics. And while supporters of Mayor Gavin Newsom say he’s cleaned up the pay-to-play culture, a look at the list of contributors to Newsom’s run for lieutenant governor at the very least raises questions.

For example, according to campaign filings, Newsom received $6,500 from a business called 706 Mission Street Co. LLC, which was formed to construct a condo high-rise at Yerba Buena Center. The building would also be a new permanent home for the city’s Mexican Museum. The 706 Mission project, which has been in the works for several years, is a joint venture between developer Millennium Partners and JMA Ventures, a San Francisco-based real estate investment firm. JMA Ventures contributed $5,000 to Newsom, campaign finance records show, and the firm’s president and CEO, Todd Chapman, also made a generous donation of $1,000. Effectively, Newsom’s campaign received a total of $12,500 from individuals or firms associated with 706 Mission.

The project has been under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency since 2008, when the Redevelopment Commission authorized an exclusive negotiations agreement with the developer for the mixed-use high-rise and museum, to be partially constructed on a parcel owned by Redevelopment and later included plans to integrate the landmark Mercantile Building. The project went dormant in the face of the economic downturn, but it’s now moving forward again, and the environmental review of the proposed 600-foot tower falls under the purview of the city’s Planning Department. On Sept. 1, Newsom mentioned 706 Mission, a “new, world-class facility,” in a press release announcing a new director for the Mexican Museum.

“The Redevelopment Agency and the city are fully committed to the public/private/nonprofit partnership that will eventually bring the Mexican Museum to a new home in the heart of Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco’s premier cultural district,” Redevelopment Agency executive director Fred Blackwell proclaimed.

Another contributor that demonstrated strong financial support for Newsom’s bid is a global technical firm that has a hand in several major infrastructure and development projects throughout San Francisco. AECOM contributed $13,000 to Newsom’s campaign, and a handful of people who work for AECOM chipped in smaller amounts totaling $3,600, according to campaign-finance records. In an April 15 news release for investors, AECOM noted that it had been awarded a $26 million contract for construction management of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Water Improvement Infrastructure Project. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in May, the firm was also awarded a five-year, $147 million contract with the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency for construction management on the Central Subway project. AECOM is also playing a role in a number of major developments currently under review in city planning. It is the prime environmental impact report consultant for the California Pacific Medical Center proposal for a giant new hospital on Van Ness Avenue. It’s also completing a traffic corridor analysis for 19th Avenue on behalf of the developers of Parkmerced, a renovation and in-fill project on track to be one of the largest new residential developments in the city.



The Parkmerced developers have helped Newsom’s campaign along too. Craig Hartman, an internationally renowned architect with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill who is a design partner for the project, dropped $1,000 into Newsom’s hat. Two executives associated with Parkmerced each pitched in another $1,000.

A smaller project that has been in the works for years also seems close to home for Newsom. Michael Yarne, of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, is a former director of development of the Martin Building Co., the lead developer on mixed-use residential project located in Central Waterfront at 2235 Third St. The project has commendable features such as a reuse of an existing industrial building, proximity to transit, and 39 below-market-rate units — and the project developer managed to secure an incredible deal with the city.

This past April, the Planning Commission approved an unprecedented in-kind agreement with Martin Building Co. that waived nearly $2 million in development fees, including about $1.2 million for 2235 Third St. and the rest for a second Martin Building Co. project on Townsend Street, in exchange for the developer’s commitment to construct a space for a day-care facility on the Third Street site and lease that portion of the property to a childcare provider for free for 55 years. The provider would have to operate the facility without profit and would be required to have low-income child-care slots, so this bargain would serve to create affordable day care.

Yarne’s close ties to the mayor and the developer — plus a $2,000 campaign contribution to Newsom from the head of the project’s general contractor, a building company called Nibbi Bros. — could raise a few eyebrows in light of this unprecedented deal, especially given the city’s gaping deficit and the question of how else that $2 million might have been put to use. The project was also awarded more than $1.6 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to excavate lead-contaminated soil from the property and transport it away for off-site disposal. The project, which has already been approved and moved to the Department of Building Inspection phase, also incorporates a City CarShare space. Yarne’s on the board of City CarShare, too.

It’s always possible that there is no connection between Newsom’s campaign contributions, his personal staff, and contributors’ connections to the myriad development projects in the hopper — but that doesn’t stop observers from asking questions. Developers who are anxious about the economic downturn may be motivated do everything in their power to speed a project along, and it’s possible that throwing money at a political campaign is just one tool among many.

Or maybe they just think Newsom would make a great lieutenant governor.



Nonetheless, the perception that certain developers get special treatment is shared by at least two former planners in the city’s Planning Department — one of whom is facing termination in the wake of a recent investigation surrounding porn email.

Following an internal shake-up at the planning department triggered by the discovery that some staffers shared pornographic e-mails, messages started flying about what was behind the crackdown. “Porn is not the real story,” Lois Scott, a retired planner and former president of International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21 wrote in an e-mail to the Guardian.

After the porn scandal broke, the hammer came down. Five people were terminated effective this past May, and another 20 or more reportedly faced some form of disciplinary action.

Some have interpreted the move as a signal that Planning Director John Rahaim, a Newsom appointee, won’t stand for inappropriate conduct on his watch. At the same time, others have contacted the Guardian to voice concerns that the firings and internal shakeup were connected to something deeper than dirty emails.

Although speculative theories abound and there is a paucity of official comments on the firings due to privacy laws, one point is abundantly clear. In a city where powerful developers will go to great lengths to secure approval for lucrative projects, there’s a great deal of wariness surrounding city planning. San Francisco is host to leagues of developers, real estate investment groups, prestigious law firms specializing in land use, technical consultants, and politically powerful associations of residential builders, building owners, and building-trade unions — all with a huge financial stake in seeing projects make it past the approval finish line and onto groundbreaking.

When it comes to a major project that will transform a city block in San Francisco, the planning department (which relies on development fees to pay the bills) inevitably encounters pressure from two sides: well-connected development teams with economic interests on the one hand, and neighborhood groups or historic preservationists who aren’t shy about hurling criticism on the other.

So it’s no surprise than anything affecting the planning staff in a major way would not pass quietly.

One of the planners affected by the firings told the Guardian that the porn investigation went on for months. There were one-on-one interviews, and some 70 staff members were called in and questioned, some two or three times. Contents of computer hard drives and city e-mail accounts were analyzed. Later, huge posters went up, displaying questions like, “How Are You Going to Make a Better Planning Department?”

“It was bizarre,” the former planner said.

According to Leigh Kienker — a former planner who recently retired and was not implicated in the computer misuse investigation — the result of all this was to create a sort of chilling effect on the planning staff, especially since she said two of the five individuals who lost their jobs had been more likely to question management and speak up when they didn’t think a project was being handled properly. When it comes to ensuring that projects conform to the planning code, “We need to be able to speak up,” she said. “This is our expertise.”

Jim Miller, who had been with the department for more than 32 years and is regarded by his peers as very outspoken, discussed his own termination in an e-mail to a number of supporters. “I was given a loose-leaf binder indicating the reasons for the firing,” he wrote. “The information contained therein was decidedly very thin. This, plus the fact that others who had a greater role in the ‘wrongdoing’ received job suspension rather than termination, leads me to believe that there is some other reason for the action taken. This reason is heretofore unbeknownst to me.”

Cynthia Servetnick, shop steward for IFPTE Local 21 planner’s chapter and a historic preservation advocate, voiced concerns about how the department dealt with the porn problem in an e-mail to Rahaim. “Frankly, the firing of so many senior Planning Department staff members not only seems like a ‘witch hunt,’ but smacks of age discrimination against a class of union-represented employees for the purpose of shoring-up budget deficits and intimidating less senior employees,” she charged. In response, Rahaim dismissed her comments as baseless accusations.



At a Feb. 18 Planning Commission meeting, when the department’s proposed budget came under review, commissioners noted that Rahaim was in the unenviable position of having to lay off four to six staffers in order to balance the budget. Noting that a great deal of effort had gone into attracting fresh talent and hiring younger planners, several commissioners expressed hope that they wouldn’t be the first to go. Rahaim responded that, given the union’s seniority rules, his hands were tied to an extent. In light of that conversation, Servetnick suggested that the porn e-mails presented a convenient solution for a director faced with a thinly stretched budget. All of the five who were fired were 50 or older.

At the same time, others who closely follow city planning rejected the idea of any ulterior motive. Sue Hestor, a land-use attorney who seems to have her finger firmly on the pulse of San Francisco development, told the Guardian that she’d heard plenty of rumors, but wasn’t necessarily buying the hype. Charles Marsteller, a former director of Common Cause and a keen observer of the planning process, said he had little reason to suspect that what had happened was anything more than responding to inappropriate conduct.

Zoning Administrator Larry Badiner, a 28-year veteran of the department who critics say was friendly to high-end developers, was fired in the wake of the porn investigation along with three lower-level staffers — but he appeared to walk away with a better deal than his subordinates.

A Guardian sunshine request revealed that Badiner received a six-month severance package amounting to $82,500, plus benefits he was eligible for that could have amounted to more than $57,000 (but may be significantly less). In exchange, he agreed not to sue the city. None of the other planning staffers who were terminated appear to have received such a payout.

Meanwhile, Badiner may not have been the highest-ranking city employee to be snagged in the porn investigation. An e-mail address of dlmacris[at]aol.com was included on an e-mail provided to the Guardian that contained a rather tame pornographic image.

The planner who sent the e-mail was fired after the porn investigation, and so were three of the recipients. Former Planning Director Dean Macris, who more recently served as a special advisor to Newsom, stopped working for the city around the same time Badiner and the others were terminated. Mayoral spokesperson Tony Winnicker told the Guardian he could not discuss anything related to how or why Macris left city service.

Rahaim said he had no choice in the Badiner severance. “The issue with Larry Badiner was required as part of a MEA labor contract. It requires a payout in any situation where a person is terminated or laid off.” He added that the firings were “strictly because of inappropriate use of city resources and also because of the type of material” that was being viewed. There was “absolutely no other reason.”

And he insisted that no developers get favoritism: “I have no idea who’s contributing to whose campaign.”

At least one response to the rash of firings commended the planning director for taking action. “I applaud your efforts to address hostile working conditions related to gender and sexual preference, which have long existed in the Planning Department,” a retired senior planner wrote to Rahaim shortly after the firings. “There is, perhaps as you have realized, a deep undercurrent of unresolved and unpleasant practices which perhaps finally led to the present complaints.”

Does the planning department shake-up indicate a move away from the bad old days of quid pro quo dealings and hostile working conditions, thanks to a director who’s standing strong against inappropriate conduct — or is it a move to consolidate power in a department led by a mayoral appointee at a time when the development community is particularly hungry to move new projects forward? Given the knock-down, drag-out fights that have unfolded over planning in the city’s history, and the high sums of money that are gushing into project proposals and campaign coffers, it’s no wonder the question is being posed.

“The bottom line is, the public is not being served,” Servetnick said. “Developers shouldn’t be able to come in and say, ‘Just for me!’ If everybody who pays to play gets away with that, we’re going to end up with a really ugly city.”

Blocking the bridge



The Sierra Club and Golden Gate Audubon Society have sued to block the final environmental impact report on the Lennar Corp. redevelopment project, a move that could force reconsideration of a bridge over Yosemite Slough.

The suit against the city, Board of Supervisors, and Redevelopment Agency charges that the final EIR for Lennar’s Candlestick Point-Hunters Point Shipyard project was inadequate, in part because it didn’t consider all the impacts of the bridge or look properly at alternatives.

The move comes as no big surprise: these environmental groups vowed to file a suit within 30 days of the city’s August certification of the project EIR. But advocates hope it will lead to a change in the proposal.

Arthur Feinstein, a member of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter, said the EIR didn’t comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

The introduction to the Sierra Club suit notes that “the FEIR failed to identify or underestimated the significance of environmental impacts associated with the project; failed to address the alternative proposed by Arc Ecology, which provides for a bus rapid transit route around Yosemite Slough; and failed to provide adequate responses to comments on the draft EIR.”

Or as Feinstein puts it: “There’s a bridge, and it’s going through a nature area where they say the sound level from the buses will be the equivalent to standing 50 feet from a freeway.

“They say there is no impact and that you can’t have an undisturbed nature experience in an urban area, but you can,” Feinstein continued, pointing to the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, and Crissy Field as examples of places where you can have undisturbed experiences.

Feinstein noted that Candlestick Point State Recreation Area is the only large park on the city’s eastern shoreline, and the only park that people in the Bayview can access easily.

“The city boasts about how much it was improving the Bayview, but this park is the only major open space where you can get away from urban stress — and folks have a lot of stress in the Bayview,” Feinstein said. He added that building the bridge will involve sinking pilings in Yosemite Slough that will disturb wildlife and stir up PCBs and other known contaminants.

“Noise, light and glare all have impacts on wildlife, but the city’s EIR said these are insignificant because these critters are insignificant,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein noted that the city’s final environmental impact report did make a finding of overriding concern that the project will cause air pollution at levels that exceed Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) health standards.

“But [the city] decided that this was a regional problem, so they did not attempt any mitigations for the 25,000 new residents that this 700-acre redevelopment plan is supposed to bring into the Bayview — which already has the city’s highest asthma and cancer rate and the largest number of polluting sources,” Feinstein said. “But they could say that all buses going into the development need to be electrified, or they could limit the number of parking spaces the way they did at Octavia-Market and South of Market.”

Feinstein said the next step in this CEQA lawsuit in a pretrial negotiation session to see if a settlement can be reached. “We’re not looking for a long drawn out fight. We’re ready for one, but we’re also ready to negotiate because that’s how you achieve things.”

Feinstein also noted that the Sierra Club had to go to Los Angeles to hire a traffic consultant to work on its suit because Lennar has contracts with just about every shop in the Bay Area, thanks to its various projects at Hunters Point, Treasure Island, and Mare Island.

“The related problem is that the city is no longer looking at the project with a steely eye,” Feinstein said. “Instead, they have become the developer — except that they are working with Lennar and not reviewing Lennar’s plans with objectivity. By filing this lawsuit, we’re keeping the conversation about this project alive and reminding folks that you don’t have to take everything this mayor and his administration gives you.”

The Sierra Club/Audubon Society suit came four days after the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the California State Parks Foundation entered into an agreement with Lennar to help prepare conceptual designs that reportedly will be used as the basis for the actual bridge over the Yosemite Slough.

Some critics interpreted the timing of CSPF’s announcement, which the Chronicle reported under a confusing “Environmentalists to help design span” headline, as an attempt by Lennar’s well-oiled PR machine to undermine the Sierra Club/Audubon Society suit.

They also questioned CSPF’s independence from Lennar, and from the Mayor’s Office, because Guillermo Rodriguez Jr. from the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development sits on CSPF’s board. So does Peter Weiner, a partner at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, which has contracts with Lennar. Representatives from Southern California Edison, Toyota, the Walt Disney Company, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., and several other companies that either have contracts with Lennar or have given to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s campaign for lieutenant governor campaign also sit on the park foundation board.

CPSF’s President Elizabeth Goldstein told us that “as park supporters and defenders, we consider ourselves environmentalists.” CSPF originally planned to fight approval of the project’s final EIR when it came before the board in July. But unlike the Sierra Club, CSPF pulled its appeal at the last minute.

Goldstein told the Guardian that the foundation reversed its decision because it had initiated what she characterized as “a fruitful discussion with Lennar.”

“We wanted to play that out,” Goldstein said. “And now we’re glad we did, because the design criteria look quite good and hopefully will be compatible with the project.”

“What we’ve agreed with Lennar about is a set of design criteria to be applied to the bridge, she continued. “These criteria are intended to make sure the bridge fits aesthetically into the park as much as is possible. Lennar asked us, and we agreed, to develop the first set of conceptual plans — obviously in cooperation with them — to make sure that they are, from their first iteration, as sympathetic as possible to the park.”

Goldstein said that some of these design criteria are “quite global.”

“Some are big arcs of things that are very important to us, such as impact from light, glare and noise,” she said, noting that they don’t want to see the proposed bridge lighted at night, à la the Golden Gate Bridge.

“We want the environment at dusk to be as unimpacted as possible,” she said.

Other CSPF concerns are more situation specific.

“We want safe, attractive, easy-to-use signage,” Goldstein said, referring to need to help users and neighbors find their way around and across the bridge. “We also talk about minimizing piers in the water at the slough, and if possible, eliminating them altogether since they impact vehicles and kayaks.”

Goldstein agreed that the foundation’s roots are not in political advocacy. “We were founded as a philanthropic land acquisition partner to the Department of State Parks.” But she noted that the group was involved in blocking a proposed toll road through Orange County and is a leading supporter of Proposition 21, which seeks to raise nearly $500 million a year for state parks by tacking on an $18 vehicle registration fee that would give all vehicles registered in California free access to the majority of state parks.

As Feinstein observed, “The CSPF does great work, but they are not usually advocates for conservation and biodiversity. That is what the club and Audubon Society does.”

Stuart Flashman, attorney for the Sierra Club and the Golden Gate Audubon Society, said that in the long run the lawsuit won’t stop the project from going forward. “But in the short term, if the court finds that the EIR wasn’t adequate and that there are significant impacts from the bridge that could have been avoided, then the city has to go back and redo that part of the EIR, a process that could take two to four months. And if they conclude, yeah, the impacts from the bridge are unavoidable, then they’d have to redo it to go around the slough.”

Flashman says he hasn’t seen the proposal CPSF and Lennar are working on. “But as part of this suit, we are required to sit down with the city and see if we can settle — and we are hopeful we can do that.”

No smart meters in SF


EDITORIAL Smart meters are a dumb idea. That’s what The Utility Reform Network says, noting that the high tech devices are expensive (California utilities, including Pacific Gas and Electric Co., will be charging consumers $5.4 billion to install the meters), don’t save energy or money, and can lead to privacy risks. PG&E bills have soared unexpectedly in places where the meters have been installed in the past year, forcing an investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission, which concluded on Sept. 2 that the meters are okay, but PG&E’s customer service isn’t. Still, TURN and other experts say the report is inconclusive, and state Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) wants legislative hearings before any more meters are installed.

San Francisco hasn’t faced the smart meter problem yet since the utility hasn’t been installing them here — but that will start soon enough, now that the CPUC (never known as a harsh critic of PG&E) has given the green light. TURN is urging customers to boycott the meters, so the San Francisco supervisors should tell PG&E that the city doesn’t want this flawed technology.

Smart meters are supposed to make it easier to save energy. The idea is that the devices will not only track how much electricity a customer is using, but give that customer the ability to monitor usage at different points in the day and cut back during peak periods.

But to take advantage of the gadgets, a customer would have to buy a bunch of expensive gear on the side — communications devices, thermostats, computer chips for energy-intensive appliances, etc. PG&E isn’t going to pay for that stuff.

Meanwhile, the "smart" part of the meter sends information about your energy usage through a wireless signal. Privacy advocates worry about that (as do people concerned with having yet another device in the house emitting low-frequency radiation).

And while PG&E denies that there are any problems with the accuracy of the meters, huge numbers of people in areas where they’ve been installed have reported huge — and otherwise inexplicable — hikes in their monthly bills.

So for most residents and small businesses, smart meters are just going to be a pain in the ass — a questionably accurate, potentially dangerous, and otherwise worthless device that PG&E is making money from by installing.

TURN has advice on its website (turn.org) for people who want to boycott the meters: to tell PG&E to leave the existing meters in place. If you put a sign on your meter saying you don’t want it changed — and if you tell the person coming to replace it that you don’t want a smart meter — you may stave off the new product for a while.

But San Francisco is in the process of creating a community choice aggregation (CCA) system that will put the city for the first time in the business of delivering retail electric power. That ought to give the city some authority over how local meters are going to operate — and at the very least, the city should tell PG&E to back off until CCA is in place and the city can do its own independent study.

The supervisors should ask City Attorney Dennis Herrera to investigate what authority the city has to block PG&E from installing smart meters, and to look at how the new CCA might avoid including the cost of the devices in the rates local customers pay for power. At the very least, the board can endorse the boycott and urge the CPUC to keep smart meters out of the city. Candidates for local office should oppose the smart meters. And if PG&E wants to force the issue, city officials just need to remind the utility that its local monopoly is illegal, that San Francisco has a federal mandate for public power, and that just three months ago, 68 percent of the city’s voters said they wanted to preserve a public power option.

The case for SEIU at Kaiser


Editors note: In last week’s issue, we ran an op-ed piece by two hospital workers who are members of Service Employees International Union and want to change their affiliation to the new National Union of Healthcare Workers. SEIU asked for the right to respond, so we’re presenting the arguments of an SEIU worker who opposes the change.

OPINION I’m a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) at Kaiser Permanente Oakland, where I’ve worked for 26 years. As an LVN and a union shop steward, I have two passions: patients and workers.

I do home health visits. My patients are sick and sometimes feel anxious and upset. Those feelings can be overwhelming. When I walk into a patient’s house, that person has my full attention. Little things like that make people feel better and heal more quickly. That’s what’s important.

I also know that healthcare givers can’t provide good care if we don’t have the basic things we need. I worked for another hospital before, but I came to Kaiser because the benefits, wages, and working conditions were better — and the union was better.

Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), my union, is the largest at Kaiser and has represented workers here since the 1930s. It’s through our union that we’ve been able to make our jobs some of the best in California at one of the state’s largest employers. Kaiser workers are not just providing quality healthcare throughout the state, we’re also contributing to local our economies and getting our communities through these tough times.

I was one of 121 workers to be elected to the national bargaining team that negotiated our union contract, the largest committee ever in the history of our union. Members filled out surveys to set our priorities and we were able to win 9 percent raises over three years, no change in the cost of our fully-paid family healthcare, and some of the best job protection in the industry. I’m very proud that everyone’s voice was heard and that we had the largest ever rank-and-file member vote to approve our contract. But now all that could be lost.

On the heels of winning the contract, another union — the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) — filed a petition for an election to represent Kaiser workers. Now Kaiser workers will vote on which union they want: SEIU-UHW, the union we won this contact with, or NUHW, which hasn’t bargained a contract for anyone.

People want to know the truth, even if it’s a hard truth. Here’s the truth about NUHW: it was formed by former leaders of our union who were removed from office and have been found in federal court to have misused members’ money. NUHW was ordered by a federal judge to repay $1.57 million in damages to SEIU-UHW members. They then filed a motion to delay payment, saying it would potentially bankrupt the new union. But their motion was denied. Let’s face it — NUHW needs us more than we need them.

What’s going on right now with this union election is a shame. I see some of my coworkers getting afraid and angry — afraid that we could lose the wage increases and healthcare benefits we fought so hard for and angry that NUHW is coming after us like this and creating these distractions. I tell them what I tell my patients: just focus on healing and moving forward.

We have a long history at Kaiser of supporting each other as coworkers, which is why it’s so important that we resolve our differences and keep going. We’ve walked picket lines together, even when it’s to support workers in other hospitals, and have fought to improve the quality of care we deliver to patients. We’ve worked hard to create good jobs in this community while people around us are losing everything. All this has been possible because workers are united in our union SEIU-UHW. *

Earlene Person is a home health licensed vocational nurse at Kaiser Permanente Oakland and a member of the national bargaining committee for SEIU-UHW.