Volume 45 Number 12

Appetite: 2010, the year in absinthe


Read up, absinthe seekers… whether you’re intrigued by the (false) claims of hallucinogenic effects or an aficionado taken in by the culture surrounding the green fairy, a little reading will take you deeper. This year has produced three new absinthe books furthering knowledge of an artful drink best enjoyed with leisure and attention.

Absinthe Cocktails
by Kate Simon
This pretty little tome is an elegant black and grey with hints of green. Kate Simon is editor-at-large for the ultimate drink magazine, Imbibe. Her drink knowledge is used to educate on what absinthe is and isn’t in Absinthe Cocktails‘ brief primer section. A handy buying guide recommends fine absinthes made in the US (Viuex Carre, Leopold Bros.) and Switzerland (the incredible Duplais), France (Vieux Pontarlier) and Spain (Obsello). The majority of the book is cocktail recipes, from classics like the absinthe frappe (which I crave on a hot day in New Orleans), to “The New Guard”, a section on modern classics from a number of the world’s best bartenders (including some of our own like The Alembic’s Daniel Hyatt and Brian MacGregor formerly of Jardiniere). Photos are lush, the romantic look making it an ideal coffee table book.

A Taste for Absinthe by R. Winston Guthrie with James F. Thompson

I wrote about this book upon its October release, my top pick of the three and another coffee table looker. With lovely photography by Liza Gershman, it offers a wide range of cocktail recipes, more in-depth history, lore and cultural references. A Taste for Absinthe is also a welcome primer on the green fairy but goes deeper with details on the culture that grew around it: poster art, spoons, glasses, fountains, even film references. The book is broken down into five recipe sections: classics, fruit and citrus, whiskey and gin, liqueurs and bitters, and modern classics compiled from some of our country’s best bartenders, again including many SF locals. This one is a necessary addition to the library of any absinthe geek.

The Little Green Book of Absinthe by Paul Owens and Paul Nathan
Minus photos, The Little Green Book of Absinthe is a simpler, straightforward recipe reference book. In its initial pages lie interesting details on absinthe’s history, including early formulas, louching tips, and background on key brands. But for me the lack comes in the recipes which make up a majority of the book. Their chosen mixologist, Dave Herlong, is from a Vegas hotspot, apparent in the common inclusion of nasty ingredients like Red Bull, Blue Curacao, sweet and sour mix, or Apple Schnapps. These ingredients appeal to the masses and general American sweet tooth, but a drink aficionado or basically anyone who has developed a taste for authentic flavors versus unnaturally processed, will find less to appeal here. A handful of intriguing recipes are present, including bubbly cocktails under “Decadent Concoctions.” There’s worthwhile material in the factual sections of this book but I could not recommend as a recipe reference.

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

Appetite: In Tequila with Fortaleza


Fortaleza is truly a special tequila. On my recent visit to Tequila, Mexico, this distillery enchanted with its agave covered hillsides and haunting caves. Fortaleza means fortitude, though in Mexico, you’ll find their bottles labeled Los Abuelos in memory of the grandfathers of Guillermo E. Sauza, the fifth generation producer who passionately runs Fortaleza by old world methods. He comes from tequila royalty as a Sauza… yes, that  Sauza (his family sold Sauza back in the ’70’s so don’t attribute the current quality level to them). Despite offers to be bought out by major tequila companies, Guillermo refuses, running his little distillery with a primary focus on quality and historical production. Here are just a few highlights of my visit over Day of the Dead in November.

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS at the distillery
The workers of Fortaleza and their children threw us one unforgettable Day of the Dead party. They exhibited impressive effort in a play performed under the stars of the distillery grounds. Tacos were filled with fresh-grilled chorizo and beef. A woman squeezed dough into a giant vat of bubbling oil, making the best churros I’ve ever tasted. Young men serenaded us with guitars while impromptu dancing erupted. Palomas (tequila and grapefruit soda), Mexican beers, and of course, tequila flowed. The caves glowed with candles, friendly skeletons and the occasional bat. We caroused, celebrated, sang by a campfire, and reveled in the magic of a night that could not have been recreated elsewhere.

In a surreal moment, I took in sunset at the Panteon de Mezquitan cemetery in Guadalajara with Guillermo Sauza. We stood at the grave of his great great grandfather Don Cenobio, the first to export tequila to the US in 1860’s, of his great grandfather, Don Eladio, and grandather, Don Javier, who carried on the tradition. Crumbling graves huddled in a maze of statues and crypts recall European cemeteries. But unlike those hushed sanctuaries, this graveyard swarmed with local families, music streaming from loud speakers, food for sale. We stood over the Sauza grave ablaze with orange flowers and streamers. Guillermo poured us shots of Fortaleza blanco while making a toast to his lineage. Over their graves we respectfully but joyfully partook of the fruit of their talented labor. From a place of death, I walked away having breathed in life, the riches of shared gifts and family.

TEQUILA PRODUCTION at the distillery
Think old world tequila production practices: small copper pot stills, mature agave plants steam-cooked in a brick oven to release natural sweetness, then crushed by a volcanic stone wheel pulled by a man-driven tractor in a circular pit. Mules used to pull that two-ton wheel but now a small tractor takes care of the heavy crushing. Two men still follow behind, sifting through the fibrous mash to achieve the right texture. The pot stills are labor-intensive being the smallest I’ve seen at a distillery of Fortaleza’s output. They double distill, then age in American oak in reused whiskey barrels.

GLASS-BLOWING (of Fortaleza bottles) in TONALA
In Guadalajara’s Tonala district, Fortaleza’s beautiful, hand-blown bottles with agave top are created. Hipolito Gutierrez, a third generation glass-blower, holds the Guinness World record for largest hand-blown bottle and runs this Tonala shop. Watching Fortaleza’s bottles being made is a mesmerizing dance of deft and delicate maneuvers. One misstep would lead to a serious burn as artisans flit between fire and searing hot molds with ease. I attempted to blow a glass myself, finding the greatest amount of breath I could muster was far from sufficient to fill even half a bottle with space. The skill required to blow continuously and fully is akin to the control Satchmo himself needed to play his trumpet.

For those wanting to explore the riches of Tequila themselves, I met Clayton Szczech of Experience Tequila (www.experiencetequila.com) while in Mexico. Clayton regularly leads tours in the area, filling a rare niche for knowledgeable, passionate expertise on the region without rigid schedules and touristy stops one normally associates with a tour group. He purposely keeps it small, tailoring it towards the needs of each individual group. Clayton has good relationships with the distilleries (certainly with Fortaleza), maintaining a relaxed stance, as if traveling with friends, which, in fact, you just may become.

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

Appetite: Revisit Studio 54 at Burritt Room’s NYE party


There are many, many party options for New Year’s Eve this year, but one of my favorite cocktail spots is hosting an event that seems particularly appealing to those with adventurous taste (and tastebuds) …

It’s Dec 31, 1977. Enter the iconic Studio 54 decked out in your most stylish pantsuit, hair flowing and free. Sip cocktails by a life-sized unicorn sculpture made of ice before heading to the dance floor to strut your best disco moves. Four tons of glitter drop from the ceiling creating a shimmering moment Studio 54 owner Ian Shrager later called “standing on stardust.” Movie set or imaginary party? Not this New Year’s Eve. Hosted by the fabulous Bon Vivants, S.O.S. 2011 takes place in the seductive Burritt Room with the magic re-created, sans four tons of glitter (the unicorn will be there, however).

If you’ve ever been to a Bon Vivants party, you know they are classy, exuberant, unforgettable events (recall my recap of the Cocktail Carnival Gala they hosted at this year’s SF Cocktail Week). Wear your best disco-chic and come for a respite from overcrowded, obnoxious NYE parties elsewhere (a value I truly appreciate at Vivants events).

Dance the new year in 1970’s-style to the disco sounds of DJ Bus Station John (trust us, it wont be the same tunes you’ve heard a million times), savor four of Josh Harris and Scott Baird’s signature cocktails, all-night bites from Trick Dog chef Chester Watson, and a midnight champagne toast (all included in ticket price). The event will sell out soon so jump on tickets now. See you there under the disco ball.

December 31, 9pm-2am

$85/ticket, includes 4 signature cocktails, champagne, food
The Burritt Room at the Crescent Hotel
417 Stockton Street
*Discount packages offered for ticket & hotel room combinations: $250 – 2 tickets + standard hotel room; $300 – 2 tickets + hotel suite

Tickets available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/139468

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

Game over(load)


GAMER 2010, TAKE TWO For the first time in my life, in 2010, I feel the weight of games yet unplayed. Soon, 2011 will begin, and the ghosts of my gaming fecklessness will lurk, dormant, on my hard drive, pregnant with the possibility of fun.

Maybe it’s just that I finally got a life; I am now too busy to head out to GameStop on a Tuesday morning, come home with a new game, and only take a break — for lunch — around 7:30. Maybe games have gotten harder, or I’ve gotten worse — are all those mistimed jumps and bungled headshots adding up? Maybe there’s a simpler answer: games have gotten better, and there are many, many more of them.

With each passing month, it grows harder to prioritize, to write off vast swathes of the medium in the hopes of maintaining a schedule that actually allows for gainful employment. Indie games are becoming more ambitious, jabbing the mega-budgeted mainstream in the ribs with the elbow of unfettered creativity. Minecraft, coded by Swedish programmer Markus Persson in his spare time, has attained nearly 2 million registered users, despite debuting in mid-May alongside the putative game of the year, Rockstar’s cowboy epic Red Dead Redemption.

You also start with a backlog of old games: last year’s modern classics and overlooked gems (one day, I will finish Psychonauts), not to mention the really old games that are increasingly available for a Monopoly-money pittance on networks like Xbox LIVE, Playstation Network, Wii Network, and Valve’s potent PC-gaming service Steam — an insidious piece of software that is the gaming equivalent of having a drug dealer literally living in your house.

As if the congestion wasn’t already bad enough, you can never really finish a game anymore. Downloadable content (DLC) has extended the shelf-life of marquee titles almost indefinitely, allowing developers to graft on missions, characters, and crucial plot developments long after the game has been boxed and shipped, thanks to the aforementioned download services. In general, these add-ons don’t provide much in the way of bang-for-buck, though that may change with time. Nevertheless, in some cases, pertaining particularly to popular multiplayer first-person shooters, purchasing DLC is a prerequisite for participation.

Even if you manage to scale your towering “to play” list, the release schedule simply refuses to cooperate. Sid Meier’s Civilization is the game that made me the addict I am today, and when Civilization V was slated for a Sept. 21 release, I was ecstatic. But a round of Civilization takes about 10 hours, and Dead Rising 2 lurked, hungry for brains, on the horizon, ready to hit store shelves the following week. Next to it, juggling a ball with a confident smirk, was FIFA 11, sharing the same release date. I didn’t stand a chance. In the end, the strategy classic got shamefully short shrift.

Whatever guilt I felt at betraying my childhood obsession was assuaged by countless six-minute soccer showdowns and the corpses of exactly 2,129 zombies. Then, just at the time I was ready to consider diving back into Civ, (or at least to compose Mr. Meier an apologetic letter), Fallout: New Vegas ushered in Armageddon.

To date, I have invested nearly 50 hours of gleeful postnuclear role-playing. Despite this effort, there is much of the game I will probably never see. At a certain point, I had to move on, lest I get hopelessly behind. Thanks to the month of December — the annual industry doldrums — some catch up has been played, but not nearly enough. Two weeks from now, we’ll have a new year. Five weeks from now, we’ll have Dead Space 2, and the backlog will begin again.

Curtain calls



THEATER Freud called dreams wish fulfillment; or reality, disguised, but basically as we’d like it to be. If you asked the Buddha and Heisenberg about reality, you’d get pretty much the same answer. Not that any of these guys went to the theater a lot in 2010. This year oscillated between quasi-documentary fidelity to facts and burrowing hallucinations like those induced by Gysin and Sommerville’s spinning stroboscopic Dreamachine. (A facsimile of one even graced The Burroughs and Kookie Show, Christopher Kuckenbaker’s Fringe Festival winner and definitely a peak stage encounter in 2010.) But it all amounted to an assault of some kind on the sleepwalking world outside. Dreaming in the theater can be much more lucid.

Best political theater riffs: In the Wake (Berkeley Rep) was not a perfect play, but Lisa Kron’s slightly lopsided new political dramedy had a way of upsetting some fundamental and suspect assumptions of mainstream liberals that was at times electrifying. Dan Hoyle’s The Real Americans, while not as politically provocative, also ventured outside the “liberal bubble” into red state territory, bringing back reportage in the form of deft rapid-fire characterizations, comedy, and music by the young but prodigious solo performer–playwright of Tings Dey Happen and Circumnavigator. And finally, the 51-year-old San Francisco Mime Troupe’s reaffirmed that its brand of agitprop is still a going concern. Posibilidad, or the Death of the Worker, set partly in the USA but inspired by the recent factory takeovers by workers in Argentina, was a shrewd, funny, tuneful plea for cooperatives against the grinning, co-opting tendencies of “capitalism with a human face.”

The most hyped production: Terrell Alvin McCraney’s trilogy, The Brother/Sister Plays. The only one that really worked for me was the second, The Brothers Size, which got a very strong production at the Magic under Octavio Solis. It was lean, focused, a small story with subtle, far-reaching reverberations. The other two plays reached consciously for the grandiose without finally grasping much. Nevertheless, the precedent-setting coordination between the Magic, Marin Theatre Company, and American Conservatory Theater in introducing these plays to the Bay Area was an exciting development.

Boldest venture: Berkeley Rep’s London import, Afghanistan: The Great Game, a seven-hour marathon of short scripts by 12 playwrights on the history and politics of this current critical object of U.S. imperial desire. A mixed bag theatrically, though impressively produced, but the historical perspective — boiling down to a dismal pattern of imperial design and hubris, infamy, and failure — was a point well taken. Indeed, the antiwar protest outside the White House on Dec. 16, where 131 arrests were made ahead of President Obama’s declaration of “progress” in Afghanistan, seemed its logical conclusion.

Best solo performances behind a large desk: Paul Gerrior in Krapp’s Last Tape (Cutting Ball); Joel Israel in Reluctant (Brava).

Best Pas de Donut: Howard Swain and Lance Gardner in Superior Donuts at TheatreWorks.

Best mise-en-scène as meaningful, mindful mess: This Is All I Need by Mugwumpin.

Best visiting productions: Japan’s Zenshinza Theatre Company at Zellerbach (Cal Performances); West Side Story at the Orpheum; Jane Austen Unscripted at BATS’ Bayfront Theater.

Best indefinable night in a theater: Dan Carbone at the Dark Room.

Best experiential fare: Etiquette by London’s Rotozaza (hosted by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at the Samovar Tea Lounge).

Best extraterrestrial fare: Cynthia Hopkins’ The Success of Failure (or, The Failure of Success) at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Best all-around design: The Tempest at Cutting Ball.

Best productions with death references in the title: Don’t Feel: The Death of Dahmer by writer-performer Evan Johnson; and when i die, i will be dead, a pair of dance/theater pieces by Alicia Ohs. Both Don’t Feel and when i die were nurtured and staged at the now-shuttered queer performance incubator Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory. Until some hoped-for resurrection, R.I.P. Mama Calizo’s.

Best (deconstruction of) Shakespeare: Juliet, directed by Mark Jackson at San Francisco State.

Best Bill Murray: Jody Frandle in Caddyshack Live! at the Dark Room.

Best debut by a new company: Symmetry Theatre with Show and Tell at the Thick House.

Best ensemble casts in a comedy: Learn to Be Latina (Impact Theatre); Shotgun Players’ production of The Norman Conquests (with a special nod to Richard Reinholdt in the title role); Man of Rock (Climate Theater); Scapin (ACT).

Best ensemble cast in a drama: Aurora Theatre Company’s Trouble in Mind (with a special nod to Margo Hall).

Best non-singing lead in a comic opera: Patrick Michael Dukeman in Jerry Springer, the Opera (Ray of Light Theatre).

Classic ‘Rock’



THEATER Only the barbarity of these dark dumb days could make someone nostalgic for the Reagan era. A simpler time? Not for most — hairstylists maybe least of all. But in The Man of Rock, New Jersey in 1986 appears mercifully devoid of economic mayhem, quasi-fascist politics, or the doom-shrouded future they portend, which is probably why this lively new music-blasted comedy can rock so well. Heavy metal, yes; heavy going, no.

At the same time, Bay Area playwright Daniel Heath (of Forking fame) shrewdly draws here on George Etherege’s 1676 Restoration comedy, The Man of Mode, or, Sir Fopling Flutter, for a sweet and saucy adaptation that ensures there are brains, too, under all the big hair. One could almost call The Man of Rock (featuring spot-on original music by Ken Flagg) the thinking person’s Rock of Ages.

In Heath and director Jessica Heidt’s sure, evocative transplantation, Etherege’s witty aristocratic rake, Dorimant, becomes a one-hit rocker and multihit lady-killer operating a live-music bar on the trashy tourist boardwalks of the Jersey Shore. Perennially short of rent, Dorimant (played by a smooth Adam Yazbeck) gets a tip from his weary landlady (Arwen Anderson, in the first of several deft turns) about the arrival of a rich, eligible young Connecticut princess, Antoinette (Anderson again), also known as Toni, summering at the shore under the watchful eye of her cheerfully high-strung, busybody mother (a sharp and funny Danielle Levin, in one of several distinct roles).

Never mind that Dorimant already has a girlfriend, singer Suzie Love (a winningly earthy Michelle Maxson), or that he’s working on throwing her over for her best friend, the smart but smitten Missy (a somber, soulful Levin): Dorimant loves only Dorimant.

Until he meets Toni, of course. Then sparks fly in all directions. The brainy, initially icy Toni, for her part, is slower to savor the comical suave of her rock-star suitor. Yazbeck delivers cocksure rogue Dorimant with laid-back cool and a convincing glam-rock literary pretentiousness that is the play’s single overt nod to the lilting language of the original text, while nimbly aligning it with an utterly distinct era. “Your ship of conjecture has left the feeble harbor of your facts,” he tells a suspicious Suzie at one point. It’s a ridiculous phrase, yet Dorimant can get away with it, even amid the more off-the-rack working-class accents and preppy inflections of those around him. At the same time, a good part of the fun between Dorimant and Toni is the latter’s ruthless ability to mock this verbal frippery.

Meanwhile, Suzie smells a rat, Missy wallows in lovelorn guilt, and Dorimant’s fellow musicians — assembled under the choice name Silverwolf (bassist Chadd Ciccarelli, guitarist Joshua Hertel, and keyboardist Dane Johnson, backed on drums by an able and charismatic Lance Gardner in another of the production’s outstanding multirole performances) — cast disapproving glances in his direction.

A couple more significant subplots unfurl as well, the first having to do with the fact that Toni is not as well off as she appears, and her mother is therefore desperate to see her married to eligible childhood chum Harry Bellair (a smart, effortlessly charming Patrick Alparone), son of a wealthy businessman (a hilariously loud, cigar-chomping Gardner), but also secretly gay. Then there’s the arrival of a new band on the scene, Hämmer (conjured by the same backing musicians in different wigs), complete with umlauts and a lead singer named J.J. Rock — a balls-out, over-the-top fop played with sock-puppet falsetto but real panache by Alparone. The cast as a whole convincingly sells the rock numbers scattered throughout the play with a combination of respectable, even exceptional musical ability and pitch-perfect histrionics.

Naturally, everything resolves on the tonic, which is to say on a happy note. And if that’s not reality, it’s not noise pollution either. *


Through Dec. 23

Wed.–Thurs., 8 p.m.; $15-35

470 Florida, SF

(800) 838-3006


Homelessness: Newsom’s real legacy


OPINION His voice tinged with modest pride, Gavin Newsom recently announced that he has housed 12,000 people since becoming mayor. This is an absurdly high number, four times larger then any street count of homeless people since he has been in office, but it’s been accepted by the media and public.

Homelessness has been a key issue for Newsom. He first got elected in large part by taking it on, and has been celebrated in some quarters as a champion for homeless people.

But digging behind the veneer, removing bus tickets out of town, permanent housing his predecessor, Willie Brown, created, and temporary stays and duplication, there are 1,395 permanently affordable housing units that Newsom can truly take credit for. More frequently his administration has housed people (fewer then 2,000) by leasing residential hotel rooms from slumlords and charging homeless people unaffordable rents to live there.

Only 14 percent of the units have been for families, although they make up 40 percent of the homeless population.

Newsom put three different initiatives on the ballot that have spurred hatred against homeless people. His signature operation was mixing kindness with punishment. This way, he wooed conservatives who saw through the camouflage, and liberals who did not.

Care Not Cash was the first measure. That campaign focused on accusing homeless welfare recipients of spending all their money on booze and drugs. The proponents claimed they would take public assistance away, in return for housing and treatment. The treatment part never came to fruition, and of course proponents never mentioned they were counting shelter as housing.

Care Not Cash catapulted Newsom into the limelight. His self-deprecating charm conveyed the message: “The status quo simply isn’t working.” In the end, benefits were slashed and perpetual shelter vacancies were created while shelter-seekers were turned away. Food lines exploded.

Newsom could have used his power to raise the money to house people — without stealing it from other destitute people. He chose not to.

The next year Newsom ran for mayor and simultaneously put an anti aggressive panhandling initiative on the ballot. In classic Newsom strategy, the proposition loosely defined the term “aggressive” and bizarrely required, but did not fund, substance abuse treatment for perpetrators.

It was the meanest campaign in three decades. Several violent acts were wrongly attributed to homeless people. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association put out billboards claiming homeless people spread venereal disease. Once implemented, the initiative made no visible impact on the number of panhandlers in San Francisco.

Most recently, Newsom introduced Proposition L, an ordinance that could put people in jail for 30 days on a second offense just for sitting or lying on the sidewalk. It passed, and set the parameters for very nasty dialogue about poor people once again in San Francisco.

All three of these votes took place very strictly along class lines — affluent people supported them and poor people did not.

Homelessness is not a lifestyle choice; it’s a symptom of poverty. Yet Newsom’s legacy of hatred against homeless people has made it difficult to amass the public support needed to create true solutions. Overstating his accomplishments and spreading myths about homeless people sets us back. It gives San Franciscans the impression homeless people have the help they need but simply choose to remain out on the cold hard pavement.

In a city filled with thousands of destitute people, it is now illegal to sleep unsheltered. After Newsom’s plaster media façade crumbles, this will be his lasting legacy. *

Jennifer Freedenbach is executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.


Page street


Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (University of California Press, 158 pages, $24.95) is one of the best ideas a writer has come up with in a long time. By combining private and public support, Solnit was able to give away portions of the atlas in full-color, full-spread map handouts. (My favorite tracked both famous/infamous queer public spaces and the migration of butterflies throughout the city.). In the process, she also gave lectures in public spaces, providing a public service in the name of history and inclusion before dropping this tome on the book-buying masses. Gent Sturgeon’s version of a city-fied Rorschach alone is worth the price of the ticket. From insect habitats to serial killers, Zen Buddhist centers to the culture wars of the Fillmore and South of Market that some call redevelopment; Solnit and her cadre of artists, writers, cartographers, and researchers — Chris Carlsson, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Mona Caron among them — give us the infinite depths and limitless potential that can be found in 49 square miles. (D. Scot Miller)

A lot of good and even great books came from the Bay Area this year, but one stands out: a book of poetry, Cedar Sigo’s Stranger in Town (City Lights, 100 pages, $13.95). He is a young writer who improves dramatically each time I hear him read, and his poetry and critical writing are among the wonders of our age. And of the age before, since through him speak the dead poets David Rattray, John Wieners, Robert Creeley, Denton Welch, Philip Whalen, Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, Eartha Kitt, Raymond Roussel, Lorine Niedecker, and Cole Porter. When new writers come to San Francisco, they ask me if I’ve met Cedar Sigo. If they don’t know Sigo’s work, then I hand them a copy of the new collection. Don’t have to say much, I just step back a little to avoid the stars and diamonds and apples popping out of their eyes like toast from a toaster, because this crazy work is that crazy good. (Kevin Killian)

Compared with the prosaic grind of the inner city, the Sunset can seem like a — albeit foggy — vacation. Wide streets, surf breaks, dunes fit to get lost in: the neighborhood is just right for an offbeat bohemian getaway. But maybe those are just the reverberations of the past, which western neighborhood historian Woody LaBounty has dug up in Carville-by-the-Sea (Outside Lands Media, 144 pages, $35). This coffee table book illustrates the lives of the Sunset’s first modern-day inhabitants, who constructed a seaside village of retired street cars to inhabit back in the days before the N-Judah. Colorized at times for an Oz-like effect, the photos LaBounty digs up to illustrate “Cartown” reveal a community of artists, families, and enthusiasts — even a women’s cycling club — amid an untamed, oscillating sandscape. Those converted SoMa warehouse apartments suddenly don’t seem quite so rugged, do they now? (Caitlin Donohue)

In a city that boasts literally hundreds of theatrical world premieres per year, it’s astounding how few make it to the printed page. Bravo, then, to EXIT Press, new publishing arm of the venerable EXIT Theatre, for helping to ensure that at least some of our local play-writing talents will be preserved for posterity. And who better to inaugurate the series than Mark Jackson, whose professional development has been closely tied to the EXIT, and to the San Francisco Fringe Festival, which it produces? Far from being merely a collection of “Fringe-y” experimentation, Ten Plays (EXIT Press, 492 pages, $19.95) is a testament to the tenacity of vision. From reimagined Shakespearean classics (R&J, I Am Hamlet) to Jackson’s breakout hit The Death of Meyerhold, the bleakly comedic American $uicide, and the stirring Kurosawa-esque epic The Forest War, what these plays have in common is an audacious commitment to the illimitable possibilities of live theater. Of which, giving these works an opportunity to reach a wider audience is but one. (Nicole Gluckstern)

By any good political standard, John Lescroart’s Damage (Dutton, 416 pages, $26.95) is awful. It’s all about how a criminal uses the technicalities of law to get released (damn liberal judges) and how his family — newspaper publishers with ties to the (damn liberal) political establishment — protects him even as he continues to rape young women. Reminds me of that atrocious movie Pacific Heights, which is supposed to convince you that eviction protection and tenants rights are unfair to the poor landlords. But Lescroart writes about San Francisco, and does a pretty good job describing the city, and his characters are so real and well-crafted that I’m able to set aside the politics. In this case, Ro Curtlee, the rapist, is such an evil, evil bad guy — but a plausible, privileged evil bad guy — that he comes to life in a way that makes you want to kill him yourself. And makes you understand why a cop might feel the same way. And in the world of crime fiction, making you feel pain is half the game. It’ll be out in paper this spring. (Tim Redmond)

What Carl Rakosi was to Objectivism — a significant poet who dropped out of sight only to reemerge an old master — Richard O. Moore is to the SF Renaissance. The 90-year-old Moore was active in Kenneth Rexroth’s libertarian-anarchist circle in the 1940s, but abandoned poetry publishing for the more efficacious mass media of radio and TV, cofounding both KPFA and KQED in the process (and shooting the only footage of Frank O’Hara to boot). But Moore never stopped writing, and his debut volume Writing the Silences (University of California Press, $19.95) offers a brief but tantalizing introduction to more than 60 years of poetic activity. Moore’s diction is spare but memorable; a hawk’s wings, for example, “balance on the blind/ push of air.” Yet his low-key tones are wedded to an experimental sensibility; witness 1960’s “Ten Philosophical Asides,” which might be the first poem in English riffing on Wittgenstein, more than a decade before language poetry. Writing the Silences is thus belated yet ahead of its time. (Garrett Caples)

I commissioned three of the works in Veronica De Jesus’s Here Now From Everywhere (Allone Co. Editions, 130 pages, $26). Her portraits of Michael Jackson and Jay Reatard ran in the Guardian, while I paid out of pocket for her to render a tribute to the poet John Wieners for my boyfriend. Along with just-announced SECA Award winner Colter Jacobsen, who published this book, De Jesus is my favorite creator of drawings in the Bay Area. Like Jacobsen, she delves into memory — her memorial portraits can be seen for free on the windows of Dog Eared Books, where this book is for sale. The charm and value of Here Now From Everywhere is immediate, but the book reveals more of its multfaceted personality with each return visit. De Jesus’ illustrated dictionary of inspirational icons ranges from superstars to half-forgotten pop heroes, from cultural figures to obscure female athletes. It’s a gift. (Johnny Ray Huston)

“I told Micah last night that my new book would be a haunted house.” Berkeley-based poet Julian Poirier’s El Golpe Chileño (Ugly Duckling Presse, 128 pages, $15) is filled with the ghosts of past and present. Essentially a bildungsroman, it tracks Poirier’s protagonist’s growth from youthful journeyman into adulthood though a kind of mixed-genre Theatre of the Absurd. Vaudeville, comics, memoir, film pitch, epistolary, failed novel, poetry, the carnival, and travelogue are all wielded brilliantly in the hands of Poirier, making for a phantasmagoric reading experience where the whole emerges defiantly greater than the sum of its parts. Poirier writes, “I turned my whole brain into a city and wrote down everything I saw happening there.” And indeed it certainly feels that way — the book is ripe with the names of places, of friends living and dead; with lists of dates and years; and with drawings and photographs, making up what Poirier somewhat obliquely labels “The Stolen Universe.” El Golpe Chileño is truly a success of form and content, of the high and low, of pop and elegy. (John Sakkis)

Look forward in anger



HAIRY EYEBALL/YEAR IN ART The year in art is ending on a note both sour and defiant. On Nov. 30, Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough, caving to criticism voiced by conservative politicians and religious groups, ordered the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video A Fire in My Belly from the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” It was a cowardly decision; one that ultimately has undermined the credibility of Clough and his institution.

It’s unfortunate that it took an act of censorship to get art — specifically, art by an openly gay artist responding to the darkest hours of the AIDS crisis — back into the national conversation, but the chorus of condemnation coming variously from journalists and critics, art museum associations, and even The New York Times editorial page, has helped to do just that.

Additionally, Wojnarowicz’s piece, which was uploaded to Vimeo by his estate and New York’s PPOW Gallery soon after it had been taken down in Washington, D.C., has undoubtedly been seen by more viewers in the past month than it had at the Smithsonian, or perhaps even in past installations (as of writing this column, the uploaded version has received more than 18,000 views).

This will probably continue to be the case as more galleries and museums across the country, in an impressive show of institutional solidarity, screen and/or install A Fire In My Belly. Locally, SF Camerawork and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts held screenings earlier this month. Southern Exposure will continue to show the piece through mid-February, and SFMOMA is scheduled to screen the full-length version of the video in early January.

While I agree with Modern Art Notes’ Tyler Green that SFMOMA’s commitment to screen A Fire in My Belly is “a turning point” in this whole debacle (New York’s four biggest art museums have remained silent on the matter), I find his characterization of SFMOMA as “America’s most conservative, play-it-safe modern-and-contemporary art museum” a bit harsh. Certainly, this year’s recently revealed SECA winners — three of whom, it must be noted, have been past Goldie recipients, including 2010 winner Ruth Laskey — attest to the fact that, for every groaner of an exhibit (“How Wine Became Modern,” anyone?), SFMOMA is also committed to supporting artists whose work cannot be dismissed as “play-it-safe.” For starters, the memory drawings of Colter Jacobson, one of this year’s SECA winners, certainly fall along the continuum of queer portraiture displayed in “Hide/Seek.”

This is not to encourage wishful thinking. While it’s hard to imagine a San Francisco art institution doing something along the lines of the Smithsonian, I don’t think anyone expected a reignition of decades-old culture wars, let alone in the very city where the Corcoran Gallery infamously canceled a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit in 1989. The shorter our cultural memory, it seems, the greater is our propensity to repeat the lowest moments of our history.

So, over the past few weeks, I’ve been going over the works, exhibits, and events that I was thrilled did happen here, all glorious reclamations of our Convention and Visitors Bureau’s tagline, “Only in San Francisco.” Here is an in no way complete rundown of some of the art I didn’t cover in this column for a variety of reasons (scheduling conflicts, in-the-moment preference, critical laxity), save for the works themselves.



Turning staid-by-day museums into hip nightspots for hip young folks has been the hip thing for institutions to do for some time now. Thankfully, the Berkeley Art Museum knows how to do it right. Skip the catered canapés and light show, and focus on programming that is truly varied and more often than not, locally-minded — from Terry Riley celebrating his 75th to Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart improvising film soundtracks, from performance artist Kalup Linzy singing dirty love songs to outré Mexican B cinema— all for next to nothing.



At first I couldn’t see the woman’s face in Carina Baumann’s Untitled (2). I stared into the slate-like surface (actually, translucent white film developed on aluminum), incrementally adjusting my height, until the blackness stared back. The effect was not one of shock, as with the mirrors at the end of Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, in which the holographic undead crowd in with your reflection. Baumann’s art asks for patience and slow adjustment, and in return, regifts your sense of sight.



Perhaps most germane to the issues about queerness, identity politics, and representation now being raised (again) by Wojnarowicz-gate and the “Hide/Seek” exhibit, this group show put together by Chicago-based curator Danny Orendorff and SF native Adrienne Skye Roberts took “queerness” out into the desert, helped it cast off the much-tattered coat of identity politics, and asked a group of artists, activists, and filmmakers to record its unfettered visions of things to come (many of which, as the resulting work testified to, are being lived out right now).



Although Matt Lipps is a photographer and R.H. Quaytman is a painter, they tweak their respective mediums in these unrelated shows to arrive at a similar kind of flat sculpture, which flickers between abstract prettiness and representational heavy-lifting. Lipps’ densely layered photographs of assemblages — in which variously colored photographs of domestic interiors, cut into facets and taped back together to form the original image, become backdrops for cut-out reproductions of Ansel Adams landscapes — collapse foreground and background, personal space and photographic history. Quaytman, working in dialogue with the poetry of Jack Spicer and SFMOMA’s photo archive, silk-screens images from the museum’s holdings onto beveled, wooden panels of various sizes, augmenting them with flashes of Easter eggs-like color and glittering crushed glass.



Although nothing will top his porcelain casts of assholes that littered Ping Pong Gallery like so many discarded sand dollars for the 2009 group show “Live and Direct,” Eric Scollon’s more recent solo exhibit at the gallery, “The Urge,” continued to queer form and function. The 50 or so small porcelain works, painted in the blue and white style of Dutch Delftware and arranged in pun-laden groupings, smartly played off ceramics’ dual cultural status as both a “fine art” and kitsch object, while throwing shade at modern art’s conflicted relationship to ornament. Speaking of which, if only I had a Scollon for my tree.



Diaz Hope’s dazzling sculptures owe as much to his engineering background as to, as he puts it in an e-mail, a “revisiting of childhood thoughts about mortality and infinity.” Their mirrored, crystalline exteriors yell “Gaga!” but once immersed in their kaleidoscopic guts, they are, much like Yayoi Kusama’s infinity boxes, meditation chambers built from carnival ride components. Simply beautiful stuff.

In a lonely place



FILM A lonely Ferrari zooms around a deserted track, over and over and over again. The opening scene of Sofia Coppola’s latest, Somewhere, is such an obvious metaphor that at first I thought the director was joking. Actually, she’s not: Somewhere is indeed a repetitious movie about a very boring, very ennui-laden individual, who happens to be a movie star with the marquee-ready name of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff).

Now that you’ve been smacked over the head with metaphor, feel free to play spot the subtext: Johnny lives at Sunset Boulevard haunt the Chateau Marmont, legendary for its often-behaving-badly celebrity clientele. His life is an endless progression of blah (wake up, smoke, pop a Propecia, eyefuck and fuck random female admirers), broken up by job obligations — the tedium of a press conference here, the drudgery of a visit to the special-effects makeup studio there. Sigh.

Sorta like Bill Murray’s actor character in Coppola’s 2003 Lost in Translation, Johnny’s fame is approximately equal to Dorff’s. He’s had a steady career for the past 20-something years, with occasional high points (1998’s Blade, 2000’s Cecil B. DeMented) and interesting parts in smaller films (1996’s I Shot Andy Warhol), but nothing that elevated him to the A list. Mostly he’s known for appearing in throwaway titles and dating the likes of Pamela Anderson. One might be forgiven for assuming his home life quite resembles the bad boy he plays in Britney Spears’ “Everytime” video.

One might now suspect his home life resembles Somewhere. Can’t you imagine onetime hottie Dorff, well past scruffy and nearing haggard, hiring twin pole dancers to writhe along with Foo Fighters songs as he gazes on, barely registering amusement or a pulse? Coppola’s casting of Dorff is either totally inspired or totally lazy. We don’t know enough about the real guy, who is playing an actor much like himself, to know if he’s acting or not. Frankly, he’s such a blank, shallow canvas it’s hard to spend too much time wondering or caring.

Here’s another instance of subtext: would any director not as privileged as Coppola dare to focus on a character whose massive wealth can’t at all assuage his existential crisis? Money may not buy happiness, but it’s kind of hard to feel sorry for a guy whose depression plays out as he floats the day away at a luxury hotel. The pissy, anonymous text messages Johnny receives throughout the film (“Why are you such a fucking asshole?”) are either sent directly from his subconscious, or are a knowing nod to the feelings of the unwashed masses who spent all of Translation wishing evil on poor little rich girl Scarlett Johansson.

Fortunately, there is a bright spot in all this. Obviously Somewhere is Coppola’s “I have kids now and therefore will preach about the magical joys of parenting” film. Ergo, mostly-absentee dad Johnny has a kid, Cleo, a tween sprite played by the charming Elle Fanning. Cleo’s pretty blasé about the whole movie-star thing, but she is allowed a delighted squeal when she gets a peek at the swank-tastic hotel suite the pair is given during a promotional trip to Milan. She is the only meaningful thing in Johnny’s life, and the only interesting thing that happens in this glacially-paced, bellybutton-obsessed movie.

But, you say, Somewhere won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion (due to the film’s Italy scenes and Coppola’s Coppola-ness, perhaps?). Surely it must have some merit beyond Fanning and the middling, voyeuristic pleasures of seeing exactly what a movie star does on his free time? Divergent tones and motives aside, Somewhere isn’t that far from Joaquin Phoenix’s agonizing faux-doc I’m Still Here. Neither place is any place I’d like to visit again.

SOMEWHERE opens Wed/22 in San Francisco.


Fight club



FILM Late in Boxing Gym, a pungent documentary even for Frederick Wiseman, an old-timer says something wise to his friend while lacing up. The friend doesn’t see the point of analogies. Our man admits that some only work on an intellectual level, but insists that others make intuitive sense of abstraction — the right metaphor can make all the difference in getting a particular movement. It’s hard to imagine that Wiseman would still be making his films if he didn’t think the same held true for a motion picture sequence.

Good thing, since boxing has been made to shoulder an awful lot of Hollywood hooey. Not much has changed since Manny Farber, writing in 1949, decried fight pictures for being “tightly humorless and supersaturated with worn-out morality … pure fantasy in so far as capturing the pulse of the beak-busting trade.” Wiseman isn’t interested in the trade so much as the discipline — though the big time’s spectacular images are plastered around the old-school Texas club. And yet even if Boxing Gym shrugs at the competitive elements of the sport, Wiseman’s squat compositions tune in the unglamorous business of keeping your dukes up when tired — the kind of matter-of-fact physical truth professional actors howl for.

By releasing Boxing Gym immediately after La Danse (2009), Wiseman ensures his own comparisons. The choreographer-dancer and trainer-boxer tandems are aligned not only in fancy footwork (Wiseman’s too), but also in their mirror-stretched studios. There are differences, of course — one can’t help but think of the Paris Ballet’s fundraising efforts when Richard Lord, the dexterous trainer-manager of the gym, explains membership dues. Perhaps because Wiseman is not beholden to an institutional cycle of rehearsals and performances in Boxing Gym, it’s the purer distillation of a kinetic education.

Watch Wiseman’s films together, and you’ll realize that different spaces register silence differently. The filmmaker’s musical ear is richly apparent in Boxing Gym‘s gloved rhythms and concrete echoes, to say nothing of the entrancing pendulum swings of side-by-side workouts. As in La Danse, Wiseman emulates the concentration of his subjects, but here he also picks up on their loose camaraderie in conversations about joblessness, the joy of getting hit and, closest to the bone, the Virginia Tech killings. The gym is still a masculine space, but one in which women (and children) are a significant presence. For more on the evolution of gender and “training,” one might well consult the filmmaker’s own catalog: Basic Training (1971), Manoeuvre (1979), and Missile (1987). Wiseman’s gym is finally a gathering place, one with atmosphere and history (and hardly any headphones) — all the more reason to see it in a movie theater.

BOXING GYM opens Wed/22 at the Roxie.





DINE It does fall to me occasionally to check up on our town’s tonier heterosexuals, who can be found cavorting in their infamous and restaurant-dotted playland beyond the magic mountains of Pacific Heights. (As for the homos: I have a pretty clear picture of that splendid circus.) Now that the rich, aided by their loyal apparatchiks in Congress, have secured another round of tax relief for themselves the question naturally arises regarding how they will spend their fresh loot, which we the taxpayers are so wisely borrowing from our BFFs, the Chinese.

Judging by the evidence on display at Capannina, a wonderful Italian restaurant on Union Street, they’re spending it prudently — even wisely! — although the sample size is small. It’s small because the restaurant itself is on the small side: a mid-block storefront beautifully done up with pistachio-colored walls, banquettes upholstered in a timelessly elegant fabric of gold and claret stripes, a tall bar of burnished wood at the rear of the dining room, and, hanging over that bar, a contrivance of wrought iron that resembles a bit of belle epoque signage from a Paris Métro station, or the undercarriage of a bistro table that somehow found itself hanging upside down from the ceiling, like a bat.

Capannina’s look reminds us that restaurant design, like clothing fashion, is a little like calculating a reëntry angle for a space capsule: too steep an angle and the craft burns up, too shallow and it bounces off into space for eternity. The window, the sweet spot, is actually rather tight and involves some clever blend of old and new, unexpected and familiar, soothing and stimulating. Capannina has worked these tensions into a nice balance; the design does enough to attract your attention briefly without making intrusive demands. It is handsome without becoming narcissistic — no small feat in a culture like ours — and in this important respect it looks and feels just as a restaurant should. When it fills up, though, it does get loud to the point of making conversation difficult.

Several of Capannina’s blood relations, including Café Tiramisu and Brindisi are to be found on Belden Lane, whose European atmospherics and restaurant population density keep the standards pretty sharp. Capannina is an outlier or outpost, but it seems to enjoy an indirect benefit from its siblings’ competitions; the kitchen’s Italian cooking is, like the design of the restaurant itself, a tight weave of tradition and controlled innovation.

One little flourish I particularly like in Italian cooking is a nuzzle of chili heat. The gamberi picante con polenta ($14), or spicy prawns, did indeed leave a naughty tingle on our lips, soothed by the balm of basil aioli. Even better was the polenta, which appeared as a small, crisp, well-formed cake, hardly larger than the shrimp themselves, instead of the more usual engulfing blob.

Nothing says early winter around here quite like crab, and Capannina’s kitchen turns out estimable crab cakes, or polpettina di granchio ($14). These were served in threes, with tomato-basil aioli, and were quite small (“mini,” in menu-speak). The downsizing might have contributed to their sublime, almost fritter-like crispness. I love big, fat crab cakes, at least when I start eating them, but crab is rich, and what is wonderful for the first few bites isn’t necessarily as wonderful by the last one.

We found the carpaccio di manzo ($13) to be a corrective, with its purifying, slightly astringent presences of fresh arugula leaves and mustard dill sauce, along with a generous sprinkling of cracked black peppercorns on the tissue of beef. Parmesan cheese, well-represented here in leaf-like shavings, can go either way, like the fabled independent voter, or many a man in this zero-gravity city. In this dish it flexed both of its biceps, one rich, the other pungent.

To my mind there is no better chicken preparation in the world than al mattone, or under a brick, and Capannina’s version ($19 for a half-bird) couldn’t be improved on: crisp, golden skin all over, juicy flesh cooked through to the bone, and not much bone. The leaking juice helped animate the chard and crisp potato dice arranged along the side of the plate.

And about the cannoli ($8): exceptional, in a word. These were finger-sized pastry flutes, boldly fried, oozing mascarpone laced with candied fruit — a kind of creamed panettone — and served with an espresso sauce for dipping. Caution, though; they were rich beyond any tax-cutter’s wildest fantasies.


Dinner: Sun.–Thurs., 5–10 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 5–10:30 p.m.

1809 Union, SF

(415) 409-8001


Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


How can you stay in the house?



YEAR IN DANCE Watching dance in the Bay Area is a privilege. With the constant influx of eager young talents, people who stick around and develop, and established artists who still manage to surprise year after year, the experience can be a ball. This celebration is boosted by the “travelers” from other cities and countries who come in for a day or two and keep local dance from becoming overly self-satisfied. There is a lot wrong with capitalism, but competition — in terms of ideas — can be a real quality booster.

Watching dance in the Bay Area can also be a chore. Performances bunch up on each other, making it difficult to schedule which shows to attend. No one seems to perform on Easter or Memorial Day, but everyone goes crazy on the adjacent weekends. What is this — do we all go to church on Easter or to the beach on Memorial Day? Kudos to the West Wave Dance Festival, which this year moved its schedule to Monday nights.

One consequence of the plethora of dance available all year round is my editor’s annual request for a retrospective of the past 12 months. It’s a useful exercise, I suppose, though I have yet to decide whether it’s a privilege or a chore. Here are a dozen highlights that rose to the surface.

1. I call them surprisers, because you think you know what to expect from them and then find out that you don’t. One example is long-term dancer Kara Davis. She’s unafraid to use large ensembles in increasingly complex choreography. Another is Katie Faulkner, who possesses wit in addition to a fine eye for form. Jazz choreographer Reginald Ray Savage took Stravinsky’s Agon and used it to choreograph for his tiny group. I still don’t know whether the result works, but it was great to see him daring to take on a ballet icon. Rajendra Serber and Stephany Auberville’s Dance for the Flies was an hour-long improvisation that thrilled, thanks to the dancers’ intensity and the contributions of equally good musicians Matt Davignon and Cheryl Leonard.

2. San Francisco Ballet. Helgi Tomasson is committed to stretching our notions about ballet. So he programmed John Neumeier’s visually stunning though choreographically problematic The Mermaid. Was the risk worth taking? Perhaps. SFB artists who still dance in my head: Sarah Van Patten as Juliet; Maria Kochetkova in Yuri Possokov’s Classical Symphony; Damian Smith in everything he touched; and Pascal Molat as Petrouchka.

3. Erika Chong Shuch Performance Project’s Love Everywhere in the City Hall rotunda on Valentine’s Day. Professional and community performers, plus a chamber ensemble, celebrated people’s commitment to each other in a work that was funny, humorous, and ever so gentle. It humanized the seat of power.

4. Lines Ballet. By now we may know choreographer Alonzo King’s choreographic language, yet he finds wondrous new ways to use it. For the gorgeous Wheel in the Middle of the Field, he interpreted European classical songs, putting the singers on stage with the dancers. With Zakir Hussein, he rethought both the music and the tale of Scheherazade.

5. In its reprise this year, Joe Goode Performance Group’s mesmerizing Traveling Light proved to be one of Goode’s most worthwhile journey in every way. Inspired by the Old Mint’s history and architecture, his company of seven and 15 additional dancers evoked 19th century ordinary folks, all of them recognizable.

6. Kuchipudi is one of the lesser-known classical Indian dance forms. It’s even more of a pity that Shantala Shivalingappa, a dancer of rare refinement and virtuosity, showed her Gamaka for one night only. Part of this evening’s appeal came from the ease and joy that she and her musicians brought to the performance.

7. In October, Zaccho Dance Theatre’s noble Sailing Away commemorated the exodus from San Francisco in 1858 of a whole segment of the African American community. When it was performed on Market Street, the contrast between the everyday crowd and the dignity and steely focus of the traveling performers (Anna Tabor-Smith and Antoine Hunter) created a high drama of its own.

8. If anybody still needed to be convinced, Socrates confirmed that the Mark Morris Dance Group is the finest modern dance company in the country. Based on Eric Satie’s astounding score, Morris luminously quiet meditation on death wove a spell that has yet to evaporate.

9. Ralph Lemon’s How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? drew me in because of the many balls — formal questions about tonal nuances; juxtapositions of material; deeply-felt thematic concerns — that he had to keep afloat. He did so brilliantly. It was lovely to see — a major accomplishment by a gifted artist-thinker.

10. Carole Zertuche, artistic director of Theatre Flamenco of San Francisco, has reoriented flamenco to where it belongs: the soloist. For “Una Noche Flamenco,” the company’s 44th season, she invited dancers Manuel Gutierrez, Juan Siddi, and Cristina Hall, whose takes on flamenco could not be more different. They joined Zertuche and a group of equally strong, individualized singers and instrumentalists for an exceptionally well-balanced evening of powerfully performed dance.

11. This year also brought the inaugural — and much-needed — San Francisco Dance Film Festival. Greta Schoenberg assembled an impressive program of locally-made and imported works. The sheer number of perspectives that these dance/film artists brought to their work was inspiring. Good news: the festival returns March 25-27, 2011.

12. The collaboration between AXIS Dance Company and inkboat resulted in Odd — a work that was anything but odd. It was exquisite, fragile, and wispy. Taking his cue from Norwegian painter Odd Nordrum, choreographer Shinichi Iova-Koga worked with two groups of nontraditionally trained dancers. The result was a stunner. May it have a long and healthy life.

Scrooge you can use



CULTURE/ALT-XMAS At some point this December, my holiday spirit failed to launch. It’s strange in a way — I love gluttony, formal wear, time with loved ones, and the Latino church procession I saw going down South Van Ness Avenue the other day gave me a little shiver of happiness (not to mention the purple lights bedecking kink.com’s Armory). But I just don’t want to do the tree, the presents, the pressure. Really, this list of Xmas week alternative activities is for me as much as anyone, which I hope means I still get to do the mistletoe thing.



You ain’t got shit to do, so why not take your melancholy and foist it on nature? The recent spate of rain may make for a wet winter wonderland, but that should suit misanthropes just fine. Wear your best raincoat and mittens and you’ll be snug as the baby JC in his manger.

Where to go? The No. 76 Muni bus can get you to the Marin Headlands Recreational Area (remember, the buses run on the holiday-Sunday schedule on the 25th , check www.511.org for times) where foul weather makes for thrilling, wind-whipping hikes about the hills to the north of Golden Gate Bridge. Or you can take advantage of the greenery within city limits. Glen Canyon Park’s many trails are an excellent place to wait out the tinsel and treacle, as are the startlingly beautiful red rocks jutting out over the city in Corona Heights Park and the idiosyncratic bison paddock in Golden Gate Park.

Bonus round: get your conservation on the day after Christmas in Muir Woods with a free hike called “Get Your Spawn On: Searching for Endangered Salmon.” The hike will take you on a hunt for salmonids and reveals how we can help the fishies swim their way back into species security. (Meets at Muir Woods Dipsea Trail Trailhead, Mill Valley. (415) 349-5787, www.wildequity.org. 10 a.m.–noon, free with $5 park entrance fee)



Sure, many of our venerable cultural institutions stay away from organizing events over the holiday weekend. But with only a small amount of searching, you can dig up the brave souls who see no reason to halt their arty trot on account of jingle bells. These include Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which will be celebrating Dec. 24 with part one of its two-part exhibition “Audience as Subject,” a multimedia exploration of crowd behavior. Filmmaker Stefan Constantinescu will screen Troleibuzul 92 (2009), an examination of reactions to a planted actor on a crowded bus making abusive phone calls to his “girlfriend,” and visual and video artists investigate variations on the theme. (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF; (415) 978-2700, www.ybca.org. Noon, $7.)

If self scrutiny’s not your jam, head to the Contemporary Jewish Museum on Christmas Day, where free admission all day means that you can save your bones for New Year Eve’s and still check out the work of H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, the husband and wife who created Curious George. The couple just barely managed to smuggle the early sketches of George (and themselves) in their escape from the Nazi invasion of Paris, which they accomplished by bicycle. The drama might explain George’s penchant for close calls and saving the day. Kind of makes that cycling slog through this week’s foul weather seem less onerous, no? (Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission, SF; (415) 655-7800, www.thecjm.org. Open 11 a.m.-5 p.m.)



Going to the movies on Christmas has long been the treasured territory of awkward family gatherings, and with the mega-release of Tron: Legacy (playing at various Bay Area theaters) you can take it to the third dimension! Why talk about each others’ lives when you can plop down in the Castro Theatre with a tub of popcorn, affix 3-D glasses to your face and zone … out … for two hours and seven minutes? Hell, you can even skip the fam-fam and bring your girl Mary Jane, because this is one flick that promises to look real cool with a side of herb — soundtrack, acting, and plot notwithstanding.

And there’s no need to be a lonely anime geek by the Christmas tree. Bebop Nights, the recurring get-together of cult classic TV show Cowboy Bebop fans is holding its sixth installment Dec. 25, a day stereotypically characterized by animated features with way, way less cooler characters. Sure, Rudolph and Frosty are bulbous and ebullient, but Spike, Vicious, and Julie are deep space bounty hunters with a penchant for dope background music. Which cast better characterizes your lump of coal attitude this yuletide? (Bridge Theatre, 3010 Geary, SF; (415) 668-6384, www.landmarktheaters.com. Midnight–3 a.m., suggested donation $4)

Other promising showings include Natalie Portman’s psycho-ballet thriller, Black Swan, camp of the year Burlesque, the Coen brothers’ remake of the western True Grit, and Naomi Watts as CIA agent Valerie Plame in Fair Game.



And when all else fails, raise a glass to (and of, see how that works?) booze. Many of your watering hole favorites will be open Christmas Eve and day, but why not try on a new barstool and pack of regulars for size? My pick for caroling into the bottom of your glass is Trad’r Sam (6150 Geary, SF; (415) 221-0733. Open noon–late), a kick-ass Outer Richmond tiki bar where I am cautioned that a solo scorpion bowl mission will result in the ability to see reindeers, unless that’s what you’re going for. To make your Christmas denial complete, keep one eye on the jukebox, and your clobbering stick handy for any poor schlub who opts for Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas.”

Grids and gridiron



CHEAP EATS Coach and me went to Benders many nights in a row. "Benders," she likes to say. "It’s what’s for dinner." But I don’t know. I love their burgers and tots. And their pulled pork, come to think of it, rebounded me nicely from that dollop of whatever-the-crap-that-was at Bonnie’s last week. But my sense of adventure begins to feel compromised after more than one night in a row at the same place.

Nevertheless, neither one of us has a TV. And we thought we should watch us some football. I swear our intention was to go to poetry readings, too. But we tended not to want to leave the bar.

It’s weird, liking football again, this time from a softer, less angular angle. For me, the football part of my friendship with Coach is the perfect blend of strategy (possible color-combinations, baggy vs. tight uniforms), surreality (keep reading), and camaraderie. It reminds me of watching the Niners with Wayway back in the day, only Coach and I seldom look at the TV and the plays we draw up on our napkins look a lot more like fruit trees in the end.

Moreover, I’m pretty sure Wayway never said (although he may well have been thinking it) during Monday Night Football: "This would be a lot more interesting if they were lesbians."

"They will be, Coach," I reminded her. "For now, just imagine."

The Ravens were playing the Texans.

We talked about relationships. We talked about depression. We talked about the holidays, and who I will meet and where we will be and who will like me. And always eventually it came back to the little TV at the other end of the bar.

"I like when the little guys dart around," she said. "They’re like shortstops, and second base."

"That’s the spirit," I said. "Now we’re talking."

Coach has a little notebook that she writes her football information in. There is a column of names. Most of our friends already know that they are playing football come spring. One or two even know how. I do! That’s why I get to be Coach’s coaching staff, confidant, and — if I don’t blow it — on-field captain. We already know who our quarterback will be and have a pretty good idea of the blockers. Less certain is who will play weasel, and the ever-important position Coach calls the "far runners." Myself, I am proud to be penciled in, according to her little notebook, at shortstop.

Which looks to me a little like the position formerly known as tight end. But when I mentioned this to Coach she got the giggles. "Tight end!" she said. "That’s perfect!"

I should stop writing about us. We are going to take this league by storm. And it might be better if no one sees us gathering on the horizon, like dark, sexy, undertalented and overburgered but height-weight proportionate clouds.

I’m just too excited to leave it alone!

OK, focus. My secret agent lady Sal and me didn’t want to sit in her rental car at the beach and watch surfer boys change clothes in her rear view mirror on an empty stomach, so we stopped off first for Korean.

Every Saturday a group of three or four food trucks circle the wagons down at McCoppin and Valencia around lunch time, and then some. I tried to go there once before with Mr. Wong when we were on our kimchi burrito kick, but Seoul on Wheels musta had a flat tire that week.

This time it was there! That’s the good news. The bad news is that its Korean burritos, which it calls korritos, are premade and have sour cream, which is a big mistake. An even bigger mistake: way too much rice and way not enough meat, or kimchi, or therefore flavor.

Weak. Weak. Weak.

On the other hand, I had a bulgogi taco and it had no rice at all. Small small small. But … delicious!

There’s also a Filipino truck there, which is pretty good, and I forget which taco truck — taco tacos, I mean. Next time I’ll try those.


Sat. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.

McCoppin and Valencia, SF

(415) 336-0387

Cash only

No alcohol

alt.sex.column: Mismatch


Dear Andrea:

My boyfriend has a fetish which, initially, is pretty off-putting. All the advice says to just go with it and make it part of our sex life, which I have done. But it doesn’t really seem to help. He can tell it’s not really my thing, so we hardly ever have sex now. He just doesn’t seem to be into it if it isn’t fetishy, and it’s started to seem like work (to both of us) to try to include his special stuff.

I think he wants to be with someone who is really into it, but he says he loves me. What am I supposed to do now?



Dear Try:

My, aren’t you mysterious! Not only do the readers and I want to know exactly what kind of “special stuff” your boyfriend is so fond of, it might also prove relevant to whatever solution I might be able to come up with for you. I say “might” a lot because I might as well get right to it and admit that I think this is probably hopeless. But I still want to know what he’s into. It’s important!

Oh well. I’m guessing this may be something like adult baby/diapers. Or those amazing inflatable suits some people wear and bump each other around in, except probably not those because you simply could not have witnessed (let alone worn) one of those inflatable suits and neglected to mention it.

One generally believes that with good will and good communication, one can make anything work. But one is often wrong. I don’t think this is going to work because you have done the only thing that does work, the thing I would have assigned to you as homework had you not already completed it as independent study: you read up on his “thing” and got yourself up for trying it and did try it, repeatedly.

So you incorporate his fetish into mutual sex and he isn’t all that thrilled. And he isn’t much interested in pursuing his thingie on the side, online with his special thingie friends while being otherwise available to and into you … yeah. That is a sex life waiting politely to be put out of its misery. I’m sorry.

If you don’t mind your personal plight being turned into a PSA, let me pause here for a second to ask kinks and the like to take as much time as they need to come to terms with their true natures but do not drag innocent, unsuitable would-be partners along for the ride. It is understandable, but ultimately, it isn’t kind. Your boyfriend probably meant well. But his kink is not the sort that can be easily absorbed into a mixed marriage.

I believe he loves you. I hope that means he’ll be really good at the “still being friends” stuff when it comes time to still be friends. And I’ll be very nice and wish him a simpatico kinky playmate, later, so you don’t have to. For you, I wish a partner who doesn’t wish you to be one bit different from who you are.



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

Weighing a landlord’s promise



Emotions ran high at meetings held by the San Francisco Planning Commission about a massive overhaul of Parkmerced, a housing complex located next to San Francisco State University that is a neighborhood unto itself.

The plan envisions tearing down 1940s-era garden apartments and townhomes to make way for new low-rises and high-rises that would contain a mix of rental housing and for-sale units. Over the course of a construction project spanning three decades, Parkmerced would expand to 8,900 units — enough to triple the number of residents who can now be accommodated. Final approval for the project is expected in March at the earliest.

Some 150 residents turned out at a Dec. 9 special meeting held near Parkmerced to make it more accessible for seniors and people with limited mobility. Although commissioners had planned to open with a staff presentation, residents protested and demanded to speak first, and their request was granted. After listening to residents comment for hours, commissioners continued the discussion until the Dec. 16 meeting, which drew a smaller turnout.

While some residents were pleased by the plans, the majority who attended the first meeting expressed alarm and anxiety. People aired concerns about the long construction timeline, increased density, traffic congestion, and the impact the plan would have on a well-established, multigenerational community. Many of the speakers had been born at Parkmerced or raised families there. The comments portrayed an economically diverse neighborhood supporting close-knit circles of friends and family.

One question that seemed to have residents rattled most was whether they could trust the developer’s promise that their rent control would be preserved, even after their existing apartments have been torn down.

Among them was octogenarian Robert Pender, a founding member of the Parkmerced Residents’ Organization, who hobbled from his wheelchair to the podium to deliver his statement for the public record. “Parkmerced is my home, and I’m not going to be evicted because some landlord wants to make some more money,” he announced. After making his comments, Pender turned to face the audience, lifted his cane in the air, and issued a rally cry that captured the sentiment of the evening: “fight!”

Under the development plan, 1,500 apartments would be razed to make way for new residential units. The midcentury garden apartments open out to shared courtyards and patios. Many house tenants who’ve lived at Parkmerced for decades. For elderly residents or those who have disabilities, the exceptionally low rent makes it possible for them to stay in San Francisco despite limited income.

From the outset, Parkmerced Investors LLC and Stellar Management have promised existing tenants that they will be relocated to replacement units with roughly the same square footage, where they’ll continue to pay the same monthly rates and keep their rent control. The developer has even promised to keep the existing apartments intact until the new units are available so that none of the residents will have to move twice.

“Our promise to our residents is that we will preserve the rent control,” said P.J. Johnston, a spokesperson for the developer. “Our attorneys believe that the rent-control protections are absolutely ironclad.”

Johnston emphasized the big picture: “For decades, progressive San Francisco has been talking about the need for developing large chunks of affordable housing, for increasing density on the west side, and for creating more housing around transit. Here we finally have the opportunity to do all that while introducing major transit improvements and extending rent control.”

The landlord’s promise of continued rent control is written into a development agreement, a contract between the developer and the city that would be filed along with permits and entitlements for the property. Any subsequent owner would also have to adhere to the terms of the agreement.

Despite those assurances, tenant advocates speaking at the Dec. 9 meeting sounded the alarm that the guarantee could be called into question in court if the developer or a new owner ever sought to challenge it. The Costa-Hawkins Act, passed in 1995, prohibits rent control on newly constructed units, and San Francisco’s rent ordinance guarantees rent control only for units built before 1979.

“It is disingenuous for the Parkmerced landlord and for city staff to assure tenants that they will have rent-controlled replacement units after their units are demolished,” noted Polly Marshall, a tenant commissioner on the San Francisco Rent Board who spoke as an individual before the Planning Commission. “We simply don’t know if this will be the case.”

Marshall said the agreement could be susceptible to a legal challenge, given recent court rulings in Los Angeles and Santa Monica finding that the Ellis Act and the Costa-Hawkins Act preempted any contracts brokered with the municipalities. In each case, signed agreements between a developer and a city were dissolved in California courts.

“There’s nothing in state law that says that when you demolish rent-controlled housing, it has to be replaced with rent-controlled housing,” said Dean Preston, director of Tenants Together, a statewide tenant advocacy group. “I don’t think the city or the developer can make those guarantees.”

Preston added that the problem would be intensified if the property is conveyed to a new owner who didn’t make the same commitments, and acknowledged that he didn’t perceive a surefire way to guarantee enforceability. “It’s not the developer’s fault, and it’s not the city’s fault,” Preston added. “Ultimately this needs to be addressed In Sacramento.”

City staff and the developer seemed responsive to the concerns. In comments submitted to commissioners Dec. 9, Marshall said the development agreement should be amended to specify that the developer agreed to waive any rights to challenge the requirements of the agreement. The following week, at the Dec. 16 meeting, planning staff distributed revised copies of the agreement that had been changed to include that language.

During a staff presentation at the Dec. 16 meeting, mayoral development advisor Michael Yarne addressed the rent-control question in a detailed presentation. “The city wants to protect existing tenants,” Yarne told commissioners. “It is not the city’s intent to leave existing tenants vulnerable.”

Under Costa-Hawkins, Yarne said, exceptions to the rent-control prohibition apply in cases where a municipality has made a valuable contribution to a developer for a residential project in exchange for the waiver of rights under Costa-Hawkins.

Yarne ticked off a slew of contributions he believed would pass muster in a court of law as enough to qualify for the exception. Among other perks, maximum density controls for the site would be eliminated; the height and bulk for new buildings would be increased beyond what’s normally allowed; the city would not assess impact fees for the replacement units; the amount of permitted commercial mixed-use development for Parkmerced’s zoning category would be substantially increased; and the development rights would be frozen for 30 years with no required milestones.

“We believe this satisfies the public-assistance exception,” Yarne said. He noted that the document was drafted with feedback from City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

Tenant rights activist Calvin Welch, who had not yet seen the latest draft of the development agreement when the Guardian caught up with him, said “we’re agnostic” on the rent-control provision until having had a chance to carefully vet the final agreement. Yet he said the tenants were “absolutely right to be concerned,” given the recent legal precedent.

Sup. Sean Elsbernd, whose District 7 includes Parkmerced, said he tuned into the hearings though he did not attend. Elsbernd said he would feel comfortable moving forward with the plan as long as he had assurance from the City Attorney’s Office that the agreement was enforceable. “I don’t want to see that project go forward without certainty,” he said.

Christina Olague, vice president of the Planning Commission, acknowledged the strong concerns voiced by residents about the coming changes to the property. “We have to be sensitive to the emotions that we witnessed that day,” Olague said. “We have to balance out a lot of different needs.”

At the Dec. 16 meeting, more residents made comments echoing the furious opposition expressed on Dec. 9. At the same time, a small contingent of residents who favored the plan turned out to urge commissioners to approve it.

“I have witnessed consistent honesty from one source — the owner of Parkmerced, Rob Rosania,” Daniel Phillips, who identified himself as president of the Board of Directors of the Parkmerced Residents’ Organization, noted in written comments submitted to commissioners. “As long as I have known Rob Rosania and Stellar Management, they have made promises and kept them.”

Yet it was clear that many other tenants were not convinced, and on Dec. 9, several lamented the idea that their homes would be knocked down and their longstanding community impacted by the new development.

Residents who oppose the development recently formed a new residents organization called the Parkmerced Action Coalition. Members of that group are opposed to the wholesale demolition of the 1,500 garden apartments and would rather see them retrofitted and preserved.

“We are living in panic,” a woman who had lived in Parkmerced for many years told commissioners. “I am completely opposed to the tear-down of our community.”

Mayoral dynamics



Despite the best efforts of Sup. Chris Daly and some of his progressive colleagues to create an orderly transfer of authority in the city’s most powerful office, the selection of a successor to Mayor Gavin Newsom will come down to a frantic, unpredictable, last-minute drama starting a few days into the new year.

The board has convened to hear public testimony and consider choosing a new mayor three times, each time delaying the decision with little discussion by any supervisor except Daly, who pleaded with his colleagues on Dec. 14 to “Say something, the people deserve it,” and asking, “Are we going to take our charge?”

The current board will get one more crack at making the decision Jan. 4, a day after the California Constitution calls for Newsom to assume his duties as lieutenant governor — although Newsom has threatened to delay his swearing-in so Daly and company don’t get to the make the decision.

“I can’t just walk away and see everything blow up. And there are a few politicians in this town that want to serve an ideological agenda,” Newsom told KCBS radio reporter Barbara Taylor on Dec. 16, two days after praising the board for its “leadership and stewardship” in revising and unanimously approving the city’s bid to host the America’s Cup.

Newsom and his fiscally conservative political base fear that the board’s progressive majority will nominate one of its own as mayor, whereas Newsom told Taylor, “The board should pick a caretaker and not a politician — that’s my criteria.”

Some board members strongly disagree. “It’s not his to decide. Besides, what’s not ideological? That doesn’t make sense. Everyone’s ideological,” Sup. John Avalos told the Guardian, a point echoed by other progressives on the board and even many political moderates in town, who privately complain that Newsom’s stand is hypocritical, petty, and not in the city’s best interests.

The Guardian has interviewed a majority of members of the Board of Supervisors about the mayoral succession question, and all expect the board to finally start discussing mayoral succession and making nominations on Jan. 4.

But whether the current board, or the newly elected board that is sworn in on Jan. 8, ultimately chooses the new mayor is anyone’s guess. And at Guardian press time, who that new mayor will be (and what conditions that person will agree to) was still a matter of wild speculation, elaborate conspiracy theories, and backroom deal making.



A majority of supervisors say there’s a simple reason why the board hasn’t seriously discussed mayoral succession since it unanimously approved the procedures for doing so Nov. 23 (see “The process begins,” Nov. 30). Everyone seems to know that nobody has the required six votes.

Avalos said he thinks the current board is better situated to choose the new mayor because of its experience, even though he voted for the delay on Dec. 14 (in an 8-3 vote, with Daly and Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and David Campos in dissent). “I supported the delay because we were not closer to having a real discussion about it than we were the week before,” Avalos told us, noting that those who were pushing for Campos “didn’t do enough to broaden the coalition to support David Campos.”

For his part, Campos agreed that “the progressive majority has not figured out what it wants to do yet,” a point echoed by Mirkarimi: “I don’t think there’s a plan.” Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who made both the successful motions to delay the vote, told us, “There’s a lot more thinking that people need to do.”

“We do not yet have consensus,” Chiu said of his reasons for supporting the delay, noting that state conflict-of-interest and open government laws also make it difficult for the board to have a frank discussion about who the new mayor should be.

For example, Chiu is barred from even declaring publicly that he wants the job and describing how he might lead, although he is widely known to be in the running.

The board can’t officially name a new mayor until the office is vacant. Sup. Bevan Dufty, who is already running for mayor, told us the board should wait for Newsom to act. “I felt the resignation should be in effect before the board makes a move,” Dufty said.

Sups. Sean Elsbernd, Carmen Chu, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Eric Mar did not return the Guardian’s calls for comment.



Adding to the drama of the mayoral succession decision will be the new Board of Supervisors’ inaugural meeting on Jan. 8, when the first order of business will be the vote for a new board president, who will also immediately become acting mayor if the office has been vacated by then and the previous board hasn’t chosen a new mayor.

While Newsom and his downtown allies are clearly banking on the hope that the new board will select a politically moderate caretaker mayor, something that three of the four new supervisors say they want (see “Class of 2010,” Dec. 8), the reality is that the new board will have the same basic ideological breakdown as the current board and some personal relationships that could benefit progressives Chiu and Avalos.

Daly said downtown is probably correct that the current board is more likely than the new one to directly elect a progressive mayor who might run for the office in the fall, such as Campos or former board President Aaron Peskin. But he thinks the new board is likely to elect a progressive as president, probably Campos, Chiu, or Avalos, and that person could end up lingering as acting mayor indefinitely.

“They really haven’t thought through Jan. 8. Downtown doesn’t like to gamble, and I think it’s a gamble,” Daly said. “There’s a decent chance that we’ll get a more progressive mayor out of the leadership vote for board president.”

Avalos said it “would be a disaster” for the board president to linger as acting mayor for a long time, complicating the balance of power at City Hall. But he wouldn’t mind holding the board gavel. “I think I would do a good job as board president, but I’m not going to scratch and claw my way to be board president,” Avalos said. “I’d be just as happy to be chair of the Budget Committee again.”

Avalos said he thinks it’s important to have a mayor who is willing to work closely with board progressives and to support new revenues as part of the budget solution, which is why he would be willing to support Chiu, Campos, or Mirkarimi for mayor, saying “All of them could do a good job.”

Given the progressive majority on the board, it’s also possible that there will be a lingering standoff between supporters for Chiu, a swing vote in budget and other battles who has yet to win the full confidence of all the progressive supervisors, and former Mayor Art Agnos, who has offered to serve as a caretaker. Some see Agnos as more progressive than the other alternatives pushed by moderates, including Sheriff Michael Hennessey and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission head Ed Harrington.

Moderates like Dufty are hopeful that a couple of progressives might break off to support Hennessey (“From the first minute, he knows everything you’d need to know in an emergency situation,” Dufty said) or Harrington (“I could see him stepping in and closing the budget deficit and finding a good compromise on pension reform,” Dufty said) after a few rounds of voting.

Mirkarimi is openly backing Agnos. “He has evolved, as I’ve known him, in the days since being mayor,” Mirkarimi said. “I think we’ve spent too much time on finding the progressive guy to be mayor than on setting up what a progressive caretaker administration would look like.” And then there are the wild cards, like state Sen. Mark Leno and City Attorney Dennis Herrera. Herrera’s a declared candidate and Leno has made it clear that he’d take the job if it were offered to him.

Given the fact that supervisors can’t vote for themselves, it’s difficult for any of them to win. “I don’t think it’s likely that a member of the Board of Supervisors will get enough votes to be mayor,” Avalos told us, although he said that Chiu is the one possible exception.

But to get to six votes, Chiu would have to have most of the progressive supervisors supporting him and some moderates, such as D10 Supervisor-elect Malia Cohen (whom Chiu endorsed), D8’s Scott Wiener, and/or Chu (who might be persuaded to help elect the city’s first Chinese American mayor).

That would be a delicate dance, although it’s as likely as any of the other foreseeable scenarios.

Editor’s Notes



When the talk comes around to budget politics these days — and these days, nobody in politics can talk about much else — there’s a pretty consistent line out there, from the mainstream left to the far right, and it goes like this:

Public employees have been riding high on great pay and benefits, and they’re going to have to accept that those days are over. We can do it nicely, and negotiate and all, but the people who work for the city and the state are getting a haircut. Pension reform. Health care premium hikes. Two-tiered wage systems. Sorry, folks — there’s no other choice.

And I understand the feeling. There are plenty of unemployed people out there who aren’t happy that they’re still paying taxes to support generous pay and health benefits for workers who are consistently maligned as lazy. There are small business owners who can barely afford minimally adequate health insurance for themselves and their employees. There are underpaid private-sector workers who get jealous when they hear what you make over at City Hall.

I get it, and in terms of political reality, public-sector pensions, pay, and benefits are going to have to be part of any budget resolution in Sacramento or San Francisco.

But let me say something else.

In the past 30 years, while public-sector unions were getting organized, becoming a political force and negotiating decent pay and benefits, the United States economy was shifting radically, in a way that we hadn’t seen since the turn of the Century. From Reagan on through Bush I, Clinton and Bush II, powerful forces in Washington launched a class war in this country, one that has as many victims as most of the traditional wars we’ve fought in the past century. The winners have been a small number of people and businesses that have grown impossibly rich — by taking money away from everyone else.

And they aren’t getting any cuts. In fact, their pay, pensions, benefits, and wealth aren’t even on the table. Which is profoundly unfair.

Of the 400 richest people in America (according to Forbes), 80 live in California. Their combined new worth is $231.8 billion — about 10 times the size of the state’s budget deficit. If they gave up just a modest amount of the benefits they get from living in this state and this country (and yes, the rich got that way in part because of the benefits they get from living here), we wouldn’t have a budget crisis at all.

The people who declared this war were smart enough to figure out how to divide the opposition, to turn us against each other. That’s why they keep winning.

The next district attorney



By the time District Attorney Kamala Harris declared victory in the razor-close California attorney general race, two candidates had already filed to replace her. And their candidacies further complicate the delicate process of appointing a new district attorney when Harris gets sworn in Jan. 3 as the first woman and racial minority to become attorney general of California.

David Onek, a senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice and a former police commissioner, filed in July and has raised $130,000 and collected 1,000 signatures.

Paul Henderson, a veteran prosecutor whom Harris tapped in 2007 as her chief administrator, filed Nov. 22 when his boss’ victory in the attorney general’s race looked assured.

And now Alameda County Assistant D.A. Sharmin Bock, a human trafficking expert, is reportedly mulling a bid.

Mayor Gavin Newsom has said that if Harris resigns before him, he’ll heed her recommendation for her successor. But whoever Newsom, or his successor, appoints will have a major advantage as the incumbent if he or she runs in November 2011.

Unlike the interim mayor, who will have to make unpopular cuts to balance the budget, the person who fills out Harris’ term will have a strong presumption of holding onto the office.

So far Harris has been silent on the topic of a replacement to the post she held since 2003, when she defeated two-term incumbent District Attorney Terence Hallinan.

A possible reason for Harris’ silence is that until recently San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein, the only daughter of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, was thought to be a front-runner for the post. This perception was based on the assumption that Sen. Feinstein wanted her daughter appointed, that Newsom would obey the senator’s wishes, and that no one in Democratic circles would dare to challenge Judge Feinstein in November given her mother’s political influence.

But it turns out that Feinstein, 53, whose peers unanimously elected her to succeed James J. McBride for a two-year term effective Jan. 1, 2011 as the Superior Court’s presiding judge, couldn’t legally accept an appointment anyway and would have to run in the November race.

And Superior Court spokeswoman Ann Donlan told the Guardian that Feinstein does not intend to give up her position as presiding judge. “Judge Feinstein has told court employees and her judicial colleagues that she has no intention of relinquishing her judicial duties in San Francisco,” Donlan stated.



That leaves Henderson as Harris’ presumptive heir; Onek, who is married to the daughter of Michael Dukakis, is a political force to be reckoned with; and former prosecutor Bill Fazio and police commissioner and former prosecutor Jim Hammer are possible appointments.

District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Erica Derryck would say nothing on the record about the appointment other than that it’s the mayor’s decision to make. But former D.A. Office spokesperson Debbie Mesloh noted that Harris has outlined the qualities she is seeking.

“Kamala has mentioned publicly that she is looking for someone with integrity who understands how the office works and will take over in such a way that allows people to continue their work,” Mesloh said. “That may sound like small potatoes, but it’s a big deal given how many folks work in the D.A.’s Office.”

Public Defender Jeff Adachi told us he finds it interesting that neither Harris nor Newsom has issued an endorsement in favor of anyone. “The silence is deafening,” Adachi said, “But what’s absolutely missing is a process to select a new district attorney. The D.A’s job involves major responsibilities in terms of running and managing a large law office, so I think there should be some kind of process.”

Adachi said the most important qualification is an understanding of how the D.A.’s Office operates and the respect of line staff. “That’s where trial experience comes in. You want someone with experience of homicide trials and serious cases. You’re overseeing a staff of trial attorneys, investigators, and their support staff — who are all litigators.”

Adachi warns that having a caretaker in that office for 11 months would create havoc. “The best choice would be someone who would allow for a smooth transition and have the qualifications and interest in running for office,” he said.

Sup. David Chiu, who became the first Chinese-American Board of Supervisors president in January 2008 and previously worked as a criminal prosecutor in the D.A.’s Office, has often been mentioned as a candidate. He told the Guardian that he enjoyed his time as a prosecutor but wants to stay put, for now.

“Kamala Harris did a good job in terms of her prosecutorial approach, and I understand she is anxious to make sure her legacy is not repealed,” Chiu said. “I’m happy to serve wherever to further the public interest, and the board is in a fragile and unstable place.”



Former D.A. Terence Hallinan, who served two terms as a supervisor before being elected D.A., thinks it’s a big advantage to come from the board. “I knew how to use the budget process to get what I needed,” he said. “I held the key to that door.”

But a city insider who asked to remain anonymous said that if Chiu is thinking D.A., he’d be setting his sights too low. “The brass ring is right there for Chiu as mayor,” the source said.

According to the city charter, the D.A. must be a San Francisco resident who has been licensed to practice law in all California courts for at least five years. Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who qualified for the bar in 2000, has been mentioned in some circles. But Elsbernd told us that the rumors that Newsom would appoint him as D.A. and Newsom’s Chief of Staff Steve Kawa as D7 supervisor are baseless.

“They are just saying that because I’m an attorney,” said Elsbernd, who worked as a law clerk with Nielsen, Merksamer, Parinello, Mueller, & Naylor and with the D.A.’s Office prior to his August 2004 appointment to the board by Newsom and his November 2004 election.

So now the money remains on Newsom to appoint Henderson, who is a gay African American. “It’s important to take the diversity of the city into account,” our City Hall source said. “And Henderson can do the job. He’s extremely capable; the lawyer types like him; he reaches out to all groups and political factions; and his appointment would be a signal to the Democratic Party that whoever appoints him takes diversity seriously.”

Hallinan said he thinks Henderson will get the nod. “I think Kamala wants to keep a hand in that office,” Hallinan said. “And Paul is a nice guy, very competent, a good administrator — though not real experienced at trying cases.”

The D.A. doesn’t have time to try cases because there are administrative matters to deal with every day, Hallinan noted. “But trial experience is good because, although the job is administrative, you are selecting who should try what case,” he said. “So unless you have experience, it’s hard to judge what resources you have to be devoted.”

Fazio, who lost to Hallinan in the D.A.’s race in the 1990s, says he wants Henderson to get the appointment. “Henderson has been a loyal deputy. Onek has never been in a courtroom, and he doesn’t even work in San Francisco,” Fazio said.

Fazio doesn’t think Henderson’s bid will be hampered by ongoing crime lab and prosecutorial scandals in the D.A.’s Office since he wasn’t directly involved in the crime lab and police misconduct cases. “The biggest challenge for Paul will be turning all that around and running for office,” Fazio said. Insiders agreed that unless something highly unusual happens, an incumbent Henderson would get widespread political support in November.

But Onek sounds like he’s in the race for the duration, and he downplayed his lack of trial experience. “The bottom line is that I’m not going to be the chief trial attorney,” Onek said. “The role of the D.A. is to set policy, have a vision for the office, manage the office, work collaboratively with the community and law enforcement agencies, and finally, bring resources in from outside.”

“I’m spending my time building a criminal justice movement and not focusing on the politics of it all,” he added. “It’s speculation and the winds change every day.”

Onek observed that his entire career has been about criminal justice reform. “Kamala Harris did a great job of starting on that reform, and we need someone who can step in and continue the reform.”

How many suspects did SF cops frame?


EDITORIAL The job of a district attorney is bringing criminals to justice; everybody knows that. But it’s also the job of the city’s top law enforcement agent to make sure the innocent are protected — and that’s a part that many DAs ignore.

There’s considerable evidence that the San Francisco police have framed suspects, set up evidence, and illegally manipulated the legal system to put the wrong people behind bars. Repeatedly. That’s a crisis that requires active intervention from the District Attorney’s Office — and since Kamala Harris is on her way out the door, it has to be a top priority for her successor.

The latest example: Superior Court Judge Marla Miller ruled Dec. 14 that Caramad Conley was denied his constitutional rights and convicted of murder after San Francisco cops allowed a paid witness to lie on the stand.

Miller concluded that homicide inspector Earl Sanders, who later became police chief and is now retired on a nice pension, knew that witness Clifford Polk was lying and made no effort to correct it.

That’s not the first time Sanders has been tied to an improper conviction. John Tennyson and Antoine Goff were sentenced to 25 years to life in 1990 — and spent 13 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. They were convicted after Sanders, and his then-partner Napoleon Hendrix, failed to inform the defense about key evidence.

Tennison and Goff would still be behind bars — except that Tennison’s brother read a Guardian story about the case and put a copy on the windshield of every car in the parking lot where he worked. And some of the people who parked there were lawyers for the top-flight criminal defense firm of Keker & Van Nest LLP.

The lawyers helped Jeff Adachi, then a deputy public defender, convince a federal judge that Tennison and Goff were wrongly convicted, and the two left prison in 2003. The case has now cost the San Francisco taxpayers $7.5 million.

The evidence that may soon free Conley came to light during the Tennison/Goff case — and it looks an awful lot like there’s a pattern here. Sanders and Hendrix (who died of cancer in 2009) worked some 500 homicide cases — and it’s unlikely that these two are isolated instances.

Conley has a shot at leaving prison after 18 years only because lawyers working on another case stumbled on old files, some of them literally buried under debris in a police warehouse. We have to wonder: how many other innocent people are rotting away (at considerable cost to the state) because SF cops helped frame them? And how many killers are still wandering the streets because homicide inspectors and prosecutors took the easy way out and manufactured or suppressed evidence against the first obvious suspect — and sent away the wrong person?

When Harris leaves office next month, a new district attorney will take over responsibility for this mess. It’s not possible, given the limited resources of the department, to go back and review every single case that Sanders and Hendrix worked. But the Conley case involved a key witness who was paid by the cops — that is, an informant getting public money. It’s perfectly legal to pay informants — as long as defense lawyers know that a witness was on the tab at the time of trial. But that didn’t happen in Conley’s case — and there may be many others.

Harris’ successor will have to take on the problems of the crime lab mess and continue to review cases that may be tainted by bad forensic techniques. But he or she needs to assign someone to go back over all of the cases in which Sanders and Hendrix used paid informants and see if any of those convictions need to be reviewed.

In the meantime, Chief George Gascón ought to take the opportunity to review police policies for paying snitches who then take the stand in court. There’s abundant evidence that the current system has serious problems.