Volume 45 Number 27

Appetite: Island bites, part one

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With an increased number of flights to Hawaii — accompanied by correspondingly more competitive airfares — including resumed direct routes out to Kauai, it’s easier than it’s been in years to get to that island getaway you’ve been dreaming about. My recent visit yielded plenty of rewards for foodies — not to mention some excellent hotels that are offering various discounts and deals. 

This time around, I focus on street food and the KCC farmer’s market in Honolulu, then food on Oahu’s fabulous North Shore, surfing capital of the world. Stay tuned for a multi-part series on neighboring oasis Kauai and Honolulu’s bars and restaurants.

HONOLULU

KCC Farmers Market: 

Held in the tony Diamond Head neighborhood — adjacent to the touristy but absolutely breathtaking hike over the Diamond Head Summit trail from Waikiki — I’d call this farmer’s market a must for any foodie. It’s got passionate purveyors, memorable local eats, and a bustling crowd. Here’s my ultimate game plan for KCC.

Start with taro dips from Tom Purdy of Taro Delight. I liked his red chili and coconut milk and his Thai green curry – taronaise, a taro root substitute for mayo, made for an interesting alternative. 

From there, move on to Korean-influenced sausages on a stick from Kukui Sausage Co., in particular the kimchee and pineapple sausages, which I loved. Savor an ultra-salty salmon fried rice from Ohana Seafoods, cooked on a wok right in front of you. Order two to six pieces of Kona Coast abalone. Wash it all down with refreshing kalamansi lime, ginger, and seltzer drink made with PacifiKool’s award-winning ginger syrup

Also availabe at Saturday’s KCC farmers market were OnoPops, one of my favorite tastes from the entire trip – they’d be a massive hit in San Francisco. Ultra-fresh ingredients are paired in unique flavor combos like ume Thai basil and kalamansi coriander. Lilikoi (passionfruit) 50-50 combines passion fruit with cream, while the tart kumquat pop is loaded with candied kumquat rinds. Pick a flavor – you cannot lose here. Coupled with a sweet staff, this cart is a must-stop. 

The Soul empire:

Available at his restaurant Soul and his food truck named Soul Patrol, chef Sean Priester is overtaking Honolulu with authentic Southern soul food — something you don’t find much of on the islands. Though it felt wrong ordering chicken and waffles ($12) in Hawaii while surrounded by foods unique to the region, I was pleased to taste Priester’s authentic flavors, which strangely enough, felt right at home on the islands.

 

NORTH SHORE-HALEIWA

Driving from Honolulu along Oahu’s Eastern side to the North Shore was one of the most delightful experiences in my time on Oahu. Unforgettable vistas and quiet beach towns unfolded before us, waving their gentle, aloha welcome as we passed by, compelling us to stop for multiple beach strolls along the way.

The famed North Shore is certainly a crowded surfer’s mecca. It’s a bit of a kill joy to suddenly be in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a two-lane road through such an otherwise relaxed setting. But the beach town vibe of Haleiwa is enchanting nonetheless – and its shrimp trucks and shave ice make it all better.

We trekked to a nearly private beach further west of Haleiwa, tromping through fields of flowers and horses to get to the beach, where we could swim in solitude and lay on the sand watching sky divers jump out of a plane above.

Giovanni’s Original White Shrimp Truck:

 If you find yourself in Kahuku, the tiny town on Oahu’s northeastern shore, look for the dinged-up white truck covered in scribbles that only a good day would qualify as graffiti. You’ll be rewarded with kick-ass shrimp. Giovanni’s, the first shrimp truck on the North Shore, launched the shrimp truck craze that has since taken over the area.

The original has similar offerings as its competitors, from spicy to lemon shrimp, but Giovanni’s signature is shrimp scampi, loaded with butter, a delightfully generous amount of garlic, two scoops of rice, and a squeeze of lemon to complete the dish. 

Eat your meal surrounded by local families under a large, covered patio, drinking juice from a coconut purchased at a neighboring juice truck. You’ll catch the spirit of Kahuku: laid back, funky — and delicious.

Romy’s:

Another Kahuku gem. The joy of Romy’s, besides more winning shrimp (sweet and spicy!) is that they farm all their own shrimp in a pond behind the bright red storefront. Red picnic tables dot the grounds near the pond and under awnings next to the shrimp shack. But plan ahead – the wait for a simple plate of shrimp can grow to agonizing lengths at mealtimes: come early or late.

Grammer be damned — don’t call it “shaved ice,” especially at Matsumoto’s

Matsumoto’s shave ice:

Shave ice is a North Shore invention and Matsumoto’s was the originator of this snow cone-like treat back in 1951. The humble little Haleiwa shop has a perpetual line out the door, movie star clientele, and tons of touristy merchandise surrounding it. 

More finely milled than a snow cone and reminiscent of my beloved sno-balls in New Orleans, Matsumoto’s shave ice is ideal on those balmy island days. Shave ice colors are unnaturally neon bright, which gave me cause for concern. But I chose flavors carefully: a mix of lilikoi, coconut, and Chinese sour plum, with azuki (red) beans on the bottom. You can also get condensed milk poured on top, but I chose vanilla ice cream, which melted over the beans and ice. It’s oddly addictive, a quintessential North Shore experience I highly recommend. (Note: Aoki’s Shave Ice is a popular alternative a few doors down.)

Ted’s Bakery:

Another Haleiwa classic, there’s only one reason to go to Ted’s: chocolate haupia pie, a layered dessert made of a tier of the traditional Hawaiian coconut pudding like dessert, haupia, and chocolate. I’m not a cream pie fan and this old school pie has a crust like those you buy in a grocery store, and a thick pudding texture. But for a couple dollars, it’s worth trying a slice — the haupia exudes a rich coconut essence that contrasts nicely with the pie’s chocolate.

Volume 45 Number 27 Flip-through Edition

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Found in translation

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arts@sfbg.com

Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.

— Goethe

THEATER In Mark Jackson’s breakout theatrical hit, 2003’s The Death of Meyerhold, title character and playwright Vsevolod Meyerhold asserts that “the classics are always new. That is why they are called the classics.” That philosophy of theatre is one that Jackson’s other plays frequently embrace. From reimagined Shakespeare to adaptations of underproduced Russian dramas, Jackson’s work is invariably characterized by his respect for and understanding of the universal nature of human emotion, regardless of location or century, as well as an intensely verbal style of playwriting and often aggressively physical staging.

It’s a logical progression that a writer with such a facility for his own language might eventually turn to the translation of theatrical works in other languages — especially after spending a year abroad, steeped in the theater scene of another country (in Jackson’s case, Germany). To date, Jackson has translated two full-length works, Faust, Part 1 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Mary Stuart, by Friedrich Schiller, presented in 2009 and 2010 by the Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage. Translating from a director’s perspective, Jackson’s primary focus is on the spirit of the original play, and the intentions of the playwright, not necessarily a word-for-word direct interpretation.

“Why do that,” he wonders when asked about his approach, “except out of academic interest?” In addition to preserving the overall intention of the pieces he translates, Jackson also focuses on what he calls the “music” of the German language.

“Fortunately, because English is a Germanic language, it’s easier to retain the melody of it,” he explains. “To streamline the text but keep the poetry.” From Jackson’s perspective and personal experience, it’s the music of a language that ultimately reveals the character of its people, and therefore the characters of the pieces he translates.

For Rob Melrose of the Cutting Ball Theater, an experimental Bay Area company with a dedicated bent for the classics and the avant-garde, translation is an opportunity to stretch his comprehension of the English language and language in general. A dabbler in five languages in addition to English, Melrose has translated a total of seven plays from French and German and appreciates the insight into different cultures learning languages has given him: how the spare simplicity of French reveals the elegance of the French; how the logical, tightly constructed phrases of German are engineered as flawlessly as one of their vaunted automobiles. But even more, he appreciates the ways that these other languages push him as a writer and an artist.

“Working in another language makes you think differently,” Melrose explains. “Learning how other languages work helps me appreciate our language better and helps me identify what is unique about it. It also helps me stretch English a bit by trying to make it do what French can do or what German can do.”

It’s fair to say that Bennett Fisher, a cofounder of San Francisco Theatre Pub and an English teacher, has an in-depth understanding of English, which may be why for fun he chooses to translate plays from ancient Greek and French. The convivial atmosphere created by San Francisco Theatre Pub doesn’t mask its emphasis on thinking theatre, including Fisher’s translations of Cyclops and Ubu Roi. For his Greek translations, Fisher relies on the translation website Perseus project (www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper), first translating chunks of text verbatim, then struggling to fill in the blanks.

“What I end up with is a kind of “me Tarzan, you Jane” sentence,” he says. “Then it’s a kind of puzzle to figure out what it means and how to phrase it to make it sound conversational. Once I get a handle on that, I can do all the stuff I do with French in terms of getting at feeling, tone, intent, and all that. There’s a lot of trial and error. It’s kind of like being a director — you try interpreting the dialogue in different ways and eventually you find a choice that feels right.”

It’s not just the classics that inspire local theatre-makers to try their hand at translation. One of the most exciting productions of 2006 was foolsFURY’s take on Fabrice Melquiot’s The Devil on All Sides, translated by artistic director Ben Yalom. A harrowing blend of magical realism and atrocity, Melquiot’s play set in the former Yugoslavia was pronounced the theatrical discovery of the year in his native France in 2003. The production went on from San Francisco to New York City, and helped inspire foolsFURY’s ongoing Contemporary French Plays Project, with two more Melquiot translations in the works and more possibilities waiting in the wings.

Daniel Zilber, cofounder of the Thrillpeddlers, translates original Grand Guignol plays from early 20th-century Paris, retaining all the melodrama and humor of the originals. Both the foolsFURY’s emphasis on physical artifice and the extreme naturalism of the Thrillpeddlers stem from French theatrical traditions, an influence that even extends to the writing and staging of their English-language productions. Much the way the art of translation pushes theatre-makers like Jackson and Melrose to think differently about the language of playwriting, so does the language of French theatricality encourage foolsFURY to create seething tableaux of writhing bodies, as in 2008’s Monster in the Dark, and the Thrillpeddlers to push the playfully edgy Grand Guignol aesthetic in their English original shows.

It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that some of Bay Area theatre’s most compelling risk-takers are also drawn to the possibilities translation offers them — from the challenges of the process to the rewards of producing a fresh interpretation of a classic work for the modern stage. But the greatest impact of the translation process may well be the way it continues to influence these theatre-makers during the creation of their original works. Perhaps Melrose puts it best: “It’s only by knowing these other languages well and by translating classic works that I have the idea to push English in my own writing.”

 

Inside job

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER A man lies in the woods, his arm in a hole. A mystic? A mushroom hunter? A mad monk maybe? He’s in tatters, grimy, seemingly unconscious, bearded.

Magnificently leafless tree trunks (courtesy of scenic designer Lisa Clark) rise ominously around the man, while nestled among them lurks a somewhat inconspicuous string quintet. Finally, the local peasant who owns the land (Josh Pollock) asks for some explanation. He brings the man home to his wife (Sarah Mitchell), who looks askance at the stranger as she shaves the evening’s fare with a sharp knife. She soon finds herself inexorably charmed by the magnetic outsider as he breaks into a self-promotional song, inspiring the peasant to pound the kitchen table with a soft mallet and his wife to take knife to potato in the manner of a Puerto Rican güiro.

Those who thought Rasputin just sold records on Telegraph Avenue are in for a musical and cunningly skewed history lesson, in addition to a wholly agreeable evening. In the opening salvo of its 20th anniversary season, Shotgun Players hits a raucous, ribald, and consistently clever bull’s eye with Beardo, the latest from Brooklyn-based Banana Bag & Bodice, creators of 2008’s Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage. Each detail of this exquisite production — from a pitch-perfect cast to the rich palette employed by composer Dave Malloy to Christine Crook’s gorgeously layered, vibrantly crimson-marked costuming — serves an inspired reappraisal of madness and revolution in and beyond the never-named Romanov household.

Concepts of inside and outside percolate productively throughout Jason Craig’s book and lyrics, as Beardo (Ashkon Davaran), guided by a resolute yet warped-sounding inner voice, penetrates the household of Imperial Russia’s grief-stricken Tsarista (Anna Ishida) and her affably effete tsar-husband (Kevin Clarke). His way with their sickly child (Juliet Heller) has them deeply in his debt and enthralled. Meanwhile, Beardo shakes and shimmies behind competing, maybe complimentary, countenances: that of the mystic healer, and that of the debauched cowboy on one hell of a bender. A transcultural mashup of outlaw whimsy, class war, and the banalities of upper-class decadence take flight in some inspired set pieces too fresh to give away here, and a wonderfully orchestrated score.

Composer and musical director Dave Malloy, whose gifts for composition and drama have been growing apace since relocating to New York City (where his beautiful and rollicking venture Three Pianos at the New York Theatre Workshop recently won a well-deserved Obie), conjures a very convincing Russian cabaret atmosphere. Doses of Rachmaninoff and other authentic samplings strategically arise amid his brisk Weimar-esque rhythms, lilting melodies, and one fantastic choral arrangement — a startling convergence of roughly 40 “peasants” who suddenly erupt into song.

Shotgun’s artistic director Patrick Dooley helms the production with a deft hand, his witty detailing and precise staging perfectly in sync with the loose and wild composure of writer Craig’s sure, literate, post-punk poetics. The cast is uniformly terrific. As the hirsute healer and unlikely royal heartthrob, Davaran delivers — in a Wild West drawl reminiscent of a young Tom Waits crossed with John Huston — a performance that accomplishes the seemingly impossible: making utterly magnetic and finally sympathetic a preposterously unkempt and ridiculous antihero.

From Rasputin to Putin, Russia’s political history has been one long cabaret act in much poorer taste than anything you’ll find here. But Beardo, virile and viral, is less about Russia (although it lends tacit support to the long-standing theory that the Russian Revolution was in part galvanized by Rasputin’s undermining of tsarist authority) than about a crazy social hierarchy so steep and brittle, so vast in its gulf between high and low, that a single does of mayhem can become a political force “where the outside meets the inside.” It’s then that a little disorder is what’s in order.

BEARDO

Through April 24; $17–$26

Ashby Stage

1901 Ashby, Berk.

(510) 841-6500

www.shotgunplayers.org

 

Two for the road

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MUSIC Erik “Ripley” Johnson is on the road. As the mastermind behind psych rock quartet Wooden Shijps and krautrockers Moon Duo, he spent eight months on tour last year. When he started Moon Duo with Sanae Yamada, Johnson knew that there’d be a degree of convenience in traveling as a twosome: it’s cheaper and much easier to be flexible and mobile. He was ready to tour as a full-time job.

Since Moon Duo began in 2009, Johnson and Yamada have put out two singles, the EP Killing Time (Sacred Bones) and the album Escape (Woodsist). Moon Duo’s just-released second full-length, Mazes (Sacred Bones), relays the story of a wandering life.

“We decided to name the album Mazes after we moved from San Francisco,” Johnson says over the phone, while the pair is on the road from New York to Massachusetts for their next gig. “That song is about choosing a path in life, but how you don’t necessarily know where it’s going to take you.”

Moon Duo creates trance-inducing music that builds minimalist, rhythmic repetition from drum samples and keyboards that support Johnson’s guitar freak-outs. It’s an experience of texture and tone that is sustained and then rerouted.

Most of Mazes was recorded lo-fi in Johnson’s and Yamada’s Mission District apartment last spring, when the couple was in transition. While they worked on the album, Johnson and Yamada packed up. “We needed to get out of the city because we were never there and we were paying all this rent,” Johnson says. By summer, the pair had moved to the wild highlands of Blue River, Colo.

“We thought we’d finished recording the album in San Francisco, but we weren’t happy with some elements,” he adds. So Moon Duo headed to Germany. Although Johnson acknowledges the synchronicity of recording in Berlin, he says it wasn’t motivated by his interest in krautrock, which he came to through Julian Cope’s influential book Krautrocksampler. “Every record he talks about, he’s so enthusiastic,” he says of Cope’s writing. “I can’t say I agree with all his choices, but it’s a guide book, and I went through it and bought stuff that sounded cool.”

The process of making Mazes reached Germany because Johnson and Yamada’s friends in Berlin had a studio and offered to help mix the album. “It just seemed like we should try it out in a different perspective, and go into a proper studio,” Johnson explains. There, the pair rerecorded some parts, tweaked things, and played with a collection of vintage drum machines.

The results are tight. Mazes‘ opening track “Seer” is a variant of a song off Escape, but lighter on the fuzz and denser with the rock ‘n’ roll. It gives you a good hint of where the band is heading on the rest of the many-layered album. Forerunners in the current kraut revival, Moon Duo is inspired by two-piece predecessors Silver Apples and Suicide while also exploring other sounds, including psychedelic wanderings, Velvet Underground-style hypnosis, and Modern Lovers post-punk.

“When You Cut” starts with lush synth and deep-throated vocals, and upbeat claps keep the song going steady, providing the framework for an untamed guitar solo. The band goes pop with the two-step “Run Around,” then gets dark again on the reverb-drenched “In the Sun” and on the closer, “Goners.” Ultimately, Mazes is a personal journey through music history, but one that also reflects the travels of life.

MOON DUO

With Lilac, Royal Baths

Mon./11, 9 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455

www.bottomofthehill.com

Hare-raising

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MUSIC This I know, having heard the name discussed in hushed yet excited tones among ecstatic ex-hardcore kids, having taken in all of two Lightning Bolt shows by Brians Chippendale and Gibson since Ride the Skies (Load, 2001). Having felt the gale-force winds of their live fury while swapping sweat with pinballing strangers. Having tasted the salad and found it delightful. Having waited with anticipation for their next show in the Bay Area—this time the night before they play Coachella.

Lightning Bolt’s most recent album, Earthly Delights (Load, 2009), is just as majestically noisy — and chock-full of wonder — as their seeming-career-best Hypermagic Mountain (Load, 2005). The time is right to share some truths about the dynamic duo.

 

DRUMMER-VOCALIST BRIAN CHIPPENDALE LIKES HIS FRIENDS FURRY.

“Mustard ran off, Weird appeared out of nowhere. Omni died,” says Chippendale of his Fort Thunder felines, driving the van and deep into the weeds of Peter Glantz and Nick Noe’s 2002s documentary, Lightning Bolt: The Power of Salad [and writ small like an afterthought] & Milkshakes. “Calico is too stupid to leave. Warlord ran off …” The talented cartoonist then goes on to recount the sad end of a pet rabbit, which broke its neck playing around metal. Seeing it bare its teeth, arch its back, and let lose a hair-(or hare-)raising “death scream,” Chippendale was forced to put it out of its misery with a sledgehammer. “Aw, I can’t believe I did that,” he says. “I love animals! Better than people, animals.”

Unless Lightning Bolt is playing, freakishly, on a stage, you must make the effort to get up close — or find a rafter or pole to dangle from.

I first saw ’em around ’03 when they played the Verdi Club, the old-folks rec hall near that sketchy patch of Bryant Street where working gals like to service their johns curbside. I wasn’t one of the lucky dozen or so standing right next to the twosome on the floor, so I wasn’t able to see much, even when I climbed up on a rickety metal folding chair to get a glimpse of sock-monkey-ish-masked Chippendale, looking like a mad drummer from the island of lost toys.

I fared better at Lobot Gallery in 2007, when I used all my best pit skills to wiggle up to the front for the first couple songs, risking a broken nose to get my fill of Lightning Bolt’s unforgettable way with Sabbath-style volume and Phillip Glass-style repetition, primal rambunctiousness and raw poetry. Certainly they’re the fiercest bass-and-drum duo ever to step into the formidable footwear of Ruins and godheadSilo, but has there ever been another hardcore or noise combo that has fully tapped the melodic and textural possibilities buried within a full-force blast beat?

 

BASSIST BRIAN GIBSON WORKS FOR VIDEO GAME COMPANY HARMONIX AS THE LEAD ARTIST ON GAMES SUCH AS ROCK BAND.

“I wish more of my projects were pure recreation,” the Rhode Island School of Design-schooled painter told Motherboard.tv. “I just get caught up in this sort of addiction to doing art and music stuff, but it would nice to be just fishing or exercising or drag racing.

So much of what I do is about me being deeply obsessed with projects and being alienated from communities and wanting to do something different.”

Don’t worry about missing the companion cassette that once went with Lightning Bolt’s “yellow album” debut — the CD includes the enthralling 30-minute noise epic “Zone.”

You also get the funny intro to “Caught Deep in the Zone,” in which a Euro-accented fellow warns, “Next time you go and buy a record and you think you’re all alternative and groovy — and everyone is into the alternative charts — remember it’s just like the other side, just a bit stranger.” Cue an onslaught of feedback-wracked, crunching skree: the death scream of Godzilla as lizard flesh is wrenched from bone.

 

ONE OF THE BEST LIGHTNING BOLT VIDEOS: PAPER RAD’S “13 MONSTERS.”

This ode to terrifyingly cute cartoon imagery, à la headless, bass-playing hot-pink tigers, opens with Gumby comforting a distraught Goo, who sobs, “There were 13 of them …” 

LIGHTNING BOLT

With T.I.T.S. and High Castle

Wed./13, 8 p.m., $10

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

(415) 861-2011

www.rickshawstop.com

Acid-washed terror

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RETRO GORE With the upcoming release of Scream 4 — the overlong-awaited latest in a series riffing on 1980s slasher clichés — it feels like a good moment to review the source material, which is to say the deadly spawn of Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). Issued at the heyday of the direct-to-video market, those films’ myriad cheap-and-cheaper knockoffs explored the full range of variably amateur charm.

Two years ago Ti West made a very nice homage in The House of the Devil, a babysitter-in-peril thriller that was slick and canny enough to get an actual theatrical release. No such thing is risked by Drew Rosas’ Blood Junkie, a new DVD release from Troma — the company so indiscriminate it can’t help but release a good movie once in a while. (Still, it should dial down its contempt: Lloyd Kaufman’s recycled all-purpose introduction suggests any movie might be better than the one you’re about to watch.) This dead-on parody of no-budget VHS horror circa 1987 (according to its website, Blood Junkie was “shot in Wisconsin for $7,000”) is a sleeper and a keeper for anyone who covets the worst of Reagan decade style.

Mulleted Craig (Nick Sommer) and fellow pencil-‘stached buddy Teddy (Mike Johnston) are on the prowl for chicks, a quest answered when they meet high school best friends Rachel (tube-topped Emily Treolo) and Laura (feather-haired, four-eyed Sarah Luther), who has just come into a big $35 booze budget left as grocery money by traveling parents for her insect-tormenting brainiac little bro Andy (Brady Cohen). The attraction is irresistible; Teddy alone sports a lime-green tiger-striped T, denim vest, and acid-washed jeans. Babe magnet!

Anyway, this quartet plus imp go camping near an abandoned chemical plant. Bad things happen, thanks to a killer of extremely vague identity and motivation. Which is just as it should be.

With its dweezly synth score, post-synched dialogue, lowbrow FX, fake aerobics workouts, and pseudo-age-streaked “film” stock, Blood Junkie is pure retro-flavva’d silliness. One nice touch is the male protagonists’ bromantic frisson — played as a joke, albeit so persistently that Craig’s offhand mid-wrestle “I seriously want you, man” feels like a naked confession. 

 

Tome time

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arts@sfbg.com

LIT This week brings the 30th installment of the National California Book Awards. Some of the books up for awards have been written about in the Guardian during the past year, including Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, Richard O. Moore’s Writing the Silences, and Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, by the 2011 Fred Cody Award for Lifetime Achievement winner Tamim Ansary. Local authors, editors, and translators among this year’s nominees include Solnit, Moore, Aife Murray, Brian Teare, Damion Searls, Michael Alenyikov, John Sakkis (who has contributed to the Guardian), Kate Moses, Matthew Zapruder, Lewis Buzbee, Neelanjana Bannerjee, and Pireeni Sundaralingam.

The 2011 edition of NCBA arrives at a time when the value and resolve of independent booksellers is clear. For many years, Borders and other chain stores seemed poised to kill small businesses devoted to selling books, and in fact, chain marketing undoubtedly has had a negative impact on individual shops. But Borders recently filed for bankruptcy, while a number of unique booksellers in the Bay Area and beyond continue to survive and thrive. Thanks to the Berkeley-based Small Press Distribution and San Francisco shops such as Needles & Pens, small publishing is also alive and within real-life reach. Here is the list of this year’s NCBA nominees, for the next time you venture into the neighborhood bookshop or library.

 

FICTION

 Ivan and Misha, stories, Michael Alenyikov (TriQuarterly Books, 212 pages, $18.95)

 Heidegger’s Glasses, Thaisa Frank (Counterpoint, 320 pages, $25)

 Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, stories, Yiyun Li (Random House, 240 pages, $25)

 Death is Not an Option, stories, Suzanne Rivecca (W.W. Norton, 22 pages, $23.95)

 The More I Owe You, Michael Sledge (Counterpoint, 320 pages, $15.95)

GENERAL NONFICTION

 Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson (Simon & Schuster, 368 pages, $27)

 The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Michael Lewis (W. W. Norton, 320 pages, $15.95)

Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language, Aífe Murray (University Press of New England, 324 pages, $35)

 Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, Robert B. Reich (Alfred A. Knopf, 273 pages, $27.95)

 The Twilight of the Bombs: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World Without Nuclear Weapons, Richard Rhodes (Alfred A. Knopf, 400 pages, $29.95)

 

CREATIVE NONFICTION

 Not by Chance Alone: My Life as a Social Psychologist, Elliot Aronson (Basic Books, 304 pages, $27.50)

• A State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California, Laura Cunningham (Heyday, 352 pages, $50)

• Cakewalk, a memoir, Kate Moses (The Dial Press, 368 pages, $26)

 Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, Rebecca Solnit (University of California Press, 167 pages, $24.95)

 Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean, Julia Whitty (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 256 pages, $24)

 

POETRY

 Suck on the Marrow, Camille T. Dungy (Red Hen Press, 88 pages, $18.95)

Trance Archive: New and Selected Poems, Andrew Joron (City Lights Publishers, 120 pages, $14.95)

 Writing the Silences, Richard O. Moore (University of California Press, 136 pages, $19.95)

• Rough Honey, Melissa Stein (The American Poetry Review, 96 pages, $14)

 Pleasure, Brian Teare (Ahsahta Press, 88 pages, $17.95)

 Come on All You Ghosts, Matthew Zapruder (Copper Canyon Press, 96 pages, $16.95)

 

TRANSLATION, FICTION

 Translation by Anne Milano Appel, Blindly, by Claudio Magris, from Italian (Penguin Group Canada)

Translation by David Frick, A Thousand Peaceful Cities, by Jerzy Pilch, from Polish (Open Letter Books, 143 pages, $14.95)

 Translation by Damion Searls, Comedy in a Minor Key, by Hans Keilson, from German (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 144 pages, $22)

 

POETRY

• Translation by Kurt Beals, engulf—enkindle, by Anja Utler, from German (Burning Deck, 96 pages, $14)

• Translation by Joshua Edwards, Ficticia, by María Baranda, from Spanish (Shearsman Books)

• Translation by John Sakkis and Angelos Sakkis, Maribor, by Demosthenes Agrafiotis, from Greek (Post-Apollo Press, 86 pages, $15)

 

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

• Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding: Un poema para cocinar/A Cooking Poem, Jorge Argueta, illustrator Fernando Vilela (Groundwood Books/Libros Tigrillo, 32 pages, $18.95)

• The Haunting of Charles Dickens, Lewis Buzbee (Feiwel and Friends, 368 pages, $17.95)

• The Vinyl Princess, Yvonne Prinz (HarperTeen/HarperCollins Publishers, 320 pages, $16.99)

• Other Goose: Re-Nurseried!! and Re-Rhymed!! Children’s Classics, J. Otto Seibold (Chronicle Books, 80 pages, $19.99)

• Shooting Kabul, N.H. Senzai (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Paula Wiseman Books, 272 pages, $16.99)

 

SPECIAL RECOGNITION AWARD

Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry, edited by Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa, and Pireeni Sundaralingam (University of Arkansas Press, 220 pages, $24.95)

 

FRED CODY AWARD FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT

Tamim Ansary 

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BOOK AWARDS

Sun/10, 1 p.m.–2:30 p.m.

Koret Auditorium

San Francisco Main Library

100 Larkin, SF

(510) 525-5476

www.poetryflash.org

 

Working on it

4

caitlin@sfbg.com

GREEN ISSUE With the recession fast seeping into the everyday fabric of American life (or at least Monday through Friday’s fabric), the enthusiasm that the term “green jobs” generates can be well understood. But can we really call a $10 hourly pay rate for installing solar panels sustainable? And what would be the bigger of the two triumphs: creating a carbon-free country or a more equitable nation? With partnerships springing up across the country like the Blue Green Alliance, created by the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, maybe the two goals aren’t so separate after all. Here are some West Coast organizations fighting to make sure that the environmentally-friendly jobs that do exist — and have yet to be created — pay a decent wage.

 

OAKLAND GREEN JOBS CORPS

Created by the long-time civil rights champions at the Ella Baker Center and other community partners, this program recruits poor young adults to a 38-week course of study that recognizes what it takes to break the cycle of unemployment. Participants begin with classes in basic job skills, literacy, and substance abuse counseling, then continue on to classes at Laney College in basic construction skills, eco-literacy, and specialized green building practices. At graduation, participants are hooked up with well-paying jobs in the green construction sector or traditional building trade union apprenticeships — where their newfound environment-saving skills will make them leaders in the years to come.

www.ellabakercenter.org

 

CALIFORNIA INTERFAITH POWER AND LIGHT

Pray for change — or change the way you pray? Created 10 years ago in SF, CIPL, whose work has since spread to 38 state affiliates, aides faith communities of all denominations in greening their place of worship. Greatest hits include installing a geothermal heating system in a Berkeley synagogue, work on First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco, and tricking out a Bayview-Hunters Point church with solar panels on the congregation’s extremely limited budget. Workers hired to make the holy places sing a song of sustainability are usually sourced from organizations like Richmond Build, which provides training to many people living in public housing and with criminal records.

www.interfaithpower.org

 

APOLLO ALLIANCE

Apollo Alliance, another nationwide coalition-building organization that got its start in SF, is making green jobs happen in Los Angeles — with or without federal dollars. The group sponsored the city’s Green Retrofit and Workforce ordinance, which required that municipal buildings achieve LEED certification at the silver level or higher, prioritizing updates on the buildings that were near areas with low income and high unemployment rates. Linked directly to workforce training programs, the ordinance is already under attack in Washington by H.R.1, a bill that would strip its funding. But L.A. is making the first move on the threat — the city is hoping to fund the successful program through energy conservation bonds.

www.apolloalliance.org

 

GREEN FOR ALL

Erstwhile Obama appointee, environmental rock star, and Ella Baker Center founder Van Jones started this organization in 2008 to place the war on poverty at the heart of the sustainability movement. Sure, with offices around the country, it’s not exactly local. But the group plays an important role supporting nationwide policies that will make green jobs fair and just for workers. Plus, it led the charge against last year’s Prop. 23 challenge to the growth of green technologies, taking to the road in a bus that interviewed community members and green energy experts in 10 Californian cities. Plus, it kicked ass with a media campaign smart enough to best the bummers at PG&E and other public utilities.

www.greenforall.org

 

It’s not easy being green

0

culture@sfbg.com

A smattering of the phenomenal sustainability people and places you can plug into around the Bay.

 

Green your home

FISHPHONE

Yeah, yeah, you watched The Cove and try to keep up on the latest bycatch horror stories — but sometimes you’re out with friends and that petrale sole looks divine … eek, was it on the “good” list? Text 30644 with the word “FISH” and the name of the waterway inhabitant in question (or be fancy and use the iPhone app) and within minutes you’ll receive a text with its sustainability level — and the rationale behind it.

www.blueocean.org/fishphone

 

GHOST TOWN FARM

It has been said that the key to success is having good role models. And if your aim is growing your own meals inside city limits, you could do a lot worse than Novella Carpenter. Her book Urban Farmer gave a tantalizing primer on her life farming in West Oakland, and her blog provides inspiration, tips, and community farming news. Carpenter is currently sparring with Oakland city government over urban farming regulations, but we’re confident she’ll pull through in the end — and educate us all while doing so.

ghosttownfarm.wordpress.com

 

ALEMANY FARMERS MARKET

“Affordable” usually isn’t the first word that comes to mind when it comes to local, natural foods. The Alemany farmers market became the first to open in the Bay Area in 1943, and is affectionately referred to as “the people’s market.” It’s rumored to be one of the most affordable markets in the city, and is well-known for supporting small farmers.

Every Saturday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. 100 Alemany, SF

 

ECOVIAN

Ever wonder if your favorite coffee shop or tapas bar is as green as you want it be? This website has user-generated sustainability ratings of hundreds of city eateries (not to mention helpful rankings of businesses from spas to furniture stores).

www.ecovian.com


Cleaner commutin’

POST-CAR PRESS

One of the hardest parts about being car-free are those days when you just want to get out of the city and into nature. Enter Post-Car Press, the website and guidebook assembled by East Bay couple Kelly Gregory and Justin Eichenlaub. The two give you the low-down on how to get to camp-hike spots in Marin County, Mount Diablo, even Big Sur without a motor vehicle.

www.postcarpress.org

 

BAY BRIDGE BICYCLE SHUTTLE

Biking and BART don’t always mix, especially at peak commute hours. That’s why Caltrans has this smart, cheap shuttle to get you and your bike across the Bay Bridge during morning and afternoon rush hours for only $1. It will pick up you and your steed and drop the two of you off at the MacArthur BART Station and SF Transbay Terminal.

www.dot.ca.gov/dist4/shuttle

 

PLANETTRAN TAXI SERVICES

These green taxis and shuttles will take you where you need to go without increasing your carbon you-know-what-print. With a fleet of exclusively ultra fuel-efficient vehicles in the country, it’s the first taxi service to put fuel efficiency in the front seat. PlanetTran’s primary business is in green rides to and from the San Francisco and Oakland airports.

www.planettran.com

SUSTAINABLE BIODIESEL RETAILERS ALLIANCE

An association of biodiesel companies committed to providing fuel to those who already use it — and assistance for those who want to lead their diesel engines to greener fields. Go to any of the alliance’s locations to fill up on biofuel or get help converting your vehicle to biodiesel. Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley, Dogpatch Biofuels, and People’s Fuel Cooperative located in Rainbow Grocery are all part of this groovy green oil alternative. www.autopiabiofuels.com

 

Green your home

SAN FRANCISCO COMMUNITY POWER

Partnering with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, SFCP is a nonprofit that helps small businesses and low-income residents save money and reduce environmental impact. SFCP recently launched a free Green Home Assessment Audit initiative available to all city residents that helps improve home safety, disaster-preparedness (how timely), efficiency, and ecofriendliness. It also distributes vouchers for home improvements.

www.sfpower.org

 

BAYVIEW GREENWASTE

This benevolent mulch-making company donated all the material needed for sheet-mulching the magnificent Hayes Valley Farm and has contributed, free, to dozens of other community projects. Even the small-time urban grower can pick up mulch, compost, or soil amendment from its SF or Redwood City sites. It also delivers (for a small fee), so go ahead and rip out those invasive, inedible weeds in front of your house. Your own patch of nature awaits.

www.bayviewgreenwaste.com

 

CALIFORNIA NATIVE PLANT SOCIETY

Speaking of patches of nature … visit this group’s website for gardening tips, links, and a list of local nurseries that sell native plants.

www.cnps.org

 

RECYCLED MATERIAL BUILDING SUPPLIES

Before you build, paint, remodel, or so much as hammer in a nail, it’s worth tripping to the Bay’s building resource centers — second-life sites for construction debris and used building supplies. The East Bay’s Urban Ore and The Reuse People host landscapes of pink toilets, claw foot tubs, and towering stacks of discontinued tile. Looking for some SF supplies? Try Building Resources in SF (www.buildingresources.org) or www.stopwaste.org.

 

Build your green community

SAN FRANCISCO GREEN FESTIVAL

Of course, being sustainable isn’t all heavy lifting and culinary vigilance — environmental friendliness can be a fertile way to meet your like-minded neighbors. This weekend, trek to the city’s largest green expo for more than 130 speakers, music, and exhibits featuring everything from Food Not Bombs to reclaimed redwood manufacturers.

Sat/9 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sun/10 11 a.m.–6 p.m., $5–$25. SF Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 Eighth St., SF. www.greenfestivals.org

 

SF GREEN MAP

A great online visual for people looking for the nearest community garden, recycling center, and so much more, this happy cartographic achievement documents our city by highlighting its bright green hubs of activity.

www.sfgreenmap.org

 

GARDEN FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Gardening involves more than just a tub of dirt, seeds, and a healthy appetite. To really get your hands dirty, there is a body of knowledge you’d do well to tap into. At Garden for the Environment’s Inner Sunset one-acre farm, you can learn about leafy greens while meeting like-minded seed slaves. After all, it pays to have a buddy who can plant-sit.

www.gardenfortheenvironment.org

 

Threads of change

3

rebeccab@sfbg.com ; caitlin@sfbg.com

GREEN ISSUE Planting indigo seedlings in a leaky greenhouse in the mist of a cold Marin County afternoon, Rebecca Burgess thinks about what she’s going to wear. She’s not a fashion model, or a clotheshorse, but she is on a yearlong quest to attire herself only in garments that were sourced and produced bio-regionally — or within a 150-mile radius of home — an area she calls her local fibershed.

Why take on such a challenge? “If we don’t want BP oil spills, it’s about more than just not fueling our cars with it,” Burgess says. While many activists seeking to unplug from oil dependency have worked to encourage bicycles, local agriculture, and reusable shopping bags, her approach takes on the materials we use to clothe our bodies.

Half of all jeans sold annually in the United States — around 200 million pairs — are produced in the Xintang township in China’s Pearl River Delta, where a Greenpeace study found hazardous organic chemicals and acidic runoff in the watershed, both of which may contribute to profound health risks for factory workers and their communities.

Of course, oil is consumed in the transport of factory-made garments halfway across the globe. But as Burgess notes, that’s only part of the reason for her project, which so far has yielded a book on the making of natural dyes and a plan for a community cotton mill in Point Reyes.

She’s also concerned about the synthetic fibers mass-manufactured clothes are made of. “We’re wearing a lot of plastic,” she notes. Not just plastic: petrochemicals, formaldehyde, and carcinogenic polycrylonitriles can all be used to produce your outfit— materials that seep into your pores when you’re active and can hardly be considered ideal to wear against your skin.

To limit support of the oil-reliant garment industry, Burgess envisions a collaboratively created source of clothing made from materials and processes that are — unlike the heavy-metal laden industrial effluent from denim dyes flowing into China’s Pearl River — completely nontoxic. To that end, she’s linking natural fiber artisans and raw material providers throughout the region with the fibershed project, which aims to bolster local clothing production.

Today, she’s the poster child for her effort. Burgess sports striped alpaca kneesocks, an organic cotton skirt sewn by a friend, and a wool sweater her mom knitted with handmade yarn, sourced from a sheep farmer they know. The clothes look well-loved, which makes sense: relying on one’s fibershed for a wardrobe is not easy. When Burgess first embarked on her yearlong bioregional clothing challenge, there wasn’t much in her dresser. “I lived out of three garments for weeks,” she laughs. “People were like, ‘You’re wearing the same thing over and over and over again.'<0x2009>”

But she found that she wasn’t the only one who believed that a change was possible in our closets. Friends, family, and a wider community of shepherds, cotton growers, knitters, seamstresses, and artisans all pitched in to help her along with the project. Burgess says this growing network underlies what it will take for communities to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. “All this is about encouraging more relationships.”

There’s Sally Fox, whose non-genetically modified colored cotton operation in the Capay Valley is the culmination of years of seed-selecting for natural color tones. There’s the 96-year old sheep farmer in Ukiah. Not to mention the hip fiber artisans based in Oakland and the young fashion students in San Francisco who were inspired by her project.

“It’s not just of value to an old spinster community, it’s of value to a young, hip generation of people who want to live in a carbon-free economy,” Burgess notes. “A bunch of urban young people are really into fibers.” Most, she adds, are women.

Burgess makes her own clothing, too, and to research her book (Harvesting Color, Artisan, 180 p., $22.95) traversed the country learning from female “wisdom-keepers,” women whose craft practices were based on passed-down traditions encouraging the health of their ecosystems.

Today is part of her latest endeavor: growing her own indigo dye so that locally made garments can be dyed blue sustainably. Her day’s work entails planting 400 indigo seeds in flats filled with soil from a ranch down the road. This spring and summer, she plans to raise 1,000 indigo plants in three garden plots just outside the greenhouse. The day the Guardian came to visit, sheep lounged in the pasture beyond her garden plots, as if to illustrate the point that this process won’t require any long-distance transport.

She realizes that few people have a greenhouse to plant indigo in, much less the time necessary to produce their own clothing — or the money needed to dress in handcrafted pieces. But by proving that it’s possible to wear clothes that were created by your own community, she hopes that people will at least “settle for second best, which in this case is wearing organic, American-made materials.”

Even that would be something — right now clothes just aren’t on most of our sustainability compasses. As an example, Burgess recalls a panel discussion she attended at which sustainable food champions Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin were speakers. Someone (“And it wasn’t even me!” she insists) asked them what role garments played in a sustainable lifestyle. “And they were speechless. They didn’t have a thing to say.”

It was a PR challenge Burgess was happy to assume — she has since struck up an e-mail correspondence with Pollan, which she hopes will spread her message further. “Clearly we need some education.”

Join Burgess and other yarn producers for a locally made fashion show and to see plans for their community mill May 1 at Toby’s Feed Barn in Point Reyes. For more information call (415) 259-5849 or visit www.rebeccarburgess.com

 

Hanna and her sisters

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM With great girl power comes great responsibility — words that only a few of the Powerpuff Girls of 2011 have lived by. Behold the new generation, too young to settle down, prepped to suit up in skintight Lycra or schoolgirl gear, and eager to mete out punishment to the baddies. Girls mature faster than boys, sure, but that diary-keeping wimpy kid reigning the other half of the cineplex would have plenty to jot down in his diary if he met up with one of these slay-belles.

These babes in boyland, with all its the traditionally masculinized violence and bloodshed, aren’t exactly the next Supergirls. They’re nowhere near as bloodless or wholesome as the original DC product (or the 1984 Helen Slater film), and they’re less likely to fall prey to the dangers of womanly representation for a mainstream fanboy audience that, say, 2004’s Catwoman succumbed to. But the little girls understand — what it’s like to grapple with a strength that just might spiral out of control. The tension between their innocuous, angelic looks and semi-socialized, she-tiger ferocity parallels the balance between their highly trainable programmability and their own desires. They’re damaged kid sisters of Lisbeth Salander more than they are the mutant second-banana femme students of the X-Men, and they’re itching for freedom like Ellen Page’s reality-hampered Boltie in Super, or the fantasy girl-gang hos in Sucker Punch. Or they’ve been souped up as angels of vengeance at the service of embittered father figures, much like Kick-Ass scene-stealer Chloe Moretz’s pint-sized Hit-Girl with her Saturday-morning-cartoon purple wig and stone-cold killer instincts. STAY ON TARGET

The title character of Hanna falls perfectly into the Hit-Girl mold. Add a dash of The Boys from Brazil-style genetic engineering — Hanna has the unfair advantage, you see, when it comes to squashing other kids on the soccer field or maiming thugs with her bare hands — and you have an ethereal killing/survival machine, played with impassive confidence by Atonement (2007) shit-starter Saoirse Ronan. She’s been fine-tuned by her father, Erik (Eric Bana), a spy who went out into the cold and off the grid, disappearing into the wilds of Scandinavia where he home-schooled his charge with an encyclopedia and brutal self-defense and hunting tests.

The repellent association with real-life child soldiers who are forcibly conscripted to fight wars for corrupt elders is somewhat dispelled by the back-to-the-land-of-the-Vikings backdrop, with the film opening on Hanna hunting, clad in furs and skins, hidden in the white-on-white snowy woods beside other predators and prey. Atonement director Joe Wright plays with a palette associated with innocence, purity, and death — this could be any time or place, though far from the touch of modern childhood stresses: that other Hannah (Montana), consumerism, suburban blight, and academic competition. The 16-year-old Hanna, however, isn’t immune from that desire to succeed. Her game mission: go from a feral, lonely existence into the modern world, run for her life (the Chemical Brothers’ score gives her the ideal Run Lola Run-ish background music), and avenge the death of her mother by killing Erik’s CIA handler, Marissa (Cate Blanchett). The nagging doubt: was she born free, or Bourne to be a killer?

Much like the illustrated Brothers Grimm storybook that she studies, Hanna is caught in an evil death trap of fairytale allegories. One wonders if the super-soldier apple didn’t fall far from the tree, since evil stepmonster Marissa oversaw the program that produced Hanna — the older woman and the young girl have the same cold-blooded talent for destruction and the same steely determination. Yet there’s hope for the young ‘un. After learning that even her beloved father hid some basic truths from her — and that family life can be less desperately cutthroat, especially when she encounters the celebrity-gossip-spouting tourist teen Sophie (Jessica Barden) and her family — this natural-born killer seems less likely to go along with the predetermined ending, happy or no, further along in her storybook life.

 

CABARET DURING WARTIME

It’s a mental game for Baby Doll in Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder’s exercise in supergirl action fantasy and gothic Lolita dread. Emily Browning’s puffy-lipped, anime-eyed darling is far from infallible, except in the crazed, mixed-metaphor war games in her mind. Her talent for disassociation kicks off with her primal crime: she mistakenly kills her younger sister while trying to protect them both from a menacing stepfather. Escape and heroism can be had via one’s fertile yet traumatized imagination: Baby Doll is imprisoned in an asylum for girls where she’s next in line for a lobotomy, thanks to her stepdad’s machinations. And like a multilayered fantasy game, reminiscent of Dorothy’s dreamy recasting of friends and family in The Wizard of Oz (1939), she’s transported to a brothel-dancehall, along with other girlish inmates.

Here Baby Doll has just a few days to hatch a plan that will allow the girls to escape before her virginity is sold off. Her very special defense: she mesmerizes all who see her dance, and then goes far, far away, into a dream world where she’s dressed like a sexy J-pop schoolgirl and battles giant samurai or robot-zombie Nazis. Thoughts of Burlesque (2010) are mercifully vanquished.

Though Baby Doll’s initial battle scene at a Japanese temple evokes Quentin Tarantino’s take on girl-power revenge fantasy, Kill Bill (2003-2004) — while catering to the fanboys who ogle (and fear) deadly hotties in vixenish costume — Sucker Punch distinguishes itself not with its blatant po-mo plundering of movie, game, and music history, but with its adherence to the idea that sisterhood is powerful, as Baby Doll forms a girl gang of super-fighters with her fellow inmates-dancers. Therein lies the real super-heroism: the organizing, hearts-and-minds might of an underdog who can imagine overcoming huge odds. Even if the hero and the final girl, Baby Doll, is only a legend in her mind.

HANNA opens Fri/8 in Bay Area theaters.

 

The joy of life

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM To say that Bill Cunningham, the 82-year old New York Times photographer, has made documenting how New Yorkers dress his life’s work would be an understatement. To be sure, Cunningham’s two decades-old Sunday Times columns — “On the Street,” which tracks street-fashion, and “Evening Hours,” which covers the charity gala circuit — are about the clothes. And, my, what clothes they are.

But Cunningham is a sartorial anthropologist, and his pictures always tell the bigger story behind the changing hemlines, which socialite wore what designer, or the latest trend in footwear. Whether tracking the near-infinite variations of a particular hue, a sudden bumper-crop of cropped blazers, or the fanciful leaps of well-heeled pedestrians dodging February slush puddles, Cunningham’s talent lies in his ability to recognize fleeting moments of beauty, creativity, humor, and joy.

That last quality courses through Bill Cunningham New York, Richard Press’ captivating and moving portrait of a man whose reticence and personal asceticism are proportional to his total devotion to documenting what Harold Koda, chief curator at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, describes in the film as “ordinary people going about their lives, dressed in fascinating ways.”

Press goes about filming Cunningham the way the photographer claims to capture his own subjects: “discreetly, quietly, invisibly.” Press, along with producer Philip Gefter and cinematographer Tony Cenicola (also a Times staff photographer), followed Cunningham for two years with no crew (after Press spent eight attempting to get Cunningham’s consent), tailing the photographer from uptown soirees to the runways of Paris fashion week.

Interspersed with Cunningham’s own sharp insights and footage of the photographer biking around Manhattan and throwing himself into oncoming traffic to get the perfect shot, are interviews with old friends and frequent subjects: Upper West Side grandes dames, fashion powerhouses, former editors, neighbors, and strutting peacocks. The loving accounts they share of encounters with Cunningham sing his artistic praises and unwavering kindness but stop short of revealing much about the man himself, save for his monasticism.

Cunningham famously lived for decades in a tiny studio apartment above Carnegie Hall filled almost exclusively with negative-stuffed file cabinets and an Army cot. His uniform is the cheap blue jacket worn by French street sweepers, augmented by a duct-tapped poncho in inclement weather. He rarely stops to schmooze, let alone sleep or eat. When a real estate agent shows Cunningham, who over the course of filming was evicted from his Carnegie Hall cell, the kitchen of the new apartment he will be relocated to, he genially scoffs, “What would I do with that?”

Cunningham’s disdain for the material and emotional comforts most of us take for granted might seem at odds with the worlds he documents (perhaps the film’s most shocking moment comes when Cunningham casually reveals he has never been in a romantic relationship). Fashion has become a hydra-headed beast of which street style, and the myriad bloggers who document it, have been completely swallowed by.

What Bill Cunningham New York makes clear, however, is that for this man, sustained by indefatigable reserves of passion and the ability to see what others can’t, the pursuit of beauty is not merely his chosen vocation; it has always been and always will be a calling.

BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK opens Fri/8 in Bay Area theaters.

Loco for Locavore

1

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE In a better world than this one — a world of locavores — there would be no need for a restaurant like Locavore. President Kennedy would have gone to the Berlin Wall and declared, “Ich bein ein locavore!” — and been greeted with applause from the other side. In related news, the dictatorship of the proletariat would have peaceably dissolved itself.

In the world we have, Locavore is a rather lovely place. It’s been some time since I found so much poured concrete so full of charm. The floors and walls are concrete, curving into a low ceiling so that you feel a little as if you’re inside one of the sections of BART’s transbay tube before they sank it for installation. Considering all the hard surfaces and the exuberance of the crowd, the place is surprisingly not too noisy. There is a definite roar, low and sustained, but it doesn’t interfere with conversation or require cross-table shouting and the use of signal flags. How the sound damping was achieved must be a trade secret, because none of the usual suspects (including that quilted baffling material) are visible.

The restaurant, which opened near Halloween, procures all its ingredients (including beer, wine, and cider) from within a radius of 100 miles — and since, as we know, there’s a lot of agricultural action within 100 miles of this city, year-round, the question presented is whether you would know you were in a restaurant committed to this philosophical and moral principle if you didn’t know beforehand. My guess is no. It would be different if Locavore was, say, in Burlington, Vt., where the land and climate would pose serious challenges to locavoricity for a chef composing a late-winter menu (or any winter menu). But in our land of plenty, with its rich tilth and kindly climate, such stresses are muted. The result is that Locavore’s cooking doesn’t seem very different from that of a host of other places.

But this isn’t a bad thing. Chef/owner Jason Moniz’s food is excellent, reasonably priced, and the vegetarian angle seems to have been considered with some imagination. We were most impressed with the spicy yuba soy roll ($17), a trio of chubbies made from yuba (tofu skin), stuffed with chopped, spiced yuba, gift-wrapped with ribbons of wilted red-mustard greens and finished with an emulsion of soy and puréed baby leeks that assumed the form of a foam the pale green color of spring. The plate also included a small bundle of whole baby leeks, which added their subtle, sublime oniony-ness to the proceedings and were only slightly hard to handle.

But flesh-lovers need not despair. There is plenty of animal protein on the menu, from mussels ($9) in an herbed broth made faintly bittersweet by grapefruit, to ham hock ravioli ($10), smoky and adrift in a buttery broth of so intensely meaty as to be kind of pork liqueur. A little lighter, but still substantial, was a pair of chicken croquettes ($10) served with baby chicories, spiced hazelnuts, and ghostly splinters of apple slaw — almost like a salad, with a set of crisp golden disks thrown in.

It’s hard for me to resist halibut, which is one of the most user-friendly fish, is taken from well-managed fisheries, and has a nice weight. Locavore’s version ($19) did right by this indispensable seafood, pan-frying a filet to a crispy gold without drying it out and serving it with lovely little crisp-gold gnocchi (a clever echo — were these browned alongside the fish?) and a jumble of chard and green garlic that captured the passage from winter to spring. No one would ever say the halibut was undersalted, incidentally, but because most seafood has a faint sweetness, balance was maintained.

To the charge that I have perhaps too often described this or that dessert as resembling a cloud, or clouds, I would have to plead guilty. But now I must do it again, because Locavore’s honey semifreddo ($7), a puff of creamy gold, was the most cloud-like apparition I have ever seen descend to a dessert plate. And its sweetness was elusive and complex, no doubt in large part because of the presence of kiwi slices and chunks of oro blanco, the mild white grapefruit that nonetheless packs a real grapefruit charge of sourness and bitter bite. In symphony, these ingredients made a beautiful, balanced mouth music unlike any other I’ve ever enjoyed. This dessert did not ask to be liked, and for that reason alone, — how many desserts show that kind of resolve? — this intermittently lapsed locavore had to like it.

LOCAVORE

Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 5–-9:30 p.m.;

Fri.-Sat., 5–10:30 p.m.

Lunch: Tues.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m.

3215 Mission, SF

(415) 821-1918

www.locavoreca.com

Wine and beer

DS/MC/V

Lively, not quite noisy

Wheelchair accessible

 

Next step

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater may be an American treasure, but it’s one that has been adopted by the world. Wherever these dancers go, they jam the houses with enthusiastic audiences. That’s why it may seem curmudgeonly to say that while fabulous, they could be better. Not the dancers: technically, they are top-notch, as well as brave, fierce, and committed. What the company needs — and will now get — is a new vision.

It was both hopeful and disconcerting to see the company’s last Zellerbach engagement (March 30) under the leadership of Judith Jamison, Ailey’s first muse. She took over the company upon Ailey’s death, in 1989, when it was demoralized and deeply in debt. Today, Ailey’s repertoire is in good hands, and Jamison has built an enviable infrastructure. But the dancers are such technical powerhouses that audiences the world over gladly indulge work with surface glitz as long as they get Revelations at the end.

The first of this year’s programs showed what is right and wrong with the company. The best pieces by far were by Ailey: Cry (1971) and Revelations (1960). Both received excellent performances. They also showed that the Ailey dancers can be nuanced and expressive, when given half a chance.

Cry is dedicated to “all black women everywhere — especially our mothers,” and was created for Jamison. Here its three sections were entrusted to the majestic Rachel McLarec, a fiercely despairing Constance Stamatiou, and Briana Reed as the victorious survivor. The approach worked, though when performed by one woman, Cry feels more complex.

In Revelations, Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims pushed themselves physically and emotionally to the edge during “Fix Me, Jesus,” while Amos J. Machanic Jr. almost turned himself inside out in “I Wanna be Ready.” For “Rocka My Soul,” the dancers held back. A wise move: the audience wouldn’t let them go without an encore.

The first of two Bay Area premieres, Christopher L. Huggins’ three-part Anointed was intended as a tribute to the growth of the company under Jamison. Unfortunately, it played to the worst of the audience’s expectations. It was visually full of sound and fury, but conceptually and choreographically dim. A dark-clad figure (Jamar Roberts) calls upon a fierce, fist-clutching fighter (the incredibly fit Sims) to follow him. In voice-over, a reluctant Jamison accepts the call. Next, “Sally Forth,” the work’s best choreography, features Sims in a female quintet with a modicum of rhythmic invention as five dancers fly apart and coalesce into solidarity. A parallel men’s quintet, with a “transfigured” Roberts now in white, presented the men in unison turns that spun off into the wings. Not much there. Only the dedication of the dancers kept Anointed from burning itself to ashes.

In the second Bay Area premiere, Robert Battle’s The Hunt, Brown, Sims, Roberts, Antonio Douthit, Kirven James Boyd, and Yannick Lebrun used every ounce of reserve strength. Battle created a convincing evocation of masculinity that turned a cliché — man as hunter — into a complex ritual expression of solidarity, submission, and friendship. Good times were mixed with aggression and victimhood. The ideas flowed in and out of each other in rhythmically intricate stomping, skipping, and running patterns of considerable nuance. All were immaculately performed to music by the outstanding percussion ensemble Les Tambours du Bronx. It’s reassuring to hear that Battle will be taking over the company.

 

The real deal

0

culture@sfbg.com

BODY ART Two weeks ago more than 300 tattoo, piercing, and body modification artists hung out their shingles at the Cow Palace for the San Francisco Body Art Expo. They came from Beijing, Samoa, Los Angeles, the Haight. Their booths ranged up and down the hall in no particular order. Hip-hop playing over the speakers in the booths did little to cut the pervasive metallic whine of tattoo machines.

It was difficult, at first, to tell one artist from another — the same Boris Carloffs and beautiful corpses were everywhere. I overheard Daat Kraus of Santa Rosa Tattoo recommend Freddy Negrete to two young men who’d been flipping through his portfolio. “He’s the real deal, the O.G. Definitely get tattooed by him if you can.” I asked him what sets Freddy apart, but his answer was slippery: “He’s like, 60 years old. He’s an old-school cholo artist.”

I wasn’t totally sure what that meant, but I began to perceive two major styles coexisting at the expo — you could call it East Coast versus West, old school versus new, or color versus black-and-gray. East Coast style is partly inspired by old sailor tattoos and vintage poster art — winking pin-up girls and devils, mermaids and anchors. West Coast style is influenced by Asian and Latino art and characterized by script and portraits in black and gray.

George Christian of L.A.’s South Style Tattoo, began his career in prison on a tattoo machine made out of a Walkman. He says his style is a Chicano art form, invented in East L.A. “It’s barrio art, self-expression,” he said. He showed me some of his own tats: a portrait of his mom, a sun goddess, a gargoyle — a talisman of protection — and, on his right arm in flowing script, “White Fence” — the oldest Chicano gang in East L.A. I asked how he feels giving someone a tattoo he knows is gang-related. “That’s on them,” he laughed. “I don’t ask why.”

As tattoos become more mainstream, tattoo collectors become more diverse — and so does the form. Barnaby, of Mom’s Tattoo in the Haight, has a B.F.A. from Otis College of Art and Design. He gave himself his first tattoo, a Dead Kennedys symbol, when he was 15. Barnaby seemed a little disillusioned with the expo — he was concerned, for example, about hygiene. He pointed to the rafters above our heads, where a layer of dust was plainly visible. “Would you go to a gynecologist in a garage?” he asked.

He showed me his setup — everything, including his lamp, was wrapped in plastic, like in a dentist’s office. He explained that all his precautions are more for his own safety than for his customers’. He keeps himself safe by assuming the worst. “Even if you’re the cutest little blonde virginal 18-year-old, I assume you have everything, you’re the dirtiest gutter punk I’ve ever seen, with an abscess on your arm. Can you draw?” he asked. I shook my head no. “You can probably get a booth here.”

Toward the end of my second day at the expo, by accident, I found Freddy Negrete. He was bent over someone’s forearm, outlining a detailed black-and-gray portrait of Danny Trejo — the famous image where Trejo is lighting up a blunt, smoke wreathing his face, his bare, tattooed chest on display.

His client Brian Boulware explained why he’d chosen Danny Trejo. “He’s this great character actor — he’s been in everything” he said. “People will see it and be like, hey, it’s that guy from those movies!”

I asked Freddy if he’d ever done any work on Trejo. “Once,” he said, “a long time ago.”

 

Tilt-A-Whirling

0

le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS Coach worries. She wakes up thinking about her social calendar instead of Libya.

Personally, I don’t sleep with my cell phone under my head. By the time I wake up, Coach’s texts have accumulated like little pieces of folded white construction paper cut into snowflakes. We live in sunny California, but the drifts are downright Northeastern. School is cancelled.

Before I know that though, before I even find my phone, let alone look at it, let alone listen to the weather on my transistor radio, I need to use the bathroom.

As soon as I sit on the toilet, my cat Stoplight jumps in my lap. It’s the only time he loves me, or the only time I have time for him. Or both. To this point in my morning, I have not thought about Libya either, and I pee without thinking, as usual, anything.

Stoplight jumps from my legs to the bathtub as soon as I reach for the toilet paper and, as is our custom, while I look in the mirror at the way I look, he looks at me. The sense of judgment is intense, almost palpable, but I’m used to this.

My hair is mussy, so I muss it more. Then I bug my eyes, lean down over the tub into my poor cat’s face, and go, “Mwa-ha-ha-ha.”

“Meow,” says he.

Now I am ready to brush my teeth. Tragically, I drop the toothpaste cap and it bounces off the tile and under the tub. While I am brushing my teeth, I wonder where that little plastic cap might have gotten to, how I’m going to find it, and how — if I don’t find it — I am going to store this brand new, full tube of toothpaste without fear of it oozing out all day while I’m away, and taking over my apartment, speaking of snow days. Speaking of drifts.

I spit. I rinse. I get down on my hands and knees and look and feel under the tub, not thinking at all about Libya. I can’t find the toothpaste cap, so I stand the tube up in the glass where I keep my toothbrush, and I go about my business, which for the morning consists of not thinking about Libya, going to Java Supreme for coffee, and reading my many text messages from Coach. Maybe answering one or two.

1) You are not shallow or dumb, don’t worry; and

2) You have chosen your friends wisely.

Last night we went to this thing called Girl Talk and were inspired and informed. Tonight there is a poetry reading. Me! And Moonpie! Inspired, informed, and entertained. Tomorrow there’s a dance party, and the next day a game.

A week after that, I’ll be back in New Orleans with Li’l Edible and my other baby, eating fried things and just generally going to the zoo. Maybe when I come back I will make a date with my friend Coach, set aside a little time for thinking about Libya, for worrying about world affairs instead of worrying about not being worried.

Once the caffeine kicks in, I feel lucky to be alive, and impervious to personal injury and cardiac arrest. I should write a poem, but all I can think about is the hamburger I ate last night, before Girl Talk, with Coach, Papa and Papi, at that new circus-y place, Straw.

It was a bacon cheeseburger served on a glazed donut. And I am still amazed, alive and well.

But I’m only staying in New Orleans for two weeks this time. Here’s why: that donut burger, chicken and waffles, sweet potato tots with blackberry barbecue sauce, cinnamon sriracha buffalo wings, truffle-oil popcorn, and cotton candy. All the entrees around $10, the service is super-friendly, and if you feel like sitting close to like, your date, you can sit in the date seat, which is taken from a carnival ride, probably the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Great place. New favorite restaurant.

STRAW

Mon.–Fri. 5–10 p.m.;

Sat. 10 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sun. 10 a.m.–9 p.m.

203 Octavia, S.F.

(415) 431-3663

MC/V

No alcohol yet

 

alt.sex.column: Positive too negative?

0

Dear Andrea:

I’m having a problem with my girlfriend. “Grace” is the hottest girl I’ve ever dated, but things aren’t going so well. She is possessive and gets mad at me for wanting to do anything she doesn’t want to (like going hiking or anything outdoors), and wants to know where I am every second, and who I talked to, and was she pretty, etc., etc. We used to have great sex, but lately I can’t come no matter what she does. It used to be just looking at her could practically make me come. Can this be fixed?

Love,

Not My Dream Girl After All?

Dear Not:

While not news, dissatisfaction can be — indeed, often is — partner-specific. But you two were doing fine before you, well … before you got to know each other. Oops!

Did you notice how in your description of “Grace” herself, and of your relationship, you never once mention being crazy about her? Hot for her, sure But love her, cherish her, want to spend your life with her … like her? Did I miss the part where you said any of those things? No? Then why are we bothering with this? You don’t like her. Frankly, she doesn’t sound all that likable. Go find a mirror and practice saying this: “I’m sorry, “Grace.” It isn’t working out. It’s not you, it’s me.” And then run like hell. She sounds like she might be an ashtray-thrower. And you don’t have a pet bunny, do you?

I’m not wrong about this, am I? We can talk therapy. You guys could go to couples counseling and try to tease out what’s making her feel so insecure, and what, short of never doing anything without her and never talking to anyone not preapproved by her, you could do to assuage it. You could learn some techniques for deescalating your disagreements before they get to DEFCON 1, and you could … yeah, no. You could, but why bother, since do I need to remind you? You don’t like her.

Frankly, I find extreme possessiveness extremely creepy. And even if you’d mentioned anything like affection here, I’d probably be urging you to get out. It’s not like she’s likely any fonder of you than you are of her. You’d think it would be obvious that desire to possess and control cancels out love, but seeing how the model for romantic love on TV and in the movies often goes: “meet cute, then stalk relentlessly until the object of your obsession is broken enough to give in,” clearly it is not.

So we have established that being hot does not actually qualify a person to be your, or anyone else’s partner — any more than having a lot of money does, or having great connections, or the good drugs, or even being perfect on paper and approved of by one’s mother. If you don’t really care about her, or she for you, she is not for you. For once — seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever said this before — your dick is smarter.

Love,

Andrea

 

Drawing a line in the toxic triangle

5

rebeccab@sfbg.com

GREEN ISSUE California is often viewed as being among the brightest shades of green. The Golden State’s landmark climate-change legislation has proven magnetic for green-tech startups, while Northern California is defined in part by its longstanding love affair with natural foods and solar power. San Francisco boasts a well-used network of bike routes, a ban on plastic bags, mandated composting of kitchen scraps, and a host of urban agriculture projects.

While much of the Bay Area’s environmental reputation is well-deserved, things look different from poor neighborhoods where homes are clustered beside hulking industrial facilities and public health suffers. For years, grassroots organizations working in Richmond, Oakland, and Bayview-Hunters Point have sought to improve air quality and promote environmental justice in neighborhoods plagued by higher-than-average rates of respiratory disease, cancer, and other preventable illnesses.

The Rev. Daniel Buford of Oakland’s Allen Temple Baptist Church told the Guardian that he began talking about the polluted areas of Richmond, Oakland, and San Francisco as a “toxic triangle” two decades ago. It was an analogy, he explained, that plays off the mysterious deaths that the Bermuda Triangle is famous for. Yet the label also served a purpose — to unite three communities of color that were fighting separate yet similar battles against health hazards associated with their surroundings.

“There were a lot of things that weren’t in place with public consciousness that are in place now,” Buford said.

Today, he isn’t the only one uttering the catch phrase. A host of community organizations banded together as the Toxic Triangle Coalition last year to organize three forums on environmental justice in the three cities. Advocates cast the neighborhood-specific problems as three parts of a regionwide phenomenon, highlighting how pollution from shipping, crude oil processing, freeway transportation, abandoned manufacturing sites, hazardous waste handlers, and other industrial facilities disproportionately affect communities of color, where poverty and unemployment rates are already high.

Buford views the Toxic Triangle Coalition as a strategy to mount pressure for stronger enforcement of environmental laws in disproportionately affected areas. “We live in the whole Bay Area — we don’t live in one little part of the Bay Area,” he noted. “Our coalition strongly urges our state representatives in each of the counties to call for a hearing at the state level.”

 

OIL WARS

In Richmond, California’s top greenhouse-gas emitter looms as an expansive backdrop of the city, a tangled network of smokestacks and machinery near a hillside cluster of large, cylindrical oil storage containers. Chevron Corporation’s Richmond Refinery was built more than a century ago. A few years ago, the oil company began making noise about how it was in need of an upgrade.

Weaving through a blue-collar residential area of Richmond in her sedan, Jessica Guadalupe Tovar recounted how Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), the nonprofit she works for, revealed that Chevron hadn’t told the whole story when it was petitioning for a permit to expand the refinery. The oil company’s long-term goals, CBE learned from a financial report, included gaining capability to process thicker crude that tends to be sourced from places like Canada’s Alberta tar sands.

“We call it dirty crude,” she said. “But it’s really dirtier crude.”

Converting thicker crude to fuel requires higher temperatures and pressures — and that translates to higher greenhouse-gas emissions and a heightened risk of flaring and fires.

The refinery expansion could have meant an air-quality situation going from bad to worse. Public health problems such as asthma and cancer have spurred campaigns led by the West County Toxics Coalition, CBE, and other environmental justice groups. Tovar explained how CBE orchestrated an air-monitoring program in 2006, collecting samples from 40 homes in Richmond and 10 in Bolinas as a point of comparison.

While trace amounts of chemicals from household cleaners were present in both, samples from the Richmond residences also contained the same toxic compounds that spew from Chevron’s refinery. “We found pollution known to come from the oil refinery settling inside people’s homes,” Tovar explained. “Once it’s trapped in your home, it starts to accumulate.”

Chevron won its expansion permit by a slim margin in 2008 with a city council dominated by officials who had reputations for being friendly to the oil giant. Yet environmental organizations filed suit, saying the environmental impact report (EIR) approval was based on was illegal because it failed to analyze the company’s likely plans for heavier crude processing. A Contra Costa County judge ruled in favor of the environmentalists, halting the expansion project in 2009. Chevron appealed, but the decision was upheld in 2010.

Stopping the expansion was a substantial victory, but environmental justice advocates remain wary of Chevron — particularly after the company attempted to blame job losses on the green coalition that filed suit. “Chevron pit workers against us,” Tovar noted. “And also started saying, ‘This is why environmental laws are bad for the economy.'”

 

GLOBAL TRADE, LOCAL FUMES

Each day, the Port of Oakland fills with trucks waiting to load up on goods shipped in from around the globe on massive cargo vessels. It’s a local symbol of a globalized economy. But for the West Oakland neighborhoods surrounding the port, the daily gathering of diesel rigs means an unhealthy infusion of particulate matter into the air.

A report issued by the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), the Pacific Institute, and the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports found that West Oakland residents are exposed to particulate matter concentrations nearly three times higher than the regional average. Health studies have shown that asthma rates in West Oakland are five times higher than that of people living in the Oakland hills, and cancer risks are threefold compared to other Bay Area cities. For the truck drivers, the risk of cancer is significantly higher than average.

A state air-quality law that went into effect in early 2010 banned pre-1994, heavily polluting diesel trucks from the port, thanks in part to years of environmental campaigning that has publicized public-health impacts associated with the diesel pollution. Yet the new regulation brought an unintended consequence: for truck drivers who must purchase their own gas and pay for their own upgrades, the new rule was ruinous. A survey by the Public Welfare Foundation found that since the new environmental regulation went into effect, 25 percent of Oakland truck drivers had declared bankruptcy, been evicted, or faced foreclosure.

Retrofitting the trucks with new air filters is a five-figure prospect, while the cost of a new truck can clear $100,000. “At the end of the day … a lot of them will only take home about $25,000 a year,” explained EBASE spokesperson Nikki Bas. “It’s an immigrant workforce who are living in poverty.”

So the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, which pushed for tougher air-quality regulations, is now pressuring for a reform of the trucking industry to place the cost of clean upgrades onto powerful trucking companies instead of low-wage drivers. The coalition’s campaign has sought to link the needs of the drivers and the surrounding community, organizing rallies with blue-green signs bearing the motto “Good Jobs & Clean Air” to call for a change to the truckers’ employment classification from independent contractors to employees, which would shift the cost of compliance onto employers instead of drivers.

West Oakland isn’t the only East Bay area inflicted by excessive levels of diesel particulate matter from trucks entering the Port of Oakland. The fumes also affect East Oakland neighborhoods bisected by the big rigs’ primary thoroughfares. In addition to truck traffic and freeways, East Oakland is also the site of numerous hazardous-waste handlers and abandoned industrial sites.

Nehanda Imara, an organizer with CBE who also helped put together the Toxic Triangle Coalition forums, described how her organization recruited volunteers to count the number of trucks passing through a heavily traveled East Oakland strip as a way to quantify the source of particulate matter pollution. They reached a tally of around 11,700 over the course of 10 days.

Some progress has been made to limit the exposure of diesel pollution for East Oakland residents. The city is working on a comprehensive plan to assess trucking routes, and a campaign to limit truck idling is helping to limit unnecessary tailpipe emissions.

Yet youth hospitalizations for asthma in East Oakland are 150 percent to 200 percent higher than Alameda County taken as a whole, and an air-monitoring project in that area revealed high levels of particulate matter exceeding state and federal standards.

“That’s also an environmental injustice,” Imara said. “When the laws are there, but not being enforced.”

 

TOXIC SOUP

In San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, environmental justice groups have spotlighted the toxic stew associated with the naval shipyard and other pollution sources for years. A 2004 report produced jointly by Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, the Bayview-Hunters Point Mothers Environmental Justice Committee, and the Huntersview Tenants Association outlined a “toxic inventory” of the area. The inventory depicts a more complicated web of toxic sources than the asbestos dust and naval shipyard cleanup that have been focal points of news coverage surrounding Lennar Corp.’s massive redevelopment plans for that neighborhood.

“Over half of the land in San Francisco that is zoned for industrial use is in Bayview-Hunters Point,” this report noted. “The neighborhood is home to one federal Superfund site, the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard … a sewage treatment plant that handles 80 percent of the city’s solid wastes, 100 brownfield sites [a brownfield is an abandoned, idled, or underused commercial facility where expansion or redevelopment is limited because of environmental contamination], 187 leaking underground fuel tanks, and more than 124 hazardous waste handlers regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

The shipyard, meanwhile, has been the central focus of controversy surrounding plans to clean up and redevelop the area. People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) and Greenaction are currently challenging the EIR for Lennar’s massive redevelopment plan for the neighborhood, charging that the study is inadequate because a cleanup effort on the part of the U.S. Navy has yet to determine the level of toxicity that will need to be addressed, so the assessment is based on incomplete information. Asthma is commonplace in the Bayview, and health surveys have shown that the rates of cervical and breast cancer are twice as high as other places in the Bay Area.

“Our environmental issues are massive still, and it’s not just Bayview- Hunters Point,” notes Marie Harrison, a long-time organizer for Greenaction and a Bayview resident.

Harrison recalled the many times she’d gotten out of bed in the middle of the night to drive a friend’s or neighbor’s asthmatic child to the hospital. “That story has repeated itself tenfold in Richmond and in Oakland,” she added. Nor is the problem simply limited to those Bay Area cities, she said, noting that communities of color throughout the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 9 face similar issues.

As awareness about the scope of the problem has increased over the years, she said, “We start to say, my God, this triangle has to become a circle.”

 

Green days

0

news@sfbg.com

1892: The Sierra Club is established by John Muir and a group of professors from UC Berkeley and Stanford in San Francisco. In its first conservation campaign, the club leads efforts to defeat a proposed reduction in the boundaries of Yosemite National Park.

1902: After two years of intense lobbying and fundraising, the Sempervirens Club, the first land conservation organization on the west coast, is successful in establishing Big Basin Redwoods State Park — the first park established in California under the new state park system.

1910: The first municipally owned and operated street car service commences in San Francisco.

1918: Save the Redwoods League is established in San Francisco. A leader in proactive land conservation, SRL would go on to assist in the purchase of nearly 190,000 acres to protect redwoods and help develop more than 60 redwood parks and reserves that old these ancient trees in California.

1934: The East Bay Regional Park is established as the first regional park district in the nation. This radical Depression-era idea would much set the tone as the Bay Area land conservation vision expanded.

1934: The Marin Conservation League is founded by wealthy Republican women. Three years later, at the league’s behest, the Marin County Board of Supervisors adopts the first county zoning ordinance in the state in 1937. Over the next 10 years, the league helps create State Parks at Stinson Beach, Tomales Bay, Samuel P. Taylor, Angel Island, and expand Mt Tamalpais State Park.

1956: San Francisco activists, led in party by Sue Bierman, launch a campaign to stop a freeway that would have run through Golden Gate Park. It marks the first time city residents successfully block a freeway project and launches the urban environmental movement in America.

1958: Citizens for Regional Recreation and Parks is founded. It becomes People for Open Space in 1969 and morphs in 1987 into the Greenbelt Alliance. Their efforts lead to the creation of the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District in 1972 and Suisun Marsh in 1974.

1960: Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower launches a brand new organizing and educational concept, the exhibit format “coffee table” book series, with This Is the American Earth, featuring photos by Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhalland. These elegant coffee-table books introduced the Sierra Club to a wide audience. Fifty thousand copies are sold in the first four years, and by 1960 sales exceed $10 million. The environmental coffee table book emerged as part of a campaign to persuade Congress to enact the Wilderness Bill, legislation that would guarantee the permanence of the nation’s wild places.

1961: Save San Francisco Bay Association is founded by Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr and Ester Gulick to end unregulated filling of San Francisco Bay and to open up the Bay shoreline to public access.

1961: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announces plans to build a nuclear power plant at Bodega Bay. Rancher Rose Gaffney, UC Berkeley professor Joe Neilands and others mount what will become the first citizen movement in the country to stop a nuclear plant. The Bodega Bay campaign marks the birth of the antinuclear movement.

1965: Responding to Bay Area citizens’ demands for protection of the bay’s natural environment, the California state legislature passes the McAteer-Petris Act, which establishes the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and charges it with preparing a plan for the long-term use and protection of the Bay and with regulating development in and around it.

1965: Fred Rohe opens New Age Natural Foods on Stanyan Street in San Francisco. He goes on to open the first natural foods restaurant in 1967, Good Karma Cafe on Valencia Street. Rohe would go on to open the first natural foods distribution company in Northern California, New Age Distributing in San Jose in 1970 and found Organic Merchants (OM), the first natural foods retailer trade group.

1967: The Human Be-in is held Jan. 14 in Golden Gate Park (as a prelude to the Summer of Love) with as a major theme higher consciousness, ecological awareness, personal empowerment, cultural and political decentralization.

1967: Alan Chadwick comes to UC Santa Cruz and establishes the Student Garden Project and training program, which would train hundreds of today’s organic farmers.

1968: The Whole Earth Catalogue, published by the Point Foundation and edited by Stewart Brand out of Gate 5 Road in Sausalito is introduced, providing tools, philosophy, and reviews to the growing back-to-the-land movement, helping promote ecological living and culture alternative sustainable culture decades before those words became mainstream.

1969: Brower, after losing his job at the Sierra Club in part because of his opposition to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, founds Friends of the Earth, the cutting edge activist group that would eventually have affiliates in 77 nations around the globe and become the world’s largest grassroots environmental network.

1970: Peninsula resident Neil Young writes and sings the lyrics “Look at Mother Nature on the Run in the 1970s.”

1970: Berkeley Ecology Center opens.

1971: Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund is established, marking the beginning of an explosion in environmental law.

1971: Alice Waters opens Chez Panisse, serving up California Cuisine and altering the Bay Area diet helping to create a market for local fresh organic fruits and vegetables. 1971: Berkeley resident Francis Moore Lappé publishes her best-selling book Diet for a Small Planet. Two million copies are sold and as the first book to expose the enormous waste built into U.S. grain-fed meat production, for her a symbol of a global food system creating hunger out of plenty; her effort alters millions of diets.

1971: San Francisco dressmaker Alvin Duskin launches a campaign to limit high-rise office development in San Francisco, creating new allies and a new coalition for urban environmentalism.

1972: The Trust for Public Land, a national, nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, historic sites, and rural lands, is founded by Huey Johnson, Doug Ferguson and Marty Rosen in San Francisco. TPL would go on to protect 2.8 million acres of land and is key in getting land trusts started in Napa, Sonoma, Marin, Big Sur, and around the state.

1972: The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, first urban wildlife refuge in the United States, is established, encompassing 30,000 acres of open bay, salt pond, salt marsh, mudflat, upland and vernal pool habitats located in South Bay.

1972: The Save Our Shores campaign, developed in part by Bay Area residents, results in a state initiative, the Coastal Act of 1972, which is passed by the voters and establishes the first comprehensive coastal watershed policy in the nation.

1974: Berkeley Ecology Center starts the first curbside recycling approach in California, one of first such programs in the nation.

1974: The Farallones Institute in Berkeley begins building the first urban demonstration of an ecological living center with the Integral Urban House, a converted Victorian using solar and wind technologies, a composting toilet, extensive gardens, and energy and resource conservation features. It serves as an early model for the emerging Appropriate Technology Movement.

1975: Berkeley resident Ernest Callenbach self publishes Ecotopia after a round of rejections from New York publishers; it ultimately sells more than a million copies and becomes an environmental classic.

1975: San Francisco’s first community gardens are established at Fort Mason and elsewhere.

1975: The Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit veterinary research hospital and educational center dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of ill and injured marine mammals, primarily elephant seals, harbor seals, and California sea lions, is established in the Marin Headlands.

1978: Raymond Dasmann and Peter Berg coin the term Bioregionalism in the publication of Reinhabiting a Separate Country, published by Berg’s Planet Drum Foundation in San Francisco. It represents a fresh, comprehensive way of defining and understanding the places where we live, and of living there sustainably and respectfully through ecological design.

1979 Greens Restaurant opens at Fort Mason in San Francisco and quickly establishes itself as a pioneer in promoting vegetarian cuisine in the United States.

1980: The Marin Agricultural Land Trust is established by Wetland Biologist Phyllis Faber and diary farmer Ellen Straus.

1980: Berkeley resident Richard Register coins the term “depave” — to undo the act of paving, to remove pavement so as to restore land to a more natural state. Depaving begins to spread to create many inner city urban gardening projects.

1981-82: Register and other activists, bring about the first urban day lighting of a creek in Berkeley’s Strawberry Creek Park where a 200-foot section of the creek is removed from a culvert beneath an empty lot and transformed into the centerpiece of a park.

1982: Earth First, a radical environmental group founded by Dave Foreman and Mike Roselle, sponsors the first demonstration against Burger King in San Francisco for using beef grown on land hacked out of rain forests. The demonstrations spread, turn in to a boycott, and after sales drop 12 percent, Burger King cancels $35 million worth of beef contracts in Central America and announces it will stop importing rainforest beef.

1983: Local residents Randy Hayes and Toby Mcleod release the documentary film The Four Corners, A National Sacrifice Area? , which conveys the cultural and ecological impacts of coal strip-mining, uranium mining, and oil shale development in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona — homeland of the Hopi and Navajo. The film wins an Academy Award and illustrates serious environmental justice issues 10 years before that term is coined.

1985: The Rainforest Action Network, established in San Francisco, emerges from the Burger King action.

1986: Fifteen years after Duskin’s first anti-high-rise initiative efforts, San Francisco finally passes Prop. M, the nation’s most important sustainable growth law.

1988: Register invents a stencil to be used next to street storm drains that says “don’t dump — drains to bay.” The wastewater pollution mitigation education concept spreads around the region and nation and then becomes an international volunteer effort to lessen pollution in urban runoff, which generally flows untreated into creeks and saltwater.

1989: Carl Anthony, Karl Linn, and Brower establish the Urban Habitat Program in San Francisco, one of the first environmental justice organizations in the country.

1989: Laurie Mott of the National Resource Defense Council’s SF office rattles the apple industry by engineering a suspension of the use of the pesticide Alar by the Environmental Protection Agency. A national debate ensues.

1992: Berkeley writer Theodore Roszak coins both the term and field of ecopsychology in his book The Voice of the Earth. The movement he helps found asks if the planetary and the personal are pointing the way forward to some new basis for a sustainable economic and emotional life.

1992: The first Critical Mass bike ride (initially called a “Commute Clot”) is held in San Francisco. Similar rides, typically held on the last Friday of every month, began to take place in more than in over 300 cities around the world.

1993: The U.S. Green Building Council is founded by David Gottfriend in Oakland. The council becomes the most important environmental trade organization in the world. In 1998, the council develops the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, which provides a suite of standards for environmentally sustainable construction and design.

1995: The Edible Schoolyard is established by Chez Panisse Foundation at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. It serves as a model for similar programs in New Orleans and Brooklyn, and inspires garden programs at other schools across the country.

1999: The Green Resource Center starts as a joint project of the City of Berkeley, the Northern California Chapter of Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR), and the Sustainable Business Alliance.

2000: Wendy Kallins, working with the Marin Bicycle Coalition, begins a Safe Route to Schools program in Marin to encourage students to walk or bicycle to school. The program is so successful that Congress allocates more than $600 million for similar efforts across the country.

2001: The first Green Festival is held in San Francisco.

2001: Berkeley becomes first city in nation with curbside recycling trucks powered by recycled vegetable oil, thanks to a campaign by the Berkeley Ecology Center.

2002: San Francisco adopts a greenhouse gas reduction initiative that aims to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

2003: Bay Area Build It Green is formed by a number of local and regionally focused public agencies, building industry professionals, manufactures, and suppliers. Its activities are focused on increasing the supply of green homes, raising consumer awareness about the benefits of building green, and providing Bay Area consumers and residential building industry professionals a trusted source of information.

2005: San Francisco passes the Precautionary Principle Purchasing Ordinance, which requires the city to weigh the environmental and health costs of its $600 million in annual purchases — for everything from cleaning

supplies to computers.

2006: Bay Localize is launched in the East Bay with the aim to work to build a cooperative, inclusive movement toward regional self-reliance and increase community livability and local resilience for all while decreasing fossil fuel use.

2007: In an effort to meet the challenges of global warming, carbon pollution and job creation, East Bay activist Van Jones declares that the nation is going to have to weatherize millions of homes and install millions of solar panels. His best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy, stimulates a national movement and a new organization, Green For All.

2007: San Francisco begins collecting fats, oils and grease from residential and commercial kitchens, for free, to recycle into biofuel for the city’s municipal vehicles, the largest biofuel-powered municipal fleet in the United States.

2008: San Francisco becomes the first U.S. city to establish green building standards.

2010: The Green Building Opportunity Index names San Francisco and Oakland the top two cities in the nation for green buildings.

2010: San Francisco becomes home to the Sunset Reservoir Solar Project, the largest solar-powered municipal installation in California.

 

Fishing for plastic

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sarah@sfbg.com

GREEN ISSUE For the past two summers, scientists and environmentalists with Project Kaisei, a Sausalito nonprofit focused on increasing public awareness of marine debris, have sailed out under the Golden Gate Bridge to survey trash in the North Pacific gyre.

A gyre is a naturally occurring system of rotating currents in the ocean that is normally avoided by sailors because of its light winds. The North Pacific Gyre is the largest of the five major oceanic gyres in the world, and the one with the biggest known accumulation of trash, most of which is plastic. Some folks call this vortex the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But Project Kaisei founder Mary Crowley calls the vortex “the eighth continent” to convey its size and impact.

Now, as Project Kaisei prepares for its 2011 expedition, which will likely take place in June — depending on funding, marine conditions, and equipment collection — team members are taking the next steps in the project’s mission to capture the plastic in the gyre. These steps include testing for efficient ways to clean up trash mid-ocean and exploring if some captured plastic can be turned into liquid fuel to power future clean-ups.

“We’ll be focusing on testing marine debris collection equipment, doing some clean-up, further recording what’s out there, and working with ocean current experts. But we need good sponsorship,” Crowley said. “Down the line, we’re looking to have a recycling plant on deck with smaller vessels feeding it so we can do clean-ups mid-ocean. And we’re going to recycle. It’s not going to end up in a dump with plastic blowing back into the ocean.”

Crowley believes unemployed fishermen should be paid to clean up the gyres. “And we should start in our own towns and states and countries,” she said. “We need to produce a solution locally to take effect globally. Part of the response has to come from multinational corporations that are selling stuff throughout world. It’s shocking to me that 90 percent of our pelagic fish are gone and we’ve killed 50 percent of the corral reefs.”

Project Kaisei’s preparations are taking place in the wake of a tsunami that devastated Japan in March, sucking a big pulse of debris into the ocean and crippling four nuclear reactors that continue to leak radiation into the water, raising fears of damage to sea life.

Experts predict that some of the debris from the tsunami will eventually wash up on beaches in Hawaii and California, but Crowley doubts the state will be affected radiologically. “The majority [of the debris] got whooshed out by the tsunami before the leaks began,” she explained.

She says that at a marine debris conference in Honolulu shortly after the tsunami, attendees expressed concern about “land-sourced” debris — trash that flows into the ocean by way of rivers and streams or is dumped directly into the ocean from ships.

“People said that in recent years there’s also been all this debris from natural disasters, including tsunamis,” Crowley noted. “Well, I see debris from natural disasters as all the more reason to develop effective ways to get trash out of the ocean.”

But Captain Charles Moore, who founded the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in 1994 to restore disappearing kelp forests and wetlands along the California coast, thinks a moratorium on plastic production would make the most sense.

Moore’s focus shifted in 1997, when he encountered trash, mostly plastic, scattered across the North Pacific Gyre, and subsequent studies by his foundation claim that trash outweighs zooplankton in the gyre by a factor of six to one.

“Mary Crowley really wants to go out there with big boats and get big pieces of plastic out,” Moore said. “I’m not really opposed to that, but it’s a lot of time and money that could be spent trying to stop the waste getting there in the first place. It’s like having a leaking faucet and bailing out the sink rather than calling the plumber. The time has come for society to draw a line in the sand and say no more plastic. Our plastic footprint is causing more problems than our carbon footprint.”

Moore believes it’s time to withdraw from globalized production and support locavore and slow-food movements instead. “We send stuff to be produced in the cheapest locations possible, package it in plastic, then send it back here. It’s nuts,” he said.

But Crowley says not all plastic use is bad, even as she advocates for getting larger pieces of plastic out of the water, and supporting companies that use less on no packaging.

“Plastic is an amazing material for construction and railroad ties, decking, and some medical uses,” she said. “It’s just not right material for throw-away items because it lasts for centuries. I subscribe to oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s view that a plastic bottle can last for 500 to 600 years. That’s why it’s important to get out these bigger pieces of plastic. We don’t want them broken down in the belly of a whale or the stomach of an albatross.”

Studies suggest that 100,000 marine mammals — possibly more — along with thousands of sea birds die each year from debris entanglement, and that thousands more marine mammals, sea birds, fish and sea turtles die from ingesting marine debris, including plastic bags, which bear an unfortunate resemblance to jellyfish, once in water.

Crowley recalls how in 2009, when Project Kaisei had 25 people on board, including scientists, sailors, filmmakers, graduate students, and engineers, the team was surprised to find plastic in sampling taken 400 miles off the West Coast.

“We were anticipating clean water,” Crowley said. In the end, the project’s research vessel, the Kaisei, whose name means “ocean star” in Japanese, and the New Horizon, a Scripps Institute vessel that participated in the project’s first mission, found some plastic in every single trawl.

“A lot was smaller microparticulates of plastics and preproduction plastic pellets,” Crowley said, noting that she also saw Clorox bottles, plastic bags, ghost nets, toothbrushes, children’s toys, and plastic chairs floating on, or lurking up to nine feet below the surface of the ocean.

“If you’re in still water, you sometimes see confetti-like pieces of plastic. And if you’re up on the crow’s nest and going two to three knots, you see bigger pieces,” she said.

No one knows exactly how many bits of debris are already floating in the ocean or have been ground up into tiny particles on our beaches. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes that, to date, there has not been a comprehensive marine debris abundance assessment for the worlds oceans, or even for a single ocean.

Moores foundation says 80 percent of marine debris comes from land and only 20 percent from marine-related activities like fishing. To Crowleys mind, the main problem is that only 5 percent to 7 percent of plastics are recycled.

“Plastic was invented in the 1880s to replace ivory for pool balls and didn’t proliferate until the last 60 years,” she said. “But even when plastic is dumped into a landfill, it has this insidious way of blowing about and ending up in drains, rivers, and oceans because plastic is a very light, easy material to move around.”

Crowley grew up sailing on Lake Michigan, ran away to sea at age 19, and ended up sailing around the world and founding an international boat chartering business. Somewhere along the line, she says, she started describing the vast, continuous expanse of water that covers 71 percent of the planet and creates most of our air as “the global ocean.”

“It really is all connected,” she said. “The health of the oceanic ecosystem is very important to the health of the planet. There’s a terrible misconception that the oceans are so vast they can be used as a garbage pail.”

When she began to see trash underwater, Crowley realized that future generations wouldn’t be able to enjoy the oceans the way she has. She decided to take action four years ago when she began to see an increase in the garbage covering the North Pacific Gyre.

“I kept seeing the message that there’s a terrible problem, but there’s nothing we can do,” Crowley said, recalling how that messaging and her own sense of urgency prompted her to found Project Kaisei to increase public understanding of what’s in the gyre.

“If you’re in the area for a couple of weeks, you have days when you feel you’re voyaging through a field of scattered garbage,” she said. “And when you look out, you see garbage on the horizon.”

 

From Wisconsin to San Francisco

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Public Defender Jeff Adachi is scurrying all over town trying to explain how his version of pension reform is really “progressive.” It would be laughable if its implications weren’t so devastating for working people employed by the city and those living in and around San Francisco.

Adachi is rightfully worried that the events in Wisconsin and the national movement to defend union rights they have inspired will hurt his campaign. He is eager to say that he, unlike the Republicans in Wisconsin, supports unions’ rights to collective bargaining. But while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature eliminated collective bargaining for their public employees to slash their wages, health care, and pensions, Adachi is slashing San Francisco’s workers pay and pensions through the ballot, effectively taking those items off the bargaining table. What’s the difference?

In both Wisconsin and San Francisco the deficit is the excuse to require cuts in public worker retirement and community services. Walker created Wisconsin’s deficit by granting huge tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich. In San Francisco, the deficit that cannot cover the city’s pension fund contributions was similarly brought on by three decades of tax cuts for corporations and the rich in California, compounded by former Mayor Gavin Newsom opposing nearly every revenue measure proposed throughout his seven-year reign — and by the city not contributing its share to the pension fund for all the years the stock market was doing well.

In determining how “progressive” Adachi’s measure is, we should, as always, follow the money. Here’s who’s is backing his proposal:

 Michael Moritz, the billionaire venture capitalist (and No. 308 last year on Forbes’ list of wealthiest Americans) who hosted fundraisers for Prop. B — Adachi’s first attempt last year at pension reform that was soundly defeated — and is a major financial backer of Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Republican Party Central Committee.

 Howard Leach, the billionaire financier who raised almost $400,000 for the George W. Bush campaign and was rewarded with the position of ambassador to France. He also contributes to the Republican Governors Association, whose major objective was the election of the new crop of conservative governors pushing anti-worker measures in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, New Jersey, and other states.

 David Crane, who is a paltry multimillionaire former investment banker and close friend of and former top pension adviser to Republican former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

You have to wonder why these super-rich are suddenly so concerned about the parks and senior and youth programs, the mental health and drug abuse programs Adachi cites as being cut because of pension costs. If these billionaires were so moved, they could take the money they are sinking into Adachi’s measure and donate that to the programs. Or they could support some kind of progressive revenue measure that makes the wealthy downtown financiers and investors — who can afford to pay — ante up to protect the programs they claim to be concerned about.

No one is more concerned with the viability of the pension fund than those who plan to retire on it. That’s why the city’s unions are engaged in discussions with the city to develop real pension reform that is fact-based, principled, and compassionate to those trying to raise families in this economic climate.

So when Adachi’s high-priced signature gatherers (paid as much as $5 per signature to get Prop. B on the ballot) come to your neighborhood grocery store, just say “No!”

No, this is not what we call progressive policy. Not in Wisconsin, and not in San Francisco.

Roxanne Sanchez is president and Larry Bradshaw is San Francisco vice president of SEIU Local 1021.

Man on the move

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steve@sfbg.com

As the homegrown Burning Man festival and culture marks its 25th anniversary, Black Rock City LLC, the company that stages the annual event, is about to take a couple of big steps. Next month, organizers say it will move into a high-profile new headquarters on mid-Market Street and form a new nonprofit group to take over Burning Man.

Tickets to the weeklong festival, which takes place Aug. 28-Sept. 5 in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, have been selling at their fastest pace ever and the city is likely to exceed a population of 50,000. Symbolizing perhaps the biggest transitional year since 1996, when the LLC was formed and a more formal civic infrastructure was created, the eponymous Man will be in a new pose for the first time: striding across a chasm rather than standing still.

While the transitions have been in the works for years, event founder Larry Harvey publicly laid out the details for the first time on April 1, when he addressed a gathering of Burning Man regional representatives from around the world.

“I’m here tonight to talk to you about the next step for Burning Man,” Harvey told the crowd of about 150 regional representatives and another couple hundred burners, including Sup. Eric Mar, who attended the event last year for the first time. Sup. Jane Kim, who is sponsoring a controversial mid-Market tax exclusion zone that would benefit BRC and many other companies (see “Selling the Tenderloin,” March 30), appeared at the event briefly but didn’t stay for the whole speech.

Harvey then proceeded to talk for more than an hour, revealing often personal details about the bitter infighting among BRC’s six board members that followed lawsuits filed in 2006 by board member Michael Mikel and in early 2007 by John Law, an estranged founder of the modern event, over control of Burning Man’s trademarks and future (see “Burning Brand,” 1/6/07).

“It triggered a series of cascading events, and those began a rite of passage,” Harvey said, echoing this year’s Burning Man art theme, Rites of Passage.

With Mikel and Law forcing the question of what would become of the event, BRC realized it needed a new operating agreement, but the board members couldn’t agree on the fundamentals and ended up in mediation. “It began to look like everybody would lawyer up,” Harvey said. “It felt like the band was breaking up.”

They brought in corporate appraisers to “think about what the pie will fetch, then divide by six,” an idea that was as abhorrent to Harvey as it would certainly have been to the vast community of burners who have helped give the event its value over decades now.

“It was against everything we stood for, everything we had practiced,” he said. “How could we sell our life’s work like a commodity?”

Eventually, working with a committee of BRC senior employees that formed after relations on the board devolved, they decided to turn control of the event and its assets over to a new nonprofit group called The Burning Man Project.

“Why not act to change the world, a world that you won’t be in? And that’s what we want to do,” Harvey said, eliciting applause from the room. “We want to get out of running Burning Man. We want to move on.”

But it’s going to be a slow process. In May, he said the LLC will file papers to create the nonprofit, which will initially be run by the current board members and at least seven more directors selected by that board. In about three years, depending on how the new nonprofit forms up, the LLC will turn over management of Burning Man, while holding onto control of the logos and trademarks for another three years after that, Harvey said. And that’s when the six board members will officially cash out.

“We will liquidate our ownership interests and it will be for more than $20,000,” Harvey said, alluding to the sum promised to departing board member under the LLC’s original operating agreement, an amount he dismissed as “laughable.”

The slow, conditional transition and big potential payout were criticized by longtime burner and former mayoral candidate Chicken John Rinaldi, who led a 2004 rebellion against the board’s control over an event that is created mostly by its participants.

“We’ve gotta pay for their retirement for something they stole from us in the first place?” Rinaldi said. “They’re turning Burning Man into a commodity. They’re selling the event.”

Harvey, Mikel, and board member Marian Goodell say they are simply trying to safeguard Burning Man and ensure its longevity. “Nonprofits can go bad so the real challenge is creating a rugged framework,” Mikel said. “This thing needs to run beyond us.”

But even Rinaldi agreed with the move to Mid-Market, which Goodell said is good timing as BRC begins to create and shape the Burning Man Project. “We need to be in an urban environment to get a handle on what we need,” she said, noting how isolated their last two offices along Third Street have been. “We want to have a public face to the world.”

Guardian City Editor Steven T. Jones is the author of The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture.