Volume 45 Number 47

August 24-30, 2011

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Good girls inhale



HERBWISE This is the image that could very well legalize weed in the United States, if not on the books then in our national subconscious: a be-curlered, white-bathrobed housewife ducking behind the backyard clothesline for a quick toke before her adolescent son comes to ask her to wash his gear for the Little League championship tomorrow.

Dee Dee Kirkwood thinks so. The playwright behind Toke places the image at the center of an opening scene in her semi-autobiographical play about a woman and her weed.

“It’s all positives, there are no negatives about marijuana,” chirped Kirkwood over the phone the day after the friends and family preview performance of Toke. “I wanted to focus my writing on making a change, helping cannabis smokers, and helping people come out of the closet.”

Out of the closet? Kirkwood does put much truck in marijuana as a libido-enhancer, and noted Bay sexologist Carol Queen is slated to step into the pointy high heels of Toke‘s pot fairy character for the second two weeks of the play. Sexuality is in the air of Ashby Theatre as much as smoke, in fact — but Kirkwood’s talking about an entirely different kind of self-realization here.

The climactic scene of Toke takes place after protagonist Wee Dee (get it!) has surfed the seas of kitchen table abortions, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-having Vietnam vet first loves, radical European commune life, and a confining marriage to the father of her two children — happenings that Kirkwood’s script manage to make touching and madcap in turns. The character is plucky, likable, fun, so it makes sense when her second hubby encourages her to take that indomitable Wee Dee spirit and channel it towards marijuana activism.

So she organizes an event. It’s not important what the event is, because it’s at the end of an already-wacky play and if you’re not stoned by that point, it’s not clear why you at a production called Toke to begin with.

What is important is that after Wee Dee has listened to the This is Your Life-style cassette tape of various blasts from the past wishing her well, she emerges onstage with a glittering, Beach Blanket Babylon-esque cannabis headdress. She announces “I’m coming out of the closet! I’m green!”

And boy does the audience cheer. Wee Dee is a hero.

Toke is Kirkwood’s raison d’être. She doesn’t consider herself a career activist, just wants to lead people to more morality-based look at marijuana’s outlaw status, even though the unjust incarceration issue doesn’t get much play in Toke. As a wife and mother, she wants others to share in the happiness that the dro has brought to her life.

And — if it ever makes it out of Berkeley’s green hills — one could see Toke performing similar feats for weed that Eat, Pray, Love enacted on Middle America’s acceptance of yoga and women traveling solo.

“If it ever makes it out of Berkeley” being the key phrase there, of course.


Fri/26 – Sept. 11, Thu.-Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m., $25

Ashby Theatre

1901 Ashby, Berk.



Sequel smackdown


GAMER Though video game sequels abound every season, fall 2011 plays host to an unusual profusion. Three is indisputably the magic number, though five and a pair of un-numbered twos make a strong case. Decide for yourself which game deserves your dollars by delving into the details below.

Shooter wars In terms of sheer seismic impact, it’s hard to match Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, which hits store shelves Nov. 8. Successor to Call of Duty: Black Ops — literally the best-selling video game in the history of world — Modern Warfare 3 is the 2011 iteration in a once-yearly parade of market-dominating games released by publishers Activision. Defined, for better or worse, by its frenetic gameplay and rabid fans, Call of Duty‘s vast popularity has resulted in uncanny levels of cultural saturation. It’s the video game of choice for people who only own one video game.

This appeal to the lowest common denominator has been tacitly criticized by the team behind Battlefield 3, another hyper-realistic military shooter from rival publishers Electronic Arts. Released exactly a fortnight earlier than its megalithic competitor (Oct. 24), Battlefield 3 will point to a less puberty-addled player base and the excitement of pilotable vehicles (tanks, helicopters, etc.) as its main selling points.

Though the chivalric code of video game public relations prevents these two giant franchises from really laying into each other, the gaming intelligentsia expects a consumerist cage match come late October. By the time the first-week sales numbers are compared, they’ll be baying for blood.

Open worlds Evaluated superficially, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim seems like a parody of itself. Every gaming stereotype is represented, starting with the portentous title. Screenshots reveal barbarians swathed in fur, casting wary glances at the dragons wheeling overhead.

But despite its conventional high fantasy trappings, Skyrim (Nov. 11) represents the sophisticated, forward-thinking apex of modern RPG design. Its new Creation Engine allows surprising flexibility — the A.I. modifies quests on the fly to test a player’s strengths and weaknesses, and to showcase the content that player might be missing. The aforementioned dragons are given license to roam, appearing randomly to ruin your day at the expense of choreographed, scripted sequences.

Speaking of ruined days, no game will kill you quite as dead as Dark Souls. The follow-up to the cult Japanese import Demon’s Souls will expand on its predecessor’s distinctively punishing gameplay, turning players loose in an ominous open world filled with booby traps and seemingly invincible monsters. It will take unwavering concentration and an iron will to succeed when the game releases Oct. 4.

Gamers who prefer a more modern open world are gearing up for Batman: Arkham City (Oct. 18.), sequel to 2009’s surprise smash Arkham Asylum. Escaping the confines of the comics world’s most recognizable prison, Arkham City will allow the Caped Crusader freedom to explore a wide swath of dystopian Gotham, putting paid to recognizable Batman adversaries like the Penguin, Bane, Two-Face, Catwoman, the Riddler, and the Joker.

Arkham Asylum won players over with its fluid, timing-based combat system, which will return improved, able to pit Batman against 27 heavily-muscled henchmen at once without breaking a technological sweat. Fisticuffs aside, Arkham City will also allow you to swoop down off buildings with only an inky-black cape to break your fall — who wouldn’t want to try that?

Trilogies completed Like Batman, Uncharted protagonist Nathan Drake is no stranger to precipitous heights. The wisecracking Indiana Jones homage returns Nov. 1 in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, rounding out a trilogy of cinematic, visually stunning adventure titles.

Clambering up priceless ancient architecture while dispatching baddies with bullets and bon mots, Drake will take advantage of huge investments in motion capture and hardware optimization that will make Uncharted 3 one of the most realistic looking games ever. You can also expect it to set new benchmarks for video game writing and voice acting — traditional strengths of the series.

Gears of War 3 might not boast the same level of insouciant wit, but its graphical and gameplay bona fides are second to none. Due out Sept. 20, the new game from influential studio Epic Games (famed for their extensively licensed Unreal 3 engine) aims to wrap up the story of hydrant-shaped marine Marcus Fenix, who first growled his way onto consoles in 2006. The plot is conventional stuff — find your missing father; save the world — but Epic’s satisfying cover-based shooting mechanics and popular multiplayer modes will attract customers in droves.

For the fall of it



FALL ARTS Puppets, fanciful forms of democracy, and disfigured villains are leitmotifs beyond the Beltway this season, as the following theater and performance highlights suggest.

Stuffed and Unstrung Bad puppets, puppets misbehaving, puppets you won’t see on Sesame Street, puppets you don’t want to meet on a darkened street. Eighty of them. And six improvising comedians too: Henson puppeteers gone wild. (Brian Henson, that is, son of puppeteering parents Jim and Jane). Co-presented by SF Sketchfest. (Through Sat/27, Curran Theatre; shnsf.com.)

Roughin’ It: Theater. Oysters. Campfire. Booze. Is one of these things not like the others? No, they are all just like the others. Now you can yell oyster in a crowded campfire and drink like an actor. It seems this unique opportunity (one night only, this weekend) arises because PianoFight is couch surfing right now, very near the actual surf in Tomales Bay. The show-show part of this show consists of new material by local playwrights writing plays for this very moment in time at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company in Point Reyes Station, just in case you were wondering about it. Round-trip shuttle ride from SF available for a few extra clams, and dollar oysters for a dollar. (Sat/27, Tomales Bay Oyster Company, Point Reyes Station; pianofight.com.)

A Delicate Balance Aurora Theatre turns 20 this season too. It has chosen to celebrate by kicking things off with a production of Edward Albee’s great and so great play, A Delicate Balance. And to include in the cast local luminaries Anne Darragh, Charles Dean, and Carrie Paff. This is all just an excellent idea. (Sept. 2-Oct. 9, Aurora Theatre; auroratheatre.org.)

San Francisco Fringe Festival, the 20th annual for god’s sake. Forty-four shows from all over, all over 12 days, all over the lovely Tenderloin. Good theater very cheap, and bad theater, also very cheap. The lottery-based, snob-resistant Fringe: this is what democracy looks like. (Sept. 7–18, Exit Theatre; www.sffringe.org.)

The People: San Francisco Corporations are people too, my friend. So was Hitler. Even I am people apparently. There’s a lesson there somewhere in this Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Z Space co-production, as the New York–based performance team of Caden Manson and Jemma Nelson (makers of 2009’s wowing S.O.S. at YBCA) bring to the street outside Z Space the local installment of their globetrotting site-specific democracy-curious spectacle, featuring live performance and real-time gi-normous video projections. I’m told there will also be taco trucks. But really: no way you want to miss Big Art Group. (Sept. 16–17, Z Space; bigartgroup.com)

3 For All Maybe the SF Improv Festival has whetted your appetite. Or maybe you already know that this longstanding, outstanding long-form improv trio comprised of Rafe Chase, Stephen Kearin, and Tim Orr are always varied and strange and wonderful. (Sept. 16–17, Bayfront Theatre; www.improv.org.)

Frankenstein Independent Eye’s Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller present their take on Mary Shelley’s gothic (and profoundly modern) tale, using a trio of actors, a moody mix of sound and image, and their exquisitely crafted puppets. (Oct. 7–30, 6th Street Playhouse; 6thstreetplayhouse.com.)

Richard III Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious with this fall theater-season spectacular starring Kevin Spacey. M’lord. What hump? (Oct. 19–29, Curran Theatre; shnsf.com.)

Desdemona Responding to internationally acclaimed director Peter Sellars’s 2009 staging of Othello, author Toni Morrison and African singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré, together with Sellars himself, channel a conversation between Shakespeare’s unlucky heroine and her African nurse, Barbary, in this intimate and intriguing U.S. premiere. (Oct. 26–29, Zellerbach Playhouse; calperfs.berkeley.edu.)

Endgame and Watt Samuel Beckett is not the Gloomy Gus everybody likes to think. All right, sure, he kind of is. But he’s also very funny. And I’m told tidy. He’s also a genius, damn it, and when it comes to interpretations of Beckett nobody has the cred that these Irish cats do, in Gate Theatre of Dublin’s rare visit to Berkeley’s Zellerbach Playhouse. Starring Barry McGovern, who can’t go on but will go on, in the great play Endgame, as well as his own selections from the novel Watt. (Nov. 17–20, Zellerbach Playhouse; calperfs.berkeley.edu.)

The big ones



Handsome Furs Sept. 3, Slim’s

Mi Ami Sept. 3, Public Works

Mummies Sept. 6, Knockout

Givers Sept. 7, Rickshaw Stop

Kills Sept. 9, Fox Theater

Rancid Sept. 10, Warfield

Iggy Pop and the Stooges Sept. 12-13, Warfield

Kylesa Sept. 14, Great American Music Hall

Religious Girls Sept. 15, Hemlock Tavern

Album Leaf Sept. 16, New Parish

Bass Necter Sept. 17, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

Rock Make Street Fest Sept. 17, 18th Street in the Mission

Low Sept. 19, Great American Music Hall

Bush Sept. 20, Great American Music Hall

James Blake Sept. 21, Fillmore

Two Gallants Sept. 23-24, Independent

Lee “Scratch” Perry Sept. 25, Independent

B.B. King Sept. 26, Nob Hill Mason Center

Dominant Legs Sept. 27, Cafe Du Nord

Tyler Ward Sept. 28, Slim’s

Kaiser Cheifs Sept. 29, Fillmore

Nouvelle Vague Sept. 30, Regency Ballroom

Odd Future Sept. 30, Warfield



Amon Tobin Oct. 1 (sold out) and Oct. 2, Warfield

Dum Dum Girls Great American Music Hall, Oct. 4

Why? Great American Music Hall, Oct. 5

CSS Oct. 6, Fillmore

Peter, Bjorn and John Oct. 6, Great American Music Hall; Oct. 7, New Parish; Oct. 8. Slim’s

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart Oct. 7, Slim’s

Girls Oct. 8, Great American Music Hall

Yellowcard Oct. 9, Slim’s

Yelawolf Oct. 10, Independent

Gang Gang Dance Oct. 11, Independent

Zee Avi Oct. 13, Independent

Bryan Ferry Oct. 14, Fox Theater

Naked Aggression Oct 15, 924 Gilman

The Shirelles Oct. 18-23, Rrazz Room

Opeth Oct. 18, Warfield

Lindsey Buckingham Oct. 19, Regency Ballroom

Noothgrush Oct. 22, 924 Gilman

War on Drugs Oct 23, Independent

Yngwie Malmsteen Oct. 26, Fillmore

Anvil Oct. 27, Red Devil Lounge

Skrillex Oct. 28, Warfield

Deadmau5 Oct. 29, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

Dwarves Oct. 30, 924 Gilman



Zola Jesus Nov. 1, Independent

Yael Naim Nov. 2, Bimbo’s

Shonen Knife Nov. 4, Bottom of the Hill

Mike Doughty and His Band Fantastic Nov. 5-6, Independent

Warbringer Nov. 7, Thee Parkside

Lykke Li Nov. 9, Fox Theater

M83 Nov. 10, Mezzanine

Gwar Nov. 11, Regency Ballroom

We Were Promised Jetpacks Nov. 11, Bimbo’s

Cobra Skulls Nov. 12, Thee Parkside

Feist Nov. 14, Warfield

Budos Band Nov. 19, Mezzanine

Wu Lyf Nov. 21, Independent

tUnE-YarDs Nov. 23, Regency Ballroom

The Weakerthans Nov. 30-Dec. 2, Independent

Vision statement



FALL ARTS You better start doing your stretches and invest in a good pair of walking shoes. There’s as much ground to cover as there is art to see this fall, and if you get to every gallery, studio, and museum on this far-from-comprehensive list your eyes will probably be as sore as your feet. But as any seasoned hiker will tell you, the views are well worth any aches incurred along the way.

Julie Heffernan: Boy Oh Boy II” “Boschian” is an oft-overused adjective in art writing, and Heffernan’s more-is-more paintings, chock-full of twisted allusions to Renaissance art (Bosch included) and all sorts of fantastic razzle-dazzle, will have you scrambling for synonyms. (Sept. 3–Oct. 29, Catharine Clark Gallery; www.cclarkgallery.com)

Pamela Jorden” I’ll leave the question of whether or not painting’s dead up to more qualified coroners, and simply state that the oil-on-linen works of the young, Los Angeles-based Jorden make a powerful case for the continued relevance of gestural abstraction. There are echoes of Richard Diebenkorn or Clyfford Still in Jorden’s fractured cataracts of color (her blues will make you blush), but compositionally her canvases evince an alchemy that’s entirely her own. (Sept. 16-Oct. 15, Romer Young Gallery; www.romeryounggallery.com).

SF Open Studios Artists, they’re just like us! Seriously, though, one of the many pluses of ArtSpan’s annual city-wide event is that it helps demystify and de-romanticize what it means to be a working artist. Get to know the creative types in your neighborhood, see where the magic happens, and maybe help stimulate the local economy (hint, hint). (Oct. 1-18, various venues; www.artspan.org.)

Lionel Bawden: The World of the Surface” The title of Badwen’s American debut is a half-truth. His sculptural works, comprised of hexagonal colored pencils grouped together and shorn, topiary-like, into amorphous shapes, suggest a world far below the surface: caves, fatty tissue, cells. Dive in. (Oct. 1–Nov. 26, Frey Norris Gallery; www.freynorris.com.)

Houdini: Art and Magic” How does a museum escape the confines of the now tired “contemporary artists responding to famous historical figure X” approach to curating? Do like the Contemporary Jewish Museum and put on a show about legendary escape artist Harry Houdini. Come for tributes by Vik Muniz, Jane Hammond, etc. (what, no Matthew Barney?) but stay for a recreation of his famous Water Torture Cell illusion, along with the hundred other bits of Houdiniana. (Oct. 2–Jan. 16., 2012, Contemporary Jewish Museum; www.thecjm.org.)

Ralph Eugene Meatyard” The very banality of Meatyard’s biography — he was a happily married optician in Lexington, Ken. who did photography as a weekend hobby — only makes his singular and startling body of work that much more so: from children creepily posed with dolls and masks to bold experiments with abstraction and “no focus” imagery, Meatyard’s pictures push into territory far more strange and wondrous than the Gothic South. (Oct. 8- Feb. 26, de Young Museum, www.famsf.org.)

“Geoff Oppenheimer” Oppenheimer makes conceptually smart and visually arresting installation and video work that frequently voices the unspoken dynamics behind public performances of controlled discourse, such as press conferences. Be prepared to be discomfited. (Oct. 28–Dec. 11, Ratio 3; www.ratio3.org).

The Air We Breathe” I have some serious reservations about the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s decision to organize their first major contemporary group show in a long while around “the cause of marriage equality” (for starters, why not host “Hide/Seek,” the previously censored and now traveling exhibit about same-sex desire and American portraiture currently at the Tacoma Art Museum, instead?). That said, something truly queer, politically risky and aesthetically challenging has gotta happen when you put specially commissioned works by the likes of John Ashbery, Dodie Bellamy, Raymond Pettibon, Ann Hamilton, and Robert Gober (and many others) under one roof, right? For now, consider my tongue held and eyebrow raised. (Nov. 5–Feb. 20, 2012; SFMOMA, www.sfmoma.org.)

Open mouth, insert popcorn


FALL ARTS Supporters of the cinema-industrial complex know that fall is, arguably, the primo time to catch a flick. As the days get shorter, the award hopefuls roll out faster. Of course, there’s some non-Oscar contenders worth noting as well, and I don’t just mean A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (pass the dutchie Nov. 9). Here’s a sprinkling of high- and lowlights to look forward to. All dates are subject to change. 

>>Click here for a look at what’s coming to the Bay’s rep houses anf alternative screens


Apollo 18 (Sept. 2) is another one of those “this shit really happened” found-footage scary movies, except it takes place on the moon. Steven Soderbergh’s star-studded disease epic Contagion (Sept. 9) is one of those “this shit could really happen” scary movies. The fightin’ Warrior has gotten good advance buzz (Sept. 9); and hip Dane Nicolas Winding Refn directs Ryan Gosling as a stunt driver/getaway driver in the appropriately-titled Drive (Sept. 16).

Gus Van Sant’s Restless has all kinds of worrisome plot points (terminal illness, young-adult romance, quirky ghost encounters), while Moneyball casts Brad Pitt as the math-minded manager of the Oakland A’s (both Sept. 23). Plus, a pair of horror flicks: Dream House, a.k.a. the movie where Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz began their secret romance, and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, a splat-stick backwoods tale. (Sept. 30).


Directed and co-written by George Clooney, Ides of March (Oct. 7) is about the campaign of a POTUS hopeful (Clooney again) seen through the eyes of a hotshot staffer (Gosling again). Wanderlust reunites Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, though director David Wain and a yuppies-go-counterculture plot will presumably prevent any The Object of My Affection (1998) flashbacks. Intriguing actor Michael Shannon stars in Take Shelter, a re-teaming with Shotgun Stories (2007) writer-director Jeff Nichols; and hotly-anticipated sequel The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) unfurls for the discriminating midnight moviegoer (both Oct. 7).

Oct. 21 marks the scheduled releases of Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In, starring Antonio Banderas as a troubled plastic surgeon. Charlie Sheen and Chris O’Donnell star in — whoops, wrong generation. The millennial take on The Three Musketeers is directed by the Resident Evil series’ Paul W.S. Anderson, which of course means Milla Jovovich gets a juicy role alongside the sword-wielding himbos.

Also: Johnny Depp in the long-awaited Hunter S. Thompson adaptation The Rum Diary; disaster-movie specialist Roland Emmerich’s Shakespeare story, Anonymous (you heard me); and Justin Timberlake’s latest effort to make us take him seriously as an actor, In Time (all Oct. 28).


The sweepstakes winner will clearly be The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part One (Nov. 18). But as it turns out, Lars von Trier’s new one, Melancholia (Nov. 11), won former vampire Kirsten Dunst an acting award at Cannes. Yet another former vampire, Gary Oldman, stars in Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy (Nov. 18), from Tomas Alfredson, last seen directing vampires in 2008’s Let the Right One In. To be clear: there are no coincidences.

As the holidays approach, the names get bigger: Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar biopic stars Leonardo DiCaprio (Nov. 9); plus Martin Scorsese ventures into 3D whimsy with Hugo; Alexander Payne helms the Clooney-starring family drama The Descendants; Kermit the Frog headlines Jason Segel’s reboot of The Muppets; and John Gulager directs Piranha 3DD (all Nov. 23).

December Wrapped up for you under the celluloid tree are the bullet-proof Roman Polanski, who returns with drama Carnage; the bullet-proof in other ways Meryl Streep, who portrays Thatcher in The Iron Lady; the reunion of the writing-directing team behind 2007’s Juno for the Charlize Theron-starring Young Adult; and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (all Dec. 16). Your Xmas choices (Dec. 21-28) include Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo (don’t know anything about it, already hate it, still pissed about 2005’s Elizabethtown); Brad Bird’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, with Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg doing duty alongside The Cruise; David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; and a double-header from Steven Spielberg: animated The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Dec. 21), and War Horse (Dec. 28).




FALL ARTS Now that even the quaintest neighborhood block parties publish music lineups in advance and big beat fests give as much shine to snack vendors as secondary stages, it’s becoming clear that the events on our fall fair and festival listings are all just part of one big movement. Leading to what, you might ask? Leading to you having a celebrate-good-times kind of autumn in the Bay Area. Seize the day, pack your sunscreen, bring cash: from film to activism to chocolate, here comes the sun.



Shakespeare in the Park Presidio’s Main Post Parade Ground Lawn, between Graham and Keyes, SF. (415) 558-0888, www.sfshakes.org. Times vary, free. Whilst thou be satisfied with the Bard’s hits in the open air, free for you and the clan? The line-up, from Cymbeline to Macbeth, suggests that it won’t be so hard.


AUG. 27

J Pop Summit Japantown Peace Plaza, SF. www.newpeopleworld.com. 11 a.m.-6 p.m., free. Enter the kaleidoscope of anime, manga, Lolita, androgynously cute boys in tuxedo jackets, keyboard theatrics, and Vocaloid (a computer program that creates complete songs, vocals and all) contests at this unique festival marathon of Japanese pop culture.

Rock The Bells Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View. www.rockthebells.net. 10:55 a.m.-10:25 p.m., $55.50-281.00. Lauryn Hill, Nas, GZA, Common, Black Star — the country’s biggest hip-hop festival hits the Bay, bigger than ever.



International Cannabis and Hemp Expo Telegraph from 16th to 20th sts. and Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakl. intche.eventbrite.com. Noon-8 p.m., $18-300. 120 different strains of Mary Jane should be enough to get you through eight hours of festival — if not, there will be three stages of music and educational speakers for pot pals to trip on.


SEPT. 3-4

Zine Fest SF County Fair Building, 1199 Ninth Ave., SF. www.sfzinefest.org. 11 a.m.- 6 p.m., free. If arbiter of Bay indie comic cute Lark Pien’s original kitty cat Zine Fest 2011 poster doesn’t hook you (how?), you’re sure to find something that tickles your cut-and-paste among the aisles at this assemblage of DIY publishers and comic heads.

Millbrae Art and Wine Festival Broadway between Victoria and Meadow Glen, Millbrae. (650) 697-7324, www.miramarevents.com. 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., free. Celebrate Labor Day at this multi-faceted celebration of artisan comestibles, classic cars, live tunes, and hundreds of crafters — it even has a kids talent show.



EcoFair Marin Marin County Fairgrounds, San Rafael. www.ecofairmarin.org. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., $5. The keynote speaker at this expo of all things green and cutting-edge is Temple Grandin, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading autism advocates.


SEPT. 7-18

Fringe Festival Various locations, times, prices. www.sffringe.org. This festival’s egalitarian method of stage assignments mean that there’s no better time of year in the city to check out first-time playwrights and original (yes, sometimes wonky) scripts.


SEPT. 8-11

Electronic Music Festival Brava Theater Center, 2789 24th St., SF. www.sfemf.org. The Bay’s new music artists pop off together for this long weekend of exploration of the sonic spectrum.


SEPT. 10

Brews on the Bay Pier 45, SF. www.sfbrewersguild.org. Noon-5 p.m., $45. The city’s biggest brewers: Magnolia, Beach Chalet, Anchor, and Speakeasy among others, pour out endless tastes at this Bay-side swigfest



Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival Ghriradelli Square, North Point and Larkin sts., SF. (415) 775-5500, www.ghirardellisq.com. Noon-5 p.m., $20 for 15 samples. A benefit for chronically ill and housebound elderly folks, chocolatier demonstrations and ice cream sandwich-eating contests sprinkle over this day of chocolate tasting par excellence.


SEPT. 14-18

Berkeley Old Time Music Convention Times, locations, and prices vary. www.berkeleyoldtimemusic.org. Loosen up them joints — it’s time to get goofy and gangly to some banjos and flat-footin’ at this multi-day Americana celebration of film screenings, concerts, open jams, and more.

Power and Sailboat Expo Jack London Square, Broadway and First St., Oakl. (510) 536-6000, www.ncma.com. Wed.-Fri., noon — 6 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m., $10. In the market for a rubber inflatable raft? Wanna scope haute yachts? Sail away to this family-friendly event on the Bay.


SEPT. 15 — DEC. 18

SF Jazz Fest Times, locations, and prices vary. (866) 920-5299, www.sfjazz.org. Esperanza Spalding, Booker T., Aaron Neville, and performances by SF’s most talented high school jazz players mark this season of innovative concerts and jazz appreciation events.


SEPT. 23-25

Eat Real Jack London Square, Broadway and First St., Oakl. (510) 250-7811, www.eatrealfest.com. Fri, 1-8 p.m.; Sat, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., free. A celebration of all foods local and sustainable, you can enter your prize pickles in a contest at this burgeoning fest, learn how to be a backyard farmer, and of course, eat good food til you burst.


SEPT. 23 — OCT. 16

24 Days of Central Market Arts www.centralmarketarts.org. Most events are free. The heart of the city organizes this smorgasboard of art events — from world class dance to circus to quirky theater pieces. Take your brown bag (lunch? something else?) down to Civic Center for one of the free performances.


SEPT. 24

Lovevolution Oakland Coliseum, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakl. www.sflovevolution.org. Noon- 8 p.m., $25. The days of prancing neon-ly down Market Street are over but hey, Oakland’s got better weather! This year’s massive outdoor rave stages its traditional parade around the circumference of the coliseum’s parking lot.


SEPT. 25

Folsom Street Fair Folsom between Seventh and 12th sts., SF. www.folsomstreetfair.org. 11 a.m.- 6 p.m., $10 suggested donation. Sure, it’s touristy, but this kink community mega-event has its heart in the right place (between its legs). The premier place to get whipped in public, hands down.


SEPT. 30 — OCT. 2

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Speedway Meadows, Golden Gate Park, SF. www.strictlybluegrass.com. Sure this homegrown free twangfest gets more crowded by the year — but attendance numbers are directly tied to the ever-more-badass lineup of multi-genre legends. This year: Emmylou Harris, Bright Eyes, Broken Social Scene, Robert Plant — and yes, MC Hammer.

Oktoberfest By the Bay Pier 48, SF. 1-888-746-7522, www.oktoberfestbythebay.com. Fri, 5 p.m.-midnight; Sat, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and 6 p.m.-midnight; Sun, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., $25-65. Oompah, it’s time for some bratwurst! Raise your stein to this boozy celebration of German culture.


OCT. 1

Wildlife Conservation Expo Mission Bay Conference Center, 1675 Owens, SF. www.wildnet.org. 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., $30-60. Save the Botswanan cheetahs and okapis! Learn from leading conservationists about innovative environmental projects around the world.


OCT. 1-2

World Vegetarian Day County Fair Building, 9th Ave. and Lincoln, SF. (415) 273-5481, www.worldvegfestival.com. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., $10 suggested donation, free before 10:30 a.m. The 40-year old SF Vegetarian Society sponsors this expo of veggie livin’ — expert speakers talk science and advocacy, and there’ll even be a round of vegan speed dating for those hoping to share their quinoa with a like-minded meatless mama.

Alternative Press Expo (APE) Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 Eighth St., SF. (619) 491-1029, www.comic-con.org/ape. Check website for times and prices. The indie version of Comic-Con offers a weekend designed to give budding comics a leg up: workshops, keynote talks by slammin’ scribblers, issue-based panel discussions, and tons of comics for sale.


OCT. 2

Castro Street Fair Castro and Market, SF. (415) 841-1824, www.castrostreetfair.org. 11 a.m.- 6 p.m., free. This is no standard block party — big name acts take the stage at our historic homo ‘hood’s neighborhood get down, and along the curbs, crafters and chefs park alike.


OCT. 7-15

Litquake Times, locations, and prices vary. www.litquake.org. Our very own literary festival has grown a lot — the Valencia Street LitCrawl tradition has even spread to Austin and New York — check out its schedule for a chance to see one of your favorite scribes live and reading.


OCT. 9

Italian Heritage Day Parade Begins at Jefferson and Stockton sts., SF. (415) 703-9888, www.sfcolumbusday.org. 12:30 p.m., free. Peroni floats and courts of teenaged “Isabellas” reign supreme at this long-running North Beach cultural day.

Decompression Indiana outside Cafe Cocomo, SF. www.burningman.com. Check website for times prices. The Burning Man after-after-after party will be slammin’ this year, what with all the playa peeps that couldn’t score a ticket in the sell-out.


OCT. 15

Potrero Hill Festival 20th St. between Missouri and Arkansas, SF. potrerohillfestival.eventbrite.com. 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m., free. $12 for brunch. A New Orleans-style mimosa brunch with live music kicks off this neighborhood gathering, also featuring a petting zoo and traditional Chinese dancers.

Noe Valley Harvest Festival 24th St. between Sanchez and Castro, SF. www.noevalleyharvestfestival.com. 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., free. Your little pumpkins can get their faces painted at this neighborhood fest, while you cruise the farmer’s market and meet the neighbors.


OCT. 15-16

Treasure Island Music Festival Treasure Island, SF. www.treasureislandfestival.com. $69.50-219.50. Indie fever takes a hold of the island this weekend, with a varied lineup this year featuring Aloe Blacc, Death Cab for Cutie, Empire of the Sun, and Dizzee Rascal.


OCT. 22

CUESA Harvest Festival In front of the Ferry Building, Embarcadero and Market, SF. www.cuesa.org. 10 a.m.-1 p.m., free. Butter churning, cider pressing, weaving demonstrations, and a chance to pick the mind of Bi-Rite Market founder Sam Morgannam.


NOV. 12-13

Green Festival SF Concourse Exhibition Center, 635 Eighth St., SF. www.greenfestivals.org. Sat, 10 a.m.- 7 p.m.; Sun, 11 a.m.- 6 p.m. Check website for prices. What would the sustainability movement be without endless halls of hemp backpacks and urban farming lectures? Keep up with the (Van) Joneses at this marquee environmental event.

Bluestem Brasserie


› paulr@sfbg.com

DINE In Bizarro world, dinner would begin with dessert — I know someone who truly hopes this particular sun will indeed rise in the west one day. And if your pastry chef happened to be James Ormsby, you not only would probably not get around to your savory courses, you might very well not be able to get up from the table. Ormsby, interestingly, is the pastry chef at the newly opened Bluestem, and he does not disappoint, though his confections are right where convention says they should be, at the end of the meal.

Bluestem occupies a spot at the Market Street head of the block-long Yerba Buena pedestrian mall, which has become a mini-restaurant row, with Amber and Tropisueño just steps away. But the new place does bring a distinctive identity, as a kind of New American brasserie, with steakhouse-y overtones, to the ménage. Also, the floor is striking: a mosaic of wood tiles cut from a single tropical tree. Each looks like a giant version of a cell being examined on a slide under a microscope.

Ormsby, who ran the kitchens at PlumpJack Cafe and Jack Falstaff, is probably better-known than the man in charge of Bluestem’s savory operation. That would be Sean Canavan, whose pedigree is not unimpressive; he’s cooked at La Folie and Jeanty at Jack’s, among other places. His Gallic background is perhaps most apparent in the restaurant’s charcuterie service, which has a build-your-own angle. The base price ($8.75) brings you sweet mustard pickles, several spears of grilled bread, smears of fruit chutney and stone-ground mustard, and a choice of meat — from rustic country paté with pistachios to duck rillettes and pig’s head terrine — and you can add others for $2.50 each. Although refrigeration is a basic aspect of food safety in our time, it turns out that charcuterie, like wine, can be served overchilled, and if it is served that way, a certain creaminess is lost. If you’re going to eat all that fat, you should at least have the sinful sensation of it on your tongue.

In the more temperate latitudes we turned up a corn and fava-bean succotash ($5), a marvelous, deeply American dish deeply influenced here, in color and flavor, by strips of roasted red pepper. At first I wondered why the menu made no mention of the dominant ingredient, but I came to suppose that corn and beans mean succotash, while red pepper doesn’t — plus, fava beans are rather glamorous, if any bean can be said to be glamorous. Still, red-pepper succotash would have given a clearer sense of this elegantly composed dish.

A great virtue of brasserie-style cooking is that it isn’t overwrought, and Canavan’s main dishes are exercises in well-controlled forcefulness. He allows ingredients to speak in their own way. This can be a tricky path when dealing with seafood, which so often needs a deft touch or two. Halibut is one of the rare fish (tuna is another) that can largely stand on its own, like beef, and Bluestem’s version ($24) consisted of a brick-like filet, topped with brown butter and set on a broad, flat pediment of cheddar grits (substituted for the succotash). The fish was firm, moist, and flaky — perfect — and the accompanying elements boosted it rather than trying to compete.

Calf’s liver ($21) I just don’t like and never will, but there are those who take to it almost as if it were a dessert. Here the flaps of sautéed meat were embedded in mashed potatoes, topped with ribbons of caramelized onion, and — nice touch — given a bit of smoky-sweet harmony by grilled-peach quarters.

A few housekeeping odds and ends: You get bread only if you ask for it. There is much to recommend this policy as a matter of reducing waste and the eating of needless starch calories, but it does seem stingy. Your server will also set one more bottles (still or fizzy or both) of complimentary water on your table; but then, annoyingly, some member of the staff will pop by every few minutes to see if you’ve had a sip, whereupon your glass will be topped up. I found this attention to be slightly maniacal — a restaurant version of hovering helicopter parents.

Ormsby’s desserts: well, they’re worth the wait and all the water refills. A Bing cherry sundae ($8), served in a parfait glass, could have sprung from 1950s soda fountains. It consisted of cherry gelée, fresh cherries, cherry sorbet, vanilla ice cream, and a couple of chocolate-chip cookes. There also seemed to be something crumbly inside. My only criticism would be that because Bings are sweet and mild, their delicate flavor suffered in the cold. A shot of Kirsch might have bucked them up a bit.

The Honolulu hangover ($8) had the layered, slightly boozy look of tiramisù but carried the flavors of chocolate and coconut: a chocolate-coconut layer cake amended with puffs of marshmallow cream dotted with bits of toasted coconut. It seemed to combine, somehow, a tropical flair and the memory of many backyard cookouts on the Fourth of July, with something shamelessly creamy for dessert. The end.


Daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

One Yerba Buena Lane, SF

(415) 547-1111


Full bar


Moderate noise

Wheelchair accessible

Of wings and thumbs


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Hedgehog has a favorite restaurant in San Francisco. No, it’s not John’s Snack & Deli, but only because you can’t sit down in there, and so it’s hard sometimes to think of it as a restaurant. Hedgehog’s favorite restaurant restaurant is San Tung, the incredible chicken wing place.

We tried to go there during our Avenue Days. We did, we walked through the Golden Gate Park, past the De Young Museum, around that other thing, and then across the Big Rec baseball diamonds diagonally.

We did not step in dog shit. In this way, we were having the time of our lives. In other ways… not so much.

For example: There was an argument, at one point, over which way to turn. I said right. She said left. I said, no, right. She said left. I said it was my city, not hers, and if she wanted to go left she could but I was hungry so I was going right. She said I had no sense of direction, definitely left, blah blah blah, and I just looked at her. “Do you like being wrong?” I said. She laughed.

Meanwhile, it was Wednesday.

The importance of which will be obvious to all fans of San Tung chicken wings and even probably San Tung other things. We were arguing for no reason! For — sadly, maddeningly, ununderstandably, and entirely unreasonably — San Tung is closed on Wednesdays.

Why???!!! Wednesday is a day. Lovers of chicken wings will need chicken wings on Wednesdays too, don’t they know this?! What do they think, that weeks should have an island of winglessness in the middle of them? I don’t think so, and neither does Hedgehog; and yet, if I had a memory, I would have remembered that San Tung was closed on Wednesdays and steered us toward Memphis Minnie’s or some other good-wing-having open-on-Wednesday place.

My sense of direction, unlike my memory, is almost impeccable. I know where the sun rises and sets. I know how to find the North Star. I know where that smell is coming from. And I think I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, I thought you were in France, Ms. Sense-of-Direction.

Well, yeah, but we’re time traveling. I know how to do that, too. For example, if it’s Wednesday when you read this, never mind San Tung. If you set your mind or heart on dry-fried chicken wings, or even wet ones, you are going to wind up at Perilla Vietnamese restaurant, drowning your sorrow in a big good bowl of rare beef pho. Not that that’s what we got.

We got five-spice chicken (great), garlic noodles (great), and the raw beef appetizer that is normally called I think Bó Tai Chanh, but Perilla calls it beef carpaccio — which just doesn’t do it justice. It doesn’t pack the same lemony, peppery, peanuty, fish saucy punch as Bó Tai Chanh. Nor was Perilla’s as punchy or tender as the dish usually is.

Still, on the strength of the other stuff, I liked Perilla. No, it wasn’t what we had crossed the park for. But. You know. The best-laid plans of chicken farmers and sound editors … and so forth.

Or I should say writers and writers, technically, because as you know time has passed and Things have happened. I thought I was going to come back from France with a new lease on life, if not chicken farming, and the truth is that I did not.

I came back from France with a bum trigger finger and a healthy bum.

It’s not what you think. I simply spent so much time there pushing butter knives through butter that I actually deeply bruised the bone at the tip of my right index finger. It’s the first ever excessive buttering repetitive stress injury in the history of eating, that I know of.

So now almost everything I do kinda hurts, but especiall tpig — if o kw wat I ea.

I’m just kidding, of course. I mean, it hurts to use a knife, but not type. And I am otherwise as healthy as a hearse and happy to be reunited with my favorite language ever.

And my new favorite restaurant:


Daily: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

836 Irving St., S.F.

(415) 564-9907

No alcohol



Parking on the park



In a steering committee meeting for the Dolores Park Rehabilitation Project on August 4, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (RPD) officials stunned the committee with a proposal to bring in more food trucks. The move came just two days after a ballot measure that would have banned more such leases in city parks was removed from the fall ballot.

The proposal included putting in a “cement pad,” with electrical and water hookups, where food trucks would park and sell their fare. It was just the latest in a series of controversial attempts to monetize park resources to raise funds for RPD (see “Parks Inc.,” July 12). But the steering committee reeled at the idea, worried it would permanently harm the image of Dolores Park.

“It was a surprise. It really hadn’t come up before,” said Rachel Herbert of Dolores Park Café, a steering committee member. Many of the neighbors don’t like the idea of commercializing the park because there’s no infrastructure to support it, she said.

“It personally made me question if the steering committee meetings are really just a way for Rec & Park to say, ‘We reached out to the community,'” said Herbert. The rehabilitation project is in its early stages of design and development, with a predicted completion date of April 2014.

There’s already one semi-permanent food truck in the park — the La Cocina-incubated, generator-powered Chaac-Mool truck — which is parked in the main park entrance. “We felt it would be irresponsible to ignore discussing a place for more food trucks in the new design,” said Jake Gilchrist, the park rehabilitation project manager.

“There were a lot of members in the room that didn’t want this to happen,” said steering committee member Robert Brust of the nonprofit Dolores Park Works. Brust said the argument over the proposal lasted all of five minutes before landscape architect Steve Cancian, employed by RPD to facilitate the meetings, “took it off the table.”

But it doesn’t look like they’re willing to give it up, said Brust. “The fight over the ‘commercialization’ of the park is at a stalemate right now,” he said. “Rec & Park has always sold stuff—they’re just trying to capitalize on it a little more now.”

Despite the steering committee’s obvious and immediate discontent with the idea to create a cemented, permanent space for food trucks, RPD officials say they are continuing to include the idea in community discussions. But they say they are open to suggestions.

“At the end of the day, it’s the community’s park,” RPD spokesperson Connie Chan told us. “We understand that whatever vision that we have, it needs to be with the community.”

The meeting came just two days after members of the Board of Supervisors killed a previously approved ballot measure that had been written by the group Take Back Our Parks, which had been severely criticized by RPD, Mayor Ed Lee, and supporters of the department’s privatization efforts. John Rizzo, a member of that group, expects RPD to move ahead with the proposal for Dolores Park.

“They never change something because of public opposition,” Rizzo said. “It’s the same stamp they use all over the city. They come up with these plans to make money and then they unveil the plans to the public.”

Rizzo suggested that the public contact San Francisco supervisors and the mayor to be heard regarding the privatization of parks, because “the [Recreation and Park] Commission is deaf ears.” Either way, Herbert said, significant changes are in store for Dolores Park, including the possibility of putting in a 14-foot paved road for vehicles. “I just really was kind of sad when I left that meeting. I don’t know if anyone’s really going to be able to make a difference. It seems like we’re in danger of it being built,” she said. “It’s not gonna be our sweet little Dolores Park anymore.”

Caught in a RAT trap



Things are not always as they seem. That’s a lesson Matthew Martinez and Thad Conley learned the hard way — each of them after becoming unwitting targets of San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) sting operations that landed them in San Francisco County Jail, bewildered.

It was early October of 2010, and Martinez had just finished his shift as a chef at a San Francisco restaurant and was headed home when he encountered a man who seemed very intoxicated, near Eighth and Mission streets. The man asked him for a cigarette, so Martinez handed him one.

But then the man gestured to his chest, a move Martinez later explained he interpreted as an invitation to take one of the crumpled dollar bills that was spilling out of the disheveled drunk’s pocket, as payment for the cigarette. Martinez testified in court that he took one dollar, but tucked the other bills safely back into the hapless individual’s pocket.

As soon as Martinez had the bill in his hand, he was surrounded. Not only was the man who’d wanted a cigarette not drunk, he was a police officer. One of eight police officers. The undercover officer gave an arrest signal, and seven cops who had quietly been standing ready closed in, placing the 28-year-old chef under arrest.



The cops had been staked out on the street for a sting operation as part of SFPD’s Robbery Abatement Team (RAT), a controversial unit that has drawn criticism from the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office for targeting some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods for busts, using cash as bait and sometimes snagging people with no prior criminal records.

Some of the same officers engaged in RAT stings have come under investigation for alleged misconduct in connection with a string of incidents at single room occupancy (SRO) hotels, publicized in a series of surveillance videos aired at press conferences earlier this year by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

“RAT … is used citywide as an effective tool to prevent robberies of innocent victims,” SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza told the Guardian. “The Police Department uses this operation to catch people that are preying on the vulnerable. The theory is, you catch these people and get them off the street to prevent more robberies or more serious crimes from occurring, thus providing a safer neighborhood. Over 50 percent of the suspects arrested in RAT operations have a history of robbery or theft and a majority are on parole or probation.”

Esparza confirmed that some of the officers have been pulled from RAT duties. “Some of the officers that participated in the RAT operations are not actively working in that capacity due to the SRO/Henry Hotel investigations,” he said, referring to the alleged misconduct cases.

A couple months before Martinez’s ill-fated encounter with the man who he thought wanted to buy a cigarette, Conley was visiting San Francisco from Cincinnati to see friends and attend the Outside Lands music festival when he noticed something strange. Some women had made a show of leaving a car parked, with the doors open and engine still running, in the bus zone near the McDonald’s at Haight and Stanyan streets.

As they climbed into a cab, they spoke as if they were pulling a stunt to get back at a guy. According to Corey Farris, a public defender who represented Conley, he took it upon himself to move the car to a safe place. He first pulled it into the McDonald’s lot, but after someone informed him it would only get towed if he left it there, Farris says, Conley drove the car to a nearby police station.

The car had been placed there by SFPD and KKI Productions, which produces a television show called Bait Car. The whole thing was taped, and in footage obtained by the Guardian that was shot inside a stakeout vehicle where a cop and television producer were monitoring the scene, they can be heard laughing about sexually explicit comments one of them makes about a woman who walks in front of the camera.

At one point, the unidentified undercover officer wonders out loud who would take the bait, saying, “I was kinda hoping the Latin guy would do it.” Later in the video, when Conley comes into view after being apprehended by uniformed officers outside the police station where he’d parked the car, he’s heard explaining to officers that he moved the car because he didn’t want to see it towed.

“I read the police report,” Farris said. “And the police report doesn’t reference any of my client’s statements whatsoever. He says, ‘I’m taking it to the police station.’ That just seems like a big fact to leave out when you’re charging them for stealing the car.”



That dollar Martinez said he thought was meant as payment for a smoke snowballed into an expensive and time-consuming legal problem. He was held in jail for several days, according to his attorney, Prithika Balakrishnan, a public defender.

When Martinez, who is epileptic, asked to retrieve from his backpack the medication he takes to prevent seizures, his request was denied, Balakrishnan said. Unable to access his meds, he asked if he could sleep on a lower bunk in his jail cell in case he had a seizure, and Balakrishnan says that request was denied, too. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department had not responded to a request for comment by press time.

Martinez’s trial was held in December 2010 and lasted several days. The officer who had been in plainclothes posing as a drunk denied ever motioning to his chest. At the end of the whole fiasco, it took a jury less than 20 minutes to find Martinez not guilty of grand theft. Disgusted, he left San Francisco soon after.

Conley, meanwhile, flew in from Cincinnati almost a year later for his trial date — only to be told upon arrival that his case had been dismissed.

Their cases were particularly bizarre, but Martinez and Conley aren’t the only ones to be targeted by undercover robbery abatement operations. A similar formula is employed in many cases, according to Deputy Public Defender Bob Dunlap, who heads up the office’s Felony Unit. An average of nine officers are staked out along the street, with a decoy officer posing as an easy target.

“He’ll have money crumpled up into balls in his shirt pocket,” Dunlap explains. “He’ll adopt the persona of someone who’s extremely intoxicated.” When someone tries to swipe the loose bills, the offender is immediately arrested. It’s easy to prove that the suspects are guilty. The offenders will have “marked city funds” in their possession — bills that have been photocopied in advance so serial numbers can be matched for evidence.

According to a tally of cases from the Public Defender’s Office, the average amount of money stolen in a RAT sting is $28, and there have been 118 cases filed with the Public Defender’s Office in connection with these undercover operations since 2007. Around 46 percent of all RAT stings take place in the Tenderloin, and 68 percent of the arrestees are black, according to Public Defender statistics. Officers are sometimes paid overtime while conducting RAT operations, and they earn extra pay for court appearances as well.

Just 35 percent of the cases were charged as misdemeanors, and the rest as felonies, according to the tally. “If it’s charged as a robbery, it counts as a strike offense,” points out Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney of the Public Defender’s Office. He’d like to know whether the program will continue under the direction of newly installed Police Chief Greg Suhr, particularly since some of the officers have been pulled from RAT operations in the wake of the SRO scandal, but SFPD has not made any indications that it will reevaluate the practice.

While the busts may be catching criminals who would be taking advantage of vulnerable residents, Gonzalez and Dunlap question the tactic of manufacturing crime, saying it’s an expensive operation that isn’t the best use of public resources. Dunlap likens it to a fishing expedition with an incredibly shallow reach. “They’re creating a different situation than they’re trying to abate,” he says. “There’s something distasteful about going into the poorest neighborhoods and fishing with money.”

Threats or payback?



Officers from the San Francisco Police Department arrested a 21-year-old activist from Hunters Point less than 24 hours after he appeared on a public access television show where he indicted the police for a recent shooting and named officers he says have personally harassed him.

Around 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 23, Debray Carpenter, who is also known as Fly Benzo, was arrested near the intersection of Oakdale Avenue and Lane Street and booked on charges of threatening a police officer and resisting arrest. After spending almost four days in jail, the District Attorney’s Office declined to file any charges and Carpenter was released.

“If they feel like they can charge me, they would’ve,” Carpenter said after his release. “SFPD lies and that’s a fact. I just want the people to see how they lie. Just like they are lying about me, they could be lying about Kenneth Harding. Anything they say needs to be taken with a grain of salt.”

On July 16, police shot and killed Kenneth Harding Jr. while he was running from police. When officers stopped Harding at the 3rd and Oakdale Muni platform and asked him to produce a transfer, he bolted. The official story is that while he was running away, Harding pulled out a gun and fired at least one shot at police before they returned fire. Police later said the shot that killed him pierced his neck on the right side and was fired from his own gun, but some witnesses say that Harding didn’t have a gun, and many people in the community still have doubts about what happened.

Carpenter has spoken out against Harding’s death on the TV news, and he has participated in and organized protests calling for greater police accountability in the weeks following the shooting. On July 22, Carpenter appeared as the only guest on the public access program “CLAER Da Corner,” a 90-minute show hosted by Sharen Hewitt, the executive director of Community Leadership Academy & Emergency Response Project (CLAER), an anti-violence nonprofit.

During his appearance on the program, Carpenter named several SFPD officers who he claimed had harassed him in the past. He also recounted an exchange that took place a few days earlier on July 19. It was during this encounter that police say Carpenter made the criminal threat for which he was later arrested.

The police version of the incident differs significantly from the story that Carpenter shared with Hewitt on her show before his arrest.

According to Carpenter, he was with a group of people having a casual conversation with an SFPD officer as two other officers drove up and aggressively pursued a teenager for no apparent reason. When the group asked the officers about their behavior, one of the officers explained that she’s from New York, said Carpenter.

This prompted Carpenter to bring up Sean Bell, a young man who was gunned down by the NYPD, and the officer replied, “I haven’t shot anyone, yet,” according to Carpenter.

“Ya’ll bleed too. Just how we bleed, ya’ll bleed,” Carpenter shot back.

He told the host that the officer then responded by asking, “Is that a threat?”

“No, that’s a fact,” replied Carpenter. The police then drove away, he said.

But the police say that Carpenter threatened to kill one of the officers and was aggressive from the moment they arrived.

“Carpenter started yelling at them and he said, ‘White pig bitch I’m gonna put one in you,'” SFPD spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield told us.

“You bleed like I do. I’m gonna put one in you and show you,” Carpenter allegedly told police after being asked if his previous statement had been a threat, according to Dangerfield.

“There was a large crowd of people that began circling around the officers and they determined it was unsafe to make an arrest at the time,” Dangerfield said. “One of our rules is if you know somebody you don’t have to make an arrest right there and cause a big scene.”

The police arrested Carpenter four days later and booked him for allegedly making terrorizing threats and resisting arrest. While in jail Carpenter told his lawyer, John Hamasaki, that he didn’t know why he had been arrested and Hamasaki said at the time he wasn’t sure either.

“The arrest stinks,” Hamasaki told us. “Just an exercise of power by the police letting folks know if they speak up, they can be locked up.”

The District Attorney’s Office said that it declined to file charges because there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction but declined to go into further detail.

“It is not uncommon for the District Attorney to drop charges that are against the police,” said Dangerfield, the police spokesman. “Unless there’s injuries, photos and things like that, they rarely want to prosecute a lot of threats against police officers, and even more resisting arrest, because they think that’s the type of business we’re in.”

“That’s bullshit,” said Hamasaki. “(Crimes against police are) the hardest things for us to negotiate to get them to come down. … The DA doesn’t want to upset the rank and file.”

Erica Derryck, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, also disagreed with Dangerfield’s assessment.

“We take seriously any threats against San Franciscans whether they are uniformed sworn officers or members of the general public,” Derryck said. “We review every case on a case-by-case basis.”

Carpenter says he isn’t the only one being targeted for his activism in Hunters Point. Police arrested Henry Taylor, 54, as he was on his way to speak up at the July 20 town hall meeting at the Bayview Opera House in which Chief Greg Suhr’s appearance ignited pandemonium (see “Anger erupts over police shootings,” July 27).

Dangerfield said that police arrested Taylor for violating a stay-away order, but Taylor says that he isn’t under a stay-away order for that area and that police arrested him to prevent him from testifying at the town hall meeting.

No recordings are known to exist between Carpenter and the officer, just as no video recordings have revealed exactly what happened between Harding and the police on the 3rd Street Muni platform. There are several videos of the immediate aftermath, including footage of Harding writhing on the ground while police raised their weapons and denied him first aid, but apparently no video of the shooting itself. In Oakland, all officers are now issued small cameras to wear on their uniforms that record every interaction an officer has with the public. In the case of both Carpenter and Harding, such equipment would likely provide answers to what actually transpired, but Dangerfield said the SFPD has no plans to follow Oakland’s lead. “I know the chief of police has said he is looking into cameras for officers who do plain clothes assignments, and warrant arrests, and things like that. For the general patrol force, at this point, that’s not the case,” Dangerfield said. “There are some officers who do carry their own. … There’s no rule that says that can’t be done.”

Bravo, il gato


FALL ARTS The clouds hang over San Francisco like a brumous, early evening warning sign. It’s late summer on the back patio of popular Mission street bar El Rio. Small pockets of people huddle near outdoor heaters, and vintage pop songs come pumping through the speakers. Three men dressed neatly in sweaters and hoodies sit at a long picnic table clutching cheap beers.

This is the story of il gato, a San Francisco band that describes itself as indie-baroque-folk. Its music is baroque in the sense that it’s melancholic yet upbeat, lyric-heavy yet leans towards the classical, and highly decorated with a wide array of instrumentation. The band’s 2010 long-player, All These Slippery Things (self-released), and similarly-named followup EP All Those Slippery Things (released last month) feature banjo, mandolin, piano, a string quartet, and trumpets, along with aggressive acoustic folk guitar, looping pedal, upright and electric bass, and complex drumming.

After years of dutiful practice in tiny apartment kitchens, labored songwriting, and intimate live shows, the group finally recorded (thanks to a grant from the Bay Bridged blog) in 2009 at legendary studio Tiny Telephone, owned by revered local musician John Vanderslice. “I…remember how eclectic and fresh their instrumentation and arrangements were,” says Vanderslice. “They were a blast to have in the studio.” But this all came a decade after the first seedling of the il gato concept. Fittingly, the band’s journey — a mildly operatic one, given the twists and bumps along the way — began in Italy.

THE PROLOGUE: Daimian Holiday Scott is studying architecture abroad in Vicenza, Italy. The year is 1999; he hasn’t picked up an instrument since middle school. All of those niggling emotions involved with overseas travel had led to an outburst of emotions, which, naturally, led to buying a guitar. The initial concept was performance art: he’d speak with a fake Italian accent but sing cover songs in English. That never actually happened. “It’s the story before the story,” says il gato drummer, Johnny Major, “the prelude.”

THE FIRST ACT: fast forward five years. Scott shuts the door to the bedroom and asks his girlfriend to listen to the songs he’s been working on from a safe distance in the living room. “It took a long time for me to break free of being super shy and inhibited,” Scott says.

Scott was in his native Gainsville, Fla. writing songs on acoustic guitar and harmonica, learning that to be a songwriter, one must evolve out of the bedroom. He moved to the Bay Area in 2001, first to Berkeley and later, the Mission District of San Francisco, playing as il gato with a rotating cast of talented musicians friends. Years later, when he longed for consistency, he put up an ad on Craigslist seeking musicians.

Major, a San Francisco native who had recently returned from a two-year stay in Chile, answered it. “I liked the name,” says Major, “And of course, I really liked the music. I thought he sounded like a combination of Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse and Doug Martsch from Built to Spill, two of my favorite bands.”

Major — who has played in a variety of other bands including Sang Matiz and his new solo project, Adios Amigo — listened to Scott’s first album Conversation Music, which didn’t have drums, and heard some interesting potential for percussion. During this time, in 2008, Scott, Major and multi-instrumentalist Matthew Souther (who left the band a few months ago) would play in Major’s street-level Lower Haight apartment. The band next gained bassist Andrew Thomas, a Dallas, Tex.-born musician who had recently moved to SF with his girlfriend after a stint in college and other touring bands in Los Angeles. Scott and Thomas had been introduced by their girlfriends one night at the Latin American Club. “He came over the next week to my apartment in North Beach, we just played guitar and upright bass in my kitchen,” says Thomas of Scott.

ACT TWO: the end of an era. Scott’s aria, his solo work in effect, officially comes to an end. He’s part of a band now, all equal parts. “It was no longer just my project,” he says, taking a sip of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Over the course of four short days in February of 2010, the band essentially recorded two albums (the full-length and E.P.), 17 songs in total. The guitar, bass, vocals, and drums were all recorded live at Tiny Telephone. The overdubs of horns and string sections were recorded in Thomas’ home, to save time and money. “I can’t believe it turned out as well as it did,” Major says.

And it did turn out well. The songs are striking and wholly unique. That said, there are hints at the groups’ influences like Neutral Milk Hotel, Beirut, Modest Mouse, even Violent Femmes. But there are other elements, even hip-hop tucked in some parts as Major points out, especially in the mouthful of talk-sung lyrics in brassy folk single, “On Feathers and Arrows.” Major and Scott then discuss Scott’s predilection toward reggae beats, a holdover from his childhood with hippie parents. “That’s the nature of trying to describe your music to someone, it’s always difficult,” Scott says.

He adds that he is also influenced by the non-musical: acerbic, witty writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, along with films like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. The band was recently featured on the soundtrack for the documentary Crime After Crime, something Scott is hoping to do more in the future.

ACT THREE: that future. The band has a handful of shows lined up this fall, including Cafe du Nord this week and Andrew Bird’s “Rock for Kids” fundraiser Sept. 19 at the Make-Out Room, along with some brief tours planned. Then, in January 2012, il gato wants to go back to Tiny Telephone to record a followup. Sitting in the back patio, chatting about the projects to come, the group’s goals are clear. Right now, all three are primarily focused on the band itself. In 2009, Scott was laid off from his job as an architect and Major was laid off six months ago. “I’m hopefully looking to break in to something else,” Major says. “Ideally, I’ll have a career as a performing musician, it’s difficult but that’s the dream for all of us. That’s why we’re here right now.”

CURTAIN CALL: take a bow. Crush the cans. 

Check out il gato’s favorite local eats here. They’ve got some good ones!


With Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside

Thurs/25, 9 p.m., $12

Cafe du Nord

2170 Market, SF


Hetch Hetchy: Two visions


Editors note: We received two interesting commentaries on our Hetch Hetchy cover story (“Damn the Dam,” 8/10/2011). They appear below, offering very different perspectives on the issue.

OPINION Thank you for writing about our campaign to restore Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley and return it to the American public. We do not, however, propose “to remove SF’s main water and power source.” Most of San Francisco’s water comes from the Tuolumne River and will continue to do so; SF will simply store it elsewhere. As for power, removal of the O’Shaughnessy Dam will not reduce the power delivered to the city, but will mean less power sold to agribusiness in the Central Valley.

You erred in your conclusion about the impact of the restoration on the city’s Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program; large hydropower is not considered “renewable” by state standards, so Hetch Hetchy power cannot be included in CCA’s stated goal of 51% renewable energy by 2017.

And please don’t buy in to the notion that America can no longer afford big ideas. The restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley will be the most significant environmental restoration project in human history. It will strengthen not only the fragile Yosemite ecosystem but also the field of restoration science. It will inspire restoration efforts worldwide.

Mike Marshall is the executive director of Restore Hetch Hetchy


Rebecca Bowe’s recent article regarding efforts by the Restore Hetch Hetchy organization to tear down Hetch Hetchy Reservoir provides a fairly balanced telling of the two sides of the story. However, some key facts were omitted.

First, the case for tearing down Hetch Hetchy is largely based upon a paper written by a masters student at UC Davis in 2003 (see “Re-assembling Hetch Hetchy: Water Supply Implications of Removing O’Shaughnessy Dam”, by Sarah E. Null, December 2003). In her paper, Null bases the feasibility of tearing down Hetch Hetchy on the availability of replacement storage in New Don Pedro Reservoir, which is owned and operated by the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts. Null’s premise is that if San Francisco were to lose Hetch Hetchy it could use storage space in the New Don Pedro reservoir.

This is not possible, as San Francisco has no ownership interest in NDP. Rather, it has the right to pre-deposit water it owes to the districts due to the districts’ senior water rights. Then when the city needs water, it withholds the water upstream at Hetch Hetchy and the districts debit the city’s account in NDP.

The districts have made it clear they do not intend to let the city take over part of their reservoir.

A second key fact is that if the city does not use Hetch Hetchy — and since it can’t use NDP — its water rights will be of little use. While state water rights laws are complex and esoteric, seniority is the general rule. The city’s water rights are junior to those of the districts. If San Francisco can’t exercise its water rights through the Hetch Hetchy system, it would have to take its water from the Delta. The result would be a substantial loss of water and water quality to San Francisco.

As to the loss of hydropower, the article correctly records the permanent loss of 400 megawatts of clean hydropower. The result would be a major new customer for Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Tom Berliner is a former deputy city attorney who helped negotiate the city’s water and power contracts with the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts.

Editor’s notes



Gavin Newsom rode into the Mayor’s Office with a campaign to take welfare money away from homeless people. Jeff Adachi’s campaign for mayor is fueled by his attempt to cut city-employee pension costs. It’s an effective tactic: You put an initiative on the ballot and campaign as its sponsor, with your name attached — and while direct fundraising for mayoral candidates is tightly restricted (contribution limits, no corporate money), ballot-measure campaigns can collect unlimited cash, from almost anyone. Pick a popular issue (and attacking homeless people and city workers seems to have a lot of traction these days) and your chances of getting elected get a nice boost.

So why has no candidate running for citywide office in San Francisco ever made tax reform the center of his or her campaign?

I realize that tax reform is boring. Slogans like “shared progressive values” and words like “together” play much better in the focus groups. But think about it: Nearly every major national poll shows that the voters — by a margin of roughly 2-1 — think that tax increases should be part of the solution to the nation’s budget woes. Since San Francisco is way more liberal than the nation as a whole, the margin in this city is probably about 3-1.

Naturally, the poll numbers depend on how you ask the question, so let me suggest a way to frame it that’s entirely honest and consistent with what I suspect most the voters in this city believe. “Since 400 American families now own more wealth than 50 percent of the entire population put together, should San Francisco’s budget problems be solved in part with higher taxes on very rich residents and businesses?”

You might actually get 90 percent support on that one.

Look: Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times saying that his class isn’t paying its fair share. Warren Hellman, one of the richest people in San Francisco, told me the same thing a couple of months ago. (In 2006, in a particularly revealing interview, Buffett told economics writer Ben Stein that “there’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”) This is mainstream stuff now.

And I know some of the candidates, particularly Sup. John Avalos, support new taxes on the wealthy, and Assessor Phil Ting wants to repeal parts of Prop. 13. But nobody has ever made this a signature issue. Nobody’s ever made taxing the rich his or her version of Care Not Cash. I’m thinking maybe it’s time.

Pointless waste at SFPD


EDITORIAL So you’re sitting in a doorway, filling a bowl from the dregs of what was once an eighth of (perhaps nonmedical) bud, and some guy comes up an offers you $20 for what’s left in the little plastic bag. Maybe you’re unemployed, or maybe just a bit short of cash, but either way, it’s a no-brainer: For $20, you can some more pot. If the guy’s that desperate, and he’s waving the cash in front of you, what are you going to do?

So you take his money and give him the bag — and next thing you know, a half-dozen cops are surrounding you. You’re knocked to the sidewalk, cuffed and arrested — for selling drugs. And although the amount may be miniscule, the charges aren’t; selling drugs, any amount of drugs, can land you in the county jail.

As Rebecca Bowe reported June 21, this is how a sizable number of San Francisco police officers are spending their time these days. The so-called buy-bust operations involve an average of eight officers, working in teams. One poses as a desperate buyer, approaching not just people who are clearly dealers but anyone who might be in possession of illegal narcotics. He offers cash — often far more than the street value of the drugs — to entice a sale. Then after a pre-arranged signal, the team charges in, arresting the seller.

The bills carried by the decoys are photocopied in advance to make it easier to prove that the money in the seller’s pocket came from the supposed drug buyer.

Bowe reports in this issue that another team of cops has been using another similar scheme: A hapless-looking undercover officer, often appearing drunk, will wander around a low-income neighborhood with cash hanging out of his pockets, enticing someone to try to rob him. The Robbery Abatement Team (RAT) sometimes nabs people with no prior criminal records.

Police Chief Greg Suhr supports the programs, saying that the buy-bust teams discourage open-air drug dealing. But the Public Defender’s Office is dubious: Most of the people who wind up snared in these nets are not big-time drug dealers or hard-core criminals. And while many of the cases are dismissed (and some of the suspects wind up winning in court), the practice is using substantial amounts of police time and public resources — at a time when the police department claims it lacks the cash for more effective neighborhood foot patrols.

Both schemes are very, very close to entrapment — and even if the courts have allowed the undercover operations to continue, they make little sense as public policy. As Deputy Public Defender Bob Dunlap notes, “There’s something distasteful about going into the poorest neighborhoods and fishing with money.” And it’s expensive — as many as 14 officers can be involved in a single buy-bust or RAT patrol. Some of the officers are working overtime, collecting money the department doesn’t have. Since most of the people who get arrested are too poor to afford lawyers, the public defender has to put resources into defending the cases. The courts — which are so strapped for cash that civil cases aren’t even getting heard these days — have to take the time to sort out the charges. And the taxpayers have to fork over money to keep people who in many cases aren’t a threat to public safety in jail.

Suhr ought to shut down the two programs — and if he doesn’t, the supervisors should hold hearings, demand an audit of the cost of the undercover operations and make that a factor in the next police department budget.