Volume 46 Number 06

November 9-15, 2011

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Timber war returns


Protestors in flashy animal costumes picketed the appearance of infamous logger Archie “Red” Emerson, who was giving a guest lecture to the Forestry Department, at the University of California Berkeley campus on Oct. 14 to bring awareness to the increasing use of environmentally destructive logging practices.

The protesters were admittedly having fun parading around as skunks and beavers, but there was a heavy point to go with the theatrics. Emerson’s company, Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) is being targeted by a new campaign to curtail and eventually eradicate the destructive logging technique called “clearcutting.”

The Redding-based Battle Creek Alliance, in cooperation with the Sierra Club, wants Californians to push for environmental protection measures that would ban clearcutting on the state level.

“We’re building a statewide coalition of people from all across the state — and hopefully, eventually, all across the country — who can be helping to call on the state of California and Gov. Brown to stop clearcutting and to protect our forests, watersheds, and wildlife,” said Sierra Club member Sarah Matsumoto, an East Bay resident who has joined the Battle Creek Alliance.

Those living close to clearcut areas say that the damage is devastating

“I live about a mile from most of the clearcutting,” said Patty Gomez, a resident of the Battle Creek area. “We like to call it ground zero.”

The term clearcutting describes the complete eradication of trees and shrubs from forest areas, some the size of Golden Gate Park. The area is then doused with thousands of gallons of herbicides and then replanted as a tree farm.

“Industrial tree farms are sterile and lifeless,” said Juliette Beck, coordinator of the Sierra Club’s Stop Clearcutting Campaign. “This particular method is incredibly ecologically destructive.”

SPI is the largest private landowner in California, owning 1.9 million acres. It owns 24 industrial facilities and employs approximately 3,400 workers.

“SPI own[s] so much land and potentially controls the fate of the forest,” said Beck. “SPI is the poster child for the one percent.” Because of SPI’s scorched-earth policy of completely clearing an area and sterilizing it for replanting, biologists are concerned that crucial plant species will soon become extinct.

“After clearcutting, there is a huge flush of sprouting natural regeneration of native species,” said veteran biologist Vivian Parker, who has lived in the Battle Creek area for 30 years and has worked for the U.S. Forest Service. “When the newly sprouting plant layer is sprayed with chemical herbicides and thus eliminated, the plants do not get a chance to grow and shed their seed.”

Parker argues that this interruption of natural regeneration over several periods of clearcutting will destroy the natural growth of plant life necessary to maintain a healthy forest.

This copious use of herbicides has also been suspect in a strange phenomenon affecting wildlife in North America. According to a study conducted by UC Berkeley professor of endocrinology Tyron Hayes, the use of herbicides, even at extremely small amounts, have been linked to biological mutations such as male frogs growing ovaries.

SPI is insistent that its practices are environmentally sound and internally regulated.

“We monitor all of our own activities to see where we have room for improvement,” Mark Pawlicki, director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at SPI, told the Guardian. “In many cases we’ve changed our practices.” New research on the effects of these herbicides have shown that current regulations don’t always address the cumulative impacts of chemical applications and other practices.

“We now know that it is the very diluted amounts of chemicals that [have the potential to] cause the most damage because they behave just like hormones,” Parker said. “The quantities are so small you can barely measure [them], but they have a disproportionate effect.”

Hayes’ study was publicized in a press release several years ago by ForestEthics, an environmental nonprofit intimately involved with campaigning against SPI’s environmentally destructive practices.

“After that release, we started getting calls from families,” said ForestEthics communication director Will Craven. “One family had a six-year-old daughter who developed brain cancer.”

Craven said the family lived across from one of SPI’s mills and close to clearcut areas. He had heard of families developing severe endocrine issues where they could no longer digest fruit or sugar.

Pawlicki cites studies done internally by scientists about the biodiversity of SPI’s land, stating that the proper measures have been taken to put aside enough land for endangered species like the spotted owls and that the effect of the herbicides are negligible if not insignificant.

“People make allegations all the time about us but there’s just no proof,” said Pawlicki. “Show us the proof, tell us the evidence that we’re harming anything.”

Marily Woodhouse, a resident of the Battle Creek area who has been a particularly passionate adversary of SPI, has spearheaded efforts to collect sufficient information in order for the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Natural Resources Agency to take legal action; a process she said SPI has tried to undermine.

“SPI has given out the Water Board report and disparaged the way we collected the sample at public meetings,” Woodhouse said in an email conversation. “We collected the sample the way the lab instructed us to.”

However, these studies have a financial limit. Some tests can cost up to thousands of dollars, and ensuring that the tests are targeting specific herbicides used by SPI can be a guessing game. SPI is only required to disclose chemical use to the California Department of Pesticide regulation once a month and a yearly report can be requested, but this information is not disclosed to the public at the time of application.

The Water Board, a subsidiary of the Environmental Protection Agency, has conducted water tests and found no significant amount of chemicals in nearby watershed, but Parker said she believes this is because the agency doesn’t test for the specific chemicals used by SPI.

“Although they could request this information from the industry, the water board doesn’t know which chemicals are used, the quantities, or locations where they are applied,” Parker said. “Lack of information and inadequate testing ensures that the company is able to continue doing business.”

Residents and environmental groups have filed several lawsuits against SPI for more than 34 environmental and health policy violations, but have not been successful in curbing SPI’s destructive practices. According to legal experts, this is not necessarily because they don’t have a valid case.

“When you’re challenging these actions by SPI, what you’re really doing is challenging a decision by a state agency for approving their logging plan,” said Justin Augustine a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency can get deference from the court when it makes a good decision or a bad decision.”

The state agency Augustine is talking about is the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection (Cal Fire). In the hierarchy of state agencies, Cal Fire sits next to the Department of Fish and Game and both are directly under the Natural Resources Agency. Each department plays a role in monitoring and enforcing logging practices and code violations.

Logging companies are required to file a Timber Harvesting Plan that describes the biodiversity of plant life, acreage, and wildlife of an area meant for harvesting. Cal Fire then approves or rejects the plan within 10 days of receipt. This approval process shields SPI from directly facing charges in court because Cal Fire is ultimately responsible for approving the plan.

Sierra Club and the Battle Creek Alliance are now fighting for legislation that will bar the use of clearcutting altogether.

“[SPI] could minimize clearcutting. The method is not appropriate to today’s forests,” said Beck. “We are demanding that they make the change to completely stop clearcutting.”

A new report by the State Water Resources Control Board regarding SPI is scheduled to be presented at a Board of Forestry hearing on Nov. 9, describing whether or not sediment from the clearcuts is reaching the creeks and harming the valuable salmon recovery project. The report is available on the Board of Forestry website.

“[There has been] a lot of evidence that the logging roads have to do with the sedimentation,” said Richard Stapler, deputy secretary of communications at the Natural Resources Agency. “It was brought to our attention by Marily Woodhouse, and is very much worth review.”

The review may bring about protections for the Battle Creek watershed, but activists remain focused on legislation to prohibit clearcutting on a broad scale. “Right now the only things valued are the short term profit for the timber industry,” said Beck. “There needs to be a change in the way the forests are managed”

Cold snappy


SUPER EGO Good thing my decorative Honey Badger-skin leg warmers double as a fierce muff-scarf combo, because Saturday I was stumbling back from a bomb underground warehouse launch — peel your ears for “The New Black” — and it was colder than the all-pleather interior of a second-hand Kardashian. Of-a-sudden! I’m about to wear jeggings over thermies over two pairs of liquor store pantyhose and rap about it just to stay warm. She’ll be serving you Sheer Energy undercover, burning up sidewalks at dawn with her layers of L’Eggs.

I’m still drunk, apparently. Let’s just keep warm the old-fashioned way, OK? Dancing with abandon sure seems melty enough.



Nineteen drag queens! That’s how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop — and to provide overwhelming entertainment at this benefit for Rocket Dog Rescue. Sister Roma and Phatima Rude host. Everybody barks.

Wed/9, 8 p.m. $25. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com



Juanita More and Joshua J.’s weekly party draws a lovely queer crowd that certainly knows how to find its light (photos are taken continuously in the backroom). The music’s usually flash-forward , too — for its four-year anniversary, the party pops with NYC’s deliciously hard-driving house DJ W. Jeremy of House of Stank.

Wed/9, 9 p.m., $4. Q Bar, 456 Castro, SF. www.bootycallwednesdays.com



OK folks it’s definitely benefit season — and this Burner-circus-burlesque party for KSea Flux, cherished SF underground mainstay who fell gravely ill last year, looks the business. Vau de Vire Society, Jill Tracy, Squidling Bros. Sideshow, Bad Unkl Sista, and seemingly zillions more will work their nightlife magic.

Thu/10, 8 p.m., $10. 375 DNA Lounge, 11th St., SF. www.dnalounge.com



Equal parts head-tripper and bass-ripper, the wonderfully complex New Yorker scored big props playing the Radiohead tour, and isn’t afraid to drop Frank Zappa, Mobb Deep, and Aphex Twin into sets that cohere somehow into glistening workouts.

Fri/11, 9:30 p.m.-3 a.m., $10 advance. SOM, 2925 16th St., SF. www.som-bar.com



I have been dying to go to Lisbon’s Lux club for years, because hello sweaty Portuguesas getting down to quality music. Sparkling leftfield disco and dubby techno Lux resident Tiago (average set length there: seven hours) represents at the No Way Back monthly party.

Fri/11, 10 p.m., $5–$10. 222 Hyde, SF. www.222hyde.com



Or you could just grab a strong drink at relaunched queer bar Truck and listen to some mighty eclectic tunes at this new monthly party, with cute DJs Josh Cheon, Chicken, and more. No pressure!

Fri/11, 6 p.m.-10 p.m., free. Truck, 1900 Folsom, SF. www.trucksf.com



Two of the Belleville Three inventors of techno, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, have re-teamed up to show the kids how it’s done, Detroit-style. The mere idea of these two actual legends vibing live on four turntables and a drum machine makes me kinda weak.

Sat/12, 10 p.m.-4 a.m., $20. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. wwwpublicsf.com



SF’s As You Like It party crew continues its amazing run of special guests with this Hamburg master of harder-end post-minimal techno effects, playing a special four-hour set. The last time I saw him it felt like my chest was thumping a brilliant melody, so get ready for some upfront bass.

Sat/12, 9 p.m.-4 a.m., $25–$30. Beatbox, 314 11th St., SF. www.ayli-sf.com



Edgy neon pop-dance princess of France puts on one hell of a show, full of catchy tunes, banging drums, and occasional crowd-surfing. Can we have her take over our Top Ten here please?

Sat/12, 9 p.m., $27.50 advance. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com



This festive benefit for the beloved, cancer-stricken godfather of global dance sounds will feature Cheb himself on the decks joined by guitarist Vir MCoy for live jams, plus DJs Freq Nasty, Janaka Selekta, and Dub Gabriel.

Sun/13, 8 p.m., $15. 1015 Folsom, SF. www.1015.com



The kick-ass cutting-edge tech-house resident of Berlin’s fabled Panoramabar returns to the Honey Soundsystem Sunday weekly party to bring one of the best SF crowds to its knees. ($20 says he’ll be wearing shorts.)

Sun/13, 8 p.m., $5. Holy Cow, 1535 Folsom, SF. www.honeysoundsystem.com



Although the Goldies have been around for 23 years, the question arises with annual predictability: Goldies? What are the Goldies? The name is shorthand for the Guardian Outstanding Local Discovery awards — and it represents the Guardian’s annual celebration of local musicians, filmmakers, dancers, choreographers, and theater and visual artists (plus, this year, a film programmer and a poet) who have affixed their unique stamps on the Bay Area’s diverse, ever-changing arts scene.

Goldies winners produce work that stands out for being exciting, provocative, influential, inspiring, and even awe-inspiring. In 2011, with depressing financial news crowding the headlines and mind-numbing product churning from the mainstream entertainment maw, it is particularly crucial to honor and encourage those who’ve stayed true to their creative pursuits — be they makers of crush-worthy bubblegum punk rock, outrageously hilarious performance art, nimble and athletic dance routines, or symbolically-charged high heels carved from ice.

The 2011 Goldie winners were selected by a group of Guardian editors and contributors, including Emily Savage, Robert Avila, Garrett Caples, Rita Felciano, Nicole Gluckstern, Max Goldberg, and Matt Sussman. Thanks to all who participated, and thanks to you for reading the Guardian and supporting Bay Area arts. Most importantly, thanks to all Goldies winners past and present. They are people who, as writer Caples remarks of 2011 Lifetime Achievement winner David Meltzer, “make San Francisco great.” (Cheryl Eddy)











GOLDIES 2011 Lifetime Achievement: Ingrid Eggers


GOLDIES In a city that boasts far more film festivals than movie theaters, one of the most singularly focused is the annual Berlin and Beyond Film Festival — the largest German-language film festival in the United States. Carefully curated for 14 years by Dr. Ingrid Eggers, former program coordinator of the San Francisco branch of the Goethe-Institut, Berlin and Beyond has showcased an eclectic mix of movies by established filmmakers, debut features, documentaries, shorts, and silent films, from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Eggers’ major criteria — that the movies be filmed primarily in German, a language she felt was often missing from San Francisco’s foreign film scene — still left plenty of room for variety. Over the years, quirky documentaries about East German break dancers (Nico Raschick’s 2006 Here We Come) have shared screen space with gritty culture clashes such as Fatih Akin’s 2004 Head-On, wartime dramas such as Margarethe von Trotta’s 2003 Rosenstrasse, and non-traditional romances, such as Andreas Dresen’s 2008 Cloud 9.

Now, two-and-a-half years after her unanticipated removal from the Berlin and Beyond helm, which shocked the San Francisco film community, Eggers insists on looking forward. “We have made our peace,” she says genially, referring to the current incarnation of Berlin and Beyond, which just celebrated its sweet 16 in October.

When Eggers talks film, whether in a café in the Mission or on the stage of the Castro Theatre, her whole face lights up, a beatific glow. She may have reached Germany’s mandatory retirement age of 65 a few years ago, but her youthful vigor attests to a university background in physical education (along with history and literature) and her personal propensity for sport. Every film of the over 500 she’s presented — from the smallest short to the biggest blockbuster — has received a notably warm introduction, and more than one person has remarked in my presence that it is as if she were born to be a festival host. Yet it’s Eggers’ unassuming, collaborative nature rather than any kind of cult of personality that made Berlin and Beyond so successful. For example, it was by working closely with Anita Monga, former Castro programmer, that Eggers learned the ropes of festival scheduling.

“For our opening night in 1996 she insisted we show Fassbinder’s Martha,” Eggers reminisces. “A very difficult film; we had people walk out.”

From early partnerships with the then-San Francisco-based International Film Financing Conference and Kinofest Lünen, a sister festival in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state, to later ones with corporate sponsors such as Kuehne + Nagel, who underwrote the shipping costs of the film canisters, Eggers’ ability to forge unique partnerships has served her in good stead. Her current film festival project — the smaller-scale German Gems — is set to screen for a third year in January 2012.

After that, Eggers is not so sure. “It’s incredibly expensive to put on even such a small festival,” she admits ruefully, though her many years of festival directing has provided her with the unquantifiable currency of influence. The first German Gems festival, a jam-packed day in 2010 at the Castro (with an encore performance in Point Arena), included von Trotta’s biopic of Hildegarde von Bingen, Vision, and received an official blessing from Dieter Kosslick, director of the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival.

Since she’s less interested in competing with than enhancing the selections at Berlin and Beyond, Eggers has shifted German Gems’ focus toward student and first feature films, one of her favorite components of B and B festivals past. But like any proud parent, she still speaks fondly of her first-born festival, pointing out the big-name film personalities who graced Berlin and Beyond’s stage: Bruno Ganz, Michael Verhoeven, and Wim Wenders — coups that put the event on the map, even in Germany. It won’t ever be quite the same without her, but thanks to Eggers’ persistent efforts over the years, the future of San Francisco’s premiere showcase of German cinema seems assured.

GOLDIES 2011 Lifetime Achievement: David Meltzer


GOLDIES “This isn’t a conflict of interest, I hope?” David Meltzer asks. We’re smoking on the back porch of his Piedmont apartment with his wife, poet Julie Rogers, about two bottles of wine into our interview, wondering whether he’s the first former Guardian contributor to get a Goldie. A decade or so ago, he was writing CD reviews and the odd feature on anything from pedal steel guitar to new age music. But Meltzer had made a reputation long before, as the youngest poet (along with Ron Loewinsohn, now a UC Berkeley professor) in Donald Allen’s seminal New American Poetry (Grove, 1960). Now, at age 74, he’s fresh from his latest achievement, When I Was a Poet, chosen by Lawrence Ferlinghetti as #60 in the City Lights Pocket Poets Series.

Between these two events he’s made so many distinctive contributions to Bay Area culture that his foray into music journalism for the Guardian is simply characteristic of his protean endeavors. Indeed, his musical endeavors alone would earn him a place in San Francisco history, beginning with his late ’50s jazz poetry readings at the Cellar. In the mid-’60s, Meltzer hosted the Monday night hootenannies at the Coffee Gallery — folk jam sessions attracting visitors like David Crosby, as well as now-legendary locals like Jerry Garcia — as well as performing there regularly with his late first wife, Tina Meltzer (who died in 1997).

“It was the genesis of the SF rock scene,” Meltzer says, and he soon found himself, like Dylan, “going electric,” as guitarist, songwriter, and co-lead vocalist of the Serpent Power, a psychedelic folk band featuring Tina on vocals and poet Clark Coolidge on drums, along with stray members of the Grass Roots. Released on Vanguard Records in 1967, Serpent Power’s eponymous LP went nowhere at the time, but in 2007 was named #28 on Rolling Stone‘s top 40 albums of the Summer of Love (which, if you think of the number of classics released in ’67, is extraordinary). As an example of the possibilities of long-form rock, the 13-minute, album-closing “Endless Tunnel” is widely considered ahead of its time.

Meltzer’s a natural raconteur — easily outlasting my digital recorder — because his life’s been so extraordinary. By the time he moved from L.A. to SF in 1957, first inhabiting the window display area of a defunct radio repair shop at 1514 Larkin, the Brooklyn-born Meltzer was already a former child performer on radio and TV, as well as a recent participant in the art scene around Wallace Berman. But SF was an irresistible lure for a 20-year-old poet.

“It seemed to be the place of a kind of creative surge,” he recalls, having already encountered Pocket Poets books such as Ferlinghetti’s Pictures of the Gone World (1955) and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (1956). “I needed to be in a place where you dealt with language rather than paint and images.”

“Of course, when I got here, the first place I went to was City Lights,” Meltzer continues. “It was much smaller back then, like a more proletarian Gotham Bookmart, with an emphasis on literary production.”

By 1961, Meltzer would find himself co-editor of the first issue of City Lights’ occasional Journal for the Protection of All Beings, the first of several projects he worked on at the press. But, despite Ferlinghetti’s admiration for his work, When I Was a Poet is Meltzer’s first book of poems for City Lights, some 54 years after his arrival. “It’s just one of those things,” says Meltzer, who published many books over the years on presses ranging from Black Sparrow to Penguin.

Space precludes a full rehearsal of Meltzer’s career, and significant items — such as editing the poetry and kabbalah journal Tree in the ’70s or co-founding the New College poetics program in ’80s — can only be mentioned in passing. His precociousness has engendered a sort of perpetual youth, and you can still find Meltzer giving readings around town, solo or in tandem with Julie Rogers. He remains one of the key people who make San Francisco great.

GOLDIES 2011: Tammy Rae Carland


GOLDIES The beds in the photographs are like any other unmade beds — messes of rumpled sheets and dented pillows occasionally punctuated by a stray article of clothing or a curious pet. Except that they are not like other beds: they are, as the title of Tammy Rae Carland’s 2002 series of depopulated portraits informs the viewer, “lesbian beds.”

The distinction is crucial, critical. A smart conceptual retort to the hoary stereotype of lesbian bed death, Carland’s photographs of one of the places where women share their lives (and their bodies) with other women also make clear the political stakes of representing even the most quotidian objects.

At the same time, there is nothing in or about the photographs that signifies “lesbian.” Indeed, it is very banality of the images’ content, the very familiarity of the scene that is repeatedly depicted in “Lesbian Beds,” that makes them so immediately relatable. And yet to uncouple these photographs from the title which brackets them would be to disregard the difference the entire series makes visible.

This sometimes uneasy mix of representational politics and sentimental attachment to objects is at the core of Carland’s work. She cites her longtime involvement in the queer and feminist punk scenes that sprung up in Pacific Northwest in the early ’90s — where she made zines, ran a gallery space, booked shows and, later, ran the successful and politically progressive indie label Mr. Lady Records with her partner — as a catalyst for her interest in, “marginal identities and marginal bodies.”

“[And] not just in regards to sites of oppression,” explains Carland — who has lived in Oakland for close to a decade and now chairs the California College of the Arts’ photography department — “but alternative sites where people function.” It is often the material possessions accumulated at those sites, rather than the people themselves, that catch Carland’s sympathetic eye and form the genesis for a new project. For her series “Outposts,” it was the (unpopulated) encampments within the “women born, women only” space of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. In “My Inheritance,” Carland turned the camera on the inventory of her late mother’s apartment — the entirety of which could fit in a paper grocery bag.

Carland’s latest project, “I’m Dying Up Here,” which was recently featured as part of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’s triennial Bay Area Now 6, takes a different tack, focusing on stand-up comedy and the figure of the self-deprecating comedian. Pieces include staged photographs of local female performers, their faces often obscured, caught mid-routine, as well as a bar stool and microphone — the tools of the trade — cast in white porcelain.

Like beds, the comedy club stage is also a site of vulnerability, albeit a public one. For female comedians, the price of admission is often predicated on making themselves the butt of their own jokes. The melancholy and tender pieces in “I’m Dying Up Here” convey that moment, pregnant with empowerment but also the threat of rejection. A joke, like an artwork, can always flop or the audience just might not get it. A bed is just a bed; but then it isn’t, if two women share it. Carland’s work routinely foregrounds this riskiness while extending a reassuring hand as if to say, “it’s ok if this fails, because we both still tried.”

GOLDIES 2011: Paul Clipson


GOLDIES Whether we’re talking about his verging live projections or crystalline short films, Paul Clipson makes things happen onscreen. His exploratory form of lyricism is composed for Super 8 film. That for is critical, since Clipson shoots with a well-practiced intuition for what shows up as gold in Super 8 (an increasingly rare form of presentiment). While taking great advantage of the small-gauge camera’s pencil-like responsiveness to movement, Clipson works from a keen appreciation for the interrelation between fine-grained detail and expansive volumes. In the words of Gaston Bachelard, a writer Clipson admires, “Sometimes the transactions between small and large multiply, have repercussions.” Clipson’s intensive approach in both shooting and projecting his work definitely angles towards a repercussive cinema.

Compound Eyes, a series of short subjects created with musician Jefre Cantu-Ledesma during a recent residency at the San Francisco Exploratorium, puts a fine point on the phenomenological tuning of Clipson’s art. The images envision insect life in a manner unlike traditional nature documentaries, with Clipson’s suggestible camera swallowed in an unfamiliar network of spatial relations and glistening surfaces. Urban architectures emerge in juxtaposition, freshly uncertain in the face of our new sense of scale and environmental experience. Clipson tells me about chasing “the startling fact of the insect’s existence” one recent sunny afternoon. “To understand the animal,” he says, “you have to understand how it understands space — which we can’t do. What’s important to me than is sensitizing the view and creating an awareness of how the space is traversed.”

Discovery is primary to Clipson’s work, not only in his cinematographic concentration of visual phenomena, but also in his oblique tangents upon highly specific shards of film history, and especially in his approach to live performance. The shows place Clipson’s footage in dynamic relation to music performed by artists equally concerned with dynamics of time and space (many of them record for Cantu-Ledesma’s Root Strata label). For the audience, it means a good shot at a heightened state of being.

In all iterations, Clipson’s images are delighted by the ephemerality of that which passes before the camera (“I like the idea that [the insects] leave very quickly and that it’s this continual chase rather than something conditioned”). At the same time, the films realize a remarkable persistence of vision. Clipson’s open channeling of inspiration makes his films as instructive as they are beautiful; it also delivers the good news that there’s more to come.

GOLDIES 2011: Dirty Cupcakes


GOLDIES It was the summery music video that launched a thousand bubblegum crushes. Guitarist-vocalist Lauren Matsui, drummer Laura Gravander, and bassist Sola Morrissey, a.k.a the Dirty Cupcakes, adorably lust after unrequited love. The cute boy of their dreams prefers other boys, and he sexily smooches another man, while the girls swoon from different spots around San Francisco, including a Sandy-in-Grease bedroom scene. “I feel like it’s a San Francisco thing to be in love with a gay man, or somebody that you can’t have,” says Matsui.

The addictive video, created by their pals Jen Dorn, Kevin Jardin, and Aya Carpio for the band’s garage pop jam “I Want It (Your Love),” was an insta-hit this summer, gaining the relatively unknown trio more than 15,000 page views to date.

It was a rough cut of the video that convinced Matthew Melton of Bare Wires to put out the trio’s record as the first release on his new label, Fuzz City. Just released last month, the I Want It seven-inch was recorded in Melton’s bedroom in Oakland and a studio in the Tenderloin beginning late 2009. The Cupcakes were born just a year prior.

It almost began on a lark. On a sunny day in Dolores Park in 2008, some strippers were holding a bake sale, and a friend of Matsui and Morrissey’s brought back a treat. Hence the name, Dirty Cupcakes. “We didn’t even have a band, but we had the name,” Matsui laughs. Matsui, who had been playing guitar since she was 13 (thanks to A Hard Day’s Night), taught Morrissey to play the bass and they picked up Gravander shortly there after.

Gravander was playing with Nobunny at the now-shuttered Eagle Tavern when Matsui gathered some “liquid courage” and asked Gravander to join her band: “She was so awesome and totally had the energy we needed.”

The band, influenced by stripped-down bubblegum punk like Nikki and the Corvettes and early Go-Go’s, has since played throughout the Bay, most often at the Knockout (“we’re basically the resident band,” Matsui jokes) and house shows in the East Bay — Nov. 9, they’ll play Oakland’s New Parish for the first time.

Live, they play fast and loud, wearing matching costumes — colorful ’60s-esque stripey shifts, Girl Scout uniforms, dinosaur heads. At one Oakland house show, Gravander recalls things getting particularly hectic. “During the last half of our last song, the drums collapsed and I was like, ‘No! I won’t end like this!’ So I pulled the snare and held it on my lap and kept playing.”

It’s the band’s cheerful take on punk that has endeared them to locals and other bands like Shannon and the Clams. They make fun songs (including one about robot love) and videos, wear creative frocks, and say they feel the freedom to do whatever they want as band — I guess, save for making out with gay boys.

GOLDIES 2011: Katie Faulkner


GOLDIES In 2005, in deference to the shaky ground we walk on, choreographer Katie Faulkner dubbed her new ensemble little seismic dance company. For an upstart, it seemed an oddly modest name — considering the waves she’d been making, something grander might have been more appropriate. But then that’s not Faulkner’s style. Her choreography doesn’t shout; it grabs you because her dances are full of surprises, finely crafted, and have a strong sense of identity.

Most exhilarating about Faulkner’s work is its sense of adventure. You never know what this North Carolina-born choreographer will dive into next. She thrives on intimacy — a solo physicalizing the process of dying in the Road Ahead — as well as the messy process of choreographing by committee. She created Terra Incognita, Revisited, shown last summer at the 2011 WestWave Dance Festival, with colleagues Kara Davis, Manuelito Biag, and Alex Ketley. For We Don’t Belong Here, a recent commission for the Dancers’ Group ONSITE series, she needed 20 dancers. So she held “very stringent auditions,” explaining, “I needed people who could hold their own and also contribute to the process.”

Perhaps Faulkner developed her appetite for the untried through an early interest in theater. An inspiring teacher in a playwriting class encouraged her to “take myself more seriously as a creative person.” She never did finish that play, opting for what she thought dance would give her over the precision of language: “a sense of looseness and abstraction.” But it’s not by chance that she has worked so often with former ODC dancer Private Freeman, an intensely physical and dramatic performer.

Perhaps joining AXIS Dance Company straight out of Mills College (she earned her MFA in 2002) also created possibilities a more conventional company might not have offered. Not only did Faulkner’s four years with AXIS challenge her to perform a wide range of repertoire, she also watched experienced choreographers step into what was for them virgin territory. It was at AXIS that Faulkner had her first taste of choreography. The intricate, yet crystal-clear Decorum looked at sibling rivalry within a constrained environment. In it she remembered having grown up in a community “where there was a right and wrong way to look and to be.”

Faulkner, who calls her own work “imagistic,” also has made intriguing dance films and will, if she has anything to say about it, do more. The duo Loom (2008) is set on San Francisco’s rooftops; for the quartet High Tide (2006) she traveled to the edge of the continent. Up next is a still vague project about multiple perspectives. She might want to take a look at Rashomon.

GOLDIES 2011: Ana Teresa Fernandez


GOLDIES When I meet Ana Teresa Fernandez at her studio at the furthest edge of Hunters Point, she tells me she has just come from surfing. Water, it seems, is very much Fernandez’s element, frequently appearing in her dream-like video installations and her gorgeous, large-scale, photorealistic oil paintings as both setting and metaphor — and sometimes even as medium.

“My work is about an energy that is placed in an object that creates a kind of strangeness,” she explains. More often than not that object is a body of water: a swimming pool, a bathtub, the polluted shallows of the Pacific at the San Diego-Tijuana border (Fernandez was born in Tampico, Mexico), and the San Francisco Bay itself. The strangeness emerges out of the choreographies of resistance and restraint — ritually washing herself; performing household chores; walking, or more often than not, swimming in heels — that Fernandez executes at these symbolically-charged sites, documented in the larger-than-life scale of her videos and paintings.

For its many beautiful surfaces, Fernandez’s art doesn’t let you forget that the actions depicted are rarely neutral, even if the ways in which they’ve been gendered, raced, and classed have been naturalized. The glossy realism of Fernandez’s aesthetic also foregrounds the physicality and sensuality of what she’s doing or enduring. For example, in the video of her performance Ice Queen, Fernandez wears high heels made of ice while standing on an Oakland storm drain until her footwear has entirely melted back into the Bay some 45 minutes later. In one of the paintings from the “Pressing Matters” series, Fernandez is shown mopping the beach at US-Mexico border while in pumps that sink into the sand, an image that is the very definition of Sisyphean.

Fernandez wears that uniform of a black cocktail dress and matching heels in many of her performances. It simultaneously draws attention to her body through its very incongruity with her setting or actions while also rendering her archetypical feminine. When I ask her about this tension, Fernandez, who swam competitively for 14 years, informs me that to wear clothing while racing is called drag, leading to a half-joking assessment of her performance getup as “wearing the weight of femininity.”

But for Fernandez, who cites modern artist Marilyn Minter and Neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres as inspirations in the same breath, the point is not accusatory per se, but to explore how that weight can or can’t be shifted through a willful blending of the metaphoric and the physical. Water can drag you down, but it also provides buoyancy. “There are these moments of seduction that occur because of the element itself, whether its the beauty of the sea or the allure and sensuality of dance. I throw a wrench into all that,” Fernandez explains. “Actually, I throw the whole toolbox.”

GOLDIES 2011: San Francisco Hip Hop DanceFest


GOLDIES “Five, six, seven, eight!” Micaya — teacher, choreographer, and unstoppable producer of the San Francisco Hip Hop DanceFest (the 2011 edition is coming up Nov. 18-20 at the Palace of Fine Arts) — is counting off for her beginners’ class at ODC. Some of these Saturday-morning devotees are skinny; others are not. One has gray hair, most do not; some are dancers, while some … “They are all dancers. We are all dancers,” Micaya (who often calls herself “Mama”) insists after class.

There is something, perhaps not exactly maternal, but definitely loving and encompassing about the way she talks about dance in general and the Hip Hop DanceFest in particular. No matter whether she is, as now, in worn pedal pushers and thick-bottom sneakers or, as emcee at the Palace, in five-inch heels and a tight skirt barely longer than the heels are high — one way or the other, you get a sense that she feels a personal responsibility for the dancers in her life.

As a producer Micaya is a phenomenon. She has single-handedly moved hip-hop from the studio and community hall to a proscenium theater, giving it widespread recognition and enthusiastic audiences. Uniquely, she has done so by honoring the art as a social activity and in its more theatrically evolved expressions. On Micaya’s stage there is room for the recreational dancer and the professional. Significantly, she refers to all of them as “companies,” preferring that term to “crews” or “troupes.” “It’s a matter of respect,” she insists.

Yet the Hip Hop DanceFest, now in its 13th year, started on a hunch. In the late 1980s, Micaya had just arrived from the South, a dirt poor single mom with her small son in tow. “I know what it means to live on food stamps,” she remembers. But she had two kinds of wealth: love for dance (ballet, Latin, modern, jazz, African, hip-hop) and an embracing attitude towards difference, something to which she credits her upbringing. Teaching hip-hop in San Francisco, she offered yearly recitals at Dance Mission. “They always sold out,” she remembers. So she started a festival, and “that’s when I found out how big and rich Bay Area hip-hop is.”

This year the festival had over 100 applicants, from as far away as Kenya and Uganda. Seventeen of them — local, national and international — made the cut. Yet Micaya is a still frustrated producer: so much good art, so little money. No matter, she’ll soon be back on the Palace of Fine Arts stage, pointing to the dancers and exhorting audiences to “give ’em love!”

GOLDIES 2011: Philip Huang


GOLDIES An air of perspiration-inducing mystery attends an appearance by Philip Huang. Something in the playfully relaxed mien of this queer performance artist just whispers loose cannon. A notable short story writer who reinvented himself a few years ago with help from artist friend Khalil Sullivan, Huang now crops up in a variety of contexts — including a steadily expanding parade of YouTube high jinks — but is inclined to épater le bourgeois whatever the occasion. And when fired up he’s got an edge like a rotary saw.

Since college in the 1990s, Huang has lived in a rent-controlled apartment a few blocks south of the UC Berkeley campus, a modest residence also known as the Dana Street Theater. Shortly after christening his bedroom a neighborhood playhouse, Huang founded a DIY delicacy known as the Home Theater Festival. Accomplished with little more than a website and the willing participation of friends and strangers around the world, 2011’s second annual HTF included 30 shows across the Bay Area, New York, Japan, the Czech Republic, and Australia.

Huang’s own work, wildly ludicrous and rigorously un-PC, is that of a conceptual comedian. Context is often key (arriving at an anti-gay demonstration, for instance, with a rice cooker pot on his head, a homemade sign reading “No Fags on the Moon,” and a bounding enthusiasm that flummoxes demonstrators, counter-demonstrators, and cops alike). He travels somewhat incongruously in contemporary dance and performance circles, including recent appearances at Too Much! and the National Queer Arts Festival. “There are a lot of shows that will be like, modern dance, modern dance, modern dance — me — modern dance, lesbian poetry,” he allows.

Many times audiences don’t know how to react to his performances. Huang says he likes that confusion.

“A lot of shows are like, this is a serious moment; this is a funny moment,” explains the lanky, Taiwanese-born 30-something over tea at his Dana Street abode. “But it’s very tricky, those moments when you pull the rug out. That’s a precious moment for me. The room — you’re in it. You’re aliiiive!”

Hailed in his early 20s as the “next big thing” in Asian American fiction, early success drove Huang along a roller coaster track of highs and lows ending in career paralysis. Then the thought struck him he didn’t need a publisher or much of anything else to put on a show in his bedroom. That ultimately necessitated founding a theater festival to showcase the work, and an ethic of self-sufficiency Huang now shares with other artists he sees in need of a similar epiphany.

“I just got sick of this mentality artists had,” explains Huang. “They were always only receiving resources, and institutions were always only giving resources. The Home Theater Festival is about putting an idea into practice, but also it’s to change people’s mindset. No, we’re self-generative. We create opportunities. We can do it ourselves. We can make a name for ourselves. We can do everything we want right now with nothing extra added.”

GOLDIES 2011: Religious Girls


GOLDIES If they suddenly became stupidly rich, the trio behind Oakland’s Religious Girls would purchase a warehouse to turn into an all-ages venue/home-recording studio, with maybe some laser tag. Or they’d buy a food cart. If that isn’t the epitome of the modern Bay Area band, I don’t what is.

Gutted, then formed from the meat of other local acts, Religious Girls — Nicholas Cowman, Guy Culver, and Christopher Danko — became a unit in the summer of 2008. When asked if Oakland influenced their sound, Danko says, “It really did. We came together in Oakland, and grew together, our music as well.” The arty noise act’s music is that of the futurist multitasker: overflowing synth and samplers, beeping keyboard, near-tribal drumming, and three wordless chanting vocalists. Conspicuously absent are the given instruments of traditional rock ‘n’ roll.

The band is electrifying live, all loose limbs, hard-hitting drums solos, and musty, foggy chants, formed in a claustrophobic circle (more like a triangle, to be mathematically accurate), each musician clearly feeding off the energy of the others. This past summer, the rest of the country got to catch the live act — the Religious Girls (time to note: no actual females play in the band) spent 45 days on the road on their own Shred Til We Ded tour. They toured the East Coast in a giant school bus (dubbed “The Rad Bus”) with Blastoids and the Prophet Nathan, both of Tennessee, and from that trip fondly recall “jumping off a bridge and riding a waterfall in Washington, making a whirlpool with Japanther in Montana, and [getting] the stomach flu!”

The cross-country journey was in support of the recently released 12-inch EP Midnight Realms, which came out on two labels, Everybodies Stomached (in L.A.) and Echolalic Records (Seattle). To be released yet again next year, this time on German label Alien Transistor, the record is fraught with mind-expanding moments of ecstasy. The thrill of the twinkling keyboard build-up in “OG” (named for BART cop shooting victim Oscar Grant) plateaus with guttural screams and fuzzy daggers of laser synth, breaking down into near chiptune digi-video game bleeps and clacking drums. It’s pieces like this that explain the band’s magnetism, having been described as “feral and bubbly,” “fucking MONSTERS” (in a YouTube comment), and “like a more ambient Battles “(okay, that last one was me).

And in truth, it’s just really getting started, the momentum building thanks in no small part to the EP. The band is in the final stages of mixing its full-length record, set to be released next year, and has more tour plans in 2012: the trio will hit the West Coast in January, and take its first European jaunt in April after SXSW — where they’ll undoubtedly pick up a few additional fans, further spreading the good word on Oakland sound.

Occupy Yolkland



CHEAP EATS While everyone else in Oakland was occupying Oakland, Hedgehog and me took a vote and decided unanimously to occupy Montclair Village. Oscar Ogawa Plaza didn’t scare us, head-wound-wise; it was just that, from the sound of it, we didn’t think there’d be room to play catch.

Whereas Montclair Playground has a whole empty ball field, and a pond with a fountain, and birdies. And the Montclair Egg Shop is only just a block away.

It feels and sounds like its own little town, but Montclair Village is still technically Oakland, after all. So, OK, we occupied it. If anyone interviewed us, we would say that our protest was peaceful — so peaceful it didn’t even include any signs or slogans. Just mitts. Our demands were simple: a catch, and some yummy egg dishes. (I had wanted to hit her grounders, too, but we couldn’t reach a consensus, so the bat stayed in the car.)

While we warmed up our arms, we talked about what we always talk about: Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, where Hedgehog was borned and breaded. Like New Orleans — where she was, of course, fried — Bloomsburg has a bad habit of getting underwater up to its kitchen cabinets, and this fall’s flood, as reported in this very column, was its very worst one ever.

Another worst-ever thing about Bloomsburg, turns out, is its daily paper, the Press-Enterprise, whose sophisticated online version consists of unsearchable, unshareable PDFs of the paper paper, and (get this) you have to pay to see them!

Actual quote, from that paper’s publisher to a Poynter reporter: “If it’s important to people, they can go out and pick up a newspaper.”

As a result of such forward thinking, for a time the most extensive “national” news coverage of Hedgehog’s home town’s historic calamity could be found (gasp) in Cheap Eats! Because we was there, and I was personally and catastrophically affected: The fair was cancelled, and with it my first taste of what Hedgehog calls “real” chicken and waffles.

She and a handful of news hungry ex-Blooms, realizing their beloved hometown’s story was in absurdly incapable hands (i.e. mine, and the Press-Enterprise’s) accidentally started their own on-line rag, the Bloomsburg Daily, which has ever since been scooping the living daylights out of Mr. If-It’s-Important-To-People-They-Can-Go-Out-And-Pick-Up-A-Newspaper — live-streaming public meetings, posting original and professional quality videos, reporting on both sides of the great flood wall debate, and just generally kicking ass.

Problem: It’s Bloomsburg. Fucking. PA. I get tired of hearing about it, frankly, and now maybe you can relate.

I mean, I would like for my girlfriend to occupy Oakland with me, so long as we’re here.

“Hey,” I say, whenever enough gets to be, in a word, enough. “Let’s live where we live.”

We live down the hill, closer to the Dimond District, in Glenview, but I have always been fascinated by Montclair Village the same way Brisbane grabs me in San Francisco. I guess I’m a fan of anomalousness over quintessentiality.

Speaking of which, my old friend and favorite country song singer Hambone, she’s who told me about the Egg Shop. She lives in West Oakland but cleans house up in Montclair. “The Egg Shop!” she said.

So I invited her to occupy the Montclair Egg Shop with us one morning. She showed up fashionably late, and even more fashionably sporting the most farmerly overalls I ever seen on a cleaning woman. Driving a red pickup truck, to boot. Which is to say, our Hambone is the real deal, exactly.

And she was exactly right about the Egg Shop: excellent, and odd! A model BART train scooting back and forth along a track behind the counter. A real motorcycle in a Plexiglas case upstairs amidst a collection of antique rolltop desks, homemade apricot jam centerpiecing each table, and ham and cheese potato pancakes with cilantro and tomatoes. They were more like fancy hash browns than what Hedgehog would call “real” potato pancakes. But what the hell? I love hashbrowns! And eggs . . . 


Lunch: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner: Sun.-Thu. 4:30-9:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 4:30-10 p.m.

6126 Medau Place, Oakl.

(510) 339-9554


Beer & wine


Confit basteeya, garlicky marrow



APPETITE Here are four recent standout dishes or meals, offering affordable hole-in-the-wall charm or upscale creativity.



Anticipating the opening of Daniel Patterson’s restaurant (currently slated to happen by year’s end), Haven in Jack London Square, there have been a series of preview dinners on Tuesdays at his Oakland restaurant, Plum — the last one is Tue/15. Haven chef Kim Alter has been on hand to cook a five-course Haven dinner, applying the indelible signature style she established at Sausalito’s Plate Shop.

While I saw Alter’s promise there, I find myself more excited by the Haven preview. It seems her meticulous artistry is making space for comfort in a way that satisfies, yet is neither routine nor predictable.

Three cheers for her bone marrow dish, possibly my favorite bone marrow interpretation ever. A trail of garlic scents the air as two hefty bones come out. Vivid, pickled watermelon radishes brighten up the marrow visually, while leeks and yuzu juice add unexpected layers. Smeared over crusty bread, it was so perfectly indulgent we wanted to applaud. A main course of duck breast and tender duck confit delighted with the accompaniment of beets multiple ways, including dehydrated beets ground up with rye grain, or in German sauerkraut style.

Cocktail king Scott Beattie put three classics on the preview dinner menu, getting creative with ingredients in keeping with a gin theme. Old World Spirits’ Rusty Blade gin made a lush base with maraschino liqueur and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth for his take on a classic Martinez ($10). Smooth and sexy with the duck dish in particular.

Patterson’s flagship is the much-lauded Coi, and Coi’s pastry chef Matt Tinder took care of dessert, winning me over by filling buttery brioche with warm Brillat-Savarin cheese, topped with crispy honeycomb. Savory, creamy, with gently floral honey, it’s a dessert exemplifying the spirit of the entire dinner: inventive yet ultimately gratifying. I’m left expectant for what Alter and crew will cook at Haven.

Plum is located at 2214 Broadway, Oakl. (510) 444-7586, www.plumoakland.com. For the final Haven preview dinner, Tue/15, simply reserve for dinner for that date.



After moving around to various Tenderloin and North Bay storefronts, gifted Turkish chef Vahit Besir’s started at the new Grill House Mediterranean, only to leave a few weeks later. I caught him on one visit to this humble hole-in-the-wall, no longer there on my most recent stop. Though other food writers have deemed their visits inconsistent, my tastes here have been steady and as such, I find it a worthy place to pick up Middle Eastern bites when in the ‘Loin, though missing Besir.

Shredded chicken, lamb, or beef shawarma ($9.99 plate, or combo of all three: $11.99) fills out a toasted lavash wrap ($6.99-7.99) quite nicely, companion to lettuce, tomato, cucumber, hummus, and tahini sauce (as spicy as you wish).

The menu runs $10 or less with ubiquitous starters ($3.99 each) of baba ganoush, tabouli, dolmas, piyaz (white bean salad), and lahmajun, essentially Middle Eastern flatbread topped with ground beef. The most addictive bite is feta cheese pie ($3.99) straight out of the oven (or stuffed with beef, chicken or spinach). Tomatoes and warm feta ooze from a roll sprinkled in sesame seeds. A supreme Middle Eastern treat.

533 Jones, SF. (415) 440-7786, www.grillhousesf.com



Blue collar workers and Civic Center government staff line-up at Prime Dip, a new sandwich shop on Larkin. No frills, just hefty dip sandwiches ($6.99-7.99) on French bread, including a popular prime rib dip. Under $8 is a deal for such hefty rolls, including a choice of sides like mac n’ cheese or mixed veggies. There’s a loaded lobster dip ($12.99) with hot dill butter, though I find my New Jersey (NY) roots push me straight for the hot pastrami dip. Crusty French bread softens when dipped in meaty jus, while spicy mustard and melted Swiss cushion thinly sliced pastrami.

518 Larkin, SF. (415) 800-8244



A meal at Aziza is never boring. Celebrated Chef Mourad Lahlou (whose new cookbook Mourad: New Moroccan was just released) puts such an artistic spin on Moroccan food. Some dishes achieve greater heights than others — but all fascinate, reinterpreting traditional elements. Although Aziza’s anticipated downtown location just fell through, the hunt for a new building continues.

Savory, garden-fresh cocktails were the highlight of a recent visit, but on the food front, juicy, little meatballs ($14) on skewers with grapes play the sweet-savory card to winning effect, accented by herb-tossed jicama. I adore Lahlou’s basteeya (or bastilla), to me the ultimate Moroccan dish. This visit it was tweaked from the usual chicken or traditional squab, filled instead with duck confit. Tender, shredded duck is encased in phyllo dough ($22), sweetly contrasted by raisins, cinnamon, and powdered sugar, plus slivers of almonds. Savory-plus-sweet gets me every time.

5800 Geary, SF. (415) 752-2222, www.aziza-sf.com

Subscribe to Virgina’s twice-monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot at www.theperfectspotsf.com


The growing 99 percent



In recent weeks, the Bay Area has been roiled by anger and frustration with how the rich have grown richer while the rest of us endure underemployment, foreclosures, and deep cuts to public education and services, peaking with the Nov. 2 Oakland General Strike that drew more than 10,000 people into the streets to demand economic justice.

The Occupy Wall Street movement — and its many local manifestations, including OccupySF and Occupy Oakland — has been the main vehicle for those populist passions for the last two months, with the support of the labor movement. But now, student and faculty groups from California’s three public university systems are about to get involved in the fight in a big way.

Student and labor groups allied with the ReFund California coalition are planning a week of action for Nov. 9-16, culminating that final day in demonstrations outside the California State University Board of Trustees meeting in Fullerton and University of California Board of Trustees meeting at the UCSF campus in San Francisco’s Mission Bay.

Those protests aim to connect the problem of deep cuts and tuition hikes in the public university systems with the larger issue of wealthy individuals and corporations that haven’t been paying their fair share. The coalition wants the boards to pledge support for a five-point action plan that includes taxes on the wealthy, removing commercial property from Prop. 13 caps on property taxes, restoration of cuts to higher education, a sales tax on Wall Street financial transactions, and pressuring banks to reduce mortgage debt on underwater homes.

Charlie Eaton, a ReFund California organizer from United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents teaching assistants at UC, notes that many UC and CSU board members also sit on the boards of major banks and corporations that have contributed to the current financial crisis and which have been in the crosshairs of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“It’s really a club of California’s corporate elites,” Eaton said. “It’s about saying to these folks: if you aren’t willing to actively support paying your fair share, or at least get out of the way, we can’t let it be business as usual at the Wall Street institutions that you help run.”



He said there’s a direct connection between the actions of these corporate boards and lack of resources in California for public education and services, so it’s only right that these powerful board members — from Regent Richard Blum, the investment banker husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to Trustee Bill Hauck, former head of the California Business Roundtable — support the needs of the 99 percent.

“We’ll be there to call on them to sign the pledge,” Eaton said of the Nov. 16 meetings. “And if they aren’t prepared to make that pledge, we’re headed to the Financial District to make sure there is no business as usual for these corporations.”

That day of action will echo the last ReFund California protest in San Francisco, the Sept. 29 “Make Banks Pay” march through the Financial District that was one of the first high-profile demonstrations involving OccupySF. The march was several hundred strong, targeting major financial institutions including a Chase Bank branch on Market Street that was occupied by protesters, resulting in six arrests.

When we asked Eaton whether the Occupy movement would lend its energy and numbers to these ReFund California protests, he said, “We’re embedded in the Occupy movement, so it’s not quite right to say it’s something the Occupy movement might help with…I think the Occupy Wall Street movement shows we can make them pay.”

Meanwhile, the next day (Nov. 17), Occupy Wall Street plans to march the 11-mile length of Manhattan in a day of action that will be supported by solidarity marches by Occupy encampments across the country. That is also the day that a two-campus strike is being threatened by the California Faculty Association.

“I think that day is going to be a busy day all around the nation,” Kim Geron, a political science professor at CSU East Bay and vice president of the CFA, told us.

On Nov. 7, the CFA Board of Directors authorized one-day strikes for Nov. 17 at the CSU East Bay and CSU Dominguez Hills campuses to protest CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed’s decision to withhold negotiated faculty pay raises. It would be the first faculty strike in the system since 1983, although a strike was authorized in 2007 but called off after a negotiated settlement.

After the vote, according to a statement put out to members, CFA President Lillian Taiz told her board, “We hope this carefully targeted strike, which symbolizes both our anger and our commitment to fairness, will lead to changes in his priorities and his positions. If it does not, the CFA leadership—and the CSU faculty we represent—are prepared to escalate the fight.”



CSU spokesperson Mike Uhlenkamp said the campuses will remain open despite the strikes. “We expect it to be business as usual,” he said. As for the pledge that ReFund California is seeking, “We don’t get into advocating between taxing and not taxing,” he said, saying that’s a state decision and “we’re not going to push them to make that determination.”

Guardian calls to the UC President’s Office were not returned by press time. A spokesperson for Gov. Jerry Brown, who is the subject of a student letter-writing campaign urging him to tax the rich and stop cutting public services, continued to blame Republicans.

“We too are deeply concerned about cuts to the state’s universities and colleges, which is why the Governor pushed for a solution to our budget deficit that included extending revenues. Unfortunately, Republicans in the Legislature refused to even allow the people of California to vote on the measure, which could have helped prevent future cuts,” Brown spokesperson Evan Westrup responded via email.

When we asked whether Brown was simply giving up, how he planned to deal with the problem, and why Brown has not followed up his campaign pledge to tax the rich with any proposals to do so, he wrote simply, “There are a number of ways to pursue additional revenue moving forward and these options are being considered.”

Geron said there is a clear connection between problems in the CSU system and the hoarding of resources by the richest one percent of Americans, the main critique of Occupy Wall Street, a movement driven largely by current and recent college students.

“We are part of it. One of our slogans is we are the 99 percent and we teach the 99 percent,” Geron told us.

While the CFU is focused on decisions by the Chancellor’s Office — indeed, the strike is legally allowed only because the chancellor broke the contract by withholding negotiated pay increases — Geron said those decisions were made in a climate of deep funding cuts prompted by the state budget crisis.

“Obviously, the economic crisis is a lot of the reason why all this happened. It’s part of a larger crisis that is going on about how to fund the public good, including higher education,” Geron said. “Students are paying a lot more and getting a lot less. That’s the heart of what’s going on.”

The UC Student Association is taking part in the ReFund California week of action, but has not yet voted to participate in direct action against corporations on Nov. 16, Executive Director Matt Haney told us. But he said that many UC students will still take part in that action, just as they’ve been taking part in the Occupy movement.

“It’s the same frustrations. We have to get out there and start pushing this ourselves,” he told us. “We need to show the state that things can’t just keep moving along as they have. We have to put a stop to business as usual. The economic collapse is what destroyed the UC system.”

Haney sees the student, labor, and Occupy movements starting to come together in a very natural way. “It has really put the wind in the sails of student activists to see the energy of the Occupy movement,” Haney said. “There is a coming together of students and labor, and it’s overlapping with the Occupy movement in a powerful way.” *

Find details about the ReFund California Week of Action at www.makebankspaycalifornia.com.

Rat trap



The contents of the ubiquitous bright yellow packages of a common household product are making some local activists go green. Residents are roiling against rats in Berkeley, Marin is trying to attract owls to eat them, and San Francisco is busy persuading stores to stop selling some of the most popular rat baits even before the federal government pulls the plug on pellet-type rodent poisons.

A battle is brewing between the $1 billion pesticide industry that makes D-Con and other common pellet-form rat and mouse poisons and the Environmental Protection Agency, which said June 4 it would either cancel and ban them or, depending on what they contain, require them to be sold with a childproof device.

Several of the makers of the rodenticides have gone to court to fight the proposal, which was supposed to go into effect by now. And four of the companies — Woodstream, Inc., Liphatech, Inc., Reckitt Benckiser, and Spectrum Group — won’t commit to stop making the products during the appeal process. In a press release, Reckitt said its anti-rat pellets are safe and "lawful for sale" unless a court orders otherwise. After the ban announcement, Alan Pryor, Liphatech’s sales director, called the EPA "an agency run wild."

In January, the EPA sued Reckitt in an attempt to instigate misbranding proceedings against the firm’s pellet products instead of canceling them, which could take courts a year or two to decide. But a district court ruled in favor of the company, calling the agency’s bid to speed things up via misbranding "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to law."

The stakes are enormous. Rodent pellet products are strong sellers at hardware stores. Rodent prevention "is an issue throughout the year," says Paulino Tamayo, pest control buyer for San Francisco’s Cliff’s Variety. "Customers are constantly inquiring about it."

One reason: up to 4,000 children under the age of five are reportedly bitten by rats, which carry more than 70 known diseases, in large cities in the U.S. per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. It’s not just children who are seeing the rats.

On Sept. 20, disgusted subway workers demonstrated at New York’s Jamaica Central Terminal, where rats were reported multiplying and even infiltrating train cars. Claiming cutbacks by the MTA were contributing to increased trash and waving a banner reading "New Yorkers Deserve A Rat-Free Subway," members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 persuaded thousands of riders to sign a web petition. The New York Daily News reported the MTA is eliminating 254 cleaning jobs.

Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety & Pollution Prevention, said the EPA issued the change to "keep our children and pets safe from these poisons." Every year, the American Association of Poison Control Centers receives 12,000-15,000 reports of kids under the age of six being exposed to rodent bait.

Some analysts think the unreported exposure rate could be 10 times as high; the EPA estimates it’s four times as much. A 2006 EPA study found that of 68,005 children under six exposed to rodenticides, 18,084 had to be treated at a health care facility.

And according to the ASPCA’s National Animal Poison Control Center, tens of thousands of pets, livestock, and wildlife are being poisoned by rodenticides per year. "It’s common," says Dr. Camille DeClementi, senior director of the NAPCC. "Dogs frequently get into bait."

The EPA wants to ban 20 products with brodifacoum, which is in D-Con, and three other chemicals (bromadiolone, difethialone, and difenacoum) for use in residences. But pesticides with the chemicals could still be used by exterminators and farm owners. On Sept. 7, the agency said it would meet Nov. 29 to consider "scientific conclusions" supporting its decision; it’s accepting comments through Nov. 15.

One looming question: will the ban work? Some mom and pop shop owners are so desperate for sales in the recession that they’ve turned to offering dirt-cheap but illegal rat poisons, often from China. On Sept. 19, 12 people were arrested in New York City’s Chinatown for selling brodifacoum and sodium fluoroacetate-laced products which, because they look like cookies, could attract children, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said at a news conference. The U.S. has forbidden use of sodium fluoroacetate against rats since 1972.

And while commending the EPA "for trying to reduce the risk of poisoning," DeClementi says that although the new regulations would stop most cats from being poisoned, many dogs will simply chew open the poison-strewn blocks, called "bait stations," that will be required if the regulations take effect. "Dogs," she says, "explore the world with their mouths. The same thing that makes the bait attractive to rodents will make it attractive to dogs. Dogs will seek the stations out."

Worse yet, DeClementi, a veterinarian who’s been with the ASPCA since 1999, predicts that the ban will produce an unintended consequence: if they lose in court, pest control companies will switch to selling a class of other, even more deadly poisons known as "first generation" rodenticides.

And their two most likely choices, believes DeClementi, will be bromethalin, a neurotoxin which causes paralysis or seizures that are almost impossible to treat, and cholecalciferol, a form of vitamin D which, in high doses, induces kidney failure that requires lengthy and expensive treatment.

"I wonder if sterlizing rodents would work better?" she asks. "But would eating rats on birth control also kill birds of prey?"

For now, she favors products that catch rodents "in a little house," such as rat zappers, and telling bird lovers to "keep their bird seed in containers instead of bags."

Others favor more natural approaches. After rats seeking warm places to nest caused a reported $5,000–<\d>$7,000 in damage to vehicles by chewing their carpets and other parts in the garage of the Marin County Civic Center, the county, in cooperation with the Hungry Owl Project, spent less than $1,000 to put up six barn owl boxes adjacent to the San Rafael building September 10. Each owl family can consume up to 5,000 of the voracious vermin per year.

Meanwhile, not everyone is waiting for the EPA’s rules to go into effect. Retailers around the USA are starting to withdraw rat pellet bait products.

Now that the EPA has published its rule change, stores in New York must, under state law, take the rat bait products off their shelves. And after the discovery of four dead Cooper’s hawks, three of which tested positive for rodenticide poisoning, activists in California say they will press for the enactment of a similar law.

"I’m outraged at the makers of these rodenticides for not caring about people or the welfare of animals," says Lisa Owens Viani, who founded Raptors Are The Solution (RATS) this summer after a Cooper’s hawk was found dead on a sidewalk off Berkeley’s Bancroft Street, four years after three other Cooper’s hawks died in her Berkeley neighborhood. Tests by the University of California at Davis showed the sidewalk hawk had ingested the rodenticides brodifacoum and diphacinone; two of the other birds tested positive for brodifacoum.

"The companies that are fighting (the EPA) are some of the same ones that make rodent traps," she says. "They will still have plenty of other products to sell."

Owens Viani, who led a jam-packed organizing meeting of RATS August 26, says part of her motivation to act is "a personal thing. I have lots of animals. My vet told me he’s seen lots of dogs, cats, and horses that have been poisoned by rats."

"A little girl was devastated to come across the young juvenile hawk that had bled to death on the sidewalk," she says.

"At first, I went door to door and passed out fliers, asking if anyone else was finding dead birds, for a five block radius," remembers Owens Viani. She discovered that although most bird books say Cooper’s hawks eat other birds, a local photographer had shot images of them also feeding rats to their young.

RATS plans to urge hardware and chain stores in the San Francisco Bay Area to immediately stop selling the products named by the EPA. "We want to push them along," says Owens Viani. "People are really concerned about this problem. They are tired of relying on poisons."

Meanwhile, on Sept. 9, San Francisco sent letters to about 140 hardware stores, big box stores, and garden centers, asking them to voluntarily "pledge to stop ordering" the affected products by Sept. 15. Signed by Melanie Nutter, director of the city’s Department of Environment, the letter included a list of "alternative rat and mouse baits" that meet the EPA’s standards.

"The EPA is being hamstrung" by the court battle, says Chris Geiger, San Francisco’s green purchasing manager. "The products in question are highly toxic. We think we owe it to the people of San Francisco to let them know about this situation and to encourage them not to sell or buy this stuff."

"The good thing is that there are other things people will buy instead," adds Geiger.

It isn’t the first time San Francisco’s been involved in the rodenticides controversy. In 2007, it virtually banned the use of rodenticides on city-owned properties, except for sewers, "where," says Geiger, "there’s nothing else we know of that can be used" to kill rats.

Sensing a potentially explosive issue that could pit environmentalists against people with health concerns about rats, Geiger says the city is trying to work with store owners in order to avoid trouble. "We want to help vendors not have people picketing outside their hardware outlets," he says. In coming weeks, San Francisco plans to hold community meetings to deal with consumer concerns about rodenticides.

So far, more than 15 stores have complied with the request. Among them: Sloat Garden Centers’ entire chain, including its stores in San Francisco, Mill Valley, San Rafael, Kentfield, Novato, and Danville; Papenhausen Hardware, in West Portal; and Cliff’s Variety, in the Castro.

Says Cliff’s Tamayo: "We’re selling out what little we have left of the old products and have already restocked our shelves with new items." At first, Tamayo considered slashing prices to lure worried customers back to the store. "I thought I might have to put them on sale," he says. But after getting only four complaints, Cliff’s is, at least for now, staying the course.

As for Owens Viani, she says it’s also now time to push the state to do what San Francisco is doing but on steroids, by having the Golden State order harmful rodenticide products removed from stores. "We want California to pass a law, so we are going to approach a legislator to get a bill going," says Viani, who lives in the flatlands of Berkeley, which is a prime breeding area for rats.

For information about the next meeting of RATS or to help the group succeed, please go to www.hungryowl.org/kboib or contact Owens Viani at lowensvi@sbcglobal.net.

The odd evictions at Parkmerced



The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office has started investigating conditions at Parkmerced in the wake of housing advocates’ concerns that tenants have been issued a high volume of notices warning that they could face eviction due to unpaid utility fees.

The questions surrounding back payments and pending evictions, many of which impact low-income renters, have emerged only a few months after the Board of Supervisors narrowly approved a controversial redevelopment project at the neighborhood-scale housing complex. When it was under consideration, project opponents voiced concerns that housing for low-income residents could be jeopardized under the plan if tenant protections guaranteed by the developers did not stand up in court.

“The timing of it is a little suspicious,” said Tyler McMillan, executive director of the San Francisco-based Eviction Defense Collaborative. “A lot of folks suddenly are moving toward the eviction process … right after they got approved for this big development. It all just smells really bad.”

Parkmerced spokesperson PJ Johnston told the Guardian the notices had nothing to do with the development approval, and were simply a consequence of unpaid bills. “I don’t think the city attorney is going to find anything of particular interest,” he said. “This is an issue of a property owner telling people who owe bills that they have to pay their bills.”

Stellar Management, Parkmerced’s property management company, issued 196 notices this past summer and in September warning tenants that they could face eviction if they did not take steps to bring their accounts current within three days.

In some cases, back payments had piled up for more than a year, and the bills ranged from around $400 to $1,200 — a burdensome dilemma for very low income residents getting by on fixed incomes.

The issue wasn’t payment of rent; most of the charges stemmed from water, sewer, and trash pick-up fees administered by a third-party billing company called American Utility Management (AUM). Parkmerced cited breach of the lease agreement as grounds for eviction.

Some tenants dispute the charges, and have told the San Francisco Rent Board and other agencies that they were surprised to receive the bills and didn’t know they had past-due amounts until they were presented with the high bills.

In any case, it’s an unusual situation — San Francisco tenants rarely face eviction over water or garbage bills.



Many tenants have since been given a chance to set up payment plans and were granted a 45-day timeline to work out a payback system, noted San Francisco Rent Board director Delene Wolf. But not everyone was lucky enough to dodge the bullet. Since the notices went out, the Eviction Defense Collaborative has taken on cases for 14 separate eviction proceedings at Parkmerced, McMillan said.

“They are evicting a lot more people in the last couple months than they were at this time last year,” McMillan noted. Wolf confirmed this, saying, “We saw a huge groundswell.”

The city attorney has been responsive to advocates’ concerns. “We met with the City Attorney’s office, and they’re collecting cases,” explained Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee. “A key question is, why are these low-income renters behind?”

So far, the answer remains unclear. Tenant advocates remain skeptical that the charges are legitimate, in part because they have questions about how fees were assessed. There have also reports of monthly parking fees charged to tenants who don’t own vehicles. “They’re really questionable amounts … that are years and years old,” McMillan noted. “There’s so much doubt about whether they owe this money.”

Some of the 196 tenants who received warning notices claimed they didn’t know they were responsible for the fees. John Martinek tried to help his friend, a 55-year-old Parkmerced resident and veteran, after he was hit with a bill totaling more than $600.

“He might’ve owed it, but here’s the thing: They never told him anything about paying water and garbage,” Martinek said. “They never once asked him, they never once said a word. They were trying to scare him, there’s no question about it. They were trying shake him out of there.” He said his friend had been spared from eviction thanks to legal assistance.

Johnston, meanwhile, dismissed the idea that tenants were in the dark on how much they owed. “It’s patently ridiculous to suggest that residents who have signed a lease weren’t aware that they had to pay their bills,” he said.

In most cases, garbage charges in San Francisco are either included in the rent or are completely separate from rent, collected by a private company and can’t be grounds for eviction. Water bills are typically included in monthly rent or collected by the city — and thus aren’t grounds for eviction either.



Of the 14 eviction proceedings that are going forward, McMillan said, 10 involve tenants who receive Section 8 housing assistance, a federal program administered by the San Francisco Housing Authority. Of those 10, eight concerned disputed fees, he said.

There are a total of 170 Section 8 tenants at Parkmerced, according to figures cited by Megan Baker of Catholic Charities CYO, and 82 of them were among the 196 tenants who received three-day notices.

While Parkmerced previously attracted renters enrolled in the Section 8 program, Stellar stopped accepting those housing applications about a year ago, Baker said. Her organization provides emergency financial assistance for families at risk of homelessness and has been working with Parkmerced tenants since October 2009.

Baker added that she’d met with some tenants who were charged attorney’s fees on top of the back-payments. “They don’t have the means to pay legal costs,” she said. “These very large charges are not going hand-in-hand with their monthly statements. It’s all of a sudden. It leads us to think that in the process of changing management and gearing up for redevelopment, they really don’t want low-income tenants.”

In the wake of recent coverage about the trend of eviction notices in the Guardian and other publications (See “Low Income Tenants Face Possible Eviction at Parkmerced,” Politics Blog, Oct. 7, 2011), the three-day notices have slowed, reports Wolf, of the Rent Board. “There were no notices this month,” she said, referring to October, which could be a sign that management had taken a different tack under pressure from housing advocates and media scrutiny.

Shortt, of the Housing Rights Committee, noted that she had sought assistance from Board President David Chiu after her organization began working with impacted tenants. Chiu cast the swing vote on Parkmerced, sparking the ire of tenant advocates, but professed to be looking out for tenant interests.

Chiu introduced 14 pages of amendments to the Parkmerced development agreement intended to strengthen tenant protections, and used those changes to justify his support for the project. However, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force determined Nov. 1 that members of the Land Use and Economic Development Committee violated the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance when it considered Chiu’s amendments, because the public wasn’t provided with full documentation of the proposed changes.

Chiu’s office contacted Parkmerced with questions about the eviction notices, but Shortt said she came away with the impression that the board president was not about to exert pressure on Stellar Management or Parkmerced developers over this issue. Chiu’s office indicated to Shortt that they planned to collaborate with Sup. Sean Elsbernd, whose District 11 includes Parkmerced, to decide how to proceed.

“We haven’t seen any evidence that this is connected to the development in any way,” Judson True, Chiu’s legislative aide, told the Guardian. “We’re committed to working with Parkmerced, Sup. Elsbernd’s office, and the residents to keep as many people in their homes as possible.”

The San Francisco City Attorney’s office is urging any Parkmerced tenants experiencing questionable late-payment charges to contact the Code Enforcement Hotline at 415-554-3977.

Helping the 99 percent — with less


OPINION La Raza Centro Legal, an organization central to the empowerment of San Francisco’s low-wage immigrant workers, finds common cause with the Occupy movement during a time when our programs combining legal services and worker organizing are in jeopardy. Our hour of need falls within a window of tough times, but heightened political awareness, and we are calling out to the community to join us in solidarity as members of the 99 percent.

La Raza’s resonance with Occupy shows on a bilingual sign printed for the movement. Under a day laborer’s face, the sign reads, “We are the 99 percent. I’m blamed for the economic crisis, but what about the Wall Street banks?” Immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in government services, generate revenue exceeding the services they receive, subsidize the Social Security system, and provide labor that supports entire industries.

Contrary to the red herring propaganda generated by the 1 percent, the scapegoated low-wage immigrant worker is not the cause of the financial crisis in the United States. Occupy has resuscitated public discourse with the plain facts of shocking economic inequity and the corruption of our democracy. Immigration debate can now rise to the surface after nearly drowning in the lies that spawned the recent legal abominations in Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia.

In the current political and economic climate, immigrant rights organizations face an intractable three-pronged challenge: dangerous policies born of anti-immigrant zeal, a crushing economic crisis that disproportionately impacts low-income communities of color, and dwindling funds from the government and foundations that used to support our work. The Obama administration’s Orwellian-named “Secure Communities” deportation program creates an unprecedented stream of profits for privately contracted immigration detention facilities rife with human rights abuses. At the same time, employers take advantage of job scarcity to exploit low-wage immigrant workers. On the same days that our advocacy and services are needed more than ever, we’ve receive news that a grant that we depend on will not be renewed in the coming year.

Just like so many other members of the 99 percent, La Raza Centro Legal is in financial crisis. If the organization cannot find immediate support, some of La Raza’s programs that help so many people in the immigrant community could die. If La Raza is diminished, who will reunite a family unjustly torn apart, or take an employer to task for ripping off a day laborer so that the worker can feed his children? Who will organize the community so that, through La Raza’s Day Labor Program and Women’s Collective, low-wage immigrant workers can find their voice and build their own innate capacity for leadership in their community?

We aren’t giving up. Because the Occupy movement has pushed into public consciousness the well-established but long-ignored truth of how the status quo is hurting us all, it offers incredible hope. An October 20 community meeting kicked off a new fundraising drive for La Raza. San Franciscans and the city must join us in solidarity to help us find ways to support community nonprofits in declining economies and increasing civil rights abuses — which is when they are needed most.

Kate Hegé and Kate Deeny work in the Workers’ Rights Program at La Raza Centro Legal. For more information about how to help, contact Genevie Gallegos, Executive Director of La Raza Centro Legal at Genevie@lrcl.org.

Welcome to Marijuanaland



HERBWISE Marijuana is California’s top cash crop, one that has had a major impact on the state, particularly since it was legalized for medical use in 1996. Nowhere is that impact felt more than in the global epicenter of pot production, the fabled Emerald Triangle — the rural northern counties of Humboldt, Menodocino, and Trinity — which has been transformed by the cannabis boom, in ways good and bad.

In his new book, Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War, author Jonah Raskin offers an insider’s look at the pot-fueled evolution of the people, politics, economics, and culture of the region. The fascinating journey — mixing personal stories with deep investigative reporting — begins in 1977 when Raskin harvested his lawyer/rancher father’s secret pot patch after he died from cancer and continues through last year’s defeat of Prop. 19, the measure that would have legalized even recreational marijuana use but which was opposed by many growers seeking to protect their market share.

Along the way, we meet a wide variety of cultivators, from back-to-the-land hippies to their entrepreneurial grandchildren, as well as the cops, community leaders, lawyers, journalists, and others touched by the marijuana trade — which in the Emerald Triangle, is pretty much everyone.

The book, published by High Times magazine, is certainly a celebration of the wonder weed and harsh condemnation of the federal government’s long-lingering war on it. Raskin — a Sonoma State University communications professor who has authored 14 books, including 2009’s Field Days about food politics — is revealingly honest about his love of marijuana and support for his fellow smokers.

“This book is in part a story about coming out of the marijuana closet,” Raskin told me. “I don’t want to out anyone but I will say this, that famous journalists who smoked marijuana stopped smoking it when they wrote and published books about marijuana so that when they were asked after publication ‘Do you smoke pot?’ they could honestly say, ‘No I do not.’ I don’t pressure anyone to come out. It’s an individual choice. But I do think that individuals and the whole society need to come out and come clean about marijuana. It has been a dirty little secret for far too long. I also wanted to prove that we are at a place in California where you can admit to smoking and not have adverse things happen to you.”

Yet Raskin also writes critically about the marijuana industry and the greed, secrecy, social problems, criminality, and economic homogenization that it has spawned in a part of California that once passionately eschewed some of these very forces. True, much of the problem stems from prohibition rather than pot production itself, but his warts-and-all approach is a refreshing perspective on an industry that tends be either demonized or glamorized — so much so that the book almost didn’t get published.

“I had to twist some arms and I had some inside help — the fact that High Times was willing to publish a book that didn’t paint an entirely rosy picture also shows that they have grown up and that they felt strongly enough about the book and themselves to publish it,” Raskin told me.

That kind of journalism — which sees marijuana as an important California industry, but one deserving of more scrutiny and sunshine — is also practiced by a pair of regional journalists included in the book: Anderson Valley Advertiser publisher Bruce Anderson and Arcata Eye editor Kevin Hoover. Along with Raskin — and perhaps us here at the Guardian — these journalists have helped create the beginnings of an honest public dialogue about this booming industry. And as Californians try to fend off the latest law enforcement assault (see “Feds crack down,” 10/11) and prepare another legalization push as soon as next year, Marijuanaland is an important contributor to that conversation.

Editor’s notes



I really can’t get that upset about the broken bank windows in Oakland. This is minor stuff, a tiny part of what has been largely a peaceful Occupy movement. The windows have been replaced, the banks and their insurance companies have paid for it, the Occupy people helped clean up … whatever.

The problem was that the folks who went a bit Seattle ’99 on Oakland weren’t thinking too clearly — or else they didn’t care about the differences between then and now, and here and there, and why property destruction in downtown Oakland in the fall of 2011 is a bad strategic idea.

There are always folks at a big Bay Area demonstration who want to cause some mayhem. It happened during the protests against the Iraq War, and it happened during the Oscar Grant protests, and I figured it would happen when thousands of people convenened in the East Bay for what was dubbed a general strike. Sometimes it’s spontaneous anger (see: Oscar Grant), and it’s hard to argue with; sometimes it’s sparked by police riots and violence, and while it’s hard to blame protesters for fighting back.

I’m not here to attack the black bloc or denounce anarchists or get into the whole battle over whether property destruction counts as violence. Been there, done that, got the circle-A t-shirt. I just want the Occupy movement, in Oakland and San Francisco and the rest of the country, to continue to grow and develop and become an agent of real change in a way that we haven’t seen in decades. The potential is there; this could really happen.

And that requires not just debate and discussion and theory and action; it requires political strategy.

I’m not talking about turning the refreshingly leaderless and nonhierarchical, consensus-based structure into something more traditional. I’m talking about the protesters considering the way their actions are portrayed in the news media, their ability to build crucial alliances — and frankly, their willingness to be good neighbors.

Folks: You now live in downtown Oakland and downtown San Francisco. You’ve turned empty public spaces into lively, exciting communities. That’s a positive thing.

There are other people who share downtown Oakland, and some of them are evil corporations but some are small local businesses who are hurting, just like the rest of the 99 percent. So make alliances, shop local, and don’t trash the place. That’s just smart politics.

End the death penalty in 2012


EDITORIAL It’s time to end the death penalty in California. And November 2012 may be the best chance.

A coalition led by the ACLU is launching a campaign for a ballot initiative to end executions in this state. All the pieces are in place: an outmoded, dysfunctional system that a growing number of law-enforcement veterans say is a waste of time an money. An emerging majority of California voters who no longer support the death penalty. And what’s shaping up to be a well-funded, well-organized campaign aiming for a vote in a presidential election year, when turnout will be relatively high.

The moral and human case against the death penalty is obvious — giving the state the power to kill people is wrong. The implementation of the system is, to say the least, arbitrary and capricious: Poor people and people of color are way more likely to face capital punishment than white people who have money. Many, if not most, of the people on death row have serious mental health issues, organic brain damage or were victims of abuse. No other civilized country in the developed world still allows executions.

But there’s also hard, cold, financial evidence that the current system isn’t working, evidence that appeals to conservatives. Simply put, the death penalty is a phenomenal waste of money. Since 1978, a recent Los Angeles Times study showed, California has spent $4 billion to execute a grand total of 13 people. That’s $308 million per killing.

It costs $184 million more a year to keep 714 people on death row than it would cost if they were serving life without parole. It costs millions more to prosecute and defend capital cases (a relatively low-cost death penalty prosecution still costs $1 million more than a high-priced LWOP case) and the state spends more than $300,000 per inmate for publicly subsidized defense.

Most of the death row inmates have no appeals lawyers; the cost of appeals is so high, and the work so difficult, that few private lawyers will take those cases, and the wait for a publicly funded attorney is more than 15 years. Victims get little closure from executions, since the process (properly, and by law) takes so long and is so drawn out. In fact, the most common cause of death on death row is old age.

Then there’s the fact that the drugs used in California executions are no longer made in the United States — and imported drugs may not meet U.S. quality standards. So the lethal-injection protocol now in place — which is, by itself, cruel and unusual punishment — may not survive legal challenges.

So it’s time. Local governments in San Francisco and the East Bay should endorse the effort and help promote the ballot measure. The coalition needs money and volunteers for signature gathering. Go to safecalifornia. org and sign up.