Volume 46 Number 17

Dome rock


MUSIC “I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a geodesic dome,” says drummer-guitarist Andy Duvall, formerly of Zen Guerilla, and currently one third of the improvisational space rock outfit Carlton Melton. “But if you stand right in the middle, there’s a sweet spot.”

Carlton Melton records all its stripped down, lo-fi material in a dome house located a few hours north of here, though the three mainstays — Duvall, Rich Millman, and Clint Golden — call Oakland and San Francisco home. As for their process: “We just go up, hang out, and record all weekend. It’s very sloppy in many ways but I’ve always been a fan of slop. I think perfection can be a little boring.”

During recording other musician pals drop in and out. Live, the trio switches up the instrumentation mid-set. Duvall, a gifted, frenetic drummer influenced by Colm Ó Cíosóig of My Bloody Valentine among others (“[He’s] completely overlooked when people talk of their brilliance”), added guitar to his repertoire for Carlton Melton. The band will again show its live prowess locally this Saturday at El Rio.

In the few years since the vocal-less act formed in 2008 — I use “formed” tentatively, as it was more of a natural progression than the word implies — it’s released a cluster of DIY material on indie labels and its own, Mid-To-Late Records. There was the initial, 2008 “Live in Point Arena” CD-R, an Empty Shapes split LP, another split with Qumran Orphics and a few seven-inches on SF’s Valley King Records and the Irish Trensmat Records (which specializes in “transmitting drone, noise, oscillations and grooves”), both in 2011. In 2012 they’ll put out yet another long-player (already recorded), likely in spring, and are currently hammering out the details for a European tour.

Last year also saw the release of the swirling, spacey Country Ways LP, a record that begins with the 20-minute titular track, a slow-building stunner of dangling drums and psychedelic guitar with the irregular cosmic zap. A track that seemingly has no beginning or end, with the foggy vortex of pleasing chords hanging on for eternity, it’s trance-like, sensory, afferent. And something clicks when you remember they made this sound while cracking beers amongst friends over a few days in a specially-shaped structure.

The band actually came to be because of the dome. After Zen Guerrilla — a band that, should be noted, amassed many local fans and was a 2001 GOLDIES winner — split up in 2003, Millman was busy raising his two kids. Duvall was happily spending time with his girlfriend and their two cats, Gerard and Cheval. In 2008, Millman called Duvall, and asked if he’d want to start playing again. He agreed but it was mostly to jam with an old friend, the opposite of a definition band. The two, now both 44, who first began creating music together in 1990 when they lived in Delaware, talked to the owner of the dome and said “hey, we’re going to come up and bring some amps and make a bunch of noise at your place, do you mind?”

Back to that sweet spot — it naturally enriches sound. “If you’re talking, your voice just instantly amplifies. Same thing happens with music, you’re playing guitar and it’s just swirling around in the dome. It’s sort of ideal for psychedelic music.” says Duvall in a phonecall from his home in Oakland.

That first night up north was magic. They realized they needed name. Duvall, with all his genial charm recalls the conversation then whispers “Carlton Melton.” Melton was a cool guy he knew from junior high in Delaware, a real bad-ass. Strangely, Millman, who went to another school, also knew Melton in Delaware — they’d played one another in football. Years later, Duvall and Melton happen to meet another dude named Carlton Melton, and that last bit of coincidence seems to have sealed the name’s fate. “It’s bizarre but it really fits the band. I just hope the guy from Delaware’s not offended, because we named the band after him for all the right reasons.”


With Feral Ohms, and Glitter Wizard

Sat/28, 9 p.m., $8

El Rio

3158 Mission, SF


What are people?


Protesters from the Occupy movement and beyond gathered in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Jan. 20, calling for the adoption of a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution aimed at refuting the idea that corporations should have the same rights as people, a legal doctrine know as corporate personhood.

The event was part of a day of action at courthouses around the country, seeking to raise public awareness about the unfettered influence of corporate money in U.S. elections and draw attention to the second anniversary of the landmark corporate personhood decision by U.S. Supreme Court, Citizens United vs the Federal Elections Commission.

“We are here not to protest, not to petition, and not to plead, but to proclaim a truth that should be self evident, even to the Supreme Court: Corporations are not people; money is not speech,” said Abraham Entin, of North Bay Move To Amend, addressing a crowd gathered at the courthouse. “Corporations work very hard to convince us that we cannot do without them and the products they produce. They tell us they are too big to fail, and that our survival is dependent on their survival … Occupy has changed all that.”

In a contentious 5-4 ruling handed down on Jan. 21, 2010, the Citizens United case solidified the legal framework that bequeaths corporations the same rights under the Constitution as real, living, breathing, U.S. citizens, and by merit of their First Amendment rights as citizens bars any restrictions placed on a corporation’s ability to spend money to influence elections.

When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously said on the campaign trail that “corporations are people, my friend, because corporations have people inside them,” he is reflecting the logic of the majority opinion in the Citizens United case. The court’s majority asserted that corporations are essentially an association of people and thus enjoy the same rights as individuals.

The court also claimed that it is impossible to distinguish between the corporate media outlets and other corporate speech, so all corporations should enjoy the free speech rights saved for the press. Furthermore, because journalists often have to spend money to achieve speech, money spent on messaging by all corporations represents protected speech.

Corporations, a relatively modern invention, aren’t actually discussed in the Constitution. But the notion of corporation personhood began around 1886 in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. What Citizens United did was equate corporate money spent to influence elections with protected political speech, upending attempts at election reforms and gutting the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 that regulated federal election campaigns.

That corporations act to corrupt our democratic systems for their own profit is not conspiracy, it’s simply a byproduct of what they are. Corporations are legally obligated to act to maximize their profits for the benefit of their shareholders, otherwise their board and corporate officers are considered negligent of their obligations to their shareholders’ financial interests. Unlike journalists, whose professional credo calls for fairness and acting in the public interest, corporations are designed to act in their own interests.

As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the dissenting judges in Citizens United, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

The resulting flood of corporate money into election campaigns since the court’s ruling is delivered through an aqueduct known as the Super PAC (political action committee). In the wake of Citizens United, election spending by Super PACs in the 2010 midterm elections exceeded $300 million dollars, more spending than the overall spending in the previous five midterm elections combined.

Unlike donations to campaigns, which so far remain regulated, Super PAC money is spent directly by the Super PAC, and can be spent attacking as well as supporting candidates, leading to fears that corporations can exert influence on incumbents before a re-election campaigns by threatening to spend money attacking them in the upcoming election cycle.

“Corporations are human creations, state creations, legal entities … There is no reason we cannot limit their spending,” said Carlos Villarreal, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild’s Bay Area chapter. “Nonprofit organizations are limited in their political spending. Churches and charitable organizations are also limited in their spending. So why not for-profit corporations?”

Perhaps no group knows more about government limits to free speech than participants of the Occupy movement. Elastic restrictions on individual free speech and freedom of association rights spelled out in the First Amendment, resting on alleged risks to health and public safety, have led to Occupy encampments across the nation being restricted and evicted, at times enforced by brutal police crackdowns.

The right of the government to restrict individual and group speech that officials believe represents a clear and present danger was established by the Supreme Court in the 1919 Schenck v United States case — the famous “don’t yell fire in a crowded theater” case. What is not widely known is that this case was a re-examination of the famous 1917 Espionage Act. The “crowded theater” was our nation’s entry into World War I, and those being jailed for “yelling fire” were labor organizers and pacifists expressing their opposition to our entry into the war.

Relying on Schenck, courts have consistently defended restrictions on individual free speech when there is a compelling interest to public safety, the so-called “clear and present danger” standard. Villarreal and the crowd gathered before the Ninth Circuit asserted that corporate influence in our democratic processes represents a clear and present danger to society. “There is no more compelling interest than protecting democracy,” said Villarreal.

Despite the apparent double standard, legal experts say the courts action in the Citizens United case leaves a constitutional amendment as the only avenue left for regulating corporate money in elections and ending corporate personhood, but the movement to take on that Herculean task has already begun.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) have introduced legislation proposing a 28th Amendment to the Constitution. While the language differs from another amendment presented by the group Move to Amend, it also takes aim at ending corporate personhood.

“Two years ago, the United States Supreme Court betrayed our Constitution and those who fought to ensure that its protections are enjoyed equally by all persons regardless of religion, race or gender, by engaging in an unabashed power-grab on behalf of corporate America,” Sanders wrote in a Jan. 20 Guardian(UK) column.

In Sanders’ home state of Vermont, the state Senate is also considering a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment against corporate personhood. A similar resolution, authored by Alix Rosenthal, was adopted by the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee during a special meeting on Jan. 21. There was just one dissenting vote, and DCCC members say they plan to push for the state party organization to also adopt the stance.

The hurdles set forth to amend the U.S. Constitution, outlined in Article V, are substantial. In order for an amendment to even be considered, a super majority of both houses of Congress must initiate the process, or two-thirds of states must call for the amendment. Proposed amendments passing this threshold are then adopted only after three-quarters of state legislatures ratify the proposed amendment. But that difficult road is one the protesters said they are ready to travel. “We are here on a rainy day with warm hearts and wet feet. We are the 100 percent, the humans. No corporation has every experienced the thrill of wet feet,” said Gangs of America author Ted Nace. “We are the fools who go out on a wet day to fix a broken world. Eighty percent of the public want to fix this. That means we are halfway to our goal. What remains is organization, mobilization.”

Frilly werewolf


LIT “When you’ve lived so far like I have,” Christine Beatty’s wry voice came crackling through the phone as she drove to Las Vegas to play the slots, “you sometimes just have to catch your eye in the rearview mirror and laugh. I’ve led such a charmed life, really.”

Some doe-eyed Wisconsinite may have snagged the Miss America crown last week, but in terms of representing this nation’s glorious variousness, that tiara should be tucked neatly into Beatty’s glovebox. A transsexual activist, author, and good-time girl, Beatty just published her memoir, Not Your Average American Girl on her newly christened Glamazon Press (available at Modern Times bookstore in the Mission, www.mtbs.com). In it, she tells her story of growing up and discovering her inner self during a very turbulent time in Northern California, through the stoner 1970s to the economically rocky ’80s to our own time, when trans people have gained an unprecedented visibility yet still find themselves the targets of discrimination from both conservative quarters and other LGBTs.

“I started Glamazon Press because I want transwomen to have another outlet for expression that I think is lacking, ” Beatty said. “I feel that the Internet has brought us more visibility, but we’re still tucked under the wing of the gay movement, and maybe it’s time to move out. I don’t want to divorce the ‘T’ from LGBT, it’s been very politically beneficial in many ways. But we need to develop our own voice. There are situations unique to us — the surgery costs money, and we’re completely vulnerable in the work place from a legal viewpoint, if people employ us at all.”

In her memoir, a significant amount of valuable San Francisco history is unearthed. Not Your Average American Girl’s juiciest bits, for me, recall her life as a trans newbie in the Tenderloin in the ’80s, hanging out at the Spirit Club and embracing sex worker life — a period vividly evoked, the city seething with a grimy energy and sense of family, a lost drama of payphones, sex ads, and backrooms. And then she’s a ’90s rocker with her band Glamazon, the book also nailing the electrifying live scene of the time.

The most resonant parts, all recounted with a kind of surprised honesty, deal with Beatty’s deathly drug habit and recovery, her HIV diagnosis 25 years ago, and her journey into transwomanhood, something she approached with such unrelenting drive that her ex-wife and her mother became two of her biggest supporters, despite initial upset.


Even considering Beatty’s storytelling talents, however, it’s a wonder that Not Your Average American Girl exists at all. It meticulously recreates scenes from Beatty’s experiences using entries from the journals that she’s kept all her life. And really, if your mortal coil encompassed typical suburban mama’s boy, stoner hippie, macho soldier, undercover married cross-dresser (or “frilly werewolf”), Tenderloin call girl, recovering heroin addict, pioneering rock musician, and author-publisher, how legible would your diary be?

“When I went to write the book, I looked at these old journals and I was filled with gratitude,” Beatty said. “I was so scared, hopeless, resentful in parts. But I see how far I’ve come and I’m still alive. And I must have known I was going to survive — otherwise why the hell would I write all this down?”

Pay to park


The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has hailed the success of its SFpark program — which uses high-tech meters and demand-variable pricing to manage on-street parking — noting that expired meter citations are down and meter revenue is up. The resulting 11 percent net increase in revenue  is all going to improve Muni. So transit improves, drivers get more spots and fewer tickets — everybody wins.

[CLARIFICATION (2/1): The new meters had an 11 percent net revenue increase compared to the old meters, but overall net revenues from citations and meters was still down by 3 percent.]

But the SFMTA has run into a hornet’s nest of opposition with its latest proposal to expand SFpark into the Northeast Mission District, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, and Mission Bay, largely because the plan involves placing meters on streets where parking is now free. And even those who don’t object to paying for parking say the SFMTA has bungled this process.

The problem isn’t just what critics say are arrogance and dubious outreach efforts by agency officials. It may be that the SFMTA pursued too many goals at once, mixing them in ways that muddled the message. Or it may just be that charging for parking will always anger drivers, no matter how it’s proposed.

The agency wants to discourage driving — particularly cruising for parking, hence SFpark’s “Circle Less, Live More” slogan — to speed up Muni and reduce traffic congestion. But that also means charging for street parking so cars won’t just sit in those spaces, and that involves a complicated balancing act in mixed use neighborhoods.

Residents, many employers, and commuters want all-day street parking, preferably free and easy. But most business owners want enough parking turnover so their customers can find a spot. City policies call for prioritizing residents’ needs, and the SFMTA needs money to fund and expand Muni service.

Meeting all of those needs isn’t easy. But over the last couple of months, the SFMTA’s effort to expand its successful and popular SFpark program have managed to turn thousands of residents angrily against that program, the agency, and the proposition that people shouldn’t expect free parking.



Architect John Lum and artist-designer Miranda Caroligne didn’t know each other a couple months ago, but now they’re helping to lead a movement that is uniting neighborhood groups in the Mission, Dogpatch, and Potrero Hill against the parking meter proposals.

“You have an agency that is not listening at all to the community. That’s fascism!” declares Lum. He’s actually an amiable and soft-spoken young guy who employs 10 people at his architecture firm near 17th and Capp streets, but this issue really gets his blood boiling.

And Lum isn’t alone, as the Jan. 13 public meeting before an SFMTA hearing officer showed. Not only did everyone who streamed to the microphone voice opposition to the proposals, but they usually did so in angry and accusatory ways, saying it would destroy businesses, punish the poor, and result in conditions that are simply unworkable and intolerable. And they said the SFMTA simply doesn’t care.

“If you’re a PDR business,” Caroligne said, referring to the Production, Distribution, and Repair businesses whose last bastion is some of the targeted areas, “you’re never going to get people to work at a place that doesn’t have parking…This proposal will push them out.”

There are myriad ways that the plans are flawed, say their critics: Meters were proposed on some residential streets in initial plans, despite SFMTA policies to the contrary; traffic surveys had too small a sampling and weren’t realistic; residential permit districts would be replaced by meters, or meters would be placed where districts might work better; transit service on Potrero Hill is too bad to expect people to use it; live-work spaces were inappropriately treated like retail outlets; and meters near the 22nd Street Caltrain station could actually discourage the use of public transit.

“There’s not that much disagreement, but where there is, it’s really important,” said Tony Kelly, president of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association. “I’m someone who supports parking management, and I’m frustrated that the MTA is so tone deaf with this. We’ve been through a lot of fake public outreach efforts and this is looking like one of those.”

Janet Carpinelli, president of the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, said her members feel like the SFMTA is ramming this through without regard for the needs or input of that neighborhood.

“The real issue is it’s a very big inconvenience to the businesses and residents in this neighborhood and it’s not really helping anything. It’s just a revenue grab by the MTA,” she said.

Potrero Hill resident Jim Wilkins was so outraged by the proposal to install meters along Pennsylvania Street outside his home that he started an online petition against the proposals that has so far garnered about 1,300 signatures. “We’re forming an organization to resist these proposals,” he told us.

Lum was already a member of the 17th Street Coalition, which formed in 2010 to oppose the renewal of a liquor license at the local Gas’n’Shop, but more recently organized opposition to the meter proposal. It attracted Caroligne, and now they’ve formed a new group, Northeast Mission Neighbors, which held a joint organizing meeting with the Dogpatch and Potrero groups on Jan. 23. They’re all determined to delay and modify the SFMTA’s proposal, which had been scheduled for adoption by the SFMTA Board of Directors Feb. 7.

Lum said the proposed changes are tough to accept: “I don’t think this is about free parking, it’s about living and working in a community with certain things and now those things are changing.”



The biggest target of critics’ ire is Jay Primus, who runs the SFpark program for the SFMTA. He maintains that he’s done extensive outreach and gathered community input that has shaped the plans. “These are still proposals and nothing has been approved yet,” he told us.

For example, Wilkins told us his campaign continued even after the meters in front of his house were eliminated from the proposal last month. Primus also noted the proposed meters allow for all-day parking at just 25 cents an hour in most places, so it isn’t really such an inconvenience or financial hardship. And Primus just announced that the Feb. 7 hearing is being pushed back by at least two weeks to heed more community input.

But most of the opposition to the proposals isn’t surprising, and Primus thinks it comes more from the idea of charging for street parking than with the specifics of the proposal.

“Parking is always an emotional and delicate issue in San Francisco, as it is in most cities,” Primus said, citing protests against charging for parking going back to when the first meters were installed in 1947. “This has happened at every block that has gotten meters.”

But now, there are even more benefits and ease of use with modern meters, which motorists can pay with a credit card or even remotely. Variable pricing is also used to ensure more parking based on demand, although it’s being kept at a very low rate in areas where businesses or residents still need all-day parking.

“If people are opposed to paying 25 cents per hour, the lowest rate in the city, then they are opposed to paying for parking,” Primus said. He said it’s a matter of equity among citizens: “There’s nothing equitable about providing parking for free and asking people to pay $4 for a round trip Muni ride.”

That’s a notion that is echoed by others who say it’s time for motorists to start paying their fair share.

“Everybody wants something for nothing. We all want that. Nobody wants to pay for parking, not even me,” Don Shoup, the UCLA professor who wrote the influential book The High Cost of Free Parking, told us. He later added, “That whining you hear is the sound of change.”

At a time when governments are hurting for revenue to provide basic services — among them, maintaining extensive roadway systems for motorists whose taxes don’t come anywhere near covering their societal impacts — he said it just doesn’t make sense to continue subsidizing the storage of automobiles.

“San Francisco has some of the most valuable land on earth. You have expensive housing for people and free parking for cars. It’s not surprising that San Francisco has homeless people and traffic congestion,” Shoup said. “There was never a city that is so liberal about other people’s affairs and so conservative about its own affairs.”

But Shoup did agree with critics that the real goal of managing parking isn’t to discourage driving, although he applauds the SFpark program for using its increased revenue on public transit, which he thinks makes sense from a social justice perspective.

Jason Henderson, a professor of geography at San Francisco State and author of an upcoming book on the politics of parking and mobility, goes even further than Shoup in saying that San Francisco should use its parking policies to discourage driving. But at the very least, Henderson said it is counterproductive to offer free parking.

“The city is giving away valuable real estate with all of this free and underpriced curbside parking at a time when the city’s transportation infrastructure is crumbling and essential city services for parks, after school programs, and libraries are constantly being cut. And here we have thousands of acres of real estate just being given away,” Henderson told us.

“If anything, it needs to be done citywide so that it’s judicious and level, so that merchants won’t say that people won’t come to their neighborhood because they can go to a different neighborhood where there’s free parking.”

Primus said there is a particularly strong need to manage parking around Mission Bay and the North Mission, where much of the city’s growth is occurring.

“In a way, the SFMTA is catching up with the growth of the city. These are some of the last remaining areas that are residential-commercial mixed use areas with no parking management,” Primus said.

Kelly agrees that time has come, but he doesn’t think the SFMTA has helped its case, particularly given the emotions surrounding the issue and the need to maintain public support for improved transit service.

“They’ve been spending all their waking hours in the last couple years pissing people off over parking meters, do you really think people will then support their revenue proposals?” Kelly questioned.

Lum and Caroligne both said the SFMTA should have been willing to make the fundamental argument to people that the days of free parking are coming to an end.

“That’s where a lot of the anger is coming from, you’re doing this for all these reasons that don’t make sense and treating us like children,” Caroligne said, although she also added, “I agree with you that there would still be some outrage, even if the outreach had been better.”

Weed on wheels



CANNABIS CLUB GUIDE 2012 When we first created our detailed local Cannabis Club Guide two years ago — which you can find at www.sfbg.com/cannabisguide — it seemed as if the marijuana business had entered a golden age of openness and professionalism in San Francisco. But with a federal crackdown shuttering at least a half-dozen dispensaries in the Bay Area (Market Street Collective, Sanctuary, Mr. Nice Guy, Medithrive, Divinity Tree, Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana) things have changed. Luckily for needy patients and stoners alike, San Francisco has always been a resourceful city, so those meddling feds have actually done very little to disrupt the free flow of the world’s best marijuana.

Even before the cannabis industry moved above ground and into brick-and-mortar storefronts, there were always pot delivery services here. Now they’re really proliferating, so we thought it was high time to add them to our guide. And once we delved into this realm, we found that it was every bit as civilized and professional as a visit to our friendly neighborhood dispensary — and perhaps even more convenient and cost-effective.

The process seems just as secure and legally compliant as it is at the clubs, with most reputable delivery services requiring that you become a member before accessing their products. That means sending them copies of your doctor’s recommendation and California ID, which can be even done from a photo on your smart phone. After the services verify you, you’re good to go.

We’re starting the guide with just a trio of the most high-profile delivery services, as well as a couple more dispensaries, but we’ll be adding to the online guide throughout the year, so check back frequently for more updates.





This is one of San Francisco’s premier cannabis clubs, setting the standard for everyone else in terms of quality, professionalism, and advocacy for the industry. My sources had long been telling me that the Green Cross carries the best weed in the city — information validated by the long string of awards it accumulates at cannabis competitions. And founder Kevin Reed has been a passionate, high-profile leader in the community for years.

But I became even more impressed once I actually used the service. Its great website features the best descriptions of its nearly two dozen strains of lab-tested marijuana, including where and how it was grown, as well as products ranging from inexpensive pipes to eye drops. I settled on a $40 eighth of Blue Deliah, a sativa-dominant hybrid that looked both cheap and good.

Within about 30 minutes, the friendly delivery guy showed up at my apartment, handed me a white paper bag full of goodies, and charged me $35 with my new customer discount. Inside the bag, there was a grinder, a cool jar, rolling papers, a lighter and other Green Cross swag, a pot cookie, non-medicated munchies, an information packet, a receipt stuck to the inside of the bag — and a baggie of beautifully trimmed buds.


(415) 648-4420

Opened in 2004

Price: Low to average

Selection: Huge and high-quality

Delivery time: Super fast

Sketch factor: Very low

Access: Secure but easy to use



When Medithrive opened as a dispensary in my Mission District neighborhood, it became one of my favorite clubs, so I was disappointed to see it shut down by threats from the federal government late last year. But it immediately reinvented itself as a delivery-only club, and it still retains the friendly service and large selection that first endeared me to it.

“It’s definitely been a change for us, but if patients can handle the delivery thing, it ends up being better for everyone,” said the employee who took my order: the Apocalypse Medi-Mix, a mix of high-quality small buds (better for vaporizers) for $40 for four grams. And because I was a newbie to its delivery service, they threw in a free joint.

I called at 3 p.m. and was told to expect delivery between 4:15 p.m.-4:45 p.m. — and it actually showed up at 4 p.m. It wasn’t a problem because I was working at home all afternoon, but I can imagine such a long arrival window wouldn’t be ideal for some. And frankly, the buds were pretty dry, perhaps the result of not moving as much inventory as Medithrive is used to.

But on the whole, it’s still a solid dispensary and a very friendly staff that’s still worth using.


(415) 562-MEDI

Opened in 2010

Price: Average with good deals

Selection: Large

Delivery time: Fast but uncertain

Sketch factor: Low

Access: Secure but easy to use



This place pops up prominently when people Google marijuana delivery services in San Francisco, but other parts of its operation don’t seem quite as tight as its search engine savvy. Even its readily available website, I learned while trying to order, has an outdated menu of available items. For what it actually offers, customers need to visit www.weedmaps.com, where the guy said the menu would quickly appear when I typed in “foggydaze,” but it didn’t.

Finally, I just asked him to recommend a good sativa strain, and he mentioned just two that they had in stock: Headband and Cheezle. Shooting in the dark, I went with an eighth of Cheezle for $45, and he offered me a new member gift of a joint or sample of equal or lesser priced weed. I opted for the joint because it just seemed easier at that point, particularly since my initial call went to voicemail and then I had to wait 45 minutes to get my information verified. An hour later (he said it would be 45 minutes), I had my weed.

Compared to the bad old days of ordering whatever my underground drug dealer had and jumping through whatever hoops he required, Foggy Daze is much better. But in the modern marijuana scene in this highly evolved city, Foggy Daze doesn’t quite measure up as is.


(415) 200-7451

Price: Average

Selection: Small

Delivery time: OK, but slow on verification

Sketch factor: Medium

Access: Pretty good






It was only a matter of time before someone had the idea to really emphasize excellent personal service with high-end products in an elegant environment — but the folks at Apothecarium have done it in a way that really sets them apart from the rest of the pack. This place is an experience more than just a place to score weed, much the same way adventurous bars like Alembic aren’t just about getting tipsy but appreciating just what a cocktail can become in the right hands.

Visitors to the Apothecarium are warmly greeted and seated in front of an extensive (and well-designed) menu, which an knowledgeable staffer patiently and enticingly walks you through, focusing exclusively on you and your needs. Once you finally find what you want, a large jar of your chosen buds emerge, and the employee uses long silver tweezers to place the prettiest ones on a display tray in front of you to inspect while he weighs out your choice of small or large buds with an air of showmanship.

2095 Market, SF.

(415) 500-2620


Buds weighed on purchase

Opened in 2011

Price: High to low (“compassionately priced” strains available)

Selection: Large, extremely informative menu available

Ambiance: Looks like a fancy hair salon, hardwood floors and patterned wallpaper

Smoke on site: No

Sketch factor: Low

Access/security: Secure but easy access



Despite a somewhat forbidding waiting room, this neighborhood dispensary on a mellow stretch of Ingleside’s Ocean Avenue has a real family feel once you step onto the salesfloor.

I was in the market for edibles when I went to 1944, and chatted with the jocular sales staff about which available edible wouldn’t give me couch lock or paranoia — a fully-functioning treat, as it were. My budtender pointed me towards a sativa-based peanut butter cookie with high potency, and then made me feel OK about our difficulty making a decision. “We’re all stoners here,” he laughed.

Once you make your selection among the edibles, flowers, and tinctures on offer, head to the back of the low-glitz, comfortably appointed room to give your money at the cash register. Head back to the bud counter to pick up your selection — if you’re lucky you can grab a brownie bite, cup of tea, or apple from the buffet to assuage your munchies. There’s even a sign that announces the dispensary’s job counseling and resume writing classes. A somewhat cold exterior sure, but it belies a warm heart. (Reviewed by Caitlin Donohue)

1944 Ocean, SF.

(415) 239-4766

Buds weighed on purchase

Opened in 2004

Price: From cheap to high

Selection: Large

Ambiance: Comfortable seating, jovial staff, family feel

Smoke on site: No

Sketch factor: Forbidding waiting room, friendly inside

Access/security: Tight 

Find our full Cannabis Club Guide at www.sfbg.com/cannabisguide

Occupy is back — with horns and glitter



On Jan. 20, hundreds of activists converged on the Financial District in a day that showed a reinvigorated and energized Occupy movement.

The day of action was deemed “Occupy Wall Street West.” Despite pouring rain, the numbers swelled to 1,200 by early evening.

Critics have said that the Occupy movement is disorganized and lacks a clear message. Some have decried its supposed lack of unity. Others have even declared it dead.

But the broad coalition of community organizations that came together to send a message focused on the abuses of housing rights by corporations and the 1 percent sent a clear message:

The movement is very much alive.



Protesters packed the day with an impressive line-up of marches, pickets, flash mobs, blockades, and everything in between.

The action began at 6:30 a.m., when dozens chained and locked themselves together, blocking every entrance to Wells Fargo’s West Coast headquarters at 420 Montgomery Street. The bank didn’t open for business that morning.

Another group of protesters did the same thing at the Bank of America Building around the corner. A dozen blockaded one of the bank’s entrances from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., preventing its opening. A group organized by Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) closed down the Bank of America branch at Powell and Market for several hours.

The Bank of America branch at Market and Main was also closed when activists turned it into “the Food Bank of America.” Several chained themselves for the door, while others set up a table serving donated food to hundreds of people.

Meanwhile, activists with the SF Housing Rights Coalition and Tenants Union occupied the offices of Fortress Investments, a hedge fund that has overseen the destruction of thousands of rent controlled apartments at Parkmerced. Direct actions also took place at the offices of Bechtel, Goldman Sachs, and Citicorp.

Hundreds picketed the Grand Hyatt at Union Square in solidarity with UNITE HERE Local 2 hotel workers.

A group of about 600 left from Justin Herman Plaza at noon and marched to offices of Fannie Mae, Wells Fargo, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) in a protest meant to draw attention to housing and immigrant-rights issues.

“It’s not just a corporate problem. The government has been complicit in these abuses as well,” said Diana Masaca, one of the protest’s organizers.

More than 100 activists from People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) and the Progressive Workers Alliance “occupied Muni,” riding Muni buses on Market Street with signs and chants demanding free transit for youth in San Francisco.

Another 200 participated in an “Occupy the Courts” action at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in protest of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and corporate personhood.



Exhausted, soaked protesters managed to keep a festive spirit throughout the day, with colorful costumes, loud music, and glitter — lots of glitter.

The Horizontal Alliance of Very Organized Queers (HAVOQ) and Pride at Work brought the sparkly stuff, along with streamers and brightly colored umbrellas, to several different actions. Many painted protest slogans onto their umbrellas, proclaiming such sentiments as “I’ll show you trickle down” and “Not gay as in happy, queer as in fuck capitalism.”

According to protester Beja Alisheva, “HAVOQ is about bringing fabulosity to the movement with glitter, queerness, and pride. All day we’ve been showing solidarity between a lot of different types of oppression.”

There was also the Occupy Oakland party bus — a decked-out former AC transit bus — and carnival, a roving party that shut down intersections and bank entrances in its path while providing passengers a temporary respite from rain.

The Brass Liberation Orchestra, a radical marching band that has been energizing Bay Area protests for a decade, showed up in full force with trumpets, drums, trombones, and a weathered sousaphone.

The Interfaith Allies of Occupy also used horns to declare their message. About 30 participated in a mobile service, sounding traditional rams’ horns and declaring the need to “lift up human need and bring down corporate greed.”

Said Rabbi David J. Cooper of Kehela Community Synagogue in Oakland: “Leviticus 19 says, do not stand idly by in the face of your neighbor’s suffering. Well, we’re all neighbors here. Ninety-nine percent of us are suffering in some way, economically or spiritually. And maybe that number is 100 percent.”



A coalition called Occupy SF Housing called for and organized the day of action, but the messages ranged from environmental to anti-war to immigrant rights.

Many groups did focus in on housing-related issues — and a takeover of a vacant hotel building stressed the urgency and need to house homeless San Francisco residents.

Housing protests included an anti wage-theft occupation led by the Filipino Community Center and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns at the offices of CitiApartments, an action at the offices of Fortress Investments to demand a halt to predatory equity, and an “Occupy the Auction” demonstration in which protesters with Occupy Bernal stopped the day’s housing auction (at which foreclosed homes are sold) at City Hall.

“A lot of the displacement in this city is happening because of banks and because of things that are out of peoples’ control,” said Amitai Heller, a counselor with the San Francisco Tenants Union. “People will live in a rent controlled apartment for 20 years thinking that they have their retirement planned. A lot of the critiques of the movement are, if you couldn’t afford it you should move. But these people moved here knowing they could afford it because of our rent controls.”



Most of the early protests drew a few hundred people. But when the 5 p.m. convergence time rolled around, many people got off work and joined the march. A rally at Justin Herman Plaza brought about 600; by the time the march joined up with others at Bank of America on Montgomery and California, the numbers had doubled.

The evening’s demonstration, deemed “liberate the commons,” was also more radical than other tactics throughout the day; organizers hoped to break into and hold a vacant building, the 600-unit former Cathedral Hill Hotel at 1101 Van Ness.

When protesters arrived at the site, police were waiting for them. Wearing riot gear and reinforced by barricades, the cops successfully blocked the Geary entrance to the former hotel.

The darkness, rain, and uncertainty created a chaotic environment as protesters decided how to proceed. Some attempted to remove barricades; others chanted anti-police slogans.

Soon, cries of “Medic! We need a medic!” pierced the air. A dozen or so protesters had been pepper sprayed.

Police Information Officer Carlos Manfredi later claimed that the pepper spray was in response to “rocks, bottles and bricks” thrown by protesters. He also claimed that one officer was struck in the chest by a brick, and another “may have broken his hand.”

But I witnessed the entire incident, and I can say that no rocks, bottles or bricks were thrown at police.

When protesters opted to march down Van Ness, apparently towards City hall, several broke windows at a Bentley dealership at 999 Van Ness.

The march then turned around and headed back up Franklin, ending at the former hotel’s back entrance. There, it became clear that some protesters had successfully entered the building; they unfurled a banner from the roof reading “liberate the commons.”

Soon, many other protesters streamed into the building. They held it, with no police interference, for several hours.

Around 9:30, police entered the building and arrested three protesters for trespassing. About 15 others remained in the building, but left voluntarily by midnight.

This building has been a target of protest campaigns in San Francisco since it was purchased by California Pacific Medical Center, which closed the hotel in 2009. There are plans underway for a hospital to open at the site in 2015.

The project has been met with opposition from unions such as SEIU United Healthcare Workers West and UNITE HERE Local 2. The California Nurses Association (CNA) has also come out against the hospital proposal. In fact, it was the target of a CNA protest earlier in the day Jan. 20, when protesters created a “human billboard” reading “CPMC for the 1 percent.”

At a Jan.18 press conference, CNA member Pilar Schiavo said that at the former Cathedral Hill Hotel site, “A huge hospital is being planned with is being likened by Sutter to a five-star hotel. At the same time, Sutter is gutting St. Lukes Hospital, which is essential to providing healthcare for residents in the Mission, the Excelsior and Bayview- Hunter’s Point.”

Homes Not Jails, a group that finds housing for the homeless, often without regard to property rights, was crucial to planning the “Liberate the Commons’ protest. The group insists that the 30,000 vacant housing units in San Francisco should be used to shelter the city’s homeless, which they estimate at 10,000.



Wet and cold conditions were not what Occupy SF Housing Coalition organizers had in mind they spent weeks planning Occupy Wall Street West, which was billed as the reemergence of the Occupy Movement in San Francisco for 2012.

Yet for many, the day was still a success.

“The rain’s a downer. But I think it speaks to the power of the movement, the fact that all these people are still out getting soaked,” said Heller on Jan. 20.

Perhaps hundreds of “fair-whether activists” did forgo the day’s events to stay out of the cold. If that’s the case, then occupy protesters with big plans for the spring should be pleased.

At this rate, it seems that Occupy will survive the winter- and emerge with renewed energy in 2012.


This article has been to corrected. We originally reported that a demonstration at the offices of Citi Apartments was led by the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA). In fact, it was led by the Filipino Community Center and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, and supported by a number of organizations including the Progressive Workers Alliance, of which CPA is a member organization. We regret the error.

Barrel-aged beauties



APPETITE Here are two new barrel aged beauties worth seeking out, plus more to look forward to in 2012.


I’ve enthused about small production 1512 Spirits (www.1512spirits.com) rye before, crafted by Salvatore “Sal” Cimino with a unique custom still up in Santa Rosa. During the day you’ll find him giving shaves and cutting hair in his classic Nob Hill barbershop, at 1512 Pine Street (www.1512barbershop.com).

His brand new release is a barrel-aged 100 percent rye, just on the market in a very limited release ($59.99 per half-bottle) with the largest allocation available through K&L Wines, www.klwines.com. Ryes are (blessedly) flooding the market these days but only a handful are made from 100 percent rye and even less with the one-man attention that goes into 1512. Sal cautiously guards his process, not allowing anyone else present when distilling.

Whiskey fans may quibble about a $60 half bottle when they can get cheaper ryes (or higher-priced stand-outs like Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, available at Cask, www.caskstore.com). But this rye is the opposite of high production whiskey. One tastes the hands-on care in each sip. Though 100 proof, it is bright, fresh, popping with apple, vanilla, pepper, a gentle rather than bracing spice, and a lingering complexity.

I had the privilege of tasting early batches of Cimino’s future releases, including a 105 proof poitín, or “poteen” in the States, a rare Irish spirit made in this case from potatoes. (The word poteen refers to small pot stills in which the liquor is historically made). Despite the use of potatoes, I would not liken this to potato vodka. Clear, bold and light, it evokes cucumber and summer, with the spirit of an eau de vie and robustness of a white whiskey. There’s nothing in the US quite like it. (Release is set for April.)

Also later in 2012, Cimino is releasing a bracing white wheat whiskey — with more than 70 percent wheat. (I sampled it at 120 proof, but it will be bottled closer to, or below, 100 proof.) For that proof, it’s awfully smooth, evoking surprising flavors from straight-up wheat bread to clean chocolate notes. Another unusual sip, it confirms that this Nob Hill barber is creating some of California’s — and yes, the country’s — more interesting, very small batch, historical spirits. Aged Rye $59.99


The classic Dutch spirit, Bols Genever (www.bolsgenever.nl), has been produced by the Lucas Bols company since 1575. Not many distilleries can boast such a heritage. Master distiller Piet Van Leijenhorst has crafted the spirit for more than 25 years. Genever is often referred to as the original gin that London dry and other gins descended from. It’s worlds apart from what we commonly call gin, more akin to whiskey in boldness but with its own unique, herbaceous profile.

In trying the new Bols Barrel-Aged Genever, which Esquire magazine just named best new liquor of 2011, I notice the complexity rises a few more notches. Made with traditional botanicals (like cloves, anise, hops, ginger, juniper, etc…), the genever is aged 18 months in French Limousin oak. Bottled in a grey, earthenware bottle, it is as striking visually as it is in flavor. It drinks bold with a silky texture — subtly sweet with vanilla honey, cinnamon spice, wood and pepper linger on the finish.

As with a good whiskey, I like to sip Bols Barrel-Aged Genever neat, pre- or post- dinner, but it also gives intriguing dimensions to classic cocktail greats like a Mint Julep or Manhattan (substitute whiskey for genever). Bottles are $49.99.



Food and wine are the draws at gorgeous Fifth Floor (www.fifthfloorrestaurant.com), but bartender Brian Means, formerly of Zero Zero, has created singular cocktails worth a stop in the mellow lounge. Perhaps you’ll skip dinner entirely.

The unassuming Mr. Means creates some of the more promising recipes I’ve tasted from an up-and-coming crafter. As I judge multiple cocktail contests, his entries consistently exhibit a surprising level of sophistication, often placing high. He shakes (and stirs) with an unfussy hand, comprehending classic cocktail foundations, but varying off-path enough to keep it interesting.

Here are three of his cocktails I’d recommend, currently on the Fifth Floor menu:

Pink Elephant — Death’s Door (one of my favorite gins), with rosato vermouth, pineapple gomme syrup, orange bitters and smoked absinthe. Means doesn’t let the smoke overpower. Rather, it gives off a faint smoke aroma, hinting at brawn behind a delicate surface. Don’t judge it by its color.

Loretto Wrangler — Named after a key Kentucky bourbon town (home of Maker’s Mark, the Wrangler’s base spirit), Loretto Wrangler includes Cynar (Italian artichoke liqueur), Graham’s Six Grapes port, Dubonnet Rouge, and Bitter Truth chocolate bitters. It may sound like a lot of ingredients, but never fear. Playing like a classic, spirit-driven whiskey cocktail, it unfolds with layers of bitter, sweet, boozy, and — thanks to the choco bitters — meaty, goodness.

Spanish Maiden — El Tesoro blanco tequila and elderflower liqueur with a lemon twist makes for an obviously pleasing aperitif pre-dinner, right? Add in a dash of sherry and this bright refresher takes on depth and dimension, if ever so subtly, while still remaining stimulating and light. *

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


A real SF tweet



CHEAP EATS I keep buying little plants and killing them. This makes me miss chickens, which are, in my experience, both easier to keep alive and more gratifying to kill. Now that they come from the grocery store, I cook more chickens than ever. Therefore, I would like to have fresh herbs in my kitchen. Therefore, I keep buying these little plants.

And killing them.

Luck would have it, I was in New Orleans when the 49ers beat the Saints. Did you see that? Both Coach and Wayway, with whom I was in constant textual contact that day, described hoots, honks, and general happiness in our neighborhood here. And that was before kick-off! I can imagine what it was like after.

Here there was dead-ass silence for a change. Except me and Hedgehog, who were writhing and screaming on our leather couch in front of our 50-inch flat screen plasmatic TV. Until we both wet our pants and had to jump in our Jacuzzi bathtub.

By our I mean someone else’s.

Except the pants.

Next day on KCBS John Madden called it the best game he ever saw — which is saying something, as he’s seen a lot of games. Me, I am not so prone to hyperbole. Either that or I am journalismically challenged by the old-fashionedest of lag times between my opinion of Things and publication. (Don’t worry; as we speak, Hedgehog is teaching me how to twit.)

Well, whatever happens(ed) with the rest of this football season, I want you to know where I’ll be watching the games next season, since in real life I don’t even own a TV, let alone a big flat plasmatic one .. .

At my new favorite restaurant: The Old Clam House!

Twenty-two years I’ve been living in and around this city, and for exactly that long have I been meaning to eat at The Old Clam House. It’s the oldest restaurant in San Francisco! In the same location! Since 1861!

To give you some idea of how long ago that is, think of it like this: 151 years.

Considering what all has gone down since then — the big earthquake, the other one, and Donte Whitner’s hit on Pierre Thomas — it’s amazing that even some of the Clam House is still standing. But the bar area is original, according to them. And from the photos you can tell that it is.

So that was where we sat. Checkerboard floor, wood trim, old-fangled ceiling tiles, and the Niners game on TV. Mind you, I had just played football, over at Crocker Amazon, so I probably didn’t smell very pretty. Or look nice.

In fact I was starving, cold, and frazzled. And my hamstring was gone, so I had to sit on ice. We ordered clams paella acini and Swiss chard with onions and bacon, and Hedgehog ordered something stiff to drink, because as hard as it is to play on my football team, I think it’s even harder to watch.

The paella was delicious, and in an unusual way: cioppino sauce, sausage, olives, cheddar cheese. And acini are little tiny pastas, between couscous and orzo. We’d have preferred rice, but it was good this way too. The clams were good, and plentiful, the sausage so-so, and the Swiss chard of course was great. (Bacon.)

As for the bread and butter, besides being pretty good breads and butters, I like it that they tell you on the menu not only where the bread comes from, but where the butter comes from: Acme and Strauss, respectively.

Butter does matter.

My favorite touch, however, was the little glass of warm clam broth with onions that they brought to our table first. That was a yummy, warming treat, and a very nice touch.

Plus I ordered a Coke and it came in a carafe.

But listen up, Mr. Madden: I totally agree. And for more up-to-date (and shorter) musings on sports, food, and Things, you can henceforth tweeter me at @lechickenfarmer. *


Daily: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

299 Bayshore Blvd., SF.

(415) 826-4880


Full bar

The best medicine


<P><B>FILM</B> French actor Val&eacute;rie Donzelli made her first feature as writer-director with 2009’s <I>The Queen of Apples</I>, which trawled the film festival circuit for a couple of years &#151; eventually getting its title tweaked to <I>The Queen of Hearts</I> &#151; before making its unheralded U.S. debut at the 2010 Mill Valley Film Festival. It got a minor theatrical release in France and none at all here.
<P>All this goes to show that, contrary to all optimistic wisdom, not every film will find its audience. Not even when it is, in fact, the kind of movie that tends to win audience awards. <I>Queen</I> was endlessly energetic, quirky, and endearing, in the manner of 1960s independent films whose youthful makers needed to prove they could do every trick and break every rule in the book. It was charming despite being almost too cute for words, and a mite too pleased with itself. The slender story aimed for little more than charm: Donzelli played a hapless young Parisian flinging herself from one comically doomed love to another before winding up with Mr. Right, played (as were all the Mr. Wrongs) by J&eacute;r&eacute;mie Elka&iuml;m, who in 2000 was the unstable gay teen in S&eacute;bastien Lifshitz’s memorable <I>Come Undone</I>. <I>Queen</I> may have been uneven, but it was frequently so funny that hardly mattered.
<P>Obviously somebody noticed, however, since Donzelli is now back with a second feature she co-stars in, and co-wrote with, Elka&iuml;m. (Evidently other people like this team as well &#151; in the interim they got cast opposite one another in &Eacute;lise Gerard’s 2010 <I>Belleville-Tokyo</I>.) It’s even playing at a theater near you, at least for the next five minutes.
<P>Though more ambitious as (largely) a serious drama, <I>Declaration of War</I> reprises the same flaws as its predecessor, being over-stuffed with stylistic digressions, a little too eager to please at times. But once again it’s a very likable piece of work that largely works on its own terms.
<P>While <I>Queen </I>was primarily content to poke fun at the great French tradition of slender twentysomethings moping lovesick about Paris, <I>War </I>declares itself on something inherently humorless: a child’s grave illness. Juliette (Donzelli) meets Romeo (Elka&iuml;m) &#151; yep, that’s a bit much &#151; at a punk club, where his pogoing catches her eye. After a very 1960s montage of love al fresco (although they do not run through any flower fields), out pops the no less auspiciously named Adam, and all is well apart from some higher-than normal new-parent exhaustion issues related to the baby crying just about every waking moment.
<P>Eventually, however, Adam’s tendency to barf, cough, and tilt his head leftward while showing no interest in learning to walk raises suspicions confirmed by Dr. Prat (B&eacute;atrice De Sta&euml;l, who was also a standout as the heroine’s neurotic flatmate in <I>Queen</I>): little Adam has a brain tumor, and there’s a long uncertain road ahead that puts infinite strain on the young couple’s individual emotions, collective resources and future together.
<P>Even in this much more sober story context, Donzetti can’t resist cramming in every stylistic whim that comes to mind, from superimpositions to interior voices and multiple anonymous narrators, not excluding a bursting into song. The cost of her chasing after such spontaneity is that sometimes a gamble falls flat, calling attention to itself without adding anything, like the soundtrack choice of some overly gimmicky electronica when Juliette freaks out during her child’s CAT Scan. Eclecticism isn’t always an ideal tactic, especially when a subject like this one demands a certain groundedness.
<P>But many of her tactics work, finding humor in surprising places and refreshing some familiar devices of domestic tragedy. Donzetti has a very sure touch with actors; she and the ingratiating Elka&iuml;m work so well together that we don’t mind their characters remain in some ways underdeveloped. (In fact this seems somewhat intentional &#151; Juliette and Romeo plunge into serious commitment before they’re fully formed adults, and the script doesn’t spare them the odd outburst that’s childishly unflattering.) Much less melodramatic than its title would suggest, <I>Declaration of War </I>is uneven but full of life and ideas &#151; there’s room for Donzetti to refine her directorial instincts, but one hopes they stay a little messy. 
<B>DECLARATION OF WAR </B>opens Fri/27 in Bay Area theaters.

Whatever happened to Baby Jaymes?



MUSIC One day in November 2004, my then-girlfriend returned to our Oakland apartment all excited. “I just heard this on KMEL,” she said. She handed me a CD, Baby Jaymes, Ghetto Retro (Underground Soul), while she unwrapped the included Ghetto Retro EP and cued up “Nice Girl.” “He sounds like Prince,” she enthused—we were Prince geeks—”but he’s from East Oakland!”

Something in the way the vocals were layered, the tasty guitar and bass details under aloof keyboards, and the idiosyncratic, non-pimp, non-player personality that disclosed itself seemed to justify the comparison, particularly as we moved on to the LP. The hidden track “Ev’ry Nuance,” for example, could be a Lovesexy outtake, even as its more lo-fi aesthetic seemed to allude knowingly to 1999-era bootlegs.


Comparisons to Prince would be made in nearly every review of Ghetto Retro, though the insistence was a little misleading. While Prince is definitely an influence, BJ — as he’s known — isn’t especially well-versed in the Purple One’s catalog. Some of the resemblance stems from the common influence of 1960s and ’70s soul; Motown, particularly Smokey Robinson, and Stax loom much larger for Baby Jaymes, and in many ways, the similarly pint-sized singer is the anti-Prince, possessing no conventional technical musical ability, depending on collaborators to translate the melodies and arrangements he hears in his head.

In 2007, I had the experience of watching him cajole a string trio from blank incomprehension into a soaring, unscripted overdub reminiscent of a Paul Riser classic. Yet I’ve also seen the comparatively simple matter of a guitar overdub founder for want of a common vocabulary.

“It’s all about energy to me,” BJ says, “but I can’t always articulate it in a way that musicians understand. But if I articulate it emotionally they might be like, yes! and we’re there. I used to knock myself out because I can’t play, but that’s part of my gift. I’ve gotten to the place where I’m ok with that.”

The other major difference is the difference between Minneapolis and East Oakland, for while Prince has profoundly influenced hip-hop, he’s never known what to do with it, whereas it’s second nature to BJ, hailing from the notorious Rollin’ 100s (99th and MacArthur, to be exact).

Much of Ghetto Retro is built on heavily manipulated samples, augmented with instruments, and though he’s the furthest thing from a thug — I’ve never heard him cuss, though I have heard him say “my goodness” and even “golly”—Baby Jaymes sounds entirely natural with Turf Talk on his 2008 single “The Bizness” or The Jacka on his new EP, Whatever Happened to Baby Jaymes?, released late last year on Hiero-imprint Clear Label Records.


The EP’s title, BJ admits, was the brainchild of Souls of Mischief and Hieroglyphics member and Clear Label head Tajai Massey, both punning off the Bette Davis film and nodding to the seven-year wait since Ghetto Retro. BJ initially resisted.

“I disappeared,” he admits. “But I don’t want people to think I wasn’t doing anything.”

“I was bummed out with the artist thing,” he continues. “People remember me — which is a good thing. But I couldn’t imagine life not having anonymity. To this day I can’t go anywhere in the Town without seeing at least one person that knows me. It can be overwhelming.”

BJ’s local profile, elevated by airplay on KMEL, national press from Fader and XLR8R, and even a 2005 GOLDIE, was complicated by the chronic difficulty of making money as a Bay Area urban artist. In the mid-’00s, besides longstanding major label distinterest, Bay Area independent artists suddenly saw their financial foundations crumble with the decline of CD sales.

“You have to preserve your mystique,” he says, “but you don’t have money to be that guy all the time. I might really be on the bus and you see me on the bus and it just kills my whole thing for you. So I decided I just wanted to make music, not make music to be famous.”

Instead BJ moved to L.A. to pursue licensing deals in movies and TV. Even before Ghetto Retro, he’d already tapped into Hollywood money, writing a song (“Without a Daddy” by Touché) that appears in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday (1999). (His own version appears on Ghetto Retro as “Black Girl/White Girl.”) Since relocating, he’s racked up an oddball assortment of screen credits, from a few seconds of music in a Nicole Kidman vehicle (2007’s The Invasion) to production work on Fox’s intro to the 2008-09 NFC Championship broadcast (apparently Cleatus the Robot’s first foray into hip-hop).

More recently NCIS used a snippet “so small and incidental, you can barely hear it,” but this brings in incomparably more money than dropping a Bay Area hip-hop soul classic. Essentially BJ makes the bulk of his modest income off five song placements and would like to bring that number up to around 40 reliable ones, which he estimates would bring in a comfortable enough existence to fulfill his artistic ambitions.



For, despite his earlier discomfort, Baby Jaymes’s artistic ambitions remain, and Tajai was able to induce him to sign to Clear Label to record a new album, for which the seven-song Whatever Happened is simply a calling card. Still, after so long a hiatus, the EP is a joy to hear. I’d wondered if BJ and long-time collaborator, producer Marc Garvey, would shy away from the sound they’d crafted in favor of something more obviously commercial, but instead they’ve dug deeper, returning to the samples-plus-hip-hop-drums core that makes Ghetto Retro feel so warm and timeless.

The single, “Heart & Soul,” captures the throbbing drama of a kind of vintage R&B that concerns matters of deeper import than Bentleys and Belvedere, serving by turns as a declaration of love and an artistic manifesto. Yet BJ also shows off a new swag with an inventive reimagining of 50 Cent’s “21 Questions” over a live band, co-produced by Ledisi mastermind Sundra Manning.

This more than anything else gives a foretaste of the album to come, judging from the unreleased tracks he played me, all of which featured live instrumentation. This is a far more expensive way to make a record, but he hopes to have complete and release it sometime in 2012.

“Honestly, if Tajai hadn’t said, ‘We should do a record, I’ll help you pay for it,’ I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it,” he says, clearly relishing the new material. “I do it for the love of music, nothing else.” *


Sorrow, tears, blood — and dance



MUSIC Musical genius, human rights activist, cultural legend, African icon — late Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti encompassed multitudes, but to his 1980s-era guitarist Soji Odukogbe, he provided not only inspiration but a way into his music.

“The music was written by Fela, so if you were good enough, you could add to it, and he wouldn’t say anything. But if you were not good enough, he’d say, ‘This is the line,'” explains Odukogbe, 49, by phone from Berkeley where he now lives. “Afrobeat is a written music — you can’t add to it. You can add if you know your instrument, and it’s sweet enough, then you can go there.”

Fortunately the Lagos, Nigeria, native — who as a child was inspired enough by Fela’s hits to take a wood plank, hammer a nail into it, and pretend it was a guitar — was good enough to take his liberties on guitar on legendary Fela albums like Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, Beasts of No Nation, and Underground System (all Barclay; 1986, 1989, and 1992). “[Fela] was anxious to meet me [after he got out of prison], and when he saw me, he was so happy — he said, ‘I have a guitar player that’s really good!,'” recalls Odukogbe, who joined Fela’s band in ’85. “One day I said, ‘Fela, I want to take a guitar solo. He only allowed horn and keyboard solos, and he said, ‘Yeah, go ahead,’ and I blew his mind. He was so proud of me.” Odukogbe appears with kindred Fela player Baba Ken Okulolo at a “Fela Kuti Extravaganza” dance party at Cafe Du Nord Jan. 28.

The guitarist played with Fela for five years before deciding to take his chances in the U.S. where a so-called world music movement was catching fire with the success of Nigerian juju master King Sunny Adé, Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares (Nonesuch, 1987), and Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical (Luaka Bop, 1990). Now, with publications such as The New York Times trumpeting an “African invasion” in indie rock and a fascination with African music takes hold once more — morphed and bent to new ends by performers ranging from Vampire Weekend to Dirty Projectors to this year’s Pazz and Jop poll-topping tUnE-yArDs — the time seems right to revisit Fela’s legacy.

Long before African outfits like Tinariwen and Blk Jks threaded rock ‘n’ roll guitar into indigenous rhythms, and hipster-cred comps such as the Ethiopiques and Congotronics series touched down stateside, Fela was hybridizing jazz and highlife with a potent dose of James Brown-style funk, a black power sensibility (not for nothing did he dub himself the Black President), and a driving thirst for justice, even after being jailed some 200 times, suffering at the hands of soldiers (the wounds Fela revealed when he dropped his trousers in the 1982 documentary Music Is the Weapon are heartbreaking), and undergoing a level of government harassment and abuse that would break most mortals. It all appeared to climax in 1977 after the release of his military-mocking 1977 LP Zombie (Barclay) and the subsequent invasion of his Kalakuta Republic commune by soldiers, which led to the death of his mother and the beating and brutalization of the performer, his family, wives, and friends.

Though mainstream superstars Will Smith and Jay-Z threw their producing weight behind the recent Tony Award-winning musical production of Fela!, it’s tough to imagine an artist quite like Fela in today’s music scene, fighting back from the top of the pop charts, occupying the public imagination with his radical politics and spiritual beliefs, and speaking his mind, loudly and outrageously. Still, Fela’s story and music speak louder than ever, especially in the context of indie’s less-than-political appropriation of African sounds, the recent SF run of Fela!, the 2011 rerelease of Fela’s Universal-controlled albums in North America by Knitting Factory Records, the upcoming film directed by artist-filmmaker Steve McQueen, and continuing tide of injustice in Nigeria, where weeks of protests continue over fuel prices and the country has undergone its worst oil spill in a decade.

“The thing that’s most interesting about Fela’s music is how traveling and seeing other cultures, going to the United States, and getting familiar with American music and James Brown and American politics inspired him to fulfill his own roots and look back on himself and to really see these international forces as part of his background and his own culture,” observes Will Magid, 26, who organized the Fela dance party and has played with Odukogbe and Okulolo. Magid’s own forthcoming debut album promises to mix Kuti’s influence with Balkan, pop, and funk sounds. “We need more people who are like that and who are speaking up.”

El Cerrito-by-way-of-Nigeria bassist Okulolo played with Fela as well as King Sunny Ade and has performed with Odukogbe in the Kotoja, the Western African Highlife Band, and the Nigerian Brothers. Magid’s friend and mentor since the two met through Okulolo’s son at UCLA, the musician sees “Fela Kuti Extravaganza” as a teaching opportunity.

“Fela was a great musician, and his music will never die,” says Okulolo. “I think it would be a good idea to continue educating people about his music and how beautiful it is. I worked with [Fela] briefly, and I know the man well, and so many bands are playing Afrobeat now — generally the music needs to be out there.”

“It has funk; it has jazz; it has an African beat; it has everything,” he continues. “It’s our opportunity to showcase it to as many people as we can and make it valuable, to put it in a category that someday will be what reggae is today.”

And during hard times, we can all learn something from Fela, his still-vibrant music, and his way of moving, fluidly and artfully, through oppression, through pain. “There’s this element of social consciousness, of people dancing and then hearing about these oil spills,” muses Magid of the upcoming dance party. “It’s a different kind of dancing when you’re dancing through suffering.” *



With Baba Ken Okulolo and Soji Odukogbe, Will Magid Trio with Fely Tchaco, MSK.FM, and izzy*wise

Sat/28, 9:30 p.m., $15

Cafe Du Nord

2170 Market, SF


Too much in the son



THEATER The Berkeley Rep’s thrust stage sinks to floor-level down front where a simply furnished living room freely communicates with the audience seated nearby, while to the back rises the imposing façade of San Francisco City Hall. The impressive jumble of a set (by Todd Rosenthal) ensures the jarring conflation of private and public life strikes us palpably before a single line is uttered in Ghost Light. As it happens, the first words are those famous ones spoken by Dianne Feinstein from City Hall on November 27, 1978, announcing the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk by former supervisor Dan White. They come over the television to a 14-year-old boy (Tyler James Myers) home sick from school the day his father died.

The dream play that follows is not realistic, but it is also more than fiction. A unique collaboration between Bay Area–based director and California Shakespeare Theater artistic director Jon Moscone (real-life youngest son of the slain mayor) and Berkeley Rep’s Tony Taccone, Ghost Light is an at times promising but otherwise laden attempt to explore the stifled grief of a man haunted by the death of a murdered father — a father who was also a public figure, a political leader whose legacy is in some sense embattled (or at least seriously overshadowed by the subsequent apotheosis of Harvey Milk).

The complex feelings this entails for the son of such a man — whose career in the state senate and as mayor was arguably more important than Milk’s to the legal and social battle for gay rights — are only heightened by the fact that the son is also gay, with a public profile of his own and the mixed blessing of a prominent family name.

If the son in this situation-turned-scenario sounds a little like Hamlet, the comparison was not lost on Taccone either, who penned the script while drawing on hours of freewheeling conversations with Jon Moscone, initiator of the project and the play’s director. (Ghost Light had its world premiere last year in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where it was commissioned as part of its “American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle.”) Director-turned-playwright Taccone has the character “Jon” (played with manic energy and sudden introspection by a sympathetic Christopher Liam Moore) stuck midway through the preparations for a production of Hamlet, unable to decide what to do with the Ghost — indeed, haunted by the whole idea. This unusual block has his best friend and collaborator Louise (a lively if slightly affected Robynn Rodriguez) frustrated and worried.

Jon’s block also feeds a dream life populated by several characters — a Loverboy (Danforth Comins) spun from an online flirtation; his perennially 14-year-old self (Myers) locked in a battle of wills with some cosmic undertaker cum grief councilor named Mister (a sure, larger-than-life Peter Macon); the silent image of his black-veiled widow mother (Sarita Ocón); and a menacing prison guard in a soiled shirt (a sharp Bill Geisslinger), who turns out to be the grandfather he never knew.

It’s suggested more than once in the dialogue that all of these characters stalking his sleep (and often arriving onstage through the portal of Jon’s bed, pitch atop the shiny black granite steps of City Hall) are merely the dreamer himself in various disguises and aspects. This much, of course, we are already primed to assume. In fact, the fundamental problem facing the main character — namely, his inability to properly let go of his own grief and suffering around the death of his father, which appears here as an inability to let his own father’s “perturbed spirit” rest at last — is equally a condition readily recognizable to a modern audience in a therapeutic age. It may be grounds to build on in terms of character development, but the lack of mystery here also undercuts any suspense in the plot, as the increasingly blurred line between Jon’s dreaming and waking lives points toward nervous collapse and the threat of some self-inflicted disaster (personified by the foul-mouthed, homophobic, and gun-toting prison guard stalking his unconscious).

Taccone makes a valiant attempt to draw together a complicated and wrenchingly personal yet all-too-public story with a set of interrelated subplots and quick-moving dialogue (filled with as much quippy humor and menace as pathos). But the results are uneven. Although Geisslinger makes a serviceable villain, the danger he represents never feels palpable. Likewise, the underworld subplot involving boyhood Jon (played a little too typically “boyishly” by Myers to be readily believed) comes across as vague and treacly.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the more realistic, down-to-earth scenes that play best and are most evocative. The intricacy of a life divided painfully between public and private personas, public and private pain and loyalties too, comes across best when the character of Jon is operating in the “real” world. To this end, Moscone the director shrewdly brings the audience in at key points as well, raising the houselights for an acting master class led by his onstage character. Meta-theater, town hall meeting, group therapy — the lines begin to blur here in a lively, resonant discussion of “acting” as social action.

Another interesting scene takes place in a bar, where Jon finally meets Basil (Ted Deasy), the man with whom he’s been having an online fling for weeks (and the inspiration for the Loverboy of his increasingly intrusive dream world). The awkwardness, defensiveness, and barely contained rage revealed here — as Jon discovers that Basil’s own fantasy projection incorporates his public familial tragedy — speak more eloquently to the messy particulars of the main character’s dilemma then perhaps any other scene in the play.

In the end, the thematic aptness of the mise-en-scène — which forces Jon, for instance, to open the front doors of City Hall just to retrieve a beer from the fridge — speaks also to the monumental task this play has set itself. If the results prove very mixed, they are all the more discomfiting because the root story is so fascinating, the dramatic project itself audacious and strange, and the insight to be potentially gleaned so tantalizing — speaking to our collective intersections with history in the deepest recesses of the psyche.



Through Feb. 19

Tues., Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. (also Sat. and Feb. 16, 2 p.m.); Wed. and Sun., 7 p.m. (also Sun., 2 p.m.), $14.50-$73

Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison, Berk.

(510) 647-2949


Public TV, for sale


OPINION The San Mateo Community College District Board of Trustees has announced the upcoming sale of its independent public television station, KCSM-TV. Some potential new owners are cause for alarm.

A January 10th walk-though for potential bidders was attended by the Christian broadcasting giant Daystar Television. The fastest-growing faith-based network in the country, Daystar’s mission is to reach souls with the good news of Jesus Christ as one of a “new breed of televangelists.”

While the prospect of San Mateo Community College bringing Daystar to the Peninsula is the most dramatic possible outcome of the district’s decision to sell, some of the other bidders present challenges as well.

Public Media Company, controlled by radio brokers Public Radio Capital and much in the news for its role in the still-contested sale of KUSF’s radio license to the formerly commercial station KDFC, also toured the station on Jan. 10.

Public Media Company/Public Radio Capital is based in Boulder, Colorado. The intertwined family of limited liability companies has been buying up college radio stations at fire-sale prices all over the country and folding them into tight National Public Radio classical or jazz-only formats. Independent musicians have expressed alarm at the loss of accessible college radio outlets, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors denounced the loss of KUSF to San Francisco’s cultural fabric in a 2011 resolution.

Other possible bidders included the mysterious Locust Point Networks, a website without a definition beyond “an early stage telecommunications company,” and Cheifet Productions, which produced programming on Silicon Valley for the PBS Nightly Business Report. Also in the potential market are Independent Public Media, a satellite TV service created by one of the founders of Free Speech TV, and KAXT, a South-Bay based family of foreign-language stations founded by a former KGO reporter.

In the Bay Area, public broadcasting is dominated by the vast KQED, which owns television and radio stations from Sacramento to Salinas to San Jose. KQED has long been criticized for a paucity of local programming and news, and a fondness for cooking shows.

The absorption of independent outlets into the KQED structure promises more standardization and less variety for peninsula residents.

The district claims the sale of the educational, noncommercial TV license is a necessity because operating an independent public television station is not compatible with the core mission of educating students. But the district will continue to operate the radio station Jazz 91 radio station.

District officials also said that the TV station was losing money. But a financial statement posted with bid materials seemed to include many shared radio/TV expenses.

The district trustees meet Jan. 25 at 6:00 p.m. at the College of San Mateo, 3401 College of San Mateo Drive. They should be told in no uncertain terms that a sale to a Christian broadcaster is unacceptable — and that that any sale must protect the public interest in localism, independence, and a diversity of points of view. 

Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance, a Bay Area nonprofit that advocates for democratic communications. www.media-alliance.org


Ding dong, you’re dead


TRASH It takes a certain kind of sicko to fall in love with Italian horror, what with all the oozing maggots, spurting jugulars, WTF plot twists, weird zooms, jarring musical cues, and supporting characters who do completely bizarre things that are never explained.

Sickos take note: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is screening an uncut 35mm print of Lucio Fulci’s 1981 The House By the Cemetery. HUGE. Within the gore-splattered Fulci canon, House is maybe not as well-known as 1981’s The Beyond, 1980’s City of the Living Dead, or 1979’s Zombie (which made a recent local appearance thanks to Blue Underground, the cult champions also responsible for this showing of House). But it’s no less essential or enjoyable than the others, despite suffering from one nearly insurmountable flaw. (More on that that in a minute.)

House‘s story is actually pretty straightforward, as Fulci flicks go. After a mysterious murder-suicide claims his colleague, professor Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) uproots his family, including wife Lucy (Fulci scream queen Catriona MacColl) and young son Bob (Giovanni Frezza), from New York City to small-town Massachusetts, where he plans to finish the dead man’s research. Fate or something worse means the Boyles will be bunking in “the Freudstein place,” a notorious mansion once occupied by “a certain Dr. Freudstein — a turn-of-the-century surgeon with a penchant for illegal experiments.” Uh-oh. That the family is merely renting this sinister abode is ignored by the film’s ad campaign: “Read the fine print. You just may have mortgaged your life!”

That may be so, but the truth is Bob’s dubbed-over voice is the scariest thing in this movie. Among the House DVD extras is an interview with a grown-up Frezza; the first thing out of his mouth is an apology. (His later filmography includes Lamberto Bava’s ludicriously amazing 1985 Demons, so he’s off the hook as far as I’m concerned.) It’s a distraction that elevates Bob from a mere rip-off of the kid in 1980’s The Shining, an obvious House influence, to eardrum-torturing moppet from hell.


Fortunately, the rest of House is weird enough to cushion this sonic godawfulness, or at least blunt it a bit; it helps that the other kid in the movie — Silvia Collatina as Mae, the Scatman Crothers to Bob’s Danny Torrance — sounds perfectly normal. There are plenty of juicy bits for Italian horror geeks, including Ania Pieroni as a creepy, glaring babysitter (doing a slight variation on her creepy, glaring Mother of Tears in Dario Argento’s 1980 Inferno) and Carlo De Mejo (star of City of the Living Dead) as a helpful librarian. The traditional Fulci cameo casts the director as Dr. Boyle’s bow tie-wearing academic peer, uttering the immortal line “I adore New England!”

Speaking of, the titular house actually exists, though it’s not actually located by a cemetery as advertised. Also the setting for Umberto Lenzi’s 1988 Ghosthouse (sickos know Lenzi’s name well, thanks to grindhouse nuggets like 1981’s Cannibal Ferox and 1980’s Nightmare City), it’s the historically significant Ellis House in Scituate, Mass. No word, however, if the arts association that now maintains the property accommodates curious horror fans — or if the basement décor is still keepin’ it funky. 



Fri/27-Sat/28, 10 p.m., $8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF


Plazas are public spaces


EDITORIAL The attack on public space has been underway for years now in San Francisco. Parks and recreation centers have been turned into pay-to-enter facilities rented out to private organizations. The sit-lie law restricts the use of public sidewalks. Occupy protesters have been evicted from a public plaza. And now, Supervisor Scott Wiener wants to put new restrictions on the mini-parks and plazas that have been a rare bright spot in the battle to reclaim the streets.

Wiener has introduced legislation that would ban camping, cooking, four-wheeled shopping carts, and the sale of merchandise in Harvey Milk Plaza and Jane Warner Plaza, near Market and Castro. He argues that the two parklets — one reclaimed from what had been roadway — are in legal limbo: They aren’t parks, so the city’s park codes don’t apply, and they aren’t sidewalks, so rules like the sit-lie law don’t apply, either.

But there are serious problems with the Wiener legislation. For one thing, it’s clearly directed at homeless people — the ban on shopping carts makes no sense at all except for the fact that a lot of homeless people carry their possessions in those carts. And the ban on camping (which isn’t a problem right now in the two plazas) could be used to prevent an Occupy-style action in the Castro.

The ACLU says there are serious constitutional issues with the bill. In a Jan. 21 letter, ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye notes that the ban on the sale of merchandise without a permit could “burden expressive activity.” And she explains that the shopping cart rules have exceptions for bicycles, strollers, and two-wheeled carts, but “it is wholly unclear why some but not other wheeled conveyances are singled out for prohibition, other than to restrict the activities of an unpopular group.”

A letter signed by 21 members of the Harvey Milk Club, including co-founders Harry Britt and Cleve Jones, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, and eight past club presidents, points out that “the interests of the LGBT community have always been united with the interests of public space. As a community that is forced—far too often and for far too long—to spend much of our collective lives ‘in the closet,’ the ability to be free in public spaces has been tremendously liberating. Harvey Milk knew that liberation was only possible if we escaped the shadows of anonymity and invisibility. When we restrict these spaces—even when those restrictions are meant, initially, to be applied to another group of people—we damage ourselves.”

The issue goes far beyond the Castro. There are a growing number of small plazas in the city, part of the popular and successful Pavement to Parks Program — and the last thing the city should be doing is putting undue restrictions on their use.

Wiener, to his credit, has been in touch with the ACLU, and amended his original proposal to exempt the sale of newspapers and other printed material. But that doesn’t solve the First Amendment issues — for example, would the sale of t-shirts with political slogans be banned? Could the city decide which political candidates or causes could get a permit and which couldn’t?

The whole thing seems like a solution in search of a problem. The plazas, like most of the city’s parklets, are for the most part clean and well-maintained community gathering spots that don’t need new rules or restrictions. The supervisors should reject the Wiener legislation.

Legal, not legal



HERBWISE It’s been a weird year to start a marijuana column. Shortly after we started Herbwise, which was intended to be our weekly look at marijuana culture and events, politics reared its ugly head, rendering it necessary to go to hearings at the State Building, call up California Assembly members, and occasionally wade through seas of legalese. Such is the state of cannabis under ongoing federal prohibition, but it’s been a particularly dramatic year.

And in some moments, news and culture reporting melded together in the marijuana world. Take, for example, the case of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, which is often called the largest dispensary in the world (it is certainly the largest in California). After years of painstakingly crafting a working relationship with city government, the business was heavily audited by the IRS. The federal agency decided Harborside — and 40 other California dispensaries — fell under the jurisdiction of Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code, which denies the right for businesses involved in illegal drug trafficking to claim standard business expenditures. The collective now owes $2.4 million in back taxes, an amount that founder Steve DeAngelo asserts will bankrupt it if his business is forced to pay up.

Despite the ever-growing acceptance of the plant in the United States — a Gallup poll put the number at 50 percent in the fall of 2011 — medical marijuana is under attack by the federal government. Last fall, US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag sent out letters to the landlords of roughly a dozen Bay Area dispensaries threatening them with civil forfeiture, or possibly four decades in prison, if they failed to move this “trafficking” off their property within 45 days. The letters targeted dispensaries considered to be in a school zone.

Most left without a fight. In San Francisco, the Tenderloin’s Divinity Tree Patients Wellness Cooperative, the Market Street Collective on Upper Market, and the Mission District’s Medithrive and Mr. Nice Guy were among the businesses that shut their doors, some completely and some to transition into delivery-only services. [UPDATE: Attorney Matt Kumin tells the Guardian that Divinity Tree and Medithrive have filed a “coordinated federal lawsuit” through his office in protestation of the closures]

Fairfax’s sole dispensary, Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, was forced to close after 15 years of legal operation overseen by long-time cannabis activist Lynette Shaw. The 7,500-person Marin County berg’s town council passed a resolution supporting the Alliance, which served as a symbol of popular support for legal cannabis in a county beset with some of the highest breast cancer rates in the country.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and Sen. Mark Leno have been the most outspoken California politicians in coming out against the federal government’s meddling with the state’s cannabis. At a press conference at San Francisco’s State Building in October 2011, Ammiano announced his frustration that the feds would “upset the will of the people” by curtailing safe patient access. Proud to be an elected gay official, he promised to continue to crusade for an issue that he says disproportionately affects the LGBTQ community.

One of the steps Ammiano took was to meet with Haag to discuss what could be done to assuage her concerns with the industry. “That was very, very disappointing,” Ammiano commented on this initial talk. In a recent phone interview with the Guardian, he remembered that Haag implied that the order was coming from above, from high up in the Obama Administration.

Ammiano doubts her assertion that she had little discretion in the matter. “She said she was only doing what the boss was telling her to do. We had a hard time with that.”

He does think that the Obama Administration is sending its attorneys mixed messages — case in point, US Attorney General Eric Holder’s repeated comments that federal interference in state-legal marijuana operations would be “a low priority.” Ammiano also makes the connection between the attacks on cannabis and the self-sustaining industries behind the War on Drugs. “The DEA, some of the diehards, this is like a jobs program for them,” he said.

His meeting with California Attorney General Kamala Harris went more smoothly. Ammiano says Harris, who voiced cautious support for the industry last fall, was eager for a more comprehensive regulatory system to be put into place, but she supported Proposition 215 — the 1996 measure that legalized medical marijuana in California — on principle.

Faced with an ambiguous future, medical cannabis’ proponents — politicians, activists, entrepreneurs, and patients — are putting forth plans for just such a system. This year will be the playing field for a passel of campaigns to take medical marijuana out of the under-supervised arena in which it’s found itself.

Three ballot initiative campaigns seek to address the issue. Two — Regulate Marijuana Like Wine and Repeal Prohibition — would legalize cannabis use for adults across the board. Another, which has perhaps the most likely chance to succeed in the $2 million process of getting onto the ballot, is being put forth by patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, the United Food and Commercial Workers (the union that represents many cannabis workers in California), and marijuana collectives. It’s called the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act.

“We decided to focus on medical because we figured that taking that further step at this point is unwise given the federal government’s actions over the last months,” said attorney George Mull, who is part of the team that proposed the measure. If passed, the initiative would establish a 21-member state regulatory board comprised of doctors, industry folk, patients, activists, government officials, and others. A state supplemental tax on cannabis would be levied and local governments would be required to allow one dispensary per 50,000 residents. Ammiano said that he and Leno were also working on proposing legislation that would provide regulations.

But the future of medical marijuana in California remains somewhat cloudy. “I’m worried that even if we come up with the regulations, the feds will find something else,” said Ammiano. Complicating the matter, the California Supreme Court moved unanimously on Jan. 18 to review the power that cities and counties have to make their own laws concerning cannabis accessibility — plus, it plans to look at the old disconnect between state and federal law on the matter..

So much for the politics of marijuana in 2012. Away from the headlines, it’s plain to see that the plant is increasingly accepted in popular culture. On a local level, East Bay YouTube stoner Coral Reefer continues to tweet to thousands of followers every time she sparks a bowl, and on the national stage, Miley Cyrus admits to smoking “way too much fucking weed,” after seeing the birthday cake friends had gotten her. (It had Bob Marley’s face on it.)

On television, the United States is learning about Harborside’s travails — but not just from the news shows. Discovery Channel shot a season of reality TV following DeAngelo and his staff, telling the stories of patients and about the reality of running a dispensary for a show they entitled Weed Wars even before the final $20 million IRS ruling. As the collective is being persecuted by the feds, its fan base across the country grows.

Will Discovery Channel renew Weed Wars for a second season? Regardless of the network’s views on the protagonists’ profession, if the cameras are kept rolling they’re sure to capture another year of interesting times for California cannabis.