Volume 46 Number 21

The war at home


FILM Agnieszka Holland is that kind of filmmaker who can become a well known, respectable veteran without anyone being quite sure what those decades have added up to. Her mentor was Andrzej Wadja, the last half-century’s leading Polish director (among those who never left). He helped shape a penchant for heavy historical drama and a sometimes clunky style not far from his own.

Since the late 1970s the result has been numerous great or at least weighty themes tackled head-on, with variable success. Following some well-received works at home, she commenced her international career with 1985’s Angry Harvest, about the amorous relationship between a Polish man and the Austrian, a Jewish woman, he hides during Nazi occupation. Very seldom inhabiting the present in her films, she’s approached classic children’s lit (1993’s The Secret Garden) and Henry James (1997’s Washington Square) with the same slightly ham-fisted competence.

She’s bolstered the notion of artistic genius being irascible via Ed Harris going Pollock on the ivories in 2006’s Copying Beethoven, and of Rimbaud and Verlaine shocking the bourgeoisie in 1995’s Total Eclipse. To Kill a Priest (1988) and The Third Miracle (1999) dealt with the uneasy relationship between faith, politics, and the Catholic Church in Poland. Less conspicuously, Holland has worked for hire on TV movies (one about murderer Gary Gilmore, another about murder victim Gwen Araujo) and series episodes (The Wire, Treme) that must rate among her least personal projects — as well as her finest.


Her one indispensable feature is 1990’s Europa, Europa, an ideal vehicle for her favored mix of the grotesque, sober, and factual — following a Jewish boy who passed as Aryan German, to the point of joining the Hitler Youth. The new In Darkness is her best since then, and it can’t be chance that this too dramatizes a notably bizarre case of real-life peril and survival under the Nazis.

Its protagonist is Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), an ordinary family man in Lvov (Poland then, Ukraine now) who’s not above exploiting the disarray of occupation and war to make ends meet. A sewer inspector, he uses his knowledge of underground tunnels to hide Jews who can pay enough when even the fenced-off ghetto is no longer safe. It’s late in the war; all avenues of flight are closed. The dozen or so citizens Socha secretes in the city’s bowels — freezing amidst vermin and waste — run a gamut despite shared panic. They include a professor, a junkie, a philanderer and mistress, and children. Extreme adversity doesn’t ennoble them — even in this dank entrapment there occur betrayals, fights, a bastard pregnancy. It is typical of Holland that when copulation and masturbation occur, the acts are at once furtively shameful and barnyard-frank.

Though both sides risk all, the “Polacks” openly disdain the “Yids,” and vice versa. In any other circumstance they’d happily snub one another. Only the flat brutality of the Nazis, gloating and laughing as they kill, can impose a thin allegiance. Yet as grueling months go by under constant threat of capture, something more than sheer dependency develops. Reluctantly, Socha finds himself unable to abandon “his” Jews even when they can no longer pay, and discovery would cost his life as well as theirs.

Holland will never be a cinematic poet. Her blunt, sometimes graceless approach to any story can leach its emotional subtleties as well as (more usefully) potential forced bathos and uplift. In Darkness has a few sequences poorly shaped enough to seem pointless. It takes us longer than it should to sort out all the major characters, and the sense of time passing is murky at best.

But for such a long, oppressive, and literally dark film, this one passes quickly, maintaining tension as well as a palpable physical discomfort that doubtlessly suggests just a fraction what the refugees actually suffered. On rare instances when Socha or others venture outdoors, sunlight feels as harsh and exposing as bleach.

In Darkness isn’t quite a great movie, but it’s a powerful experience. At the end it’s impossible to be unmoved, not least because the director’s resistance toward Spielbergian exaltation insists on the banal and everyday, even in human triumph.

In Darkness opens Fri/24 in San Francisco.

Alive and kicking


THEATER Art is a life and death matter at the Garage this weekend, with the premieres of Dead/Alive and No Exit, two new contemporary dance-performance works from Minna Harri Experience Set and Christine Bonansea, respectively.

These intriguing pieces — instigated as part of an eight-month co-mentorship program between the Garage and ODC — have been developing separately for months. But in their flirtations with the sublime, they stand to be as complimentary as they will doubtlessly be distinct and strange. (Both works transfer to ODC this summer as part of the co-mentoring arrangement, a bridge-building initiative dreamed up by the Garage’s Joe Landini.)

Bonansea, who relocated to the Bay Area from her native France four years ago, is probably better known locally as a dancer — most recently for her wry, nimble performance in Catherine Galasso’s Bring on the Lumiere at ODC. A quick and spirited personality, Bonansea had just returned from Lumiere‘s New York premiere when I met with her to talk about No Exit. Bonansea studied modern literature at the Sorbonne; she took her title from Sartre, whose No Exit she revisited early on in the process.

She is careful not to equate her work with the famous play, however, stressing that it is only a starting point or one element in a larger mix of perspectives around a central idea — in this case, the illusory nature of self measured against certain physical and temporal absolutes. Moreover, she tends to think in terms of visuals and sound as much as in terms of movement.

“I like working with different media,” she explains. “There is a conversation; the perspectives are different. It’s totally a part of the process. It’s not that I do mixed media, but if I talk about something, I see that there are so many different ways to talk about it. When you work with different artists you just bounce off each other. It can be insane!” she says, explaining that for her, “insane” is a very positive word.

Sure enough, Bonansea has gathered an insanely impressive group of collaborators. Dancers Marina Fukushima, Jorge Rodolfo de Hoyos, and Rosemary Hannon will perform the piece. Graphic artist Olivia Ting provides visuals. Costumes (including an 18-yard wig) come courtesy of noted hair designer-sculpture Lauren Klein. The result is an absorbing anti-narrative inhabited by anti-characters, exploring transience and stasis while confronting irresolvable tensions in the human condition.

Similarly for Minna Harri, a Finnish-born dancer-choreographer now based in San Francisco, work often begins with a philosophical question or idea. Her last outing at the Garage was the eerily exquisite A Silent Fairground (3 Things). The delicately macabre beauty and darkly coiled humor of the piece suffused the black box with the sense of haunted memories and dreamlike intimations from the unconscious. But just whose memory, or whose unconscious, is hard to say.

“I don’t usually make work out of my own life,” Harri says. “Maybe it’s more things that bother me or won’t let me go.”

She admits that Dead/Alive, a multivalent rumination on mortality and dying that features three performers and some voluntary audience interaction, is a little different. “I bring my own thoughts and experiments, vulnerabilities and fears about that. Death as a subject in this culture is very weird, and it maybe should be talked about more,” she suggests.

Joining Harri onstage, and in her process, are performance artist and provocateur Philip Huang and, via video, dancer Ronja Ver (who figured stunningly in Silent Fairground). Harri also brought on two colleagues as dramaturges — Tessa Wills and Jesse Hewit — at distinct points in the process. “I enjoy very much a deep and thorough and informed discussion in the process of making a piece,” she explains.

Dead/Alive‘s origins reach back to an idea she first had three or four years ago.

“Maybe it’s more an aesthetic nostalgia that has been the thing for me,” says Harri, considering the matter. “I think an important part of what has influenced me is nature, the Finnish seasons. There, all four seasons are very stark. You live for the summer, which is a few months, and every fall is like dying. The birds fly away, and you know it’s going to be eight, nine months before they come back. The winter is dark. And when the spring comes, it’s wonderful because the sun comes out — but then the light is so harsh that you see every dog shit that comes out of the melting snow, and every speck of dust inside. The most suicides happen in April.”



Fri/24-Sat/25, 8 p.m., $15


975 Howard, SF


Buy local: yoga edition


YOGA Walking into Bay Area yoga studios can sometimes feel like being subsumed into a cult of Lululemon, Yogitoes, and Gaiam. Yoga means big bucks these days, and most everyone seems to be sporting the same few brands while getting their warrior on. Yogic ideology espouses non-materialism and self-acceptance, yet it’s hard not want to fit in. Fortunately, there are lots of options that can get you out of big brand conformity and into stylie yoga gear that supports local vendors and designers. Follow these tips and in no time flat your yoga-related footprint won’t extend much farther than the four corners of your mat!



Inspired by a homemade canoe that once sat on the shores of Humboldt County’s Benbow Lake, Blue Canoe’s name highlights its dedication to homegrown, yet stylish organic clothing. All its clothes are made in San Francisco and most use organic cotton in comfy blends. The company has been in business for more that 16 years and is known for its decidedly “un-granola” pieces that make as much sense in a yoga class as they do on Valencia Street.  

Hot item: boot cut pant




Born of designer Margaret Leom’s own need for good yoga and dance wear, Leom Designs has been operating out of Santa Cruz for six years. The clothes have a uniquely organic feel to them, taking inspiration from the environment and employing a deliberative creative process. Though initially Leom just made clothes for herself, she was always asked where she got her outfits. So she jumped at the chance to create designs in her vision and hasn’t looked back.  

Hot item: elfarrow men’s yoga top




Since 2000 Swirl Space has been producing movement friendly, hemp-based clothes in San Francisco. As a business that’s committed to fair local labor, sustainable business practices, and educating the public about the benefits of Hemp, Swirl Space’s lofty ideals are an integral part of its goods.

Hot item: hemp hottie short




Headquartered in Mill Valley, Zobha produces dreamy, high-end yoga wear that rivals Lululemon in fit and durability — yet the two companies’ trajectories couldn’t be more different. While Vancouver-based Lululemon seems to court controversy at every turn, Zobha directly supports Bay Area community initiatives like Headstand, which teaches yoga to at-risk youth. Bottom line, Zobha makes your butt look good while hitting the sweet spot between transcendent and trendy.

Hot item: Paige tank




Hydration is key while practicing yoga, but not every water bottle is created equal. It goes without saying that conscious yogis should eschew disposable plastic bottles in favor of refillables, and since 2004 Chico-based Klean Kanteen has been preaching the benefits of BPA-free, stainless steel bottles.  

Hot item: Klean Kanteen Reflect




Operating out of a warehouse in the Mission District, Yoga Props has been in business for 32 years. It sells a very wide range of items including blocks fashioned in the Props woodshop and locally made bolsters. In addition to online orders, Yoga Props welcomes walk-in customers who call ahead to its Mission HQ.  

Hot item: cylindrical bolster




Yoga Mats is another SF-based prop purveyor that’s been in town for decades, nearly three to be exact. While it participates in occasional Dogpatch neighborhood trunk sales, the bulk of Yoga Mats’ business is done online.

Hot item: kapok-filled zafu crescent




No need to fly to remote spots like Tulum or Bali to get your OM on en masse. Taking place on the beach in Santa Monica, the Tadasana Festival will pair classes by master teachers like Seane Corne and Elena Brower with performances by global music luminaries like Karsh Kale, Cheb i Sabbah, and Vieux Farka Touré. No passport necessary, just gather your yogi posse and carpool to LaLa Land come late-April.  

Can’t miss: Mandala vinyasa with Shiva Rea and the Touré-Raichel Collective



Fighting prejudice, one student at a time


By Elijah Jatovsky

I served as a Congressional page for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi last summer, and witnessed the highly partisan and deadlocked environment that plagued the House of Representatives during the debt-ceiling fiasco.

Among the biggest challenges I faced during my two months as a page was being in an openly homophobic environment. One page laughed at the thought of having a gay president, saying if one were ever elected he would be the first in line with a shotgun.

As the son of gay parents, I was deeply hurt. For the first few weeks, whenever I heard a homophobic remark, I would stomp out, grumbling to myself about how backward these pages were.

Then it dawned on me that these homophobic pages had probably never knowingly met a gay person or someone related to one. I concluded that if I wanted to change their opinions about gay people I would have to appeal to their emotional side through personalization.

One night in a conversation with two of my homophobic page friends, I posed the question, “Should gay people be denied the right to marry?” They responded yes because gay people have the “choice” of being gay. I then asked, “If being gay was a choice, what are the children of gay people like?” They responded that the children probably led similarly immoral lifestyles, and that they were probably gay too. Then I posed my final question, “What if I told you I had gay parents?”

Despite my liberal worldview, these pages had come to perceive me as approachable and respectable. So when I came out as the son of gay parents, it challenged their preconceived notions. On the last day of the program, the pages wrote notes to one another to remember our experiences. One of them wrote in my book, “You changed my views of San Francisco… It’s full of liberals, but they’re OK peeps.”

I believe my fellow pages and I exhibited something that was absent in the House of Representatives this past summer: communication and respect. We were able to put our vast differences aside, and truly listen to one another. We held conversations that were not marred by fiery rhetoric, but rather educated one another about our core beliefs and why we held those opinions.

This type of dialogue is what a society needs to function — and that’s why I started a program called National Connect.

NatCon provides high school students the opportunity to communicate with people who have different upbringings and values. Scools provide background information ranging from student body size to religious affiliation through the NatCon website, and NatCon pairs very different schools. For example, the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco is paired with Beulah High School in the rural town of Valley, Alabama.

Students are assigned individual “buddies” from their paired school. They begin online correspondences answering different prompts. The prompts are given in stages, initially asking students to describe their lives in general.

After a connection is established, NatCon provides another set of prompts, more personal and potentially controversial, such as asking students to discuss stereotypes they hold. Finally, participants are asked to discuss their core beliefs about provocative issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and the environment. Students are asked to state their position, and explain the values that inform their beliefs. The purpose is to educate and inform each other, not to convince anyone of a particular point of view.

In the first month since NatCon’s launch, there are more than 50 high school students participating from nine schools and six states. Maybe there’s hope.

Elijah Jatovsky, founder of NatCon, lives in San Francisco and attends Jewish Community High School of the Bay. For more information and to read the NatCon Blog please visit: www.nationalconnect.org or email: nationalconnect2012@gmail.com

Whither indie?


MUSIC How does one trace the warp and woof of Bay Area indie rock’s silky, sick, multihued tapestry — with ticket stubs to long-ago shows, holey concert T’s, or grainy snapshots of sweat-swathed guitar players, red eyes gleaming in a haze of smoke machine emissions? Perhaps one way is to chart SF indie’s course from the first Noise Pop to the latest 20th anniversary edition, teasing out the tenuous connections between the first fest’s headliner Overwhelming Colorfast, reunited this year, and newish local poobah Young Prisms.

The pinging, ringing unifier might be found in the cascades of distortion, the buzzsaw guitars, used to drastically different ends. Fighting it out, too, beneath Overwhelming Colorfast’s fleet-footed crunch and Young Prisms’ smoggy overhang of echo-chamber shoegaze are clearly discernible, sensitive hearts, pulsing through the dulcet vocal lines and delivered with perfectly imperfect, threadbare falsettos. You can hear the ties that bind the two bands in the tide of romanticism and even sentimentality running under OC’s onslaught, YP’s haze.

Back in their 1991 to ’96 day, I confess I lost track of Overwhelming Colorfast: I don’t think I even saw them during their brief lifetime, although the music-snob friends respectfully granted that OC were kind of OK. So it feels thoroughly weird to play catch up with the most praised recording, Moonlight and Castanets (Headhunter/Cargo, 1996), by Antioch’s finest. Just as Overwhelming Colorfast was breaking up (only to reassemble, in time, as Oranger), Moonlight came along. Sprawling and ambitious with a bit of everything, it evokes the exploding mind of a particularly imaginative punk/rock fan, stuck in the suburbs and succored on chicken-fried ’70s and ’80s FM rock and moshpit-ready Amerindie hardcore bands that could be your life.


Of course, much like Young Prisms, accusations of derivativeness dogged Overwhelming Colorfast, whose inspiration and albatross was Hüsker Dü. Founding vocalist-guitarist Bob Reed couldn’t help it — he had clearly ingested far too much SST, with a very special emphasis on 1984’s Zen Arcade and Double Nickels on a Dime and 1985’s I Don’t Want to Grow Up. But listening to Moonlight now —particularly its forward-thrust first side — those snap dismissals and facile comparisons seem unfair.

The side starts “Starcrunch” with its heavy-outta-the-gate guitars that match Bob Mould and J. Mascis lick for lick, moves through “Mickey’s Lament,” which goes Weezer one better with its smart-kid, enjambed vocal delivery, rhythm guitar chug, and Stooges-y impaired piano drone, and closes the tender, breathy “Last Song” with a back-and-forth guitar line that captures the indecision as Reed sings, “Got a stupid note here / It’s from me to you. It’s all I could do / Thought I might just toss it / But it took so long. Tell me if it’s wrong.” Eventually a way-too-exuberant fusillade of guitars busts in, attempting to obliterate uncertainty: it’s as if Reed peered into the overwhelming darkness— wondering whether he should hold this awkward note and whether Colorfast could last—then decided, “Fuck it.”

The precarious, ground-shifting nature of SF indie — so often fielding copy-cat accusations, so far from the so-called music industry centers — also touches Young Prisms, also reared in SF’s bedroom communities yet looking to influences further afield, across the Atlantic, in the form of My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Like Colorfast, the outfit has also coped with its share of membership switcheroos: the title of debut Friends For Now might have foretold the departure of guitarist Jason Hendardy and the arrival of vocalist-guitarist Ashley Thomas, whose vocals along with vocalist-keyboardist Stephanie Hodapp’s, pushes Prisms further toward the vaguely feminized, sonically diffuse space of the Cocteau Twins.

Songs like “Gone,” off YP’s upcoming second LP, In Between (Kanine), hinge on nursery rhyme-like vocal lines and a fluid wall of rhythm guitars against which a singular New Order-like guitar line dances. Guitars are used as pretty, pointillistic devices, seamlessly incorporated with washes of synth. People come and go, but here, sonic elements coexist in a more generalized, less personalized harmony, where lyrics are obscured and vocals are used as effects, rejecting the jolts — and listen-to-me force — of Reed’s more intimate, ungainly urgency. Do the Prisms reflect a kind of indie progressiveness — an evolution from the punky and individualistic to the ambient and collective? For answers, revisit In Between in 15 years.



With Melted Toys, Tambo Rays, Preteen

Weds/22, 7 p.m., $14

Cafe Du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016



With Oranger, Slouching Stars, Peppercorn

Sat/25, 8 p.m., $12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455


Krushin’ on


SUPER EGO I’ve only a wee bit of space this week before I rush off back into the Mardi Gras of my mind, but I’ve got to three times diagonal-snap for local fashion designer Jeanette Au (jeanetteau.carbonmade.com) who tore it up for SF on the NY Fashion Week runways last week with her debut collection of 3-D knit fantasias. Ruling!



The Non Stop Bhangra (www.nonstopbhangra.com) monthly party’s return two weeks ago was beautiful-insane — if you missed it, or must fulfill your yearning for incredible Indian-inspired dance music sounds before the next installment, check out this live act featuring irrepressible bandleader Sunny Jain on the dhol drum, backed by a high-stepping nine-piece brass band. Bollywood meets Mardi Gras is the shorthand, but the ringing grooves transcend categorization.

Thu/23, 7:30 p.m., $12–$15, all ages. Slim’s, 333 11th St., www.slimspresents.com



Oh man, David Miles Jr., our patron saint of skate — “The Godfather of Skate,” actually, who founded the essential Black Rock Roller Disco and keeps peeps rollin’ from the Embarcadero to Golden Gate Park — lost everything in a tragic fire. He and his family are OK, but here’s a great event to help get them back on their (wheeled) feet. Skate rental available: Lots of good DJs.

Thu/23, 9 p.m., donations at the door. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com



It’s no secret that hyper-productive tech-breaks player and Cute Fang label owner Forest Green is one of my favorite people. It’s hard not to leave her parties with a smile plastered on your face — partly from the room-wobbling beats, partly from her pure positivity transmission. This is her two-room blowout birthday party, with a slew of bonkers local guests like DJ Denise, Dragn’fly, Raydeus, Tek 9, and Base Hed. And it will be cute!

Fri/24, 9 p.m.-4 a.m., $5 before 10 p.m., $10 after. Icon, 1192 Folsom, SF. www.forestgreen.org



Part of the reason door fees have risen so much in San Francisco is our insistence on relying on foreign or guest DJs to bring something interesting to the table. Flights are expensive, cover rises. Well here comes Situation, a free party deliberately designed to showcase local talent and some snappy grooves: “the new disco sound of New York, bangin’ house joints, 12-inch dance versions, and more than a few non-sequitors to keep things interesting,” quoth host DJ (along with Eug and Ash Williams) Derek Opperman, my nightlife critic counterpart at the Weekly, who’s basically an adorable human Shazam. Move out, yazoo.

Fri/24, 10 p.m., free. 222 Hyde, SF. www.222hyde.com



Let’s just admit that future bass was the trip-hop revival, OK? And while Flying Lotus et al. took the sound to unfathomable new highs/lows (and old hands like Amon Tobin sizzled retinae with his ISAM stage-show comeback), there’s sometimes no beating the originals. After 20 years, Tokyoite chill-wizard DJ Krush can still gently ride those intelli-stoned waves into the stratosphere: a three-hour set should do you quite solid.

Sat/25, 9 p.m., $17.50 advance. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.blasthaus.com

Kicky kitty



CHEAP EATS There was a soccer game on TV. There was a cat on the pitch. It was running around, stopping, staring, licking, looking not-at-all confused and very much in every way like a cat. Except that millions of people were watching it, tens of thousands of them right there: laughing, clapping, and carrying on.

And who were all these sweaty men in striped shirts and high socks?

None of the players tried to help with the corralling of the cat. They appreciated the chance to catch their breath, I guess, while stadium officials and trained cat-corralling professionals did their bit. Or tried to. Let the record show: in its own sweet time, the cat trotted off the field the same way it had trotted on: of its own volition. And play resumed.

The stadium was not in our country. The television was. It was in my new favorite restaurant, Haltun, which is on 21st and Treat, just around the corner from the Mission Rec Center, where Hedgehog and me play our racquetball.

I love cats. I love soccer. I am a drooling idiot in the glow of any television set no matter what’s on, no matter how far away. Thus, I found it hard to undividedly pay attention to my dining companions, but did manage to catch a conversation between Coach and Hedgehog in which it was posited (by Coach) that I was the least queer person in the world (because I move in mostly-straight circles) and counter-posited (by Hedgehog) that I was the most queer person in the world (because I move in straight circles, and queer ones, and have slept with every kind of person there is including both flavors of trans ones, including gay men and now straight ones, and straight women and now gay ones).

“Bisexual isn’t less queer than homosexual,” argued my homosexual girlfriend. “It’s arguably queerer.”

“Yeah, but declaring yourself bisexual plays into the binary. What about genderqueers?”

“Oh, I’ve slept with them too,” I interjected, without looking away from the TV because someone (a human being, not a cat) was making a beautiful run. And: “Goaaaaalllll!!!!”

Here’s my rant: You can’t even watch TV with just an antenna anymore! TV antennas are exactly as obsolete as black-and-white. But did you know that every program used to broadcast separate signals for black-and-white and color TVs?

As I understand it.

They had to do a color “Get Smart” and a black-and-white “Get Smart,” and sling them both out over the treetops, I guess, or twist them both through one cable at the same exact time — and that all ended just two, three years ago, so I could as easily have said “Cheers,” or “Friends,” or, I don’t know, “Arrested Development.” By the way.

Probably I have this wrong.

But there are seven colors in a rainbow flag. My skirt has more colors than that! And, though there are a gazillion shades of gray, there is also black, and there is white. No doubt, gender — even genitalia — is a spectrum. Yet: There would appear to be penises. And vaginas! And, as hormonally altered trans people (not-always-willing poster children for in-betweenitude) can attest without even opening our mouths, testosterone and estrogen are two different things.

If you can, without saying a word, both refute and support the exact same argument … I’m not saying it’s queerer or less queer. The word I would use is bacon. It’s bacon.

Now, cochinita pibil is pork — just pork! — in a greasy red broth, with a flap of banana leaf hanging over it. What the hell am I supposed to do with that? Well, it came with tortillas, which the server took great care to point out were “hand made” — and I’m sure they were, but they didn’t taste very special.

Hedgehog had something with turkey meat and a disk of pork meatloaf afloat, with an egg, in a nice broth. Simple, and exotic. At the same time!

Coach had a sampler plate of all things vegetarian. Come to think of it, her meal did have the most variety and color to it, so …

There’s that.



Daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

2948 21st St., SF.

(415) 643-6411


Beer & Wine

Compressing the press


Journalism in the Bay Area has been in decline for many years, with corporate consolidations, shrinking newsrooms, declining print readership, and struggles with how to pay full-time reporters when content is offered free-of-charge on the Internet. And with its waning institutional strength, the Fourth Estate has lost some of its ability to watchdog the powerful, creating a dangerous situation in a country founded on the belief that a free press is an essential safeguard of liberty and fairness.

One countervailing trend during this time was the creation of robust nonprofit newsrooms, with the two largest ones in the Bay Area being the Berkeley-based Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and the Bay Citizen in San Francisco. But now those two entities have announced that they’re in merger talks — and that the combined newsrooms would be led by Phil Bronstein, who presided over the decline of San Francisco’s two major daily newspapers.

Whether this merger bodes well or ill for a journalistic resurgence remains unclear. Both entities have their strengths and flaws, and both of their boards are in the middle of a 30-day review period to determine whether the merger makes sense and what the combined operations would look like.

As the exclusive Bay Area content provider for The New York Times, Bay Citizen made a big splash when it was launched with $5 million in seed money from billionaire financier Warren Hellman in late 2009. As Hellman (who died in December) told me at the time, he was seeking to create an independent, local, public interest alternative to the San Francisco Chronicle, which was being gutted by its New York-based owners, Hearst Corp., and even threatened with closure if its unions hindered the downsizing.

Many were skeptical that a newsroom funded and overseen by Hellman and other uber-wealthy San Franciscans would deliver the kind of public interest journalism that the city needed, but under the leadership of veteran Editor Jonathan Weber, it produced many strong stories, starting on launch day with an investigation of how the richest home owners in the city avoid paying property taxes the city once relied on. And last year, Bay Citizen broke some important stories and created valuable databases on campaign contributions and danger spots for bicyclists, for which it recently won a Society of Professional Journalists award for computer-assisted reporting.

Acting CEO Brian Kelley told us the Bay Citizen has succeeded in creating a strong “three-legged stool” balancing solid journalism, a sustainable business model, and technological innovation. After raising about $17 million in three years, ranging from small donations to the $6 million Hellman contributed, “we’re in a very healthy state from a financial standpoint.”

But sources say the operation has had some tough internal divisions, some of it propagated by an out-of-touch board and an overpaid CEO, Lisa Frazier, who took a reported $457,000 salary to run an operation that she had served as Hellman’s consultant in launching. They say Frazier clashed with Weber and the reporting staff, particularly after it voted to unionize last year, and then with Weber’s successor, Steve Fainaru. Both Weber and Fainaru resigned in the last month, creating a leadership vacuum that was one of the factors that triggered the merger talks.

Meanwhile, CIR has experienced the most dynamic growth period in its 30-year history since 2008, when veteran editor Robert Rosenthal took over as executive director after leaving the Chronicle, where he served directly under Bronstein, who also later left the Chronicle and now serves as president of CIR’s board.

CIR has traditionally had a small staff working on a shoestring budget to produce a handful of big investigative journalism projects per year, including award-winning broadcast segments for “Frontline” and “60 Minutes.” But Rosenthal focused on securing millions of dollars in foundation funding and creating collaborations with media outlets around the state (such as KQED), launching California Watch to beef up coverage of statewide issues, as he describes in his 24-page essay “Reinventing Journalism: An unexpected journey from journalist to publisher” (www.californiawatch.org/project/reinventing-journalism).

“I was deeply frustrated by a lack of vision, ambition, and passion on the business side that was throttling creativity and undermining the crucial role that journalism, and especially investigative reporting, play in our democracy,” Rosenthal wrote in the report that was requested by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, one of three foundations that provided more than $1.2 million each to launch California Watch (the others are Irvine and Hewlett foundations).

The Guardian has long raised questions about the trend of foundations increasingly stepping in to fill journalism’s funding voids, arguing that it can compromise journalistic independence and allow wealthy interests to determine what issues get investigative scrutiny (see “Buying the news: How private foundations are quietly underwriting — and shaping — local news coverage of major issues,” 10/8/97).

But in an era when most California newspapers are clinging to life, Rosenthal had used the funding to augment CIR’s investigative reporting staff and get impactful, award-winning stories to run simultaneously in outlets around the state, challenging old journalistic norms about competition and exclusivity.

Rosenthal admits the model has its shortcomings, including the unreliability and often-narrow focus of foundation funding and how CIR’s successes have done little to backfill the loss of local beat reporting (such as covering City Hall or keeping the cops and local power brokers in check), but he thinks the merger might help in those areas.

“It’s exciting for us to be able to address what has been a vacuum in San Francisco for a long time,” Rosenthal told us about reviving local coverage. And on the funding model, he said, “If we can do this right, it’s about creating a local base of people who believe in accountability journalism to give small donations.”

Bronstein told us that many of the shortcomings at his old newspapers were the result of business decisions Hearst made and general trends in the industry. But he acknowledged people’s concerns about whether someone with such a long local history is the best person to turn things around: “I don’t know that I’m the best person to take it over. That’s something other people should determine, not me.”

Both admit that the Chronicle under their tenure could have better covered the consolidation of wealth and power and other economic justice issues, long a Guardian focus and one that the Occupy movement helped highlight. “The Bay Area media could have been a lot more effective on those issues,” Rosenthal said.

But Bronstein said he’s committed to supporting more accountability journalism in the Bay Area, supporting the work of the Bay Citizen, and supplementing work done at papers like the Guardian: “The weeklies do a fine job of writing some in-depth stories and we need more of that, providing context.”

Both said that even if the merger takes place, Bay Citizen would continue to provide local coverage under the brand and model it’s developed, although the New York Times has not yet determined whether it would continue to run its content if it’s not exclusive. The two newsrooms wouldn’t initially be merged, although Bronstein has said that achieving savings of up to $1.9 million is one of his goals, something he’d try to accomplish without reducing journalistic content or quality.

The two entities have slightly different cultures and areas of focus, so the question now is whether they’re compatible. Bay Citizen’s Kelley said he thinks they are: “I personally feel they are very complimentary.”


















Back to the Point



FILM “It’s highly probable that no one but Kevin Epps could have made a film like Straight Outta Hunters Point,” begins Erik K. Arnold’s 2001 Guardian article. Epps, then a 33-year-old first-time filmmaker, had just released his bold documentary; it investigated a neighborhood that most San Francisco residents never actually visited, but knew about thanks to news coverage of its prodigious gang violence.

“That world wouldn’t open up to an outsider,” Epps, who grew up there before studying film at San Francisco State University and the now-defunct Film Arts Foundation, told Arnold.

Cut to 2012, and Epps is no longer an emerging talent — he’s a full-time independent filmmaker with multiple credits (including The Black Rock, a documentary about Alcatraz’s African American inmates, and hip-hop film Rap Dreams), collaborations (with Current TV and others), and an artist fellowship at the de Young Museum under his belt. For his newest project, he returns to the scene of his first work. He no longer resides in Bayview-Hunters Point, but he still lives close by, and he’s never lost touch with the community that inspired the first film and encouraged him to make its follow-up.

Straight Outta Hunters Point opened up a lot of opportunities up for me, in terms of traveling abroad and being exposed to experiences that I would never have had [otherwise],” Epps explains. “But I was always mindful of, you know, this is my passport: telling the [community’s] stories, that’s my passport to the world. So though my life has changed a little bit, I’ve never been too far away from what’s going on in the community. I decided to keep shooting certain things that I thought had significance, and more importantly interviewing people in the community who could give insight into its current state.”

Despite its title, and its similar use of handheld camera, SOHP 2 is not a straightforward sequel to part one.

“I wanted to talk to people who really live in the community [to find out] what’s going on every day — Straight Outta Hunters Point eight, nine, ten years later. Have things changed for the better or gotten worse?” Epps says of his new film. “It’s not really a sequel — it’s a continuation of that conversation, and looking at where things are now, compared to how they were then. Obviously there’s some redevelopment that’s been happening. That’s apparent in the film, when the Hunters View housing development slowly gets torn down.”

Epps built his film around themes that arose from his interviews with Hunters Point residents, including the disconnect between generations — older folks with activist backgrounds, and youths who face “a lot of distractions” as they approach adulthood — and pressures, both internal and external, that have shaped the neighborhood.

“These are the predominant topics that come up, if you go to the barber shop or if you’re hanging out at the gym, and you get into an informal conversation. Redevelopment. Violence, which has a history that’s still being dealt with. [Discussing] these reoccurring themes is a way to see if there’s been any progress. Being a filmmaker, I was trying to put them into a creative context, more like an edu-tainment sort of piece,” he says. “My first documentary was really for the community, when I was living there, to have a conversation with ourselves. [SOHP 2] is less of a personal story. It’s [investigating], did we break some of the cycles? And how do things look in the present day?”

Going back to that earlier point about Epps’ unique access to the neighborhood: while he admits that not every person he approached was eager to be filmed (“When you go into these communities that have other activities going on, where people have other ways of survival because there are no jobs, you’re gonna always get opposition to cameras”), he does understand that in many ways, he has the exclusive on this particular story.

“Do people know me, and does that carry weight, because of the first film? Yes. It does help me get access to some things that a lot of people have had their cameras taken from them trying to do,” he says. “There were some German filmmakers out here for three years trying to shoot a film. They had funding and everything. They could talk and kick it on the block, but once they took out the cameras — they shut ’em down.”


Kevin Epps in person at Fri/24-Sat/25 evening shows

Feb. 24-March 1, 7 and 8:45 p.m. (also Sat/25-Sun/25, 3:15 and 5 p.m.), $6.50–$10

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087


Ice Cream Bar



APPETITE I was born of another time. As much as I wouldn’t trade the rights and access of today, I hunger for the romance, artistry, and intellectual pace of eras gone by. As a child, I grew up on classic films and whitebread shows like Father Knows Best, where youth hung out at soda fountains listening to the jukebox. Naturally, I was delighted upon hearing a retro-inspired soda fountain was opening near my home.

Cole Valley’s new Ice Cream Bar and Soda Fountain is no 1950s milkshake time capsule. Blonde wood ceiling, restored 30s bar (which owner Juliet Pries found in Michigan), illuminated art deco signs, all evoke a glowing past. Soda fountains filled a communal void in the wake of Prohibition and thus were popular in the ’20s and ’30s. But they date back to the 1800s when, similar to pharmacies where signature bitters like Peychaud’s were created, effervescent mineral waters were considered to have healing properties.

Soda fountain revivals and techniques are popping up around the US: however, I have yet to see this level of detail and historicity anywhere. Bartender Darcy O’Neil’s book Fix the Pumps (Art of Drink, 2010) is responsible in part for the inspiration behind Ice Cream Bar. Bartender Russell Davis of Rickhouse, www.rickhousesf.com, developed the soda fountain program, sourcing data not only from O’Neil’s book, but from 1894’s Saxe’s New Guide or, Hints to Soda Water Dispensers by D.W. Saxe. (Read my revealing Q&A with Davis here.)

Classically inspired recipes line the menu: frappes, floats, crushes, phosphates (soda with phosphoric acid), malts, lactarts (natural lactic acid, commonly found in buttermilk, yogurt and Lambic beers). Davis created more than 75 house syrups, tinctures, and extracts, using forced cavitation, a culinary extraction technique that maintains the flavor intensity of the original source. In keeping with history, bar staff are referred to as soda jerks, deftly operating vintage soda fountains.

After trying most of the menu over multiple visits, I can’t help but gravitate to the wild cherry phosphate ($7) time and again. Rather than saccharin cherry flavor, it tastes of fresh, wild cherries, in a house syrup and cherry bark tincture, fizzy with acid phosphate and soda water. Another highlight is Ode to Mr. O’Neil ($8), a tribute to Darcy. Like an elevated Brooklyn egg cream, it’s a lactart made with lush Scharffen Berger chocolate syrup and double-charged soda imparting a piquant effervescence.

Oh, that many a day could start with the robust New Orleans Hangover ($8). It’s better than a coffee milkshake with chicory coffee syrup, housemade sweet cream ice cream, golden eagle tincture (sarsaparilla), and soda. Root beer floats are herbal and creamy, using Russell’s sassafras root beer (an 1890s recipe).

I wished to taste more pink peppercorn in the pineapple-based My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend ($7) and more tobacco in the chai-dominant Passion Project ($7.50), both lactarts. Yet all-in-all, each visit yields very few disappointments. Splurge on the decadent pistachio milkshake for two ($16), or go earthy-sweet with Touch of Grey ($10), a candy cap mushroom phosphate.

Though it’s about to launch a casual menu of soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, egg and chicken salads, and the like, plus baked goods, house brittles, toffee, and hard candies, there’s currently more than the soda fountain to draw you out. The ice cream is of unexpectedly high quality, overseen by Ray Lai, who worked at Bi-Rite (www.biritecreamery.com) and Fenton’s (www.fentonscreamery.com).

Cherry also shines in a tart sour cherry ice cream. Sicilian pistachio is rich and nutty. I’ve likewise been pleased with the ice cream sandwiches, particularly roasted pineapple ice cream layered in ginger cookies.

The jerks are a delightful team assembled from various bars, offering earnest, knowledgeable service. Tell them a flavor you’d like from the house tinctures and syrups (grapefruit to dill weed), and they’ll make you a custom drink.

Sipping a custom mint egg cream at the soda fountain while listening to big band tunes is a respite I relish whether midday escape or evening dessert. Crowds of Cole Valley strollers and families abruptly bring me back to today, but, then, it’s fair to say there is something appealing for everyone, child to adult, at this already widely embraced neighborhood hangout. *


815 Cole, SF.

(415) 742-4932


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


Heated debate



YOGA Open source is all the rage these days, from platforms to beverages to biotech. And when it comes to yoga, the East’s oldest standby for health and well-being, open source has been the way for thousands of years. But all changed when yoga won over the capitalistic West, and the West Coast became a hotbed for many of today’s popular yoga trends.

But for Bay Area yogis who can’t afford $92 pants to enhance their assets or $18 drop-in classes, there’s Yoga to the People (www.yogatothepeople.com): the East Coast invention of Greg Gumucio, which operates on a donation-based model.

Besides studios in New York and Seattle, YTTP has spaces on both sides of the Bay — in Berkeley and the Mission — and it has plans to open a hot studio in Berkeley as well. There, 90-minute classes will feature a familiar series of 26 poses in a sweltering 105-degree room.

But it’s not Bikram Yoga, the “hot yoga” that’s won its Indian founder a worldwide following.

Instead, it’s what YTTP calls “traditional hot yoga.” It’s already on the docket at four of the group’s five New York studios, and late last year, it landed them in hot water with Bikram Choudhury, who sued YTTP for infringing on his intellectual property.

While the class is similar to what Bikram-ites have come to expect when they walk into any one of the modern guru’s more than 900 studios worldwide, “traditional hot yoga” doesn’t rely on Bikram certified teachers or Bikram’s copyrighted class dialogue, and Bikram receives no money.

Which makes the whole issue a little sticky: if YTTP were billing the classes as Bikram Yoga, they’d have to play by Bikram’s rules: from teacher trainings and re-certifications to registering and paying studio dues — in fact, right down to the Bikram-required carpet on the floor.

But as Gumucio and his lawyers pointed out in an answer to Bikram’s suit, they’re not.

Furthermore, the response argues, copyright protection is limited to original works of authorship, from which the copyright statute expressly excludes “procedures, systems and methods of operation” — such as exercise systems.

In a December letter to YTTP’s lawyers, the copyright office concurred, writing that the selection and ordering of exercises in the public domain (which Bikram’s poses, having been taught by his teacher’s teachers for generations, clearly are) “do not constitute the subject matter that Congress intended to protect.”

Of course, there remains the slight problem of the office already having issued the copyright, a fact that Bikram’s lawers have not failed to notice.

After a slew of articles hit New York presses, Yoga to the People has decided that they will no longer comment on the case, but Gumucio is taking the letter as the decisive answer to the question he posed on his website, Yogatruth.org: “Can yoga be owned?”

“Copyright office makes it official,” he wrote in exuberant red print. “Yoga belongs to all people!”

It’s easy to see the saga as a David and Goliath story — Yoga to the People, proclaiming,” There will be no proper payment; there will be no right answers; no glorified teachers; no ego no script no pedestals,” versus the Rolls Royce-collecting, sequined Speedo-wearing, wealthy, and self-promoting Beverly Hills-based Choudhury, purveyor of what many call “McYoga.”

But Juicy Sanchez, who owns and teaches at the Bikram-certified studio Mission Yoga (www.missionyoga.com) with her husband Steve, points out that some of the hype surrounding Bikram’s larger-than-life personality and shady business practices are overblown.

For instance: claims that studios are required to pay monthly dues and franchising fees of more than $10,000, in addition to the cost of teacher trainings, which are required every three years.

“First, we’re not a franchise,” she says. “We’re a loose affiliation.”

“And it’s just like any profession — doctor, lawyer, massage therapist — you’re required to get re-certified periodically,” she says. As for as the franchising fee, she says that because she and her husband bought an existing studio, they were not required to pay anything beyond their teacher training to open their business.

Though that may soon change. In April, Bikram will require studios to pay $300 a monthy for the right to use his name, which has people “freaking out.”

“I suppose some people are always going to feel exploited,” she says, “But personally, I think it’s a bargain. How else do you buy into a brand?”

Of course, Bikram wasn’t always considered a brand. Sanchez explains that when he arrived in the U.S. in the 1970s, he slept on the floor of his studio. He taught for free until the actress Shirley MacLaine, a student of his, took him aside and told him that if he didn’t charge money, no one would value what he did.

But if yoga is truly about a practice, not a product, why continue to replicate this one man’s 26 poses?

Brian Monnier, of the California Yoga Company (www.calyogacompany.com), says of Gumucio, “I support his right to fight for this, but if your teacher doesn’t want you teaching what he taught, why not grow and change the practice?”

Monnier points to his teacher Tony Sanchez, who learned directly from Bikram, but wasn’t certified by Bikram’s Yoga College of India. Instead, Sanchez returned to Bikram’s own guru, Bishnu Gosh, in Calcutta. It was from him that Sanchez drew his practice, creating a new style of hot yoga altogether.

Even Bikram has said that the power should lie with the practitioner — not the teacher. The very idea for Yoga to the People came when Bikram asked Gumucio, then a student of his, to review another teacher. Gumucio gave a negative review, and Bikram chastised him, saying “You are your own teacher. You are responsible for your own experience.”

How that plays out in the Bay Area remains to be seen. Katite Gumucio, Greg’s sister and owner of Hot Yoga Ocean Ave., (www.hotyogaoceanave.com) believes that yoga isn’t so different from many other types of big business with the opportunity to change paths. “Yoga can segue into a new way of doing business. YTTP is clear that you’re the center of it all; you don’t need to realize through anyone else. People can lead us, they can grow and do great work, but when they reach the point where they can only lead by force, it’s time to redistribute the power instead of trying to hold on.”

Down Dog break down



YOGA For a sizeable sector of our population, yoga is as much a part of the culture as burritos and biking to work. With more than 50 studios in San Francisco’s 49 square miles alone — and even a brand-new yoga room in SFO, which claims to be an airport first — the Bay Area isn’t short on options for a Saturday morning sweat sesh or Sunday night candlelight.

But which teacher is best for you? For three exhaustive weeks I pretzeled it up from Berkeley to Bernal, sampling classes with some of our most famous and intriguing yogis. Below are my experiences with each, along with a one-to-five “sweat factor” intensity rating . Hopefully, this will help you choose the right teacher to help you lighten up, ground down, or just plain bliss out. (Perhaps you might be inspired to follow one of our dozens of other local yogis’ paths.)

Me? I’ll be soaking in a hot bath. Can you hand me that ice pack?



If you’re the kind of person who thinks the Black Eyed Peas and Beyoncé — let alone House of Pain — don’t belong in the yoga studio, then Pete’s Friday night Happy Hour Yoga at Yoga Tree on Valencia (www.yogatreesf.com) isn’t for you.

Guinosso breaks it down, both musically and with frequent stops to explain a new inversion or variation on an arm balance. With plenty of “play time” to work at your own pace, plus friendly gossip and occasionally flirty energy in the female-heavy room, the class can sometimes feel more like a very sweaty cocktail party. But it’s a great way to stay loose, learn new tricks, and cultivate what Pete calls the “inner teacher.” The smiley, Forrest-trained yogi also guides more traditional vinyasa and candlelight flow classes — no Top 40 here — but his liberating sense of humor remains.

Sweat Factor: 3 

The Takeaway: Fun and funky, but probably not best if verses from “Afternoon Delight” aren’t among your favored mantras.




Imagine taking a rubber band ball and chucking it down some hard wooden stairs: that’s what Les was like, bouncing around during Saturday morning vinyasa while his students were still waking up.

But that’s all right. As my neighbor one mat over put it, Les is “really good at letting you know that where you are is fine, while at the same time pushing you to move forward.”

Leventhal’s quirky style, coupled with live beats by Sac-town sacred sound messenger Nate Spross (Les has also brought the likes of Buddha Bar’s Daniel Masson from Paris to spin), kept class sparkling; even when he got down among the mats to demonstrate a Foot-Behind-Head pose which morphed into a series of arm balances that had students’ eyes bulging, his sense of humor soothed the spirits of those of us who were in pain just watching — let alone trying to replicate the seamless flow.

“Why do we let our heads tell us what’s good enough?” he asked, putting a hand at neck level to show a separation between head and body. “Even if you’re in the simplest expression of this pose, it feels good from here down!”

Sweat Factor: 4 

The Takeaway: Down-to-earth, despite chanting in a reverberating baritone that brings me shuddering back to the rabbis of my Sunday school days.




With barely two inches between mats on a Saturday morning, it’s easy to see that Janet is a Bay Area favorite. She’s no slave to typical maneuvers like the Sun Salutation, though, and while her fast flows kept class interesting, all the unfamiliar iterations seemed a bit frantic — and made the class more about momentum (and not getting lost) than about muscle and alignment.

But of course, that’s the yoga. And though her students may love her because they come to learn her style, she might say the real work is in getting better at not knowing what’s next. Or, in Janet’s wording: “In this practice we pause and disarm our myriad of defenses, and experience the pure luminous light that is there.”

Sweat Factor: 3

The Takeaway: Good if you like spontaneous Hare Krishna-themed dance fevers and Lulu-clad students eager to show off their handstands — even when that means toppling onto others’ mats.




Only a few years after beginning his journey as a yogi in early 1990s Atlanta, Rusty started to sense something missing.

“A teacher of mine told me after class one day, ‘it looks like you’re praying when you practice,'” Rusty says, “and my reply was, ‘What, am I not supposed to be?'”

Now he knows that something is bhakti, Sanskrit for “devotion to the wonder of life,” and it’s for sale (well, actually, for donation) at Rusty’s vinyasa-inspired studio near the Mission, Urban Flow (www.urbanflowyoga.com).

Taking class with Rusty is a bit like having your own personal cheerleader, albeit an extremely calm one, urging you to “undo a lifetime of doing.” His classes reflect the intention to be a beginner each time you return to the mat. But despite a slightly slower pace and emphasis on fundamentals, Bhakti Flow is by no means a soft option. In fact, everyone I saw there (including a smattering of other Bay Area teachers) was pretty much a hardbody.

Not that I should have noticed, my teacher told me.

“When I first started practicing,” Rusty said, “I used to look around and admire the people who were really strong, really stretchy.”

“After a while, I learned to look around and admire the people who were finding great joy in their practice. And a while after that,” the yogi concluded “I learned to just stop looking.”

Sweat Factor: 3

The Takeaway: Like Chicken Soup for the Ass(ana). Part workout, part therapy.




I was a little intimidated, walking into the crowd assembled for Steph’s class on Super Bowl Sunday — my first with her, and her first upon returning to teaching after having a healthy baby boy. Excitement was as thick as the steam wafting through the air, streaking the windows with condensation. Friends squealed and greeted each other, mats moved over and over again to make more space, and shouts that had nothing to do with pigskin could be heard all around.

But once we started, it was like slipping into a favorite pair of old jeans. Her flows have great rhythm and plenty of variety. Plus something intuitive, as though my body knew what to do even before her cue. She’s humble, and you can tell that she honestly loves what she’s doing.

Part of her appeal is her belief in the practice, one she says has gotten her through dark times, and her commitment to making the same hold true for others.

“Whatever you need, the practice is there for you. If you need to be saved, it will literally save you,” she promises. Add to that a great workout, beautiful chanting, and some awesome harmonium playing (Steph says she accompanies herself every day) and you can’t go wrong.

Sweat Factor: 4

The Takeaway: Delicious in every way.




Born in a small village outside of New Delhi, Pradeep brings with him an international yoga certification in the Sivananda tradition, a deep personal practice that stretches way beyond asana, and an amazing unique voice that pitches and rolls all throughout class with nary an audible breath, making him sound something like a spiritual auctioneer trying to sell peace of mind and six-pack abs; the only pause in singsong accompaniment raising warrior ones to warrior twos is his distinctive intonation of exhaaayle, inhaaayle.

Pradeep’s classes, including this one at Oakland’s Flying Yoga Shala (www.flyingyogashala.com) are fast and packed with plenty of push-ups and core work, definitely best when you’re feeling bold. But his compassion is also undeniable.

“Yoga is not saying you put your leg behind your head,” he told me when I was feeling sick in class. “Yoga is just putting yourself in the moment, paying attention to right now. Maybe someone wants to come to my class and just do child pose for one whole hour. Then my job is to create that space for them.”

Sweat Factor: 5

The Takeaway:Though he said I taught him yoga that day, it’s better to leave the instruction up to Pradeep: he’s one of the best.




Though he’s definitely made a student or two sweat, Darren truly shines when teaching restorative sessions — especially his donation-based Tuesday night practices in the cavernous Grace Cathedral, coupled with live music like Sam Jackson’s exquisite chorus of a dozen Tibetan singing bowls.

The temptation may be not to take Darren seriously: sometimes he slips into that same ethereal quality of voice he uses to introduce his “Inquire Within” podcasts, and the flowing blond hair and bright blue eyes staring out from the back of his most popular book, Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic, are a bit Cherub-cum-movie-star, come to that.

But his teachings — in the studio and as an author, essayist, and international speaker on spirituality — come from a sincere place: a struggle with issues of sexuality, religion, and identity. Who couldn’t use a teacher with that kind of experience on their quest for personal growth? Plus, his hair’s short now.

Sweat Factor: 1 

The Takeaway: Unique restorative classes with a dose of mysticism — and sometimes hot stones.




Straight up: I have to respect a guy who starts class, no apologies, with core work. Mark is that guy. His classes are serious and to-the-point, but without the rush and ego I sometimes associate with other hardcore workout-focused yogis. Of course, he does teach, rather noticeably, with his shirt off. But we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to inspiration. Perhaps because his classes don’t tend toward the super-crowded, they feel both peaceful and purposeful.

And — unlike his columns for the Chronicle, which are all over the place and over-the-top funny — his yoga, both the asana and the anecdotes, have a simple, quiet intensity and calm focus that make them rewarding and accessible for all levels.

Sweat Factor: 4 stars

The Takeaway: Strong, steady yoga with the occasional conversational foray.




In classes filled with as much laughter and candid advice as yoga, Jane prepares new moms and moms-to-be for the best and worst of mothering. And she does it as much through understanding and open conversation as through asana (poses to strengthen the arms for holding a newborn, to rotate wee ones while they’re still inside, and to stretch, err, whatever might need stretching in preparation for delivery).

A midwife, doula, and mother of two, Jane is funny and warm, and able to come up with plenty for pregnant or healing women to do other than “go sit against the wall and squat.”

Plus, for ladies looking to speed things up, her classes have a history of hastening delivery — as in, right then and there. Pssst, the “water breaking spot” is just one mat to the right of the door at Yoga Tree on Valencia.

Sweat Factor: 2 

The Takeaway: Be prepared to discuss everything from the nipples on down. And imagine your cervix melting like butter.


Who gets to live here?



Housing policy — which determines who will be able to live in San Francisco — has been a hot topic at City Hall these days.

At a Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee meeting on Feb. 13, representatives from the Mayors Office of Housing (MOH) reported on the state of middle-income housing in San Francisco, at the request of Sup. Scott Wiener. “Middle class” people make up 28 percent of the city’s population, a 10 percent decrease in the past two decades, and to reverse that decline would cost about $4.3 billion in housing subsidies, or more than half the city’s annual budget.

Wiener, who insists that “middle income and low income housing are not mutually exclusive,” said he’s raising the issue because the needs of the shrinking middle class are not being addressed. But during the public comment period, a long procession of low-income residents say city housing policies have kept them on the brink of homelessness. The takeaway message was: don’t embark on new housing efforts until you can enforce the ones that are already in place.

Also underscoring the desperate state of many San Francisco residents, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting released a report Feb. 16 that contains shocking statistics about invalid foreclosures and illegal evictions in San Francisco. Ting found that 99 percent of all foreclosure proceedings in San Francisco in the past four years have contained paperwork irregularities, and in 84 percent of cases, banks or lenders have committed fraud or broke other laws.

With the loss of the redevelopment agencies, Mayor Ed Lee’s proposal for a housing trust fund, renewed calls for more condo conversions, and a new focus on middle income housing incentives, the conversation on housing in San Francisco is heating up.



San Francisco’s housing market is 64 percent rentals and 36 percent ownership, according to MOH. So despite the focus of politicians and developers on homeownership, housing policy in San Francisco mostly involves renters, many of whom face myriad threats.

Rents can be so steep that market-rate rental housing is becoming increasingly accessible only for parts of the middle class and the highest income brackets in the city. People in San Francisco tend to pay a huge chunk of their income towards rent.

The federal Housing and Urban Development Agency considers it reasonable for a households to pay 30 percent of their income towards rent; but for the city’s very low income households, rent is typically nearly 60 percent of income. For middle income households, the average percent paid toward rent has increased since 1990, but remains below 30 percent.

Those people fall mainly into the middle-income bracket, those earning 80-120 percent of Area Median Income (AMI.) Planning Director John Rahaim said that for the very low-income population (0-50 percent AMI) all rental housing is “virtually off-limits.”

So, for the middle class, renting a place in San Francisco is tough. For the low and very-low income, it’s next to impossible. And that reality threatens the city’s diversity.

“The highest rent burden still falls on lower income residents, many of whom pay 70 percent of their income as rent,” Sup. Eric Mar, who also sits on the Land Use Committee, said at the hearing. “In my district, people have whole families living in their living room or extra bedroom.”

But things may be looking up for renters. MOH’ Brian Cheu said developers believe that the market trends are heading towards construction of new rental housing after being almost exclusively owner-occupied units for many years. Cheu said there are 725 rental units in the pipeline for the next five to ten years, more than twice the new housing units meant for ownership slated for that time period.

Most of this will be market rate housing, and thus still unaffordable for a good deal of the population. But for those making around 100 percent of AMI — the middle class that Wiener hopes to serve — there are more rental units on the way.

“Any increase in supply of rental housing would help,” said San Francisco Tenants Rights head Ted Gullickson, “because there’s been virtually no new rental housing built in San Francisco is last 20 years.”

Even as Wiener promised to continue to prioritize the needs low-income residents, the foreclosure crisis was barely acknowledged at the Feb. 13 hearing. Many low-income residents say they are not sure they can trust the city’s claim that “this is not a matter of us vs. them.”

At public comment, many community members spoke of the housing troubles that they were already facing. Yue Hua Yu, who spoke at the Feb. 13 hearing, lives with her family of four in a single residency occupancy hotel room (SRO), units intended for single occupants.

“We would support a policy that protects the city’s affordable housing stock,” said a statement from Wing Hoo Leumg, president of the Chinatown Community Tenants Association.

Renting may be the realistic choice for most San Franciscans, but homeownership remains an important goal and achievement for many families, and the main obsession of many politicians.

Part of the middle class exodus is unmistakably due to better homeownership rates in Oakland, Daly City, Marin, and other surrounding areas. But there are neighborhoods with higher rates of homeownership than others, including Bayview-Hunters Point.

BHP has long been a prime spot for low-income homeowners, but it’s slated for extensive new housing construction in the coming decades that could compromise its affordability. It is also an area hit hard by the foreclosure crisis: there have been 2,000 foreclosures in Bayview in the past four years, according to Ed Donaldson, housing counseling director at the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation.

Rising prices and the foreclosure crisis have played a large part in the large-scale African American out-migration that has devastated San Francisco communities in recent decades.




One of the biggest points of controversy in the homeownership debate has been the issue of condo conversion, which was brought up again this past week at the Feb. 14 Board of Supervisors meeting, when Sup. Mark Farrell asked Lee if he would support legislation to let 2400 tenancy-in-common (TIC) owners bypass legal limits and fastrack towards condo conversion.

Farrell framed this as “a vehicle to allow residents of our city to realize their goal of homeownership.”

On Jan. 16, the city held its annual condo conversion lottery, in which 200 lucky TIC owners win the chance to convert their units into condos, thereby legally becoming homeowners. TICs and condo conversion have long been fraught with controversy in San Francisco, where there is never enough housing for everyone who wants it.

Condo conversion proponents say that turning a TIC — usually a building that used to be rental housing that has been purchased by a group of people that own it in common — into condos is a cheap way to become a homeowner in a city as expensive as San Francisco.

But tenants rights advocates have long opposed this process on the basis that it depletes the city of its rental housing stock. “When you have more condo conversions, you have more evictions, and it’s harmful to low-income residents” Gullicksen said.

This controversy, and the struggle to maintain a balance between opportunities for homeownership and reasonable rents has raged in San Francisco for years. In 1982, the Board of Supervisors passed a limit of 200 condo conversions per year as a compromise. There are no regulations, however, on converting rental housing to TICs.

“This has come up almost every single year for years and years about this time,” said Peter Cohen, organizer with the Council of Community Housing Organizations.

This year, however, proponents are not simply reiterating a request to bypass the condo conversion lottery. Plan C, a coalition of San Francisco moderates, is pushing for adding a fee to condo conversion, ranging from $10,000 to $25,000, which would go towards an affordable housing fund.

Mayor Lee said that he is open to considering a change in condo conversion policy, “providing it balances our need for revenue for affordable housing, the value that responsible homeownership brings to the city, and the rights of tenants who could be affected by a change in policy.”



This comes at a time when the city is facing a loss of millions per year for affordable housing with the dissolution of the redevelopment agency (see “Transfer of power, Jan. 31).

That dissolution led to Mayor Lee’s plan for an affordable housing trust fund, to be voted on as a ballot measure this November. The kick-off for that plan also began recently, with a press conference and big-tent meeting to discuss what it might look like.

On the day after the Land Use Committee meeting, where he started the conversation on “middle class” housing, Wiener posed a question to Lee at a Board of Supervisors meeting, asking how the mayor plans to “ensure that the housing trust fund that comes out of the process you have convened will meaningfully address the need for moderate/middle income housing.”

Some are concerned that too much of the trust fund could be allocated outside low-income demographics. “There’s a limited size pie of resources,” Cohen said. “Just in a matter of the last months, we lost the redevelopment agency. The city is madly scrambling to try to replace that through housing trust fund, and working to get us back to somewhere close to where we were…Is that pie, that has dramatically shrunk, going to be stretched further for another income band?”

That question will be important when the proposal goes to vote in November. According to Donaldson, many low-income homeowners will not vote for the measure unless it addresses their needs. The specifics of the measure calling for the trust fund are still being worked out. But, it will likely be funded by an increase of the transfer tax paid when homes change ownership.

Yet that proposal was the subject of an unusual political broadside from the San Francisco Association of Realtors, which last week sent out election-style mailers attacking the idea. “Brace yourself for an unexpected visit from the city’s tax collector,” the mailer warns, showing the hand of government bursting through the wall of a home, urging people to contact Lee’s office.

The measure may also see opposition from low-income communities, especially if, as Wiener has urged in the past week, it allocates a chunk of funds towards middle-income housing.

“It’s hard to find people who will support it. They’re saying, ‘what’s in it for me? Why would I vote for a transfer tax that I’m going to have to pay to help finance the building of affordable housing or middle-income housing. Why support programs that will support middle income people, who make more money than existing homewoners?” explained Donaldson. To agree on a way forward for housing in San Francisco, policymakers will need to reconcile a range of interests. In the worst-case scenario, the profit interests of realtors and developers will overtake the interests of San Francisco families struggling to continue to live in the city they love. But housing advocates are willing to work together to come to a solution. “Let’s put everything on the table, and let’s figure it out. In the spirit of cooperation, and with the understanding that each respective constituent group is not going to get everything that they want, but let’s put all the cards of the table,” said Donaldson.

Editor’s Notes


“San Francisco’s economy is moving in the right direction,” Mayor Ed Lee told the Examiner last week. “My economic development and job creation policies are setting San Francisco on a path toward economic recovery.”

The normally modest mayor is making a rather sweeping statement there — the US economy is improving in general, and I don’t think the mayor can take credit for all of it. But he’s absolutely correct that he’s promoted policies that are aimed at bringing more tech companies in to San Francisco, and over the next few years, they will no doubt create a lot of high-paid jobs for people with specific skills that require a high degree of training and education.

Is that “the right direction” for the city? I lived here the last time that San Francisco was part of a tech boom, and I’m not so sure.

See, bringing all sorts of new wealth into town sounds good on the surface, and for some people — particularly real-estate speculators, landlords and purveyors of high-end services — it is. But in a city that has limited space and nearly unlimited demand for housing, lots of new rich people and lots of high-paid people looking for places to live puts pressure on the existing residents, particularly the poor and the working class. It screws the middle class, too — if you’re a teacher or a nurse and you want to buy a house in San Francisco during a boom, you’re S.O.L. You can barely afford to rent — and if you’re already renting, you’re constantly at risk of losing your home, and your ability to live in this city, because your landlord can make more money kicking you out and selling the place as a tenancy in common to someone with more money.

There’s no way to build enough new affordable rental housing, or housing that middle-class families can buy, to keep up with the demand. It’s impossible. Developers won’t do that — there’s too much money to be made in high-end housing for anyone in the private marketplace to waste time on anything else.

The only way to preserve the middle class in the upcoming boom that Lee is promoting is to aggressively protect existing rental housing stock — which means preventing condo conversions and TICs and the stuff that gets promoted as “middle-class housing.” The only way to prevent massive displacement of people and existing businesses is to regulate space in the city more tightly than anyone has ever done — which will, by its nature, make it harder for the newcomers and new millionaires to find places to live.

That’s the tradeoff. That’s the fact that Lee and his allies don’t seem to want to grasp

Gascon and mayoral corruption


EDITORIAL The indictments of two executives of an airport shuttle company on charges of laundering campaign money are, in themselves, a rarity and something to celebrate: the district attorney of San Francisco is actually attempting to enforce the laws against political corruption. That’s unusual in this city, and worthy of note.

But at this point, the entire sum total of prosecutions involving the scandal-ridden campaign of Mayor Ed Lee amounts to a pair of cases against people who made what appear to be illegal contributions. As of today, the message that’s being sent is that nobody in the Lee campaign did anything wrong. And that seems a little bit curious.

Lee’s late entry into the race — after he’d promised for months not to run — and his refusal to abide by the rules of public financing forced his supporters to raise a large amount of money very quickly. There were so-called independent expenditure committees collecting donations and running parallel campaigns that, by law, should have been entirely distinct from Lee and his official effort. We’ve always been dubious about the supposed lack of coordination.

Then there were the well-documented instances of irregularities serious enough that every other candidate in the race asked for state and federal monitors to watch the election. Several eyewitnesses told local reporters that they saw volunteers for one of the supposedly independent groups filling out absentee ballots for voters, using a special template that ensured the votes would go for Lee. Some said they saw ballots being collected at a makeshift voting booth. In a video provided by the campaign of State Sen. Leland Yee, it appears that volunteers were both filling out ballots and placing them in bags — both clear violations of law.

Gascon’s announced investigations of all the allegations — but more than three months later, nothing has come of it. His office won’t confirm or deny whether investigations are ongoing or whether any further indictments may be forthcoming. But at the Chinese New Year Parade, Chinatown powerbroker and Lee ally Rose Pak announced that she had heard Gascon was investigating her.

There’s been plenty of time to collect evidence, and Gascon has a responsibility to let the public know, as quickly as possible, what’s happened to the rest of the allegations. If everyone in the Lee campaign is really innocent, and none of the independent groups supporting the mayor did anything wrong, he should say that, and present the evidence.

It doesn’t help Lee, the city, or the integrity of the voting process to have these cases drag out. Gascon needs to conclude them, expeditiously.