Volume 46 Number 28

I get by with the help of my local DIY classes


What would the ultimate DIY day look like? There’s heaps of classes you can take in the Bay Area to make yourself more handy and sustainability-minded. Here’s a hypothetical 24 hours using the skills you can cull from those courses — scroll to the end of the article for details on where you can take each class concerned.

It’s Saturday! Wake up to the smell of coffee you roasted yourself (“Home Coffee Roasting”). Pour in your homemade almond milk for a nutty kick. (“Everyday Nut Milks and Cheeses”) For breakfast, you’re having toast with the jam you preserved (“Basics of Food Preservation and Jam-Making”) and fresh honey from your backyard beehive. (“Backyard Beekeeping”) Say hello to the chicken peeping outside, and thank your favorite hen as you enjoy that plate of scrambled eggs. (“Intro to Backyard Chickens”)

Mosey out to your freshly-landscaped garden, picking your way past the brand-new bank of sprightly succulents. (“Strategies in Urban Permaculture”) Admire your new water-saving irrigation system — she’s a real looker. (“Greywater, Rainwater Catchment, Earthworks”)

Time to primp for your day. Wash your body with the soap you made from scratch (“Cold Process Soap Making”) and afterwards, spritz yourself with handcrafted perfume. (“Making Natural Perfumes”) Head to your closet and pick out the fresh new frock you sewed (“Patternmaking and Design”), adorning yourself with those homemade earrings and pendant. (“Stitch DIY Class: Jewelry Making”)

After running a few errands around town, return to your garden to enjoy a cup of seasonal tea. It’s perfectly steeped — no need for artificial sweeteners. (“Tea and Food Pairing”) For lunch, you’re thinking crab ravioli with tomato cream sauce. (“Using Your Noodle”) Sprinkle fresh herbs gathered from your garden onto your plate for that extra kick. (“Starting an Herb Garden”)

Your out-of-town friends have been eating out every day of their trip, so you invite them over for a home-cooked meal. You remember hearing one of them saying that he craved sushi — sounds like the perfect night for nigiri and maki. (“We Be Sushi Workshop”) The handsome wooden table you built last weekend (“Wood and Metal”) makes the perfect centerpiece over which to catch up on each other’s lives.

The evening is going smoothly. Until, that is, one of your guests bumps into a burning candle on her way to the bathroom. The fire spreads quickly, but what do you know, those skills you copped from San Francisco’s firefighters save the day. (“Disaster Preparedness Training”)

Singe avoided, you and your friends get in the car to head to a mutual friend’s art show. Snap — the car sputters out! But you dodge an evening of tow trucks and mechanics’ waiting rooms. That auto repair class (“Essentials of Auto Maintenance”) taught you everything you need to save the day. Again.

You drift off to a deep sleep wrapped in a warm nest of your favorite knitted blankets. (“Knitting 101”) Sweet dreams, most capable person ever. 

“Home Coffee Roasting” May 3, 6pm-9pm, $30–$60. Modern Coffee, 411 13th St., Oakl. (510) 927-3252, www.iuhoakland.com

“Everyday Nut Milks and Cheeses” May 2, 6pm-8:30pm, $40-65. Instructor’s private home in Oakland, www.rawbayarea.com

“Basics of food preservation and jam-making” Fri/20, 6:30pm-8pm, $10. Pot and Pantry, 593 Guerrero, SF. (415) 206-1134, www.potandpantry.com

“Backyard beekeeping” Tue/24, 6pm-9pm, $35. Sticky Art Lab, 1682 University, Berk. (510) 655-5509, www.biofueloasis.com

“Intro to Backyard Chickens” Sun/15, 2pm, $35. Mill Valley Chickens, 106 Lomita, Mill Valley. (415) 389-8216, www.millvalleychickens.com

“Strategies in Urban Permaculture” Sun/15, noon-5pm, $25. Hayes Valley Farm, 450 Laguna, SF. (415) 753-7645, www.hayesvalleyfarm.com

“Greywater, Rainwater Catchment, Earthworks” basics of home irrigation Sun/29, 10am-1pm, $15. EcoHouse, 1305 Hopkins, Berk. (510) 548-2220, www.ecologycenter.org

“Cold Process Soap Making” Fri/20, 6pm-9pm, $65. Nova Studio, 24 West Richmond, Point Richmond. (510) 234-5700, www.thenovastudio.com

“Making Natural Perfumes” May 6, 10 am-5 p.m., $125. Nova Studio, 24 West Richmond, Point Richmond. (510) 234-5700, www.thenovastudio.com

“Patternmaking and Design” Four weekly classes, $175. Apparel Arts, 2325 Third St. Suite No. 406, SF. (415) 436-9738, www.apparel-arts.com

“Stitch DIY Class: Jewelry Making” Sat/14, 2:30pm-3:30pm, free. Indie Industries Castro Store, 2352 Market, SF. (415) 861-1150, 5titch.eventbrite.com

“Tea and Food Pairing” Tue/17, 7pm-8:30pm, $85. Tea Time Room, 542 Ramona, Palo Alto. (650) 328-2877, www.tea-time.com

“Using Your Noodle” 5/1, 6:30pm-9:30pm, $45-60. Marina Middle School,104A, 3500 Fillmore, SF. (415) 749-3495, www.ccsf.edu/continEd

“Starting an Herb Garden” May 5, 10:30am, $39. Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center, 559 College, Palo Alto. (650) 493-6072, www.commongroundinpaloalto.org

“We Be Sushi Workshop” Sat/14 and Sat/21, 10am-1pm, $65-80. We Be Sushi, 538 Valencia, SF. (415) 565-0749, www.ccsf.edu/continEd

“Wood and Metal” April 23 through July 2, Mon. 6pm-9pm, 10 sessions for $520. The Crucible, 1260 Seventh St., Oakl. (510) 444-0919, www.thecrucible.org

“Disaster preparedness training” Tues/17, 6:30pm-9:30pm, free. Valencia Gardens Community Room, 390 Valencia, SF. (415) 970-2024, www.sf-fire.org

“Essentials of Auto Maintenance” Sat/14, 11am, $60. Metric Motors, 1480 Howard, SF. (415) 295-4486, www.thedistilledman.com

“Knitting 101” Weekly instruction hours Mon. and Wed., 7 p.m.-9pm; Sat., 8:30am-10:30am, $66. Imagiknit, 3897 18th St., SF. (415) 621-6642, www.imagiknit.com


Bon voyage


THEATER Bay Area audiences set off for The Coast of Utopia with Shotgun Players’ production of Voyage, the first play in Tom Stoppard’s celebrated 2002 trilogy based on the lives and careers of certain radical Russian émigrés in 19th century Europe. With artistic director Patrick Dooley at the helm of a large cast, the local launch of Stoppard’s sweeping, pageant-like history play proves a smooth and articulate one, although so much is being set up in Voyage — which takes place inside Russia ahead of a departure to revolutionary Europe by one of its principal characters, future anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (an exuberantly confident Joe Salazar) — that the dramatic ball feels like it’s just getting rolling. (Unfortunately, audiences will have to wait until 2014 before Shotgun has all three plays, including Shipwreck and Salvage, up and running in repertory).

Stoppard’s play is both consistently witty and a bit glossy — in the sense of being both too sleek and too superficial to feel very deep. But it is not without a political point of its own. Here, the heady ideas and exchanges of real historical actors like Bakunin or literary critic Vissarion Belinsky (Nick Medina) mingle with family tensions, romantic entanglements, careerism, and political intrigues, all amid some seismic shifting of history. That the ideas in play are often fodder for comedy underscores the discrepancy here between high ideals and lived experience — and the emphasis on a compromised but happy present over long-term struggle for a new society. The trilogy will make the deeply interesting figure of Alexander Herzen (played in Voyage by an able Patrick Jones) the charmingly sympathetic carrier of this not very satisfying liberal through line.

Funny the work comedy can do. A few days and two pretty long plane rides after seeing Voyage, I arrived in Moscow in time to see some real Russians pretending to be from Belarus, in a theater production that also leveraged comedy to explore urgent political themes. Two in Your House, which is among the 15 productions making up the Russia Case program of the 2012 Golden Mask theater festival, is smart, dead-pan absurdist theater based on actual events and documents stemming from the 2010 house arrest of Belarusian poet, activist, and presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyaev.


The action unfolds on a small stage in front of an audience crammed into a house with maybe 60 seats in all. Five actors recreate a situation in which Neklyaev (played with a gentle, almost serene philosophical air by a Russian actor who is himself a writer in real life) and his wife must share their small apartment with two KGB officers. The set is minimal, though a backdrop giving the diagram and dimensions of the actual flat neatly underscores both the fidelity to details and the suffocating invasion of intimate space suffered by the couple. Their vulnerability before two male strangers (and a third who rotates in during shift changes) comes across viscerally at the outset, but the tables are soon turned as Mrs. Neklyaev begins a fearless (and frankly hilarious) campaign of harassment to retake her home from the invaders — thus dissolving once and for all the illusory line between public and private spheres in the face of an invasive authoritarian regime.

Even without benefit of the simultaneous translation offered English speakers in the audience, the deft physical comedy and its Mrozek-like humor in the face of an outrageous as well as preposterous situation speaks volumes about political realities, the web of systemic violence that ultimately snares everyone, including the KGB agents (here played not unsympathetically as reluctant and increasingly miserable lackeys of the state). The comedy in this way comes as illuminating, subversive gloss on the hard facts of the case.

The company responsible for this unexpectedly wry bit of documentary theater is named Teatr.doc (pronounced “Theater Doc”). Led and financed by Elena Gremina, it’s one of Moscow’s scrappy independent theaters (as opposed to the state-subsidized repertory theaters employing full ensembles of actors and theater artists).

There are still several days of plays ahead at the time of this writing, but it’s clear already that the independent theater has an important presence in this festival. Of the 15 productions selected for the 2012 Russia Case by curator and critic Elena Kovalskaya, the majority tends toward the experimental and more politically outspoken fare of the small independents. Three come from Teatr.doc; two more come from Moscow’s Praktika Theatre, devoted exclusively to new drama. Other noteworthy names in the lineup include St. Petersburg’s AKHE Engineering Theatre (two-time guests of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, who are currently collaborating with SF’s own Nanos Operetta on a new work to premiere at SFIAF next year).

That evening after Two in Your House came an off-program production of famed director Dmitry Krymov’s Ta-Ra-Ra Boom-De-Boom. Krymov (whose In Paris, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov, opens at the Berkeley Rep this month) offered up a spectacular, carnivalesque processional employing 80 actors in resplendent, sometimes wild costumes and a very long conveyor-belt stage to meditate on Chekhov and the impossible century since his death, as well as a kind of relentless attempt to grapple with or transcend both.

Moscow alone has something like 115 theaters, and the variety of work on display is predictably large. Only a handful of independent theaters take on overtly political subject matter, but these have a disproportionate influence today. The premiere of Two in Your House, for example, coincided with the recent massive street protests against Putin in the wake of elections overwhelmingly perceived as rigged. Its Belarusian subject matter thus chimed effortlessly with this political moment in Russia, especially for the younger 20-something Muscovites who are the bulk of the audiences for independent theater as well as the vast majority making up the recent street demonstrations.


Through April 29

Wed-Thu, 7pm; Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 5pm, $20-$30

Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby, Berk.



Dancing in the deep


DANCE Jodi Lomask has always been comfortable with both science and art. Perhaps that’s not surprising for someone who grew up with a physicist father and a visual artist mother — hanging around with his friends who would came to visit in Connecticut, and going with her to galleries and openings. Still, it’s not every child who, when trying to make sense of the world, was also “making dances” in her mind.

For the last 15 years, Lomask and her Capacitor collaborators (whose new work Okeanoswill be performed this weekend) have translated the dances in her head onto the stage. It’s a rather unusual way to establish an intimate human connection with the big world out there. Within Outer Spaces looked at our planet in context of the other heavenly bodies; Digging in the Dark examined Earth’s layers down to the molten core; futurespecies investigated reproduction in the past and the future.

For biome Lomask and her collaborators went to Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest to study symbiotic relationships. For the upcoming premiere Okeanos, Lomask had herself certified as a diver and went to Bali to study marine protectorates and coral restoration projects.

Debunking the clichés of free-and-wild artists and right-brain-only scientists, she calls on the latter as essential collaborators and advisors.

“My personal theory is that art and science are at the bottom of a circle. As [their practitioners] get better, they separate for a while, but when they are very good they meet again,” she says. “The most successful scientists I know are also the most creative people I know. The most successful artists I know are the people who are very precise and rigorous in their craft; they have a lot of factual information that goes into their work.” It’s this kind of thinking that has made Lomask and Capacitor a regular participant at TED conferences.

In order to ground each work in “fact rather than fantasy,” in 2000 Lomask started a formal process consisting of six months of meetings between scientists and her creative team.

“A scientist makes a 20 minute presentation, then someone from our team — a designer, a musician — does the same,” she explains. “Then we have a show-and-tell about the specifics about what we are working on.” This way of working guides but also liberates the art-making because “we then can take off from factual information.”

At a late-stage rehearsal at Zaccho Dance Theatre’s whitewashed, concrete-walled studio, Okeanos‘ art and science elements were very much in evidence. Against the starkness of that environment, periodically punctuated by the rattling of a passing CalTrain, the stunning underwater videos by Australian cinematographer David Hannan suggested an unearthly yet innate beauty. Seahorses gave birth, an octopus explored its environment, schools of tiny fishes surrounded floating whales, and sharks shot by like torpedoes. Throughout, you got the sense that these creatures communicate with each other.

In addition to choreographing the movement vocabulary for the four dancers and five circus artists, Lomask also designed interactive physical structures that echo the natural world. One set calls up vortexes; another is an earth-like globe with many points of entry; yet another suggests a curtain of kelp. Lead science advisors Sylvia Earle and Tierney Thys provided taped narration. While helpful for its information, it’s most moving for the awe and love that is apparent in their voices.

As mentioned above, like many of Lomask’s works, Okeanos commingles circus artists and dancers. “It doesn’t make any difference to me whether a body is a trained dancer’s or a contortionist’s,” she says. “I am really interested in how the human body acts with the [sculptural] forms I have created. A contortionist can interact in a way a dancer cannot, but a dancer can embody an emotion or a concept that circus artists don’t have the training to do.”

Each Okeanos performance will be preceded by a different set of (separately ticketed) panel discussions surrounding issues of human interaction with the deep. The post-performance “Ocean Solutions Cafés” offer opportunities for continuing the conversation.



Pre-show talks, 6:30pm, $20 (with show ticket); performances, 8pm, $25-$35

Herbst Pavilion

Fort Mason Center

Marina at Laguna, SF



Heading East: Artists in flux


San Francisco isn’t an easy place to live for artists and others who choose to fill their souls at the expense of their bank accounts, particularly with the comparatively cheap and sunny East Bay so close. And with more of these creative types being lured eastward, Oakland and its surroundings are getting ever more hip and attractive — just as San Francisco is being gentrified by dot-com workaholics.

It’s a trend I’ve been noticing in recent years, one that I saw embodied during regular trips to make Burning Man art with the Flux Foundation (see “Burners in Flux,” 8/31/10) and hundreds of others who work out of the massive American Steel warehouse.

At least once a week, I would take BART to the West Oakland station and cycle up Mandela Parkway, a beautiful and inviting boulevard, riding in the wide bike lane past evocative public art projects in weather that was always warmer than my neighborhood in San Francisco.

Since then, I’ve watched waves of my Flux friends moving from San Francisco to the East Bay, pushed by the high cost of living and pulled by the allure of a better and more sustainable lifestyle, a migration of some of the most interesting and creative people I know, some of the very people that have made San Francisco so cool.

“I love San Francisco, but it’s just not an affordable place anymore,” said Jessica Hobbs, one of the Flux founders who last year moved with two other women from the crew into what they call the Flux Meow House in a neighborhood near the intersection of Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville.

Hobbs has long worked in the East Bay and “I’ve never been one of those who has that bridge-phobia” — that resistance to cross over into other cities for social gatherings — “but the most interesting culture of San Francisco is starting to move to the East Bay.”

In the last 10 years, workspaces for burners and other creative types have proliferated in the East Bay — including the Shipyard, the Crucible, NIMBY Warehouse, Xian, Warehouse 416, and American Steel — while the number in San Francisco has stayed static or even shrunk. That’s partly a result of SF’s dwindling number of light industrial spaces, but Hobbs said the influx of artists in the East Bay supported and populated these new workspaces and fed the trend.

“They were making space for that to happen, so we came over here,” Hobbs said. “There’s more willingness to experiment over here.”

There have been code-compliance conflicts between these boundary-pushing art spaces and civic officials, including Berkeley’s threats to shut down the Shipyard and Oakland’s issues with NIMBY, but Hobbs said both were resolved in ways that legitimized the spaces. And then events such as Art Murmur, a monthly art walk in downtown Oakland, put these artists and their creations on proud display.

“Oakland and the East Bay have been very welcoming,” Hobbs said. “They want us.”

As we all talked on April 5, Karen Cusolito was throwing a party celebrating the third anniversary of American Steel, a massive workspace she formed for hundreds of artists and a gathering space for her extended community. Cusolito had working in the East Bay since 2005, commuting from Hunters Point before finally moving to Oakland in 2010.

“I moved here with such great trepidation because I thought I’d be bored,” she said. “But I’ve found a more vibrant community than I could have imagined, along with an unexpected sense of calm.”

Reflecting on the third anniversary of American Steel, Cusolito said, “On one hand, I’m astonished that it’s been three years. On the other hand, I’m surprised that this hasn’t always existed,” she said. “I have an amazing community here. I’m very blessed.”

Hobbs’ roommate, Rebecca Frisch, lost her apartment in Hayes Valley last year and decided to seek some specific things that she felt her soul seeking. “I wanted more light and space and a garden. I had a long wish list and nearly all of it came true,” she said. “I cast my net as far north as Petaluma and even Sebastapol. It’s really about a home and setting that felt good and suited my wish list.”

The space they found was spacious and airy, almost suburban but in a neighborhood that is lively and being steadily populated with other groups of their friends who have also been moving from San Francisco, gathered into three nearby homes.

“It was a great space with this huge yard. It’s got sun all day long, fruit trees everywhere, and we now have an art fireplace. You don’t find that in San Francisco,” Hobbs said.

As much as Hobbs and Frisch have been pleased with East Bay living, they each felt finally pressured to leave San Francisco, which makes them wonder what the future holds for the city.

“It’s made me sad because it’s apparent there’s no room for quirky, creative individuals. It’s only for the super rich,” Frisch said. “I feel horrible for families and people with fewer options that I have. I wondered if I would mourn the city I loved, and it’s been just the opposite. I really love it here.”

There have been a few challenges and tradeoffs to living in the East Bay, Hobbs said, including a lack of late-night food offerings and after hours clubs. “With anything, there will be a balance between positives and convenience,” she said.

Not everyone from Flux is flowing east — that balance tips in different ways for different people at different times. Monica Barney recently moved to San Francisco from Oakland and she’s enjoying the more dense urban living.

“I got sick of living in the East Bay,” she said. “I didn’t like that you have to drive everywhere. It changes the tone of the neighborhood when you can get around without a car.”

Yet for most of the couple hundred artsy people in the Flux Foundation’s orbit, the East Bay is drawing more and more people. Jonny Poynton moved to West Oakland three years ago after living in San Francisco for nine. He appreciates the sense of community he’s found in Oakland, and he doesn’t feel like he’s given up much to attain it.

“One of the things I like about West Oakland is how close it is to the city,” he said.

Flux’s latest transplant is Jason DeCook, who works in the building trades and moved from San Francisco to just down the street from Poynton on April 7.

“I moved because of the usual reasons that most have, larger space for the same rent, but also the sunshine and proximity. I’ve been hella reluctant to do this for the past few years but thought about it a couple of times. Now the issue has been forced with all the art this year,” DeCook said.

In addition to working on art at American Steel, DeCook says he’s excited to have a yard and storage areas to work on his own projects.

“I’m a blue collar, hands-on kind of guy and it’s easy for me to feel connected to a lot of the people that live around me or are beginning to visit the area. It’s exciting to be in a place that has been ignored for so long by money, because a group of us can come up with a project or I can on my own and get to doing it with little red tape and it will be appreciated by the neighbors for making the place a little bit better,” DeCook said.

In many ways, he thinks that West Oakland and other East Bay pockets are on a similar trajectory as many of San Francisco’s coolest neighborhoods decades ago, many of which are now getting too expensive for the artists to live.

“Earlier today I was considering how, in the past, like the early ’60s when so many artists and musicians were drawn to the Haight and other places, they did so because it was cheap and close to opportunity,” he said. “I think West Oakland is seeing that happen to it. It is a furnace of creativity, and I am helping however I can to stoke that.

Found in translation


Ludwig Wittgenstein once said “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” So for the sake of expanded horizons, let’s say thank you to professional translators, the diligent souls who dedicate their lives to the subtleties of language. When interpreters dissolve linguistic barriers, we are able to peer into the worlds articulated in literature of distant lands to understand them as our own.

But how do they do it? Surrealist Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s translators Jay Rubin and J. Philip Gabriel have taken apart prose, sentence by sentence. Without their efforts, Murakami’s mystic, cryptic worlds could not have become available to audiences in the United States and elsewhere. Rubin and Gabriel spoke with the Guardian in a phone interview preceding their Center for the Art of Translation presentation on the art of translation last week at 111 Minna.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: How were you introduced to Haruki Murakami?

Jay Rubin: By an American publisher in 1989. I was absolutely knocked out by him and stopped reading everyone else for a good 10 years after that. I was just so swept up in Murakami’s world.

J. Philip Gabriel: I was living in Japan and a friend recommended his work. I became interested in translating his short stories, and one of the translations was published in The New Yorker a few years later. I became a regular translator from then on.

SFBG: How do you align yourself with the author so that even the subtlest aspects of their work are communicated?

JR: Maybe I’m not doing that. You never know, do you? I’m always saying that people shouldn’t read translated literature, they should learn the language themselves. One way you can build up trust is by reading the translation and feeling to see if it moves you in the same recognizable ways as reading in your native language. There’s never a guarantee that you’re getting the unalloyed original. But if a piece of literature is able to make you afraid or delighted in some way, it’s fairly likely that there’s something in the original that does that too.

JPG: I work with writers who are fortunately still alive. I have the option of asking a question for clarification. Murakami’s English is really good, and he is a translator himself, so he understands the challenges at hand and is happy to give suggestions.

SFBG: Humor often becomes diluted between languages, especially since a lot of humor is word-based. How do you retain the original comic flow?

JR: When you have languages as different as Japanese and English, it’s virtually impossible to preserve a pun. You just simply have to make up wordplay that seems to work in a similar way. And since Murakami has obviously been influenced by Western literature, his humor is not too hard to convey.

JPG: Japanese culture has a huge appreciation for humor, but translated literature often ends up being serious or dark. You do the best you possibly can when translating humor, but it’s difficult. In Kafka on the Shore, there’s a set expression in Japanese, which means, “I’m so busy I would like a cat to lend a hand.” This is especially funny because the story is about a guy who has the ability to talk to cats. I came up with a pun by using the word “paws” instead of “pause,” and saying, “I would like you to take a paws in your busy schedule.”

SFBG: One challenge in translating East Asian languages to English is that there are certain expressions that could be said more concisely in the former than in the latter. How do you overcome linguistic differences without compromising style?

JR: Brevity is a problem because you’re so tempted to explain things the reader might miss. You always have to engage in a judgment to keep the verbiage as tight as it is in the original, and try not to overwhelm your reader with explanatory prose. After all, you’re not trying to explain the original, but recreate it so that it works in all the same gut levels.

JPG: I try to preserve the basic rhythm of the prose, alternating between long and short sentences. But the sentence structure itself is so different — verbs are at the end of a sentence in Japanese — and when you move the verb to the front, it’s like giving away the punch line.

SFBG: How was your experience translating 1Q84 together?

JR: 1Q84 was so damn long. Sheer stamina was what I needed, above all. I was so grateful when Phil decided to translate the last volume. The editor spent months going through in extreme detail to give it consistency, and there wasn’t a huge gap in style because we both kept close to the original.

JPG: Any two translators, like any two writers, are going to have a different style, and it’s hard to go beyond that. But the editor did a great job to have the final translation read smoothly.

SFBG: Did you face any challenges when conveying cultural differences in a text?

JR: Murakami actually references a lot of American and European culture, so he’s very approachable for someone with a fairly normal American background.

JPG: Stoicism in Japanese culture causes certain climaxes to be very low-key, and I had to underscore scenes for an American audience. We go through the trouble of translating works because we want to learn about the culture, but it turns out that culture is the hardest thing to translate.

Weird me out



MUSIC Here is a partial list of not quite idioms, butchered sayings, and quasi heartfelt beliefs the Melvins’ Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne peppered throughout a conversation during a phone call last week from his home in Hollywood.

“We can’t be lion tamers all the time.” “You can accuse me of a lot of things, being lazy isn’t one of them.” “When in fear, or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.” “Treat me right, I’ll be your best friend. Treat me wrong, you don’t exist.”

At least one of those deserves to be crocheted on a throw pillow. Or screenprinted on a Melvins backpatch.


Singer-guitarist Osborne met his longtime collaborator, drummer Dale Crover, in 1984, Aberdeen, Wash., one year after the Melvins had formed and were performing mostly Cream covers. Crover was also in a bad cover band, but Osborne knew he could play well, so he invited him to join his band.

“There’s a fine line between genius and stupidity for both of us. I like playing with him, one way or another,” Osborne says of their continued relationship. “And it seems to work, no reason to quit — until he gives me a reason, then that will be it.” Osborne’s speech patterns raise often with sarcasm; in person that signature fuzzy grey ‘fro of his is likely shaking, punctuating each joke.

After that first shaky year, the Melvins got an early foothold in the blending of punk and metal, influenced by first round Black Flag (The band would go on to influence scores of musicians itself, recently, Mastodon).

“Somehow I realized even then that I needed to work on writing my own music, not relying on playing cover songs — even though we love to play cover songs, and we still do. But I started writing music pretty quickly. Sometimes we still play those first songs I ever wrote.”


In the past some 29 years, the Melvins — which is made up of a rotating lineup, save for Osborne and Crover — have recorded 19 full-length albums, and that’s not counting countless other releases (singles, EPs, comps).

Since the end of December, the band recorded more than 50 songs, Osborne notes proudly as his Jack Russell Terriers scream in the background. Included in that batch is The Bulls & the Bees EP, released for free download through Scion last month and the Freak Puke LP, which will be out in June on Ipecac.


The head bang-worthy The Bulls & the Bees is five classic Melvins cuts, thundering drums, doomy guitar, and Osborne’s low octave howl, it’s drum-happy sludge rounded out by frequent Melvins players Jared Warren and Coady Willis from stoney LA band Big Business.

Up next, there’s the upcoming Freak Puke, which is being touted as Melvins Lite. In this record, the band is a trio: Osborne, Crover, and Trevor Dunn of Mr. Bungle and Fantomas fame on stand-up bass.

Freak Puke is similarly dense and dark, so that’s not the reason for the ‘Lite’ attached to the name. Is it? Osborne explains: “You be the judge. We’ve always done lighter stuff. I’ll just say it’s Melvins lighter in weight, as in, our weight is less with three guys in it, as opposed to four. That record just has a different vibe.”

He’s, of course, right, it’s more the vibe of the record that sets it apart. The frenzied plucking of strings that kick off “Baby, Won’t You Weird Me Out” take the Melvins even further down the strange hybrid wormhole they’ve long been building out of mud — yet not so far that we can’t recognize their inimitable sound.


After Osborne moved from Aberdeen, but before his trek to LA to be with his wife (and now, their many dogs), he lived for seven years in the Richmond District of San Francisco, near the Presidio. And while he claims to not be sentimental about the past (“I’m more of a ‘what have you done lately’ type of person”) he mentions that he remains loyal to the promoters at Slim’s and Great American Music Hall, where the Melvins four-piece/non-lite will be performing all the tracks off the new EP later this week. “As long as those people want to continue doing shows with us, we’re there.” 


With Unsane

Thu/12, 9pm, sold out

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750


Oh high!



HERBWISE Say “cannabis,” not “weed.” Couch discussion in the language of medicine, not intoxication. There are a lot of rules when it comes to talking about marijuana — and the country’s most beloved cannabis publication breaks most of them.

That’s because at High Times magazine, the general take is that herb should be legal across the board, not just for consumption by the verifiably sick. “Until it’s legal for all adults, medical marijuana patients are going to be regarded as second class citizens,” said Elise McDonough, who besides having worked as a graphic designer with the magazine for 10 years is the author of the brand-new-for-420 Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook (Chronicle Books, 160pp, $18.95).

>>Join the Guardian and a stellar lineup this Friday 4/20 at El Rio for the Stoned Soul Picnic party!

In her Guardian phone interview, McDonough pointed out that eating may be the first way human beings consumed cannabis. She’s certainly done her part to give us options beyond the basic brownie — the book includes recipes for “psychedelic” spanikopita, tamales, cocktails, holiday feasts, and a host of canna-bases, from dosed butter to olive oil. McDonough wrote many, but also gets help from other High Times luminaries, like the dearly departed Chef Ra, who contributed to the rag’s recipe column for 15 years.

Interest, ahem, sparked? The following recipes from the book will make a stellar foundation for next week’s holiday festivities, medicinal or not. 



Makes 1/2 cup

1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter*

1/4 ounce cannabis buds, finely ground

*To make cannamargarine, simply substitute margarine for butter in this recipe

1. Melt the butter on low heat in a saucepan. Add the ground buds, and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes, stirring frequently.

2. Strain the butter into a glass dish with a tight-fitting lid. Push the back of a spoon against the plant matter and smash it against the strainer to squeeze out every drop of butter available. When you’re done, discard the plant matter.

3. Use your cannabutter immediately, or refrigerate or freeze until it is time to use. You can easily scale this recipe up for larger batches of cannabutter. One pound of butter (4 sticks) can absorb 1 ounce of cannabis, but you may want to simmer for up to 60 minutes.

Drizzle this cannabutter over freshly cooked pasta or popcorn for instant satisfaction. Reserve large batches in the fridge or freezer for use in recipes.



Stones 4

1 1/2 pounds potatoes, unpeeled and cut into chunks (Yukon Gold potatoes are great)

1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks

1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled

1 1/2 tablespoons salt, plus more as needed

4 tablespoons Simple Cannabutter

Black pepper

1. Put the potatoes, parsnips, and garlic in a large pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil over high heat and then add the salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes. The potatoes, parsnips and garlic should be tender and easy to smash. Drain the vegetables and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the cannabutter.

3. Return the vegetables to the pot or a large serving bowl, and begin to smash them with a potato masher, slowly adding the melted cannabutter a little at a time. Use spoonfuls of the reserved cooking water to thin the mixture if the smashed veggies are too thick. Season with black pepper and more salt and serve.


If I could do it all over


If had to re-start your academic career today, what would you study? In this era of budget cuts to education and general economic miasma, some Bay Area academics would be reconsidering their options, some would stay their course — and some have important advice for today’s budding scholars. 



I would first take some time off from school, jump into the world, and try it out for a year or two. I would WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) around the country and around the world. Once I had some out of school experience, I would be ready and willing to pursue a higher education — not just because my parents or society said it was the thing to do, but because I was excited and eager to learn more. I would study urban agriculture — funnily enough, my colleagues and I just created an urban agriculture program at USF. We need to be thinking and engaging critically and creatively to shape our urban spheres into sustainable systems. Programs like urban agriculture are doing just that.



I’d ideally do exactly what I am doing now: studying political theory. I really love my job and feel very grateful that I get paid to do this. However, I don’t think that I could have had the career I had if I was starting out today.

What I’d probably do is to bolster my study of political theory with more courses in continental philosophy and critical thinking, that way I could present myself to more kinds of jobs and broaden my reach. I also think it would help to focus on something concrete — an area study, a specific tradition, a specific thinker, because I think generalists don’t do so well these days. In graduate school I would concentrate more on publishing and going to conferences than I did when I was getting my own Ph.D.

When I was in grad school, the belief was that we lived in a meritocracy and good work would get good jobs; even then (the mid-’90s), the profession was changing, but I didn’t pay any attention and got lucky. Not that I had it that easy, I was a visiting professor at three universities before I got a tenure track job. Even so, I don’t think a newly minted Ph.D. can have the same luxury anymore. Today you can’t hide in your ivory tower. My younger peers are much less starry-eyed about academia than I was at their age. Maybe that is one small silver lining to the horrendous academic job market.



At the end of Don Quijote, the eponymous main character emerges from his book-induced delirium, renounces chivalry, and dies. I’m not ready to die, so I’m reluctant to imagine a career course other than the wholly quixotic, book-filled one that I chose over two decades ago. The Quijote teaches us that all imagining has consequences. If I begin to imagine another less difficult life, what will become of me? Will this life begin to crack and splinter? While I’m not simple enough to believe that flirtations and daydreams can hasten death, why tempt fate?

If imagination is a lethal pin, history is a cushion. When I was a kid growing up in the East Bay, an aluminum bat under my bed and a stack of bootlegged Elvis Costello cassettes in a shoebox, I dreamed of being lots of things: a private eye in Honolulu, a blade runner, the president. I dreamed of a playing guitar like Marc Ribot. Of being rich. Does Barack Obama play guitar? If so, he’s realized all of my adolescent dreams, and I hope they make him happy. As for my life, Don Quijote was born only for me, and I for him.



If I were starting my career all over again, I would still get a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in international relations. I would also get a master’s degree in Middle East studies, followed by a Ph.D. in journalism. The only thing I would change is making up my mind a little faster. I was undeclared during my freshman year, with no clue what I wanted to study. I met a bunch of cool kids who were working at the college newspaper and as I began hanging out in the newsroom, suddenly it all made sense. I was naturally nosy, I love writing, and get a huge kick out of talking to strangers and telling stories. Journalism was the perfect career for me. I always had a fascination with global politics so I looked forward to attending every IR class. I’m glad I didn’t get a master’s in journalism, because I don’t think that would have advanced my career at all. But the Middle East studies degree gave me an in-depth understanding of the region’s history, societies, economies and political systems. It was an excuse to read a lot about subjects I was passionately interested in, and being required to read and write papers kept me in line and gave me the discipline I needed. I got the Ph.D. because I wanted to teach at the university level, and I enjoyed learning to do research. 

I tell my students all the time that it is really important to study what you love, but I know it isn’t easy to figure out what that is, and whether they can actually make a decent living out of it. I often begin advising sessions by asking my student “what’s your dream job?” and if they give me a specific answer, it makes it much easier to help them pick the right classes that they are paying a lot of money for. I knew I wouldn’t necessarily get rich as a journalist, but I knew it would be fun and rewarding. My parents are both medical doctors and wanted me to be a physician as well. I have no regrets whatsoever, because I know I would have made a great doctor, and definitely made more money than I do now, but I would have been miserable. A college degree is increasingly expensive, and it is crucial that a lot of thought and consideration goes into choosing a field of study that is a good investment. A good degree of study should train you to acquire actual skills that you can use to market yourself in today’s competitive job market.

Two on the rise



APPETITE Age is good thing: for wine, whiskey, cheese, wisdom, sense of self… Age deepens, fills out, matures. In the scheme of things, these two restaurants are youngsters — Bar Tartine has been successful since opening in 2005, Txoko was the new kid on the block in 2011. But they’ve steadily improved: what was exceptional at times last year is now more consistently so. 


Bar Tartine has long been notable. Now it has become exciting. Last year I wrote of new chef Nick Balla, fresh from Nombe, who launched a Hungarian-influenced menu acknowledging his roots. Eastern European touches render the food unique yet exude down-home goodness.

Tripe strikes fear in the hearts of many. I don’t mind it, but only at Oliveto’s 2010 Whole Hog dinner had I found it delicious. Balla’s grilled tripe ($12) stands as the best tripe dish I’ve ever tasted. Silky (not slimy) strips of tripe fill a bowl aromatically entwined with fennel, cabbage and paprika. Beets, an ingredient we’ve been inundated with in recent years, are electrifying in an ensalada rusa ($12) with celery root, dill, chili, peppercress, and plenty of lime. This invigorating expression stands above the best beet dishes. An entree winner is Hungarian farmer’s cheese dumplings, nokedli ($17). Sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke) and wild onion meld with doughy, slightly cheesy, dumplings: sheer comfort.

Puffy, fried Hungarian potato bread, langos ($10), remains the must-order menu item upon every visit, drizzled with sour cream and dill — it is blissfully garlicky. Not since my travels through the Hungarian countryside have I seen this addictive bread. Here’s hoping when cherry season hits, we’ll witness the return of Balla’s fantastic version of Hungarian chilled sour cherry soup, meggyleves.

The wine list persists in quality, a recent example being two Riesling beauties set in contrast: a dry, elegant, German 2009 Keller Von der Fels Trocken Riesling alongside a lively, unusual-but-refined Santa Barbara 2008 Tatomer Vandenberg Riesling.

Balla’s proven addition to Bar Tartine’s expanded, inviting, glowing space, confirms the restaurant as a personal favorite — and one of the best in town.

8561 Valencia, SF. (415) 487-1600, www.bartartine.com


With so little Basque cuisine in our city, I was delighted when Txoko (pronounced “choko”) opened in the spacious space that was once home to Enrico’s, promising Basque influence. (See Paul Reidinger’s August 2011 review.) Lots of small plates and just a few larger ones appealed with an opportunity to try more. Early visits last year yielded delectable small bites, while I found larger plates less exciting. When the menu recently changed to a more traditional appetizer and entree format, I feared it would lose its uniqueness. Pleasingly, however, Txoko’s menu has been rounded out, entrees keeping pace with starters. I do sense the Basque influence is looser than it was before, however, and would rather not see that aspect fade.

Txoko’s Wednesday night, four-course foie gras dinners ($55) are arguably the best way to ride out the remaining months until June when the California foie gras ban takes effect (Txoko owner Ryan Maxey is a foie defender.) The menu varies weekly though typically finishes with buttery foie gras ice cream. One week I savored silky foie gras torchon on a flaky puff pastry, in a lavender golden raisin sauce redolent with thyme. My main was a gorgeous foie gras a la plancha (grilled), savory and meaty on a mound of beluga lentils, mirepoix, and chorizo, surrounded by strips of duck jamon, topped with crispy chicharrones.

On the regular menu, two dishes left an impression. Warm lamb’s tongue salad ($11) is a surprisingly light salad of lamb mixed with poached potatoes, manchego cheese, shishito peppers and frisee, surrounded by smoked tomatoes. Different and delightful. A heartwarming dish of grilled venison Denver leg ($29) is served medium rare, draped over mashed yams in blood orange endive marmelata, dotted with crispy sage leaves and pine nuts. Each dish is artfully presented and generously portioned.

Drink options are vibrantly varied, with choices like a bone dry 2009 Isastegi Basque cider ($6) and wines like an earthy, plum and berry-inflected 2001 Senorio de P. Pecina Reserva Rioja. Txoko has a full bar with commendable cocktails ($10), such as a playful, refreshing Cool Hand Luke Fizz utilizing Fighting Cock bourbon, Peychaud’s bitters, and egg whites for froth, made vivacious with Mexican Coke.

Finishing the evening with moist, Spanish-style bread pudding ($8), sweetened with prunes, olive caramel, and candied marcona almonds is a pleasure. I look forward to Txoko’s continued evolution, keeping up its refreshing change of pace in North Beach, and, indeed, the city.

504 Broadway, SF. (415) 500-2744, www.txokosf.com

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Heading East: The musician


This week’s Guardian takes a look at San Francisco versus Oakland — and asks whether the big city may have lost its caché to the East Bay


Andy Duvall arrived in San Francisco in 1995, moved with some friends into a flat where his rent was $250 a month. It was a great town for musician, and for 15 years, he was part of the local scene.

Then he looked around in 2010 and realized that he was paying $750 a month for a tiny room with a housemate he barely knew. “It was so hard to find a place I could afford,” Duvall, the former Zen Guerilla drummer who is now part of the experimental band Carleton Melton, told us.

So he packed up and moved across the Bay — and he’s never looked back. “When I moved out, I was afraid I’d totally miss SF,” he said. “But I got to Oakland, and now even if I could I wouldn’t move back.”

Duvall lives in a 900-square-foot place off 40th Street with his girlfriend; they split the $900 rent. “It just seems like there are more artistic and musical people around here,” he said. “I’m surrounded by musicians, instead of worrying that the person downstairs is going to try to get me kicked out of the building.”

Duvall’s main worry now? He sees the pattern that drove him out of San Francisco happening again. “In five years, the same thing is going to happen to Oakland,” he said. “This neighborhood is just exploding. It’s good, I guess — but it’s bad for the artists and musicians.”

Heading East: The photographer


This week’s Guardian takes a look at San Francisco versus Oakland — and asks whether the big city may have lost its caché to the East Bay


Sasha Kelley grew up in the East Bay. The 22-year old photographer moved to San Francisco for the love of art — but she moved back East for the same reason.

“I was expecting [SF] to be this free-loving, accepting, encouraging place where anything can happen and everything would be welcomed.” Kelley told the Guardian through a series of phone and email interviews. “But it’s a place that is already established, the different art scenes have been formed and branded. Unless you are fortunate enough to have your own space, you are almost forced to fall into line with the given formula.”

That wasn’t the kind of artistic guidelines Kelley was looking for when she moved to the Tenderloin to study at the Academy of Art. While in San Francisco, she started C Proof (c-proof.org), a site she uses to explore African American life.

But she was having trouble finding the black arts community in the city. Besides MoAD, “the big exception,” as she put it, “the voice of the black artist just wasn’t there.”

And the call of home was a BART ride away. After three years in SF, Kelley decided to move away from the cramped studio she shared with two other people to Oakland in the summer of 2011.

“Right now in Oakland there is a little more wiggle room for experimentation,” she said. “There is still a lot of room to grow, to hold space, and establish new norms.”

One day, attending a general assembly meeting of Occupy Oakland, she met artist Githinji Mbire, who was opening up Omiiroo, a community gallery just one block from the 12th Street BART station (400 14th St., Oakl.) Kelley spent eight hours there the first time she visited.

“We just talked about art,” Kelley said. “A vision of a community space where people could just be and where it’s not about the formal aspects of it, it’s just really the work and reaching out to people.”

Now, Kelley hosts Sunday dinners at Omiiroo to bring together local artists. It’s become a drop-in creative space where Mbire crafts his multimedia maps of Africa. Local vegan food activist Bryant Terry stops by to sell his tea and talk to passers-by during the neighborhood’s thriving monthly Art Murmur. Kelley thinks such a space is possible in SF, but it would depend on finding an investor. “It’s a lot easier to sustain yourself in the East Bay,” she said.

The problem with Laura’s Law


OPINION Mental health conditions and mental illness are issues that bring passionate people to the table from all sides of the spectrum. Individuals who have lived with the experience of mental-health conditions, clinicians, family members, researchers, and advocates all have a lot to say.

But as a March 11 San Francisco Chronicle piece, “Laura’s Law likely to save lives,” suggests, people can be fueled by pain and emotion, rather than logic and information. It’s in such a hot zone that AB 1421 emerged, after the tragic death of a young woman at the hands of a violent man who also happened to be dealing with mental health conditions.

The so-called Laura’s Law passed the state Legislature in 2002, and counties have a choice whether to implement it locally. If enacted in San Francisco, AB 1421 would mandate outpatient treatment for some people with mental illness — and those out of compliance would get a 72-hour hold under lock and key at the hospital, and would be at risk of being thrown into the revolving door of the criminal justice system.

The public support for AB 1421 and similar involuntary measures outlines the pervasive misunderstanding that comes when emotion rules the fray over common sense and dignity. And more dangerously, it promotes the long-debunked myth that mental illness is related to violence. In fact, individuals with mental illness are one percent less likely to commit violence than other individuals.

Often, the very people whose voices are left out of the decision making process in legislation such as AB 1421, are the ones who are directly affected personally by mental illness and mental-health conditions. That’s due in large part to the lasting impact of stigma, which deprives people of dignity, individual choice, and the empowerment to seek their own goals and paths in life.

What we know is this: voluntary treatment that is accessible in community settings and centered on individual strength is by far the best option for recovery from mental health conditions and the path for a rewarding, enriched life.

San Francisco typically leads the state in the number of involuntary commitments for people in acute psychiatric crisis. That’s proven to be not only a colossal waste of resources but also the wrong approach. Many of those who are involuntarily detained are accessing the mental health system for the first time—in restraints. This leads to further mistrust and trauma for those dealing with mental health challenges.

When it comes to embracing laws such as AB 1421, California voters know better. After the passage of that measure, California voters passed the landmark Mental Health Services Act in 2004. It is the principles of MHSA—voluntary, community-driven treatment, and full inclusion of individuals with mental health conditions as decision-makers—that should guide our efforts in recovery from mental health conditions and eliminating the pervasive stigma and bias that are the true culprits in causing pain and trauma in our society. MHSA provides funding for innovative, alternative approaches to Treatment As Usual.

Michael Gause is deputy director of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco.


San Francisco’s loss



San Francisco is increasingly losing its working and creative classes to the East Bay and other jurisdictions — and with them, much of the city’s diversity — largely because of policy decisions that favor expensive, market-rate housing over the city’s own affordable housing goals.

“It’s definitely changing the character of the city,” said James Tracy, an activist with Community Housing Partnership. “It drains a big part of the creative energy of the city, which is why folks came here in the first place.”

>>Is Oakland cooler than San Francisco? Oaklanders respond.

Now, as San Francisco officials consider creating an affordable housing trust fund and other legislative changes, it’s fair to ask: Does City Hall have the political will to reverse the trend?

Census data tells a big part of the story. In 2000, the median owner-occupied home in San Francisco cost $369,400, and by 2010 it had more than doubled to $785,200. Census figures also show median rents have gone from $928 in 2000 up to $1,385 in 2010 — and even a cursory glance at apartment listings show that rents have been steadily rising since then.

Tracy and other affordable housing activists testified at an April 9 hearing before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee on a new study by the Budget and Legislative Analyst, commissioned last July by Sup. David Campos, entitled “Performance Audit of San Francisco’s Affordable Housing Policies and Programs.”

“There’s a hearing right now at City Hall about our housing stock and how it’s been skewing upward toward those with higher incomes,” Board President David Chiu told us, noting that it is sounding an alarm that, “Creative individuals that make this place so special are being driven out of the city.”

Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan said that San Francisco’s loss has been a gain for Oakland and other East Bay cities, which are enjoying a new cultural vibrancy that has so far been largely free of the gentrifying impacts that can hurt a city’s diversity.

“You can add more people without getting rid of anybody if you do it right. Most of development is looking at places that are now completely empty like the Lake Merritt BART station parking lot, empty land around the Coliseum, and the West Oakland BART station,” Kaplan told us. “We have to commit to revitalization without displacement.”

Yet the fear among some San Franciscans is that we’ll have just the opposite: displacement that actually hinders the city’s attempts at economic revitalization. “What’s at stake is the economic recovery of the city,” Tracy said. “You can’t have such a large portion of the workforce commuting into the city.”


A big part of the problem is that San Francisco is building plenty of market-rate (read: really expensive) housing, but not nearly enough affordable housing. The report Campos commissioned looked at how well the city did at meeting various housing construction goals it set for itself from 1999 to 2006 in its state-mandated Housing Element, which requires cities to plan for the housing needs of its population and absorb a fair share of the state’s affordable housing needs.

The plan called for 7,363 market-rate units, or 36 percent of the total housing construction, with the balance being housing for those with moderate, low, or very low incomes. Developers built 11,293 market rate units during that time, 154 percent of what was needed and 65 percent of the total housing construction. There were only 725 units built for those with moderate incomes (just 13 percent the goal) and just over half the number of low-income units needed and 83 percent of the very low-income goal met.

“We have to do a better job of monitoring and evaluating each project,” Chiu said. “Every incremental decision we make determines whether this will be a city for just the wealthy.”

The situation for renters is even worse. From 2001-2011, the report showed there were only 1,351 rental units built for people in the low to moderate income range, people who make 50-120 percent of the area median income, which includes a sizable chunk of the working class living in a city where about two-thirds of residents rent.

“The Planning Commission does not receive a sufficiently comprehensive evaluation of the City’s achievement of its housing goals,” the report concluded, calling for the planners and policymakers to evaluate new housing proposals by the benchmark of what kind of housing the city actually needs. Likewise, it concluded that the Board of Supervisors isn’t being regularly given information it needs to correct the imbalance or meet affordable housing needs.

Policy changes made under former Mayor Gavin Newsom also made this bad situation even worse. Developers used to build affordable housing required by the city’s inclusionary housing law rather than pay in-lieu fees to the city by a 3-1 ratio, but since the formulas in that law changed in 2010, 55 percent of developers have opted to pay the fee rather than building housing.

Also in 2010, Newsom instituted a policy that allowed developers to defer payment of about 85 percent of their affordable housing fees, resulting in an additional year-long delay in building affordable housing, from 48 months after the market rate project got permitted to 60 months now.

Tracy and the affordable housing activists say the city needs to reverse these trends if it is to remain diverse. “It’s not even debatable that the majority housing built in the city needs to be affordable,” Tracy said.

Mayor Ed Lee has called for an affordable housing trust fund, the details of which are still being worked out as he prepares to submit it for the November ballot. Chiu said that would help: “I will require a lot of different public policies, but a lot of it will be an affordable housing trust fund.”


San Francisco’s problems have been a boon for Oakland.

“With much love and affection to my dear SF friends, I must say that Oakland is more fun,” Kaplan told us. “Also I think a lot of people are choosing to live in Oakland now for a variety of reasons that aren’t just about price. We have a huge resurgent art scene, an interconnected food, restaurant, and club scene, a place where multicultural community of grassroots artists is thriving, best known from Art Murmur.”

There is fear that Oakland could devolve into the same situation plaguing San Francisco, with rising housing prices that displace its diverse current population, but so far that isn’t happening much. Oakland remains much more racially and economically diverse than San Francisco, particularly as it attracts San Francisco’s ethnically diverse residents.

“We’re not looking at a situation where the people moving into town are necessarily predominantly white,” Kaplan said. “We’re having large growth in quite a range of communities, including growing Ethiopian and Eritrean and Vietnamese populations…If you don’t want to live in a multicultural community, maybe Oakland’s not your cup of tea.”

According to the 2010 census, a language other than English is spoken at home in 40.2 percent of Oakland households, compared to 25.4 percent in San Francisco. “Almost every language in the world spoken in Oakland,” Kaplan said.

African Americans make up 28 percent of Oakland’s population, compared to only 6.1 percent in San Francisco, and 6.2 percent of the population of California. In San Francisco, the number of black-owned businesses is dismal at 2.7 percent, compared to 4 percent statewide and 13.7 percent in Oakland. The census also finds that 25.4 percent Oaklanders are people of Latino origin, compared to San Francisco at 15.1 percent and 37.6 percent statewide. San Francisco is 33.3 percent Asian, compared to Oakland at 16.8 percent and all of California at 13 percent.

Both cities are less white than California as a whole; the state’s white population is 57.6 percent, compared to 34 percent in Oakland and 48.5 percent in San Francisco.

Gentrification shows its face differently depending on the neighborhood. Some say Rockridge, a trendy Oakland neighborhood where prices have recently increased, has gone too far down the path.

“Rockridge has been ‘in’ for a long time, but the prices are staggering and it isn’t as interesting any more,” Barbara Hendrickson, an East Bay real estate agent, told us.

The nationwide foreclosure crisis didn’t spare Oakland and may have sped up its gentrification process. “The neighborhoods are being gentrified by people who buy foreclosures and turn them into sweet remolded homes,” observed Hendrickson.

Yet Kaplan said many of these houses simply remain vacant, driving down values for surrounding properties and destabilizing the community. “I think we need a policy where the county doesn’t process a foreclosure until the bank has proven that they own the note,” said Kaplan, who mentioned that the city has had some success using blight ordinances to hold banks accountable for the empty buildings.

And as if San Francisco didn’t have enough challenges, Kaplan also noted another undeniable advantage: the weather. “The weather is really quite something,” she said. “I have days with a meeting in San Francisco and I always have to remember to bring completely different clothing. Part of why I wanted to live in California was to be able to spend more time outdoors, be healthy, bicycle, things like that. So that’s pretty easy to do over here in Oakland.”

Heading East: The flight from San Francisco


EDITORIAL There is no simple free-market solution to gentrification and displacement. There’s no way a crowded city like San Francisco can simply rely on the forces of supply and demand to protect vulnerable populations. And there’s no way the city’s flawed housing policy can prevent the loss of thousands of San Franciscans — particularly young, creative people who help keep a city lively — from fleeing to a town where they can actually afford the rent.

Richard Florida, the famous social and economic theorist who coined the term “creative class” argues that artists and writers and geeks and musicians are the forces that drive modern economies. His pioneering 2002 essay in the Washington Monthly was titled “Why cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race.”

Florida’s something of an elitist and he ignores the contributions that tens of thousands of others (including retired people, union members and nonprofit workers) make a community. He idolizes tech culture and often ignores issues like class and race.

But he’s got a point: Nobody who’s doing anything cool wants to live in a city where everyone is rich and everything is clean and boring. And that’s the danger San Francisco faces.

Just go over to Oakland for a few days and talk to all the people who were once part of this city’s cultural scene. They’ll tell you what anyone with any sense knows: You don’t attract creative people to a city by giving out tax breaks for corporations and building fancy office space. The rock bands that Florida talks about aren’t going to stay in a city because it has high-end jobs for people with advanced degrees. Artists need a place where they can afford the rent.

San Francisco is still a great urban center, by any possible standard, and has all the qualities of diversity, openness, energy, politics and fun that have made generations of immigrants from all over the world want to make it their home. But at a certain point, housing becomes more important than all of the other development issues that local government can address.

Take Andy Duvall, a musician we interviewed who was part of San Francisco for 15 years before he was literally priced out of town. For half of what he was paying in the Mission, Duvall has more than twice the space in Oakland — and the situation is just getting worse. While most of the country is still mired in a deep housing slump (and parts of San Francisco are facing a foreclosure crisis), rents in this town are soaring, beyond the affordability of almost anyone who currently lives here. According to the city’s own statistics, only about 10 percent of San Franciscans can afford the rent on a median market-rate apartment. That means if they’re evicted or lose their homes, they have to leave town.

The supervisors held a hearing April 9 on affordable housing, and the message was profound: “Affordable housing preserves the neighborhood in more ways than one; residents are the foundation on which the economy is built. From any angle, if we can’t afford to live here, there is no city,” observed Val Sinckler, a Western Addition resident.

But while the mayor is working to attract companies that will pay high-end salaries to people who can afford to pay far more rent than the average San Franciscan, he’s a long way from coming up with the money to even begin to mitigate the problem.

An effective policy to preserve San Francisco requires strict regulation (to prevent evictions and displacement), a mandate that commercial developers build housing for their workforce and that residential developers meet the needs of low- and moderate-income residents — and a large investment of public money in affordable housing. If Lee isn’t willing to talk serious about those three crucial elements, then he’s presiding over the decline of one of the world’s coolest cities.