Volume 46 Number 34




MUSIC Pavement. That’s all I really associate with Stockton. Personally, I’ve only been there once, few weeks back on my way to Yosemite, and I just drove through — 205 to 120 — stopping once for gas. So pavement all the way. Yet, despite the lack of waves, it’s home to Surf Club, a sunny four-piece that’s recently released its debut EP, Young Love, on Death Party Records.

“It’s not that bad living in Stockton,” says guitarist Eddie Zepeda. “You make the best of it.” Zepeda barely finished this optimistic assessment before bassist Fonso Robles offers a conflicting view: “Uh, it’s pretty bad.” Earlier in the week, Robles had been pulled out of his car, in the middle of the day, and held up at gunpoint. Before taking off, the robber cautioned, “Don’t let me catch you slippin’,” a combined threat and unsolicited piece of street advice.

Early last year, Justin Vallesteros of Craft Spells moved his project from Stockton to Seattle (where he was born), citing the former city’s number one placement on Forbes Magazine’s 2011 list of “America’s Most Miserable Cities” among the reasons. Surf Club’s Frankie Soto, then guitarist for Craft Spells, stayed behind in his own hometown. “It wasn’t really a hard decision. It was Justin’s band, so I was just like go ahead, dude,” Soto says.

There doesn’t appear to be bad blood between the groups: “Justin still comes over and we all jam,” Zepeda says, and a few days after the interview I run into Soto and Robles at the Great American Music Hall, where Craft Spells is opening for the Drums.

Still, after the split, Soto tells me he spent a few months depressed in his room, trying to find his own sound. When he re-emerged it was with Zepeda and Robles, as well as drummer Jose Medina, who the rest of the group insists is its most talented member. “He’s probably the best drummer and guitarist in the band, and he doesn’t even play guitar for us,” Soto says.

With individual experience in a variety of other bands, the four switched around on instruments, trying to find the right configuration. Medina went from bass to drums, Soto took on vocals in addition to guitar, and Robles — in a Tina Weymouth move — started learning bass from the beginning.

When the band first started coming together, Zepeda had been listening to a lot of surf rock and Beach Boys. It’s certainly an influence on the sound of material released so far, but they didn’t set out or plan to be a Dick Dale revival band.

“I can’t even swim,” Soto says, in a moment of irony recalling Brian Wilson’s fear of the water. “Of all the band names, Surf Club just seemed the easiest to hear.” (Robles angled for Faucet Water, presumably in reference to Stockton’s E. coli contamination warning a couple years back, and Youth Wave was another aquatic option.) “I don’t consider us a surf band. It’s just pop, and that’s what we focus on for all of our songs,” Soto asserts.

True to its name, Young Love is full of open-hearted lyrics with youthful longing. In addition to vocal harmonies, the biggest surf aspect is the tidal wave tempo, where bouncy guitar rhythms get carried by the super tight drumming, speedy fill, and shifts in patterns that reveal Medina’s background in metal and jazz. Soto sings with a light voice, and comes off as a bit of a tender softy. “I guess I’m still kind of shy,” he explains, “I took choir in high school, but it’s still kind of weird being in front of everyone with them paying attention to what you’re saying.”

Barely in their twenties, friends since fifth grade, a band for less than a year, with less than a dozen shows performed so far, Surf Club is clearly still figuring out how to make it work.

As Zepeda puts it, “we’re pretty young, we really don’t have any money, and we all have bills to pay.” That’s the point where people might give you advice, besides slippin’ or not slippin’. When they played with the Soft Pack a couple months back, singer Matt Lamkin gave them some. “He was telling us to move out of Stockton,” Soto says. But ignoring that kind of advice has worked so far.

SF Popfest Day 2

With Surf Club, Kids On A Crime Spree, Manatee, Dead Angle, Cruel Summer

Sat/26, 4pm, $10


3223 Mission, SF

(415) 550-6994


Theater of the observed



THEATER Unmanned spy drones, electronic snooping, cyber warfare — why should the government have all the fun? In FWD: Life Gone Viral — the world premiere comedy by Jeri Lynn Cohen, David Ford, and Charlie Varon currently enjoying a sharply-performed, comfortably low-tech production at the Marsh — today’s social media and some of Big Brother’s latest gadgetry inspire two pairs of ex-spouses to high-falutin’ excess over the more banal of security issues. The outcome is a surprisingly thoughtful and consistently amusing collision between perennial complaints, whether mortal or marital, and the current runaway state of online exhibitionism.

The nexus of issues are staked out early and with droll precision, beginning in the direct address by an entrepreneurial Russian (Varon) with a heavy accent and a former career in the security state, who explains a little device he has on offer to the abjectly curious. It’s a mini-drone in the shape of a housefly, operable through your cell phone, ready to beam into the palm of your hand pictures and audio from, say, your upstairs neighbors — answering those nagging questions you’ve always had about them: “How do they live? With whom do they have the sexual?”

It’s not as far-fetched as the accent. This kind of technology is already around, more or less. So it’s all the easier to accept middle-aged, terminally ill Donald Saperstein (Varon) getting to be the proverbial fly on the wall of his ex-wife’s medical practice. It’s a cozy arrangement for the rather megalomaniacal Saperstein, who seems to prefer one-way communication. He’s recently caught fire on YouTube, intoning his thoughts on dying to other cancer sufferers spread over the infinite expanse of cyberspace, while his ex-wife, oncologist Dr. Lillian Steinberg (a considerate, somewhat prim Cohen), toils away in a bland office. And offices are where director David Ford sets most of the action, sandwiched between parallel planes of dull carpet and off-white ceiling panels.

But Saperstein ends up having to share the wall with another fly, and another customer, named Ellen Green (a suddenly brash Cohen sporting a New York accent), who’s purchased the same gizmo to spy on her ex-husband, patient Adam Roth (Varon, bowed and anxious but with a pent-up exuberance). (As spy-flies Ellen and Donald, Cohen and Varon tuck their elbows in, jut their arms out and shake their jazz hands to indicate their droning drones’ airborne path through physical space.) Ellen is there to get her schadenfreude firsthand. Their unexpected encounter in cyberspace plays like a scene out of William Gibson, if Gibson wrote for 30 Rock. Meanwhile, their targets confer with what remains of patient confidentiality. It seems Roth is not dying after all, a matter of a mix-up in the records department: it’s another Adam Roth who has cancer.

The new lease on life gives Roth the hots for his doctor, who responds with cautious enthusiasm to his advances. But she’s deeply chagrined to learn he finds so much value in a certain YouTube video purporting to offer insight and aid to her patients while casting a veiled accusation in her own direction. Even the Mayo Clinic has seen fit to recommend her ex’s “Cancer of Blame” video. Roth, an amateur filmmaker with a taste for the classics and the ancient Athenian marketplace of ideas reborn in the internet, gallantly rises to her defense with a modest proposal: “Have you thought about reposting his video with your own subtitles?”

From this point, things get ugly, amid a rich vein of comical discourse and defensiveness around issues of privacy, revenge and pathological degrees of attention-seeking. The Russian spymaster, from his vantage, sees it all: “Soon we will have diseases of overexposure, diseases for which we still have no name.” It may be strange to say, but there’s something refreshing and affirming about a group of characters who, even in the face of their own mortality, can prove petty, vindictive assholes to each other. Our cyborg-selves end up pretty human after all.


Through June 10

Thu, 8pm; Sat, 8:30pm; Sun, 7pm, $20-$50

Marsh San Francisco

1062 Valencia, SF

(415) 282-3055



Bullet blender


Max Payne 3

(Rockstar Games/Take-Two Interactive)

Xbox 360, PS3, PC

GAMER There will be fans who complain that Rockstar Games doesn’t “get” Max Payne. Remedy Entertainment, a Finnish developer that has since moved on to the Alan Wake franchise, developed the action-noir series’ first two titles, and Rockstar picked up the ball in much the same way they revived Red Dead a few years back. The truth is there may be no company better suited to reimagining Max Payne; Rockstar and Remedy share a fascination and fetishization with the old cop movies, comic books, and cinematic style that inspired the series.

After the deaths of his wife and child in the first game, Max has given up. Holed up in a dingy bar in Jersey, he’s drinking himself to death when an old police academy buddy suggests private security work in São Paulo, Brazil. The suntanned change of scenery is pleasant, and the authentic music, un-subtitled Portuguese and po-faced grime of the dangerous favelas is typical Rockstar distillation of what makes Brazil “cool” to outsiders.

The wife of a wealthy aristocrat is kidnapped, and Max sets out to retrieve her from the corrupt cops and drug lords of Sao Paolo’s streets and slums. It’s got a Man on Fire (2004) vibe, one the developers encourage by incorporating Tony Scott-esque editing tricks like double exposures and scrolling key words of dialogue across the screen as characters speak them.

If one element will divide old fans from new, it’s a certain self-seriousness, something scoffed at by the original Max Payne. There’s a joke about gaming in the aughts and how every developer seemed to turn their protagonist into alcoholic, bearded scumbags, but at least Max embodies these traits thematically. The game’s grizzled noir clichés aren’t overtly tongue-in-cheek and aside from some superficial commentary about the divide between rich and poor in a predominately poor city, this is a game about slow-motion bullets and it’s hard to take too seriously.

Max Payne invented “bullet time” gaming, where the game world slows down as you dive through the air, picking off multiple enemies in slow-motion, and the mechanics haven’t changed. Basically, (1) keep moving, (2) keep shooting, and (3) kill thousands of people. Level design is inspired — though flashbacks to New York feel like a consolation to fans unhappy with the change of setting — and rock band HEALTH delivers a moody score that’s equal parts Jan Hammer and Japanese taiko drums.

There’s something quietly retro about a game that isn’t anything more than shooting a ton of bad guys. It’s a simple pleasure, and Max Payne 3 feeds that monster. But Rockstar Games aren’t known for “simple”; when they took over Red Dead Redemption they transformed a game about gunslinger showdowns into an epic open-world western. Part of me hoped for something revolutionary to happen here, and the final product looks quaint compared with the caliber of Rockstar’s past releases, but there’s no denying Max Payne 3 is a uniquely stylish take on Latin American crime.

Outer Mission opposition



HERBWISE Most medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco are clustered around the central part of the city, with the heaviest concentration in SoMa, leaving patients in many outlying parts of the city — such as the Outer Mission and Excelsior districts — with long journeys to visit a cannabis club.

That began to change in February when the Planning Commission approved permits for three new dispensaries to open in the Excelsior: venerable delivery service The Green Cross will open its first brick-and-mortar operation on the 4200 block of Mission, while Tree-Med and Mission Organics each won approval to locate on the 5200 block. All three clubs had been in development for years, delayed by a state case challenging new dispensaries that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

But Steve Currier, president of the Outer Mission Merchants and Residents Association, has appealed the building permit for the first of that trio of clubs to apply for one, Mission Organics, and he allegedly whipped up anti-pot hysteria in the neighborhood that included an April 21 protest march spanning the three dispensary sites.

David Goldman, a member of the city’s Medical Cannabis Task Force, said the Feb. 16 appeal hearing and April 21 demonstration — which he said also included supervisorial candidate Leon Chow — were marked by inaccurate statements that dispensaries attract crime and are harmful to children, even though all three dispensaries are more than 1,000 feet from schools.

“People who are ignorant assume we’re all a bunch of hoodlums or stoners looking to get high,” Goldman said. “We want them to realize that dispensaries don’t bring crime to neighborhood. If anything, it’s the opposite,” he said, citing the value of people, video cameras, and security guards on the street as a crime deterrent, particularly on blocks with vacant storefronts, as is the case with these blocks.

Neither Currier nor Chow returned Guardian calls or emails. Attorney Dorji Roberts, who represents Mission Organics owners Eugene Popok and Mike Mekk, said that he’s also had a hard time reaching project opponents to address their concerns before a Board of Permit Appeals hearing set for June 20.

“We’ve asked them for a meeting recently, but he won’t respond and he can’t articulate any real reasons why he has a problem with it,” Roberts said of Currier and his group.

Roberts said that Popok had attended meetings of the OMMRA to try to integrate into the group and address any concerns it might have, but they were surprised when the project got appealed after being approved 5-2 at the Planning Commission (Tree-Med’s vote was also 5-2, while The Green Cross won unanimous approval), where they saw their first hints of opposition.

“They’re saying it will be a density issue, even though no clubs are out there now,” Roberts said. “They say it will increase crime, which also isn’t true…It’s the same kind of fears and phobias that are offered by people who just don’t like [medical marijuana or its legality].”

Goldman, who had people monitoring the April 21 protest march, said the group would praise businesses along the way while condemning the dispensaries, as one point chanting, “Liquor stores, yes, pot stores, no,” a dichotomy he considers telling of the kind of moralism driving the appeal.

“Fundamentally,” he said, “it’s an attack on patients.”


Far from heaven



FILM Austrian writer-director Michael Glawogger’s narrative features include several comedies, which you wouldn’t necessarily guess from viewing his internationally better-known documentaries — in particular the “globalization trilogy” that began with 1998’s Megacities and continued with 2005’s Workingman’s Death. The first was a global survey of desperate lives on economic bottom-rung, from heroin-addicted NYC con artists to homeless Moscow beggars to sewer scavengers, slaughterhouse laborers, extensively pawed strippers, and so forth. The second was another look at modes of survival no one would choose, if they had a choice, from tapped-out Ukrainian coal mines to abandoned freight ships that Pakistanis risk their lives mining for scrap.

Constantly drawn to the ugly and wince-producing, these films nonetheless had a certain abstract grandeur wrought from cinematographer Wolfgang Thaler’s striking images and the director’s purist refrain from any external commentary. They were also criticized in some circles for questionably staged sequences, and for creating a sort of pornocopia of picturesque suffering halfway between Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and Mondo Cane (1962).

Now Glawogger and Thaler are back with their final panel in the series. The two-hour Whores’ Glory is itself a triptych, this time limiting itself to one profession — the world’s proverbial oldest — as it portrays life and business in three prostitution districts around the world. The services performed may (or may not) be the same, but the ways of conducting trade, and the attitudes toward it, are very different.

In Bangkok’s upscale enterprise “Fishtank,” the invariably young, slim women sit behind a glass partition to be checked out by customers until their number is called; the very non-PC comments uttered on either side go unheard on the other. Employees clock-punch in and out of work, have their own on site beauty parlor, and shrug “A job is a job.” Indeed, they seem more like unusually good-looking office temps than anything else, and are treated as such in an atmosphere of well-scrubbed corporate capitalism.

Faridpur, Bangladesh’s “City of Joy” area, by contrast, is a slum whose professional denizens are quarrelsome, foul-mouthed, high-drama, and often look well underage. Though primly clad by Western standards, they labor under a heavy societal mantle of shame — several we meet arrived here after being “driven out” of multiple prior locations. Others were sold by their impoverished families into one-year contractual obligations that one suspects will drag on much longer. “The crazy girl” is forever wailing, older women hector younger ones, a lot of raunchy talk is heard (“I tell them Allah didn’t create my mouth for that purpose” is the least of it), and johns flee the camera.

One exception is a junior barber who talks about coming here once or twice a day, and says that if prostitutes didn’t exist, horny men would assault “respectable women” on the streets. Therein lies the trouble, of course: the notion that sex (good sex at least) is never respectable, or that men can’t be expected to restrain themselves when faced with that massive cock-tease comprising 51 percent of humanity.

Finally, “La Zona” in Reynosa, Mexico is home to older, hardened, philosophical women as frank as their cheerfully horny customers. It’s a falling-down-drunk party scene in which one customer allows himself to be filmed in the act, while a retired sex worker describes a particular specialty she used to perform with an ice cube (“They bleat like goats”). The men curse and complement the women in the same breaths, Madonna-whore complex operating at maximum speed; one guy cruising around in a truck works himself into such a froth just discussing the local talent that you wonder if he’ll dirty-talk himself to climax. Yet there’s a forlorn quality to it all — even when a pro proclaims “I’m paid for it, I enjoy it. I’m paid to have fun,” the surroundings suggest she’s making the best of a deal that didn’t come with any better alternatives.

As usual Glawogger allows no overt commentary or judgment in another immaculately packaged object d’verite, this one sometimes a little too chicly scored to chill room tracks by CocoRosie, PJ Harvey, and such. More than its predecessors, though, Whores’ Glory could have used a little editorializing, or at least contextualizing. Is it even desirable to artfully yet passive observe this of all trades, so frequently rife with exploitation and complex moral issues? Raising myriad questions it’s too aesthetically clean to hazard addressing, the film becomes less an inquiry into than a scrapbook of prostitution ’round the world — a duty- (as well as STD-) free form of sex tourism for anthropologically inclined First Worlders. *


WHORES’ GLORY opens Fri/25 in Bay Area theaters.

Whorls away



CHEAP EATS Way out in the water.

A severed head, a small treasure in gold, or drugs, my own death, fish, a baby in a basket, the murder weapon, the meaning of life, peace and quiet, a clue .. . A long time ago, when I was fearless, I swam toward something. That’s how curious I was. It could have been anything, but I had to know.

Now, I can float. I like to think I can float.

Then, I was a pretty good swimmer. I could swim, see me swimming?

My people on the shore, Moonpie, Baby Rae, and Moonpie’s now resting-in-peace sister, Sweetpee … they didn’t know where I was going, because the fearless don’t always say.

They watched. They worried. And they must have seen what I was seeing — this bobbing thing, way out on the horizon.

As the ocean floor sloped and sloped and sloped away from my kicking feet, they watched, helpless and wondering, and I suppose I got a rise out of this.

Good. Risings was what I needed then, maybe even more than treasure. What it was, though, that I risked my ass for all those years ago, was an Igloo cooler with a half a loaf of sliced white bread in it, an open package of lunch meat, and mustard. Or in other words: sandwiches.

I risked my life for sandwiches!

And I don’t even particularly like sandwiches, I thought, watching a matzoh ball bob in my bowl of matzoh ball soup. That is so David Copperfield.

And these were some hard-earned matzoh balls. Not only because Soup Freaks is off my beaten path (unless I happen to be BARTing to a ballgame), but also because the matzoh gods were not looking out for me, on this particular day.

“Matzoh ball soup!” I said.

And the serverwomanperson digged and dug and couldn’t find hardly no matzoh balls in that there silver thingie of soup. Just one, and some broken off pieces of a couple others.

“Hold on a second,” she said, stepping away from the counter and returning, many months later, with a bag of frozen ones. At least they looked like they were frozen.

At least it seemed like many months.

Anyway, she was fixing to pour them into the vat when, apparently, a thought occurred to her: Did I want to wait for them to warm up, or…

“I’ll just take it as is,” I said, and that was how I wound up with a bowl of matzoh ball soup without hardly any matzoh balls in it. My fault, let the record show.

Theirs: to compensate, probably, they gave me three big pieces of bread — which seemed pretty generous, but I would have rather had a bigger bowl of soup with more things in it. I mean, classically, matzoh ball soup is not the most populated bowl of soup in the world, but, really? No carrots? No celery?

What little chicken there was was really not very good. It was peppered, and dry. Very dry. And there’s nothing worse than dry chicken in soup. Well, except maybe dry chicken outside of soup.

So I’m afraid I’m going to have to break with tradition here and declare Soup Freaks “just another restaurant.”

Not my new favorite.

David Copperfield, on the other hand. On the other hand, the Pixies. I haven’t read or listened to it or them in quite a while, respectively; but at times like these, when everything starts going wrong and doesn’t seem to want to right itself, we will grab at books and songs, if not straws.

If not drinks.

If not lunch itself.

See me swimming? Between waves, a mile from shore … the skinny girl, kicking frantically, breathing hard, and holding on for dear buoyancy to flotsam, jetsam, to little coolers full of someone else’s sandwiches. That’s me.


Mon.-Fri. 7am-8pm; Sat.-Sun. 10am-6pm

667 Mission St., SF

(415) 543-7687


No alcohol


New cocktails now



APPETITE Wet your whistle: Here are a handful of spots in Berkeley, Sausalito, Union Square, and Hayes Valley with new drinks to put on your warm weather radar — and accompanying bites to go with.



Downtown Berkeley has never overwhelmed with excellent dining options, much as I’ve combed restaurants within the BART vicinity over the years. Gather (www.gatherrestaurant.com) is my top recommend in the area, but Oaxacan newcomer Comal promises to be a favorite. It’s owned by the former manager of the band Phish with executive chef Matt Gandin, formerly chef de cuisine at Delfina, running the kitchen. The hook for drink lovers is a cocktail menu created by the Bon Vivants (www.bonvivants-sf.com), Josh Harris and Scott Baird. I went on opening night, May 5, and no surprise from that expert bartending crew: each drink tried was a winner, featuring South of the Border spirits from tequila to mezcal.

Jack Satan ($9) is not remotely evil. Despite a tinge of heat from the “infierno tincture,” the whole effect is tart loveliness with Tres Agaves Reposado, hibiscus syrup, lime, and salt. Another immediate standout is a Black Daiquiri ($10) mixing Pampero Aniversario Rum, Averna, lime, sugar, and Chiapan coffee tincture. Tart, bitter, sweet and robust, coffee notes do not dominate but add a hint of earth and body. Mexican classics like the Paloma get the Vivants treatment — the Palomaesque ($9) which substitutes Don Amado Rustico Mezcal for tequila, ups the bitterness ante with Cocchi Americano alongside grapefruit, and rounds it all out with lime, honey, salt, soda.

Oaxacan food, one of my great cravings (mole!), is the other great draw here in the open, modern space and appealing back patio. Of initial dishes tried, duck mole coloradito (a red mole sauce) enchiladas ($14) already had me jonesing for a return. Duck mole and a little Jack Satan? Sins worth committing.

2020 Shattuck Ave., Berk. (510) 926-6300, www.comalberkeley.com



TV chef and cookbook author Joanne Weir showcases her love of tequila — and recipes from her Tequila — at Copita, Sausalito’s spanking new Mexican restaurant with sidewalk seating, open air setting, and rotisserie chicken, all a stone’s throw from the shimmering Bay. Still working out opening kinks since opening a couple weeks ago, two visits have allowed me to work my way through the entire cocktail menu and enjoyable flights (try the $20 Highlands Reposado flight: Siete Leguas, Ocho, Excellia reposados) with shots of house sangrita: tomato, pineapple, cucumber, orange, celery, ancho chile, lime.

There are cocktails like Joanne’s favorite — one I love to make at home — the Prado: Corazon blanco tequila, Luxardo maraschino liquor, lime, egg white. Fun is the spicy and smoky “Raspado”: Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal, tamarind, with a chile-salt rim hit spicy, smoky and sweet simultaneously. Add anejo to your Oaxacan chocolate milkshake ($6), and don’t miss the restaurant’s most heartwarming bite thus far: Mexico City-style quesadillas ($8), fried and filled with Yukon gold potatoes, a savory, excellent house chorizo and queso fresco with crema on top.

739 Bridgeway, Sausalito. (415) 331-7400, www.copitarestaurant.com



Grand Cafe hasn’t been the obvious place for a quality cocktail, but with new bar manager Kristin Almy on board, there’s a stronger focus on cocktails at the Hotel Monaco bar than ever before. In keeping with the restaurant, French influence resounds with cocktail names like Bardot and St. Tropez. Most drinks dwell on the softer side: fizzy, layered, delicate, though a light Napoleon’s Dynamite ($9) is a fine intro for those who don’t think they’re whiskey drinkers: Bulleit Rye, Dubbonet Rouge, lemon, and grapefruit bitters go down all too easy.

Merci ($8) is an elegant, dry aperitif ideal for afternoon or pre-dinner sipping and light on alcohol: Noilly Prat dry vermouth, sparkling wine (prosecco), and Almy’s house blackberry liqueur. A lovely Three Musicians ($9) is subtly soft, infusing tequila with piquillo peppers, mixing cucumber and lime, topping the drink with Lillet foam. Though ideally I’d like a stronger kick of heat and boldness, I see the dilemma at the Monaco: appealing to tourists and locals alike. This menu challenges the inexperienced palate with an approachable, playful whisper. Add on a round of braised ground octopus flatbread ($14) and it’s a happy hour.

501 Geary, (415) 292-0101, www.grandcafe-sf.com



With recently updated cocktail menu from former bar manager Jeff Hollinger, who went on to open Comstock Saloon (www.comstocksaloon.com) in 2010, classic stalwart Absinthe offers new drinks. If you like it sweet, but a little tart and smoky to keep things interesting, try the Sol Y Fuego, as I recently did. Bartending charmer Raoul mixed a kumquat shrub with nutty-spiced Velvet Falernum, lemon, bitters and a base of Don Amado mezcal. Savor it with fat garlic pretzel sticks dipped in fondue-like Vermont cheddar mornay. Don’t forget to finish with Absinthe’s house specialty: a flaming, cinnamon-laced Spanish coffee. Worth the spectacle alone.

398 Hayes, (415) 551-1590, www.absinthe.com

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C’est si bon



THEATER You could call them a pair of crazy kids with a dream. But two years after Playwrights Foundation executive director Amy Mueller was introduced to Ivan Bertoux, Deputy Cultural Attaché of the French Consulate by Rob Melrose, artistic director of Cutting Ball Theater, their vision of cross-pollinating their respective communities with newly translated theater pieces from either side of the Atlantic has become a reality.

Originating from a desire shared by Bertoux and co-attaché Denis Bisson to expose American theater-goers to hitherto untranslated works by young, contemporary French playwrights, a unique festival called “Des Voix … Found in Translation” has emerged. It involves an elaborate synthesis of dozens of playwrights, readers, translators, and theater-makers whose primary common ground has been the desire to forge something new.

For Bertoux, the opportunity to help facilitate the presentation of French drama to the American stage is more than just his job description — it’s a project that speaks deeply to his background. A former translator of British drama to French at the Maison Antoine Vitez (a center for theater translation in Paris), Bertoux’s personal passion for theater has found new expression with Des Voix. And Mueller, a veteran and mainstay of the new-play development scene in San Francisco, is excited by the prospect of helping to introduce fresh theatrical voices from abroad, voices all too absent from the American stage.

“Americans are still very interested in their own stories,” she points out. “We want to immerse ourselves in stories about ourselves.” But taking a page from New York’s Lark Play Development Center’s Playwright Exchange Program, she and Bertoux began reaching out to playwrights and translators, French and American both, in order to facilitate an even exchange. The resultant three-pronged festival includes a first-ever San Francisco version of a “Bal Littéraire,” a weekend of staged readings of the newly translated French plays at Z Space — and a similar staging scheduled for Paris in 2013, for the three American playwrights.

The selected Americans — Rajiv Joseph, Marcus Gardley, and Liz Duffy Adams — are all familiar names to Bay Area audiences, and all share a connection to the Playwrights Foundation in their past artistic development. But it’s the names Samuel Gallet, Marion Aubert, and Nathalie Fillion that the Des Voix festival founders hope to propel into the collective theatrical consciousness of the English-speaking world. What the three French playwrights have in common, besides having been nominated for consideration by the Maison Antoine Vitez, is membership in La Coopérative d’Ecriture, a loose confederation of French playwrights whose ranks also include Fabrice Melquiot (who was introduced to the American stage by SF’s foolsFURY).

Creators of the Bal Littéraire, a “pop-up” style of theater performance that uses the participating playwrights’ favorite songs as a jumping off point and culminates in an off-the-cuff, one-night-only experiment in collaborative playmaking (the San Francisco version of which will debut Fri/25), one of La Coopérative d’Ecriture’s goals is dissolving barriers between theater-makers and their audiences, including the barrier of language.

“We would transform our words into many foreign languages, so that they would come back like boomerangs,” promises their official manifesto, as translated by Bertoux.

Parrying with these boomerangs was the job of the translators, whose task was preserving the essential “Frenchness” of each piece while rendering them accessible to American audiences. Stylistically and thematically each play encompasses a singular vision and voice, but all are characterized by their particularly expressive uses of language. Bertoux and Mueller both cite festival participant Aubert as an exemplar of a playwright for whom the language itself is the primary dramatic element.

“The characters and the story are consequences of the language,” opines Bertoux. Kimberley Jannarone, who co-translated (with Erik Butler) Aubert’s Orgueil, Poursuite et Décapitation (Pride, Pursuit, and Decapitation) for Des Voix, concurs with this assessment. During a visit to the exhaustive, month-long, Festival d’Avignon, Jannarone became aware of the current emphasis on language-driven drama in modern-day France.

“Words were driving the theatrical action — they were the action,” she reflects via email. “The saying of words, the savoring of words, the relish in words, even the reflection on the delivery of words and the inability to stop them.” A chance encounter with another Aubert play at the Théâtre du peuple, in Bussang, cemented her desire to translate Pride.

“There were those words, flying all over the stage, accompanied by an exuberant theatricality impossible to put into stage directions,” Jannarone recalls. “Toy horses’ heads, leaping taxidermied animals, childishly scrawled backdrops, goofy set pieces, flying actors, barn doors swinging open into the countryside — it was nonstop action, all propelled by Aubert’s long columns of words.”

For Melrose, the challenge of translating the “heightened poetic, artfully unnatural” language of Gallet’s Communiqué N°10 lay in accurately decoding its raucous slang while preserving the air of non-naturalism encountered throughout. He was also struck by its disquieting parallels to the Trayvon Martin tragedy, a theme bound to resonate with American audiences.

One of the most interesting results of this still-untested festival is the response it’s already received from the international community. A second Des Voix festival is already in the planning stages, and Playwrights Foundation has been approached by the consulates of several other countries for consideration of similar translation projects. If all goes well, it’s heady to envision the Des Voix festival as a catalyst for a future in which San Francisco holds a reputation for being a flourishing center of contemporary theater translation, a vision that Mueller shares.

“This is just the beginning,” she promises.


Fri/25-Sun/27, $20-$75

Z Space

450 Florida, SF


To Yelp at City Hall


By Anne Stuhldreher

OPINION If you attended any of the oodles of mayoral debates during last fall’s election, you surely heard every candidate say two things: One, that they’d make city government more accountable to San Franciscans — and two, that they’d harness technology to make city services better.

Now that Mayor Ed Lee is settled into office, there’s an easy and affordable way he can make good on this promise. It would give a megaphone to San Franciscans fed up (or delighted) with city services, letting them tell City Hall — and each other — what is and isn’t working with their tax dollars. It would amplify consumer power, increasing the responsiveness the public sector the way it has the private one.

San Francisco should be the first city to list all municipal services on one of the existing user-review websites that thousands of San Franciscans already rely on to critique restaurants, drycleaners, and auto repair shops. City Hall leaders would encourage all San Franciscans to get online and post reviews, to tell them what happens when they apply for a business license or send their kids to a city camp. Yelp and Citysearch are two user review sites that San Franciscans use right now.

This wouldn’t have a big price tag. Lee would simply mandate that every city service include a prominent icon on its web site asking users to “rate them” on the site. At every window and desk where public servants serve San Franciscans, there’d be a sign encouraging the public to share their experience on the site. Reviews on user review sites aren’t a feedback form sent to nowhere. People’s comments are seen by everyone.

Such open feedback has spurred thousands of businesses—from restaurants and retailers to doctors and dentists — to be more customer-focused and make better decisions with scarce resources.

Public servants and elected politicians are extremely keyed into public sentiment. They just often lack ways to gauge it. Feedback from public reviews would give them a clear picture of what successes they can tout and what problems they need to fix so they can benefit the most people and voters.

Imagine if you could look at online reviews before you went to apply for this permit or pay that fee. People would have written about good and bad times of day to go. They would have written about how much time it takes. They also would have written about which staff were friendly and which were rude.

I know I’d use it. I’d want to see what parks people think are good for toddlers and which ones are better for bigger kids. And what other parents think of different schools, camps, and pools. I’d also use it let the City know when I’ve called 311 three times to get an obscenity painted over in Dolores Park (that my kids walk by every day) but nothing has happened.

For inspiration, city leaders could look to the Family Independence Initiative, a coalition of working-class families in the Bay Area who grew frustrated after bad experiences with local programs. Nothing changed when the parents approached program leaders. So they set up an online rating system so parents could compare notes on services like childcare, job training, or after school-programs.

As decisions are made to dice up the shrinking budget pie to best serve San Franciscans, City Hall needs to hear from San Franciscans. Most city residents don’t have a lobbyist at city hall, but they have a lot to say.

Anne Stuhldreher is a Senior Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation

State of debate


On May 24, a panel of three Jewish activists and authors from the Bay Area will discuss the historical figures and ancestors that inspire their work today. The event was originally scheduled to take place at the Jewish Community Library, operated by the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), which is largely supported by the Jewish Community Federation (JCF, or “the Federation”).

Leaders at the BJE canceled the event in January after discussions about its content with organizers of the panel, who then found another venue: Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. That seemed like a harmless turn of events that has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least not directly.

But with the current state of discourse in the Bay Area’s Jewish community, just beneath the surface are complex dynamics that raise issues of censorship, bonds forged by religion, whether certain criticisms of Israel should be off-limits, and a battle for the hearts of minds of Jews in the diaspora.

Anti-war activist Rae Abileah has found herself at the middle of this battle. She is on the panel to discuss her great uncle Joseph Abileah, an Israeli pacifist who was charged and tried in 1949 after he refused to join the army as part of Israel’s mandatory military service.

Abileah is a member of Code Pink who is outspoken about her opposition to the Israeli occupation in Palestine. The panel is meant to discuss decades-old work, not the current state of affairs domestically or in Israel, but Abileah’s inclusion made it too political for some.

In March, the panelists — which also include Julie Gilgoff and Elaine Elinson — and event organizer Diana Scott wrote an open letter to the Jewish Community Library saying, “We find it particularly troubling that an act of censorship has occurred at the Library — an institution that it supposed to be a symbol of open thought in learning in the Jewish Community.”

David Waksberg, the director of the BJE who was instrumental in the decision-making process, said it was nothing of the sort. “We had very honest, productive, and respectful discussions about why the program wasn’t for us,” he told me.

The letter concludes: “We seek to make clear that Federation policies, designed to foster the appearance of Jewish solidarity by shutting down the vital exchange of ideas in the Jewish community, are divisive and intolerable. They are also ultimately ineffective in suppressing dissent, and, paradoxically, undermine the values and mission of some of our most cherished Jewish institutions.”

“The Jewish Community Federation didn’t tell us whether or not to do this program,” Waksberg insists. “They didn’t pressure us one way or another.”

The open letter also discusses funding guidelines, adopted in 2010 by the Federation. The guidelines restrict funding for events that “endorse the BDS (boycott-divestment-sanctions) movement or positions that undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel.”



The guidelines have meaning beyond these specific circumstances. They represent a conflict in what counts as diversity of opinion, what counts as dissent, and the incredibly loaded concept of “delegitimizing Israel.”

The guidelines were a response to a controversial 2009 screening of Rachel, a documentary on the life of Rachel Corrie, a 24-year-old who was killed when she stood in front of a bulldozer on its way to level a Palestinian home. The film was screened at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival followed by speaker Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother. The film-going crowd yelled and booed, and the Federation threatened to quit funding the festival.

The next year was declared by some Jewish leaders to be the Year of Civil Discourse. The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the self-described “central public affairs arm of the organized Bay Area Jewish Community,” organized a year of programming and discussion, with an aim to “elevate the level of discourse in the Jewish community when discussing Israel.” The J Weekly, the magazine of the Jewish Bay Area, reported that “[organizers] agree that the Year of Civil Discourse was a success,” though these organizers acknowledged their work was far from over.

Indeed, the controversies rage on. Two months before the Year of Civil Discourse officially ended Dec. 13, the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland canceled an exhibit, “A Child’s View from Gaza”, that would have showcased drawings by Palestinian children, after pressure from Jewish organizations.

The director of the JCRC, Doug Kahn, became a spokesperson against the exhibit, butting up against groups like the Middle East Children’s Alliance and Bend the Arc (formerly Progressive Jewish Alliance). In March, an event that would have featured author and journalist Peter Beinart lost support after the JCC of the East Bay learned that one of the event’s moderators was on the board of Bend the Arc. Add this panel to the mix, and the six months since the Year of Civil Discourse ended have proven how taboo topics like BDS and Israeli violence in Palestine remain volatile.

BDS in particular has emerged as an untouchable issue. The campaign is a result of a 2005 Palestinian call for boycott and divestment from Israeli companies, and economic sanctions on Israel. BDSmovement.net, which provides news and background information regarding BDS efforts, lists three goals to the protest: “Ending [Israel’s] occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

The campaign has seen effects worldwide. Abileah has organized to promote BDS, in particular working to get Bay Area stores to stop carrying Ahava, skin-care products made in what she calls an illegal Israeli settlement in Palestine.

The BDS campaign is “a tried and true nonviolent tactic to get the Israeli government to uphold international law,” Abileah told me. “We decided to be in solidarity.”

But some Jewish leaders feel BDS goes too far.

“The term delegitimizing Israel refers to the intent to eliminate the Jewish and democratic State of Israel by portraying it as an illegitimate nation,” Kahn wrote in an email. “The boycott/divestment/sanctions movement’s leadership has made clear that this is their ultimate agenda and one of the movement’s explicit objectives would achieve that aim resulting in a dire threat to nearly half of the world’s Jewish population that lives in Israel.”

BDS is mentioned several times in the Federation funding guidelines, and stands out as the only specific example of what it means to “undermine the legitimacy of the state of Israel.”



But organizations like the Federation and the JCRC aren’t the only ones interested in the path that Israel-Palestine discourse among Bay Area Jews takes. The Reut Institute, a think tank based in Tel Aviv, “has been committed to responding to the assault on Israel’s legitimacy since 2008,” according to the introduction to its 2011 report: “San Francisco as a Delegitimization Hub.”

The report ranks San Francisco and London among the “few global hubs of delegitimization.” It also warns of the dangers of San Francisco in particular as top-delegitimizing city, noting “the role of the San Francisco Bay Area as a generator and driver of broader trends, or as a hub of social experiments…What won’t pass in San Francisco won’t pass anywhere else, and what happens in San Francisco doesn’t stay in San Francisco.'”

San Francisco gets this attention from Reut because of dissent within its Jewish community, which the institute calls globally unparalleled. “While in London delegitimization is being promoted primarily by groups that are not part of the Jewish community…an increasing number of Jews in the San Francisco Bay Area have become ‘agnostic’ towards Israel, and are fueling the delegitimization campaign.”

The report’s authors, Reut’s “national security team,” do not spend much time explaining what “delegitimizing Israel” means. When it does, BDS again stands out as one of the only concrete examples. According to the report, in the Bay Area “the number of individuals who are willing to stand up for Israel is declining while others have been fueling the delegitimization campaign, many times unintentionally, by engaging in acts of delegitimization — namely, actions or campaigns framed by their initiators as a reaction to a specific Israeli policy, which in practice aim to undermine Israel’s political and moral foundations. Examples include support for the BDS movement and the 2010 Gaza Flotilla,” a protest in which ships full of supporters and cargo tried to make it to Palestinian land in violation of an Israeli embargo.

The report labels those looking to delegitimize Israel “extremists.” It warns, however, that those questioning Israel’s policies, when rebuked by its “tradition defenders,” may be swayed into trusting the extremists. It therefore advocates a “broad tent approach,” advising that Jews in the Bay Area initiate a “community-wide deliberation” with an “aim to…drive a wedge between the extremists and those who principally support the legitimacy of Israel’s existence regardless of policy agreements.”

It’s important, according to the report, to make sure that supporters of BDS are seen as “extremists.” The “broad tent” is supposed to contain all Jews, with a diversity of opinions — except those supporting BDS and other acts of “delegitimization.” In light of this goal, the report praises the Federation’s funding guidelines and the Year of Civil Discourse.

“Through the funding guidelines drafted by a JCRC-JCF Working Group…the San Francisco Bay Area has set the standard nationally as the first American Jewish community to develop guidelines delineating red lines that go hand-in-hand with the broad tent approach,” Reut reports. “Additionally, we regard the Year of Civil Discourse…led by the JCRC, as important best practices that could be emulated in other places.”



The Bay Area’s left-leaning Jewish organizations may be influential, but under such a hot spotlight, they tread carefully. Congregation Sha’ar Zahav is one such organization. Last year, the synagogue surveyed its members to test opinions on Israel.

“In general, the survey shows that we have a liberal left-leaning congregation,” said Terry Fletcher, a member of Sha’ar Zahav who now heads a committee created to follow up on the survey results. “People tend to blame, shall we say, both sides of the conflict, both Israelis and Palestinians, somewhat equally.”

Fletcher’s committee has organized events and discussions in the wake of the survey since January. “One idea was that we would start with something non-controversial,” Fletcher told me. “But we couldn’t think of anything that everyone on the committee considers non-controversial.”

The programming has featured discussions on evolving relationships with Israel and questioned their nuances. But Fletcher says they haven’t been able to venture into BDS territory.

“I would love it if we could get to a place where we could actually address that,” Fletcher reflected. “And we would want to do it from a balanced perspective. But it’s such an emotional issue.”

There are practical concerns as well. According to Fletcher, the Federation gives a small amount of funding for scholarships for Sha’ar Zahav’s religious school. The money that funded Fletcher’s committee’s programming came from Sha’ar Zahav’s general fund, when there was enough of it. She says that the committee is now operating without a budget due to tight finances. Even so, if the committee’s programming were to breech the Federation’s funding guidelines, it might put the program in jeopardy.

“To me, that’s what’s so problematic about these guidelines,” Fletcher said. “The guidelines are saying, if you want money from us, we have restrictions on what your organization can do. Even though our programming is not funded by the Federation, because it funds something completely unrelated, it could get cut.”

Fletcher also questions that paradigm of “delegitimizing Israel.”

“I think this is a term that people who defend Israel use to label people who criticize Israel in a certain way,” she said. “Many of us would answer that it’s Israel’s own policies that are delegitimizing Israel in the eyes of the world. I don’t find it a useful term.”

Sha’ar Zahav will be hosting the Reclaiming Jewish Activism panel. Davey Shlasko, a member of the congregation who helped facilitate the new arrangement, thinks the concern about Abileah’s associations were misplaced.

“I think it is unfortunate that the predicted objection to Rae’s other work was enough of a concern to cancel an event that is actually about drawing inspiration from our ancestors,” Shlasko told me via email.

But it’s in looking back at history that the panel acquires so much meaning. “It is safe to say that living in the United States, Jews have never been more empowered, safe, and connected to the community they live in,” mused one source, who wished to remain anonymous. “It is inevitable that with such success, the need to band together changed. The group identity changes. Sometimes it’s that fight, that need to rally together, that keeps the group intact.”

For Abileah, “the event will be Jewish activists talking about our ancestors.” She’s upset about the event’s cancellation, but not surprised.

“For a lot of Jewish people it can be challenging to speak out against this issue because you don’t know where your friends stand on this, or your synagogue or even your family,” she said. “There are a lot of people who we say are PEP: progressive except Palestine. My family and community have been supportive, but I’ve gotten hate mail and threats of violence.”

“It sounds like these Jewish institutions that are censoring have so much power, like they’re the mainstream Jewish voice. But I think the majority of Jewish Americans want a resolution to the conflict and are opposed to the occupation,” she said.

And how does she think Joseph Abileah would react to this situation? “I’d like to think that he would be shocked and hurt by it,” she said. “It’s sad to see so much fracture in the Jewish community over this issue.”

The battle of 8 Washington


More than 100 people showed up May 15 to testify on a condominium development that involves only 134 units, but has become a symbol of the failure of San Francisco’s housing policy.

I didn’t count every single speaker, but it’s fair to say sentiment was about 2-1 against the 8 Washington project. Seniors, tenant advocates, and neighbors spoke of the excessive size and bulk of the complex, the precedent of upzoning the waterfront for the first time in half a century, the loss of the Golden Gateway Swim and Tennis Club — and, more important, the principle of using public land to build the most expensive condos in San Francisco history.

Ted Gullicksen, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, calls it housing for the 1 percent, but it’s worse than that — it’s actually housing for the top half of the top half of the 1 percent, for the ultra-rich.

It is, even supervisors who voted in favor agreed, housing the city doesn’t need, catering to a population that doesn’t lack housing opportunities — and a project that puts the city even further out of compliance with its own affordable-housing goals.

And in the end, after more than seven hours of testimony, the board voted 8-3 in favor of the developer.

It was a defeat for progressive housing advocates and for Board President David Chiu — and it showed a schism on the board’s left flank that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. And it could also have significant implications for the fall supervisorial elections.

Sup. Jane Kim, usually an ally of Chiu, voted in favor of the project. Sup. Eric Mar, who almost always votes with the board’s left flank, supported it, too, as did Sup. Christina Olague, who is running for re-election in one of the city’s most progressive districts.

At the end of the night, only Sups. David Campos and John Avalos joined Chiu in attempting to derail 8 Washington.

The battle of 8 Washington isn’t over — the vote last week was to approve the environmental impact report and the conditional use permit, but the actual development agreement and rezoning of the site still requires board approval next month.

Both Mar and Olague said they were going to work with the developer to try to get the height and bulk of the 134-unit building reduced.

But a vote against the EIR or the CU would have killed the project, and the thumbs-up is a signal that opponents will have an upward struggle to change the minds of Olague, Kim, and Mar.



The 8 Washington project is one of a handful of defining votes that will happen over the next few months. The mayor’s proposal for a business tax reform that raises no new revenue, the budget, and the massive California Pacific Medical Center hospital project will force board members to take sides on controversial issues with heavy lobbying on both sides.

In fact, by some accounts, 8 Washington was a beneficiary of the much larger, more complicated — and frankly, more significant — CPMC development.

The building trades unions pushed furiously for 8 Washington, which isn’t surprising — the building trades tend to support almost anything that means jobs for their members and have often been in conflict with progressives over development. But the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union joined the building trades and lined up the San Francisco Labor Council behind the deal.

And for progressive supervisors who are up for re-election and need union support — Olague and Mar, for example — defying the Labor Council on this one was tough. “Labor came out strong for this, and I respect that,” Olague told me. “That was a huge factor for me.”

She also said she’s not thrilled with the deal — “nobody’s jumping up and down. This was a hard one” — but she thinks she can get the developer to pay more fees, particularly for parking.

Kim isn’t facing re-election for another two years, and she told me her vote was all about the $11 million in affordable housing money that the developer will provide to the city. “I looked at the alternatives and I didn’t see anything that would provide any housing money at all,” she said. The money is enough to build perhaps 25 units of low- and moderate-income housing, and that’s a larger percentage than any other developer has offered, she said.

Which is true — although the available figures suggest that Simon Snellgrove, the lead project sponsor, could pay a lot more and still make a whopping profit. And the Council of Community Housing Organizations, which represents the city’s nonprofit affordable housing developers, didn’t support the deal and expressed serious reservations about it.

Several sources close to the lobbying effort told me that the message for the swing-vote supervisors was that labor wanted them to approve at least one of the two construction-job-creating developments. Opposing both CPMC and 8 Washington would have infuriated the unions, but by signing off on this one, the vulnerable supervisors might get a pass on turning down CMPC.

That’s an odd deal for labor, since CPMC is 10 times the size of 8 Washington and will involve far more jobs. But the nurses and operating engineers have been fighting with the health-care giant and there’s little chance that labor will close ranks behind the current hospital deal.

Labor excepted, the hearing was a classic of grassroots against astroturf. Some of the people who showed up and sat in the front row with pro-8 Washington stickers on later told us they had been paid $100 each to attend. Members of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, to which Snellgrove has donated substantial amounts of money in the past, showed up to promote the project.



But the real action was behind the scenes.

Among those pushing hard for the project were Chinese Chamber of Commerce consultant Rose Pak and community organizer David Ho.

Pak’s support comes after Snellgrove spent years courting the increasingly powerful Chinatown activist, who played a leading role in the effort that got Ed Lee into the Mayor’s Office. Snellgrove has traveled to China with her — and will no doubt be coughing up some money for Pak’s efforts to rebuild Chinese Hospital.

Ho was all over City Hall and was taking the point on the lobbying efforts. Right around midnight, when the final vote was approaching, he entered the board chamber and followed one of Kim’s aides, Matthias Mormino, to the rail where Mormino delivered some documents to the supervisor. Several people who observed the incident told us Ho appeared to be talking Kim in an animated fashion.

Kim told me she didn’t actually speak to Ho at that point, although she’d talked to him at other times about the project, and that “nothing he could have said would have changed anything I did at that point anyway.” Matier and Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ho was heard outside afterward saying “don’t worry, she’s fine.”

Matier and Ross have twice mentioned that the project will benefit “Chinatown nonprofits,” but there’s nothing in any public development document to support that assertion.

Chiu told me that no Chinese community leaders called him to urge support for 8 Washington. The money that goes into the affordable housing fund could go to the Chinatown Community Development Corp., where Ho works, but it’s hardly automatic — that money will go into a city fund and can’t be earmarked for any neighborhood or organization.

CCDC director Norman Fong confirmed to me that CCDC wasn’t supporting the project. In fact, Cindy Wu, a CCDC staffer who serves on the city Planning Commission, voted against 8 Washington.

I couldn’t reach Ho to ask why he was working so hard on this deal. But one longtime political insider had a suggestion: “Sometimes it’s not about money, it’s about power. And if you want to have power, you need to win and prove you can win.”

Snellgrove will be sitting pretty if 8 Washington breaks ground. Since it’s a private deal (albeit in part on Port of San Francisco land) there’s no public record of how much money the developer stands to make. But Chiu pointed out during the meeting, and confirmed to me later by phone, that “there are only two data points we know.” One is that Snellgrow informed the Port that he expects to gross $470 million in revenue from selling the condos. The other is that construction costs are expected to come in at about $177 million. Even assuming $25 million in legal and other soft costs, that’s a huge profit margin.

And it suggests the he can well afford either to lower the heights — or, more important, to give the city a much sweeter benefits package. The affordable housing component could be tripled or quadrupled and Snellgrove’s development group would still realize far more return that even the most aggressive lenders demand.

Chiu said he’s disappointed but will continue working to improve the project. “While I was disappointed in the votes,” he said, “many of my colleagues expressed concerns about height, parking, and affordable housing fees that they can address in the upcoming project approvals.”

So what does this mean for the fall elections? It may not be a huge deal — the symbolism of 8 Washington is powerful, but if it’s built, it won’t, by itself, directly change the lives of people in Olague’s District 5 or Mar’s District 1. Certainly the vote on CPMC will have a larger, more lasting impact on the city. Labor’s support for Mar could be a huge factor, and his willingness to break with other progressives to give the building trades a favor could help him with money and organizing efforts. On the other hand, some of Olague’s opponents will use this to differentiate themselves from the incumbent. John Rizzo, who has been running in D5 for almost a year now, told me he strongly opposed 8 Washington. “It’s a clear-cut issue for me, the wrong project and a bad deal for the city.” London Breed, a challenger who is more conservative, told us: “I would not have supported this project,” she said, arguing that the zoning changes set a bad precedent for the waterfront. “There are so many reasons why it shouldn’t have happened,” she said. And while Mar is in a more centrist district, support from the left was critical in his last grassroots campaign. This won’t cost him votes against a more conservative opponent — but if it costs him enthusiasm, that could be just as bad.

The war on sunshine


EDITORIAL The Rules Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors joined the war on sunshine May 17 when it rejected four qualified candidates from three organizations who are mandated by the ordinance to choose representatives for the task force because of the organizations’ special open government credentials.

The representatives served as experienced, knowledgeable members who were independent counters to the nominees of supervisors who were often promoting an anti-sunshine agenda. The committee asked the organizations to come up with more names.

That was a nasty slap at members and organizations that have served the task force well for years. And this arbitrary demand will make it virtually impossible for these organizations to come up with a “list of candidates” to run the supervisorial gauntlet. Who wants to go before the supervisors on a list for a bout of public character assassination?

Specifically, the committee:

• Unanimously moved to sack the two incumbents (Allyson Washburn from the League of Women Voters) and Suzanne Manneh (New California Media). The League was mandated to name a representative because of its tradition and experience with good government and public access issues. New California Media was mandated to name a member to insure there would always be a journalist of color on the task force.

• Unanimously refused to seat two representatives from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the sponsor of the ordinance with a long tradition in open government and First Amendment issues. One SPJ mandated representative was for a journalist (Doug Comstock, editor of the West of Twin Peaks Observer, one of the best neighborhood papers in town and a former chair of the task force.) The second mandated seat was for an attorney (Ben Rosenfeld).

• Tried to knock out incumbent Bruce Wolfe on motion of member Mark Farrell, but Wolfe survived on a 2-l vote.

• Voted unanimously for four new persons to the task force while sacking and refusing to appoint able members with experience and expertise without a word of thanks.

Committee Member David Campos later told me that he went along because he could see he didn’t have the votes. He said the organization’s candidates “were eminently qualified,” that they should have been appointed, and that he would fight for them. He said he would ask the office of Jane Kim, who chairs the committee, to set the issue for hearing at the next rules meeting or call for a special meeting.

We asked Campos what the organizations should do. “They should stand by their candidates,” he said. We concur.

The Society of Professional Journalists, the League of Women Voters, and California New Media and their open government allies should stand by their candidates, lobby for them with the rules committee and the full board, and get out the word about this attempted coup in the most important court of all, the court of public opinion.

The Sunshine Task Force has annoyed some elected officials with its dogged efforts to promote open government. City Hall is already trying to find ways to undermine it. That needs to end, now.