Volume 46 Number 34
MUSIC Long black hair and ripped jean vests in the crowd, billowy hooded capes on the stage, DJs in jersey tanks and caps, and sea of flickering blue lit cell phones; there’s something spooky happening out there in Club Land, San Francisco. It’s almost as though the dark arts kids have discovered dance music.
Roll your eyes. Of course, that’s reductive. Goths and punks have long been venturing into dance clubs. Acts like Gang of Four, Liquid Liquid, and Siouxsie and the Banshees harnessed the power of beats, shooting rhythm directly into the noise decades ago. And then there was the dance-punk revival of the early 2000s, with LCD Soundsystem and its emblematic label DFA out front, and Black Eyes and Liars leading the weirder charge.
But lately in the city, there seems to be a handful of party curators gaining more recognition for throwing darkly experimental events, lining up unexpected live acts and multifaceted DJs, haunting visuals and thought-provoking participatory art. It’s a mix of live experiments, spooky glitches, punk-rap energy, and a particularly homegrown brand of San Francisco messiness. It’s been referred to as Tumblr culture, a grand, winking, sparkling, blood-soaked mix of references and cultures.
What’s more, these parties provide a space for those previously unassociated with fundamental club culture (i.e. have spent their lives hunkered down in venues and warehouses) with an entry point. Like all scenes, it can be difficult to break out of routine, but it seems almost rudimentary: bringing unconventional live bands to club nights draws in broader crowds.
Kevin Meenan, otherwise known as epicsauce, has witnessed this introduction in the first few months of his budding new party Push the Feeling. While he’s long covered nightlife and hosted live “one foot in the punk world, one foot in the dance world” events, he described this new endeavor as a handholding experience, convincing indie-garage-shoegaze centric friends to come out to a night in the electronic realm.
Maybe the rise of such experimental parties is thanks to the endless digital back catalogue of influences now available at the fingertips; it’s hard to say. But it’s fun and challenging, regardless. So is this the critical blog culture come alive?
SLEEP ONE NIGHT, RAVE THE NEXT
Marco De La Vega, another local figure in this experimental party-thrower culture, thinks so. He uses the same language to describe a recent party he threw, Public Access.
“To a large extent it was almost like a tongue-in-cheek mix-up of that old rave culture and like, the Tumblr culture that kind of exists now,” he explains. “This idea that every single person is, in their own right, constantly exposed and famous, and also in this really creepy, amazing, 10-second flashes of animated GIFs kind of way.”
While De La Vega works on other current monthly and twice-monthly events such as 120 Minutes and Future Perfect, April marked the very first installment of Public Access, which took place at Public Works in the Mission.
It’s a concept De La Vega says he’s been mulling over for years, an eclectic, visually minded show based around people generating their own content. He counted on a crew of some 10 to 20 friends and creative types to help reel in his fantasies, and help turn concepts in realities. In conversation, he repeatedly credits the same loose circle with co-organizing all the events on which he works.
At that first Public Access night, there were video screenings, and performance art, along with “forward-thinking drag queens” Dia Dear and Boy Child. Hype Williams, Gatekeeper, Teengirl Fantasy, and Total Accomplishment performed, as did DJs including frequent collaborator Dial Up, and De La Vega himself— who goes by the name S4NtA_MU3rTE. While very well attended (sold out, in fact) the Public Access night will only happen sporadically — when the exact right lineup can be formed.
120 Minutes (First Fridays, 9pm, $10–$15. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com), De La Vega’s longest-running current party has seen darkwave, chopped and screwed hip-hop, and grave rave acts such as Pictureplane, oOoOO, Light Asylum, Cold Cave, White Ring, Salem, and Tragik come through over the past year and a half. Next up, a likely-to-sell out show with field recording wunderkind producer Balam Acab.
Future Perfect (Second and Fourth Thursdays, 10pm, $10–$15, Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com), is another consistent party of his; it’s a collaborative effort with veteran rap promoter Gary Rivera (though again, all of De La Vega’s efforts take a village), which began at Monarch but now also takes place at Public Works.
“The idea on [Future Perfect] is similar to everything I work on,” De La Vega says, sucking down a bacon Bloody Mary at Pop’s on a sunny afternoon. “It’s basically the embodiment of this idea that there is such a huge cross-section between various musical genres, and particular production styles of music, so rap, electronic, anything ‘future based,’ he air quotes, “post-dubstep, post-anything. There’s this huge intersection between all these scenes that doesn’t actually have, strangely, its own outlet.”
It’s interesting that De Le Vega even got into throwing parties in the first place, given his back-story. He grew up a self-described record nerd who never went to clubs. He says he’s still not really a fan of clubs, which is hard to believe. “My issue with a lot of club nights is this idea that everything has to be something, or have a label, or be a scene,” he says.
He was raised in both Stockton and upstate New York, went to his first show at age 6 — Beastie Boys and Run-DMC with his two older sisters — and soon fell in love with radio pop (Prince) and gangster rap (Ghetto Boys).
After high school spent mulling around shows with the punk kids, he eventually moved back out west, this time to a loft in SOMA. While he stayed in most nights, his roommate went out and brought the parties back to the loft. This is when, as the drunken masses entered his shared space, a stoned De La Vega would spin his own music.
This lead to friends asking him to DJ their events, and eventually, his first foray into throwing parties: Suicide Club, at the Cat Club in 2003. It had dark vibes, beat-driven music, and a kiddie pool full of fake blood. The point was to pull in aspects of everything De La Vega loved.
“So for me, at the time, and I guess still, it was performance: performance art, music, the hardcore shows, experimental music shows. And the thing I loved but didn’t know what was happening with it, was dance music. I fucking adore dance music.”
The night did well, but De La Vega pulled the plug after eighth months, because of a turn of context. Suddenly, half the club would be filled with “jocks standing around just to watch chicks get naked and roll around in blood.”
While De La Vega stresses that he has no specific messages with his parties, he does believe in context, and he was no longer comfortable with the context in which these parties were playing out. He went back to DJing bars, mixing post-punk and gangster rap, and spending a lot of time freaking people out in pot clubs with five-hour long sets.
120 Minutes at Milk Bar in September of 2010 was his first return to throwing his own parties. The lights-lasers-sounds party quickly outgrew Milk, moved to its more permanent home at the Elbo Room and has remained a wildly popular event there ever since, playing, as oft-noted, mixes of Salem, Waka Flocka Flame, Dragged Out, Skinny Puppy, and Nicki Minaj.
“It’s an insanely amazing time for music. The breadth of widely available, quality work is wider than it has ever been, and this has changed the market drastically in the last decade… hell, in the last few years,” he says.
Adding, “Accessibility has lead to a larger common vernacular for artists to pull from, and in turn to a blurring of genre lines and a more relaxed take on the previously stringent rules that would guide the way a lot of musicians produced music and also how fans would consume it.”
De La Vega still DJs most of his own parties as S4NtA_MU3rTE, and has a mad scientist freedom to explore. He makes video files using the Serato program and uses turntables and vinyl as MIDI controllers, but also uses a program that combines live production program Ableton with Serato. He usually spins his own remixes, including a popular Waka Flocka Flame mix — he says every time he plays someone screams “Play Waka!” That, or Gucci Mane: “Any crowd, doesn’t matter the scene, they always freak out about Gucci Mane.”
Though he also taps into the bleaker stuff. He does all graphic design for the show posters he wheatpastes around the city, most frequently slick black affairs with crystallized white skulls. He agrees he has an overall darker vibe but not necessarily gothic.
“Goth doesn’t mean anything anymore and I feel like it gives the wrong vibe. But to some extent I come from that vibe. To me it implies the wrong things — Frankenstein boots, and multi-colored extensions — and that can be pulled off, it’s just not me.”
He breaks it down in the most understandable of terms toward the end of the warm afternoon at Pop’s: “I want to be able to go and watch [stoner metal act] Sleep one night and then go to a rave the next, and definitely still get backstage for the A$AP Rocky show.”
RIPPING OFF OPTIMO
It was a combination of influences that first got Kevin Meenan, a.k.a. epicsauce, interested in having his own e-list of local shows.
First, he was learning to use open source system Drupal, but more to the point, he found New York web list Oh My Rockness, on which he discovered SF-based act Tussle playing a show when he happened to be visiting a friend in New York.
The biggest inspiration however was long-standing punk and thrash e-list The List. “I have probably looked at it once a week, every week, since eighth grade,” he says. Spare and simple, The List is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, ongoing lists of Bay Area shows. Meenan, who now lives off Divisadero in SF, grew up in the Walnut Creek area, so he’s been going to local shows for quite some time.
He began epicsauce.com in 2007, a few years after he returned to the Bay. He’d gone to college in Boston and spent a year abroad in London, where he discovered club nights he actually wanted to go to. “epicsauce.com was supposed to be like The List,” he later adds, “but a little bit more inclusive of dance music and stuff I was just starting to get into it at that point.”
Now, five years and many remixes later, Meenan throws a free dance music-oriented party, Push the Feeling (Monthly, dates vary, 9pm, free with Facebook RSVP. Underground SF, 424 Haight, SF.), with high school BFF/roommate Andrew Marcogliese, a.k.a. YR SKULL. The Lower Haight event has thus far featured Magic Touch, Shock, Chucha Santamaria y Usted, and shortcircles, among other acts.
“I can safely say that there’s this [legendary ’90s-born party] in Scotland, that I’ve never been to called Optimo, and this is 100 percent me trying to rip off Optimo,” he says with an easy laugh. “In my mind they have the coolest shit, cross genres.”
Meenan also leans heavy on newish label 100% Silk, which describes itself as making “singles of diamond-life dance & bliss-disco & basement luxury grooves by friends and lovers from all over the world.”
He says the label has been pretty central to him exploring older house music.
Push the Feeling is shiny and new, and still figuring out its place, but it’s an interesting evolution for Meenan. “This is my first attempt at trying to do more traditional nights,” he says. With that said, the shows do have still have exuberant punk-energy of live music along with exciting DJs.
A DJ now himself, using Ableton Live, he’s been enjoying playing ’70s disco songs, then ’90s house covers and watching the crowd, or spinning Peech Boys’s ’81 track “Don’t Make Me Wait” followed by the ’87 remix “Don’t Make Me Jack” by Paris Grey. With those mentioned, he sings a few strains of each. “That’s one of the things that has really attracted me to dance music, you can cover 30 years of music history within a 20 minute period.”
While Push the Feeling may be one step in a particular, bass-heavy direction, it’s not like this is entirely foreign to Meenan. While he was doing the epicsauce.com list, which led to writing band profiles on SFist and other freelance writing work, he also was throwing his own near-weekly epicsauce.com presents parties at Milk.
The first show he ever did, February of 2009, included French Miami and Silian Rail. From there he booked a Neon Indian DJ set, Boys IV Men, Baths, Yacht — nearly all acts with some sort of electronic element, synth, or just straight up DJs.
After years spent tiptoeing the line between rock and electro, Meenan is very aware of the backlash against so-called “hipster house” — this calling out of relatively new bands and producers coming out of rock scenes, hinting at not fully appreciating the decades of dance music references that came before them.
He says he hopes he’s turned the page on that, as an obsessive music collector who spends weeks at a time studying one producer then said producer’s influences, but he also calls out the backlash as the prototypical hipper-than-thou refrain.
“I think there’s some validity to it, yeah there’s a lot of cool stuff that came before this, but I think it’s no different than the old man indie argument. This has been going on forever. I think this is true with any genre, and any form of music ever.”
SYNTH AS THE COMMON THREAD
Let’s get this out of the way, C.L.A.W.S. stands for “Can’t Live Anywhere Without Sandwiches.” Brian Hock says this with a small, proud smile from a tiny table in the Dogpatch Saloon.
It’s Hock’s minimalist, synth-driven solo project he’s been making music for since 2007. He’s also currently helping produce tracks for Group Rhoda, drumming for Bronze, and booking monthly experimental dance club-meets-live music night O.K. Hole (Third Saturdays, 9pm, $5. Amnesia, 853 Valencia, SF. www.amnesiathebar.com) at Amnesia.
The roster of acts that have played O.K. Hole in the past three years — the night began in 2009 — is impressive, if not wholly representative of this modern post-everything genre blurring. Of course Bronze and C.L.A.W.S have stopped in, but also Eats Tapes, Jonas Reinhardt, Magic Touch, Coconut, Royal Baths, Late Young, Soft Metals, Silk Flowers, Water Borders, and dozens more. They book live electronics, coldwave, techno, and synth-y house, Hock says. Synths are the common thread between most of the acts, he adds.
Hock has been a part of the Bay Area music scene for some 20 years, in various forms, and agrees that O.K. Hole is something of an amalgamation of his past two decades, all funneled into one party. Well, maybe not his first band.
He played in a crappy punk band at age 14 in San Mateo, hung out at the Gillman and listened to a lot of grindcore — Man is the Bastard, Spazz. He then moved on to playing in a synth-based heavy psychedelic act, followed by a dark new wave band called the Knives.
From the ashes of the Knives, rose the goth-y metal band the Vanishing, likely his best-known band from that mid-Aughts era. He and fellow member Jessie Evans moved to Berlin and toured Europe. This is when he also began focusing on DJing. “It made me a total techno asshole,” Hock laughs.
After the Vanishing broke up after a show in Vienna, Hock moved back to the states, to a warehouse on Third Street in the Dogpatch. It was there where he threw all-night, underground jams called Gentlemen’s Techno, which he describes as similar to O.K. Hole but more dancefloor-oriented. “It was the crappiest, jankiest sound system ever, like 14 different speakers thrown together on top of these like six-foot tall motor-driven subs that used to be Def Leppard’s.”
After Gentleman’s Techno was kaput, Hock started O.K. Hole, only it was a DJ night at Argus Lounge with a friend who soon left the Bay Area. Once she moved, O.K. Hole moved to Amnesia and began as a regular monthly with the help of Rob Spector also of Bronze, and Nathan Burazer from Tussle. The night typically hosts two to three live acts, and then DJs. “We just wanted to have a place to book friends, and stuff we like,” says Hock. “It’s not a money thing.”
Hock himself DJs the nights on two turntables, usually playing mixes of house and techno. The now-Oakland based musician-promoter has also been recently discovering newer parties in the East Bay — a techno party called Direct to Earth, and the abundance of underground punk and hardcore shows. He’s been around the block and back around again.
“[The Bay Area musical landscape] is always changing,” he notes. “There have been a lot of really fun eras here that are all completely different. A movement will come together, and there will be something around it for two to four year cycles, and then that’ll dissipate.”
Perhaps it really is all just fleeting. It’s better to dance tonight, and worry tomorrow about all that heady place-in-history stuff. Or maybe it’s worth taking a second look.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s just all seems so confusing — what is this? All this stuff I’m so obsessed with?” Hock asks with a sigh when his music history is noted. “But then it coalesces and it’s like yeah, I really love this.”
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
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.
FWD: LIFE GONE VIRAL
Through June 10
Thu, 8pm; Sat, 8:30pm; Sun, 7pm, $20-$50
Marsh San Francisco
1062 Valencia, SF
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.
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.”
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.
SUPER EGO Well, I’m off to the huge Movement: Detroit Electronic Music Festival this week, but first a stop in Chicago for the opening ceremonies of the International Mr. Leather competition — I certainly hope I don’t get them mixed up!
You know I’m lying about mixing them up, I’ll just dress for a massive outdoor techno festival and a giant leather fetish convention to cover my bases. Rave chaps are totally back, as is twirling flaming leather flag dildos in a retro acid house smiley-face jockstrap. A joke about 12-inch Glo-Sticks. Another joke about polishing fun-fur boots with a raw tongue. Neither of them very funny, because it all just sounds like Burning Man. Oh well. Poppers!
Before hopping in the rainbow twin-prop and leaving you to rage at the following parties, however, I want to wish one of the true heartbeats of the San Francisco leather, nightlife, and charity scenes, Mama Sandy Reinhart (www.mamasfamily.org), a very happy, very whippy 70th birthday. Love you, Mama!
Chilean-via-Sweden, Alexi has been amping house signifiers into deep techno streams for a couple decades now and dropping into SF on highly anticipated occasion. (Notably, he appeared a dozen years ago at the storied Staple parties). He’ll be revving up the bangin’ Housepitality weekly party.
Wed/23, 9pm, $5 before 11pm, $10 after. Icon, 1192 Folsom, SF. www.housepitalitysf.com
“Party like it’s 1906” — and if this wasn’t another wonderfully brainy banger from the Cal Academy of Sciences, I’d be a-scared. But in this case it’s all pre-quake, a dancing, drinking (and some learning) salute to the glorious, gold-fueled, saloon-heaving Barbary Coast days of my favorite time period: yore. This fundraising soiree stylishly launches the Academy’s neat new “Earthquake” exhibit. No crack allowed!
Fri/25, 7pm-midnight, $49–$69. California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr., SF. www.calacademy.org
Feel like some amazingly atmospheric, floor-churning future bass from mysterious knob-twiddlers with names like Opiuo, Eligh, and Onra? I kind of always do, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
Fri/25, 10pm-4am, $15–$20. 1015 Folsom, SF. www.1015.com
The undisputed King of Booty is coming to town form Detroit to show us all how to dirty drop. Joining him to filth up the floor is New Jersey’s DJ Sliink and SF’s own invaluable Footwerks crew.
Sat/26, 10pm, $8 advance. Icon, 1192 Folsom, SF. www.facebook.com/FootwerksSF
DJs Derek B, Vivian, and Chris Orr band together for a night of fun pan-generational house and garage music in a basement. I like that.
Sat/26, 10pm, $5. 222 Hyde, SF. www.222hyde.com
100 % BRAZILIAN CARNAVAL AFTER PARTY
Don’t let sundown dull your Carnaval festival (www.carnavalsf.org) sequined shimmy. Mighty’s got you (un)covered for night-time Caribbean carousing, with samba-rific live talent: Brothers Calatayud and Little Brasil, Fogo Na Ropa, Boca do Rio, Antonio Geudes and Chillaquiles, and many more plus Brazilian wax from DJs Zamba, Fausto Sousa.
Sun/27, 6pm-1am, $20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com
The always wonderful annual Stompy + Sunset Memorial Weekend jam (twelve hours of great music!) is a truly diverse SF gas with awesome guests, and this time the two venerable party crews are hosting the pumping wigginess of the UK’s Radio Slave, plus NYC’s deliciously groovy Alex from Tokyo, plus much ecstatic dancing.
Sun/27, 2pm-2am, $10 before 5pm, $20 after. Cafe Cocomo, 650 Indiana, SF. www.pacificsound.net
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
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
Subscribe to Virgina’s twice-monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot, www.theperfectspotsf.com
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.
“DES VOIX … FOUND IN TRANSLATION”
450 Florida, SF
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
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.
BEHIND THE SCENES
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.
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.