Volume 46 Number 41

Exchange is good

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MUSIC The heyday of the mixtape was the 1990s, when a mix required a gentle touch with the pause button, careful calculations to make sure the songs fit on the cassette, and a delicate winding of the tape spool with the pinky finger, advancing the clear tape to the magnetic. They took hours to complete. They were fragile, often made in a torrent of teenage lust and given with sweaty palms.

With the San Francisco Mixtape Society, you get a semblance of that experience.

Every few months, the group holds free mixtape exchanges at the Mission District’s Make-Out Room. What happens is this: people come to the event with a mix (cassette, CD, or USB stick), and everyone gets a number. When your number is picked, you give your mix to the person who called your number. Then, you pick a number, and you get a mix in return. Each event has its own theme, to give attendees a spark of inspiration.

Most mixtape exchanges occur by word of mouth, or by invitation-only. Co-founders Annie Lin and John Verrochi, Brooklyn transplants, met by attending similar events in Brooklyn, which were low-key, “just hang outs in bars. We wanted to create an event that could accommodate more people, and make it easier to participate,” Lin said in an interview last week. The two of them started the exchange partly because there weren’t any events like it in San Francisco at the time.

“When I moved here I felt like there wasn’t really a channel for people that like music to meet other people that like music. When you go to a show, you really can’t talk to people. Part of it grew out of wanting to meet cool people as a newcomer to the city with no established clique. The nice thing is that a lot of people have actually come together,” said Lin.

“There’s two connections that you’re forced to have,” explained Ashley Saks, a member and organizer of the society. “One is with the person you’re giving your [mixtape] to, and one is the person you’re getting the mixtape from.”

“There is a dating aspect,” said co-founder Verrochi, “though we don’t promote that. You usually make them for someone you care about, so it kind of has this courting thing to it. People have definitely hooked up.”

The society gives a free beer to those who make a mix on cassette, and awards prizes in categories such as Best Art.

“We were thinking we would get to see cool graphic art, like really cool album covers,” Verrochi said. (He works by day as an art director.) “But it’s turned into these art objects. Tiny sculptures.”

Cases have been hand knit, papier-mâché’d, and encased in world globes. One person made a 3-D dollhouse. Another made a lemonade stand out of Popsicle sticks. The winner of the last event — the theme was “Under the Covers” — made a coffin. Inside was a collection of mixes that together formed a skeleton. The track listing came in a funeral booklet.

“You never know what you’re going to get,” said Lin. “You know you’re going to get something. You might get something huge and crazy, like a Noah’s Ark.”

Besides winsome cover art, coveted mixes are well-sequenced and tell a story. “Editing is the secret,” said Lin. “In this era it’s so easy to say, ‘Let’s get on Spotify and do a search for titles that have the theme in the name.’ With a really good mixtape, someone really thought about the tone or the flavor of the theme, and how the songs come together over all. It’s more than just an algorithmic search for songs, which is easy to do.”

One memorable mixtape was made for a Treasure Island Music Festival event. The theme was “Hidden Treasure,” and the tape was called “Pirate’s Booty.” “Every single song on that mixtape was about ass,” Verrochi said.

Interest in the SF Mixtape Society has grown beyond its own events. Music festivals like SXSW have asked the group to run exchanges, and mixtape enthusiasts in Toronto and San Diego have asked how to start similar groups. It’s a reflection of people’s desire to do more than share music on the internet.

“We live in a curation culture,” said Lin. “People make playlists and share them on Spotify. Like, ‘Here’s all the songs that I’m listening to right now on this playlist in random order.’ A mixtape is sharing, yes, but it’s also selecting exactly what it is you’re going to share.”

“I think why people like our event is you actually have to show up in person, you have to create an object and hand it to them. And there’s this really tangible quality to it,” Verrochi said.

The SF Mixtape Society’s next event, themed “American Summer,” occurs Sun/15 at the Make-Out Room; a smaller exchange will take place as part of the California Academy of Sciences’ “Mixology, Mixtapes and Remixes at NightLife” event July 19. *

Volume 46 Number 41 Flip-through Edition

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Mega Millions

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS I still have some Berkeley wonders to tell you about. In fact, I’ve been saving the best for last: fried chicken and donuts at Rainbow Donut, which is my new favorite restaurant — and just down San Pablo from there, my new favorite restaurant: Smoke Berkeley.

Smoke Berkeley, or Berkeley Smoke as I call it for fun, is wedged between a car wash and a piano store. The advantage to which is that one can play a little Brahms while waiting for the line to die down, and, on the other hand, if you eat outside, you might get somewhat misted.

Most times, I know, being sprayed by a car wash during lunch will not seem like an advantage, especially in the Bay Area; but I’ve spent the last couple days driving through a southern-style heatwave and, believe me, I have missed being misted by car washes, even over barbecue.

Especially over barbecue.

So, yes, in Mississippi, Tennessee, and even Virginia, I did: I missed Berkeley Smoke. Strange as that may sound.

The restaurant doesn’t open until noon, and we got there at ten till, the li’l chunks de la Cooter going absolutely batty with excitement and hunger. And they weren’t the only ones.

The place has a following. It’s only about half a year old, but people are onto it. Crawdad and the chunks held down an outdoor table while I stood peering through the door at the menu, committing our order to memory. A line formed behind me. When it finally opened, I was at the front of that line, my nose pressed into the iron-grated screen door, very much enjoying the smell of the place.

Unfortunately, the door that was opened, upon opening, was not the one that I had applied myself to. Fortunately, Mr. Crawdad de la Cooter was waiting first-in-line at the right door. (I had wondered where he’d gotten to.)

Anyway: pulled pork and beef brisket. Normally there are ribs, but the ribs weren’t ready yet. We got pulled pork sliders for the kids. Those were actually pretty good.

The brisket plate was not — surprisingly, given the chef’s Texas connection. Maybe an off day. Maybe the wrong part of Texas. But the meat was dry. It had a nice flavor, the right amount of smoke, and the hot barbecue sauce helped, but — honestly — not oversmoking it would have helped even more.

Unanimously, we preferred the North Carolina pork.

Loved the Cole slaw. The jalapeno cornbread was moist and good, and the jalapeno mac and cheese was great. The mayo eaters loved the potato salad, and the chocolate eaters loved the chocolate pecan pie, but I don’t fall in either of those camps, so . . . can’t say.

As for Rainbow Donuts: new favorite restaurant. Technically, it’s a fried chicken, fried fish, donut, and lottery shop, with an emphasis on the lottery. They have a couple of scratcher machines, a rack of scratchers behind the counter, and stations for Daily 4, Daily Derby, Mega Millions, and Hot Spot.

Fluorescent lights and ceiling fans, dirty red fast food tables . . . Like most donut shops, Rainbow has that down-and-out feel that I so love. There was a table of people sipping Cokes in utter silence and scratching scratchers kind of almost maniacally. And you know me — I eat that shit up!

But speaking of eating stuff up:

The fried chicken was awesome. A crispy, peppery breading with a perfectly succulent inner goodness. You have to specify you want it fried to order, though, or they’ll give you the crusty crap that’s been sitting in the display case.

They were out of biscuits, so she gave me an extra side. I didn’t want fries with my fish (also awesome), so she gave me an extra piece of chicken. And she gave me an extra donut for the hell of it.

You see? You see why I love this place?

And the mac and cheese was decent, the greens were alright, and the shrimp gumbo was good. It wasn’t particularly gumbolike, but I liked it. Probably, if I had that four-block stretch of San Pablo to do over again, I’d get my sides from Smoke, and my meat from Rainbow.

Not to compare fried and barbecue, but . . .

SMOKE BERKELEY

Tue-Sat noon-7pm

2434 San Pablo Ave., Berk.

(510) 548-8801

D,MC,V

No alcohol

RAINBOW DONUT

Mon-Sat 5am-8pm; Sun 6am-8pm

2025 San Pablo Ave., Berk.

(510) 644-2029

Cash only

No alcohol

 

Back to the land

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arts@sfbg.com

DANCE What a stellar idea to premiere a work called No Hero the weekend after Independence Day. There are no brass bands, flag waving-exercises, or fireworks in Foundry artistic director-choreographer Alex Ketley’s delightful and at times funny stage and video creation, which returns to Z Space August 1. Yet Hero is piece of pure Americana, a tender and amusing tribute to ordinary people and the role that dance may or may not play in their lives.

Tired of thinking of dance as something larger than life, Ketley set out on a month-long trek, camera in hand and lovely dancer Aline Wachsmuth in tow. They traipsed through dusty Western towns and hamlets from Death Valley to Oregon, talking with folks in RV parks and community halls, inside their homes, and outside some shacks. They met Shirley, who remembered the social dances of her youth; motorcyclist Ava and his dog Spirit, who are on the road trying to forget the death of Ava’s son; Dwight and Dale, who chuckled over the names of the dances they used to know; and widows who get together every afternoon to teach each other steps they learn from YouTube. Ketley and Wachsmuth also encountered the legendary Marta Beckett, who just recently stopped performing six days a week — at the age of 88 — in an old opera house whether anybody was there to watch or not.

And for all of them Wachsmuth danced. Often she looked shadowy on the video but always organic, stretching her limbs like tendrils, scooping space, and opening herself to forces surging from within. It was fascinating to see the reactions (or rather, lack thereof) of each audience: you couldn’t tell whether they were flabbergasted, indifferent, or bemused by this willowy creature in front of them. Ketley kept us guessing.

Back in the decidedly non-rural Bay Area, the two artists took the material and expanded on it for the stage, where Wachsmuth was joined by Sarah Dione Woods. What had been spatially tight but also intimate became expansive and multi-dimensional without losing its rich impulse-driven energy. The choreography often looked as if it had grown out of the screen. A demure waltz exploded into somersaults and exuberant leaps. Mirroring each other, the two women spread out but also intertwined as if trying to morph together. With her back to us, dancing alongside a sunset, Wachsmuth repeated the choreography facing us. But when onscreen a fierce storm kept her off balance, the stage couldn’t compete with that drama.

The video images (post-production by Austin Forbord) had been edited to create both a contextualization for the stage action but also developed an independent rhythm. Ballad and pop singers — ranging from Ben Howard to Patti Page — added their own voices to this poetic evocation of dance as part of the everyday.

THE FOUNDRY AND BOBBY JENE SMITH

August 1, 8pm, $15

Z Space

450 Florida, SF

www.alexketley.com

 

Now, Monsoon

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>>LISTEN TO AN EXCLUSIVE KUSH ARORA MIX (AND MORE) HERE

SUPER EGO Hurray, it is not 115 degrees here! I just got a skype from my heatwaved homegirl Googie Santorum in Canton, Ohio, and she said all her wigs had melted into Dynel helmets and that she lost two pairs of kitten heels in the asphalt puddle outside Heggy’s Nut Shop on West Tuskawaras Street. I thought we cured global warming 10 years ago when we sat through that Al Gore movie and quit using Aqua Net? Well, apparently not.

I felt a little guilty reveling in our temperate clime while the rest of America fried — but that all changed when I started instead feeling a little guilty for passing out on the Fourth with two lit sparklers in my hair and a crotchful of spilled PBR. Goddess bless America. And all her bald spots and blackout complications.

In club terms, however, summer’s really steaming up our tails. I especially felt the mercury rising when it was announced that our hometown heroes of “dread bass,” the Surya Dub DJ crew, would be returning to the scene, taking over the second dance floor of the bangin’ Non Stop Bhangra monthly party on Sat/14 (9pm-3am, $10–$15. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com). Bassheads, get ready for a low pressure system no amount of my overheated metaphors can properly describe.

The mega-affair is being billed as “Indian-Caribbean summer tropical bass madness,” and you get mad amounts of hot tropicalia: a main room headlining slot from Portland’s DJ Anjuli and The Incredible Kid, founders of the longest-running bhangra party on the West Coast; guest spots for our main moombahton man, DJ Theory, and Matt Haze of wicked broken bass collective Slayers Club; bhangra dance lessons from the amazing Dholrhythms dance troupe; live drumming ….

And on top of it, Surya Dub’s ever-evolving, deep-global sound, finally back in the spotlight. SF’s musico-cultural cross-currents certainly haven’t flagged in the three years since the South Asian-flavored crew ruled the local bass scene with an irresistible mix of dub floor-droppers, future-bass bangers, ruff riddims, global breaks, and hip-hop bhangra. But when the crew members went on to various projects (including bringing Surya Dub to India and producing some great records), the scene lacked their singular fire.

“We never really went away,” Maneesh the Twister told me on a conference call with fellow Dubbers Kush Arora and Jimmy Love. “But it seemed like the music was changing in the clubs here. We wanted to evolve, to update the dread bass sound, in response to all the dubstep, electronic bass music, UK funky, and bashment that’s come to the fore.”

“We started feeling a wider variety of both New World and traditional sounds,” Kush told me. “African beats like kuduro — Buraka Som Sistema is great — to more post-dubstep tropical sounds. All of these rhythms that are talking to each other around the world. And of course we work in what’s been going on in bhangra as it develops.”

Jimmy, who also runs the Non Stop Bhangra party itself, was the catalyst for the “reunion.”

“We’re don’t just play traditional-sounding Bollywood or bhangra at the NSB parties,” he said. “I love dub reggae and Afrolicious-like funk, and our die-hard Indian crowd has loved when we play more tropical tracks. We always want to stretch the definition, and walking upstairs to Surya’s room will be a seamless experience of global sounds.

“It’s all about bringing communities together on the dance floor. And then heating everything up.”

 

COSMETICS

Soigné dark synthpop Canadian duo Cosmetics travel musically from Moroder to Siouxsie, charmingly, icily, and will be joined by Portland’s Soft Metals and our own Breakdown Valentine — two more chamber synth duos whose tunes seem intimately crafted just for you — for a catchy Friday the 13th affair. Justin of the Soft Moon, Rachel of the Conversion, and Omar DJ.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPz2bME4Phg

Fri/13, 9pm, $11–$15. Monarch, 101 Sixth St., SF. www.monarchsf.com

 

CUBCAKE

The whole gay bear thing kinda lost my interest once many of the hot fat country lumberjacks got replaced by entitled circuity gymrats constantly checking their Scruff apps on the dance floor. YOU’RE NOT A BEAR — YOU’RE JUST MIDDLE-AGED, I cried. (Middle age is a new thing for us post-AIDS era gay men; we’re working it out.) But that was, what, 2010? Time to reappraise. I’ve been hitting up this too-cute pan-musical dance party at Lonestar the past two months, brimming with sexy-goofy young hairies on the hoof and a few zesty chubs, too. Bear Trek: the Next Generation looks pretty damn good.

Fri/13, 9pm, free. Lone Star, 1354 Harrison, SF. www.lonestarsf.com

 

LEMONADE

The once-local (now Brooklynite) trio sanded off some of its esoteric angles in favor of wistful, Fairlight synth era-referencing pop on new album Diver, but it still retains those breezy percussive touches that made it one of the leaders of the nu-tropicalism underground dance movement a few years ago. With killer DJ and DMC champion Kid Fresh from Hong Kong at the always balmy nu-cumbia Tormenta Tropical monthly.

Sat/14, 10pm, $10. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com

The man who made 500 movies

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM In 1969, a lot of silent films unloaded on the Library of Congress by Paramount Pictures was found to include The Canadian, a little-remembered 1926 drama that proved a major rediscovery when shown to new audiences under the American Film Institute’s banner. Its director, William Beaudine, had never seen it — hustling between assignments at different studios, he’d had no time — and would die at age 78 in March of 1970. But the prior month he managed (just out of the hospital, in a wheelchair) to catch a revival screening. Surprised by both the film and his standing ovation afterward, he admitted “Maybe I wasn’t such a bad director after all.”

That wasn’t just false modesty speaking — over the course of six decades in the business, Beaudine no doubt had been called a bottom-rung director, or worse. This wasn’t due so much to the actual quality of his movies (had anyone bothered to evaluate them as a whole) as the assumption that no one so ludicrously, indiscriminately prolific could possibly be good. Upon retiring a couple years earlier, he’d completed some 500 theatrical films (including shorts) and approximately 350 TV programs. No one even knows the precise numbers, as he occasionally worked under pseudonyms. What could you say about a man credited with such titles as Blonde Dynamite (1950), Tuna Clipper (1949), Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966), Voodoo Man (1944), Trick Golf (1934), The Girl from Woolworth’s (1929), and Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)? How could a one-man factory be expected to be an artist, too?

The truth was that Beaudine seldom got the chance to be one, and by being so pliant and efficient at directing low-end commercial product he probably helped ensure those chances would be rare. Still relatively unknown, The Canadian was certainly one such exception. It plays Saturday afternoon as part of the 17th San Francisco Silent Film Festival, on a program that will also see an honorary award go to Telluride Film Festival directors Tom Luddy, Gary Meyer, and Julie Huntsinger for their event’s long-standing efforts at preserving and exhibiting silent cinema.

A working-class Manhattan native infatuated with the movies from childhood — Beaudine and his brother actually acted in a 1900 short for Thomas Edison’s company — he began working in the then-NYC-centered early industry while still a teen, performing nearly every job behind (and a few before) the camera. He apprenticed under pioneers D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett, graduating to the director’s seat shortly after a second, permanent move to Los Angeles in 1914.

Beaudine quickly acquired a reputation for being fast and funny — comedy was considered his forte, alongside working with child actors. It was the latter talent that won the attention of “America’s Sweetheart,” film industry tycoon Mary Pickford. Grudgingly accepting that the public still only wanted to see her in juvenile roles despite the fact that she was pushing 40, she chose him to direct two “comeback” vehicles after a year’s hiatus. Sentimental 1925 entry Little Annie Rooney was a great hit; the next year’s more Gothic Sparrows is still considered by some her best vehicle.

These prestige assignments and several other box-office successes should have lifted Beaudine to the top tier of Hollywood directors — he was already paid accordingly — yet curiously his self-effacing flexibility and ability to deliver the goods under-budget seemed to work against his acquiring the kind of artistic cred that might have let him choose his projects, or be assigned bigger, A-level ones. Frequently loaned out by whatever studio he was currently contracted to, he invariably did a sound job, even if the material was sub-par.

The Canadian itself was an example of his ability to roll with the punches. Sent east by Paramount to make a football picture, he arrived in New York only to find he was now directing a rural drama instead. Improbably based on a W. Somerset Maugham play, it starred Thomas Meighan as an Alberta farmer who marries his neighbor’s sister — a sort of grudge match, as she (Mona Palma) is a European society snob just recently forced here by dwindling family fortunes, and who proposes marriage herself largely to spite the brother and sister-in-law she’s managed to offend.

Sometimes compared today to Victor Sjöström’s 1928 The Wind with Lillian Gish, The Canadian is much less extreme in its style, melodrama, and emotions. (Its heroine doesn’t nearly go mad, for one thing.) The taming-of the-snoot gist is routine, but played out with charming naturalism and restraint. A somewhat difficult, weather-challenged location shoot near Calgary paid off in admiring reviews and good business, although by then Beaudine was already well into other projects, the most immediate being SF-set Frisco Sally Levy (1927).

Beaudine nimbly transitioned into “talkies,” freelancing rather than tying himself down. Yet perversely his adaptability, and knack for getting the most out of a budget, got him typed as a B-pic director rather than promoted to the front ranks. Wiped out in the 1929 stock market crash, he accepted what turned out to be a very successful stint abroad directing some of the top English comedians (notably Will Hays in 1936’s deliciously titled Windbag the Sailor). But those films weren’t seen in the U.S. When he returned home, Beaudine was — for reasons still murky — shut out at every Hollywood major, despite a long track record and being widely liked by coworkers.

His remaining three decades were a testimony to dogged workaholicism, versatility, and solid craftsmanship under sometimes trying circumstances. He worked for all the low-budget “Poverty Row” studios, as well as companies targeting “Negro-only” cinemas, and Protestant church circuits. He chalked up umpteen bottom-half-of-the-bill features in popular series, including dozens starring those aging adolescent cutups the Bowery Boys. He also directed infamous “sex hygiene” film Mom and Dad (1945), which for years played grindhouses and tent shows while fending off as many legal challenges as Deep Throat (1972) years later. Moving into television, he cranked out episodes of everything from The Mickey Mouse Club and Lassie to The Green Hornet — becoming surely the sole person ever to direct both Mary Pickford and Bruce Lee.

This year’s Silent Film Fest contains many more treasures, from two with the “It Girl” Clara Bow (1926’s Mantrap, 1927’s Wings) to films by Ernst Lubitsch, Josef von Sternberg, Georg Wilhelm Pabst, and Buster Keaton; from China, Russia, and Sweden; and with irrepressible cartoon id Felix the Cat. If you loved The Artist, check out The Mark of Zorro (1920) — its leaping, grinning star Douglas Fairbanks was the unmistakable model for Jean Dujardin’s Oscar-winning turn. *

SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL

Thu/12-Sun/15, free-$42

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.silentfilm.org

A Republican feminist

13

caitlin@sfbg.com

LIT “Do you consider yourself sex-positive?”

If you have a chance to interview John McCain’s daughter, and she identifies as a feminist, and is demonstrably more comfortable in strip clubs than the “liberal comedian” with whom she has embarked on a tour with in promotion of their book America, You Sexy Bitch! (Da Capo Press, $26, 352pp), you have to seize your moment to ask the big questions.

The pause from the other end of the telephone line tells me Meghan McCain, however, does not know what this term refers to. “Do I consider myself sex-positive? I’m not sure what you mean.” See?

She and Michael Ian Black will be in conversation at the Castro Theatre on Tue/17 at an event sponsored by the Commonwealth Club, by the way.

“It’s a term that we use — keep in mind I’m calling from San Francisco,” I say. “To mean not ashamed of sex. Of the opinion that having sex with people is OK. Different kinds of sexualities?” Apparently I don’t know what sex-positive means either, or else I am awkward in explaining the term to Republicans.

McCain, having been raised in the belly of a well-oiled political machine, is wary of potentially loaded questions from reporters. But she has also built her adult career on being a fiscally conservative woman who delights in bucking the social mores of the Republican Party. As such, she is able to compose a categorical response that is still pretty charming to her commieweirdo interviewer.

“I’m a big supporter of the gay community, if that’s what you’re asking me. And when it comes to my personal life, I am not abstinent, if that’s what you’re asking me as well. I am straight, if that’s what you’re asking me. I only date men. But sex and sexuality, I’m not terribly prudish. I think it’s private in nature but as far as I’m concerned, everybody can do whatever they want as long as it’s legal. In the privacy of their own homes, that’s their business, literally. As long as they’re not hurting anybody, I don’t care. Do your thing.”

Despite the many pages McCain and Black spend casting themselves as a “real” conservative and liberal — McCain as a gun-loving war eagle, Black as a snarky priss — the secret-not-secret point made by America, You Sexy Bitch is: politics don’t make the person. To that end, readers are taken on a RV tour of the country with McCain and Black, a trip that threatens to reveal the real America. We learn that McCain is far more comfortable in strip clubs than Black and is happily single at 27, while the Ed veteran has been married since his early 20s, rarely gets drunk, and lives in the suburbs with the wife and kids.

One of my favorite aspects of McCain (and I have many), is the way she speaks out against the treatment of women in the media. Her fervor should come as no surprise: last year, she wrote a scathing open letter to Glenn Beck when he called her fat on his radio show. (“As a person known for his hot body, you must find it easy to judge the weight fluctuations of others, especially young women.”)

“I would have an entirely different career, an entirely different life if I were a man, which I think is just ridiculous,” she tells me. She laments the fact that women politicians have to deal with the “complete BS” that is appearance-driven mainstream media reportage.

She’s great! We’re best friends! Hang out with me, Meghan! But then, this, meant to be completely free of irony: “I hate this idea that the feminist movement has been caught up in the pro-choice movement and somehow the denial of femininity, which is something I don’t understand. For me being a feminist means giving women the choice to do whatever they want.”

Wa-wahhh. Still, I’ll take her over Beck any day.

MEGHAN MCCAIN AND MICHAEL IAN BLACK

Tue/17, 7pm, $15–$45

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.commonwealthclub.org

 

Meanwhile, in Uruguay

1

caitlin@sfbg.com

HERBWISE Happy Independence Day hangover (yes, still)! I’ll leave aside all discussion regarding the wisdom of the mid-week holiday and head straight into the fact that I spent the evening of the Third of July very, very sadly.

It was for this reason: after work I tore over to my beloved neighborhood dispensary Shambhala Healing Center (www.shambhalasf.com), arriving ten minutes before closing time. It was closed. Peeved, I called in to lightly berate them for shuttering early.

But this was no early start to the staff’s holiday. Just hours after I posted last week’s Herbwise about the Vapor Room going kaput, I found out Shambhala’s brick and mortar location had shut its doors for the last time on June 30.

Now this should not have come as a surprise. I spent time with an indignant Shambhala founder Al Shawa in his dank-smelling dispensary backroom this spring, discussing the letter that US Attorney Melinda Haag sent to his landlord, proclaiming that his storefront was inappropriately close to a playground, and that this landlord faced decades of jail time if he wasn’t evicted (“Shambhala Healing Center next on the federal chopping block,” 3/5/12).

I should have been paying closer attention to Shawa’s predicament, especially since I buy my sativa from him. At least Shambhala will continue to deliver, a move that the last place I used to buy weed from in the Mission, Medithrive, also resorted to when it was forced to close in November. (For the Herbwise column on that mess see “For the kids?” 12/13/11)

For me, the Third of July was a moment when this to-do between the federal government and these local businesses (and more importantly, the patients that depend on cannabis to function) punched me in the gut. My plans for THC consumption over Independence Day had been foiled by the feds, and all at once the sheer idiocy of this whole cannabis crackdown was almost too much to bear. Work on real problems! Go!

(By the way, SF Chronicle columnists Philip Matier and Andrew Ross have it on good authority that Obama is coming back to town on July 23 for his seventh Bay Area fundraising trip this year, who is down for a protest?)

So this week, I’m giving it up for South America. Big ups to Uruguayan president Jose Mujica for proposing a plan to legalize marijuana so that adults could walk into government-run stores and buy weed. He presented it as an anti-crime measure, suggesting that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on pot by consumers could be better funneled in the government’s pocket than those of illegal drug dealers.

President Mujica is blessed with one of his continent’s most stable countries — plus it’s tiny, at 3.3 million inhabitants — so his plan could prove more manageable to implement than elsewhere in South America. But he’s not the only leader south of Panama to call bullshit on this War on Drugs. This spring at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, that country’s President Juan Manuel Santos called for an “in-depth discussion” on the War on Drugs’ utility, preferably one “without any biases or dogmas.” He suggested, as many have, that Prohibition has never worked before, and might not be working now.

Our president was there too. “Legalization is not the answer,” said Barack Obama to a conference full of Latin American leaders. Of those who remain focused on this issue, President Obama counseled perspective. He said that this kind of debate seemed “caught in a time warp, going back to the 1950s and gunboat diplomacy, and Yanquis, and the Cold War, and this, and that, and the other. That’s not the world we live in today.”

Anyways, I’m sure that when he gets here — July 23! — he’ll be looking for our opinion on the ways of the world. ¡Hasta pronto!

 

Caught in the FBI’s net

3

yael@sfbg.com

The mission: Rescuing sexually exploited children. Who can argue with that?

From June 20 through June 23, the FBI and local police departments and district attorney’s offices throughout the United States were engaged in Operation Cross Country, three days of stings targeting pimps for arrest.

According to the FBI, the mission was successful. “Nationwide, 79 children were rescued and 104 pimps were arrested for various state and local charges,” a press statement released the following week reads.

In the Bay Area, the operation resulted in “the recovery of six children, who were being victimized through prostitution, and the arrest of seven individuals, commonly referred to as pimps.”

Also caught up in the Bay Area sweep: 61 adult prostitutes — ten consensual sex workers for every underage victim.

Operation Cross Country was part of an ongoing effort called the Innocence Lost National Initiative, which the FBI describes as beginning in the Bay Area in 2005 with the Bay Area Innocence Lost Working Group. According to FBI spokesperson Julianne Sohn, this June’s crackdown was the sixth Operation Cross Country in the past several years.

“The FBI and our partners are looking for those who are exploiting minors for purposes of prostitution,” Sohn told the Guardian. “But in the process of doing this we also pick up pimps exploiting adults, and adult prostitutes along the way.”

“What we’re looking at are people who traffic children for prostitution and solicitation,” she said. But the pimping arrests under Operation Cross Country don’t necessarily have anything to do with children. “Those are just pimps, generally speaking,” said Sohn.

As Caitlin Manning, a sex workers rights advocate, put it, “This emotionally laden appeal to save children who are forced into sexual slavery is being used to further the criminalization of all sex work, these lines are being blurred. There are always a large number of consensual sex workers involved in these stings.”

The Guardian caught up with one such consensual sex worker swept up in Operation Cross Country. “Maya,” 22, an escort in Richmond, was targeted because officers believed she looked under 18 in her ads. After her entrapment, arrest and interrogation, she convinced them she was older. She says that sex trafficking is a terrible problem, but criminalizing working people like her is no solution.

Bay Guardian: Tell me about the arrest.

Maya: I got a phone call. All he said to me was that he was nervous and had never done this before, and that he was looking for somebody to party with. So I never said anything sexual, and he didn’t either. There was absolutely no premise.

So I went to the hotel room. I walked in the door and I said, I’m glad that I found the right room. I put my bag down. I turned to the side and there was another man standing there, and my immediate thought was that I was going to get taken advantage of by another person. But then- I can’t even, I don’t know how many officers it was. Some came out of the bathroom, and they said Richmond PD, you’re under arrest, put your hands behind your back.

They had me in handcuffs, they questioned me for a while. I was in custody for about six hours. So I guess the way that it works with that is, the phone call is initiation and showing up to the hotel room is an act in furtherance. Entrapment is legal for that in California.

BG: What was the questioning like?

M: You know, I’ve been through a lot of things in my life. Family tragedies. Just like a lot of people. But that was definitely hands down, probably top five most traumatic events in my life. I’ve never felt so degraded. They were sitting there asking me, why do you have condoms in your bag? I had a vibrator, I had lube, and I had condoms with me.

There were four men and one woman in the room, and they were all sitting there making jokes. One of the officers was very adamant about telling me that he would never pay me that much for my services.

BG: You’ve said they lied to you, what did they lie to you about?

M: They told me that that day they had caught an underage girl, but then I read the newspaper article about the sting about it, and they said the youngest girl that they got that day was 20. So they were trying to make it seem like they were helping all these women, helping all these girls get away from this lifestyle, when in reality they’re just busting girls like me.

They looked through my phone and looked through my pictures, and questioned me about every picture in my phone. They were like, is this your pimp? They read my text messages, they listened to voice mails from my family. They don’t care.

BG: The sting was for underage people being trafficked. Do you think that’s a big problem? What do you think about that issue?

M: I do think that it’s a problem, absolutely. But this is the very unfortunate thing about what I do for work. Whether you want to call it prostitution or you want to call it escorting. So I do think absolutely it’s a problem, but it’s very important for people to know that it’s not the same thing, it’s really, really not.

I’m probably going to get two years’ probation, up to 60 days in jail and hundreds of dollars in fines. Now I’m out of work, can’t get a job, and I have prostitution on my record. You know, it’s just … it doesn’t help anybody.

BG: It strikes me what you were saying about the police officer saying I wouldn’t pay that much. Were there other degrading things said?

M: I don’t care if they’re officers, I don’t care what they do for a living. They’re still men. And when you come in and you’re a prostitute, they look you up and down. And they’re thinking about that. And I had the officer asking me questions like oh, how do you clean your vibrator. Just unnecessary questions, where obviously they’re getting some sort of gratification out of it.

BG: Have you ever met people who were forced into what they’re doing?

M: No…I mean, we’ve all done things for money. You know, desperate times. Whether it’s working some shit job. I mean, I look at it as a job. So in the past when I was younger yeah, you know, trying to make rent, maybe I’ll do something that I wouldn’t want to do as much, or not get paid as much for it. But it beats working at Taco Bell.

People sometimes think it’s easy money. It’s not easy money. It takes a certain person, it takes an emotionally stable and sexually stable person to do this work sustainably. It’s definitely tolling. It’s tolling because its therapy. It’s tolling because I listen to people’s problems, it’s not tolling because of the sexual aspect at all.

BG: Have you gotten any help from sex workers rights organizations?

M: I did have a therapist that’s sex-worker friendly offer me free sessions. I might take him up on that, but — you know, the event was traumatizing. I’m not traumatized by my work. I can tell the story and that’s pretty much enough for me. I don’t really need therapy for being a sex worker. I love my job. It makes me happy, its great.

BG: What do you love about it?

M: I love meeting different people, I love the psychological aspects. I just have so many fantastic stories, and amazing people that I’ve met. I saw a guy recently who, after our session he was telling me that his wife had died about six months previous that he had been married to for 42 years, and he started crying. And my mother passed away when I was younger, and so we were able to relate on that. And I gave him my lessons on how I dealt with it, and he had never really had somebody tell him that, and he was very touched. And I know that he will take those lessons that I taught him and use them for his grieving process.

So it’s things like that. People don’t realize how much therapy it really is, how many of these people just want some intimacy…we’re human beings, we need sexual outlets. That’s just the way that we are. “Maya” invites anyone who has been in a similar situation or wants to talk to contact her at mayaarticle8719@yahoo.com. An extended version of this interview can be found at sfbg.com

Black and white and red all over

3

cheryl@sfbg.com

LIT “Death at SeaWorld.” The phrase implies a gruesome demise, combining the man vs. beast connotations of Siegfried and Roy’s last show with the amusement-park horrors of Wikipedia’s “incidents at Disneyland” page. Death isn’t supposed to pop up in environments carefully choreographed for family fun. But as David Kirby’s eye-opening Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity (St. Martin’s Press, 469 pp., $26.99) discovers, the marine-themed attraction has hosted its share of tragedies, and not just of the human variety.

Its most high-profile loss was Orlando employee Dawn Brancheau, killed in 2010 by a 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum. Though SeaWorld has long been a target of animal-rights groups, Brancheau’s death set in motion a rigorous Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation into whether or not trainers should be allowed to keep performing the spectacular aquatic stunts that SeaWorld has long been famous for. (As of this writing, the case is still in legal-wrangling mode.)

Kirby, a journalist whose previous books include Evidence of Harm and Animal Factory, found the OSHA inquiry — and the fact that it had been met with strong SeaWorld resistance — instantly compelling. He soon understood there was much more to the story.

“I started out to write a book about corporate malfeasance and obstructing a federal investigation,” he remembers. “[Killer whale] captivity had not ever struck me as an issue. But I realized that even though a lot of people were screaming about how safe it was to be in the water during performances, the much larger question was: do these animals belong in captivity at all?”

As a kid in SoCal, Kirby says, he visited SeaWorld and went on whale-watching trips. But until he started writing Death at SeaWorld, “I didn’t know that killer whales are dolphins, that they don’t kill people in the wild, how highly intelligent they are, or that they are so attached to their families,” he says. “When Dawn Brancheau died, I remember feeling very bad for her and her family, but I don’t remember feeling bad for the whale.”

His research made him rethink his ambivalence toward not just Tilikum, but all killer whales in captivity. Very few “display industry representatives” were willing to speak on the record, but Kirby connected with several “anti-cap” figures — including the Humane Society’s Dr. Naomi Rose, a whale expert who was involved in the campaign to return Keiko, star of 1993’s Free Willy, to his native Iceland.

“When you write narrative nonfiction, you really do need one character who is going to carry the reader through the whole story,” Kirby says. “[Rose] was the best person to do that because she started studying these animals in 1985. She spent years doing field research, and [later became] involved in organizing against the industry, starting anti-captivity campaigns, and trying to protect these whales through federal law. She was also involved with the OSHA investigation and the media.”

In addition, “I was so lucky to have ex-trainers who came forward after Dawn died. [They had] come to the same conclusion through different channels [than Rose]: captivity is bad for the whales. I felt super-fortunate to have first-person accounts of whales in nature and whales in captivity,” Kirby says. “I really wanted to bring readers to two different worlds that most people have never been to: the far Northern reaches of Vancouver Island, where these whales live — and then, backstage in Orlando. I felt that juxtaposing them would really show why captivity is inappropriate. I wanted the readers to get to know the whales in the wild, and to appreciate their life in the wild, in order to understand why captivity for this particular species is so wrong.”

Though Brancheau’s death was the impetus for Death at SeaWorld, it is not the book’s sole focus. The “death” referred to in the title has multiple meanings.

“Two people [Brancheau, plus an after-hours trespasser in 1999] have died in SeaWorld pools,” Kirby says. “Two other people have died because of SeaWorld whales: in British Columbia before Tilikum was bought by SeaWorld, and in the Canary Islands by a whale owned by SeaWorld.”

But while human deaths grab headlines, whale deaths are far more common. According to Rose and other experts, orcas live far fewer years in captivity than they would in the wild.

Death at SeaWorld also absolutely refers to all of the orcas who have died at SeaWorld, and continue to die at SeaWorld,” Kirby says. “To me, the whales are as important as any of the people in the book — Tilikum becomes a main character that you get to know. I used to tell people when I was writing the book, it’s like Jaws, only it’s non-fiction, more people die, and you actually care about the whale.”

DAVID KIRBY PRESENTATION AND BOOK SIGNING

July 25, 7pm, free

The Hub

901 Mission, Ste 105, SF

www.deathatseaworld.com

Saving City College

18

By Chris Jackson

Although a recent accreditation report levels a long list of criticisms of City College, some of them legitimate issues that need to be addressed, the real problem is the state’s defunding of public education and its disinvestment in our community-college system.

There’s no question that everyone is going to work to keep City College open and serving our communities.

City College of San Francisco serves more than 90,000 students each year, trains (and retrains) our workforce, teaches English to our immigrant populations, fosters lifelong learning, and provides affordable, accessible pathways into all of higher education’s opportunities. But five years of drastic cuts in state funding has resulted in shrinking programs and overflowing classes; skyrocketing costs to students and families; employee furloughs, pay cuts, and givebacks; shutting the doors on far too many students who are unable to get the classes they need; and an increasing sense that community college education and its mission are wholly threatened for our city’s diverse students.

Overall, if you read the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College’s report, the commission is asking City College to shrink its mission of providing a high quality, affordable education to all who come to its doors. The ACCJC wants City College to step away from its San Francisco value of “chopping from the top” — cutting administration instead of teachers.

Let’s be clear, the buck stops with the elected Board of Trustees. We as a board are going to work together with the entire City College family to save the college and its accreditation and look at and resolve all of the issues brought up in the accreditation report.

With that said, it’s important to understand that California’s institutions of higher education have taken huge cuts during our historic recession and subsequent unemployment — a time when more and more people have come to use our educational resources to help in their quest to find jobs.

Over the past four years, the state has cut more than $1 billion from the community college system. That includes a $17 million cut to City College last year — and this year, we’ve worked to close an additional $14 million budget deficit. Last year, more than 10,000 students were unable to attend City College due to lack classes.

While students are scrambling for classroom seats, the commission is arguing that City College has too few administrators. But we’re proud of the fact that every available dollar continues to go to saving City College classes and student access.

City College has spent the last year planning to place a parcel tax on this November’s ballot — to raise funds specifically to address many of the problems cited in the report. If the City College parcel tax and Governor Brown’s tax both pass, City College will have the money to restore many of the classes, services and liabilities that we’ve been unable to address.

As the largest community college in California, our mission and values are to serve all that come to the doors of City College, and let this be clear to our communities: We will never shrink away from that mission.

Chris Jackson is a member of the San Francisco Community College Board of Trustees

 

The malling of San Francisco

110

steve@sfbg.com

Shopping malls filled with national chain stores and restaurants are in many respects the antithesis of San Francisco. They’re the bane of any metropolis that strives to be unique and authentic. And those just happen to be qualities that make tourism this city’s number one industry.

The logic of modern capitalism, and its relentless growth into new markets, has already placed a Target or a Walmart, and a Nordstrom, Macy’s, Ross, or a JCPenney — along with a bevy of Starbucks, Applebee’s, Jamba Juice, and McDonald’s and myriad other formulaic corporate eateries — in just about every town in the country.

Do people really need them here, too? And in a city renowned worldwide for its scenic beauty and temperate (albeit sometimes foggy) climate, do people want to shop in the enclosed, climate-controlled malls popularized in the small or suburban towns that many residents came here to escape?

For me, the answer is no. Frankly, malls have an aura of artificiality that gives me the creeps — but I freely acknowledge that not everyone feels that way. Some San Franciscans may like malls and chain stores while others don’t.

But it doesn’t really matter what any of us think. Left unchecked, it’s the market that matters — and the logic of the market gives chain stores a huge competitive advantage over the mom-and-pops. Their labor and supply costs are lower, their financial resources are more extensive and appealing to commercial landlords, and their business models are based on constantly opening new stores.

All cities have to do is just say yes. And San Francisco has been increasingly saying yes to malls and chain stores.

The economic desperation that set in since the financial crash of 2008 has overcome the trend of resistance to so-called “formula retail establishments” that had been building in San Francisco during the years before the recession.

So now, rather than dying from neglect, the Metreon mall has been brought back to life by a huge Target store set to open this fall, the second Target (the other one at Masonic and Geary) going into a city that had once eschewed such national mega-retailers.

Just down the street, in the heart of the city’s transit-rich commercial center, the CityPlace mall that had been abandoned by its previous owners after winning city approval two years ago is now being built by new owners and set to open next spring with “value-based” national chain stores like JCPenney.

Projects funded with public money aren’t immune either. The new Transbay Terminal transit center now under construction will have its own mini-mall, with 225,000 square feet of retail, much of it expected to house national chains. Even more retail will be built on the ground floor of the dozen other nearby residential and office buildings connected to the project.

And it isn’t just these new malls going in a stone’s throw from the Westerfield Mall, Crocker Galleria, San Francisco Center, and other central city malls. All over town, national chains like the Whole Foods and Fresh & Easy grocery stores are replacing Cala Foods and other homegrown markets, or going into other commercial shells like the S&C Ford building on Market near the Castro.

Just a few years ago, the approval of Home Depot on Bayshore Boulevard (since then sold and opened as Lowe’s, another national chain) was a hugely controversial project approved by the Board of Supervisors on a closely watched 6-5 vote. Now, Lennar is building an entire suburban-style complex of big box stores on Candlestick Point, hundreds of thousands of square feet — without much controversy at all.

Even Walmart — the dreaded poster child for huge corporations that use their market power to drive down wages or force local stores out of business — is reported to be actively looking to open “a couple” of stores in San Francisco (see “Walmart sets sights on San Francisco,” June 24, San Francisco Chronicle).

To Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich and others who have long encouraged San Francisco to embrace the kind of urbanism advocated by famed author and activist Jane Jacobs — which emphasizes unique, neighborhood-based development that enhances public spaces and street life — accepting the malls feels like giving up on more dynamic urban models.

“It’s sort of an admission of failure,” Radulovich said. “It’s the failure of urbanism in San Francisco.”

 

 

MID-MARKET SYMBOLISM

Mid-Market Street is a bellwether for the type of city San Francisco may become. Every mayor since at least Dianne Feinstein in the late 1970s has called for the redevelopment of Mid-Market into a more active and inviting commercial and social corridor, and few have done so more fervently than Mayor Ed Lee.

Several city studies have explored a wide variety of ways to accomplish that goal, from eliminating automobiles and transforming Market Street into a lively pedestrian promenade to using redevelopment money, tax breaks, and/or flashy lighted signs to encourage distinctive development projects unique to San Francisco.

“But the city failed, so the market filled the void,” Radulovich said.

It isn’t that all shopping malls or enclosed commercial areas are necessarily bad, Radulovich said, citing the influential work by writer Walter Benjamin on the roles the enclosed “arcades” of Paris played in public life. “They work when they are an extension of public spaces,” Radulovich said.

Yet that isn’t what he sees being built in San Francisco, where what gets approved and who occupies those spaces is largely being dictated by private developers who are more interested in their bottom lines than with the creation of a vibrant urban environment where people are valued as more than mere consumers or workers.

San Francisco isn’t alone in allowing national chains to increasingly dominate commercial spaces. In fact, Stacy Mitchell, a researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said that until recently San Francisco was one of the best big US cities in controlling the proliferation of chain stores.

But the city has lost ground since its anti-chain high water mark in 2007, when voters approved Proposition G, which expanded the controls on formula retail outlets — generally requiring them to get a conditional use permit and go through public hearings — that the Board of Supervisors had approved in 2004.

Those controls are only as good as the political will to reject a permit application, and that doesn’t happen very often. A memo prepared last July for the Planning Commission — entitled “Informational Presentation on the Status of Formula Retail Controls” — found that of the 31 formula retails applications the city received since 2007, just three were rejected by the commission, six were withdrawn, and 22 were approved.

It’s gotten even worse since then, as the two Targets and other chains have been courted and embraced by Mayor’s Lee’s administration, whose key representatives didn’t respond to Guardian interview requests by press time.

Mitchell said it’s not nearly as bad in San Francisco as it is in Chicago, New York City, New Orleans, and other iconic US cities whose commercial spaces have been flooded with chains since the recession began.

“It’s nothing compared to the no-holds-barred stuff going on in New York City right now,” Mitchell said. “Walking down Broadway now is like a repeating loop of the stores you just saw further up the street.”

It isn’t that these cities are actively courting the national chains in most cases. It’s just that in the absence of strong local controls, developers and large commercial landlords just prefer to deal with chains, for a variety of reasons.

“If you’re just going with the flow of what developers are doing,” she said, “you always end up with national chains.”

And that’s what San Francisco has started to do.

 

 

MALLS LIKE CHAINS

Stephen Cornell, the owner of Brownie’s Hardware and a board member of the nonprofit advocacy group Small Business California, said chains have a huge competitive advantage over local businesses even before either one opens their doors.

“In general, landlords tend to like chains more,” said Cornell, whose business has struggled against Lowe’s and other corporate competitors. “The landlord always worries: is this guy going to make it and do they have the funds to back it up?”

Big corporate chains have lawyers and accountants on staff, and professional systems established for everything from buying goods to opening new stores, whereas most local entrepreneurs are essentially figuring things out as they go along.

“They’re very good at selling themselves,” Cornell said. “They’re going to manipulate the system perfectly, whether it’s the city and its codes or dealing with neighborhood merchants.”

And for large malls, Cornell said the problem is even worse. Brokers that fill malls have standing relationships with the national chains — most of which are publicly traded corporations seeking to constantly expand and gain market share — and no incentive to seek out or take a chance on local entrepreneurs.

“Chains have a lot of advantages,” Cornell said.

Mitchell said there are two main ways in which malls favor national chains over local businesses. In addition to the relationship between mall brokers and national chains, malls are often built with financing from financial institutions that require certain repayment guarantees.

“What they want to see are credit-worthy clients signed onto those places, and that means national chains with a credit rating from Standard & Poors,” Mitchell said, noting how that “automatically locks out” most local businesses.

Cornell also noted that national chains have already figured out how to maximize their efficiency, which keeps their costs down even though that often comes in the form of fewer employees with lower pay — and less reliance on local suppliers, accountants, attorneys, and other professionals — which ends up hurting the local economy. In fact, big chains suck money out of the city and back to corporate headquarters.

“All those people are making money and spending money here, so you have to look at the full circle,” Cornell said.

Mitchell said there are often simple solutions to the problem. For example, she said that city officials in Austin, Texas recently required the developer of a large shopping mall to set aside a certain percentage of the units for locally owned businesses.

So rather than hiring a national broker to find tenants, the developer hired a local broker to contact successful independent businesses in the area who might be interested in expanding, and the project ended up greatly exceeding the city’s minimum requirements.

Mechanisms like that, or like the formula retail controls pioneered in San Francisco, give her some hope. But she said, “Whether the counter-trends will be enough to counter the dominant trend, I don’t know.”

 

 

PUBLIC SUBSIDIES

The increased malling of San Francisco isn’t simply the result of official neglect. Often, the city’s policies and resources are actively encouraging the influx of chain stores. A prime example is the massive redevelopment project on Hunters Point and Candlestick Point that city voters approved in 2008 after mega-developer Lennar and most San Francisco political officials pushed the project with a well-funded political campaign.

“If you’re selling the land to Lennar for a dollar, and then building all the automobile infrastructure for people to get there, then that’s a massive public subsidy,” Radulovich said of the big-box mall being built on what was city-owned land on Candlestick Point.

That public subsidy creates a cycle that makes San Francisco less intimate and livable. Creating commercial spaces on the city’s edge encourages more people to drive on congested regional roadways. These spaces are filled with national chain stores that have a direct negative impact on small, locally owned stores in neighborhood commercial districts all over the city, causing some of these businesses to fail, meaning local residents will need to travel further for the goods they once bought down the street.

“Those neighborhoods are going to be less walkable as a result,” Radulovich said, noting how the trend contradicts the lip service that just about every local politician gives to supporting local businesses in neighborhood corridors. “There’s a certain schizophrenia to San Francisco’s economic development strategy.”

Sup. Eric Mar has been working with Jobs with Justice San Francisco and other groups to tweak city policies that have allowed the chains to proliferate. Last year, Mar held high-profile hearings in City Hall on how national chains impact local businesses, which pointed to the need for additional protections (see “Battling big box,” Jan. 3).

This year, he’s working on rolling out a series of legislative initiatives designed to level the playing field between local interests and those of Wall Street and the national chains it champions.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors approved Mar’s legislation to add banks to the city’s formula retail controls, a reaction to Chase Bank and other national banks snapping up vacant stores in neighborhood commercial corridors such as Divisadero Street.

Now he’s working on legislation that would mandate minimum labor and community benefit standards for chain stores — including grocery outlets such as Fresh & Easy — and study how chains affect San Francisco’s overall economy.

“There should be good neighbor policies when they come into a neighborhood,” Mar said. “Some neighborhoods are so distressed they may want a big box grocery story coming in, but we need to try to mitigate its negative impacts.”

One of his partners in that effort is his brother, Gordon Mar of Jobs with Justice, who argues the city needs to have a clearer picture of how national chains impact local communities.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in corporate chain stores coming into San Francisco in the last year, and nobody has really been tracking it,” he said.

While the Planning Department’s quarterly pipeline report shows that applications for retail outlets has held steady at about 3 million square feet on the way in recent years, it doesn’t break out how much of that is national chains — let alone how that impacts the city’s economy and small business sector.

The city’s Legislative Analyst is now studying the matter and scheduled to release a report later this summer, which Gordon Mar said will be helpful in countering the narrow “jobs” rhetoric that now dominates City Hall.

“They are exploiting the economic recession by saying they’re bringing much needed jobs into the city and serving low-income residents,” he said. “But when you bring out the facts about the impact of these low-road retail stores on neighborhoods and small businesses, there is a net loss of jobs and a lowering of labor standards.”

 

 

VALUING MALLS

Yet the fate of those controls is uncertain at best, particularly in a tough economic environment in which the city needs revenue, people are desperate for jobs, and many residents have seen their buying power stagnate, making the cheap goods offered by Target and Walmart more attractive.

“It’s complicated stuff,” Michael O’Connor, a local entrepreneur and former member of the Small Business Commission who favors formula retail controls, told us. “Stores like Target do appeal to lower income families…The progressive agenda needs to understand that working-class families need somewhere to shop.”

O’Connor acknowledges how small businesses like those he owns, including a clothing store, often can’t compete with national chains who buy cheap goods in bulk. So he said he favors protections in some neighborhoods while allowing chains in others, telling us, “I don’t have a problem with the Target going into the Metreon.”

That argument also held sway with city officials when they considered approving the CityPlace project two years ago, which was presented as a mall filled with “value-based” stores that would be affordable to median income San Franciscans.

“At the time, the decision was around whether a value-based retail operation made sense in that location, and the answer was an emphatic ‘yes,'” Barbary Coast Consulting founder Alex Clemens, who represented the project, told us.

On a national or global level, there are good arguments against reliance on national chains selling cheap imported goods, which has created a huge trade deficit between the US and countries such as China that costs American jobs — ironically, the very things that some use as arguments for approving chain stores.

“The recession has created a climate of desperation where cities are more easily swayed by the jobs argument,” Mitchell said, noting the falsity of those arguments by pointing to studies showing that the arrival of chain stores in cities usually creates a net loss in employment. Finally, supporters of chain stores say the cash-strapped city needs the property and sales tax revenue “Because they say they’ll produce a lot sales tax revenue, they’re going to get away with all kinds of shit,” Cornell said, arguing that shouldn’t justify city policies that favor big corporations, such as tax breaks and publicly financed infrastructure. “I certainly don’t think [city officials] should be giving them any advantages.” There are few simple solutions to the complex and interconnected problems that result from the malling of San Francisco and other cities. It’s really a question of balance — and the answer of whether San Francisco can regain its balance has yet to be answered. “Given the mayor’s approach to economic development, it’s inevitable that we’ll have more coming into the city,” Sup. Mar said. “But the ’50s car culture, and the model of malls that came in the ’60s, don’t build communities or strong neighborhoods.”

What if the mayor lied?

16

EDITORIAL The case Mayor Ed Lee is presenting to the Ethics Commission is no longer about whether Sheriff Ross Mirkarmi injured his wife, Eliana Lopez, or whether his actions were atrocious and unacceptable. Those facts are not in dispute — although Mirkarimi pled guilty to a less-serious misdemeanor, he has not denied that he grabbed Lopez’s arm and squeezed hard enough to leave a bruise. Even his strongest defenders aren’t condoning that or dismissing the seriousness of this incident of domestic violence.

Much of the evidence Lee has presented goes to different issues — for example, the allegation (so far, without any proof) that Mirkarimi sought to dissuade witnesses from coming forward .

And formally, the question Lee is raising is a larger one: Did Mirkarimi’s action rise to the level of official misconduct — or, in the words of Lee’s testimony, did his conduct “fall below the standard of decency, good faith, and right action that is impliedly required of all public officials?”

Now Lee is facing that same question. It’s something the commission needs to address — not only because it goes to the heart of this particular case but because the public has a right to know if the mayor of San Francisco lied under oath on the witness stand.

In fact, now that two credible witnesses — one a city commissioner, the other a former supervisor — have made public statements that indicate Lee was dishonest in his testimony, the District Attorney’s Office should open an investigation. Perjury is a felony crime — and while it’s hard to prove, there are critical facts that are missing. The only witnesses who have direct (non hearsay) corroboration have been unwilling to discuss the matter in detail, and only the DA and Ethics have the ability to issue subpoenas and ask them the key questions under oath.

Lee testified that he hadn’t discussed the case or his deliberations over filing charges with any member of the Board of Supervisors. But Building Inspection Commission member Debra Walker told reporters that her friend and ally, Sup. Christina Olague, had recounted having a conversation with the mayor on that topic right before the charges were filed. Olague denies that, but has declined further comment.

Then Lee testified that he never offered, or authorized anyone in his office to offer, a job to Mirkarimi in exchange for his resignation. Former Sup. Aaron Peskin says Lee ally Walter Wong approached him and asked him to convey exactly such an offer to the sheriff on behalf of the mayor. Peskin recalls the exact date, time and place of his meeting with Wong, and he mentioned the offer to Guardian reporters long before this trial began. Wong has declined to speak to reporters.

So at the very least, there are grounds for the commission members to allow Mirkarimi’s lawyers to question Olague and Wong — and if either of them contradicts the mayor’s sworn statement, it would raise serious doubts about Lee’s credibility. And that’s central to the official misconduct case: Mirkarimi’s lawyers argue that the sheriff was never given due process and that the mayor never tried to learn Mirkarimi’s side of the story. The mayor says Mirkarimi refused to tell that story. The commission vote could hinge on that dispute — and if Lee lied about other parts of his testimony, it would be fair to question everything he said. And if Lee can’t hold himself to the standards of decency and good faith, the voters need to know that.

And whatever the outcome, it’s clearly time for the supervisors to look at the City Charter section on official misconduct. Because the current law allows the mayor to suspend and charge any elected official in the city, entirely on his or her own discretion — but there’s no way (short of a recall election) to charge, impeach, suspend or remove the mayor. It’s an imbalance that gives the chief executive extraordinary powers with little accountability. That’s not good government.

Freeing Frank Ocean

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC If there was ever a genre that needed a good kick in the ass, it was R&B. For every Aaliyah, there have been ten J. Holidays, content to toe the party line and continue singing those same ol’ songs. Lucky for us, a slew of exciting artists (the Weeknd, Miguel, How to Dress Well) have revitalized the genre by crafting progressive work and bringing new influences and ideas into the mix. None has shone brighter than Frank Ocean.

After moving to Los Angeles in his late teens with only $1,200 in his pocket, the New Orleans native found work ghostwriting tracks for artists like Justin Bieber and John Legend. He didn’t really start making waves until he joined up with controversial, LA-based hip-hop collective, Odd Future, at the end of 2009. After signing with DefJam as a solo artist, Ocean struggled to get his debut LP nostalgia, ultra released, so he decided to do what many artists do: release it himself.

The free album lapped up critical acclaim and downloads, catapulting the 24-year-old to the upper realm of the blogosphere. It only takes one listen of nostalgia, ultra to see he isn’t your older cousin’s R&B singer. Instead of another disc full of tired come-ons and “I’m sorry baby” slow jams, the record is littered with soul searching, introspection, and fascinating storytelling all delivered in Ocean’s warm and effortless tenor.

The album’s lead singles deal with suicidal fantasies (“Swim Good”) and drug use (“Novacane”) with staggering perspective and clarity, something we aren’t used to hearing in R&B. Though he doesn’t shy away from heavy subject matter, he never lets it weigh down his buoyant, hopeful music. For a lot of artists, music is an escape, but Ocean understands that if you can find beauty in the struggle, there’s no need to search for an escape.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMfPJT4XjAI

From there, Ocean worked with heavyweights like Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nas, and Beyoncé, while preparing his highly-anticipated proper debut, Channel Orange (due out July 17). Its lovelorn first single, “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You,” was a huge smash, and his first American tour sold out in nanoseconds. So we know the rest of the story right? Star rides his prodigious talent to the top of the charts, and spends the next 30 years counting money, living the dream, and collecting teacup elephants, right? Not so fast.

In the past four weeks, Ocean made two decisions that tell you everything you need to know about what makes him so different. First, on June 8, he released Channel Orange‘s second single, “Pyramids,” the most challenging single a mainstream R&B artist has released in recent memory. It’s an audacious, multi-movement, hook-free epic touching on time-travel, strip clubs, and ancient Egypt. And it is absolutely brilliant, probably the best song of 2012. While I’d imagine that Lyor Cohen and Co. greeted the 10-minute space jam with about as much enthusiasm as a colonic, it shows the scope of Ocean’s vision and his punk rock spirit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqEq28LaNlQ

That’s the magic of Frank Ocean; he is completely unafraid to challenge his listeners, and so far, they’ve stuck with him. But, on July 3, he gave them their biggest test yet.

Taking to his Tumblr, Ocean penned an articulate, heartbreaking post about his first love and subsequent heartbreak. The catch? The pronoun.

Quote from statement:

“4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I’d see him, and his smile. I’d hear his conversation and his silence … until it was time to sleep. Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiation with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love, it changed my life.”

The manner of the statement is pure Frank Ocean. On the eve of what was sure to be his greatest triumph, he risked everything in the name of truth. If you read the entire statement (which you should), he writes about the anguish and confusion he felt at the time, but also emphasizes the inherent beauty and innocence of first love.

In many ways, the statement reads just like a new Frank Ocean song: honest, beautiful, brave, painful, and incredibly emotive. Ocean has always been a hopeless romantic who has never been afraid to tackle heavy subjects with staggering honesty and clarity without regard for the conventions and conservatism of his chosen medium. And he does that here. That’s what makes him so special, as a man and as a singer.

FRANK OCEAN

Mon/16, 9pm, sold out

Regency Ballroom

1290 Sutter, SF

(415) 673-5716

www.theregencyballroom.com