Volume 46 Number 42

Volume 46 Number 42 Flip-through Edition

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Double visions

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virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE A strong concentration of cutting-edge American chefs are right here in the Bay Area. Widely acknowledged in food publications and among global diners, Bay Area creativity has been ascendant in recent years. Collaborative dinners between local chefs and with chefs from countries beyond our borders uniquely showcase the forward-thinking cooking coming out of our region. I’ve been privileged to attend recent one-of-a-kind dinners (like the one this week between culinary “it” town Copenhagen chef Christian Puglisi of Michelin-starred Relae and Bar Tartine’s visionary chef Nick Balla).

During a weekend in May, one of Australia’s star chefs, Ben Shewry of Attica in Melbourne (www.attica.com.au), joined the incredible David Kinch at Michelin-starred Manresa in Los Gatos (www.manresarestaurant.com). Both chefs are known foragers, utilizing local bounty in their restaurants in bursts of pure inspiration — Manresa sources its produce from nearby Love Apple Farms (loveapplefarm.typepad.com), which holds classes on urban goat-raising, cidermaking, edible perennials, and more. The hours-long dinner was not just a visual feast of color combinations, it was a dream of freshness in unexpected forms, heartwarming in taste.

Shewry started with walnuts in their shells, unadorned and tender, while Kinch offered carrots, clams, and savory, textural granola dotting vegetable marrow bouillon. Shewry’s fresh crab and artichoke leaves arrived softly layered, dotted with citrus cream. Unlike any crab dish I’ve had before, it nearly dissolved on the tongue, a striking as the sea yet elegantly subtle. A stunner. As was his beauty of diced sweet potato, purslane, and egg doused in a creamy pool of Cabot clothbound Vermont cheddar. Kinch’s gorgeous dessert was a silken, custard-like mound of white chocolate surrounded by crispy quinoa, goat’s milk ice cream, and a strip of rhubarb resembling an elevated fruit roll-up.

Manresa is a destination any time, with garden-fresh cocktails, impeccable service, and excellent wine list. The partnership this particular weekend showcased two world class chefs side-by-side, melding their visions.

As part of SF Chefs’ (www.sfchefsfoodwine.com) current Dinner Party Project, which teams up local chefs in themed dinners leading up to the big food and drink classic swiftly approaching August 2-5, inventive chefs Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn (www.ateliercrenn.com) and Jason Fox of Commonwealth (www.commonwealthsf.com) partnered at Dominique’s restaurant, for a special dinner on July 8. Both chefs connect over a similar ethos apparent in their delicate yet bold, often playful, cooking styles. Alternating courses, they produced bright, summer-spirited dishes.

An amuse bouche certainly did amuse: little white chocolate shells dubbed “Campari explosions” actually exploded with vivid, joyously bitter Campari reduction, paired alongside a Campari and blood orange cocktail aperitif. Both chefs rocked the tomato in unexpected ways. Fox played with green tomato in the form of a jelly disc gracefully dotted with silky uni, shiso mint leaves, and refreshing cucumber granita. Crenn saluted the glories of red and yellow tomatoes in varying forms and textures — peeled, sorbet, etc. — in a vibrant bowl accented by goat cheese, edible flowers from her home garden, and a strip of lardo, that beauty of pig fat salume, for rich contrast.

Unpredictable touches jumped out, like Fox’s frozen “white snow” over corn pudding topped with grilled sweetbreads and tempura-fried okra (paired beautifully with a 2006 Pierre Morey Bourgogne Chardonnay), or another Fox hit: bone marrow puree animating hearts of palm, skinned red potato and poached ruby fish, happily paired with a cup of duck consommé tea. The meaty tea seamlessly interacted with the vegetables and bone marrow, highlighting a masculine mischievousness in Fox’s stylish cooking. Besides her truly imaginative take on tomatoes, my other favorite Crenn dish arrived dramatically on a scooped stone slab graced with a chocolate branch and an edible, glistening silk nest filled with dehydrated vanilla pods over sweet corn and porcini mushrooms. Like a treasure found in an enchanted forest, the dish explored both savory and sweet whimsically, a feminine wildness tempered by refinement.

We’ll see more from both skilled chefs — and many others — during SF Chefs days’ long extravaganza, which I look forward to every year in tented Union Square. It’s a pleasure to witness our region’s best collaborate with each other and the finest globally, a reminder as to how the Bay Area is in the midst of yet another culinary renaissance, one of many the past few decades.

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

 

Trust the police?

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yael@sfbg.com

On July 16, 2011, Kenneth Harding Jr. lay bleeding on the ground. He was surrounded by San Francisco Police officers, who were in turn surrounded by neighbors and community members. The minutes ticked by and no ambulance arrived. After 28 minutes, Harding was dead at 19. The official story: after being stopped in a Muni fare check, Harding ran from police, drew a gun, and shot himself.

A year later, family members and community supporters maintain that the official story is a lie. A protest on his death’s anniversary this week shut down Muni service for an hour in his honor.

But protesters weren’t speaking of just Harding. Since he was killed by law enforcement officers, so were Charles Hill, Alan Blueford, and Derrick Gaines. All have led to varying degrees of protest that feed tensions between the cops and segments of the community.

Hill’s fatal shooting by a BART cop in San Francisco sparked last summer’s OpBART demonstrations, the energy from which flowed into early manifestations of the Bay Area’s Occupy movement, which was also marked by tense standoffs with cops that were followed by “fuck the police” marches throughout the Bay Area.

Despite such lingering tensions, Mayor Ed Lee recently suggested curbing gun violence by giving cops stop-and-frisk authority, a controversial idea that has been the subject of massive protest movements in New York City where what critics say is widespread racial profiling heightens tensions between police and communities of color.

Lee’s idea was widely criticized, triggering the Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution on July 10 criticizing the idea, urging Lee to abandon it, and saying it would destroy trust between the community and police.

There has always been tension in San Francisco between police and segments of the community, but a series of emotional, high-profile episodes and unsatisfying official responses over the last year has frayed that relationship even more than normal.

 

HARDING’S CASE

When Harding was killed, his mother Denika Chatman moved from Seattle to San Francisco. She wanted to convict the officers she believes murdered him. But the SFPD announced within weeks of the shooting that Harding had shot himself.

Now, Chatman and attorney John Burris have filed a federal lawsuit. “I know that it was murder,” she said. “I know his human rights had been violated.”

Chatman and other family members and friends maintain that when Harding was stopped while off-boarding the T train by SFPD officers and asked for proof of paying the $2 fair, he was unarmed. Harding ran, and those officers drew guns and shot him.

Police say that Harding had pulled out a gun as he ran and shot at police, prompting their return fire. They didn’t recover a gun at the scene, but after a weeklong “community effort,” police say a neighbor turned in a gun found at the scene.

The gun shot .38 caliber bullets, police reported—smaller than the .40 caliber bullets in a standard-issue SFPD weapon. The police crime lab then concluded Harding’s fatal wound was from a .38 caliber bullet, a finding confirmed later by the Office of the Medical Examiner.

A widely circulated video show’s Harding on the ground, bleeding to death, as police stand around him.

But as SFPD spokesperson Carlos Manfredi tells it, “The officers did not just stand around. Officers had just been involved in a violent confrontation, they were fearful for their lives…A hostile crowd began surrounding the officers.”

“It wasn’t until more officers arrived on scene to assist the primary officers and prevent them from being surrounded by a hostile crowd that could have potentially escalated the situation. Not to mention, the ambulance would not be able to enter a violent scene that could potentially put their lives at risk, until we feel it is safe,” he said. “Remember, the officers did not know if Harding was laying under the gun. Approaching an armed gunmen who was shooting at officers is extremely dangerous and life-threatening.”

But many say the police shouldn’t be afraid of the community it patrols. When Chatman moved to the Bay Area, she says, she found a community in Bayview-Hunters Point. She also found support in a movement against police violence, made up largely of grieving mothers.

When hundreds marched in San Francisco demanding that George Zimmerman be charged with murdering Trayvon Martin in Florida, Chatman joined other African American mothers in condemning police killings of their sons. Since Martin’s death, similar deaths have continued in the Bay Area.

Alan Blueford, 18, was killed May 6 in Oakland three weeks before he graduated high school. Derrrick Gaines was 15 when he was fatally shot June 5 in South San Francisco. Each case feeds anew the fears and resentments some communities feel toward the police.

 

POLICING THE COMMUNITY

Some Occupy reactions continued a tradition of a certain type of radical response to police: just get them out. For many, police are like foreign occupying forces in neighborhoods, afraid of locals they don’t understand and willing to shoot to kill in mildly threatening situations. Harding and Gaines were running away when they were shot; Blueford was allegedly wielding a screwdriver. In all these situations, shooting to wound likely would have sufficed for self-defense.

When asked how she would like to see police interact differently with Bayview-Hunters Point residents, Chatman didn’t see much potential. “Not at this point,” Chatman said. “There’s been too many murders. Things would have to change drastically. And the mayor trying to implement a stop and frisk? Kenny is a worst example of stop and frisk and racial profiling.”

Indeed, at the end of a tense year, Mayor Lee’s idea of adopting the stop-and-frisk tactics used in New York and Philadelphia has been met with intense dissent. Sup. Malia Cohen — whose District 10 includes Bayview-Hunters Point — and former Mayor Willie Brown, two of the mayor’s supporters, immediately came out against the idea.

“San Francisco should remain focused on community policing that values both law enforcement and building relationships with communities who live with gun violence. Anything less would undermine decades of hard work in building trust between local law enforcement and our neighborhoods,” she wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed.

Even the SFPD is wary of the idea.

“We are not passing stop and frisk,” Manfredi told the Guardian. “It’s not even an option on the table for the department. We’re using the same method we’ve been using this whole time: probable cause and reasonable suspicion.”

 

A TROUBLING PATTERN

The anniversary of Harding’s death comes a week after the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement released a highly circulated report that concluded an African American is killed by a police officer or someone “deputized to act in their name” every 40 hours.

“We call [the killings] ‘extrajudicial’,” the report notes, “because they happen without trial or any due process, against all international law and human rights conventions.” The report notes that only nine people have been charged in the 110 killings it looks at, and none convicted.

On paper, San Francisco isn’t having a particulary bad year. Manfredi said there have been “two officer-involved shootings and at least one was a fatality” so far in 2012. That’s compared to eight officer-involved shootings with three fatalities in 2011 and 14 officer-involved shootings with three fatalities in 2010.

But community perceptions and unease can linger for a long time when incidents don’t seem properly investigated or atoned for.

“It’s very alarming. Especially the rate that it’s happening at. And anybody is paying attention, they’re starting use all the same stories for all these young black teenage males that they’re murdering,” Chatman said.

Alan Blueford, 18, was killed by Oakland Police on May 6. He was confronted by police on suspicion of hiding a gun and ran away. Police first said he had drawn a gun and shot an officer as he ran; an investigation later revealed that the officer who was injured shot himself in the foot. There has been no evidence uncovered that Blueford had a gun.

A month later, Derrick Gaines, 15, was confronted by South San Francisco police, again for looking suspicious. Police say he ran away and drew a gun, and that they needed to fire in self-defense. At a community speak-out July 13, Gaines’ mother, Rachel Guido Red, said she had just received the coroner’s report. It’s conclusion? “Derrick was shot in the back.”

She related what she believes happened: “He was running. He was scared. He was tripped by the officer, and he didn’t have a chance to pick himself up because this man played judge, jury, and executioner.”

Over and over, police investigations clear the cops of wrongdoing, as an investigation of Hill’s shooting on a San Francisco BART platform recently did. Chatman said lawsuits like the one she filed are often the only way to seek justice.

 

DEMANDS FOR CHANGE

Chatman wants to see shoot-to-kill policies changed. “I would like to see a bill passed making these people responsible for murder,” she said. “And then maybe they’ll start going back to original ways, of maybe wounding somebody, firing a warning shot, or doing something to injure the person, instead of shooting to kill. Because now they all come with their guns drawn. How come every police man there has to shoot? Why do they all have to shoot? Why can’t one officer shoot, and just shoot to wound?”

Manfredi said the policy isn’t shoot-to-kill, but it isn’t shoot-to-wound either. Instead, it’s to aim for “center mass” (the torso area) and shoot until there is no longer a threat. “We never, ever had a shoot to kill policy,” he said. “We shoot to stop the threat. And once we assess the threat and realize there’s no longer a threat, then we stop.”

Sharen Hewitt, founder of the Community Leadership Academy and Emergency Response Project (CLAER) is also indignant about Harding’s murder. “I don’t think that I should pay for Kenneth Harding to be shot down in my streets because he didn’t have two dollars,” she said.

In her decade of work with CLAER, Hewitt has overseen many projects that improved conditions for families whose children were killed by police, from funding funerals for families who can’t pay to bury their dead to counseling for family members other than biological parents of murdered kids. CLAER also sends emergency responders to sites of murders.

“We thought it was important to deal with the immediacy of the homicide and provide support so we could mitigate the possibility of retaliation,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt also has ideas for how to increase trust in police. “They need to understand the nuances, so they see Johnny with the hoodie on and know, he’s a star quarterback. I’d like to see my cops, paid by my tax dollars, not going to Sonoma County to spend them. One day the officer might be out running and he’ll have a hood on, and he’ll understand the nuances of what people are going through,” Hewitt said. She also advocates for housing set-aside for police in every neighborhood, insuring that officers live in neighborhoods they patrol.

We asked Manfredi about this idea. “I’m a big proponent of having officers live in the community where they work, because then they can engage with the community,” he agreed. But, he said, “one of the major issues about San Francisco, the cost of living is extremely high. To buy a home out here, we’re talking in the millions of dollars. That’s just too expensive.”

He said that to make the idea work, the city would need to “implement some type of program or plan where they offer discounts for public officials so they can afford to live in the city.” He explained that even in less expensive areas like Bayview and Sunnydale, the cost of housing would be too high for police officers to raise a family.

The current entry-level salary for SFPD officers is $88,842 to $112,164. By comparison, the median household income in San Francisco is about $71,000. According to city-data.com, the median household income in Bayview is $47,147. In Sunnydale, Hewitt’s neighborhood, that figure is $33,641. “I would say, the police are part of the community,” Hewitt said. “And they must be held to community standards. What I’d like to do is make it part of common thought that they are perceived as community members.” She said the African American community has differing ideas on how to address police-related problem, but the tension is widely felt. “It’s not like the black community is monolithic,” she said, “although we are bearing the collective brunt.”

Gated communities of hate

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OPINION “I have been arrested for 3 times in one day for sitting on the street in San Francisco” PoorNewsNetwork panhandler reporter and my fellow “poverty skolar” Papa Bear reported in our monthly community newsroom meeting last week.

As Papa Bear reported on yet another example of being arrested for the sole act of being poor, black and houseless in America, I received a text message from Berkeley that after a second round of seven hours of testimony against the proposal to put a sit-lie measure on the November ballot, it was approved anyway.

From Santa Monica to Santa Cruz, from Atlanta to San Francisco, cities across the US have been sliding towards fascism and the casual criminalization of poor people with the 21st century pauper law known as the sit-lie law.

As I have asked before — and I will ask again with the hope that readers will truly think this through: How did we all buy into the notion, without even realizing it, that emptiness equates with cleanliness, that public space should be empty to be clean and that public really doesn’t mean public anymore, if its filled with the “wrong” people?

When me and my poor Black/Indian mama dealt with houselessness and racist and classist profiling throughout my childhood, we were arrested multiple times for the sole act of sleeping in our car in certain neighborhoods, and eventually I was incarcerated for those poverty crimes — and no matter how many times I was arrested, cited, and incarcerated, my or my mama’s poverty didn’t go away. As a matter of fact, it got worse.

Berkeley, more than these other cities, is pretty ridiculous, because so many activists live there and work on issues of Palestine and immigration and anti-war and economic justice. It just shows the true colors of separatist, grant-guideline-fueled organizing that does not connect and conflate all of these struggles together.

As a poor indigenous mother who struggles on welfare and has been incarcerated and houseless for years for the sole act of being poor, my criminalization is completely connected to my migrant brothers and sisters fighting borders and to my sisters and brothers who struggle with colonization and globalization in the global south and beyond.

I cannot work against the false borders and occupation in Palestine and not work equally on the false borders and occupation by police and ICE in Mexico, Oakland, or Berkeley. I cannot work against the war in Iraq and not also work against the war on the poor.

But corporations and wanna-be corporations — not people — are in control of politricksters in these cities. So the racist and classist lies and mythologies about those dirty, crazy, and dangerous houseless people or young people of color flood the dialogue surrounding the issues of sit-lie, and gang injunctions, and increased police terrorism against poor folks of color. And the real issue — who defines what is public space and who can be considered the public? — is ignored.

I ask readers as this issue comes up on the ballot in Berkeley, as it did in San Francisco, to really think about the kind of world we are becoming, the ease with which we are thinking and incarcerating certain people and the borders and gates and locks we are putting in place that will eventually change our supposedly public and free society into smaller and smaller, gated, racist, communities of hate.

Tiny, aka Lisa Gray Garcia, runs POOR Magazine and is a poverty scholar and activist.

 

Shutting down Sunshine

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EDITORIAL The unwillingness of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to follow the City Charter’s rules on open government has reached a new level of absurdity: The Sunshine Ordinance Task Force voted July 11 to stop meeting, because the supervisors wouldn’t appoint the legally mandated members.

Technically, the fuss is over a provision in the law creating the Task Force that mandates one member must be a physically disabled person with a demonstrated interest in open-government issues. That was written into the law in part because access to meetings for people with disabilities is an ongoing area of concern.

But the supervisors refused to reappoint Bruce Wolfe, a longtime task force member who met that criterion — and who had the respect of independent and progressive leaders all over town. And none of the six people the board did appoint qualify as physically disabled.

So the City Attorney’s Office advised the task force that it would be violating the charter if it met and took any action — and although the chance that the courts would invalidate task force decisions might be slim, the members could face fines. So the panel did the prudent thing and quit meeting.

Now, for all practical purposes, there is no Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, and it will be in legal and political limbo until the supervisors appoint a disabled member.

That follows on the heels of the board refusing — for the first time since the creation of the task force in 1999 — to seat the nominees of the Society of Professional Journalists, New American Media, and the League of Women Voters. Those organizations were given the right to submit names for three seats as a way to ensure that some of the task force members were from outside City Hall and represented media and good-government groups.

So the agency that it supposed to protect the public’s right to access records and meetings has been stacked with City Hall-friendly appointees and now is unable even to hear complaints.

There’s no question that some supervisors are annoyed with the task force, in part because it’s issued some rulings that board members disagreed with. But the task force is supposed to come down on the side of public access whenever possible, and if the agency is doing its job, it’s going to piss off politicians. The response shouldn’t be to seek retribution by denying its ability to function.

The supervisors are demanding that SPJ, NAM and the League submit new lists of nominees, with multiple names, which is unprecedented and difficult: These grassroots groups are supposed to line up a group of volunteers for a difficult, time-consuming, unpaid job — then tell them that all but one of them will be rejected by the supervisors? Who’s going to want to be in that position?

The three organizations should hold their ground, resubmit their nominees and ask the supervisors to follow the City Charter. And the City Attorney’s Office needs to offer some clarity here: Can the supervisors, in a fit of pique, shut down a Charter mandated watchdog agency? Really?

 

Batter up

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS Hedgehog and me are on the road again. Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone Park, and the Mission lie ahead — by mere days! — and shrinking in the rearview mirror are both our families, several old priced-out-of-SF pals, 10 big states, four or five completely different kinds of barbecue, and many, many baseball games. Including big league ones, a minor league one, a semi-pro one, and a little league all-star game.

The American pastime, you will be happy to know, is alive and well on the other side of the bay. At PNC Park in Pittsburgh, for example, there are Polish Hill dogs, which are hot dogs with pierogi on them.

Earlier today, in a desperate attempt to be healthy, we both ordered grilled tilapia at a little family restaurant in Chenoa, Illinois. Make note, in case you are ever out Chenoa-way: “grilled,” in Chenoese, means breaded and fried.

You know me: I love these kinds of curveballs. But Hedgehog, who is still smoldering from the ears over a grilled pork chop disguised as a fried ham steak that occurred to her in Georgia three years ago, was less amused.

She has antiquated notions about the things she eats. She wants them to be what they are. That’s why I was surprised a couple nights ago in Youngstown, Ohio, my hometown, when she wanted to go to C. Staples barbecue.

The last time we were in Youngstown, a year ago or so, I took Hedgehog to C. Staples so she could experience the barbecue I lost my barbecue virginity to, which (and I warned her) isn’t barbecue so much as fried chicken slathered in a tangy, gritty sauce and served on white bread.

As I recall, she wasn’t amused.

So why did she insist on a do-over this year, on our way to the ballpark (Connecticut Tigers 5, Mahoning Valley Scrappers 4)? And why was C. Staples’ unbarbecued barbecue so freaking delicious this go-round?

I don’t have an answer.

And Youngstown was not the biggest barbecued revelation of our last thousand miles. That would be Pittsburgh, where, before the game, Moonpie and her man took us to Union Pig and Chicken. There, the truly smoked chickens and ribs and ohmigod the pork shoulder rocked my little world harder than it’s been rocked in a long time — by barbecue anyway. The brisket was only so-so, but that’s OK, cow being merely a special guest at Pig and Chicken.

San Francisco Giants 6, Pittsburgh Pirates 5.

We tend to root root root for the home team, so that game was kind of confusing for us. Not so Cleveland, where the Indians spanked the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 7-3. We met Kiz and her man beforehand at Hodge’s — a place fancy enough to bring out amuse bouches and unfancy enough for the amuse bouches to be tater tots. Crème fraiche for dipping.

There were lobster corn dogs with banana ketchup too, but that’s neither here nor there. Well, it’s there.

Here, we have the wonderfully fluorescent and blue collar Vientiane Cafe, on Allendale in East Oakland — which may as well be Des Moines to most City dwellers, I realize. But that’s OK. Go stand in line at San Tung.

We first discovered Vientiane last fall during our desperate search for a replacement for San Tung’s dry fried chicken wings. Angel wings, Vientiane calls them, and they come crispy and piled up on the plate, all second joints — which, as it happens, is both of our favorite joints, mini-drumstick be damned. Speaking for myself, I just like sticking my tongue between those two little bones, and getting the goods.

That joint reminds me of eating crawfish and crabs, and some other things. Vientiane’s dark, sticky sauce, according to Hedgehog, tasted like it belonged on Cracker Jacks.

Berwick 8, Danville 7.

Besides these angelic cracker jack wings, I love the papaya salad, which is almost too spicy and fish saucy, even for me. The menu has probably a hundred Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese dishes, and I hope to eventually try all of them. New favorite restaurant!

VIENTIANE CAFE

Daily 11am-9pm

3801 Allendale Ave., Oakl.

(510) 535-2218

AE,D,MC,V

No alcohol

 

City College fights back

19

news@sfbg.com

When your options are bad, terrible, and unthinkable, how do you choose which way to go? And should that decision be graded on a curve that takes into account the dire fiscal circumstances facing most public colleges in California these days?

City College of San Francisco (CCSF), which serves more than 90,000 students a year, last year did what some consider unthinkable: laying off administrators and leaving a reserve fund at dangerously low levels in order to save classes and stave off faculty layoffs. The current $187 million operating budget has a reserve of only $2.2 million, or just over 1 percent compared to the state-recommended 5 percent.

Such decisions may cost the college its accreditation and threaten its very existence, but they also represent legitimate differences over what role educational institutions should play in their communities.

In June, the college came under fire for administrative and financial mismanagement by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, a private organization that evaluates K-12 schools and higher education institutions every six years.

Although the commission applauded the school for its commitment to students, it placed the school under its most severe sanction before accreditation is terminated: “show cause.”

It identified eight problem areas that the college has failed to address since 2006, which include measuring student learning outcomes, attaining financial solvency, and revising the college’s mission statement to reflect current fiscal realities.

“The team finds that the current, ongoing funding for San Francisco City College appears insufficient to fully fund the mission of the college as it is currently conceived,” the commission wrote in its June report. “The team advises the college to assure the mission of the college is obtainable based on accurate short-term and long-term funding assumptions.”

Essentially, the commission is recommending a refocusing of the school’s mission to prioritize college transfer classes. The report went on to say that too many people making decisions through a highly decentralized governance system slowed down or halted altogether the college’s ability to make cuts where it needed to — or where the state and commission thought cuts should be made.

These competing visions of how community colleges should continue to exist have driven a wedge between local college officials and state-level decision makers — a clash made clear through City College’s accreditation woes.

“It’s not that City College isn’t doing a good job, it’s that these are emerging trends we have,” former Student Trustee Jeffrey Fang said. “In the long run, it might actually improve City College. The bad part is that it came at a time when we are so strapped and mired neck deep in political games.”

Those games have starved funding for public education statewide, in the process redefining the role of community colleges.

“City College has a very ambitious mission. Part of that mission is that it’s a true community college,” CCSF spokesperson Larry Kamer said. “Now, decisions are being made de facto by the budget and we need to re-evaluate that mission.”

 

PUTTING THE “COMMUNITY” IN COLLEGE

Adult education used to be integrated into K-12 districts. But over the years, two-year “junior” colleges took over that responsibility, transforming them into today’s “community” colleges.

The newly minted community colleges began serving thousands of immigrants learning English, job seekers needing new skills, and elderly citizens looking to continue their education. But when California’s budget crisis hit a critical point, that all began to change.

Three years ago, the California Legislature said when the community colleges cut courses, they shouldn’t cut courses involving transfer, career technical education, and basic skills, State Community College Chancellor Jack Scott said in a phone interview.

Scott is responsible for overseeing all 112 community colleges in California, a quarter of all community colleges in the country. He’s on the cusp of retirement, and the end of his tenure has been marked with the changing mission of the colleges he oversees.

“I want it clearly understood that I personally want to see the community colleges offer all the classes it wants to,” he said. “But with scarcity, you have to prioritize. If you offer the same classes you did before, you’ll go bankrupt. Something has to give.”

The state agreed and asked community colleges to prioritize enrollment, with a focus on recent high school graduates who plan to transfer to a university in two years and anyone else seeking a degree or certificate.

If community colleges can’t afford to offer classes sought by their broader communities, and K-12 schools are ill-equipped to plug back into that task, does the notion of continuing adult education just fade away?

David Plank, executive director of policy analysis for California Education, a Stanford University-based research center, says it just may: “I don’t think that responsibility will be reimposed on K-12 districts because it was always seen as a sort of add-on supplementary responsibility.”

 

BUDGET WOES TRICKLE DOWN

California’s Master Plan for Higher Education — which mandates that community colleges provide classes for everyone — only worked as long as there was money to fund it. But Plank says that money has been steadily shrinking since 1978 when voters passed Proposition 13, which capped property tax increases and raised the voting threshold for the Legislature to increase other taxes.

As funding from Sacramento has been slashed by more than $500 million in the past year alone, California’s 112 community colleges have turned away more than 300,000 students trying to enter the system. If Governor Jerry Brown’s tax proposal wins in November, community college funding will stay at about the same level, but if it fails, the system will see further cuts of more than $340 million.

“The system now is breaking down,” Plank said. “We’ve finally reached a point where the state’s share is too small to hold things together. We see tuition going up at very rapid rates and a substantial deterioration both in access and affordability.”

In flush times, community colleges could serve everyone — rich and poor, those seeking new skills and others working toward a new degree. Now, the community college system faces two choices if it’s unable to find new sources of revenue: continue on the path of deep cuts, or change its priorities altogether.

City College Board member Steve Ngo cites new statistics that show enrollment in English as Second Language (ESL) classes are trending down, a sign that those classes should be cut first. “The community should lead. If the demand is down, you’re not serving your community,” he said.

Yet others say community colleges should strive to serve everyone who needs them.

“Some [classes] are really valued by our Pacific Islander population, but their enrollment may not be as high. Should those classes go away? I don’t think so. It’s something I feel like the whole college community needs to come to grips with” CCSF math instructor Hal Hunstman said.

City College ESL instructor Susan Lopez said her classes have been cut about 29 percent over a decade, which she considers drastic.

“Despite that large and somewhat intentional reduction, we still serve 20,000 annually throughout the city. By comparison with our very large ESL Department, the English Department serves only 7,000,” Lopez said. “How could we abandon those who are most educationally needy and often desperately poor in favor of those who are less needy?

“We need to step up adult education across the board,” she said. “The problem is all the pressure to do less and to fund less of this type of education.”

 

SMOTHERED ON ALL SIDES

The accreditation commission is an independent body, but it’s been pressured too.

“In the current climate of increased accountability, our regional accrediting associations find that tight spot to be more like a vice,” a commission newsletter said in 2006. “On one side are forces at the national level ready to throw out regional accreditation in favor of a federal approach; while at the local level, they are faced with institutions resistant to rapid change and increased scrutiny.”

In the past year, private entities ponied up thousands of dollars to help usher in a new numbers-based approach to education. In 2011, a 20-member body comprised of public and private representatives was charged with evaluating the community college system.

Called the California Community College Student Success Task Force, its creation was mandated by the state, but to many people it reeked of privatization.

Several private organizations funded the task force’s work, including the Lumina Foundation, an educational research and grant-making institution with ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a controversial lobbying group for private interests that authored the Stand Your Ground gun law.

By fall 2011, students, faculty, and administrators across the state began to question the task force’s methods and recommendations, which initially included proposals to cut many non-credit and enrichment courses, restrict financial aid, prioritize transfer students, and cap the number of units one person could take.

Under the veil of increasing so-called “student success,” the task force was asking schools to prioritize limited funds and change their missions to once again become “junior” colleges — a fate that City College has refused to accept.

City College’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution in November 2011 opposing the task force, nearly unanimously, with Ngo the sole dissenting vote. Then-Chancellor Don Griffin warned that the task force’s agenda was a transparent attack on open access that would disproportionately affect poor people and people of color, imploring the board to reject its recommendations.

“They’re talking about taking over the vehicle of community colleges and turning it into something else,” Griffin said. “We have to take a hard stand because everybody around the state is watching City College of San Francisco.”

Students and faculty at City College joined the fight. They spoke out at Board of Governors meetings in Sacramento. They wrote letters, emails, and scathing editorials. The school’s student-run school newspaper, The Guardsman, led a statewide campaign opposing the task force.

Despite the public’s concerns, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors adopted the task force’s final report in January.

“As wonderful as open admissions is, if it’s a false promise to an objective, it fails,” Peter MacDougall, Board of Governors member and task force chair, said at the January meeting.

“Our objective is to have that promise realized, that’s what the recommendations are intended to achieve.”

Ultimately, the initiative succeeded, shifting priority enrollment to students who are freshly in the college system. The Task Force report is now Senate Bill 1456, sponsored by Sen. Alan Lowenthal and commonly known as the Student Success Act of 2012.

 

AHEAD OF THE PACK

As everyone waits with crossed fingers hoping for a favorable outcome at the ballot in November, City College officials are fighting keep the school open.

“Do we alter our mission slightly, or fundamentally? It’s not clear yet what we’re going to do,” Ngo said.

The trustees have until October to present the commission with a plan and then until March to prove they can achieve it. In the meantime, the commission requires that preparations be made for potential closure, which Interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher and other CCSF officials say won’t happen.

Only two other community colleges received a “show cause” order this year: College of the Redwoods and Cuesta College. Yet as of January, 25 percent of California’s community colleges are under sanctions, according to the accreditation commission documents.

Federal funding hinges on the certification and other educational institutions, such as the University of California and the California State University systems, only accept transfer credits from other accredited institutions.

Everyone seems to agree that City College is too big to fail — with more than 90,000 students, it’s the largest community college in the nation — but how it will look and operate in the future remains unknown.

City College already cut dozens of classes this year — including many with students already enrolled after the spring semester began. But City College isn’t alone in its plight.

Santa Monica Community College caused an uproar earlier this year when it proposed charging more for popular classes. As of July 1, classes cost $46 per unit but under Santa Monica’s proposal students would pay $180 per unit for courses in high demand.

When students protested this two-tiered payment system in April, police pepper-sprayed them, just five months after UC Davis students received the same brutal treatment for holding a non-violent Occupy-style action against their own tuition hikes.

“What we see is a move towards privatization, in the sense that we are now expecting students to pay a larger share of the cost,” Plank said. “Over certainly the last 40 years, California has been steadily disinvesting in post secondary education.” Whether tuition increases at the CSUs and UCs in the near future depends on whether voters approve Brown’s tax proposal this November. City College’s financial future hinges not only on the governor’s tax proposal, but a local parcel tax initiative as well. City College needs both to pass in November just to break even. “A lot of San Francisco’s workforce is educated at City College,” City College board member Chris Jackson said, adding that for poor and working class people, it’s the only affordable option. In addition, as veterans return from foreign conflicts, ex-offenders are released from prison and enrollment capped at the state universities, Jackson said, “We need local investment in City College.”

Do not disturb

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Todd Solondz elicits a variety of responses, nearly all of them extreme, and nearly all reasonable enough. You can look at his work and find it brilliant, savage, challenging; or show-offy, contrived, fraudulent. The circles of interpersonal (especially familial) hell he describes are simultaneously brutal, banal, and baroque.

But what probably distresses people most is that they’re also funny — raising the issue of whether he trivializes trauma (rape, murder, child abuse, etc.) for the sake of cheap shock-value yuks, or if black comedy is just another valid way of facing the unbearable.

His dialogue is enjoyably snappy, in the sense that the cat doubtlessly enjoys the crunchy snapping of bones in the bird or mouse it’s caught (and which the fox then enjoys in the cat). He’s very good with actors — it’s not easy to draw fully dimensionalized performances from such grotesque material. But these strengths only further muddy the line he walks between a theater of cruel hyper-realism and facile, modishly mean-spirited satire.

After 17 years and six features (excluding 1989’s Fear, Anxiety & Depression, a tampered-with debut he’s disowned), it seems safe to say the truth is somewhere between. While variable, his films have stayed interesting despite their narrow thematic and stylistic range. Life During Wartime (2009), the “sequel” to Happiness (1998), had startlingly good sequences even as it dutifully handed more ammo to the naysayers. No matter how suspect his intentions, it’s difficult to shrug off the alarming punch in reptilian Charlotte Rampling’s pickup of Ciarán Hinds, his tense reunion with the son he’d molested, or Allison Janney’s whole portrait of a hapless “good” mother self-justifying one bad decision after another. It proved, at the very least, that Solondz hadn’t lost his edge.

That’s why Dark Horse is disturbing — because it isn’t, in his usual way, and because it’s such a slight, inconsequential, even soft movie by his standards. This time the sharp edges seem glibly cynical, and the sum ordinary enough to no longer seem unmistakably his.

It opens at a wedding reception, always a ghastly ordeal for single people who figure themselves losers. In that regard, Abe (Jordan Gelber) would be right — he is a big fat loser, an obnoxious jerk of about 35 who still lives with his parents (Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken) and works at dad’s office, likely because no one else would employ him.

But Abe doesn’t exactly see himself as a loser. He resents and blames others for being winners, which is different — he sees the inequality as their fault. Spying Miranda (Selma Blair) at the reception, clearly miserable, he perceives someone whose self-esteem is so low she might lack the will or good sense to resist his awful personality when it’s forced upon her.

He’s right. Miranda’s self-loathing is such that after some bewildered and mortified initial resistance, she figures she … deserves him. In the interest of full disclosure, however, she airs some skeletons from the past, and these rattle Abe’s barricade of angry obliviousness. So does getting fired by his fed-up dad, being asked to move out, discovering something weird about the office secretary (Donna Murphy), and so forth. Plus there’s the eternal aggravation of being much less smart, handsome, and successful than his brother Richard (Justin Bartha), whom he thus blames for “ruining my life” — and who doesn’t even lose points with mom and dad for being gay! So unfair.

Dark Horse flirts with something interesting by letting these factors tear at Abe’s deniability until he starts suffering delusional episodes — ones in which people tell him exactly the truth about himself. (Farrow’s simpering voice has seldom been put to better use than a sequence in which her infallibly supportive mother uses just the same sugary tone to inform Abe he’s always been a waste of space.)

But Dark Horse is less of an ensemble piece than most of Solondz’s films, and in hinging on Abe, it diminishes his usual ambivalence toward flawed humanity. Abe is a buffoon, like a particularly unfunny Zach Galifianakis supporting character in a broad commercial comedy inexplicably given center stage in a low-key seriocomedy. The awful people in prior Solondz movies were also repellant, yet partly because we could perceive enough of their pathos to make them even more squirm-inducing. Abe has no pathos, or other redemptive qualities. He’s just an annoyance, one whose mental health issues aren’t clarified enough to induce sympathy. The director’s deliberately crap pop soundtrack choices and tritely ironic ending only further reduce these 86 minutes to a thin, overextended joke.

That’s disappointing for Solondz, though admittedly if Dark Horse were by somebody else its modest virtues might be more easily appreciated. In particular, the erratic Blair is excellent here — she digs into Miranda’s depression so deeply we marvel that the woman can still summon energy to walk and talk.

 

DARK HORSE screens Thu/19 at San Francisco Film Society Cinema; it opens Fri/20 in Bay Area theaters.

Personal detectives

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cheryl@sfbg.com

SFJFF This year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival includes a trio of documentaries inspired by ephemera: hand-scrawled memoirs and journals, decades-old letters, fading photographs, and yellowing newspapers, long-forgotten and crumpled into attics and storage closets.

Dust be damned, for all three filmmakers — Arnon Goldfinger (The Flat), David Fisher (Six Million and One), and Daniel Edelstyn (How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire) — become obsessed with these scraps from the past, and with piecing together their family histories, all of which were studded with tragedy and rarely discussed with younger generations. The task requires the kind of determination that can only be mined from a deeply personal place — and it results in some deeply personal films.

The docs are similar, especially when viewed in the short span of a festival, but Goldfinger’s The Flat is the standout. It begins as the filmmaker’s family descends upon the Tel Aviv apartment of his recently-deceased grandmother, “a bit of a hoarder” who lived to 95 and seemingly never got rid of anything. This includes, as Goldfinger discovers, copies of the Joseph Goebbels-founded newspaper Der Angriff, containing articles about “the Nazi who visited Palestine.” The Nazi was Leopold von Mildenstein, an SS officer with an interest in Zionism. Turns out he made the journey in 1933 with his wife and a Jewish couple named Kurt and Gerda Tuchler — Goldfinger’s grandparents.

Understandably intrigued and more than a little baffled, Goldfinger investigates, finding letters and diary entries that reveal the unlikely traveling companions were close friends, even after World War II. His mother, the Tuchler’s daughter, prefers to “keep the past out,” but curiosity (and the pursuit of a good documentary) presses Goldfinger forward; he visits von Mildenstein’s elderly daughter in Germany, digs through German archives, and unearths even more surprises about his family tree. Broader themes about guilt and denial emerge — post-traumatic coping mechanisms that echo through generations.

Family is a favorite subject for fellow Israeli David Fisher (2000’s Love Inventory). For Six Million and One, he rounds up his brothers and sister for a visit to the Austrian concentration camp where their late father was held as a teen. The elder Fisher recorded his thoughts in a memoir that only David can bear to read. As the siblings engage in the odd pursuit of being tourists in a place of brutality — the film illustrates the town’s changing landscape through eerie, before-and-after photos — their playful arguments escalate into legit psychodrama as the camera rolls and four raw nerves react to their intense emotions.

Interspersed with this journey is David Fisher’s visit with some American veterans who saw unimaginable horrors when they arrived to liberate the camps. It becomes clear that post-traumatic stress doesn’t just affect Jewish families grappling with the after effects of the Holocaust. When Fisher wistfully remarks that his father never spoke about his experiences, an elderly solder tells him, “Maybe you’re better off not having heard the stories.”

Lighter in tone, but with an equally serious back story, is Daniel Edelstyn’s How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire, which follows the British filmmaker’s quest to import the vodka made at the Ukrainian factory once owned by his great-grandfather. The disheveled Edelstyn, who admits he has no business experience, pinballs between charming and exasperating as he fumbles through meetings with distributors and dodges hostile locals in his grandmother’s hometown. Despite the film’s title, Edelstyn’s adventures in booze are less compelling than the tale of that grandmother, whose remarkable life is re-enacted with sepia-toned silent film-style clips (starring Edelstyn’s wife, Hilary Powell, who’s also the film’s cinematographer), and miniature animations.

 

THE MORE YOU KNOW

There’s more for fans of non-narrative cinema, as SFJFF unspools several biopics that also delve into troubled pasts — with significant triumphs along the way. No one embodies this more than Roman Polanski, subject of Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir, directed by Laurent Bouzereau and structured as a sit-down conversation with longtime Polanski pal and producer Andrew Braunsberg. If you’re hoping for hardball questions or new information on Polanski’s colorful life, prepare for disappointment; the familiar pillars of the Polanski legend (traumatic childhood growing up as a Polish Jew during World War II; filmmaking success with films like 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby and 1974’s Chinatown; wife Sharon Tate’s gruesome death at the hands of Charles Manson’s followers; and that oh-so-inconvenient sexual assault charge, which came back to haunt him 30 years after the fact) are all covered.

If you’ve read Roman By Polanski, the director’s autobiography, or seen the 2008 doc about his struggle with scandal, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, this is familiar turf. But to hear the celebrated director share his memories in his own voice, encouraged by an interviewer he trusts, is a unique experience.

You won’t hear the spoken voice of passionate, patriotic Yoni Netanyahu, the Israeli commando who died leading the 1976 hostage-rescue mission at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport, in Ari Daniel Pinchot and Jonathan Gruber’s Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story. But Netanyahu — adored older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s current Prime Minister — was prolific letter-writer, and his words (read by actor Marton Csokas) are an invaluable component of this affectionate portrait. But it’s not all heroic platitudes: Netanyahu, who also fought in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, put the military above everything else, including his marriage.

“I don’t ever remember walking as a young person,” jokes sportscasting great Marty Glickman at the start of James Freedman’s upbeat Glickman. “I always ran. It was just my nature to run.” Though he’s referring to his extraordinary sprinting ability, which got him all the way to the 1936 Olympics (where he was denied the chance for certain glory for Hitler-related reasons), it’s also kind of how he lived his life, attacking bigotry and adversity with sunny side-up resilience. Glickman died in 2001, but his life was well-documented — when he wasn’t making sports history, he was doing the play-by-play for it. As an influential broadcaster (basketball fans: he was the first one to say “Swish!”), there’s no shortage of famous fans willing to weigh in: Bob Costas, Bill Bradley, Jerry Stiller, Jim Brown, and Larry King, who has supremely high praise for Glickman’s skills: “It was like his voice was attached to the ball.”

SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL

July 19-August 6, most shows $12

Various Bay Area venues

www.sfjff.org

 

Melody machers

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>>Read Cheryl Eddy’s take on this year’s SFJFF documentaries here.

SFJFF “All greatness comes from pain.” The simple statement comes from Raoul Felder, brother of legendary R&B songwriter Doc Pomus, in the beautiful, crushing mediation on his brother’s life, A.K.A. Doc Pomus, the closing-night film of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Doc wrote some of the greatest music of a generation: R&B and early rock’n’roll standards such as “This Magic Moment,” “A Teenager in Love,” “Save the Last Dance For Me,” and “Viva Las Vegas” — songs made famous by the likes of Dion, the Drifters, and Elvis Presley. Jewish, debilitated by polio, and vastly overweight, Doc defied expectations while struggling with a lifetime of outsider status and physical pain.

It’s a subject that runs — albeit in far paler shades — throughout many of the fest’s music-filled documentaries. Defying limitations, strength through struggle, alienation, outsiders looking in; these all come up again and again. Tsuris to nachas, struggle to get to joy. All that plays out in the films, along with wildly varying (R&B, hip-hop, classical old world violin, 1990s-era Australian grunge pop) and vibrant music created by the subjects.

In Y-Love, about the gay, formerly Hasidic (still Orthodox) black Jewish rapper, these themes of isolation persist, almost painfully so. Having just come out during the year of filming, Y-Love seems to be smack dab in the midst of his struggle, and not yet capable of showing it all to the cameras following him through performances in Israel, his childhood neighborhood in Baltimore, and a New York recording studio. Most of these scenes are a bit long, focusing intently on Y-Love’s furrowed brow as he talks in great detail about the past without revealing much about how it’s affecting him now.

That’s not to say he hasn’t achieved something notable — we see that part. Y-Love does have followers, his records are starting to gain some traction, his YouTube videos have plenty of hits. He’s an anomaly in the communities he’s chosen (Judaism, the hip-hop scene), and owes his burgeoning artist status to this. He defied an agonizing childhood with an alcoholic, drug-addicted mother by turning to Judaism — a religion he first heard of in a TV commercial, a story he mentions in most interviews — and using word flow to study Torah.

On the other side of the world, and from an entirely different generation, there’s Jascha Heifetz, the gifted subject of God’s Fiddler. Growing up in rural Russia in the early part of the last century (he passed away in 1987), he was attached to the violin nearly since birth — a voice-over tells the story of Heifetz as a baby being soothed by the instrument’s sound — and a prodigy by age 5. Heifetz struggled with a demanding father and rising anti-Semitism, and had to fight to live in Saint Petersburg: the city had a quota for the amount of Jews allowed within its limits, not to mention the amount of Jews allowed to study at its prestigious music conservatory. But his eventual international attention and success led to a period of rebellion; negative reviews led the wunderkind to contemplate suicide. Emerging from the darkness, he re-focused on his instrument — but never again smiled while playing.

Though Ben Lee was born in Sydney, Australia some 77 years later, his musical journey — traced in fun, frenzied, colorful doc Ben Lee: Catch My Disease — mirrors Heifetz’s in certain ways. His first bout with fame also came at an early age, as a precocious tween in ’93 with his band Noise Addict. He went on to achieve higher levels of attention as a solo artist, steadily releasing poppier albums throughout the late ’90s and early ’00s, but never again reached as wide an audience outside of Oz (where he is a bona fide superstar).

Catch My Disease features interviews with ’90s mainstays and enduring entertainers like Thurston Moore (who discovered Lee as a child), Beastie Boy Mike D (who signed him to Grand Royal), actor Winona Ryder, and former girlfriend Claire Danes; Lee emerges as a well-rounded, exuberantly talented musician, always chasing a seemingly unattainable level of success.

SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL

July 19-August 6, most shows $12

Various Bay Area venues

www.sfjff.org

Lunch hour

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC What’s your idea of a productive lunch break? Mine involves returning a failed online shopping purchase to FedEx with just enough time to grab a sandwich to shove into my face back at my desk.

DJ Matt Haze, of the Slayers Club collective, hates this. “A lot of my friends work in the tech industry or in finance,” he explains. “Even though they’re eating a nice gourmet lunch, they’re eating it at their desks. They’re not taking a moment to breathe or take their eyes off the monitor… I want to provide an outlet for people during the day.”

That outlet is RECESS, a new monthly (for now) midday party Haze is organizing with Sunset Promotions. The goal: to get as many young, San Francisco office workers to take full advantage of that magical allotted free hour during their day by getting sweaty with like-minded PYTs on the dance floor.

The daytime lunch party idea isn’t entirely new. The Swedes have been doing it with wild success since 2010, under the name Lunch Beat, but Matt is quick to point out that his idea for RECESS came independently. He first shared the idea of a lunchtime party with friend and Scoutmob Community Manager Lauryn McCarthy.

She was the one who told him about the Lunch Beat phenomenon, which he credits for motivating him to make RECESS a reality. “I was spurred into action,” he says, “knowing that someone else had a similar idea and was making it work in Europe. I thought if any city in the US should have a lunchtime dance party, surely it’s San Francisco.”

Surely indeed. Last week, my coworker and I headed to the RECESS launch party (NOTE: future installments will be dubbed bEATs for Lunch out of respect to an already-existing Oakland Recess party that was just brought to the organizers’ attention).

That kickoff event was held at Monarch, a club at the lively intersection of Sixth and Mission Streets.

We passed a small crowd standing on the side of the Monarch building, eating sandwiches in the sunshine (RECESS provided free, vegetarian sandwiches from Ike’s to the crowd, but we were too late to snag a bite — alas, they looked pretty good).

With our IDs checked, we headed into the small bar and lounge area. Less than 10 people were scattered around the bar and a few couches, chatting and eating. House music bumped from the basement. I wondered if the dance floor was experiencing the same sparse attendance.

We ventured toward the music, passing two sweaty girls who were laughing and fanning their faces on their way up. I was shocked when we hit the basement.

Here was the party. Not the daytime awkward-fest I’d been imaging. It was a party-party with club lighting and projectors splashing trippy footage of abstract art and bare boobs and squiggly lines across the walls. Haze was dancing behind his turntables, spinning an electrifying set of house music mixed with the likes of Depeche Mode and eclectic world music.

And because everyone was coming from work, they were dressed casually. No guys in shiny button-down shirts or girls with torture-devices strapped to their feet.

The vibe was fun, inclusive, and warm. Maybe because we were all doing something a bit out of the norm, everyone was smiling and jumping, laughing and making real eye contact with each other. It was a genuinely positive atmosphere without dreaded pretension.

My coworker and I stayed for 45 minutes. We pounded a drink at the bar — this is another way the SF event differs from the strictly non-alcohol-offering Lunch Beat — and danced with abandon. People began trickling out around 1:45pm.

Back at the office, I was noticeably less tense and in a fantastic mood. It’s hard to pinpoint why RECESS feels so exciting and illicit. Yes, you’re sneaking off to a club in the middle of the workday, but it’s your lunch break. No broken rules there. Still, there’s a rush that comes with using that time to do something just for you.

The next bEATs for Lunch (formerly RECESS) will take place Aug. 8 at Monarch.

Retro future

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC The sad truth of dance music is that the party necessarily ends. Tailor a song too much for the floor tonight and it’s lifeless on the street or in the car tomorrow. Factor in the conflation between EDM and electronic music, and the latter can be all too often stuck in the shadow of the club. With his latest solo album, Salton Sea, Danish music producer Tomas Barfod steps out into new territory.

Barfod — a.k.a. Tomboy, also the drummer for electro-rock act WhoMadeWho — has worked on more projects than I could count: producing, running a label, booking Copenhagen’s Distortion festival, and lots of DJing. But tired of nonstop club performances, he recently decided to refocus and moved to LA “It was about getting away from doing gigs and focusing on studio work, that was the main goal of going away,” Barfod said. “But also to start from zero in a totally different — and awesome — environment.”

This environment allowed Barfod to work with Leeor Brown’s burgeoning label Friends of Friends, home of talented producers including Shlohmo, Salva, and Groundislava. “I’ve always had a vision about where I wanted my career to go, and almost always ended there, but never on the path that I expected,” Barfod says. Working with FoF has been an unexpected path. “It started when MySpace was almost dead. I hardly ever checked my messages, but I got one from Leeor. It took us a couple of years to really figure out how to work together, but when I moved to LA there was no question that we should do an album.”

The result is Salton Sea, named after the California lake area that’s now largely an abandoned wasteland. (Imagine the post-apocalyptic setting for a Fallout video game or Mad Max movie.) In the early 1900s, an engineering accident flooded the area and created a lake that was for a few decades rebranded as a utopian resort town.

One track on the album recalls this, consisting of a single repeated lyric: “everybody came to party.” An ecstatic house track? A hedonistic rager anthem? Barfod affects another mood entirely. The voice is robotic, with zero emotion, over a brooding four to the floor bass beat. The lyric is a statement that begs a question: and then what happened?

Saline levels rose. Water became polluted. Fish became infected with botulism and washed up on the beach. In the case of the Salton Sea, the past returned, the party was over, the people left.

Barfod describes himself as a “retro-romantic” for “places where nothing has been touched for ages. It doesn’t need to be pretty, as long as it tells a story about the past.” He was working on music and collecting pictures of abandoned places and things — ships being cut up in India at Alang Beach; empty offices in Detroit — so when Leeor told him about the Salton Sea it was a natural fit. “It’s a really special place,” Barfod says, “the lake is kind of timeless.”

Similarly timeless is Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic set against an environmental dystopia. Not wanting to be too influenced by new music, Barfod cites the film, particularly Vangelis’s soundtrack, as something he listened to a lot while making Salton Sea. Its stamp is there, beginning with the racing arpeggio and slow synth chord progressions that open the album on “D.S.O.Y.”

But the influence is beyond references. A video posted by Barfod shows visual designer Syd Mead discussing minute details like parking meters as he creates the futuristic world of Blade Runner. Key to the aesthetic is building on existing layers so that buildings use ceiling fans in an era of flying cars, and a geneticist can create artificial humans but wears coke bottle glasses. It’s a regressive sort of futurism, but ages surprisingly well.

Listening to Barfod there’s a sense of wanting to make something that sounds good now, but will last. “I think it’s very hard to make something timeless. However my way of trying is that I tend to use analog sounds in my drums and synths, and acoustic instruments so it sounds somewhat retro, but on the other hand I use a lot of computer generated effects that are new and almost futuristic. I don’t know if it makes my music timeless but I like it like that.”

The lesson of the Salton Sea is that the future can’t escape the past. The lesson of Blade Runner is that the future can’t escape the past. Tomas Barfod is in a new home, with new collaborators, and a new label, but at the same time it’s not a complete break. (Among the new voices on Salton Sea is his WhoMadeWho bandmate, Jeppe Kjellberg. When we exchanged emails Barfod was back in Europe for gigs.) While he’s moving into the future, Barfod has his eyes and ears on the past.

FORWARD WITH NITIN, TOMAS BARFOD, ADNAN SHARIF, AND MORE

Sat/21, 9pm, $15–$20

Public Works

161 Erie, SF (415) 932-0955

www.publicsf.com

Asylum seekers

1

arts@sfbg.com

THEATER From Broadway blockbuster Les Misérables (at the Orpheum) to offbeat courtly lounge act Her Rebel Highness (at Harlot), 18th-century radical postures are enjoying an unexpected vogue at the moment — as anachronistic and bracing as a pinch of snuff. But let the truly adventurous eat Marat/Sade. In what may be the year’s most felicitous blend of company, producer, and material, Thrillpeddlers and Marc Huestis offer an exuberant, exquisitely trashy, and note-perfect revival of Peter Weiss’s radical 1963 play, permeating the enormous Brava Theatre with an infectious delirium perfectly in sync with restive times.

Helmed with operatic flourishes and insouciant humor by artistic director Russell Blackwood, Marat/Sade unfolds meticulously and vibrantly across an imposing pasteboard set (by James Blackwood) that aptly looks something like a sprawling lavatory with enormous glory holes, covered over in political graffiti (from “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” to “Ayn Rand fucks you”). Whatever debt it owes to the original legendary production (staged by Peter Brook for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and made into a film in 1967), this Marat/Sade is fully inhabited by the raucous libertine spirit and Grand Guignol aesthetic of Blackwood’s adventurous company and its artistic confreres — including former Cockettes Scrumbly Koldewyn (the show’s astute musical director and pianist) and Rumi Missabu (who excels as the straightjacketed and wild-eyed Jacques Roux, radical upstart priest of the French Revolution).

The play’s full title — The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade — pretty much says it all, plot-wise. The date is July 13, 1808, 15 years to the day after Girondist partisan Charlotte Corday stabbed Jacobin leader Marat to death as he soaked in his bath. The French Revolution, having since lost many more lives in a tidal wave of bloodshed, has succumbed to Napoleon and the return of the old guard, wrapping themselves in the mantle of 1789. A skeptical, revolution-weary but ever defiant Sade (rivetingly personified by a darkly charming Jeff Garrett) has been granted permission to perform his play in the institution’s bathhouse. There the asylum’s director, quintessential bourgeois twit Coulmier (a comically wound yet nicely restrained Brian Trybom), watches the performance with wife (Lisa Appleyard) and daughter (Carina Lastimosa Salazar), intervening now and then to protest feebly Sade’s reinsertion of some previously censored lines.

Sade (once a real-life inmate at Charenton) meanwhile leads his variously deranged cast in a reenactment of the death of the Jacobin leader. The “actors” (or “patients” to Director Coulmier and his regime of mental hygiene) are made up of political dissenters, social deviants, the desperately poor, the disempowered, the mentally ill — the lines blur pointedly here.

This play-within-the-play unfolds like a comically unhinged historical pageant, with bursts of anarchic energy, high political debate, and low provocation — all amid excellent renderings of composer Richard Peaslee’s wonderfully serrated songs (backed by Koldewyn, Victoria Fraser, Eden Neuendorf, and Birdie-Bob Watt on a mix of keyboard, percussion, brass and wind instruments). Marat (played with a biting intensity by a fine Aaron Malberg) argues with Sade while soaking continually in a bath to assuage the fever and itching from a debilitating skin disease, his wounds attended to by spouse Simonne Evrard (a sure Kära Emry).

Before he dies, Marat suffers three separate visits by Corday (played by a delicately incandescent Bonni Suval, as a narcoleptic and melancholic beauty with volcanic depths). But the real purpose of this thin plotline is the airing of competing viewpoints on the nature of revolution, freedom, power, individuality, social solidarity, authority, and (more implicitly) art’s role as a site of radical alternatives.

To this end, the large and able cast has its say in song and other outbursts, variously hysterical, macabre, louche, and chilling. But the preeminent voices are Sade, Marat, Corday, and Roux — all of whom attack, from competing angles, the problem of resistance in the modern age, where bureaucratic class-rule comes in the name of democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity, and other terms appropriated by the modern state.

Effortlessly recalling recent popular uprisings across a shuddering planet, these archetypal voices of dissent sound as alive as ever in Weiss’s eloquent dialogue — an iridescent mix of the philosophical, poetical, and scatological. As the cast belts out for a final time the show’s blunt refrain, “We want our revolution now!”, the actors spill over the stage and the inmates take over the asylum, enveloping the audience in a coup d’état that is simultaneously a coup de theatre, and a thoroughly carnivalesque upending of norms. It’s enough to make you lose your head.

MARAT/SADE

Through July 29

Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm (also Sun/22, 1:30pm), $20-$38

Brava Theatre

2781 24th St, SF

(415) 863-0611

www.ticketfly.com

NUDE BEACHES 2012

7

Editors Note: Below you’ll find our annual update on the state of nude beaches in the Bay Area, along with detailed guides and directions to several of our favorites. For details on dozens more, please see our complete Nude Beaches Guide, which we are in the process of updating. 

NUDE BEACHES Arrests for being naked on the sand, anti-nudity warning signs going up at previously unthreatened spots, outright threats of beach closures, social activists making their mark on San Francisco’s most well-known clothing-optional beach: this is shaping up to be one of Northern California’s busiest nude beach seasons in recent memory.

Faced with a July 1 deadline, on June 28 Governor Jerry Brown’s administration announced it saved or would stall shutting down all but one of 70 state parks and beaches targeted for closure due to budgetary shortfalls. These include three sites in our annual guide: Montara’s Gray Whale Cove, Carmel’s Garrapata State Park, and Zmudowski State Beach in northern Monterey County.

Officials said they would use $13 million in bond money in the budget to keep the properties running at least through summer. Some 40 parks will remain open for an estimated one to five years, due to temporary funding and support agreements being negotiated with nonprofit foundations and other organizations. More than 25 other properties, including Gray Whale Cove, also known as Devil’s Slide, will keep going while deals are completed.

When asked exactly how long Gray Whale Cove, Garrapata, and Zmudowski would stay open, California State Parks spokesman Dennis Weber told me they could keep going for a month, the entire summer, a year, or even longer. “We don’t know how much time we have,” he said.

Paul Keel, the state parks sector superintendent for the area that includes Gray Whale Cove, was more optimistic. He told me he’s keeping the popular beach open through at least the end of July because while “nothing’s been signed or inked, it’s fair to say we are optimistic” an agreement with a private operator or nonprofit will be finalized before then. Until the state took control, the site was run by a private licensee, San Francisco developer Carl Ernst and his company, Gray Whale Cove Enterprises, Inc.

Ruth Coleman, head of the State Parks and Recreation Department, said the bonds would fund solar power systems, as well as automatic pay machines that take credit and debit cards. And visitors arriving at Devil’s Slide or Garrapata are likely to notice signs that urge them to pay for parking instead of parking outside.

The card machines are likely to be particularly handy at Devil’s Slide after a long-awaited tunnel bypassing rockslide-prone Highway 1, which remains the access point to the beach, is expected to open this fall. Keel suspects the Devil’s Slide Tunnel will bring larger crowds to the beach.

But the news wasn’t all good. Maintenance and garbage pick up operations are likely to remain reduced or eliminated. In late June, Brown partly vetoed a larger, $41 million funding bill that had been OKed by the state legislature. State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who coauthored the bigger funding plan, criticized the veto, calling it “a lost opportunity to take action.” Another lost opportunity: in November 2010, California voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have raised about $500 million for state parks.

Meanwhile, while Sacramento was cutting back beach services, activists were making additions to the section of San Francisco’s Baker Beach used by nudists. Naturists have erected driftwood art sculptures and tent-like structures without walls, called “dunies,” at the north end of the beach. And they’ve vowed to keep the site free of gawkers by staring them down in what organizers call a non-confrontational approach to self-policing. “They usually decide to leave pretty soon,” says Santosh, 46, an artist and street fair producer.

Speaking of policing, in the past year cops have raided Garrapata and put up signs about nudity at Bonny Doon Beach and at least two other beaches north of Santa Cruz.

At Garrapata, rangers and lifeguards cited over a dozen persons for public nudity last summer and began patrolling the beach at least two times a day after receiving what lifeguard Eric Sturm told the Carmel Pine Cone were reports of “sex acts on the beach.”

And at Bonny Doon, Laguna Creek, and Panther Beach, “Nudity In The State Park System Is Prohibited” signs have been posted, although naturists there remain defiant and are still visiting the sites. “A 50-year tradition (of clothing-optional use at Bonny Doon) cannot be extinguished by a simple sign,” said Rich Pasco, coordinator of the Bay Area Naturists, after the signs went up. He urged nudists to “be polite and respectful” of rangers and suit up “if requested,” but to engage them in “intelligent conversations.” After two months, the signs at Bonny Doon, though, were taken down because, according to Joe Connors, public safety superintendent for state beaches in the Santa Cruz area, “we don’t get a big volume of complaints there.”

Want to join others in having fun at a clothing-optional spot this summer? The USA’s only naked “Full Moon Hikes” will take place in Castro Valley in late July, August, and September (see our listings online at SFBG.com for Last Trampas in Contra Costa County for details). Another idea to meet and socialize with fellow naturists: drop by Bonny Doon on September 15, when fans of the site will be gathering to keep it pristine by finding and removing trash.

Finally, you can aid the naturist community by sending me your new beach discoveries, trip reports, and improved directions (especially road milepost numbers), along with your phone number to garhan@aol.com or Gary Hanauer, c/o San Francisco Bay Guardian, 71 Stevenson, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.

Our ratings: [full moon] signifies a beach that is large or well-established and where the crowd is mostly nude; [half moon] indicates places where fewer than half the visitors are nude; and [quarter moon] means small or emerging nude areas.

SAN FRANCISCO

NORTH BAKER BEACH, SAN FRANCISCO

RATING: A

Social activists have begun streaming onto the sand of America’s biggest urban nude beach, creating what visitor Santosh calls “a tone that’s like Burning Man,” with regulars bringing guitars, drums, and Frisbees to the sand, putting up art work best described as eclectic, and occasionally staring down gawkers.” There’s no requirement that you go nude,” says Santosh, an artist, graphic artist, and producer of San Francisco’s How Weird Street Faire, an outdoor street fair held each year in the SoMa neighborhood as a fundraiser for the World Peace Through Technology Organization. “But if a creeper dude plops down next to a (nude) person or if they are staring at someone’s private parts and it’s happening close to where we are, on the far north end (of North Baker), then they will start being the object of ridicule.

Directions: Take the 29 Sunset bus or go north on 25th Avenue to Lincoln Boulevard. Turn right and take the second left onto Bowley Street. Follow Bowley to Gibson Road, turn right, and follow Gibson to the east parking lot. At the beach, head right to the nude area, which starts at the brown and yellow “Hazardous surf, undertow, swim at your own risk” sign. Some motorcycles in the lot have been vandalized, possibly by car owners angered by bikers parking in car spaces; to avoid trouble, motorcyclists should park in the motorcycle area near the cyclone fence.

LAND’S END BEACH

RATING: A

Considered one of the most beautiful places in the Bay Area to doff your togs, Land’s End should really be called Swimsuit’s End. The reason: although it draws more clothed users than nudists, more than a few swim tops and bottoms magically “disappear” on warm spring, summer, and fall days at the little cove off Geary Boulevard. Come early to grab your share of the sand on this semi-rocky shoreline, which is sometimes dotted with rock-lined windbreaks left by previous sunbathers. Bring a light jacket or sweatshirt in case the weather changes.

Directions: Follow Geary Boulevard to the end, then park in the dirt lot up the road from the Cliff House. Take the trail at the far end of the lot. About 100 yards past a bench and some trash cans, the path narrows and bends, then rises and falls, eventually becoming the width of a road. Don’t take the road to the right, which leads to a golf course. Just past another bench, as the trail turns right, go left toward a group of dead trees where you will see a stairway and a “Dogs must be leashed” sign. Descend and head left to another stairway, which leads to a 100-foot walk to the cove. Or, instead, take the service road below the El Camino del Mar parking lot 1/4 mile until you reach a bench, then follow the trail there. It’s eroded in a few places. At the end, you’ll have to scramble over some rocks. Turn left (west) and walk until you find a good place to put down your towel.

GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE BEACH

RATING: A

On the hottest days, Golden Gate Bridge Beach becomes so packed with people that one visitor describes it as a “gay mob scene.” But the rocky shore, which connects three picturesque coves, also gets its share of straight men and women. Prime, non-cruising activities include sunbathing, enjoying breathtaking views of the Bridge, and even taking some dips in the water. “You can sometimes go out over 100 feet during low tide,” a woman tells me.

Directions: from the toll booth area of Highway 101/1, take Lincoln Boulevard west about a half mile to Langdon Court. Turn right (west) on Langdon and look for space in the parking lots, across Lincoln from Fort Winfield Scott. Park and then take the beach trail, starting just west of the end of Langdon, down its more than 200 steps to Golden Gate Bridge Beach, also known as Marshall’s Beach. Despite recent improvements, the trail to the beach can still be slippery, especially in the spring and winter.

FORT FUNSTON BEACH

RATING: C

What’s the only Golden Gate National Recreation Area park where you can walk your dog without a leash, as well as the spot where the world record for the farthest tossed object (a flying ring sent soaring 1,333 feet by Erin Hemmings) was set in 2003? Answer: Fort Funston, which is affectionately called Fort Fun by its fans. Known for its magnetic sand, steady winds (especially in March and October) that make its cliffs popular for hang gliding, and, in particular, its dogs, who appear here with their human escorts by the hundreds, the area even attracts a few naturists from time to time. Mostly hidden away in the sand dunes on the beach, naked sunbathers usually stay away on the weekends, when families swarm the area. To keep the “fun” in Fort Funston, even on weekdays, be sure to use caution before disrobing.

Directions: From San Francisco, go west to Ocean Beach, then south on the Great Highway. After Sloat Boulevard, the road heads uphill. From there, curve right onto Skyline Boulevard, go past one stoplight, and look for signs for Funston on the right. Turn into the public lot and find a space near the west side. At the southwest end, take the sandy steps to the beach, turn right, and walk to the dunes. Find a spot as far as possible from the parking lot.

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY

LAS TRAMPAS REGIONAL WILDERNESS, CASTRO VALLEY

RATING: C

Want to go walking around nude at night outside without being hauled off to jail? Imagine hiking naked guided only by your flashlight in the East Bay Hills, with the trail silhouetted by a full moon and small herds of horses coming up to greet you.

“It’s absolutely surreal,” says Jurek Zarzycki. “The horses come within inches of you, so close you can feel their breath. It’s like being on a moonscape with aliens. You may be a little afraid at first, but the horses are very friendly.”

America’s only nude “Full Moon Hikes” have been taking place on summer full moon nights in Castro Valley for more than seven years. The next ones will be held July 29, August 31 (arrive by 6pm), and September 28 (starting at 5:15pm) “We start early so that we have the full moon already risen by the time the sun sets,” says San Leandro’s Dave Smith, who leads most of the hikes. “Then we hike up the trail around sunset.”

Coordinated by a partnership between the Sequoians Naturist Club and the Bay Area Naturists, based in San Jose, walkers leave the property of the Sequoians fully clothed at dusk and walk through meadows and up hills until the moon rises, before heading back down the slopes completely nude, with their clothes folded neatly into their backpacks.

After the walk, most hikers shower at The Sequoians, and, for a fee of $5, take a dip in the 86-degree pool there and enjoy a plunge in the facility’s hot tub. “It was fabulous,” says Zarzycki about an earlier trek. “I pitched my tent right there at The Sequoians and then slept under the sky.”

Directions: Contact The Sequoians (www.sequoians.com) or the Bay Area Naturists (www.bayareanaturists.org) for details on how to join a walk. Meet at The Sequoians. To get there, take Highway 580 east to the Crow Canyon Road exit. Or follow 580 west to the first Castro Valley off-ramp. Take Crow Canyon road toward San Ramon .75 mile to Cull Canyon road. Then follow Cull canyon road around 6.5 miles to the end of the paved road. take the dirt road on the right until the “Y” in the road and keep left. Shortly after, you’ll see The Sequoians sign. Proceed ahead for about another .75 mile to The Sequoians front gate.

SAN MATEO COUNTY

DEVIL’S SLIDE, MONTARA

RATING: A

Although Devil’s Slide, also known as Gray Whale Cove, was scheduled to be closed this month by the state due to budget shortfalls, officials plan to keep it open while they negotiate with what Paul Keel, San Mateo coast state parks sector superintendent, calls a prospective “donor to keep it in operation for the coming year.” At press time, Keel told us that although “nothing’s been signed or inked, it’s fair to say we are optimistic, so hopefully we will know more in the next month.” Access to the site, though, is changing: after a long-awaited, voter-approved Devil’s Slide tunnel is completed this fall, Keel and others expect a possible increase in traffic to the beach, as more pedestrians and bicyclists use a nearby section of Highway 1 that is being closed. Meanwhile, rangers say they will allow a long-standing tradition of nudity to continue on the sand unless visitors complain.

Directions: Driving from San Francisco, take Highway 1 south through Pacifica. Three miles south of the Denny’s restaurant in Linda Mar, turn left (inland or east) on an unmarked road, which takes you to the beach’s parking lot and to a 146-step staircase that leads to the sand. Coming from the south on Highway 1, look for a road on the right (east), 1.2 miles north of the Chart House restaurant in Montara. Starting this fall, from the north, take Highway 1 through the Devil’s Slide tunnel and then turn left onto the road described above. From the south, continue using the above directions. Most naturists use the north end of the beach, which is separated by rocks from the rest of the shore.

SAN GREGORIO NUDE BEACH, SAN GREGORIO

RATING: A

Still the USA’s longest continually used nude beach, San Gregorio even has its own web site and live web cam at www.freewebs.com/sangregoriobeach. The privately run operation, which is located next to San Gregorio State Beach, recently began its 46th year of serving the clothing-optional community.

The beach often draws a large gay crowd, along with some nude and suited straight couples, singles, and families. “It’s a really romantic spot,” says a single woman. However, first-timers are sometimes annoyed (as I was, years ago) by the driftwood structures on the sandy slope leading down to the beach, which are used by some visitors as “sex condos.” However, fans of the beach savor San Gregorio’s stunning scenery. It has “awesome natural beauty,” says regular visitor Bob Wood. Attractions of the 120-acre site include two miles of soft sand and tide pools to explore, as well as a lagoon, lava tube, and, if you look closely enough on the cliffs, the remains of an old railroad line.

Directions: From San Francisco, drive south on Highway 1, past Half Moon Bay, and, between mileposts 18 and 19, look on the right side of the road for telephone call box number SM 001 0195, at the intersection of Highway 1 and Stage Road, and near an iron gate with trees on either side. From there, expect a drive of 1.1 miles to the entrance. At the Junction 84 highway sign, the beach’s driveway is just .1 mile away. Turn into a gravel driveway, passing through the iron gate mentioned above, which says 119429 on the gatepost. Drive past a grassy field to the parking lot, where you’ll be asked to pay an entrance fee. Take the long path from the lot to the sand; everything north of the trail’s end is clothing-optional (families and swimsuit using visitors tend to stay on the south end of the beach). The beach is also accessible from the San Gregorio State Beach parking area to the south; from there, hike about a half-mile north. Take the dirt road past the big white gate with the Toll Road sign to the parking lot.

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY

GARDEN OF EDEN, FELTON

RATING: C

Tucked away in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, between Santa Cruz and Felton, the Garden Of Eden is a much-used skinny-dipping hole on the San Lorenzo River, which is also visited by clothed families. Some hikers are surprised when they see people nude there and either use the spot anyway or keep walking. Watch out for poison oak and slippery sections on the trail. Eden is one of three clothing-optional swimming holes on the river. To find them, look for cars pulled over on Highway 9, next to the state park, which bans nudity but seldom sends ranger patrols to the creek.

Directions: From Santa Cruz, drive north on Highway 9 and look for turnouts on the right side of the road, where cars are pulled over. The first, a wide turnout with a tree in the middle, is just north of Santa Cruz. Rincon Fire Trail starts about where the tree is, according to reader Robert Carlsen, of Sacramento. The many forks in the trail all lead to the river, down toward Big Rock Hole and Frisbee Beach; Carlsen says the best area off this turnout can be reached by bearing left until the end of the trail. Farther up the highway, 1.3 miles south of the park entrance, is the second and bigger pullout, called the Ox Trail Turnout, leading to Garden of Eden. Park in the turnout and follow the dirt fire road downhill and across some railroad tracks. Head south, following the tracks, for around .5 miles. Look for a “Pack Your Trash” sign with park rules and hours and then proceed down the Eden Trail.

Ox Trail, which can be slippery, and Eden Trail both wind down steeply to the creek. “The path continues to the left, where there are several spots for wading and sunbathing,” Carlsen says. The main beach is only 75 feet long and 30 feet wide, but fairly sandy. Carlsen’s favorite hole is accessible from a trail that starts at the third turnout, a small one on the right side of the road, about 4.5 miles from Highway 1 and just before Felton. A gate marks the start of the path. The trail bends left. When you come to the road again, go right. At the railroad tracks, go right. From here, look for the river down the hill on your left; many paths lead to it. Says Mike: “Within 10 yards, you can be in the water.”

BONNY DOON NUDE BEACH, BONNY DOON

RATING: A

Despite the temporary erection of anti-nudity warning signs at longtime nudie fan favorite Bonny Doon Beach, north of Santa Cruz, officials have told us they have no immediate plans to issue citations at the north end of the site, which has traditionally been occupied by naturists. In fact, the signs were taken down after just two months.

In fact, in June, Pam, of San Mateo, even found a nudist at the main public, south side of the beach, which is used by suited visitors. A 15-foot long rock on the sand, along with a sloping cliff with rocks that jut out, separate the two sides of the cove that form Bonny Doon.

“In the short term, things at Bonny Doon are destined to continue the way they are,” says Kirk Lingenfelter, sector superintendent for Bonny Doon and nearby state beaches. Lingenfelter says he likes Bonny Doon just the way it is. “It’s one of our pocket beaches,” he explains. “They can really give you the feeling of rugged, untouched majesty. I like standing on those beaches. You can sometimes forget that there’s a highway in the distance. It’s a very important feeling to maintain. “The clothing-optional section usually attracts more women and couples than most nude beaches. “Minuses” include occasional vehicle burglaries and gawkers on the bluffs or in the bushes.

Directions: From San Francisco, go south on Highway 1 to the Bonny Doon parking lot at milepost 27.6 on the west side of the road, 2.4 miles north of Red, White, and Blue Beach, and some 11 miles north of Santa Cruz. From Santa Cruz, head north on Highway 1 until you see Bonny Doon Road, which veers off sharply to the right just south of Davenport. The beach is just off the intersection. Park in the paved lot to the west of Highway 1; don’t park on Bonny Doon Road or the shoulder of Highway 1. If the lot is full, drive north on Highway 1, park at the next beach lot, and walk back to the first lot. Or take Santa Cruz Metro Transit District bus route 40 to the lot; it leaves the Metro Center three times a day on Saturdays and takes about 20 minutes. To get to the beach, climb the berm next to the railroad tracks adjacent to the Bonny Doon lot, cross the tracks, descend, and take a recently improved, sign-marked trail to the sand. Walk north past most of the beach to the nude cove on the north end. Alternately, Dusty suggests parking as far north as possible, taking the northern entrance, and, with good shoes, following a “rocky and steep” walk down to the sand.

2222 BEACH, SANTA CRUZ

RATING: A

In late May, when my girlfriend and I visited a little cliffside park above it and peered down on the aptly named 2222 — it’s the number of the house across the street — we discovered that the pocket-size cove looked as beautiful as ever. In fact, America’s smallest nude beach is so small it could probably fit in your yard. And that’s what makes it a magical place. You won’t find crowds at 2222, which takes scrambling to reach and isn’t recommended for children or anyone who isn’t a good hiker. However, those who are agile enough to make it down a steep cliff and over some concrete blocks on the way down will probably be rewarded with an oasis of calm and a good spot to catch some sunrays.

Directions: The beach is a few blocks west of Natural Bridges State Beach and about 2.5 miles north of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. From either north or south of Santa Cruz, take Highway 1 to Swift Street. Drive .8 miles to the sea, then turn right on West Cliff Drive. 2222 is five blocks away. Past Auburn Avenue, look for 2222 West Cliff on the inland side of the street. Park in the nine-car lot next to the cliff. If it’s full, continue straight and park along Chico Avenue. Bay Area Naturists leader Rich Pasco suggests visitors use care and then follow the path on the side of the beach closest to downtown Santa Cruz and the Municipal Wharf.

PRIVATES BEACH, SANTA CRUZ

RATING: A

“Privates is one of my favorite beaches,” says Brittney Barrios, manager-buyer of Freeline Design Surf Shop, which is located nearby and sells keys to unlock the gate leading to the clean, beautiful cove. “It’s always very peaceful.” Visitors include nudists, surfers, families, and local residents. “Everyone gets along,” adds Barrios. “And it’s never crowded.”

Barrios says many of the naturists, who often visit in groups, like to play Paddle Ball on the sand. As for Barrios, she prefers to “lay out,” as she calls it, in the sun.

There’s almost no litter, wind, noise, or troublemakers — security guards plus a locked gate keep the latter out — and world class surfers, such as those who starred in Endless Summer II, regularly put on a free show for the naked people who share the warm, clean sand with surfers.

“It’s really nice,” says Hunter Young, a former worker at Freeline, which sells up to 600 beach passes a year. “Surfers love it because it has good waves. It’s 100 percent standup surfing, with paddling. Anytime I go to Privates, I can expect a long ride on my longboard.”

“The beach is also very family oriented,” explains Barrios. “And it’s OK for dogs too.”

“There are two different coves on the beach,” says Young. “Clothed families who use the beach know which cove is nude and stay away from it. If you want to play naked Frisbee, at the bottom of the beach stairs you just walk to the left.”

Directions: 1) Some visitors walk north from Capitola Pier in low tide (not a good idea since at least four people have needed to be rescued). 2) Others reach it in low tide via the stairs at the end of 41st Avenue, which lead to a surf spot called the Hook at the south end of a rocky shore known as Pleasure Point. 3) Surfers paddle on boards for a few minutes to Privates from Capitola or the Hook. 4) Most visitors buy a key to the beach gate for $100 a year at Freeline (821 41st Ave., Santa Cruz, 831-476-2950) 1.5 blocks west of the beach. Others go with someone with a key or wait outside the gate until a person with a key goes in, provided a security guard is not present (they often are there). “Most people will gladly hold the gate open for someone behind them whose hands are full,” says Bay Area Naturists leader Rich Pasco. The nude area starts to the left of the bottom of the stairs.

MARIN COUNTY

MUIR NUDE BEACH, MUIR BEACH

RATING: A

Mellow times are continuing at one of the Bay Area’s easiest to reach and most enjoyable nude beaches, the clothing-optional north side of Muir Beach. Also known as Little Beach, it’s separated by the main public beach by a line of large rocks that visitors usually walk over. Says Lucas Valley’s Michael Velkoff, who switched from Red Rock to become a regular at Muir: “This season, there’s plenty of sand. It’s also a great place for women because people leave you alone here. Nobody’s hitting on you. And high tide only comes a third of the way up the beach.” Recent additions include a new bridge over a marshy, lagoon-like area near the parking lot, plus about a half dozen Porta-Potties.

Directions: From San Francisco, take Highway 1 north to Muir Beach, to milepost 5.7. Turn left on Pacific Way and park in the Muir lot (to avoid tickets, don’t park on Pacific). Or park on the long street off Highway 1 across from Pacific and about 100 yards north. From the Muir lot, follow a path and boardwalk to the sand. Then walk north to a pile of rocks between the cliffs and the sea. You’ll need good hiking or walking shoes to cross; in very low tide, try to cross closer to the water. The nude area starts north of it.

RED ROCK BEACH, STINSON BEACH

RATING: B

One of the most popular Bay Area nude beaches, Red Rock has struggled with sand erosion that’s left a smaller site the last few seasons, along with a more crowded feel to it and, perhaps in reaction, fewer overall visitations. Except for being a little overgrown with vegetation in early July and some poison oak on the half nearest the highway, the beach trail, however, is reported in good shape this year. “Just wear shoes with socks, go single file in spots, and you should be okay,” advises Stinson Beach attorney-teacher Fred Jaggi. Rock climbing and various kinds of Frisbee continue to be frequent pastimes at Red Rock — Ultimate Frisbee games there can last as long as three hours. Naked Scrabble and Nude Hearts are among the other games played by sunbathers. “It’s very peaceful at the beach,” says Jaggi. “Nobody ever brings down a large boombox.”

Directions: Go north on Highway 1 from Mill Valley, following the signs to Stinson Beach. At the long line of mailboxes next to the Muir Beach cutoff point, start checking your odometer. Look for a dirt lot full of cars to the left (west) of the highway 5.6 miles north of Muir and a smaller one on east side of the road. The lots are at milepost 11.3, one mile south of Stinson Beach. Limited parking is also available 150 yards to the south on the west side of Highway 1. Or from Mill Valley, take the West Marin/Bolinas Stage toward Stinson Beach and Bolinas. Get off at the intersection of Panoramic Highway and Highway 1. Then walk south .6 mile to the Red Rock lots. Follow the long, steep path to the beach that starts near the Dumpster next to the main parking lot.

BOLINAS, BASS LAKE

After Tracey, of San Anselmo, hiked to what she called “beautiful, clean, sunny” Bass Lake, she went onto a message board in June to urge those who are considering trying the Bolinas attraction to “Go. Go. Go now.” “The trail was a little overgrown. But I had fun swimming nude in the lake,” says regular Dave Smith, of San Leandro, about his adventure last year. “If you want to visit an enchanted lake, Bass is it,” agrees Ryan, also of the East Bay. “Tree branches reach over the water, forming a magical canopy, and huge branches of calla lilies bloom on the shore.” Ryan isn’t kidding: even walking (45-60 minutes from the parking area over 2.8 mostly easy miles) to Bass can be an adventure unlike any other. One time, rangers stopped and cited a clad man with an unleashed dog, but let some passing nudists continue. And Smith, who usually walks naked, has come across bobcats and mountain lions early in the morning. “I came around a corner and there was a mountain lion sitting like Egypt’s Great Sphinx of Giza 50 yards down the path,” he says.

Directions: From Stinson Beach, go north on Highway 1. Just north of Bolinas Lagoon, turn left on the often-unmarked exit to Bolinas. Follow the road as it curves along the lagoon and eventually ends at Olema-Bolinas Road. Continue along Olema-Bolinas Road to the stop sign at Mesa Road. Turn right on Mesa and drive four miles until it becomes a dirt road and ends at a parking lot. On hot days the lot fills quickly. A sign at the trailhead next to the lot will guide you down scenic Palomarin Trail to the lake. For directions to Alamere Falls, 1.5 miles past Bass Lake, please see “Elsewhere In Marin” in our online listings.

RCA BEACH, BOLINAS

RATING: A

Want to recharge your life? A trip to RCA can do just that. And a single stopover at the beautiful beach will probably inspire you to keep coming back. “It hasn’t changed much in 20 years,” says regular visitor Michael Velkoff. “A downside is that it’s very exposed to the wind. The good news is that there are lots of nooks that are sheltered from the wind. And there’s so much driftwood on the sand that many people build windbreaks or even whole forts. You could build a village with all that driftwood. The last time I went, somebody built a 30 foot tall dragon out of it.” Suited and unsuited males and females and families visit the shoreline, which seems even bigger than its one mile length because, adds Velkoff, “we’ll see six people on a beautiful day on a Sunday. Picture [please see next listing] Limantour as far as how people are spread out on the sand. Everybody’s like 100 feet apart. It’s great.”

Directions: From Stinson Beach, take Highway 1 (Shoreline Highway) north toward Calle Del Mar for 4.5 miles. Turn left onto Olema Bolinas Road and follow it 1.8 miles to Mesa Road in Bolinas. Turn right and stay on Mesa until you see cars parked past some old transmission towers. Park and walk .25 miles to the end of the pavement. Go left through the gap in the fence. The trail leads to a gravel road. Follow it until you see a path on your right, leading through a gate. Take it along the cliff top until it veers down to the beach. Or continue along Mesa until you come to a grove of eucalyptus trees. Enter through the gate here, then hike .5 miles through a cow pasture on a path that will also bring you through thick brush. The second route is slippery and eroding, but less steep. “It’s shorter, but toward the end there’s a rope for you to hold onto going down the cliff,” tells Velkoff.

LIMANTOUR BEACH, OLEMA

RATING B

At Limantour, in Point Reyes National Seashore, you can walk a mile wearing nothing but your smile. “I just head away from any people and put my towel down in the dunes or against a wall,” says visitor Michael Velkoff. “Nobody bothers you. Of course, I carry a pair of shorts, just in case I need to put them on. I love it at Limantour. Plus it has tons of nice sand.” You may also want to don a pair of binoculars for watching birds, seals, and other wildlife. This May, Velkoff saw a whale from his vantage point on the sand; he’s also seen porpoises frolicking just offshore. The long shoreline is one of America’s most beautiful beaches, yet few visitors realize the narrow spit of sand is clothing-optional. The site is so big — about 2.5 miles in length — you can wander for hours, checking out ducks and other waterfowl, shorebirds such as snowy plovers, gray whales, and playful harbor seals. Dogs are allowed on six-foot leashes on the south end of the beach. To grab the best parking, arrive by 10:30am.

Directions: Follow Highway 101 north to the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit, then follow Sir Francis through San Anselmo and Lagunitas to Olema. At the intersection with Highway 1, turn right onto 1. Just north of Olema, go left on Bear Valley Road. A mile after the turnoff for the Bear Valley Visitor Center, turn left (at the Limantour Beach sign) on Limantour Road and follow it 11 miles to the parking lot at the end. Walk north .5 miles until you see some dunes about 50 yards east of the shore. Nudists usually prefer the valleys between the dunes for sunbathing, which may be nearly devoid of or dotted with users, depending on the day.