Volume 46 Number 47

Shoot to thrill

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FALL ARTS At some point in the last 30 years game publishers decided that releasing in the summer was financial suicide. Maybe these publishers were under the mistaken impression that everyone is out enjoying the sun and, I don’t know, hiking? But as those of us who also enjoy gaming will tell you, you make time for video games.

So it’s been a pleasure to see the fall gaming season inch ever earlier into August, where it can leverage gamers’ anticipation about autumn releases and avoid being subjected to the intense scrutiny of a more competitive schedule. Two games released last week teeter on that precipice and officially ring in what looks to be another big season of gaming.

Darksiders II is a tad rough but an immense undertaking for a still-unproven license. Playing as Death himself, you must undo the end of the world and save your brother, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Dabbling in light heaven-hell mythology, the art style of Darksiders II is vigorously heavy metal, but it’s the game play homages to Zelda, God of War, and even Portal that make this epic game a pleasure. Dungeons and puzzles are faintly familiar but that’s part of the charm, and the series’ new RPG elements and abundance of treasure chests make the game irresistibly fun to play.

Similarly rugged, Sleeping Dogs sometimes struggles to match the fluidity and detail of Rockstar’s best efforts, like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption, but it’s also not nearly as self-serious and has one of the best open-world environments the genre has seen. In this sandbox game set in Hong Kong, you play an undercover cop working his way up the ranks of the triads, playing both sides of the law. In terms of sheer delight, few games this year can match the unique experience of cruising through a neon city listening to traditional Chinese string music while vendors call to you to try their pork buns. And then running them over with your SUV.

Of course, the months of true autumn are still where you’ll find the big titles, and it’s impossible to list upcoming games without acknowledging that there is another Call of Duty game coming out this November, and it will undoubtedly sell more copies than any other game in 2012. The first sequel from odd-year, back-up developer Treyarch, Call of Duty: Black Ops II occurs partly in the Cold War era and partly in the near future, where the PRC have taken control of US revolutionary drone warfare technology and are using it against us.

In lieu of a new Battlefield game, publisher Electronic Arts hopes a new Medal of Honor will fill the shooter-sized hole in their schedule this year, but Medal of Honor Warfighter seems unlikely to compete with Black Ops, considering the player reaction to its 2010 prequel.

No, the Call of Duty franchise’s nearest competitor this year is 343 Studios’ Halo 4. It’s been five years since the last numbered entry in the Halo series and a new developer aims to repeat the mammoth sales of Halo 3 (a game with such crossover appeal that I picked up my copy at 7-11) with another blockbuster. Halo 4 will once again star iconic space soldier Master Chief, and promises a renewed focus on exploration and discovery over straightforward alien bombast.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ca3Y8Ws3plI

Fan favorite Resident Evil has slowly evolved from its deliberately-paced survival horror roots into an action series — resulting in both uproar and increased sales. And we all know which result matters more to publishers. But in an effort to satisfy fans new and old, Resident Evil 6 has two protagonists, and for all intents and purposes two separate storylines. One plays it slow and scary while the other delivers on the explosions and firefights that likely mean big sales this October.

Another series that developed a new identity based on fan feedback, Assassins Creed III brings the time-traveling franchise to the USA during the American Revolution. Playing as a Native American assassin, you hobnob with the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in a dynamic recreation of 18th century Boston and New York. You’ll probably also murder a lot of redcoats. Like Call of Duty, Assassins Creed has a new entry each year, and its dependable quality is its greatest asset.

Then there are games whose futures are less certain. New IP Dishonored looks to take BioShock’s steampunk aesthetic one generation earlier, into the Victorian era, with a stealthy first-person-shooter soaked in atmosphere. Borderlands 2 takes its predecessor’s successful basic characteristics — a boatload of loot, focus on cooperation and tongue in cheek humor — and ratchets them up to 11. Also, releasing in the typically untouchable month of December, Far Cry 3 explores an entire tropical island, complete with psychedelic mushrooms and a very nasty pirate villain.

All of the above for the new season, without even touching Nintendo’s new Wii U. We know it’s coming, but no release date, price, or game lineup yet. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Nintendo’s slow approach to starting the next generation of hardware may be a case of wanting to fully size up the competition before committing. With games like these, it’s never been clearer that people crave good games above new hardware.

Don’t blink

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FALL ARTS If there’s such a thing as seasonal themes in the art world, then we’re about to see the summer of performance art gradually give way to the autumn of geography. Look for big institutional shows and smaller gallery projects that present ideas about places and spaces. To that point, this roundup starts with two exhibits that should get you out of the city.

 

Barry McGee Arguably the most famous and influential visual artist to emerge from the Bay Area in the last few decades, McGee is getting the mid-career survey treatment at the Berkeley Art Museum. His activist-leaning work pulls from graffiti, comics, sign painting, and hobo art, usually in ways that interrupt and transform the spaces where they’re installed. The exhibition promises a broad retrospective sampling from early work to new projects, and if for some reason you haven’t already heard of Barry McGee, this is your chance to get up to speed. Through Dec. 9; bampfa.berkeley.edu

ZERO1: Seeking Silicon Valley ZERO1, the Silicon Valley-based (and funded) art and tech biennial, is curated this year to showcase international perspectives on place and placelessness in the post-Internet world. Over 150 artists from 13 countries will participate. Take heart, commute-averse, projects will be hosted at venues throughout (and in the sky above) the Bay Area. Among those, Nelly Ban Hayoun’s space opera music video penned by Bruce Sterling and performed by NASA employees; ISHKY’s Pi in the Sky, which utilizes skywriting planes to remind you of what comes after 3.14; and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s interactive pirate radio station. Sept. 12-Dec. 8; www.zero1biennial.org

Six Lines of Flight: Shifting Geographies in Contemporary Art Comparing six global cities that are important regional cultural centers but not global art commerce centers, Six Lines of Flight brings together progressive artists from San Francisco; Beirut, Lebanon; Cali, Columbia; Cluj, Romania; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and Tangier, Morocco. If it’s as good as I hope, the exhibition will showcase possible models for social art making that bridge regional and transnational identities. Sept. 15-Dec. 31; www.sfmoma.org.

re(collection) In the wake of the March 2011 tsunami that devastated northern Japan, volunteers and cleanup workers salvaged and preserved more than 750,000 family snapshots and photos, a community performance both defiant and touching. Some of those photos make up this exhibition, alongside collaborations and new work by Mark Baugh-Sasaki, Ariel Goldberg, Mayumi Hamanaka, Taro Hattori, Sean McFarland, Kari Orvik, and Kelli Yon. Sept. 12-Nov. 3; www.theintersection.org

Guy Overfelt: Blacklight I confess. I’m sending you on a blind date to Guy Overfelt’s October show. I have no idea what he has planned, but if recent work — which usually involves burning rubber, inflating stuff, and performance — is any indicator, the 2012 SECA nominee will not disappoint. Oct. 6-Nov. 3; www.evergoldgallery.com

The Parade: Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg Dazzling, funny, and unsettling, “The Parade” combines kaleidoscopic, person-sized bird sculptures with five stop-motion animated films by Djurberg featuring ingenious synchronized soundtracks scored by Berg. I caught this in a rush at the New Museum in New York; can’t wait to spend more time with it here. Oct. 12-Jan. 27; www.ybca.org

Liam Everett Liam Everett’s lovely and haunting minimal abstract paintings usually incorporate alcohol, paint, and salt to distress and age unstretched canvases, making vibrant palimpsests and riffing on color field painting and installation work. Nov. 1-Dec. 22, www.altmansiegel.com

Jasper Johns: Seeing with the Mind’s Eye Elder statesman of the American post-war period and pop art master sees a new major retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Organized with Johns and spanning the last 60 years, this latest survey of Johns’ work will include 85 paintings, works on paper, and sculptures, many of them from Bay Area collections. Nov. 3-Feb. 3; www.sfmoma.org

Tradition

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virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE Despite its Future Bars group provenance, Tradition is not Bourbon and Branch part two. Although I continue to bring visitors and locals who’ve never been to the still-magical, speakeasy-like B and B, Tradition is a more relaxed entrant in the Future line-up, which also includes Wilson and Wilson, Rickhouse, Swig, and Local Edition.

I’ve been to Tradition multiple times since its June opening. Part of me misses the divey fun (and cheesy movie nights — Top Gun! Tony Scott, RIP) of the former Mr. Lew’s Win-Win Bar and Grand Sazerac Emporium. The location is unrecognizable from those days. Yet I’m a fan of the dramatically altered, high-ceilinged space with numerous areas to enjoy a drink: small upstairs bar overlooking the action (dedicated to house blends and barrel-aged spirits), giant, rectangular center bar where you can sit or stand, in a cozy back nook reminiscent of an English pub, or in one of eight “snugs,” which are essentially booths (reserve ahead). Each booth varies in size, seating two to eight, themed along with a visually striking artistic menu: New Orleans, Prohibition, Tiki, American dive bar, English, Irish, Scottish, and Grand Hotel. Themes are established with vintage ads, signs, and barware in each booth.

Impressively, owner Brian Sheehy and beverage director Ian Scalzo created an extensive house-blended and barrel-aged spirits program. They are storing and experimenting with countless barrels, grouped by spirits from gin to whiskey. Options imaginatively run the gamut, while menu tasting notes appeal to spirits geeks or help narrow down options served neat or on the rocks. One could sip Four Roses bourbon finished in Pinot Noir wine casks or Four Roses Single Barrel in apple brandy casks. Russell’s Rye in a Green Chartreuse cask thoroughly intrigued me though I didn’t get as much herbal emphasis as I was hoping for from the Chartreuse.

My beloved Redbreast 12-year Irish Whiskey (cask strength) is poured from a barrel washed with Guinness. Flor de Cana rum is finished in a sweet vermouth barrel, an “Autumn Blend” of bourbon and apple brandy in an Arabica coffee cask, Auchentoshan 12-year Scotch in a puer tea cask — combinations are fascinating. I have not seen the likes of this in any city… yet. There are likely to be many imitators forthcoming.

Each themed cocktail menu also includes a couple beers in keeping with categories from English to Irish, all of it generally unfussy. With so many cocktails and barrel-aged spirits, some fare better than others. Pitchers and volcano bowls are ideal for groups, although those craving more intricate sips might steer clear, as these either get watered down quickly or aren’t as nuanced as individual drinks.

After sampling more than 30 drinks in my visits, my barrel favorite is Espolon Reposado tequila finished in an arabica coffee cask. Coffee and tequila impart a chocolate-orange spirit with notes of cedar, slate, citrus — a fascinating tipple. On the cocktail side, I’m most smitten with Kona Kope ($9) in the exotic-Tiki category. Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva and barrel-aged spiced rums intermingle with coffee syrup, a touch of coconut cream, and barrel-aged Angostura for a lively bit of elegance, bracing with coffee and whispers of the tropics.

Multiple Sazerac variations on the New Orleans or Speakeasy menus haven’t quite gripped me. I prefer the chicory coffee sour from the former (do you see a coffee theme developing?) or a classic Hanky Panky from the latter. On the Scottish menu, Hebrides Flip ($9) is a savory finish for those who like flips (i.e. whole egg): Black Bottle scotch, Dry Sack sherry, gomme syrup, whole egg, and a little Cynar for bitter roundness.

At Bourbon and Branch, patrons of the otherwise enchanting Library Bar in the back are limited to an abbreviated cocktail list (a downside, in my book), compared to a full menu in the front room. Similarly, walk-ins to the left side of the bar at Tradition are also offered a limited list, while those seated at the right or in snugs get the full book of options. It’s therefore a good idea to make reservations — although I haven’t had trouble securing a seat on weeknights without one.

Tradition adds to the excellent little cocktail district developing near Union Square, which includes Jasper’s Corner Tap, Bourbon and Branch, Wilson and Wilson, and Rye), and provides a convenient Tenderloin meet-up spot with a little something for everyone, from cocktail geek to British pub fan. despite many gems, it doesn’t serve the most exquisite cocktails in town — but its unique barrel program and relaxed vibe certainly make it a downtown destination.

TRADITION

441 Jones, SF.

(415) 474-2284

www.tradbar.com

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

 

Dishing the dirt

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS I didn’t do justice to Curry Boyzz, my new favorite restaurant, in last week’s review; I realize that. I completely and utterly neglected to mention who I ate there with!

Well, Hedgehog.

Moving right along …

Wait, there was someone else at our table, I feel certain. But Hedgehog, who is the half of our family that remembers things, is at work. She is also the half of our family that works.

With headphones on! So I am going to have to figure this out for myself, think think think … It was somebody skinny, I’m thinking, and so probably a vegetarian. Super skinny. With dreadlocks, and wearing a kind of cardboard hat or scarf, or something. With a price tag on it.

Doh! It wasn’t a vegetarian so much as a mop. Our spanking new, microfiber, swivel-headed dust mop that we’d just picked up at Cliff’s Hardware. I remember now: we wedged the handle through a chair back and its green dreadlocked head kind of watched over our meal, kind of hungrily. In fact, while Hedgehog used the bathroom, it spoke to me.

“That Tikka Masala looked pretty good,” it said.

“Yeah, well,” I said.

And in other news, I did a thing I haven’t done since the ’90s: I ate three Mission burritos in a week, and — funny thing — this was the week we were chicken-sitting in Alameda. When we are stationed in the Mission, Hedgehog and me, and our mop, we don’t eat burritos.

But we were going to watch that movie in Dolores Park with some buds, so we went to Cancun first. And we were going to a baseball game in Oakland, but I was in SF for some reason, and stopped at El Toro on my way to BART.

And Papalote, on a different day, but now I’m mad at them. Hardly any meat on my carne asada burrito: for shame, considering its relative expensiveness! And it was rolled all wrong, so that, cross-sectionally, one side of the burrito was just pretty much rice, and the other side had a few fairly tasteless beans and occasional chunks of meat. Pfft.

Lucky for them, they’re still my favorite taqueria, the orange salsa’s so goddamn good. I’ll just never eat there again, is all.

Hedgehog’s idea is to buy jars of Papalote’s overpriced orange salsa to take home and put on Cancun burritos.

So you see? You see why I love that lesbian? Even though she’s gluten free and dairy free, and made me eat at Radish for lunch today just because they had gluten free po-boys.

But at least she eats meat. Unlike some mops that I know.

So it shouldn’t surprise longtime readers of this column that her new favorite restaurant, like mine (after all these years), is Cancun. Specifically, the one on Mission and 19th, where I gained 20-some pounds in my thirties.

But it’s a 20-year tradition of mine not to review Cancun. To dwell on it, but never to actually review it. Therefore, I give you my other new favorite restaurant, Radish, the thing that finally happened across the street from the Lexington Club. Where I don’t drink, ’cause I’m too old.

But on our way to Cancun, we have to walk past one or the other, and lately it’s been Radish, so’s Hedgehog can look at their menu. We tried to eat there on a weekend but the line was too long.

Today (a weekday), I got the fried oyster po-boy, and it reminded me of Papalote’s carne asada burrito in that there were only about four or five oysters in it. And they weren’t very well battered. They just kind of crumbled.

But the bread was good! It was slathered with what they call “Cajun dirt.” I’d hoped that this would be the same thing Cajuns call “dirty rice,” which is chopped up giblets and liver and stuff, but no. It was reminiscent of muffuletta spread, which is more Italian than Cajun: chopped olives, onions, and lemon.

Good. But the best thing about Radish, as far as we could make out, was the homemade root chips: potato, taro, and yuca — yum!

RADISH

Mon-Tue 5-10pm; Wed-Thu 10am-10pm; Fri 10am-11pm; Sat 9am-11pm; Sun 9am-5pm

3465 19th St., SF.

(415) 834-5441

www.radishsf.com

MC,V

Beer & wine

 

Styles for miles

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arts@sfbg.com

FALL ARTS Most folks going to dance performances have a sense of how they want to spend their time and dollars. For some, a show must be conceptually edgy. For others, it’s got to be ballet. Still others want choreography that resonates with socio-political implications — or they only want to see choreography grounded in indigenous traditions. I’m more of an omnivore: show me a piece, no matter its style, in which the forces at work arise from some internal necessity and play off each other convincingly, and I’m in.

The next three months are bursting with dance offerings. In downtown San Francisco, many are free. Zaccho Dance Theatre reprises its hauntingly poetic Sailing Away (Sept. 13-16, Powell and Market, SF; www.zaccho.org); it pays tribute to the exodus of a remarkable group of African Americans. In only three years, the Central Market Arts Festival (Sept. 28-Oct. 21, various locations, SF; www.centralmarketarts.org) has exploded into a major event with dozens of performances that have probably contributed just as much to the area’s revitalization as those high-rent dot coms. Not to be missed is the world premiere of Jo Kreiter and Flyaway Productions’ Niagara Falling (Sept. 26-29, Seventh St. and Market, SF; www.flyawayproductions.com), projected and danced on an exterior wall of the Renoir Hotel. And how about the easy-riding Trolley Dances (Oct. 20-21, various locations, SF; www.epiphanydance.org) that offer unexpected site-specific encounters?

If you are willing to take another look at what may be already familiar, and your budget allows it, the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra (Oct. 10-14, Zellerbach Hall, Berk; www.calperformances.org) brings Swan Lake to Berkeley. It may be the most popular ballet in the world, and it is also one of the greats. Another old-timer, the 40-year-old Mummenschanz (Nov. 23-23, Zellerbach Hall, Berk; www.calperformances.org), can’t be beat for its skill, magic, and gentle humor. Take a kid. If your taste oscillates between new and old, check out Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu (Oct. 20-28, Palace of Fine Arts, SF; www.naleihulu.org); its mix of traditional and new-style hula — which this year includes hip-hop — will be time and money well spent.

Keith Hennessy, probably the Bay Area’s most radical theatrical thinker, moves his pulverizing Turbulence (a dance about the economy) from COUNTERPulse to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (Sept. 27-29, YBCA Forum, SF; www.ybca.org). There you will be invited to participate in the concept’s actualization.

Ticket-buying decision time kicks into high gear in October, with the season’s most intense concentration of big-time artists both local and visiting. Making its Bay Area premiere with the full-evening After Light (Oct. 13-14, YBCA, SF; www.performances.org) will be another of San Francisco Performances’ finds, Britain’s Russell Maliphant Company. The work, set on three performers to Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes, is inspired by dance genius Vaslav Nijinsky’s photographs, choreography, and drawings. Margaret Jenkins Dance Company (Oct. 18-21, Kanbar Hall, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, SF; www.mjdc.org) presents a first look at Times Bones, for which the choreographer excavated ideas in her rep to re-examine for new content.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet‘s collaboration with musicians and lighting designer Axel Morgenthaler are well known. Increasingly, King seems to be searching also for innovative scenic collaborators to contextualize his mythic choreography. A preview last spring of the as yet un-named premiere (Oct. 19-28, YBCA, SF; www.linesballet.org), at the very least, promised that Jim Campbell’s set of hundreds of LED globes will create its own rhythmic motion.

African and African American voices will be heard at YBCA as part of its commitment to showcasing contemporary dance from that continent. Voices of Strength (Oct. 19-20, YBCA, SF; www.ybca.org) is a quartet of four African women — among them Mozambique’s well-known Maria Helena Pinto — who will show one work each. New YBCA Program Director Marc Bamuthi Joseph concocted “Clas/sick Hip Hop” (Nov.30-Dec.1, YBCA, SF; www.ybca.org) for which he matches a violinist with five radically different hip-hop artists, including the legendary Rennie Harris, who 20 years ago pioneered the art’s theatrical potential.

Others I will try not to miss: smart dance with RAWDance‘s Burn In/Fall Out, (Nov. 2-4, ODC Theater, SF; www.rawdance.org); Deborah Slater’s in progress collaboration with dancer-vet Private Freeman, Private Live (Nov. 2-3, CounterPULSE, SF; www.deborahslater.org); and Sebastian Grubb‘s Workout (Dec. 14-15, CounterPULSE, SF; www.counterpulse.org). At the Garage (Garage, SF; www.715bryant.org), it will be Human Creature Dance Theatre for Halloween (Oct. 31), neo-Finnish punkkiCo (Nov. 16-17), and contemporary Congolese, now SF-based dancer Byb Chanel-Bibene (Dec. 5-6). Perhaps I’ll also return to the Garage for Burlesque Basquiat, Dorian Faust‘s birthday tribute to the late painter (Dec. 21-22).

Howdy, strangers

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arts@sfbg.com

FALL ARTS Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse were obsessed with Americana long before the two Bristol-based performance makers (known collectively as Action Hero) ever set their cowboy boots in the United States. In fact, they’d performed their site-specific first piece, a barroom exploration of the Western (called simply A Western) for years before lobbing it into the belly of the beast, where it appeared as part of Austin, Texas’ Fusebox Festival in 2010.

“We were shitting it,” remembers Paintin, in a British phrase meaning mighty fretful. But the crowd loved it; Paintin calls it their best audience ever. She and Stenhouse have worked together since 2005 on pieces that engage the audience as co-conspirators as well as subjects in their own right. A good example is their piece, Watch Me Fall, which had the audience cheering on a series of ridiculous, slightly risky stunts from either side of a long runway, a work that Paintin explains was inspired by the duo’s interest in motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel.

>>VIEW OUR FULL FALL ART 2012 PREVIEW

A diminutive woman with bright blond bangs, Paintin spoke last week at a sidewalk table outside BrainWash Café, fresh from a rehearsal at CounterPULSE, where she and James were in the fifth day of leading a collaborative performance workshop with a selected group of Bay Area–based American artists (Laura Arrington, Andrea Hart, Xandra Ibarra, Richie Israel, Elizabeth McSurdy, Mica Sigourney, and Ernesto Sopprani).

Stenhouse was not able to join the conversation — rehearsal had run long and he was following its willy-nilly course to a local karaoke bar, where he and the rest of the group were planning to take turns singing Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man.” A couple of days earlier, the group had gone tailgating at a pre-season NFL game in Oakland. Such are the trails, happy or otherwise, down which the adventurer in Americana must travel. (You can follow some of the research results thus far — in a process McSurdy calls “aesthetically polyamorous” — in the group’s blog posts at www.counterpulse.org.)

The workshop sets out to investigate American cultural mythologies using the concept of the stranger or outsider as starting point. Hosted by CounterPULSE with leadership from program director Julie Phelps, the program is part of a major cultural exchange project by CounterPULSE’s collaborator on Stranger in a Strange land, the arts-based University of Chichester in the South of England.

“All the work of the Department of Performing Arts is about making radical new work, and we have a reputation for working with exciting and challenging artists, hence our connection to Action Hero,” explained Ben Francombe, head of the department, by email. “The University of Chichester has instigated this overall project as a way to explore different interdisciplinary working methods,” he continues, “which involve the idea of exchange.” Francombe adds that the University is keen to continue having a presence in the Bay Area.

“It’s been really fun actually,” enthuses Paintin, clearly pleased with how experienced and open-minded her American counterparts have proven with collaboration. “We’re trying to just be about the process.”

STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND

Mon/27, 8 p.m., $10-$20

CounterPULSE

1310 Mission, SF

www.counterpulse.org

 

TAKE ANOTHER BOW, LAZARUS

The fall theater season includes several worthy returns (in addition to shiny new premieres) worth keeping in déjà view:

Chinglish The new comedy about East-West miscommunication from David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) has already been to Hong Kong but rebounds to the West Coast courtesy of Berkeley Rep. Aug. 24–Oct. 7; www.berkeleyrep.org

San Francisco Fringe Festival It’s a phoenix, really, rising each September like a sassy, gangling, 41–headed bird of play. Sept. 5–16; www.sffringe.org

Invasion! Crowded Fire delivers its own politically pointed comedy of miscommunication and cultural misconceptions in its West Coast premiere of Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s 2011 Obie-winner. Sept. 6–29; crowdedfire.dreamhosters.com

Geezer and The Real Americans The Hoyle boys — veteran clown and physical actor Geoff Hoyle and bounding son Dan, a theater sensation in his own right — return to the Marsh for re-runs of their respective, wildly popular solo shows. The Real Americans: Sept. 7–29; Geezer: Oct. 6–Nov. 18; www.themarsh.org

The Normal Heart Larry Kramer’s 1985 play returns (in the new Broadway revival directed by George C. Wolfe) at a time when the history of the AIDS crisis has become endangered by a vague “normalizing” narrative of American progress, or what Sara Schulman aptly calls “the gentrification of the mind.” Here’s an opportunity to remember lots of things, not least those who died and fought, a great play, a vital movement, a continuing health emergency, and the importance of mass resistance. Sept. 13–Oct. 7, www.act-sf.org

Roughin’ It 2: Theater. Oysters. Campfire. Booze. Again. Fresh from sold-out success with Duck Lake, PianoFight heads back up to Point Reyes for a second season of woozy waddling, shucking and jiving along the shore of Tamales Bay, featuring everything in the subtitle including brand new short plays harvested from a bed of delicious local playwrights. Sept. 15 and 22; www.pianofight.com

Assassins Shotgun Players mount the Sondheim musical about presidential recalls made and attempted from John Wilkes Booth onward, an election-year favorite directed by Susannah Martin. Sept. 26–Oct. 28; www.shotgunplayers.org

Rhinoceros Paris-based Theatre de la Ville’s production of the Ionesco play — a modernist classic on individual resistance to tyrannical conformity — is a remounting of the company’s acclaimed 2004 production, making its first US tour. Sept. 27–28, www.calperformances.org

Acid Test: The Many Incarnations of Ram Dass “Be Here Now” all over again in Lynne Kaufman’s new play — not so much a theatrical return as a serious flashback — starring the exceptional Warren David Keith as the titular giant of 1960s counterculture, a Harvard prof turned LSD advocate and spiritual teacher. Oct. 4–Nov. 24, www.themarsh.org  

Einstein on the Beach Composer Philip Glass and director Robert Wilson reinvented the opera in 1976 as an enthrallingly weird-ass piece of avant-garde spectacle and the world has not been the same since. This remounting —overseen by the original team of Glass, Wilson, and choreographer Lucinda Childs — marks the first performances of the five-hour formalist extravaganza in 20 years. The international tour takes its highly anticipated Bay Area bow courtesy of co-commissioner Cal Performances. Oct. 26–28, www.calperformances.org

Talk about chaos

2

steve@sfbg.com

FALL ARTS Is this the last Burning Man? After 26 years of resiliently expanding on the vast canvas of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, and reaching what is arguably the pinnacle of its popularity and artistic innovation, the answer is: Probably not.

But there have been more portents of doom than ever this year, culminating last week when the event’s organizer — San Francisco-based Black Rock City LLC — issued a dire warning about new efforts by Pershing County officials to impose steep fee increases and regulation of behavior (including possibly banning minors) at this annual orgy of free expression.

After a Nevada judge concerned with burner morals and values recently worked with the county’s Board of Commissioners to void its agreement with BRC and place Burning Man under its new Festival Ordinance, BRC sued the county, claiming it “imposed new, unnecessary, unlawful, and potentially ruinous fees on BRC, threatening BRC’s ability to conduct Burning Man 2013 and going forward.”

The suit won’t affect this year’s event, which officially begins Aug. 26 and which was already being heavily battered by other forces, particularly Mother Nature of late. Art and setup crews on the playa, which is extra dusty after a record-dry winter, are telling horror stories of sustained 60-mph winds, day-long whiteouts, freak storms, and temperature extremes.

That could be one reason why a glut of Burning Man tickets went on the market in recent weeks, with many desperate sellers accepting less than face value and knocking the bottom out of the market for any ticket scalpers still hoping to cash in on record early demand for Burning Man tickets.

BRC started the year under a torrent of criticism for a new ticket lottery system that left most veterans without them. The organization gradually took several countermeasures, including canceling a secondary ticket sale and selling those 10,000 tickets directly through established camps and collectives, organizing an aftermarket ticket exchange and taking anti-scalper actions, successfully petitioning the Bureau of Land Management to increase the population cap to 60,900 (last year, the event peaked at below 54,000), and releasing a few thousand extra tickets at the very end. And that big year unfolded against the nearly forgotten backdrop of BRC’s internal work developing the new nonprofit Burning Man Project to take over the event from the LLC in a few years.

Each action prompted its own backlash — from both burners and anti-burners concerned about the skyrocketing population to myriad complaints about BRC policies and direction — and set of warnings of impending doom.

When I asked event founder Larry Harvey on the phone about this crazy year, he agreed, “It’s been full of alarm and incident.”

The incident that most alarms Harvey now is the sudden turn that Pershing County has taken, tripling this year’s Burning Man fees to $450,000 and potentially jacking them above $1 million in coming years, reportedly to fund more policing of risqué behaviors that Judge Richard Wagner has publicly objected to.

BRC’s lawsuit claims the judge and county officials used “a collusive state lawsuit as to which BRC was not a party” to regulate the event “not out of a neutral and objective concern for public safety issues, but because of their opposition to what they consider to be the content and culture of Burning Man, in violation of the First Amendment.”

“We’re doing this because we felt we had no recourse,” Harvey told me, although he expressed far less concern about other perceived existential threats to Burning Man. “I would like to take some modest credit for solving the scalper problem,” Harvey said. He claimed validation in the current easy availability of tickets at face value and minimized the role of departing veterans, discouraged visitors from afar, and those scared by dust storm stories.

“Last year was remarkably good weather, and it was unlikely we would see that again,” Harvey said fatalistically. But Burning Man is meant to be difficult and unpredictable. After all, he said, “We’re talking about chaos here.”

Guardian City Editor Steven T. Jones is the author of The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture.

Cheeseburger wolfpack

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caitlin@sfbg.com

FALL ARTS In a workshop far north, in the wilds of Portland, a man creates wooden monsters. But they’re gorgeous, these beasts: vertigo-inducing whorls of eyes and mouths and thousands of pin feathers. So entrancing are the works of artist A.J. Fosik that you want to trip and fall into the maw of one of his riotously colorful works, preferably while on whatever drug their maker was partaking in when he laboriously cobbled them together. (perhaps also while listening to Mastodon.) Fosik will bring the wolfpack south to Guerrero Gallery for a show beginning Nov. 10.

SFBG: I’ve read that your sculptures are meant to ape religious icons and the zealotry that surrounds them — is that true of this latest series?

A.J. Fosik: It is true. If religious people would stop being such colossal dickheads I would have a lot more time on my hands to pursue hobbies.

SFBG: High-falutin’ theories of faith aside, do your beasties have names, personalities?

AJF: They are characters in an archetypal sense, not in a my name is Dave sense. They are manifestations of the apparently inescapable human need to put a face to the unknowable in some sort of attempt at easing our existential angst. Ideally, I would like them to serve as inspiration to move past that way of thinking and embrace the unknowable. Sometimes [they have names], mostly they are named after the ideals of a humanity better than ours.

SFBG: Where do they live?

AJF: The same place all deities do, in your head.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_in6MbARF4s

SFBG: They’re so attention-grabbing — during the creation process, how do you relate to them? Do you have conversations?

AJF: I breathe life into them through their nostrils. Each piece receives a command written on parchment and rolled up, which is then placed in their mouths and compels them to obey.

SFBG: How long does a standard piece take you to make?

AJF: It takes a few splinters per hand and a couple of thousand pin nails.

SFBG: If you could engineer your beasts to perform a mechanical function, what would it be? You can say “eat people.”

AJF: I would like them to be able to take a precision slice from the part of the brain of every thick-skulled mouth breather that is responsible for holding onto the idea of faith as a virtue. Either by tooth or by claw they could slowly replace the justifications of so much hatred and replace them with the urgency of this life. Or they could regurgitate cheeseburgers to order.

SFBG: Your work is incredibly detailed. Why so elaborate?

AJF: If I stop working then I have to drink. When I start drinking, out come the wolves. It’s a safety measure. Also, DMT.

SFBG: Does anyone out there have a wall of Fosik pieces, like a psychedelic version of one of those wild imperialist British hunters?

AJF: If it does exist then I am insulted that my invitation has failed to materialize. If you’re reading this I can bring booze and firearms on short notice.

SFBG: Describe where you’d most like to see one of your works installed.

AJF: That’s sort of an odd thing at the moment. It really doesn’t seem to matter as much where the physical piece ends up, its real life is on Tumblrs and blogs or wherever else. If they don’t have teeth there they haven’t really lived.

A.J. FOSIK

Nov 10-Dec 8

Guerrero Gallery

2700 19th St., SF

(415) 400-5168

www.guerrerogallery.com

Volume 46 Number 47 Flip-through Edition

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Drug peace

0

HERBWISE Author Doug Fine’s last book, Farewell My Subaru, is about the year he moved to a secluded New Mexico farm and attempted to live without petroleum. He’s just as creative about advocating against the War on Drugs as is his against fossil fuel dependency — for his new book Too High To Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution Fine spent a cannabis season living in a Mendocino grow town. He’s been getting love from his recent appearance on Conan, but we caught up with him via email for some real talk while he was en route from his home, a.k.a. the Funky Butte Ranch, “hurtling toward live events in Colorado in an ’87 RV.” He’ll be in town this week doing readings, so read up here and bring him questions to his Booksmith reading on Wed/22 and his event for cannabis patients at Harborside Health Center on Fri/24. 

SFBG: What are you adding to the discussion on cannabis legalization with Too High To Fail?

Doug Fine: I relocated to Mendocino County, and for 10 months covered the county’s successful efforts to permit sustainable cannabis farmers. I followed one flower named Lucille — for reasons that have to do with the neighbor of a farmer I followed — from farm to liver cancer battler. 

Mendocino’s “zip-tie” [cannabis farm permit] program was so successful in 2011 that it was about to be emulated in several other counties in the Emerald Triangle. With 100 tax-paying American small farmers coming above ground to declare themselves legitimate, the county raised $600,000 and saved seven deputy sheriff positions. The practitioners of a profession that generates 80 percent of the county’s revenue could now be part of society. Then, just before harvest, the DEA raided the most prominent zip-tie farmer, and the US Attorney threatened the county Board of Supervisors with arrest if they didn’t effectively cancel the program. Which they did. 

SFBG: Would you say you have a different writing style than others who have tackled the War on Drugs?

DF: It’s kind of comedic investigative journalism. Since I don’t only want to preach to the converted on any issue, I think the humor draws people in as they see I’m a regular guy, a dad, an American, and not some kind of radical pushing an agenda. I try to laugh my way to the truth. 

SFBG: In your opinion, why isn’t cannabis legal today?

DF: Pat Robertson wants to end the Drug War, my cowboy hat-wearing senior ladies at the post office in my New Mexico canyon want to end it. Everyone’s ready except Congress. Even a DEA spokesman said when I asked why the zip-tied farmer was raided, “If you don’t like the Controlled Substances Act ask Congress to change it.” And it’s up to us as voters to do just that: get cannabis out of the CSA and allow states to regulate it like alcohol. It’s win-win: a $30 billion infusion into the economy annually that will cripple the cartels. 

SFBG: Do you smoke weed?

DF: I have used it. I think it’s a good plant. My general take on it is a spiritual one. The Bible isn’t vague on this. It’s in Genesis, not bured way back in Numbers. Chapter 1, Verse 29 says: “You shall have all the plants and seed-bearing herbs to use.” Not “unless one day Richard Nixon decides he doesn’t like one of them.”

SFBG: I hear you live with goats?

DF: Yep, I generally see as many goats on a given day as I do humans. I meditate with my goats and live on their yogurt, cheese, and, most importantly, their honey-cardamom ice cream.

 

DOUG FINE

Wed/22 7:30pm, free

The Booksmith

1644 Haight, SF

www.thebooksmith.com


Fri/24 2-5pm, free, medical marijuana patients only

Harborside Health Center

1840 Embarcadero, Oakl.

www.harborsidehealthcenter.com

Fools in love

0

>>Check out our complete FALL ARTS PREVIEW 2012

emilysavage@sfbg.com

FALL ARTS “You’re at the right place,” Tim Cohen mutters, holding a large laundry sack swaddled like a burrito to his chest as he walks up to the tri-level white Victorian on McAllister Street in San Francisco’s Western Addition. A prolific singer-songwriter with morose pop vocals and a gruff exterior, Cohen is preparing to once again tour with his band, the Fresh and Onlys. And Cohen is flying out to the East Coast earlier than the others so he can play a few shows in his other incarnation, Magic Trick.

After dropping off his laundry sack upstairs in the top tower of the Victorian, Cohen climbs down the steps and stands against a railing on the front stoop with the band’s newest member, pony-tailed drummer Kyle Gibson, who really isn’t all that new. Gibson’s first show with Cohen, bassist Shayde Sartin, and skinny, pompadoured guitarist Wymond Miles, was at Noise Pop on Feb. 26, 2009. Before he came along, the band dilly-dallied around with a bunch of different drummers for around eight months, says Cohen.

The cohesive four-piece hit the ground running, creating psychedelically swirled darkly moving garage and psych-pop in home recording studios, and releasing records and EPs at a dizzying speed, touring nearly nonstop through the past three years.

Now signed to Mexican Summer, the Fresh and Onlys have slowed down a bit, spending the end of last year recording 2012’s Long Slow Dance (which sees release Sept. 4), their fourth long-player and first since 2010’s noisier Play It Strange. This fall they’ll again pick up the pace, and tour the West Coast, East Coast, and Europe through early next year.

“I feel like this is the record we all wanted to make, we’ve been wanting to make this record for a long time,” says Miles, who slinks up last to Cohen’s stoop on this unseasonably warm summer day in SF. If not for the occasional cool breeze, the day would be downright hot. I ask him to expand and he laughs and says, “Take it, Tim.”

“We were all a lot more patient with the process,” says Cohen. “It was like, it’s already been this long, let’s do it right. Let’s get the sounds right, let’s get the takes right, let’s get the feelings and the moods right.”

Moods come up frequently in both the stoop conversation and the record itself. The dark poetic drawl is inherent within Cohen, that Morrissey-Robert Smith pain paired to jangly pop. Album opener “20 Days and 20 Nights” has a classic hook, but matched to Cohen’s words, it’s actually quite sad. “Something so heavy/in my mind/I think I want to try and get it out/So I cry/and I cry.”

Many of Cohen’s lyrics come lifted from his dreams, so naturally he keeps a notebook by his bed in the tower. “When I write something down, I’ll look at it a few days later and be like, ‘wow, that’s kind of strange,’ and I’ll usually turn that into something.”

He feels he may be subconsciously influenced by the absurdist and surrealist fiction he reads, by authors such as Kafka, and conversely, classic radio pop. On jangly “No Regard,” he opens with “ever wonder why fools fall in love?”

“I don’t know how aware Tim was of Frankie Lymon when he wrote it,” says Sartin. “Not only is it a classic lyric, it’s a classic sentiment in pop culture in general. Whenever you hear that song, Frankie Lymon still lives, even though he died a miserable death.”

After a hot pause of silent remembrance, Sartin continues, “So I think sometimes those things pop up in Tim’s lyrics. They get mangled by the time they get to the pen and paper in Tim’s hand or onto the record for that matter.”

“That’s exactly right,” Cohen says. “What I intend to do with lyrics is make them clear cut with a twist. Put sad lyrics over happy music, or happy lyrics over sad music, just to create a juxtaposition of moods that’s a more compelling listen.”

Gibson pops up, “Morrisseying. I made Morrissey a verb. That’s what he would do, he’s one of the best at that. So really macabre and dark over this like, jangle.”

While Cohen is the frontperson and lead lyricist, he doesn’t always get his way. He’s quick to bring up the example of “Foolish Person,” a dreamy ’80s-esque pop song — which dissolves into battling psychedelic guitarwork — that made it on Long Slow Dance after at least three different iterations. “Some people in the band really wanted to see it through, to see it to completion. I wasn’t totally into the idea, but I’m sort of glad we did it,” he says with a sniff. “At least, I never have to record it again.”

Gibson laughs, slipping on his sunglasses.

The band has had their share of rough spots, especially during grueling tours, but they’ve learned to communicate. “We wouldn’t have lasted this long if we couldn’t reign that toxicity in, and direct it elsewhere,” Cohen says.

The keys to the Fresh and Onlys’ success, both personally and musically, include their diverse sonic backgrounds, and relative age. Unlike youngster bands, the four musicians were already established, and had played in previous bands (including Black Fiction, and Kelley Stoltz’s band), when they came together all hovering around the age of 30.

Each blasted a different kind of noise from their childhood stereo. Cohen listened exclusively to hip-hop in Virginia (“I just listened to the way people put their words together. I would never really go off the beat — I never really have, I’m not really capable of this shambolic, careless approach to words and vocals.”). Miles came from an array of guitar schools of thought in Denver, Colo., listening to the Cure, goth, punk, and hardcore. Sartin came from the Florida punk scene, but also loves country, and his bass-playing is rooted in soul music. From DC, Gibson listened to punk and Dischord bands, which justifies his muscular drumming.

“In a fearless way, we welcome each others music genealogy into the fold,” Cohen says.

The band also thrives thanks to its San Francisco location. “I can call up any of my friends and say ‘let’s go play music.’ And if they don’t want to do it, someone else will,” says Sartin, adding “We also have a ton of inspiration from other people who live here, other bands, other artists.” He mentions former Girls drummer Garret Goddard, and Gio Betteo from Young Prisms, along with perhaps the most prolific musician in San Francisco, aside from Cohen, Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer (formerly of Pink and Brown and Coachwhips).

“You can have a conversation with John Dwyer and go fucking write three songs, just off the energy absorbed from him barking at you,” says Sartin.

All four musicians on the stoop shake their heads in agreement.

FRESH AND ONLYS

With Terry Malts, DJ Britt Govea

Sept. 8, 9pm, $15

Independent

628 Divisadero, SF (415) 771-1421

www.theindependentsf.com

 

Full circle

52

steve@sfbg.com

When Mayor Ed Lee suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in March, he publicly took the position that it was an act of official misconduct when Mirkarimi grabbed his wife’s arm during a Dec. 31 argument, subsequently pleaded guilty to false imprisonment, and was placed on probation for three years.

Lee and his allies said that under those conditions, Mirkarimi could no longer effectively function as the city’s top elected law enforcement officer and that his actions clearly violated the City Charter’s ban on "conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers."

The City Attorney’s Office, through deputies Peter Keith and Sherri Kaiser, has maintained that position throughout the investigation and Ethics Commission proceedings over the last five months. On August 16, on a 4-1 vote, the commission agreed and recommend the Board of Supervisors find its former colleague guilty of official misconduct, which would almost certainly result in his removal from office.

But that simple set of facts and interpretations belies the ugly spectacle that Lee and the City Attorney’s Office actually decided to create — at great cost to taxpayers, Mirkarimi’s reputation, and the public’s faith in the proceedings — over the last five months.

Instead of sticking by their initial position, Lee and his attorneys decided to pile on a long list of other official misconduct charges: dissuading witnesses to his crime, impeding a police investigation, abusing his authority in several ways, engaging in a pattern of abuse of women, refusing to cooperate with a city investigation, lying to officers in a scheme to keep a gun, and other charges.

Almost all of those accusations were included in the original written charges that Lee filed on March 21 — before the city had actually begun its investigation to learn whether there was any evidence to support them. Keith and Kaiser continued to make all those accusations right up until the end.

When the Ethics Commission finally deliberated on August 16, going through each of the main factual allegations against Mirkarimi, one by one, it unanimously agreed that there wasn’t enough evidence to support any of those other charges, even using the "preponderance of evidence" standard that is lower than the "beyond reasonable doubt" standard used in criminal cases.

So in the end, the case against Mirkarimi ended at the same place where it began: with the question of whether pleading guilty to a misdemeanor act of domestic violence warrants the removal of an elected official. But the implications and repercussions of what has transpired over these last five months could be felt for many years, in ways that it’s impossible to predict today.

WHAT IS OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT?


With very few legal precedents to guide them, the commissioners spent most of the nine-hour hearing on Aug. 16 wrestling with how to interpret the city’s untested new official misconduct language, how directly the wrongful behavior must relate to the office, and whether broadly interpreting those two issues gives too much power to the mayor.

Underlying that discussion is the question of whether the statute and the city’s interpretation of it will eventually be struck down as unconstitutionally vague by the courts, which Mirkarimi will likely turn to if the board removes him from office. But the commission pointedly refused to enter that debate, with Commissioner Jamienne Studley saying, "I don’t think determining constitutionality is what I signed on for as a commissioner."

Chair Benedict Hur, the sole dissenter in recommending a finding of official misconduct, expressed far more concern about the precedent they were setting than with the fate of Mirkarimi, whose actions he strongly condemned as "clearly wrongful and unlawful."

"There has to be a direct relationship of the behavior to the office held," Hur said. "If we don’t find a nexus, we are opening this provision up to abuse down the road."

Commissioner Paul Renne led the charge in interpreting misconduct in the broadest possible way, arguing it didn’t even have to be related to his official duties. "There’s nothing in that clause that says the misconduct has to relate to the office," Renne said.

But Hur called that a "dangerous precedent," saying he has "grave concerns" about how such a broad interpretation could be applied in the future. "I have a lot of concerns about where you draw the line if you don’t relate it to official duties," he said.

For example, could members of the Board of Supervisors be removed after getting arrested at demonstrations — as has happened many times before in connections with labor and other disputes — or even for using colorful language with constituents or colleagues that might violate a future mayor’s "standard of decency?"

Mirkarimi attorney Shepherd Kopp said there’s a good reason why recall is the preferred means of removing an elected officials accused of wrongdoing, calling the charter "an imperfect document" that can’t cover all circumstances — indeed, it doesn’t allow for the removal of mayors, even those who commit serious crimes — noting that "this is a rarely brought proceeding and it can have the effect of contravening the will of the electorate."

"These proceedings," Kopp said, "are far too susceptible to the vagaries of politics."

THE PILE-ON


Lee’s decision to overcharge Mirkarimi could be a costly one. The City Attorney’s Office won’t release expenses associated with ongoing legal actions like this one, but most indications are that it will run into the millions of dollars, perhaps many millions depending on how Mirkarimi fares in the courts if he is removed and challenges the city’s actions.

According to the City Attorney’s Office, the official misconduct proceedings against former Sup. Ed Jew in 2007 cost the city $381,505 in legal fees, but that was a relatively short and simple proceeding, with just one Ethics Commission hearing and couple of state court appearances before the case was settled.

By contrast, the case against Mirkarimi has already entailed five months of detailed exchanges between the two sides’ attorneys, covering a wide array of legal issues, and months-long investigations of matters only tangentially related to the core charge. The city has paid out money for expert witness. Mayor Lee cast a wide net to catch the fish that he had already hooked before setting out to sea.

Even if the Jew case had played out to completion, it would likely have cost just a fraction of what Mirkarimi’s will, for a simple reason: Mayor Lee acted quickly and brought a broad array of charges before investigating them. Then-Mayor Gavin Newsom investigated whether Jew really lived in the city and then brought just that narrow charge.

The simple residency question was enough to warrant Jew’s removal, and Newsom didn’t even need to get into the far more serious corruption charges related to Jew being caught with $80,000 in marked bills as part of an FBI extortion sting, for which Jew is still serving a five-year term in federal prison.

Lee has refused to justify his decision to pile on the charges and introduce defamatory declarations unsupported by direct evidence, such as the long declaration of key witness Ivory Madison, most of which was stricken from the record after Commissioner Paul Renne called it "clearly hearsay, clearly having the intention of poisoning the well" and said "a first-year lawyer should know that much of it is inadmissible and it should not have been given to us."

Even though Keith apologized to Renne and the commission, Lee and his lawyers continued to defend much of that declaration and use it as the basis for many of their most incredible accusations.

"You received a great deal of evidence, most of it from the mayor and most of it unchallenged," Keith said in his closing statement, glossing over the multitude of challenges and the fact that most evidence doesn’t support the city’s charges.

Mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey wouldn’t address a list of Guardian questions about overcharging the case and continuing to rely on discredited evidence. Instead, the Mayor’s Office stands by this Aug. 16 prepared statement: "I am pleased that the members of the Ethics Commission, following a careful review of the evidence, and in the face of a sustained campaign to distract and misdirect them from the facts, agreed with me that Ross Mirkarimi’s actions constitute official misconduct and fall below the ethical conduct we expect of the sheriff."

City Attorney’s Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey said his office also stands by the process: "We respect Ethics Commissioners’ differing opinions about the remaining counts. But nothing about the commission’s conclusions would cause us to pursue these charges of official misconduct differently if we had to do it over again."

But Mirkarimi’s team says it is Lee who has repeatedly sought to distract and misdirect the public, whether through unsubstantiated claims in his charging documents or Lee’s public statements that Mirkarimi "beats his wife" and other comments that blow a single arm-grab out of proportion.

"What the commission has effectively done is agreed with us that’s the only issue," Mirkarimi attorney David Waggoner told reporters after the hearing, noting that he had offered to stipulate to those facts from the beginning and avoid a prosecution that his closing brief deemed "a dog and pony show." Mirkarimi also told reporters that "the piling on of these charges has weighted us down" and complicated his defense. He added, "I leave this process concerned that the will of the voters is being undermined."

THE PRICE OF OVERKILL


Perhaps it was understandable for the city to use over-the-top tactics on Mirkarimi, who has certainly been weakened by proceedings that generated reams of fodder to be used against him in future elections if he survives the board’s removal vote. But the tactic also seems to have hardened the stance of Mirkarimi’s supporters and fed their conviction that this was a politically motivated prosecution and misuse of public resources.

During more than three hours of public testimony on Aug. 16, with each speaker strictly limited to less than two minutes each, speakers overwhelmingly favored Mirkarimi and condemned the city case as overkill.

"Some of the things done in this case, and the levels this has gone to, is outrageous," said Brenda Barros, who works in the city’s public health clinic and said these resources could be better applied to help the "seriously abused women" she works with. Barros called the city’s case "a political witch hunt."

"I think Mayor Lee has overstepped his boundaries and I think you should find that as well," said Pedro Fernandez, a private investigator and former San Francisco Police officer.

David Elliott Lewis, a member of the city’s Mental Health Board, noted that the Sheriff’s Department has no civilian oversight, making the role of an elected sheriff who is progressive and independent of the city’s good-old-boy police culture all the more important. "Those who claim otherwise are really politically motivated," he said.

One issue left unresolved by the Ethics Commission is whether Mirkarimi should be removed even though the case against him was substantially whittled down. In fact, several commissioners indicated during the hearing that they thought the findings and punishment were separate issues.

"Do you agree that it is a two-step process we have to deal with?" Renne asked Keith, referring to the official misconduct finding and whether Lee abused his discretion by removing Mirkarimi.

"There is a determination of, are the consequences appropriate to the wrongful action," Keith replied.

But later, when attorney Scott Emblidge — who is volunteering his legal services to both the Ethics Commission and Board of Supervisors on this case — offered his interpretation that the charter language requires removal of officials found to have committed official misconduct, the commission accepted that and opted not to consider recommending a lesser punishment to the Board of Supervisors.

Mirkarimi’s team objected to the commission’s rewriting of new charges based on its evidentiary findings, and things got so confusing by the end that the commission decided to meet one more time in early September to finalize its recommendation.

So the case probably won’t get to the board until mid-September. Nine votes are required to remove Mirkarimi and the charter requires the board act within 30 days, meaning that final vote will be just a few weeks before the Nov. 6 election, timing that will only increase perceptions that politics will largely determine its outcome.

Farmville, for real

11

yael@sfbg.com

In the next few months, San Francisco will lose some of its most beloved urban farms.

The City Hall victory garden is now reduced to dirt. The grants that kept afloat Quesada Gardens Initiative, which creates community gardens in Bayview, were temporary and are now drying up. Kezar Gardens, funded by the Haight Asbury Neighborhood Council recycling center, is facing eviction by the city.

Time is up for Hayes Valley Farm, on the old freeway ramp, where developers are now ready to build condos.

St. Paulus Lutheran Church has also announced that it wants to sell the land that the Free Farm uses at Eddy and Gough.

“There’s the old joke about developers,” said Antonio Roman-Alcalá, co-founder of Alemany Farm and the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance. “God must be a developer, because they always seem to get their way.”

At the same time, new urban agriculture projects have sprung up across San Francisco. Legislation authored by Sup. David Chiu will create a city Urban Agriculture Program, with the goal of coordinating efforts throughout the city.

So is the movement to grow food in the city progressing? It’s a tricky question that gets down to one of the oldest conflicts in San Francisco: The best use of scarce, expensive land.

THE VALUE OF FARMING

The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association lauds the value of community gardens. An April 2012 SPUR report notes that urban agriculture connects people “to the broader food system, offers open space and recreation, provides hands-on education, presents new and untested business opportunities, and builds community.”

According to the report, the city had “nearly 100 gardens and farms on both public and private land (not including school gardens),” two dozen of which started in the past four years.

But that’s nowhere near enough for the demand. “The last time waiting lists were surveyed, there were over 550 people waiting,” Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager at SPUR, told us. “That likely underrepresents demand because some people who are interested haven’t put their name down.”

Changes in zoning last year, and the recent ordinance to create the Urban Agriculture Program, show a measure of city support for urban farming and gardening.

“We have one of the most permissive zoning codes for urban agriculture that I know of in the country,” said Zigas.

One zoning change from 2011 makes it explicit that community gardens and farms less than one acre in size are welcome anywhere in the city, and that projects on larger plots of land are allowed in certain non-residential districts.

More recent legislation is meant to streamline the process of starting to grow food in the city. Applying to use empty public land for a garden can be an arduous process, and every public agency has a different approach. The hoops to jump through for land owned by the Police Department, for example, are entirely different than what the Public Utilities Commission requires. A new Urban Agriculture Program would coordinate efforts.

“The idea is to create a new program that will serve as the main point of entry. Whether it will be managed by existing agency or nonprofit is to be determined,” said Zigas.

If the timeline laid out in the ordinance is followed, the plan will be implemented by Jan.1, 2014.

By then, if all goes according to plan, no San Franciscan looking to garden will wait more than a year for access to a community garden plot.

NO NEW LAND

Roman-Alcalá said that efforts to clear the way for urban agriculture are much less controversial than for affordable housing and other tenets of anti-gentrification. But for all the good the latest legislation does, it doesn’t secure a single square foot of land for urban agriculture.

“If you look at the language, there’s nowhere in it that mandates or prioritizes urban agriculture on any site,” said Roman-Alcalá. “The closest thing is a call for an audit of city owned rooftops. That’s the closest it comes to changing land use.”

And it won’t be easy. “No matter how much support there is for urban agriculture, in the end, developers and their ability to make money is going to be prioritized,'” he said. “The only way to really challenge that right now is cultural. Social change is not an event but a process.”

Janelle Fitzpatrick, a member of the Hayes Valley Farm Resource Council and a neighborhood resident who has been volunteering at the farm since it started, is committed to that process.

“Hayes Valley Farm proves that when the city, developers, and communities come together, urban agriculture projects can be successful,” Fitzpatrick said. She and dozens of other volunteers created the farm, which is now lush with food crops, flowers, and trees. The farm has a bee colony, a seed library, and a green house. It offers yoga and urban permaculture classes.

Hayes Valley Farm started on land that used to be ramps to the Central Freeway before that section was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake. The land under the freeway was toxic, but volunteers spent six months layering mulch and cardboard and planting fava beans to create soil. It took less than a year to create a productive farm on a lot that had been vacant and overgrown for nearly two decades.

“We’re producing food, we’re producing community, we’re producing education,” said Zoey Kroll, another volunteer and resource council member.

When they vacate their land in the winter, many Hayes Valley Farm team members will already be knee deep in new urban agriculture projects. These include Bloom Justice, a flower farm in the Lower Haight that Kroll says will teach job skills like forestry and landscaping. The farm has also built a relationship with Hunters Point Family, working together to offer organic gardening and produce at Double Rock Community Garden at the Alice Griffith Housing Development and Adam Rogers Community Garden.

As for the loss of the current site, Kroll says, “It’s an exercise in detachment.” Change in landscapes and ownership is part of urban life, she said — “We’re a city of renters.”

We’re also a city of very limited land. “Securing permanent public land for urban agriculture would be challenging,” said Kevin Bayuk, an instructor at the Urban Permaculture Institute. “And securing long-term tenure on anything significant, an acre or more of land in San Francisco, if it were on private land, would be cost prohibitive.”

Of the city’s three largest farms, only Alemany Farm seems secure in its future. The farm is on Recreation and Parks Department land, and has been working with the department since 2005 to create a somewhat autonomous governance structure.

Community gardens on Rec-Park land are subject to a 60-page rulebook, and according to Roman-Alcalá, Alemany Farm’s operations were restricted by the rules.

Last week, the group’s plan to be reclassified as a farm instead of a garden was approved, eliminating some of the rules and creating an advisory council of community stakeholders that will exert decision making power over the farm, although Rec-Park still has ultimate authority.

“Now it’s more secure,” said Roman-Alcalá. “We’ve finally reached this point where the city acknowledges it as a food production site.”

“I think the urban agriculture movement is still growing and burgeoning in the grassroots sense,” said Bayuk. “And I think some of the grassroots growth is reflected in the policy and code changes. “I’m optimistic for the idea of people putting land into productive use to meet human needs and be a benefit of all life.”

This article has been corrected to reflect information about the location and ownership of the Free Farm.

The cost of the death penalty

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OPINION As a retired police officer, I believe deeply in safety and justice. As a father and a person who has devoted more than 30 years to working with young people, I know what our kids need to become positive members of our communities. I’ve seen the positive changes that come from resources, attention and education. I’ve seen it as a precinct service officer in East Harlem, New York, as a police officer and lieutenant in the Oakland Unified School District.

I can no longer stand by while we tell young people that we care about them while simultaneously undermining their future and safety with poor use of our resources. I can’t stay silent as we talk about tough times and budget cuts, but spend billions on death row inmates who will actually die in prison of illness or old age instead of execution. It’s not right, and it’s not effective.

California’s death penalty is suffocating our resources. A June 2011 study by former death-penalty prosecutor and federal judge Arthur L. Alarcón and law professor Paula Mitchell found that California has spent $4 billion dollars on the death penalty since 1978 and that death-penalty trials are 20 times more expensive than trials seeking a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

That money is wasted, because the system is so dysfunctional that those death row inmates actually end up serving the equivalent of life without the possibility of parole anyway. California is on track to spend $1 billion dollars in the next five years on the death penalty — all of this while risking the execution of an innocent person.

These irresponsible budget choices are undermining the safety of California families. Despite a horrific unsolved murder rate of 46 percent, we fire homicide investigators and take police off the streets. Even though a shocking 56 percent of reported rapes go unsolved, rape kits all over the state remain untested on shelves because of lack of funding. Budget cuts for crime labs and police mean evidence that can help find and convict criminals is sitting on a shelf while we waste millions on a death row that is broken beyond repair.

We also undermine crime prevention by firing teachers and taking away violence intervention programs — two things I know for sure keep kids out of a life of crime.

Proposition 34 will help us put our priorities into action by replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. That will save California $130 million dollars a year. Prop. 34 would redirect a portion of those savings for three years to solve open murder and rape cases. By solving more cases and bringing more criminals to justice, we can keep our families and communities safer and hold these people accountable for what they have done.

Murderers deserve tough punishment. But I can tell you from my career as a police officer — lifetime incarceration in prison with no chance of parole is real punishment.

There is no fixing the death penalty, but Prop. 34 will help us fix the funding for our priorities. That is justice that works for young people, and for all of us.

Steve Fajardo is a former police officer.