Volume 47 Number 29

At the hub

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GREEN ISSUE Konda Mason is a yoga teacher, filmmaker, and producer. But above all she’s an activist, one of the most energetic Bay Area voices leading the effort to support sustainable practices in marginalized communities, and connect spiritual practice with real-world environmental action. Mason’s the co-director of the new HUB Oakland community-building center (www.huboakland.net), a partner in Earthseed Consulting, LLC (www.earthseedconsulting.com), which designs and promotes environmental projects with an emphasis on diversity, and a board member of the East Bay Meditation Center (www.eastbaymeditation.org). On Sat/20, she’s teaching at Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s Earth Day event, “Responses to Climate Change: Awareness, Action, and Celebration.” Last week, she spoke to me over the phone about connectivity, diversity, and the difference between “change” and “transformation.”

San Francisco Bay Guardian You’re both a yoga-meditation teacher and an environmental activist. How do these two aspects of your life intersect?

Konda Mason Yoga and meditation give you that time to pause and quiet the chatter in your head and connect to that place inside that is unchanging and feels connected to the whole. You feel the deep inner connectivity that you have with all things in those moments, that connection with all life.

SFBG One of your main efforts has been introducing the African American community to green practices.

KM Marginalized people in general are left out of every important conversation that affects them the most. It’s more about social economics than race. When we look at who is on the frontline of impact, it’s always the marginalized: women, children, youth, the poor, and people of color. I’m a filmmaker by trade, so when I became a part of Earthseed, the idea came to me to create an online series called “Green Street Loft,” a fun, accessible, and culturally relevant series for the African American audience. It hasn’t launched yet, but stay tuned.

SFBG Years ago, you were a founder of the International Association for Black Yoga teachers. Do you think diversity is increasing in the yoga community?

KM I do believe that people are seeing more and more diversity in general in areas around spiritual pursuits. These days, I also teach at Spirit Rock and help lead the annual People of Color meditation retreat. The thing to me that is lacking more than anything is men. Everything I do, the audience is always predominantly women! That is where the attention needs to be drawn.

SFBG And now you’re starting HUB Oakland. What is that?

KM The HUB is a global movement of people who are working on solutions to better the world. It’s a place where people can come and collaborate and meet each other and work together, a place for conversation and action to happen. It’s for social entrepreneurs, and for sustainable business ideas that need incubation to get to the next level. It exists on five different continents. San Francisco is the biggest and most successful HUB in the network. Now, HUB Oakland is starting.

SFBG How will HUB Oakland be different than other HUBs?

KM Every HUB takes on the personality of its city. HUB Oakland will probably be the most diverse HUB in the network in terms of ethnicity and ages. We will have workshops about personal growth and spiritual growth with people from Silicon Valley to Spirit Rock. Everybody is invited.

SFBG When will it open?

KM We have a building on Broadway between 23rd and 24th streets that we signed a lease on. We move there in October. It’s a 60,000-square foot space that is just beautiful. Until then, we’re in a pop-up place, a 2000-square foot old bank through the help of the City of Oakland and Popuphood (www.popuphood.com).

SFBG Tell us about the Earth Day event at Spirit Rock this weekend.

KM I’m looking forward to it. There will be some really key people there who are committed to environment and sustainability. The thing about this movement to “change the world” is that “change” and “transformation” are two different things. What’s lasting is transformation. It begins with the individual. We can window-dress something and make it look green, but if we haven’t transformed ourselves, it will revert back to the way it was. This is why the contemplative practices and wisdom traditions are so essential to sustainability. They foster change in the individual.

RESPONSES TO CLIMATE CHANGE

Sat/20, 9:30am-4:30pm, $25–$108 sliding scale

Spirit Rock

5000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Woodacre, Marin

www.spiritrock.org

Red all over

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SUPER EGO “I’ve been listening a lot to Hulk Hogan’s new comedy album. I hear he has an acid jazz album coming out soon, too — can’t wait for that.” I’m being treated to some good ol’ deadpan Native American leg-pulling from DJ Bear Witness of A Tribe Called Red, performing at Thee Parkside on Fri/19.

Well, more accurately it’s First Nations leg-pulling, as the fascinating and super-fun ATCR DJs — Bear Witness, NDN, and Shub — are of indigenous Canadian descent, calling me from Ottawa, where their monthly party Electric Pow Wow has been slaying for almost five years now. The trio mixes electronic dance beats with contemporary aboriginal tribal drumming and singing, plus a healthy dose of aural and visual sampling both historical (early field recordings of powwow chants and 20th-century sound bites) and ironic (cringe-worthy Hollywood redskin whoops and awkward pop culture quotes ranging from John Wayne to Back to the Future III) to create a deliciously subversive club experience.

The result is what the three call “pow wow step” — a banging, trancey sound mostly rooted in the bass-heavy drops and meticulously constructed plateaus of dubstep, but transcending that too-trendy sound by virtue of the trio’s innumerable global dance music influences. And it’s finally giving a contemporary electronic voice to aboriginal groups from Ojibwe to Nippising.

Bear Witness points out that in Canada and much of the United States, indigenous people are now “urban aboriginals — we’re the people in the hoodies and baseball caps living downtown,” so a distinct, urban musical expression could only come naturally.

“We’re one of the fastest growing demographics, yet we’re still pretty invisible,” NDN added. “It’s a lot different from when our great-great grandparents came off the reservations looking for work. Our grandparents became integrated as much as they were allowed in 1950s and ’60s culture until some of them joined radical movements like Black Power. Then our parents grew up in this kind of unique urban environment full of little telltale signs that they were aborigines.

“And now we come along, raised on tribal identification, but also hip-hop and everything else you got growing up in the city. Including the fact that the whole world’s structured to be against you, from the moment you step out of the house in the morning to get a cup of coffee.

“So we’re representing, while also trying to move it all forward. We want to decolonize some of the references and stereotypes while having a lot of fun with it.”

For all the political subtext and critical theory red meat, ATCR’s emphasis is always on the party. “We’re three energetic DJs up there playing off each other in a totally spontaneous fashion, having a blast with the crowd,” says DJ Shub. Shub’s status as an insanely talented, vinyl-shredding winner of the Canadian DMC DJ championship makes him a star on his own.

When tripled with NDN and Bear, the quick-witted referents from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Q-Tip fly — the group credits mashup culture, a breakdancing revival, and kooky Brit electro duo Radioclit among its inspirations. (And yes, when it comes to the sometimes awkward, culturally-appropriative legacy of tribal house, jungle, and New Age ambient, they love to flip it all back on itself, reclaiming it.)

A Tribe Called Red often draws hundreds to its touring powwow parties in the Great White North and the East Coast, sometimes featuring live drum circles and hoop dancers. Last year’s electrifying self-titled free-download album snagged them a pretigious Polaris prize nomination. The trio works with several organizations to promote aboriginal causes. New album Nation II Nation drops May 7, a cheeky collab with Das Racist, “Indian From All Directions,” just debuted on Pitchfork. And they’ve been buzzing for years. (I first became aware of them after a trip to Navajo Nation, when the morning radio pumped the spacey electro-tribal sounds of what my traveling companion instantly dubbed “tech-navajo.”) But this will be their first full-on West Coast tour.

No qualms about reception in unfamiliar territory, though: “There are aboriginal people everywhere, just like there are party people everywhere,” DJ Shub says. “Word gets out, and people will come for a good time.”

A Tribe Called Red Fri/19, 9pm, $10. Thee Parkside, 1600 17th St., SF. www.theeparkside.com, www.electricpowwow.com

 

TUBESTEAK CONNECTION NINTH ANNIVERSARY

There’s some kind of size queen joke about this seminal bathhouse disco party finally reaching the big nine, but damned if I know what it is. Let bearded clan king DJ Bus Station John lay it all out for you, as his intimate weekly Tenderloin bacchanal keeps alive the down and dirty spirit of gay San Francisco. Free mustache rides!

Thu/18, 10pm, $5. Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, 133 Turk, SF. www.auntcharlieslounge.com

SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO

Has it really been 10 years since club Mezzanine first mezzed up downtown? Celebrate in wild style with beloved big-room Brit electro duo SMD and a couple thousand others.

Thu/18, 9pm, $25. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

JOE CLAUSELL

One of the best deep and Latin house DJs of all time, fiddling knobs on one of the best sound systems in the country. That is all.

Fri/19, 10pm-late, $20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com

TINARIWEN

Gorgeously trance-like, guitar driven tunes from the global nomad reps of Tuareg rock.

Fri/19, doors 8pm, show 9pm, $55. The Chapel, 777 Valencia, SF. www.thechapelsf.com

SILENT SERVANT

Great, dark and dubby techno from a contemporary master will lay waste to one of the city’s most colorful dance floors at Honey Soundsystem. Who will survive? Anyone willing to plumb the secret depths of sound. And do some high kicks.

Sun/21, 10pm, $10. Holy Cow, 1535 Folsom, SF. www.honeysoundsystem.com

Volume 47 Number 29 Flip-through Edition

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Class act

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER The screaming, childish fight that suddenly erupts between married professionals Carol (Michele Leavy) and Michael (Lawrence Radecker) comes on with such excess it’s like the release of a geyser. A moment later it just as quickly submerges, disappearing under a layer of domestic bliss, or anyway routine, as adjunct prof Michael and attorney Carol share some cocaine and a glass of hard liquor to celebrate her legal firm’s recent victory in court. They then go on to calmly discuss Carol’s suspicion that their teenage son, Teddy (Josh Schell), is masturbating at school — a theory based on laundry-room evidence pointing to yet another surplus of nervous tension.

Carol and Michael’s comical burst of hysteria is our first hint of the quicksand underneath the floorboards of this seemingly solid family home. Then again, maybe it’s the casual drug use; or the immodest concern with their son’s sex life; or those loose bricks stashed pell-mell beneath the foundation in scenic designer Maya Linke’s set, otherwise subdivided with Ikea-showroom purity into sleek, discrete living compartments.

Either way, it doesn’t take long before a full-blown crisis emerges: Carol finds herself in critical condition after emergency bypass surgery, and the family finds itself without life insurance in the face of the main breadwinner’s demise. It’s Carol who proposes a solution from her hospital bed: Michael will marry Carol’s best friend, Katy (Denmo Ibrahim), to maintain the household financially and emotionally. “This is totally fucked up,” balks Michael. “It is totally fucked up,” agrees Carol, “but that’s reality.”

You could say the same for the comedy at the core of Thomas Bradshaw’s The Bereaved, now enjoying a slick Bay Area premiere courtesy of Crowded Fire and artistic director Marissa Wolf. Even with all its excess, it boils down to a portrait of middle-class sobriety: just a family doing the best it can under the circumstances — it’s the circumstances, in other words, that are key to Bradshaw’s gleefully outrageous send-up of American mores.

In the heroic attempt to maintain its debt-fueled lifestyle, the revamped nuclear family soon launches its own illicit business enterprise — in which 15-years-olds Teddy and pregnant girlfriend Melissa (Olivia Rosaldo) both participate, with the help of their Harlem drug dealer, Jamal (Reggie D. White). Throughout, moral confusion is inextricably and messily bound up with economic disorder — and the specific calamity attending the protagonists with a more general crisis that runs deep and wide. If the play presents in the most casual terms a lightly shocking catalog of sexism, racism, and drug use — all of it played with deadpan precision by an enjoyable cast — it’s ultimately because the play is not about sex or drugs or racism per se, but rather about power and status in a world where the middle-class is being destroyed by forces larger than itself, even as its own moral and material contradictions work to destroy it from within. Moreover, The Bereaved suggests the disintegration of that middle-class may be a necessary extinction — and what a relief it is.

Crowded Fire’s production embraces the material with a ready energy and focus that was contagious with opening night’s packed house, though the comic tone struck here can sometimes overwhelm the play’s quieter, grittier, intentionally realistic dimensions. But this is hardly a reason to avoid seeing the production, especially since The Bereaved is the first of Bradshaw’s dozen or so plays to be produced in the Bay Area. Plainly staging hypocrisy, violence, and the flouted taboo in plays such as Dawn, Strom Thurman Is Not a Racist, or The Bereaved is central to Bradshaw’s satire, a bluntness that suspends moral judgment to look squarely at underlying complexities. Along the way, he’s been honing a distinct theatrical voice that has been widely enjoyed (or not) for years. Crowded Fire’s production is a welcome and long overdue arrival.

THE BEREAVED

Through April 27

Wed-Sat, 8pm, $10-$35

Thick House

1695 18th St, SF

www.crowdedfire.org

 

Ish says

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culture@sfbg.com

STREET SEEN [Caitlin Donohue: Although I originally contacted former Stanford University football offensive guard and current Apple employee Ish “Mr. Marina 2013” Simpson for help in writing a style guide to the Marina, he wrote me back a rundown so evocative that I hated to paraphrase his words. And so this week, I’ve given my style column over to him. Check out sfbg.com for my recap of the glorious March night he was crowned king of SF’s preppiest neighborhood, and don’t forget, you can add flair with a belt.]

I buy a lot of clothes, but not many in person. I love to buy, hate to shop, so I buy mainly online. There are some stores and brands I’ve shopped at in the Marina, but since you asked me to explore I was able to find a lot of cool stores that I didn’t know existed. There are more men’s stores in the Marina than I realized.

My fellow Marina gentlemen don’t usually take too many risks when it comes to fashion. The guys I see downtown or in the Castro are usually very fashion-forward. But some of the best-looking guys in the Marina I’ve seen do rock bespoke suits and shirts. Classy. Men’s fashion here steers toward preppy or sailor styles. The women take way more risks, and Marina women are definitely some of the most fashionable in the city.

>>WHERE IT ALL BEGAN: CHECK OUT OUR COVERAGE OF ISH’S VICTORY AT THE MR. MARINA PAGEANT

G-STAR RAW

“If someone says, ‘Hey, I like your shirt,’ you have to say, ‘Yeah, it’s G-Star Raw!’ Whatever.” All store photos by Anna Latino

This place intrigued me because I saw one in Barcelona when I was there in December 2011. I talked to the guy working here and he said the brand is Dutch and it’s way bigger in Europe. Makes sense: the name is just terrible, and they only sell G-Star Raw clothes. That means if someone says, “Hey, I like your shirt,” you have to say, “Yeah, it’s G-Star Raw!” Whatever. They had a nice selection of belts, which I love. Belts are a great way for conservative dressers to express some flair. I loved the colorful chinos (a staple in my wardrobe). I also loved this one cardigan they had.

2060 Chestnut, SF. (415) 567-7224; 76 Geary, SF. (415) 398-5381, www.theswimminghorses.com

MARINE LAYER

“Cool threads that you’d wear out to bars on a Thursday night.”

This place on Chestnut has cool shirts and hoodies. Also, some nice scarves. The clothes are advertised as being extremely soft and they aren’t lying! The fabrics are nice and I like the bold, yet muted colors. I’ve had some friends buy their stuff and it has a worn-in, vintage look. This is a good place to grab some cool threads that you’d wear out to bars on a Thursday night.

2209 Chestnut, SF. (415) 346-2400; 498 Hayes, SF. (415) 829-7519, www.marinelayer.com

THE BLUES JEAN BAR

I’ve bought a few pairs of jeans from here and it’s always a great experience. I kind of don’t like how all of the jeans are behind the bar and you have to ask for them, but I also kind of like it too. Many hot girls work there, so you’re not shopping by yourself and you get a great female opinion when you try your jeans on. They give you great recommendations on fit and style, and they will tell you how to care for your jeans and whether or not you should have them tailored.

1827 Union, SF. (415) 346-4280, www.thebluesjeansbar.com

HIGH SOCIETY

This shop is one I just discovered that sells both women’s and men’s clothes. They had a great selection of slim-fitting jeans and blazers. They had a cool leather jacket I liked. This is the place to go if you’re looking for a nice outfit for date night with a pretty young lady.

1969 Union, SF. (415) 447-0447, www.highsocietybrand.com

BRANDY MELVILLE

This is for the ladies! I like the style of the women that like shopping here. Every time I walk by there are a lot of good-looking girls in there. The music they have jamming is awesome, the ladies working there are gorgeous, and the clothes are awesome (in this man’s opinion!) I like the material they use for their clothes, very light and breathable; at least it looks like it is. I loved the camo pants, the flowing dresses, and the printed shirts.

2085 Chestnut, SF. (415) 292-7754, www.brandymelvilleusa.com

EYE HEART SF “POP DOWN SHOP”

“They have awesome clothes for Sunday Fundays”

This is your go-to spot for gear that is meant to be worn when partying! This brand was born in San Francisco and the guys behind it take pride in representing this great city. They have awesome clothes for Sunday Fundays (tanks!), holidays (special gear for St. Patty’s, Cinco de Mayo, etc.), sporting events (Giants, Warriors, Niners), and for music festivals (break out your JammyPacks). This should be one of the first places to shop at when you’re going to be out in the sun having a great time.

1980 Union, SF. www.eyeheartsfshop.com

Stript

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caitlin@sfbg.com

SEX Last week, local blog SFist reported that a gay strip club named Randy Rooster was in escrow to snag the building formerly occupied by Diesel’s distressed-kneecap denim and elite luggage sets on Harvey Milk Plaza.

Randy Rooster denuded its website of all info before we even had a chance to wonder. But what exactly a gay strip club would mean — much less in a neighborhood where you can’t swing a patent leather mini-backpack without hitting a gyrating go-go — remained to be explained. Surely limos full of bachelorette party “woo!” girls would figure it out for us.

To satisfy our curiosity over the waxed and winking men of the pole, I took the opportunity to chat with Justin Whitfield, who stripped for years at Le Bare (www.lebare.com), a Houston strip club catering to straight ladies. He tells me the club became the country’s premier spot for rich and lonely oil wives during the late 1970s and ’80s.

Whitfield and fellow manmeat Taylor Cole recently published Take It Off!: The Naked Truth About Male Strippers, on the heels of stripper-pride flick Magic Mike. “The movie’s awesome,” Whitfield says. “In my real world, I don’t tell people I was a stripper. Now I can hold my head up.”

The book’s publisher is Ellora’s Cave (www.ellorascave.com), whose catalogue is mainly heavy-breathing romance novels. While I can’t say I recommend Take It Off! as a literary endeavor, I can tell you that the pic of Cole chair-dancing and the “Sexcapades” chapter are looks into world without equal in a Randy Rooster-less San Francisco.

To the South Bay bachelorettes who will surely flock to any future Chippendales-like endeavors in the city, Whitfield counsels enthusiasm: “I cannot stand the women who come in and have made up their mind not to have fun,” he says. “If I’m in a real good mood I can convert these ladies. But sometimes, it’s like I don’t want to be around her because she’s depressing.”

But don’t get too stoked party girls — those jouncing Speedos are not gift bags. “I’ve had my bottoms pulled down,” Whitfield tells me ruefully. “Not fun.”

 

LAURA ANTONIOU READING

She rose to fame by creating an extensive master-slave society in the pages of her BDSM fantasy series The Marketplace, but Antoniou reads tonight from her latest: The Killer Wore Leather, a kinky mystery novel. The reading kicks off a week of SF engagements for the writer including the Ms. Leather pageant, Bawdy Storytelling on Sun/21 (www.bawdystorytelling.com), and Wicked Grounds on Tue/23 (www.wickedgrounds.com).

Thu/18, 6:30-7:30pm, free. Good Vibrations, 1620 Polk, SF. www.goodvibes.com

INTERNATIONAL MS. LEATHER PAGEANT

Leatherwomen the world over flock to SF for this annual contest crowning the individual who becomes the community’s spokesperson, role model, and mentor. Check out workshops, boots and cigar parties, and of course, Saturday night’s pageant, where 2012 titleholder Sara Vibes makes way for fresh meat.

Thu/18-Sun/21, $35-199. Holiday Inn Golden Gateway, 1500 Van Ness, SF. www.imsl.org

Punk democracy

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC When the going gets tougher in the music biz, scrappy little South Bay punk label Asian Man Records has kept on going, downsizing yet sticking to its guns. That means standing by bands that have a chance to jump ship to a bigger imprint — by wishing them well.

Such might be the case with San Francisco’s Wild Moth, which came heavy with its sprawling, epic post-punk on the Mourning Glow EP released by Asian Man last summer, plays this week’s showcase, and has recently completed a full-length. “There’s some bigger labels that might be interested,” says Asian Man’s main man Mike Park, 43, on a recent morning in the office in his mom’s basement garage in affluent, arcadian Monte Sereno, right where it’s been for the past 16 years. “Our thought pattern is we want what’s best for the band. We’re here for you, but we want you to get the best deal.”

DIY, book-your-own-life punk has always hinged on that kind of support to Park, no slouch when it comes to both music-making and community-building. I last spoke to the vet of the South Bay ska scene and linchpin of Skankin’ Pickle about eight years ago when he was embarking on his “Bike For Peace” tour, cycling down the coast along with others to play and raise funds for a local youth center. Five years along from the opening of the first drug- and alcohol-free arts-focused Plea For Peace center in Stockton, Park continues to keep the faith — and to keep Asian Man out of the red — by staying small, though over the years he’s sold more than a 1 million albums by artists as disparate as Alkaline Trio, Andrew Jackson Jihad, the Queers, Kepi Ghoulie, the Lawrence Arms, and Slow Gherkin.

“A lot has to do with, when the music industry started to tank, I had a big jump-start on it,” says Park today. “I felt there was going to be a big turn and I started cutting back quite a bit. Bigger labels were still spending a lot of money and doing well in 2000, but I’ve always been able to turn a profit and, with the present-day music industry, I cut back even more.”

“We’re really upfront with the bands as far as our limitations — and we don’t do much at all!” he continues, chuckling. Yet despite the fact that Asian Man doesn’t harbor a major’s or major-indie’s marketing team (Park employs only one full-time employee besides himself) it does what it can, fostering a space that helps everyone help themselves. “Mostly the bands want to be part of this community. A lot of bands come over and hang out, help us pack records, lend a hand. We try to go to each other’s shows, and bands help out other bands when they tour.”

Park clearly took the lessons of Ian MacKaye’s Dischord Records to heart: keep prices low, maintain integrity, the works. The upcoming show with Wild Moth, the Exquisites, and Shinobu might be considered a good example of punk democracy in action: “They’re all on the same level,” Park says of the groups. “We’re just hoping we get a decent crowd. It’s a test to see how many people we can get out with no real headliner!” He got SF’s Great Apes on the bill because he’s known member Brian Moss since he was a teenager playing music: “He’s a super-talented guy and very supportive of all bands. You can tell some people are into it for what can further their careers, but instead with him, it’s ‘how can I help others?'”

Sounds a little like someone else we know. Still, punks mature, get married, and have kids, much like Park, who, despite an upcoming reunion show for his combo the Chinkees at a ska festival in Las Vegas in May, seems most excited about his latest project: his album of kids music and his kids label, Fun Fun Fun, which aims to release children’s music by punks. So far, the imprint’s Play Date, composed of Greg Attonito of Bouncing Souls and wife Shanti Wintergate, has shown up on NPR, and Park himself won a spot as the “Super Music Friend” on this winter’s Yo Gabba Gabba! Live! tour. “Other than the fact that we try to put out music that isn’t dumbed down, musically, it can pass for any of the records we normally put out,” he explains of Fun Fun Fun’s sounds, “only more G-rated and more educational lyrics.”

Whether he’s teaching kids when it’s safe to cross the street via ska or learning about new hardcore genres from the high schoolers that come by the office to help out, Park certainly can’t be accused of turning into a cranky punk nostalgist, grumbling about awesome mosh pits long gone.

“Punk’s evolved like everything. Things can’t stay the same with technology and the social media tools that artists have,” he says optimistically. “Let’s say there’s an underground show, and it gets canceled. Someone says, ‘Let’s do it at my house and here’s the address,’ and after a social media blast, you have 100 kids in a house in an hour. I remember pre-Internet you’d have to call people, and no one would have a cell phone, and someone would camp out at the old location and say the new location is here. I think it’s kind of cool, to be honest.”

SHINOBU, WILD MOTH, THE EXQUISITES, GREAT APES

Sat/20, 9pm, $9

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455

www.bottomofthehill.com

Treats

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culture@sfbg.com

THE BLOB Your globe-trotting Blob is currently in her bustling hometown Detroit, gorging on favorite treats, including the kick-ass fried bologna sandwich at Mercury Bar, served on an onion roll with grilled onions, mustard, and local brand Better Made potato chip “smosh.” And of course that Motown favorite, Coney Islands (hot dogs in white bread buns smothered in chili and raw onions) which is everywhere, but best at the old school Lafayette Coney Island downtown. She has some favorite recent treats in SF as well, which she can’t wait to get back to inhaling.

JOOK NOOK AT B STAR BAR

The Blob is calling it: in terms of adventurous flavors, cute and spicy Burma Superstar offshoot B Star in the Inner Richmond has the best brunch going in SF right now. The Zen-lovely space draws a diverse crowd, the prices are “nice brunch” (satisfying entrees, $8–$13, from 10am-3pm) without getting opportunistic about it, and the menu includes Mexican favorites with a Burmese twist.

First, a couple piquant Bloody Marys ($6.75 each) and a dive into a good-sized cauldron of justly renowned roasted Brussels sprouts ($6.75), savory with furikake, fish sauce, and parmesan, but perked up perfectly with crispy popped rice. The star of the dazzling B Star brunch menu is a duck hash quesadilla — probably the least Burmese thing you can think of (roasted potatoes and veggies topped with two eggs over easy and zingy radish slaw), until you notice the “quesadilla” is in fact a platha, a delicately fried and spiced flatbread related to Indian paratha, similar in texture to a tortilla, but both more oily and flaky, giving the shredded duck a hearty base.

If you’re not a duck brunch fan (or you have a share-friendly companion) head to B Star’s yummy “jook nook” menu. The Blob is forever addicted to the home style, DIY version of the steamy-hot, Asian rice porridge comfort food served at Outer Richmond faves like Ton Kiang or Jook Time. But B Star’s gussied up big-bowl selection, starting with base ingredients like shredded chicken with thousand year old egg or pork sung with pickled mustard greens and fried noodles, comes loaded with all the extras, including scallions, chili, ginger, and peanuts. A dash of soy and your day is made.

127 Clement, SF. (415) 933-9900, www.bstarbar.com

DUCK FLAUTAS AT CHILANGO

A recent return to this genteel Mexican hotspot near Church and Market confirmed the Blob’s addiction to the crispy, crema-smothered, incredibly popular duck flautas there. Three huge tubes of delectable shredded quacker with cabbage and cotija cheese ($9) are enough for a filling lunch, but don’t deny yourself the pleasures of the rest of the menu. Feeling light and pescaterian? Splash into tangy ceviche de pescado with chunks of mahi mahi, avocado, and orange ($10), but maybe skip the ceviche de camarones ($10) — the Blob, a ceviche snob freshly back from a tour of the Southern Mexican coast, found the generous bits of shrimp overpowered by a bland, ketchupy cocktail sauce.

Don’t skip, however, an incredible pambazo (Mexican white bread bun stuffed with potatoes and chorizo and dipped in red guajillo pepper sauce, $6) or, if the duck’s left any room, juicy brisket-loaded soft tacos de saudero ($6 for two). Then go back for the pambazo’s big sister, torta ahogado ($10), a carnitas and pickled onion sandwich drowned in mild red sauce and eatable only with a knife and fork, and several napkins.

235 Church, SF. (415) 552-5700, www.chilangorestaurantsf.com

L GNUDI ALLA COSIMO DE MEDICI AT FARINA PIZZA

The new Farina pizzeria at 18th and Valencia, immaculately white-tiled and accented with neat portraits of vintage Italian comics characters (think Mary Worth in Naples), has become one of the latest flashpoints of the ongoing gentrification debate. The Blob detests the Borg, and $15 personal pizzas are a bit of a stretch — although there are $22 ones, though worthy, at Una Pizza Napoletana down the way at SoMa. The Blob’s orifice, however, was soon spattered with an excellently fiery, soft crust pizza diavolo, with spicy salame, San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte mozzarella, romano cheese, basil and EVOO.

But she was truly blown away by the L Gnudi Alla Cosimo De Medici, i.e. several large spinach ricotta dumplings ($15), hefty balls of al dente pasta sheets, with the slightly chewy give of mochi, stuffed with wonderfully grassy shredded spinach and bathed in butter-sage sauce, a vegetarian treasure worth its own trip (with a glass of Italian red, natch).

700 Valencia, SF. (415) 565-1900, www.farina-foods.com

 

Looking over the Overlook

1

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM Though he’s now living in Los Angeles, Rodney Ascher was a San Franciscan “for years and years,” he says, adding that he used to spend “a lot of time at Craig Baldwin’s Other Cinema.” He also has praise for the Roxie, the venue that’ll be hosting the local premiere of his Room 237 — a fascinating, kinda disturbing documentary that burrows deep down the rabbit hole with people who are obsessed with Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece The Shining.

The Roxie screens that film Thu/18, and opens Ascher’s doc Fri/19; Ascher hints that he’ll journey to SF for the occasion. I spoke with him about Kubrick, Italian horror, and other mind-bending topics.

San Francisco Bay Guardian How did you find your five subjects?

Rodney Ascher Before I did the first interview, [producer] Tim Kirk and I spent maybe a year researching different theories about The Shining and people who were writing about it. Some people were fairly well-known to us, like Bill Blakemore, who has the Native American [theory]. His article was syndicated in newspapers in 1987, and has been reprinted all over the internet, so he was a person that we always wanted to talk to. Jay Weidner, who talks about subliminal techniques and allusions to the space program — his essay has circulated pretty widely online too.

So we started with them, and we would find other people as we went. The writer Jonathan Lethem, who’s had a lot of interesting things to say about The Shining, turned me on to John Fell Ryan, a guy in Brooklyn who’d been screening the movie backwards and forwards at the same time. Not only was that amazing in and of itself, but like a lot of this other stuff we were finding, it was amazing that it had only happened in the time since we’d started the project. A lot of [Room 237] is about the substance of what people are saying about The Shining — but it’s also very concerned with this phenomenon at the beginning of the 21st century, where an awful lot of people seem obsessed with this movie made in 1980, and isn’t that interesting, and why is that happening?

SFBG What was the interview process like?

RA I mailed [each subject] a digital audio recorder, and I would talk to them via Skype from my studio. I’d have a list of questions based on what I knew about what they had written, but oftentimes the more open-ended questions would lead in more interesting directions: “What was the first time you saw The Shining?” or “When did you figure out this idea? How did it come to you?”

I read someplace that one of the best interview questions is just, “Why?” I don’t have much of a hard-core documentary background, so I haven’t interviewed tons of people, but I figured out pretty quickly that the less I said, the better.

SFBG What role do you think the internet has played in this growing obsession with The Shining?

RA I think it’s got everything to do with it. Things like YouTube videos and digital technology in general allow us to look at movies more carefully. We try to have a little bit of a subplot of people being able to watch the movie in theaters, and then on home video, on DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube. As [the opportunity to watch the film again] increases, the way we watch it changes.

But it’s also things like comment threads and blog postings, which allow people to share ideas with other folks in a way that was never possible before. Even if you could write a newspaper article or a magazine entry, there are very practical length considerations that you’d have to work with. But now, if you feel like writing a 125-page article about the manager of the Overlook Hotel, you can put it up on your blog, and there’s no limit to how much detail you can include.

SFBG Both your 2010 short The S From Hell and Room 237 are about hidden meanings and subtexts. What draws you to those themes?

RA The S From Hell started because I read about these people who had a childhood phobia of the old Screen Gems logo, and I had a flashback to myself at the age of three. Although my experience wasn’t quite as intense, I had a similar strong, confused reaction to that thing. And I’ve watched The Shining again and again, and have been obsessed with it, even if I haven’t come close to deciphering it. So it may be that — although I barely appear in these movies — there’s an autobiographical quality to this, that I’m recognizing aspects of myself in what these folks are doing. But maybe it’s not best for me to try to analyze Room 237 too deeply!

SFBG The Shining isn’t the only film used to illustrate Room 237. How did you decide what else to use? I spotted clips from Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985), for example.

RA It was kind of instinctual. I tried to [gather] movies from a similar time or place to The Shining, but in all respects, I’m making a connection between The Shining and these other films. Sometimes it might be very literal, sometimes it might be personal to my own history.

In a big-picture sense, I think we’re talking about the ways movies get into our heads. Bill Blakemore, one of our interviewees, has a great phrase where he compares The Shining to a dream, and Stanley Kubrick’s process of filmmaking to dreaming — that you condense everything that’s happened in your life up to that point, and then it comes out in dreams, in some kind of strange new version.

Demons is a movie about the line between what’s happening on the screen, and what’s happening in the audience, getting very blurry. So for people who are familiar with Demons, the connection might play very clearly; but for people who aren’t, they’re still seeing a really stylishly shot scene of people in a theater in the early ’80s who are struggling to understand this very baffling movie they’ve been presented with.

SFBG Room 237‘s sound design is very distinctive. Can you talk about how that came together?

RA The sound design is by Ian Herzon, an amazing guy who was able to create this heavy, atmospheric mix. It was important to me that Room 237 played more as an immersive experience than as a dry piece of journalism. In a weird way I wanted it to be kind of a horror movie in itself. And Ian has worked on some of the Resident Evil movies, so that was a style that he was comfortable with.

The music is by William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, who specialize in [horror themes]. Jonathan plays in a band called Nilbog, which performs, like, music from Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Suspiria (1977) live in concert. Their studio looks like a museum of analog synthesizers. So when I was discussing the music I wanted for the film, and I was talking about the early ’80s, Italian synthesizer scores, or John Carpenter music, or Tangerine Dream’s score for Sorcerer (1977), we spoke the same language very quickly. I love the way the synth scores have this trance-inducing, meditative effect. They sometimes have even quasi-religious aspects to them, which seemed kind of appropriate, since we’re looking at The Shining the way some people interpret the Bible.

SFBG What is your reaction when you hear people say, “After seeing Room 237, I’ll never watch The Shining the same way again?”

RA That’s great! And another thing that a lot of them say is, “I’m gonna go and immediately re-watch The Shining,” which is awesome. The Shining is a maze that certainly me and the people that we talked to can’t get out of — so there’s something satisfying about luring other people back into the middle of it. 

ROOM 237 opens Fri/19 at the Roxie.

Able fables

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM The weak recent likes of Jack the Giant Slayer and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters revealed the extent of expensive, formulaic action-movie lameness with which Hollywood is now determined to treat every story of universal familiarity (and conveniently, no pesky copyright). No doubt there will be a Cinderella: Bitch is Goin’ Postal somewhere in our future before the cycle spins out, if it ever does.

But fairy tales have such appeal that it’s hard not to want filmmakers to do interesting things with them, as opposed to the things they generally are doing with them. Two new European movies for grown-ups take elements of such tales — one a very familiar story template, the other just the tenor of a shiny, hyper real fable — and while they haven’t a great deal else in common, they both happen to be among the most delightful entertainments we’re likely to see this year.

Mikael Buch’s French first feature Let My People Go! is a fairy tale in the sense of something like Ma vie en rose (1997) or Potiche (2010) — it’s a warmhearted social satire stylized as if everyday life were constantly poised to break into a production number. Also, its protagonist is such a fairy: in what’s possibly the most inspired physical comedy performance by a French (or maybe any) actor since Jean Dujardin was last sighted, Nicolas Maury plays Ruben, a Parisian who came to Finland to pursue a masters in “comparative sauna studies” but stayed on for perfect boyfriend Teemu (Jarkko Niemi). With his skinny body language so floppy it’s like a master class in theatrical nelliness, Ruben gives off an air of someone ready at any moment to deliver a shrill hissy fit or world-class sulk. Not that he has occasion to, however, in this northern paradise of friendly moose, candy-colored villages, and postal delivery customers (the sauna thing didn’t pan out) who invariably greet him at the door with tasty snacks.

Of course, it’s a paradise he must be cast out of, after an inexplicably violent altercation with a customer on his route results in Teemu calling Ruben a “thieving murderer” and sending him back to (as the BF’s mother puts it) “that horrible country.” There, torn from the political correctitude of the great white north, he’s forced to deal with his ever-dysfunctional family: Mom (Carmen Maura) still thinks he just needs to meet “a nice Jewish girl,” Dad (Jean-François Stevénin) is cheating on her, sis (Amira Casar) is probably divorcing her “asshole goy husband,” and bro (Clément Sibony) is fed up with having to hold their hands through every new crisis.

Written by Buch and Christophe Honoré (not a guy usually associated with levity), Let My People Go! wends its way toward the predictable reconciliations all around with a certain sweetness and a great deal of inspired silliness. None more inspired than everything done by Maury, whose extreme stereotype might be offensive in another context — but in this endearing fable of tolerance, Ruben is as lovable as he is haplessly funny.

Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves is something else — Snow White, to be exact, transplanted to 1920s Spain and told (à la 2011’s The Artist) in the dialogue-free B&W style of that era’s silent cinema. If you saw the two crappy overblown Hollywood takes on that fairy tale last year, my condolences, but this is probably its best cinematic incarnation ever not made by someone called Walt.

Here, Snow is the daughter of a famous bullfighter (a beautiful performance by Daniel Giménez Cacho) who’s paralyzed physically in the ring, then emotionally by the death of his flamenco star wife (Inma Cuesta) in childbirth. He can’t bring himself to see his daughter until a grandmother’s death brings little Carmencita (the marvelous Sofía Oria) to the isolated ranch he now shares with nurse-turned-second-wife Encarna — Maribel Verdú as a very Jazz Age evil stepmother, whose vanity expresses itself in outrageous fashion spreads for the socialite columns. Once the girl matures (now played by the ingratiating, slightly androgynous Macarena García), Encarna senses a rival, and to save her life Carmen literally runs away with the circus — at which point the narrative slumps a bit. But only a bit.

Where The Artist was essentially a cleverly sustained gimmick elevated by a wonderful central performance, Blancanieves transcends its ingenious retro trappings to offer something both charming and substantiative. Berger doesn’t treat the story template as a joke — he’s fully adapted it to a culture, place, and time, and treats its inherent pathos — you didn’t see much of that in last year’s Mirror Mirror or Snow White and the Huntsman, did you? — with great delicacy. It’s hard to imagine who wouldn’t enjoy Blancanieves — well, excepting the audience for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

LET MY PEOPLE GO! and BLANCANIEVES open Fri/19 in Bay Area theaters.

Without limits

0

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Despite a last-minute change in the program, AXIS Dance Company’s 25th anniversary concert was a success. Founded as an ensemble for dancers with and without physical abilities, the company started with homegrown choreography that focused on the reason the company came into being. But under the artistic leadership of Judy Smith, AXIS started to stretch its reach by commissioning professional choreographers. Smith realized that it doesn’t matter how good the dancers are; no company can succeed unless it has a solid repertoire.

For AXIS this challenge is particularly acute because so many of its pieces are specifically designed for the company as it is at that moment. It’s not just that dancers with a variety of physical capabilities cannot easily be changed for others with similar strengths and challenges. So-called able-bodied dancers also need a particularly broad perspective on what it means to dance at the top of your abilities.

AXIS choreographers, for their part, have to rethink their own dance making. Many of them — at least those I have talked with — relish the chance to step out of their comfort zone. That’s why AXIS has become the place to see new choreography by people whose work you think you know and, who more often than not, will surprise you.

So to celebrate a quarter century of making dance you can’t see anywhere else with three world premieres seemed both appropriate and something to look forward to. Unfortunately, dance being the high-risk endeavor it is, Murphy’s Law kicked in. A few days before the gala, dancer Emily Eifler got injured. Consequently Amy Seiwert’s The Reflective Surface and Sonya Delwaide’s Dix minutes plus tard (Ten Minutes Later) had to be cancelled for the time being.

The evening did offer one first-rate premiere — Victoria Marks’ gentle and wistful what if would you — and a reconfigured version of Full of Words, Marc Brew’s 2011 look at the vagaries of love.

Marks’ choreography, set to a lively (and live-performed) commissioned score by Beth Custer and her multi-talented band, was for five dancers, but performed only by Joel Brown, Sonsherée Giles, Sebastian Grubb, and Juliana Monin. Still, what if is a remarkable achievement, an appropriate tribute to what AXIS has become.

It started so simply, growing out of an ordinary gesture: the stretched arm with an open hand. Every day, you reach, you touch, and you open and close doors or books. It’s also how we go beyond ourselves. The work, playfully, humorously, but also seriously, raised questions about opportunities, choices, and priorities made or rejected.

We first saw the dancers with their backs to us. They reached for something beyond themselves. But quickly their actions communicated frustration, anger, impatience, or revolt. What was orderly became chaotic — and funny — as they fumbled through repeated short-circuits. A sense of urgency crept in, and they turned to us with “what if” questions.

The piece reached a lovely and unexpectedly gentle climax when each dancer chose a partner from the audience. As the pairs worked together — whispering, touching, reaching, walking — they developed trust. Then they changed partners. Eventually, these interactions grew into an image of community with the obligatory handholding and daisy chains, however messy.

Brews’ Full of Words has been restructured for Brown, who assumed the role of the recently departed Rodney Bell. The piece is less well balanced because Brown, though also a wheelchair dancer, at this point is a less physically articulate performer. So the relationship between him and fellow performer Giles was not as charged as the one she had with an almost frighteningly fierce Alice Sheppard. As a result, Full lost much of its teeter-totter quality.

On a positive note the focus of attention fell more strongly on Grubb and Monin’s excitingly danced lovers duet. In and out of a bathtub, they were erotic, tender, playful, contentious, and physically grounded. You name an emotion that committed partners go through; Brew probably put it there.

Let it roll

0

le.chicken.farmer@yahoo.com

It’s between the airport and the ballpark in Oakland: the Dry Ice Arena, home of the immediate Bay Area’s thrivingest inline roller hockey scene. There’s a parking lot in back, and a store where you can get you your gear: skates, shirts, helmets. They rent these, too.

Against the windowless outside wall of the building, as you walk along looking for a door, you will find an occasional walk-in rat trap, badly parked cars, and a plastic bag full of crackers, which I wanted very badly to stomp on but didn’t.

Inside, Giant Robot was squaring off with the first-place Gentlemen’s Club in the Sunday Silver League B2 semifinals. The Gentlemen’s Club, top seed going in, had beaten Giant Robot during the regular season. That’s all I knew.

It’s five on five — a goalie, two up, two back — and they have a rule that any player can only score three goals. Which rule came in handy for the Gentlemen’s Club, or they might have lost even worse than 12-3.

Giant Robot team captain Len Amaral, who missed the whole first period on account of Giants’ game traffic, said he didn’t feel comfortable with their lead until near the end of the game.

“They can score in a hurry,” he said. “They’re a fast, good team.”

When he saw 4-1 on the scoreboard coming into the arena, he said, he thought at first his team was losing.

Nah. It was never in doubt. Thanks to some great goalie work by LeMarr Mojica, who had about a gazillion saves, Giant Robot never let the Gentlemen’s Club feel anything other than frustrated.

They extended their lead to 5-1 early in the second period, and by the end of the period it was 8-3.

A nice thing about roller hockey: since it’s not on ice, the puck moves a little slower, or seems to at any rate, and is easier to follow.

Another nice thing: no fights.

Seriously, I don’t believe I’ve watched a whole hockey game since the USA vs. Russia in the 1980 Olympics. And one reason pro hockey has eluded me, fandomwise, is the fighting. Not that I’m a pacifist; it’s not even that I’m a “good sport.” It’s that most of the time, under all that armor, you can’t tell who’s winning.

I’ll have my boxing in a ring, thanks. Without shirts, when possible.

Amateur hockey, though. Roller hockey . . . fun to watch!

We decided to stay for the championship game, but were too hungry to sit through the other semi-final, which would determine Giant Robot’s opponent in the finals.

Dry Ice Arena has a snack bar, but all they have is frozen fried things and candy bars. In retrospect I wish we had stayed put, because the takeout Indian we scored down on International was even inedibler than chicken nuggets.

We should have known. There was a calendar on the wall next to the refrigerator of this joint (which shall remain nameless), and it was still set to March.

“I hope they pay better attention to expiration dates than they do calendar ones,” Hedgehog observed.

“Don’t worry,” I said. I’d seen him take our food out. Of the freezer. It wasn’t going to make us sick. It just wasn’t going to taste any good.

Plus we had to wait forever for it, so we missed the most exciting game of the tournament. Empty Net and Apuckalips went down to the wire, swapping goals in the closing minutes, and Empty Net won by one to advance.

Problem: they didn’t have any subs.

Roller hockey, like the icier kind, is an incredibly strenuous sport. They sub often, when they have them. And Empty Net went into the championship already exhausted.

Giant Robot scored first, and fast. Their initial goal came 14 seconds in, and that was all they’d need. For good measure, they added six more.

Final score: Giant Robot 7, Empty Net 0.

I was them, I’d give the game puck to Mojica. Not only did he pitch a shutout in the Championship game, but he’d skunked the Gentlemen’s Club the final period of the first game. Remember? That’s four straight scoreless quarters! For rec-league hockey, I think, that’s pretty impressive.

Can you skate?

The Dry Ice Arena has beginner leagues, youth and adult leagues, co-ed, and even pickup. Check it out.

Dry Ice Arena, www.dryicehockey.com

Making CEQA work

10

OPINION In San Francisco, a single person can file an 11th-hour appeal under the California Environmental Quality Act to stop a park, library, transit, or affordable housing project that has broad public support. It’s actually worse: that single person can file the appeal long after the project has been approved and even after it goes into construction. When the appeal is filed, the project must stop construction — creating huge costs — until the Board of Supervisors gets around to ruling on the appeal.

This is government dysfunction at its worst, and it needs to be reformed. Supervisor Scott Wiener is sponsoring legislation to do just that: to allow full public participation and challenges to projects while implementing the common-sense rule that for any project, there must be an end to the process and a clear deadline for filing CEQA appeals. Public participation in decision-making is important, but at some point, the decision is made, the process comes to a conclusion, and the project begins. Open-ended CEQA appeals with no deadlines — San Francisco’s current system — are anti-democratic.

Passed 40 years ago, CEQA is an important state law that requires environmental analysis before approving projects. CEQA has helped stop or modify environmentally problematic projects in our state. Pretty much every project in San Francisco — whether a mega-development or a smaller project, such as a homeowner replacing a rotted-out porch handrail, a playground or library renovation, an affordable housing project, or a bike or pedestrian-safety upgrade — must undergo CEQA evaluation. These myriad CEQA evaluations are then appealable to the Board of Supervisors. Yes, if you are replacing that rotted out handrail or working with your neighbors to renovate your local playground, those projects can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors under CEQA if a single person doesn’t like what you’re doing.

We support CEQA and support the right to appeal projects. What we cannot support is having no firm deadline to file those appeals. We’ve seen excellent projects, with broad public support, get delayed and have dramatically increased costs because of our bad process. A small group abused CEQA to fight the North Beach Library for years. After the Dolores Park renovation underwent dozens of community meetings and attained broad community support, a single person appealed the project, arguing that the dog areas of the park would lead to childhood obesity. San Francisco’s bike plan was delayed for years, costing millions of tax dollars.

By setting a clear deadline to file CEQA appeals — 30 days after the project is approved — and by improving notice to the public, Supervisor Wiener’s legislation will provide opponents every opportunity to challenge a project, but they will have to do so before the project goes into construction. That is a common sense rule, and as a result, the legislation has garnered broad support from affordable housing builders, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk SF (our pedestrian safety advocacy group), SPUR, labor unions, and neighborhood associations and leaders.

Supervisor Jane Kim has introduced an alternative to Supervisor Wiener’s legislation. Supervisor Kim’s legislation would make our dysfunctional process even worse. It would allow for multiple CEQA appeals of projects instead of just one and would continue to allow CEQA appeals long after projects are approved and even after they go into construction.

It’s time to bring rationality to our CEQA appeal process. Supervisor Wiener’s CEQA appeal legislation is the right approach and deserves to be passed.

Scott Wiener is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Pat Scott is Executive Director of Booker T. Washington Community Service Center in the Western Addition, which provides services and affordable housing to families and youth.

 

Billy and the golden toads

1

Reverend Billy Talen and his Church of Stop Shopping — which evolved from anti-consumerism street theater in San Francisco in the 1990s into a venerable New York City protest/performance institution — is bringing its creative environmentalist prayers and ploys back to the Bay Area next week.

Talen is a talented talker and writer whose most recent book, The End of the World, is a poetic plea for people to finally get serious about climate change, loss of biodiversity, and other environmental indicators that are passing irreversible global tipping points, all of them fed by the relentless growth of global capitalism.

“When Hurricane Sandy hit New York, there was no discussion of the underlying causes,” Talen told us. “There’s a disconnect. We have a 1,000-mile wide storm that seems to be aimed at Wall Street, and we’re not mentioning Wall Street.”

Billy and his crew are, using street theater to make their point. As he spoke, Talen said he was surrounded by two dozen costumes of the extinct Golden Toad that his crew has been donning to invade and engage in media-friendly civil disobedience at branches of Chase Bank, which the Rainforest Action Network concluded is the leading investor in carbon-emitting projects.

“Amphibians are going extinct around the world, and if I can mix my metaphors, that’s the canary in the coal mine,” Talen said, calling climate change a systemic result of an economic system predicated on consumption and growth. “Corporations are made to not be sustainable. They have to expand every quarter.”

Talen begins his visit on Monday, April 22, with a 7pm reading at Booksmith, 1644 Haight Street, and he wraps up on April 27 at 8pm with a full 17-member Church of Stop Shopping performance at Victoria Theater, 2961 16th St., SF. In between, they’ll be Lone Mountain College in SF on April 24, Pt. Reyes Dance Palace on April 25, the Chalkupy event at Oakland City Plaza on April 26, the Live Coast West taping on April 27 — and perhaps exorcising a Chase Bank or two along the way.

Is there a “green” way to frack?

5

Michael Klein is an unlikely oil industry executive. He’s also an unlikely environmental activist. For many years, the wealthy San Franciscan was a major donor and chair of the board of the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental organization famous for agitating aggressively against timber giants, coal companies, air polluters, and the dirty energy financiers of Wall Street.

But Klein stepped down from that role, and has since helped form a company called Hydrozonix, which might be called a “green” fracking enterprise.

Klein’s company seeks to eliminate the use of two particularly nasty fracking-fluid chemicals, known as biocides and scale inhibitors, while giving companies a way to treat and recycle wastewater fluid. Hydrozonix just completed its first year of operations, with 12 systems up and running in Texas oil fields. Does this mean Klein has crossed over to the dark side? “It was never an easy decision,” Klein told us. “I never thought I would tell anybody that I’m in the oil business.” He hasn’t exactly turned into a climate change denier. “I believe we have to stop using carbon-based fuels as soon as possible,” Klein says without hesitation, “and find the political will to put a price on carbon.” He also supports a temporary moratorium on fracking. But he claims he’s only trying to make fracking “dramatically safer” in the interim, because “until we stop subsidizing [fossil fuels], the alternatives are at a severe disadvantage.” But since entering the biz, he’s no longer convinced by the arguments made by proponents of fracking bans who cite health and safety concerns. “I’ve come to the conclusion that if best practices are used, it’s … considerably safer than deepwater drilling,” he told the Guardian. “I do believe it can be done without concerns about contaminating aquifers or poisoning everyone.”

By the numbers

16

rebecca@sfbg.com

77: Years before climate scientists say the Sierra Snowpack, the state’s largest reservoir, could dwindle to half its historic size. [Source: Fact Sheet, California Air Resources Board]

2,500,000,000,000: Barrels of “produced” wastewater generated by onshore oil and gas wells in California in 2011.

[Source: California Department of Conservation]

2,294: New oil and gas wells drilled in California in 2011.

[Source: California Department of Conservation]

565: Gigatons of carbon that can be burned before global average temperatures rise by 2 degrees Celsius, the ceiling target established by the Copenhagen Accord to avert the worst consequences of global climate change.

[Source: 350.org]

2,795: Gigatons of carbon held in reserves by the world’s oil and gas companies, which would emit five times the “safe” amount of carbon into the atmosphere if burned.

[Source: 350.org]

$26,200,000,000: Annual profit reaped by San Ramon-based Chevron last year — the oil company’s second-highest profit ever earned.

[Source: San Francisco Chronicle]

$1,000,000: Approximate amount Chevron was fined by state regulators for the Aug. 6, 2012 Richmond Refinery fire, which resulted in about 200 hospital visits due to exposure to toxic fumes.

[Source: LA Times]

656,576: Miles of waterways, representing 55 percent of all rivers and streams in the U.S., ranked in “poor” condition in the EPA’s latest assessment, meaning they can’t support healthy aquatic life.

[Source: US EPA]

13,144: Miles of U.S. waterways where fish are not safe for human consumption, due to high levels of mercury.

[Source: US EPA]

16: Inches sea level is expected to rise in the San Francisco Bay by 2050, according to climate change scenarios.

[Source: Bay Conservation and Development Commission]

55: Inches sea level is expected to rise in the San Francisco Bay by 2099, according to climate change scenarios.

[Source: Bay Conservation and Development Commission]

234,167: Metric tons of greenhouse gases Pacific Gas & Electric Co. reported emitting in San Francisco in 2011, from natural gas distribution.

[Source: U.S. EPA]

195,061: Acres of pine or fir forest it would take to absorb PG&E’s 2011 San Francisco greenhouse gas emissions, assuming CO2 absorption for one year. (Roughly 6.5 times the land area of SF.)

[Calculation based on California Air Resources Board million metric ton equivalents]

$500,000,000: Estimated San Francisco Employee Retirement System holdings in 81 fossil fuel companies including Chevron, BP, Exxon Mobil, Occidental Petroleum and Arch Coal.

[Source: SFERS]

Indicator city

74

steve@sfbg.com

When biologists talk about the health of a fragile ecosystem, they often speak of an “indicator species.” That’s a critter — a fish, say, or a frog — whose health, or lack thereof, is a signal of the overall health of the system. These days, when environmentalists who think about politics as well as science look at San Francisco, they see an indicator city.

This progressive-minded place of great wealth, knowledge, and technological innovation — surrounded on three sides by steadily rising tides — could signal whether cities in the post-industrial world will meet the challenge of climate change and related problems, from loss of biodiversity to the need for sustainable energy sources.

A decade ago, San Francisco pioneered innovative waste reduction programs and set aggressive goals for reducing its planet-cooking carbon emissions. At that point, the city seemed prepared to make sacrifices and provide leadership in pursuit of sustainability.

Things changed dramatically when the recession hit and Mayor Ed Lee took office with the promise to focus almost exclusively on economic development and job creation. Today, even with the technology and office development sectors booming and employment rates among the lowest in California, the city hasn’t returned its focus to the environment.

In fact, with ambitious new efforts to intensify development along the waterfront and only lackluster support for the city’s plan to build renewable energy projects through the CleanPowerSF program, the Lee administration seems to be exacerbating the environmental challenge rather than addressing it.

According to conservative projections by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the Bay is expected to rise at least 16 inches by 2050 and 55 inches by the end of the century. BCDC maps show San Francisco International Airport and Mission Bay inundated, Treasure Island mostly underwater, and serious flooding the Financial District, the Marina, and Hunters Point.

Lee’s administration has commissioned a report showing a path to carbon reduction that involves promoting city-owned renewable energy facilities and radically reducing car trips — while the mayor seems content do the opposite.

It’s not an encouraging sign for Earth Day 2013.

 

HOW WE’RE DOING

Last year, the Department of the Environment hired McKinsey and Company to prepare a report titled “San Francisco’s Path to a Low-Carbon Economy.” It’s mostly finished — but you haven’t heard much about it. The department has been sitting on it for months.

Why? Some say it’s because most of the recommendations clash with the Lee administration’s priorities, although city officials say they’re just waiting while they get other reports out first. But the report notes the city is falling far short of its carbon reduction goals and “will therefore need to complement existing carbon abatement measures with a range of new and innovative approaches.”

Data presented in the report, a copy of which we’ve obtained from a confidential source, shows that building renewable energy projects through CleanPowerSF, making buildings more energy-efficient, and discouraging private automobile use through congestion pricing, variable-price parking, and building more bike lanes are the most effective tools for reducing carbon output.

But those are things that the mayor either opposes and has a poor record of supporting or putting into action. The easy, corporate-friendly things that Lee endorses, such as supporting more electric, biofuel, and hybrid vehicles, are among the least effective ways to reach the city’s goals, the report says.

“Private passenger vehicles account for two-fifths of San Francisco’s emissions. In the short term, demand-based pricing initiatives appear to be the biggest opportunity,” the report notes, adding a few lines later, “Providing alternate methods of transport, such as protected cycle lanes, can encourage them to consider alternatives to cars.”

Melanie Nutter, who heads the city’s Department of the Environment, admits that the transportation sector and expanding the city’s renewable energy portfolio through CleanPowerSF or some other program — both of which are crucial to reducing the city’s carbon footprint — are two important areas where the city needs to do a better job if it’s going to meet its environmental goals, including the target of cutting carbon emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2025.

But Nutter said that solid waste reduction programs, green building standards, and the rise of the “shareable economy” — with Internet-based companies facilitating the sharing of cars, housing, and other products and services — help San Francisco show how environmentalism can co-exist with economic development.

“San Francisco is really focused on economic development and growth, but we’ve gone beyond the old edict that you can either be sustainable or have a thriving economy,” Nutter said.

Yet there’s sparse evidence to support that statement. There’s a two-year time lag in reporting the city’s carbon emissions, meaning we don’t have good indicators since Mayor Lee pumped up economic development with tax breaks and other city policies. For example, Nutter touted how there’s more green buildings, but she didn’t have data about whether that comes close to offsetting the sheer number of new energy-consuming buildings — not to mention the increase in automobile trips and other byproducts of a booming economy.

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and president of the BART board, told us that San Francisco seems to have been derailed by the last economic crisis, with economic insecurity and fear trumping environmental concerns.

“All our other values got tossed aside and it was all jobs, jobs, jobs. And then the crisis passed and the mantra of this [mayoral] administration is still jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said. “They put sustainability on hold until the economic crisis passed, and they still haven’t returned to sustainability.”

Radulovich reviewed the McKinsey report, which he considers well-done and worth heeding. He’s been asking the Department of the Environment for weeks why it hasn’t been released. Nutter told us her office just decided to hold the report until after its annual climate action strategy report is released during Earth Day event on April 24. And mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey told us, “There’s no hold up from the Mayor’s Office.”

Radulovich said the study highlights how much more the city should be doing. “It’s a good study, it asks all the right questions,” Radulovich said. “We’re paying lip service to these ideas, but we’re not getting any closer to sustainability.”

In fact, he said the promise that the city showed 10 years ago is gone. “Gavin [Newsom] wanted to be thought of as an environmentalist and a leader in sustainability, but I don’t think that’s important to Ed Lee,” Radulovich said.

Joshua Arce, who chairs the city’s Environmental Commission, agreed that there is a notable difference between Newsom, who regularly rolled out new environmental initiatives and goals, and Lee, who is still developing ways to promote environmentalism within his economic development push.

“Ed Lee doesn’t have traditional environmental background,” Arce said. “What is Mayor Lee’s definition of environmentalism? It’s something that creates jobs and is more embracing of economic development.”

Falvey cites the mayor’s recent move of $2 million into the GoSolar program, new electric vehicle charging stations in city garages, and his support for industries working on environmental solutions: “Mayor Lee’s CleantechSF initiative supports the growth of the already vibrant cleantech industry and cleantech jobs in San Francisco, and he has been proactive in reaching out to the City’s 211 companies that make up one of the largest and most concentrated cleantech clusters in the world.”

Yet many environmentalists say that simply waiting for corporations to save the planet won’t work, particularly given their history, profit motives, and the short term thinking of global capitalism.

“To put it bluntly, the Lee administration is bought and paid for by PG&E,” said Eric Brooks with Our City, which has worked for years to launch CleanPowerSF and ensure that it builds local renewable power capacity.

The opening of the McKinsey report makes it clear why the environmental policies of San Francisco and other big cities matter: “Around the globe, urban areas are becoming more crowded and consuming more resources per capita,” it states. “Cities are already responsible for roughly seventy percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and as economic growth becomes more concentrated in urban centers, their total greenhouse gas emissions may double by 2050. As a result, tackling the problem of climate change will in large part depend on how we reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of cities.”

And San Francisco, it argues, is the perfect place to start: “The city now has the opportunity to crystallize and execute a bold, thoughtful strategy to attain new targets, continue to lead by example, and further national and global debates on climate change.”

The unwritten message: If we can’t do it here, maybe we can’t do it anywhere.

 

ON THE EDGE

San Francisco’s waterfront is where economic pressures meet environmental challenges. As the city seeks to continue with aggressive growth and developments efforts on one side of the line — embodied recently by the proposed Warriors Arena at Piers 30-32, 8 Washington and other waterfront condo complexes, and other projects that intensify building along the water — that puts more pressure on the city to compensate with stronger sustainability initiatives.

“The natural thing to do with most of our waterfront would be to open it up to the public,” said Jon Golinger, who is leading this year’s referendum campaign to overturn the approval of 8 Washington. “But if the lens you’re looking through is just the balance sheet and quarterly profits, the most valuable land maybe in the world is San Francisco’s waterfront.”

He and others — including SF Waterfront Alliance, a new group formed to oppose the Warriors Arena — say the city is long overdue in updating its development plan for the waterfront, as Prop. H in 1990 called for every five years. They criticize the city and Port for letting developers push projects without a larger vision.

“We are extremely concerned with what’s happening on our shorelines,” said Michelle Myers, director of the Sierra Club’s Bay Chapter, arguing that the city should be embracing waterfront open space that can handle storm surge instead of hardening the waterfront with new developments. “Why aren’t we thinking about those kinds of projects on our shoreline?”

David Lewis, director of Save the Bay, told us cities need to think less about the value of waterfront real estate and do what it can to facilitate the rising bay. “There are waterfront projects that are not appropriate,” Lewis said. Projects he puts in that category range from a scuttled proposal to build around 10,000 homes on the Cargill Salt Flats in Redwood City to the Warriors Arena on Piers 30-32.

“We told the mayor before it was even announced that it is not a legal use of the pier,” Lewis said, arguing it violated state law preserving the waterfront for maritime and public uses. “There’s no reason that an arena has to be out on the water on a crumbling pier.”

But Brad Benson and Diana Oshima, who work on waterfront planning issue for the Port of San Francisco, say that most of San Francisco’s shoreline was hardened almost a century ago, and that most of the planning for how to use it has already been done.

“You have a few seawall lots and a few piers that could be development sites, but not many. Do we need a whole plan for that?” Benson said, while Oshima praises the proactive transportation planning work now underway: “There has never been this level of land use and transportation planning at such an early stage.”

The Bay Conservation and Development Commission was founded almost 50 years ago to regulate development in and around the Bay, when the concern was mostly about the bay shrinking as San Francisco and other cities dumped fill along the shoreline to build San Francisco International Airport, much of the Financial District, and other expansive real estate plans.

Now, the mission of the agency has flipped.

“Instead of the bay getting smaller, the bay is getting larger with this thing called sea level rise,” BCDC Executive Director Larry Goldspan said as we took in the commanding view of the water from his office at 50 California Street.

A few years ago, as the climate change predictions kept worsening, the mission of BCDC began to focus on that new reality. “How do we create a resilient shoreline and protect assets?” was how Goldspan put it, noting that few simply accept the inundation that BCDC’s sea level rise maps predict. “Nobody is talking about retreating from SFO, or Oakland Airport, or BART.”

That means Bay Area cities will have to accept softening parts of the shoreline — allowing for more tidal marshes and open space that can accept flooding in order to harden, or protect, other critical areas. The rising water has to go somewhere.

“Is there a way to use natural infrastructure to soften the effect of sea level rises?” Goldspan asked. “I don’t know that there are, but you have to use every tool in the smartest way to deal with this challenge.”

And San Francisco seems to be holding firm on increased development — in an area that isn’t adequately protected. “The seawall is part of the historic district that the Port established, but now we’re learning the seawall is too short,” Goldspan said.

BCDC requires San Francisco to remove a pier or other old landfill every time it reinforces or rebuilds a pier, on a one-to-one basis. So Oshima said the district is now studying what it can remove to make up for the work that was done to shore up Piers 23-27, which will become a new cruise ship terminal once the America’s Cup finishes using it a staging ground this summer.

Yet essentially giving up valuable waterfront real estate isn’t easy for any city, and cities have both autonomy and a motivation to thrive under existing economic realities. “California has a history of local control. Cities are strong,” Goldspan said, noting that sustainability may require sacrifice. “It will be a policy discussion at the city level. It’s a new discussion, and we’re just in the early stages.”

 

NEW WORLD

Global capitalism either grows or dies. Some modern economists argue otherwise — that a sustainable future with a mature, stable economy is possible. But that takes a huge leap of faith — and it may be the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“In the world we grew up in, our most ingrained economic and political habit was growth; it’s the reflex we’re going to have to temper, and it’s going to be tough.” Bill McKibben writes in Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. “Across partisan lines, for the two hundred years since Adam Smith, we’ve assumed that more is better, and that the answer to any problem is another burst of expansion.”

In a telephone interview with the Guardian, McKibben discussed the role that San Francisco could and should be playing as part of that awakening.

“No one knows exactly what economy the world is moving toward, but we can sense some of its dimensions: more localized, less material-based, more innovative; these are things that San Francisco is good at,” he told us, noting the shift in priorities that entails. “We need to do conservation, but it’s true that we also need to build more renewable power capacity.”

Right now, CleanPowerSF is the only mechanism the city has for doing renewable energy projects, and it’s under attack on several fronts before it even launches. Most of the arguments against it are economic — after all, renewable power costs more than coal — and McKibben concedes that cities are often constrained by economic realities.

Some city officials argue that it’s more sustainable for San Francisco to grow and develop than suburban areas — thus negating some criticism that too much economic development is bad for the environment — and Radulovich concedes there’s a certain truth to that argument.

“But is it as green as it ought to be? Is it green enough to be sustainable and avert the disaster? And the answer is no,” Radulovich said.

For example, he questioned, “Why are we building 600,000 square feet of automobile-oriented big box development on Hunters Point?” Similarly, if San Francisco were really taking rising seas seriously, should the city be pouring billions of dollars into housing on disappearing Treasure Island?

“I think it’s a really interesting macro-question,” Jennifer Matz, who runs the Mayors Office of Economic Development, said when we asked whether the aggressive promotion of economic development and growth can ever be sustainable, or whether slowing that rate needs to be part of the solution. “I don’t know that’s feasible. Dynamic cities will want to continue to grow.”

Yet that means accepting the altered climate of new world, including greatly reduced fresh water supplies for Northern California, which is part of the current discussions.

“A lot of the focus on climate change has moved to adaptation, but even that is something we aren’t really addressing,” Radulovich said.

Nutter agreed that adapting to the changing world is conversation that is important: “All of the development and planning we’re doing today needs to incorporate these adaptation strategies, which we’re just initiating.”

But environmentalists and a growing number of political officials say that San Francisco and other big cities are going to need to conceive of growth in new ways if they want to move toward sustainability. “The previous ethos was progress at any cost — develop, develop, develop,” Myers said, with the role of environmentalists being to mitigate damage to the surrounding ecosystem. But now, the economic system itself is causing irreversible damage on a global level. “At this point, it’s about more than conservation and protecting habitat. It’s about self-preservation.”

Fracking changes everything

31

In December 2012, the federal Bureau of Land Management held an annual auction for oil and gas development rights on federal territory in California, offering up wild lands in Fresno, Monterey, and San Benito counties. It sold off leases to 15 parcels, totaling nearly 18,000 acres. One bidder was a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, an oil company that drilled 675 new wells in California in 2011 alone.

The BLM affair works like any other auction: Bids are made verbally, and leasing rights are awarded to the highest bidder. Every last acre was snapped up, locking companies in for 10-year leases.

The average bid per acre? $4.21. The highest bid per acre? Ten bucks. The total federal government revenue? Just over $100,000.

The fact that oil companies can buy up mining rights to such a vast area of public land, for the price equivalent of about a tenth of a house in San Francisco, is nothing new. But this land auction was significant because BLM turned a blind eye to fracking, an oil and gas extraction technique that’s fueled widespread opposition. BLM green-lighted the leases based on an official assessment projecting that no more than a single acre of land would be disturbed by the anticipated oil drilling, the same argument used to justify the previous year’s auction.

Such a scenario may have been realistic in 2006, when the governmental agency drafted the document it relied on to make such a rosy prediction. But technological advancement has transformed the fossil-fuel sector over the past six years, and the oil industry is buzzing about vast untapped potential contained within the Monterey Shale, a leviathan geologic formation that extends across a major stretch of California, including beneath the federal lands in question.

“The Monterey area has become a focal point,” says Brendan Cummings, “because, but for fracking, these areas would never get tapped for oil.” An attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, Cummings splits his work between offices in Joshua Tree and San Francisco. He led the Center in a lawsuit against BLM over its 2011 oil-and-gas lease auction, which affected 2,500 acres, arguing that the government should have realistically assessed the environmental threats posed by fracking before it started handing out drilling rights.

“Fracking changes the economics of oil,” Cummings says. “Fracking changes everything.”

And it’s happening all over California, and growing at a rapid rate.

 

 

DRILLING ON STEROIDS

Sounding more like an approximate substitute to circumvent a television ban on profanity, “fracking” is short for hydraulic fracturing. It consists of pumping high-pressure fluids up to 15,000 feet underground and into “horizontal wells” that can fan outward for a mile or more, with the aim of smashing up the shale formations. While a form of fracking has been in use for decades to “rework” oil wells, the kind of high-pressure, high-temperature operations now being employed represent a departure from traditional methods.

The exact contents of the proprietary fracking fluids are mostly secret, but they’re known to contain high volumes of water, sand, and a patented blend of toxic chemicals, sometimes incorporating acid to make the rock brittle enough to fracture.

“Once they’ve fracked up the shale,” explains Adam Scow, California campaigns director at San Francisco-based Food and Water Watch, “they can pump indefinitely.” It’s a short-term, expensive operation, Scow says, amounting to “drilling on steroids.”

On April 8, a federal judge ruled that the Obama Administration had violated federal law in the 2011 BLM auction by failing to first conduct an environmental impact study on fracking. It’s too soon to say how this will affect the 18,000 acres auctioned off in December, but Cummings says he expects to be back in court before long.

Yet the ruling has no effect on the oil wells already dotting the landscape in places like Kern County, an area already marked by poor air quality that supports the highest concentration of fracking operations in California. And for every acre of federal land now tied up in court, there are thousands more private parcels susceptible to being radically altered by fracking.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that the Monterey shale formation, which extends from the northern San Joaquin Valley to Los Angeles County and westward to the coast, holds more than 15 billion barrels of oil.

It’s an astounding quantity that dwarfs that of the Bakken Formation, which has helped light up North Dakota’s economy with a fracking boom, or the Eagle Ford Shale in West Texas, each of which are estimated to contain between 3 and 4 billion barrels.

 

 

NO SPECIAL PERMIT REQUIRED

Once a company has obtained a permit to extract oil and gas, “the state doesn’t require companies to get a permit to frack,” explains Scow, so it’s unknown just how much it’s currently happening. Voluntarily reported industry data shows that at least 91 wells were fracked in California between January 2011 and April 2012. Yet in 2011 alone, state records show, 2,294 new wells were drilled, while 3,376 notices were filed to “rework” existing wells.

In California, oil and gas drilling is regulated by the Division of Oil and Gas Resources. Speaking at a forum at the Commonwealth Club hosted by Climate One on April 2, Mark Nechodom, director of the California Department of Conservation, said DOGR never required reporting on fracking because it’s “one short blip” in oil production.

“In our historical use of fracturing in California, we have had no evidence that there is any environmental damage or hazard to human health—no evidence, I am saying—and therefore we have not required reporting,” said Nechodom, whose agency presides over DOGR. “Now we are requiring reporting and we are in the middle of developing a regulation for that.”

Nevertheless, the prospect of a pending California fracking boom on top of the loosely regulated activity already underway has galvanized Bay Area environmentalists. A host of environmental organizations are planning to form a coalition in the next several weeks to push for a permanent ban on fracking, targeting Gov. Jerry Brown.

Unchecked fracking could unleash a host of problems, says Scow, including a high risk of tainted groundwater, harmful air emissions, a spike in atmospheric carbon from the release of underground methane, and possibly even more frequent earthquakes due to wastewater disposal deep below the earth’s surface, which can destabilize faults.

“The process is just too dangerous,” he says. “There’s no safe way to frack. In the long term, we want fracking banned.”

 

 

OIL AND WATER

Policy discussions about fracking often arrive at the “Halliburton loophole.” In 2005, the story goes, when the federal Energy Bill was being drafted under the Bush Administration, then-Vice President Dick Cheney orchestrated the inclusion of a perplexing provision exempting “hydraulic fracturing” from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Cheney famously presided over Halliburton, a company that invented a precursor to modern-day fracking in the 1940s. Few understood what it meant at the time, but the ascendance of fracking has made it clear that the loophole amounted to a munificent gift to the oil industry, clearing the way for rigs to bore downward and outward with toxic underground fluid injections unencumbered by regulatory slowdowns — all to the detriment of safe drinking water.

“The Safe Drinking Water Act loophole has really created a problem for us,” Steve Craig, an olive rancher from Monterey County, noted while speaking at the Commonwealth Club panel.

Craig described the frustrating process of trying to get agencies to intervene in a fracking operation nearby his ranch, right along the Salinas River. “At this point, we don’t know what’s in the fracking fluids. How can you know if it’s a problem if you don’t know the content of the chemistry? It’s not fair to the public to hide behind that trade secret veil and expect us to live with it.”

The risk of groundwater contamination tops Scow’s list of nightmarish scenarios. Fracking fluids can contain benzene and other carcinogens, as well as compounds linked with kidney or nervous system problems. “Once fracking fluid is injected underground, much of it stays underground indefinitely,” a Food and Water Watch issue briefing notes. “There is a network of different pathways through which contaminants … could flow into and contaminate groundwater.”

And since groundwater is drinking water in some places, Scow says this possibility is a major concern. “Prevention is really the key here,” he says. “We’re talking about some nasty stuff that could be irreversible.”

 

TOUGH FIGHT AHEAD

On April 29, the Assembly Resources Committee is scheduled to take up two nearly identical pieces of legislation that would impose indefinite moratoriums on fracking. The practice has already been subject to moratoriums in New York and New Jersey, and was permanently banned in Vermont and nationwide in France and Bulgaria.

But there’s likely to be stiff resistance, because for oil companies, fracking may as well be California’s modern-day gold mine.

“We’ve been a major petroleum state for a number of years, and the governor has indicated strongly that we want to continue to do that,” Dave Quast, head of an industry association called Energy in Depth, noted at the Climate One panel. “It’s been done safely, and it will continue to be done safely, and we should all be excited about that,” because it’s preferable to importing oil from the Middle East or places with weaker environmental regulations, Quast said.

But there’s a larger question: Do we really want to be burning more oil? If every last barrel of oil were extracted from the Monterey shale, says Scow, it could indeed meet the nation’s total oil needs — but based on current consumption rates, it would be entirely burned up in less than three years.

“Burning the 15 billion barrels of oil — even if that were some kind of achievement,” Scow says with a wry laugh, “is still going to make our climate crisis worse.”