Volume 47 Number 35
STREET SEEN Located on a strip of Valencia that lacks not for the twee and handcrafted, the opening of Little Paper Planes might strike city dwellers as a bit of anti-news. Of course there’s a new place to shop for necklaces in the Mission. Obviously, the shop floor emphasizes artists who use locally-sourced materials. Oh, its gorgeous inside and former Design*Sponge senior editor Kate Pruitt designed the sweetly geometric shelves and displays? DUH. Next gift shop please.
But wait! What if I told you that Kelly Lynn Jones, who founded LPP back in 2004 (predating Etsy by a year) as an online marketplace for crafters, that she’s totally cognizant of the privilege of her new address’ attendant walk-in traffic, and is sharing her space with a bookstore curator and a rotating cast of creative community members?
“In a city where art spaces are disappearing, I thought it was important to use this shop as a project space,” Jones tells me, in between the million tasks of a new business owner. True to her word, we barely talk about all the things happening in LPP in the half-hour I’ve snagged Jones’ attention.
Customers may first alight upon the window seat near Viniita “Neet” Moran’s carefully-curated mini-library Owl Cave Books (www.owlcavebooks.com). Moran started the collection and attendant series of events while living in London with a “mission to explore printed matter as a material for artists, a vehicle for expanding critical discourse, and as a mobile, versatile exhibition space for contemporary art,” she writes in an email. Here, Owl Cave can mean a Foucault treatise or out-of-print art history book.
Next, the LPP stock. On the day of my visit, Jones is particularly proud of black-and-white prints by SF’s Colpa Press, whose newsstand on Market and Sixth Streets carries titles from LPP’s own imprint like the Brian Nuda Rosch exhibition book that lies stacked on a low marble table nearby. Other stand-outs: Ilana Kohn’s printed tunics, leather pouch-chain necklaces by Nikki Katz, knit-and-plastic jewelry from Kayla Mattes’ “Summer Camp” collection.
A flatscreen that plays video art by a rotating cast of artists (at the moment, Jones’ fiancé Collin McKelvey, whose pink-green gradient she reappropriated for LPP’s current unofficial logo motif). Notably, the back of the store is gallery space.
Chinatown’s newly opened Et al. Gallery has taken over this space as LPP’s first artist-in-residence. To date, its offerings have included Aaliyah lyric-analyzing sessions, an analogue Instagram feed from curators Jackie Im and Aaron Harbour’s trip to Nada Art Fair, and DJ sets. On Fri/31, the duo host a panel discussion to share mid-realization art projects. Says Im, “We’re interested in making these small experiments more visible and sort of demystify and play on the role of ‘curator.'”
Ah, and design duo CCOOLL (www.ccooll.us) is teaming with 826 Valencia to teach teens how to make zines in the back gallery in between high-minded creative flights of fancy.
Jones insists that the only thing uniting the shop’s cast of characters is a shared trait that “they come to their work through a set of ideas. I know it when I see it,” she smiles.
Et al. artistic discussion Little Paper Planes 855 Valencia, SF. (415) 643-4616, www.littlepaperplanes.com. Fri/31, 6pm, free
SEX Perhaps, if you are reading this column, you are already aware of the Bike Smut Film Festival (www.bikesmut.com). If so, please note that an adult production starring the DIY fest’s founders Poppy Cox and Rev “Gasper Johnson” Phil is being screened at the Center for Sex and Culture Sat/1. It is made by local queer pornographer Courtney Trouble, will also be available in DVD form at the screening, and it is unlikely, if you enjoy genuine expressions of human carnality, that you will not enjoy it.
“Porn for someone who likes cinema is hard to come by,” Cox told me candidly at a dark table in the back of bar last week, and I tend to agree with the pink-haired bombshell. Not everyone demands Trouble-level cinematography flourishes of their pornography, but Come Find Me, with its darling-dark plotline and focus on female orgasm (not to mention use of tire tubes as BDSM tool) will certainly fan the flames for lovers of hot feminist porno. Cox giggles a lot through the sex scenes, I’m just saying.
Poppy Cox’s calves make shapely plot points in Come Find Me
Though “bikesexualism” continues to be a rather niche orientation in the porn world, no one would accuse Cox and Phil of not getting around with their dirty movies. Since debuting the Bike Smut Festival in the mid-2000s at Portland’s Pedalpalooza, the duo have taken the show on the road to 21 countries, by Cox’s count. Content is crowdsourced and ranges from silly shorts to heavy-breathing features with pro-level stars. There’s no press screeners or DVD sales — the only way to check out the smut is to sit in a room with a bunch of other riders and get bikesexual about it. Trouble and Bianca Stone have starred in front of the cam for their own Bike Smut submission, and though much of Bike Smut is straight-focused, the last full festival program “Turning TriXXX” was mainly comprised of Sapphic scenes.
Look to Cox and Trouble to continue testing the juncture between body-positive, ethical, queer, and “non-heteronormative straight porn,” as Cox puts it, half-drank pint glass of beer in front of her. “We’re getting away from that one type of person that fucks in one kind of way — that looks like they don’t even want to touch each other. What doesn’t come across in mainstream porn is that all of your skin can be a sexual organ and that you should touch all of it.”
Especially calves. Bikers and their calves…
Come Find Me release party and screening Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission, SF. www.sexandculture.org. Sat/1, 8pm, $6-26
THIS WEEK’S SEX EVENTS
Sex Geek Speakeasy Mission Control, SF. www.missioncontrolsf.org.Thu/30, 8pm, free if you do free membership registration, $20 non-members. “Burlesque, bondage, and cupcakes,” at this sensual birthday party. No sex play, but pleasure activism panel discussions and hot demos.
“Corporate Dominatrix Training” Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission, SF. www.sexandculture.org. Sun/1, 2-4pm, $5 for Society of Janus members, $20 non-members. Climb the career ladder of your choosing with Beatrice Stonebanks’ domme communication skills seminar.
Regional planning hits Chinatown
When regional planners at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission funded a study to create a bus-rapid transit system on Van News Avenue, they decided, in the interest of speeding the buses along, to allow only one left turn — onto Broadway.
That would turn Broadway into a much-busier thoroughfare — and have a huge impact on Chinatown, where there’s heavy pedestrian traffic. That, Cindy Wu says, is one of the problems with regional planning — it doesn’t always consider the impacts on existing, fully developed neighborhoods.
Wu is a planner with the Chinatown Community Development Center and a member of San Francisco’s Planning Commission. She’s concerned that Plan Bay Area, with its macro focus, ignores the micro — the people who already live in communities that will feel the pressure.
“Chinatown is performing amazingly,” she told me recently. There’s low car use, high density … all the things ABAG seems to want. And yet, it’s in the Priority Development Area, where new construction could lead to displacement. “It doesn’t get to the neighborhood scale, where people will be forced to control the impacts of growth.”
Gen Fujioka, policy director at CCDC, noted that the plans says people displaced from a San Francisco community like Chinatown can be accommodated elsewhere in the region. “Like that’s an acceptable alternative,” he said.
A (somewhat) better approach
The Draft Environmental Impact Report on Plan Bay Area looked at several alternatives, including doing nothing at all, which everyone pretty much agrees is a bad idea. But interestingly, a proposal put together by community groups, including Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, and TransForm, turned out to do a better job of reaching ABAG’s environmental goals.
In the DEIR models, “Alternative Five,” as it’s described, leads to slightly lower levels of displacement and less car travel. It does that in large part through the imposition of a Vehicle Miles Travelled Tax — a one-cent levy on every mile driven by a private car or light truck in the region.
That, it turns out, does indeed discourage car use. It would also raise more than $600 million a year, most of which would go to public transit and affordable housing. Over 25 years, that’s a lot of cash.
But ABAG planners rejected that proposal, preferring their own alternative.
ABAG and the UN plan for world domination
One of the biggest problems with opposing, or even questioning, ABAG’s Plan Bay Area is that some of the loudest voices against it are, in a word, loony.
Around the Bay Area suburbs, people packing hearings on the plan are talking about the secret United Nations plan to confiscate all private property, burn down suburban homes, and force everyone into tiny cells in teeming cities where our personal freedoms will be systematically destroyed.
You haven’t heard of that? It’s called Agenda 21, and the John Birch Society is convinced that it’s a global plot to destroy America.
Actually, Agenda 21 is a weak, unenforceable document that came out of the UN’s environmental conference in 1992. It suggests — as does SB375, as does just about every sane thinker in civilization — that the world’s growth ought to be planned, sustainable, and energy efficient.
But it’s getting dragged up as grounds to scuttle Plan Bay Area. The black helicopter folks, the Obama Wants To Take My House folks, and a few NIMBYs who just don’t want density in the suburbs, have been wailing about this massive conspiracy in the past few months.
It’s unlikely that the Tea Party types will make common cause with San Francisco progressives on this issue. But there’s a real danger here: If the nut cases get the attention, serious questions about the feasibility of this plan could get lumped in with the ravings of conspiracy kooks.
And as far as the UN taking over California? Hey, at least we’ll get universal health care.
LIT Even humankind’s saviors need a little help from their friends to max out on destiny. In local writerperson Michelle Tea’s world, that support has been culled from the closely-knit community of queers, feminists, and outspoken loud mouths that make up the extended family of the Sister Spit and Radar reading series that she assembled in the open mic wilderness of early 1990s and 2000s San Francisco.
All good young Bay Area writers know what followed: Tea went onto write a series of smashing, lyrical novels and memoirs detailing her journey from daughter of the beleaguered town of Chelsea, Mass., to sex worker, and finally into the lit star firmament with Valencia, a cult classic about the Mission’s slutty turn-of-century Lexington Club set.
Bully for her, but we can’t all chart such exceptional trajectories. Thanks goddess, then, that in Tea’s second young adult novel Mermaid in Chelsea Creek, help comes to 13-year-old Sophie Swankowski from a more likely cast of characters: a flock of well-spoken activist pigeons, a spell-weaving corner store zhakharka, her grandmother’s hot genderqueer garbage dump assistant, and an absolutely filthy mermaid who assures Swankowksi that despite the six-pack plastic rings stuck in her hair, she is big in Poland.
“It’s sort of a bad world,” the put-upon Swankowski is told by Syrena the mermaid. “I come here to help you fix it.” The declaration arrives while Sophie is playing the “pass-out game” (you KNOW) with her obsessive, set-upon-by-hormones best friend Ella at the polluted creek near their depressing homes. The scene takes place at the start of summertime in Chelsea, where “there isn’t any right side of the tracks,” as our protagonist puts it.
What follows is not the story of Swankowski’s world rescue, but a different struggle entirely: the young woman’s realization that she need not hold to the boundaries erected around her by family and childhood friends. She is, as Angel the dump worker-curandera’s daughter puts it, one of the “girls who knew things and had powers and a certain destiny.”
I refuse to consider this a spoiler because the excellent Mermaid of Chelsea Creek, the first book published under McSweeney’s new young adult imprint McMullens, is but the first in an upcoming trilogy involving Sophie and her motley crew. Believe me, there is a lot in the book you’ll have to read to discover (psst dog-grandfathers and the effect superpowers have on dealing with rude neighborhood boys.)
Tea, it would appear, has had a penchant for the epic recently — the hotly-anticipated movie version of Valencia has been crafted by no less than 21 filmmakers, each in charge of their own story chapter and distinct cast. (Cop your tickets to its June 21 and 27 Frameline world premiere, on sale starting Fri/31, at www.frameline.org.) One of Tea’s next projects is said to be a novel imagining the world in the wake of a 1990s apocalypse.
But enough of this future-mongering, because Mermaid of Chelsea Creek is a triumph in its own right, a stand-alone treat that I could not eat without chortling about to my own social circle at every possible juncture. I hope it makes its way into schools across the country, and trickles across the radar of those too young yet to attend Radar. Young adult literature, thank Harriet the Spy, is not without its strong young heroines, but Swankowski’s working-class journey goes beyond pluck. You never saw Ramona Quimby plump for a cereal dinner in solidarity with a hot-mess single working mom, nor decide, ultimately, that gender ambiguity is fine when it comes to a budding friendship-crush.
Ultimately, the book becomes what all Tea projects tend to be: assertions that survival is possible, if not inevitable — and that through achieving survival, we make the world a better place. Not all pigeons talk, but everyone deserves the freaky, feathered friends they need to get them through the summer.
Booksmith Pride bookswap
W/ Ali Liebegott
June 7, 6:30-9:30pm, $25 for dinner and open bar
1644 Haight, SF
June 18, 7pm, free
2476 Telegraph, Berk.
OPINION Let’s stop blaming the hipsters. The Google bus, that annoying icon of yuppie invasion and transit privatization, is not the lead driver of gentrification’s reckless stampede reshaping our city (though it does play a role). The upscale restaurants dominating commercial strips may be economically and aesthetically offensive to many, but they are the natural byproducts of gentrification’s much-ignored elephant in the room: the real estate industry.
While headlines, comment threads, and café chatter fixate on the tech industry and yuppies with fistfuls of dollars, it’s the profit-gobbling real estate companies and speculators who are jacking up rents and evicting so many small businesses and renters—and they are surely happy to stay out of the spotlight.
Gentrification is a many-layered beast nurtured by cultural and economic trends, regional and local labor and housing factors, and public policies (or lack thereof). Beneath the surface-level aesthetics, it is about displacement of people who don’t fit the dominant economic growth plan—radical market-driven upheavals of communities often abetted by government policies and inaction.
The stats are familiar but bear repeating as they are so destructive: average apartment rentals exceeding $2,700 a month, requiring someone making $70,000 a year to pay half of his or her salary in rent. Literally thousands of no-fault evictions in the past decade, according to the Rent Board.
Despite rampant displacement of thousands of San Franciscans, there has been little response from City Hall: no hearings, no proactive legislation, not even bully-pulpit style leadership. We must demand more.
Where is the leadership demanding the city do everything in its albeit limited power to halt further displacement of residents and small businesses? The toxic combo of tenant evictions and home foreclosures by the thousands — driven principally by major banks and real estate companies — is destroying lives and communities.
Some of this is beyond City Hall’s jurisdiction: state laws like the Ellis Act and Costa-Hawkins enable no-fault evictions and prevent vitally needed commercial rent control. Still, beyond their valiant opposition to the Wiener-Farrell condo conversion threat, city leaders have been largely silent about this latest wave of gentrification that’s eviscerating communities, driving out small businesses, and squeezing renters to the bone.
What can we do? We won’t defeat gentrification with city hearings or loud protests or online screeds and petitions — but we need all those things, along with serious public education, to shine a bright hot spotlight on the companies and individuals defining who lives and votes here.
We need a new era of citywide awareness, unity, and action to literally save San Francisco — a bold unapologetic vision that puts affordability and diversity at the forefront of what our city is about. We can’t have diversity without affordability; it’s that simple.
Renters are gearing up to fight back. An ‘Eviction Free Summer’ is being planned — an innovative campaign to counter the rash of evictions that are generating both displacement and skyrocketing rent prices. The idea of ‘Eviction Free Summer’ is to put evictions and evictors in the spotlight, to put would-be evictors on notice and capture the attention of city officials who have so far done little to stem their tide.
We must demand accountability and action by City Hall and state legislators to rein in the real estate industry and put the brakes on evictions and other displacement. People’s lives, neighborhoods and communities, and the very fabric and identity of our city are at stake.
To those who cheer “change” as if its victims were not real, or who wearily concede the fight, we must ask: are we really going to allow the profit-hungry market and wealth-seeking executives and speculators decide who lives and votes here? Are we going to let the market destroy what’s left of our city’s economic, cultural, racial and ethnic diversity — the very things that make San Francisco what it is?
Christopher D. Cook is an award-winning journalist and author, and former Bay Guardian city editor. Contact him at www.christopherdcook.com
EDITORS NOTES I know you’re getting a lot of shit these days, and it’s not entirely fair. You’re not the ones making a killing in overpriced real estate. You came here looking for a job, and the jobs you get pay well enough that landlords and speculators can extract wealth that you ought to be able to save or spend in town, creating more jobs for everyone. I can’t blame you for wanting to live in one of the world’s greatest cities; I came here too, from the East Coast, in 1981, looking for work as a writer but mostly looking to live in San Francisco. So did waves of immigrants before me.
But we all have to remember something: There were people living here when we arrived. It was their city before it was ours. And they had, and have, the right to live here, too.
In fact, the people who have been here for 20 or 30 years, who have worked to build this community, have — in a karmic sense — even more right to be here than you. Trite as it sounds, they were here first.
Americans have a bad record when it comes to moving into established populations. Ask any American Indian. Ask the Mexicans about the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
The hippies who arrived in San Francisco in the 1960s — attracted, among other things, by really cheap rent in the Haight Asbury — weren’t always terribly polite to, or concerned about, the natives who lived there, and had fun teasing the straights and fouling their parks. But they didn’t force anyone else to leave; there was lots of empty space in San Francisco. The city wasn’t kind to them, either — official San Francisco may celebrate the Summer of Love now, but back then, the cops went after the hippies with gusto.
Gay people who arrived in the 1970s — attracted, among other things, by cheap rent in Eureka Valley — faced harassment, discrimination, and brutality.
You, on the other hand, are officially welcomed — the mayor thinks you’re the city’s future. You face no barriers to renting or buying a home, no police crackdowns. The only people unhappy about your presence are the ones who are getting forced out of town to make room for you.
It’s not your fault that the city lacks eviction protections or effective rent control — but it is your fault if you act as if it doesn’t matter. Building community means more than spending money. It means getting involved.
Many of you are tenants. You may be richer than the people who you displaced, but your landlord will cheat you just the same. The Tenants Union needs support. You can be a part of making it stronger. Some of you will have kids at some point; there are great public schools in San Francisco, and I hope you support them.
Meanwhile, you can help keep longtime residents from being forced out. Jeremy Mykaels, a former web designer disabled by AIDS, has set up a site listing all the properties that have been cleared through the eviction of a senior or disabled person (ellishurtsseniors.com). Check it out. Don’t buy those units. If that means you have to live with lesser housing for a while, you can deal. For generations, the rest of us did.
Yeah, we were here first. Show a little humility and a little respect, and perhaps we’ll all get along fine.
The intersection of Cesar Chavez and Evans Avenue is a good enough place to start. Face south.
Behind you is Potrero Hill, once a working-class neighborhood (and still home to a public housing project) where homes now sell for way more than a million dollars and rents are out of control. In front, down the hill, is one of the last remaining industrial areas in San Francisco.
Go straight along Evans and you find printing plants, an auto-wrecking yard, and light manufacturing, including a shop that makes flagpoles. Take a right instead on Toland, past the Bonanza restaurant, and you wander through auto-glass repair, lumber yards, plumbing suppliers, warehouses, the city’s produce market — places that the city Planning Department refers to at Production, Distribution, and Repair facilities. Places that still offer blue-collar employment. There aren’t many left anywhere in San Francisco, and it’s amazing that this district has survived.
Cruise around for a while and you’ll see a neighborhood with high home-ownership rates — and high levels of foreclosures. Bayview Hunters Point is home to much of the city’s dwindling African American population, a growing number of Asians, and much higher unemployment rates than the rest of the city.
Now pull up the website of the Association of Bay Area Governments, a well-funded regional planning agency that is working on a state-mandated blueprint for future growth. There’s a map on the site that identifies “priority development area” — in planning lingo, PDAs — places that ABAG, and many believers in so-called smart growth, see as the center of a much-more dense San Francisco, filled with nearly 100,000 more homes and 190,000 new jobs.
Guess what? You’re right in the middle of it.
The southeastern part of the city — along with many of the eastern neighborhoods — is ground zero for massive, radical changes. And it’s not just Bayview Hunters Point; in fact, there’s a great swath of the city, from Chinatown/North Beach to Candlestick Park, where regional planners say there’s space for new apartments and condos, new offices, new communities.
It’s a bold vision, laid out in an airy document called the Plan Bay Area — and it’s about to clash with the facts on the ground. Namely, that there are already people living and working in the path of the new development.
And there’s a high risk that many of them will be displaced; collateral damage in the latest transformation of San Francisco.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND “SMART GROWTH”
The threat of global climate change hasn’t convinced the governor or the state Legislature to raise gas taxes, impose an oil-severance tax, or redirect money from highways to transit. But it’s driven Sacramento to mandate that regional planners find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California cities.
The bill that lays this out, SB375, mandates that ABAG, and its equivalents in the Los Angeles Basin, the Central Coast, the Central Valley and other areas, set up “Sustainable Communities Strategies” — land-use plans for now through 2040 intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent.
The main path to that goal: Make sure that most of the 1.1 million people projected to live in the Bay Area by 2040 be housed in already developed areas, near transit and jobs, to avoid the suburban sprawl that leads to long commutes and vast amounts of car exhaust.
The notion of smart growth — also referred to as urban infill — has been around for years, embraced by a certain type of environmentalist, particularly those concerned with protecting open space. But now, it has the force of law.
And while ABAG is not a secret government with black helicopters that can force cities to do its will — land-use planning is still under local jurisdiction in this state — the agency is partnering with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which controls hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal transportation money. And together, they can offer strong incentives for cities to get in line.
Over in Contra Costa and Marin counties, at hearings on the plan, Tea Party types (yes, they appear to exist in Marin) railed against the notion of elite bureaucrats forcing the wealthy enclaves of single-family homes to accept more density (and, gasp, possibly some affordable housing). In San Francisco, it’s the progressives, the transit activists, and the affordable housing people who are starting to get worried. Because there’s been almost zero media attention to the plan, and what it prescribes for San Francisco is alarming — and strangely nonsensical.
Under the ABAG plan, San Francisco would approve 92,400 more housing units for 280,000 more people. The city would host 190,000 more jobs, many of them in what’s called the “knowledge economy,” which mostly means high tech. Second and third on the list: Health and education, and tourism.
The city currently allows around eight cars for every 10 housing units; as few as five in a few neighborhoods, at least 10 in many others. And there’s nothing in any city or regional plan right now that seeks to change that level of car dependency. In fact, the regional planners think that single-occupancy car travel will be the mode of choice for 48 percent of all trips by 2040 — almost the same as it is today.
And since most of the new housing will be aimed at wealthier people, who are more likely to own cars and avoid catching buses, San Francisco could be looking for ways to fit 73,000 more cars onto streets that are already, in many cases, maxed out. There will be, quite literally, no place to park. And congestion in the region, the planners agree, will get a whole lot worse.
That seems to undermine the main intent of the plan: Transit-oriented development only works if you discourage cars. In a sense, the car-use projections are an admission of failure, undermining the intent of the entire project.
The vast majority of the housing that will be built will be too expensive for much of the existing (and even future) workforce and will do little to relieve the pressure on lower income people. But there is nothing whatsoever in the plan to ensure that there’s money available to build housing that meets the needs of most San Franciscans.
Instead, the planners acknowledge that 36 percent of existing low-income people will be at risk for displacement. That would be a profound change in the demographics of San Francisco.
Of course, adding all those people and jobs will put immense pressure on city services, from Muni to police, fire, and schools — not to mention the sewer system, which already floods and dumps untreated waste into the Bay when there’s heavy rain. Everyone involved acknowledged those costs, which could run into the billions of dollars. There is nothing anywhere in any of the planning documents addressing the question of who will pay for it.
THE NUMBERS GAME
Projecting the future of a region isn’t easy. Job and population growth isn’t a straight line, at best — and when you’re looking at a 25-year window in a boom-and-bust area with everything from earthquakes to sea-level rise factoring in, it’s easy to say that anyone who claims to know what’s going to happen in 2040 is guessing.
But as economist Stephen Levy, who did the regional projections for ABAG, pointed out to us, “You have to be able to plan.” And you can’t plan if you don’t at least think about what you’re planning for.
Levy runs the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, and he’s been watching trends in this state for years. He agrees that some of his science is, by nature, dismal: “Nobody projects deep recessions,” much less natural disasters. But overall, he told me, it’s possible to get a grip on what planners need to prepare for as they write the next chapter of the Bay Area’s future.
And what they have to plan for is a lot more people.
Levy said he started with the federal government’s projections for population growth in the United States, which include births and deaths, immigration, and out-migration, using historic trends to allocate some of that growth to the Bay Area. There’s what appears at first to be circular logic involved: The feds (and most economists) project that job growth nationally will be driven by population — that is, the more people live in the US, the more jobs there will be.
Population growth in a specific region, on the other hand, is driven by jobs — that is, the more jobs you have in the Bay Area, the more people will move here.
“Jobs in the US depend on how many people are in the labor force,” he said. “Jobs in the Bay Area depend on our share of US jobs and population depends on relative job growth.”
Make sense? No matter — over the years it’s generally worked. And once you project the number of people and jobs expected in the Bay Area, you can start looking at how much housing it’s going to take to keep them all under a roof.
Levy projects that the Bay Area’s share of jobs will be higher than most of the rest of the country. “This is the home of the knowledge industry,” he told me. So he’s concluded that population in the Bay Area will grow from 7.1 million to 9.2 million — an additional 2.14 million people. They’ll be chasing some 1.1 million new jobs, and will need 660,000 new housing units.
Levy stopped there, and left it to the planners at ABAG to allocate that growth to individual cities — and that’s where smart growth comes in.
For decades in the Bay Area, particularly in San Francisco, activists have waged wars against developers, trying to slow down the growth of office buildings, and later, luxury housing units. At the same time, environmentalists argued that spreading the growth around creates serious problems, including sprawl and the destruction of farmland and open space.
Smart growth is supposed to be an alternative: the idea is to direct new growth to already-established urban areas, not by bulldozing over communities (as redevelopment agencies once did) but by the use of “infill” — directing development to areas where there’s usable space, or by building up and not out.
ABAG “focused housing and jobs growth around transit areas, particularly within locally identified Priority Development Areas,” the draft environmental impact report on the plan notes.
The draft EIR is more than 1,300 pages long, and it looks at the ABAG plan and several alternatives. One alternative, proposed by business groups, would lead to more development and higher population gains. Another, proposed by community activist groups including Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, and TransForm, is aimed at reducing displacement and creating affordable housing; that one, it turns out, is the “environmentally preferred alternative.” (See sidebar).
But no matter which alternative you look at, two things leap out: There is nothing effective that ABAG has put forward to prevent large-scale displacement of vulnerable communities. And despite directing growth to transit corridors, the DEIR still envisions a disaster of traffic congestion, parking problems, and car-driven environmental wreckage.
THE DISPLACEMENT PROBLEM
ABAG has gone to some lengths to identify what it calls “communities of concern.” Those are areas, like Bayview Hunters Point, Chinatown, and the Mission, where existing low-income residents and small businesses face potential displacement. In San Francisco, those communities are, to a great extent, the same geographic areas that have been identified as PDAs.
And, the DEIR, notes, some degree of displacement is a significant impact that cannot be mitigated. In other words, the gentrification of San Francisco is just part of the plan.
In fact, the study notes, 36 percent of the communities of concern in high-growth areas will face displacement pressure because of the cost of housing. And that’s region wide; the number in San Francisco will almost certainly be much, much higher.
Miriam Chion, ABAG’s planning and research director, told me that displacement “is the core issue in this whole process.” The agency, she said, is working with other stakeholders to try to address the concern that new development will drive out longtime residents. But she also agreed that there are limited tools available to local government.
The DEIR notes that ABAG and the MTC will seek to “bolster the plan’s investment in the Transit Oriented Affordable Housing Fund and will seek to do a study of displacement. It also states: “In addition, this displacement risk could be mitigated in cities such as San Francisco with rent control and other tenant protections in place.”
There isn’t a tenant activist in this town who can read that sentence with a straight face.
The problem, as affordable housing advocate Peter Cohen puts it, is that “the state has mandated all this growth, but has taken away the tools we could use to mitigate it.”
That’s exactly what’s happened in the past few decades. The state Legislature has outlawed the only effective anti-displacement laws local governments can enact — rent controls on vacant apartments, commercial rent control, and eviction protections that prevent landlords from taking rental units off the market to sell as condos. Oh, and the governor has also shut down redevelopment agencies, which were the only reliable source of affordable housing money in many cities.
Chion told me that the ABAG planners were discussing a list of anti-displacement options, and that changes in state legislation could be on that list. Given the power of the real-estate lobby in the state Capitol, ABAG will have to do more than suggest; there’s no way this plan can work without changing state law.
Otherwise, eastern San Francisco is going to be devastated — particularly since the vast majority of all housing that gets built in the city, and that’s likely to get built in the city, is too expensive for almost anyone in the communities of concern.
“This plan doesn’t require affordable housing,” Cindy Wu, vice-chair of the San Francisco Planning Commission, told me. “It’s left to the private market, which doesn’t build affordable housing or middle-class housing.”
In fact, while there’s plenty of discussion in the plan about where money can come from for transit projects, there’s virtually no discussion of the billions and billions that will be needed to produce the level of affordable housing that everyone agrees will be needed.
Does anyone seriously think that developers can cram 90,000 new units — at least 85 percent of them, under current rules, high-cost apartments and condos that are well beyond the range of most current San Franciscans — into eastern neighborhoods without a real-estate boom that will displace thousands of existing residents?
Let’s remember: Building more housing, even a lot more housing, won’t necessarily bring down prices. The report makes clear that the job growth, and population boom that accompanies it, will fuel plenty of demand for all those new units.
Steve Woo, senior planner with the Chinatown Community Development Center, sees the problem. In a letter to ABAG, he notes: “Plan Bay Area and its DEIR has analyzed the displacement of low-income people and explicitly acknowledges that it will occur. This is unacceptable for San Francisco and for Chinatown, where the pressures of displacement have been a constant over the past 20 years.”
Adds the Council of Community Housing Organizations: “It would be irresponsible for the regional agencies to advance a plan that purports to ‘improve’ the region’s communities as population grows while the plan simultaneously presents great risk and uncertainty for many vulnerable communities.”
Jobs are at stake, too — not tech jobs or office jobs, which ABAG projects will expand, but the kind of industrial jobs that currently exist in the priority development areas.
Calvin Welch, who has been watching urban planning and displacement issues in San Francisco for more than 40 years, puts it bluntly: “It is axiomatic that market-rate housing drives out blue-collar jobs,” he said.
Of course, there’s another potential problem: Nobody really knows where jobs will come from in the next 25 years, whether tech will continue to be the driver or whether the city’s headed for a second dot-com bust. San Francisco doesn’t have a good record of building for projected jobs: In the mid-1980s, for example, the entire South of Market area (then home to printing, light manufacturing, and other blue-collar jobs) was rezoned for open-floor office space because city officials projected a huge need for “back-office” functions like customer service.
“Where are all those jobs today?” Welch asked. “They’re in India.”
TOO MANY CARS
For a plan that’s designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving residential development closer to work areas, Plan Bay Area is awfully pessimistic about transportation.
According to the projections, there will be more cars on the roads in 2040, with more — and much worse — traffic. The DEIR predicts that a full 48 percent of all trips in 2040 will be made by single-occupant vehicles — just slightly down from current rates. The percentage of trips on transit will only be a little bit higher — and there’s no significant increase in projected bicycle trips.
That alone is pretty crazy, since the number of people commuting to work by bike in San Francisco has risen dramatically in the past 10 years, and the city’s official goal is that 20 percent of all vehicle trips will be by bike in the next decade.
Part of the problem is structural. Not everyone in San Francisco 2040 is going to be a high-paid tech worker. In fact, the most stable areas of employment are health services and government — and hospital workers and Muni drivers can’t possibly afford the housing that’s being built. So those people will — the DEIR acknowledges — be displaced from San Francisco and forced to live elsewhere in the region (if that’s even possible). Which means, of course, they’ll be commuting further to work. Meanwhile, if current trends continue, many of the people moving into the city will work in Silicon Valley.
Chion and Levy both told me that the transit mode projections were based on historical trends for car use, and that it’s really hard to get people to give up their cars. Even higher gas prices and abominable traffic delays won’t drive people off the roads, they said.
If that’s the case — if auto culture, which is a top source of global climate change, doesn’t shift at all — it would seem that all this planning is pointless: the seas will rise dramatically, and San Franciscans ought to be buying boats.
“The projections don’t take into account social change,” Jason Henderson, a geography professor at San Francisco State University and a local transportation expert, told me. “And social change does happen.”
Brad Paul, a longtime housing activist who now works for ABAG, said these projections are just a start, and that the plan will be updated every four years. “I think we’re finding that the number of people who want to drive cars will go down,” he said.
Henderson argues that the land-use policy is flawed. He suggests that it would make more sense to increase density in the Bay Area suburbs along the BART lines. “Elegant development in those areas would work better,” he said. You don’t need expensive high-rises: “Four and five stories is the sweet spot,” he explained.
Most of the transportation projects in the plan are already in the pipeline; there’s no suggestion of any major new public transit programs. There is, however, a suggestion that San Francisco adopt a congestion management fee for downtown driving — something that city officials say is the only way to avoid utter gridlock in the future.
ABAG and the MTC have a fair amount of leverage to implement their plans. MTC controls hundreds of millions of dollars in transit money; ABAG will be handing out millions in grants to communities that adopt its plan. And under state law, cities that allow development in PDAs near transit corridors can gain an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act.
CEQA is a powerful tool to slow or halt development, and developers (and some public officials) drool at the prospect of getting a fast-track pass to avoid some of the more cumbersome parts of the environmental review process.
Under SB 375 and Plan Bay Area, CEQA exemptions are available to projects that meet the Sustainable Community Strategy standards and are close to transit corridors. And when you look at the map of those areas, it’s pretty striking: All of San Francisco, pretty much every square inch, qualifies.
That means that almost any project almost anywhere in town can make a case that it doesn’t need to accept full CEQA review.
The most profound missing element in this entire discussion is the cost of all this growth.
You can’t cram 210,000 more residents into San Francisco without new schools, parks, and child-care centers. You can’t protect those residents without more police officers and firefighters. You can’t take care of their water and sewer needs without substantial infrastructure upgrades. And even if there’s state and federal money available for new buses and trains, you can’t operate those systems without paying drivers, mechanics, and support workers.
There’s no question that the new development will bring in more tax money. But the type of infrastructure improvements that will be needed to add 25 percent more residents to the city are really expensive — and every study that’s ever been done in San Francisco shows that the tax benefits of new development don’t cover the costs of public services it requires.
When World War II and the post-war boom in the Bay Area brought huge growth to the region, property taxes and federal and state money were adequate to build things like BART, the freeways, and hundreds of new schools, and to staff the public services that the emerging communities needed. But that all changed in 1978, with the passage of Prop. 13, and two years later, with the election of Ronald Reagan as president.
Now, federal money for cities is down to a trickle. Local government has an almost impossible time raising taxes. And instead of hiking fees for new residential and commercial projects, many communities (including San Francisco) are offering tax breaks to encourage job growth.
Put all that in the mix and you have a recipe for overcrowded buses, inadequate schools, overstressed open space (imagine 10,000 new Mission residents heading for Dolores Park on a nice day), and a very unattractive urban experience.
That flies directly in the face of what Plan Bay Area is supposed to be about. If the goal is to cut down on commutes by bringing new residents into developed urban areas, those cities have to be decent places to live. What would it cost to accommodate this level of new development? Five billion dollars? Ten billion? Nobody knows — because nobody has run those numbers. But they’re going to be big.
Because just as tax dollars have been vanishing, the costs of infrastructure keep going up. It costs a billion dollars a mile to build BART track. It’s costing more than a billion to build a short subway to Chinatown. Just upgrading the sewer system to handle current demands is a $4 billion project.
And if the developers and property owners who stand to make vast sums of money off all of this growth aren’t going to pay, who’s left?
The ABAG planners point out, correctly, that there’s a price for doing nothing. If there’s no regional plan, no proposal for smart growth, the population will still increase, and displacement will still happen — but the greenhouse gas emissions will be even worse, the development more haphazard.
But if the region is going to spend all this money and all this time on a plan to make the Bay Area more sustainable, more livable, and more affordable in 25 years, we might as well push all the limits and get it right.
Instead of looking at displacement as inevitable, and traffic as a price of growth, the planners could tell the state Legislature and the governor that it’s not possible to comply with SB375 — not until somebody identifies the big sums of money, multiples of billions of dollars, needed to build affordable housing; not until there are transit options, taxes, and restrictions on driving.
Because continued car use and massive displacement — the package that’s now facing us — just isn’t an acceptable option.
THE BLOB If you thought the first thing you’d see when you landed in Quebec City, Canada, was a mime in a black mock turtleneck playing “My Heart Will Go On” on an accordion, you’d be almost right. Almost, because the Blob promptly devoured him — chewy! — and went on to enjoy a brief culinary tour of one of the most charming, clean, and friendly cities she’s visited.
Also surprisingly diverse: waves of Canadian immigration have gently streaked “traditional” Canadian cuisine (yes there is such a thing, from the “meat pie” pork tortierre of the Blob’s maternal grandmother to Canadian bacon, berry jams, sweet pickles, and caribou steaks) with global flavors. Quebec being heavily French, there’s also an attention to detail and service that boosts its current restaurant boom to another level — without stinting on any creamy richness.
Chefs here have dived into experimenting with local St. Lawrence Seaway ingredients like meaty Îles de la Madeleine sea scallops, tender green saltwort, smoked Kamouraska eel, late spring fiddleheads and asparagus (all experienced at the superior L’Échaudé in the stonewalled Vieux-Port area, www.echaude.com). Blackberry cassis and cider, made in the bright, tin-roofed farmhouses on Île d’Orléans across the river, boutique chocolate galore, and ubiquitous maple delights from Quebec’s interior sweeten the pot.
“Smoked meat,” a.k.a. molasses-cured pastrami, piled on a plate with a pickle (Joe Smoked Meat, www.joesmokedmeat.com) or tucked deliciously beneath cheese and a layer of butter spread on a pizza (Pizzeria TM in nearby Thetford Mines) fattens up, as does that ubiquitous Quebecois staple, poutine, in a panoply of forms. Let’s eat.
RABBIT PIE AT LE LAPIN SAUTÉ
Holy leaping quaintness. This cozy joint in the Lower Town, tucked amid shops selling Inuit art and hip-mom scarves, is a true Quebec experience. Pretty waitstaff offer the house specialty, rabbit, in a dazzling variety of formats: juicy in white bean cassoulet, dipped in honey-rosemary sauce, roasted with “two mustards,” even plated with a hefty side of duck. Simplicity is best, the Blob may have learned from some Beatrix Potter book. So a slice of rabbit pie ($21.95) it was, savory-sweet, with currants and potatoes, atop a splash of balsamic sauce. Paired perfectly with a local Boréale Rousse beer? Mais oui!
52, rue du Petit-Champlain, www.lapinsaute.com
NEIGE RECOLTÉ D’HIVER FROM LA FACE CACHÉE DE LA POMME
Ice cider, who knew? The Blob has been put off by ice wines before — too sweet, too supermarket-y — but this premier line of Quebecois ciders ($47 per 375 ml, less expensive versions available), distilled from frosted apples, has changed her life. Wonderful after a spicy meal, the chilled-syrup, full-bodied sweetness lingers in your mouth like a very good port, but without the sting.
DUCK POUTINE AT LE COCHON DINGUE
Le Cochon Dingue is a Denny’s-like restaurant chain (but better), and poutine — fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds — is a French Canadian staple that’s become popular in the US. Poutine is available everywhere, from fast food versions to ones with foie gras or hunks of venison. The measure to which all poutine is held? The squeakiness of its curds. And this affordable version ($10) with shredded duck in a sweet gravy has incredibly squeaky curds. It’s squeaky curdlicious.
BOUDIN NOIR AT CLOCHER PENCHE
This is the place: a former bank on a corner in the neat Saint-Roch district, transformed into a magnet for foodies (there are some gentrification issues here, yes). The innovative menu doesn’t show its hand too much — you’re getting deeply thought-through, hyperlocal fare, but that fact’s not treated like a showy gimmick, plastered everywhere. One stand-out: blood pudding sausage ($23.95), melting with rich, dark pork and accompanied by pineapple (OK, not so local always) chutney and hearty fresh vegetables. Desserts are a must — tiny chocolate squares as dense as black holes dot caramelized bananas in rum sauce with sticky popcorn; érable (maple) flavor erupts in a warm fritter crusted with sweet pecans.
203, rue Saint-Joseph Est, www.clocherpenche.ca
ON THE OM FRONT Seven years ago, Gopi Kallayil, currently the Chief Evangelist for Google+ (there is indeed such a position), started a program at the Mountain View Google office called Yoglers: members go beyond merely practicing yoga in the office to participating more fully in its potential. It’s kind of like Google+ circles for yogis, where employees become teachers rather than just lunchtime practitioners. I recently spoke with Gopi, a force of nature himself who speaks often on such topics as “Envisioning the Conscious Corporation” and once engineered an online hangout with Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, about this program and his life’s passion: merging business and technology with mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation.
SFBG OK, so what exactly is a “Yogler”?
Gopi Kallayil There are communities of Googlers that self-organize themselves into doing different things. For instance, there is a group for LGBT Googlers (and their straight allies) called Gayglers, a group for Jewish Googlers called Jewglers, and a group for Carpooling Googlers called Carpoolglers. Self-organizing yoga practitioners are called Yoglers.
SFBG Is this different than the corporate yoga program at Google?
GK Yes. Google does a lot of things to keep employees fit and healthy—there are gyms in many offices, and we have group exercise programs that include yoga instruction with contracted yoga teachers to lead these classes. But the Yoglers classes are led only by people who work for Google. They could be product managers or engineers, but they will take a break periodically and not just take a yoga class, but actually teach a yoga class.
SFBG Are Yogler instructors trained yoga teachers or just yoga enthusiasts?
GK They are trained teachers. People who work here are intensely intense about the things that they do. They are very passionate about all aspects of their lives.
SFBG How did you first become involved with yoga?
GK I grew up in India, and became a yoga teacher as a teenager. I was taught yoga by Swami Vishnudevananda, who is one of the people who first brought yoga to America. He taught it as a path to self-realization, but also as a practice that brings joy, peace, and happiness to the world. He wanted us to go and teach it to other people. Since then, I’ve always taught, and I’ve always taught for free.
SFBG What inspired you to start Yoglers?
GK When I joined Google, one of my colleagues here encouraged me to teach a yoga class. So I started teaching a class in a conference room to one student and called it Yoglers. It was a way I could bring yoga to my community at work and pass on this great tradition that I was blessed to have received. Word of mouth spread and years later it’s become a big movement across Google offices worldwide. I had no idea that something I started with one student would evolve to this level.
SFBG Do you think the location of the Mountain View office helped to launch Yoglers?
GK Without question, something like this could happen more easily in the Bay Area. This is a very awakened, conscious place. People are curious about these traditions and don’t look at them suspiciously. People have studied yoga here, they welcome it.
SFBG Why is it important to bring yoga into the workplace in society today?
GK It’s not just today. It has always been important. It was important 50 years ago, 100 years ago, as long as there have been human beings. Yoga and meditation help to create a higher quality, more conscious human being. And any organization—whether it’s a corporation or educational institution—is staffed and run by human beings. If we incorporate these practices into our working life, we get along with each other better, make better products, and make choices that will better serve our customers.
SFBG It’s great that tech companies are embracing yoga, but isn’t technology part of what’s making us scattered and stressed?
GK: Technology, if not used properly and consciously, has the capability to completely distract us and make us unproductive and frenzied. But it’s no different than many other innovations. It’s like fire. Ever since we’ve discovered it and known how to harness it, we’ve found it exceptionally useful. You can cook your food with it, you can melt and blow glass with it. But if you misuse it, you can burn yourself or raze an entire city to the ground. I only check email certain times a day — I’m not constantly looking at it. Technology is a powerful tool. But whether you use the tool to be productive or destructive is up to you.
SFBG How does yoga help people in stressful work environments stay focused and calm?
GK When you practice yoga, you’re asked to bring your complete, 100 percent awareness to your body and your breath. If you practice regularly, it makes you more aware and conscious, and you make choices driven by that. The quality of your interactions improves. You stop checking your email when someone is talking to you. At Google, we’re building amazing technologies like self-driving cars, Google Glass, and Google+. And yet, the most important technology that every human being has access to is right within us: our body, our mind, our consciousness.
SFBG Any advice on how people can start a yoga or meditation program at work?
GK It’s simple. Go book a conference room. Sit, close your eyes, start meditating. Put up a sign that says, “Random acts of meditation.” It doesn’t matter if only one person shows. If you just sit there for 60 seconds and watch your breath, you have just started a meditation program. You don’t need a budget or resources. Someone just needs to step forward and do it.
FILM Half a lifetime ago that is to say, sometime in the mid-’90s on a train rolling through Austria, a young American man named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) met a young French woman named Celine (Julie Delpy). They were in their early 20s, and maybe that’s why it didn’t seem outlandish when, after some passing miles and some good conversation, he asked her to get off the train with him in Vienna, proposing that they spend the next 12 or so hours wandering the city, until his flight home in the morning. He didn’t scream axe murderer, and he made the case that if she stayed on the train, she might look back on her decision in 20 years, from the vantage of an unsatisfying marriage, and regret it. On paper, it sounds dubious bordering on smarmy. But sometimes it’s all in the delivery, and it didn’t seem too lunatic when Celine said yes.
So for the next hour and a half, we followed them as they traced a meandering itinerary among Vienna’s monuments, cafés, bars, and riverside walkways. Drifting through half a day’s worth of dense conversation (a sort of retort to the typical romantic comedy montage), they told personal anecdotes, took philosophical positions, and did a certain amount of playful flirting, whose intensity crept upward with the passing hours as the parameters of their encounter began to constrict. By morning, we were pretty invested in the last-minute arrangement they made just before Celine boarded her train: to reconvene there, barring personal constraints, in one year’s time. As the sun rose on all the places they’d passed through, empty now, we were left with that ambiguous possibility and our own guesses and projections as to whether Jesse and Celine would ever see each other again.
Since 1995, when director Richard Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke told this story in the film Before Sunrise, they’ve returned to these characters three times: they surface in a disconnected cameo in 2001’s animated Waking Life. The 2004 follow-up Before Sunset, shot in real time, reunites them after nine years in a Paris bookstore, where Jesse, now a successful writer, is reading from his novel about their time together in Vienna; more discursive talk and a beautifully ambiguous ending ensue. And now Before Midnight marks the third installment in a series whose occasional, compressed episodes submerge us so deeply in a particular moment of Jesse and Celine’s lives that we begin to forget how long it’s been since we saw them last.
When the newest film co-written, like Before Sunset, by Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke; Linklater wrote the first film with Kim Krizan picks up with Celine and Jesse, another nine years have passed. And it’s possible that they no longer recall with the warm clarity we do that gorgeous, affecting, flirty scene in the last few moments of Before Sunset, when we left them alone in Celine’s Paris apartment listening to Nina Simone, Jesse looking very likely to miss his plane back to the States this time around. It was one of the more perfect movie endings in recent memory, true. But in the intervening years, a lot has happened, including twins, a rancorous divorce and custody fights (for Jesse, whose teenage son lives in Chicago with his ex-wife), another best-selling (and semiautobiographical) novel, various environmental battles (for nonprofit worker Celine), and nine years of steady, unrestricted companionship that have inevitably overshadowed the telescoped intensity and romantic longing of the pair’s early encounters.
Now in their early 40s, Jesse and Celine have formed a web of commitments domestic and professional, and Before Midnight reflects this shift by adopting a more expansive outlook, the camera pulling back to take in a wider circle of family and friends. The film begins with a scene between Jesse and his son, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), saying their farewells at an airport in Greece’s southern Peloponnese, where the family have been spending the summer at the home of an older expat and writer, Patrick (played by veteran cinematographer Walter Lassally).
When we finally see Celine, waiting curbside at the car with their little girls, she’s on the phone with a colleague in Paris, and her and Jesse’s exchanges as they drive signal a habitual intimacy (new to us but now commonplace to them) as well as a few recurring sources of tension. Back at Patrick’s, the camera moves amid a crowded intergenerational scene and, at dinner, circles the table in an extended take as these disparate characters reflect on the stages of love and life in the kind of rambling, associative conversation we’ve come to expect of the series.
There’s a neatness to the generational roll call at the dinner table a couple in their 20s (whose long-distance affair via Skype is juxtaposed to Before Sunrise‘s romantic, chancy gesture); two couples in their 40s; the elderly Patrick and a female friend, both widowed. But the discussion itself is messy like life, and things get messier still when Jesse and Celine finally manage some alone time. We see the people who met half a lifetime ago, but the shock of recognition comes when the fissures in their relationship are fully exposed, cracks we can follow back nearly 20 years, as well as forward. We remember, and so do they, Jesse convincing Celine to get off the train with that fast-forward glance at a possible future, and wonder if we’ll ever see the two of them again.
BEFORE MIDNIGHT opens Fri/31 in Bay Area theaters.
FILM From the wonderfully cracked mind of British director Ben Wheatley — whose 2011 Kill List infused the played-out hitman genre with gory verve and folkloric terrors — comes, at last, Sightseers. If you missed it earlier this year at SF IndieFest, here’s your chance to experience Wheatley’s latest mash-up, a black-comedy road movie that follows a pair of infatuated misfits as they visit some of England’s more prosaic tourist attractions. Long before they reach the Keswick Pencil Museum, however, it becomes clear that one of them is a serial killer.
But it doesn’t take frenzied bloodshed to indicate that something’s a little off with both Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram; both actors co-wrote with Amy Jump, Wheatley’s wife and frequent collaborator). Tina’s a sheltered, frumpy 34-year-old who still lives at home with her controlling mother (Eileen Davies); their relationship revolves around baby talk and emotional manipulation, as well as a shared sense of grief over losing their much-worshipped dog, Poppy, in a freak knitting-needle accident.
Bitter Mum blames Tina, a compulsive knitter, for Poppy’s demise. “Murderer!” she hisses, as Chris whisks a giddy Tina away (“Show me your world, Chris!”) with his beloved Abbey Oxford Caravan in tow, the upbeat-tempo-meets-cautionary-lyrics of “Tainted Love” blasting on the soundtrack. After these bits of foreshadowing, it’s not a complete surprise when Chris reacts oddly to a man who carelessly discards an ice-cream wrapper amid the sacred environs of Crich Tramway Village. The first death is perceived as accidental, by Tina, the police, the victim’s family — but we saw Chris peep the offender in his rearview mirror before mowing him down, and we also saw the delighted smile creep across his face in the chaotic aftermath.
As Tina and Chris’ holiday continues, their relationship settles into a comfortable groove: Chris calls the shots, while Tina — delighted to be dubbed the budding author’s “muse” — follows his lead, spending her downtime decking out the trailer with tacky tchotchkes. The litterbug’s death fades quickly, but it’s not long before things get weird again, when the couple encounters two smugsters who are more or less upgraded versions of themselves: more attractive, more tasteful, more successful, and possessed of both a nicer trailer and a dog who’s a dead ringer for Poppy. Once again, the molecules in the crisp English-countryside air rearrange themselves, and the façade of a peaceful vaycay crumbles. The tone shift is heralded by a slo-mo montage set to Vanilla Fudge’s “Season of the Witch,” a cover so acid-soaked it makes an already-spooky song even more appropriately nightmarish.
Thus zooms forth Sightseers, with two protagonists so snapped from reality that happy, goofy moments continue to shine through the darkness. Though Tina disapproves of Chris’ habits (or does she?), her main concern is making sure the trip continues apace — and that Chris continues to treat her like a muse, even if she’s serving as muse for a creative endeavor that hardly resembles writing a book. The film’s most literary moment comes when a booming voice-over, not heard before or after, chimes in to narrate a key moment with William Blake’s “Jerusalem” (cutting off right after the word “Satanic”).
Not immediately familiar with that poem? Well, the musical version of “Jerusalem” is so popular in Britain that it was incorporated into the opening ceremonies at the 2012 London Olympics. If there’s a downside to Sightseers, it’s that some of its Brit-specific quirks might be lost on American viewers. It’s funny enough even if you don’t have an ear for regional accents (or the ability to sort out the posh ones), an appreciation for Daily Mail jokes, or the slightest knowledge of caravan culture. But the humor in Sightseers, probably more than Kill List and definitely more than exec producer Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004), is aimed more at the hometown crowd.
Still, any Yank with a wicked streak will appreciate Sightseers‘ deliciously deviant, decidedly deadpan point of view, and its take on class wars is obvious enough to translate into haughty vs. tacky. If the pairing of Tina and Chris is a disaster waiting to happen, Lowe and Oram — both British TV stars who developed their characters over a period of years — create comedy gold, with some of the more luridly awkward sex scenes in recent memory. Though Oram got the funniest of Sightseers‘ four promotional posters (tag line: “Death has a ginger beard”) Lowe, in particular, makes the most of Tina’s little-girl-lost shtick, eager to please her man but most certainly not to be fucked with.
SIGHTSEERS opens Fri/31 in Bay Area theaters.
MUSIC Here, in the depths of the pot smoke-drenched green room of Slim’s, the muffled chants of an insatiable gathering of Bay Area hip-hop fiends grows louder and more forceful by the second. The crowd is brazen in its vocal yearning for the show’s main act of IamSu! and Compton rapper Problem.
This show, which took place at the end of last month, was a de facto homecoming spot on the Million Dollar Afro mixtape tour and the leader of the HBK (Heart Break Kids) Gang was keen to give his fans what they wanted, and then some.
After a quick team prayer, IamSu! and Problem make their way up the back stairs towards the stage, giving the ceremonial daps to the homies along the way. Then amid a torrent of blaring horn drops courtesy of HBK Gang DJ Azure, IamSu! and Problem leap out on stage like they’re t-shirts being launched from a cannon, the kind you’d traditionally see at baseball games.
IamSu!’s lumbering 6-foot-something frame is rocking a dashiki and a slim leather jacket. The duo commandeers the performance with the skills of a group of season veterans and dutifully maintains the hype level two clicks above organized calamity for the majority of the show. Between each track, someone or some group out there is getting a shout-out, but the biggest shout-out of them all is reserved for the completely unexpected appearance of Juvenile, who is trotted out to perform his verse on “100 Grand.”
If IamSu! had followed the conventional hip-hop career path, he would have quickly spat out an album following his 2011 potty-mouthed, Gold-certified single “Up” and filmed the all-too-common hip-hop club music video with Lil Wayne. But for all his youthful cheerfulness, IamSu!, or Su for short (his real name is Sudan Williams), embodies a dexterous patience when it comes to decisions regarding his budding career.
He has plans for an album but no specific date. He frankly would rather kick it in the studio with his HBK crew laying down tracks on tracks on tracks than strut it out on the national stage, at least for the time-being. Su cheerfully remarks that “with or without music, HBK Gang would be having fun together,” but, almost conversly, holds high aspirations for his crew: “I want it to be a brand like Nike and you see our logo and you already know it’s from the Bay Area. That bond is what keeps us so humble right now, the fact that people will check me when I’m being an asshole, I’ll check somebody else and vice versa.”
A handful of major labels have courted Su and he has rejected generous offers from at least one. In fact, he’s still residing at home because he admits he “just hasn’t had the time to find a new spot”, but he did confirm to me that his pockets “are on sumo.” It was there in his childhood room/makeshift studio that he recorded his incredibly slippery and jolting verse on E-40’s “Function,” while recovering from a cold.
Su, who raps and talks with an undeniable East Bay twang, is just as adept in the studio as he is on the mic and just like the Kanye-model, Su produces nearly every track he raps on. Like East Bay hip-hop stalwarts Trackademiks and Kool A.D., Su explored and absorbed the craft of beat-making at the Oakland nonprofit media center, Youth Radio. Starting at the age of 15, he spent three days a week immersing himself in knobs, keyboards, and drum pads. The first poignant moment of his time there — and of his rap career — occurred when he performed for his peers at Youth Radio, which was the result of a weeklong competition. Su fondly recalls it was “one of the best feelings ever” when he observed the positive reactions of the crowd at Youth Radio.
Su now does the bulk of his production at a small and almost claustrophobic studio tucked away in a nondescript office on the border of Emeryville and Berkeley. There in that studio, I caught a glimpse of the process of constructing a slap.
Starting with a simple synth riff and voice sample, Su gradually and artfully added layers of drum hits, hi-hats, and bass jabbed while twisting and warping the voice sample. Operating the keyboard drums with his left hand, Su maneuvered the mouse to dig in the sample database and drop in instrument clips, all while methodically bobbing his head like a metronome. It wouldn’t be an IamSu! joint if he wasn’t also testing out some indistinguishable lyrics under his breath. Around 15 minutes later, the result was a rough draft of what will likely be a banger, which had the overwhelming approval of his crew present in the studio. Though Su affirmed for me that this joint won’t be hitting speakers “for at least a while”.
While in the studio, Su couldn’t help but bug out with giddiness every time he listened to one of his unfinished tracks, he seemed playful yet focused, relaxed yet determined. That brimming combination of curiosity and enthusiasm remains the driving force behind his dozen or so mixtapes.
Overarching questions pertaining to the status of hyphy or Bay Area hip-hop don’t apply to Su. Whether or not he brings back hyphy or becomes the first rap superstar of the decade from the Bay Area, the self-described “laid back friendly kid who likes to make music, go shopping, and listen to ’80s music,” is going be having the time of his life in the studio, with the full support of his crew.
TOFU AND WHISKEY Bay Area garage pop quintet the Mantles will release Love Enough to Leave on Slumberland Records next month (June 18) and play the Rickshaw Stop a few short days before that (June 14). The breezy group formed in 2007, but sounds like it could just have easily been hanging out at Vesuvio in Jack Kerouac Alley or across the street at Specs Bar in 1968, grasping stiff drinks and talking politics and fashion with local drunks.
Although, singer-guitarist Michael Olivares, wife and drummer Virginia Weatherby, and their new dog Jumbo moved to Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood last year thanks to rising rents in Bernal Heights, where they formerly lived. So that old-time SF scenario isn’t quite as picturesque as conjured. But the band still bleeds Bay Area. Olivares and Weatherby frequent nearby 1-2-3-4 Go! Records for vinyl, and the Night Light, the Hemlock, the Knockout, and El Rio for live shows. The band recorded its new album with local legend Kelley Stoltz, and the other three band members — keyboardist Carly Putnam, bassist Matt Roberts and, newish lead guitarist Justin Loney — live scattered throughout SF, in the Tenderloin and the Mission.
Plus, it’s really more the sound that evokes those vintage tastes, those early Nuggets-esque psych-pop ideals. Olivares gets the comparisons and appeal, though hopes his band does not come off as just a carbon copies of the past (it doesn’t). “We definitely like all of that music and other things from that era, that culture,” he says. “We’re aware enough though that I hope to not become just a blatant revivalist band that’s trying to wear tie-dye shirts and bell-bottoms or something.”
But still, the favorable comparison is applicable, “Most of the music I listen to is from that era, the ’60s and ’70s, so I’d say we’re pretty heavily influenced by it.”
This may come as no surprise to listeners still besotted with the Mantles’ self-titled 2010 debut (Siltbreeze), with its nimbly Byrds-like appeal. Yes, three years later (and EP Pink on Mexican Summer in between) the mood remains upbeat, but like the musicians who created it, there’s an older wisdom to the approach.
There’s a seen-it-all-before strength from tracks off Love Enough to Leave such as “Brown Balloon” and only slightly more solemn album closer “Shadow of Your Step.” It’s like the group time-warped and took those free-wheeling early folk popsters back to the garage with them, plugged in and showed them proto-punk, then had a serious conversation about what would happen to the Bay Area in 2013: housing prices will rise again, there will be this thing called the web that changes everything.
When asked what’s changed since he first moved to SF a decade ago, Olivares says it seems like bands have gone poppier (including his own), but also notes there’s been a shift in the sheer number of house shows in SF proper.
He says their migration to the East Bay loosely influenced title track, “Long Enough to Leave,” and “Don’t Cross Town.”
Conversely, there are some more character-based tracks inspired by books and films like Mike Leigh’s comedic camping ode Nuts in May (1976), including jangly opener “Marbled Birds” and the illusory single “Hello,” which initially seems like a pleasant conversation. Cheery to begin with, it feels like candy and turquoise rotary telephones in teenage bedrooms (a ruse, the band members are all actually in their early 30s). But then, it gets to the line, “Hello/Maybe you can help me get out of here.” Ah, the hook, and out comes the reverb. Olivares told me it was actually about a time when his friend in France was sending postcards and he kept forgetting to respond.
While the Mantles may evoke vintage San Francisco, there’s something moving in this week that’s entirely new to the area and musical landscape. The America’s Cup Concert Series at the America’s Cup Pavilion (between Piers 27/29), stricken by neighborhood complaints, finally soldiers forward (but now down to 30 concerts from 40). It’ll be SF’s largest venue — holding up to 9,000 classic rock fans in an outdoor concert bulb connected to the equally maligned America’s Cup. Teamed up with Live Nation, the Pavilion will host a barrage of top 40 acts including Imagine Dragons this weekend, Fri/31, (already sold out).
Then there’ll be Sting, the Steve Miller Band, Counting Crows with the Wallflowers, 311, Train, Sammy Hagar, and it goes on. It’s a rather stale line-up, perhaps best suited for those legitimately excited for the boat races. The youngest group is the Jonas Brothers, after that Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco (all well into their 30s). Perhaps the only really interesting additions are Weezer and the symphony. Here’s hoping the neighbors don’t keep complaining.
And now, a little spring-cleaning for Tofu and Whiskey. Some Bay Area bands are killing it in late May and June. Dreams in the Rat House (Hardly Art), the explosive new full-length from Oakland trio Shannon and the Clams dropped last week. As noted when the single “Rip Van Winkle” was released, the kings and queen of surfy doo-wop have kept up their hip-shaking guitar lines and voracious vocals with a joyfully trashy edge. There’s also now a mini doc on the band, OutofFocus TV’s “American Music Episode 6: featuring Shannon and the Clams,” which you can check on Youtube and Vimeo.
In it, Shannon Shaw, Cody Blanchard, and drummer Ian Amberson (who quit sometime during filming apparently) struggle to describe their band, which leads to a great video edit that includes snippets of each saying words such as “fantastical, ballads, cozy, weirdo, Muppet, punk, oldies.” shannonandtheclams.com. Song to check: “Rip Van Winkle”
After what seems like an eternity (three years and a brief hiatus) Rogue Wave will release new record Nightingale Floors Tue/4 on Vagrant Records. It’s the band’s fifth studio album, and newest since 2010’s Permalight. On Nightingale Floors, bandleader Zach Rogue and longtime drummer Pat Spurgeon battle out demons (death, personal tragedies) and come out the other end with trusted jangly guitars, Rogue’s delicate vocals that still sound like an old friend telling stories, and Spurgeon’s expert off-time drumming — a sharp new release produced by John Congleton (who also produced Rogue’s solo effort, Release the Sunbird). In addition to Rogue and Spurgeon, Nightingale Floors includes contributions by bassist Masanori Mark Christianson, guitarist Peter Pisano, vocalist Jules Baenziner (Sea of Bees) and Mwahaha’s Ross Peacock on synths.
The record seems to take listeners on a narrated life trip, through “College” and “Figured It Out” to the “Siren’s Song,” finally settling on the inevitable with twinkly “When Sunday Morning Comes” and unhurried “Everyone Want to Be You.” Rogue Waves plays the Independent July 13. roguewavemusic.com. Song to check: “No Magnatone”
And then there’s Oakland’s Mortar and Pestle. On its self-titled new full-length, the band projects a vibe akin to a trippier Little Dragon. There are bouncy keyboard lines and scattered found-sound touches boosted by the lush, dreamy vocals of lead singer Janaysa Lambert. On first single “U.V” there’s even the familiar ping-ping-ping of a classic pinball game, forcing you to picture the full Mortar and Pestle set-up placed neatly between games in a 1980s arcade. The synth-pop trio is also one of the first acts to see release on Metal Mother’s new label-collective, Post Primal, so you know it has her stamp of approval. www.mortarandpestlemusic.com Song to check: “Pristine Dream.”
THEATER Tom Stoppard is not a playwright who shies away from topics of unusual size. While other writers might confine themselves more narrowly with plumbing the emotional depths of their protagonists, Stoppard further concerns himself with the very workings of the universe they live in, and the machinery of history and the evolution of thought that informs their relationship to it.
In Arcadia, Stoppard inserts his articulate, intellectually-curious characters into long-winded conversations about Euclidian geometry, determinism, and the second law of thermodynamics, while still giving plenty of stage time to more emotionally-fraught preoccupations such as “carnal knowledge,” public reputation, and even romantic love. Set in both the Romantic age and the modern era, the two storylines are rife with parallel plot points: the philosophical implications of chaos theory; the abrupt self-exile of that most tempestuous of poets, Lord Byron; the struggles of two brilliant female characters to be taken seriously in their respective times; and even a quiet affection for tortoises.
Set primarily in the gracious drawing room of an English estate (designed for this production by Douglas W. Schmidt), the play is nevertheless far from static, spanning, as it does, 200 years of Western thought and several generations of the wonky Coverly clan, who inhabit their Derbyshire home with the carefree insouciance of the very wealthy. However, with the exception of the formidable Lady Croom (Julia Coffey), the expected mannerisms of a stifled upper-class don’t really manifest themselves in either her gifted daughter Thomasina (Rebekah Brockman), or in the modern-day coterie of Coverly siblings, who wander through their stately mansion in hoodies and jeans, speaking frankly of mathematics and sex as if the two passions were one and the same. Indeed, by the end of the play, it’s hard to believe otherwise, testament to Stoppard’s ability to thoroughly contextualize both.
It’s the character of Thomasina, as luminously portrayed by Brockman, who first captures our attention. Armed with precocious directness, the 13-year-old quickly reveals herself to be both sharp-witted and intellectually hungry, tackling Fermat’s Last Theorem, the meaning of “carnal embrace,” and the scientific implications of a bowl of rice pudding with equal intensity. Although her advanced aptitude eventually commands the respect of her otherwise professionally-frustrated tutor, Septimus Hodge (a handsomely rakish Jack Cutmore-Scott), she is constantly and casually dismissed by every other adult in her life — from her forceful mother, to the foppish Captain Brice (Nick Gabriel), to her unpleasant, Eton-educated brother Augustus (Titus Tompkins). Truly a product of her time, even Thomasina’s name is telling — the name given to a girl child whom everyone would have preferred to have been a boy, then left to her own devices until she reaches the age of matrimony.
Shifting to the next scene and the present day, we encounter Hannah Jarvis (a pitch-perfect Gretchen Egolf), a brittle yet erudite academic whose own intelligence has recently come under attack thanks to her controversial book about Lord Byron’s erstwhile lover, Caroline Lamb. As she seeks clues to the identity of the mysterious “Hermit of Sidley Park,” her pragmatic Classicist outlook locks horns with the strident Romanticism of a fellow academic, Bernard Nightingale (a fabulously fatuous Andy Murray) who has come to Sidley Park in search of Lord Byron. The combative chemistry between the two professional and philosophical rivals is one of the production’s great pleasures, and although it’s hard to not delight in Nightingale’s eventual comeuppance, the occasional points he scores in the name of “gut instinct” can be equally cheered.
This is Perloff’s second go-round helming Arcadia, the first occurring in 1995 at the then-Stage Door Theatre (now Ruby Skye). Despite some lags in energy, her measured direction matches the elegance of both the decor and the lofty ideation without sacrificing the sly wit that simmers beneath almost every dialogue. Though the pragmatic, modern-day scientist Valentine (Adam O’Byrne) points out that thanks to the principles of thermodynamics, everything in the universe will eventually wind up “at room temperature,” the emotional heat trapped in the most coolly academic characters nonetheless gradually seeps to the surface. The play’s final scene, a wordless waltz between two unlikely pairs, trembles right at the verge of combustion.
Through June 9
Tue-Sat, 8pm (also Wed and Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2pm, $20-$95
415 Geary, SF