Volume 47 Number 41

So fresh, so clean

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MUSIC In 1992, when Pavement released its seminally crusty, DIY masterstroke Slanted and Enchanted, tape hiss and low fidelity were inherent, unavoidable side-effects of recording on the cheap. As much as that fuzzy production sound complemented the band’s shambolic, punk sensibility, clean recording techniques were only attainable through studios, spendy gear, and other resources unavailable to most garage slackers in Stockton.

Since then, home recording standards have improved dramatically. Professional-quality software like Ableton is easily obtainable via piracy, as is an infinite sea of music-as-source-material, waiting to be lifted, sampled, and recontextualized. in 2013, this increased accessibility has rendered lo-fi recording an aesthetic choice, and no longer an intrinsic property of DIY-ism.

Yet, despite the advent of clean, sterile recording as the “default mode” of DIY music in the age of the laptop-as-recording-studio, a sizable chunk of modern, computer-based music is still permeated by the cultural signifiers and trappings of tape-based lo-fi, from the warped perversion of Ariel Pink, to the fuzzy obfuscation of Dirty Beaches, to the chillwave movement’s heavy-handed reliance on effects and filters. Ostensibly, this lo-fi aesthetic is kept intact partially in order to communicate the sort of subversion-from-the-margins that we associate with punk-rock, and other dissenting art-forms, but over the past few years, a new approach has developed, which not only embraces the stylistic properties of clean recording, but uses that sterility in a fringe context, subverting the order of the music-world similarly to the lowest of lo-fi.

James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual (2011) was a watershed moment in this marriage of anemic production qualities, and the left-field approach of the DIY movement. Whereas Ferraro’s previous albums, such as On Air (2010), presented a fairly standard, Ariel Pink-indebted take on hypnagogic pop, (refracting a broad palette of samples from both high-art and trash-culture through a reverberatious, dreamlike haze of outmoded recording sensibilities), Far Side Virtual opted for a brighter, cleaner more limited set of source material, keeping the dryness of those samples intact. By co-opting stock commercial muzak, cheesy MIDI synths, and a jumble of ringtones, startup chimes, and Siri robot-speak, Ferraro was able to place these sounds into a new cultural framework, without significantly altering their sonic integrity, resulting in an approach now known as vaporwave.

What might resemble generic, innocuous, (yet tastelessly compiled) stock-music, when presented without context, sounds like a scathing attack on the vapidity of techno-capitalism, and our docile complicity as consumers, given the knowledge of Ferraro’s outsider status, and the subversive reputation of the Hippos In Tanks label to which he is signed. The vaporwave trend has expanded since the release of Far Side Virtual, birthing #HDBoyz (a Mountain Dew chugging, Best Buy-patronizing boy-band whose cultural position is complicated by having performed at MoMA in NYC), and even Dis Magazine, a self-described “post-Internet lifestyle” publication that embraces and/or lampoons fashion, commerce, and garish product placement.

Vaporwave, however, is a mere component of the larger, comparatively apolitical movement towards clean, dry textures and production techniques in the DIY context. Laurel Halo’s Quarantine (2012) staged dry, unadorned vocals against a dense, muddled wall of electronica, forcing two sound-worlds to compete for the same space. Ariel Pink’s Mature Themes (2012) marked a Ween-like jump from the murkiness of his earlier work to an unsettlingly arid production aesthetic. This year’s Don’t Look Back, That’s Not Where You’re Going, from Inga Copeland (half of hypnagogic pop duo Hype Williams) rejected the messy, fuzzy jumble of her previous output in favor of a streamlined, Madonna-esque pop approach. Halo, Pink, and Copeland, like Ferraro, are known for operating from the margins of culture and taste, and that’s precisely what renders their use of clean, dry sounds so provocative.

Dean Blunt, the other half of Hype Williams, made an especially striking statement with this year’s debut solo endeavor,The Redeemer, an LP that maintained the scattershot, indiscriminate sampling tactics of Hype Williams’ One Nation (2011) and Blunt and Copeland’s Black is Beautiful (2012), while doing away with the grimy, resinous sonic impurities that permeated those records. Just as Black is Beautiful jumped impulsively between snippets of free-jazz drumming, inept MIDI-flute noodling, underwater video-game music, and other disparate ideas, The Redeemer trades off between K-Ci & JoJo string samples, John Fahey-esque guitar impressionism, intimate voicemail messages, and theatrical piano hammering a la Tori Amos. However, the absence of sonic fuzz presents a novel tension between the album’s haphazard composition, and its clarity of presentation, deeming Blunt’s intentions far more ambiguous this time around.

Whereas Black is Beautiful‘s lo-fi approach placed its component samples squarely in the domain of weirdo art, fulfilling expectations of what DIY music “should” sound like,The Redeemer forces its listeners to consider each snippet at face value. “Imperial Gold,” a twee, brightly produced folk tune towards the end of the album, would fit comfortably in a Portlandia episode, but what are we supposed to make of it, coming from Dean Blunt, the outsider? Does it present a moment of sincerity, a tongue-in-cheek jab against the art-world, or both? Much like Ferraro with Far Side Virtual, Blunt subverts the meaning of his musical gestures with simple shifts of context.

Similarly to Pavement’s initiation of the lo-fi movement,using the limited resources at their disposal, this emerging trend of cleanly-produced laptop music represents the confluence of modest means and radical ideas. If anyone in the ’90s could start a three-chord garage band, surely anyone in 2013 with a laptop can compose original music from the scraps of their sample library. However, like punk, the lo-fi approach has lost much of its potency in the last 20 years, and simply cannot provoke the same bewilderment that it used to. By using sterile, dry sounds for subversive effect, provocateurs like Blunt and Ferraro have inflamed the art-world all over again. This is the punk rock of the Internet age.

Unfinished business

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THEATER About two years ago, a small band of Brits came on an exploratory mission from the South of England to the Bay Area. They wanted to discover what, if anything, they had in common with their American counterparts in the theater world. The trip ended with a party in the Mission, where UK performance duo Action Hero performed A Western for their new friends way out West.

And that might have been that. But a year later, in 2012, Action Hero (Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse) was back, this time leading a workshop-residency at CounterPULSE. This collaboration with local artists (six people drawn mostly from the experimental dance and performance world) produced a one-night smorgasbord of performance, complete with a dining area, a menu, and a wait staff to bring you to your performance when it was ready.

The evening was also a lively mixer, in which a friendly, jocular man named Ben Francombe — head of the pedagogically radical theater department at the small arts-focused University of Chichester in West Sussex — was an enthusiastic participant.

As Francombe explained at the time, the school of performing arts at his university was eager to maintain contact with places like CounterPULSE as a partner in creative exchanges. “We share a commitment to the idea of ‘exchange’ in creative processes,” he wrote, in an email correspondence shortly before arriving in San Francisco, “and how artists develop methods of working through sharing ideas that are ‘foreign’ and different from their established practice. As an arts-based university, we are very interested in exploring ways in which our international connections stimulate our cultural ideas.”

He added, “As a department we have a unique commitment to developing small-scale artists, and exploring radical ideas on the nature of theater and performance through facilitating interesting artists in interesting creative contexts.”

That sounds good on paper, but what would it really mean in practice? The Chichester folks were the first to admit they didn’t really know but were seriously interested in finding out, as long as their counterparts here were game to work on it together.

It turned out many were. The call for a joint programs of exchange geared to artist-centered new work found receptive ears among the experimental dance and performance makers gathered around CounterPULSE — whose working methods are already more or less akin to the devised approach facilitated at Chichester — but it also attracted people in the theater scene, where devised work (ensemble-driven theater built from the ground up) has its champions in companies like Mugwumpin and the work of artists like playwright-director Mark Jackson and actor Beth Wilmurt, co-creators of The Companion Piece at Z Space in 2011. Indeed, Z Space was soon onboard for more contact across the pond. Meanwhile, Jackson, Wilmurt, and CounterPULSE’s Julie Phelps all went over to Chichester in February of this year to see the university’s theater-performance MA program in action.

This year, Chichester’s open-ended and open-minded dialogue with San Francisco’s theater and performance scene ramped up considerably with a just completed summer intensive at Z Space. And there’s more just ahead, including a festival of devised performance in October (at CounterPULSE) and, if all goes well, the inauguration sometime in 2014 of an international MFA program in theater-performance making exclusively linked to San Francisco.

“We decided to come here a couple of years ago,” says Louie Jenkins, a solo artist and Chichester faculty member who led the summer intensive in partnership with Mark Jackson. (Jackson has detailed the evolution of his involvement with, and his firsthand experience at, Chichester in an editorial promoting the intensive in Theatre Bay Area magazine.) “[We were] trying to understand what was happening here and whether what we did fit in with the ethos here. So we met with these different people. And the sense we had was that this was a fertile place.”

The summer intensive involved 16 artists, including several Chichester masters students mixed in with the disparate group of local theater, dance, and performance practitioners. It also came with a public component, designed to further introduce this type of work to local audiences. This included a showing of MA student work and a shrewd little piece by Box Tracy Theatre Dance Company (Nixx Strapp-Freeman and Valerie Watkinson) at CounterPULSE.

It also included last Saturday’s completely sold-out showing at ZBelow of work generated during the intensive — four pieces by four groupings of British and local artists. No director, no playwright, no set designers — the artists did everything, being responsible for the whole experience. The title of the evening was “Unfinished Business,” and yet it felt startlingly complete as an evening of performance. Still, the title is both apt and promising. At the same time, it was arguably one of the more exciting things to happen in a local theater for a long time.

“We often talk about accidents,” says Jenkins, whose own history as an artist and resident of San Francisco in the 1990s inspired Chichester’s initial foray into the Bay Area. “Out of this process of trying to make work, an accident will happen, and that becomes what the piece is about. I know it’s a luxury to have time and space to be able to look at the processes, but in [the usual mode of theatrical production] there is very little flexibility for mistakes to happen, for accidents to happen. I think that is when the excitement comes into theater.” 

For information on the MFA program as it emerges and for details on the formal launch in October 2013: www.chi.ac.uk/theatremaking

 

Summer ghouls

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emilysavage@sfbg.com

TOFU AND WHISKEY In these past three years, Phono Del Sol has built itself up into a tastemaker midsummer’s indie music fest — and it’s one to watch. It makes sense: the one-day fest is curated by on-the-pulse local blog, the Bay Bridged.

And beyond the interesting (and mostly local) band choices — the first year featured Aesop Rock and Mirah, last year the Fresh and Onlys and Mwahaha, and this year Thee Oh Sees, YACHT, Bleached, and K. Flay will headline — there’s something about the approach and atmosphere that calms the nerves.

It’s in the Mission’s Potrero Del Sol park, a hilly, grassy area bordered by an active skate park. During the fest, skaters whizz by near the bands, and street food vendors offer salty snacks on the other side of the stage.

The event tends to inhabit a particular San Francisco garage scene vibe of yesteryear, apart from current complications brewing in the nearby neighborhood between the old and new, the tech workers and SF lifers.

One of the newest bands on this year’s bill fits this feeling as well, the young garage pop four-piece Cool Ghouls. The psych-inflected group is relaxed and gracious, perhaps not yet jaded by the outlying music community or industry. And they’ll be bringing a horn section to Phono Del Sol this year. (Sat/13, 11:30am-7pm, $20. Potrero Del Sol Park, 25th Street at Utah, SF. www.phonodelsol.com).

Cool Ghouls, named after a phrase George Clinton used in a Parliament Funkadelic concert film, are a bit giggly during our conversation from lead guitarist Ryan Wong’s Duboce Park area apartment. They seem new to this whole recognition thing, and thusly, speak candidly, and nearly in circles. Singer Pat McDonald, bassist Pat Thomas, and Wong all grew up in the Bay Area, attending high school in Benicia together, and met up again in San Francisco after college. Alex Fleshman met the others when he went to San Francisco State University.

They formed in early 2011 and began playing shows almost immediately — in early spring of that year, showing up at brick-and-mortar spots, house shows, even Serra Bowl before it closed, and at Noise Pop. That’s where they first crossed my path, as they began popping up at shows on a frequent basis. “Now, we’re being asked to play more local shows then we can play,” Thomas says. “Pat McDonald seems to know a lot of people somehow, maybe it’s his hair? Or he’s just like, really nice.”

Their self-titled debut full-length, recorded by Tim Cohen of Fresh and Onlys and Magic Trick, saw release this April on Empty Cellar Records. “We thought we could record a whole album by ourselves, so we recorded 90 percent of it on an eight-track recorder,” Wong says. “We showed Arvel [Hernandez], who runs Empty Cellar Records…he told us ‘the songs are really good but the recording is just shitty.'”

He enlisted Cohen to record it, and said he’d release it on Empty Cellar. They were ecstatic with the revelation, and excited to work with the talented Cohen. They spent a few days in his Western Addition home, rerecording the full album while crammed in Cohen’s bedroom at the top of a towering Victorian near Alamo Square.

Cohen’s since become a de facto advocate for the band, writing a glowing press release about Cool Ghouls and the album, in which he defiantly explains “First things first: Cool Ghouls are not a retro act… Truth be told, this being their first official release, they may even be a bit naïve in their dogged pursuit of the true-blue, home-spun, rock and roll lifestyle.”

Though he later concedes, “If one were to ascribe to them a ’60s-reverent description, as one often does in the case of San Francisco bands, one would most likely find an artistic kinship with some of the most inimitable, idiosyncratic, yet unmistakably influential bands of the retro-fitting oeuvre. The Troggs, The Monks, Sir Douglas Quintet come to mind immediately. (Save your Kinks and Rolling Stones references.) Like the aforementioned, the Ghouls are natural heirs to the folkloric lineage which precedes them, adding dashes of weirdness where needed.”

The group laughs when I bring up the Cohen praise, “it’s so funny things people take away from press releases…but he did a really good job of writing that, I didn’t even know he understood us that well,” Thomas says. “He doesn’t give you that much in person, he’s a pretty stoic guy, so it’s been really cool to see that through all of that, he was digging us.”

“We were all kind of intimidated, then that came out, and I didn’t have any idea he was even writing anything,” Wong adds.

The Ghouls are democratic, and all are multi-instrumentalists, with each group member writing songs and bringing the skeletons to the group to flesh out. And many of the tracks on the album do evoke that garage pop weirdness Cohen identified, and also a casual self-awareness.

Thomas wrote joyful first single “Natural Life” quickly and brought it to the band. The perfectly corresponding video by his film student brother Rob Thomas features the band frolicking in the Marin Headlands and Sutro Baths. “That whole organic approach, natural approach, putting your pieces in place and then just winging it, is something that we generally do — it keeps it collaborative,” Thomas says.

Another standout, is mid-tempo “Witches Game,” which singer McDonald wrote, starting with the fuzzy guitar riff that rides strong through the track.

Woozy, surfy “Grace” was one of the first songs they ever played together, and usually closes out their live sets. And they agree that jangly psych-pop “Queen Sophie” was one of the more collaborative songs. There’ll be a proper video for that one out soon too.

“The whole album was a group effort. I think of it as a specific piece of where we were at when we recorded it,” Wong says.

The album artwork is worth noting as well, a collage-painting made by Thomas with a big glittery sun, swirly watercolor images of clouds, snowy mountaintops, red-yellow fire, and a colorful rooster. The images weren’t meant necessarily to reflect the songs on the album, but ended up having some meaning after the fact.

“I was just trying to represent what I lean toward anyway, like if it’s a painting I make, it’ll probably evoke the music I make, just because I’m making both of them,” Thomas says. “But liked the rooster image because I was thinking about the way roosters strut, and this is our first album.”

Wong pipes up, “I feel the way the album is with these songs, [it’s about] the morning, and the ideas of the natural life. It’s appropriate because it’s our first album, but maybe I’m looking too much into it?”

Cool Ghouls will move on soon anyway — they’re currently prepping new songs and plan to record a second album this August.

 

DAVINCI

Fillmore District-raised emcee DaVinci plays this free show alongside fellow burgeoning local rap duo Main Attrakionz, Young Gully, Shady Blaze, Ammbush, and Sayknowledge. DaVinci has been releasing tracks for a few years, in late 2012 dropping full-length The MOEna Lisa with an ode to SF in track “In My City” with the telling lyric, “Trying to push us out of the city/but we ain’t leaving,” in a hoarse whisper, but also referencing favorite spots like the waffle house at Fillmore and Eddy (Gussies).

Wed/10, 9pm, free. Brick and Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission, SF; www.brickandmortarmusic.com.

 

JAPONIZE ELEPHANTS

The elegant yet spooky old-world-carnival act Japonize Elephants — noted for drawing sounds from eclectic styles like gypsy jazz, bluegrass, and klezmer — will celebrate the vinyl release party for newest album Mélodie fantastique, this week at Amnesia. Go, and witness all the instrumentation you can handle (fiddle, banjo, glockenspiel, vibraphone, accordion, percussion, surf guitar), along with four-part vocal harmonies. A group of waltzing ghosts, like the ones you find on the Haunted Mansion ride, wouldn’t seem out of place here.

Thu/11, 9:30pm, $7–$10. Amnesia, 853 Valencia, SF. www.amnesiathebar.com.

 

Hey, baby

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culture@sfbg.com

LIT A new children’s book with a social justice, all-inclusive approach to reproduction? To anyone who might question the need for such a thing, look no further than Toronto-based sexual health educator and writer Cory Silverberg‘s enormously successful crowdfunding campaign to get it published: $65,000 in one month. Not too bad to kickstart a picture book, eh?

Silverberg, along with illustrator Fiona Smyth, noticed that the existing resources for parents to explain to preschool-aged children where they came from are by default heterosexual and gender binary-based, thus excluding many families and children. These books also don’t provide much guidance on topics like adoption or alternative fertilization methods. Silverberg’s fundraising campaign gave LGBT parents an opportunity to prove demand for a factual, age-appropriate, children’s book inclusive to all families regardless of how many people were involved, what the orientation, gender identity, or other make up of the family is, or how it came to be that way.

Parents in the Bay Area offered a lot of the support. Dr. Sonja Mackenzie, faculty at the Health Equity Institute and Center for Research and Education on Gender and Sexuality (CREGS) at San Francisco State University is a queer parent of two children, aged three and seven. Dr. Mackenzie started looking for resources about birth and reproduction when her daughter was two and she was pregnant with her second child. She and her partner sought out media providing age-appropriate but real information about reproduction that reflected their two-mom family structure. For years they found nothing.

Which is why when she saw the What Makes A Baby campaign, she pre-ordered copies for their daughter’s first grade class and their son’s preschool class. Dr. Mackenzie said her favorite parts of the book are the questions that ask children to reflect on “who helped bring together the sperm and the egg that made you?” — because of the possibilities for varied family structures that question allows for. That, she says, “is beyond what we have ever seen represented in children’s books.” She also notes the tear-jerker at the close of the book that asks, “Who was waiting for you to be born?” alongside a depiction of many and varied people surrounding a baby.

Bay Area backer Vicki Hudson, parent to two kids aged four and one, also started looking for books when her wife was pregnant with their second child. What Makes A Baby “enables many different types of families to feel represented. Our story was there.” She also appreciated the physiological accuracy of the preschool material. Hudson believes that using accurate reproductive terms empowers children.

Another family structure included in the story’s framework is that of a single parent household. Hilary Brooks of Berkeley is a single mother by choice, whose five-year-old daughter has a known sperm donor. Brooks was excited about the book because she was “ecstatic to see this entry for young children… it’s more accurate, includes everyone, and will not alienate many of the children it needs to reach.” Once she received her copy she was not disappointed, “I love that love is included in this book, and that it is reframed as love for every child from their family — instead of originating in hetero lovemaking, like it was in the sex-ed books I read growing up.” Which is a main premise of Silverberg’s work, to provide a sexual education resource that is straight friendly, but is also for the parents who don’t have anything else right now.

Are mainstream publishers beginning to recognize this demand? There’s still an overwhelming amount of stigma associated with any book related to alternative sexuality. Despite the actual facts of life, books like What Makes A Baby are still too risky for mainstream publishers, it seems. Or maybe it just takes a little pitch in a language they understand. After the outpouring of immediate and public financial support for Silverberg’s book, he was approached by multiple publishing houses, and has signed a three-book deal with Seven Stories Press, beginning with What Makes A Baby. Silverberg’s next volume might well be What Makes a Book Contract.

CORY SILVERBERG: WHAT MAKES A BABY AUTHOR RECEPTION AND “CROWDFUNDING FOR SEX” WORKSHOP

Fri/12, 7:30 reception, free. 8:30 workshop, $10-$50 sliding scale

Center for Sex and Culture

1349 Mission, SF.

(415) 902-2071

www.sexandculture.org

Once upon a time in Oakland

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM By now you’ve heard of Fruitvale Station, the debut feature from Oakland-born filmmaker Ryan Coogler. With a cast that includes Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer and rising star Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Friday Night Lights), the film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, winning both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize en route to being scooped up for distribition by the Weinstein Company. A few months later, Coogler, a USC film school grad who just turned 27, won Best First Film at Cannes.

Accolades are nice, especially when paired with a massive PR push from a studio known for bringing home little gold men. But particularly in the Bay Area, the true story behind Fruitvale Station eclipses even the most glowing pre-release hype. The film opens with real footage captured by cell phones the night 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot in the back by BART police, a tragedy that inspired multiple protests and grabbed national headlines. With its grim ending already revealed, Fruitvale Station backtracks to chart Oscar’s final hours, with a deeper flashback or two fleshing out the troubled past he was trying to overcome.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yy1znso-fc

Mostly, though, Fruitvale Station is very much a day in the life, with Oscar (Jordan, in a nuanced performance) dropping off his girlfriend at work, picking up supplies for a birthday party, texting friends about New Year’s Eve plans, and deciding not to follow through on a drug sale. Inevitably, much of what transpires is weighted with extra meaning — Oscar’s mother (Spencer) advising him to “just take the train” to San Francisco that night; Oscar’s tender interactions with his young daughter; the death of a friendly stray dog, hit by a car as BART thunders overhead. It’s a powerful, stripped-down portrait that belies Coogler’s rookie-filmmaker status.

I spoke with Coogler the day after Fruitvale Station‘s emotional local premiere at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater.

San Francisco Bay Guardian How was the screening at the Grand Lake?

Ryan Coogler It was intense! Pretty much everybody at the screening had a stake in the film and the story: being from the Bay Area, being there when [Grant’s death] happened, being a member of Oscar’s family, being an employee of BART or a law enforcement officer, being a member of my family, or being someone who opened up their home or business to our film. Everybody was there under one roof, you know? In many ways, we wanted our film to be something that brought people together — and that screening was a personification of that.

SFBG The film doesn’t make Oscar out to be a saint; rather, it shows that he was a real human who’d made some serious mistakes. Were you careful to portray him that way?

RC Absolutely. We set out to examine him through the lens of his relationships with the people who knew him best. I think that’s often what’s not looked at, in terms of tragedies that get politicized like this: people forget that this guy was a person who mattered to specific people — and he couldn’t make it home to those people. When you know somebody intimately, you know their good qualities and their faults. You know their flaws firsthand, and [their behavior] affects you firsthand. I think it would have been a mistake not to look at the things he was struggling with in his life.

SFBG You were born in 1986, the same year as Oscar, and you’re both from the East Bay. Were there other things that drew you to his story?

RC Those commonalities were a major factor. But young people like Oscar Grant’s lives are lost constantly over violence, and I was really interested in exploring why it happens, and why people shouldn’t be OK with it.

Oscar was the kind of person who is often marginalized, both in the media and in fiction films. I thought that giving his story this type of personal perspective could be eye-opening for people that wouldn’t get to know a character like him in their own lives. So that’s what really drew me to it — to add a perspective that might promote some healing and some growth.

SFBG What was the reaction when members of Oscar’s community found out you were making the film?

RC The Bay Area is culturally diverse, but it’s also diverse as far as opinions go. Obviously, there were people on both sides of the fence, since this was a complicated situation. Some people were glad the story was being told; others were like, “That story doesn’t deserve to be told.” There were also a lot of opinions between those two ends of the spectrum. But overwhelmingly, the community supported the film in many ways, especially when they found out the approach we were taking.

SFBG Did you ever consider making the BART cops full-fledged characters, or did you always plan to just focus on Oscar?

RC I decided from the beginning that Oscar would be the focal point of the story. That was the type of film that I wanted to make, and that was the one perspective that I felt wasn’t really heard — because he’s not around to speak anymore. In terms of filmmaking, it was really a creative choice. You have these types of films that follow one character around, and we really wanted to follow Oscar and see how other characters bump off of him. In the scope of his day, the cops were only involved for a very small amount of time.

SFBG BART itself is almost a character in the film. It’s something that non-locals might not pick up on, but Bay Area residents will be able to tell how carefully you chose your locations to include it in the background.

RC When I was researching the film, I noticed a lot of things that were always there, but that I hadn’t thought about before. In San Francisco, BART is underground. You don’t see or hear it when you’re walking around. In the East Bay, however, it’s always above you. Oscar’s from the East Bay, and I’m from the East Bay, so that’s how I know BART. It’s something that you can always hear in the distance — and it’s something that rushes over you. 

 

FRUITVALE STATION opens Fri/12 in Bay Area theaters.

We are the weirdos, mister

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emilysavage@sfbg.com

FILM RuPaul’s Drag Race season four winner Sharon Needles and boyfriend/season five finalist Alaska Thunderfuck rarely do live shows together. But for Peaches Christ, and her stage-and-screen showing of witchtacular occult movie The Craft (1996), they made an exception.

The Pittsburgh-based couple will star alongside one another in Christ’s Craft-based pre-movie play, as pure evil “Nancy” (originally played to perfection by wild-eyed, real life Wiccan actress Fairuza Balk) and Neve Campbell’s scarred and shy “Bonnie.” The rest of the gothy teen coven will be filled out by Christ as good witch “Sarah” and San Francisco’s first RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Honey Mahogany as “Rochelle.”

“It’s such a foursome vehicle,” Christ says in a phone call. “I said to Sharon, ‘how do you feel about working with your boyfriend?’ Obviously it makes more sense for them to split themselves up and do more gigs. And especially since Sharon was such a phenomenon and Alaska is now coming fresh off the show, and she was such a hit. But I said, ‘see if you’ll make an exception for me?'”

Christ has been sending up cult classics in San Francisco since 1998, and says that it’s become increasingly clear that she needs to keep looking for newly cult titles. (This November look out for 9 to 5 with Pandora Boxx , and likely, a Clueless send-up.) “[The Craft] was brought to my attention by some of my fans these past few years, so I rewatched it and determined like, oh my god, why did I ever dismiss this? It’s witchy goth girls. It’s everything, it’s grunge, it’s goth, it’s witch.”

And Thunderfuck and Needles were both enamored of the film from an early age.

“It was like, one of those movies that everyone knew and saw when I was in high school and it made us feel like we were witches too, which we weren’t, we were just like, nerdy theater kids,” Thunderfuck nasally says from a Best Western hotel in Chicago. “But it made us feel really badass. And everyone was a weirdo in high school anyway.”

“And I’m from the ’90s so the witchcraft was always there,” Needles adds.

The film has grown cult thanks to now-iconic scenes of the witches looking fierce at Catholic school, walking in a line down the hallways with sexy ’90s music filling the montages. Favorites scenes by the performers include the ones of the witches down at the beach, intensely invoking “Manon” then passing out after an electric bolt hits Nancy, or the next morning, walking by beached whales and sharks, or giddily casting spells on another while driving through town, or vividly messing with teen-queen parties, and throwing sleazy jerks out of windows.

During our conversation, Needles perfectly intones the Nancy line, “then why are you still bleeding?!”

“I’ll tell you, this was one of the hardest and most challenging stage plays I’ve ever had to write, because the movie is so full of moments that people love, trying to cram them into a 50-minute stage show was almost impossible — I had to go back in and kind of kill babies here and there,” Christ says. “My memory of it was that it was a lot tamer, and a lot more PG-13 then it is. It’s actually rated R and it’s harsh, and in some ways really horrifying. The way the girls treat each other, even despite the violence or the snakes — I hate snakes — just the meanness of the witches.”

That meanness should play out in some deviously amusing ways during Christ’s The Craft: Of Drag show before the film. The queens play themselves emulating characters in the movie, with key scenes thrown in (someone will get thrown out of a window, and there will be a levitating “light as a feather, stiff as a board” moment) — but with a Drag Race twist. The reason the witches all turn on Christ’s “Sarah” this time, is because she’s never been on Drag Race.

This inevitably leads to the question of why not? “I don’t think I’d survive,” Christ says. “I’ve said this to Sharon, I admire them so much for being able to go on that show but Peaches is a very established character that I’ve been doing for a long, long, long time, so it’s very hard for me in a lot of ways to be flexible. You know, I always wear that Bozo the Clown paint, and I just know I’d be ripped to shreds,” she says. Though she has been sending out signals to producers World of Wonder and RuPaul that she should come on as a guest judge for a hypothetical Scream Queen challenge.

It was the show, however, that first introduced her to Needles — Elvira was the guest judge on the first episode of Needles’ season, and she fell in love with the queen (who spurts blood from her mouth during her runway walk). Elvira immediately told Christ, and that’s why she first reached out to Needles, last year.

Along with heaps of praise for Elvira, and the show in general, Needles and Thunderfuck both tell me the drama in their seasons was all real.

Says Needles, “When you take 13 adult males and dress them up like teenage girls, take away their cigarettes and booze, and force them in front of a camera for 16 hours a day for two months, you don’t need a producer or a storyboard, it writes itself.”

PEACHES CHRIST PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS THE CRAFT

Sat/13, 3pm and 8pm, $25

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.castrotheatre.com

Volume 47 Number 41 Flip-through Edition

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City College will appeal

9

OPINION City College will appeal last week’s decision by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to revoke City College’s accreditation.

The reason for the appeal is simple: Most of what ACCJC asked for has been accomplished, and the rest is well on its way towards completion within a year.

First, the San Francisco City College district is financially secure. This is not a district that is close to fiscal collapse. This year’s audit was “clean,” and the budget is balanced, thanks to multiple cost-saving reorganizations, large spending cuts, reforms in practices, and the passage of Propositions A and 30. City College also has a healthy reserve fund well above that of state requirements. City College is even squirreling away money for a special “Ninth year” fund in the event that voters don’t reapprove Prop A when it expires 8 years from now.

The City College budget also increases spending in areas that ACCJC wanted: there is nearly $3 million per year for new technology and building maintenance, both long deferred through the years of radical state funding cuts. City College is also paying money towards the unpaid liability in retiree health benefits. The City of San Francisco also has this kind of liability — to the tune of $4.4 billion — but has so far not come up with a plan to deal with it. City College, on the other hand, has a plan and the funds to enact it.

City College has also cut costs by millions of dollars. There have been layoffs and furloughs, and salary cuts. For instance, faculty members are earning 5 percent less than they did in 2007. Department chairs are earning less, and the Board of Trustees just cut administrators salaries. Streamlined operations have resulted in other savings.

Governance is another area where City College has made major changes. There have been five major management overhauls to streamline bureaucracy, increase efficiency and speed the carrying out of decisions. And many administrators have been replaced. Any one of these overhauls could ordinarily have taken a year each to implement. There were all done in a matter of months.

For instance, the job description of every dean’s position was completely rewritten; some posts disappeared, and new ones were created. Every dean had to reapply for a job, and many did not return. The same is true for other management positions.

City College also replaced a decades-old department chair structure with a system that costs less and has simpler lines of authority. And last fall, the Board of Trustees acted to completely restructure the Participatory Governance system. This is a state-mandated system of getting input from faculty and staff into management decisions. Over 40 committees were dissolved and replaced with a more streamlined system.

The faculty and staff also worked hard in fixing problems identified by ACCJC, particularly in the areas of planning. One of the most important of these is in the collection of Student Learning Outcome data -– a measure of how well students do. Faculty filed thousands of reports in order to fulfill this requirement, a truly enormous amount of work. The collected data will then be used to improve courses next year. This cycle of planning, data collection, and improvement are the basis of ongoing reform effort that takes a year at minimum to prove that it’s working. There is a lot more work to be done in this area. It will take another year to complete — if City College is given the time.

Not everyone at the college agrees with all of the changes that were made. People have the right to express their views, and indeed, we want the internal experts to speak up and give their best advice. And given the speed and monumental scope of the changes, it is very likely that these changes have flaws and that improvements can be made.

But regardless of what people think of the changes that have occurred, these are changes that ACCJC asked for. City College neither ignored nor fought ACCJC’s recommendations, as many people wish we had. City College’s response was to work to enact ACCJC’s will as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, the decision to revoke accreditation will harm City College’s otherwise good financial position by causing a large drop in student enrollment for fall — and the loss of millions of dollars in state funding. Ironically, this will make it more difficult to finish what ACCJC wants done.

The best course for students is to let City College retain accreditation while it finishes the job that ACCJC wants done.

John Rizzo is President of the City College Board of Trustees

 

More ill winds

8

EDITORIAL After years of hype, the 34th America’s Cup finally got underway on the San Francisco Bay this past week — with a single boat formally winning in a match against itself, a fitting metaphor for this whole disappointing affair.

Emirates Team New Zealand sailed solo while its Italian would-be competitor, Luna Rossa, stayed ashore to protest a rule change on rudder design that had been unilaterally decided by regatta director Iain Murray. The third competitor with Larry Ellison’s Oracle Racing team that is defending the cup and hosting the event, Swedish team Artemis, was still trying to rebuild its vessel after a tragic accident resulted in the death of a renowned sailor in May.

It was a lame kickoff. The anticipated hordes of race-goers have yet to materialize, with the once-regal America’s Cup reduced to just another Fisherman’s Wharf tourist trap. In a display that might as well have been used to entice tourists to the Wax Museum, a barker outside the event’s sprawling Pier 27 spectator area fruitlessly tried to lure passersby: “See the fastest boats in the world!”

In an interview with ABC7 news, Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts declared the Italians to be “acting like a bunch of spoiled babies,” adding that if they didn’t want to race, they should just leave. You could practically hear the event’s corporate sponsors burying their faces in the palms of their hands.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 2010, when software tycoon Larry Ellison of the Oracle Racing Team hinted to city officials that he might want to stage the next Cup on the Bay, if not Italy or some other exotic destination, economists with the Bay Area Council trumpeted the economic gain that stood to be reaped if Ellison’s plan was realized.

Since a dozen teams competed during the last America’s Cup, the authors of the study reasoned, at least as many could be expected to join this time around. Those initial projections — $1.4 billion in economic activity (like three Super Bowls!, the analysts enthused), thousands of new jobs, a tourism windfall — sounded so rosy in part because 15 syndicates were expected to compete.

But in time, this optimism faded and the city is arguably on the hook for millions in race-related costs. Fortunately, then-District 6 Sup. Chris Daly scuttled an initial plan to cede vast swaths of city-owned waterfront property to Ellison in exchange for the expected economic gain, thus averting an even greater loss.

Meanwhile, Oracle is weathering accusations that it cheated by slipping a design change into a list of safety recommendations, conveniently granting itself a competitive edge. An international jury’s decision on whether to honor the rule change was still up in the air at press time. While we at the Guardian find ourselves rooting for the Kiwis, we remind Ellison that it isn’t too late to right this ship — and cutting a check to the city to cover its losses would be a great place to start.

Who killed City College?

news@sfbg.com

The day City College of San Francisco heard it would close was the same day, July 3, that 19-year-old Dennis Garcia signed up for his fall classes.

With a manila folder tucked under his arm, he turned the corner away from the registration counter and strode by a wall festooned with black and white sketches of every City College chancellor since 1935, including a portrait of bespectacled founder Archibald Cloud. In a meeting room on the other side of that wall, the college’s current administrators were receiving the verdict from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

It was their worst fears of the past year realized: City College’s accreditation was being revoked. Accreditation is necessary for the college to receive state funding, for students to get federal loans, and for the degree to be worth more than the paper it’s printed on.

Unbeknownst to Garcia, he walked out of the building just as the college received its death sentence, which is scheduled to be carried out next July unless appeals now underway offer a reprieve. In the interim, CCSF will essentially be a ward of the state, stripped of the local control it has enjoyed since Cloud’s days.

Just a few blocks down Ocean Avenue is the nerve center of City College’s teachers union. Housed in a flat above a Laundromat, the scent of freshly washed clothes wafted up the staircase to an office that instantly became a flurry of ringing phones and rushed voices.

Only an hour later, 10 or so union volunteers were calling their members, contacting nearly 1,600 City College faculty whose responses ranged from sad to furious. The volunteers read them bulleted factoids about accreditation and a call to join an upcoming protest march.

But the woes of City College reach deeper than a three line script could ever cover, and can be traced back to the oval office itself, leading to a really odd question: Did President Obama kill City College?

 

 

PRESSURE FROM THE TOP

When the president trumpeted education in his 2012 State of the Union speech, he sounded an understandable sentiment. “States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets,” Obama told the nation. “And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down.”

But the specifics of how to cut costs were outlined by years of policymaking and a State of the Union supplement sheet given to the press.

The president’s statement said that they will determine which colleges receive aid, “either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.”

The emphasis is ours, but the translation is very simple: College accreditation agencies can either enforce the administration’s numbers-based plan or be replaced. The president’s college reform is widely known and hotly debated in education circles. Commonly known as the “completion agenda,” with an emphasis on measurable outcomes in job placement, it had its start under President George W. Bush, but Obama carried the torch.

The idea is that colleges divest from community-based programs not directly related to job creation or university degrees, and use a data measurement approach to ensure two-year schools transfer and graduate students in greater numbers. “Community colleges” would quickly become “junior colleges,” accelerating a slow transition that began many years ago.

But its critics say completion numbers are screwy: They discount students who are at affordable community colleges just to learn a single skill and students who switch schools, administrator Sanford Shugart of Valencia College in Florida wrote in an essay titled “Moving the Needle on College Completion Thoughtfully.”

Funding decisions made from completion numbers affect millions of students nationwide — and CCSF has now become the biggest laboratory rat in this experiment in finding new ways to feed the modern economy.

“I think there was a general consensus that the country is in a position that, coming out of the recession, we have diminished resources,” Paul Feist, spokesperson for the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, told us. “Completion is important to the nation — if you talk to economic forecasters, there’s a huge demand for educated workers. Completion is not a bad thing.”

Like dominoes, the federal agenda and Obama’s controversial Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tipped the Department of Education, followed by the ACCJC, and now City College — an activist school in an activist city and an institution that openly defied the new austerity regime.

 

WINNING THE BATTLE

In the ACCJC’s Summer 2006 newsletter, Brice Harris — then an accreditation commissioner, now chancellor of the state community college system — described the conflict that arose when colleges rallied against completion measurements established by the federal government.

“In the current climate of increased accountability, our regional accrediting associations find that tight spot to be more like a vice,” Harris wrote.

Many of the 14 demands the ACCJC made of City College trace back to the early days of Obama’s administration, when local trustees resisted slashing the curriculum during the Great Recession.

“There’s a logic to saying ‘We don’t want to put students on the street in the middle of a recession,'” said Karen Saginor, former City College academic senate president. “If you throw out the students, you can’t put them in the closet for two years and bring them back when you have the money.”

And they have a lot of students — more than 85,000. Like all community colleges in California, the price of entry is cheap, at $46 a unit and all welcome to attend. But since 2008, the system was hammered with budget cuts of more than $809 million, or 12 percent of its budget.

So programs were cut, including those for seniors, ex-inmates re-entering society, or young people enrolling to learn Photoshop or some other skill without committing to a four-year degree.

“As the recession hit, the Legislature instructed the community college system [to] prioritize basic skills, career technical, and transfer,” Feist said. “That’s to a large extent what we did. That was the reshaping of the mission of that whole system.”

It’s easy to cast the completion agenda as a shadowy villain in a grand dilemma, but as Feist or anyone on the federal level would note, people were already being pushed out of the system, to the tune of more than 500,000 students since the 2008-09 academic year due to the budget crisis. Course offerings have been slashed by 24 percent, according to the state chancellor’s office.

But City College would only go so far. Then-Chancellor Don Q. Griffin raised the battle cry against austerity and the completion agenda at an October 2011 board meeting, his baritone voice sounding one of his fullest furies.

“It was obvious to me when I heard Bush … and then Obama talking about the value of community colleges … they’re going to push out poor people, people of color, people who cannot afford to go anywhere else except the community college,” he said.

But when it came to paying for that pushback, things got tricky.

“No more of this bullshit, that we turn the other way and say it’s fine. We’re going to concentrate the money on the students,” Griffin said at a December 2011 board meeting. “You guys are talking about cutting classes, we don’t believe in that. Cut the other stuff first, cut it until it hurts, and then talk about cutting classes.”

So he slashed his own salary and lost staff through attrition and other means. The college had more than 70 administrators before 2008, and it now has fewer than 40.

“Since the recession in 2009, we’ve been seen as the rebels,” said Jeffrey Fang, a former student trustee on City College’s board. “When most of the colleges went and made cuts in light of the recession, we decided to find ways to keep everything open while doing what we could to eliminate spending.”

But those successes in saving classes put City College on a collision course with its accreditor.

 

LOSING THE WAR

Seven years ago, the ACCJC found six deficiencies that it asked City College to fix, finding it had too many campuses serving too many students, fiscal troubles, and hadn’t enforced measurement standards. Last year, it faulted City College for resisting those changes and tacked on eight additional demands, threatening to revoke its accreditation.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official who worked closely with ACCJC as a member of one of the visiting accreditation teams told us there was pressure to crack down on all the Western colleges.

“The message they’re hearing from (ACCJC President) Barbara Beno is that Washington is demanding, ‘Why are you not being more strict with institutions with deficiencies that have lasted more than two years [and taking action] to revoke their accreditation?'” the source said.

This official said this may soon ripple to other accreditation agencies. “What’s anomalous about California is we’re getting to where everyone will be in a few years.”

The ACCJC’s next evaluation is this December, where it will be reviewed by the Department of Education. It wants to be ready, says Paul Fain, a reporter for Inside Higher Ed, a national trade publication.

“Washington writ large … is pushing very hard on accreditors to drive a harder line,” Fain told us. “There’s a criticism out there that accreditation is weak and toothless.”

The U.S. Department of Education declined to comment on the issue, saying only that it will formally respond to all officially filed complaints about ACCJC.

But the numbers speak volumes. As an ACCJC newsletter first described federal pressure back in 2006, seven community colleges in California were on probation or warning by the ACCJC. By 2012 that number leapt to 28.

But the California Federation of Teachers is fighting back, and recently filed a 280-page complaint about the ACCJC with the Department of Education.

The allegations were many: Business conflict of interest from a commission member, failure to adhere to its own policies and bylaws, and even the commission President Beno’s husband having served on City College’s visiting team, which the unions said is a clear conflict of interest.

Some people think it’s a waste of time, that City College has already lost.

“That process of fighting accreditation won’t succeed, it just forestalls the problem,” said Bill McGinnis, a trustee on Butte College’s board for over 20 years. He’s also served on many ACCJC visiting teams.

But the unions are making some headway. The Department of Education wrote a letter to the ACCJC telling them to respond in full to the complaints by July 8, as this article goes to press. The accreditor will soon be the one evaluated.

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

In the meantime, City College has exactly one year to reverse its fortunes: The loss of accreditation doesn’t actually kick in until July, 2014. A special trustee appointed by the state will be granted all the powers of the locally elected City College Board of Trustees to get with the federal program. Without voting power, the elected body is effectively castrated.

No one knows what that will mean for the college board, not even Mayor Ed Lee, who issued a statement supporting the state takeover and criticizing local trustees for not cutting enough. “The ACCJC is fundamentally hostile to elected boards and they’ve made that clear,” City College Trustee Rafael Mandelman told us. “The Board of Trustees should and may look at all possible legal options around this.”

Although officials say classes will proceed as normal for the next year, some aren’t waiting around to see if City College will survive.

At its last board meeting, the CCSF Board of Trustees grappled with how to address dwindling enrollment. As news of its accreditation troubles spread, City College has been under-enrolled by thousands of students, exacerbating its problems. Since the state funds colleges based on numbers of students, City College’s funding is plummeting by the millions.

A frightening statistic: When Compton College lost its accreditation in 2005 and was subsequently absorbed by a neighboring district, it lost half its student population, according to state records.

Even the faculty is having a hard time hanging on, said Alisa Messer, the college’s faculty union president.

“People are looking for jobs elsewhere already. Despite everyone’s dedication to see the college through, it has tried everyone and stretched them to the limit,” she told us.

The college has two hopes — that the CFT wins its lawsuit and can reverse the ACCJC decision, or that the new special trustee can somehow turn the college around by next July. But either way, something will be lost. “City College is definitely changing,” Saginor said. “What it will change into, and if those changes will be permanent, that I don’t know.”

Last train

steve@sfbg.com

Last week’s four-day strike by Bay Area Rapid Transit workers dominated the news and made headlines around the country, marking the latest battleground in a national war between public employee unions and the austerity agenda pushed by conservatives and neoliberals.

Of course, that wasn’t how the conflict was framed by BART, most journalists, or even the two BART unions involved, all of whom dutifully reported the details of each sides’ offers and counter-offers, the competing “safety” narratives (new security procedures demands by unions versus spending more on capital improvements than raises), and the strike’s impact on commuters and the local economy.

But once this long-simmering labor standoff seized the attention of a public heavily reliant on BART, fueling the popular anger and resentment increasingly directed at public employee unions in recent years, familiar basic storylines emerged.

At that point, the Bay Area could have been placed in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, or Illinois — the most recent high-profile labor union battlegrounds, with their narratives of greedy public employees clinging to their fully funded pensions and higher than average salaries while the rest of us suffer through this stubbornly lingering hangover from the Great Recession.

Around water coolers and online message boards, there were common refrains: How dare those unions demand the raises that the rest of us are being denied! Pensions? Who has fully funded pensions anymore? Why can’t they just be more realistic?

When Bay Area residents were finally forced to find other ways of getting around, within a transportation system that is already at the breaking point during peak hours thanks to years of austerity budgets and under-investment in basic infrastructure, those seething resentments exploded into outright anger.

And those political dynamics could only get worse in a month. The BART strike could resume full strength on a non-holiday workweek if the two sides aren’t able to come to an agreement before the recently extended contract expires.

This is the Bay Area’s most visible and impactful labor standoff, and it could prove to be a pivotal one for the modern American labor movement.

 

BART AS BELLWETHER

Chris Daly was a clarion voice for progressive values while serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 2000-2010. Now, as political director of Service Employee International Union Local 1021, one of the BART unions, he says this standoff is about more than just the issues being discussed at the bargaining table.

“The terms and conditions of workers in the public sector is a buoy for other workers,” Daly told us, explaining how everyone’s wages and benefits tend to follow the gains and setbacks negotiated by unions. “The right understands this, which is why the right has been mercilessly attacking public sector workers.”

Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, confirmed that union contracts affect the overall labor market. “When unions improve wages and benefits, it does have a ripple effect,” Jacobs said. He agreed that the outcome at BART could be a bellwether for the question, “As the economy comes back, how much will workers share in that prosperity?”

Demonizing public sector workers as greedy or lazy also serves to undercut the entire labor movement, Daly said, considering that public employees make up a far higher percentage of union members than their private sector counterparts. And during election time, it is union money and ground troops that typically contest wealthy individuals and corporations’ efforts to maintain or expand power.

“Labor is one of the main checks on unbridled corporate power, and public sector unions are the backbone of labor,” Daly told us.

So in that context, BART’s battle is about more than just the wages and benefits of train drivers and station agents, with their average base salary of $62,000, just barely above the area median income, and their demand for raises after accepting wage freezes in recent years.

Daly sees this as part of a much broader political standoff, and he said there are indications that BART management also sees it that way, starting with the $399,000 the transit agency is paying its lead negotiator Thomas Hock, a veteran of union-busting standoffs around the country.

“He has a history of bargaining toward strikes, with the goal of breaking unions,” Daly said, noting that Hock’s opening offer would have taken money from BART employees, with new pension and healthcare contributions outweighing raises. “It was a takeaway proposal when you add it up, while they have a $100 million surplus in their budget and the cost of living in the Bay Area is shooting up.”

But BART spokesperson Rick Rice told us that Hock is simply trying to get the best deal possible for this taxpayer-funded agency, and he denied there is any intention to break the union or connection to some larger anti-worker agenda.

“There is definitely a need to start funding the capital needs of the district,” Rice told us. “I don’t see that we’re pushing an austerity agenda as much as a realistic agenda.”

 

AUSTERITY AND EXPANSION

But Daly said the very idea that austerity measures are “realistic” excuses the banks and other powerful players whose reckless pursuit of profits caused the financial meltdown of 2008. The underlying expectation is that workers should continue to pay for that debacle, rather than bouncing back with the rebounding economy.

“They get in this austerity mindset, and we see it in every contract we’re negotiating,” Daly said, noting that capital needs and benefits have always needed funding, despite their elevation now as immediate imperatives. “You have good people with good intentions like [BART Board President] Tom Radulovich pushing this austerity mindset.”

Radulovich, a longtime progressive activist, told us he agrees with some of how Daly is framing the standoff, but not all of it. He said that BART is being squeezed into its position by unique factors.

Radulovich said that healthcare and pension costs really are rising faster then ever, creating a challenge in maintaining those benefit levels. And he said that Hock isn’t simply carrying out some larger anti-union agenda. “He’s negotiating what the district wants him to negotiate,” he said.

Radulovich said that while BART’s workers may deserve raises, most of BART’s revenues come from fares. “So it’s taking from workers to give to other workers,” Radulovich said. “It’s a little more complicated because it is a public agency and Chris is aware of that.”

Yet Radulovich acknowledged that BART has opted to pursue an aggressive expansion policy that is diverting both capital and operating expenditures into new lines — such as the East Contra Costa, Oakland Airport, and Warm Springs extensions now underway — rather than setting some of that money aside for workers.

“And for a lot of those, we were being cheered on by the [San Francisco] Labor Council, one of many ironies,” said Radulovich, who favors infill projects over new extensions. “These are some of the conversations I’ve had with labor leaders in the last few weeks, how we think strategically about these things.”

But if BART wanted to defeat the union, it may have miscalculated the level of worker discontent with austerity measures.

“What they didn’t plan on is some high-level Bay Area political pressure,” Daly said, referring to the local uproar over the strike that led Gov. Jerry Brown to send in the state’s two top mediators, who made progress and created a one month cooling off period before the strike can resume.

 

RETIREMENT SECURITY

One of the hardest issues to overcome in the court of public opinion may be the fully funded pensions of BART employees. “Times are changing, costs are escalating rapidly, and we’re asking for a modest contribution,” Rice said of BART’s demand that employees help fund their pensions.

Daly acknowledges the resentments about the pension issue, even though it was essentially a trap set for public employee unions back in the 1980s, when BART and other public agencies were the ones offering to pay for employee pensions in lieu of raises.

But rather than resenting public employees for having pensions, he said the public should be asking why most workers don’t have retirement security and how to fix that problem.

“At what point do we organize and demand retirement security for all workers?” Daly said, noting that SEIU is now leading that fight on behalf of all workers, not just its members. “What we ought to be talking about is how we restore the social contract.”

Jacobs confirmed that SEIU has indeed been pushing the retirement security issue at the state and federal levels. And it’s a crucial issue, he said, noting that just 45 percent of workers have pensions and that the average retirement savings is just $12,000.

“The retirement problem we have is not the pension crisis, it is the lack of pensions crisis,” Jacobs said.

That’s one reason that he said this standoff has implications that extend far beyond the Bay Area.

“The fight goes beyond these particular workers,” Jacobs said. “It’s an important set of negotiations and an important strike in terms of looking at what happens in this country as the economy improves.”

Daly agrees there’s a lot at stake, for more than just his members.

“Losing on this means we’d be hard pressed to win elsewhere, anytime,” Daly said. “It is important symbolically, and it is important to the strength and morale of the movement.”

 

Independence movement

0

arts@sfbg.com

THEATER/DANCE The crowd outside the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library in Oakland was hopping. Fidgeting, really — imperceptibly at first, but soon enough bodies were bouncing and flailing, until the scrum of dancers packed shoulder-to-front-to-back on the sidewalk morphed their collective way through the front door.

June 22 marked one year’s worth of PPP, the monthly performance series instigated by Oakland-based dance collective SALTA. As much a scene as a performance platform, PPP has been building an ethic of serious, unbridled experimentation in a low-key setting where failure is as valid as success, and no one ever encounters a price tag, a door charge, or a gate keeper.

In terms of curation, PPP is equally promiscuous and shrewd, emphasizing a cross-generational perspective. “We try to reach out to people who have paved pathways for us,” says one SALTA member. “And we’ve been a little brazen about cold-emailing, cold-calling people who are in town, like Jeremy Wade.” Meanwhile, PPP has been building a unique audience for contemporary dance-performance and inspiring dialogue about the ethics of art-making in the Bay Area.

As an attribute of its headlong dive into experimentation and openness, PPP never sits still but moves restlessly and freely from one donated space to another. With each space come new networks as well as many PPP diehards. As its members explain, the anniversary installment marked the beginning of a summer hiatus for PPP, so that the collective can better focus on advancing other projects — all geared to creating space, in the widest sense, for dance in Oakland.

SALTA is very much the restive and searching reflection of its monthly series. What began as necessity — a space for dance — has been embraced as ethic. Not that the two were entirely strangers to begin with. As suggested by the conversation below with the members of SALTA (currently seven young women who preferred to speak as members of the collective rather than use their individual names), the realities of dance today imply, more than ever, a confrontation with the values of the dominant culture.

SFBG Which came first, PPP or SALTA, and what’s the relationship?

SALTA It’s funny, we were just talking about this earlier — it’s so confusing!

SALTA I guess we, as a collective, came first.

SALTA And we named that SALTA.

SALTA But the name SALTA didn’t come until after we had the name PPP.

SALTA We all came together in the idea of making space for dance. We were talking a lot about having an actual space and, in the meantime, [we said] let’s do a performance series. So that came second, and then it eclipsed a lot of what we’d been doing. We’re actually going to take a break over the summer and focus on some other stuff.

SALTA We want to have classes, [and start] a dance publication. We want to work on networking. We’ve had some out of town people, but just because the West Coast can be very isolating.

SFBG How did it all start?

SALTA We’re all based in Oakland, and we wanted to have a space for dance to happen here — there are not a lot of venues that are really open for experimental work. That was the big thing: we’re sick of going to San Francisco all the time, and we want to figure out what the community is in Oakland and see what we can build. Something that’s been really cool from the beginning is that a lot of non-dancers come to PPP, a lot of Oakland people who hear about it from different arenas.

SALTA As well as there not being institutions interested in the kind of work we were doing, we were also not interested in institutionalizing art, in the way that it’s done. Also, financially, making it a free event was really important to us as artists and the way we want to make art. Not having to play this whole [“who do you know”] game. It was modeled, or got a lot of guidance from Jmy [Leary] in LA, who started [dance organizers/activists] AUNTS in New York. That’s been a model that we’ve been in dialogue with.

SALTA She’s a mentor of ours, and a benefactor actually, through the Yellow House fund. We originally wanted to create a space here in Oakland similar to Pieter Pasd in LA, but the realities of being who we are as artists and where we are in our lives, as transient people, we thought we’d keep the space moving. We figured out that that worked over the past year.

SFBG I like this ethic of moving around, of asking for a free space each time. It seems a good social ethic to encourage, and it really pushes back against the spirit of the times.

SALTA It’s interesting who said no to the proposal, and who has been really willing to donate space and time — and their art.

SALTA I feel as we continue to exist and assert ourselves into spaces, it opens up more. We have to find a space, ask for a free space, because as dancers we don’t have the resources to be renting all the time. So where there’s this huge scene of First Friday or whatever — “art’s happening all the time in Oakland” — we’re not a part of that. It would be interesting at some point. Well, we WILL be a part of that. [Laughter.] But what does that mean? And how much more legit, in a certain sense, do we have to become? *

For a longer version of this interview, visit www.sfbg.com/pixel_vision; for more information on SALTA, visit www.saltadance.info.