Volume 47 Number 49

Still secret

22

news@sfbg.com
A high-profile local civil rights ordinance passed last year to shine light on the San Francisco Police Department’s joint activities with the FBI has been undermined by the SFPD’s refusal to disclose its surveillance activities. This comes at a time when the public is learning more than ever about the federal government’s intrusion into the privacy of law-abiding US citizens.

In May 2012, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance, which Mayor Ed Lee signed in a photo-op ceremony with Police Chief Greg Suhr and the activists who supported it. They claimed the board’s passage of the ordinance ushered in a new era of transparency over the SFPD’s previously secretive work with the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force.

“The ordinance basically requires three things,” Nasrina Bargzie, a civil rights attorney at the Asian Law Caucus who worked on the measure, told the Bay Guardian. “The first part requires that the Police Department work with the JTTF has to follow the California constitutional rights of privacy, so they’re not following the lax standards of the [US] Department of Justice. The second part is that they can no longer enter into any secret agreements with the FBI; it has to go before the Police Commission in a public setting. The final part of the ordinance exists to make sure the rules are being followed, so there is a requirement for a yearly report.”

At the time of its passage, activists told the Guardian that the ordinance was only as strong as the SFPD’s willingness to disclose its activities (see “Mayor Lee signs watered-down limits on SFPD spying,” 5/9/12). But the SFPD’s refusal to disclose even minimal, basic information calls into question the ordinance’s value.

After the release of multiple reports earlier this year that activists called inadequate, Suhr is now maintaining silence regarding the JTTF, while claiming the department is in full compliance with the ordinance. According to Bargzie, Suhr told her the FBI is barring him from disclosing the requested information.

Following multiple efforts by the Guardian to get a comment out of SFPD about the ordinance and whether the department was indeed taking a subservient role to the FBI, SFPD Sgt. Dennis Toomer told us, “We’re not talking about that at all.”

LACK OF RESPONSE

Activists have sparred with Chief Suhr over implementation of the ordinance and its required annual report since at least the beginning of 2013.

Deputy Chief John Loftus presented the first report to the Police Commission on Jan. 23, which claimed the SFPD was in “full compliance” with the ordinance without providing any details. Activists and the public quickly demanded a real response.

“The commission presented this short oral report, which was a little short of two minutes long,” Bargzie told us. “There was no data that we were not already aware of. It was just basic statements claiming that they were complying with the ordinance.”

Suhr apologized for the omissions while stating his department was still in compliance with the ordinance’s guidelines, pledging to be more forthcoming. At this time, SFPD Sgt. Michael Andraychak told the Guardian: “The Chief’s Office is in the process of scheduling meetings with Nasrina Bargzie [of the Asian Law Caucus] to develop a report with more detail so those concerned and the public can be as informed as possible. Chief Suhr is committed to remain in compliance with the ordinance.”

The Coalition for Safe San Francisco, an activist group consisting of Muslim Legal Fund of America, Asian Law Caucus, and dozens of other groups, met with Suhr to discuss setting up a template for the reports.

Suhr then released a second report, which contained more relevant information, stating that SFPD officers did not act as informants in 2012 and three full-time SFPD officers were assigned to the JTTF.

But the report still omitted key oversight information, such as whether any prosecutions resulted from JTTF and SFPD investigations, which would allow the Muslim Legal Fund of America and other groups to determine who the SFPD is arresting and why.

Last year, Suhr told a San Francisco Examiner reporter that his officers followed up on 2,000 tips regarding counterterrorism activities. However, this information curiously did not make it into the official report.

“We contacted the chief to let him know we were not okay with this. We had another meeting with him and he said he’d think about it and get back to us and now he is claiming he cannot honor a basic component of the ordinance,” Bargzie told us. “He asserts in writing this is because the FBI will not let him share the basic information.”

WEAKENED LEGISLATION

The weak efforts behind the implementation of the SSFCRO date back to Mayor Lee’s veto of a stronger ordinance in April 2012, which would have codified privacy protections and given the Police Commission more power to stop FBI-SFPD activities that did not comply with Department General Order (DGO) 8.10, the 1990 policy aimed at protecting First Amendment activities. After Lee’s veto, the Board of Supervisors passed a weaker version. Both were sponsored by Sup. Jane Kim.

John Crew, a former police practices expert with the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union, raised concerns to the Guardian about the weakened legislation. “It is a step in the right direction, there’s no doubt it’s progress,” Crew told us at the time. “But whether it’s real progress depends on the implementation. Ultimately, it will come down to political will at the Police Commission to enforce privacy protections.”

Much of the ordinance’s failure stems from the apparent lack of real intent to disclose what the activists sought. Critics painted the SSFCRO signing ceremony as a hollow symbolic act, a way for Mayor Lee and Chief Suhr to publicly promote civil rights and progressive ideals with an ordinance they purposefully weakened.

“My sense is that [the SFPD] is not taking this seriously,” Bargzie told us. “I think they probably believe that they are providing as much information as the FBI will let them and Chief Suhr thinks it’s fine that the FBI can tell him to share what they tell him to.”

The lack of transparency regarding the JTTF’s work with the SFPD requires the public to trust the federal government to safeguard civil liberties. But in the wake of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leak exposing the expansive surveillance system by the National Security Agency and the SFPD’s notorious history of illegal surveillance and racial profiling, the public has little reason to trust the authorities.

HISTORY OF SPYING
The passage of the SSFCRO is the latest effort to counter a long history of racial profiling, spying on radical political groups, and other constitutional violations, episodes that have been followed by progressive reforms in San Francisco.
Prior to the passage of DGO 8.10 in 1990, the SFPD notoriously participated in the surveillance of non-criminal, pacifist political organizations. During the 1984 Democratic National Convention, the SFPD carried out surveillance on law-abiding organizations and, throughout the 1980s, it created files on civil, labor, and special interest groups in the Bay Area, revelations that led to the adoption of DGO 8.10.
But even after that, disclosures surfaced showing that the SFPD was blatantly violating its own rules. They included then-Police Chief Tony Ribera admitting that files on non-criminal political activity were not destroyed (as required by the ’90s reforms), the selling of confidential intelligence material to foreign governments and private entities, and the actions of SFPD Intelligence Officer Tom Gerad, who informed on local political groups for the FBI.
In the subsequent years following the Gerad scandal, San Francisco sought to strengthen DGO 8.10, requiring more transparency and oversight. But this progress was undercut in 2007 when the SFPD secretly signed a secret JTTF Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) undermining DGO 8.10.
San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission held hearings in which the community voiced concerns over illegal police and federal surveillance. In response, the SFPD said they were unable to discuss arrangements with the JTTF without the permission of the FBI.
In 2011, the previously secret MOU was unearthed by the ACLU (see “Spies in blue,” 4/26/11), prompting Suhr to issue Bureau Order #2011-07, which reinforced that SFPD personnel were under the jurisdiction of local and state privacy protections and did not spy on law-abiding groups. SFPD Public Information Officer Albie Esparza said the order reversed the language of the 2007 memo.
Part of Suhr’s amendment to SFPD policy at the time included the necessity of a predicate offense in all SFPD investigations. Thus, the SFPD could not investigate or spy on those who were not suspected of violating the California Penal Code or federal law.
Activists wanted those protections enshrined in city law, which resulted in last’s vetoed ordinance and passage of the watered down Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance in 2012, which activists now say they feel duped by.
“We have been extremely disappointed at the lack of information that has been included in the reports,” Summer K. Hararah, Regional Director for the Greater San Francisco Area Muslim Legal Fund of America told us. “If the SFPD is going to violate rights of Arab-Americans, the police chief has a responsibility to stand up to the FBI.”

POST 9/11 WORLD
Lax federal guidelines for counterterrorism have been building since the Bush Administration began implementing emergency measures after 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. In San Francisco’s case, the FBI has subjected local law enforcement to these rules.
Since 9/11, both the ACLU of Northern California and the Human Rights Commission have publicized cases of racial profiling and surveillance of pacifist, non-criminal Muslim and Middle-Eastern groups in San Francisco. A 2007 FBI memorandum illustrated a prominent instance of this profiling in which FBI agents attended Ramadan Iftar dinners in San Francisco purportedly as part of the FBI’s mosque outreach program. Under this guise, the agents collected data on certain attendants, including names, the content of conversations, and other information covered by the First Amendment. According to the FBI Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, the JTTF is permitted to conduct surveillance of this nature, by identifying “locations of concentrated ethnic communities in the Field Office’s domain, if these locations will reasonably aid in the analysis of the potential threats and vulnerabilities, and, overall assist domain awareness for the purpose of performing intelligence analysis.” These policies directly contradict SSFCO, DGO 8.10, and the California Constitution’s privacy protections. In Portland, Ore., the local government successfully fought this issue by bifurcating local law enforcement from the JTTF after the public and the ACLU raised concerns over similar constitutional violations and racial profiling. This Portland model is now a precedent for activist groups nationwide, seeking to end the lack of oversight permeating their local police departments. “Portland has been a great model,” Hararah told us. “When the FBI began to interview Muslim men in mass after 9/11, Portland was one of the few that said ‘absolutely not.'” But in San Francisco, Lee (whose office also didn’t respond to our request for comment) and Suhr’s symbolic promotion of civil rights has diminished into a case of them basically bullshitting the public. “Civil rights is not a symbolic issue,” Hararah told us. “The mayor backed this legislation and we want to see that the commitment is put forth with global insurance. The first step is having info about what the JTTF is doing to be sure it abides by human rights protections and is appropriate.”

Volume 47 Number 49 Flip-through Edition

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Mass. transit

1

arts@sfbg.com

THEATER Marin Theatre Company’s season opener, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, tackles issues of class and solidarity in the context of a small circle of South Boston peers. It’s an issue the play explores with some subtlety, if not always with the full weight of a historical moment as dire as any when it comes to the stratification of income, power, privilege, and status.

Margaret Walsh (Amy Resnick) is a scrappy, middle-aged single mom with a grown but severely impaired daughter. A quick but harried working-class woman (persuasively played with underdog vigor and a complex moral makeup by Resnick), Margaret is a high-school dropout confined to both menial jobs and her old Southie neighborhood — an Irish enclave ringed by creeping poverty and the cyclical violence and dysfunction that can cling to it.

Perennially late, Margie (as she’s usually called) is about to be sacked from yet another job, this one at the local dollar-store register, where her young manager, Stevie (Ben Euphrat), is the quietly striving, just-tolerant son of a deceased friend from the neighborhood.

Significantly, Stevie’s late mother lives on among her peers in the form of a beloved and oft-repeated anecdote, in which she attempts to cover up in the moment for a brazen act of grocery-store shoplifting. But the story, which Margie tries to leverage to advantage in her bid to keep her job, has a contested aspect: Was it Margie, working a register then too, who turned her in for it?

It turns out this question — with its suggestions of tenuous loyalty, honesty, and honor among Margie’s hard-bitten peer group — is just a warm-up for a larger moral contest looming ahead.

Soon Margie moves in with longtime friend Dottie (a comically boisterous and truculent Anne Darragh), but Dottie’s new position as fretful, bullying landlady is never far from their interactions. With encouragement from her pal Jean (a sure Jamie Jones), Margie — desperate to find work but too proud to return to the Gillette factory (perpetual employer of last resort) — seeks out an old classmate, Mike (an excellent, subtly shape-shifting Mark Anderson Phillips). He once briefly dated Margie in high school, before going off to college and medical school, ultimately escaping Southie for upper-middle-class Chestnut Hill.

It’s Margie and Mark’s reunion that provides the meat of the drama. Margie is a proud but desperate interloper in Mike’s now thoroughly bourgeois world, and needles him about his class pretensions as a method of maneuvering to some advantage in her quest for his help. She’s also haunted by an idea of what might have been her life if she had escaped Southie, like (or with) Mike. At the same time, in his new milieu, Mike draws heavily on a macho, street-smart, bootstraps image he has fashioned from his past — ostensibly to make up for a certain effete status vis-à-vis his wife, Kate (ZZ Moor in a bright, well-measured and quietly ferocious performance), the sophisticated, upper-middle-class African American daughter of Mike’s old boss and mentor.

Mike and Margie’s reunion, therefore, seesaws on a fulcrum of status, class advantage, street cred, and secrets. And if class tends to trump race in the play’s particular admixture of power, race remains a crucial part of the story — rushing back from Mike’s Southie past in a way that drives another wedge between the married couple’s already strained partnership.

Despite being initially top-heavy with self-conscious Boston accents, director Tracy Young’s admirable cast soon stretches out into some extended and nuanced scenes. Particularly impressive are Resnick, Phillips, and Moor who, in the second act’s opening sequence in Mike and Kate’s luxurious Chestnut Hill home, bring the play’s themes into full swing with slow-burning intensity.

Interestingly, opening night saw by far the biggest laugh go to a seemingly throwaway line. After Margie crashes an evening at Mike and Kate’s home, Mike idly asks his unwanted guest if she likes the wine his wife has offered her. “How the fuck should I know?” retorts Margie, not unkindly.

Wine, and especially the appreciation of wine, is of course heavily class-coded, and the whole scene is an understated class rumpus of sorts. But the rolling laughter this line provoked among the generally comfortable Marin County audience probably spoke to more than just knowingness on that score. It sounded like a genuine, joyful release — an acknowledgement, maybe, that class is a burdensome masquerade, and in its pretense and hidden anxieties it’s exhausting, including for those with passes and pretensions to a certain elevation on the ladder. Although that burden is incommensurate to the physically and psychically wrecking demands, degradations, and insecurities saddling those on the lower rungs, it’s in the “conceit” of class that the play opens common ground with the audience. *

GOOD PEOPLE

Through Sept. 15

Tue and Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Thu/5, 1pm; Sept 14, 2pm); Wed, 7:30pm; Sun, 2 and 7pm, $37-$58

Marin Theatre Company

397 Miller, Mill Valley

www.marintheatre.org

 

Snap Sounds

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KING KRULE  

6 FEET BENEATH THE MOON

(TRUE PANTHER/XL, AUG. 26)

Archy “King Krule” Marshall may look like a callow school-kid, dressed up in his father’s suit, but the South Londoner has the soul and voice of a wise, world-weary bluesman three times his senior. 6 Feet Beneath the Moon — his long-awaited debut LP — is an astonishing achievement, displaying Marshall’s nuanced storytelling, exceptional jazz-based guitar work, and versatility. Over the album’s 14 tracks, he weaves affecting tales of urban ennui, malaise, and disaffection, balanced by fleeting moments of ardent love and nostalgic surrender. Though he wears his influences on his ill-fitting sleeve (Drury, Strummer, Morrissey, Dilla), the finished article sounds like nothing else out now — with dark wave, blues, punk, indie, and electro all thrown into the mix. It is all filtered through Marshall’s singular lens and mature perspective, creating a fresh, cohesive sound while painting an engulfing portrait of his London. — Daniel Alvarez

 

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN

THE THIRD EYE CENTRE

(MATADOR RECORDS, AUG. 27)

Belle and Sebastian, ’90s twee sweethearts, are at it again — kind of. This time, the band is serving the general public a tray of audible assorted snacks featuring b-sides from the latter half of its career. Dubbed The Third Eye Centre, no song sounds the same — one track will boast a rockabilly twang (“Last Trip”) and another will be a previously unreleased remix of fan-favorite “Your Cover’s Blown (Miaoux Miaoux Remix).” It’s a solid album, but it’s easy to suss out the dated songs, such as “Suicide Girl,” an anxious love song about the object of singer-guitarist Stuart Murdoch’s affections, an alternative girl that wants him to take nudes of her for the famed early-2000s “punky” soft-core porn site of the same name. But in all, the fun of The Third Eye Centre is getting the chance to hear songs you may have not had the chance to listen to from the back end of Belle and Sebastian’s jam-packed catalog. — Erin Dage

 

KING KHAN & THE SHRINES

IDLE NO MORE

(MERGE, SEPT. 3)

For those who have oft pondered “What if a soul band and a Southern rock group got together and made sweet, beautiful music?” weirdo psychedelic soul band King Khan & the Shrines has the answer with its latest release, Idle No More. Featuring dancey soul numbers like “Luckiest Man,” Stooges-esque songs such as “Thorn in Her Pride,” ditties with ’60s girl group-esque guest spot vocals like “Pray for Lil” — Idle No More combines many genres and musical elements to form a cohesive, well produced album. The album can easily be separated into three acts: dance numbers, slow-ballad interlude, and soul revival resolution. Six years have passed since previous album, What Is!?, and Idle No More has definitely been worth the wait. — Dage

 

CHELSEA WOLFE

PAIN IS BEAUTY

(SARGENT HOUSE, SEPT. 3)

There’s always been this brutal, animalistic thread woven throughout Chelsea Wolfe’s output, and Pain is Beauty is no exception. The LA-via-Sacramento artist’s otherworldly vocals tend often to translate into a wild creature elegantly whipping through a foggy forest. (Indeed, Wolfe described her newest LP as a “love-letter to nature.”) Her powerful soprano hollers are matched to ethereal whispery echoes, maintaining a balance between lightness and darkness, which has become a common theme in her work, as it is in nature. And this vocal balance is a mainstay in Wolfe’s music, no matter what’s backing it instrumentally. Her previous release, 2012’s Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, was, obviously, acoustic, but the sparse record is still deeply unsettling. With Pain is Beauty, the singer-songwriter returns to a darker, grittier sound. And yet, there’s a more electronic twist on her early doomy experimental guitarwork (as with breakout 2011 record Apokalypsis), bursting with both synths and strings this time, without missing the black-hearted emotional core rooted in all living things. — Emily Savage

 

JOANNA GRUESOME

WEIRD SISTER

(SLUMBERLAND, SEPT. 10)

Jangly noisepop cacophony with pro-feminist and anti-homophobia lyrics — this Cardiff band’s debut full-length, Weird Sister, hits all the right hot spots and makes them tingle. Plus there’s the name, Joanna Gruesome, a cheeky play on a gentle fellow musician. But Weird Sister speaks for itself, with standout tracks like opener “Anti Parent Cowboy Killers” matching dissonant guitars and pounding drums with lovely melodious vocals that rise into screams at the hook, akin to the Vaselines in bed with L7. There’s also classic K Records-evoking twee ode “Wussy Void,” and jagged noiseball “Graveyard,” which starts off with what sounds like helium seeping out of a balloon. The record includes songs from a 2011 EP, “Sugarcrush,” “Madison,” and “Candy,” further deepening the getting-to-know-you state of the Welsh quintet, a group to which you do need to start paying attention. —Savage

 

Elegant alchemy

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cheryl@sfbg.com

MUSIC Though San Francisco musician Jill Tracy is deeply fond of the macabre, “gloomy” is not an accurate word to describe her personality. The day I speak to her, she’s in exceptionally high spirits, having just wrapped up a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign.

“It’s really special to feel like it’s a big group effort,” she says. The funds will help complete a pair of videos lensed by Jeremy Carr, who directed Tracy in the 2006 thriller Ice Cream Ants. Appropriately, key scenes were filmed on a spooky night in Red Hook, Brooklyn — former ‘hood of horror author H.P. Lovecraft.

“[Carr] wanted to shoot me walking through these mysterious alleyways, but there was this sudden, intense thunderstorm. Hail coming down the size of golf balls, flooding — it was so dangerous it was like, how are we gonna do this?” she recalls. “But the universe intervened, and the rain finally tapered off. And it was so gorgeous, because there was still lightning in the sky. A lot of that will be kept in the video.”

Also caught on tape was intervention of another kind. “At one point there was this glowing amber light swirling around. I look over — and it was the cops, wondering what we were up to,” she says. “They were really nice and let us keep going, and it turned out that they were responsible for the most beautiful shot.”

Happy accidents, strange coincidences, unexplained phenomena: These are all things the composer-singer-pianist welcomes with delight. Her distinctive sound — she’s often described as a “neo-cabaret artist” — sparked a recent twist of fate, when Showtime contacted her about using a song to promote the final season of Dexter.

“That came out of the blue,” she says. “They said, ‘We think that your music would be perfect for this.’ That’s when being an independent musician is a great thing — because I own my song and my publishing. They just have to contact me and I can give permission [to use it].”

She continues. “I didn’t know what they were going to do with the song. I was so excited — are they just gonna use five seconds of it? But it ended up that it’s almost like a music video. I sing, ‘I’ll tie you up,’ and you see [star] Michael C. Hall tying up a body! I was really thrilled with what they did.”

It’s a testament to Tracy’s unique style that the Dexter song, “Evil Night Together,” dates back to her 1999 sophomore album, Diabolical Streak. (Her diverse discography also includes 2002’s Into the Land of Phantoms, a score for 1922 silent film Nosferatu; and last year’s holiday-themed Silver Smoke, Star of Night.)

“I strive for timelessness in my music,” Tracy says, noting that the Dexter exposure made some listeners assume that “Night” was a brand-new song. “It meant a lot to me because that’s [my intention], that it could be played at any time and still sound unique.”

Without trends to guide her, Tracy has sought inspiration elsewhere. After years of incorporating on-the-spot compositions (she calls it “spontaneous musical combustion”) into her live shows, she had an idea: why not test the vibes at a more off-kilter venue? At one memorable gig, both performer and audience experienced something … extraordinary.

“I was in Victoria, BC at Craigdarroch Castle, which is supposedly haunted,” she says. “At one point, someone in the audience is like, ‘Look at that lamp!’ And this old, brocade-shaded lamp had just started to flicker. So who knows! Strange things will happen like that.”

Tracy’s repertoire also includes “musical séances,” in which audience members bring in objects of personal significance to help her channel music. Along with violinist Paul Mercer, she hosted one such event earlier this year in Los Angeles, “at the mansion of a murderer from the 19th century.” (Clearly, she ain’t no fraidy-cat.) She’s hosted similar events at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.

“We did a beautiful night tour of the Conservatory, followed by a performance,” she says. “People bring these items — we’ve had everything from cremated remains, to antlers, to a toothbrush. Swords! Haunted portraits! It’s almost like Antiques Roadshow for the netherworld. But the one thing I’ve learned through all of this is that every object, every place, and every person has a story to tell that will break your heart.”

Some of her most memorable tales come courtesy of the Mütter Museum, a medical-oddities collection that’s part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. She’s the first musician to receive a grant to compose inside the museum.

“This whole project is, like, the total goth girl dream come true,” Tracy laughs. “I was able to spend nights alone in the museum, writing music among the collection, and I just fell in love with the place. You look around, and you see all these skeletons and specimens in jars, but you don’t realize at first that these were all lives — brave souls who endured these rare afflictions, many of which you never see today. I was so moved, and I wanted to know their stories.”

Not only did the museum allow Tracy overnight access, it also let her do research in its library. She hopes to to spend the next year transforming her Mütter encounters — with subjects like conjoined twins Chang and Eng, and “Ossified Man” Harry Eastlack — into an album as well as an accompanying storybook. “It will probably be the biggest project that I’ve done to date,” she says. “It’s been almost like an excavation, digging into this information and creating pieces to honor these individuals. I want to give emotional context to the people in the collection.”

With all of her site-specific events and ongoing endeavors — in brief: a perfume line; a 7-inch split with Blixa Bargeld based on the writings of a 19th century Polish occultist; a set at Sat/7’s “ManulFest” benefit for wild cats held at a temple in Geyserville; a speaking engagement at LA’s Death Salon later this fall — it’s advisable for SF fans to hit up Café du Nord for what’s becoming an increasingly rare rock-club gig.

“I’m doing fewer shows at places like the du Nord, because I want to do more of a theatrical performance,” she says. “Today, my work is all about honoring the mystery, the beauty, and the romance of the dark side. I strive to transport people into what I refer to as ‘the elegant netherworld,’ and I find that music, that emotion, creates the portal for you to go there. Doing what I do, I feel like kind of a gatekeeper to this other place.”

JILL TRACY

With This Way to Egress and Vagabondage

Sun/8, 7:30pm, $12

Café du Nord

2170 Market, SF

www.cafedunord.com

 

Art 111

2

arts@sfbg.com

NIGHTLIFE In 1993, before SOMA officially became one of San Francisco’s big art districts, 111 Minna Gallery opened for business on a quiet downtown backstreet. Eiming Jung, a young entrepreneurial student of rhetoric, had ambitious plans, “I had an idea for a rather unconventional gallery,” recalls Jung on the eve of 111 Minna’s 20th anniversary, “I wanted to support local artists but I also wanted to create an environment for the broader art community.”

The original gallery space had a bar serving wine and beer and a monthly schedule of exhibitions which attracted curious scenesters. By night, the gallery transformed into a much needed venue for the underground music scene, with raucous parties that fostered some of SF’s biggest talents. It was a crossover concept that breathed new life into San Francisco’s art agenda, perfect for showcasing more “urban” styles like those of soon-to-be-famous spray paint artists Doze Green and Chor Boogie, and members of the Mission School.

The expense of running an art gallery was daunting but Jung was innovative and diversified further, offering the space for one-off events: film screenings, award ceremonies, book signings, product launches, and even weddings.

In 2000, the next-door retail unit became available and Jung took the plunge, tripling the size of the gallery. The new space was renovated to include a fully licensed bar and a luxurious expanse of pristine white walls. Looking in through the gallery’s large shop windows on Second Street, passersby see the high-ceilinged gallery awash with natural light, patrons comfortably viewing the art, having meetings or working on their laptops while enjoying the gallery’s latest offering: Fourbarrel coffee and Josie of the Mill’s scrumptious hot toast.

“We thrive on creativity and work hard to create new possibilities for the space,” says Michelle Delaney, the gallery’s longtime manager, of 111’s latest rep as a laidback idea incubator for the downtown tech and business crowd.

A close collaboration with Last Gasp, the lauded local publishers of graphic art and comics, has been especially rewarding, bringing recognition and exposure to artforms marginalized in more conventional galleries. Legends were made here: During the first dot.com boom, the Wednesday night mixer, Qoöl, was the essential meeting-place for newcomers who networked and partied from happy hour until closing. Pumping underground techno tunes and attracting scrappy art world figures helped save the place from any dot-com tackiness.

The quintessential 111 Minna event is Sketch Tuesdays, a monthly happening since 2006: Artists come and make art in the gallery, finished pieces are pinned to a board and priced affordably from $5 to $30. Passing by tables cluttered with paints, inks, and brushes on a recent evening, one could hear experimental jazz from the turntablist mingle with the sociable clink of glasses and hum of conversation. On the board a little pen and ink study’s price tag read, “Yours for a whiskey on the rocks.” Perfectly cheeky, and epitomizing 111 Minna’s unpretentious ethos.

111 MINNA 20TH ANNIVERSARY SHOW AND PARTY with DJ Toph One and Hyper D Fri/6, 5pm-late, free. 111 Minna, SF. www.111minnagallery.com

 

Fall, out

1

arts@sfbg.com

GAMER Gamers who’ve grown weary of blasting aliens and other generic supervillains need not worry: the Bay Area’s indie video game designers share your pain. There’s an indie game revolution being birthed right here in our backyard, led by a cadre of designers who really couldn’t give two flying flamethrowers about making another first-person shooter. The best part? The games are all (mostly) free.

 

 

DY5PHORIA

By Anna Anthropy, music by Liz Ryerson

Available via Steam Fall/Winter 2013, price TBD

 

Video games go to alien worlds all the time, but rarely have they explored a transgender person’s identity until Dys4ia. The 2012 Adobe Flash game traced designer Anna Anthropy’s hormone replacement therapy journey, guiding the player through trying on women’s clothing for the first time, dealing with the agony of shaving, and correcting all the people who call you “sir” instead of “ma’am.”

It only takes a moment before you want to slap each pixilated person who blurts out “sir” — and that moment personifies gaming’s unique power to make a player experience someone else’s life. Anthropy (www.auntiepixelante.com) runs with that concept, yanking and pulling the player (willingly) along the transition into her new gender identity.

Anthropy’s new release, Dy5phoria (note the subtle title change), is not quite a sequel to the original, she says. It’s a rerelease of the original game with a brand new chapter, one where she tells the story of finally learning to be comfortable with her new self. The new scenes have more detailed animations than the first release, and though Dy5phoria shares the original’s nebulously retro pixel style, the character you control on screen is a fully formed person. This was a conscious choice, Anthropy explains.

“In (the original) the avatar you controlled changed depending on the context. You might be a blobby thing, a shield, or a little munchie mouth thing,” she says. “My body and identity were going through a lot of flux at the time, and it made sense for the game to represent that by not having a consistent avatar.”

Clearly, this is a new frontier for games; a girl who recently started her journey transitioning told the Bay Guardian that Dys4ia gave her the confidence to make the decision to begin hormone therapy and come out to her parents. Though Anthropy notes that hormones aren’t necessarily the central experience of being trans, she was touched Dys4ia could help people.

D5sphoria will be available via download service Steam “when it’s done,” Anthropy said, which will likely be at the end of fall or slightly later. The original Dys4ia flash game is available at www.newgrounds.com, a website stuffed full of indie games. It’s free to play, and simple enough for even casual gamers to get through in less time than an episode of the Big Bang Theory.

Read our Q&A with Anna Anthropy and hear our audio interview with her here

 

CLIMBING 208 FEET UP THE RUIN WALL

By Porpentine

Available at aliendovecote.com; free to play in any web browser

 

“Leave the tomb behind, and with all your stolen riches, return to the land of the living.” Once you click “return,” you’ve started your climb. Where do you go next?

That’s a question most Twine games ask, as the text-based games mostly resemble the choose-your-own-adventure books of a 1980s childhood. Climbing is one of the better, briefer ones, and though the adventure ultimately is linear, the branching paths will make you chuckle and make you think.

Climb. Climb. Climb. And when you’re done, check out twinehub.weebly.com for even more text-based Twine games. You can also learn how to make your own.

 

 

HUGPUNX

By Merritt Kopas, music by SCRAPS/Laura Hill

Available at www.mkopas.net; free to play in Flash-enabled web browsers

 

Have you ever sat with someone playing Halo, and heard the TV calling out “triple kill, KILLING SPREE!” and other lovely hyper-masculine achievements? Well, now’s your chance to go on a hugging spree.

HUGPUNX is described as a “fluoro-pink queer urban hugging simulator” — and indeed, players basically run around doing just that. Hugging. People. Lots of them. The music is fun and light, and you’ll be shimmying in your seat while you play. The game is simple to control — use the arrow keys to move, and Z to hug. Plus, you can hug giant cats. The world needs more games where you can hug giant cats.

CRYPTWORLDS: YOUR DARKEST DESIRES COME TRUE By Cicada Marionette Available at www.cicadamarionette.com; free in PC, MAC, and LINUX versions Missed Burning Man? This game may be a nerdy substitute to the insanity of the desert. Played a bit like The Legend of Zelda, the game (created by a Texas-based developer) begins with the player talking to the folks in surrounding towns and crypts, performing fetch quests and collecting inventory items. Unlike Zelda, though, a crypt filled with human sacrifices (who all sort of look like Indiana Jones), a horse-god, and a “programming hell” await you. Hundreds of nerds in plaid pants stand by their desks around a flame, or a volcano, I can’t quite tell. But don’t worry — once you escape, there’s a pulsating monster that resembles somebody’s liver just above you. Bring your favorite Burning Man party favors and play this game in the dark for hours. * For a podcast interview with Dy5phoria‘s Anna Anthropy, visit www.sfbg.com.

Blah lust

1

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Despite its intensely collaborative, top-heavy, organizationally complex nature, commercial filmmaking can still be primarily instinctual rather than thoughtful, let alone intellectual. This is not necessarily a good thing. We’re accustomed to displays of corporate group-thinking or sheer willful, proud stupidity (hiya, Michael Bay!) in mainstream movies today. But those are exercises of market conformism, whether the makers recognize them as such or not. What about populist filmmakers who go their own way yet grow increasingly dumb and dumber? Should we applaud their auteurist individuality even as all artfulness, taste, and entertainment value rushes toward the drain?

Of course we’re talking about Brian De Palma, who at age 73 should deserve more respect — if he hadn’t spent decades scuttling it so completely. His new movie is called Passion, and one doubts he thinks its lame third-generation lez-ploitation is any less of a passion project than he’s made in the past. That is so, so sad.

It’s important to remember that this guy once looked like a prince, as promising as Scorsese, through at least the mid-1970s: clever shorts, avant garde flirtations, exceptionally edgy, and inventive indie comedies (1968’s Greetings and 1970’s Hi, Mom!), guaranteed future cult classics (1974 rock musical Phantom of the Paradise), and tentative major-studio efforts that misfired yet were stylistically compelling (1972 absurdist Get to Know Your Rabbit, 1976 mystery thriller Obsession). Sisters (1973) — his first explicit Hitchcock homage — was a black-comedy horror knockout undervalued at the time because it was distributed by a minor studio (American International) that didn’t know how to sell it up-market.

Then came Carrie (1976), a brilliantly cast, shot, and scored improvement on Stephen King’s wobbly debut novel. It’s a succubus movie: no matter how many times you’ve seen it, you can’t watch the opening scenes without getting sucked into the whole thing. Its misanthropy could be excused as cunning satire, undercut by the empathy Sissy Spacek’s titular figure evoked. (De Palma never gave a leading female actor such sympathetic free rein before or since.) A commercial success nonetheless considered disappointing due to cheesy publicity better suited to a drive-in horror flick, Carrie boosted De Palma to the A list … where he wanked.

The Fury (1978), Dressed to Kill (1980), Body Double (1984), and Raising Cain (1992) reprised elements of Carrie and Hitchcock to guiltily-pleasurable but increasingly inane, sexist, baldly derivative ends. He was still capable of pulling off the odd big, splashy action picture — notably 1983’s Scarface and 1987’s The Untouchables, with Carlito’s Way (1993) and Mission: Impossible (1996) enjoyable if distant second-placers — while 1989’s Casualties of War was a decent stab at serious-issue cinema, dealing with Vietnam War atrocities.

But, argh: Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) turned Tom Wolfe’s easily-sussed satirical novel into a full-on embarrassment of overt Hollywood stupidity toward anything faintly literary or complex. After the brief, barely redeeming pause for OK style-over-substance exercise Snake Eyes (1998), De Palma delivered the monumentally dull Mission to Mars (2000), shuddersome old-man-salivating Femme Fatale (2002), starry-dreadful noir mystery The Black Dahlia (2006), and 2007’s Redacted — a fictionalized “found footage” reenactment of actual American war crimes that was one of the most inept and offensive movies ever made by a once-important US director. While similarly themed Casualties communicated just-enough horror at its similarly fact derived misdeeds, here De Palma appeared to take far too much pleasure in the loutishness of our soldiers abroad — not to mention their graphically depicted rape-murder of a teenage Iraqi girl.

I’ve left little space left to discuss Passion because it is so depressingly unworthy of discussion. Even at this late, dire point, the notion of DePalma directing a remake of Alain Corneau’s 2010 hit Love Crime suggested camp guilty pleasure at the very least. The original film was a clever if implausible psychological thriller in which a corporate boss (Kristin Scott Thomas) and junior-executive protegee (Ludivine Sagnier) come to fatal comeuppance blows over a particularly cruel abuse of power in the name of love (or heterosexual lust). It was a stereotypical girlfight par excellance, dressed up via reasonably smart treatment.

You’d expect De Palma to ramp up the lurid and tawdry-violent aspects to delightfully tasteless degrees. (Remember, this is the director whose refined sensibility once showcased a killer’s floor-perforating electrical drill thrusting phallically into Janet-Leigh-in-Psycho substitute Deborah Shelton in Body Double.)

But perhaps what’s most depressing about Passion is that the life has gone out even from his love of violence and sexploitation. It’s a tepid movie, and not even a stylish one. In contrast to Scott Thomas’ formidible strength through-negativity (amplified in the recent Only God Forgives), Rachel McAdams’ villain is just another yuppie princess with a snit fit in store. Sagnier might well be the Gallic answer to Chloe Sevigny, yet her waxy inexpressiveness is still better than another horribly awkward English language performance (see: last year’s Prometheus) by Swedish star Noomi Rapace.

Hilariously, De Palma has opined that Passion lacks his trademark excesses because he targeted it primarily toward female viewers who (market research says) dislike graphic sex or violence. As if most women would enjoy his use of primary female characters as bimbos, prostitutes, bitches, rape victims, backstabbers, and climbers … if toned down a bit.

Passion (which notably took a full year to secure any US release after a festival debut) commits a sin he’s seldom attained previously: it is just dull. It promises titillation. Yet real people and real sex are so plastic and cartooned here they seem the last call of an old-school playboy horndog who can’t get it up anymore. *

PASSION

Wed/4-Fri/5, 2:45 and 7pm, $8.50-$11

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.castrotheatre.com

Put the Warriors Arena atop CalTrain

21

OPINION Numerous problems with the proposed location of a new Warriors stadium and surrounding complex are obvious. What we need is a better solution, not just laments about the folly of it all. Is there a better solution for everyone?

We can take a page from Warriors co-owner Peter Guber’s book, “Tell To Win.” He explains how a business proposal lives or dies in terms of the story it embodies. The story trumps piles of statistics or litanies of problems. This is what tries men’s souls and glazes eyes. But there is an alternative story to tell in this case, one that is win-win for everyone.

Let’s create a great sports complex at the heart of our public transportation system. We don’t need to clog the waterfront when we can build a great sports mecca elsewhere. Let’s take a cue from New York City and how Madison Square Garden perches directly above Penn Station.

Right now CalTrain has an ideally located terminus in the core of the city, but it’s unsightly. Why not put the new stadium directly above the CalTrain station? The same solution is being applied right now to the new Time Warner headquarters at Hudson Yards on the west side in New York: several skyscrapers will rise on platforms above an existing rail yard.

Consider the advantages: CalTrain passengers can walk upstairs to see a game! Muni and BART riders can take a short walk to the stadium. Soon they’ll be able to ride the Central Subway to it as well. It’s the perfect place for a major indoor arena that could host diverse events.

AT&T Park is just a block away and already lends enormous appeal to this entire area. The train yard extends from 4th to 7th St and the space above this great expanse could house a sizeable parking garage, less than a block from the 280 access ramp, as well as a hotel, restaurants, condos, offices and perhaps a shopping complex.

It’s everything Peter Guber and his partners dream of, that the city needs, and that we can embrace, now that it’s in the right place.

Let’s welcome the Warriors by all means. But do we want a Titanic on the waterfront when we can have a jewel above the CalTrain station that will simultaneously overcome the gulf that now exists between the western part of SOMA and Mission Bay?

This location could establish a sports complex the rival of any in the country. An essential, but dreary space turns into a great sports oasis, like Cinderella at midnight but in reverse. Perhaps the city will even want to include a large, well-equipped community recreation center for all of us who like to play as well as watch.

Bill Nichols is a consultant for documentary filmmakers and has published a dozen books related to the cinema. He lives in San Francisco.

Slipping away

10

By Amy Yannello

Note: This article has been corrected from an earlier version.

As she had done countless times before, Gloria Davidson sat and waited for her son to be brought into the courtroom. His hands and feet were shackled, and his blue uniform branded him as different — someone to be judged apart from the rest of the crowd in this room.

His crime? Aaron Davidson has schizophrenia.

On that day earlier this year, which Gloria recounted and shared with the Guardian in a recent interview, he faced charges for violating one of five restraining orders against him — but he didn’t understand what he’d done to deserve them, his mother said.

“The neurons and synapses in his brain fire inappropriately and he sees and hears things that are not really there,” Gloria explained. “As a result, his responses to his perceived reality are often unwarranted or make no sense,” she continued, “or frighten the people around him.” Aaron could neither speak coherently nor acknowledge that his actions had led to restraining orders, she said.

In his case, the judge deemed Aaron “incompetent to stand trial” and sent him to Napa State Hospital for treatment. He remains there, where he’ll turn 36 later this month.

Davidson is one of three Bay Area mothers with adult sons at NSH to push for full, statewide implementation of Laura’s Law.

Known formally as “assisted outpatient treatment” (AOT), the law is named for Laura Wilcox, a 19-year-old college student who lost her life when Scott Harlan Thorpe, a man with a persistent and severe mental illness who had stopped taking his medication, shot and killed her and a coworker at a Nevada City mental health clinic.

While Thorpe, then 41, was in too deep of a state of psychosis to benefit from AOT at the time of the shootings, his family, psychiatrist, and the Wilcoxes all believed that if the legislation had been in effect even six months earlier, when Thorpe’s family first noticed he’d stopped taking medication, the tragedy could have been averted.

 

DEBATE ON INVOLUNTARY TREATMENT

Through AOT, an individual’s family, doctor, or trusted third party may advocate to a judge that a patient is at risk of decompensation — serious psychological deterioration making it impossible to function independently — if left untreated. In very narrow circumstances, a judge may order a person to receive AOT as a condition of being allowed to continue living independently.

Currently, only Nevada, Los Angeles and Yolo counties have embraced the law, which allows courts in very limited circumstances to compel into treatment those residents who are too ill to know they are ill.

This “lack of insight” — a neurological condition known as “anosognosia” — is said to affect upward of 40 percent of people with serious mental illnesses.

Gloria Davidson and Teresa Pasquini, another mother of a mentally ill NSH patient, are now pushing for Laura’s Law implementation in Contra Costa County. They’re joined by a third mother, Candy DeWitt, who founded a project called Voices of Mothers Project to bring together parents of people suffering from anosognosia. Alameda County’s Behavioral Health Care Services has issued a report recommending to its Board of Supervisors that it approve a one-year AOT pilot project. The issue is expected to be taken up at the BOS’ Oct. 28 meeting, where it would need a majority vote to be approved, DeWitt said. 

Laura’s Law isn’t without its detractors. “Where does it end?” asked Dan Brzovic, an attorney based in the Oakland office of Disability Rights California. “Pretty soon, we’ll have people saying that anyone with a mental illness cannot think for themselves.”

“The moral issue is that people who are competent to make choices for themselves must be given that right,” he continued. “That’s if they have the capacity. If they don’t, then there are involuntary treatment options already on the books, like conservatorship.”

But the debate surrounding Laura’s Law and mental health service delivery goes deeper, since underlying questions remain about whether dedicated funding has translated to sufficient levels of care. Each of the three mothers told the Guardian that their sons — all deemed to be suffering from “serious mental illness” — never received adequate treatment as they moved through California’s fragmented and broken public mental health system, despite the advent of Proposition 63, the 2004 ballot initiative that created California’s Mental Health Services Act.

A staggering report released in mid-August by State Auditor Elaine Howle brings this claim into focus. According to the audit, the California Department of Mental Health and the Oversight and Accountability Commission have exercised such “minimal oversight” since MHSA went into effect that the state has “little assurance” that $7.4 billion has been used “effectively and appropriately.” That amount represents the total funding generated by the MHSA — which imposes a 1 percent tax on personal income in excess of $1 million — from 2006 to 2012.

In response to these revelations, Rose King, a co-author of Prop. 63 who previously served as a consultant for then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer, stated, “No county has been required to demonstrate its accountability for any spending or program choices. The public — and state officials — have no idea whether counties have improved county mental health systems, whether spending complies with the law, and whether private contractors have delivered promised services.”

 

“WASTE, FRAUD, MISMANAGEMENT”

The MHSA ramped up services for some 600,000 adults and children in the public mental health system, bringing in $1 billion per year in dedicated funding for the treatment of serious mental illness.

But beyond patients tracked via Medi-Cal, no one tracks the true number of uninsured patients served. There isn’t a data system capturing all the clients or services tied to MHSA funds, making outcomes impossible to track with accuracy.

Some funding has gone to client advocacy groups who actively oppose Laura’s Law. Disability Rights California and the California Network of Mental Health Clients, both opponents of AOT, received $3 million and $1.5 million in MHSA grants respectively. These groups believe voluntary services should be the only programs to receive funding through MHSA and have actively threatened to sue counties that have tried to implement Laura’s Law.

Some of the very people who campaigned hardest for MHSA have since become watchdogs monitoring its implementation. They include King, who lost both a husband and son to suicide due to lack of treatment for their severe mental illnesses, and Pasquini — whose only son is languishing in NSH with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and a felony charge for an alleged assault on a fellow patient while on the incorrect medication.

These embattled mothers say they’ve observed a system awash in “waste, fraud and mismanagement.” They also charge that the system results in disproportionate services for what King terms the “worried well” — people merely experiencing life’s ups and downs — in many cases to the neglect of those struggling with what’s classified as “serious mental illness.”

 

MISSPENDING OF FUNDS DESIGNATED FOR PREVENTION?

Under the MHSA, only a specified population may receive treatment using these funds. Patients must have been diagnosed with “serious mental illness,” amounting to psychological problems that are severe enough to prevent an individual from functioning independently without assistance should they go untreated.

But critics like King and DJ Jaffe of the Mental Illness Policy Org. (MIPO), a national think tank that has been critical of California’s management of MHSA monies, contend that the 20 percent of MHSA funds designated for Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) programs are instead being funneled into programs with little connection to mental illness treatment.

The MHSA specifically limits PEI dollars to programs that “prevent mental illnesses from becoming severe or disabling” or that “limit the duration of untreated mental illness.”

Yet King contends that these funds have been used instead to underwrite social service programs ranging from domestic violence prevention and parenting classes, to social skills for disadvantaged youth — all good causes that are nevertheless “not legitimate recipients” of money intended for mental illness treatment, King says.

 

CONFLICT-OF-INTEREST ALLEGATIONS

Jaffe’s organization has seized on the PEI expenditures as a violation of the MHSA, turning a skeptical eye on the 16-member Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission.

In 2011, according to a MIPO analysis, more than $23 million in PEI grants went to advocacy organizations and service providers with direct financial ties to both OAC commissioners and committee members. MIPO characterized it as “insider dealing” and a violation of California conflict-of-interest laws.

OAC committee member Rusty Selix, a lobbyist and Prop. 63 co-author, dismissed the MIPO report, saying, “I don’t see any conflict.”

Selix added that unpaid OAC board members recuse themselves from voting whenever it’s deemed to be necessary. And he defended a system where stakeholders, such as consumers and family members, also serve on committees, saying, “You can’t expect to include them in the process without crisscrossing some stakeholders who also receive MHSA grants.”

Jaffe took a different tack. “The problem, besides the blatant conflict-of-interest,” countered Jaffe, “is how these PEI monies are being spent. And they’re not being spent to help the seriously mentally ill,” he continued. “Yet year after year, they’re getting approved. Millions and millions of taxpayer dollars that were supposed to go to treat the sickest among us are being spent on social programs.”

 

NOT ENOUGH BEDS

Some believe the broad issue of funds not making it to the intended target population might be playing out within the microcosm of San Francisco. In 2010-11, the most recent available data, San Francisco County received $23 million in MHSA funding, 75 percent of which was earmarked for direct services.

But that money hasn’t gone toward ensuring that there are enough beds for treating mentally ill patients, according to Geoff Wilson, president of the Physicians’ Organizing Committee. Wilson’s organization reported that as of August, San Francisco General Hospital had dropped to 19 emergency psychiatric beds, down from 88 two years ago.

“It’s unconscionable. We’ve got the highest 5150 rate in the state,” Wilson told The Guardian, referring to 72-hour psychiatric holds imposed by law enforcement. We’re not saying ‘lock everyone up,’ we’re just saying that for people who need it, the beds need to be there, and there’s barely any left in the city.”

Wilson explained the cuts by saying that when Medi-Cal stopped paying for the care — essentially “raising the bar” for what it took to keep someone in a psychiatric inpatient bed — the county slashed the number of beds because it “simply wasn’t profitable” to keep them open.

Asked to respond to this claim, SFDPH spokesperson Eileen Shields told the Guardian that only Barbara Garcia, the agency director, was in a position to respond. But Garcia was out of town and unavailable for comment.

According to the POC’s Dr. Cameron Quanbeck, it costs $250 per day to house inmates in jail, compared with $1,700 per day for hospital care. In March, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi testified before the Mental Health Board that the jail system had become the “default” place for people with mental illness, identifying more than 70,000 contacts with Jail Psychiatric Services in 2012 alone.

 

LAW ENFORCEMENT AND LAURA’S LAW

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 16 percent of inmates have a severe mental illness, making jails and prisons the largest de facto psychiatric treatment facilities. The National Sheriff’s Association has come out in support of AOT laws in all 50 states.

Pasquini says her son could have benefited from AOT, and she believes that “AOT should be a mandated MHSA program in every county to prevent tragedy and intervene with the criminalization of mental illness.”

Since his initial diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder at 16, Pasquini’s 31-year-old son has had more than 70 emergency contacts with law enforcement and/or ambulance personnel, most of them resulting in 5150 holds.

He is now a patient at NSH, where “he wants to die every day, and I don’t blame him,” continued Pasquini. “It’s a reality for him. His illness has progressed, because every time you have a ‘break,’ you get a little worse. He’s the perfect candidate for Laura’s Law.”

 

Forget the Willie Brown Bay Bridge

73

EDITORIAL As the California Legislature prepares to wrap up before fall recess, a resolution is working its way through the approval process to rename the western span of the Bay Bridge the “Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge.”

Brown, who formerly served as mayor of San Francisco and speaker of the California Assembly, is known for boasting about his hobnobbing with the rich and famous in his San Francisco Chronicle column, “Willie’s World.” But to longtime progressive San Franciscans who spent decades trying to stem the tide of gentrification, he was the powerful figure that rolled out the welcome mat for high-end developers and corporate interests, whose interests in San Francisco revolved around profit alone.

As mayor, Brown presided over land-use policies that resulted in high-end developments at a time when evictions were rampant, a trend that rings familiar in today’s tech-saturated San Francisco. Once, when pressed on the idea that his approach was making the city increasingly unaffordable, Brown’s famous retort was: “If you don’t make $50,000 a year in San Francisco, then you shouldn’t live here.”

It’s not just Brown’s insensitivity to struggling tenants, deep ties to corporate interests and high-end real-estate developers, or continued behind-the-scenes influence in San Francisco politics that cause us to squirm when we think about the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge bearing this politician’s name. There’s also the key question of whether Bay Area residents actually want to see this happen — and, given Brown’s historic role as a divisive figure, the idea that there is universal support for such an idea is laughable.

A legislative analysis presented to the Assembly Committee on Transportation a few weeks ago noted that lawmakers actually came up with ground rules for big decisions like whether a bridge ought to be named after someone, to “promote fairness.” The rules stipulate that such a proposal “must reflect a community consensus” — and guess what? Even Brown’s editors over at the Chronicle issued a June editorial opposing the idea.

Not only that, but proposals like this are only supposed to come from representatives of the district where the thing being renamed is located — yet this scheme came from Assemblymember Isadore Hall, a Democrat from Compton. But despite clear failure to adhere to these basic rules, only a single committee member voted against naming the bridge after Brown.

Interestingly enough, the bill even includes a request for Caltrans to determine the cost of posting signs commemorating Brown, which would evidently be funded by donations from unspecified private sources.

If the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is going to be named after anyone, we agree that the honor should be reserved for beloved 19th-century San Francisco eccentric Joshua Abraham Norton, the Scotsman who proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States in 1859 and printed his own currency.

So far, a Change.org petition calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to name it the Emperor Norton Bay Bridge has garnered 1,800 signatures. “He was a champion of racial and religious unity, an advocate for women’s suffrage [and] a defender of the people,” the petition notes. That sounds more like something motorists can be proud of when they drive back and forth across the bay.