Home Volume 47 [2012–13] Volume 47 Number 51

Volume 47 Number 51

Mexican summer

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arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC There was no reason for me to be awake at 7:31am, since I’d flown into Mexico City the day before. Losing two hours of sleep from the time change left me dazed. Exactly 10 minutes later my hotel room started to shake. I sat up, alarmed, and assessed the commotion I heard in the hallway before I realized I was experiencing a 6.2 earthquake from the fifth floor. I clicked on the TV and saw structured evacuations of buildings that could have easily been near me. I wondered if I should be doing the same, but the shaking stopped. It was like my welcoming jolt — “Get ready, you’re with us now. You do what we do.”

I’d trekked to this monster of a city before, but only spent three days last time. I loved it on a touristy level and knew I wanted more, so I planned a return this summer. Coincidentally, SF’s Alcoholocaust Presents (which books punk shows) had Los Headaches and Los Vincent Black Shadows slated for some Bay Area appearances shortly before my trip, as part of both Mexico City bands’ West Coast summer tour. Intrigued, I spent two consecutive nights at the Hemlock Tavern checking out the bands, which were bouncing off the walls with energy (even when the musicians weren’t playing). Bob Log III and the Okmoniks headlined to a hot and crowded club the second night.

I bought Los Headaches’ CD, Never Ending Hunger, the night before from Twist!, the bassist [Ed. note: All last names are omitted to protect the band members from immigration]. At the time I didn’t realize he’s really not a member of the band (I figured they had interchangeable members since he is in Los Vincent Black Shadows) and that US Immigration, some weed in a guitar case, and those pesky work visas had marred the tour plans of two Headaches; granting them deportations and a five-year ban on US entry. Alcoholocaust would put me in touch with Twist! He’d be my point of contact for a week of strangers showing me kindness, sharing music, and letting me in on parts of the city I may have not otherwise seen.

 

“IT’S LIKE JEEEZ

“Ever had Mezcal?” Twist! asked. I’d been off the sauce for nine months, but before I arrived an itinerary email suggested plans to infiltrate an invite-only VICE party (where the Growlers played), record shopping (my request), seeing some venues where local bands play or a house show (ultimately my goal), and the problematic hint of grabbing some beers.

We ate a salmon and caper pizza and I was introduced to chimichurri at a restaurant in the trendy Condesa neighborhood. His wife and 5-month-old joined, along with Carlos (one of the deported Headaches). Everyone but me had a beer. “Yes,” I answered. “What about pulque?” he retorted. The concoction of fermented agave sap evaded me on my previous trip. In the spirit of trying new things and rather than be a slave to any rules about substance (yet cautious not to be enslaved by the bottle), I decided the next day to alleviate my anxiety and imbibed.

“It’s like Jeeez” Fosi said, joking about the drink’s suspect consistency in a thick accent. (They told me they don’t normally speak English, but since my Spanish is limited they made an exception). He’s the other deported Headache, a guitarist who faced tough questioning and an invasive search from immigration officers who threatened him with up to 20 years in jail if he didn’t adequately cooperate. One mango, one pistachio: down the hatch. Both were delicious and I had no regrets, body buzz and all.

Hell bent on finding an in to the VICE party, a barrage of texts and phone calls flew across the table. Pepe (Twist!’s brother and Los Headaches’ drummer) met us at the bar. I envisioned the lost home video mentioned of the two brothers taking turns throwing themselves into a drum set, honing their Nirvana impersonations as kids.

Their conversations lapsed into Spanish as another stressful development arose when a band showcase they organized at the last minute for Friday night was suddenly jeopardized by greed (the person who was going to lend the art space was now asking $300. It wasn’t clear to me if that meant pesos or US dollars). For a moment my stomach sank and I thought there might be a shakedown, but a house was secured. They’d throw a party, free of charge.

Despite the free hors d’oeuvres and Dos Equis we stumbled upon at a Volcom party for a new shoe line, it probably paled compared to any exclusive party. I passed on the Growlers (a few of the band members snuck in) since Friday’s showcase would be the main event.

 

“THIS IS ALL FOR YOU, MAN”

Nico called my name to join him for a walk to the liquor store. Bleached-blond with shades, there’s no way he’s not in a band. He plays guitar and sings (they all sing) and was the final Headache I met in Mexico City. He described the common response from girls when they ask what he does and he tells them he plays rock’n’roll: they’re not interested. I said freelance music writing doesn’t pay well either. “We are losers,” he joked.

They don’t often get paid to play, but the determination to simply do what they love with their lives seemed to be the core of their existence. The showcase came together in a series of sweaty, passionate, punk-rock performances. Grandma Boys, Suca Suca, and Los Reverse demonstrated spirited, supportive roles for the aforementioned bands.

“This is for you. This is all for you, man,” Twist! said, almost staring through me with intensity. Party mode had climaxed, but the profundity of what transpired didn’t sink in until later. The day before I left, Fosi asked, “Did you get what you came for?” I told him “And then some.” Humbled, lucid, and feeling alive, I left fulfilled. My reward is that I remember everything.

 

Volume 47 Number 51 Flip-through Edition

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The observer

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM Filmmaker Jem Cohen is known for his artful documentaries, including 2003 Fugazi portrait Instrument. His latest, Museum Hours, has many doc-like qualities, but it’s the closest he’s come to a narrative. Set in Vienna, it follows Canadian Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara) as she arrives to care for a dying cousin. Adrift in an unfamiliar city, she meets Johann (Bobby Sommer), a guard at the stately Kunsthistorisches Museum. He offers to show her around and serve as translator, and a genuine friendship — based on a shared affection for art — is formed.

Like the artist Bruegel, whose paintings so fascinate his characters, Cohen focuses on the details of everyday life; his camera lingers as carefully on street scenes as it does on the museum’s priceless artifacts. I caught up with Cohen — a Persistence of Vision Award winner at this year’s SF International Film Festival — just before Museum Hours‘ theatrical release.

SF Bay Guardian Museum Hours shows some well-known landmarks, but it’s more focused on Vienna as a living, breathing city.

Jem Cohen I’m always fascinated by the city beneath the city, and particularly the city that is not made for tourists. Vienna is known for [the Vienna State Opera], and glorious views — and all of that is fine. I don’t have anything against it. But there are back streets, neighborhoods with immigrants in them, and places where people who don’t have a lot of money go. All of that is something that I wanted to bring to the surface, but in a natural way, because [Anne] is stuck there, wandering, and she doesn’t have a lot of dough.

SFBG Working in the Bruegel room, Johann muses that he always notices something new each time he looks at the paintings. Do you feel like that about Vienna?

JC I feel that way about every city! I feel that way about street photography, too. When you wander, if you just open your eyes and ears, then you will receive gifts. Things will come around the corner that you don’t expect. That’s eternally the hidden motor of my work.

SFBG What drew you to Bruegel?

JC Standing in front of his paintings, I felt this uncanny kinship that had a lot to do with my work as a street photographer. In particular, it’s this feeling of being in the random particle generator of life, and not knowing exactly where to look. It’s a very particular thing to have events going on all over the frame and you’re not told, “This is the one important thing.” You have an openness which allows you to constantly shift what is foreground and what is background, and try to make something out of that. I feel that’s part of the street photography tradition, and it’s part of what Bruegel was sort of miraculously doing in the 16th century.

SFBG Museum Hours contains an extended scene of a museum docent delivering a lecture about Bruegel to a tour group. Why did you include that?

JC I wasn’t making Museum Hours for any market. But if I had been, that scene would have been the kiss of death. Everyone would have said, “You’re out of your mind. You can’t just drop a 10-minute lecture in the middle of a movie and expect people to be OK with that.”

But the scene with the docent allows me to introduce a lot of things that are important to me, in terms of how I feel about art. It also suggests that the main characters of your movie are not the only human interaction that everybody needs to be focused on. Something else could happen; the guard could turn the corner and hear a guest lecturer, and become immersed in that.

SFBG I couldn’t tell if she actually was a lecturer, or an actor playing one.

JC One of the things that I most hoped to do in the film was to have people unsure of what is documentary material and what is not, and unsure of who is acting and who is not, and unsure of whether the movie is a city portait or a narrative about these strangers who meet. Or whether it’s really about Pieter Bruegel the Elder, or about museums as a possible crossroads.

That slippery quality is one of the most valuable things to me about this film, as well as [my film] Chain (2004), which also involved non-actors and actors, and having it be essentially an open question.

SFBG Museum Hours has quite a different tone than Chain. It’s a lot friendlier, for lack of a better word.

JC Chain is, in some regards, a horror film about a kind of depersonalization and homogenization of the world that’s insidious and, in its way, quite brutal. Museum Hours is a film that has, at its core, a belief in art as something that goes from past to future, and actually continues as a viable human communication. It’s also about friendship and the kindness of strangers.

I don’t see those two projects as antithetical; they’re just different facets of the same world. I don’t feel, as a filmmaker or as a person, that everything goes either light or dark. But I’m glad that I don’t always have to make movies that are angry, because Chain is an angry film. It had to be.

SFBG How did you cast your lead actors?

JC I had seen Mary Margaret O’Hara as a musician almost 25 years ago. I was just so taken by her presence that I had in the back of my mind that someday I would love to work with her on a film.

When I met Bobby, he was working as a driver and a waiter. I used him in one earlier project just to read some German text, and I loved the way he sounded. I also liked the fact that he had a lot of odd life experience that he could bring to the role.

SFBG They’re both credited with writing some of the dialogue, too.

JC It’s kind of a half-scripted movie. Sometimes, it’s actually one of them speaking lines that I had written, with the other one being completely free to respond. Again, I tried to make it unclear what lines are scripted and what lines are not — so that the film feels more like life to me.

I wanted to make a down-to-earth movie. I thought it would be lethal to deal with, basically, art, life, and death, and do it in a pretentious way. People have their range of passions, which can include Rembrandt and AC/DC. That’s fine! That’s the way I live.

SFBG I’d love to see Museum Hours in a double feature with The Mill and the Cross (2011). What did you think of that film?

JC I didn’t see it! I felt like I couldn’t see somebody else’s Bruegel movie while I was making my own. I will seek it out and watch it now, because I heard it’s quite lovely. It’s really nice to me that that so many people have responded to Bruegel over the years. I think there’s something very “of the people” about him that also intrigues those of us who work in cinema. *

 

MUSEUM HOURS opens Fri/20 in Bay Area theaters.

Highway to hell

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM On Oct. 24, 2002, a man and a teenager were arrested upon being found sleeping in their car at a Maryland rest stop. That ended the three-week reign of terror known as the Beltway sniper attacks, in which 13 people were shot (10 fatally) in a wide area surrounding Washington, DC. When facts started coming to light, what seemed most striking about these attacks were their utter randomness — the perps had pre-selected locations but not victims, the latter being just passers-by ranging from age 13 to 72 — as well as the curious relationship between the two shooters.

Forty-one-year-old John Allen Muhammad had met 17-year-old Jamaican Lee Boyd Malvo three years earlier when on a vacation with his three children in Antigua. (He’d actually kidnapped them for this purpose.) Malvo, who was more or less parentless, was sorely in need of guidance and a guardian. Taken back to the US by his new protector, the boy got a perverse dose of both, and was too grateful, gullible, or intimidated to question it.

A former US Army mechanic and driver, Muhammad lived an itinerant lifestyle with his new “son,” moving them from one end of the country to another with very little stability. Meanwhile Malvo was encouraged to steal — shoplifting the Bushmaster XM-15 with which they later committed the Beltway attacks — schooled in expert marksmanship, and inculcated in his “dad’s” bizarre antisocial, paranoid, punitive ideas about “waking people up” to the “evil” in the world. Phase One of the plan was purportedly to kill six white people a day for one month; the final goal was either (according to defense attorneys) to regain possession of Muhammad’s biological children, or (according to Malvo) to extort millions from the government to create a boot camp for other boys, who’d be trained to help trigger some murky downfall of our corrupt society.

Alexandre Moors’ first feature Blue Caprice offers an unsettling if ambiguous take on a case that still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Here, Lee (Tequan Richmond) has been abandoned by his negligent mother when he spies tourist John (Isaiah Washington of Grey’s Anatomy) frolicking with his younger kids; hungry and otherwise needy, he follows them around, eventually making a desperate bid for the older man’s attention.

Taken to the US, Lee accepts whatever strange wisdom his minder has to offer — that the latter’s ex-wife is “a fucking vampire;” that he himself needs brutal “training” that includes his being left tied to a tree deep in a forest; and that if he really loves his “dad,” he needs to complete various tasks as ordered, including shooting a particular woman point-blank in front of her home — even if later it turns out she “might have been the wrong woman.”

All this seems some sort of paramilitaristic preparation. But it’s also an outlet for John’s bottomless, often scarifying anger, and his need to create someone as emotionally disconnected from other humans as himself. For a while they stay with a former Army buddy and fellow weapons enthusiast (Tim Blake Nelson) who’s too much of a good ol’ boy to sense anything wrong about the visitors. But Ray’s wife (Joey Lauren Adams) does, and there’s tension in the way her suspicion might make her the latest woman John regards as an enemy.

The shootings themselves are dealt with very discreetly in Blue Caprice, though it’s chilling enough just watching the two leads arbitrarily pick targets. Moors and scenarist Ronnie Porto aim to conjure an atmosphere of isolation and indoctrination where we’re nearly as blindsided as Lee; the nondescript American settings they temporarily inhabit become hostile environs he and John infiltrate like spies for reasons that understandably wouldn’t make a lick of sense to anyone else. “They don’t realize the house of cards they live in. All it would take it one little push,” Muhammad says ominously, seeing himself as one-man destroying angel of some Great Lie. His delusions are as incoherent to us as they remain in real life.

While its deliberate omissions and psychological gaps are somewhat frustrating, Blue Caprice does cast a spell — aided considerably by Brian O’Carroll’s artful photography (no shaky-cam here) and a fine, unpredictable original score by Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson. The real Muhammad tried claiming that no proof could be found that he actually committed any of the shootings. That notion was tossed aside in court, and he died by lethal injection — calling himself an “innocent black man” to the end — in September 2009. Malvo was sentenced to life without parole. He revealed little in his Virginia trial, but by the time of his subsequent prosecution in Maryland, he no longer felt the need to protect Muhammad, and denied he’d been the sole triggerman. Just last year he came forward to say that Muhammad had sexually abused him.

Since the trials, the two have been linked to as many as 12 unsolved additional killings. What’s perhaps most disturbing about their case is that, strange as it is, in today’s US such conspiratorial murder of strangers doesn’t really seem that strange at all. Think of it this way: in 1976, the plot of Taxi Driver seemed improbable. But we now live in a world of well-armed Travis Bickles, prepping themselves to avenge some grave personal injustice they think everybody else must pay for. *

 

BLUE CAPRICE opens Fri/20 at the Roxie.

Primate urges

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arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Because the Bay Area has a reputation for encouraging artistic exploration, audiences have come to expect the unexpected — including having a monkey wrench thrown at them. Case in point: Erin Mei-Ling Stuart and her cohorts, who for their newest dance theater work, Monkey Gone to Heaven, pulled together some rather odd strings. Still, in the end they managed to say something intriguing about humankind’s connections to our closest relatives below, and our aspirations to whatever is above. The piece, however, is so multifaceted that I found myself overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of references. Were there episodes involving such outcasts as the biblical Ham, Africa’s pre-human Lucy, and Nijinsky in his madness?

Yet Monkey also stands as an evenhanded, lighthearted revue that doesn’t take its subject matter too seriously. It looks honestly at fundamental questions about what makes us human and how to we relate to something beyond us. Whether that is something like an afterlife or just a better life during the here and now is, gratefully, left open.

The work acknowledges and celebrates the close relationship to our animal nature, which too often gets ignored or denigrated. For coherence, the 75-minute, loosely-constructed episodes rely less on logic than on an emotional fabric woven by the wit, charm, and goofiness of its six performers: El Beh, Jennifer Chien, Kat Cole, Michael Mohammed, Rowena Ritchie, and Christopher W. White.

But how do these troopers suggest deep connections between our arboreal neighbors, not to speak of something called the future and us? The piece starts with the performers traipsing onto the stage chanting the refrain of the Pixies’ “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” whose lyrics portray a modest creature’s ascent through environmental morass towards the divine. Cole then recalls how she folded herself against a plate-glass zoo window — behind which a gorilla responded in kind. It became a transcendent experience for the human, and perhaps, the beast. Chien, for her part, lets herself be hogtied and yanked around as a sign of submission to an authority.

White then excitedly bursts onto stage with a scientific discovery that he thinks connects prayers, primates, and humans. Dopamine, which works on primates as well, he says, activates the pleasure center, but the anticipation of dopamine also produces this optimistic response, much the way prayer does. Is this an “a-ha” moment?

The choreography seems to say so, cleverly obliterating distinctions between human and animal movements by creating one fluid stream into which everyone dips: dancers hop, crawl, and walk on all fours; they fold their arms, genuflect, cross themselves, and pick lice off each other. When they sit on their haunches and begin to gently sway you certainly can’t tell which is which. Richie looked particularly in betwixt.

At one point the performers lie on their backs, engaged in a lusty monkey chant. They fight and they screech, and Mohammed explains his way of praying: a robust purging of himself. When all the dancers, except for Beh, knelt facing upstage for a Zen meditation, they quickly began to “ape” each others’ gestures, thus breaking their the trance, leaving Beh on her own.

Prayers — sung and recited — involved being grateful for a father with Alzheimer’s who had died. (I’m pretty sure also I heard one about someone who had bestowed herpes on somebody, and one about a lost cat.) The mundane and the weighty, the rational and goofy received equal consideration. That made for much of Monkey’s charms.

One of Monkey’s dramatically strongest sections involves the humans’ loss of the tail — Sonsheree Giles’ costumes had pinned stubs of them to their costumes. Toward the end, Ritchie and Beh, each on a column on either side of the stage, engaged in a lyrical paean about the tail — so soft, so pliable, so lush, so ever available and so sensuous and sexually alluring. It began to sound uncannily like an ode to a paradise lost. *

MONKEY GONE TO HEAVEN

Thu/19-Sat/21, 8pm; Sun/22, 7pm, $20

CounterPULSE

1310 Mission, SF

www.counterpulse.org

 

Put ’em in the glass

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marke@sfbg.com

BEER + WINE You may be a growler geek, a craft connoisseur, an export expert, a noble hops know-it-all … but are you a real Beer Nerd? A new Trivial Pursuit-like game from local publishing powerhouse Chronicle Books (www.chroniclebooks.com) tests your brew knowledge — “brewledge”? — as you advance around a colorful board. But here’s the delicious twist: players can land on “blind taste test” squares and really show their hops IQ. It’s a drinking game where drinking can actually help you win. Truly, we live in an age of wonders.

 

BRING IT, MAKE IT, RIDE IT

Yes, yes, small-batch urban wineries are still all the rage, but how does one distinguish itself in the great grape landscape? Well, if you’re the folks behind Tank 18 (1345 Howard, SF. www.tank18.com), you make your own wine, yes, but you also open up your beautiful, rustic-modern space for big events and parties (including a cheeky, sexy one during Folsom Street Fair) with a full bar. You also hit a sweet green spot with a BYOB-like event every third Saturday called “Sustainable Bottling” — patrons bring in rinsed-out bottles of wine they’ve already enjoyed at home to exchange for discounted, full Tank 18 bottles. Starting at $7.99 per bottle, that’s an upcycle we’ll gladly uncork.

Then there’s the Dogpatch WineWorks (2455 Third St, SF. www.dogpatchwineworks.com), which opened last year in a huge 15,000-square-foot space, and follows in the footsteps of Potrero Hill fave Crushpad by inviting people to come make their own wine. Budding vintners get to choose their own vineyard and varietal adventure, and the Dogpatch experts guide everyone through the process in a casual environment. This is the kind of team-building corporate exercise we’d like to see replace trust falls and retreats.

Oh, and did you know that you can take a bike tour of SF’s urban wine scene and learn some of the awesome century-old history of local grape cultivation? Gears and Grapes (www.gearsandgrapes.com) offers a breezy $99 day-ride through the city’s hotspots, stopping for tastings along the way. “Over 100 wineries flourished in the places that new tech start-ups now thrive,” G&G informs us. Can we have those wineries back, please?

 

SPEAKEASY SMOKIN’

Speakeasy (1195 Evans, SF. www.goodbeer.com) just celebrated its sweet 16 with a huge block party in the Bayview outside its brewery. But if you missed it, never fear. You can visit Speakeasy’s lovely Tap Room (Tue-Thu, 3-8pm; Fri-Sat, 1-9pm; Sun, 1-6pm) for some primo tastes, possibly including some of the new brews debuted at the block party (Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scarface Imperial Stout, 2009 Old Godfather Barleywine). Here’s an extra tip — Sundays they invite some of the city’s yummiest BBQ in to soak up some of those suds. Upcoming Smokin’ Sundays feature Memphis Minnie’s on Oct. 13 and Baby Blues BBQ on Nov. 10.

 

OH YEAH, THAT THING

Just like the October appearance of seasonal craft beer favorites — Anchor Brewing’s deep, rich Big Leaf Maple, 21st Amendment’s nicely spiced Fireside Chat, and, on a broader scale, Shock Top’s Pumpkin Wheat — so we must tighten our lederhosen in preparation for Oktoberfest by the Bay (Sept. 20-22, Pier 48, SF. www.oktoberfestbythebay.com). In addition to the hordes of revelers, you can catch entertainment from the Chico Bavarian Band accompanied by traditional dancing from the Nature Friends Schuhplattler (despite the name, not a nude oompah-pah association, alas). Plus, of course, a million steins of Spaten bier. Expect an overload of dirndls. *

 

Frankenkeg

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emilysavage@sfbg.com

BEER + WINE It seemed to just appear one day, lurking around the corner of the kitchen entryway. It was huge, buzzing, rectangular, and nearly five feet tall. Its glossy belly gurgled with homemade California Common brown ale, a slightly off concoction, similar to a typical Anchor Steam beer, that nevertheless tasted quite fresh, and spewed forth from the newly attached tap.

And that’s when I learned to love the scrappy new project in my kitchen: the Frankenkeg. It’s a bulky, DIY kegerator pieced together by my husband, Marcus, over the past few months, after a homebrewing obsession that began a little over three years ago. And although it’s a work in progress, it’s a real beauty in the way you’ll always love the rescued dog you taught new tricks. Plus, with three taps, it churns out a pretty constant stream of the good stuff.

The whole homebrewing thing started off far more inauspiciously, after a few friends in the East Bay and Outer Richmond area began their own homebrew experiments.

“I just always thought it was too difficult, but once I saw [my friends] doing it, I was like, ‘okay, I can do this,'” says Marcus, a GIS specialist for an environmental nonprofit in the East Bay. “And you know, I always need a hobby, and this one involves making stuff. You get to make something and watch it grow.”

He began where many budding homebrewers in the Bay Area start: Brewcraft, a devoted homebrew shop in the Richmond district, led by brewmaster Gregory William Miller the Thirdstein, aka Griz. Griz, who also teaches free classes at the shop, was once quoted on KAWL as saying, “I learned how to brew out of the back of a Field and Stream magazine.” From my limited interactions with him at Brewcraft, it’s clear he knows a whole lot about the craft of beer.

Marcus learned through Griz’s store and also by going to San Francisco Homebrewers Guild events, like a recent one at Cervecería de Mateveza at 18th and Church, where the brewers crafted a Dulce de Leche imperial stout. The San Francisco Homebrewers Guild is a combination of two groups that merged in January 2013, in which there are 140 dues-paying members and nearly 500 in the Meetup group. The founder and president is Chris Cohen. Group VP Kevin Inglin says the experience level in the group is wide-ranging, “We have several brewers who have been at it for a decade or more and a large group of people new to the hobby.” Inglin, an Army officer who is working to open his own nano brewery with his wife in the city, started homebrewing in 1996 with an ingredient kit he bought from a display set up in the corner of a German bar, while living in the South. He’s since homebrewed in Tennessee, Alabama, Hawaii, Virginia, Texas, Germany, and California.

Marcus first picked up his kit from Brewcraft, which included a big glass fermenting jug. His initial recipes, cooked up on our stove in a huge boiling pot, were all from Griz. He’s since learned to switch up ingredients to form his own concoctions by listening to podcasts like The Jamil Show, and visiting websites including Home Brew Talk, the Homebrewers Association Forum, and the homebrewing subreddit.

And Marcus enters his beers onto online recipe toolkit, Brewtoad. The site helps keep a batch within the style and tells you how it will taste with all the ingredients because, “to me it’s a little bit abstract: you throw all this stuff in there; I know this thing will do that, but I don’t know how much of each. So it will tell you, if you add this much crystal 40 — a grain that adds color and sugars — this is what the final color will be, and if it’s within the style you’re trying to make.”

In the past few years, Marcus has made batches of Imperial stout, IPA, cider, black ale, and a hibiscus saison inspired by Pacific Brewing Laboratory, which we sipped at Outside Lands.

The kegerator idea came in when he realized he was spending entire evenings cleaning out old bottles, only to use the same bottles for the next batch of homebrews, usually enjoyed in our own apartment with friends, or at the park.

He started with the smallest piece of the equation, hence why I was so surprised by the final, monstrous outcome. At first, it was just the miniature gift box-sized temperature controller, which he got the idea for off a homebrew forum. The STC1000 is the part he got off Amazon.com, which is just the switch and the temperature probe. He attached that to a plastic project box, which he got at a hardware store.

Gathering up parts for the eventual kegerator, he found a deal online for four Cornelius (Corny) kegs on a homebrewing site. His kegs have the pinlock type of closure, and were originally used as syrup containers by the Coca-Cola company, likely at a fast food restaurant.

Next came the beast itself: the chest freezer, which would eventually hold the Corny kegs, a 20-pound CO2 tank, and that little temperature box attached to the outside, controlling the temp of the beer fermenting inside.

He picked up the chest freezer from another hobbyist on Craigslist, who lived in Oakley, near Antioch. The man raised pitbulls for show, had a garage full of fishing lures, and also raised pigeons — which explained why there was bird shit all over the chest freezer at first. It’s since been vigorously scrubbed down and lacquered with appliance paint then spray painted white.

On a sweltering weekend afternoon a few months back, our friends in Oakland helped us build a wood collar, which sits between the lid and the body of the chest freezer to give it extra height. It makes it roomier for the Corny Kegs and that oversized CO2 tank — which will likely fill around 20 to 30 kegs before it needs to be refilled. They also helped drill holes to attach the taps, because how else are we going to transform our apartment into a brewlab?

The beast was trucked to our third-story walkup and dragged into the kitchen with the help of those same friends. And now it sits, all seven cubic feet of it, chilling and cleansing two brand new batches of homebrew.

We cooked up both in the past week, one a pale ale and one an IPA. I used “we” liberally here, as I’m more of a sous chef, holding up pots and stirring when needed. The pale ale is a typical West Coast ale, in which we used Chinook bittering hops and cascade, and newer hop Amarillo, which “supposedly has a pineapple flavor.”

The IPA also includes a lot of Amarillo, along with simcoe for bittering, and citra at the end. The husband fears the IPA might be a bit too bitter for most palates, hence the more balanced pale ale, which will be ready to spill forth from the first tap come next month. The IPA might take slightly longer, as fermentation processes vary, and can take anywhere from a few days to months.

And to answer your question: yes, you’re all invited to the next tasting party.

For more information on the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild, see our Q&A.

 

BART resists safety reforms in labor negotiations

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BART maintenance workers training under safety instructor Saul Almanza are taught this most important lesson: the objective when you go to work is to come home afterward.

He remembers two BART engineers who were hit and killed by the trains they were charged with repairing: Robert Rhodes in 2001, and James Strickland in 2008. Almanza imagines the dark tunnels where the safe places to stand are small and the lighting is scarce. He says he thinks of Rhodes and Strickland every day.

As talks between BART labor unions and management resumed Sept. 9, negotiations over safety overhauls had stalled, according to representatives from SEIU Local 1021. On Sept. 11, union members on the negotiating team — which includes Almanza — released a chart of fines the transit agency received from the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, stemming from those accidents.

The chart shows 20 citations from OSHA since 2001 that the unions said have been unaddressed. BART management, unsurprisingly, disputes this. The list shows incidents as minor as rain getting into a fare gate and as major as the two aforementioned deaths. All told, the safety fines add up to $192,375.

The complaints were also listed on CAL/OSHA’s website, with additional details revealing that some of the investigations into the complaints were closed, contrary to the union’s claim. But that doesn’t mean the underlying causes of the problems have been solved, and they remain a sticking point in the negotiations between BART management and SEIU.

BART spokesperson Rick Rice said the lighting issues that led to Rhodes’ death will soon be resolved. Strickland’s death was a separate issue, though, as dense vegetation blocked a driver’s line of sight, leading to the mechanic’s death. That was also addressed, Rice said.

“Starting next year there’s $4.5 million allocated by the board to improve all the lighting,” Rice told the Guardian, and that other changes have made the tunnels safer since the 2001 accident.

But Almanza said he won’t believe it until he sees it in writing. So far, that hasn’t happened.

“The only change that took place was they added signage to the location saying you can’t enter the area without ‘simple’ approval,” Almanza said. Simple approval is a process where the worker recites a waiver that absolves BART of fault should they be injured or die. “They make you proclaim that you won’t interfere with operations, and it means if you delay something or die, it’s your fault.” Robert Bright, a train mechanic at the Hayward BART shop, also told us he was worried about safety conditions for BART workers. In our previous coverage, “Tales from the Tracks,” he said he’s seen workers crushed under machinery and electrocuted due to lax safety conditions. CAL/OSHA’s required changes are simple enough, requiring trained electricians to shut off power to the third rails and remove power breakers before maintenance crews work on the tracks to prevent the power from accidentally being switched back on. Almanza said the procedure saves lives. But BART management has paid its lawyers to resist the changes recommended by CAL/OSHA, documentation shows. Recent minutes from BART Board of Directors show the board voted unanimously to retain legal services from law firm Glynn and Finley to “mount a vigorous defense” against the safety citations issued by OSHA, saying the recommended changes were unnecessary and would have little effect on safety. Meeting minutes show the directors don’t think it’s a necessary procedure, but Almanza contends that it’s a cost-saving measure, since electricians must be paid to remove the breakers. “If this prohibition is implemented, it would drastically change the way BART performs maintenance operations with no anticipated improvement in safety,” according to meeting minutes. It went on to state that the procedure introduces additional safety risks, which Almanza denies. The board then moved to approve a $188,000 increase for legal services to challenge the CAL/OSHA changes — almost as much as the agency paid in fines for safety violations in the first place.

Domestic workers may get labor rights

3

The California Legislature gave final approval to the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights on Sept. 12, legislation sponsored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-SF) to finally extend some labor rights to this largely female and immigrant workforce. Advocates are hopeful that Gov. Jerry Brown will sign it this time.

As we reported in a Guardian cover story, “Do we care?” (March 28), domestic and farm workers are the only two categories of employees exempted from federal labor law, and the caregiving professions are consistently undervalued in our economic and political systems. Last year, Brown vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, expressing the concern that it might hurt the economy and cost jobs.

But advocates for the measure came back even stronger this year than last, and they recently accepted a set of amendments in the Senate that weaken the bill but may make it more palatable to Gov. Brown, including eliminating the requirement for rest and meal breaks and giving the measure a three-year sunset and commission to review its impacts.

“We’ve had discussions with the administration and we think we’re on the right track to get it signed,” Ammiano’s Press Secretary Carlos Alcala told the Guardian.

He emphasized that the bill still retains the requirement that domestic workers, who routinely work more than 40 hours per week, are entitled to overtime pay, something that Ammiano also emphasized in a prepared statement.

“This is a historic moment,” Ammiano said. “This now goes to the governor for his signature. That will give these workers, mostly women, the right to be paid fairly for overtime worked.”

Katie Joaquin, campaign coordinator the California Domestic Workers Coalition, said she’s excited to see the bill pass and hopeful that Brown will sign it this time.

“If he signs this bill, California would be the first state to give daily overtime rights to all domestic workers,” she said.

Gov. Brown has until Oct. 13 to sign it. 

Bay Bridge turns Brown

15

The California Senate gave its blessing to the rename the western span of the Bay Bridge after former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown on Sept. 12, blatantly disregarding its own rules and strong local opposition to the proposal.

Since ACR 65 is a nonbinding resolution, Gov. Jerry Brown cannot veto it even though he went on record earlier this week saying the 77-year-old bridge should keep the same name it’s always had.

San Francisco Sens. Mark Leno and Leland Yee both voted in favor of the resolution.

As the Senate gave final approval to the measure, attorneys G. Whitney Leigh and Lee Hepner filed a complaint seeking injunctive relief to overturn the resolution on behalf of their client, good government advocate Bob Planthold.

At a press conference, Planthold said the lawsuit “has nothing to do with Willie,” but rather sought to remedy what he perceived as state lawmakers ignoring their own rules, including reserving such honors for the deceased, a state of affairs he characterized as “Orwellian.”

Leigh questioned why Sacramento legislators were in such a rush to rename part of the Bay Bridge when construction of the eastern span had only just been completed, following long delays and overruns partly caused by Brown when he was mayor.

“There is a shadiness and irregularity to this procedure,” Leigh said.

The suit alleges “arbitrary suspension and/or violation of legislative rules and policies” to fast track the legislation. Specifically, Hepner said, lawmakers ignored an established timeline for introducing new proposals, instead allowing ACR 65 to be submitted four months after the formal deadline.

Formal Assembly criteria states that clear community consensus must be in place when a major piece of public infrastructure is renamed. Yet in the case of the Willie L. Brown Jr. Bridge, no such consensus exists.

Leigh is the former law partner of Matt Gonzalez, a former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who joined former board presidents Quentin Kopp and Aaron Peskin to formally call on Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to stop the resolution from going forward.

On Aug. 29, the trio fired off an open letter to Steinberg in an attempt to halt the proposal from going any further, claiming “there exists significant concern in our community that naming the Bay Bridge for him is not appropriate.”

Peskin had a more colorful take on Brown and bridge when he spoke to the Guardian: “I think they should name the old eastern span, that they’re demolishing, after him. You know why? Because it’s old and crooked and a danger to society.”

Fighting foreclosures

1

joe@sfbg.com

It will be a long war, but for now, Richmond is winning.

Two battles in the start of the city of Richmond’s war on foreclosures were fought and won in the past week. A US District Court of Appeals judge dismissed Wells Fargo’s lawsuit against Richmond’s controversial plan to use eminent domain to save residents with underwater mortgages (see “Not for sale,” Sept. 3). And Mayor Gayle McLaughlin successfully fought off legislation at the Richmond City Council to torpedo the plan before it started.

“I’m willing to go as high as the Supreme Court to settle this on behalf of our community,” McLaughlin told us. These are the first fledgling steps in that long fight, a fight McLaughlin calls a just cause.

Half of all mortgages in Richmond are underwater, and as homes get foreclosed upon, the problems stack up: blighted neighborhoods, declining property tax revenues, public employee layoffs, rising crime, and homeless families. To stem the tide of foreclosures, Richmond teamed with Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP) to attempt to buy the loans of 624 underwater mortgages and allow the owners to keep their homes.

Richmond’s government sent out offers, and it is still waiting to hear back from the owners of the loans.

The controversy comes when the banks that hold the loans refuse to sell. In that case, Richmond would invoke the power of eminent domain to seize the mortgage loans.

Wells Fargo said in its lawsuit that this is a plan to line the pockets of MRP and the city of Richmond, a greedy and unconstitutional land grab. Eminent domain has never been used for this purpose, but as the judge noted in the lawsuit’s first hearing Sept. 12 in San Francisco, the plan has yet to be acted on.

“Okay, let’s end the suspense, I don’t believe (the case) is ripe for determination,” Judge Charles Breyer told the attorneys from Wells Fargo. “There are a series of steps that can or cannot take place…. If they do take place, that’s the time for the court to take a look at it.”

Breyer noted that if and when Richmond wanted to use eminent domain to seize mortgage loans, the council would need to file a resolution of necessity through state court. At that point, he could act.

On Sept. 16, the case was dismissed. Too little has happened, and it is entirely too early to make any decisions, Breyer said.

Stacey Leyton, a lawyer representing Richmond in the lawsuit, explained the judge’s decision plainly: “Courts are not supposed to review legislative actions before the (legislative body) has decided which action to take.”

The Guardian reached out to Wells Fargo but we were told that it had nothing to say beyond its court filings, and referred us to the investors in the loans, of which Wells Fargo is a trustee.

But why is Wells Fargo pushing so fast for the courts to intervene? The eminent domain plan could mean a possible loss of revenue for Wells Fargo and the investors it represents, sending chills down the spine of Wall Street, a representative of MRP said.

MRP founder John Vlahoplus told us the eminent domain tactic is powerful because for Wells Fargo, legally challenging every municipality in the United States is much tougher than paying off a few fat cats in Congress.

So the stakes are high: if Richmond wins the eminent domain battle, cities across the country could use the tactic to rescue underwater mortgages, and the families that would otherwise lose their homes, swinging the balance of power from Wall Street toward cities.

Score one for Richmond, and zip for Wells Fargo, so far.

 

LOCAL FRONT

But the real drama happened closer to home. Before Richmond could fight the enemies from without, it fought the enemies within.

On Sept. 10, Richmond’s controversial plan for preventing home foreclosures using eminent domain was almost torpedoed at the Richmond City Council meeting, where its members waged a nasty fight before more than 300 attendees.

Advocates for city intervention against the banks won when the council voted 5-2 against a resolution to rescind the city’s offer to purchase 624 underwater mortgages and halt any effort by the city to seize those mortgages through eminent domain.

A separate resolution by Mayor McLaughlin to establish a joint powers authority, uniting cities to battle litigation against the eminent domain plan, also passed.

Vice Mayor Courtland “Corky” Boozé and Councilmember Nathaniel Bates sponsored the resolution attacking the plan, and cast the only votes in its favor.

Boozé and Bates said the city risks bankruptcy if Well Fargo wins its lawsuit, putting Richmond’s financial solvency on the line, but their colleagues were dubious.

“My vote is not supposed to be if (Wall Street investors) are a bunch of jerks and I want to stick it to them,” Councilmember Jim Rogers said to the audience.

After the city laid off a third of the government’s workforce in lean economic years, Rogers has reason to worry. City Manager Bill Lindsay laid out the risks for those in the auditorium.

Because no city has ever tried this before, he said, no liability insurance exists for this kind of work, which MRP has acknowledged. “If you believe the potential loss (of a lawsuit) is catastrophic, it’s important to acknowledge that’s an issue,” he said.

He also said it was tough for the city go it alone as a single entity, explaining the need for a joint powers authority, which would build a coalition of cities against Wells Fargo and other litigants.

State law requires a supermajority of the council, five members, to back any eminent domain action and only at the time that it would take place, he said.

Hours of back and forth passed between the city manager and Boozé who, after some arguing, asked the audience in frustration, “Are 110,000 people worth fighting Wall Street for?”

The crowd roared its answer immediately: “YES!”

The ideological split of the audience was clear: Eminent domain supporters wore yellow shirts with a logo of the activist group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and those against wore red shirts branded “Stop Investor Greed.”

Those sporting the red shirts were mostly from the real estate industry, and in public comment they generally expressed that if someone were to lose their home, well, “so what?”

Lisa Johnson, clad in red, said, “My house is an investment, not a right.”

A representative from Richmond’s Council of Industries asked the mayor to reconsider the eminent domain plan, and to rescind the initiative.

Jerry Feagley, whose Feagley Realtors has sold homes since 1966, said the plan risks damaging all of Richmond’s ability to get credit. He was a seemingly mild-mannered man who is exactly who you’d picture if you think of a businessman from the ’50s, gray suit and all. “If this would go into effect, this would change loans in the entire country,” he said, passionately.

Well, that’s the idea, the supporters countered.

“I was at the March on Washington with Martin Luther King 50 years ago. Yes, I’m that old,” said one woman. She was bent over with age but spoke with volume. “That’s exactly what we have to do. We’re going to have to meet power with power and challenge the status quo.”

More than 50 supporters spoke at the podium. The meeting started at 7pm, and stretched on well past 1am. If there was one central theme to their sentiments, it was this: Richmond has hit rock bottom, and now is the time to fight back.

Councilmember Tom Butt put it in plain terms. “What we’re voting for is a giant game of chicken, and it’s clear two of my colleagues have blinked,” he said, referring to Boozé and Bates. “I’m not blinking.”

The council voted, and amid the turmoil and arguing and anger, the Boozé and Bates measure was rejected.

Having already lost once that night, Bates did not fare well when time came to vote on forming a joint powers authority. El Monte may be the first to join, McLaughlin said, which would help homeowners in need who are often people of color. Bates countered that McLaughlin should look out for “her people” and not try to use “his people” as a front for her legislation. “You don’t speak for my community,” he said, referring to African Americans. When another black council member, Jovanka Beckles, spoke up to thank her “white brothers and sisters” for joining in a fight for justice, Bates was uncompromising. “You are not African American,” he told her. Boozé also had words for the other dissenting African American Councilmember Jael Myrick. “One day you’ll have to stand up and be black,” he said. McLaughlin’s measure then passed 4-3, with council members Boozé, Bates and Rogers dissenting. The last remaining supporters waved their yellow flags and the dwindling crowd clad in yellow shirts left victorious, for now.

Pelosi defies history and her district

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OPINION How is it that, despite deep congressional opposition to an American-led war on Syria, the representative for one of the nation’s most progressive districts, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, has been among President Obama’s most ardent backers of war?

While Russia’s deal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons offers a temporary pause in the march to war, the arrangement is fragile and Obama — with support from Pelosi — continues to threaten military action that could lead to a disastrous widening of bloodshed and chaos in Syria and beyond.

What’s particularly outrageous about the pro-war push from Pelosi and US Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, also from the Bay Area, is their willful dismissal of history. Did they somehow miss the well-documented memos on US wars and interventions? You know, the ones that list American lies on Iraq’s WMDs, provocations in Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin, and the long, long list of CIA-backed coups of democratically elected leaders in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, and beyond?

The nightmare in Syria needs an international solution—but given our ugly track record, how can anyone place faith in American-led military intervention?

This history offers a distressingly reliable prologue to the present. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the US expended vast amounts of blood and treasure attacking brutal thugs it supported for years. How can we expect different results from the same military-security state apparatus that has, for decades, undermined democracies, aided thugs and dictators, and trumped up wars based on lies? How can anyone believe that the US military and security state complex has suddenly found a veracity and moral center it has always profoundly lacked?

There is no question that international pressure and diplomacy must be brought to bear on Bassar al-Assad’s sickening Syrian regime, and that chemical weapons, and nukes for that matter, must be wiped off the planet. But the US has an unrivaled record of using these tools of mass killing, and has zero credibility as a force for peacemaking.

The hypocrisies Pelosi chooses to ignore run deeper. The US refuses to enforce the chemical weapons ban on Israel, for instance. And remember the saber-rattling last year over Iran’s nuclear program? Not a word about Israel’s nukes, not to mention America’s. Yet both Israel and the US have a well-documented history of outright aggression, where Iran has none.

The San Francisco Chronicle explained Pelosi’s war support as part of her Democratic Party leadership duties, quoting UC Berkeley professor Eric Schickler: “One of the jobs of the party’s leader is to support the president of your party, except under the most extenuating circumstances. If she didn’t have such liberal credentials already, she would be in much more vulnerable position.”

While party leadership and allegiance may be a factor, consider also that Pelosi, Boxer, and Feinstein take in far more dollars from pro-Israel lobbies than do their counterparts (Boxer got more than twice the Senate average, and Pelosi roughly six times the congressional average, according to research by MapLight and Open Secrets).

Despite some loud and colorful protests by Code Pink and other groups, it’s sadly true that Pelosi hasn’t been very vulnerable: San Francisco’s political leadership has done little to let her know how deeply out of step she is with her district.

In years past, the Board of Supervisors has passed resolutions opposing US military interventions; now, they and the Democratic County Central Committee are silent. Where is the outrage and pushback within Pelosi’s district? Pelosi’s hawkish stance on Syria follows her lamentable defense in July of the NSA spying program. In both cases, these are policies that Pelosi opposed and so many progressives protested vigorously when they were enacted by President George W. Bush. Where is the mass outrage now?

Legal foes invited to weigh in on healthcare policy

4

A few years ago, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association lost a legal battle it waged over the employer mandates in the city’s landmark Health Care Security Ordinance, a universal healthcare program that has provided safety-net services for the city’s uninsured since its passage in 2006, partially through the Healthy San Francisco program.

Composed of San Francisco restaurant owners, GGRA took issue with a mandatory employer spending contribution designed to help employees cover healthcare costs. While the city’s flagship healthcare program ultimately emerged unscathed, the lawsuit went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and consumed city staff time and legal expenses.

Now that the federal Affordable Care Act is poised to begin, with enrollment in low-income programs starting in October, a new debate has surfaced over whether current employer requirements should stay the same under Obamacare. While ardent supporters of HCSO have urged the city not to make any drastic policy changes because the existing system can help low-wage workers take advantage of federally subsidized healthcare options, local business interests have signaled that they think it’s time to scale back employer contributions.

In late August, representatives from the city’s Department of Public Health sent out invitations to various stakeholders to join an advisory body called the Universal Healthcare Council, which will be charged with “reviewing local policies against the backdrop of the federal law.” Despite the failed, messy legal battle that nearly undermined Healthy SF just a few years ago, and the more recent scandals involving restaurants fraudulently using customer surcharges and still stiffing employees (see “Check please,” April 23), an invitation was sent to Rob Black, executive director of GGRA. For the sake of uninsured employees throughout San Francisco, let’s hope the restaurant association doesn’t have another lawsuit up its sleeve.

Challenge Mayor Lee and his lies

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EDITORIAL In the long history of San Francisco political corruption caused by Pacific Gas & Electric’s willingness to do and spend whatever it takes to hold onto the energy monopoly that it illegally obtained generations ago, in violation of the federal Raker Act, there have been countless ugly and shameful episodes, many of them chronicled in the pages of the Bay Guardian.

Mayor Ed Lee’s misleading Sept. 10 testimony to the Board of Supervisors, where he deliberately distorted CleanPowerSF and defended the dubious actions of his appointees to kill the program, ranks right up there with some of the worst episodes (see “Power struggle,” page 12). If there were any doubts about Lee’s lack of political integrity and independence, about his unwillingness stand up to his corporate benefactors on the behalf of the people he was elected to serve, this appalling performance should settle them.

It was bad enough when PG&E used money from San Francisco ratepayers to bury public power advocates under an avalanche of lies, fear-mongering, and the testimony of paid political allies every election when its monopoly was being challenged, making it virtually impossible to have an honest conversation about the city’s energy and environmental needs.

But now that advocates for consumer choice and renewable energy have spent more than a decade developing a program that doesn’t require a popular vote, is competitive with PG&E’s rates, would create city-owned green energy projects serving residents for generations to come, and which was approved by a veto-proof majority on the Board of Supervisors, Mayor Lee has stooped to new lows in a desperate and transparent ploy to stop it.

Once again, as he did during his rash decision to remove Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office before even investigating his most serious official misconduct allegations, Mayor Lee has blithely created what Sen. Mark Leno calls a “Charter crisis.” Then, it was over the question of when one elected official should remove another; now, it is whether a trio of mayoral appointees can usurp the authority of the elected Board of Supervisors, the top policymaking body under the City Charter.

Relying on tortured logic and Clinton-esque legalese backflips doesn’t justify the SFPUC commissioners refusal to do their jobs — and it would be deemed official misconduct by a less corrupt mayor. But this mayor sees his job as simply carrying water for the people who put him there, whether that be Willie Brown and his longtime client PG&E, or venture capital Ron Conway and the companies that Lee is heaping with unprecedented tax breaks (see “Corporate welfare boom,” page 14). Please, isn’t there someone out there willing to challenge this corruption and run for mayor? This city, and the future generations living in the warming world we’re creating, deserve better.

Power struggle

51

steve@sfbg.com

Jason Fried could barely believe what was coming out of the squawk box in his office at the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission on Sept. 10, as he listened to Mayor Ed Lee describe the CleanPowerSF program Fried had spent years helping to develop.

The program would give San Franciscans the choice of buying their electricity from clean, renewable energy sources rather than Pacific Gas & Electric’s oil, coal, hydro, and nuclear dominated power portfolio, a program that was finally able to become competitive with PG&E on price and still fund the creation of local clean energy projects.

But the program that Lee described — which three of his appointees on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission have recently decided to block, against the wishes of the Board of Supervisors supermajority that approved it (see “Fizzling energy,” Aug. 21) — sounded nothing like the program that Fried, LAFCo’s senior program officer, knows so well.

As Lee described it, CleanPowerSF is “based on vague promises” and has “questionable environmental benefits,” claiming it has “gotten progressively more expensive” and “creates no local jobs.”

“What the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission did was in the best interests of the city,” Lee said. The city has spent untold hours and dollars over the last decade developing and approving CleanPowerSF.

“It was very frustrating to watch, particularly when you see him just making stuff up,” said Fried. “If he wants to be against CCAs [Community Choice Aggregation, that state-created program the CleanPowerSF is a part of], fine, just say that…But he wasn’t even getting his numbers right.”

 

LIES, DAMN LIES, AND STATISTICS

Questioned by the Guardian following his monthly mayoral policy discussion at the board, where all five questions from frustrated supervisors were about CleanPowerSF, Lee cast himself as sticking to the facts.

“I know that elements of this are somewhat complicated because you have to actually read a lot of volumes of materials to understand the choice aggregation program,” Lee said, claiming, “I’m taking it exactly from facts that were presented.”

But in reality, Lee was cherry-picking facts that were either out-of-date or presented in a misleading way, while ignoring inconvenient questions like how the city can still achieve its clean energy goals without it, or why his appointees are subverting broadly supported public policy on technical grounds that appear to exceed their authority.

Take Lee’s claim that the CleanPowerSF program approved by the board “was 95 percent renewable on day one,” which he used to support his argument that “when the final project is so vastly different than the original intent, the SFPUC has to intervene.”

Lee is referring to the “three buckets” from which the program will draw its energy, as defined by the California Public Utilities Commission. Bucket 1 is the gold standard: juice coming directly from certified renewable energy sources in California. Bucket 2 is renewable energy that isn’t reliable and must be “firmed and shaped” by other energy sources, such as wind or solar farms supplemented by fossil fuels when there’s little wind or sunshine. And Bucket 3 is Renewable Energy Credits, which support creation of renewable energy facilities or green power purchased from other states.

When the board approved the program in September 2012, the SFPUC called for it to secure 10 percent of the power from Bucket 1, 85 percent from Bucket 2, and 5 percent from Bucket 3, although these were just guidelines and the SFPUC was specifically authorized to change that mix.

Lee and other critics of the program decried the program’s cost of more than 14 cents per kilowatt-hour, while supporters worried the price would cause more customers to opt-out, so the SFPUC decided to allow more RECs, while also substantially increasing the amount of guaranteed green power.

“The difference between buckets two and three is not that big a difference,” Fried said, noting the Bucket 2 can actually include a substantial amount of dirty energy. “It really depends on how you’re firming and shaping.”

So the SFPUC increased the size of Bucket 1 to 25 percent and Bucket 3 to 75 percent, with idea being that RECs are only an interim step toward issuance of revenue-bonds to build renewable energy projects that would eventually fill Bucket 1 to overflowing. All for the not-to-exceed rate of 11.5 cents per kilowatt-hour that the SFPUC is refusing to approve.

“Our entire mix would be 100 percent greenhouse-gas-free, but the mayor is ignoring that because it doesn’t fit his ‘green’ argument,” Fried said, also noting that it would be generated in-state by union workers. “PG&E can’t make that same claim.”

CPUC statistics show PG&E derives less than the state-mandated 20 percent of its energy from clean, renewable sources, and that the percentage of its portfolio that is greenhouse gas-free actually dropped in 2012, to 51 percent from 59 percent in 2011. And despite Lee’s emphasis on local jobs, PG&E’s three largest solar projects built in 2012 are outside California.

By contrast, CPSF contractor Shell Energy North America wrote in an Aug. 12 letter that in addition to setting aside $1.5 million for local buildout after its first year, which “should create local jobs,” it is now negotiating in-state wind and hydroelectric (“operated by union labor”) contracts to meet the program’s demands.

But at this point, supporters of the program are running out of options to get that contract approved.

 

“CHARTER CRISIS”

CleanPowerSF has broad political support in San Francisco, from Sups. David Campos, John Avalos, and other progressives, to moderates including Sup. Scott Wiener and state Sen. Mark Leno, who authored legislation to protect nascent CCAs from PG&E meddling and has been a steadfast supporter of CleanPowerSF.

“There’s a constitutional crisis, or a [City] Charter crisis, of sorts,” Leno said, referring to the standoff. “The legislative body has been unequivocal in its desire to proceed and it’s not for this commission to interfere with that decision.”

Leno said PG&E and its allies have played strong behind-the-scenes roles in sabotaging this program. “They are definitely exerting their influence,” Leno said, “they have never stopped trying to derail this.” SFPUC Chair Art Torres, who is leading the obstruction, didn’t return a Guardian call for comment.

If there is a silver lining, Leno said it’s that “PG&E has had to present its own version of green energy. But the two can coexist. We want competition.”

So does Fried, LAFCo, and all of the supervisors who sit on that commission, which has long tried to break PG&E’s monopoly.

“It’s close to checkmate, but we’re trying to breathe new life into this,” Sup. John Avalos, who sits on LAFCo, told us. “Part of the politics can be seen in the mayor’s statements, which are full of misinformation.”

Sup. David Campos, also on LAFCo, told us CleanPowerSF is “a good program, and it’s consistent with what the Board of Supervisors approved. I think it’s a mistake for the city not to move on this and it’s a bad thing for consumers.”

The newest member of LAFCo, Sup. London Breed, authored a resolution supporting CPSF that the Board of Supervisors was set to consider on Sept. 17, after Guardian press time. It recites a history of strong support for the program by the Board of Supervisors, starting with a unanimous votes in 2004 and 2007 to launch the CCA and continuing through the supermajority approval of CleanPowerSF and a $20 million appropriation to launch it in September 2012.

It noted that the SFPUC held 18 meetings on the program between September 2012 and August 2013, and that its Rate Fairness Board determined that rates for the Phase 1 are “technically fair.”

The resolution emphasizes an important governance issue at stake: “Irrespective of the particular policy decision, the Board of Supervisors must protect and defend its authority to make policy decisions.”

Yet there’s been a concerted effort to undermine CleanPowerSF this summer, led by appointees and allies of Lee and PG&E.

At the Aug. 6 Commission on the Environment meeting, Commissioner Joshua Arce pushed Department of the Environment head Melanie Nutter to renounce CPSF as no longer a green power program, something she refused to do. Arce fell a vote short of approving a resolution characterizing the program as not meeting “all of the commission’s original goals” and urging the SFPUC “to work with the Department of the Environment to craft a program that is acceptable to the San Francisco Environment Commission.”

Breed said she was disappointed in Lee’s approach, although she takes him at his word when he says he’s open to alternatives.

“The questions were answered, but there wasn’t any closure in terms of what this means for the future,” Breed said. “If not this program, what’s the alternative?”

If the city is going to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, which call for reducing 1990’s carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2017 and 40 percent by 2025, it’s going to have to offer some alternative.

“We need to be aggressive about moving in this direction,” Breed said, “and we need to make sure the public has an alternative to PG&E.”