Volume 48 Number 08
THEATER Forgetting can be a key to understanding, and to freedom. This is something any jazz musician knows. Learning theory, practicing scales, getting to know your instrument and your craft — it’s all prelude to forgetting, to letting go. What comes back to you in the moment, ideally, is deeper than any superficial knowledge. It’s everything behind the music — a life.
A memory play can function similarly, at least it seems to for Margo Hall. The well-known Bay Area actor and director found herself improvising over her own carefully crafted words in the creation of Be Bop Baby — a musical memoir of her remarkable Detroit upbringing under the guiding influence of her musician stepfather Teddy Harris Jr., that Hall says really marks her debut as a playwright (Hall was also one of several actor/co-writers for the 2005 verbatim treatment of the Jonestown tragedy, The People’s Temple).
A world premiere capping Z Space’s 20th anniversary season, Be Bop Baby is set in the busy basement of Hall’s childhood home, which doubled as a rehearsal space for her stepfather — a musical director, composer, arranger, and performer known and respected in both jazz and Motown circles (the latter as, most famously, musical director of the Supremes). There, as well as throughout Detroit’s exceptional musical scene, Hall and her two sisters grew up amid a panoply of musicians, artists, celebrities, and eccentrics.
The basement thus becomes the site of an excavation, filled with colorful characters and anecdotes and brimming with music. Indeed, helping to bring it all to life onstage is a 15-piece jazz orchestra under Marcus Shelby. The acclaimed Bay Area musician-composer — along with dramaturg Nakissa Etemad — collaborated closely on this return to 1960s-70s Detroit, developing arrangements around Hall’s own lyrics and the melody lines she imagined for them.
“Marcus reminds me a lot of my dad,” says Hall, speaking just before a rehearsal last week. “He has a big band; he knows what that means. He understands the discipline of the musicians. Marcus is a guy of tradition. He likes real instruments — I mean all of these things that my stepfather would promote. And he’s just a cool cat, just like my dad, just into the music fulltime; a real, honest, true musician. Growing up with that kind of person really taught me about authenticity and not faking it. I hate to say, ‘You don’t find those people anymore,’ but they sometimes can be a rare breed.”
But even memory, to remain true, can’t always stay fixed. Since the death of her mother in 2000, and Teddy several years later, Hall’s childhood home and its once-vibrant basement have come under a new tenant: Hall’s own, formerly estranged, biological father.
“It’s this crazy thing that happened that I never expected. My real father and my mom divorced 45 years ago. [My biological father is] a free spirit; he’s a totally different character than Teddy. And I found out he moved into Mom and Teddy’s house. Mom and Teddy, that was their house, that was their basement, my mom’s estate, you know, our little two-unit duplex.”
That development found its way into the emotional landscape of the play itself, giving it a more complex dramatic makeup, but also leaving Hall at a loss as to how to channel it all. Staging this kind of dynamic seemed to defy the manicured sentences she had set down on paper. Hall found herself unable to even recall them — something unusual for the experienced actor in her — as if Hall the playwright were someone she had yet to figure out.
“I had written all this text, and I couldn’t remember it. It was very strange. So I said, ‘Can I just improv a little it on top of this text so that it really feels authentic?’ I became the actor, and I felt, ‘I don’t like what that playwright wrote!'” she laughs. “Was I censoring myself? Was I trying to be perfect in the writing? I had to figure out how to take that text and make it my own — even though I wrote it. Now, the more we do it, I do say a lot from the text. But it’s a freedom that I have now, where I can be more authentic in the moment.”
As for her ongoing relationship with her biological father, Hall credits Be Bop Baby with strengthening her resolve to pursue an understanding there.
“It’s definitely made me realize that I do need to pursue my relationship with my real father more than I have,” concludes Hall. “And he’s a wonderful, fascinating man. I could write a whole play about him too,” she says with conviction, before an afterthought makes its way quietly to the surface. “Maybe I will?” *
BE BOP BABY: A MUSICAL MEMOIR
Wed/20-Thu/21, 7pm; Fri/22-Sat/23, 8pm, $25-75
450 Florida, SF
If you’re a fan of the incredible birria on the weekends at Gallardo‘s (3248 18th St, SF. 415-436-9387), you’ll be happy to know you can go for the goat at the Mexican restaurant’s new location (in the former Chava’s), which is still in La Mission. You can also join the line for the weekend menudo, and warm up with some pozole during the week. Welcome back, Gallardo’s!
Over in the Marina, a new Mexican restaurant that has opened in the former City Tavern, Sabrosa (3200 Fillmore, SF. www.sabrosasf.com), has one hell of a chef: José Ramos, who was one of the founding chefs at Nopalito and has been at Nido in Oakland of late. His home-style menu includes recipes from the ladies in his life (that would be his mother, grandma, and aunt), with some local and seasonal twists. Look for a toasted masa sope with pasilla chile, beef tips, and chickpea; quite a few salads; tacos and quesadillas, including a quesadilla de tinga poblano with chicken, chorizo, chipotle chile and tomato sauce, crema, and epazote (which I can’t wait to taste); and entrées like caldo xochitl, a chicken, rice, and squash soup with carrots, turnips, and chipotle. There’s also grilled chicken with a chile seed pipián sauce. It all sounds muy tasty.
A dining room with a communal table fits 12, and outside seating has room for 32 (yes, there are heaters). There’s also a large, 24-seat bar of golden onyx, where you can get your heat on with drinks like the Night Creature, with Old Overholt rye, mezcal, Averna, Benedictine, and orange bitters. Or heat up with a Pepino Diablo, made from jalapeño-infused tequila, cucumber, lime, and salt. Brunch and lunch will be coming in about six weeks.
YOU GOTTA EAT THIS
You love sandwiches? How about an East Coast-style sub? Yeah, I thought so. You need to hightail it over to the newly opened Merigan (636 2nd St., SF. www.merigansubshop.com) in SoMa, where chef Liza Shaw, formerly of A16 and Acquerello, is bringing her twist on a sub shop to glorious light.
Shaw takes care of all the butchery in-house. Everything from the pork in the Arista (a delightfully drippy sandwich with roasted pork loin and braised shoulder with provolone, hot peppers, and arugula, uh huh, and you can add burrata to it, hold the phone) to the meatballs, the coppa di testa, and porchetta all come from the one and a half sides of Llano Seco pigs Merigan will be getting each week. Also under the hot subs list, there’s an eggplant parm and chicken parm sandwich, and a cheesesteak too.
Cold subs include a roast beef number with horseradish ricotta, provolone, pickled onions, and arugula, or housemade egg salad, and the insanely good Italian combo, with mortadella, salami, prosciutto cotto, provolone, shredded lettuce, onion, tomato, aioli, and hots (those would be hot peppers for those of us who don’t speak Philly). This sandwich is the kind you want to eat half of and come back to the other half late at night when it has all been marinating together even longer Yeah, that. This sandwich is almost too good. All the subs come on a custom sesame Italian roll from Pinkie’s Bakery, with a texture that’s soft and chewy, perfect.
Bonus points: The sub shop is near the ballpark, which is gonna be perfect for when baseball is back, and it has a killer wine and beer selection. Plus, you can get an Italian ice for dessert. Is this heaven or what? Hours are Mon–Sat 10am–7pm.
MUSIC It was decided — my BFF-roommate and I would host a rock ‘n’ roll show, and like many of our favorite activities (feasting, boozing, twirling), we became set on throwing said party from the comfort of our own home. Denying our fears of venue hunting, financial commitments, and general hassle, we focused on the power rewarded to the classic hostess with the mostest; the ability to control all elements of a dirty bash and adjust them to our liking.
What bands will play? Ones we like, who also like each other. What kind of liquor will be present? Whiskey, no exceptions. What kind of snacks might we serve? None, people should bring us burritos (or in my case, homemade kimchi and quinoa — a foul smelling food for a social event that did wonders for curbing my potential hangover). Not only was this party to be at our house, but this little rock shindig would blast from our backyard on a (hopefully sunny) Sunday afternoon. Day drinking to shredding guitars? The neighbors were going to love it.
We nailed down a date and who would play, rounding out the bill with some hip DJ acquaintances. A buddy drafted a flier and the process of inviting humans began. The presence of close friends was expected and offers for help were not denied. Then we cast the net, awkwardly approaching yoga teachers, favorite baristas, local celebrities, and secret crushes. The boyfriend promised to roll deep with eligible males of various sexualities and I may have plotted some (later to be discovered unsuccessful) matchmaking. We urged bands to cart along their musician homies and peed at the thought of John Dwyer or Wymond Miles walking up our stoop in the halo of afternoon light.
Of course we had no legitimate way of predicting who would actually show up. Expect everyone who confirms to flake and everyone who rejects to bring a pack of wingmen. We crossed our fingers and braided our hair, then calmed our nerves by remembering that even if all bailed, the bands were confirmed. A show in our yard is still a show in our yard. Guaranteed win. Oh yes, and we had a fuck-ton of beer — free of charge. We miraculously managed to get the party “sponsored,” which allowed us to collect donations for the dudes on stage. Major bonus.
While party planning seemed to be sailing, our biggest concern loomed: the noise complaint. A similar party we hosted in June garnered 22 calls to the SFPD — thankfully our only injury was a slap on the wrist and some sneers. In anticipation of upset, I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies from mom’s recipe and skipped up the stairs of the neighboring stoop, treats in tow.
With the oldies next door sugared up, I called the SFPD for the lawful scoop and learned that cop arrival is completely tattletale-based. Officers can only issue a citation if the party pooper signs a citizen’s arrest. This is why you ALWAYS INVITE THE NEIGHBORS. If the uniforms still rap on your door: answer it, shoot the shit, and promise to cool it, ASAP. Our biggest takeaway: short sets. By the time the doorbell rings, they’ll be singing the encore. “It’s their last song, officer. I promise,” perfectly compliments a drunk wink.
So, after weeks of planning and a morning full of chaotic setup, we were crazy high on anticipation. I forgot to shower. I drank everyone’s coffee. I zoomed down the block for incense — “to set the mood,” I shouted. And then all we could do was wait for the madness to begin.
Heads banged. Hair was tangled. Happiness was found at the bottom of countless empty cases. People climbed the fire escape for a better view of the bands, while my exes pleasantly mingled in the garden below. The cops dropped by, as anticipated, but left without trouble. My dream of getting a mug shot will have to wait.
The freedom of a privately hosted show put everyone in a tender mood and it felt overwhelmingly blissful to support local music in independent fashion. The party was a complete success, depending on how you measure extreme happiness and unfathomable coolness. And OK, we were hammered. Everything is a delightful blur and I ended up wrestling in the gravel. You can do what you want at your own house — people can’t say shit. All the more reason why we’re already planning the next round. See you there.
FOOD AND DRINK As Thanksgiving nears, along with the daunting task of writing up the grocery list, more food-savvy family chefs are swapping the commercially manufactured Broad Breasted White for a heritage turkey, which promises better flavor through a higher standard of bird life. Famous local grower Bill Niman of BN Ranch is trying to give his free-range, GMO-free, organic heritage birds a wider audience by offering them for order: starting at $98.98 for an eight-10 pound bird, delivered anywhere in the US, through his website, www.bnranchtotable.com. We caught up with him to ask what all the cluck’s about.
SF Bay Guardian What breeds of heritage turkey do you raise on BN Ranch?
Bill Niman Narragansett, Standard Bronze, and Spanish Blacks.
SFBG What is an average lifespan?
BN From hatching to market, probably 28 weeks.
SFBG How many do you raise for one holiday season?
BN This year we have about 8,000 heritage turkeys.
SFBG What do your turkeys eat?
BN It’s a GMO free ration. We’ve been struggling for about three years now to get something that’s GMO free, and this year we were able to do that 100 percent.
SFBG The other distinguishing factor of heritage turkeys, besides lifespan and feed, is their ability to mate on their own?
BN As extraordinary as that might sound. [Laughs.] And they can fly. And they don’t get sick. And they’re hearty. And they’re interesting, and intelligent. It’s all the things you’d expect from any animal in the barnyard.
SFBG What’s the basic personality of a heritage?
BN Turkeys are really cruel to each other, in the pecking order and whatnot, surprisingly cruel — but they’re really friendly to humans. When they’re young, 6 to 8 weeks old, they fly up and land on your shoulder, they follow you around, and in a sense we become surrogate mothers. You can call, and they follow you. I suspect these turkeys that we raise are so close to being feral, they’re so much like their wild ancestors. They could fly away anytime they want to. But they waddle up to the building, and say, “Kill me and eat me.” That’s probably how turkey became part of Thanksgiving, because they’re ready to be eaten in the fall.
SFBG How do you manage to see the turkeys as both animals and as meat?
BN You mean sending them to slaughter? Well, it is difficult, and it doesn’t get easier with numbers. What’s important is to make sure the animals only have one bad day on the farm. For me and our operations, it’s essential that we are at the slaughterhouse, making sure that it’s done as properly and as humanely as possible. We do that because we respect the animals, but we also know that there’s a very direct correlation between the eating quality of the animals and their temperament at slaughter.
SFBG What about flavor?
BN They rule in taste tests, the heritage turkeys. The entire bird, even though it has a white breast, has the wonderful characteristics of the dark meat.
SFBG Got any favorite Thanksgiving preparation?
BN Yes I do. You cook the turkey till the breast meat is done, take it out, remove the leg and thigh, put them back in covered, and roast them for an additional half an hour, while the breast stays on the carcass on the counter, warm and covered.
By Dennis Harvey
FILM Alexander Payne may be unique at this point in that he’s in a position — which, of course, could easily be changed by a flop or two — of being able to make nothing but small, human, and humorous films with major-studio money on his own terms (re: casting and final cut). As he’s said, in a better world this would be the norm rather than a singular achievement. It’s hazardous to make too much of a movie like Nebraska, because it is small — despite the wide Great Plains landscapes shot in a wide screen format — and shouldn’t be entered into with overinflated or otherwise wrong-headed expectations.
Still, a certain gratitude is called for. As usual, most of the year’s better films have been ones (too indie, too foreign) that won’t get the big drumbeat of awards-consideration thumping. And notably this year, most of the ones that will have been American movies made by foreign directors (i.e. Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years a Slave, Prisoners, etc.) Nebraska is, finally, a win by the home team.
It is also the first time Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor weren’t involved in the script, and the first one since their 1996 Citizen Ruth that isn’t based on someone else’s novel. (Hitherto little-known Bob Nelson’s original screenplay apparently first came to Payne’s notice a decade ago, but got put off in favor of other projects.) It could easily have been a novel, though, as the things it does very well (internal thought, sense of place, character nuance) and the things it doesn’t much bother with (plot, action, dialogue) are more in line with literary fiction than commercial cinema.
Elderly Woody T. Grant (Bruce Dern) keeps being found grimly trudging through snow and whatnot on the outskirts of Billings, Mont., bound on foot (he’s no longer allowed to drive) to Lincoln, Neb., 900 miles away. Brain no doubt fuzzed by age, not to mention decades of drinking and tuning out the Mrs. (June Squibb as Kate, who in a moment of restraint greets his latest forcible return with “You dumb cluck!”), he’s convinced he needs to collect the million dollars waiting for him there. After all, he got a notice he’d won that amount in the mail. Never mind that it was just some Publishers Clearing House-type flier in fact promising nothing while attempting to sell magazine subscriptions. Woody didn’t read the fine print, and won’t be dissuaded. Something bigger than reality — or senility, even — is compelling him to make this trek. Finally, long-suffering younger son David (Will Forte), a stereo salesman whose girlfriend of two years just moved out, agrees to drive him in order to simply put the matter to rest. None of this will be particularly easy or pleasant, even if David is used to dad being problematic (or as Bob Odenkirk as older brother Ross puts it, “[He] never gave a shit about us”). Perhaps selectively deaf, Woody is no conversationalist, and claims that he’s sobered up are quickly dashed when he stumbles into their first-night motel room and bashes his head in the dark, requiring stitches. This fool’s mission acquires a whole extended family-full of other fools when father and son detour to the former’s podunk farming hometown.
There, a slew of Grants — the men all close-mouthed, the women all gabby — prove eager to believe Woody has struck gold, coming up with variably imaginary reasons why they should share in his newfound wealth. Likewise greeting this reunion with eyes full of dollar signs is Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), a former business partner who by Woody’s reckoning has actually owed him money for 40-odd years.
Nebraska has no moments so funny or dramatic they’d look outstanding in excerpt; low-key as they were, 2009’s Sideways and 2011’s The Descendants had bigger set pieces and narrative stakes. But like those movies, this one just ambles along until you realize you’re completely hooked, all positive emotional responses on full alert. There are minor things to quibble about (mother Kate could be less of a shrew — it’s always a bit bothersome when the only significant female role in a movie evokes the “b” word), but so much that’s so deeply satisfying you hardly want to get out of your seat at the end.
Having apparently considered and bypassed bigger names (like Jack Nicholson, who for my money was too snarky — too Jack Nicholson — for 2002’s About Schmidt), Payne has a perfect cast, from 1970s almost-stars Dern and Keach to pliant-faced comedians playing straight Forte and Odenkirk. Forte (who also does good dramatic work in another upcoming seriocomedy, the Irish Run & Jump) in particular does the kind of ballasting act that attracts little attention to itself but perfectly harmonizes with other actors’ higher notes. We can feel how David has probably always undervalued himself, as well as how his wishing the people around him were kinder just might, eventually, make them so.
It’s a great pleasure just to watch the timeless flat vistas — timeless because these characters stayed behind in towns everybody else has been leaving for decades — of Phedon Papamichael’s photography, which recalls other great black and white rural movies of the color era like Hud (1963) and Paper Moon (1973). Nor should anyone overlook the soundtrack by Mark Orton of SF’s own Tin Hat, whose other members also contributed to an acoustic score that at an unusual moment of high-profile movies dominated by American roots music — neotraditionalist 1960s folk in Inside Llewyn Davis, bluegrass in the Belgian Broken Circle Breakdown — feels at once the most modest, effective, and emotionally authentic derivation of the lot.
NEBRASKA opens Fri/22 in Bay Area theaters.
FILM In movies, maybe more than in life, trouble awaits outsiders who poke into cults that don’t take kindly to outsiders. Sound of My Voice (2011) is a recent example, but The Wicker Man (1973) remains probably the gold standard of “Pardon me, but I’ll be infiltrating your society, passing judgment, and suffering the inevitable consequences” cinema. For every recruitment-happy group (step right up, young ladies, and throw your lot in with 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene), there are plenty more that would just as soon be left alone.
A new entry into this genre, Holy Ghost People, comes courtesy of Mitchell Altieri, half of the directing duo known as the Butcher Brothers (the other “brother,” Phil Flores, co-wrote and co-produced). You may remember the BBs from their 2006 breakout, The Hamiltons — about a family with a bloody secret. It’d make a perfectly nightmarish double-feature with another recent indie horror, Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are. Holy Ghost People, which borrows its title and some archival footage from the 1967 documentary about Pentecostal churchgoers in West Virginia (now in the public domain, it’s viewable on YouTube), aims more for dread than gore, and represents an artistic step forward for the San Francisco-bred pair.
If certain choices don’t entirely work (a bookending voice-over feels unnecessary, given the film’s vivid visuals; the score can feel intrusive at times), Holy Ghost People is bolstered by some blistering performances, chiefly from co-writer Joe Egender as Brother Billy, the boyish leader of a church compound tucked into the Southern wilderness. (The film was shot at a summer camp — a setting not used so creepily since the first few Friday the 13th flicks.) Stumbling not-so-innocently into Billy’s lair are unlikely friends Wayne (Brendan McCarthy) and Charlotte (Emma Greenwell), who pretend to be spiritual wanderers when really they’re searching for Charlotte’s long-lost sister, last seen spiraling into junkie oblivion.
Anyone — but particularly Billy, whose tidy pompadour and welcoming words can’t hide the fact that he’s as sinister as the serpents he handles during sermons — can see that Wayne, a haunted alcoholic, and Charlotte, who’s battling her own demons, aren’t who they claim to be. Still, they’re cautiously accepted by lower-ranking members, including Sister Sheila (Cameron Richardson), a soft-spoken blonde whose beauty is marred by prominent facial scars.
As events get freakier in God’s country (or is it?), Holy Ghost People doesn’t quite offer a grand payoff to all that suspense — though it does establish a new clause to that old cinematic rule about guns: If you see a poisonous snake in the first act, damn certain it’ll bite someone by the end.
Holy Ghost People kicks off the San Francisco Film Society’s fifth annual Cinema By the Bay Festival, which showcases movies made “in or about the Bay Area,” as well as works made by artists with Bay Area connections. This agreeably loose thematic structure allows the Tennessee-shot Holy Ghost People to share marquee space with SF-centric doc American Vagabond, by Finnish director Susanna Helke.
American Vagabond, about homeless LGBT youth, is particularly timely in light of the SF Board of Supervisors’ recent vote to close parks overnight. Golden Gate Park is home for James and Tyler, a young couple who’ve fled their close-minded families, dreaming of a better life in the rainbow capital of California. Guided by James’ poetic, confessional narration — as well as other voices that chime in to share their experiences — American Vagabond is a specific, deeply personal story that also offers a broader comment on how gay youths and the homeless are treated, even in a city as progressive as SF. And it does take some unexpected turns, as when James reunites with the family that rejected him — though the reasons for the reconciliation are not happy ones.
Elsewhere in the fest, take note of Berry Minott’s The Illness and the Odyssey, a medical whodunit of sorts that explores the history and controversy surrounding Lytico-Bodig, a neurological disease found almost exclusively in Guam. For years, scientists have believed that finding its cause would be like “a Rosetta stone,” according to Dr. Oliver Sacks, resulting in cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and related illnesses. But since nobody can settle on a hypothesis — is it infectious? Caused by plants? The result of a curse? — and nobody really wants to share research (what, and let that Nobel Prize slip away?), there’s been little progress other than clashing speculation, to the great annoyance of those in Guam whose families are affected by the disease. Ultimately, The Illness and the Odyssey is more about the scientific process than anything else, with plenty of prickly personalities (in both current and vintage footage) stepping up to share their views.
Also worth a mention: In Hak Jang’s The Other Side of the Mountain, a Korean War-era romance (with musical numbers) that happens to be the first-ever North Korea/US cinematic co-production. And don’t miss “Street Smarts: YAK Films’ Dance Then and Now,” an Oakland-born phenomenon that has spawned a international array of films showcasing so-called urban dance — staged on subway cars, in intersections, and other unexpected places — of the most limber, slinky, sassy, acrobatic, and awe-inspiring varieties. *
CINEMA BY THE BAY FESTIVAL
3117 16th St, SF
SUPER EGO All of a lately, my inbox has been flooded with so many bangin’ all-night underground party invites — real underground, not just some dude from Ibiza who doesn’t play Afromaus or whatever — that I’ve had to hike my virtual pants up to my gloriously toned calves. I look like a Williamsburg 2k7 thrift store hipster, minus the neon shutter shades. (Well, at least we’re not in clamdigger territory … yet.)
I don’t know what gives, but I like it. I haven’t seen so many undergrounds go off since the heyday of the Compound and Odyssey a few years back. Real estate prices, annoying neighbors, an overeager alcohol board, and too many bored police have always foiled a thriving underground scene in SF. Oakland has fared much better — and even there I’ve seen a recent uptick in quality basement throwdowns.
Good. No matter how nifty our big clubs and regular parties — and they’re pretty nifty — they can always use some competition as corrective, especially when they’ve become too bright, or too crowded, or wrong-crowded, or expensive, or not nearly loud or bass-heavy enough. And the parties themselves have been fantastic. I’ll always heart the kandi kids, but it’s nice to pack into an extralegal venue rocking some batshit techno and a friendly crowd — with no fear of losing an eye to any errant Glo-Sticks. Thanks, rave unicorn!
SURYA DUB MISSION
So perfect. Two of our legendary bass crews, the Indian-flavored Surya Dub and the Jamaican-rolled Dub Mission jamming together… at a pot club. One of the city’s sleekest and most innovative cannabis dispensaries, at that: SPARC, teaming up with Grown Kids Radio. With Kush Arora, Sep, J-Boogie, and Maneesh the Twister.
Hard to believe the guiding light of global electronic music, Cheb i Sabbah, is no longer with us, having passed away from cancer last week at the age of 66. But the music will always remain: This gala celebration, named for the party he put on for almost 20 years, will honor his contribution to the musical melting pot and bring the classic SF nightlife community out to honor Chebiji’s legacy. With more than 30 performers and Djs from around the world, including DJ Rekha, Dub Gabriel, Sep, Little John, Radiohiro, Jimmy Love, and Opium Sabbah.
Thu/21, 7pm-late, $10–$20 suggested donation. 1015 Folsom, SF. www.1015.com
ALLAND BYALLO X NIKOLA BAYTALA
Two Bay Area techno greats get together to rock Mighty’s sound system. Alland decamped for Berlin several years ago to run his successful Bad Animal imprint and Nikola, despite playing host to nearly every foreign DJ who blows through town, has been far too absent from the decks lately. Don’t sleep.
Thu/21, 10pm-late, $10 advance. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com
Oh hey, we’re throwing a party. The Bay Guardian that is. The latest in our series of evening soirees at the de Young Museum, this Friday evening happening pays homage to the new David Hockney exhibit by giving you a little retro-future zazz. DJs from neato Italo disco monthly Galaxy Radio shine like stars, with interdimensional face-painting, living statues, cool jewelry-making, and art, art, art (and cocktails).
Fri/22, 6pm-8:45pm, free. de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, SF. deyoung.famsf.org
Before you feast on that T-bird next week at your folks’, stuff your face with some bass and gravy, courtesy of the Bay’s notoriously lowdown Dirtybird family. With special guest Polish duo Catz ‘n Dogz, whom I adore.
Fri/22, 9pm-late, $20. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com
Caught this young ‘un (DJing raves since 13) at Detroit’s Movement festival last year, when he was riding atop a bouncy castle of Latin-flavored tech-house hype. Skinny Cuban cutie turned it out with some smooth grooves.
Sat/23, 9pm-late, $20. Monarch, 101 Sixth St, SF. www.monarchsf.com
DELTRON 3030 ORCHESTRA
Del the Funky Homosapien in the captain’s chair, Dan the Automator on navigation, and Kid Koala at the teleporter: This collab of Bay underground hip-hop and trip-hop greats, a tribute to the seminal Deltron 3030 project of the early 2000s, should be one cosmic mindtrip/blastoff. With a live orchestra, OK?
Sat/23, doors 8pm, show 9pm. $32.50. Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. www.thefillmore.com
DANCE For an event with a reputation for wall-shaking energy, the first program of the 15th Annual San Francisco International Hip Hop DanceFest turned out to be an oddly muted experience. The mix of acts — which in the past has always opened new perspectives on an art that has moved from the street onto the stage (and even reality TV) — simply wasn’t potent enough. Also, with only one company from abroad, the evening just barely warranted its claim of being “international.”
But even though the program disappointed as a totality, it did include individual acts of quality. In an aesthetic that so often emphasizes virtuosic use of the torso and the legs, Struggle for Pleasure — from a sextet of dancers of the London-based Far From the Norm Company — captivated because of its gentle and controlled employment of the arms. They snaked, embraced, and coiled into tendrils, perhaps embodying the human spirit, maybe with a sense of longing. Performed to violins, the choreography, much of it presented as a group endeavor, dipped the dancers into a hypnotic state in which they froze or tried to break open. One of them readied himself for a sprint that never happened. Another exploded into a whirlwind. Struggle felt subdued, dreamlike, and yet true.
In their first appearance at this festival, New York’s Bones the Machine and DJ Aaron sent gasps through the audience with the decidedly uncommon Bonebreakkings. It was a truly astounding contortionist act in which they pretzled their arms into joint-crunching positions — accompanied by appropriate sound effects. Even though the act has been widely circulated thanks to America’s Got Talent, to see these two dancers live was a pleasure, though a somewhat chilly one.
Another excellent first-timer was the Embodiment Project, one of the Bay Area’s most fascinating hip-hop troupes, in part because of the way it collaborates with MoonCandy LiveHouse’s fine musicians who, once again, performed on stage. In the sinister Dare To Love, choreographer Nicole Klaymoon and Michelle “Mystique” Lukmani slithered in and out of d. Sabella Grimes’ slippery embrace, paying what looked like a heavy price. Grimes, a former member of Rennie Harris Puremovement, and an extraordinarily sinewy and seductive popper, finally snared himself vocalist Shamont Hussey. This was hot theater, over so fast you hardly knew what hit you.
Also fun to watch was the return of four members from FootworKINGz. These speed demons developed a virtuosic style of footwork, based on one that originated in Chicago as a response to house and juke music. In addition to delivering razor-sharp attacks at dizzying tempos, the quartet performed with wit and charm.
It is understandable that the fest wants to honor the Bay Area’s diverse hip-hop community, which offers training in dozens of local studios and schools. These are also places where many youngsters find a welcoming environment to develop skills and in which to express themselves, so there has always been place for them at the annual Hip Hop Fest. But this year’s selection short-changed the audience. Whatever the curating process, it needs to be improved. Openers Funk Beyond Control is one of the largest and most well-established Bay Area schools, but the group did not look as good as they had at previous festivals. The choreography looked tired and lacked care.
The premise for After Hours was intriguing enough. It took a popular dance trope — the doll that acquires life — and translated it into mannequins that take over a department store once it closes its doors. After opened with a sextet of women fighting over some hats on sale before being kicked out. Then the black-clad ensemble descended from its pedestal for elastic group dancing, some modestly intriguing solos, including the compulsory tot — here cast as the janitor. But the whole thing felt dutiful and uninspired. Also, not waiting for the traditional community bow at the end of the evening was disrespectful to fellow artists and the festival’s producer, Micaya.
Another first appearance, by the Great House of Dance, showcased a huge company from Sacramento. It was big but not great. Its group sequences seemed strung together willy-nilly, and went on for much too long. There was nothing that held this presentation together besides the good will by the performers — some who had real talent.
Illstyle & Peace Productions Ain’t No Party Like a Illstyle Party, sent individual performers into competent, sometimes athletically-impressive solos, but this was a thrown-together, clumsy, applause-milking endeavor, unworthy of a group that has done much better work. Why?
Also part of the festival were San Francisco’s well known and solidly performing SoulForce Dance Company, and Oakland’s spunky, in your face, all-women Mix’d Ingrdnts. *
In recent weeks, the San Francisco Unified School District held a series of community forums to ask parents what they think kids need in order to thrive in school. The meetings were held as part of a policymaking process leading up to next year’s renewal of two important funds — the Children’s Fund and the Public Education Enrichment Fund, which account for some $100 million in funding combined.
There were huge turnouts — a Chinatown forum, where Mayor Ed Lee was reportedly in attendance, attracted more than 180 participants, while a Nov. 14 meeting at Cesar Chavez Elementary in the Mission District drew a crowd of between 80 and 90.
The parents weren’t exactly asking for more museum field trips for their kids. During breakout sessions where facilitators wrote group members’ concerns on flip pads, a few recurring themes emerged. “Job security for parents,” one read. “Affordable housing,” another stated. “It’s a shame to have to talk about lack of funds given wealth and corporations in SF,” more parent feedback stated.
Maria Su, director of the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and their Families, thanked parents for coming and told them, “We know how hard it is and how challenging it is to survive in the city. But that doesn’t mean we should give up.”
The whole exercise provided a glimpse into just how tough it is for families to get by in a city where a hefty cost of living amounts to serious pressure. “The sacrifices they make is, their children will have access to resources you can’t get anywhere else,” said Mario Paz with the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center, who works with a lot of Latino immigrant families.
A report digesting the findings of stakeholder focus groups boiled it down. “Many participants commented on … the extraordinarily high cost of living in San Francisco,” it noted, which “contributes to both financial and emotional strain on the part of our many working class and lower income residents.”
A few months ago, arts nonprofits CounterPULSE and The Luggage Store faced an uncertain future. New tech neighbors drove their rents sky high, and the groups that for years were venues for struggling artists found themselves struggling.
“Twitter moved in literally behind our building,” said Jessica Robinson Love, executive director of CounterPULSE. Faced with higher rents, they started preparing for a move to Oakland.
But now a nonprofit with resources to match tech is on a mission to help displaced arts organizations find permanent homes.
In a packed press conference just outside The Luggage Store on Market Street, the foundation-funded Community Arts Stabilization Trust announced Wednesday that it would purchase two properties for the longstanding Mid-Market nonprofits. Risky renters no longer, both nonprofits will soon own their own buildings, shielded from the ebbs and flows of rent surges.
Flanked by Mayor Ed Lee and Sup. Jane Kim, CAST said The Luggage Store will stay on Market and Sixth streets, while CounterPULSE will move five blocks away into an old porn theater on Turk Street. The two arts nonprofits have been in San Francisco since the early 1990s.
“Yes, rents are rising because of our success,” Lee said to the crowd. “But this will be a city for the 100 percent.”
The city contributed just over $300,000 toward helping the nonprofits find a new home, a small fraction compared to the $5 million committed by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. The new nonprofit then bought the properties, a new strategy of pooling funds to save arts organizations.
“The bottom line is, nonprofits can’t compete on a commercial real estate market,” Love said. While the move bought them some breathing room, the reprieve is temporary.
CounterPULSE must raise millions of dollars to pay CAST for the property, which it hopes to do before moving into the space in 2015, Love told us. The amount isn’t exact yet because it’s still applying for a number of grants that could mitigate the costs.
The long wait before moving is due to the need for renovation at the Turk Street site. Formerly the Gayety theater and Dollhouse, the site was littered with broken glass and piles of trash and remains in disrepair.
The Guardian took a tour of the site with Love, and she saw through the crumbling plaster to what could be. Leading us downstairs, she showed us where performers would practice. On the top floor, she envisioned a space where visiting artists could stay for the duration of their exhibits. “It’s magic,” she said.
CounterPULSE already has agreements with SROs to perform for tenants, and street art is a part of the package, too. They’re a progressive arts group, she said, “from food justice to prison reform, from housing advocacy to rental rights.” She views the arts as a way to bring together community, by giving them a safe place to be at night, and a reason to celebrate.
Tenants, organizers and residents impacted by Ellis Act evictions packed the Board of Supervisors Chambers at San Francisco City Hall Nov. 14 for a hearing on eviction and displacement in San Francisco. As more and more residents face ousters only to be priced out, lawmakers and advocates are floating legislative fixes to try and reverse the trend before it reaches the soaring levels of the displacement epidemic that impacted the city during the first dot-com boom.
“It seems to me that we have a tale of two cities,” Sup. David Campos, who requested the hearing, said at the start of the discussion, held at the Board of Supervisors’ Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee. “We must act urgently to address this crisis, which I believe is a crisis,” he added. “We are fighting, I think, for the soul of San Francisco.”
Fred Brousseau of the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst’s office shared his recent analysis on eviction and displacement trends across the city.
Overall evictions in San Francisco rose from 1,242 to 1,716 over the past three years, he said, reflecting an increase of 38.2 percent. Ellis Act evictions rose by 169.8 percent in that same time frame.
Almost 42 percent of individuals impacted by eviction had some form of disability, Brousseau noted, while 49 percent had incomes at or below the federal poverty level. On the whole, a total of nearly 43 percent of San Francisco households are “rent-burdened,” a term that officially means devoting more than 30 percent of household income toward rent, the study found.
Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union emphasized that tenant buyouts, frequently offered in lieu of an eviction, are also driving displacement, although those transactions aren’t reflected in city records. “There are about three of them for every Ellis Act eviction,” he said. “When you consider them in combination with Ellis, the numbers are very dramatic.”
Throughout the afternoon, tenants shared their stories and fears about getting frozen out of San Francisco by eviction. “I’m looking at shopping carts, and I’m terrified,” one woman told supervisors during public comment. “You have to do something. It might not be enough for me right now, but you can’t do this to any more people.”
Campos is working with Assembly Member Tom Ammiano on a proposal to grant San Francisco the authority to place a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions. He’s also pursuing legislation that would create a mechanism at the San Francisco Rent Board to allow tenants to register formal complaints about landlord harassment and other kinds of pressure.
“I am eager to introduce a bill in January,” Ammiano noted. “One option might be a law that will allow the local jurisdictions, like San Francisco, to suspend the Ellis Act or establish a moratorium, because of the emergency housing situation. Another possibility is working to make sure that landlords are not skirting Ellis eviction requirements by improperly pressuring tenants to leave. We must do something, but we have to work together to make it successful.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Lee recently announced that he is working with Sen. Mark Leno on legislation to curb Ellis Act evictions by requiring additional permits or hearings before they proceed. They’re also contemplating floating more stringent regulations on the sale and resale of properties where tenants have been evicted under Ellis.
At the end of the day, it’s clear that housing advocates are gaining momentum as the spike in tenant ousters continues in pricey San Francisco, where rents are the highest in the nation.
On the coast of San Francisco’s national park, the Presidio, a battle is underway that may define what this unique place is really about.
Is the Presidio a historically significant natural area with a heritage worth celebrating and protecting? Or is the Presidio just the last great piece of undeveloped land in San Francisco, with the added benefit of being outside the jurisdiction of city regulators and taxes? Maybe it’s both.
The embattled parcel that could illuminate those questions is a 15-minute walk east from the Golden Gate Bridge, just off the beach of Crissy Field, which now houses Sports Basement. Once a slab of concrete and now a bustling waterfront teeming with bicyclists and joggers, it seems almost too beautiful and prosperous a place for a sporting goods store to be housed.
That may be why, a year ago, the powerful people who preside over the Presidio asked for a bevy of museum proposals to replace Sports Basement and its building.
For months, three teams with multi-million-dollar museum proposals hotly competed to rent the soon-to-be vacant property: an institute devoted to sustainability, an interactive science museum based around Presidio history, and a museum housing the extensive art collection of filmmaker George Lucas, the wealthy creator of the Star Wars empire.
Decisions made behind closed doors will seal the deal in the next few weeks and the winning pitch may shape the future of the Presidio. And like the Highlander, there can be only one. At least, that was the original thought.
Ultimately the decision won’t rest in the hands of the mayor, the Board of Supervisors, or any other elected official. For better or for worse, decision-making in the Presidio is entrusted to a seven-person “trust,” mostly appointed by the president of the United States: the Presidio Trust.
“I think, at times, you think that we all know what we’re doing,” Presidio Trust President Nancy Bechtle, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2008, told a crowd of hundreds at an Oct. 24 public meeting about the museum decision. “I don’t think that any of us have made up our minds on anything yet.”
But if recent reports from the San Francisco Chronicle are to be believed, the Trust is pushing to please everyone and disappoint no one. Citing anonymous sources, longtime media bromance Matier and Ross reported last week that the Presidio Trust was leaning towards Lucas’ museum proposal while feeling out alternative sites for the remaining projects.
Presidio Trust spokesperson Dana Polk admitted they were putting out feelers. “We don’t have specific sites identified, we’re just speaking to the teams to see if they are willing to consider other options,” she told the Guardian.
For a stretch of land that has moved slowly to bring in new development, each one a laborious and controversial process, the idea of allowing a trilogy of museums could have blockbuster implications for the Presidio and its tony surrounding neighborhoods.
As many advocates from different sides of the debate have said, any major development there could make the Presidio that much denser: bringing more cars, more tourists, and more San Franciscans to the remote northwestern corner of the city that many residents seem to ignore.
More than 400,000 annual visitors would flock to Crissy Field under any of the existing plans, while multiple proposals could more than double that. The two lead proposals, Lucas’ art museum and the Presidio Exchange, tell a tale of two Presidios. One is an interactive museum that celebrates the history of the natural setting of the park around it, and the other celebrates the digital history of the surrounding Bay Area.
It’s techies versus naturalists.
There are six criteria the Presidio Trust laid out for the projects, but only two of those divide the projects sharply: firstly, is it economically viable, and secondly does the project complement the Presidio as it is today?
Which proposal defines the Presidio’s present depends on how you see its past.
EMPIRE OF ART
Palo Alto of 1878 was as driven by technology as it is today. There and then, a young Eadweard Muybridge lined up a series of photo cameras with strings tied to their shutters along a racetrack, all to settle a bet. Do all of a racing horse’s hooves leave the ground as it runs?
The horse’s galloping legs pulled each string one by one, inadvertently making the world’s first series of sequential photographs (and yes, the hooves all left the ground). Out of technological advancement, cinema was born.
There’s a reason Lucas’ Presidio-based Lucasfilm studio houses a statue of Muybridge reaching to the sky. The man who pioneered Star Wars is really the man who pioneered the golden age of cinematic special effects, and he modeled his career after techno-artists like Muybridge. The heart of his proposed museum embodies that work.
Technology shapes art, Lucas believes, and film technology was birthed in the Bay Area.
“When I moved here in 1969 right out of college, I stayed here, I built my business here, I never made a film in Hollywood,” Lucas said at a public meeting on the mid-Crissy Field site, pitching his museum idea to the Presidio Trust and to the crowd. “I’m proud of being a San Franciscan.”
At 95,000 square feet, the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum is a love poem to the history of technological art. Statues of Star Wars and other cinematic characters line the walls in mock-ups. Promotional videos for the museum show kids staring excitedly at laptops and levitating X-Wings, the spacecraft of Jedi hero Luke Skywalker, with the push of a button.
In his videos and speeches about the museum, Lucas touts the Bay Area as a hub of cinema, promising his museum would draw Pixar and LucasFilm luminaries to teach and inspire the next generation of filmmakers. The museum has hands-on digital workshops cooked into the design of the building.
“This is our chance to show young people what cinematic design is,” Lucas said. He’s shown that dedication through his nonprofit, Edutopia, bringing digital lesson plans into public school classrooms.
But as much as Lucas values the technology of cinema he also values pop art, and Star Wars is the ultimate pop adventure fantasy.
Lucas said that storytelling art, “derisively called illustration,” never gets a fair shake in museums. Now is the time, and the main event in his museum would celebrate an artist made famous by Christmas cards and Boys’ Life Magazine.
The Star Wars director’s collection of Norman Rockwell paintings is widely known in the art world, touring the US and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. As with all art that appeals to the masses, ex-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown loves it.
“Lucas has what amounts to a museum of Hollywood, mixed with the kind of art you don’t need a curator to explain,” Brown wrote in a July edition in his Chronicle column, Willie’s World. “Think the Empire meets Middle America.”
Willie Brown isn’t the only luminary to back the Lucas proposal. At each public meeting and in every public letter written to the Trust, an empire of rich folks and techies sang songs of praise for the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum.
Mayor Ed Lee, tech venture capitalist Ron Conway, Pixar film director John Lasseter, Saleforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, MC Hammer, and Tim Ritchie, president of San Jose’s The Tech Museum of Innovation, all actively support the Lucas proposal.
The morals and mores of tech are all over the letter that Conway, the godfather of Silicon Valley, wrote to the Presidio Trust: “As you know, I have a passion for making and keeping San Francisco at the forefront of innovation. Certainly, there is no greater innovator around than George Lucas. His businesses have transformed the tech sector, specifically digital technology. San Francisco deserves this museum. It demands it.”
Though monied interests backed Lucas, it isn’t like he needs their cash. He pledged to personally finance the creation and operations of his museum.
The Star Wars franchise grossed more than $33 billion for Lucas, according to a study by Wired magazine. Lucas also owned Industrial Light and Magic, a pioneer in the special effects industry with a hand in everything from Back to the Future to the newest Harry Potter and Iron Man flicks. Now Star Wars and his special effects studios are owned by Disney, a deal penned just last year.
Some of that work came out of their studio in the Presidio, where the studio Lucas created pays $5.8 million annually in rent. The Letterman Digital Arts Center is one of two locations of ILM, and it’s an embodiment of Lucas’ plan for the area.
It’s a manicured campus, to be sure. A man-made creek runs down its center towards a serene pond, much lovelier than the swamps of Dagobah that Yoda called home. The white buildings with red shingled roofs confuse visitors into thinking they were erected by peoples long ago. And that’s the point, Lucas spokesperson David Perry told the Guardian.
“It looks like something that could’ve been built at the turn of the century,” he said.
Inside the Lucas museum is an homage to the tech history of the Bay Area, but the architecture’s Mission Revival style is an homage to the birth of San Francisco itself.
A LONG TIME AGO
Long before the rise of the hipsters, the first peoples to chill out in our foggy peninsula were the Ohlone tribes, dating back to the year 700. But the first who built what we know as San Francisco were Spanish soldiers driven by the fires of religion and conquest.
Lt. Col. Juan Bautista de Anza settled two areas when he first came to San Francisco in 1776: Mission Dolores and today’s Presidio. He argued with his superiors long and hard for settling the Presidio. They thought the fog and cold too harsh and inhospitable for colonization. How little things have changed.
Since the Ohlone were displaced or enslaved, the Presidio has long housed the military, segueing from the Spanish to the United States military, where it became an important installation during World War II.
Massive gun batteries sprouted on the hills of the Marin Headlands across the bay and in the Presidio, keeping a watchful eye to sea and airborne invaders from the west. Some of the barracks that housed the soldiers still stand today.
As recently as the ’90s, a lone cannon fired there every day as the flag was lowered, signaling the Marina and Richmond districts that evening was on its way. In 1994, the cannons were silent.
After the military ended its occupation of the Presidio, its fate remained uncertain. In what news reports at the time characterized as a Republican swipe against Rep. Nancy Pelosi, in 1996 Congress deemed that now San Francisco’s national park should be self-sustaining. Thus a novel quasi private-public institution was born: the Presidio Trust.
The Trust was mandated with making the Presidio a self-supporting entity, earning money with rents and development, and it has now finally achieved the goal of covering its own operating costs with no help from the federal government. It’s the only national park with a profit motive, and that changes the calculus of what’s built.
The Presidio is an entity in San Francisco, but not of San Francisco, in financial and political terms. Guardian investigations from Lucas’ first move to the Presidio catalogued an estimated $60 million in savings he achieved by not paying local San Francisco taxes. The new museum site may benefit from the same deal.
The Presidio of today is taking halting baby steps towards commerce. The main post houses a high school, a YMCA, and the Disney Museum. The cannon rests unused adjacent to a bowling alley.
The Presidio houses 3,000 residents, according to federal data, and 3,000 workers come in from the surrounding Bay Area to work. Since 1996, the area has transformed. But beyond just making money, the Presidio Trust is also tasked with maintaining its parkland and curating its past, and it’s that past that the other museum proposals celebrate.
The Presidio Exchange museum proposal focuses on the Presidio itself, its history and future.
OF AND FOR THE PRESIDIO
First off, this is not a rebels versus the empire tale. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy — a nonprofit affiliated with the Golden Gate National Parks Recreation Area — is at the helm of the Presidio Exchange site. Even though it isn’t George Lucas, its not a ragtag band of outliers either.
The Parks Conservancy built and currently maintains visitor attractions all over San Francisco’s national parkland, from the Warming Hut at Fort Point to Alcatraz. It has raised more than $300 million to support these projects since 1981, all in the name of curating its slice of important Bay Area history.
Its Presidio Exchange (PX) proposal is about about celebrating the area’s natural history. In physical terms, the PX architecturally embodies its name: A great big X. Each wing houses a different focus on Presidio’s natural world and history through interactive workshops, taking exhibit cues from local favorites like the Exploratorium.
One end houses “park place,” where arts will intersect with the environment. A great example that exists now is Spire, a construct of trees that forms a sculpted point near the Presidio’s Arguello gate. Another wing houses a demonstration kitchen, where food grown on-site will be fricasseed and fried in the name of education.
If the home and workplace are first and second spaces for people to live, the Parks Conservancy touts the PX as a “third space,” with a living room area built-in to look out on the water of the bay.
Stepping upstairs is a two-story spiral of differently angled screens, allowing visitors to choose their history lesson based on sightline — Ohlone or Spanish colonialists, or to ditch humanity altogether and learn about the ecosystem.
A third museum proposal, called the Sustainability Institute, has gained little political traction, but also follows the PX ideal of celebrating natural settings of the Presidio. That proposal describes it as “a place to explore the critical social, economic, and environmental issues of our time.”
More than celebrate history though, the PX also has spaces for visiting artists to perform in its “world stage.” Renderings of dancers litter its website. “It’s progressive and, most of all, inclusive,” said Janice Berger, a Parks Conservancy board member, in a promotion for the PX.
Nature aside, what the Parks Conservancy also does well is drum up support. At a public forum on the museum proposals on Oct. 24, a portion of the over 35,000 annual parks volunteers and networks that shaped the Golden Gate National Parks were united against the force that is George Lucas.
WHO IS IT FOR?
Those used to the public meetings of the Board of Supervisors would be in for a rude awakening at the Presidio Trust as the atmosphere was jovial and friendly, at least within the museum proposal fiefdoms. The meeting to discuss the mid-Crissy field site was divided into discernible camps: Tanned and weathered naturalists, upper crust folks with pocket squares in their coats, Presidio neighbors, and a handful of Lucas employees.
The windows of the former military cafeteria looked out onto the Golden Gate Bridge, and with the foghorn as musical accompaniment the commenters pleaded for their preferred Presidio project.
“Relatively speaking, the Lucas building is unrelated to the site,” former Presidio Trustee Amy Meyer said at the microphone, addressing the current board and the audience. The crowd thumped and cheered as she spoke.
Danya Sherman, who works in community engagement at Friends of the Highline in New York City, said the PX was like a sister-project with that train-track-turned-museum, with many of the same local benefits.
“Our plans were opposed by the mayor at the time, including much of the business community and others,” she said. “But after a tidal wave of community support, the High Line now is one of the top three most visited sites in New York. And its economic impact is estimated to be over $2 billion.”
“How do we get complete engagement?” asked Charles Jennings, questioning the Lucas proposal’s ability to do so. “Not just next door to the Presidio, but in the entire city?”
Ray Holland of the Planning Association of the Richmond said a coalition of neighborhood groups also thought the PX was the right way to go.
“They’re going to be some very tough [decisions] because all three of them are very solid proposals,” he said. “It’s our feeling that only one of them actually meets all of the criteria in your solicitations for those proposals, and that’s the Presidio Exchange.”
Becky Evans, local chair of the Sierra Club, lampooned the Lucas plan for not tying into the local natural area. Choosing the PX, she said would let the Trust “leave a legacy of something with monumental status.”
Over 30 speakers touted the benefits of the PX, but there were just a handful of Lucas supporters in tow that night, most of them his employees. Only two supporters for the sustainability institute spoke. Letters flew into the Trust as well, posted for the public to see.
As a general rule, parks and surrounding neighborhood groups sent letters of support for the PX, and tech groups and monied interests (like the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce) wrote in favor of the Lucas Cultural Arts Center.
At the end of the night, Presidio Trust President Bechtle told the Guardian that there were so many good reasons for each of the proposals she was flummoxed. She mimed her head bursting, hands flying outward.
As this issue goes to print, she and the board planned to meet privately to discuss interviews they conducted with project heads over the past two weeks. Perry, the Lucas project spokesperson, said Lucas made his case for over an hour to the board.
“This was about answering some of the individual board members’questions,” he said. Of the critique of not fitting with the natural setting like the PX, “I think it’s safe to say there’s not much in the Presidio now that was there in the beginning — including the eucalyptus trees.”
But other questions might provide a clue as to who’ll win the contract.
The Trust asked about compromise in the construction by scaling back the building to make it fit more harmoniously into the surrounding area. “Was there room for give and take in compromise?” Perry said Lucas was asked. “The answer was yes.”
Does that mean it’s in the bag?
With the serenity of a Jedi, Perry answered simply: “I can’t say.”
Throughout, all admitted the decision is difficult. Should the site be used as a beautiful backdrop for one man’s art collection to be enjoyed by all, or an inclusive science museum dedicated to the history and natural setting of the Presidio?
In just a few weeks we may see what the Presidio Trust’s vision is for the northwest corner of San Francisco.
By Matt Haney
Proposition 30 was a big deal: It raised over $6 billion a year by increasing taxes on the wealthy, balanced the state budget, and allowed our K-12 and higher education systems to put an end to mass layoffs, exploding class sizes, and ballooning tuition.
But one year later, it’s about time we ask ourselves: What’s next?
Even after Prop 30, the under funding of education and essential services remains, with California still near the bottom nationally in K-12 per pupil funding. Prop 30 was a step forward, but we all knew that we ultimately would have to take on the “Godzilla” of California tax policy: Proposition 13.
Since its passage in 1978, Prop 13 has decimated public education and essential services in our state. Per pupil support in California plummeted from top 10 in the nation to bottom 10, and the tax burden shifted away from businesses and onto individuals. As state investments in services and education went down, poverty went up.
California voters originally passed Prop 13 mainly to protect homeowners. But due to loopholes in the law that prevent regular reassessment of commercial property, large commercial property owners are getting a multi-billion dollar public subsidy. Many commercial property owners are paying taxes at rates that are nearly unchanged from decades ago. Chevron alone is under-taxed by a billion dollars!
Reforming the commercial property tax loophole in Prop 13 could bring in over $7 billion dollars annually, most of which would go directly to education. Despite new funding from Prop 30, our schools desperately need greater investments if we are going to provide a 21st century education for all of our children.
Prop 13 has long been viewed as the “third rail” of California politics. Talk about reforming it, and risk your political career. Yet recent polls show an openness from Californians to reform Prop 13 to ensure more regular value reassessment of commercial property. Demographic change, voter education and registration, and the victory of Prop 30, have shifted the political landscape.
The San Francisco School Board recently joined dozens of School Boards, City Councils, and Board of Supervisors across the state in calling for the reform of Prop 13 through a statewide ballot initiative in 2016 or sooner. The strategy, led by organizations like Evolve California and California Calls, is to ramp up the pressure from the ground up. Cities, schools, and communities are the canaries in the mine. We have experienced Prop 13’s carnage firsthand, and we cannot be silent.
Just as we did with Prop 30, Californians deserve a choice: fully fund education and essential services, or maintain a broken and inequitable tax system. We can’t have both. Next time the stakes will be even higher, so it’s critical that we start preparing for this fight now. Let’s get to work.
With the clink of champagne glasses, kudos to the development team and its community partners, and the cutting of a red ribbon, the new housing development at 38 Dolores St. had its grand opening celebration on Nov. 14, a couple weeks after the Whole Foods on its ground floor opened its doors to Market Street.
In many ways, 38 Dolores is pretty typical of the new housing opening in this part of town these days. It took seven years to complete the project, “on time and under budget in a way this community can be proud of,” developer Dan Safier of The Prado Group told the assembled crowd.
That process included countless meetings with various community groups, who successfully pushed for progressive features that include some key pedestrian safety improvements and limiting the number of parking spaces to just one spot for every two units.
“It was an amazing example of a developer working closely with the various neighborhood associations,” area Sup. Scott Wiener told the well-dressed crowd at the event, a sentiment also voiced by his predecessor, Bevan Dufty, who said, “They’ve been the gold star as far as listening to people.”
But not everyone agrees with that praise. Peter Cohen, a housing activist who also works for the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations, said Safier broke longtime assurances that he would satisfy his affordable housing obligations by building below-market-rate (BMR) units on site, rather than just paying an “in-lieu” fee to the city, two options under Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.
“They basically did a bait and switch. It was a real bullshit move,” Cohen told the Guardian, noting how desperate the city is for more affordable housing now. “The bottom line is they promised to do affordable housing on site and they didn’t do it.”
“There are so many nuances to how affordable housing works,” Safier told us, vaguely explaining why he couldn’t do on-site BMR units, including the demands of project funders. He worked with the city on doing a land dedication for off-site affordable housing, but the Mayor’s Office of Housing was resistant, and it would have required a change in city codes to do in this part of town.
“They wanted to develop faster than we had to capacity to develop,” MOH Director Olson Lee told the Guardian, explaining that his office was dealing with transitioning affordable housing projects under the old Redevelopment Agency and it didn’t have the capacity to help Safier build the BMR units now. Instead, it accepted a check for about $5 million.
“We felt there should be more options for developers,” Safier said. “But the reality is the city needs the fees.”
Yes, over the long haul, the city does need those fees to build more BMR units, which require big public subsidies to build in San Francisco. But those will take many years and much effort to build. Lee said the $37 million now in the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund will eventually translate into 185 BMR units.
“That’s why we want the units on site,” Cohen said, “because the clearest path is to build the damn units in your building.”
By time the party started at 38 Dolores, 40 of its 81 units had already been rented, and the developers expected even more to be rented out by the end of the party, after attendees had toured the open units sipping free champagne or cocktails.
“If you’ve brought your checkbook, you can even rent a unit,” Safier told the crowd.
Prices ranged from $2,950 per month for one of a half-dozen 505-square-foot studio apartments to $4,395 for the two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,099-square-foot units that the event was really pushing up to $8,100 for a few three-bedroom apartments with the balcony and killer views on the seventh floor.
Compare those rents to San Francisco’s median rent of nearly $1,500, the highest in the nation, according to a recent US Census report, which also noted that occupants in 38 percent of rental units in the city pay more than 35 percent of their income on rent. And then you get a pretty good idea how San Francisco is changing.
FLOOD OF HOUSING
Thousands of newly constructed housing units are now coming online in San Francisco, spurred by the city’s hot housing market, pent-up demand and capital following the 2008 financial crisis, and approval of city plans that regulate development by neighborhood, such as the Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan, which has unleashed a flood of development along mid- and upper-Market Street.
The good news is apartments are finally being built in a city where nearly two-thirds of residents rent — even in projects like 38 Dolores that are permitted as condos — but the bad news is that they’re really expensive and the city isn’t building anywhere near enough affordable units to address demand by current residents. And most developers are opting to “fee out” rather than build BMR units, meaning it will take several years to address this growing economic imbalance.
The trend in what’s being built in San Francisco and what those units are going for only increases the pressure on tenants in rent-controlled apartments, who are now being displaced at rates not seen since the last dot-com bubble, both through evictions and buy-outs. Contrary to the supply-and-demand arguments made by pro-development cheerleaders, there’s no evidence that the housing supply now being built is doing anything to help most San Franciscans.
“Trickle down theory is going to fuck San Francisco, it’s not going to help it,” Cohen said.
San Francisco’s Housing Element, a study of housing needs mandated by state law to ensure that cities are addressing their affordable housing obligations, called for the city to build 31,193 housing units from 2007-2014. Partially as a result of the 2008 financial meltdown, San Francisco fell far short of that goal, with just 11,130 units getting permitted, most of those market-rate units.
But that was enough to meet 60.6 percent of the projected need for serving those earning 120 percent of area median income and above, whereas the city entitled just 360 units for moderate income San Franciscans — 5.3 percent of the projected need — and 3,313 units for low-income (80 percent of AMI and below), or 27.3 percent of the need.
So it isn’t that San Francisco is facing a “housing crisis,” as Housing Action Coalition and others often proclaim, it’s that the city is facing an affordable housing crisis driven by not building enough below-market-rate housing and allowing real estate speculators to cannibalize the city’s rent-controlled housing.
Even though voters last year approved Prop. C, creating the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to address the real crisis, it won’t generate nearly enough money to meet the long-term need. And in the short-term, it actually reduced the number of on-site BMR units that developers must build, from 15 percent to 12 percent.
“The reason for changing the inclusionary to 12 percent was to incentivize the on-site,” MOH’s Lee told us, although he admitted that it had limited success so far.
BATTLING FOR BMR
That’s not to say there aren’t any BMR units going up.
The Mayor’s Office says there are 6,168 housing units now under construction in the city, and 1,182 of those are affordable housing. Most of those are in projects that were required to do so because they got a gift of public land, including Lennar Urban’s housing development at Hunters Point Shipyard and the housing development that’s part of the Transbay Terminal rebuild in SoMa, where the Block 6 project starting next year that will have 70 BMR units out of 479 total.
“The city got that state land and as a requirement of law, it has a high affordable housing requirement,” MOH’s Lee told us. “Transbay is a great example of how we’re encouraging the affordable and market rate to go hand-in-hand, because they really do go hand-in-hand.”
Other developers were encouraged by the change in Prop. C, including the massive, 754-unit NEMA apartment complex on Market Street next to the Twitter headquarters, which opted to do the 12 percent BMR on-site rather than 17 percent off-site or the pay of an in-lieu fees that roughly equivalent to 20 percent. Trinity Housing’s huge project at 1167 Market will also have 232 BMR units out of 1,900 units total.
“Getting on-site inclusionary has lots of benefits,” Lee said. “One, we aren’t doing it. Two, it gets done faster. And three, we get a better mix around the city.”
While Wiener told us “we need all sorts of different housing,” he also said that “we need to do more to have on-site affordable units.”
But Cohen said the city isn’t doing nearly enough to encourage affordable housing construction, particularly giving how much market-rate housing is being built, which is gentrifying the city and hurting its diversity. He says MOH should increase the in-lieu fees, which are based on construction costs and not what the red-hot market is actually paying for units right now.
“The opportunity cost is far higher to do the unit on site,” Cohen said. “The fee is too cheap.”
So for now, Cohen works with neighborhood associations and groups such as the AIDS Housing Alliance and the Milk Club to put pressure on developers to do on-site affordable housing, as they’ve recently been doing to the Texas-based Greystar, which is proposing a 90-unit housing project at on Market at Sanchez.
Activists have pushed and pushed, and they finally felt like they got a commitment from Greystar at the Nov. 11 meeting of the Duboce Triangle Neighbors Association, which is spearheading the effort. But when the Guardian asked the company detailed questions about the issue and its commitment, we got back this vague statement from Randy Ackerman, Senior Director of Development: “We recently met with Duboce Triangle Neighbors Association and had a good discussion, where we received a lot of helpful feedback on the BMR units and the overall project. We plan to incorporate their feedback as we finalize our plans with city staff.”
Cohen said that’s typical of developers these days. “This is the economic reality, is it’s a place to make a lot of money off of real estate,” Cohen said. “They can very easily play the community like a fiddle, so I’m hoping I can help the Upper Market community beat Greystar.”
Safier said he doesn’t think it’s fair or helpful to demonize developers. “I’m not one of those evil developers,” Safier said, who criticizes the rich-vs.-poor political dynamics in the city. “I don’t think that tug and pull of this city is very productive.”
But Cohen said activists need to be vigilant to protect the character of the city in the face of growing profit motives. “It’s 24/7 and it just wears people down, and we have to have wins along the way,” Cohen said, noting the importance of defeating the 8 Washington project in the last election. “We have to be very loud about how difficult it is to maintain this city’s diversity.”
Environmentalists who oppose fracking in California are concerned about more than possible groundwater contamination or other hazards that could directly result from the fossil fuel drilling practice. They also want to save the planet.
The Monterey Shale, a massive underground geological formation spanning a large swath of California, contains approximately 15 billion barrels of hard-to-get oil that could technically be extracted in massive fracking operations, Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity said during a Nov. 15 call with reporters.
All told, burning that quantity would eventually release six billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air. “That is a carbon bomb,” Siegel stated bluntly. Combined with methane that is released from the wells during the drilling operations, “a fracking boom in California could undo all the progress our state has made on greenhouse reductions,” she warned.
But for now, the debate on fracking in California is focused on newly drafted state regulations that would place controls on the practice for the first time. The proposed rules pertain to permitting and disclosure in the areas surrounding individual wells — yet they don’t contemplate the cumulative impact of fossil fuel combustion over time.
Fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, is a technique used for extracting oil or natural gas. It involves injecting high-pressure fluids underground, often containing toxic chemicals, to break up bedrock in order to access the fossil fuel sources trapped within. The California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) released a set of draft regulations Nov. 15 proposing new rules around what’s known as “well stimulation,” industry-speak for a type of drilling that includes fracking.
The new rules are slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. They’ll continue to be hashed out throughout next year, and DOGGR will accept public comment on the initial proposal until Jan. 14, 2014.
The regulations came about in response to Senate Bill 4, legislation enacted Sept. 30 after a statewide coalition of environmentalists launched a campaign to put a stop to fracking, which is already happening in some parts of California. Many groups within that coalition viewed the legislation as flawed, because it didn’t prohibit the practice outright.
“The only safe way forward for California is a halt to fracking in our state,” Siegel said.
Still, the draft regulations do seek to place new requirements on the oil and gas industry in an effort to protect public health where fracking occurs. According to DOGGR records, fracking is most common in Kern County.
“There are some good provisions in the regulations,” Bill Allayaud of the Environmental Working Group said in the briefing. “For the first time, all forms of well stimulation will require a permit from DOGGR. That’s a good thing.”
The rules will also require companies to conduct an analysis of groundwater and other wells nearby before proceeding with fracking operations, unlike before. The new regulations also establish a notification process to make nearby residents aware of new drilling operations.
Meanwhile, SB 4 calls for an environmental impact report and a study on the overall health and safety effects of fracking — but it’s unlikely that this study would result in a prohibition on the drilling practice, as environmentalists had initially called for.
“The Natural Resources Agency is currently developing the scope of the study and will begin the analysis in December 2013,” according to a fact sheet published by DOGGR.
“We don’t think we’ll be getting deep answers as to whether fracking and acidization and all forms of well stimulation are safe or not, for both protecting public health and the environment,” Allayaud said.
Meanwhile, he expressed concern that the public comment period for the initial set of proposed rules did not provide enough time for concerned Californians to respond, because people are being asked to weigh in over the course of the holiday season. The Environmental Working Group has requested an extension of that deadline, but it seems unlikely that DOGGR will grant one.
“The comment period was extended from the mandatory 45 days to 60 days for that reason,” California Department of Conservation Chief Deputy Director Jason Marshall said when asked whether the deadline extension would be granted in light of the holidays. “Additionally, we are anticipating an additional 45-day public comment period after the initial draft regulations are adjusted based on that initial public comment.”
Environmentalists also voiced the concern that while DOGGR plans to hold a series of public hearings on the proposed fracking regulations, none will be held in the Bay Area, despite its concentration of advocates who helped get the statewide opposition campaign off the ground.
“The law requires one public meeting, if requested. We are doing five, primarily in areas of the state where oil production is most common,” Marshall responded when asked why there weren’t any Bay Area meetings scheduled.
Asked whether any of the pending studies would take into account the six billion metric tons of CO2 that could potentially be released if the Monterey Shale were to be developed, Marshall seemed to suggest that the state was willing to go along with a regulated form of fracking even as it continues pursuing initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
“We still derive over 90 percent of our transportation fuels from hydrocarbons,” he wrote in an email. “With SB 4 and these regulations, California is acting now to ensure that extraction of those hydrocarbons happens in the safest way possible, even as we work to reduce our energy dependence on those hydrocarbons.”
EDITORIAL We’re sorry to see all the problems surrounding President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which has made some important improvements to the country’s healthcare system, such as helping those with preexisting conditions get coverage and preventing those who do have coverage from being arbitrarily dropped. Given a break from being exploited by the insurance industry, there’s no way this country’s citizens will want to go back to how things were.
But the convoluted Obamacare system was a foreseeable mess, one that is now causing unnecessary anxiety across the country and bringing right-wing extremists back from the political dead as the mid-term elections approach. Republicans may not be correct when they trumpet the old system as the best on the world, but their criticisms of Obamacare are already finding increasing resonance, and we haven’t even gotten to the point yet where it will be illegal not to have health insurance.
It doesn’t make sense to leave something as important as our healthcare system in the hands of for-profit corporations with the incentive to drive up costs. The New York Times has done some excellent work this year showing how US residents pay astronomically more for every procedure and drug than citizens of other countries. We should have all been suspicious when the insurance industry cooperated with enacting Obamacare and helped preclude a public option, leaving us with the insurance exchanges that have been so problematic.
There’s really only one remedy to this country’s ailing healthcare system, which we said at the time that Obamacare was being passed and we’ll repeat again now that there’s even more evidence supporting our position: We need socialized medicine in this country.
Conservatives who read that assertion are probably shaking their heads in disbelief right now, believing that Obamacare’s shortcomings prove that government can’t run a healthcare system. And the inexcusable technical problems with the federal healthcare.gov website and its related state exchanges unfortunately reinforce that view. But they’re wrong, and the single-payer advocates have been right all along, noting among other things that the government runs Medicare well and with far lower overhead than insurance companies.
The problems with Obamacare are similar to the problems it sought to address, and they stem from the fact that an insurance-based model is a terrible way to run a healthcare system. It’s too expensive and does too little to hold down medical costs, it’s confusing and stressful to people who are already wrestling with disease or injury, and it unjustly creates different standards of care for the rich and poor.
Socialized medicine — or a single-payer system, administered by either government or a private contractor, but paid for automatically through our taxes — works well in just about every other industrialized country, most of which are far less expensive and yet have better healthcare outcomes. A single-payer system could utilize the existing healthcare infrastructure, it would simply change how we pay for it and bring much-needed price controls and regulatory oversight.
Think about it: Healthcare coverage is something that every citizen needs in equal measure. We all need the right to see a doctor when we’re sick or injured. None of us should have to gamble with our health by weighing the cost of various monthly insurance premiums against our likelihood of ending up in the hospital. And it really shouldn’t be up to struggling small businesses to pay expensive health insurance premiums for their employees, even though that’s really the only way to make the fatally flawed insurance model work.
There’s infighting among congressional Democrats now about whether to roll back parts of Obamacare, such as hospital subsidies and whether to let people remain on minimal catastrophic coverage plans, and all that will do it upset the careful balance the plan tried to achieve to hold down long-term costs.
For now, we need to apply whatever bandages needed to stop the bleeding and limp the flawed Obamacare along for a little while. But we also need to immediately start the difficult work of transitioning to a socialized medicine system.