Volume 48 Number 09

On the veg

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arts@sfbg.com

LIT The first thing you need to know about Isa Chandra Moskowitz is that she’s a punky legend in the global vegan community. She started the DIY Post Punk Kitchen public access show in Brooklyn and (perhaps more importantly) created the vegan hub website of the same name exactly 10 years ago. While maintaining PPK she has authored or co-authored eight popular cookbooks, right up to this fall’s unfussy workday vegan cookbook, Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week (Little Brown, 320 pp., $30).

The second thing you need to know is that many people mispronounce her name (it’s “EE-sah” not “EYE -sah”), though it doesn’t seem to bother her much. I find myself profusely apologizing for flubbing her name when she picks up the phone — especially since I’ve been following her work, and making her delicious dishes, for the better part of a decade. I should know better.

From a hotel room in Minneapolis while on her book tour, the soft-spoken Omaha-based chef shrugs off the faux pas and we quickly get to work pinpointing her favorite recipes from Isa Does It: anything that’s creamy cashew cheese-based like the alfredo and the mac’n’cheese, along with a kale-lentil-quinoa stew, which she describes as the “classic vegan recipe” that she makes herself more than once a week, mixing up the spices as she goes.

She spouts an important note about preparation, something which is thoroughly dissected in the early sections of Isa Does It, with tofu butchery, and handy pantry tips for making cooking after work more streamlined: “I always have kale in the fridge; I always have lentils and quinoa in the pantry.”

There are also the recipes from Isa Does It that are featured in her newest video series, Make It Vegan, which has Moskowitz whipping up the Meaty Bean Chili and Cornbread, and the Nirvana Enchilada Casserole (“I like a lot of onions in this, and a lot of jalapeno; a lot of everything, really”) to the tune of “Salt” by Kelley Deal. The casserole is part of the “Sunday Night Supper” section of the book — a few more ambitious recipes, like many from her previous cookbooks such as Veganomicon (a must-have for any vegan), Appetite for Reduction, or Vegan Brunch.

That enchilada casserole is next on my list of Isa Does It dishes to tackle. I’ve so far tried the flavorful Tempeh Giardino, Kale Salad with Butternut Squash and Lentils, and the Cast Iron Stir-Fry With Avocado, Basil & Peanuts, which is a light yet super filling weekday stir fry. The avocado really gives it a fresh kick. I’m also now officially obsessed with cashew cheese, and have cashews soaking at all times, just like the author.

Moskowitz has been working on this particular cookbook for the past two years, concocting recipes in her Omaha home — the Brooklyn native moved there three years ago, mainly because she wanted a garden but also thanks to the local music scene. Her inspirations come from her pantry — “I have Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes, what can I make with that? — and sometimes she’s inspired to veganize something she saw on the Food Network. “Like, there might be some secret Guy Fieri recipes in there that I veganized.”

Like her previous cookbooks, each of the recipes went through rigorous testing. “I have like, 30 testers. One of the biggest things for people was ‘would you make this on a week night?'” Moskowitz explains. She asks each tester to make the meal and answers a series of questions. For this particular book, she wanted everything to be accessible as possible, so another important question was: Were any of the ingredients hard to find?

“I live in Omaha now — I’m in the middle of the country — and that really changed my views on what people have access to. So I just wanted it to be really accessible ingredients,” she says. “Another reason I wanted to write this book is because I was cooking more than ever because there were not that many places to go out to eat.”

It’s another world away from Brooklyn, where meat-free restaurants and offerings dot the streets, and markets have aisles full of items clearly marked “vegan.”

While there are meat-and-dairy free offerings at local sushi spots and coffee shops (and Whole Foods Markets) there’s no dedicated vegan restaurant in Omaha — yet.

When we spoke, Moskowitz had recently been handed the keys to her first restaurant, which will open in spring 2014. Attached to a bar owned by the members of Saddle Creek band Cursive, Moskowitz’s spot will serve a revolving menu of vegan comfort foods, all made from scratch. “All the mayo is from scratch, I’m going to make my own cheese, [there will] even be house-made sodas, and kombucha on tap.”

Although there have been some rumblings about Moskowitz’s restaurant for some time, she gives the Guardian an exclusive: The name of her new restaurant will be Modern Love. 

www.theppk.com

 

This stuff’ll kill ya

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM Clad only in a dingy T-shirt and tighty-whities, with an overgrown beard and a hollow look of defeat in his eyes, shut-in Ian (Adrian DiGiovanni) spends his days channel-surfing and plotting ways to commit suicide. When his beloved vintage TV (“His name was Kent,” he tells the camera, in the first of many direct addresses) fizzles, smokes, and goes dark, he finally takes action.

But after he’s lurched off the couch and dumped enough household chemicals into his bathtub to kill several hundred depressed agoraphobics, he falls and hits his head. When he wakes up some time later, groggy and bleeding from the mouth, he realizes his grimy bathroom has a new inhabitant: a talking pile of mold that immediately starts spouting Tony Robbins-like encouragement at our sad-sack hero.

A lot happens in the opening act of first-time feature director Don Thacker’s Motivational Growth. Delightfully, and sometimes gruesomely, the rest of the film keeps pace, even though we never leave Ian’s apartment. Unwelcome visitors (a wacked-out TV repairman; a snarky delivery girl; Ian’s angry landlord) and a series of surreal hallucinations, in which Ian imagines he’s appearing in the shows he used to watch on Kent’s screen (the best one: an alien buddy-cop drama that looks straight outta Troma), are troubling — though the pretty neighbor he glimpses through his apartment peephole offers brief moments of relief.

But Ian’s main focus, of course, is Motivational Growth‘s title character (voiced with purring bravado by the great Jeffrey Combs). The mold — it insists on referring to itself in the third person — looks like a Krofft Superstar Hour prop that fell into a sewage tank; it has barely-discernable features beyond an expressive mouth that never stops talking (and “when the mold talks, you listen,” it says, sternly). Though the mold encourages Ian — who hasn’t left his apartment in over a year, to tidy up and set a course for “Successville” — there’s also something undeniably sinister about Ian’s increasingly bossy new buddy.

With its pleasingly retro vibe, including a bleep-blorp video game-y soundtrack, Motivational Growth is quirky without getting in your face about it — though it may inspire you to rush home and scrub every inch of your bathroom. It’s a high point in the 10th annual Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, produced by SF IndieFest and stuffed tighter than a turducken with indie horror, sci-fi, and fantasy flicks.

The fest offers a sprinkling of classics (for all you Room 237 obsessives out there, it features screenings of both 1980’s The Shining and projection-booth stunt “The Shining Forwards and Backwards” — talk about a labyrinth). But mostly, it’s a showcase of new films that might be having their only local theatrical screenings, including several intriguing imports.

Billed as the Philippines’ first-ever indie zombie movie, T.A. Aderto’s The Grave Bandits has a few major flaws, including an overload of bodily-function jokes and some of the worst mad-scientist acting ever captured on film. But its young leads — particularly Marti Sandino San Juan as the slingshot-wielding Peewee — and some gushing gore effects mitigate most of The Grave Bandits‘ more unfortunate elements.

The premise: Two scrappy ragamuffins (Peewee and his slightly older buddy, played by Ronald Pacifico) make their living robbing corpses, a survival strategy that makes them unpopular enough to be chased by angry mobs. They’re able to steal a small boat and escape to one of the country’s tiny islands — unluckily, it happens to be the same place a gang of pirates acted the wrong way around a giant gemstone tainted by “an alien virus, dormant for over 100 years.” Ergo, a new angry mob to evade — one made up of flesh-ripping zombies.

Elsewhere among the international selections is French Canadian filmmaker Renaud Gauthier’s Discopath. The writer-director is clearly a fan of cult-horror nasties — 1980’s Maniac and 1979’s Don’t Go in the House, and to a lesser extent 1977’s Suspiria, seem to have influenced this stylish, self-assured creepfest. After witnessing a terrible tragedy as a child, shy loner Duane (Jeremie Earp) can’t stand music, particularly that newfangled genre called disco. For whatever reason, he agrees to go to a dance club with a girl he’s just met — with disastrously bloody results. Fast-forward a few years, and he’s fled New York City for Montreal. Living under a fake name, he’s working as a handyman at a Catholic girl’s school and wearing hearing aids that mute out the dreaded sound of music (insert your own “Disco sucks!” joke here).

But once a psychopath, always a psychopath, and heads soon start rolling (and spinning on turntables, in fact). If Discopath‘s plot is familiar to the point of homage, its synth-scored commitment to detail reaches exceptional heights: period-perfect clothes, cars, tabloid newspapers, décor (including a giant remote control that Motivational Growth‘s Ian would covet), and carefully-calibrated amounts of garbage scattered on NYC’s Me Decade sidewalks. *

ANOTHER HOLE IN THE HEAD FILM FESTIVAL

Nov 29-Dec 12, $12

Balboa Theater, 3630 Balboa, SF

New People Cinema, 1746 Post, SF

www.sfindie.com

 

La ho-hum vita

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM Paolo Sorrentino has only been directing features for 12 years, so perhaps it’s premature to expect a masterpiece from him — although he probably doesn’t think so. Amid generally tepid post-millennium Italian cinema, he’s been consistently ambitious and bold, from 2001’s One Man Up onward. That facility has won a lot of acclaim (most notably for 2008’s Il Divo), but also attracted a certain amount of skepticism: Is he more style than substance? What does he have to say?

The Great Beauty, aka La Grande Bellezza, arrives as a high-profile contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, already anointed a masterpiece in some quarters, and duly announcing itself as such in nearly every grandiose, aesthetically engorged moment. Yes, it seems to say, you are in the presence of this auteur’s masterpiece. But it’s somebody else’s, too. The problem isn’t just that Fellini got there first, but that there’s room for doubt whether Sorrentino’s homage actually builds on or simply imitates its model.

La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 1/2 (1963) are themselves swaying, jerry-built monuments, exhilaratingly messy and debatably profound rather than “perfect” works of art. But nothing quite like them had been seen before, and they did define a time of cultural upheaval — when traditional ways of life were being plowed under by a loud, moneyed, heedless modernity that for a while chose Rome as its global capital. The mood there was giddy and alienating, magnetizing celebrities (especially as the Italian film industry found itself hosting myriad international productions), virtually creating “paparazzi” — a term introduced in 1960 by Fellini to describe the ambushing photographers buzzing like flies around movie stars and pop idols.

The films were so striking and influential that even (or most of all) Fellini himself couldn’t escape them. For the most part his later works were increasingly pale imitations, risking self-parody even as other artists waxed “Fellini-esque” on their own terms.

Sorrentino announces his intention to out-Fellini Fellini in an opening sequence so strenuously flamboyant it’s like a never-ending pirouette performed by a prima dancer with a hernia. There’s statuary, a women’s choral ensemble, an on-screen audience applauding the director’s baffled muse Toni Servillo, standing in for Marcello Mastroianni — all this and more in manic tracking shots and frantic intercutting, as if sheer speed alone could supply contemporary relevancy. Eventually The Great Beauty calms down a bit, but still its reason for being remains vague behind the heavy curtain of “style.”

Servillo’s dapper Jep Gambardella is turning 65, a never-married playboy who once wrote a well-regarded novel, then ever since has done nothing but interview other famous people and stay at the center of the Eternal City’s uppermost social whirl. Somehow he’s remained rich and famous himself, bearing the bored-with-it-all air that precludes discussion of what (if anything) he ever did to become either. He’s still invited everywhere, still occasionally beds the requisite younger women attracted by power. But it’s all getting old — not that Jep seems like someone to whom it was ever new, or who’d be able to find fulfillment elsewhere now that he’s drunk his fill of privileged excess.

As if to externalize the emptiness he feels, Beauty‘s Rome is all exquisitely framed but (aside from several lavish-party set pieces) underpopulated elegant rooms and grand exteriors. Has he simply forgotten the city’s teeming everyday life, or has Sorrentino? The supporting cast of available (albeit troubled) women, backbiting colleagues, and miscellaneous grotesques are right out of the Fellini handbook of “fabulous” faces. Yet when Jep (let alone the director) was coming of age, the “dolce vita” had already ended, degenerating into the political chaos of the 1970s, the tacky coke binges of the ’80s, then the crass, tawdry conspicuous consumption of Berlusconi and company — a decadence no longer divine but merely depressing. So why does this hangdog-faced protagonist’s world seem so little changed from the ones Mastroianni inhabited half a century ago?

Even the “shocking” novelties Jep is unimpressed by feel old-hat: a child artist whose violent tantrums create Pollock-like action paintings; a Marina Abramovic-type performance artist who solemnly bangs her head against a pillar for suitably worshipful patrons. We grok his superiority to such nonsense, but just what does he have to offer that’s any better? In a notably cruel sequence, Jep demolishes the pride of a prolific, idealistic female writer, calling her a fraud in both private life (she’s married to a closeted homosexual) and artistic endeavors (she’s acclaimed only by fellow Communist Party sympathizers). His smug satisfaction in doing so seems to be shared by the film itself. Yet when the film finally gets around to offering up what Jep can grasp as a core redemptive truth, it’s ye olden mother/whore equation: a sequence cutting between a 104-year-old Mother Teresa-like “modern saint” crawling up a staircase to a Madonna painting, and a flashback to the moment when his first love exposed her boobs to Young Jep. Seriously, 142 minutes of pretentious bravado leads to that?

Servillo is a chameleon, far more than Mastroianni was, but the latter had a soulfulness both contemporary actor and film sorely lack. (Admittedly, some of the latter’s layers may be inaccessible for foreign viewers, just as the equally over-amped but more focused Il Divo required familiarity with the never-ending scandalousness of Italy’s political circus to be fully grasped.) As for Sorrentino, he’s such a natural filmmaker on the surface that at times even the most skeptical will be seduced into The Great Beauty‘s sweeping gestures. But for all their panache, it’s reasonable to worry the movie’s “statement” may be no more than (to quote Jep’s favorite all-purpose dismissal) “Blah, blah, blah.” *

 

THE GREAT BEAUTY opens Fri/29 in Bay Area theaters.

Meat is murder

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arts@sfbg.com

TOFU AND WHISKEY Of course Morrissey would name his long-awaited memoir Autobiography (Putnam Adult, 464 pp., $30). The legendarily morose British pop singer and former Smiths leader has always seemed a bit larger than life.

The book already came out in the UK (and France) in October and was a huge sensation, topping best-seller lists, but US audiences have been forced to wait for the precious tome, twiddling their thumbs for its arrival, much like the infrequent uncancelled Morrissey live performance. The hardcover finally arrives stateside Dec. 3.

That said, the book on the life of the “Meat is Murder” singer-activist is worth the twiddling, if only for morbid curiosity. It’s lengthy, uncanny, and packed with daggering insults toward other musicians (Johnny Marr), ex-presidents and royals (George W., Sarah Ferguson), and himself, along with drawn-out sections on his favorite poets, court cases, and desire to die. It covers his life from birth to present day.

People go crazy over Morrissey — there’s even a Mozipedia book, published in 2010, so clearly the desire to hear it all in his own voice is there. I’ll claim to be a Morrissey novice, comparatively. At least, I’ve never worn a bedazzled jean jacket to a fever-pitched Moz convention, so some revelations in the book were still eye-opening, though needing to be extracted from verbose prose.

The long-time vegetarian, proudly outspoken against the meat industry, writes instead mostly about his suicidal depressive past and his dreary youth — and he finally speaks to those rumors of his sexuality. Yup, he loved a man named Jake Owen Walters. Though he later released this statement about those sections of the book: “Unfortunately, I am not homosexual. In technical fact, I am humansexual. I am attracted to humans. But, of course … not many.”

So Steven Patrick Morrissey, as he was known at birth, recounts a dark and uncomfortable childhood in Manchester, much of which was spun into early Smiths songs. But if we’re comparing horrific childhoods, another recent memoir might outweigh every aspect of Morrissey’s sad complaints: that of D.H. Peligro, whose own bio, Dreadnaught: King of Afropunk (Rare Bird Books, 280 pp., $13) came out in October.

Peligro — the complex, wild-man drummer of SF’s Dead Kennedys, as well as (briefly) Red Hot Chili Peppers, and guitarist in his own band, Peligro — grew up “dirt poor” in St. Louis, Mo., where he was born in 1959. (He literally eats dirt as a punishment in one section.) Like Moz, he now eats a veg-heavy diet. “All that food we had growing up in the ghetto was poison, drained of any nutritional value. Being forced to eat that food was one of the reasons that later in life, even when I was strung out on heroin, I remained a fanatic vegan,” he writes.

While the book opens with an extremely upsetting and grotesque strung-out hospital stay in a room with “puke green walls,” one of many incidents for the drug-addicted musician, it quickly falls backward in time to his beginnings as a “Satan’s Child,” the name by which he was known as around town. He never met his father, was mercilessly beat by his oft-drunk stepfather, and lived in a hotbed of violence and racial segregation in his early years.

And yet, despite all this, growing up in St. Louis also greatly influenced Peligro’s interest in music, and fostered a space in which to learn rhythm and blues. His beloved Uncle Sam Carr, who introduced him to musical instruments, was the son of blues guitarist Robert Nighthawk (who supposedly was the first to play slide guitar). Peligro recalls playing Carr some Dead Kennedys music years later and Carr “really listening” and nodding his head along to the noisy, Jello Biafra-led punk band.

Written in a poetic and reflective yet conversational style, Peligro’s tale stands out above most fast-living memoirs. The stories are vivid and disturbing, and the experiences run the gamut from the epicenters of Southern blues, to the influential early SF punk scene, to the costumed LA rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. And yet, Dreadnaught still follows much of the standard course for the musician’s book tale: grew up poor, found shining beacon influencer, rose above, partied too hard, came down, and reflected.

And while there have been countless rocker memoirs in the past, only a small handful are worth your time — and there’s no time like now: It’s Thanksgiving week, and you’re likely itching for some quiet downtime, away from TVs filled with screeching sportscasters and your aunt asking you (if you’re in line with Moz and Peligro’s dietary habits) one more time: “Just how do you get protein?”

The top of any list should be Patti Smith‘s 2010 Just Kids. It’s eloquent and nonetheless gritty, with sinuous stories tumbling from her recollections and minute details beautifully recounted. The end made me ugly-cry crocodile tears while on Muni.

Like Smith, some musicians take the more introspective approach to their writing, revealing inner strength through the written word. For more of that nature, see Ronnie Spector‘s 1990 memoir, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness; or Bob Dylan‘s 2004 Bob Dylan: Chronicles, Volume One.

And then there’s Pamela Des Barres‘ groupie classic I’m With the Band. Oh, the torrid, gushy love tales within that book, of Ms. Pamela’s exploits with famous rock ‘n’ rollers from the 1960s right on up through the decades. Many years ago, over breakfast at a diner in Haight-Ashbury, Des Barres told me: “As far as wanting to meet the guys, I just couldn’t sit in my room and get all horny over Mick Jagger … it was just inside me to see where all that amazing stuff was coming from, that music.” If you’re in the mood for more scandalous tales of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, these memoirs come highly recommended as well: Slash‘s Slash or Keith RichardsLife.

If you’re looking for an ironic, jokey, or food-based story, there’s Ian SvenoniusSupernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘N’ Roll Group, which I reviewed in an earlier column — noting that the book holds séances with dead rock stars to glean important information for the reader — and Cookin’ with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price, which includes a section called “How Coolio Became the King of Kitchen Pimps.” (Hint: his mom.)

Or there’s this year’s insta-classic “cookbook” — which really came as a download with the B.O.A.T.S 2 #Metime albumCooking With Two Chainz. It includes cooking tips like, “Put on your Versace apron.”

 

LIFE STINKS

Here’s all I know about Life Stinks: The band has a great name, was described as “brutal and mysterious” after SXSW last year; and makes throwback snotty punk songs. It also just released a self-titled debut LP on S.S. records. Listen to “Cemeteries” off said album for more reasons to see the live show. That’s all you need to know. This album release gig is the Friday after Thanksgiving; you’ll be stuffed, sick of family, and most definitely ready to shake along. Plus, one of the openers is messy and awesome high-pitched SF band Quaaludes — they sound like ’77 punk on helium meets ’92 riot grrrl, which is perfect. With Dancer. Fri/29, 9:30pm, $5. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF; www.hemlocktavern.com.

 

 

BREAD & ROSES BENEFIT

I was discussing the upcoming Kathleen Hanna doc The Punk Singer with a musician pal, and we got on the topic of the very real healing power of music. While Hanna is certainly not playing this event (sorry), that power translates broadly. Bread & Roses is a Northern California-based organization that knows this well, producing hundreds of free shows a year at hospitals, nursing homes, shelters, and treatment centers. This benefit is full-circle, benefiting the org so it can put on more shows, and offering up live local talent for you: sparkly piano rocker Marco Benevento (of Tea Leaf Green), acoustic folk singer-songwriter Megan Slankard, along with her band, the Novelists, and (((folkYEAH!))) Presents DJ Britt Govea. Sun/1, 8pm, $20–<\d>$50, Chapel, 777 Valencia, SF. www.breadandroses.org. *

From the ground up

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arts@sfbg.com

DANCE Conceptual French choreographer Jérôme Bel thrives on conversation. Sometimes, he participates directly, as he did in Pichet Klunchun and Myself, in which he and Thai dancer Klunchun talked on stage. Performed at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in 2009, the piece enchanted me with its daring theatricality and enraged me with its faux naïveté. Pichet was both sturdy like a rock and evanescent like a passing thought.

Bel has made it his task to ask questions and shake up concepts around performance. It’s the lingua franca in today’s academia, but Bel is an artist. After stripping away the hoopla around art making, what are we left with? What do we as an audience expect? What is a performer, both from our and his or her perspective? Is there room for virtuosity, or is that something to hide behind? Marcel Duchamp asked similar questions in the visual art realm 100 years ago; choreographer Pina Bausch engaged with them for most of her career.

Two performances during Stanford University’s current Festival Jérôme Bel opened a perspective on the way Bel deals with his dissecting knife — with utter skill, and yet also with a smile and an easy mind. Bel may not like creating steps for his performers because he wants to see the moving body stripped down to its laconic essence. Yet he is one hell of a choreographer.

As a backbone and a trajectory for his The Show Must Go On (presented at Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium Nov. 13), Bel — actually, his assistants — chose 20 non-dancers, plus a few professionals to spice up the mix. They gave them a series of Bel-chosen popular music selections on which to develop movement material; the songs often skirted that tenuous line between sentiment and sentimental.

The dancers carried themselves anonymously, looking as they would if you were to encounter them on the street. But at the musical cue, they jumped into action with individualized physical responses. Yet the parameters were as tightly set as anything you might want to see on a ballet stage. These performers may have appeared untrained, but they had 55 hours of rehearsal to look as ordinary as they did.

Much of Show’s appeal arose from its simple, even simpleminded sense of humor of acting out song lyrics — normally, an absolute taboo in dance. For “Let the Sunshine In,” the stage lights came up; for “La Vie en Rose,” the audience was bathed in rose hues; during “Private Dancer,” the DJ jumped into the limelight. You could feel the audience gradually relax into the setup. (I fully expected some to join in on “Macarena.“) But they needed more time. When the volume of “The Sound of Silence” repeatedly dropped off, the audience’s humming filled in the gap; they had entered the performance. Toward the end, each dancer expressed a piece of individually chosen music, heard over a headset. In the back, a group belted out “We Are the World,” while downstage, French-born Muriel Maffre croaked out a hoarse “Born in the USA” and Jesselito Bie moaned “Oops … I Did It Again.” Perhaps most surprising was that for all its easy viewing and entertainment values, The Show Must Go On rode on an undercurrent of wistfulness and melancholy.

On Nov. 18, the festival moved to the beautifully appointed Bing Concert Hall. It was not a good decision. Sitting toward the front center, I had to strain to hear former Merce Cunningham dancer Cédric Andrieux’s contemplation on both the man and the dancer called Cédric Andrieux. After the performance, I spoke with other audience members and learned that they’d also had difficulty following the dancer. Cédric Andrieux is an intimate show; it belonged into a more supportive environment.

Performances exist in time, and Andrieux (with Bel?) controlled every last second of his: the way he made eye contact with us and paced his narration; the time he took to change clothes or reenact a painful modeling gig. His life, loves, and professional stories became part of him, whether he danced excerpts from Cunningham or contrasting ones by Trisha Brown. He complained about the tediousness of a Cunningham class, yet he looked gorgeous in the exercise. His regret about “not ever getting it right” — which eventually he admitted to having figured out — was contradicted by what he showed. Awkwardness and difficulties are as part of art as they are of life. I think most artists know that; Andrieux showed it. *

PICHET KLUNCHUN AND MYSELF (A FILM)

Mon/2, 7:30pm, $10-20

Bing Concert Hall

Stanford University, Palo Alto

live.standford.edu

THE THINGS I HAVE DONE WITH DANCE: A CONVERSATION WITH JÉRÔME BEL

Tue/3, 11am, free

Pigott Theatre, Memorial Hall

Stanford University, Palo Alto

events.stanford.edu

 

Brawl fallout

4

D’Paris “DJ” Williams spent his day the same way many San Franciscans did Nov. 15, watching young Miles Scott, aka Batkid, rescue a damsel in distress to the cheers of thousands.

Williams, 20, then biked from downtown to visit relatives in the Valencia Gardens housing project in the Mission District. It was there, as the nation continued cooing over the caped crusader, that two plainclothes police officers pulled Williams onto the ground. Police said they initially pursued Williams into the housing complex because he was coasting his bike on the sidewalk, a traffic violation.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

Neighbors quickly came to Williams’ defense, fists at the ready. The ensuing brawl was recorded on video and quickly went viral nationally. Fast forward two weeks and two protests later, and Williams’ family has joined with prominent attorney John Burris to sue the SFPD, for allegedly using excessive force and violating Williams’ civil rights.

“The violence is the grave matter of the entire thing, and the illegal detention and subsequent arrests,” Burris told the Guardian. He has not yet filed suit.

As the video went viral, allegations of improper police conduct abounded. Police are now crying foul, too. SFPD Chief Greg Suhr called for wearable cameras for police officers, saying he’s confident that it would clear police of wrongdoing.

The question that haunts the community around Valencia Gardens, though, is not only about the use of force. Residents wonder if the police profiled Williams because he’s black.

Was he really stopped because of a traffic violation? Or was that just legal justification for the police to search him on suspicion that he was carrying a firearm or controlled substance, which would amount to profiling?

 

TWO SIDES OF THE STORY

 

D’Paris’ stepfather, Frank Williams, told the Guardian that his son was in disbelief immediately following the ordeal.

The elder Williams related the story DJ told him.

While walking to his grandma’s house in Valencia Gardens, DJ walked with his bike for a bit, then sat on it and scooted it with his feet. Some people he didn’t recognize got out of a car nearby, calling “hey come here, come here.” As Williams stood in the doorway, “They grabbed him by his jeans and pulled him out,” the elder Williams said. “They kept pulling on him, and he’s saying ‘What did I do? What did I do?’ as they started punching him on the side of the face, and dragged him out.”

The police shared a different version of the story with reporters.

The plainclothes officers, who remain unnamed, identified themselves as police and displayed their badges, according to the SFPD account. When Williams “failed to comply” with their orders to stop, they caught up to him and attempted to detain him.

“He became combative, resisted arrest, and multiple subjects came out of that residence and formed a hostile crowd around the officers,” said Officer Gordon Shyy, a SFPD spokesperson.

When the Guardian asked him to explain the officers’ actions in more detail, Shyy said he didn’t have that information. The SFPD did not make the incident report public, but Shyy had a copy.

The reason the brawl broke out remains under dispute, but what happened next was captured on video and posted to the Internet.

As the plainclothes officers tried to subdue Williams, a neighbor took a swing with a cane that nearly hit an officer. A policeman threw haymaker punches at a neighbor as bystanders shouted them down. In the end, Williams and three of his cousin’s neighbors were taken into custody.

Williams’ sister was there, too, watching them fight as she held her newborn.

Video shows the four men who were detained scraped and bloodied, and Williams was bleeding and bruised as the officers took him in. All were taken to San Francisco General Hospital.

Williams was charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon, which Shyy said was for biting an officer. He was then discharged pending further investigation, the District Attorney’s Office told the Guardian. Public Defender Jeff Adachi said the city doesn’t usually pursue such cases.

“The reason you discharge cases is, you can’t prove them,” Adachi explained.

While Shyy maintained that the officers pulled him aside because he was riding his bicycle on a sidewalk, those officers were outside Valencia Gardens for a particular reason. Part of a SFPD squad called the Violence Reduction Team, their unit is tasked with pulling guns off the streets.

“What were these guys doing stopping DJ for a traffic violation?” wondered Travis Jensen, a friend of Williams who publicized the incident on Instagram. It’s a fair question: The Violence Reduction Team isn’t exactly known for pulling over bicyclists.

 

GUN HUNTERS

AK47s, .45 handguns, semi-automatics, guns hidden in waistbands. That’s what the Violence Reduction Team seeks to do away with when they hit the streets.

SFPD spokesperson Gordon Shyy credits the team with a drop in citywide homicides. It has certainly been busy.

The Violence Reduction Team arrested 20 suspects during last year’s Fleet Week, a press release from the SFPD announced, touting the unit’s success. That Halloween, they nabbed six more guns. Just last month they made 10 arrests, pulling even more firearms off the street, Shyy said.

“The VRT officers were on their regular patrol for their shift, it had nothing to do with the Batkid event,” Shyy told the Guardian. “VRT is tasked to patrol high crime areas and conduct pro-active policing to prevent violent crimes from occurring.”

When asked directly if the officers stopped Williams because they suspected he had a gun, Shyy repeated that they lawfully detained him because he illegally rode his bicycle on the sidewalk. “If officers lawfully detain a person, and can articulate a cursory pat search of that person, they may do so,” he said.

When officers took Williams to the ground they did search him for weapons.

The Guardian contacted former Tiburon Police Chief Peter Herley, who previously served as president of the California Police Chief’s Association, to ask if plainclothes officers responsible for seizing guns would take the time to cite a bicyclist for a traffic violation.

“Generally they don’t do it, because it may blow their cover,” he said. “If the violation was grievous enough, maybe. Usually a plain clothes unit wouldn’t do it.”

Adachi put it another way. When a person is stopped for an infraction, “the expectation is there’s a ticket drawn up and a person is sent on their way.”

Based on what Shyy read to us from the police report, the officers at the scene seemed to enter the situation believing Williams could be armed. “Williams continued to resist by pushing his upper body against the sidewalk and tried to get to his feet. Williams was unhandcuffed and unsearched at this point. From my knowledge and experience I know this is a high crime area and people in this area often carry weapons. I believed if Williams were able to free himself from us, he may attempt to access a weapon.”

Ultimately the officers only found two things on D’Paris Williams: juice and a cupcake.

 

SHAKEN, BUT NOT DETERRED

Williams’ cousin Dave lives in Valencia Gardens. Dave, who refused to provide his last name because he feared retaliation, says Williams rode his bike to a Goodwill store that day to apply for a job. Dave, 36, invites some of his younger distant cousins, including Williams, over for what he calls a “positive hype.”

“They’re over here like every day. We have a big family, we’re very lovable,” he said.

Williams’ sixth grade science teacher, Norm Mattox, told the Guardian DJ was in school at City College, known as a young man with prospects.

“He’s someone we think can get out of the neighborhood, get out of the projects,” he said.

That’s why D’Paris was in disbelief too, his stepfather told us. “I did question my son about it. Why would they follow you? Explain this to me,” the elder Williams told the Guardian. He fears his son was targeted for being the wrong color, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

That’s why Burris took the case. “The young people need to know there is a place to go, that you don’t have to accept this level of brutality by an officer,” he said. “The legal issues themselves, are an illegal detention, illegal arrest, and use of excessive force. [These are] federal civil rights violations.”

D’Paris took that to heart. The younger Williams told his father something had to change, that he was determined that something good had to come from this.

“He kept repeating it. ‘This has got to stop. Got to stop. Got to stop,'” the elder Williams said.

“It makes a dad proud to hear that.”

Heavy-duty problems

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rebecca@sfbg.com

As a kid, Turcilo Caldera would climb into his father’s big rig and accompany him on runs to the Port of Oakland. “He would sit me on his lap and show me how to drive,” he remembered.

Originally from Nicaragua, Caldera came to California at age 5 and grew up in San Francisco’s Excelsior District. Now 30, he too is a trucker.

Speaking by phone around 8:30pm on a recent Friday, on his way to Stockton to drop off a shipment, he recounted how he’d arrived at the port at 5am and waited in line until 8:30am, only to move to a different line to pick up a load. “I ended up leaving the terminal around 10,” he said. That’s when he started getting paid.

Companies pay by the load, regardless of the time it takes to wait in line. Caldera works 12 to 13 hours a day.

He recently became a member of the Port of Oakland Truckers Association. It’s not a union, since truckers are classified as owner-operators rather than employees of the companies that hire them. Nevertheless POTA, which represents several hundred owner-operators, reflects the truckers’ attempt to ban together for better working conditions.

Truckers never know what they’re hauling, but it’s safe to assume that major retailers — Walmart, IKEA — are expecting shipments in advance of a holiday shopping blitz. While some companies anticipate a bump in profits, POTA and hundreds of other port truckers are facing potential job loss come New Year’s Day.

At a Nov. 22 meeting, POTA membership voted unanimously to begin a work stoppage at the port, starting Wednesday (11/27). “We don’t want to stop working, we need to make a living,” said Roberto Ruiz, a POTA member. “But this is the only thing they respond to.”

On Jan. 1, 2014, when new clean air regulations go into effect, hundreds of independent truck drivers will lose work as their vehicles fall out of compliance. They can’t afford to pay out of pocket for trucks that are compliant with new emission control regulations. Many face a tough time getting loans, and those who have dodged the bullet by securing a loan now find themselves in a worse financial crunch than before.

Many could be forced out of jobs completely. By the Port’s estimates, around 80 percent of the roughly 6,000 registered to service the Port are set to be in compliance. POTA estimates 800 truckers could be impacted.

POTA’s vote to stop work followed a series of meetings with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Deputy Mayor Sandré Swanson, as well as representatives from the Port and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to try and hash out a solution.

In meetings, POTA asked city officials and CARB to identify funding to help those in danger of job loss retrofit their vehicles to comply with the clean-air regulations. They also proposed some solutions: They want fees billed to shipping customers for the time truckers must spend waiting in line for the loads they haul, to help offset the cost of buying and maintaining compliant trucks.

The Jan. 1 ban on older trucks is part of a broader effort to alleviate air pollution in surrounding West Oakland, where cancer and asthma rates are abnormally high. The Port’s system of loading cargo shipments results in long lines idling for hours, leading to a chronic congestion problem that has fouled the air. Before the problem was addressed, “Ports were where old trucks went to die,” explained Isaac Kos-Read, a Port of Oakland spokesperson. “Old trucks were the worst polluters on the road.”

West Oakland, known for its iconic shipping cranes, has traditionally been a majority African American neighborhood with lower income levels than the surrounding Bay Area. The demographic is beginning to change as comparatively well-heeled newcomers settle in, but it was an economically disadvantaged community of color who disproportionately bore the brunt of harmful air pollution for decades. Switching to low-sulfur fuel for shipping vessels has helped the port make drastic reductions in air pollution, but harmful emissions linked to asthma are still emanating from truck tailpipes.

The rule change will lead to what is indisputably an environmental improvement. But that benefit doesn’t have to come with the tradeoff of job loss. State funding was made available in 2011 to help financially strapped truckers afford new rigs or retrofits — but the funding has now vanished, and truckers who are late in pursuing compliance are finding doors shut all the way around.

In December of 2011, the California Air Resources Board made $58 million available to the owners of 2,100 trucks across California “to replace their retrofitted trucks with newer trucks,” Karen Caesar, a CARB spokesperson, explained in an email. About 1,700 of those could legally service the Port of Oakland.

The funding came from a $4.5 billion set-aside created by Proposition 1B, a transportation bond approved by voters in 2006. The $58 million was available for truckers who had installed filters to comply with an earlier regulation limiting diesel particulates.

In theory, the funding was enough to award all 2,100 trucks more than $25,000 apiece. That’s an amount that Frank Adams, an organizer with POTA, told the Guardian would be adequate for affected truckers to get compliant without going underwater.

But that’s not what happened. “Applications for 970 trucks were received,” Caesar explained, bringing the total funding request to $24 million. But in the end, CARB awarded grants to just 359 trucks, disbursing $10 million. The rest of the money was reallocated to other air-quality improvement programs, Caesar said.

And since the remaining funding is now gone, neither the city of Oakland nor CARB has come up with any other answers for the truckers. “We’ve been meeting with them on a regular basis to see if there are other funding sources,” Kos-Read said. “We want to help all the truckers.” But the meetings clearly haven’t been productive, since POTA’s staging a work stoppage during the busiest shopping week of the year.

CARB officials emphasize that truckers can still take road work even after they’re banned from ports, but Caldera says it’s not that simple. “If my dad were to decide to run up and down California, he wouldn’t be home like he is now,” he said. Road work means being away from home for possibly long stretches, and it’s unclear whether enough of those jobs exist to make up for the port jobs that will be lost.

The truckers represent a predominantly immigrant workforce, with many native speakers of Chinese, Punjabi, and Spanish. “Most of the truckers don’t speak English, let alone write good English,” Adams said. He guesses that’s why some didn’t apply for CARB funding.

Yet CARB officials say they sent out materials in various languages and held outreach events. As for those now trying to stave off job loss, “It’s not as if this blindsided anybody,” Caesar said.

Caldera’s truck is compliant, but only because he borrowed $50,000 from a relative to purchase the $72,000 rig, which replaced a 2006 truck purchased on loan. Today, “I’m still paying that loan, which is $680 a month,” he explained. “But it’s not as much as I’m paying for my new truck.”

Truckers’ financial problems go deeper. Caldera estimates that fuel costs eat up around 40 percent of his earnings. There are insurance payments, registration fees, maintenance and other associated costs, all borne by the truckers and not the companies that hire them.

As it turns out, selling cheap Chinese goods to American consumers is rather lucrative. Delivering said goods by truck is not, even though it’s integral to the business.

Then there’s the restroom problem. A Port a Potty was recently installed near the Port entrance, Caldera said, but it’s only a partial solution. Truckers aren’t supposed to exit their vehicles while they’re waiting. “If you decide to go to the bathroom you have to leave your spot in line,” but that just means more unpaid time sitting in line. “So we have to carry bottles in here,” he said. “These are awful conditions. This is something that I imagine in a third world country where people have no rights.”

Now, with a work stoppage looming, the truckers could also wind up entangled in legal problems since they have no union and no authority to strike. “It’s a complicated and unclear legal situation that they’re in,” said attorney Dan Siegel, who is advising POTA. “Because they’re ‘owners,’ they’re not considered workers under labor laws … they are subject to punishment for anti-trust violations.”

“They cannot illegally block streets,” said Kos-Read, the port spokesperson. “Our goal is to respect the trucker’s free speech rights and keep commerce flowing.”

On Nov. 21, POTA members visited the International Longshore and Warehouse Union seeking support. Clarence Thomas, speaking as a rank-and-filer of the ILWU Local 10, said union or no, the truckers deserve to be treated fairly.

“For many years, trade unionists have looked at those workers as having a sweatshop on wheels,” Thomas said. “We don’t want to see anyone at the Port being exploited.”

 

BART standoff continues as board modifies contract

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The BART Board of Directors voted 8-1 on Nov. 21, with conservative young Director Zakhary Mallett in dissent, to approve a hard-won contract with its unions, after removing Section 4.8, the paid family leave section that the district says was inserted by mistake.

The motion also directed management to negotiate a settlement over that issue with its unions, which have already approved the contract and now must decide whether they are willing to do so again without that provision or whether the possibility of another BART strike is once again looming.

The next day, BART’s largest unions, SEIU Local 1021 and ATU Local 1555, issued a joint statement: “We consider the Board’s actions to be unprecedented and illegitimate, and we’re considering our next steps, including possible legal action. The BART Board of Directors has disregarded the vote of more than 2,000 BART workers and has chosen to subvert the collective bargaining process, and we take their actions seriously.”

After meeting in closed session for about two hours, Vice President Joel Keller began the open session with a motion to remove Section 4.8 from the contract, approve the rest, and direct management to negotiate with the unions.

Mallett, the 25-year-old newbie who lives in unincorporated West Contra Costa County but whose District 7 includes part of San Francisco, spoke first: “Even before this hiccup, I was not in the position to support this contract. I find it too costly.”

But he was the only one to take that stance, with the rest of the directors calling the underlying contract a fair compromise, even if all said they couldn’t support the paid family leave provision that would add anywhere between $4 million and $44 million to a contract that was already going to cost the district an additional $67 million.

Director Gail Murray noted that the unions had given up raises for years when BART had budget deficits, and now that the district is running surpluses, it’s reasonable to give workers raises that amount to about 2 percent per year for four years.

“Our employees kept the system going…They’re the reason why we keep 40-year-old cars still running,” Murray said, later adding, “To say this contract is not a good contract is wrong.”

The rest of the board agreed, even while acknowledging it is more than they hoped to pay given the district’s capital needs and aggressive expansion plans.

“We’re probably paying more for this than we anticipated we would pay, and labor is probably giving up more than they want to, but that’s the nature of collective bargaining,” Keller said, who also began what turned into a chorus of criticism for how district negotiators signed off on a provision the board never agreed to.

“We ended on a sloppy note and that’s regrettable,” Keller said, pledging that if he’s elected president next month — an ascension that is customary for the vice president — he plans to launch a full investigation into what happened.

“I’m pained that we put ourselves in such adversarial positions with each other and that we lost the lives of two employees,” Director John McPartland said of the protracted labor negotiations and the fatalities that occurred while the unions were on strike Oct. 19. He called the contract “more than fair and equitable.”

Director James Fang, who represents western San Francisco, sounded the strongest criticisms of BART management and negotiators. “Yes, it was a mistake, but nobody has come forward and said ‘there was a mistake and I’m responsible,” Fang said, later adding, “The ones who signed this must be held to account.”

Fang then went further, albeit without specifics, when he said, “Every bit of management advice we’ve received has not worked out to the district’s best interests.”

Director Robert Raburn echoed Fang’s calls for accountability: “I’m still not clear on how that [contract provision] arrived and it hasn’t been accounted for by anyone at the district who said ‘I am responsible.'”

But he also said that the provision was clearly an error and not something arrived at through the negotiations: “Both parties agreed on a $67 million package and we should keep that intact because it’s fair.”

Reached by the Guardian while union leadership was conferring to plan next steps, SEIU Local 1021 Political Director Chris Daly told us, “We are about as up in the air as we’ve ever been.”

He called it “unlikely” that union leadership would simply submit the board-revised contract to an up-or-down vote by union membership, saying that he doesn’t think it would be approved.

And Daly echoed the concerns expressed by several BART directors about how this mistake happened and why nobody has taken responsibility or been held accountable: “If I were on that board, I’d have the general manager’s head, there’s no two ways about it.” (Steven T. Jones)

SF General reduces psych care

A 22-bed psychiatric unit at San Francisco General Hospital will be taken out of service, and reopened only if the facility experiences a high caseload of patients exhibiting the worst signs of psychiatric crisis.

As of Nov. 19, five patients were receiving care in that unit, 7B, according to spokesperson Rachael Kagan. None had symptoms that rose to the level of requiring acute care. Instead, they were classified as sub-acute patients, a distinction that essentially means they didn’t present an immediate threat to themselves or others.

But under a new policy that will take effect after they have been released, all 22 beds in 7B will be closed — unless they are needed for acute patients who do reach that critical threshold. The unit will be staffed only if patients can’t be accommodated in the hospital’s other acute psych unit, which has 21 beds.

The decision was made in response to a changing financial picture under federal health care reform, Kagan explained.

“There is a big push … to ensure hospitals are only providing acute care,” Kagan said, and this trend is driving efforts to reduce sub-acute patients. “It fiscally makes more sense,” she added, because insurers pay higher rates for acute care than for lower levels of treatment.

Yet some hospital staff members are nervous about the implications of this shift, because it means fewer patients will be able to access psychiatric care at SF General unless they represent a danger to themselves and/or the general public — at a time when demand for these services is on the rise.

“To us, it’s a matter of priority for the city,” said Brenda Barros, an employee at SF General who is active with hospital union SEIU 1021. “Do you want to take care of these people, or don’t you?”

Some staff members are doubtful that 7B will reopen. An internal SF General memo issued Nov. 18 informed the 7B staff: “Our census will be gradually reduced until we won’t have any more patients. Then 7B will be closed.” The memo added, “this came from [SF General CEO] Sue Currin due to budgetary constraints.”

However, a second internal memo went out the following day, to “clarify” the first one. In that message, Nursing Director Kathy Ballou wrote: “We are not closing psych beds or any beds.” Instead, beds in 7B would be closed unless “we get acute patients needing that level of care,” she wrote. “As in other hospitals, we are accountable to our operating budget.”

Further complicating matters, said Barros, is that patients can fluctuate rapidly between needing acute care and a lower level of attention. “They absolutely can swing back and forth.” She added that patients initially requiring a lower level of care could experience worsening conditions if they’re unable to secure an appointment in time to get help, and delays are very common.

Kagan emphasized that the unit wasn’t being closed down, but did confirm that sub-acute patients would no longer be able to receive treatment in 7B. Instead, those patients will be placed with various service providers throughout the city, she said. “The goal is to move the patients to their appropriate placement.”

Meanwhile, this shift coincides with an overall rise in citywide demand for psychiatric services. According to a report delivered to the Police Commission earlier this year, SF General had 6,293 patient admissions for psychiatric holds in 2012, a sharp increase from 5,837 in 2009.

While there were deep cuts to the city’s Department of Public Health during the economic downturn, Mayor Ed Lee has recently trumpeted a boost to city coffers thanks to growing economic activity. But if the city’s financial health has improved, it seems odd that its safety-net hospital would be put into the position of reducing psych care due to budgetary pressures when that kind of care is sorely needed.

For Barros, it’s a matter of whether or not city officials will decide to allocate more funding for mental health services. “If they don’t have enough money in Public Health,” she said, “then they need to put more into Public Health.” (Rebecca Bowe)

Volume 48 Number 9 Flip-through Edition

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We give thanks

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EDITORIAL We offer a lot of criticism here on the Guardian’s editorial page, which is probably inescapable given the obvious failures of our political and economic systems to address the needs of the people and the planet and to uphold the progressive values that the Guardian and much of the Bay Area supports. We have so much potential, and it’s sometimes maddening when we fall short of realizing it.

So, this week, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we’re going to put a positive spin on the civic scene and talk about some of the things that we’re thankful for.

We’re thankful to live in such a beautiful, vibrant place. San Francisco is one of the greatest cities in the world, both physically and culturally. And we’re thrice blessed to have Marin County and the East Bay — particularly the progressive and diverse cities of Oakland and Berkeley — just a short bridge ride away. Layer on top of that the nearby Sierras, Sonoma County, and the coastline from Point Reyes down to Santa Cruz and this is perhaps the best region on the planet.

We’re thankful to have a functional, modern transportation system that offers plenty of good alternatives to the automobile. While there’s certainly room for improvement, BART is an amazing transit system that closes the gap among the Bay Area’s many diverse communities, while Muni does a good job at ferrying huge numbers of people around this bustling city. Caltrain is a great link down the peninsula and we’re super excited to see it electrified and that transportation officials are working hard to connect downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles with a long overdue high speed rail line. And we love how San Franciscans have embraced bicycles as an important everyday transportation option.

We’re thankful that so many smart, interesting, creative people have been drawn to San Francisco and its environs. This is home to recognized global leaders in pursuits ranging from technological innovation to progressive and environmental organizing and advocacy. We’re proud of the political initiatives hatched here in the Bay Area, from marriage equality to criminal justice reform. We have a cornucopia of artists and musicians tucked into every little nook of the city, from the stage of Slim’s to the studios of surreal Hunters Point Shipyard. And the locals here cook up some of the world’s best culinary offerings, from a plethora of fancy restaurants to quickie taquerias to surprisingly bountiful food trucks.

And we’re really thankful for you, the person reading these words. The Guardian has been around since 1966 because of the support of our readers, our advertisers, and our community, and we’re grateful that you’ve all given us the opportunity to offer the news, views, and reviews that are helping to shape this wonderful place. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Why I’m resigning from the City College board

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By Chris Jackson

When I worked for the state legislature, a member once told an overly ambitious guy that there are those who get into politics to be someone and those who get into politics to do something, and we have enough of the first type.

Serving on the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees was always a means for me to work to connect underserved communities to education and eventually economic empowerment.

One of the first measures that I passed while on the board was to expand City College’s Community/Outreach Ambassador to the Mission and the Southeast campuses. Through this program, City College was better able to do outreach to underserved communities.

Be it by protecting CCSF’s GED program or child care sites, working with community leaders to continue to make the Mission campus an educational jewel to its residents, or working with Bayview advocates to ensure the Southeast campus’ survival and eventual growth, I came to the CCSF Board of Trustees on a mission to help ensure that our most vulnerable populations are given access to education as a means of equity.

Although I’ve had amazing success and even made a few mistakes along the way, I don’t want anyone to doubt my continued passion and commitment to the communities that CCSF serves. It is this passion to do something and not simply be a figurehead that has led me to the difficult decision to resign from the CCSF Board of Trustees.

The Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, an unelected and publicly unaccountable organization, seeks to change the values and charge of City College from an inclusive, community-based and student-focused college to a simple junior college that serves the few and shares the values of the corporate education reform movement.

Even more disappointing has been our state Community College Board of Governors. Instead of performing its public-policy duties, the state Board of Governors, led by State Chancellor Brice Harris, has continued to allow itself to be bullied by the ACCJC to the point where there is a serious question of who really sets public policy for the 112 colleges in our statewide system: our publicly appointed Board of Governors or the unelected, unaccountable private ACCJC.

It pains me to see the scope of our class offerings pared back, our community-based campus continually threatened with closure, much-needed academic counselors laid off, and our Second Chance program for ex-offenders with an over 900-student waiting list. It pains me even more to be sidelined by Harris and our public Board of Governors and watch them shrink and cower to the power of Barbara Beno and her private ACCJC.

But in the face of this challenge to our public education, I see hope. Students like Trustee Shannell Williams, Student President Oscar Pena and former Trustee William Walker rallying students to stand up for their public education give me hope. The American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 and the Save CCSF coalition have become rallying points not just for the immediate CCSF community, but for the larger SF community. Their bravery in the face of the withering attacks on public higher education should be commended and be a model that others should follow. At this moment, there exists the base for a long-lasting coalition of students, educators, and community fighting for the high-quality, affordable education.

Thank you for the opportunity to do something to make an impact in people’s lives. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve on the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees.

Chris Jackson was elected to the CCSF Board of Trustees in 2008.

 

More than a memorial

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When Mayor George Moscone and Sup. Harvey Milk were assassinated in their City Hall offices on Nov. 27, 1978, San Francisco changed in innumerable ways. Among those ways is the city lost two of the leading progressive advocates for renters and affordable housing ever elected here.

Today, as San Franciscans mark this tragedy with their annual memorial march, organizers and activists have broadened and elevated the event by enlisting the support of 20 community organizations now doing work to combat the eviction, gentrification, and affordable housing crises that are gripping the city.

“We wanted to make this even more than just a candlelight vigil,” David Waggoner, one of the organizers of the event, told the Guardian. “We want to use this time to remember Harvey and George’s legacy in really fighting for the underdog.”

He noted that attendance at the march has waxed and waned from year to year, but the coalition putting this one together promises to have a strong turnout this year because of the surging progressive activism around housing issues and the need to organize the community to save the soul of the city.

“There is very little to stop what’s happening with the rapid gentrification,” Waggoner said, but he also noted, “By building coalitions, the same way Harvey and George did, we can fight.”

“We’re not only honoring the history of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, but we’re honoring their legacy by making them relevant today,” Brian Basinger, head of the AIDS Housing Alliance/SF, told us. “The Milk March is going to be very exciting. We have over 20 community groups invited and helping us put it together.”

Basinger said the progressive activism will continue through the 25th annual World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, and that participants in both events will be asked to present their demands to the city for dealing with the AIDS and housing crises. That list will be presented at City Hall during a noon rally on Dec. 2.

He said that affordable housing issues are LGBT issues given that nearly 30 percent of the city’s homeless population identifies as LGBT, while that identification makes up just 15 percent of the overall city population.

“Those of us who are lucky enough to talk to the folks who knew Harvey remind us that it’s about coalition-building,” Basinger said, noting that many of Milk’s contemporaries are now being forced to leave the city by evictions or economic displacement.

One voice from that era who is still around and active is gay activist Cleve Jones, who was an intern in Milk’s office at the time of the assassination and wrote a poignant guest editorial in the Nov. 21 issue of the Bay Area Reporter about what Milk and Moscone advocated.

“They fought for renters, honored labor, and built coalitions to connect, not divide, us from each other,” Jones wrote. “They would, I’m sure, be pleased by the progress that has been achieved on some of the issues they cared about. But they would be alarmed by the growing chasm between rich and poor, they would be angered by the evictions of the elderly, disabled, and people with AIDS. They would be fighting to keep City College open and they would be outraged by the violence and despair experienced by so many in our city’s neighborhoods.”

Organizers of the event say they think this is just the kind of memorial that Milk and Moscone would have wanted.

“We want the housing crisis to be front and center,” Waggoner said. “We want this to be a time for people to connect with the legacy of Milk and Moscone in a very direct way.”

The march begins at 7pm in Milk Plaza, Castro and Market streets, and continues with a rally outside City Hall.