Volume 48 Number 19-

February 5 – 11, 2014

  • No categories

Volume 48 Number 19 Flip-through Edition

0

The trouble with compromise

44

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights… It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” — Harvey Milk

OPINION As I sat in the audience at the Jan. 23 San Francisco Young Democrats meeting and watched the first debate between David Campos and David Chiu in their race to represent San Francisco’s 17th Assembly District, I was disturbed to hear the words “compromise” and “consensus” come out of David Chiu’s mouth more often than the words “eviction” and “displacement.”

During the debate, a line in the sand was drawn by the two candidates: Campos was on the side of the underdog, a voice to the voiceless; and Chiu, by his own admission, was all about compromise and “getting things done.”

Don’t get me wrong. True compromise can be a good thing. Unfortunately, what has been coming out of City Hall, from both President Chiu’s Board of Supervisors chamber and the Mayor’s Office, hasn’t been real compromise. It’s been a wholesale selling of our city to the highest bidder. The only thing that our leadership’s compromises have yielded is a compromised San Francisco.

Compromise gave corporations millions of dollars in tax breaks and it has forced nonprofits and small businesses out of our neighborhoods. Compromise has not resulted in any substantive action to curb Ellis Act evictions, instead serving to green light the building of luxury condo towers throughout the city. Compromise has allowed queer youth shelters and our parks to be closed to the people who need them as a last resort, as our bus stops have been opened up to billionaires for little more than pennies.

Chiu’s compromises have cost this city dearly. His compromise with developers on Parkmerced will lead to the demolition of 1,500 units of rent-controlled housing. His compromise on Healthy San Francisco allowed restaurant owners to continue to defraud consumers and to pocket money that should have gone to health care for their employees. His compromise on Muni killed a much-needed ballot initiative that would have resulted in an additional $40 million for the agency — a ballot initiative that he originally co-authored.

Please forgive me if I am fed up with compromise and am demanding actual leadership from my representatives.

Now is the time to stand with people of color, with members of the LGBTQ community, with our youth and elders, with artists and with small businesses, all of whom are being forced out of our city.

Thankfully, we have another choice. Sup. David Campos has shown that real change comes not from compromising your values but standing up for your principles. His legislative accomplishments include providing free Muni for low-income youth, protecting women’s right to choose at the Planned Parenthood Clinic, and preventing teacher layoffs at our public schools.

Campos has demonstrated that he, not Chiu, is the right choice to follow Tom Ammiano’s footsteps to Sacramento. Ammiano, who had 13 of his 13 bills signed into law this past year, is the perfect example of the success that can come from leading with your principles and not compromising your integrity.

San Francisco needs a leader representing us in the capital. Successful victories in reforming the Ellis Act and closing the Prop. 13 tax loophole will take a leader who can stand up to landlords and corporations, not a compromiser who will sit down at the table in a backroom with them.

That is why I will give my all to make sure that David Campos is our next representative in Sacramento. Pardon me if I refuse to compromise.

Tom Temprano is president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.

Q up

10

MUSIC “I always wanted to know how music sounded in outer space. And with certain types of crystals you can supposedly tune into different frequencies, receive other transmissions. Often I meditate with crystals, go to sleep, and dream about music from outer space. Then I wake up, make stuff like that on the turntables, and take it from there.”

That’s a lot of there to take it from, but DJ Qbert is no stranger to mixing the cosmic with the underground. A legendary emissary of scratch who became the international representative of turntable culture in the 1990s along with his “band” Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Q has always mixed a heavy dose of Bay Area flavor into his masterly sets — which aren’t typical DJ sets by any means, but untethered, jazz-like flights during which a set of turntables and a crossfader, manipulated lightning-fast, become their own kind of spaceship. His polyrhythmic scratch concertos summon white noise, radio interference, oceanic undertow, Looney Tunes quick cuts, vintage advertising jingles, embryonic hip-hop, Big Brother menace, and fiendish, childlike glee. Great beauty, too, especially when you think of them as pure sonic expression, floating free of time and space. Not that you can’t dance your ass off to most of it, mind you.

We were talking about his new album Extraterrestria, dropping in March on the Thud Rumble label and backed by a huge Kickstarter campaign that aims not just to fund the disc, a marketing campaign and a tour, but also typical Qbert innovations like amazing touch-sensitive digital album packaging that simulates DJ controller equipment. (More details at www.djqbert.com)

“The album is actually two albums in one, two different discs,” Qbert, looking tight in a buttondown shirt and track pants, told me. “Extraterrestria is music from another galaxy, hip-hop beats from other planets, collected by the Galactic Scratch Federation. It’s as bizarre and unique as I could make it, a collection of weird noises and different time signatures with as much scratching as possible. The second disc is called Galaxxxian, which is hip-hop from earth beamed into space: raw, primitive. It features a bunch of MCs — Kool Keith, Del Tha Funky Homosapien, Mr. Lif, Soul Khan, Bambu — doing their thing, which a lot of time, you know, means going for the sex, drugs, and hip-hop and roll. We’re not quite on the extraterrestrial level, yet.”

Other biggies like Dan the Automator, Chad Hugo of the Neptunes, cellist-trombonist Dana Leong, and rapper El-P (here a producer) also contributed. “What with the recession and everything, a lot of us have been trading with each other, so we can continue collaborating. Like I’ll do a beat for your album if you do a verse on mine. Something where the money’s phased out, a barter thing. It’s put us back in touch with what’s real,” Qbert said.

 

TWIST THE FORCE

As we talked on the second floor of the California Academy of Sciences, the first floor was rapidly filling up for the Academy’s weekly Nightlife party, this week a launch celebration and fundraiser for Extraterrestria — and a reunion of sorts for turntablism heads, albeit one bursting with fresh young faces. As b-boys and fly girls made their way through exotic landscapes, whale skeletons, stuffed giraffes, a butterfly-flooded rainforest dome, and aquarium displays including live stingrays, giant octopi, frisky penguins, Claude the albino alligator, and phosphorescent jellyfish, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the deliciously loopy, phantasmagorical animated movie version of Qbert’s era-defining previous album Wave Twisters, released 16 years ago.

That’s a long time between official releases, but it wasn’t like Qbert had been kidnapped by aliens. Although his live performance schedule was less-than-usual bonkers, he still made regular appearances, by himself or as part of his extended Bay Area scratch crew family. He popularized turntable techniques in a series of instructional videos and launched online educational community Qbert Skratch University, in 2009. He also went all in on the equipment tip, putting out his own brand of turntable cartridges and needles, an Invisibl Skratch Piklz-branded mixer, “and of course our own vinyl to scratch with — which is really vinyl on one side and a digital interface on the other, for use with DJ software like Traktor.”

Fifteen years has also seen the rise of social media and a more user-friendly Internet. Has that changed the way he produces beats or performs at all? “Of course it’s been great for finding new sounds to use,” Qbert said. “If I want to hear, say, a tarantula farting, I can look it up instantly and hear that. On the other hand, most of my old sets are up there now, with all their mistakes, and a lot of times I’m cringing and say in a small voice, ‘Please, please let them delete that.’ It keeps me on my toes now, knowing everything can be recorded in all its glory. But because I’ve actually been working on this album for seven years, all that’s been incorporated — it’s not like a shock. I use what I can use.

“But I try not to be trapped in the present. I often think back to the past, to cats like Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong. That timeless, improvisational jazz feeling where you practice and practice, but when the time comes you’re just an instrument connecting with the god-force, channeling the sound through you, swinging through that ocean of feeling. When you’re in that zone, that’s the most wonderful thing. It’s a meditation, a spiritual thing. We’re all spirits, so we have to connect to other spirits and the most high, whatever you want to call it — God, Allah — connect to that creator source and use it because it’s yours to use. Like how some writers just flow and do that automatic writing, they’re just instruments. We’re just instruments you know, it all flows through us.”

 

SKRATCHING ROOTS

When Qbert, raised in SF’s Excelsior neighborhood, astonished the DJ world by winning its spun-out version of the Olympics, the DMC World Championships, not once (solo, 1991) but three more times in a row after that (as part of Rocksteady DJs with Mixmaster Mike and Apollo) it was an unparalleled triumph not just for local scratch and hip-hop community, but for Bay Area Filipino American culture as well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2ZFsQjaOTI

As music critic and Guardian contributor Oliver Wang details meticulously in his forthcoming book Legions of Boom: Mobility, Identity and Filipino American Disc Jockeys in the San Francisco Bay Area (Duke University Press), a vibrant scene of Filipino mobile DJ crews — independent groups of teenage sound and lighting specialists hired to provide entertainment for weddings, graduations, and parties — thrived here since the 1970s. When hip-hop eclipsed disco on the request lists in the 1980s, the mobile crews defined streetwise Bay Area Filipino youth culture and provided a fertile training ground (and sometimes needed cash) for young DJ up-and-comers.

Qbert’s domination of the DJ world could be read as the apex of that scene, which faded in the 1990s with the rise of digital technology. And of course Qbert went on to create his own crew of fellow Filipino DJs: The Invisibl Skratch Piklz, with Shortkut, Apollo, Mix Master Mike, and several others. The Piklz went on to become insanely popular, establishing scratching and other turntable manipulations as a form of art and a highly marketable genre — turntablism — that changed the sound of hip-hop and dance music. Mix Master Mike went on to become, in essence, the fourth Beastie Boy; one early ISP member was A-Trak, current turntable-wielding heartthrob of the superstar EDM crowd.

In fact, the current popularity of turntable-rooted DJs like A-Trak and the burgeoning trip-hop and late ’90s revival makes the timing of Qbert’s return auspicious. “A-Trak runs a dance music scene and I think it’s great that he brings the scratching into it, he’s really unique in that field — so more power to him for turning on a different crowd to the sound. But for me it’s never really gone away, pure scratching. There’s a zillion underground cats who are genius at what they do — Quest, Deeandroid and Ceslkii, Disk, tons more. And maybe the widespread recognition isn’t there, maybe it isn’t in your face like it once was, but they’re all around. It’s like the guys who still do yo-yo tricks. They don’t know things have moved on. They keep practicing and practicing and doing incredible things, regardless of how many people are following. They’re always battling, always progressing. Never put down your yo-yo, man,” he laughs.

As for connecting to a new generation, working with (gasp!) turntables and (double gasp!) vinyl at this stage of DJ history is a deliberate artistic choice. Even with a resurgence of interest in analog techniques — a specific reaction to digital overload — does Qbert fear that scratching will be seen as merely a retro novelty?

“I think no one can deny that, whether you’re old or young, using a turntable to make a scratch sound — well, you can’t deny that it sounds really bugged out. How else are you going to make that sound unless you’re actually moving the sound with your own hand? Just to hold the sound and grab it, move it back and forth — that’s unique and fascinating to people. It’s like a sci-fi movie in real life, a sound that people have heard since maybe they were little kids, but one that also points to a future where man meets machine. It’s a real manipulation, a sound design in itself. What other instrument can do that?”

 

The return of Pyno Man

1

LEFT OF THE DIAL As legend has it, there was a time when you couldn’t walk the streets of Berkeley without running into him. He accosted you from posters adorning bar bathroom doors; he lurked around corners, plastered to telephone poles. He was mischievous, sometimes foul-mouthed, usually up to no good, but he always meant well. He wanted you to rock out. He was Pyno Man, and he was everywhere.

“Pyno Man was basically just the dream anybody has of being great, but instead of working a regular job and having fantasies about doing crazy rockstar things, he’s actually trying it all the time and failing. So he’s out there on the street acting like a rockstar, but everyone just thinks he’s crazy,” explains John Seabury, artist, creator of Pyno Man, and bass player for the relatively short-lived but locally legendary East Bay garage-punk outfit Psycotic Pineapple, for which the wild-eyed, mohawked, anthropomorphized pineapple served as mascot. “To me, that was logical.”

A staple of the East Bay punk club scene of the late ’70s, Psycotic Pineapple held court at the Keystone in Berkeley, sometimes playing SF’s fabled Mabuhay Gardens with friend bands, like the (underrated) power-pop maestros the Rubinoos. PP songs were about youth and drugs and sex, and you could count on them for an insane live show. But something in the band’s demeanor set them apart from the prevailing punk attitudes of the time: There wasn’t much they took seriously — least of all themselves.

“We didn’t really call them punks at that time, because that just wasn’t what we would call people who played music like them. They were just outlaws in a way, because they brought this sort of pop aesthetic to punk music. They were thumbing their nose at it and wrapping their arms around it at the same time,” says John Cuniberti, a producer, mastering engineer, and longtime friend of the band who helped the guys finally re-issue Psycotic Pineapple’s sole album, Where’s the Party?, on CD in 2012 — something that led to the band playing its first live show in more than two decades, which inspired Cuniberti to make a documentary about the band in the process.

There was something determinedly fun about Psycotic Pineapple, says Cuniberti. “I was working with the Dead Kennedys at the same time [’70s], and it was political, straight-up social commentary, songs about death and war and all these things. These guys played pop songs about relationships — really well-written pop songs, the songwriting was always very compelling to me — but they were rowdy, and they did it with an ‘I don’t care if you like us or not’ kind of attitude. There was an outrageousness to it.”

The band put out its lone record 1980, packed with 11 gleefully irreverent tracks that ran just over 25 minutes altogether. In 1981, something happened that no one could have predicted: Guitar player Henricus Holtman suffered a brain aneurysm, hindering his dexterity on his right side. The band stopped playing live. While most members remained involved in the local music scene — Seabury’s art adorns posters and t-shirts for a ton of other bands — Psycotic Pineapple mostly became the stuff of Bay Area folklore. But the fans were still out there. More than 30 years after PP disbanded, about a year after the band’s official reunion show at Bottom of the Hill, the music somehow doesn’t sound dated at all. They’ll headline the Gilman this week for the first time, with Pinole’s own Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits (whom could be said to follow in PP’s footsteps in terms of ethos, if not sound) opening.

“I don’t think the music feels old, but I’ve always thought that,” says Seabury, whose art fills a booklet that accompanies the re-issue CD. “By the time we broke up a lot of bands were starting to imitate that kind of attitude — Camper Van Beethoven, some others. I think we would have fit right into the alternative rock scene. We were kind of like these New Wave clowns making fun of punkers&ldots;which, as far as bands we gigged with go, their fans didn’t really like it. I remember opening for 999 and the Dickies, and both of their fans just hated us. They were booing us already, so we decided to close the set with ‘We’re an American Band,’ and that’s when the bottles started flying.”

They haven’t gotten to play together too often since the official reunion — for one, keyboard player Alexi Karlinski lives in Eastern Europe for most of the year. But while he’s back in the Bay for this stint, the guys plan to record a few new songs.

Maybe don’t call it a comeback just yet, says Cuniberti. But “I think they’re worth listening to, and there’s a lot of music being made that I can’t say that about. The songwriting is so good, and it’s timely, it still sounds fresh. You can hear in this record that they really love what they’re doing.”

While we’re immersed in the warm glow of East Bay punk history: 1-2-3-4 Go! Records, the independent record store, label, and all-ages venue housed in a deceptively small couple of rooms on 40th Street in Oakland, is expanding into the recently vacated space next door. From their crowdfunding campaign:

“A few weeks ago we were told our next door neighbors would be leaving and we could take a section of their space for an expansion. The catch is that we need to take the space by February 1st or it would go to someone else. As a small business with employees to take care of and regular bills to pay we don’t tend to have a lot of extra expansion capital on hand, especially on short notice. So we come to you, the good people who have supported us all these years and ask for you to join us in bringing the store to this next level and to continue to offer the great music and art we have been in our venue space.

In order to complete this expansion we need to do the following;

Knock out the adjoining wall.

Paint the interior and exterior to match our existing space

All new lighting that will stretch the length of both spaces.

Build additional custom fixtures; record bins, shelving etc.

Purchase new product; Records, books, supplies, turntables etc.

Purchase new Mic’s, Cords and Stands for the venue.

Close the store for 7 to 14 days (oof!)

Our plan is to have our Grand Re-Opening on March 15th to coincide with our 6th anniversary. We will have a sale during the day and a private event from 7pm to 10pm with food, drinks and music for supporters who come in at the $50 and above level who RSVP.”

As of this writing they have just under a week to go and still need to raise about $7,000. Want your as-of-yet unborn kids to know what actual record stores are? You know what to do: 1234gorecords.com.

Back here on this side of the Bay, A Million Billion Dying Suns — the psych-rock project of busy guitar virtuoso Nate Mercereau, who tours with Sheila E., among others (last week he was backing Dave Chappelle at the SFJazz Center) — have embarked on a mini-residency of sorts at the Knockout, starting with a Feb. 11 show. They recently had a song featured in a GoPro commercial, accompanying Shaun White as he blasts through snow-covered hills, but the band’s had my attention for about a year now, especially since the arrival last November’s Strawberry EP, with its slow-building, expertly crafted wall of spaced-out guitar fuzz, particularly on “Strawberry Letter 23,” a cover/homage to Shuggie Otis.

“I record a lot of stuff by myself, and Shuggie Otis has been a huge inspiration in that respect,” says Mercereau, who recently moved to LA, though he finds himself back in SF “every two weeks or so” — the band’s studio is still here. “Though it was also for our friend [manager and friend to many an SF musician] Steve Brodsky, who passed away last year. He really loved that song, and it felt like a way to do something for him.”

The Knockout feels a little small for the seriously powerful five-piece, Mercereau will acknowledge, but he wanted a residency at “a place our friends can walk to, a down-home punk rock spot that’s in the neighborhood.” If all goes well, he says, AMBDS will have another few shows here shortly, regardless of his new home base. “It’s easier than you might think,” he says. “We just live on Highway 5.”

PSYCOTIC PINEAPPLE
With Rock N’ Roll Adventure Kids, Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits, and the Gregors
Friday, Feb. 7, 7:30pm, $10
924 Gilman Street
924 Gilman, Berkeley
www.924gilman.org

A MILLION BILLION DYING SUNS
With What Fun Life Was and Lemme Adams
Tuesday, Feb. 11, 8:30pm, $6
Knockout
3223 Mission, SF
www.theknockout.com

Ennui the people

0

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM San Francisco IndieFest celebrates its Super Sweet 16 with multiple films presenting an appropriately teenage outlook on humanity: Most of the time, people suck. They suck in ways you expect, ways you don’t expect, and ways you should have expected but chose not to, for your own sucky reasons.

Fortunately, not all of these lessons in disappointment come packaged in depressing movies — though at least one, Bluebird, does. In snowy Maine, an otherwise kind and responsible school bus driver (Amy Morton) screws up the head count at the end of her route, and a child is left behind on a long, cold night. The small town reacts as you’d expect, with stares and whispered gossip. But as it turns out, most of the characters affected by this tragic mistake are already in a pretty bad place, and must now face hitting a floor even lower than they’d imagined was possible.

Chief among them is the bus driver’s weary husband (Mad Men‘s John Slattery, playing nicely against type except for one very Roger Sterling-ish scene), who’s just found out he’ll soon be unemployed, and the neglected boy’s troubled mother (Louisa Krause), who adds this incident to her running list of personal demons. Writer-director Lance Edmands edited Lena Dunham’s 2010 breakthrough Tiny Furniture (blink and you’ll miss Girls‘ Adam Driver in a handful of Bluebird scenes); his first feature as writer-director is very much in the classic American indie mode, with ordinary people’s lives intersecting in an ordinary town, extreme feelings of loneliness and unfulfilled dreams lurking just below the surface. Frankly, it can get morose, though Emily Meade (who resembles a younger Emma Stone) brings some spark as a high-schooler dealing with sucky boy drama on top of sucky everything else.

Less earnest, thank goodness, is the latest short from San Francisco filmmaker Vincent Gargiulo (2011’s The Muppetless Movie), which screens as part of IndieFest’s “#feelings” program. Filmed on location in Minnesota, Duluth is Horrible follows a handful of oddballs working through heartbreak via Reddit posts, awkward blind dates, and karaoke. Gargiulo — who told me during last year’s IndieFest that the idea for Duluth came to him in a dream — wields his own brand of bizarre humor with complete confidence. Here’s hoping he channels that into a feature film next.

Two of IndieFest’s genre standouts also hinge on human shortcomings. Joe Begos’ Almost Human follows a trio of friends dealing with the aftereffects when one is, uh, abducted by aliens, then returns a few years later acting mighty strange. The man’s left-behind former fiancée and best friend have just enough time to come to grips with their guilt and paranoia before they have to start fending off creepy offers of “Join me and be reborn!” Yeah, this is a wall-to-wall John Carpenter homage — the lead character appears to have stepped right off the set of 1982’s The Thing — but it’s done exactly right, with some spectacular, blessedly CG-free gore effects to boot.

Also a must-see for horror fans: Zack Parker’s Proxy, a Hitchcockian mindfuck of a movie that offers up so many plot twists it’d be nearly impossible to relay a spoiler-free plot summary — though as soon as you hear the pregnant woman’s last name is Woodhouse, as in Rosemary, it’s made pretty clear that this grieving-mother tale ain’t gonna be what it seems. If you can make it through the brutal attack that happens in Proxy‘s first five minutes (close your eyes if you must), you’ll be richly rewarded.

It feels almost wrong to lump Hank: Five Years From the Brink into this roll-call of sinister neighbors and emotional vampires, but there are certainly many who’d call former Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson worse names. This latest doc from Joe Berlinger (the Paradise Lost trilogy) follows the template favored by Errol Morris in films like 2003’s The Fog of War and last year’s The Unknown Known, surrounding an extended sit-down interview with news footage and home movies reflecting on a political subject’s career.

In Paulson’s case, he walks us through the 2008 financial crisis (Jon Stewart referred to him as “Baron Von Moneypants”) with the benefit of hindsight, and a certain amount of self-effacing humor. Whether or not you agree with the guy’s actions, he’s actually pretty likeable, and Berlinger’s decision to include interviews with Paulson’s no-nonsense wife, Wendy, adds a human angle to the decisions behind the “too big to fail” fiasco.

I hear you sighing. You demand uplift, dammit! Where are the happy movies? Though it’s not without moments of relationship angst, Mexican filmmaker Fernando Frias’ Rezeta just might be the festival’s feel-good breakout. Largely improvised and filmed using handheld cameras and a cast of first-time actors (how do you say “mumblecore” in Spanish?), Rezeta follows a year or so in the life of Albanian model Rezeta (Rezeta Veliu), who arrives in Mexico with a good grasp of English but little knowledge of the local culture.

On her first job, she meets Alex (Roger Mendoza), a metalhead whose friendship becomes the one constant in her breezy life. As they slowly become a couple — the passage of time is marked out by Alex’s changing facial hair and Rezeta’s developing Spanish-language skills — the places where their personalities don’t quite mesh become increasingly apparent. Rezeta picked up a special jury award at the recent Slamdance Film Festival, and it’s not hard to see why; the characters feel so real. Don’t we all know that sweet girl who turns into a catty pain when she’s drunk, or that guy who’s too cool to get excited about anything, or that couple who’s fun to be around — until they start screaming at each other on the sidewalk outside the bar? Ah, youth.

Also worth mentioning: wonderful centerpiece pick Teenage, a collage film by Matt Wolf (2008’s Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell) that’s based on Jon Savage’s Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, spanning the adolescent experience from 1875-1945. First-person narrators (voiced by Jena Malone and Ben Whishaw, among others) reflect on the lives of teens from the US, the UK, and Germany, emphasizing both current events (World Wars I and II) as well as dance and music fads.

Finally, I’d be remiss for not calling your attention to A Field in England, easily the single weirdest pick of IndieFest 2014. Fans of Ben Wheatley, a fest vet and one of the most exciting directors to come out of England in years (2011’s Kill List, 2012’s Sightseers), already know what’s up; everyone else, step boldly into this black-and-white slab of insanity set amid a handful of deserters scuttling away from their posts during the English civil war. And then the cape-wearing necromancer shows up, because of course he does. “I think I’ve worked out what God is punishing us for,” one hapless character gasps. “Everything!” *

SAN FRANCISCO INDIEFEST

Feb. 6-20, most shows $12

Various venues, SF and Oakl.

www.sfindie.com

 

Mann up

2

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Anthony Mann was one of those directors only really appreciated in retrospect — during his life he was considered a solid journeyman rather than an artist. It didn’t help that when he finally graduated to big-budget “prestige” films at the dawn of the 1960s, he was unlucky. He left 1960’s Spartacus after clashing with producer-star Kirk Douglas. (Stanley Kubrick famously replaced him.) He left the 1960 Western epic Cimarron mid-shoot after an argument with its producer, though its poor result was still credited to him, as was A Dandy in Aspic, a 1968 spy drama completed by star Laurence Harvey after Mann died of a heart attack very early on.

He had done very well indeed with 1961’s El Cid, a smash considered one of the few truly good movies resulting from Hollywood’s then-obsession with lavish historical spectaculars. The same judgment is now granted 1964’s The Fall of the Roman Empire, to a more qualified degree. But that film was so titanically expensive it would have stood as the decade’s monument to money-losing excess had 1963’s Cleopatra not already claimed that crown.

Today Mann is probably best regarded for the series of Westerns he made in the 1950s, many starring a more tormented, less aw-shucksy James Stewart. They’ve tended to overshadow the film noirs that in turn preceded them. The Pacific Film Archive is doing its bit to correct that imbalance with “Against the Law: The Crime Films of Anthony Mann,” a three-week retrospective spanning a brief but busy period from 1946 to 1950.

Surprisingly for a talent associated more with action than talk, the San Diego-born Mann first made a modest name for himself as a New York stage director and actor. In 1938 he was invited by Gone With the Wind (1939) producer David O. Selznick to come to Hollywood as a casting scout, then moved up to assistant directing at Paramount (including for Preston Sturges). He was soon deemed fit to direct low-budget features, starting in 1942 — cranking out cheap musicals like Moonlight in Havana (1942) and melodramas like Strangers in the Night (1944) for the bottom half of double bills. His craftsmanship was already strong even if the scripts were weak. To compensate, he began early to concentrate on evocative visual storytelling whose impact could cover the flaws of corny dialogue and situations.

Strangers and first PFA title Strange Impersonation (1946) were proto-noirs that allowed him to up his game. But what really altered his career course was the founding of a new company, Eagle-Lion, that he started working for the following year. There, budgets remained “Poverty Row” low, but more creative freedom was allowed — and he gained a key collaborator in now-revered cinematographer John Alton, who famously said “It’s not what you light, it’s what you don’t light.”

Alton’s often highly stylized, chiaroscuro images lent rich atmosphere and suspense to what were then considered “semi-documentary” shoot-’em-ups. Their first collaboration, 1947’s T-Men, was a highly influential sleeper hit that took its realism seriously enough to start with an audience address from an actual former Treasury Department law enforcement official. The “composite case” ensuing has Dennis O’Keefe and Alfred Ryder as undercover feds who infiltrate a counterfeiting ring in Detroit — one losing his life in the process.

O’Keefe returned on the other side of the law for the following year’s Raw Deal, playing an escaped con determined to avenge himself on the crime boss (future Ironside Raymond Burr) who betrayed him. He travels with two women, one adoring (Claire Trevor), one unwilling (Marsha Hunt) … at least at first she is. This is the rare noir narrated by a moll, as Trevor’s faithful doormat comes to terms with losing the man she’s always loved to the “nice girl” he’s taken hostage. There’s a bitter romantic fatalism to her perspective that’s as masochistic as it is hard-boiled.

The PFA offers two features from 1949. Even more “documentary” in its procedural focus than T-Men, He Walked by Night (officially credited to Alfred Werker, though Mann directed most of it) “stars” the LAPD as its personnel hunt a sociopath clever enough to disguise his tracks as he goes on a murder spree. Focusing on the minutiae of investigative procedure (“Police work is not all glamour and excitement and glory!” our narrator gushes), yet full of visual atmosphere, it was widely considered the uncredited inspiration for the subsequent radio and TV serial Dragnet. (Jack Webb even plays a forensics expert.) The then-inventive location work culminates in a deadly chase through LA storm drain tunnels. Border Incident, unavailable for preview, anticipated the Native American rights-centered Devil’s Doorway (1950) in its forward-thinking treatment of racial minorities — here Mexicans caught between smugglers, bandits, and US immigration agents. It was originally entitled Wetbacks, a moniker that would have ensured lasting notoriety, albeit at the cost of obscuring the film’s anti-discriminatory theme.

Director and DP soon parted ways, alas. Their third 1949 collaboration (the next year’s Doorway would be their last) is not in the PFA retrospective, although it ought to be: Reign of Terror, aka The Black Book, is set during the French Revolution, yet it’s as thoroughly, baroquely noir as any movie involving powdered wigs could possibly manage. *

AGAINST THE LAW: THE CRIME FILMS OF ANTHONY MANN

Feb. 7-28, $5.50-$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.

bampfa.berkeley.edu

 

Strings of life

0

marke@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Every year or so the plucky Kronos Quartet — our audacious yet user-friendly 40-year-old vanguard of the musical avant-garde — pops back on the scene to wow us. Last time I saw them, they opened for electronic pioneer Amon Tobin’s spectacular 3-D projection ISAM tour at the Greek Theatre, and if you don’t think a string quartet can garner deafening cheers at a giant rave, you need to hear Kronos. Before that, the foursome was at YBCA, bowing electrified fences and simulating multiple water wheels. This week the string quartet will be launching the fifth installment of its composers-under-30 showcase with an intense work by Bay Area native Mary Kouyoumdjian called Bombs of Beirut (Feb 6-9, 8pm, $20–$25. Z Space, 450 Florida, SF. www.zspace.org).

“I want to create a feeling of chaos and nostalgia,” Armenian American wiz Kouyoumdjian says of her piece, which attempts to reflect the day-to-day situation of life during the 1980s Lebanese Civil War, and which includes haunting ambient recordings taken from a balcony during the conflict. (Kouyoumdjian’s family lived through it.) She also wants to put a complex human face on ongoing Middle East conflicts — and hey, possibly remind us of that whole endless war thing still perpetuating. Maybe we want to try to stop that soon?

 

ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER

Stop everything; look up this ambitious, electro-drone-based Brooklynite’s video for “Boring Angel.” Then watch cerebral local opener Holly Herndon’s astounding vid for her new “Chorus” track. Yeah, that kind of incredible “life on a parallel Internet planet” stuff.

Thu/6, 10pm-3am, $17.50–$20. 1015 Folsom, SF. www.1015.com

 

SCUBA + DJ HELL

Brilliant producer Scuba swings from drowned-flute downtempo to punishing dub techno (although his often-confusing sexual politics turn some people off). The real news for me, though, at this Lights Down Low party is DJ Hell, who’s been slaying dance floors for three decades with his edgy, driving beats — and always has interesting hair.

Thu/6, 9pm, $18. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com

 

HOUSE SHOES

Detroit’s phenomenal Michael Buchanan, a.k.a. House Shoes, heads up a big tribute to J. Dilla — the quintessential hypnotic-soulful beats producer whose influence can be heard in pretty much every dope hip-hop track to drop in the past decade. (Dilla died in 2006 at 32.) Also on tap: Shortkut, Mr. E and Haylow, Fran Boogie.

Fri/7, 9pm, free before midnight with RSVP at www.mighty119.com. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF.

 

REBOLLEDO

I love the off-kilter sense of humor this Pachanga Boy from Mexico gives off — he’ll take us on a trip to the outer reaches with a wink and smile. With catchy NYC duo Blondes and cute “screw house” dude Axel Borman at the As You Like It party.

Fri/7, 9pm-4am, $15 advance. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

NONSTOP BHANGRA

The incredible chnagra club celebrates 100 colorful salutes to banging underground Indian dance music with a special appearance by London’s revered Punjabi MC — oh, and the dholrhythms dance troupe, live drumming and painting, the Curry Up Now truck, and DJ Jimmy Love on decks.

Sat/8, 9pm, $15 advance. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

SKIN

An amazing-sounding new monthly from Oakland heroes Candi and DJ Cecil featuring music and rhythms of the Latin and African diasporas, kicking off with live drumming from the awesome Sistahs of the Drum, Cuban salsa lessons, and one of my absolute favorite deep house DJs Carlos Mena.

Sat/8, 8pm, $5–$10. Venue Oakland, 420 14th St, Oakl. skintones.eventbrite.com

 

ANGELS OF BASS

Hometown lowdown hero Ana Sia returns to shake the walls, in her initimable minimal-meets-hardcore style, with the Angels of Bass crew Jess, Tamo, Viajay, and LMCG.

Sat/8, 9pm, $15–$20. Monarch, 101 Sixth St., SF. www.monarchsf.com

 

KELE OKEREKE

The indie god Bloc Party frontman has been heavily invested in electronic sounds for ages. Now you can hear his selections on deck at the Isis party, one of the true success stories of the past year in terms of wicked good times and a too-cute crowd.

Sat/8, 9:30pm-3:30am, $12–$15 advance. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

POOLSIDE

So happy for this SF-LA duo’s continued success bringing gorgeous, sun-drenched house tunes to the masses. Jeffrey Paradise and Filip Nikolic hit town again in big style, all night at Mezzanine. Bring your inflatables.

Sat/8, 9pm, $18.50. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezaninesf.com

 

Momentum moment

1

arts@sfbg.com

DANCE For its 10th anniversary, the Black Choreographers Festival: Here & Now won’t start with its customary lineup of performances, but with a ritual so ingrained that many dancers continue it even after they have retired from the stage. Dancers are obsessed with taking classes. Classes are why they scrape money together. If you’re part of a company, classes are a part of your daily routine. If you aren’t, you’re on your own — and at around $10 or $15 a session, that can quickly add up to a serious amount of cash.

So how about 10 cents a class? At this year’s BCF, you can pay 50 cents for an all-day pass, good for up to five classes at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Forum, taught by Robert Moses, Nora Chipaumire, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and Rashad Pridgen. A showcase by the next generation of dancers — Dimensions Extensions Performance Ensemble, Destiny Arts, and the Village Dancers — is included in this bargain price.

BCF arose from the ashes of the renowned but collapsing festival known as Black Choreographers Moving Toward the 21st Century. At the festival’s final concert in 1995, financial constraints prevented it from inviting out-of-town artists, so it was an all-Bay Area show. That’s where the seed for BCF was planted. Laura Elaine Ellis, who had just started to choreograph, danced that night.

“I was so honored to be included,” she recalls. “After the performance, all of us realized that this was the first time ever that we all had shared a stage together. It felt so good.”

Kendra Barnes didn’t perform that evening — she was still a San Francisco State student — but “I had attended every concert, and I had just started my own company.” The two women realized that they, and many of their colleagues, would have to self-produce. The African and African American Performing Arts Coalition was a first, short-lived attempt.

But it was when Ellis and Barnes had one of those “what if we…” moments that BCF was born. “We wanted to create a community where we could come together and see each others’ work,” Barnes says.

From the beginning BCF turned a wide-angle lens on African American choreography. It aimed to showcase the whole range of ages and experiences, with beginning and experienced choreographers, plus youth dancers. The emphasis has always been on the “here and now” of its name, although that doesn’t mean, Ellis explains, “that folks who are rooted in traditional forms and rethink them are excluded.” The festival developed a format of showing one weekend in the East Bay (at Laney College) and in San Francisco (at Dance Mission Theater) with both established artists and what the BCF calls “Next Wave Choreographers.”

A lesser-known yet important part of the festival offers training opportunities for a handful of pre- and post-college students who are interested in theater management, tech, and other backstage responsibilities. Several of them, says Ellis, have been able to enter those fields professionally after completing the program.

For this anniversary season, BCF created its most ambitious schedule yet: four weekends of performances by an impressively diverse group of African American dance artists. A partnership with YBCA enabled the organizers to bring Zimbabwe-born Nora Chipaumire for the Bay Area premiere (Feb. 13-15 at YBCA) of Miriam, a work inspired by singer Miriam Makeba and the Virgin Mary, among others. “Nora has gone on to an international career, yet she started in the Bay Area,” Ellis points out.

On the penultimate weekend (Feb. 28-March 1 at Laney College), former Lines Ballet dancer-choreographer Gregory Dawson has created birdseye view, a sextet set to an original jazz score performed live by the Richard Howell Quintet. Zaccho Dance Theatre will present the Oakland premiere of Joanna Haigood’s haunting Dying While Black and Brown; it looks at the effect of incarceration on the human spirit. Joining the lineup will be a work in progress by Barnes (Feb. 28 only), Haitian Dancer Portsha Jefferson, and spoken-word artist Joseph.

Financial constraints prevented the programming of an accompanying film component this year, though the bitter pill was sweetened by a last-minute arrival: UPAJ, Hoku Uchiyama’s film about the partnership between Kathak artist Chitresh Das and tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith, will screen Feb. 28 at 6:30pm before that evening’s performance.

Looking back, Ellis figures that over the last decade they have presented almost 80 choreographers. So for this year’s special “Next Wave” program (Feb. 21-23 at Dance Mission), they sent out a call to “alumni.” It’s a homecoming for the 21 artists who accepted, and it should be heady mix, running (alphabetically) from Ramón Ramos Alayo to Jamie Wright.

For the ODC Theater finale (March 6-8), Robert Moses has curated an intriguing and somewhat mysterious evening, which includes a premiere of his own, Bliss Kohlmeyer and Dawson choreographing on his company, and Moses acting as a “host” to various choreographers. So far Raissa Simpson, Byb Chanel Bibene, and Antoine Hunter are confirmed, with more to come. *

BLACK CHOREOGRAPHERS FESTIVAL: HERE AND NOW

Feb 9-March 8, 50 cents-$35

Various venues, SF and Oakl.

www.bcfhereandnow.com

 

…And horror for all

2

arts@sfbg.com

CULTURE Like a mad scientist who has decided to open up his secret laboratory and show off his work to select guests, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett hosts “Fear FestEvil,” a convention bringing together the worlds of horror and heavy metal. Hammett has long been a horror film aficionado, and has amassed an extensive movie memorabilia collection of original props, costumes, posters, toys, and more over the years — an obsession that dates back to his childhood growing up in San Francisco.

“I first got into horror movies as a young kid — I think I was five years old when I saw my first horror movie, The Day of the Triffids, and totally loved it,” remembers Hammett. “I used to go to San Francisco Comic Book Company, which was one of the very first comic book stores in the country, at 23rd and Mission, and that was my repository for buying comic books and magazines. I just got into it and never got out of it.”

The idea for the festival — er, festevil — grew out of Hammett’s desire to share his extensive horror-movie collection with fans; it’s the same urge that first inspired his 2012 book, Too Much Horror Business, stuffed with color photos of his creepy cache. Following the success of that tome, he set up “Kirk’s Crypt,” an exhibit at Metallica’s Orion festival in 2012 and 2013 where fans could catch a glimpse of his collection in person. The next logical step, as Hammett saw it, was to create a mini-convention in his hometown.

“It was so fun, and such a big hit at the festival, I thought, why can’t I keep on doing this, but do it here in the Bay Area, and make it bigger and better, with more stuff, more guests, and with some bands that would fit in music-wise,” says Hammett.

“It’s my way of taking my collection and sharing it and turning it into a more giving process, because for years and years I collected — and collectors to a certain extent are selfish, you know, they collect things for themselves. After a while, I got tired of that feeling, so I decided that I would share it with like-minded people.”

Scheduled guests include several luminaries in the horror and sci-fi genres, such as makeup and special effects innovator Tom Savini, Night of the Living Dead (1968) co-writer John A. Russo, and A Nightmare on Elm Street series star Heather Langenkamp. There will also be some actors whose faces might not be familiar to the public, but are fan-beloved for portraying iconic movie monsters: Kane Hodder, who slaughtered countless camp counselors as Jason Voorhees in four of the Friday The 13th films, and Haruo Nakajima, aka the man who donned Godzilla’s iconic rubber suit in 12 movies, including the original 1954 classic.

“I’ve known Tom Savini for a while now, but for the most part, I don’t really know these people, and for me to be able to have them appear at the festival, and for me to get to meet them, is fantastic. That’s another reason this festival is happening — so I can meet these people for myself! It means as much to me as it does to the person who buys a ticket and comes to the convention.”

The descendents of three of horror’s high royalty — Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney — will also be in the (haunted) house. “It’s incredible that I have a relationship with the Karloff, Lugosi, and Chaney families,” Hammett enthuses. “It’s a really, really big thrill.”

Adding a dimension to the event that hasn’t been widely seen before in the world of conventions, Hammett wanted to add metal music to the horror genre mix. “To me, it’s such an obvious thing. One of the reasons I embraced heavy metal was because of the imagery, and because the feelings I felt when I listened to heavy metal were very similar to those when I was watching horror movies.”

In addition to bands performing on Friday and Saturday nights — including Carcass, Exodus, and Death Angel — the fest also features music-minded guests who have ventured into horror-film production, such as Scott Ian and Slash, and those who have had a long history of using horror imagery in their artwork and lyrics, like guitar player Doyle of the Misfits. Hammett hero Count Dracula, noted fan of music made by “children of the night,” would surely approve. *

 

KIRK VON HAMMETT’S FEAR FESTEVIL

Thu/6, 7pm-midnight (preview); Fri/7, noon-midnight; Sat/8 11am-midnight, $37.50–$175

Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF

www.fearfestevil.com

Fresh out

21

Rebecca@sfbg.com

Food stirs strong passions in San Francisco. Protests have been mounted against foie gras and live chicken sales, and epic battles have been fought over chain grocery stores’ proposals to open up shop in certain neighborhoods.

When Whole Foods opened in the Upper Haight in 2011 amid no shortage of neighborhood controversy, Rachel Levin wrote in The Bold Italic that her glee at beholding offerings such as Kombucha on tap belied her nagging conscience about patronizing a chain retailer in an area dotted with local businesses. Internal conflict ensued; the writer confessed feeling “totally conflicted.”

But a very different food-related dilemma is currently plaguing residents in Bayview Hunters Point, a racially diverse, low-income area in the city’s southeast sector.

Six months after the Upper Haight Whole Foods flung open its doors to guilt-ridden and guilt-free patrons alike, a different grocery store was welcomed with much fanfare.

Five years had passed from the time when Fresh & Easy Market had agreed to do business in the Bayview to the day it finally opened for business. The store launch, held in late August of 2011, was treated as a celebratory affair — after much involvement by city officials, it marked the first time in 20 years that the low-income community would have a grocery store.

“The opening of Fresh & Easy on Third Street creates jobs for the community and will help make the neighborhood a place where families will want to stay and thrive,” Mayor Ed Lee said at the time.

But just over two years later, Fresh & Easy was closed. Tesco, the British parent company that owned the grocery chain, fell into financial trouble and unloaded its West Coast stores onto an affiliate of Yucaipa companies, headed by Los Angeles billionaire Ronald Burkle. Other San Francisco Fresh & Easy locations survived the transition, but the Bayview store didn’t make the cut.

Now it’s back to square one, and the neighborhood is once again without a grocery store where one can purchase fresh food. That’s especially problematic considering that Bayview residents suffer from diet-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes at much higher rates than other city residents.

And ever since Fresh & Easy closed, Sup. Malia Cohen, who represents District 10 where Bayview is located, has discovered that attracting a new grocery retailer to that neighborhood is like pulling teeth.

“Safeway was absolutely closed to the idea,” Cohen reports. “They cited safety concerns.”

When she first contacted Safeway representatives to pitch the idea of having the grocery retailer move into the vacant Fresh & Easy location, their response was to ask her office to track down emergency service call data in the surrounding neighborhood. “They said they couldn’t get the information,” Cohen said. “I said, that’s interesting, it’s public information.”

Safeway also cited concerns about the configuration of the vacant space and the size of the parking lot, Cohen said. She noted that the grocer has shown generosity in the past by making Safeway gift card donations to needy Bayview residents, but “that also presents a challenge. It’s a hike to get to the grocery store.”

Safeway spokesperson Wendy Gutshall did not answer questions about why the retailer was unwilling to consider moving to the area, and wrote in an email to Bay Guardian, “There are no plans at this time with respect to a new location in the Bayview.”

Cohen was frustrated, but undeterred. “I think there’s a certain level of racism and classism that blinds retailers from even exploring these communities,” she said. “I really want the community to be able to have healthy food options — not discounted toss-aways.”

Next on Cohen’s list was Trader Joe’s. “The conversation went well,” she noted, adding that she’s targeting the chain because numerous residents have told her they would shop there. “I’m optimistic — although they did express a desire to be in Noe Valley. Or the Castro.”

Asked whether the company would consider opening a store in the Bayview, Trader Joe’s spokesperson Alison Mochizuki would only say, “At this time, it’s not in our two-year plan to open a location in that area.”

Cohen said she’d also reached out to Kroger, Sterling Farms, and 99 Ranch Market to gauge interest. Meanwhile, nearby Visitation Valley will be getting its own grocery store, with an anticipated opening in June: discount retailer Grocery Outlet.

The closure of Fresh & Easy left some Bayview residents without jobs. Gloria Chan, spokesperson of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, a city agency that works closely with Mayor Ed Lee, noted that OEWD had “deployed its rapid response team to assist [displaced Fresh & Easy] employees during the transition, and provided information on workforce services including unemployment assistance.”

Investment firm Fortress Investment Group acquired the vacant Fresh & Easy site in December, Chan added. “OEWD reached out to the Fortress Investment Group and expressed interest and the need for ensuring a grocery retail outlet continues to remain in the now vacant location,” she wrote. “OEWD remains diligent in pursuing a grocery retail outlet in the Bayview and have also spoken to various food operators.”

But so far, nothing has fallen into place, and Cohen says the mayor’s office could be offering more support. “We have the density needed to support a store — households, age range, all the qualifying data points,” Cohen said. “I do have my fingers crossed.”

 

Guns, gods, and government

20

EDITORIAL Humans tend to believe that we’re smarter than we really are. It’s a problem that can be exacerbated by concentrations of wealth and technological expertise, which can cause some people to believe they have an almost God-like power to manifest solutions to any challenge they confront, particularly when they have lots of money to throw at the problem.

But that’s really just hubris. It’s the story of Icarus striving for the sun and falling back to Earth when his technology failed him. Knowing our limits and feeling a sense of humility and social responsibility are the first steps toward dealing honestly with problems we face. And last week, we were reminded again of this reality by venture capitalist Ron Conway, the libertarian-leaning power broker who has taken a paternalistic hold on the city (see “The Plutocrat,” 11/27/12).

Being a newspaper that has always believed in gun control, we share Conway’s newfound desire to reduce gun violence, a cause he suddenly adopted after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2012. Conway and his Smart Tech Foundation last week unveiled some early designs for high-tech guns that only work in the hands of their owners, and which will notify those owners when someone has moved them.

“Let’s use innovation to bring about gun safety. Let’s not rely on Washington,” Conway told the San Francisco Examiner, which put the story on its Jan. 29 cover.

There are many levels of ridiculousness to Conway’s belief that his gizmos can do more to reduce gun violence than even modest federal regulation of the more than 300 million guns in this country. After all, guns are designed to inflict violence, and just 3 percent of gun deaths are accidental shootings (62 percent are suicides and 35 percent are homicides). Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza used guns from his home that he’d been taught to use by his mother, who ended up being his first victim, so it seems unlikely Conway’s guns would have changed that outcome.

When reporter Jonah Owen Lamb asked Conway how his technology differed from widely available trigger locks, he compared them to the iPhone, which invented a new market for its product. So the answer to gun violence is creating a new market for a new generation of guns that only their wealthy owners can fire?

While we’re not huge fans of the Second Amendment — the one that conservatives like Conway consider sacrosanct — we do understand that it was written to give the masses tools to resist wealthy and powerful oppressors. That includes people like Conway, fellow venture capitalist Thomas Perkins (whose comparison of progressive activists to Nazis has been lighting the Internet), and the Establishment politicians whom they sponsor.

Guys, society doesn’t need your gizmos, libertarian ideals, or hubris to address the most vexing challenges we face, from gun violence to global warming to creating a modern transportation infrastructure. We just need some of the obscene wealth you’ve been hoarding.

 

Did Feinstein see a drone?

6

For years now, Bay Area organizers with the antiwar group Code Pink have been staging protests outside the Pacific Heights residence of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Code Pink director Medea Benjamin has led delegations to Pakistan and Yemen in the past to protest US drone strikes, and San Francisco activists have frequently appeared outside the senator’s home to sound off against the US military’s use of drones.

But more recently, Code Pink activists have paid visits to Feinstein to let her know what they think of her comments condemning the actions of whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“We at Code Pink think Edward Snowden did a great service to this country,” by leaking secret National Security Agency documents detailing the intelligence agency’s dragnet surveillance program, said organizer Nancy Mancias.

So on June 15, 2013, “We flew a couple toy helicopters outside her home” as part of an anti-surveillance protest. It was an “Austin Powers” themed protest, she added, “playing spy-type music.”

But a couple months ago, Feinstein mentioned during a hearing about drones that she’d actually seen a drone peeking outside her window at her San Francisco home. She said it crashed shortly after she detected it.

But that left activists and others wondering about Feinstein’s account, since Mancias says the remote controlled device they sent up to fly around Feinstein’s mansion was not a drone, but rather a pink helicopter, “like a toy you pick up at Toys-R-Us.”

The Code Pink activists captured video of the event, she added, and sent it to the television program 60 Minutes. “Hopefully, they’ll air it when they interview Dianne Feinstein.”

Another wrinkle in Feinstein’s story is that “she said she was home when this demonstration was happening,” Mancias said. “But we were knocking on the door, ringing the doorbell.”

Believe it or not, Feinstein has actually responded to this sort of activity in the past by coming to the door and engaging with the concerned, pink-clad citizens.

“She’s a very old school politician,” Mancias said by way of explanation. “She’s very approachable. On that day she didn’t come outside, and if she was home, we would have loved to have a discussion with her about Edward Snowden.”

So was Feinstein’s account of spotting a surveillance drone rooted in nothing more than noticing a pink kid’s toy zip past her window during a routine Code Pink protest?

Nobody knows for sure but nevertheless, Code Pink activists feel vindicated. “I can say that we actually achieved our goal,” Mancias said. That’s because more recently, Feinstein has softened her stance somewhat and admitted that “we need to look into” the domestic surveillance program.

But that perception of a small victory doesn’t mean they aren’t going back. On Tuesday, Feb. 11, Code Pink plans to return to Feinstein’s Pac Heights mansion for yet another protest, this time to coincide with a national day of action being planned in opposition to NSA spying.

Called “The Day We Fight Back,” the Feb. 11 action day will consist of website owners installing banners to encourage their visitors to challenge online spying, and employees of tech companies calling on their organizations to do the same.

“We’re asking people to bring surveillance equipment, drones, and magnifying glasses,” to Feinstein’s house, Mancias said, presumably talking about props and not real surveillance equipment (does Google Glass count?). “We’ll just play some music,” she added, “and have a fabulous time.”

In the dark

5

A battle for transparency that has dragged on for years is nearing a milestone, as Bay Area civil liberties advocates await a judge’s ruling on whether the federal government will be forced to hand over memos outlining its legal justification for overseas drone strikes targeting US citizens.

The First Amendment Coalition, an Oakland-based civil liberties organization, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in October 2011 seeking a legal memo prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel to the US Department of Justice.

Initially referenced in the New York Times and the Washington Post, the memo reportedly justifies the legal arguments underpinning the DOJ’s decision to track down and execute Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Al Qaeda operative who was killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in September 2011.

In its request, FAC noted that it was not interested in factual information about intelligence sources, but rather “discussion of the legal issues posed by prospective military action against a dangerous terrorist who also happens to be a US citizen.”

It’s hard to see how releasing a legal memo would constitute a threat to national security, an exemption that allows government to classify much of its information about military operations, but nevertheless federal authorities refused to honor FAC’s request.

In fact, the DOJ took its denial a step further, stating that it “neither confirms nor denies the existence of the document described in your request … because the very existence or nonexistence of such a document is in fact classified.”

After filing an appeal and getting nowhere, the civil liberties organization filed suit in Feb. 2012, demanding the release of the memo. Attorney Tom Burke, of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, is representing FAC.

“We are not interested in how the US government found Al-Awlaki,” he explained. “Our suit is to release that memo with all intelligence information redacted.”

In Oakland on Jan. 23, US District Judge Claudia Wilken heard arguments from Burke and DOJ lawyers in motions for summary judgment, seeking a pretrial decision to settle the matter. By press time, Wilken still had not issued her ruling.

“It’s hard to know the ruling,” Burke said in a phone interview a week after the hearing. “The judge was being very short and blunt.” He added, “We’ve been fighting for this for years. If the ruling doesn’t go our way, I look forward to taking this to the Ninth Circuit [Court of Appeals].”

Meanwhile, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York heard two similar cases, brought against the DOJ by the New York Times and a New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. In January of 2013, that court decided in favor of the DOJ, albeit with grave reservations.

“I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory restraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22,” Judge Colleen McMahon wrote in her opinion. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”

The New York Times and ACLU appealed the decision, and are currently awaiting further ruling from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The American citizens at the heart of these convoluted proceedings are al-Awlaki, his teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and Samir Khan. Al-Awlaki and his son — who was 16 at the time of his death — were both born in the United States, while Khan was a naturalized citizen of Pakistani origin.

Although all three were killed in strikes associated with counter terrorism operations, the elder al-Awlaki was the only one specifically targeted, according to a letter Attorney General Eric Holder wrote to members of Congress last May.

While the US government’s use of drone strikes has always been politically contentious because of stray civilian deaths, the use of this tactic to target American citizens has been particularly controversial. How is it that the US government — a global beacon for democracy and due process — can find guilty and execute its own citizens without a modicum of a trial?

“Judge McMahon expressed serious concerns that what the government was doing was unconstitutional,” said Brett Kaufman, an ACLU attorney who is handling the cases concerning drone strikes. “But on the merits of [the Freedom of Information Act], which was the issue before her, she had to agree with the DOJ.”

Francisco Alvarado contributed to this report.

Conservative star in ‘Monologos de la Vagina’ replaced

5

Following national controversy over the resignation of a politically conservative actress from the local Spanish-language production of The Vagina Monologues, producer Eliana Lopez announced last week that the production had found a replacement.

Actress Alba Roversi, a veteran of the Spanish language Monologos de la Vagina, will take the place of Maria Conchita Alonso, whose departure from the play had Fox News crying foul over her being “forced out” for her conservative political views.

Any chance to needle San Francisco, right?

Roversi starred in over 20 Spanish language soap operas, though she may not have the same name recognition in the US as Alonso, whose filmography includes Predator 2 and The Running Man (with our former Governator). Roversi is in, and Alonso is out.

Alonso stirred the pot for backing Tea Party gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly in a YouTube ad that garnered just over 100,000 hits. Donnelly, a Republican Assemblymember representing the 33rd District along the Arizona border, is running a long-shot campaign to unseat the ever-popular Jerry Brown this November on a core right-wing platform.

“We’re Californians, I want a gun in every Californian’s gun safe, I want the government out of our businesses and our bedrooms,” he says in the controversial ad, standing in a cowboy hat next to Alonso.

“He has ‘big ones,’ and he is angry,” Alonso says in Spanish, by way of translation.

The ad had San Franciscans fired up, diverting attention from a performance celebrating women and devolving into a political shouting match, Lopez told the Guardian. Threats of boycotts put Monologos de la Vagina in the crosshairs. Alonso told media outlets she’d stepped down from the play to protect her fellow performers.

“The other actors don’t have to go through this,” she said to Fox News & Friends host Clayton Morris. “They don’t deserve this. It’s on me only, they can do whatever they want with me.”

Residents of the historically Latino Mission District have good reason to be pissed at Donnelly: The Tea Party wunderkind rose to fame as a former member of the gun toting border-patrollers, the Minutemen.

“Of course she [Alonso] has a right to say whatever she wants. But we’re in the middle of the Mission. Doing what she is doing is against what we believe,” Lopez, who is also starring in the play, said in her most oft-mentioned quote in national media outlets.

In particular, Alonso’s endorsement didn’t jibe with the intention behind bringing the Spanish-language Monologos de la Vagina to the Mission’s Brava Theater, which was to celebrate the rapidly disappearing Latino/a culture of the area.

“I’ve been working on this show for almost a year trying to raise the money, find the venue, the sponsors,” she said. “My feeling was, as Latinas we have such beautiful things to offer. We have great actors and actresses who can bring things to the Mission and feel proud of. Inside me I felt, I want to bring that here, I want to do it. We can bring attention to our culture in a beautiful way, a high quality way.”

With a new actress in place, she’s ready to move beyond the controversy, Lopez said. “How do you say in English? The show must go on.” 

Cities face legal obstacle to safer biking

7

San Francisco has been blazing the trail toward safer cycling with innovative designs such as cycletracks, or bike lanes that are physically separated from cars, which have been installed on Market Street and JFK Drive. But cycletracks aren’t legal under state law, something that a San Francisco lawmaker and activist are trying to solve so that other California cities can more easily adopt them.

“Right now, many cities are not putting in cycletracks for fear they don’t conform to the Caltrans manual,” says Assemblymember Phil Ting, whose Assembly Bill 1193 — which would legalize and set design standards for cycletracks — cleared the Assembly on Jan. 29 and is awaiting action by the Senate.

Ting is working on the issue with the California Bicycle Coalition, whose executive director, Dave Snyder, is a longtime San Francisco bike activist. Snyder says Caltrans doesn’t allow bike lanes that include physical barriers against traffic, even though they are widely used in other countries and states and considered to be safest design for cyclists.

“San Francisco is technically breaking the law because they have the best traffic engineers in the state and a good City Attorney’s Office and they know they can defend it in court if they have to,” Snyder said. “Most places in the state won’t do that.”

In addition to the direct benefits of the legislation in San Francisco and other cities, Snyder said the legislation seems to be triggering a long-overdue discussion at Caltrans and other agencies about how to encourage more people to see cycling as an attractive transportation option, with all the environmental, public health, and traffic alleviation benefits that it brings.

“It’s opened up a conversation about bike lane design and Caltrans’ role in encouraging safe cycling,” Snyder told the Guardian, praising Ting for championing the legislation. “It’s having an impact beyond its immediate impact.”

In response to a request for comment, a Caltrans spokesperson said, “It’s our policy not to comment on pending legislation.”

Surveys conducted by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition have shown safety is the top concern of those considering riding to work or school more often. Ting said he hopes this legislation will address that concern: “By building more cycletracks in California, there will be increased ridership.”

Residents vs. tourists

64

steve@sfbg.com

Evictions and displacement have become San Francisco’s top political issues, amplified by protests against tech companies that are helping gentrify the city. Yet Airbnb, which facilitates the conversion of hundreds of San Francisco apartments into de facto hotel rooms, has so far avoided that populist wrath.

Tenants use the online, short-term rentals to help make rent in this increasingly expensive city, a point that the company often emphasizes.

“For thousands of families, Airbnb makes San Francisco more affordable,” Airbnb spokesperson Nick Papas wrote to the Guardian by email, citing a company survey finding that “56 percent of hosts use their Airbnb income to help pay their mortgage or rent.”

But it’s also true that Airbnb allows hundreds of rent-controlled apartments to be removed from the permanent housing market — in violation of local tenant, zoning, tax, and other laws — something that has united tenant, landlord, hotel, and labor groups against it (see “Into thin air,” 8/6/13).

“The problem is Airbnb is so easy and attractive that you can take a unit out from under rent control forever,” San Francisco tenant attorney Joseph Tobener told the Guardian.

“We’re getting 15 calls a week on Airbnb,” he said, describing four categories of complaints: landlords evicting tenants to increase rents through Airbnb, tenants complaining about neighbors using Airbnb, tenants being evicted for getting caught illegally subletting through Airbnb, and Airbnb hosts who can’t get guests to leave (city law gives even short-term residents full tenant rights, except in hotels).

There isn’t good public data on how many units are being taken off the market, but Airbnb generally lists well over 1,000 housing units in San Francisco at any given time, with its smaller competitors (such as Roomorama and VRBO) adding hundreds more.

The San Francisco Rent Board listed 326 no-fault evictions (Ellis Act, owner move-in, capital improvement) in its 2012-13 annual report. That number is almost certain to rise in the 2013-14 report due out in March, and it is compounded by an unknown number of buyouts that pressure tenants to voluntarily leave, all of it creating a displacement crisis that has galvanized the city.

“Isn’t it far more likely that more units are being lost [from the rental market] through Airbnb?” San Francisco Magazine recently quoted a UC Berkeley professor as saying in an article questioning whether Ellis Act evictions are really a “crisis.”

So Airbnb is clearly having a big impact on the city’s affordable housing crisis. Yet Airbnb is largely flying under the political radar in its hometown and ducking questions about its impacts.

“Airbnb has all the statistics we need to assess its impacts on the city’s housing market,” Tobener said. The company refuses to disclose such data. Airbnb’s customers need to consider their impacts to the city’s affordable housing crisis, Tobener added, because “there are social consequences to the decisions we make.”

 

STALLED IN LIMBO

Last year I discovered Airbnb was flouting a ruling that it should be paying the city’s 15 percent transient occupancy tax (“Airbnb isn’t sharing,” 3/19/13), a nearly $2 million per year tax dodge.

Yet Airbnb, which has quickly grown from a small start-up into a company worth nearly $3 billion, has some powerful friends in Mayor Ed Lee and venture capitalist Ron Conway, who invests in both Airbnb and Mayor Lee’s political campaigns and committees.

So the company has stonewalled Guardian inquiries for the last year as it has worked with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu on legislation that tries to bring the company’s business model into compliance with local laws. That hasn’t been easy, as Chiu told us.

“It has been difficult to corral the different stakeholders to get on the same page,” Chiu said. “Airbnb has been like unraveling an onion. The more progress we make, the more issues come up.”

Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association, says it shouldn’t be so hard. “They need to enforce the law. They need to collect the hotel tax. They don’t need new laws,” she told us.

While the city is unlikely to simply follow New’s advice, the displacement issue adds another layer to Airbnb’s onion, one that sources say has become an issue of growing concern within the company, which has finally begun to respond to Guardian inquiries.

Those concerns have also been compounded as Airbnb is now being sued by one of Tobener’s clients, Chris Butler, who says he was evicted from his rent-controlled Russian Hill apartment so the landlord could make more money through Airbnb (see “Airbnb profits prompted SF eviction, ex-tenant says,” SF Chronicle, 1/22/14).

“We strongly support rules that keep people in their homes, and the vast majority of Airbnb hosts are regular people just trying to make ends meet,” Airbnb told the Guardian. “Whatever happened in this case, we certainly do not support unscrupulous landlords who evict long term tenants solely to turn their apartments into short-term rentals, but it is important to note that experts have found such cases to be extremely rare.”

Airbnb didn’t respond to our follow-up questions, but those “expert” findings appear to be a reference to a study the company commissioned late last year from Berkeley-based Rosen Consulting Group entitled “Short-Term Rentals and Impact on Apartment Market.”

But that study of Airbnb’s impact to rental housing in San Francisco doesn’t really draw the conclusions that company seems to think and hope it does.

 

MISLEADING NUMBERS

One number that the study and Airbnb have repeatedly sought to highlight is the claim that “90 percent of Airbnb hosts in San Francisco use Airbnb to occasionally rent out only the home in which they live,” as the company put it to us.

“Airbnb users generally do not identify themselves as utilizing short-term rentals as a business. In fact, 90 percent of Airbnb hosts [in San Francisco] indicated that they live in the home listed on Airbnb,” was how the study put it.

“It’s trash. They pick and choose the data they want to share,” Tobener said of the study and the 90 percent figure, which he says was derived from a 2011 user survey before the local housing market exploded. Rosner Consulting told us it stands by the study but won’t discuss it.

The figure also lumped in those with multiple rooms in their homes that have traditionally been rented by local residents and covered by rent-control laws. It also discloses that 10 percent of Airbnb hosts are renting out outside units simply as a business, a figure that has likely risen over the last three years.

The study does disclose that there were 1,576 properties booked through the company in August 2012, which the study notes was just 0.4 percent of the 378,000 homes in San Francisco, which Airbnb uses to dismiss its impacts on the market.

But the study includes only macroeconomic data, rather than looking at the company’s impact on certain socioeconomic groups — such as those making 120 percent or less of median area income, the people being evicted from and priced out of the city — or the supply of rent-controlled housing.

“The average gross income per Airbnb property in the previous 12 months was $6,722, or an average of $564 per month,” the study discloses, choosing to use average rather than median figures even though they’re considered less accurate gauges of income and housing data.

Customers who only use Airbnb once or twice will skew those averages way down. Yet the study then compares that number to the “average market-rate apartment rent in San Francisco, which was $2,498 per month in mid-2013. The average income generated is insufficient to cover monthly rental expenses in full.”

Which tells us nothing about how Airbnb is impacting either rent-controlled housing or the median income San Franciscans who rely on it. According to the US Census Bureau, the median rent in San Francisco was $1,463 in 2012 and 64 percent of San Franciscans rent their homes.

“The study is bullshit,” Tobener said. “They could pull data and tell us how many people are renting full units on Airbnb, but they don’t.”

Yet the company claims that it is concerned about these issues and working with the city.

“We believe our community of hosts should pay applicable taxes and we are eager to discuss how this might be made possible. We’ve reached out to officials in San Francisco and we continue to have productive discussions with city leaders,” Airbnb told the Guardian. “These issues aren’t always easy, but if we work together, we can craft fair, responsible, clear rules that ensure San Francisco continues to benefit from home-sharing.”

Yet neither Airbnb nor its political supporters seem to want to have this public discussion. The company has stopped responding to our inquiries, again, and when we asked the Mayor’s Office about Airbnb’s impacts to the affordable housing market, we got this response and a refusal to directly answer either the original or follow-up questions: “The Mayor has prioritized preserving, stabilizing and growing the City’s housing stock. His policy priorities include protecting residents from eviction and displacement, including Ellis Act reform and stabilizing and protecting at-risk rent-controlled units, through rehabilitation loans and a new program to permanently stabilize rent conditions in at-risk units.”

Yet Airbnb continues to have an impact on those “at-risk rent-controlled units” that few people seem to want to discuss.