Volume 48 Number 25

Bicycling and equity: Heed the call, expand the movement


STREET FIGHT In the face of increased gasoline prices and congestion, more public awareness of the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and driving, and interest in physical activity, bicycling has experienced a mini-boom throughout the US. Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Pittsburgh, Portland, Seattle, Washington, DC, and many smaller university cities, such as Boulder and Madison, have seen impressive increases in utilitarian bicycling.

In San Francisco, 3.5 to 6 percent of all trips are made by bicycle, amounting to roughly 150,000 bicycle trips in the city each day, a jump from around 1 percent of trips in the 1990s. The majority of these trips are for utilitarian purposes such as shopping and commuting, not recreation. Stand on Market and 10th streets on any weekday and you’ll see that bicycling has surged in San Francisco. In parts of Hayes Valley, the Mission, and Upper Market, over 10 percent of commuting is by bicycle. The city’s official goal — 9 percent of all citywide trips by 2018 and 20 percent in the next decade — is important for making San Francisco more livable.

But it’s also fundamental for making San Francisco more equitable. That’s right, equitable.

In many respects, bicycling is among the most equitable forms of urban transportation because it is affordable and accessible to almost everyone. Bicycling is far cheaper, safer, healthier, and cleaner than driving, and when considering global equity, far saner for a national climate policy. And for many low income workers, bicycling is also an affordable conveyance that enables not just physical mobility but also financial stability.

Indeed, US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx points out that nationally, a third of all bike trips are made by adults making under $30,000 and that the bicycle can have a substantial role in reducing the overall cost of living for the working class. But unfortunately lower class, non-white cyclists are also more likely to be in fatal collisions.

Speaking at the annual National Bicycle Summit in Washington, DC, earlier this month, Foxx, an African American former mayor of Charlotte, N.C., said that the federal government needs to devote more attention to making bicycling part of everyday life for the working class. Emphasizing the need for safety and convenience, Foxx was especially enthused about cycletracks — bikeways that are fully separated from automobiles and offer space for women, children, and older Americans to safely navigate cities by bike.

Foxx’s address followed a day of equity-themed panels and plenaries attended by more than 700 people. The League of American Bicyclists, focused on lobbying Congress and the White House, announced a new equity agenda to reach out to women, people of color, and to focus on reinvigorating a more progressive and egalitarian tone for bicycle advocacy.

Social justice advocates and community organizers had a strong presence at the summit, which has historically reflected a whiter, upper-middle-class male constituency. One presenter discussed bicycling and women’s prison rehabilitation, sharing how women who suffered from abuse, drug addiction, and imprisonment found bicycle riding to be normalizing and helpful for personal growth and for managing depression and anxiety.

A panel session titled “Learning from Los Angeles” showed how advocacy for bicycling can also come from community-based organizations, not just bicycle groups. Social justice issues are fundamental to LA’s inner city bicycle movement; over a third of South Central Los Angeles households are car free, and community organizers there have made a clearer connection between economic inequity and environmental problems.

Advocates from New York City chimed in that it was time for a “minority bicycle coalition” to advocate for women, minorities, and immigrant bicycle delivery workers. They pointed out that New York’s new and much-vaunted bike infrastructure has mainly spread in more affluent, white parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, while Queens is overlooked. A speaker from the NAACP put obesity and public health at the center of the civil rights agenda and remarked on how the bike lifestyle should be brought to African American neighborhoods.

A discussion of emerging bike share systems asked how to expand to minority populations, and provided examples of how Boston subsidizes bike share membership for low income members. Boston also relaxes the charges for exceeding 30-minute rides and is figuring out ways to enable those without credit cards to participate.

Once a cynic about bike share, I experienced firsthand the benefits of a truly extensive, practical bike share system in Washington, DC (note to San Francisco — it was NOT covered in Wells Fargo or Google corporate logos). If bike share is extended to the Excelsior, Bayview, Balboa Park, Daly City, and SF State, it will work for the working class and students.

One of the most inspiring personas at the Bike Summit was Terry O’Neill, director of the National Organization for Women, who asked that bicycle advocates get beyond simply advocating for bikes. O’Neill prodded cyclists to ask: What do we need to do to make bicycling useful to women? And then she laid it out eloquently. Build affordable housing — lots of it — in areas where it is most needed, such as affluent Montgomery County, a suburb of DC, or in places like Hayes Valley and Silicon Valley. By creating the spatial proximity that makes cycling practical, women (and men) can incorporate cycling while balancing jobs, household chores, and children. This would do more to increase bicycling (and equity) than simply striping new bike lanes.

Her point is that for cycling to be logical for women, especially in complex metropolitan areas like DC or the Bay Area, well-planned and centrally located affordable housing is key. Perhaps it is time for the San Francisco Bike Coalition and Silicon Valley Bike Coalition, with their wealth of talent and donors, to create staff positions focusing on the bicycle-housing nexus and build strong partnerships with those who are fighting to build and preserve affordable housing in job- and amenity-rich areas.

Dovetailing from that, the newly elected mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, himself a convert to bicycling, urged bicycle advocates to be an active partner in local progressive political coalitions and to work with non-bike groups such as labor unions and housing advocates. Peduto was among a handful of prominent politicians, mostly mayors and members of Congress, espousing the wisdom of linking bicycling and equity as part of the urban agenda.

The overall message is clear. Cities need to move beyond the neoliberal creative class storyline about bicycling, which says that a successful city is one that has a youthful, fit, but affluent stratum for bicycles. We need to be careful about praising the bicycle as a profitable economic development strategy for Realtors who up the rent as part of a commodified package of livability.

Sure, it’s great to see a bike lane on mid-Market, and there should definitely be more. But a successful city is not one where developers and Realtors see bike lanes and gentrify the neighborhood. A successful city is one where working class women feel safe to bike, where teachers, construction workers, and nurses can use the bicycle for many local trips, where African Americans and Latinos feel included in the bicycling movement, and where service workers and immigrants can safely maneuver the city and region by bicycle without fear of being hit by a car or truck. And the true mark of success is when all of these people can afford to live in the city and travel by bicycle.

On the Rise: Avalon Emerson


That delectable boom you hear on dance floors across the city and SoundCloud mixes throughout the cloud-cosmos, overlayed with an earworm diced-diva sample and frenzy-inducing keyboard clang? It’s “Pressure,” the January release from DJ and techno wiz Kahley Avalon Emerson (who goes by her last two names) on local label Icee Hot.

“Pressure’s” a seven-minute beast, and B-side “Quoi” is even deeper, with a smooth acid tune-up mix from the Tuff City Kids. The entire epic shebang has been invading parties like Honey Soundsystem, As You Like It, Icee Hot itself, and Emerson’s own monthly blast, Play It Cool.

And although “Pressure” has been hitting hard in the UK and Australia as well, Emerson is all about transmitting her electronic savvy with a distinctly San Franciscan sensibility. “My next release will drop March 25th on another SF (by way of Paris) label called Spring Theory,” she told us. “It’s called ‘Church of SoMa,’ affectionately named after a big 12-room house in that neighborhood, where I lived and learned to DJ when I first moved here in 2009. It’s more dubby and deep, and it features me singing and playing the Fender Rhodes.”

Emerson came here “to work in tech and get out of Arizona,” but she’s always expressed herself musically. “I’ve been a songwriter since I was a little girl. I was first bit by the studio bug in high school when I bought a few different kinds of microphones, pirated Cool Edit Pro, and recorded my friends’ garage bands. I always liked recording and producing much more than ‘jamming.'”

Heady electronic and house artists like dark-dubby Berliner Shed and Detroit mad scientists Theo Parrish and Carl Craig inspired her to explore more experimental production techniques, and she’s been working with expressionistic, pioneering guitar-software performer Christopher Willits “who has helped me engineer my tracks in his beautiful studio in the East Bay.”

‘Church of SoMa” will help cement Emerson’s emergence on the world techno scene, but she’s got plenty of tunes – and local inspiration — in the vault to keep her momentum going. “For the most part, my music is made to be listened to on a big club sound system — it’s a playful expression of my interests.”

How do you survive here as a musician? What’s the best and worst thing about being a musician in the Bay Area?

SF is not really a place people move to in order to pursue music, and since we’ve been in quite a bit of national news lately, it’s somewhat exotic to be from here. Other than that, it’s so far away from Europe and the East Coast that it’s a little harder to tour. Being a DJ in a 2 o’clock shutdown town with a dwindling selection of alternative music spaces can be a drag, too. But there are venues here like Public Works that have a great sound system and staff, and impressive artists like Matrixxman, Aria Rostam, and Some Ember (who have a killer live show). Also, I love the pho here.

Weirdest thing that’s happened at a show?

Well, last month in Seattle the drugged-out asshat playing after me dropped his Traktor laptop on my record just as I was finishing up my set. I then punished him by playing the entirety of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which is not an easy song or vibe to follow up.

Avalon Emerson on SoundCloud

On the Rise: Major Powers & the Lo-Fi Symphony


Surefire way to stand out in the musical landscape right now: Have an obviously playful, self-aware, lyrical sense of humor about your music, and also be exceedingly good musicians, songwriters and entertaining live performers — i.e., take it seriously without taking it too seriously. It’s not easy to do, but man, do Major Powers & the Lo-Fi Symphony make it look fun.

Pianist Nick Powers and brothers Kevin and Dylan Gautschi, on guitar and drums respectively (they all sing), are from the North-East Bay towns of Crockett and Port Costa, where they all grew up playing in bands from a young age. But it wasn’t until the trio formed in 2011 that the Major Powers sound emerged, fully formed, ready to conquer the world — or, at least, the eardrums of anyone who assumed there’d never be an heir to Queen’s glam-rock throne. When pressed, Powers says the band’s genre could be described as “Adventure Rock™” or “Mary Poppins meets Weezer” or “Freddie Mercury and Tom Waits in a cliff-diving competition” or “Danny Elfman making out with Indiana Jones while they play Dungeons & Dragons.”

Throw in an educated series of jokes about Russian history, sweeping musical theater-style choruses, They Might Be Giants-esque verbal gymnastics, and serious piano chops, and you get a grin-inducing live show, to say the least. The band gained traction with a few singles and a 7-inch last year, but they’re currently in the studio, hammering away on a full-length that they hope to tour with by the end of 2014 (working title: Now This Is Happening). In the meantime, you should catch them on March 26 at Slim’s and/or at BottleRock Napa at the end of May.

Where does the name come from?

Nick: I woke up from sleeping on the couch one night after my wife kicked me out of bed for snoring too loud. And I sat up and said, “the Lo-Fi Symphony.” The band was tossing that one around along with some other options. Then a week or two later Dylan (the drummer’s) girlfriend Alana says, “name it Major Powers & The Lo-Fi Symphony.” I like to make it clear to people that I didn’t name the band after myself. I think I’m awesome, but not that awesome. But what am I supposed to do, turn down a band name with my last name in it?

Weirdest thing that’s happened at a show?

I have a half-sister who likes to come to shows sometimes and yell at me that I’m fatter than Zach Galifianakis in between songs. I love her dearly. Also when we did a release at Slim’s last year, and another one at Bottom of the Hill before that, the front 10 or 15 rows were singing along with every lyric. That’s fucking awesome as fuck, and super-duper surreal.

Everyone loves Queen. Why aren’t there more Queen-inspired bands right now?

I think every music epoch has a zeitgeist. Musicians see some A-wave band hitting it big, so it behooves them to emulate that band. It makes financial sense. Nirvana starts blowing up, and then bands all around the world start getting their grunge on…the Lumineers play the Grammys with a two-minute hey-ho bridgeless Nu-folk anthem, and then like 600,000 Nu-folk urban prairie bands start storming the scene. There’s certainly a ’70s-blues-rock-swamp revival going pretty strong right now that was spurred on by some popular A-wavers. Right?

I think it’s great. It’d be easy to lament some ostensible groupthink mentality, but I don’t…also, whatever kind of music a band is playing is just basically the kind of music they like the most. It moves them.

Part 2 of the answer: Theatrical-style stuff is a little more dorky than your average whatever. It’s not as sexy or cool as a lot of genres, and the road to Cleveland is littered with the bones of sexy, dangerous band corpses. Singing about dorky shit for five minutes with intricate Disney melodies isn’t really a recipe for getting laid (a lot).


On the Rise: Friction Quartet


Opening for infamously iconoclastic, 40-year-old Bay Area contemporary music heroes Kronos Quartet, as the young Friction Quartet did earlier this year, might launch even the most experienced string player into a bow-snapping fit of nerves. But the Friction foursome was built on determination and fearlessness. “I wanted to start a contemporary string quartet since I was in high school,” co-founder and violinist Kevin Rogers explained. “Doug [Machiz] and I decided that if he ever moved to San Francisco, that we would form one together. A year later, we founded Friction Quartet.”

Cellist Machiz, who hails from Washington, D.C., had his own contemporary music conversion high in the Italian Alps with Rogers, playing Philip Glass’s third string quartet with Rogers at the Zephyr Music Festival. (They opened for Kronos with an exhilarating take on Glass’s fifth string quartet). Friction’s other members — Alaskan violist Taija Warbelow and violinist Otis Harriel, from Arcata — joined for a breathless, edgy past two years, featuring a run of festival dates, 26 commissions, and 22 premieres. Highlights include Transmediation, “a ground-breaking exploration of composer-performer-audience interaction through technology”; Unmanned, a resonant, war-themed environmental-electronic piece by Ian Dicke; and the odd haunting Radiohead cover here and there.

“Initially, finding other like-minded musicians was difficult,” Rogers said, but now the quartet seems up for anything — including reaching a larger audience with their upcoming debut studio album EQM. “It stands for Electronic Quartet Music, a play on the Electronic Dance Music genre, and reflects our interest in all kinds of music.” In May, the quartet will perform “A Show of Hands” at ODC Theater with dance company Garrett-Moulton Productions, and June will see an appearance at the Switchboard presents series. Oh, and they’re also involved in “Little Opera,” an after-school program that guides children through the process of creating an opera, from music to story to costumes.

Rogers summarizes the friction between life and art that sparks creativity and draws many to contemporary music: “Despite, or possibly because of, growing up in the South, I was opposed to a lot of the ideas from the culture. Specifically the conservative ideas about how one should act, or what political party they should follow. I always stuck out a little bit, being this guy that played violin and wrote poetry and advocated for the rights of those who were different. What better place to move to than San Francisco?”

What musicians or works of music have inspired you?

Taija: March from The Love of Three Oranges by Prokofiev — I used to listen to it endlessly on repeat. The work ethic of Midori and Hilary Hahn. Cat Empire also makes me very happy.

Otis: Henryk Szeryng’s Bach Ciaccone, watching violinist Jascha Heifetz’s first movement of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, Justice, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Doug: Radiohead, Tortoise, and Bang on a Can All Stars are huge influences for me. Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture” is the piece that inspired me to study the cello.

Kevin: My three major teachers; Nan Hudson, William Terwilliger, and Bettina Mussumeli; Radiohead, Johnny Greenwood, Gidon Kremer (violinist), Kronos Quartet, and eighth blackbird.

What’s the most underrated local act that people should know more about?

Kevin: The Living Earth Show, another post-classical group. They are an electric guitar and percussion duo that slides easily between the realms of the most esoteric contemporary art music and the dirtiest rock-influenced traditions. Check out “north pacific garbage patch” on Soundcloud.


On the Rise: Rocky Rivera


Take it from this one: Most music journalists are not secretly very talented musicians, toiling away in writers’ clothes. Most emcees, of course, are not Rocky Rivera — a San Francisco-born rapper whose love of hip-hop first took the form of a journalism career, including covering the Bay Area’s hip-hop scene for this very publication, Rolling Stone, and others.

In 2008, “trading her Moleskines for microphones,” as she puts it, she became Rocky Rivera, cribbing her stage name from a fellow Filipina-American heroine in the 1996 novel Gangster of Love, by SF author Jessica Hagedorn. The book now also shares a title with Rivera’s second full-length album, which dropped in October 2013.

It’s an album that commands hip-hop fans to sit up and take notice — sharp but not overproduced, lyrical and gutteral, with beats that both pay homage to the ’80s and ’90s (when Rivera was a teenager going to Balboa High School, then SFSU, listening to Queen Latifah, Salt n’ Pepa, and MC Lyte) and showcase the emcee’s lightning-quick tongue and take-no-BS feminist message. Her devotees range from hardcore rap fans across the country to the East Oakland kids who are part of the after-school programs she helps coordinate in, yes, her other other life as a teacher. Suffice it to say, she’s a busy woman.

What were your inspirations for this record?

The new album was inspired by all the happenings in the world since my first album in 2010. So much had transpired politically across the globe, from the Arab Spring, to Oscar Grant, Pussy Riot — all of that affected my need to write something as a soundtrack to an uprising. I also got a ton of inspiration from reading the Hunger Games trilogy, which made me want to create something that would be a drumbeat to political and social change and have the perfect amount of agitation and aggression.

I also have the fun songs in there. “Jockin’ Me” was one where I just told my best friends and bandmates, DJ Roza, and Irie Eyez, to drink a bunch of whiskey and hop in the booth and talk shit.

What are you most proud of so far as a musician?

Providing people an alternative to the kind of hip-hop music that is damaging to the human psyche. There is no more introspection or social analysis in music anymore, and every song I write is a personal way to connect to my fans. I found myself complaining about the lack of this and that and saw it was more constructive to create what I found missing in hip-hop, not just as a woman, but as a progressive person of color who is proud of her history and of growing up in San Francisco.

Weirdest thing that’s happened at a show?

Someone heckled me about Breaking Bad not being progressive or something. They obviously have no idea what the hell they’re talking about. I almost kicked her out for not respecting the legacy of Walter White.

Bay Area food item you couldn’t (metaphorically) live without?

Roxie’s sandwiches!


On the Rise: Nu Dekades


“If Rakim and MC Lyte had a baby” is the short version, when you ask the Oakland duo Nu Dekades — made up of writer-emcees RyanNicole and K.E.V., for Kickin’ Every Verse — for a description of their sound. But the longer version is worth hearing, too.

“By iTunes standards, we are defined simply as hip-hop, but we describe our sound as the convergence of Black music combining elements of jazz, funk, soul, and reggae…as expressed through hip hop,” explains RyanNicole, an Oakland native who’s also stage actress — this spring she’ll appear in the California Shakespeare Theater’s production of A Raisin In The Sun. The pair considers themselves anthropologists for the genre, describing their second full-length album, 2013’s NEXUS, as “a love song to our people…people of the African diaspora, experiencing life in the context of color, be it beautiful or tragic.”

What that means sonically: A warm, energetic landscape of old-school hip-hop built over the French producer Dela’s jazzy beats, be-bop influences that recall Digable Planets, but with the emcees trading verses that displays a thoroughly modern determination — a lyrical focus that’s not afraid to be directly political or spiritual, or both at the same time.

“We’re not studio revolutionaries,” says RyanNicole. “Kev and I are products and servants of our community, and our stances and statements do not come from a thin veneer of political experience or social awareness, as may be the case with many ‘conscious’ artists.” The duo is at work on their third record, tentatively titled Recomposition, and have plans to tour in the second half of 2014.

How do you survive here as a musician? What’s the best and worst thing about being a musician in the Bay Area?

A mentor of ours used to say to us that “Real MCs have day jobs.” We certainly do, as we are the primary funders of our own projects&ldots;also, we are learning that, ironically, as much as we love the Bay, the best way for the Bay to love us back is to perform elsewhere. Gil Scott Heron said “home is where the hatred is.” We’ve come to learn that home doesn’t necessarily love you until another place validates you. That truism is the best and worst thing about being a musician in the Bay.

Weirdest /coolest thing that’s happened at a show?

Everything about performing is cool and weird! Rocking shows and being respected in cyphers with people we grew up listening to, like MC Lyte, Camp Lo, and Phife of A Tribe Called Quest. One of our weirdest shows — we performed in front of a very small audience of mostly drug addicts. It was one of the smallest and liveliest crowds we’ve ever rocked!

Nu Dekades on Bandcamp

On the Rise: Annie Girl & the Flight


The first time I saw Annie Girl & the Flight play, I started thinking about what it is, exactly, that makes a frontwoman: Annie Girl’s voice is a disaffected sing-song (Mazzy Star meets Kathleen Hanna?) that belies a dark, jagged well of feeling at the heart of the music; that’s surely front and center, layered over bandmate Josh Pollock’s slow-building wall of guitar. But it’s her absolute lack of showiness, her refusal to be anything other than exactly what she is, and her tendency to attract the entire room’s focus and energy not in spite of but because of that quality that makes her someone to watch: She has all the specific makings of a star who doesn’t seem to give a shit that she’s a star.

A Colorado native, Annie moved to the Bay Area three years ago, at age 17, on something of a whim: “I’d been attending community college, getting ready to transfer to the state school, when the dean accidentally gave me the wrong date for the application deadline,” she says. “I missed it by a day, took that as a sign, and bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco.”

Having grown up playing in Denver punk bands, she found that Northern California brought out a different sound in her songwriting — what she now calls the band’s mix of “super slow, hypnotic folk and loud, trance-inducing, art-rock.”

Add in supporting players who are veteran musicians — Pollock’s played with psych-rock giants like Gong as well as SF bands like Foxtails Brigade and the one and only Bobb Saggeth; bassist Joe Lewis is a regular on the local folk circuit (Rupa and the April Fishes, Kacey Johansing, Fpodbod), drummer Nick Ott also plays with Emily Jane White and Vanish — and the result is magnetic. Their recently released single “Betray the Sea” is the first off their new EP, Pilot Electric, which they’ll debut May 2 at The Chapel.


Best and worst thing about being a musician in the Bay Area?

Josh: The best thing is that it’s the Bay Area, which seems to be one of the better places to live on this Earth. Also, if you want to do something artistically, you can do just do it — you don’t need a Kickstarter campaign, or a board of directors, or investors, you can just do it. Maybe no one will care, but you don’t have to wait around for some higher power to give you the keys to the kingdom. The worst thing is that everyone knows this, so everyone wants to live here, so it’s laceratingly expensive.

Most underrated local act (other than you)?

Nick: Most underrated local act is probably Bronze. They are the best psychedelic art rock band since Silver Apples.

Annie: Ash Reiter, Everyone is Dirty, Li Xi, Yesway, FpodBpod, Lee Gallagher & The Hallelujah, Sugar Candy Mountain, Kelly McFarling, Michael Musika. The Bay Area is overflowing with incredible music, all you have to do is go out and find it.

First record you remember loving?

Annie: “Once In A Lifetime” by the Talking Heads. When I was a baby my parents discovered that playing the Talking Heads kept me from crying.



On the Rise: Meklit Hadero


How to describe a Meklit Hadero performance? Warm, bluesy upright bass; bright trumpet and saxophone. Elements of classic ’60s folk by way of acoustic guitar, a lean toward R&B and soul, lyrics that blend personal and political, the intimate and the universal. The unmistakable influence of the music of Ethiopia — the singer’s country of birth — shapes her music as it darts between genres. But what sucks you in, what keeps your eyes and ears locked on Meklit, what makes an unselfconscious Damn start to grow at the back of your mouth is her voice: Lilting, sensuous, capable of the leap from staccato jazz-cat to honeyed songbird, she conveys both fragility and great strength in a single line.

Meklit, who often goes by her first name, grew up in Washington DC, Iowa, Brooklyn, and Florida after her family moved to the US when she was just shy of two years old. Throughout the moves, she was always singing. “As a kid I saw two paths…[one] that led to a kind of cult of fame, which wasn’t really my thing. The second path was a more academic approach to music, which I also didn’t like,” she says. “I was interested in music that engaged with the world around it, and artists who were cultural voices that mattered.”

She didn’t begin making music professionally until moving to San Francisco, however, post-Yale, at age 24. Here, she found an artists’ community that was “still reeling from the first dot-com bust,” with “artists picking up the slack and making noise with all sorts of street-level organizing.” The Red Poppy Art House and the Mission Arts and Performance Project both served as launching pads for her live performances, which led to recording. Ten years later, she’s been a TED Global Fellow, served as an artist-in-residence at NYU, and completed musical commissions for the San Francisco Foundation and the Brava Theatre.

Meklit’s second full-length album, We Are Alive, has her backed by Darren Johnston on trumpet, Lorca Hart on drums, and Sam Bevan on bass. The record is currently garnering critical praise from NPR, USA Today, and other national media hot-shots, and the year is shaping up to be a busy one — in addition to touring North America and traveling to Rio for a TED conference, Meklit will be working on an arts installation with YBCA called “Home (Away From) Home” with Ethiopian and Eritrean artists based in the Bay Area. We in the Bay Area also get her record release show, at Great American Music Hall on April 2.

Influences: Caetano Veloso taught me that you could write a song about anything, Aster Aweke taught me that the human voice can express absolutely any emotion if you lead it the right way. Michael Jackson taught me that you can create an entire dance style all on your own. Nina Simone taught me that the raw moments are what stay with people once the song is done. Miles Davis taught me to never sit still and sit on a sound that is bring you success. Keep moving! John Coltrane taught me that you can hear when sound comes from intense inner searching. David Byrne taught me that a little humor and absurdity goes along way.

The first album I ever loved was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I remember being four years old and dancing to it in the living room of our tiny Iowa apartment. I really wore the entire record out. I even wrote a fan letter to MJ when I was five. It took more than a year but his fan club wrote back.

Weirdest/coolest thing that’s happened at a show? In 2011, I went on a tour of Ethiopia with my band. We were performing at the foot of the ancient castles in Gondar, with electricity borrowed from the local Red Cross. It had been storming all day long and the power in the whole city suddenly went down. Folks started driving their cars with the headlights on to light the stage. The sense of possibility was palpable. My cousin, emcee Gabriel Teodros, climbed on top of another car and begin rapping to the crowd from there. Suddenly, the electricity was back, the crowd went wild, and the band continued to play. That was pretty epic.


On the Rise



Have you heard the news? Bohemia is dying. All the musicians are leaving San Francisco. Our favorite venues and dingy little clubs are all closing up shop, and being replaced by artisan cocktail bars filled with Google Glasses and reclaimed wood toilet seats.

OK, so some of that is true. The music scene is changing, to be sure; how could it not, with the influx of wealth over the past few years? Yes, we’re sad about Cafe du Nord. Yes, we’re worried about the Elbo Room.

What’s also true: We still have one of the richest musical histories anywhere in the world, and artists aren’t going to stop flocking here anytime soon. One glance at our listings section will tell you there’s live music to be found every single night of the week, and San Francisco’s small size relative to its population — a major factor in the current wave of gentrification and the state of the real estate market — also means that the vast array of genres here, and the communities that exist around different music scenes, all hum along pretty much on top of each other.

In one night, you could take in a jazz jam session in the Haight, a hardcore band in the outer Mission, an Irish folk quartet in North Beach, a synthwave producer in SoMa, a hip-hop show in the Western Addition, and, um, Macaulay Culkin’s pizza-themed Velvet Underground tribute band in the Richmond. (I’ve done all of these recently, and I only regret that last one.) That’s not even touching on the East Bay, which — despite being pronounced almost like an epithet in the city lately, as in “Everyone’s having to move to the East Bay” — is arguably fostering some of the most interesting, nascent micro-scenes in music right now.

With that in mind, we at the Guardian set out to pick 10 artists that we thought deserved our attention in the coming year. We couldn’t narrow it past 11. (Click that first photo up there for a slideshow.) This year’s On the Rise acts come from so many different worlds, have been inspired by so many different artists — Freddie Mercury, MC Lyte, and the 19th century composer Hector Berlioz all make appearances, to give you a taste — and, unsurprisingly, they all make incredibly different kinds of music. Some of these artists are Bay Area natives; some were born on other continents. What they have in common (aside from talent) is a love of this place, its people, its weirdness, and yes, its challenges.

We love them back. And we don’t plan on letting them go anywhere else anytime soon.

Smotherly love



Lots of big-budget English-language movies are made in Romania now, because it has good production facilities, flexibly “period” locations, and most importantly because it’s probably still a lot cheaper to shoot there than wherever your story is actually set (whether 17th-century France or even contemporary suburban America). But that trend started nearly a quarter century ago, when producers of low-rent horror movies (notably Full Moon, with its Subspecies and Puppetmaster series) realized they could film whole movies right where Dracula came from, for less than their LA catering budget.

That sort of thing continues today, and there’s even a Full Moon Festival that is the country’s only annual horror/sci-fi showcase. Yet in terms of actual Romanian movies, made by and (at least theoretically) for Romanians, horror has never gotten much of a foothold. The Romanian New Wave that began making waves internationally about a decade ago is as far from guilty pleasure genre terrain as possible, being heavy on the very long takes, cryptic narratives, and bleak realism of a particular, stratifying form of high art cinema. You could make a case for some being psychological horror stories, like Cristian Mungiu’s 2007 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the cheerful tale of two young women trying to get one illegal abortion amid the pro-life climate of the Ceausescu dictatorship.

At last, however, Romania has come up with its very own, original, terrifying monster movie. Yes, it is only psychological “horror,” replete with more long takes, cryptic narrative aspects, and bleak realism. But nothing has been quite as skin-crawling a filmic experience in a while as watching Luminita Gheorghiu as a Bucharest grande dame practicing her particular form of Machiavellian maternal concern in Child’s Pose. It’s a good thing Mother’s Day is still some weeks away, because here is a movie you will need to shake off before regarding your own “I carried you for nine months” claim-staker with anything but fear and loathing.

Cornelia Keneres (Gheorghiu) is introduced kvetching by phone to a friend about her son’s girlfriend — one who, being insufficiently Brahmin-born (among other things), she does not approve of. But you sense right away she wouldn’t approve of anyone who complicated her successful apron-string strangulation of said only child. She plumbs (and plies with unwanted secondhand-clothing gifts) their discomfited, shared housekeeper for every possible detail about what Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) has said and done of late. She clucks over the affairs of other people’s children with similarly well upholstered, upper-class Bucharest matrons you just know steered their families’ good fortunes with iron-butterfly will through the awkward transition from corrupt old Communist regime to brave new capitalist world. One such pal is a none-too-retired veteran opera diva who, while coaching two young singers in front of a small audience, can’t resist butting in on the junior soprano’s part repeatedly.

Cornelia is appreciating this spectacle — selfish, war-painted gorgons must stick together — when she gets an emergency call with some bad news. Her thirtysomething “boy,” driving recklessly on a country road, has hit and killed an actual boy. Swooping down like a mother hawk, she immediately sets about intimidating the local police and trying to revise the statement Barbu has already given them.

This might be a heartrending tale of sacrifice and love under tragic circumstances, if it weren’t for the fact that Cornelia is palpably a horrible, horrible person, and her son — who shows no signs of being much better — hates her guts. The child he killed is an inconvenient abstract for her, and one suspects what Barbu feels is less guilt than an all-consuming self-pity that this should happen to him. Jobless, hapless, and pampered, he’s the kind of terminal manboy who will never be able to make decisions of his own, or stop resenting his parents for making them on his behalf. (Actually dad, played by Florin Zamfirescu, has clearly long since given up on both of them in disgust.) He whines, he chafes in his mother’s presence. But notably, he doesn’t tell her to stop meddling, because he’s too weak to either save his own ass or accept the criminal punishment that would befall most people in his position. The line between love and control may blur between them, but it’s not about to be severed.

This Golden Bear winner by Calin Peter Netzer, who co-wrote it with Razvan Radulescu, is a bit over infatuated with handheld jerky-cam at first, a distracting aesthetic choice that does not heighten the immediacy of its mostly cold, conversational scenes. But Netzer (whose prior features, 2003’s Maria and 2009’s Medal of Honor, were well-received if little seen beyond the festival circuit) settles down after a while, his film’s impact gathering as the camera grows more and more still. There are chillingly well-realized tête-à-têtes between Cornelia and her Barbu’s well-intentioned, overmatched girlfriend (Ilinca Goia); Cornelia and a reptilian accident witness (Vlad Ivanov) she hopes to bribe into changing his testimony; then a blood-freezing standoff between Cornelia and Barbu himself.

Finally, she meets with the parents of the dead child, two “very simple people” whose desire for justice she tries every trick in the book to manipulate. It’s a bravura performance of grief, empathy, and desperation, such that Cornelia might even believe it herself. Like her bleached hair, the emotions she expresses have been inauthentic for so long she can no longer tell the difference. Recalling the mother monster in the Alien movies, she just does what she has to in order to protect offspring who probably won’t even be grateful. And like that ghoul, she has umpteen ways to eviscerate anyone who gets in the way. *


CHILD’S POSE opens Fri/21 in Bay Area theaters.

Hot dog



SUPER EGO The daytime drinking season has kicked off in full force — it’s also kicked off my face, judging from this hangover. (El Rio patio, I’m blurrily looking at you.) Kidding, I haven’t had a hangover since 1976, and that was a love hangover. Also shitty coke.

Especially hot right now that we’re apparently skipping spring and going straight into summer: cramming like a desperate half-naked penguin community on the grassy strip of land left while they’re rejiggering Dolores Park. The fruit shelf overfloweth with closer encounters. Seriously, it looks like a refugee camp for huddled hipster masses up there. Hang on to your dreams, beautiful people! And also, where’d you get that cute tank top?



Nice one: a high-energy electro benefit for childhood cancer research, with a huge lineup that features two classic Bay Area DJs, Denise and Forest Green, going back to back. Wear gold!

Thu/20, 8pm-3am, $15–$20, 18+. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St, SF. www.dnalounge.com



The Neapolitan titan of techno still reps a tasty, stripped-down underground Ibiza sound — which is a great way to slide into sunny times.

Thu/20, 9pm-3am, $15 advance, $20. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com



One of my favorite DJs and remixers ever, with a sound so buoyant, with a touch of the surreal, that he’ll make you dance to anything — including Lana del Ray.

Thu/20, 9pm, $10. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com



Love this classic Boston duo, which was essential in bringing slow ‘n sexy (not to mention a flood of ’90s R&B memories) back to dance floors in the late-2000s.

Thu/20, 9:30pm, $15. Monarch, 101 Sixth St, SF. www.monarchsf.com



The German recombinant house wiz is back, now in a poppier mode with the big-label release of his Glow album. He’ll still take you to strangely nostalgic places that never really existed.

Fri/21, 9pm-late, $22. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com



George Evelyn has swung from classic UK techno innovator to funky chill out cool cat in the 25 years he’s been making records. It’s all perfect for dancing.

Sat/22, 9pm-late, $15 advance. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com



This Parisian house purist hits the sweet spot — you can tell he just loves the sounds that make a record jump on the floor. He’s opening for energetic Spanish newcomer Uner.

Fri/21, 10pm, $10–$20. Audio, 316 11th St, SF. www.audiosf.com



The Honey Soundsystem and Icee Hot crews team up to showcase this seminal Chicago down-and-dirty house label, with Paul Johnson, Jammin’ Gerald, and Parris Mitchell showing us how it’s done.

Sat/22, 9pm-4am, $15 advance, $20. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com


Uber adjusts insurance policy in wake of fatal collision


Transportation Network Companies, more commonly known as “rideshares,” have operated in legal limbo regarding their insurance since their creation. This came to a head on New Year’s Eve with the death of six-year-old Sofia Liu, who was killed in a collision with an Uber car driven by a man named Syed Muzzafar. Uber claimed in a blog post that because Muzzafar was not ferrying a passenger at the time, and only using the app to search for fares, that he was not officially covered by their insurance.

That insurance gap left Muzzafar on the hook for the little girl’s death and the injuries of her family, the subject of a lawsuit that could end up seeking some $20 million in damages.

So far, Uber has not provided any compensation to Liu’s family. But it has revised its insurance policy, suggesting future collisions may be covered.

In a blog post, Uber announced that “in order to fully address any ambiguity or uncertainty around insurance coverage for ridesharing services,” it would expand drivers’ insurance “to cover any potential ‘insurance gap’ for accidents that occur while drivers are not providing transportation service for hire but are logged onto the Uber network and available to accept a ride.”

Uber’s new policy will cover up to $100,000 per incident for bodily injuries and $25,000 per incident for property damage. But the blog specifies that the money will not kick in if a driver’s personal insurance covers a collision, as appears to be the case with the New Year’s Eve incident.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick said that the Syed Muzzafar’s personal insurance policy had offered to pay the claim, but had not yet followed through.

Uber’s spokesperson Andrew Noyes declined to comment when we asked him about this.

Notably, a coalition of rideshares including Lyft and Sidecar and a handful of insurance companies banded together to develop new insurance policies. The group’s work is ongoing, though the intent looks positive — new insurance policies specific to Transportation Network Companies developed by a coalition of industries would be a great step for driver, passenger and pedestrians alike.

But for now, commercial and personal insurance policies rarely, if ever, cover TNC drivers. And Uber’s new insurance? It’s great, as long as Uber follows through. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)

Indecisive Democrats let real-estate developers win

By a slim margin, the governing body of the San Francisco Democratic Party voted Wed/12 to oppose a controversial June ballot measure, Proposition B, concerning waterfront height limits.

The initiative would require city officials to get voter approval before approving new building projects that are taller than what’s legally sanctioned under a comprehensive waterfront land-use plan. Prop. B stems from an effort last November, authored by the same proponents, to reverse approval for a luxury waterfront development project called 8 Washington, which exceeded building height limits. In the run-up to that election, the DCCC sided against the 8 Washington developers, and aligned itself with those seeking to strike down the 8 Washington height-limit increase in order to kill the project.

But this time, under the leadership of chair Mary Jung — who is employed as a lobbyist for the San Francisco Association of Realtors — the DCCC came down on the side of powerful real-estate developers.

The vote was surprising to some longtime political observers, given that until recently the DCCC was known as a progressive stronghold in San Francisco politics. Its slate cards are distributed to Democrats throughout San Francisco, and Democrats make up the vast majority of city voters.

In a politically significant outcome, the DCCC’s opposition to Prop. B was decided by a slim 13 to 12 vote. The threshold for it to pass or fail was much lower than usual, because so many DCCC members simply refused to take a stand.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu — who not only opposed 8 Washington but helped gather signatures for the referendum to challenge it — was among those who abstained. Chiu’s decision to abstain sets him apart from Campos, his opponent in the upcoming Assembly race, who voted to endorse Prop. B. Had Chiu voted, Prop. B’s opponents would not have had the votes to get the upper hand.

When reached for comment, Chiu told the Bay Guardian he still hasn’t formed an opinion on the measure, and that he’s waiting on a pending city analysis and the outcome of a lawsuit challenging it.

“There’s been very little analysis and I could take money away from affordable housing and cost the city money fighting a lawsuit,” he said, citing the money that developers would be spending on political campaigns as the potential source of affordable housing money.

“I am open to supporting the measure, as someone who passionate about waterfront development,” he added, citing the lead role he took in opposing the 8 Washington project. (Rebecca Bowe)


Local support for national LGBT housing rights

At the Tue/11 Board of Supervisors meeting, Sup. David Campos introduced legislation to encourage large-scale developers to protect the housing rights of the LGBT community.

Same-sex couples nationwide are more likely to experience discrimination in their search for senior housing, a study by the Washington, D.C. based Equal Rights Center found.

To investigate, testers posed as gay or straight couples with otherwise nearly identical credentials, then submitted inquiries on senior housing in 10 different states. They discovered that in 96 out of 200 tests, those posing as lesbian, gay or bisexual residents experienced at least one type of adverse, differential treatment.

Meanwhile, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender U.S. residents has been refused a home or apartment, and more than one in ten has been evicted, because of their gender identity.

Federal law does not expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. California law does, as do laws in 19 other states. Given these gaps in legal protection, real-estate providers can adopt their own policies to prohibit LGBT discrimination.

Campos’ proposal would require large-scale developers who wish to build in San Francisco to prove their commitment to equal housing opportunities.

“We want to know whether a developer hoping to build in San Francisco is protecting LGBT housing rights when they own or manage housing in states where legal protections don’t exist,” Campos explained. “By collecting this information, we can highlight best practices and urge those who do not have these policies to do the right thing.”

Cops on campus


Historic new protections are now in place for children facing police action in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Reforms include having a parent present when police question a child, tracking police presence in schools, and using a more lenient approach than simply dragging kids off to the police station or juvenile hall. All of these may be strengthened by a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the SFUSD and SFPD.

The MOU, passed by the Board of Education at its Feb. 25 meeting, places new restraints on police officers when they come into schools, with specific outlines for when schools should call police, board President Sandra Lee Fewer told the Guardian.

“It’s about changing student behavior, versus punishment,” she said. The agreement dovetails with the district’s new restorative practices initiative aimed to decrease reliance on suspensions to correct behavioral problems (see “Suspending judgment,” 12/3/13).

All sides say the MOU is strong, but one section was weakened shortly before it was voted on. In the final hour before the MOU was brought before the Board of Education, the police revised the language of the agreement.

One important word was changed in a section describing how police are to respond to student crime on school grounds: a “shall” became a “should.” Critics say that change transforms the contract from a legally binding agreement signed in goodwill to a mere suggestion of cooperation from the police.

“To a civilian, those are everyday words. To a police officer, they’re the difference between always and never,” Police Chief Greg Suhr told the Guardian.

At a Jan. 14 Board of Education meeting, members of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth told the board that this contract was no mere suggestion: It is vital to the safety of children.

Kevine Boggess of Coleman Advocates worked on the agreement for over two years, explaining to the board why “shall” was so important: “We feel like this is something that’s necessary for this document to really stand true, to make sure students are treated with respect and not introduced to the criminal justice system.”

Boggess said cops need stringent rules. But to see why those rules are necessary, we need to revisit a dark day in San Francisco history, when police discretion turned a school brawl into a riot.



To those who remember, that day in 2002 is known as 10/11. Board of Education member Kim-Shree Maufus remembers that day well.

Maufus was sitting at work when her friend, a teacher, emailed her alarming news: Maufus’ daughter was in danger. She was a sophomore at Thurgood Marshall High School, and the entire school was under attack.

Barriers blockaded the streets around Thurgood Marshall and helicopters swarmed the skies. At least 100 armored officers stormed the school, weapons at the ready.

“They were beating them. When my daughter got on the phone, I couldn’t understand her. It wasn’t English. Later, I understood it was a nervous breakdown,” Maufus told the Guardian.

The book Lockdown High recounted the incident in which Maufus’ daughter and dozens of other students, as well as teacher Anthony Peebles, were batoned by police and injured.

The San Francisco Bay View’s article on the incident quoted a student who saw the violence escalate: “‘We were coming out of the office as the fight was going on, and an officer took his gun out at one of the students and told him, ‘Don’t make me use this,’ said Ely Guolio, a student. ‘I was shocked.'”

The police allege they responded to a riot, and although four students and a teacher were arrested, all charges were later dropped, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report from 2003.

In the incident’s wake, Coleman Advocates and other groups called for change. Proposition H was passed by San Francisco voters in 2003, reforming the Police Commission to provide better civilian oversight of the SFPD.

But negotiations around an MOU between the police and the school district stalled for years. The tensions between the two bodies were high.

“Police would come to schools and arrest students, saying the students were re-igniting incidents from Thurgood Marshall,” Maufus told us. “The Thurgood Marshall melee was absolutely the catalyst to get the conversation started on how to structure police on school property.”

In 2005, an MOU was crafted, but many viewed it as ineffectual. Although this new agreement between the SFPD and SFUSD has many strong new rules, one rule was weakened that pertains to the violence of 10/11.

The section in question reads: “Subject to the exception described below, when SFPD officers make a school based arrest they should (emphasis ours) use the graduated response system outlined below.”

The graduated response system sets rules for police officers when they enter a school to make arrests for low-level offenses. It’s a “three strikes” rule: the first offense warrants admonishment or counseling, the second offense asks for the same or a diversionary program, and the third recommends a juvenile be placed in probation or a community counseling program.

“It’s definitely less binding,” Fewer told the Guardian. “But the police chief would not sign it with more binding language.”

Suhr said he doesn’t want his officers restricted in an emergency. “You can’t take all discretion away from a police officer, and expect that officer to assume liability (for the situation),” Suhr said.

Some said the SFPD of today is easier on students than 12 years ago. Juvenile arrests are down, with just over 600 felony juvenile arrests in 2012 compared to 1,100 in 2003, according to SFUSD data.



Implementing a restorative justice model and new standards for police in the schools isn’t just a matter for the SFPD, but for individual school administrators as well, with Fewer noting that the SFUSD sometimes calls the police for routine disciplinary matters.

The Guardian profiled one such student in “Suspending Judgment,” telling the story of a school official who called on the police to discipline a kindergartner throwing a tantrum. Suhr agreed, “You can’t have police officers enforcing school discipline.”

The MOU now seeks to address that problem in a section directing school administrators to only call the police for public safety concerns and crimes. And though the MOU is not as ironclad as advocates may have wished, there are still many wins for reformers.

One of the authors of the agreement, Public Counsel’s Statewide Education Rights Director Laura Faer, said the new mandate for data collection is one of the key sections of this MOU. Now, the SFPD will report how many times officers have entered school grounds to arrest students.

“There will be a regular dialogue with the community about arrests,” she said. “It’s extraordinary.”

The agreement also has mandates for training with the SFPD on school policies. And, as Fewer reminded the Guardian, this is a living document. All parties now have new promises to live up to.

“This is the beginning,” Faer said, “this is not the end.”

Last chance for Marcus Books, part of SF’s black history



It’s taken decades, but the Mahattanization of San Francisco is nearly complete: The immigrants, artists, and natives who built the City and gave it its unique flavor can no longer afford to live here.

With San Francisco’s African American population largely banished to across the bay, along with the working and artists classes, the freethinking lifestyle that attracted so many people to the Bay Area in the first place has largely been and gone.

“What is crucial, is whether or not the country, the people of the country, the citizenry, is able to recognize that there is no moral distance between the facts of life in San Francisco, and the facts of life in Birmingham,” James Baldwin said on a fact-finding trip to San Francisco in 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, a time at which he would have also visited Marcus Books.

If buildings could talk, the Marcus Books property on Fillmore Street, the onetime “Harlem of the West,” would tell a tale of two cities for over 50 years. Once the jazz club Bop City (where John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Billie Holiday performed), the purple Victorian is central to a neighborhood that survived the internment and return of its Japanese American residents, a botched “redevelopment” project that resulted in the permanent displacement of African Americans, and a blueprint for a “Jazz District” that failed to launch.

Now the neighborhood faces a final act as the oldest seller of books “by and about black people” attempts to uphold a part of the history and culture it had a hand in creating, while the City looks away and toward tech as its future.

Every black writer and intellectual in the US knows the store; celebrities, activists, athletes, and literary giants — including Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, Walter Mosely, Alice Walker, Oprah Winfrey, and Toni Morrison — have all passed through the doors of the San Francisco or Oakland stores.

Founded by Julian and Raye Richardson in 1960, their store served as a sanctuary for thinkers, authors, and community members during watershed moments, from the Voting Rights Act through the Black Power Movement and historic SFSU student strike in 1968 (resulting in the establishment of multicultural study programs which flourish at universities today).

Many of San Francisco’s African American faith, civic, arts, and culture leaders were educated through the program at State, either by the Richardsons or the books they stocked at Marcus. The Richardson family continues that tradition today at the bookstore, engaging visitors in discussions on the journey from Jim Crow to the first black president .

Yet for the past year, Marcus Books has struggled to survive. Community activists, elected supervisors, and appointed commissioners helped attain landmark status for the historic building, while attorneys brokered a buyback after the property was sold at auction and a fundraising effort was launched in December (see “Marcus Books can stay if it can raise $1 million,” SFBG Politics blog, Dec. 5). To contribute, visit www.gofundme.com/6bvqlk.

Marcus is not the only community-serving bookseller forced into crowdfunding and community organizing, diverted from its core mission to enlighten and educate. If a city’s bookstores are any indication of its cultural diversity and intellectual health, San Francisco is on the critical list.

The City’s last gay bookstore, A Different Light, was laid to rest three years ago; while our most progressive political book outlet in the Mission District, Modern Times, is on the brink (see “A Modern tragedy,” Jan. 7). A similar fate for Marcus Books would mean the end to a longstanding black-owned business in the Fillmore.

It seems “The City That Knows How” has forgotten where it came from. Baldwin’s 1963 quote may’ve been specifically about racist ways and laws, but a blow to Marcus Books could mean his message remains the same: San Francisco’s reputation as a kindly city of love, tolerance, and diversity will be forever tarnished; in fact, it may have been false advertising all along.

Denise Sullivan is the author of Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop.

Feinstein, Pelosi, and NSA/CIA spying



Two of the most powerful members of Congress — Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Nancy Pelosi — are from San Francisco. They’ve each spent much of their long tenures in Congress serving on the Intelligence Committees in their respective houses, overseeing the increasingly overreaching surveillance state. And they’re now in positions to do something significant to rein in the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, if they can move from statements of outrage to actions of courage.

Feinstein is at the center of the latest national security controversy, criticizing the CIA for spying on her Senate Intelligence Committee staffers as they researched legislation to expose and rein in the CIA’s interrogation and torture policies. Apparently, Feinstein doesn’t like being subjected to the same kind of blanket NSA surveillance that she’s been defending, so perhaps this is a welcome lesson for her.

Pelosi was also in a key oversight position when this illegal wiretapping by the federal government began under then-President George W. Bush, something we and others called her out for at the time (see “Pelosi knew about warrantless spying,” 1/25/06).

Pelosi’s defense then was “I objected in writing” when she was briefed on the federal government’s overreaching surveillance operation, something that falls far short of what we would expect from someone who regularly get vilified by conservatives as epitomizing San Francisco’s liberal values.

Now is the time for San Francisco’s most powerful congressional representatives to represent our values, and those of the rest of civilized world that has condemned US surveillance programs that violate international law and cultivate backdoors and other weaknesses in this country’s critical cybersecurity infrastructure.

Feinstein should introduce bipartisan legislation, possibly co-sponsored with Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian Republican who also has expressed concerns about the security state, to repeal the USA Patriot Act, the post-9/11 bill that gave vague license to many of the current excesses.

Pelosi and Feinstein should also pressure President Barack Obama to accept all or most of the 46 important reforms recommended by his commission on government surveillance, even if starts a fight that costs party unity in the short term.

“In our view, the current storage by the government of bulk metadata creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty,” the commission wrote in its report to Obama, which was released in mid-December.

Obama has already expressed concerns about the Democratic Party losing ground in this year’s mid-term election because of apathy among Democratic voters, but a bold break from the imperial presidency of the Bush era could be exactly what the party needs to fire up the base.

Yet more important than such political considerations, it’s simply the right thing to do, and something that Feinstein, Pelosi, and the Bay Area’s other congressional representatives should be vigorously pushing.

Democracy for none


Democracy is dead at City College of San Francisco. At least, that’s what student protesters allege.

At a rally on March 13, over 200 student and faculty protesters marched at City College’s main campus to call for the resignation of state-appointed Special Trustee Robert Agrella. When City College was told it would soon close, the city-elected Board of Trustees was removed from power, and the state gave Agrella the power to make decisions unilaterally.

Agrella is not beholden to board rules, and now makes policy decisions behind closed doors: No public meetings are held and no public comments are solicited.

His decisions have proved controversial. Students are concerned that fast-tracked decision-making and new billing policies will create new barriers for students with few other educational options. But with no public forum to express their outrage, students took to the pavement.

The protesting students were met by police aggression, and in the aftermath of the clash two students were arrested — one was pepper sprayed, and the other suffered a concussion, allegedly at the hands of a San Francisco Police Department officer.

Both SFPD and CCSF police were on hand for the protest.

Controversy is now swirling around Agrella, school administrators, and the students involved. But lost among questions about police violence are larger policy concerns. When will democracy, that critical right to have a say in significant decision-making on campus, return to City College?

Critics say City College is compromising its core mission in its fight to remain open and accredited, slashing access for students and curtailing democracy in the name of reform.

“To be excluded and ignored and disenfranchised is simply unacceptable,” said faculty union president Alisa Messer.


BEFORE YOU READ ON: Check out our beta multimedia version of this story.

(Or you can read the plain text version below)


The protest began as students marched across City College’s main campus in an open space designated by college officials as a “free speech zone.” They headed toward an administrative office building, Conlan Hall, where students freely conduct business every day. However, the administration locked the doors on the protesters.

In response, the students inside unlocked them. When the protesters tried to enter this public building, they were met with resistance from campus police and the SFPD.

Otto Pippenger, 20, who was at the front of the protest, was dragged to the ground by multiple officers and allegedly punched in the head by an SFPD officer, an incident caught on video and recalled in eyewitness accounts.

His mother, Heidi Alletzhauser, told the Bay Guardian that Pippenger had since received medical attention. She said he’d suffered a concussion, contusions from where his head hit the concrete, injuries to both wrists, and broken blood vessels in his right eye.

Dimitrios Philliou, 21, was tackled to the ground and pepper sprayed in the face. In a video interview shortly after the incident, he recalled what happened.

“I asked [officers] what law I broke and neither could give me an explanation. They proceeded to tackle me to the ground,” he said.

In the end, Philliou was charged with misdemeanor “returning to school,” described as trespassing by the Sheriff’s Department. Pippenger was charged with two misdemeanors: resisting arrest and battery on emergency personnel.

The students were released the following morning (March 14), before sunrise. Philliou was issued a citation and released, and Pippenger made bail and was released, according to the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.

The City College faculty union raised over $1,000 towards Pippenger’s $23,000 bail. He will face arraignment March 19, two days after the Bay Guardian goes to press.

In an emailed statement, City College Chancellor Arthur Q. Tyler described the clash between protesters and police as the fault of the protesters who tried to enter the building.

“I am saddened to see students engaging in violent outbursts,” he wrote.

City College spokesperson Peter Anning said the school regretted the actions of the most violent officers. “There was one police officer with the SFPD, not [City College Police], whose behavior was more forceful than need be,” he said.

Philliou said he just wanted to be heard.

“We just want to have a conversation with Bob Agrella,” he said in a video interview with the college’s newspaper, The Guardsman. “It’d be nice if he would talk to us, like a real human.”

But so far, the students have been met with silence.



Agrella does not hold public meetings or take public comment on his decisions, but he posts public agendas in accordance with the California Brown Act. In the past, he’s called these posted agendas “meetings,” and dubbed email feedback as “public comment.”

Messer was critical of the practice. “Apparently these meetings are happening in the special trustee’s head,” she said, “and an email counts as public comment. No one agrees that [email] comment is public.”

In the past, public comment has meant speaking aloud at a meeting in a room where not only could everyone hear you, but every word was broadcast on television and on the web.

City College Board of Trustee public meetings used to be archived online for the world to see. Now only Agrella’s eyes see the concerns of the college community.

Pressed on whether these agendas and emails could count as public meetings, City College spokesperson Larry Kamer said, “I can’t answer that question because you’re getting into matters of legal interpretation. I’m not a lawyer.”

The Board of Trustee’s meetings were not always the most shining examples of democracy, he said.

“When Dr. Agrella was appointed as special trustee with extraordinary powers, it was precisely for the purpose of expediting decision making,” Kamer said. “The idea of expedited decision making and board meetings that go until one or two in the morning are usually incompatible.”

But City College Trustee Rafael Mandelman said some of the tension around the changes at City College could be diffused by letting the public vent, well, in public.

“I’d much rather have people jumping up and down in public comment than having an assault at Conlan Hall,” he said.

At a City Hall hearing held by Sup. David Campos the day after the protest, many students decried a loss of democracy at the school. Campos will soon introduce a resolution to the Board of Supervisors calling for the reinstatement of the City College Board of Trustees.

Students’ concerns about the college, voiced at rallies instead of public forums, have proven as diverse as the students themselves.



The same day protesters clashed with police at the main campus, Chinese Progressive Association lead activist Emily Ja Ming Lee led a student protest at the college’s Chinatown Campus.

The population there is traditionally older, with fewer English speakers than the general student body.

“We’re worried about the impact on the immigrant communities, the free English as Second Language classes, and vocational training,” Lee told the Guardian. “We partner with City College to run a hospitality training program so immigrant workers can get good jobs. We’re concerned about how City College will serve its immigrant workers.”

That concern has been intensified by a new restrictive billing policy that’s impacting lower income students.

The school has started to require up-front payment for classes, rather than billing students later. The change may shore up the college’s bank account in the short term, but many financially strapped students dropped their classes due to an inability to pay.

Itzel Calvo, a student who is an undocumented citizen, said at the City Hall hearing, “I was not able to enroll in classes this semester unless I paid thousands of dollars in tuition up front, even before the classes started. I can’t afford that.”

The Chinese Progressive Association has also raised concerns about changes to the college’s educational plan.

Over the course of four months, City College will formulate an educational plan to determine which classes deserve funding, and which don’t. This process usually takes a year. But with the accelerated process and lack of outreach, Lee’s worried that English language learners and vocational students will be sidelined.

“Our students don’t fit into a traditional model of what community colleges look like,” she said. “They’re not looking to transfer to a four-year university, necessarily.”

Focusing on transfer students moving from community colleges to four-year universities is part of a state policy known as the Student Success Initiative. In a lawsuit against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, City Attorney Dennis Herrera alleges that the ACCJC’s agenda of pushing this initiative was the driving force behind trying to close City College.

The college’s students rallied against those changes for years. Yet Agrella is enforcing the Student Success Initiative. “My job is to play within the rules and regulations of the ACCJC,” he told the Guardian in an interview a few months back.

On campus, concern is growing that changes made to appease the ACCJC may disenfranchise City College students in greater numbers. But worst of all, without public meetings or public comment, the college’s students may not get a chance to advocate against those changes before it’s too late.