Volume 48 Number 26
THE WEEKNIGHTER Weekends are for amateurs. Weeknights are for pros. That’s why each week Broke-Ass Stuart (www.brokeassstuart.com) will be exploring a different San Francisco bar, bringing you stories about the places and people who make San Francisco one of the most phenomenal cities in the world. Who wants a drink?
It was nighttime in North Beach and that series of New York Magazine articles had come out earlier in the day. You know the ones: They were saying how San Francisco was more New York than New York, and then demonstrated it by needling us on how tech was ruining our wonderful town. I was bummed.
It was like reading about the reasons they closed Tu-Lan a while back: You knew terrible things were happening, but up until then you were able to suspend your disbelief. I’d finished a vodka soda at Mr. Bing’s with a friend and then decided to see what else I could drink my way into. I imagine it’s that same sentiment that lands most people in Hawaii West (729 Vallejo, SF. 415-362-3220).
Even though I’d miraculously never been there before, this divey North Beach tiki bar felt like home as soon as I walked in. A guy was face-timing with his girlfriend while playing himself at pool, soul and funk emanated from the Music Choice channel on the TV, and a legless foosball table sat abandoned on a side table. It was my kind of rundown, my kind of weird. The bartender asked my name and then introduced me to the six or seven other patrons sitting at the bar. Their friendliness was overwhelming.
“How the fuck have I never been in here before?” I asked myself as I looked at the scores of pool trophies, tiny drink umbrellas, and the laminated poster suggesting a slew of different tropical cocktails. Hawaii West had been around for roughly 50 years, the bartender told me, but she didn’t know much about its history. I gave her my info and asked her to have the owner contact me so I could find out.
A few days later I got a text from Nolan Kellet, Hawaii West’s owner, a union roofer who’s been a building inspector on military bases throughout the US for the past decade. In our conversation he told me how his grandmother moved from Hawaii to SF in the early ’60s and opened the Aloha Café. His father, one-time president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1225, reopened the place in 1969 naming it Hawaii West, while his mother worked there serving longshoremen in the ’70s and ’80s and Academy of Art students in the ’90s.
“I remember as young boy in the early ’70s,” Kellet told me, “Hells’ Angels frequented the bar until the police station moved in across the street. I remember motorcycles lined up and down both sides of Vallejo Street. Wish I had some pics. They gave me rides through the Broadway tunnel and around Fisherman’s Wharf at a young age.”
Old bars are like the rings inside a tree trunk, they’re witnesses to history and become a record of it simply by existing. Hawaii West exemplifies this brilliantly. Walking in, you know great stories live there, you just have to dig a little deeper to get them.
“You guys get busy?” I asked the bartender as I was leaving. “Not really,” she told me. “You can pretty much come here with a group of friends anytime and take over the place.” I walked out of there drunk and smiling because I realized New York Magazine had missed a crucial point: We still have Hawaii West.
Stuart Schuffman aka Broke-Ass Stuart is a travel writer, poet, and TV host. You ca find his online shenanigans at BrokeAssStuart.com
THEATER In one of the more arresting moments in Aaron Davidman’s new solo play, Wrestling Jerusalem, the Bay Area actor-playwright and former Jewish Theatre artistic director recounts being in a West Bank café with his Palestinian host when four young Israeli IDF soldiers enter in full battle gear. It’s an estranging moment for Davidman, a liberal American Jew on a hunt for answers to his quandary over Israel and its relation to occupied Palestine. But the estrangement he feels is complex, slippery: His first response is to feel estrangement from the soldiers; then a look of recognition from one of the soldiers opens up the difference between Davidman and his new Arab friends; but then Davidman also feels himself very much an American, not an Israeli — just where does he belong?
A self divided among multiple, conflicting affiliations and ideals is a general condition in this complex and stressful world, but it achieves a concentrated poignancy here for the artist son of progressive parents who rooted their liberal values in Judaic tradition. As a young man visiting Israel for the first time in 1992, Davidman had finally to face the contradictions that this would entail in the context of Israel as a Jewish homeland but also as a nation state and, especially, as a colonial power occupying Palestinian land. At the same time, criticism of Israel on the left alienates him when he sees it slipping into a broader pit of anti-Semitism — as he did during an antiracism rally at UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
Many return trips to Israel only made matters worse, more complicated, as his excursions became more purposeful — geared to interviewing people on both sides of the conflict — and his vantage extended into the occupied territories themselves. Grim details of that occupation come out in the course of this sure 85-minute solo performance, but so do voices justifying or qualifying the excesses of the Israeli state in the name of security and historical or political circumstance. While cleaving to core values of equity and justice throughout, Davidman respectfully represents views that range to extreme points on either side of the messy debate.
At the same time, the act of doing so becomes its own trauma. As if in a state of possession, Davidman manifests the inner and outer turmoil in a physical performance marked by often-anguished gestural passages, stirring liturgical verses, unexpected humor, and a series of neatly etched characters. These come all the more forcefully across for being set in an intimate thrust stage arrangement, carved into the central space at Intersection for the Arts. There the play unfolds against scenic designer Nephelie Andonyadis’s beautiful cloth backdrop, dyed in muted desert tones that come atmospherically alive in Allen Willner’s blood-and-earth–hued lighting design.
On one hand, Wrestling Jerusalem‘s airing of opposing views is as timely as ever. News of human rights abuses and more violence in and around the occupied territories comes almost daily, while the US State Department once again meanders down its long and winding road to nowhere with respect to jump-starting “peace talks.” Meanwhile the growing BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement across US campuses and around the world is meeting with increasing right-wing pushback (most recently at Northeastern University). And new books by prominent American Jews and gentiles — most recently the New Republic’s John B. Judis — dissent from the usual narratives around Israel-Palestine, stirring charges of apostasy (and anti-Semitism).
On the other hand, for these very reasons Davidman’s measured search for understanding and balance can seem slightly behind these urgent, increasingly polarized times. Directed by Michael John Garcés of Los Angeles’s Cornerstone Theater, the play rehearses mostly familiar, albeit still charged and important, arguments. Its most persuasive aspects instead lie in Davidman’s representation of his personal journey, the expansion of conscience and understanding it spurs. While its mingled voices intentionally unsettle the mind and emotions, they achieve a tentative truce in the play’s final affirmation.
That affirmation — a recommitment to core values that are both traditional and universal — in turn opens common ground in which all might enter. Far from over at this point, the conversation is just getting under way. Pairing performances with something he calls the Peace Café, an opportunity for direct dialogue among audiences members, as well as other post-show discussions moderated by professional mediator Rachel Eryn Kalish, Wrestling Jerusalem is less a political argument (though it contains several) than an invitation to dialogue. Maybe more importantly still, it’s an invitation to listen. *
Through April 6
Thu-Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm, $20-$30
Intersection for the Arts
925 Mission, SF
Some interesting openings this week, starting with Trou Normand (140 New Montgomery, SF. www.trounormandsf.com), inside the historic Pacific Telephone Building in SoMa. It’s from Thad Vogler of Bar Agricole, so yeah, there will be awesome booze there. And good ice. Cocktails include Armagnac, Cognac, and Calvados. (Be prepared to throw back a traditional shot of Calvados, a French brandy, in preparation for or during a big meal to “make room” with “a Norman hole” — hence the name, Trou Normand).
It will eventually be an all-day affair, so you’ll be able to swing by whenever for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — but just dinner for now, hold up. The menu includes many meaty items, ranging from caraway sausage to housemade charcuterie by chef Salvatore Cracco, plus polenta, white wine–braised artichokes, and other vegetable dishes, because it’s not good to just have meat all the time, you know. The Deco space is so stylish, with lots of custom artistic touches (all the art on the walls is by women artists), incredibly tall windows, reclaimed marble for the tables and bar, dark oak floors, and tufted booths the color of tobacco. How’d we get so lucky to have this space? Seriously. It’s a sexy one.
North Beach has a new neighborhood spot for Neapolitan-style pizza, Il Casaro (348 Columbus, SF. www.ilcasarosf.com), and some bona fide Italians opened it: chef Francesco Covucci and Peter Fazio, who are also behind the nearby Vicoletto. Casaro means “cheesemaker,” so there is definitely some dairy in the casa, including the rarely seen raspa dura, a cow’s milk cheese (young Lodigiano) that is shaved off the wheel and then served in a cone. Cheese cone, hell yes.
There’s also housemade fior di latte mozzarella, burrata, and a menu full of “cibo da strada,” the late-night street food you find in Italy (think arancini and crocchette). Plus there’s the sure-to-be-awesome panuozzo: pizza dough sandwiches stuffed with broccoli rabe, Italian sausage, and scamorza, or one with ground pork, pepe rosso, fennel seed, and french fries (the best late-night eats, that panuozzo). As for the pizzas you’ll see coming out of the wood-fired Stefano Ferrara oven, they’re made by a pro pizzaiolo, and feature classic Italian toppings ($12–$18). No need for pastas here, but you’ll find plenty of Italian wines. Say cin cin Sun–Thu 12pm–11pm and Fri–Sat 12pm–12am.
Craft beer (we’re talking 43 on tap). Deep-fried Monte Cristo sandwiches. An adventurous location. The cobwebs of the former and looong-vacant Fulton Street Bar have been blown away to make room for Barrelhead Brewhouse (1785 Fulton, SF. www.barrelheadsf.com), a brewery and restaurant from owner-brewer Ivan Hopkinson, previously assistant brewmaster at Park Chalet. Check out a sleek mezzanine, a honking torpedo that holds all the taps, and a bunch of brewing equipment (soon actually brewing, but not just yet). Stoners will appreciate a fun touch: quirky items embedded in the lacquer on the reclaimed wood slabs. The kitchen plans to stay open nightly until 1:30am, pretty damn cool, that. (Chef Tim Tattan was previously sous chef at Monk’s Kettle).
BALLIN’ ON A BUDGET
Anyone wistful for a little taste of Hawaii will want to scoot on over to the to-go window at Butterfly on the Embarcadero for their next lunch. The window is now Sammy’s Aloha (Pier 33, The Embarcadero at Bay, 415-864-8999), with Sammy Kong Kee stuffing the awesome housemade milk buns with kalua-style pork and BBQ chicken (just $8). Rice bowls in effect (ahi poke and loco moco), noodle bowls, salads, bao… And whoa, the Spammy Fries ($5) come with fried sushi rice and salmon roe. All the ingredients are quality, and nothing’s over $11. Mahalo. Open Tue–Sun (11am–3pm).
By Rob Goszkowski
Sharon Jones lacks virtually every quality that the entertainment business seeks in a singer. But she has two that matter the most: an indomitable will and God-given talent. The former has served the 57-year-old soul singer well, and became all the more necessary when, poised to embark on the most important year of her career, she was diagnosed with stage II pancreatic cancer. The year 2013 became one of tragedy instead of triumph: Her mother, also stricken with cancer, passed away in March. Jones’s own diagnosis and treatment was wearing her down physically and emotionally. And nearly a year of work lined up for her and her band The Dap-Kings, in support of their new record Give the People What They Want, was abruptly wiped out.
Then, in 2014, she roared back. Her health has returned, an announcement he made gleefully on January 24 via Facebook: “I just got the best news in my life! I AM CANCER FREE!”
Now she and The Dap-Kings are set to perform three nights at the Fillmore, from March 27 through 29, a mini-residency that few artists outside of Willie Nelson and Railroad Earth receive at the historic venue.
Three consecutive performances might seem like a heavy load for someone who didn’t know whether or not she still had cancer when the dates were booked, but Jones was already performing in between chemotherapy treatments — like at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year. Nine days after her final treatment on New Year’s Eve, she was on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, performing with The Roots. By the time she found out she was cancer-free, she had already played on Ellen, Conan, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and made a handful of other TV and radio appearances.
“I’m adjusting,” Jones says of her return to music during a recent phone interview. “The day before yesterday I did some stretching, walked on the treadmill for the first time for about 40 minutes. I feel my strength. Every night it’s better — I’m a little stiffer, but I’m getting used to it. Still goin’ from party to party.”
Performing without a wig, she has not concealed the consequences of her treatment, though her hair is returning. “It’s coming in silver,” she explains. “It will go well with that silver sparkly dress,” the one she favors on stage.
For Jones, whose career never gained traction until she was in her late 40s, it is never too late. Hers is a story of a lifetime of hard work that is finally rewarded and fully earned. An undercurrent of populism exists throughout her music and it is more relevant now than ever, particularly in the city, where dialogue about the displacement of the working class or income inequality is inescapable. Sometimes it is plainly stated, as in the song “People Don’t Get What They Deserve.”
Nevertheless, the band disputes that it has a message. “We’re not a band with an agenda or a political band,” says Gabriel Roth, holder of a crowded business card: Daptone Records co-founder, Dap-Kings bandleader (stage name Bosco Mann), songwriter, and producer. “We’re trying to make shit that makes people feel good. For me, it’s rewarding to get on the road and see that that pays off, that people not only respect that, react to that, but are loyal to that. When we stay true to ourselves and our music, the fans stay true to us. So I think in that way, there’s a populist undercurrent to everything we do.”
Sometimes, politics find them. Jones had health insurance when doctors surgically removed her gall bladder, a foot and a half of her small intestine, and reconnected her bile duct to her stomach to treat her cancer. The co-pay for her subsequently prescribed medications was a modest $35, until the day her pharmacy forgot to enter her insurance information.
“They gave me a bill for over $500,” Jones recalls. “I thought, ‘Are you fuckin’ crazy? How the hell am I supposed to pay for this throughout my treatment? What am I supposed to do now? Die?’ It’s ridiculous!”
Fired up about the topic, Jones sympathizes with those in her situation without insurance “while these pharmaceutical companies are making billions. I’m thinking about how I’ve traveled, gone to Europe, Australia, and they don’t pay like that.”
As recently as 2008, Jones would return from touring abroad to a home she shared with her mother in New York City housing projects, sometimes needing assistance from church to get by. Before her career in music gained traction, she worked a variety of jobs, including as a prison guard, and occasionally carried a pistol in her fanny pack for protection in the neighborhoods she navigated.
She met Roth in 1996, while he was recording soul man Lee Fields. “I needed a background singer and the sax player that worked with us said, ‘Oh, my girlfriend can come in,'” Roth says. “When she did, I told her I needed three singers and she said, ‘I can do all three parts.’ She sounded so good we brought her in for other work.”
Jones’s story isn’t atypical at Daptone, where careers, such as Fields’, are revitalized — or given a shot they never had. Charles Bradley, who installed the plumbing at Daptone studios before recording there, is finally being recognized well into his 60s.
In addition to the aesthetic of the 1960s and ’70s soul singers, Roth uses recording equipment from that period. He’s not alone in his approach — Daft Punk and Pretty Lights made no secret of their use of tape to record their 2013 Grammy-winning or nominated albums.
“To be honest, I think a lot of it is bullshit,” Roth says. “I don’t think it matters that much, sound-wise. For me, it’s a question of process: When you go into the studio to make a record, you want the musicians, the songwriters, and the arrangers to be on their A-game.” Tape limits the number of available takes, he says, and the pressure is on to get it right. “When you record [digitally] and you have an infinite amount of isolations, tracks, takes, and that much control over each note you’re not really committing to anything. It changes the process. In that way it really changes the music.”
For now, the band can once again focus on the music. They’re eager to bring the show to the city and to stay in the same place for three nights, a luxury on the road. Drummer Homer Steinweiss will get more material for his foodie blog. And the audiences here have treated the band well in the past.
“They tend to be less impressed in LA, New York, or Chicago, because there’s so much music there,” Roth says. “But San Francisco, even with the amount of entertainment, culture, and excitement there is there, the crowd really seems to come to have a good time.”
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
With Valerie June
March 27-29, 8pm, $35
1805 Geary Blvd, SF
LEFT OF THE DIAL Stephen Malkmus’ 17-year-old cat, Juanita, has been peeing outside the catbox lately.
He’s been assuming it’s just stress from the new additions to the household — two kittens recently joined the Portland home Malkmus shares with his wife, artist Jessica Jackson Hutchins, and their two young daughters. But he took her (the cat) to the vet today, and it turns out she needed a couple of back teeth extracted, plus they did blood work, the whole nine yards, he says, by way of explanation about why we’re starting this phone interview with him sitting in a veterinary office waiting room, and why, beginning about five minutes later, as they leave, the guttural moans of which only an unhappy cat is capable will serve as the soundtrack for the bulk of our conversation.
“That’s really terrible, isn’t it?” says the Stockton native, thoughtfully, of Juanita’s misery, before insisting that he’s perfectly happy to talk with her wailing in the background. “Got some Exorcist, Linda Blair sounds going on.”
As a guy who’s still best known as a touchstone for (if not the founder of) mid-’90s indie slacker-rock — Pavement’s mainstream breakthrough Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, which came out 20 years ago last month, and which got the deluxe reissue treatment 10 years later, was arguably one of the defining albums of that decade — Stephen Malkmus seems to understand that it’s tough for people to reconcile the skinny, casually bratty, frozen-in-time Pavement frontman with the current Stephen Malkmus: A 47-year-old suburban dad who cares a lot about his fantasy basketball league, and who’s currently trying to figure out if his sick cat is capable of eating yet.
And yet: His solo career, at the helm of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, has actually outlasted Pavement’s at this point. The band’s sixth album, Wig Out at Jagbags, out this January, is full of the wry, observational comedy and narrative wordplay that have come to constitute the Malkmus trademark. (The band’s tour for the album brings them to Slim’s this Thursday, March 27.) And while it’s easy to romanticize the golden days of lo-fi lullabies about young love and record label angst and being so drunk in the August sun — hell, those songs sounded nostalgic about those days while they were happening — the truth is that it was in the years that followed, with the Jicks’ more simplified and twang-ified tunes increasingly showing his ’70s classic rock influences and allowing the lyrics to come front and center, that Malkmus went and became one of the best songwriters we have right now.
Maybe even more sneakily: He seems like he’s figured out how to (gasp) have fun.
“Come and join us in this punk rock tomb, come slam dancing with some ancient dudes/We are returning, returning to our roots, no new material, just cowboy boots,” begins Malkmus, through a nearly audible smirk, on an upbeat ditty called “Rumble at the Rainbo”; at one point, the song devolves goofily into a full-on ska breakdown.
“I was thinking about somewhere like  Gilman, full of people skanking, but with old people, because it’s just funny to see senior citizens doing anything that youthful,” says Malkmus of the track. “But it’s also bit of commentary about how, if you go so far as to really be into a subculture of music, whatever it is, heavy metal, or punk, or reggae, you always have a home there, and that’s nice. It doesn’t matter if you’re depressed, or way overweight, or you’ve been divorced five times; you can go to the show and feel safe and see your people and get lost in the music.”
If he’s at his best as a songwriter when he takes on the point of view of other characters — I fell hard for this tendency with his first post-Pavement album, a Jicks record on which he sings story-songs from the perspectives of, among others, a bloodthirsty pirate, an Alaskan dog sled driver, and Yul Brynner — then part of what makes Wig Out such an enjoyable in-joke is the sense that Malkmus is writing songs while “in character as” an aging rock star who’s looking back on his career with a mix of sentimentality and cynicism, fondness and detachment, á la Don Henley circa The End of the Innocence.
“That [Pavement reunion] tour was kind of like reliving an old play, or something,” says Malkmus of the cross-country jaunt his old band took in 2010, to the fever-pitch-level delight of virtually everyone who came of age listening to indie rock in the ’90s. “It was fun being back with the same dudes, and there were some really cool shows — especially playing hometown shows in Berkeley, Stockton, meeting people my age who were road-tripping to see Pavement twice.”
The songs don’t quite feel like him anymore, he says, though The Jicks are known to play a handful of Pavement songs during some sets — toward the end, when they’re playing other covers. “We mix them in like they’re part of some canon, which is a little cheeky,” he says. “You know, play a Steve Miller song, some Roxy Music, Pavement, then Wire. And yeah, it’s my song, I wrote it, but it’s mostly just feels like we’re playing a song.”
After that reunion tour, something started to feel a little claustrophobic upon returning to Portland. “There was a neurotic, kind of fishbowl feeling,” is how he puts it. So in 2011, the family picked up and moved to Berlin for two years, (“a big giant place where no one cares about you too much”), put the girls in an international school, and reveled in the apparently productive anonymity — Malkmus proceeded to write most of Wig Out there.
The family moved back to Portland in 2013, but the expat’s sense of liberation comes through in free-wheeling tracks like the Billy Joel-ish, Steely Dan-esque rocker “Chartjunk,” complete with horns, shout-along choruses, and a buttery guitar riff, over which Malkmus channels the singing style of the sun-bleached, coked-out ’70s guitar gods he grew up with. “In one ear and out of the other, if you feel the urge to share/think again cause you’re not my mother, actually I’m not contractually obliged to care,” he cautions, happily, but also sounding like he means it. (Acknowledging its Joel-like sonic landscape, Malkmus recently told a Detroit publication that the track, in which he plays both roles of a mentor/mentee dispute, was inspired by the relationship between Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings and his coach Scott Skiles, back when Jennings played for the Milwaukee Bucks. Dude’s serious about basketball.)
The only thing that will seem, to Pavement fans, to be conspicuously missing from the record: That old Malkmus sneer (or full on flipped-bird) in the direction of the record industry, and the accompanying, all-too-self-aware ambivalence about his role in it. This, from the former frontman of a band whose biggest mainstream radio single called out the entire record industry for, more or less, the concept behind mainstream radio singles.
“We were coming from a DIY scene, and we wanted to control our own destiny, start our own label, be our own boss. We were about artists’ rights,” he says, while noting that he doesn’t begrudge anyone who goes the corporate route. “I mean, Beck [recently] signed to Capitol, but I’m sure he just did it because he was taking advantage of them as much as he could, because he’s in a position of power. A lot of bands weren’t back then.”
In terms of newer music, Malkmus names SF “neo-psychedelia” bands like Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall as recent favorites, as well as Oakland’s own tUnE-yArDs, Sic Alps, Purling Hiss, Kurt Vile, and The War on Drugs. He thinks a minute. “I like Beyoncé,” he says, like it’s a challenge. “And Jay-Z. And Justin Timberlake; the kids really like him. We listen to a lot of Justin Timberlake in the car.”
Looking back, I ask him — in the minute before he has to go, some other dude is supposed to be calling him soon, and he’s trying to get Juanita to eat some food — can he imagine being 20, and starting a band right now? With the way the record industry is, with everything he knows about what happens after you “make it” — or even if you never do? He sounds relatively at peace on this album, to be sure, but it’s taken long enough.
“Sure!” he replies, without hesitation. “I mean, I think everyone should start a band. It’s really low-stakes, and it’s fun. If you like music, start a band, and just mess around with your friends. It’s better than a lot of things you could be doing, like wasting time on Facebook. Or playing video games. Or…what are kids even doing these days? Snapchat? Sexting on Snapchat?
“Stop sexting on Snapchat and start a band.”
With Speedy Ortiz
Thu/27, 8pm, $21
333 11th St, SF
FILM It’s been nearly 30 years since documentarian Ross McElwee made Sherman’s March — usually written without its lengthy, if accurately descriptive, subtitle: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love In the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation. It picked up the Grand Jury prize at Sundance in 1987, years before the festival became a career-maker for the likes of Steven Soderbergh (whose Sex, Lies, and Videotape premiered at the 1989 fest). If McElwee didn’t go on to become a household name, he did begin his Harvard teaching career during the Sherman’s March era. He currently holds the title “Professor of the Practice of Filmmaking” — a suitably important job for an artist whose practice has informed the work of countless filmmakers over the past three decades.
Two of McElwee’s key works, along with short films by his Harvard colleagues, make up “Afterimage: Ross McElwee and the Cambridge Turn,” a three-day Pacific Film Archive series that has McElwee in conversation with author Scott MacDonald (American Ethnographic Film and Personal Documentary: The Cambridge Turn). Sherman’s March is not included, but Backyard (1984) ably demonstrates his trademarks: first-person voice-over (delivered in his unmistakable Carolina drawl); turning the camera on friends and family, most of whom are willing subjects; and crafting a plot of sorts out of a personal journey. (At 40 minutes, Backyard was presumably easier to program than Sherman’s March, which runs 155.)
His most recent feature, 2011’s Photographic Memory, retains all of these characteristics; it also incorporates cinema verité footage first glimpsed in Backyard. The films are ideal companion pieces. Both address father-son relationships, with a focus on the son’s lurching entry into adulthood. In Backyard — shot in the summer of 1975, when McElwee was on summer break from his filmmaking grad program at MIT — the artist documents his brother Tom’s preparations for medical school, a career choice that delights his conservative, Southern-gentleman surgeon father. To his other son, the one with scraggly long hair and a camera attached to his face, Dr. McElwee admits, “I’ve resigned myself to your fate.”
Backyard can also be read for its themes of race in the mid-1970s South, where segregation is still a way of life, and its exploration of grieving, since at the time of filming McElwee’s mother had recently died. It’s as multilayered as the many lives it captures, in a time when filming people just going about their everyday business was pretty uncommon. Dr. McElwee, for one, wonders why his son is wasting expensive film shooting his father puttering around the yard. Back then, home movies were just that — certainly not made for public consumption, and the relaxed demeanor of McElwee’s subjects bears this out.
By contrast, Photographic Memory — one of 16mm devotee McElwee’s first ventures into digital filmmaking — is very much a product of the 21st century. The son from Backyard is now the father, fretting over his own directionless son, Adrian. We see Adrian (in footage no doubt repurposed from earlier McElwee films) as an adorable kid, calling his father “Da-da” and comfortably emoting in front of the lens. Present-day Adrian, an emo 21-year-old, is a glowering poster child for the Selfie Generation, forever tapping on his phone, slurping on iced coffee, and giving off an air of unearned superiority. He avoids eye contact. He’s no longer interested in being filmed, unless he — a budding filmmaker himself — is the one calling the shots. “What makes me think he’s hearing anything I say?” McElwee wonders after trying, and failing, to break through.
At wit’s end, McElwee digs up old journals and photographs from his early 20s, pre-Backyard, when he took a year off college to bum around France (his father was, naturally, aghast). There, he met a charismatic man who became his photography mentor, and a woman with whom he had a significant affair. “It’s admittedly painful to try and penetrate the purple haze of my prose,” he says over a scene where he flips through his youthful scrawlings as his son holds the camera. “I feel a little embarrassed at showing Adrian these pages.”
Admitting embarrassment is a dying art in these narcissistic times (Ugly photo? Just throw a filter over it! Made a mistake? Blame the haters!) — and it’s one reason why McElwee’s films resonate so powerfully. He’s keenly self-aware in a way that’s refreshingly old-fashioned. He knows when to let his images do the talking, and when to let forces beyond his control steer his narrative. There’s much to take in when he returns to sea-swept Brittany, a place he’s romanticized in his memory. “The whole experience was so … French,” he wryly notes, realizing how vague and clichéd that sounds.
As McElwee immerses himself in the scenery he’s dreamed of for decades, he reflects on what kind of person he was back then. Turns out the atmosphere awakens the essence of his younger self far better than his old photos, which are filled with places and faces he doesn’t recognize. (If only he’d had a movie camera back then!) If the stealth mission of his trip is to grasp onto something, anything, that will help him relate to his moody son, it goes mostly unfulfilled — witness a Skype conversation between the US and France, as cluttered with technological difficulties as it is attitude problems.
But there are no tidy endings in McElwee films, because that’s how life is. In the last scene, it’s revealed that Adrian has decided to attend film school, mirroring Tom McElwee’s decision to follow in his father’s footsteps. Is there another McElwee legacy in the making? Stay tuned for the inevitable next chapter. *
“AFTERIMAGE: ROSS MCELWEE AND THE CAMBRIDGE TURN”
March 30-April 2, $5.50-9.50
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft, Berk
FILM It’s so seldom a film of major scale and budget is made without at least some standard commercial aspirations — however misguided — that the rare exceptions seem as curious, improbable, and wonderful as unicorns. (And about as useless, any bottom-line-oriented producer might say.) We’re not talking Heaven’s Gate (1980), Ishtar (1987), or Battlefield Earth
It’s rare enough for an artist to complete one such project. Alejandro Jodorowsky stands nearly alone in having made at least two. A Chilean émigré to Paris, he had avant-garde interests that led him from theater and comic book art to film, making his feature debut with 1968’s Fando y Lis — a low-budget, little-seen harbinger of things to come, based on a play by likeminded Spanish stage and screen surrealist Fernando Arrabal. Undaunted by its poor reception, he created El Topo (1970), a blood-soaked mix of spaghetti western, mysticism, and Buñuellian parabolic grotesquerie with the director playing a messianic lone gunman whose spiritual path requires violent cleanup of a corrupt society. It gradually became the very first “midnight movie” sensation, playing for years to audiences of stoned hippies — no doubt causing some bad trips en route.
After that success, he was given nearly a million dollars to “do what he wanted” with 1973’s The Holy Mountain. It was, essentially, El Topo redux, albeit without the western motifs and with a staggering Pop-Op-surreal pictorialism to its less-Leone-more-Hesse vision quest. He played the Alchemist, a seer-trickster who leads nine representatives of the modern world on a journey to their own souls. It ended with the camera turning on itself and cast turning toward the audience, “breaking the illusion” because “real life awaits us.”
This extraordinary, singular, pretentious, crazy epic was a big hit in Europe. (Rather strangely, it utterly flopped in the US, and its revival was tied up in legal woes for years; before one announced SF screening at the old York Theater, a private collector’s print was seized and impounded.) French producer Michel Seydoux asked Jodorowsky what he’d like to do next. Dune, he said — though as he confesses in Frank Pavich’s fascinating new documentary, he hadn’t actually read Frank Herbert’s cult science-fiction novel yet, though a friend “told [him] it was fantastic.”
In many ways it seemed a perfect match of director and material. Yet Dune would be an enormous undertaking in terms of scale, expense, and technical challenges. What moneymen in their right mind would entrust this flamboyant genius/nut job with it?
They wouldn’t, as it turned out. So doc Jodorowsky’s Dune is the story of “the greatest film never made,” one that’s brain-exploding enough in description alone. But there’s more than description to go on here, since in 1975 the director and his collaborators created a beautifully detailed volume of storyboards and other preproduction minutiae they hoped would lure Hollywood studios aboard this $15 million space phantasmagoria. From this goldmine of material, as well as input from the surviving participants, Pavich is able to reconstruct not just the film’s making and unmaking, but to an extent the film itself — there are animated storyboard sequences here that offer just a partial yet still breathtaking glimpse of what might have been. Intending to create “a cinematographic god … a prophet to change the minds of all the young people in the world,” Jodorowsky’s plans were more fabulously grandiose even than Herbert’s fantasy of galactic war over a planet producing hallucinogenically enlightening “spice.” (The author himself did not appreciate all the director’s ideas.) His cast, to be led by son Brontis (like dad, an eerily ageless interviewee), would include such outsize personalities as Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, and David Carradine. Music would be provided in part by Pink Floyd; designers included H.R. Giger, Moebius, and Dan O’Bannon. Not everyone met the filmmaker’s requirements for collaborative “spiritual warriors” — Douglas Trumbull, the FX wizard for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), was rejected for being all business.
As the documentary details, this dazzling package did indeed impress the Hollywood suits needed to complete its financing. They had just one quibble: Jodorowsky. It was his vision, but he was too much of a wild card for a commercial gamble of this scale.
Finally, bitter defeat was admitted. Screen rights were later acquired by Dino De Laurentiis’ company. Hired after numerous other directors jumped ship, David Lynch still considers 1984’s Dune his worst, most creatively compromised film. (Thirty years later it’s still awful, despite some stubborn defenders.) Jodorowsky, who admires Lynch, admits he was perversely relieved at how abysmally that costly flop turned out.
His own filmic career took a hard hit from which it never really recovered. 1980’s Tusk and 1990’s The Rainbow Thief were incongruous, barely-seen, half-hearted stabs at the mainstream; 1989’s Santa Sangre a welcome return to form, yet it also a somewhat pale imitation of earlier work. (His forthcoming first feature since, The Dance of Reality, has elicited similar responses.) He busied himself in other projects, notably writing fantasy comics. His Dune became a mostly forgotten industry tale — ah, the Seventies, when they were that crazy. (But not that crazy, alas.)
Yet the incredible storyboard tome got circulated around. As vividly suggested here via clips, its influence is unacknowledged yet hard to deny in umpteen subsequent movies and other media, from the Star Wars and Alien films to recent releases. As the now 85-year-old Jodorowsky serenely observes, “[My] Dune is in the world like a dream. But dreams change the world, also.” *
JODOROWSKY’S DUNE opens Fri/28 in San Francisco.
SUPER EGO I am absolutely terrified — terrified — to tell you that one of the most insanely fun (and also insanely packed, watch your dress) nondance parties of the week is Musical Mondays at the Edge in the Castro (7pm, free. 4149 18th St, SF. www.qbarsf.com/edge). Well, technically nondance: with huge screens playing nothing but show tune videos surrounding you, feel free to break out your inner Belle and sweep that Beast around your imaginary ballroom-of-the-mind, sweets.
I’m terrified because, like this sudden onset of late-period Cher worship, my love for anything musical-related is a complete and scary surprise. As a gay, I’m far more Sonic Youth than Sondheim. “Gleek” was the Wonder Twins’ monkey on Super Friends, right? Yet sling me a couple-four two-for-one drinks, and I’m Mizzing up “All That Jazz” for five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. At the top of my lungs, no less. Hey, maybe it is genetic. Hasa diga eebowai!
Looking for the latest in post-wub-wub dub? Can’t misstep with this monthly electro-bass and heavy beats blast. UK’s Sukh Knight and Squarewave headline, with our own Nebakaneza and Lud Dub .
Thu/27, 10pm, $10. F8, 1192 Folsom, SF. www.feightsf.com
TT THE ARTIST
“Pussy Ate” was one of last year’s ultimate jams, but this B-more rapper’s got more than wiggy cunilingus anthems up her sleeve. A fierce take on gender politics, for one. Outrageous duo Double Duchess open up with a release celebration for new EP Nocturnal.
Fri/28, 10pm, $15. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com
Everybody’s funny uncle: The wild UK-LA man of disco-house is a zany global inspiration and a full-fledged genius on the decks. If you’re looking for someone to lead you into another dimension via the longest, most cosmic remix of “I Feel Love” imaginable, come find him.
Sat/29, 9:30-3:30, $20. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com
Harvey’s gonna be up against another grand name in the annals of bonkers daddies: Parisian Quentin Dupieux, aka Mr. Oizo. Oizo’s more on the electro tip though, so you’ll be bouncing like a fuzzy-haired puppet into the morn.
Sat/29, 9pm-late, $15–$20. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com
GAVIN AND ROBBIE HARDKISS
Scott Hardkiss’s sudden passing last year robbed SF of one of its legends. But his two Hardkiss brothers in music, Scott and Robbie, still light up the scene with joy. New album 1991 — a title playing off the Hardkiss family’s roots — promises to deliver more of their trademark intelligently funky SF house sound.
Sat/29, 9pm, $12–$15. Monarch, 101 Sixth St., SF. www.monarchsf.com
SWEATER FUNK REUNION
Awww, Sweater Funk: the cutest little weekly Chinatown basement funk ‘n’ soul throwdown that ever was? Yes! The whole crew will be in town to soak your cashmere, guesting at Elbo Room’s weekly Saturday Night Soul Party.
Sat/29, 10pm, $10. Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF. www.elbo.com
Fantastic dyke bar the Lexington Club — one of the few queer spaces left in the city outside the Castro and SoMa, and our only dedicated lesbian bar — is celebrating its 17-year anniversary in typical gritty-fabulous style: An “edge of seventeen” party, duh. DJs Rapid Fire and Jenna Riot take control, hotness abounds. Sat/29, 9pm, free. Lexington Club, 3464 19th St., SF. www.lexingtonclub.com
DANCE Looking at ODC/Dance choreographers Brenda Way and KT Nelson’s first evening-length collaboration, boulders and bones, proved to be both fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating, because the work beautifully addressed a question probably going back to when we first took a chisel to a rock and stamped a dancing circle into the ground. In order to create, apparently, you must disturb nature’s order; you break down what’s there to make room for what will be. Frustrating, because boulders’ balancing act between visuals, music, and dance didn’t push the work far enough beyond the inspiration provided by RJ Muna’s documentary about the making of Andy Goldsworthy’s stunning Culvert Cairn.
boulders opens with Muna’s time-lapse film, which follows Goldsworthy tearing up the earth, rearranging it, and ending with an exquisitely embedded sculpture. Muna is a gifted photographer but the rhythm he imposed on the visuals felt unmusical and top-heavy. I almost wish that the choreographers had not shown the film, since it put an underpinning of narrative implications on the dance’s structure that at times felt restrictive. boulders is also an hour long, probably not a time frame Way and Nelson are all that comfortable with yet.
Still, despite some plodding moments, boulders soars when it finds its own voice, starting with the transition from the film to the stage. We find Music (Zoë Keating and her magic cello) and Dance (Anne Zivolich at her most evanescent) in Alexander Nichols’ black-hole set that emerged from Goldsworthy’s Culvert.
Each of the women gets a major solo. Having been moved downstage right, Keating displays playing that blooms into exquisite, melodic raptures that are about as rhythmically dancey as anything I have heard of hers. Zivolich, caught in a large spotlight — a mirror image of Nichols’ hole against a soft landscape — seems like a spirit trying to find a place to alight. The intensity of her searching, flipping, flying almost looked like a duet with that blackness. It’s a long, risky solo, performed in silence but Zivolich was free like the wind and twitchy as a nervous wreck. She pulled on all of her considerable technical and emotional resources to bring off a remarkable tour de force.
Despite the fact that Way and Nelson have different creative sensibilities, for boulders they have found a common language, in which individuals often disappear in pileups, and rolls on the floor or small units coalesce into larger ones only to explode. Balances are fragile except when Maggie Stack freezes in the middle of a run and has to be released, or Natasha Adorlee Johnson throws herself against Jeremy Smith and just about knocks him over.
Much of the choreography consists of small unison duets that suggest a sense of order that is constantly undermined. The dancers line up until somebody squeezes into a space between, or Yayoi Kambara nonchalantly squeezes their proper straight line into a muddle. People drag themselves, or crawl close to the ground. They end between each other’s legs or flat on their back hoisting a partner overhead. They are pushed like brooms or swung in whipping circles. Some of the maneuvers suggest animal, or at least non-biped, behavior.
Zivolich and Kambara’s duet emphasizes their different personalities, with Kambara towering over the petite Zivolich, though without a note of rancor. Zivolich and Dennis Adam again and again meet up as if getting to know each other. He swings her overhead like a helicopter propeller; she precariously leans against his lower arm, and in the end he sprinkles her with some red dust and caresses her cheek.
In its third part, boulders radically changes gears. With the dancers dressed in white gossamer garments, and the women in spring-green bodices, they look like celebrants, perhaps of some ancient rite. They again line up; this time with feet that deliver unison staccato stomps, but arms that fly all over. Then they spread in easily flowing sequences that stream out of that black hole like water. It’s a celebration of new life, perhaps love, certainly the power of dance.
boulders is an honorable tribute to Goldsworthy — but ultimately it’s no competition to the force, resonance, and weightiness of what looked like a teardrop quarried out of the earth.
boulders and bones will be shown again in ODC’s program A (Wed/26, Fri/28, and Sun/30). Program B (Thu/27 and Sat/29) includes Kimi Okada’s delightful Two If By Sea; Way’s dystopic Unintended Consequences: A Meditation, set to Laurie Anderson; and the exuberant Triangulating Euclid, choreographed by Way, Nelson, and Kate Weare. *
Wed/26-Thu/27, 7:30pm; Fri/28-Sat/29, 8pm; Sun/30, 4pm, $20-75
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
700 Howard, SF
Nobody has a good answer to San Francisco’s most basic housing problem: How do we build the housing that existing city residents need? It was a question the Guardian has been posing for many years, and one that I again asked a panel of journalists and housing advocates on March 14, again getting no good answers.
The question is an important one given Mayor Ed Lee’s so-called "affordability agenda" and pledge to build 30,000 new housing units, a third of them somehow affordable, by 2020. And it’s a question that led to the founding 30 years ago of Bridge Housing, the builder of affordable and supportive housing that assembled this media roundtable.
"There really isn’t one thing, there needs to be a lot of changes in a lot of areas to make it happen," was the closest that Bridge CEO Cynthia Parker came to answering the question.
One of those things is a general obligation bond measure this fall to fund affordable housing and transportation projects around the Bay Area, which Bridge and a large coalition of other partners are pushing. That would help channel some of the booming Bay Area’s wealth into its severely underfunded affordable housing and transit needs.
When I brought up other ideas from our March 12 Guardian editorial ("Lee must pay for his promises") for capturing more of the city’s wealth such as new taxes on tech companies, a congestion pricing charge, and downtown transit assessment districts Parker replied, "We’d be in favor of a lot of that."
Yet it’s going to take far more proactive, aggressive, and creative actions to really bridge the gap between the San Francisco Housing Element’s analysis that 60 percent of new housing should be below-market-rate and affordable to those earning 120 percent or less of the area median income, and the less than 20 percent that San Francisco is actually building and promoting through its policies. (Steven T. Jones)
No charges in CCSF protest
The two formerly jailed City College student protesters can now breathe a sigh of relief, as they learned March 19 that the District Attorney’s Office won’t be filing criminal charges against them.
Otto Pippenger, 20, and Dimitrios Philliou, 21, were detained by SFPD following a violent clash during a City College protest on March 13. Their ideological and physical fight for democracy at their school is also the subject of one of our print articles in this week’s Guardian ("Democracy for none," March 18). Philliou’s attorney confirmed to the Guardian that charges were not pursued by the District Attorney’s Office.
"The charges have been dropped for now, in terms of the criminal case," said Rachel Lederman, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing Philliou.
But, she noted, they’re not out of the fire yet.
"The fight is not over for them," she said, "as it’s possible they’ll face school discipline."
Heidi Alletzhauser, Pippenger’s mother, told the Guardian that Vice Chancellor Faye Naples indicated the two would face some sort of disciplinary hearing, though Naples told Alletzhauser that Pippenger would not be expelled. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
Activists cross the border
Last November, the Guardian profiled Alex Aldana, a queer immigration activist who was born in Mexico but came to Pomona, California with his mother and sister on a visa at the age of 16 ("Undocumented and unafraid," 11/12/14).
On March 18, Aldana joined a group of undocumented immigrants in a protest at the US border crossing at Otay Mesa in San Diego. Chanting together as a group, they marched over the border and presented themselves to U.S. Immigration and Customs and Border protection agents, whom they asked for asylum.
Among the immigrants who surrendered to immigration agents were women, children, and teens. Some are separated from their husbands, children, and families in the US and, like my own mother (see "They deported my mom," March 11), wish to be reunited.
The youth protesters were brought to the US earlier in childhood, but deported to Mexico after being taken into custody and detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some would have qualified to remain under the Dream Act, but were forced to leave the country before it was signed into law.
The protesters marched toward the turnstiles that separate Mexico and the US, chanting "Yes we can," and "No human is illegal."
A few feet from the gates, the group paused to listen to a final pep talk from Aldana.
The action was captured and recorded in real time on U-Stream. About 16 minutes into the video, he can be seen addressing the crowd, fist raised. "We have nothing to lose but our chains," Aldana told the group. Then, in Spanish, he said, "Without papers," to which his fellow protesters responded, "without fear."
They made their way to the turnstiles and one by one they walked through, straight into custody of US border guards. As they crossed the border, they told a cameraperson where they hoped to go. They named cities, such as Phoenix and Tucson, and states, such as Alabama, Oregon, and North Carolina. But each one said, in English or Spanish, "we’re going home."
It was part of a series of organized border crossings by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, to highlight the experiences of young people who lived for years in the United States but were deported due to their immigration status. In Aldana’s case, he traveled to Mexico voluntarily, due to a family emergency. (Francisco Alvarado)
Oakland settles with injured Occupier
Iraq War veteran and injured Occupy Oakland protester Scott Olsen, 26, won a settlement of $4.5 million from the city of Oakland in a federal lawsuit, his attorneys announced March 21.
At the tail end of a thousands-strong 2011 Occupy Oakland protest, an Oakland Police Department officer fired a beanbag directly into Olsen’s head, causing serious and lasting brain injury. His attorney, Rachel Lederman, said that was why the payout was so high.
"His bones were shattered, part of his brain was destroyed," she told the Guardian. "He’d been working as a computer system network administrator. He’s not going back to that kind of work, and it compensates him for his wage loss for his lifetime."
But in the end, she said, "No amount of money can put his head back together." (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
Guardian seeks columnists
The Bay Guardian is looking for a pair of new freelance writers to do separate monthly columns covering the technology industry and economic/social justice issues. The two new columns would go into a rotation we’re tentatively calling Soul of the City, along with Jason Henderson’s Street Fight column and a new environmental column by News Editor Rebecca Bowe that we’ll debut in our Earth Day issue.
For the technology column, we want someone with a deep understanding of this industry, its economic and personality drivers, and the role it could and should play in the civic life of San Francisco and nearby communities. We aren’t looking for gadget reviews or TechCrunch-style evangelizing or fetishizing of the tech sector, but someone with an illuminating, populist perspective that appeals to a broad base of Guardian readers.
The other column, on economic and social justice issues, would cover everything from housing rights to labor to police accountability issues, with an eye toward how San Francisco can maintain its diversity and cultural vibrancy. We want someone steeped in Bay Area political activism and advocacy, but with an independent streak and fearless desire to speak truth to power.
We strongly encourage candidates of color, young people, and those representing communities that need a stronger voice in the local political discourse to apply.
If you’re interested, please sent your qualifications and concepts, along with one sample column and ideas for future columns, to Editor-in-Chief Steven T. Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help us escalate this fight for the soul of the city by adding your voice to the Guardian’s mix.
By Ellyn Bell and Minouche Kandel
Many people know that the Bay Area is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the US. What most people do not know is that the FBI ranks the Bay Area as one of the worst 13 areas in the country for child sex trafficking.
Many of these children have been abused or neglected, and the majority have involvement with the child welfare or juvenile justice systems. Lesbian, gay, and transgender youth are more likely to have engaged in commercial sexual activity, in part due to homophobic home lives that pushed them onto the street.
Some youth may not have a pimp, and engage in “survival sex” to meet their basic needs. Sex work can be a dangerous occupation, often resulting in serious trauma. This is particularly true for persons who enter into sex work before the age of 18.
Both federal and state law specifically define youth involved in commercial sex work as victims of human trafficking, even if no force or coercion is present. The “Two views of sex work” described in the Feb. 18 article in the Bay Guardian oversimplifies the issue.
San Francisco is undergoing a systemic change in our response to commercially, sexually exploited youth, as we recognize that they have experienced abuse, homelessness, and/or homophobia, and should not be treated as criminals.
For the past year, through the Mayor’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, city departments, and nonprofit organizations that work with trafficking survivors of all ages have been meeting to develop policies and better coordinate the response to human trafficking in San Francisco, with a particular focus on child sex trafficking. It is a holistic effort, staffed by the Department on the Status of Women, with participation from law enforcement, public health, child welfare, the school district, and community-based organizations.
Intervening with these youth can be challenging. They may not recognize themselves as “victims,” or identify as exploited. The person exploiting them may combine affection with tactics of power and control, which can confuse a youth into perceiving their exploiter as the only person who cares about them. Yet everyone agrees we need to find other options for minors who engage in commercial sexual activity, whether by “choice” or by being trafficked by an exploiter.
The conversation becomes more complicated when it implicates adults who have entered into the sex industry. These adults may have been sexually abused minors or trafficked youth, but simply by being over the age of 18, they are considered willing sex workers. This may be true for some sex workers, and not true for others.
The SAGE Project, which has a 20-year history as a peer-led, peer model program, has a unique perspective from working with the continuum of issues that affect youth and adults whose lives have intertwined with the sex industry. SAGE does not believe “that all sex work abuses women” as stated in the Bay Guardian’s Feb. 18 article. In fact, SAGE works with all people to define for themselves their needs and choices, and utilizes a harm reduction philosophy throughout its programs.
Intervening with trafficking survivors is not enough. We cannot ignore the role of demand in creating a market for human trafficking. Without demand for sex work, there would not be a sex industry that creates a venue for those who exploit people for profit. However, we do need to be mindful about efforts to curb demand that inadvertently put sex workers at risk of more harm.
The SAGE Project and the Department on the Status of Women welcome the participation of sex worker rights groups in anti-trafficking and demand efforts. Sex worker voices are needed to give important input on the risks posed by certain strategies. We can only effectively address the complexities of human trafficking if we engage all the communities affected.
Minouche Kandel, Director of Women’s Policy San Francisco Department on the Status of Women; Ellyn Bell, Executive Director, the SAGE Project, (Standing Against Global Exploitation)
Police have heavily increased sweeps of homeless campers in Golden Gate and Buena Vista parks since January as city officials discuss the next 10-year homeless plan, targeting a specific population of the city’s homeless: youth 25 years old and under, kids who often make those parks their homes.
Officials estimate there are as many as 1,902 homeless unaccompanied children and transitional age youth (ages 18-24) in San Francisco. The Haight’s young homeless often identify themselves colloquially as “street kids.” Although not all street kids desire to stop roaming, those striving to stabilize their lives find camping citations a major barrier in escaping homelessness.
“There’s been a big step up in police force in the Haight,” Jefferson Fellows, a manager of outreach at Larkin Street Youth Services, told us. On the early morning of Jan. 24, Park Station police officers cited over 30 campers in Buena Vista and Golden Gate parks, according to police records. The numbers are higher than usual, but month-by-month comparisons are difficult due to the seasonal changes in homeless populations.
At its satellite office, Fellows works with Haight street youth to reduce their citations and maintain court dates. “There’s a real struggle our youth are facing, and a lack of options,” he said.
The youth and police both verify that enforcement has increased lately.
Capt. Greg Corrales of Park Station told the Guardian he’s increased sweeps of campers in the two parks in response to increased community complaints. When we asked him to produce email copies of those complaints, he said many of them were made in person at community meetings.
A recently formed petition, “Restore and Improve Buena Vista Park,” specifically calls on local police to step up patrols, increase enforcement of no camping laws, and to place police at key points around Buena Vista Park at 5pm to prevent campers from setting up in the evening. It has 748 signatures.
The neighbors view increased police action as the solution to dissolving campsites, but the citations issued to those campers can be a barrier for these youth to find permanent housing.
Walking into Larkin Street Youth’s satellite office on Haight Street is akin to stumbling into a Thanksgiving dinner. Teenagers and 20-somethings gather around a table brimming with food: strawberries, pastries, cheese, and more. Many know each other, and rejoice in their reunions after spending months apart on the road. As we walked in, a girl named Stormy shouted “Ace!” happily and wrapped her arms around a dreadlocked friend.
They may or may not have homes, but it’s clear many consider each other family. Among their many common bonds (a love of dogs is a popular one), they all have one thing in common they don’t celebrate: an abundance of citations for sleeping or camping in parks.
One of them is Skye David Chase, 23, a tan and bearded native San Franciscan. He has “blood family” out in the Presidio. “My mom was a black sheep, she hung out with the hippies and the Deadheads down here (in the Haight),” he said. “My soul is here.”
Chase pulled out a stack of citations an inch thick. They’re mostly from camping in Golden Gate Park, but other citations are peppered in as well, he said. Altogether they tally about $2,000.
“Now I have a lot of fines built up, I might have jail time, I don’t know. That’s just for four months of sleeping here,” he said. “In that time, I was coming [to Larkin] for services, I was going to counseling, getting my medical stuff. The cops would show me respect, shake my hand sometimes, but they’d still give me the ticket.”
Not all street kids want out, but Chase is tired of roaming. He says he kicked his heroin habit, and now spends his time educating himself in libraries and looking for a steady job. He dreams of becoming a librarian.
Most importantly, he’s seeking a permanent place to call home. But he’s in a hole he can’t dig out of: if he doesn’t find housing he’ll keep accruing camping citations, and finding housing is difficult as long as the citations burden him financially. Applying for certain types of housing can be difficult with the specter of criminal history hovering over you.
“Many programs turn people away who have warrants,” Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness said. As citations go unpaid, youth are issued arrest warrants. And although some programs work to clear records of offenders, like the Public Defender’s Office’s Clean Slate program, camping violations are often infractions — Clean Slate advertises helping offenders reduce felonies to misdemeanors.
A San Francisco Civil Grand Jury report last year put the problem succinctly: “The current system of issuing citations for nighttime sleeping and camping in the Park has not been effective in reducing the number of park dwellers.”
Bevan Dufty, the director of the mayor’s homeless program, HOPE, said he understands the need to enforce the law, but that perhaps that enforcement is detrimental to permanent housing solutions.
“Citations more often than not result in a barrier to housing people,” he said. But camping citations are just one of many types of citations harrying the homeless, he said. Dufty told us of a young woman who is now 23, but has been homeless since she was 15. He went with her to court to try to minimize her many citations, which made her ineligible for some services.
“The fundamental goal,” he said, “should be trying to get people housed.”
Dufty said he would try to help Chase personally, and we’re now in efforts to connect them.
Chase may have many fines built up, but a pro bono attorney he met through Project Homeless Connect is helping him navigate the legal system. Recently, his effort to find housing and get a job have taken on a dangerous edge of necessity. Chase recently learned he is HIV-positive.
“I just found out six months ago,” he said. It’s forced him to make decisions about where to camp, based on his energy levels and proximity to services. “If I walk too much I’m not utilizing my food and energy properly.”
Many of the street kids are roamers, but for those like Chase who want to find permanency and stability, it can almost seem like the city is giving them a help up with one hand and pushing them back out onto the street with another.
But Chase maintains positivity about life.
“I was here a few months ago and someone had a telescope out here, we could see the nine moons of Jupiter lined up. It was powerful,” Chase said. “I have an empathetic viewpoint now that I’ve been through all this. I don’t have a choice.”
The valuation of San Francisco-based technology companies has been skyrocketing, with Airbnb reaching a reported $10 billion last week, Uber at about $3.5 billion, and Twitter’s market capitalization just shy of $30 billion.
But in each of these cases, the companies and their wealthy investors are profiting from exploiting their communities and refusing to play by the rules. That’s a point of pride among the tech titans, who speak proudly of the “disruption” that they create and adopt vaguely libertarian anti-government postures when it suits their interests.
Yet there’s mounting real world damage being done by scofflaw companies that refuse to take responsibility for their actions or to use some of their growing resources to help clean up the messes they create. The companies deceptively call themselves the “sharing economy,” even though renting isn’t sharing, and they’re utterly unwilling to share their wealth.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones held a March 21 hearing that included representatives of Uber and other so-called rideshare companies, and representatives from the insurance industry, trying to create a regulatory framework that would protect drivers and the general public.
As we’ve reported, Uber and similar “transportation network companies” undercut San Francisco’s taxi industry without providing commercial insurance for their drivers, leaving both its drivers and those they injure on their own in many cases.
Insurers and regulators dismissed Uber’s claim that it’s “only an app,” an argument used to justify not fully insuring drivers or taking on others responsibilities shouldered by taxi companies, with one insurance industry spokesperson calling on the TNCs to “step up, and be the insurers of their drivers.”
Airbnb has a similar business model as what ValleyWag last week called an “outlaw middleman,” creating a simple online system for connecting tourists with cheap rooms in San Francisco and other cities, heedless of the fact that such short-term rentals often violate local zoning, housing, and tenant laws, as well as the leases of many tenant hosts.
And when San Francisco ruled two years ago that the 15 percent Transient Occupancy Tax applies to Airbnb stays, the company simply refused to comply and tack on the tax. It recently added insult to injury by saying it would support requiring hosts to pay the tax — an unworkable solution to a problem that this company got rich creating.
With the power to disrupt comes the responsibility for that disruption, something these companies refuse to accept. Twitter extorted more than $50 million from San Francisco taxpayers by threatening to leave town, and now it refuses to even provide meaningful benefits to this community, a condition of that subsidy.
Just because they’ve found ways to make money, and/or a bunch of rich investors who are willing to lend them the power that comes with their wealth, that doesn’t validate their business models or excuse bad corporate behavior. Bullies riding bubbles are still bullies, even if they have cool apps.
When University of California Berkeley students Ophir Bruck and Victoria Fernandez first made contact with the University of California Board of Regents, it was a far cry from the genial hobnobbing they engaged in over lunch at the March 19 Regents meeting in San Francisco, as special guests called Student Advocates to the Regents.
About a year ago, they were outside a Regents meeting in Sacramento and, joined by about 60 other students, symbolically locked to a pair of handmade, 10-foot-tall models of oil rigs they’d set up outside the conference center.
“The idea was the symbolism of us being chained to an extractive economy that’s not sustainable,” Bruck explained to us. The message they hoped to impart to the Regents was: “They have the keys to our fossil freedom.”
Taking advantage of the public comment session to get their point across, the students were there to call on the Regents to withdraw UC investment holdings in companies such as Exxon, Chevron, BP, and other leading fossil fuel companies. The campaign, Fossil Free Cal, is just one of dozens of student-led efforts nationwide seeking to convince campus administrations to withdraw funds from oil and gas companies as a way of curbing greenhouse gas emissions and fighting climate change.
Some local institutions of higher education have already committed to divestment from fossil fuels. Oakland’s Peralta Community College District, the Foothill-DeAnza Community College Foundation, and the San Francisco State University Foundation have made commitments to divest.
But other prominent schools have declined. Last October, Harvard University announced that it would not honor students’ request to withdraw investment holdings from the fossil fuel sector, saying such a move would “position the university as a political actor rather than an academic institution,” and could “come at a substantial economic cost.” A student effort to have Brown University divest from fossil fuels also went down the tubes.
Divestment by California’s flagship public university system would have a significant impact. UC Berkeley’s endowment is $3 billion, while the total UC system endowment is $11 billion. Fossil Free Cal organizers estimate that about 5 percent of that money is tied up in the fossil fuel sector.
Beginning with the kickoff to their divestment campaign at that first Regents’ meeting in Sacramento, the students’ message seems to have resonated. In the time since, they’ve attended every Regents meeting, met individually with certain board members, submitted reports in support of divestment, and earned an official endorsement from the UC Students’ Association, a student government that spans all UC campuses. Some individual regents have been receptive — but so far, the powerful UC governing board has not seriously taken up the question of divestment.
“We’re worried about what our future looks like, and what they are doing with our money,” Fernandez said. “We’re saying, if we’re invested in fossil fuels, we’re inherently invested in the destruction of students’ future.”
Nationwide, the campaign to divest from fossil fuels is a proactive, youth-led movement hinged on a moral argument: Since climate scientists have said it is dangerous to continue burning fossil fuels at current rates, universities have an ethical obligation to withdraw support from those corporations sticking to existing business models for extracting and burning fossil fuels.
To argue their case, the students are highlighting a quandary. There’s global scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the reason climate change is occurring, and this has led the international community to take action. In 2010, members of the United Nations agreed to take steps to prevent an average global temperature increase above 2 degrees Celsius.
But according to a 2012 report issued by the Carbon Tracker Institute, a London-based think tank, the amount of carbon stored in reserves by the world’s leading 200 leading fossil fuel companies is enough to trigger that temperature increase five times over, if all the reserves were extracted and burned. That would severely alter the global climate with dangerous and irreversible impacts, according to climate modeling scenarios.
To lessen that damage, students are advising their campus administrators to withdraw from fossil fuels, arguing that it makes good business sense. Internationally, some economists have begun referring to a “carbon bubble,” with Green Party members of the European Parliament releasing a study last month to warn of the effect it could have on the pension funds, banks, and insurance companies in the European Union.
Even with the dawning realization that fossil fuel companies’ holdings can’t be burned if the international community is to meet its goals to fight climate change, the UC Regents have yet to make any clear indication on whether they will continue to keep millions of dollars tied up in that sector.
“All successful student movements took sit-ins and mass mobilizations,” Bruck said during an interview at UC Berkeley’s Free Speech Café, named for the historic campus movement.
It may well go there, but at this stage, organizers are still hoping the Regents will take leadership in response to their campaign. Specifically, they’re pushing for UC to drop all existing investments in fossil fuel companies over the next five years, and roll out a climate change investment strategy.
On April 4, organizers behind this effort will host 300 students representing 100 schools from across the United States and Canada, for a conference on the fossil fuel divestment movement. The two-day strategy session, which will be held at San Francisco State University, aims to strengthen the youth-led movement to fight climate change by getting at the economic root of the problem, through divestment.
“Our goal is divesting in the next two semesters,” Fernandez said. But since students cycle out of the universities over four years, and Regents are appointed for terms lasting 12 years, she realizes accomplishing this goal might mean relying on newly engaged students: “Maybe our freshmen right now will have to bring it home.”