Volume 48 Number 27



Look, we know how it is. Sometimes you just need to get out there — at whatever time it is — and grab a dang drink. Fret no more: Here’s our handy guide to getting a little tipsy on, round-the-clock.

View the Clocktails chart it in full and print it out (PDF) here.

NOON: The Ramp Huge, killer Bloody Marys and a heaping plate of fried calamari on the waterfront — that’s how to welcome in the afternoon, especially if you’re on your way to a ballgame. 855 Terry Francois Blvd, SF. www.theramprestaurant.com

1PM: La Mar perfectly made Peruvian Pisco sours, sipped by the seaside — well, bayside — please. If you’re feeling especially adult, dive into a tangy, whiskey-like capitan cocktail. Pier 1.5, Embarcadero, SF. www.lamarsf.com

2PM: Wild Side West The sun goddesses are usually on your side, whisking away the Bernal Heights clouds and allowing you an afternoon basking on the patio here with a tall glass of cider. 424 Cortland, SF. www.wildsidewest.com

3PM: Biergarten: Wednesday-Sunday, grab a glass of Hacker-Pschorr, Schneider Weisse, or Almdudler and enjoy a (hopefully) sunny Hayes Valley late afternoon. Sometimes, there’s even oompa-pah. 424 Octavia, www.biergartensf.com

4PM: Yield Nothing better in the late afternoon than a great glass of sustainable vino — say, an Urban Legend pinot — and a little downtime with charm at this Dogpatch wine bar. 2490 Third St, SF. www.yieldandpause.com

5PM: Hopwater Dash to this too-cool spot right after work to beat the crush: 31 taps of delicious California brews — try Altamont’s Scarcity IIIPA for a quick buzz — and a singles scene that will keep you busy into the night. 850 Bush, SF. www.hopwatersf.com

6PM: Hi Tops This surprisingly diverse gay sports bar in the Castro boasts the city’s yummiest Michelada, the “Big Unit” tequila cocktail, awesome vintage décor, and 25-cent buffalo wings on Mondays. 2247 Market, SF. www.hitopssf.com

7PM: Top of the Mark Perch atop the Mark Hopkins hotel for a perfectly made Cosmopolitan — sip it slow (it’s $14) and enjoy a near-panoramic view of San Francisco as the sun sets. 999 California, SF. www.topofthemark.com

8PM: Tosca Cocktail time with classic, date-friendly flair: The recently rejuvenated North Beach fave can still make a fat lady sing with a sharp Casino Bar Negroni 1919 or fruity Zamboanga. 242 Columbus Ave, SF. www.toscacafesf.com

9PM: Virgil’s Sea Room Get naughtical at the hippest recent addition to the bar scene, with a cute patio, Mission-scruffy crowd, and drinks named after beloved locals like the slinky, vodka-licious Vicki Marlene. 3152 Mission, SF. www.virgilssf.com

10PM: Martuni’s Show tunes + martinis = Martuni’s, and you’ll be singing your heart out at the piano with a jovial crowd of musical-lovers after a couple dirty ones, guaranteed. 4 Valencia, SF. martunis.ypguides.net

11PM: Li Po If you would like your mind erased with a raucous, fun-loving Chinatown crowd, order the magical Chinese Mai Tai here and hold on for dear life. 916 Grant, SF. www.lipolounge.com

MIDNIGHT Nihon Whiskey Bar Slip out of the club and into something silky and sophisticated at this beautiful Japanese hot spot. Great for conversation, especially when sipping a smoky Bunnahabbain Toiteach. 1779 Folsom, SF. www.dajanigroup.net

1AM: 500 Club Drink in some true old school Mission atmosphere — we’re gonna recommend sticking with Fernet shots and Trumer back here, since by this point your taste buds are shot. 500 Guerrero, SF. www.500clubsf.com

2AM: Sidewalk sale: Our fascistic 2am closing time? It’s 3am, really, if you count the socializing crowds cast out on the sidewalk, flasks flashing. Locally bottled Cyrus Noble bourbon is really good from a flask.

3AM: The after party: “Back to mine” shouts the lucky lady with accommodating neighbors, and off you go. Don’t settle for Smirnoff-chugging: our own Hangar One vodka, made from grapes, will win the night.

4AM: The after-after party: Nothing is better (or more romantic) than a bottle of Roederer Estate brut downed between swingset rides at Alamo Square Park — watch you don’t get a ticket, though.

5AM: The morning cap: Slip on those shades as the sun slips up — it’s time for a fizzy pick-me-up. Some Alameda-made St. George gin with a splash of sparkling grapefruit will get you up and at ’em.

6AM: Gino and Carlo: Morning shots! This North Beach classic — since 1942 — sports good old-fashioned Italian moxie, a ton of tipsy Beat history, and strong enough pours to wake you right up. 548 Green, SF. www.ginoandcarlo.com

7AM: Ace’s Budweiser for breakfast? Hey, you’ve come this far. Sink deep into the couches of this proud, dimly lit Nob Hill dive, and clink cans with your fellow “morning people.” 998 Sutter, SF. www.acesbarsf.com

8AM: Bechelli’s Flower Market Café A well-kept secret: the Flower Market Fizz, with orange juice, gin, and egg whites, is one of the best wake up calls around. Nice breakfast too, if you’re into that. 698 Brannan, SF. www.flowermarketcafe.com

9AM: Beach Chalet Nothing beats a refreshing peach Bellini after your morning run along Ocean Beach (or to steel you for a day of sightseeing with guests). You can get these by the pitcher here! 1000 Great Highway, SF. www.beachchalet.com

10AM: Buena Vista Café Was the contemporary Irish Coffee really invented here in 1952? Who cares, this is the perfect time to down a couple delicious ones — before the Fisherman’s Wharf tourists rush in. 2765 Hyde, SF. www.thebuenavista.com

11AM: Cafe Flore Mornings on Flore’s spacious patio are a quiet, sunny Castro treatany kind of margarita you want in a European atmosphere, brimming with gorgeous people, of course. 2298 Market, SF. www.cafeflor.com


SF’s culture of corruption


EDITORIAL The extent of the charges in the criminal complaint against Sen. Leland Yee, political consultant Keith Jackson, and others are shocking and sensational: international arms trafficking, drug dealing, money laundering, cavorting with organized crime figures, murder for hire. But the basic allegation that Yee and Jackson practiced a corrupt, transactional kind of politics wasn’t surprising to anyone who knew how they operated.

What’s worse, they were simply a more extreme — and now, thanks to FBI wiretaps and undercover agents, a better documented — example of the political corruption that is endemic to San Francisco and some other high-stakes American cities. The city of St. Francis gets sold out to the highest bidders everyday, by politicians who value wealthy constituents over the vast majority of us who are just trying to get by — and over the interests of city finances and governance.

Part of the problem is inherent in our money-driven political system, in which politicians are constantly hustling for cash from people who want things from them. Politicians deny they take actions with political contributions in mind, but well-heeled capital and labor interests don’t spend millions of dollars on contributions out of the goodness of their hearts. These are business transactions.

We wholeheartedly support the call Senate President Darrell Steinberg made for fundamental political reform during the March 28 vote to suspend Yee and two of his allegedly corrupt colleagues. These cases aren’t aberrations, they are indicative of how power get wielded when it’s based on wealth. That’s the reality that has gotten even uglier since the Citizens United decision equated money with political speech and upped the ante for would-be public servants.

But much of the problem is particular to San Francisco, where cozy relationships between politicians and corporate interests are often feted in plain view. Former Mayor Willie Brown — a lawyer and unregistered lobbyist who won’t reveal his huge corporate client list despite having an influential weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle — helped install his longtime City Hall functionary Ed Lee into Room 200 to guard against anyone asking too much of the rich and powerful. Yee and Lee represented rival Chinatown economic factions, both wanting to use the power of the Mayor’s Office for their interests.

In his March 22 column, Brown once again repeated a joke he’s used before, that the “e” in email stands for “evidence,” which is really only funny in a sick political culture that celebrates slick rule-breakers. And it was from Brown that Lee learned it was acceptable to brazenly give tax breaks and regulatory passes to the tech companies that his top fundraiser, venture capitalist Ron Conway, are invested in.

Megadeveloper Lennar Urban used its wealth and political connections to take control of San Francisco’s biggest tracts of undeveloped and underdeveloped land, including Hunters and Candlestick points and Treasure Island, paying off community groups and hiring Jackson and other political henchmen to get the job done.

In fact, the FBI complaint says Jackson was working on behalf of that project when he approached accused Chinatown gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow for support, leading to their alleged involvement in a string of wild criminal conspiracies. Meanwhile, Chow was getting public commendations from San Francisco-based politicians including Lee, Yee, Gavin Newsom, Dianne Feinstein, Fiona Ma, and even Tom Ammiano. Chow courted political legitimacy the same way politicians seek cash, and mainstream media outlets were happy to play along.

Throughout his political career, Yee has carried water for Pacific Gas & Electric, perhaps the most corrupting contributor to political campaigns in the city’s history. PG&E’s influence at City Hall had thankfully waned in recent years as a result of overreach and deadly criminal negligence, until Lee and his appointees last year killed CleanPowerSF (see “Challenge Mayor Lee and his lies,” 9/17/13) on a pretext so thin it could only be gift to PG&E.

In many ways, San Francisco hasn’t changed. It’s still the old Barbary Coast, ruled by capitalist thugs and corrupt politicians, only with glossy modern spin created by armies of well-paid political consultants. But we all deserve better.

Yee and Jackson should go to prison if there’s even a slice of truth to the allegations against them. And maybe they’ll cut deals and take other political figures down with them, giving us more of a peek behind the curtain of political power. But it’s up to all of us to break the close ties between economic and political power and begin to restore the democratic power of everyday people.

Tapping back



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?

Sometimes I wish I could become unstuck in time — you know, in a Vonnegutian sense — and pop back into my own body at different times of my life. I’d love to once again see and feel who I was when I first visited the Gold Cane (1569 Haight, SF. 415-626-1112), back when I was 21, back when I was new to San Francisco, back when San Francisco was, well, different than it is now. They say Virginia is for lovers. Back then San Francisco was for freaks and weirdos. And I felt like I was both.

If I could pop into my own body that night when I was first visiting the Gold Cane, it would be 2002 and I’d be 21. My bed at the time was an air mattress and I slept in a living room that I shared with my friend Mani in a two-bedroom flat at Haight and Central. My hair was three different colors, my pants hung to my ass, and I wore an absurdly long hemp belt that dangled past my knees.

Walking in that night, I saw a barroom split in half: the right side was where the bar was and the left was full of tables. Beer signs and Giants paraphernalia littered the walls, as did old photos and art. Some mean fucker was running the pool table in the back and drunk people were doing drunk people things. It was perfect, and is pretty much exactly the same way today.

That night I met a pretty blond girl whose name I’ll never remember. We flirted for awhile, and I got her number, and when I left I imaged myself and the pretty blonde girl having a sweet summer fling and her letting me sometimes use her Internet to check my email. The place I was staying didn’t have Internet, and in 2002 W-Fi didn’t exist. I never ended up seeing the pretty blonde girl again because the next week I met my first love on the 71 bus.

If I could become unstuck in time I’d pop back into myself on the twentysomething-ish time I visited the Gold Cane. It was my first SantaCon and I’d turned 29 the night before. I’d somehow managed to lose everyone in my group and met some new friends at The Page. We got some food at The Little Chihuahua and then meandered up to the Gold Cane because it felt like the right thing to do. Walking in that night I saw an Irishman with white hair behind the bar, a jukebox playing impeccable tunes, and drunk people doing drunk people things. It was perfect and is pretty much exactly the same way today.

That night I met a pretty brown-haired girl. We drank and talked and laughed and spilled shit all over our Santa costumes. San Francisco was still full of freak and weirdos and we were of that ilk. The pretty brown-haired girl and I hit it off, but I had a girlfriend so I smartly dipped before I did something stupid. I’m not gonna say that being drunk in the Gold Cane makes you do stupid things, but it certainly doesn’t stop you from doing them either.

I dream about time travel a lot, both throughout the centuries and throughout my own life. If I’m time traveling within the Gold Cane I can do both, considering the bar has been around since 1926. I know the Gold Cane has some really cool history but I’m always too drunk to find out what it is, so I just tell my own stories instead.

Stuart Schuffman aka Broke-Ass Stuart is a travel writer, poet, and TV host. You can find his online shenanigans at www.brokeassstuart.com


Sweet, psyched-out, and dirty



LEFT OF THE DIAL Setting aside the darkly ear-wormy melodies, haunting vocals, and refreshingly crisp grunge-pop that goes into Everyone Is Dirty‘s sound, it’s singer Sivan Gur-Arieh’s violin — slicing sweetly above the chaos of a final chorus, adding a heightened sense of gothic romance to a bridge — that sets the Oakland art-rock quartet apart from the current fuzzy, grungey masses.

Good thing Gur-Arieh’s come to peace with the fact that she plays it.

“I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my violin since I was a kid,” says the singer, an Oakland native whose father taught her play when she was in elementary school. “I mean, growing up, you don’t always want to be staying home standing in front of a music stand, playing scales for two hours at a time. I’ve definitely put my violin under the bed and not played it…but it always came back out.

“I’m at a point where I realize it’s a tool, and it’s a tool I know how to use, and you don’t always get to choose that,” she says, earnestly, like someone speaking about a handicap. “Now, I’m just at, I play the violin. Whether it’s a nerdy instrument or not, I do it and it’s a part of me.”

It’s also a big part of the band’s charisma, an invitingness coming through music that technically should feel cold — sure, Gur-Arieh’s distinctive whisper-wail would be at home providing the soundtrack to an artsy vampire flick, but you also trust her, and the weirdness, in the same way you trust the Pixies‘ or Sonic Youth‘s weirdness; it doesn’t seem to be an affectation.

Then there’s a very ’90s sensibility about pop’s borders, reminiscent of SF’s own Imperial Teen, maybe Sleater-Kinney, and I want to say a more jagged Veruca Salt but maybe I’m just ridiculously excited that they’re reuniting so I’m hearing them everywhere? Regardless: Add in psyched-out guitar riffs from Christopher Daddio, a super warm, strong rhythm section courtesy of Tony Sales on drums and Tyler English on bass, and you start to understand why the four-piece, at just a year and a few months old, has earned serious devotees around the Bay Area as well as highly coveted free studio time at Different Fur via Converse’s Rubber Tracks pop-up — all before releasing a full-length record.

That’s in the works, Gur-Arieh assures me. This January marked both the band’s one-year anniversary (its first show as a four-piece rocked Cafe Du Nord, sigh) and another major milestone: They signed with Breakup Records, the husband-and-wife-run label, formerly out of Oakland (now out of Portland but with a heavy bias toward bands from their former hometown); the label will be producing EID’s first full-length at the end of May.

In the meantime, the band has been releasing teasers of what we can expect, like “California” — a full psych-rock sprint that gets undeniably reminiscent of the Dead Kennedys‘ “California Uber Alles” in its chorus, when the layers of sci-fi guitar drop out for Gur-Arieh to admonish “California, put your pants on/you’ve had too much to drink.” They just re-recorded that one for the full-length, at Daddio’s home studio, where they do most of their recording. “He’s an engineer, and he’s a perfectionist,” says the singer. “The fact that he’s able to make everything sound so good just using mic placement…it’s incredible to me.” On “Mama, No!!!” things take a turn for the Nirvana-esque, though the band keeps it dynamic by playing expertly with contrasts — the sing-song of Gur-Arieh’s voice with unrestrained drum crashes, the urgent peal of violin over fuzzed-out guitar.

She and Daddio, who met when Gur-Arieh was in film school in Chicago and New York (he did sound design for her thesis film), share primary songwriting duties; when the singer moved back to the Bay Area, they started seeking out the band’s rhythm section. Film still plays a big part in how the singer thinks about music, she says. “I make our videos for the most part,” she says. “They’re very connected to me. I’ve always been a musician, but I’ve also always been painting, writing poetry&ldots;film is kind of an extension of music, to me.”

Everyone Is Dirty will be sharing a bill on April 5 with a pair of similarly dramatic, cinematic, female-fronted bands: Rich Girls, the new(ish) gothy garage project from Luisa Black (formerly of The Blacks) opens, and Happy Fangs, whose contrasting male-female vocal dynamic, courtesy of Rebecca Bortman and Mike Cobra, has just been supplemented by the addition of Sacramento drummer Jess Gowrie. It’s the kind of lineup that has the potential to kick your ass, then wrap it up and hand it back to you with a sweet smile as an experimental art project. I mean this in an entirely positive way.

“I’ve been really into this violin player from Chicago named Leroy Jenkins lately,” says Gur-Arieh, when asked what she’s been listening to. “If you look him up on YouTube, his playing was so weird and messy and imperfect, and that’s super inspirational to me. That’s unique especially for violin players, because they tend to be so focused on perfection, on playing other peoples’ music perfectly, and he was an emotional player — not afraid to make the violin sound piercing,” she says, “and dirty.”

Happy Fangs w/ Everyone Is Dirty and Rich Girls
Sat/5, 8pm, $10
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St, SF


While we’re riding high on the female-fronted band kick, a few other kick-ass ladies to look out for this month:

Given the current classic funk-soul revival — see Sharon Jones‘ sold-out stint at the Fillmore last week — there’s just no good reason why Wicked Mercies hasn’t blown up yet. Fronted by three seriously talented female vocalists, with a brass section that culls from the best of the old-school San Francisco soul scene, the band – which bills itself as “working class talent” that brings “the sound of San Francisco street soul to the people” — has been a dance party-starting staple at funk-friendly venues like the Boom Boom Room for a few years now, so there’s little doubt that a room as small as Amnesia is going to get sweaty very quickly. Remember to drink water.

Wicked Mercies
With the Go Ahead
Sat/5, 9pm, $8-$10
853 Valencia, SF

Forming a band when you’re in middle school that actually goes on to critical praise and some commercial success before you’ve graduated from high school means a few things. For The She’s, which the Bay Guardian ever-so-aptly identified as a band On the Rise in 2013, one thing it means is giving interviews about your upcoming second EP that involves quotes like this one, from singer-guitarist Hannah Valente in a recent Bay Bridged interview: “It’s going to sound a lot different. On our first album, there are songs that we wrote in eighth grade.”

All good-natured (and, let’s be real, envious) ribbing aside, there’s no question that The She’s have pretty much won the hearts of any red-blooded San Franciscan with an affinity for summery dream-pop; they’re also entering a stage of band-life reserved for artists who achieve a certain level of success while so young that their age becomes part of the shtick. This next stage is when they’re going to have to prove that they’re talented songwriters and performers, period, as opposed to being really, really good for a band made up of high school kids. For the record, I think the former is true, but their sophomore EP, Dreamers, due out April 15, will have to do the talking. Catch ’em for free at Amoeba on April 12, or the official (all ages!) release show at the Rickshaw Stop.

The She’s
With TV Girl, Lemme Adams, and Cocktails
April 18, 9pm, $10-$12
Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell, SF

All (really, all) are welcome


By Whitney Phaneuf


Mark Growden had a passion for jazz and classical music from a young age, growing up in the small northeast California mountain town of Westwood. So he set out to be a composer. He only learned to sing as an adult — out of necessity, when his instruments were stolen — and only then did his rich baritone vocals become a way to book gigs and get his music heard.

Now he’s teaching others to sing — often, amateurs who have never sung before — and writing original songs for them to perform. His Calling All Choir, now in its second season, is a 150-person choir made up of singers who, for the most part, have never taken the stage before in their lives.

Growden has always found inspiration in unexpected places. His take on American roots music blends his love of jazz with influences as varied as Appalachian folk, cabaret, and prison work songs from the old South. He started out composing for local dance companies, mainly on saxophone, before learning to play more folk-oriented instruments such as banjo and accordion. He’s spent the last 20-some years nomadically touring the country as a one-man band and in ensembles. In between shows, he’d stick around a city long enough to hold a singing workshop, which was as much about technique as it was about playful exercises that opened people up to music. Soon, Growden was known for both his songwriting and teaching abilities.

“The people in SF [in particular] kept coming back to the workshop,” said Growden, now an Oakland resident. “They asked ‘why do we have to stop for two months while you go on tour?’ I had it in my mind that I had to be on the road to make money.”

In September of last year, having just moved back to Oakland to settle down, Growden told his San Francisco workshop members, “Let’s try it.” He studied the community choir model, in which members pay dues to compensate the director, and started designing a program around his original compositions. He knew from the beginning that there would be no auditions; to reinforce its inclusive nature, he called it The Calling All Choir.

Growden spread the word online and through his previous workshop attendees, forming chapters in Sonoma and the East Bay, in addition to San Francisco. He set the dues on a sliding scale, ranging from $0 to $500 per person for the 18-week season. The inaugural season last year kicked off with about 40 members in each location. The three groups rehearsed separately — once a week for two hours a night — before coming together in January for dress rehearsals and final performances at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts and The Crucible in Oakland. The choir also performs at local hospitals and retirement homes.

First season member Gianna Smart had never heard Growden’s music before joining, but it ended up being part of the appeal.

“I imagined I’d find a Christmas choir in a church basement somewhere, and was okay with that, but when I met Mark and discovered that he wrote all of his own original compositions, I was really excited,” said Smart, who lives in Healdsburg. “The choir is a safe place to explore your own voice and be a part of a bigger sound. You don’t have to hit all the notes because you’re supported — someone always has your back.”

The second season is already five weeks under way, with 150 members. They’re set to perform four compositions by Growden in the coming weeks, plus a 1936 cantata by Ralph Vaughan Williams called “Dona nobis pacem.”

“It’s a classic round that the older generations know,” Growden said. “It’s important to keep those rounds alive in our culture.” So how do amateurs go from zero experience to singing in Latin? Growden said it usually comes down to practice: “There were people who couldn’t match pitch, but I kept having them come in early to work with them one-on-one or with a buddy,” he said. “People who I thought absolutely couldn’t sing, end up being able to sing.”

During a recent rehearsal, his patience seemed endless and his energy infectious. When the choir formed a circle grouped by vocal ranges — sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses — Growden sprinted from section to section, signaling with his arms and voice when and how to sing. He encouraged them “to lean” into their next notes, reminded them not to bury their heads in their black binders filled with sheet music, and even stopped them when they sounded flat. Sure, there were a few off-key, cringe-worthy moments.

But there was also something beautiful in those imperfections. “I don’t like to use the word spiritual – it’s way overused – but there is something sacred in people singing together. Even if they’re just drinking together,” Growden said later by phone.

Each rehearsal begins with vocal exercises, many of which Growden borrowed from theater, and usually some form of dancing to encourage people to use their entire body as an instrument. The rehearsals also end with a dance party, for which Growden lowers the lights and blasts everything from hip-hop to ABBA. For the rehearsal he let us sit in on, it happened to be James Brown.

The second season will culminate with a finale June 20, at a venue TBD, and the third season will begin in September 2014. The choir accepts members within the first three weeks of the season, though Growden said he makes exceptions for experienced singers who know how to read music.

“When you’re writing for amateurs, it’s harder. I’ve got to set them up for success,” he said. “But as a composer, I am really lucky. Vivaldi was a music teacher at an all-girls orphanage, Duke Ellington had his band…I mean, do you know how hard it is for composers to have their music made?”

For upcoming shows and more information: www.callingallchoir.org

Brawl opera



FILM There are action films. And then there’s The Raid 2. One need not have seen 2011’s The Raid: Redemption to appreciate this latest collaboration between Welsh director Gareth Evans and Indonesian actor, martial artist, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais — it’s recommended, of course, but the sequel stands alone on its own merits.

Overstuffed with gloriously brutal, cleverly staged fight scenes, The Raid 2 — sometimes written with the subtitle “Berendal,” which means “thugs” — picks up immediately after the events of the first film. Quick recap of part one: a special-forces team invades an apartment tower controlled by gangsters. Among the cops is idealistic Rama (Uwais). Seemingly bulletproof and fleet of fists and feet, Rama battles his way floor-by-floor, encountering machete-toting heavies and a wild-eyed maniac appropriately named Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), as well as his own older brother, who’s a high-up in the organized crime world. Rama also realizes he’s been unwittingly working for a corrupt police lieutenant, who’s got a personal beef with the bad guys. The Raid‘s gritty, unadorned approach (streamlined location and cast, gasp-inducing fights) resonated with thrill seeking audiences weary of CG overload.

“Before we’d screened the first movie anywhere, we watched it to do a tech check on it. After we finished, we thought, ‘Ok. We have … something,'” Evans recalled on a recent visit to San Francisco with Uwais. “But we just kept kind of focusing on, ‘There’s pixellation here, the picture’s not great there.’ We were looking at all the problems that you do when you’re deep into production on something. Then, when [the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival] happened, it was like, ‘Holy shit!’ We had no idea it was going to get received like that. And it kept growing! For us, it was this weird experience where something that we’d made within our own little creative vacuum was suddenly being accepted by people.”

A second Raid film was inevitable, especially since Evans — who became interested in Indonesian martial arts, or pencak silat, while working on 2007 doc The Mystic Art of Indonesia — already had its story in mind: Rama goes undercover in the underworld, a ploy that necessitates he do a prison stint to gain the trust of a local kingpin. Naturally, not much goes according to plan, and blood is shed along the way, as multiple power-crazed villains set their sinister plans into motion. Evans originally wanted to film it after making 2009’s Merantau, his first action film with Uwais, but it proved too costly for the then-unproven team.

“For two years, we were looking for financing, but were not able to get it. So we did the first Raid because it was lower budget. It was like a plan B,” Evans said. “After that, our investor was willing to help finance the second one. It bought us better equipment, more time to shoot, better sets. All of that stuff that we spent extra money on went up on the screen.”

With a fan base established by the first film, Evans — himself a lifelong action movie lover — knew expectations were high. Somehow, he’d have to top The Raid. “It couldn’t be The Raid 2, except now it’s a bigger building,” he joked. “So, what can we do differently? Expand the universe, and expand the characters. Explore different territory and be able to try different action beats: Car chase! Prison riot! And using weapons that we hadn’t introduced before, like the curved blades. It’s one of the weapons in silat. So it’s like, ‘Ok, this thing exists. Why haven’t we used it yet?’ We kind of hinted at it in Merantau — but we never really used it. Indonesian fans of that movie complained, but I was like, ‘Hold tight. We will use it.’ It’s such a violent, aggressive weapon that it wouldn’t have felt right in Merantau. But in The Raid 2, it felt right.”

Evans was also concerned that the “element of surprise” would be lost for audiences who had seen the first film. When asked to elaborate — because Uwais’ character is a mild-mannered nice guy who, surprise, is also an explosive killing machine? — he broke it down.

“[In the first film, audiences] got a taste for our choreography. We try to differentiate ourselves from other martial artists and filmmakers that do this type of stuff. Not in a way of like, ‘What we do is better.’ It’s more a case of, everyone packages their films differently,” he said. “We’re big fans of what Tony Jaa has done, and Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, and Jackie Chan. But we have certain rules that we just don’t break. We never do a replay of anything when it comes to a stunt or an action sequence. It’s all one flow, and it never breaks rhythm — it keeps going until the thing is finished. In terms of slo-mo, we only ever use it to tell something dramatically within a fight sequence. We never use it to show off a movement. Which segues into, no acrobatics. Because as soon as you do that, you’ve got a stunt guy waiting to get hit. And that takes you out of the scene straightaway.”

Presenting the fight scenes as realistically benefits more than just the audience. “On TV in Indonesia, silat is represented in the most bullshit way possible: people jump into the sky and fly, and turn into jaguars, and shoot fireballs out of their eyes. I’m not exaggerating! When we first went to gather money for Merantau, we’d say, ‘We’re gonna make a silat film!’ and people would be like, ‘Aw, silat? That’s that stupid thing on TV,'” Evans recalled. “But I’d met Iko, and his gurus and teachers, and silat is such an integral part of their lives. [It was important to me that] if we made films about this martial art, we had to do it in a way that reclaims it from what had been done before. We wanted it to be real, and true to what they study.”

Though the actual fighting is realistic, the settings were carefully chosen for cinematic impact. Both of those ante-upping “action beats” Evans mentioned — the car chase, in which Uwais’ character batters his opponents inside of a moving vehicle, and the prison riot, which is muddy, bloody mayhem — are standouts.

“A lot of people responded to the idea of claustrophobia in the first one, because of all the enclosed spaces,” Evans said. “I wanted to find a way to still have these tight moments in the second one, even though the scope was much wider. Even within a car chase, we could dive right inside and have this super claustrophobic fight in the back seat.”

Uwais estimated that each fight scene required three or four months of practice — and even more for the car stunt. “Standing and fighting is very different than sitting and fighting,” he pointed out.

The collaborators, who have an easygoing rapport, have conflicting memories when it comes to filming the sloppy prison brawl — though they agree it was far and away the least fun scene to shoot. (Evans: “We shot that for eight days straight.” Uwais: “Eight days? It was 10 days.” Evans: “The guys were caked in mud all day.” Uwais: “From 6am to 5pm.” Evans: “More like, 4pm.” Uwais: “5pm!” Evans: “Ok, 5pm!”)

As The Raid 2 prepares to open wide, Evans is ramping up plans for the third film in the trilogy. “Whereas The Raid 2 starts like two hours after The Raid finishes, The Raid 3 starts three hours before The Raid 2 finishes,” he revealed. “So there’s a scene toward the end where a certain group makes a decision on something, and part three’s gonna follow the consequences of those actions. The Raid 3 is going to be way more streamlined than part two [which runs 148 minutes], and it’s going to be an homage to certain styles of cinema that I love that I really want to try and play with.”

And yes, there’s an American Raid remake in the works. When asked “Whyyyy?”, Evans was ready with an answer. “I’ve been a huge fan of Asian cinema ever since I was a kid, and I used to have that same feeling: ‘Oh my god, they can’t remake that!’ But in this case, nothing takes the original away. If anything, people who see the remake might get introduced to the original now, because they didn’t know it existed before.”

THE RAID 2 opened Fri/4 in Bay Area theaters.

Freedom of expression



FILM The 1960s were a liberating period for movies almost everywhere, not least behind the Iron Curtain and particularly in Czechoslovakia, a country created (from the Austro-Hungarian Empire) in the wake of world war and dissolved (into two nations) by the official end of the Cold War. The “Czechoslovak New Wave” was a moment of considerable international interest at the time — notably winning Best Foreign Language Film Oscars for 1965’s The Shop on Main Street and Closely Watched Trains two years later, along with umpteen festival awards — that attained immediate poignancy by being so short-lived. When Soviet tanks rolled in to aggressively squelch the liberal reforms of “Prague Spring” in August 1968, the reassertion of censorious state control put a chokehold on filmmakers as much as any other “subversive” group.

Some talent fled to the West, achieving variable success, most notably future double Oscar winner Milos Forman (1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1984’s Amadeus), and Ivan Passer of cult faves Cutter’s Way (1981) and Creator (1985). Some, unwilling or unable to get out, were prevented from working again in the government-controlled film industry for so long that by the time such blacklists no longer existed, they’d lost interest or died. Others, like the recently deceased Vera Chytilová (1966’s Daisies), Jirí Menzel (the aforementioned Trains), Jaromil Jires (1970’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders), and animator Jan Svankmajer (1988’s Alice), stayed and managed to build substantial bodies of work despite occasionally finding themselves on the wrong end of the political stick.

What virtually all these directors have in common is that some of their films were banned, whether before or after the Soviet invasion: Jires and Menzel had exceptional features (respectively 1969’s The Joke and 1990’s Larks on a String) no one saw until decades later. Chytilová had to direct commercials under her husband’s name before falling back into official favor, while in 1972 Svankmajer was barred from working at all for several years. What would they and myriad lesser-known artists have created if Prague Spring had never ended?

That question looms particularly large over the career of Jan Nemec, alleged enfant terrible of the Czech New Wave. He’s nearing 80 now, and still active — back in the Czech Republic, which he returned to some years ago after a couple fugitive decades abroad — yet his original output from 1964 to 1968 still overshadows the sporadic projects he’s been allowed to realize since. That period’s burst of youthful energy and inspiration remains somewhat dazzling, all the more so because in many ways we never got to see his talent fully mature. The traveling retrospective stopping at Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive over the next two weeks offers a necessarily spotty portrait of an artist whose expressions have been more than usually subject to cruel fate.

His 1960 graduation short A Loaf of Bread — a terse miniature in which starving concentration camp prisoners toward the end of World War II try to steal sustenance from Nazi guards — could serve as a prelude to his first feature four years later. Diamonds of the Night (1964) begins with frantic handheld camera as two young men stagger uphill from gunfire into the countryside, having fled a prison train probably headed to the camps. The woods are a strange and forbidding landscape, its danger heightened by these city boys’ extreme hunger and exhaustion. Occasionally flashing back to their lives before capture, the film’s woozy disorientation prevents our being sure if the pursued, panicky protagonists are witnessing grotesque sights and committing violence, or simply hallucinating it all.

Barely over an hour, this black-and-white jolt of mixed realism and surrealism (drawn, like Bread, from a story by Czech camp survivor Arnost Lustig) announced a major new talent. While its historical indictment of a persecuting foreign power kept it safe from official criticism, the 28-year-old Nemec wasted little time before pushing the envelope much further. A Report on the Party and the Guests (1966) is an absurdist allegory with unmistakable political overtones. Its protagonists are a group of drunken bourgeoisie picnickers who fall in with other, larger, vaguely sinister parties in the woods, culminating in a vast al fresco banquet in which a good time is had by all — so long as they adhere to the increasingly arbitrary rules of conformity. If not, the fade out suggests, they will be — like Diamonds’ Jewish lads — hunted down with rifles and dogs, like game.

This blunt provocation did not go unnoticed by the right wrongdoing people: It was immediately “banned forever” by the Czech government. Fortunately, Nemec had already begun his next film. Martyrs of Love (1967) is a three-part homage to silent comedy in which there’s almost no dialogue, plenty of slapstick, and a brief cameo by Daisies‘ anarchic female duo. Also tipping hat to Jacques Tati, it was a delight whose elements of social satire could offend no one. Yet it did very little to balm the rancor that Party stirred. After his short documentary about the Soviet occupation, 1968’s Oratorio for Prague was banned — yet footage from it used by news services around the world — he was persona non grata at home, eventually given the choice of exile or prison.

His work over the next couple decades is scant and elusive; it’s represented at the PFA only by a 1975 German TV adaptation of Metamorphosis by Nemec’s hero, Kafka. When he resurfaced with a couple post-perestroika features (notably 1990’s In the Light of Love, from Czech literary avant-gardist Ladislav Klima’s absurdist 1928 novel), they were poorly received and remain hard to find. More recently he’s turned toward collage-style video essays like 2001’s autobiographical Late Night Talks with Mother and 2005’s Toyen (about the Czech surrealist painter). They’re complex intellectual and aesthetic explorations — but they still leave you wondering about the filmmaker he might have become if 1968 hadn’t come in like a lamb and gone out like a sacrificial one. *


April 6-23, $5.50-$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2572 Bancroft, Berk.






FILM It’s Crossroads time again — the annual San Francisco Cinematheque festival of experimental, avant-garde, abstract, and otherwise difficult-to-easily-categorize works carefully curated for adventurous, open-minded filmgoers.

In other words, if you’re counting down to the next Transformers flick, this may not be your jam. But there’s an eager Bay Area audience for the other end of the cinematic spectrum, as evidenced by the fact that Crossroads’ “Nathaniel Dorsky: Three Premieres” program, which is being presented twice at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, is already sold out.

Fortunately, there are eight other programs, two of which focus on Ben Rivers and Ben Russell’s A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, which makes its Bay Area premiere after receiving much buzz on the international festival circuit. Robert A.A. Lowe (also known as Lichens, he’s a solo musician who performs with local doom droners Om on occasion) plays the film’s central character, a nameless wanderer who drifts through its three segments in pursuit of some mysterious ideal. First, he’s a commune dweller — no context is given, but its residents are clearly international, with varying accents and languages, and the directors have said it’s set on an Estonian island.

It’s an idyllic place: leafy, creative, and harmonious, populated by a group that’s more back-to-the-land intellectual than hippie. There are newborn babies, towheaded children with painted faces, adults-only group saunas, and a geodesic dome. “This whole process is unpredictable. It’s important to keep in mind, the visions and ideas are just guidelines,” one man reflects; he’s referring to the group’s pursuit of what one woman calls “utopian architecture,” but he could also be giving viewing instructions for this film.

It’s useful advice, especially when Spell shifts settings. Lowe’s quiet observer is now a man roaming solo through the Finnish woods; the camera gazes into the landscape from afar as he climbs up and down trails, up and down through the frame. Occasionally, he stops by a small house, seemingly abandoned but still containing certain odd objects (needlepoint pictures, stacks of tabloids, floral curtains). Nature fascinates the camera — including, yes, multiple long shots of lichens — but so does Lowe, specifically his eyes, which are held in close-up after he’s shown dabbing white makeup on his face. Suddenly, we see the house engulfed in flames, there’s a cut to black, and then we hear the exact right music to show after an inferno: black metal, that most deliberately lo-fi and ear-shredding of heavy musical subgenres.

For metal fans, this sequence could prove the most controversial — there aren’t any Scandinavians in the mix, and one of the dudes is from Liturgy. (Like, do they even burn churches in Brooklyn, man?) But even music snobs will have a hard time resisting Spell‘s spell, or giving kudos for the film’s title treatment — a slightly more readable interpretation of the spidery font favored by extreme musicians, encasing words that echo the film’s surprisingly optimistic undercurrent.

Co-director Rivers appears in person at the film’s Fri/4 screening; Sat/5, he’ll give an artist’s talk, moderated by SF Cinematheque’s Steve Polta, at the Kadist Art Foundation, where the film will be exhibited as a “three-part spatialized architectural video installation.”

The rest of Crossroads is given over to shorts programs, assembled with characteristic creativity (Program 3 “is focused on abstract animation-graphic cinema, environmentalism, and crack pot exploration,” according to Polta), with co-producing credits given to Cinema Arts at the Exploratorium and the San Francisco Dance Film Festival on selected nights. There will also be a “live cinema” program (with live experimental music), and works by notable locals, including recent Guardian GOLDIE award winners Malic Amalya and Paul Clipson. *


Thu/3-Sun/6, $5-10

Victoria Theatre

2961 16th St, SF

Kadist Art Foundation

3295 20th St, SF


Peep peep



SUPER EGO Three signs that our nightlife spring has sprung, sure as the annual return of the swallows to Blow Buddies: the Sunset season opener party, Hard French’s outdoor re-emergence, and the star-studly LGBT Center gala Soiree.

Our queer old-school soul treasure Hard French (Sat/5, 2pm-8pm, $8. El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. www.elriosf.com) will pack El Rio’s patio every first Saturday here on out with the joyous sounds of frugging and jiving. Later, all the drag, queer, and club luminaries will brighten up Soiree (Sat/5, 6:30pm-midnight, $95. City View, 135 Fourth St, SF. sflgbtcenter.eventbrite.com) — the proceeds go for job and economic skills training for LGBT youth, many of them homeless. This year’s theme is “A jazz tribute to the Beat generation,” so don’t forget your beret and bongos. Performances galore.

Sunset (Sun/6, 11am-7pm, $5–$120. Stafford Lake Park, Novato, www.tinyurl.com/sunsetopener2014) is one of our most storied party crews — this is its 20th anniversary. And the huge, yearly season opener blast is like one big, very big, family picnic. There are rave babies, and their own rave babies! And thousands of smiles. And of course special surprise guests and a raging afterparty back in the city. Bring your picnic basket.

PS My column went to press just as I was hearing the sad news of DJ Frankie Knuckles’ passing. Here’s a list of parties this weekend that will be truly great tributes to his spirit and legacy.



Good ol’ four-on-the-floor house, with a bit of ethereal heft behind it, from this prominent, hunky New York DJ. With the UK’s Leon Vynehall, whose glorious “Step or Stone (Breath or Bone)” was one of the best tracks of last year.

Fri/4, 10pm-3am, $10–$15. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com



High and dirty times at the Eagle whenever this fantastic party from Seattle comes to town courtesy of force of nature DJ Nark. Get into it with DJs Chip Mint and Guy Ruben, towering drag hosteses Jem Jehova and VivvyAnne ForeverMore, “camera in her wig” videographer Drewnicorn, and a dance floor packed with hot scruffs.

Sat/5, 9pm, $7. The Eagle,  398 12th St, SF. dickslaplyfe.tumblr.com



One of our own, coming up fast with his Sooo Wavey label and housey Sade edits. He’s at one of our sweetest (and least expensive!) parties, Push the Feeling, with local player Cherushii, whose excellent recent Queen of Cups EP can get anyone moving.

Sat/5, 9pm, free before 10pm with RSVP online, $6. Underground SF, 424 Haight, SF. www.do415.com/pushthefeeling



Caught this hugely popular German (now based in LA) cat a couple times in the past few years, and he really delivers on that deliciously deep, if now a bit retro, post-minimal Berlin-Ibiza sound. It’s all in his perfect control. With beloved Doc Martin and Francesa Lombardo.

Sat/5, 10pm-4am, $17–$25. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com



One of SF’s foundational house DJs, Josh Ezelle, passed away last month suddenly in Thailand, leaving behind a newborn son and oceans of friends. This tribute fundraiser brings together many of our best players to celebrate his life in music and dance: Jeno, Garth, Markie, Charlotte the Baroness, Toph One, M3, and others.

Sat/5, 9pm-4am, $15–$20. Monarch, 101 Sixth St., SF. www.monarchsf.com



Oui, oui, the fab enfants terribles of Bardot A Go Go are back — with a shagadelic shindig featuring the naughty, existentialist, oh-so-cool tunes of Serge and other mod icons of his ilk. Zip up your thigh high boots and get le groovy.

Sat/5, 9pm, $10, all ages. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.rickshawstop.com



The Worldly parties have brought a, well, worldly electronic music flavor to the SF scene for more than a decade — this live extravaganza and CD release party will electrify anyone into cutting edge global grooves. With Dub Kirtan Allstars, Janaka Selekta, DJ Dragonfly, and tons more.

Sat/5, 9pm-3am, $15. F8, 1192 Folsom, SF. www.tinyurl.com/worldlysf2014



Moody Danish techno: it’s catchier than you think. Andres Trentemoller crossed over from the dance floor long ago, pairing with an array of vocalists to create a lilting indie atmosphere with electronic movement around the edges. And he actually makes it work.

Sun/6, 8:30pm, $25. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com


Talk it through




“She started right away on the collaborative process. I have this wonderful image of the Bryant Street studio. There was no real mirror, only one leaning against the wall. I remember Margy sitting with her back against it — I was afraid that it might fall on her — and her saying, ‘I have so many ideas in my head that I am afraid I can’t all get them out.’ What I really liked was that she also was interested in the ideas in my head, and she wasn’t going to impose her ideas, and this was going to be a conversation.” — Ginny Matthews, Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, 1974-1980

That’s how one of the country’s most remarkably individual companies was born. After moving back to her hometown in 1970 at a time when San Francisco was barely a dot on the map in terms of modern and postmodern dance, Margaret Jenkins has created over 75 works. Now 70, she has just renewed the lease on her spacious Margaret Jenkins Dance Lab studio on Eighth Street for another five years. CHIME, Jenkins’ mentorship program for professional dancers, is a wild success locally and in Los Angeles.

In 2006, she took her conversation global, collaborating with India’s Tansuree Shankar Dance Company on A Slipping Glance; in 2009, she created Other Suns with China’s Guangdong Modern Dance Company. And she is still at it, intrigued by questions that pop up in discussions with her again and again: “Wouldn’t be interesting if…”

As the light streams in through the studio’s floor-to-ceiling windows on this March afternoon, Jenkins is watching 15 dancers, seven of her own and eight from the Jerusalem-based Kolben Dance Company. They have just taken a break from rehearsing The Gate of Winds, which came about after Jenkins traveled to Jerusalem, a city she had always wanted to visit. “Having been raised in a progressive Jewish family, and as an atheist, I was curious what it would feel like putting my feet on the ground,” she observed.

She is aware that she and Kolben’s artistic director, Amir Kolben, have quite different approaches to the creative process. But working with his dancers in Jerusalem, she found them “fierce and wonderful movers.” Kolben, who had never worked with a collaborator before, was intrigued “more with the way we think than with how we create,” he explains.

Jenkins seems pleased with what she has just witnessed: two beautifully trained groups of performers who are stretching themselves emotionally and physically in exploring paths that they may not even know to have existed.

“Margy is very brave. She has an intellectual honesty about her that I really appreciated and [that she] communicated with me. I was doing solo work, and it was a very difficult time for me, and I learned to trust myself. [Being with the company] buoyed me up in so many different ways. Besides, it was nice to be on stage with others.” — Rinde Eckert, MJDC, 1987-1995

Still, Jenkins seems to have just a touch of melancholy about her when she looks forward and backward. Will she renew her lease again five years? “All too often, I ask myself whether there will be any money,” she sighs. “Every year, I start from absolute zero.”

Perhaps it was some of those thoughts that gave rise to the second piece on this 40th anniversary bill. For Times Bones, which premiered at the University of Maryland last September, Jenkins took a look at her past repertoire — at least the 68 pieces of which video exists — to see whether there were “untold stories” in them. She was struck by “how little contact the dancers had with each other. Now they partner each other. I have no idea why that’s the case.” This became another “wouldn’t it be interesting…” question. She had her present company learn fragments of pieces she had chosen, and then told the dancers to have their own conversations with them.

“I found her democratic process, her way of giving everyone voice in the process, to be infuriating and enlightening all at the same time. I hated the idea that she didn’t tell us what to do. It wasn’t enough to make movement that got you from here to there; it had to be thoroughly investigated. We were constantly throwing out anything that felt familiar or ‘already been done before.’ And the enlightening part was her willingness to let divergent types of material exist together. I still use this idea of colliding materials together, in an effort to surprise my original conception of things.” — Joe Goode, MJDC, 1980-1984 *


Thu/3-Sat/5, 7:30pm; Sun/6, 3pm, $30-35

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF



Crime and politics



San Franciscans awoke March 26 to the surprising news that state Sen. Leland Yee (D-SF) had been arrested on federal corruption charges as part of early morning police raids targeting an organized crime syndicate based in Chinatown, along with reputed gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow and two dozen others.

Yee had a reputation for sometimes trading votes for campaign contributions, a perception that had only gained strength in recent months as he launched his first statewide campaign, running to lead the Secretary of State’s Office, casting key votes for landlords and big industries that he refused to explain to local activists.

So in a year when two other Democratic Senators have also been stung by federal corruption and bribery probes, the televised image of Yee in handcuffs wasn’t beyond the realm of possibilities. It was surprising, but not shocking.

Yet by the mid-afternoon when the 137-page federal criminal complaint was unsealed and journalists started reading through what undercover FBI agents had discovered during their five-year criminal investigation, it read more like a sensational organized crime and espionage novel than a court document, a real page-turner that just got more wild and incredible as it went on.

timelineYeeWhat began with the FBI investigating a murder and leadership transition in the San Francisco branch of the ancient Chinese organized crime syndicate known as the Triad, led by an undercover FBI agent who had infiltrated the group, evolved into a widening investigation accusing Yee of arranging an illegal arms trafficking deal with a Muslim rebel group in the Philippines in exchange for $100,000 funneled into his campaign, on top of smaller favors that Yee allegedly did in exchange for envelopes with $10,000 in cash.

It was even worse for local political consultant Keith Jackson, a key Yee fundraiser who was also on contract with Lennar Urban for its Bayview-Hunters Point development projects, with the undercover FBI agents allegedly drawing Jackson into big cocaine deals, money laundering, bribery, and even a murder-for-hire plot. If the complaint is to be believed, Jackson seemed willing to do just about anything to enrich himself and raise money for Yee.

Meanwhile, the public image that Chow has been cultivating for himself since his 2003 release from federal prison — that of a reformed career gangster turned Chinatown civic leader, someone praised by local politicians for inspiring fellow ex-convicts to turn their lives around — was replaced the complaint’s description of a powerful “Dragonhead” overseeing a vast criminal enterprise involved in drugs, guns, prostitution, protection rackets, moving stolen booze and cigarettes, and money laundering.

“I think the whole city is in shock at the moment,” Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who represents Chinatown and ran against Yee in the 2011 mayor’s race, told the Guardian that afternoon. “Today’s widespread law enforcement actions are incredibly disturbing. The detail and scale of the criminal activities are shocking.”

In the days that followed, Yee withdrew his candidacy for Secretary of State and was suspended by his colleagues in the California Senate. But where this wild tale of crime and corruption goes next — and who else gets implicated as these powerful and well-connected defendants look to cut deals to avoid the lengthy prison sentences they all face — is anyone’s guess.



Chow, 54, was raised a criminal, telling the History Channel’s “Gangland” that he stabbed someone in Hong Kong at the age of nine before moving to San Francisco in 1977 and getting involved in the Hop Sing Boys gang and Chinatown’s criminal underworld.

He survived the Golden Dragon Massacre, a shooting between rival Chinatown gangs that left five dead, but he was arrested in 1978 for a robbery and sent to prison for the first time, released in 1985. The next year, he was sent back to prison for attempted murder and more gang mayhem, released in 1989.

“I did time with Charles Manson, a good friend of mine. Kimball, a serial killer. I did time with a bunch of amazing people. Each person you talk to you learn something from. Ain’t no stupid people inside the prison, you can say that,” Chow told Gangland.

In 1991, a gangster named Peter Chong was sent from Hong Kong to San Francisco to extend the reach of the Wo Hop To Triad. He enlisted Chow as his right-hand man, and together they extended the reach of the Wo Hop To across the Western United States, trying to create an all encompassing gang named the Tien HaWui, “The Whole Earth Association.”

Chow was arrested again in 1995 on a variety of racketeering and other criminal charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison. But he later testified against Chong and got his sentence reduced, and he was released from federal prison in 2003.

After his release, Chow publicly claimed to go legit, working on book and movie deals about his life, as well as building connections in the political world. Chow posed for photos with then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and other local political figures.

But the latest criminal complaint said that even as Chow pretended to be moving on, he continued to make incriminating statements to the undercover agents “confirming his knowledge of and involvement in criminal activity.”



The criminal complaint alleges that “Chow is currently the Dragonhead, or leader, of the San Francisco-based Chee Kung Tong organization,” which it described as a criminal syndicate connected to Hung Mun, a criminal dynasty that began in 17th century China, “also referred to as a Chinese secret society and the Chinese Freemasons.”

It says Chow was sworn in as CKT head in August 2006, soon after the still-unsolved murder of CKT head Allen Leung. Chow’s swearing-in was reported in local Chinese media sources, so SFPD and FBI conducted surveillance there and launched an investigation.

The FBI says it began infiltrating CKT five years ago, including an undercover FBI agent dubbed UCE 4599, who in May 2010 was introduced to Chow, who “then introduced UCE 4599 to many of the target subjects.” UCE 4599 told Chow he was a member of La Cosa Nostra, the Italian mob.

In March 2012 he was inducted into CKT as a “Consultant,” the complaint alleges. It says that Jackson — a former San Francisco school board member and political consultant — had also be inducted into CKT as a “Consultant,” participating in various criminal conspiracies.

The gang members are accused of laundering money made from “illegal activities, specifically illegal gambling, bookmaking, sports betting, drugs, and outdoor marijuana grows.” They allegedly laundered $2.3 million between March 2011 and December 2013 for UCE 4599, with members collecting a 10 percent fee for doing so.

The complaint says Jackson “has a long-time relationship with Senator Yee,” and “has been involved in raising funds for” Yee’s run for mayor “and for Senator Yee’s current campaign in the California Secretary of State election.” And much of the complaint details deeds allegedly committed by Jackson and Yee.

In fact, the second person named in the complaint, right after Chow, is Yee, “aka California State Senator Leland Yee, aka Uncle Leland.”

As the complaint alleges, “Senator Yee and Keith Jackson were involved in a scheme to defraud the citizens of California of their rights to honest services, and Senator Yee, [Daly City resident Dr. Wilson] Lim, and Keith Jackson were involved in a conspiracy to traffic firearms.”



Yee and Jackson met UCE 4599 through Chow, and then Jackson allegedly solicited him to make donations to Yee’s 2011 San Francisco mayoral campaign “in excess of the $500 individual donation limit. UCE 4599 declined to make any donations to Senator Yee, but introduced Keith Jackson and Senator Yee to a purported business associate, UCE 4773, another undercover FBI agent,” who made a $5,000 donation to Yee’s mayoral campaign.

Yee had $70,000 in debt after that mayor’s race and worked with Jackson on ways to pay off that debt. “This included soliciting UCE 4773 for additional donations and in the course of doing so, Senator Yee and Keith Jackson agreed that Senator Yee would perform certain official acts in exchange for donations from UCE 4773.”

Yee allegedly agreed to “make a telephone call to a manager with the California Department of Public Health in support of a contract under consideration with UCE 4773’s purported client, and would provide an official letter of support for the client, in exchange for a $10,000 donation.”

Meanwhile, it says Jackson and Yee continued raising money for his Secretary of State race by soliciting donations from UCE 4599 and UCE 4180, another undercover agent. “They agreed that in exchange for donations from UCE 4599 and UCE 4180, Senator Yee would perform certain officials acts requested by UCE 4599 and UCE 4180.”

That included Yee issuing an “official state Senate proclamation honoring the CKT in exchange for a $6,800 campaign donation, the maximum individual donation allowed by law.” Yee allegedly did so, and it was presented by one of his staff members at the CKT anniversary celebration on March 29, 2013.

Yee and Jackson are also accused of introducing a donor to unidentified state legislators working on pending medical marijuana legislation, the donor being another undercover agent who claimed to be a medical marijuana businessman from Arizona looking to expand into California, “and in payment for that introduction, UCE 4180 delivered $11,000 cash to Senator Yee and Keith Jackson on June 22, 2013.”

In September, after making another introduction, Yee and Jackson allegedly received another $10,000 cash donation for their services. Then Jackson allegedly had an idea for getting even more money.

“Jackson told UCE 4599 that Senator Yee, had a contact who deals in arms trafficking.” Jackson then allegedly requested UCE 4599 make another donation “to facilitate a meeting with the arms dealer with the intent of UCE 4599 to purportedly purchase a large number of weapons to be imported through the Port of Newark, New Jersey.”

That deal for up to $2.5 million in weapons involved automatic weapon and shoulder-fired missiles, the complaint said, and “Senator Yee discussed certain details of the specific types of weapons UCE 4599 was interested in buying and importing.”

The complaint says that Yee expressed discomfort with how openly UCE 4180 discussed overt “pay to play” links between cash donations and official actions. “I’m just trying to run for Secretary of State. I hope I don’t get indicted,” Yee allegedly told two undercover FBI agents during a walk on June 20, 2013, urging them to be less explicit about connecting official favor with campaign donations.

“Despite complaining about UCE 4180’s tendency to speak frankly and tie payment to performance, and threatening to cut off contact with UCE 4180, Senator Yee and Keith Jackson continued to deal with UCE 4180 and never walked away from quid pro quo requests make by UCE 4180,” the complaint said. “In fact, Senator Yee provided the introductions sought by UCE 4180 and accepted cash payments which UCE 4180 expressly tied to the making of the introductions.”

Yee’s attorney, Paul DeMeester, told reporters they will contest the charges: “We will always in every case enter not guilty pleas, then the case takes on a life of its own.”


Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez contributed to this report.




Bloodshed in Bernal Heights



On Friday morning, March 21, the day that Alejandro Nieto was shot and killed by San Francisco Police Department officers, he went to the gym with his friend Byron Pedroza. It was something they did often, Pedroza said; the two of them had signed up for gym memberships together. “He’d be like, ‘B, get up. Let’s go work out.'”

Nieto and Pedroza had met at El Toro nightclub, where Nieto worked as a security guard for nearly two years. The club, which attracts Latino clientele and hosts live performances on Mondays, has tight security: There are several guards equipped with Tasers.

“He was the type of person who’d help me a lot,” Pedroza said. “Thanks to him, I went to college,” enrolling at City College of San Francisco.

Nieto was a semester away from completing his degree in administration of justice. He was studying on scholarship, in pursuit of his goal to become a youth probation officer. Nieto drove a ’95 Chevy Caprice — an old police car, Pedroza said — and they fixed it up together.

Ramiro Del Rio, Nieto’s co-worker at El Toro, described him as punctual and considerate. He’d seen Nieto in stressful situations before, when dealing with drunk and rowdy bar patrons. “He was very calm,” Del Rio said of Nieto. “He would always want to talk to the person without using aggressive force.”

Nieto favored juice and soda instead of alcohol, he said, but after he started working out, “it was straight water.” Also, “He was Buddhist.”



Nieto had been scheduled to work that night, March 21. Instead, he was killed in Bernal Heights Park from multiple gunshot wounds inflicted by rounds fired by at least four officers. It’s unknown exactly how many bullet wounds Nieto sustained; friends said they believed at least 14 rounds had been fired.

As of March 31, the San Francisco Medical Examiner still had not released autopsy results. The officers involved had been placed on paid leave. Nieto’s community remained stunned by his sudden death, staging a march through the Mission the following weekend to protest what they viewed as an unjust use of deadly force.

According to a transcript from a 911 call placed minutes before the shooting, which Police Chief Greg Suhr read aloud during a March 25 public meeting at Leonard Flynn Elementary School held to discuss the incident, officers opened fire within three and a half minutes of arriving at Bernal Heights Park.

Police were responding to calls reporting a man “with a gun on his hip. A black handgun,” according to the call record, which Suhr read aloud. Police did not reveal the identity of the caller, but noted that the caller was not a police officer.

A neighbor who declined to be named told the Bay Guardian that shortly before the shooting, two men walking down the pedestrian pathway on the park’s north slope alerted a jogger of a man ahead with a gun on his hip. The jogger, who came within 50 feet of the man, reported noticing that he was “pacing back and forth” and “air boxing.”

The person who phoned 911 also initially reported seeing a man pacing back and forth. But minutes later, the anonymous caller reported to 911 dispatchers, “He is eating chips … but resting his hand on the gun.”

In reality, there was no gun — it was Nieto’s Taser, carried in a holster. Friends who spoke at a March 24 vigil said they believed Nieto had headed up there to eat a burrito while looking out at the city from the top of the hill, a place he often went to clear his head.

A sergeant from the Ingleside station and other police officers arrived at the scene minutes after receiving reports of a man with a gun, Suhr said at the public meeting. Police faced Nieto from a distance of about 75 feet, up a hill.

“When the officers asked him to show his hands, he drew the Taser from the holster,” Suhr said. Nieto then told police to show their hands, and pointed the Taser at the officers, Suhr told a large crowd in attendance. Due to the distance, the chief said, the officers did not see the yellow markings that would have alerted them that it was a Taser and not a gun.

“These particular Tasers, as soon as they’re drawn, they emit a dot, a red dot,” Suhr said. “When the officers saw the laser sight on them, tracking, they believed it to be a firearm, and they fired at Mr. Nieto.” Believing he had a gun, Suhr said, police “fired in defense of their own lives.” In a later interview, he confirmed that officers would not have used lethal force had they known Nieto possessed a Taser instead of a firearm.

Both Pedroza and Del Rio said Nieto had shown them his new Taser, and said it emits a red dot only when one pushes a button to turn it on. According to a Taser operating manual, the stun gun has a range of 15 feet.

Asked how many 911 calls were placed, Suhr said he did not have that information. When the Bay Guardian contacted the Department of Emergency Management to request audio from 911 calls, it was denied on the grounds that “it is part of an ongoing criminal investigation.”



For several hours following Suhr’s explanation, friends and community members took turns at the microphone to vent outrage, frustration, and sadness over Nieto’s death. Many referenced an overarching trend of police violence directed against black and Latino youth.

Some voiced skepticism of the police account. Benjamin Bac Sierra — an English instructor at City College and friend of Nieto’s, who had once driven down Mission Street with him during a low rider parade, shouting “si se puede!” to cheering onlookers — told the Guardian, “In my heart, I do not believe that he pointed his Taser at the officers.”

At the gym, on the morning of the day Nieto died, Pedroza said, “I could tell he had a lot on his mind.” Nieto had told him it had to do with a woman he’d been seeing, a mother of three. “He was in love with her,” Pedroza said.

Yet Nieto’s relationship with Yajaira Barrera Estrada had created a conflict between him and Arthur Vega, Barrera Estrada’s three children’s father, whom Nieto had once been friends with. Public records list Vega as Barrera Estrada’s husband, and show the two living at separate addresses. It had culminated in a physical confrontation outside Barrera’s home several weeks earlier, during which Nieto allegedly stunned Vega with his Taser. Vega’s account, as described in a court filing requesting a temporary restraining order, suggests this was unprovoked; Pedroza said Nieto had believed Vega was going to harm him and might have a gun. Vega could not be reached for comment.

After that incident, Pedroza described Nieto as seeming worried and easily distracted. Pedroza believed that in the weeks leading up to the shooting, the conflict had caused Nieto to fear for his life.

Court records show that Barrera Estrada had also filed a request for a temporary restraining order against Nieto stemming from that incident, which was partially granted pending an April 11 hearing. When we reached Barrera Estrada by phone, she declined to discuss it, saying only: “Alex was an excellent person. I don’t know why the media is writing bad things about him. I don’t know why the police shot him. He was an excellent person with me.”

At the meeting, Suhr noted that Nieto was prohibited from owning a firearm due to a history of mental illness. Del Rio said he hadn’t seen evidence of this in Nieto’s behavior at the nightclub, where he spent five or six nights a week. “He never seemed crazy or mentally ill when he was working.” According to state records, Nieto obtained registration to work as a guard/patrolperson in June of 2007, which required completion of a 40-hour course.

As the crowd listened at the town hall meeting, Nieto’s father, Refugio, told Sup. David Campos that police had arrived at his home in the afternoon the day after the shooting, then questioned him about his son prior to revealing that he had been killed. Then police confiscated his car, Refugio Nieto told Campos, saying it was needed for an investigation. Then, according to Pedroza, police also went to Barrera Estrada’s residence, notified her of his death, and searched the premises.

Just before sunset on March 24, about 150 friends and community supporters gathered for a vigil in memory of Nieto. They lit candles, sang, burned incense, and conducted Buddhist chants in honor of his spiritual practice.

Sup. John Avalos said he’d known Nieto through Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth. “What we saw in Alejandro was that he had a really big heart,” Avalos said. He added, “Blood’s been shed, in this case, by people we’re supposed to trust. But … we have a lot of difficulty trusting our police, because from time to time, these things happen.”

Massage therapists hope for a happy ending


The California Massage Therapy Council, a statewide body that licenses massage practitioners, may expire at the end of this year unless extended by the California Legislature. Some anti-prostitution crusaders say reverting to local control will make it easier to shut down covert brothels, but the practitioners fear a return to the bad old days, when stigmas and stereotypes overcomplicated their lives.

On one side of the debate are the massage therapists, who say that the council protects them from unfair discrimination, replaces a patchwork of local ordinances, and provides a greater level of respectability to their profession. However, an array of city officials, police departments, and powerful groups such as the League of California Cities argue that the CAMTC makes it easier for illicit massage parlors to get away with prostitution and human trafficking.

“I receive complaints from neighbors all the time about certain establishments,” said Sup. Katy Tang about her supervisorial district in San Francisco’s Sunset District. “We can inspect, but we have no ability to enforce any of our regulations. If there are any penalties, we can’t enforce them.”

Tang’s frustration stems from Senate Bill 731, legislation that was signed into law in 2008. That bill created the CAMTC, a nonprofit organization that has the authority to certify massage practitioners and therapists in California. Prior to the creation of this body, each city and county enacted its own certification procedures, leading to a messy patchwork of rules all over the state.

Before the CAMTC, “there were 550 different kinds of regulations from city to city,” said Ahmos Netanel, CEO of the organization. “Within a radius of one mile, you can have a situation where different cities have their own standards. One city may require no training, and another right next door may require 1,000 hours.”

A massage provider working in California pre-2009 not only had to be savvy with the medley of laws, but also needed to purchase expensive licenses for each city he or she planned to practice in. The CAMTC creates a universal—though voluntary—system, where licensed practitioners can travel and work freely around the state.

The contentious part of the law comes from the protection that it offers to licensed practitioners. Any establishment that employs all CAMTC-certified massage providers is exempt from city ordinances that target massage businesses. Law enforcement agencies claim that these restrictions impede their ability to crack down on illegal parlors, but the massage therapists say that they are necessary to fight off discriminatory laws.

Some of these unfair regulations targeted entire establishments, such as zoning rules that forced all massage businesses into run-down or dangerous parts of town, with the assumption that they were brothels. Massage providers argued that this was neither fair nor safe for, say, a 75-year-old woman seeking out massage for arthritis, or a soon-to-be mom trying to obtain a pre-natal massage.

Other laws targeted the therapists themselves. Stacey DeGooyer, a certified massage therapist in the Bay Area, remembers times when practicing massage meant mandatory STD testing and reminders from police to not wear undergarments as exterior clothing.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is for my profession?'” DeGooyer said, decrying being subjected to “archaic prostitution laws.” Most massage providers aren’t looking to be on par with physicians, but they also don’t want to be on par with prostitutes.

Currently, San Francisco has its own certification program that is regulated by the Department of Public Health. To practice massage in the city, the provider must have a license from either the city or the CAMTC. However, only those who have the state CAMTC license can legally call themselves a “licensed massage” therapist or practitioner.

Tang has been one of the most outspoken critics of the CAMTC in San Francisco, urging the Legislature to let the body sunset at the end of the year.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m against [the CAMTC], but there are structural flaws in how it was designed,” Tang said. “It was created for good reasons, since there were so many jurisdictions and they wanted to standardize it and create a cohesive process. But there are jurisdictions like San Francisco where we have our own robust process.”

The number of massage establishments have surged since the adoption of the CAMTC, which critics use as evidence for a growing number of illicit parlors. But Netanel said his group’s worked to prevent prostitutes from getting licensed in the first place. Out of over 63,000 applicants, Netanel said, the group has never certified a single person who has been convicted of illicit activities. It also utilizes an online complaint form to report questionable behavior, and respond to all complaints within 24 hours.

“Even with those who criticize [the CAMTC], we share the same goals,” Netanel said. “We want a safe, healthy, and reliable certification process, so consumers can trust their therapists. Even more, we want to put an end to illegal massage parlors so they are no longer categorized with honest providers.” (Brian McMahon)


Last week’s Bay Guardian featured a cover story on homelessness in San Francisco (“San Francisco’s untouchables”), including communications between local residents and the city’s Homeless Outreach Team, which we obtained in a public records request. So we thought we’d share a few message from the more than 100 we received.

“I don’t know where to begin,” one resident wrote. “I feel between mad, disgusted, and frustrated. This homeless encampment keeps growing. … The city has put up wire fencing only to be cut through by the homeless. … It is within 100 yards of my $1.2M condo.”

Another said: “Something is deeply wrong with San Francisco policy. Cultivating the Bohemian San Francisco style is nice but … it is as if we were in a deteriorated undeveloped country. We live in downtown San Francisco, not in the favelas, which is what it feels like.”

Still another complainant wrote: “Bags distributors are installed in the parks in order to help dog lovers clean up after their dogs, which is completely normal, but nothing is done for all the human beings who stroll, do drugs, eat, sleep, urinate, defecate and so on, on the sidewalks.”

Sometimes these complaints result in HOT visits to homeless encampments. But the emails suggest that while the HOT does approach homeless folks to try and persuade them to access services or go to a shelter, the service workers don’t always have full services to direct them to if the homeless individuals agree to do so.

Psychiatric social worker Jason Albertson, who is part of the HOT, explained this dilemma in an email sent in mid-January. His email noted that the HOT had encountered some homeless people in the vicinity of Harriet Alley and Manolo Draves Park, in response to a neighbor’s urging.

They’re “primarily in transit, meaning that they camp in different places each night and are not regulars,” he explained. “So far, nobody has wanted to enter into shelter or discuss other access to treatment or services.” But even if they had, he said, there wouldn’t be too many options for moving forward with recovery.

“At this time, our case management support is limited with identified clients waiting,” he wrote. “So capacity for full service is limited.” (Rebecca Bowe)


As the Board of Supervisors prepared for an April 1 hearing to consider an environmental appeal of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s program for regulating Google buses and other private shuttles to the Silicon Valley, which charges them one dollar per stop, both sides marshaled their troops.

The pro-business Bay Area Council released a poll of San Franciscans claiming that most of us love tech, we’re totally cool with the Google buses, and we care more about job creation than the cost of living. The group wrote: “Despite what it may look like from recent media coverage, a majority of voters have a positive opinion of the shuttle buses and support allowing buses to use Muni stops.”

SF.citi, an alliance of San Francisco tech companies, touted the poll as it sent out an email blast that reads like a call to arms: “Divisive shuttle opponents are now suing the City to challenge this pilot program before it has the chance to get off the ground. We need YOU to tell the Board of Supervisors in person that you want them reject this lawsuit and let the pilot program go forward.”

Progressive activists countered in a similar tone: “Please join us to support the appeal and to tell the city to hold Big Tech accountable for the actual impact they have on our communities and neighborhoods.”

The hearing was scheduled after Guardian press time, so check www.sfbg.com/politics to find out what happened. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)

Appeal to the Giants



By John Farrell

OPINION We all love our 2010 and 2012 World Champion Giants and wish them all the best in 2014. But I also want to see the team do right by San Franciscans.

The Giants organization built its ballpark for over $350 million in 2000 and leased land from the Port. The 2012 property assessment was approximately $196.8 million, at least $200 million under value in my opinion, resulting in a property tax loss to the city of over $2.3 million annually.

Yet the Giants are appealing even this $196.8 million assessment, seeking to reduce the value to $140 million, an additional revenue loss to the city of over $650,000 annually.

When I worked in the San Francisco Assessor’s Office years ago, one of my assignments was to value the Giants ballpark. After construction was completed in 2000, a principle appraiser, a senior manager, and I met with Giants management in 2003 to finalize the ballpark value. I have worked with the Giants management numerous times in the past and they have always been professional, courteous, and fair.

Both parties agreed that a cost approach would be the preferred method of valuation and agreed on costs of around $350 million up to that point. The only difference in the final valuation being challenged was a marketing cost of $7 million in assessed value, reflecting $80,000 in tax revenue.

The Giants agreed to a middle ground to increase the assessment by $4 million. I advised the senior manager to accept this middle ground since it was reasonable and since the Giants already agreed to the approximate $350 million construction cost. It was a win-win for both the Giants and the city.

But this senior manager refused and would not budge on the $7 million assessed figure, reflecting a difference of only $35,000 in revenue. Giant’s management left the office very upset. I looked at the principle appraiser and he also couldn’t get over that we wouldn’t work with the Giants.

I had worked closely with this principal appraiser over the years and we always got the best and fairest value for the city. I left the office a year later and the Giants subsequently appealed and received a reduction of $200 million in assessed value and have been receiving a reduced assessment ever since.

When a taxpayer files an appeal for a reduction in property value under Proposition 8, it is generally due to a decrease in value as the result of a stagnant economy. I can understand the Giants asking for a reduction if their revenues were going down and justify it.

Without the ballpark, the Giants would not receive its revenues from the tickets, vendors, restaurants, advertising, cable TV, etc. Its revenues continue to grow, which is wonderful. But in my opinion and experience, the Giants should have never received such a reduction in assessment.

The proposed reduction to $140 million makes no sense. The land assessment alone is at least $40 million, from the capitalization of lease payments to the Port leaving the balance of $100 million for the improvements.

Naming rights were never assessed. Pacific Bell paid $45 million for naming rights in 2000, which was subsequently transferred to AT&T. What are these naming rights worth today? Keep in mind that the 49ers/York and Levi Strauss & Co recently entered into a naming rights agreement for a 20-year, $220 million deal at $11 million annually. Are you telling me the Giants naming rights are not worth at least half this amount when its contract with AT&T expires?

I appeal to the Giants owners and management to withdraw all their assessment appeals, which are insulting to the taxpayers of San Francisco, and continue to be the class act that they are. This appeal is from a fifth generation San Franciscan who has been a Giants fan since I can remember and had the privilege to see the two Willies, Juan, the Clarks, the Bonds and other Giants greats along the way.

John Farrell, MBA, Broker/Realtor®, former Assistant Assessor, Budget and Special Projects


Cap and frown



Just in time for baseball season, Giants hats may be allowed back into San Francisco public schools. A new Board of Education resolution may change the school district dress code to allow hats to be worn indoors in classrooms, a resolution that is also sparking conversations about cultural sensitivity.

The resolution, which the board will likely vote on April 8, would eliminate a San Francisco Unified School District no-hats policy, allowing schools to set their own dress codes individually as long as they’ve considered community input.

Some schools currently allow hats in schools in violation of district policy, but others have no-hat rules due to long standing conflation of hats with gang clothing, Board of Education Commissioner Matt Haney, who authored the resolution, told us.

“Our students should not be treated as a threat or a gang member because they wear hats,” Haney said. “If the message we send to them is that the way they dress in their communities is somehow a threat, we should not be sending that message as a school system.”

Hats seem like an unlikely starting point for a discussion about race and social justice, but Haney connects freedom of dress to the story of Trayvon Martin, whose tragic slaying many connected to negative assumptions due to wearing a hoodie, sparking a national “Million Hoodie Movement for Justice.”

Haney said allowing hats in classrooms is one step of many ensuring students know they’re accepted, and not viewed as a threat.

“When I went to a middle school to visit, they asked ‘why we can’t wear hats?’ I said it’s because people may think they’re in gangs,” Haney told the Guardian. “They looked at me like they had never heard anything so crazy or disrespectful in their lives.”

In a world where some people view those dressed in a simple hoodie as a reason to fear a teenager, the change in dress code rules could be seen as rebellious. But not everyone is a fan.

“I’m both ways on it,” Jackie Cohen, co-founder of the student tutoring program 100 Percent College Prep Institute, told the Guardian. “They should be able to express themselves as young people, but I don’t think they’re ready for the consequences that come with it.”

The institute offers many workshops to youth in the Bayview, but one offered last October taught kids to be what Cohen calls a “social chameleon.” The class taught code switching, when Cohen as how people change behavior based on social surroundings.

It’s a concept that youth of color in her neighborhood grapple with every day. Do they wear a hoodie to a job interview? A hat in the classroom? How much slang should be used in any given conversation? How does the media portray them?


Teenage (and younger) members of 100 Percent College Prep Institute learn about code switching from adult peers in a workshop held in October. Photo courtesy of Jackie Cohen.

San Franciscans were treated to a glaring moment of code-switching violation at last year’s NFC championship, when the 49ers were defeated by the Seattle Seahawks, whose cornerback Richard Sherman dissed 49ers player Michael Crabtree loudly in a TV interview, shouting, “Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get! Don’t you ever talk about me.”

The moment drew fire from football fans and commentators nationally; many called Sherman a thug due to his aggressive speech. In interviews later, Sherman equated the “thug” label with a racial epithet.

The message? Men of color have to act and dress within certain boundaries, and young persons especially can have trouble navigating those social boundaries, just or not. Young people of color’s clothing and speech styles can often be an impediment to breaching white-dominated power structures, Cohen said.

“If you put that resolution on the table, [Haney] should expand that to teach the other side,” she told us. “The code switching class should be part of that resolution.”

Haney, for his part, agrees that families should have a say in how their children dress at school.

“I think it’s a fair point,” he said. “The resolution doesn’t say schools must allow hats, it says it should be up to the school community and can be up to the school staff.”

But in a way, the resolution is pushing back against the need for code switching, and even mentions that the school district should recognize different forms of dress as a part of a community’s culture.

The resolution states: “A District-wide, positive, relationship-based culture is best supported by contemporary, culturally relevant Dress and Appearance standards with consistent application.”

And in San Francisco, as other big cities with pride in their sports team, saying hats are “culturally relevant dress” is an understatement.

Len Kori is a 26-year-old design major at California State University East Bay. But first and foremost, he is a San Francisco native, born and raised — he went to Thurgood Marshall High School, one of the schools affected by the resolution on hats.

He remembers the ban on hats well, which makes sense since Kori owns more than 200 of them, most bearing that unbeatable abbreviation: SF.


Kori stands amidst some of his hat collection. Photo courtesy of Len Kori.

“You’d be surprised how deep the philosophy of collecting caps goes, as far as why people collect what they collect,” he told us. “My collection is solely based on who I am, and how important for me it is to acknowledge my roots,” Kori told the Guardian.

Hats defined his identity as a San Franciscan since he was a youngster, and as an adult he channeled his passions into designing hats himself.

One has the peninsula of the city dead center on the front of the cap, half the city aqua blue and the other half a gold dusky land mass. It reads “Bay Era,” a play off of the name of the popular New Era hats. Reflecting a love of city sports, some of his designs hearken back to San Francisco’s original baseball team, the Seals, sporting the original 1903 team colors of blue and white.

He’s happy to see the hat ban lifted because he feels “it’s important for kids to be able to express themselves.” Hats expressing city pride have long been a part of urban San Francisco culture, he said, but they are especially important now.

With so many displaced in the city’s housing crisis, there are too few of his former schoolmates around anymore. It makes the need to declare his love of San Francisco through hats especially poignant.

“It’s just really sad to see so many of my friends who have gone and left elsewhere,” Kori said. “I take pride in my city.”