Volume 48 Number 31
THE WEEKNIGHTER Weekends are for amateurs. Weeknights are for pros. That’s why each week Broke-Ass Stuart (www.brokeassstuart.com) will be exploring a different San Francisco bar, bringing you stories about the places and people who make San Francisco one of the most phenomenal cities in the world. Who wants a drink?
“It’s like we’re doing a double play tonight,” Anna said as she, Wes, and I sat down at the bar. “Oh! That’s good, are you gonna use that? If not I will,” I replied. We had just come from Prubechu, a new Guamanian restaurant on Mission Street where we’d had dinner. Anna is the food editor at SF Weekly so she was researching it for work, and since I am, in some capacity, a professional barfly, this was work for both of us. Wes is food photographer and the cat behind Wes Burger, but on this evening he was just along for the ride.
None of us had spent any time at the Double Play Bar and Grill (2401 16th St, SF. 415-621-9859) before so we didn’t know what to expect. I was hoping for weird looking old guys who’d been in the Mission their whole lives and still referred to Cesar Chavez as Army Street. Maybe cats who were old enough to have seen a game at Seals Stadium, the ballpark that had once been across the street but was now a shopping center housing a Safeway, a Boston Market, and a 24 Hour Fitness that always smells like chlorine and sweaty balls. It’s a terrible smell, really.
Seals Stadium had been a part of baseball history: It’s where the first West Coast MLB game took place when the Giants thrashed the Dodgers 8-0 in 1958. It was also the stadium where Joe DiMaggio played as a member of the San Francisco Seals, where Willie Mays played his first game as a San Francisco Giant, and the home stadium of the San Francisco Seals that Lefty O’Doul managed 1937-1951. In fact when Lefty heard they were building a new stadium at Candlestick Point he said it was, “…the most ridiculous site for a ball park I’ve ever seen. When I was a child, the wind would blow the sheep I was herding off Candlestick Hill.” Considering the Double Play Bar first opened in 1909, it had been witness to all of this.
Walking in the other night we were greeted by walls that were literally covered in sports memorabilia. There were old mitts, vintage photos, ball caps, and even original signage from Seals Stadium. There were also TVs broadcasting various sports highlights, a whole bunch of police badges framed, and even more sports memorabilia. What there wasn’t, though, were people.
“Does this place ever get busy?” I asked the bartender looking over at the three or four random drunk people at the short end of the bar. “Oh yeah,” she replied. “During the day it gets pretty slammed. We get a lot of people from the surrounding businesses who come in here for lunch and then from pretty much three o’clock till it gets dark we have a pretty steady crowd. Lots of union folks.” I suddenly realized that, if having a union job means getting to start drinking at 3pm, I’d chosen the wrong field.
As I got up to scope the place out and gawk at the walls, Wes asked the bartender, “Isn’t there some big backroom here?” Apparently there was one but it had gotten torn down so that the property owner could build new condos. The backroom had had a giant meticulously painted mural of a ball game at Seals Stadium; it had taken up the entire room. As I was sitting down back on my stool the barkeep was already closing up. “What time do you close?” I asked looking at my phone. It was 9pm.
“It varies,” the barkeep told me, “Usually around now. But you should really try coming by here at three.”
Can’t win ’em all.
Stuart Schuffman aka Broke-Ass Stuart is a travel writer, poet, and TV host. You can find his online shenanigans at www.brokeassstuart.com
THEATER It got cold only once last week in Austin, and that was in the refrigerated beer grotto at the Whole Foods. Otherwise the famously incongruous Texas capital was a sultry pleasure. Arriving midway through the 12-day Fusebox festival (April 16–27) allowed for a concentrated dose of Austin’s relaxed mien and fervent tastes, as I took in a slab of what Fusebox’s organizers refer to as Free Range Art. Among other things, that meant a program that roamed widely over categories and disciplines as well as points of origin: The festival annually culls its performance-based, visual, conceptual, and food-related projects from local, national, and international artists in roughly equal proportion.
The Bay Area was represented this year by a rousing episode of choreographer Larry/Laura Arrington’s highly collaborative experimental “game show,” SQUART! (co-produced at Fusebox by Austin-based House of Ia), which had a far-flung mix of local and guest artists putting out completed (often complex and impressive) performances in a matter of a few hours. SQUART! also featured on its luminous panel of celebrity judges the likes of postmodern dance icon Deborah Hay (who by way of one critique led the crowded barroom venue in a chorus of “Don’t Fence Me In”). Another intimidatingly dazzling celebrity judge was Christeene, Austin actor Paul Soileau’s fierce and brilliant drag alter ego, who would go on to close out the festival on Saturday night with an all-new, ferocious floor show.
Underscoring the Free Range theme in the festival’s second week were several remarkable performances that straddled the line between visual art, installation, and conventional theater.
One of these was 33 rpm and a few seconds, by renowned Lebanese theater artists Rabih Mroué and Lina Saneh, whose stage comes littered with several past decades worth of communication technology — including the turntable alluded to by the title as well as a fax machine, an answering machine, a cell phone, and stacks of books, all backed by an enormous projection of the principal character’s Facebook wall. Notably, the stage remains devoid of any actor (other than a voice heard on the answering machine). Also notably, the principal character, based on an artist and activist in Beirut, is already dead. Only his devices and Facebook account continue to churn with life, as a host of friends, colleagues, and strangers remotely discuss, deliberate over, and variously appropriate his ambiguous suicide. With pointed associations for war-scarred Lebanon’s contentious recent history, yet reverberating with a larger state of affairs, this sly and intriguing, multichannel conversation shimmers with our own ghostly and fragmented existence.
Man Ex Machina, meanwhile, had at least half an actor onstage as it delivered a brilliant and chilling multimedia treatise on the evolution of human and machine. Written, directed, and performed (in a stationary but cleverly versatile steam punk cyborg suit with two bare legs poking through) by multifaceted Bulgarian artist Venelin Shurelov of SubHuman Theatre, this riveting “cyber lecture” unfolds as a combination video game, animated documentary (the stunning 3D animations are by Yosif Bozhilov), and post-human minimalist cabaret. Its alternately grim and bracing vision of human evolution comes leavened by a tender humor, but packs enough punch in its trim 50 minutes to leave your head swimming.
Los Angeles–based multimedia artist Miwa Matrayek had two exquisite, visually and musically lush works in this year’s festival, Myth and Infrastructure and This World Made Itself. Both feature her astounding multi-projection animations, into which she folds her own 2D shadow-screen persona in real time. Disappearing into this layered screen world, her shadow becomes traveler and witness to the great and ominous unfolding of human action in the natural world. Indeed, This World Made Itself in particular proved a forceful complement to Man Ex Machina as it pondered the evolutionary timeline of earth, human agency, and the fragility of life in its own distinctive aesthetic and emotional register.
Beyond the merits of any single work, what remains so impressive about the festival’s diverse offerings (and artistic director Ron Berry’s shrewd curatorial vision) is the way the pieces so often spoke to one another. These unpredictable resonances emerged organically for the most part, but together with infusions of the featured Paloma Mezcal punch they fueled a subtle expansion of thought and feeling in a laidback setting devoid of any preciousness.
Free Range meant one more thing at this year’s Fusebox: For the first time in this modest-sized but distinguished festival’s 10-year history, all tickets to all shows were free to the public. The festival’s organizers say they hope that by eliminating the ticket price — while still programming leading and challenging work — Fusebox will spur a deeper conversation about value, rather than continue to mask it behind the narrow and misleading idea that the ticket price is the end of the story (in reality, ticket prices rarely even come close to covering the actual material cost of producing such work).
Whatever else, the free ticket seemed to at least eliminate the mundane anxiety that comes with unfolding your wallet and deciding whether a purchase is worthwhile. Getting rid of that consumer judgment may also be enough to subtly but productively change the terms of relation between the public and the artist. If that’s a hard thing to measure, it was easy enough to detect in the amiable mixing that went on throughout the festival. And who knows, it’s possible too that a “free range” opens up a mental and social environment in which the real value and import of much of this work — whether delivered through the taste buds by high-concept gelato or reflected in the miraculously beautiful, agonized mirrors of Matreyek’s animated sets — can be transmitted to us all with less distortion from the ideological frequencies of a market-driven society. *
This Cole Valley enoteca is under the close watch of Claudio Villani, un vero Italiano with an extensive history working in quality restaurants like Perbacco, so you can bet he’s going to be pouring you some notable Italian wines. (If the little tag on your glass telling you what variety it is seems familiar, Villani was the opening wine director for Incanto, where he came up with that little touch.) The list has a particular focus on Alpine and volcanic wines of Italy, and good value is also important — we love that. Food options are very enoteca-like, including a looong list of tasty, artisan Italian cheeses, plus some fresh-sliced salumi, very thin-crust pizzette that are easy to share, and more antipasti. This piccolo place has a contemporary look, with a marble counter, cherry red overhead lights, and even some outdoor seating. If you want to learn more about — and taste! — Italian wine, you’re in good hands here.
108 Carl, SF. www.inovinosf.com
Probably the most stylish of the vino newcomer bunch is this Mission post-modern hideaway, just enough off busy Valencia to keep things from getting too crazy-packed. Proprietor Bodhi Freedom also owns Bacchus wine bar, so he knows a thing or two about hospitality — and wine. The list has some quality European picks, ranging from $9 to $15, although the wallet-friendly bottle prices will inspire you to go with a friend and split one. This place is so perfect for a date — the lights are just dim enough, and a beautiful oyster platter to share will get things started nicely. The menu, from chef Caleb Jones, goes beyond cheese and salumi: Burrata with seasonal vegetables, hamachi crudo, and mussels in muscadet broth perfumed with tarragon are excellent (you may want to request more of the Della Fattoria bread to soak up that gorgeous buttery broth). If you’re solo, the wine bar can be a friendly spot to hang out, and there’s always some fun vinyl playing on the stereo, from Led Zep to George Michael.
3565 20th St, SF. www.20spot.com
La Ciccia owners Massimiliano Conti and Lorella Degan may have created this enoteca as a place to handle overflow, and to offer a casual and easy place for their customers to swing by. But it has ended up as popular and packed as their first restaurant. (Yeah, they have a big fan club.) La Nebbia features a cheese list of fresh and creamy picks, and the selection of 10-plus hams includes a 36-month San Daniele prosciutto that will blow your mind, man. Try to sit at the wine bar for maximum wine tasting and pairing shenanigans. Most of the wines on the list come from cloudy areas (la nebbia means “fog”), so expect wines from the Veneto, Piemonte, and Montalcino, with an eye toward sustainability and food-friendliness. There are a bunch of wines by the glass; you’ll get turned on to some new ones at all budget levels. Bubbly lovers will be especially pleased with the tingles on offer here. And the cold lasagne? Try it, it’s one of the many surprises on the menu. Conti and his team are having a fun time with the food here.
1781 Church, SF. www.lanebbia.com
This downtown bistro is (somewhat sneakily) holding an absolutely fantastic wine list a bit close to its chest. Co-owner Andrew Fidelman has assembled a French wine lover’s treasure map that is deeply focused on Gascony, the home region of fellow owner Laurent Manrique. Bonus: The drinking list does double-duty as a shopping list (at retail prices), so the next time you need to grab a bottle after work, here’s your spot. The menu boasts some rocking deviled eggs with duck bacon, and the roasted duck dish is also magnifique — although I could do without its campfire-like presentation: It’s too smoky when it comes to the table. The riz au lait for dessert is a must, you won’t find anything like it in SF. Aquitaine’s a popular spot for lunch, although you may very well need to make it a long, drinking lunch. The décor feels a bit like someone’s grand-mère put it together. (So. Many. Sunflowers.) But it does have an authentic Frenchy-coziness to it. You’ll leave well-fed and tipsy.
175 Sutter, SF. www.aquitainesf.com
Marcia Gagliardi is the founder of the weekly tablehopper e-column; subscribe for more at www.tablehopper.com. Get her app: Tablehopper’s Top Late-Night Eats. On Twitter: @tablehopper.
I remember the day I met J.Stalin, 10 years ago. He bounced into the Mekanix’s East Oakland studio, walked up to me, and shook my hand.
“I’m J.Stalin. I write and record two songs a day,” he said proudly. Rail-thin, barely 5 feet tall, he looked like a middle-schooler. While he’s thickened somewhat in adulthood, the pint-size rapper retains an air of adolescence that’s one of the keys to his enduring success. Kids in the hood love Stalin because he seems like them and his music speaks to them. He looks like what he once was, a d-boy on the corner slanging rocks. Yet his music is versatile, with a profound undercurrent of melancholy to his storytelling and a huge streak of ’80s R&B in his sound, both of which appeal to adults. Even without radio support, this potent combination has made him one of the most popular rappers not simply in Oakland but in the Bay Area, period, and when I hear a car roll up playing a local artist, more often than not these days, that artist is J.Stalin.
“Make sure you put that in,” Stalin says. “I’m the most played person on the streets in cars.”
It reminds me of our first meeting — but only a little, for, despite his youthful appearance, it’s hard to discern the eager youngster of a decade ago in the somber adult he’s become in his late 20s.
We’re sitting poolside in a middle-of-nowhere suburb where J’s tucked himself away with his girlfriend and 2-month-old son. I couldn’t imagine living out here, but it’s the perfect retreat for a rapper, away from the distractions of the hood. Coming from the cramped public housing of West Oakland’s Cypress Village, Stalin can appreciate the surrounding blandness in ways I can’t. And, of course, he’s on the road frequently, fresh from a sold-out West Coast tour with Husalah and Roach Gigz and about to embark on a series of appearances for his new album, S.I.D. (Shining In Darkness) (Livewire/Fontana), which will take him as far afield as Ohio.
Named for his cousin, Sidney Malone, who died in 2008 at age 25 after suffering cardiac arrest during pacemaker surgery, S.I.D. showcases a different side of Stalin’s music than previous releases, even as it leans heavily on production from his longtime producers, the Mekanix, in addition to tracks by Mob Figaz maestro Roblo and HBK member P-Lo.
“With this record, I wanted to get back to making fun music,” he says. “When you come from the streets, and done been through hella shit, sometimes that’s all you want to talk about. It ain’t even like you rappin’. You just expressing your emotions. I love making street music, but my own music be depressing to me sometimes. I’m always going to give you that classic Stalin, but that’s the difference between this album and the last album: I wanted more uptempo tracks you can dance to.”
“I didn’t want to just name it, ‘In Memory of Sid,’ so I came up with Shining In Darkness, because that’s where the Bay at,” he continues. “We shining over here but the industry don’t put a spotlight on it. It’s just a darkness to the rest of the country. The more I started recording on it the more the meaning unfolded to me. Like when you hear it, you’re like, ‘Why don’t the world know about this nigga?’ But at the same time I just wanted to keep Sid’s memory alive; that was my biggest fan.”
In another departure, S.I.D. is Stalin’s first disc since July of last year, when he released his DJ Fresh-produced double-disc Miracle & Nightmare on 10th Street (Livewire/World’s Freshest), his first project to crack the Billboard rap charts, at #60.
“It’ll be like nine months since I dropped a project,” he says. “I’ve been focusing on putting out dope albums instead of flooding the music with quick mixtapes and shit.”
It’s a sign of how much rap has changed since the analog era, when E-40’s innovation as an independent artist was to drop an album “like a pregnant beeyatch, every 8 or 9 months,” compared with the lethargic, every year or two pace of major-label acts. Raised in the generation of the laptop studio, Stalin was among the innovators delivering a constant stream of music to his fans in the form of mixtapes, collaborations, and side projects in between proper solo albums. Waiting nine months between projects is almost unheard of for J, who has something like 30 discs to his credit at this point.
“I’ve been trying to work more strategically,” he says. “Work smarter, not harder. I’ve been doing more of the clothing line, selling Livewire Clothing at all my shows. Been doing a lot of pop-up stores in stores selling them, plus we got the online store. I popped off my website; I be giving away free music on there. My new artists Lil June and L’Jay, you can download they albums on my website.”
This is another key to Stalin’s success: He’s always thought of himself not simply as an artist, but as the CEO of Livewire Records, a company he has conjured into existence through sheer force of will, his own talent, and an uncanny ability to form alliances and develop artists. Even the short list of Livewire artists — Shady Nate, Philthy Rich, Stevie Joe, Lil Blood — is impressive, and Stalin is constantly building the roster. He still talks to major labels from time to time, but the decline of their business model, coupled with his success going through Universal’s independent distribution channel, Fontana, there’s not much the majors can offer him these days.
“Really, if ain’t nobody trying to give me money to put out multiple artists and projects, there’s not really no point. We at the position now where all the things that the label is talking about, we damn near can do ourselves,” he concludes. “Unless they giving out some millions — not one million, millions.”
LEFT OF THE DIAL Any musician who’s just released an album will tell you that a little bit of attention is never a bad thing. But a strongly worded cease-and-desist attorney’s letter from the daughter of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler wasn’t exactly what the dudes in bAd bAd had in mind when they put out their first, self-titled full-length last month. With a shiny new cassette (!) for sale and a release show at Amnesia May 3, members of the lo-fi mariachi-surf-punk band had good reason to be in high spirits. And then, April 22…
“It’s an aggressive letter,” said singer Christian Zamora, one half of a pair of brothers who, in turn, make up half of the four-piece. “Like, a really, really aggressive letter. We’re supposed to cease and desist within 48 hours, and remove all signs of our existence as bAd bAd online, in fliers, everywhere.” Meaning, of course, that the band wouldn’t be able to sell its brand-new pride and joy, bAd bAd’s debut album.
The accusers in question were badbad, an electro-pop duo out of LA that consists of Chelsea Tyler and her fiance, actor Jon Foster. According to a letter from the duo’s attorney, the San Francisco band has been “capitaliz[ing] on the goodwill and reputation” of the other band. The problem, as far as Zamora saw it? Though the duo’s online bio states that they formed in 2011, they played their first-ever show — “a Tommy Hilfiger party…yeah, I know” — in the spring of 2013, the same year they released their first and only song, and, from what Zamora can tell, the same year they actually trademarked the name. Whereas bAd bAd has been at a sort of low-profile hustle since forming in early 2012, playing regular shows at spots like El Rio and Brick and Mortar Music Hall.
“Why do they even care?” said Zamora by phone on April 23, just after word began spreading amongst Bay Area friend-bands thanks to a Facebook post he’d written. “We play modest shows, and I think we’re good, but it’s nowhere near their scene.” The two bands wouldn’t have even been aware of one another’s existence were it not for a Spotify snafu that ignored their stylization differences and lumped their music together.
The singer, who said his and his brother’s love for mariachi music comes in part from their Spanish roots, decided to have a lawyer friend look into their options and legal obligations, while staring down the prospect of having to give away their debut album for free.
Less a week later? Don’t say social media never did anything for you. Friday, April 25, after the story had been picked up by websites like PandoDaily, Zamora received an email from the other badbad, which had abruptly changed their tune. Explaining that “If there is anything we stand for, it’s fair business,” Foster and Tyler said they had looked “deep within [them]selves” and decided to change their own band name. Zamora and his bandmates wrote back thanking them, adding that “&ldots;this week and the threat of losing our alias has been enlightening in helping us realize just how much we have grown to love the bAd bAd name over the years.”
Long story short: Spirits should be pretty high at this party.
With Cruel Summer, Male Gaze, and Bob Thayer
853 Valencia, SF
Springtime in the Bay Area is beautiful — but if we’re being honest, to the casual observer, it doesn’t look all that different from any other season. Unlike on the East Coast, where the appearance of blossoms and warmer weather serves as sweet, necessary, not-a-moment-too-soon relief from the tyranny of extremity-numbing slush and sleet and monochromatic down-stuffed outfits, the arrival of spring in Northern California is more or less marked by temperatures maybe 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the ones January brought us.
So what sets spring apart? The shit-ton of stuff going on. Restaurant openings, film festivals, museum parties galore. And judging by my overflowing mailbox (yes, the physical, snail-mail one, though my email inbox is similarly bulging), it’s a very popular time for record releases. Here’s a sampling of other new releases from local bands to look for in the next month:
Future Twin have the distinction of being the only band I can think of that could get away with describing their sound as “punkadelic farmageddon moongayz,” and have a first-time listener go “Oh yeah, that pretty much makes sense.” The synthed-out, cinematic vocals-led three-piece has made a name for itself with energetic live shows over the last three years, but 2014 is shaping up to be the year they invade your living room. They’re in the middle of shopping their full-length debut, Wavelength Sovereignty, around to different labels, but in the meantime they’ve decided to reward loyal fans with a very hearty aperitif: Chillality, a five-song “cassingle” the band recorded at Fantasy in Berkeley, out Tue/29; they’re celebrating with a release show Wed/30.
With The Spyrails and What Fun Life Was
3158 Mission, SF
Annie Girl & the Flight
Remember way back in March, when our On the Rise issue told you about the irresistible It Factor in singer Annie Girl‘s stage presence? No? That’s ok, it’s been a rough few weeks for me too. Besides, I have a feeling that with the release of this band’s new EP, Pilot Electric, theirs is a name you’ll have a hard time avoiding in these parts; you might as well catch their spaced-out, hypnotic art-rock at this Fri/2 EP release/tour kickoff show, while tickets to their gigs are still cheap.
With Ash Reiter and Kera and the Lesbians
777 Valencia, SF
Oakland’s Whiskerman is another band that seems like it should be bigger given the affinity our current pop culture zeitgeist seems to have for smoky, Southern-flecked soul-rock. Graham Patzner is a natural frontman if there ever was one, the younger brother of Anton and Lewis Patzner (better known as the mind-blowing, metal-accompanying string duo Judgement Day), born to a symphony violinist and a symphony trombonist. Setting aside how unfair that seems for a minute, Whiskerman isn’t riding anyone’s coattails. Patzner’s clear vocals move fluidly through blues, gospel, and straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll, accompanied by bass, guitar and drums, as well as his own talents on guitar, keys, and violin. Serious dance parties have been known to ensue; the new EP, Bad News, suggests this could be a continuing problem.
Check www.whiskerman.com for shows.
Of all the new releases that have come across my desk over the past month, none has made me feel quite so much like ditching work and taking a drive down 101-south with the top rolled down and the wind in my hair as Adult Life, the debut full-length from SF’s own garage-fuzz-pop five-piece Cocktails. Of course, I drive an ’88 Volvo with very few moveable parts, and wind’s never been very kind to my hair, but you get the idea. Unabashedly catchy and, in places, perfectly snotty odes to summer and relationships are delivered through sonic nods to our ’70s power-pop and classic punk heroes. The album’s not out ’til mid-June, but you can catch new songs at shows throughout May, like at the Make-Out Room May 12.
With Tiaras and Emotional
8pm, free (??)
3225 22nd St, SF
If there were any doubt that Oakland’s most loveable weirdos had staying power, last week’s firework-filled free Converse Rubber Tracks show at the Chapel — just before tUnE-yArDs took off on tour opening for the Arcade Fire — should have laid that to rest. Nikki Nack, out May 6, is full of R&B grooves and plenty of synthed-out weirdness, lest anyone was worried that singer Merill Garbus would get boring as she achieved more mainstream success. The band won’t be back in the Bay until a two-night stand at the Fillmore June 6 and 7 (with openers Sylvan Esso and Goldie winner The Seshen, respectively) but check this space next week — we’ll be checking in with Garbus from the road in the days before the album officially drops.
June 6 and 7, 8pm, $26
With Sylvan Esso June 6, The Seshen June 7
1805 Geary, SF
FILM It’s no wonder John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo is already shaping up as one of the year’s few indie hits so far — like many such before it, it offers a titillating surface premise belied by the reassuring confirmation of a staid moral outlook beneath. The writer-director plays Fioravante, a middle aged native Brooklynite whose working hours as a florist are shrinking; meanwhile older friend Murray (Woody Allen) faces closing the bookstore his family has operated for three generations. The latter hits upon an unlikely moneymaking scheme when his female dermatologist mentions she and her best friend would pay for the first-time novelty of a three-way. Murray proposes Fioravante provide the meat in their sandwich, and despite all initial resistance, he consents to a trial one-on-one with the client — played by Sharon Stone, so it’s not exactly a huge sacrifice. This goes well, as do appointments with her BFF Sofia Vergara, another socialite bombshell in unlikely need of professional erotic assistance.
It’s with the addition of a third customer that things get complicated: Fioravante gets referred to Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), whose status as widow of an older Hasidic rabbi requires a suffocating level of propriety. Starved for affection, she lets Fioravante (passing himself off as a Sephardic Jew) touch her ostensibly aching back, which is just as bad as a five-alarm coital orgasm so far as her community elders are concerned. Their clandestine meetings do not escape the vigilant notice of an officious neighborhood patroller (Liev Schreiber) already smitten with Avigal, and whose suspicions of criminal activity are enflamed by jealousy.
It’s ironic that while most screen depictions of heterosexual prostitution feature nothing but young, beautiful women servicing men of more realistically variable attractiveness, this ostensible role-reversal keeps the gender inequity just so. Fioravante is a not-so-young, not-particularly handsome man (albeit one made attractive by Turturro’s air of gentlemanly gravity here) who gets only hot numbers as Janes — it’s still a male fantasy, only now the guy is getting paid. Fading Gigolo‘s general affability lets it get away with a boatload of cultural and casting stereotypes, not least Vergara as a fiery Latina who might as well have muy caliente tattooed on her voluptuous flesh. For “plain,” virtuous contrast we get a glammed-down Paradis, the model-singer-actor who’s been France’s leading pop pinup for about a quarter-century. Then there’s Sharon Stone, playing Sharon Stone, which is to say archly channeling two things: a) Aren’t I hotter than ever? and b) I am smarter than the rest of you combined (and hotter too).
There are no unattractive women here — in fact Brooklyn itself seems to have been airbrushed free of clutter, human and otherwise. Even Allen, doing his usual dithery standup shtick, gets a spouse (Tunisian singer M’Barka Ben Taleb) half his age, and who further extends the film’s gloss of multiculturalism as harmless exotica. (It wasn’t clear to me whether the dark-skinned kids running around were their kids, or grandkids — while Avigal’s six children are kept conveniently off screen, lest they spoil the mood of desire.)
Fading Gigolo goes down very easily, even if on his fifth feature behind the camera Turturro remains a sometimes stilted director and careless scenarist. Taking a leaf from Allen’s notebook, this romantic fantasy is shot in warm, soft tones, draped in cool jazz, and takes place in an idealized New York City that’s part nostalgia, part pure imagination. The scented-bath atmosphere allows you to overlook the clumsier, poorly developed bits. And the film’s sometimes naive good nature almost lets it get away with being an entirely narcissistic male daydream of what women really want: an average (but secretly exceptional) guy whom beauties throw themselves at because he alone understands they want to be wooed.
Another guy performing a sort of perfected masculinity for the benefit of needy others is Tom Hardy’s titular character in Steven Knight’s Locke. This virtual solo show has the actor as Ivan Locke, a 40-ish construction manager driving to London on the eve of “the biggest cement pour” ever attempted in Europe. But he’s driving away from that, to the shrill indignation of superiors who expect his reliable on-site supervision, and the increasingly drunken panic of the flunky (voice of Andrew Scott) he’s deputized to take his place. The reason for this unprecedented dereliction of responsibility is that Ivan is committed to another responsibility, to “take care of my fuckup.”
As we gradually realize during his 85-minute drive, that means showing up for the premature birth of the baby he’s sired by a fragile, rather hysterical-sounding woman (Olivia Colman) in the brief sole detour from marital infidelity he’s ever taken. Doing so may well end his career, as well as his long-standing marriage to the mother of his sons. But our protagonist is determined at any cost not to become his own late father (with whom he has imaginary conversations), a wastrel who never made good on his obligations to family or anyone else.
Shot repeatedly in real time with multiple cameras over 12 nights (the actors voicing Bluetooth callers also performed “live” in conference-call fashion), then assembled from 16 full-length takes, Locke is a striking experiment that never quite escapes an air of theatrical stunt. In retrospect you realize most of its tension derives not from the core emotional crises, but from narrative red herrings — primarily our terror that anyone multitasking this recklessly behind the wheel is an accident waiting to happen. But the chameleonic Hardy, playing a rather square, middle-class, essentially humorless type unlike any he’s done before, makes this effortfully “decent” man so compelling you can’t look away. If there’s anything this actor can’t do, he hasn’t tried it yet. *
FADING GIGOLO and LOCKE open Fri/2 in SF.
FILM Almost 10 years ago, a sprawling music doc entitled Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey kick-started the careers of Canadian filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen. Since 2005, the duo has worked on films about Rush, Iron Maiden, and Motorhead; they’ve also collaborated on a doc about Satan and will soon take on a project about “a very important heavy metal band who shall temporarily remain nameless.” Their current feature adds a third co-director, Reginald Harkema, for the colorful story of Alice Cooper, née Vincent Furnier, who’s as famous for songs like 1972’s “School’s Out” as he is for his horror-meets-vaudeville stage shtick.
Though Super Duper Alice Cooper retraces tales that will be familiar to anyone who’s read Cooper’s autobiographies or seen his Behind the Music episode, the directors tried to make the film as visually dynamic as possible, tapping old footage and animation and avoiding any talking heads. On the eve of the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and just ahead of its local screenings, I spoke to them about their approach.
SF Bay Guardian You’ve made a number of rock docs. What’s different about Super Duper Alice Cooper?
Scot McFadyen We’d finished doing Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (2010), and we were at an awards ceremony in London, where we were approached by Shep [Gordon, Alice Cooper’s longtime manager] about doing a doc on Alice. We decided that we’d be into it if we could do it in this sort of “doc opera,” highly visual way without talking heads. We thought that would be a really fun challenge. He’s such a cultural icon — I think it’s important for people to realize how much effect he’s had since the early 1970s, and how much an influence he’s been as a pioneering shock rocker.
SFBG Can you elaborate on “doc opera”?
Reginald Harkema The idea came because Sam and Scot have cut their teeth on documentaries, whereas I come in from a feature-drama side. I said, why don’t we take the approach of mythologizing our character? Why don’t we take the usual documentary material — TV appearances and magazine spreads, concerts and photos — and marry it with a rock opera concept? And Alice’s music is perfect for that because he’s very self-referential. His music became the soundtrack to his own rock opera.
SFBG Cooper has been open about his past and this film doesn’t contain any shocking new revelations. How did you strategize around that?
SM Alice is such a showman. He does a lot of interviews, and we hear the same stories over and over. We did, like, 40 hours of interviews with him just trying to get him to go beyond the surface. And it was great to talk with [original Alice Cooper band bassist and Cooper childhood friend] Dennis Dunaway, because he was a big part of creating that character and bringing the band to life.
RH Also, when we were talking to Bernie Taupin, he wanted to tell the real story of his experiences with Alice, which involved cocaine and freebasing, which he felt a little bit guilty about bringing Alice into. And Alice has been very protective of that part of his past being revealed until now.
SFBG How did you choose your interview subjects?
RH We didn’t want to have any journalistic voices in the film, or anyone observing Alice from an analytical point of view. We treated it more like a drama, in the sense that people enter the story as Alice moves through his life. So obviously, Dennis at the outset, meeting Shep Gordon, and eventually we hear from Elton John, who was really blown away by his concert at the Hollywood Bowl. We really wanted to talk to the pivotal characters in terms of Alice’s development as an artist.
SFBG Coincidentally, the doc Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon is also about to hit theaters. Have you seen it?
SM Yes! It’s funny, because you’ll see there are a couple of stories in there that are similar to our film — and what’s great is that they’re completely different in his doc than in Alice’s doc. It really shows you how everyone’s memories are affected from that period. By the end, [Supermensch] is much more about Shep and his life than about him and Alice, but there are some moments of crossover for sure.
SFBG Supermensch is directed by Mike Myers, which leads to the obvious question: why no Wayne’s World (1992) clips in your movie?
SM We’d seen the docs about Alice in the past, but it seemed like the most Shakespearean, dramatic moment of his life was when he stepped onstage sober. And that was in 1986. That was the point where this Jekyll and Hyde character was able to overcome his demons. Yeah, he went on and did “Poison” and had a number one hit with that, and then did Wayne’s World, but that was after the endpoint of our story.
SFBG Ending the movie in the 1980s also allows you to avoid going into Alice’s conservative political views.
RH He’s pretty apolitical, really — he’s a rich guy who lives in Arizona. He’s no Ted Nugent. But the goal of the story was to talk about how this kid, Vincent Furnier, transformed into the character of Alice Cooper. If you ask any performer, especially vocalists, they’ll tell you they go through some sort of transition before they go onstage. I think what makes Alice unique is that he becomes this character. And so while we didn’t necessarily want to touch on the political side of his life, we did want to show that this was a nice Christian kid from suburban Phoenix who became the godfather of shock rock. It was important to us to paint that picture. *
SUPER DUPER ALICE COOPER
Thu/1, 7 and 9:30pm, $7.50-10
3630 Balboa, SF
Thu/1 and May 8, 7pm, $7-11
Smith Rafael Film Center
1118 Fourth St, San Rafael
SUPER EGO “People shouldn’t actually call me sir,” Pete Tong says over the phone, that legendary radio voice of his immediately springing 21 glorious years of BBC Radio 1 Essential Mixes up in my mind. “I was recently awarded an MBE, which is a big honor, being recognized as a distinguished individual in the UK. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time someone from the electronic dance community’s gotten it. But it’s not a knighthood. I didn’t have to kneel before Her Majesty or anything.”
“Of course,” he adds, “if someone wants to call me ‘sir,’ I won’t discourage them.”
Two or three generations of dance music fans who grew up on his show might bow to that suggestion. Pete, who recently relocated to Los Angeles from London (“Why? Well, I’m speaking with you poolside”), and for the record can charm the pants off a telephone pole, is in a unique, possibly historic position right now. He’s a globally recognized and respected DJ and dance music advocate who can effortlessly straddle the pop-chart popular and the heady underground. And he’s arriving in America with a new nationally syndicated radio show (hear it here on KYLD, Sundays 11pm-midnight), just as our dance community seems the most divided it’s ever been.
“I look at the differences between the pop EDM scene and the more underground scene and I see opportunity. I’m a glass-half-full kind of person. But it’s already been five years since David Guetta had that big hit and people like Deadmaus and Skrillex began to break. Now’s when we start seeing if they’ve paved the way for ambitious acts with a different sound, like Disclosure and Rudimental, to break through on that scale. It’s very exciting. Maybe I’m optimistic, but I see a second wave breaking that can include the best of both worlds.”
That’s a refreshing viewpoint, and his recently announced All Gone to Sea cruise (www.allgonetosea.com), which somewhat disorientingly mixes the likes of Calvin Harris, Scuba, Steve Angello, and Jackmaster in its lineup, bears out his rosy outlook. As for his DJ sets, however — like the one Fri/2 at Public Works — he still lands firmly on the underground side: Check out his gorgeous April Mixmag Lab mix for a taste of what he brings to our shores.
“I absolutely love San Francisco. The history, especially when it comes to music, demands respect. You can’t dumb anything down when it comes to SF, there’s such a cultural heritage. Not that I won’t play banging tunes. But you like to think a bit on your feet, don’t you?”
Pete Tong with Tim Green, Fri/2, 9:30pm-3:30am, $15–$25 advance. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com
ALL OF THE ABOVE
Your chance to check out wee, chic new club Mercer with some solid future bass and uptempo soul from DJ Bluz, King Most, Freddy Anzures, and Marky.
Fri/2, 9pm, $10. Mercer, 250 Rhode Island, SF. www.mercer-sf.com
Before everyone slips down the glowing rabbit hole formerly known as the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, the As You Like It crew is lubing it up with ace techno players DVS1, John Osborne, and Keith Kamp.
Fri/2, 9pm-4am, $15 advance. Monarch, 101 Sixth St, SF. www.monarchsf.com
If you tell me there is this incredible synth nerd recreating the beautifully mad ’70s sci-fi filmscapes of composers like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream, but dance-y, I will scream, “Where?!” and you will say, “At the monthly Push the Feeling party, duh.”
Sat/3, 9pm, $6. Underground SF, 424 Haight, SF. www.facebook.com/pushthefeeling
M. O. M. FIVE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY
Motown on Mondays started out as a lark at Madrone Lounge — and now it’s spread its weekly magic to cities all over the country. Big ups to DJs Gordo Cabeza, Timoteo Gigante, and crew, blowing up this special bash with the Con Brio and Brass Magic bands.
Sat/3, 730pm doors, 8pm show, $20. The Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.theindependentsf.com
PANTHA DU PRINCE
Sheer organic audio wizardry from this “sonic house” pioneer, breaking dance music down to its atomic parts and rearranging them, via unexpected live instruments, into gorgeous prisms.
Sat/2, 9pm, $18. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com
DANCE “Location, location, location” is real estate’s mantra, as those of us who keep running up against it know only too well. But location has also become essential to dance, especially for artists who want to forego the theater and make the outside world their stage.
For the last six years, Dancers’ Group, the Bay Area’s dance service organization, has sponsored the ONSITE series, weaving free dance performances into the urban fabric. Recent events have showcased Amara Tabor-Smith’s He Moved Swiftly (various locations), Jo Kreiter’s Niagara Falling (Seventh and Market streets), and Erika Chong Shuch’s Love Everywhere (City Hall Rotunda). Sara Shelton Mann’s The Eye of Horus, performed in Jessie Square, is the latest addition. She could not have chosen a better location.
Gently terraced and surrounded on three sides by glass and steel — but also the warmth of the old bricks of St. Patrick Church and the newer ones of the Contemporary Jewish Museum — Jessie Square opens itself to the greenery of Yerba Buena Gardens. The totality suggests an urban environment in which disparate perspectives (nature and culture, the past and the present, private and public spaces) harmoniously bump against each other.
In other words, Jessie Square was a perfect stage for Mann to send her dancer-disciples into a 40-minute performance in which they revealed different aspects of themselves, inspired by the way the Egyptian god Horus embodied multiple identities.
Each of the four — Christine Bonansea, Jorge de Hoyos, Jesse Hewit, and Sara Yassky — had developed a multi-sectional solo that, according to the preperformance information, was based on archetypes as derived from Caroline Myss’ book Sacred Contracts. Whatever the generating forces for these solos were, in performance they emerged and receded into the much larger activities at Jessie Square, the whole becoming a kind of moving tableau vivant. The dancers transformed lunchtime crowd actions — eating, talking, strolling, and waiting — into something beyond the commonplace. They injected poetry into daily life.
Generous and welcoming as these types of performances are, I personally miss the more intimate and more focused encounters that inside spaces offer. Mann and production designer David Szlasa stepped in with props or directions as needed. In a favorite moment, Szlasa’s breadcrumbs coaxed a flock of pigeons into a procession across the square. Mann pulled Bonansea up to her full height to send her off on an imaginary tightrope; she also shushed (or at least I think she did) Hewit’s screaming tantrum. Later on, when he sat immobile in a beggar’s pose, she brought him what I first saw as a fishing rod. It was a whip.
Eye is full of small incidents — some touching, some hilarious, some nonsensical — controlled by planning and a lot of serendipity. Hewit tried a shoulder stand, holding a carnation. De Hoyos raced along a diagonal as if shot from a bow. Yassick played what looked like a solitary game of bocce ball. Interspersing these lighter incidents were moments of anguish, lack of stability, and a sense of mortality. At one point or another, just about everyone looked dead as the plank that de Hoyos dragged around.
Bonansea bitterly wept as she put her clown makeup on; her mad laughter while racing the square became monstrous. Yassky, apparently in severe pain, rubbed a balloon against her belly and approached a passerby who politely put his phone away to acknowledge her.
Sometimes, the dancers disappeared in the crowd. I had lost sight of de Hoyos when someone pointed him out leaping and gesticulating on top of the parking garage. If there were any narrative suggestions, it was the ongoing give and take between de Hoyos and Mann. Or perhaps it was Bonansea marching up to de Hoyos, who had dropped to the ground after his lovely ballad fragment. In her best French rhetorical manner, the petite performer started a discourse (on, among other things, mortality) and the corpse in front of her. She finally decided that theory had run into reality and proceeded with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
If Bonansea was something of clown figure, the powerful Yassky seemed imprisoned inside her own body. She is a slender, gamine performer, and I don’t think I ever saw her relax. When she held her limbs tight to her body, they looked like they were enchaining her. When she crouched on a tiny stool on one leg, she repeatedly spilled water and salt offered to her. Whispering into a mike, she asked for help. Clawing her throat while lying on her back, she looked about ready to expire.
For all the portentous self-examination in Eye, the work was free-spirited, unpretentious, and yet quite serious. The boom box sound score, however, needs rethinking; much of it was too blatantly obvious. While Eye greatly benefited from its gorgeous location, at times it looked too thin, dissipating some of its energy. It probably will benefit from the additional performers — Sherwood Chen and a group of community volunteers — who will join the final show Sat/3. *
THE EYE OF HORUS
Wed/30 and Sat/3, 12:30pm, free
736 Mission, SF
Passover ended last week — Bubbe’s back in Florida, gefilte fish leftovers have been composted, and matzoh crumbs no longer spangle your favorite hoodie. But the saga of an oppressed people throwing off its shackles under the auspices of a vengeful yet baffling god remains timeless. Arthur Szyk and the Art of the Haggadah, a magical exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (www.thecjm.org) through June 29, displays the story of the Jews’ ancient exodus from Egypt as illustrated in one of the world’s most beautiful books.
Szyk (1894-1951), a Jewish Pole who emigrated first to France in 1927 and then to the UK and US, was an ambitious and popular illustrator and artist whose work became more politically engaged with the rise of National Socialism in Germany. As early as 1933, he equated Hitler with the pharaoh of the Torah in his work. This eventually led to a fully illustrated Haggadah, the Passover dinner ceremony guide that retells the story of the Jews’ flight from Egypt.
Taking what seems like equal influence from illuminated medieval manuscripts, Art Nouveau style, Eastern European folk art, and satirical cartoons, the 48 exquisite illustrations teem with contemporary references — for example, the “wicked son” in the story of the four sons sports a Hitler-like mustache. (Many of the drawings also prominently featured swastikas, until they were painted over upon the book’s release in 1940, perhaps in capitulation to the British publisher.)
Beyond the prescient political bite, though, of this classic book — like many Jewish kids, my husband received a replica as a bar mitzvah present — lies its sheer artfulness. The small pages, Mughal miniature-like, brim with gorgeous calligraphy, eye-popping design elements (Szyk based his layouts on graph paper), touching portraits, and a veritable bestiary of symbolic animals. It’s an epic piece of storytelling, which has become part of the epic story itself.
The Golden State Warriors’ announcement that its planned 18,000-seat basketball arena would be moved off the San Francisco waterfront was fresh in everyone’s mind when former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos visited the Bay Guardian office on April 23, and he was electrified by the win.
“I resent anyone suggesting that this is not a genuine people-powered victory — again,” Agnos said. “Because that’s what it was, bottom line.”
The former mayor has traveled up and down the city in recent months promoting Proposition B, an initiative on the June 3 ballot that may well have cleared the Warriors Arena from its proposed waterfront perch at Piers 30-32 had the team not announced that it would be taking that step independently.
If it passes, Prop. B will require voter approval for any development project along city-owned waterfront property that exceeds height limits set by the Waterfront Land Use Plan approved in 1997. Such a rule would have squarely targeted the Warriors’ proposal.
The sports arena had been slated for a 13-acre parcel a stone’s throw from the Bay Bridge that is now a parking lot, where it would have hovered above the water like a floating spacecraft. Across the street, at a site known as Seawall Lot 330, the Warriors had proposed installing shops, parking, a condo tower, and a hotel.
Agnos and the backers of Prop. B hadn’t anticipated the Warriors’ announcement that its waterfront venue would be moved to private property, a 12-acre lot in Mission Bay purchased from tech giant Salesforce.com.
“We thought, because people at the top of this city’s government told us so, they would prevail,” Agnos said of Mayor Ed Lee and others championing the waterfront arena. “They didn’t.”
Agnos and his allies say it was the prospect of voters having to sign off on a proposal that was hatched behind closed doors that caused the Warriors to choose a more appropriate location.
“We helped them go to a different place where we now support what they’re doing — because it makes more sense for this city, and for our bay, as well as our waterfront. That’s what the issue is,” Agnos told us. “The spin doctors had their ass handed to ’em … had their ass handed to ’em, by a low-income group of allies, over their $20,000–$30,000, gold-plated contracts per month. And so now, they understand.”
They understand that the waterfront of San Francisco is a battleground and the people are willing to fight to ensure the public interest trumps private profits.
A rendering of proposed development at Pier 70, envisioning tech offices and housing.
A historic map hanging in a corridor at the Port of San Francisco building, in a rehabbed terminal at Pier 1 along The Embarcadero, traces the original curve of a coastline that once separated the city from San Francisco Bay.
The existing waterfront juts out considerably from where its natural edge once fell, and today’s urban landscape features a mix of entire neighborhoods, tall buildings, parks, restaurants, merchant corridors, and transport terminals, all perched atop fill covered by layers of concrete.
Its shipping days long gone, much of San Francisco’s human-constructed waterfront now serves as a draw for visitors, the iconic subject of countless tourist photographs. But at other locations along the shoreline, vacant waterfront parcels are hotly contested land-use battlefronts.
“We’re clearly in a period of significant controversy,” the Port’s Special Project Manager Brad Benson told us. The Warriors Arena, Benson said, had been an opportunity for the Port to rehabilitate and generate revenue from Piers 30-32, which originated as two finger piers constructed in 1912, joined by a concrete slab in the 1950s.
Despite being in control of some of the most valuable real estate along the West Coast, the Port of San Francisco remains in a perpetual financial pinch, due to its need to fix up crumbling piers and aging infrastructure. The Port is governed by a Waterfront Land Use Plan, outlining possible uses for each parcel, and it also conducted a survey to identify properties that could be developed to help generate revenue.
“The Port has a big capital need,” Benson said, noting that many of the “piers and buildings were beyond their useful life when they were transferred to the city” from the state in 1968. Facing nearly $2 billion in capital needs, the Port’s modus operandi is to seek out private developers to partner with on development projects for parcels under its ownership, in order to secure funding that would go toward backlogged improvements.
That didn’t happen with the Warriors, however — the sports team approached the city out of the blue, and the project quickly won the fervent backing of Mayor Lee, who has appointment power over the five-member commission that governs the Port. At one point, Lee even claimed that this flashy sports arena would be his “legacy project.”
To longtime grassroots activists who are deeply involved in how land-use decisions are made on valuable waterfront parcels, it looked to be yet another example of what Prop. B supporter Jennifer Clary called “kneejerk development” — out of sync with carefully thought out shoreline planning efforts.
“The Port gets jerked around by every mayor,” said Clary, president of San Francisco Tomorrow, part of the coalition backing Prop. B. “Every mayor comes up with some stupid project.” She ticked off a list of failed waterfront developments (such as Mills Mall, proposed for Piers 27-31; and a 50-story U.S. Steel Building that would have towered over the Ferry Building), only to have them voted down or halted by grassroots neighborhood activists who viewed them as inappropriate designs fueled by greed and greased by political connections.
Behind the objection to Prop. B, Clary added, “is that the mayor will have to think a little more” before backing projects of this nature.
Whether opponents of the Warriors Arena plan looked at it and saw a traffic nightmare, an inappropriate use of public land, or a bad financial deal for a city needing to contend with ever-growing pressures on its critical infrastructure, members of the coalition that’s backing Prop. B feared the public would have little sway when it came to the final decision-making. A bid to restore that balance, by arming voters with veto power under the law, was the impetus behind Prop. B.
City Hall has ignored the will of regular folks who collectively own Port land along the shoreline, said Agnos, campaign consultant Jon Golinger, and Prop. B proponent and Sierra Club volunteer Becky Evans — listening only to the Mayor’s Office and deep-pocketed developers who stand to make millions by building on extremely valuable land that’s held in the public trust under California law.
“The people are putting the developers in touch with the values of this city, and what we want in this city,” Agnos said, thumping his index finger on the table to emphasize the point. “Prop. B puts people in the room who have not been there, and now [developers] have to pay attention.”
The task of developing Piers 30-32 would have required expensive substructure modification, requiring the involvement of bureaucratic agencies such as the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Bay Conservation Development Commission, and the State Lands Commission. The Warriors estimated that it would invest $120 million in improvements such as seismic upgrades and an elevation grade to deal with the looming problem of sea-level rise, but the threat of having to win voter approval represented yet another hoop to jump through. So when a new option opened up offering greater certainty, the Warriors pulled the plug on Piers 30-32.
Even though Lee’s “legacy project,” the main physical target of Prop. B, is no longer a factor in the June election, backers of the initiative say the measure is still important to restore democratic balance in a development process that freezes out ordinary citizens. Opponents, meanwhile, say the initiative threatens to undermine a complex planning process that engages the public and needn’t be tampered with.
IN THE PIPELINE
Prop. B would prohibit city officials from approving taller buildings than are currently allowed under zoning for Port-owned waterfront parcels, unless voters give those height increases a green light at the ballot box.
Since many of the properties in question are already built out, or preserved by historic landmark designation, Prop. B would impact only a handful of waterfront lots that remain in play as potential sites for new development. Among them are Piers 30-32 and Seawall Lot 351, the site of the 8 Washington luxury condo tower that the electorate flushed down the tubes in a decisive ballot referendum vote last fall, despite Board of Supervisors’ approval.
The same group that opposed 8 Washington launched Prop. B. Last year’s ballot referendum — also named Prop. B, and buoyed by the campaign slogan No Wall on the Waterfront — asked voters whether they favored increasing building heights above the zoning limit at the waterfront site where the luxury condo project would have gone.
San Francisco voters, in no mood to support a high rise for the superrich at a time when anger over skyrocketing rents was bubbling over and droves of low-income residents were being edged out by eviction, shot it down. Many political observers took the outcome as a signal that City Hall politicians are out of touch with voters.
Simon Snellgrove, the developer of the failed 8 Washington project, is reportedly working on a new building design. But since any new plans for 8 Washington are embryonic at best, and the fate of Piers 30-32 is anyone’s guess, the Prop. B ballot measure has immediate implications for two waterfront developments in particular.
One, on and around Pier 48, is being pushed by the San Francisco Giants. The other lies farther south, at Pier 70, a sprawling strip of waterfront that runs behind Illinois Street, from The Ramp restaurant at Mariposa to the old Potrero Power Plant.
The Giants’ planned development would be a short distance from AT&T Park.
During World War II, some 18,500 workers built ships at Pier 70 for the war effort, in brick and metal warehouses that still stand vacant and dilapidated. The site also housed a coal-fired power plant that was later converted to natural gas, leaving behind toxic residue that is up to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to remediate. Farther north along Pier 70, BAE Systems conducts ship repair, a task that has been performed at the site since 1868.
Today, a 28-acre parcel of Pier 70 that is proposed for development by Forest City is home to nothing more than pigeons, feral cats, and the occasional hawk that swoops into a cavernous metal-roofed structure that stands near the waterfront and dates back to 1941, barely visible from the street. Someday in the not-so-distant future, developers imagine it will be populated with tech office workers (Google is used as an example of an anchor tenant in slides presented to the city), makers and small vendors, and thousands of residents who would call the place home.
The site is zoned with a 40-foot height limit, but developers are considering plans with a range of building heights that would be on a similar scale to Mission Bay. Part of the improvements to the property will require raising the elevation grade to deal with sea-level rise. Forest City has planned for a minimum of around 1,000 residential units — the majority market-rate, but with a mix of affordable housing as well.
Representatives from Forest City said that if Prop. B passes, “We’ll be prepared to seek voter approval with a dynamic project guided by … a community-based master plan,” and had not taken an official stance on the ballot measure. If voters were to reject an increase of the 40-foot height limit at the site, which is zoned for heavy industry, the project would no longer be financially feasible.
GIANT TOWER SCRUTINIZED
At Seawall Lot 337, a parcel near the Giants’ stadium which is primarily used as a parking lot during baseball games, the team is backing a project that would include 3.5 million square feet of new residential, office, and retail development, possibly including a 380-foot tower. Across the way at Pier 48 would be a new Anchor Steam brewery, and about five acres of open space.
The Giants plan resulted from the Port’s request for potential development partners to submit bids for that property, which went out in 2007.
“They very quietly have been pushing a plan that Prop. B made public,” Golinger said of the Giants’ plans. “They screamed at everyone involved in our coalition during the signature drive to get us to drop it. They funded a lawsuit … to get it kicked off the ballot.”
The Guardian independently confirmed that the team is part of the group that has challenged Prop. B in court. That legal challenge was unsuccessful in getting the initiative struck from the June ballot, but a judge could take up the question again if Prop. B is approved.
The parcel where the Giants have pitched a rental housing, office, and retail complex with a maximum height limit of 380 feet is zoned with a height limit of zero, zoned for open space in city plans. Nevertheless, “The [Port’s request for qualifications] called for developing up to 300 feet,” Benson explained, calling the current zoning “a remnant of the old Mission Bay plan,” which envisioned a park with wetlands and open space. The Port’s request for proposals went out after a subcommittee was formed, and public hearings were held on the design plans.
Asked why the Port would bake such a tall height limit into its RFQ, Benson responded, “There was a desire to avoid replicating the heights at Mission Bay,” the nearby redevelopment area characterized by lower, boxy buildings that seem to be universally regarded as ugly and lacking charm.
Few people are as intimately familiar with Mission Bay as Corinne Woods, whose houseboat is enveloped on either side by the sprawling development. When Woods first claimed a berth at Mission Creek for her floating home in 1985, “it was surrounded by open empty fields, abandoned warehouses, and lots of fennel,” she said. “We had wonderful parties.”
Outside her dock just off Channel Street is a community garden, a strip of green space shaded by willow and eucalyptus trees where night herons take refuge. Just beyond that is the Mission Bay South redevelopment area, a sprawling construction site that’s ushered in building cranes, swirling dust, pile drivers, and more recently, a five-alarm blaze that required the entire Fire Department to extinguish.
The fledgling neighborhood that now occupies the already-built part of Mission Bay might as well have dropped out of the sky, and the building profiles are wide and flat. “I would rather see slim, articulated towers, with more open space,” Woods admitted.
In the years between 1985 and today, Woods has fought the Port on behalf of her live-aboard community to be allowed to remain floating in place, becoming an unlikely expert on the byzantine process of waterfront planning along the way.
As a key member of half-dozen or so community advisory groups formed to weigh in on major waterfront developments, Woods has ardent faith in the civic engagement aspect of the planning process. She fears Prop. B could upset years of careful neighborhood negotiations by limiting the discussion to nothing more than a conversation about height limits.
Corinne Woods opposes Prop. B.
Woods is a plaintiff in the lawsuit the Giants are funding to challenge Prop. B, aligned with developer-friendly housing activist Tim Colen and building trades head Michael Theriault on the side that opposes Prop. B. But despite the millions of dollars that are on the line, Woods insists she has no dog in this fight. “I can’t even get free tickets to Giants games,” she said.
She does hope for the five-acre park that the Giants plan would install as part of the Seawall 337 / Pier 48 plan, a short walk from her houseboat. But she says her opposition to Prop. B is rooted in her experience of a traditional planning process that rewards neighbors who have the patience to sit through hours of grueling advisory group meetings with negotiating power vis-à-vis developers. Asked directly what the problem is with letting voters weigh in, Woods responded, “Because they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about!”
But that leave-it-to-the-experts attitude is just the thing that Prop. B’s backers say is dangerous for waterfront planning, since it places final decision-making in the hands of profit-seeking real estate interests, a public agency in dire need of funding, and a mayor with political ties to developers.
THE HOUSING QUESTION
Given that the thrust of Prop. B is to democratize the planning process, few are in a hurry to align themselves with the formal No on B campaign — most of the opposition money seems to have been funneled into the Giants’ lawsuit, even though the Giants have officially taken a neutral stance on Prop. B. However, the message from opponents of Prop. B is that the initiative would kill sorely needed housing.
The Port of San Francisco, which is legally barred from taking a position on the initiative, reported in a February analysis to the Department of Elections that it could have the effect of leaving between 1,990 and 3,690 new housing units “delayed, reduced, or abandoned,” including between 268 and 596 affordable units. Those figures are based on early project proposals brought by the Warriors, the Giants, and Forest City, assuming those planning proposals would be “delayed by a need for a vote, or rejected by the voters” under a Prop. B regime.
A nonbinding Giants term sheet notes that the team would build rental housing, 15-20 percent of those units affordable, while Forest City’s Pier 70 proposal includes 1,000 new housing units with on-site affordable that would exceed the 12 percent required under city law.
Targeting housing “is a scary message,” campaign consultant Golinger said, charging the opposition with preying on voters’ fears to encourage people to vote down a measure that would democratize waterfront planning.
“This myth that we’re trying to stop housing is just that,” Agnos chimed in. “It’s just a political ploy by those who want to build high-end, high-rise, luxury condos — a la 8 Washington, a la Giants — on public property.”
The housing question is key. At a time when so many people are facing eviction or being priced out, the refrain that building more housing is the only solution to relieve pressure is oft-repeated, particularly by developers. However, these projects would introduce far more market-rate units than affordable projects, plopping down well-to-do neighborhoods in spaces that have sat on the margins in recent history, further changing the social character of the city. And proponents of Prop. B question whether the waterfront is really the right place to add new affordable units.
Meanwhile, the affordable housing community seems to be aligned in its support of Prop. B. The San Francisco Tenants Union, the Affordable Housing Alliance, the AIDS Housing Alliance of San Francisco, and other organizations that have aligned to push for stronger tenants’ rights and promote affordable housing have all endorsed the measure.
Given the popularity of a measure that fundamentally seeks to democratize the planning process, all development teams with skin in the game have declined to take a position on the measure. So have Mayor Lee and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who each played significant roles in recent waterfront battles, with Lee championing the Warriors Arena and Chiu opposing 8 Washington and assisting with the signature-gathering effort to stop it.
Sup. David Campos, in contrast with Chiu and Lee, has taken a stance on Prop. B. In a recent interview, he outlined his reasons for supporting it.
“I think that something has happened in City Hall, where I think the approval process is such that it has led to certain projects being approved that don’t really reflect the reality of what this city needs, and that have truly left the public out of the process in a meaningful way,” Campos told us. “And 8 Washington passed 8-3 at the Board of Supervisors, with a supermajority. The fact that the voters overwhelmingly rejected that project tells you that there has been a disconnect between what the board and folks in City Hall are doing, and where the public actually is.” To correct that imbalance and allow more San Franciscans to shape the city’s waterfront, Campos said, “I think it’s appropriate for us to go to the ballot and let the voters decide.”
LAWSUITS TARGET AIRBNB RENTALS
The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office last week filed a pair of lawsuits against local landlords who illegally rent out apartments on a short-term basis, units that had been cleared of tenants using the Ellis Act. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Tenants Unions has hired attorney Joseph Tobener to file more such lawsuits, and he is preparing to file at least seven lawsuits involving 20 units.
The lawsuits are the latest actions in a fast-moving crackdown on Airbnb and other online companies that facilitate short-term apartment rentals that violate city laws against converting apartments into de facto hotel rooms, including VRBO.com and Homeaway.com.
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu recently introduced legalization that would legalize, limit, and regulate such rentals, a measure that will be considered this summer. That legislation comes on the heels of Airbnb’s decision to stop stonewalling the city (and us at the Guardian, which has been raising these issues for the last two years) by agreeing to start paying the transient occupancy taxes it owes to the city for its transactions and creating new terms of service that acknowledge its business model may violate local laws in San Francisco and elsewhere (see “Into thin air,” 6/6/13).
As we’ve reported, City Attorney Dennis Herrera has been working with tenant groups and others on a legal action aimed at curtailing the growing practice of landlords using online rental services to skirt rent control laws and other tenant protection, removing units from the permanent housing market while still renting them out at a profit.
“In the midst of a housing crisis of historic proportions, illegal short-term rental conversions of our scarce residential housing stock risks becoming a major contributing factor,” Herrera said in a public statement. “The cases I’ve filed today target two egregious offenders. These defendants didn’t just flout state and local law to conduct their illegal businesses, they evicted disabled tenants in order to do so. Today’s cases are the first among several housing-related matters under investigation by my office, and we intend to crack down hard on unlawful conduct that’s exacerbating—and in many cases profiting from—San Francisco’s alarming lack of affordable housing.”
Tobener tells the Guardian that the San Francisco Tenants Union hired him to discourage local landlords from removing units from the market. “The San Francisco Tenants Union is just fed up with the loss of affordable housing,” Tobener told us. “It’s not about the money, it’s about getting these units back on the market.” (Steven T. Jones)
SF LOOKS TO MARIN FOR RENEWABLES
Just in time for Earth Day, a renewed effort to reduce the city’s carbon emissions was introduced at the April 22 Board of Supervisors yesterday. Sup. John Avalos introduced a resolution calling for a study of San Francisco joining Marin Clean Energy, which provides renewable energy to that county’s residents.
The move is seen largely as an effort to circumvent Mayor Ed Lee’s opposition to implementing a controversial renewable energy plan called CleanPowerSF (see “Revisionist future,” April 15).
“Mayor Lee and the Public Utilities Commission objected to CleanPowerSF, but they have offered no other solution to provide San Franciscans with 100 percent renewable electricity,” Avalos said in a public statement. “With this ordinance, we can either join Marin or we can implement our own program, but we can no longer afford to do nothing.”
The resolution is the latest effort in the long saga to implement CleanPowerSF, San Francisco’s proposed renewable energy alternative to PG&E, whose current energy mix is only 19 percent renewable. Much of PG&E’s current mix is dirty and directly contributes to half of San Francisco’s carbon footprint, according to the city’s own recent Climate Action Strategy.
Joining Marin under a Joint Powers Authority would provide a vehicle for San Francisco to enact CleanPowerSF’s goals, long blocked by the mayor. San Francisco’s renewable energy effort may have lingered in legal limbo for years, but Marin made the switch to renewables in 2010.
“It’s something people want, and it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” Marin Clean Energy Executive Officer Dawn Weisz told the Guardian. Much of Northern California, she noted, has little choice but to use PG&E for their electricity.
“The people never chose to have a monopoly in place,” she said. “People like having choices.” (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
BEACH FIRES CONTAINED
The National Parks Service is once again moving to limit and maybe even ban fires on Ocean Beach, replaying an episode from 2007 that was temporarily solved by volunteers and artistic new fire rings placed by the group Burners Without Borders, despite a lack of follow-through by NPS’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Citing complaints about burning toxic materials, leaving messes, and people drinking on the beach (gasp!), the GGNRA this week announced a summer pilot program that would include moving the curfew up from 10pm to 9pm, installing a dozen new fire rings, and improved public outreach and monitoring of the conditions on the beach.
“We [have] over the years seen a rising problem over safety and general breaking of park rules like broken bottles. And with incidents of assault and underage drinking, mostly occurring during the night, GGNRA Area Director Howard Levitt told the Guardian.
But Tom Price, who helped create the 2007 compromise, said GGNRA never kept its end of the bargain — such as installing more rings to supplement the half-dozen created by artists, or creating visible signage so visitors would know what the rules area — and now it’s acting in a rapid, unilateral, and unreasonable way to ban beach fires.
“They never did the outreach or education or put out more fire rings,” Price said, urging people to let GGNRA know they support allowing fires on Ocean Beach, one of just two spots within GGNRA jurisdiction where they’re allowed (Muir Beach is the other). “The Parks Service has to be reasonable, and banning fires after 9pm in not reasonable.” (Steven T. Jones and Bryan Augustus)
TAX WEALTH, PIKETTY SAYS
French economist Thomas Piketty got a warm welcome in San Francisco last week when nearly 200 people turned out to hear him discuss what is fast-becoming the defining book of this new Gilded Era of escalating disparities in wealth: Capital in the 21st Century.
“The book has been so popular that Harvard University Press has run out,” The Green Arcade owner Patrick Marks said in introducing Piketty at a the April 22 event held across Market Street from the bookstore, in the McRoskey Mattress Company, in order to accommodate the large crowd.
Indeed, Capital has recently been lauded by a string of influential publications, ranging from The Nation through The New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, all acknowledging this as perhaps the most exhaustive study on wealth data ever collected — and a clear-eyed warning that capitalism isn’t the self-correcting system that its biggest boosters claim it is.
Piketty’s work shows how when the return on capital is greater than the annual growth rate of the overall economy, which is usually the case (except when interrupted temporarily by the major wars of the 20th Century, or the 90 percent tax rate on the highest US incomes after World War II), that dynamic consolidates wealth in ever-fewer hands, which is bad for the health of the economic system. The only real cure, Piketty concludes, is a progressive global tax on wealth. Yet Piketty tries to avoid being too prescriptive, choosing to let his research speak for itself. “All I’m trying to do is present this book so everyone can make up his own mind,” Piketty told the gathering. In fact, he thinks the cure he outlines at the end of his book is less important than what comes before it: “You can disagree with everything in Part IV and still find interest in Parts I, II, and III.” (Steven T. Jones)
By Ahimsa Porter Sumchai
Senate Bill 1262 was introduced in the California Senate on Feb. 21 by veteran legislator Lou Correa. It is a medical marijuana bill designed to regulate physicians, dispensaries, and cultivation sites via rigid government oversight. Sponsored by the California Police Chiefs Association, SB 1262 promises to “provide a clear road map for the responsible implementation of Proposition 215 in California since voters approved it in 1996.”
The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which created Heath & Safety Code 11362.5, ensures that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes when the use is deemed appropriate and recommended by a physician.
As a licensed physician with a registered medical practice in San Francisco, I have reviewed the wording of SB 1262. The bill is highly punitive, clearly seeking to punish doctors who recommend medical marijuana (MM). SB 1262 concerns me most because it duplicates and violates existing state and federal statutes that clarify the physicians’ role in recommending MM.
In the 2002 case Conant v. McCaffrey, the federal government was enjoined by the US District Court in San Francisco from punishing physicians for recommending MM. That ruling affirms physicians’ First Amendment right to make recommendations.
SB 1262 requires the Medical Board of California to audit any physician who recommends MM more than 100 times a year. On April 2, the US Supreme Court struck down limits on federal campaign donations under the auspices of First Amendment free speech rights. Thus, a SCOTUS precedent was set that can be legally interpreted to defend a physician’s free speech right to authorize as many patients to use MM as deemed medically necessary.
SB 1262 establishes requirements for prescribing and record-keeping for physicians who recommend MM in a bill sponsored by law enforcement officials who lack medical or relevant education training. Guidelines and accepted standards for recommending MM were developed by licensed California physicians and adopted by the MBC on May 7, 2004.
SB 1262 violates the California law that protects the privacy of patient medical information — The Confidentiality of Medical Information Act — as well as federal law protecting health information, by mandating physicians report all MM recommendations along with private patient records. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires patient authorization for disclosure of patient health information. HIPAA is a federal regulation, and MBC has no authority to evaluate HIPAA violations.
SB 1262 mandates a training and certification requirement for any doctor who recommends MM, with a $5,000 fine for noncompliance. I support SB 1262’s efforts to establish standards for quality assurance and testing of marijuana cultivated for medical use, but even that section duplicates guidelines developed and adopted by the Attorney General’s Office in 2008.
Physicians are capable of regulating their practice standards without law enforcement oversight and SB 1262 is opposed by the California Medical Association, which issued guidelines for physicians recommending MM in 2004, which includes proper record-keeping and annual examinations.
“Medical marijuana evaluation clinics are engaged in the practice of medicine, and physicians are responsible for their patients,” that 20-page Digest for Medical Marijuana Clinics affirms.
Marijuana remains listed in Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act and has no accepted medical use. The lack of dose response curve research conducted in large population-controlled trials coupled with the lack of standardized cannabinoid profiling, potency, pesticide, and microbiological testing make it difficult for the physician to offer dosing recommendations for MM short of the adage “start low, go slow.”
The American Public Health Association, American Academy of HIV Medicine, and many other medical institutions join Americans for Safe Access — the largest member-based marijuana advocacy organization in the country — in promoting safe and legal access to MM for therapeutic uses and research. Polling shows Americans of all political stripes support medical marijuana, and SB 1262 would be a step backward that the public doesn’t want to take.
Ahimsa Porter Sumchai is a physician and former District 10 supervisorial candidate.
OUR CLEAN SLATE VOTERS GUIDE TO TAKE TO THE POLLS IS HERE.
Editor’s Note: Election endorsements have been a long and proud part of the Guardian’s 48-year history of covering politics in San Francisco, the greater Bay Area, and at the state level. In low-turnout elections like the one we’re expecting in June, your vote counts more than usual, and we hope our endorsements and explanations help you make the best decisions.
GOVERNOR: JERRY BROWN
There is much for progressives to criticize in Jerry Brown’s latest stint as governor of California. He has stubbornly resisted complying with federal court orders to substantially reduce the state’s prison population, as well as shielding the system from needed journalistic scrutiny and reforms of solitary confinement policies that amount to torture. Brown has also refused to ban or limit fracking in California, despite the danger it poses to groundwater and climate change, irritating environmentalists and fellow Democrats. Even Brown’s great accomplishment of winning passage for the Prop. 30 tax package, which eased the state back from financial collapse, sunsets too early and shouldn’t have included a regressive sales tax increase. Much more needs to be done to address growing wealth disparities and restore economic and educational opportunity for all Californians.
For these reasons and others, it’s tempting to endorse one of Brown’s progressive challenges: Green Party candidate Luis Rodriguez or Peace and Freedom Party candidate Cindy Sheehan (see “Left out,” April 23). We were particularly impressed by Rodriguez, an inspiring leader who is seeking to bring more Latinos and other marginalized constituencies into the progressive fold, a goal we share and want to support however we can.
But on balance, we decided to give Brown our endorsement in recognition of his role in quickly turning around this troubled state after the disastrous administration of Arnold Schwarzenegger — and in the hope that his strong leadership will lead to even greater improvement over his next term. While we don’t agree with all of his stands, we admire the courage, independence, and vision that Brown brings to this important office. Whether he is supporting the California High-Speed Rail Project against various attacks, calling for state residents to live in greater harmony with the natural world during the current drought, or refusing to shrink from the challenges posed by global warming, Jerry Brown is the leader that California needs at this critical time.
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: GAVIN NEWSOM
Gavin Newsom was mayor of San Francisco before he ascended to the position of Lieutenant Governor, and we at the Bay Guardian had a strained relationship with his administration, to put it mildly. We disagreed with his fiscally conservative policies and tendency to align himself with corporate power brokers over neighborhood coalitions. As lieutenant governor, Newsom is tasked with little — besides stepping into the role of governor, should he be called upon to do so — but has nevertheless made some worthwhile contributions.
Consider his stance on drug policy reform: “Once and for all, it’s time we realize that the war on drugs is nothing more than a war on communities of color and on the poor,” he recently told a crowd at the Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles. “It is fundamentally time for drug policies that recognize and respect the full dignity of human beings. We can’t wait.” In his capacity as a member of the UC Board of Regents, Newsom recently voted against a higher executive compensation package for a top-level administrator, breaking from the pack to align with financially pinched university students. In Sacramento, Newsom seems to come off as more “San Francisco” than in his mayoral days, and we’re endorsing him against a weak field of challengers.
SECRETARY OF STATE: DEREK CRESSMAN
Although the latest Field Poll shows that he has only single-digit support and is unlikely to make the November runoff, we’re endorsing Derek Cressman for Secretary of State. As a longtime advocate for removing the corrupting influence of money from politics through his work with Common Cause, Cressman has identified campaign finance reform as the important first step toward making the political system more responsive to people’s needs. As Secretary of State, Cressman would be in a position to ensure greater transparency in our political system.
We also like Alex Padilla, a liberal Democrat who has been an effective member of the California Senate. We’ll be happy to endorse Padilla in November if he ends up in a runoff with Republican Pete Peterson, as the current polling seems to indicate is likely. But for now, we’re endorsing Cressman — and the idea that campaign finance reform needs to be a top issue in a state and country that are letting wealthy individuals and corporations have disproportionate influence over what is supposed to be a democracy.
CONTROLLER: BETTY YEE
The pay-to-play politics of Leland Yee and two other California Democrats has smeared the Assembly. Amid the growls of impropriety, a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting has painted Speaker of the Assembly John Perez, a leading candidate for Controller, with a similar brush. CIR revealed Perez raised money from special interest groups to charities his lover favored, a lover later sued for racketeering and fraud.
Betty Yee represents an opportunity for a fresh start. On the state’s Board of Equalization she turned down campaign donations from tobacco interests, a possible conflict of interest. She also fought for tax equity between same-sex couples. The Controller is tasked with keeping watch on and disbursing state funds, a position we trust much more to Yee’s careful approach than Perez’s questionable history. Vote for Yee.
TREASURER: JOHN CHIANG
While serving as California’s elected Controller, John Chiang displayed his courage and independence by refusing to sign off on budgetary tricks used by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and some legislative leaders, insisting on a level of honesty that protected current and future Californians. During those difficult years — as California teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, paralyzed by partisan brinksmanship each budget season, written off as a failed state by the national media — Chiang and retiring Treasurer Bill Lockyer were somehow able to keep the state functioning and paying its bills.
While many politicians claim they’ll help balance the budget by identifying waste and corruption, Chiang actually did so, identifying $6 billion by his estimate that was made available for more productive purposes. Now, Chiang wants to continue bringing fiscal stability to this volatile state and he has our support.
ATTORNEY GENERAL: KAMALA HARRIS
Kamala Harris has kept the promise she made four years ago to bring San Francisco values into the Attorney General’s Office, focusing on the interests of everyday Californians over powerful vested interests. That includes strengthening consumer and privacy protections, pushing social programs to reduce criminal recidivism rather than the tough-on-crime approach that has ballooned our prison population, reaching an $18 billion settlement with the big banks and mortgage lenders to help keep people in their homes, and helping to implement the Affordable Care Act and the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state.
Harris has maintained her opposition to the death penalty even though that has hurt her in the statewide race, and she brings to the office an important perspective as the first woman and first African American ever to serve as the state’s top law enforcement officer. While there is much more work to be done in countering the power of wealthy individuals and corporations and giving the average Californian a stronger voice in our legal system, Harris has our support.
INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: DAVE JONES
We’ve been following Dave Jones’s legislative career since his days on the Sacramento City Council and through his terms in the California Legislature, and we’ve always appreciated his autonomy and progressive values. He launched into his role as Insurance Commissioner four years ago with an emergency regulation requiring health insurance companies to use no more than 20 percent of premiums on profits and administrative costs, and he has continued to do what he can to hold down health insurance rates, including implementing the various components of the Affordable Care Act.
More recently, Jones held hearings looking at whether Uber, Lyft, and other transportation network companies are adequately insured to protect both their drivers and the general public, concluding that these companies need to self-insure or otherwise expand the coverage over their business. It was a bold and important move to regulate a wealthy and prosperous new industry. Jones deserves credit for taking on the issue and he has earned our endorsement.
SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS: TOM TORLAKSON
This race is a critical one, as incumbent Tom Torlakson faces a strong challenge from the charter school cheerleader Marshall Tuck. An investment banker and Harvard alum, Tuck is backed by well-heeled business and technology interests pushing for the privatization of our schools. Tech and entertainment companies are pushing charter schools heavily as they wait in the wings for lucrative education supply contracts, for which charter schools may open the doors. And don’t let Waiting for Superman fool you, charter schools’ successful test score numbers are often achieved by pushing out underperforming special needs and economically disadvantaged students.
As national education advocate Diane Ravitch wrote in her blog, “If Tuck wins, the privatization movement will gain a major stronghold.” California ranks 48th in the nation in education spending, a situation we can thank Prop. 13 for. We’d like to see Torlakson advocate for more K-12 school dollars, but for now, he’s the best choice.
BOARD OF EQUALIZATION: FIONA MA
Fiona Ma was never our favorite member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and in the California Legislature, she has seemed more interested in party politics and leadership than moving legislation that is important to San Francisco. There are a few exceptions, such as her attempts last year to require more employers to offer paid sick days and to limit prescription drug co-payments. But she also notoriously tried to ban raves at public venues in 2010, a reactionary bill that was rejected as overly broad.
But the California Board of Equalization might just be a better fit for Ma than the Legislature. She’s a certified public accountant and would bring that financial expertise to the state’s main taxing body, and we hope she continues in the tradition of her BOE predecessor Betty Yee in ensuring the state remains fair but tough in how it collects taxes.
ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 17: DAVID CAMPOS
The race to replace progressive hero Tom Ammiano in the California Assembly is helping to define this important political moment in San Francisco. It’s a contest between the pragmatic neoliberal politics of Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and the populist progressive politics of Sup. David Campos, whom Ammiano endorsed to succeed him.
It’s a fight for the soul of San Francisco, a struggle to define the values we want to project into the world, and, for us at the Bay Guardian, the choice is clear. David Campos is the candidate that we trust to uphold San Francisco’s progressive values in a state that desperately needs that principled influence.
Chiu emphasizes how the two candidates have agreed on about 98 percent of their votes, and he argues that his effectiveness at moving big legislation and forging compromises makes him the most qualified to represent us in Sacramento. Indeed, Chiu is a skilled legislator with a sharp mind, and if “getting things done” — the prime directive espoused by both Chiu and Mayor Ed Lee — was our main criterion, he would probably get our endorsement.
But when you look at the agenda that Chiu and his allies at City Hall have pursued since he came to power — elected as a progressive before pivoting to become a pro-business moderate — we wish that he had been a little less effective. The landlords, tech titans, Realtors, and Chamber of Commerce have been calling the shots in this city, overheating the local economy in a way that has caused rapid displacement and gentrification.
“Effective for whom? That’s what’s important,” Campos told us during his endorsement interview, noting that, “Most people in San Francisco have been left behind and out of that prosperity.”
Campos has been a clear and consistent supporter of tenants, workers, immigrants, small businesses, environmentalists — the vast majority of San Franciscans, despite their lack of power in City Hall. Chiu will sometimes do right by these groups, but usually only after being pushed to do so by grassroots organizing and lobbying efforts.
Campos correctly points out that such lobbying is more difficult in Sacramento, with its higher stakes and wider range of competing interests, than it is on the local level. Chiu’s focus on always trying to find a compromise often plays into the hands of wealthy interests, who sometimes just need to be fought and stopped.
We have faith in Campos and his progressive values, and we believe he will skillfully carry on the work of Ammiano — who is both an uncompromising progressive and an effective legislator — in representing San Francisco’s values in Sacramento.
ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 19: PHIL TING
Incumbent Phil Ting doesn’t have any challengers in this election, but he probably would have won our support anyway. After proving himself as San Francisco’s Assessor, taking a strong stance against corporate landowners and even the Catholic Church on property assessments, Ting won a tough race against conservative businessman Michael Breyer to win his Assembly seat.
Since then, he’s been a reliable vote for legislation supported by most San Franciscans, and he’s sponsoring some good bills that break new ground, including his current AB 1193, which would make it easier to build cycletracks, or bike lanes physically separated from cars, all over the state. He also called a much-needed Assembly committee hearing in November calling out BART for its lax safety culture, and we hope he continues to push for reforms at that agency.
PROPOSITION 41: YES
Over a decade ago, Californians voted to use hundreds of millions of our dollars to create the CalVet Home and Farm Loan Program to help veterans purchase housing. But a reduction in federal home loan dollars, the housing crisis, and a plummeting economy hurt the program.
Prop. 41 would repurpose $600 million of those bond funds and raise new money to create affordable housing rental units for some of California’s 15,000 homeless veterans. This would cost Californians $50 million a year, which, as proponents remind us, is one-tenth of 1 percent of the state budget. Why let hundreds of millions of dollars languish unused? We need to reprioritize this money to make good on our unfulfilled promises to homeless veterans.
PROPOSITION 42: YES
This one’s important. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown sought to gut the California Public Records Act by making it optional for government agencies to comply with many of the requirements built into this important transparency law. The CPRA and the Ralph M. Brown Act require government agencies to make records of their activities available for public scrutiny, and to provide for adequate notice of public meetings. Had the bill weakening these laws not been defeated, it would have removed an important defense against shadowy government dealings, leaving ordinary citizens and journalists in the dark.
Prop. 42 is a bid to eliminate any future threats against California’s important government transparency laws, by expressly requiring local government agencies — including cities, counties, and school districts — to comply with all aspects of the CPRA and the Brown Act. It also seeks to prevent local agencies from denying public records requests based on cost, by eliminating the state’s responsibility to reimburse local agencies for cost compliance (the state has repeatedly failed to do so, and local bureaucracies have used this as an excuse not to comply).
SF’S PROPOSITION A: YES
Prop. A is a $400 million general obligation bond measure that would cover seismic retrofits and improvements to the city’s emergency infrastructure, including upgrades to the city’s Emergency Firefighting Water System, neighborhood police and fire stations, a new facility for the Medical Examiner, and seismically secure new structures to house the police crime lab and motorcycle unit.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place Prop. A on the ballot, and a two-thirds majority vote is needed for it to pass. Given that San Franciscans can expect to be hit by a major earthquake in the years to come, upgrading emergency infrastructure, especially the high-pressure water system that will aid the Fire Department in the event of a major blaze, is a high priority.
SF’S PROPOSITION B: YES
As we report in this issue (see “Two views of the waterfront”), San Francisco’s waterfront is a valuable place targeted by some ambitious development schemes. That’s a good thing, particularly given the need that the Port of San Francisco has for money to renovate or remove crumbling piers, but it needs to be carefully regulated to maximize public benefits and minimize private profit-taking.
Unfortunately, the Mayor’s Office and its appointees at the Port of San Francisco have proven themselves unwilling to be tough negotiators on behalf of the people. That has caused deep-pocketed, politically connected developers to ignore the Waterfront Land Use Plan and propose projects that are out-of-scale for the waterfront, property that San Francisco is entrusted to manage for the benefit of all Californians.
All Prop. B does is require voter approval when projects exceed existing height limits. It doesn’t kill those projects, it just forces developers to justify new towers on the waterfront by providing ample public benefits, restoring a balance that has been lost. San Francisco’s waterfront is prime real estate, and there are only a few big parcels left that can be leveraged to meet the needs of the Port and the city. Requiring the biggest ones to be approved by voters is the best way to ensure the city — all its residents, not just the politicians and power brokers — is getting the best deals possible.
SF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: DANIEL FLORES
Daniel Flores has an impressive list of endorsers, including the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties of San Francisco — a rare trifecta of political party support. But don’t hold the GOP nod against Flores, who was raised in the Excelsior by parents who immigrated from El Salvador and who interned with La Raza Centro Legal while going to McGeorge School of Law. And he did serve in the Marines for six years, which could explain the broad range of support for him.
Flores is a courtroom litigator with experience in big firms and his own practice, representing clients ranging from business people to tenants fighting against their landlords. Flores told us that he wants to ensure those without much money are treated fairly in court, an important goal we support. We also liked Kimberly Williams and hope she ends up on the bench someday, but in this race, Flores is the clear choice.
CONGRESS, DISTRICT 12: NANCY PELOSI
This was a hard decision for us this year. Everyone knows that Pelosi will win this race handily, but in past races we’ve endorsed third party challengers or even refused to endorse anyone more often than we’ve given Pelosi our support. While Pelosi gets vilified by conservatives as the quintessential San Francisco liberal, she’s actually way too moderate for our tastes.
Over her 21 years in Congress, she has presided over economic policies that have consolidated wealth in ever fewer hands and dismantled the social safety net, environmental policies that have ignored global warming and fed our over-reliance on the private automobile, and military policies that expanded the war machine and overreaching surveillance state, despite her insider’s role on the House Intelligence Committee.
Three of her opponents — Democrat David Peterson, Green Barry Hermanson, and fiery local progressive activist Frank Lara of the Peace and Freedom Party — are all much better on the issues that we care about, and we urge our readers to consider voting for one of them if they just can’t stomach casting a ballot for Pelosi. In particular, Hermanson has raised important criticisms of just how out of whack our federal budget priorities are. We also respect the work Lara has done on antiwar and transit justice issues in San Francisco, and we think he could have a bright political future.
But we’ve decided to endorse Pelosi in this election for one main reason: We want the Democrats to retake the House of Representatives this year and for Pelosi to once again become Speaker of the House. The Republican Party in this country, particularly the Tea Party loyalists in the House, is practicing a dangerous and disgusting brand of political extremism that needs to be stopped and repudiated. They would rather shut the government down or keep it hopelessly hobbled by low tax rates than help it become an effective tool for helping us address the urgent problems that our country faces. Pelosi and the Democrats aren’t perfect, but at least they’re reasonable grown-ups and we’d love to see what they’d do if they were returned to power. So Nancy Pelosi has our support in 2014.
CONGRESS, DISTRICT 13: BARBARA LEE
Barbara Lee has been one of our heroes since 2001, when she was the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, braving the flag-waving nationalism that followed the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to warn that such an overly broad declaration of war was dangerous to our national interests. She endured death threats and harsh condemnation for that principled stand, but she was both courageous and correct, with our military overreach still causing problems for this country, both practical and moral.
Lee has been a clear and consistent voice for progressive values in the Congress for 16 years, chairing both the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus, taking stands against capital punishment and the Iraq War, supporting access to abortions and tougher regulation of Wall Street, and generally representing Oakland and the greater Bay Area well in Washington DC. She has our enthusiastic support.
CONGRESS, DISTRICT 14: JACKIE SPEIER
Jackie Speier has given her life to public service — almost literally in 1978 when she was an aide to then-Rep. Leo Ryan and survived the airstrip shootings that triggered the massacre at Jonestown — and she has earned our ongoing support. Speier has continued the consumer protection work she started in the California Legislature, sponsoring bills in Congress aimed at protecting online privacy. She has also been a strong advocate for increasing federal funding to public transit in the Bay Area, particularly to Muni and for the electricification of Caltrain, an important prelude to the California High-Speed Rail Project. In the wake of the deadly natural gas explosion in San Bruno, Speier has pushed for tough penalties on Pacific Gas & Electric and expanded pipeline safety programs. She has been a strong advocate of women’s issues, including highlighting the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and in the military, seeking greater protections, institutional accountability, and recourse for victims. More recently, Speier has become a key ally in the fight to save City College of San Francisco, taking on the federal accreditation process and seeking reforms. Speier is a courageous public servant who deserves your vote.
It was good news for San Francisco when the Golden State Warriors withdrew a proposal to build a new arena on Piers 30-32 and to instead build it on private land in Mission Bay, sparing city residents a costly and divisive fight sullied by millions of dollars in political advocacy and propaganda.
The new location near the intersection of 16th and Third streets is still close enough to the water to provide picturesque images for network television, but without sparking concerns about the city’s stewardship of coastal land held in trust for the people of California. The new site will have better public access once the Central Subway is completed, and it could help encourage the teardown of Interstate 280 and its conversion into a multi-modal boulevard like Octavia, a good idea the city is now studying.
Best of all, this provides a golden opportunity for the city and the Port of San Francisco to launch a truly public process for how to use Pier 30-32, the largest remaining open stretch of the central waterfront, as well as the adjacent Seawall Lot 330. Rather than simply reacting to big ideas hatched behind closed doors, the public could take part in a truly democratic process to proactively shape this high-profile public property.
Admittedly, there are challenges to overcome, starting with the high cost of demolishing these aging piers, so it’s likely that the valuable Seawall Lot 330 will be part of the equation, with its pure profit potential used to help pay for whatever happens to the piers. But how that balancing act is done would be for the public to decide.
Should we open up that stretch of waterfront by not replacing the piers, or replacing it with a much smaller pier? Could it become an artificial wetland that is both pretty and ecologically beneficial in an era of rising seas? Would we accept a luxury condo tower on the seawall lot to help pay for this new open space? Or maybe the city would want to float a bond and seek grants to help remove this bay fill and keep the seawall lot to a more limited and public-interest use?
These are the kinds of honest and direct questions San Francisco should be asking its citizens. The waterfront is an invaluable resource, and it shouldn’t be treated as merely a liability because the Port needs money. The same goes for Seawall Lot 351 that was part of the 8 Washington project that voters rejected, as well as Seawall Lot 337 that is part of the Giants proposal at Pier 48.
The views of the people of San Francisco shouldn’t be afterthought to be avoided, as opponents of Proposition B seem to believe, but a creative resource that could help shape the San Francisco of tomorrow.