Volume 48 Number 32

Carmageddon cometh




San Francisco — already overwhelmed with private automobiles — faces a grim future of gridlock unless there is a radical change in how we think about city streets, parking, and regional transportation.

The facts are clear. Every day there are 1.7 million private car trips to, from, or within the city, according to the city’s transportation plan. Coupled with almost 10,000 vehicles registered per square mile, San Francisco today has one of the densest concentrations of cars on the planet, more than any peer city in the United States. In the business-as-usual scenario, the streets are forecast to absorb another half-million car trips. By 2040 there will be 2.2 million car trips on the exact same street grid we have today.

This is madness and it is dysfunctional for everyone. If you think Muni is unreliable now, it will be useless in 2040 as it stalls in the morass of 2.2 million car trips jammed onto city streets. Pedestrian injuries and deaths will rise with another 160 cars hitting pedestrians annually, simply due to oversaturation of automobiles. Cyclists might be able to weave around the stalled traffic, but it will be an ugly scene that fouls the air. Motorists will be stuck in their own gridlock, evermore impatient, distracted, honking, lurching through blocked intersections, sneaking through yellow lights, blocking crosswalks, double parking, and irritated with fellow drivers and everyone around. No one will be happy

This does not have to be. The city’s transportation agency hopes to reduce car trips from 1.7 to 1.6 million by 2018, a modest goal but barely holding the line. Reducing existing car trips by 100,000 while also adding thousands upon thousands of housing units and jobs, most coming with more parking, will quickly undo this humble ambition. The city can do more and the data shows us that there are many opportunities.

Consider that 68 percent of car trips within San Francisco are less than three miles. That’s 650,000 car trips per day that are generally pretty short — with a bicycle it’s less than a half-hour ride on relatively even terrain. If the city were able to get half of those car trips to switch to bicycle trips, it would be well on its way to averting carmageddon.

A more ambitious goal, increasing cycling to 20 percent of all trips, is the official city policy adopted by the Board of Supervisors. That’s 500,000-600,000 trips by bicycle every day, most of which can take place within that three-mile range, especially if cleverly arranged “wiggles” (level routes circumventing steeper hills) are laid out on the most logical corridors. But to carry that many cyclists, real space has to be allocated for them.

Out at San Francisco State University, where I teach a new Bicycle Geographies course that aims to increase cycling to the campus, there is tremendous opportunity to shift these kinds of short trips to bicycling. For students, faculty, and staff, bicycling is compatible with rapid transit, particularly for the “last mile” segments, such as between BART and SF State.

Bicycling is also a way to relieve local bus and light rail transit crowding — the 28 bus line on 19th Avenue, for example, is often jam packed and the city has only modest goals to improve that key line. Unlike transit or highways, bicycles do not require costly, long-term capital investment or operating funds and so can be deployed much more quickly.

It will be decades and cost hundreds of millions to improve the M-line, only now in the planning phase. We can lay down cycletracks much more quickly. Bicycling is also among the most equitable forms of urban transportation because it is affordable and accessible to almost everyone. This is obviously relevant to working-class students at SF State.

SF State has a memorandum of understanding with the city that obliges the university to reduce drive-alone automobile trips to campus, and the campus will not build any more car parking. With 4 percent of commute trips to SF State by bicycle (and only 2 percent among faculty) there is potential to increase the mode-share of bicycling as a path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and auto trips.

The spatial proximity to Daly City and Balboa Park BART stations, as well as the Excelsior and Sunset, all under three miles from campus, means that the bicycle is well-suited to be a substitute for many short-range automobile trips and help the campus meet its goals. Yet what my students have found this semester is that it is all but impossible to bike safely to and from SF State, and the southwestern quadrant of San Francisco is largely left out of current bicycle planning in the city.

Taking multiple bicycle field trips over the past few months, we surveyed the opportunities for making safe routes to campus and envisioned what it would take to increase cycling to 20 percent of trips to and from SF State. Starting with the Balboa Park station, which is next to a deplorable tangle of freeway ramps, we ask what it would look like if fully-separated cycletracks were built on Geneva or Ocean avenues. These could connect City College and the Excelsior, and by way of a westward and southward jog, to a bicycle boulevard on Holloway Avenue, enabling a safe and convenient, 1.7-mile, 15-minute bike ride to SF State. Expanding the nascent Bay Area Bike Share to connect SF State and Balboa Park BART would create even more opportunity for cycling.

To the south of SF State, Daly City BART is a 1.4-mile, 10-minute bike ride that is daunting and poorly signed. It could be made safe and inviting with bicycle boulevards on streets parallel to traffic-clogged 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra. Borrowing from signature bicycle and pedestrian bridges in Pleasant Hill and Berkeley, perhaps there is an opportunity to build a bridge across Brotherhood Way toward the BART station, leveling an otherwise steep climb that discourages cycling.

To the north of campus, describing the designated 20th Avenue bicycle route as “a bit of a challenge” is an understatement. Cyclists must thread a cluttered shopping mall parking lot and overbuilt wide streets, and then confront a median blockading the way across Sloat Boulevard. While the megaproject to improve the M-line could include a cycletrack on this stretch of 19th Avenue, we should not wait a generation to increase cycling between SF State and the Sunset. The 20th Avenue route can be made welcoming now, with a fully-separated cycletrack and fixes on the Sloat intersection.

SF State, probably one of the most diverse campuses in the nation, has highly motivated students seeking real solutions to the huge problems society faces. The students are coming of age under extreme pressure of economic inequity and ecological duress, but they also see ways out of the mess created by the wasteful car culture and its linkages to ecological and social problems. They want to act now, and unlike past generations, they are shunning driving and many of them desire to reside in livable cities that offer choices for how they get around.

But what we have found this semester is that the campus is extremely isolated, difficult to access by bicycle, and walled-off by car sewers. Older, uninviting bicycle lanes are fragmented, disjointed, and seem to be an afterthought. With imagination, ingenuity, and political will, this can be remedied with bicycle improvements that cost far less than adding more car lanes and parking to the campus or surrounding area. And this would go much further at improving quality of life for neighbors who now have to put up with campus-generated traffic. Keeping the status quo, which means even more car trips but within the same space, is a dead end.



Speaking of dead ends, San Francisco seems to specialize in dead-end train projects. The Central Subway, which is experiencing cost overruns and possible mismanagement, is one of these dead ends. There is no current option to have trains exiting to Geary or onto Columbus and possibly running on Lombard into the Marina, and that is a shame. Having the subway exit to the surface is probably the only way to make this project worthwhile.

There’s another dead end train project at the Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco. Yet unlike the Central Subway quagmire, I am impressed with the scale and possibilities for the Transbay Terminal project and there is opportunity to fix this dead end. Going back to the city’s business-as-usual traffic forecast, in 2040 car trips into the city from the Bay Bridge would increase 18 percent, and by 21 percent from San Mateo County. Aside from scratching my head wondering where exactly all of these cars are supposed to go, we simply need to stop this onslaught before the city becomes too dumb to move.

BART cannot solve it alone, as it will probably approach half a million riders per day by 2016, placing many downtown stations at or near capacity. BART also does not run all the way down the peninsula. Sometimes there are back-of-the envelope proposals to build a second BART tunnel under the bay, but this idea should be weighed against another idea. Rather than build a second BART tunnel to Oakland, how about a joint Amtrak California/Caltrain tunnel under the bay, and creating a true Grand Central Station of the West at Transbay? Let’s punch through the dead end currently planned for the east end of the Transbay Terminal “train box” and truly connect Northern California by rail.

This does not need to be high-speed rail, but rather the conventional, off-the-shelf electric rail already planned for Caltrain, of the variety that operates in the Northeastern US and much of Europe — efficient, high capacity trains that can travel 100-120 mile per hour comfortably and safely. In conjunction with a new transbay rail tunnel, the Capitol Corridor should be electrified and right of way captured from the freight railroads. One could take an electrified “baby bullet” from San Jose, through San Francisco, and continue to the East Bay and Sacramento. As Caltrain is electrified to the south, let’s also electrify the Altamonte Commuter Express trains, bring them across a rebuilt Dumbarton Bridge, and run high-frequency rail service into the new Transbay Terminal.

Understanding that this will take time to build, in the short term the Bay Bridge should be reconfigured to have bus-only lanes (and a bicycle lane on the bottom deck of the west span) and a greatly expanded AC Transit service that can relieve the looming BART crowding to the East Bay.

How to pay for these transbay dreams? A transbay rail project could get funding from Amtrak and other federal sources, requiring our congressional delegation to work for it. The state gasoline tax or eventual carbon taxes, and revenue from tolling Bay Area freeways, should be in the mix. The 101 and 280 should be tolled as well as the Caldecott Tunnel and I-80 in the East Bay, with revenue directed at electric rail in the long term and regional buses short term. And while people are talking about reforming Proposition 13 to end the artificially low property taxes on commercial land, let’s remember that transit — whether Muni, BART, or Caltrain — brings massive value to commercial property owners. They should be realistically expecting to pay in. In short, there are possibilities and ways to do this.

Here’s one small additional idea for raising seed money: In the wake of the Google bus controversy, the SFCTA, SFMTA, SF Planning Department, and City Attorney’s Office should assemble a crack team of California Environmental Quality Act experts and send them (on Caltrain and bike share!) down to comment on every large-scale suburban office project proposed in Silicon Valley. For example, Mountain View, where Google has its campus, is effectively displacing part of its transportation and housing responsibility to San Francisco.

As part of the CEQA mitigation for these suburban office projects, San Francisco ought to be demanding that Google/ Mountain View contribute to paying for the Transbay Terminal and electrifying Caltrain (a separate fund would be directed to affordable housing as mitigation for displacement). This is a similar line of reasoning to the May 1 lawsuit against the Google bus pilot, but it draws in those responsible for the poor planning in suburban sprawl. Regardless, the city ought to take a look at a CEQA mitigation angle for addressing the impacts these suburban decisions are having on the city.



One last point about transit finance: I sure hope Mayor Ed Lee, his political advisors, and all those religious ministers who complained about paying for metered parking on Sundays (see “Politics over policy,” April 22) have a plan to advocate for the November ballot proposals to help finance Muni.

They sold out sustainable transit advocates, their biggest ally on the November ballot initiatives, and have offered no rational explanation for their strategy, just an emotional hunch that somehow some people can’t cope with Sunday metering, and that making it free again will convince them to support increased public transit funding.

I imagine there is a well-thought-out campaign strategy, whereby every Sunday between now and November, the mayor is visiting all the churches in the city, and cajoling the ministers to use their pulpits to enthusiastically preach the merits of increasing the vehicle license fee (as well as approving a related general obligation bond).

After all, the VLF is a progressive tax — the more expensive your car, the more you pay. The older and cheaper your car, the less you pay. And bringing in $73 million annually would contribute to making God’s green earth cleaner, and help transport God’s children safely to work and on their errands. Praise the Lord and free parking on Sunday! Amen.

Street Fight is a monthly column by Jason Henderson, a geography professor at SF State and the author of Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco.

Tech in Transit


Transit of today is looking more futuristic every day. From Google Buses that look like UFOs to driverless Uber cars, the future really is now. But what will the actual future of transit have in store for San Francisco? Will the gadget-obsessed disruptions of the future abandon our congested streets? Most importantly: In the future, how will I get my favorite coffee?!

Guardian illustrations by Matthew Smith.


Coffee Delivery Drone



The real-life Amazon will soon deliver by drone, but why would companies stop there? Coffee drones would let fog-laden western ‘hoods, or techies trapped in cubicles everywhere, taste their hipster coffee concoction of choice without having to interact with people. And thanks to a splash of surveillance with your java, these drones will anticipate your next delivery need, too!


Driverless Rideshare Hovercrafts



Uber recently announced purchasing 2,500 Google driverless cars, but in a hundred years they’ll undoubtedly trade those in for driverless – and street traficless – hovercrafts. We trust our robot overlords to fly us home safe from our latest drunken escapade in SoMa, right?


Citishare Hoverboards



SF Citi Bikeshare is so 21st century. The 22nd century will undoubtedly give rise to Citi Hovershare. Just remember McFly, those boards don’t work on water. (Unless you’ve got POWER!)


Google Orb



No matter what, don’t tell tech employees of the 22nd century their floating commuter Orb (invisible to protesters) resembles a Death Star. They’ll cry ‘TECH PREJUDICE!’ and blow up Alderaan just to spite you.


The SFMTA (Muni)



Every time a rider flocks to private transit, one less person gives a damn about funding Muni. By the 22nd century “the people’s transit” will be held together with spit, tape, and carefully arranged bandages. Like today… but even worse.

Out of focus


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?

I was standing at the bar ordering a round of drinks for my friends when I noticed something slowly creeping in and out of my peripheral vision. It was just on the edge of my consciousness, like the very beginnings of a psychedelic trip, and for a split second I thought, “Jesus Christ! One of these strange bastards dosed my drink. This night is about to get really fucking weird.”

And then I saw the movement again and I focused on it. Reflected in the mirror of the back bar was an animatronic rat sliding up and down the wall. It was around Halloween and Mission Bar (2695 Mission St, SF. 415-647-2300) was completely decked out like the Spirit Halloween store had sneezed all over the walls.

Needless to say, I was relieved that no one had slipped LSD into one of my vodka sodas. The last thing I wanted to deal with was 12 hours of getting confused by the way a Muni bus’s hydraulics sound like Chewbacca. Plus the vibes over in that part of the Mission can be a bit sinister sometimes, and Mission Bar reflects this perfectly, which is exactly why I like it.

This may be too on the nose, but Mission Bar is the quintessential Mission dive bar. It’s dark, there’s a pool table, and dogs are always scurrying around. Plus the booze is exceptionally cheap; if I’m not mistaken, well drinks are $3.50, possibly $4. DO YOU HEAR ME EVERY NEW BAR IN SAN FRANCISCO?!?! I always forget how cheap it is until I go in and order a drink, then when I hear what the total is, I smile with all my teeth, tell the bartender how much I love him or her, and then wonder why I bother going to any other bars.

That night I collected the round of drinks and sloshed them over to the table where a bunch of my favorite people in the world were sitting. “Guess what guys,” I said as I handed them their beverages, “nobody dosed my drink!” They all looked like I was nuts and like maybe someone had actually dosed me. They obviously had no idea what I was talking about. I decided to drop the subject.

I wish I could tell you exactly which of my favorite people in the world were having a mellow night of drinks with me at Mission Bar that night. But the truth is, many of the stories I write for The Weeknighter are amalgamations of multiple evenings spent in a single bar, spread out through my dozen or so years in San Francisco.

Was it the first night we drank at Mission Bar after Marina got back from the Peace Corps? Maybe. Was it one of the last nights before Jeremy and Erin started keeping grown-up hours because they had a baby on the way? That could be it too. Truthfully it doesn’t matter; the great thing about spending a third of your life in a city is that the places you go become the stories themselves, and all the things that happen in them are just the decorations, kinda like the animatronic rat scooting along the wall.

These things creep into the peripheral of your memory and you need to focus on them to remember which parts were real. The unfortunate part about Mission Bar (read: fortunate part) is, considering how strong and cheap the drinks are, it’s pretty hard to focus on anything once you’ve been there for an hour. So the stories blend together and you just leave happy that no one dosed your drink with LSD.

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

Dress with less



THEATER In the 1940s and ’50s, Sophiatown was a poor and rough but exceptionally vibrant black suburb of Johannesburg. Its destruction under apartheid, which entailed the forced removal of residents in 1955, remains a painful emblem of South Africa’s racist system. It also forms the suggestive backdrop to a small domestic tale of infidelity in Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord’s touring production of The Suit — directed and co-adapted from the famous Can Themba short story by legendary maestro Peter Brook, and now making its Bay Area debut at American Conservatory Theater — which turns the personal lives of its protagonists into an existential rumination and a subtle but resonant political allegory.

But in Brook’s hands — and those of his principal collaborators, translator and co-adaptor Marie-Hélène Estienne and composer Franck Krawczyk, working with the stage adaptation by Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon — the story and its themes are inseparable from a pure theatrical experience. With a few choice properties, a fine trio of actors, a smattering of evocative songs, and three protean musicians (who add a rich soundscape to the proceedings as well as good-naturedly people scenes when necessary), The Suit unfolds as a deceptively simple, wistful, and whimsical communion with its audience, a shared space for dreaming the world as it really is and as it might be.

To this end, the stage comes dressed with little more than a handful of brightly colored wooden chairs and a couple of empty rolling coat racks, the latter serving variously as closet, wall, entry way, or bus shelter. Each of the three actors helps to narrate the story, which centers on Philomen (played by the impressive Ugandan-born London-based actor Ivanno Jeremiah) and his beautiful young wife, Matilda (radiant South African actor and singer Nonhlanhla Kheswa).

The third actor (charismatic New York actor Jordan Barbour) acts as principal narrator, describing early 1950s Sophiatown as the setting for the story, while also winningly playing Philomen’s best friend and other incidental parts. The three musicians (guitarist Arthur Astier, pianist Mark Christine, and trumpet player Mark Kavuma) meanwhile engage with the action in various ways, as accompanists, as fellow players, and silent witnesses.

Philomen, deeply in love with Matilda, is devastated when, en route to work one day, he learns from his friend that she may be having an affair. He heads home instead and discovers her in bed with a young man who promptly runs out of the house, leaving behind his suit. He decides the suit will be the basis of Matilda’s punishment. She will have to care for it as an honored guest in their house, to the point of feeding it meals and taking it along for the couple’s strolls around the neighborhood. This humiliation takes a heavy toll on Matilda, but she is powerless to change Philomen’s mind on the matter. For his part, he acknowledges that he has lost his former self, that some “mechanism” that was his life has broken down and now functions perversely. It is finally his best friend who, in a quietly poignant moment of contact, convinces him to forgive and forget, but by then it is too late.

The domestic world and its promise of bliss are thus distorted and starved, and come to resemble instead something more like a cage, while mirroring a larger system of oppression outside — especially as news comes of the forced relocation of Sophiatown’s residents and the resistance movement it sparks.

But in its deft, joyful staging and gorgeous musicality, the production never lets go of the sense of what is being denied, namely a profound harmony and a depth of feeling, making their loss in the story all the more affecting. Moreover, the music itself (mingling traditional African songs with one by Nina Simone, as well as a raw and stirring rendition of Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit”) reveals a consonance with histories, legacies, and unsung stories much closer to home. *



Through May 18, $20-$120

ACT’s Geary Theater

415 Geary, SF


The shaman, the oracle, and the engineer



MUSIC Two bra-clad figures peek through a shroud of fog onstage that’s every bit as thick as the shrieking white noise at Oakland’s Night Light. The sound is a perfect accompaniment for the sadomasochistic display before the audience. One woman’s lips press against another’s flesh, but if you lower your glance, you’ll notice among the chaos that one is slicing a blade across the other’s stomach like a ritualistic-looking sacrifice. Blood is drawn, even though they seem to be intimately embraced.

This was how Replicant, the live music/performance/visual art series with a penchant for the weird, chose to kick off the new year at their January showcase; Bad News, an industrial duo consisting of Sarah Bernat and Alex Lukas from Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, headlined. On this night, they had also invited experimental conspirators Greer McGettrick (formerly of The Mallard) and Shannon Madden (Chasms) to join them during the performance. Madden said just a day before this gig that her relationship with Bernat had ended.

So was this arousal, anguish, or both? The audience, mostly in frozen silence by this point, was left to their own devices and had to interpret the definitive sensory overload for themselves. “We were bouncing a lot of ideas off each other, like ‘What can you do besides karaoke to your own music; make it transformative?'” said Madden, referring to conversations with Bernat, during a recent interview.

Bernat writes lyrics and plays guitar in her band and is usually tethered by her instrument, but she seemed possessed enough to become unleashed during this set. Somehow she maintained a straight-faced gaze throughout the cutting, even if she trembled a bit.

“It was totally emotional. We both knew that the only way to say goodbye was to do it on stage. I think there’s a reason why Chasms and Bad News are connected and I think it has something to do with suffering.”

pMadden said this was her last real interaction with her ex, but the two bands (who are on the same labels) will share a bill May 10 at Thee Parkside when Sleep Genius, the independent record label “born of the San Francisco fog” throws a showcase of its acts: Five mostly-local bands will give their own intimate and brooding examples of how new music is emerging from the underground — and what they’re doing to manifest a new direction.

There was nothing subtle about the bodies on stage that night in Oakland, nor the heavily-processed sound that came with it. Along with her collaborator, Jess Labrador, Chasms has a new LP, Subtle Bodies, due this June. Their live show is taking on a slightly different direction, sounding more blown-out and less concerned with pop-song sensibility time constraints. They’ve upped the ante on noise elements and are beefing up on drone.

“I’m using Alex [Lukas]’s gear. There’s a reason,” Madden said. “Alex is my shaman, oracle, and engineer.” She explained that the pedals she’s been using are not meant for her bass guitar. “It’s the first time Jess has ever kept a live take of mine and not edited it.” Labrador is the songwriter, vocalist, guitarist, and sometime drum programmer in this dark duo. “I could never do any of that without experiencing Alex or Sarah.”

Alongside a DX7ii synthesizer and other assorted gear, we’re huddled — Lukas, Madden, and I — inside his tidy Bayview District trailer. Other like-minded artists reside on the property, but his studio hasn’t been completely set up since he was priced out of his old 18th and Mission space, after his landlord raised the rent by 40 percent.

“The cost of living here is so high. People funnel so much of their money into rent,” he said. Having weathered two tech booms as an artist in the Bay Area — he’s been here since 1998 — Lukas knows what it’s like to sell CDs at Amoeba for “a brick of cheese.”

His dwelling is, nevertheless, a cozy hideaway, well-stocked with cassettes and a pretty chill black cat. We chat about how his ties with Madden run deeper than just his influence over how she plays. For one, they spent much of 2013 together at the helm of The Lab, a long-standing visual and performance art space near 16th & Mission that has seen many incarnations over the years.

“There aren’t a lot of spaces like [The Lab] in San Francisco anymore. When Sarah and then [Shannon] kept it active with shows and performances, it sort of compromised The Lab’s role as a venue for visual art, but made it more important than ever as a performance space,” he said.

Under their collective watch, The Lab hosted a variety of underground or emerging acts, like Wreck & Reference, Some Ember, Austin Cesear, Marshstepper, Disappearing People, and Dorian Wood.

Madden claimed the types of shows she was booking weren’t “artsy enough” for a visual arts space to be left alone by the city’s Entertainment Commission. Finding a platform for these types of acts is, she says, the bigger concern in the current “cultural economy” in San Francisco.

“People work high-paying jobs that require their brain. When they get off work, they wanna get shitfaced and hear Toro Y Moi. They don’t wanna go deep in some experimental avant, industrial shit. They want their brains to be massaged and they want to go to sleep, wake up, do it again and eat some fuckin’ food-truck food.”

She notes Oakland is sustaining as an impressive platform for the underbelly of electronic music. “They have a fortified interest in outsider stuff.” She hopes the culture in San Francisco shifts underground again, but in the meantime is happy to book at more traditional venues including Brick & Mortar, The Night Light and Elbo Room.

“It’s not about the space, even as intimate as it was. I want to give the local bands the best deal that I can and not risk it getting broken up. Lots of rad shit’s going to have to happen in a bar space.”

Sleep Genius Presents: Ringo Deathstarr with Sleep Genius artists Bad News, Chasms, Never Knows, and Cry

May 10, 9pm, $10-12

Thee Parkside

1600 17th St, SF


A musician grows on Market Street



If you’ve spent time in downtown San Francisco, chances are you’ve seen him: thin as a rail but dressed to kill, light on his feet in squeaky-clean dress shoes amidst the grey monotone of Market Street, he takes a deep breath in — and when he breathes out, into the mouthpiece of his trumpet, the sound is pure confidence, come to sonic life.

Then he starts tap-dancing while he plays, using the staccato clack of his feet as a rhythm section, swinging his trumpet like a baton every now and then just for show. Depending on the day, he might stop after a few songs and take out a microphone and, armed with the backing tracks of some current Top 40 favorites, belt out a tune or two, all while dancing, grooving, jumping; it’s a rarity to catch him being still. Busy businessmen stop and stare and listen despite themselves. He winks at women and they get the giggles.

Gabriel Angelo is the ultimate entertainer, and he is 14 years old. Known as “the Trumpet Kid,” Angelo, an Oakland native, been playing trumpet and dancing since he was six, at a level that earned him an appearance on the Ellen Degeneres show in 2012, among other publicity, as well as the adoration of one of the toughest audiences in the city: harried FiDi pedestrians.

In honor of our “streets” issue, on a recent Thursday afternoon, I caught up with Angelo when he was playing on the traffic island outside the Ferry Building, serenading appreciative tourists and farmer’s market-goers. His voice has changed. There’s a whiff of cologne about him. Look out, San Francisco, the Trumpet Kid is growin’ up.


San Francisco Bay Guardian How did you get your start in music?

Gabriel Angelo My mom sent me to take piano lessons when I was six years old, but when I set foot in the music room, a few feet away from me there was this shiny brass trumpet. And I reached out and grabbed it and it was love at first sight.

Since I was really young, I always wanted to be an entertainer — my family watched a lot of old movies, like with Fred Astaire, and they inspired me a lot. My two older sisters were also very musical — they sang, danced, played the cello, piano, and violin. Our church was very heavy on the arts.

SFBG How often are you out here? Are you in school? 

GA I’m out here most Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, more if my schedule allows it. I try to get at least four hours of practice a day, usually more like six or eight. I’ve been home-schooled my whole life, and I actually already completed high school. Now I’m working on degrees in music and business through a program called CollegePlus.

SFBG What do you think you’ve gained from performing on the street from such a young age opposed to going the academic route with studying music?

GA This is my stage. There are so many people here, and I get to practice my stage and speaking skills, make connections, meet awesome people. I’ve learned a lot by talking to the homeless people in San Francisco, especially — they tell me their stories and experiences and that’s given me a whole new understanding. And I like feeling like I can help people with music. I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘Oh, I just had a person close to me die, and you put a smile on my face.’ With singing, my goal is just to inspire people. And also to make women feel beautiful.

SFBG To make women feel beautiful?

GA Yeah, because a lot of people don’t have fathers to tell them that, parents who make them feel good, and that one little thing affects their whole life. I know I wouldn’t have achieved anything without my mother’s support, without mentors in my life. And life comes from women.

SFBG Amen. Are you tight with other street musicians downtown? Are there turf wars?

GA No, we all have a lot of respect for each other. It’s whoever gets there first. But if someone ever really wanted me to move, that wouldn’t be [a big deal].

SFBG How much do you make on a given day?

GA It really depends. Anywhere from a penny to $100. It’s all going to help fund my career: paying for costumes, music videos, etc.

SFBG Any big projects coming up?

GA Well, I’m excited that I just signed with Journey’s manager. And I’m going to be playing the 2015 Super Bowl halftime show in Arizona. And I met someone who wants to make a movie about me, called “Swaggy.” (I’m Swaggy.) So yeah, it should be a fun year.

Needs salt



FILM Foodie movies — a perennially popular genre, thanks to standard-bearers like 1996’s Big Night and 1994’s Eat Drink Man Woman — are having a particularly heady moment. There’s Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s travelogue The Trip to Italy — as full of hilarious impressions as it is delectable pasta dishes — which screened to appreciative crowds at the San Francisco International Film Festival; and Jon Favreau’s food-truck comedy, Chef, poised to open locally May 16 after taking the audience award at Tribeca.

Beyond narrative films and documentaries (see: 2011’s hugely popular Jiro Dreams of Sushi), there’s intense interest in celebrity chef culture, which has crossed over into pop culture with the success of shows like Top Chef and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, not to mention gossip sites’ breathless reporting on food trends (is the cronut craze over yet, or what?). In late April, Copenhagen’s Noma was named numero uno among the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants, aka “the Oscars of fine dining,” per CNN. But no restaurant was more lauded in its lifespan than Ferran Adrià’s legendary El Bulli, which closed in 2011. Naturally, someone made a documentary about the joint — on Spain’s Costa Brava — and now there’s Tasting Menu, an ensemble Euro-comedy that takes place at “Chakula,” a 30-seat restaurant on Spain’s Costa Brava that’s about to serve its final meal.

Why is the apparently successful Chakula closing? Gorgeous chef Mar (Vicenta N’Dongo) isn’t saying, nor is she revealing the final menu — and neither is director and co-writer Roger Gual (2002’s Smoking Room). We catch glimpses of artfully plated dishes as they’re assembled in the kitchen and whisked around the seaside dining room (and get one descriptor: “Snail caviar”), but this ain’t Like Water for Chocolate-level cooking porn. Gual is mostly concerned with the diners themselves, all of whom are rich, well-connected, or lucky enough to have scored the most exclusive reservation on the planet. Alas, there’s not a truly compelling personality among them, though an impish widow (Fionnula Flanagan) who dines with an urn containing her husband’s ashes, and a mysteriously morose man (Stephen Rea) who may or may not be a food critic, come the closest. (The Spain-set movie was mostly filmed in Ireland, hence the presence of these Irish stars.)

Elsewhere, there’s estranged couple Rachel and Marc (Claudia Bassols and Jan Cornet, the latter last seen undergoing an epic transformation in 2011’s The Skin I Live In) whose passion is reignited in the presence of snail caviar; a nervous maître d’ (Andrew Tarbet) charged with overseeing the top-secret surprise dessert; a pair of grouchy Japanese businessmen who are competing to take over the restaurant after Mar steps aside; and assorted other stereotypes and rivals tossed in to bring tension to what’s essentially a pleasant-yet-woefully-unexciting dinner party, filled with guests who linger much longer than they should. Last-act excitement enters, kinda, when a boat sinks just offshore and the assembled company rushes to help, but by then there’s no saving Tasting Menu, whose blandness comes into face-slapping focus when Flanagan’s character counsels the romantically confused Rachel to “just follow your heart” and that “there’s nothing more precious than freedom.” Burrrrp. *


TASTING MENU opens May 16 in San Francisco.

Skin deep



FILM A 1779 painting commissioned by the First Earl of Mansfield (and now owned by the present one) portrays two young women near a lake. One faces us formally, composedly, suggesting the posture held over hours of sitting in the (unknown) artist’s studio; but the other, whose arm she grasps, is tilted forward in motion, wears an exotic feathered turban and plunging neckline, with one hand rakishly cradling a cheek. The contrast is all the more striking because the former lady is white and the latter black, yet the image lacks any typical indicator that their relationship was a master-servant one. Indeed, they give every appearance of simply being friends.

Without that canvas, history might have entirely forgotten Dido Elizabeth Belle, who’d been born 18 years earlier in the West Indies to Sir John Lindsay, an admiral of the British Navy, and Maria Belle — who may have been an African slave captured from the Spanish in Havana. At some early point Dido was deposited in England, to the care of Lindsay’s childless aunt and uncle. Little is known about the decades she spent in their household, during which time her father passed away. But interestingly, the great-uncle she was primarily raised by was also Lord Chief Justice at a time when there was increasing public pressure for the Empire to end its participation in the lucrative global slave trade. He eventually made court decisions that at least began turning the English legal tide against that cruel institution.

His life is much better chronicled than that of illegitimate ward Dido, so in focusing on her experience, the new costume drama Belle is by necessity largely an imaginative fiction. This handsome piece directed by former actress Amma Asante and written by Misan Sagay offers all the conventional satisfactions of Masterpiece Theatre-type cinema, involving as it does well-dressed aristocratic intrigue in fabulous settings. But while Belle is just a thoroughly satisfying rather than truly inspired example of the genre, it benefits from having more on its mind than romance and royalty: Taking place in an almost absurdly rarefied, privileged circumstance, particularly as compared to the institutionalized brutality shown in something like 2013’s 12 Years a Slave, it nonetheless also makes us confront the injustice of rating one class of person beneath another.

Entrusted with all naive good intentions by dashing, kind Lindsay (Matthew Goode) to previously unmet relatives after her mother’s death, young Dido (Lauren Julien-Box) suffers the inevitable culture shock. But she’s not half as shocked as her new minders, who sputter “But … she’s black!” before dad promptly sails off again. Nonetheless, Lord Mansfield (Tom Willkinson), Lady Mansfield (Emily Watson) and live-in spinster sibling Lady Murray (Penelope Wilton) endeavor to raise this child as they would any other — like Elizabeth (Cara Jenkins), another illegitimate family offspring they’ve been stuck with. The two girls become inseparable, and so long as they stay within the enormous estate’s bounds, they are equals.

But once they reach marriageable age, their differently disabled social statuses become hard to ignore. Both are beautiful and well-bred, yes. But quiet, intelligent Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is heiress to a fortune, one that might tempt suitors even as her skin color makes her very existence a sordid scandal for some. Meanwhile, Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) is blonde, vivacious, and penniless, which makes her pretty well useless in this milieu where blue blood is prized, yet in reality held less valuable than cash money. Undesirable to their alleged peers, and barred by propriety from marrying “beneath” them, they seemingly cannot marry at all — and what other role is left them in this era, besides the unhappy spinster-housekeeper one Lady Murray endures? Among those dangling possible solutions — albeit sometimes treacherously — are two bachelor sons (James Norton, Harry Potter villain Tom Felton) of the icy Lady Ashford (Miranda Richardson), and a more humbly born legal apprentice (Sam Reid) who hopes to sway Judge Mansfield toward the abolitionist cause.

Belle does indeed sometimes commit the sin of forcing post-Civil Rights morality and other very modern mindsets on characters who would hardly be so advanced in the late 1700s. But that seems forgivable in this context, given that a movie that fully internalized Dido’s perceived racial inferiority would be too bleak to provide any of this one’s Jane Austen-esque pleasures. (Besides, there is some admittedly sketchy evidence that the real Dido was educated and otherwise treated as an equal within her immediate family circle, not to mention unthinkingly obeyed by their servants.)

There’s a fairy-tale appeal to the lovely, deft leads, a familiar satisfying dastardliness to their foes, and of course no end of scene-stealing from the support-cast veterans. Unlike a movie such as 1999’s Mansfield Park or the awful Reese Witherspoon Vanity Fair (2004), the weightier external historical issues aren’t clumsily shoehorned into existing texts. Belle gets to address both fancy-dress love stuff and the grotesque injustice of a “civilized” world built on slavery because, in this stranger-than-fiction instance, the two are more or less evenly relevant. Which makes this a guilt-free teacake of its type, one you can have and eat, too. *


BELLE opens Fri/9 in San Francisco.

Take to the sky



DANCE With world premieres by Amy Seiwert and Val Caniparoli, and the late Michael Smuin’s affectionate tribute to George Gershwin, Smuin Ballet closed its 20th anniversary season with fine choreography, good music, excellent performances, and, most of all, an intelligent perspective of what ballet in the 21st century has to offer. Today Smuin is a thoroughly contemporary troupe with a promising vision of what it wants to be.

Caniparoli set his full ensemble piece, Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino (everything but the kitchen sink), to a number of Vivaldi scores, including at least one for pipe organ. The work is accurately named. The emotional range slithered between goofy and poignant, refined and raucous. At times, the attempts to be clever and amusing at all costs could have been a little more restrained. But as a whole, the variety of approaches Caniparoli took made for an appealing new work.

Still a character dancer with the San Francisco Ballet despite his 30 years of experience choreographing all over the country, Caniparoli created a lively, unpretentious romp for 16 dancers, balancing smaller, more emotionally-flavored sections with full ensemble numbers. Unlike other contemporary ballet choreographers, who seem to feel that the toe shoe is hopelessly passé, Caniparoli put his women on point. They were completely at ease engaging in his more complex approach to working feet.

Some of the gestural language — stepping through a ring created by arms, crawling between legs, covering ears, torso shakes, flailing arms — looked like movie silliness, but mostly still charmed because everything grew so clearly out of the music.

Caniparoli has a nuanced touch with duets and trios. He also takes full advantage of today’s athletically trained dancers; the women are lifted, slid, and turned over and upside down in every way. The ever-shifting relationship between Terez Dean, Aidan DeYoung, and Weston Krukow felt congenial. More romantic was the duet for the long-limbed and beautifully matched Jane Rehm and Joshua Reynolds. Another, for Ben Needham-Wood and Christian Squires, initially seemed contentious, but ended by looking toward a possibly common future.

Seiwert’s But Now I Must Rest is an exquisite and embracing tribute to the late Cape Verde singer Cesária Évora. It is a work in which Seiwert takes a more theatrical dramatic approach to dance making than usual. But Now is a beautifully realized piece of choreography, performed by dancers in tune with Seiwert’s vision. It showcases the very fine Susan Roemer, one of Smuin’s longtime dancers, in the role of the “barefoot diva” who, by choosing to perform without shoes, paid tribute to the millions of women who cannot afford them. The solicitous Reynolds partnered her sometimes lovingly, sometimes just by holding her up. He seemed a friend, a lover, a guide.

Using as raw material gestures and movements from Évora’s performances — researched with the help of dancer Katherine Wells — Seiwert created wave after wave of lush and sensuous dancing that flooded the stage. Sometimes it enveloped Roemer and Reynolds; sometimes it served as a foil, much the way backup musicians might function; and sometimes the dancers embraced each other as a community. And everything was performed to those lilting beats and rocking rhythms.

A lightly skipping trio (Dean, Jonathan Dummar and Krukow) streaking across the stage suggested happier times, but Christian Squires’ ashen solo dragged him down with grief. It was a risk to actually have him weep, but he brought it off.

The production values were excellent. Sandra Woodall’s earth-toned costumes, with bustiers for the women and, for everyone, floor-length skirts with slits to the hip, allowed for freedom of movement and highlighted working legs. Brian Jones’ azure lighting suggested a view one might glimpse, gazing out from an island.

The excerpts from Smuin’s full-evening Dancin’ with Gershwin threw a spotlight on a man of the theater, at home in ballet but also in love with Broadway. When he created the work in 2001, Smuin commissioned the still impressive costumes from the excellent Willa Kim; lighting from Sara Linnie Slocum; and serviceable sets by Rick Goodwin. Dancin’ opened with video posters from the shows by the redoubtable Gershwins; they elicited both sighs and cheers from the audience.

It’s a rare company that offers its performers opportunities in ballroom, ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and show dancing. Smuin’s troupe took to the challenge with obvious glee. Erin Yarbrough swooned and triumphed with Krukow. Supported by guys with strippers’ fans, Erica Felsch relished being the vamp, though she was no competition to Marilyn Monroe. A poignant Rehm’s pained but resilient “Summertime,” as sung by Peter Gabriel, recalled the whole of the composer’s glorious Porgy and Bess. With Shannon Hurlbut, still a respectable tapper, at the helm, the dancers click-clacked through the final “Shall We Dance.” If that was a question, the answer was a resounding “Yes!” *


Wed/7-Sat/10, 8pm (also Sat/10, 2pm); Sun/11, 2pm, $24-$64

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

700 Howard, SF


Performances continue through June 7 at various Northern California venues.


Political power play unseats SF Police Commissioner


Police Commissioner Angela Chan fought the federal government as they unjustly tried to deport undocumented San Franciscans who were guilty of no crimes, and won. She fought to arm the SFPD with de-escalation tactics instead of Tasers, and won again.

But at the April 30 Board of Supervisors meeting, Chan lost. The board denied her reappointment to the Police Commission, and seven supervisors voted to appoint her opponent, Victor Hwang, instead.

The decision came after heated backdoor politicking by Chinatown political leader Rose Pak, insiders told us. Politicians involved would only speak on background, for fear of reprisal from Pak, yet indicated that Pak felt Chan did not consult often enough with Chinatown interests and focused too broadly on issues of concern to other communities.

Chan gained national recognition for her work against Secure Communities, challenging a provision that allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to call for illegal holds of undocumented persons they’d later like to deport. Pak came out swinging against Chan in the wake of those battles, we were told.

“It’s a sad day for the immigrant rights movement when a strong leader cannot be reappointed,” Sup. Eric Mar said just before the vote.

After Sup. Katy Tang introduced the motion to strike Chan’s name from the appointment, and replace it with Hwang’s, other supervisors noted the obvious elephant in the room — there was not only one vacant seat on the police commission, but two.

Supervisor John Avalos suggested the Board of Supervisors make a motion to request the mayor appoint Hwang himself, allowing for both Chan and Hwang to be appointed.

But Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said he’d asked Mayor Lee that very question to no avail. “It is not something that will happen,” he said. “It is not the practice of the mayor to solve difficult decisions of the board. It’s up to us.”

Sups. Mark Farrell, Scott Wiener, Malia Cohen, London Breed, Jane Kim, Tang and Chiu voted to strike Chan’s name from the appointment, and to vote to appoint Hwang instead. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)


The road to regulating Google Buses has a new pothole: a lawsuit.

A lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court May 1 demands the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s commuter shuttle pilot program be put on hold while a full environmental review is conducted under the California Environmental Quality Act.

“We know that these buses are having devastating impacts on our neighborhoods, driving up rents and evictions of long-time San Francisco residents,” said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and one of the lawsuit petitioners. “We’ve protested in the streets and taken our plea to City Hall to no avail. We hope to finally receive justice in a court of law.”

The suit was filed against the City and County of San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee, the Board of Supervisors, the SFMTA, Google, Genentech, Apple, and a handful of private transportation providers. It alleges the tech shuttle pilot project is in violation of the California Vehicle Code, which prohibits any vehicle — except common carriers (public buses) — to pull into red zones that are designated as bus stops. It also alleges the city abused its discretion and violated the CEQA by exempting the Shuttle Project from environmental review. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)


Several San Francisco neighborhoods over the last week have been targeted with illegal campaign flyers against Assembly candidate David Campos — breaking both state election laws requiring the group and its funding source to be identified and local laws against placing political flyers on utility poles and other surfaces.

Former Ethics Commission Eileen Hansen this week filed a complaint about the guerilla campaigning with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which has jurisdiction over state races.

“I am asking for the intervention of your office into what appears to be a blatant and arrogant violation of campaign finance reporting and disclosure laws in California’s 17th Assembly District Primary Election,” Hansen wrote in the April 30 letter. “As you well know, the political climate in San Francisco is quite sensitive, and nerves are raw. If this violation is allowed to continue, it will have a chilling effect on the entire election and further alienate voters, and potential voters.”

The race between Campos and David Chiu has indeed gotten more heated in recent weeks, but Chiu campaign manager Nicole Derse denies that the campaign has any knowledge or involvement with the illegal campaigning: “We think everyone in this race should be transparent.”

In her letter, Hansen casts doubt on the Chiu campaign’s claims of innocence: “The wide distribution, professional design, and overnight appearance in distant locations strongly suggest that these flyers have been produced and distributed by a funded political organization aligned with Assembly candidate David Chiu, whose aim is to attack and discredit Chiu’s opponent David Campos.”

And she even identifies a leading suspect in this illegal campaigning: Enrique Pearce and his Left Coast Communications firm, which has a history of dirty tricks campaigning on behalf of Mayor Ed Lee and other establishment politicians. Hansen notes that the flyers appeared right after the registration of a new campaign committee, San Franciscans for Effective Government to Support David Chiu. Although the group hasn’t reported any fundraising yet, its contact phone number goes to Left Coast Communications and Pearce, who hasn’t yet returned our calls on the issue.

This campaign stunt in reminiscent of an “independent expenditure” effort in the District 6 supervisorial race in 2010, when Pearce was connected to a mailer supporting Sup. Jane Kim that was funded partially by Willie Brown, again because the supposedly independent group listed his phone number even though he was worked directly for Kim.

The anti-Campos mailers include some nasty and misleading charges, labeling Campos “City Hall’s Hypocrite” by falsely claiming Campos ignored rising evictions until he decided to run for the Assembly and that he was concerned about Google buses but wanted to charge them less than $1 per stop. A third flyer claims Campos “lets wifebeater sheriff keep his job” for his vote against removing Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office for official misconduct.

“This is a secretly funded shadow organization aligned with David Chiu, committing a desperate move that is as illegal and it is false in its claims,” Campos told us, saying he hopes the FPPC is able to stop and punish those involved. (Steven T. Jones)


José-Luis Mejia says he’s seen a little bit of everything in his work with transitional-age youth.

A few have died suddenly; others wound up incarcerated. Then there are those who beat the odds by attending top-level universities, opening up their own businesses, or dedicating themselves to public service.

As associate director of Transitional Age Youth San Francisco, Mejia was part of a grassroots coalition that has been working for about two years on crafting a measure that aims to increase funding for youth programs, seeking to give a boost to transitional-age youth services in particular.

It culminated with the April 30 introduction at the Board of Supervisors of a suite of new proposals to support youth programs, including a pair of charter amendments that will appear on the November ballot.

An amendment sponsored by Sup. John Avalos would renew the existing Children’s Fund, renaming it the Children and Youth Fund, and increasing the property-tax set-aside that supports it from three cents per $100 of assessed valuation to five cents. Funding would be designated for programs set up to aid “disconnected transitional-aged youth,” including homeless or disabled youth, unmarried parents, those who identify as LGBTQ or are aging out of foster care, and other specified categories. The amendment would also create a Commission on Children, Youth, and Their Families, to oversee the Department of Children Youth and their families. A second charter amendment would extend the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF), another source of funding for youth programs.

Avalos has strong support on the Board, but the mayor’s office has reportedly been pressuring supervisors not to support Avalos’ measure.

“As we all know, San Francisco is experiencing incredible economic activity,” Avalos noted April 30. “We’re experiencing growth and speculation that is lifting many boats, but not lifting all boats. And some of the people who are not doing so well are children and families.”

The Children’s Fund, and PEEF currently set aside over $100 million for children and youth in San Francisco. The funding sources would sunset if action were not taken to extend them. (Rebecca Bowe)


Chiu for Assembly



San Francisco is at a crossroads. While some residents benefit from prosperity, an affordable housing crisis coupled with income inequality make this a time of struggle for other San Franciscans.

Our inclusive, diverse culture that has historically made San Francisco a haven for artists, immigrants, and innovators is at stake. Given this, effective progressive leadership is critical to ensuring that our city remains a place where all San Franciscans can afford to live and prosper. That’s why I urge you to vote for my friend, President of the Board of Supervisors David Chiu, to represent San Francisco in the California State Assembly.

As president, David has demonstrated an inclusive, unifying leadership style that has had a transformative impact at City Hall. He really listens to everyone, and brings people together to address our city’s most critical challenges. He combines rock solid progressive values with a fervent drive to do more than talk — to actually get the big stuff done.

The proof is in the pudding: he’s passed more pieces of legislation than any other current supervisor in every major policy arena, and his colleagues have elected him president three times.

David has delivered consistently on our city’s most critical issue: affordable housing. A tenant in San Francisco himself for the past 18 years, David has fought to protect and expand affordable housing across the city, leading efforts to build more housing for homeless veterans, transitional age youth, and seniors.

He supported rebuilding dilapidated public housing projects that have been in total disrepair. He has supported the strengthening of habitability standards in housing across the board. He led the charge to create a 10-year moratorium on condo conversions and to prioritize victims of Ellis Act evictions for our city’s affordable housing opportunities.

After multiple failed attempts by supervisors over two decades, he passed legislation to finally legalize in-law units, preserving one of our city’s largest existing stocks of affordable housing. David will continue to work to stem San Francisco’s affordable housing crisis in the Assembly, including pushing hard to reform the Ellis Act.

David has been a leader on a host of other important issues. An avid biker who doesn’t own a car, David has spearheaded groundbreaking environmental legislation, banning the sale of plastic water bottles on city property, expanding urban agriculture, and prohibiting the delivery of unwanted Yellow Pages. He’s increased funding for community arts, an issue close to my heart as an artist. He has championed language access for our city’s immigrants, and fought for the reunification of LGBT immigrant families.

Under his leadership, San Francisco is the first city in the country to establish the right to civil counsel for low-income residents being denied basic human rights such as housing, as well as to give workers the right to request flexible and predictable working arrangements to take care of their families. He passed progressive business tax reform that will bring $300 million of new revenues over the next decade.

When it comes down to it, we have two Assembly candidates, David Chiu and David Campos, who share the strongly held progressive values of the Guardian’s readers. I am a longtime supporter of the Guardian and have valued its endorsement in my previous races. The difference lies in style and effectiveness.

I know how urgently San Francisco needs a leader in the Assembly who can bring people together to get significant things done. The challenges and opportunities our city faces demand it. I know David Chiu can do this because he has done it, over and over again, in five and a half remarkably effective years of progressive leadership on the Board of Supervisors.

Please join me in supporting David Chiu for State Assembly.

Debra Walker is an artist who serves on the Building Inspection Commission, recently reappointed to that seat by David Chiu.

Watching the police



Nearly two years ago, on July 18, 2012, on-duty San Francisco police officer Mary Godfrey fired her weapon twice, killing 32-year-old Oakland resident Pralith Pralourng in an encounter at Washington and Davis streets.

Following the incident, police said Pralourng was mentally ill and had lunged at Godfrey with a box cutter, prompting her to fire in defense of her own life. Just before it happened, Pralourng had slashed his coworker at Tcho chocolate factory and fled.

Last September, the San Francisco Police Department honored Godfrey with a silver medal of valor for her conduct in that incident. The second-highest possible honor, silver medals are awarded in cases where an officer exhibits “outstanding bravery in the performance of duty,” according to a definition on the SFPD website, and “risks his or her life with full and unquestionable knowledge of the danger involved.”

However, an internal affairs investigation into the officer-involved shooting remained open at the time that the medal was awarded. In fact, in a May 5 voicemail, police spokesperson Albie Esparza confirmed to the Bay Guardian: “That case is still open, so there is no more information that we are going to release at this time.”

More than eight months have passed since Godfrey was honored — and yet the shooting is still under investigation.

The San Francisco Police Commission voted to approve Godfrey’s silver medal, along with a list of other medal of valor recipients, at its June 26, 2013 meeting. But it was Commissioner Angela Chan, who was recently denied reappointment to her post in a 7-4 vote by the Board of Supervisors, who cast the lone dissenting vote (See “SFBG Wrap” in this issue).

Chan was later quoted in press reports as saying she believed that awarding Godfrey with a medal of valor before the formal investigative process had concluded seemed to undermine that process. Internal affairs investigations are part of the city’s formal process to ensure police accountability. San Francisco also has an independent city department, the Office of Citizen Complaints, which provides civilian oversight by making determinations about citizen complaints alleging officer misconduct.

Chan’s dissenting vote prompted a backlash from the San Francisco Police Officers Association. In a blistering letter dated September 11, 2013, President Martin Halloran informed police commissioners of the POA’s “extreme disappointment” in the dissenting vote, also sending a copy of the letter to Mayor Ed Lee.

“Officer Godfrey was extremely upset when I met with her and immediately voiced her regret at having to take the life of another human being,” Halloran wrote. “It is every officer’s worst nightmare. The emotional and psychological trauma following an officer involved shooting can be severe, and it is absolutely essential that officers involved in these types of incidents receive positive reinforcement, as well as counseling, to reassure them that they did nothing wrong.”

Counseling seems appropriate, but Halloran’s blanket statement that officers involved in deadly use of force incidents should be reassured that “they did nothing wrong” seems to discount the city’s process for determining whether or not an officer’s action was justified.

The SFPOA president went on to note that his organization has long complained that “officers are left hanging for months, and in some cases years, before being recognized for their heroic acts, sometimes making them feel more insecure and raising more self-doubts about their actions.”

The SFPOA’s overt condemnation of Chan for her dissent suggests that the police commissioner faced strong opposition from a politically powerful entity when she came up for reappointment.

More importantly, it suggests that the SFPOA won’t hesitate to exert pressure on police commissioners who question the department’s actions — and raises questions about why top brass would ignore an open investigation that had yet to establish whether Godfrey “did nothing wrong.”

Internal affairs investigators weren’t the only ones looking into this fatal shooting of Pralourng. The OCC, the civilian police oversight board, was also investigating the incident when Godfrey was honored. Almost two years after the fact, the OCC investigation also remains open.

The OCC’s annual report, released March 12, was slated for presentation at the Police Commission on May 7. The 179-page report shines a light on the allegations filed against police officers, the process by which these complaints are investigated and addressed, and the rate at which complaints are sustained and followed up with disciplinary action.

Being a police officer isn’t easy, and can be very dangerous — even costing officers their lives in extreme circumstances. The OCC report notes that 75 percent of San Francisco police officers did not have any complaints filed against them in 2013. But of the remaining 25 percent, the report noted that 131 officers had been named in two or more complaints, while another 405 officers had each been flagged in a single complaint.

If the OCC determines that a complaint about officer misconduct is valid, then it is counted as “sustained.”

In 2013, according to the report, the OCC received 727 complaints, and closed 722 complaints. Of the 722 that were closed, 43 — or about 6 percent — were sustained. Of those sustained cases, 91 percent resulted in corrective or disciplinary action by the SFPD, the report noted, ranging from a verbal admonishment to a suspension.

Of the 43 cases that were sustained, 56 percent were for “neglect of duty,” the majority of which was issued for failure to collect traffic stop data. That was followed by “unwarranted action” at 24 percent, “conduct reflecting discredit represented” at 10 percent, “unnecessary force” at 7 percent, and “discourtesy” at 3 percent.

A synopsis of the “unnecessary force” findings provides examples, such as an incident in which “a sergeant and officers used unnecessary force when without cause, they entered a residence, grabbed, detained, arrested and removed an occupant from the residence, and took him to the ground.”

But according to the report, “By far the most frequent finding in all allegations was ‘not sustained,'” reflecting the outcome of 61 percent of allegations in OCC complaints.

The determination “not sustained” isn’t the same as finding that an officer acted appropriately, nor does it mean a complainant made false allegations. Instead, the finding is issued when “there is not a preponderance of evidence to prove or disprove,” the allegation, OCC Executive Director Joyce Hicks told us.

Put more simply: An officer responds to a complainant with a contradictory account, and since there isn’t enough evidence to prove otherwise, the case is closed.

“Officers were found to have engaged in proper conduct in 25 percent of the allegations,” the breakdown continued. “Complainants’ allegations were ‘unfounded,’ or not true, in 2 percent of the allegations.”

A chart of “findings closed” in 2013 (a separate measure from complaints) showed that out of 2,183 findings, just 72 — or 3 percent — were sustained. The vast majority, 1,337 were “not sustained.”

A breakdown showing the nature of complaints filed reveals that five allegations of unnecessary use of force were sustained in 2013, while 167 were not sustained, out of a total of 208 complaints alleging unnecessary use of force.

At the end of 2013, according to the OCC report, the civilian oversight board “continued to investigate three officer-involved shootings. Two of these shootings resulted in the death of the suspect. In 2013, the OCC closed two 2011 officer involved shooting cases with no sustained findings.”

Hicks noted that she faces budgetary constraints that have prevented her from hiring more investigators, an ongoing problem at the OCC. “We still don’t have the best practices number of cases,” she said, noting that the City Controller had issued a 2007 audit stating that investigators should be handling no more than 16 cases at once, while “my investigators’ caseloads have never fallen below 21.”

Aside from its investigations into citizen complaints, the OCC also makes policy recommendations. Following a number of officer-involved shootings in 2012 involving mentally ill individuals, the OCC issued a set of recommendations on handling responses to individuals experiencing mental crisis — the exact sort of situation that led to Pralourng’s death in 2012.

Samara Marion, an attorney with the OCC, noted that one recommendation pertains to how the Firearm Discharge Review Board, which evaluates whether a shooting was justified, performs its analysis. Rather than merely relying on the internal affairs and homicide reports, Marion said, the OCC recommendation is to “have the training division do an analysis that’s point by point,” so that the determination is made taking into account “all of the decision-making and tactical steps leading up to the officer-involved shooting.”

That work is expected to continue, but as far as the Police Commission is concerned, it will have to go forward without input from Chan, who had planned to take a close look at officer-involved shootings in her next term.

“It was shameful and outrageous what happened, because I was targeted for doing what I believe in,” Chan said later. But she said political pressures has thwarted that goal.

“What happened was not really about me,” she continued. “It was about whether something as important as a civilian police oversight body should be politicized.”

Politics trumps police oversight



A proven advocate for the public interest was removed from the San Francisco Police Commission last week. Not only was this a missed opportunity for stronger civilian oversight at a time when the San Francisco Police Department is under federal scrutiny, it raises disturbing implications about how things get done in City Hall.

The Board of Supervisors voted to oust Police Commissioner Angela Chan, voting 7-4 to strike Chan’s name from the appointment and replace it with contender Victor Hwang instead. City Hall insiders privately explained that Chinatown power broker Rose Pak, a friend of Mayor Ed Lee who wields great political influence, pressured supervisors to vote for Hwang specifically because she and her allies wanted Chan to be ousted. Supervisors who could not be relied upon to vote for Hwang were even reportedly cautioned that they shouldn’t be too vocal about their positions.

A civil rights attorney who proved effective and independent as a commissioner, Chan often directed pointed questions at police, for example drilling down on the finer details of officer-involved shootings.

Hwang, also a civil rights attorney, is qualified and respected, but he didn’t need to replace Chan. There’s another vacant seat on the commission — up to Mayor Ed Lee to appoint — so this vote was never about Hwang’s qualifications versus Chan’s. There was room for both.

This was about political patronage, pure and simple. It was about getting rid of an independent voice and replacing her with the former chair of the “Run Ed Run” committee, which urged Lee to break his pledge and run for mayor — a tradeoff that hurts police accountability.

Having two civil rights attorneys on the Police Commission would have sent a strong signal that the city is serious about addressing police misconduct at a time when the SFPD officers are facing federal charges for alleged civil rights violations (see “Crooked cops, March 4).

Supervisors should have called upon Lee to appoint Hwang rather than ousting Chan. Instead, the board majority was unwilling to challenge the consolidated power of Lee and his well-connected allies, who conducted an anti-democratic closed-door lobbying effort.

Board President David Chiu, who is running for Assembly, stated at the meeting that he’d asked Lee about appointing Hwang to the vacant seat, only to be told: “It is not something that will happen.”

So Chiu was unwilling to question the mayor’s bizarre refusal to appoint a candidate that Lee’s own allies were furiously advocating for. Instead of pushing for stronger civilian oversight of police, Chiu and six other supervisors voted to oust a commissioner with a proven track record.

If elected officials are casting votes for personal advancement, or out of fear that they’ll be rendered ineffective as punishment for pissing off the wrong people, then San Franciscans have a big problem: Their local government is beholden to the whims of entrenched power.


Waiting for transit



Transit options for wheelchair users and people with disabilities are under threat in the Bay Area, and riders are losing ground on multiple transit fronts.

In late April and early May, hundreds of advocates for those with disabilities took to the streets, protesting BART’s Fleet of the Future, a touring mockup of a new BART trains slated to roll out in 2017.

The trains are a step backward in wheelchair accessibility, among other issues, advocates said.

Just last month, advocates for senior and those with disabilities stormed a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors meeting, asking for free Muni for the most economically disadvantaged among them. They were denied based on dollar amounts, while drivers were given an $11 million giveback restoring free Sunday parking meters.

The SFMTA promised to revisit the issue in January. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s wheelchair accessible taxi fleet has seen its drivers flee to so-called “rideshare” companies — whose cars aren’t equipped to carry wheelchairs — causing what officials say is a record low number of wheelchair accessible taxi trips.

Compounding that decision was the SFMTA’s March adoption of its Transit Effectiveness Project, which the agency billed as expanding service by 12 percent and improving the system’s efficiency, but some advocates for seniors and the disabled noted it removed some bus stops, requiring longer walks by those who have a hard time getting around.

The transit troubles cover most of the transportation options available to San Franciscans with disabilities, and that’s the problem.

“We’re one of the most transit-dependent populations,” Peter Mendoza, a community organizer with the Independent Living Resource Center, told the Guardian. He also uses a wheelchair. “Everything we do in our everyday life, we mostly do with public transportation.”

Their needs are simple: getting groceries, seeing a movie, picking up their kids from school. People with disabilities are now in a multi-pronged fight for their right to everyday mobility, and to do so with dignity.



A walking tour of BART’s Fleet of the Future shows much is new: computer screens with live GPS updates of the train’s location, triple-bike racks, and redesigned seats. BART Vehicle Systems Engineer Brian Bentley proudly showed us the new touch screens in the driver’s cockpit.

For people with disabilities, the Fleet of the Future is a step backward. Their first beef with BART’s new trains is a simple one: there’s a pole in the way of the door.

Hundreds of disability advocates protested BART’s public tour of its newly redesigned trains just last week, with more protests planned for the future. All they want is the damned pole moved.

The handhold in question features a triple-pronged design: what begins as one vertical metal column branches into three partway off the ground.

“Where the pole is now is in the path of travel for the accessible seating area,” Mendoza said. “People holding onto the poles and the power wheelchairs will be in a sense be trying to occupy the same space.”

BART’s Fleet of the Future will arrive in limited numbers in 2015, and fully roll out by 2017, according to the BART website. BART plans to use the new trains for decades. So will BART move the pole to a different location in the car before then?

“It’s too soon to say,” BART spokesperson Alicia Trost told the Guardian. “That’s why we’re doing outreach.”

Trost told us BART did its due diligence by garnering feedback from the BART Disability Task Force. But the DTF, a volunteer body serving like a consistent focus group, informed BART of the pole-problem years ago.

“From day one, they identified the pole as being a problem,” BART Access Coordinator Ike Nnaji told us. Now, he said, “the pole has been moved slightly.”

The triple column handhold has also been raised since the initial outcry. But advocates say the changes still haven’t solved mobility problems. And lack of BART access would be especially poignant, as the trains are now one of the most seamless public transit trips a wheelchair rider can take, advocates told us.

Unlike a Muni or AC Transit bus, no one needs to strap in a wheelchair user on a BART train. After an elevator ride to the train platform (assuming they’re working), they easily roll onto the train: no muss, no fuss.

“On BART, I can be a regular customer,” longtime disability rights activist Corbett O’Toole told the Guardian. “I can ride it with dignity.”

The wheelchair-using community isn’t the only one with BART concerns. Emergency intercoms have long been an issue with the deaf community, O’Toole told us. The BART train’s new video screen would be a natural place to integrate visual emergency communication, she said.

Trost told us BART is trying to balance the needs of many communities, from bicyclists to folks not tall enough to reach the handholds.

“It’s public transit, you try to help everyone,” she said. But people with disabilities are a group with federal law mandating consideration of their access, Mendoza said.

We asked BART if the agency had specific employees (besides the DTF) in charge of ensuring American with Disabilities Act compliance. BART spokesperson Luna Salaver told us the agency doesn’t have an ADA compliance officer, but its engineering staff and consultants are well-versed in ADA compliance issues.

BART’s board may take a direct vote on disability access modifications to the Fleet of the Future at its May 22 meeting, but that may be subject to change.

While the wheelchair accessibility of the Fleet of the Future is hotly contested, the future of rideshare disability access remains a mystery to most.



Regulations task the taxi industry with providing wheelchair accessible cabs, something the rideshares don’t do, at least not yet. And as taxi drivers flee to the more profitable rideshare industry, fewer and fewer wheelchair accessible taxis are being driven in San Francisco.

Worryingly, the newest numbers from the SFMTA paint a portrait of hundreds of stranded wheelchair users. In January 2013, there were 1,379 wheelchair trips via taxi cab, according to numbers provided by the SFMTA, which regulates taxis. This January, that number plummeted to nearly half that.

The drivers just weren’t there. The SFMTA Board of Directors voted in January to offer a $10-per-trip cash incentive for drivers that pick up wheelchair users. But it was like a bandage on a gaping wound: the number of taxis picking up wheelchair users in San Francisco has not yet increased.

And Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar aren’t yet equipped to pick up wheelchair users.

As we’ve previously reported, Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber were recently required to file disability access plans with the California Public Utilities Commission. Some mention researching wheelchair access in the future, but most of the one-page plans tout their apps’ ability to speak to visually impaired users. None promise wheelchair-accessible cars.

The SFMTA is trying to lure taxi drivers back from these Transportation Network Companies through waived permit fees. Deputy Director of Taxi Services Christiane Hayashi said, “the total cost to the public of the TNC phenomenon is over $3 million and counting.”

Despite the stark numbers offered by the SFMTA, the CPUC doesn’t see the situation as a crisis. At a hearing on accessible transit, Marzia Zafar, the director of policy and planning division at the CPUC, told the Guardian there isn’t enough data at this point to say why the disabled community isn’t riding taxis as often as they did before.

“The commission will step in once we have information, verifiable information, that there’s a divide between the disabled and abled communities,” she said. “If there is such discrimination (on part of the TNCs), we will step in and bridge that divide.”

The CPUC could require TNCs to provide access, BART may modify its Fleet of the Future, and the SFMTA can still provide free Muni for seniors and people with disabilities in January.

And in the meanwhile, people with disabilities are waiting for a ride which may or may not ever arrive.

Cycling to City Hall



When the first Bike to Work Day was held in San Francisco 20 years ago, cyclists had little support in City Hall. But on May 8, almost every one of the city’s top political leaders will take part in Bike to Work Day, pledging their support to an increasingly popular and important transportation option.

In fact, Bike to Work Day has become such an anticipated event in San Francisco that city officials and cycling advocates in recent years have used it as the deadline to unveil the latest high-profile bike project to demonstrate the city’s commitment to cycling.

This year, it’s the new contraflow bike lanes on lower Polk Street, an important connection from Market Street to City Hall that helps cyclists avoid dangerous, car-centric Van Ness Avenue or Larkin Street — without having to illegally cut up the one-way section of Polk.

When that $2.5 million bike and pedestrian project — with its attractive landscaping, pedestrian bulb-outs, pretty green lanes, and trio of special bike-only signal lights — was officially opened on May 2, bike activists kept circling the new lanes as if they were doing victory laps.

“I cannot think of a better way to kick off Bike Month in the Bay Area and the 20th anniversary of Bike to Work Day, coming up May 8, than to celebrate what I think is the most beautiful, functional, well-designed, and what is probably going to be the best used piece of bike infrastructure in our city,” San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Director Leah Shahum said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

She and the others who spoke at the event praised the city officials who moved quickly to complete this project, calling it a testament to the growing political will to make streets safer and more welcoming for cyclists.

“I will be honest, we put a lot of pressure on to get this done by Bike to Work Day,” Shahum said. “We really wanted to make sure you all and the folks throughout this city could, this year, for the first time in San Francisco’s history, make a safe and comfortable and direct link from Market Street…to City Hall.”

Building high-profile, separated cycletracks to the steps of City Hall seems to symbolically mark the arrival of cyclists into the political mainstream.



Twenty years ago, California Bicycle Coalition Director Dave Snyder was the head of SFBC, and he was able to persuade only one member of the Board of Supervisors to participate in that first Bike to Work Day.

“I should give a shout-out to Tom Ammiano because he was the first supervisor to care enough to ride on Bike to Work Day, back when the Board of Supervisors didn’t really care about cycling,” Snyder told us. “These days, it’s not uncommon for supervisors to ride for transportation, but back then none did.”

Shahum remembers it as well, back before the SFBC was one of the city’s largest member-based political advocacy organizations.

“Twenty years ago, Bike to Work Day was a fun but sort of lonely event,” Shahum told us, noting how the number of cyclists on the road has exploded in recent years. “Riding on a regular Thursday during rush hour feels like Bike to Work Day used to feel 20 years ago.”

But both Snyder and Shahum said the universal statements of support for cycling that emanate from City Hall these days are only half the battle.

“It’s a good idea to promote bicycling as a mainstream activity, and we won that battle,” Snyder said. “Now, we have to get them to put their money where their mouth is.”

With cycling projects receiving less than 1 percent of the city’s transportation funding, and city officials so far unwilling to pay for the projects that would allow the city to meet its official goal of 20 percent of all vehicle trips being by bike by the year 2020, Snyder said, “We haven’t accomplished that second goal yet.”

“We hear them all talk about investing money in bike infrastructure,” Shahum told us, “but now the decision makers need to do it.”

A report released in December by the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office shows that San Francisco spends less per capita on bike infrastructure, at just over $9 annually, than other bike-friendly US cities such as Portland, Minneapolis, and Seattle. And it found the city would need to spend about $580 million to reach its official goal of 20 percent bike mode-share by 2020.

Even meeting the SFMTA’s more moderate Strategic Plan Scenario — which aims to reach 8-10 percent mode-share by 2018 by creating 12 miles of new bike lanes and upgrading 50 existing miles and 50 intersections — would require $191 million. That’s $142 million more than the SFMTA now has budgeted for the work.



At the May 2 event on Polk Street, city officials used the new project to call on voters to approve a pair of transportation funding measure proposed by Mayor Ed Lee for the November ballot — an increase in the vehicle license fee and a $500 million general obligation bond — which the Board of Supervisors will consider later this month.

“Do you guys like what you see here?” SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin told the crowd, eliciting a rousing response. “Would you like to see more of this kind of work all over San Francisco?”

Then Reiskin connected that goal to the fall ballot measures, the lion’s share of which will go to Muni improvements.

“With the funds we have, there’s only so much of this we can do and we know the need is so great to make biking and walking a safer and more attractive means of getting around the city. If we want to do more of this, we’re going to need more support in November,” Reiskin said.

The city has make significant progress on new bike infrastructure in recent years, after a legal challenge of the city’s Bicycle Plan stalled projects for four years. Ben Jose, a spokesperson for the SFMTA, told us the Polk project is the 52nd of 60 bike improvement projects from the Bike Plan.

“And those that are left are signature projects like this one,” Jose said at the event, referring to high-profile bike lanes along Bayshore and Masonic boulevards, on upper Polk Street, and along Second Street that are among the bike projects now in the pipeline. But the city hasn’t yet devoted the resources to completing the city’s bike network.

“We want to do more projects like this with money from the fall ballot measure,” Rachel Gordon, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Works, told us. “We don’t have enough money in our general fund to do these projects and we hear loud and clear the streets need to be safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.”



The new bikes lanes on Polk are only a few blocks, but it is those kinds of small but critical connections that determine whether cycling in the city is safe or scary.

“I want to know that I can bike safety going north and south on Polk Street, which is why I strongly, strongly support our protected bike lanes on Polk Street, so this is super exciting. As a beginning cyclist, these are the kinds of routes I need to see to get out of my car and onto a bike, so I’m really excited this is the direction our city is moving in,” Sup. Jane Kim said at the event.

Reiskin noted how awkward and unsafe it has been to get from Market Street to City Hall or up Polk Street: “Physically, it’s a pretty small project, but it’s so critically important for those of us who do get around by bike.”

Cyclist Shannon Dodge also spoke at the event, describing her previously awkward commute to work from the Mission District to Russian Hill: “It might look like a tiny stretch of bike lanes to most people, but to me and lots of other people it will make a huge difference. It means we can turn now directly onto Polk Street and we can do it safely.”

She also compared cycling in San Francisco today to the days just before Bike to Work Day began.

“Twenty-one years ago this month, I moved to San Francisco from the East Coast. I came in a van with three friends, so I didn’t bring a lot of possessions. But I did bring my bike and I’ve been biking in San Francisco ever since,” Dodge said.

Back then, in her younger days, she didn’t mind battling for space on the streets of San Francisco.

“When I first moved here, just out of college, safety was not that important to me. I kind of enjoyed the adrenaline rush of being out on a bike in traffic,” she said. “But now I’m a mom. I have a 3-year-old son, and my husband and I bike our son to and from his preschool everyday. And on the weekends we explore the city, which usually means he’s on one of our two bikes. Pretty soon, he’ll be riding his own bike out on San Francisco streets. So safety is incredibly important to me, as it is to all families.”