Volume 48 Number 41

Drop a house

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SUPER EGO Some of us fabulous fairies caught flailing in the ratty-tutu-and-trucker-cap tornado of Pink Saturday, during this year’s Pride celebrations, were like, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Castro, anymore.”

Indeed, the radical roots of the huge 24-year-old celebration — it began as an ACT-UP protest and party — seemed all but washed away in a sea of urine, puke, and shrieks at some points. And, while no one got shot like in 2009, violence tainted the roiling street affair: Even one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the charitably benevolent gay nuns who host Pink Saturday, was physically attacked along with her husband.

(Alas, homophobic violence was everywhere that weekend: Two lesbians were beaten senseless in SoMa, and my friend in Nob Hill got jumped by an SUV-full of assholes. Gross.)

I adore our young allies — and I ain’t mad about straight dudes ripping off their shirts to show support, neither. ‘Mos before bros! I know they’re not all to blame for flooding the Castro’s streets with, er, pink. Hey, we invited them to join us. However. The bad outfits, the worse liquor, and the pushy elbowing need to be checked at the door. (Looking at you, too, mouthy gays.)

Has this year ruined it for everyone? Now that Pink Saturday seems out of control, will it go the way of Halloween in the Castro?

“The Sisters don’t get nearly enough credit for Pink Saturday,” Castro supervisor Scott Wiener told me over the phone. “They plan all year round, working closely with my office, the Police Department, and the Department of Public Works to try to make sure that it’s welcoming and safe. That said, I think we can acknowledge there were a lot of problems — and while the general level of violence was kept low, the attack on the Sister and the human waste issue were definite takeaways as we consider how to keep this event accessible in the future.

“The Sisters meet every year to vote on whether to put on this now-150,000-plus event every year,” Wiener continued. “Pink Saturday holds enormous importance for the LGBT community and raises tens of thousands of dollars in funds. Ten percent of the police force were assigned to it this year.

“But Castro residents put up with a lot. And I think we really noticed how the vibe changed after 9pm, after the Dyke March crowd had filtered away. I’ll be meeting with the Sisters and Police Chief Greg Suhr about viable plans for next year — and nothing’s being ruled out right now.”

 

NIGHTLIFE LIVE: WATER

The biennial Soundwave Fest sweeps over the bay with an awesome series of esoteric-cool sonic installations and head-trip voyages. (This year’s theme is “water,” very prescient in a time of drought.) Your aural-aqueous immersion kicks off at the Cal Academy’s Thursday Nightlife party, with performances by Rogue Wave and Kaycee Johansing and sonic installations throughout the museum. Submerged turntables! Underwater zither! Coral reef data-surfing! Full bar!

Thu/10, 6pm-10pm, $10–$12. California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr., SF. www.soundwavesf.com

 

BARDOT A GO GO

Can’t have a Bastille Day celebration without a little Swingin’ Sixties “ooh-la-la.” This insanely fun, 16-year-old annual soiree dazzles with Franco-groovy chic — and classic, decadent French pop tunes (Bardot, Gainsbourg, Dutronc, etc.) from DJs Pink Frankenstein, Brother Grimm, and Cali Kid. Plus, Peter Thomas Hair Design will be there 9pm-11pm to fluff your coiffure for free.

Fri/11, 9pm, $10. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. www.bardotagogo.com

 

LAS CHICAS DE ESTA NOCHE

When gay bar Esta Noche closed in March after 40 years, it was a Latin drag tragedy. (The closure, not the bar itself.) In honor of the de Young Museum’s essential show of vintage ’70s photos Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay, the Esta Noche scene is being resurrected for a night, with comedian Marga Gomez hosting, classic Noche tunes and drag performances by Lulu Ramirez, Persia, and Vicky Jimenez — aka Las Chicas de Esta Noche — that will shake a few tailfeathers.

Fri/11, 6pm-9pm, free. de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, SF. deyoung.famsf.com

 

THE WIZARD OF OZ

Drag doyenne of darkness Peaches Christ is hosting a screening of this classic at the Castro Theatre. But, as with all Peaches productions, you get an extravaganza. A live pre-show “Wizard of ODD” promises to be bananas, featuring the Tin Tran, The Scare-Ho, Glen or Glenda the Good Witch, and more. Bonus: Peaches herself playing “Peachy Gale” (aka Dorothy?) and one of the only RuPaul drag thingies I can remember the name of, Sharon Needles, as the Wicked Witch of the West. Don’t ask what happens to Toto.

Sat/12, 3pm and 8pm, $30 advance. Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF. www.peacheschrist.com

 

Volume 48 Number 41 Flip-through Edition

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The mayor of tiki

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culture@sfbg.com

WEEKNIGHTER The best tiki bar I’ve ever been to is Smith’s Union Bar in Honolulu’s Chinatown. It’s a shitty little tiki dive bar with even shittier karaoke. It’s also the oldest bar on the island. The night I was there it was full of Navy dudes, punk chicks, gay guys, and a big hulking, transgendered Pacific Islander. I had the crowd arm-in-arm singing “Tiny Dancer” and “Don’t Let Me Down” while cheering me on and buying me drinks after I sang. It was pretty much what I wish happened every night of my life.

While nothing can quite compare to Smith’s Union for obvious reasons, Trad’r Sam (6150 Geary Blvd, SF. 415-221-0773) is probably my second favorite tiki bar in the world. Sitting way out on Geary and 26th Avenue, Trad’r Sam got its start as a Trader Vic knockoff back in the 1930s. And it seems not much has changed since then. Cheap, powerful, colorful drinks come in punch bowls while wicker and cushion booths line the perimeter of the room. Cash is the only form of legal tender accepted and really drunk people abound. The bar itself is shaped in an irregular half circle with a lump, like a boob job gone wrong.

It was a foggy Tuesday night and Ashley and I had just come from Rockin Crawfish down the way. Neither of us make it out to the Richmond very often so it was an excuse to wander into places that she’s never been and I hadn’t been in years. As we walked in the door we were blown away by how busy it was. It seemed like the only business with any customers on that side of Park Presidio. “Damn, it’s busy,” I said to the door guy. “Is it always like this on Tuesdays?” I asked. He replied, “Pretty much.”

We were impressed. Most of the bars in that part of town, at that particular hour on a weeknight, had a client base consisting of old drunks pissing away what little money they had while staring into their beers. Somehow Trad’r Sam had every young and attractive person in the Richmond inside its walls that night. People of all ethnicities mingled together sipping flamboyant drinks while laughing, flirting, and grooving to music like MGMT.

“Can I touch your coat? Where’d you get it?” a girl asked as she approached us.

“Sure,” I said, “I got it at some thrift store.”

To which she responded by hugging me and saying, “I’m Jillian and you smell like garlic fries.” Jillian told us that Trad’r Sam was her favorite bar and since she lived nearby, she was there all the time. “Everyone here is so nice,” she told me, “Most of the time one of the bartenders walks me home. And if I black out I always make it home safely.” Blacking out is an easy thing to do at Trad’r Sam. Considering how many new SF bars have drinks that start at $12, the most expensive drink at Trad’r Sam is $16 and comes in a bowl meant for multiple people.

Walking out that night and towards the next bar on our adventure, I told Ashley about Smith’s Union and all the incredible things that happen there. “That’s all well and good,” she told me, “but I bet you never met the mayor there.”

“Huh?” I asked and she showed me her phone check in at Trad’r Sam. Apparently Jillian was the mayor on Foursquare. I never new smelling like garlic fries would lead me to meet such illustrious people. If you make it to Trad’r Sam, give the mayor a hug for me.

 

Turning the tables

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER Between Mugwumpin’s 10th anniversary multi-show celebration and the University of Chichester’s second annual performance-making intensive, the summer has already been a pretty good one for ensemble-driven theater. “Fury Factory” sends it over the top, this week and next, with a festival devoted exclusively to collaborative efforts in live performance from around the Bay Area and across the country. Utilizing the full plate of performance venues in the Mission’s block-sized Project Artaud, the festival (a roughly biennial offering of local theater troupe foolsFURY) offers nine main stage shows and 16 works-in-progress by groups from New York, Chicago, Austin, Atlanta, and from California, San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Oakland, Blue Lake, and Los Angeles.

It all kicked off Sunday night at Z Below with Unfinished Business 2014 (Bay Area Edition), a free works-in-progress showing from the aforementioned performance-making intensive offered by the UK’s University of Chichester and co-presenter the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) — which has come onboard as a local partner and host for the university’s forthcoming MFA program in performance-making (another sign, and a favorable one, that border-blurring devised work is on the rise locally).

As part of its effort to spotlight ensemble work locally as well as put it in a larger geographical context, “Fury Factory”‘s Saturday program includes a midday “convening” on the relationship of Bay Area theater to the wider national and international scenes — a salon whose centerpiece is a public “long table” conversation that this writer, among other folks, was invited to help lead off; followed by a screening of Austin Forbord’s 2011 documentary, Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco, with further input from the film’s lead researcher, Dr. Zack.

And speaking of tables, leading off the main stage productions this year is a work that takes place on and around one long-ass dining room setting called The Party — a weirdly intent performance soirée by the Imaginists, the admirable Santa Rosa company making its San Francisco debut at the Joe Goode Annex this week.

The piece (which I saw in an earlier version several months back) comes across as mischievously esoteric, eschewing a clear storyline for a jumble of narrative fits and starts that inevitably reflect on the power and contingency of story itself. At the same time, there are immediate, real world concerns undergirding the work, lending a sense of purpose and apprehension to its playful surfaces. For the past six years, founders and artistic directors Brent Lindsay and Amy Pinto have grown a flexible and adventurous company deeply rooted in its largely Spanish-speaking, working-class community. The group had been putting together a Christmas show featuring Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden last October when Santa Rosa was rocked by the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy. (The boy had been walking home with a toy gun at the time.) The grief and the ensuing political hailstorm emanating from that event brought the company’s production plans to a standstill. What finally emerged was The Party.

“We all came to it as a collaborative effort,” explains Lindsay, “and then we all just kept trying to clarify what the hell we were doing.” While the shooting and the politics it brutally underscored remain instigating and enduring inspirations, the play has traveled far down its own path of investigation. Its action serves less to advance an overarching storyline or moral than to conjure a substratum of desires and compulsions, a silence that speaks of what is not spoken.

“We really yearn for story, we want that,” says Lindsay. “The chaos of life won’t hand it to us. So we look to storytellers, or theater, to hand us the clean arc or the plot, we all have a desire for that. [The Party],” he laughs, “is really not giving you that at all.”

And speaking of substrata, a family-friendly main stage Bay Area premiere comes courtesy of Under the Table, a Brooklyn-based physical comedic theater ensemble. Its festival offering, The Hunchbacks of Notre Dame, follows a troupe of hunchbacked siblings trying to turn the tables on their hard luck, in something maybe just vaguely resembling the story by Victor Hugo. Yet more subsurface family-friendly comedy comes along in The Submarine Show (an SF Fringe favorite by Oakland-based Slater Penny and former Cirque du Soleil performer Jaron Hollander).

The emphasis on works-in-progress in the festival’s “Raw Materials” series, meanwhile, develops an interest cultivated in two previous iterations of foolsFURY’s separate “Factory Parts” festival, which opens up the creative process to audiences (who see several offerings for the price of a single ticket) and, in the words of co–artistic director Debórah Eliezer, “provides a rare opportunity for new work to gain critical feedback through performance and audience engagement.” “Fury Factory” offerings in this realm include two developing pieces by San Francisco’s Deborah Slater Dance Theater, another by international clown trio the Defenestrators (of Blue Lake, stomping grounds of famed Dell’Arte school of physical theater), LA’s Estela Garcia (with a piece on the Spanish-Mexican surrealist painter and anarchist Remedios Varo), Atlanta’s Danielle Deadwyler (with a “stream of consciousness mixtape listening party” exploring representations of the black female body), and two by foolsFURY (including playwright Steve Haskell’s Baden Powell Wars, about the conflicted Boer War hero and Boy Scouts founder). *

“FURY FACTORY”

Through July 20, $16 (three performances, $39; five performances, $55)

Z Space, 450 Florida, SF

Z Below, 470 Florida, SF

Joe Goode Annex, 401 Alabama, SF

NOHspace, 2840 Mariposa, SF

www.foolsfury.org

Endless Don

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM “Introducing Hollywood’s newest hunk-a-man!” crowed the ads for 1956’s Bus Stop, in which Don Murray made his film debut as the cowpoke besotted with Marilyn Monroe’s movie-mad hick — a plum role in a big hit opposite the reigning box-office queen. The actor even got an Oscar nomination for this start at the tippy-top. But he didn’t stay there long.

What happened? With “A Special Weekend With Don Murray … America’s Least-Remembered Movie Star,” the Roxie aims to provide an answer. The event is part of a larger project set to culminate by year’s end with the premiere of Don Malcolm’s feature Unsung Hero, a documentary tribute to “The Extraordinary Times and Exemplary Life” of the aforementioned. Both doc and retrospective feature an ad line, “He went from acclaim to obscurity in the blink of an eye,” that — like many of their subject’s performances — goes a bit hyperbolically overboard with the best intentions. Murray’s descent was gradual, owing mostly to some noble but commercially shaky vehicle choices. Even with better luck, would he have remained on Hollywood’s fickle casting A-list much longer? The “14 provocative performances” the Roxie revives this weekend suggest probably not.

Arriving post-Brando, pre-New Hollywood, he now looks like a transitional figure: Capable, earnest yet effortful, too often trying to overcome his classic leading-man looks via Actor’s Studio-style “intensity” that then passed as being more “real,” but now looks far from natural. The only child of stage veterans, Murray made his Broadway debut in Tennessee Williams’ 1951 The Rose Tattoo at age 21. After several years’ relief work as a Korean War conscientious objector, he’d barely resumed his career before Bus Stop put it in hyperdrive. After that smash, he could have done anything he liked. What he chose, however, was invariably heavier and less populist: Somber, “daring” issue-oriented dramas that required him to flex acting muscles as men torn between one thing (good) and another (bad). They were respectably received, but seldom attracted the rave reviews, awards or audiences hoped for.

Like Oscar-winning Marty (1955) before it, 1957’s The Bachelor Party was a big-screen version of a TV script by Paddy Chayefsky in his pathos-de-la-Average-Joe mode, with Murray as a young office worker panicked by his wife’s unexpected pregnancy. The same year’s A Hatful of Rain had him as a morphine-addicted Korean War vet sweating out another long dark night of the soul. Amid much theatrical hand-wringing, Tony Franciosa’s concerned brother is so hammy he required the balm of his own Oscar nomination. After a couple of ambitious Westerns and prestige TV plays, Murray portrayed an American medical student who winds up fighting for 1920s IRA leader James Cagney in Shake Hands With the Devil (1959). A good movie about another unpleasant subject, it was not a success.

So it was back to the Old West (in 1960’s One Foot in Hell, a title descriptive of all his roles then) before the actor realized a pet project he also produced and co-wrote. The Hoodlum Priest (1961) had him as a Jesuit rehabilitating ex-cons in St. Louis, including pre-2001 Keir Dullea’s surly delinquent. Melodramatic yet reasonably fresh thanks to future Empire Strikes Back (1980) director Irvin Kershner’s vivid location shooting, it was nonetheless poorly received — not least by its real-life inspiration, who found this screen portrait objectionable enough to sue over.

Fortunately 1961 also brought the actor his biggest hit since Bus Stop. He was the idealistic junior Senator who ends up paying the ultimate price for dirty Beltway politics (committing suicide when blackmailed over a past gay fling) in Otto Preminger’s all-star Advise & Consent. Yet apart from 1965 Steve McQueen vehicle Baby the Rain Must Fall (from which much of his part was cut), he didn’t appear in another major release until 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes — in which his monkey-hating mayor provided a cartoonish metaphor for the actor’s passionate interest in racial equality.

Between routine B movie and television assignments, several projects reflected that personal crusade. Crudely made but interesting 1967 indie Sweet Love, Bitter had him as an alcoholic jazzbo slumming on the Skid Row “wild side” his musician idol (Dick Gregory) can’t escape. Short-lived ABC series The Outcasts paired his former slave owner with Otis Young’s ex-slave as reluctant bounty-hunting partners after the Civil War. The unreleased Call Me By My Rightful Name reunited them as two sides of an interracial triangle, vying for white chick Cathy Lee Crosby.

Murray donned the cloth again to shepherd more little urban toughs (including Erik Estrada) in 1970’s The Cross and the Switchblade, his camp-classic directorial debut. He acted as if his life depended on it — i.e., with a little too much desperation — as a self-destructive rodeo clown in Cotter (1973) and a proto-Bad Lieutenant in Deadly Hero (1975), but hardly anyone noticed. Through nearly all of this he wrangled with The Confessions of Tom Harris, another criminal-redeemed-by-Christ story that was primarily shot (very poorly) by future Bo Derek mentor John Derek in 1966, then reworked and retitled (Childish Things, Tale of the Cock) for years afterward. It, and the even more obscure Call Me, will get rare screenings at the Roxie this weekend, alongside TV episodes and clips as well as most of the above-mentioned features.

There will also be Murray himself, who’ll turn a very hale 85 at month’s end. While he stayed fairly busy with medium-profile roles mostly on TV through millennium’s turn, the latest piece in the Roxie program dates from 33 years ago, and is probably still the movie anyone under 70 would be likeliest to remember him for: The original Endless Love (1981), in which his mean rich dad is the major obstacle between Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt, eventually causing the latter to go pyro. *

“A SPECIAL WEEKEND WITH ACTOR DON MURRAY”

Fri/11-Sun/13, $6.50-$11

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St, SF

www.roxie.com

 

Lost and found

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM Gerald Santana is stoked about his new Vitamix. When we speak, he’s juicing up breakfast for himself and his kids as part of their raw-food diet. “Overall, it gives me better mental clarity, a stronger ability to focus, and all of the things that I really need to get my business together.”

His business includes movies. Lots of movies. The avid film collector is the founder of the Berkeley Underground Film Society, which has for the past two years hosted screenings showcasing gems from Santana’s stash. It’s held in a Gilman Street office space that transforms into a micro-cinema for BUFS gatherings.

Amateur film collecting is a hobby that’s almost as old as cinema itself. “Home viewers [could obtain] 16mm film prints for the first time in the 1930s,” he says. “In that era, people rented whatever was available, say, The Little Rascals from the New York public library, and then have a film party. There’d be, like, the neighborhood cinema guy. If you flash forward 90 years later, we have Craig Baldwin, [filmmaker and Other Cinema curator], who is pretty much that same guy.”

Santana and the Artists’ Television Access staple met years ago through an online forum for 16mm enthusiasts, when Santana contacted Baldwin about purchasing a film. Today, Santana considers Baldwin his mentor. “He’s passed on a lot of film history to me,” Santana says. “We meet several times a year, and he gives me a personal screening of films that are on the way out of his archive, and into mine. That’s one way I started collecting.”

Once Santana started acquiring films, he was hooked. “You start with buying one or two, and then suddenly you have 100. Then you have 1,000. And some people go much, much higher.” (Santana estimates he owns “probably 3,000.”)

He started a blog in late 2010, hoping to connect with other Bay Area collectors. “Lost and Out of Print,” the name of BUFS’ screening series, is an apt description of the works he favors. “These are obscure anomalies from eras gone by. Once I started building up my collection, I started realizing how many films are just not available. I need to preserve these, because sometimes I might have the only print in the state. Sometimes, I might have the only copy. So I went from hobbyist, to collector, to archivist, to preservationist.”

Santana, who grew up in Los Angeles, has a background in video media, but he was always drawn to celluloid — a fascination that flourished once he moved to the Bay Area. “When I came up here, I found Super 8 films at thrift stores, and I wanted to try to project them. And then I wanted to know everything about film history, film stocks, projectors, and all these other things that make movies go.”

The film club seemed a logical progression once his collection was ready for an audience. “When I started BUFS” — he pronounces it buffs, as in film buffs — “it was just me, seeing if anyone else was interested. And I had to wait until I had titles that were difficult to find, or that I thought were important, and that seemed to work if you grouped them together. That’s when I learned that programming is an art,” he recalls.

His collection includes silent films, home movies, B movies, made-for-TV movies, educational and industrial films, cartoons, and classic Hollywood films that aren’t available on DVD. There are also foreign films that never made it into US theaters — like 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan, which he’s showing in 16mm July 18 — in their original, uncut forms. (Other BUFS screenings this month are July 19 archival shorts program “Cartoon Carnival #5: Kids and Pets,” and a July 20 showing of Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 The Kid.)

One bump in the BUFS road: Earlier this year, a licensing agency contacted him after he screened some Woody Allen movies without first obtaining the rights to do so. Not wanting to have to pay any high fees — or, you know, break any laws — Santana will be steering his future programming toward works in the public domain.

“I had to backpedal a little bit. I didn’t think anyone even cared,” he admits. He put BUFS on hiatus in April to regroup. “I had to reduce the number of screenings I did, down to one weekend of programming a month. But that way I can just jam-pack that weekend with as much material as possible. And there’s a lot of great stuff coming up — it’s the best stuff I have. I don’t want to screen mainstream movies anymore.”

BUFS fans will also soon be able to experience Santana’s other passion: healthy, homemade food. “I’m going to offer incredible raw food, organic concessions, and cottage foods,” he says; it’s a small business venture he hopes to expand beyond his concession stand. “When we tested it, people responded very positively. During the [BUFS hiatus], I worked on my recipes, I got the Vitamix, and I’m ready to go. I’m excited for the July screenings.” *

“LOST AND OUT OF PRINT”

July 18-20, 7:30pm, donations accepted

Tannery

708 Gilman, Berk

lostandoutofprintfilms.blogspot.com

New classics

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arts@sfbg.com

DANCE It took Los Angeles-born Melody Takata, founder and artistic director of Japantown’s GenRyu Arts, four years to convince her parents to let her study dance. It was her older sister’s “fault” — she had studied ballet for a while but didn’t like it and stopped. “So my parents didn’t want to go through that experience again,” Takata remembered. But Takata was living in a Japanese American community that embraced traditional arts, and ballet wasn’t what she had in mind.

When she finally got her way, she went all out, starting at eight with Odori (Japanese dance), including Bon Odori, a popular circular community dance integral to the Odon festival that honors the ancestors. At 10, she began studying Nihon Buyo (Japanese classical dance) and did so for a decade. During that time, she acquired a repertoire of some two dozen solos drawn from Kabuki. “Some of them, I perform excerpts only; they are too long for an audience to sit through,” she observed. They are also expensive to perform because they have to be licensed, and the elaborate costumes (up to $10,000 a piece) are costly, even on loan. Yet recently, Takata reprised her studies with her 93-year-old Nihon Buyo teacher, wanting to deepen her insight into this noble art.

So what attracted her to this rigorous and highly stylized form that includes — besides dancing from within heavy costumes — an intricate gestural vocabulary of fans, swords, scarves, umbrellas, and even canes? “I just liked becoming all these different characters,” she smiled.

Adding to her dance studies, at 13 she started on the shamisen (“three-stringed”) instrument; at 15 she joined the Taiko group Los Angeles Matsuri. “Dance is my first love, and music is part of that,” she explained. Taiko sharpens rhythmic acuity, but for Takata, it’s also part of a communal experience.

She creates multifaceted works in which she wants “to explore our story” through Taiko, spoken word, contemporary movement, music, traditional Japanese dance, and video. Regular collaborators include Francis Wong and Asian Improv aRts, as well as actor-comedian Todd Nakagawa and Chicago filmmaker, bassist, shamisen expert, and Taiko drummer Tatsuo Aoki.

Though steeped in tradition, Takata doesn’t want these practices to become enshrined as museum pieces. In 2012, as part of Chicago’s annual Taiko Legacy festival, Takata — dressed in a black evening gown and elbow-length white gloves — performed her solo Yodan, which melded dance and Taiko. Her works may examine issues particular to her community, but they also resonate with broader audiences. In 2010, Tsuki no Usagi (Rabbit in the Moon) was created to mark the centennial of the Angel Island Immigration Center, where 60,000 Japanese passed through 1910-1940. The work is rooted in a popular myth in which a rabbit was willing to sacrifice its life for others. As a reward it was lifted to the moon where, Takata said, “it can be seen on either side of the ocean.”

The themes of 2011’s Fox and Jewel — which added jazz, animation, and poetry into the dance-and-Taiko mix — no doubt resonated with Bay Area audiences. Fox is a magical shape-shifting being who comes to the aid of humble folks; in this piece, it’s a mochi-shop owner who takes on real estate speculators who continue to threaten the existence of the local Japantown.

Takata’s newest work, Shadow to Shadow, premieres Sat/12 as part of this year’s Japan Week. The hourlong piece draws inspiration from Junichiro Tanizaki’s poetic In Praise of Shadows, in which he wistfully looks at Japan’s increasing Westernization and the essential differences between two cultures that are still learning to coexist.

 

BE THERE

Physically, Enrico Labayen may be small, but in importance, he stands tall. Faced with multiple physical challenges and exorbitant medical bills, the choreographer and artistic director of Labayen Dance/SF is in the fight of his life. So the dance community is stepping up with “Encore for Enrico,” a benefit performance to help one of its own. Though he was an early member of Lines Ballet and a longtime ballet teacher, Labayen may best be known as a prolific and wide-ranging choreographer for his own company. But he also is a generous supporter for those who come here from other places, as he did. Recent arrivals like Victor Talledos and Daiane Lopes da Silva found an early home in his company. Health permitting, Labayen will perform a new solo, Will You Still Be There? *

SHADOW TO SHADOW

Sat/12, 2 and 7:30pm, free (donations accepted; sign up for free tickets at brownpapertickets.com/event/704453)

Tateuchi Hall

1830 Sutter, SF

www.genryuarts.org

“ENCORE FOR ENRICO”

Sat/12, 7:30pm, $25-$30

Dance Mission Theater

3316 24th St, SF

http://labayendancecompany.com

Fighting right

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joe@sfbg.com

CULTURE The veteran Muay Thai master placed the braided circlet, the Mong Kong, on the head of his young pupil. The two stood together in the grass at the Contra Costa Fairgrounds in Antioch, in the qualifying round for the Battle of the Pacific, a day of martial arts battles featuring fighters both amateur and experienced.

May 17 was a bright, sunny day to enjoy a kick to the head; families, couples, and loved ones gathered on the grass around the red, white, and blue ring to cheer at flying legs and fists. Earlier in the night, two six-year-olds entered the ring for a round of Muay Thai in miniature headgear and leg shields. They smiled as they finished their adorable fight.

Others had more serious intentions. As Muay Thai struggles to find a foothold in the United States as a spectator martial art, every match matters. The Inner Sunset’s World Team USA already has one star in Ky Hollenbeck, who fought a nationally televised fight at Madison Square Garden last year.

But World Team’s newest up-and-comer is a San Francisco underdog at the beginning of his career, and that night he had much to prove.

The sun lowered at the fairgrounds, bringing a cool shade. Hands still outstretched, Kru Ajarn Sam Phimsoutham (Kru Sam for short) bowed his head with 22-year-old Robby Squyres, Jr., as both said a silent prayer before his championship fight.

The moment of prayer had a purpose. Squyres calls this his “switch.” Before a match, he closes his eyes and remembers his most feared memory, bringing himself to a point of aggression which he immediately must conquer to gain enough mental control to fight.

mongkong

Kru Sam, before placing the Mong Kong on Robby Squyres Jr.’s head. Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Four years ago, Squyres was not a walking weapon. Four years ago, he had a brush with death.

Squyres first walked off the path while attending Raoul Wallenberg High School. The San Francisco native wasn’t necessarily a proud student.

“I was trying, but I was barely skimming by,” he said, alluding to unsavory extracurricular activities. “That life all caught up to me.”

One summer night, the then-teenager was walking up Powell Street with his friends when they came across a group of nine guys who “had beef” with two of Squyres’ friends. The newcomers were spoiling for a fight.

Squyres thinks he was the primary target because he was the biggest; if the attackers’ philosophy was “take out the biggest guy first,” it’s easy to see why it would be him. He was quickly knocked to the concrete with a sucker punch.

As soon as his head hit pavement, they pounced. Boots hammered his head and body as the savage teenagers ensured he couldn’t get up. When a friend tried to jump in to help, he was snared in the melee too. By the end, Squyres’ face was bloodied and he suffered multiple injuries, including a concussion.

A security guard found him laid out on the sidewalk and pulled him to a nearby store. Through hazy memories, Squyres remembers a friend holding his hand during the ambulance ride to the hospital. His hospital release papers came with advice for treating head injuries, but those were the least of his troubles.

“It went downhill from there,” Squyres remembered. He found he had trouble coping with the fear, which plagued his waking moments as well as his sleeping ones. He quit school and spent nights looking over his shoulder. Eventually he sought peace of mind.

“I asked this gentleman in the San Francisco Police Department, a good friend, for a gun. I was stupid,” he said. “My friend said ‘No. I’m going to help you defend yourself.’ He called his friend in the Philippines. He said ‘I don’t know your story that well, but I’m going to give you an opportunity.'”

That opportunity was World Team USA, where he works in exchange for lessons — scrubbing mats, leading workouts, and opening up the school in the morning. He likens finding Muay Thai to a spiritual awakening.

Though many Muay Thai schools advertise danger and action, World Team USA’s logo is surrounded by three words: courage, honor, and respect. Squyres even teaches anti-bullying classes at Wallenberg, hoping to reach teenagers like those who attacked him.

“My school helped me become a better man and walk my faith,” Squyres, a born-again Christian, said. “To show what my life was, and what it is.”

What it is now is laser-focused passion.

In the month leading up to his fight he lost nearly 40 pounds, dropping from the super heavyweight category to the heavyweight category. The week before the match Kru Sam allowed him to eat nothing but one avocado per day.

“Every day I dreamed of Jamba Juice mixed with pizza,” he said. “It was probably worse than a pregnant woman’s cravings.”

As the sun faded at the fairgrounds, Kru Sam told us the fight “is a testing ground for him, to see his potential for the future. But no matter the outcome, I’ll be proud of him.”

All of this flashed in Squyres’ mind before his match. His trigger struck: the brush with death bringing his rage, the peace he learned from Kru Sam bringing him calm.

The announcer called Squyres to the ring in a booming baritone. His opponent, Steven Grigsby of Stockton, couldn’t have been more physically different. Squyres’ body is broad and naturally thick, while Grigsby is hard and lean, with wiry muscle. Torches surrounded the ring, and the flames whipped in the wind. Squyre’s mom, Winki, sat in the crowd, biting on her knuckles.

“Ding!” The bell sounded, and the two circled.

Grigsby scored the first shot, a foot connecting with Squyres’ side. The heavy-set San Franciscan returned with a flurry of fists to Grigsby’s head, snapping him back. The two met legs in mid-section kicks.

The match ended without a decisive lead, but that soon would change.

Muay Thai is known as the “art of eight limbs.” The following rounds made that more than clear. Grigsby’s fists flurried at Squyres, with elbows and legs soon twisted around each. Squyres took it again and again, falling back.

“SWEEP, BOBBY, SWEEP!” Kru Sam shouted from the side. Something snapped in Squyres. As Grigsby swooped in for the attack, he flipped his body around in a twist, the momentum swinging his fist like a sledgehammer hard into the side of Grigsby’s head.

The crowd cheered.

When the match was over, Squyres was declared the winner by unanimous decision. Tears streaked his face as he walked from the ring to the fellow fighters from his dojo, to Kru Sam, and to his mother.

“I’m so thankful,” he said. Through the tears he unwrapped the bandages from his fists. 

Robby Squyres, Jr.’s next fight is tentatively July 19 at the Battle of the Pacific in San Jose; check out www.ikfkickboxing.com for details.

hit

Bobby Squyres, Jr., connects a first with Steven Grigsby of Stockton at the Battle of the Pacific, at the Contra Costa Fairgrounds. Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez.

San Francisco to provide right to counsel for tenants facing eviction

34

OPINION San Francisco is the second most unequal city in the nation. Working and middle-income people and families are being forced to flee the city they love. Between 2010 and 2013, Ellis Act evictions alone increased by 170 percent.

In 2013, a total of 3,662 San Franciscans were served with eviction notices. Over 1,000 of these tenants went to court without lawyers. According to court statistics, 90 percent of landlords hire attorneys, while only 10 percent of tenants have a lawyer. This inequity has made it more difficult for tenants to adequately assert their rights.

To level the playing field, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee just designated $1 million to fund 10 nonprofit housing attorneys to perform full scope legal services for any tenant facing eviction in San Francisco. We teamed up with tenant rights organizers and attorneys to fight for this budget allocation in order to address San Francisco’s affordability crisis. This funding will ensure that all San Franciscans facing eviction will receive legal assistance if they need it.

Crucial to ensuring economic diversity in this city is protecting our rent-controlled housing stock. Every time a tenant is evicted from his or her apartment, we lose another unit of price-controlled housing that is safe from the current astronomical market rental and sale prices. The board has passed local legislation that helps tenants remain in the city after an eviction, including Sup. Campos’ legislation increasing relocation assistance amounts after an Ellis Act eviction.

However, only the state Legislature has the power to change the law in a manner that would make a large impact on the frequency of evictions. Sadly, last week, Sen. Mark Leno’s bill that would have curbed Ellis Act evictions died in the Assembly Housing Committee. Leno said he will not further pursue the bill this year. Therefore, we must continue to act locally to deal with our housing crisis.

Legal representation for tenants is a crucial part of the fight against displacement. Several academic studies have shown that tenants are five to 10 times more likely to stay in their homes after receiving an eviction notice if they are represented by an attorney throughout the eviction process. Furthermore, having an attorney protects the tenants against abusive practices by landlords.

Tenant advocates report that illegal harassment by landlords is on the rise in an effort to force out tenants without having to resort to the formal eviction process. It is common practice for landlords to attempt to “buy out” tenants by offering a monetary sum to vacate a unit outside of the legal process. Vulnerable tenants, including immigrants and tenants who live in Section 8 housing, are often forced out of their units because they do not understand or assert their rights. Even if the action results in the tenants leaving, an attorney can help tenants avoid having an eviction on their record, which makes it much more difficult for the tenants to rent again.

We are fortunate to have 14 excellent nonprofit organizations in San Francisco that provide no- or low-cost legal services to tenants. However, these organizations have been woefully underfunded and do not have sufficient staff to address this housing crisis. The budget allocation of $1 million to fund 10 additional tenant attorneys will have a profound impact on San Francisco’s housing crisis. It will also make San Francisco one of the first cities in the country to provide a right to legal assistance to tenants facing eviction. Just as the Constitution allows an attorney for a person accused of a crime, a person threatened with the loss of his or her home should have legal assistance. San Francisco can and should lead the way when it comes to providing legal assistance to those tenants who need it.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi and Supervisor David Campos are elected officials in San Francisco.

Taxing speculators

18

steve@sfbg.com

Political tensions over evictions, displacement, real estate speculation, and rapidly rising housing costs in San Francisco are likely to heat up through the summer and autumn as a trio of November ballot measures are debated and combated by what’s expected to be a flood of campaign cash from developers and other real estate interests.

Topping the list is a tax measure to discourage the flipping of properties by real estate speculators. Known generally as the anti-speculation tax — something then-Sup. Harvey Milk was working on at the time of his assassination in 1978 — it was the leading goal to come out of a citywide series of tenant conventions at the beginning of this year (see “Staying power,” 2/11/14).

“To be in a position to pass the last thing Harvey Milk worked on is a profound opportunity,” AIDS Housing Alliance head Brian Basinger told us, arguing the measure is more important now then ever.

The measure has been placed on the ballot by Sups. John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar and is scheduled for a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee on July 10 at 2pm.

“It’s an absolutely key issue for San Francisco right now. Passing this measure will create a seismic shift in what we’re seeing with evictions and displacement in the city,” Sara Shortt, director of the Housing Rights Committee, told the Guardian.

The measure creates a supplemental surcharge on top of the city’s existing real estate transfer tax, a progressive rate ranging from a 24 percent tax on the sale of a property within one year of its purchase to 14 percent if sold between four and five years later.

In addition to levying the tax, the measure would also give the Board of Supervisors the power to waive that tax “subject to certain affordability-based restrictions on the occupancy of the real property,” giving the city leverage to expand and preserve deed-restricted affordable housing.

Meanwhile, there’s been a flurry of backroom negotiations surrounding the City Housing Balance Requirement measure sponsored by Sup. Jane Kim, which would require market rate housing projects to get a conditional use permit and be subjected to greater scrutiny when affordable housing falls below 30 percent of total housing construction (with a number exemptions, including projects with fewer than 24 units).

That measure is scheduled for a hearing by the Rules Committee on July 24 and, as an amendment to the City Charter, it needs six votes by the Board of Supervisors to make the ballot (the anti-speculation tax is an initiative that requires only the four supervisorial signatures that it now has).

Mayor Ed Lee and his allies in the development community responded to Kim’s measure by quickly cobbling together a rival initiative, Build Housing Now, which restates existing housing goals Lee announced during his State of the City speech in January and includes a poison pill that would invalidate Kim’s housing balance measure.

Together, the measures will draw key battle lines in what has become the defining political question in San Francisco these days: Who gets to live here?

 

COMBATING SPECULATORS

In February, Mayor Lee and his allies in the tech world, most notably venture capitalist Ron Conway, finally joined housing and other progressive activists in decrying the role that real estate speculators have played in the city’s current eviction and displacement crisis.

“We have some of the best tenant protections in the country, but unchecked real estate speculation threatens too many of our residents,” Lee said in a Feb. 24 press release announcing his support for Sen. Mark Leno’s Ellis Act reform measure SB 1439. “These speculators are turning a quick profit at the expense of long time tenants and do nothing to add needed housing in our City.”

The legislation, which would have prevented property owners from evicting tenants using the Ellis Act for at least five years, failed in the Legislature last month. So will Lee honor his own rhetoric and support the anti-speculation tax? His Communications Director Christine Falvey said Lee hasn’t yet taken a position on the measure, but “the mayor remains very concerned about real estate speculators.”

Peter Cohen of the Council of Community Housing Organization said Lee and his allies should support the measure: “It seems so clearly aligned with the same intent and some of the same mechanics as Ellis Act reform, which had the whole city family behind it.”

“I think it would be very consistent with their position on Ellis Act reform to support the anti-speculation tax,” Shortt told us. “If the mayor and tech companies went to bat for the anti-speculation tax, and not against it, that would show they have real concern about displacement and aren’t just giving it lip service.”

Conway’s pro-tech group sf.citi didn’t returned Guardian calls on the issue, nor did San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, but their allies in the real estate industry strongly oppose it.

“As Realtors, our goals are to increase housing availability and improve housing affordability,” San Francisco Association of Realtors CEO Walk Baczkowski told the Guardian. “We don’t believe the proposal from Sup. Mar, which is essentially a tax on housing, will accomplish either of those goals.”

But supporters of the measure say real estate speculation only serves to drive up housing costs.

“We have been successful at bringing people around on the issue of real estate speculation,” Basinger told us. “But of course, there will be financed opposition. People will invest their money to protect their interests.”

“We know it’s going to be a fight and we’ll have to put in a lot of resources,” Shortt said, adding that it’s a fight that tenant activist want to have. “Part of what fuels all of this [displacement] is the rampant real estate speculation. We can’t put profits above people.”

 

MAYOR’S MEASURE

Falvey denies that Lee’s proposal is designed simply to negate Kim’s measure: “Build Housing Now specifically asks the voters to adopt as official city policy the Mayor’s Housing Plan to create 30,000 new homes by 2020 — the majority within reach of low, moderate, and middle income residents. This is not a reaction, but a proactive measure that lets voters weigh in on one of the mayor’s most important policy priorities.”

Yet the most concrete thing it would do is sabotage the housing balance measure, an intention it states in its opening words: “Ordinance amending the Planning Code to prohibit additional land use requirements such as conditional use authorizations, variances or other requirements on housing projects…based on a cumulative housing balance ratio or other similar criteria related to achieving a certain ration of affordability.”

Beyond that, it would have voters validate Lee’s housing goal and “urge the Mayor to develop by December 31, 2014 a Housing Action Plan to realize this goal.” The measure is filled with that sort of vague and unenforceable language, most of it designed to coax voters into thinking it does more than it would actually do. For example, it expands Lee’s stated goal of 30 percent of that new housing being affordable by setting a goal of “over 50 percent within reach of low and middle income households.”

But unlike most city housing policies that use the affordable housing threshold of those earning 120 percent of area median income (AMI) and below, Lee’s measure eschews that definition, allowing him and his developer allies to later define “middle income households” however they choose. Falvey told us “he means the households in the 50-150 percent of AMI range.”

The measure would also study the central premise of Mayor Lee’s housing policy, the idea that building more market rate housing would bring down the overall price of housing for everyone, a trickle-down economic argument refuted by many affordable housing advocates who say the San Francisco housing market just doesn’t work that way because of insatiable and inelastic demand.

“Within 60 days of the effective date of this measure, the Planning Department is directed and authorized to undertake an economic nexus analysis to analyze the impact of luxury development on the demand for middle income housing in the City, and explore fees or other revenue sources that could help mitigate this impact,” the measure states.

Shortt thinks the mayor’s measure is deceptive: “It’s clever because for those not in the know, it looks like a different way to solve the problem.” But she said the housing balance measure works well with the anti-speculation tax because “one way to keep that balance is to make sure we don’t lose existing rental stock.”

And advocates say the anti-speculation tax is the best tool out there for preserving the rental housing relied on by nearly two-thirds of city residents.

“It’s the best measure we have going now,” Basinger said of the anti-displacement tax. “Mayor Ed Lee and his tech supporters were unable to rally enough support at the state level to reform the Ellis Act, so this is it, folks.”

Garbage game

8

San Francisco elected officials frequently celebrate the ambitious citywide goal of sending zero waste to the landfill by 2020, an environmental feat widely viewed as attainable since the current waste diversion rate stands at a stellar 80 percent.

Official city numbers — based on reporting by Recology, a company that has a monopoly on trash collection and curbside recycling in San Francisco — demonstrate that only 20 percent of all city dwellers’ trash ends up in a landfill, that unenlightened dead end for matter discarded from our lives, never to be reprocessed.

Yet a lawsuit against Recology exposed some inconsistencies in the company’s record keeping. It also shed light on how some material counted as “diverted” is routinely sent to a landfill anyway, a practice that muddies the concept of the city’s Zero Waste program but is nevertheless legal under state law.

On June 17, a San Francisco jury determined that Recology misrepresented the amount of waste diverted from the landfill in 2008, enabling it to collect an incentive payment of $1.36 million for meeting the goal. The verdict compels Recology to pay the money back to the city, since it was obtained after submitting a false claim.

The outcome of this lawsuit — brought by a former manager of the Tunnel Road recycling Buy Back facility, who also claims he was retaliated against for trying to expose fraud — highlights some larger questions. Was this inaccuracy unique to 2008, or are Recology’s numbers always a little fuzzy? Are there adequate safeguards in place to prevent the company from fudging the numbers, particularly when both company and city officials have an incentive to exaggerate the diversion rate? And if what’s on paper doesn’t quite square with reality, is San Francisco really keeping as much garbage out of the landfill as the city’s Department of the Environment says it is?

Attorney David Anton, who represented the former Recology employee, Brian McVeigh, said he found it odd that San Francisco officials didn’t show much interest in collaborating to recover the bonus money, even though millions of dollars was potentially at stake. Since damages are trebled under the False Claims Act, cited in the lawsuit, Recology could ultimately be made to fork over the incentive payment three times over.

“The city’s representative in the Department of the Environment actually testified that he hoped this lawsuit would be unsuccessful,” Anton recounted. He guessed that officials remained on the sidelines because in San Francisco’s political power centers, “relationships with Recology are so close and tight. It was a very strange thing,” he went on, “to be pursuing this lawsuit, trying to get money to the city, and the city’s representatives are saying, ‘we don’t want it.'”

Recology has filed post-trial motions in a bid to have the penalty reduced, “asking the court to decide whether there was any evidence at trial that there were public funds in the Diversion Incentive Account, and if so, how much,” explained Recology spokesperson Eric Potashner. “We expect a ruling this summer.”

Department of the Environment spokesperson Guillermo Rodriguez told the Guardian that Robert Haley, manager of the department’s Zero Waste team, was unavailable for comment before press time. With regard to the lawsuit, Rodriguez noted, “The city has been following the trial closely and is awaiting the judge’s ruling on post-trial motions before determining any reaction.”

 

FALSE CLAIMS

The False Claims Act is designed to recover damages to government when false statements are made to obtain money or avoid making payments. It has a provision allowing whistleblowers, such as McVeigh, to lead the charge on seeking civil enforcement action. The whistleblower may be eligible to receive a share of recovery.

Under the bonus incentive program, Recology sets aside extra cash — collected from garbage customers’ payments — in a segregated account. But it cannot withdraw funds from that account unless it hits the city’s established waste-reduction targets. Recology submitted paperwork to the city in 2008 showing that it met the diversion goals, so it was allowed to withdraw the money.

But the lawsuit demonstrated that Recology actually fell short of those goals — and apparently, nobody in city government ever followed up to check whether the reporting was accurate.

A key reason the jury ruled against Recology on this particular claim, according to Anton, was that it was found to have misclassified some construction and demolition waste as “diverted” material. Under state law, when ground-up construction debris is used to cover the top of a landfill — to prevent pests, fires, and odors, for example — it’s counted as “alternative daily cover.” Trash in this category winds up in a landfill, just like any other trash. But state law allows garbage companies to count it as “diverted,” just as if it were an aluminum can tossed into the blue bin.

The lawsuit claimed that Recology tried to count a great many tons of construction and demolition waste as “alternative daily cover” when in reality, it should have been counted as just plain trash.

Solano County records show that a landfill inspector had flagged an “area of concern” after discovering solid waste mixed in with construction debris Recology shipped to a landfill for use as that top layer. “It looks like they didn’t do a good enough job of cleaning out that material,” CalRecycle spokesperson Mark Oldfield noted as he pulled up the report from 2008 at the Guardian’s request.

Had the material gone to the landfill as just plain garbage, instead of “alternative daily cover,” Recology would have had to count it as waste sent to the landfill, instead of waste diverted from the landfill. That would have meant falling short of the waste diversion goal, hence losing out on the $1.36 million.

“Recology kept this completely secret from San Francisco,” according to Anton.

Potashner said it was actually a bit more complicated — the company challenged the inspector’s findings, he said. “The local enforcement agency in Solano County had questions about that material,” but Recology never received a cease-and-desist order, he added. “When we had talked to jurors after the fact, that was the issue that seemed to sway them. In 2008 we didn’t make that bonus by that much. They thought we shouldn’t have been able to count that as diversion because of this issue.”

Either way, the incident exposes a strange reality: When San Francisco city officials trumpet the citywide success of “diverting” 80 percent of all waste from the landfill, some portion of that 80 percent actually winds up in a landfill anyhow. Whether the construction debris counted as “alternative daily cover” has trash mixed into it or not, it’s still destined to wind up in a big, environmentally unfriendly trash heap.

 

CONCRETE NUMBERS

The lawsuit highlighted a few other red flags, too, raising more questions about the city’s true diversion numbers. For instance, the suit claimed that Recology was involved in a system of digging up concrete from its own parking lots, to be handed over to concrete recyclers as “diverted” waste.

“Recology facilities have large areas of concrete pads,” the complaint noted. “Management of Recology … directed Recology work crews in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 to cut out sections of concrete pads and deliver the removed concrete to concrete recyclers, to falsely inflate the diversion incentive reported to SF.”

The waste management company then “solicited cement companies to deliver and dispose of excess and rejected concrete loads to Recology, to fill in the removed concrete pad sections,” according to the complaint. Those shipments were brought in on trucks that weren’t weighed at entry, and then placed in the concrete pads. Management then had work crews remove the same concrete that had been delivered, shipped it to the concrete recyclers, and reported it “as diverted from being disposed in a landfill,” the complaint noted.

This account was corroborated by a Guardian source unrelated the lawsuit, but nonetheless familiar with the inner workings of the company. “They would take the concrete across the road — right across the street,” this person confirmed.

Asked to provide an explanation for this, Recology’s Potashner said, “it is clear, and wasn’t even challenged by the plaintiff at trial, that recycled concrete is diverted, whether it had been from Recology’s lots or anywhere else.”

McVeigh’s case stemmed from his realization, while working as a manager at Recology’s Tunnel Road recycling buyback facility, that employees there were routinely marking up the weights of recyclable materials brought in, in order to pay out certain customers more than they were actually owed. The suit suggests that these routinely inflated California redemption value (CRV) tags contributed to Recology missing its waste-diversion targets, but the jury ultimately sided against the plaintiff on this question since it amounted to a financial loss for Recology, not the city.

The complaint included tag numbers and logs of scale weights that didn’t match up, showing a pattern of fraudulent dealings at the buyback center. In November 2007, for example, “ticket reports showed that 23.4 tons of aluminum CRV cans were purchased at the Bayshore Buyback Center, yet only 16.56 tons existed and were shipped.”

Asked about these claims, Potashner acknowledged that there may have been some “knuckleheads” involved in messing with the scales at the buyback center, but asserted that such activity had since been addressed. He added, “If there were any staffing issues around theft, that was actually affecting Recology’s books,” not the public.

Oldfield, the CalRecycle spokesperson, noted that a long list of paperwork violations had been recorded in 2010, but he said the company appeared to have been in compliance since then — based on logs from inspectors’ visits once a year.

Another problem uncovered in the trial, Anton said, had to do with Recology misrepresenting tons of garbage from out of county, so that it would be counted outside the parameters of the waste diversion program. Potashner said that had been corrected, adding, “the out-of-county waste is really a small volume.”

But he confirmed that yet another practice brought to light in this lawsuit is ongoing, revealing a surprising end for some of the stuff that gets tossed into the green compost bins.

 

MANY SHADES OF GREEN

According to every colorful flier sent out by Recology, the stuff that goes into the green bin gets composted. The green bin is for compost. The blue bin is for recycling. The black bin is for trash that goes to the landfill. This is the fundamental basis of Recology’s waste collection operation and, taking the company and the Department of the Environment at face value, one would assume that 80 percent of all waste was being processed through the blue and green waste streams.

Instead, some of what gets tossed into green bins makes its way to a landfill.

The green-bin waste is shipped to a Recology facility where it’s turned into compost, a process that involves sifting through giant screens. But some of what gets processed, known as “overs” because it isn’t fine enough to drop through the screens, is routinely transferred to a nearby landfill, where it’s spread atop the trash pile. Once again, this six-inch topper of neutralizing material is known as “alternative daily cover.”

Although Recology could convert 100 percent of its green-bin waste into soil-nourishing compost, the practice of using partially processed green-bin waste for “alternative daily cover” is cheap — and it’s perfectly legal under California law. Roughly 10 percent of what gets tossed into the compost bins is used in this way, Recology confirmed.

“There are some people who will say using green waste isn’t really diversion,” acknowledged Jeff Danzinger, a spokesperson with CalRecycle, which oversees recycling programs in California counties. “There’s some people who say we should stop that practice because that just incentivizes a landfill solution for green waste. But if somebody’s saying green waste shouldn’t go into a landfill and get counted as diversion, it’s an opinion.”

Nor is it something the city objects to. The Department of the Environment is aware of this practice, Recology’s Potashner told the Bay Guardian. Yet the city agency has never raised formal concerns about it, despite a mandate under its composting program agreement that the company use green-bin waste for the highest and best possible use.

But there’s no incentive for anyone in city government to complain: Recology may legally count this discarded material as “diverted” in official reporting, thus edging it closer to an annual bonus payment. San Francisco, meanwhile, may count it as part of the 80 percent that was successfully diverted — thus edging it closer to the ambitious Zero Waste program goal.

“It’s great PR to say you’re the highest recycling,” noted the person who was familiar with the company, but wasn’t part of the lawsuit. “It’s almost a movement more than reality. But who’s really watching for the public on these numbers? There’s no watchdog. It’s all about bragging rights.”

 

Recology is “a political business”

Recology’s political connections in San Francisco run deep. Years ago, when former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown served as speaker of the California Assembly, he also worked as a lawyer for Recology, which was then known as Norcal Waste Systems.

Campaign finance archives show that when Brown ran for mayor in 1995, he received multiple campaign contributions from Norcal employees in what appeared to be a coordinated fashion.

Brown continues to be influential in the city’s political landscape due to his close relationship with Mayor Ed Lee, who himself came under scrutiny in his capacity as head of the Department of Public Works in 1999 when he was accused of granting Norcal a major rate increase as a reward for political donations to Brown.

In 2010, when Recology submitted a bid for a lucrative waste-disposal contract proposing to haul waste to its Yuba County landfill, Lee reviewed its proposal in his then-capacity as city administrator. As the Guardian reported (see “Trash talk,” 3/30/10), Lee recommended far higher scores for Recology than his counterparts on the contract review team, a key to the company winning the landfill contract over competitor Waste Management Inc. Before Lee declared his mayoral candidacy in 2011, news reports indicated that powerful Chinatown consultant Rose Pak had worked in tandem with Recology executives on a campaign effort, “Run Ed Run,” organized to urge Lee to launch a mayoral bid. Company employees had also been instructed to help gather signatures to petition Lee to run for mayor, news reports indicated, but Pak publicly denied her role coordinating this effort. David Anton, the attorney for Brian McVeigh, emphasized that Recology’s close ties to powerful city officials might have something to do with the city’s lack of interest in targeting the company for the improperly received incentive payments. Yet Recology spokesperson Eric Potashner called this assertion “completely untrue. Recology meets with the various city departments and regulators weekly. We are constantly improving our controls and practices for handling the city’s ever-changing waste stream; often at the behest of city regulators.” Recology and its predecessor companies have maintained the exclusive right to collect commercial and residential refuse in San Francisco since 1932, and rates are routinely raised for city garbage customers, based on the company’s own reporting that its costs are increasing. “I can tell you today, there will be another significant increase on July 21, 2016” — five years after the last rate increase — “because they have a monopoly,” said neighborhood activist and District 10 supervisorial candidate Tony Kelly, who previously worked on a ballot measure that sought to have the city’s refuse collection contract go out for a competitive bid. “When you have a closed system … then it’s entirely a black box. It’ll all be self-reported. It’s too powerful of an incentive.” An industry insider familiar with Recology echoed this point, adding that cozy relationships with local officials make it easier for the self-reporting to escape scrutiny. “It’s a political business,” this person said. “In San Francisco, they’re really a political organization.” Since the rate is guaranteed, this person added, the mentality is that there’s plenty of wiggle room for financial losses and expenditures such as generous political contributions. “If you’re losing any money, you just ask for it back when you do your next rate increase. The city doesn’t have any objection. The ratepayers just get stuck with it.” (Rebecca Bowe)

Stop Big Tech sprawl

0

EDITORIAL The footprint of Big Tech companies and their employees continues to spread through San Francisco, gobbling up the vast majority of commercial office space this year, driving up rents, and creating pressure to build ever more office towers. With Wall Street and Silicon Valley investors focusing so much wealth on this one economic sector, in this one once-dynamic city, this trend is threatening to squeeze out every other civic interest and sector in its path.

For example, city officials have long-struggled with how to preserve light industrial spaces in the city, known as Production Distribution and Repair (PDR) in the parlance of planners, who recognize the importance of such jobs and services to a city, even though they have a hard time competing with other economic sectors on rent. Indeed, despite efforts to protect it, San Francisco now has one of the lowest proportions of PDR uses of any big city in the US, a worrying sign for future economic prosperity.

Nonetheless, the new out-of-town investor-owners of the PDR-zoned San Francisco Design Center are trying to improperly use a loophole to evict most of its tenants to let Pinterest take over most of the building (which it bought at a bargain because of the zoning). Only the political will of politicians — who crave the campaign cash of capitalists — stands in the way of perversions like this. And without that will, which is severely lacking in the city right now, the economically strong will roll over everyone.

Let’s call it: Big Tech sprawl. Like urban sprawl — in which developers covered the cheapest land with housing and shopping malls, then let the public sector subsidize the roads and other infrastructure to serve it and passed the environmental costs on to future generations — the Big Tech firms favored by the Mayor’s Office will continue to expand ever outward if left unchecked.

Even conservative City Economist Ted Egan has warned against the city putting too many eggs in the basket of an industry known for its volatility and boom-bust cycles, repeatedly calling for the city to diversify its economy. As in nature, healthy ecosystems are marked by their diversity, while monocultures can be quickly destroyed by shocks to the system. Just like housing developers will build nothing but luxury condos if we let them — capital always seeks to maximize its returns, the most basic law of economics — Big Tech will continue to sprawl outward, greasing its path with political contributions, if San Franciscans don’t fight to maintain this great city’s diversity.

Recycle-pocalypse

16

Joe@sfbg.com

Red explosions and yellow starbursts lit the sky, accompanied by the requisite oohs and aahs.

San Franciscans sat by the beach at Aquatic Park celebrating our nation’s independence, eyes fixed upwards. But all around them, a team of independent scavengers, mostly ignored, methodically combed the wharf, plucking cans and bottles from the ground and overflowing trash bins.

Often derided as thieves or parasites, these workers are cogs in a grand machine instituted by California’s Bottle Bill in 1986, forming a recycling redemption economy meant to spur environmentalism with market principles.

The concept is simple. Taxpayers pay an extra five cents when they buy a can or bottle, and may redeem that nickel by trading the used can or bottle in at a recycling center. Thus, more recycling is spurred.

But now a wave of recycling center evictions is causing San Francisco’s grassroots recycling economy to crumble, and newly released numbers reveal just how much stands to be lost by the trend.

San Franciscan recyclers may miss out on millions of dollars in redemption, local mom-and-pop stores could wind up on the hook for millions of dollars in state fees, and neighborhoods stand to be besieged by recyclers flocking to the few remaining recycling centers.

Recycling activists and local businesses are pushing for change, but NIMBY interests are pushing for more of the same.

 

SOLUTION IS THE PROBLEM

San Francisco Community Recyclers is on the parking lot of Safeway’s Church and Market location, and after months of legal entanglement, the recycling center’s eviction draws near. Still, SFCR is making a show of resistance.

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department is set to evict the recycling center within a week or so, as the rebel recyclers have so far refused to vacate voluntarily.

Sup. Scott Wiener says he’ll be glad to see them gone.

“This recycling center caused enormous problems in our neighborhood,” he told the Guardian. This particular Safeway lies within the boundaries of his district, and Wiener says his constituents complain the recycling centers draw too many unruly patrons, who are often homeless.

“There is problem behavior around the center in terms of camping and harassing behavior, defecation, urination in a much more concentrated way,” he said.

This animation shows the areas around San Francisco where recycling centers remain, which are often overburdened with customers as other centers close. The red zones indicate areas where supermarkets are mandated by state law to host recycling centers, but have chosen to pay fees instead.

But others say the not-in-my-backyard evictions only serve to create a ripple effect. The catalyst is a story we’ve reported on before: As well-heeled Golden Gate Park neighbors complained of homeless recycling patrons and waged a successful campaign to shutter the Haight Ashbury Recycling Center two years ago, the clientele adjusted by flocking to the Church and Market recycling center. New numbers illustrate this outcome.

Susan Collins is the president of the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit that conducts analysis on recycling data. On average nationwide, Collins said, one recycling center serves about 2,000 people.

But since 2012 the number of recycling centers in San Francisco has been reduced from 21 to 7, causing Church and Market’s service population to boom closer to 40,000, a difference that has more to do with the closures than the density of the area. Data from CalRecycle shows almost half of the city’s populace lacks a recycling center within close proximity, forcing patrons to overwhelm the few remaining centers.

“This makes it a chicken and egg process,” Collins told us. “For people to have the perception that the site is attracting so many people, they have to realize it’s because there are so few sites to begin with.”

Late last month, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano wrote to Safeway Chief Executive Officer Robert L. Edwards, urging the grocery chain to reverse its decision to evict San Francisco Community Recyclers from the Church and Market Safeway.

“Safeway has such a long history of supporting sustainability efforts,” Ammiano wrote, “and I truly believe that it can do so again.” Safeway, however, has other concerns.

“As curbside recycling has increased in San Francisco and around the state,” Safeway Director of Public Affairs Keith Turner wrote to Ammiano, “Safeway’s focus on recycling has evolved as well.”

Safeway is now also flouting local and state laws to throw recyclers off its back. CalRecycle, the state’s recycling agency, performed an inspection in April of the Diamond Heights Safeway. It found that the grocer failed to accept recyclables and offer state guaranteed redemption, despite signing an affidavit with CalRecycle pledging to do just that. CalRecycle cited that location and two other San Francisco Safeways for noncompliance with the bottle bill.

And that’s just the violations CalRecycle has documented so far. Ed Dunn, owner and operator of San Francisco Community Recyclers, has initiated his own investigation into Safeway statewide, filing complaints with CalRecycle alleging that as many as 75 Safeway stores aren’t following the mandates of their affidavits and offering redemption for recyclables.

On the other side of the fence, Safeway and other recycling-center critics (such as Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius) are essentially saying, who cares? Don’t we all just use blue bins nowadays?

The short answer: Nope.

 

MAKING GREEN, GOING GREEN

“Why do we need recycling centers if we have curbside recycling?” Sup. Eric Mar asked the deputy director of recycling at CalRecycle, point blank.

Jose Ortiz responded in less than a beat. “While some communities think curbside operations ensure the state’s goals of collecting [recyclables], the reality is that 90 percent of recycling volume is collected through recycling centers, not curbside programs,” he said from the podium.

That number came as a shock to many at the Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee June 19, including Sups. Mar, David Campos, and Norman Yee. Only 8 percent of recycling statewide comes through blue bins, CalRecyle confirmed to the Guardian.

Nor is that limited to California: Data from the Container Recycling Institute shows that the 10 states with recycling redemption laws produce such a high rate of return that they account for 46 percent of the nation’s recycling. And since California Redemption Value recycling is pre-sorted, experts note, the bottles are often recycled whole (as opposed to broken) which can be used for higher-grade recycling purposes.

So for the city with a mandated goal of zero waste by 2020, the case for keeping recycling centers open is an environmental one. It’s also fiscal.

San Franciscans make $18 million a year selling back recyclables, Ortiz said, most of which went directly into the pockets of recyclers. Those scavengers at the Fourth of July festivities may have only collected five cents per can, but that’s enough to buoy the income of many poor San Franciscans.

At the recycling hearing, David Mangan approached the podium to speak. His red hat was clean and his grey sweatshirt was ironed, but his face was worn with worry-lines and creases.

“I can’t walk more than about eight blocks at a time, and I’m unemployable because of my disabilities,” he told the committee. Recycling centers are a lifeline, he added. “I need this job, I’m on a limited income. I need the help they offer. I need them to stay open, please.”

Critics say some poor and homeless depend on a black market of recycling truck drivers who trade drugs for cans and bottles, then turn to recycling centers to make a profit. But those at the hearing said the extinction of recycling centers actually helps the mobile, black market recycling fleets bloom, as motorists have an easier time shuttling recyclables across the city.

So recyclers are increasingly forced to rely on these so-called “mosquito fleets” for far-flung trips to cash in their bottles.

 

SMALL BUSINESS BUST

Meanwhile, recycling center evictions are becoming a source of anxiety within the small business community.

State law establishes a half-mile radius called a “convenience zone” around any supermarket that annually makes more than $2 million. The supermarket is mandated to provide recycling on-site, accept recyclables in-store, or opt to pay a $100 a day fee.

With the eviction of SFCR from Church and Market, Safeway may opt to pay the fee. But that gap would leave surrounding businesses inside that convenience zone with the same options: accept recyclables in-store or pay $36,000 a year.

Miriam Zouzounis of the Arab-American Grocer Association said those options are daunting for liquor stores and mom-and-pop grocers.

“We just don’t have the space for [recycling],” she said at the hearing. If SFCR were to close, the total of small businesses shouldering the burden of state recycling fees would jump from 100 to more than 360, said Regina Dick-Endrizzi, director of the city’s Office of Small Business.

All told, San Francisco small businesses would be made to send $12.96 million in annual fees to California coffers because a few supermarkets didn’t want to handle recyclables. Mar is now calling upon all involved to step up and solve this glaring problem.

 

SOLUTIONS ON THE WAY

This week the Board of Supervisors is tentatively set to vote on a moratorium of recycling center evictions, introduced by Mar on June 24. The pause would give Mar time to form a work group with those involved: Department of the Environment, Department of Public Works, CalRecycle, local supermarkets, grocers, the Coalition on Homelessness, and others to come together to form a compromise solution.

Department of the Environment proposed a mobile recycling center, which Wiener called an equitable solution that would help distribute recycling responsibility evenly across the city. While that agency did not provide a timeline on the creation of a mobile recycling center before our deadline, it’s been in the works since 2012, when then-District 5 Sup. Christina Olague said it was the answer to the Haight Ashbury Recycling Center’s closure.

It’s been a long wait for a solution. And in the meantime, many more stand to lose.