Volume 48 Number 45
THE WEEKNIGHTER Dave’s bar is America. I don’t mean that in the sense that you walk in the door and get the hairy eyeball, with a chaser of, “What the kind of hippie-communist-homo are you?” (Spoken in a drawl, of course). I mean it in the most basic sense — the mythic melting pot of equality and freedom. When you enter Dave’s (29 Third St, SF) you are entering a new world. It doesn’t matter how much you make (or don’t make), what you drive, or whether you work on construction sites or the human brain. All of that is left at the door. The only thing that matters is if you like to drink.
There are no mustachioed bartenders in suspenders playing with tinctures distilled from random Amazonian berries you’ve never heard of. Instead, you’re often greeted by an Irish lady who you can tell won’t take any shit, but who will also chat with you all day long. This is a fucking bar, man. Some days you show up and there’s free food put out. Other days you sit on a stool and somebody you’ve never met buys a round for the entire bar. It’s almost like Dave’s has some supernatural ability to give you whatever it is that you need on that particular day.
You sit at that bar long enough you’ll hear every kind of story imaginable, from every kind of person. You’ll walk in just to have a quick shot and a beer — and leave four hours later, having met, dunk, and talked shit with a car salesman from Oklahoma, a recently off-work janitor, a tech millionaire, and someone whose family has had 49ers season tickets since they played at Kezar Stadium. You will never see any of these people again in your life, unless you go back to Dave’s.
I’ve actually taken a few girls on first dates to Dave’s. I mean, we didn’t spend the entire time there, but used it more as a meeting place from which to embark on the rest of our activities. You’re probably saying, “Hey Stu, why would you take girl you’re trying to impress, and with whom you’re hoping to touch special places, to a dive bar like Dave’s?” Besides the fact that I’m broke and can actually afford the awesomely cheap drinks, Dave’s, in its own way, makes everyone feel comfortable. It was voted least pretentious bar in SF for this reason. Dave’s is the bar that everyone has had a good time at, even if they’ve never been there before.
These days I worry about places like Dave’s. Sure it’s been there for like 30 years or something, but it doesn’t have the shine and sheen that so many recently opened bars in SF have. For those of us who know better, this is exactly why it’s attractive. I just worry that the Robert Moseses of the world, the people who would plow a giant freeway through quaint Greenwich Village, have too much steam behind them right now. These are the people who don’t realize that having reclaimed wood and Edison bulbs and $13 cocktails doesn’t make a place special. In fact, it makes a place just like everywhere else. I’ll take a shot and a beer at Dave’s over all that fluff any day of the week. Hell, I’ll probably see you there.
Stuart Schuffman aka Broke-Ass Stuart is a travel writer, poet, and TV host. You can find his online shenanigans at www.brokeassstuart.com
VISUAL ART So far, 2014 has been a pretty depressing and demoralizing year for Bay Area artists and the organizations and institutions that support them. Increasingly, the only options seem to be “fight or flight,” with “flight” too often becoming the default.
Against the economic and cultural ascendancy of the tech industry, commercial and residential rents have skyrocketed as funding sources have become more restrictive and competitive. Longstanding commercial galleries and noncommercial spaces alike have been forced to relocate, downsize, or face eviction. The past few months, my Facebook feed has reliably been filled with mournful think pieces on tech’s perceived indifference to local arts and culture, news of another gallery closure, or someone else posting about his or her imminent departure to Los Angeles or Chicago. For many, community stalwart Intersection for the Arts’ announcement last month that it was drastically reducing its operations and staff felt like the last straw.
This climate of mounting precariousness and frustration invariably forms the backdrop against which one takes in Bay Area Now 7, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ triennial survey of local art. It also spills over into some of the art on view. For this reason alone the stakes feel higher — perhaps unfairly so — especially when compared to past iterations of the exhibition, which have sometimes struggled with articulating a coherent or relevant point of view.
Curators Betti-Sue Hertz and Ceci Moss’s decision to “decentralize” the curatorial process this year and, instead, issue an open call to small- to mid-size regional visual arts organizations to select and commission work, turned out to be a smart one. For starters, putting YBCA’s institutional resources and clout behind much smaller organizations as opposed to individuals proposes an alternate function for large-scale, regional surveys such as Bay Area Now, beyond the early-to-mid-career professional stopover-launching pad they serve as for many artists (the Whitney Biennial continues to be a best- and worst-case example of this).
More importantly, the 15 jury-selected partner organizations in BAN7 present an alternative map of the Bay Area’s arts ecosystem, one that intersects with but also sometimes falls outside of the more familiar circuits between higher educational institutions such as California College of Arts and the San Francisco Art Institute, and larger local galleries and museums. Partner organizations include residence-based exhibition spaces (2nd Floor Projects, Important Projects, n/a) and established arts education programs (Creativity Explored, San Quentin Prison Arts Project), as well as further-afield institutions (the Napa-based di Rosa and the Saratoga-based Montalvo Arts Center) and nimbler project- or action-based collectives (Publication Studio, Stairwell’s, the Bay Area Arts Workers Alliance).
The art is as varied as the organizations presenting it although many of the mediums and subjects feel indigenous. This sense of familiarity can cut both ways. Daniel Case’s gorgeous landscape photographs of empty California cruising grounds, in 2nd Floor Project’s space, seem to be having a sympathetic kiki with Tammy Rae Carland’s earlier photo series of similarly depopulated off-the-grid, lesbian feminist encampments. Kristin Faar and Jeff Meadows’ New Age-y paint and slat construction in Adobe Books Backroom Gallery’s space, on the other hand, presents a cheerful if derivative homage to the Mission School and the beloved bookstore’s place within its history.
There are also some sui generis standouts. Creativity Explored artist Christina Marie Fong’s hand-drawn, cardboard installation of her dream bedroom — complete with R&B LPs, cult horror movie posters, and spilled junk food — is a hypnotizing explosion of pop cultural references rendered in filigree-like lines. Floris Schönfeld’s video Sanguine Dreams at di Rosa — filmed on location at the estate in collaboration with a Sonoma County vampire-themed LARP group — falls somewhere between Dark Shadows and Mike Kelley’s ensemble-filled video opuses.
True to its name, BAN7 is topical, and the pieces that channel the current climate of economically-fueled dissatisfaction in which so many feel priced out, kicked out, silenced, or foreclosed upon is what gives the exhibition its teeth. Taking up almost a quarter of the main gallery space, the Bay Area Art Workers Alliance’s strategically messy installation Invisible Labor attempts to stage the opposite of its title, rendering visible (as well as audible; you hear the installation before you see it) the physical labor and construction materials used to install the very art on display throughout YBCA. The names of Alliance members, many of whom are artists who also created and contributed to the installation, are pointedly writ large on the gallery’s floor-to-ceiling east-facing window.
Invisible Labor can be taken as a response to the same question asked by How Do We Make More Public the Other Work that We Do?, Edgar Mojica’s in-process collaborative mural that’s part of Important Projects’ section. Once completed, the mural — which depicts San Francisco as a sprawling technopolis — will then be re-covered by the same hands that created it, making it an “invisible monument” to the labor of all involved.
Mojica’s question has been asked a lot lately in the local arts community. One answer was proposed this past June when adjunct professors at the San Francisco Art Institute voted to form a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, following a similar vote by adjuncts at Mills College earlier in the same month.
BAN7, much like Invisible Labor, insists that organization and visibility can take other forms as well. This might not make this year’s triennial into an avenging David to the tech boom’s Goliath, as poet Kevin Killian casts Publication Studio in a colorfully illuminated manuscript that hangs in front of its in-house printing press. But it can provide a stage for alternate realities, such as Fong’s bedroom. And it can confront us — as it does by having pieces from the San Quentin Prison Arts Project be some of the first artworks one encounters — with other sites of struggle and resistance. As Lori Gordon exclaims in one of her newsprint Snippets, a participatory variation on Jenny Holzer’s Truisms series: “divert your eyes from the traffic accident of culture and look here instead.” *
BAY AREA NOW 7
Through Oct. 5
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
THEATER Once the image of the highway-bound pioneer, the camper van has been reborn on the plains of the Wild West of arts programming, just off 51st Street in Oakland. It’s been sighted here and there since May, greeted with honking and cheering by fans of the tiny house movement, idle curiosity by idling bystanders, and mild frustration by those anticipating a sidewalk taco or crème brûlée.
Something like the sloped cross-section of a survivalist’s shack, the trail-able cabin, with a pair of wide windows set in its redwood-plank sidewalls, looks modest enough if a little odd. But husband-and-wife artists and Range Studio founders David Szlasa and Katrina Rodabaugh see it as the beginning of a convoy, and endless possibilities.
The idea was born shortly after the couple’s son was born, about three years ago. Szlasa had just left his position as programming director at Z Space to pursue life as a stay-at-home artist and dad, and was quickly finding room to work at more of a premium than ever. Already a fan of the tiny house movement, he applied to the Center for Cultural Innovation for a material-support grant, with the idea of building a small studio in the parking space beside his house.
“In the process of designing it and talking to people about what it would take, a lot more people became interested in it,” recalls Szlasa. “I started thinking more broadly that this is a significant need across the Bay Area and, after talking to people outside the Bay Area, a significant need all around.”
One of the needs he had hit on was a way of leveraging project-based support to artists for capital improvements that they could get further use out of.
“We as artists get in this pattern of raising money to do this show or do that show,” he explains. “This was re-thinking that and reapplying those funds to something that could give and keep giving. So with that I began to see the bigger opportunities in it, and pretty quickly realized this would be a prototype and model for a larger effort.”
Having built it over the course of about six months beginning last December — with crucial help from a few friends with specialized skills — Szlasa is now tooling around with his new mobile artist studio, hitched to the back of his old white pickup, in the hope of attracting support for the larger venture. Formalized as the Range Studio project, and co-directed with Rodabaugh, the former program director of artists resources at Intersection for the Arts, the idea is to replicate the prototype, christened Studio 1, and create a small fleet of deliverable art spaces and platforms that can be used individually, in tandem, or in remote coordination across a wide geographical area as a scalable artist residency program. Made of reclaimed and sustainable materials and entirely solar powered, the flatbed studio offers arts makers and programmers a real-world solution to the increasingly challenging problem of space in the Bay Area’s punishing real estate market, while embracing an ethic of conserving and maximizing material resources.
“And it’s all working!” says Szlasa, still a little surprised by the whole thing.
Studio 1 makes its formal debut this week as part of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Bay Area Now 7 exhibition, which this year assumes an art fair format to showcase a wide range of practices and strategies among the Bay Area’s small to mid-size visual arts organizations. Parked outside YBCA’s downtown edifice, Studio 1 will house a series of micro residencies — with its guest artists on display to, and in various degrees of contact with, the general public. Artists-in-residence temporarily ensconced in the tech’d out trailer include Aaron Landsman (co-creator of last week’s City Council Meeting at Z Space); Dohee Lee; YBCA’s own Marc Bamuthi Joseph; and Keith Hennessy.
It promises to be almost as much of a spectacle as anything an artist inside might be working on. And Szlasa (who’ll be editing video there himself ahead of the Coup’s Shadowbox at YBCA on Aug. 16) readily admits, “It’ll be a hard day’s work to stay focused in there.” Still, with the amenities and accessibility Studio 1 offers, not to mention the spur to the imagination, it’s fair to assume its maker-residents will be happy campers. *
BAY AREA NOW 7
Through Oct. 5
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
SHUCK IT ALL
Coming up in August is not one but two big oyster events, and both are on the same weekend. Double play! First is the third annual Oyster Bash at B Restaurant & Bar (720 Howard, SF. www.bsanfrancisco.com) in Yerba Buena Gardens on Saturday, Aug. 23, 1pm–4pm. It’s an all-you-can-eat event, and considering 12,000 oysters will be served, you have your work cut out for you: There will be a raw bar, grilled and steamed oysters, fried oyster po’boy sliders, and oyster shooters. There’s also an oyster shucking contest at 2:30pm (the first 20 people to sign up upon arrival are enrolled) and the winner will score “all you can eat” oysters at B Restaurant for an entire year. Tickets are $45 presale at bbaroysterbash2014.eventbrite.com and they will sell out! $65 at the door.
Then on Sunday, Aug. 24, you can head to Waterbar (399 Embarcadero, SF. www.waterbarsf.com) for the sixth annual OysterFest on its bayside patio. Known for having the largest selection of oysters in SF, Waterbar is keeping the quality top-notch and will only feature sustainable oysters at the event. There will also be plenty of bites from Waterbar and sister restaurant EPIC Roasthouse, plus Farmer Brown, Farallon, Fish, and Blue Island Oyster Farm; your ticket also includes some Napa Valley wines and craft beers too. Oysterfest runs 12pm–3pm. Tickets are $70 and available on Waterbar’s homepage.
It looks like it may be the last year for La Cocina’s mega Street Food Festival (Folsom from 20th St to 26th St, SF. www.sfstreetfoodfest.com) — well, unless they can find a new location. In the meantime, plan to show up hungry on Saturday Aug. 16, when there will be a staggering selection of food vendors serving food from around the globe, plus cocktails, and craft beer, all from 11am–7pm. Get your posse together, and check out the website for some ticketing and passport options. (Oh, and the night before is the Friday Night Fried Chicken Family Meal at SoMa Streat Food Park, a must for fried chicken lovers.)
On Saturday, Aug. 23, comes Noise Pop’s 20th Street Block Party (20th St between Bryant and Harrison, and Florida and Alabama between 19th and 20th streets, SF. www.20thstreetblockparty.com/2014), noon–6pm. And it’s free! There will be two stages, featuring national acts and emerging local musicians, including Rogue Wave, Cayucas, Myron & E, 1955, and 8th Grader. Also in the mix will be drinks and bites from neighborhood establishments flour + water, Trick Dog, Central Kitchen, Sightglass Coffee, Rhea’s Deli & Cafe, El Metate, and more. You can dance, eat, hang out, and check out some things like the Ne Timeas workshop tent (with culinary workshops throughout the day), a Southern Exposure interactive installation, and more. There’s also a VIP experience for $95 (line-jumping privileges at the food vendors and private restrooms).
ZIG FOR SISIG
And for those of you who aren’t heading to the playa for Burning Man, check out the Savor Filipino (www.savorfilipino.com) event at Justin Herman Plaza on Saturday, Aug. 30. It’s a free event, and there will be a bunch of different pavilions with options ranging from lechon baboy (roasted pig) and lumpia to chicken adobo and kare-kare. Oh yeah, and balut, in case you have wanted to cross that one off your “yeah, I tried it” list. There will also be some vegan and vegetarian options in the Garden Pavilion, so everyone wins. Bonus: All food served will feature humanely raised proteins, sustainable seafood, and organic, local produce. In between sessions of over-eating, you can check out some music and chef and author demos, and hang out in the beer garden. 10am–6pm.
Marcia Gagliardi is the founder of the weekly tablehopper e-column; subscribe for more at www.tablehopper.com. Get her app: Tablehopper’s Top Late-Night Eats. On Twitter: @tablehopper.
NUDE BEACHES 2014 Well, it’s been 40 years since I turned over on my side and asked a totally naked woman at Red Rock nude beach, near Stinson Beach, if she knew of any other clothing-optional beaches in Northern California.
Don’t worry, she didn’t slap me. Jane and I were on our third date — we’d met at a bus stop in downtown Berkeley — which she had casually suggested take place at the beach. “Sure, where’d you like to go?” I asked. “How about Red Rock?” she replied. “Red Rock?” I asked. “I’ve never heard of it.” “It’s a nude beach,” responded Jane.
I didn’t want to sound like a wuss, so, I immediately agreed — and about an hour later, we were walking down a long, moderately steep trail that led us to a beautiful cove. When we arrived, I couldn’t believe what I saw: dozens of people clothed only in their birthday suits. They acted as if being stark naked was no big deal. And so did Jane. She threw down a towel, immediately stripped down, and asked if I would put some sun tan lotion on her back.
It was a beautiful summer day. People were enjoying themselves. Some were reading, while others were sunning, walking, wading in the chilly but invigorating surf, playing Frisbee, or socializing with friends. Pretty soon, I took off my swimsuit too. Around 30 minutes later, when my eyeballs began to recede back into their sockets, I started wondering how many other nude beaches were in the Bay Area. Jane knew of a half dozen and suggested I speak with her roommates. “They probably know about four or five more,” she said.
And that’s how the annual Bay Guardian Nude Beach Guide was born. From covering a dozen or so beaches, lakes, ponds, skinny-dipping holes, and other clothing-optional spots in 1975, we’ve soared to 130 today, when you include our complete online listings. They include places where you can camp nude (North Garberville, in Humboldt County), take off your clothes at a waterfall (Alamere Falls, near Bolinas), soak in hot springs (Sykes, near Big Sur, and Steep Ravine, in Marin County), play bare-bottom volleyball (San Francisco’s North Baker Beach), or sunbathe naked at a state park (Gray Whale Cove, in San Mateo County).
Who knows, maybe someday we’ll be able to get everything from sundaes to massages on a nude beach, like those offered at sprawling Haulover Nude Beach, just north of Miami, Fla., which I checked out in June. It draws up to 7,000 visitors a day. The site is part of a park that also has a non-nude beach and even a separate dog play area.
In the meantime, we’ve got plenty of clothing-optional recreation choices right here, especially with the reopening of the nude section of Muir Beach, which, along with the main part of the beach, was closed most of last summer and part of the fall. Want to hike naked through the East Bay hills, guided by a member of the Bay Area Naturists group? America’s only “Full Moon Hikes” will continue this season with a walk starting in Castro Valley on Aug. 10 (see our listing below for Las Trampas under Contra Costa County for details). In Lake Tahoe, at Secret Harbor Creek Beach (also in the Internet version of our guide), you can take part in an “only wear a hat” day Aug. 17. And on Sept. 20, fans of Santa Cruz’s popular Bonny Doon Beach will be getting together to help remove trash from the sand.
Speaking of help, to help beachgoers and naturists, please send me your new beach discoveries, trip reports, and improved directions (especially road milepost numbers), along with your phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org or Gary Hanauer, c/o San Francisco Bay Guardian, 835 Market, Suite 550, San Francisco, CA 94103.
Our ratings: “A” stands for a beach that is large or well-established and where the crowd is mostly nude; “B” signifies a spot where fewer than half the visitors are nude; “C” indicates a small or emerging nude area; and “D” depicts places that are in use, but not recommended.
NORTH BAKER BEACH, SAN FRANCISCO
Complete with nude volleyball that’s open to anyone, driftwood “art trees” (last year’s was called Sea Hag), and occasional live music performed by beachgoers — mostly guitar and drums — almost anything goes on the north end of Baker, where the atmosphere is playful and increasingly social. Over the winter, storms washed away a chunk of the sand (which is starting to return) and all the wooden objects. But Baker’s regular visitors, led by the local street fair organizer who prefers to be called Santosh, have erected a new tree. If you join in a game on the sand, don’t expect the rules to necessarily be the same ones you followed as a kid. For example, it’s considered fair and in play if a ball touches one of the site’s driftwood poles. Of course, you don’t need to do anything at Baker — it’s a great place to relax and be yourself. Or you could go exploring! For a treat, wait until low tide and try finding the beach’s “secret” tidepools by walking around the big rocks at the far north side of the beach. One thing that’s not tolerated at Baker: gawkers. “People let them know we don’t like it,” says Santosh. “We want to keep things mellow.”
Directions: Take the 29 Sunset bus or go north on 25th Avenue to Lincoln Boulevard. Turn right and take the second left onto Bowley Street. Follow Bowley to Gibson Road, turn right, and follow Gibson to the east parking lot. At the beach, head right to the nude area, which starts at the brown and yellow “Hazardous surf, undertow, swim at your own risk” sign. Some motorcycles in the lot have been vandalized, possibly by car owners angered by bikers parking in car spaces; to avoid trouble, motorcyclists should park in the motorcycle area near the cyclone fence. Parking at Lincoln’s 100 or more nearby parking spaces is limited to two hours.
LANDS END BEACH, SAN FRANCISCO
Want to star in your own picture-perfect postcard? Lands End’s lovely vistas are just the start of an outing you may wish to call Swim Suit’s End. Law enforcers seldom visit the cove off Geary Boulevard, where some visitors doff their togs, often to the surprise of tourists who walk down the beach path, hoping for some good photo opportunities. The site is super small, so on summer weekends, try to stake out a claim to some towel space by late morning. For the best sand, use one of the unoccupied rock-lined windbreaks traditionally made by previous visitors or look for a dab of soft soil further away from the beach entrance. Bring a sweatshirt for sudden fog or wind.
Directions: Follow Geary Boulevard to the end, then park in the dirt lot up the road from the Cliff House. Take the trail at the far end of the lot. About 100 yards past a bench and some trash cans, the path narrows and bends, then rises and falls, eventually becoming the width of a road. Don’t take the road to the right, which leads to a golf course. Just past another bench, as the trail turns right, go left toward a group of dead trees where you will see a stairway and a “Dogs must be leashed” sign. Descend and head left to another stairway, which leads to a 100-foot walk to the cove. Or, instead, take the service road below the El Camino del Mar parking lot 1/4 mile until you reach a bench, then follow the trail there. It’s eroded in a few places. At the end, you’ll have to scramble over some rocks. Turn left (west) and walk until you find a good place to put down your towel.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE BEACH, SAN FRANCISCO
On hot summer days, Golden Gate Bridge Beach’s mix of rocks and sand swarms with dozens or even hundreds of gay males. You can also find others here too, either sunbathing or enjoying dips in the usually cold surf. If you’re brave enough to swim here, please use caution: the area’s known for its riptides. Three side-by-side coves line the somewhat rocky shoreline, so if you want to do a little exploring, feel free. And don’t forget to look up and soak in a view of the glistening edifice for which the beach is named.
Directions: From the toll booth area of Highway 101/1, take Lincoln Boulevard west about a half mile to Langdon Court. Turn right (west) on Langdon and look for space in the parking lots, across Lincoln from Fort Winfield Scott. Park and then take the beach trail, starting just west of the end of Langdon, down its more than 200 steps to Golden Gate Bridge Beach, also known as Marshall’s Beach. Despite recent improvements, the trail to the beach can still be slippery, especially in the spring and winter.
FORT FUNSTON BEACH, SAN FRANCISCO
Barely a bare beach, we include “Fort Fun,” as some naturists call it, in our listings because a few diehard suitless sunbathers can occasionally be found on the shore, hidden between some of the dunes. You’ll likely be busted or given a warning, though, if a ranger spots your naked body or if somebody uses their cell phone to call in a complaint. Weekdays are the best times to avoid hassles from authorities, but you should still be prepared to suit up fast. Did we mention the dogs? If you like them, then be prepared for a nice bonus: The cliffs above the beach attract a never-ending parade of pooches and their human companions.
Directions: From San Francisco, go west to Ocean Beach, then south on the Great Highway. After Sloat Boulevard, the road heads uphill. From there, curve right onto Skyline Boulevard, go past one stoplight, and look for signs for Funston on the right. Turn into the public lot and find a space near the west side. At the southwest end, take the sandy steps to the beach, turn right, and walk to the dunes. Find a spot as far as possible from the parking lot.
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY
LAS TRAMPAS REGIONAL WILDERNESS, CASTRO VALLEY
Have you ever been on a naked hike — at night? Now’s your chance to sign something off your Bucket List that you probably never knew should be on it: taking a guided walk by the light of the silvery moon — and your flashlight — along a somewhat challenging, but, participants say, “doable” East Bay ridge just after sunset and then returning for a dip in the hot tub of the Sequoians Naturist Club, in Castro Valley. These “Full Moon Hikes” usually take place in July, August, and September (next one is Aug. 10) with a potluck held at the club before Dave Smith, of the Bay Area Naturists group, takes fully clothed walkers up a trail just as darkness begins to fall. When the moon rises, the hikers come back down the path — usually naked, with their duds stored in their backpacks, after what some trekkers describe as an epic, almost spiritual adventure.
Directions: Contact the Sequoians (www.sequoians.com) or the Bay Area Naturists (www.bayareanaturists.org) for details on how to join a walk. Meet at the Sequoians. To get there, take Highway 580 east to the Crow Canyon Road exit. Or follow 580 west to the first Castro Valley off-ramp. Take Crow Canyon Road toward San Ramon 0.75 mile to Cull Canyon Road. Then follow Cull Canyon Road around 6.5 miles to the end of the paved road. Take the dirt road on the right until the “Y” in the road and keep left. Shortly after, you’ll see The Sequoians sign. Proceed ahead for about another 0.75 mile to The Sequoians front gate.
SAN MATEO COUNTY
DEVIL’S SLIDE, MONTARA
A state park that tolerates nude sunbathing? It’s not officially designated that way, but officials in charge of Gray Whale Cove remain steadfast in their toleration of nudies, some of whom have been coming here for decades, as long as complaints are not received. Even if phoned-in objections were received, it’s doubtful whether rangers, who are seldom present, could reach the sand in time to catch an offender. Over the last few years, GWC, more commonly known as Devil’s Slide, has been attracting so many visitors to its 100-yard long seashore that park staff recently added a second parking lot. But only one in every two or three dozen people go nude on the north end of the stunning shoreline, which draws tourists from around the world. You’ll usually find plenty of space here, even on a hot summer day.
Directions: Driving from San Francisco, take Highway 1 south through Pacifica. Three miles south of the Denny’s restaurant in Linda Mar, at 500 Linda Mar Blvd., Pacifica, and just past and south of the Tom Lantos Tunnels, turn left (inland or east) on an unmarked road, which takes you to the beach’s parking lots on the east and west sides of the highway and to a 146-step staircase that leads to the sand. Coming from the south on Highway 1, look for a road on the right (east), 1.2 miles north of the old Chart House restaurant in Montara. Most naturists use the north end of the beach, which is separated by rocks from the rest of the shore. Wait until low tide to make the crossing to the nude area. Otherwise, you may face waves crashing against you, which could cause you to slip and lose your footing.
SAN GREGORIO NUDE BEACH, SAN GREGORIO
Nearly 50 years old, the USA’s longest-operating clothing optional beach is located next to, but remains distinctly different from San Gregorio State Beach. For a view of conditions, check out its web cam at www.freewebs.com/sangregoriobeach. Skinny-dippers started flocking here by 1966 after a “Committee For Free Beaches” was formed by a San Francisco State College student who, along with a few pals, distributed fliers at colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area announcing the start of a “free beach,” as they called it. Soon, up to 500 persons were showing up on the sand on weekends. A court case to try to stop the venture failed, but that hasn’t stopped the private operation from remaining controversial. The main rub: Not everyone likes the driftwood structures on the slope leading down to the beach (a T-shirt hanging from a pole means the site is occupied), where open sex often occurs. Catering to mostly gay visitors, both nude and nonnude straight couples, singles, and families also visit the huge beach.
Directions: From San Francisco, drive south on Highway 1, past Half Moon Bay, and, between mileposts 18 and 19, look on the right side of the road for telephone call box number SM 001 0195, at the intersection of Highway 1 and Stage Road, and near an iron gate with trees on either side. From there, expect a drive of 1.1 miles to the entrance. At the Junction 84 highway sign, the beach’s driveway is just .1 mile away. Turn into a gravel driveway, passing through the iron gate mentioned above, which says 119429 on the gatepost. Drive past a grassy field to the parking lot, where you’ll be asked to pay an entrance fee. Take the long path from the lot to the sand; everything north of the trail’s end is clothing-optional (families and swimsuit-using visitors tend to stay on the south end of the beach). The beach is also accessible from the San Gregorio State Beach parking area to the south; from there, hike about a half-mile north. Take the dirt road past the big white gate with the Toll Road sign to the parking lot.
SANTA CRUZ COUNTY
GARDEN OF EDEN, FELTON
Nude spelled backwards is Edun, so it’s little wonder that California’s Garden of Eden would attract scads of clothing-optional users. It’s located on the San Lorenzo River between San Jose and Santa Cruz. Nudity is technically illegal in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, where this creekside skinnydipper’s delight is nestled. Not everyone likes the nudists, who often shock the many swimsuit-wearing visitors who like to take a dip here on hot days. Other bummers include slippery, poison oak-lined trails and surprise visits by rangers. To discover your own personal Eden and several other nude swimming holes, as you drive north along Highway 9 near Fulton look for cars pulled over on the side of the road. Directions: From Santa Cruz, drive north on Highway 9 and look for turnouts on the right side of the road, where cars are pulled over. The first, a wide turnout with a tree in the middle, is just north of Santa Cruz. Rincon Fire Trail starts about where the tree is, according to reader Robert Carlsen, of Sacramento. The many forks in the trail all lead to the river, down toward Big Rock Hole and Frisbee Beach; Carlsen says the best area off this turnout can be reached by bearing left until the end of the trail. Farther up the highway, 1.3 miles south of the park entrance, is the second and bigger pullout, called the Ox Trail Turnout, leading to Garden of Eden. Park in the turnout and follow the dirt fire road downhill and across some railroad tracks. Head south, following the tracks, for around 0.5 miles. Look for a “Pack Your Trash” sign with park rules and hours and then proceed down the Eden Trail. Or, about three miles south of the park entrance, look for a dirt parking lot, park there, and take the path from there to some beaches that attract fewer people than the Garden.
BONNY DOON NUDE BEACH, BONNY DOON
Fans of this beautiful cove were pleased to learn last year that state officials plan to allow nudity, unless there are complaints, to continue on the north end of the beach, despite warning signs that were erected but taken down just a few weeks later. A big rock separates the clothing-optional side of the shore from the area traditionally used by families and other clothed visitors to the south. While some visitors joke on social media message boards about the increase in gray-haired beachgoers on the sand (a Redwood City woman recently told Yelp the beach needs “some hot dudes” and a female from San Jose compared the women there to those on the “Golden Girls” tv show), others have posted more serious remarks about the gawkers and rude males who occasionally show up. Most visitors, though, relish the tranquil, almost idyllic atmosphere they encounter. Directions: From San Francisco, go south on Highway 1 to the Bonny Doon parking lot at milepost 27.6 on the west side of the road, 2.4 miles north of Red, White, and Blue Beach, and some 11 miles north of Santa Cruz. From Santa Cruz, head north on Highway 1 until you see Bonny Doon Road, which veers off sharply to the right just south of Davenport. The beach is just off the intersection. Park in the paved lot to the west of Highway 1; don’t park on Bonny Doon Road or the shoulder of Highway 1. If the lot is full, drive north on Highway 1, park at the next beach lot, and walk back to the first lot. Or take Santa Cruz Metro Transit District bus route 40 to the lot; it leaves the Metro Center three times a day on Saturdays and takes about 20 minutes. To get to the beach, climb the berm next to the railroad tracks adjacent to the Bonny Doon lot, cross the tracks, descend, and take a recently improved, sign-marked trail to the sand. Walk north past most of the beach to the nude cove on the north end. Alternately, Dusty suggests parking as far north as possible, taking the northern entrance, and, with good shoes, following a “rocky and steep” — and less desirable — walk down to the sand. It can be slippery, so wear good shoes.
PANTHER BEACH, SANTA CRUZ
“This is my all time favorite spot,” reported a Redwood City resident after a visit this April. This “is (also) a nude beach,” added Taylen, on Yelp, who’s even seen naked people fishing at this modestly sized but gorgeous beach, some 10 miles north of Santa Cruz. Bring a beach umbrella, a windbreaker in case the weather changes, and sturdy walking shoes for the path to the sand. Pick from such activities as reading, sunbathing, rock climbing, swimming, exploring the shore, picnicking, birding, whale watching, or doing absolutely nothing at all.
Directions: Panther Beach is between mileposts 26.86 and 26.4 on Highway 1, some 10.6 miles north of the junction of Highway 1 and 17 in Santa Cruz and 40.7 miles south of the intersection of Highways 1 and 92 in Half Moon Bay. Drive slowly so you can make a sharp right turn onto a small dirt road on the west side of the highway, which is difficult to see when approaching from the north. The road leads to a rutted parking area that lies on a ridge between the highway and some railroad tracks. From the north end of the lot, cross the tracks and, while watching for poison oak, follow the steep, sloping, somewhat crumbly path about five minutes to the sand. Visitors this season suggest holding onto rocks or ledges along the trail’s more slippery spots for extra support.
2222 BEACH, SANTA CRUZ
Delightful but difficult to reach, 2222 takes its name from the address of the nearest house on West Cliff Drive, just north of Santa Cruz’s popular wharf and Boardwalk areas. It’s also one of the smallest clothing-optional beaches. You’ll be lucky to encounter more than a half dozen persons in the cove — often you’ll be alone — which mainly attracts nearby residents and local college students. A bonus is that walkers on the road above can’t see the beach from there. Yup, a visit here is like having your own private nude beach, unless you count the juggler who likes to practice on the sand. But the beach path is only suitable for people who are agile enough to handle a scary-looking, very steep slope. Leave children and anything that doesn’t fit in a backpack at home.
Directions: The beach is a few blocks west of Natural Bridges State Beach and about 2.5 miles north of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. From either north or south of Santa Cruz, take Highway 1 to Swift Street. Drive .8 miles to the sea, then turn right on West Cliff Drive. 2222 is five blocks away. Past Auburn Avenue, look for 2222 West Cliff on the inland side of the street. Park in the pullout with eight parking spaces next to the cliff, on the west side of the road. If it’s full, continue straight and park along Chico Avenue. Bay Area Naturists leader Rich Pasco suggests visitors use care and then follow the path on the side of the beach closest to downtown Santa Cruz and the Municipal Wharf.
PRIVATES BEACH, SANTA CRUZ
One of Northern California’s best nude beaches, Privates (yes that’s the name) gets almost a unanimous thumbs up from visitors for its clean sand, shelter from the wind, and friendly vibes. New this year: During the summer, the gate to the beach is only open until 7 or 8pm. And dogs are no longer always allowed: They’re banned on weekends 10am-5pm and must always be leashed. Most users pay a fee of $50–$100 (depending on if you live in the neighborhood) to buy a gate key that allows entrance, past a security guard at the top of the beach stairs, through May 31. But we list three ways to go for free below under “Directions.” Nudists, families, and local residents love the cove, which is divided into two parts — clad and unclad. Surfers, in particular, can be found by the dozens on the sand or paddling out. Want to play nude Frisbee? At the end of the staircase to the sand, turn left and keep walking until you come to the clothing-optional area.
Directions: 1) Some visitors walk north from Capitola Pier in low tide (not a good idea since at least four people have needed to be rescued). 2) Others reach it in low tide via the stairs at the end of 41st Avenue, which lead to a surf spot called the Hook at the south end of a rocky shore known as Pleasure Point. 3) Surfers paddle on boards for a few minutes to Privates from Capitola or the Hook. 4) Most visitors buy a key to the beach gate for $100 a year at Freeline (821 41st Ave., Santa Cruz, 831-476-2950) 1.5 blocks west of the beach. Others go with someone with a key or wait outside the gate until a person with a key goes in, provided a security guard is not present (they often are there). “Most people will gladly hold the gate open for someone behind them whose hands are full,” says Bay Area Naturists leader Rich Pasco. The nude zone starts to the left of the bottom of the stairs.
BASS LAKE, BOLINAS
Although it is not visited by as many nudists as a decade ago, skinny-dippers still inspire some visitors in what’s usually a mostly clothed crowd to join in the fun at Bass Lake, which true to its name, has lots of bass. Natalie, of San Francisco, described a day here as “unreal” on Yelp last summer. “The hike is super mellow.” She brought floaters, but found others left in the water. Another summer visitor, Julia, borrowed floaties from some women at the site. “It was so relaxing,” she says. San Leandro’s Dave Smith, who usually even walks naked to the lake — expect a nearly hourlong, fairly easy, 2.8 mile hike — says he “loves” spending time in Bass’ clear, refreshing waters. Rangers once halted and ticketed a clad man who had an unleashed dog, but let a group of nude walkers continue. On hot days the trailhead’s parking lot fills quickly, so come early — by 9:30 a.m., according to Steve, of Newark, who used the trail this June, or possibly as late as 10:30 a.m., reported by another June visitor, Addi, of El Cerrito.
Directions: Allow about an hour for the drive from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. From Stinson Beach, go north on Highway 1. Just north of Bolinas Lagoon, turn left on the often-unmarked exit to Bolinas. Follow the road as it curves along the lagoon and eventually ends at Olema-Bolinas Road. Continue along Olema-Bolinas Road to the stop sign at Mesa Road. Turn right on Mesa and drive four miles until it becomes a gravel road and ends at the Palomarin parking lot. Arrive as early as possible. Says Smith: “We once saw hundreds of cars.” A sign at the trailhead next to the lot will guide you down scenic Palomarin Trail to the lake. For directions to incredibly beautiful Alamere Falls, 1.5 miles past Bass Lake, which empties onto a beach at the sea, please see “Elsewhere In Marin” in our online listings.
RED ROCK BEACH, STINSTON BEACH
The Bay Area’s most popular nude beach is in good shape this year. “It’s in great condition,” says frequent visitor Fred Jaggi. “Winter storms didn’t knock down the terraces (above the beach). And the sand is really nice this season.” Warmer than usual weather has been sending crowds of up to 100 persons to the picturesque cove, up from 80 last year, but about the same number as 2012. If you arrive too late in the day to find space on the sand, try visiting on a Monday to join a small group of regular visitors for what they call “Club Day.” If possible, bring a folding beach chair. Save about 10-15 minutes to take a moderately steep but three-to-five-foot-wide trail to the beach, which is usually kept in great shape by volunteers. Even so, the last few feet of the path may sometimes be a bit slippery.
Directions: Go north on Highway 1 from Mill Valley, following the signs to Stinson Beach. At the long line of mailboxes next to the Muir Beach cutoff point, start checking your odometer. Look for a dirt lot full of cars to the left (west) of the highway 5.6 miles north of Muir and a smaller one on east side of the road. The lots are at milepost 11.3, one mile south of Stinson Beach. Limited parking is also available 150 yards to the south on the west side of Highway 1. Or from Mill Valley, take the West Marin/Bolinas Stage toward Stinson Beach and Bolinas. Get off at the intersection of Panoramic Highway and Highway 1. Then walk south 0.6 mile to the Red Rock lots. Take the path to the beach that starts near the Dumpster next to the main parking lot.
MUIR NUDE BEACH, MUIR BEACH
After being closed to the public most of last summer and fall, Muir Beach has reopened with improvements galore, including a relocated parking lot (it’s now parallel with the beach road, called Pacific Way), new restrooms, and a new, 400-foot long walkway to the sand. Most important of all, access to the gorgeous, clothing-optional cove just north of the main beach has also been reopened. “The walk takes a little longer,” says recent visitor Michael Velkoff, of Lucas Valley. “But the beach was fine.” Known for its peace and quiet, Muir is a less social beach than nearby Red Rock. It’s also less crowded (even on warm summer days, you’re more apt to see 30-40 people instead of hundreds) and far easier to reach, without any trail to take or any poison oak to ruin your day: You park at the main Muir lot, walk north along the water, cross over some rocks (in very low tide, try to cross closer to the water), and you’re there. Women, in particular, seem to like the vibes of Muir, which attracts fewer gawkers — often none — than most sites.
Directions: From San Francisco, take Highway 1 north to Muir Beach, to milepost 5.7. Turn left on Pacific Way and park in the Muir lot (to avoid tickets, don’t park on Pacific, even if other vehicles are parked there). Or park on the street off Highway 1 across from Pacific and about 100 yards north. From the Muir lot, follow a path and boardwalk to the sand. Then walk north to a pile of rocks between the cliffs and the sea. You’ll need good hiking or walking shoes to cross; in very low tide, try to cross closer to the water. The nude area starts north of it.
RCA BEACH, BOLINAS
Are you looking for a place to restore your sanity and recharge you from the stress of everyday life? Then you may want to visit RCA Beach, which is never crowded and averages just 5-20 visitors per day. Plus they’re usually spread out along the milelong shoreline, which gives the site an almost deserted feeling. “It’s a quiet place,” says one regular user. “And most people there are nude.” The site is somewhat exposed, so some regulars usually look for sunbathing nooks that are a little protected from the wind or even build windbreaks from driftwood they find on the sand. There are two beach trails from which to pick: one that’s long and steep or a shorter path that’s less steep but crumbling and slippery.
Directions: From Stinson Beach, take Highway 1 (Shoreline Highway) north toward Calle Del Mar for 4.5 miles. Turn left onto Olema Bolinas Road and follow it 1.8 miles to Mesa Road in Bolinas. Turn right and stay on Mesa until you see cars parked past some old transmission towers. Park and walk 0.25 miles to the end of the pavement. Go left through the gap in the fence. The trail leads to a gravel road. Follow it until you see a path on your right, leading through a gate. Take it along the cliff top until it veers down to the beach. Or continue along Mesa until you come to a grove of eucalyptus trees. Enter through the gate here, then hike 0.5 miles through a cow pasture on a path that will also bring you through thick brush. The second route is slippery and eroding, but less steep. “It’s shorter, but toward the end there’s a rope for you to hold onto going down the cliff,” tells the veteran visitor.
LIMANTOUR BEACH, OLEMA
Want to know a secret about Point Reyes National Seashore? Rangers usually won’t issue citations for nude sunbathing unless you’re close to a clothed visitor or someone complains. “You shouldn’t rip your clothes off right after you’ve left your car and then walk nude through a picnic area on the way to the beach,” former Point Reyes district Ranger Marc Yeston told us. “Usually, nobody hassles you,” says Marin County resident Michael Velkoff. “I knew it was going to be hot, so I went to Limantour. It’s a really mellow place. I just love the open space.” The more than two miles of shoreline are perfect for walking, birding, or whale and seal-watching. Dogs are okay on the south end of the beach. Naturists suggest walking at least 10 minutes away from the parking lot and more than 300 feet away from fellow beachgoers before even considering disrobing. Others prefer the sand dunes on the north side.
Directions: From San Francisco, take Highway 101 north to the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit, then follow Sir Francis through San Anselmo and Lagunitas to Olema. At the intersection with Highway 1, turn right onto 1. Just north of Olema, go left on Bear Valley Road. A mile after the turnoff for the Bear Valley Visitor Center, turn left (at the Limantour Beach sign) on Limantour Road and follow it 11 miles to the parking lot at the end. Walk north a half-mile until you see some dunes about 50 yards east of the shore. Nudists usually prefer the valleys between the dunes for sunbathing.
LILIES BEACH, MENDOCINO
If you’re visiting the town of Mendocino, a stopover at Lilies can be a real treat. Even with lower water than usual this year, the clothing-optional swimming hole here is simply delightful. “I like it because it keeps getting sunlight late into the day and has a nice gravel sand bar,” says Jeanne Coleman, education director of the Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association, which offers great group camping facilities just a few minutes from this Big River treasure. Best times to visit are summer or early fall. Even when it’s foggy in downtown Mendo, temperatures may be in the 80s at Lilies, where there’s usually a mix of men and women and up to 50 percent of them nude. “I often see people stop off who have been mountain biking,” adds Coleman.
Directions: Take Highway 1 north to Mendocino, then turn right on Little Lake Road, the first right turn past the main Mendocino turnoff sign. Drive four or five miles east on Little Lake until you see a sign for Mendocino Woodlands. Follow the dirt road that starts there for about three miles. When you see the Woodlands retreat, go right about 0.3 miles, until the dirt road ends next to Big River. Park just off the road, where you see other cars pulled over. Follow the trail that begins there a quarter mile to the beach. Or, to save 1.5 miles, from Mendocino drive 3.5 miles east on Little Lake until you spot a dirt road with a yellow Forest Service gate. Follow the road to a second yellow gate. Just past the gate, at the juncture of several roads, turn right and take the dirt road to the parking area. The walk from the Woodlands only takes about 20 minutes.
NORTH GARBERVILLE NUDE BEACH, GARBERVILLE
A nude beach where you can camp near a river or enjoy an afternoon of reading, tanning or swimming? Just five miles from Garberville, off Highway 101 at Exit 645 (Avenue Of The Giants), there’s a beach on the south fork of the Eel River that’s so secluded some visitors stay overnight. Its existence was kept secret by users until we unveiled directions to it in 2011. “It’s an awesome place,” says a recent visitor. “This sandy beach has become a local hangout.” “The beach is excellent for tents,” says reader Dave. “It’s really private and fun.” Nestled among some shade trees, the beach can’t be seen from the road. Some visitors bring tubes or floaties. The skinny-dipping hole measures about 100 feet across, with both deep and shallow swimming areas.
Directions: Go north on Highway 101. About five miles north of Garberville, take Exit 645 (Avenue Of The Giants), turn left, and head south a half mile on the river frontage road there to the spot mentioned below. Or from the north, take Highway 101 south to Exit 645. Take the exit to Hooker Creek Road and continue straight for about 100 feet, where you will see the frontage/service road. You can only go one way onto the service road. Follow it in front of the old Sylvandale Gardens store less than a half mile south along the river. Then park at the orange arrow on the pavement or where you see cars pulled over along the street. Look for a path there (recently marked by a rainbow streamer) and follow it as it curves to the right and takes you about 30 yards to the beach. Local nudies and campers tend to stay on the far right end of the beach.
TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS
Of all the rock singers who could truly be considered “legends,” Tom Petty is perhaps the least oligarchic. His records under his name alone are producer-driven affairs that put his voice at the center, but with the Heartbreakers, he’s merely a frontman, a central cog in a machine that’s been churning out unpretentious rock for almost forty years. On this latest Heartbreakers record, he’s even more understated than usual. For much of the album, he sings through a tinny, almost Strokes-like filter that serves to both give his voice an appealing grit and bring out the sounds of the band around him.
But aside from that, Hypnotic Eye is almost devoid of producerly interference. It sounds above all else like a garage jam, cycling through rock, blues, psychedelia, and even some peaceful ballads. The album’s worst moment, the overwrought “Shadow People,” is the only one that sounds like a conscious effort to make something “good.” But it’s the only bad song here, and the fact that Petty can still make good music with so little effort gives me an odd kind of hope for this rock institution whose best albums should, by all logic, be long behind them.
(People’s Potential Unlimited)
Moon B makes largely the same sort of proudly analog neo-boogie as Dam-Funk, but while Dam-Funk’s music is starry-eyed and optimistic, Moon B’s is dark and unsettling. His music has never been gnarlier than on II. Though the universe B conjures on his second album is contained within only 31 minutes of music, it seems huge and labyrinthine, filled with darkened streets and dimly lit windows. The drums beat cautiously like nervous footsteps, and the ghostly synth chords that form the melodic core of the music seem to watch you from the shadows. A good aesthetic reference point is the Simpsons episode “Bart Sells His Soul,” in which Bart wanders panicked through a deserted, beautifully rendered labyrinth of quiet skyscrapers.
Though this might make II sound too scary for everyday listening, it’s surprisingly great chillout music. The music is never frightening, just spooky, and it’s got a Boards of Canada-like ability to fade into the background while still keeping you on your toes. Its length also prevents the album from devolving into monotony — all the songs follow the same sonic template, but not to their detriment. This is some of the best mood music I’ve heard this year so far.
Part 6 EP
Matthew Herbert’s ability to write great songs is almost a liability. Under the mononym Herbert, the British producer released the holy trinity of Around The House, Bodily Functions, and Scale between 1998 and 2006, each containing a phenomenal, almost absurdly good second track. These songs — “So Now…,” “It’s Only,” and “The Movers And The Shakers,” respectively — cast long shadows not only over the rest of their parent albums but the increasingly conceptual work Herbert’s been producing under his full name lately. In dropping his first name from his new Part 6 EP, he’s made things a lot harder for himself given how much he has to live up to. Part 6 doesn’t quite live up to those albums, but it’s still exemplary house music. Its vocally-oriented track “One Two Three” would be maybe the fifth-best song on any of his great Herbert albums, and perhaps the second-best on most decent-quality house albums. The others are pummeling club bangers that would sound great in the club but aren’t quite as hospitable for casual listening as most of Herbert’s work. But each track is layered with peculiar, welcome details that remind you one of house’s all-time greats is back in action. (Daniel Bromfield)
LEFT OF THE DIAL Can you smell it in the air? It’s that late-summer, chilled pinot grigio-tipsy, organic ice cream-sticky scent of Outside Lands, just around the corner.
Yes, it’s that time in our fair city’s annual trip around the sun when we get the chance to show Austin and Indio and those warm summer New York nights exactly what we here in San Francisco are made of when it comes to music festivals: Namely, expensive, gourmet food, wine, and beer stands, a commitment to slapping the word “green” in front of everything; and a beautiful, natural outdoor venue in which, should you forget to bring three extra layers in an oversized bag, you will absolutely freeze your ass off by nightfall.
All snark aside, one thing I’ve always appreciated about OSL in its six short summers is that, nestled amongst the sometimes overwhelmingly corporate feel of the thing — something that was maybe inevitable, as Another Planet Entertainment grew from little-promoter-offshoot-that-could into perhaps the most influential promotions company in the Bay Area music biz — is a commitment to bringing local bands along for the ride whenever possible.
Sure, everyone’s excited to see Kanye. I’m excited to see Kanye. Anyone who’s going to see Kanye and tries to say anything more intellectual about it than “I’m really fucking amused in advance and very excited to see Kanye” is lying. But nothing fills me with more hometown pride than watching a band I’ve been rooting for since they were playing living rooms or parklets take the stage in Golden Gate Park in front of thousands of paying, attentive potential new fans.
With that in mind, here’s your guide to a few of our favorite local folks representing the Bay Area at this year’s fest. Show up for ’em. In most cases, they’ve been working toward this for a long time. And if you don’t have the funds to make it to this year’s OSL? Lucky for us — unlike Kanye — these kids play around the Bay all year round.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers
The unofficial queen of Bay Area alt-folk has had a good year since August 2013, when her band’s debut LP took to the airwaves and then to the national stage, with Bluhm’s killer vocals and long, tall mishmash of Stevie/Janis appeal at the helm. Fri/8 at 4pm, Sutro Stage
SF’s own Scott Hansen has also been riding high this year, since the release of Awake in March propelled him from bedroom artist to something else entirely with its lush, ambitious landscapes of color and sound. We still think we prefer him in headphones to outdoor festival-style, but we’ll take it. Sat/9 at 3:40pm, Twin Peaks Stage
If you don’t know his solo stuff (and you should; last year’s MCII was one of the best local records of the year), you probably know him as Ty Segall’s right-hand man. Either way, Cronin is one of the most authentic voices in the Bay Area’s indie scene right now, with just enough power-pop sweetness and strings coloring even his scratchiest garage-punk anthems. Fri/8 at 4:30pm, Panhandle Stage
Did you love Girls (the SF indie powerhouse, RIP, not the HBO show)? Of course you did. Did you love Christopher Owens’ solo debut, Lysandre? We did too. He’s giving us another one in September; now’s your chance for a sneak preview of some likely highly emotional and lushly orchestrated songs. Sat/9 at 2:30, Sutro Stage
This 27-year-old rapper and SF University High School graduate has been gaining attention with his whiplash-inducing flow, which he honed in his teens as a slam poetry champion. His most recent album, June’s All You Can Do, is poised to take him from Internet and Ellen-famous to just famous-famous. Sun/10, 2pm, Twin Peaks Stage
Trails & Ways
Bossa nova dream pop, Brazilian shoegaze, whatever you call it: This Oakland quartet (and Bay Guardian Band on the Rise from 2012) draws inspiration from all over the globe for its undeniably catchy, never predictable, harmony-drenched melodies. Sat/9 at 12:40pm, Twin Peaks Stage
“This is not your father’s gypsy jazz,” warns Beso Negro’s bio, which — while we’re pretty sure our dad doesn’t have a kind of gypsy jazz — does a pretty good job of explaining the modern sounds infused into this Fairfax five-piece’s musical vocabulary. Hell Brew Revue Stage, all three days, check the website for details
As if we didn’t have a big enough soft spot for this East Bay alt-soul-folk outfit already, there’s the fact that they got their start busking outside of festivals for their first few years — including Outside Lands. Seeing them on the inside will be sweet. Sat/9 at noon, Sutro Stage
El Radio Fantastique
With horns, theremin, and just about every kind of percussion you can think of, this Point Reyes-based eight-piece is a mish-mash of everything dark and dancey and nerdy and weird, describing themselves as “part rumba band in purgatory, part cinematic chamber group, part shipwrecked serenade.” Serious cult following here. Hell Brew Revue Stage, all three days
Sultry, jazzy, rootsy — we’re excited to see what this mainstay of “voodoo blues” nights at small rooms like Amnesia can do on a bigger stage. Hell Brew Revue Stage, all three days
Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra
O’Reilly, a singer-songwriter who’s clearly done his Delta roots, gospel, and traditional folk homework, played OSL last year — well before putting out a debut studio album, the aptly titled Pray For Rain, in March of this year. This is a three-piece with arrangements that make the band seem much bigger. Hell Brew Revue Stage, all three days
FILM While I’m sure they don’t enjoy being lumped together — one imagines them ornery, if not just bratty — the brothers McDonagh share an extremely like-minded sensibility. Not least among numerous overlaps is possessing the kind of talent that is undeniable and suspect. Just because they’re frequently as clever as they think they are, need they be quite such show-offs about it?
Martin McDonagh first got attention with a series of plays (including The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Cripple of Inishmaan, and The Pillowman) that startlingly dragged traditional Irish drama toward Grand Guignol. Were they gratuitously or brilliantly cruel? Either or both, perhaps depending on the quality of the production you saw. He made his feature debut as writer-director with the insanely self-conscious yet delightful comedy-caper bloodbath In Bruges (2008). His 2012 exercise in auto-arse-kissing smartypantsery, Seven Psychopaths, might’ve struck you as insufferable (my vote), or the funniest hired-gun movie since Boondock Saints (1999). Notable trivia: Mickey Rourke dropped out of that movie, getting replaced by Woody Harrelson, because he thought McDonagh was a “jerk-off.” When Mickey Rourke thinks you’re a dick … well, you’re definitely something of a world-class nature.
By the time John Michael McDonagh emerged, his brother was already ensconced in slightly infamous fame. Discounting his adaptive screenplay for disappointing 2003 Aussie-Robin-Hood biopic Ned Kelly, John Michael made a splashy entree both writing and directing The Guard eight years later.
It starred Brendan Gleeson — a significant Irish national resource both McDonagh siblings have made regular use of, as a willfully perverse small town cop who takes infinite pleasure flummoxing the tightly wound FBI agent (Don Cheadle) he’s forced to investigate an international drug-smuggling ring with. Endlessly acerbic, spectacularly scenic, The Guard is so pleased-as-punch with itself you might occasionally wish to punch it. But Preston Sturges was also conspicuously delighted by his prancing-prize-pony of a mind, which didn’t make its cavorting any less delightful to others.
Gleeson and John Michael are back with Calvary, a film just as good, if yea more suspect for crimes of excess facility — especially because this time he’s being serious, at least sorta kinda. This McDonaugh’s flippancy is of the kind that makes you wonder whether he’s even capable of really giving a shit about anything, in part because he occasionally fakes it so well.
Father James (Gleeson) is the discreetly gruff moral center of a coastal Irish hamlet that surely would have none otherwise. His parishioners, living in some glossy tourist advertisement whose quaint authenticity looks polished beyond belief (or an actual native’s budget), are all skeptics, heretics, nonbelievers, and blatant sinners. They take particular pleasure in ridiculing the uprightness of this one man no one has a legitimate gripe against, save resentment.
There’s self-assigned upscale town slut Veronica (Orla O’Rourke), having a possibly kinky affair (among many) with handsome Ivory Coast émigré Simon (Jim Jarmusch regular Isaach de Bankole), while husband Jack (Chris O’Dowd) claims bored indifference. Cynical Dr. Frank (Aidan Gillen) is seemingly hardened to suffering by all he’s witnessed in the hospital operating room. Michael Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran) is the new lord of the local manor, a disgraced but as-yet-unjailed predatory financier who toys with holy forgiveness as he might any other asset his filthy millions could acquire.
Lower on the totem pole, troubled youth Milo (Killian Scott) wonders whether to kill himself, somebody else, or both — a dilemma shared at least partially by nearly everyone here — just to feel something. A life-sentenced serial murderer once in his flock (Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan), a glib superior (David McSavage’s Bishop), a hopelessly shallow apparent successor (David Wilmot’s Father Leary), and others all seem to enjoy a little too much making Father James writhe on the skewer of his historically very guilty institution’s making. Rare exceptions are a French tourist (Marie-Josée Croze) widowed by a needless traffic pileup, and his own daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly), a perpetual train wreck come home to the daddy she says abandoned her for God just as his wife/her mother abandoned them both for terminal cancer.
As if all this weren’t enough already: At Calvary‘s start, an unseen confessor tells James he was abused for years by a (now-dead) Catholic priest, and as recompense will kill his current, admittedly blameless confessor in a week’s time. Just for, y’know, catharsis or whatever.
That’s a setup narrative, to say the least. It would appear entirely, absurdly skewed if not for the gravitational center Gleeson provides. He single-handedly provides the sincere if faint hope of redemption in a scenario that otherwise provides every possible indication of damnation for all. It’s hard to imagine another actor doing as much so well, with so little apparent effort, under circumstances of such manipulative high contrivance. Basically every scene here is a beautifully staged theatrical dialogue angled toward a shocking revelation. Calvary centrally addresses the question of faith while ultimately dodging the answer. I’d appreciate McDonagh’s ambivalence more if he weren’t quite so pleased about it. He’s got extraordinary taste, no doubt — from its editorial pace to its costume and soundtrack choices, this movie is curated within an inch of too-much-ness. Beyond his understandable disillusionment with the Catholic Church’s crimes, does he truly care about morality, or is it just an authorial chew-toy?
Calvary is so cannily crafted and acted, many will shrug off such quibbles, deciding the film’s brilliant surface actually means something, or at least deliberately implies myriad meanings. But this McDonagh, like the other, feels like a genius attention-seeker whose impersonation of depth cannot be trusted. I doubt him — as many characters here do God — right down to the last fate-intervening inspiration of an ending that won’t leave a dry eye in the house. Nor should it, dammit. *
CALVARY opens Fri/8 in Bay Area theaters.
FILM A remarkably effective — and remarkably simple — form of music therapy pioneered by New York social worker Dan Cohen finds a strong advocate in filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett, whose documentary Alive Inside benefits greatly from its awesomely cinematic results. The doc sprang from a 2011 YouTube video, “Man In Nursing Home Reacts to Hearing Music from His Era,” a six-minute clip that went viral after a Reddit post. (It’s since garnered nearly 1.5 million views.)
The scene is a typically depressing nursing home, where an elderly man named Henry sits hunched over in a wheelchair. But once he’s given a pair of headphones and an iPod loaded with the gospel songs he used to love, he lights up. His eyes open wide. He boogies in his chair. He croons along at the top of his lungs. Even more incredibly, after the headphones are lifted, he’s able to converse with Rossato-Bennett, enthusing about Cab Calloway and his long-ago job as a “grocery boy.” In just seconds, the music he’d long forgotten seemingly zapped Henry with fresh life, enabling him to connect with his memories and express himself with surprising energy.
No wonder Rossato-Bennett, who filmed numerous examples of this phenomenon over the three years he followed Cohen, chose to make Alive Inside his first feature-length doc. Even though we know what to expect after seeing Henry’s reaction, the before-and-afters are intensely moving with every patient: the bipolar schizophrenic whose constant distress is alleviated, however briefly, by a spontaneous encounter with a funky tune; the man with dementia who sparks with his healthy wife, to her teary-eyed delight, as they listen to the Shirelles; the middle-aged woman whose frustration with her forgetfulness is soothed by a much-needed dose of the Beach Boys. And it’s not just the pleasure of hearing the music, Alive Inside suggests; it’s the regained sense of identity and emotion that music triggers in people whose memories have been essentially wiped clean.
Though the film could’ve probably sustained interest just based on these small yet monumental moments, Rossato-Bennett widens his focus to include neurology — Dr. Oliver Sacks explains how music is “a back door into the mind” for patients with Alzheimer’s and related diseases — and the history of American elder care, expanded upon by physicians and others who think the current system favors efficiency over nurturing. (It also struggles against a culture where youth is prized, and aging people are seen as something to be hidden away.) Care facilities emphasize regimented schedules, and most patients are overly medicated. As activist and geriatric medicine specialist Dr. Bill Thomas points out, the big bucks in health care are in pharmaceuticals. One social worker’s dream of distributing iPods filled with big band jams and other music tailored specifically to each patient is a fringe idea at best, no matter how effective it’s proven to be.
Alive Inside also investigates music’s primal powers, with Bobby “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” McFerrin and Musicians for World Harmony co-founder Samite Mulondo offering their expertise. More of an enigma is Cohen (Rossato-Bennett handles the occasionally over-sentimental narration), a lanky, soft-spoken man who cares deeply about the people he’s trying to help, even doing an awkward shuffle with a patient enjoying her first iPod experience. Cohen’s nonprofit, Music & Memory, came about as a result of his volunteer work in nursing homes, which he describes as a “life-changing experience.” Unfortunately, not everyone shares his point of view. We see him networking at a long-term care conference with some success, but he’s also shown pleading his case to facilities that refuse to accommodate him, and prodding deep-pocketed corporations that decline to donate.
Alive Inside‘s delighted chronicling of its own viral origins — Henry and his gospel awakening — caps the movie with a sense of hope that maybe The Kids can be bothered to care about The Olds, after all. One way to start: At screenings across America, including at San Francisco’s Opera Plaza, Cohen’s Music & Memory will have donation boxes to scoop up working iPods for its cause. *
ALIVE INSIDE opens Fri/8 in Bay Area theaters.
SUPER EGO My unholy trinity of nightlife bibles: Deck Hebdige’s essential Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Zeshu Takamura’s gorgeously illustrated Roots of Street Style, and — along with anything by Brit crit Simon Reynolds — the surprisingly poetic history of disc jockeying, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton.
2007’s Last Night just got a nice paperback reissue (revised and updated to fit our re-edit times) from Grove Press, the discovery of which occasioned a skip through some other recent, great-looking books on music and nightlife. For vinyl-lovers, scrumptious coffee table tome Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting by Elion Paz offers portraits of flat plastic obsessives, while Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records by Amanda Petrusich gets really deep (as in, she goes scuba-diving looking for 78s) about antiquated slabs.
For those on the button-pushing side, Playing with Something That Runs: Technology, Improvisation, and Composition in DJ and Laptop Performance by Mark J. Butler goes full bore into analyzing what really goes on up there behind the glowing apple. Another nightlife bible, 1994’s Street Style — anthropologist-photographer Ted Polhemus’s survey of 40 years of subcultural expression — recently got a nice reissue. And, timely with all the Bay Area peeps still heading there, editor Geoff Stahl’s Poor But Sexy: Reflections on Berlin Scenes looks at everything from that burg’s burgeoning Turkish gay underground to its kooky, folky Russendisko movement. The more you know!
BENEFIT FOR IAVA
Celebrated local dirtybirdie basshead Justin Martin headlines, Thievery Corporation’s Rob Garza joins in (with Shiny Objects and Disco Knights) for this benefit for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America advocacy group. Healing through music, friends.
Thu/7, 9pm-3am, $15. Monarch, 101 Sixth St, SF. www.monarchsf.com
BEATS. BALLS. BOYS.
Gay-friendly rugby champions SF Fog are raising funds to go to the big Bingham Cup in Australia. How? Sexily, of course! With DJs Jason Kendig and Robert Jeffrey, photos by Shot in the City, and a bunch of hulking, sweaty mens.
Fri/8, 10pm, $10-$15. Beatbox, 314 11th St, SF. Facebook invite
BEATS FOR PEACE
This benefit, drawing together a huge number of young Bay rave players, is raising money to help out techno DJ Trevor Mills, who suffered a spinal stroke in May — and it’s dedicated to the memory of bass DJ Foobz, who passed away in his sleep last month.
Fri/8, 9pm-4am, $15–$20. F8, 1192 Folsom, SF. www.feightsf.com
Far-too-catchy single “Jack” propelled this producer onto the British charts: He’ll be propelling Mezzanine into a frenzy — with Irish techno ace Shit Robot — at the Lights Down Low crew’s Outside Lands afterparty.
Fri/8, 9pm-3am, $10–$15. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. www.mezzaninesf.com
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
The cute gay techno label finally steps out, with a sparkly showcase sure to draw not just the homo fellas but the curious as well. DJs Jeno of Wicked, wonderfully obsessive record collector Carlos Souffront, and disco–edit darling Gay Marvine (newly relocated from Detroit) provide the payoff.
Sat/9, 10pm-4am, $10–$12. F8, 1192 Folsom, SF. www.feightsf.com
The lineup for this one is whackadoodle: longtime rave-fave Scumfrog, breakbeat hero DJ Icey, hipster duo Gorgon City — all leading up to Chicago’s biggest techno freak, Green Velvet. (Certainly a harbinger of Burning Man’s return.) Cameras ready, prepare to flash.
Sat/9, 10pm-4am, $20–$25. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com
RED HOT RHYTHM REVUE
Swing, swing, swing! An energetic night of old-timey dancing, with music from the Hot Baked Goods (har), dancing girls from the Sweet Sixteen, swing lessons, cabaret performances, more.
Sat/9,7:30pm-1:30am, $10–$15. Balancoire, 2565 Mission, SF. www.redhotrhythmrevue.com
A double-dose of Green Velvet, as his actually legendary house alter-ego Cajmere takes to the decks. Still freaky, still deaky, but now with “Brighter Days.”
Sun/10, 9:30pm, $20–$25. Audio, 316 11th St, SF. www.audiosf.com
MOM ON MARS
A weekly sunny Sunday patio bunch with full bar, food from Soul Groove, and tunes from the incredible Motown on Mondays crew at Mars Bar. What more do you need?
Sundays, 11:30am-3:30pm. Mars Bar, 798 Brannan, SF. www.facebook.com/marsbarsf
Christy Price doesn’t want to work forever. At 60, the security guard has worked in formula retail stores for 25 years. She says she has trouble making a living due to cuts in her work schedule, a setback that could prevent her from retiring for the foreseeable future.
Price, who has been with her current company for a decade, works at various retailers her company contracts with. Her shift from full- to part-time work is typical for employees of formula retailers in the city, many of whom are half Price’s age and attempting to support families or make their way through college.
“I’m more or less in the same predicament as [the retail workers], in terms of hours,” Price said. “It’s scary, and it’s awful sad. You’ve got people who want to work and contribute, but they aren’t given the opportunity.”
Sup. Eric Mar’s recently proposed Retail Workers Bill of Rights aims to change that. Unveiled at a July 29 press conference at San Francisco City Hall, the legislation seeks to boost prospects for retail workers “held hostage by on-call scheduling, diminished hours and discriminatory treatment by employers,” according to a statement issued by Mar’s office. There are also plans to expand the legislation to include employees of formula retail contractors, like Price.
“We’re here today because raising the minimum wage isn’t enough,” Jobs with Justice Retail Campaign Organizer Michelle Lim said at the press conference. That same day, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place a measure on the November ballot to raise the San Francisco minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018.
The current trend is for retail employers to hire part-time workers, spreading the hours thin and requiring employees to be on call for many more hours of work than they actually receive. That creates unpredictable schedules, making it difficult for workers to pay the bills.
Having stable work hours makes it possible for formula retail employees to plan for other parts of their lives, like earning college degrees, spending time with family or working other jobs — which is often a necessity for lower wage workers. Plus, as Price notes, companies with too many part-time employees aren’t getting the most out of their workers.
“If you keep undercutting them and cutting their hours, you’re not going to get the customer service that you’re looking for,” Price said. “You’re going to get what you pay for. You do need that skill; some people can do it, some people can’t.”
At the press conference, Mar was joined by fellow lead sponsor Board President David Chiu and co-sponsor Sup. John Avalos, along with speakers from local labor advocacy groups and a host of current and former formula retail workers.
As Lim explained, the proposed Bill of Rights package has four provisions. The first calls for “promoting full-time work and access to hours.” It would require formula retail employers to offer additional hours of work to current part-time employees, before hiring additional part-timers.
That would help prevent situations like those mentioned by retail employees speaking at the press conference. One Gap employee noted that part-time workers are often expected to commit to up to 30 hours of availability a week, yet would only be offered as little as 10 hours, despite being required to remain on call.
Another formula retail employee, Brian Quick, had a particularly rough experience while working for Old Navy at the clothing retailer’s flagship store. Having worked in retail for four years, he said his schedule for the upcoming week would come out on Thursday night, and the hours constantly fluctuated.
“It’s hard to plan anything such as doctor appointments when you aren’t even sure when you work,” Quick said. “Some weeks I would work 35 hours, and the next I’d get 15 hours. How am I supposed to pay bills?”
Last-minute notices became routine for Quick, who sometimes received calls informing him he didn’t have a shift anymore the night before he was scheduled to work.
“One day I came into work and they cut my hours right then and there,” Quick said. “Seems like everything is based on sales and not the well-being of the people who make the sales happen.”
Quick had other troubling experiences while working for Old Navy, including when he was denied Christmas vacation despite applying for it three months in advance. He eventually got the time off, but only through persistence and “the last-minute intervention of a sympathetic manager.”
“We know that consistent and reliable scheduling is important to our employees,” said Laura Wilkinson, a spokesperson for Gap Inc. “We are exploring ways to increase scheduling stability and flexibility across our fleet of stores. For example, last month we announced a pilot project with Professor Joan Williams of [University of California] Hastings College of Law to examine workplace scheduling and productivity.”
Gap Inc., the corporation that owns Old Navy, could be at the forefront of improving conditions, but the legislation’s supporters aren’t counting on retailers to make the necessary changes.
Instances like Quick’s are common in formula retail all over the country. Many retail employees, including some of Quick’s co-workers, must support families despite the unpredictable hours and low wages.
The second provision of the Retail Workers Bill of Rights attempts to fix that. It calls for “discouraging abusive on call practices” and aims to “encourage fair, predictable schedules.” Specifically, that would entail employers posting core schedules in advance with reasonable notice and providing premium pay “when an employer requires an employee to be ‘on-call’ for a specific shift, or cancels a shift with less than 24 hours notice.”
The third provision looks to improve conditions for part-time workers, calling for “equal treatment.” That means prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees “with respect to their rate of pay,” among other things like promotion opportunities and paid or unpaid time off.
It also addresses a chief concern for many part-time workers: ensuring that employees unable to maintain “open availability,” or being available at any time for a shift, are not denied employment. That’s especially significant for students and parents who have to balance their lives outside the retail industry with its demanding work hours.
“These policies, I feel, will have a huge impact on the lives of tens of thousands of our services workers, many of them low-wage workers who live with uncertainty and fear about their schedules and their other responsibilities in life,” Mar said as he introduced the legislation.
“Many of my family members and close friends are in that category, [along with] single moms, students in college and others that really deserve fair scheduling and a fair chance at economic justice.”
The final provision seeks to protect workers’ job security when their companies are bought or sold, requiring a 90-day trial period for existing employees if a formula retail business is acquired. This is meant to prevent companies from simply forcing out previous employees, allowing the workers a grace period to search for new work.
The legislation would impact an estimated 100,000 workers at approximately 1,250 stores across San Francisco. Those that qualify as formula retail businesses under city law include fast food businesses, restaurants, hotels and banks, and they must meet requirements in Section 703.3 of the San Francisco Planning Code.
In short, the law will apply to businesses considered to be chain stores, such as Target, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Wells Fargo and other major companies doing business throughout the city.
But the Retail Workers Bill of Rights’ supporters believe its impact will be felt beyond San Francisco, citing the city’s history of starting nationwide movements.
“San Francisco has always led the way when it comes to policies that protect working people,” Lim said. “The Retail Workers Bill of Rights is a commonsense proposal to bring stability to some of our city’s most marginalized workers.”
The supervisors sponsoring the ordinance have received plenty of help from Lim and Jobs with Justice San Francisco, a worker’s rights organization that has played an integral role in the city’s fight to improve labor conditions.
In 2013, Jobs with Justice mobilized labor support for the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, legislation not unlike Mar’s proposed legislation. In September 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Domestic Workers Bill into law, making California the nation’s first state to mandate overtime pay for domestic employees, specifically designating time-and-a-half pay for those working more than 45 hours a week or nine hours a day.
Even more support has come from the San Francisco Labor Council, Service Employees International Union Local 87 and Young Workers United, among many others, all of which have endorsed the legislation.
The proposal will come back into play in September, when the board returns from its summer recess. The process will start with public hearings, at which Mar said he looks forward to “really lively public conversation.”
That will give workers like Julissa Hernandez, a Safeway employee for 13 years and a veteran of the retail system, a chance to have their voices heard.
Speaking at the City Hall press conference, Hernandez said, “We should let retail workers know that they are not alone in this fight.”
By Peter Cohen and Fernando Martí
The Guardian last week published an editorial on the outcome of the process around the Housing Balance measure. We offer here an alternative perspective from the field.
Since 1990, San Francisco has developed an incredible track record of building close to 30 percent affordable housing — but that ratio is quickly slipping away as new market-rate approvals far outstrip funding for affordable housing.
In many parts of our city, this imbalance in housing affordability is opening the door to displacement and gentrification at an unprecedented level, as long-term residents find they can no longer afford to live in their own neighborhoods.
The Housing Balance measure, developed as legislation for central city neighborhoods and introduced in April, and promoted by CCHO members TODCO and SOMCAN coming out of the West SoMa planning process, was intended to link market-rate development to affordable housing production by setting a goal of at least 30 percent affordable housing and establishing stricter conditions on approvals of market-rate housing whenever the city fell below this minimum balance. The Housing Balance measure was meant to compel all sides to work together to achieve a minimum of 30 percent affordability over time.
In June, Supervisor Jane Kim revised the Housing Balance to introduce it as a measure for the November 2014 ballot, extending the reach of the measure to not only establish a 30 percent affordable housing requirement for District 6, but across the neighborhoods of the city. Perceived as a threat by developers, this new proposal compelled the Mayor’s Office to put its own measure on the ballot — a so-called “poison pill” that would override the conditions placed on market-rate development by the Housing Balance. Since that time, the Mayor’s Office and Sup. Kim’s office engaged in extensive negotiations, which CCHO supported as a pathway to more substantive outcomes than simply a ballot “war.”
On July 29, negotiations produced a compromise measure — a policy statement that was introduced for the November ballot and agreed-upon terms for a work plan to take the policy statement into action. Though “compromise” is often considered a dirty word in politics, this measure represents a real potential win for affordable housing.
By putting the possibility of a housing linkage on the table, the negotiated outcome allowed Sup. Kim and housing advocates to up the ante to 33 percent affordable housing instead of the original 30 percent, and to get more immediate solutions for the housing crisis started immediately. The original Housing Balance was a tool to create leverage, but didn’t create ways to produce more affordable housing. This new measure establishes a package of policies and funding to set the conditions to reach the 33 percent minimum housing balance goal.
If approved by the voters, it will formalize the city’s commitment to maintain a one third affordable housing goal and set expectations on how to get there. While lacking the conditional use requirement “teeth” of the original Balance legislation, the policy and work plan sets up the conditions for a future Balance, compelling the city to do the following:
1) Establish a housing balance report and require public hearings to hold the city accountable to its goal of minimum 33 percent affordable housing;
2) Develop funding and site-acquisition strategies;
3) Develop a strategy to maintain one-third affordability citywide;
4) Make high-rise luxury developments pay their fair share of inclusionary obligations;
5) Establish a funded Neighborhood Stabilization Trust to acquire small-to-large buildings and take them out of the speculative market, preserving them in perpetuity as affordable housing;
6) Create immediate interim controls to protect PDR (production, distribution, repair/service) businesses and artists in SOMA from displacement.
The pieces of this agreement constitute a step towards addressing San Francisco’s ongoing affordability crisis and stabilizing neighborhoods facing rapid gentrification. It may seem less dramatic than the prospect of a ballot battle with developers. But it is a package to work with that was leveraged from the process. That said, we must keep an eye on the larger goal of real citywide affordability. Though 33 percent affordable housing production is higher than what we’ve achieved in the past, we must not forget this is only a floor — realistic given the funding goals of this measure, but an incremental step toward achieving the affordable housing we need to house all San Franciscans fairly.
Peter Cohen and Fernando Martí are co-directors of the Council of Community Housing Organizations.
BART Director James Fang is San Francisco’s only elected official who is a registered Republican, yet over the last 24 years, he has somehow managed to easily win election after election in a city dominated by the Democratic Party, often with the endorsements of top Democrats.
But this year, Fang is facing a strong and well-funded challenge from investor and former solar company entrepreneur Nicholas Josefowitz, a Harvard graduate in his early 30s. Thanks in part to support from the tech community — Lyft cofounder Logan Green is one of several prominent figures in tech to host fundraisers for him, according to Re/Code — Josefowitz has managed to amass a campaign war chest of about $150,000.
Josefowitz has also secured some key political endorsements, including from Sups. John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Scott Wiener, BART Director Tom Radulovich, former SF Mayor Art Agnos, and the Sierra Club.
After Josefowitz sold his solar company, RenGen, almost two years ago, “I got more and more involved in sustainable community advocacy,” he told us. “Then the BART strike happened and I was like, wow, this shouldn’t be happening.”
Josefowitz cited BART’s history of worker safety violations, last year’s unnecessarily divisive labor contract negotiations, the district’s massive deferred maintenance budget, property devoted to parking lots that could be put to better uses (he sees potential there for real-estate development), corrupt cronyism in its contracting, and lack of cooperation with other transit agencies as problems that urgently need correcting.
Fang is being challenged by well-funded Democratic newcomer Nicholas Josefowitz.
“BART does a terrible job at coordinating with other transit agencies,” Josefowitz told us, arguing the transit connections should be timed and seamless. “James has been there for 24 years, and if he was going to be the right guy to fix it, then he would have done it by now.”
But perhaps Josefowitz’s strongest argument is that as a Republican in liberal San Francisco, Fang’s values are out-of-step with those of voters. “Why is someone still a Republican today? … He’s a Republican and he’s a Republican in 2014, with everything that means,” Josefowitz told us. “He hasn’t been looking out for San Francisco and he’s out of touch with San Francisco values.”
We asked Fang why he’s a Republican. After saying it shouldn’t matter as far as the nonpartisan BART board race is concerned, he told us that when he was in college, he and his friends registered Republican so they could vote for John Anderson in the primary election.
“Some people feel the expedient thing for me to is switch parties,” Fang said, but “I think it’s a loyalty thing. If you keep changing … what kind of message does that send to people?”
Fang said he thought the focus ought to be on his track record, not his political affiliation. It shouldn’t matter “if it’s a black cat or a white cat, as long as it catches mice,” he said. He pointed to programs such as seismic upgrades, completing the BART to the airport project, and instituting a small-business preference for BART contractors as evidence of his strong track record. “I’m a native San Franciscan — I’ve gone through all the public schools,” Fang added. “It’s very important to get people from a San Francisco perspective and San Francisco values.”
Josefowitz supporters say he has perhaps the best shot ever at defeating Fang, largely because of his prodigious fundraising and aggressive outreach efforts on the campaign trail. “He is doing all the things that someone should do to win the race,” Radulovich, San Francisco’s other longtime elected representative on the BART board, told us. “There’s a lot of unhappiness with BART these days.”
But in an interesting political twist, Fang has the endorsement of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, a champion of many progressive causes in San Francisco, after he walked the picket line with striking BART employees last year and opposed the district’s decision to hire a high-priced, union-busting labor consultant.
“It’s a priority for us to elect Fang,” SEIU 1021 organizer Gabriel Haaland told us. “When we needed him on the strike, he walked our picket line.”
SEIU Political Chair Alysabeth Alexander sounded a similar note. “In the middle of one of the most important and highest-profile labor fights in the nation, when two workers had to die to prove that safety issues were the heart of the struggle, Fang was the only board member who took a position for safety,” she said. “Every other member shut out the workers and refused to acknowledge that serious safety issues put workers lives at risk every day. If more BART Board members has the courage of Fang, two workers would be alive today.”
BART got a series of public black eyes last year when its contract standoff with its employees resulted in two labor strikes that snarled traffic and angered the public. Then two BART employees were killed by a train operated by an unqualified manager being trained to deliver limited service to break the strike, a tragedy that highlighted longstanding safety deficiencies that the district had long fought with state regulators to avoid correcting. Finally, after that fatal accident helped force an end to the labor standoff, BART officials admitted making an administrative error in the contract that reopened the whole ugly incident.
“One of the things that really opened my eyes in this labor negotiation is that often we get told things by management, and we just assume them to be true,” Fang said, noting that he’d questioned the agency’s plan to run train service during last year’s strike.
Yet Josefowitz said the BART board should be held accountable for the agency’s shortcomings in dealing with its workers. “It starts with having a genuine concern over worker safety issues, and not just at bargaining time,” he said. “If the board had acted early enough, that strike was totally avoidable.”
Indeed, BART’s decisions that led to the tragedy have been heavily criticized by the National Transportation Safety Board, California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, and the California Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment.
Fang also has the support of many top Democrats, including Attorney General Kamala Harris, US Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and former state legislator and current Board of Equalization candidate Fiona Ma, who told us: “I have endorsed one Republican in my political history, and that is James Fang for BART Board.” Noting that Josefowitz “just moved here,” Ma said, “The BART system is one of our jewels, and I don’t think we should elect first-time newcomers in San Francisco to manage it.”
Radulovich said he was mystified by prominent San Francisco politicians’ support for Fang, saying, “In this solidly Democratic town, this elected Republican has the support of these big Democrats — it’s a mystery to me.”
One reason could be Fang’s willingness to use newspapers under his control to support politicians he favors, sometimes in less than ethical ways. Fang is the president of Asian Week and former owner of the San Francisco Examiner, where sources say he shielded from media scrutiny politicians who helped him gain control of the paper, including Willie Brown and Pelosi (see “The untouchables,” 4/30/03).
But political consultant Nicole Derse, who is working on the Josefowitz campaign, told us that she thinks support for Fang among top Democrats is softening this year, noting that US Sen. Dianne Feinstein and state Sen. Mark Leno haven’t endorsed Fang after doing so in previous races.
“[Fang] has longstanding relationships with folks, but Nick is challenging people in this race to stop supporting the Republican,” Derse told us. “It’s now up to the Democratic Party and it’ll be interesting to see what they do.”
She was referring to the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, which plans to vote on its endorsements on Aug. 13. While DCCC bylaws prevent the body from endorsing a Republican, Ma and other Fang allies have been lobbying for no endorsement in the race, which would deny Josefowitz a key avenue for getting his name and message out there.
“This is going to be one of the most expensive races in BART’s history. He will kill me on money,” Fang said of Josefowitz. He suggested that his opponent’s candidacy underscores tech’s growing influence in local politics, and urged voters to take a closer look. “People are saying oh, it’s all about Fang. What about this gentleman?” Fang asked. “Nobody’s questioning him at all.”
Derse, for her part, noted the importance of having a well-funded challenge in this nonpartisan race. “It allows him the resources to get his message out there,” she said of Josefowitz. “Most San Franciscans wouldn’t knowingly vote for a Republican.”
“Will the SF minimum wage hike kill our restaurants?” Zagat SF tweeted last week.
No, Chicken Little, it won’t. Not even if you tweet it.
Two days earlier, the Board of Supervisors had unanimously approved a measure for the November ballot to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018, up from where it stands at $10.74.
Zagat may be fine for restaurant reviews, but this attack on raising the minimum wage — which parroted fearmongering about high-priced burgers and relied heavily on a narrative served up by a powerful business lobby, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association — was enough to cause heartburn.
And it’s only one example of the backlash directed at low-wage workers since the bid to boost the minimum wage has picked up steam. A now-infamous billboard that popped up in SOMA, funded by conservative lobbying group Employment Policies Institute, taunted minimum-wage workers by claiming they would be replaced with iPads if they didn’t give up the fight for higher pay.
The proposed minimum wage increase, actually a compromise that turned out weaker than an initial proposal spearheaded by a progressive coalition that would have delivered $15 an hour a year earlier, is backed by business-friendly Mayor Ed Lee. Even the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has expressed support for it. Still, some conservative interests seem bent on ensuring that minimum-wage workers never achieve living-wage status — demonstrating how out of touch these naysayers are.
Once better known for its rich labor history and track record of holding employers accountable for wage theft and discriminatory practices, San Francisco is better known these days as one of the nation’s highest-ranking cities for income inequality.
Scraping by at a minimum wage job translates to a stressful existence. Even if minimum-wage earners were currently earning $31,000 a year, the amount a full-time $15-an-hour job would bring in before taxes, it wouldn’t begin to stretch far enough to rent a market-rate apartment. Earlier this year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition pointed out that a renter’s got to earn at least $29.83 an hour — or $62,046 annually — to afford a San Francisco one-bedroom at market rate.
Meanwhile, those spouting doomsday scenarios over a higher minimum wage seem blind to the fact that the city is regularly populated with hordes of tourists and well-compensated San Francisco professionals with a penchant for fine food, even if it’s pricey.
Just for a sense of how much cash is pumping through the local economy, the San Francisco Center for Economic Development reports that San Francisco claimed 40 percent of all venture capital investment in the Bay Area last year, with nearly $5 billion in VC funding invested in 2013. Meanwhile, 16.5 million visitors flocked to the Bay Area last year — can anyone really claim with a straight face that a higher minimum wage for restaurant workers will prevent this army of tourists from chowing down at local restaurants?
Instead of having a debate about whether we ought to raise the minimum wage, a better conversation would focus on the consequences of allowing the city’s sharp inequality to continue unchecked.
When he launched an unexpected mayoral bid in 2011, Mayor Ed Lee campaigned on a platform of changing the tone of San Francisco politics. The appointed mustachioed mayor claimed he put the civility back in City Hall, marking a sharp departure from the divisive tone of city politics as progressives battled former Mayor Willie Brown, followed by Mayor Gavin Newsom.
“We’ll continue the high level of civility in the tone we’ve set since January, and solve the problems with civil engagement,” he told Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, then his mayoral opponent, at a 2011 debate.
Yet over the past two weeks, Mayor Lee has started swinging hard against supervisors who have introduced measures that go against his own priorities. So much for civility at City Hall.
When asked about the outcome of her newly revised affordable housing measure, Sup. Jane Kim did not sound enthusiastic.
“It was definitely a compromise,” Kim said. But compromise is a word you use when you find a middle ground. By most accounts, Mayor Lee weakened the measure by hammering the right pressure points.
Kim crafted a novel solution to the city’s housing affordability crisis for the November ballot. Her initial Housing Balance Requirement would have established controls on market-rate housing construction, requiring a reevaluation whenever affordable housing production falls below 30 percent of total construction. The goal was to ensure that a certain amount of affordable housing would be built — but it was unpopular with housing developers.
Lee immediately drummed up a ballot measure in opposition to Kim’s, the Build Housing Now Initiative. The nonbinding policy statement asked the city to affirm his previously stated affordable housing goals. So what was the point?
It contained a poison pill which would have killed Kim’s Housing Balance Requirement. If Lee’s measure was approved, Kim’s would fail. The two politicians were in heated negotiations, trying to diffuse this ballot box arms race up to the very moment Kim’s measure went before the Board of Supervisors for approval at its July 29 meeting.
By the end of that process, Kim’s measure had been gutted.
Mirroring the mayor’s Build Housing Now Initiative, the new Housing Balance Requirement is a nonbinding policy statement asking the city to “affirm the City’s commitment” to support the production or rehabilitation of 30,000 housing units by 2020, with at least 33 percent of those permanently affordable to low or moderate income households.
Kim said she’d won funding pledges and promises for a number of affordable housing projects from the mayor. But Lee did not sign any agreement.
Essentially, the revised measure is a promise to promise, a plan to plan. Kim told us flatly, “We didn’t get the accountability we wanted.”
Political insiders told us the Mayor’s Office put pressure on affordable housing developers, who backed the original measure but later asked Kim to revise it to reflect the mayor’s wishes. The Mayor’s Office allegedly threatened to cut their funding next year, or divert projects to other affordable housing organizations.
Everyone acknowledged the mayor was pissed.
Tenants and Owners Development Corporation, an affordable housing developer in SoMa, sat in on the negotiations. The city paid $170,961 in contracts to TODCO last year, according to the City Controller, and over $250,000 the year before. John Elberling, president of TODCO, and Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, denied the mayor influenced them to ask Kim to revise her measure.
“I didn’t hear my phone ringing saying we’ll pull funding for affordable housers if you don’t do X, Y and Z,” Cohen told us. Yet he acknowledged the mayor “brought certain leverages to bear” in the closed-door negotiations to “compromise” on Kim’s ballot measure. Then everything changed.
“Yes,” Cohen said, “we then convinced the lead supervisor to change her position.”
Despite being labeled as a “compromise,” many observers read this as a sign that Lee had prevailed. Now the same hammer is coming down on Sup. Scott Wiener.
“I agree with the mayor on many things,” Wiener told us. But the mayor is targeting Wiener’s new Muni funding ballot measure, hoping to knock it off the ballot.
“It’s not personal,” Wiener said. “It’s a policy disagreement.”
The mayor has a transportation bond on the ballot, asking voters to pony up $500 million to fund Muni. But Lee already blew a $33 million hole into Muni’s proposed budget when he decided to pull a Vehicle License Fee measure off the ballot. When that measure began to poll badly, he got cold feet, and withdrew it.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s budget outlined a doomsday scenario if the funding ballot measures failed to pass. It would be impossible to improve transit travel time, reliability, or to fund pedestrian and bike safety projects, the SFMTA staff noted in recent budget presentations.
Seeing the potential fallout due to the mayor pulling the VLF measure, Wiener placed his own measure on the ballot, tying expansion for Muni funding to the city’s growing population. If passed, Muni could see a $22 million bump just next year.
Openly, the mayor told reporters he would hold the supervisors who supported Wiener’s ballot measure “accountable.” Lee then initiated a conversation about slashing funding to city programs, signaling that supervisors’ favored projects could be jeopardized.
“Last week, the Board of Supervisors sent a measure to the ballot that the budget does not contemplate,” Kate Howard, the mayor’s budget director, wrote in a memo. She directed departments to cut their budgets by 1.5 percent, and asked for “contingency plans” including a “revisit” of hiring plans and scaling back existing programs and services.
Wiener issued a statement describing the move as “an empty scare tactic.”
“For whatever reason,” he wrote, “the Mayor’s Office felt the need to issue these emergency instructions now — a full year before the fiscal year at issue, in the middle of an election campaign, without even knowing whether the measure will pass.”
John Elberling, president of TODCO, recalled when then-Mayor Willie Brown used the same schoolyard-bully tactics to ensure his favored measures passed.
“The punchline is there were competing ballot measures, one from our side and one from Willie’s side,” Elberling told the Guardian. “There was an effort to reach a compromise, but that failed. I was in the meeting where he shot it down.”
“He said ‘I will make the decisions,’ quote unquote. ‘There is no compromise unless I say there’s a compromise.’ That was quite memorable,” Elberling recalled.
When things didn’t go his way, “Willie Brown took a housing project away from us,” Elberling said.
But Mayor Lee’s bluster and anger is new, and Elberling said it should be taken with a grain of salt. “Is it a bluff? That’s always a question. Real retaliation like Willie did, that’s a real thing. But huff and puff, that goes on all the time.”