Volume 48 Number 50

September 10 – 16, 2014

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Volume 48 Number 50

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On the fringe

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER The first show of the first night of this year’s San Francisco Fringe Festival was a local story, a confessional by a man who’s spent 27 years “irritating” his wife and “annoying” his children as a workaday clown. If this isn’t what the Fringe is all about, it’s pretty close.

As a non-curated, lottery-based affair where the artist keeps all proceeds from ticket sales (host Exit Theatre collects donations toward the larger effort, and hopes you’ll buy a beer or two to wash down the Exit Café’s always complimentary bowl of pretzels), the Fringe is a magnet for the tell-all and tawdry solo outing. This is a good part of why we like it. Technically anyone can get in, with presumably almost anything they’d like to stage for a live audience, and, as a result, shamelessness of different sorts abounds. And despite the wide net of possibility cast by the proceedings, a hefty percentage of shows tend to converge around this redoubtable — or is it doubtful? — formula, turning the theater into a kind of confession booth where, if you want to be absolved of anything, you better make it good.

Through the Eyes of a Clown is a heartfelt and not unsympathetic instance of this compulsion. It’s an “apology” by David Magidson, aka Boswick the Clown, unfolding on a small stage lightly cluttered with the paraphernalia of the profession. Using his inside clown voice, the longtime licensed balloon-tier and pratfaller speaks of getting his first laugh at a tender age and never looking back. While self-effacingly frank about the culturally suspect side of his chosen obsession, Magidson, a graduate of Ringling Brothers Clown College, also offers an implicit defense of the calling, pointing to contemporary heroes like Pickle Family alum Bill Irwin (as chance would have it, right then only a couple of blocks away preparing to open at the Geary) and Stephen Colbert (a clown by definition, according to Magidson, because, rather than merely rendering comic critique from outside, his satirical right-wing persona invites you to see the world through his own eyes).

The mix of personal and observational detail can be interesting, and probably has more potential than is admittedly realized here. There are also some intriguing admissions around Magidson’s distance from his audience, his inability to always sympathize with them, even when they’re children in hospitals. It’s the laughs he’s after, and the laughs he needs. This realization stirs an unrest or discomfort in him, but it’s mingled with a specialized solipsism that’s almost clinical.

This confusion and paradox is maybe the heart of this rambling piece — although also impressive are the few (too few) passages of deft physical comedy that show off the highly tuned wackiness and balletic precision of the professional. The writing, however, is a mishmash that needs editing to bring out a stronger arc. More urgently, Magidson could use a directorial hand, since too often the show feels rudderless and his delivery off-kilter. At the same time, the ingenuousness of his account and the boyish enthusiasm middle-aged Magidson still generates for a career choice most people would politely call ill-advised are the real thing, and they suggest that, along with the clown, there’s a better, stronger show lurking somewhere inside.

The second show of the night was a second clown, albeit in gumshoe drag. In 2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Jaded Dick, Melbourne’s Tim Motley fires a volley of one-liners in a hardboiled accent vaguely tinged with an Aussie drawl — a veritable taxonomy of the corny, bawdy similes of the iconic private eye delivered in trademark trench coat, his eyes a band of shadow beneath a well-molded fedora.

For Motley, the PI shtick is a ready vehicle for a little mind reading and a card trick or two as the lights go up on his unsuspecting audience, which gets worked into a convoluted plot involving a (titular) sinister mastermind. Off-the-cuff smarts make the quick-witted Motley’s unabashedly hokey offering an enjoyable as well as somewhat unruly ride, as he does his best to shepherd clueless audience members — themselves doing their best to play along — through a zany caper. *

SF FRINGE FESTIVAL

Through Sept 20 (no shows Mon/15), $10 or less at the door; $12.99 or less online (passes, $45-75)

Exit Theatreplex

156 Eddy, SF

www.sffringe.org

 

The Breeders barrel on

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esilvers@sfbg.com

LEFT OF THE DIAL The first rule of interviewing former Pixies bassist Kim Deal is that you do not say the word “Pixies” while speaking to Kim Deal.

After it has been made clear to you, multiple times and in no uncertain terms, that you are forbidden from asking her about the iconic rock band she co-founded in 1986, quit, re-joined, and then quit again in 2013, it would be understandable if you were slightly apprehensive about said phone interview — worried, perhaps, that Deal might be cranky or unpleasant regardless of your following the rules, or else that you might suddenly develop a very specific and unfortunate case of Tourette’s that leads to you uncontrollably shouting Frank Black’s name or Pixies album titles into the phone as epithets.

All of this anxiety would be for naught. Kim Deal, 53, is in great spirits when she picks up the phone at home in her native Dayton, Ohio. She’s hilarious, actually. “Hellooo, how are you?” she drawls in an overly perky telemarketer accent of sorts. Then, laughing, before switching into her unmistakable real voice: “Sorry, I don’t know why I’m talking like that.”

If anything, she’s in a bit of a silly mood because she’s been cooped up in rehearsals. It’s about two weeks before she heads out on tour with The Breeders, the band she co-leads with her twin sister Kelley, whose nearly identical voice blends with Kim’s sultry, sharp-edged alto in a way that creates addictively salty-sweet harmonies — and a band whose chart-topping contributions to the Steve Albini era of early ’90s alt-rock are so significant that only co-founding a band like the Pixies, as Kim did, could relegate it to “secondary reason for fame” status.

Anyway: The Breeders have been rehearsing in Deal’s basement, like old times. Getting on each other’s nerves, like old times. Bassist Josephine Wiggs was convinced there was a weird sound coming out of her amp last night when they were practicing. “I swear I can’t hear what she’s hearing,” says Deal, like a stand-up comedian launching into a routine about his wife’s cooking. “It’s an 810 SVT bass amp, so it sounds like a big fucking bass amp. It’s distracting you? Scoot over and you won’t hear it anymore.”

“She’s British, though,” concludes Deal with a sigh.

And how about working with her twin sister day in, day out?

“I love her more than anything in the world, but she was bothering me so much at practice the other day that I took a lamp and put it between us so I didn’t have to look at her while we were playing,” Deal says cheerfully. “Once somebody starts doing something that annoys me I kind of get a red light around them. The lamp has moved around each day as we all [get annoyed at each other]. It’s subtle.”

They might piss each other off from time to time, but if there were any doubts about the place the Breeders still occupy in their fans’ hearts, last year’s wholly sold-out 60-date tour, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the band’s biggest commercial success, Last Splash, should have laid them to rest. (Two nights at The Fillmore last August saw the band playing the entirety of that album – which was recorded in San Francisco, then rode the same angsty wave to national fame Nirvana saw that year, propelled by its most catchy and most delightfully inane song, “Cannonball.” Then they left the stage for 10 minutes before coming back to play the entirety of Pod, the band’s 1990 Kurt Cobain-influencing debut, as an encore. Deal, who had just quit the power play of the Pixies for the second time, was noticeably exuberant as a frontwoman, and seemingly could not stop smiling.)

Still, not counting last year’s 20th anniversary reissue of Last Splash (LSXX), it’s been five years since the Breeders put out new material (though it’s been a much less dramatic break than the seven-year hiatus between Last Splash and Title TK, during which time the band famously imploded in part due to Kelley Deal’s heroin use).

In lieu of new Breeders records, however — and in lieu of, er, bringing up her most recent few years with the Pixies, which, it could be noted, some of us were excited about mostly because of the chance to hear “Gigantic,” which she wrote, which is arguably the best song in the entire decades-spanning Pixies catalog — Deal has quietly issued eight 7-inch singles of solo material since January 2013. It’s something she began doing when she “couldn’t find anybody who could be in a band” with her, she says, especially living in Ohio.

“The industry dropped out of the music,” she says simply. “Musicians need jobs now. There used to be enough money in music that people who played in bands could actually make their rent. Maybe they’d sling weed on the side or do some pizza delivery, but they could hit their rent. Now that’s just not possible. Even bands that people know pretty well, they need real jobs — they design websites, then they go home to their band. Unless you’re [at the star status] where you’re, like, making perfume.”

So she started making music by herself. Though she’s brought in old friends and bandmates to play along (Slint drummer Britt Walford, whom Deal ran into at Steve Albini’s 50th birthday party, makes an appearance), the songs are unmistakably hers. Their moods shift from volatile bass-driven fuzz (“Walking With a Killer”) to cooing sing-song with an almost creepy Velvet Underground edge (“Are You Mine?”).

In an age when we’re used to artists simply throwing up a SoundCloud link and announcing “I have a new single,” she’s done something increasingly rare, as well: She released each song as an old-school single with an A and a B side, a physical product, each with its own album art. Long known for her perfectionism and attention to detail when it comes to gear and a studio’s technical specs, 2013 and 2014 were the years when Deal became entranced by the physical process of distributing music.

“It makes it more real to me,” she explains. “If I just put it out as a download, I feel like I just emailed my sister the song. Nothing even happens, it doesn’t make sense to me — I’m like, ‘Where do I put the title, the song name?'” Plus, since she self-issued Fate to Fatal in 2009, she realized she enjoyed the process of calling around to research manufacturers, assigning ISRC codes (kind of like serial numbers for songs), getting physical mail back when she sent something out.

She has no current plans to compile the tracks into an album, however — for one, each has “really different levels of production.” She feels a little like she’d be ripping people off, since the songs are all out already. And somehow she doesn’t expect “normal people” to be interested in buying these tracks, anyway, though a large portion of the Internet (and the majority of music critics) might disagree with that.

At the moment, though, Deal is in full-band mode. This current Breeders tour came about when Neutral Milk Hotel asked them to join a bill at the Hollywood Bowl; the Breeders structured the rest of the three-week tour around the gig. (In San Francisco, the band will play The Fillmore this Saturday, Sept. 13.) The tour will be a chance to try out new material, though Deal seems a little nervous about that.

“We have about four new songs right now that we can really play, and I’m working on the words for this other song Josephine wrote,” she explains. “She seems so smart, and she’s English, so I can’t just go, like, ‘ooga chooga,'” you know? I want to really say something with it.” Deal’s been reading The Power of Myth, the anthology of conversations between scholar Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, and thinking a lot on the hero’s journey. Specifically, what would happen if the hero completely ignored the advice of the gatekeeper/mentor character at the beginning of the arc.

“We’ve been working on this stuff all year, so when [Neutral Milk Hotel] asked us, even though it’s way out there, we thought ‘Hey, let’s give it a shot. And hope to hell nobody records on cell phones,'” she says.

And then there’s the act of traveling together at this stage in the game, with bandmates she’s known for 20-plus years. (After a decade or so of other members, the current lineup is the original Last Splash crew: Wiggs on bass, Jim McPherson on drums, and the inimitable sisters Deal in the center ring on vocals and guitars.)

People can get snippy on tour, says Kim — especially in Florida, “things get weird…but we get along for the most part, no one’s an asshole, that’s important. There’s just really not a rude person in this bunch.”

In the van, especially, you can always put on headphones. And if all else fails, “You get lamped,” she says. “There’s always the lamp.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PghwbxtcJo8

THE BREEDERS

With Kelley Stoltz
9pm, $28.50
The Fillmore
1805 Geary, SF
(415) 346-3000
www.thefillmore.com

Under fire

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culture@sfbg.com

FOOD AND DRINK If you’ve ever tasted a fine mezcal, you know it’s a special thing. Bright, complex, spicy, smooth, smoky, minerally — mezcal is a spirit bursting with character. So it’s no wonder that after more than four centuries of distillation, it’s picked up its share of catchphrases. “Para todo mal, mezcal; para todo bien, también.” (For everything bad, mezcal; for everything good, the same.”) “Sip it, don’t shoot it.” “You don’t find mezcal; mezcal finds you.”

Mezcal seems to be finding a lot of people these days. In San Francisco, restaurants like Loló, La Urbana, and Nopalito — even Magnolia’s Smokestack, a brewery and BBQ spot — have lengthy lists of some of the world’s best mezcals, while cocktail bars would be hard-pressed to not have at least one mezcal drink on the menu. “It’s slow food, made the artisanal way, the way it’s always been made,” says Judah Kuper, a Coloradan who runs the brand Mezcal Vago with his friend and his father-in-law in Oaxaca, the southern Mexican state in which the bulk of all mezcal is made.

Produced in the traditional manner, the way Kuper’s fifth-generation maestro mezcalero father-in-law makes it, mezcal is an expression of true beauty—its basic ingredients quite literally earth, fire, and water. A predecessor to tequila (which is technically a type of mezcal, with its own protected denomination of origin), mezcal is essentially any distillate of the agave plant — although it can only be labeled as such if it’s made in one of eight designated Mexican states.

Its makers (mezcaleros) hand-harvest the heart (piña) of the agave (maguey, as it’s more commonly known in Mexico), roast it underground in earthen pits, crush it by hand or with a beast-drawn millstone, ferment its fibers and juices in wooden vats with airborne yeasts and water, and distill it in clay or copper stills, where it eventually drips off at about 45-55 percent alcohol by volume. These farmyard palenques are small operations, and many of their mezcaleros produce only a few hundred liters per year, making for a very unique and rare product, each batch different from the last.

Today, you can still buy extremely complex, completely organic, artisanally crafted mezcal on the roadside in Oaxaca for a few dollars a bottle. But that may not last forever.

 

GROWING PAINS

San Francisco’s Raza Zaidi has only been selling his Wahaka Mezcal brand since 2010, yet he’s seen his sales double year over year, and now he can hardly keep up with the demand. His spirits come in at an easier-to-imbibe 40-42 percent alcohol, making them a smooth entry point for those just dipping their toes into the mezcal world, but they still handily hold their own against the more potent stuff.

In the next year, he expects to ship about 32,000 bottles of five different types of mezcal from Wahaka’s palenque in San Dionisio Ocotepec, Oaxaca, all overseen by one maestro mezcalero, an equal partner in the company, who also grows all of his own maguey. Demand outpacing supply is a good problem for any business to have, but Zaidi is concerned nonetheless.

“There’s definitely [an agave] crisis right now. So at the end of this year, we’re going to have to buy from other farmers,” he admits. “The demand and growth was way larger than we expected.”

Mezcal is artisanal by nature, so it isn’t easy scale up. Agave — even its most common, cultivatable espadín variety — needs a minimum of seven years to mature. Some wild species can take upwards of 25 years to ripen, and their management and harvest-rights allocation usually fall to the tiny rural communities on whose property those plants lie.

Over centuries, mezcal’s legacy has been sustainably built around a spiritual and ecological balance of only harvesting what you need, when you need it (for weddings, festivals, funerals, the todo bien and the todo mal) — not for industrial production. But that hasn’t stopped large-scale spirits companies from trying. Bacardi just added Zignum, Oaxaca’s biggest factory producer of mezcal, to its distribution portfolio. Jose Cuervo is rumored to be following suit. And if that doesn’t sound bad enough, Toby Keith (who presumably didn’t get the “sip it, don’t shoot it” memo) has his own mezcal brand called Wild Shot, whose marketing team frequently employs the hashtag #BLAMEITONTHEWORM.

 

THIRSTY FOR MAGUEY

Drive through the mountains an hour or two outside of Oaxaca City, and you wouldn’t know that an agave shortage is afoot. Agave is seemingly everywhere — lining the roads in clusters, poking out of craggy hillsides, and planted row upon row in fields. But people on the ground there tell a different story.

My tour guide described how each week more and more trucks from the country’s tequila-producing region have been coming down and carting away whatever maguey they can get their hands on, no matter the type or age. This practice not only defies tequila’s own rules and legal standards for production (that it only be made from blue Weber agave, and that it’s grown in Jalisco and some small areas of nearby states), it ravages many Oaxacans’ livelihoods and taxes the region’s immensely complex ecosystem, maybe irrevocably so.

Mezcal’s uptick in popularity isn’t insignificant to its own future, by any means, but the spirit only represents a one percent drip in the still of tequila’s massive 300 million-liter-per-year output. And last year China lifted its ban on tequila importation, spurring even more demand for the mystical maguey.

On a recent trip to visit his uncle, Salomon Rey Rodriguez, who employs an ancestral method of hand-mashing agave and distilling in small clay pots, Kuper noted, “I came around the corner and saw a whole mountainside of agave that had been wiped out by Jalisco the day before. The agave wasn’t even ripe, and that hillside represented what would have been five years of work for Tío Rey.”

While mezcal has made huge strides to shed its reputation as tequila’s “poor country cousin,” in the socio-political sense it still is. Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s poorest states, and the agave shortfall is pitting farmers and mezcaleros against themselves and their communities, forcing them to choose between selling off their agave to tequileros long before it should be harvested or letting their families go hungry.

“There is a nest of issues that boil down to the question of whether Mexico wants to copy the industrialized tequila industry or foster the growth of an industry and product line that expresses the diversity of the agriculture at its base, the many different ideas of the people making the mezcal, and provides a living to a wide swath of society,” says Max Garrone, who co-authors a blog called Mezcalistas with Susan Coss. On Sun/14 at Public Works, Garrone and Coss will host Mezcal: Mexico in a Bottle, which will serve as a tasting extravaganza and summit for all matters mezcal.

“We try to tell [mezcal’s] story on several levels,” says Coss, “How it is produced, the stories of the people producing it, what issues there are impacting the industry — all in the hope to get people to love mezcal and everything it stands for as much as we do.”

 

MEZCAL AT A CROSSROADS

So what can be done to combat the crisis? Reforestation seems like an obvious place to start. Wahaka not only bought a plot of land for that purpose, but also started a nonprofit, Fundación Agaves Silvestres (Foundation for Wild Agave), to further the cause. “Our philosophy is, if we’re taking away from the land, then let’s give back,” says Zaidi, who’ll be both pouring his mezcal and speaking about the spirit’s history on one of many panels at Mexico in a Bottle. Wahaka grows its typically wild madrecuixe and tobalá varieties from seed, and after a couple of years, replants them in the mountains during the rainy season, in accordance with the strict environmental conditions under which these plants naturally flourish.

“What this comes down to is supporting the artisanal producers,” says Rachel Glueck, a former San Francisco resident and Nopa employee, who is in the process of starting a socially conscious mezcal brand with her husband in Mexico. “Finding a way to help these small mezcaleros register their product and sell it would be huge, because if they’re doing that, then they’re not going to feel like they need to sell their maguey to these industrial companies to make some money.”

Mezcal is really at a crossroads, she says. “Tequila was originally an artisanal product, but it became industrialized, and you look at the quality of tequila — it’s mono-cropped, it’s full of pesticides, it’s cloned from clones of clones of clones, and now the agave is really weak.”

But for all of these artisanal producers, there’s still a kernel of hope when it comes to building a new model for mezcal’s sustainability. “We’re kind of fortunate to have the tequila industry to study,” says Kuper. “But at the same time, never have consumers been more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies and where it comes from.”

Mezcal: Mexico In a Bottle Sun/14, 3pm-7pm, $60. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

A broad abroad

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cheryl@sfbg.com

LIT In her 20s and 30s, Kristin Newman had built an enviable career writing and producing hit shows like That ’70s Show, How I Met Your Mother, and Chuck. But her personal life proved far less satisfying; after breaking up with her first love, she bounced between relationships while watching her friends settle down and spawn. Fortunate to have a job that allowed for months-long vacations between TV seasons, she began pursuing her wanderlust tendencies in earnest — emphasis on the “lust,” since her travels to places like Brazil, Iceland, Israel, and (especially) Argentina often included flings and what she came to call “vacation-ships” with locals and others she met on the road.

Along the way, she did some soul-searching — but fear not, her memoir What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding (Three Rivers Press, 291 pp., $14.99) is hardly a touchy-feely treatise along the lines of Eat, Pray, Love (more on that later). Instead, it’s a raunchy, witty, relatable look back at journeys that helped guide her into the next chapter of her life, at her own speed, with plenty of disasters and stirring moments along the way. I had to meet the woman behind the book, so I called her up in Los Angeles (her current project is upcoming ABC comedy Galavant, which has a fairy-tale theme and was created by Dan Fogelman, who wrote 2010’s Tangled).

SF Bay Guardian What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is an evocative title. How did you come up with it?

Kristin Newman I thought I’d just write a few funny stories, kind of as writing samples, to get my next sitcom job. All of a sudden, I had 70 pages. It all happened the same month that I met my now-husband, and my stepmother died, and it just kind of poured out of me.

As I sat down to write, I realized [with all these trips and relationships], I wasn’t just biding my time and being silly while waiting for something to start. What I had been doing was actually its own important thing: finding a new way to be happy. My friend, who has a kid by the way, suggested that I call it What I Was Doing While You Were Having Stupid Babies [laughs]. I thought that was going to turn too many people off. So we went with Breeding.

SFBG The title might lead some to believe that you don’t like children, but anyone who reads the book will realize that’s not the case.

KN I always wanted to have kids. But deep into my 30s, I absolutely was not ready yet. Biology kicks in at a certain point, and I felt like I saw so many people around me jumping into things just because of their age, after waiting so long. I knew that I theoretically needed to figure things out, but I just wasn’t feeling it yet. I was always cool with adopting, and I write about freezing my eggs, because I felt like, I can’t let this number dictate what I do. It’s too big of a decision.

SFBG The book is a personal memoir, but it’s also a guidebook of sorts. What’s your travel philosophy?

KN The biggest thing is: Go where the guidebooks don’t tell you to go. Find locals and ask them where their secret places are. Dating a local is a great way to get advice from a local — that’s why I love a vacation romance! If you’re traveling alone, don’t go for the high-end places, even if you can afford them, because that’s not where single people go. It will be all married old people who aren’t going to want to hang out with you. If you’re not 21 and don’t want to hang with the backpackers, shoot for the mid-range.

Always say yes! And then find out how many amazing things happen as a result of accepting invitations to places, or checking out something new that somebody you meet one day suggests. The best things always happen because I say yes to something. Then, it empowers you to do that when you get home, too. Even when I can’t jump on a plane, I take a book and read alone at a restaurant, which I never used to do. I’ll walk into parties alone, or take myself to a museum. I do a lot more things alone in my own town, and that changes everything. You just feel like, “I can handle it!”

SFBG Do comparisons with  Eat Pray Love drive you crazy?

KN I wrote about that book in my book, because I knew that people would compare the two. It doesn’t drive me crazy — that book touched a lot of people, and that’s great. I had a complicated relationship with that book, as I think a lot of people do, dealing with the concept of “misery of the entitled person.” I think that all kinds of people who have entitled, lucky lives can be horribly miserable — look at Robin Williams. So I don’t blame [Elizabeth Gilbert] for her self-created misery, as someone who creates her own misery on a regular basis.

But I wanted to try and take myself a little less seriously, and have a much more comic, self-deprecating approach to the silliness that was my tail-chasing. That was my goal, to have it be fun. Also, by holding off on having sex for most of that book, I feel like she missed out on a really easy way to feel better! [Laughs.] *

KRISTIN NEWMAN

Sept. 20, 1pm, free

Book Passage

51 Tamal Vista, Corte Madera

www.bookpassage.com

 

Falling apart together

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cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM “I don’t know … maybe we were doomed from the beginning,” muses Maggie (Kristen Wiig) at the start of The Skeleton Twins. It’s her voice-over, but the figure onscreen is her brother, Milo (Bill Hader), who mopes to Blondie before flopping into a bathtub that slowly fills with water and blood from his slashed wrists. The twins haven’t seen each other in over 10 years, and the ice takes awhile to break when Maggie appears at his hospital bedside. They’ve been separated by geography (he’s in LA; she still lives in their hometown of Nyack, New York) and lifestyle — recently separated from his most recent boyfriend, Milo’s on his way from being a struggling actor to simply being a failed one; Maggie’s a married dental hygienist whose life seems to be in perfect working order. Seems.

Of course, we share her secret: On the same day Milo was penning a suicide note — “See ya later,” with a smiley face — Maggie was on the verge of gobbling a handful of pills in order to make her own permanent exit. Her marriage, to perfectly oblivious Lance (Luke Wilson), is a snooze, and she’s been secretly been taking birth control despite his much-vocalized desire to have kids ASAP. She also hasn’t, ah, been entirely faithful. Clearly, these siblings have more in common than they realize. They’re both deeply miserable, unable to shake a troubled past that includes their beloved father’s suicide, a distant mother (Joanna Gleason) who prefers New Age clichés to honest communication, and the scandalous incident (involving Milo and his high school English teacher) that caused their estrangement.

There’s only one path for these sad sacks (since if one of ’em actually died, that would make this black comedy a little too black), so they set about trying to mend fences. Milo moves into Maggie’s Pottery Barn catalog of a house, and though the surroundings are twee suburbia, the mood is decidedly desperate. Milo’s former teacher (Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell) is still in town, still closeted, and still as confusing a figure to grown-up Milo as he was to teenage Milo. And Maggie is hardly a calming presence, having realized long ago that her husband is alllll wrong for her, despite the fact that he’s possibly the nicest, most understanding dude on the planet. It’s obvious — despite their frequent arguments, and the fact that both do some pretty terrible things — that the only bond in The Skeleton Twins that has any chance at repair is Milo and Maggie’s.

Produced by indie darlings Jay and Mark Duplass, and directed by Craig Johnson (whose co-writer, Mark Heyman, also co-wrote 2010’s Black Swan), The Skeleton Twins might veer too deeply into melodrama territory were it not for its restrained script, and its appealing cast. Saturday Night Live alums Wiig and especially Hader are mostly known for their comedic talents — we all saw Wiig give good pathos in 2011’s Bridesmaids, but it’s impressive to see the same actor who portrayed flamboyant club kid Stefon bringing depth to a more serious role. (Not to say that Skeleton is entirely grim; there’s an extended lip-sync sequence that fans of the soundtrack to 1987’s Mannequin will find difficult to resist. Plus, this is very much a family that uses sarcasm as a survival method … and, sometimes, nitrous oxide.)

It’s also gratifying to see a relationship movie that’s not solely focused on romance. In fact, the film’s message that squaring away one’s beef with the family members that matter most (once you’ve jettisoned those beyond all hope, like Maggie and Milo’s selfish, Sedona-dwelling mother) is an important step toward healing and finding-your-true-self-ness. And it just so happens that The Skeleton Twins is being released not long before the holiday that holds so much meaning for its protagonists: Halloween. Though many a family drama pivots around Christmas, The Skeleton Twins is a tad too smart for that, and far too aware of the ways life can sneak razor blades into its twists and turns. *

 

THE SKELETON TWINS opens Fri/12 in Bay Area theaters.

Urban decay

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arts@sfbg.com

FILM It increasingly seems like the ultimate plan for the poor must be simply to drive them into the sea. What else is going to be done with them if we realize the Koch brothers’ dream of no minimum wage, food stamps, welfare, or Social Security? (One alternative already in practice: Build more prisons, of course.) Hostility toward the have-nots, believing that somehow they got there by being lazy or criminal or genetically inferior, is of course as old as civilization itself. But legislating to create poverty rather than to solve it is a significant reversal over the general trend of American history over the last century or so.

This kind of “Sorry, you’re screwed” mentality may seem alarming here, but it’s a basic part of the social structure wherever economic resources have always been scarcer and a drastic wealth-power divide taken for granted. Part of the impact of Ira Sachs’ excellent Love is Strange, now playing, comes from our horror that this doesn’t happen to these people, since educated, middle-class white Americans aren’t supposed to become more or less homeless. The protagonists in UK-Philippines co-production Metro Manila, however, stir our sympathy but little surprise when they become completely homeless. (Unlike the Strange characters, they have no safety net of friends and relatives who can take them in.)

Oscar (Jake Macapagal) and Mai Ramirez (Althea Vega) are rice farmers who live in the Ifugao province, tending their crop on 2,000-year-old terraces cut into the mountains. It’s grueling work in which nine-year-old daughter, Angel (Erin Panlilio), is already enlisted; another child is still a babe in arms. This stunning verdant landscape, shot by former fashion photographer Sean Ellis (also the director and co-scenarist), might be paradise on Earth with less toil and a lot more pay. But as the Ramirez family discovers, the crop that paid 10 cents a pound last year now only pays two. The family can’t survive on that return — it’s not even enough to buy seeds for next year’s harvest.

There’s nothing they can think to do but to follow the path of so many impoverished rural folk before them and head to the big city. Upon arriving in Manila, they’re stunned by the noise, crowds, and the aggressive police presence; one day they’re horrified witnesses as an attractive woman walking alone is pulled screaming into a passing car and spirited away, though no one else seems to blink. What seems a lucky break with a Good Samaritan turns out to be a scam that robs them of their paltry cash store and the shelter they thought they’d bought with it. Hustling frantically, Oscar gets himself a day’s physical labor, only to be paid with a sandwich.

Time and again, they find those who offer help are predators who recognize easy marks when they see them. Mai is tipped to a barmaid job that even has babysitting. But it’s the kind that starts with the interviewer saying “Show me your tits.” “Daycare” consists of letting the kids crawl around the women’s changing room, and keeping customers “happy” is scarcely distinguishable from straight-up prostitution. Then Oscar’s military-service tattoo gets him embraced as a fellow veteran by older Ong (local film and TV veteran John Arcilla). The latter seems a savior, setting up the family in a fairly nice apartment, taking on Oscar as his new partner in an armed security-guard service where the main duty seems to be running questionably legal amounts of money around.

All this happens in Metro Manila‘s first half, after which it becomes less a tally of everyday exploitations and slum indignities than a crime drama in the mode of Training Day (2001), or Brillante Mendoza’s notorious 2009 Kinatay, which won a controversial Cannes Best Director Prize in 2009 and subsequently played Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (YBCA’s New Filipino Cinema festival provided Metro‘s area premiere earlier this summer — the Roxie’s single showing this Thursday evening will doubtless be as close to a regular theatrical release as it gets hereabouts.) Ellis’ film isn’t as slickly hyperbolic as Day or as challengingly grungy as Kinatay, inhabiting a useful middle ground between thriller and case-pleading exposé. Itself an audience award winner at Sundance, Metro feels creditably engulfed in its cultural setting — if this were a movie by an old-school Filipino director, there might have been a heavier emphasis on the Ramirezes’ Christianity, which is presented simply and respectfully here but not used to milk viewer emotions.

Ellis funded this feature (his third) himself, the story inspired by a violent fight he witnessed between security guards during a prior trip to the Philippines. He doesn’t speak Tagalog, making Metro one of the better films in recent history by a director shooting in a language he doesn’t understand, something that happens more often than you might think. (Interestingly, Metro has already been remade as the Hindi movie CityLights.) The script he’s co-written with Frank E. Flowers is economical, such that when there’s a rare moment of what otherwise might pass for preachiness, the truth stings instead. When a suddenly less grateful than fearful Oscar tells his boss, “I don’t believe in hurting people,” Ong snaps, “Don’t speak. You have no voice in this world.”

Indeed. Money talks. The rest of you, STFU. *

METRO MANILA

Thu/11, 7pm, $10 (followed by Skype interview with Sean Ellis)

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St, SF

www.roxie.com

 

Jock joints

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culture@sfbg.com

CULTURE Jim McAlpine wants the world to know that not all marijuana users are lazy, permanently couch-locked, junk-food addicted stoners. That’s why McAlpine is organizing the 420 Games, a series of athletic competitions in which weed enthusiasts will run, walk, and bike their way to larger societal acceptance.

The Games’ inaugural event, a five kilometer fun run in Golden Gate Park Sat/13 that McAlpine hopes will attract 500 participants, will be followed by a road cycling competition in Marin County, a “Marijuana Olympics Challenge” in Sacramento, and foot races across the state. “What better way to prove that you’re not a stoner just because you use marijuana, than [by] going out and being motivated and athletic?” McAlpine points out in an e-mail interview with the Guardian.

The visual of hundreds of healthy weed users jogging en masse through Golden Gate Park’s winding green thoroughfares seems like an apt PSA for responsible pot use. The 420 Games also just sound like a good time. At the inaugural event, attendees have the option to skip the athletics completely and come for the afterparty, which features an artisanal beer garden sponsored by Lagunitas and a set by Zepparella, an all-female Led Zeppelin cover band.

Those expecting the baseball bat-sized joints and puking, littering high schoolers present each year at the 4/20 celebrations on Hippie Hill in the park, be warned: There will be no sanctioned on-site cannabis use at the 420 Games, and attendees are encouraged to drag only on legal weed before and after the event. The Games are not a free-for-all smoke out, radical demonstration, or a call to legalize weed now; rather, McAlpine has packaged his sporting events in a way that will encourage even cannabis skeptics to examine their views about marijuana in 2014.

In his previous life, McAlpine was an entrepreneur who ran a discount ski pass company. But drought and years of dismal snowfall have driven McAlpine to find additional ways to spend his time. He was inspired by the potential of the cannabis industry, and seeks to use many of the proceeds from the 420 Games to fund a 501c3 nonprofit, the PRIME Foundation, which he’s establishing. Though PRIME has yet to begin educational programming and McAlpine has few details on when it will begin operating, he told the Guardian that he wants the organization to be a source of education for youth and adults about marijuana addiction, and about the very real benefits of weed and hemp. “I hope we can begin to raise some money to create campaigns to really educate the public on topics like this,” he says, referring to the 420 Games kickoff.

Of course, the 420 Games are not the only proof that weed-smoking athletes exist. One need only look at the countless Olympians and NFL, NBA, and NFL players who have been caught with pot to know that the sporting life is not one that is necessarily devoid of THC. The highest-profile case was that of swimmer Michael Phelps, the Olympic phenom who has won more medals than anyone in the history of the Games (22 total, 18 of them gold). In 2009, three months after dominating the lanes in Beijing, a leaked photo appeared to show Phelps smoking a bong. Since the photo’s depicted infraction took place during the off-season, Phelps escaped Olympic sanctions, but he did receive a competition suspension and lost a few endorsement deals.

In 1998, Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati was nearly stripped of his Olympic gold medal after a post-competition positive drug test, but ducked punishment when it was proven that marijuana wasn’t officially on the banned list of the Olympics’ governing board. It was added three months later, which meant American judo star Nicholas Delpopolo was expelled from the 2012 London Olympics when his results came back positive for pot (he maintains he unwittingly ate weed-infused food, but no exception was extended for ignorance of intoxication).

Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns was the NFL’s leading receiver during the 2013 season when he failed a drug test for pot. The league recently announced he will be suspended for the entire 2014 season. Pittsburgh Steelers running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were pulled over with weed in their car last month, but have yet to be suspended from play. And of course, who could forget SF Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum’s 2009 off-season misdemeanor charge, when a pipe and weed were found in his car’s center console during a traffic stop? The list of athletes who have been discovered with weed is rather lengthy, all things considered.

The NHL has removed marijuana — and all drugs not deemed to be performance-enhancing — from its list of banned substances, choosing instead to offer optional addiction counseling to athletes who repeatedly test positive. But NFL spokespeople have repeatedly asserted that no change will be forthcoming in the league’s weed policy. This is especially distressing given that football players likely stand to benefit much more than most people, particularly athletes, from marijuana’s pain management effects. A lawsuit filed earlier this year by 750 ex-NFL players takes on the league for alleged distribution of opioid painkillers that have been shown to have detrimental long-term effects on players’ health.

Cannabis’ natural painkillers are a different story. In an interview with the Fusion network, former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson estimated that 70 to 80 percent of NFL players “gravitate toward the green,” and not just for recreational use. “Managing and tolerating your pain is how you make your money in this game,” Johnson said.

Berkeley doctor Frank Lucido knows full well why sports enthusiasts would turn to marijuana. “Some athletes might benefit from using cannabis after sports for the acute pain and inflammation from that recent activity or trauma,” Lucido writes in an e-mail interview with the Guardian. “Depending on the sport, a player may use cannabis before to ease chronic pain or muscle spasm, so they can function better.”

Lucido said he has prescribed various ex-NFL players medical marijuana, has worked with patients on seeking cannabis treatment since the passage of Prop. 215 in 1996, and holds the opinion that performance in some noncompetitive sports can benefit from cannabis use beforehand. He’s not alone. Others have commented anecdotally that weed can improve sporting ability, especially in pursuits involving high levels of finesse like golf and bowling.

McAlpine says thus far no pro athletes have announced their support of the 420 Games. In our interview, he alludes to plans to approach Phelps’ management, but he might have better luck shooting for Rebagliati. After his close shave with Olympic disgrace, the snowboarder is now the CEO of Ross’ Gold, a Canadian company that sells 14 strains of premium branded medical cannabis. Philadelphia Flyers veteran Riley Cote is another ex-pro in the world of marijuana — he recently started a foundation to teach people about the role hemp can play in a sustainable lifestyle.

But perhaps the 420 Games will manage to sway public opinion not with the appearance of gold medal winners, but rather everyday people who use weed in their everyday lives — something that weed expos, with their green bikini babes and emphasis on innovative new ways of getting blasted, have failed to do.

“I believe very strongly that there is a huge problem with public perception of marijuana users,” says McAlpine. “Even as it becomes legal. I knew it would be a big step to take on this new venture, but it is 100 percent for a cause I believe in, so that makes it all a lot easier to get up and put the hours in.”

There’s no question that it will take many muscles to change much of professional sports’ opinion on marijuana. But maybe we can start here. Call it a joint effort. *

420 GAMES 5K FUN RUN/WALK

Sat/13, 7am check-in; 8am race; 9am-noon afterparty, $60 (afterparty pass, $42)

Bandshell, Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park, SF

www.420games.org

Feasting on flacks

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culture@sfbg.com

THE WEEKNIGHTER Sometimes it happens. PR companies take me out, feed me, and get me boozed up. All with the hope that I will write about the place that’s feeding/boozing me. Sometimes I write about the place, sometimes I don’t. I make no promises other than I promise to consume the food and booze that’s put in front of me. I imagine I’ve had worse lifetimes, but I wouldn’t know.

This time Natalie was taking me to Chaya (132 Embarcadero, SF, (415) 777-8688) on the PR company’s dime. Sitting on the Embarcadero with staggering views of the bay, Chaya is absolutely lovely. Come at sunset to see the lights twinkle on the Emperor Norton Bridge and sit down to a romantic dinner of incredible French-Japanese fusion.

In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Chaya was one of the first places doing “fusion” back before that was a beaten and tired word in the culinary world. That’s because Chaya has been around in SF for 14 years, which is a remarkable feat in any town, but nearly magical in San Francisco. The thing is, 14 years ain’t shit compared to the fact that the family that owns the Chaya has been in the hospitality business for almost 400 years.

According to the thing Natalie just sent me (since I neglected to take notes): Chaya has an unprecedented 390-year history of restaurants owned and operated by the same Tsunoda family both in Japan and California. Chaya began under an enormous shade tree in Hayama, Japan, centuries ago, where it offered tea, sweets, and respite to weary horseback travelers.

As they say in Japan: that shit cray.

Sitting down in the back area with Natalie and Matthew, Chaya’s marketing manager, I was told about the restaurant’s all-night happy hour, which happens every day. Chaya has long been an after work staple for the well-heeled, so it only made sense to extend the length of happy hour to keep those with well-coiffed hair quaffing well-made drinks.

Then the food came out and it was glorious. I don’t remember exactly what we ate, but there was a lot of it and it was brilliant and made my mouth happy. Matthew was excited to have me eat the Temari-style sushi, which is little round balls of rice topped with fish so fresh you can almost taste their souls. If fish had souls, that is. More food followed, as did drinks with whimsical names and suddenly, somehow, I was full and drunk. Life was good.

Natalie and Matthew began telling me about something called the Kaisen platter, which is a full selection of various raw seafood meant to be shared. “That sounds amazing,” I said, “but if you actually bring that out here right now, I may cry.” I had made the mistake of saying that I would eat and drink anything they put in front of me, and the clever bastards had the balls to call my bluff. Every man has his limits and I had found mine.

It was the golden hour when I finally toppled out of Chaya. The buildings were shimmering like pyrite and by the time I made it to Market, the street had a pinkish hue.

“I think I’m gonna walk home,” I told Natalie. “If you don’t hear from me, it’s because I ruptured something and died on the way home.”

I didn’t die.

To the classrooms, Baby Boomers

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OPINION As long as I’ve been substitute teaching, people have asked what I thought we could do to improve public schools. With all of the classrooms I’ve been in, they figured I might know something. But I’ve never had a simple answer for them, because I don’t actually think there is a single overriding educational crisis.

For most kids, the system works okay, or at least as well as it always has. At the same time, there are large groups of kids clearly struggling — black students most obviously, but not only. If we’re serious about fixing the educational problems of the nation’s “disadvantaged” kids, we need to improve the overall circumstances of their lives.

I’d say there is one surefire thing we can do to improve America’s classrooms: Put more adults in them — and not just teachers.

Think of how seldom the question of class size makes it into the highly politicized national education debate. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it must be an insignificant element. But if you really want to know if class size is a big deal, just ask someone who teaches. Or if you want private sector confirmation of this, check out the private school brochures or websites, which tout their smaller class sizes.

So why don’t we hear more about this? Maybe because there’s no major corporate or political interests pushing it, as opposed to charter schools — or the various tenure, curriculum, or discipline reforms that vie to become panacea of the moment.

For instance, you’ll likely hear more about the problem of inadequate textbooks in “poor schools” than the too-large classes in them. Could this be related to the fact that the only part of the publishing industry that isn’t struggling these days is the educational sector?

The world’s four largest publishers produce educational materials, and they’re out there making their case and drumming up business all the time. There’s a lot of money to be made selling $85 world history texts to middle school classes of 35 students. Again, if you’re not sure yourself, ask any teacher which would help more: the latest textbook or a smaller class?

Moving from business to politics, the Obama Administration has recently expressed interest in reforming school discipline policy, but it says so little about the surest route to reducing classroom problems: a lower student-teacher ratio. The reason for the silence is pretty obvious. More teachers cost more money. This means higher taxes (or maybe reduced military spending). New textbooks cost money too, of course. The difference, however, is that there are no giant corporations pushing for hiring more teachers — there’s simply no money in it for them.

Yet we could put more adults into the mix even when we can’t actually reduce class size. I’ve been in classrooms where it seemed like the adult-to-child ratio needed to really give kids a shot was something like one-to-five-or-six — and this was not special ed. And I’ve seen combinations of teachers, paraprofessionals (aka teachers’ aides), student teachers, parents, or volunteers from the community that achieved that goal — at least for a little while. I’ve also seen situations where an additional person helped a kid who would have otherwise likely disrupted an entire class and not only prevented that, but got him to produce something useful.

After I had expounded on this idea at a recent gathering in Boston, an old friend came up to me and said, “Look around this room,” noting the crowd of Baby Boomers who are soon retiring and will have considerably more time on their hands. All had an interest in public education.

What if even a small percentage of them could find their way to helping public schools by actually spending time assisting in a classroom? Wouldn’t we have a significant asset on our hands? I think he was right.

Tom Gallagher is a San Francisco substitute teacher and the author of Sub: My Years Underground in America’s Schools (Coast to Coast Publishing, 2014). He can be reached at tgtgtgtgtg@aol.com. To submit a guest editorial, contact news@sfbg.com.

Defend the deal

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EDITORIAL Creating a functional and equitable San Francisco for tomorrow requires political will and foresight today. Do our current political leaders have the requisite courage and commitment to the broad public interest, or are they too willing to give away the farm to powerful private interests wielding promises or threats?

This week at City Hall, there was a fascinating test case for these questions, one that we laid out on Sept. 8 on the SFBG.com Politics blog (“Developers lobby hard to slash payments promised to Transbay Terminal and high-speed rail”). In a nutshell, it involves developers of the biggest office towers proposed for San Francisco reneging on promises to pay for vital public infrastructure, which they made in exchange for lucrative upzoning of their properties.

With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, they hired top political fixer Willie Brown to make their case to politicians, including those he helped bring to power, giving him a cut of whatever money this shakedown can shake loose. The Board of Supervisors was set to consider the issue after the Guardian press time for this issue, so check our Politics blog for what happened, but there a few observations we can make without even knowing what the outcome was.

This power play would never happen unless these developers and their allies — including Salesforce, which has leased most of the Transbay Tower, what would be the tallest building on the West Coast — thought they had a reasonable chance of success. And given how the Mayor’s Office seems willing to give developers and business leaders whatever they want, it seems likely that this lobbying effort will more than pay for itself, to the detriment of the public.

Mayor Ed Lee isn’t a political leader, he’s really just the city’s chief administrator, a role he’s been playing since Brown was mayor and that he continues playing since Brown helped put him into Room 200. Chief-of-Staff Steve Kawa, another loyalist to Brown and downtown, dishes out discipline to supervisors who don’t toe the line.

City leaders should be willing to play hardball, stick to the original deal, and call the bluff of these developers, even if that means risking that these towers might not get built in their proposed form and timeline. Yes, that strategy might involve some legal liability, but these massive towers were always proposed as a means to an end.

San Francisco doesn’t need a 1,000-foot office building. But given its commitment to rebuild the Transbay Terminal, it does need to ensure that expensive project includes 21st century rail service connecting to the rest of the state, as well as the open space and neighborhood amenities that these developers should fund.

Equally important, San Francisco needs to show that it’s not for sale, that it won’t be bullied, and that its leaders are looking out for more than their own political interests.

Racing for solutions

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rebecca@sfbg.com

Although there are five seats on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors up for reelection this fall, incumbents face few contenders with the requisite cash and political juice needed to mount a serious challenge. The one race that has stirred interest among local politicos is the bid to represent District 10, the rapidly changing southeastern corner of San Francisco that spans the Bayview, Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, Dogpatch, and Potrero Hill neighborhoods.

Sup. Malia Cohen, who narrowly beat an array of more than a dozen candidates in 2010, has raised way more money than her best-funded opponent, progressive neighborhood activist Tony Kelly, who garnered 2,095 first-place votes in the last D10 race, slightly more than Cohen’s, before the final outcome was determined by ranked-choice voting tallies.

For the upcoming Nov. 4 election, Cohen has received $242,225 in contributions, compared with Kelly’s $42,135, campaign finance records show. But Kelly, who collected the 1,000 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot and qualified for public financing, has secured key progressive endorsements, including former Mayor Art Agnos, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, Sups. David Campos and John Avalos, and the Potrero Hill Democratic Club.

Others who’ve filed to run for this office include Marlene Tran, a retired educator who has strong ties to families in the district, especially in Visitacion Valley, through her teaching and language-access programs (she’s known by kids as “Teacher Tran”); Shawn Richard, the founder of a nonprofit organization that offers workshops for youth to prevent gun violence; and Ed Donaldson, who was born and raised in Bayview Hunters Point and works on economic development issues. DeBray Carptenter, an activist who has weighed in on police violence, is running as a write-in candidate.

But the outcome in this dynamic district could be determined by more than campaign cash or political endorsements. That’s because the D10 supervisor faces the unique, unenviable challenge of taking on some of the city’s most intractable problems, which have disproportionately plagued this rapidly changing district.

Longstanding challenges, such as a high unemployment and crime rates, public health concerns, social displacement, and poor air quality, have plagued D10 for years. But now, fast-growing D10 is becoming a microcosm for how San Francisco resolves its growing pains and balances the interests of capital and community.

 

MIX OF CHALLENGES

While candidate forums and questionnaires tend to gauge political hopefuls on where they draw the line on citywide policy debates, such as Google bus stops or fees for Sunday parking meters, neighborhood issues facing D10 have particularly high stakes for area residents.

While other supervisors represent neighborhoods where multiple transit lines crisscross through in a rainbow of route markers on Muni maps, D10 is notoriously underserved by public transit. The high concentration of industrial land uses created major public health concerns. A Department of Public Health study from 2006 determined that Bayview Hunters Point residents were making more hospital visits on average than people residing in other San Francisco neighborhoods, especially for asthma and congestive heart failure.

Unemployment in D-10 hovers near 12 percent, triple the citywide average of 4 percent. Cohen told us efforts are being made on this front, noting that $3 million had been invested in the Third Street corridor to assist merchants with loans and façade improvements, and that programs were underway to connect residents with health care and hospitality jobs, as well as service industry jobs.

“The mantra is that the needle hasn’t moved at all,” Cohen noted, but she said things are getting better. “We are moving in the same downward trend with regard to unemployment.”

Nevertheless, the high unemployment is also linked with health problems, food insecurity — and violence. In recent months, D10 has come into the spotlight due to tragic incidents of gun violence. From the start of this year to Sept. 8, there were 13 homicides in D10.

Fourth of July weekend was particularly deadly in the Bayview and D10 public housing complexes, with four fatal shootings. Cohen responded with a press conference to announce her plan to convene a task force addressing the problem, telling us it will be “focused on preventing gun violence rather than reacting to it.”

The idea, she said, is to bring in expert stakeholders who hadn’t met about this topic before, including mental-health experts and those working with at-risk youth.

“I think we need to go deeper” than in previous efforts, Cohen said, dismissing past attempts as superficial fixes.

But Cohen’s task force plan quickly drew criticism from political opponents and other critics, including Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who dismissed it as empty rhetoric.

“How many people are cool with yet another task force?” Kelly said in a press statement challenging the move. “We can’t wait any longer to stem the deadly tide of violence in District 10. Supervisor Cohen’s task force won’t even propose solutions till 2017. We can’t wait that long.”

Kelly told us he’s formulated a five-point plan to tackle gun violence, explaining that it involved calling for a $10 million budget supplemental to bolster family services, reentry programs, job placement, and summer activities aimed at addressing poverty and service gaps. Kelly also said he’d push for a greater emphasis on community policing, with officers walking a beat instead of remaining inside a vehicle.

“How do you know $10 million is enough?” Cohen responded. “When you hear critics say $10 million, there is no way to indicate whether we’d need more or less.” She also took issue with the contention that her task force wouldn’t reach a solution soon enough, saying, “I never put a timeline on the task force.”

Cohen also said she wanted to get a better sense of where all of the past funding had gone that was supposed to have alleviated gun violence. “We’ve spent a lot of money — millions — and one of the things I am interested in doing is to do an audit about the finances,” she said.

She also wants to explore a partnership with the Guardian Angels, community volunteers who conduct safety patrols, to supplement policing. Cohen was dismissive of her critics. “Tony was not talking about black issues before this,” she said. “He hasn’t done one [gun] buyback. There’s no depth to what any of these critics are saying.”

Tran, who spoke with the Guardian at length, said she’d started trying to address rampant crime in Visitacion Valley 25 years ago and said more needs to be done to respond to recent shootings.

“There was no real method for the sizable non-English speaking victims to make reports then,” Tran wrote in a blog post, going on to say that she’d ensured materials were translated to Chinese languages to facilitate communication with the Police Department. “When more and more residents became ‘eyes and ears’ of law enforcement, community safety improved,” she said.

Richard, whose Brothers Against Guns has been working with youth for 20 years and organizing events such as midnight basketball games, said he opposed Cohen’s task force because it won’t arrive at a solution quickly enough. He said he thought a plan should be crafted along with youth advocates, law enforcement, juvenile and adult probation officers, and clergy members to come up with a solution that would bolster youth employment opportunities.

“I’ve talked with all 13 families” that lost young people to shootings this year, Richard said, and that he attended each of the funerals.

 

CHANGING NEIGHBORHOOD

Standing outside the Potrero Terrace public housing complex at 25th and Connecticut streets on a recent sunny afternoon, Kelly was flanked by affordable housing advocates clutching red-and-yellow “Tony Kelly for District Supervisor” campaign signs. The press conference had been called to unveil his campaign plan to bolster affordable housing in D10.

Pointing out that Cohen had voted “no endorsement” at the Democratic County Central Committee on Proposition G — the measure that would tax property-flipping to discourage real estate speculation and evictions — Kelly said, “This is not a time to be silent.”

While Cohen had accepted checks from landlords who appeared on the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s list of worst offenders for carrying out Ellis Act evictions, Kelly said he’s pledged not to accept any funding from developers or Ellis Act evictors. Asked if any had offered, Kelly responded, “Some. They’re not knocking down my door.”

Cohen told us that she hadn’t supported Prop. G, a top priority for affordable housing advocates, because she objected to certain technical provisions that could harm small property owners in her district. As for the contributions from Ellis Act evictors, she said the checks had been returned once the error was discovered. Her formal policy, she said, is not to intentionally take money from anyone involved in an Ellis Act eviction.

Speaking outside Potrero Terrace, Kelly said he thought all housing projects built on public land should make at least one-third of their units affordable to most San Franciscans. He also said renovation of public housing projects could be accelerated if the city loaned out money from its $19 billion employee retirement fund. Under the current system, funding for those improvements is leveraged by private capital.

Mold, pests, and even leaking sewage are well-documented problems in public housing. Dorothy Minkins, a public housing resident who joined Kelly and the others, told us that she’s been waiting for years for rotting sheetrock to be replaced by the Housing Authority, adding that water damage from her second-floor bathroom has left a hole in the ceiling of her living room. She related a joke she’d heard from a neighbor awaiting similar repairs: “He said, Christ will come before they come to fix my place.”

Lack of affordable housing is a sweeping trend throughout San Francisco, but it presents a unique challenge in D10, where incomes are lower on average (the notable exceptions are in Potrero Hill, dotted with fine residential properties overlooking the city that would easily fetch millions, and Dogpatch, where sleek new condominium dwellings often house commuters working at tech and biotech firms in the South Bay).

Home sale prices in the Bayview shot up 59 percent in two years, prompting the San Francisco Business Times to deem it “a hot real estate market adorned with bidding wars and offers way above asking prices.”

One single-family home even sold for $1.3 million. Historically, the Bayview has been an economically depressed, working-class area with a high rate of home ownership due to the affordability of housing — but that’s been impacted by foreclosures in recent years, fueling displacement.

Although statistics from the Eviction Defense Collaborative show that evictions did occur in the Bayview in 2013, particularly impacting African Americans and single-parent households, Cohen noted that evictions aren’t happening in D10 with the same frequency as in the Tenderloin or the Mission.

“When it comes to communities of color in the southeast, it’s about foreclosure or mismanagement of funds,” explained Cohen.

She said that a financial counseling services center had opened on Evans Street to assist people who are facing foreclosure, and added that she thought more should be done to market newly constructed affordable units to communities in need.

“There’s an error in how they’re marketing,” she said, because the opportunities are too often missed.

But critics say more is needed to prevent the neighborhood from undergoing a major transformation without input from residents.

“This district is being transformed,” Richard said. “A lot of folks are moving out — they’re moving to Vallejo, Antioch, Pittsburg. They don’t want to deal with the issues, and the violence, and the cost.”

At the same time, he noted, developers are flocking to the area, which has a great deal more undeveloped land than in other parts of the city.

“The community has no one they can turn to who will hold these developers accountable,” he said. “If the community doesn’t have a stake in it, then who’s winning?”