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Does Mills make sense?


It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

 When Virginia-based mall developer Mills Corp. used political pressure by then-mayor Willie Brown and a partnership with the YMCA to narrowly win Port of San Francisco approval, in 2001, for the exclusive right to build a shopping center and office park at Piers 27-31, the project was supposed to slide right through.

 The Board of Supervisors was effectively cut out. All that elected body – which includes some supervisors who have been critical of the Mills project – could really do was tinker with the environmental impact report, or maybe just refuse to certify it and risk getting sued.

 But that was before a little-noticed change in a fairly noncontroversial ordinance put the board in the driver’s seat.

 Now a clearly concerned Mills Corp. has launched an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign – including a series of full-page newspaper ads – urging the public to convince the board to certify that the project makes long-term financial sense when supervisors consider the matter next month. Otherwise, the project could be dead even before its EIR is complete, setting up the port to chose another developer when the Mills contract expires next year.

 Board president Aaron Peskin won approval last year for his Fiscal Responsibility and Feasibility Ordinance. "The whole notion of the ordinance is before you go headlong into these projects, let’s make sure the city has the resources to maintain it over time," Peskin told the Bay Guardian, noting how many projects in the city get built without solid plans for the long-term operating funds needed to maintain them.

 The ordinance covers projects that get over $1 million in public funds and other taxpayer-backed subsidies, and in July of this year, with the Mills project in mind, the board modified the measure to include in its definition of public funds the lucrative rent credits Mills is getting.

 "I think [Mills executives] are scared. They didn’t expect the board to be able to weigh in on this before the end," said Jon Golinger, who is leading the opposition to the project. "The board now gets to assess whether we can trust this company to do what they say they’re going to do."

 And trust seems to be a key issue in this case. Under state law and Prop. H, in which San Francisco voters required a recreation plan for the northern waterfront, Piers 27-31 are supposed to be geared toward offering recreational amenities to San Franciscans. Mills and port officials say the project’s YMCA and the "recreational retail" focus of its shops will meet that requirement.

 Critics in Golinger’s group say the project is little more than a glorified mall using the recreation label to pass legal muster, an accusation that Mills Corp.’s 2003 annual report does little to contest, calling the project "an attractive entertainment, dining, shopping and office center" and never once using the word "recreation" (a word added to the label in its 2004 report).

 An otherwise breathlessly laudatory economic study commissioned by the developers and released in July also indirectly raises the question of whether the 164,700 square feet of office space in the project will generate enough cash to pay for all the developer’s promises. Based on statements made by Mills executives, the report notes, "the project is unlikely to be built unless it can achieve minimum net rents of $35 per square foot which represents a major premium over current rents, that few if any existing tenants would be able or willing to pay."

 San Francisco has one of the highest office vacancy rates in the country, and rents average well below what these developers expect to receive. But Mills spokesman Dave D’Onofrio said the offices will be unlike any in the city, and "the market is clearly there" to support such high rents.

 In addition to these areas, Peskin said the board will consider Mills Corp.’s deal with the YMCA, which will be required to pay back the $30 million in capital costs fronted by the developer, on top of the ongoing operating costs needed to maintain this project as a recreational facility open to all.

 "They’re going to have to show how they’re going to fund the Y," Peskin said. He and others have noted that none of the financial documents released by the developer shed much light on that arrangement or other financial details of the project, although the port is currently preparing another financial document set for release to the board Sept. 28.

 Neither port nor YMCA officials returned our calls for comment, but D’Onofrio noted that the YMCA will pay just $1 per year in rent and that he is "utterly confident that the Y will be successful."

 Mills officials have publicly blamed opposition on businesses on Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, who fear competition from the project. "But there’s no validity to that argument," said Chris Martin, whose family has owned The Cannery and has been involved in northern waterfront planning issues for more than 30 years. He said the northern waterfront is already a congested mess on weekends, and an intensive project like this will make things much worse.

 In response to our inquiries, Mills project manager John Spratley issued a written statement saying in part, "The Board of Supervisors will find that The Piers is financially strong and a tremendous economic benefit for San Francisco and the Port."

 Peskin said he has an open mind about the project but said it is incumbent upon the developers to provide more information showing how the open space, recreational amenities, and other public access aspects to this project will be maintained over the long run: "To them, I say that if your project is so great then it will be great in the future."

 E-mail Steven T. Jones at

SF weekly sold


Bill gates bought the sf…

Does Mills make sense?


Does Mills make sense?

Peskin measure gives supervisors an early say over a controversial waterfront development
By Steven T. Jones

It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

When Virginia-based mall developer Mills Corp. used political pressure by then-mayor Willie Brown and a partnership with the YMCA to narrowly win Port of San Francisco approval, in 2001, for the exclusive right to build a shopping center and office park at Piers 27-31, the project was supposed to slide right through.

The Board of Supervisors was effectively cut out. All that elected body

Monkey business


 STEPHEN LISBERGER IS a scientific star. His decades-long research into how the brain registers and responds to visual stimuli is considered groundbreaking. His colleagues are effusive in their praise. William Newsome, a Stanford University neuroscientist who investigates similar terrain, told the Bay Guardian that "it could take decades, or even centuries" to assemble a complete, working map of the brain’s essential functions. "And Steve is one of the few people in the world who’s making progress on this."

The federal government thinks he’s worth a fair chunk of taxpayer change: The National Institutes for Health gave Lisberger $1.6 million in grants this year, and since 1992, an NIH database shows, he’s received 31 grants worth a total of more than $12 million.

But Lisberger’s work involves fairly invasive experiments on live subjects, and since you can’t exactly stick electronic probes into the brains of human beings, Lisberger uses rhesus monkeys, those red-faced staples of biomedical research. His experiments have made him the bane of many critics of animal experimentation – and over the past decade he’s become the poster boy for opponents of animal experimentation at UCSF.

Lisberger declined to be interviewed for this story, so we gleaned the outlines of his work from federal documents and UCSF records.

It’s not a pretty picture.

According to the scientific protocol for his experiments, filed with UCSF, Lisberger’s monkeys undergo several different surgeries, under anesthesia, to prepare them for the research. First, each monkey has a restraint device attached to its head with a combination of metal plates, bolts, and screws. That will later allow the monkey’s head to be locked in place for experiments. One or two holes are drilled in the skull, and then cylindrical recording chambers are secured over those holes so that microelectrodes that will allow precise neural activity to be measured can be inserted into the brain with ease. (The electrodes themselves don’t cause discomfort because the brain lacks pain receptors.)

Sometimes, small wire coils are sutured to the monkeys’ eyeballs. Other times the monkeys have spectacles attached to their faces that either magnify or miniaturize everything they see.

The monkeys in Lisberger’s lab are put on a fluid-restriction program, so that each day they are scheduled to "work" they will obey commands for "rewards" of water or Tang. Each monkey is taught to move from its cage to a "primate chair," and once in the chair, its head is locked into the restraining device. Then the animal is prompted to move its eyes in certain ways to receive a reward. Monkeys typically work for two to four hours a day on alternating weeks, often for three years or more.

Lisberger’s protocol states that his work could eventually lead to "the cure for many diseases of learning and memory such as Alzheimer’s Disease."

Suzanne Roy, from In Defense of Animals, says she started looking into Lisberger’s experiments in the late 1990s, after IDA got anonymous complaints from people who said they worked for UCSF. "What struck me was the highly invasive nature of them and the duration of them … " she said. "He’s making the monkeys so thirsty they’ll move their eyes in a certain way for a juice reward. How could anyone do this to an intelligent monkey?"

In 2002 Roy asked Lawrence A. Hansen, a neuropathologist at UC San Diego who is unusual in his willingness to question animal research, to evaluate Lisberger’s protocol. "I have never previously encountered experiments that would deliver quite so much suffering to higher primates for so comparatively little scientific gain…." Hansen wrote afterward. "While I do not doubt that these experimental manipulations will generate valid scientific data, such information is purchased at too high a moral and ethical cost. Even the primary investigator seems to feel it necessary to disguise his actual motivations, which are those of a fundamental research scientist, by invoking a link to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. This is one of the more ludicrous stretches from basic science to human application that I have ever encountered in my 20 years of research into Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases affecting human beings."

When we spoke to Hansen recently, he criticized Lisberger’s grant applications and said, "He’s picked a part of the brain that’s not even involved in Alzheimer’s."

Lisberger’s studies are "basic science," meaning that they aim to answer larger scientific questions about how something works – in this case, the brain – rather than to invent or test a treatment. Although it might be somewhat easier to stomach an experiment that might cure Alzheimer’s than one that seeks to understand how the brain functions, it is hard to dispute that this is valid science: How can medical researchers cure problems they fundamentally don’t understand?

But even if you agree that the goals of Lisberger’s research justify his use of animals, you might be troubled by Lisberger’s record. Documents show that some animals enrolled in his research have a difficult time coping with the physical stress involved – and that Lisberger has resisted efforts to make his experiments more animal-friendly.

Clinical notes gathered by IDA and other groups show that Lisberger’s monkeys routinely undergo six or eight surgeries just to deal with their various implants and the infections they sometimes cause, or to remove scar tissue that has built up on the monkeys’ dura, the protective layer between skull and brain, because of repeated electrode insertions. Several monkeys in Lisberger’s lab have shown a significant decrease in body weight, and others have displayed a habit of self-mutilation, biting at their limbs and tearing out their hair.

Several years ago, when the internal committee that oversees animal research at UCSF raised concerns about whether monkeys in Lisberger’s experiments would receive sufficient water, particularly if they were "worked" on consecutive weeks, Lisberger responded in writing. "I am not willing to tie my laboratory’s flexibility down by setting guidelines or limits, or by agreeing to a negotiation with the veterinary staff when we do this," he wrote in a June 1998 letter. "I believe that the experimental schedule in my laboratory is an issue of academic freedom and that the Committee on Animal research lacks that [sic] standing to regulate this schedule."

In fact, the Animal Welfare Act was amended in 1985 to give the committee the primary responsibility for watchdogging researchers and ensuring that measures are taken to minimize the suffering of lab animals.

Less than two years after that bitter exchange, UCSF was cited by federal inspectors for AWA violations linked to Lisberger’s experiments. In one report the inspector wrote, "In my professional opinion, the nutritional requirements for these animals were not met for either food or water." He also noted that a monkey identified as #17652 – who, according to other documents, was enrolled in a Lisberger experiment – had remained assigned to the protocol and was even placed on "long-term water restriction," despite the fact that he had chronic diarrhea.

UCSF temporarily suspended Lisberger’s study and paid a $2,000 fine to settle the matter. And, despite his gaffes, UCSF defends Lisberger.

Vice Chancellor Ara Tahmassian described Lisberger’s lab as a "model program" and said Lisberger is one of the only UCSF researchers who has hired veterinary technicians to work exclusively in his lab and "make sure that everything that happens is done in accordance with proper standards of care." He added, "It’s critical for him, because of the nature of his research, that his animals are properly taken care of." Tahmassian also said that, in an academic setting, "there are times that individuals do believe that an oversight committee such as IACUC is getting into areas of science which the faculty members don’t believe is in their jurisdiction…. It doesn’t mean that the IACUC is going to just back off."

IACUC members also told us that, these days, Lisberger is cooperative. "I think the committee has a very good working relationship with Dr. Lisberger," IACUC chair Linda Noble said.

Even if Lisberger has cleaned up his act, it’s hard to see why UCSF would put him in charge of training the scientists of tomorrow how to work with animals. Yet, according to online course information, Lisberger sometimes lectures UCSF students on "Philosophical/ethical issues in animal experimentation," relevant regulations, and "pain minimization."

Animal instincts


Animal instincts

As the struggle between animal rights activists and scientists rages on, what’s really happening inside UCSF’s animal labs?
By Tali Woodward

ON JULY 14, while doctors and medical students in surgical scrubs scurried about, a motley band of 30 or so people marched back and forth outside a medical building on Parnassus Avenue, waving blown-up photos of lab animals and passing out flyers saying that monkeys in experiments run by the University of California San Francisco were going “insane.”

“How does it feel to kill those that trust you?” they chanted.

As a mother led her young son along the sidewalk, doing her best to dodge the protesters, the boy looked up in horror at a photo of a monkey with Frankensteinian screws protruding from its skull. Someone took the opportunity to offer the woman a pamphlet, and when she hustled her child away, the protester, perplexed, said to her fellow animal activists, “How sad: He’s seeing these upsetting images, and she doesn’t even want to learn more.”

Moments later, a man in a lab coat strode by. Before entering the building, he glanced over his shoulder to shout, “Die of cancer, then!”

It was another day, another demonstration at California’s premier public health-sciences facility. The animal rights groups show up every few months to march and hand out sensational flyers describing secret horror shows deep in hidden labs. And university officials do their best to not even engage them.

The struggle over animal research is polarized and emotional. It’s not uncommon for animal rights activists to characterize researchers as barbarians who cut up innocent animals out of joy or greed

Poster child


Biz News

Poster child

Artist Favianna Rodriguez makes history with her politically conscious graphics company.
By Momo Chang

IF YOU WENT to college in the Bay Area during the mid-to-late-’90s, chances are you’ve seen Favianna Rodriguez’s work. She’s the woman behind many of the ubiquitous peace and protest posters displayed on college campuses and in storefront windows, championing such issues as “No on Prop. 209” (the anti-affirmative action initiative) and demanding ethnic studies education.

She projects her radical messages onto high-contrast, boldly outlined figures, but she’s not just someone who rants and raves in a fist-in-the-air kind of way. The 27-year-old is clearheaded and visionary about her art. Though she follows in the traditions of Chicano poster-makers of the ’60s and ’70s, like Malaqu??as Montoya of Sacramento and the artists at Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts’ Mission Grafica (2868 Mission, SF. 415-821-1155), she came of age in the digital era, when hundreds of posters can be designed and printed overnight.

Digital designing allows her company, Tumi’s Designs (3028 International, Oakl. 510-532-8267,, to have a fast turnaround, which is important in these politically turbulent times. Rodriguez

Hidden at home


It took a landscape architecture professor from Columbus, Ohio, an historian from Dallas, Texas, and a filmmaker from Modesto, Calif., to tell the story of the biggest scandal in San Francisco history.


In the past few months, two academic researchers



APPARENTLY IT’S BIG news that the human brain is still evolving. A couple of US researchers announced recently that they’d isolated two genes connected with brain size that appeared to have evolved only over the past two dozen millennia. In other words, our brains changed in the past hundred generations. Why this would be surprising to anyone even glancingly familiar with evolutionary theory is beyond me. As long as we keep engaging in sexual reproduction, we’re going to be evolving. The process ain’t teleological, people.

Greg Wray, a Duke University evolutionary genomics professor involved with the study, told the Associated Press, “There’s a sense that we as humans have kind of peaked.” But, he added, “it’s almost impossible for evolution not to happen.”

Nevertheless, people both in and out of the scientific community were bemused by the study. I’m tempted to say that’s because the intelligent design dorks are making so many headlines that any new information about evolution