San Franciscans Against Real Estate Speculation, Yes on G, had activists out in force even though it has only raised a few thousand dollars. Its biggest contribution so far is $5,000 from attorney Dean Preston of Tenants Together, who was out there spreading the word near Alamo Square Park, along with campaign consultant Quintin Mecke, the runner-up in the 2007 mayor’s race.
One of the more surprising grassroots campaign of the season is No on L, San Franciscans Against Gridlock, which is campaigning against the pro-motorist Restore Transportation Balance initiative, a measure aimed at undermining the city’s transit-first policy and promoting more free parking.
The Yes on L campaign hasn’t shown much sign of life since the summer when it spent nearly $50,000 on its signature-gathering effort out of about $83,000 raised (including $49,000 from tech titan Sean Parker), but it was sitting on nearly $35,000 in the bank as of July 16.
But the No on L crowd is taking this attack on sustainable transportation policies seriously, and it’s hoping to fill its fairly meager coffers ($5,000 from Daniel Murphy on Sept. 6 is its biggest donation) this evening [Tues/16] from 6-8pm with a fundraiser at Public Bikes, 549 Hayes Street.
That event is hosted by a bevy of transportation activists and Sup. Scott Wiener, David Chiu, and Jane Kim. As the campaign says, “If you care about helping to build a better transit system, a more walkable and bicycle-friendly city, and reducing car congestion in San Francisco, the No on Gridlock, No on L campaign needs your support to raise money to educate voters.”
The unstoppable Jesse Hawthorne Ficks keeps his eyes open 24/7 through another Toronto International Film Festival, and lives to tell the tale (but shares no spoilers!) Read on for the first in several reports back from the 39th TIFF.
Starting on a high note: Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep (Turkey/France/Germany) won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, so it arrived in Toronto with its share of hype. I can report Sleep is the director’s funniest and most satisfying film to date. That said, it does run 196 minutes, and more than a few critics walked out early, which poses an ever-important question about the current trend toward slow-moving, observational, and meditative narratives: Who’s actually watching ’em?
With characters that come together through long sequences in which intense emotions are slowly drawn out through passive aggressive actions, this immersive class study — similar to Akira Kurosawa’s High & Low (1963) — clearly polarized audiences’ immediate interests. My own interests lead me to wonder what long-term effects that this type of cinema will have on contemporary audiences. Has it always been this divided? If TIFF critics don’t have the energy or enough time to experience this masterpiece, how will it come up in conversation when Oscar fans are debating which film had the best acting? What about those more mainstream moviegoers who went to see Guardians of the Galaxy more than once?
Looking back 40 years, Milos Forman swept the Oscars with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) was luring in audiences for second and third helpings. Meanwhile, an Algerian master named Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina won the Palme d’Or at Cannes with his 177 minute Chronicle of the Years of Fire, an exploration of the Algerian War of Independence as seen through the eyes of a peasant. I guess there has always been a cultural gap between Oscar-bait, popcorn entertainment, and political art cinema … and there probably always will be.
Also relevent to any discussion of very, very long films: Lav Diaz’s follow-up to last year’s 250-minute Norte, the End of History is yet another long-form master work — and in my opinion, the best film at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. The Filipino director made a surprise appearance to introduce his 338-minute From What Is Before. TIFF programmer Andréa Picard seemed even more surprised than the audience when Diaz’s humble introduction consisted of “I hope you brought a pillow and some blankets.”
Committing to a Diaz film is comparable to joining a motion picture religion. Not just due to the length of his films, but because of his conviction in delivering something truly profound. Like some of his own characters, Diaz has the power to astral project the viewer into another world. From What Is Before takes place in 1972, just before President Ferdinand Marcos’ announcement that he was putting the entire country under martial law. A forgotten farming community in the provinces must immediately shift its focus to survival.
As the story unfolds much like the chapters of a novel, each character (and the dilemmas he or she faces) slowly comes into focus, sequence by sequence. Many of the film’s most devastating scenes featured Itang (Hazel Orencio), a young woman taking care of her mentally challenged sister. At the Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival, Orencio rightfully won Best Actress, and From What is Before took home the top award, the Golden Leopard.
For TIFF audiences and beyond, the biggest question is: Will you take the time to learn Diaz’s artistic language? His films blend the convoluted past of the Philippines with the mysterious depths of human beings. Yeah, 338 minutes is long. But like Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Claire Denis, Lav Diaz is speaking a cinematic vocabulary unique to the world. Don’t let your laziness get in the way.
Golden Gate Bridge iron workers are on strike today [Tues/16], protesting retiree healthcare issues their union says were not addressed in 2012. Commuters will not be affected during the strike, however. Machinists Local 1414 made that choice consciously, its representative told us.
“The machinists purposefully made a decision to not impact services,” said Alex Tonisson, co-chair of the Golden Gate Bridge Labor Coalition. The coalition is comprised of the 13 various unions that work on the Golden Gate Bridge, all of whom negotiate with the district together. “We want the public to understand how serious things have gotten.”
The strike started early this morning and is scheduled to end at 3:30pm. Though the strike is not directly related to current labor negotiations for health care with the district, at this point those negotiations could best be described as… rocky.
The sticking points are health care and living wages. The Golden Gate Bridge District, with a board with nine San Francisco representatives and members spanning the Bay Area, said the increases in health care costs are still competitive in the Bay Area.
“The District has sought modest increases to the amount that Coalition employees have been contributing to their health benefits,” the Golden Gate Bridge District said, in a press statement. “District employees enjoy world class health benefits.”
But the unions noted that the cost of living in the Bay Area has skyrocketed. Housing prices are up, gas prices are up, everything is up. Though the district’s offer includes a 3 percent wage increase next year, and further increases in subsequent years, the new health care plan would cost 2 percent of workers’ wages, largely nullifying any increases. And the workers gave up much ground during the worst of the Great Recession.
“We bargained significant concessions and changes,” in previous years, Tonisson told us.
Strikes from the Golden Gate Bridge’s ferry workers could potentially impact thousands of Bay Area commuters. The labor coalition seemingly took lessons to heart from last year’s BART strike, when the public’s support of strikers waned in the face of nearly impossible commutes.
Tonisson didn’t directly comment on the BART strikes, but said “we’re definitely aware how any strike that shuts down the bridge or ferries impacts the lives of residents.”
To keep the commuting public aware of an impending strike, the coalition took out radio and newspaper ads, and passed out leaflets on ferry commutes.
“We’re hoping we don’t have to take further action,” Tonisson said. “We want them to understand it’s a possibility. The public should take that seriously.”
Folsom Street Fair is coming hard upon us — don’t be left hanging upside down without a solid party plan. The following picks will help you whip your way through the lame into the hard, dark, wet embrace of excellent nightlife.
First our video spirit guide: This excellent short film shot by Leo Herrera and Aron Kantor of last year’s fair – from cameras mounted on their leather puppy masks.
Good boys. Now, parties. Oh! And if you’re into live homo-rock, you have to check out the SF Eagle this week — My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult, !!!, Jello Biafra and more are performing out in the lot.
The original weekly underground old school gay disco tribute, going 10-years dirty and strong with DJ Bus Station John.
Fantastic, sexy Oakland party pays tribute to SF’s legendary, recently shuttered Lusty Lady strip club and coop — with original Lusty Lady peepshow dancers performing live, and a “Feisty Fistettes Fucked-Up Foreplay Booth.” Hottt.
Webelo, youbelo, everybodybelos for this too-cute, super-friendly Cub Scout-themed party from LA, up here for the first time. Earn your badges with DJs Conor, Chris Bowen, and Victor Rodriguez – plus inimitable den mother Lady Bear.
Nothing says leather better than a pork-themed party. (Well, maybe a beef-themed one). Drag goddess Juanita More and host Walter Gomez pour on the hot boys and crispy cracklin’s for all the little piggies. Benefits Transgender Law Center.
“We’re just some pups on the prowl for a Scooby Snack, and by Scooby Snack we mean a big fat bone to gnaw on.” Points for self-actualization! DJs Harry + Jpeg, Jeffrey Sfire, whip the large pack into a hous and Italo disco frenzy.
A claws-out Mission party for scrappy-cute queer kids. With DJs Brontez Purnell, Carrie On Disco, a gaggle of burlesque performers like Kitty Von Quim, and hosts Rotimi Agbabiaka, Cle Torres, and Caitlin Donohue.
An annual report issued by the Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC) highlights some of the outrageous reasons landlords use to evict tenants. Since 2009, EDC reported, there’s been a 62 percent increase in the number of breach-of-lease cases citywide.
Violations cited in the report included offenses such as “parking outside the parking lines,” or even cooking during nighttime hours.
One tenant, Clifton Reed, was evicted along with his young family after a sudden $1,000-per-month rent increase, which the landlord claimed was for storing construction equipment in the garage of their Bernal Heights home, something they’d previously done without a problem. “We were tenants living in the neighborhood for 20 years,” Reed told the Guardian.
The family sought assistance from EDC, who fought the eviction charges and negotiated a settlement with the landlord.
The drawn-out eviction case eventually ended with an $8,500 settlement and a 90-day timeframe for him and his family to move out, Reed said. After evicting the other tenants in the building following Reed’s eviction, the landlord eventually sold the property for approximately $1.8 million.
Reed, who now lives in Vallejo but still commutes to the city, said the recent wave of evictions in San Francisco has particularly impacted artists and musicians from his old neighborhood. “They’re targeting income levels, and musicians don’t make a lot of money,” he said. “It’s really a shame.”
According to the EDC report, 20 percent of evicted households assisted by the nonprofit legal aid group – which represented 94 percent of San Francisco tenants facing just-cause eviction lawsuits in 2013 – had at least one child under 18 years old.
Families weren’t the only disproportionately impacted group, as 88 percent of total tenant households targeted with eviction lawsuits were also low-income, defined as making at or less than $36,950 per year for an individual. And 29 percent of the eviction cases concerned tenants housed in units owned by landlords who receive city funding, such as supportive housing in single-room occupancy hotels.
The EDC report also signaled that San Francisco’s communities of color remain at the forefront of the eviction crisis. According to the report, although San Francisco’s black population is only 6 percent, people who identify as African American represented 29 percent of those impacted by eviction in 2013. Additionally, 40 percent of tenants evicted from the Bayview neighborhood identified as black or African American.
Non-English speakers were also targeted, as 22 percent of evictions from the Mission District impacted households who spoke a language other than English.
The rise in “low-fault” evictions in 2013 occurred on a parallel track with no-fault evictions, which have received a great deal of media attention. Evictions that are based on an alleged action or violation by a tenant, as opposed to no-fault evictions initiated under the Ellis Act, for instance, grant less time for a tenant to vacate their unit. They’re easier on landlord’s wallets and don’t restrict subsequent use of a unit.
Low-fault evictions, or minor breach-of-lease cases, are providing the ideal platform for landlords to oust their tenants while still claiming some type of violation, the report indicates. The lengthy, complicated suits are often difficult for tenants to defend themselves against.
The EDC report showed an absence of court appearances in 38 percent of the 3,423 Residential Unlawful Detainers cases in 2013, demonstrating that tenants did not respond to the eviction notice in within the five-day deadline.
“Tenants just miss this narrow window,” said Tyler McMillan, executive director of the EDC. “It’s one of the shortest timelines in the court system.”
Eviction notices have demanded tenants leave in as little as 10 days, as was the case of EDC client Joann Agnew-Porter. Agnew-Porter’s daughter, who lived in the unit, was laid off her job and scraping by on a fixed income. Their rental building, Friendship Village, an affordable housing community in the Western Addition, had been paying back-rent, when suddenly the mother and daughter pair received an eviction notice, giving them 10 days to come up with $2,100 of back-rent or leave the premises.
“I couldn’t come up with that,” Agnew-Porter said. “We’ve always been good tenants; we’re working people, we haven’t had loud music or people hanging out outside, none of that,” she added. After receiving assistance from EDC, a court determined that the apartment manager had mistakenly charged them that amount of back-rent.
“The story of increasing “low-fault” evictions is one that impacts some of San Francisco’s most vulnerable communities and ultimately threatens the diversity that makes San Francisco so unique,” the EDC report said.
The full report is available online at the EDC websitehere.
But mostly, we talked about sex, listened to sexy music, and danced and had a good time in BFF’s Secret Alley studio. No, it wasn’t just that we had sex on the brain after a beautiful weekend in the warm San Francisco sunshine (yes, it’s true). We were also plugging our upcoming annual Sex Issue and the shenanigans therein, including Joe’s foray into virtual reality sex and the debut of the Bay Guardian’s hot new sex columnist, Krissy Eliot, who will be exposing herself to y’all quite a bit this week. And we even offered some gratuitious digs at our corporate overlords, and that’s always fun and cathartic.
So give it a listen on this (ugh!) busy Monday morning, or whenever you can get around to it, and it’ll be like the weekend never ended.
UPDATE:Sister Roma just posted this to her Facebook page:
“BREAKING: FACEBOOK AGREES TO FACE-TO-FACE MEETING. DEMONSTRATION CANCELED (for now)
Just got off the phone with Supervisor David Campos and representatives from Facebook. They have agreed to meet with us and members of the community for an open dialogue regarding their legal name policy. After the conversation I am more hopeful than ever that we can reach a solution. We’re working together to make change and I thank all of you for your support!”
At issue: a controversial new Facebook policy that is forcing performers to use their legal names (rather than drag or other professional names) on their personal profiles on the social media site.
“We are mobilizing. If Sister Roma’s talk with a Facebook rep tomorrow does not go as we hope, then the protest is full speed ahead,” T-Shack party founder Heklina told me over Facebook. “We are meeting in the Safeway on Church St. Parking lot, and doing a convoy to FB HQ in Menlo Park. The protest is set to begin at 11am, with members of David Campos’ staff, the Harvey Milk Club, the Sisters, and every drag queen we can mobilize.”
I’ll update this post as soon as protest organizers deliver word of the meeting’s results. Protest organizers are requesting participants dress in drag.
The protest plan came after a quickly called community meeting at Cafe Flore tonight. Sister Roma, now identified by a different name on Facebook, has been leading the charge against the policy, joining with others in saying that forcing drag and other performers to use their “real names” is uneducated, insulting, and potentially dangerous.
“I use this site to keep up with friends and simply don’t want employers or crazy stalker people to log on and search me,” Sister Roma told SFist.
A Facebook representative responded to queries about the new policy in the Wall Street Journal, “If people want to use an alternative name on Facebook, they have several different options available to them, including providing an alias under their name on their profile, or creating a Page specifically for that alternative persona.”
Presumably, the social media site is pushing this new policy to protect users from spam or scams emanating from fake profiles, but, as the Journal points out, “Facebook’s advertising product, which will bring in an estimated $12 billion in revenue this year, rests almost solely on its ability to gather detailed, accurate information about users.
Sup. David Campos was quick to denounce the policy in a press release, demanding that Facebook meet with performers: “Local drag personalities including Sister Roma, Heklina, BeBe Sweetbriar, Lady Bear, Anna Conda and others have had their Facebook accounts suspended in the past week until they comply with a policy requiring them to use their ‘legal name’ in their profile. Drag queens have expressed concern that not allowing them to use their stage name is a safety issue as it outs their real names and information.”
“Facebook may not be aware that for many members of the LGBT community the ability to self-identify is a matter of health and safety,” the release continued. “Not allowing drag performers, transgender people, and other members of our community to go by their chosen names can result in violence, stalking, violations of privacy and repercussions at work.”
While we at the Bay Guardian have long been intrigued by the possibilities of splitting California up into several states — the Bay Area could be an economic powerhouse with compassionate social services and modern infrastructure, while conservative counties would have low taxes but crumbling roads and bridges — we’re happy to hear the news that venture capitalist Tim Draper’s proposed six-state solution has failed to qualify for the ballot.
The most ridiculous part of Drapers’ initiative, which he spent more than $5 million on but fell short of the requisite number of signatures from registered voters, was his plan to call the Bay Area’s state “Silicon Vally” — showing just how arrogant and out-of-touch these tech titans can be. Hey buddy, I hate to break it to you, but the world doesn’t really revolve the tech industry, and it’s just stupid to name a state after a chemical element.
Personally, I have a long history of covering the idea for splitting up California, starting in 1991 when I covered Lassen County’s threat to secede from California because of its difference with urban areas for the Lassen County Times, a story that then made international news.
Then-Assemblymember Stan Statham used that media spotlight to introduce advisory measures on the question of splitting California up into three states, an idea that voters in 31 counties in the state voted on in election of 1992, most of them approving of the idea.
But unlike the dozens of other times in California history when the idea of splitting up the state was raised — the most serious effort coming in 1941 when the rural northern California counities declared themselves Jefferson State and set up a highway checkpoint, only to have the movement lose stream when Pearl Harbor was bombed three days later — Draper’s measure just seemed like a vanity project from a clueless rich dude.
As you may have heard by now, Viracocha — everyone’s favorite Never-Never Land of a music venue/spoken word performance space/speakeasy/antiques store/beautiful place to stop and use the bathroom should you find yourself having to pee on Valencia — has gone legit.
After nearly a year of fundraising, inspections, and meetings with the city’s Entertainment Commission, the dreamily lit basement stage that has played host to so many awesome events will now be operating with an official venue permit.
No longer working under the veil of semi-secrecy, the folks who run the space (the tireless founder Jonathan Siegel, with help from new business partner Norah Hoover and a slew of local artists and musician employees) have spent the last six months renovating the space to meet city standards, and will now be free to actually publicize the venue’s shows. They’ll celebrate tonight with a free little gathering/party at Viracocha from 8pm to midnight — open to the public, legally, for the first time. [See a note Siegel sent to supporters early this morning at the end of this post.]
The booking process is also on the up-and-up, so bands, bookers — if you’ve always wanted to play that room but were unsure about the logistics of setting up a show you weren’t allowed to promote? Drop ’em a line.
Now, full disclosure: Roughly half the people I love in the SF arts scene have at one time or another played there, worked there, or lived there. I’ve watched Siegel give jobs to kids who arrived in San Francisco with very little, and then watched those kids make it a home. If employees or event attendees are there late and anyone seems drunk, he’ll order five pizzas. It’s been problematic, it’s seemed improbable, it has at times appeared to almost be a parody of itself and/or San Francisco. There’s a goddamn lending library in the back room that looks like it was built by whimsical 19th century fairies and chipmunks. But I adore Viracocha, and have wanted it to thrive the way you fall for the runt of any litter, the way you root for any underdog.
What this has meant, practically, as a music journalist, is that while the place is very close to my heart, it’s also been exceedingly frustrating to watch awesome shit happen there and not be able to write about it. Especially since the illegality meant that all things were basically equal and welcome — if that tame poetry reading you want to host is illegal, and so is the free workshop on tenants’ rights? Well, there’s nothing really more illegal about an aerial dance performance/dinner party/burlesque show. It was anything goes, and truly, anything went.
In closing: Congrats, Viracocha. And here are five-plus things that may or not have happened there that I really wish I could’ve written about.
1. The week after Amy Winehouse died, a bunch of local cats (many of whom normally command a pretty penny for live shows) got together to throw a last-minute tribute night revue of sorts. Folks dressed up. There was much sad drinking.
2. Jolie Holland played a week-long residency there, living in the tiny attic apartment attached to the store, and playing shows every night, lulling the packed room into a breathless trance.
3. That there video above (which is not great in visual quality I realize…but oh man, that voice) is also from a regular poetry/music/anything-goes revue called You’re Going to Die, started by writer Ned Buskirk, which continues to bring out some of the city’s finest writers and spoken word artists in addition to musicians. See SF writer and Rumpus film editor Anisse Gross reading at another one here:
4. A staged reading of an early, weird, rarely performed play by Louis CK, starring The Coup‘s Boots Riley as a dumb cop.
Viracocha is now open to the public, as a live venue in San Francisco!
Through many a trial — months of obstacles, pitfalls, setbacks, missteps, and hard choices — and by the unwavering energy, dedication and resolve of our staff & crew…we finally made it!
Five years ago, Viracocha began as space where creative people and their work could find advocacy. Our contributors arrived from many walks of life and varied circles within the local arts and performing community. That is, until December 2013, when we closed our doors, temporarily, to begin the process of legalizing our venue with the city. We created this underground space, despite the risk, because we felt that San Francisco needed a cultural anchor for its diverse artistic community a place to gather and express who we are. There is a voice within each of us that yearns to be heard. In a city like ours, it’s easy to feel reduced to a face in a crowd, a point on a graph, a nameless number. We built our venue to become an intimate, welcoming place, where people can feel understood, connect, and feel less alone.
At times, Viracocha seemed to exist beyond the parameters of logic and pragmatism. We’ve had to be discreet when we talk about our space, and at times we’ve been misunderstood, misinterpreted, or misquoted. When people asked “What is Viracocha, exactly? Who, actually, is behind it?” — the answers were as varied as the items in our shop. Does secrecy create it’s own allure? Perhaps so…but now’s the time to put secrets to rest, and open our doors to you! Come and meet the people who call Viracocha home — the poets, artists, and musicians who have worked and played here, laughed and cried, performed and shared. This place was built for you (yes you!) and for all of us — come on by!!
A friend and I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to hit the final TechCrunch Disrupt after-party last night. Because, sheer curiosity. So here comes one of those borderline journalistic essays where, no, I didn’t actually formally interview anyone. But a conversation we had offered a fascinating glimpse into attitudes held by folks working in the tech startup sector, so I’m blogging it.
My friend and I just went in (I was allowed in as press after being obnoxious about it; his borrowed badge had a girl’s name on it), drank free Coronas, and talked to people. Unsurprisingly, we soon found ourselves in a heated discussion as we sat in a booth on the top floor of Mezzanine, across from a young, well-dressed tech worker with ties to the venture capitalist world. I’m relaying what he said here without using his name. Is that disruptive or something? Well, fuck it, here goes.
As a San Francisco resident who works at a company at the heart of the tech startup world, he had very strong opinions about tech’s influence on the city’s housing market. He and others were in full agreement that rental prices in San Francisco are utterly ridiculous and out of hand.
But he dismissed critics who single out tech workers as agents of gentrification, calling them unrealistic and out-of-touch. The only way to respond to the crisis is to build taller buildings and increase density, he insisted. But those critics from the far left are just too stubbornly resistant to change, making it impossible to build anything. As he saw it, those shrill critics and their penchant for protesting everything were the reason the housing crisis is as bad as it is.
The techie we met was an impassioned speaker, his face muscles tightening and eyes fixed upon us with intensity as he informed us that change is inevitable. It’s just the way things go, he said. You can’t expect to stop it. For example, it’s unpopular to say that the Tenderloin should be made better, he told us – the critics would just howl about removing poor people – but that location is so critical, given where it is! And even if tech did make a concerted effort to find a solution to the housing crisis, he added, it would never be enough to satisfy those critics, who would only dismiss it. “They would just say, ‘oh look, now the techies are getting their way,’” he practically exploded. “‘Now the city is just going to be just like Manhattan.’”
I started to dig in, pointing out that the city was dotted with construction cranes building mostly market-rate housing that no one with an ordinary income could possibly afford. But my friend kept his cool. He calmly asked the techie if he really wanted to live in a city where everything resembled the Financial District.
Financial districts in nearly every city in America are practically identical to one another, my friend pointed out. “It’s like an algal bloom. It sucks the life out of everything.” The difference between living in a culturally diverse metropolis, and a “company town,” where just about everyone has some financial connection with the venture capitalists who are running the show, is the difference between living in a vibrant city and one where that dead-zone effect extends to every corner. Is that really what we want?
Upon hearing that, our techie softened, and grew a little more contemplative. And he made some remarkably candid remarks about tech culture, something he eats, sleeps, and breathes.
It’s all so “hyperactive,” he told us. He regularly sees people who come to San Francisco and try to accomplish as much as possible, with the greatest expediency, so they can cash in and get out. “It’s not like you’re going to stay here,” he said. Startups come and go literally in a matter of weeks, he added, so you never have a chance to get to know people. “It’s transient,” he acknowledged, but a common refrain is that that’s precisely what makes it so “dynamic.” Yet he acknowledged that at the end of the day, it all amounted to a situation where practically nobody has any lasting connection to the community.
No, a bland, boring, monocultural city isn’t what anybody wants, the techie told us, once we really got into it. To the contrary, he said, people in tech would rather be exposed to art and culture. “I’m an optimist,” he insisted. He’d like to believe that the tech community would never allow that sort of outcome, he added sincerely, that they’d come together to find some solution, for “the greater good.” But I pressed him on this point, asking if he was willing to advance that conversation. Would he warn people that something had to change? “In order to do that,” he said, “I’d have to grow a serious pair!”
I blurted out, “But you’re supposed to disrupt!”
It was the comic relief we all needed in what was becoming a seriously emotional exchange, and we all started cracking up. Soon after, we were interrupted by some performance on the main stage, where a guy wearing a gigantic yellow smiley face on his head – like a spherical, 3D emoticon – was lighting the globular thing ablaze. The cartoonish smiley face went sideways while sparks spewed out from it, while blaring techno music thumped along with the spectacle. Applause and hollers arose from the crowd.
Then, promptly at midnight, the lights came on, and any sexy veneer that might have exuded from a gathering of VCs and startup founders faded instantly. Suddenly it was all just tired conference-goers, mostly men, who’d been showered with free beer and wine while continuing to network late into the night, many of them still wearing enormous printed badges that said, “DISRUPT.” Many of the out-of-towners were probably starting to wonder where exactly in San Francisco they even were, and how long it would take for an Uber to show up and ferry them away.
A new interactive map published today by the Anti Eviction Mapping Project shows the spike in tenancy buyouts over the last year in San Francisco, just in time to raise awareness for Sup. David Campos’ proposed legislation to document and regulate tenant buyouts, which has a hearing later this month.
The map only records buyouts reported to the San Francisco Tenants Union, up 126 percent from 2012 to 2013 and expected to be even higher when data for 2014 is collected, but the Tenants Union estimates the number to be only about one-third of the buyouts actually taking place.
Campos’s legislation, which will go before the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee on Sept. 22, seeks to record any buyout taking place in San Francisco with the rent board, and to guarantee the information of tenants rights to the tenant being bought out. [UPDATE: Because of the likely fiscal impacts of the legislation, it has been moved to the Budget & Finance Committee for its first hearing, with no hearing date scheduled yet].
“Regulating and recording buyouts isn’t going to stop them, we don’t believe that’s something within our power or within our rights,” Erin McElroy, a member of the Anti Eviction Mapping Project, told us.
The legislation will, however, impose the same condo conversion prohibitions that are already in place for no-fault evictions. The buyouts were virtually nonexistent before 2006, when San Francisco passed legislation severely limiting the conversion to condos of units that had been cleared of tenants use no-fault evictions.
“Buyouts are really the main way that landlords are evicting tenants,” Ted Gullickson, executive director of the Tenants Union, told us. “They threaten them with an Ellis Act eviction, then come in sweet with a buyout. We need legislation that takes away the incentive for one of the biggest methods of displacement in the city.”
“There are just so many components to the housing crisis [in San Francisco] that we need to know all that we can,” McElroy said. “Most tenants don’t know their rights and they often aren’t being offered enough.”
But groups with opposing views don’t believe that keeping a public record of a private contract is legal.
“Buyouts are mutually beneficial for both landlords and tenants. A tenant can get the money they need so that they can put down a mortgage on their own home,” Charlie Goss from the San Francisco Apartment Association told us. “It’s also a private contract. At face value, there is nothing wrong with recording buyouts, it just may not be constitutional.”
Both sides of the aisle are heated, and Gullickson expects a long fight before the legislation makes any progress, but he thinks that if the tenants side can persuade the more moderate supervisors, it can go through.
[Editor’s Note: The Bay Guardian welcomes and presents our new sex columnist, Krissy Eliot, whose columns you can find here every Thursday and in our print edition on an occasional basis, including in next week’s Sex Issue. Enjoy.]
I moved to the Bay Area seven months ago to escape my repressed, small town life on the East Coast and learn what it’s like to live in a sexually liberated culture. I intended to bump elbows and uglies with sex educators and activists and get a job writing about those experiences. I fantasized about becoming a sexual avenger for the oppressed millennial women being churned out of the small towns in America. I came here to make a difference.
These activities may seem normal to a born and bred San Franciscan, but this place is like another dimension for me.
I lived in rural Maryland for most of my life. Unlike SF, we didn’t have orgasmic meditation or diverse lifestyles. We had churches, liquor stores, and a Wal Mart. I lived in a suburban area that was surrounded by farmland (I’ll never forget the acrid stench of cow poop every morning as I rode the bus through the winding country roads of my youth, Walkman clutched in my sweaty teen fingers).
There were about five black people in my high school, one Asian person, and two lesbians (who were basically the school pariahs). The rest of the students were hillbillies, stoners who loathed hillbillies, or members of the marching band. And no matter what group you belonged to, there was a 99 percent chance that you had conservative, religious parents who believed sex out of wedlock made you a heathen. (Reading the Scarlet Letter in 10th grade reinforced these life lessons). I was no exception to the status quo — with a God-fearing mother and a socially suicidal spot in the marching band’s color guard squad.
I had no sexual prospects.
That’s not to say I didn’t experiment as a little kid. My girl friends and I were licking each other’s vulvas in my parents’ basement when I was 7 years old — cuddled together on pillows inside forts my older brother built with his Mickey Mouse blankets. I think I realized sex acts were condemned when my brother told my parents that I’d flashed my coochie at his friends. I remember hiding at the top of the stairs, tears running down my cheeks, shaking — as I was called down to the living room where my father was seated on a chair, waiting to bend me over his knee.
For me, SF is such a strange place not because of the abundance of sex, but because of the blasé attitudes towards it.
A popular local host and MC told me that none of my ideas on sex would shock anyone because the locals here have “seen and heard it all” and plenty of people in SF already write about sex. An editor of a local newspaper told me that I couldn’t possibly “out sex” anyone in my writing. And while I was sitting in the corner of a bohemian tea party in the city, I rattled off my desire for coital adventure to some hippie who told me that I “possess a curiosity and perspective on sex that most San Franciscans don’t.”
It seems that the sex scene in SF has taken on air of cockiness. A “we’re the big dogs” point of view. And since I’m a small town pup, it seems people expect me to earn my place in the pack, conform, and fade into the background.
I’m not trying to forge new ground with a freakier sex act (it might literally kill me with the shit San Franciscans do), and I’m certainly not calling myself a sexpert. I’m just want to filter a culture through a fresh lens. Why do the people of SF seem to think this isn’t valuable? Has America’s fabled sexual utopia grown into an old dog unwilling to learn new tricks? Or more importantly — new perspectives?
The fact that the people here seem so jaded makes me wonder if there’s an entirely different sexual dysfunction here — one of boredom or arrogance. Have I escaped one oppressive place to fall victim to another? Has living in a sexually charged bubble over the years caused the locals to be less open to the ideas of outsiders?
Independent investigators analyzing BART’s recent turmultuous, rollercoaster-ride labor negotiations issued their report yesterday, concluding that last year’s pair of damaging strikes could and should been avoided. The opinions that the analysts collected from the unions, management, and BART’s Board of Directors covered a wide spectrum, but there were a couple of common themes.
First, the strikes and the death of two BART workers who were killed on the tracks when BART management ran scab-run trains while the workers were on strike, were devastating to the district and its personnel.
“We just walked out of a war,” one anonymous BART employee (or manager) told the report authors. Other anonymous quotes follow a similar theme: “It was like Vietnam… Labor massacare… The bloodiest strike ever… He was our hired gun… They threw bombs.”
“I think a lot of the stakeholders involved and unions have identified that Tom Hock was the problem,” Tom Radulovich, a BART board director, told the Guardian. “This (report) validates my concerns. They talked to everybody.”
Agreement Dynamics Inc., who conducted the investigation on behalf of the BART board, did in-depth interviews with a multitude of BART union representatives, employees, managers, and labor negotiators. Through the report, Agreement Dynamics found a culture of distrust between labor and management that they described as entrenched and multi-generational. On top of that already potent powder-keg, Hock was hired as a negotiator. Seven board directors cast “aye” votes to hire Hock, including Radulovich. Directors Fang and Murray were absent from the room at the time of the vote.
According to the report, Hock came in with guns blazing. Mixing that attitude with what the report describes as BART General Manager Grace Crunican’s lack of experience in labor negotiations, and there was a perfect recipe for conflict.
“When Tom Hock took over as chief negotiator, Grace had become hard line,” one source told Agreement Dynamics. “There wasn’t enough trust built… Tom Hock thought a strike was inevitable. I don’t know how we thought we could win. We did not even have the whole board supporting this.”
But despite the lack of groundswell support, Hock perpetuated a strategy to push the unions to strike, according to the source.
“Tom pushed it to strike because Grace would not budge financially,” the source said. “So Tom said to Grace, ‘You will have to strike with your position.’ Management thought we could win the PR battle and the unions would cave. But the unions had politicians. The press can turn on a dime. They did and our strategy backfired.”
Two managers told Agreement Dynamics that lack of planning exacerbated this problem.
“We did not have a Plan B to prevent a strike,” one manager told the investigators. Another told them, “This strike was not productive. We never did a course correction and then there was another strike. Two people got killed. We spent millions to end up getting creamed, and engendering hate.”
In interviews with the investigators, Hock told them he believed the strike would be very short and the unions would “have to come back and reach an agreement” before management would have to give in. He based this on the Bay Area’s sentiment against the unions, the report wrote. He told investigators that media reports also heavily favored management’s perspective. (The report also outlines how management believed their ‘good strategy’ helped sway big media, like the San Francisco Chronicle, to take their side. Good job, guys.)
The negotiators were told by Hock that a number of factors led to the strike, as he tried to deflect blame. But the report’s analysis said “the conditions cited by Tom Hock (elected board, politically strong unions, ineperience in labor negotiations) have existed in prior negotiations when no strike resulted.”
So Hock pushed the unions to strike, the same strike that led to two workers’ deaths, the report seemingly implies. But that was not his only misstep, according to the report. He also didn’t read the contract he signed off on.
After labor negotiations concluded, BART management brought celebrations to a screeching halt. For those that remember, a provision on family medical leave, section 4.8 of the labor contract, was disputed by BART management. They said they never signed that provision, which could cost BART upwards of $40 million in sick leave, if approved.
BART management said it signed the provision due to a “clerical error,” which BART board director Zachary Mallet confirmed to the San Jose Mercury News. “The cause of this incident has been confirmed as a miscommunication-based clerical error during the write-up of a tentative agreement,” Mallet told the Merc.
But Hock and district negotiators Paul Oversier and Rudy Medina all told Agreement Dynamics that they signed it without reading it. “If Tom Hock had read it before he signed it, 4.8 would not have happened,” one BART staff member told the investigators.
But as much as Hock comes under fire in this report, the report also found that he came at a time of deep division between labor and management. The report shows a way out for that: leadership from the BART Board of Directors. Radulovich told the Guardian he agrees. The board must take the reins in righting the historic bad blood between all sides at BART.
“A lot of it is the culture of your organization,” he said. “When I was a baby BART director, [employees and management] were complaining about things that happened back in 1979. You do feel like you’re walking in on a fight going on long before you got there, and going on long after you leave.”
“That antagonism has been there from the beginning,” he told us. “The question I ask myself is: how can I change that?”
Tomorrow morning at a press conference at 9am, some of the BART board will present the report and talk about its findings. Maybe we’ll find those answers then.
Do you enjoy ranting about these issues and more, both in person and in long, exceedingly negative Facebook posts?
Boy, do we have an event for you. The Fillmore will play host tonight [Wed/10] to a debate between Supervisors David Chiu and David Campos, who will be discussing issues that affect the city’s nightlife — transportation, building restrictions, the rent explosion meaning no one cool can afford to live here anymore, etc. The conversation will be “refereed” by the great Chronicle and Rolling Stone reporter Ben Fong-Torres, while DJ Timoteo Gigante starts things off with some music.
The mission statement, from organizers (the event is being presented by the California Music and Culture Association, SF Weekly, and The Bay Bridged): “To achieve lasting legislative reform at the state level, it is imperative that we have pro-entertainment and culture office holders in Sacramento. This is an important opportunity to hear the candidate’s positions on our issues and to make our concerns known.”
So show some civic pride, get off Facebook, and take to the streets. Er, to The Fillmore. If you don’t make your voice known when you have the chance — well, you know how this works. You lose complaining rights later. And no one wants that.
SUPERVISORS CHIU & CAMPOS DEBATE: Nightlife Issues 7pm, free The Fillmore 1805 Geary, SF Event info
Brian, who is 12, came to the United States from Guatemala with his younger brother, Edwin, who is seven. They arrived in a car driven by a coyote, an adult who ferried them across in an arrangement made with their family. But the brothers were quickly detained by Border Patrol agents.
When they were taken into custody, Brian explained through a translator, they heard sirens and went running into a field. The coyote ran in the other direction, leaving them alone. Brian said that when border agents shouted “stop!” he couldn’t understand what they were saying. But when Edwin tripped and fell, they both came to a halt, and were soon apprehended. They spent the next month in a Texas facility, where other Central American youth were also being held.
Brian and Edwin spoke to the Bay Guardian just before a Sept. 10 committee hearing of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, concerning a proposal to provide emergency legal aid for undocumented youth. Just before the interview, the brothers stood on the grand marble staircase in San Francisco City Hall, surveying the stately surroundings with wide eyes. But when asked what life was like in Guatemala, where they had stayed with their grandmother, Brian’s face got very serious.
“It was bad,” he said. “We couldn’t live in peace. There were too many gang members. They often killed children and young teenage boys.”
Brian and Edwin. GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE
The brothers are relatively lucky – they have legal counsel provided by Dolores Street Community Services, and their parents are here with them in San Francisco – yet they are both in deportation proceedings, and could still end up being sent back to Guatemala.
During the hearing at today’s Budget & Finance Committee meeting, more youth shared stories of their own harrowing journeys to the United States and asked the supervisors to approve funding to provide legal counsel for undocumented kids facing deportation proceedings in San Francisco immigration court.
A girl named Natalie, who is 10, described being held in a detention facility she called the “freezer” because of the uncomfortable temperature. “It was unbearably cold. It was freezing,” she said during testimony. “We had to cover ourselves with aluminum foil.”
Others described horrific violence in their home countries in Central America, and spoke about their journeys to the United States on a dangerous freight train that’s earned the nickname The Beast.
Lawyers and advocates weighed in, too. One speaker read a prepared statement from Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, who wrote that due to violence and instability in Central America, “The cases we deal with are often in effect death penalty cases.”
As the Guardian previously reported, the supplemental funding request was proposed by Sup. David Campos, who noted during the hearing that he felt a personal connection with the kids because he himself was once an undocumented youth arriving to the United States from Central America.
Yet when Campos introduced the budget supplemental proposal at last week’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Board President David Chiu – Campos’ opponent in the race to represent District 17 in the California Assembly – noted that he had secured funding during the budget process for the expansion of a legal aid program to ensure immigrant youth would have access to pro bono legal counsel.
“Unless we actually fund nonprofits to provide that support, pro bono counsel cannot help in the way that we need them to,” Campos said during the Sept. 10 hearing.
Chiu suggested at last week’s full board meeting that a grant awarded to the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area, for $100,000, was intended to aid unaccompanied youth and could leverage pro bono legal representation valued at some $8 million. But Oren Sellstrom, legal director at the Lawyer’s Committee, said during the Sept. 10 hearing, “The grant we received is not focused either on unaccompanied youth or on the rocket docket,” referring to expedited immigration court proceedings. Sellstrom said he thought the additional funding proposed by Campos was needed.
In the end, the members of the Budget & Finance Committee – Sups. John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Mark Farrell – voted unanimously to recommend approval of $1.063 million per year for two years, slightly less than the $1.2 million per year Campos had originally sought.
After the hearing, Campos told the Bay Guardian he was “cautiously optimistic” that the full board, which votes on the supplemental on Tue/16, would approve the funding. His office is working with the Mayor’s Office on Housing and Community Development to expedite the process of securing contracts if it wins full approval.
Farrell, the more conservative member of the committee, said he’d had concerns walking into the hearing but was struck by youth’s accounts of their experiences. He said he had previously represented undocumented immigrants as an attorney and was sympathetic to their cases. “I had some concerns about the fact that during our own budget process, every year, we cannot fund enough services,” he told the Bay Guardian.
But at the end of the day, Farrell said, “This is a situation we cannot turn our back on in San Francisco.”
Members of the band Vulfpeck describe themselves as a “half-Jewish German-American rhythm section.” Creators of severely catchy, mostly-instrumental grooves, the four-piece — who first met in a German literature class at the University of Michigan — have built a following with their quirky YouTube videos: Each album track is accompanied by a cleverly shot and edited video of its recording. The videos not only capture the band’s camaraderie, loose attitude, and sense of humor, but also their musical cohesion as a group. Each song is endlessly and effortlessly funky.
As we listened to their fourth EP, Fugue State, released last week, a passerby commented on how their music has a distinctly familiar quality. This makes sense, for a group modeled after the great rhythm sections of the ’60s and ’70s: tight-knit groups of studio players like those in Detroit (Motown), Memphis (Stax) and Muscle Shoals (Atlantic, Chess) that played on not only countless soul and R&B hits, but on classic pop and rock records as well.
The LA-based band created a bit of a stir earlier this year with their Sleepify album — a collection of 31-second-long silent tracks that they told their fans to stream on Spotify, on repeat, as they slept. (That’s the minimum song length after which the music streaming service pays bands a small fee.) The group promised to use the Spotify proceeds to fund a tour of free shows, booked around the cities where the album was streamed the most — and that’s just what they did, after raising about $20,000. (Spotify has since removed the album.)
We spoke over the phone with Jack Stratton, multi-instrumentalist, audio/video engineer, and mastermind for the band, ahead of their upcoming performance at Brick & Mortar Music Hall on Mon/15. It’s a free show, of course. Frequent Vulfpeck collaborator Joey Dosik opens.
San Francisco Bay Guardian Do you want to talk a little about Sleepify and how it came about?
Jack Stratton The first time we had talked about touring, we were trying to play live, because there’s somewhat of a demand from our fans of the YouTube videos. So we were just talking about ways to do that, and get information from other groups about what it costs, and it seemed like a losing-money venture.
So we were trying to think up ways for it to make sense, because really we enjoy playing live, and simultaneously we were talking about this demand-funded tour, where you say: If 100 people in any given place say they’ll go, we’ll show up. And we talk about Spotify all the time when we release stuff — whether it hurts sales or has no effect. It’s hard to judge. So all of those conversations kind of collided into this demand-funded Spotify tour.
SFBG Would you consider it a success so far?
JS Oh, absolutely, yeah. Especially since our last release, it’s hard to say how many fans came in from Sleepify. Probably the majority of people were just interested in the Sleepify part of it, but people did end up checking out the band and enjoying it. I think it almost doubled our fanbase since then, so there’s no way to spin it negative, really.
SFBG I know you’re based in LA. Are all the members there these days?
JS No, not right now; we’re all scattered.
SFBG How do you find time to get together and make music?
JS Vulfpeck is a strict Monday-through-Friday workweek, once a year. Our last album we did in a week in Ann Arbor, and definitely the eventual goal is to be doing that way more often, with other artists, like a classic rhythm section. That’s the vision.
SFBG Do you seek out freelance work backing up other singers? It seems like your records could serve as a great demo tape.
JS Yeah, we’ve done a little bit of that. That’s definitely the vision for it, because you can put out a lot more material. Like, you watch any documentary about [classic soul/R&B rhythm sections], and they played on so many hits. Because with any single artist, there’s just a limit to how much new material you want to hear in a year, [but a rhythm section] can just crank it out — and we’re very fast.
The larger concept to start a rhythm section was that — name a band. If you name any band, I could name their dramatic falling out, but all the rhythm sections, they just kinda do their thing. And then there’s a documentary 50 years later and they’re all still hanging out.
SFBGFugue State is your fourth EP; how would you say the band’s sound has evolved?
JS Well, I’ve gotten better at mixing, we’ve all gotten better at playing, we’ve gotten better as an ensemble…so those are hard to quantify. The team is improving. We’ve had a mastering engineer since the second album, Devin Kerr, and that’s really helped the overall sound.
SFBGI saw that you and Devin released a Vulf compressor plugin for other musicians to use. Not a lot of bands can say that. How did that come about?
JS Yeah, I’m very excited about that. That was, man, a long time in the works. Not heavy duty work, but I was really into, at one point, this sound of Madlib and Flying Lotus and J Dilla. Whatever that sound was, that pumping, where the whole track pumps — I was like “What the hell is that?”
And I did some research, and the Internet is a magical thing, and I was directed to these late 90s/early 2000s digital samplers. And the compressors on those, certainly Madlib was using them, so I went to Devin and was like, “Check out these sounds I’m getting with these digital compressors.” And he was trying to replicate it with his plugins and he couldn’t do it at all, so he just did a ton of listening to these characteristics, that were not, I think, programmed.
SFBG Right, they might have been bugs or imperfections…
JS Yeah, and actually they were, because [the manufacturers] started phasing out certain effects that were classics. They just didn’t know. [Devin’s] a dangerous dude because he’s very good at DSP [Digital Single Processing] and he’s a mastering engineer, so he’s very musical and has this very technical side. So he did his thing and we would test it out and it was really thrilling. And then our friend Rob Stenson did the interface with Devin and now its in beta and eventually it’ll be out.
SFBG Do you have a take on analog vs. digital recording?
JS We’re fans of both. We’ll do stuff to tape; we’ll use a nice mixing board and go into the computer or some funky cassette preamp. We’ll do it all — no hangups.
SFBG A lot of your videos are shot in living rooms and bedrooms and they look pretty impromptu.
JS Yeah, I was kind of all about building a nice tricked-out studio for us. But Theo [Katzman, drummer-guitarist] mentioned part of the charm is all of these different locations and how rugged the setups are.
SFBGThe last couple records have each featured a song with Antwaun Stanley [on vocals]. Do you envision more collaboration with him in the future?
JS Oh yeah, I mean, he rules. It’s really fun to work with him. Honestly, not many people could [with us]. It’s not just picking a good voice with us; the person has to be a really good improvisor, like Antwaun, because they have to make it happen on the spot, and there’s no overdubs or background vocals. It’s not just a nice timbre; you have to be a really talented singer and improvisor — a performer.
SFBGDid you write the lyrics or did he?
JS I wrote those. That is one of the greatest joys I wish everyone could experience is having Antwaun Stanley sing your lyrics. Because they go from, like, ridiculousness, to sounding like they were meant to be.
SFBG In general, do you write all of the parts for the band or is it more of a collaborative process as far as the arrangements go?
JS Depends on the tune. I like how versatile everyone is: We’ve done tunes where it’s completely arranged, we’ve done tunes where it’s like: “Do your thing.” Generally, one person comes in with the nugget and they’ll kind of be producer on that track and get to call the shots, but it’s collaborative within that.
SFBG You’ve got some multi-instrumentalists in the band. [Theo Katzman doubles on drums and guitar and Jack plays drums, various keyboards and guitar.] How do you choose who’s going to be on drums, and who’s on keys, etc., for each song?
JS It’s mostly a decision of who will be able to pick up the parts fastest, because it’s all on-the-spot — there’s no rehearsal. Theo’s got a really good ear harmonically. I don’t really, I can’t pick up tunes that quick. If I’ve written the tune on keyboards, I’ll play keyboards, but if it’s someone else’s tune and it’s difficult, he’ll play guitar [and I’ll play drums].
SFBG What does Vulfpeck mean?
JS That was kind of the earliest part of it: It’s “wolfpack,” pronounced by a German, but phonetically spelled out in English. So, if a German saw the word wolfpack, it would probably come out “vulf-pock,” which I screwed up at the time. I thought it would be “peck,” but apparently it’s “pock.”
But that’s the whole idea, and it’s endless joy, because I love the name and it’s great for the Internet, you know? Getting all the [web] addresses. I think there was one military dating profile — that was it — when I first Googled it. I was like “Alright, I think this is open.”
SFBG Search engine optimized…
JS Our Google splash page is — I mean you can’t control these things — but nice, man, it’s all us.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and U.C. Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society are teaming up today [Wed/10] in Washington DC to release and discuss the institute’s first policy prescriptions for reducing inequality.
The policy brief—the first to be issued by the Haas Institute—will introduce research-based approaches suggested by a diverse array of economists looking at inequality through different lenses.
The policy brief calls for the integration of regions through land use rezoning to decrease inequality, an increase in public investments in preschool programs, raising the minimum wage, and the reformation of unfair tax policy that favors the wealthiest 1 percent.
“Inequality is a defining issue for America’s future,” John Powell, director of the Haas Institute, said in a press statement. “The good news is that we know variation in inequality and mobility imply that local, state, and federal policies can have an impact. Therefore, the solution is within reach, but only if policymakers learn from and apply researched based initiatives.”
While this is the Haas institute’s first policy brief, it is far from being Lee’s first foray into the issues of inequality. In fact, it’s become an area of her expertise. Lee, will give this morning’s keynote address, has been introduced two bills to curb the growth of inequality.
The first, the Income Equity Act (H.R. 199), would limit the tax deductibility of executive compensation packages. Currently, the more a firm pays its CEO, the more the firm can deduct from its taxes, leaving “cash-strapped taxpayers picking up the tab,” said Lee in a 2013 blog post.
“Despite record corporate profits, none of it is being shared with the American working class—the strongest work force in the world,” Jim Lewis, Lee’s press director, told the Guardian. “We’re pushing for research-based initiatives that are realistic when implemented.”
Locally, state Sens. Mark DeSauliner (D-Concord) and Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) introduced a pay-disparity bill (SB 1372) in April, which would tax companies with a wide income gap between CEOs and workers, and give tax breaks to companies with lower income disparities.
The second, Lee’s Pathways Out of Poverty Act (H.R. 5352), addresses unemployment in minority communities, namely African Americans and Latinos. It aims to create good-paying jobs and increase social mobility while strengthening the social net for those still struggling.
Research based solutions seem like a perfectly practical way to go about solving our evident wealth gap, but “1 percenter” and “the 99 percent” have only been part of the national lexicon since 2011’s Occupy protests.
A Gallup poll from January this year revealed that Democrats and independents are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with income and wealth distribution, as well as a majority of Republicans. The poll also found that only slightly about half of Americans are satisfied with the opportunity to get ahead by working hard.
“For many years, income inequality was viewed as an important factor and byproduct of growth,” said Powell. “That has been largely discredited by economists. It’s not a necessary byproduct of technological advances and globalization.”
All of this comes at a time when the wealth gap in the United States—and especially in the Bay Area—is reaching exorbitant proportions.
In June, the San Francisco Human Services Agency released a report stating that while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the city’s middle class—those earning around the median household income of $72,500—is disappearing altogether.
A recent study by the Brookings Institution revealed that between 1990 and 2012, the city’s middle class has shrunk from 45 percent of the population to 34 percent.
“There’s no need for this kind of gap, it’s unsustainable,” Powell said. “We need to work on a local level, especially when we have a more liberal legislature in California. Closing the gap can enhance economic growth. It can bring the country together.”
The initial dispute started over the amount of taxes devlelopers around the new Transbay Terminal were required to pay for the project. A special tax district established in the area would require the developers to pay up to $1.4 billion for public infrastructure in the area, including San Francisco’s high-speed rail connection, in exchange for upzonings that allow them to exceed city building height limits.
This was a critical deal. That $1.4 billion sticker-shock is based on recent property values, which as any San Franciscan not living under a rock knows, have shot up with our housing boom. But the developers balked at the numbers, saying the higher taxes were not part of the original deal. The city, the supervisors, and the mayor disagreed, saying the original agreement was clear. At yesterday’s hearing, Sup. Jane Kim repeatedly hinted at a deal they had reached, saying “I’m excited for what we’ll be able to announce after the closed session.”
The stakes were high. If the developers managed to stall the deal, they may have managed to not pay any of these taxes at all.
“When I woke up this morning, I said there’s no way I’d let this stall,” Sup. Scott Wiener, who has taken the lead on trying to hold the developers to the original deal, told us.
But the deal actually turned out to be pretty rosy for the city, he said, at least at first blush.
The developers will still end up paying up to $1.4 billion (officials say the actual figure will be closer to $1 billion) in the special tax district, but now will pay over 37 years instead of 30, allowing them to make smaller payments. The developers would also be bound to a later vote, further cementing the tax deal. The developers may also forefit their right to sue the city over the negotiations.
Pressure on the supervisors was strong. At yesterday’s hearing on the tax deal, advocates and developers alike showed up in force. Patrick Valentino, a staunch advocate of market-rate housing development in the city, reminded the supervisors that the initial agreement wasn’t exactly mystifying.
“It was made very clear in (the initial contract) that the fees could go up and down based on the market,” he said. “We certainly aren’t spending millions of dollars for just a bus station.”
Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, threw some barbs the supervisors’ way as well. “There’s no time for waffling,” he told them, in public comment. He then made an argument for the high developer fees. “Why don’t people make 1,000-foot skyscrapers in the Nevada desert? There’s no society there, no infrastructure, no water. The value for the land is created by the infrastructure from the Bay Area’s pockets, which added billions of dollars to downtown land. We need more capacity.”
But supervisors didn’t waffle, and a deal was reached. But to be clear, it is still preliminary, with the devil in the myriad details.
The Board of Supervisors issued a continuance on the final vote for the deal for two weeks, in order to give Mayor Ed Lee and the developers time to cement all the details.
So far, the deal looks great, Wiener said. “It’s not even a compromise,” he told us. “The phrase I used was, ‘this is too good to be true.'”
But, he said, “We’ll learn new details in two weeks.”
This bill would establish a stealth template for how to gut the California Public Records Act one economic and political sector at a time.
By Bruce B. Brugmann (with a First Amendment Coalition emergency message and a button for readers to request a Gov. Brown veto)
Possibly the bill most damaging to the public interest in years is sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for signature. It is SB 1300, which amounts to an oil refinery protection bill proposed by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Assemblyperson Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), two legislators living in the shadow of the East Bay oil refineries who ought to know better. It was supported by oil companies, organized labor, and the California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) and was passed by the Assembly on a 68-5 vote and by the Senate on a 34-0 vote. No debate, no discussion, no questions asked.
The gist of the damage is that SB 1300 was amended at the last minute to force a CPRA requester to pay fees if a court rules against disclosure. As the California Newspaper Publishers Association explained in its current legislative bulletin, SB 1300 “would expand the definition of what constitutes a trade secret and erect an insurmountable barrier to any effort by a member of the public to obtain information about DOSH’s performance in its role as a consumer watchdog over a refiner’s conduct.”
Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition (FAC), warned in a special message that “it’s safe to say that no one will ever file a CPRA request for refinery information once it becomes known that a mere request may thrust the requester involuntarily into a costly battle against oil companies.” But just to be sure no one even contemplates filing a CPRA request, Scheer noted that the last minute amendments to the legislation also provide that the requester will have to pay his/her own fees as well as the fees of the oil company’s lawyers if he/she loses the suit.
CNPA General Counsel Jim Ewert and Staff Attorney Scott Merrill worked furiously to try to negotiate with Hancock’s staff and DOSH representatives to eliminate the toxic effect on CPRA requesters. But all CNPA amendments were rejected before the bill was taken up by both houses. Hancock told the CNPA advocates repeatedly that she would rather have the information in DOSH’s hands even if that meant that the public wouldn’t have access to it.
Scheer wrote that “some may say that these changes to existing law, while terrible, are not such a big deal since they only curtail access to information about refineries. (This is presumably the view of organized labor, which cynically backs SB 1300 after getting a special carveout for refineries’ employment and financial data that unions want.)
“Try telling that to the families who live downwind of refineries. But more than that, SB 1300 establishes a template for how to gut the CPRA one economic and political sector at a time. First, it’s information about oil companies; next it will be information about schools or about law enforcement or about water supplies. SB 1300 creates a dangerous precedent for other industries and special interets to follow.
“Don’t let that happen. Tell Governor Brown to veto SB 1300.”
Below is the full text of Scheer’s message on the FAC website with a response button to email, fax, or phone requesting Gov. Brown to veto SB 1300. CNPA is emailing Scheer’s message to its member papers in its Sept.12 Legislative Bulletin, several are preparing stories and editorials, and public access activists are mobilizing opposition across the state. Brown was expected to sign the bill, until CNPA and FAC blew the bugles and started blasting away.
Meanwhile, ask Hancock and Skinner and DOSH how they came up with this abomination and ask your local senators and assemblypersons why they voted for it without gulping. You can start with the San Francisco delegation, all of whom voted for the bill (Assemblymen Ammiano and Ting and Sen. Leno). On guard,b3
P.S. CNPA laid out this Kafkaesque scenario for people who have the gall to request information on emissions from a nearby oil refinery fire:
“ A mother and her family driven from her home by the emissions from a fire at a nearby refinery submits a CPRA request to DOSH for information that she believes is disclosable about the next turnaround at the refinery to determine how safe the refinery is. Because her request could include trade secret information as now defined, DOSH notifies the refinery that a request for the refiner’s information has been received.
“The refinery files an action against DOSH for injunctive relief to prevent the disclosure of the information and, since the bill requires the refiner to name the requester as a real party in interest, the requester is named as a party in the lawsuit filed by the refinery.The requester, who may or may not have been willing to go to court to enforce her rights under the CPRA, now finds that she is an unwilling party in a lawsuit.
” If she decides to participate in the action to pursue the information she believes she has a right to obtain she will have to pay her own expenses for a lawyer and the costs associated with the action. If she decides not to pursue her rights she risks that a default judgment could nonetheless be entered against her.
“If the court denies her request, or a default judgment is entered against her, the court would be required to order her to pay the refinery’s attorney’s fees and costs.
“SB 1300 was also amended to provide ‘the public agency shall not bear the court costs for any party named in litigation filed pursuant to this section.'” Incredible. Simply incredible. b3
For the CNPA letter asking Gov.Brown to veto the bill, click the link below
(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He was the editor and he and his wife Jean Dibble co-founded and co-published the Guardian, 1966-2012.)
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s daily announcement of public events today included a strange pairing for tomorrow [Wed/10]: the Blue Angels will return to perform dangerous maneuvers over this densely populated city…and we need to prepare for a disaster.
More specifically, his Press Office wrote:
Mayor Lee to kick off return of Fleet Week to San Francisco Bay Area & announce events, activities & disaster preparedness exercises.
UPDATE: So now that I attended the press conference, I’ve learned that Fleet Week isn’t just about displaying this country’s military might, celebrating soldiers as defenders of our “freedom,” or having the Blue Angels do dangerous stunts over a densely populated city — it’s really about disaster preparedness.
Or as Mayor Lee said, “Fleet Week is not only a time when we pay tribute to our women and men in uniform, but it is also an opportunity to improve the way we provide humanitarian assistance and educate ourselves about disaster preparedness.”
Lee told the Guardian that “the show” is less important than all the multi-agency training exercises that happen in the run-up to Fleet Week (which is Oct. 6-13), and he dismissed any danger that the Blue Angels pose by telling us “everyone practices very carefully” and that our safety concerns are “like saying that Muni presents a disaster.”
Police Chief Greg Suhr told us the emphasis on disaster preparedness has “always been so,” and that celebrating the military is important because “they are owed our appreciation.”
Marine Brigadier General Joaquin F. Malavet also reassured us that the maneuvers were safe, that “we’re very sensitive to the type of training events that we practice,” and that Fleet Week is important to San Franciscans: “We want them to be exposed to who we are, what we do, and the capabilities that we have.”
So if one of these babies crashes, as they sometimes do, we can all rest assured that the resources are here to deal with that or other disasters. Don’t you feel better?
Don’t be surprised if you go online tomorrow [Wed/10] and see a “loading” symbol – aka the proverbial “spinning wheel of death” – staring you in the face. No, that isn’t actually a technical problem – that’s what happens when geeks organize an online campaign.
Wed/10 marks the Internet Slowdown Day, in which sites across the web, many of which are based in San Francisco, will display the loading sign as a way to encourage web users to fight back against proposed rules that threaten net neutrality. Websites of companies and organizations ranging from Netflix to the Sierra Club will be participating in the digital show of opposition, to send a signal to the Federal Communications Commission, Congress, and the White House that the Internet should remain a level playing field.
In May, the FCC issued a proposal to allow Internet service providers to charge major companies, such as Amazon and Netflix, for faster access to consumers, creating so-called “Internet fast lanes.”
But as Evan Greer, a spokesperson for digital rights advocacy organization Fight for the Future, told the Bay Guardian, “We know that inherently that means there’s also a slow lane.”
The federal agency is now soliciting public comment on that proposal, with a deadline of Sept. 15.
Internet activists fear that as deep-pocketed companies seeking prioritized consumer access pile into the fast lanes, those without the ability to pay a premium will be relegated to the slow lane. And that sets a very bad precedent for the future of the Internet overall.
“Slowing down content is really tantamount to censorship,” Greer said. “What’s at stake here isn’t just about how fast or slow our videos load – it’s about the future of our democracy and the Internet’s role in it.”
The “spinning wheel of death” symbols won’t actually slow down access to participating websites, but the widgets will feature links allowing web users to send a petition to the FCC, Congress, and the White House.
“Everyone has a role in this, and everyone’s trying to pass the buck,” Greer noted. “Obama is saying, oh look, the FCC is an independent agency. Everyone is taking money from the telecom industry. Comcast has been donating to Republicans and Democrats across the aisle, and they’re gaining political influence because of it.”
Making matters worse, Greer said, is that Tom Wheeler, the chair of the FCC, was formerly a lobbyist for the National Cable and Telecom Association – the industry association that’s on the side of the companies advocating against the proposal that threatens net neutrality.
Other organizations involved in organizing the Internet Slowdown Day include Demand Progress, Free Press and Engine Advocacy.
And if you’re curious to learn more about net neutrality, no explanation is more fun to watch than John Oliver’s.
Two Realtor groups have dumped nearly $600,000 into the campaign against Prop. G, the tax on flipping properties to discourage real estate speculation and evictions in San Francisco, a massive early donation that could signal the beginning of a campaign onslaught by the Realtors.
A campaign group calling itself Stop the Housing Tax, No on G, and Coalition of Homeowner, Renter, and Real Estate Organizations received a $425,000 donation from the California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization PAC on Sept. 4 and $170,000 from the San Francisco Association of Realtors on Aug. 26, according to filings with the Ethics Commission.
Apparently, the Realtors recognize they have a strong financial stake in encouraging the flipping of houses within one to five years of being sold, on which the measure would levy a graduated tax of 24-14 percent in order to discourage. Such quick turnarounds often involve evicting tenants in order to increase a home’s market value.
Representatives for the Realtors didn’t immediately return our calls, but Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and a supporter of Prop. G, told us the huge donations indicate what’s really driving opposition to the measure.
“Make no mistake: the polished No on G mailer you receive spouting lies such as ‘G will hurt homeowners’ is coming directly from the mouths of the Realtors, the very people who have the most to gain by continuing to allow for evictions and flipping of apartments,” Shortt told the Guardian. “These are the same players who dumped piles of money to kill Ellis Act reform in Sacramento. And these are the same people who are making windfall profits by evicting low income tenants in San Francisco and wreaking havoc on our neighborhoods.”
UPDATE: Jay Cheng with the SF Association of Realtors just sent us an email that said, “We are working to raise funds to defeat the tax on housing, which will make San Francisco even less affordable to middle class families. We’re proud the people who know the most about housing are stepping up to defeat this tax, which will only backfire and make housing more expensive.”
Know the most, or profit the most? We asked a follow-up question about whether financial self-interest prompted the donations, and we’ll update this post if and when we hear back.
Van Pierszalowski, the songwriter and primary ringleader of SF’s WATERS, has always seemed like a guy on the brink of wide(r)spread stardom. The band’s music is an ear-pleasing mix of guitar-driven rock riffs and power pop hooks the size of Buicks; it’s radio-ready without feeling squeaky-clean, in no small part thanks to Pierszalowski’s plaintive vocals.
This may be the year it happens for WATERS. The band announced yesterday that it signed to the LA-based Vagrant Records, which will release its forthcoming EP, It All Might Be OK, on Oct. 14. And today we have this album-opening anthem, “I Feel Everything,” which has the deliciously raw feel of Pinkerton-era Weezer but with a fuzz-laden, wall-of-guitar chorus that seems ready for a stadium stage. Give it a listen below.
Carson Lancaster is tired of the bullshit. He’s tired of watching the same handful of mainstream galleries hang the same artists and shun a majority of San Francisco’s young, talented artists. “It’s like that scene in Scanners. You know, the one where the guy’s head explodes? That’s what it feels like every time I walk into one of those places,” he said.
Lancaster is the owner of Book & Job, an art gallery that seeks to do exactly the opposite: make San Francisco’s art market accessible to both artists and consumers. Located on Geary and Hyde Streets, Book & Job blends into the grit of the Tenderloin and in no way resembles the blue-chip megaliths huddled toward Union Square. The space is tiny. There’s no team of attractive sales people standing at the entrance, no bubbly event photographers milling around, no tuxedos, and no free champagne.
However, it isn’t uncommon to see a small throng of young people spilling from the entrance on a given Saturday night, or passers-by (likely coming from galleries down the street) stopping in their tracks to gander at the commotion — looking for something, anything, that slightly resembles uncharted territory: candid photographs from inside of a ramshackle San Francisco mosque, say, or a couple of naked male performers feeding each other wedding cake while dancing to Celine Dion. That, Lancaster feels, is an art scene.
Which is why Lancaster is all ears if an artist wants to show work at Book & Job. Though it began mainly for photographers, in the past couple of years the small gallery has broadened its horizons to include just about anything — paintings, zines, and performances. “People come in all the time and say, ‘I like this place because it’s pure, because it’s real, because it’s no bullshit,” he continued. “It’s known in the community as the no bullshit gallery.”
Sat/13, Lancaster’s walls will feature work from an analog photography club called Find Rangers, which sent out an open call to artists around the world. Lancaster and a group of colleagues started the club for many of the same reasons he opened his gallery. “It’s a grassroots affair,” he said.
As a former photography student at Academy of Art University, Lancaster wondered why many of the best students would flee San Francisco after graduating, but he eventually came to a realization: “The San Francisco art scene sucks. It is very close-minded, unfriendly, not open to interpretation, set in the same ways. And for young artists at CCA [California College of the Arts], SFAI [San Francisco Art Institute], and Academy of Art, to go to an art gallery in the city [and inquire about showing their work], they’re going to be told to go fuck themselves in so many words.”
Lancaster spoke of a disconnect between San Francisco’s relatively insular gallery scene and the high number of art students in the area. From 2002 to 2012, San Francisco received more art funding per capita than any another city in the nation, according to a 2014 study released by the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago. And yet, the city’s abundance of talented artists cannot break in and are thus forced to seek greener pastures, usually in New York or Los Angeles.
Lancaster believes that this is largely because art galleries in San Francisco have tight business models, and that giving artists a chance just doesn’t allow them to stay afloat. These galleries, he said, would rather show artists they know can sell. “They have their roster of artists,” he explained. “December is Ferris Plock, or September is Jay Howell or Mike Giant, and it’s the same names over and over again. It’s more like a meat factory. It’s the meat aisle.”
But Lancaster isn’t worried about Book & Job. His lease is written such that his rent stays fixed — and relatively low — until 2022. For next eight years, Book & Job cannot be priced out, even as the neighborhood continues to transform around it. “This is place is blowing up,” he said, pointing out the new cafés and restaurants that are now sprouting up around the Tenderloin. All the same, in the coming years Book & Job will serve as a small preservation of what remains of city’s DIY ethos, a channel through which local artists can be discovered without having to flee the city.
“It’s a really nervy thing to do,” Sarah Barsness, one of Lancaster’s former Academy of Art teachers, says of the gallery. She explained that it’s extremely difficult to open a successful art gallery in the city, let alone one as “subversive” as Book & Job. “He’s doing the thing that you’re never supposed to do, which is having a lot of work that he sells for nothing, and spreading it out to a different, broader population — younger people and fellow students,” she explained.
She even compared Lancaster to Andy Warhol and other pioneers of the pop art movement, who sought to strip art of its “preciousness” and “elitism” by selling prints for pennies on the dollar. Ultimately, Barsness explained, this made art more democratic. “It’s really important right now because we’re at a high point of elitists,” she said. “It’s over the top.”
By making art more democratic, she explained, galleries like Book & Job “bring artists back into the conversation,” making art more about art and less about business. But Barsness believes many San Francisco galleries have always operated this way. “San Francisco collectors are notorious for not buying San Francisco art,” she said, explaining that galleries have had to survive by bringing in work from other cities.
While Barsness feels that the economic cards are not stacked in Lancaster’s favor, she feels that Book & Job embodies much of what art stands for. “Art is not supposed to preach. It’s supposed to show you an alternative way of thinking, so that questions emerge,” she said. “[Book & Job] is a little work of art, in that sense, making you ask: Do galleries have to operate this way? Is it wrong to have galleries operate this way? And why is it wrong?”
For Lancaster, however, Book & Job’s place in the art world isn’t so much subversive as it is deeply personal. In March, Lancaster found his close friend, renowned San Francisco artist Shawn Whisenant, dead from a health issue in the back room of the gallery, where he had been sleeping. Whisenant was a San Francisco street artist and photographer and one of the last “true” San Francisco artists, according to KQED’s Kristin Farr, who remembered him fondly after his passing.
And for Lancaster, Whisenant’s artistic ethos of “no B.S.” will always shape how Book & Job is run. A day doesn’t go by in which Lancaster doesn’t think about what Whisenant would have done. “He’s the angel and devil on my shoulder,” he said.
The room in which Whisenant died has been converted into a dark room, and for now Lancaster plans to share it with other like-minded photographers and use it to hone his own skills. “If someone is checking their phone and they see my open call [for a Find Rangers Camera Club exhibit], and they dust off their camera and buy a roll of film, I’m doing something right,” he said. “That’s not just me selling a booklet to help pay rent, that’s helping someone’s creativity … and that’s really cool.”