Paving the way for privatization


City officials are considering shutting down the municipal asphalt plant — the source of material for repaving roads and fixing potholes — in order to facilitate construction of a private plant on the waterfront that the city would agree to help finance and support over the long term.

While the privatization plan is being billed by project proponents as a way to save money during tough financial times, it raises questions about whether relying on the private sector for this essential material could hurt the city’s ability to make emergency repairs and ultimately end up costing taxpayers even more.

For the cash-strapped Port of San Francisco, which will make millions of dollars leasing land for the new facility, this is unquestionably a good deal. But for the rest of the city, which is losing a potentially valuable public resource it has operated since 1909 when the first municipal plant opened, the answer is a bit less clear.

Douglas Legg, manager of finance and budget at the Department of Public Works (DPW), argues that the municipal plant is not cost-effective and that the city would pay less if it contracts with an outside vendor. In a 2006 study, Legg found that the city’s cost to produce a ton of asphalt was $75 while private plants offered it for $67.

"It’s true that E.B.I. Aggregates and Graniterock are a little cheaper because they have a market advantage: they own their own gravel quarries," admits Ben Santana, who has managed the municipal plant in the Bayview for the last 21 years. But he still thinks his facility plays an important role. "Otherwise they would have gotten rid of us long ago. We can mobilize in a few hours and city trucks don’t have to wait in line with other clients."

In the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the municipal plant proved to be a valuable asset. "The plant wasn’t damaged. We sent our crews to take care of cracks and voids that had suddenly opened up," Santana recalls. "So the city didn’t have to go south to get material, or pay to get the private plants to open."

Indeed, in 2006, DPW held off the proposed shutdown in order to maintain its access to asphalt in emergencies. Officials worried about being dependant on plants outside city limits, especially since E.B.I. in Brisbane was slated to cease operations in the upcoming years, which would have left Graniterock potentially enjoying a monopoly that could result in price increases.

Although the agency recognizes that it has to have an asphalt plant inside city limits to function well, it is losing the political will to maintain its own. So when port officials approached DPW with their plan to attract a private asphalt operator, the threat to close down the municipal plant resurfaced.

The port has issued a request for proposal (RFP) for an asphalt-batching plant to be built on Pier 94. The selected bidder would be bound to negotiate a long-term contract with the city guaranteeing it would supply asphalt at a price tied to the Northern California asphalt price index.

The port and DPW assume the potential market for asphalt in the city will be large enough to draw private operators. But that belief seems to contradict the rationale behind the decision to close the municipal plant in the first place, which was that it couldn’t produce volumes large enough to bring the price per ton down.

"The demand from the street resurfacing program was nowhere near as high as we thought it would be," Legg says. In 2004, DPW installed two silos on the site to store hot asphalt and increase production. DPW was hoping to generate additional revenue for the department by selling asphalt to private contractors and other agencies. But two years later, Legg concluded in his report that the plant not only failed to turn a profit, it was facing a $100,000 shortfall to repay its investment.

Demand might be picking up, though: city officials expressed their intention to make up for years of neglect in the upkeep of San Francisco streets by introducing a $368 million safe street and road repair bond measure for the November ballot. The plan would boost the number of blocks to be resurfaced from 100 to 400 for the next 10 years, something that might make the city-owned plant more cost-effective. But Legg skeptically points out that the plant still requires replacement of some key components.

"Last year we had a $60 million capital budget for all capital improvement needs in the city from the general fund sources. This year, we’ve got $22 million," Legg says. "They’re scarce dollars. I can’t speak for what the Board [of Supervisors] will chose to do, but it’s challenging to get capital money."

Legg also noted the city plant’s "frequent breakdowns" and limited capacity to store raw materials, criticism countered by Santana. "The plant was modernized in 1993. Sure, some equipment does date to 1953, and I’ve been pushing to replace them for years. But it’s nothing the city can’t afford. Yes, it does sometimes go down. That’s part of operating a plant. But we’ve never run out of material because I always make sure to have some on ground or en route."

Brad Benson, project manager at the Port of San Francisco, discounts the recent limited asphalt consumption in the city, noting major development proposals in the city’s future. "Think about shipyard development, Treasure Island development, Caltrain, parking lots," Benson says. "If there’s not the demand, there won’t be bids. No one is going to invest $3 [million] to $10 million, whatever it costs to build an asphalt plant, if they don’t perceive a market."

But what might also hook prospective bidders is the provision, stated in the RFP, that the "risk capital to construct the facility (may be offset by city financing)." Benson explains that "this concept was introduced here in the midst of the financial crisis when people were having trouble finding sources of capital. The city may have access to some lower cost sources of debt."

Benson said he doesn’t know if city financing would be needed. "Obviously, the port prefers bidders that come in with their own sources of financing. That has been the model to build the neighboring concrete plants. The only reason to consider it is if the city combines lower-cost financing and could get lower cost asphalt in return. Then it might be worth doing."

It’s an interesting paradox: the city wouldn’t have funds to upgrade its plant, but would be ready to chip in to outsource?

But there are other issues driving the proposal. Karen Pierce, a Bayview- Hunters Point community activist who sits on the port’s Southern Waterfront Advisory Committee, told us she would "like to see the municipal plant move away from where people live. There needs to be a buffer area. A newer plant on port property would be further away, and we would have the opportunity to make sure it uses technologies that reduce the amount of pollution."

The municipal asphalt plant, which has never received complaints for pollution, currently incorporates 15 percent of recycled asphalt in its production. The RFP requests its potential tenant raise this amount up to 45 percent.

The proposed lot is also three times bigger than the existing one on Jerrold Avenue and has the advantage of being located near a maritime terminal where sand and gravel, the aggregates mixed with tar to produce asphalt, are imported. Also, there are two concrete batching plants and a construction material recycling center in the vicinity.

"Co-locating businesses that share each other’s products and reducing long-haul truck trips are the kernels of a broader idea for an ecoindustrial park that the port is developing in this area of the waterfront," Benson says.

If the asphalt plant project falls through, the port does have a backup plan: it is considering leasing the site to yet another concrete plant. Bids on both proposals are due in September, after which the Board of Supervisors will consider whether to close the city’s plant.

Live Shots: Flight of the Conchords


Text and photos by Ariel Soto



I remember the first time I watched Flight of the Conchords on TV. I was at my friend’s house, people were drinking beer and a pet rat was running back and forth across the wood floor. The Conchords’ humor is weird, dry and their New Zealand accents just add to the hilarity. Now the band members, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, are beyond famous, with hordes of adoring fans, some of which were lucky enough to cram into the Berkeley Community Theater on Monday, May 25th, 2009, to see the last show of their US tour. Comedian Arj Barker started the evening off with some great laughs that covered everything from the weakness of Blue Shield’s health insurance to the exorbitant price of crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Then, clad in ridiculous carboard and tinfoil space costumes, the Conchords started the concert with the iconic “Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor” that had the audience in a state of hysteria. There’s something genuine about the Conchords’ lyrics like “Business Time” where they sing about getting it on once a week after sorting the recycling, to pieces that raise awareness about epileptic dogs. But then again, Bret and Jermaine are superstars now and every girl (and probably some dudes too) just couldn’t seem to take their eyes off the Conchords’ two sets of sugarlumps.



Shades of green


When President Barack Obama signed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in mid-February, folks across the country were hopeful that the $787 billion stimulus package would help preserve and create decent jobs in their communities.

And in mid-March, when the Obama administration announced that Bay Area social justice activist Van Jones was joining the White House Council on Environmental Quality, advocates for green jobs took it as a sign that Obama shares Jones’ belief that we can fix our nation’s two biggest problems — excessive greenhouse gas production and not enough good jobs for the working class — by creating a green-collar economy.

Jones cofounded Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which opposes police abuse and promotes alternatives to incarceration, and founded Oakland’s Green for All, which aims to create green-collar jobs in low-income communities. He defines a green-collar job as "a family-supporting, career-track job that directly contributes to preserving or enhancing environmental quality."

"Think of them as the 2.0 version of old-fashioned blue-collar jobs, upgraded to respect the Earth and meet the environmental challenges of today," Jones wrote in his New York Times bestseller The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems (HarperOne, 2008).

But is Jones’ definition codified into Obama’s Recovery Act? And in San Francisco, where Mayor Gavin Newsom speaks incessantly about green jobs and regularly praises Jones, will the jobs we create be for the people who need them most? And how will that play out in a city where blacks, Latinos and Asians experience higher unemployment, poverty, and incarceration rates than whites, and building construction has stalled, pitting skilled union workers against training program graduates?

Last month, an alliance of community and worker organizations from San Francisco’s working class neighborhoods sent a letter to Newsom outlining concerns about the Recovery Act’s equity, job quality, and transparency requirements.

Antonio Diaz of PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights), Alex Tom of the Chinese Progressive Association, Steve Williams of POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights), and Terry Valen of the Filipino Community Center asked Newsom to ensure that ARRA funds would be used to create "green jobs and opportunities primarily for low-income people and people of color" and "high quality jobs with family-supporting wages and benefits, safe and healthy working conditions, and career ladders."

"We ask for your commitment to greater transparency and community input in shaping and monitoring the infusion of ARRA funds for San Francisco’s developing green collar economy," they wrote.

Two weeks later Newsom announced the launching of, a Web site that seeks to track stimpack funds coming to San Francisco. Although the Web site shows that $150 million of the first quarter-billion of formula funding is headed toward infrastructure projects, it does not include estimates of the numbers of green jobs created.

Wade Crowfoot of the Mayor’s Office told the Guardian that the city is focused on ensuring that green jobs are created with these funds and that the City Attorney’s Office is figuring out what is "allowable" under Recovery Act’s guidelines.

On April 3, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget issued a 172-page memo outlining the Recovery Act’s policy goals. The goals included ensuring compliance with equal opportunity laws and principles, promoting local hiring, providing maximum practicable opportunities for small business and equal opportunities for disadvantaged business, encouraging sound labor practices, and engaging with community-based organizations.

"But will all cities include achievable, measurable requirements?" Crowfoot said. "I don’t think so, without federal guidelines."

This lack of specifics, Crowfoot says, has the City Attorney figuring out if San Francisco can include "first source" hiring requirements, in which hiring halls agree to interview graduates from local training programs first. If so, Crowfoot says, the city will seek to leverage existing funding for energy efficiency programs and conduct hire-locally campaigns in low-income communities.

But as Crowfoot notes, although we know that $1.5 million in ARRA funding is coming to San Francisco for weatherizing homes — helping to decrease the energy costs of low-income residents, reduce the city’s energy demands, and increase the number of people hired from the local community to do energy audits and retrofits — we still don’t know how many jobs will be created per project, which is the basic goal of economic stimulation.

"If we spend the dollars, say, on boiler replacement, that’s more equipment and less labor," Crowfoot said. "But the more you hire locally, the more those folks get experience, the more they’ll be well positioned to get jobs in the non-subsidized sector once the stimulus funds are gone."

Acknowledging the tension between laid-off union workers and graduates of apprentice training programs, Crowfoot said, "We are trying to figure out a balance, whereby the community is not shut out, but the unions’ needs are addressed. We want to be careful about how many jobs we say are going to be created. We don’t want to build hope in populations who already have a lot of mistrust in the government."

Michael Theriault, secretary and treasurer of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, told us that 25 percent of the region’s 16,000 building trades workers are out of work, compared to nearly full employment last year.

In the past, the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council provided CityBuild with instructors and took the lion’s share of the program graduates, Theriault explains. But under present conditions, the Council isn’t keen on another CityBuild cycle.

"I think they should work to sponsor another cycle, but the ball is also in the city’s court," Theriault said, noting that the ARRA-funded weatherization program could soon be offering prevailing union wages ($20 an hour for roofers, $40 to $50 for plumbers and electricians) that could help ease the tension. And then there’s the inconvenient truth that some union members view non-unionized solar panel installers as "scabs," creating another barrier to using green jobs to lift the underemployed.

Mayor Newsom has until June to secure and implement stimpack funding as part of upcoming local budget proposals, a timetable that has Green for All issuing a call for action to ensure that Recovery Act implementation creates green-collar jobs, ensures transparency and accountability, and supports pathways out of poverty.

"This may be the most important opportunity you’ll ever have to bring green-collar jobs to your community," Green For All wrote in a public statement. "But the planning process will be over in the blink of an eye, and your community could miss out. That’s why we’re calling on you to take action now."

Green for All field organizer Julian Mocine-McQueen is scheduled to sit down with Crowfoot this week in an effort to get Newsom to sign his group’s pledge. He said there’s been an expansion of the city’s lighting and refrigeration cooling retrofitting program, starting with small business owners who speak English as a second language. "It’s good," McQueen said. "But it’s not enough."

He believes green job success will depend, in part, on including hiring parameters. "A job in the city’s southeast sector may not pay $70,000 a year, but it would be a huge step toward creating a family-sustaining job," McQueen said, noting that the Obama administration has "to a certain extent" adopted Jones’ definition of green-collar jobs. "I’m not sure that they have codified it," McQueen said. "They have recommendations."

Asked to define green jobs during a recent media roundtable on projected budget deficits, Newsom talked about weatherization and sustainability and plans to expand the city’s training academies before handing the floor to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development’s Kyri McClellan, whom he described as his "green czarina."

McClellan, who describes herself as "the lead cat-herder" of Recovery Act funds, told reporters that San Francisco is expected to receive a quarter of a billion dollars in formula funds in the coming fiscal year, 95 percent of which have been allocated to "shovel-ready" projects that were already queued up under the city’s 10-year capital plan.

During a subsequent board committee hearing, McClellan shared job estimates — 30 jobs from the $11 million Department of Public Works street paving allocation and 250 jobs from the $18 million Housing Authority retrofitting allocation — that raised eyebrows.

McClellan said that OEWD is "moving as quickly as possible to take the dollars we’ve been allocated, get approval from the Board of Supervisors, and get programs up and running."

Observing that the city also has parallel funding for training programs such as CityBuild and a Green Academy, McClellan added that "no one is working harder than Rhonda Simmons." Reached by phone, OEWD’s Simmons said she has been working with San Francisco State University professor Raquel Pinderhughes to identify five job sectors that have "the capacity to grow the greatest number of green jobs."

These include solar installation, energy efficiency, landscaping/public greening, recycling, and green building. "In an economy like this, you have to be competitive," Simmons said. "And almost all the programs that come out of my shop are geared toward low-income to moderate-income folks."

Observing that OEWD is using a $238,000 federal earmark to seed a Green Academy and that will expand the GoSolarSF workforce incentive, compete for a $500,000 EPA brownfield cleanup training grant, and coordinate with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to develop "workforce incentive language" for biodiesel reuse program and energy efficiency projects, Simmons notes that it was the unions that helped create CityBuild in the first place, and the city is working to ease current concerns.

"It is our intent as OEWD designs the academy that any training programs must demonstrate that they train individuals for occupations with opportunity for upward mobility," Simmons said, after emerging from a meeting cochaired by Crowfoot and Pinderhughes to help community-based organizations understand green jobs and figure out how to link with the Green Jobs Corps that Pinderhughes set up in Oakland.

Eric Smith runs the Bayview-based Green Depot, a nonprofit that promotes biodiesel use in neighborhoods facing environmental justice issues and ran a $9,000-per intern pilot program with Global Exchange. He worries that administrative costs will chew up much of the stimulus money, citing SFPUC figures that the cost ratio for trainers to interns is about 3:1.

"There is a lot of concern in the Bayview that the money will end up going to consultants and administrators when we have people who are hungry and desperate to work," Smith said.

After two green jobs hearings, Sup. Eric Mar says that he and Sups. Sophie Maxwell and David Chiu have concluded "that unless the board takes action and gives clear guidelines and expectations, green collar job creation will be miniscule."
Noting that Oakland’s Green Job Corps and Richmond’s solar program seem years ahead of San Francisco’s efforts, Mar said his next step will be to talk with labor, environmental groups, businesses, and nonprofits to get a sense of an appropriate structure to prioritize the low-income communities as the main beneficiaries of green-collar job creation. "It’s pretty clear that the [Newsom] administration’s commitment to the numbers of jobs created is pretty small," Mar said. "The community is going to have to push for more."

Biodiesel’s leaps



GREEN CITY Biofuels, which decrease reliance on polluting and planet-cooking fossil fuels, made a couple of big advances in San Francisco in recent weeks.

Michele Swingers and Robin Gold seized the key market by opening Dogpatch Biofuels Station on Pennsylvania and 22nd streets. The youthful partners say it’s the only station in San Francisco selling B100, or fuel made from 100 percent organic matter. San Francisco Petroleum finishes a distant second by selling B20, which is 20 percent biodiesel blended with 80 percent petroleum diesel.

The independent owners of Dogpatch Biofuels take the extra green step by trying to tap production sources that are as local as possible. "We should always be striving for a comprehensive picture of the resources that go into the production and transport of fuel," Swingers said. "We believe that locally sourced biodiesel from recycled oil is a far cry from corn-based ethanol. Further, we believe it’s a sustainable diesel alternative utilizing a waste product."

Dogpatch gets its biodiesel from as far away as Bently Fuels in Reno, Nevada, which blends fuel from recycled components, such as used vegetable oil from restaurants. Many biofuel manufacturers here on the West Coast buy virgin oil from the Midwest because it’s pretty cheap. But buying virgin oil for biofuel can increase the demand for its edible sources, like soybean and rapeseed crops, and drive up the cost of food. Now think about transporting millions of barrels of biofuel by fossil fuel–powered truck across the country. It seems wasteful, defeating the benefits of sustainable fuel.

San Francisco’s municipal fleet is a prime culprit of unsustainable sustainability practices: it buys soybean oil from the Midwest to power its trucks and Muni buses. Karri Ving, Biofuel Program Coordinator for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said that the city’s current system is better than using petroleum diesel from Iraq, but that it could be even more efficient.

Fortunately, Mayor Gavin Newsom just announced the launch of a new project that will take "brown grease" from sewers and turn it into a renewable biofuel for the city fleet. "Turning waste generated by local restaurants and other businesses into a sustainable fuel source is yet another major step in reaching our goals of carbon neutrality for city government by 2020," Newsom said.

He also touted the city’s progress toward other environmental goals, including zero-emission public transit by 2020, a 75 percent recycling rate by 2010, and zero waste by 2020.

"We are not going to be growing soybeans in San Francisco, so why not take this grease and make it into something usable and renewable, for that matter," Ving said.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the California Energy Commission awarded the city $1.2 million in grants for the project. The SFPUC will provide a solid model for other cities looking to adopt similar programs and even show them how to save a buck in the process. For example, by putting the biodiesel processor at the site of the Oceanside Wastewater Treatment Plant, the city repurposes property it already owns. Grease already gets stuck inside the plant’s "grease trap," racking up $3.5 million every year in cleanup costs. The new project will potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

"The overall goal is for the wastewater division of the PUC to help the city gain fuel independence to import less diesel and export less grease to surrounding cities," Ving said. "Millions of pounds of rancid material is exported out of the city, making a case for environmental injustice." San Francisco’s brown grease is exported to East Bay landfills, which are often sited in areas with high minority populations. The Oceanside brown-grease project is supposed to be up and running by November.

"So if we can turn that tarlike bunker fuel into a clean-burning biofuel made from restaurant waste, it’s a win on a number of levels," Ving said. "The only downside is that we should have been doing this 50 years ago, but now we’re in a situation where we recognize the global and health issues, and we have a solution that we really want to get moving on."

The fight against local and global climate change is on. With small- and large-scale infrastructure falling into place, the biofuels movement in San Francisco is gathering momentum.

Round and round



David King and I are staring at a baseball, some screws, and some bolts. More specifically, King and I are looking at Satellite #2, a nine-inch pointy yet round sculpture he constructed from those ingredients for an upcoming show. "To me, this is one of the more successful pieces," King says, as we look around the warehouse art studio at SF Recycling and Disposal Inc. To our left, Christine Lee — who, like King, is an artist-in-residence at the Dump — is working with James Sellier on a wood-based project. To our right, there are many spheres, some suspended, others on pedestals.

A few of the spheres are made of green floral tubes, cassette tapes, lanyards, and balls. A couple brightly colored ones incorporate hair curler ends and board game pieces. "This piece made from curtain rod brackets is one of the first," King says, pointing to an 11-inch silver mass. "I thought I’d try to glue them to a ball, but then I began using string and fishing lines. It looks like a death star." He picks up a huge circular mass of Cliffords, teddy bears, and other stuffed animals that is akin to the work of Mike Kelley (or locally, Matt Furie). A Tickle Me Elmo laughs. "A guy drove up and dropped off two huge bags of stuffed animals. It’s so random. You wonder, ‘Did your daughter no longer want these? Or did someone die?’"

The sense of mortality and waste in those questions is present in King’s new work, particularly through titles that refer to allergens, viruses, and bacteria. But his latest pieces also possess a strong current of playfulness. It manifests via comic shapes and bright cartoon or sleekly attractive colors. King’s sculptures are a departure from his 2-D collages in a series such as last year’s "Beneath All We Know," but they’re also linked to such past projects through a recurrent use of circular shapes that have scientific or metaphysical connotations. With the cellular structures of "Beneath All We Know," King began to foreground floating energy masses that had previously taken the form of jeweled grapevines or crochet patterns. Now those patterns seem to have leapt off the paper of his collages into the three-dimensional world.

In fact, though, they’ve been gleaned from the Dump. "I wanted the challenge of doing something new, of finding a new way of being creative," King says, when asked what motivated him to seek out a residency at the site. "On a personal level, I wanted to put myself out there more and step outside my own studio. The first couple of weeks, it was pretty daunting to witness the sheer volume. I thought, ‘Oh, what have I gotten myself into?’ But over time, I realized you shouldn’t look for a particular thing. Whatever ideas you come in with, you have to let go of — the whole thing is about responding to the waste stream. It was very intuitive. I like to find a lot of one thing: plastic lemons or icicles, bits from chandeliers. When I saw a lot of one thing, I grabbed it."

The sheer volume of material at SF Recycling and Disposal is indeed daunting, if you’re looking for one very specific object. Micah Gibson from the site — who might have been referencing the trash compactor aesthetic of TV Carnage when he titled his 2008 Art at the Dump show "Casual Fridays" — leads me on a quick tour through a small portion of its 40 acres. We walk by enormous seagulls, around a hill covered with carousel horses and capped by a giant ice cream cone, through transfer and sorting stations, and past a pit as a big as football field and 15 feet deep, until we reach a sculpture garden designed by Susan Steinman.

We pause by Bench Curl, a recent piece made by Scott Oliver during his residency. The scent of trees is strong, yet Gibson says it isn’t from the surroundings, but rather a large number of trees in the IMRF (Integrated Materials Recovery Facility). Earlier in the day, when I first showed up, a different mega-pungent smell had been dominant. "It happens whenever food from cruise ships is boiled down," Gibson says, noting that kids on school trips enjoy coming up with descriptions for the occasional olfactory assault.

When Gibson and I return to SF Recycling & Disposal’s main building, I spot a sculpture by Henri Marie-Rose, who has exhibited at the de Young Museum, and who has a long-term artistic relationship with the site. Back at King’s show-in-progress, there are tetrahedrons- and icosahedrons-in-progress, made of cardboard, and a wreath comprised of Chinese food containers is mounted on a wall.

King has discovered a certain joy in multiplicity — he’s capable of cutting 1,000 diamonds out from a waist-high stack of Sotheby’s auction catalogs. Through dedication to repetition, he has used collage to transform the 1980s men’s exercise magazine pinup Scott Madsen into a Shiva figure. With its wide-open skies and mammoth hills — whether green or trash-strewn — his latest creative stomping ground makes for an interesting contrast from the gardens he tends when isn’t making art. It resembles a parody of the Arcadian vistas in his earliest collages. "Sometimes I feel like I want to be narrative, and sometimes I want to be looser," he says, discussing elders and contemporaries he admires, such as John O’Reilly and Fred Tomaselli. "I like the effect of a shift in perspective from a microscope to a telescope, between the tiny and the super large."


With "Christine Lee: Linear Elements"

Fri/23, 5-9 p.m.; and Sat/24, 1-5 p.m., free

SF Recycling & Disposal Art Studio

503 Tunnel, SF

(415) 330-1400

Best in show


YEAR IN REVIEW The time is right to pay tribute to the Bay Area’s artists and galleries. Without further ado, here’s an alphabetical guide to 2008’s delights.

A is for the amazing SF art opening section at; and for Ryan Alexiev, whose "Land of a Million Cereals," at Mission 17, hit Larry King and Damien Hirst with sugary comedy

B is Todd Bura, whose "Misfits" at Triple Base used minimalism to make one see things anew; Jonathan Burstein, whose "Visage" at Patricia Sweetow Gallery turned museum recycling into the year’s best portraiture; and Luke Butler, whose "Invasion," at [2nd floor projects] tickled with Spock landscapes and Republican presidential beefcake

C is for Victor Cartagena, "The Invisible Nation," at Galeria de la Raza; Julie Chang, "Ox-herding," at Hosfelt Gallery; Ryan Coffey, "Recent Works," at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery

D is for Lauren DiCioccio, threading through the death of the newspaper era in "Lauren DiCioccio, Aliza Lelah," at Jack Fischer Gallery; and Emory Douglas, making his own activist news in "The Long Memory: Works Past and Present," at Babylon Falling

E is for David Enos, Frank Haines, and Wayne Smith, pronouncing "Zen With a Lisp," at [2nd floor projects]; and 871 Fine Arts, the Bay’s best art books, now at a new site.

F is for Matt Furie and his "Heads," at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery; and "Nature Freak," at Jack Fischer Gallery

G is for the Great Tortilla Conspiracy, who — with help from a Paris Hilton Endowment for the Tortilla Arts — served up "Tortilla Art for the 21st Century," at SomArts Gallery

H is for Jay Howell, who teamed up with Matt Furie for Receiver Gallery’s "Return to Innocence," and brought curatorial goodness to 111 Minna

I is for inventiveness

J is for Bill Jenkins, whose self-titled show at Jancar Jones Gallery was the understatement of the year; and Ian Johnson, whose "Other Voices/Other Rooms" turned jazz into color bursts at Park Life

K is for the brother duo George and Mike Kuchar, presenting dinosaur and dog love via "paintingsdrawingspaintingsdrawingspaintings," at [2nd floor projects]

L is for Ruth Laskey, and the amazing intricacy of her "7 Weavings," at Ratio 3; and Frank Lyon and David Wilson, "Enter the Center," at Eleanor Harwood Gallery

M is for Dave Muller, " Medium (Six Times,)" at Anthony Meier Fine Arts

N is for nothing

O is for Open Studios

P is for Nathan Phelps, turning a corner from white to black with "The Neti Project," at 20 GOTO 10 Gallery

Q is for Queen’s Nails Annex, which saw the future with Maximo Gonzalez’s "Recession: The Alternative Economies of Maximo Gonzalez."

R is for onetime Bay Area queer punk Gwenaël Rattke, bringing collage back with "Nouveau Système," at Ping Pong Gallery; and Lordy Rodriguez, blasting us with color in "201 Drawings," at Hosfelt Gallery

S is for Bott Scarry, tweaking op art and his name with "Weezing the Juice," at CCRider

T is for David Tomb, heeding the call of the wild with the beautiful paintings of "Birds of the Sierra Madre," at Electric Works

U is for underground art that you keep at home and show only to friends

V is for Jacques Villegle, whose "Decollage from 1965-2006" brought the art of torn posters to Modernism Gallery

W is for William T. Wiley, turning ecology into pinball at Electric Works’ "Punball — Only One Earth"; and Michael Wolf, whose "The Transparent City" eyed city-of-now Chicago, at Robert Koch Gallery

X marks the spot

Y is for Will Yackulic, "A Prompt and Perfect Cure," at Gregory Lind Gallery

Z is for "Zebulun," by Goldie winner Kamau Patton, at Queen’s Nails Annex; and for all the zzzs needed to rest up before the barrage of Bay Area art in 2009.

Tap dreams



On Dec. 2 two water conferences were held in San Francisco, attended by very different groups of people.

Downtown, in a room deep within the Hyatt Regency hotel, executives from PepsiCo, Dean Foods, GE, ConAgra, and other major companies gathered for the Corporate Water Footprinting Conference. The agenda that the conference made public included a presentation by Nestlé on assessing water-related risks in communities, Coca-Cola’s aggressive environmental water-neutrality goal, and MillerCoors plan to use less water to make more beer.

But what these giant corporations, which are seeking to control more and more of the world’s water, really discussed the public will never know. Only four media representatives were permitted to attend — all from obscure trade journals not trafficked by the typical reader — and both the Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle were denied media passes.

The event was sponsored by IBM, and tickets were $1,500 — out of reach for many citizens and environmentalists who might have liked to attend.

And why might people take such a keen interest in the kind of corporate conference that probably occurs routinely in cities throughout the world?

Because there’s almost universal agreement that the world is in a water crisis — and that big businesses see a huge opportunity in the privatization of water.

Only one half of 1 percent of all the water in the world is freshwater. Of that, about half is already polluted. Although water is a $425 billion industry worldwide — ranking just behind electricity and oil — one in six people still don’t have access to a clean, safe glass of it. If the pace of use and abuse remains, the 1.2 billion people living in water-stressed areas will balloon to more than 3 billion by 2030.

That includes California. On June 4, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought after two lackluster seasons of Sierra snowfall. Scientists are predicting the same this winter. You can see how the state is mishandling the issue by looking at some recent legislation. Schwarzenegger and Sen. Dianne Feinstein have proposed a $9.3 billion bond to build more dams, canals, and infrastructure. At the same time, the governor vetoed a bill that would have required bottled water companies to report how much water they’re actually drawing out of the ground.

In that context, while the big privatizers were hobnobbing at the Hyatt, activists were attending a very different event, the "Anti-Corporate Water Conference," held at the Mission Cultural Center. It was free and open to the public and the media. More than 100 people gathered to hear a cadre of international organizations share information on how to keep this basic human right — water — in the hands of people.

Speakers included Wenonah Hauter, director of Washington, DC-based Food and Water Watch; Amit Srivastava of Global Resistance, a group that works to expose international injustices by Coca-Cola; Mark Franco, head of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, which lives among water bottling plants near Mount Shasta; and Mateo Nube, a native of La Paz, Bolivia, and the director of Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project.

Nube spoke about water as a commons, requiring stewardship, justice, and democracy. "We’re literally running out of water. Unless we change the way we manage, distribute, and consume water, we’re going to have a real crisis on our hands," he said. Nube’s remarks tied together the tensions of control and revolt, democracy and privatization, ecological balance and human need — all enormous issues, all related to water and water scarcity, which the Worldwatch Institute has called "the most under-appreciated global environmental challenge of our time."


Water is a basic human need, perhaps even more important than clean air, food, and shelter. People will never strike against water and stop drinking.

And that means, from a capitalistic point of view, it’s a perfect, nearly infinite market. "As water analysts note, water is hot not only because of the growing need for clean water but because demand is never affected by inflation, recession, interest rates or changing tastes," wrote Maude Barlow in her 2007 book Blue Covenant.

If scarcity drives price, anyone with a stake in the water industry stands to gain from an increasingly water-stressed world. As Barlow also reported, "In 1990, about 51 million people got their water from private companies, according to water analysts. That figure is now more than 300 million." By controlling the resource and choosing when and if they engage with the public it allows some of the biggest water abusers to set the terms of a critical ongoing debate.

The fact that humans need water raises important questions: should water be classified as a basic human right available to everyone? Is water part of the commons? If so, should corporations be allowed to control the taps or bottle it, mark up the price, and sell it for profit?

Not much polling has been done on people’s opinions of water, but during 35 informal on-the-street interviews conducted by the Guardian, 31 people said it is a basic human right. The other four said it was subject to the laws of supply and demand.

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and Barlow, who has been appointed special advisor on water to the UN, will be addressing the General Assembly on the fact that water is still missing from the original 30 Articles.

"The reason that water was not included in the original 30 Articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that no one at that time could conceive there would be a problem with water," Barlow told the Guardian. "It’s only in the last 10 years that the concept of water as a human right has come to the fore."

The problem has its roots in the inherent conflict between conservation and profit. Saving water is relatively cheap, but there’s no money to be made by eliminating waste. Developing expensive new water sources, though, is a potential private gold mine.

As Barlow points out in her book, technology is becoming an integrated part of the solution to the water crisis. Desalination plants, water recycling facilities, and nanotechnology are all being thrown at the problem — in some cases before a full assessment of use and abuse has occurred.

While technological solutions may be warranted in some places, Barlow worries that relying on them bypasses any true attempts at efficiency and conservation. "I’m not going to say there’s no place for water cleanup," she told the Guardian. "What I’m concerned about is we’re going to put all the eggs in the cleanup basket and not nearly enough in the conservation and source protection basket. What I’m concerned about is the idea that technology will fix it. Meanwhile, don’t stop polluting, don’t stop the over-extraction, allow the commercial abuse of water, allow the agricultural abuse of water because what the heck, there’s tons of money to be made cleaning it up. I think that’s the wrong way of coming at it."

The technological fix is one way the state’s water crisis may slowly seep into private sector control, and a couple of examples show what can happen when private companies don’t play nice with the public, how citizens constantly battle with state agencies to enforce regulations, and how the public process could and should be honored.


In theory, California has plenty of water — its 700 miles of coastline border the giant reservoir known as the Pacific Ocean. But humans can’t drink salt water — and some companies see a nice industrial niche in that dilemma. Build a plant that takes out the salt, and suddenly there’s plenty for all.

Several small desalination facilities already exist throughout the state, mostly cleaning water reservoirs brined by agriculture. But another 30 desalination plants have been proposed for the coast as a way to deal with future water shortages.

One is in Carlsbad, near San Diego, where Poseidon Resources is constructing the only large-scale desalination plant that the state has permitted to date. It’s a 10-year-old project that, so far, doesn’t even have a pipe in the ground.

Despite Poseidon’s ability to grease the wheels with local officials, the facility is controversial. It sits next to a fossil-fuel burning peaker power plant, and will be desalinating the power plant’s discharge water, thus shielding its negative environmental impacts by claiming its the power plant that’s sucking up seawater and damaging marine life — the desalination plant is just making use of the wasted water.

That argument doesn’t sit well with Joe Geever of the Surfrider Foundation, who pointed out that part of the power plant is scheduled for a retrofit to air-cooling, and talk is of a potential state ban on using water for this type of cooling system. There are other more environmentally benign seawater extractions, he said, like drilling and capturing subsurface sources, that the desalination plant could have used.

Mostly, he contends, the plant subverts conservation. "Per capita consumption of water in San Diego is much higher than other places," he said. "In southern California we waste an enormous amount of water on growing grass. There’s a lot to be saved."

Poseidon, a private company, is footing the bill for the plant’s construction, but the financing scheme is predicated on a future increase in the cost of water. As Poseidon’s Scott Maloni explained to the Guardian, the contract with the San Diego Water Authority states that the cost of desalinated water can never be more than the cost of imported water. It can, however, walk in lock-step with it — and by all accounts the price to pipe water to sunny southern California is going to increase. Maloni said his company was taking an initial loss but would start paying itself back as imported water costs increase. Eventually rates will be set halfway between the real cost of desalinated water and the higher cost of imported water.

What kinds of guarantees are there that this will happen? Nobody knows. "They’ll say anything, but when it comes to showing you a contract, we’ve never seen anything," said Adam Scow of Food and Water Watch. "There’s a lack of regulation with a private company controlling the water."

The plant now has no less than three lawsuits hanging over it, all filed with state agencies in charge of permitting and oversight — the Coastal Commission, the State Lands Commission, and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. All basically contend that the state didn’t do enough to require Poseidon to implement the most environmentally sound technology that’s least harmful to marine organisms, as required by state law.

Geever stresses that desalination is an energy-intensive way to get water. "Every gallon of water you conserve is energy conserved," he said. "Not only could San Diego do more conservation, but they don’t recycle any wastewater to potable water standards. That’s much less energy intensive."

Poseidon counters by saying that it invested $60 million in energy efficiency measures for the plant and will be installing solar panels on the roof. Perhaps most telling is that the company sees itself as vending reliability. "It’s not the current cost of water the San Diego Water Authority is concerned about, but the future cost for an acre-foot," Maloni said. "There’s a dollar figure you can put on reliability. Public agencies are willing to pay us a little more for that."

Which gets back to a comment Barlow made about capitalizing on crisis. "We are frightened half to death and everyone who looks at it, right-wing or left-wing, sees that. … They use the crisis to say we have no alternative except to go into massive desalination plants."

And, as Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute pointed out, San Diego wasn’t calling for proposals to bring it more water. "Poseidon wanted to build a desalination plant and it came to San Diego. That’s one way to do it. The other way is for a municipality to say we want a desalination plant, we’re opening it up to bids, let’s have a competition. That didn’t happen, and instead we have one contractor."

Geever added, "Poseidon has been really successful at lobbying politicians and convincing regulators to give them permits."

Which points to one of the chronic ills of managing water systems, particularly in California where water has always been political. "In the 20th century decisions about water were made by white males in back rooms," said Gleick. "It solved a lot of problems, but it led to a lot of environmental problems. The days when water decisions made in back rooms should be over. And they aren’t over, and that’s part of the problem."


Nowhere is that more obvious than the delta, where the state’s two most prominent rivers — the Sacramento and the San Joaquin — meet the Pacific Ocean just north of San Francisco. It’s ground zero for one of the most charged political fights in the state.

Two-thirds of California’s water comes from the delta. About 80 percent of it goes to cropland, watering about half of the state’s $35 billion agricultural industry, much of it through historic water rights that have been granted to a small lobby of powerful growers who sell their surplus rights for profit. Another 18 percent goes to urban water needs, and — in spite of the fact that this is the largest estuary on the west coast of North and South America — only 2 percent of the water remains for natural environmental flows.

Delta issues are legion and begin at the headwaters of the Sacramento River, near Mount Shasta, a land Mark Franco describes as an Eden. "The deer, salmon, and acorns that we eat — everything that we need is there," Franco told the Guardian. "It’s such a beautiful place. Now they’re drying it, that Eden."

Franco is head of the Winnemem Wintu, or "little water people" tribe, and is fighting the first phase of water diversions from the Sacramento River, 200 miles north of the capitol where companies like Coca-Cola, Crystal Geyser, and now, potentially, Nestlé, pump millions of gallons a year into small plastic bottles and ship it around the country to sell in groceries and convenience stores.

"Here in the US, people have become soft. They’ve become so used to just having things directly handed to them that they no longer understand where their water comes from," he said at the anti-corporate water conference. "Realize this: those springs on Mount Shasta are not an infinite supply of water."

After the Sacramento feeds the bottled-water companies, what remains wends its way south, with more diverted directly to farmers and into the State Water Project, which pipes it to drier southern regions. What’s left empties into the delta.

A lack of fresh water, flagging environmental preservation, increasing agricultural needs, and leveed island communities that are seismically unsafe and sinking, all mean the delta is failing as an ecosystem, and has been for some time. Chinook salmon and delta smelt populations are collapsing to such an extent that court orders have halted a percentage of water diversions and salmon fisherman were forced to dock their boats this year. Levees are crumbling, causing islands to flood and raising ire among landowners. Farmers with historic water rights are fiercely protective of them, while environmentalists are lobbying them to use more conservation and efficiency.

Nearly all stakeholders agree that the status quo won’t hold.

The challenge is finding a solution. Ending exports seems impossible, limiting them means massive investments in other resources. No one agrees on what will really save the endangered salmon and smelt or improve conditions for the 700 other native plants and animals.

In 2006, the governor convened a seven-member Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force, which released a strategic plan in October calling for balancing co-equal goals of ecological restoration and water reliability.

The plan also specifically recommended a dual conveyance system similar to what was proposed in a study by the Public Policy Institute of California. It combines some through-delta pumping with a peripheral canal around the delta. PPIC crunched the numbers and determined that the canal was economically better than any of the four options they had weighed.

The peripheral canal idea isn’t new, but it’s been controversial since it was first proposed almost three decades ago. The plan was ushered by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, but defeated by voters in 1982 after a major organizing effort by environmentalists. (Whether voters will cast ballots on it this time remains to be seen, though the Attorney General’s Office, now headed by Brown, has counseled the Department of Water Resources, which is charged with implementing whatever plan is decided upon, that a vote of the people isn’t required.)

Shortly after its release in July, the PPIC report was criticized by five elected Congressional Democrats — Reps. George Miller, Ellen Tauscher, Doris Matsui, Mike Thompson, and Jerry McNerney. "The PPIC report should not be used to ignore the many things that can be done today to restore Delta health, including providing necessary fish flows, undertaking critical ecosystem restoration projects, and making major investments in water recycling and improved conservation measures," Miller said.

Numbers used by the PPIC report have also been criticized by Jeffrey Michael, a business professor at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. In an analysis of PPIC’s work, Michael said the group had used inflated population figures, as well as high costs for desalinated and recycled water, therefore resulting in a report that made it look like it was too expensive to end delta exports altogether and replace them with other water sources.

The PPIC said the state’s population would be 65 million by 2050, that desalinated water costs $2,072 per acre-foot, and recycled water goes for $1,480 per acre-foot — numbers that were scaled to 2008 dollars from 1995 figures. Michael contends that if the numbers were adjusted to reflect actual costs, the peripheral canal wouldn’t look like such a sweet deal.

Maloni, of Poseidon Resources, said the desalinated water cost would be $950 per acre-foot for San Diego, including a $250 subsidy. A similar plant the company is hoping to construct in Huntington Beach will be about $50 more per acre foot.

When asked if $2,100 per acre-foot was a reasonable figure for desalinated water in California, Maloni said, "That’s nuts."

What does all this illustrate? That even among a small cast of purported experts there’s little consensus on several fundamental issues.

Adding more fuel to the fires of public skepticism is that a third of the funding for the PPIC report came from Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. — heir to the Bechtel Corp., which has come under tremendous criticism for its moves to privatize water around the world.

"That is very upsetting to us. They would stand to gain a lot with a contract to build a peripheral canal," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Restore the Delta.

PPIC’s Ellen Hanak said the funding didn’t affect their findings. "It’s really much more linked to the fact that the foundation is really interested in the environment and water is a part of that."

Linda Strean, the PPIC’s public affairs officer, told the Guardian that it was Bechtel himself who wrote the check, not the foundation. It’s the first time Bechtel has given to PPIC.

But considering Bechtel’s past performance managing water, it doesn’t inspire much confidence.


In April, Cesar Cardenas Ramirez and César Augusto Parada, traveled from Guayaquil, Ecuador, to San Francisco. The two men were on a fact-finding mission: they wanted to know more about the company that owns Interagua, the company that is supposed to deliver the drinking water that only occasionally comes out of the taps in their homes.

One of the first things they discovered is that 50 Beale St. doesn’t necessarily advertise itself as the home of Bechtel — one of the world’s largest private corporations, with global construction and infrastructure contracts amounting to billions of dollars annually.

In Guayaquil, water service has been problematic for decades. During the 1990s the country received a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank to improve basic infrastructure. The money was given directly to the government, but like many World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans granted throughout Latin America at the time, it was predicated on an eventual privatization of the water service contract.

The money helped — water conditions improved, and the city seemed to be on track to bring service to outlying areas. But in 2000, the city, abiding by the loan conditions, requested bids to run the water and sewage systems. No bids were received. Leaders scaled back provisions that kept some control in the hands of the government, and they got one response. In 2001, Interagua, a company owned by Bechtel, took over water service.

"Since the contract, nobody has been able to drink the tap water," Cardenas, who represents the Citizen’s Observatory for Public Services, a watchdog group formed in Guayaquil to monitor the water contract between the government and Interagua, told the Guardian. "Prior to the contract you could drink the tap water, although there were some sections of the city where the plumbing was old and inadequate."

Even though Interagua is managing a public service, because it’s a private company, information about its exact responsibilities have been elusive. The Observatory does know that Interagua pays nothing for the water it draws from the local river, is guaranteed a 17 percent rate of return, and that it has a minimum mandate to expand service. What’s also known is its citizens’ experience — during the first six months of the contract, some rates were increased 180 percent.

Bechtel’s SF office refused to meet with the two men or answer their phone calls, e-mails, and letters, which highlights the inherent problem with corporate control of water — a lack of accountability. Bechtel didn’t answer any of the Guardian‘s detailed questions regarding the Interagua contract, and only provided a three-page letter originally drafted to the World Bank in December 2007, that paints a rosy scene of productivity and accomplishment in Guayaquil.

"At present, over 2.1 million residents of Guayaquil (84 percent of the population) are connected to the municipal potable water system, and more than 90 percent of the customers have 24-hour per day, uninterrupted service." The letter goes on to state that coverage is expanding with new connections, water quality meets public health standards, prices have decreased, and procedures are in place to help customers who have higher than average bills.

"There are things that have improved, yes," said Emily Joiner, who spent last summer in Ecuador and is author of the book Murky Waters, a history of water issues in Guayaquil published by the Observatory in 2007. But the bottom line is that citizens pay for the service, but they can’t drink the water.

"You still don’t drink the water anywhere in the city at any time," said Joiner. People buy bottled water or boil it. "Bottled water is expensive, as a percentage of income," she said.

Whereas water service was previously priced more like a progressive income tax, with the lowest consumers paying the lowest rates, Interagua has flattened out the rate structure and now big water consuming businesses are paying the same as residents. "It’s pricing some families out of the market," Joiner said. "It’s great for business. It’s not great for people who don’t have enough water to bathe or wash their clothes."

The Observatory would like the water system turned back over to the government. The local authority, which once ran the water service and is now charged with overseeing Interagua, fined the company $1.5 million for not meeting goals for expanding service. According to Joiner, there’s been no follow-up on whether the company is meeting those goals now.

The Observatory also filed complaints with the World Bank, which attempted a settlement, but, according to Joiner, representatives from Interagua refused to sit down at the same table as Cardenas. "The process stalled," Joiner said. "Interagua said the issue had become too politicized. César [Cardenas] has a reputation for rabble-rousing, and at the time he was lobbying for constitutional amendments outlawing privatization. Interagua considered it negotiating with a hostile party."

A new constitution was passed in September that does, in fact, outlaw privatization, but still allows existing contracts to be honored if they pass a government audit.

In the meantime, the local rumor is that Bechtel is arranging to sell Interagua to another company. Bechtel wouldn’t confirm this, and no one could say more beyond what was reported in speculative articles in Guayaquil’s local newspapers.

It wouldn’t be the first time Bechtel bailed on an international water contract. In what was part of a massive privatization of a variety of Bolivia’s national services, in 1996 the World Bank granted the city of Cochabamba a $14 million loan to improve water service for its 600,000 citizens. Like Ecuador, there were strings attached: a future privatization of the city’s water service. It was sold to Aguas del Tunari, the sole bidder — also a subsidiary of Bechtel. Almost immediately rates increased by nearly 200 percent for some families. In January 2000, people stopped paying, started rallying, and the water war began.

Led by La Coordinadora for the Defense of Water and Life, organizers shut down the city, physically blockading roads and demanding the regional governor review the contract. The battle went on into February, resulting in injuries to 175 people and the death of one. Originally the government announced a rate rollback for six months, but the Bechtel contract remained. "The [Bechtel] contract was very hard to get a hold of," Omar Fernandez of the Coordinadora told Jim Schulz of the Democracy Center. "It was like a state secret." Once they did examine a copy of it, Bechtel’s sweetheart deal for a guaranteed 16 percent profit was exposed and people demanded a full repeal.

Eventually, the residents got it, and though decent water service in Cochabamba is still elusive, the water war has become the poster child for successful grassroots activism.

"One of the most inspiring struggles around community control of water happened in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in the year 2000, when international corporation Bechtel — based here in San Francisco — privatized the municipal water system and hiked the water rates for citizens by 30 to 40 percent. Thankfully, there was a popular upsurge. It was a very bitter struggle and people succeeded in turning control back to public hands.

"This success changed the public debate in Bolivia," said Mateo Nube, a native of La Paz, Bolivia, who spoke at the anti-corporate water conference. "People said ‘enough’ to privatization, enough to corporate control. We need to seize control of our government."

You don’t have to go to Bolivia to find water-privatization battles. In 2002, catching wind that the city of Stockton was on the brink of privatizing its water services, the Concerned Citizens Coalition rallied signatures for a ballot measure against the idea. Weeks before the vote, the Stockton City Council narrowly approved one of the west’s largest water privatization deals — a 20-year, $600 million contract with OMI-Thames. The ballot measure still received 60 percent approval, and activists took the issue to court arguing there hadn’t been a proper CEQA process. In January 2004, according to the Concerned Citizens Coalition Web site, "San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Bob McNatt ruled in our favor — we won on all points. The judge ruled that privatizing, in and of itself, needed environmental review." The city appealed, but eventually dropped the suit and OMI walked away in March 2008.


Bechtel also failed to hold on to a more local contract, a $45 million deal with the SFPUC to manage the first phase of its multibillion dollar Water System Improvement Project. After a 2001 story by the Guardian exposed Bechtel’s exorbitant billing for services that resulted in few gains (see "Bechtel’s $45 million screw job," 9/12/01), the contract was revoked by the Board of Supervisors and granted to Parsons, which runs it now.

Years later, in 2007, when the SFPUC released a draft of the Environmental Impact Report for the $4.4 billion project, massive public outcry arose against it. The plan outlined major seismic upgrades for miles of aging water infrastructure between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park, where the headwaters of the Tuolumne River are captured by a giant dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley and gravity-fed to the city. While the EIR projected little additional water use for San Franciscans, it called for diverting an additional 25 million gallons of water per day from the Tuolumne to meet the needs of 23 wholesale customers in San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Alameda counties.

The Pacific Institute and Tuolumne River Trust collaborated on a study showing that 100 percent of the anticipated water increases were for those wholesale customers — most of it for outdoor water use. The SFPUC hadn’t factored in any increased conservation, efficiency, or recycling measures, nor had it independently questioned the growth numbers.

The EIR received upwards of 1,000 public comments, more than any other document ever generated by the SFPUC. Environmental groups rallied, writing editorials, flooding public meetings, and asserting a different vision of the Bay Area’s water future and stewardship of its primary, pristine water resource.

And it worked. "We got about 95 percent of everything we wanted out of the WSIP process," said Jessie Raeder of the Tuolumne River Trust. "We do consider the WSIP a huge win for the environmental community … because we were able to organize and get a seat at the table and discuss this with the PUC." She said the Bay Area Water Stewards, a coalition of environmental groups, met with the PUC nearly every month and slowly the initial additional river diversions were pared down to a possible 2 million gallons. Also, a cap has been placed on any diversions until 2018, which gives agencies time to implement conservation and efficiency measures.

The SFPUC feels positive about it, too. "We are really thrilled that the program EIR was approved by the Planning Commission, approved by the PUC, and not appealed," said spokesperson Tony Winnicker. He said there were really controversial elements and the trick was balancing the competing interests of wholesale customers and environmental groups. "It took a really hard-nosed look at our demand projections and what we could really do for conservation." He concedes there are still controversies, in particular over the Calaveras Dam, which the Alameda Creek Alliance opposes. "It would be hubris for us to say it’s been a complete success."

"This is a process that would only occur through a public agency," Winnicker added.

"What we saw with the WSIP was a solution where everything was fully transparent," Raider added. "It was all a public process, and there was plenty of opportunity for public input."

Which is really what a public water utility should be doing. "When you’re talking about public water, it isn’t them, it’s us," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Food and Water Watch. "A public water system is only as good as the people involved with it."


"This conference isn’t a public event," organizer Andrew Slavin told the Guardian when we tried to gain admittance to the Corporate Water Footprinting Conference. While water activists rallied outside deriding the corporations inside for greenwashing their images, Slavin said that the fact that the conference wasn’t open to the public proved that the corporations weren’t trying to do environmental PR. "If they’re trying to do greenwashing this isn’t the place to do it. The aim is to try to share information."

Slavin pointed to representatives speaking from the Environmental Protection Agency, the SFPUC, and NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund. From an environmental perspective, if these companies are going to be using water, isn’t it worth working with them to reduce their impacts?

"There are companies I call water hunters," explained Maude Barlow. "They destroy water to make their products and profit. Unfortunately, some of the companies that are leading this conference are bottled water companies. I don’t know how you can become ‘water neutral’ if your life’s work is draining aquifers."

Many water activists consider bottled water the low-hanging fruit as far as getting people to change behaviors. San Francisco banned the use of tax dollars to buy it, and the SFPUC has been promoting its pristine Hetch Hetchy tap water, gravity-fed from Yosemite National Park. "Bottled water companies are basically engaged in a multiyear campaign. Their marketing approach is you can’t trust the tap, your public water isn’t safe," Winnicker said.

Slavin said he thought it was weird to protest the conference, because the corporations are genuinely trying to avoid conflicts. He pointed to a company called Future 500 that has created a business out of mediating between corporations and communities. "It’s hard for companies to speak to people so they use other companies to do it," Slavin said.

In fact, representatives from Future 500 appeared to be the only conference attendees who stepped outside to watch the protest.

"I think it’s great," Erik Wohlgemuth of Future 500, said of the protest. "I think press should have been there. I think more of these voices should have been there. My personal view is they need to come up with some sort of reduced rate to allow these nonprofits to attend these kinds of conferences."

Jeremy Shute, a representative from global infrastructure company AECOM who was standing with Wohlgemuth, said, "There’s a tremendous amount of research and thought going into these questions and it would be great if that knowledge could be shared."

But is that going to happen when private companies cite "proprietary interest" as a reason for not sharing more information about their businesses? Or when they don’t have to abide by public records laws, leaving their contracts shielded from public scrutiny? Or when they refuse to answer calls from their constituencies and the media? In which case, should those advocates be in the same room as some of the biggest water users in the world? When pressed with the question, Slavin seemed stumped. "Why didn’t we invite them?" he asked. Then, after a long, thoughtful pause, he said, "I don’t know."



One-half of 1 percent of the world’s water is fresh. [1]

Of that .5 percent, about 50 percent is polluted. [2]

One in 6 people don’t have access to clean, safe water. [3]

Five food and beverage giants — Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Anheuser Busch, and Groupe Danone — consume almost 575 billion liters of water per year, enough to satisfy the daily water needs of every person on the planet. [4]

The average human needs about 13 gallons of water each day for drinking, cooking, and sanitation. [5]

An average North American uses about 150 gallons of water each day. [6]

An average African: 1.5 gallons. [7]

An average San Franciscan: 72 gallons. [8]

The average Los Angeles resident: 122 gallons. [9]

About half the water used by a typical home goes for lawns, gardens, and pools. [10]

50 percent of US water comes from non-renewable groundwater. [11]

86 percent of Americans get their water from public water systems. [12]

80 percent of California’s homes get water from public systems. [13]

The 20 percent of CA households receiving water from privately-owned systems pay an average of 20 percent more for it. [14]

Of the 4.5 billion people with access to clean drinking water worldwide, 15 percent are buying it from private water companies. [15]

It takes 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water. [16]

Tests of 1,000 bottles of water spanning 103 brands revealed that about one-third contained some level of contamination. [17]

The bottled water industry is worth $60 billion a year. [18]

Water is the third biggest industry in the world, worth $425 billion, ranking just behind electricity and oil. [19]

About 70 percent of CA’s water lies north of Sacramento, but 80 percent of the demand is from the southern two-thirds of the state. [20]


[2] Maude Barlow, interview with SFBG


[4] The Economist magazine






[10] American Water Works Association



[13] California Public Utilities Commission

[14] Black and Veatch’s 2006 California Water Rate Survey



[17] Natural Resources Defense Council study, "Pure water or pure hype?" (1999)




Ricky Angel and Katie Baker assisted with research.

Fake Demo slate mailer



By Tim Redmond

These things show up in mailboxes every year, but since some people are still fooled by them, let me set the record straight.

The “Voter Information Guide for Democrats” is NOT the Democratic Party’s slate card. This misleading piece of junk comes out of a political consulting firm in Sherman Oaks, where hack Larry Levine has been using it for years to trick voters. There are no real endorsements here; the piece is a giant campaign ad, a for-profit operation where endoermsements are either for sale to the highest bidder or just stuck on there randomly to give credibility to the paid positions.

This year’s card says No on H; the Democratic Party has endorsed Yes on H. But PG&E paid a lot of money to be on the card, so the card carries PG&E position.

Ignore it. Toss it in the recycling bin. Vote Yes on H.

Endorsements 2008: East Bay races and measures



Alameda County Superior Court judge, Seat 9


A public interest lawyer with a focus on civil rights, Dennis Hayashi has worked for years with the Asian Law Caucus. He was co-counsel in the historic case that challenged Fred Korematsu’s conviction for refusing to report to a Japanese internment camp during World War II. He’s run the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing and was a civil rights lawyer in the Clinton administration. He has spent much of his life serving the public interest and would make a fine addition to the bench.

Berkeley mayor


Tom Bates was a stellar member of the State Assembly once upon a time, and is seen in many quarters as a progressive icon in the East Bay. But he’s been a bit of a disappointment at times as mayor. He’s been dragging his feet on a Berkeley sunshine ordinance, he’s way too friendly with developers, and he helped gut the landmarks-preservation law. He’s supported some terrible candidates (like Gordon Wozniak).

Still, Bates has made some strides on workforce housing and on creating green jobs. He’s fought the University of California over its development plans. And he’s far, far better than his opponent, Shirley Dean.

Dean is even more pro-development than Bates. She’s terrible on tenant issues and won’t be able to work at all with the progressives on the council. We have reservations with Bates, but he’s the better choice.

Berkeley City Council

District 2


Moore came to the Berkeley City Council with a great track record. We endorsed him for this post in 2004, as did the Green Party. He supports instant-runoff voting and a sunshine ordinance. But he’s been awfully close to the developers and brags that he’s proud to have a high rating from the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. His opponent, John Crowder, isn’t a serious contender, so we’ll go with Moore, with reservations.

District 3


Max Anderson is one of two real progressives on the council (the other is Kriss Worthington). Anderson, an ex-Marine, was one of the leaders in the battle against Marine recruitment in Berkeley and has been strong on environmental issues, particularly the fight against spraying the light brown apple moth. He deserves another term.

District 4


Dona Spring, who ably represented District 4 and was a strong progressive voice on the council, died in July, leaving a huge gap in Berkeley politics. The best choice to replace her is Jesse Arreguin, who currently works in the office of Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

Arreguin is the chair of the Rent Stabilization Board and has served on the Zoning Appeals Board and the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, where he out-organized the moderates and pro-development sorts. He supports sustainable, community-based planning and would be an excellent addition to the council

District 5


This is a fairly moderate district, and incumbent Laurie Capitelli is the clear favorite. But Capitelli has been terrible on development issues and is too willing to go along with the mayor on land use. Sophie Hahn, a lawyer, is a bit cautious (she didn’t like the city’s involvement in the Marine recruitment center battle), but she’s a strong environmentalist who’s pushing a more aggressive bicycle policy. And she’s a big supporter of local small businesses and wants to promote a "shop local" program in Berkeley. She’s the better choice.

District 6


Incumbent Betty Olds — one of the most conservative members of the city council — is retiring, and she’s endorsed her council aide, Susan Wengraf, for the seat. It’s not a district that tends to elect progressives, and Wengraf, former president of the moderate (and often pro-landlord) Berkeley Democratic Club, is the odds-on favorite.

We’re supporting Phoebe Ann Sorgen, who is probably more progressive than the district and lacks experience in city politics but who is solid on the issues. A member of the Peace and Justice Commission and the KPFA board, she’s pushing alternative-fuel shuttles between the neighborhoods and is, like Sophie Hahn, a proponent of shop-local policies.

Berkeley School Board



Incumbent John Selawsky has, by almost every account and by almost any standard, done a great job on the school board. He’s mixed progressive politics with fiscal discipline and helped pull the district out of a financial mess a few years back. He knows how to work with administrators, teachers, and neighbors. He richly deserves another term.

Beatriz Levya-Cutler is a parent of a Berkeley High School student and has run a nonprofit that provides preschool care and supplemental education to Berkeley kids. She has the support of everyone from Tom Bates to Kriss Worthington. We’ll endorse her too.

Berkeley Rent Board






The Berkeley left doesn’t always agree on everything, but there’s a pretty strong consensus in favor of this five-member slate for the Berkeley Rent Board. The five were nominated at an open convention, all have pledged to support tenant rights, and they will keep the board from losing it’s generally progressive slant.

Oakland City Council, at-large


Rebecca Kaplan, an AC Transit Board member, came in first in the June primary for this seat, well ahead of Kerry Hamill, but she fell short of 50 percent, so the two are in a runoff.

Hamill is the candidate of state Sen.(and East Bay kingmaker) Don Perata. Political committees with links to Perata have poured tens of thousands of dollars into a pro-Hamill campaign, and city council member Ignacio de la Fuente, a Perata ally, is raising money for Hamill too.

Kaplan is independent of the Perata political machine. She’s an energetic progressive with lots of good ideas — and a proven track record in office. While on the AC Transit Board, Kaplan pushed for free bus passes for low-income youths. When she decided she wanted the district to offer all-night transit service from San Francisco, she found a way to work with both her own board and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to iron out the jurisdiction issues and get it done. Her platform calls for affordable housing, rational development, and effective community policing. She’s exactly the kind of candidate Oakland needs, and we’re happy to endorse her.

AC Transit Board of Directors

At large


Chris Peeples was appointed to an open seat in 1997, elected in 1998, and reelected in 2000 and 2004. A longtime advocate for public transit, and AC Transit bus service in particular, Peeples is a widely respected board member who helped secure free transit for lower-income youths and the current low-cost youth passes. Involved in the AC Bus Riders Union, Alliance for AC Transit, Regional Alliance for Transit, Alliance for Sensible Transit, Coalition for a One-Stop Terminal, and many other transit groups, Peeples has served on the Oakland Ethics Commission and is active in the meetings of the Transportation Research Board and the American Public Transportation Association.

Peeples was also involved in the mess that was the Van Hool bus contract, in which AC Transit bought buses from a Belgian company that were poorly designed and had to be changed. Joyce Roy, who is well known in the East Bay for her lawsuit against the Oak to Ninth proposed development and her participation in the ensuing referendum effort, is challenging Peeples because of his support of the Van Hool buses. A retired architect and local public transit advocate, Roy lost the 2004 race for the AC Transit Board, Ward 2, post to current incumbent Greg Harper. But now she is running a stronger race because she has the support of the drivers and passengers, especially the seniors and the disabled, who find these buses uncomfortable and unsafe.

But given Peeples’s long history and generally good record, we’ll endorse him for another term.

Ward 2


An East Bay attorney and former Emeryville mayor, Greg Harper was elected in November 2000 and reelected in 2004 to represent Ward 2. Harper appears committed to ridership growth and has become increasingly critical of the district’s attempts to increase fares, not to mention the much maligned decision to purchase Van Hool buses. Harper is in favor of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and has a strong record of listening and being responsive to community concerns. He has said that if Berkeley votes to stop BRT-dedicated lanes, he’d only try to implement BRT in his district, if its makes sense.

East Bay Municipal Utility District

Director, Ward 5


With the East Bay falling short of targeted water savings, it’s increasingly vital that voters elect environmentally conscious EBMUD directors. Doug Linney fits the bill. First elected in 2002 and reelected in 2004, Linney is a solid progressive. Opposed to reservoir expansion, Linney wants to promote water conservation and is open to groundwater storage and water transfers, but only if no environmental damage is done.

Director, Ward 6


Incumbent William Patterson has supported dam and reservoir expansion, groundwater storage, wastewater recycling, and desalinization. He has opposed large water transfers from agricultural districts and rate changes that would promote conservation.

His opponent, Bob Feinbaum, is a solid environmentalist who supports water transfers, opposes desalinization and reservoir expansion, and offers promising and sustainable ideas in terms of managing the drought that include setting fair rates for big users and protecting low-income users. He deserves support.

East Bay Regional Parks District

Director, Ward 1


A longtime environmental advocate, Norman La Force has shown a commitment to expanding and preserving parks and open space and tenacity in balancing the public’s desire for recreational facilities and the need for habitat protection for wildlife. We’re happy to endorse him for this office.


Berkeley Measure FF

Library bonds


Measure FF would authorize $26 million in bonds to improve and bring up to code branch libraries in a city where the branches get heavy use and are a crucial part of the neighborhoods. Vote yes.

Berkeley Measure GG

Emergency medical response tax


A proposed tiny tax on improvements in residential and commercial property would fund emergency medical response and disaster preparedness. Vote yes.

Berkeley Measure HH

Park taxes


A legal technicality, Measure HH allows the city to raise the limit on spending so it can allocate taxes that have already been approved to pay for parks, libraries, and other key services.

Berkeley Measure II

Redistricting schedule


This noncontroversial measure would give the city an additional year after the decennial census is completed to finish work on drawing new council districts. After the 2000 census, which undercounted urban populations, Berkeley (and other cities) had to fight to get the numbers adjusted, and that pushed the city up against a statutory limit for redistricting. Measure II would allow a bit more flexibility if, once again, the census numbers are hinky.

Berkeley Measure JJ

Medical marijuana zoning


Berkeley law allows for only three medical marijuana clinics, and this wouldn’t change that limit. But Measure JJ would make pot clinics a defined and permitted use under local zoning laws. Since it’s hard — sometimes almost impossible — to find a site for a pot club now, this measure would allow existing clinics to stay in business if they have to move. Vote yes.

Berkeley Measure KK

Repealing bus-only lanes


Yes, there are problems with the bus-only lanes in Berkeley (they don’t connect to the ferries, for example), but the idea is right. Measure KK would mandate voter approval of all new transit lanes; that’s crazy and would make it much harder for the city to create what most planners agree are essential new modes of public transit. Vote no.

Berkeley Measure LL

Landmarks preservation


Developers in Berkeley (and, sad to say, Mayor Tom Bates) see the Landmarks Preservation Commission as an obstacle to development, and they want to limit its powers. This is a referendum on the mayor’s new rules; if you vote no, you preserve the ability of the landmarks board to protect property from development.

Oakland Measure N

School tax


This is a parcel tax to fund Oakland public schools. San Francisco just passed a similar measure, aimed at providing better pay for teachers. Parcel taxes aren’t the most progressive money source — people who own modest homes pay the same per parcel as the owners of posh commercial buildings — but given the lack of funding choices in California today, Measure N is a decent way to pay for better school programs. Vote yes.

Oakland Measure OO

Children and youth services


This is a set-aside to fund children and youth services. We’re always wary about set-asides, but kids are a special case: children can’t vote, and services for young people are often tossed aside in the budget process. San Francisco’s version of this law has worked well. Vote yes.


Measure VV

AC Transit parcel tax


In face of rising fuel costs and cuts in state funding, AC Transit wants to increase local funding to avoid fare increases and service cuts. Measure VV seeks to authorize an annual special parcel tax of $96 per year for 10 years, starting in 2009.

The money is intended for the operation and maintenance of the bus service. Two-thirds voter approval is needed. If passed, a community oversight committee would monitor how the money is being spent.

The measure has the support of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter and the League of Women Voters.

Measure WW

Extension of existing East Bay Park District bond


The East Bay Regional Park District operates 65 regional parks and more than a thousand miles of trails. It’s an amazing system and a wonderful resource for local residents. But the district needs ongoing sources of money to keep this system in good shape. Measure WW would reauthorize an existing East Bay Park District bond. This means that the owner of a $500,000 home would continue to pay $50 a year for the next 20 years.

One quarter of the monies raised would go to cities, special park and recreation districts, and county service areas. The remaining 75 percent would go toward park acquisitions and capital projects. The bonds constitute a moderate burden on property owners but seem like a small price to ensure access to open space for people of all economic backgrounds. Vote yes.

>>More Guardian Endorsements 2008

Connecting the drops



GREEN CITY A controversial proposal to take more water from the Sierra for urban and agricultural uses — and away from environmental and wildlife habitat needs — could be delayed for at least a decade under a proposal now under consideration in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has toyed with these questions in recent years, confronting the reality that its aging water supply system is at risk seismically and predictions that the region faces a shortfall of 30 million gallons per day by 2030.

To address these concerns, SFPUC produced a Water System Improvement Plan in 2002. WSIP included plans to retrofit and rebuild key dams and pipelines. But the $4.4 billion proposal ran into opposition when environmental advocates learned it also contained an option to increase diversions from the Tuolumne River by 25 million gallons per day.

Jennifer Clary, executive director of Clean Water Action, pointed out that 60 percent of the water flow in the Tuolumne River — which is blocked by two dams — has already been diverted for urban and agricultural uses and its historic salmon run has been destroyed.

Peter Drekmeier, Bay Area program director of Tuolumne River Trust, told the Guardian there’s been a 99 percent decline in the river’s salmon population. "We counted 18,000 salmon in 2000, but only 211 in 2007," he told us.

This environmental opposition appears to have led to a change in plan, at least for now.

The San Francisco Planning Department is preparing to publish its final Program Environmental Impact Report on the SFPUC’s plan and SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington announced a Sept. 30 press conference to discuss a regional water supply alternative.

The conference took place after Guardian press time, but SFPUC officials say the supply question won’t get answered until 2018, although seismic projects are getting the green light. As SFPUC director of communications Tony Winnicker explained, seismic proposals can’t start until the EIR is certified, first by the Planning Commission and then by the SFPUC.

"So it made sense to pursue an alternative that allowed those projects to move forward, while giving the agency another decade to answer the supply question," Winnicker said.

"Rather than holding up the ticking time bomb of seismic upgrades, this allows us to certify the EIR and adopt an alternative that takes no more water until 2018."

He said water demand in San Francisco is predicted to decrease, but will be offset by projected growth in the South and East Bay during that time. Winnicker said he hopes the SFPUC can meet that projected demand through increased groundwater conservation, recycling, and desalination.

"But we can’t point to projects on the ground yet," he said. "So what we’re saying is, ‘OK, we’re not going to take anything out of river now and we’ll wait a decade to figure it out — by which time we’ll have better technology, information, and analysis, plus a better understanding of climate change.’<0x2009>"

Drekmeier says the SFPUC’s recommendation is not his first choice. "We believe more water needs to be released to restore the chinook salmon, as well as the steelhead trout, and we’re going to be lobbying [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] for less diversions," Drekmeier said. "But in the spirit of compromise, this gives us more time to do a more detailed estimate of demand projections and the potential for water recycling and allows for the completion of biological studies of the needs of the Tuolumne."

Meanwhile, Clary said the SFPUC recommendation represents progress. "Nobody really knows how much water we need to put into the Tuolumne River," Clary said. "I think ultimately more water will have to go to the environment. But we should strive to get the information we need to be good stewards. This gives us time to prove that the SFPUC doesn’t need more water, and to work with the water agencies and retail customers."

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on the EIR certification Oct. 30 — the same day the SFPUC chooses a WSIP option. As Drekmeier puts it, "Oct. 30 will be the moment of truth."

Elsie update


Robert Reed, Public Relations Manager for the Golden Gate Disposal & Recycling Company emailed me this week, in response to my coverage of Elsie and her missing stuff.

“We share your concerns (posted on the SFBG blog last Friday) about Elsie losing her belongings and confirmed that we did not take her items,” Reed wrote, after questions were raised as to who removed her worldly possessions from a street corner.

Reed further explained that, “Garbage and recycling collectors employed by Golden Gate Disposal & Recycling Company do NOT pick up uncontainerized items unless specifically instructed by the Department of Public Works, which oversees abandoned waste, and only then in the afternoons an on rare occasions. The incident in question reportedly took place in the morning near a vacant commercial building. We empty garbage and recycling containers at occupied buildings.”

Reed also confirmed that his company received a call about Elsie’s missing stuff from local resident Paul Skilbeck.

“Our route supervisor investigated the issue and verified we did not touch anyone’s personal items,” Reed wrote. ” Our supervisor then called Mr. Skilbeck and let him know that we looked into the issue thoroughly and we confirmed we did not take Elsie’s belongings. ”

Thanks for the update, Robert. Here’s still hoping that someone will locate Elsie and her things.

ps. This just in from Elsie’s neighbor, Paul SkilbecK:

“Elsie has reappeared one block away, on Van Ness/Washington…., but it is not good news. She has not eaten for days, she has not changed her clothes and smells, her ankles are swollen, which she says happens when she gets upset. And she is still refusing assistance. Recently she removed some rings from her fingers, and says she will give these away. It doesn’t look as though she was able to overcome this setback.”

Vizzy with the possibilities



"The Wizard of Oz" Not much has changed since L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz debuted over a century ago and gave Americans something we still crave: escape to a fantastical land free of wicked witches. These days it’s not the Emerald City that Dorothys everywhere are tripping toward but a place called "hope." The works in this group show curated by Jens Hoffmann, including more than 20 artists (Clare Rojas, Raymond Pettibon, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, et al.), were made either in response to the classic tale or relate to the story’s many layered meanings.

Sept. 2–Dec. 13. Reception Sept. 2. CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, 1111 Eighth St., SF. (415) 551-9210,

"Vocabularies of Metaphor: More Stories" In this group show of works on paper highlighting deconstructed narratives, all but two of the 16 artists included are women — one of Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls drawings makes an appearance. "Vocabularies" is a chance to see how women are considering the figure — female, male, and animal — in a postnatural world, though this idea is not the exhibit’s emphasis. Of note are Rachelle Sumpter’s gauzy gouaches, Canadian Yuka Yamaguchi’s dismembered turtles, and Pakistani Shahzia Sikander’s nature-inspired pattern-making.

Sept. 6–Oct. 18. Reception Sept. 6. Hosfelt Gallery, 430 Clementina, SF. (415) 495-5454,

California Academy of Sciences The mothership of scientific and sustainable nerdiness finally opens! This Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified facility includes a planetarium, swamp, rainforest, and a living roof. If you prefer your nature virtual, you can always hang out with the PenguinCam.

Big Bang opening gala Sept. 25; free to the public all day Sept. 27. 55 Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park, SF. (415) 379-8000,

"Brought to Light: Photography and the Invisible, 1840-1900" Scientific photography of yesteryear is a healthy reminder of just how long we’ve been trying to discover everything that can possibly be discovered and recording it for posterity. More than 200 photographs, American and European, scientific and pseudoscientific.

Oct. 11–Jan. 4, 2009. SFMOMA, 151 Third St., SF. (415) 357-4000,

"The Gatherers: Greening Our Urban Spheres" Co-curated by Berin Golonu and independent curator Veronica Wiman of Sweden, this activist exhibition is intended to further the green dialogue through collaborations between artists and organizations, conversations with the public, and urban interventions.

Oct. 31–Jan. 11, 2009. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 978-ARTS,


"Barbara Holmes and Casey Logan" What a dump! The two artists’ four-month residency climaxes with 3-D work inspired by and composed of salvaged material. Sculptor Holmes worked with wooden lattice to create a series of kaleidoscopic forms in assorted states of weatheredness, while Logan morphed musical gear and other detritus into pieces that meld with his fascination with science and fiction.

Sept. 26–27. SF Recycling Art Studio, 503 Tunnel, SF.

"Nikki McClure" The graphic rep of Olympia, Wash.’s riot grrrl scene is undoubtedly best known for her bold, iconic paper cuts revolving around nature, motherhood, activism, and community. Music cover-art, illustrations, and books have all found a place in a vision grounded in simple gestures, uncontrived pleasures, and everyday labors.

October–November. Needles and Pens, 3253 16th St. SF. (415) 255-1534,

"Outpost" Exploding the imaginary and futuristic dimensions of architecture, "Outpost" collects the apocalyptic planes and jagged rubble of Bay Area sculptor David Hamill and the dazzling grids and Spirograph-esque constructs of New York City artist Jeff Konigsberg.

Sept. 5–Oct. 18. Reception Sept. 5. Johansson Projects 2300 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 999-9140,

"Hilary Pecis" Folktronica, meet your maker: the SF artist creates her downright psychedelic panoramas by layering drawings with fragments sliced from glossy magazines. Pecis was also recently named as a recipient of the 2008 Murphy and Cadogan Fellowships in the Fine Arts and will be showcased at SF Arts Commission Gallery.

Sept. 6-26. Reception Sept. 6. Receiver Gallery, 1415 Valencia, SF. (415) 550-RCVR, Also "Immediate Future: the 2008 Murphy and Cadogan Fellowships in the Fine Arts," Sept. 6-Oct. 18. SFAC Gallery, 401 Van Ness, SF. (415) 554-6080,

"Yves Saint Laurent" Viva le smoking! The beloved groundbreaker may be dead, but Yves Saint Laurent has never been hotter, judging from this autumn’s many attempts at rich-hippie/gypsy folklorico, highly sexed men’s wear for women, and silky Parisian-lady drag. This major retrospective’s single US turn showcases more than 120 accessorized ensembles in addition to drawings, photos, and videos.

Nov. 1–March 1, 2009. De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, SF. (415) 750-3600,


"I Feel I Am Free But I Know I Am Not" See “Connect four,” this issue

Sept. 4–Nov. 1. SF Camerawork, 657 Mission, 2nd floor, SF. (415) 512-2020,

"Double Down: Two Visions of Vegas" Olivo Barbieri looks at Vegas as toy town.

Sept. 18–Jan. 4, 2009. SFMOMA, 151 Third St., SF. (415) 357-4000,

"Bayete Ross-Smith: Pomp & Circumstance" and "Jonathan Burstein: Visage" Ross-Smith’s prom portraits are fresh, and Burstein’s paintings of museum guards trampoline off the humor present in his handsome past portraits of himself.

Sept. 4–Oct.11. Patricia Sweetow Gallery, 77 Geary, mezzanine, SF. (415) 788-5126,

"Lutz Bacher: ODO"

Oct. 31–Dec.31. Ratio 3, 1447 Stevenson, SF. (415) 821-3371,

Open Studios A step outside the galleries, museums, and art fairs — for better, for worse, and for real.

Oct. 11–Nov. 2. Various locations, SF. (415) 861-9838,

"Dustin Fosnot: Simmons Beautyrest" Fosnot’s comic inventiveness should be a relief.

Oct. 14–Nov. 15. Steven Wolf Fine Arts, 49 Geary, suite 411, SF. (415) 263-3677.

"LA Paint" A survey of 11 painters, sure to fan a variety of Bay-and-LA flames.

Oct. 4–March 8, 2009. Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak, Oakl. (510) 238-2200,

"These are the People in Your Neighborhood" Mr. Rogers is quoted for this 15th birthday celebration including work by Libby Black and Xylor Jane, among others.

Sept. 12–Oct. 17. Gallery 16, 501 Third, SF,

"Artists Ball Seven: The New Party" Stanlee Gatti and Mos Def, together at last.

Oct. 3. YBCA, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 978-2700,

"Warhol’s Jews: Ten Portraits Reconsidered" A prelude to "Warhol Live," which hits the de Young next year.

Oct. 12–Jan. 25, 2009. Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission, SF. (415) 655-7800,

>>More Fall Arts Preview

Olema Inn



If Marin County is a state of mind, would it be catty to describe that state of mind as schizophrenic? Despite a compact geography, Marin shows the world a surprising number of faces; there’s Mount Tam, Muir Woods, Black Sands Beach with its sporty naked people, the writhing population centers in the southeast (my least favorite quarter), and — my most favorite — the rolling, wooded, gently farmed county to the west.

West Marin is an enchanted realm, a genteel Arcadian dream. The city is just 20 miles distant, but one does not feel it. For those of us who’ve had occasion to live in one of the metropolises of the East, whose sprawl can take several hours to escape, this swift vanishing of urbis is an abiding miracle. Humanity’s self-absorbed throbbing subsides, and there is peace across a landscape luminously painted by Thaddeus Welch more than a century ago. The two-lane roads, uncluttered with traffic, wend through tidy little villages and country junctions often punctuated by sharp church steeples, past neatly kept fields, pastures, and orchards. And at the end of one of those roads lies the Olema Inn, an oasis of civilization and civility.

The Olema Inn has been a fine restaurant for nearly a decade, but its deeply atmospheric building is far older, with roots extending back well into the 19th century. When you step onto the Victorian veranda, you have a momentary vision of Mark Twain standing there, gazing out, maybe waiting for a stagecoach or looking for a spittoon — and then you see the "Marin Organic" sign and, for better or worse, you’re right back in the early 21st century.

Inside, the building has been buffed to a soft shine. The lobby, with its inviting bar, has the look of an Edwardian salon — plump, comfy chairs amid lots of rich wood — while the dining rooms beyond are a gracious blend of mullioned, multi-light windows, antique pine floors, fresh white walls, and garden views. While Twain lingers on the porch, twirling his moustache, you have been seated in an Edith Wharton novel, where the linens are always well-starched.

The "Marin Organic" sign tells us that the restaurant is a serious food destination: the kitchen participates in the west county’s responsible-agriculture culture while committing itself to do right by the high-quality ingredients thereby produced. The ethic seems almost indistinguishable to me from that of Chez Panisse, and the results are comparably impressive.

Since western Marin is a locus of oystering — Tomales Bay is the home of Hog Island oyster farm, as well as an unknown number of great white sharks — the Olema Inn’s menu offers this bivalve in a variety of guises. You can get eight sizable oysters on the half-shell for $18; they can be cooked or raw (or some of each), with a wide choice of toppings, including tomato and basil, bacon and fennel, and a classic mignonette made with sauvignon blanc. Excellent and memorable, every one — and I would not describe myself as an oyster-lover.

Soup probably doesn’t get enough credit as a vehicle for chefly expression, but at the Olema Inn, it isn’t for lack of effort or ingenuity. A bowl of wild nettle soup ($10) could easily have been mistaken for green paint ready to be splashed on a military rig, except for the large fried oyster, flecked with breading, in the middle. Only slightly less intense a green was a chilled soup of puréed asparagus ($10), poured around a set of large shelled prawns and dotted with slivers of kumquat.

Sand dabs, a local maritime treasure, are known to be bony, and it might be that their reputation suffers because of this, but they make a fabulous fish and chips ($14). We couldn’t find a single splinter of bone, and the tubular strips of flesh were juicy within their golden crust — a hint that the fish had not been frozen. The chips were limper than what one would consider ideal, but they had been fried in duck fat, which more than made up in flavor what had not been achieved in crispness.

The flavor of duck also pleasantly pervaded a steak hash ($18): cubes of potato and beef, dottings of fresh fava beans, and coarse flaps of onion and fennel root adrift in a ducky broth into which a poached duck egg slowly leaked its yolk. The steak had been billed as the star ingredient, but the dish would have been fine without any meat at all — or maybe just some duck confit? Hash is a well-known recycling center for leftovers, but leftover duck confit often finds its way into salads, not hashes. And sometimes there isn’t any leftover confit at all.

Although bread pudding is another locus for leftovers, Olema Inn’s vanilla version ($9) didn’t seem at all fatigued — more like a fresh morning bun, envelopingly soft and warm. Our server was particularly enthusiastic about the chamomile crème brûlée ($9). It did turn out to be almost obscenely creamy — a true custard — beneath its cap of caramelized sugar, though I strained to detect any hint of chamomile in the flavor. The sour love-bite of lemon, on the other hand, was plainly discernable in the profiteroles ($9); they were filled with lemon-cookie ice cream and were assembled from fresh, house-made pastry, to judge by their exquisite tenderness. Wharton no doubt would have approved. As for Twain: he had vanished into the unseasonable mist, and the veranda was clear when we left. *


Lunch: Sat.–Sun., noon–4 p.m. Dinner: daily, 5–9 p.m.

Sir Francis Drake Blvd. at Highway 1, Olema

(415) 663-9559


Beer and wine

Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Bones and balls



CHEAP EATS Bones are supposed to decompose, right? But sometimes, for the sake of archaeology, they don’t. They pile up behind you in the cave until, if you eat as much meat as I do, you eventually have to live outside.

It’s like naming a band. The old ones don’t go away, so it just keeps getting harder, which is why many musicians my age either give up or rejoin their old groups and go on reunion tours. Or they switch genres, simply so they can recycle the old names but with z‘s for s‘s. A short-lived solution (if it has any life at all), as evidenced by the almost immediate fizzle of The Bee Geez, Harry Nilzzon, and the Mamaz & the Papaz — heavy metallic flops all.

Soon we will begin to see (and hear, and feel) the effects of a generation of rising rockers whose parents announced their births via e-mail. Brace yourselves. Here comes U2000, Prince2009, and, my personal favorite, AbbaLoL.

Recycling is good. It’s decided, right? Without it we all die and have no music to listen to on our deathbeds. I save the bones. So do lots of people, Mountain Sam to name just one. He makes sculptures out of them. I make soup, then I scrape and dry them, wrap one end with rubber and/or felt, and re-reuse them as steel drum mallets. So that’s food, food again, then music. Then they just pile up in my cave and stay there, waiting for future archaeologists to wonder about a chicken-like creature that wore socks.

I was babysitting the baby I babysit (I’m not allowed to say her name) and the TV was on because the mama and the papa hadn’t left yet. This is what distinguishes me as a babysitter: no TV. None. Absolutely not. TV is not harmful enough, in my opinion. Instead, we do truly dangerous things together, like tasting mysterious plants, staring into mirrors, and rock climbing, me and this one-year-old.

But the parents hadn’t left yet. The TV was on. Food Channel, so I was interested. Mesmerized. Appalled … because what they were talking about was barbecued spaghetti, some joint in Tennessee, and I have to say it looked delicious. I was appalled because here I’ve been trying to invent a thing that has already been invented.

Hey, there oughta be a saying about this, something like, I don’t know, reinventing the … uh …

Never mind.

You people who live your whole life without ever changing gender — not even once. Frankly, I don’t know how you do it. I mean, it takes all kinds, I suppose, but I personally would have died of boredom by now.

In the coed soccer league I play in, I’m an average-size girl with average speed and average skills. I’m slightly above-average agewise, and slightly below-average butchwise. No matter what, though, there is always one thing that distinguishes me from the other girls on the field and it is this: as far as I know, I’m the only one out there with balls.

And I’m not speaking figuratively. If anything having balls, in this case, makes you chickenshit. You know how when guys line up in front of a free kick, they place their hands over their crotch? I can’t do that! So I run away. Nobody knows I’m trans. At least that I know of, nobody knows. I’m not sure about league policy on this.

I’ve always wondered what would happen … what I would do, what my body would do, if and when I took a ball to the balls in one of these games. It was a matter of time, and in the first half of the second game of my third season as a girl, there it was. A guy unloaded and I jumped but didn’t twist, and, oof!

Guys know what this feels like. Now I know what it feels like to feel that feeling and not be able to go down, not even to one knee. To have to turn and run like nothing much happened, without even a look on your face, breathless, hating life but just generally playing on.


My new favorite restaurant is Mary’s Place in Novato, where I’ve been camping out a lot on account of car problems. Mary’s Place is a way to kill time over delicious crepes, hash browns, and coffee, coffee, coffee. It has a counter. It’s kind of a diner-ish feel, but with way better food. And, oh yeah, a bar.


819 Grant, Novato

(415) 897-9761

Tue.–Sat., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.

Sun.–Mon., 7 a.m.–3 p.m.

Full bar


Let it go



Dear Andrea:

I broke up with my boyfriend when he moved to another city after a short but intense relationship. Since then, we’ve visited each other regularly and continued having a sexual relationship. I’ve been fancying/dating/shagging other people for basically the whole time. But now he’s started expressing interest in another girl and I’m jealous, though I’m trying not to let him know.

I don’t want to get back together. Apart from the long-distance factor, every time I see him I’m reminded of all the ways in which we are incompatible. The sex is good, but not the best ever. Still, I spend a lot of time missing him, thinking about him, and feeling resentful of this new woman! Why can’t I let go of this?



Dear Pout:

Oh, who knows. I think we’re just mammals and once we’ve marked something or someone with our (insert yucky metaphor here), that something must forever remain at least partly ours. Yesterday my daughter claimed an empty kefir bottle and carried it around with her for hours, reclaiming it this morning the minute she saw it in the recycling. OK, she’s a toddler, but I don’t know how much we ever mature past the "Mine! You can’t have it!" stage.

It’s hard to let go, even when what you’re hanging on to is entirely unsuitable. You don’t really want that empty yogurt jug; you just don’t want anyone else to claim it. But someone will, and you’ll be fine. In other words, it’s not that you can’t let go, it’s just that you haven’t yet.

It should be obvious that the best way to get you past this in a hurry is to stop seeing the guy. You don’t really want to be this dude’s booty call, do you? And he doesn’t seem like such a great pick to be your booty call, since he’s only pretty good at the only thing you’re likely to be doing together. It would be different if you were, say, an aspiring singer and he were the only accompanist who understands … oh, never mind. This story is going nowhere, just like what’s left of your relationship with Visit Guy. You miss him because you see him. And you resent the new girl because she’s taking some of what you’ve got left. Give her the whole thing. You don’t need it.



Dear Andrea:

I am confused by my thoughts. I fantasize constantly about my wife having sex with other men. She’s refused, so I quit asking her about it. But now I can’t sleep. I am 36 with three children, and am having three or four wet dreams a week about my wife having sex with other men. Most of the time the men don’t even have faces — it’s just me watching my wife have sex. I love my wife very much and wonder why I have this fantasy.



Dear Sleepy:
Nobody knows why, so don’t look at me. I mean it — nobody knows why anybody fantasizes about or fixates on anything. It’s not just that nobody knows why you, the guy who wrote Andrea a letter, fixates on seeing his wife have sex with another guy. It may help to know that you have a great deal of company; indeed, accessing a little porn on the theme may help take some pressure off. Your search terms are probably "cuckold" (now that‘s a word with some years under its belt) and "hot wife" (although there’s also "troilism" and "candaulism" if you want to get technical). If you do not want to see or read some porn, I suggest you never, under any circumstances, Google any of those terms. Even "wife" alone will get you some things you’d probably never want to tell your spouse that you’ve seen — especially since you’ve asked her, been turned down, and she’d probably prefer not to have that particular discussion again.

While I was waiting for the coffee to kick in this morning and trying to force my brain to cough up the term "troilism" for you, I did a little search myself and found this quite nice article on Nerve that goes into great detail about the culture that has grown up around cuckolding-the-fetish — which is not the sort of thing that could have flourished in the pre-Internet age but has certainly come into its own. And aren’t we proud?

Actually, I have no problem with it, provided it isn’t one of those situations where the man (usually) begs and whines and cajoles and bothers the woman (usually) past the point where it makes sense to do so. Either she won’t change her mind or she’ll agree to it, meet someone else, and leave the first guy. Either way is OK with me. But neither of these things applies in your case. You’re OK. If you can’t sleep, try exercise, melatonin, or masturbation.

Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.

Green, according to Brett Dennen


Singer-songwriter Brett Dennen has been getting a bunch of attention of late – appearing on Jay Leno among other late-night staples. He appears at the free Green Apple Festival show in Golden Gate Park on Sunday, April 20. Word had it he was a major-league recycler and composter, so I spoke to him in honor of Earth Day; here’s what he said.

SFBG: So you’re a pretty eco-conscious guy – would you say you make green music?

Brett Dennen: I guess the biggest reason is that it seems like the smartest thing to do, to invest in and live in a way that creates instead of destroys. Y’know, leave as little trace as possible. I don’t think it really inspires me on an artistic level – I don’t think I’m passionate about it in that way. It’s just something I’ve always lived with – it was the way I was raised. I grew up composting, recycling food scraps, recycling, walking, and riding a bike everywhere. It’s not like a cause I found – it doesn’t move me to write about it.

Rilo Kiley’s Blake Sennett on flying solo, recycling, and filmmaking


rilo kiley.jpg

Oh, star-crossed phone interviews – who knows why or how they happen. Rilo Kiley‘s Blake Sennett and I met not-so-cute last week, thanks to poor hearing, mumbled questions, and a patched-in conference call that sounded like everyone in his publicist’s office could hear every “um” or “er” we uttered. Kismet! I’ll sparing you those awkward moments thanks to the magic of editing – I suspect their show tonight, April 17, at the Design Center Concourse will go much more smoothly.

SFBG: Where are you right now? [Sounds like rumored Winona Ryder fiance Sennett is tromping through a parking lot and into an elevator] And what brings you back to SF?

Blake Sennett: I’m in LA. Well, I think typically you do a couple tours for an album cycle so I don’t know it’s the natural thing to do – I don’t know. Maybe we shouldn’t do it. I don’t know. But yeah, I felt like the record deserved two tours.

CO2 stew



SONIC REDUCER It’s not easy being green, music lover. Because I’ve tried to shove my big fat cultural consumption hoof into a smaller carbon footprint, but I can’t dance around the numbers.

I’ve ponied up the green stuff for nonprofits, come correct at the composting and recycling bins, and threatened to finally get the crusty Schwinn into shape despite the near-death horror stories from bike messenger chums back in the day. But what can a music-gobbling gal do when faced with the hard if rough facts spat out by, for instance, the free online Carbon Footprint Calculator? After selecting "I often go out to places like movies, bars, and restaurants," I watched my print soar to Bigfoot proportions — thanks to my nightlife habit I supposedly generate around the US average of 11 tons of CO2 per person — rather than the mere 8.5 tons if I indulged in only "zero carbon activities, e.g. walk and cycle." Even if this out-late culcha vulcha flies on zero-emission wings to each show, I’m still feeding a machine that will prove the undoing of the planet, since the Calculator estimates that hard-partying humanoids need to reduce their CO2 production to 2 tons to combat climate change. We won’t even get into the acres of paper, publications, and CDs surrounding this red-faced, would-be greenster. I’m downloading as fast as I can, but I wonder whether my hard drive can keep up: hells, even MP3s — and the studios and servers that eke them out — add to my huge, honking footprint. Must I resign myself to daytime acoustic throw-downs within a walkable radius from my berth? Can I get a hand-crank laptop? Just how green can my music get?

Well, it does my eco good to know that a local venue like the Greek Theatre has gone green all year round: Another Planet has offset an entire season’s 113 tons of CO2 emissions; composted over two tons of cups, plates, and utensils; used recycled paper and soy-based ink on all their printed materials; and offered a $1 opt-in to ticket-buyers to offset their environmental impact. I can feel my tonnage shrinking just staring at the numbers. And while gatherings such as last year’s Treasure Island Music Festival sported zero-emission shuttles and biodiesel generators and this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival will team with Amtrak to provide a free train that will move campers from Los Angeles’ Union Station to Empire Polo Field sans smog-spewing traffic jams, artists like José González have embarked on green tours, adding 50 cents to tickets to support nonprofits. Yet such efforts might prove more consciousness-raising than anything else, González concedes: "For me, playing mostly solo and touring with a small crew, I feel like the actual cut down on emissions is marginal comparing it to major artists, so it’s more about the symbolic value of it, and the ripple effect it might bring."

Still, CO2 spendthrifts like me need a swift kick in our waste-line. Lining up to deliver are such music-fueled events as the free South Lake Tahoe Earth Day Festival April 19 and the Digital Be-In 16 April 25 at Temple nightclub, organized by the Cyberset label with an "ecocity" theme aimed at sustainable communities. Green practices, Be-In founder Michael Gosney says, "may not be huge in of themselves, but they set an example for communities to take these practices back into their own lives." One such community-oriented musician is String Cheese Incident mandolin player Michael Kang, who’ll perform at the Digital Be-In and appear with Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks at the free Green Apple Festival concert April 20 in Golden Gate Park.

Organizing seven other free outdoor Earth Day shows throughout the country on April 20 as well as assorted San Francisco shows that weekend, the Green Apple Festival is going further to educate artists and venues — the usual suspects that inspire me to make my carbon footprint that much bigger — by distributing to participating performers and clubs helpful Music Matters artist and venue riders: the former encourages artists to make composting, recycling, and offsets a requirement of performances; the latter suggesting that nightspots consider reusable stainless-steel bottles of water and donating organic, local, fair-trade and/or in-season food leftovers to local food banks or shelters.

But how green are the sounds? Musicians like Brett Dennen, who also performs at SF’s Green Apple event, may have grown up recycling and composting, but he confesses that environmentalism has never spurred him to craft a tune: "Things as big as global warming have never moved me to write about it, even though I’m doing what I can." And Rilo Kiley’s Blake Sennett, who plays April 17 at the Design Center Concourse, may describe himself as a "recycling animal — I love it! I go through trash at other people’s houses!", yet even he was unable to push the rest of the his group to make their latest CD, Under the Blacklight (Warner Bros., 2007) carbon neutral.

So maybe it comes down to supporting those leafy green rooms, forests, and grasslands we otherwise take for granted. Parks are the spark for ex–Rum Diary member Jon Fee’s Parks and Records green label in Fairfax, which wears its love of albums on its hand-printed, all-recycled-content sleeves and plans to donate a percentage of all its low-priced CD sales to arboreal-minded groups like Friends of the Urban Forest. Fee and his spouse Mimi aren’t claiming to have all the answers in terms of running a low-carbon-footprint imprint, but they are pragmatic ("In order to support bands, labels need to give them something they can sell to get gas money," Fee says) and know their love of the outdoors segues with many musicians. "You develop that camping mentality from touring," he offers. "You’re not showering, and you’re hanging out for long periods of time. Everyone loves to be outside." That’s the notion even those too cheap to buy offsets can connect with — until the weird weather is at their doorstep.




TECHSPLOITATION For weeks now, analysts and armchair financial nerds have been mulling over what it will mean if software megacorp Microsoft buys Web monkey farm Yahoo! Would Microsoft-Yahoo! (known forevermore as Microhoo!) challenge Google to some kind of Web domination duel and win? Probably not. As much as I would love to see Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, and Jerry Yang in some kind of unholy three-way Jell-O wrestling match, I know it will never come to pass.

Microhoo! won’t ever have what Google has right now. Sure, Microhoo! will have some solid assets: control of most PC desktops with the Windows OS, Microsoft Office crap, and the Internet Explorer browser. After chomping up Yahoo!, Microhoo! will have a second-rate search engine used by a forlorn 22 percent of Web searchers, followed by a very confused 10 percent who use Microsoft search — I bet you didn’t know Microsoft even had a search engine, did you? It would also have a giant mess of users on free Yahoo! mail, as well as Yahoo! instant messenger. Plus it would acquire a host of Yahoo! things you also didn’t know existed, like Yahoo! Buzz and Yahoo! Answers. Along with about 8 percent of the Web advertising market.

What does Google have? Sure, it has a million things like Android and Orkut and Gmail and Reader and Blogger and Scoop and Zanyblob. But what it really has is Search. Fifty-nine percent of online searches go through Google servers. And if it can sell ads to 59 percent of the billions online? It owns the attention of the majority of the market. Google wins. That’s why the company isn’t worrying so much about Microhoo! and instead is doing things like investing in alternative energy research and letting its employees make psychotically long, company-wide e-mail arguments about whether it’s Earth-friendly to provide plastic bottles of water in the lunchrooms.

I shouldn’t be so glib. Google is making a halfhearted attempt to prevent Microhoo! from being born. The company offered Yahoo! an ad-sharing partnership where the two could pool their networks, put more ads in front of more eyes, and come out as an even more giant advertising machine. They’re doing a very limited test of the ad partnership over the next couple of weeks. Maybe we’ll see a Goohoo! after all.

I don’t think so. Most business pundits think the Goohoo! deal is just Yahoo!’s last-ditch effort to get a bigger offer from Microsoft. Apparently Yahoo! wants about $50 billion to become Microhoo!, and Microsoft is currently offering a little more than $40 billion. No matter what the price tag, my bet is that we’re going to see Microhoo! by this time next year. Microsoft is even contemputf8g a hostile takeover — that’s how serious the situation is.

So what does Microhoo! mean for us, the little guys, who just want a nice search engine that helps us find "hot XXX pussy" or "free MP3" on the Web? For one thing, it means we’ll have fewer options when it comes to online searches, using Web mail, and just plain goofing around online. Microsoft actually considered bringing News Corp, owners of MySpace, in on the Microhoo! deal. That would mean MySpace, Hotmail, Yahoo! mail, and your PC software would all come from a merged corporate entity.

Let’s say we did get a Micronewshoo! It’s online offerings, combined, would be very much a version of Google’s online offerings: mail, social networking, search, Web fun. There would be no cool new thing, no sudden breakthrough application that would transform our relationship to the Web the way Search did. It would be more of the same stuff, but from fewer players — and therefore blander and bigger, like Hollywood blockbusters. New applications and content creators on the Web will be incredibly hard to find unless they have a deal with Microhoo! or Google.

Then in 20 years, a woman in a physics graduate program in China will come up with an idea for the next cool communications network. At last, we’ll say, we finally have a network free from advertising! A place where we can share information without Big Business intruding! Not like the Web, which is all corporate content and has no place for the little guy.

Annalee Newitz ( is a surly media nerd who thinks Google should start recycling dinosaur bones.

After the ruins


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ESSAY In a journal entry dated Dec. 27, 1835, from his 1840 book Two Years before the Mast, student-turned-seafarer Richard Henry Dana recorded his first impressions of the area we know as the City, while his ship, The Alert, traveled through the Golden Gate:

We passed directly under the high cliff on which the presidio is built … from whence we could see large and beautifully wooded islands and the mouths of several small rivers … hundreds of red deer, and [a] stag, with his high branching antlers, were bounding about, looking at us for a moment and then starting off …

Dana arrived in the Bay Area after one era had ended and before another began. Until the coming of the Spaniards a generation earlier, some 10,000 people, members of around 40 separate tribes, lived between Big Sur and San Francisco, in the densest Native American population north of Mexico. Despite the existence among them of as many as 12 different languages, the people collectively referred to now as the Ohlone lived in relative peace for some 4,500 years.

On his first visit, Dana predicted that the Bay Area would be at the center of California’s prosperity. When he returned more than 30 years later in 1868, he discovered that his hotel was built on landfill that had been dumped where The Alert first landed.

Then in middle age, Dana wrote, "The past was real. The present all about me was unreal." Making his way through the crowded streets where the new city he’d predicted was being built, he remarked, "[I] seemed to myself like one who moved in ‘worlds not realized.’" Thus Dana became one of the first to articulate the peculiar San Franciscan combination of nostalgia for a lost past and despair over an unrealized future.

The past and future are always alive here. On his first visit, Dana wrote in his notebook about the great city to come. But like many residents of SF today, he slept on the cold, hard ground.

In George Stewart’s 1949 science fiction classic Earth Abides, a mysterious disease has killed 99 percent of the Earth’s population; the main character, Ish, roams the City and East Bay until he finds a wife. Stewart’s book ends in a Twilight Zone scenario, as an old, feeble Ish — now the last living pre-plague American — watches in dismay while his illiterate offspring hunt and frolic like the Ohlone, wearing animal skins and fashioning arrowheads from bottle caps.

After a wildfire, Ish notices that a library has been spared. All the information is still in there, he thinks. "But available to whom?"

Perhaps the knowledge Ish once begged his children to learn can be found in 1970’s The Last Whole Earth Catalog. Its 450-plus yellowing Road Atlas–size pages contain terse recommendations of publications about plant identification, organic gardens, windmills, vegetable dyes, edible mushrooms, goat husbandry, and childbirth, while also sharing the fundamentals of yoga, rock climbing, making music with computers, space colonization, and — of course! — the teachings of Buckminster Fuller.

The initial Whole Earth Catalog sought to reconcile Americans’ love of nature and technology. In Counterculture Green: The Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism (University Press of Kansas, 303 pages, $34.95), author Andrew Kirk credits its creator, Stewart Brand, with bringing a sense of optimism to environmentalism. A character in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Brand embodied the cultural intersection of acid and Apple at mid-1960s Stanford University. Kirk examines Brand’s 1965 "America Needs Indians" festival, his three-day Trips Festival in 1966, and his time riding the bus as one of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.

Counterculture Green correctly suggests that Brand’s utopian lifestyle has a hold on our imagination. But Brand was a leader of the counterculture, not a revolutionary. He believed that the market economy, not political change, would usher in a better world. While today’s market — at the behest of individuals — has started to demand renewable energy or sustainable growth, it also has brought us the SUV, suburban sprawl, and the highest fuel prices in history. Apple may empower the individual — or want consumers to believe it does — but at 29, Silicon Valley has the highest concentration of Superfund sites in the country.

Brand deserves credit for intuiting the peculiar "machine in the garden" Bay Area we live in today, a place perhaps more "California Über Alles" than utopian. It’s far from the postmarket SF envisioned in Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel Ecotopia, which is set in 1999, nearly 20 years after Northern California, Oregon, and Washington have seceded from the United States to form the titular nation. A colleague of Brand’s, Callenbach bases his society on ideas from the Whole Earth Catalog, but for one major difference — Ecotopia comes into being not through the free market but through an environmental revolution. (I won’t spoil it, but here’s a hint: it starts in Bolinas!)

While Callenbach’s future sometimes resembles a mixture of the Haight Street Fair and Critical Mass, there are twists. Ancient creeks have been unearthed, and on Market Street there is a "charming series of little falls, with water gurgling and splashing, and channels lined with rocks, trees, bamboos and ferns." Ecotopians have instituted a 20-hour work week that involves dismantling dystopian relics such as gas stations. There is a surplus of food produced close to home. Materials that do not decompose are no longer used. This new world is no wilderness — it reconciles civilization and nature. Yet perhaps its most radical idea is that humans can create a utopia without help from a plague, apocalyptic war, or earthquake.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake leveled 4.7 square miles — or 508 city blocks. It destroyed 28,188 structures, including City Hall, the Hall of Justice, the Hall of Records, the County Jail, the Main Library, five police stations, and more than 40 schools. Yet strangely, many apocalyptic tomes — including recent ones such as the speculative nonfiction best-seller The World Without Us and the born-again Christian Left Behind series — are reluctant to imagine a totally destroyed San Francisco.

In contrast, Chris Carlsson’s 2004 utopian novel, After the Deluge (Full Enjoyment Books, 288 page, $13.95), suggests the City is at its most charming when at least partially in ruins, like the old cities of Europe. In Carlsson’s post-economic SF of 2157, rising sea levels from global warming submerge much of the Financial District, yet the City adapts by serving old skyscrapers — now converted into housing — with a network of canals.

After the Deluge‘s vision of reduced work, free bikes, and creeks unearthed from beneath streets borrows from Callenbach’s Ecotopia. Yet Carlsson seems to have his most fun imagining a city transformed by ruins: take a subtle comment on the Federal Building at Seventh and Market streets. In Carlsson’s map of SF circa 2157, the monstrosity that some call the Death Star is simply labeled "The Ruins."

Similarly, the photographs in After the Ruins 1906 and 2006: Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire (University of California Press, 134 pages, $24.95) appear to delight in the City’s impermanence. Mark Klett presents famous images of the smoldering city in 1906 alongside carefully shot contemporary photographs from the same vantage points. Cleverly, these images are arranged in a manner that suggests the ruins aren’t just the past but also an inevitable future.

The aftermaths of SF’s earthquakes are often described in utopian terms, as if cracks in the landscape revealed the possibility of a better world. In After the Ruins, a 1906 quake survivor remembers cooperation not seen since the days of the Ohlone:

A spirit of good nature and helpfulness prevailed and cheerfulness was common. The old and feeble were tenderly aided. Food was voluntarily divided. No one richer, none poorer than his fellow man.

In an essay accompanying After the Ruins, Rebecca Solnit recollects the 1989 earthquake similarly:

The night of the quake, the liquor store across the street held a small barbecue … I talked to the neighbors. I walked around and visited people. That night the powerless city lay for the first time in many years under a sky whose stars weren’t drowned out by electric lights.

Greta Snider’s classic early ’90s punk and bike zine Mudflap tells of a utopia for bicyclists created by the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. Until torn down, a closed-off section of damaged Interstate 280 became a bike superhighway where one could ride above the City without fear of cars. Earthquakes are seen to have utopian potential in SF, because, like protests or Critical Mass, they stop traffic. In 1991, Gulf War protestors stormed the Bay Bridge, shutting down traffic on the span for the first time since the 1989 quake. Perhaps in tribute to the utopian possibilities of both events, William Gibson’s 1993 book Virtual Light imagines a postquake-damaged Bay Bridge as a home for squatter shanties and black market stalls.

Carlsson’s new nonfiction book, Nowtopia (AK Press, 288 pages, $18.95), explores new communities springing up in the margins of capitalist society. Subtitled How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today, it looks for seeds of post-economic utopia in places such as the SF Bike Kitchen and the Open Source software movement. According to Carlsson, these communities "manifest the efforts of humans to transcend their lives as wage-slaves. They embrace a culture that rejects the market, money, and business. Engaging in technology in creative and experimental ways, the Nowtopians are involved in a guerilla war over the direction of society."

A founder of Critical Mass, Carlsson praises the biofuels movement and bicycle culture for promoting self-sufficiency through tools. With its optimism and endorsement of technology, Nowtopia occasionally evokes the Whole Earth Catalog. Yet unlike Brand’s tome, it focuses on class and how people perform work in today’s society. Carlsson finds that in their yearning for community, people will gladly perform hours of unpaid labor on behalf of something they love that they believe betters the world.

Within today’s SF, Carlsson cites Alemany Farm as an example of nowtopia. Volunteers took over an abandoned SF League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG) farm next to the Alemany Projects, farming it for several years before the City gave them official permission. "Instead of traditional political forms like unions or parties, people are coming together in practical projects," Carlsson writes. "They aren’t waiting for an institutional change from on-high, but are getting on with building the new world in the shell of the old."

Ironically, the only literature that truly envisions the complete destruction of large areas of the City are the postwar plans of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. In 1956, it began the first of two projects in the Fillmore, slashing the neighborhood in two with a widened Geary Boulevard and demolishing over 60 square blocks of housing. Some 17,500 African American and Japanese American people saw their homes bulldozed.

With their dreams of "urban renewal," the heads of SF-based corporate giants such as Standard Oil, Bechtel, Del Monte, Southern Pacific, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America reimagined the City as a utopia for big business. The language of a Wells Fargo report from the ’60s evokes the notebooks of Dana: "Geographically, San Francisco is a natural gateway for this country’s ocean-going and airborne commerce with the Pacific area nations." Likewise, Prologue for Action, a 1966 report from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association, might have been written by dystopian visionary Philip K. Dick:

If SF decides to compete effectively with other cities for new "clean" industries and new corporate power, its population will move closer to "standard White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" characteristics. As automation increases the need for unskilled labor will decrease…. The population will tend to range from lower middle-class through upper-class…. Selection of a population’s composition might be undemocratic. Influence on it, however, is legal and desirable.

This dream of turning San Francisco into a perfect world for business required that much of the existing city be destroyed. First, the colorful Produce District along the waterfront was removed in 1959, its warmth and human buzz replaced by the four identical modern hulks of the Embarcadero Center. Beginning in 1966, some 87 acres of land south of Market — including 4,000 housing units — were bulldozed to make way for office blocks, luxury hotels, and the Moscone Center.

The dark logic of the Redevelopment Agency’s plans are projected into the future in the profoundly bleak science fiction of Richard Paul Russo’s Carlucci series from the ’90s. Russo’s books are set in a 21st-century SF entirely segregated by class and health. The Tenderloin is walled off into an area where drug-addicted and diseased residents kill each other or await death from AIDS or worse. Access to all neighborhoods is restricted and even the series’ hero, stereotypical good cop Frank Carlucci, submits to a full body search in order to enter the Financial District because he lacks the necessary chip implant to be waved through checkpoints.

Russo’s nightmares have their real side today, and many dreams found in Ecotopia and the Whole Earth Catalog — composting, recycling, widespread bicycling, urban gardening, free access to information via the Internet, Green building design — have also come to pass. (There is even a growing movement to unearth creeks like the Hayes River, which runs under City Hall.) Pat Murphy’s 1989 novel, The City Not Long After, imagines these opposing visions of the city will continue even after a plague wipes out all but one-thousandth of SF’s population. In Murphy’s book, those still alive turn the City into a backdrop for elaborate art projects, weaving ribbon and lace from Macy’s across downtown streets and painting the Golden Gate Bridge blue. This artists’ utopia is threatened when an army of survivors from Sacramento marches into SF. But the last forces of America, unlike the dot-com invaders of the ’90s, prove no match for the artists, who use direct action tactics and magic to rout Sacramento in an epic showdown at Civic Center Plaza.

In Carlsson’s After the Deluge, several people enter a bar called New Spec’s on Fulton Street. The walls are covered with old SF ephemera. One character explains to Eric, a newcomer, "Its all about nostalgia, a false nostalgia." Was the City a better place before the war, before the earthquakes, or before it was even the City? So many utopian visions of the future evoke a simpler past that one wonders if believing in one is the same as longing for the other. It’s a question that would make sense, once again, to Philip K. Dick.

Perhaps no fiction about a future SF captures utopian yearning as well as Dick’s decidedly dystopian works, because his stories, though full of futuristic gadgets, are really about the ways human characters relate to them. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) is set in a radically depopulated postwar SF of 2021. The air is filled with radioactive dust and the streets are hauntingly empty as humans race to colonize Mars. Main character Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter assigned to "retire" humanlike androids, yet he’s mostly concerned about his electric sheep. Because there are almost no animals left on Earth, owning a fake one helps a striver like Deckard keep up appearances.

In 1962’s The Man in the High Castle, Dick imagines life in SF after the Nazis and Japanese have won World War II. Nostalgia haunts this story, too. Protagonist R. Childan makes his living selling rare prewar Americana to rich Japanese collectors. Not much has changed in this alternate SF, though. Market Street is still a place of "shooting galleries [and] cheap nightclubs with photos of middle-aged blondes holding their nipples between their wrinkled fingers and leering." While most utopian futures look to the past, Dick’s dystopian futures are all eerily about the present.

So how does Mr. Childan deal with the pain of living in a world where Nazis have won the war? How else? "To inspire himself, he lit up a marijuana cigarette," Dick writes, "excellent Land-O-Smiles brand."

Erick Lyle is the editor of Scam magazine. His book, On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City, is out now on Soft Skull Press.


Wed/9, 7:30 p.m.; $20 suggested donation (includes book, reading/discussion, and contribution to site)


1310 Mission, SF

(415) 626-2060

The water cure


The recently launched campaign against bottled water in restaurants — Food and Water Watch’s "Take Back the Tap" program ( — makes a number of sensible points, most of which have to do with the drastic wastefulness of bottled water. Bottled water has to be bottled, typically in plastic vessels (whose manufacture uses 17.6 million barrels of oil a year in the United States alone, according to FWW); those bottles then have to be shipped — more fossil fuel used, who knows how much? — and disposed of once they’re empty. Recycling is a noble ideal, but FWW says 86 percent of our plastic water bottles end up in landfills. Many of the rest can be found in urban gutters, along with the dead leaves.

But this is only part of the story. Of course bottled water is a socioeconomic affectation in this country; it’s an aping of a European practice that isn’t completely irrational in the old country, where there is a long tradition of waterborne illness and where many large cities still take their municipal water supplies from heavily used rivers. If you’ve ever drunk a glass of tap in Berlin, you know it’s not Evian.

These exigencies don’t apply here. But we’ve certainly been told, through relentless advertising, that bottled water is chic and somehow more healthful. Bottled water can be branded, and branding is a powerful instrument of class identity, whereas tap water is a public resource, practically free, and didn’t Ronald Reagan convince us a generation ago that if it was public it was probably bad? Even if municipal water doesn’t give you cholera, it won’t confer social standing on you either, not the way a bottle of Voss will.

Tap water in this basic sense is part of the commonweal, the public square, which free-market evangelists have spent several decades trying to cut up and sell off to private interests. Doubtless there are those who would charge us for breathing if they could figure out how. This is why choosing tap over bottled in a public setting is a statement of political as well as environmental awareness. We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to drink it anymore!

Suggestion to restaurants: don’t even tell patrons you have bottled water, if you do. Treat it like tobacco: legal but neither preferred nor promoted. Maybe those who insist on bottled water should be obliged to join the smokers outside.

Paul Reidinger


Where to now, SFPUC?



Months after Mayor Gavin Newsom announced his intention to get rid of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission general manager Susan Leal, his appointees on the SFPUC board finally made if official on Feb. 20.

But the reasons for the previously unexplained move that have finally started coming from Newsom and his surrogates have only added to the confusion and concern over why Leal got canned and whether Newsom has compromised this important agency’s work for political reasons.

Leal was terminated without cause and is thus entitled to the $400,000 severance package from the contract Newsom used to convince her to move from city treasurer to SFPUC chief in 2004. Nonetheless, in the days leading up to the Feb. 20 hearing, the Mayor’s Office made a series of unsubstantiated allegations, including the claim that Leal botched negotiations with JPower over combustion turbines in Potrero Hill, that she was too much of a political animal and not enough of a team player, and that she didn’t focus enough on Newsom’s environmental initiatives like tidal power.

At first, Leal tried to handle her termination gracefully: for example, she told the Guardian that tidal power "is really expensive, doesn’t generate much power, and is a difficult process to get approved, environmentally speaking."

But then Newsom told reporters that city officials had discussed terminating Leal for cause, so that the SFPUC could avoid paying her severance, but eventually decided against it to avoid potentially expensive litigation costs. At that point, with the implication that she had done something wrong, Leal’s gloves came off.

"I really wanted to go out on the high road," Leal told us after Newsom’s latest allegations hit. "It’s unfortunate that the Mayor had to resort to 11th hour innuendo to try and justify what he did."

Leal notes that city officials never undertook a performance evaluation of Leal or the SFPUC, which would usually form the basis for an expensive effort to remove a high-profile public official. So why did Newsom really dump Leal?

Was it her creation of public power projects that earned her the scorn of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.? Was it her environmental initiatives, ranging from a biofuels program to a ban on bottled water, which seemed to show up Newsom? Was it the fact that she was a strong and independent woman in a male-dominated political landscape?

One clue can be found during the agency’s Nov. 14, 2007, meeting — just before Newsom announced he wanted Leal gone — in which SFPUC president Dick Sklar ripped into Barbara Hale, the assistant general manager for power, after she made a presentation on the agency’s long-term energy goals.

Sklar objected to Hale’s presentation, claiming, "It implied adoption of principles stating that the SFPUC was going to be in the public power business and take over public power generation in the city, making statement of principles totally inconsistent with anything the commission had adopted."

Equally disturbing to staff was the abusive way Sklar delivered his message.

"It was very painful," Leal told us. "It got so bad I had to intervene. I’m not going to allow my staff to be yelled at."

At issue was the agency’s plan to underground gas lines in Bernal Heights and extend its transmission lines, which Leal described as "a gimme. We have the easement all up the peninsula."

Beyond her openly pro–public power stance, Leal speculated that her friendly working relationship with the Board of Supervisors, including board president Aaron Peskin and Sups. Bevan Dufty and Sophie Maxwell, tweaked the mayor, who at times has seemed to have a personal vendetta against his former board colleagues.

"Maybe the mayor thinks that I’m too close with them. But we did more than just talk about climate change. We actually addressed it," said Leal, who convened a world-renowned climate change conference in San Francisco last year — on the same day Newsom was confronted by his then campaign manager Alex Tourk about the affair Newsom had with Tourk’s wife, Newsom’s commission appointments secretary Ruby Rippey-Tourk.

"Why am I fighting back, not going quietly?" said Leal, whose removal is effective March 21. "Because this is too big not to. I actually really like this job and will be going in to work for the next 30 days."

Addressing allegations that she mismanaged the JPower negotiations, Leal explained that PUC staff drew up a term sheet with JPower and presented it to the commission’s governing body. And it was at that point, said Leal, "that Commissioner Sklar popped off," claiming that the contract’s terms were terrible and should be renegotiated.

In the end, all five commissioners approved a description of the contemplated transaction with JPower, including a brief description of Sklar’s preferred alternative, which, as it turned out, had problems of its own.

"So, there never was a deal," Leal told us. "JPower was pushing the city to pay more money up front because it knows PG&E will do everything it can to make the implementation of JPower’s contract tough, and the city was pushing to pay the money later and so reduce its own risks."

Today, the PUC continues to work with JPower on a contract that has taken years to formulate and that, Leal notes, will ultimately allow the city to own the plant.

"So, if we want to shut it down, or run it on alternative fuel, we’ll have control," Leal told us. "My goal was to make the PUC as viable and green as possible."

She believes Sklar didn’t turn against her leadership until she started to push things that infringed on PG&E’s monopoly. "Did PG&E get me fired? If I was PG&E, I’d want me fired," Leal said.

Maxwell is a strong advocate of the Newark-to–San Francisco transmission line Leal sought, not just because it would help reduce environmental burdens in Maxwell’s heavily polluted southeast district but also because it would give the entire City more ability to bring in cleaner power.

"We could do large-scale solar in the Central Valley, as well as wind and geothermal energy. It would allow us to hook renewable power into statewide grid," Leal said, noting that the link would also allow the city to import the electricity it generates at Hetch Hetchy without using PG&E’s expensive lines.

Leal noted that under her leadership, the PUC tripled the city’s municipal solar generation. "But we don’t control residential solar. PG&E does," she said, noting the city is lagging at getting solar panels on homes but leading at doing in on public buildings. "It’s too bad PG&E couldn’t have made it easier for people."

Maxwell says she’ll miss Leal.

"I don’t think we’re going to be better off without her," Maxwell told us. "Susan is independent, a straight shooter, a grown up woman trying to make a difference and listening to all sides. She knew we had to be involved regionally. She also understood we have to have relationships with both sides of the hall."

Convinced that PG&E had something to do with Leal’s demise, Maxwell also believes the stinky sewage digesters, which sit down the road from her own house, need to be removed, not retrofitted, as Sklar recently advocated.

"The digesters need to go," Maxwell told the Guardian. "No other place in the nation, to my knowledge, has digesters within 25 feet of people’s homes."

Noting that Controller Ed Harrington, whom Newsom has nominated as the next general manager of the PUC, has a financial background, Maxwell says the question of what to do with the digesters should not be about money.

"We need to do the best we can for people, in the most economic and financially prudent was possible, but people must come first, "Maxwell told us.

Maxwell said these recent power struggles at the PUC convinced her to join seven other Supervisors in placing a charter amendment on the June ballot that will make it easier for supervisors to block mayoral appointees to the agency and will also require that PUC nominees have appropriate awareness and skills.

With a proposed $4.3 billion program in the works to upgrade the aging Hetch Hetchy system, which provides water to 2.4 million Bay Area residents, will the newly nominated Harrington be able to address water conservation, efficiency and recycling, without causing further harm to the Tuolumne River — all while dealing with battles over public power and wastewater concerns?

Noting that he began his City Hall career as Assistant General Manager for Finance at the PUC, a position he held for seven years before becoming City Controller 17 years ago, Harrington told us, "This is not the perfect way to walk into a position. Susan and I are old friends, she’s been very gracious, and has made it known that I had nothing to do with her removal. And I’m trying to be gracious. There’s no need to criticize her."

Leal, who calls Harrington a friend, said she believes Harrington "will push a little bit, but how much independence he can take and preserve remains the question."

Neither Sklar nor representatives from the Mayor’s Office returned calls from the Guardian. But Sup. Chris Daly, who saved Sklar’s neck by leaving the board one vote short of the supermajority required to reject a PUC mayoral appointee, told us, "I don’t think Sklar is Newsom’s tool. He’s bigger than that. If I thought he was not independent from PG&E, I wouldn’t have voted from him."

In fact, he said perceived lack of PG&E independence was why he joined seven other supervisors in voting against reappointing Ryan Brooks, who Newsom then nominated to the Planning Commission on the same day Leal was fired.

Climate change teach-in



GREEN CITY For Van Jones, going green is not just about buying a Prius, putting a solar panel on a vacation home, or purchasing groceries at Whole Foods, which he calls Whole Paycheck. It’s also about training former gangsters in green-collar jobs, equitably distributing toxic waste sites, and bringing organic produce into urban ghettos.

According to the Oakland activist, who cofounded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (see "Redefining Radicalism," 9/19/06), there is a serious social injustice on the horizon, and the fight against it may just be the next great political movement in the United States.

Speaking Jan. 30 at San Francisco State University’s teach-in on climate change, Jones called on students to be the next great generation by recognizing that the environmental crisis presents the biggest opportunity for poor people and minorities since the New Deal. Today it seems such grandiose statements calling an entire generation to action tend to lack an inspired audience. However, no one could deny Jones was onto something big after the packed crowd in Jack Adams Hall erupted in an ovation after his challenge to students to make history by addressing poverty and the environment together.

Green pathways out of poverty was just one topic discussed during the SFSU segment of "Focus the Nation" — billed as the nation’s largest-ever teach-in, with more than 1,500 schools and universities participating. The nationally coordinated event aimed to create one day of focused discussion on global warming solutions for the US. Throughout the day expert panels at SFSU discussed green efforts in their respective fields with an underlying message of public involvement.

Keynote speaker Michael Glantz of the National Center for Atmospheric Research jumped on the generational bandwagon, predicting the 21st century would be remembered as the climate century. However, Glantz stressed public pressure would be crucial, as lessons learned about the environment are generally not used during policy making. He cited detailed studies conducted in the early 1970s of melting arctic sea ice due to anthropogenic causes.

When asked how he would reply to arguments that humans aren’t causing climate change, Glantz noted the success of the environmental movement in marginalizing these beliefs: "I don’t think we need to spend time now dealing with the skeptics when Exxon and Shell are worried about global warming."

Faculty from the SFSU geography and geosciences departments presented new trends in climate change data and modeling, focusing on predictions for California. The panel reported the state’s average temperature is on the rise. Even with the best estimates for halting global warming, the Sierra Mountains are expected to lose 40 percent of their snowpack over the next 100 years. Agricultural production and quality in the Central Valley are also expected to decline, as some plants will not get the chill period they need.

Geography professor Andrew Oliphant worked with students to create a carbon footprint calculator for attendees to use throughout the day. Oliphant said the calculator was tailor-made specifically for the event so attendees could analyze their daily habits.

Students were also present throughout the event to answer questions on an informative poster display. The posters depicted breakdowns of greenhouse gases, rising sea levels in the Bay Area, and the formation of acid rain.

Erin Rodgers, an environmental advocate with the California Union of Concerned Scientists, discussed green policies at the state level. Rodgers focused on California’s groundbreaking initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a cut of about 30 percent from current levels.

Experts have established detailed plans on how to reach the target reduction, with a large focus on transportation, although the California Air Resources Board has yet to embrace a comprehensive plan that will get anywhere close to the goals it is charged with meeting.

Cal Broomhead, climate programs manager at the San Francisco Department of the Environment, spoke on local green efforts. He praised the city for keeping the same levels of greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 and its continued use of the "Fab 3" composting and recycling program.

Broomhead also stressed the importance of furthering environmental education efforts: "Through education we can get people to adopt pro-green technologies and behaviors. Once you have the last remaining stragglers, then you can require them to participate through law."

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian‘s weekly environmental column, can be sent to

Band together for 21 Grand



SONIC REDUCER "Fuck New York. I can stick it out longer. I’ve got a masochistic streak!"

Cue divine, mad laughter. No, this isn’t a disgruntled renter pushed out by another owner move-in or a painter or sculptor resisting the draw of the trad national marketplace — the speaker is Sarah Lockhart, who runs 21 Grand, the jeopardized arts nonprofit and music space around the corner from the Mama Buzz Café, Johansson Projects, and other galleries participating in the insanely popular monthly Art Murmur walk set in what has become the grassroots-art epicenter of Oakland and the East Bay at large.

Going on seven and a half years downtown, Lockhart has been toiling in the trenches of ambitious music and arts programming longer than most. But in the past few weeks she and partner Darren Jenkins have had to close the doors and move shows after a troubling visit by the Alcohol Beverage Action Team, a unit of the Oakland Police Department that also ushered in the closure of underground music venues like the French Fry Factory and Oaklandish. "My thing is to work on this and fight it," the ever-feisty Lockhart continues. "We’re actually going to stay open and maybe provide inspiration for others. I want to have at least 10 years, because Tonic in New York City closed — they lasted nine years — but we’re still here." She chuckles, contemputf8g her tenacity and the vaunted East Coast experimental music club, which closed in April. "I get competitive about weird things! No money, lots of work — let’s see how long it takes before I totally burn out. This is our form of an endurance test."

Consider their current gauntlet the latest in the uncanny, imaginative struggle to provide a place for visual artists, film and video makers, poets, and, notably, musicians — working in every esoteric, noisy, experimental, rockish, improvy, and otherwise unclassifiable stripe — to show, speak, or sound out. Some of the best live music shows I caught in 2007 were at their space: Marnie Stern, the Gowns, the High Places, Lucky Dragons, and Breezy Days Band, which made the programming there the best in Oakland, if not in the running for tops in the Bay. Lockhart and Jenkins have survived nightmare landlords and condo push-outs — first at 21 Grand Avenue, then on 23rd Street — but this new challenge has to be their most frustratingly Kafkaesque.

On Dec. 1, ABAT officials were looking into Shashamane Bar and Grill, whose kitchen door shares the alley entrance with 21 Grand. The latter was closing for the night after a performance. Recycling buckets with empty beer bottles, a tip jar, and a cooler led one of the visitors to give Lockhart a card, saying, she recalls, "We don’t want you to have any problems in the future." Lockhart was alarmed enough to put a halt to most of December’s shows, explaining, "I’m 33 years old. I feel like I’m too old to risk horrible fines from the department and have to call my mother and say, ‘I have a fine for $10,000 — can you lend me money?’ That’s how things began, and then the ball started rolling and things started escautf8g."

It wasn’t enough for Lockhart to simply apply for a cabaret license; she had to navigate a bureaucratic maze of Byzantine proportions while she attempted to get special-event permits from the police in order to continue to put on a few larger shows by artists like Zeena Parkins and Eugene Chadbourne, which led to efforts to get approval from the fire and building departments. "For all they know, we’re a large firetrap that has raves for 4,000 people, so they weren’t signing off on anything," says the exasperated Lockhart, who recently put in 40 to 70 hours of footwork on paperwork and approvals. The nonprofit has been organizing shows for years using grants from the city, but 21 Grand’s hard-to-define, multidisciplinary programming has puzzled bureaucrats.

Still, the onetime Artists’ Television Access programmer is hoping that the few helpful city officials she’s encountered, who are familiar with the closure of spaces like Oakland Metro, can help the nonprofit. Lockhart wants to resume shows next month beginning with a Tom Carter and David Daniell performance Jan. 10, and in the meantime she’s trying to maintain a sense of humor: "the irony is not lost" on her that their recent fundraiser had to be moved to someone’s home and that new legislation allowing the Fox Theatre to be redeveloped as a live-entertainment venue within 300 feet of a school, library, or church might help 21 Grand, which has had its share of developer travails, to get a cabaret permit for their present spot near a Presbyterian church.

Going the private-club route like the 924 Gilman Street Project or heading underground isn’t an option. "Our goal is to have 21 Grand actually have a public presence," Lockhart says. "I want to do something that’s advertised and open to the public so a kid in bumfuck nowhere can see something about it and say, ‘This is cool. I’ll go to this.’ " *



The onetime Bay Area soul-funk-blues cult legend rolls into town — though not in his mythical ivory Rolls. With Nino Moschella and Wallpaper. Wed/19, 8 p.m., $10. Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF.


Welcome back the ex-Bay guitar-picking virtuoso as he plays with keyboarist Erik Deutsch and drummer Scott Amendola, and sit back and marvel alongside an audience of hotshots like Kirk Hammett. Wed/19–Sat/22, 8 and 10 p.m.; Sun/23, 7 and 9 p.m.; $16–$24. Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakl.


The proudly hippie group reassembles — surf or no surf — for butt-shaking holiday sets. Fri/21–Sat/22, 9 p.m., $20. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF.


Take a hit off the bongos of this local experimento-psych combo. With Top Critters and NVH. Sat/22, 9:30 p.m., $6. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF.