We CAN’T do this


View from Turrets.png
The view from my classroom. Yes, life was good.

So yeah, I went to one of those “liberal New England colleges” that connote images of foliage and cute boys in tartan plaid scarves…but most of the 250 kids on my campus were sporting threads from the “free box” or swimming naked off the pier during lunch break. College of the Atlantic is not like other schools…at all. It’s more of an experiment in what happens when you mix education with extreme environmentalism. Recycling, composting, making fuel from veggie oil, eating local food, building sustainable structures — it’s all old news for them. For almost 40 years they’ve been practicing and preaching so much of what’s encompassed by the year’s biggest buzzword — “green.”

Plenty (It’s easy being green!) Magazine just profiled my alma mater, and as I was scrolling through the article online, up came an advertisement for Pacific Gas & Electric. “We can do this” it read, with a cute little wind turbine graphic.

What business — I ask you, I deeply ask you — does a Northern California utility company that gets most of its energy from burning fossil fuels and nuclear power have advertising in a New York-based magazine profiling a miniscule hippie school in downeast Maine?

Pollution for truth? Egads!


By Benedict Sinclair

SF Tea Party for 9/11 Truth
Dec. 16, 1pm
Pier 39

Hoo, boy — here come the truth fetishists. They’re still groping away at that mirage in the distance where we all get to know what actually happened on 9/11, who was behind it, and how to claim the tragedy for political means in order to replace one lame duck for another in that most outmoded of positions, “American president”. The Boston Tea Party is slated to become another terribly misused reference to successful protest in this, its 234th anniversary, as activists try to gather angry Americans not sold on the media’s representation of the World Trade Center bombings at both Bostonian and San Franciscan docks. Attendants are asked to dress in colonial attire—preferably from the late 18th Century (leave the pith helmet at home, Grandpa)—and to bring fifes and drums, presumably for their distracting novelty value.

Not exactly recycling, but ….

“Proclamations” will be made denouncing such garbage as the 9/11 Commission Report, PATRIOT Act, Military Commissions Act, and just the broad, general notion of all-around tyranny. “Genuine” investigation, accountability and impeachment will be called for. The final act of protest will be a mass dumping of cardboard and bleached paper—a series of large, corny replicas of the actual published work being protested—into that precious natural resource: the San Francisco Bay. At least they could make ash of the boxes first, like they’re doing in Milwaukee, and in a slightly more tasteful and harmless move stick to dumping spent carbon instead.

Yes, let’s all wheel a bunch of junk effigies down to the bay and dump them in the water in a game of dress-up, all on the basis that errors can be found in each account given on the attacks, which isn’t exactly the most surprising turn of events since the trial in Rashomon.

Are high-rises green?



GREEN CITY High-rises are popping up fast in San Francisco, altering the skyline from one month to the next. But are these giants environmentally friendly? Do they make San Francisco more green or less?

One of the major advantages of using tall buildings in city design is the potential to reduce suburban sprawl: building up instead of out lessens the demand for single-family homes, creates dense neighborhoods where cars aren’t needed, and allows for more open spaces to be preserved.

Additionally, the concentration of people in high-rise clusters encourages the creation of acceptable transit systems. "The high density of high-rise neighborhoods — whether residential, office, or mixed-use — creates the necessary population density to support efficient transit service, allowing people to take transit rather than drive," said Lisa M. Feldstein, a local affordable-housing consultant who grew up in a residential high-rise in New York City’s East Harlem. "The reason that bus service is poor in suburbs and rural areas is not that people in those areas don’t like transit. It’s that the population isn’t sufficiently dense to support a fast, frequent, and efficient transit system, so people can’t rely on it."

Density puts demands on transportation, but that doesn’t guarantee public transit use. When people working in city centers like San Francisco can’t afford to live there, that can create cross-commute situations that clog big-city roadways, which may be even more environmentally damaging than suburban-style development. In fact, San Franciscans drive to work alone more than they use public transportation to get there, according to a 2006 US Census Bureau study.

High-density residents tend to use fewer resources than their low-density counterparts. Because walls, pipes, and other materials are shared, it can take less energy, for example, to heat a high-rise unit than a single family home.

But high-rises use energy in ways that single-family homes don’t — for example, in thousands of elevator trips from top to bottom every day. According to a study found on the US Department of Energy’s Web site, elevators consume up to 10 percent of the total energy used to maintain tall buildings. Furthermore, these buildings are usually climate controlled (in part to counteract the heat created by their elevators), whereas opening and closing windows can more effectively regulate temperatures in single-family houses and low-rise units. High-rise buildings also include common areas that often leave lights burning 24 hours a day.

Not having private yards in high-rises reduces the water and the toxic chemicals used to maintain them and forces people into public spaces. But there is another environmental cost to this void, said Lisa Katz, a planner with Design, Community and Environment in Berkeley. "People living in high-rises have less connection to the land; for example, they can’t grow their own food," she said. Raising food sources in agricultural communities and exporting them to cities uses exorbitant amounts of energy in the form of fuel and packaging.

High-rises, however, have the potential to achieve the highest level of green building ratings, according to Maria Ayerdi, executive director of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which on Sept. 20 approved the proposal for the new Transbay Transit tower, which will be the tallest building on the West Coast. "In tall buildings there are creative efficiency, recycling, and energy-generating opportunities that may not be possible in smaller buildings," she said. In fact, several high-rises around the country have been built according to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification standards, which demand energy and resource efficiency.

But Calvin Welch, a local housing activist, said it is "virtually impossible to conceive a green-materials building of any sort" that would meet the seismic requirements of high-rises in San Francisco. These include the use of "heroic construction techniques" involving extraenforced foundations to build on "Bay Area mud," high-tinsel steel, which is packed with carbon and takes loads of energy to produce (often using coal or gas ovens), and thousands of gallons of diesel for the transportation of materials to the city center.

"This is one of the most disastrous building techniques of mankind," Welch said of high-rise housing, noting that "the environmental debt, even if compensated by solar panels, etc., is too great." *

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

Bourgie but blameless


Intrepid intern Soo Oh checks out custom countertops that are going to save the world.

By Soo Oh

Eco-friendly home improvement couldn’t get classier than Vetrazzo. And by “classier,” I mean “glassier.” (I can’t believe I just wrote that. Intern, get me some coffee! Wait. I am the intern. Damn.) Eight-five percent of Vetrazzo’s smooth surfaces are made from recycled glass, the largest source of the company’s sources coming from neighborhood curbside recycling programs. The rest of the surfaces are bound with a special blend of “cement, additives, pigments and other recycled materials such as fly ash — a waste by-product of coal burning power plants,” according to the web site, which also says that manmade stone countertops contain petroleum-based resin (!).

This color is called Glass House. Make up the rich-people joke for yourself…

Scavenging’s new spirit



>>Click here to check out our Style 2007 Guide

It’s a warm September night, and I’m standing in a crowded art gallery in South San Francisco, staring at a metal octopus that moves its tentacles when you press a button. In many ways, it’s like every other reception I’ve been to: a table with snacks and wine, a healthy feeling of snobbery in the air, and a swath of hipsters blocking my view of everything. But as I walk around I notice some differences. The smell of decomposing flesh, the sound of heavy machinery, the walk-in "free shed," dozens of trash cans, and the mounds of refuse on the horizon all suggest that I’m standing in the middle of a landfill. Which, well, I am. It’s the site of the art exhibition "Waste Deep," by Nemo Gould, the San Francisco Dump’s artist in residence. And what’s most striking? I feel completely at home.

After spending most of September with junk collectors, vintage clothing nerds, and art diggers, I’m now completely accustomed to wallowing in trash and noticing freebies. For example, before driving to the SF Dump this evening I ate free baked goods at the X-rated Cake Gallery in SoMa, scrounged through leftovers at an estate sale in Bernal Heights, and knocked back pints of free Pabst at Broken Record in the Excelsior.

Yes, friends, I have become a bona fide freeloader. But like my newfound partners in grime I shun the connotations of the term. I choose instead to see myself as a sort of hip cultural revolutionary, one of the loose band of entrepreneurs and artists I’ve met over the past month who shamelessly revel in their personal gain because, at the end of the day, they know they’re "working" for a good cause. Not only are we getting a lot of cool free shit, but we’re also helping to transform the traditional hippy-dippy recycle-reuse-redistribute ethos into something more refreshing.

The freestyle movement is growing. Freeganism, a ragtag philosophy of cost-free living in a gift economy, has gained some national attention of late — especially in these economically challenging times — and the freegan ethos incubated in San Francisco, where groups like the Diggers gave away food during the ’60s. This city knows a thing or two about priceless give-and-take. And thanks to the freegan types I’ve been hanging out with, I now look at scavenging as an art form, a party, and a necessary lifestyle, one that has more to do with fashion, art, music, booze, and friendly competition than with fighting world hunger, globalization, or the war machine. Oh, most scavengers are concerned with all of that too, but creating awareness (about irresponsible consumption and the effects of wastefulness on the environment and humanity) is the fortunate by-product of the lifestyle, rather than its focus — which is, of course, copping free stuff.


My journey from a life spent paying to consume to one consumed by the pursuit of freebies began two years ago, when I moved into a new building in the Mission. My neighbor was Aaron Schirmer — a reclusive artist who lives in a world of secondhand designer denim, seminew Macintosh computers, and used sound systems — whom I’d occasionally run into on my way to buy cigarettes and Jim Beam. Usually we’d smile and nod. But one day while he sat smoking on the stoop, he flagged me down. "Check out what I found today," he said.

At his side sat a large bag of American Apparel man panties and a crate of old-school electro cassettes. When I asked where they’d come from, he rambled on about free markets, dumpsters, and swap meets. Then he stopped abruptly, fished for the keys to his house, and said, "Here, I’ll show you."

I followed him into a hallway lined with half-finished paintings and strategically cracked mirrors, through a ’50s-style kitchen, and into his living room. In the corner, beneath a dangling gold and green Eames-style lamp, sat a 50-inch color television. His bedroom walls were lined with random bric-a-brac and outsider art, and his couch was a row of velvet-lined theater seats. Schirmer spread his arms and did his best Vanna White. "Here it is," he said. "I found all of this shit on the streets. People leave piles everywhere, and I just roam around all day and pick through them."

I quickly fell into a routine with Schirmer, a retired world-traveling DJ who now spends his days spinning rare records, tending his garden, and scavenging. I would come over to his house after work, crack a beer, and check out his finds, occasionally claiming certain items for myself. We’d then scroll through the Free section on Craigslist to devise a tentative map for the following day’s scavenge. I rarely had time to join him on his daily hunts, but I quickly learned that the free pot is virtually bottomless. And I was hooked.

These days I roam the neighborhood (corporate dumpsters are always a good bet) or scour the Internet anytime I need something. On my most recent search I found a stuffed bunny, a six-foot-tall stack of records, a pair of cowboy boots, and — I shit you not — Sharon Stone’s old couch. But I’m no expert. Anyone can search a Web site, but it takes a true connoisseur, someone like Kelly Malone, to build a business from scavenging.


Malone, cofounder of the Mission Indie Mart, spent 10 years climbing the retail ladder at places like the Gap and Limited until she worked her way up to a glamorous life as a traveling designer. But then tragedy struck — in the form of ovarian cancer and its debilitating treatment process — and she had to quit. After spending the first few days of her indefinite vacation watching television, drinking too much at the Phone Booth, and watching old movies, she decided to revisit an old hobby: scavenging. "I just started over and kept positive," Malone said. "When I wasn’t sick from the chemo, I was trash-picking for cool stuff to sew and reconstruct." Malone began meticulously scouring estate sales, flea markets, and garage sales for that perfect owl clock or a one-of-a-kind sundress. She also got into interior and exterior design, grabbing spare paint and building materials off the streets, then enlisting her friends to help construct a backyard oasis.

Soon, though, Malone’s home had morphed into a retro junk museum. Her backyard was now dotted with old benches, barbecue grills, sculptures, and a sound system. Clothes were spilling out all over the place, and she had enough paint to cover a mansion. It was time to expand.

Malone began taking her stuff down to the flea market in South San Francisco. She set up a booth with music and goodies, offered free beer and hot dogs to friends, and spent whole weekends selling dolled-up vintage goods and making friends with others who did the same. It was there that she struck up a business relationship with Charles Hurbert, a public relations representative at a marketing firm who has a penchant for outsider art and found fashion. Soon Malone and Hurbert combined forces and decided to look beyond sanctioned venues. Malone’s backyard beckoned. The Mission Indie Mart was born.

The first mart went off without a hitch. Malone and Hurbert invited swap meet–interested friends to set up booths in Malone’s backyard. Cheapo flyers were designed, beer was purchased and resold at cost, and reimagined found apparel was offered for sale. It was a thrifty one-off that felt like an illegal rave, and people loved it. Mission District locals swarmed Malone’s backyard and nearly bought up her entire inventory. When she held it again the next month, the mart was even more successful and attracted more people — so many that her landlord threatened to evict her. So Malone sought sponsors and a new venue. The next Mission Indie Mart will be at 12 Galaxies and will feature a set by DJ Lovedust, extremely cheap Stella Artois, and an even bigger collection of vendors.

The mart’s success suggests that this model benefits its founders, who make some income from the event, and attendees, who get cheap goods, as much as it does San Francisco’s thriving community of independent designers, vintage-clothing dealers, and the recycling-scavenging movement in general. Malone and Hurbert are proving again that with a little effort and creativity, free shit can be turned into gold.


That’s also what Jason Lewis and Monica Hernandez, the founders of SwapSF, are doing at CELLspace — but for them the party and the product are more important than the money.

The couple started SwapSF a few years ago as a way to poach their friends’ unwanted apparel. "I had this friend who owned like a million pairs of limited-edition sneakers that he never wore," Lewis said. "The swap idea started as a way for me to get my hands on some of them." So Hernandez and Lewis, who have been throwing events since they met at a party five years ago, did what came naturally: they drew up a flyer, bought a bunch of cheap beer and pizza, and invited their friends to get down.

The idea has taken off, as I witnessed Sept. 22 when I threw a few shirts, a pair of pants, and some old hats in a bag and pedaled down to Bryant and 18th Street to volunteer at their recent event, the Most Hyperbolically Stupendous Clothing Swap Ever. It was to be a win-win situation: a little time in exchange for first dibs at free clothes. I arrived at CELLspace at 11 a.m. to find a DJ spinning downtempo hip-hop, a handful of kids sorting through bags, and Hernandez, who greeted me with a smile, a name badge, and a beer. I’d envisioned spending a leisurely afternoon sipping beer provided by Trumer Pilsner (the event sponsor) with about a hundred other scavengers, and the day seemed to be turning out that way.

But neither I nor the organizers were quite prepared for the four-hour clusterfuck that awaited us. Soon the volunteers were drowning in a mile-high volcano of pants, shirts, scarves, and underwear. By noon, the event’s official start time, a line wound around 19th Street. At 12:30 p.m. the place was packed. It was as if every hipster in the Mission had gotten wind of an opportunity for free music, beer, and dancing and had gathered up their unwanted clothes to join the party — a party that happened to result in free clothing for charity organizations like A Woman’s Place, the AIDS Emergency Fund, and San Francisco General Hospital.


Since starting in Lewis and Hernandez’s apartment and then relocating, the SwapSF event has become so popular that it’s getting hard to handle. Even the duo have been surprised by its sudden and exponential growth. It seems that by using sarcastic graphic design on their flyers, guerrilla promotion techniques (word of mouth, stickers, blogs, etc.), and a refrigerator full of beer, Hernandez and Lewis have tapped into a new way to market charity events to a community of self-obsessed hipsters. Like Malone, the SwapSF duo see something wrong with the way our culture consumes and wastes, but they’re reluctant to jump on a soapbox — or even stand close to one.

Which may be why their parties have been garnering more attention and support than have the more traditional free markets that have been held across the nation for years. Malone and her contemporaries are creating awareness with no pretenses, no preaching, and no Hacky Sack–playing hippies. They are nurturing a world of gift exchange that speaks to a new generation of recyclers who enjoy the selfish thrills of scoring, a good party, and daytime drinking more than — or at least as much as — the satisfaction people find in collective self-sacrifice and charity.

Even San Francisco Dump artist Nemo Gould isn’t making his garbage art purely, or even mostly, as a political statement. "By virtue of it being made out of garbage, my art does make a statement about waste and overconsumption," Gould said. "But that’s not what it’s really about." Although Gould sees the danger in the complex environmental situations that create places like the SF Dump, his desire to work there had more to do with personal satisfaction than with changing the world. The dump’s Artist in Residence Program offers one of the most coveted positions in the city because it guarantees lifelong access to free garbage.

"There’s a scavenger spirit," Gould said. "Whoever has it is compelled to collect. Whatever comes after that is up to the scavenger."

The scavenger spirit is currently creating a subculture. Like skateboarders who view the city’s byways as a concrete playground, the new breed of scavengers looks at the urban environment from a different perspective. In their eyes the streets of San Francisco are aisles in a seven-mile-by-seven-mile warehouse of free shit. Their primary goal is to decorate their homes with one-of-a-kind furniture, dress their bodies in fly gear, and pad their pocketbooks, all while avoiding overdraft charges and, on the side, helping to generate awareness. In their separate and edgy styles, Gould, Malone, Hernandez, Lewis, and Schirmer have managed to turn this spirit into a lifestyle that doesn’t alienate people with its self-righteousness. I mean, everyone wants free shit, right? Who can’t relate to that?


There’s a fine line between scavenging to make a statement and being a straight-up freeloader. Luckily, it’s up to the individual to decide exactly where that line is drawn. Here are some resources for learning more about the score.


Information about strategies for sustainable living beyond capitalism; includes freegan hot spots in San Francisco.


A monthly alternate-economy festival and a really good place to get rid of your old stuff.


Kelly Malone and Charles Hurbert’s unique party take on the freegan ethos.


Jason Lewis and Monica Hernandez’s fabulous swap bonanza.


A list of every open bar, happy hour, and extremely cheap alcohol event in the city.


A cross between MySpace and Yelp that focuses entirely on events, including a free section featuring happy hours, art openings, and concert ticket giveaways.


Official city site for recycling, disposal, and reuse information.


Learn about our city’s unique take on garbage and strategies for recycling.


An art foundation dedicated to transforming trash into interactive public sculptures.


Mission Indie Mart cofounder Hurbert blogs his best scavenger finds.


The latest artist in residence at the SF Dump has been making cool stuff from garbage for years.

Feast: 7 homey hearths


Amber is my living room, and not just because I really like Pabst Blue Ribbon and smoking inside. It’s also because I live in a city where rents are high and living space is scarce, where community rooms are shared with multiple people (if there are community rooms at all), and backyards tend only to be big enough for the recycling bin. In suburban places, people share community and comfort around backyard barbecue pits and luxurious living-room couches. They have dinner parties and cocktail hours and invite friends over for tea. But here, we go to bars and restaurants and taverns and coffee shops. These are the places where we meet our neighbors, celebrate special occasions, while away idle hours, have intense conversations. And so, in many ways, these places — particularly those in our neighborhoods — become extensions of our homes and hearths. As the cold weather approaches (global warming willing), I’ve been thinking more about the literal interpretation of hearth; Amber serves me for late-night writing sessions and drunken postdate tell-alls, but where will I go when I want to curl up with a hot chocolate — or a hot toddy — and a long Russian novel? When I want to play Trivial Pursuit late into the cold night with a small group of good friends? When the weather outside is frightful and my date is so delightful? Where, by god, are the fireplaces? In this city of Edwardian apartments retrofitted with gas heaters (and roomies who have to get up early), here is a list of places with flickering flames and belly-warming booze.


I don’t think the Irish invented the fireplace, but they may have the patent on its best use. Wood paneling? A flaming heat source? Thick beer and hot soup? All Irish pubs seem to have ’em — and this Irish-style Richmond locale is no different. Stumbling into the Bitter End feels a bit like wandering into an O’Malley’s or a McSweeney’s in any country in the world — and with items like shepherd’s pie, Gaelic chicken with whiskey, and beer-battered appetizers on the menu, it’s almost like wandering into one in Ireland itself.

441 Clement, SF. (415) 221-9538


Sometimes you want cozy and kooky all in the same shot — and those are the times you end up at McKenzie’s. This small local favorite is half neighborhood bar in a mountain town (downstairs) and half cheap hostel (upstairs). Either way, it’s charming: small tables cluster around a fireplace over which a flat-screen television broadcasts sports, a jukebox blasts cheesy-but-lovable ’80s hits, and a live-feed video camera in the upstairs lounge, its images visible to every patron downstairs, lends itself to endless prank possibilities.

5320 Geary, SF. (415) 379-6814


Wanting no frills in Nob Hill? Try Zeki’s, which boasts two fireplaces — one by the pool table and one directly across from the leather-lined bar. With paraphernalia from old movies lining the walls and a good selection of European beers on tap, you’ll quickly see why this is a favorite spot for both old-school regulars and just-stumbled-in newbies.

1319 California, SF. (415) 928-0677,


If ever there were a place that personified hearth, it would be John Barleycorn, the little mountain lodge in the city that’s in danger of disappearing by November. This is the place to order strong whiskey from a salty but jovial bartender, to sip it while sitting on church pews in front of roaring flames, to break out a game of rummy or Scrabble (housed in a cozy room behind the chimney) long after you’d already planned to go home.

1415 Larkin, SF. (415) 771-1620


A cross between a dive bar and a swanky hipster joint, this Sunset watering hole embodies the schizophrenia of its up-and-coming neighborhood. Which seems to be fine with the down-to-earth drinkers who perch on leather couches around the neon-lit fireplace that anchors the room’s otherwise understated decor.

603 Irving, SF. (415) 731-6433


A favorite of lesbians citywide and heteros in the know, this Bernal Heights beauty is most famous for its gorgeous garden patio. But a woodstove, a great jukebox, and strong, well-made drinks also make it perfect for those cold, foggy nights when all you want is a soft scarf, a smooth Scotch, and someone — boy, boi, or girl — to spoon with.

424 Cortland, SF. (415) 647-3099


OK. Including Hidden Vine may be cheating, as this secret hideaway doesn’t have a fireplace per se. But it’s sure got the atmosphere. Though this is a high-end drinkery, featuring a different wine region every month and offering an impressive selection of artisanal cheeses, the Vine is more comfy than chichi. And a display of white votive candles gives the impression — if not the heat — of a fireplace’s warmth.

620 Post, SF. (415) 674-3567,*

Where is the love?


OPINION Distant dreams of flowing colored scarves, glowing tie-dyed shirts, and rainbow dashikis commingling with mounds of facial hair and peace signs filled my mind as I walked through a deep recess of quiet green on a hidden trail in Golden Gate Park. It was 7 a.m. I was there to meet Mary X, an OG Summer of Love attendee, as she hastily closed her camp before, as she put it, "the po arrested me and stole all my stuff."

Despite the romantic images of the 1967 events, Mary’s campmates — black, brown, and white houseless elders, several of whom are veterans of the Vietnam War — were barely clothed in soiled flak jackets and torn tie-dyed shirts.

Further shattering the mythos of peace, human love, and community caring, many of these elders sported overlong beards that, unlike those in so many white-ified Jesus pictures, were filled with crumbs and spittle. Their hands were crippled with arthritis and barely able to hold their coffee cups, much less make a peace sign. "I was there," Mary stated plainly, her black eyes searching nervously for the next Department of Public Works truck or park police officer. "I was at the original Summer of Love in 1967." She stopped talking, picked up her backpack, and left without looking back at me.

Mary is a diagnosed schizophrenic, she told me during our original phone call, and like many poor folks in the United States — like my poor mama, Dee, who passed away last year — she has no money for mental health services. Her indigent program allows her a biannual visit with a disaffected psychiatrist who hands her a medication prescription she can’t afford to fill. Her only income is earned from long hours spent collecting cans and redeeming them for small change, very hard work that we at Poor call microbusiness — and a line of work that our magazine, in a recent exposé ("The Corporate Trash Scandal," 8/15/07), discovered is more likely to erase our collective carbon footprint that any corporate recycling company.

While Mayor Gavin Newsom continues with his daily sweeps of homeless people in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius writes weekly hit pieces that demonize and lie about the poor folks surviving in public spaces, equating them with the wild coyotes that roam the park. Nevius’s hit campaign begs the question for all of us: where is the love?

As thousands celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, how can we criminalize people for the sole act of living without a home and occupying public space? And who should really determine who belongs in open spaces like parks, beaches, streets, and sidewalks?

How have we in the United States come to equate cleanliness with a lack of poor human beings, and how are the people who have come to celebrate the Summer of Love — with their trash, picnic baskets, cars, belongings, and recreational drugs — any cleaner than the homeless folks who live and work in the park year-round and have nowhere else to go?


Tiny, a.k.a. Lisa Gray-Garcia, is the cofounder of Poor magazine and the Poor News Network ( and the author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America.

Editor’s Notes



You’d think that this was a Republican town, with the way the local news media have been bashing not only the left but also some of the better, more effective, and more functional progressive institutions in San Francisco. I wouldn’t waste my time with this stuff, but there are real issues here.

I woke up Aug. 21 to a San Francisco Chronicle headline proclaiming "Anti-gentrification Forces Stymie Housing Development." The piece, by Robert Selna, opened with the sad, sad tale of a poor auto shop owner who wants to "build eight apartments and condominiums on an empty lot next to his Mission District auto shop and rent some of the apartments to his mechanics."

Well, it turns out that the evil Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition is fighting that plan, Selna reported, "insisting that [the] project not go forward until the city evaluates how new development on the city’s east side will affect industrial land, jobs, and housing."

The message: a little entrepreneur is getting hosed by a big, bad "not in my backyard" group that wants to stop new housing. The implication (and this is just the latest example of this stunning lie): the left in San Francisco is against building housing.

Well, for starters, MAC is playing only a modest sideline role in fighting the 736 Valencia project, a five-story structure that is designated legally for condos and includes no affordable housing. The real opposition is a group called Valencia Neighbors for Community Development. The issue, Valencia neighborhood activist Julie Ledbetter said, is that as many as nine new market-rate housing projects are in the pipeline for a short stretch of Valencia, and they shouldn’t be approved one by one without any regard for the cumulative impact.

MAC activist Eric Quezada told me that the organization has indeed taken the position that the city shouldn’t go forward with any more market-rate housing projects until it’s completed a legally mandated environmental study of the cumulative impacts of high-end condos on displacement, blue-collar jobs, and overall land use.

But that doesn’t mean MAC is against housing.

In fact — and this is the killer here — MAC emerged in the dot-com era almost entirely out of the nonprofit housing community. Some of its earliest and most prominent members were (gasp) housing developers. Just for the record, nonprofits have built something like 25,000 low- and moderate-income housing units in this city in the past 25 years. That is housing the city needs, housing that meets the city’s own clearly stated goals. And the progressives, people like the MAC members, are essentially the only ones who have built any affordable housing in the city at all.

Selna told me that he didn’t write the headline and "isn’t taking sides in this." I realize it’s not all his fault that he’s stumbled into a political hornet’s nest — but he has.

Then in the Aug. 22 SF Weekly, Matt Smith wrote that the left is turning this city into nothing but a tourist trap by promoting "a price-goosing apartment shortage of 30,000 to 70,000 units." That’s what, 140 giant new towers, or 7,000 10-unit buildings … that will go where? And what if (as is likely) rents still don’t come down? (Smith had no comment when I called him.)

And now C.W. Nevius of the Chronicle wants to shut down the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council Recycling Center so that homeless people won’t have any money … and will what — panhandle more aggressively? Break into cars? Makes perfect sense to me.

Elisa’s Cafe and L’s Caffe



No matter how you prefer to spell café — or caffe, or even cafe — you probably have a favorite one. Haunting a particular café is a prerogative of city dwelling, and in a coffee-involved city like ours, the possible forums for such socially acceptable loitering are vast, even including places that don’t have espresso machines. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Cafés, you see, don’t have to be about coffee, really, though most serve it in some form and some serve it in many forms. Cafés can also be about food, and in this sense we use the word in more or less the same sense the Parisians do, to describe the most casual sort of restaurant, the sort of place that doesn’t necessarily have full table service but does have tables where you are welcome to linger and discuss and rap your knuckles for emphasis even after you’ve finished eating whatever it was you were eating.

And what were you eating? Nacatamales? Have my typing fingers gone into spasm? Did I mean to type tamales but succumbed to overenthusiasm? No: I meant to type nacatamales because the nacatamal is the tamale of Nicaragua (and Honduras), and you can get them at Elisa’s Café, along with other Central American delicacies. Along with coffee — but not espresso.

Elisa’s opened late in the spring in the Excelsior space occupied for a number of years by Bistro E Europe, a restaurant that served the foods of Hungary and the Roma (a.k.a. the gypsies). The rather Spartan-looking space has been given a nice freshening, with peach paint and black furniture, and you no longer have that forgotten-city feeling while sitting in the window, watching the world go by.

Nacatamales ($5.50), as prepared by Elisa’s kitchen, are bigger and squarer than ordinary tamales. They’re about the size of a watch box and are steamed in plantain leaves, which are peeled away before the plate is presented to you. Otherwise, the similarities are manifest; we are talking about a squarish molding of masa (a close, corn-meal relation of polenta) in which potatoes, rice, tomatoes, onions, raisins, mint leaves, and possibly beef, pork, or chicken, have been cooked, as in a clafoutis or berry muffin. The boundary between the filling and the enclosure is indistinct, in other words.

The nacatamales are big. One is plenty for a single person and might even be splittable if you open your repast with, say, some soup. Soups vary according to the day of the week, and some are pricier than others. The least costly appears on Friday and is meatless: a black-bean soup ($4.50), whose namesake legumes are reduced to a thin purée in which bob peeled boiled eggs and coiled ropes of red pepper. Since the soup is basically mild, enlivenment is provided on the side in the form of a white salsa, a mince of onions steeped in vinegar. The sauce emits almost unbreathable fumes, but once in the soup it settles down to the general benefit.

Other dishes seem more familiar — the sorts of things you might find at other restaurants serving the foods of Mesoamerica — including bistec encebollado ($8.75), several pieces of beef sliced minute-steak thin, then pan-fried and finished with a tousled cap of sautéed onions. There’s also a salad on the side, iceberg lettuce with cucumber coins and quartered tomatoes. Quite American, I thought, as if the shock of Nicaraguan cooking must be buffered somehow for yanqui sensibilities.

When you are sitting in L’s Caffe, on 24th Street between Bryant and Florida, you are sitting in what I think of as the deepest heart of the Mission. And because the Mission is changeable and ever-changing, a café at its heart would almost necessarily be polyglot. The principals of L’s are all named Lozano — which is a Spanish name but also turns up occasionally in Italy. Italy and Spain, of course, have taken turns ruling bits of each other over the centuries.

As if to honor this long entwinement, the café offers a casually international menu, with definite Italian flourishes along with Spanish touches spoken in a New World accent. You can get bagels smeared with lox and cream cheese, or with hummus; you can get a PB&J or a sandwich with pepperoni, mozzarella, and pesto. You can get Chilean-style empanadas ($3 each), half-moon shaped pastry pouches filled with shredded chicken or just vegetables — which might mean mostly spinach.

There’s a minestrone soup ($4.50) whose thick, spicy tomato sauce and flotsam of white beans and pasta would do credit to many an Italian restaurant. The soup goes nicely with, perhaps, a turkey and Swiss sandwich ($5.95), which would be totally all-American if not for the swoosh of hummus on the top slice of whole-wheat bread. Even a five-bean salad ($3.25), a staple of midsummer picnics, features a broad constituency of legumes: black, pinto, lima, and green beans, along with chickpeas.

Not all recent changes in the Mission are awful, if we factor into our judgment L’s Caffe’s commitment to organic agriculture — all the coffee beans are organic, as is much of the food — and to reducing its waste stream through a conscientious program of composting and recycling. As someone who recently had a burrito at a long-beloved taqueria (also in the Mission) and was horrified to see a reckless flow of aluminum foil, Styrofoam, and other manufactured leavings into the garbage, I can tell you that this matters.


Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sat–Sun., 8 a.m.–5 p.m.

4901 Mission, SF

(415) 333-3177

Beer and wine


Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible


Mon.–Thurs., 6 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri., 6 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sat–Sun., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.

2871 24th St., SF

(415) 206-0274

Beer and wine


Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible

Now recycling is the problem


By Tim Redmond

The latest installment in the San Francisco Chronicle’s war on the homeless is pretty insane. According to C.W. Nevius, the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council’s recycling station is part of the problem and perhaps ought to be shut down.

Think about this for a second: Homeless people have had their general assistance and SSI benefits cut repeatedly. G.A., thanks to Care not Cash, is down to almost nothing. So how are these folks supposed to eat (much less ever find a place to live)?

Some of them do a bit of real work: They go around town and collect bottles and cans, some of which would otherwise be unsightly garbage. Some of the cans and bottles also came out of people’s blue bins, and would otherwise by recycled (for money) by the private garbage company, which is quite profitable anyway; I’m not going to cry about that sort of “theft.”

So these folks haul the bottles to the recycling center and get a few bucks, which, as the Chron even admits, often goes immediately for (imagine this!) food. I bet some of the remaining money sometimes goes for booze or drugs. (Some of my remaiming money every week goes for booze, too, and I know a few highly upstanding citizens who spend some of their disposable cash on the ol’ Evil Weed. I don’t think this signals the imminent decline of society.)

Here’s my question: What would the opponents of the HANC recycling center do — deny the can-collectors their money? Because here’s what would happen: More aggressive panhandling. More petty theft. Car windows broken and stereos stolen. Bicycles stolen. That sort of thing.

As long as we can’t provide people with a decent place to live in this rich city, some will sleep outdoors, including in the park. And they’re going to find a way to get some cash every day. I think the current situation is a lot better than many of the available alternatives.

Nuclear greenwashing



Patrick Moore’s presentation isn’t as slick as Al Gore’s. The slides he shows lack a certain visual panache and don’t compare to the ones in An Inconvenient Truth. Moore himself seems a little frumpy, particularly as he peers out across the audience recently gathered in the Warnors Theatre in Fresno.

But attendees paid $20 to hear the former Greenpeace leader extol the benefits of nuclear energy as a clean, safe, reliable, economic, and — perhaps most important to the current political and media focus on global warming — emissions-free source of power.

It’s hard to imagine Moore at the helm of an inflatable boat steering into the line of a whaling ship’s fire, but that iconic Greenpeace image is exactly what he wants you to associate with him. The Vancouver, British Columbia, native is quick to tell you he’s a former leader of one of the most effective international activist organizations ever. But he said he’s older now and wants to be for things instead of against them.

What’s Moore for? Warding off the warming of the world. What does he think will do it? More nuclear power plants.

If there’s any great and unifying issue thrumming through the national psyche, defying political party lines and flooding the media filters these days, it’s global warming. While leaders argue left and right about nearly every issue that comes before them, there is at least consensus that something must be done about climate change.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped on that bandwagon last September when he signed into law Assembly Bill 32, mandating a 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.

Thirty-one states recently agreed to join a voluntary greenhouse gas emissions registry similar to California’s, 10 northeastern states are creating a cap-and-trade market, and already half the country has laws requiring that a certain percentage of local power portfolios come from renewable energy.

The alternative-energy troops who’ve long been waiting in the trenches have stepped up to fight, armed with the tools they’ve been honing for years: solar panels, wind turbines, tidal power, and biofuels. They say new options and innovations abound for weaning the country off its fossil fuel habit.

But there are already critics who say those approaches aren’t going to be enough — and that we need to go nuclear against this planetary threat. And now they have some unlikely new allies.

Maybe you’ve seen the headlines touting the new nuclear push, running in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and all the daily syndicates. They all claim the same questionable facts: Nuclear power is clean and emissions free. It’s safe, reliable, and cost-effective. It isn’t contributing to global warming — and these days even the environmentalists like it.

James Lovelock, the renowned Gaia theorist, thinks nuclear energy will be essential to power the developing world. On a Sept. 13, 2006, airing of KQED’s Forum, he told host Michael Krasny, "I would welcome high-level nuclear waste in my backyard."

During the hour-long program he said the dangers of radiation were exaggerated; there wasn’t that much waste generated; and in order to mitigate the increasing effects of climate change, we should "look at nuclear as a kind of medicine we have to take."

Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, thinks nothing is more doomsday than global warming and told the Guardian he advised Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to start touting nuclear power as a solution.

"The nuclear industry needs a new green generation," he told us. "My fellow environmentalists ought to be grateful to the nuclear industry for supplying 20 percent of our electricity."

And then there’s Moore, the 15-year Greenpeace veteran who once put his body in the way of a seal hunter’s club and wrote in an April 16, 2006, Washington Post op-ed, "My views have changed and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change.

"Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that can reduce these emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power. And these days it can do so safely."

The bio for the Post piece identifies Moore as cochair of "a new industry-funded initiative, the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which supports the use of nuclear energy."

It’s one of the few articles that make such a disclosure, although more probably should. A survey by Diane Farsetta, a senior researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy, came across 302 recent articles mentioning Moore and nuclear power as a possible option for mitigating the effects of global warming.

Only 37 — a mere 12 percent — said he’s being paid to support nuclear power by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), a national organization of pro-nuke industries that’s hired Moore to front its nuclear renaissance.

Only the Columbia Journalism Review has drawn the further connection that Hill and Knowlton has been paid $8 million to help the NEI spread the word that the nukies have the silver bullet for solving global warming.

Hill and Knowlton knows a little something about pushing dangerous products. The company created the tobacco industry’s decades-long disinformation campaign about the effects of smoking. Veterans of that campaign then helped ExxonMobil try to bury the truth about global warming.

Before laughing these folks out of the reactor room, consider this: Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein, who’ve been against nukes in the past, are now suggesting nuclear energy needs to be considered in light of global warming.

Al Gore and Hillary Clinton have also made similar recent murmurings. Of all the major 2008 presidential candidates, only Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards have offered up energy plans that don’t include more nukes.

Eight states are working on pro-nuclear legislation, and although a bill to lift the moratorium on new plants in California was shot down in the Assembly’s Committee on Natural Resources, its sponsor, Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine), told us he intends to introduce it again and again until it passes.

In the meantime a private group of Fresno investors has signed a letter of intent with a nuclear power company to put a 1,600-megawatt nuclear plant in the San Joaquin Valley. So far the only thing stopping the group is the state’s 30-year-old moratorium, which says no new nuclear power plants may be built in California until a permanent solution to the waste is established. The investors are already working on a November 2008 ballot measure to end the ban and allow new nuclear plants.

A new nuclear plant hasn’t been built in the United States since 1978, when concerns about safety, cost, and the long-term waste management challenge (nuclear rods will still be deadly hundreds of thousands of years from now) overwhelmed the industry.

But if there were ever an opportunity for a nuclear renaissance, the threat of climate change has created one. And the poster child is Moore, a relatively innocuous Greenpeace exile who’s traveling around the country with a B-movie version of Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary, speaking to communities and drumming up what he calls a grassroots coalition of mayors, business leaders, and community activists. He’s steadily convincing them we need more nuclear power by trading the classic doomsday scenario of a massive radioactive explosion for the creeping killer global warming.

"I’m aghast," Dr. Helen Caldicott, an Australian who helped found Physicians for Social Responsibility and is one of the most prominent international critics of the dangers of nuclear energy, told us.

Caldicott, who’s authored several books on the subject, most recently Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer (2006), said, "I’ve never seen a propaganda exercise which is so fallacious. Both the politicians and the media are buying it."

She and other nuclear watchdogs who’ve been patrolling the industry for more than 30 years say it’s anything but a safe, reliable, economic, and emissions-free silver bullet.

Let’s look at the facts.


When it comes to safety, Moore told us, "US nuclear power plant employees enjoy the so-called healthy worker effect: people employed at the plants have lower mortality rates from cancer, heart disease, or other causes and are likely to live longer than the general population."

To support this claim, he cited a 2004 Radiation Research Society study of 53,000 workers. After reviewing it, Caldicott said, "I’m very suspect. There’s nothing here about people who are living with cancer."

Caldicott admits there’s a void of data about the health of nuclear workers and people who live near plants. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission doesn’t mandate baseline studies of cancer rates in areas surrounding the sites of nuclear facilities.

But people living near Three Mile Island, the Pennsylvania plant that came within minutes of a catastrophic meltdown in 1979, demanded studies, which found evidence of increases in thyroid cancer in the region. And Caldicott, in her recent book, pointed out that there are a number of things the government doesn’t want to admit. "To this day there is no available information about which specific isotopes escaped nor the actual quantity of radiation that was released," she wrote, going on to detail how, for lack of sufficient data about the distance the radiation may have spread, scientists studied the rates in the livestock of nearby fields and found supporting evidence that the plume of poison spread as far as 150 miles away.

And of course, there’s Chernobyl, where a 1986 nuclear-plant disaster caused lasting health problems and contaminated a huge swath of what was then the Soviet Union.

The unavoidable fact is that the industry thus far has had two terrible, nightmarish accidents, one of which was catastrophic and the other very nearly so.

And every part of the nuclear-power cycle involves serious health risks.

"You want to get really sad?" asked Molly Johnson, a lifelong environmental justice activist and San Luis Obispo County resident. "Go to New Mexico, go to Arizona, see the families that are dying because of the uranium mining. Their water is irradiated from the uranium tailings that are still there…. Why would we continue that?"

These days intentional attacks are even more of a concern. But Moore isn’t sweating. He said he thinks a plane colliding with a power plant is unlikely, even though the 9/11 Commission Report found that al-Qaeda operatives at one point considered aiming for the Indian Point reactor in New York.

Even if a jet hit a plant, Moore insists, the plant would be strong enough to withstand a collision. "If you drove an airplane into that, it would just be one messed-up airplane you’d have to deal with," he said.

Not exactly, say the critics.

"He is just dead wrong about reactor security. Breathtakingly misinformed," said Dan Hirsch of Committee to Bridge the Gap, a public interest group that’s been studying nuclear power and proliferation issues for nearly four decades. "Virtually no reactor containment in the US was designed to withstand a hit by a jumbo jet. Significant parts of the plant essential to preventing a meltdown are outside containment anyway."

Hirsch is speaking of power lines, which transmit electricity from the plant and also carry electricity to it — power that’s used to keep dangerous components cool and safe. If that power were cut off for any length of time, a meltdown could occur in the pools where explosive spent fuel is kept.

These spent-fuel storage areas — essentially big swimming pools where radioactive waste is kept underwater until a long-term storage facility is built — rely on a steady pumping of water to cool the superheated waste. All you’d have to do is stop that water pump, and there’d be a meltdown. And the storage areas don’t necessarily have the same fortified structures as the reactors.

Hirsch said, "A successful attack on a nuclear plant or, even worse, a spent-fuel pool would be the worst terrorist event to ever occur on earth by far, capable of killing over 100,000 people immediately and hundreds of thousands of latent cancers thereafter, contaminating an area the size of Pennsylvania for generations."

There’s no immediate solution in sight for long-term storage, so these pools of deadly waste will likely remain on reactor sites for many years.

San Luis Obispo County’s Mothers for Peace recently sued the NRC over the newly established laws regarding protection against terrorist attacks, which only require plants to be able to ward off five potential external terrorists on the ground. It took 19 people to pull off the Sept. 11 attacks. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that power plant operators must also consider the possibility of an air attack when designing spent-fuel storage tanks.

Mothers for Peace is fond of noting that existing security measures aren’t what you’d call foolproof. During a recent earthquake, 56 of 131 sirens in the San Luis Obispo area — designed to alert residents of a possible accident at the plant — didn’t go off because the power was out and they aren’t backed up by generators or batteries.

When Mothers for Peace and the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility brought the failure to the attention of the NRC, the agency said that nothing is perfect and that the sirens over the course of 1,000 hours worked 99 percent of the time.

"Except the five hours you’d actually want them to work," David Weisman of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility said.

Nuclear power is either a creeping killer or a sitting bomb. Wind farms and solar-panel arrays are not leaching poisons into the environment. They’re not direct targets for terrorist attacks, and if they were, the result wouldn’t be all that horrible. Imagine cleaning up a bombed wind farm versus a nuclear power plant.

"Wind farms are on nobody’s list of targets," Weisman added. "If a windmill falls and there’s no one there to hear it, do you need an emergency evacuation plan?"


A centerpiece of the pro-nuke argument is that nuclear power is a baseload source, meaning it can generate energy all day, every day. Solar and wind, of course, rely on the cruel (and unpredictable) forces of nature to generate power.

But one could argue the same about nuclear power plants. They’re run by people — and the record of those operators isn’t encouraging.

Moore expressed great confidence in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: "They have very, very stringent requirements and regulations. It’s all there for anybody to see. All of these reactors are inspected regularly. There is no reason in my estimation to suspect the NRC of anything other than being a responsible watchdog agency. If you want to take the time to dig into it, you can find out what’s going on."

David Lochbaum does take that time — and he’s found out a lot. After working for 17 years as a consultant to the NRC, he joined the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) as a nuclear-safety engineer. He spends his days combing NRC reports and documents and compiling studies on the safety of the industry. His experience and research have caused him to conclude that the commission can’t stay on top of the 103 plants in the country.

"We get a lot of calls from workers in the plants, and NRC employees that have safety issues they’re afraid to raise," he said. "We had three calls last week. That’s a little more than usual, but we usually get 50 to 60 whistleblower calls a year." He said sometimes the workers have already raised the issue internally but need an ally to force a remedy at the plant. Other times they’re afraid to speak about what they’ve seen without fear of retaliation.

Lochbaum authored a September 2006 study for the UCS titled "Walking the Nuclear Tightrope" on the issues of safety and reliability. It’s a chilling read; it carefully outlines how regulators have been complicit in allowing plants to operate far longer than they should and how these overstressed plants eventually have to be shut down for years to restore safety standards. He found that in the last 40 years plants have ground to a halt for a year or more on 51 occasions. In most cases it wasn’t a spontaneous incident but an overall decaying of conditions that compromised safety.

"Some observers have argued that the fact no US nuclear power reactor has experienced a meltdown since 1979 (during which time 45 year-plus outages have occurred) demonstrates the status quo is working successfully," Lochbaum wrote. "That’s as fallacious as arguing that the levees protecting New Orleans were fully adequate prior to Hurricane Katrina by pointing to the absence of similar disasters between 1980 and 2004."

One of the most recent and chilling examples is the 2002 outage of the Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio, where a hole the size of a football was discovered in the vessel reactor head. Only a half inch of steel remained to prevent a massive nuclear meltdown. The plant was overdue for a shutdown and an inspection and had been granted the extension by the NRC.

When asked what he thought about that close call, Moore said, "I didn’t think it was a close call. I thought it was a mechanical failure that should have been caught sooner. It was caught long before it became an accident or anything like that."

"When you say close call, that means that nothing actually happened," he concluded.

But when there’s a facility where an accident could lead to mass deaths, even close calls are grounds for concern. That’s why we have to hold nuclear plants to such high standards. And the fact that plants have to close so often to avoid disastrous accidents doesn’t say much for the reliability argument.


This may be the issue on which the pro-nukers make the most headway. Moore cites a number of international studies, posted on the NEI’s Web site, that show nuclear plants competing only with hydropower when it comes to emitting the lowest level of carbon dioxide. Even solar panels and wind turbines, when one factors in the entire energy process, emit more greenhouse gases, according to these studies, though all these power sources release significantly less than burning coal or natural gas.

The anti-nuke crowd says a true study has never been completed that quantifies the CO2 emissions from mining uranium and turning it into usable nuclear fuel. Both are heavily energy intensive. Additionally, they argue that transporting waste will incur even more CO2 emissions, whether it’s shipped across the sea for reprocessing in Europe or trucked across the country for burial in Yucca Mountain.

But the waste itself is also a huge issue. Although nuclear power plants don’t have bad breath, they do emit toxins — and it’s an unresolved issue as to where to put them. The current forecast for opening the Yucca Mountain repository is 2021. Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada opposes building the facility, and he’s pushing a bill that would require plants to keep the crud in their backyards.

"They’ve had 50 years to work on the waste issue," Weisman said. "And the best solution they’ve come up with is, who do we not like enough to send it to?"

Either way, Moore thinks waste is not a problem. If anything, it should be reprocessed — he likes to call it "recycling." Under that process, spent fuel is bathed in acid to separate out the usable plutonium. That can be followed by vitrification — a complex, energy-intensive process of suspending the highly radioactive and corrosive acid in glass, which is then sealed in expensive trash cans of steel and concrete and buried underground for at least 300 years, after which point he predicts it should no longer be a problem.

"It makes more fuel," he said.

Actually, Hirsch said, "it makes more weapons-grade plutonium." He argues that the last thing the nation should do is allow nuclear-plant operators to separate the plutonium and put it on the market, where it can be leaked for bomb making.

Additionally, there are a number of waste sites around the country that are slowly emitting what they’ve been designed — or not designed in some cases — to contain.

The worst is probably in Hanford, Wash., where decades’ worth of reprocessed spent radioactive fuel pushed the area beyond Superfund status into a "national nuclear waste sacrifice zone.

"Hanford is the most contaminated site in North America and one of the most significant long-term threats facing the Columbia River," Greg deBruler, of Columbia Riverkeeper, wrote in the Fall 2006 issue of Waterkeeper, the group’s quarterly journal. "It’s difficult to comprehend the reality of Hanford’s 150 square miles of highly contaminated groundwater or its 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste sitting in 45-year-old rotting steel tanks."

Much of that waste includes leftover reprocessed spent uranium fuel, which ate through its casks and poisoned the community’s drinking water.

Moore said, "It’s not as if everyone is dead. The nuclear waste has been contained."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.


"The economics of nuclear power are well proven around the world. It is one of the most cost-effective forms of energy," Moore said.

Just check the record. Of the 103 reactors that were built in the United States, 75 ran a total of $100 billion over budget. India more recently went 300 percent over budget on its 10 reactors. Finland is already 18 months behind and $1 billion over on a reactor.

Given this track record, the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration "Annual Energy Outlook 2005" reported that "new plants are not expected to be economical." They’re so risky, in fact, that not a single plant could have been built without the 1957 Price-Anderson act, which moves the liability for a nuke plant off its owners and onto US taxpayers. "If they were really economical, they’d be able to get insurance," Weisman said. The bill was recently renewed.

The nuclear industry forges on unperturbed, claiming that new plants have been streamlined for easier construction. Additionally, the siting and licensing laws for plants have been changed to speed up the process by precluding public input. (Given the industry’s safety record so far, that’s not comforting.) Experts predict it will now take 10 years to build a new nuclear plant. Thirty-four licenses are currently pending at the NRC as utility companies race to secure the $8 billion the federal government set aside for subsidies.

"Imagine how many wind turbines that could buy," said Harvey Wasserman, a longtime anti-nuke activist who recently authored the book Solartopia, which outlines a plan for completely renewable energy by 2030. In fact, renewables are far cheaper. Building the facilities to create one gigawatt of wind power costs about $1.5 billion; about two gigawatts could replace the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.


In the end, it comes down to money, and that’s where nuclear power may be the most vulnerable.

Sam Blakeslee, a Republican Assembly member from San Luis Obispo, introduced a bill last year that calls on the California Energy Commission (CEC) to conduct an in-depth study of the true costs of nuclear power to assess its viability as part of California’s future energy plans. The bill passed unanimously, and Schwarzenegger signed it.

"This will be cradle to grave," said Weisman, of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, which has focused its scrutiny on the industry’s costs.

The group has long been suspicious of PG&E’s financial woes, which came to a head this past March when the California Public Utilities Commission allowed the company to use $16.8 million from ratepayers to fund its in-house study of relicensing its two nuclear plants. "The licenses won’t be up until 2023 and 2025, so why are they looking at relicensing now — and why does it cost $16.8 million when the state’s study is projected to cost $800,000?" Weisman asked.

Assemblymember Mark Leno (D–San Francisco) is introducing a bill this year that will undercut PG&E’s study before the CEC’s analysis is completed, which is expected to occur around November 2008.

"Our very simple idea here is that before any relicensing of our aging nuclear power plants can proceed, the CEC study be completed," Leno said. "Clearly, PG&E is very eager to move forward its relicensing process. They have many years to accomplish that task."

Leno said the stakes are too high and the inherent risks of the toxins already accumulated in seismic zones along the coast need to be carefully weighed against the prospects of generating even more waste. "We should proceed with absolute caution, forethought, and consideration."


Those risks, that caution, are something that never leaves the minds of the people who live in the plants’ fallout zones, areas as vast as a steady breeze or trickling flow of water can make them. That’s really the problem with nuclear power plants. After 50 years there are still too many unknowns. In Moore’s lectures and during interviews and debates, the former Greenpeace activist likes to say more people are killed by car accidents and machetes than by nuclear power plants, but that mocks the magnitude of a meltdown.

A car accident kills at most a few people. A machete attack might kill one person. A nuclear accident has the potential to inflict casualties in the tens of thousands, maybe even millions, and to render entire cities uninhabitable. And while most of the time, most of the plants may be perfectly problem free, it only takes one accident to wreak environmental havoc.

These days opposition to nuclear energy isn’t about mass protests in the streets. "When KQED calls and asks for the sounds of a protest, I say that’s not how it happens," Weisman said while showing a DVD of a Jan. 31 San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission meeting that droned on for more than 12 hours. The meeting ultimately resulted in what he’d hoped for: a continuing delay of PG&E’s permit to site new dry-cask storage tanks for thousands of tons of nuclear waste accumuutf8g at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. He and Rochelle Becker, the group’s director, sat through the whole thing. "That’s what protesting is now," he said.

Becker, a pert, soft-spoken woman with the aging visage of the youngest grandmother in the room, said correctness is crucial. "Never, ever exaggerate. When they want to talk about safety issues and isotopes, we refer them to someone else because we don’t have that expertise. All we have is our credibility, and if we lose our credibility, we don’t have anything."


Which makes what Moore is doing look like such a travesty.

"Maybe we should hire Hill and Knowlton," joked James Riccio, Greenpeace’s nuclear-policy analyst in Washington, DC, on thinking about gearing up for a new wave of anti-nuke activism.

To Riccio, Wasserman, Weisman, Hirsch, Caldicott, and many others who spoke with the Guardian, Moore is nothing but a dangerous distraction who’s getting the wrong kind of attention. Wasserman disputed Moore’s credentials as a Greenpeace founder in the Burlington Free Press article "The Sham of Patrick Moore."

When questioned by the Guardian, Moore called Wasserman a jerk. Moore said he’s still an activist — and in addition to parroting for the nuclear industry, he runs a sustainability consulting company, Greenspirit Strategies, which advises industries on controversial subjects like genetically modifying organisms, clear-cutting, and fish farming. His clients include hazardous waste, timber, biotech, aquaculture, and chemical companies, in addition to conventional utilities that process nuclear power and natural gas.

Moore insists he’s not hiding anything. "In every interview I do the reporter already knows that I’m cochair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition and that I work for the nuclear industry," he told us.

But Moore did not identify himself as such during a lengthy interview with us until we asked. The disclosure was also missing during the long biographical presentation given to the folks in Fresno on Feb. 22, which did include pictures of his Rainbow Warrior days. Again, on May 24, Moore didn’t mention his plutonium paycheck during a radio debate on KZYX. Neither did the moderator, and it was only when Hirsch, his debating partner, got a moment to speak that it was revealed. "Let’s be clear here, Patrick," Hirsch said. "You’re being paid by the industry." *

Joseph Plaster, Andrew Oliver, and Sam Draisin helped research this story.

Tomorrow’s honorees


By Steven T. Jones
Last night’s San Francisco Tomorrow 37th annual dinner on Fisherman’s Wharf offered a who’s who list of environmentally engaged political leaders and activists — a testament to the important role this venerable organization has played in creating the San Francisco of today (full disclosure: my sweetie, Alix Rosenthal, recently joined the SFT board).

Supervisors Chris Daly, Aaron Peskin, and Tom Ammiano all showed up, as did Sen. Carole Migden, Assessor Phil Ting, and Democratic Party stalwart Jane Morrison. Activists being honored by the group were filmmaker Judy Irving (who made “Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” and other films focus on SF urban environment), recycling scold and innovator Denise D’Anne, and Amy Meyer and Dr. Edgar Wayburn, who have worked for more than 30 years to create the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Yet to me, the most interesting award and resulting speeches were for the special award that Ammiano received for creating a universal health care program for the city, in the process braving aggressive attacks by downtown and finally winning over Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Future prefects



SONIC REDUCER Try this out for size: "ELO, the other band that matters." Electric Light Orchestra bulb changer Jeff Lynne would probably prefer that handle to "ELO, the other white meat" – the former sentiment is probably about as good as it gets, emanating from a member of Klaxons, the Brit buzz bomb and neu-rave crossover pop phenom of the moment.

Isn’t ELO, like, your parents’ guilty pleasure, the LP they tuck away when the hep seniors wheel over for low-carb hash brownies? "I actually think they’re quite cool right now," counters Klaxons vocalist-keyboardist-bassist James Righton, on the phone shortly after touching down in Los Angeles for Klaxons’ first US tour. "The Pussycat Dolls used a sample of ‘Evil Woman.’ I think people are looking again at Jeff Lynne’s work and the great, inventive pop music that ELO made. We haven’t experimented with strings sounds like Jeff Lynne has.

"I dunno, Jamie is getting to be a big Roy Orbison fan. I might become a huge Traveling Wilburys fan."

High praise – and heady irreverence – coming from one of the freshest-sounding UK bands accompanied by much blog hum and Euro chart action. Dusting off and sexily propagating rave siren honk, disco flash, and propulsive beats, Klaxons come off less like nostalgia hounds stuck in the acid house’s broken-down Hacienda – Simian Mobile Disco and Soulwax remixes aside – than like a spastic-elastic, at times noisy, at times infectious, synth-driven rock unit ready to embrace the harsh urgency of dance punk (changing it up like restless, simulacra-sick toddlers picking up, suckling, and tossing off one reference after another) and sci-fi postmodernism (bidding semper fi to J.G. Ballard with the title of their debut, Myths of the Near Future, on Geffen/Polydor, and Thomas Pynchon with their first single, "Gravity’s Rainbow").

Add magic, psychedelia, and a Web community devoted to guitarist Simon Taylor’s hair to Klaxons’ recipe, and one wonders, could this be the future – once again with that dehydrated feeling (time to unearth those glowsticks) – if not the present? Flying right like a good, recycling-conscious meta-zen from Planet Baudrillard, Righton owns up honestly that the band would never dare to consider themselves – um, gag! – truly unique. "I think it’s hard to create something truly original, especially if you’re in the traditional guitar-bass-drum format. We just stole a lot from other people. We just weren’t picking from the usual Dylan, Stones, Beatles, Led Zeppelin," he drawls. "We picked a lot of Brian Eno, Bowie, Gang Gang Dance, a lot of noise, Faust, ELO…." As above so below, as Aleister Crowley and Klaxons go.

THE GOOD, THE GOOD, AND THE GOOD Former Clash bassist Paul Simonon is all too familiar with the anxiety of influence – and the dilemma of surpassing personal bests. The onetime low-end linchpin of the first group marketed as the only band that mattered, Simonon graciously took time from a camping trip with his son to chat in the English woods ("not really Sherwood but quite close") about his latest project with Blur boy Damon Albarn, Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen, and the Verve guitarist Simon Tong: the hypnotic, elegiac Danger Mouse-produced full-length The Good, the Bad and the Queen (Virgin).

"I’m sort of finding I’m sympathetic to the problems that a musician has when they’ve been very successful, to come up with another album or possibility," he told the trees and me, describing his empathy with Notting Hill neighbor Albarn (after Albarn rang up, Simonon says, "we got chatting and discovered we were neighbors by two streets") and the way their collaboration materialized. "It’s very easy to fall into the trap of sort of doing what we did the last time. It’s sort of different, but with the Clash we moved around: the first album is no comparison to the second, the second was no comparison to the third, and I find that’s Damon’s approach too. Otherwise, it’s really boring, and you might as well get a job and move into another field, rather than just clodding on."

True to his word, Simonon made his own career switch a while back, making and showing grimly realistic paintings of the Thames over the past few years. "The great thing about painting is that you don’t have to discuss it with anybody," he explains. "It’s difficult because if it doesn’t seem to pass the test, you have to destroy it. I don’t find it easy. It’s trial by error."

Simonon had stopped playing until this album – "’Retired’ sounds like I’m in a wheelchair or something!" – but he won’t make the error of trying to blow air into the Clash’s still elegant cadaver. It’s one punk reunion you shouldn’t hold your breath for. "I never entertained the idea, really, seemed like a backward step, really," he says matter-of-factly. "We went on solidly for seven years nonstop. I think it would do no good to re-form – no matter how much money is offered. My calculations are pretty bad, really – a million here or there is all just toy money from my own personal perspective. It meant the Clash – it didn’t mean the cash!" *


With Amy Winehouse

Thurs/26, 9 p.m. doors, sold out


330 Ritch, SF


Sun/29, 8 p.m., $32.50

Grand at the Regency Center

1290 Sutter, SF

Soft machines


> a&

Electrifying a thumb piano sounds about as unlikely as, say, strapping a jet engine onto a surfboard. That very action, however, explains the central mystery behind Congo’s Konono No. 1. But don’t expect an esoteric creation myth from founder and likembe virtuoso Mawangu Mingiedi, who explains that his feedback-rich music exists simply "because it’s a very soft-sounding instrument and Kinshasa is a very noisy town."

The likembe has a gentle, waterlogged twang, like a mouth harp encased in Jell-O. It is as native to the Congolese sound as the ancestral hum of the Bazombo trance music brought to Kinshasa by Mingiedi when he left his hometown on the Angolan border after the death of his father. Answering questions with producer Vincent Kenis via e-mail, Mingiedi describes Bazombo as "the cradle of our music. There’s a little bit of it in whatever we play."

Konono No. 1 aspired to bring those ancient polyrhythms to urban gatherings, but how to rock the party with one of the quietest instruments going? As the likembe was hardly a match for the squall of city life in Congo’s capital, amplification of Mingiedi’s chosen instrument became the order of the day. This was to be no small feat, considering the resource-poor and occasionally violent setting he found himself in. "Bad things can happen in Kinshasa," Mingiedi explains. "Even when there’s peace in the streets, it’s certainly difficult to lead a peaceful life in a place where the most basic commodities are absent or intermittent at best."

While matter-of-fact about the hardships of life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mingiedi is far more forthcoming when describing the trial-and-error process that ultimately led to the creation of Konono No. 1’s wall of plucks and feedback: "I started with cassette recorder microphones, but the feedback was difficult to control. Only later did I try electric guitar pickups, then reverse engineered them, then started to design my own models."

Mingiedi’s likembe hack is now the stuff of DIY legend, and it extends to more than just his particular instrument. Konono No. 1 is an ensemble of recycling genius – of wood microphones crowned with salvaged magnets, of percussion rendered from pots and pans, of car battery-powered amplifiers. Onstage the band is also flanked by massive lance voix, or voice throwers, megaphones originally used by Belgian colonizers. Yet even accompanied by dancers and armed with piercing whistles, Konono No. 1 has its heart in the three likembes that bob across the waves of rhythm like fragile tin boats. Mingiedi says these too have been modified: "First it was hollow, like the traditionally built likembe – then to suppress feedback I used a solid block of mahogany."

As years went by, word of Konono No. 1 trickled out, eventually reaching the ears of Crammed Records cofounder Kenis in the form of a culture broadcast in 1979. He remained enraptured by Konono No. 1, actually traveling to Congo to find them. As he writes in a letter to the music blog the Suburbs Are Killing Us, he was able to interact with other "tradi-modern" bands yet was told that Konono No. 1 had ceased to exist. Finally, in 2000 he received word that they had reunited – using the same equipment they had played years before.

Fast-forward to 2007, and Konono No. 1 have traveled the world, performing at the Kennedy Center, opening for Dutch legends the Ex, and most recently contributing to the first single off Bjork’s latest record, Volta (One Little Indian/Atlantic), titled "Earth Intruders." When I ask if Konono No. 1 will perform with Bjork, Mingiedi answers with hints of Sun Ra, "I hope it will happen. If it does, watch out for our special Earth intruder stage outfits." *


Sat/28, 9 p.m., $20

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750

Death of fun, the sequel



Fun – in the form of fairs, festivals, bars, art in the parks, and the freedom to occasionally drink alcohol in public places – is under attack in San Francisco.

The multipronged assault is coming primarily from two sources: city agencies with budget shortfalls and NIMBYs who don’t like to hear people partying. The crackdown has only intensified since the Guardian sounded the alarm last year (see “The Death of Fun,” 5/24/06), but the fun seekers are now organizing, finding some allies, and starting to push back.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and other city hall leaders have been meeting with the Outdoor Events Coalition, which formed last year in response to the threat, about valuing the city’s beloved social gatherings and staving off steep fee hikes that have been sought by the Recreation and Park, Fire, Public Works, and Police departments.

Those conversations have already yielded at least a temporary reprieve from a substantial increase in use fees for all the city’s parks. It’s also led to a rollback of the How Weird Street Faire’s particularly outrageous police fees (its $7,700 sum last year jumped to $23,833 this year – despite the event being forced by the city to end two hours earlier – before pressure from the Guardian and city hall forced it back down to $4,734).

The San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee will also wade into the issue April 25 when it considers a resolution warning that “San Francisco has become noticeably less tolerant of nightlife and outdoor events.” It is sponsored by Scott Wiener, Robert Haaland, Michael Goldstein, and David Campos.

The measure expresses this premier political organization’s “strong disagreement with the City agencies and commissions that have undermined San Francisco’s nightlife and tradition of street festivals and encourages efforts to remove obstacles to the permitting of such venues and events up to and including structural reform of government permitting processes to accomplish that goal.”

The resolution specifically cites the restrictions and fee increases that have hit the How Weird Street Faire, the Haight Ashbury Street Fair (where alcohol is banned this year for the first time), and the North Beach Jazz Festival, but it also notes that a wide variety of events “provide major fundraising opportunities for community-serving nonprofits such as HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, and violence-prevention organizations that are dependent upon the revenue generated at these events.”

Yet the wet blanket crowd still seems ascendant. Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier now wants to ban alcohol in all city parks that contain playgrounds, which is most of them. Hole in the Wall has hit unexpected opposition to its relocation (see “Bar Wars,” 4/18/07), while Club Six is being threatened by its neighbors and the Entertainment Commission about noise issues. And one group is trying to kill a band shell made of recycled car hoods that is proposed for temporary summer placement on the Panhandle.

That project, as well as the proposal for drastically increased fees for using public spaces, is expected to be considered May 3 by the Rec and Park Commission, which is likely to be a prime battleground in the ongoing fight over fun.



Rec and Park, like many other city departments, is facing a big budget shortfall and neglected facilities overdue for attention. A budget analyst audit last year also recommended that the department create a more coherent system for its 400 different permits and increase fees by 2 percent.

Yet the department responded by proposing to roughly double its special event fees, even though they make up just $560,000 of the $4.5 million that the department collects from all fees. Making things even worse was the proposal to charge events based on a park’s maximum capacity rather than the actual number of attendees.

The proposal caused an uproar when it was introduced last year, as promoters say it would kill many beloved events, so it was tabled. Then an almost identical proposal was quietly introduced this year, drawing the same concerns.

“These are just preliminary numbers, and they may change,” department spokesperson Rose Dennis told us, although she wouldn’t elaborate on why the same unpopular proposal was revived.

Event organizers, who were told last year that they would be consulted on the new fee schedule, were dumbfounded. They say the new policy forces them to come up with a lot of cash if attendance lags or the weather is bad.

Mitigating such a risk means charging admission, corralling corporate sponsorship, or pushing more commerce on attendees. This may not be a hindrance for some of the well-known and sponsored events such as Bay to Breakers and SF Pride, but consider how the low-budget Movie Night in Dolores Park might come up with $6,000 instead of $250, or how additional permit fees could strangle the potential of nascent groups such as Movement for Unconditional Amnesty.

The group is sponsoring a march in honor of the Great American Boycott of 2006. On May 1 it will walk from Dolores Park to the Civic Center in recognition of immigrants’ rights. The group wanted to offer concessions, because food vendors donate a percentage of their sales to the organization, but the permit fee for propane use from the Fire Department was too high.

“They couldn’t guarantee they’d make more than $1,200 in food to cover the costs of permits,” said Forrest Schmidt, of the ANSWER Coalition, who is assisting the organizers. “So they lost an opportunity to raise funds to support their work. It’s more than $1,000 taken off the top of the movement.”

ANSWER faced a similar problem after the antiwar rally in March, when the rule regarding propane permits was reinterpreted so that a base charge, once applied to an entire event, was now charged of each concessionaire – quadrupling the overall cost. ANSWER pleaded its case against this new reading of the law and was granted a one-time reprieve. But Schmidt says none of the SFFD’s paperwork backs up a need to charge so much money.

“They kept on saying over and over again, ‘You guys are making money on this,’ ” Schmidt said. “But it’s an administrative fee to make sure we’re not setting anything on fire. It’s essentially a tax. It’s a deceitful form of politics and part of what’s changing the demographic of the city.”

The Outdoor Events Coalition, which represents more than 25 events in the city, agrees and has been meeting with city officials to hash out another interim solution for this year, as well as a long-term plan for financial sustainability for all parties.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Robbie Kowal, a coalition leader and organizer of the North Beach Jazz Festival. But he’s still concerned about what he and the coalition see as a continuing trend.

“The city is changing in some way. It’s becoming a culture of complaint. There’s this whole idea you can elect yourself into a neighborhood organization, you can invent your own constituency, and the bureaucracy has to take you seriously. Neighborhood power can be so effective in fighting against a Starbucks, but when it’s turned around and used to kill an indigenous part of that neighborhood, like its local street fair, that’s an abuse of that neighborhood power.”



Black Rock Arts Foundation, the San Francisco public art nonprofit that grew out of Burning Man, has enjoyed a successful and symbiotic partnership with the Newsom administration, placing well-received temporary artwork in Hayes Green, Civic Center Plaza, and the Embarcadero.

So when BRAF, the Neighborhood Parks Council, the city’s Department of the Environment, and several community groups decided several months ago to collaborate on a trio of new temporary art pieces, most people involved thought they were headed for another kumbaya moment. Then one of the projects hit a small but vocal pocket of resistance.

A group of artists from the Finch Mob and Rebar collectives are now at work on the Panhandle band shell, a performance space for nonamplified acoustic music and other performances that is made from the hoods of 75 midsize sedans. The idea is to promote the recycling and reuse of materials while creating a community gathering spot for arts appreciation.

Most neighborhood groups in the area like the project, and 147 individuals have written letters of support, versus the 17 letters that have taken issue with the project’s potential to draw crowds and create noise, litter, graffiti, congestion, and a hangout for homeless people.

But the opposition has been amplified by members of the Panhandle Residents Organization Stanyan Fulton (PROSF), which runs one of the most active listservs in the city, championing causes ranging from government sunshine to neighborhood concerns. The group, with support from Sup. Ross Mirkarimi’s staff, has delayed the project’s approval and thus placed its future in jeopardy (installation was scheduled to begin next month).

“My main concern would be that this is a very narrow strip of land that is bordered by homes on both sides,” said neighbor Maureen Murphy, who has complained about the project to the city and online through the PROSF. “My fear is that there is going to be amplification and more people and litter.”

The debate was scheduled to be heard by the Rec and Park Commission on April 19 but was postponed to May 3 because of the controversy. Nonetheless, Newsom showed up at the last hearing to offer his support.

“Rare do I come in front of committee, but I wanted to underscore … the partnership we’ve had with Black Rock Arts Foundation. It’s been a very successful one and one I want to encourage this commission to reinforce,” Newsom told the commission. “I think the opportunity exists for us … to take advantage of these partnerships and really bring to the forefront in people’s minds more temporary public art.”

Rachel Weidinger, who is handling the project for BRAF, said the organizers have been very sensitive to public input, neighborhood concerns, environmental issues, and the impacts of the project, at one point changing sites to one with better drainage. And she’s been actively telling opponents that the project won’t allow amplified music or large gatherings (those of 25 or more will require a special permit). But she said that there’s little they can do about those who simply don’t want people to gather in the park.

“We are trying to activate park space with temporary artwork,” she said. “Guilty as charged.”

Yet any activated public space – whether a street closed for a fair or a march, a park turned into a concert space, or a vacant storefront turned into a nightclub – is bound to generate a few critics. The question for San Francisco now is how to balance NIMBY desires and bureaucratic needs with a broader concern for facilitating fun in the big city.

“Some people have the idea that events and nightlife are an evil to be restricted,” Wiener said. But his resolution is intended as “a cultural statement about what kind of city we want to live in.” *


Small Business Awards 2007: Chain Store Alternative Award


Since it opened in 1954, Waldeck’s Office Supplies in downtown San Francisco has been a true neighborhood store. In spite of the growth of now-ubiquitous large chains such as Staples and OfficeMax, this family-run retailer has carved a niche with its host of regular local customers and businesses large and small in the neighborhood.

Of the supply shop started by his father, owner Cliff Waldeck says, "Neighborhood-serving retail businesses are why people live, work, and visit specific communities." For him, seeing regulars come in is the best part. "It’s like a scene out of Cheers."

Waldeck’s also leads its industry in being environmentally conscious. Two years ago it was certified as a green business by the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

As Waldeck, a former member of the Mill Valley City Council and a current member of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, puts it, "I always like to say, ‘In my industry we’ve killed a lot of trees, and I have sap on my hands.’ "

Having done environmental work and advocacy as a public servant, Waldeck decided to make the transition to green practices. To get green certified, he had to demonstrate to inspectors from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Public Health Department that he uses good environmental practices, abiding by criteria including recycling and reusing products, conserving energy and water, and maintaining a healthy office space.

The office supplies retailer also stocks green products such as recycled copy paper, greeting cards made of recycled paper, and energy-efficient items. And you can drop off your fluorescent tubes, toner cartridges, cell phones, and other electronics for free recycling.

Survival is a constant issue for a small business, particularly one downtown, where Waldeck’s competes for retail rental space alongside billion-dollar companies. Waldeck points out, "You might have formula retail legislation that helps preserve places like North Beach and Hayes Valley, but the Financial District doesn’t have that. I have five Starbucks within five blocks." With national chains creating the market rate for retail space, he adds, "it’s extremely difficult to make it just on your foot traffic of people coming in paying cash."

Believing that green practices and the success of a small business can go hand in hand, the retailer has an interesting proposition for San Francisco’s political leaders: anyone bidding on a city contract for goods or services should be required to name seven or so green-certified San Francisco entities they do business with, which would encourage huge companies to work with small, green-certified businesses. "What I’m advocating is that since the city and county of San Francisco is the largest employer and purchaser here, they can lead by example," Waldeck says. "Procurement in SF is basically a cage match now. Whoever wants to sell a product at the lowest price is the one who gets the contract."

With a stockpile of past awards, including the San Francisco Urban Solutions Neighborhood Business Award, San Francisco Small Business Network’s Green Business of the Year, and one from the Environmental Protection Agency Region Nine, Waldeck’s plans to keep up the good work. (Julie Park)


500 Washington, SF

(415) 981-3381

Small Business Awards 2007: Solar-Powered Business Award


Going to a mechanic can be like paying a visit to a dentist. Sometimes it feels like they’ve done more harm to your grill than good. Needless to say, it can be a chore to find a good one. Bless your stars and garters that the steady-handed masters at Berkeley’s Oceanworks, which specializes in repairing Japanese cars, are the preeminent green and reliable mechanics around.

Since the current incarnation of the shop opened in 1991, it has developed a reputation for being affordable, trustworthy, environmentally thoughtful, and, most of all, competent. Words wished for in, but not always associated with, the world of automotive repair.

When you step into owner Angus Powelson’s small office, little details reveal that his West Berkeley shop departs from the typical automotive garage. Rather than Popular Mechanics, recent issues of the New Yorker rest on the coffee table, and the good old pot of coffee has been replaced by an antique-looking Italian espresso machine. Sure there are the smells and sounds found in any other garage, but this is about as bohemian an auto shop as you’re going to find.

It’s not only the decor that makes this place so great: Oceanworks consciously does all it can to limit the damage it causes to our beautiful bay biosphere. Upgraded in 1997, the garage receives roughly 75 percent of its power from the reflective solar panels that you see soaking up the rays on the roof. In the office the key word is reuse. Envelopes, boxes, plastic bags, Ziplocs, and cardboard continually find new raisons d’etre. The small amount of paper that is not reclaimed goes into the blue bin, along with any cans and bottles, and is sent off to the recycling yard.

In the garage the story is the same. Coolants get reused and engines are built from salvaged parts. Scrap steel and aluminum are either recovered or recycled. Salvageable car parts are sorted and stored for a chance to live again. When Powelson first took over Oceanworks, the garage filled a six-cubic-yard waste can daily. Today the can is three cubic yards and rarely gets full.

It seems hard to believe, but this mechanic and his shop tread as lightly as possible. Powelson may change oil and rebuild motors for a living, but his dedication to environmentally conscious auto repair is rivaled only by his commitment to traveling by bike as much as possible and using his truck only for work-related tasks.

While the outfit specializes in foreign cars, it’s also thinking ahead. Oceanworks deals in Swift bicycles, those nifty folding Xootr bikes that are superlightweight and can be readily stored without nuisance. "Anything to get people out of their cars," Powelson says. (Chris Jasmin)


2703 10th St., Berk.

(510) 849-1383

Eco trip



SONIC REDUCER So you wanna live clean, go green, and leave a low-impact footprint on this embattled Earth — yet you also want to bring the noise, bust a move, and get the rock out? It’s worth wondering about on Earth Day, when everyone seems to be looking to what they can change while the powers-that-be hold their apocalyptic course. Some might argue that a decadent pop lifestyle clashes with the color green — and even those who want to tour consciously must pay a price.

"It is a lot of work," said Oakland musician John Benson, whose veggie oil–fueled bus and curbside shows are a model for ecopunks who want to burn less petroleum and more french fry grease. He has converted vehicles for about five bands so far and plans to attend the Version Festival in Chicago to demo veggie-run vehicles, but Benson and his converts are learning that culling free fuel from oil Dumpsters behind truck stops can be dirty and time-consuming work.

"Bands that are really glamour conscious get really bummed out," he explained. "There’s a time loss and a filth factor, and when you’re on a tour, you’re conscious of making the next show." Also with used oil, "you get dead rats, sweet and sour sauce, and the occasional ball of hair," he added. "You have to be prepared to pull over and pull it out. Be prepared to get your favorite suit covered with rat droppings. It’s a fashion hazard."

Still, creating a cleaner planet doesn’t have to be a filthy business, despite the fact that even green-minded musos such as Smog Veil Records honcho Frank Mauceri admit, "Traditionally, the music industry has not been a green industry. It’s not a business that’s been sensitive to the environment."

Nonetheless, Mauceri, who fought Chicago’s city hall to install an electricity-producing wind turbine and solar panel system atop his new headquarters, and others are trying to buck tradition. San Francisco singer-songwriter Kelley Stoltz’s recent Below the Branches (Sub Pop, 2006) sported a Green-e label, tagging the full-length as the first to be recorded with all-renewable energy purchased through offsets from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour similarly created a climate-neutral solo album, On an Island (Sony, 2006), through an arrangement with the CarbonNeutral Co., planting trees in response to the carbon emissions produced during the disc’s making.

But what can you, humble musicmaker and fan, do? I did a little chatting, Web searching, and non-ozone-depleting cogitating for just a few suggestions on how to green your music enjoyment.

THE TROUBLE WITH CDS Are digital downloads the real green deal for music consumers? Part of Smog Veil’s green initiatives involves eliminating jewel cases and using all-paper Digipaks, eventually moving to solely digital downloads. But the digital divide continues to be an issue — so the nonwired music lover might want to purchase music from bands such as Cloud Cult who have packaged their CDs in 100 percent postconsumer recycled paper with nontoxic soy ink. And those still attached to the shiny plastic discs can turn to Green Citizen (1-877-918-8900) for recycling. Meanwhile old-school DIY-ers such as Benson make a plea for analog: "People are finding bulk tapes in thrift stores and recording over them in the spirit of recycling."

DELIVERY SYSTEM BLUES You’ve proudly purchased that ecofriendly download, yet what to do when the trusty iPod breaks? Apple has a recycling program: any US Apple store will accept old iPods and offer a 10 percent discount on a new player. Nonetheless the highly toxic e-waste generated by all MP3 makes and models continues to worry environmentalists. Cart those busted players to the aforementioned Green Citizen or call pickup artists such as E-Recycling (1-800-795-0993).

LIVE WASTE "Music is a catalyst," Perry Farrell recently told me from London. "It can bring people together and make change fashionable. I’d love to see everyone buying recycled paper and buying hydrogen fuel cell cars." Farrell has done his part with Lollapalooza, which introduced solar-powered stages and came up with fun ways to encourage recycling (audience members gathering the most recyclables have scored backstage passes). Bonnaroo and the Vans Warped Tour have powered stages, generators, and buses with biodiesel. Still, efforts can be as simple as the Green Apple Music and Arts Festival (not to be confused with the SF bookstore). Founder Peter Shapiro is using the fest to promote Earth Day with shows in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City this year while providing city venues with environmentally friendly paper products, garbage bags, and cleaning materials and offsetting the carbon dioxide emissions produced by the festival, making it the largest carbon-neutral event in the country. He told me that he hopes "we’ll get people to think about it for 30 seconds, maybe go buy an energy-efficient lightbulb, maybe carpool or walk to the next show."

GET IN THE VAN Not all young bands can afford to buy carbon dioxide emission offsets and convert to biodiesel when they go on tour, like Barenaked Ladies, Pearl Jam, Gomez, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — let alone slap their name on a biodiesel company the way Willie Nelson has with BioWillie. But that doesn’t mean musicians have to stop spreading the green love. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s Philip Dickey says his Springfield, Mo., group is aiming to convert its touring van to veggie oil someday, but until they can afford it, they’re trying to do their part. "No one in the band has a car. We all ride bikes when we’re in town, and when we’re touring, there’s five of us in a van. Pollution sucks, and pollution coming out of our van sucks. But it’s not like one person in an SUV. We also have a new song called ‘Bigger Than Your Yard’ about how everyone has to have a car." *


With Bob Weir and Ratdog, Stephen Marley, the Greyboy Allstars, and others

Sun/22, 11:30 a.m., free

Golden Gate Park

Fulton and 36th Ave., SF

Other events run Thurs/19–Sat/21

For a schedule, go to


Tues/24, 8 p.m., $14–$15


333 11th St., SF

(415) 255-0333


Guide to greener living



This is your one-stop ecoshop for green resources in the Bay Area. Want to know how to convert your home to solar power or learn how to compost, garden, or use nontoxic pest control? The Ecology Center has answers and classes. Want to go biodiesel? Visit the Berkeley Biodiesel Collective, one of the center’s sponsored projects. The center also runs Berkeley’s curbside recycling program, prints Terrain magazine, and publishes an eco-calendar of green events and classes in the Bay Area.

2530 San Pablo, Berk. (510) 548-2220,


"We started the Green Zebra as a way for consumers to start enjoying nearby environmentally conscious businesses," founder Anne Vollen says of Green Zebra’s coupon book, which offers 300-plus pages of discounts on green restaurants, spas, travel, cultural activities, and much more. "But we’ve had such an enormous response from businesses and buyers alike that it’s become a virtual directory of all the green-minded things the Bay Area has to offer."


Don’t let your used electronics go to e-waste. Green Citizen recycles obsolete and unwanted computers, CDs, cell phones, batteries, printers, and TVs (among other media-related things) and helps you hook up with institutions and programs in need of them. Can’t lift that antique monitor? Green Citizen also offers pickup service.

591 Howard, SF (and various locations). (415) 287-0000,


Buildings consume a third of the country’s energy; substantially reducing that usage amount is possible through mindful construction and design. Plan-It Hardware is a green-focused, San Francisco–based hardware and home improvement distributor with hundreds of products and ideas for making your home greener, including environmentally conscious paint, weather stripping, flooring, gardening tools, and plumbing fixtures.<


Eco-friendly limo. Sounds like another term for “VW Vanagon full of hippies going to the prom,” doesn’t it? But in the case of SF-based Bauer’s, it isn’t anything close. Bauers’ 120 electric, biodiesel, and compressed-propane-powered shuttles and cars may be the largest fleet of eco-friendly vehicles in the U.S., but they aren’t lacking for luxury. Stretch and hybrid limo-style vehicles, including the 2007 Lexus RX 400H SUV hybrid, come equipped with leather seats, Wifi, high end CD and DVD systems, LCD monitors for presentations, and even ports to plug in your iPod or phone. That’s a long way from van benches soaked with bong water.

Pier 27, SF; (800) LIMO-OUT,


Pry your rug rats away from those glowing screens and aim them at something natural. With Tree Frog’s programs, kids can go tide-pooling at Duxbury Reef, take a nature hike on Twin Peaks, and get creepy-crawly at Frog Hall with "Ross’s Ravenous Reptiles!" program. There they’ll meet Bully the bullfrog, Sid the snake, and Cletus the three-toed box turtle.

2112 Hayes, SF. (415) 876-3764,


Wanna eat green? Thimmakka’s Resources for Environmental Education, a registered nonprofit, helps restaurants and bars get green certification — and also helps consumers find them through its comprehensive Web site.


World Changing’s Web site presents itself as a forum for figuring out how technology can be used to preserve and improve our world rather than destroy it. Read about and comment on digital houses; the 200 shared bikes of Barcelona, Spain; and state-of-the-art hydroturbines.


Pablo Picasso once declared himself "king of the ragpickers." Some of his most amazing art was made from found objects — other people’s trash. Since 1976, SCRAP (the Scroungers’ Center for Reusable Art Parts) has been helping ragpickers get art materials. The center operates a store and offers workshops on basket weaving, lamp rewiring, and other useful recyclables skills.

834 Toland, SF. (415) 647-1746,


Don’t just throw your old mattress on the street, leaving it to collect rainwater, dirt, fleas, and other unsavory grime. Bedbusters guarantees that your mattress will avoid the landfill, its steel springs and other materials will be recycled, and your conscience will be clear, for a reasonable fee.

(415) 516-5865,


Think you have to go to Yosemite or Point Reyes to commune with nature? Think again. This organization is all about teaching San Franciscans how to recognize and care for the indigenous plants and animals living in our urban landscape — or as some call it, the Franciscan bioregion (from San Bruno Mountain to the Golden Gate Bridge). Check out the Web site to learn more, join a stewardship effort, and find green events.

(415) 564-4107,


Realize whirled peas (and carrots and broccoli) with help from Garden for the Environment, a nationally acclaimed program that teaches organic gardening, urban composting, and sustainable food systems at community workshops, the Gardening and Composting Educator Training program, outreach programs for local schools, and a one-acre urban demonstration garden. Plus, most classes and workshops are free.

780 Frederick, SF. (415) 731-5627,


Everything you ever wanted to know about living car-free in the city. Part resource, part activist organization, Livable City hosts workshops on walking, biking, and using public transit, as well as advocates for parking reform, better street planning, and the creation of a landscaped greenway to connect parts of the city.

995 Market, SF. (415) 344-0489,


An extensive and well-designed green resource guide for the city, this government Web site has information on everything from where to recycle toner cartridges and mercury thermometers to how to dispose of asbestos and biohazardous waste. (Choose the item in the easy "ecofindeRRR" box or search through resources one by one.) This is also the place to join Green Connect volunteer events, learn about green-leaning celebrations and meetings, and find links to news stories about the environment.


PlantSF is a grassroots program that provides information on permeable landscaping and urban farming and works with the city on land-use conversions. If you’ve ever wished the expanse of concrete outside your house were a little less paved and a bit prettier, these are the people to talk to about making that happen.

11 Grove, SF. (415) 355-3700,


All aboard the ecobus! This organization takes Das Frachtgut, the veggie oil–fueled bus Jens-Peter Jungclaussen uses as a mobile classroom, on an ecofriendly party tour. Movie nights are all about watching modern classics and then doing some kind of relevant outdoor activity (e.g., see The Big Lebowski, then bowl outside). Dance nights turn the bus into a mobile DJ booth and an instant, impromptu club. It’s fun, safe (no drunk driving, kids!), and above all, Earth friendly. *


There was a time when real estate was all about making money – and realtors were like the characters in American Beauty. Thankfully, times they are a changin’. Now you can buy or sell your house through Green Key Real Estate, the first (and only) green real estate brokerage in San Francisco. Green Key runs a sustainable business (minimizing office waste, donating a portion of profits to green building organizations, running the office on wind power) while encouraging sustainable building and remodeling. Most importantly, though, it’s experienced real estate agents linking like-minded people to each other and to the services they need.

28 Clayton, SF; (415) 750-1120,


This online superstore is like Target (or Fred Meyer, for you Pac Northwest transplants) for environmentally sound products. We’re talking organic soy wax candles (since paraffin pollutes the air), recycled glass tumblers, picture frames made of reclaimed wood, super efficient refrigerators, all-natural hardwood furniture (since pressed wood products use formaldehyde and synthetic adhesives), household cleaners, baby clothes, and so much more. Plus, the Richmond-based (but exclusively online) store maintains a list of useful articles, news, and tips about living green, as well as a directory of green service providers, from dry cleaners to long distance phone companies.



Based on the principle that if we learn about our local surroundings, we learn about our world, this non-profit strives to turn barren, ugly, or otherwise underutilized public spaces into beautiful, relevant, useful parks and gardens, called living libraries and thinkparks, using local resources – human, ecological, economic, historic, technological, and aesthetic. The public can visit one of the SF sites in Excelsior or Bernal Heights, take kids to a Living Library in- or after-school program, or get involved in a free adult green skills job training class specially designed for low income adults (and especially immigrants).

(415) 215-5992,

Sustainable Business Alliance

Green business is good business – at least, that’s the philosophy behind this membership organization linking companies committed to sustainability. This networking and resource group hopes to educate members about sustainability and then strengthen their businesses through involvement with each other through meetings, workshops, seminars, a green business directory, and events such as East Bay Drinks, a monthly meetup on third Wednesdays at Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley.

PO Box 11944, Berk. (510) 931-6560,

Go green!



"Arcadia: 2007" California Modern Gallery, 1035 Market; 821-9693, Mon/23, 6pm, $125-$350. This soiree and art auction — featuring work by more than 100 artists and hosted by Jeffrey Fraenkel, Gretchen Bergruen, and Thomas Reynolds — will benefit Friends of the Urban Forest, a nonprofit organization that provides financial, technical, and practical assistance to individuals and neighborhood groups that want to plant and care for trees.

"Away Ride Celebrating Earth Day" Meet at McLaren Lodge, Golden Gate Park; (510) 849-4663, Sun/22, 1:30pm, free with preregistration. The SF Bike Coalition and the Bay Area Outdoor Recreation Program join forces to host this moderately paced ride open to all levels of riders. They provide a helmet and a handcycle or tandem bike. You bring a sack lunch and water. Kids also get to decorate their wheels — bike, wheelchair, or skate.

"Biomimicry: The 2007 Digital Be-In" Mezzanine, 444 Jessie; Sat/22, 7pm-3am, $15 presale, $20 door, $100 VIP. Turn on, tune in, log out. In the spirit of the 1967 human be-in that epitomized San Francisco’s hippie generation and made Haight Ashbury famous, counterculture artists and activists have been hosting "The Digital Be-In" for 15 years. This year’s combination symposium-exhibition-multimedia-entertainment extravaganza focuses on Biomimicry as it relates to technology, urban development, and sustainability. There’ll be no Timothy Leary here, but the event will feature live music, DJs, projections, and appearances by modern hippie celebs such as Free Will astrologer Rob Brezsny and Burning Man founder Larry Harvey. Or join in the simultaneous virtual be-in in the Second Life online world. The revolution will be digitized.

"Earth Day Fair" Ram Plaza, City College of San Francisco, 50 Phelan; 239-3580, Thurs/19, 11am-1:30pm, free. View information tables set up by the CCSF and citywide environmental organizations, as well as a display of alternative fuel vehicles.

"EarthFest" Aquarium of the Bay, 39 Pier; 623-5300, Sun/22, 12-4pm, free. View presentations and engage in activities provided by 20 organizations all dedicated to conservation and environmental protection, with activities including live children’s music, a scavenger hunt, and giveaways.

"McLaren Park Earth Day" John McLaren Park’s Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, 40 John F. Shelley; Sun/22, 11am-7pm, free. What would Jerry do? Commemorate the park’s 80th anniversary with an all-day festival featuring birding hikes, habitat restoration projects, wildflower walks, tree planting, an ecostewardship fair, food booths, a live reptile classroom, puppetry, performance, music, storytelling, and chances to make art.

"$1 Makes the World a Greener Place" Buffalo Exchange local stores; 1-866-235-8255, Sat/21, all day, free. Buy something, change the world. During this special sale at all Buffalo Exchange stores, proceeds will benefit the Center for Environmental Health, which promotes greener practices in major industries. Many sale items will be offered for $1.

"People’s Earth Day" India Basin, Shoreline Park, Hunters Point Boulevard at Hawes, SF. Sat/21,10am-3pm. What better place to celebrate Earth Day than with a community of victorious ecowarriors? Help sound the death knell for the PG&E Hunters Point power plant with events and activities including a community restoration project at Heron’s Head Park, the presentation of the East Side Story Literacy for Environmental Justice theater production, and a display about Living Classroom, an educational and all-green facility expected to break ground this year. Want to get there the green way? Take the no. 19 Muni bus or the T-Third Street line.


"Berkeley Earth Day" Civic Center Park, Berk; Sat/21, 12-5pm, free. Earth Day may not have been born in Berkeley (it was actually the idea of a senator from Wisconsin), but it sure lives here happily. Celebrate at this community-sponsored event, which features a climbing wall, vegetarian food, craft and community booths, valet bike parking, and performances by Friends of Shawl-Anderson Youth Ensemble, Alice DiMicele Band, and Amandla Poets.

"Earth Day Celebration" Bay Area Discovery Museum, 557 McReynolds, Sausalito; 339-3900, Sat/21, 10am-5pm, free with museum admission. Happy birthday, dear planet. This Earth Day connect your family to the wonders of &ldots; well &ldots; you know, with a variety of special activities, including seed planting and worm composting, birdhouse building, a bay walk and cleanup, and presentations about insects from around the planet. For a small fee, also enjoy a birthday party for Mother Earth with games, face painting, crafts, and cake.

"Earth Day on the Bay" Marine Science Institute, 500 Discovery Parkway, Redwood City; (650) 364-2760, Sat/21, 8am-4pm, $5 suggested donation. This is the one time of year the institute opens its doors to the public, so don’t miss your chance for music, mud, and sea creatures — the Banana Slug String Band, the Sippy Cups, fish and shark feeding, and programs with tide pool animals, to be exact. You can also take a two-hour trip aboard an MSI ship for an additional $10.

"Earth Day Restoration and Cleanup Program" California State Parks; 258-9975 for one near you, Sat/21, times vary, free. The best way to celebrate Earth Day is to get involved. Volunteers are needed at California State Parks throughout the area for everything from planting trees and community gardens to restoring trails and wildlife habitats, and from installing recycling bins to removing trash and debris. All ages welcome.

"E-Waste Recycling Event" Alameda County Fairgrounds, 4501 Pleasanton, Pleasanton; 1-866-335-3373, Fri/20-Sun/22, 9am-3pm, free. The city of Pleasanton teams up with Electronic Waste Management to collect TVs, computers, monitors, computer components, power supplies, telephone equipment, scrap metal, wire, and much more. There is no limit to how much you can donate, and everything will be recycled.

"The Oceans Festival" UC Berkeley, Upper Sproul Plaza (near Bancroft and Telegraph), Berk; Fri/20, 5pm-7pm, donations accepted. This event, sponsored by CALPIRG, Bright Antenna Entertainment, and West Coast Performer magazine, is meant to bring awareness to the problem of plastic in our oceans and to raise money, through donations and food sales, for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Featuring music and dance performances, as well as presentations by a variety of environmental organizations.

"People’s Park 38th Anniversary Celebration" People’s Park, Berk; Sun/22, 12-6pm, free. Celebrate the park with poetry, speakers, music, art and revolution theater, political tables, a Food Not Bombs lunch, clowns, puppets, and activities for children.


"Green Capital: Profit and the Planet?" Club Office, 595 Market; 597-6705. Wed/18, 6:30pm, $8-15. Can sustainable business renew our economy and save the planet? Can activists ethically exploit market systems? Environmental pioneers, from corporate reps to conservationists, will bust the myths and reveal realities of profitable environmental solutions at this panel discussion cosponsored by INFORUM; featuring Peter Liu of the National Resource Bank, author Hunter Lovins (Natural Capitalism), Steven Pinetti of Kimpton Hotels, and Will Rogers of the Trust for Public Land; and moderated by Christie Dames.

"An Inconvenient Truth 2.0 — A Call to Action" California State Bldg, 455 Golden Gate. Thurs/19, 6:30-9pm, $5 suggested donation. An updated version of Al Gore’s PowerPoint presentation will be screened by Sierra Club director Rafael Reyes, then followed by a discussion of the impact of global warming and a progress report on national legislation by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

"The Physics of Toys: Green Gadgets for a Blue Planet" Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon; 561-0399, Sat/21,11am-3pm, free with admission. The monthly event focuses on the earth this time around, giving children and adults an opportunity to build pinwheel turbines and other green gadgets. Materials provided.


"Agroecology in Latin America: Social Movements and the Struggle for a Sustainable Environment" La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck, Berk; (510) 847-1262, Wed/18, 7:30pm, donations accepted. Get an update on Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, the alliance between environmental and social justice movements in the Americas, struggles for Food Sovereignty, organized peasant response to global agribusiness, opposition to genetically engineered crops, and more. Featuring guest speaker Eric Holt-Gimernez, executive director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy.


"Bio-Mapping" Southern Exposure Gallery, 2901 Mission, SF; (415) 863-2141, Sat/21, 6:30pm, $8-15. Everyone says going green feels good — here’s the chance to prove it. Participate in Christian Nold’s social-art project by strapping into a GPS device and skin censors. Then take a walk or a bike ride while the sensors record your feelings and location. Nold uses the data to make an "Emotion Map" of the city, which you can check out online. (Can’t make Saturday? Nold’s also there Thursdays and Fridays through April 28).

"ReCycle Ryoanji" San Francisco Civic Center Plaza; Thurs/19, 4-6pm, free. Judith Selby Lang, local students, and visitors to the Asian Art Museum have sewn together thousands of white shopping bags to make their own version of Japan’s most famous and celebrated garden as both an art exhibition and community education project. The 18-foot-by-48-foot scale replica of the raked sand and rock garden can be seen at this reception for the project and on display across from City Hall until Tues/24. (Take that, American Beauty.)

"Green Apple Music and Arts Festival" Venues vary; Fri/20-Sun/22, prices vary. Green Apple combines fun and education with a three-day, ecofriendly music festival in cities across the country. San Francisco’s festival includes shows by Yonder Mountain String Band, New Mastersounds, Electric Six, Trans Am, and others at venues across the city, as well as a free concert at Golden Gate Park. Green Apple provides venues with environmentally friendly cups, straws, napkins, paper towels, and compostable garbage bags, as well as doing its best to make the entire festival carbon neutral.


"San Francisco New Living Expo" Concourse Exhibition Center, Eighth Street at Brannan; 382-8300, April 27-29, admission varies according to day and event. Touting 275 exhibitors and 150 speakers (including Starhawk, Marianne Williamson, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and ganja-guru Ed Rosenthal), the sixth annual version of this event promises to energize, educate, awaken, and expand consciousness. You won’t want to miss the environmental activism panel discussion April 28 at 3pm — or the exhibition hall’s special crystal area.


"Harmony Festival" Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa; June 8-10, $125 plus $50 per car camping pass. This festival is so green it’s almost blue — in fact, its tagline is "promoting global cooling." There’s a waste diversion effort, a whole Green Team monitoring the EcoStation, compost cans, and tips on how to be an ecofriendly attendee. Plus, it just looks like fun. With Brian Wilson, the Roots, and Common performing and Amy Goodman and Ariana Huffington speaking, how can you miss it?

"Lightning in a Bottle" Live Oak Campground, Santa Barbara; 1-866-55-TICKET, May 11-13. $95-120. It ain’t just a party. It’s a green-minded, art-and-music-focused campout in a forest wonderland. Organized by Los Angeles’s the Do Lab with participation from tons of SF artists, this three-day event is powered by alternative energy, offers ecoworkshops in everything from permaculture to raw foods, and encourages rideshares — including a participant-organized bus trip from San Francisco. Also featuring performances by Freq Nasty, Bassnectar, Vau de Vire Society, El Circo, and other DJs and artists from San Francisco and elsewhere, LIB attempts to change the precedent that festival fun has to be ecologically disastrous.

"Sierra Nevada World Music Festival" Mendocino County Fairgrounds, Boonville; June 22-24, $125 plus $50 per car camping pass. Peace is green, right? I mean, what about Greenpeace? And peace is what this festival, which promotes "conscious" music, is all about. Plus, a range of representatives of environmental and social issues will be tabling at the festival — and registering voters.


"Burning Man" Black Rock City, Nev.; (415) TO-FLAME, Aug 27-Sept 3, $250-$280. With its Leave No Trace philosophy and its hippie roots, Burning Man has always been greener than most. But this year it’s getting even more explicitly so with the theme the Green Man, focusing on humanity’s relationship to nature (even though there is no nature on the dry lakebed surface). A pessimist might suggest this year’s theme is just another excuse to waste resources on leaf-themed art cars and that "Leave No Trace" usually translates to "Leave Your Trash in Reno." But an optimist might say this is Burning Man acknowledging and trying to address such issues. Either way, air out your dust-filled tent and pack some chartreuse body paint — it’s going to be an interesting year in Black Rock. *

Vino, verde, vici



SUPER EGO Fuck green — I want emerald, I want turquoise, I want veridian. I want shades of chartreuse cascading down the sides of my highball glass and mint cream swirling at the lip of my rim. Mmm. I was going to write this week about how much I’m head over loafers for Lil Mama’s clover new vid, "Lip Gloss," and what the deal is lately with so many trash-tragic newbie chicks wearing flip-flops and fleece to the clubs (did I miss a memo from Target?), but it’s the Green Issue — yay for Earth! — so I’m going in on the recent trend toward "green" cocktails.

Green cocktails? Easy! All you have to do is down eight or nine shots of Fernet, and — voila! — you’re green. And let’s not even get into how some drinks instantly recycle themselves. Yet in terms of mixology, green usually means organic — juices, vodka, ice cubes, fruit flies, what have you. Organic, however, doesn’t necessarily mean green: it probably took five tons of jet fuel to plop that native Guangdong lychee into your tropical Bellini. Conundrums! When it comes to partying green, it seems, the snifter of a conscious tipple is somewhat bruised with environmental irony. It’s environy.

But if you can snag some local fresh-squeezed mixer, shake it with small-batch liquor, and consume only what you need — not hard, since organic cocktails are kind of freakin’ pricey — you can still get three sheets to the wind and not feel like you’re littering. Usual suspects such as gourmet vegetarian legend Millennium ( — house-infused kumquat–star anise gin, anyone?) and the snuggly bar at Roots Restaurant ( in the grandly green-built Orchard Garden Hotel have been in on the organic, fresh-brewed tip for a while. And a few surprising spots have begun wearing their green hearts on their sleeves too. Vesuvio ( in North Beach is bursting with ecofriendly drinks such as the Pojito, a mojito with local-made 209 gin and organic Pama pomegranate liqueur. SoMa restaurant Coco500 ( features a nifty lemongrass Bloody Mary, with lemongrass-infused organic vodka, organic tomato juice, and sriracha (sun-dried chili paste).

As for less immediately intoxicating spirits, Yield Wine Bar ( offers a vast array of biodynamic, sustainable, and organic wines with some of the more harmful of the 250 chemicals involved in production filtered out — that’s almost as many chemicals involved as in the first 10 minutes of a drag queen’s night out. Harmful. Wine’s pretty easy, of course — we live in wine heaven, and the products of conscious vintners such as Beringer ( and Five Rivers Ranch (, as well as those from distributors such as the Organic Wine Co. (, can be found all over. Beer’s getting in on it too: local foam-meister Anderson Valley Brewing Co. ( pumps out the suds from a solar-powered brewery, even.

But the green drink ground zero in San Francisco has to be Elixir in the Mission. Not only does it foreground organic cocktails, but the whole Elixir enchilada is officially green certified by the city in terms of recycling, cleaning, and waste disposal — the first bar of its kind. H., Elixir’s wryly gregarious owner, mixes up fierce experimental environmental drinks at the bar’s monthly green drink happy hour, which brings in an enthusiastic crowd of ecoliquor seekers (who are also really into baseball, judging from the reactions to the big-screen TVs). At a recent green grog gathering, he whipped me up a luscious Eldersour, using organic Square One rosehip-infused vodka and elderflower syrup, and a kick-ass — I can’t believe I’m seriously about to type this word — GreenTeani, a Square One martini with organic green tea infusion and lime zest. It was gone in a minute — gulp.

"There’s the green side of our business — stuff like installing low-flow toilets and making sure we recycle as much as possible," H. says. "And then there’s the organic side, with the drinks, that people seem to be getting really into lately. The little things you can do every day to feel like you make a difference matter more and more, the principle of it — even if it’s related to being a bar or going out. Nobody can be perfect when it comes to environmental stuff. I mean, I drive an old BMW to work — and it doesn’t run on used fryer oil. But it’s paid for."

After a few more GreenTeanis and a quick trip to the low-flow, I had to admit that I certainly felt better about my environment. Global warming? Pshaw. Everything was just ducky. Now where can I get an organic date? *


Second Thursdays, 6 p.m.–late


3200 16th St., SF

(415) 552-1633


Draining the river


This winter was the fourth driest rainy season on record, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the agency that owns the pipes running from the Sierras and controls the water supply for much of the Bay Area, is trying everything short of mandatory rationing to cut water use.

In press conferences and public statements, SFPUC officials are urging residents to take shorter showers and fix leaky faucets. But at the same time — with a lot less publicity — the agency is looking for ways to suck more freshwater into the reservoirs.

The SFPUC is working on a plan that could divert by 2030 another 25 million gallons a day — enough each year to cover San Francisco with more than a foot of water — from its natural source, the Tuolumne River, to meet the demands of East Bay and South Bay customers.

"They are taking the easy way out by opening up the spigot instead of working with their customers to pursue a more sustainable plan," Heather Dempsey, Bay Area program director of the Tuolumne River Trust, told the Guardian.

Individual conservation is bringing San Francisco’s per capita water use down, according to the SFPUC. But the agency estimates that the Bay Area’s demand will increase 19 percent by 2030. The way to meet that demand, agency officials say, is to increase the daily diversion of 265 million gallons to 300 million gallons. Ten million of that will come from local aqua filters, recycled water, and conservation. The rest may come from the Tuolumne.

Dempsey said she’s concerned that less water for the river could further threaten struggling fish and wildlife populations. Only 625 Chinook salmon were counted in the river last year. While the salmon population fluctuates, even a high of 17,000 in 2000 looks troubling; in 1944 the count was 130,000.

The SFPUC is working on the plan’s environmental impact reports and is considering alternatives to diverting more water, but those alternatives may cost more than the agency and the public are willing to pay.

Tony Winnicker, communications director of the SFPUC, told us the agency is interested in recycling, but that’s very expensive. The plan to retrofit and upgrade the system is already estimated to cost $4.3 billion, which will triple water rates by 2015, when the project is complete.

"It’s cheaper to rely on water that flows from the Sierras by gravity than it is to fund alternatives," Winnicker said. "But we have to diversify our water supply, and this year reminds us of that more than ever."

Bay Area residents use more water per capita than people living in the Los Angeles area. Los Angeles and its surrounding sprawl have not increased their diversion since 1980, according to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

With all of the projected demand coming from the SFPUC’s wholesale customers, Dempsey says the agency should be working with those customers to reduce their draw on the natural system.

Jennifer Clary of Clean Water Action believes this is attainable.

"It’s not crazy to set a goal of not taking more water and to figure out how to create incentives to reach that goal," Clary told us. "It’s not rocket science. People are already doing it. What we need is a commitment." (Chris Albon)

Clean isn’t always green



There’s no more symbolic and tangible an issue for elected officials than clean streets.

Not everyone can see firsthand how well local schools are operating, whether nonprofits receiving city grants are spending the money wisely, or if every board and commission is complying with open-government rules.

On the other hand, everyone knows when the streets are filthy, and if a grease-soaked, wind-tossed burger bag slaps you in the face on your way to the ballot box, you’ll angrily remember it.

But clean doesn’t inherently equal green. Street sweepers don’t magically cause dirt to disappear. Where do the used condoms, food wrappers, trails of frothy malt liquor, puddles of urine, auto exhaust particulates, oil and gas residue, toxic chemical spills, and arching piles of trash go after being sucked into a street sweeper’s collection bin?

Well, two places really. When haulers and street sweepers at the Department of Public Works pick up junk from the streets, as much as possible gets recycled at a site on Tunnel Avenue.

"DPW separates materials we pick up for recycling [furniture, appliances, construction debris, etc.], which as recently as 2003 went to the landfill," department spokesperson Christine Falvey told the Guardian.

Then, however, the street sweepers all congregate at a DPW maintenance yard on César Chávez Street, where workers hose charming layers of sludge off the inside reservoir panels of the trucks and out onto two grates — little more than storm drains, which ultimately empty into the bay.

Harvey Rose, chief budget analyst for the Board of Supervisors, released a comprehensive management audit of the DPW in January. Buried on page 149 is a description of what San Francisco does with all this waste scrubbed from the city’s asphalt surfaces and left clinging to the inside of street sweepers.

For the audit, Rose’s office hired health and safety experts from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the San Francisco International Airport to conduct an inspection of the maintenance yard.

We recently requested a copy of the report, and it shows that the foul and possibly toxic liquids removed from the trucks — still swirling with smaller debris that slipped through the grates — wind up in the city’s sewers.

A capture basin below the drains, which the SFPUC cleans out once a week, gathers some of the smaller debris such as trash and gravel. But the basins lose their treatment capacity once they’re a third full, and auditors noted that the basins were almost overflowing when they visited. And despite the presumably high concentration of pollutants in the waste liquids (uninhibited runoff from the streets is a chief contributor to water pollution), no special attention was being given to their handling.

"There are no measures in place to prevent an acute discharge of a collected hazardous material," the analyst’s report concluded, "or to reduce the chronic influx of pollutants generated from this activity."

In other words, the city is cleaning crud off the streets, where people can see it — then dumping it into the bay, where it’s a lot less visible.

In the DPW’s official response to the audit, director Fred Abadi did not dispute how poorly the agency was treating discarded waste from street sweepers and vowed to link the catch basin to a multichambered oil-grit separator, as auditors proposed. Falvey admitted that sometimes night-shift sweepers dumped their entire loads at the César Chávez yard, but she said that habit stopped after the audit was released. The DPW is currently in the market for an oil-grit separator, she added, and the maintenance yard’s drains that receive material from the sweepers have been covered with metal nets.

Of course, all that flushing also requires a lot of water — and that’s in scarce supply right now. San Francisco is experiencing its fourth driest winter on record, and to fill the region’s water needs, there’s talk of diverting more precious flow from the Tuolumne River, threatening fish and wildlife (see "Draining the River").

The DPW’s "street flushers" can each hold 3,200 gallons of water and use about 15,000 gallons of freshwater every business day to cover an average of 25 routes.

In comparison, three average San Francisco households would have to cease using water for an entire month to equal the amount of water used to clean local streets each day. The DPW’s Bureau of Street Environmental Services used 5.6 million gallons of water last year, according to figures provided by water officials. The agency used 90.8 million for landscape maintenance, mostly irrigation for street medians, which during droughts in the late ’80s was temporarily outlawed to conserve water, according to SFPUC spokesperson Tony Winnicker. San Francisco is not there yet, but "for now we would just like everybody to cut back," Winnicker said, "and certainly the city has room to do that as well."

There are costs involved in not cleaning the streets. The Maryland-based Stormwater Center, funded in part by the Environmental Protection Agency, argues that it’s not clear how much street cleaners help remove surface pollution before it runs directly into the oceans. The center says, however, the runoff could be reduced by 5 to 30 percent with the right modern trucks and aggressive maintenance.

Street sweeping as a municipal function historically began as a matter of aesthetics. Unmanageable layers of trash and slime on the street are unsightly and generally not considered to be a part of good public policy, to say the least.

More recently, though, cities have looked at how street cleaning can also help green their locales. "They still want to pick up trash and litter, which was the original idea," said Jim Scanlon, a program director for the Alameda Countywide Clean Water Program. "But it’s moving a little bit more toward wanting to pick up the finer particles because of the pollutant-reduction capabilities."

To its credit, the DPW has planted several thousand trees in the city over the past three years at the direction of the mayor, helping to contain burgeoning stormwater during heavy rains that would otherwise overflow into the ocean. It’s a strategy lauded by groups such as San Francisco Planning and Urban Research. And elsewhere at the César Chávez maintenance yard, auditors noted the DPW’s good housekeeping, including its storage of toxic materials.

But scooping up noxious sludge in one place and pouring it out somewhere else isn’t exactly the sort of green behavior that Mayor Gavin Newsom likes to talk about. *

Assault on batteries


The urban forager is generally looking for something to eat, but this does not have to be the case. While there is an undeniable pleasure in bringing edibles (blackberries, nasturtiums) home to the table from the metropolitan wild, there is also satisfaction in gathering up rubbish and disposing of it properly. And just as the city is a remarkably fertile place, so too is it rich in articles it would be better off not being rich in.

We have all seen the plastic water bottles rustling in the gutters like autumn leaves — husks emptied of their pricey elixirs and tossed away. They are easy enough to pick up and put in the nearest blue recycling bin, and that was how I started. But once I began to see the gutters as traps for stray Evian bottles, I began to notice that they hold other sorts of trash, less conspicuous but more worrisome. They hold an awful lot of batteries, in particular, with a decided tilt toward the AA size. I would like to think that even blithe people do not make a practice of throwing objects as thick with toxic chemicals and heavy metals as batteries on the sidewalk or into the street, but I seldom travel more than three blocks by foot or bike without finding at least one, often smashed or mangled by traffic.

My little foraging project for the past six months or so (since winter is a bleak time for urban food hunting; the weekday chef’s menus have heavily featured cabbage and broccoli) has been to collect all the discarded batteries I come across and put them in an old measuring cup on the pantry counter. When the cup fills, every few weeks or so, I take it to Walgreens and empty its contents into the recycling pail. Batteries do not belong in landfills almost as much as they don’t belong in the gutters, and by accepting them and sluicing them into the recycling stream, Walgreens is performing a large, if undersung, public service.

My hope is that once people start to notice that yes, there are AA batteries all over the gutters and yes, they can be picked up and recycled, people will pick them up and recycle them. Walgreens stores are easy to find in these parts, and a city whose streets are cleansed of old batteries will be a better city.

Paul Reidinger