SF Weekly

D5, Mirkarimi, and 8 Washington


Everybody knows that the timing of the Board of Supervisors vote on ousting the sheriff for official misconduct is bad for Ross Mirkarimi. We’re talking about a huge, high-profile decision just weeks before some of the key board members are up for re-election, two of them in hotly contested races. For Sups. Eric Mar and Christina Olague, it’s going to particularly difficult: Mar’s in a moderate district, and he’ll be attacked from the more conservative David Lee if he supports Mirkarimi. Olague’s in a progressive district where Mirkarimi was a popular supervisor, so no matter what she does, she’ll take heat.

But I was a little surprised by Randy Shaw’s analysis, which suggests that Olague will be motivated entirely by political spite:

D5 Supervisor Christina Olague once faced a tough decision on Ross, but since Mirkarimi allies have attacked her on a number of issues it would be very unlikely for her to support him.

That’s pretty insulting. Shaw, who has supported her in the past, is saying that Olague won’t make up her own mind based on the actual issue and case in front of her. She was pretty clear when I called her: “I will vote on the merits of this issue,” she said. “If I was motivated to vote based on who had pissed me off I’d have a hard time voting on anything.”

I’ve disagreed with Olague quite a few times, and one could easily argue that she’ll be under immense pressure from the mayor. (“The mayor doesn’t want a lot from Christina, but he does want this,” one insider told me.) But is it impossible for Shaw to imagine that, in one of the toughest matters she will ever have to handle, the supervisor might actually listen to the testimony, consider the merits of the case, and vote to do what she thinks is right?

Meanwhile, Joe Eskenazi at the Weekly has already announced the Guardian’s endorsement in D5 — which is interesting, since we’re barely started interviewing the candidates. Eskenazi calls Julian Davis “the Guardian’s fair-haired boy” (which, speaking of insults, is not a terribly appropriate way to refer to an African American man), indicating that he’s already our candidate.

For the record: We have not made an endorsement in District Five. We plan to endorse a slate of three candidates for the ranked-choice ballot, and we’ll publish that endorsement the last week in September or the first week in October.



Dear SFW: HST is dead. And you’re not him


Note to SF Weekly (and the other Village Voice Media papers that are running the same story this week):

Hunter Thompson is dead. He shot himself in 2005, in Woody Creek, Colorado. His remains, per his wishes, were fired out of a cannon.

Many have tried to copy his style; all have failed, each effort more pathetic than the one before. You’re failing, too. Give it up.

FREE tickets to see Clem Burke (Blondie) and Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) of The International Swingers


The Guardian, SF Gate and the SF Weekly present a FREE show at the Red Devil Lounge this Sunday, June 24 featuring so many music legends on one stage. Come celebrate the start of summer with the rock legends of the International Swingers. Drummer, Clem Burke is a founding member of Blondie and also played with Bob Dylan. On bass is Glen Matlock, of Sex Pistols fame. Guitarist James Stevenson played with Gen X and Gene Loves Jezebel. And tenor, Gary Twinn, singer for Twenty Flight Rockers, and Speedtwinn, leads the way. Guests are invited to reserve their FREE tickets (2 max per person) at Ticketfly (no ticket fee, no surcharge, no nothing) for that you will want to secure your tickets before the show. You must arrive before 9 pm to get your free tickets that will be held at Will Call. Otherwise it will be $20. Dig? For more information check out the event here.

To reserve your FREE tickets click here . Want to go in style? For VIP tickets / accommodations please contact reddevilbooking@me.com. This includes reserved tables, no waiting in line, and reduced surcharges. These are available on a first-come, first-serve basis exclusively through our e-mail address. This event is 21 and over.

Sunday, June 24 at 8 @ The Red Devil Lounge, 1655 Polk St, SF | $20



Why Mirkarimi pled guilty


Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi didn’t want to cop a plea. He knew the damage it  would cause to his political career and he was prepared to fight the charges. But when it became clear that he was losing every single motion around the admissibility of evidence, even when he and his attorney, Lidia Stiglich, were convinced they were right on the merits — and when it was clear from juror surveys that virtually everyone in town had read the salacious press accounts and it was impossible to find a neutral jury, he decided he had no choice.

That’s what people close to the sheriff told me shortly after Mirkarimi unexpectedly agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment. It may seem an odd plea for a sheriff, but it was a way to get rid of the more serious charges. A domestic violence conviction would seriously interfere with Mirkarimi’s job — among other things, nobody with a DV rap can possess a gun — not that the sheriff of San Francisco needs to carry a gun, but in the law-enforcement world, domestic violence is (properly) taken very seriously.

The calls for the sheriff to resign have already started. An informal sfgate poll on the subject is already posted.

I talked to Mirkarimi shortly after he appeared in court, and he told me he has no plans to step down. “I wanted to resolve this matter and move forward with the important work of the department. And I terribly miss my family and I want to be re-united.”

That’s going to be tough — someone will probably try to mount a recall effort and every single detail that has come out so far in the news media will be repeated if and when he runs for re-election in three years. In politics, that’s a long time away — but these kinds of charges never disappear.

People close to the sheriff told me that that Mirkarimi was concerned that he couldn’t find a jury that hadn’t already convicted him in their minds. “The questionnaires were very clear,” one ally said. “Nearly everyone had read the newspapers and already had some kind of a negative opinion.”

Among other things, his friends said, Mirkarimi was concerned that  a former girlfriend, Christina Marie Flores, would be allowed to testify against him — despite what his team considered serious questions about her credibility.

Flores used to be my next-door neighbor and I’ve always been friendly with her. I was on her TV show once. But the news media accounts have essentially ignored a detail that was in one of Mirkarimi’s defense motions:  After they broke up, Flores sent Mirkarimi a hate poem in which she not-terribly subtly threatened to damage his political career.

I’m not going to quote all of the emails cited in the brief (breakup+email=bad news); suffice to say that until December, 2008, Flores was clearly in love with Mirkarimi and sending him passionate notes asking him to reconsider what was obviously a move by Mirkarimi to end the relationship. (And yeah, there were nude pictures that Mirkarimi was supposed to “enjoy when you miss me.” Gak.)

On Jan 2, 2009, the brief states, “having understood that the relationship with Mirkarimi was over, Flores sent Mirkarimi a lengthy hate poem. In startling contrast to her prior e-mails to Mirkarimi, Flores now called Mirkarami `the worst type of waste of air’ and said that there ‘are smarter and more handsome men BY FAR.’

“Flores ended the poem with the following:

So as 2009 rolls in and you roll out
I remember what my life was all about
Surrounded by so many of my friends
I am rich and happy with how my story ends

Except one thing.

I have never had the distinct pleasure
Of meeting such an idiot of such great measure
That freely let me know of things
That could unwind plans of what his political future brings

Yes, I do know those, some of whom you hate.
Who could have a say in your fate
And long friendships with some that you despise
That after the fact have opened my eyes.

What to do with the ball in my court …
Let us see what happens.”

Don’t know who “some of whom you hate” means, but Mirkarimi has had a contentious relationship the San Francisco Police Department. Flores is the daughter of a police officer and the ex-wife of another officer, who happens to be a domestic violence inspector.

Three years after that poem was written, when she heard about the DV allegations against Mirkarimi, she filed a police report alleging similar behavior. She also talked to two newspapers, the Chronicle and SF Weekly.

In her statement to the district attorney’s office, the brief states, “Flores conceded that she wanted to go public for personal reasons: ‘He said that that woman from Venuzuela (Lopez) knew about our relationship and it didn’t matter to her … which I think is a lie. And that’s probably why I’m here because I don’t think she knew.’”

Doesn’t mean that anything she claims about Mirkarimi was untrue. A woman who is mad at her ex-boyfriend for whatever still has every right to complain about domestic violence, even later; if she was physically abused, then what happened at other points in the relationship doesn’t change anything.
But it’s interesting that the daily papers, which reported freely on the prosecution’s side of this story, haven’t mentioned the equally fascinating (and tawdry) allegations in the defense brief.

It’s the kind of thing that, Mirkarimi’s allies say, made it hard to find a fair jury.

Judges these days go out of their way not to exclude evidence in DV cases, and the fact that this was such a high-profile political case made that even more dramatic. Ruling that the videotape of Mirkarimi’s wife crying and showing a bruise and the testimony of an ex-girlfriend who said he abused her inadmissible would most likely have forced the district attorney to drop the charges. Very few judges would want to take that risk.

So now Mirkarimi has to deal with the fallout, and it raises the question: Can the progressive community accept and once again support a sheriff who has all of this baggage? Is there anything Mirkarimi can do to convince his allies and the voters that either (a) the charges were overblown or (b) he’s learned from this, is going into counseling, is a changed person, and can seek political redemption?

The city forgave Gavin Newsom when he had sex with his close friend’s wife (after he allegedly went into treatment for alcohol abuse) and forgave Willie Brown when he impregnated a campaign fundraiser (because nobody cares about that sort of thing these days), but domestic violence is a very different deal. As it should be.

Any yet, some people are clearly willing to give him a chance. Alix Rosenthal, a longtime leader on women’s issues who supported Mirkarimi for sheriff, told me that she doesn’t think he should step down.

“I think this whole thing has been blown way out of proportion,” she said.

Mirkarimi, she noted, needs to publicly go into counseling with his wife (which he can’t do until the stay-away order is lifted — seriously, right now he can’t even go to counseling with his wife) and he needs to make it clear that he’s addressing anger-management issues. But she thinks he can still play a role in the progressive community.

There will be other progressives who disagree, and Mirkarimi will have to win them over. And all the while, the supporters of Chris Cunnie, the former Police Officers Association president who lost to Mirkarimi in the fall, aren’t going to let this go away quietly.

UPDATE: The Chron is already calling on Mayor Ed Lee to “investigate” the sheriff for misconduct. Investigate? As if there’s anything that hasn’t already become public? The real message is that the Chron wants Lee to try to get rid of Mirkarimi. And so it begins.

About that “acrimonious fall”

Catch this. Mayor Ed Lee’s mayoral victory had nothing to do with millions of dollars in campaign contributions from private interests, a sophisticated get-out-the vote effort targeting Lee supporters, the advantage of incumbency, some funny business, or a calculated campaign strategy concentrating efforts on absentee ballots.

Instead, the fact that Lee triumphed over voters’ second pick, the significantly less well-funded progressive candidate Sup. John Avalos, is proof that the left in San Francisco has plummeted into a dark abyss. In fact, the progressive movement has descended so far into disarray and become so irrelevant that its condition warrants front page news.

That’s essentially the narrative that Benjamin Wachs and Joe Eskenazi of the San Francisco Weekly offer in their cover article, “Progressively Worse: The Tumultuous Rise and Acrimonious Fall of the City’s Left,” in which they refer to the Guardian as “the movement’s cajoling ward boss, kingmaker, and sounding board.” Gosh, I feel so goddamn important right now.

Once the blood pressure returned to normal, my initial reaction to this piece was that Wachs and Eskenazi seem to misunderstand who and what progressives actually are. They portray the city’s left as a caricature, a brash bunch of power mongers now on the losing end that can be easily summed up with pithy video game references, Happy Meal toy bans, and bikes.

Witness the contrast between the Weekly’s portrayal of progressives (helped along by former Newsomite Eric Jaye), and the portrait of the left the Guardian offers this week with an Op-Ed written by NTanya Lee — an actual progressive who volunteered for the Avalos for Mayor campaign.

Here’s the Weekly on the left:

“This is an eclectic group, one often bound not by mutual interests as much as mutual enmity — toward Brown, his successors, and the corporate interests of ‘downtown.’ As a result, progressive principles are often wildly inconsistent. Progressives favor more government control over people’s lives for their own good, as when they effectively banned McDonald’s Happy Meals. But sometimes progressives say the government needs to let people make their own choices … Progressives believe government should subsidize homeless people who choose to drink themselves to death, while forbidding parents from buying McNuggets because fast food is bad for us. … Without consistent principles, it’s easy to associate progressives with the craziest ideas to come out of City Hall, and the movement’s bad ideas are memorable. … Daly’s pledge to say ‘Fuck’ at every public meeting makes a killer Internet meme. Hey, let’s legalize prostitution and outlaw plastic bags!”

Here’s Lee on the left:

“The Avalos coalition was largely community forces: SF Rising’s base in working class Black, Latino, Filipino and Chinese communities; the Bike Coalition’s growing base of mostly white bike riders; affinity groups like Filipinos, Queers, Latinos and Arabs for Avalos; progressive Democrats; social networks of creative, young progressive activists affiliated with the League of Young Voters; and loyal families and neighborhood leaders from John’s own District 11. The campaign prioritized communicating to voters in four languages, and according to the Chinese press, John Avalos was the only non-Chinese candidate with a significant Chinese outreach program. There were stalwarts from progressive labor unions (most notably SEIU 1021 and USWW) who threw down — but overall, labor played it safe and invested resources in other guys. And then, in the great surprise development of the race, supporters of the new national occupy movement came to be a strong part of the Team Avalos base because the campaign was so well positioned to resonate with the call to take on the one percent.”

When it comes to takeaways from the November election, the Weekly’s conclusion is essentially opposite that of progressives. While many on the left see themselves as regaining momentum and building the power to rise even in the face of defeat by the established powers-that-be, the Weekly casts San Francisco’s left as deflated and out-of-touch.

Speaking of out-of-touch, the SF Weekly refers to San Francisco’s “increasingly imaginary working class.”  But in reality, 61 percent of students attending public schools in S.F. Unified School District qualify for free or reduced lunch, and a majority of San Franciscans cannot afford market-rate housing.

However, the Weekly is correct in pointing out that shifting demographics have dealt a blow to the progressive base.

“Between 2000 and 2010, the city grew older (every age group over 50 increased), wealthier (there are now 58 percent more households earning $125,000 or more), and more heavily Asian (up from around 30 to nearly 35 percent of the city’s population): exactly the groups progressives don’t win with. These voters don’t respond well to campaigns against developments or for city services, because they’re often living in those developments and don’t need city services.”

I take issue with the Asian part of that statement as a sweeping generalization, however, having witnessed the solid organizing work of the Chinese Progressive Association, for example.

The Weekly also says progressives and the Guardian never called out former Mayor Gavin Newsom for ripping off their best ideas. Oh, they didn’t?  That’s news to me.

The Weekly article implies that progressives got trounced by moderates because jobs are priority No. 1 for voters, and the left has no feasible economic plan — but at the same time, the article completely dismisses ideas that the Guardian has put forth, like creating a municipal bank, implementing Avalos’ Local Hire legislation, or taxing the rich.

Taxing the rich is precisely the kind of economic solution the international Occupy movement is clamoring for, and the concept has even attracted a few unlikely supporters, like billionaires Warren Buffet and Sean Parker, who is not some conservative a*hole by the way.

“The Guardian … stays on the progressive agenda because they put it there, along with taxing the rich, tapping downtown to subsidize Muni, and other measures … Proposing the same old solutions to every new problem turns policies into punch lines.”

Speaking of predictable, no profile authored by the Weekly mentioning the Guardian would be complete without some dig about public power. “The Guardian has been flogging public power since Tesla invented the alternating-current generator,” the S.F. Weekly squawks. Those clever reporters, turning policies into punch lines.

But wait, I thought the problem was that progressives couldn’t get it together on the job creation thing. Consider the CleanPower SF program, which has been strongly advocated for by progressive Sup. and Sheriff-elect Ross Mirkarimi (who it turns out is “not toxic,” according to the Weekly, since he was elected citywide and all). According to an analysis by the Local Clean Energy Alliance, CleanPowerSF will create 983 jobs — 4,357 jobs when indirect job creation is factored in — over the course of three years, assuming the 51 percent renewable energy target is met. Presented with this kind of information, the Weekly will only yawn and say, “Are we on that again?”

That being said, our friends’ article might actually have a pearl of wisdom or two buried somewhere in that nauseating sea of sarcasm. Everyone needs to engage in self-reflection. So right after you’re done throwing up, think about how to take advantage of the opportunity this article presents for a citywide dialogue about progressivism in San Francisco.

Is SF moving to the right?


The Bay Citizen/New York Times thinks so. The headline on the story — “more conservative is the new normal” — says it all. Matt Smith (formerly of our price-fizing rival SF Weekly) and Gerry Shih say the Nov. 8 election signals a turn to the right for this famously liberal city:

But Tuesday’s election signaled a palpable shift: In addition to Lee, a pro-business moderate, voters overwhelmingly picked George Gascón, the law-and-order former police chief — and former Republican — as district attorney.

“To whoever thinks San Francisco is loopy and left-wing, this election basically said, ‘No, it’s really not,’” said David Latterman, associate director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco. “We just elected an ex-Republican, pro-death penalty district attorney by a landslide. Just ponder that.”

Well: It’s interesting that they call Lee a “pro-business moderate,” which is probably accurate but differs from how Lee’s more progressive supporters see the new mayor. But while they talk about Gascon, they conveniently leave out the fact that San Francisco has elected the first solid progressive to a citywide office in a long, long time. Ross Mirkarimi — a former Green Party member and without a doubt one of the most left-leaning supervisors — won a tight, contested race for sheriff running honestly as a progressive. I think you have to go back to 1987, when Art Agnos ran for mayor as the candidate of the left, to find another example of a progressive champion winning all across town.

The interesting element of all of this — and something I think Smith and Shih got absolutely right — is that the demographic makeup of the city is changing, and has been for a while:

“From a political perspective, the tech companies are employing young workers who often prefer to live in San Francisco, even if they commute to Silicon Valley, said Wade Randlett, a Bay Area technology executive and top fund-raiser for President Obama.”

Wade Randlett is not my favorite person in local politics, but the point he makes is valid — and it’s not happening by accident. Virtually all of the new housing that’s been built in San Francisco in the past decade has been aimed at wealthy people, a lot of them young tech types who commute from the city to Silicon Valley. The other people moving into new housing are empty-nest retirees from places like Marin County. If you walk through the new condo buildings in Soma, the residents are mostly white, with a few Asians; there are almost no African Americans, very few families and essentially zero working-class people.

For years, downtown groups (including Randlett’s former employer, SFSOS) have pushed for this kind of housing, and some of them have been very open about their goal: By bringing in more rich people and tech workers, you can change the politics of the city. Housing activist Calvin Welch puts it succinctly: Who lives here, votes here.

That’s the reason why land use and housing are so critically important in this town. If poor and working-class people are pushed out to make way for a more upscale set of residents, then progressives who talk about taxing the wealthy to provide services for the poor will have a harder time getting elected.

It’s not a conspiracy; it’s an open, stated policy goal of the people who spent vast sums of money electing Ed Lee.



Censorship — or something else?


Project Censored highlight stories that didn’t make the national mainstream news media. And in this issue, we’ve got a story that shows something about how news judgments are made in two of San Francisco’s largest newsrooms.

Journalist Peter Byrne (who once worked at SF Weekly and wrote some critical stories about us) shares the tale of what happened to a story that the San Francisco Chronicle assigned him — but never published. The people at the Chron and the Bay Citizen (a nonprofit whose work runs in the New York Times) have different perspectives on what happened in this case — and whether powerful people like Richard Blum influence whether critical stories end up in print. Readers can decide for themselves how to see this situation.

But what was striking to us at the Guardian — and why we chose to print both Byrne’s account and the final story that the Chronicle chose not to print below — was that the suppressed story was actually quite tame and well-balanced after Chronicle writers, editors, and lawyers spent months working on it (Bay Citizen also invested weeks of work and never published anything relating to the story).

It simply raised the issue of whether the University of California should be doing private equity investment deals that are overseen by wealthy, politically connected people like Blum, whose own funds were also involved. It ultimately wasn’t a screaming indictment or accusation of illegal activity, but just a modest peek behind the curtain of an important institution whose focus has strayed from its core mission of serving college students.

We reviewed email exchanges that confirm the basic outline of Byrne’s story, conducted some interviews that guided our editing of this story, and included responses from the Chronicle and Bay Citizen at the end of the story. Ultimately, whether this is a case of censorship or something else, we thought it deserved to find its way into print. (Steven T. Jones)



Why two Bay Area newsrooms dismissed my story about conflicts of interest in UC investment deals


By Peter Byrne


In September 2010, the journalism website Spot.us published my investigative series, “The Investors Club: How University of California Regents Spin Public Money into Private Profit.” It detailed how members of the UC Board of Regent’s investment committee oversaw the investment of nearly $1.5 billion of UC’s money into business deals in which they themselves held significant stakes.

One of the conflicted regents was Richard Blum, the financier husband of U.S. Sen., Dianne Feinstein (D-CA); another was Paul Wachter, a business partner of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (who is also a regent).

The story caused a stir, particularly at a time when student groups were protesting draconian cuts and tuition hikes. Several newsweeklies published the series. The Los Angeles Times ran a story about my findings. And the investigation was honored with journalism awards by several local, state, and national organizations. So I was not surprised when Nanette Asimov, the higher education beat reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, called me last October.

“I know it’s a Herculean task, but is it possible to charbroil your opus down to 800 words?” she asked. The paper offered to pay me $350 for the story.

Intrigued, I squeezed the investigation that Spot.us had paid $7,000 to produce into a few paragraphs. Little did I know that Asimov and I would be expanding and cutting and tweaking this story for the next eight months, as publication was delayed again and again by foot-dragging editors.

But I was patient. Even after Metro Editor Audrey Cooper told me that Blum had “threatened” Chronicle editors if they ran the tale, I waited several more months before going public. It is my belief that journalists must as accountable for what we do not print as for what we do print.

When Elizabeth Lesly Stevens, a staff writer at the Bay Citizen, inquired about the delay in publishing the story, I told her what I knew and gave her dozens of emails between myself and Chronicle staff. Ironically, the Bay Citizen never ran the story about the story.



It quickly became obvious that the complex financial story would not easily squeeze into a few paragraphs. But since the Hearst Corporation had cut the Chronicle’s reportorial throat several years ago by laying off its investigative enterprise staff, there appeared to be no one left capable of editing it. Asimov had to constantly badger editors to work on the story.

Shortly before Thanksgiving 2010, Chronicle business reporter Tom Abate got involved. He sent me an outline indicating places where I should insert a “FIRE BREATHING QUOTE” and then a “QUOTE OF OUTRAGE.” The idea of daily news writing, he told me, was “make the readers spit up their coffee.” Okay! I dreamed that the streets of San Francisco would soon flow with rivers of regurgitated java.

By early January 2011, Asimov and I had worked up a coherent version, focusing on Blum and Wachter’s conflicts of interest. On January 31, Assistant City Editor Terry Robertson emailed, “I’m aiming to get it in the paper by the end of the week.” A few days later, he backtracked, “Well, I just found out that the story needs to be lawyered. That throws a bit of a wrench into the works. Sorry.”

By mid-February, Robertson had evidently lost interest. Determined to see it in print, Asimov recruited a veteran Chronicle reporter, John Wildermuth, to edit it. He whipped it into shape at 1,600 words. Now it was time for Asimov to call Blum for comment, since he refuses to talk to me.

According to Asimov, Blum was “spitting nails.” He called the allegations of conflicts of interest made by an array of ethics experts “obscene.” He said, “Nobody has ever told me that we had to ask UC for an OK before we invested in something. I wouldn’t be on the Board of Regents if I have to ask for permission to go to the bathroom.” And I was told he threatened the Chronicle with legal action if the story was published.

In late March, the copy was again sent to Cooper. On April 11, she decided it needed yet more attention from the lawyers.



On April 14, the Daily Nexus, which is the student newspaper at UC Santa Barbara, reported on a group of students who had gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition to the state Attorney General asking for an investigation based upon the conflicts of interest identified in the Spot.us investigation. In the article, UC scholar Gray Brechin opined that the Chronicle was failing to print my story due “to the political influence of Blum and Feinstein.”

Shortly after the story was posted online, Cooper called Daily Nexus Editor Elliot Rosenfeld. She complained that Brechin’s comment about the Chronicle was “libelous.” The student editor removed the quote from the newspaper’s website.

When I asked Cooper about this, she emailed, “As for the Nexus, I think it’s a learning experience for them. As I told the paper’s editor and Dr. Brechin, I have never been intimidated into publishing anything—nor to refrain from publishing an article. And it won’t happen in the future, regardless of whether the pressure comes from a scientist, another journalist, or a senator.”

Then Cooper stopped responding to my emails.



On May 6, I received an email from the Bay Citizen’s Stevens. She had been at a dinner party with Brechin. She asked me why the Chronicle story was languishing. She said the Bay Citizen might publish it. I told her I was not ready to go public.

On May 18, I emailed Asimov about the status of the story. She said the lawyer had it.

I called Cooper. She told me, “I would like to get [the story] in for Memorial Day because we need the copy. … I am not responding to emails because I don’t want any of this shit in print. … Dick Blum can go fuck himself! Excuse my language. I don’t know the guy. I am not afraid of him. If he is doing something shady I want to publish that … [but] I am not going to be bullied into not printing it by Dick Blum and I’m not going to be bullied into printing it. … The fact that he’s called the editor and has an attorney in waiting makes us want to do it more. … I absolutely want to run it. I would like to run it next weekend.”

I asked if Blum was threatening the newspaper.

Cooper replied, “Yeah. The only people who know that are me and the executive editor and the managing editor. I don’t think Nanette knows that. So you are now like the fourth person that knows that besides Dick Blum. … People threaten to sue us all the time. But if we are going to mess with, you know, a billionaire, we are going to be a little cautious.”

A few weeks later, on June 2, I asked Asimov if she knew about Blum’s threat. She replied, “Of course, I knew. Heck, Blum told me as well. The presence of Blum’s lawyers won’t influence whether we run the piece, however. But this is getting increasingly ridiculous, and I’ve asked someone to find out the status for us.”

On June 27, Asimov told me that the “final version” of the story would “run over the weekend” and that it had been cut to 1,200 words. It did not run.

On July 6, I asked Asimov what was going on. She replied, “What happened is that the lawyer looked at it, and made some tweaks. Most were minor, but a small number of them struck me as simply wrong—like he didn’t understand the point. So I told Audrey, and its been the big chill ever since. So I don’t currently know what’s happening.”

That same day, July 6, the Chronicle ran a profile of Feinstein praising her as “the most effective politician in California.” Her well-documented conflicts of interest with her husband’s various businesses were not mentioned.

A week later, July 12, the Chronicle printed an op-ed by Blum in which he said online education is the future. He did not mention that Blum Capital has a multi-billion-dollar stake in two of the nation’s largest for-profit education corporations, each with a growing online component. Nor did the oped note that UC had invested $53 million in these companies after Blum joined the investment committee in 2004.

On July 19, Asimov told me, “The story was re-sent to the attorneys last night with the latest edits.” She said that nothing was likely to happened for at least two weeks since people were going on vacation. She said she would “leave [Cooper] a note saying that if the lawyer approves it, you must approve the final version.” And that was the last time I heard from anyone at the Hearst Corporation.

A few days later, Stevens contacted me again. She wanted to write about my story for the Bay Citizen’s section in The Sunday New York Times. Not being gifted with second sight, I did not know if the Chronicle would ever run the story, but they damn sure had let it get rigor mortis. So, I gave Stevens the email trail. I warned her that she might run into a similar problem at the Bay Citizen, which was founded by Wall Street financier Warren Hellman. It turns out that Hellman sits on the Board of Directors of the Berkeley Endowment Management Company, which controls half a billion dollars in UC Berkeley Foundation investments. Public records show that Hellman’s investment bank is partnered with the same two private equity funds that count both UC and Blum Capital as limited partners. And one of the Founding Patrons of Bay Citizen is the Blum Family Foundation. And one of the board members of the nonprofit Bay Citizen is Jeffery Ubben, a former managing partner of Blum Capital. But I digress.

[Editor’s Note: The Bay Citizen’s newsroom is run independently of its board members, and journalists there say none of the funders have influenced the selection or editing of news stories.]

A week later, Stevens informed me that the story was being pushed to the following week. And then she went on a month-long vacation and the story died. Go figure.

But Stevens did alert the Chronicle staff to my complaints, and the fact that I had provided her with emails and documentation to back up my claim that the Chronicle had bowed to Blum’s threat.

On August 8, Asimov emailed a UC instructor, Kathryn Klar, who had inquired about the status of my story. Asimov recounted, “I worked for nearly a year to get Peter Byrne’s—frankly awful—story in good enough shape to run in the Chronicle. It was poorly written and confusing. He will tell you how hard I worked to get that thing ready for publication. … By the end of July, the story was in great shape and the lawyers were taking a final look.

“And then Peter did the unthinkable. He forwarded a year’s worth of my private correspondence to another journalistic organization—not a newspaper—who then contacted me and others at the paper threatening to write a story about how the Chronicle had suppressed Peter’s story. … They behaved like blackmailers. Of course they had no story to write, and they didn’t. Needless to say, Peter’s story will not run in the Chronicle now. But it was his actions, not ours, that led to its death. We, my editors included, liked the story and were pleased that it was finally in great shape. Even the lawyers agreed.

“Its such a shame.”

Editors note: We asked Chronicle Managing Editor Steve Proctor for his response. He told us:

“The decision not to publish the story was made by the paper’s two top editors, me and Ward Bushee. After reviewing Mr. Byrne’s previously published articles and his interactions with the Chronicle, we decided that we were not comfortable publishing his work.

“The story was brought to the Chronicle after having been previously published on a journalism web site. The editors here who worked with Mr. Byrne decided that his reporting would need to be double-checked if the piece were to appear in some form in the Chronicle. This was done intermittently, over a period of time, as there was no urgency to publish given that a version of the story had already appeared.

“We want to be clear on one point. The Chronicle is never intimidated by threats made prior to the publication of a newspaper story — and they are hardly infrequent. We make all of our decisions about publishing stories based on the high standards for journalism that we seek to uphold in the newspaper every day.” Bay Citizen reporter Elizabeth Lesly Stevens told us: “After much reporting we ultimately decided that Peter’s story was a lot less interesting than he thought it was, and wouldn’t make for a very worthwhile column in the NY Times.”

Editors note: This is the final version of the story that was supposed to run in the Chron:

By Peter Byrne


The University of California has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in business deals in which two regents who have helped oversee UC’s investment portfolio also had financial interests, records show.

Since 2003, UC has invested in five private equity deals in which Regent Richard Blum also had investment interests, according to federal, state and university documents. Regent Paul Wachter had a substantial financial interest in one of those deals.

In such cases, Blum and Wachter were in a position to benefit — or lose — from university investments they oversaw. Blum served on the investment committee from 2004 to February 2010. Wachter joined in 2004 and is its current chairman.

Both regents deny any wrongdoing. The university’s chief attorney has examined the investment overlap and concluded they were likely coincidental.

Yet some ethics experts say the overlapping investments create an appearance of conflicted interests. Critics say the deals may violate state and UC ethics guidelines.

Blum, an investment banker and financier who was appointed to the regents in 2002 by then-Gov. Gray Davis, is the husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Wachter is CEO of Main Street Advisors,?a financial management company. He was named to the board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004.

The regents’ 10-member investment committee sets policy for and oversees the management of UC’s $70.8 billion as of March 2011 portfolio of investments, which includes the retirement, endowment and campus foundation funds. UC’s chief investment officer, Marie Berggren, regularly reports to the committee, explaining where the money is being invested and how well the investments are doing.

The investment committee’s conflict-of-interest policy prohibits committee members from telling the investment officer what specific funds to invest in. But they can, and do, direct her to invest greater or lesser amounts in certain categories of funds.

Committee members must also adhere to conflict-of-interest guidelines established by the state and UC, both of which prohibit officials from influencing or voting on matters in which there is even an appearance of a personal conflict of interest. In particular, UC’s policy says a conflict exists “if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial effect on one or more of your economic interests.” A material interest is defined as being worth more than $2,000.


Blum had investments of more than $1 million in a number of the business partnerships that UC put money into, while Wachter had up to $1 million invested in one of the deals.

UC’s general counsel, Charles Robinson, examined these investments in 2010. Robinson concluded that the investment overlap was probably coincidental, and that neither Blum nor Wachter improperly steered public funds.

“Any overlap is substantially more likely to be the result of independent decisions by like-minded investors than the result of coordination,” Robinson reported.

Blum called the idea that he would coordinate investments and profit from UC’s financial dealings “ridiculous” and even “obscene.”

“Nobody has ever told me that we had to ask the UC for an OK before we invested in something,” Blum told The Chronicle. “I wouldn’t be on the Board of Regents if I have to ask for permission to go to the bathroom.”

Wachter also dismissed the idea that the overlapping investments represent a conflict. “It just doesn’t make sense at all,” Wachter said, adding that he’s surprised that he and Blum had so few overlapping investments over the years, given the extent of their holdings. “The key thing is that you’re not telling each other what to do.”

But ethics experts say conflict of interest laws and regulations do not allow for such overlaps. “The regents’ overlapping investments pose clear conflicts of interest,” said Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. “It is really striking that members of the investment committee stood to gain so significantly from co-investing with UC.”

Robert Weissman, president of the government watchdog group Public Citizen, was more direct: “A third-grader can see that what the regents on the investment committee were doing is unethical.”


Minutes from committee meetings show Blum and Wachter consistently voted to instruct the investment officer to increase the amount of money invested in private equity funds, a sector in which the two regents have substantial financial interests.

More importantly, some of those investments were tied to private equity deals in which Blum and Wachter held financial stakes.

In one example, Blum, Wachter, and UC all invested in private equity funds that partnered to buy the Las Vegas casino corporation Harrah’s Entertainment in 2008.

It worked this way: The regents’ investment committee oversaw an investment of $199 million in four private equity funds that helped finance the $30 billion Harrah’s deal, according to documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and UC financial records.

Blum held “more than $1 million” in one these funds, called TPG Capital V, according to Feinstein’s economic disclosure statement. Wachter owned “up to $1 million” in two of the funds that financed the Harrah’s buyout, according to his financial disclosure statements.

Blum denied any conflict. He said the money resulted from a 2006 merger between Blum’s Newbridge Capital and TPG Capital. Newbridge became TPG Asia, with Blum as its co-chairman.

As a result of the merger, “I wound up having some extremely minor — less than 1 percent — interest in some of (TPG Capital’s) funds,” Blum said, referring to his $1 million-plus asset.

Blum said he did not engineer the arrangement, and is never consulted on matters concerning TPG Capital, which did the deal with Harrah’s.

“You couldn’t pay me to invest in a casino,” he said. Wachter agreed that the Harrah’s case presents no conflict. “With investors, there will always be overlap. The point is, if one of the regents told the UC to invest in a particular fund, manager or company, that would be a different conversation. But that’s what our policy prohibits.”


During his six years on the investment committee, Blum had a financial interest in four other deals in which UC was involved, according to SEC filings and UC records.

They involved Univision and Freescale Semiconductor in 2007, Sungard Data Systems in 2005, and Kinetic Concepts in 2004.

Blum said he had no control over any of the deals involving TPG Capital, but said his firm, Blum Capital Investments, was very involved with Kinetic Concepts.

He scoffed at the idea that he engineered any UC investment to enrich himself. “This is how ridiculous it is,” Blum said. “So someone’s going to whine because of $1 million? And somehow I’m taking advantage of the UC? I probably give away a bigger percentage of my net worth” than many people.

Private equity, in any case, has not been a cash cow for the university. In February, investment officer Berggren reported that the 10-year rate of return on the private equity portion of the UC retirement fund was averaging less than 1 percent annually, far less than the 6.5 percent return of UC’s fixed-income portfolio during the same period. Nanette Asimov contributed to this report.

Gascon justifies secrecy in Guardian interview


Three top candidates for district attorney held a joint press conference this morning calling out District Attorney George Gascon for refusing to release a controversial memo by a consultant hired by the DA’s office outlining problems with DNA analysis in the city’s crime lab, which was overseen at the time by then-Police Chief Gascon.

Instead of obeying a judge’s order that he release the document, Gascon is clinging to a thin legal interpretation that it is a work product that he can withhold, choosing instead to spend city resources appealing the ruling. Journalist Peter Jamison has repeatedly written about the memo and the crime lab in the SF Weekly, but it was the Bay Guardian who got Gascon’s most extensive comments to date on it during his endorsement interview with us last week.

Starting just after the 23 minute mark when I asked about the memo and continuing for more than 10 minutes, Gascon – who earlier presented himself as one of the state’s most progressive law enforcement officials – takes credit for exposing problems with the crime lab but offers a fairly tortured rationale for hiding a document that might prove embarrassing during election season.

The California Public Records Act allows limited disclosure exceptions for what’s called “work product,” or drafts of internal documents meant to be works in progress, but it doesn’t require those documents to remain secret (as with personnel records, for example). Gascon admits that he could release the document but that he chooses not to.

“There are several concerns here. This is a memo that is largely the opinions of an individual that is a work product, it is within the office of the District Attorney’s Office, and there is good public policy as to why you have work product. You want to have robust discussions and honest self assessment of what works and what doesn’t work,” he said.

We noted that the consultant, Rockne Harmon, was brought in to bring problems with the crime lab to light so they could be addressed (not attorneys discussing the strengths and weaknesses of a case, the example Gascon cited), that Harmon actually wants to memo to be released, and that no possible public harm could come from this.

Gascon even agreed with that last point, telling us, “This document is quite harmless, but it’s the concept of the ability of people to have honest self-assessment and self-critical discussions.” He said they were reviewing the judge’s ruling and “we’ll comply with the court.” Then, the very next day, he announced that he would appeal the ruling.

Clearly – as DA candidaes David Onek, Sharmin Bock, and Bill Fazio noted this morning – Gascon is hiding the document because he’s worried it will make him look bad. And as our discussion with Gascon illustrates, he is not someone who places a high value on transparency, which is a real problem given the history of damaging secrecy in both the SFPD and the DA’s office.

So give a listen to a candid discussion about a breaking news story on an important issue and weigh in with your thoughts. BTW, as an added bonus, keep listening to the interview to hear the perspective of an unlikely supporter that Gascon brought with him: attorney Matt Gonzalez, who galvanized the progressive movement with his 2003 mayoral run.

Those crazy San Franciscans


Joe Eskenazi has an SF Weekly piece that pretty much repeats what he’s been saying for years: That San Francisco has too much government. This time he goes after all the boards, task forces and commissions — and yeah, there are a lot of them, and yeah, some of them might not be necessary. I could also argue, though, that San Francisco is one of the most politically active cities in the world, and that having a whole lot of ways for residents to plug in to what’s going on in their city isn’t a bad thing at all.

Whatever. Here’s the stuff that drives me nuts:

Last month, the volunteer body appointed by the Board of Supervisors advocated curtailing all pet sales in the city — including guppies, goldfish, and live rodents meant as snake food. Coming on the heels of a proposed criminalization of circumcision, San Francisco was, once again, reduced to an international punchline — many were left to wonder whether a ban on circumcising goldfish is our logical next step. Disbelieving articles poured in from around the globe. Perhaps none was as caustic as a piece in London‘s Telegraph titled “San Francisco goldfish ban exposes the pathology of America’s bourgeois liberal nutjobs.”

Ah, yes, Joe: Those crazy San Francisco liberals and their madcap ideas.

I’m not for banning pet sales (although I think banning puppy mills — also a wacky idea that came out of the Animal Control and Welfare Commission — is a fine thing). And I’m not for the circumcision ban (although, geez, it has lead to some interesting commentary that gives new meaning to the term “dick face.”)

But every time I hear somebody talk about how San Franciscans should stop it with the nutty ideas, I think about a few I’ve followed over the years — and how they’ve changed the way the entire nation thinks. Let me suggest a few for Eskanazi to look at:

“Those crazy San Franciscans don’t want to build freeways.” Yep — in the late 1950s and early 1960s, while the rest of the country (and in particular, California) was rushing to build freeways as fast as possible, people in this city decided to say No. The freeway revolt and the movement that grew out of it changed the way Americans view cities. Wacky shit.

“Those crazy San Franciscans think homosexuals should have the same rights as married people.” Yep, back in the 1970s San Franciscans started talking not only about nondiscrimination — they actually said that gay people who live together should have health insurance benefits. Imagine that.

“Those crazy San Franciscans think that women should make the same amount of money as men.” When then- Sup Nancy Walker introduced legislation in 1985 making “comparable worth” (the notion that men and women who do jobs that require comparable skills should be paid the same) it made headlines all over the country — and was universally derided by the same set that now complain about “liberal nutjobs.” It cost the city a lot of extra money (money that the Eskinazi crew of the day said was too much for a broke city) and led to all sorts of comments about social engineering. San Francisco was the first to push the issue, and it’s now considered mainstream employment policy.

“Those crazy San Franciscans think we ought to give bicycles the same rights as cars.” All the way back in the mid-1980s, bicycle advocates were talking about bike lanes, bike maps, bike racks and alternatives to the automobile. What were they drinking?

“Those crazy San Franciscans think that transgender people ought to get health benefits.” This was as recent as 1993 — and if you think circumcision and pets put SF in the right-wing-talk-show and late-night-comedy targets, imagine when the city decided “to use taxpayer dollars to fund sex-change operations,” as the detractors insisted. Guess what? It turned out to be a major step forward for transgender rights.

“Those crazy San Franciscans think gay people should be allowed to get married.” We did. We do. We were first. The rest of the country is following.

“Those crazy San Franciscans want to ban plastic bags.” We did. For good reason. So did L.A. In another few years, it will be national policy.

“Those crazy San Franciscans want to ban happy meals.” Guess what — McDonald’s got the message. 

I could list plenty more.

Yeah, we’re ahead of the curve. Yeah, sometimes our shit seems crazy. But it’s the crazy shit that makes the world change — and over time, the world catches up to San Francisco. And if we weren’t doing it, the world would get better just a little more slowly.




The Village Voice, Ashton Kutcher and prostitution ads


There’s some fascinating back and forth in media circles about the Village Voice, its chain (which includes SF Weekly), Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, prostitution, and layoffs and budget cuts as the nation’s oldest alternative weekly.

It’s all so juicy I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps with the SF Weekly’s cover story this week, which also ran in the Voice and most of the chain’s other papers.

The story takes Kutcher and Moore to task for launching a campaign against child prostitution using bogus numbers.
For the record: I have no reason to doubt the Voice’s conclusions here. I have no problem with adult ads (which the Guardian also takes). And frankly, I have no problem with prostitution, which, like gambling and drugs, ought to be legalized, regulated and taxed.

And the Voice was scrupulous about disclosing that it has a financial interest in this issue. How much of an interest? Well, a lot. In fact, according to the New York Observer, the prostitution ads could well be floating the financially troubled chain:

Backpage, which is a fraction of the size of Craigslist, is the only popular classifieds site left willing to host the paid escort and body-rub ads that are often thinly veiled fronts for prostitution. In the month after Craigslist closed its erotic services sections under pressure from Congress and state attorneys general, Backpage enjoyed a half-million-visitor bump in traffic, according to Quantcast, and became the No. 1 publisher of escort ads on the Internet. The Aim Group, a media consulting firm, estimated that in January, Backpage brought in $2.1 million in revenue from erotic services ads alone.

That would be about $24 million a year — and the Observer notes that VVM desperately needed the cash:

For more than two decades, Village Voice Media executive editor Mike Lacey employed a simple, often devastatingly successful strategy for gaining control of the country’s alternative weekly business: acquire the local paper, cut editorial costs (lay off critics, reporters and, reportedly, entire fact-checking departments), pump the paper full of nationally syndicated content and splash an occasional local investigative piece on the cover. It was working like a charm until 2004, when the San Francisco Bay-Guardian sued VVM’s SF Weekly for manipulating ad prices in an attempt to drive the rival paper out of business. According to court transcripts, Mr. Lacey told the staff on his first day as owner of SF Weekly that this was precisely his intention.

Despite facing legendary antitrust lawyers in a state notorious for its aversion to monopolistic practices, Mr. Lacey spent years appealing the court’s award of $16 million, which grew to $21 million with interest, until the California Supreme Court threw out VVM’s petition. During the proceedings, the company revealed that it owed creditors $80 million and claimed it could not afford to pay the award. Lawyers for the Bay-Guardian threatened to force bankruptcy.

In January 2011, VVM and SF Weekly settled the issue privately. Though the terms of the agreement were not disclosed, between the settlement and what one attorney familiar with the case said were legal fees of at least $5 million to fight the case, VVM was likely left with an eight-figure hole burned in its pocket.

Since last spring, the company’s efforts to patch that hole up have included the unthinkable (laying off legendary Village Voice investigative reporter Wayne Barrett in January); the surprising (selling off Kansas City Pitch to Tennessee publisher South Comm, Inc., in mid-March); and the long overdue: shutting down an experiment with a pair of sex blogs that were never publicly launched despite being published for nearly a year.

(For the record: The Guardian and VVM have agreed not to discuss the terms of the settlement.)

Mike Lacey, the executive editor of Village Voice Media, shot back with a letter to the Observer featuring his typical wild-ass metaphors and flowery prose:

In fact, in just the past few months Backpage.com has spent millions of dollars policing content to attempt, for example, to keep underage kids out of adult listings. Despite Trench’s professed lack of knowledge, which we do not doubt for a second, anyone looking at Backpage will notice the absence of nudity-merely one of thousands of changes over the past year.

Damn — no more nudity on Backpage. Then Lacey goes on to describe what he found at the Voice when he took it over:

We found a Voice “library” where an individual sat with scissors and clipped out articles from other publications for filing. The age of the Internet stopped at the library’s doors. Town cars arrived to ferry one late working chap to Westchester County. While we kept critics at Cannes, Toronto, and Sundance, we equivocated on sending them to Rotterdam. The Voice was the only alternative newspaper in the country that thought its reporters needed to have their facts checked in addition to being edited, copyedited, and proofread. I disagreed. (Though I do not wish to presume that the Observer might not benefit from such staffing.)

Actually, it was a little more than that. There were a number of longtime Voice staffers — mostly with politically left views — who earned, by alternative press standards, fairly high salaries. They’ve been shoved out the door. Nat Hentoff, James Ridgeway, Wayne Barrett … all gone. They were, in some ways, the soul of the old Voice — scrappy, unafraid to be progressives (and to care about political causes) and interested in social change. That didn’t fit with Lacey’s world view.

But it gets better: The Voice and Kutcher are now in a tweet war — and all of this is going to bring more attention to Backpage and the sex ads — which, again, don’t bother me, but do bother a lot of stuck-up law-enforcement types, who will now have even more reason to go after VVM. At the Observer notes:

As Backpage grows in popularity, more news stories have emerged suggesting that the kinds of abuses that led lawmakers to demand Craigslist shutter its erotic-services section are increasingly occurring on the site. In September a former child prostitute sued VVM for knowingly publishing advertisements of her, and later that month 21 attorneys general called on the company to follow Craigslist’s lead and ban escort ads. VVM declined, but offered to continue cooperating with law enforcement officials on cases originating on the site.

I’m not sure all this publicity is exactly what Lacey had in mind.


He’s back!



It’s been more than a year since relations between San Francisco’s nightlife community and the San Francisco Police Department bottomed-out following a nasty crackdown and pattern of harassment led by plain-clothes Officer Larry Bertrand and Michelle Ott, an agent with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

The pair’s antics included repeatedly shutting down clubs, aggressively raiding private parties, seizing laptop computers and other property, making arrests for minor infractions, roughing up and threatening those who objected to the harsh treatment, dumping out dozens of bottles of alcohol, and, according to one lawsuit, retaliating against those who filed complaints.

There were at least four lawsuits against the city related to the crusade, including one that the city is in the process of settling for $50,000 (involving promoter Arash Ghanadan, who had repeated run-ins with Bertrand) and another federal lawsuit alleging that Bertrand’s harassment of legal businesses amounted to a criminal racketeering enterprise. The federal case is headed for trial later this year.

After cover stories in the Guardian (see “The new War on Fun,” 3/23/10) and SF Weekly exposed the abuses, and the nightlife community formed the California Music and Culture Association to counter the assault, Bertrand and Ott were pulled off the nightlife beat and things slowly got better.

So when Bertrand appeared back on the beat on a recent Friday night, June 17 — targeting two of the same clubs he allegedly harassed before, Mist and Sloan, and shutting Sloan down for the night on a technical violation — many in the nightlife community freaked out, fearing that their improved relationship with SFPD was over and the bad old days were back.

“My phone was blowing up with texts and photos of his raid on Sloan nightclub. People are livid,” attorney Mark Rennie, who works with clubs on permitting and compliance issues, wrote to a group of nightlife advocates in an e-mail titled “Officer Larry Bertrand back on the Streets last night and up to his old tricks.”

Complaints were made to new Police Chief Greg Suhr and others in the command staff. The SFPD initially refused a Guardian request for comment on whether Bertrand would remain back on the beat, citing the ongoing lawsuits. But police spokesperson Sgt. Mike Andraychak eventually admitted it was a mistake to have Bertrand busting clubs and said he won’t be back on that beat anytime soon.

Andraychak said the new commander of Southern Station, Capt. Charlie Orkes, assigned Bertrand to police the clubs for the night and “he wasn’t aware of the history of lawsuits, and so that’s why Officer Bertrand was out there that night doing permit inspections … He won’t have Officer Bertrand in that role again, in the interests of good community relations.”

Those relations have become much better and more cooperative in the last year, according to Suhr, Rennie, and Entertainment Commission Executive Director Jocelyn Kane. “We’re happy with our relationship with the Police Department right now,” Kane told us. “That’s why [the reappearance of Bertrand] was of concern to people.”

During an interview with the Guardian on the morning of June 17, Suhr said he was supportive of nightlife. “I’m pro entertainment and I want the clubs to succeed. It think it draws people to the city and allows us to do a lot of things,” Suhr said, emphasizing the importance of clear communications and good relations between clubs and the SFPD. “If we’re being fair, consistent, and objective in how we treat situations, the clubs will know how it works.”

To many in the nightlife community, Bertrand represents the antithesis of that approach. Mist owner Mike Quan, a plaintiff in the ongoing federal lawsuit alleging Bertrand repeatedly harassed him and his customers, said he was shocked to hear Bertrand showed up at his club and was abrasive with his employees again. “My attorney sent [SFPD] a letter the next day saying this is not acceptable,” Quan told us. “Hopefully they got the message.”

Mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty, who is close to the nightlife community, helped reach out to Suhr after the incident and said he believes it was an aberration. “This is something that is a concern and the leadership needs to be sure that we’re not falling back,” Dufty told us.

Appeals also went out to the City Attorney’s Office, headed by another mayoral candidate, Dennis Herrera, who said he was happy to hear this was an isolated incident. But he said it illustrates something he’s been saying in meetings with clubs and cops — that SFPD’s nightlife enforcement policies need to be clear and consistent.

“We need to get it above the ad hoc way we’ve done it, so that it’s above the captain level and coming from the command staff,” Herrera told us.

Suhr, who has better relations with the nightlife community than any of his recent predecessors, also emphasized the need to lay out clear expectations. But he stopped short of saying there wouldn’t be anymore undercover raids of clubs and parties, telling us, “I think it’s important that people think that’s a possibility.”

The ballad of Peter and Raymond



Once upon a time (1987 to be exact), two young men who were old friends moved to San Francisco from the Midwest to take in all the big city had to offer. Like many 20-somethings, Eddie Lee “Sausage” and Mitchell “Mitch D” Deprey didn’t have a lot of money and wound up living in a somewhat derelict apartment in the Lower Haight with a bright pink exterior they dubbed “the Pepto Bismol Palace.” The paint was peeling and the walls were thin but the rent was cheap.

What Eddie and Mitch didn’t count on was having Peter J. Haskett and Raymond Huffman as their neighbors. “You blind cocksucker. You wanna fuck with me? You try to touch me, and I will kill you in a fucking minute.” “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up, little man!”

The insults, tantrum-throwing, and threats of violence (which sometimes crossed over into actual fisticuffs) coming from next door were constant. When they weren’t drinking like fishes, Peter — acid-tongued, gay — and Ray — the more hotheaded of the two and an unrepentant homophobe — seemingly devoted their every waking hour to mercilessly tearing each other apart.

Weeks went by. Eddie and Mitch started to lose sleep. And after one failed attempt at complaining to Raymond’s face (he threatened death), they started tape-recording Peter and Ray’s endless geyser of vitriol — first, as possible future evidence — but also out of a growing voyeuristic fascination with these two seniors who had to be the world’s oddest and angriest odd couple.

The rest is history. Mitch and Eddie started including snippets of Peter and Ray’s bickering on mixtapes for friends. Somehow, the editor of the now-defunct SF noise music zine Bananafish heard a snippet and approached Mitch and Eddie about distributing compilations of the recordings to a large network of found sound fans. Gradually “Peter and Raymond” became known and much-beloved characters. Their warped repartee — frequently referred to using Raymond’s favorite rejoinder, “Shut up, little man!,” as shorthand — inspired several theatrical adaptations, short animated films, pages of comic book panels by artists such as Daniel Clowes, and even a one-off single from Devo side project the Wipeouters. SF Weekly did a cover story and there were reams of additional press. Hollywood types called wanting to know who owned the rights to Peter and Raymond. Things had gotten big.

“Shut Up Little Man has been an enchanted, messy cultural accident,” reflects Sausage (he’s kept the moniker) over a Skype conference call. “It was a personal obsession and a private joke that in a very curious way became an underground cultural phenomena.” Sausage, a visual artist and musician who supports himself as a rare-book seller, remains, in his words, “the official custodian” of Shut Up Little Man’s (SULM) legacy, which is copiously detailed on its website.

Deprey — who now works as an insurance agent in Wisconsin where he lives with his wife and teenage children — is also on the line. Although Sausage is doing most of the talking, he interjects from time to time to provide clarification. We are discussing Matthew Bate’s documentary Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure — perhaps the squarest peg in Frameline 35’s lineup. As much an attempt to comprehensively recount the above long, strange trip from start to finish, the film is also the newest chapter in the now 20-year saga of Peter, Raymond, Mitch, and Eddie.

Bate is a clever filmmaker who is able to translate a story that has primarily been told through sound into something visually compelling. Goofy animated interludes are woven between interviews with Clowes, Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, and the many other SULM fans who have created art inspired by Peter and Raymond. Sausage and Deprey also get plenty of screen time, and Bate goes so far as to have them play their 20-something selves in dramatized reenactments of their early days of interacting with and recording Peter and Raymond, who are played by actors. (Huffman died in 1992 of a heart attack brought on by colon cancer, pancreatitis, and alcoholism; Haskett died four years later of liver problems also due to alcoholism.)

Bate’s film is less successful in presenting a clear account of Sausage and Deprey’s 1994 controversial decision to copyright their recordings — which up to that point had been accompanied only by a note encouraging creative liberties and humbly asking for credit — going so far as to imply that this was an ideological about-face. As Sausage and Deprey tell it, they were simply doing the responsible, professional thing in the face of mounting disputes over who could or couldn’t sell the rights (the current disclaimer on the SULM website notes that “permission and licensing is usually granted, but please ask first”).

“Because this stuff was so viral and so innocuous, it wasn’t clear who owned any of this, ” explains Deprey, “We just didn’t want people wrongfully charging other people to use it. And the truth is, we’ve never gotten a penny from any of the artists [featured in the film].”

Still, Deprey and Sausage have now become the semiofficial executors of Peter and Raymond’s estate, even if it’s a legacy composed of hours and hours of blue streaks captured on tape. No surviving relatives of either Huffman or Haskett have come forward in the time that their infamy has grown, underscoring the fact that these two men — despite the venom they constantly spewed at back and forth — really only had each other.

“In a very real way, I think it’s a nontraditional love story,” says Sausage. “There’s a lot of passion and a lot of intimacy there. I mean, arguing is one of the most intimate things we can do as human beings.”

Indeed, Peter and Raymond’s highly dysfunctional Boston marriage might be the queerest onscreen relationship in the whole festival.


June 22, 9:30 p.m., $11

Victoria Theatre

2961 16th St., SF


P.S. Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure was recently picked up by a distributor and will be released theatrically Aug. 26.


Guardian, SF Weekly settle suit


The Bay Guardian and the chain that owns SF Weekly have reached a settlement that ends an eight-year legal battle.

The parties have settled their differences on mutually acceptable terms.

You can read about the trial court verdict here, and some of the post-trial issues here, and our victory at the Court of Appeals here and here and the Supreme Court decision upholding our verdict here.

Specific terms of the settlement are confidential, as is often the case in business-related litigation.

Guardian Editor and Publisher Bruce B. Brugmann said the Guardian’s string of victories at the trial court, the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court “provide a model for protecting other small, independent businesses facing predatory pricing schemes from competitors.”

The Guardian’s legal team toiled for more than six years to bring this case to trial, to preserve the trial result on appeal, and to attempt to enforce the judgment and negotiate the settlement. Ralph Alldredge, Richard P. Hill and E. Craig Moody handled the trial. Joseph Hearst joined in for the appeals work. And Jay Adkisson took on the collections work.
Thanks, folks. You preserved a crucial state law, and you proved that persistence in the pursuit of justice is worthwhile. Small businesses in California will never forget it.

Going to a club — or boarding an airplane?



The War on Fun — a term coined by the Guardian in 2006 to describe the crackdowns on nightclubs, special events, and urban culture by police, NIMBY neighbors, and moderate politicians — continues to grind on in San Francisco.

The latest attack was launched by Mayor Gavin Newsom and the San Francisco Police Department, which has proposed a series of measures to monitor and regulate individuals who visit bars or entertainment venues, proposals that the embattled Entertainment Commission will consider at its Dec. 14 meeting.

Perhaps most controversial among the dozens of new conditions that the SFPD would require of nightclubs is an Orwellian proposal to require all clubs with an occupancy of 100 persons or more to electronically scan every patron’s identification card and retain that information for 15 days. Civil libertarians and many club owners call this a blatantly unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

Driving the latest calls for a crackdown is a stated concern over isolated incidents of violence outside a few nightclubs in recent years, something Newsom and police blame on the clubs and that they say warrants greater scrutiny by police and city regulators.

But the proposals also come in the wake of overzealous policing of nightclubs and parties — including improper personal property destruction and seizures, wrongful arrests and violence by police, harassment of disfavored club operators, and even dumping booze down the drain — mostly led by SFPD Officer Larry Bertrand and his former partner, Michelle Ott, an agent with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Those actions were documented in back-to-back cover stories by the Guardian (“The New War on Fun,” March 24) and SF Weekly (“Turning the Tables,” March 17), and they are the subject of multiple ongoing lawsuits by nightclub owners, patrons, and employees, including a racketeering lawsuit alleging that officials are criminally conspiring against lawful activities.

Yet rather than atoning for that enforcement overreach, Newsom and SFPD officials seem to be doubling down on their bets that San Franciscans will tolerate a more heavily policed nightlife scene in the hopes of eliminating the possibility of random violence.

A series of nighttime shootings this year has grabbed headlines and prompted calls to action by the Mayor’s Office and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, whose District 3 includes North Beach. In February, there were shootings at Blue Macaw in the Mission and Club Suede at Fisherman’s Wharf, followed by a shooting at the Pink Saturday fair in June, one outside Jelly’s in SoMa in July, and the high-profile murder of a German tourist near Union Square in August.

Chiu responded with legislation to give the Entertainment Commission greater authority to close down problem nightclubs and, more recently, with legislation to require party promoters to register with the city so that officials can take actions against those who act irresponsibly.

In September, Newsom asked the SFPD for its recommendations and he received a laundry list of proposals now before the Entertainment Commission. That body held a closed session hearing Nov. 30 to discuss a confidential legal opinion by the City Attorney’s Office on whether the identification scan would pass constitutional muster, an opinion that has so far been denied to the Guardian and the public, although officials say it may be discussed in open session during the Dec. 14 hearing.

“Everything is being considered,” Jocelyn Kane, acting executive director of the Entertainment Commission, told the Guardian. Her office already has looked at the different types of scanners that clubs could use and has discussed the idea with several technology companies.

SFPD Inspector Dave Falzon, the department’s liaison to the nightclubs and ABC, told the Guardian that he believes the data gathered from nightclub patrons would allow police to more easily find witnesses and suspects to solve any crimes committed at or near the nightclubs.

“It’s not intended to be exploited,” Falzon said, stressing that the recommendations are a work in progress and part of an ongoing dialogue with the Entertainment Commission — an agency Newsom, SFPD officials, and some media voices have been highly critical of over the last two years.

Along with the proposal for the ID scanners, SFPD proposed many other measures such as increased security personnel (including requiring clubs to hire more so-called 10-B officers, or SFPD officials on overtime wages), metal detectors at club entrances, surveillance cameras at the entrances and exits, and extra lighting on the exterior of the night clubs.

Though this may sound to many like heading down the dystopian rabbit hole with Big Brother potentially watching your every move, Falzon thinks it’s the opposite. “It isn’t that police department is acting as a militant state,” Falzon said. “All we’re trying to do is to make these clubs safer so they can be more fun.”

Yet critics of the proposals don’t think they sound like much fun at all, and fear that employing such overzealous policing tools will hurt one of San Francisco’s most vital economic sectors while doing little to make anyone safer.

Jamie Zawinski is the owner of the DNA Lounge, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. He has been a leading voice in pushing back against the War of Fun, including running a blog that chronicles SFPD excesses. He said the proposed regulations go way too far.

“It’s gang violence happening on the street. The nightclubs are being scapegoated. You don’t solve the problem by increased security in the clubs,” Zawinski told us, adding that the lack of proper policing on the streets should be addressed before putting the financial strain on the entertainment industry.

“It’s ridiculously insulting. I will not do that to my customers. It’s not a way to solve any problems,” Zawinski said. “It sets the tone for the evening when you start demanding papers.”

It’s also a gross violation of people’s rights, says Nicole Ozer, the director of Technology and Civil Liberties Policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. She said that recording people’s personal information when they enter a public venue raises troubling legal issues.

“There are some real implications of tracking and monitoring personal data. The details of what you visit reveal things about your sexuality and political views,” Ozer said, adding that the ACLU would also have issues with how that information is used and safeguarded.

In response to police crackdowns on nightlife, club owners and advocates earlier this year formed the California Music and Culture Association (CMAC) to advocate for nightlife and offer advice and legal assistance to members. CMAC officials say they are concerned about the latest proposals.

“The rise in violence has to be looked at from a societal point of view,” said Sean Manchester, president of CMAC and owner of the nightclub Mighty. He noted that most of the violence that has been associated with nightclubs took place in alleys and parking lots away from the bars and involved underage perpetrators. “In many instances [the increased security measures] wouldn’t have done anything to stop it,” he said.

While there are plenty of ideas to combat crime at nightclubs, nightlife advocates say the city is going to have to look beyond club venues to address what can be done to combat crime without infringing on any civil liberties or damaging the vibrant nightlife. Or officials can just listens to the cops, act on their fears, and make the experience of seeing live music in San Francisco more like boarding an airplane.

The Entertainment Commission meets Dec. 14 at 6:30 p.m., Room 400, City Hall.

The prop. 8 hearing


Watching the hearing was a couple of hours well spent; it’s not often that you get to see an actual live oral argument before a federal appeals court. And it’s not often that you get to see three judges, not all of them liberals by any stretch, take apart the fundamental claims of the anti-gay-marriage folks.

There’s a nice live-blog and analysis here.

One of the most interesting elements in this case is the possibility that the legality of same-sex marriage in California may hinge on whether a deputy clerk in Imperial County has the right to represent the people of California in a legal appeal. See, the governor and the attorney general usually defend state laws when they’re challenged in court, but in this case, both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown declined. In essence, they both said they thought Judge Vaugh Walker’s decision overturning Prop. 8 was just fine.

So the supporters of Prop. 8 have to make the case they have legal “standing” to appeal — and the judges seemed more than a little dubious about that. The political group that backed Prop. 8 was in trouble from the start, and couldn’t really demonstrate what legal authority it had to handle the appeal. The deputy clerk from Imperial County, which has a population of 166,000, argued through her lawyer that she would have to sign marriage certificates, and that Prop. 8 directly affects her job. That didn’t get very far, either. And if the appeals court tosses the case on the standing issue, nothing else matters. Walker’s ruling is affirmed and same-sex marriage is legal in California.

Then to the meat of the case. Judge Hawkins instantly asked Charles Cooper, attorney for the Prop. 8 proponents, if the voters of the state of California could legally amend the state Constitution to re-segregate the public schools. Cooper: No. The point was pretty clear: The voters have the right to amend the Constitution, but not in a way that violates fundamental rights.

Cooper went on with what rapidly devolved into lunacy, eg: “When a relationship between a man and a woman becomes sexual, society has a profound interest.” In other words, a man and a woman have sex; they might conceive a child, who might be born “out of wedlock” and raised by a single parent, which would be a bad thing. Judge Reinhardt: That’s a good argument for prohibiting divorce — but isn’t really on point here.

Theodore Olson, representing the plaintiffs, pretty much knocked it out of the park in his first few minutes, noting that California has effectively engineered discrimination into the Constitution by eliminating a right that the U.S. Supreme Court has said repeatedly (14 times, according to Olson) is fundamental. He pointed out that in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned the sodomy laws, the U.S. Supremes determined that sexual conduct between consenting adults of any gender is protected. So how, he asked, can you take away marriage rights because of a Constitutionally protected activity?

Since the Prop. 8-ers have argued that same-sex marriage would force children to have “a premature interest in sexual activity,” Olson suggested that the court would have to “ban comic books, video games and conversations with other children.”

The judges, as is typical, interrupted all the lawyers to ask questions — until Theresa Stewart stood up, representing the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. She was sharp, quick on her feet, perfectly prepared — and for most of her short presentation, the judges simply listened. Her point: When it comes to children, family law in California treats same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples precisely and exactly the same; why should marriage be any different?

In the end, what I saw was three judges struggling not with the outcome of the case — Walker’s decision seems likely to be upheld — but with how broad they want the final decision to be. Based on the questioning at the end, it seemed as if they’d rather uphold Walker’s ruling without making a sweeping statement that gay marriage is Constitutionally protected and must be the law of the land everywhere in the United States.

But unless they try to duck the real issues and rule only on standing, that’s going to be a stretch. Any honest, logical ruling can only come to one conclusion — that treating lesbians and gay men differently than straight people violates the Equal Protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. And if the Supreme Court agrees, it will be the end of gay marriage bans, the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the beginning of a new era in America.

UPDATE (thanks to Nichole Dial for research);

Lots of news media coverage on the some good, some lame. The Prop. 8 Trial Tracker website had some of the best breaking stuff. The Mercury News did a live blog by Howard Mintz that was full of details. SF Weekly covered the more amusing accounts such as the crowd outside the court room.  The Bay Citizen also had a live blog and analysis.

Brian at Calitics had one of the best quick analyses and the Chron’s Bob Egelko came out with a really fast story that touches on the major themes of the case.

The AP postings on the Huffington Post covered the highlights as well as an overview of the background of prop 8. The New York Times used the same article, then later added a short, fairly superficial piece by Jesse McKinley  (what, the Times had no live blogger on this?)



SF Weekly gets it all wrong


This is a few days late, but still worth noting. After the Supreme Court ruled in our favor and shot down SF’s Weekly’s final appeal in our predatory pricing lawsuit, the Weekly’s Andy Van De Voorde launched another of his notorious screeds aimed at dismissing all of the proven, factual assertions in our case. Fron day one, Van De Voorde’s been wrong about everything — he said the case was stupid and would be quickly dismissed, he said we’d lost at trial, he said we’d lose on appeal … and every step of the way, he’s been proven wrong. Now he’s going after the judges:

Brugmann certainly has been treated like royalty by the city’s elected judges, who function as the legal arm of the local Democratic machine.

But as Bob Egelko, the Chron’s widely respected court reporter, noted in a remarkable blog post, Van De Voorde is simply factually wrong:

The judge who presided over the trial in San Francisco Superior Court, and more than doubled the jury’s damage award against the Weekly, was Marla Miller — appointed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The appeals court justice who wrote the ruling upholding the verdict was Robert Dondero — first appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, and named to the appeals court by Schwarzenegger. And of the six Supreme Court justices who voted to deny a hearing on the Weekly’s appeal, five were appointed by Republican governors.

I can go even further. The first judge who handled the case, Richard Kramer — who refused to dismiss the suit and tossed most of the Weekly’s pre-trial motions out the door — was appointed by a Republican (Pete Wilson). Of the three judges on the Appeals panel, two — Dondero and James Marchiano — were appointed by Republicans. And while the third justice, Sandra Margulies, was elevated to the appelate bench by Gray Davis, her first judicial appointment to the Superior Court came from a Republican, George Deukmejian.

So there really weren’t any elected Democratic judges in the mix. (And the judges certainly aren’t part of any political machine; the entire local bench, including every single judge, Democrat, Republican or Independent, supported the re-election of Judge Richard Ulmer in November, while the Democratic Party, and the Bay Guardian, supported challenger Michael Nava.)

Sorry, Andy — as has been the case from day one, the facts speak louder than your ranting. The Guardian won this case on the evidence and the legal merits, all the way along.

Supreme Court confirms Guardian legal victory


The Bay Guardian won a decisive and final legal victory Nov. 23 in our lawsuit against SF Weekly and its chain parent when the California Supreme Court let stand a verdict now worth more than $22 million.

The ruling ends the Weekly’s appeals, which have stretched for more than two years, and confirms a landmark Aug. 11 ruling by the California Court of Appeal that protects small businesses in the state against predatory chains.

The Bay Guardian sued the Weekly and the New Times chain, now known as Village Voice Media, in 2004, charging that the Weekly had systematically sold ads below cost in an effort to harm the local, independent competitor. By taking advantage of the resources of a large company, the Weekly was able to stay in business despite losing money every year, and was using below-cost pricing as a way to take ads away from the Guardian.

“We have before us the case of an ongoing, comprehensive, below-cost pricing scheme,” the Appeals Court concluded. That sort of behavior is specifically barred by California’s Unfair Practices Act, which was designed to protect small business from big chains.

SF Weekly and VVM tried to argue in their appeals that the state law should be consistent with federal antitrust law, which sets a much higher standard for proving predatory pricing. But the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court disagreed. California, the ruling now says, has every right to provide greater protections for small business than the federal government does.

VVM is still trying to avoid paying the judgment, and the Guardian has been aggressively pursuing collection efforts.

The Guardian’s stellar legal team includes trial lawyers Ralph Alldredge, Rich Hill, and Craig Moody, appellate specialist Joseph Hearst, and collection expert Jay Adkisson.

The lawyers who represented VVM in its unsuccessful trial efforts were H. Sinclair Kerr Jr., Ivo Labar and James Wagstaffe of Kerr & Wagstaffe. The appellate lawers were Paul Fogel, Raymond Cardozo, and Dennis Peter Maio of Reed, Smith. VVM was also represented by Don Bennett Moon. 

Supreme Court rejects SF Weekly appeal


The California Supreme Court let stand Nov. 23rd a landmark ruling protecting small business from predatory chains, denying without comment an attempt by SF Weekly and its chain parent to get the high court to hear the case.

The decision brings to an end more than two years of appeals by the Weekly and Village Voice Media and effectively concludes the legal case.

The Bay Guardian sued the Weekly and the New Times chain, now known as Village Voice Media, in 2004, charging that the Weekly had systematically sold ads below cost in an effort to harm the local, independent competitor. By taking advantage of the resources of a large company, the Weekly was able to stay in business despite losing money every year, and was using below-cost pricing as a way to take ads away from the Guardian.

“We have before us the case of an ongoing, comprehensive, below-cost pricing scheme,” the Appeals Court concluded. You can read that ruling here (pdf)

The Appeals Court noted that shortly after New Times bought SF Weekly in 1995, New Times Executive Editor Mike Lacey announced that he would use the chain’s deep pockets to assault the Guardian. “The essence of Lacey’s message was that he wanted to ‘put the Guardian out of business,'”he ruling states. “The sales representatives were made aware that advertising could be ‘sold below cost’ if needed ‘in order to make a sale’ and the resources of New Times would cover the loses, even over a term of many years.”

That sort of behavior is specifically barred by California’s Unfair Practices Act, which was designed to protect small business from big chains.

SF Weekly and VVM tried to argue in their appeals that the state law should be consistent with federal antitrust law, which sets a much higher standard for proving predatory pricing. But the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court disagreed. California, the ruling now says, has every right to provide greater protections for small business than the federal government does.

There are 20 other states that have laws similar the the California Unfair Practices Act.

The ruling is a victory not just for the Bay Guardian but for small business across the state. The appellate courts have made it clear that predatory pricing is a violation of law — and the ruling can now be used by any independent merchant fighting big chains. As Ralph Alldredge, one of our laywers, noted after the Appeals Court ruling: “Think of what that means for big-box retailers, which have used below-cost selling on some products to attract customers away from small, independently owned grocery, hardware, drug, and department stores.”





SF Weekly tries the Supreme Court


SF Weekly and its chain parent have asked the state Supreme Court to review the precedent-setting victory for small business in our predatory pricing suit. The appeal’s a longshot — the high court only takes a small fraction of the cases presented to it. But the appeal shows that Village Voice Media is still trying to overturn the state’s Unfair Practices Act. I’ve posted our reply brief here; it demonstrates very clearly how the big newspaper chain is trying to twist the law to allow big outfits to crush independent businesses.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to take the case by Nov. 29, but can give itself anothrt 60-day extension.


City bid to bring vendors into Dolores Parks causes an uproar


Officials with the SF Recreation and Parks Department are attempting to quell the mounting frustrations of some Mission District merchants and residents who feel that the city shouldn’t allow private companies to operate in a public park, as the department is seeking to do. Even those who don’t necessarily have a problem with inviting more commerce into Dolores Park say the process should have been more open and transparent.

“I like pushcarts,” said Rachel Herbert, owner of Dolores Park Café. “I think they add flavor to San Francisco.” But Herbert is also allowing opponents of the department’s request for proposals (RFP) to set up shop in her store and gather signatures for a petition to “stop the commercialization of Dolores Park.” Herbert, who lives in the neighborhood, said she is helping the effort because “It’s about the process and Rec and Park not really thinking things through and doing whatever they want.”

Mike McConnell, the man behind the petition, holds a similar viewpoint. “I don’t feel that it was adequate outreach before this.” They’re not alone. McConnell currently has petitions in three stores – including his own store, Fayes Video – each with around 100 signatures, along with 700 online petition signatures.

While the controversy is recent, the RFP for the permits was issued in September last year. The proposal stated: “Before entering into permit agreement for the operation of a pushcart in any neighborhood park, the Department will conduct a community outreach process to determine the appropriateness of such a use in the park.”

It’s unclear how much outreach there was beyond a request for applicants posted in the July 31 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle. However, according to Mission Local, department spokesman Elton Pon sent them an email stating that the department mailed out “an announcement of the opportunity to more than 1,000 potential applicants.”

Regina Dick-Endrizzi, director of the SF Office of Small Business, said much of the demand for the permits has come from small time vendors. “Part of this has been an organic growing up of the vendors themselves,” Dick-Endrizzi said. “The mobile food folks have been coming and working and urging us to open up more space.”

Dick-Endrizzi helped vet the applicants in the panel that included members of department and the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development. “I can attest as being part of the committee that they were very careful in making their decision,” she said.

However one recipient of the permits, Oakland-based Blue Bottle Coffee, has received criticisms that it isn’t local enough – city policies encourage contracting with San Francisco small businesses. Blue Bottle is also backed by venture capital firm Kohlberg Ventures.

Its founder recently issued a public letter explaining his position: “I had assumed that since there were published articles in The Chronicle, the Examiner, and the SF Weekly in November of 2009, and January 2010, that the community around Dolores Park was well informed. So it pained me to hear that many of our (hopefully) future neighbors were upset that more outreach had not been done.”

This isn’t the first time a vendor has been allowed to operate in city parks. Nor are they the first merchant with questionable local status. Last August RPD commission voted 6-1 to replace long-time Stow Lake vendor with an out of state suitor. The Chronicle reported “the corporation, which has owned and operated the 1940s-era boathouse for 67 years, couldn’t compete with New Mexico-based Ortega Family Enterprises, which pledged to complete $233,000 worth of improvements to the well-worn building and buy a brand-new fleet of boats.”

Dolores has become a haven for unlicensed vendors selling items such as beer, hot dogs, ice cream, and even pot-laced brownies and truffles. What will become of them? “You pay thousands and thousands for your trailer and for permits and this guy comes around with his little cart and is selling coffee for 50 cents less, what are you going to do? You’re going to call the fucking cops and say get this scumbag out of here,” said local impresario Chicken John.

Dolores Park has traditionally been regarded with a kind of laissez faire attitude by many San Francisco residents. On a warm day it’s not uncommon to see hundreds of chic to cheap layabouts basking on its hills, beer and bowl in hand, without worry in mind. And many-a-cop has seen them too, but rarely do they intervene – and all was well. Maybe that’s another reason why there has been such uproar over the proposed introduction of pushcarts into the park.

Since the uproar, both Blue Bottle Coffee and the other potential vendor nonprofit Cocina have been put in limbo. La Cocina’s executive director, Caleb Zigas, told Mission Local that “he had expected to roll into the park this week and is disappointed by the delay. In the past four months he’s poured $28,000 in grant money into La Cocina’s food trailer, which is now sitting in storage.”

But how long will the pushcarts (they’re actually trailers powered by generators) gather dust in a garage? “For most types of appeals there is a 15-day window after the permit was issued,” said Cynthia Goldstein, executive director of the SF Board of Appeals. However it isn’t a concrete rule. “On rare instances the board will extend the window when there is evidence that the city did something wrong.” In addition, according to Goldstein, there is usually a 15-20 day window between when an appeal is filled and when it is reviewed by the Board. In short, the dilemma may not be quashed by the meeting this evening that the department is holding on the controversy.

The extension would bode well for any NIMBYs since Cocina’s and Blue Bottle’s permits were granted on April 15, 2010 and Sept 2, 2010, respectively.

RecPark was expecting a 12 percent cut on the pushcart profits and hoped to net around $70,000 annually. The pushcarts are just one of the many revenue generating ideas that are currently floating around. RecPark – under its new department head, Phil Ginsburg, who was previously chief of staff to Mayor Gavin Newsom – recently created a partnerships and revenue generating division with the purpose of capitalizing on many of the cities assets.

At the Jan 21, 2010 Recreation and Parks Commission meeting, pushcarts were discussed as a way to ostensibly keep city employees from getting laid off. Other ideas that were tossed out included hosting a production of Peter Pan, renting out parking places for car shares, and an adopt-a-park program; an adopt-a-gardener program was even suggested. The city was broke and was searching for a way to close huge General Fund deficits.

The idea of pushcarts was discussed again at the Feb 18 meeting. Nick Kinsey from the property division of RecPark, told the commission, “We received 18 responses to the RFP and we actually brought six of them in for interviews. As part of the interviews we met with the respondents, we evaluated their qualifications, evaluated their operation plans – in terms of where they wanted to be in each of the parks, in each of the proposed parks, how that would interact with residents and other park users use of the park space and if there would be any conflict there.”

Kinsey continued, “We’re also accepting application on a rolling basis right now. So if anyone is watching and interested in submitting an application for pushcarts, we are accepting pushcarts. Some of our location are maxed out we wouldn’t accept anyone else. But we have plenty of other park spaces where we think this is an appropriate use.”

The meeting of the issue is today (Thurs/7) at 4 p.m. in City Hall Room 416


Still no peace treaty in SF’s War on Fun


Boiling outrage over the city’s boundary-pushing crackdown on San Francisco nightlife may have slowed to a simmer since the spring, when overzealous enforcement efforts (harassing club owners, confiscating computers from DJs, dumping booze down the drain like Prohibition Era agents, etc.) prompted back-and-back cover stories in the Bay Guardian and SF Weekly. But the fallout is still unfolding in ways that could eventually cause real problems for the city.

A trial date has been set for a year from now in what could be an expensive and ground-breaking racketeering lawsuit brought on behalf of several victims of the plain-clothed, party-crashing duo of San Francisco Police Officer Larry Bertrand and California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Officer Michelle Ott.

Since their aggressive and seemingly moralistic crusade against clubs and parties was publicized, both have had their wings clipped by their supervisors, but the damage was done and the check still hasn’t been paid. Attorney Mark Webb, who brought the lawsuit, has deposed both Bertrand and Ott and he says they gave testimony that was damaging to themselves and the city’s legal position. And Webb says he’s just getting warmed up.

“I still want to take [Mayor Gavin] Newsom’s deposition,” Webb told us. “He’s a named defendant and I want to know what he knew about this.”

The SFPD didn’t seem chastened by the bout of bad publicity, at least if their recent cancellation of the Lovevolution parade was any indicator. And Board of Supervisors President David Chiu this week introduced legislation that would require party promoters to register with the city and require that clubs work only with registered promoters, an apparent reaction to the shooting of a German tourist near Union Square and other episodes of nighttime violence.

“The lack of oversight of fly-by-night party promoters has led to avoidable tragedies,” Chiu said in a press release announcing the legislation.

Meanwhile, the organization that formed to counter the crackdown and scapegoating of nightlife purveyors, the California Music and Culture Association, has continued to advocate for a more reasoned response to problems that Chiu and other politicians have sought to blame on nightclubs.

Tomorrow (Fri/24), CMAC will host its latest event, a Meet the Press Luncheon at which I and other journalists will be appearing to discuss nightlife issues and how they are covered in the media, with some supervisorial candidates also expected to attend. The event is at noon at Mezzanine, 444 Jessie Street, SF.