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Every point on the map (click here for the detailed, interactive version) is a building where the landlord has used the state’s Ellis Act to evict all the tenants. (The points typically involve multi-unit buildings, so the number of tenants displaced is even worst than it looks). Some tenants have been here for decades, living in rent-controlled apartments, contributing to the community. And when the eviction notice arrives, they have nowhere else to go.


It feels as if all of crazy, radical, artistic, and unconventional San Francisco is under attack, as if a city that once welcomed waves of weirdos and malcontents — who, in turn, gave the city its attractive reputation and flavor — is changing forever. It’s as if there’s no longer any room for the working class — the people who, for example, keep the city’s number one industry (that’s hospitality and tourism, not tech) functioning.

It’s terrifying. Neighborhood after neighborhood is losing affordable rental housing as landlords cash in on soaring prices. And there’s a huge human cost.

In the end, if trends continue, this will soon be a very different city. We all know that change is part of life (and certainly part of hyper-capitalism) but the notion that there’s a value to a city culture that needs low rent housing and cheap commercial space has been all-but abandoned by the administration of Ed Lee, which wants high-paying jobs at all costs.

And it’s hard to imagine how the best of San Francisco — the city whose culture and sense of madness attracted all these creative folks in the first place — will ever survive. Call it Urbicide — because as Rebecca Bowe reports here, it goes way beyond residential evictions.

Bands on the Rise 2013


MUSIC Ask 10 artists the same question, get back a dozen answers. The replies to my very brief questionnaires this year — it’s our second annual On the Rise issue — were revealing, like peeling back the skin of a tender orange, or rather fragrant onion.

Some juicy responses filled me with pride for our fair city and sisters across the bay, some inspired me to dig deeper, some just stunk. Jokes — they were all much appreciated, thank you. As the surveys came floating back in, I got excited by personal sonic descriptions such as “club bangers and sultry club grind jams,” “morbid classics,” and “Brazilian shoegaze.”

Another question that garnered a flurry of diverse answers from the acts: what’s the best part of life as a Bay Area artist? Turns out, the artists like that the crowds here mosh and smile, that making music locally isn’t intimidating like it can be in LA or NY, that new groups pop up whenever you think you’re clued in to it all, that they’re able to see live music every night of the week, the monthly showcases like Sick Sad World, the tight knit community of elder area rappers, and “the widespread non-commercial ethos of groove.”

And like last year’s list, this On the Rise bunch is rather varied, dealing in electronic arts, post-metal, hip-hop hype, ’70s glam, radio-friendly soul pop, and beyond — truly creating unique sounds across the board. One common thread I did find was the location; more than half of those picked for the 2013 list happen to be based in the East Bay, meaning at least six of the 10 are usually spotted across the bridges and BART stations. What that says about our local music scene, I haven’t quite dissected, though I often hear rumblings from artists in the area about rising SF rents and lack of rehearsal space. These are concerns to discuss amongst ourselves.

For On the Rise 2013, this much I know: these are the acts that I’d like to see get more attention this year and beyond. These are the bands, singers, musicians, and rappers that have been creating exciting output for less than a year, or some, for nearly a decade. They’re the ones to keep your eye on, to stay involved with, to hand over your hard-earned cash to see live. They’re keeping the Bay interesting — and weird — and for that, I’m grateful. Here are their stories.













GOLDIES With Obama’s re-election dominating the news, and the 24th annual Guardian Outstanding Local Discovery Awards — or Goldies — dominating this week’s issue, I’m reminded of the 2004 Goldies celebration, a muted affair held just days after George W. Bush was re-elected. Way to wreck our shindig, George. Fortunately, the mood is decidedly happier in 2012. In this issue, we honor local musicians, filmmakers, dancers, and theater and visual artists — all of whom are currently making creative, inspiring contributions to the Bay Area’s arts scene. We aim to award Goldies to those whose careers are still on the rise, having not yet achieved the widespread recognition we suspect they’ll soon be enjoying.

This year, we also bestow an award for Lifetime Achievement on Berkeley’s Shawl-Anderson Dance Studio, a remarkable “heaven for dance” for 54 years (and counting). Thinking back again to Goldies past, the Guardian has had an incredible track record in picking those who’re destined for greatness: Craig Baldwin (film, 1991); Beth Custer (music, 1992); Barry McGee (visual arts, 1994); Charlie Hunter Trio (music, 1994); Charlie Varon (performance, 1995); Dan “The Automator” Nakamura (music, 1997); Krissy Keefer (dance, 1997); Paula Frazer (music, 1997); The Coup (music, 1998); Neurosis (music, 1999) — all big names, and this list ain’t even reached the current millennium yet. In other words, keep this issue around, and you can say you knew ’em when.

The 2012 Goldie winners were selected by a group of Guardian editors and contributors, including Emily Savage, Robert Avila, Rita Felciano, Nicole Gluckstern, and Marke B. Please share the golden moment with us and this year’s winners by hitting up the 2012 Goldies party — details below. Stay gold! (Cheryl Eddy)

With Mad Noise, Kat Marie Yoas, Dr. Zebrovski, and DJ Bus Station John
Nov. 28, 9pm, free
111 Minna Gallery, SF.

GOLDIES 2012 (click below to read about our winners):












San Francisco Stories: The literary life


A few months before I graduated from college, a group of Distinguished Literary Figures came to my Fancy Eastern University and gave a special seminar on careers in literature. At least 150 of my classmates showed up in their $80 Frye boots and their shirts with the alligators on them and the attitudes they’d carefully honed during a life in which things pretty much went their way.

After an erudite discussion of the lofty (the philosophy of writing) and the mundane (write every day and don’t send bad photocopies of your manuscript to your publisher), one of the DLF’s asked for a show of hands: How many of you are planning a career as a writer?

Every hand in the room shot up. And I looked around and said to myself:

No you aren’t.

No, most of you people will never be writers. Because you’re too fucking happy. Because you’re all well-adjusted young men and women with real futures, who will want jobs that pay and apartments with heat and decent food and cars that start and clothes that look cool, and cappuccino that someone else makes for you, and vacations in nice places where the sun always shines.

You’ll never be writers. You don’t know enough about life.


A year or so later, I was sitting in the makeshift loft of my $175-a-month illegal storefront apartment, and my fingers were so cold that I couldn’t work the cheap and nasty typewriter very well, and there wasn’t any heat and the only way to get rid of the chill was to turn on the oven, which was a very bad idea because a banged-up British motorcycle shared the concrete floor of my room with me and the gas tank leaked, not enough to spill but enough that after five or six hours the collected aromatic hydrocarbons in the air were probably enough to ignite and consume me and half the neighborhood in a cataclysmic fireball. So: we sat in the cold.

My girlfriend had left me; her cat was gone but the place was full of fleas, and I’d picked one out of my mustache that morning when I tried to shave. I was finishing a story about antinuclear protests for a magazine that would soon fold, but maybe not before I got my $200 check, and all I could think about was:

I still have a couple cold beers, and Brian Eno on the box, the toilet hadn’t overflowed yet this week — and fuck: This is about as good as it gets.

This is how young writers live.

We don’t ask for much, writers. We don’t need better iPhones or wifi at Union Square or tax breaks. What we need, and have always needed, is chaos, misery, and grit. We need places where money doesn’t rule and where everything isn’t comfortable. We need, more than anything, a kind of cheap that isn’t cool.

You go to the Salvation Army or Goodwill these days and you don’t see many writers who have day jobs as temps in the Zone buying the crummiest suits and ties they can get away with; it’s all, like, hipster fashion.

Writers need real cheap. They need $2 beers and $4 burritos and crappy places to live that cost less than you can make selling a story or two a month. They need to exist, for real, not just for fun, in a world outside the bubble — and they need a city that makes room for that to happen.

I love where I live, but it’s failing me. And I sometimes think that nobody in charge really cares.


The Bay Guardian turns 46 this week. I’ve been part of it for more than half its life, since I sold my first story to the paper in 1982, a shocking expose about police harassing homeless people for sitting on the sidewalk. I got paid $50. It was a huge deal. I ran right out and bought a bottle of whiskey.

The Guardian was always more of a reporter’s paper than a writer’s paper — we wanted news, facts, information more than we wanted flair. And that’s as it should be in a newspaper. But we’ve also always appreciated the local literary scene, and have always been a place where young (and old) writers could find their voices and tell stories.

Now the paper’s under new ownership, and for our birthday, we contacted some of the best writers we could find in town and asked them to tell us their San Francisco story. What is the city’s literary narrative? What, to use a horrible cliché, do we talk about when we talk about San Francisco?

I’m not surprised that some of what we got was about rent — about the fact that nobody like us can live here anymore without rent control, that the housing crisis brought on by the latest tech boom has made it a terribly unfriendly city for writers.

But they also talked about beauty and passion and the reasons that, despite it all, we remain.


One day after I’d been in San Francisco a few years, my brother called me from Boulder, Colorado, where he’d enrolled as a University of Colorado student. “I can’t stand it here,” he said. “There aren’t any fucking problems.”

Yep — everyone he saw in Boulder was rich and white and clean and educated and healthy. He dropped out pretty quickly, and went back to his America, where it’s nasty and you fight for every scrap and life sucks and then you die — but along the way, you meet the greatest people in the world and you live and love and get in some awesome kicks.

Me, I stayed in my city, a place worth fighting for.

I spent my childhood and college years in New York and Connecticut; I grew up in San Francisco. This is my place in the world, and, as the late great John D. MacDonald said of Florida, “It is where I am and where I will stay, right up to the point where the Neptune Society sprinkles me into the dilute sewage off the Fun Coast.”

And for better and for worse, San Francisco is a great story, a world of love and hope and fear and greed and all these people who wake up every morning and try to make it and the world a better place, often against the greatest possible odds.

Herb Caen said it once: “Love makes this town go ’round. Love and hate, pot and booze, despair and buckets of coffee, most of it stale.” We are strange, and we are proud, and we are freaks, and while our local politicians try to tamp us down and make us normal, the rest of the world treats us as special because of who and what we are.

We are immigrants, most of us, and we all love the city we once knew, and those of us who have been here a while are the worst kind of radicals, the ones who hate change … but inside us, inside the ones who know and care and believe, there’s a heartbeat that says: We have something special here, and part of it comes from tradition, and part of it comes from the shabby underclass side of life, from the fight against greed and landlords and smart-eyed speculators who want to charge for what San Francisco once gave away free.

And that’s a kind of style and class that doesn’t fit into anyone’s portfolio of stock options.

I can talk about policy options all night. It’s a disease you get when writing becomes journalism and the fight goes out of the pen in your hand and into the pen where the decisions that change your life get made. I could tell you a thousand ways that San Francisco can stop becoming a city of the rich and too fucking cool for words and could give a little, tiny bit of its soul to the population that made it great.

I could say that the booms that ruined so much of this city’s crazy madness would never have happened without the Beats and the Summer of Love, and that we ought to honor our ancestors — even if it means the newcomers have to do what everyone else did, and live a little lower for a while.

I could make the case that housing in San Francisco ought to be treated like a public utility, dispensed by seniority, so the folks who worked for 30 years trying to build community without making a lot of cash get priority over the ones who arrived yesterday, with gobs of money and no concept of what the people who came before them did to make this city great.

But mostly I want to say this:

It’s not pretty, being a writer. The ones who succeed are few, and the ones who fail are many, and the city’s poorer for every one who is force to give up because the city would rather have rich people than people who live on the edge.

But in my San Francisco, some people still make it. I love them all. It gives me hope.




By Marke B.

Welcome to the Guardian’s Best of the Bay 2012!

This is our 38th annual celebration of the people, places, and things that make living here such a great experience. Inside, you’ll find a feast of winners in categories like Best Burrito, Best Band, Best Strip Club, Best Shoe Store, Best Place to Watch the Sunset, Best Drag Queen, and beyond.

More than 15,000 of our readers voted in our Best of the Bay Readers Poll for their local, independent favorites in more than 200 of these categories, including several new ones we added this year, like Best Yoga Teacher, Best Comedy Show, Best Food Festival, and Best Lunch.

You’ll find the results inside — as well as 150 Best of the Bay Editors Picks that highlight some Guardian favorites, old and new, that we think deserve some special recognition for lighting up our lives this year.

We’ve also included many enthusiastic quotes from our readers who responded to the question, “Best of the Best: What’s your favorite thing about living here?” We got tons of great answers! We wish we could run all of them. But rest assured, there’s a whole lot to love in the Bay.

This year, there was no question that the state of the economy had a profound effect. The Occupy movement continues to resonate here, even while many of the world’s biggest tech companies draw well-to-do people from all over the world. As the population of the Bay Area shifts and grows, debates about authenticity and integration have raged, and sometimes it seems like everyone’s at sixes and sevens.

And yet. The sheer gorgeousness, thriving alternative culture, and promise of freedom and acceptance that are unique to our shores continue to attract amazing characters, visionary dreamers, and explorers of both inner-cosmic and rugged outdoor terrain. We at the Guardian like to think of the Best of the Bay issue as a special document — a map charted through our crazy little corner of the universe, drawn up by people coming together to talk about the things we love.

In 1974, Esquire magazine asked us for ideas for its Best of the USA issue, which led us to publish the original Best of the Bay. Made by the people of the Bay Area for the people of the Bay Area, it’s our opportunity to celebrate the people and places that make this city great. We were the first weekly paper to publish a regular “best of” issue. Thirty-eight years later — and 45 years after we opened our doors — we’re still going strong.

Editing this year’s issue with Caitlin Donohue was a hoot. I shower grateful smooches on all our fabulous collaborators, especially creative aces Brooke Robertson and Mirissa Neff, diligent copy editor Emily Appelbaum, the Guardian staff, and the ever-supportive Hunky Beau, my own personal Best of the Bay.

But most of all we thank you, dear reader, for your generous participation, for making the Bay Area such an astounding place to live, and for turning us on to great new things this year. Peace.



Chloe Fleury is a French illustrator who fell in love with international travel on a trip to California when she was 10 years old. She now lives in the inspirational Mission District, where she likes to transform flat sheets of paper into three-dimensional objects, sometimes even bringing them to life through stop-motion animation. Unfortunately, we were unable to animate Best of the Bay this year, but if you like the illustrations in this issue you can check out work that Fleury has done for the likes of Cosmopolitan, Warner Bros Records, Condé Nast Traveler, Chronicle Books, Target, and Anthology Magazine at




Caitlin Donohue, Marke B.


Brooke Robertson, Mirissa Neff


Graham Misenheimer


Chloé Fleury


Emily Appelbaum, Robert Avila, Soojin Chang, Yael Chanoff, Kimberly Chun, Cheryl Eddy, Nicole Gluckstern, Emily Hunt, Sean Hurd, Steven T. Jones, Ali Lane, Kelly Lovemonster, Phil McGrew, Virginia Miller, Tim Redmond, Cat Renz, Emily Savage, April M. Short, Ariel Soto-Suver, Ruth Tam


Rafi Aji, Gabriel Hurley, Gene X. Hwang, Virginia Miller, Brittany M. Powell, Anastacia Powers, Amber Schadewald, Ariel Soto-Suver, Trevor Traynor, Godofredo Vasquez


Emily Appelbaum



Editors Note: Below you’ll find our annual update on the state of nude beaches in the Bay Area, along with detailed guides and directions to several of our favorites. For details on dozens more, please see our complete Nude Beaches Guide, which we are in the process of updating. 

NUDE BEACHES Arrests for being naked on the sand, anti-nudity warning signs going up at previously unthreatened spots, outright threats of beach closures, social activists making their mark on San Francisco’s most well-known clothing-optional beach: this is shaping up to be one of Northern California’s busiest nude beach seasons in recent memory.

Faced with a July 1 deadline, on June 28 Governor Jerry Brown’s administration announced it saved or would stall shutting down all but one of 70 state parks and beaches targeted for closure due to budgetary shortfalls. These include three sites in our annual guide: Montara’s Gray Whale Cove, Carmel’s Garrapata State Park, and Zmudowski State Beach in northern Monterey County.

Officials said they would use $13 million in bond money in the budget to keep the properties running at least through summer. Some 40 parks will remain open for an estimated one to five years, due to temporary funding and support agreements being negotiated with nonprofit foundations and other organizations. More than 25 other properties, including Gray Whale Cove, also known as Devil’s Slide, will keep going while deals are completed.

When asked exactly how long Gray Whale Cove, Garrapata, and Zmudowski would stay open, California State Parks spokesman Dennis Weber told me they could keep going for a month, the entire summer, a year, or even longer. “We don’t know how much time we have,” he said.

Paul Keel, the state parks sector superintendent for the area that includes Gray Whale Cove, was more optimistic. He told me he’s keeping the popular beach open through at least the end of July because while “nothing’s been signed or inked, it’s fair to say we are optimistic” an agreement with a private operator or nonprofit will be finalized before then. Until the state took control, the site was run by a private licensee, San Francisco developer Carl Ernst and his company, Gray Whale Cove Enterprises, Inc.

Ruth Coleman, head of the State Parks and Recreation Department, said the bonds would fund solar power systems, as well as automatic pay machines that take credit and debit cards. And visitors arriving at Devil’s Slide or Garrapata are likely to notice signs that urge them to pay for parking instead of parking outside.

The card machines are likely to be particularly handy at Devil’s Slide after a long-awaited tunnel bypassing rockslide-prone Highway 1, which remains the access point to the beach, is expected to open this fall. Keel suspects the Devil’s Slide Tunnel will bring larger crowds to the beach.

But the news wasn’t all good. Maintenance and garbage pick up operations are likely to remain reduced or eliminated. In late June, Brown partly vetoed a larger, $41 million funding bill that had been OKed by the state legislature. State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who coauthored the bigger funding plan, criticized the veto, calling it “a lost opportunity to take action.” Another lost opportunity: in November 2010, California voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have raised about $500 million for state parks.

Meanwhile, while Sacramento was cutting back beach services, activists were making additions to the section of San Francisco’s Baker Beach used by nudists. Naturists have erected driftwood art sculptures and tent-like structures without walls, called “dunies,” at the north end of the beach. And they’ve vowed to keep the site free of gawkers by staring them down in what organizers call a non-confrontational approach to self-policing. “They usually decide to leave pretty soon,” says Santosh, 46, an artist and street fair producer.

Speaking of policing, in the past year cops have raided Garrapata and put up signs about nudity at Bonny Doon Beach and at least two other beaches north of Santa Cruz.

At Garrapata, rangers and lifeguards cited over a dozen persons for public nudity last summer and began patrolling the beach at least two times a day after receiving what lifeguard Eric Sturm told the Carmel Pine Cone were reports of “sex acts on the beach.”

And at Bonny Doon, Laguna Creek, and Panther Beach, “Nudity In The State Park System Is Prohibited” signs have been posted, although naturists there remain defiant and are still visiting the sites. “A 50-year tradition (of clothing-optional use at Bonny Doon) cannot be extinguished by a simple sign,” said Rich Pasco, coordinator of the Bay Area Naturists, after the signs went up. He urged nudists to “be polite and respectful” of rangers and suit up “if requested,” but to engage them in “intelligent conversations.” After two months, the signs at Bonny Doon, though, were taken down because, according to Joe Connors, public safety superintendent for state beaches in the Santa Cruz area, “we don’t get a big volume of complaints there.”

Want to join others in having fun at a clothing-optional spot this summer? The USA’s only naked “Full Moon Hikes” will take place in Castro Valley in late July, August, and September (see our listings online at for Last Trampas in Contra Costa County for details). Another idea to meet and socialize with fellow naturists: drop by Bonny Doon on September 15, when fans of the site will be gathering to keep it pristine by finding and removing trash.

Finally, you can aid the naturist community by sending me your new beach discoveries, trip reports, and improved directions (especially road milepost numbers), along with your phone number to or Gary Hanauer, c/o San Francisco Bay Guardian, 71 Stevenson, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.

Our ratings: [full moon] signifies a beach that is large or well-established and where the crowd is mostly nude; [half moon] indicates places where fewer than half the visitors are nude; and [quarter moon] means small or emerging nude areas.




Social activists have begun streaming onto the sand of America’s biggest urban nude beach, creating what visitor Santosh calls “a tone that’s like Burning Man,” with regulars bringing guitars, drums, and Frisbees to the sand, putting up art work best described as eclectic, and occasionally staring down gawkers.” There’s no requirement that you go nude,” says Santosh, an artist, graphic artist, and producer of San Francisco’s How Weird Street Faire, an outdoor street fair held each year in the SoMa neighborhood as a fundraiser for the World Peace Through Technology Organization. “But if a creeper dude plops down next to a (nude) person or if they are staring at someone’s private parts and it’s happening close to where we are, on the far north end (of North Baker), then they will start being the object of ridicule.

Directions: Take the 29 Sunset bus or go north on 25th Avenue to Lincoln Boulevard. Turn right and take the second left onto Bowley Street. Follow Bowley to Gibson Road, turn right, and follow Gibson to the east parking lot. At the beach, head right to the nude area, which starts at the brown and yellow “Hazardous surf, undertow, swim at your own risk” sign. Some motorcycles in the lot have been vandalized, possibly by car owners angered by bikers parking in car spaces; to avoid trouble, motorcyclists should park in the motorcycle area near the cyclone fence.



Considered one of the most beautiful places in the Bay Area to doff your togs, Land’s End should really be called Swimsuit’s End. The reason: although it draws more clothed users than nudists, more than a few swim tops and bottoms magically “disappear” on warm spring, summer, and fall days at the little cove off Geary Boulevard. Come early to grab your share of the sand on this semi-rocky shoreline, which is sometimes dotted with rock-lined windbreaks left by previous sunbathers. Bring a light jacket or sweatshirt in case the weather changes.

Directions: Follow Geary Boulevard to the end, then park in the dirt lot up the road from the Cliff House. Take the trail at the far end of the lot. About 100 yards past a bench and some trash cans, the path narrows and bends, then rises and falls, eventually becoming the width of a road. Don’t take the road to the right, which leads to a golf course. Just past another bench, as the trail turns right, go left toward a group of dead trees where you will see a stairway and a “Dogs must be leashed” sign. Descend and head left to another stairway, which leads to a 100-foot walk to the cove. Or, instead, take the service road below the El Camino del Mar parking lot 1/4 mile until you reach a bench, then follow the trail there. It’s eroded in a few places. At the end, you’ll have to scramble over some rocks. Turn left (west) and walk until you find a good place to put down your towel.



On the hottest days, Golden Gate Bridge Beach becomes so packed with people that one visitor describes it as a “gay mob scene.” But the rocky shore, which connects three picturesque coves, also gets its share of straight men and women. Prime, non-cruising activities include sunbathing, enjoying breathtaking views of the Bridge, and even taking some dips in the water. “You can sometimes go out over 100 feet during low tide,” a woman tells me.

Directions: from the toll booth area of Highway 101/1, take Lincoln Boulevard west about a half mile to Langdon Court. Turn right (west) on Langdon and look for space in the parking lots, across Lincoln from Fort Winfield Scott. Park and then take the beach trail, starting just west of the end of Langdon, down its more than 200 steps to Golden Gate Bridge Beach, also known as Marshall’s Beach. Despite recent improvements, the trail to the beach can still be slippery, especially in the spring and winter.



What’s the only Golden Gate National Recreation Area park where you can walk your dog without a leash, as well as the spot where the world record for the farthest tossed object (a flying ring sent soaring 1,333 feet by Erin Hemmings) was set in 2003? Answer: Fort Funston, which is affectionately called Fort Fun by its fans. Known for its magnetic sand, steady winds (especially in March and October) that make its cliffs popular for hang gliding, and, in particular, its dogs, who appear here with their human escorts by the hundreds, the area even attracts a few naturists from time to time. Mostly hidden away in the sand dunes on the beach, naked sunbathers usually stay away on the weekends, when families swarm the area. To keep the “fun” in Fort Funston, even on weekdays, be sure to use caution before disrobing.

Directions: From San Francisco, go west to Ocean Beach, then south on the Great Highway. After Sloat Boulevard, the road heads uphill. From there, curve right onto Skyline Boulevard, go past one stoplight, and look for signs for Funston on the right. Turn into the public lot and find a space near the west side. At the southwest end, take the sandy steps to the beach, turn right, and walk to the dunes. Find a spot as far as possible from the parking lot.




Want to go walking around nude at night outside without being hauled off to jail? Imagine hiking naked guided only by your flashlight in the East Bay Hills, with the trail silhouetted by a full moon and small herds of horses coming up to greet you.

“It’s absolutely surreal,” says Jurek Zarzycki. “The horses come within inches of you, so close you can feel their breath. It’s like being on a moonscape with aliens. You may be a little afraid at first, but the horses are very friendly.”

America’s only nude “Full Moon Hikes” have been taking place on summer full moon nights in Castro Valley for more than seven years. The next ones will be held July 29, August 31 (arrive by 6pm), and September 28 (starting at 5:15pm) “We start early so that we have the full moon already risen by the time the sun sets,” says San Leandro’s Dave Smith, who leads most of the hikes. “Then we hike up the trail around sunset.”

Coordinated by a partnership between the Sequoians Naturist Club and the Bay Area Naturists, based in San Jose, walkers leave the property of the Sequoians fully clothed at dusk and walk through meadows and up hills until the moon rises, before heading back down the slopes completely nude, with their clothes folded neatly into their backpacks.

After the walk, most hikers shower at The Sequoians, and, for a fee of $5, take a dip in the 86-degree pool there and enjoy a plunge in the facility’s hot tub. “It was fabulous,” says Zarzycki about an earlier trek. “I pitched my tent right there at The Sequoians and then slept under the sky.”

Directions: Contact The Sequoians ( or the Bay Area Naturists ( for details on how to join a walk. Meet at The Sequoians. To get there, take Highway 580 east to the Crow Canyon Road exit. Or follow 580 west to the first Castro Valley off-ramp. Take Crow Canyon road toward San Ramon .75 mile to Cull Canyon road. Then follow Cull canyon road around 6.5 miles to the end of the paved road. take the dirt road on the right until the “Y” in the road and keep left. Shortly after, you’ll see The Sequoians sign. Proceed ahead for about another .75 mile to The Sequoians front gate.




Although Devil’s Slide, also known as Gray Whale Cove, was scheduled to be closed this month by the state due to budget shortfalls, officials plan to keep it open while they negotiate with what Paul Keel, San Mateo coast state parks sector superintendent, calls a prospective “donor to keep it in operation for the coming year.” At press time, Keel told us that although “nothing’s been signed or inked, it’s fair to say we are optimistic, so hopefully we will know more in the next month.” Access to the site, though, is changing: after a long-awaited, voter-approved Devil’s Slide tunnel is completed this fall, Keel and others expect a possible increase in traffic to the beach, as more pedestrians and bicyclists use a nearby section of Highway 1 that is being closed. Meanwhile, rangers say they will allow a long-standing tradition of nudity to continue on the sand unless visitors complain.

Directions: Driving from San Francisco, take Highway 1 south through Pacifica. Three miles south of the Denny’s restaurant in Linda Mar, turn left (inland or east) on an unmarked road, which takes you to the beach’s parking lot and to a 146-step staircase that leads to the sand. Coming from the south on Highway 1, look for a road on the right (east), 1.2 miles north of the Chart House restaurant in Montara. Starting this fall, from the north, take Highway 1 through the Devil’s Slide tunnel and then turn left onto the road described above. From the south, continue using the above directions. Most naturists use the north end of the beach, which is separated by rocks from the rest of the shore.



Still the USA’s longest continually used nude beach, San Gregorio even has its own web site and live web cam at The privately run operation, which is located next to San Gregorio State Beach, recently began its 46th year of serving the clothing-optional community.

The beach often draws a large gay crowd, along with some nude and suited straight couples, singles, and families. “It’s a really romantic spot,” says a single woman. However, first-timers are sometimes annoyed (as I was, years ago) by the driftwood structures on the sandy slope leading down to the beach, which are used by some visitors as “sex condos.” However, fans of the beach savor San Gregorio’s stunning scenery. It has “awesome natural beauty,” says regular visitor Bob Wood. Attractions of the 120-acre site include two miles of soft sand and tide pools to explore, as well as a lagoon, lava tube, and, if you look closely enough on the cliffs, the remains of an old railroad line.

Directions: From San Francisco, drive south on Highway 1, past Half Moon Bay, and, between mileposts 18 and 19, look on the right side of the road for telephone call box number SM 001 0195, at the intersection of Highway 1 and Stage Road, and near an iron gate with trees on either side. From there, expect a drive of 1.1 miles to the entrance. At the Junction 84 highway sign, the beach’s driveway is just .1 mile away. Turn into a gravel driveway, passing through the iron gate mentioned above, which says 119429 on the gatepost. Drive past a grassy field to the parking lot, where you’ll be asked to pay an entrance fee. Take the long path from the lot to the sand; everything north of the trail’s end is clothing-optional (families and swimsuit using visitors tend to stay on the south end of the beach). The beach is also accessible from the San Gregorio State Beach parking area to the south; from there, hike about a half-mile north. Take the dirt road past the big white gate with the Toll Road sign to the parking lot.




Tucked away in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, between Santa Cruz and Felton, the Garden Of Eden is a much-used skinny-dipping hole on the San Lorenzo River, which is also visited by clothed families. Some hikers are surprised when they see people nude there and either use the spot anyway or keep walking. Watch out for poison oak and slippery sections on the trail. Eden is one of three clothing-optional swimming holes on the river. To find them, look for cars pulled over on Highway 9, next to the state park, which bans nudity but seldom sends ranger patrols to the creek.

Directions: From Santa Cruz, drive north on Highway 9 and look for turnouts on the right side of the road, where cars are pulled over. The first, a wide turnout with a tree in the middle, is just north of Santa Cruz. Rincon Fire Trail starts about where the tree is, according to reader Robert Carlsen, of Sacramento. The many forks in the trail all lead to the river, down toward Big Rock Hole and Frisbee Beach; Carlsen says the best area off this turnout can be reached by bearing left until the end of the trail. Farther up the highway, 1.3 miles south of the park entrance, is the second and bigger pullout, called the Ox Trail Turnout, leading to Garden of Eden. Park in the turnout and follow the dirt fire road downhill and across some railroad tracks. Head south, following the tracks, for around .5 miles. Look for a “Pack Your Trash” sign with park rules and hours and then proceed down the Eden Trail.

Ox Trail, which can be slippery, and Eden Trail both wind down steeply to the creek. “The path continues to the left, where there are several spots for wading and sunbathing,” Carlsen says. The main beach is only 75 feet long and 30 feet wide, but fairly sandy. Carlsen’s favorite hole is accessible from a trail that starts at the third turnout, a small one on the right side of the road, about 4.5 miles from Highway 1 and just before Felton. A gate marks the start of the path. The trail bends left. When you come to the road again, go right. At the railroad tracks, go right. From here, look for the river down the hill on your left; many paths lead to it. Says Mike: “Within 10 yards, you can be in the water.”



Despite the temporary erection of anti-nudity warning signs at longtime nudie fan favorite Bonny Doon Beach, north of Santa Cruz, officials have told us they have no immediate plans to issue citations at the north end of the site, which has traditionally been occupied by naturists. In fact, the signs were taken down after just two months.

In fact, in June, Pam, of San Mateo, even found a nudist at the main public, south side of the beach, which is used by suited visitors. A 15-foot long rock on the sand, along with a sloping cliff with rocks that jut out, separate the two sides of the cove that form Bonny Doon.

“In the short term, things at Bonny Doon are destined to continue the way they are,” says Kirk Lingenfelter, sector superintendent for Bonny Doon and nearby state beaches. Lingenfelter says he likes Bonny Doon just the way it is. “It’s one of our pocket beaches,” he explains. “They can really give you the feeling of rugged, untouched majesty. I like standing on those beaches. You can sometimes forget that there’s a highway in the distance. It’s a very important feeling to maintain. “The clothing-optional section usually attracts more women and couples than most nude beaches. “Minuses” include occasional vehicle burglaries and gawkers on the bluffs or in the bushes.

Directions: From San Francisco, go south on Highway 1 to the Bonny Doon parking lot at milepost 27.6 on the west side of the road, 2.4 miles north of Red, White, and Blue Beach, and some 11 miles north of Santa Cruz. From Santa Cruz, head north on Highway 1 until you see Bonny Doon Road, which veers off sharply to the right just south of Davenport. The beach is just off the intersection. Park in the paved lot to the west of Highway 1; don’t park on Bonny Doon Road or the shoulder of Highway 1. If the lot is full, drive north on Highway 1, park at the next beach lot, and walk back to the first lot. Or take Santa Cruz Metro Transit District bus route 40 to the lot; it leaves the Metro Center three times a day on Saturdays and takes about 20 minutes. To get to the beach, climb the berm next to the railroad tracks adjacent to the Bonny Doon lot, cross the tracks, descend, and take a recently improved, sign-marked trail to the sand. Walk north past most of the beach to the nude cove on the north end. Alternately, Dusty suggests parking as far north as possible, taking the northern entrance, and, with good shoes, following a “rocky and steep” walk down to the sand.



In late May, when my girlfriend and I visited a little cliffside park above it and peered down on the aptly named 2222 — it’s the number of the house across the street — we discovered that the pocket-size cove looked as beautiful as ever. In fact, America’s smallest nude beach is so small it could probably fit in your yard. And that’s what makes it a magical place. You won’t find crowds at 2222, which takes scrambling to reach and isn’t recommended for children or anyone who isn’t a good hiker. However, those who are agile enough to make it down a steep cliff and over some concrete blocks on the way down will probably be rewarded with an oasis of calm and a good spot to catch some sunrays.

Directions: The beach is a few blocks west of Natural Bridges State Beach and about 2.5 miles north of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. From either north or south of Santa Cruz, take Highway 1 to Swift Street. Drive .8 miles to the sea, then turn right on West Cliff Drive. 2222 is five blocks away. Past Auburn Avenue, look for 2222 West Cliff on the inland side of the street. Park in the nine-car lot next to the cliff. If it’s full, continue straight and park along Chico Avenue. Bay Area Naturists leader Rich Pasco suggests visitors use care and then follow the path on the side of the beach closest to downtown Santa Cruz and the Municipal Wharf.



“Privates is one of my favorite beaches,” says Brittney Barrios, manager-buyer of Freeline Design Surf Shop, which is located nearby and sells keys to unlock the gate leading to the clean, beautiful cove. “It’s always very peaceful.” Visitors include nudists, surfers, families, and local residents. “Everyone gets along,” adds Barrios. “And it’s never crowded.”

Barrios says many of the naturists, who often visit in groups, like to play Paddle Ball on the sand. As for Barrios, she prefers to “lay out,” as she calls it, in the sun.

There’s almost no litter, wind, noise, or troublemakers — security guards plus a locked gate keep the latter out — and world class surfers, such as those who starred in Endless Summer II, regularly put on a free show for the naked people who share the warm, clean sand with surfers.

“It’s really nice,” says Hunter Young, a former worker at Freeline, which sells up to 600 beach passes a year. “Surfers love it because it has good waves. It’s 100 percent standup surfing, with paddling. Anytime I go to Privates, I can expect a long ride on my longboard.”

“The beach is also very family oriented,” explains Barrios. “And it’s OK for dogs too.”

“There are two different coves on the beach,” says Young. “Clothed families who use the beach know which cove is nude and stay away from it. If you want to play naked Frisbee, at the bottom of the beach stairs you just walk to the left.”

Directions: 1) Some visitors walk north from Capitola Pier in low tide (not a good idea since at least four people have needed to be rescued). 2) Others reach it in low tide via the stairs at the end of 41st Avenue, which lead to a surf spot called the Hook at the south end of a rocky shore known as Pleasure Point. 3) Surfers paddle on boards for a few minutes to Privates from Capitola or the Hook. 4) Most visitors buy a key to the beach gate for $100 a year at Freeline (821 41st Ave., Santa Cruz, 831-476-2950) 1.5 blocks west of the beach. Others go with someone with a key or wait outside the gate until a person with a key goes in, provided a security guard is not present (they often are there). “Most people will gladly hold the gate open for someone behind them whose hands are full,” says Bay Area Naturists leader Rich Pasco. The nude area starts to the left of the bottom of the stairs.




Mellow times are continuing at one of the Bay Area’s easiest to reach and most enjoyable nude beaches, the clothing-optional north side of Muir Beach. Also known as Little Beach, it’s separated by the main public beach by a line of large rocks that visitors usually walk over. Says Lucas Valley’s Michael Velkoff, who switched from Red Rock to become a regular at Muir: “This season, there’s plenty of sand. It’s also a great place for women because people leave you alone here. Nobody’s hitting on you. And high tide only comes a third of the way up the beach.” Recent additions include a new bridge over a marshy, lagoon-like area near the parking lot, plus about a half dozen Porta-Potties.

Directions: From San Francisco, take Highway 1 north to Muir Beach, to milepost 5.7. Turn left on Pacific Way and park in the Muir lot (to avoid tickets, don’t park on Pacific). Or park on the long street off Highway 1 across from Pacific and about 100 yards north. From the Muir lot, follow a path and boardwalk to the sand. Then walk north to a pile of rocks between the cliffs and the sea. You’ll need good hiking or walking shoes to cross; in very low tide, try to cross closer to the water. The nude area starts north of it.



One of the most popular Bay Area nude beaches, Red Rock has struggled with sand erosion that’s left a smaller site the last few seasons, along with a more crowded feel to it and, perhaps in reaction, fewer overall visitations. Except for being a little overgrown with vegetation in early July and some poison oak on the half nearest the highway, the beach trail, however, is reported in good shape this year. “Just wear shoes with socks, go single file in spots, and you should be okay,” advises Stinson Beach attorney-teacher Fred Jaggi. Rock climbing and various kinds of Frisbee continue to be frequent pastimes at Red Rock — Ultimate Frisbee games there can last as long as three hours. Naked Scrabble and Nude Hearts are among the other games played by sunbathers. “It’s very peaceful at the beach,” says Jaggi. “Nobody ever brings down a large boombox.”

Directions: Go north on Highway 1 from Mill Valley, following the signs to Stinson Beach. At the long line of mailboxes next to the Muir Beach cutoff point, start checking your odometer. Look for a dirt lot full of cars to the left (west) of the highway 5.6 miles north of Muir and a smaller one on east side of the road. The lots are at milepost 11.3, one mile south of Stinson Beach. Limited parking is also available 150 yards to the south on the west side of Highway 1. Or from Mill Valley, take the West Marin/Bolinas Stage toward Stinson Beach and Bolinas. Get off at the intersection of Panoramic Highway and Highway 1. Then walk south .6 mile to the Red Rock lots. Follow the long, steep path to the beach that starts near the Dumpster next to the main parking lot.


After Tracey, of San Anselmo, hiked to what she called “beautiful, clean, sunny” Bass Lake, she went onto a message board in June to urge those who are considering trying the Bolinas attraction to “Go. Go. Go now.” “The trail was a little overgrown. But I had fun swimming nude in the lake,” says regular Dave Smith, of San Leandro, about his adventure last year. “If you want to visit an enchanted lake, Bass is it,” agrees Ryan, also of the East Bay. “Tree branches reach over the water, forming a magical canopy, and huge branches of calla lilies bloom on the shore.” Ryan isn’t kidding: even walking (45-60 minutes from the parking area over 2.8 mostly easy miles) to Bass can be an adventure unlike any other. One time, rangers stopped and cited a clad man with an unleashed dog, but let some passing nudists continue. And Smith, who usually walks naked, has come across bobcats and mountain lions early in the morning. “I came around a corner and there was a mountain lion sitting like Egypt’s Great Sphinx of Giza 50 yards down the path,” he says.

Directions: From Stinson Beach, go north on Highway 1. Just north of Bolinas Lagoon, turn left on the often-unmarked exit to Bolinas. Follow the road as it curves along the lagoon and eventually ends at Olema-Bolinas Road. Continue along Olema-Bolinas Road to the stop sign at Mesa Road. Turn right on Mesa and drive four miles until it becomes a dirt road and ends at a parking lot. On hot days the lot fills quickly. A sign at the trailhead next to the lot will guide you down scenic Palomarin Trail to the lake. For directions to Alamere Falls, 1.5 miles past Bass Lake, please see “Elsewhere In Marin” in our online listings.



Want to recharge your life? A trip to RCA can do just that. And a single stopover at the beautiful beach will probably inspire you to keep coming back. “It hasn’t changed much in 20 years,” says regular visitor Michael Velkoff. “A downside is that it’s very exposed to the wind. The good news is that there are lots of nooks that are sheltered from the wind. And there’s so much driftwood on the sand that many people build windbreaks or even whole forts. You could build a village with all that driftwood. The last time I went, somebody built a 30 foot tall dragon out of it.” Suited and unsuited males and females and families visit the shoreline, which seems even bigger than its one mile length because, adds Velkoff, “we’ll see six people on a beautiful day on a Sunday. Picture [please see next listing] Limantour as far as how people are spread out on the sand. Everybody’s like 100 feet apart. It’s great.”

Directions: From Stinson Beach, take Highway 1 (Shoreline Highway) north toward Calle Del Mar for 4.5 miles. Turn left onto Olema Bolinas Road and follow it 1.8 miles to Mesa Road in Bolinas. Turn right and stay on Mesa until you see cars parked past some old transmission towers. Park and walk .25 miles to the end of the pavement. Go left through the gap in the fence. The trail leads to a gravel road. Follow it until you see a path on your right, leading through a gate. Take it along the cliff top until it veers down to the beach. Or continue along Mesa until you come to a grove of eucalyptus trees. Enter through the gate here, then hike .5 miles through a cow pasture on a path that will also bring you through thick brush. The second route is slippery and eroding, but less steep. “It’s shorter, but toward the end there’s a rope for you to hold onto going down the cliff,” tells Velkoff.



At Limantour, in Point Reyes National Seashore, you can walk a mile wearing nothing but your smile. “I just head away from any people and put my towel down in the dunes or against a wall,” says visitor Michael Velkoff. “Nobody bothers you. Of course, I carry a pair of shorts, just in case I need to put them on. I love it at Limantour. Plus it has tons of nice sand.” You may also want to don a pair of binoculars for watching birds, seals, and other wildlife. This May, Velkoff saw a whale from his vantage point on the sand; he’s also seen porpoises frolicking just offshore. The long shoreline is one of America’s most beautiful beaches, yet few visitors realize the narrow spit of sand is clothing-optional. The site is so big — about 2.5 miles in length — you can wander for hours, checking out ducks and other waterfowl, shorebirds such as snowy plovers, gray whales, and playful harbor seals. Dogs are allowed on six-foot leashes on the south end of the beach. To grab the best parking, arrive by 10:30am.

Directions: Follow Highway 101 north to the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit, then follow Sir Francis through San Anselmo and Lagunitas to Olema. At the intersection with Highway 1, turn right onto 1. Just north of Olema, go left on Bear Valley Road. A mile after the turnoff for the Bear Valley Visitor Center, turn left (at the Limantour Beach sign) on Limantour Road and follow it 11 miles to the parking lot at the end. Walk north .5 miles until you see some dunes about 50 yards east of the shore. Nudists usually prefer the valleys between the dunes for sunbathing, which may be nearly devoid of or dotted with users, depending on the day.


The malling of San Francisco


Shopping malls filled with national chain stores and restaurants are in many respects the antithesis of San Francisco. They’re the bane of any metropolis that strives to be unique and authentic. And those just happen to be qualities that make tourism this city’s number one industry.

The logic of modern capitalism, and its relentless growth into new markets, has already placed a Target or a Walmart, and a Nordstrom, Macy’s, Ross, or a JCPenney — along with a bevy of Starbucks, Applebee’s, Jamba Juice, and McDonald’s and myriad other formulaic corporate eateries — in just about every town in the country.

Do people really need them here, too? And in a city renowned worldwide for its scenic beauty and temperate (albeit sometimes foggy) climate, do people want to shop in the enclosed, climate-controlled malls popularized in the small or suburban towns that many residents came here to escape?

For me, the answer is no. Frankly, malls have an aura of artificiality that gives me the creeps — but I freely acknowledge that not everyone feels that way. Some San Franciscans may like malls and chain stores while others don’t.

But it doesn’t really matter what any of us think. Left unchecked, it’s the market that matters — and the logic of the market gives chain stores a huge competitive advantage over the mom-and-pops. Their labor and supply costs are lower, their financial resources are more extensive and appealing to commercial landlords, and their business models are based on constantly opening new stores.

All cities have to do is just say yes. And San Francisco has been increasingly saying yes to malls and chain stores.

The economic desperation that set in since the financial crash of 2008 has overcome the trend of resistance to so-called “formula retail establishments” that had been building in San Francisco during the years before the recession.

So now, rather than dying from neglect, the Metreon mall has been brought back to life by a huge Target store set to open this fall, the second Target (the other one at Masonic and Geary) going into a city that had once eschewed such national mega-retailers.

Just down the street, in the heart of the city’s transit-rich commercial center, the CityPlace mall that had been abandoned by its previous owners after winning city approval two years ago is now being built by new owners and set to open next spring with “value-based” national chain stores like JCPenney.

Projects funded with public money aren’t immune either. The new Transbay Terminal transit center now under construction will have its own mini-mall, with 225,000 square feet of retail, much of it expected to house national chains. Even more retail will be built on the ground floor of the dozen other nearby residential and office buildings connected to the project.

And it isn’t just these new malls going in a stone’s throw from the Westerfield Mall, Crocker Galleria, San Francisco Center, and other central city malls. All over town, national chains like the Whole Foods and Fresh & Easy grocery stores are replacing Cala Foods and other homegrown markets, or going into other commercial shells like the S&C Ford building on Market near the Castro.

Just a few years ago, the approval of Home Depot on Bayshore Boulevard (since then sold and opened as Lowe’s, another national chain) was a hugely controversial project approved by the Board of Supervisors on a closely watched 6-5 vote. Now, Lennar is building an entire suburban-style complex of big box stores on Candlestick Point, hundreds of thousands of square feet — without much controversy at all.

Even Walmart — the dreaded poster child for huge corporations that use their market power to drive down wages or force local stores out of business — is reported to be actively looking to open “a couple” of stores in San Francisco (see “Walmart sets sights on San Francisco,” June 24, San Francisco Chronicle).

To Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich and others who have long encouraged San Francisco to embrace the kind of urbanism advocated by famed author and activist Jane Jacobs — which emphasizes unique, neighborhood-based development that enhances public spaces and street life — accepting the malls feels like giving up on more dynamic urban models.

“It’s sort of an admission of failure,” Radulovich said. “It’s the failure of urbanism in San Francisco.”




Mid-Market Street is a bellwether for the type of city San Francisco may become. Every mayor since at least Dianne Feinstein in the late 1970s has called for the redevelopment of Mid-Market into a more active and inviting commercial and social corridor, and few have done so more fervently than Mayor Ed Lee.

Several city studies have explored a wide variety of ways to accomplish that goal, from eliminating automobiles and transforming Market Street into a lively pedestrian promenade to using redevelopment money, tax breaks, and/or flashy lighted signs to encourage distinctive development projects unique to San Francisco.

“But the city failed, so the market filled the void,” Radulovich said.

It isn’t that all shopping malls or enclosed commercial areas are necessarily bad, Radulovich said, citing the influential work by writer Walter Benjamin on the roles the enclosed “arcades” of Paris played in public life. “They work when they are an extension of public spaces,” Radulovich said.

Yet that isn’t what he sees being built in San Francisco, where what gets approved and who occupies those spaces is largely being dictated by private developers who are more interested in their bottom lines than with the creation of a vibrant urban environment where people are valued as more than mere consumers or workers.

San Francisco isn’t alone in allowing national chains to increasingly dominate commercial spaces. In fact, Stacy Mitchell, a researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said that until recently San Francisco was one of the best big US cities in controlling the proliferation of chain stores.

But the city has lost ground since its anti-chain high water mark in 2007, when voters approved Proposition G, which expanded the controls on formula retail outlets — generally requiring them to get a conditional use permit and go through public hearings — that the Board of Supervisors had approved in 2004.

Those controls are only as good as the political will to reject a permit application, and that doesn’t happen very often. A memo prepared last July for the Planning Commission — entitled “Informational Presentation on the Status of Formula Retail Controls” — found that of the 31 formula retails applications the city received since 2007, just three were rejected by the commission, six were withdrawn, and 22 were approved.

It’s gotten even worse since then, as the two Targets and other chains have been courted and embraced by Mayor’s Lee’s administration, whose key representatives didn’t respond to Guardian interview requests by press time.

Mitchell said it’s not nearly as bad in San Francisco as it is in Chicago, New York City, New Orleans, and other iconic US cities whose commercial spaces have been flooded with chains since the recession began.

“It’s nothing compared to the no-holds-barred stuff going on in New York City right now,” Mitchell said. “Walking down Broadway now is like a repeating loop of the stores you just saw further up the street.”

It isn’t that these cities are actively courting the national chains in most cases. It’s just that in the absence of strong local controls, developers and large commercial landlords just prefer to deal with chains, for a variety of reasons.

“If you’re just going with the flow of what developers are doing,” she said, “you always end up with national chains.”

And that’s what San Francisco has started to do.




Stephen Cornell, the owner of Brownie’s Hardware and a board member of the nonprofit advocacy group Small Business California, said chains have a huge competitive advantage over local businesses even before either one opens their doors.

“In general, landlords tend to like chains more,” said Cornell, whose business has struggled against Lowe’s and other corporate competitors. “The landlord always worries: is this guy going to make it and do they have the funds to back it up?”

Big corporate chains have lawyers and accountants on staff, and professional systems established for everything from buying goods to opening new stores, whereas most local entrepreneurs are essentially figuring things out as they go along.

“They’re very good at selling themselves,” Cornell said. “They’re going to manipulate the system perfectly, whether it’s the city and its codes or dealing with neighborhood merchants.”

And for large malls, Cornell said the problem is even worse. Brokers that fill malls have standing relationships with the national chains — most of which are publicly traded corporations seeking to constantly expand and gain market share — and no incentive to seek out or take a chance on local entrepreneurs.

“Chains have a lot of advantages,” Cornell said.

Mitchell said there are two main ways in which malls favor national chains over local businesses. In addition to the relationship between mall brokers and national chains, malls are often built with financing from financial institutions that require certain repayment guarantees.

“What they want to see are credit-worthy clients signed onto those places, and that means national chains with a credit rating from Standard & Poors,” Mitchell said, noting how that “automatically locks out” most local businesses.

Cornell also noted that national chains have already figured out how to maximize their efficiency, which keeps their costs down even though that often comes in the form of fewer employees with lower pay — and less reliance on local suppliers, accountants, attorneys, and other professionals — which ends up hurting the local economy. In fact, big chains suck money out of the city and back to corporate headquarters.

“All those people are making money and spending money here, so you have to look at the full circle,” Cornell said.

Mitchell said there are often simple solutions to the problem. For example, she said that city officials in Austin, Texas recently required the developer of a large shopping mall to set aside a certain percentage of the units for locally owned businesses.

So rather than hiring a national broker to find tenants, the developer hired a local broker to contact successful independent businesses in the area who might be interested in expanding, and the project ended up greatly exceeding the city’s minimum requirements.

Mechanisms like that, or like the formula retail controls pioneered in San Francisco, give her some hope. But she said, “Whether the counter-trends will be enough to counter the dominant trend, I don’t know.”




The increased malling of San Francisco isn’t simply the result of official neglect. Often, the city’s policies and resources are actively encouraging the influx of chain stores. A prime example is the massive redevelopment project on Hunters Point and Candlestick Point that city voters approved in 2008 after mega-developer Lennar and most San Francisco political officials pushed the project with a well-funded political campaign.

“If you’re selling the land to Lennar for a dollar, and then building all the automobile infrastructure for people to get there, then that’s a massive public subsidy,” Radulovich said of the big-box mall being built on what was city-owned land on Candlestick Point.

That public subsidy creates a cycle that makes San Francisco less intimate and livable. Creating commercial spaces on the city’s edge encourages more people to drive on congested regional roadways. These spaces are filled with national chain stores that have a direct negative impact on small, locally owned stores in neighborhood commercial districts all over the city, causing some of these businesses to fail, meaning local residents will need to travel further for the goods they once bought down the street.

“Those neighborhoods are going to be less walkable as a result,” Radulovich said, noting how the trend contradicts the lip service that just about every local politician gives to supporting local businesses in neighborhood corridors. “There’s a certain schizophrenia to San Francisco’s economic development strategy.”

Sup. Eric Mar has been working with Jobs with Justice San Francisco and other groups to tweak city policies that have allowed the chains to proliferate. Last year, Mar held high-profile hearings in City Hall on how national chains impact local businesses, which pointed to the need for additional protections (see “Battling big box,” Jan. 3).

This year, he’s working on rolling out a series of legislative initiatives designed to level the playing field between local interests and those of Wall Street and the national chains it champions.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors approved Mar’s legislation to add banks to the city’s formula retail controls, a reaction to Chase Bank and other national banks snapping up vacant stores in neighborhood commercial corridors such as Divisadero Street.

Now he’s working on legislation that would mandate minimum labor and community benefit standards for chain stores — including grocery outlets such as Fresh & Easy — and study how chains affect San Francisco’s overall economy.

“There should be good neighbor policies when they come into a neighborhood,” Mar said. “Some neighborhoods are so distressed they may want a big box grocery story coming in, but we need to try to mitigate its negative impacts.”

One of his partners in that effort is his brother, Gordon Mar of Jobs with Justice, who argues the city needs to have a clearer picture of how national chains impact local communities.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in corporate chain stores coming into San Francisco in the last year, and nobody has really been tracking it,” he said.

While the Planning Department’s quarterly pipeline report shows that applications for retail outlets has held steady at about 3 million square feet on the way in recent years, it doesn’t break out how much of that is national chains — let alone how that impacts the city’s economy and small business sector.

The city’s Legislative Analyst is now studying the matter and scheduled to release a report later this summer, which Gordon Mar said will be helpful in countering the narrow “jobs” rhetoric that now dominates City Hall.

“They are exploiting the economic recession by saying they’re bringing much needed jobs into the city and serving low-income residents,” he said. “But when you bring out the facts about the impact of these low-road retail stores on neighborhoods and small businesses, there is a net loss of jobs and a lowering of labor standards.”




Yet the fate of those controls is uncertain at best, particularly in a tough economic environment in which the city needs revenue, people are desperate for jobs, and many residents have seen their buying power stagnate, making the cheap goods offered by Target and Walmart more attractive.

“It’s complicated stuff,” Michael O’Connor, a local entrepreneur and former member of the Small Business Commission who favors formula retail controls, told us. “Stores like Target do appeal to lower income families…The progressive agenda needs to understand that working-class families need somewhere to shop.”

O’Connor acknowledges how small businesses like those he owns, including a clothing store, often can’t compete with national chains who buy cheap goods in bulk. So he said he favors protections in some neighborhoods while allowing chains in others, telling us, “I don’t have a problem with the Target going into the Metreon.”

That argument also held sway with city officials when they considered approving the CityPlace project two years ago, which was presented as a mall filled with “value-based” stores that would be affordable to median income San Franciscans.

“At the time, the decision was around whether a value-based retail operation made sense in that location, and the answer was an emphatic ‘yes,'” Barbary Coast Consulting founder Alex Clemens, who represented the project, told us.

On a national or global level, there are good arguments against reliance on national chains selling cheap imported goods, which has created a huge trade deficit between the US and countries such as China that costs American jobs — ironically, the very things that some use as arguments for approving chain stores.

“The recession has created a climate of desperation where cities are more easily swayed by the jobs argument,” Mitchell said, noting the falsity of those arguments by pointing to studies showing that the arrival of chain stores in cities usually creates a net loss in employment. Finally, supporters of chain stores say the cash-strapped city needs the property and sales tax revenue “Because they say they’ll produce a lot sales tax revenue, they’re going to get away with all kinds of shit,” Cornell said, arguing that shouldn’t justify city policies that favor big corporations, such as tax breaks and publicly financed infrastructure. “I certainly don’t think [city officials] should be giving them any advantages.” There are few simple solutions to the complex and interconnected problems that result from the malling of San Francisco and other cities. It’s really a question of balance — and the answer of whether San Francisco can regain its balance has yet to be answered. “Given the mayor’s approach to economic development, it’s inevitable that we’ll have more coming into the city,” Sup. Mar said. “But the ’50s car culture, and the model of malls that came in the ’60s, don’t build communities or strong neighborhoods.”

Bands on the Rise 2012


MUSIC There’s no underlying theme running through the 12 acts profiled here other than geographic: they all reside somewhere in the Bay Area. Well, that and we think they’ll break huge this year. Or at least, deserve a larger audience in 2012. It’s not based on buzz or hype, I can assure you of that. It’s about their artistic output, innovation, and listenability, the grand scheme of the band’s lifespan (just how many EPs did they record?), and the current cultural zeitgeist as we see it.

Perhaps what links them is what divides them — their musical diversity. As opposed to recent years, we are not in 2012 overloaded with a single genre. That blanket, behemoth of fuzzed out garage rock, which at times felt overdone, overhyped, and overworked, is finally expanding. That’s not to say we aren’t fans of garage, it’s just a note that there’s so much more out there in our freaky little section of the West Coast. This year feels electric; it began with a refreshing mix of acts on the rise.

In the Bay Area blender there’s doomy metal, tropical synth pop, cloud rap, moombahton, dirty rock, and all the gratuitous additional descriptors you can stomach. In asking the chosen acts how they personally described their sound, I got back cerebral explanations such as “post-Apocalyptic-art-wave,” “zenith snowflake pop” and “an avalanche of barbed wire and rabid sharks.” I can’t stop listening.

Some of the bands and DJs have been haunting around Bay for nearly a decade, others picked up their instruments as a collective just last year. Some have amassed thousands of social media fans, a modern indicator of popularity if ever there was one, while others currently hover around 100 likes. Most have an exciting new release coming in the next twelve months, and all will likely be touring to a city near you.

It can be difficult to capture the essence of a living, breathing band, so we went straight to the source. I asked the tough questions — how would you describe your sound (as in, here’s a soapbox, let’s get it right this time) — and the headier ones, because everyone wants to know what musicians eat, right? Below, I’ve given you a brief wrap-up of who they are and why they should be on your radar in 2012. Following that you’ll see their answers to our quickie take off the Proust questionnaire.














Summer fairs and festivals



Young At Art Festival de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, SF. (415) 695-2441, Through May 22, free. The creative achievements of our city’s youth are celebrated in this eight day event curated and hosted by the de Young Museum.

* Oakland Asian Cultural Center Asian Pacific Heritage Festival Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 388 Ninth St., Oakl. (510) 637-0462, Through May 26. Times and prices vary. Music, lectures, performances, family-friendly events in honor of Asian and Pacific American culture and traditions.

DIVAfest Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy, SF. (415) 931-2699, Through May 28. Times and prices vary. Bastion of the alternative, EXIT Theatre showcases its 10th annual buffet of fierce women writers, performers, and directors. This year features two plays, beat poetry, musical exploration, and more.

* Yerba Buena Gardens Festival Yerba Buena Gardens, Mission and Third St., SF. (415) 543-1718, Through Oct. 31. Times vary, free. A series of cultural events, performances, activities, music, and children and family programs to highlight the green goodness of SoMa’s landscaped oasis.


May 18-June 5

San Francisco International Arts Festival Various venues. (415) 399-9554, Times and prices vary. Celebrate the arts through with this mish-mash of artistic collaborations dedicated to increasing human awareness. Artists included hail from around the world and right here in the Bay Area.


May 21

* A La Carte & Art Castro St. between Church and Evelyn, Mountain View. (650) 964-3395, 10am-6pm, free. With vendors selling handmade crafts, microbrewed beers, fresh foods, a farmers market, and even a fun zone for kids, there’s little you won’t find at this all-in-one fun fair. Asian Heritage Street Celebration Larkin and McAllister, SF. 11am-6pm, free. This year’s at the country’s largest gathering of APA’s promises a Muay Thai kickboxing ring, DJs, and the latest in Asian pop culture fanfare — as well as tasty bites to keep your strength up.

Freestone Fermentation Festival Salmon Creek School, 1935 Bohemian Hwy, Sonoma. (707) 479-3557, Noon-5pm, $12. Learn about the magical wonders of fermentation with hands-on and mouth-on demonstrations, exhibits, and tasty live food nibbles.

Uncorked! San Francisco Wine Festival Ghirardelli Square, SF. (415) 775-5500, 1-6pm, $45-50 for tasting tickets, free for other activities. Uncorked! brings you the real California wine experience with tastings, cooking demonstrations, and even a wine 101 class for those who are feeling not quite wine-refined.


May 20-29

SF Sex Worker Film and Art Festival Various venues, SF. (415) 751-1659, Times and prices vary. Webcam workshops, empowering film screenings, shared dialogues on plant healing to sex work in the age of HIV: this fest has everything to offer sex workers and the people who love ’em.


May 22

Lagunitas Beer Circus Lagunitas Brewing Co., 1280 N McDowell, Petaluma. (303) 447-0816, Noon-6pm, $40. All the wonders of a live circus — snake charmers, plate spinners, and sword swallowers — doing their thing inside of a brewery!


May 21-22

* Maker Faire San Mateo County Event Center, 2495 South Delaware, San Mateo. Sat, 10am- 8pm; Sun, 10am-6pm, $5-25. Make Magazine’s annual showcase of all things DIY is a tribute to human craftiness. This is where the making minds meet. Castroville Artichoke Festival Castroville, Calif. (831) 633-0485, Sat., 10am- 6pm; Sun., 11 am- 4:30 p.m., free. Pay homage to the only vegetable with a heart: the artichoke. This fest does just that, with music, parades, and camping.


May 28-29 

San Francisco Carnaval Harrison between 16th and 22nd St., SF. 10am-6pm, free. The theme of this year’s showcase of Latin and Caribbean culture is “Live Your Fantasy” — bound to bring dreams alive on the streets of the Mission.


June 3-12

Healdsburg Jazz Festival Various venues, Healdsburg. (707) 433-463, Times and prices vary. Bask in the lounge-lit glow of all things jazz-related at this celebration in Sonoma’s wine county.


June 3-July 3 

SF Ethnic Dance Festival Zellerbach Hall, Berk. and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF. Times and prices vary. A powerful display of world dance and music taking to the stage over the course of five weekends.


June 4

* Berkeley World Music Festival Telegraph, Berk. Noon-9pm, free. Fourteen world music artists serenade the streets and stores of Telegraph Avenue and al fresco admirers in People’s Park.

Huicha Music Festival Gundlach Bundschu Winery, 2000 Denmark St., Sonoma. (707) 938-5277, 2-11pm, $55. Indie music in the fields of a wine country: Fruit Bats, J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, Sonny and the Sunsets, and more.


June 4-5

Union Street Eco-Urban Festival Union from Gough to Steiner and parts of Octavia, SF. (800) 310-6563, 10am-6pm, free. Festival goers will have traffic-free access to Cow Hollow merchants and restaurant booths. The eco-urban theme highlights progressive, green-minded advocates and products.

The Great San Francisco Crystal Fair Fort Mason Center, Building A., SF. (415) 383-7837, Sat., 10am-6pm; Sun., 10am-4pm, $6. Gems and all they have to offer: beauty, fashion, and mysterious healing powers.


June 5

* Israel in the Gardens Yerba Buena Gardens, SF. (415) 512-6420, 11am-5pm, free. One full day of food, music, film, family activities, and ceremonies celebrating the Bay Area’s Jewish community and Israel’s 63rd birthday.


June 10-12

Harmony Festival Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley, Santa Rosa. 10am-10pm, $45 one day, $120 for three day passes. This is where your love for tea, The Flaming Lips, goddess culture, techno, eco-living, spirituality, and getting drunk with your fellow hippies come together in one wild weekend.

Queer Women of Color Film Festival Brava Theater. 2789 24th St., SF. (415) 752-0868, Times vary, free. A panel discussion called “Thinkers and Trouble Makers,” bisects three days of screenings from up-and-coming filmmakers with stories all their own.


June 11-12

* Live Oak Park Fair 1301 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 227-7110, 10am-6pm, free. This festival’s 41st year brings the latest handmade treasures from Berkeley’s vibrant arts and crafts community. With food, face-paint, and entertainment, this fair is perfect for a weekend activity with the family.


June 11-19 

San Mateo County Fair San Mateo County Fairgrounds. 2495 S. Delaware, San Mateo. June 11, 14, 18, and 19, 11am-10pm; all other days, noon-10pm, $10 for adults. It features competitive exhibits from farmers, foodies, and even technological developers — but let’s face it, we’re going to see the pig races.


June 12

Haight Ashbury Street Fair Haight between Stanyan and Ashbury, SF. 11am-5:30pm, free. Make your way down to the grooviest corner in history and celebrate the long-standing diversity and color of the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, featuring the annual battle of the bands.


June 16-26

Frameline Film Festival Various venues, SF. Times and prices vary. This unique LGBT film festival comes back for its 35th year showcasing queer documentaries, shorts, and features.


June 17-19 Sierra Nevada World Music Festival Mendocino County Fairgrounds. 14400 CA-128, Boonville. (916) 777-5550, Fri, 6pm-midnight; Sat, 11am-midnight; Sun, 11am-10pm, $60 for Friday and Sunday day pass; $70 for Saturday day pass, $150 three day pass. Featuring Rebulution, Toots and the Maytals, and Jah Love Sound System, this fest comes with a message of peace, unity, and love through music.


June 18 

Summer SAILstice Encinal Yacht Club, 1251 Pacific Marina, Alameda. (415) 412-6961, 8am-8pm, free. Boat building, sailboat rides, sailing seminars, informational booths, music, a kid zone, and of course, wind, sun, and water.

Pinot Days Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, SF. (415) 382-8663, 1-5pm, $50. Break out your corkscrews and head over to this unique event. With 220 artisan winemakers pouring up tastes of their one-of-a-kind vino, you better make sure you’ve got a DD for the ride home.


June 18-19

North Beach Festival Washington Square Park, SF. (800) 310-6563, Sat, 10am-6pm; Sun, 10am-6pm, free. Make your way down to the spaghetti capital of SF and enjoy food, music, arts and crafts booths, and the traditional blessing of the animals.

Marin Art Festival Marin Civic Center, San Rafael. (415) 388-0151, 10am-6pm, $10. A city center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright plays host to this idyllic art festival. Strolling through pavilions, sampling wines, eating grilled oysters, and viewing the work of hundreds of creative types.


June 20-Aug 21

Stern Grove Music Festival Stern Grove. Sloat and 19th Ave., SF. (415) 252-6252, Sundays 2pm, free. This free outdoor concert series is a must-do for San Francisco summers. This year’s lineup includes Neko Case, the SF Symphony, Sharon Jones, and much more.


June 25-26

San Francisco Pride Celebration Civic Center Plaza, SF; Parade starts at Market and Beale. (415) 864-FREE, Parade starts at 10:30am, free. Gays, trannies, queers, and the rest of the rainbow waits all year for this grand-scale celebration of diversity, love, and being fabulous. San Francisco Free Folk Festival Presidio Middle School. 450 30th Ave., SF. (415) 661-2217, Noon-10pm, free. Folk-y times for the whole family — not just music but crafts, dance workshops, crafts, and food vendors too.


June 29-July 3

International Queer Tango Festival La Pista. 768 Brannan, SF. Times vary, $10-35. Spice up your Pride (and Frameline film fest) week with some queer positive tango lessons in culturally diverse, welcoming groups of same sex couples.


June 30-July 3

High Sierra Music Festival Plumas-Sierra Fairgrounds, Quincy. Gates open at 8am Thursday. $205 weekend pass, $90 parking fee. Yonder Mountain String Band, My Morning Jacket, and most importantly, Ween. Bring out your sleeping bags for this four day mountaintop grassroots festival.


July 2

Vans Warped Tour Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View. 11am, $46-72. Skating, pop punk, hardcore, screamo, and a whole lot of emo fun.


July 2-3

Fillmore Jazz Festival Fillmore between Jackson and Eddy, SF, 1-800-310-6563, 10am-6pm, free. Thousands of people get jazzed-up every year for this musical feast in a historically soulful neighborhood.


July 4

City of San Francisco Fourth of July waterfront celebration Pier 39, Embarcadero and Beach, SF. (415) 709-5500, Noon-9:30pm, free. Ring in the USA’s birthday on the water, with a day full of music and end up at in the city’s front row when the fireworks take to the sky.


July 9-10

Renegade Craft Fair Fort Mason Festival Pavilion. Buchanan and Marina, SF. (312) 496-3215, 11am-7pm, free. Put a bird on it at this craft fair for the particularly indie at heart.


July 14-24

Midsummer Mozart Festival Various Bay Area venues. (415) 627-9141, Prices vary. You won’t be hearing any Beethoven or Schubert at this midsummer series — the name of the day is Mr. Mozart alone.


July 16-17

Connoisseur’s Marketplace Santa Cruz between Camino and Johnson, Menlo Park. (650) 325-2818, 10am-6pm, free. Let the artisans do what they do best — you’ll polish off the fruits of their labor at this outdoor expo of artisan food, wine, and craft.


July 21-Aug 8

SF Jewish Film Festival Various Bay Area venues. Times and prices vary. A three week smorgasbord of world premiere Jewish films at theaters in SF, Berkeley, the Peninsula, and Marin County.


July 22-Aug 13

Music@Menlo Chamber Music Festival Menlo School, 50 Valparaiso, Atherton. (650) 330-2030, Classical chamber music at its best: this year’s theme “Through Brahms,” will take you on a journey through Johannes’ most notable works.


July 23-Sept 25

 SF Shakespeare Festival Various Bay Area venues. Various times, free. Picnic with Princess Innogen and her crew with dropping a dime at this year’s production of Cymbeline. It’s by that playwriter guy… what’s his name again?


July 30

Oakland A’s Beer Festival Eastside Club at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakl. 4:05-6:05pm, free with game ticket. Booze your way through the Oakland A’s vs. Minnesota Twins game while the coliseum is filled with brewskies from over 30 microbreweries, there for the chugging in your souvenir A’s beer mug.


July 30-31

 Berkeley Kite Festival Cesar Chavez Park, 11 Spinnaker, Berk. 10am-5pm, free. A joyous selection of Berkeley’s coolest kites, all in one easy location.


July 31

Up Your Alley Dore between Folsom and Howard, SF. 11am-6pm, $7-10 suggested donation. Whether you are into BDSM, leather, paddles, nipple clamps, hardcore — or don’t know what any of the above means, this Dore Alley stroll is surprisingly friendly and cute once you get past all the whips!


Aug 1-7

SF Chefs Various venues, SF. Times and prices vary. Those that love to taste test will rejoice during this foodie’s paradise of culinary stars sharing their latest bites. Best of all, the goal for 2011’s event is tons of taste with zero waste.


Aug 7

SF Theater Festival Fort Mason Center. Buchanan and Marina, SF. 11am-5pm, free. Think you can face about 100 live theater acts in one day? Set a personal record at this indoor and outdoor celebration of thespians.


Aug 13

San Rafael Food and Wine Festival Falkirk Cultural Center, 1408 Mission, San Rafael. 1-800-310-6563, Noon-6pm, $25 food and wine tasting, $15 food tasting only. A sampler’s paradise, this festival features an array of tastes from the Bay’s best wineries and restaurants.


Aug 13-14

Nihonmachi Street Fair Post and Webster, SF. 11am-6pm, free. Founded by Asian Pacific American youths, this Japantown tradition is a yearly tribute to the difficult history and prevailing spirit of Asian American culture in this SF neighborhood.


Aug 20-21

Oakland Art and Soul Festival Entrances at 14th St. and Broadway, 16th St. and San Pablo, Oakl. (510) 444-CITY, $15. A musical entertainment tribute to downtown Oakland’s art and soul, this festival features nationally-known R&B, jazz, gospel, and rock artists.


Aug 20-22

* SF Street Food Festival Folsom St from Twenty Sixth to Twenty Second, SF. 11am-7pm, free. All of the city’s best food, available without having to go indoors — or sit down. 2011 brings a bigger and better Street Food Fest, perfect for SF’s burgeoning addiction to pavement meals.


Aug 29-Sept 5

Burning Man Black Rock City, Nev. (415) TO-FLAME, $320. This year’s theme, “Rites of Passage,” is set to explore transitional spaces and feelings. Gather with the best of the burned-out at one of the world’s weirdest, most renowned parties.


Sep 10-11

* Autumn Moon Festival Street Fair Grant between California and Broadway, SF. (415) 982-6306, 11am-6pm, free. A time to celebrate the summer harvest and the end of summer full-moon, rejoice in bounty with the moon goddess.


Sept 17-18

SF International Dragon Boat Festival California and Avenue D, Treasure Island. 10am-5pm, free. The country’s largest dragon boat festival sees beautiful man-powered boats take to the water in 300 and 500 meter competitive races.


Sept 23-25

SF Greek Food Festival Annunciation Cathedral. 245 Valencia, SF. Fri.-Sat., 11am-10pm; Sun., noon-9pm, free with advance ticket. Get your baba ghanoush on during this late summer festival, complete with traditional Greek dancing, music, and wine.


Sept 25

Folsom Street Fair Folsom between 7th and 12th St., SF. 11am-6pm, free. The urban Burning Man equivalent for leather enthusiasts, going to this expansive SoMa celebration of kink and fetish culture is the surest way to see a penis in public (you dirty dog!).


Sept 30-Oct 2

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Speedway Meadows, Golden Gate Park, SF. 11am-7pm, free. Pack some whiskey and shoulder your banjo: this free three day festival draws record-breaking crowds — and top names in a variety of twangy genres — each year.


Items with asterisks note family-fun activities.
















Summer movie madness!


‘Tis the season for big, loud, making-zillions-opening-weekend-then-dropping-off-into-oblivion fare. Summer 2010 was one of the shittiest in years (Iron Man 2, we hardly knew ye). Summer 2011 has the usual array of superhero sequels and remakes, but there are a few seemingly bright spots on the blockbuster schedule. And if giant robots aren’t your thing, there’s plenty more in store beyond the multiplex. All release dates are subject to change.

Superheroes! As always, there are plenty of superdudes (and ancillary dudettes) to choose from. Thor is already out, but anticipation is high for X-Men: First Class (June 3) — a prequel potentially poised to breathe new life into the series after 2006’s meh X-Men: The Last Stand; and The Green Lantern (June 17), which stars Ryan Reynolds and will probably confuse people who thought it came out in January (that was The Green Hornet). There’s also Transformers: Megan Fox Has Been Replaced — er, Dark of the Moon (July 1), and endgame Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (July 15). (Harry’s a superhero by now, even with the glasses.) Though the wizard king will prob make the most dough, look for Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22) to bring the most noise. Red Skull in the house!

Manmeat! Ah, but the boy’s club doesn’t end there! The Hangover Part II (May 26) reunites the stars of the 2009 comedy hit for a sure-to-be-memorable trip to Thailand (the cast list includes a “drug-dealing monkey”). J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 (June 10) looks like a more menacing version of producer Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (May 20) tests my theory that every movie should, in some way, feature Blackbeard as a character. But the most intriguing title in this pile is obviously Cowboys & Aliens (July 29): Han Solo and James Bond gunslinging amid interplanetary rabble-rousers in the Wild West? Could this be something resembling an original idea? Hooray for Hollywood?

Indie intrigue! So you’d rather eat a wadded-up copy of Us Weekly than go to the Metreon. Fear not — summer 2011 also means the release of dozens of movies with budgets smaller than what it cost to make one pant leg of the Green Lantern suit. Just a few: from fake trailer to real cinema is the cult-hit-in-the-making Hobo With a Shotgun (May 27); master filmmaker Terrence Malick releases his latest, the Brad Pitt-starring The Tree of Life (June 3); and quirky Norwegian import The Troll Hunter (June 17) and documentarian Errol Morris’ Tabloid (July 15) open after local debuts at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Keepin’ it repertory! Rep houses are also ideal summer hangouts for movie fans who don’t need everything that passes through their retinas to be in RealD. The Castro kicks off the season with an Elizabeth Taylor series (May 27-June 1). Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archives offers up tributes to director Arthur Penn (June 10-29) and local heroes George and Mike Kuchar (June 10-25), plus an extensive “Japanese Divas” program (June 17-Aug. 20). Closure rumors be damned (let’s hope!) — the Red Vic has an online calendar posted through early July, featuring everything from Wim Wenders to Woody Allen to the Muppets. The Roxie’s summer slate includes Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s newly restored 1973 World on a Wire (July 29), also a recent SFIFF selection.

Summer fests! Speaking of festivals — if you want ’em, the Bay Area’s got ’em. The big two are Frameline (June 16-26), now in its 35th year of showcasing LGBT films, and the 31st San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (July 21-Aug. 8), but stay tuned to the Guardian for updates on mini-fests, super-specialized niche fests, outdoor film series, and more. Example: the Four Star is currently traveling through 36 chambers of Asian Movie Madness, encompassing everything from Jet Li’s fists to magic swords, monsters, and erotica (series runs every Thursday through July 28). Happy movie-going, and yes, that is me carrying a boat-sized bucket of popcorn into Shark Night 3D (Sept. 2). 


Sounds of summer


 Live music in the Bay Area this summer is bracketed by festivals, from the lowercase indoor venue indie pop of the San Francisco Pop Fest on Memorial Day weekend to the outdoor mid-August convergence of Outside Lands. The guide below aims to name some highlights from a wide variety of genres, with an emphasis on rare and first-time appearances in the Bay Area. 


MAY 25-29 

San Francisco Pop Fest The lineup includes groups and songwriters from the post-punk (The Undertones) and C86 (14 Iced Bears, Phil Wilson) eras, the Sarah Records’ band Aberdeen, some indie pop faves of the present (Allo Darlin’, The Beets), and more than a few local groups (The Mantles, Brilliant Colors, Dominant Legs, Terry Malts, The Art Museums). Various venues,


MAY 29 

Mobb Deep The East Coast rap duo hits the stage in SF for the first time in years. Mezzanine,


JUNE 2-3 

Architecture in Helsinki The band of five Australian multi-instrumentalists tours in support of its fourth album (and first on Modular). Great American Music Hall and Slim’s; ,


JUNE 3-4 

Bluegrass for the Greenbelt Presented by Slim’s, an overnight concert — with more music on the second day — benefiting the Greenback Alliance, with camping for up to 200 people who bring tents. Dunsmuir-Helman Estate, Oakl.;



Omar Souleyman After releases on Sublime Frequencies, the Dabke idol brings the sounds of Syria to SF, with a Björk collaboration set for release. Mezzanine,

Orange Goblin The veteran UK stoner metal act headlines, with support from beefy Indiana doom band Gates of Slumber, who just released a crushing new eight-song album entitled The Wretch and a DJ set by Rob Metal. Bottom of the Hill,



Matmos Now based in Baltimore, Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt come back to the Bay Area. Bottom of the Hill,


JUNE 10 

Timber Timbre, Marissa Nadler The trio tour in support of a follow-up album, while Nadler moves past black metal back to solo ventures with a self-titled album. Swedish American Hall,


JUNE 22 

Kid Congo Powers and The Pink Monkey Birds He’s been a major force within a handful of all-time great punk and post-punk bands, and Kid Congo Powers has a new album out on In the Red that taps into sounds ranging from glam to ’60s Chicano rock. Rickshaw Stop,


JUNE 23-25 

Jackie Greene In conjunction with the release of his sixth album, the singer-songwriter plays a trio of concerts. Swedish American Hall,

Bill Orcutt The guitarist has just released a tour 7-inch single, and the bill includes fellow locals Date Palms. Hemlock Tavern,


JUNE 24-25 

2011 US Air Guitar Championships San Francisco Regionals Two nights of air shredding, with special performances by past champions Hot Lixx Hulahan and C-Diddy and at least 20 local competitors. The Independent,


JUNE 25 

Blackalicious From Solesides to Epitaph, Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel have spanned decades and still throw down live. Mezzanine,



Quintron and Miss Pussycat Shannon and the Clams and the Younger Lovers open for the New Orleans’ husband-and-wife duo. Bottom of the Hill,



Darwin Deez New Yorker Darwin Smith’s pop songs have found a large audience in the UK, but for now, he’s still playing smaller venues here. Bottom of the Hill,

Maus Haus The group moves past krautrock into other electronic territory on Lark Marvels, and co-headlines with Swahili Blonde on a California tour. Rickshaw Stop,

Seefeel The vanguard postrock group recently reunited and put out an album on Warp. Great American Music Hall,


JULY 7-9 

The Reverend Horton Heat The Reverend goes back to country music’s past on Laughin’ and Cryin’, and is joined by locals the Swingin’ Utters. The Independent,



Washed Out Since he first visited the Rickshaw Stop, Ernest Greene’s music has been used in Portlandia, and his first full album is coming out on Sub Pop. Great American Music Hall,


JULY 14-15 

Three Day Stubble’s Nerd Fest The group is celebrating three decades of nerd rock, with four additional acts on each night. 

Tinariwen Live desert blues from the current touring version of the Tuareg band. Bimbo’s 365 Club,


JULY 26 

Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile An East Coast rock twofer. Great American Music Hall,


JULY 30-31 

Woodsist Festival 2011 The festival returns to Big Sur, with Nodzzz, Thee Oh Sees, and Woods (also playing songs from the new Sun and Shade) joining the Fresh & Onlys to form a bigger band. Fernwood and Henry Miller Library, Big Sur;


August 12-14 

Outside Lands This year’s lineup includes Erykah Badu, and Big Boi, with local contributions from Tamaryn, The Fresh & Onlys, Ty Segall, and Diego’s Umbrella. Golden Gate Park, .


Rolling recreation


SUMMER GUIDE “We definitely try to de-emphasize Iron Man trips,” says Justin Eichenlaub, author of Post-Car Adventuring, the eminently usable guide to low carbon camping, hiking, and cruising trips around the Bay Area, Although Eichenlaub and coauthor Kelly Gregory want to include all fitness levels in the fun, make no mistake — they’re hardcore.

The two met through a Craigslist posting for a multi-day group bike trip to Monterey and now publish guidebooks and a blog under the name Post-Car Press. They’re virtual encyclopedias of info: locations of wide highway berms, how to avoid Devil’s Slide on Highway 101 (incidentally, by a route bikers have dubbed Planet of the Apes Road), and the absolute best for-bikers-by-bikers maps money can buy (Krebs cycle maps, available at

But they’re adamant that it doesn’t take quads of steel to master the roads — even ones to far-flung campsites — sans car with the help of trains, county buses, and the occasional ferry. Indeed, even if you’re not the biking type, auto-less camping is still within your grasp. Shoulder your backpack and head out to Marin’s Samuel P. Taylor State Park via the Golden Gate Transit express bus to San Rafael, then the Marin Stagecoach No. 68. The stagecoach drops you a quarter-mile from campsites tucked into a redwood grove — where walk and bike-in camping doesn’t require reservation and costs only $3 per person per night.

A few tips for the road, courtesy of Eichenlaub. “Have a bike that you’re comfy on — it doesn’t have to be a road bike, or even have a rack, because you can stow your gear in a backpack. Realize you’re allowed to go really slow and the bike will always feel lighter than you expect.” Always familiarize yourself with your route before you leave, and — duh — bring a flat tire kit, pump, and bike lights. “Even if you’re planning a day ride, it can sometimes turn into a dusk ride.”

Here’s a partial guide to three of the pair’s fave summer adventures. Make sure to look up detailed directions before you roll out to recreate. Transit time and bike mileage numbers are for round trips.



Public transit time: eight hours

Total bike mileage: 68 miles

“This is really a slice of California that Bay Area people don’t go to,” says Eichenlaub of Fresno County’s desert lands, which house a natural spa center that’s been around since 1912. Take BART to the MacArthur Station and bike about 1.2 miles to the Emeryville Amtrak Station. Load your steed onto a train bound for Merced — trains in California never charge fees for stowing bikes — then hop the Route 10 Merced County Transit bus (schedules at to Dos Palos. Get off near the Reynolds and Christian streets intersection and begin the 33-mile ride through dry, wildflower-studded lands.

“There are few, if any, trees — only sweeping sandy plains dotted with desert brush,” according to Gregory. After an especially beautiful 12 miles on Little Panoche Road, two lanes of thoroughfare where cars rarely pass — you’ll reach Mercey Hot Springs, where you’ll find cabins (starting at $120/night) and campsites ($30 per person/night) for your well-deserved slumber.

“It feels as though you are far, far away from the city,” Gregory says. The center hosts regular yoga seminars and has a disc golf course that guests can use for free. But if you’re trying to make this a quick jaunt, day use of the pool, sauna, and baths costs only $20.

Side trip: Eichenlaub swears on the Panoche Inn, a “cowboy saloon” 10 miles down the road from Mercey. Hey, what’s better on a detox trip than getting wasted with the cowpokes? Of course, the place does have a website (, so it can’t be too back roads.



Public transit time: 77 minutes

Total bike mileage: 27 miles

Take BART to the West Dublin-Pleasanton Station and then break out your bike for the ride down beautiful, shaded back roads to Sunol, a tiny town whose most famous inhabitant is probably Bosco, a golden retriever who was elected honorary mayor from 1981 until his death in 1994 (and was featured in a Chinese newspaper as an example of Western democracy’s failings).

From there, it’s a gentle hill climb up to a pair of vineyards: Westover and Chouinard. Just, ahem, don’t be expecting a Napa scene. “The first time we went out there, one of the vintners was blowing his own leaves, wearing a muscle shirt,” says Eichenlaub. Vino, sans pretension? Well worth the trip.

Drink your fill from the pleasant tasting rooms and — here’s the beauty of this ride — roll tipsily down the sloping route to the Castro Valley Station, and home.

Side trip: If you’re in the mood to make this an overnight adventure, Eichenlaub recommends taking on the extra 30 miles to the enormous Lake Del Valle, where there’s kickass family campsites tucked into a bend in the shoreline, kayak rentals, and lots of sun.



Transit time: two hours Total bike journey: 50 miles

Snuggled into the Santa Cruz Mountains is an A-frame cabin with a kitchen, wood stove, and a tranquil view of the ocean you just can’t find within city limits. It’s operated by the Sierra Club, but non-club members (up to 14 at a time) can crash within its logs at prices starting at $20 per night. Be sure you make a reservation before you go at

To become a woodland creature, take Caltrain to the Menlo Park Station and begin riding out Sand Hill Road, toward the mountains. After about seven miles, turn onto beautiful Old La Honda Road (“car-lite and redwood-lined,” says Eichenlaub) a three-mile climb to the ridge line. After summiting the hill, he recommends a pit stop at Apple Jack’s in La Honda, where Ken Kesey used to kick it — “a very quirky, very local, and surprisingly friendly bar.”

From there, continue west on Highway 84 until you get to Pescadero Road and then the entrance of Sam MacDonald County Park. After a few loops and a little climbing, make a left onto the Old Towne fire road (across from a park station parking lot) and navigate 1.2 miles of beautiful trail out to the hiker’s hut and outdoor playtime galore. Return the same way after your stay or use your Krebs map to explore West Alpine Road for fresh scenery on the loop back. 

For more info on Post-Car Adventuring and carfree trips to Big Sur, Tassajara Hot Springs, flat routes in Marin County, and even Yosemite, go to


The essential SF bike map


Click here for a pdf version of this map


The fun side of bikes


Paul Freedman, a.k.a. the Fossil Fool, is a singer-songwriter and builder of elaborate art bikes who lives in San Francisco’s Mission District. Since 2001, when he decided to apply his Harvard University education to building custom bikes, accessories, pedal-powered products, and mobile sound systems, Freedman created Fossil Fool and Rock the Bike to sell his creations and provide a platform for his performances and alternative transportation advocacy work.

But anyone who’s watched Freedman build and ride his creations — such as his latest, El Arbol, a 14-foot fiberglass tree built around a double-decker tall bike with elaborate generator, sound, and lighting systems and innovative landing gears — knows this is a serious labor of love by an individual at the forefront of Bay Area bike culture. We caught up with him recently to discuss his work and vision.

SFBG How did Rock the Bike start?

FOSSIL FUEL I was working at a shop in Berkeley and I decided to make my first bike music system, which I called Soul Cycles. So I had that other job at a bicycle nonprofit, which is cool, and that was the first impetus. I did two innovative things with my first bike music system: I put the controls on the handlebars, which I’d never seen anyone do, and I put speaker back-lighting to make the speakers look nice at night. I used a really nice CFL fluorescent lamp, and I started playing around with those and it looked great, so that was our first product for those first three or four years.

SFBG What was going on in the larger culture at the time that led you to believe your interest in bikes and technology was going to be fruitful or make an interesting statement?

FF I care deeply about biking and a lot of the people I was with did too, but I felt like the bicycle advocacy scene was not very effective when it came to actual outreach. I felt like the thing that had been really formative for me was this person-to-person interaction, in my case by hanging out with the guys who started Xtracycle, and going on quests to get ingredients for dinner and riding late at night with the music systems on the tour. I felt like those experiences were what made bicycling appealing, but the bike advocacy scene was using guilt trips and telling people you should ride a bike because you’re too fat and you should ride a bike because there’s too much traffic. And I felt like we needed to shift that mindset and really start focusing on the fun aspects of biking and the social aspects to grow the scene.

SFBG Do you feel like it has, and what effect do you think it had on those who weren’t already riding bikes?

FF I think it’s moving that direction. Even within traditional bike advocacy groups, those people are starting to really focus on their events and creating community, in a good way, and challenging themselves with doing so. And I think that’s really positive.

SFBG Your timing also dovetailed with heightened green awareness — with a push for renewable energy, concerns over peak oil, and things like that.

FF Yeah, I feel that transportation choices are the main thing people need to examine about their lives with respect to their impact on global warming. And that’s not just a feeling, that’s the consensus of the Union of Concerned Scientists. They say that if you want to have an impact on the planet, positive or negative, the first thing you should consider is your transportation habits. So that means flying, it means driving, and everything else. I don’t think it’s really beneficial to focus on what people need to do with a car, like they need to drop their kids off. It’s more important how people do the optional things with cars like the trips to Tahoe, and the flights to Mexico. It’s those optional things I want to focus on, which is why I’m so interested in Sunday Streets, which is like the antidote. It’s this thing you can do here, that you can walk and bike to, that’s as fun as driving to Tahoe.

SFBG Through your technology and design work, it also seems like you’re showing a broad range of what people can do on a bike, with lots of cargo or a whole performance stage setup. Do you think design is convincing people that bikes are more versatile that they thought they were?

FF Oh yeah, I think that would be a really beneficial outcome of this work. By riding through town with our music gear, of course people are going to look at that and think, oh yeah, I could probably go to Rainbow Grocery and buy a bunch of food for my household on a bike. So it would be a great outcome if people would make that connection.

SFBG Is there anything about San Francisco that makes people here more receptive to your message?

FF San Francisco is a very tight city geographically. It’s not like Phoenix. The blocks are pretty short here and the distances are pretty short here, and you can ride year-round here, which is not true in Boston where I grew up.

SFBG The focus on technology and design here also probably helps, right?

FF Oh, for sure. This is an awesome place to be prototyping and doing funky mechanical, electrical art. There’s a lot of support for it. There are places like Tap Plastics for learning about fiberglass. There are lots of electronics stores that serve the Silicon Valley tech developer communities. You can buy stuff there that’s helpful. You can learn about Arduino [an open source microprocessor] at Noisebridge. There are a lot of resources for doing interactive art here or for doing bicycle-related projects. There are a lot of welders here.

SFBG Where do you think we are on the arch with this stuff — the beginning, the middle? — in terms of gaining wider acceptance of biking as an imperative and an option for anyone?

FF I think there’s an important generational shift underway, and I don’t know whether it’s my focus on bikes that leads me to meet all these kinds of people, but it feels like I’m meeting more people these days that are going to pick their next city or their next neighborhood based on how it is to bike there. They’re bringing it up in conversation, it’s not me. So it seems like people are really considering what their daily life is going to be like and how the community feels, and biking is one of the symbols of a whole swath of other beneficial things. They know that if they see a bunch of bikes when they visit a place, then there’s probably a lot of other cool stuff like music, arts, farmers markets. Those kinds of things are sort of linked together, and the bike is the key indicator. So there’s been this generational change of thought. The idea that having a bigger, faster car is better, I just don’t think that’s popular with these people. They no longer believe it.

SFBG It’s having cooler bike.

FF It’s having cooler bike and being able to use it and not have to step into the stress of car culture if you can avoid it.

SFBG What’s your next step?

FF One of the really positive things for me has been the Rock the Bike community, with its roadies, performers, musicians — all types of people who are on our e-mail list. So I can just say, I need three roadies for a three-hour performance slot and there’s going to be a jam at the end, so bring your instruments. That’s an awesome thing and it’s just going to improve, so I think the community will grow as we continue do gigs where we have fun and the people have fun.

In terms of my own art, this tree [gesturing to his El Arbol bike] has been my focus for the last year or two, and it’s not done yet. It has to look undeniably like a tree. It looks like a tree, but with a light green bark that you really don’t see in nature, so that has to change. I want it to have brown bark, but I still want it to do beautiful things at night with translucency. And I want it to have a true canopy of leaves, so that when you’re far away from it at Sunday Streets and you’re wondering whether to go over there, you’ll see a tree. Not just a representation of a tree, but I want them to be like, how the hell did he ride a tree over here?

SFBG Why a tree?

FF I don’t know. You get these ideas, and you start drawing them and can’t shake them. There are all sorts of reasons why trees are interesting. They are gathering points.

SFBG And you’re doing some very innovative design work on this bike, such as the landing gear.  

FF The roots. Yeah, that’s never been done before. Through the course of doing the project, people would send me tips and interesting things, and one guy sent me a link to a photo of tall bikes being used in Chicago in the early 1900s as gas lamp lighting tools, and they were very tall. I’d say 10 to 12 feet tall, and they were tandems, so there was a guy on top and a stoker on the bottom providing extra power, and they didn’t have landing gears. So they would ride from one lamp to another and hold the lamp as they refilled it. And I just love that story because if you were growing up in Chicago, and you saw these gas lamp people coming by in the early evening to turn the lights on, and if you were a little kid trying to fall asleep or whatever, that would have an indelible mark on your childhood, and that whimsical quality is what I’m going for. That should be part of what it’s like to grow up in the Mission District in 2011.

SFBG How does that fit into the other cultural stuff that you’re also bringing to the bike movement, the music you’re writing, design work, the style, and the events that you’re creating?

FF Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so multipronged. I would clearly be a better performer and musician if it was the only thing I did, so I apologize to all my fans for not putting 100 percent into the music. But I put 100 percent into the whole thing, including creating bikes and running Rock the Bike, which is a business.

SFBG But are you doing all these things because you find a synergy among them?

FF It’s the fullest expression of who I am.

SFBG Where do you see this headed? What will Rock the Bike be like five years from now?

FF I would like to see the quality of our entertainment offerings steadily improve to the point where people genuinely look forward to it, and not just to the gee-whiz aspect of look what they’re doing, but just for the feeling of being there. So I’d like to challenge ourselves with the quality of the music, how it is to be engaged in the setup process — because I think the setup is cool, with biking to the event and engaging in the transition to a spectacle, where every step along the way is part of the show. I like that idea. I’d like to challenge ourselves to be a carbon-free Cirque du Soleil, a show that is slamming entertainment and they bike there and pedal-power everything: the lighting, the sound, the transportation. And I want the performers to be just as good.

SFBG Are there people in other cities doing similar things?

FF The Bicycle Music Festival is spreading to other cities, which is cool. I think there are going to be over a dozen bicycle music festivals this summer. In terms of people doing really inspiring work with bike culture or this kind of mobile art, you definitely see some amazing things at Burning Man. That’s probably one of the best venues for this type of art. But I can’t think of another city where people are doing all of this. I’m part of a group on Flickr called Bicycle and Skater Sound Systems, and there’s nothing on that whole group that I see as being on this level. I don’t know why.

SFBG When you ride a cool custom bike down the street, the reactions it elicits from passersby is just so strong and happy. What is that about?

FF It’s a reaction to an expression of personal freedom. People light up when they see you expressing yourself, and a part of them thinks, oh yeah, that would be fun, I’d like to express myself. And there are just so many ways to express yourself and be human — and that’s something that we need to remind ourselves because, in many ways, our personal freedoms are declining and there’s more surveillance.

SFBG And people might take that spark and do any number of things with it.

FF One of the very cool things about bicycle art is that it’s mobile. So you ride your bike and you might turn heads a couple dozen times a day. I ride this tree, and if it’s in the full mode where it’s 14-feet tall and there’s music on, and I’m going from here to Golden Gate Park, I’d estimate that 500 people see it. There’s probably no other art form you can do that with. I can’t think of any other that’s like that. So it’s a really cool art form. Those people aren’t paying you, but you shared art with them, and it’s a good way to get exposure. It’s a great way for a lot of people to see your art.

SFBG With your mobile, pedal-powered stages, you’re also demonstrating green ways of powering even stationary art.

FF It is an interesting time for pedal power. I feel like there’s a turning point that’s maybe beginning in the field of events with how they’re powered. I think there are going to be a lot more people who are going to festivals in the coming years who are looking at the diesel generators and saying, ‘My summertime festival experience is being powered by diesel.’ And I think there are going to be a lot of people seeing that and wanting to do something else.

SFBG Have the technologies for how much juice you’re able to get out of pedal power been advancing since you’ve been working on it?

FF Yes, it’s truly impressive right now, particularly if you’re putting that juice into music because we have very efficient generators where there’s no friction interface anymore, nothing rolling on the tire, it’s all just ball bearings rolling on the hub. Then we put that power into these new modified amps, and they have a DC power supply now, as opposed to an AC power supply, so we don’t have to put the power into an inverter. So the net sum of that is one person can pedal-power dance music for 200 people, which is pretty amazing and inspiring.

SFBG And the battery technology is also improving, right?

FF Yeah, the batteries are what you use for the mobile rides, and that’s getting better. If you’ve been to a bike party, it’s just incredible how many good, loud sound systems there are right now. It’s a very kinetic art form, although I wish people would focus more on the visual aspects of their system, because I feel like there’s a trend to get big and loud fast. But I wish there were more people doing the work that Jay Brummel is doing, where he doesn’t just want to ride on a bicycle, so he turned his bike into a deer and he steers by holding the antlers.

SFBG But there has been some push-back from the police. Have you gotten many tickets?

FF Well, I got tickets for riding up high on this quadracycle. There is a law against riding tall bikes in California. It says you shouldn’t ride a bicycle in such as manner as to not be able to stop safely and put your foot down. Obviously you can’t put your foot down on a tall bike.

SFBG The fact that you have landing gears on your bike didn’t make a difference?

FF Well the officer didn’t take it seriously, but the court sided in my favor. The judge was flipping through photos of the landing gear the entire trial — he couldn’t stop flipping through them. And he asked, ‘How do you get on? Where do you step?’ So I was like, ‘Well, you step here, you step there, and you swing.’ It was pretty fun. 


Saturday, June 18

11 a.m.–10 p.m., free

Various locations, SF


Cycling race


In contrast to the alley cat fixie fiends and placid Venice Beach cruisers, some of Los Angeles’ most ardent bicyclists were going unnoticed and underserved by bike advocacy groups. Working class Latinos are often the only ones on two wheels in several of the city’s most disadvantaged communities — but you weren’t going to catch them at Critical Mass or grabbing a seat at L.A. County Bike Coalition meetings.

The organizers of the community group Ciudad de Luces recognized that these riders, often stuck commuting on the L.A.’s most dangerous roads with substandard safety gear and rickety bikes, needed a voice in the development of the city’s biking infrastructure, and were being missed by the biking movement’s traditional outreach tactics.

The organization started distributing bike lights and Day-Glo visibility vests at day laborer centers; started a weekly bike repair workshop at one of the sites in response to popular demand from workers; and, in 2010, convinced the city to install 73 much-needed bike racks throughout the low income Pico-Union neighborhood. Ciudad de Luces coined a term to describe the community it works with: the invisible riders.

Biking is not a white middle class privilege, but many times the popular face of bike activism is perceived as such. In the case of Ciudad de Luce’s struggle for recognition, that meant the minority communities that do ride aren’t given necessary resources to keep them safe and secure. And according to Jenna Burton of the Oakland community bike group Red, Bike and Green, it also harms cycling’s popularity among some prospective riders.

“If you see something that is predominantly white, it’s automatically not going to be as appealing to the black community,” she said in a phone interview with the Guardian. Burton moved to the Bay Area from the East Coast, and was taken by the strong biking culture. Looking for community, she assumed there had to be some kind of African American bicycle meet-up. (“The Bay Area has everything, right?”) She was surprised to find that one didn’t exist.

Burton realized that blacks were underrepresented in the biking community. When she asked acquaintances about their reluctance to pedal through their daily lives, she found that many were intimidated by the ubiquity of bikes in the area. “It can be really intimidating to get out there for the first time. The culture is so strong here, it seems hardcore to people who are curious about biking.”

“There needed to be a targeted effort toward the black community.” Burton’s solution: create an organization that spoke directly to African Americans about why they should bike. She developed a Black Panthers-style three-point plan to break it down. Black people on average make less money and biking is cheap; black people are subject to chronic health problems and biking makes people stronger; black people are often the subjects of environmental racism and biking is a way to speak out against carcinogenic injustice. To spread the word, the group would hold social rides so riders could see that black bike riders really did exist.

Nick James didn’t own a bike, but when Burton told him about Red, Bike and Green, he was compelled to buy one. Already an activist for HIV/AIDS, education, youth, and health causes, James said in an e-mail interview with the Guardian that he believed Burton had hit upon a way to pull all those social issues together — through an experience that would not only be positive, but fun. Now he uses his bike to get to work and run everyday errands.

“Any space where African Americans can get out stress, laugh, communicate, or heal, I’m there,” he said. “Red, Bike and Green is a space where exercise, socializing, and activism flows seamlessly.”

Core volunteers publicized early rides through word of mouth, often handing out flyers to other black bicyclists that they passed in the streets. They found partners in the East Bay’s burgeoning minority biking advocacy network: Cycles of Change, an umbrella organization that includes the LGBT and minority-run Bikery and Changing Gears Bicycle Shop, and P.O.K.E.R. (People of Kolor Everyday Ridin’).

On Saturday, April 23, Red, Bike and Green held its first ride of 2011. Seventy people rode a route that took them through many of Oakland’s black residential neighborhoods — a tactic that organizers employ, as Burton puts it, to make other black people aware that they can rock some handlebars “to build community in our community.”

Since last year, the rides have attracted cyclists from age seven to 65, families, and strangers who can spend the ride connecting and networking. People have used the rides to announce impending garden harvest surpluses, Oscar Grant protests, and job openings.

As Bay Area bike lanes grow smarter and more numerous, and as gas prices soar and environmental issues become more troublesome, it’s pretty much a done deal that more people are going to be riding bikes. And yes, bike movement, that’s something to ring those bells over. But we have to turn the gears democratically: to really improve access to cycling, the needs of all communities have to be taken into account — and that means getting creative with outreach strategies.

Red, Bike and Green uses bikes to carve out a space for its riders — not only in the velo advocacy movement, but in the social fabric of the Bay Area. Burton is confident that the sight of so many black people rolling by will introduce a thought into the heads of spectators — a thought that really shouldn’t need to be introduced but does anyway: “This is our community, there needs to be space made for us too.”


The rise of bike culture


San Francisco has quickly peddled back into the front of the pack among bicycle-friendly U.S. cities, regaining the ground it lost during a four-year court injunction against new bike projects that was partially lifted in November 2009 and completely ended last June.

Since then, the streets of San Francisco have been transformed as the city completed 19 long overdue bike projects, including 11 miles of new bike lanes, 40 miles of “sharrow” shared lane markings, and hundreds of new bike racks. The city’s first physically separated green bike lanes on Market Street are now being extended, and new ones are being added on Alemany and Laguna Honda boulevards.

“The crews are out on Market Street right now filling in the new green bikeway,” San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Director Leah Shahum told us on May 6. “Far and away the No. 1 encouragement to getting people to bike is to make sure they feel safe.”

But it isn’t just bike lanes and other infrastructure that are causing bicycling to blossom in San Francisco. Bike culture is also exploding in myriad ways, including events such as the San Francisco Bike Party and Rock the Bike shows we profile in this issue, as well as the popularity of the monthly neighborhood street closures of Sunday Streets.

At the most recent Sunday Streets in the Mission District on May 8, Valencia and 24th streets were packed with thousands of people riding bikes, skating, and walking, or engaged with activities — in streets usually dominated by cars — such as yoga, art projects, shopping, and dancing.

“It’s a celebration. It’s not about confrontation anymore, it’s about bringing people along with a more expanded idea of how we can use public space,” Sunday Streets Coordinator Susan King told us at the event.

She said Sunday Streets has helped bridge the gap between families and the bicycling and skating communities, as well as cutting across classes, cultures, and communities. The response to the event has been phenomenal, she noted, and she hopes to see a similar momentum leading up to the next Sunday Streets event on June 12 in the Bayview.

“The Bayview event is really important to us because we have extraordinary support from the Bayview merchants and they want to get more involved with the bicycling community,” King said.

The earnest work of SFBC, SFMTA, and other entities that have helped expand the bicycling infrastructure in San Francisco, bringing safe cycling opportunities into every neighborhood, has in turn allowed organic expressions of bike culture to flourish.

From hipsters on their colorful fixies to anarchists riding tall bikes, from old-school Schwinns to cargo-laden Xtracycles, from elaborate art bikes to simple bike trailers with amazing sounds systems, from old white guys in Spandex to the young black kids on custom scraper bikes, from the hardcore bike messengers to the tourists on rental bikes, from Critical Mass defiance to Bike Party celebration, the streets of San Francisco are brimming with bike culture diversity. And the only commonality, the only one that’s really needed, is a simple appreciation for pedal power.

“We need to get the message out that biking is fun — and that’s happening,” Smith said. “We need a paradigm shift, and I think we’re really on the cusp of that.”


Energizer commute stations open:

Thurs/12 7:30–9:30 a.m. and 5–7 p.m., free

Check map on page 28 for locations

Bike From Work party and fashion show

Thurs/12 6–10 p.m., $5 SFBC members/$10 nonmembers (or join at the door and get in free)

DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF

Kids on bikes


To meet San Francisco’s policy goal of having 20 percent of all vehicle trips made by bicycle by the year 2020, advocates and officials say the city will need to make cycling more attractive to the young and old, from age 8 to 80. But there are some built-in challenges to getting more school children on bikes, even if there has been some recent progress, as demonstrated during the Bike to School Day in April.

“I see more and more middle and high school teams out there,” Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said of the group rides to and from school that parents have been organizing.

According to a 2009 David Binder poll, seven out of 10 residents in San Francisco use a bicycle (this includes regular commuters and once-a-year riders) and last year’s city count of bike ridership from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s annual report saw a 58 percent increase in the number of cyclists on the road. At any given time during regular business weekday hours, some 9,210 riders pedal through the streets, according to last year’s results.

Children account for some of that increase, as demonstrated by the Bike to School Day event and its 3,000 riders — the most ever. Shahum attributes some of the increase to the new separated bikeways on Market Street, Alemany Boulevard, and Laguna Honda Boulevard, which allow children and their parents to feel safer. “When the bikeway was introduced, the numbers increased — there is growing demand.”

Programs like the Department of Public Health’s Safe Routes to School and SF Unified School District’s Student Support Services Department are helping to raise awareness of the improvements to encourage more cycling by young people.

Safe Routes to School Project Coordinator Ana Validzic said cycling is often more convenient than driving to school, particularly given the difficult parking situations at schools. Martha Adriasola, a committee member for the program, said parents and students also are attracted by the increased physical activity from cycling.

But a large portion of San Francisco’s grade school-bound population has yet to join the pedal revolution. Adriasola mentioned several reasons that prevent children from biking, including getting to schools on hills or far from home as well as the lack of bike storage at schools.

“There used to be a lot of concern about where to keep the bicycles,” Adriasola told the Guardian. But that’s changing thanks to a recent grant from the Department of Sustainability will provide bike racks for students at all schools in the district.

“That was one of the missing pieces,” Shahum said of the bike racks. “The district understands that it is good for the city for folks to ride their bikes.”

With new racks lining the campuses, the question remains whether there will be enough riders to fill them. Efforts to improve diversity in the school system and parent preferences for certain schools mean many kids travel across town to school.

Gentle Blythe, SFUSD’s executive director of public outreach and communications, said that last year the school board modified its school selection system to encourage more students to attend their local schools by resolving ties between applicants based on whether the applicant lives in the school’s attendance area. Currently, Blythe said, three out of every four applicants list a school that is not the one closest to their home as their first choice.

According to SFUSD’s 2010 fall enrollment maps, which show all the district’s elementary schools and compares them to the students’ residences, most of the 72 schools have as many students traveling from across the district as those living within a mile of the campus. Parker Elementary in North Beach is such an example, with an almost equal number living inside and outside the neighborhood, including some who live as far away as Visitacion Valley.

With such a long way to ride, it’s difficult for parents and those concerned with safety to feel comfortable allowing children to ride. But Shahum believes it’s still possible. SFBC’s Connecting the City project advocates for safe, cross-town bikeways throughout the city, which could draw more children onto the streets.

Shahum noted that bicycling increased dramatically even when there was a court injunction barring new bike projects. “Imagine the change we can expect when the changes do come,” she said.

She also said that events such as Sunday Streets, the monthly carfree streets events, are attracting families and encouraging them to start cycling together. So the answer to encouraging more youth cycling may be to make the streets safer and more inviting for everyone.

“We hope, through the Connecting the City vision, to see people riding on cross-town bikeways — for everyone from 8 to 80.” she said. 

Cash not care


With the general election just days away, campaign disclosure reports show that downtown interests are spending huge amounts of money to create a more conservative San Francisco Board of Supervisors and to pass Proposition B, Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s effort to make city workers pay more for their pensions and health insurance.

Much of the spending is coming from sources hostile to programs designed to protect tenants in the city, including rent control and limits on the conversion on rental housing units to condominiums. An ideological flip of the board, which currently has a progressive majority, could also have big implications on who becomes the next mayor if Gavin Newsom wins his race for lieutenant governor.

At press time, downtown groups were far outspending their progressive counterparts through a series of independent expenditure committees, most of which are controlled by notorious local campaign attorney Jim Sutton (see “The political puppeteer,” 2/4/04) in support of supervisorial candidates Mark Farrell in District 2, Theresa Sparks in District 6, Scott Wiener in District 8, and Steve Moss in District 10.

Prop. B has also been a big recipient of downtown’s cash, although labor groups have pushed back strongly with their own spending to try to kill the measure, which is their main target in this election.

But the biggest spender in this election appears to be Thomas J. Coates, 56, a major investor in apartments and mobile homes and a demonstrated enemy of rent control. He alarmed progressive groups by giving at least $250,000 to groups that support Farrell, Sparks, Wiener, Moss, and Prop. G, legislation that Sup. Sean Elsbernd placed on the ballot to cut transit operator wages and change Muni work rules.

Although Coates declines to identify with a political party on his voter registration, he donated $2,000 to President George W. Bush in 2004. More significantly, he was the biggest individual donor in California’s November 2008 election, when he contributed $1 million to Prop. 98, which sought to repeal rent control in California and limit the government’s right to acquire private property by eminent domain.

Coates, who is also a yachting enthusiast and sits on San Francisco’s America’s Cup Organizing Committee (ACOC), donated $100,000 on Oct. 20 for Farrell, $45,000 for Sparks, $45,000 for Moss, and $10,000 for Wiener through third-party independent expenditure committees such as the Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth.

The group has already received thousands of dollars in soft money from the San Francisco Police Officer’s Association, the Building Operators and Managers Association, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, and SEIU-United Healthcare Workers, which supports a high-end hospital and housing complex on Cathedral Hill.

Those downtown groups have spent close to $200,000 on English and Chinese language mailers and robo calls in support of Sparks, Wiener, and Moss in hopes of securing a right-wing shift on the board.

Progressive groups including California Nurses Association, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and the SF Labor Council have tried to fight back in the supervisorial races. While downtown groups spent more than $100,000 promoting Sparks in D6, labor and progressive groups spent $13,000 opposing Sparks and $72,000 supporting progressive D6 candidate Debra Walker.

In D8, progressive groups that include teachers, nurses, and transit riders have outspent the downtown crowd, plunking down $40,000 to oppose Wiener and $90,000 to support progressive candidate Rafael Mandelman. So far, downtown groups have spent about $100,000 to support Wiener.

But in D10, the district with the biggest concentration of low-income families and communities of color, downtown interests spent $52,000 supporting Moss and $5,000 on Lynette Sweet while the Tenants Union was only able to summon $4,000 against Moss. The SF Building and Construction Trades Council spent $4,000 on Malia Cohen.

But that’s small potatoes compared to what downtown’s heavy-hitters are spending. The so-called Coalition for Sensible Government, which got a $100,000 donation from the San Francisco Association of Realtors, has already collectively spent $96,000 in support of Sparks, Wiener, Moss, Sweet, Rebecca Prozan in D8, Prop. G and Prop. L (sit-lie) and to oppose Prop. M (the progressive plan for police foot patrols) and Prop. N (a transfer tax on properties worth more than $5 million).

The Coalition for Responsible Growth, founded by Anthony Guilfoyle, the father of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s ex-wife, Kimberly Guilfoyle (who now works as a Fox News personality), has received $85,000 from the Committee on Jobs, $60,000 from the Realtors, and $35,000 from SF Forward. It has focused on spending in support of Prop. G and producing a voter guide for Plan C, the conservative group that supports Sparks, Wiener, Sweet, and Moss

Coates’ donations raise questions about his preferred slate’s views on tenant and landlord rights. A principal in Jackson Square Properties, which specializes in apartments and mobile homes, Coates is the founding partner of Arroya & Coates, a commercial real estate firm whose clients include Walgreens, Circuit City, and J.P. Morgan Investment Management. In 2008, when he backed Prop. 98, Coates told the San Francisco Chronicle that rent control “doesn’t work.”

Ted Gullicksen, director of the SF Tenants Union (SFTU), which has collectively spent $30,000 opposing Sparks, Wiener, and Moss, is disturbed that Coates spent so much in support of this trio.

“Coates was the main funder of Prop. 98,” Gullicksen explained. “His property is in Southern California. He’s pumping a lot of money into supervisors. And he clearly has an agenda that we fear Moss, Sparks, and Wiener share — which is to make the existence of rent control an issue they will take up in the future if elected to the board.”

That threat got progressive and labor groups to organize an Oct. 26 protest outside Coates’ San Francisco law office, with invitations to the event warning, “Be there or be evicted!”

Sparks, Moss, and Wiener all claim to support rent control, despite their support by someone who seeks to abolish it. “I answered such on my questionnaire to the SFTU, which chose to ignore it,” Sparks told the Guardian via text message. “In addition, I’ve been put out of apartments twice in SF, once due to the Ellis Act. They ignore that fact as well.”

Records show that in May 2009, Moss — who bought a rent-controlled apartment building near Dolores Park in D8 for $1.6 million and he lived there from the end of 2007 to the 2010, when he decided to run for office in D10 — served a “notice to quit or cure” on a tenant who complained about the noise from Moss’ apartment. Ultimately, Moss settled without actually evicting his tenant.

“I read about Coats’ [sic] contribution in Bay Citizen,” Moss wrote in an e-mail to the Guardian. “This donation was made to an independent expenditure committee over which I have no control and almost no knowledge. I have stated throughout the campaign, and directly to the Tenants Union, that I believe current rent control policy should remain unmolested.”

But Moss is with downtown on other key issues. He supports Newsom’s sit-lie legislation and the rabidly anti-tenant Small Property Owners Association, whose endorsement he previously called a “mistake.”

Yet Moss, who sold a condo on Potrero Hill in 2007 for the same price he paid for the entire building in 2001, seems to voice more sympathy for property owners than renters, who make up about two-thirds of city residents. He told us, “Landlords feel that they are responsible for maintaining costly older buildings and that they are not provided with ways to upgrade their units in ways that share costs with tenants.”

Another realm where downtown seems to be trying to flip the Board of Supervisors on a significant agenda item is on health care, particularly the California Pacific Medical Center proposal to build a high-end hospital and housing project on Cathedral Hill in exchange for rebuilding St. Luke’s Hospital in the Mission.

The project has divided local labor unions. UHW supports the project and a slate of candidates that its parent union, Service Employees International Union, is opposing through SEIU Local 1021, which is supporting more progressive candidates. The California Nurses Association also opposes the project and candidates such as Wiener who back it.

“A recent mailer by CNA falsely says that CPMC is closing St. Luke’s and Davies,” CPMC CEO Warren Browner recently complained in a letter to the Board of Supervisors. “We are not. We are committed to building a state-of-the-art, high-quality replacement hospital at St. Luke’s and continuing to upgrade Davies.”

But the CPMC rebuild is contingent on the board approving the Cathedral Hill project. So the CNA mailer focused on what could happen if the city rejects the CPMC project: “We could lose two San Francisco hospitals if Scott Wiener is elected supervisor.”

SEIU-UHW’s alliance with downtown groups and its use of member dues to attack progressive candidates places it at odds with SEIU Local 1021 and the SF Labor Council, which has endorsed Janet Reilly in D2, Walker in D6, Mandelman in D8, and Cohen (first choice) and Chris Jackson (second choice) in D10.

“We’re really disappointed that there are labor organizations that feel they have to team up with Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which is against health care [it challenged the city’s Healthy San Francisco program all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court], and with CPMC, which is working to keep nurses from joining a union,” Labor Council Director Tim Paulson said. “This alliance does not reflect what the San Francisco labor movement is about.”

Paulson said that the Labor Council values “sharing the wealth … So we don’t want Measure B [Jeff Adachi’s pension reform] or K [Newsom’s hotel tax loophole closure, which has a poison pill that would kill Prop. J, the hotel tax increase pushed by labor] or L [Newsom’s sit-lie legislation],” Paulson said.

CPMC’s plan is headed to the board in the next couple months, although Sup. David Campos is proposing that the city create a health services master plan that would determine what city residents actually need. Hospital projects would then be considered based on that health needs assessment, rather than making it simply a land use decision as it is now.

Moss told the Guardian that UHW endorsed him because of his positions on politicians and unions. “I agreed that politicians should get not involved in union politics,” Moss said. “The United Healthcare Workers seem to be a worthy group,” he added. “All they said was that they wanted to make sure that they had access.”

But CNA member Eileen Prendiville, who has been a registered nurse for 33 years, says she was horrified to see UHW members recently oppose Campos’ healthcare legislation. “I was shocked that they were siding with management,” she said.

Prendiville believes UHW is obliged to support CPMC’s Cathedral Hill plan, which is why it is meddling in local politics. In his letter to the board, Browner noted that his company and its parent company, Sutter Health, can’t legally do so directly. “The fact is that CPMC and Sutter Health are 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, nonpartisan organizations, and we neither endorse nor contribute to candidates,” Browner wrote.

“When UHW settled its contract with its members [as part of its fight with the rival National Union of Healthcare Workers], they had to publicly lobby for Cathedral Hill,” Prendiville claimed.

SEIU 1021 member Ed Kinchley, who works in the emergency room at SF General Hospital, is also furious that UHW is pouring money into downtown’s candidates and measures. “UHW isn’t participating in the Labor Council, it’s doing its own thing,” he said.

Kinchley said UHW, which is currently in trusteeship after a power struggle with its former elected leaders, is being controlled by SEIU’s national leaders, not its local membership, which explains why it’s aligned with downtown groups that have long been the enemy of labor.

“Sutter wants a monopoly on private healthcare and people like Rafael Mandelman and Debra Walker have been strong supporters of public healthcare,” Kinchley said. “I want someone who can straight-up say, here’s what’s important for families in San Francisco, especially something as important as healthcare. But it sounds like UHW is teaming up with the Chamber and supporting people who are not progressive.”



































































































The Mitchell sister


Porn heiress Meta Jane Mitchell Johnson is running a little late when I arrive at the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theater, the adult entertainment establishment her father Jim Mitchell and uncle Artie Mitchell founded on the edge of the Tenderloin, just blocks from City Hall, July 4, 1969.

Johnson, 32, recently became co-owner of the theater and invited me over to discuss her vision for this notoriously hardcore strip club and the challenges she faces in an industry dominated by the Déjà Vu corporate strip club chain, in a town whose political leaders are still trying to figure out how best to regulate the clubs to ensure that their predominantly female workforce is properly compensated and protected from harassment in safe, sanitary conditions.

A young guy on the front register ushers me into a side room. The walls are decorated with photographs that recall the people and players who have made this club such a storied San Francisco institution and a landmark in the history of the sex industry.

There’s an image of a topless Marilyn Chambers, the star of Behind the Green Door, the porn film the Mitchell brothers shot and screened at the theater in 1972 and was a major hit after it became known that Chambers was also the wholesome face on Ivory Snow soap flakes box.

There is a photo of Artie with a young raven perched over his shoulder. It was taken in 1990 during a trip to Aspen, Colo., to support gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who worked at the club in the 1980s and was facing serious charges, including sexual assault and possession of drugs and explosives, that eventually got dropped.

Another shows both the Mitchell brothers, photographed when they were still young and rakish and battling the vice squad, even as they entertained the local political elite.

Today the brothers are dead, Artie from bullet wounds inflicted when Jim shot him with a rifle in February 1991; Jim from a heart attack in July 2007. And now Jim’s oldest son, James Mitchell, 28, is in jail awaiting trial for allegedly beating his ex-girlfriend Danielle Keller to death with a baseball bat in July 2009 and abducting their baby daughter, Samantha.

Unlike his father, who continued to run the Mitchell porn empire after serving less than three years for voluntary manslaughter, James is facing life behind bars.

“He is charged with six serious felonies and is facing life imprisonment with no possibility of parole,” Marin County Deputy Chief District Attorney Barry Borden said recently. Johnson told me that her brother no longer owns stock in Cinema 7, the corporation the Mitchell brothers founded to oversee their burgeoning sex business.

This latest family tragedy occurred in the wake of a $3.74 million class action suit that was settled in 2008. Brought by three MBOT dancers, the suit led to valid claims by 370 dancers who complained about Cinema 7’s “piece-rate” wage system. Under that system, the club compensated dancers solely for the number of private dances performed, waived meal and rest periods, and failed to reimburse dancers for costumes, props, and makeup.

Since then the club ended the piece-rate system, but introduced chips customers must buy to procure lap dances and encounters in small, curtained private rooms. On a recent night, the girls at the O’Farrell Theater remained smiling and bright-eyed as they succeeded in getting some customers to purchase chips for lap dances and private encounters. But the rest of the crowd remained largely silent and mostly tight-fisted as customers watched the club’s exotic dancers perform on its disco-balled stage.

All of which left me wondering if Johnson can succeed in overcoming her family history and reputation to make a difference for her workers and community while facing a nationwide recession in an industry dominated by an out-of-state chain.



Johnson greets me dressed in Ugg boots and jeans, apologizes for being tardy, and leads the way upstairs to the theater’s office so we can talk.

I first met Johnson in 2007 (“Behind the Mitchell’s Door,” 07/22/09) when she arrived at the theater in knee-high boots, clutching a massive lime handbag and a tiny dog named Baby. During that first encounter, three months after her father died, Johnson confided that when she took over the office, it was full of dildos dancers had given the Mitchell brothers. Placing her dog on the pool table that dominated the office, she said she planned to massage all this male energy toward femininity.

Today it looks as if she has started to deliver on that promise. The pool table is gone. The sofa where Hunter S. Thompson used to sit remains in the room. But now a clothesline runs between the office walls, draped with a stripper’s glove, stilettos, and a G-string emblazoned with the word “Gonzo,” presumably in honor of Thompson.

“It was a little thing we made to give away,” Johnson laughs.

She introduces her youngest brother and club co-owner, Justin. “Me and Justin are close. We are the owners and we are making some changes,” Johnson explains. “We are making the prices more reasonable so customers don’t have to spend an arm and a leg just to get a lap dance. And we’re going to hold events like poetry slams. We are trying to make the club fun again. We definitely see a hit due to the economy, but we’ve also been hit by the decision from the class action lawsuit.”

Johnson insists she and her brother aren’t “your typical strip club owners.”

Were in a symbiotic relationship with our dancers, she says. That sets us apart from other clubs. The dancers are our employees. We pay them minimum wage and workers comp. We cover their Healthy San Francisco costs. We incur a lot of expenses legally employing our dancers. But instead of crying about our handicap,’ she said, referring to treating dancers as employees, my goal is to show we can manage the club without a pimp mentality, without a How much can you shake them down for? approach.

“A lot of our employees have been here a long time and have had to deal with all the painful violent stuff too,” she continued. “And folks are still here, even though their hours got cut and they are not making as much money.

In 2007, Johnson told me that she resented the family business when she was growing up. “The boys could go inside, and I couldn’t,” she recalled. It wasn’t until 2004, when she was working as a mortgage consultant in a cubical farm in San Ramon that Johnson began to take pride in the business “as something that had taken care of us through the years.”

Johnson, who became the club’s scheduling manager in 2005, recalls the shock of losing her dad in 2007. “It was like being dumped in icy water,” she says. “At first we didn’t know how to handle it. But we learned. Five years ago, I was much more liable to listen to advice. But I need to be able to fall asleep feeling good. That involves treating people a certain way. I don’t think any other strip club in the country is being run the way this one is.”

Johnson got married and went on maternity leave in 2008. ” When my son was six months old, I came back for the club’s 40th anniversary party and I realized, they need me both of us [she and her brother]— as owners, steering the proverbial ship. No one else wants to be held accountable. We never discussed selling. Our father built this place. It’s completely shaped our lives. Good or bad, it’s ours.”



As a nude strip club, Mitchell Brothers’ O’Farrell Theatre stands in direct competition with Crazy Horse on Market Street and the Déjà Vu-owned clubs including the Market Street Theaters, Gold Clubs and other spots in SoMa, and most of the clubs in North Beach. The exception is Lusty Lady, the only unionized, worker-owned peepshow in the country.

If you walk into the Gold Club in San Francisco, well, there are 50 other Gold Clubs in the country, so, its generic, Johnson says. But theyve got their business model. Were not trying to copy Déjà Vu or Crazy Horse. Were the Mitchell Brothers. Its been part of us and our whole history.

Dancers agree that the Lusty Lady isn’t in competition with Déjà Vu.

“They’re Walmart, and we’re the mom and pop store on the corner,” Lorelei*, a dancer at Lusty Lady, said. “At the Lusty, we pride ourselves on being alternative and having tattoos and piercings.”

Some dancers, who we’ve indicated with an asterisk after their altered names, voiced fear of being identified as critics of Déjà Vu’s business model.

“If Deja Vu found out I was shit-talking them I would probably get fired and be blacklisted from all their clubs,” Sugar* said. “If I were to get blacklisted, I’d be totally screwed because there are no other clubs in San Francisco,” where she doesn’t feel pressure to do more than dance, “which is not my thing.”

“Or the Lusty Lady, which doesn’t pay enough to cover my bills,” she continued. “But Deja Vu is notorious for being a terrible company to work for, mainly because of their outrageously high stage fees.”

Other dancers say they had to pay stage fees at the Déjà Vu-owned Hungry I, and sometimes went home empty-handed after eight-hour shifts when uninvited touching was common.

“The number one thing that would improve our work experience is if someone actually forced Deja Vu to stop charging us stage fees,” Amber* said. “Almost no one outside the industry knows that dancers pay money to go to work. A lot of customers think the clubs pay us, like, thousands of dollars. In San Francisco we pay between $100–$200 per shift, sometimes more.”

By law, dancers have the right to choose employee status, versus being considered independent contractors. “But that’s a joke,” Amber added. “If we choose employee status, we’re required to do a minimum of 10 lap dances per shift. The club keeps all that money, and we would get paid $12–$15 an hour.”

But Edi Thomas, counsel for Déjà Vus Centerfolds club, flatly denies that the dancers who perform at Centerfolds (the only nightclub in San Francisco authorized to operate as a Deja Vu Showgirls club) pay stage fees.

Rather, entertainers who perform at Centerfolds (and/or at Hungry I, the Condor, and Market Street) are paid a substantial percentage of the patron revenues generated from individual dance sales, Thomas stated.

The entertainers are issued Forms 1099 at year-end, reflecting the amounts they were paid by the nightclub, she said, which means the dancers are independent contractors, not employees. These nightclubs operate within the law and make every effort to assure that entertainers are well compensated and perform in safe and lawful environments.

There are, as in any industry, former and disgruntled workers carrying a desire to harm a nightclub or the industry for their own personal reasons, Thomas added. “But those workers do not represent the voice of the majority.



When the Mitchell Brothers founded their empire, it was against a backdrop of organized crime trying to exercise a monopoly on the porn industry. According to a 1977 U.S. Department of Justice report, members of La Cosa Nostra tried to request exclusive distribution of Mitchell Brothers’ porn films.

The Mitchells resisted for years, but DOJ claims they eventually entered into a contract with LCN’s Michael Zaffarano to distribute “Autobiography of a Flea.” the Mitchells also fought City Hall.

During the 1980s, Mayor Dianne Feinstein’s vice squad tried to close the Mitchell Brothers’ operations. But under Mayor Willie Brown, the former attorney for late Déjà Vu strip club owner Sam Conti, SFPD enforcement reportedly eased.

Then in 1997, Déjà Vu started to take control of the city’s sex clubs, introducing stage fees and private rooms. In 2002, three former MBOT dancers filed their suit against Cinema 7. The next year, three other dancers brought suits against Market Street Cinema and Century Theater. And in 2005, Deja Vu settled a class action labor suit with its dancers. Attorney Greg Walston, representing the dancers, said at the time that minimum pay rate would protect dancers from being forced into prostitution to make money.

Deja Vu threatened a counter-suit based on the allegations of prostitution at their clubs, but Walston told reporters: “The record speaks for itself.” Walston used police reports with prostitution allegations to bolster his case and said he was doing the job the District Attorney’s Office should have done.

In July 2008, when MBOT reached its $3.74 million class action settlement, Cinema 7 president Jeffrey Armstrong said that the corporation was “not able to pay the entire amount up front.” Instead, Mitchell matriarch Georgia Mitchell and her business partner John P. Morgan, then cotrustees of the Jim Mitchell 1990 Family Trust, which holds two-thirds of Cinema 7’s shares, pledged stock certificates as security interest.

But the debate about how to treat sex work in San Francisco continues. In November 2008, District Attorney Kamala Harris and Mayor Gavin Newsom opposed Proposition K, a local measure that tried to decriminalize prostitution by forbidding local authorities from investigating, arresting or prosecuting sex workers. They argued that the measure would increase prostitution on the streets, give pimps cover, and hamper efforts to stop sex trafficking. The measure failed.

At the time, Prop. K advocate Carol Leigh and cofounder of the Bay Area Sex Workers Advocacy Network said, “We feel that repressive policies don’t help trafficking victims, and that human rights-based approaches, including decriminalization, are actually more effective.”

Today, erotic dancers must identify which of a tangle of regulatory entities is the appropriate venue to lodge complaints. District Attorney spokesperson Erica Derryck said Harris is dedicated to prosecuting violent crimes committed against all San Franciscans, regardless of whether they happen in a club or an alley.

“If there are two drug dealers and one attacks the other, we’d prosecute. But that’s not to say there won’t also be consequences for underlying criminal behavior too,” she said. “But anyone who has been victimized should be confident of going to the police and reporting any incident.”

Derryck said public health and safety complaints can be lodged at entities that provide permits and licenses, including the Planning Department and Entertainment Commission.

“There might not be any criminal activity involved, but this route hits clubs in the pocket and is worth considering if dancers want to represent their grievances,” she said.

Meanwhile dancers say there is still pressure to do more than just dance in some clubs. “For some dancers, the clubs feel fine,” Lorelei says. “It’s a safe space where no ads are needed. They see it as a fair exchange. But if you just want to dance — when one girl is doing this, and another that, how are you supposed to make money?”

Other dancers wish managers wouldn’t abuse their power. “Sometimes they back you up,” Amber said. “Other nights, someone insults you and they won’t help.” And many wish management would try to make the clubs fun again.

“It used to be a party, but now it’s about the cheapest dirtiest fuck you can get,” Lorelei said. “Taking stage fees created a dark environment that carries over to the customers. It’s like we’re goats in a petting zoo begging, saying give me money, give me coke.”



Attorney Jim Quadra, who represented the dancers in the MBOT class action suit, said that for all the talk about treating dancers right, the Mitchells’ interest was money.

“At the time, a group of people thought the agenda was to get dancers to do more than dancing because that’s what brings in the revenue,” Quadra said. “But Meta comes off much better than the rest of her family.”

During the trial, Jim was asked if there were meetings where Cinema 7 personnel defined what they meant by a “lap dance” in the piece rate system.

“You need a lap for a lap dance,” Mitchell replied. “You are getting down to like, you know, lap dance, erotic theater, America. And your question is like just a waste of the public’s slender resources, like drop[ping] a basketball in the ghetto and asking, ‘Did you define what that is for them?'<0x2009>”

Johnson, who voluntarily took the witness stand, was asked if there was any reason dancers would be afraid of her father. “He can be a little gruff and he can be cranky, a grouchy old man,” she replied.

Today Johnson is moving ahead with a vision she began to outline in 2007, then put on hold until December 2009, when a law suit about the family trust fund was settled.

“We settled everything out of court in December with my grandmother, which was a nice Christmas present,” she says, confirming that she and her siblings succeeded in removing their 83-year grandmother, Georgia Mae Mitchell, as trustee of the Jim Mitchell family fund. They replaced her with their mother, Jim Mitchell’s ex-wife, Mary Jane Whitty-Grimm, who also has custody of James’s baby daughter, Samantha.

“Danielle’s mother has some personal problems … that made the court reluctant to give her custody of the baby. so they gave Samantha to Mary, who is a nice woman, who is married with a family,” former San Francisco D.A. Terence Hallinan told me, after James Mitchell replaced him with another private criminal defense attorney, Douglas Horngrad, in March.

In court filings related to the family trust fund, Mitchell matriarch Georgia Mae claimed her grandchildren’s lawsuit was intended to deny her jailed grandson James his share of the trust to defend against his serious felony charges.

“Justin asked me to take money out of the trust account of his brother James, and send it to his mother instead of paying his criminal defense attorney, Terence Hallinan,” the Mitchell matriarch claimed.

I asked Hallinan if the trust fund was the reason James Mitchell changed attorneys. “Yes and no,” Hallinan said. “It definitely had to do with money and who was going to run the club. The poor grandma, she is such a nice person. She was trying to play fair and be nice to all the kids. It’s not a really healthy family. ‘Rafe’ [James] is where he is. In my opinion, he is still not clear what happened or why.”

Johnson, for her part, says her brother James has mental health issues. “I don’t accept what he did,” she said. “I’m not making any excuses for it. He’s either insane or he’s a monster. But the family has an obligation to make sure he has legal defense. He was always a beneficiary of the trust. But he fired his lawyer, which is the worst thing he could have done.”

A restraining order Keller secured five days before she was murdered claims Mitchell abused her for years, had mood swings, used cocaine, and was addicted to methamphetamines.

“Danny should have left,” Johnson said.

It’s been painful to read the comments people leave,” she continued, referring to online reaction to her brother’s arrest that suggest the Mitchells are bad seed and should be wiped out. It’s not because James is a Mitchell, or because there’s some bad gene.”

Rather, she said he had serious unaddressed problems, “a time bomb that was going to explode and then it did in just about the most horrific way imaginable.”

“When I was 13, my father shot my uncle Artie. And when I was 31, James killed Danny,” she adds. “So I hope I don’t live to be 103.”



In 1985, the O’Farrell Theater’s marquee famously read, “For show times call … ” followed by Mayor Feinstein’s phone number. But that was another era.

“I don’t know Dianne Feinstein,” Johnson says, as she shows me a cartoon R. Crumb drew in 1985 of then-Mayor Feinstein as Little Bo Peep, with a bunch of men, including political and law enforcement leaders, peeking out from under her skirts. “I know my father was never very fond of her. And I’m sure her reasons for wanting to shut the club down were based on the idea that women are being exploited and that we need to save them.”

Johnson says some of their dancers are single moms; some are young girls who can’t get enough work at retail jobs to pay their bills; and others are college students and graduates.

“There are as many stories as there are dancers. But the stereotype is that dancers are being exploited and have to be protected because they can’t protect themselves and no one really wants to dance. But when I came through the club door, I realized that many women want to do this and get upset if people try to save them. Some people feel that working in a strip club is bad, wrong, dirty. No. But it can be if you are pushed into it and don’t want to do it.”

Dancers the Guardian spoke to confirmed that they dislike being framed as victims. When we are painted as victims, we look stupid, Lorelei said. All we want is to make sure that folks are following the labor code and providing the same basic, decent working conditions youd get if you were working at a coffee shop.

But dancers know that some people are titillated by the idea of women being taken advantage of. “They don’t want that fantasy to go away, that she’s really a good girl and doesn’t want to do it,” Lorelei said. “If it turns out we are not traumatized, horrified, or disenfranchised, it ruins the whole fantasy.”

She fears that political leaders know bad things are happening but don’t want to talk about them for fear it implies they are permitting them. “The attitude is these women aren’t real, they are sex workers, so if they get raped or go missing, who cares?” Lorelei claimed. “We can’t admit they are the babysitter, the girl who sits next to you at the office.”

When Johnson began working at MBOT, she was shocked that the dancers were naked. “But no one is forcing anyone to be here,” she says. “Sure, some women dance out of necessity. But there are women who are really into it … What’s bad is the exploitation.”

It’s hard to tell from the outside whether the MBOT dancers are feeling better about their working conditions these days or whether having a woman in charge makes a big difference.

On a recent Saturday night, we were charged $40 to enter the club. The ticket gave us access to the theater’s main stage, where a succession of ethnically diverse and athletically built girls pranced, pole danced, and eventually took it all off — in tasteful fashion — as the customers threw tips on stage.

A friendly girl asked if we’d like some company but backed off gracefully when we declined to do more than chat. No one else tried to hustle us for the next hour, and we didn’t get the sense that these women were desperate to make more money. The private rooms remained empty during our visit. But there are VIP rooms that we didn’t have access to, and it’s possible more hardcore stuff was going on elsewhere in the club.

As we left, a tour bus pulled up outside, full of tourists who pressed their noses against the bus windows to eyeball the famed Mitchell Brothers establishment, drawn just to gawk at this titillating and complicated San Francisco institution.

Johnson and Mitchell believe their club gives women a path to financial independence and that having a female in charge makes a difference. They don’t need a man,” Johnson says. “In most strip clubs, the pay is all under the table, and the girls keep cash in shoe box under the bed.”

“Dodging the IRS,” Mitchell adds.

But they recognize that some dancers may be coming from abusive situations. Johnson said she realized one dancer was in trouble when she asked to be booked for every shift. “I looked at the situation and saw 16-hour days in stilettos and an exhausting schedule. It took a woman’s insight to work out what was going on.”

“It goes back to a woman’s touch, ” Mitchell says.

Johnson blames this nation’s puritanical roots for the abiding disapproval toward the sex industry and those who work in it.

“But it’s come a long way,” Mitchell interjects.” When this place first started, it got raided non-stop. Now it’s much more acceptable than 20 years ago. In the next 20 years, I’m optimistic that prostitution will be decriminalized, at least in our city, if not in our state.”

So is prostitution happening as much as some dancers say it is? “You can’t penalize people for surviving,” Johnson says. “What dancers do outside clubs is their business. We don’t have control over them. All we can do is worry about them. We don’t condone illegal activity inside the club. We don’t encourage or support it. That’s our official take.”

Johnson acknowledges the O’Farrell Theater may have the reputation for being perhaps the most hardcore club in the city. “But everything that happens here, happens elsewhere,” she says. “It’s the same exact deal except they don’t care at all, and we’re a family-run business.”

Mitchell observes that the O’Farrell Theater is huge part of the city’s tourism industry. “When conventions come through, we’re one of the prime tourist spots, along with Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge,” he said.

“San Francisco is known for its freewheeling sexuality, like the Folsom Street Fair,” Johnson adds. “People say San Francisco is Oakland’s slutty sister. And people come here because this club is an institution, a landmark in San Francisco.”

So can Johnson make a difference against this convoluted backdrop?

“It’s a benefit to have a female in management,” Johnson claims. “When we come up with an idea, I think: How will the dancers feel? We’re on the same team. I treat them like teammates. We’re not in a battle over who gets the most money. I can see through things. Women manipulate men, and dancers are in the business of manipulating men. It’s a sale. It’s a hustle. They have that mindset. But I say, no, you don’t need to make up situations. You just tell us what’s up. But that’s not the normal attitude. In most clubs, it’s ‘Shut up, do what we say, and pay your fees.'”

Johnson says she was recently at the AT&T store, and the girl asked where she worked. “I said, at a strip club. People find that incredibly interesting. This girl was 23 and she was not comfortable with the idea of dancing, but at the same time she was fascinated by it. And it’s not going away, women dancing and stripping, You can hate it; you can love it — it doesn’t matter.”

After so many years on the San Francisco scene, MBOT is striving to be a legitimate part of its neighborhood and the city’s business community. And to Johnson, some of that involves unfinished business.

Lou Silva was the artist who did the original mural of whales on the clubs wall. Thats what I remember as a child. My dad and uncle were connected to that community and the underground comic movement in the late 1970s. They made money, they wanted to spread the love around, so they did a giant art project on the side wall. And a couple of years before my uncle died, they started to redo it. But the project stopped when my uncle was shot. We are going to bring the whales back. Were working on it with an Academy of Art class. It will be far more peaceful and calm than a crazy jungle scene on the wall. We want to redo whales to demonstrate that we are interested in more than just sex and exploitation. We want to be connected to our community again.

Noting that the new mural is part of the beautification of Polk Street, Johnson concludes: The mural on the wall is unfinished because of Arties death. Now its time to finish it, not to have unfinished art on the wall because of some horrible, violent incident. Its an investment to show we are not the Mitchells everyone thinks we are.

Democratizing the streets

It’s hard to keep up with all the changes occurring on the streets of San Francisco, where an evolving view of who and what roadways are for cuts across ideological lines. The car is no longer king, dethroned by buses, bikes, pedestrians, and a movement to reclaim the streets as essential public spaces.

Sure, there are still divisive battles now underway over street space and funding, many centered around the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which has more control over the streets than any other local agency, particularly after the passage of Proposition A in 2007 placed all transportation modes under its purview.

Transit riders, environmentalists, and progressive members of the Board of Supervisors are frustrated that Mayor Gavin Newsom and his appointed SFMTA board members have raised Muni fares and slashed service rather than tapping downtown corporations, property owners, and/or car drivers for more revenue.

Board President David Chiu is leading the effort to reject the latest SFMTA budget and its 10 percent Muni service cut, and he and fellow progressive Sups. David Campos, Eric Mar, and Ross Mirkarimi have been working on SFMTA reform measures for the fall ballot, which need to be introduced by May 18.

But as nasty as those fights might get in the coming weeks, they mask a surprising amount of consensus around a new view of streets. “The mayor has made democratizing the streets one of his major initiatives,” Newsom Press Secretary Tony Winnicker told the Guardian.

And it’s true. Newsom has promoted removing cars from the streets for a few hours at a time through Sunday Streets and his “parklets” in parking spaces, for a few weeks or months at a time through Pavement to Parks, and permanently through Market Street traffic diversions and many projects in the city’s Bicycle Plan, which could finally be removed from a four-year court injunction after a hearing next month.

Even after this long ban on new bike projects, San Francisco has seen the number of regular bicycle commuters double in recent years. Bike to Work Day, this year held on May 13, has become like a civic holiday as almost every elected official pedals to work and traffic surveys from the last two years show bikes outnumbering cars on Market Street during the morning commute.

If it wasn’t for the fiscal crisis gripping this and other California cities, this could be a real kumbaya moment for the streets of San Francisco. Instead, it’s something closer to a moment of truth — when we’ll have to decide whether to put our money and political will into “democratizing the streets.”



After some early clashes between Newsom and progressives on the Board of Supervisors and in the alternative transportation community over a proposal to ban cars from a portion of John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park — a polarizing debate that ended in compromise after almost two acrimonious years — there’s been a remarkable harmony over once-controversial changes to the streets.

In fact, the changes have come so fast and furious in the last couple of years that it’s tough to keep track of all the parking spaces turned into miniparks or extended sidewalks, replacement of once-banished benches on Market and other streets, car-free street closures and festivals, and healthy competition with other U.S. cities to offer bike-sharing or other green innovations.

So much is happening in the streets that SF Streetsblog has quickly become a popular, go-to clearinghouse for stories about and discussions of our evolving streets, a role that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition — itself the largest grassroots group in the city, with more than 11,000 paid members — recently recognized with its Golden Wheel award.

“I think we are at a tipping point. All these little things have been percolating,” said San Francisco Planning Urban Research Association director Gabriel Metcalf, listing examples such as the creative reuse of San Francisco street space by Rebar and other groups (see “Seizing space,” 11/18/09), experiments in New York and other cities to convert traffic lanes to bicycle and pedestrian spaces, a new generation of more forward-thinking traffic engineers and planning professionals working in government, and more aggressive advocacy work by the SFBC, SPUR, and other groups.

“I think it’s all starting to coalesce,” Metcalf said. “Go to 17th and Valencia [streets] and feel what it’s like to have a sidewalk that’s wide enough to be comfortable. Or go ride in the physically separated bike lane on Market Street. Or take your kids to the playground at Hayes Green that used to be a freeway ramp.”

Politically, this is a rare area of almost universal agreement. “This is an issue where this mayor and this board have been very aligned,” Metcalf said. Winnicker, Newsom’s spokesperson, agreed: “The mayor and the board do see this issue very similarly.”

Mirkarimi, a progressive who chairs the Transportation Authority, also agreed that this new way of looking at the streets has been a bright spot in board-mayoral relations. “It is evolving and developing, and that’s a very good thing,” Mirkarimi said.

Both Winnicker and Mirkarimi separately singled out the improvements on Divisidero Street — where the median and sidewalks have been planted with trees and vegetation and some street parking spaces have been turned into designated bicycle parking and outdoor seating — as an example of the new approach.

“It really is a microcosm of an evolving consciousness,” Mirkarimi said of the strip.

Sunday Streets, a series of events when the streets are closed to cars and blossom with life, is an initiative proposed by SFBC and Livable City that has been championed by Newsom and supported by the board as it overcame initial opposition from the business community and some car drivers.

“There is a growing synergy toward connecting the movements that deal with repurposing space that has been used primarily for automobiles,” Sunday Streets coordinator Susan King told us.

Newsom has cast the greening initiatives as simply common sense uses of space and low-cost ways of improving the city. “A lot of what the mayor and the board have disagreements on, some of that is ideological,” Winnicker said. “But streets, parks, medians, and green spaces, they are not ideological.”

Maybe not, but where the rubber is starting to meet the road is on how to fund this shift, particularly when it comes to transit services that aren’t cheap — and to Newsom’s seemingly ideological aversion to new taxes or charges on motorists.

“We’re completely aligned when it comes to the Bike Plan and testing different things as far as our streets, but that all changes with the MTA budget,” said board President David Chiu, who is leading the charge to reject the budget because of its deep Muni service cuts. “Progressives are focused on the plight of everyday people who can’t afford to drive and park a car and have to rely on Muni. So it’s a question of on whose back will you balance the MTA budget.”



The MTA governs San Francisco’s streets, from deciding how their space is allocated to who pays for their upkeep. The agency runs Muni, sets and administers parking policies, regulates taxis, approves bicycle-related improvements, and tries to protect pedestrians.

So when the mayoral-appointed MTA Board of Directors last month approved a budget that cuts Muni service by 10 percent without sharing the pain with motorists or pursuing significant new revenue sources — in defiance of pleas by the public and progressive supervisors over the last 18 months — it triggered a real street fight.

The Budget and Finance Committee will begin taking up the MTA budget May 12. And progressive supervisors, frustrated at having to replay this fight for a second year in a row, are pursuing a variety of MTA reforms for the November ballot, which must be submitted by May 18.

“We’re going to have a very serious discussion about MTA reform,” Chiu said, adding, “I expect there to be a very robust discussion about the MTA and balancing that budget on the backs of transit riders.”

Among the reforms being discussed are shared appointments between the mayor and board, greater ability for the board to reject individual initiatives rather than just the whole budget, changes to Muni work rules and compensation, and revenue measures like a local surcharge on vehicle license fees or a downtown transit assessment district.

Last week Chiu met with Newsom on the MTA budget issue and didn’t come away hopeful that there will be a collaborative solution such as last year’s compromise. But Chiu said he and other supervisors were committed to holding the line on Muni service cuts.

“I think the MTA needs to get more creative. We have to make sure the MTA isn’t being used as an ATM with these work orders,” Chiu said, referring to the $65 million the MTA pays to the Police Department and other agencies every year, a figure that steeply increased after 2007. “My hope is that the MTA board does the right thing and rolls back some of these service reductions.”

Transit riders have been universal in condemning the MTA budget. “The budget is irresponsible and dishonest,” said San Francisco Transit Riders Union project director Dave Snyder. “It reveals the hypocrisy in the mayor’s stated environmental commitments. This action will cut public transit permanently and that’s irresponsible.”

But the Mayor’s Office blames declining state funding and says the MTA had no choice. “It’s an economic reality. None of us want service reductions, but show us the money,” Winnicker said.

That’s precisely what the progressive supervisors are trying to do by exploring several revenue measures for the November ballot. But they say Newsom’s lack of leadership on the issue has made that difficult, particularly given the two-third vote requirement.

“There’s been a real failure of leadership by Gavin Newsom,” Mirkarimi said.

Newsom addressed the issue in December as he, Mirkarimi, and other city officials and bicycle advocates helped create the city’s first green “bike box” and honor the partial lifting of the bike injunction, sounding a message of unity on the issue.

“I can say this is the best relationship we’ve had for years with the advocacy community, with the Bicycle Coalition. We’ve begun to strike a nice balance where this is not about cars versus bikes. This is about cars and bikes and pedestrians cohabitating in a different mindset,” Newsom said.

Yet afterward, during an impromptu press conference, Newsom spoke with disdain about those who argued that improving the streets and maintaining Muni service during hard economic times requires money, and Newsom has been the biggest impediment to finding new revenue sources.

“Everyone is just so aggressive on trying to raise revenue. We’ve been increasing the cost of going on Muni the last few years. I think people need to consider that,” Newsom said. “We’ve increased the cost of parking tickets, increased the cost of using a parking meter, and we’ve raised the fares. It’s important to remind people of that. The first answer to every question shouldn’t be, OK, we’re going to tax people more or increase their costs.

“You have to be careful about that,” he continued. “So my answer to your question is two-fold. We’re going to look at revenue, but not necessarily tax increases. We’re going to look at revenue, but not necessarily fine increases. We’re going to look at revenue, but not necessarily parking meter increases. We’re going to look at new strategies.”

Yet that was six months ago, and with the exception of grudgingly agreeing to allow a small pilot program in a few commercial corridors to eliminate free parking in metered spots on Sunday, Newsom still hasn’t proposed any new revenue options.

“The voters aren’t receptive to new taxes now,” Winnicker said last week. Mirkarimi doesn’t necessarily agree, citing polling data showing that voters in San Francisco may be open to the VLF surcharge, if we can muster the same kind of political will we’re applying to other street questions.

“It polls well, even in a climate when taxation scares people,” Mirkarimi said.



It was almost four years ago that a judge stuck down the San Francisco Bicycle Plan, ruling that it should have been subjected to a full-blown environmental impact report (EIR) and ordering an injunction against any projects in the plan.

That EIR was completed and certified by the city last year, but the same anti-bike duo who originally sued to stop the plan again challenged it as inadequate. The case will finally be heard June 22, with a ruling on lifting the injunction expected within a month.

“The San Francisco Bicycle Plan project eliminates 56 traffic lanes and more than 2,000 parking spaces on city streets,” attorney Mary Miles wrote in her April 23 brief challenging the plan. “According to City’s EIR, the project will cause ‘significant unavoidable impacts’ on traffic, transit, and loading; degrade level of service to unacceptable levels at many major intersections; and cause delays of more than six minutes per street segment to many bus lines. The EIR admits that the “near-term” parts of the project alone will have 89 significant impacts of traffic, transit, and loading but fails to mitigate or offer feasible alternatives to each of these impacts.”

Yet for all that, elected officials in San Francisco are nearly unanimous in their support for the plan, signaling how far San Francisco has come in viewing the streets as more than just conduits for cars.

City officials deny that the bike plan is legally inadequate and they may quibble with a few of the details Miles cites, but they basically agree with her main point. The plan will take away parking spaces and it will slow traffic in some areas. But they also say those are acceptable trade-offs for facilitating safe urban bicycling.

The city’s main overriding consideration is that we must do more to get people out of their cars, for reasons ranging from traffic congestion to global warming. City Attorney’s Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey said that it’s absurd that the state’s main environmental law has been used to hinder progress toward the most environmentally beneficial and efficient transportation option.

“We have to stop solving for cars, and that’s an objective shared by the Board of Supervisors, and other cities, and the mayor as well,” Dorsey said.

Even anti-bike activist Rob Anderson, who brought the lawsuit challenging the bike plan, admits the City Hall has united around this plan to facilitate bicycling even if it means taking space from automobiles, although he believes that it’s a misguided effort.

“It’s a leap of faith they’re making here that this will be good for the city,” Anderson told us. “This is a complicated legal argument, and I don’t think the city has made the case.”

A judge will decide that question following the June 22 hearing. But whatever way that legal case is decided, it’s clear that San Francisco has already changed its view of its streets and other once-marginalized transportation choices like the bicycle.

Even the local business community has benefited from this new sensibility, with bicycle shops thriving around San Francisco and local bike messenger bag companies Timbuk2 and Rickshaw Bags experiencing rapid growth thanks to a doubling of the number of regular bicyclists in recent years.

“That’s who we’re aiming at, people who bike every day and make bikes a central part of their lives,” said Mike Waffenfels, CEO of Timbuk2, which in February moved into a larger location to handle it’s growth. “It’s about a lifestyle.”

For urban planners and advocates, it’s about making the streets of San Francisco work for everyone. As Metcalf said, “People need to be able to get where they’re going without a car.”