Not to detract from the drawing power of Seth Rogen’s comic chops (or Zac Efron’s abs, pecs, etc.) in this week’s Neighbors, but it seems Hollywood is taking a little blockbuster breather between last week’s Spider-Mancash grab and next week’s Godzilla onslaught. So now’s a great time to catch up on some smaller films that might’ve otherwise escaped your radar, including brains-and-beauty costume drama Belle, opening theatrically after its recent bow at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Reviews, trailers, and links below!
Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s ReturnComputer-animated musical which does not look to resemble 1985’s spooky-great Return to Oz. Case in point: Dorothy is voiced by Glee‘s Lea Michele. (1:28)
Neighbors Seth Rogen and Zac Efron star in this comedy about a family with a newborn forced to live next door to a frat house. (1:37)
Now: In the Wings on a World Stage In 2011, a production of Richard III starring Kevin Spacey played SF’s Curran Theatre; it was but one stop on a dreamy world tour (London, Istanbul, Beijing, Sydney, Doha, Brooklyn, and Epidaurus, Greece) for an American and British company and crew directed by Brit Sam Mendes, who guided Spacey to an Oscar (and earned one himself) for 1999’s American Beauty. This backstage doc — fully endorsed by Spacey and co., so don’t expect any juicy spats or diva routines — follows this rambling troupe around the world as they work through one of Shakespeare’s most iconic history plays. Initially, some of the younger actors feel intimidated (and some of the Americans feel nervous about interpreting the Bard alongside Brits, despite the fact that superstar Spacey is spearheading the whole thing), but gradually the group becomes close-knit. Pretty scenery aside, most of the travel stuff is featherweight (“The culture [in Istanbul] is just crazy!” is one typically shallow insight), but watching the show from the inside out offers an intriguing look at the dramatic process. Still, as Mendes and others point out, “the thrill of theater is the fact that it’s live” and “ephemeral” — qualities not captured by this rather conventional doc. If you’re an aspiring actor, however, Now is probably essential viewing nonetheless. (1:33) Roxie. (Cheryl Eddy)
Young and Beautiful The titular attributes may be obvious surface ones, but they’re pretty much all we can take for granted in the character of Isabelle (Marine Vacth), a 17-year-old Parisian first met on a summer beach vacation with her family. With younger brother Victor (Fantin Ravat) as confidante, she methodically if haltingly sets out to shed her virginity, choosing as the lucky deflowerer a nice, very handsome German tourist (Lucas Prisor). The experience seems to leave her ambivalent, however, and a certain cool psychological opacity lingers after the clan goes home, and Isabelle returns to school while commencing a secret life so outré and baffling we would dearly love to understand her motivations. (Suffice it to say that the obvious reasons, love and/or need of money and/or sex, do not appear applicable in her case.) Is she rebelling? If so, against what? Probably not her easygoing mother and stepfather, played by Geraldine Pailhas and Frederic Pierrot. Reminiscent of Belle de Jour (1967) not just in premise but in dispassionate treatment of it, François Ozon’s latest sports his usual crisp directorial authority and eye for telling detail. But it’s built around a cipher, requiring an 11th-hour appearance by his past muse Charlotte Rampling in order to suddenly snap into focus — even as Isabelle remains something of a blur. (1:35) (Dennis Harvey)
Police Commissioner Angela Chan fought the federal government as they unjustly tried to deport undocumented San Franciscans who were guilty of no crimes, and won. She fought to arm the SFPD with de-escalation tactics instead of Tasers, and won again.
But at the April 30 Board of Supervisors meeting, Chan lost. The board denied her reappointment to the Police Commission, and seven supervisors voted to appoint her opponent, Victor Hwang, instead.
The decision came after heated backdoor politicking by Chinatown political leader Rose Pak, insiders told us. Politicians involved would only speak on background, for fear of reprisal from Pak, yet indicated that Pak felt Chan did not consult often enough with Chinatown interests and focused too broadly on issues of concern to other communities.
Chan gained national recognition for her work against Secure Communities, challenging a provision that allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to call for illegal holds of undocumented persons they’d later like to deport. Pak came out swinging against Chan in the wake of those battles, we were told.
“It’s a sad day for the immigrant rights movement when a strong leader cannot be reappointed,” Sup. Eric Mar said just before the vote.
After Sup. Katy Tang introduced the motion to strike Chan’s name from the appointment, and replace it with Hwang’s, other supervisors noted the obvious elephant in the room — there was not only one vacant seat on the police commission, but two.
Supervisor John Avalos suggested the Board of Supervisors make a motion to request the mayor appoint Hwang himself, allowing for both Chan and Hwang to be appointed.
But Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said he’d asked Mayor Lee that very question to no avail. “It is not something that will happen,” he said. “It is not the practice of the mayor to solve difficult decisions of the board. It’s up to us.”
Sups. Mark Farrell, Scott Wiener, Malia Cohen, London Breed, Jane Kim, Tang and Chiu voted to strike Chan’s name from the appointment, and to vote to appoint Hwang instead. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
LAWSUIT FILED TO HALT TECH SHUTTLE PILOT
The road to regulating Google Buses has a new pothole: a lawsuit.
A lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court May 1 demands the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s commuter shuttle pilot program be put on hold while a full environmental review is conducted under the California Environmental Quality Act.
“We know that these buses are having devastating impacts on our neighborhoods, driving up rents and evictions of long-time San Francisco residents,” said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and one of the lawsuit petitioners. “We’ve protested in the streets and taken our plea to City Hall to no avail. We hope to finally receive justice in a court of law.”
The suit was filed against the City and County of San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee, the Board of Supervisors, the SFMTA, Google, Genentech, Apple, and a handful of private transportation providers. It alleges the tech shuttle pilot project is in violation of the California Vehicle Code, which prohibits any vehicle — except common carriers (public buses) — to pull into red zones that are designated as bus stops. It also alleges the city abused its discretion and violated the CEQA by exempting the Shuttle Project from environmental review. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
ILLEGAL ANTI-CAMPOS FLYERS TARGETED IN ETHICS COMPLAINT
Several San Francisco neighborhoods over the last week have been targeted with illegal campaign flyers against Assembly candidate David Campos — breaking both state election laws requiring the group and its funding source to be identified and local laws against placing political flyers on utility poles and other surfaces.
Former Ethics Commission Eileen Hansen this week filed a complaint about the guerilla campaigning with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which has jurisdiction over state races.
“I am asking for the intervention of your office into what appears to be a blatant and arrogant violation of campaign finance reporting and disclosure laws in California’s 17th Assembly District Primary Election,” Hansen wrote in the April 30 letter. “As you well know, the political climate in San Francisco is quite sensitive, and nerves are raw. If this violation is allowed to continue, it will have a chilling effect on the entire election and further alienate voters, and potential voters.”
The race between Campos and David Chiu has indeed gotten more heated in recent weeks, but Chiu campaign manager Nicole Derse denies that the campaign has any knowledge or involvement with the illegal campaigning: “We think everyone in this race should be transparent.”
In her letter, Hansen casts doubt on the Chiu campaign’s claims of innocence: “The wide distribution, professional design, and overnight appearance in distant locations strongly suggest that these flyers have been produced and distributed by a funded political organization aligned with Assembly candidate David Chiu, whose aim is to attack and discredit Chiu’s opponent David Campos.”
And she even identifies a leading suspect in this illegal campaigning: Enrique Pearce and his Left Coast Communications firm, which has a history of dirty tricks campaigning on behalf of Mayor Ed Lee and other establishment politicians. Hansen notes that the flyers appeared right after the registration of a new campaign committee, San Franciscans for Effective Government to Support David Chiu. Although the group hasn’t reported any fundraising yet, its contact phone number goes to Left Coast Communications and Pearce, who hasn’t yet returned our calls on the issue.
This campaign stunt in reminiscent of an “independent expenditure” effort in the District 6 supervisorial race in 2010, when Pearce was connected to a mailer supporting Sup. Jane Kim that was funded partially by Willie Brown, again because the supposedly independent group listed his phone number even though he was worked directly for Kim.
The anti-Campos mailers include some nasty and misleading charges, labeling Campos “City Hall’s Hypocrite” by falsely claiming Campos ignored rising evictions until he decided to run for the Assembly and that he was concerned about Google buses but wanted to charge them less than $1 per stop. A third flyer claims Campos “lets wifebeater sheriff keep his job” for his vote against removing Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office for official misconduct.
“This is a secretly funded shadow organization aligned with David Chiu, committing a desperate move that is as illegal and it is false in its claims,” Campos told us, saying he hopes the FPPC is able to stop and punish those involved. (Steven T. Jones)
SUPES CALL FOR INCREASED YOUTH FUNDING
José-Luis Mejia says he’s seen a little bit of everything in his work with transitional-age youth.
A few have died suddenly; others wound up incarcerated. Then there are those who beat the odds by attending top-level universities, opening up their own businesses, or dedicating themselves to public service.
As associate director of Transitional Age Youth San Francisco, Mejia was part of a grassroots coalition that has been working for about two years on crafting a measure that aims to increase funding for youth programs, seeking to give a boost to transitional-age youth services in particular.
It culminated with the April 30 introduction at the Board of Supervisors of a suite of new proposals to support youth programs, including a pair of charter amendments that will appear on the November ballot.
An amendment sponsored by Sup. John Avalos would renew the existing Children’s Fund, renaming it the Children and Youth Fund, and increasing the property-tax set-aside that supports it from three cents per $100 of assessed valuation to five cents. Funding would be designated for programs set up to aid “disconnected transitional-aged youth,” including homeless or disabled youth, unmarried parents, those who identify as LGBTQ or are aging out of foster care, and other specified categories. The amendment would also create a Commission on Children, Youth, and Their Families, to oversee the Department of Children Youth and their families. A second charter amendment would extend the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF), another source of funding for youth programs.
Avalos has strong support on the Board, but the mayor’s office has reportedly been pressuring supervisors not to support Avalos’ measure.
“As we all know, San Francisco is experiencing incredible economic activity,” Avalos noted April 30. “We’re experiencing growth and speculation that is lifting many boats, but not lifting all boats. And some of the people who are not doing so well are children and families.”
The Children’s Fund, and PEEF currently set aside over $100 million for children and youth in San Francisco. The funding sources would sunset if action were not taken to extend them. (Rebecca Bowe)
It won’t be summer according to the calendar for another month or so, but it’s already summer at the movies. We’re already on our second superhero movie of the season! Our second Stan Lee cameo in as many months, people! Read on for reviews of everything that’s opening this week, from the obvious (see: Slinger, Web) to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-but-you-really-shouldn’t (Singaporean drama Ilo Ilo, for one). And confidential to late arrivals: the San Francisco International Film Festival is heading into its second weekend; check out our coverage from last week’s paper here.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 The best thing about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — the sequel to the 2012 reboot that nobody really wanted in the first place — is the achingly cute chemistry between real-life couple Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy, whose fate is no spoiler to anyone who is familiar with the Spider-Man canon). Can’t deny it; those two are adorbs. But since Spider-Man is supposed to be an action movie, not a romantic comedy, it spends most of its time setting up foes for the webslinger (Jamie Foxx as a nerd zapped into the power-mad Electro; Dane DeHaan as bratty rich kid Harry Osborn), as well as rehashing the mysterious deaths of Peter’s parents, and underlining for approximately the zillionth time the disconnect between the media’s perception of Spider-Man (he’s a menace! He interferes with police work!) and the ecstatic love the people of New York have for the guy — understandable, since he’s in the business of saving their butts on a regular basis. This isn’t a crappy movie by any means; it’s entertaining enough, and the 3D swooping-between-skyscrapers FX have gotten quite dazzling. But there’s still a heavy air of “This again?” that hangs over the whole thing. Doesn’t Marvel have enough dough from the Avengers movies to let Spidey take an extended vacation? (2:20) (Cheryl Eddy)
Blue RuinThe crowd sourced poster child for cinematic Kickstarter campaigns everywhere (it won the International Federation of Film Critics prize at its Cannes premiere last year), Jeremy Saulnier’s nuanced nail-biter of a revenge flick is a model of smart, taut storytelling. The almost mute drifter Dwight (Macon Blair) appears to be living a quiet, rootless life, sleeping in his car and randomly dumpster diving, when he learns that a man named Wade Cleland is about to be released from prison. Returning home, Dwight methodically plans an act of vengeance that quickly spirals out and threatens his loved ones. We learn the truth about what really went down as he goes, carefully rooting through a cabin in the forest, uncovering clues and weapons, playing voice mail, laying his trap, and pissing on a patriarch’s grave. The wooded landscape beside a silent lake is all too familiar for fans of late-1970s horror, although Saulnier is more interested in the unsensational, sad kind of poetry unfolding behind a reluctant participant in a small-town Death Wish (1974) than thrill kills, ejaculatory retribution, and all the spectacle and shame along for the ride. (1:32) (Kimberly Chun)
Fading Gigolo Ah, the charm of a well-aged, seasoned perv … nope, we don’t dare touch the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow abuse allegations — though those recent headlines flit around the edges of this generally benevolent, almost strangely innocuous charmer, written by and directed John Turturro, who also stars as the curiously blank-faced tabula rasa of a title character. The delights of Mrs. Robinsons have been rhapsodized on film, through the lens of worshipful younger men — less so, their male counterparts, as viewed by other hetero men. The danger of bromance surging into the homoerotic is likely too dire for most, yet somehow bookstore boss Murray (Allen) sees the mysterious, submerged sex appeal in his loyal employee Fioravante (Turturro) and taps him to get involved in a ménage à trois with a society dermatologist (Sharon Stone). The soft-spoken Fioravante turns out to be a smash in the sack with the doc, transforming the opportunistic Murray into a wildly successful pimp as his employee takes on the audacious Selima (Sofia Vergara) and the prim Jewish Orthodox widow Avigal (Vanessa Paradis). The latter character seems to have come straight from another place and time — much like this film, which turns Brooklyn into a something resembling a leaf-strewn European village and recalls odes to revolutionary sexuality in the ‘60s. The movie’s lightly absurd comedy is embedded in the fact that Turturro writes himself into the role of the seducer, the pleaser, while wrapped in the skin of pleasant if everyday-looking Joe, although Paradis, a revelation as a deeply repressed devout mother slowly awakening to her body, points to more serious pleasures, lingering below the surface of all of us. For more on this film, see “Manscape.” (1:30) (Kimberly Chun)
For No Good ReasonFor No Good Reason is a jungle gym of a movie: loud, active all over, one tumble after another. Made over 15 years with the close collaboration of its subject, the artist Ralph Steadman, the film is obviously a work of love, an ode to this man, and his life’s work. There is archival footage of Steadman and Hunter S. Thompson (each gave the other’s art a relief and elucidation) mixed with Steadman showing Thompson’s unofficial weirdo heir, Johnny Depp, around Steadman’s home and studio, talking and telling stories all the while. There’s constant music, too, from an odd variety of rock ’n’ roll artists, and the effect is rather exhausting, if slight and genial. For No Good Reason switches between the timelines as egged on by Steadman’s storytelling, and given further life in animating his illustrations. Sometimes the film stops in its “narrative” tracks, as it were, to show Steadman splat out the start of a painting — they all seem to start with ink thrown at a canvas — then spend 10 minutes watching him build the painting, which may be the most fascinating bits captured by director Charlie Paul, who’s otherwise content to toe the hagiography line of one of his artistic heroes. (1:29) (Ryland Walker Knight)
Friended to Death Everybody’s got one: that Facebook friend obsessed with turning every single waking moment into social-media fodder. Self-centered parking-enforcement officer Michael (Ryan Hansen of Veronica Mars) updates his status dozens of times a day, not realizing he’s just as obnoxious online as he is in real life. When he’s suddenly fired and his best friend (Zach McGowan) dumps him, Michael enlists dog-obsessed mama’s boy Emile (James Immekus) to help him fake his death, unaware that he’s being stalked by a mysterious woman (co-writer and director Sarah Smick) who is actively plotting his downfall for reasons of her own. Michael’s attention-grabbing scheme goes predictably awry in this sitcom-ish film, which advances the valid theory that spending too much time online will render a person incredibly shallow and narcissistic. The humor is hit-and-miss, though co-writer Ian Michaels, as Michael’s meathead nemesis, has a funny running joke involving his character’s affection for calling people “bro” with a celebrity twist, as in, “Chill out, Broseph Gordon-Levitt!” (1:34) (Cheryl Eddy)
Ilo Ilo Set in 1997 Singapore at the onset of the country’s recession, Ilo Ilo focuses on one family, who could be any family: father Teck (Chen Tianwen), who’s been let go from his sales position and is working various hourly jobs, hoping his wife doesn’t find out; pregnant Hwee Leng (a dynamic Yeo Yann Yann), a secretary who’s been the “bad cop” in the relationship so long she’s kind of grown into the role; and bratty Jiale (Koh Jia Ler), a 10-year-old terror who disobeys at home and gets into fights at school. Into this swirl of domestic tension comes Teresa (Angeli Bayani), a housekeeper-nanny who’s left her own family behind in the Philippines in search of a better way of life. It’s hell at first — “Auntie Terry” is no Mary Poppins, but she has the patience of a saint, putting up with Jiale’s antics and Hwee Leng’s ice-queen routine. Slowly, however, she builds a rapport with her young charge, but since Ilo Ilo is firmly interested in realism, there’s no quick fix to the problems that lie beneath the family strife, despite the kid’s obsession with lottery numbers. A remarkably assured debut film from 29-year-old director Anthony Chen, Ilo Ilo picked up the Camera D’Or at Cannes, in addition to multiple other fest prizes. The accolades are well-earned — rarely has a film so effectively and subtly captured the day-to-day frustrations of middle-class financial uncertainty. (1:40) Four Star. (Cheryl Eddy)
The M Word TV station KZAM bills itself as LA’s “last independent TV station.” So why are two henchmen from “corporate” visiting the station to cut the fat? There are some contradictions in Henry Jaglom’s newest comedy of escalating emotions and descending intelligence, but one thing you can say is he’s still going — Jaglom’s been working in indie film since the ’70s and operates unhindered by age or what The M Word refers to as “bleeding viewership.” His “naturalistic” dialogue is an acquired taste and his characters are the expressive sort who transform conversations into arguments conquerable with screaming. Jaglom’s co-conspirator and real-life partner, Tanna Frederick, stars as Moxie, the actress turned documentarian trying to understand her mother (Frances Fisher) by filming her menopausal tumult. She invites a hottie henchman (Michael Imperioli) to her house to pitch the product of her process: a doc about menopause to blow the doors off the subject and open the station to an untapped niche market. When layoffs begin, Moxie uses her newly inflated activist-ego to rally the employees in a sit-in to save their jobs. This is when you really feel Jaglom’s presence. It’s never clear if he’s celebrating his characters’ successes or laughing that such absurd attempts could gain traction. Why should Moxie’s achievements be predictable on paper and confounding in action? Call it misanthropy, call it distrust — but don’t call it comedy, because funny it ain’t. (2:00) Roxie. (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)
The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office last week filed a pair of lawsuits against local landlords who illegally rent out apartments on a short-term basis, units that had been cleared of tenants using the Ellis Act. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Tenants Unions has hired attorney Joseph Tobener to file more such lawsuits, and he is preparing to file at least seven lawsuits involving 20 units.
The lawsuits are the latest actions in a fast-moving crackdown on Airbnb and other online companies that facilitate short-term apartment rentals that violate city laws against converting apartments into de facto hotel rooms, including VRBO.com and Homeaway.com.
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu recently introduced legalization that would legalize, limit, and regulate such rentals, a measure that will be considered this summer. That legislation comes on the heels of Airbnb’s decision to stop stonewalling the city (and us at the Guardian, which has been raising these issues for the last two years) by agreeing to start paying the transient occupancy taxes it owes to the city for its transactions and creating new terms of service that acknowledge its business model may violate local laws in San Francisco and elsewhere (see “Into thin air,” 6/6/13).
As we’ve reported, City Attorney Dennis Herrera has been working with tenant groups and others on a legal action aimed at curtailing the growing practice of landlords using online rental services to skirt rent control laws and other tenant protection, removing units from the permanent housing market while still renting them out at a profit.
“In the midst of a housing crisis of historic proportions, illegal short-term rental conversions of our scarce residential housing stock risks becoming a major contributing factor,” Herrera said in a public statement. “The cases I’ve filed today target two egregious offenders. These defendants didn’t just flout state and local law to conduct their illegal businesses, they evicted disabled tenants in order to do so. Today’s cases are the first among several housing-related matters under investigation by my office, and we intend to crack down hard on unlawful conduct that’s exacerbating—and in many cases profiting from—San Francisco’s alarming lack of affordable housing.”
Tobener tells the Guardian that the San Francisco Tenants Union hired him to discourage local landlords from removing units from the market. “The San Francisco Tenants Union is just fed up with the loss of affordable housing,” Tobener told us. “It’s not about the money, it’s about getting these units back on the market.” (Steven T. Jones)
SF LOOKS TO MARIN FOR RENEWABLES
Just in time for Earth Day, a renewed effort to reduce the city’s carbon emissions was introduced at the April 22 Board of Supervisors yesterday. Sup. John Avalos introduced a resolution calling for a study of San Francisco joining Marin Clean Energy, which provides renewable energy to that county’s residents.
The move is seen largely as an effort to circumvent Mayor Ed Lee’s opposition to implementing a controversial renewable energy plan called CleanPowerSF (see “Revisionist future,” April 15).
“Mayor Lee and the Public Utilities Commission objected to CleanPowerSF, but they have offered no other solution to provide San Franciscans with 100 percent renewable electricity,” Avalos said in a public statement. “With this ordinance, we can either join Marin or we can implement our own program, but we can no longer afford to do nothing.”
The resolution is the latest effort in the long saga to implement CleanPowerSF, San Francisco’s proposed renewable energy alternative to PG&E, whose current energy mix is only 19 percent renewable. Much of PG&E’s current mix is dirty and directly contributes to half of San Francisco’s carbon footprint, according to the city’s own recent Climate Action Strategy.
Joining Marin under a Joint Powers Authority would provide a vehicle for San Francisco to enact CleanPowerSF’s goals, long blocked by the mayor. San Francisco’s renewable energy effort may have lingered in legal limbo for years, but Marin made the switch to renewables in 2010.
“It’s something people want, and it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” Marin Clean Energy Executive Officer Dawn Weisz told the Guardian. Much of Northern California, she noted, has little choice but to use PG&E for their electricity.
“The people never chose to have a monopoly in place,” she said. “People like having choices.” (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
BEACH FIRES CONTAINED
The National Parks Service is once again moving to limit and maybe even ban fires on Ocean Beach, replaying an episode from 2007 that was temporarily solved by volunteers and artistic new fire rings placed by the group Burners Without Borders, despite a lack of follow-through by NPS’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Citing complaints about burning toxic materials, leaving messes, and people drinking on the beach (gasp!), the GGNRA this week announced a summer pilot program that would include moving the curfew up from 10pm to 9pm, installing a dozen new fire rings, and improved public outreach and monitoring of the conditions on the beach.
“We [have] over the years seen a rising problem over safety and general breaking of park rules like broken bottles. And with incidents of assault and underage drinking, mostly occurring during the night, GGNRA Area Director Howard Levitt told the Guardian.
But Tom Price, who helped create the 2007 compromise, said GGNRA never kept its end of the bargain — such as installing more rings to supplement the half-dozen created by artists, or creating visible signage so visitors would know what the rules area — and now it’s acting in a rapid, unilateral, and unreasonable way to ban beach fires.
“They never did the outreach or education or put out more fire rings,” Price said, urging people to let GGNRA know they support allowing fires on Ocean Beach, one of just two spots within GGNRA jurisdiction where they’re allowed (Muir Beach is the other). “The Parks Service has to be reasonable, and banning fires after 9pm in not reasonable.” (Steven T. Jones and Bryan Augustus)
TAX WEALTH, PIKETTY SAYS
French economist Thomas Piketty got a warm welcome in San Francisco last week when nearly 200 people turned out to hear him discuss what is fast-becoming the defining book of this new Gilded Era of escalating disparities in wealth: Capital in the 21st Century.
“The book has been so popular that Harvard University Press has run out,” The Green Arcade owner Patrick Marks said in introducing Piketty at a the April 22 event held across Market Street from the bookstore, in the McRoskey Mattress Company, in order to accommodate the large crowd.
Indeed, Capital has recently been lauded by a string of influential publications, ranging from The Nation through The New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, all acknowledging this as perhaps the most exhaustive study on wealth data ever collected — and a clear-eyed warning that capitalism isn’t the self-correcting system that its biggest boosters claim it is.
Piketty’s work shows how when the return on capital is greater than the annual growth rate of the overall economy, which is usually the case (except when interrupted temporarily by the major wars of the 20th Century, or the 90 percent tax rate on the highest US incomes after World War II), that dynamic consolidates wealth in ever-fewer hands, which is bad for the health of the economic system. The only real cure, Piketty concludes, is a progressive global tax on wealth. Yet Piketty tries to avoid being too prescriptive, choosing to let his research speak for itself. “All I’m trying to do is present this book so everyone can make up his own mind,” Piketty told the gathering. In fact, he thinks the cure he outlines at the end of his book is less important than what comes before it: “You can disagree with everything in Part IV and still find interest in Parts I, II, and III.” (Steven T. Jones)
The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 24-May 8. Screening venues include the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; New People Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post, SF. For tickets (most shows $15) and complete schedule, visit festival.sffs.org.
Harmony Lessons (Emir Baigazin, Kazakhstan/Germany/France, 2013) Darwinian natural selection seems to be the guiding principle at the rural Kazakh school where bright farm boy Aslan (Timur Aidarbekov) is sent to further his education. What he learns there is mostly about survival, as he soon discovers the institution is dominated by an elaborate system of bullying and extortion in which a few older students terrorize the younger and weaker. Emir Baigazin’s striking debut feature applies a rigor both aesthetic and intellectual to a familiar theme here, his script as methodical as his minimalist compositions in dissecting the havoc wreaked by (and eventual unraveling of) a corrupt system that’s a microcosm of a societal whole. Fri/25, 3:30pm, Kabuki; May 4, 12:45pm, Kabuki; May 5, 6:15pm, Kabuki. (Dennis Harvey)
When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania/France, 2013) Romanian moviemaker Corneliu Porumboiu (2009’s Police, Adjective) turns his lens around, toward the casting couch and the oh-so-delicate damage done, in his third feature film. An everyday kind of corruption, sex, lies, and video — zipless, tapeless, and forging way beyond the limits of film — is the name of the game when a director (Bogdan Dumitrache) nonchalantly drops a nude scene on his actress (Diana Avramut) and the two try out a few ideas, on-camera for the screen and off-camera in the bedroom. The hardly working relationship plays both ways, as the moviemaker bends in turn to his producer, in this minimalist albeit layered glimpse into the unlovely guts of the last sacred cow: the so-called creative process. Fri/25, 3:45pm, New People; Sat/26, 6:30pm, Kabuki; Mon/28, 8:30pm, PFA. (Kimberly Chun)
Hellion (Kat Candler, US) Beer drinking and metal tees, shit-talking and shit-kicking, boys and their toys and their broken dreams — the signatures of director-writer Kat Candler are familiar even to those unversed in her 2006 Jumping Off Bridges and the short that this extended-play feature is based on. Yet somehow the motocross-fixated Jacob (Josh Wiggins) is finding his own fresh hell amid this testosterone-scape: with the death of his mother, his faded baseball star of a father (Aaron Paul) is struggling to hold the family together and kick his tendency to take refuge at the bottom of a beer can. Meanwhile younger brother Wes (Deke Garner) has been taken away and placed with the boys’ Aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis). Candler makes this hell of hurts fresh with her close attention to detail, relishing the whipped cream sandwiches and sofa bounce-offs of home-alone kids as well as the throttled rage of the Metallica and Slayer soundtrack, and charged performances from all, in particular Paul, also an executive producer here, and Lewis, two small-town castaways just a hair less lost than the kids. Fri/25, 6:30pm, Kabuki; Tue/29, 4pm, Kabuki. (Chun)
Blind Dates (Levan Koguashvili, Georgia, 2013) This rather wonderful deadpan comedy from Georgia (the former Soviet territory, not Jimmy Carter’s home) revolves around two best friends, male schoolteachers looking for love on the mutual brink of 40. Doleful-looking history prof Sandro (Andro Sakhvarelidze) and robust soccer coach Iva (Archil Kikodze) seem hapless and thwarted at every turn, yet simultaneously oblivious to scads of available women around them. The gentle, rueful tenor sneaks up on you, delivering some big laughs and narrative surprises as well as a very soulful sum impact. One of this year’s SFIFF sleepers (with no US distribution in sight), this droll yet bighearted gem is not to be missed. Fri/25, 9pm, Kabuki; Sun/27, 8:15pm, PFA; Tue/29, 6:30pm, New People. (Harvey)
Child of God (James Franco, US, 2013) You may not know that SFIFF It Guy James Franco has directed nearly two dozen shorts, documentaries, and features since 2005, in addition to his acting and miscellaneous multimedia dabblings. Don’t worry: You haven’t missed much. But this adaptation of a 1973 Cormac McCarthy novel is a great leap forward from his prior efforts, most of which felt like pretentious grad school thesis films. Scott Haze is startlingly good as Lester Ballard, a Tennessee hillbilly whose lack of conventional home, family, social instincts, or behavioral restraint gets him perpetually in trouble with the law — trouble that takes a macabre turn when he finds a dead woman’s body. The story’s shock value might easily have played as exploitative or ludicrous, but Franco hits the right tenor of mad intensity to reflect Lester’s near-feral state, in which acts that might appall any “civilized” mindset make perfect sense to him. Fri/25, 9:30pm, Kabuki; Mon/28, 3:45pm, New People. (Harvey)
The Double (Richard Ayoade, UK, 2013) Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) is a lowly clerk who gets nothing but indifference and scorn both at work and in his pitiful private life. Things slip even more insidiously beyond his control with the arrival of James (Eisenberg again), his exact doppelgänger — though no one else seems to notice that — and a climber as ruthlessly efficient as Simon is hapless. Not only does he steal his look-alike’s ideas in a rapid rise to the top, he seems to take great pleasure in kicking Simon further downward. Applying a Kafkaesque gloss to Dostoyevsky’s novella, with stylistic hat-tips to the Coens and Terry Gilliam, Richard Ayoade’s second feature is very different from his prior Submarine (2010) in all ways but one: It, too, is both overwhelmed and rendered fascinating by an excess of high directorial “style” whose self-consciousness infuses every frame and puts quote marks around every emotion. As a result, The Double is a striking objet d’art you’ll either love or hate — or enjoy aesthetically while being annoyed by its sacrifice of depth for a showoff surface. Sat/26, 1pm, Kabuki; Tue/29, 9:15pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)
Tangerines (Zaza Urushadze, Estonia/Georgia, 2013) It’s 1992, and carpenter Ivo (Lemit Ulfsak) and farmer Marcus (Elmo Nuganen) are old neighbors who are practically the only residents left in their rural Abkhazia village — everyone else has fled the approaching war between Georgian and Russia-backed North Caucasian forces that erupted over this disputed land after the USSR’s dissolution. The 60-something men have stayed behind out of habit, and to harvest Marcus’ latest (perhaps last) tangerine crop. When a shootout on Ivo’s doorstep leaves him stuck with one wounded soldier from each side, these uninvited guests must be kept from outside discovery — and from one another’s throats — as they recover. Wry and poignant, Georgian writer-director Zaza Urushadze’s antiwar microcosm is beautifully crafted, particularly in Rein Kotov’s gorgeous photography of the verdant countryside. Sat/26, 9pm, Kabuki; Sun/27, 6:15pm, Kabuki; May 6, 8:30pm, PFA. (Harvey)
The Sacrament (Ti West, US, 2013) This very disappointing latest by Ti West, of flavorful indie horrors The House of the Devil (2009) and The Innkeepers (2011), basically puts a piece of tracing paper over the climactic events at Jonestown, changing the names but otherwise refusing to do anything different — or really anything at all — with that historical model of mass religious cult freak out. Joe Swanberg, A.J. Bowen, and Kentucker Audley play filmmakers who visit a secretive jungle compound in order to figure out if somebody’s sister (Amy Seimetz) is staying there of her own free will or not. She seems to be doing OK, and in fact appears to be the favored apostle of enigmatic leader “Father” (Gene Jones). But once the strangers get a glimpse behind the facade of their carefully stage-managed visit, they glean that not everyone is happy here — indeed, some may be desperate to escape. Despite some good performance moments, there’s little psychological insight or real suspense to this fictionalized take on the 1978 catastrophe at Rev. Jim Jones’ Guyana settlement, and its quasi-“found footage” aesthetic feels very tired. Sat/26, 11:45pm, Kabuki; Mon/28, 9pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)
All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, US, 1979) Stage and screen choreographer and director Bob Fosse’s autobiographical phantasmagoria modeled itself on Fellini’s very Italian 1963 8 1/2 (which also inspired the stage/film musical Nine), but its heart is pure, cold American show-biz brass. Roy Scheider is terrific as Fosse alter ego Joe Gideon, a driven workaholic whose decades of numerous excesses (pills, smoking, women, etc.) have put him at serious risk of a fatal heart attack just as he’s simultaneously starting rehearsals for a Broadway musical and finishing up editing on a Hollywood feature. The external pressure is exceeded only by his own compulsive perfectionism. He reviews his life of professional triumphs and failed relationships as it very possibly sputters toward an end. Like Joe’s character (and creator), Jazz is egomaniacal, charming, over-the-top, sexy, sexist, indulgent, and overbearing — a glitzy portrait of a brilliant heel, with dazzling musical numbers. Seldom revived in recent years, it’s being shown in a newly restored print. Sun/27, 12:30pm, Kabuki; May 2, 8:30pm, PFA. (Harvey)
Belle (Amma Asante, UK, 2013) The child of a British naval officer and a Caribbean slave, Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is deposited on the doorstep — well, the estate grounds — of her father’s relatives in 1769 England after her mother dies. Soon she’s entirely orphaned, which makes her a wealthy heiress and aristocratic title holder at the same time that she is something less than human in the eyes of her adopted society. For Belle is black (or more properly, mixed-race), and thus a useless curiosity at best as a well-bred noblewoman of the “wrong” racial makeup. Based on a murky actual historical chapter, Amma Asante’s film is that rare sumptuous costume drama which actually has something on its mind beyond romance and royalty. Not least among its pleasures is a fine supporting cast including Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, and Emily Watson. Sun/27, 6:30pm, Kabuki; Tue/29, 3:30pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)
Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France, 2013) The fate of those left behind — the homeless, the stray dogs — amid the go-go aggression of tiger markets is ostensibly Tsai Ming-liang’s first concern in what he’s said is his last film. But the “Second Wave” Taiwanese director can’t help but leave a mark — those amazing performances, those achingly long, meditative shots — that makes you hungry for more. Ever so loosely knitting together a series of lengthy, gorgeously composed images that resemble still lifes of a metamorphosing Taipei that’s rapidly leaving its cultural core, the family, in the dust, Stray Dogs wanders, hangs, then drifts once more, much like the homeless father (Tsai regular Lee Kang-sheng) and two children at its rootless center. Dad holds an advertising sign at an intersection — necessitating what might be the longest urination shot in cinema and a singular burst into poetry and song — while the kids feed themselves with supermarket samples and wash up in public restrooms. Will they be brought together by the missing matriarch, in the form of a grocery store manager, or just a random instance of art or beauty in a crumbling building? Beauty, it seems, is everywhere, Tsai seems to signal, and time — here, spent and bent to new ends — might or might not tell, while this mesmerizing, testing, and ultimately rewarding digital farewell to the movies keeps you hanging on. Mon/28, 6pm, Kabuki; Tue/29, 3:15pm, New People; April 30, 6:30pm, PFA. (Chun)
The Overnighters (Jesse Moss, US) If you’re looking for a movie to affirm the resilient generosity of the American spirit (or economy), this isn’t it. But Bay Area filmmaker Jesse Moss’ new documentary is as engrossing as it is dismaying. When a fracking-related job boom hits low-population North Dakota, close-knit Williston — which had a population of just 12,000 at the millennium’s turn — suddenly becomes a magnet for the unemployed and desperate. That includes a diverse racial mix of men, including some transients, a few felons and ex-cons, plus others whom many locals are willing to skittishly term “trash.” There’s scant housing available to accommodate them; Pastor Jay Reinke of Concordia Lutheran tries to help out by letting some new arrivals sleep on the church (and even his family home’s) floor. But his congregation is increasingly unhappy about that, as is the community in general. The Overnighters grows more complicated, however, than a simple portrait of small-town closed-mindedness and a clergyman acting like Jesus would. Not every charity case is grateful, or honest, or manageable. Meanwhile, Rev. Reinke’s own psychological baggage starts looking pretty dang heavy well before a game changing late revelation that is painful on about 20 different levels. Mon/28, 6:30pm, Kabuki; May 3, 1pm, New People. (Harvey)
The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir (Mike Fleiss, US) Bob Weir gets a little of his share of the critical limelight in this doc by Mike Fleiss, which focuses on Weir’s personal life and gives Grateful Dead chronology a light scramble. It kicks off with a cruise across the Golden Gate Bridge with the SF-born musician, who was taught to drive by Neal Cassady and gleans admiration from both expected quarters (Sammy Hagar) and less so (The National, which tries a brief jam with Weir) and drops tidbits about his dyslexia, early hangouts with Palo Alto banjo player Jerry Garcia, his chronic shoulder pain, and songwriting approaches (“There’s no logic to it. It comes through the window when it wants to come though the window”), along with a visit to the famed Dead house at 710 Ashbury with his wife and daughters. Couched amid a bevy of performance snippets, none very long, the road-weathered rhythm guitarist comes off as a bit of tough nut to crack and almost too humdrum in his current downplayed presentation to ever really lead us on a truly “long, strange trip.” Still, this document serves as a decent primer for the rock generalist on the man (though not of his bands apart from the Dead) and goes a little way toward generating gratitude for the man oft dubbed an unsung hero. Tue/29, 8:50pm, PFA; May 2, 9:30pm, Kabuki. (Chun)
Eastern Boys (Robin Campillo, France, 2013) We first meet well-off, middle-aged single gay man Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) as he’s cruising a Paris train station for rough trade in writer-director Robin Campillo’s bravura opening sequence. He settles on impish Marek (Kirill Emelyanov), negotiates an assignation, and goes home. But later on it’s not Marek who turns up on Daniel’s doorstep, but a couple dozen young former-Soviet-bloc illegal émigrés who take over his luxury apartment for an epic party as they cart his possessions out the door. (This unpleasant passage is the most difficult to swallow, as there’s no explanation why our protagonist is so passive about being robbed.) Yet Marek does eventually turn up, and despite all, a relationship develops — always at risk of incurring anger from “Boss” (Danill Vorobyev), the thuggish leader of the immigrant community Marek has aligned himself with. Like the Laurent Cantet films (1999’s Human Resources, 2001’s Time Out, 2008’s The Class) Campillo has edited, Eastern Boys doesn’t fill in all its narrative blanks, but is grounded in recognizable characters we can empathize with as the scenario takes unexpected turns. It’s a provoking movie that’s ultimately well worthwhile. April 30, 9:10pm, PFA; May 2, 6pm, Kabuki; May 4, 8:45pm, New People. (Harvey)
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (David Zellner, US) Fargo (1996), now also an FX series, is having a moment — and as bracingly sweet, tragicomic, and strange as its inspiration, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter sets course from where the Coen Brothers left off. Essential ingredients include another moviemaking team of brothers, David and Nathan Zeller, and a waterlogged VHS tape of the North Dakota micro-epic, the latter leading one woman into white-out lunacy beyond the grinding conformity of Tokyo office work or small-town Minnesota mundanities. Shy, odd, and obsessive Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is the nail that must be pounded down, as the Japanese saying goes; as she trudges through her job at a large, alienating company, her fantasy world is fueled by a video of Fargo she finds buried in a sea cave. Those grainy images set her on a quest among the determinedly kawaii in Japan and the hilariously humane in the States, which she compares to that of the conquistadors’. Even when accompanied by the Octopus Project’s vivid electronic score, which spells out the horror of this journey, Kumiko’s no Aguirre — though, like Fargo, her adventure’s end is based on a true case. A wonderfully weird — and ultimately compassionate — vamp on the power of fantasy and obsession that crosses international datelines. May 1, 8:45pm, Kabuki; May 3, 2:30pm, Kabuki; May 4, 12:30pm, Kabuki. (Chun)
Difret (Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, Ethiopia) Zeresenay Berhane Mehari’s film dramatizes a shocking human rights issue in Ethiopia: the continuing acceptance in rural areas of forcibly abducting young women for marriage. Fourteen-year-old Hirut (Tizita Hagere) is walking home from school one day when she’s surrounded by seven armed men, dragged off to a hut, then raped by the suitor whose marriage proposal she’d already rejected. When later she kills him in an escape attempt, tribal law decrees she be executed (and buried alongside him as “wife”). But a city lawyer for a women’s rights organization (Meron Getnet) takes up her cause. This is powerful material, but Difret would be a better film, and even better advocacy, if it didn’t handle its fictive events in such heavy-handed, pedestrian, everything spelled-out-for-you fashion. May 1, 6:30pm, Pacific Film Archive; May 3, 3:15pm, Kabuki; May 7, 3:30pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)
Abuse of Weakness (Catherine Breillat, France/Belgium/Germany, 2013) Those who last saw Isabelle Huppert as a dutiful daughter in 2012’s Amour will be both thrilled and piqued to see the tables turned so remarkably in Catherine Breillat’s Abuse of Weakness. Huppert gives an unapologetic, stunning tour de force performance in what appears to be a story torn from the filmmaker’s own life, when Breillat suffered a series of strokes in the ’00s and ended up entangled in a loving and predatory friendship with con man Christophe Rocancourt. Here, moviemaker and writer Maud (Huppert) is particularly vulnerable when she meets celebrity criminal and best-selling writer Vilko (Kool Shen). She is determined to have him star in her next film, despite the protestations of friends and family, and he helps her in return — by simply helping her get around and giving her focus when half her body seems beyond her control, while his constant machinations continue to compel her. Crafting a layered, resonant response to what seems like an otherwise clear-cut case of abuse, Breillat seems to have gotten something close to one of her best films out of the sorry situation, while Huppert reminds us — with the painful precision of this intensely physical role — why she’s one of France’s finest. May 1, 9pm, Kabuki. (Chun)
Of Horses and Men (Benedikt Erlingsson, Iceland/Germany, 2013) Benedikt Erlingsson’s astonishing directorial debut weaves together a half dozen disparate stories involving beautiful horses and mostly unlucky humans in and near a modern Icelandic small town. It’s a horsey movie like no other, each surprising tale marked to various degrees by black comedy, cruel fate, very earthy humor, and hints of the fantastical. Nature being a harsh mistress, some events here are rather shocking or tragic — those who automatically despise any film in which animals come to harm (only in dramatic terms, of course) had best stay clear. But less delicate souls may well find this unique equine-themed mix of folk art and fable exhilaratingly original. May 2, 4:30pm, Kabuki; May 3, 8:45pm, Kabuki; May 5, 6pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)
Salvation Army (Abdellah Taïa, Morocco, 2013) Paris-based Moroccan writer Abdellah Taïa adapts his presumably autobiographical 2006 novel in this accomplished feature. Teenaged Abdellah (Said Mrini) is stuck in the middle of a large, rambunctious family where his parents continually fight, sometimes violently, and he has to keep his feelings hidden — not least because they largely revolve around an infatuation with older brother Slimane (Amine Ennaji). While that attraction remains forbidden, Abdellah does find ways to access love or at least sex with other older men, though these sometimes exploitative interludes leave him dissatisfied. Salvation Army would be an effective if unmemorable portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-queer if it didn’t take an abrupt, unexpected jump forward 10 years, to chart the rough early days of a now-adult protagonist (Karim Ait M’Hand) in supposedly more gay-friendly (but not necessarily immigrant-friendly) France. It’s these later scenes that lend this directorial debut by (so far) the only out gay Arab Moroccan scribe its lingering gravity. May 2, 9pm, Kabuki; May 4, 8:30pm, PFA; May 6, 6:30pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)
Intruders (Noh Young-seok, South Korea, 2013) Noh Young-seok’s insidiously clever black comedy-thriller takes its time getting to the nasty stuff — although things start getting weird for our protagonist right away, when his bus ride to a remote resort region is interrupted by an overly-friendly local who will figure in his troubles later on. Sang-jin (Jun Kuk-ho) is here to spend some alone time finishing a screenplay. But he’s unlikely to get much work done, given various pesterings from the hitherto mentioned ex-con New Best Friend (Oh Tae-kyung), an obnoxious quartet of skiers, some hostile poachers, and … well, you’ll have to wait until the very end to get the complete list of unwanted guests. As misunderstandings and bodies pile up, Intruders cleverly finds ways to make the worst possible scenario even worse. May 2, 9:45pm, Kabuki; May 7, 9:30pm, Kabuki; May 8, 5:30pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)
Palo Alto (Gia Coppola, US) Adapted from the 2010 short story collection by James Franco, first-time director Gia Coppola’s depressive, aimless tale of disaffected youth tracks the ennuis and misadventures of a handful of Palo Alto teenagers: shy, inexperienced April (Emma Roberts), teetering on the edge of an affair with her soccer coach (Franco); naively promiscuous Emily (Zoe Levin); budding head case Fred (Nat Wolff); and his friend Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of Val, who plays April’s out-to-lunch stepfather), who ambivalently participates in Fred’s mayhem while pining after April. Adult supervision is nearly Peanuts-level sparse — in other Peninsula households, helicopter parents may be fine-tuning the lives of their children down to the last extracurricular; here, the stoned, distracted elders who occasionally wander in front of the camera are more like flaky, absentee roommates. Meanwhile, their young charges fill the empty hours with copious amounts of alcohol consumption, random property destruction, and a round or two of social crucifixion. May 3, 7:30pm, Kabuki. (Lynn Rapoport)
The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, US, 1941) Superficially the most conventional of Preston Sturges’ classics — being a romantic comedy vehicle for two major stars — this 1941 gem is no less great for it. Barbara Stanwyck plays Jean, the feminine lure in a team of wily con artists who spy easy prey in Henry Fonda, a fabulously wealthy “bumble-puppy” more interested in studying Amazonian snakes than inheriting the family brewery fortune. They relieve him of considerable cash at the card table, but when Jean decides she really does love the big dope and comes clean, he thinks she’s still lying. Now a woman scorned — and whatta woman! — Jean hatches a spectacular revenge scheme to teach him the lesson he deserves. As is Sturges’ wont, the film goes over the top a bit toward the end. But who cares, when Eve is so brilliantly written and performed, not to mention consistently hilarious. Film critic David Thomson and journalist-novelist Geoff Dyer will be present for this screening in conjunction with Thomson’s acceptance of the Mel Novikoff Award. May 4, 3pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)
Ping Pong Summer (Michael Tully, US) Eighties teen flicks of the My Bodyguard (1980), smart-dweebs-beat-the-bullies ilk are paid homage in Michael Tully’s deadpan satire, which is closer in spirit to the Comedy of Lameness school whose patron saint is Napoleon Dynamite. Radley (Marcello Conte) is an average teen so excited to be spending the summer of 1985 in Ocean City, Md., with his family that he renames himself “Rad Miracle.” He acquires a New Best Friend in Teddy (Myles Massey), who as the whitest black kid imaginable might make even Rad look cool by comparison. However, they are both dismayed to discover the local center for video gaming and everything else they like is ruled by bigger, older, cuter, and snottier douchebag Lyle Ace (Joseph McCaughtry) and his sidekick. Only kicking Lyle’s ass at ping pong — with some help from a local weirdo (a miscast Susan Sarandon, apparently here because she’s an offscreen ping pong enthusiast) — can save Rad’s wounded dignity, and the summer in general. A big step up from Tully’s odd but pointless prior Septien (2011), this has all the right stuff (including a soundtrack packed with the likes of Mr. Mister, the Fat Boys, Mary Jane Girls, New Edition, Whodini, and Night Ranger) to hilariously parody the era’s inanities. But it’s just mildly amusing — a droll attitude with lots of period detail but not much bite. May 4, 6:30pm, Kabuki; May 7, 8:45pm, New People. (Harvey)
The One I Love (Charlie McDowell, US) Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) and Ethan (Mark Duplass) have hit a speed bump in their relationship — they don’t have fun together like they used to, and even direct attempts to replicate that past magic fall completely flat. Ergo they take the advice of a couples counselor (Ted Danson) and book a weekend at a country getaway he swears has done “wonders” for all his previous clients in relationship trouble. Things get off to a pleasant enough start, but the duo’s delight at recapturing their old mojo becomes complicated when they realize … well, it’s best to know as little as possible going into The One I Love, a first feature for director Charlie McDowell and scenarist Justin Lader that approaches a fantastical narrative idea with a poker face and considerable ingenuity. Duplass and (especially) Moss are terrific in roles that eventually require some very complicated (and subtle) nuances. May 6, 9:15pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)
Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, US, 2013) Not to be confused with Arthur Penn’s same-named 1975 Gene Hackman thriller, Kelly Reichardt’s latest film nonetheless is also a memorably quiet, unsettling tale of conspiracy and paranoia. It takes us some time to understand what makes temporary allies of jittery Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Portland, Ore.-style alterna-chick Dena (Dakota Fanning) and genial rural recluse Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), beyond it being a mission of considerable danger and secrecy. When things don’t go exactly as planned, however, the three react very differently to the resulting fallout, becoming possibly greater threats to one another than the police or FBI personnel pursuing them. While still spare by mainstream standard, this is easily Reichardt’s most accessible work, carrying the observational strengths of 2010’s Meek’s Cutoff, 2008’s Wendy and Lucy, and 2006’s Old Joy over to a genuinely tense story that actually goes somewhere. May 7, 9pm, Kabuki; May 8, 7:30pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)
It was April 20 in Golden Gate Park, the fabled 4/20 in the parlance of pot smokers, and we found Nick and Chris standing under the shade of a tree with a cluster of friends, including Geoff, the proud owner of a five-foot bong.
Nick had done several hits through the supersized smoking device that day. Beside him, Chris took hits from his own handheld bong. “I’m feeling good,” Nick reported. “But I’m also kinda hungry. I could go for some Chinese food. Ohh, and some Sapporo!”
Administering a hit of marijuana through such unwieldy paraphernalia is quite the operation, requiring one person to stand and hold one end, another to light the marijuana once it’s packed into the bowl, and a third to inhale the five-foot column of milky smoke that rises through the chamber. The smokers on the receiving end contorted their faces as they inhaled, inevitably coughing and laughing as they breathed out, seemingly amazed by the experience. The college-age friends were in 420-induced bliss.
The annual 420 celebration in Golden Gate Park is unpermitted, with no official organizers, yet thousands of festivalgoers nevertheless flock to it year after year. It’s a quintessentially San Francisco experience: Young and old congregate for a collective daylong smoke-out, bringing drums, dogs, grills, shade structures, hand-blown glass, tie-dyed tapestries, Hacky Sacks, sound systems, and other picnic paraphernalia along with them.
The area around Hippie Hill — at the eastern end of the park, near Kezar Stadium — was a jumble of humanity crammed elbow to elbow, reeking of pot smoke. The crowd reflected a wide range of ethnicities and brought out many displaying an outlandish sense of fashion, sporting shiny plastic marijuana-leaf necklaces, sleeve tattoos, piercings, face paint, and piles upon piles of dreadlocked hair.
San Francisco maintains an iconic status as a weed-friendly city. While 420 in Golden Gate Park is a lighthearted scene that’s also proved irksome for city agencies plagued by leftover trash and traffic jams, serious year-round marijuana advocacy efforts continue to mark the Bay Area as a hotbed for drug policy reform and thriving, legitimate pot-based entrepreneurship.
The movement to legalize marijuana for medical purposes started in San Francisco, the lovechild of the city’s hippie movement and its caregiving response to the AIDS epidemic. It was Dennis Peron and other activists here who wrote Proposition 215, the statewide legalization measure that California voters approved in 1996.
A decade ago, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a comprehensive set of regulations for its two dozen or so medical marijuana dispensaries, guidelines that have proven to work well and be a model for other jurisdictions to follow, elevating pot purveyors into accepted members of the business community (see “Marijuana goes mainstream,” 1/27/10).
Some have even begun to regard the Bay Area as a model for how to implement a sensible approach to regulating marijuana. On April 16, US Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) traveled to San Francisco on a fact-finding mission after Clark County, Nevada legalized medical marijuana, with Las Vegas and other Nevada cities expected to follow shortly.
“I want the state to learn from someone who’s done it right,” Titus told the Guardian as she toured The Apothecarium on Market Street, an elegant dispensary reputed to be one of San Francisco’s finest.
In addition to helping guide Nevada’s implementation of medical marijuana legalization, Titus said she’s working on federal legislation that would better protect small businesses involved with a marijuana industry that is growing rapidly in the US, thanks to Colorado and Washington taking the next step and legalizing even recreational uses of marijuana.
For example, Titus wants to make sure marijuana businesses have full access to banking services, something that the US Department of Justice has occasionally interfered with. As Titus told us, “The federal government shouldn’t be wasting time and going after people who are abiding their state laws.”
BLISS AND BOUNDARIES
Back at 420 on Hippie Hill, Amber and Charlie lounged on a blanket with Gizmo, an affectionate pooch they’d adopted from “this guy who lives in a tree house” in Santa Cruz. The young couple, ages 18 and 20 respectively, had hitchhiked to California from Washington. Yes, “we may have done some weed,” Charlie said before letting out a peal of laughter.
“It’s been pretty awesome,” Amber said. “Literally, there was smoke coming from everywhere,” the moment 4:20pm arrived. As far as the eye could see, she said, the scene was nothing but “people smoking weed. It was crazy.”
Lilian was at the park with a friend, wearing a crown of daisies she’d woven with flowers plucked from nearby the park entrance. “All day we’ve been doing joints and blunts and pipes,” she explained. “We haven’t had any bong hits yet, but we had a couple vape hits, because they were like giving free test trials here at the park. So we were like, alright, why not?”
Lilian exulted the “positive vibes” of the event, but it wasn’t all weed and roses. A short while later, reports of gunfire sent police cars racing into the park with sirens wailing. While police later reported that they never found evidence of anyone actually discharging a weapon, two different individuals were arrested on charges of possessing a firearm.
Emergency personnel responded to four medical calls, police reported the following day, including one person who had a seizure, someone who suffered an abrasion at Haight and Ashbury streets, and two underaged individuals who experienced problems after becoming overly intoxicated. For a crowd of thousands pushed the boundaries of indulgence, quite a small number suffered harm.
Eight other arrests stemmed from charges of selling marijuana or possessing it for sale, possession or sale of opiates, one warrant arrest, and another on charges of “malicious mischief,” according to police.
A few days before the unpermitted gathering, city officials held a press conference announcing a “comprehensive plan” to crack down on the anticipated debauchery, which included not only the Golden Gate Park marijuana celebration but the “Hunky Jesus” competition, a countercultural hallmark held annually on Easter Sunday in Dolores Park.
“Last year we had a lot of challenges,” said Sup. London Breed, whose District 5 encompasses Golden Gate Park. “We need to make the city and streets safe this year. We want people to come and enjoy San Francisco, but we also want them to respect San Francisco.”
Thus, city agencies ramped up deployment of both plainclothes and uniformed police officers, and sent out more parking and traffic control officers.
The previous year, when massive amounts of debris had been left strewn throughout the park, it took 25 city employees over 12 hours to clean up five tons of trash left by intoxicated visitors, said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the city’s Recreation and Parks Department. The Department of Public Works’ tab for cleanup exceeded $10,000.
But the main draw of the event, in true San Francisco fashion, was behavior Police Chief Greg Suhr hinted in advance would essentially be tolerated. “The sale of marijuana is still a felony,” Suhr emphasized, “but I don’t think [the SFPD is] naive enough to believe that we can stop people from smoking on 4/20.”
CANNABIS AS MEDICINE
Advocates for legalizing even recreational use of marijuana had hoped to make the November ballot this year, but the campaign’s signature-gathering effort has sputtered out.
Sponsored by the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, the legalization measure was named for Jack Herer, a renowned cannabis advocate who passed away in 2010. The campaign is now ramping up for another try in 2016, when some advocates hope the presidential election will drive younger voters to the polls.
But while efforts to legalize weed in California for recreational use falter for now, the legitimate use of cannabis for medicinal purposes has giving rise to healthy businesses and research on health benefits. At the April 16 event at the Apothecarium, Titus had lots of questions for Allie Butler, an expert in marijuana who has a master’s degree in public health and told Titus, “I want to do cannabis research for the rest of my life.”
Butler introduced Titus to the various strains of marijuana, explaining what ailments each is good for. The CaliWidow can be a cure for headaches, she explained, and Blue Dream is “good for nausea. We prescribe that for cancer patients all day.” She indicated another strain, saying, “this is the Jack Herer, it’s my mom’s favorite.” Fancy, knowledgeable, and above ground, this isn’t your mom’s marijuana business anymore.
The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Bay Area Rapid Transit for three “willful/serious” safety violations in connection with the death of two transit workers last October, saying BART is at fault due to a lack of safety measures.
“Safety standards are designed to save lives,” acting Cal/OSHA chief Juliann Sum said in a statement, “and they were not followed.”
The transit workers were killed in the final days of the BART strike. The accident claimed the lives of Christopher Sheppard, a BART manager and member of the AFSCME union, and Larry Daniels, a contractor, who had been inspecting a “dip in the rail” before they were hit by an oncoming train.
The workers were required to go through what’s called a Simple Approval process to get permission to work on the track, but the OSHA citation seized on that process as a dangerous underlying factor in the fatal accident.
“Employer’s control method, namely the ‘Simple Approval’ procedure, does not safeguard personnel working on tracks during railcar movement,” the citation reads. “The employer allowed workers to conduct work on the railway tracks where trains were traveling. The employees had no warning that a train moving at more than 65 miles-per-hour was … approaching the location where they were working.”
BART General Manager Grace Crunican quickly issued a statement. “Passenger and employee safety is our top priority at BART,” Crunican said. “BART has fundamentally upgraded its safety procedures with the implementation of an enhanced wayside safety program and a proposed budget investment of over $5 million.” She added that Cal/OSHA considered the safety violations to be “abated” in light of these changes, “meaning that none … pose continuing safety hazards.”
Simple Approval has since been terminated, BART spokesperson Alicia Trost told the Guardian. “BART permanently eliminated Simple Approval immediately following the tragic deaths,” she said. “We are also implementing the extra layers of protection for track workers.”
Notably, the two workers were killed during BART management’s attempt to train managers to operate trains during the strike, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, which continues to investigate the incident. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
SORRY STATE OF PUBLIC HOUSING
Sup. London Breed has proposed setting aside city funding to renovate vacant and dilapidated public housing units, in an effort to quickly make housing available for homeless families in the face of a dire shortage.
At the April 15 Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Breed cited an anticipated budget surplus and called for the Controller and City Attorney to begin drafting a supplemental budgetary appropriation of $2.6 million, for renovating 172 San Francisco Housing Authority units sitting vacant.
“There are over 40 public housing developments in San Francisco, and given the decades of mismanagement and financial neglect that public housing has endured, many units are currently not available for San Franciscans to live in,” Breed said. “As we grapple with an unprecedented affordability crisis and an acute shortage of housing, particularly affordable housing, these fallow public housing units represent one of our best and cheapest opportunities to make housing available now.” Breed, who represents District 5, previously lived in San Francisco public housing.
The Housing Authority receives its funding through the federal government, but spokesperson Rose Marie Dennis said those federal dollars don’t stretch far enough for the agency to perform routine restoration of vacant units. “We have to work with the resources that we have,” she said.
According to an analysis by Budget & Legislative Analyst Harvey Rose, the city has lost $6.3 million in rent that could have been collected had its empty public housing units been occupied.
The day after Breed floated her proposal for a budgetary supplemental, tragedy struck at Sunnydale, the Housing Authority’s largest housing development, when a deadly fire claimed the lives of a 32-year-old resident and her 3-year-old son. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but a San Francisco Chronicle report noted that the Housing Authority had planned to rebuild Sunnydale for years due to its poor condition.
The following day, April 17, Mayor Ed Lee announced that emergency funding of $5.4 million had been identified through the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, to address serious deferred maintenance needs — such as busted elevators in apartment complexes where disabled seniors rely on wheelchairs and canes to get around. (Rebecca Bowe)
SUPES OUTFOX LANDLORDS
When the San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave final approval April 15 for legislation to substantially increase landlord payments to tenants in the case of Ellis Act evictions, it reflected a key change designed to counter a recent eviction push by landlords.
Winning approval on a 9-2 vote, with Sups. Mark Farrell and Katy Tang opposed, the legislation increases the current required relocation payments of $5,265 per person or $15,795 per unit (plus an additional $3,510 for those with disabilities or over age 62) up to the equivalent of two years’ rent for a comparable unit. That translates to tens of thousands of dollars.
For example, the Controller’s Office calculates that a family evicted from a two-bedroom apartment in the Mission District rented at $909 per month would be entitled to $44,833 in relocation payment.
The legislation was originally scheduled to go into effect 120 days after passage, in order to give city officials enough time to implement it. But when sponsoring Sup. David Campos heard landlords were rushing to evict tenants prior to the fee increase, he checked in with the City Attorney’s Office and other departments to see whether they could be ready sooner. After getting the green light, Campos amended the measure to go into effect 30 days after it’s enacted into law.
The question now is whether Mayor Ed Lee, who has not taken a position on the legislation, will act quickly to sign it. He was initially given 10 days to decide. Since a veto-proof majority approved the legislation, the mayor’s decision is to either grant approval or stall the inevitable, triggering more evictions at lower levels of relocation assistance. (Steven T. Jones)
POLICE TAPES BROUGHT TO LIGHT
Police radio dispatch records from March 21, the night 28-year-old Alejandro Nieto was gunned down in Bernal Heights Park by San Francisco Police Department officers, had been impossible to obtain despite requests from journalists, attorneys, and community members who had ties to Nieto.
Then, incredibly — thanks to a combination of tenacious reporting and the website Broadcastify.com — the radio dispatch audio popped up in a news report on KQED’s website.
Originally captured in real-time by a website works like an automatic police scanner and preserves all files, the recordings offer a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse of what occurred in the moments leading up to the highly controversial officer-involved shooting.
The SFPD’s account of the incident is that officers opened fire in defense of their own lives because Nieto pointed a Taser at them, causing them to believe he was tracking them with a firearm.
But the audio files that have now surfaced reflect no mention of a suspect brandishing a weapon.
The first mention of a “221” — police code for person with a gun — is to relate a 911 caller’s description of a Latino male suspect, who has “got a gun on his hip, and is pacing back and forth on the north side of the park near a chain-linked fence.” Just before the shooting, a voice can be heard saying over the radio, “There’s a guy in a red shirt, way up the hill, walking toward you guys.” Several seconds later, another voice calmly states, “I got a guy right here.”
Twenty-six seconds after that, a person can be heard shouting, “Shots fired! Shots fired!”
“What’s very telling is that none of the people are saying, the guy had a gun, he pointed it at us,” said attorney Adante Pointer of the law office of John Burris, which is preparing to file a complaint on behalf of Nieto’s family against the SFPD. “It begs the question, did [Nieto] do what they said he did?”
“If this was a righteous shooting,” Pointer added, “then [SFPD] … shouldn’t have any fear of public scrutiny.”
Friends and supporters of Nieto have led marches to protest the shooting and set up a website for ongoing events, justice4alexnieto.org. (Rebecca Bowe)
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence held their 35th anniversary Easter party — an “Emerald Jubilee” — at Golden Gate Park’s Hellman Hollow on Sunday. The annual event once again featured an Easter bonnet competition and a Hunky Jesus contest, plus a brand-new Foxy Mary pageant. Several Pope lookalikes graced the crowd, and a Little Bo Peep burlesque show rounded out the scheduled entertainment.
WEST OF EDEN: COMMUNES AND UTOPIA IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA (PM PRESS, 2012, $24.95)
Edited by Iain Boal, Janfrie Stone, Michael Watts, and Cal Winslow, this fresh history of radical communitarians and their cultural impact includes essays that encompass the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Alcatraz occupation, and the Black Panthers, as well as famed (and doomed) communes like the Albion Nation along the Mendocino coast and Morning Star in Sonoma. There’s an emphasis on storytelling, roots activism, and personal relation to the earth here, as well as a bracing re-evaluation of what it meant to “get away from it all” and live free in the ’60s and ’70s.
THE SIXTH EXTINCTION: AN UNNATURAL HISTORY BY ELIZABETH KOLBERT (HENRY HOLT, 2014, $28)
Environmental staff writer at The New Yorker and author of the essential Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Kolbert turns an epochal eye toward our environmental fate. Proposing that, after the five major extinctions that have occurred in the history of life, the sixth one is us, her book guides us through the devastating effect we’re having on most of the planet’s species — and provides startling examples of animals almost gone, like the Panamanian golden frog and the great auk. After reading this, you will never snort ground-up black rhino horn as a party drug again.
THE BAY AREA FORAGER BY MIA ANDLER AND KEVIN FEINSTEIN (FORAGING SOCIETY PRESS, 2011, $24.95)
Miner’s Lettuce! Prickly Pear! Sour Clover! Blue Dicks! Where to find them, how to find them, when to use them, and how to eat them — all is revealed (along with some kick-ass recipes) in this wonderfully illustrated tome.
IN THE SIERRA: MOUNTAIN WRITINGS BY KENNETH REXROTH, EDITED BY KIM STANLEY ROBINSON (NEW DIRECTIONS, 2012 EDITION, $16.95)
Beloved San Francisco poet Rexroth (1905-1982) brought his cosmic playfulness and sly, erotic wit to his encounters with nature. Snow-freckled granite, wrinkled tableland, peaks like refrigerated teeth, “the ventriloquial belling of an owl” mingling with nighttime waterfalls: Rexroth maps out a familiarly strange mountainscape with an ethereal astrolabe. Selected prose writings, including those from his columns in the Bay Guardian and the Examiner, take on winter camping, the history of the Sierra Club, and proper furniture for horses.
CLIMATE CHANGE: WHAT IT MEANS FOR US, OUR CHILDREN, AND OUR GRANDCHILDREN (MIT PRESS, 2014, $22.95)
The folksy title of this MIT Press title may belie the eagerness of top scientists to reach everyday people before it’s too late. Edited by law professor and writer Joseph F.C. DiMento and energy specialist Pamela Doughman, the essays in Climate Change lays out up-to-the-minute information on the impending and present impact of our activities in practical terms of housing prices, taxes, and other relatable measurements in non-technical language.
A CALIFORNIA BESTIARY (HEYDAY, 2010, $12.95)
The pairing of writer Rebecca Solnit and muralist Mona Caron would cause major excitement even if it involved a book on differential equations. Here, however, is a gem-like compendium of iconic Golden State natives like the Chinook salmon, California condor, desert tortoise, and Mission butterfly. All seen through two of most important artists’ eyes. (Marke B.)
Who is Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow? In the 137-page federal complaint detailing charges that led to the high-profile arrest of Sen. Leland Yee, Chow, and 24 others two weeks ago (see “Crime and politics,” April 1), Chow is described as the powerful “Dragonhead” of an ancient Chinese organized crime syndicate, “overseeing a vast criminal enterprise involved in drugs, guns, prostitution, protection rackets, moving stolen booze and cigarettes, and money laundering,” as we reported at the time.
Not so, famed defense attorney Tony Serra told a crowd of reporters at Pier 5 Law Offices in San Francisco’s North Beach, where he and fellow attorneys were joined by supporters wearing red tees bearing the slogan “Free Shrimp Boy” last week.
Attorneys Serra and Curtis Briggs described a five-year federal operation to target Chow and ensnare him in wrongdoing, insisting he had wanted no part in criminal activity. Serra said agents had “stuffed money into his pocket” despite his protests, and noted that his legal team was representing Chow pro bono because he has no money. (Rebecca Bowe)
AIRBNB COMES CLEAN
Airbnb came clean last week, sending out new terms of service drafted April 7 that customers must agree to before conducting further business starting April 30. The new agreements seem intended to address longstanding issues in San Francisco that the Guardian first raised in May 2012 (“The problem with the sharing economy,” 5/1/12), and have been recently joined by other journalists in spelling out and highlighting.
In the opening of its new Terms of Service, Airbnb wrote (in all caps): “IN PARTICULAR, HOSTS SHOULD UNDERSTAND HOW THE LAWS WORK IN THEIR RESPECTIVE CITIES. SOME CITIES HAVE LAWS THAT RESTRICT THEIR ABILITY TO HOST PAYING GUESTS FOR SHORT PERIODS. THESE LAWS ARE OFTEN PART OF A CITY’S ZONING OR ADMINISTRATIVE CODES. IN MANY CITIES, HOSTS MUST REGISTER, GET A PERMIT, OR OBTAIN A LICENSE BEFORE LISTING A PROPERTY OR ACCEPTING GUESTS. CERTAIN TYPES OF SHORT-TERM BOOKINGS MAY BE PROHIBITED ALTOGETHER. LOCAL GOVERNMENTS VARY GREATLY IN HOW THEY ENFORCE THESE LAWS. PENALTIES MAY INCLUDE FINES OR OTHER ENFORCEMENT. HOSTS SHOULD REVIEW LOCAL LAWS BEFORE LISTING A SPACE ON AIRBNB.”
It seems like a good first step. Next we’ll see whether the company follows through with paying its local taxes and working with the city on legislation to legalize more of its business model in San Francisco. (Steven T. Jones)
NEW RIDESHARE REGULATIONS PROPOSED
Rideshare companies must provide their drivers with insurance. That was the gist of a public letter released last week by the California Insurance Commission, addressed to the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates transportation network companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar.
“While smart phone technology is bringing new business opportunities to the marketplace and new transportation choices for consumers, our investigative hearing revealed serious insurance gaps in the current business model of Transportation Network Companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar,” Insurance Commissioner David Jones wrote in a statement to press. “As long as TNCs are encouraging non-professional drivers to use their personal vehicles to drive passengers for a profit, a risk which personal automobile insurance simply does not cover, TNCs should bear the burden of making sure that insurance is provided. Our recommendations will ensure there is insurance protection for passengers, drivers and pedestrians.”
Whether the TNCs should provide insurance has been the subject of intense debate in state and local governments over the past year. The recommendations to the CPUC come specifically out of a hearing on TNC insurance that Jones held March 21. The Guardian also wrote an editorial, “Sharing economy should share its wealth,” calling for rideshares to provide insurance, not only because it’s unfair competition (insurance costs money to provide, a burden taxi companies carry but not TNCs), but because people and TNC drivers in accidents were left for broke, lacking inadequate insurance. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
ELLIS ACT REFORM ADVANCES
Sen. Mark Leno’s Senate Bill 1439 — which would protect rent-controlled housing in San Francisco by amending the Ellis Act, including making property owners wait at least five years after buying a property to evict tenants under the act — cleared its first legislative hurdle last week.
The Senate Transportation and Housing Committee passed the measure on a 6-4 vote, and it heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee next. The bill has strong support in San Francisco, from progressive constituencies through Mayor Ed Lee to support by leaders in the business community and tech world.
Yet the measure faces a tough road in Sacramento, where the landlord lobby and other conservative interests oppose it. “A bill that could strip San Francisco landlords of their freedom to leave the rental housing business heads to a key Senate committee next month,” the California Apartment Association wrote last month in an alert to its members.
But as Tenants Together demonstrated in a recent study of how the Ellis Act has been used in San Francisco since its passage in 1985, a legislative reaction to a California Supreme Court case upholding rent control laws, the legislation has largely been a tool used by real estate speculators to clear rent-controlled buildings of tenants. The study found that 51 percent of Ellis Act evictions took place within a year of the property being purchased, 68 percent within the first five years, and 30 percent of Ellis Act evictions were from serial evictors, often by businesses specializing in flipping properties for profit.
“California’s Ellis Act was specifically designed to allow legitimate landlords a way out of the rental business, but in San Francisco this state law is being abused by speculators who never intend to be landlords,” Leno said today in a prepared statement. “As a result, longtime tenants, many of them seniors, disabled people, and low-income families, are being uprooted from their homes and communities. The five-year holding period in my bill would prevent these devastating evictions from forever changing the face of our diverse city.” (Steven T. Jones)
FROM GOOGLE BUS TO GOOGLER’S HOME
The morning of April 11 kicked off with yet another Google bus blockade in San Francisco’s Mission District, only this time housing activists said a Google employee is directly to blame for displacing residents.
The blockade, which took place at 18th and Dolores streets, was short-lived but featured speeches by tenants facing eviction, as well as a giant cardboard cutout depicting 812 Guerrero, a seven-unit building where tenants are facing eviction under the Ellis Act.
The property owner is Jack Halprin, a lawyer who is the head of eDiscovery, Enterprise for Google. He moved into one of the units after purchasing the building two years ago and served eviction notices on Feb. 26, according to tenant Claudia Triado, a third grade teacher at Fairmount Elementary in San Francisco who lives there with her 2-year-old son.
The Bay Guardian left a voice message for Halprin requesting comment, but got no reply
After the bus blockade, activists proceeded to 812 Guerrero and staged a short rally on the front steps.
Evan Wolkenstein, who teaches Jewish literature at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, said he’s lived at 812 Guerrero for eight years. Other tenants facing eviction from the property include an artist and a disabled person, he added. During the Google bus blockade, minutes before police officers arrived to clear a path for the bus by urging protesters onto the sidewalk, Wolkenstein gave a speech about the overall impact the tech sector is having on San Francisco. (Rebecca Bowe)
It’s Friday, which means only one thing: new movies R herrre! Though Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier will probably keep body-slamming all the box-office competition, there are some not-to-be-missed flicks just arriving in theaters, including two fascinating docs and two eerie tales, including the remarkable Under the Skin. Read on!
Cuban Fury Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, and Chris O’Dowd star in this romantic comedy about competitive salsa dancing. (1:37)
Dom Hemingway We first meet English safecracker Dom (Jude Law) as he delivers an extremely verbose and flowery ode to his penis, addressing no one in particular, while he’s getting blown in prison. Whether you find this opening a knockout or painfully faux will determine how you react to the rest of Richard Shepard’s new film, because it’s all in that same overwritten, pseudo-shocking, showoff vein, Sprung after 12 years, Dom is reunited with his former henchman Dickie (Richard E. Grant), and the two go to the South of France to collect the reward owed for not ratting out crime kingpin Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). This detour into the high life goes awry, however, sending the duo back to London, where Dom — who admits having “anger issues,” which is putting it mildly — tries to woo a new employer (Jumayn Hunter) and, offsetting his general loutishness with mawkish interludes, to re-ingratiate himself with his long-estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke). Moving into Guy Ritchie terrain with none of the deftness the same writer-director had brought to debunking James Bond territory in 2006’s similarly black-comedic crime tale The Matador, Dom Hemingway might bludgeon some viewers into sharing its air of waggish, self conscious merriment. But like Law’s performance, it labors so effortfully hard after that affect that you’re just as likely to find the whole enterprise overbearing. (1:33) (Dennis Harvey)
Draft Day Kevin Costner stars in this comedy-drama set behind the scenes of the NFL. (2:00)
Finding Vivian Maier Much like In the Realms of the Unreal, the 2004 doc about Henry Darger, Finding Vivian Maier explores the lonely life of a gifted artist whose talents were discovered posthumously. In this case, however, the filmmaker — John Maloof, who co-directs with Charlie Siskel — is responsible for Maier’s rise to fame. A practiced flea-market hunter, he picked up a carton of negatives at a 2007 auction; they turned out to be striking examples of early street photography. He was so taken with the work (snapped by a woman so obscure she was un-Google-able) that he began posting images online. Unexpectedly, they became a viral sensation, and Maloof became determined to learn more about the camerawoman. Turns out Vivian Maier was a career nanny in the Chicago area, with plenty of former employers to share their memories. She was an intensely private person who some remembered as delightfully adventurous and others remembered as eccentric, mentally unstable, or even cruel; she was a hoarder who was distrustful of men, and she spoke with a maybe-fake French accent. And she was obsessed with taking photographs that she never showed to anyone; the hundreds of thousands now in Maloof’s collection (along with 8mm and 16mm films) offer the only insight into her creative mind. “She had a great eye, a sense of humor, and a sense of tragedy,” remarks acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark. “But there’s a piece of the puzzle missing.” The film’s central question — why was Maier so secretive about her hobby? — may never be answered. But as the film also suggests, that mystery adds another layer of fascination to her keenly observed photos. (1:23) (Cheryl Eddy)
The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden Extensive archival footage and home movies (plus one short, narrative film) enhance this absorbing doc from San Francisco-based Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (2005’s Ballets Russes). It tells the tale of a double murder that occurred in the early 1930s on Floreana — the most remote of the already scarcely-populated Galapagos Islands. A top-notch cast (Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Josh Radnour) gives voice to the letters and diary entries of the players in this stranger-than-fiction story, which involved an array of Europeans who’d moved away from civilization in search of utopian simplicity — most intriguingly, a maybe-fake Baroness and her two young lovers — and realized too late that paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Goldfine and Geller add further detail to the historic drama by visiting the present-day Galapagos, speaking with residents about the lingering mystery and offering a glimpse of what life on the isolated islands is like today. (2:00) (Cheryl Eddy)
Interior. Leather Bar. James Franco and Travis Mathews’ “docufilm” imagines and recreates footage cut from the 1980 film Cruising. (1:00) Roxie.
Joe “I know what keeps me alive is restraint,” says Nicolas Cage’s titular character, a hard-drinking, taciturn but honorable semi-loner who supervises a crew of laborers clearing undesirable trees in the Mississippi countryside. That aside, his business is mostly drinking, occasionally getting laid, and staying out of trouble — we glean he’s had more than enough of the latter in his past. Thus it’s against his better judgement that he helps out newly arrived transient teen Gary (the excellent Tye Sheridan, of 2012’s Mud and 2011’s The Tree of Life), who’s struggling to support his bedraggled mother and mute sister. Actually he takes a shine to the kid, and vice versa; the reason for caution is Gary’s father, whom he himself calls a “selfish old drunk.” And that’s a kind description of this vicious, violent, lazy, conscienceless boozehound, who has gotten his pitiful family thrown out of town many times before and no doubt will manage it once again in this new burg, where they’ve found an empty condemned house to squat in. David Gordon Green’s latest is based on a novel by the late Larry Brown, and like that writer’s prose, its considerable skill of execution manages to render serious and grimly palatable a steaming plateload of high white trash melodrama that might otherwise be undigestible. (Strip away the fine performances, staging and atmosphere, and there’s not much difference between Joe and the retro Southern grindhouse likes of 1969’s Shanty Tramp, 1974’s ‘Gator Bait or 1963’s Scum of the Earth.) Like Mud and 2011’s Killer Joe, this is a rural Gothic neither truly realistic or caricatured to the point of parody, but hanging between those two poles — to an effect that’s impressive and potent, though some may not enjoy wallowing in this particular depressing mire of grotesque nastiness en route to redemption. (1:57) (Dennis Harvey)
OculusTim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan) are grown siblings with a horrible shared past: When they were children, their parents (Rory Cochrane, Katee Sankhoff) moved them all into a nice suburban house, decorating it with, among other things, a 300-year-old mirror. But that antique seemed to have an increasingly disturbing effect on dad, then mom too, to ultimately homicidal, offspring-orphaning effect. Over a decade later, Tim is released from a juvenile mental lockup, ready to live a normal life after years of therapy have cleaned him of the supernatural delusions he think landed him there in the first place. Imagine his dismay when Kaylie announces she has spent the meantime researching aforementioned “evil mirror” — which turns out to have had a very gruesome history of mysteriously connected deaths — and painstakingly re-acquiring it. She means to destroy it so it can never wreak havoc, and has set up an elaborate room of camcorders and other equipment in which to “prove” its malevolence first, with Tim her very reluctant helper. Needless to say, this experiment (which he initially goes along with only in order to debunk the whole thing for good) turns out to be a very, very bad idea. The mirror is clever — demonically clever. It can warp time and perspective so our protagonists don’t know whether what they’re experiencing is real or not. Expanding on his 2006 short film (which was made before his excellent, little-seen 2011 horror feature Absentia), Mike Flanagan’s tense, atmospheric movie isn’t quite as scary as you might wish, partly because the villain (the spirit behind the mirror) isn’t particularly well-imagined in generic look or murky motivation. But it is the rare new horror flick that is genuinely intricate and surprising plot-wise — no small thing in the current landscape of endless remakes and rehashes. (1:44) (Dennis Harvey)
Rio 2 More 3D tropical adventures with animated birds Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their menagerie of pals, with additional voices by Andy Garcia, Leslie Mann, Bruno Mars, Jamie Foxx, and more. (1:41)
For the tech-savvy and the tech-averse — our guide to riding out the city’s latest transformation. We present “How to survive as an artist in SF’s ‘new economy.'” Download the full-size chart here (PDF) or read our Careers and Ed issue about surviving as an artist in SF here.
Dance Mission Theater has kept itself going by offering some of the most cutting-edge and exciting classes around. (Even the cast of The Real World dropped in recently for some schooling on how to vogue.) Here, instructor Bruce “Mui” Ghent of the Maikaze Daiko dojo will teach you how to bang your own beat out — on very, very large drums. The rigorously physical class (dress to sweat) introduces the basics of the ancient Japanese musical art form, taught with martial arts etiquette and discipline.
April 13- May 18, Sundays, 10:30am-noon, $99. Mission Dance Theater, 3316 24th St, SF. www.dancemission.com
Be the Brando of poets, as Alexandra Kostoulas — student of famed Method Writing sage Jack Grapes — “strips away the artifice of writing, the baggage that keeps us from the most essential building block of any writing: the Deep Voice.” The class is based on journal entries which are transformed using Method Writing techniques into stories and poems. Help your writing to leap from the page and roar with fire! Or at least try something passionate and different.
April 29-June 17, Tuesdays, 6:30-9:30pm, $395. Emerald Tablet, 80 Fresno, SF. Also April 30-June 18, Wednesdays, 6:30-9:30, $395. Wework Building, 25 Taylor, SF. www.methodwritingsf.com
Give your music 3D expression — and a big boost of digital career potential — at this intensive course at Ex’pression Digital College. Students get an earful of learnin’: music production, electronic music and beat production, audio and visual composition, live performance engineering, audio engineering, recording and mixing, audio and music programming, and video game audio creation and integration. You get to make shapes with your sounds, very cool.
Classes start May 19 in Emeryville and San Jose. See www.expression.edu for more information
Downtown SF street art nexus 1:AM, aka First Ammendment (winner of a Guardian Best of the Bay Award) offers this supercool class with artist Strider. “Learn to make your ‘mark’ on the world” by designing, cutting, and spraying intricate stencils — including on your own T-shirts. Ages 14+ are welcome: This class is great for budding protesters, free spirits, and guerilla artists.
Have you heard about this whole slow food movement thingie? Nonprofit Bauman College has spent the last 25 years teaching health and wellness through holistic nutrition and culinary arts. This 450-hour course is the whole megilla — kitchen basics, farm-to-table sourcing, world cuisine, client services, therapeutic applications, and more. Everyone’s gotta eat, so the field continues to grow. Graduates can go on to work as personal chefs or start their own delicious business.
Classes start in September and are offered in Berkeley and Santa Cruz, See www.baumancollege.org for more information.
No, this program doesn’t consist of screaming at your ex. A graduate program at the California Institute for Integral Studies, regionally accredited and approved by the North American Drama Therapy Association, drama therapy draws on dramatic play, theater, role-play, psychodrama, and dramatic ritual, to free the mind and bring healing to others. “Freedom and possibility are two key words that begin to describe the essence of drama therapy. Life is finite; there are only so many experiences we can have. But in drama, the opportunities and options are endless.”
Register for fall 2014 semester by July 10. See www.ciis.edu for more information.
At the tail end of a long Board of Supervisors meeting last week, Sup. David Campos introduced legislation to create Covered San Francisco, a city healthcare option designed to remedy a coverage gap that will be created under the Affordable Care Act.
Lately, we’ve gotten reports of San Franciscans hoping to enroll in Covered California — the state-run health insurance marketplace created under the ACA — leaving meetings with enrollment counselors in tears of frustration. Even though these would-be enrollees are technically eligible for Covered California — which makes them ineligible to stay in Healthy San Francisco — the insurance cost is nevertheless too high to be a realistic option.
“In high cost-of-living cities like San Francisco, many will simply not be able to afford it,” Campos said when he introduced the legislation. “The most authoritative study says 40 percent of San Franciscans who are eligible for Covered California still will not be able to afford it.”
Co-sponsored by Sups. John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Jane Kim, the legislation seeks to address the problem by creating a new option for employees to receive subsidies to purchase health insurance under Covered California through the Department of Public Health. The funding would be derived from an employer spending requirement already in place under the city’s Health Care Security Ordinance, the law that created Healthy San Francisco.
The proposal also seeks to close a loophole that Campos said incentivizes employers to set up health reimbursement accounts for employees that cannot be used to purchase Covered California insurance plans. To discourage the use of these accounts, the proposal would make spending irrevocable, meaning employers would be unable to claw back funding they’ve contributed. (Rebecca Bowe)
PG&E INDICTMENT DOESN’T GO FAR ENOUGH
A federal grand jury in San Francisco issued a criminal indictment against Pacific Gas & Electric for negligence in the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed an entire neighborhood. But that falls far short of what this rapacious company and its conniving executives — none of whom face personal criminal charges — should be facing.
The indictment omits key details of what happened leading up this tragic and entirely preventable explosion, buying into the fiction that there is a meaningful difference between PG&E Co., the regulated utility, and PG&E Corp., the wealthy and powerful Wall Street corporation. This is a stark example of how corporations are given all the rights of individuals, but accept few of the responsibilities, with the complicity of the political and economic systems.
The 12-count indictment focused on violation of the Pipeline Safety Act, which requires companies to maintain their potentially dangerous pipelines, including keeping detailed records and doing safety inspections that would detect flaws like the faulty weld that caused the San Bruno explosion on Sept. 9, 2010 — work the company negligently failed to perform.
But PG&E’s wanton disregard for public safety, combined with the greed and shameless self-interest of then-CEO Peter Darbee and other executives, goes far deeper than that. A report by the California Public Utilities Commission released in January 2012 found that $100 million in ratepayer funds that had been earmarked for pipeline maintenance and replacement, including this section in San Bruno, was instead diverted to executive bonuses and shareholder profits.
“PG&E chose to use the surplus revenues for general corporate purposes,” the audit said, noting that the company was flush with cash at the time and there was no good reason to neglect this required maintenance. (Steven T. Jones)
911 DISPATCHERS STRESSED
The controversial tax breaks given to tech companies in San Francisco in 2011 came under fire again last week, as emergency dispatchers protested crippling budget shortages on April 2 in front of the Department of Emergency Management.
“When you call 911, there should be enough people working to pick up the phone,” said Ron Davis, an emergency dispatcher in San Francisco for 13 years. “It’s upsetting when you or someone you love is in a life-threatening emergency and you’re put on hold for 30 seconds, 45 seconds, or even a minute and longer.”
The department receives, on average, nearly 3,000 phone calls per day, and the workers who spoke at the rally described long hours and inadequate coverage for the volume of calls that they receive. California law mandates that 90 percent of 911 calls be answered in 10 seconds or less, but in San Francisco that number often drops to 60 percent or lower. Davis said that on particularly busy nights, such as New Year’s Eve, there can be up to 20 calls in the queue waiting for an available dispatcher.
The rally was organized by SEIU Local 1021 and was part of the union’s contract negotiations with the city. Larry Bradshaw, vice president for the San Francisco region of the union, said workers were willing to make sacrifices during the recession but now, “we just want to recoup our losses and make up for lost ground.” (Brian McMahon)
WILL AIRBNB PAY UP?
Airbnb has agreed to start collecting and paying the transient occupancy tax in San Francisco sometime this summer — finally acknowledging that’s the only workable way to meet the tax obligation it shares with its hosts. But that leaves open the question of whether this $10 billion corporation intends to pay the tax debt it has accumulated for years while trying to duck its responsibility to the city.
That’s at least several million dollars that the city could really use right now. As we’ve previously reported, Airbnb commissioned and publicized a study in late 2012 claiming its San Francisco hosts collected $12.7 million from Airbnb guest in fiscal year 2011-12, meaning they should have collected and remitted to the city $1.9 million.
In early 2012, the San Francisco Tax Collector’s Office held public hearings to clarify whether the TOT applies to the short-term rentals facilitated by Airbnb and similar companies, ruling in April 2012 that the TOT does apply to those stays and that it is a “joint and several liability” shared by the hosts and Airbnb, which conducts the transaction and takes a cut.
As we also reported, despite heavily lobbying during the hearing and being acutely aware of the outcome and its resulting tax obligation, Airbnb simply refused to comply and tack the 15 percent surcharge onto its transactions, as similar companies such as Roomorama were doing.
So if Airbnb was really being the good corporate citizen that it’s now claiming to be, it would not only start charging the 15 percent fee and sharing that money with the city, it would also cut San Francisco a check for around $4 million, or whatever the tax would be on what this growing business has collected from its guests since April 2012. (Steven T. Jones)
BURSTING THE MONTEREY SHALE BUBBLE
“We’ve been told that there’s a great oil boom on the immediate horizon,” billionaire investor Tom Steyer noted at the start of a March 27 talk in Sacramento.
But Steyer (who has pledged to spend $100 million on ad campaigns for the 2014 election to promote action on climate change) wasn’t there to trumpet the oil industry’s high expectations. Instead, he introduced panelists who dismissed the buzz on drilling the 1,750-square-mile Monterey Shale as pie-in-the-sky hype.
Dr. David Hughes, a geoscientist with the Post Carbon Institute, and researcher Robert Collier had been invited to speak by Next Generation, a policy group focused on climate change that was co-founded by Steyer.
Both experts questioned the findings of a University of Southern California study that wound up being cited time and again as the basis for the oil industry’s arguments, in the context of a statewide debate on fracking.
Partially funded by the Western States Petroleum Association, the USC report outlined a rosy economic outlook stemming from oil extraction in the Monterey Shale, estimating that it would create 2.8 million jobs and $24 billion in tax revenues, findings that were “echoed by politicians of both parties,” Collier noted.
Yet prominent economists could find no basis for certain claims. “They said: ‘We cannot see any justification for these incredible numbers,” Collier reported. “They seem too big to be believable.” The Post Carbon Institute and Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy published their own report challenging the findings, titled Drilling California: A Reality Check on the Monterey Shale. (Rebecca Bowe)
The California Massage Therapy Council, a statewide body that licenses massage practitioners, may expire at the end of this year unless extended by the California Legislature. Some anti-prostitution crusaders say reverting to local control will make it easier to shut down covert brothels, but the practitioners fear a return to the bad old days, when stigmas and stereotypes overcomplicated their lives.
On one side of the debate are the massage therapists, who say that the council protects them from unfair discrimination, replaces a patchwork of local ordinances, and provides a greater level of respectability to their profession. However, an array of city officials, police departments, and powerful groups such as the League of California Cities argue that the CAMTC makes it easier for illicit massage parlors to get away with prostitution and human trafficking.
“I receive complaints from neighbors all the time about certain establishments,” said Sup. Katy Tang about her supervisorial district in San Francisco’s Sunset District. “We can inspect, but we have no ability to enforce any of our regulations. If there are any penalties, we can’t enforce them.”
Tang’s frustration stems from Senate Bill 731, legislation that was signed into law in 2008. That bill created the CAMTC, a nonprofit organization that has the authority to certify massage practitioners and therapists in California. Prior to the creation of this body, each city and county enacted its own certification procedures, leading to a messy patchwork of rules all over the state.
Before the CAMTC, “there were 550 different kinds of regulations from city to city,” said Ahmos Netanel, CEO of the organization. “Within a radius of one mile, you can have a situation where different cities have their own standards. One city may require no training, and another right next door may require 1,000 hours.”
A massage provider working in California pre-2009 not only had to be savvy with the medley of laws, but also needed to purchase expensive licenses for each city he or she planned to practice in. The CAMTC creates a universal—though voluntary—system, where licensed practitioners can travel and work freely around the state.
The contentious part of the law comes from the protection that it offers to licensed practitioners. Any establishment that employs all CAMTC-certified massage providers is exempt from city ordinances that target massage businesses. Law enforcement agencies claim that these restrictions impede their ability to crack down on illegal parlors, but the massage therapists say that they are necessary to fight off discriminatory laws.
Some of these unfair regulations targeted entire establishments, such as zoning rules that forced all massage businesses into run-down or dangerous parts of town, with the assumption that they were brothels. Massage providers argued that this was neither fair nor safe for, say, a 75-year-old woman seeking out massage for arthritis, or a soon-to-be mom trying to obtain a pre-natal massage.
Other laws targeted the therapists themselves. Stacey DeGooyer, a certified massage therapist in the Bay Area, remembers times when practicing massage meant mandatory STD testing and reminders from police to not wear undergarments as exterior clothing.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is for my profession?'” DeGooyer said, decrying being subjected to “archaic prostitution laws.” Most massage providers aren’t looking to be on par with physicians, but they also don’t want to be on par with prostitutes.
Currently, San Francisco has its own certification program that is regulated by the Department of Public Health. To practice massage in the city, the provider must have a license from either the city or the CAMTC. However, only those who have the state CAMTC license can legally call themselves a “licensed massage” therapist or practitioner.
Tang has been one of the most outspoken critics of the CAMTC in San Francisco, urging the Legislature to let the body sunset at the end of the year.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m against [the CAMTC], but there are structural flaws in how it was designed,” Tang said. “It was created for good reasons, since there were so many jurisdictions and they wanted to standardize it and create a cohesive process. But there are jurisdictions like San Francisco where we have our own robust process.”
The number of massage establishments have surged since the adoption of the CAMTC, which critics use as evidence for a growing number of illicit parlors. But Netanel said his group’s worked to prevent prostitutes from getting licensed in the first place. Out of over 63,000 applicants, Netanel said, the group has never certified a single person who has been convicted of illicit activities. It also utilizes an online complaint form to report questionable behavior, and respond to all complaints within 24 hours.
“Even with those who criticize [the CAMTC], we share the same goals,” Netanel said. “We want a safe, healthy, and reliable certification process, so consumers can trust their therapists. Even more, we want to put an end to illegal massage parlors so they are no longer categorized with honest providers.” (Brian McMahon)
Last week’s Bay Guardian featured a cover story on homelessness in San Francisco (“San Francisco’s untouchables”), including communications between local residents and the city’s Homeless Outreach Team, which we obtained in a public records request. So we thought we’d share a few message from the more than 100 we received.
“I don’t know where to begin,” one resident wrote. “I feel between mad, disgusted, and frustrated. This homeless encampment keeps growing. … The city has put up wire fencing only to be cut through by the homeless. … It is within 100 yards of my $1.2M condo.”
Another said: “Something is deeply wrong with San Francisco policy. Cultivating the Bohemian San Francisco style is nice but … it is as if we were in a deteriorated undeveloped country. We live in downtown San Francisco, not in the favelas, which is what it feels like.”
Still another complainant wrote: “Bags distributors are installed in the parks in order to help dog lovers clean up after their dogs, which is completely normal, but nothing is done for all the human beings who stroll, do drugs, eat, sleep, urinate, defecate and so on, on the sidewalks.”
Sometimes these complaints result in HOT visits to homeless encampments. But the emails suggest that while the HOT does approach homeless folks to try and persuade them to access services or go to a shelter, the service workers don’t always have full services to direct them to if the homeless individuals agree to do so.
Psychiatric social worker Jason Albertson, who is part of the HOT, explained this dilemma in an email sent in mid-January. His email noted that the HOT had encountered some homeless people in the vicinity of Harriet Alley and Manolo Draves Park, in response to a neighbor’s urging.
They’re “primarily in transit, meaning that they camp in different places each night and are not regulars,” he explained. “So far, nobody has wanted to enter into shelter or discuss other access to treatment or services.” But even if they had, he said, there wouldn’t be too many options for moving forward with recovery.
“At this time, our case management support is limited with identified clients waiting,” he wrote. “So capacity for full service is limited.” (Rebecca Bowe)
WHITHER GOOGLE BUSES
As the Board of Supervisors prepared for an April 1 hearing to consider an environmental appeal of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s program for regulating Google buses and other private shuttles to the Silicon Valley, which charges them one dollar per stop, both sides marshaled their troops.
The pro-business Bay Area Council released a poll of San Franciscans claiming that most of us love tech, we’re totally cool with the Google buses, and we care more about job creation than the cost of living. The group wrote: “Despite what it may look like from recent media coverage, a majority of voters have a positive opinion of the shuttle buses and support allowing buses to use Muni stops.”
SF.citi, an alliance of San Francisco tech companies, touted the poll as it sent out an email blast that reads like a call to arms: “Divisive shuttle opponents are now suing the City to challenge this pilot program before it has the chance to get off the ground. We need YOU to tell the Board of Supervisors in person that you want them reject this lawsuit and let the pilot program go forward.”
Progressive activists countered in a similar tone: “Please join us to support the appeal and to tell the city to hold Big Tech accountable for the actual impact they have on our communities and neighborhoods.”
The hearing was scheduled after Guardian press time, so check www.sfbg.com/politics to find out what happened. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
Nobody has a good answer to San Francisco’s most basic housing problem: How do we build the housing that existing city residents need? It was a question the Guardian has been posing for many years, and one that I again asked a panel of journalists and housing advocates on March 14, again getting no good answers.
The question is an important one given Mayor Ed Lee’s so-called "affordability agenda" and pledge to build 30,000 new housing units, a third of them somehow affordable, by 2020. And it’s a question that led to the founding 30 years ago of Bridge Housing, the builder of affordable and supportive housing that assembled this media roundtable.
"There really isn’t one thing, there needs to be a lot of changes in a lot of areas to make it happen," was the closest that Bridge CEO Cynthia Parker came to answering the question.
One of those things is a general obligation bond measure this fall to fund affordable housing and transportation projects around the Bay Area, which Bridge and a large coalition of other partners are pushing. That would help channel some of the booming Bay Area’s wealth into its severely underfunded affordable housing and transit needs.
When I brought up other ideas from our March 12 Guardian editorial ("Lee must pay for his promises") for capturing more of the city’s wealth such as new taxes on tech companies, a congestion pricing charge, and downtown transit assessment districts Parker replied, "We’d be in favor of a lot of that."
Yet it’s going to take far more proactive, aggressive, and creative actions to really bridge the gap between the San Francisco Housing Element’s analysis that 60 percent of new housing should be below-market-rate and affordable to those earning 120 percent or less of the area median income, and the less than 20 percent that San Francisco is actually building and promoting through its policies. (Steven T. Jones)
No charges in CCSF protest
The two formerly jailed City College student protesters can now breathe a sigh of relief, as they learned March 19 that the District Attorney’s Office won’t be filing criminal charges against them.
Otto Pippenger, 20, and Dimitrios Philliou, 21, were detained by SFPD following a violent clash during a City College protest on March 13. Their ideological and physical fight for democracy at their school is also the subject of one of our print articles in this week’s Guardian ("Democracy for none," March 18). Philliou’s attorney confirmed to the Guardian that charges were not pursued by the District Attorney’s Office.
"The charges have been dropped for now, in terms of the criminal case," said Rachel Lederman, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing Philliou.
But, she noted, they’re not out of the fire yet.
"The fight is not over for them," she said, "as it’s possible they’ll face school discipline."
Heidi Alletzhauser, Pippenger’s mother, told the Guardian that Vice Chancellor Faye Naples indicated the two would face some sort of disciplinary hearing, though Naples told Alletzhauser that Pippenger would not be expelled. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
Activists cross the border
Last November, the Guardian profiled Alex Aldana, a queer immigration activist who was born in Mexico but came to Pomona, California with his mother and sister on a visa at the age of 16 ("Undocumented and unafraid," 11/12/14).
On March 18, Aldana joined a group of undocumented immigrants in a protest at the US border crossing at Otay Mesa in San Diego. Chanting together as a group, they marched over the border and presented themselves to U.S. Immigration and Customs and Border protection agents, whom they asked for asylum.
Among the immigrants who surrendered to immigration agents were women, children, and teens. Some are separated from their husbands, children, and families in the US and, like my own mother (see "They deported my mom," March 11), wish to be reunited.
The youth protesters were brought to the US earlier in childhood, but deported to Mexico after being taken into custody and detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Some would have qualified to remain under the Dream Act, but were forced to leave the country before it was signed into law.
The protesters marched toward the turnstiles that separate Mexico and the US, chanting "Yes we can," and "No human is illegal."
A few feet from the gates, the group paused to listen to a final pep talk from Aldana.
The action was captured and recorded in real time on U-Stream. About 16 minutes into the video, he can be seen addressing the crowd, fist raised. "We have nothing to lose but our chains," Aldana told the group. Then, in Spanish, he said, "Without papers," to which his fellow protesters responded, "without fear."
They made their way to the turnstiles and one by one they walked through, straight into custody of US border guards. As they crossed the border, they told a cameraperson where they hoped to go. They named cities, such as Phoenix and Tucson, and states, such as Alabama, Oregon, and North Carolina. But each one said, in English or Spanish, "we’re going home."
It was part of a series of organized border crossings by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, to highlight the experiences of young people who lived for years in the United States but were deported due to their immigration status. In Aldana’s case, he traveled to Mexico voluntarily, due to a family emergency. (Francisco Alvarado)
Oakland settles with injured Occupier
Iraq War veteran and injured Occupy Oakland protester Scott Olsen, 26, won a settlement of $4.5 million from the city of Oakland in a federal lawsuit, his attorneys announced March 21.
At the tail end of a thousands-strong 2011 Occupy Oakland protest, an Oakland Police Department officer fired a beanbag directly into Olsen’s head, causing serious and lasting brain injury. His attorney, Rachel Lederman, said that was why the payout was so high.
"His bones were shattered, part of his brain was destroyed," she told the Guardian. "He’d been working as a computer system network administrator. He’s not going back to that kind of work, and it compensates him for his wage loss for his lifetime."
But in the end, she said, "No amount of money can put his head back together." (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
Guardian seeks columnists
The Bay Guardian is looking for a pair of new freelance writers to do separate monthly columns covering the technology industry and economic/social justice issues. The two new columns would go into a rotation we’re tentatively calling Soul of the City, along with Jason Henderson’s Street Fight column and a new environmental column by News Editor Rebecca Bowe that we’ll debut in our Earth Day issue.
For the technology column, we want someone with a deep understanding of this industry, its economic and personality drivers, and the role it could and should play in the civic life of San Francisco and nearby communities. We aren’t looking for gadget reviews or TechCrunch-style evangelizing or fetishizing of the tech sector, but someone with an illuminating, populist perspective that appeals to a broad base of Guardian readers.
The other column, on economic and social justice issues, would cover everything from housing rights to labor to police accountability issues, with an eye toward how San Francisco can maintain its diversity and cultural vibrancy. We want someone steeped in Bay Area political activism and advocacy, but with an independent streak and fearless desire to speak truth to power.
We strongly encourage candidates of color, young people, and those representing communities that need a stronger voice in the local political discourse to apply.
If you’re interested, please sent your qualifications and concepts, along with one sample column and ideas for future columns, to Editor-in-Chief Steven T. Jones at email@example.com. Help us escalate this fight for the soul of the city by adding your voice to the Guardian’s mix.
So many new movies this week to choose from, film fans! Better just cancel all your plans, and also any notions you had about eating and sleeping. Read on for our takes on the latest in teen dystopia, the new Anita Hill doc, the latest Muppets caper, and part one of Lars von Trier’s sex-addiction saga. AND MORE!
Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq Writer-director Nancy Buirski’s documentary follows the short, brilliant career of a young dancer named Tanaquil Le Clercq, who came up in the New York City ballet world of the 1940s and ‘50s. Le Clercq was discovered by George Balanchine, married him (as three other dancers had done before her), sparked a paradigm shift in the ballet world regarding what was considered the quintessential dancer’s body, had numerous ballets set on her by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and then, at the peak of her career, at age 27, was stricken by polio and left paralyzed in both legs. The film takes its time moving toward this catastrophe, recounting Le Clercq’s early adult life through interviews with her contemporaries and tracking her professional progress through gorgeous archival footage of her performances. Equally moving archival material are the letters from a longtime correspondence between Le Clercq and Robbins that documented two very different periods of her life: the first, when Robbins was choreographing ballets for her, including Afternoon of a Faun, and professing his love; the second, after her paralysis, when she wrote him a series of poignant communications describing her impressions of her illness and her new, circumscribed world. The film has some trouble holding on to its center — as in life, Balanchine proves a magnetic force, and Afternoon of a Faun feels inexorably drawn to his professional and personal details. We don’t get enough of Le Clercq, which you could say is the tragedy of her story — nobody did. But the letters do provide a sense of someone resourceful and responsive to life’s richness and joys, someone who would get past this crisis and find a way to reshape her life. (1:31) (Lynn Rapoport)
Anita In 1991, Anita Hill found herself at the center of a political firestorm when she testified about being sexually harassed by US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. “The issue became my character as opposed to the character of the nominee,” she recalls in Anita, a revealing new documentary from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Freida Mock (1994’s Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision). Twenty years after she first made headlines, Hill recounts her story in the same eloquent voice familiar to anyone who watched her testimony; her first-person narrative, paired with accounts by her supporters, stresses the consequences many women suffer from daring to speak out. The documentary, which shows how one woman’s forthrightness about sexual harassment can upturn her life, also explores the ways in which Hill’s Bush-era notoriety laid the foundation for a prolific career dedicated to battling sexual harassment and women’s oppression. She became an unlikely icon, and a role model for women battling similar circumstances. On the other hand, Thomas still sits on the bench. (1:17) (Laura B. Childs)
Bad Words Settling a grudge score whose precise origin remains unclear until late in the game, world-class misanthrope Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is celebrating his 40th birthday by competing in a national spelling bee. Yes, spelling bees are generally for children, and so is this one. But Guy has found a legal loophole permitting his participation, and the general hate wending his way from contest staff (Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall) — let alone the tiger-mom-and-dad parents ready to form a lynch mob — is just icing on the cake where he’s concerned. What’s more, as some sort of majorly underachieving near-genius, he’s in fact well equipped to whup the bejesus out of overachieving eight-year-olds when it comes to saying the right letters out loud. The only people on his side, sorta, are the online journalist (Kathryn Hahn) reporting on his perverse quest, and the insidiously cute Indian American competitor (Rohan Chand) who wants to be besties, or perhaps just to psych him out. (Note: The tyke’s admitted favorite word is “subjugate.”) Written by Andrew Dodge, this comedy in the tradition (a little too obviously) of 2003’s Bad Santa and such provides the always enjoyable Bateman with not only a tailor-made lead role, but a directorial debut as well. He does just fine by both. Yet as nicely crafted and frequently-pretty-funny Bad Words is, at core it’s a rather petty movie — small, derivative, and cynically mean-spirited without the courage of genuine biliousness. It’s at once not-half-bad, and not half as badass as it pretends to be. (1:29) (Dennis Harvey)
Dark House Nick (Luke Kleintank) has the most depressing superpower since X-Men‘s Rogue: whenever he touches someone destined for a violent death, he has a vision of his or her terrible demise. On a rare visit to his institutionalized mother (Lesley-Anne Down), amid her ravings about “things in the walls,” she confesses that Nick’s father is still alive. After she dies, he inherits a folder stuffed with wrinkled papers — including the deed to an old mansion that’s been haunting his dreams since childhood. With his best friend and pregnant girlfriend in tow, Nick sets out to find the apparently cursed dwelling (wide-eyed locals refer to it as “Wormwood”). What they find is best not revealed here, though it does involve Tobin “Jigsaw from the Saw movies” Bell. This latest from controversial director Victor Salva borrows multiple elements from his 2001 horror breakout Jeepers Creepers (backwoods locations and folklore, murderous fellows in duster coats, superstition vis-à-vis the number 23, etc.) but sprawls beyond that film’s taut road-trip-from-hell structure, and has far more characters prone to making stupid decisions. There’s also the issue of having a certain, uh, monster intone orders to its followers via any available furnace vent — it’s funny every time, and it sure ain’t intended to be. (1:42) (Cheryl Eddy)
Divergent Based on the blockbuster dystopian-future YA novel by Veronica Roth (the first in a trilogy), Divergent is set in a future city-state version of Chicago in which society is divided into five character-based, color-coded factions: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Abnegation, and Dauntless. Like her peers, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the film’s Abnegation-born teenage heroine, must choose a permanent faction — with the help of a standardized aptitude test that forgoes penciling in bubbles in favor of virtual reality psychic manipulation. When the test fails to triangulate her sole innate personality trait, she learns that she belongs to a secret, endangered sixth category: Divergent, an astonishing set of people who are not only capable of, say, acts of selflessness but can also produce intelligent thought, or manifest bravery in the face of danger. Forced to hide her aberrant nature in a society whose leaders (Kate Winslet) are prone to statements like “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” and seemingly bored among Abnegation’s hive of gray cardigan-wearing worker bees, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, a dashing gang of black-clad, alterna-rock music video extras who jump on and off moving trains and live in a warehouse-chic compound whose dining hall recalls the patio at Zeitgeist. Fittingly, a surly, tattooed young man named Four (Theo James) leads Beatrice, now Tris, and her fellow initiates through a harsh proving regimen that, if they fail, will cast them into an impoverished underclass. Director Neil Burger (2006’s The Illusionist, 2011’s Limitless) and the behemoth marketing force behind Divergent are clearly hoping to stir up the kind of madness stoked by the Twilight and Hunger Games series, but while there are bones a-plenty to pick with those franchises, Divergent may have them beat for pure daffiness of premise and diameter of plot holes — and that’s after screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor’s major suturing of the source material’s lacunae. The daffiness doesn’t translate into imaginative world-building, and while a couple of scenes convey the visceral thrills of life in Dauntless, the tension between Tris and Four is awkwardly ratcheted up, and the film’s shift into a mode of crisis is equally jolting without generating much heat. (2:20) (Lynn Rapoport)
Enemy Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an associate history professor living the usual life of quiet desperation in a very smoggy, beige, vaguely dystopian Toronto when he makes a startling discovery: glimpsed in the background of an otherwise forgettable movie rental is someone who is his complete doppelganger. Intrigued, he discovers the identity of actor Anthony (Jake again), and pokes around in the latter’s life enough to discover that they both have blonde partners (Adam’s girlfriend Mélanie Laurent, the other dude’s pregnant wife Sarah Gadon), though beyond that and the eerie physical-vocal resemblances, they’re near-opposites — Anthony is more confident, successful, assertive, and belligerent by far. Their paths-crossing isn’t going to be a good thing. Just how bad it will get depends on how you read a mysterious, perverse opening sequence and some increasingly surreal imagery scattered throughout. The second of director Denis Villeneuve’s back-to-back Gyllenhaal collaborations is very different from last year’s long, intricate, real-world thriller Prisoners. Based on a José Saramago novel (The Double), it sports the same ominous, metaphorical fantasticism that was previously translated to the screen in the widely disliked (but faithful) 2008 Blindness — another movie that played better if you know where its source material is coming from. This intriguing Kafkaesque paranoid puzzle is not to be confused with Richard Ayoade’s forthcoming Dostoevsky-derived The Double, starring Jesse Eisenberg. Actually, go ahead and confuse them — they’re stylistically distinct but otherwise practically the same fable-nightmare. (1:30) (Dennis Harvey)
Le Week-End Director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi first collaborated two decades ago on The Buddha of Suburbia, when the latter was still in the business of being Britain’s brashest multiculti hipster voice. But in the last 10 years they’ve made a habit of slowing down to sketching portraits of older lives — and providing great roles for the nation’s bottomless well of remarkable veteran actors. Here Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent play a pair of English academics trying to re-create their long-ago honeymoon’s magic on an anniversary weekend in Paris. They love each other, but their relationship is thorny and complicated in ways that time has done nothing to smooth over. This beautifully observed duet goes way beyond the usual adorable-old-coot terrain of such stories on screen; it has charm and humor, but these are unpredictable, fully rounded characters, not comforting caricatures. Briefly turning this into a seriocomedy three-way is Most Valuable Berserker Jeff Goldblum as an old friend encountered by chance. It’s not his story, but damned if he doesn’t just about steal the movie anyway. (1:33) (Dennis Harvey)
Muppets Most Wanted Building on the success of The Muppets, Jim Henson’s beloved creations return to capitalize on their revitalized (and Disney-owned) fame. This follow-up from Muppets director James Tobin — technically, it’s the seventh sequel to the original 1979 Muppet Movie, as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew points out in one of the film’s many meta moments — improves upon the 2011 film, which had its charms but suffered by concentrating too much on the Jason Segal-Amy Adams romance, not to mention annoying new kid Walter. Here, human co-stars Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and others (there are more cameos than you can count) are relegated to supporting roles, with the central conflict revolving around the Muppets’ inability to notice that Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog,” has infiltrated their group, sending Kermit to Siberian prison in his place. Constantine and his accomplice (Gervais, whose character’s last name is “Badguy”) use the Muppets’ world tour as a front for their jewel-heist operation; meanwhile, his infatuated warden (Fey) forces Kermit to direct the annual gulag musical. Not helping matters are a bumbling Interpol agent (Ty Burrell) and his CIA counterpart (Sam the American Eagle, natch). Really, all that’s needed is a simple plot, catchy songs, and plenty of room to let the Muppets do their thing — Miss Piggy and Animal are particularly enjoyable here; Walter’s still around, but he’s way more tolerable now that he’s gotten past his “man or muppet” angst — and the film delivers. All the knowing winks to the grown-up fans in the audience are just an appreciated bonus. (1:46) (Cheryl Eddy)
Nymphomaniac: Volume I Found battered and unconscious in a back alley, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is taken in by good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgaard), to whom she explains “It’s all my fault — I’m just a bad human being.” But he doesn’t believe there are such things. She seeks to enlighten him by narrating the story of her life so far, from carnally curious childhood to sexually voracious adulthood. Stacy Martin plays her younger self through a guided tour of excesses variously involving Christian Slater and Connie Nielsen as her parents; a buncha guys fucked on a train, on a teenage dare; Uma Thurman as one histrionically scorned woman; and Shai LaBeouf as a first love who’s a cipher either because he’s written that way, or because this particular actor can’t make sense out of him. For all its intended provocation, including some graphic but unsurprisingly (coming from this director) unerotic XXX action, von Trier’s latest is actually less offensive than much of his prior output: He’s regained his sense of humor here, and annoying as its “Look at me, I’m an unpredictable artist” crap can be (notably all the stuff about fly-fishing, cake forks, numerology, etc. that seems randomly drawn from some Great Big Book of Useless Trivia), the film’s episodic progress is divertingly colorful enough. But is Joe going to turn out to be more than a two-dimensional authorial device from a director who’s never exactly sussed women (or liked people in general)? Will Nymphomaniac arrive at some pointed whole greater than the sum of its naughty bits? The answer to both is probably “Nah.” But we won’t know for sure until the two-hour second half arrives (April 4) of a movie that, in fairness, was never really intended to be split up like this. (1:50) (Dennis Harvey)
Shirin in Love This blandly TV-ready romantic comedy stars Nazanin Boniadi as a ditzy child of privilege in Beverly Hills’ Iranian-American community. Sent by her aggressively shallow magazine-editor mother (Anita Khalatbari) to find an elusive best-selling novelist for an interview, she not only stumbles upon that author (Amy Madigan) but discovers she’s already had a meet-cute with the latter’s hunky son (Riley Smith) under embarrassing circumstances. Will Shirin be able to shrug off the future her family has planned for her (including Maz Jobrani as a plastic-surgeon fiancé ) in order to, y’know, find herself? The very obvious answer takes its sweet time arriving in writer-director Ramin Niami’s innocuous film, which hews to a stale lineup of formulaic genre conventions even when relying on whopping coincidences to advance its predictable plot. The novelty of its particular social milieu goes unexplored in a movie that reveals even less about assimilated modern US Persian culture than My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) did about Greek Americans. (1:45) (Dennis Harvey)
Tiger and Bunny: The RisingBased on the Japanese anime series (and a 2012 film, Tiger and Bunny: The Beginning), this lighthearted look at superheroes with human problems imagines a world in which the blaring Hero TV channel tracks the movements of various caped crusaders, who compete against each other for points as they race to defeat random villains. All of the heroes, who we meet both in and out of costume, work for the same parent company, and each has a corporate sponsor whose logo is a prominent part of his or her ensemble. (Heroes are big business, after all.) In the first film, we met “Wild Tiger,” a bumbling single dad, who’s reluctantly paired with talented new kid “Bunny.” They clash at first, but eventually prove a powerful team. In The Rising, a douchey new boss relegates Tiger to the junior-varsity Second League, while Bunny gets an annoying new partner, “Golden Ryan.” Meanwhile, a mysterious trio of baddies menaces the city, forcing all of the heroes to work together whether they want to or not. The most surprising part of The Rising is its sensitive development of the “Fire Emblem” character. Presented as a mincing gay stereotype in the first film, here he’s given a sympathetic back story via dream sequences that detail his youthful exploration of cross-dressing and personal identity struggles. Encouraging, to say the least. (1:48) New People. (Cheryl Eddy)
Transportation Network Companies, more commonly known as “rideshares,” have operated in legal limbo regarding their insurance since their creation. This came to a head on New Year’s Eve with the death of six-year-old Sofia Liu, who was killed in a collision with an Uber car driven by a man named Syed Muzzafar. Uber claimed in a blog post that because Muzzafar was not ferrying a passenger at the time, and only using the app to search for fares, that he was not officially covered by their insurance.
That insurance gap left Muzzafar on the hook for the little girl’s death and the injuries of her family, the subject of a lawsuit that could end up seeking some $20 million in damages.
So far, Uber has not provided any compensation to Liu’s family. But it has revised its insurance policy, suggesting future collisions may be covered.
In a blog post, Uber announced that “in order to fully address any ambiguity or uncertainty around insurance coverage for ridesharing services,” it would expand drivers’ insurance “to cover any potential ‘insurance gap’ for accidents that occur while drivers are not providing transportation service for hire but are logged onto the Uber network and available to accept a ride.”
Uber’s new policy will cover up to $100,000 per incident for bodily injuries and $25,000 per incident for property damage. But the blog specifies that the money will not kick in if a driver’s personal insurance covers a collision, as appears to be the case with the New Year’s Eve incident.
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick said that the Syed Muzzafar’s personal insurance policy had offered to pay the claim, but had not yet followed through.
Uber’s spokesperson Andrew Noyes declined to comment when we asked him about this.
Notably, a coalition of rideshares including Lyft and Sidecar and a handful of insurance companies banded together to develop new insurance policies. The group’s work is ongoing, though the intent looks positive — new insurance policies specific to Transportation Network Companies developed by a coalition of industries would be a great step for driver, passenger and pedestrians alike.
But for now, commercial and personal insurance policies rarely, if ever, cover TNC drivers. And Uber’s new insurance? It’s great, as long as Uber follows through. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
Indecisive Democrats let real-estate developers win
By a slim margin, the governing body of the San Francisco Democratic Party voted Wed/12 to oppose a controversial June ballot measure, Proposition B, concerning waterfront height limits.
The initiative would require city officials to get voter approval before approving new building projects that are taller than what’s legally sanctioned under a comprehensive waterfront land-use plan. Prop. B stems from an effort last November, authored by the same proponents, to reverse approval for a luxury waterfront development project called 8 Washington, which exceeded building height limits. In the run-up to that election, the DCCC sided against the 8 Washington developers, and aligned itself with those seeking to strike down the 8 Washington height-limit increase in order to kill the project.
But this time, under the leadership of chair Mary Jung — who is employed as a lobbyist for the San Francisco Association of Realtors — the DCCC came down on the side of powerful real-estate developers.
The vote was surprising to some longtime political observers, given that until recently the DCCC was known as a progressive stronghold in San Francisco politics. Its slate cards are distributed to Democrats throughout San Francisco, and Democrats make up the vast majority of city voters.
In a politically significant outcome, the DCCC’s opposition to Prop. B was decided by a slim 13 to 12 vote. The threshold for it to pass or fail was much lower than usual, because so many DCCC members simply refused to take a stand.
San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu — who not only opposed 8 Washington but helped gather signatures for the referendum to challenge it — was among those who abstained. Chiu’s decision to abstain sets him apart from Campos, his opponent in the upcoming Assembly race, who voted to endorse Prop. B. Had Chiu voted, Prop. B’s opponents would not have had the votes to get the upper hand.
When reached for comment, Chiu told the Bay Guardian he still hasn’t formed an opinion on the measure, and that he’s waiting on a pending city analysis and the outcome of a lawsuit challenging it.
“There’s been very little analysis and I could take money away from affordable housing and cost the city money fighting a lawsuit,” he said, citing the money that developers would be spending on political campaigns as the potential source of affordable housing money.
“I am open to supporting the measure, as someone who passionate about waterfront development,” he added, citing the lead role he took in opposing the 8 Washington project. (Rebecca Bowe)
Local support for national LGBT housing rights
At the Tue/11 Board of Supervisors meeting, Sup. David Campos introduced legislation to encourage large-scale developers to protect the housing rights of the LGBT community.
Same-sex couples nationwide are more likely to experience discrimination in their search for senior housing, a study by the Washington, D.C. based Equal Rights Center found.
To investigate, testers posed as gay or straight couples with otherwise nearly identical credentials, then submitted inquiries on senior housing in 10 different states. They discovered that in 96 out of 200 tests, those posing as lesbian, gay or bisexual residents experienced at least one type of adverse, differential treatment.
Meanwhile, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender U.S. residents has been refused a home or apartment, and more than one in ten has been evicted, because of their gender identity.
Federal law does not expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. California law does, as do laws in 19 other states. Given these gaps in legal protection, real-estate providers can adopt their own policies to prohibit LGBT discrimination.
Campos’ proposal would require large-scale developers who wish to build in San Francisco to prove their commitment to equal housing opportunities.
“We want to know whether a developer hoping to build in San Francisco is protecting LGBT housing rights when they own or manage housing in states where legal protections don’t exist,” Campos explained. “By collecting this information, we can highlight best practices and urge those who do not have these policies to do the right thing.”
Last night heralded the opening of the Center for Asian American Media’s CAAMFest; it runs through March 23 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Great Star Theater, 636 Jackson, SF; New Parkway Theater, 474 24th St, Oakl; New People Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; and Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post, SF. For tickets (most shows $12) and complete schedule, visit www.caamedia.org. For commentary, see “The Art of Martial Arts,” “Telling Tales, ” and “Women With Movie Cameras.”
New movies after the jump.
Better Living Through ChemistrySam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, and Michelle Monaghan star in this dark comedy about a mild-mannered pharmacist whose life is upended when he meets a pill-addicted trophy wife. (1:31)
The Face of Love Five years after her husband, Garrett (Ed Harris), drowns while on vacation for their 30th anniversary, Nikki (Annette Bening) chances upon his exact double, Tom (Harris again). She pretends to be a divorcée and hides all photographic evidence that would out her reason for pursing Tom, an easygoing art professor and painter who actually is divorced (he’s buddies with his ex, a low-key Amy Brennemen). To her delight, he reciprocates her interest — but as their relationship grows, it becomes harder to conceal the, uh, doppelgänger situation from Nikki’s adult daughter (Jess Weixler) and neighbor (Robin Williams), a widower who’s jealous of Nikki’s new love. Harris and especially Bening are great — and they’re great together — but The Face of Love, from director and co-writer Arie Posin (2005’s The Chumscrubber), is the romantic melodrama equivalent of a one-joke comedy (with at least one Vertigo-inspired scene, and a drippy score that underlines every emotional story beat). The end to Nikki’s agonizing charade, and the end of the movie, can’t come soon enough. (1:32) (Cheryl Eddy)
Generation War German import Generation War was originally called Our Mothers, Our Fathers, to underline the relevancy of the discussion it’s presumably trying to stir at home — even if for many viewers the war generation would have been their grandparents’. Directed by Philipp Kadelbach and written by Stefan Kolditz, it starts out in dismayingly hackneyed fashion as we’re introduced to our youthful protagonists. Celebrating a birthday in 1941 near the war’s start, when Axis victory seems assured, they pose for a photo you know damn well is going to be the heart-tugging emblem of innocence horribly lost for the next 270 minutes. Fast-paced yet never achieving the psychological depth of similarly scaled historical epics, Generation War grows most interesting in its late going, when for all practical purposes the Allies have already won the war, but Germany continues to self-destruct. Imminent peace provides no relief for protagonists who’ve survived only to find themselves fucked no matter what side they stay on, or surrender to. That moral and situational complexity is too often missing in a narrative that aims for sympathy via simplicity. The underrated recent film version of The Book Thief (2013) was criticized for soft-pedaling the era, but it was about (and from the viewpoint of) somewhat sheltered Aryan children living in a civilian wartime. Generation War’s characters are of exactly the age to be fully indoctrinated young zealots, yet none of them seems touched by National Socialist dogma. Of course such naiveté is designed to maximize their later disillusionment. But War doesn’t even try to approach the serious analysis of national character in something like Ursula Hegi’s great novel Stones from the River, in which we come to understand how time, propaganda, and preyed-upon weaknesses can turn a town of perfectly nice Germans into fascists capable of turning a blind eye toward the Final Solution. Note: longer review here. (4:30) (Dennis Harvey)
The Grand Budapest Hotel Is this the first Wes Anderson movie to feature a shootout? It’s definitely the first Anderson flick to include a severed head. That’s not to say The Grand Budapest Hotel, “inspired by” the works of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, represents too much of a shift for the director — his intricate approach to art direction is still very much in place, as are the deadpan line deliveries and a cast stuffed with Anderson regulars. But there’s a slightly more serious vibe here, a welcome change from 2012’s tooth-achingly twee Moonrise Kingdom. Thank Ralph Fiennes’ performance as liberally perfumed concierge extraordinare M. Gustave, which mixes a shot of melancholy into the whimsy, and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero, his loyal lobby boy, who provides gravitas despite only being a teenager. (Being played by F. Murray Abraham as an older adult probably helps in that department.) Hotel‘s early 20th century Europe setting proves an ideal canvas for Anderson’s love of detail — the titular creation rivals Stanley Kubrick’s rendering of the Overlook Hotel — and his supporting cast, as always, looks to be enjoying the hell out of being a part of Anderson’s universe, with Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Adrien Brody having particularly oversized fun. Is this the best Wes Anderson movie since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums? Yes. (1:40) (Cheryl Eddy)
Love and Demons A man (Chris Pfleuger) in the midst of a midlife crisis, a woman (Lucia Frangione) starting to realize she’s completely dissatisfied with her life — does this relationship have a chance? Enter each partner’s personal demon, eager to have a hand in shaping events in what turns into a not-so-friendly competition. At first, the intervention seems helpful; the male demon encourages the man, a wannabe screenwriter, to get a better job, clean up the apartment, and blurt out feel-good-isms like “I want to build something together.” But what’s this about murder? Meanwhile, the female demon (Arnica Skulstad Brown) appears to be the ultimate gal pal, stroking the woman’s ego by telling her she could do so much better, going on shopping sprees with her, and sharing her stay-skinny coke stash. Temptations ahoy! Written, directed by, and costarring local filmmaker JP Allen (as the male demon, he’s the cast’s cigarette-smoking, smirking high point) this intriguing look at modern love earns bonus points for its excellent use of SF locations — and creative editing that helps break up the film’s many voice-overs and fourth-wall-breaking moments. (1:24) (Cheryl Eddy)
Need for SpeedBreaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul stars in this tale of a breakneck cross-country car race, an adaptation of the popular video game. (2:10)
Particle Fever “We are hearing nature talk to us,” a physicist remarks in awe near the end of Particle Fever, Mark Levinson’s intriguing doc about the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson particle. Earlier, another scientist says, “I’ve never heard of a moment like this in [science] history, where an entire field is hinging on a single event.” The event, of course, is the launch of the Large Hardon Collider, the enormous machine that enabled the discovery. Though some interest in physics is probably necessary to enjoy Particle Fever, extensive knowledge of quarks and such is not, since the film uses elegant animation to refresh the basics for anyone whose eyes glazed over during high-school science. But though he offers plenty of context, Levinson wisely focuses his film on a handful of genial eggheads who are involved in the project, either hands-on at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), or watching from afar as the mighty LHC comes to life. Their excitement brings a welcome warmth to the proceedings — and their “fever” becomes contagious. (1:39) (Cheryl Eddy)
Veronica Mars Since the cult fave TV show Veronica Mars went off the air in 2007, fans of the series, about a smart, cynical teenager who solves mysteries and battles her high school’s one percenters — a sort of adolescent noir minus the ex nihilo patois of Rian Johnson’s 2005 Brick — have had their hopes raised and dashed several times regarding the possibility of a big-screen coda. While that sort of scenario usually involves a few of the five stages of grief, this one has a twist happy ending: a full-length film, directed by show creator Rob Thomas and cowritten by Thomas and show producer-writer Diane Ruggiero (with a budget aided by a crowdfunding campaign), that doesn’t suck. It’s been a decade since graduation, and Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) has put a continent between herself and her creepy, class war–torn hometown of Neptune, Calif. — leaving behind her P.I. vocation and a track record of exposing lies, corruption, and the dark side of the human soul in favor of a Columbia law degree and a career of covering up same. But when Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), her brooding, troubled ex, gets charged with the murder of his pop star girlfriend and asks Veronica for help, she can’t resist the pull of what she admits is a pathological impulse. Plus, it’s her 10-year reunion. And indeed, pretty much anyone who had a character arc during the show’s three seasons makes an appearance — plus (naturally) James Franco, Dax Shepard (Bell’s husband), and (oddly) Ira Glass. It could have been a cameo fusillade, but the writing here is as smart, tight, funny, and involving as it was on the TV series, and Thomas and Ruggiero for the most part manage to thread everyone in, taking pressure off a murder mystery that falls a little flat, updating the story to reflect current states of web surveillance and pop cultural mayhem, and keeping the focus on the joy of seeing Veronica back where she belongs. (1:43) (Lynn Rapoport)
Few have shaped the Internet like Aaron Swartz. A programmer and Internet freedom advocate, Swartz’s activism challenged the notion that information should be owned. An open web, he argued, is key to the betterment of humanity.
His life ended abruptly, at the age of 26. Many hail him as a hero. Fighting through his demons, Swartz pioneered technology dedicated to free and open access to information. He helped inspire an ongoing national movement against online censorship.
This illustrated story also appeared in this week’s Bay Guardian newspaper, which you can find in newsstands around the Bay Area, and digitally below.
San Francisco continues to lead the way in the nation’s environmental policy, with the Board of Supervisors on March 4 voting unanimously to bar the city from buying plastic water bottles and to ban distribution of plastic water bottles smaller than 21 ounces on city property starting Oct. 1. The ban excludes city marathons and other sporting events.
"We all know with climate change, and the importance of combating climate change, San Francisco has been leading the way to fight for our environment," Board President David Chiu, who authored the legislation, said at the hearing. "That’s why I ask you to support this ordinance to reduce and discourage single-use, single-serving plastic water bottles in San Francisco."
Chiu held up a water bottle at the board meeting, a quarter of the way full with oil, to illustrate how much oil is used in the production and transport of plastic water bottles. He also reminded San Franciscans that the current fad of buying bottled water only started in the 1990s when the bottled water industry mounted a huge ad campaign that got Americans buying bottled water.
Nine environmental activists were arrested in San Francisco for marching through the financial district and entering One Spear Tower on March 3, the building that houses local offices of the State Department, to express opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
A day earlier, a mass protest against the oil pipeline was staged outside the White House in Washington, D.C. Roughly 200 protesters were arrested after using plastic zip ties to lock themselves to the White House fence.
Meanwhile, thousands more have made a vow at least in the sense of clicking to add their name to a petition to engage in peaceful civil disobedience if President Barack Obama grants ultimate approval for the oil infrastructure project, which would transport 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
Nonprofit Credo Action has created an online petition urging people to get ready to respond with peaceful civil disobedience if the pipeline wins final approval. (Rebecca Bowe)
City weighs lawsuit over Airbnb
The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office is finally preparing to take action against the illegal short-term housing rentals facilitated by Airbnb, something we’ve been hearing that the Examiner also reported on March 6 ("SF landlords could face legal fight over rentals on Airbnb, other services"), an action that would address the company’s apparent stall tactics.
Despite a business model that violates a variety of San Francisco laws most notably zoning, planning, and tenant regulations and Airbnb’s flagrant flouting of a two-year-old city ruling that it should be collecting and paying the city’s transient occupancy tax (see "Into thin air," Aug. 6), the City has appeared unwilling or unable to enforce its laws or address these issues.
"We’re aware of multiple housing allegations, including some that community leaders have brought to us," City Attorney’s Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey told the Guardian, confirming that the office is considering taking legal action to enforce local laws governing short-term housing rentals but refusing to provide details.
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu took on the problem over a year ago, working with the company and its critics to develop compromise legislation that would legalize and tax the activities of Airbnb and its hosts, but the multi-layered legal and logistical challenges in doing so have so far proven too much for the otherwise effective legislator.
"My staff has held meetings with Planning staff and its enforcement team to discuss enforcement and related challenges. We’ve also been in touch with the City Attorney’s Office on these issues," Chiu told the Guardian, saying he and his staff have recently been focused on other tenants and secondary unit legislation, but they "plan to refocus on our shareable housing efforts soon." (Steven T. Jones)
ABC7 News Investigative Team’s new "investigative report" on pedestrian safety stirred controversy last week as street safety advocates called out the video for its insensitivity towards pedestrian deaths and lax attitude towards unsafe drivers.
Streetsblog SF and others in San Francisco said the report engaged in "victim blaming."
ABC7’s pedestrian safety coverage comes on the heels of a number of high-profile traffic collision deaths, including that of 6-year-old Sofia Liu, killed on New Year’s Eve. Since then, the Walk First program to create safer streets has garnered more attention, culminating in Mayor Ed Lee’s announcement today to partially fund safety improvements to the city’s most dangerous intersections, to the tune of $17 million improvements that languished due to funding gaps since the program was announced in April.
But making all the needed improvements though would cost $240 million, according to city estimates, and that funding has yet to be identified. Suffice to say, the traffic enforcement debate still rages in San Francisco, with emphasis on the word ‘rage.’
"We’ve seen ‘blame the pedestrians’ from police and in the media," Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, said at a pedestrian safety hearing in January. Police Chief Greg Suhr that night apologized for his officers’ lax enforcement of drivers, and focus on pedestrians, and pledged to change policies to focus on drivers going forward.
It’s too bad ABC 7’s I-Team didn’t get that memo.
"In San Francisco, simply stepping off the curb can be deadly," ABC reporter Dan Noyes narrates in their video report. The word ‘deadly’ is capped off with a Hollywood-style musical flourish, like a horror movie moments before the big scare.
"Pedestrians are making mistakes over and over again," Noyes narrates. The video cuts to pedestrian after pedestrian looking at cell phones, jaywalking, or otherwise engaging in unsafe behavior. It’s fair to say the piece, headlined "I-Team investigates what’s causing pedestrian deaths," places responsibility of pedestrian safety squarely on the shoulders of pedestrians. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
The California High Speed rail project has been facing resistance that threatens to derail the project. Not only has public support for the $68 billion project wavered in recent years, now the project faces a legal battle that could delay the project before the first rail is laid.
On March 4, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled that a lawsuit brought on by King County can go to trial. The lawsuit raises questions about the legality of using 2008’s voter-approved Prop 1A funding, $9.95 billion worth of bonds, to upgrade and electrify Caltrain’s tracks and incorporate them into the high speed system.
Another concern was that the proposed high-speed system would not be able to pull through with its promise of a 2 hour 40 minute nonstop ride from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles’ Union Station if the high speed system had to share tracks with Caltrain.
The lawsuit also threatens to leave San Francisco’s new $4.5 billion Transbay Terminal without its planned underground high speed rail station, which could be disastrous for that project as well.
None of this seems to faze Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute based out of San Jose State University and former founding board member of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board. He told the Guardian: "I think that [the project] will happen now. I think that our wonderful governor and our legislative leaders are going make it happen now…. If it was delayed it would only be a matter of time before it came back." (Francisco Alvarado)
The Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California, will honor the following James Madison Freedom of Information Award winners during a March 20 banquet. Details on their work and the dinner are available at www.spjnorcal.org.
VOICE FOR PRISONERS
Throughout his 29-year journalism career, Peter Sussman, a retired San Francisco Chronicle editor, advocated for greater media access to prisoners and fought to uphold the rights of inmate journalists. In the 1980s, federal prison officials cracked down on inmate Dannie “Red Hog” Martin for writing to Sussman to share what life was like behind bars.
The retaliation spurred an epic battle over free speech within prison walls, and Sussman responded by publishing Martin’s regular writings about prison life, and later co-authoring a book with him titled Committing Journalism: The Prison Writings of Red Hog.
In the mid-’90s, Sussman fought state prison officials’ restrictions on media interviews with prisoners. He also helped write and sponsor statewide legislation to overturn limits restricting media access to prisons. Sussman will receive the Norwin S. Yoffie Award for Career Achievement.
GUIDING ASPIRING JOURNALISTS
Beverly Kees Educator Award winner Rob Gunnison is a former instructor and administrator at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he arrived after spending 15 years covering government and politics in Sacramento for the San Francisco Chronicle.
As a longtime instructor of a course called “Reporting and Writing the News,” Gunnison has continued to educate hungry young journalists on how to seek public records and carry out investigative reporting projects.
Peter Buxton will be honored with the FOI Whistleblower/Source Award. In 1972, Buxton played a key role in alerting the press to the ongoing operation of the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, where African American sharecroppers were intentionally exposed to the disease, without treatment or their knowledge, so researchers could study its progression.
By the time the story was related to the press, 28 men had died of syphilis, and 100 others had died of related complications. That leak helped spur Congressional hearings on the practice beginning in 1973, ultimately spurring a complete overhaul of federal regulations. A class-action lawsuit was filed, resulting in a $10 million settlement.
EXPOSING BART’S SCHEME
Reporter Tom Vacar of KTVU pushed for records determining whether replacement drivers that BART was training to help break last year’s labor strike were qualified to safely operate the trains, eventually finding that they had been simply rubber-stamped by the California Public Utilities Commission.
Those findings proved gravely significant on Oct. 21 when two workers on the tracks were killed by a BART train operated at the time by an uncertified trainee, an accident still being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.
STANDING FOR SUNSHINE
California Sen. Leland Yee is once again being honored by SPJ Norcal for his work on sunshine issues, including last year criticizing Gov. Jerry Brown and other fellow Democrats who had sought to weaken the California Public Records Act, instead seeking to strengthen the ability of the courts to enforce the law.
FIGHTING THE CITY
Freelance journalist Richard Knee’s Distinguished Service Award caps a 12-year fight for open government in a city eager to stash its skeletons securely in closets.
Knee is a longtime member of the San Francisco’s Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, created in 1994 to safeguard the city’s Sunshine Ordinance, and he has fought to maintain its power and relevance.
Over the years, many city agencies have fought against the task force, from the City Attorney’s Office to a group of four supervisors who claimed the task force was wasting public money, a struggle that is still ongoing.
BADGES AND ACCOUNTABILITY
The Lake County News and its co-founders Elizabeth Larson and John Jensen will received a News Media Award for a protracted legal battle with local law enforcement for a simple journalistic right: interview access.
The scrappy local paper detailed allegations that Lake County Sheriff Frank Rivero and his deputies wrongfully detained suspects on trumped up charges, made threats, conducted warrantless home searches, and violated suspects’ civil rights.
Rivero’s office responded by blacklisting the paper from interviews, a fundamental building block of news coverage. The paper sued the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, eventually winning its battle to obtain the right to keep asking the sheriff the tough questions.
PROTECTING THEIR SOURCES
When Saratoga High School student Audrie Potts committed suicide in September 2012, her parents alleged she was pushed over the edge by cyber bullying over photos of Potts at a party. High school journalists Samuel Liu, Sabrina Chen, and Cristina Curcelli of The Saratoga Falcon scooped the sensational national media outlets that descended on the story, but they were subpoenaed by the Potts family to reveal their sources.
They refused, citing California’s shield law in a successful legal defense that strengthened the rights of student journalists. As Liu said, “We are not willing to destroy our journalistic integrity by giving up our confidential sources, we got this information on the condition of anonymity, from people that trusted us.”
BUYING FRIENDS AT CITY HALL
Bay Guardian News Editor Rebecca Bowe and Reporter Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez are being honored with a Journalist Award for “Friends in the Shadows,” (10/8/13) our investigation of the shady ways that developers and other powerful players buy influence at City Hall.
“Their detailed and thorough account explored a trail of money through myriad city agencies and departments,” the awards committee wrote, noting how the paper “used public records, interviews and independent research to probe how developers, corporations and city contractors use indirect gifts to city agencies to buy influence.”
NEWS FROM INSIDE
For accomplishing “extraordinary journalism under extraordinary circumstances,” The San Quentin News is being honored with a News Media Award. It is California’s only inmate-produced newspaper, and one of the few in existence worldwide.
The San Quentin News publishes about 20 pages monthly, and has a press run of 11,500 for inmates, correctional officers, staff, and community members. It’s distributed to 17 other prisons throughout California.
Under the scrutiny of prison authorities, the inmate journalists and volunteers wound up covering a historic prison hunger strike, the overcrowding of the prison population, and the denial of compassionate release for a dying inmate, an octogenarian with a terminal illness.
The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), better known as the name it held prior to 2001, the School of the Americas, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers and commanders, with many graduates going on to commit human rights atrocities.
School of the Americas Watch founder Judith Litesky, a former nun, and Theresa Cameranesi, filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco seeking the list of those who had gone though courses that include counter insurgency techniques, sniper training, psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics.
Last year, the pair won a significant victory when a federal judge in Oakland ruled that the government could not cite national security reasons in withholding the names. Although the case is ongoing, they are being honored with a Citizen Award.
FIGHTING CORPORATE SNOOPS
In 2008, journalists from The New York Times and BusinessWeek looked to Terry Gross of Gross Belsky Alonso for legal counsel in a case against Hewlett-Packard. In a staggering display of corporate snooping, the tech giant had illegally obtained private telephone records of the journalists, in an attempt to gain access to the identities of their sources.
Gross has also defended journalists against police in cases regarding media access for breaking-news events, and he’s helped to expand the rights of online journalists. This year, Gross will receive the FOI Legal Counsel Award.
BAD BRIDGE, GOOD JOURNALIST
Sacramento Bee Senior Investigative Reporter Charles Piller will be honored with a Journalist Award for exposing corrosion problems in the long delayed, cost-plagued eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. His breaking story and subsequent follow-ups revealed Caltrans’ inadequate corrosion testing, as well as inadequate responses to bridge inspectors who for more than two years warned Caltrans of water leaks and corrosion — only to go unheeded.
Editorial and Commentary Award winner Daniel Borenstein, who writes for the Bay Area News Group, issued a strong response to a legislative attack on California’s Public Records Act last year, ultimately helping to defeat proposed changes that would have gutted the law.
“Without the state Public Records Act, we would never know about the Oakley City Manager’s $366,500 taxpayer-funded mortgage scheme, the Washington Township hospital CEO’s $800,000-plus annual compensation or the retired San Ramon Valley fire chief’s $310,000 yearly pension,” Borenstein wrote in one of his columns. “We would be ignorant of broken bolts on the Bay Bridge, the cover-up of Moraga teachers sexually abusing students, a BART train operator who collected salary and benefits totaling $193,407, the former BART general manager who received $420,000 the year after she was fired or the Port of Oakland executives who spent $4,500 one night at a Texas strip club.”
A company that operates a coal mine in Colorado has been looking to ship its fossil fuel products to Asia via the Port of Oakland.
A coalition of environmental organizations sounded the alarm that the Board of Port Commissioners was considering a lease proposal from Bowie Resource Partners to operate a coal export facility at Oakland’s Charles P. Howard Terminal.
Another proposal submitted for consideration, from California Capital Group/ Kinder Morgan/ MetroPorts, could also lead to coal exports, said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, conservation organizer for the Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“We’ve really reduced our use of coal in this country, but that means we’ve just been sending it to Asia,” Dervin-Ackerman noted.
In addition to the global concerns about exacerbating climate change by shipping coal to be burned in power plants in Asia, where there are weaker environmental protections, environmentalists are worried that Oakland neighborhoods could be impacted by pollution from rail operations and fine coal dust that could leave airborne traces behind as it is transported to the marine terminals.
Bowie proposed to ship not only coal, but petroleum coke, a pulverized fossil fuel that is illegal to burn in California. Already 128,000 barrels of this product, called petcoke for short, are shipped daily from throughout the state.
Port of Oakland staff, however, has recommended rejecting the proposals from both entities.
“Staff believes that Bowie’s proposed use and operation of the property raises environmental concerns related to the handling of commodities such as coal. Environmental concerns about handling commodities such as coal stem primarily from issues of fugitive dust and climate change,” a staff report noted. “Port staff believes that operations such as those proposed by Bowie conflict with recently adopted Port policies and programs intended to create or support environmental sustainability.”
In the face of opposition from environmentalists and the staff, the board voted against the proposals on Feb. 27. (Rebecca Bowe)
Register your bike
A new program registering San Francisco bicycles and their owners enrolled just over 500 bicyclists in its first two weeks, a small success story in the effort to reunite riders with their stolen bicycles.
The program in question is Safe Bikes, a joint venture between the SFPD and SF Safe. Cyclists can log onto its website, register their bike’s make and model, and when victims report a bike theft to police they can be reunited with their two-wheeled friend just as easily. There are 75,000 bike riders a day in San Francisco, according to the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s office, a buffet of tantalizing goods for bike thieves.
More than 500 bikes are a small dent in that number, but for only a two-week start it isn’t too bad. Safe Bikes Manager Morgan St. Clair said it’s only just begun its outreach. Next month, it plans to host an event at Twitter headquarters, where it will give away 50 Kryptonite locks, funded by the San Francisco Police Officers Association.
“We’ve only gone to three bike shops so far,” she said. But in the coming months St. Clair and her team of 15 volunteers have a city full of shops they plan to visit.
An estimated 4,000 bicycles were stolen from riders in 2012, though only 812 were reported to police. St. Clair said there is a perception problem.
“They think the police department isn’t doing anything and say ‘oh, what the heck,’ and don’t think they’ll ever get it back,” she said. “We’re trying to change that mentality.”
In fact, the SFPD has been a strong driver of getting bikes back into the hands of owners, mostly at the behest of Officer Matt Friedman. He runs @SFbiketheft, a Twitter handle that tries to recover stolen bicycles and link them to owners.
“We really want people to report more bicycle thefts,” St. Clair said. And to have those reports be effective, people need to register their bikes. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
Newsom misses the train
As California struggles to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and meet the long-term transportation needs of a growing population, officials from Gov. Jerry Brown to Mayor Ed Lee have steadfastly supported the embattled California High-Speed Rail Project, which Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently withdrew his support from. California now has until July 1 to find funds to match the federal grants.
It’s not exactly surprising that this calculating and politically ambitious centrist would cave in to conservatives like this, particularly as Newsom tries to set himself up to succeed Brown in four years. But it’s a sharp contrast to more principled politicians like Brown, and to those trying to create the transportation system future generations will need, as President Barack Obama took a step toward doing by announcing new federal transportation funding.
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox is also taking part in the three-day High Speed Rail Summit, sponsored by the United State High-Speed Rail Association, that began Feb. 25 in Washington DC. Its theme was Full Speed Ahead.
“Secretary Foxx’s experience at the local level as mayor of Charlotte is extremely valuable for shaping national transportation policy. We look forward to working with the Secretary to advance high speed rail in America across party lines,” USHSRA President and CEO Andy Kunz said in a press release.
While Newsom’s new tack may play well with myopic, penny-pinching, car-dependent moderate and conservative voters, many of his allies and constituents were furious with his about-face on a project that promises to get riders from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in less than three hours.
Among those unhappy is San Francisco resident Peter Nasatir, who forwarded the Guardian a letter that he sent to Newsom’s office, which concluded, “High-speed rail is coming. The economy demands it, the environment demands it, and Central Valley population growth demands it. You may get some votes from moderates in the short run, but in the long run, you have positioned yourself as the most prominent person in the state to be on the wrong side of history.” (Steven T. Jones)
App for homelessness
Mayor Ed Lee, Sup. Jane Kim, and representatives from tech firm Zendesk gathered at St. Anthony’s in the Tenderloin Feb. 28 to announce the launch of a new smartphone tool, Link-SF, to help homeless and low-income people access services.
Zendesk is a customer-service software company near Sixth and Market streets. It was the first tech company to move into mid-Market in 2011 and take advantage of the city’s Central Market Payroll Tax Exclusion Zone (aka the “Twitter tax break”), a controversial bid to attract tech companies to an area that has historically had the city’s highest concentration of poverty.
Financially speaking, Zendesk is doing quite well. In 2012, it raised $60 million in new funding and hired 160 new employees. That same year, the city’s Central Market tax exclusion resulted in about $1.9 million in forgone revenues that the city would have otherwise collected from 14 companies that took advantage of the payroll-tax exclusion zone. Zendesk has 350 San Francisco employees, and Public Affairs Director Tiffany Maleshefski told the Bay Guardian that the company has contributed a collective 1,400 hours of volunteer service to uphold the company’s end of a community benefit agreement deal with the city, a requirement for those receiving the local tax breaks. “Link-SF was part of the community benefit agreement,” Maleshefski confirmed. The smartphone app, designed for use by homeless and low-income people seeking services, provides data on food, shelter, medical, or employment assistance programs. “It’s empowering for the users.” (Rebecca Bowe) RIP, Bush Man II San Francisco has lost one of its own. Gregory Jacobs passed away of heart failure on Feb. 23. He’s less known by his full name, but better known by his moniker, “The Bush Man.” No, he’s not the original Bush Man. That would be David Johnson, who’d been there for 36 years, compared to Jacobs’ 30. Little matter. Jacobs was a San Franciscan through and through. Like many San Franciscans, he came here from somewhere else, in his case the “somewhere else” was Arkansas. But Jacobs was known and loved here in the city. The man was dedicated to his work: sitting along Jefferson street and spooking tourists by shouting “boo!” from behind two large and bushy tree branches. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
San Francisco activists and labor filed an appeal of the controversial commuter shuttle (aka, the Google buses) pilot program with the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 19, alleging it was pushed through without a proper environmental review.
The appeal was filed by a coalition of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, SEIU 1021, The League of Pissed Off Voters, and Sara Shortt of the Housing Rights Committee.
The shuttles, mostly to Silicon Valley tech firms, pick up passengers at Muni bus stops. The use of public bus stops would incur a $271 fine for private autos, and often do, but the shuttles have largely received a free pass from the city. Last month, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency approved a pilot plan hatched behind closed doors that allows use of 200 bus stops by the private shuttles, charging only $1 per stop, per day.
The appeal alleges that the program needed review under the California Environmental Quality Act, which asks for projects to be analyzed for, among other things, land use, housing, and public health impacts.
“CEQA actually identifies displacement as an environmental impact,” attorney Richard Drury, who filed the appeal on behalf of the coalition, told us. “Almost no one knows that. Honestly I didn’t know that, until I started researching all of this.”
If the Board of Supervisors doesn’t back the appeal, there may be a court battle on the environmental impact of the shuttle stops, which increase rents and home prices nearby.
Paul Rose, spokesperson for the SFMTA, responded to the complaint in an email to the Guardian.
“We developed this pilot proposal to help ensure the most efficient transportation network possible by reducing Muni delays and further reducing congestion on our roadways,” Rose wrote. “We are confident that the CEQA clearance is appropriate and will be upheld.” (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
Library cracks down on the homeless
The way homeless residents are treated in San Francisco has come under scrutiny lately, with recent reports of homeless individuals being sprayed with hoses by Department of Public Works staff who started doing early-morning sidewalk cleanings nearby Twitter’s mid-Market headquarters.
This week, much discussion has been focused on homeless individuals’ use of the city’s Main Library — and while library administrators say they are just trying to make the facility safe and enjoyable for everyone, advocates have voiced concern that the homeless are being unfairly targeted.
“We want people to use the library from all walks of life,” library spokesperson Michelle Jeffers told the Guardian, saying a new set of proposed policies is not meant to be directed at homeless people in particular.
But it’s difficult to imagine who else would be bathing in the restrooms, for instance, or bringing a shopping cart into the library.
There is even a line in the code of conduct policy that forbids emitting “strong or pervasive odors.” While the policy notes that this could mean perfume, it could also mean body odor.
At a recent meeting, the San Francisco Library Commission considered bulking up security staff and imposing stricter penalties for these violations and others, such as sleeping in the library, asking for money, or bringing carts or luggage into the building.
Under proposed revisions to the library’s “Code of Conduct,” patrons could face tougher penalties for such offenses. (Rebecca Bowe)
Kelly runs in D10
After being narrowly edged out in the race for the District 10 seat on the Board of Supervisors four years ago, Potrero Hill political activist Tony Kelly launch his campaign for the seat Feb. 19, challenging incumbent Malia Cohen.
In 2010, after former Sup. Sophie Maxwell was termed out, the D10 race was a wide open contest that had low voter turnout and the squirreliest ranked-choice voting ending that the city has seen. On election night, former BART director Lynette Sweet finished first, followed by Kelly, a third place tie between Cohen and Marlene Tran, and Potrero Hill View publisher Steve Moss in fourth.
But the strong negative campaigning between Sweet and Moss, the leading fundraisers in the race, allowed the likable but then relatively unknown Cohen to vault into the lead on the strength of second- and third-place votes, finishing a few hundred votes in front of Kelly, who came in second.
Cohen has had an unremarkable tenure on the board, spearheading few significant legislative pushes and being an ideological mixed bag on key votes. But she’ll likely retain the support of African American leaders and voters in Bayview and Hunters Point, and enjoy the always significant advantage of incumbency.
Kelly hopes to turn that advantage into a disadvantage, tying Cohen to City Hall economic development policies that have caused gentrification and displacement. “Too many San Franciscans face an uphill battle, especially here in District 10,” Kelly said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “Our district is part of one of the richest cities in the richest state in the richest country in the world, and yet our neighborhoods are home to the highest unemployment rates in the City, our homeowners are at risk of foreclosure, and our tenants at risk of evictions. This is unacceptable, and we must do better.” (Steven T. Jones)
Obamacare vs. HealthySF
Thousands of Healthy San Francisco enrollees will soon face a dilemma.
Federal health care reform will hold them to the “individual mandate,” a requirement to obtain health insurance — but Healthy San Francisco doesn’t count. Roughly 70 percent of uninsured San Franciscans currently rely upon the city-administered program, created by San Francisco’s Health Care Security Ordinance, to access medical care.
Anyone who doesn’t satisfy the individual mandate will be made to fork over $95 as a penalty — but that noncompliance fee will skyrocket to $625 in 2015.
Meanwhile, people who are eligible for subsidized health insurance under the Affordable Care Act will automatically become ineligible for Healthy San Francisco under current rules, according to San Francisco Department of Public Health Deputy Director of Health Colleen Chawla.
The prospect of becoming suddenly ineligible for Healthy San Francisco will leave thousands of residents in the bind of being unable to rely on the system they now use to access care, while also being unable to afford the new insurance option — and so far, city officials have found no clear resolution to this dilemma.
Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, who authored the legislation that created Healthy San Francisco as a member of the Board of Supervisors, admonished the Department of Public Health last week for turning away enrollees, conveying to program participants that only those who are undocumented would be eligible to remain in Healthy San Francisco. On Feb. 18, the San Francisco Health Commission approved a temporary solution, signing off on a resolution that creates a “transition period” allowing Healthy San Francisco enrollees to remain in the program until the end of the 2014. (Rebecca Bowe)
SF has fastest growing wealth gap
San Francisco has the second highest gap between the rich and the poor in the United States, according to a new study from the Brookings Institution. The study looked at US Census data across different income levels and ranked cities for not only the widening chasm between the rich and the poor, but also the speed at which that gap increased. Though San Francisco has the second widest income inequality gap (second to Atlanta, where the poor are poorer, but the rich far less rich than here), it’s tops in terms of the speed at which the wealthy are pulling away from the rest of us, the study found. “Not surprisingly, San Francisco experienced the largest increase in its ratio from 2007 to 2012,” the Brookings Institution reported. “Income for its typical 20th-percentile household dropped $4,000 during that period, while income for its typical 95th-percentile household soared by $28,000. No other city saw nearly as large an increase in its rich households’ incomes.” (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)