Guardian Staff Writers

Holiday Guide 2008


Think global, shop local

Funny how quickly this holiday season has snuck up on us, isn’t it? That election sure was distracting. Here’s hoping our ultimate holiday gift guide can help you navigate these next few months while you’re busy celebrating President Obama and protesting Prop. 8. Speaking of politics, the Guardian has joined a national effort to support local businesses this year as a way to boost our economy. Read Tim Redmond’s explanation. May this be a holiday season of change!

Molly Freedenberg

Holiday Guide editor

All illustrations by Justin Renteria

>>Think global, shop local
Saving SF’s economy one gift at a time
By Tim Redmond

>>Guilt-free gifts
A guide to supporting good causes
By Katie Baker

>>Head Bangin’
Too much metal for one gift
Photo by Arlene Romana, styling by Ben Hopfer

>>Graphic gifts
Epic comics for your twisted loved ones
By Justin Hall

>>The game room
Fantastic new releases for computers and consoles
By Daniel N. Alvarez

>>Burner bourgeois
Leather and feathers trump fun fur and faux fabrics
Photo by Arlene Romana, styling by Ben Hopfer

>>Seasonal sounds
Sifting through the year’s albums and shows for melodic gifting
By Brandon Bussolini

Retro, velo-inspired ideas for hipster gifts
Photo by Arlene Romana, styling by Ben Hopfer

>>Giving on a shoestring
Cheap and DIY ideas for the financially-challenged
By Molly Freedenberg

>>Not your pilgrim’s pie
Modern pumpkin desserts for the historically-minded
By Meghan McCloskey

>>So fresh, so clean
Hip-hop duds for your homies
Photo by Arlene Romana, styling by Ben Hopfer

>>A holiday from the holidays
Spa ideas for the weary shopper or lucky gift-getter
By Chloe Schildhause

The Milk Issue


It took Hollywood 30 years to make a feature film about the life of Harvey Milk, and when Gus Van Sant finally got the gig, and Sean Penn agreed to play the title role, it came out too late to have an impact on the California election. Would Milk, the movie, have helped defeat Prop. 8? Nobody knows. But the movie is inspirational, and with any luck will carry the message of Milk’s life to the masses. Milk always said that the more straight Americans got to know gay and lesbian people, the more they would be open to equal rights.

The Guardian covered Milk’s career as it was happening, devoted a special issue to him when he was assassinated, covered the trial of Dan White and the infamous Twinkie Defense and the riots afterward. And with the movie hitting theaters this month, we’re taking a look not just as the movie but the political legacy of Harvey Milk.

>>Political theater
Gus Van Sant gives Harvey Milk his close-up
By Kimberly Chun

>>Politics behind the picture
Would Harvey Milk be happy with San Francisco today?
By Steven T. Jones and Tim Redmond

>>I remember Harvey
Guardian memories of the long-haired young hopeful
By Bruce B. Brugmann

>>The apathy and the ecstacy
St. Harvey inflames, but does he inspire?
By Marke B.

>>Hot flash gallery
Now and then in the photography of Daniel Nicoletta
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Behind the “Twinkie Defense”
The reporter who coined the infamous phrase looks back at the White trial
By Paul Krassner

>>Past, present, future
The time is now for The Times of Harvey Milk
By Johnny Ray Huston

>>Where’s Harry?
Harvey Milk’s political torchbearer gets written out of film history
By Tim Redmond

From the archives (PDF)
How the District Attorney Joe Freitas’s office blew the Dan White murder case, May 23, 1979
By Robert Levering and David Johnston

Sustainable San Francisco


In honor of our 42nd year printing the news and raising hell, the Guardian imagines a sustainable future for San Francisco, with visions for energy, land use, food, transportation, culture, and the economy.

A city transformed: Fighting the power structure, and building a sustainable community, for 42 amazing years

People’s power: A sustainable energy system is well within San Francisco’s reach

First, do no harm: A sustainable land use plan is about what we don’t allow as well as what we do

Beyond the automobile: The road to sustainability has lanes for more than just cars

Just Food Nation: Transforming how we eat will address poverty, public health, and environmental sustainability

Culture isn’t convenient: Sustaining entertainment and nightlife in San Francisco requires awareness and a policy shift

The money at home: A sustainable local economy starts with small business – and the public sector

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: For 42 years, the Guardian has been writing about environmental issues, land-use issues, energy issues economic issues … and when you read back issues, you can see the outlines of what we now call a platform for a sustainable city. We’ve gone back through the archives and pulled out some of our anniversary issues that fit into that theme. You can see the covers and read the main pieces here (all files PDFs):

Oct 6- 13, 1982
16th anniversary issue

Oct 12- 19, 1983
17th anniversary issue

Oct 10- 17, 1984
18th anniversary issue

Oct 23- 30, 1985
19th anniversary issue

Oct 22- 29, 1986
A Bay Guardian study showing that as highrises have gone up, downtown SF has lost jobs.

Oct 7- 13, 1998
33rd anniversary issue

Oct 10- 16, 2001
35th anniversary issue

Oct 16- 22, 2002
36th anniversary issue

Oct 22- 28, 2003
37th anniversary issue

Endorsements 2008



Endorsements 2008: East Bay races and measures



Alameda County Superior Court judge, Seat 9


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

Berkeley mayor


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

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

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

Berkeley City Council

District 2


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

District 3


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

District 4


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

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

District 5


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

District 6


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

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

Berkeley School Board



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

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

Berkeley Rent Board






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

Oakland City Council, at-large


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

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

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

AC Transit Board of Directors

At large


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

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

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

Ward 2


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

East Bay Municipal Utility District

Director, Ward 5


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

Director, Ward 6


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

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

East Bay Regional Parks District

Director, Ward 1


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


Berkeley Measure FF

Library bonds


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

Berkeley Measure GG

Emergency medical response tax


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

Berkeley Measure HH

Park taxes


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

Berkeley Measure II

Redistricting schedule


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

Berkeley Measure JJ

Medical marijuana zoning


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

Berkeley Measure KK

Repealing bus-only lanes


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

Berkeley Measure LL

Landmarks preservation


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

Oakland Measure N

School tax


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

Oakland Measure OO

Children and youth services


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


Measure VV

AC Transit parcel tax


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

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

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

Measure WW

Extension of existing East Bay Park District bond


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

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

>>More Guardian Endorsements 2008

Endorsements 2008: San Francisco measures



Proposition A

San Francisco General Hospital bonds


This critically needed $887 million bond would be used to rebuild the San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, which is currently not up to seismic safety codes. If the hospital isn’t brought into seismic compliance by 2013, the state has threatened to shut it down.

Proposition A has the support of just about everyone in town: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, all four state legislators from San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom, former mayors Willie Brown and Frank Jordan, all 11 supervisors, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 … the list goes on and on.

And for good reason: SF General is not only the hospital of last resort for many San Franciscans and the linchpin of the entire Healthy San Francisco system. It’s also the only trauma center in the area. Without SF General, trauma patients would have to travel to Palo Alto for the nearest available facility.

Just about the only opposition is coming from the Coalition for Better Housing. This deep-pocketed landlord group is threatening to sink the hospital bond unless it gets concessions on Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier’s legislation that would allow landlords to pass the costs of the $4 billion rebuild of the city’s Hetch Hetchy water, sewage, and power system through to their tenants.

These deplorable tactics should make voters, most of whom are tenants, even more determined to see Prop. A pass. Vote yes.

Proposition B

Affordable housing fund


Housing isn’t just the most contentious issue in San Francisco; it’s the defining issue, the one that will determine whether the city of tomorrow bears any resemblance to the city of today.

San Francisco is on the brink of becoming a city of the rich and only the rich, a bedroom community for Silicon Valley and an urban nest for wealthy retirees. Some 90 percent of current city residents can’t afford the cost of a median-priced house, and working-class people are getting displaced by the day. Tenants are thrown out when their rent-controlled apartments are converted to condos. Young families find they can’t rent or buy a place with enough room for kids and are forced to move to the far suburbs. Seniors and people on fixed incomes find there are virtually no housing choices for them in the market, and many wind up on the streets. Small businesses suffer because their employees can’t afford to live here; the environment suffers because so many San Francisco workers must commute long distances to find affordable housing.

And meanwhile, the city continues to allow developers to build million-dollar condos for the rich.

Proposition B alone won’t solve the problem, but it would be a major first step. The measure would set aside a small percentage of the city’s property-tax revenue — enough to generate about $33 million a year — for affordable housing. It would set a baseline appropriation to defend the money the city currently spends on housing. It would expire in 15 years.

Given the state of the city’s housing crisis, $33 million is a fairly modest sum — but with a guaranteed funding stream, the city can seek matching federal and state funds and leverage that over 15 years into billions of dollars to build housing for everyone from very low-income people to middle-class families.

Prop. B doesn’t raise taxes, and if the two revenue measures on the ballot, Propositions N and Q, pass, there will be more than enough money to fund it without any impact on city services.

The mayor and some other conservative critics say that set-asides such as this one cripple the ability of elected officials to make tough budget choices. But money for affordable housing isn’t a choice anymore in San Francisco; it’s a necessity. If the city can’t take dramatic steps to retain its lower-income and working-class residents, the city as we know it will cease to exist. A city of the rich is not only an appalling concept; it’s simply unsustainable.

The private market alone can’t solve San Francisco’s housing crisis. Vote yes on B.

Proposition C

Ban city employees from commissions


Proposition C would prohibit city employees from serving on boards and commissions. Sponsored by Sup. Jake McGoldrick, it seems to make logical sense — why should a city department head, for example, sit on a policy panel that oversees city departments?

But the flaw in Prop. C is that it excludes all city employees, not just senior managers. We see no reason why, for example, a frontline city gardener or nurse should be barred from ever serving on a board or commission. We’re opposing this now, but we urge the supervisors to come back with a new version that applies only to employees who are exempt from civil service — that is, managers and political appointees.

Proposition D

Financing Pier 70 waterfront district


Pier 70 was once the launching pad for America’s imperial ambitions in the Pacific, but it’s sadly fallen into disrepair, like most Port of San Francisco property. The site’s historic significance and potential for economic development (think Monterey’s Cannery Row) have led port officials and all 11 members of the Board of Supervisors to put forward this proposal to prime the pump with a public infrastructure investment that would be paid back with interest.

The measure would authorize the Board of Supervisors to enter into long-term leases consistent with the forthcoming land use and fiscal plans for the site, and to front the money for development of roads and waterfront parks, refurbishing Union Iron Works, and other infrastructure work, all of which would be paid back through tax revenue generated by development of the dormant site. It’s a good deal. Vote yes.

Proposition E

Recall reform


The recall is an important tool that dates back to the state’s progressive era, but San Francisco’s low signature threshold for removing an officeholder makes it subject to abuse. That’s why the Guardian called for this reform ("Reform the Recall," 6/13/07) last year when downtown interests were funding simultaneous recall efforts (promoted by single-issue interest groups) against three progressive supervisors: Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, and Chris Daly. The efforts weren’t successful, but they diverted time and energy away from the important work of running the city.

This measure would bring the City Charter into conformity with state law, raising the signature threshold from 10 percent of registered voters to 20 percent in most supervisorial districts, and leaving it at 10 percent for citywide office. The sliding-scale state standard is what most California counties use, offering citizens a way to remove unaccountable representatives without letting a fringe-group recall be used as an extortive threat against elected officials who make difficult decisions that don’t please everyone.

Proposition F

Mayoral election in even-numbered years


This one’s a close call, and there are good arguments on both sides. Sponsored by Sup. Jake McGoldrick, Proposition F would move mayoral elections to the same year as presidential elections. The pros: Increased turnout, which tends to favor progressive candidates, and some savings to the city from the elimination of an off-year election. The cons: The mayor’s race might be eclipsed by the presidential campaigns. In a city where the major daily paper and TV stations have a hard time covering local elections in the best of times, the public could miss out on any real scrutiny of mayoral candidates.

Here’s what convinced us: San Francisco hasn’t elected a true progressive mayor in decades. The system we have isn’t working; it’s worth trying something else.

Proposition G

Retirement system credit for unpaid parental leave


Proposition G brings equity to city employees who started families before July 1, 2003. Currently this group is unable to benefit from a 2002 charter amendment that provides city employees with paid parental leave. Prop. G gives these parents the opportunity to buy back unpaid parental leave and earn retirement credits for that period.

Critics charge that Prop. G changes the underlying premise of the city’s retirement plan and that this attempt to cure a perceived disparity creates a precedent whereby voters could be asked to remedy disparities anytime benefit changes are made. They claim that there are no guarantees Prop. G won’t end up costing the taxpayers money.

But Prop. G, which is supported by the San Francisco Democratic and Republican Parties, the Chamber of Commerce, SEIU Local 1021, the Police Officers Association, and San Francisco Firefighters 798, simply allows city workers to buy back at their own expense some of their missed retirement benefits, thereby creating a fiscally responsible solution to an oversight in the 2003 charter amendment.

Proposition H

Clean Energy Act


Proposition H is long, long overdue. This charter amendment would require the city to study how to efficiently and affordably achieve 51 percent renewable energy by 2017, scaled up to 100 percent by 2040. Should the study find that a publicly owned utility infrastructure would be most effective, it would allow the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) to issue revenue bonds, with approval from the Board of Supervisors, to purchase the necessary lines, poles, and power-generation facilities. The measure includes a green jobs initiative and safeguards benefits and retirement packages for employees who leave Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to work for the SFPUC.

PG&E hates this because it could put the giant private company out of business in San Francisco, and the company has already spent millions of dollars spreading false information about the measure. PG&E says the proposal would cost $4 billion and raise electric bills by $400 a year for residents, but there’s no verifiable proof that these figures are accurate. An analysis done by the Guardian (see "Cleaner and Cheaper," 9/10/08) shows that rates could actually be reduced and the city would still generate excess revenue.

PG&E has also spun issuing revenue bonds without a vote of the people as a bad thing — it’s not. Other city departments already issue revenue bonds without a vote. The solvency of revenue bonds is based on a guaranteed revenue stream — that is, the city would pay back the bonds with the money it makes selling electricity. There’s no cost and no risk to the taxpayers. In fact, unless the city can prove that enough money would be generated to cover the cost of the bond plus interest, the bond won’t fly with investors.

At a time when utility companies are clinging to old technologies or hoping for pie-in-the-sky solutions like "clean coal," this measure is desperately needed and would set a precedent for the country. Environmental leaders like Bill McKibben and Van Jones, who both endorsed the bill, are watching San Francisco closely on this. Prop. H has been endorsed by 8 of the 11 supervisors, Assemblymembers Mark Leno and Fiona Ma, state senator Carole Migden, the Democratic Party, the Green Party, SEIU Local 1021, the Sierra Club, Senior Action Network, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, and the San Francisco Tenants Union, among many others.

The bulk of the opposition comes from PG&E, which is entirely funding the No on H campaign and paid for 22 of 30 ballot arguments against it. The company also has given money, in one way or another, to all the public officials who oppose this measure, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Sups. Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu, and Sean Elsbernd.

Prop. H pits a utility that can’t meet the state’s modest renewable-energy goals and runs a nuclear power plant against every environmental group and leader in town. Vote yes.

Proposition I

Independent ratepayer advocate


At face value, this measure isn’t bad, but it’s superfluous. It’s a charter amendment that would establish an independent ratepayer advocate, appointed by the city administrator and tasked with advising the SFPUC on all things related to utility rates and revenue. Passing Prop. H would do that too.

Proposition I was put on the ballot by Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier as a way to save face after her ardent opposition to the city’s plan to build two peaker power plants, in which she made impassioned pleas for more renewable energy and more energy oversight. (She opposes Prop. H, which would create both.) During the debate over the peaker power plants, Alioto-Pier introduced a variety of bills, including this one. There isn’t any visible campaign or opposition to it, but there’s no need for it. Vote yes on H, and no on I.

Proposition J

Historic preservation commission


There’s something in this measure for everyone to like, both the developers who seek to alter historic buildings and the preservationists who often oppose them. It adopts the best practices of other major US cities and updates 40-year-old rules that govern the Landmark Preservation Advisory Board.

Proposition J, sponsored by Sup. Aaron Peskin, would replace that nine-member board with a seven-member commission that would have a bit more authority and whose members would be preservation experts appointed by the mayor, approved by the board, and serving fixed terms to avoid political pressures. It would set review standards that vary by project type, allowing streamlined staff-level approval for small projects and direct appeals to the Board of Supervisors for big, controversial proposals.

This was a collaborative proposal with buy-in from all stakeholders, and it’s formally opposed only by the Small Property Owners of San Francisco, an extremist property rights group. Vote yes.

Proposition K

Decriminalizing sex work


We’re not big fans of vice laws; generally speaking, we’ve always believed that drugs, gambling, and prostitution ought to be legalized, tightly regulated, and heavily taxed. Proposition K doesn’t go that far — all it does is make enforcement of the prostitution laws a low priority for the San Francisco Police Department. It would effectively cut off funding for prostitution busts — but would require the cops to pursue cases involving violent crime against sex workers.

The opponents of this measure talk about women who are coerced into sex work, particularly immigrants who are smuggled into the country and forced into the trade. That’s a serious problem in San Francisco. But the sex workers who put this measure on the ballot argue that taking the profession out of the shadows would actually help the police crack down on sex trafficking.

In fact, a significant part of the crime problem created by sex work involves crimes against the workers — violent and abusive pimps, atrocious working conditions, thefts and beatings by johns who face no consequences because the sex workers face arrest if they go to the police.

The current system clearly isn’t working. Vote yes on K.

Proposition L

Funding the Community Justice Center


This measure is an unnecessary and wasteful political gimmick by Mayor Newsom and his downtown allies. Newsom has long pushed the Community Justice Center (CJC) as a panacea for quality-of-life crimes in the Tenderloin and surrounding areas, where the new court would ostensibly offer defendants immediate access to social service programs in lieu of incarceration. Some members of the Board of Supervisors resisted the idea, noting that it singles out poor people and that the services it purports to offer have been decimated by budget shortfalls. Nonetheless, after restoring deep cuts in services proposed by the mayor, the board decided to go ahead and fund the CJC.

But the mayor needed an issue to grandstand on this election, so he placed this measure on the ballot. All Proposition L would do is fund the center at $2.75 million for its first year of operations, rather than the approved $2.62 million. We’d prefer to see all that money go to social services rather than an unnecessary new courtroom, but it doesn’t — the court is already funded. In the meantime, Prop. L would lock in CJC program details and prevent problems from being fixed by administrators or supervisors once the program is up and running. Even if you like the CJC, there’s no reason to make it inflexible simply so Newsom can keep ownership of it. Vote no.

Proposition M

Tenants’ rights


Proposition M would amend the city’s rent-control law to prohibit landlords from harassing tenants. It would allow tenants to seek rent reductions if they’re being harassed.

Proponents — including the SF Tenants Union, the Housing Rights Committee, St. Peter’s Housing Committee, the Community Tenants Association, the Affordable Housing Alliance, the Eviction Defense Collaborative, and the Tenderloin Housing Clinic — argue that affordable, rent-controlled housing is being lost because landlords are allowed to drive long-term tenants from their rent-controlled homes. Citing the antics of one of San Francisco’s biggest landlords, CitiApartments, the tenant activists complain about repeated invasions of privacy, constant buyout offers, and baseless bogus eviction notices.

Because no language currently exists in the rent ordinance to define and protect tenants from harassment, landlords with well-documented histories of abuse have been able to act with impunity. Vote Yes on M.

Proposition N

Real property transfer tax


Prop. N is one of a pair of measures designed to close loopholes in the city tax code and bring some badly needed new revenue into San Francisco’s coffers. The proposal, by Sup. Aaron Peskin, would increase to 1.5 percent the transfer tax on the sale of property worth more than $5 million. It would generate about $30 million a year.

Prop. N would mostly affect large commercial property sales; although San Francisco housing is expensive, very few homes sell for $5 million (and the people buying and selling the handful of ultra-luxury residences can well afford the extra tax). It’s a progressive tax — the impact will fall overwhelmingly on very wealthy people and big business — and this change is long overdue. Vote yes.

Proposition O

Emergency response fee


With dozens of state and local measures on the ballot this year, Proposition O is not getting much notice — but it’s a big deal. If it doesn’t pass, the city could lose more than $80 million a year. With the economy tanking and the city already running structural deficits and cutting essential services, that kind of hit to the budget would be catastrophic. That’s why the mayor, all 11 supervisors, and both the Republican and Democratic Parties support Prop. O.

The text of the measure is confusing and difficult to penetrate because it deals mainly with legal semantics. It’s on the ballot because of arcane legal issues that might make it hard for the city to enforce an existing fee in the future.

But here’s the bottom line: Prop. O would not raise taxes or increase the fees most people already pay. It would simply replace what was a modest "fee" of a couple of bucks a month to fund 911 services with an identical "tax" for the same amount, while also updating the technical definition of what constitutes a phone line from a now defunct 1970s-era statute. The only people who might wind up paying any new costs are commercial users of voice-over-internet services.

It’s very simple. If Prop. O passes, the vast majority of us won’t pay anything extra and the city won’t have to make $80 to $85 million more in cuts to things like health care, crime prevention, and street maintenance. That sounds like a pretty good deal to us. Vote yes.

Proposition P

Transportation Authority changes


Mayor Gavin Newsom is hoping voters will be fooled by his argument that Proposition P, which would change the size and composition of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, would lead to more efficiency and accountability.

But as Prop. P’s opponents — including all 11 supervisors, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, and the Sierra Club — point out, the measure would put billions of taxpayer dollars in the hands of political appointees, thus removing independent oversight of local transportation projects.

The Board of Supervisors, which currently serves as the governing body of the small but powerful, voter-created Transportation Authority, has done a good job of acting as a watchdog for local sales-tax revenues earmarked for transportation projects and administering state and federal transportation funding for new projects. The way things stand, the mayor effectively controls Muni, and the board effectively controls the Transportation Authority, providing a tried and tested system of checks and balances that gives all 11 districts equal representation. There is no good reason to upset this apple cart. Vote No on P.

Proposition Q

Modifying the payroll tax


Proposition Q would close a major loophole that allows big law firms, architecture firms, medical partnerships, and other lucrative outfits to avoid paying the city’s main business tax. San Francisco collects money from businesses largely through a 1.5 percent tax on payroll. It’s not a perfect system, and we’d like to see a more progressive tax (why should big and small companies pay the same percentage tax?). But even the current system has a giant problem that costs the city millions of dollars a year.

The law applies to the money companies pay their employees. But in a fair number of professional operations, the highest-paid people are considered "partners" and their income is considered profit-sharing, not pay. So the city’s biggest law firms, where partners take home hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in compensation, pay no city tax on that money.

Prop. Q would close that loophole and treat partnership income as taxable payroll. It would also exempt small businesses (with payrolls of less than $250,000 a year) from any tax at all.

The proposal would bring at least $10 million a year into the city and stop certain types of businesses from ducking their share of the tax burden. Vote yes.

Proposition R

Naming sewage plant after Bush


This one has tremendous emotional and humor appeal. It would officially rename the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant the George W. Bush Sewage Plant. That would put San Francisco in the position of creating the first official memorial to the worst president of our time — and his name would be on a sewage plant.

The problem — not to be killjoys — is that sewage treatment is actually a pretty important environmental concern, and the Oceanside plant is a pretty good sewage treatment plant. It’s insulting to the plant, and the people who work there, to put the name of an environmental villain on the door.

Let’s name something awful after Bush. Vote no on Prop. R.

Proposition S

Budget set-aside policy


This measure is yet another meaningless gimmick that has more to do with Mayor Newsom’s political ambitions than good governance.

For the record, we generally don’t like budget set-aside measures, which can unnecessarily encumber financial planning and restrict elected officials from setting budget priorities. But in this no-new-taxes political era, set-asides are sometimes the only way to guarantee that important priorities get funding from the static revenue pool. Newsom agrees — and has supported set-asides for schools, libraries, and other popular priorities.

Now he claims to want to rein that in, although all this measure would do is state whether a proposal identifies a funding source or violates a couple of other unenforceable standards. Vote no.

Proposition T

Free and low-cost substance abuse treatment


Proposition T would require the Department of Public Health (DPH) to make medical and residential substance abuse treatment available for low-income and homeless people who request it. DPH already offers treatment and does it well, but there’s a wait list 500 people long — and when addicts finally admit they need help and show up for treatment, the last thing the city should do is send them away and make them wait.

Prop. T would expand the program to fill that unmet need. The controller estimates an annual cost to the General Fund of $7 million to $13 million, but proponents say the upfront cost would lead to significant savings later. For every dollar spent on treatment, the city saves as much as $13 because clinical treatment for addictive disorders is cheaper than visits to the emergency room, where many low-income and homeless people end up when their untreated problems reach critical levels.

This ordinance was put on the ballot by Sups. Daly, McGoldrick, Mirkarimi, and Peskin, and has no visible opposition, although some proponents frame it as a way to achieve what the Community Justice Center only promises. Vote yes.

Proposition U

Defunding the Iraq War


Proposition U is a declaration of policy designed to send a message to the city’s congressional representatives that San Francisco disproves of any further funding of the war in Iraq, excepting whatever money is required to bring the troops home safely.

The progressive block of supervisors put this on the ballot, and according to their proponent argument in the Voter Information Pamphlet, the Iraq War has cost California $68 billion and San Francisco $1.8 billion. The Republican Party is the lone voice against this measure. Vote yes.

Proposition V

Bringing back JROTC


The San Francisco school board last year voted to end its Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, which was the right move. A military-recruitment program — and make no mistake, that’s exactly what JROTC is — has no place in the San Francisco public schools. The board could have done a better job finding a replacement program, but there are plenty of options out there.

In the meantime, a group of JROTC backers placed Proposition V on the ballot.

The measure would have no legal authority; it would just be a statement of policy. Supporters say they hope it will pressure the school board to restore the program. In reality, this is a downtown- and Republican-led effort to hurt progressive candidates in swing districts where JROTC might be popular. Vote no.

>>More Endorsements 2008

Endorsements 2008: San Francisco races



Board of Supervisors

District 1


The incumbent District 1 supervisor, Jake McGoldrick, likes to joke that he holds his seat only because Eric Mar’s house burned down eight years ago. Back then Mar, who has had a stellar career on the school board, decided to wait before seeking higher office.

But now McGoldrick — overall a good supervisor who was wrong on a few key votes — is termed out, and progressive San Francisco is pretty much unanimous in supporting Mar as his successor.

Mar, a soft-spoken San Francisco State University teacher, was a strong critic of former school superintendent Arlene Ackerman and a leader in the battle to get the somewhat dictatorial and autocratic administrator out of the district. He’s been a key part of the progressive majority that’s made substantial progress in improving the San Francisco public schools.

He’s a perfect candidate for District 1. He has strong ties to the district and its heavily Asian population. He’s a sensible progressive with solid stands on the key issues and a proven ability to get things done. He supports the affordable housing measure, Proposition B; the Clean Energy Act, Proposition H; and the major new revenue measures. He’s sensitive to tenant issues, understands the need for a profound new approach to affordable housing, and wants to solve the city’s structural budget problems with new revenue, not just cuts.

His chief opponent, Sue Lee, who works for the Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t support Prop. H and won’t even commit to supporting district elections. She ducked a lot of our questions and was either intentionally vague or really has no idea what she would do as a supervisor. She’s no choice for the district, and we found no other credible candidates worthy of our endorsement. Vote for Eric Mar.

District 3




The danger in this district is Joe Alioto. He’s smooth, he’s slick, he’s well funded — and he would be a disaster for San Francisco. Make no mistake about it, Alioto is the candidate of downtown — and thanks to his famous name and wads of big-business cash, he’s a serious contender.

Two progressive candidates have a chance at winning this seat and keeping Alioto off the board. David Chiu is a member of the Small Business Commission (SBC) and the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) and is a former civil rights lawyer who now manages a company that sells campaign software. Denise McCarthy ran the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center for 25 years and spent 7 years on the Port Commission.

Tony Gantner, a retired lawyer, is also in the race, although he is running well behind the others in the polls.

We have concerns about all the candidates. Chiu has a solid progressive record as a commissioner and committee member: He was one of only two SBC members who supported the living-wage ordinance and Sup. Tom Ammiano’s city health care plan. He backed Sup. Aaron Peskin, his political mentor, for chair of the DCCC. He backs Prop. H, supports the two revenue measures and the affordable-housing fund, and wants to give local small businesses a leg up in winning city contracts. He has some creative ideas about housing, including a community stabilization fee on new development.

He’s also a partner in a company that received $143,000 last year from PG&E and that has worked with Republicans and some nasty business interests.

Chiu says he doesn’t get to call all the shots at Grassroots Enterprises, which he cofounded. He describes the firm as a software-licensing operation, which isn’t exactly true — the company’s own Web site brags about its ability to offer broad-based political consulting and communication services.

But Chiu vowed to resign from the company if elected, and given his strong record on progressive issues, we’re willing to take a chance on him.

McCarthy has a long history in the neighborhood, and we like her community perspective. She supports Prop. H and the affordable-housing measure. She’s a little weak on key issues like the city budget — she told us she "hadn’t been fully briefed," although the budget is a public document and the debate over closing a massive structural deficit ought to be a central part of any supervisorial campaign. And while she said there "have to be some new taxes," she was very vague on where new revenue would come from and what specifically she would be willing to cut. She supported Gavin Newsom for mayor in 2003 and told us she doesn’t think that was a bad decision. It was. But she has by far the strongest community ties of any candidate in District 3. She’s accessible (even listing her home phone number in her campaign material), and after her years on the Port Commission, she understands land-use issues.

Gantner has been a supporter of the Clean Energy Act from the start and showed up for the early organizing meetings. He has the support of the Sierra Club and San Francisco Tomorrow and talks a lot about neighborhood beatification. But we’re a little nervous about his law-and-order positions, particularly his desire to crack down on fairs and festivals and his strong insistence that club promoters are responsible for all the problems on the streets.

But in the end, Chiu, McCarthy, and Gantner are all acceptable candidates, and Joe Alioto is not. Fill your slate with these three.

District 4


What a mess.

We acknowledge that this is one of the more conservative districts in the city. But the incumbent, Carmen Chu, and her main opponent, Ron Dudum, are terrible disappointments.

It’s possible to be a principled conservative in San Francisco and still win progressive respect. We often disagreed over the years with Quentin Kopp, the former supervisor, state senator, and judge, but we never doubted his independence, sincerity, or political skills. Sean Elsbernd, who represents District 7, is wrong on most of the key issues, but he presents intelligent arguments, is willing to listen, and isn’t simply a blind loyalist of the mayor.

Chu has none of those redeeming qualities. She ducks questions, waffles on issues, and shows that she’s willing to do whatever the powerful interests want. When PG&E needed a front person to carry the torch against the Clean Energy Act, Chu was all too willing: she gave the corrupt utility permission to use her name and face on campaign flyers, signed on to a statement written by PG&E’s political flak, and permanently disgraced herself. She says that most of the problems in the city budget should be addressed with cuts, particularly cuts in public health and public works, but she was unable to offer any specifics. She refused to support the measure increasing the transfer tax on property sales of more than $5 million, saying that she didn’t want to create "a disincentive to those sales taking place." We asked her if she had ever disagreed with Newsom, who appointed her, and she could point to only two examples: she opposed his efforts to limit cigarette sales in pharmacies, and she opposed Saturday road closures in Golden Gate Park. In other words, the only times she doesn’t march in lockstep with the mayor is when Newsom actually does something somewhat progressive. We can’t possibly endorse her.

Dudum, who ran a small business and tried for this office two years ago, continues to baffle us. He won’t take a position on anything. Actually, that’s not true — he’s opposed to the Clean Energy Act. Other than that, it’s impossible to figure out where he stands on anything or what he would do to address any of the city’s problems. (An example: When we asked him what to do about the illegal second units that have proliferated in the district, he said he’d solve the problem in two years. How? He couldn’t say.) We like Dudum’s small-business sentiments and his independence, but until he’s willing to take some stands and offer some solutions, we can’t support him.

Which leaves Dave Ferguson.

Ferguson is a public school teacher with little political experience. He’s a landlord, and not terribly good on tenant issues (he said he supported rent control when he was a renter, but now that he owns a four-unit building, he’s changed his mind). But he supports Prop. H, supports Prop. B, supports the revenue measures, and has a neighborhood sensibility. Ferguson is a long shot, but he’s the only candidate who made anything approaching a case for our endorsement.

District 5


Mirkarimi won this seat four years ago after a heated race in a crowded field, and he’s quickly emerged as one of the city’s most promising progressive leaders. He understands that a district supervisor needs to take on tough citywide issues (he’s the lead author of the Clean Energy Act and won a surprisingly tough battle to ban plastic bags in big supermarkets) as well as dealing with neighborhood concerns. Mirkarimi helped soften a terrible plan for developing the old UC Extension site and fought hard to save John Swett School from closure.

But the area in which he’s most distinguished himself is preventing violent crime — something progressives have traditionally had trouble with. Four years ago, District 5 was plagued with terrible violence: murders took place with impunity, the police seemed unable to respond, and the African American community was both furious and terrified. Mirkarimi took the problem on with energy and creativity, demanding (and winning, despite mayoral vetoes) police foot patrols and community policing. Thanks to his leadership, violent crime is down significantly in the district — and the left in San Francisco has started to develop a progressive agenda for the crime problem.

He has no serious opposition, and richly deserves reelection.

District 7


We rarely see eye to eye with the District 7 incumbent. He’s on the wrong side of most of the key votes on the board. He’s opposing the affordable housing measure, Prop. B. He’s opposed to the Clean Energy Act, Prop. H. It’s annoying to see someone who presents himself as a neighborhood supervisor siding with PG&E and downtown over and over again.

But Elsbernd is smart and consistent. He’s a fiscal conservative with enough integrity that he isn’t always a call-up vote for the mayor. He’s accessible to his constituents and willing to engage with people who disagree with him. The progressives on the board don’t like the way he votes — but they respect his intelligence and credibility.

Unlike many of the candidates this year, Elsbernd seems to understand the basic structural problem with the city budget, and he realizes that the deficit can’t be reduced just with spending cuts. He’s never going to be a progressive vote, but this conservative district could do worse.

District 9




The race to succeed Tom Ammiano, who served this district with distinction and is now headed for the State Legislature, is a case study in the advantages of district elections and ranked-choice voting. Three strong progressive candidates are running, and the Mission–Bernal Heights area would be well served by any of them. So far, the candidates have behaved well, mostly talking about their own strengths and not trashing their opponents.

The choice was tough for us — we like David Campos, Eric Quezada, and Mark Sanchez, and we’d be pleased to see any of them in City Hall. It’s the kind of problem we wish other districts faced: District 9 will almost certainly wind up with one of these three stellar candidates. All three are Latinos with a strong commitment to immigrant rights. All three have strong ties to the neighborhoods. Two are openly gay, and one is a parent. All three have endorsements from strong progressive political leaders and groups. All three have significant political and policy experience and have proven themselves accessible and accountable.

And since it’s almost inconceivable that any of the three will collect more than half of the first-place votes, the second-place and third-place tallies will be critical.

Campos, a member of the Police Commission and former school district general counsel, arrived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant at 14. He made it to Stanford University and Harvard Law School and has worked as a deputy city attorney (who helped the city sue PG&E) and as a school district lawyer. He’s been a progressive on the Police Commission, pushing for better citizen oversight and professional police practices. To his credit, he’s stood up to (and often infuriated) the Police Officers’ Association, which is often a foe of reform.

Campos doesn’t have extensive background in land-use issues, but he has good instincts. He told us he’s convinced that developers can be forced to provide as much as 50 percent affordable housing, and he thinks the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan lacks adequate low-cost units. He supports the revenue measures on the ballot and wants to see big business paying a fair share of the tax burden. He argues persuasively that crime has to become a progressive issue, and focuses on root causes rather than punitive programs. Campos has shown political courage in key votes — he supported Theresa Sparks for Police Commission president, a move that caused Louise Renne, the other contender, to storm out of the room in a fit of cursing. He backed Aaron Peskin for Democratic Party chair despite immense pressure to go with his personal friend Scott Weiner. Ammiano argues that Campos has the right qualities to serve on the board — particularly the ability to get six votes for legislation — and we agree.

Eric Quezada has spent his entire adult life fighting gentrification and displacement in the Mission. He’s worked at nonprofit affordable-housing providers, currently runs a homeless program, and was a cofounder of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition. Although he’s never held public office, he has far more experience with the pivotal issues of housing and land use than the other two progressive candidates.

Quezada has the support of Sup. Chris Daly (although he doesn’t have Daly’s temper; he’s a soft-spoken person more prone to civil discussion than fiery rhetoric). If elected, he would carry on Daly’s tradition of using his office not just for legislation but also as an organizing center for progressive movements. He’s not as experienced in budget issues and was a little vague about how to solve the city’s structural deficit, but he would also make an excellent supervisor.

Mark Sanchez, the only Green Party member of the three, is a grade-school teacher who has done a tremendous job as president of the San Francisco school board. He’s helped turn that panel from a fractious and often paralyzed political mess into a strong, functioning operation that just hired a top-notch new superintendent. He vows to continue as an education advocate on the Board of Supervisors.

He told us he thinks he can be effective by building coalitions; he already has a good working relationship with Newsom. He’s managed a $500 million budget and has good ideas on both the revenue and the spending side — he thinks too much money goes to programs like golf courses, the symphony, and the opera, whose clients can afford to cover more of the cost themselves. He wants a downtown congestion fee and would turn Market Street into a pedestrian mall. Like Campos, he would need some education on land-use issues (and we’re distressed that he supports Newsom’s Community Justice Center), but he has all the right political instincts. He has the strong support of Sup. Ross Mirkarimi. We would be pleased to see him on the Board of Supervisors.

We’ve ranked our choices in the order we think best reflects the needs of the district and the city. But we also recognize that the progressive community is split here (SEIU Local 1021 endorsed all three, with no ranking), and we have nothing bad to say about any of these three contenders. The important thing is that one of them win; vote for Campos, Quezada, and Sanchez — in that order, or in whatever order makes sense for you. Just vote for all three.

District 11




This is one of those swing districts where either a progressive or a moderate could win. The incumbent, Gerardo Sandoval, who had good moments and not-so-good moments but was generally in the progressive camp, is termed out and running for judge.

The strongest and best candidate to succeed him is John Avalos. There are two other credible contenders, Randy Knox and Julio Ramos — and one serious disaster, Ahsha Safai.

Avalos has a long history of public-interest work. He’s worked for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, for the Justice for Janitors campaign, and as an aide to Sup. Chris Daly. Since Daly has served on the Budget Committee, and at one point chaired it, Avalos has far more familiarity with the city budget than any of the other candidates. He understands that the city needs major structural reforms in how revenue is collected, and he’s full of new revenue ideas. Among other things, he suggests that the city work with San Mateo County to create a regional park district that could get state funds (and could turn McLaren Park into a destination spot).

He has a good perspective on crime (he supports community policing along with more police accountability) and wants to put resources into outreach for kids who are at risk for gang activity. He was the staff person who wrote Daly’s 2006 violence prevention plan. He wants to see more affordable housing and fewer luxury condos in the eastern neighborhoods and supports a congestion fee for downtown. With his experience both at City Hall and in community-based organizations, Avalos is the clear choice for this seat.

Randy Knox, a criminal defense lawyer and former member of the Board of Appeals, describes himself as "the other progressive candidate." He supports Prop. H and the affordable-housing fund. He links the crime problem to the fact that the police don’t have strong ties to the community, and wants to look for financial incentives to encourage cops to live in the city. He wants to roll back parking meter rates and reduce the cost of parking tickets in the neighborhoods, which is a populist stand — but that money goes to Muni, and he’s not sure how to replace it. He does support a downtown congestion fee.

Knox wasn’t exactly an anti-developer stalwart on the Board of Appeals, but we’ll endorse him in the second slot.

Julio Ramos has been one of the better members of a terrible community college board. He’s occasionally spoken up against corruption and has been mostly allied with the board’s progressive minority. He wants to build teacher and student housing on the reservoir adjacent to City College. He suggests that the city create mortgage assistance programs and help people who are facing foreclosure. He suggests raising the hotel tax to bring in more money. He supports public power and worked at the California Public Utilities Commission’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates, where he tangled with PG&E.

We’re backing three candidates in this district in part because it’s critical that Safai, the candidate of Mayor Newsom, downtown, and the landlords, doesn’t get elected. Safai (who refused to meet with our editorial board) is cynically using JROTC as a wedge against the progressives, even though the Board of Supervisors does not have, and will never have, a role in deciding the future of that program. He needs to be defeated, and the best way to do that is to vote for Avalos, Knox, and Ramos.

Board of Education





Two of the stalwart progressive leaders on the San Francisco School Board — Mark Sanchez and Eric Mar — are stepping down to run for supervisor. That’s a huge loss, since Mar and Sanchez were instrumental in getting rid of the autocratic Arlene Ackerman, replacing her with a strong new leader and ending years of acrimony on the board. The schools are improving dramatically — this year, for the first time in ages, enrollment in kindergarten actually went up. It’s important that the progressive policies Mar and Sanchez promoted continue.

Sandra Fewer is almost everyone’s first choice for the board. A parent who sent three kids to the San Francisco public schools, she’s done an almost unbelievable amount of volunteer work, serving as a PTA president for 12 terms. She currently works as education policy director at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. She knows the district, she knows the community, she’s full of energy and ideas, and she has the support of seven members of the Board of Supervisors and five of the seven current school board members.

Fewer supports the new superintendent and agrees that the public schools are getting better, but she’s not afraid to point out the problems and failures: She notes that other districts with less money are doing better. She wants to make the enrollment process more accessible to working parents and told us that race ought to be used as a factor in enrollment if that will help desegregate the schools and address the achievement gap. She’s against JROTC in the schools.

We’re a little concerned that Fewer talks about using district real estate as a revenue source — selling public property is always a bad idea. But she’s a great candidate and we’re happy to endorse her.

Norman Yee, the only incumbent we’re endorsing, has been something of a mediator and a calming influence on an often-contentious board. He helped push for the 2006 facilities bond and the parcel tax to improve teacher pay. He’s helped raise $1 million from foundations for prekindergarten programs. He suggests that the district take the radical (and probably necessary) step of suing the state to demand adequate funding for education. Although he was under considerable pressure to support JROTC, he stood with the progressives to end the military program. He deserves another term.

Barbara "Bobbi" Lopez got into the race late and has been playing catch-up. She’s missed some key endorsements and has problems with accessibility. But she impressed us with her energy and her work with low-income parents. A former legal support worker at La Raza Centro Legal, she’s now an organizer at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, working with immigrant parents. She’s fought to get subsidized Muni fares for SFUSD students. Her focus is on parent involvement — and while everyone talks about bringing parents, particularly low-income and immigrant parents, more directly into the education process, Lopez has direct experience in the area.

Kimberly Wicoff has a Stanford MBA, and you can tell — she talks in a sort of business-speak with lots of reference to "outcomes." She has no kids. But she’s currently working with a nonprofit that helps low-income families in Visitacion Valley and Hunters Point, and we liked her clearheaded approach to the achievement gap. Wicoff is a fan of what she calls community schools; she thinks a "great school in every neighborhood" can go a long way to solving the lingering issues around the enrollment process. That’s a bit of an ambitious goal, and we’re concerned about any move toward neighborhood schools that leads to resegregation. But Wicoff, who has the support of both Mark Sanchez and Mayor Newsom, brings a fresh problem-solving approach that we found appealing. And unlike Newsom, she’s against JROTC.

Jill Wynns, who has been on the board since 1992, has had a distinguished career, and we will never forget her leadership in the battle against privatizing public schools. But she was a supporter of former superintendent Ackerman even when Ackerman was trampling on open-government laws and intimidating students, parents, and staff critics, and she supports JROTC. It’s time for some new blood.

Rachel Norton, a parent and an advocate for special-education kids, has run an appealing campaign, but her support for the save-JROTC ballot measure disqualified her for our endorsement.

As a footnote: H. Brown, a blogger who can be a bit politically unhinged, has no business on the school board and we’re not really sure why he’s running. But he offered an interesting idea that has some merit: he suggests that the city offer free Muni passes and free parking to anyone who will volunteer to mentor an at-risk SFUSD student. Why not?

Community College Board




There are four seats up for the seven-member panel that oversees the San Francisco Community College District, and we could only find three who merit endorsement. That’s a sad statement: City College is a local treasure, and it’s been badly run for years. The last chancellor, Phil Day, left under a cloud of corruption; under his administration, money was diverted from public coffers into a political campaign. The current board took bond money that the voters had earmarked for a performing arts center and shifted it to a gym — then found out that there wasn’t enough money in the operating budget to maintain the lavish facility. It’s a mess out there, and it needs to be cleaned up.

Fortunately, there are three strong candidates, and if they all win, the reformers will have a majority on the board.

Milton Marks is the only incumbent we’re supporting. He’s been one of the few board members willing to criticize the administration. He supports a sunshine policy for the district and believes the board needs to hold the chancellor accountable (that ought to be a basic principle of district governance, but at City College, it isn’t). He wants to push closer relations with the school board. He actually pays attention to the college budget and tries to make sure the money is spent the right way. He is pushing to reform the budget process to allow more openness and accountability.

Chris Jackson, a policy analyst at the San Francisco Labor Council, is full of energy and ideas. He wants to create an outreach center for City College at the public high schools. He also understands that the college district has done a terrible job working with neighborhoods and is calling for a comprehensive planning process. He understands the problems with the gym and the way the board shuffles money around, and he is committed to a more transparent budget process.

Jackson is also pushing to better use City College for workforce development, particularly in the biotech field, where a lot of the city’s new jobs will be created.

Jackson was president of the Associated Students at San Francisco State University, has been a member of the Youth Commission, and worked with Young Workers United on the city’s minimum-wage law. His experience, energy, and ideas make him an ideal candidate.

Bruce Wolfe attended City College after a workplace injury and served on the Associate Students Council. He knows both the good (City College has one of the best disability service programs in the state) and the bad (the school keeps issuing bonds to build facilities but doesn’t have the staff to keep them running). As a former member of the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, Wolfe is a strong advocate for open government, something desperately needed at the college district. He told us he thinks the college should agree to abide by the San Francisco Planning Code and is calling for a permanent inspector general to monitor administration practices and spending. He wants City College to start building housing for students. He has direct experience with the district and great ideas for improving it, and we’re happy to endorse him.

Incumbents Rodel Rodis and Natalie Berg are running for reelection; both have been a key part of the problem at City College, and we can’t endorse either of them. Steve Ngo, a civil rights lawyer, has the support of the Democratic Party, but we weren’t impressed by his candidacy. And he told us he opposes the Clean Energy Act.

Vote for Marks, Jackson, and Wolfe.

BART Board of Directors

With rising gasoline prices, congested roadways, and global warming, it’s now more important than ever to have an engaged and knowledgeable BART board that is willing to reform a system that effectively has San Francisco users subsidizing everyone else. That means developing a fare structure in which short trips within San Francisco or the East Bay urban centers are cheaper and longer trips are a bit more expensive. BART should also do away with free parking, which favors suburban drivers (who tend to be wealthier) over urban cyclists and pedestrians. San Francisco’s aging stations should then get the accessibility and amenity improvements they need—and at some point the board can even fund the late-night service that is long overdue. There are two candidates most capable of meeting these challenges:

District 7


This district straddles San Francisco and the East Bay, and it’s crucial that San Francisco—which controls just three of the nine seats—retain its representative here. We would like to see Lynette Sweet more forcefully represent the interests of riders from San Francisco and support needed reforms such as civilian oversight of BART police. But she has a strong history of public service in San Francisco (having served on San Francisco’s taxi and redevelopment commissions before joining the BART board in 2003), and we’ll endorse her.

District 9


Tom Radulovich is someone we’d love to clone and have run for every seat on the BART board, and perhaps every other transportation agency in the Bay Area. He’s smart and progressive, and he works hard to understand the complex problems facing our regional transportation system and then to develop and advocate for creative solutions. As executive director of the nonprofit Livable City, Radulovich is a leader of San Francisco’s alternative transportation brain trust, widely respected for walking the walk (and biking the bike—he doesn’t own a car) and setting an example for how to live and grow in the sustainable way this city and country needs.

>>More Guardian Endorsements 2008

Endorsements 2008: State ballot measures



Proposition 1A

High-speed rail bond


California hasn’t taken on a major improvement to its public infrastructure in several generations, the last significant one being the construction of the California State Water Project back in the 1950s. But with the state’s growing population and the travel penchant of its citizens, there will be dire consequences to ignoring the need for more and better transportation options.

The state has been studying and planning for the creation of a high-speed rail system for more than 10 years, and this is the moment for voters to make it a reality.

Proposition 1A is a $9.95 billion bond measure. Combined with contributions from the federal government and private sector, the measure would fund the first leg of a system that would eventually stretch from Sacramento to San Diego. The train would carry people from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in 2.5 hours for just $55.

The benefits are overwhelming. High-speed rail works well in Asia and Europe, on a fraction of the energy used by cars and planes and with almost no emissions. The system is projected to pay for itself within 20 years and then be a source of revenue for the state. And it would make trips directly from one city core to another, facilitating tourism and business trips without clogging our roads.

Unfortunately, the costs of not approving this measure are also huge: more congestion for road and air travelers, more freeway lanes, larger airports, dirtier air, and increased greenhouse-gas emissions. Building a high-speed rail system is something California can’t afford not to do. Vote yes.

Proposition 2

Farm animal protections


It’s hard to argue against a proposal that would allow farm-raised animals to stand up, lie down, and move around in their enclosures. This is a step in the direction of more humane treatment of animals; plenty of organic farms already comply, and the milk, meat, and eggs they produce are healthier for both humans and animals.

According to big agricultural companies and the operators of factory farms, a vote for Proposition 2 is a vote for an avian influenza outbreak, the spread of food-borne illnesses like salmonella, huge job losses, and even increased global warming. But we find it hard to believe that simply permitting creatures like veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens to stretch their limbs and turn around will cause these Chicken Little predictions to come true. Vote yes on Prop. 2.

Proposition 3

Children’s hospital bonds


This one sounds great unless you stop to think about it. Proposition 3 would provide more money for hospitals that care for sick children, which seems fine. But a lion’s share of almost $1 billion in public bond money would go to private children’s hospitals for capital improvements. While 20 percent of the cash would be tabbed for public institutions like the five University of California–run hospitals, the other 80 percent would go to places like Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. We don’t discount the valuable work these hospitals do. But many of them have sizable endowments and ample resources to fund improvements on their own — especially since voters approved $750 million in children’s hospital bond money just four years ago. Why is the state, which is broke, giving public money to private hospitals? Vote no on Prop. 3.

Proposition 4

Parental notification and wait period for abortion


This measure was horrible when it was on the ballot twice before, in 2005 and in 2006, and it’s still horrible now. If passed, it would require doctors to notify parents of minors seeking abortions, make teenagers wait 48 hours after the notification is made before undergoing the abortion, penalize doctors who don’t abide by the rule, and make kids go through a court process to get a waiver to the law. The doctors would have to hand-deliver the notice or send it by certified mail.

Proponents have spun this as a way to "stop child predators," a baseless claim, as teenage victims of predators seeking abortions are still victims of predators whether their parents know or not. Opponents say it’s a dangerous law that will drive more kids seeking abortions underground and do nothing to truly improve family relations. This proposal represents another erosion of abortion rights.

The last two attempts to require parental notification were narrowly defeated — but this time, with so much else on the ballot, it’s attracting less attention, and polls show it might pass.

Big funders backing the measure are San Diego Reader publisher James Holman and Sonoma-based winery owner Don Sebastiani, who have collectively spent more than $2 million supporting it. A broad coalition of medical, education, and civil rights organizations oppose it. Vote no.

Proposition 5

Treatment instead of jail


In 2000, California voters approved Proposition 36, which sent people convicted of certain drug-related offenses to treatment programs instead of to prison. Proposition 5 would revamp that earlier measure by giving more people a shot at addiction services instead of a jail cell and would provide treatment to youth offenders as well as adults. It would also make possession of less than 28.5 grams (1 ounce) of marijuana an infraction instead of a misdemeanor, something we wholeheartedly support.

Opponents of the plan say it would cost too much and would allow criminals a get-out-of-jail-free card. But punitive approaches to addiction clearly don’t work. And while the new programs Prop. 5 calls for will need an initial infusion of cash, taking nonviolent inmates out of jail and keeping them out of the system by helping them overcome their addictions should save the state considerable money in the long run.

Proposition 6

Prison spending


There are 171,000 people in California’s 33 prisons. All told, the state shells out $10 billion every year incarcerating people. This prison boom has enriched for-profit corrections companies and made the prison guards’ union one of the most powerful interest groups in the state — but it hasn’t made the streets any safer.

Nonetheless, backers of Proposition 6 say the state needs to spend $1 billion more per year on new prisons, increased prison time (even for youth offenders), and untested programs that few believe will have any positive impact — without identifying a way to pay for any of it.

Bottom line, Prop. 6 would divert funding from necessary areas like health care and education and waste it on a failed, throw-away-the-key approach to crime. Even the staunchly conservative Orange County Register‘s editorial board called the measure "criminally bad." Vote no on Prop. 6.

Proposition 7

Renewable-energy generation


We’re all for more renewable energy, but this measure and the politics around it smell worse than a coal-burning power plant.

Proposition 7 would require all investor-owned and municipal utilities to procure 50 percent clean energy by 2025. It would allow fast-tracked permitting for the new power plants and suggests they be placed in "solar and clean energy zones" in the desert while still meeting environmental reviews and protections. There’s a hazy provision that the solar industry groups argue would discredit any power sources under 30 megawatts from counting toward renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which the Yes on Prop. 7 people refute.

The measure is confusing. The California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission would play somewhat unclear roles in the state’s energy future. Overall, the CEC would site power plants and the CPUC would set rates. Penalties levied to utilities that don’t meet the new RPS would be controlled by the CEC and used to build transmission lines connecting the desert-sourced solar power with cities.

The coalition supporting Prop. 7 is an interesting mix of retired public officials, including former San Francisco supervisor Jim Gonzalez, former state senator John Burton, former mayor Art Agnos, and utility expert S. David Freeman. Interestingly, Gonzalez was a staunch ally of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. when he was a local politician, and Burton has done legal work for PG&E. The bankroll for the campaign comes from Arizona billionaire Peter Sperling, son of medical marijuana proponent John Sperling.

A number of solar and wind companies, which would presumably profit by its passing, are lined up against it, but the No on 7 money comes entirely from PG&E, SoCal Edison, and Sempra, which have dumped $28 million into the campaign. That, of course, makes us nervous.

But other opponents include all the major green groups — Environmental Defense, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists — none of which were consulted before it was put on the ballot.

We’re obviously uncomfortable coming down on the side of PG&E, but renewable energy is a major policy issue, and this measure was written with little input from the experts in the field. Gonzalez told us it’s mostly aimed at pushing giant solar arrays in the desert; that’s fine, but we’re also interested in small local projects that might be more efficient and environmentally sound.

Vote no.

Proposition 8

Ban on same-sex marriage


Same-sex couples have been able to marry legally in California since June. Their weddings — often between couples who have spent decades together, raised children, fought hard for civil rights, and been pillars of their communities — have been historic, joy-filled moments. San Francisco City Hall has witnessed thousands of these weddings — and to date, there has not been a single confirmed report that gay weddings have caused damage to straight marriages.

But now comes Proposition 8, a statewide measure that seeks to take this fundamental right away from same-sex couples.

Using the exact same argument that was used in 2000, Prop. 8 contends that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

Back then, the measure passed. This time, the landscape has shifted radically and is full of same-sex brides and grooms who have already legally tied the knot. This time around, the stale "man and woman only" argument is being used to attempt to deny individuals their existing rights based on their sexual orientation. Polls suggest that a majority of Californians are unwilling to support this measure, but it would only take a simple majority to deny gays and lesbians their marriage rights. Vote no on Prop. 8 and protect hard-won marriage equality.

Proposition 9

Restrictions on parole


It’s tempting simply to repeat our reasons for voting no on Proposition 6 in our discussion of Proposition 9. While the details of the two measures are different — Prop. 6 would send more people to jail; Prop. 9 would keep them there longer — the two would have a similar unfortunate result: more people crowding our already overflowing and outrageously expensive prison system. Prop. 9 would accomplish this by making it much more difficult for prisoners to gain parole. But California already releases very few inmates serving long sentences for crimes like murder and manslaughter. Moreover, many of the other provisions of Prop. 9 have already been enacted, which would mean costly redundancies if the measure is approved.

One man is largely responsible for both the misguided "tough on crime" propositions on this year’s ballot: billionaire Broadcom Corp. cofounder Henry Nicholas, who has poured millions into the two campaigns. But a funny thing happened to Nicholas on the way to becoming California’s poster boy for law and order. In June, he was indicted on numerous counts of securities fraud and drug violations (including spiking the drinks of technology executives with ecstasy and operating a "sex cave" staffed with prostitutes under his house). He insists he’s innocent.

Vote no on Prop. 9.

Proposition 10

Alternative-fuel vehicles bond


This is another "green" measure that looks good and smells bad. It would allow the state to issue general obligation bonds worth $5 billion to fund incentives to help consumers purchase alternative-fuel vehicles and research alternative-fuel and renewable-energy technology.

Proponents argue this is a necessary jump start for the industry. Opponents say the industry doesn’t need it — Priuses are on back order as it is, and the measure was craftily written to exclude subsidies for purchasing any other plug-in or hybrid vehicle that gets less than 45 miles per gallon. Though the measure would have provisions for vehicles powered by hydrogen and electricity, critics point out that the subsidies would be first come, first served and would be gone by the time these technologies even reach the consumer market.

In reality, Proposition 10 is a giveaway designed to favor the natural gas industry and was put on the ballot by one of its biggest players, T. Boone Pickens, who owns Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a natural gas fueling and distribution company based in Seal Beach. He wrote the measure, paid more than $3 million to get it on the ballot, and spent a total of $8 million supporting it.

Beyond the blatant attempt to manipulate public money for private good, there are a number of other problems with the bill. It would mostly subsidize purchases of large trucks but wouldn’t require that those trucks stay in California, so companies could use the $50,000 rebates to improve their fleet, then drive the benefit out of state.

While natural-gas-burning vehicles emit far less exhaust and air pollution than gas and diesel cars, natural gas is still a fossil fuel with carbon emissions that are only 20 percent less than that of a typical car. It’s another dinosaur technology that only marginally improves the situation. The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters are against Prop. 10, as are consumer groups and taxpayer associations, who hate the $10-billion-over-30-years payback on this special-interest bond. Vote no.

Proposition 11

Redistricting commission


Almost everyone agrees that California’s process for drawing the boundaries of legislative districts is flawed. History has proven that allowing elected officials to redraw their own political map every 10 years is a recipe for shameless gerrymandering that benefits incumbents. It has also resulted in uncompetitive districts, voter disaffection, and a hopelessly polarized legislature. But Proposition 11 is not the answer.

The idea of placing redistricting in the hands of an independent citizen commission sounds good on the surface. But as Assemblymember Mark Leno points out, the makeup of this incredibly powerful commission would be dependent only on party affiliation — five Democrats, five Republicans, and four independents. That’s not an accurate reflection of California’s population; Democrats far outnumber Republicans in this state. To give Republicans an equal number of commissioners would ignore that fact. And there is no provision to ensure that the body would reflect the state’s racial diversity, or that it would be composed of people from different religious (or nonreligious) backgrounds. The same goes for things like gender and income levels. Also, people must apply to join the body — limiting the pool of potential commissioners even further. And state legislators would have the power to remove some applicants.

In other words, the same people the law seeks to take out of the process would still wield a great deal of influence over it. Vote no on Prop. 11.

Proposition 12

Veterans bond act


Proposition 12 would authorize the state to issue $900 million in bonds to help veterans buy farms and homes. It’s true that, as opponents say, the act doesn’t discriminate between rich veterans and poor veterans, and it probably should, but the vets most likely to use this — from the Gulf War and the Iraq war — have faced so many daunting problems and have received so little support from the government that sent them to war that it’s hard to oppose something like this. Vote yes.

>>More Guardian Endorsements 2008

Endorsements 2008: National and state races





This is the most important presidential election of our lives.

The nation is in a state of political and financial meltdown. The war in Iraq drags on, sucking money out of the US Treasury and costing more and more lives. The gap between the rich and the poor has risen to unsustainable levels, global warming threatens to permanently alter the ecology of the globe … and all the Republican candidate offers is more of the same. It’s scary.

The Democrat we proudly endorsed in the California primary isn’t the exact same candidate who’s trying to get elected president today. Barack Obama, like just about all Democrats at this stage of a campaign, has moved a bit to the right. He supported the $700 million Wall Street bailout that’s essentially a huge giveaway to the same people who caused the problem. He talks about promoting "safe nuclear energy" and "clean coal" — oxymora if there ever were any.

Back in February, we noted that "our biggest problem with Obama is that he talks as if all the nation needs to do is come together in some sort of grand coalition of Democrats and Republicans, of ‘blue states and red states.’ But some of us have no interest in making common cause with the religious right or Dick Cheney or Halliburton or Don Fisher. There are forces and interests in the United States that need to be opposed, defeated, consigned to the dustbin of history, and for all of Obama’s talk of unity, we worry that he lacks the interest in or ability to take on a tough, bloody fight against an entrenched political foe."

But Obama remains one of the most inspirational candidates for high office we’ve ever seen. He’s energized a generation of young voters, he’s electrified communities of color, and he’s given millions of Americans a chance to hope that Washington can once again be a friend, not an enemy, to progressive values at home and abroad.

His tax proposals are pretty good. He’s always been against the war. His health care plan isn’t perfect, but it’s at least a step toward universal coverage.

And frankly, the nation can’t afford another four years of Bush-style policies.

The election is a turning point for the United States. It’s about a movement that can change the direction of the country; it’s about mobilizing people in large numbers to reject the failed right-wing policies of Bush and the Republican Party. We’re pleased to endorse Barack Obama as the standard-bearer of that movement.

Congress, District 6


Lynn Woolsey comes from the more moderate suburbs, and she’s far better than Nancy Pelosi, who represents liberal San Francisco. Just look at the bailout: Pelosi wants to prop up the Wall Street banks, and Woolsey wanted to fund any bailout with a modest tax on risky financial instruments. Woolsey richly deserves reelection.

Congress, District 7


George Miller, who has represented this East Bay district since 1974, is an effective legislator and strong environmentalist. Sometimes he’s too willing to compromise — he worked with the George W. Bush administration on No Child Left Behind, a disaster of an education bill — but he’s a solid opponent of the war, and we’ll endorse him for another term.

Congress District 8


The antiwar leader and Gold Star mom who put George Bush on the defensive is at best a long shot to unseat the Speaker of the House. Cindy Sheehan has only recently moved to the district, has no local political experience, and is taking on one of the most powerful politicians in the United States.

But we can’t endorse Nancy Pelosi, who has consistently supported funding the war (and has refused to meet with antiwar protesters camped out in front of her house). Pelosi pushed the Wall Street bailout and privatized the Presidio.

Sheehan wants a fast withdrawal from Iraq, opposes any bailout for the big financial institutions, and is a voice against business as usual in Congress. This is a protest vote, but a valid one.

Congress, District 13


After 32 years, Pete Stark has become in some ways the most radical member of the Bay Area congressional delegation. He’s furious with the war and shows no patience for the Bush administration’s nonsense. He is the only member of Congress who admits he’s an atheist. We just hope he doesn’t decide to retire any time soon.


Superior Court, Seat 12


It’s unusual to see contested races for judge in San Francisco. Most of the time, incumbents retire midterm to allow the governor to appoint a replacement, and almost nobody ever challenges a sitting judge. So the San Francisco bench has been shaped more by Republican governors than by the overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.

So we were pleased to see Gerardo Sandoval, a termed-out supervisor and former public defender, file to run against Judge Thomas Mellon. A conservative Republican appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994, Mellon has a lackluster record, at best. California Courts and Judges, a legal journal, calls him unreasonable and cantankerous. In 2000, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office sought to have him removed from all criminal cases because of his anti-defendant bias. He needed a challenge, and he’s got one: in the June primary, Sandoval came in well ahead, but because there were three candidates, this contest has gone to a November runoff.

Sandoval has been a generally progressive member of the Board of Supervisors, although we were critical of some of his votes. But he would bring the perspective of a public defender to a bench dominated by former prosecutors and big-firm civil lawyers. Vote for Sandoval.


State Senate, District 3


The drama in this race took place back in June, when Leno beat incumbent Carole Migden and former Marin Assemblymember Joe Nation in the Democratic primary. Like most Bay Area Democrats, he’s a shoo-in for the general election. But it’s worth noting that Leno has an extensive record in the Assembly and has demonstrated an ability to get things done. Long before the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the state, Leno got both houses of the Legislature to approve marriage equality bills (which the governor then vetoed). He got the Ellis Act, that terrible law that allows landlords to evict all their tenants and sell their buildings as condos, amended to protect seniors and disabled people. And while we were worried in the spring that Leno might be too close to Mayor Newsom when it came to local endorsements, he’s shown both independence and progressive leanings. He has been a strong, visible and effective backer of Prop. H, the Clean Energy Act and has endorsed Mark Sanchez for supervisor in District 9, breaking with Newsom (and the moderates) who backed Eva Royale. We expect Leno will go on to a stellar record in the state Senate and we’re happy to endorse him.

State Senate, District 9


A part of Berkeley politics since she first ran successfully for city council in 1971, Lori Hancock has spent the past six years in the State Assembly. She defeated Wilma Chan in a heated primary for this State Senate seat and faces little opposition in November. She’s one of the most experienced progressives in California and has a solid grip on the state’s budget issues. We wish she wasn’t so willing to back more moderate candidates for local office, but we’re happy to see her move up to the senate.

State Assembly, District 12


Fiona Ma has been a pleasant surprise. We didn’t support her for this post two years ago, but she’s become a leading advocate of high-speed rail, a foe of plans to privatize the Cow Palace, and a visible, out-front backer of the Clean Energy Act. We hope she continues to evolve into a progressive leader in Sacramento.

State Assembly, District 13


The only problem with Tom Ammiano moving up to Sacramento is that we’ll miss his presence at City Hall. Ammiano’s record is stellar — although he was once nearly a lone voice for progressives on the Board of Supervisors, he’s become one of its most effective members, with a long list of groundbreaking legislation. Ammiano authored the city’s domestic partners law. He created Healthy San Francisco, the universal health care program. He sponsored the 2001 and 2002 public power measures. He created the Children’s Fund and the Rainy Day Fund, which is now saving programs in the public schools.

He’s also responsible — as much as any one person ever can be — for dramatically changing the climate of San Francisco politics. Ammiano’s 1999 mayoral challenge to incumbent Willie Brown brought the progressives together in ways we hadn’t seen in years, and the district-elections measure Ammiano authored brought a completely new Board of Supervisors into office a year later.

We’re happy to see Ammiano move on to Sacramento.

State Assembly, District 14


Nancy Skinner won the June primary for this seat, and while we supported her opponent, Kriss Worthington, we acknowledged that she would make an excellent assembly member. Skinner has plenty of experience: she was on the Berkeley City Council from 1984 to 1992 and has founded and run a nonprofit that helps cities establish sustainable environmental policies. She understands state budget issues, is a strong advocate for education, and will hit the ground running.

>>More Guardian Endorsements 2008

Endorsements 2008


Just about everyone in San Francisco who isn’t clueless or soporific will be going to the polls Nov. 4 to vote for Barack Obama. Turnout will be heavy; even though Obama is likely to win California by 10 points and John McCain isn’t campaigning here, the hope and promise of the Democratic nominee — coming at a time when the nation is in terrible shape and the economy is on the brink of collapse — will bring people to the polls in droves.

We’ll be among those voters, proudly casting our ballots for Obama. The thought of another four years of George Bush-style policies is terrifying; nobody wants to sit this one out.

But while so much attention is on Washington, there’s a lot at stake in San Francisco, too — and it’s critical that all the Obama voters don’t just stop at the top of the ballot.

The city’s future is also on the line — downtown, frustrated by the policies a progressive Board of Supervisors has introduced in the past eight years, is fighting back hard, trying to regain control. The direction of the next board — and city hall — will be determined in Districts 1, 3, and 11, where the incumbents are termed out and progressives are fighting downtown-funded candidates.

There’s so much else on the ballot — public power (yes on H!), tax policy (yes on N and Q!), crucial affordable housing (yes on B!), races for school board and community college board … And that doesn’t even count the East Bay.

We have spent months going over ballot measures, interviewing candidates, and coming up with our best suggestions for offices and propositions. Check out our Election Center 2008 for interviews with many of the candidates.

On Nov. 4, vote early, vote often, and vote as if your country — and your city — depends on it. Our recommendations follow.

>>National and state races

>>San Francisco races

>>State ballot measures

>>San Francisco measures

>>East Bay races and measures

>>Guardian 2008 Election Center






>>Click here for the full-text version of this story

Wait, wasn’t the primary election back in February? Yes, it was — in a way. The California Legislature, in an effort to make the state more relevant (that turned out well, didn’t it?) moved the presidential primary several months earlier this year but left the rest of the primary races, and some key initiatives, for the June 3 ballot. There’s a lot at stake here: three contested Legislative races, two judicial races, a measure that could end rent control in California … vote early and often. Our endorsements follow.

National races

Congress, District 6


It’s an irony that the congressional representative from Marin and Sonoma counties is far to the left of the representative from San Francisco, but Lynn Woolsey’s politics put Nancy Pelosi to shame. Woolsey was against the Iraq war from the start and the first member of Congress to demand that the troops come home, and she continues to speak out on the issue. At the same time, she’s also a strong advocate for injured veterans.

Woolsey, who once upon a time (many years ago) was on welfare herself, hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to have trouble making ends meet. She’s a leading voice against cuts in social service spending and is now pushing a bill to increase food stamp benefits. She richly deserves reelection.

Congress, District 7


George Miller, who has represented this East Bay district since 1974, is an effective legislator and strong environmentalist. Sometimes he’s too willing to compromise — he worked with the George W. Bush administration on No Child Left Behind, a disaster of an education bill — but he’s a solid opponent of the war and we’ll endorse him for another term.

Congress, District 8


Cindy Sheehan, the antiwar activist, is moving forward with her campaign to challenge Nancy Pelosi as an independent candidate in November, and we wish her luck. For now, Pelosi, the Speaker of the House and one of the most powerful people in Washington, will easily win the Democratic primary.

But Pelosi long ago stopped representing her San Francisco district. She continues to support full funding for Bush’s war, refused to even consider impeachment (back when it might have made sense), refused to interact with war critics who camped out in front of her house … and still won’t acknowledge it was a mistake to privatize the Presidio. We can’t endorse her.

Congress, District 13


You have to love Pete Stark. The older he gets, the more radical he sounds — and after 32 years representing this East Bay district, he shows no signs of slowing down. Stark is unwilling to be polite or accommodating about the Iraq war. In 2007 he announced on the floor of the House that the Republicans "don’t have money to fund the war or children. But you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement." He happily signed on to a measure to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. He is the only member of Congress who proudly admits being an atheist. It’s hard to imagine how someone like Stark could get elected today. But we’re glad he’s around.

Nonpartisan offices

Superior Court, Seat 12


There aren’t many former public defenders on the bench in California. For years, governors — both Democratic and Republican — have leaned toward prosecutors and civil lawyers from big downtown firms when they’ve made judicial appointments. So the San Francisco judiciary isn’t, generally speaking, as progressive or diverse as the city.

Sup. Gerardo Sandoval, who will be termed out this year, is looking to become a judge — and there’s no way this governor would ever appoint him. So he’s doing something that’s fairly rare, even in this town: he’s running for election against an incumbent.

We’re happy to see that. It’s heartening to see an actual judicial election. Judges are technically elected officials, but most incumbents retire in the middle of their terms, allowing the governor to appoint their replacements, and unless someone files to run against a sitting judge, his or her name doesn’t even appear on the ballot.

Sandoval is challenging Judge Thomas Mellon, a Republican who was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994. He’s not known as a star on the bench: according to California Courts and Judges, a legal journal that profiles judges and includes interviews with lawyers who have appeared before them, Mellon has a reputation for being unreasonable and cantankerous. In 2000, the San Francisco Public Defenders Office sought to have him removed from all criminal cases because of what the defense lawyers saw as a bias against them and their clients.

Sandoval hasn’t been a perfect supervisor, and we’ve disagreed with him on a number of key issues. But he’s promised us to work for more openness in the courts (including open meetings on court administration), and we’ll give him our endorsement.

State races and propositions

State Senate, District 3


It doesn’t get any tougher than this — two strong candidates, each with tremendous appeal and a few serious weaknesses. Two San Francisco progressives with distinguished records fighting for a powerful seat that could possibly be lost to a third candidate, a moderate from Marin County who would be terrible in the job. Two people we genuinely like, for very different reasons. It’s fair to say that this is one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make in the 42-year history of the Guardian.

In the end, we’ve decided — with much enthusiasm and some reservations — to endorse Assemblymember Mark Leno.

We will start with the obvious: this race is the result of term limits. Leno, who has served in the state Assembly for six years, argues, convincingly, that he is challenging incumbent state Sen. Carole Migden because he feels she hasn’t been doing the job. But Leno also loves politics, has no desire to return to life outside the spotlight, and if he could have stayed in the Assembly, the odds that he would have taken on this ugly and difficult race are slim. And if Leno hadn’t opened the door and exposed Migden’s vulnerability, there’s no way former Assemblymember Joe Nation of Marin would have thrown his hat into the ring. We’ve always opposed term limits; we still do.

That said, we’ll hold a few truths to be self-evident: In a one-party town, the only way any incumbent is ever held accountable is through a primary challenge. Those challenges can be unpleasant, and some — including Migden and many of her allies — argue that they’re a waste of precious resources. If Migden wasn’t scrambling to hold onto her seat, she’d be spending her money and political capital trying to elect more Democrats to the state Legislature. But Leno had every right to take on Migden. And win or lose, he has done a laudable public service: it’s been years since we’ve seen Migden around town, talking to constituents, returning phone calls and pushing local issues the way she has in the past few months. And while there will be some anger and bitterness when this is over — and some friends and political allies have been at each other’s throats and will have to figure out how to put that behind them — on balance this has been good for San Francisco. Migden has done much good, much to be proud of, but she had also become somewhat imperious and arrogant, a politician who hadn’t faced a serious election in more than a decade. If this election serves as a reminder to every powerful Democratic legislator that no seat is truly safe (are you listening, Nancy Pelosi?), then the result of what now seems like a political bloodbath can be only positive.

The Third Senate District, a large geographic area that stretches from San Francisco north into Sonoma County, needs an effective, progressive legislator who can promote issues and programs in a body that is not known as a bastion of liberal thought.

Both Migden and Leno can make a strong case on that front. Leno, for example, managed to get passed and signed into law a bill that amends the notorious pro-landlord Ellis Act to protect seniors and disabled people from evictions. He got both houses of the Legislature to approve a marriage-equality bill — twice. During his tenure in the unpleasant job of chairing the Public Safety Committee, he managed to kill a long list of horrible right-wing bills and was one of the few legislators to take a stand against the foolish measure that barred registered sex offenders from living near a park or school. Migden helped pass the landmark community-aggregation bill that allows cities to take a big step toward public power. She’s also passed several key bills to regulate or ban toxic substances in consumer products.

Migden’s record isn’t all positive, though. For a time, she was the chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee — although she gave up that post in 2006, abandoning a job that was important to her district and constituents, to devote more time to campaigning for Steve Westly, a moderate candidate for governor. When we challenged her on that move, she showed her legendary temper, attacking at least one Guardian editor personally and refusing to address the issue at hand. Unfortunately, that isn’t unusual behavior.

Then there’s the matter of ethics and campaign finance laws. The Fair Political Practices Commission has fined Migden $350,000 — the largest penalty ever assessed against a state lawmaker — for 89 violations of campaign finance laws. We take that seriously; the Guardian has always strongly supported ethics and campaign-finance laws, and this level of disregard for the rules raises serious doubts for us about Migden’s credibility.

Sup. Chris Daly posted an open letter to us on his blog last week, and he made a strong pitch for Migden: "While there are only a few differences between Carole and Mark Leno on the issues," he wrote, "when it comes to San Francisco politics, the two are in warring political factions. Carole has used her position in Sacramento consistently to help progressive candidates and causes in San Francisco, while Leno is a kinder, gentler Gavin Newsom."

He’s absolutely right. On the local issues we care about, Migden has been with us far more than Leno. When the public power movement needed money and support in 2002, Migden was there for us. When the University of California and a private developer were trying to turn the old UC Extension campus into luxury housing, Migden was the one who helped Sup. Ross Mirkarimi demand more affordable units. Migden was the one who helped prevent a bad development plan on the Port. Migden stood with the progressives in denouncing Newsom’s budget — and Leno stood with the mayor.

The district supervisorial battles this fall will be crucial to the city’s future, and Migden has already endorsed Eric Mar, the best progressive candidate for District 1, and will almost certainly be with John Avalos, the leading progressive in District 11. Leno may well back a Newsom moderate. In fact, he’s made himself a part of what labor activist Robert Haaland aptly calls the "squishy center" in San Francisco, the realm of the weak, the fearful, and the downtown sycophants who refuse to promote progressive taxes, regulations, and budgets at City Hall. His allegiance to Newsom is truly disturbing.

There’s a war for the soul of San Francisco today, as there has been for many years, and Leno has often tried to straddle the battle lines, sometimes leaning a bit to the wrong camp — and never showing the courage to fight at home for the issues he talks about in Sacramento. We’ll stipulate to that — and the only reason we can put it aside for the purposes of this endorsement is that Leno has never really had much in the way of coattails. He supports the wrong candidates, but he doesn’t do much for them — and we sincerely hope it stays that way.

While Leno is too close to Newsom, we will note that Migden is far too close to Gap founder and Republican leader Don Fisher, one of the most evil players in local politics. She proudly pushed to put Fisher — who supports privatizing public schools — on the state Board of Education.

A prominent local progressive, who we won’t identify by name, called us several months ago to ask how were going to come down in this race, and when we confessed indecision, he said: "You know, I really want to support Carole. But she makes it so hard."

We find ourselves in a similar position. We really wanted to support Migden in this race. We’d prefer to see the state senator from San Francisco using her fundraising ability and influence to promote the candidates and causes we care about.

But Migden has serious political problems right now, baggage we can’t ignore — and it’s all of her own making. Migden says her problems with the Fair Political Practices Commission are little more than technical mistakes — but that’s nonsense. She’s played fast and loose with campaign money for years. When it comes to campaign finance laws, Migden has always acted as if she rules don’t apply to her. She’s treated FPPC fines as little more than a cost of doing business. This latest scandal isn’t an exception; it’s the rule.

Unfortunately, it’s left her in a position where she’s going to have a hard time winning. Today, the election looks like a two-person race between Leno and Nation. And the threat of Joe Nation winning this primary is too great for us to mess around.

Despite our criticism of both candidates, we would be happy with either in the state Senate. We’re taking a chance with Leno; he’s shown some movement toward the progressive camp, and he needs to continue that. If he wins, he will have a huge job to do bringing a fractured queer and progressive community back together — and the way to do that is not by simply going along with everything Newsom wants. Leno has to show some of the same courage at home he’s shown in Sacramento.

But right now, today, we’ve endorsing Mark Leno for state Senate.

State Senate, District 9


This is another of several tough calls, another creature of term limits that pit two accomplished and experienced termed-out progressive assembly members against each other for the senate seat of termed-out Don Perata. We’ve supported both Loni Hancock and Wilma Chan in the past, and we like both of them. In this one, on balance, we’re going with Hancock.

Hancock has a lifetime of experience in progressive politics. She was elected to the Berkeley City Council in 1971, served two terms as Berkeley mayor, worked as the US Department of Education’s western regional director under Bill Clinton, and has been in the State Assembly the past six years. On just about every progressive issue in the state, she’s been an activist and a leader. And at a time when the state is facing a devastating, crippling budget crisis that makes every other issue seem unimportant, Hancock seems to have a clear grasp of the problem and how to address it. She’s thought through the budget calculus and offers a range of new revenue measures and a program to change the rules for budget passage (two-thirds vote in the legislature is needed to pass any budget bill, which gives Republicans, all but one who has taken a Grover Norquist–inspired pledge never to raise taxes, an effective veto).

Chan, who represented Oakland in the assembly for six years, is a fighter: she’s taken on the insurance industry (by cosponsoring a major single-payer health insurance bill), the chemical industry (by pushing to ban toxic materials in furniture, toys, and plumbing fixtures), and the alcoholic-beverages lobby (by seeking taxes to pay for treatment for young alcoholics). She’s an advocate of sunshine, not just in government, where she’s calling for an earlier and more open budget process, but also in the private sector: a Chan bill sought to force health insurance companies to make public the figures on how often they decline claims.

But she seems to us to have less of a grasp of the budget crisis and the level of political organizing it will take to solve it. Right now, at a time of financial crisis, we’re going with Hancock’s experience and broader vision.

State Assembly, District 12


We were dubious about Ma. She was a pretty bad supervisor, and when she first ran for Assembly two years ago, we endorsed her opponent. But Ma’s done some good things in Sacramento — she’s become one of the leading supporters of high-speed rail, and she’s working against state Sen. Leland Yee’s attempt to give away 60 acres of public land around the Cow Palace to a private developer. She has no primary opponent, and we’ll endorse her for another term.

State Assembly, District 13


This one’s easy. Ammiano, who has been a progressive stalwart on the Board of Supervisors for more than 15 years, is running with no opposition in the Democratic primary for state Assembly, and we’re proud to endorse his bid.

Although he’s certain to win, it’s worth taking a moment to recall the extent of Ammiano’s service to San Francisco and the progressive movement. He authored the city’s domestic partners law. He authored the living wage law. He created the universal health care program that Mayor Newsom is trying to take credit for. He sponsored the 2002 public-power measure that would have won if the election hadn’t been stolen. He created the Children’s Fund. He authored the Rainy Day Fund law that is now saving the public schools in San Francisco. And the list goes on and on.

Beyond his legislative accomplishments, Ammiano has been a leader — at times, the leader — of the city’s progressive movement and is at least in part responsible for the progressive majority now on the Board of Supervisors. In the bleak days before district elections, he was often the only supervisor who would carry progressive bills. His 1999 mayoral challenge to incumbent Willie Brown marked a tectonic shift in local politics, galvanizing the left and leading the way to the district-election victories that brought Aaron Peskin, Matt Gonzalez, Jake McGoldrick, Chris Daly, and Gerardo Sandoval to office in 2000.

It’s hard to imagine the San Francisco left without him.

Ammiano will do a fine job in Sacramento, and will continue to use his influence to push the progressive agenda back home.

State Assembly, District 14


This is another tough one. The race to replace Loni Hancock, one of the most progressive and effective legislators in the state, has drawn two solid, experienced, and well-qualified candidates: Berkeley City Council member Kriss Worthington and former council member Nancy Skinner. We like Skinner, and she would make an excellent assemblymember. But all things considered, we’re going with Worthington.

Skinner was on the Berkeley council from 1984 to 1992 and was part of a progressive majority in the 1980s that redefined how the left could run a city. That council promoted some of the best tenant protection and rent control laws in history, created some of the best local environmental initiatives, and fought to build affordable housing and fund human services. Skinner was responsible for the first local law in the United States to ban Styrofoam containers — a measure that caused McDonald’s to change its food-packaging policies nationwide. She went on to found a nonprofit that helps cities establish sustainable environmental policies.

Skinner told us that California has "gutted our commitment to education," and she vowed to look for creative new ways to raise revenue to pay for better schools. She’s in touch with the best economic thinkers in Sacramento, has the endorsement of Hancock (and much of the rest of the East Bay Democratic Party establishment), and would hit the ground running in the legislature.

Worthington, Berkeley’s only openly gay council member, has been the voice and conscience of the city’s progressive community for the past decade. He’s also been one of the hardest-working politicians in the city — a recent study by a group of UC Berkeley students found that he had written more city council measures than anyone else currently on the council and had won approval for 98 percent of them.

Worthington has been the driving force for a more effective sunshine law in Berkeley, and has been unafraid to challenge the liberal mayor, Tom Bates, and other leading Democrats. His campaign slogan — "a Democrat with a backbone" — has infuriated some of the party hierarchy with its clear (and intended) implication that a lot of other Democrats lack a spine.

"All of the Democrats in the assembly voted for 50,000 more prison beds," he told us. "We needed a Barbara Lee [who cast Congress’ lone vote against George W. Bush’s first war resolution] to stand up and say, ‘this is wrong and I won’t go along.’"

That’s one of the things we like best about Worthington: on just about every issue and front, he’s willing to push the envelope and demand that other Democrats, even other progressive Democrats, stand up and be counted. Which is exactly what we expect from someone who represents one of the most progressive districts in the state.

It’s a close call, but on this one, we’re supporting Kriss Worthington.

State ballot measures

Proposition 98

Abolition of rent control


Proposition 99

Eminent domain reforms


There’s a little rhyme to help you remember which way to vote on this critical pair of ballot measures:

"We hate 98, but 99 is fine."

The issue here is eminent domain, which is making its perennial ballot appearance. Californians don’t like the idea of the government seizing their property and handing it over to private developers, and the most conservative right-wing forces in the state are trying to take advantage of that.

Think about this: if Prop. 98 passes, there will be no more rent control in California. That means thousands of San Francisco tenants will lose their homes. Many could become homeless. Others will have to leave town. All the unlawful-evictions laws will be tossed out. So will virtually any land-use regulations, which is why all the environmental groups also oppose Prop. 98.

In fact, everyone except the Howard Jarvis anti-tax group hates this measure, including seniors, farmers, water districts, unions, and — believe it or not — the California Chamber of Commerce.

Prop. 99, on the other hand, is an unapologetic poison-pill measure that’s been put on the ballot for two reasons: to fix the eminent domain law once and for all, and kill Prop. 98 if it passes. It’s simply worded and goes to the heart of the problem by preventing government agencies from seizing residential property to turn over to private developers. If it passes, the state will finally get beyond the bad guys using the cloak of eminent domain to destroy all the provisions protecting people and the environment.

If anyone has any doubts about the motivation here, take a look at the money: the $3 million to support Prop. 98 came almost entirely from landlords.

This is the single most important issue on the ballot. Remember: no on 98, yes on 99.

San Francisco measures

Proposition A

School parcel tax


Every year, hundreds of excellent teachers leave the San Francisco Unified School District. Some retire after a career in the classroom, but too many others — young teachers with three to five years of experience — bail because they decide they can’t make enough money. San Francisco pays less than public school districts in San Mateo and Marin counties and far less than private and charter schools. And given the high cost of living in the city, a lot of qualified people never even consider teaching as a profession. That harms the public school system and the 58,000 students who rely on it.

It’s a statewide problem, even a national one — but San Francisco, with a remarkable civic unity, is moving to do something about it. Proposition A would place an annual tax on every parcel of land in the city; the typical homeowner would pay less than $200 a year. The money would go directly to increasing pay — mostly starting pay — for teachers. The proposition, which has the support of almost everyone in town except the Republican Party, is properly targeted toward the newer teachers, with the goal of keeping the best teachers on the job past that critical three to five years.

Parcel taxes aren’t perfect; they force homeowners and small businesses to pay the same rate as huge commercial property owners. The way land is divided in the city most big downtown properties sit on at least five, and sometimes as many as 10 or 20 parcels, so the bill will be larger for them. But it’s still nowhere near proportionate.

Still, Prop. 13 has made it almost impossible to raise ad valorum property taxes (based on a property’s assessed value) in the state, and communities all around the Bay are using parcel taxes as a reasonable if imperfect substitute.

There’s a strong campaign for Prop. A and not much in the way of organized opposition, but the measure still needs a two-thirds vote. So for the sake of public education in San Francisco, it’s critical to vote yes.

Proposition B

City retiree benefits change


San Francisco has always offered generous health and retirement benefits to its employees. That’s a good thing. But in this unfortunate era, when federal money is getting sucked into Iraq, state money is going down the giant deficit rat hole, and nobody is willing to raise taxes, the bill for San Francisco’s expensive employee benefit programs is now looking to create a fiscal crisis at City Hall. Officials estimate the payout for current and past employees could total $4 billion over the next 30 years.

So Sup. Sean Elsbernd and his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors have engineered this smart compromise measure in a way that saves the city money over the long run and has the support of labor unions (largely because it includes an increase in the pensions for longtime employees, partially offset by a one-year wage freeze starting in 2009) while still offering reasonable retirements benefits for new employees.

Previously, city employees who worked just five years could get taxpayer-paid health benefits for life. Under this measure, it will take 20 years to get fully paid health benefits, with partially paid benefits after 10 years.

It’s rare to find an issue that has the support of virtually everyone, from the supervisors and the mayor to labor. Prop. B makes sense. Vote yes.

Proposition C

Benefit denials for convicts


On the surface, it’s hard to argue against Prop. C, a measure promoted as a way to keep crooks from collecting city retirement benefits. Sup. Sean Elsbernd’s ballot measure would update an ordinance that’s been on the books in San Francisco for years, one that strips public employees found guilty of "crimes of moral turpitude" against the city of their pensions. A recent court case involving a worker who stole from the city raised doubt about whether that law also applied to disability pay, and Prop. C would clear up that possible loophole.

But there are drawbacks this measure.

For starters, the problem isn’t that big: cases of rejected retirement benefits for city workers are rare. And the law still uses that questionable phrase "moral turpitude" — poorly defined in state law, never clearly defined in this measure, and as any older gay person can tell you, in the past applied to conduct that has nothing to do with honesty. The US State Department considers "bastardy," "lewdness," "mailing an obscene letter" and "desertion from the armed forces," among other things, to be crimes of moral turpitude.

Besides, Prop. C would apply not only to felonies but to misdemeanors. Cutting off disability pay for life over a misdemeanor offense seems awfully harsh.

The law that Elsbernd wants to expand ought to be rethought and reconfigured for the modern era. So vote no on C.

Proposition D

Appointments to city commissions


Prop. D is a policy statement urging the mayor and the supervisors to appoint more women, minorities, and people with disabilities to city boards and commissions. It follows a study by the Commission on the Status of Women that such individuals are underrepresented on the policy bodies that run many city operations.

Despite the overblown concerns raised by local Republicans in the ballot arguments, this advisory measure would do nothing to interfere with qualified white males — or anyone else — getting slots on commissions.

Vote yes.

Proposition E

Board approval of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission appointees


"The last thing we need is more politics at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission," was the first line in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s ballot argument against Prop. E. That’s ironic: it was Newsom’s recent political power play — including the unexplained ousting of SFPUC General Manager Susan Leal and the partially successful effort to reappoint his political allies to this important body — that prompted this long overdue reform.

The SFPUC is arguably the most powerful and important of the city commissions, controlling all the vital resources city residents need: water, power, and waste disposal chief among them. Yet with the mayor controlling all appointments to the commission (it takes a two-thirds vote of the Board of Supervisors to challenge an appointment), that panel has long been stacked with worthless political hacks. As a result, the panel never pursued progressive approaches to conservation, environmental justice, public power, or aggressive development of renewable power sources.

Prop. E attempts to break that political stranglehold by requiring majority confirmation by the Board of Supervisors for all SFPUC appointments. It also mandates that appointees have some experience or expertise in matters important to the SFPUC.

If anything, this reform is too mild: we would have preferred that the board have the authority to name some of the commissioners. But that seemed unlikely to pass, so the board settled for a modest attempt to bring some oversight to the powerful panel.

Vote yes on Prop. E — because the last thing we need is more politics at the SFPUC.

Proposition F

Hunters Point-Bayview redevelopment


Proposition G


On the face of it, Proposition G sounds like a great way to restart the long-idle economic engine of the Bayview and clean up the heavily polluted Hunters Point Shipyard.

Who could be against a plan that promises up to 10,000 new homes, 300 acres of new parks, 8,000 permanent jobs, a green tech research park, a new 49ers stadium, a permanent home for shipyard artists, and a rebuild of Alice Griffith housing project?

The problem with Prop. G is that its promises are, for the most part, just that: promises — which could well shift at any time, driven by the bottom line of Lennar Corp., a financially stressed, out-of-state developer that has already broken trust with the Bayview’s low-income and predominantly African American community.

Lennar has yet to settle with the Bay Area air quality district over failures to control asbestos dust at a 1,500-unit condo complex on the shipyard, where for months the developer kicked up clouds of unmonitored toxic asbestos dust next to a K-12 school.

So, the idea of giving this corporation more land — including control of the cleanup of a federal Superfund site — as part of a plan that also allows it to construct a bridge over a slough restoration project doesn’t sit well with community and environmental groups. And Prop. G’s promise to build "as many as 25 percent affordable" housing units doesn’t impress affordable housing activists.

What Prop. G really means is that Lennar, which has already reneged on promises to create much-needed rental units at the shipyard, now plans to build at least 75 percent of its housing on this 770-acre waterfront swathe as luxury condos.

And with the subprime mortgage crisis continuing to roil the nation, there is a real fear that Prop. G’s final "affordability" percentage will be set by Lennar’s profit margins and not the demographics of the Bayview, home to the city’s last major African American community and many low-income people of color.

There’s more: The nice green space that you see in the slick Lennar campaign fliers is toxic and may not be fully cleaned up. Under the plan, Lennar would put condo towers on what is now state parkland, and in exchange the city would get some open space with artificial turf on top that would be used for parking during football games. Assuming, that is, that a deal to build a new stadium for the 49ers — which is part of all of this — ever comes to pass.

In fact, the lion’s share of a recent $82 million federal funding allocation will be dedicated to cleaning up the 27-acre footprint proposed for a new stadium. In some places, the city is planning to cap contaminated areas, rather than excavate and remove toxins from the site.

If the environmental justice and gentrification questions swirling around Prop. G weren’t enough, there remains Prop. G’s claim that it will create 8,000 permanent jobs once the project is completed. There’s no doubt that the construction of 10,000 mostly luxury homes will create temporary construction jobs, but it’s not clear what kind of jobs the resulting gentrified neighborhood will provide and for whom.

But one thing is clear: the $1 million that Lennar has already plunked down to influence this election has overwhelmingly gone to line the pockets of the city’s already highly paid political elite, and not the people who grew up and still live in the Bayview.

But there’s an alternative.

Launched as a last-ditch effort to prevent wholesale gentrification of the Bayview, Proposition F requires that 50 percent of the housing in the BVHP/Candlestick Point project be affordable to those making less than the median area income ($68,000 for a family of four).

That’s a reasonable mandate, considering that the city’s own general plan calls for two-thirds of all new housing to be sold or rented at below-market rates.

And if the new housing is built along Lennar’s plans, it will be impossible to avoid large-scale gentrification and displacement in a neighborhood that has the highest percentage of African Americans in the city, the third highest population of children, and burgeoning Latino and Asian immigrant populations.

Lennar is balking at that level, saying a 50-percent affordability mandate would make the project financially unfeasible. But if Lennar can’t afford to develop this area at levels affordable to the community that lives in and around the area, the city should scrap this redevelopment plan, send this developer packing, and start over again.

San Francisco has an affordable housing crisis, and we continue to doubt whether the city needs any more million-dollar condos — and we certainly don’t need them in a redevelopment area in the southeast. Remember: this is 700 acres of prime waterfront property that Lennar will be getting for free. The deal on the table just isn’t good enough.

Vote yes on F and no on G.

Proposition H

Campaign committees


This one sounds just fine. Promoted by Mayor Gavin Newsom, Proposition H is supposedly aimed at ensuring that elected officials don’t solicit money from city contractors for campaigns they are sponsoring. But it lacks a crucial legal definition — and that turns what ought to be a worthy measure into little more than an attack on Newsom’s foes on the Board of Supervisors.

The key element is something called a "controlled committee." It’s already illegal for city contractors to give directly to candidates who might later vote on their contracts. Prop. H would extend that ban to committees, typically run for or against ballot measures, that are under the control of an individual politician.

Take this one, for example. Since Newsom put this on the ballot, and will be campaigning for it, the Yes on H campaign is under his control — he would be barred from collecting cash from city contractors, right? Well, no.

See, the measure doesn’t define what "controlled committee" means. So a group of Newsom’s allies could set up a Yes on H fund, raise big money from city contractors, then simply say that Newsom wasn’t officially aware of it or involved in its operation.

When Newsom first ran for mayor, the committee supporting his signature initiative — Care Not Cash — raised a fortune, and the money directly helped his election. But that wasn’t legally a "controlled committee" — because Newsom never signed the documents saying he was in control.

Prop. H does nothing to change that rule, which means it would only affect campaign committees that a politician admits to controlling. And guess what? Newsom almost never admits that, while the supervisors, particularly board president Aaron Peskin, are a bit more honest.

When Newsom wants to clearly define "controlled committee" — in a way that would have brought the Care Not Cash effort under the law — we’ll go along with it. For now, though, vote no on H.

San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee

The DCCC is the policy-making and operating arm of the local Democratic Party, and it has a lot of influence: the party can endorse in nonpartisan elections — for San Francisco supervisor, for example — and its nod gives candidates credibility and money. There’s been a struggle between the progressives and the moderates for years — and this time around, there’s a serious, concerted effort for a progressive slate. The Hope Slate, which we endorse in its entirety, has the potential to turn the San Francisco Democratic Party into a leading voice for progressive values.

There are other good candidates running, but since this group will have consistent support and is running as a slate, we’re going with the full crew.

13th Assembly District

Bill Barnes, David Campos, David Chiu, Chris Daly, Michael Goldstein, Robert Haaland, Joe Julian, Rafael Mandelman, Aaron Peskin, Eric Quezada, Laura Spanjian, Debra Walker

12th Assembly District

Michael Bornstein, Emily Drennen, Hene Kelly, Eric Mar, Jake McGoldrick, Trevor McNeil, Jane Morrison, Melanie Nutter, Connie O’Connor, Giselle Quezada, Arlo Hale Smith

Alameda County races

Superior Court judge, Seat 21


There are two good candidates running for this open seat. Dennis Hayashi, a public-interest lawyer, would make a fine judge. Victoria Kolakowski would make history.

Kolakowski, who works as an administrative law judge for the California Public Utilities Commission, would be the first transgender person on the Alameda bench and, quite possibly, in the entire country. That would be a major breakthrough and important for more than just symbolic reasons: transpeople have extensive interactions with the judicial system, starting with the work to legally change their names; and, all too often, members of this marginalized community wind up in the criminal justice system. Having a sitting TG judge would go a long way toward educating the legal world about the importance of trans sensitivity.

Kolakowski is eminently qualified for the job: as a private intellectual property lawyer and later an ALJ at the CPUC, she’s handled a range of complex legal issues. She currently oversees administrative hearings that are very similar to court proceedings, and she has a calm and fair judicial temperament.

That’s not to denigrate Hayashi, who also has an impressive résumé. He’s spend much of his life in public-interest law, working for many years with the Asian Law Caucus, and he was co-counsel in the historic case that challenged Fred Korematsu’s conviction for refusing to report to a Japanese internment camp during World War II. He’s run the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing and was a civil rights lawyer in the Clinton administration.

We’d be happy to see either on the bench, but we’re going to endorse Kolakowski.

Board of Supervisors, District 5


Keith Carson, the leading progressive on the board, has no real opposition this time around. He’s been a voice for protecting the fragile social safety net of the county, and we’re happy to endorse him for another term.

Oakland races

City Attorney


John Russo, who has made no secrets of his political ambition, failed in a bid to win the State Assembly seat for District 16 in 2006, and now he’s running unopposed for reelection. Russo has voiced some pretty ridiculous sentiments: he told a magazine for landlords in May 2006 that he opposed all forms of rent control and was against laws requiring just cause for evictions. That’s a horrible stand for a city attorney to take in a city with a huge population of renters. But Russo is smart and capable, and he’s one of the few city attorneys who consistently supports sunshine laws. We’ll endorse him for another term.

City Council, District 1


An attorney and former teacher, Jane Brunner spends a lot of time pushing for more cops; crime is the top issue in the North Oakland district she represents. And while we’d rather see anticrime approaches that go beyond hiring more officers, we appreciate that Brunner takes on the police department over its hiring failures. We also find her far more preferable on the issue than her opponent, Patrick McCullough, a longtime neighborhood activist who has become something of a celebrity since he shot a teenager who was hassling him in front of his house in 2005.

Brunner is one of the council’s strongest affordable housing advocates and has worked tirelessly for an inclusionary housing law. She deserves reelection.

City Council, District 3


Nadel is hardworking, effective, a leader on progressive economic and planning issues, and one of the best members of the Oakland City Council. She asked the hard questions and demanded improvements in the giant Oak to Ninth project (although she wound up voting for it). She’s pushing for better community policing and promoting community-based anticrime efforts, including a teen center in a part of her district where there have been several homicides. She was a principal architect of the West Oakland industrial zoning plan, which she hopes will attract new jobs to the community (although she also pissed off a few artists who fear they’ll be evicted from living spaces that aren’t up to code, and she needs to address the problem). We’re happy to endorse her for another term.

City Council, District 5


Somebody has to try to oust Ignacio De La Fuente, and this time around, Juarez is the best bet. A small-businessperson (he runs a real-estate operation with around 60 employees), he has some surprisingly progressive positions: he not only supports inclusionary housing but told us that he wanted to see the percentage of affordable units increased from 15 to 25 percent. He wants to see community policing integrated fully into Oakland law enforcement. He suggested that Oakland look into putting a modest fee on all airport users to fund local education. And he’s in favor of stronger eviction controls and tenant protections.

De La Fuente, the City Council president, has been the developers’ best friend, has run meetings with a harsh hand, often cutting off debate and silencing community activists, and needs to be defeated. We know Juarez isn’t perfect, but his progressive grassroots-based campaign was strong enough to get him the nod of both the Democratic Party and the Alameda County Greens. We’ll endorse him, too.

City Council, District 7


Neither of the candidates in this race are terribly impressive, but incumbent Larry Reid has been so terrible on so many issues (supporting big-box development, inviting the Marines to do war games in Oakland, supporting condo conversions, etc.) that it’s hard to imagine how Clifford Gilmore, director of the Oakland Coalition of Congregations, could be worse.

City Council, at large


Rebecca Kaplan is exactly what the Oakland City Council needs: an energetic progressive with the practical skills to get things done. As an AC Transit Board member, she pushed for free bus passes for low income youths — and defying all odds, managed to get all-night transit service from San Francisco to the East Bay. She did it by refusing to accept the conventional wisdom that transit agencies on the two sides of the bay would never cooperate. She put the key players together in a meeting, convinced the San Francisco supervisors to allow AC Transit buses to pick up passengers in the city late at night, and put through an effective program to get people across the bay after BART shuts down.

Kaplan is running for City Council on a progressive platform calling for affordable housing, rational development, and community policing. Her latest idea: since Oakland has so much trouble attracting quality candidates for vacancies in its police department, she suggests the city recruit gay and lesbian military veterans who were kicked out under the Pentagon’s homophobic policies. Her proposed slogan: "Uncle Sam doesn’t want you, but Oakland does."

Vote for Rebecca Kaplan.

School Board, District 1


The Oakland schools are still stuck under a state administrator; the district, which was driven by mismanagement into a financial crisis several years ago, paid the price of a state bailout by giving up its independence. The school board has only limited authority of district operations, though that’s slowly changing. The state allowed the board to hire an interim superintendent, meaning issues like curricula and programs will be back under local control. So it’s a time of transition for a district that has had horrible problems, and the board needs experienced, level-headed leadership.

We’re impressed with Jody London, a parent with children in the public schools who runs a small environmental consulting firm. She has been active in the district, co-chairing the 2006 bond campaign that raised $435 million and serving on the bond oversight committee. She has a grasp of fiscal management, understands the challenges the district faces, and has the energy to take them on.

Her main opposition is Brian Rogers, a Republican who has the backing of outgoing state senator Don Perata and is a big fan of private charter schools. Tennessee Reed, a young writer and editor, is also in the race, and we’re glad to see her getting active. But on balance, London is the clear choice.

School Board, District 3


Not a great choice here — we’re not thrilled with either of the two contenders. Jumoke Hinton Hodge, a nonprofit consultant, is too willing to support charter schools. Oluwole, who works with parolees, has limited experience with education. But on the basis of his community background (he’s on the board of the Oakland Community Organization) and our concern about Hodge and charter schools, we’ll go with Oluwole.

School Board, District 5


Noel Gallo, the incumbent, is running unopposed. He’s been a competent member of the board, and we see no reason not to support his reelection.

School Board, District 7


Alice Spearman, the incumbent, isn’t the most inspiring member of the board — and she’s known for making some ill-considered and impolitic statements. But her main opponent, Doris Limbrick, is the principal of a Christian school and has no business running for the board of a public school district. So we’ll go with Spearman again.

Alameda County measures

Measure F

Utility users tax


Measure F extends and slightly increases the utility tax on unincorporated areas of the county. It’s not the greatest tax, but it’s not terrible — and it provides essential revenue to pay for services like law enforcement, libraries, and code enforcement. The parts of Alameda County outside any city boundary have been dwindling as cities expand, but the county provides the only local government services in those areas. And, like every other county in California, Alameda is desperately short of cash. So Measure F is crucial. Vote yes.

Oakland Measure J

Telephone-user tax


Measure J would update a 40-year-old tax on phone use that goes for local services. The tax law applies only to old-fashioned land lines, so cell phone users get away without paying. This isn’t the world’s most progressive tax, but Oakland needs the money and Measure J would more fairly share the burden. Vote yes.

Goode is great …



Before his dancers had even taken a single step, a huge round of applause greeted Joe Goode at his group’s 20th-anniversary concert at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Goode is probably the best-loved choreographer in town. For two decades he has chronicled his generation’s unease about living in its own skin. When AIDS began to devastate this town in the early ’80s, Goode was there to speak out with pieces that were blunt, poignant, and theatrically savvy.

Goode is the poet of anxiety, pain, and uncertainty. He’s able to see a major catastrophe on its own terms but also as a metaphor for what ails us. His heroes and they are heroes are the outsiders, the watchers, and the misfits whose values and existence society would like to deny. He has a self-deprecatory wit that makes us wince and laugh at the same time. And he has developed a genre of dance theater that’s exceptionally successful at blending speech and movement. Very few choreographers have Goode’s ability to use language so acutely.

The anniversary concert offered the standing-room-only audience two pieces, the new Stay Together, to a score by San Francisco Symphony music director Michael Tilson Thomas, and the haunting 1998 Deeply There (stories of a neighborhood).

In Stay Together, Goode tackles what is glibly summarized as the midlife crisis: when long-term relationships unravel, careers begin to meander, and time ahead is shortening. A secondary strand explores the process of creating a piece, of finding a direction in which to take it. The ever-efficient Liz Burritt, clipboard in hand and glasses on her nose, was there to give the largely silent Goode plenty of advice of the “listen deeply” and “be in the moment” type.

The challenge here for Goode was to make a work about being clueless without coming up with a piece that goes nowhere. It’s a challenge he doesn’t quite meet. To achieve “a perfect little euphoria” is, no matter what Burritt says, no easier in art than it is in life. Despite good collaborators and several splendid episodes, there’s something wan about Stay Together that makes for a disconcerting theatrical experience.

Tilson Thomas’s score is perfectly serviceable, with monochromatic sections punctuated by percussive elements. Several times it hilariously called up sci-fi and Movietone music associations.

Goode and Melecio Estrella, as his maybe young lover, maybe younger self, had some telling shadowing duets together. During their first meeting, silhouetted against separate screens, heads longingly turning toward each other, they almost trembled with excitement and fragility. Throughout, Austin Forbord’s live videos contributed excellent tonal nuances and a sense of sometimes almost painful intimacy.

Stay Together‘s most theatrically cutting moment came with Marit Brook-Kothlow’s sex-starved Norma Desmond figure. The intensity of the character’s obsession split her screen image and spilled over into some vigorous dancing.

Deeply There remains one of Goode’s finest works. Robin Holcomb’s on-tape score, with its echoes of Shaker and Americana folk tunes, is inspired; the a cappella singing by Goode’s dancer-actors, haunting. With this quasi–musical theater work, Goode hones in on and pays tribute to a community that pulled together and learned to take care of and bury its own. Goode’s piece just barely avoids sentimentality by calling up equal measures of laughter and tears.

On many levels the piece remains disjointed. The outrageous Imelda figure (Ruben Graciani) and a voguing Jackie O sequence have little to do with the work’s subject except to point to the excesses of the times. These are the segments that today seem the most dated, perhaps because they look so innocent.

Yet the work rode an emotionally convincing trajectory from the opening prologue between Frank (Goode) and little Willis (Joshua Rauchwerger), who wants to know where Goode’s lover Ben is, to the last monologue about carrying on, however uncertainly. The scenes seamlessly flowed one to the next; the characters looked all too plausible. Estrella as the well-meaning goody-goody neighbor was positively nauseating, while Brook-Kothlow has grown in stature as D.D. the dog and Felipe Barrueto Cabello’s silent Mauricio has more backbone. The only false note remains Joyce (Burritt), Ben’s virago of a sister. She is still too much of a caricature. SFBG

joe goode performance group

Fri/9–Sat/10, 8 p.m.; Sun/11, 7 p.m.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater

700 Howard, SF


(415) 978-2787,

Beast of the Bay


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Woe to you, Oh Earth and Sea, for the Devil sends the Beast with wrath, because he knows the time is short…. Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty six.

Revelation 13:18

This week marks an unusual holiday or unholy day that only comes along once every 100 years: the Day of the Beast, 6/6/06. For some it is a day to fear, when the Antichrist of Christian mythology will finally be revealed. For others it is a time of hope and celebration for precisely the same reason. For me, it is a time to rock. The Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden’s third studio album, was released in 1982. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson had just joined the band, and Maiden was at the height of its powers. My best friend Mike and I listened to the entire record every day after school for months. We would sit on the edge of my bed and stare at the record cover, trying to decipher its hidden meanings and getting off on the comic book/metal imagery. As true fans and converts, we felt compelled to spread the word, or at least show how cool we thought we were.

So one morning before school, we took a black Magic Marker to a couple of white T-shirts, writing three big 6s on the fronts and “The Number of the Beast” on the backs. We were so proud of ourselves walking to school, but our bubble was burst as soon as we got there: The teacher sent us straight back home to change, telling us, “Some of the other children might find it offensive.” Mike and I both played it off like we were innocent little rock fans, with no intentions of offending or converting anyone to Satanism. We were just celebrating our favorite band and song.

The title song in question is, to my mind, one of the most rocking ever recorded. Maiden bassist Steve Harris wrote it, and it is a true metal classic: heavy riffs, strong, catchy hooks, and vaguely sinister metal lyrics. The words put the listener straight into the narrator’s mind, witnessing the dawn of Hell on Earth: “Torches blazed and sacred chants were praised/ As they start to cry, hands held to the sky/ In the night, the fires burning bright/ The ritual has begun, Satan’s work is done.”

Dickinson invokes dark, paranoid imagery as if channeling Poe or Lovecraft, and when he spits out the chorus of “6-6-6/ The Number of the Beast,” he conjures up all that is implied in the evil numerology: the tension between the narrator’s juvenile fascination with evil much like our own and the higher impulse to overcome and reject it.

“But I feel drawn to the chanting hordes / They seem to mesmerize, can’t avoid their eyes.”

In the end, the narrator appears to be swayed, or possessed, by the dark forces, and joins them. But don’t worry, for we are shown the way to salvation by the album’s cover art: Amid a field of flames and an ominous night sky, a small man, representing humanity, dances on puppet strings held by a horned, red devil, who is himself attached to strings wielded by Eddie, Maiden’s ubiquitous undead mascot. The message is clear: While humankind may be weak and easily led astray by the Hoofed One, it is the power of rock or more specifically, metal, as represented by Eddie that can save us and help us to conquer our fears. The words of the song tell one story, but the sheer visceral power of the music itself transforms and redeems the lyrical narrative. Evil may exist in ourselves, on Earth, and in the universe but by the empowering grace of metal, we can exorcise our demons and tame the beast within. Metal becomes the negation of the negation.

Theologically, of course, before the devil became the grotesque and irredeemable character of novels and horror movies, he was the Adversary, the Fallen Angel, the Forsaken One of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. Remember his friendly wager with God over Job’s soul, or his cordial philosophical debates with the Nazarene, long before Faust’s wager or Linda Blair’s projectile vomiting. It was he who questioned and encouraged others to do the same, the one who opposed and dared to think for himself. He was the rebel, the gadfly, the thorn in the side. The subsequent notion that questioning authority and tradition is the devil’s work, though intended to scare us straight, gives rise to a certain curiosity and yes, sympathy toward Lucifer, in some who cherish freedom of thought and expression. No doubt some of the titillation we feel watching Rosemary’s Baby or listening to the “The Number of the Beast” comes from such an impulse to defy a hallowed authority, from the safety of our imaginations.

Twenty-four years after it was released, the Iron Maiden album retains its power and vitality. It continues to be a benchmark for good, honest heavy metal now obscured by retro-fixated irony, emo-inspired whininess, embarrassing misappropriations of hip-hop, and false metal generally. The fact that Maiden has stuck to its guns through the waxing and waning of true metal’s popularity and has continued to record and tour on its own terms to this day somehow adds to the record’s staying power. The music is not tainted by revisionist questions about the band’s motives or integrity. In this, as well as the music, Maiden continues to be an inspiration to generations of musicians and fans.

I like to think of “The Number of the Beast” as a kind of “White Christmas” for the day of the beast. (Too bad it’s a holiday that only happens once a century it could mean a gold mine in royalties for Harris and co.) Never mind that the nice chaps in Maiden are not actually Satanists at all Irving Berlin was Jewish, and we all know you don’t have to be a Christian to have a tree. It’s the spirit of the day that counts. So on 6/6/06, do yourself a favor and crank up some Maiden. If you listen carefully, you might almost hear the children’s voices caroling:

“666 The number of the beast/ 666 The one for you and me.” SFBG

Devin Hoff lives in Oakland and plays the bass with Redressers, Good for Cows, Nels Cline Singers, and others.

Multi-angle magic


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If you have any doubts about the imagination’s ability to transform time and space, you can find proof positive by going to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this weekend. Thanks to Margaret Jenkins’s new A Slipping Glimpse, the YBCA’s Forum that ugly box of a multipurpose theater has been changed into a place of magic reality. Jenkins’s 75-minute piece (plus a 10-minute prologue performed outdoors) is a rapturous celebration of fragility and resilience, a canticle of what it means to be alive. And yet how ironic: This is a work whose fierce physicality is as ephemeral as a gust of wind or the felt presence of something that may not be there.

Jenkins has been choreographing and collaborating for more than 30 years. She has always chosen carefully, but rarely has a piece of hers emerged so completely from its mold. It helps that she has worked with three of her collaborators poet Michael Palmer, designer Alexander V. Nichols, and composer Paul Dresher for a very long time. Still, Slipping shows a remarkable congruence of spirits and style.

Major credit has to go to Nichols’s brilliant design of red-hued, multilevel platforms and elevated walkways positioned between four wedges of seating areas. The effect is of a theater in the round with a nondirectional performance space, where perspectives are shaped by where you sit. The musicians are placed on opposing balconies above everyone else. Dresher’s score is full of rich textures, sometimes percussive, sometimes ballad-like, with a quasi rock beat now and then, plus Joan Jeanrenaud’s cello soaring like a lark. While not offering much of a rhythmic base, the music provides its own commentary and often envelops the dancers in a multi-colored sonic mist.

Poet Michael Palmer’s suggestive texts, read on tape, give just enough of a grounding to set signposts for Slipping‘s four sections. First, he suggests oppositions to be considered; later he evokes a group of dancers’ dreams about sailing on a frozen lake.

Slipping is the result of a partnering between the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and the Tanusree Shankar Dance Company from Kolkata, India, where the Jenkins company had a residency in 2005. Choreographer Shankar also worked with Jenkins’s company in San Francisco. The resulting work is performed by 15 dancers, including four from India. At times the two groups intermingle, but the Indian dancers also perform by themselves. It is gorgeous to observe how the Americans and the Indians so differently trained despite the fact that both perform in contemporary styles move from a common base. The details of the gestural vocabulary and use of levels, for instance, are varied, but similarities are striking and unforced.

Slipping opens with a tableau on one of Nichols’s red platforms. One by one the dancers find individual ways to lower themselves onto the equally red floor. In a traditional greeting gesture, they fold their hands in front of their faces, then open them as if peering into a mirror or a book. Then off they go, on communal, loping runs that move forward and also recoil back. Picking up gestures from each other, they pull and they yield. Twice, multi-level chains form and simply dissolve when lifted dancers cannot breach the space between the two groups; overhead horizontal lifts often freeze in time.

Jenkins also showcases her dancers individually. Heidi Schweiker, whom I have never seen dance better, roams the stage on her own while everyone else is busy on platforms. Melanie Elms burrows into a knot of bodies only to emerge on the other side. When the stage is packed with multiple activities, Ryan T. Smith runs around its periphery tying them all together. Levi Toney is all over the place, holding Schweiker and “dropping” her to the floor; he later partners a splendid new dancer, Matthew Holland, who has his own jaw-dropping solo.

Slipping recalls Jenkins mentor Merce Cunningham’s Ocean, particularly in the way the choreography is multi-focused. Even though the lighting cues provide some direction, audience members make their own choices about what to watch. At one point, my eye caught four dancers on one of the platforms as they deeply inhaled and exhaled toward their colleagues. Were they sending them energy or were these movements a coincidence? At another moment, the four Indian dancers appeared high above, posing as temple statues, as a vigorous male duet unfolded on the floor. Why then, why there? Right in front of me, a woman pulled away from another dancer who had reached out to her. Who else saw that gesture?

Slipping doesn’t have a linear trajectory, but its ebb and flow, the way hyperactivity balances stillness, suggest purpose and something like an underlying unity and maybe even order. SFBG

A Slipping Glimpse

Wed/24–Sat/27, 7 p.m.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum

701 Mission, SF


(415) 978-ARTS

His architect


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“This is so stupid looking, it’s great!” the diminutive architect exclaims early on in Sketches of Frank Gehry, thrusting his hands in the air like a five-year-old, the exuberance of inspiration plastered all over a face so cheek-pinchingly cute and Tom Bosleyish you want to call him “Mr. G.” Gehry’s designs may indeed often be stupid (“Some of his buildings are extremely ugly,” notes one persnickety critic), but despite all the grotesque, garish fun houses of titanium and glass, his work also radiates a peculiar warmth and friendliness. Unlike, say, Freedom Tower overlord Daniel Libeskind, whose attempts at sentiment come off about as soft and subtle as the rigid rectangles of his horn-rim glasses, Gehry can be intimidating in scope yet warm and fuzzy in feeling. His shiny, unduutf8g surfaces at times seem downright … feminine.

That mix of abrupt showman’s flash and pacifying softness is probably what has made the Toronto-born, LA-based Gehry the world’s most famous and popular living architect. The 77-year-old celebrity magnet (Brad Pitt is obsessed) is so in demand, he’s even started designing jewelry. Yes, Frank Gehry is the People’s Architect, so it’s no surprise an admitted architecture novice has created the first filmic retrospective of his work.

Actually, Sydney Pollack probably knows more than he lets on he and Gehry have been close friends for decades, after all. Both men admitted to each other early in the friendship that they felt they were “faking it” in their respective careers. Gehry, however, is much more forthright about a professional rivalry between the two. “We’re in a different business, but I probably still compete with you,” he tells Pollack with a matter-of-fact chuckle. Pollack’s egomania, like his art, is much more demure: He asserts that the key to his success is finding a suitable niche within the confines of crass Hollywood commercialism. In other words, playing by the rules.

Clearly Gehry is the maverick (compare The Interpreter to the Vitra Furniture Museum, for instance). The relationship between the two men their professional jealousies, the push-pull of commerce in their respective muddied art forms, and how that tension has been realized in their work is probably the most interesting aspect of Sketches of Frank Gehry. Unfortunately, it’s barely explored, perhaps because the incessantly safe Pollack refuses to insert himself into the narrative in any meaningful way.

Instead, we’re subjected to various experts and other talking heads arguing the merits of Gehry’s work the impossible claptrap of “What is art?” and “What is good art?” If it weren’t for the obnoxious, self-congratulatory, bathrobe-and-snifter-sporting Julian Schnabel, there’d be no end to the self-serious babble. When asked about the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Schnabel crudely snorts that it makes him want to “stick [his] stuff in there.”

Gehry’s sketches fluid, Matisse-like squiggles that stand in stark contrast to the imposing final products make for effective intertitles, but the montages of pretty buildings set to classical music become downright coma inducing after a while. Better are the passages featuring Gehry’s close friend and analyst of 35 years, Milton Wexler, and Gehry himself discussing his relationship with cuckolding first wife Berta. It was Berta who talked him into changing his name, and for many years he was so bereft he still introduced himself by saying, “I’m Frank Gehry. It used to be Goldberg.” (Gehry does, however, admit that anti-Semitism probably caused much of his initial struggle in the business.)

If Pollack really wanted to focus on Gehry’s artistic process, why not follow one project through from inception to completion rather than offer circumspect glimpses the titular sketches of Gehry’s work? Surely the filmmaker, although a documentary neophyte, understands that drama is the essence of nonfiction storytelling too? It’s hard to believe it took him a reported five years to cobble together this underwhelming footage. (Easier to believe: The stuffy Sketches was coproduced by New York PBS affiliate WNET.) Sketches of Frank Gehry isn’t necessarily a bad film it more or less meets the requisite documentary building codes. But no one is going to stop and marvel at its sheer audacity or be moved by its form. Perhaps next time the architect himself should design his own doc. He could call it Fully Realized Frank Gehry, and it would be unafraid to look stupid. And wouldn’t that be great. SFBG


Opens Fri/26

Embarcadero Center Cinema

1 Embarcadero Center, promenade level, SF

(415) 267-4893

Albany Twin

1115 Solano, Albany

(510) 843-3456

For showtimes, go to

Cocky bull story


Erich von Stroheim and Orson Welles were early, defining examples of the film director living like a work of art larger than life, a wee bit self-destructive, and as entertaining as their movies. Yet looking, acting, and smelling like a great filmmaker doesn’t necessarily mean you are one.

Nicholas Jarecki’s The Outsider manages to just about completely avoid that troublesome issue. It leaves no doubt, however, that subject James Toback is a maverick, an auteur, and an original. The leap implied is that these inherently neutral designations imply quality, even greatness not just, as Roger Ebert is noted as saying (in perhaps the closest the film comes to a critical evaluation), that anything of an off-the-beaten-track, personal nature is bound to be more “interesting” than whatever the studio assembly line spat out last weekend.

No argument there. But it would be ignoring what really does grab one’s lapels about Toback’s work to suggest (as The Outsider does) that he must make great films because they’re unlike anyone else’s. In fact, the reason he’s been worth following for three decades or so is precisely because his work is often obnoxious, crackpot, and uneven at best and ouch-bad at worst. Toback’s moments of garishly questionable judgment are sometimes world-class ones you can’t forget.

After major druggy high jinks at Harvard and penning an infatuated book about Dionysian football legend Jim Brown, Toback wrote 1974’s The Gambler, in which all his influences (the first being Dostoyevsky) and themes (“race, sex and risk”) are laid out. It was about an intellectual (James Caan) driven by compulsion into gambling debts and other excesses that invite criminal violence pretty much the quintessential Toback plot, someone notes in The Outsider, and one he’s happy to confirm as quasi-autobiographical.

A similar scenario went into hyperdrive in 1971’s Fingers, his first and still best directorial effort. Recently remade as the French film The Beat That My Heart Skipped, this electric genre-mauling had frequent collaborator Harvey Keitel bouncing off the walls of his inner Dr. Jekyll (concert pianist) and Mr. Hyde (psychotic mob enforcer). It remains crazy in a good way. Which could not be said of the international intrigues Love and Money (alas, there’s no footage of him wrangling on-set with Klaus Kinski) and Exposed. The latter featured unlikely corn-fed Midwesterner Nastassja Kinski’s encounters with terrorism, fashion modeling, and a Rudolf Nureyev struggling to convey blaze-hot heterosexuality in a uniquely constipated way. Like his friend Norman Mailer, Toback often regards women with a combination of Penthouse slobbering and Freudian horror; it’s too bad the documentary doesn’t ask any of his more recklessly messed-around actresses for their two cents.

It’s a mighty spotty oeuvre. His more commercial stabs (The Pick-Up Artist, Harvard Man) are just poor entertainment; a smart screenplay for Bugsy was undermined by the wrong star (Warren Beatty) and director (Barry Levinson). The Big Bang was a look-who-I-know cocktail party masquerading as philosophical inquiry. Highly “personal projects” Black and White and Two Girls and a Guy gave Robert Downey Jr. way too much rope while giving me cause to repeatedly bang my head against the wall. Many of these films are playing at the Roxie in conjunction with Jarecki’s portrait. Knock yourself out.

At times The Outsider is more revealing than flattering toward its subject as when Downey calls the subject a “genius and retard.” If one might argue he doesn’t merit either extreme, it’s Toback’s oft-simultaneous hitting-and-missing that makes him so hard to dismiss. Or maybe it’s just the 100,000 micrograms of pure LSD-25 he says he never quite recovered from. That does explain a lot.


Fri/7 through April 13

Fri., 7 and 9 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 3, 7 and 9 p.m.; and Mon.–Thurs., 6:30, 8, and 9:30 p.m.

For information about the “James Toback Retrospective,” see Rep Clock.

Roxie Cinema

3117 16th St., SF


(415) 863-1087

28 years later


If you live in or truly love San Francisco, you’ve seen The Times of Harvey Milk. Rob Epstein’s 1984 movie is one of the best nonfiction features ever made. It’s also one of the greatest movies about this city. Only time will tell whether Stanley Nelson’s new documentary, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, is a work of similar importance, but the fact that I’m even mentioning it in the same context as Epstein’s movie says something about the reserved precision of its journalistic reasoning and the overwhelming emotional force of its finale.

Of course, there is another reason to connect Jonestown and The Times of Harvey Milk. The murder of Supervisor Milk and Mayor George Moscone by Dan White took place 10 days after the deaths of Jim Jones, Congressman Leo Ryan, and more than 900 members of Jones’s Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, on November 18, 1978. One tragedy claimed the life of a man who was already a civil rights hero, while the other led mainstream media and true crime sources to portray a human being as a monster. Just as Epstein’s movie profoundly humanizes Milk, Nelson’s movie digs beneath stereotypes of pure evil to reveal a different Jones than the one used to sell quickie television and paperback biographies.

Twenty-eight years later, the tragedy in Guyana and the Milk-Moscone murders still have an effect on San Francisco politics: In very different ways, they represent the death of progressive, district-based local activism and its afterlife. (Garrett Scott, codirector of the superb documentaries Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story and Occupation: Dreamland, was in the early stages of making a movie about the two events and their relationship to SF politics when he died earlier this year.) It seemed appropriate to have New York native Nelson discuss his movie with a contemporary political figure whose knowledge of local history runs deep. On the eve of Jonestown’s screenings at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival, former San Francisco mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez agreed to interview Nelson about the roads leading to the cataclysmic events of 1978 and the roads leading away from it.

MATT GONZALEZ I want to start by saying I had a typical impression of Jim Jones as a cult leader whose message was a hustle to get people into his church so he could take advantage of them when they were vulnerable. The thing that jumped out immediately to me in this film was that the fundamental part of his message throughout his ministry was this idea of racial integration and equality. The main component was there at the beginning, and in a place like Indiana, when Indianapolis was a Ku Klux Klan stronghold. It made me rethink and see him as someone who exhibited a certain genuineness and courage at that time.

Did that surprise you about him?

STANLEY NELSON The depth of his commitment surprised me. During one of the anniversaries of the deaths in Guyana, I heard some Peoples Temple members talking about it on [the radio]. I started thinking, “This involved over 900 people all these people weren’t crazy. So what was it that drove them to the church?”

Research made me realize that there was something much deeper going on and that this was a real political movement for a lot of the time the church was in existence.

MG Jones had been a member of a human rights commission out in Indiana. That also underscores a very self-conscious relationship between his church and what was happening in society.

SN Yes. [In the film] there’s that incredible audiotape when he’s giving his own history, where he talks about how his father didn’t want to let a black kid in his house. Jim Jones says, “I won’t come in either,” and he doesn’t see his father for years after that.

I don’t think it was a hustle at all, I think it was something he truly did believe in. Jim Jones was a very complicated individual. Everybody’s complicated there are no simple people but Jim Jones was much more complicated than most of us.

MG How hard was it to find folks in Indiana who knew Jones?

SN It was hard. But Lynn [Jones’s hometown] was very small, and we were able to find one person who could lead us to others. One thing that’s amazing when you do research is that you can go to high schools and grade schools, and they still have yearbooks. You find people’s names, use the phone book, and just start calling.

MG Over time, Peoples Temple gets a financial foundation because its members give their property to Jones. He’s then able to set up communal living arrangements. But when he’s in Indiana, if I’m to understand correctly, he’s selling monkeys door to door or something like that.

Was his message about communal living a part of the hustle, or do you think that was also a belief that he genuinely held?

SN I think he genuinely believed it. That component really came out of Ukiah, in Redwood Valley, where they [Peoples Temple] had this farm. People actually did travel with him from Indiana [in 1965], so how were they going to live when they’d sold their houses? They could live communally.

One thing that I found fascinating is that the older people who lived in these communal houses got better treatment than they ever could have gotten from the state or welfare or Social Security, because not only were they housed and fed, they were also loved. All of a sudden they had this family the old people were revered in Peoples Temple.

MG Would you say those two components racial integration and property held in common were the cornerstone of his preaching?

SN I think they were a big part, but it was also more than just racial integration. There was a sense that “we have this power that none of us has as individuals.” This was a time when a lot of people were smoking dope and dropping out, but Peoples Temple members were active. They saw themselves as activists; they saw themselves changing the world with the church as a tool.

MG In 1971 Richard Hongisto was elected sheriff of San Francisco, and it was a very liberal campaign. [George] Moscone was elected mayor in ’75, and we know Peoples Temple played a part in that. Hongisto’s election was an early sign of growing liberal strength in San Francisco, enough so that you can look at the Moscone victory and not simply say, “Peoples Temple caused this to happen.” But there’s no question given how close the election was that they played a major role. How do you see their political impact then?

SN Peoples Temple was part of the mainstream politics of the Bay Area. I’m from New York. I had no idea that Jim Jones was head of the Housing Commission in San Francisco or that politicians came to Peoples Temple events and gave incredible speeches praising Jim Jones. That was something I discovered while making the film.

It’s part of the history of Peoples Temple, but it was also like a birthday caketimes-12 to the politicians. The politicians didn’t look too far behind this gift horse, because [Peoples Temple] was highly organized. People did what Jim Jones said. At one point they had 13 buses. They’d fill up the buses and

MG a politician could have an instant press conference.

SN Just one phone call and Jim Jones could come with buses. You’d have 500 people at your march.

MG Do you get a sense that what happened in Jonestown reverberates politically today? The players then aren’t necessarily in politics. Jackie Speier still is, but Moscone, Willie Brown, and others are not holding political office. Still, do you see any aftereffects?

SN I’m not sure on a local level, but one thing I think it did was help kill the idea of communes in this country [at a time] when there was a strong movement saying, “Let’s live together; let’s live on the land; let’s pool our resources.” All of a sudden that was associated with “look at what happened in Guyana.”

MG As I understand it, there are about five survivors who were there when the massacre took place.

SN There were about five people actually there [who survived], and of those, there are, to my knowledge, three left alive. Two of them are in the film.

MG People closely associated with Peoples Temple spoke to you and revealed some, I would think, very difficult, personal stories about sexual assault or the use of authority to express dominance. Was it difficult to get people to talk honestly?

SN It was surprisingly easy for us to get people to talk honestly. Time has passed. Partly because of a play [Berkeley Rep’s The People’s Temple] that was produced here in the Bay Area, I think people understood that maybe we were ready to hear a different version of the story that was much deeper.

MG In the film you see that Jones is abusing prescription drugs and probably has a mounting paranoia that’s associated with some mental condition. Is there a sense that he changed while he was in San Francisco, or was Peoples Temple headed toward this sort of cultlike finality from its inception?

SN We interviewed people who knew Jim Jones when he was a kid, and they talk about the fact that he was not normal even as a six- or seven-year-old boy. But I think that his behavior did get more extreme as time went on. He had this incredible power within the church, and he was this warped individual, and the combination affected his behavior. In the end, when they [Peoples Temple members] are isolated in the jungle, that’s [a reflection of] who he is.

MG Tell me about the wealth of material you have. There is film footage of a healing that is rather dramatic and recordings of his various sermons.

SN Going in, I had no idea that there was so much film footage. But we found a guy in LA who had shot in Peoples Temple over two days using three cameras and 16-millimeter film and had lit the whole church. His footage is just incredibly beautiful. The healing service, Jim Jones preaching, and the congregation singing and dancing are all part of that. He’d sold off bits and pieces to places like NBC, but we came along at a time when he felt that the film he wanted to make would never get made, so he agreed to sell us some footage.

We found members of Peoples Temple who had footage that had never been seen before. There are actually shots from the plane of them going down [to Guyana] you can hear Jim Jones describing what he’s going to do and shots of Jones cutting through the jungle with machetes.

Also, we were working very closely with the California Historical Society library, which has a Peoples Temple collection.

MG There was a recent book [Dear People: Remembering Jonestown] that compiled some of that material.

SN Also, Jim Jones recorded himself and his sermons at Peoples Temple. They actually audio-recorded the night of the suicides. As the people are dying, Jim Jones is encouraging them to drink the poison. There are audiotapes of the children and the women and men screaming and dying.

MG As a filmmaker going into a project like this, are you trying to present the truth? Are you trying to present an alternative reading of what happened? Are you trying to warn people?

SN I’m not trying to warn people or tell an alternative history, although obviously what we did turns out to be an alternative history. I was just trying to tell this incredible story and tell it with as much honesty as I can. Everybody in the film had a part to play in Peoples Temple. We really wanted it to be a film told in the voices of the people who lived through it.

MG In my notes I have a reference to the various CIA-related theories [about what happened in Guyana]. You don’t pick that up in the film, and I wonder if you might say something about that.

SN There are different theories that Jim Jones was a CIA agent and this was all a scary mind-control experiment. You know, we found nothing to back that up, and it just didn’t make sense for us to go down that road.

MG As I understand it, a lot of these theories stem from [the fact] that the government withheld documents related to Jonestown. I guess Congressman [Leo] Ryan had a bill pending, the Hughes-Ryan amendment, that would have required that CIA covert operations be disclosed to Congress before those operations could be engaged in. You didn’t find anything related to that?

SN No, we didn’t find any hard evidence. I’m trying to operate as a filmmaker and also as a journalist.

MG So you had access to material

SN and we just didn’t find it [evidence].

MG I’d be interested in seeing what the original accounts were like in the local press in San Francisco during the time of Guyana and the Milk-Moscone murders. There was probably a sense of how Moscone’s opponents might use his ties to the Peoples Temple for political purposes.

SN One reason for the article in [the magazine] New West that first exposed Jim Jones and called for an investigation of Peoples Temple was to discredit Moscone. Part of the media follow-up was that “here is someone that Moscone supported.” So that was already happening around a year before the deaths in Guyana.

MG There are folks who find objectionable the idea of referring to the deaths as mass suicides. Did you reach a conclusion about that?

SN The film has no narration, so we didn’t refer to that other than in a title card at the end that I think calls it the largest mass murder-suicide in history. It’s impossible to say exactly what went on that day, but it is very clear that the kids something like 250 people who were under 18 were all murdered.

It was something we struggled with: “What do we call it: suicide or murder?” I think by the end of the film you feel that it’s kind of both at the same time.

MG If Jim Jones had died in Guyana prior to Ryan’s visit, is your sense in talking to the survivors or those associated with the church that this is a project that would have sustained itself?

SN I just don’t know.

MG You don’t want to engage in a bit of speculative history?

SN I think they had a real problem in sustaining themselves. They were growing food, but they were bringing in food too. Financially there was a burden.

One fascinating thing about that day is that there weren’t a lot of people who left with Congressman Ryan less than 20 people. It was more Jim Jones’s insanity, him thinking that 20 people leaving is devastating [that led to the massacre].

MG Other than the sermons, are there other records of his thoughts? Are there tracts and manifestos?

SN There are some things that he wrote. He didn’t write a definitive book of his philosophies, but there is a piece in which he picks apart fallacies in the Bible.

MG On the one hand, Jones could be critical of the contradictions in the Bible, and on the other, he could pick out the parts that were useful to him.

SN One thing that everybody said was that Jim Jones knew the Bible he wasn’t just talking off of the top of his head. He was incredibly smart, prepared, and cunning.

MG What did you learn from making the film?

SN It’s a film I’m glad to be finished with. All films are hard to make, but it really took a lot out of me. We’ve only had two screenings, and both times afterward there was a kind of shocked silence. One was for the members of Peoples Temple and their friends to let them be the first to see it.

MG How it was received?

SN The Peoples Temple members loved the film. We screened the film in a small theater, and we had a reception outside. The Peoples Temple members who were there with their families just stayed in the theater for about 15 minutes talking among themselves. It made me a little nervous [laughs]. But when they came out they all said they loved the film and felt it was a powerful way of telling their story — a story that hadn’t been told that way at all.


April 29, 6:15 p.m.; April 30, 7 p.m.; May 1, 7 p.m.; May 2, 4:30 p.m.

Part of the San Francisco International Film Festival

Various venues

Call (925) 866-9559 for tickets and (415) 561-5000 for more information.

Doomsday dream believer


We didn’t commit suicide,” Jim Jones gravely intones in an audiotape capturing the final moments of Jonestown. “We committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.”

Nearly 30 years after the deaths of more than 900 people in the Guyanese jungle, Stanley Nelson’s deeply affecting Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple replays Jones’s final, twisted address, setting in motion what the doc tabs “the largest mass ‘suicide’ in modern history.” Using a remarkable cache of vintage footage, as well as candid interviews with Peoples Temple survivors, relatives, and other eyewitnesses, Nelson examines the massacre with a journalist’s eye. Why the tragedy happened may never be explained, but seldom before has the how of Jonestown been so clearly delineated.

Long before “drinking the Kool-Aid” filtered into the popular lexicon, young Jim Jones was an ambitious preacher whose ideas about racial equality proved too radical for small-town Indiana. Jones and his wife, Marceline, adopted several children from different ethnic backgrounds; one the few still alive Jim Jones Jr., who says he was the first African American child to be adopted by white parents in Indiana appears in Jonestown, as do early church members who followed Jones to Northern California (so chosen because he believed the region would be safe in the event of a nuclear attack). The racially diverse commune was “like a paradise,” a former resident recalls; recordings of Jones’s uplifting sermons and the jubilant Peoples Temple choir, as well as images of happy farmers, seem to bear this out.

Of course, illusion played a big part in Jones’s metier. One of Nelson’s coups is footage of a faith healing paired with an interview that exposes the “patient” as one of Jones’s (perfectly healthy) secretaries. Various ex-followers corroborate each other’s horror stories; one memorable sequence features overlapping testimony about how devotion was measured by sleep deprivation. Jones’s sexual proclivities, which contradicted what he preached and involved sleeping with both male and female disciples (whether or not they were willing), are discussed, as is the general feeling of fear and paranoia that increased as Jones gained more control. A “loyalty test” involving a vat of untainted punch is also detailed; a woman who was there surmises that Jones wondered if he was “potent enough to get people to do it.”

Jones’s ability to manipulate his followers demonstrates the kind of power later echoed by other self-destructive cults. But while Heaven’s Gate seemed a little loony from the start, what with the space aliens and all, the Peoples Temple represented itself beautifully to outsiders. The San Francisco political community was especially taken with the energetic, racially diverse congregation; as Jonestown points out, the church could instantly supply masses of well-behaved protestors, as well as influence key elections by voting as a single bloc. On a television talk show, thenCalifornia assemblyman Willie Brown deems the Peoples Temple “the kind of religious thing I get excited about.”

Even the Guardian was taken in by the Peoples Temple, reporting on its progressive humanitarian efforts in a March 31, 1977, article titled “Peoples Temple: Where Activist Politics Meets Old-Fashioned Charity.” Read with the benefit of hindsight, the piece is often chilling, as when Jones arrives late to a church service because he had to stop and console a woman “who was talking suicide.” Jones’s distrust of government is already in full force (“I have a lot of guilt to know my taxes go to the shah of Iran and Chile”); his hatred of the press (as the film explains, inflammatory coverage hastened his expatriation) less so.

A good chunk of Jonestown is devoted to November 18, 1978, aided with startling footage of doomed congressman Leo Ryan’s Guyana visit and the chaos that erupted in its wake. Two of the men who lived through “White Night” but saw family members (including young children) die before their eyes share their stories, and the emotional impact is undeniable. And then there’s that audiotape, which is even more frightening when replayed. As Jonestown reveals, the line between suicide and murder could not be more distorted: Deceived by promises of paradise, hundreds of people joined a church that championed equal rights then found themselves living in an isolated world where even the most basic rights were denied.




CHEAP EATS “Did you hear about the barn swallows in Minnesota?” Earl Butter said, while we were waiting for our waffles.

“This reminds me,” I replied. “This idea that there are more alive people now than dead ones where did you get it?”

“Late Night,” he said.

“David Letterman?”



“Actually,” he said, “I heard it somewhere else too. Why?”

“No reason,” I said. “Fact-checking.” I checked myself. “After-the-fact fact-checking.”

“Well, about the barn swallows

“What are your sources?” I said, before-the-fact fact-checking, for a change.

“Public television.”

“What show?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Some nature show.”

Our waffles came. On paper plates with plastic forks and knives. They came with two eggs apiece, over-easied into neat little triangles, and meat. Sausage for me of course, and Spam for Earl. You can also get bacon, or some kind of veggie patty ($4.75).

There was butter already melting into the waffles, and, to my amazement and delight, and surprise, given the paper and plastic and overall fluorescent lighting of the little joint, the butter looked like butter. “Can I get more butter?” I asked the guy. Partly this was a fact-checking maneuver, and partly I wanted more butter. I knew I did, without tasting, because I always want more butter.

He smiled and went to get it for me. Sweet guy. Great place. New favorite restaurant. I already knew that, but maybe you want hard evidence.

“About the barn swallows,” Earl Butter said, halfway done eating, and I hadn’t even started.

On the radio: Forum, with Michael Krasny and a panel of tweedy-sounding indie rock “experts” boring the world to death with Noise Pop blah, blah, blah, making it, blah, blah, sincerity, blah, passion. Get off the radio and dance, dudes.

Guy comes back with a little paper bowl full of real butter, and I could of kissed him, speaking of rock ’n’ roll. This was all I needed to know, and knowing it, little plastic knife in hand, I buttered and buttered my golden, crispy waffle, which was starting to get cold. Which is perfect because then the butter really sets there. Speaking of cold, hard facts. It doesn’t disappear into the waffle. It globulates. Waits, looks back at you, existingly. Then, finally, melts into your tongue. Hot damn!

“Can I try a piece of your Spam?” I said.

He gave me a whole slice. It was pretty good, a lot better than I expected. Would you believe I’d never eaten Spam before? Well, I have now eaten Spam. It’s pretty good.

The sausage was chicken apple sausage and this is my only bone to pick with the place. What’s up with the fancy-pants sausage? The name of the joint is the Little Piglet Café, you got pork this and pig that all over the menu, little piggy visual touches all over the walls and all around the paper-hearts-in-the-shape-of-a-heart in the window in the door . . .

The big sign outside over the window, which drew me to the place in the first place, Ninth Street between Bryant and Harrison: Waffles, Soups, Boxed Lunches, Daily Specials, Hot & Cold, Little Piglet Café, real cute picture of a pig. I don’t get it. What’s up with the chicken sausage?

“Barn swallows,” said Earl Butter.

It’s still my new favorite restaurant. I mean, waffles, eggs, and meat for under five bucks, and with real butter, are you kidding me? Plus the coffee is coffeehouse quality, and there are enough other good-looking things on the menu to keep me coming back for weeks and weeks without even repeating myself: Cajun meatloaf sandwich, barbecued pork with “pig sambal” (whatever that might mean), roasted peppers and avocado salad with pineapple vinaigrette.

Is this a Hawaiian theme I’m picking up on?

“Home Depot,” said Earl Butter.


There’s a Spam can dispensing candy canes, and a picture of Jessica Simpson setting on a can of tuna fish.

“They figured out how to open the automatic doors and get inside,” he said.

“Who did?”

Little Piglet Café

Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–4 p.m.

451 Ninth St., SF

(415) 626-5618

No alcohol

Takeout available

MasterCard, Visa


Wheelchair accessible

Hotel California


The father of all masked superheroes, Zorro first appeared in California in 1919, in serial form, brought to life by pulp writer Johnston McCulley. Soon afterward, the suave, playful Zorro (the secret identity of the decidedly unglamorous Don Diego Vega) became an enduring international phenomenon, thanks to screen legend Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and continues to evolve in a slew of films, TV shows, and comic books up to and including a new Isabel Allende novel and a forthcoming musical scored by the Gipsy Kings.

A new wave of anti-immigrant demonizing and criminalization under way nationwide makes all the more obvious the urgency behind the breezy but pointed comedy Zorro in Hell, Culture Clash’s beautifully staged romp in black leather, mask, and cape, in a coproduction with La Jolla Playhouse and Berkeley Rep and deftly helmed by the Rep’s artistic director, Tony Taccone. If it took the LA-based, Mission Districtbred Latino political-comedy troupe (composed of Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Sigüenza) 22 years of writing and performing to finally tackle the mythical Hispanic crime fighter, their timing couldn’t have been better.

But is Zorro to be considered an authentic pop-cultural or folk hero despite his conflicted origins in mass entertainment, ethnic stereotype, and pseudohistory? The trio’s own initial ambivalence serves as an engine for Zorro in Hell‘s critical but redemptive excavation of the myth at a time when resurrected rebel heroes, as spurs to mass action, seem to be the order of the day (very Z for Vendetta, in other words, and little wonder the Wachowski Brothers’ film is one of myriad cultural reference points bandied around to nice effect here).

The story centers on a frustrated LA writer and nominal Latino (Montoya) who’d prefer to be penning sitcoms but, meanwhile, has an “other voices” grant to write a play about the Zorro legend. He arrives at the El Camino Real Inn less than enthusiastic about a subject he considers culturally specious and politically irrelevant and meets a couple of larger-than-life characters who take it upon themselves to set him straight: the 200-year-old proprietress (a feisty, very funny Sharon Lockwood) and her ancient bellhop, Don Ringo (Sigüenza), proudly self-described as “the first Chicano.” Together, their careers seem to touch (literally in the case of Doña’s countless love affairs) upon most of California’s cultural history.

Cracking open the Zorro legend (given stage form by a versatile and amusing Joseph Kamal) sets in play a whole history and rebel tradition peopled by names like Ambrose Bierce, William Saroyan, Jack London, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Sacco and Vanzetti, Marx, Nietzsche, and, of course, the Scarlet Pimpernel (likely inspiration for McCulley’s masked avenger). Other references are more off the wall, or off the flag, as in the case of a talking grizzly named Kyle (Salinas), an erudite bear offering the slightly spooked, drug-addled writer some talking-cure in a charmingly professional bedside manner. Then there’s legendary outlaw Joaquin Murieta (Salinas again), the incarnation of crafty but principled revenge: “I taught myself to walk, talk, drink like them. But I never murdered like them.” The writer’s own transformation includes entering an old Zorro movie in the part of the archetypal “sleepy Mexican,” who, in this radical reappropriation of cultural capital, we’re told, is more like a sleeping giant beneath the wide brim of his tilted sombrero.

Doña has an ulterior motive behind all this consciousness-raising: She needs help fending off the imminent threat brought by land-snatching developers in league with the evil Gobernador, who naturally arrives by Humvee. (As the Latinos who voted against their own interests by helping to elect an action movie icon demonstrate, the superhero sword can cut both ways.)

Charming, sharp, and frequently wacky, the cutting jokes, quips, and allusions in Zorro come at a remarkable clip (a breathless 20 rpms, or references per minute, at least). All of it unfurls amid Christopher Acebo’s colorful, kinetic, and multifaceted scenic design; some zesty swordplay choreographed by fight director Dave Maier; and appropriately dramatic on- and offstage musical accompaniment by guitarist Vincent Christopher Montoya as the swashbuckling movies of yesterday spill onto the stage, and the stage antics of Culture Clash and company, in turn, transform into cleverly refashioned celluloid dreams projected onto a massive movie screen.

And so, with rapier wit, Culture Clash leaves its own mark on the Zorro legend, proving the pun to be mightier than the sword and the myth capable of new, subversive energies in a reactionary age. It might be that its sprawling, garrulous nature fails, in the end, to lay the best ground for the play’s final call to arms (at least the culminating “rise up!” segment feels a bit forced and tends to drag on), but no matter: Hundreds of thousands of Latinos and others are already in the streets of LA and other cities across the country. Zorro may or may not be a myth with real political traction, but either way, justice, as Zorro would be the first to tell you, is a do-it-yourself job.


Through April 16

Tues., Thurs.–Fri., 8 p.m.; Wed., 7 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m.

Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater

2015 Addison, Berk.


(510) 647-2949 or (888) 427-8849

Zombies are back!


In early 1981 a Los Angeles punk band called the Flesh Eaters made a record called A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die for the Slash Records imprint Ruby. The band members that recorded the album played only a handful of shows and then went their separate ways. Now, almost 25 years later, these monsters have crawled out from under a rock to perform just a few more times, concluding with an appearance at the influential All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, in Great Britain. Minus any additional details, this might seem like nothing to get excited about, but for anyone who cares about the genesis of the West Coast punk scene, this is a bona fide event.

The Flesh Eaters began in 1977, masterminded by singer Chris Desjardins, hitherto known to the public simply as Chris D. The film school graduate and erstwhile B-movie junkie named his project after a particularly sleazy 1964 sci-fi-horror flick, foreshadowing the sordid lyrical matter to come. An embryonic 7-inch EP on the Upsetter label was self-released the following year (appearing as bonus tracks on the Atavistic reissue of their 1980 debut, No Questions Asked, also on Upsetter), featuring howling, almost cartoonishly intense vocal depictions of decay and desolation bolstered by vigorous, stripped-down, guitar-driven rock.

What ultimately set the Flesh Eaters apart from the glut of period LA punk identikit units was the macabre eloquence of D.’s words. Often channeling chilling imagery through his characters’ psychotic delusions, the results loom like some sort of cryptic, hallucinatory-schizophrenic crime-scene testimonial. Early songs such as “Dynamite Hemorrhage,” “Cry Baby Killer,” and “Jesus, Don’t Come Through the Cotton” evoke surrealistic images of murder, addiction, and religious dread with a focused, poetic articulation matched by few contemporaries.

By 1981, after cycling through a seemingly endless series of backing musicians (featuring people from Wall of Voodoo, the Plugz, the Controllers, and other influential bands), Chris D. hit upon a winning combination featuring John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake from X, Blasters Bill Bateman and Dave Alvin, plus future Los Lobos member Steve Berlin. The second Flesh Eaters album, A Minute to Pray (released by Slash and titled after a 1968 spaghetti western), revealed a perfect collision between D.’s outrageous noirshock prose elocution and hard-nosed rock ’n’ roll that also masterfully fused modern punk angularity with elements of jazz and subtle allusions to early rock and American roots music.

One of the striking things about the album is the unexpected integration of marimba and saxophone into the mix the former firmly punctuating and prodding the nimble rhythm section; the latter adding vivid color to the chord progressions before lashing out with succinct solos teeming with articulate dissonance. The overall feel of the music swaggers with raw emotion and force while retaining a sense of swing and nuance not necessarily commonplace in much of the so-called punk rock of the era. Chris D. is in fine form on standout tracks like “See You in the Boneyard,” in which his gurgling crypt-keeper mewling climaxes in hair-raising shrieks a crazed undertaker drowning in a life of decrepit damnation.

Performing together live only a few times during the spring of 1981 (documented on side one of the 1988 Live LP, on Homestead Records), the various members of this punk rock “all-star” incarnation went on to various levels of mainstream success with their primary concerns. Chris D. soldiered on through the decades with his various live and recording pursuits (including intermittent, sometimes heavy metalinclined Flesh Eaters formations) before the bright idea of momentarily reincarnating the mythological A Minute to Pray band came to pass.

While many rock ’n’ roll reunion acts tend unintentionally to err on the side of flatulent and half-baked either missing the point or lacking any of the impetus that made their own prime work great the musicians who make up this combo have never strayed very far from their original inspirations. After almost a quarter century away, skeptics might wonder what’s in store. But this crack ensemble comes armed with classic material, and it’s a safe bet the Flesh Eaters will once again rise from the grave and devour their fans.

Flesh Eaters

With HUD

Wed/5, 9 p.m.


333 11th St., SF


(415) 522-0333

Laying on of hands


From the outside, the faceless office building at 22nd Street and Mission looks like a misplaced Soviet ministry, but its blank walls enclose a candlelit warren, a hideaway where women facing tough times can close their eyes and leave behind some of the strains of illness.

Last December the Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic opened its doors in San Francisco, offering female cancer patients free alternative treatments to accompany Western cancer therapies. Staffed by professional practitioners who volunteer their time on Friday evenings as well as on Saturdays and Sundays, the clinic provides massage, homeopathy, acupuncture, and other therapies to women who can’t afford to pay.

The San Francisco clinic is an offshoot of the Oakland-based Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic, which got started in 1991 and continues to operate five days a week from its location on Telegraph Avenue. The organizers decided to expand into San Francisco in order to cut transit times for current clients as well as to increase the total number of women it could serve.

Beverly Burns, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine and clinic cofounder, explains the need for a San Francisco–<\d>based clinic, citing the huge demand for the services in Oakland. “When we first opened, we were amazed at how far people came for treatment…. If you are doing chemo, and you are ill from cancer or ill from the treatment, it is hard to get to us, even with drivers.”

In addition to its logistical advantages, Burns says, the SF clinic is a locus for cooperation with public hospitals. “The city and county of San Francisco have worked very hard to orchestrate community and agency involvement. The Department of Public Health and San Francisco General both work with community agencies…. Being in San Francisco will enhance our ability to collaborate and block some of the holes that are opening in the safety net.”

Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of hematology-oncology at San Francisco General, believes the CMCC San Francisco will be an important resource for his patients. In addition to his practice at SF General, Dr. Abrams works with cancer patients at UCSF’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, which offers a combination of Western medicine and alternative therapies like acupuncture and homeopathy. “Taking care of women with cancer at SF General, I sometimes feel frustrated that they don’t have access to the same kind of complementary care that people at the Osher Center do. Beverly and the people at the Charlotte Maxwell Clinic have taken a big step forward in making those treatments available.”

Dr. Abrams is convinced that alternative therapies help to control the side effects of cancer and chemotherapy. “Pretty much every patient I see in my Osher Center practice, I recommend that they use traditional Chinese medicine,” he says.

Many patients and providers are eager to spread the word about the benefits that alternative treatments can provide to cancer patients. Sabina (last name withheld) recently switched to the San Francisco Clinic after four years as a client at the Oakland location. A strong believer in alternative therapy, she says, “I know for sure that acupuncture definitely helps. I have experienced it myself.”

Along with the physical benefits it provides for its clients, the Charlotte Maxwell Clinic offers a place of emotional support for women who sometimes feel isolated by their illness. “No matter how good a friend is, they will never really know the experience you are having, because they don’t have the same illness,” Sabina says. “That’s the really nice thing about the Maxwell Clinic: There are women there who have the same experience.”

Annie Sprinkle, a breast cancer patient who has been visiting the San Francisco clinic since it opened, found women there who could identify with her situation. “The support groups at the hospital certainly they’re lovely, but … they seem to be women whose finances were not an issue. For someone who was going through some stress about finances and cancer, it was helpful to meet other women going through that too.”

Likewise, both women cherish the attention and concern they receive from Maxwell’s practitioners. Sprinkle says, “In a word, love and compassion is what you get at the clinic. It takes the form of a social worker, acupuncture, or a massage…. Love heals, and you need that.”

Charlotte Maxwell Clinic, San Francisco

2601 Mission, Suite 201, SF

(510) 601-7660