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The Agenda, Jan 2-9: The mayoral issues

Protesters note that the Twitter tax break cost the city millions. It also spurred evictions and displacement

Five months from Friday – that is, on June 5th – San Franciscans will choose a new mayor. The campaigns are already under way, and there’s only one week left to file.

I’ve been thinking, as we enter a new year, what the person’s top priorities ought to be.

Protesters note that the Twitter tax break cost the city millions. It also spurred evictions and displacement

A few New Year’s Resolutions for the candidates:

You have to tell us how you will be different from Ed Lee. The late mayor was a kind, friendly, caring person, but his policies have created the worst urban disaster of my 36 years in San Francisco. The evictions, the displacement, the wholesale destructions of communities … The voters want to know: How will you dramatically change the direction of the city?

Part of that discussion is acknowledging the mistakes city leaders have made (the Twitter tax break, the Google buses, Airbnb, Uber and Lyft). It means connecting the tech boom that Lee endorsed and encouraged to the housing crisis that has driven tens of thousands or more out of the city, and suggesting how we can fix this mess.

I don’t believe that any of the major candidates in the mayor’s race – the people who have an actual chance of winning – openly or actively opposed the Twitter tax break. Jane Kim voted for it. London Breed wasn’t on the board but I never saw her make a public statement of opposition. Mark Leno, if he had a position, kept it to himself. Kim was a lot tougher on the Google buses, although she initially voted against an environmental appeal for the tech shuttles. Leno was in Sacramento, and didn’t have to vote on the issue. Breed has never opposed the Google buses.

Six supervisors, including Breed, voted to legalize Airbnb pretty much on the company’s own terms. Kim pushed for a series of amendments, which would have made the law far more effective; all lost 6-5 with Breed in the majority. Then in the end, Kim voted for the flawed law.

So let’s take stock for the new year and say:

Encouraging companies that hired tens of thousands of high-paid tech workers, most of whom moved here from somewhere else, then making it say for Peninsula cities to create even more tech jobs without building housing by allowing luxury shuttle buses to take workers from SF (thereby further making this city take responsibility for a regional housing crisis) was a terrible idea.

Allowing Uber and Lyft to violate the city’s taxi laws and create unlimited, unregulated service that has clogged the streets was a terrible idea.

Allowing Airbnb to profit for more than two years off the illegal conversion of thousands of housing units to hotel rooms, with no consequences, then legalizing the practice with a toothless law that devastated the city’s rental housing stock and contributed immensely to the eviction and housing crisis was a terrible idea.

Everything the city is doing now to try to mitigate the damage is too late for thousands of San Franciscans, now scattered, too late for deeply damaged communities. Everything we are doing now is a patch, a fix on a badly broken set of policies that put tech companies first and local residents second, that accepted the widely discredited concept of supply-side economics, that assumed that importing jobs and workers was more effective than doing local economic development.

We have a housing crisis because City Hall created it, by accepting and encouraging too much growth, too fast – and so far, the main approach to trying to solve it still assumes that the private market can get us out of this mess. That’s demonstrably untrue.

I am waiting for someone who is running for mayor to say these things.

There is, by the way, nothing wrong with a politician saying they made a mistake. It’s actually a good quality that we hardly ever see. And everyone who wasn’t actively against the Lee agenda made a mistake.

San Francisco has done a rotten job with technology. I’m not talking about using tech; I’m talking about the fact that nobody at City Hall seemed to be willing to enforce the rules, or write effective new ones, when Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, and the Google buses came along and started breaking local laws.

It wasn’t hard to see what was happening. Chris Hayashi, the city’s chief taxi regulator, saw it the moment it started, and tried to block the illegal cabs. She was shown the door. Tenant activists saw it when Airbnb started; Mayor Lee told city officials not to interfere with a local company. A lot of us warned – and it turned out to be true – that the Google buses would drive displacement and evictions; the Mayor’s Office instead made a secret “handshake agreement” not to ticket the buses for illegally using Muni stops.

Now Sup. Norman Yee is worried about robot delivery vehicles – and he had a hard time getting six votes to limit them. The Mayor’s Office never did anything to stop this clear threat to pedestrian safety.

Here’s the deal: Tech companies like to “disrupt,” and they have always operated on the idea that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. Break stuff now; worry later about how to fix what you have left behind.

That’s fine, I suppose; that’s what they do. But the city doesn’t have to tolerate it.

City officials are supposed to stop illegal activity and set regulations in advance when they see a new technology coming along. San Francisco has done the opposite.

The next mayor might want to appoint a director of technology regulation, to get ahead of the curve.

I am accused of wanting to stifle innovation – but seriously: Would the world (or the city) be a worse place if Airbnb had to operate within strict limits from the start? Would we all really be worse off if Uber had to get permits and accept a limit on the number of vehicles on the street? Will humankind lose life-saving advantages if robots can’t deliver pizza?

Or would all of us be better off if the world was disrupted a little more slowly – and the tech industry made money a little less slowly? Does anyone want to argue that the economic inequality created by a monopolistic, predatory, sexist industry (that’s Wired talking, not me) is entirely something to cheer about?

I don’t expect anyone running for mayor to say that – but it would be nice.

I am waiting for the campaigns to tell us more details about their agenda. So far, it’s all just basic political positioning; Mark Leno wants “a new direction.” Jane Kim talks about her record in the past:

I am proud to fight for the city I love– the highest % of affordable housing, a medically staffed 24/7 shelter for our homeless, strong protections against frivolous evictions + free City College. We did this together. Will you join me to fight for more?

We only have five months to hear their plans for the future; that’s a very short period of time. Campaigns often wait months to put out position papers and specifics. In 1987, Art Agnos even wrote an entire book laying out his plans in great detail, and distributed 40,000 copies to voters. That took month. There are often multiple candidate forums.

This time, we can’t wait. When you consider that absentee voters will be getting ballots in May — just four months away — and groups that are making endorsements will have to decide in a matter of weeks, time is short.

Mark Leno and Jane Kim both have impressive records and strong progressive credentials. Others with credible records may enter soon. But we need the specifics of their proposals for the future, starting today.

Our most-read stories of 2017

The scene at Alamo Square as thousands came into the streets to protest a group associated with the resurgent white supremacist movement.

This was a truly unsettling year, from the election of Donald Trump and the resurgence of white supremacist movements to the sudden death of Mayor Ed Lee and the ongoing crisis of homelessness and displacement  — a time when independent, local media proved itself more essential than ever. (Unfortunately, we continued to lose voices on the scene when we needed them most.)

With your support, 48 Hills was on the streets and inside City Hall, telling the stories of the Bay Area that mattered. One of the things we’re proudest of this year was expanding our arts and culture coverage, with film reviews, theater reviews, music coverage, arts picks, and even more of our Party Radar nightlife column. We also increased our international coverage, drawing in readers from around the world.

Below is a selection of our most-read stories of 2017. Thank you to our 48 Hills community for reading, and for your support.

Please donate so we can continue to grow in 2018!     

NOTHING LIKE THIS HAS EVER HAPPENED BEFORE
Donald Trump was declared President of the United States, and no one was having it. The Women’s March brought the communal heat to San Francisco’s street on a cold, windy day — and, as part of the national happening, was the largest political protest in this country’s history. Read more

SF SENDS THE WHITE SUPREMACISTS PACKING
The resilience of SF’s resistance network and history shone through on August 26. Tens of thousands of protestors, from the Marina to the Castro, took to the streets to protest a “free speech” rally by a group associated with white supremacists. It was glorious — also horrifying that we even had to be there. Read more.

SHERIFF EVICTS 100-YEAR-OLD + IRIS CANADA DIES ONE MONTH AFTER HER EVICTION
The tragic saga of Iris Canada, the 100-year-old Lower Haight tenant who was evicted from her home — and then passed away a month later — galvanized housing activists and made national news. We covered Iris’ story in-depth, in articles like these and in our special Dialogues for Life Project about the case. Read more here and here.

DISPATCHES FROM THE GARCIA ZARATE TRIAL
Every day for several weeks, Tim Redmond and Sana Saleem attended the trial that captured the nation’s attention — not least that of the rabid rightwing-o-sphere– and ultimately led to the acquittal of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate on charges of killing Kate Steinle. You can read the full dispatches here.

TEARS (AND BUBBLY) FOR BUBBLES
One of San Francisco’s most recognizable free spirits, and a nightlife legend, was shot to death point blank in the Tenderloin. We reported from the wake/party on the streets celebrating Bubbles’ life. Read more.

SAN FRANCISCO BRACES FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF IMMIGRATION RAIDS
Of all the horrible possibilities of the unhinged Trump administration, the threat of armed agents of the government hauling away our neighbors was one that affected the Bay Area mightily. After President Trump signed an executive order aiming to block federal funding to sanctuary cities, we reported from a legal training to help understand what ICE could and couldn’t do. Read more.

The GHOST SHIP FIRE, ONE YEAR LATER
As the anniversary of the Bay Area’s worst nightlife tragedy neared, we interviewed Andy Kershaw, the husband of victim Amanda Allen, who updated us on the case and opened up about how it had affected him. Read more.

INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS AT SFO SHUT DOWN IN PROTEST OF TRUMP’S MUSLIM BAN
Trump’s odious Muslim travel ban inspired hundreds of protestors to shut down San Francisco International Airport, until a court blocked its imposition. Read more.   

VIDEO SEEKS TO SELL ‘FABULOUS’ UNITS CLEARED BY EVICTION
When a shady real estate agency tried to pink-wash its flip of eviction-marred properties by hiring a drag queen to make a cutesy video advertisement, we called it out. Read more

BAY GUARDIAN BEST OF THE BAY 2017 
The 42nd installment of Best of the Bay — and the second that 48 Hills hosted after the Bay Guardian stopped publishing weekly in print — was a wonderful compilation of beloved SF institutions and new businesses that proved we still live in the best place on earth. Read more.

INSIDE THE YIMBY CONFERENCE
The push for unchecked, market-rate development put on a youthful, tech-ready face at an Oakland conference called Yimbytown 2017. We were there to report on the civil discussion on the surface — and the nastiness behind the scenes. Read more.

LEE’S DEATH SHOCKS THE CITY
Tim Redmond reported live from City Hall as stunned officials gathered to mourn the mayor after his sudden passing and figure out next steps. Read more.  

Please donate so we can continue to grow in 2018! 

Low-income housing units lost in Oakland, study shows

This is an ad for what was once an SRO for low-icnome people

Hundreds of low-cost residential hotel rooms have been lost in Oakland in just the past year, likely driving many people into homelessness, a new report by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project shows.

This is an ad for what was once an SRO for low-icnome people

The report, based on public records, demonstrates the impact that the tech boom, based in San Francisco and the Peninsula, has had on the city across the Bay, which has historically been home to working-class people of color:

Single Room Occupancy hotels, traditionally available to those on fixed or very low incomes are being marketed to new arrivals and tech industry workers, exacerbating the housing crisis and exploding homeless population in Oakland.  

Hundreds of rooms have been lost in the last year at the Sutter, Travelers, and other single room occupancy (SRO) hotels.  The extractive model of financial speculation has reached into every form of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area, and homelessness has risen exponentially.  Real estate speculators such as Danny Haber, James Kilpatrick and Los Angeles based Hawkins Capital have gained control of the buildings and are currently converting their use in spite of a temporary moratorium.  

The report goes through several of the places that used to house low-income people, starting with the Traveler’s Hotel, bought by “housing disruptors” Danny Haber and Alon Gutman. After the purchase, the owners did substantial renovations; in the end, rent-controlled tenants were forced out (or bought out for small sums); the place is now advertised as “gorgeous apartments” with software-engineer housemates.

The 38-unit Fremont Hotel, the report notes, has been upgraded since its purchase by James Kilpatrick – and the new owner wants to rent to a more upscale clientele than the current low-income Chinese residents.

Then there’s the Sutter Hotel, which is being converted from an SRO into a boutique tourist establishment – possibly, the East Bay Express reports, in direct violation of the city’s moratorium on such conversions.

The list goes on and on.

San Francisco has pretty strict rules on SRO hotel conversions – and still, prices are going up and low-income units are getting lost. And for all the talk of building new housing units, nobody is going to build new SROs. There’s not enough return for the speculative vultures who really control housing policy in the United States.

Happy new year.

Some sunshine for the mayor-go-round

While we recognize Ed Lee's lifetime of public service, the candidates for mayor will have to say how they are different

If we can say anything about the process for choosing the person who will run San Francisco’s executive branch for the next five months, is this:

Most of us have no clue what’s going on.

The last backroom-deal process brought us Ed Lee, which didn’t work out so well.

There are lots of discussions, I’m sure, lots of backroom deal-making. There has to be; in two more weeks, the supes will meet and either talk about choosing an interim mayor – or duck the issue and leave Board President London Breed in charge of both branches of government.

We hear rumors. We hear names. Maybe City Attorney Dennis Herrera has close to the number of votes he needs; maybe he would get the job and run as an incumbent. Maybe not. Maybe Mark Leno has six votes. Maybe Breed has six votes; maybe she’d rather not resign her supervisorial seat. Maybe David Chiu wants to be mayor, and would cut a deal to support of of his potential rivals for his state Assembly seat.

Maybe nobody running for the office has six votes. Maybe there’s a caretaker everyone could agree on; maybe there’s a caretaker who could at least cobble together six votes.

Maybe this supervisor is working a deal on that candidate; maybe that supervisor is working a deal on this candidate. Maybe it changed yesterday.

It’s the Maybe, Maybe Mayor-Go-Round. Which doesn’t seem to me much of a public process for choosing a mayor of a city.

The last time we went through this, a secret arrangement at the last minute brought Ed Lee, who wasn’t even in the country and had previously said he didn’t want the job, into power. That didn’t work out so well. There has to be a better way to do this.

The Board of Supes is hiring someone for a job. What if all the contenders did what applicants for other city jobs (and commission posts) did? What if they applied? With a public letter and a resume?

What if the board set minimum qualifications, held a public hearing and considered the different applicants?

What if the public had a chance to be heard, to organize around candidates for interim mayor the way we organize around candidates for every other elected job?

 

I know: There’s a lot that could go wrong with this scenario.

Lots of people who have absolutely no business being mayor of San Francisco might apply. So the board would have to quickly narrow the field down to a few finalists.

There are probably people who are iconic public figures, who would love the job, and would be perfect caretakers, but who don’t want to go through the public humiliation that former Sheriff Mike Hennessey had to face when he was at City Hall the day of the vote to replace Gavin Newsom, had six promised votes, and lost after Bevan Dufty, after calling a recess and having a secret conversation with Gavin Newsom, switched to Ed Lee.

They might balk at applying and getting rejected. The city might lose the best interim mayor.

Of course, the supes have no legal obligation to vote for someone who openly, publicly says they want the job and is willing to undergo public discussion and scrutiny. If all of the applicants are people who have no business being mayor, then the process failed, and we would, for better or for worse, go back to where we are now.

Who decides who has any business being mayor? That’s easy: Six supervisors decide. Like it or not, that’s what the City Charter says. The board can set the qualifications, select finalists and eliminate others, entirely at will.

Yeah, the “qualifications” will be a bit random, they always are. In my mind, you don’t have to be a career politician, but you have to have some serious political experience, in or out of elected office, and you have to have a credible community base; you don’t get to play in the Big Leagues without at least some time proving yourself in the minors.

I’m not saying this process would necessarily lead to a win for the progressives. It could all go the other way. I imagine that if the supes, without a public process, had picked Tom Ammiano for mayor instead of Ed Lee, and Ammiano had decided to run for a full term, a lot of progressives would be really happy (and, I suspect, a lot fewer people would have been evicted over the past six years, Ron Conway wouldn’t rule City Hall, and we would be living in a very different city). Politics isn’t always pretty; in the Big Leagues, you deal with making sausage.

Still: the last time around, the process failed. There was no public input at all, no chance for anyone in the city to think about or weigh in on whether Ed Lee would be a good mayor. The first time his name even came up was during the board meeting where he was selected. It was a backroom deal in every possible sense (including the fact that some of the people who pushed for him as a caretaker then convinced him to go back on his promise and run for a full term).

I can’t see how we could do a whole lot worse.

So maybe some sunshine around the Mayor-Go-Round make sense. I’d like to know who wants the interim job; I think most of us would like to contact our representatives and say that this candidate would be better than that one.

As I said, it might not go well for the progressives – we are famously fractured, and all kinds of agendas come out at times like these. If the left can’t agree on a candidate, and the conservatives can, they might win the vote on a board that is split 6-5 against the progressive agenda.

But again: Last time around, with no public process, we got Ed Lee. I don’t see how a little sunshine this time is going to make anything worse. It generally doesn’t.

Recollections from the Frisco Five hunger strike — and a real San Francisco poet

The Frisco Five hunger strike electrified the city. Five San Franciscans, sick of the rampant police violence, stopped eating for 17 days – long enough to risk serious health consequences – to demand that the mayor fire Police Chief Greg Suhr.

The strike brought constant news media attention to the deaths of young people of color at the hands of SFPD – and while it wasn’t the only reason Suhr was dismissed, it played a huge role.

Every day, the five sat in front of and sometimes inside the Mission Precinct Station, wrapped in blankets, talking to supporters, press, and the public. Kids from local schools came by to offer solidarity. Young doctors in training from UCSF monitored their health, and pushed them in wheelchairs to City Hall.

One of the people who was there in solidarity almost every day was Tony Robles, a tenant organizer, senior advocate, poet and Filipino community activist who was born in this city and struggles every day with what it has become.

Robles, who sometimes writes for 48hills, uses the hunger strike as inspiration for a new book of poetry, short stories, and politics called Fingerprints of a Hunger Strike.

“It took a hunger strike to make me feel alive in a city that feels dead,” he writes. “It took a hunger strike to bring back that down home feeling and black laughter and fire and tears that flow so deep. It took a hunger strike to clear my veins of digital cholesterol.”

He talks about visiting the police station, a San Franciscan who can barely recognize his city: “It brought me back to a time when I felt the community in the pores of my skin, when I tasted every raindrop before I had to start paying for the rain that was to become bottled and packaged and presented in an app. The Frisco Five – Mama Christina, Ike, Selassie, Edwin and Equipto – five fingers on a hand that became a fist that became our heart.”

The book starts out with a series of poems, then some wonderful stories; Robles describes working as a security guard in a supermarket and meeting a man he knew from tenant organizing who has stolen a cooked chicken and is eating it in the bathroom. He talks about the Child Support Office, about people he meets on the 5-Fulton … about a side of life in this city that the self-important young and rich who are taking over so many SF neighborhoods will never see or understand.

It’s a book about a real San Francisco, by a real San Francisco writer and poet. In his poetry, his street consciousness, and his love for a city that is trying to break his heart, Robles reminds me a bit of John Ross, who wrote from the heart of the Mission and never learned how to be a prisoner. It’s good to know that, for all the attacks on the soul of this city, there are poets like Robles keeping that legacy alive.

You can buy the book here, or in local bookstores.

$16, paperback. Ithuriel’s Spear, San Francisco, 2017.

‘Watch on the Rhine’ chimes uneasily with our moment

Caitlin O’Connell, Jonathan Walker, and Kate Guentzel in Lillian Hellman’s 'Watch on the Rhine' at Berkeley Rep. Photo by Kevin Berne

ONSTAGE In 1941, when she wrote Watch on the Rhine (playing at Berkeley Rep through January 14), Lillian Hellman would have had no idea of the mass murder of millions that would follow the ascendance of fascism in Europe.   

Today, we know about the Holocaust, but we don’t know about tomorrow. As each day’s headlines bring news of a ban on Muslims, militarization of local police forces, immigration raids, and mass deportation, and a power-hungry president who threatens journalists who expose his lies and hurls invectives at African American athletes who dare to dissent, we can’t help but wonder where it will lead. As Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone explains, “A new level of anxiety has embedded itself into our DNA… looking for the right moment to explode into our everyday reality and destroy any illusion of normalcy.”

The choices that Hellman so poignantly portrays in this 75-year-old play — whether, on one extreme to stand by and assume that this too shall pass or, on the other, to commit a most heinous act against one person to save the lives of many others — still resonate powerfully today. Under the skillful direction of Lisa Peterson, associate director of Berkeley Rep, the excellent ensemble, including the three children, create a vivid, compelling picture of a world on the eve of disaster.

At first, the two moral poles seem to be set by two men: Kurt Muller (Elijah Alexander), a German engineer who has risked his life in an attempt to join the partisans trying to block the advance of the Nazis, and Count Teck De Bracovis (Jonathan Walker), a Romanian aristocrat with ties to the Nazi regime. These two immediately distrust each other, carefully scrutinize each other’s movements and eventually come to blows.

But the predominance of that match between good and evil is deceptive.  Hellman prefers to plumb the grayer areas.

Jonah Horowitz, Emma Curtin, and Elijah Alexander, Sarah Agnew, and Silas Sellnow in ‘Watch on the Rhine.’ Photo by Kevin Berne

The real opposing pole to Muller’s militancy is matriarch Fanny Farrelly, played with a unique combination of wit and éclat by Caitlin O’Connell. The wealthy widow presides with an iron hand over her splendid home in the suburbs of Washington, DC. The set by Neil Patel oozes with inherited wealth, from the recessed wooden ceilings to the brocade upholstery to an eclectic mix of vases, clocks and decorative lamps. Farrelly is the unlikely hostess to both Muller and the Count. Muller, because he is married to her daughter Sara (Sarah Agnew) who has returned to her childhood home after a 20-year absence, and De Brancovis because, well, Farrelly has a soft spot for European nobility, “who play good cribbage and tell good jokes,” even if they are delinquent with their bills. 

It is late spring 1940. Europe is already gripped by the Nazi onslaught, but the US has not yet entered the conflict, and the clouds of war seem quite distant, especially in this affluent home where breakfast is always served at 9am. When the Muller family arrives with battered suitcases and shabby clothes, they stand in sharp contrast to the elegance of Farrellys’ living room with its French doors that open to a plant-filled verandah. The children, Joshua (Silas Sellnow), Babette (Emma Curtin), and Bodo (Jonah Horowitz) are precocious, polite and fluent in several languages — but they are also hungry, having had only a warm bun and a glass of milk on their train journey.  Even the servants, Anise, the efficient and clever housekeeper played with style by Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, and butler Joseph (James Detmar) are dressed far smarter than the Muller family. 

Sarah Muller, well-aware how insulated by privilege her mother and brother David (Hugh Kennedy) are, tries to gently explain how distant her current life is from the cotillions and society teas she once knew. She doesn’t know how long they will stay. The Muller children, who are clearly loving towards their parents, despite their unconventional and precarious upbringing, slowly make themselves at home in their grandmother’s house, taking delight in the plentiful breakfasts, the sanitary plumbing, and the luxurious hot baths. Kurt explains to his children they are on holiday and that they “will have plans when the hour arrives to make them.”

Kurt is energetic and bursting with ideas. He has crossed many borders, taken part in clandestine acts, and endured blows and bullets, which have left their mark, so he walks slowly and his hands tremble. He tells his mother-in-law that he has given up engineering to become an “Anti-fascist,” a “job” he cares passionately about even though “it doesn’t pay well.”  After he saw 27 men murdered in street clash with Nazis, he tells her, he could no longer stand by and watch.

“My time,” he says, “has come to move.” 

The dapper, conniving Count De Brancovis is not only freeloading off the Farrellys and cruel to his wife Marthe (Kate Guentzel), but he is also on intimate card-playing terms with Nazi officials in the Embassy.

Fanny’s role is more nuanced than either of these two men: her dilemma is the one that is the most familiar today. Her life is more than comfortable, she wants for nothing aside from wishing her rather unimaginative son were more like his deceased father. Though her daughter’s arrival brings her closer to the realities of war, her solution is to keep that family safe in her mansion where she presumes the war can’t touch them. When their shielded life is threatened, her instinct is to buy her daughter and granddaughter fancy new dresses. 

Kurt has made his decision: he has no choice but to sacrifice his time, his work, and even his children’s well-being to fight fascism. Fanny’s opulent home has been immune to the terrors of war, but when she finds the conflict right under her roof, she faces the central moral dilemma of the drama.  

How long can you ignore the thundering march of the jackboots?  When do the offenses get so strong that you have to take action? Fanny hasn’t seen the victims the Nazis murdered in the street, but is there a moment when it will be her “time to move?” And what action do you take? Is providing sanctuary enough? Money? What if there is a risk of endangering your daughter or your grandchildren? Or someone else’s grandchildren?  

If the title of play seems familiar, it may be because “Watch on the Rhine” or “Die Wacht am Rhein” is the song from Casablanca that the German soldiers sing in Rick’s bar, before they are drowned out by the French patriots’ rousing “La Marseillaise.” It was a German battle song from the time of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, all the way up to World War II.  We learn from Kurt that when he was a member of the German unit of International Brigade fighting Franco in Spain, they changed the words to an anti-fascist anthem: “This time we fight for people, this time the bastards will keep their hands away.” 

Hellman won the New York Drama Critics Award for this play when it was produced on Broadway in 1941, but it has been rarely produced since. She is perhaps most well-known for her response to the House Un-American Activities Committee when they asked her to name names of political subversives she knew. She refused their request, stating: “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”

In this prescient drama, she clearly answers the question, “When is it time to move?” Sometimes, Hellman’s characters discover, we have to take the risk – no matter what the cost. 

WATCH ON THE RHINE
Though January 14
Berkeley Rep, Berkeley.
Tickets and more info here.

Party Radar: A Too-Cute New Year’s Eve 2017 Party Guide

LA's Dâm Funk kicks the 2018 party off right at Public Works.

PARTY RADAR Halleloo, halleloo! This dumb-ass year is ’bout to get kicked in the dumpster. I’m off to Palm prings to hide from the holidays with a giant margarita, poolside beneath some chili lights strung from a Joshua tree — Merry-juana Christmas, everybody! But folks have been hitting me up for SF NYE recs, so here are some bright beacons in that blizzard of amateurs we call NYE. And don’t forget to stay tuned for my “Comedowns are for Losers” annual guide to what matters most, New Year’s Day parties, coming soon. Right after I finish up this next marg. Bon voyagee.

PS If you’re looking for bigger parties, there are these galore, of course, from the all-night POPNYE EDM rave at the Armory (and the not-so-all-night Kaskade EDM rave at Bill Graham) to the hippie electronic jams of STS9 at the Warfield, the Steampunk-folk Burner jams of Beats Antique at the Midway, the monster mash-up mosh of Bootie NYE, shirtless hairy men galore at Bearracuda NYE, and the gay dragstravaganza, featuring rapper Cazwell and some of my favorite performers, at Oasis.  

PPS Might I suggest you kick everything off with something gorgeous New Year’s Eve morning: taking a swing at a 2,100-pound, 16th-century Japanese temple bell at the Asian Art Museum

PPPS New Year’s Eve gets all the presss, but there are some other great parties this weekend, too, including the awesome Hotline Winter Wonderland Bash — with a real snow machine (Fri/29), Yungg Trip and Felex Up Crew at Dub Mission (Fri/29), Hot Froot (Fri/29), KINGDOM! Drag King Black and Gold NYE Ball (Fri/29) Chulita Vinyl Club at the KnockOut (Sat/30), and drag goddess Glamamore’s Pre NYE Eve rager, Glamamore’s Nutz

ACID TEST NEW YEAR’S FREAKOUT! “A psychedelic happening featuring lights and sounds,” with groovy psych-rock music by LA five-piece The Creation Factory and Berkeley’s The Pop Club Group, plus DJs Steve and Noemi, Jodie Artichoke, and more. Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $10-$15. Elbo Room, SF. More info here.  

SWEATER FUNK NEW YEAR’S EVE This adorable crew of local vinyl funkateer DJs comes together to play you classic “boogie – modern soul – steppers” at the Knockout. Your angora will get itchy! Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $10-$20. The Knockout, SF. More info here.    

INSPECTOR GADJE Nothing resounds so wonderfully and woozily with the feeling of a great New Year than a BBBB — big Balkan brass band. Whirl and stomp with the awesome Inspector Gadje band at this artists’ extravaganza evening, put on by the eye-popping Salles des Artistes. Sun/31, 8pm-2am, $35. Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Hall, SF. More info here.    

NYE PACHANGA Launch into 2018 with some Latinx love. Virgil’s Sea Room and Gallerie de la Raza in the Mission are teaming up for food, fun, a little piñata-whacking, and of course dancing, courtesy of DJs Sizzle, Crasslos, Carnitas of Hard French, and FlyLoveSong. Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $15-$20. Virgil’s Sea Room, SF. More info here

UP ALL NIGHT AT THE STUD Fifteen dollars (presale) for 12 hours of dancing and drag — including Midwest underground techno powerhouse DJ Noncompliant aka Shiva, psychedelic electronic sorceress Mozhgan, a Club Lonely takeover at dawn, and oodles of friendly queer faces. It’s also the anniversary of the Stud Collective taking over the space and converting it into the country’s first worker-owned cooperative nightclub! (I will be there and a fun mess.) Sun/31, 9pm-9am, $15-$25. The Stud, SF. More info here. 

Afrolicious

AFROLICIOUS NYE This local funk-electronic collective contains some people I adore, playing Afro-House, Latin Grooves, classic funk, island jams, and everything under the sun Wear comfy kicks: With a live band and ace DJs on hand, you’ll be on your feet all night. Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $50. Rickshaw Stop, SF. More info here.   

POOLSIDE + DÂM FUNK LA funk deity Dâm Funk will launch Public Works into space after dreamy duo Poolside (starring our own Jeffrey Paradise) dunks the crowds in sunny melodies. With Body Music and Groovewell. Sun/31, 9pm-3:30am, $25. Public Works, SF. More info here

SWAGGER LIKE US Vibrant queer hip-hop and deep beats at this Best of the Bay winner, with the amazing Bearcat from Discwoman and Atlanta’s Leonce. The crowd at this party cannot be beat for fabulous looks and warm attitude. Sun/31, 9pm-3am, $20+. F8, SF. More info here.   

NEW YEAR’S EVE FLAMENCO The dramatic, addictive Spanish dance genre — which built the foundation for modern nightlife — whirls into the new year at Thirsty Bear. Three shows starting at 8pm, plus a menu of tapas goodies. Sun/21, 8pm, free. Thirsty Bear, SF. More info here.   

Metric

METRIC Beloved indie dance group returns with their Canadian synth ways to light up Mezzanine. Their live show is fantastic — at least when I avidly followed them in the aughts — and this will be both a reunion and a bang-up celebration. Sun/31, 9pm-3am, $80. Mezzanine, SF. More info here

TURBO DRIVE NYE The smooth-synth retro minds behind latest party phenomena Turbo Drive and Neon Black — think the Drive soundtrack in an ’80s arcade — are taking over Emporium, the giant new arcade on Divisadero, and pinballing you into 2018 via 1989. With DJs Danny Delorean, Fact.50, and more. Sun/31, 8pm-2am, free + five game tokens. Emporium, SF. More info here.   

FATHER OF THE YEAR LOL, this incredibly cleverly titled gay shindig brings out the dadbods (and not-so-dadbods) to Driftwood for dad-dance music by Mark O’Brien (Polyglamorous), Sergio Fedasz (Go BANG!), and “ResiDAD” DJs Michael Romano and Kelly Naughton. Plus a Double Scorpio brand “midnight magic poppertunity toast!” (wink) Sun/31, 9pm-2am, $10.50. Driftwood, SF. More info here

TYCHO Our hero of electronic pop-atmospherics returns for a night spent ballooning out the walls of the Fillmore. Bring your edibles, throw on your Ray-Bans, and bid the dark of 2017 adieu. Sun/31, 9pm-1am, $75. The Fillmore, SF. More info here

CLUB LONELY NYE One of my supreme favorite small house music parties with a huge vibe, Club Lonely, brings in an awesome DJ, Myles Cooper, from another equally delectable party, High Fantasy, to join resident DJs Vin Sol, Jeremy Castillo, and Primo in burning 2017 to the ground. Sun/31, 9pm-4am, $15. Club OMG, SF. More info here

MANGO NYE This lesbian wonder-party has been around for more than two decades and still rules the scene with its super-diverse blend of dancers, and house and hip-hop beats by legend Olga T. With DJs Lady Lu and La Coqui and El Rio’s strong drinks. Juicy! Sun/31, 8pm-2am, $15. El Rio, SF. More info here

Screen Grabs: A Christmas weekend movie bonanza

Brazil is part of a Terry Gilliam double-feature at the Roxie, Fri/22

We are now in that time of year where for many, going to the movies means finding something “suitable for the whole family.” Ergo this week brings Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a fantasy adventure which is expected to be huge despite early word that it is possibly even worse than the Robin Williams movie it remakes. Much more of a commercial gamble is The Greatest Showman, that very rare thing today—an original movie musical—starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, with Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson and Oakland’s own Disney-groomed Zendaya in support roles. (It is not, rather strangely, connected at all to the widely successful 1980s stage musical Barnum.) There’s will also inevitably a whole lot of singing, as well as girl power, in Pitch Perfect 3

Elsewhere, the year-end march of award hopefuls continues with famed TV writer Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game, his big-screen directorial bow. It’s dramatized true story, with Jessica Chastain as a sidelined Olympic skier who turned her intensely competitive nature towards orchestrating extremely high-stakes, questionably-legal poker games. Slick and extremely garrulous in the Sorkin style, it’s this year’s Portrait of a Winning Asshole, in the tradition of Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short—except this time the asshole is a woman! Yay? Laden with showy speeches (at one point Kevin Costner arrives to basically deliver the entire movie’s psychological depth in checkoff-list form), it ends on perhaps the emptiest note of Inspirational Uplift ever. But it’s still more fun than The Post

Those looking for family-unfriendly entertainment with no redeeming social consciousness whatsoever will get the gift of Father Figures, a slab of raunchy R-rated comedy in which Owen Wilson, J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, Ed Helms and others are men behaving badly. 

But if I were you, I’d go see something among the below instead: 

DOWNSIZING 
Struggling heartland couple Paul and Audrey (Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig) are chasing that American Dream, but not getting any closer. In this seriocomic fantasy penned by Alexander Payne and his usual writing partner Jim Taylor, they mull the titular option: Being scientifically shrunk to minute size, in which form they’d enjoy the relatively luxurious life their modest savings can bankroll in a specially designed Lilleputian community. 

Gradually moving from quirky social satire to something more weighty—even addressing such topics as income inequality and global warming—this is not another home run from the director of Election, Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska and so forth. But it’s a welcome if mixed-bag leap of the imagination that is never dull, and ultimately quite rewarding. Perhaps the oddest duck amongst 2017 Christmas releases, Downsizing is refreshing for the risks it takes, and for the thoughtful sociopolitical commentary it pulls off within a rather soft-edged whimsical concept. Opens Friday at area theaters. 

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD
No doubt more curiosity will be directed at this year-end release, however, if only because of the bizarre high-profile circumstances that engulfed its completion: When Kevin Spacey became persona non grata due to umpteen sexual harassment accusations, director Ridley Scott re-cast his part… in the already completed movie. Nine presumably frenetic days were spent filming Christopher Plummer (who says he was semi-prepared anyway as an early candidate for the role) as wealthy, miserly industrialist J. Paul Getty in a drama about his grandson’s kidnapping for ransom in 1973. Michelle Williams again, Mark Wahlberg and Charlie Plummer (no relation) also figure in the cast. 

Will the last-minute rehaul complicate Scott’s usual meticulous craftsmanship? Money wasn’t press-screened in time to provide an answer. Still, his fascinating true story has got to make for a better movie than his profoundly disappointing recent Alien prequels. Opens Friday at area theaters.

I, TONYA
Yet another ripped-from-headlines tale… yeesh, can’t Hollywood do anything but docudramas and sequels anymore? (Hats off again to Downsizing.) However, there is plenty to like about Suicide Squad’s Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, the Olympics-aspiring US figure skater who notoriously was involved—to what degree is still murky—in an attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan. 

Director Craig Gillespie and scenarist Steven Rogers’ film gets a little too cute at times with winky fourth-wall-breaking and other gimmicks that feel second-hand. Yet like The Disaster Artist, this is a comedy about hapless real people that nonetheless ultimately manages to avoid ridiculing them. Robbie is terrific as the fiercely determined, not-especially-likable heroine, and Allison Janney is terrifyingly good as her monstrous stage mother. I, Tonya finally does have its cake and eat it too: It gets us to laugh at “white trash” culture, yet also underlines how hard it can be to transcend just such class divisions in our supposedly “classless” society. Opens Friday at area theaters.

SF PUNK FILM SERIES: IN THE MOMENT
Surely Tonya Harding would have been happier if she hadn’t been pushed into a “princessy” competitive arena and had instead been allowed to flaunt a mohawk and slamdance to the Misfits. This kickoff program to a four-part series at the SF Main Public Library features “shorts and clips from 1977-1980,” presented by the San Francisco History Center’s SF Punk Archive. It will include archival performances by local punk legends The Nuns, CRIME, The Avengers, Mutants, Dils and more. Further installments in the series will play Dec. 30, Jan. 6 and Jan. 10. Free, but advance reservations are advised. Wed/20, SF Main Library. More info here

CHRISTMAS AT THE CASTRO: IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE AND THE SOUND OF MUSIC
On the other hand, the Nancy Kerrigans of the world can feel safe attending either of two utterly wholesome celluloid traditions at SF’s favorite movie palace. On Friday it’s none other than Frank Capra’s deathless 1946 classic. with James Stewart as the small-town Everyman who loses all hope and gains it all back on Xmas Eve. Admit it: You, too, cry when you see this thing. And its political edge might seem a little sharper this year. A few days later, the Castro brings back the Sing-a-Long Sound of Music, which may not have a Yuletide theme—but it’s got singing nuns fer Chrissakes! Life: Fri/22, Music: Tues/26-Mon/1, Castro Theatre. More info here.

CHRISTMAS EVIL
Mercifully for some, there’s much less conventional holiday-revival fare going on a few blocks down in the Mission. Midnights for Maniacs presents a 100-minute director’s cut of this infamous 1980 black-comedy slasher, the first but not the last horror film to feature a homicidal Santa Claus. It has been designated the favorite Xmas-themed movie of John Waters—even more so, presumably, than Santa Claus Conquers the Martians with little Pia Zadora. Sat/23, Roxie Theater. More info here.

A VERY TERRY CHRISTMAS: BRAZIL AND TWELVE MONKEYS
Striking even more of a counter-programming note are the two vintage Terry Gilliam dystopian fantasias the Roxie is screening in 35mm prints tonight. There is indeed a Christmas theme buried in the crazy quilt of 1985’s surreal comic blowout Brazil, as well as Twelve Monkeys from a decade later. Jonathan Pryce plays the hapless protagonist negotiating a demented future in the former; Bruce Willis a time-tripping victim of fate (and manic Brad Pitt) in the latter. This double bill of mind-warping imagination and visual excess will render your seasonal cheer that much more inebriated. Fri/22, Roxie Theater. More info here

More housing. Higher prices. That’s what a new city report shows

While we recognize Ed Lee's lifetime of public service, the candidates for mayor will have to say how they are different

At the Ed Lee memorial Sunday, a string of politicians who are not at all humble talked about the humble side of the late mayor. The event featured at least two people who are seeking higher office; Lee was remembered as a reluctant politician.

Mayor Ed Lee’s development policy has led to a lot of displacement. Photo by Sana Saleem

At the Chron, Carolyn Said at least noted that Lee had promoted an economic boost that also increased economic inequality. On KPIX Sunday night, Melissa Caen said that Lee brought the unemployment rate down – but “unintentionally” created the housing crisis.

These were some of the responses from City Hall and the news media on Lee’s legacy.

I get Melissa Caen’s “unintentionally.” I don’t think Mayor Lee sat down with his advisors and decided that it was a great idea to drive 400,000 San Franciscans out of town and create the worst eviction epidemic and economic inequality in the city’s modern history.

But I find it hard to believe that anyone in his administration believed we could bring in 140,000 tech workers, many of them from out of town, at a time when there was almost no vacant housing, with no impact on the housing market.

If that’s the case, it was the greatest “unintentional” policy mistake that I’ve seen in many, many years.

Randy Shaw, who has always been close to Lee, made the remarkable claim that

Ultimately, Ed Lee laid down the foundation for San Francisco to avoid becoming a city of only the rich and rent subsidized poor. This was his greatest gift to the city, and the core of his legacy.

Is there a single working-class tenant who believes that? I don’t know any of them. All I know is that renters all over town are terrified that they are going to get an eviction notice and be displaced.

Ed Lee didn’t ask for the invasion of speculators who have been getting rich by destroying the lives of long-time San Francisco tenants. He often said publicly that he opposed them. He supported the repeal of the Ellis Act.

But his policies created the turf that the speculators played on. His effort to address unemployment by importing tech companies and high-paid workers (as opposed to doing economic development based on the skills and needs of existing residents) set the stage for a brutal assault on every non-rich San Francisco resident.

All of this discussion of the Lee legacy, which we will continue to examine in detail over the next few days, comes just as the Planning Commission gets the latest Housing Inventory Report Thursday/21. Most city boards and commissions are in recess for the holidays, but Planning is still meeting this week, and while there is no action item on the housing document, it’s worth reading.

Among other things, the report shows that San Francisco developers added 5,046 units to the housing stock in 2016. That’s what Lee wanted, and what the Yimbys want (although they want more); adding more housing (“of all kinds, the Yimbys say) will bring down prices –- but prices have not come down.

In fact, in San Francisco, developers tend to build more housing at the same time that prices go up.

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of the supply-side, trickle-down argument that letting the private market determine the city’s housing future will get us anywhere near where we need to be.

But let’s look at the data – because it shows how housing actually works in San Francisco.

When prices are flat or low (typically only during recessions) developers don’t want to build; the rate of return is higher if they put their money somewhere else. They only want to build when prices are high.

The Yimbys (and the folks in Mayor Ed Lee’s administration) argue that more housing will bring prices down – but the city’s own data indicates that when prices go down, developers stop building. The market won’t solve this.

The Housing Inventory also shows that only 16 percent of the total net housing that’s been built is affordable. That’s less than half of what every expert agrees the city needs.

Shaw is right that San Francisco isn’t the only city facing a housing crisis. Big demographic trends that have been playing out for decades have made cities more attractive to young, educated, high-paid workers.

San Francisco is also not the only city with a housing and homeless crisis.

But rather than being on the cutting edge of progressive policy, San Francisco in the past seven years has been the single worst example in the country of bad planning, hyper-gentrification, and radical displacement.

Could Ed Lee have done anything about that? Yeah: He could have made the protection of existing vulnerable communities a higher priority than creating jobs for people who didn’t live here. Was it necessary to turn SF into the tech-boom center to emerge from a national recession and create jobs? Was there another approach that would have kept people who had built lives and communities in town from leaving in droves?

I think so. Maybe I’m wrong. But let’s at least talk about it.

Oh, and as we think about the glories of the Tech Boom, it’s worth looking at new story on Wired, by Erin Griffith.

She argues that Big Tech (and even startups) still don’t get what I (not Griffith) might call San Francisco Values.

Outside the bubble, things are different. We’re not egging on startups that willingly flaunt regulations. We’re wary of artificial intelligence and its potential to eliminate jobs. We’re dubious of tech leaders’ promises to make their products safe for their kids to use. We are all sick of the jokes that no longer feel funny: lines about the lack of women in tech, about obscenely rich 20-somethings, about awkward coders with bad people skills, about “hustling” and growth at any cost. It all feels inappropriate.

This industry is the savior of our city?

Why we should all care about the FCC’s net neutrality vote

On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to repeal net neutrality. This a huge deal — everyone should be paying attention to what comes next, and how we can keep the internet accessible for all.

Net neutrality is the guiding principle of the Internet, the idea that we have the right to communicate freely online. Repealing it allows large internet service providers to interfere with our internet usage; they can now scrutinize our data, throttle, or intentionally lower the speed of sites that they consider to be unfavorable, create paid fast lanes, and overall charge exorbitant fees for general Internet use. 

This is what we might face without net neutrality.

Prior to the vote, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stated that the market would keep ISPs honest; while this is true in theory, there isn’t enough competition on the market to curb bad business practices by big players like Comcast and AT&T. Even in a city like San Francisco, where tech is the main industry, many households only have access to one or two ISPs. The options are limited, the market is largely controlled by Comcast, and consumers are now at the mercy of corporate interests. 

Recently, Comcast has been tweeting promises that they won’t abuse their new power, specifically that they won’t block or throttle sites, and that they’ll be transparent in their business practices. It’s important for consumers to keep in mind that despite these promises, Comcast has a history of suing cities for attempting to implement competing ISPs like Google Fiber, suing cities around the country for trying to implement their own municipal broadband, and interfering with states that try to write their own legislation regarding net neutrality. The likelihood is that Comcast and other large ISPs will abuse the lack of regulations. At the end of the day, they are corporations with business goals that need to be met regardless of moral or immoral practices.

What will this look like for Internet users?

We can expect that the way we use social media platforms and entertainment and streaming services will either change or become far more expensive. Comcast owns a percentage of Hulu, putting Netflix at risk. Reddit, Tumblr, and Twitter have all been pioneers in leading the fight to keep the Internet free, also putting them at risk. 

However, the repeal of net neutrality isn’t just going to impact how we use social media or entertainment websites. We should prepare for a change in access to news. ISPs can control which news media sites are viewable to consumers. For example, Comcast could throttle specific news outlets, thereby censoring information we can see and the sources we can access. 

The most important thing to remember is that the fight isn’t over yet. Congress can vote to overturn the FCC vote using a Congressional Resolution of Disapproval (we need a majority in the House and Senate). This is something that we can accomplish but we have to be active. 

Even if your representative supports net neutrality, contact them to show how much this matters and how much of a priority it needs to be. And in the meantime, there’s a move in Sacramento to mandate net neutrality in California; make sure you let your state representative know how critical this is.

We have to educate those who don’t understand the issue and we have to contact our representatives with a fury; they have to know that we will hold them accountable. It’s easy to contact your representatives, be a voice for net neutrality, join the battle to keep the Internet free and safe for users.