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DA candidate calls for reshaping criminal justice system

Chesa Boudin offers a race-based overhaul of the criminal-justice system.

San Francisco District Attorney candidate and Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin stood alongside criminal justice reform advocates today to announce a racial bias policy that he said would fundamentally reshape San Francisco’s criminal justice system as we know it.

“In every facet of American life, we have racial prejudice and racial bias. It is infecting our country. And the place where it’s the most tragic, damaging, and obvious is the criminal justice system,” Boudin declared.

Chesa Boudin offers a race-based overhaul of the criminal-justice system.

Activist and former Oakland mayoral candidate Cat Brooks spoke shortly before Boudin announced his plan to emphasize the importance of pushing for radical and systemic reform as well as looking at people’s track records to see if they have lived up to progressive values.

“As California goes, so the country goes… We’ve got to get it right,” Brooks said.

Boudin was also joined by Phelicia Jones (Justice for Mario Woods Coalition), Kevin Ortiz (Vice President of SF Latino Dems), Maria Cristina Gutierrez (Mothers on the March), and John Crew (former director of the Police Practices Project for ACLU NorCal). All the featured speakers highlighted the urgent need to create more accountability as well as reform our broken, punitive, and racist criminal justice system, as it disproportionately harms Black, Brown, LGBTQ+ and other vulnerable communities.

According to Jones, African American residents make up about 3 percent of the total population of San Francisco, yet make up 50 percent of the population in San Francisco’s jails.

Boudin’s campaign also highlighted some striking points to show how racial bias is deeply entrenched in our criminal justice system. According to the campaign, Black San Franciscans are more than seven times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts and are 11 times more likely to be booked into county jail. Additionally, Black and Brown people are more likely to be stopped by the police and searched without their consent, and are more likely to be harmed at every stage of the criminal justice system process.

Ortiz has firsthand experience with the traumatic, costly, and drawn-out criminal justice process that impacts so many Black and Brown communities not only in San Francisco but across the country. He disclosed that he is a survivor of police brutality at the hands of the SFPD, but has used his experience with the system to become active in his community and fight for more transparency and equity for communities that are overpoliced and over-incarcerated.

“No one talks about the trauma of having to deal with these cases. For me, it took three years. In order to make the system more fair, it has to be transparent,” Ortiz told us.

Though Boudin’s plan is more elaborate and extensive, he emphasized the following steps to eradicate racial bias from the criminal justice system:

Transparency: Boudin promised to publish every data point in the possession of the DA’s Office, which may include the demographics of people stopped, arrested, jailed, convicted, and sentenced to increase the transparency and accountability of every agency involved in the system in order to reduce racial disparities.

Require a racial impact statement:In open court and before the judge, Boudin said, prosecutors should be required to state on the record the racial bias statistics relevant and appropriate to the stage of the case being addressed.

Implement race-blind charging and plea bargaining:Building off of Gascón’s recently introduced policy, prosecutors should not know the demographic information of people before filing charges. Boudin wants to take this policy further and extend this same process to plea bargaining.

Stop prosecuting racist gang enhancements:When a person is convicted of a felony, they may be sentenced to prison time. However, according to Boudin’s campaign, California law (Penal Code 186.22, as part of the STEP Act), allows prosecutors to seek additional prison time beyond the felony when the person accused of the crime is found to be gang-involved. Boudin said wants this mechanism stopped, as he believes it is racist and overly punitive.

Building the most diverse DA’s office in the country: The DA’s Office, Boudin said, should reflect the diversity of San Francisco and the people served by the Hall of Justice, which includes people personally impacted by the criminal justice system.

Boudin said he hopes that this plan will achieve two broad goals. “The first goal is to significantly and measurably decrease racial disparities at every step of the system. The second, which is critical and related to the first, is to rebuild and restore the trust between over-policed communities and those who are supposed to be serving them,” he told us.

With a little less than two months left until November 5th, the race for District Attorney is shaping up to be one of the most pivotal races in San Francisco’s election.

Boudin is running against former Police Commission President and prosecutor Suzy Loftus, as well as the other two contenders, Leif Dautch, a deputy state attorney general, and Nancy Tung, an Alameda County prosecutor.

Watching movies—and coping and connecting—in ‘The Flick’

Ari Rampy as Rose and Justin Howard as Avery in 'The Flick.' Photo by Ben Krantz Studio

 Jon Tracy says the first time he read Annie Baker’s play, The Flick, (which he is directing at Shotgun Players, through October 6) it felt like a piece of music to him. 

“It’s like she scored each scene independently, but together it felt like it was creating this tapestry,” he said. “And each piece of music shows the inner workings of the characters and also how they work with each other and against each other.”

The Flick, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014, is about three movie theater employees. This may not be the usual set up for drama, but Tracy, who grew up in Vallejo, says connections weren’t always so easy to find when he was young and the interactions in the play felt deeply moving and personal to him.

“In this piece, there are three souls who didn’t get to seek out soul mates, but they find connections because there’s such great need,” he said. “There are these unlikely friendships. Everyone is a little broken and sometimes we figure out something in this fragile space and call it community, and with The Flick, that’s right on the page.”

Ari Rampy, Chris Ginesi, and Justin Howard in ‘The Flick.’ Photo by Ben Krantz Studio

The Flick—a three-hour play with plenty of pauses—has already extended its run here and garnered rave reviews. Tracy isn’t surprised by audience’s enthusiasm for a long play sprinkled with silences. And he has a response to the idea that you’re just watching movie theaters employees go about their jobs. 

“It’s never about watching mopping,” he said. “You’re watching people coping and connecting or not connecting and everything is so inconceivably loaded. It’s not a guffaw comedy piece, but it’s comedy. One time someone told me the truest definition of comedy is to triumph over adversity. Here you’re watching individuals perceive an adversity and work in their skill sets to try to triumph over it.” 

Director Jon Tracy

Watching The Flick, Tracy says we’re allowed to really sink in to the stories and the characters. Having the cast he does—Chris Ginesi, Justin Howard, Ari Rampy, and Rob Dario—allows that to happen, he says. 

“This play grabs little moments of things you had no idea you needed to connect with,” he said. “And it can’t do it without the right actors who really deeply understand what experience they are giving the audience.”

The play shows how we all put on a persona, Tracy says. “We keep protecting this inner self,” he said. “There’s this maintenance of self and these actions of reaching out or defending, and the moment to moment chess game of that is what I think we call life.”

Extended through October 6
Shotgun Players, Berkeley
Tickets and more information here

Who’s paying for a D5 poll aimed at attacking Preston?

Dean Preston and Sup. Vallie Brown discuss issues at a USF forum moderated by Poltics Professor James Taylor.

Somebody has paid for a poll in the D5 supes campaign that is clearly testing messaging that might be used against challenger Dean Preston – and it raises issues about campaign spending limits.

A source tells me that the phone poll included questions about Preston and incumbent Sup. Vallie Brown. The Preston campaign tells me they didn’t conduct the poll. I haven’t heard back from the Brown campaign.

Dean Preston and Sup. Vallie Brown discuss issues at a USF forum moderated by Poltics Professor James Taylor.

Polling isn’t cheap, and if this survey is in the field right now, somebody paid in the neighborhood of $20,000 it.

And that’s interesting because as of today, both Preston and Brown are very close to the campaign-spending limits, and if the Brown campaign paid for the poll, it might put them over. More on that in a moment.

In a lot of these campaigns, polls like this are designed to help independent-expenditure committees design attack ads. Some outside groups do general polling every now then, and there are other campaigns that may be seeking to test the will of the voters for November – but that’s not what this is.

Jim Stearns, a political consultant who works with the Preston campaign, told me that this is “clearly a D5 campaign poll.”

And there’s an independent-expenditure group set up to help Brown – but as of tonight, it has reported no contributions or expenditures.

So we don’t know who paid for the poll, but here are some of the questions, as recorded by a source:

Is this statement about Dean Preston very convincing, somewhat convincing, not at all convincing?

  • He lived in the district for 20 years
  • He founded Tenants Together and supports tenants rights groups and is for tenants protections
  • Dean believes everyone should have a home
  • He supports the Green new deal and Medicare for all
  • Endorsed by Tom Ammiano, several of the members of the Board of Supervisors, Jane Kim, the Tenants Union, the Sierra Club, and Democratic Socialists of America

Statements about Vallie Brown

  • She was a legislative aide (didn’t say to who)
  • 30-year resident in the neighborhood
  • She worked for affordable housing and safer streets
  • A neighborhood leader appointed by mayor London Breed
  • Endorsed by mayor London Breed, five of the current supervisors, SEIU, Alice B Toklas Club, San Francisco Democratic Party

The poll then listed three possible negatives for Brown – and six potential negative attack points on Preston (including that he “identifies as a Democratic Socialist” and that his policies are “too extreme for the Democratic Party.”) I suspect those won’t work all that well in D5.

But there’s no doubt from the questions that this is a poll commissioned by a pro-Brown group.

So here’s the context: Candidates for supervisor who accept public financing have to agree to spending limits of $250,000. But if an IE campaign starts spending money for or against one candidate, the spending limits are lifted. The weird loophole: If an IE spends $500,000 supporting Brown, then Preston can spend more money, supposedly to level the field – but so can Brown.

At this point, both candidates have spent close to the limit. If the IE never materializes, that could mean neither candidate can do last-minute mail or other campaign ads and most of the final month will be volunteer work. That could give Preston, who has a more energized volunteer base, an advantage. (Of course, Brown has the advantage of incumbency.)

But somebody is out there spending money, and it’s clearly someone who wants to attack Preston. We’ll know soon – vote-by-mail ballots drop in three weeks.

The real legacy of SF’s planning director

Limits on public hearings could undermine the community's fight against unpopular projects like the Monster in the Mission

Editor’s note: The Chron yesterday presented its report on the record of John Rahaim, who ran SF’s City Planning Department for the past 12 years. We have a different perspective.

John Rahaim was planning director during a period that saw the worst displacement of vulnerable SF residents since the days of Justin Herman.

This happened not through demolition by the ruthless Redevelopment Agency bulldozers of that era, but through gentrification by the soulless “invisible hand of the marketplace” and its accompanying amoral “investment” of today.

Gentrification and displacement was happening just down the street from the Planning Department’s HQ

Because “Accommodating Growth” was the top priority of the Planning Department under Rahaim. But “Community Stabilization” was and is only an empty promise. And the morality of growth itself and its consequences was never even a question.

When you go through the list of city programs in the Planning Department’s draft Community Stabilization Strategy, there are several dozen great-sounding concepts. But all of them have only a tenth of the money they would need to make a real difference – money for housing programs, small business programs, employment programs, etc.

It’s the Planning Department’s responsibility to say that! But it never did and never does. instead … these utterly inadequate programs are cited to justify continued development approvals.

When you go through the requirements and the limits for new development, there are many ideas for leveraging the huge new values created for land owners and developers through zooming rents, up zonings, streamlining, and state density bonuses — but most are rejected or greatly watered down due to financial “infeasibility” for developers despite those windfall land profits.

(Just wait to see the upcoming official Planning Department reaction to the now-proposed increase in the Jobs/Housing Linkage fee for new office buildings and hotels— still only 36 percent of the amounts actually needed to build the necessary affordable housing according to the Planning Department’s own studies. That’s “infeasible,” of course!)

It’s the Planning Department’s professional and moral responsibility to say “no” sometimes until windfall land profits are replaced by needed new public benefit resources. But it never did and never does. Instead … “infeasibility” is cited to justify continued development approvals.

Get the picture?

Bottom line: so even when weak stabilization plans are undeniably failing our city’s people and their communities, the development still must go ahead at the San Francisco Planning Department — no matter the community destruction that will result.

Because the real truth is WEALTH CREATION FOR THE ELITE and their professional servants is ALWAYS TOP PRIORITY! Not our people. Not their communities. They just get what little may — or may never — “trickle down.”

And to add insult to injury, Rahaim’s department continues to quibble about the impact of new development in vulnerable neighborhoods accelerating their gentrification. The planners want “more data” to prove it even happens — even though it’s happening right in front of their very own eyes just blocks away from Planning Department headquarters.

But saddest of all … there is no reason to expect the next “nationwide search” for a director of planning to be any different or better. Nationally, they’ve all been drinking the Accommodating Growth Kool-Aid their whole careers. They just don’t have the moral courage to say: “Stop!”

Screen Grabs: Native American Reelism, Bay Area Thrash Metal …

'The Exiles'

SCREEN GRABS The ever-lengthening annual period known as “awards season” arguably starts this Friday with the arrival of The Goldfinch, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last week.

It’s Brooklyn director John Crowley’s adaptation of the 800-page novel by Donna Tartt—which I’d be tempted to say was the least-deserving Pulitzer winner of recent years, if it hadn’t been followed by All The Light We Cannot See and Less. In any case, Ansel Eigort plays the protagonist who loses his mother in a terrorist attack, then spends the next couple decades bounced around by further arbitrary winds of fate. Nicole Kidman, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, and Jeffrey Wright play other key figures in this tale that sprawls from Manhattan to Vegas to Europe, and which may work quite well as a movie—after all, it practically read like one.

As for the new, more baldly commercial release Hustlers, in which “savvy former strip club members band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients,” let us simply leave you with this fun fact: “Jennifer Lopez trained for pole dancing in preparation for the movie. She even had a detachable pole in her house.” I smell Oscar! Just like the one Demi Moore got for Striptease!

Likewise unpreviewed, if presumably less mercifully, is Benjamin Naishtat’s Argentine Rojo, about a provincial lawyer neck-deep in that country’s dangerous political intrigue of the 1970s, when many citizens were “disappeared” and never found (at least not alive) again. It opens at the Opera Plaza (More info here).

Landmark is also opening (at the Embarcadero and Shattuck) Hannah Pearl Utt’s Before You Know It, an uneven but at times divertingly offbeat comedy about two ill-matched sisters (Utt, Jen Tullock) struggling to retain hold of their lifelong home after the sudden death of their Off-Off-Off Broadway “legend” father (Mandy Patinkin) reveals he didn’t even own it. Judith Light plays the veteran soap opera star mother who does, and whose daughters had no idea she was actually alive. (More info here.)

If it seems early for awards contenders, it seems even more so for Halloween. Nonetheless, there’s Haunt, a pretty good indie horror flick whose collegiate protagonists find themselves trapped in a haunted house attraction where the thrills are a little too convincingly homicidal. You’ve seen its ilk before, but if you like such things, you’ll enjoy this well-made stroll through familiar bloody terrain. It opens at the Presidio. (More info here.)

Elsewhere, all opening Friday unless otherwise noted:

SF Indie Short Film Festival
The Goldfinch is 2 1/2 hours. In that amount of time you could probably watch at least twenty complete movies at this latest offshoot from the giant impersonal local corporation that already gave you SF Indiefest, Docfest and Hole Head. All those by-now-longrunning festivals have always sported shorts programs, so it’s a natural evolution that we should get a festival entirely devoted to “the perfect snack” on the cinematic menu.

The twelve themed programs offered this weekend run a wide stylistic and genre gamut, from documentary to animation. Titles featured come not just from local and North American talents, but also China, Iceland, Namibia, Ukraine, Palestine, South Africa and more, with a fair number of filmmakers in attendance. Adding further incentive, every ticket comes with a free beer or other beverage of your choice. But beer is good. Fri/13-Sun/15, New People Cinema. More info here.

Voices Carry: Women in Film
SFMOMA’s fall film series showcases recent works by women around the world, only a few of which were seen (however briefly) in Bay Area commercial runs. The uniformly strong nine-week program comprising fifteen features commences this Sunday afternoon with Lucretia Martel’s elliptical Argentine period epic Zama, then includes work from the U.S. (Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline), Zambia (Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not A Witch), Lebanon (Nadine Labaki’s exceptional Capernaum), Mexico (Natalia Almada’s Everything Else), China (Cathy Yan’s Dead Pigs), Indonesia (Mouly Surya’s Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts).

There’s also the final film by Chantal Akerman (documentary No Home Movie), the latest by fellow Frenchwoman Claire Denis (sci-fi psychodrama High Life), the horror omnibus XX, and more. We’d give you a direct link to the series info, but SFMOMA’s reliably crappy search engine wouldn’t let us find one, so you’re on your own. Sat/14-Thurs/Nov. 21, SFMOMA. More info here

Berkeley Film Foundation and Native American Reelism at the PFA
Two new series launching at the Pacific Film Archive this week spotlight filmmaking of a politically activist, community-oriented stripe. Founded a decade ago, the Berkeley Film Foundation has supported diverse projects, including the six documentaries being showcased here.

Their subjects include Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz (This Ain’t No Mouse Music), the business of Oakland recycling (Downtown Redemption), Robert Reich’s insights on the devolving American economy (Inequality for All), classical avant-gardists Kronos Quartet (The Whistleblower of My Lai), at-risk youth mentoring (The Pushouts), and the self-explanatory In the Image: Palestinian Women Capture the Occupation. There will also be several BFF-funded shorts shown. Thurs/12-Sun/Oct. 27, PFA. More info here

“Out of the Vault: Native American Reelism” comprises three programs bringing together representations of our indigenous peoples outside the Hollywood mainstream over the last nine decades—going back as far as 1930’s The Silent Enemy, a rare indie feature about pre-colonial Ojibwe life made in collaboration with Native actors.

Thirty years later, Kent Mackenzie captured the poverty and alcoholism that beset many urbanized “Indians” in The Exiles, one of the great documentary/narrative hybrids of its era. Ranging from four minutes to an hour, other films in the series include a 1973 Bill Moyers TV investigation (Why Did Gloria Die?), the historical inquiry Report from Wounded Knee, and Lay Claim to an Island, which recalls the fabled 1969 occupation of Alcatraz by Native protestors. Thurs/12-Thurs/Nov. 14, PFA. More info here

Brazilian Alejandro Landes’ striking feature is a mix of brute realism and Lord of the Flies-type allegory. In remote mountains of an unnamed Latin American country, eight armed teens comprise a paramilitary “squad” charged with safekeeping “La Doctora” (Julianne Nicholson), a kidnapped American apparently being held for ransom. With names like Rambo and Smurf, these youths are not exactly the most level-headed spokespersons for the vague revolutionary concepts they spout. They’re reckless enough to accidentally shoot dead the milk cow they’ve been entrusted with in a moment of trigger-happy exultation.

When an attack by government forces scares them into a jungle retreat, the “commandos” begin to self-destruct, undone by their own immaturity and the captive woman’s determination to escape. A sort of queasy adventure story from which you can glean whatever moral you want (or none), Monos is a sometimes poetical, sometimes jarring portrait of desperation and fanaticism amongst people too young to understand their own ideology—or what they’ll be called upon to sacrifice for it. Alamo Drafthouse, SF. More info here.

A Faithful Man
Duly opening with a shot that encompasses the Eiffel Tower, second-generation director Louis Garrel’s sophomore feature seems to be competing for the title of Most Thoroughly French Film Ever. He also stars as Abel, a broadcast journalist who lives with Marianne (Laetitia Casta) in her apartment—until she mentions that she’s pregnant by another man and needs him to move out so they can live together as a married couple. Surprise! Thus robbed of home, girlfriend, and nearly his sanity in one blow, Abel trundles onward until some years later he hears that Paul (the “other man”) has suddenly died.

Very quickly our hero finds himself back in Marianne’s life, a situation complicated not only by her precociously odd, even menacing son (Joseph Engel) but by Paul’s younger sister Eve (Lily-Rose Depp, another second-generation talent), who unbeknownst to Abel has been obsessed with him nearly all her life.

A Faithful Man was co-written by the nearly 90-year old Jean-Claude Carriere, fabled veteran collaborator on films by Louis Malle, Bunuel, Schlondorff, Forman, Peter Brook, Babenco, and Pierre Etaix. There are several unstable players in this game of love, which can be taken as either a poker-faced farce or slightly absurdist drama. Either way, it certainly packs a lot of plotty incident into just over 70 minutes, and seems consummately French in the way that characters behave with methodical irrationality, taking in stride approaches to relationships that might impress the viewer as near-lunatic. This movie is fun, but if any of its events befell you in real life, you’d run screaming to the nearest therapist. Opera Plaza. More info here.  

Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story
Adam Dubin’s documentary, which premiered at SF Docfest this summer, traces the arc of our region’s hugely influential thrash metal scene—not just famous acts like Metallica, Exodus, Possessed and Death Angel, but lesser-remembered bands like Laaz Rockit and Vio-Lence, as well as long-gone venues like the Mab, Keystone and Ruthie’s Inn. There’s plenty of old video performance footage, as well as latterday insights from MVPs like Kirk Hammett and Dave Mustaine.

This 80s flashback provides a good overview of how a punk-influenced club movement gradually came to rival and perhaps finally vanquish the excesses of the “hair metal” era, musically and otherwise. When they won, it was a sad day for the manufacturers of guyliner, spandex and Aqua Net…but a very good day for headbanging music in general. Don’t miss this single reprise screening, which is sure to sell out, as it did at Docfest. Sat/14, Roxie. More info here

Ben Folds illuminates the music biz with ‘Lightning Bugs’

Ben Folds. Photo by Joe Vaughn

Ben Folds is not your average rockstar, so it’s no surprise that the genre-bending alternative, pop, and classical artist’s autobiography, A Dream About Lightning Bugs, is not your typical tell-all.

Instead of issuing yet another celebrity memoir teeming with lurid tales of sexcapades and drug abuse, the former Ben Folds Five frontman and multi-platinum-selling solo artist, best known for such cult classics as “Brick,” “The Luckiest,” and “You Don’t Know Me,” fills his 336-page bio with career lessons for artists, which he himself learned the hard way from his own successes and failures.

Folds, who serves as the first-ever Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, scores for film and TV, and hosts the ArtsVote 2020 Podcast Series of interviews on arts policies with current 2020 presidential candidates, is particularly suited to teaching readers such things as how to find their creative voice, think like an artist, and sustain a lasting and multidisciplinary artistic career.

The singer-songwriter is excited to impart even more lessons when he appears in San Francisco, in conversation with SF Chronicle pop music critic Aidin Vaziri, on his birthday (Thu/12 at JCCSF) and ice the cake with an intimate performance of some of his standout tunes.

But first, he chatted with me about his most valuable lesson for creatives, why arts education is critical, and why every single person should write their own damn memoir.

48 HILLS There are a lot of lessons in your book for aspiring musicians and creatives in general. Which, in your opinion, is the most important one?

BEN FOLDS I would simply drop off the suggestion that human life is essentially creative at its core and separating art from life is not always an easy, possible, or smart thing to do.

People are inherently creative. I don’t know what lesson comes out of that. It’s just something to remember as people embark upon life, whether you’re selling insurance like Charles Ives, one of the great composers, was doing, or whether you’re shaking your ass on stage like Elvis was doing.

48 HILLS Reading your book, I can see why you’ve become such a huge advocate for arts education and music therapy funding in our nation’s public schools. Why have so many been quick to abandon arts education?

BEN FOLDS Because I think in order to achieve the incredible things we’ve achieved, we have all become experts in our fields. So I think the compartmentalization into various expertise has given birth to the idea that creativity is only valuable if it’s the expertise—that which puts food on the table—when creativity is actually how we live, what we’re interested in, what brings us joy, and what makes us human.

The purest environment in which we really foster creativity is in the arts. So the reason that I’m really in favor of reestablishing the value of arts education is that it’s so good for everybody’s life going forward.

48 HILLS I know you’ve spoken to many Democratic candidates for president on your podcast to get their stances on this issue.

BEN FOLDS Such a number has been done politically on the arts as a frivolous thing to invest public funds into and in the course of that, we have devalued the very idea of art, and that’s a grave mistake.

But I’ve talked to plenty of politicians that are very for arts education that will be the first to tell me that they sucked at art and music and when they were in it didn’t understand why they were doing it. But they can now see the value when they make a good public speech and the cadence, rhythm, timing, and pitch they choose are all artistic decisions.

48 HILLS In your book you describe how your Aunt Sharon was big on investigating and recording your family history for posterity. Since you have kids, I wonder if part of the reason you wrote your memoir was to get down a Folds family history for them. 

BEN FOLDS Well, it is. But they know most of that stuff anyway. I think a lot of the things about my adult life, they won’t have known until they read the book, but I can’t honestly say that they’ve read the book.

I probably wouldn’t have read my father’s book till I was in my 40’s, had he written a book. So I don’t anticipate they’ve read it. That doesn’t mean that they don’t love me, but one day they may read it and go, “Oh, he did this and this and this before I was born. I had no idea because he didn’t talk about that.” So that could come in handy.

My daughter has become pretty interested in the Ancestry.com stuff, and so I’ve actually learned quite a bit.

48 HILLS So are you related to anyone famous?

BEN FOLDS No, I don’t think so. There’s notably veterans up in the chain and a lot of mountain people in there who didn’t know that anything was going on outside of that. My grandfather was considered big stuff and famous because he was from the big city of Martinsville, North Carolina, and he sold tractors. So he was kind of the rockstar of the family.

48 HILLS You’ve said that you hope that in the process of  writing your memoir you eliminated some “badly filed memories.”  What did you mean by that? 

BEN FOLDS There’s another angle to that. I nearly called the book Write Your Own Damn Memoir and the joke of that was that I think that people in their 40s should actually take a sabbatical and write their own memoir. The reason I believe that after doing it is because you sometimes have memories that are not right because they’re false, filed like bricks in your memory by the people, say the 10-year-old, that you once were. But when you reexamine your life, you can take each bad brick out, so it doesn’t inform your life or decision making for the rest of your life.

48 HILLS You’ll be at the Jewish Community Center of SF on your birthday. How do you feel about celebrating your birthday with us?

BEN FOLDS I like that people are buying my book and showing up to talk about it. I can’t imagine anything more generous.

48 HILLS How do you typically mark your birthday?

BEN FOLDS By not announcing it. By not having my friends or family do anything about it if they would restrain themselves. I don’t need anything. I know it’s my birthday that morning. I’ll wake up and go, “Yeah it’s my birthday,” but it’s not avoiding it. I just don’t celebrate it.

Thu/12, 7pm, $35-$65 
More info here.

SF’s PG&E buyout makes political — and economic — sense

It has been, my former colleague Savannah Blackwell reminds me, 50 years (and a few months) since the Bay Guardian first published a story by UC Berkeley Biochemistry Professor Joe Neilands who exposed how Pacific Gas and Electric Company – in clear violation of federal law – was stealing cheap public power from San Francisco.

(You can find a copy of that story here, you just have to scroll through a bunch of stuff to get to it).

Almost everyone agrees it’s time for SF to take over PG&E’s facilities

And now, the city is finally moving to buy out PG&E and bring clean, renewable power – at lower rates – to the residents and businesses of the city.

It’s taken two bankruptcies, numerous fires, and a long record of utility failures to meet clean-energy goals. It’s taken generations of dubious mayors and supervisors who cared more about PG&E’s political power than the city’s needs.

But now the utility has fallen so far that it has no more allies at City Hall – and the numbers are so clear that the case to take over the utility is beyond debate.

At $2.5 billion, the city would wind up paying about $125 million a year to cover the bonds. The revenue from selling power would be about $700 million a year at PG&E’s current rates. That’s enough annual revenue to rebuild the infrastructure and finance a lot of renewable energy generation facilities.

Already, the IBEW, which has been opposed to public power and supportive of PG&E for years, has launched a campaign against the buyout.The argument is that the city has too many other priorities than to spend money buying out the utility.

But the argument doesn’t add up: If the city makes more than half a billion a year in additional revenue from running its own utility, it can spend money on a wide range of services. And IBEW’s argument that SF would lost $20 million a year in taxes from PG&E is almost silly considering the revenue that’s available from public power.

IBEW is worried about its members pensions – and that’s a real issue. But again: The current city proposal would ensure that all of SF’s PG&E workers get city jobs at the same pay scale, and it’s entirely possible to make all of them whole on their pensions. I don’t see how the city would every do anything that left union workers worse off. And there’s no need; half a billion a year – that’s $5 billion over ten years – covers a lot of pension obligations.

It’s entirely possible that a San Francisco buyout would make it harder for the remaining parts of PG&E to become stable again – San Francisco is by far the most profitable part of the system. (It costs a lot more to run wires and read meters in more rural areas).

But today, the entire market capitalization of PG&E is about $8 billion. For a company in bankruptcy, $2.5 billion for a tiny part of the system (PG&E serves 16 million customers, and only about 1 million are in SF) may seem like a great deal to a judge and creditors.

And I could certainly argue that PG&E no longer works as an investor-owned utility. Breaking the company up and selling it off to public agencies could serve both the creditors and the public.

Almost 100 years after Congress told San Francisco to create a public power system, and 50 years after the scandal became public, there’s progress.

Will Breed make a real change at City Planning?

John Rahaim is stepping down after 12 years of planning disasters. Does Mayor Breed want a real change?

This is the way the announcement about the future of the SF Planning Department arrived:

Mayor London Breed and Planning Director John Rahaim announced today that Director Rahaim will retire from the San Francisco Planning Department. He will continue to serve while a search for his replacement takes place.

John oversaw the Department and City through unprecedented times of recession and growth,” said Mayor Breed. “Under his leadership the Planning Department delivered area plans which allowed for new levels of public benefits and much needed housing in transit rich neighborhoods. John will continue to serve the City through this time of transition as we begin the search for new leadership. We thank John for his service to the City of San Francisco and its residents and for being a true public servant.

When you read between the lines of press releases like these, it usually means that the mayor wants a change.

John Rahaim is stepping down after 12 years of planning disasters. Does Mayor Breed want a real change?

Rahaim, who was hired by Gavin Newsom, has been on the job for 12 years. He’s 64.

Rahaim, unlike some of his predecessors, was always civil and responsive to me. But it’s important to talk about his real legacy – since the mayor will be hiring someone who can either continue in the same direction or shift the role of the department in one of the worst housing crises in the city’s history.

Rahaim oversaw the biggest building boom since the 1980s. He was there for the Twitter Tax Break, the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, the Central Soma Plan – and the period when San Francisco became a tech hub with no place for tens of thousands of new high-paid workers to live without displacing existing residents.

Under Rahaim, the Planning Department accepted entirely and without question that idea that growth is always good. Every “area plan” was based on building more office space – in most cases, without enough housing to accommodate the new workers. Every plan started with the idea that a fraction of the affordable housing the city needs was perfectly acceptable.

The Planning Director doesn’t set policy — that comes from the commission, and ultimately from the mayor. But the person who runs the department has a lot of influence.

Calvin Welch, who has watched city planners since the 1960s, summed up the Rahaim era this way:

Both HOMESF and the series of revisions on the Section 7 of the planning code on neighborhood business are aimed at deregulation which in essence is removing requirements for public notification and comment on an ever widening numbers of issues.

The transformation of planning from a “fact” based activity to one of being, basically, the unfolding of neo-liberal ideology.  The housing dashboard required an ordinance. We saw the continued failure to follow up on the actual use (and price) of housing approved in the name of meeting the “housing crisis” and the continued failure to co-ordinate with DBI on residential demolitions as well as the failure, indeed refusal to look at commercial development as a contributing factor in high housing costs.

Rahaim never said much about the way Peninsula cities were building huge tech office developments and outsourcing their housing problems to SF. I asked him once whether he would consider going to the Mountainview, Palo Alto, or Cupertino City Council meetings to oppose their office projects on the grounds that SF can’t handle the new residents. His response: That’s an interesting idea.

The City Planning Department is now saying that it can’t even consider the impacts of Uber and Lyft and Postmates and other delivery services on traffic in key areas – because those companies won’t give us the data.

How hard would it be to send a planner to sit in front of a few new luxury housing buildings in the afternoon and early evening and count the number of cars that show up to drop off people or food or packages?

But we don’t do that in SF Planning.

The profound transformation of this city under the tech boom, promoted by Newsom, Ed Lee, and Breed, had its roots in the Planning Department. Does Breed want to do something different?

It’s the time of the season for the Zombies

The Zombies. Photo: Payley Photography

After receiving four nominations in five years, ‘60s rock pioneers The Zombies (at Fox Theater Fri/13) began to wonder if they’d ever get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

“So when I got a call saying The Zombies were inducted, it was an incredibly exciting feeling,” the band’s singer, Colin Blunstone told 48 Hills. “To get that kind of acknowledgment from the public and our peers and know that our work had been noticed and appreciated is a life-changing event.”

For the vocalist, the “icing on the cake” was getting to perform the band’s classic tracks “Time Of The Season,” “Tell Her No,” and “She’s Not There” in front of 17,000 people⁠—including fellow inductees Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks, Janet Jackson, The Cure, Def Leppard, and Radiohead —at The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on March 29. Fittingly, The Zombies’ long-awaited induction took place 50 years to-the-day after the band’s unforgettable track, “Time of the Season” first hit no. 1 on the US charts.

“There was a real sense of occasion and it was very emotional for us, of course,” Blunstone said. “All your memories over the last 57 years rush back. All the people you’ve known, people no longer with us, it all comes back to you on an evening like that.”

To celebrate this incredible milestone, The Zombies are uniting past and present line-ups, including seminal members Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone, Chris White, and Hugh Grundy and embarking on a 15-city North American tour with Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson and former Beach Boys members Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin.

On what’s been coined the “Something Great from 68” tour, which hits the Bay Area this week (Fri/13 at the Fox Theater), the band is set to perform its seminal Odessey & Oracle album in its entirety along with other fan favorites through their latest Billboard-charting album Still Got That Hunger.

Blunstone spoke to me about the new tour, the making of Odessey and Oracle, and how the band still maintains its edge after nearly six decades.

48 HILLS Your current tour with Brian Wilson is called, “Something Great from 68,” which obviously references the release of The ZombiesOdessey and Oracle and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. But the crazy thing is that your sophomore album wasn’t initially a hit with your record company and almost never came out? 

COLIN BLUNSTONE For a long time, it seemed as if that album wasn’t going to be released. Then Al Kooper from Blood, Sweat & Tears had joined CBS Records as a producer and the first day he went in there, he went to [then president] Clive Davis, risking his job, and said, “Listen, we have to get this album—it’s brilliant.” Clive said they already owned that album and weren’t even going to issue it.

So we have a huge debt to Al Kooper because it’s only due to his persistence that it was released in the first place and our lives were changed forever.

48 HILLS What can you tell me about the making of Odessey and Oracle? 

COLIN BLUNSTONE We only had 1,000 pounds to record the album—and even then that wasn’t a lot. But what we did was that we rehearsed extensively before we got into the studio, so we could then record Odessey and Oracle quickly.

48 HILLS I read that The Beatles had been recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the same studio at Abbey Road just days earlier?

COLIN BLUNSTONE Yes, which was breathtakingly exciting. Also, we had the benefit of all the technical advances that they’d made because we used the same engineers that worked on Sgt. Pepper’s. Particularly we were now able to record on more than a four-track machine because they didn’t have an eight-track, but had found a way of linking two four-track machines, which from memory actually gave us seven tracks for a technical reason. That was a huge game-changer for us because it meant we could overdub extra harmonies and extra keyboard parts.

When we first went into the studio, there were percussion instruments on the floor, tambourines and Maracas and things like that left by The Beatles. John Lennon’s mellotron was also left in the studio. If Lennon hadn’t left it, there wouldn’t be mellotron all over Odessey and Oracle. I’m afraid we didn’t ask; we just went ahead and used it.

48 HILLS “Time of the Season,” from Odessey and Oracle, would go on to become the band’s biggest hit in the US, yet the sad irony is that it blew up after the band had already broken up.

COLIN BLUNSTONE It’s kind of a strange story that the band finished in the summer of ‘67 and Odessey and Oracle wasn’t released till ‘68 and I think “Time of the Season” was the third single from that album. Of course, it went on to be the biggest hit The Zombies had ever had. But by then we were committed to other projects and there wasn’t even the slightest conversation about the band getting back together again.

In some ways, it’s a shame because it would have been nice to go out there and celebrate the success of Odessey and Oracle and “Time of the Season.”

48 HILLS One of the most groundbreaking songs on Odessey and Oracle, in my opinion, is “Care of Cell 44,” a song about a man writing his incarcerated girlfriend. I doubt anyone else was writing about women in prison at the time.

COLIN BLUNSTONE When the album was finished, I felt that that was my favorite track and the most commercial one. But it was released as a single and wasn’t a commercial success. But even now when I listen to it, I think, “What a clever song.” The music is really sophisticated and the lyrics are really groundbreaking. I’m not sure that many people have written on that subject up to today. It’s so unusual and I really enjoy playing it even after all this time.

48 HILLS Your band name, which I know you didn’t like off the bat, is equally innovative—since zombies weren’t as talked about back in 1961 as they are today, with “The Walking Dead” and a slew of zombie movies and video games. With all the attention paid to zombies today, does the name seem like a fortuitous choice in hindsight?

COLIN BLUNSTONE I think it is. In music, you’ve got to be ahead of the curve and there was no zombie culture in 1961. So the original bass player just came up with it out of the blue and there was no deep meaning to it. It was just a catchy memorable name, and I’m not sure in 1961 that I knew what a zombie was.

With time passing, it’s become quite hip because there are now so many zombie TV programs, films, and magazines. So I think it’s become cooler as the years have gone by where it’s usually the other way around.

48 HILLS It also gives your band a continued edginess, unlike other ‘60s rock bands with kookier names like, say, The Turtles, The Lovin’ Spoonful, or Strawberry Alarm Clock.

COLIN BLUNSTONE We’re fortunate to have some edginess, especially when you think our first record was released in 1964. We could be taking it very easy right now, just touring occasionally, rolling out the same old hits, instead of writing new songs and trying to make sure our performances are really energized.

But we really give it everything we’ve got and perhaps, in a small way, the name helps take us out of the 1960s bracket because it is a bit edgy. We’re still writing and recording new material that is quite sophisticated music, the result of people honing their craft over many years.

48 HILLS Is that why you named your most recent album Still Got That Hunger?

COLIN BLUNSTONE Yes, because we do still have that hunger. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t still be touring. You need a lot of tenacity, energy, and commitment to go on tour for two months and play nearly every night as well as write new songs and record new albums, and the band really has that commitment. In fact, we just started recording a new album last week.

48 HILLS In one of my favorite tracks on your latest album, “Moving On,” you sing, “And I’m moving on to my dreams of tomorrow.” What are your aspirations for the future?

COLIN BLUNSTONE Rod Argent and I both understand that we’re in our mid-‘70s. In a way, this almost makes the whole exercise of writing, recording, and going on the road more intense since we realize that there are going to be physical limitations to how long we can do this. No one knows, but logic tells me that we might not be able to do this for many years to come. So my dream is to do this for as long as I’m physically able to.

Fri/13, 8pm, $79.50-$229.50
Fox Theater, Oakland
More info here.

Fighting Trump’s bill to keep immigrants from any public assistance

Rep. Judy Chu is sponsoring a bill to block Trump's new move.

The Trump administration’s latest string of changes to immigration policy have created widespread confusion and fear for immigrant communities — but organizers are fighting back.

Advocates and Congressional leaders have teamed up and are mobilizing to challenge the Trump administration’s new “public charge” rule announced on August 12th.

Rep. Judy Chu is sponsoring a bill to block Trump’s new move.

According to the National Immigration Law Center, public charge is a term used in immigration law to refer to a person who is primarily dependent on the government for support.

People who fit that description are often denied green cards and considered ineligible for legal immigration.

The proposed rule would change the definition to a person who receives any public benefits. It would also expand the type of benefits and government programs considered, and include food stamps, housing vouchers, and Medicaid.

This policy change would also alter the “totality of the circumstances test,” which is used while making a public charge determination. Changes may include reviewing income, physical or mental health conditions, poor credit history, English proficiency, and other criteria during a determination.

This proposal would mark a significant departure from current US policy. According to Congresswoman Judy Chu, since 1999, the only benefit that had been considered in determining whether someone could become a public charge were cash assistance programs, such as SSI, TANF, or government funded long-term institutional care.

In all, advocates say this proposal threatens millions of immigrant families, many of which are disproportionately families of color, from accessing health care, nutritious food, and stable housing if they want to seek legal status to remain in the US.

This change is scheduled to go into effect on October 15th, but advocates are attempting to block or delay its implementation.

“We’ve been preparing for this day since the beginning of the Trump administration and we’ve been fighting back in every way that we can,” said Connie Choi, strategist at NILC and campaign field manager for Protecting Immigrant Families during a telebriefing hosted by Ethnic News Media and PIF on Thursday morning. “We’ve been engaging on multiple fronts— triaging questions from directly affected community members, engaging in advocacy, and suing the government in the courts,” she said.

According to Choi, NILC and other legal partners have sued the Trump administrationover this public charge rule and seek to block the effective date in October. She said that NILC and the plaintiffs believe that this proposal violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. The NILC’s complaint was filed on August 16th and a motion for preliminary injunction was filed on September 4th. If this motion is granted, it will block the rule from taking effect on October 15th while the matter is discussed in court.

Chu said this latest proposal is but one part of a steady stream of anti-immigrant policies flowing from the White House. However, out of all of the changes in immigration policy posed by this administration, advocates believe that the public charge rule change would have the deepest, widest, and most long-term impact on our country and democracy.

“[This rule] puts a price tag on entering America and will make it more difficult for immigrants to get green cards or adjust their status if they utilize benefits such as Medicaid, housing assistance, or SNAP. This means more hunger and more sickness,” she said.

In response to the public charge rule change, Chu has introduced The No Federal Funds for Public Charge Act (HR 3222). According to Chu, this bill would ensure that no federal dollars go towards implementing this regulation. HR 3222 already has 92 cosponsors and strong support from many community advocates, and it continues to grow each day as community members put pressure on elected officials to fight back against this policy.

Advocates have shared how the proposal has already begun to impact immigrant communities.

Though Trump’s administration has framed this change as a way to promote immigrants’ independence and self-sufficiency, advocates are concerned that this rule change could discourage immigrants from seeking necessary assistance. So far, advocates have been proven right; people have already begun to disenroll from public benefitsfor fear of jeopardizing their immigrant status, putting children and families at greater risk of poverty and poor health outcomes.

“The level of fear around this rule, even before it goes into effect, is palpable and demonstrable,” said Lisa David, President and CEO of Public Health Solutions. “The level of confusion in these communities is extraordinary… people are confused about what’s real,” David shared.

There’s a lot of misinformation being spread, but advocates have suggested that people check out NILC’s community messagesto get a more comprehensive understanding of the public charge rule. They’ve also shared the following messages:

  1. Don’t panic: Fight fear with facts, stay informed, know your rights: The rule is not yet in effect and it may not apply to you. Exempt immigrants include: refugees; asylees; survivors of trafficking, domestic violence, or other serious crimes (T or U visa applicants/holders); VAWA self-petitioners; special immigrant juveniles; and certain people paroled into the US.

Benefits received when people are in one of these statuses will not be counted against them. And lawful permanent residents (people with green cards) are not subject to a public charge test when they apply for US citizenship.

The rule does not consider health, nutrition, and housing benefits that are used before the effective date of October 15, 2019. Additionally, the rule only applies to the applicant and not the applicant’s family members.

  1. Don’t make rash decisions: In order to avoid losing crucial programs that may be fundamental to your family’s well-being, don’t make rash decisions. Use of public benefits will not automaticallymake you a public charge. Speak to an immigration attorney (preferably from a community-based organization) before going on or off public benefits or before adjusting your status to better understand your situation.
  2. It’s not over: Advocates are pushing back on all fronts and are using every tool at their disposal to stop this rule from taking effect, especially in court and through legislation.
  3. Join the fight: Write to Congress and urge elected officials to co-sponsor HR3222.

For more information, check out the resources here and here.