Local Pulitzer Prize Winning Author

Matt Richtel discusses his life and work at Bookshop West Portal

It is not every town or neighborhood that has a Pulitzer-prizing winning author in its midst. But our West Portal district does. And, while journalist and author Matt Richtel etches out the angles of complexities of technology and contemporary issues he delights in the everyday life of the neighborhood.

When this reporter asked him his thoughts on the honor of being awarded a Pulitzer Prize he said. "I no longer get any more milage with it with my wife. I still have to do chores around the house," he laughed.

But joking aside, Richtel sees it as an honor, especially being awarded for important work. In 2010 his NY Times series on the dangers of texting and driving "put the issue on the map," he said. "It is very gratifying."

As society changes we are introducing things that are a mismatch with us as humans."Things like 'multi-tasking.' "Our human brains just are not built that way, despite the popularity of the concept.”

That, then became the basis for the non-fiction book, A Deadly Wandering, which has since gone into its 12th printing, and besides being a NY Times Bestseller, it continues to be held in esteem; it is included on the 'required reading' lists of many schools and colleges. Born in L.A. but raised in Colorado, Richtel got his Bachelor's from U.C. Berkeley, then transferred to Columbia School of Journalism where he secured his MS. He joined the staff of the NY Times in 2000 after working as a reporter covering Palo Alto and the Silicon Valley and its tech industry for The Peninsula Times Tribune and then for the Oakland Tribune.

Even with this stellar journalistic and literary distinction, Richtel is not one to rest on his laurels, no matter how comfortable or prestigious. His current novel Dead on Arrival which was featured at Bookshop West Portal on August 22, is already being heralded by critics, comparing it to a Michael Crichton thriller. Yes, it is set in San Francisco with a connection to Colorado, among other things.

When not writing about tech, he is delving into such complicated subjects as immunology and cancer. But beneath the serious subject writer, and the mystery-thriller genre author, he has a fun-loving humorous side. "I like to write songs," said Richtel. And if that were not enough creative outlet, he has also been the creative force behind a syndicated comic strip called Rudy Park.

He enjoys tennis and basketball when not at the computer. And, Richtel considers technology something exciting — not something to be feared, a marvel as well as a great tool. "It is because of technology that I am able to write for the NY Times with my bosses in New York on the East Coast while I get to live here in San Francisco. Telecommuting makes that possible," he said.

Yet, he cautions that it is the pace of change, due to technology, that contributes to humanity's "blind-spot." Civilization over the eons has established many building blocks. "What's different about now is that knowledge (and data) is building on itself. As society changes we are introducing things that are a mismatch with us as humans." Things like 'multi-tasking.' "Our human brains just are not built that way, despite the popularity of the concept." Hence the closer look at the dangers of texting while driving. And hypocricy, the other aspect that technology seems to bring out, more these days according to Richtel, "It is a major blind-spot. Technology can also make us both smart and lazy," he said. Optimistically, the tech tools we have today can help humanity look at its blind spots. "Take advantage of technology but don't let it distract you," he said.

Perhaps it is the balance that he strives to achieve which helps him be so successful at what he does. His wife Meredith, and his two children are the anchors in his life and San Francisco is the harbor.

Richtel savors the small-town like atmosphere of West Portal. "I enjoy hanging out at Greenhouse Cafe on West Portal Ave, it is where I do some of my writing," he said. Richtel is in good company there, it is were locals go to relax, study and indulge in the 'Nutella Latte.' And, naturally his most favorite spot on West Portal Ave is Bookshop West Portal.

To obtain a copy of author-journalist Matt Richtel's book 'Dead on Arrival' visit Bookshop West Portal web site at: www.bookshopwestportal.com, and check out the calendar in the Westside Observer for their upcoming author events.

Jonathan Farrell is a local journalist.

September 2017

Local Author Martha Conway

San Francisco-based author Martha Conway read from her historical novel, The Underground River, on June 20 at Bookshop West Portal that Tuesday evening. The enthralled audience was impressed. This reporter talked to her after the gathering.

“With this third historical-mystery novel, are you secure in your niche as a writer?” I asked her because Thieving Forest was a departure from what she had initially been accustomed to, a mystery ‘whodunit’ story. Yet with Thieving Forest, Conway surprised everyone, including herself, as her work is emerging, prolifically, on a path all her own. I also wanted to know if she had an inkling towards writing in another genre. Here is what she shared with me.

She replied, “I’ve gone from writing mystery to historical mystery to historical fiction, and so I’m afraid to say I will stay within any one genre. But I love historical fiction. Use of historical genres are more and more fluid, so people like me can explore different ways of telling a story without getting penalized. It’s a great time for genre-bending fiction.”

In Underground River the year is 1838, “so there is no war going on, said Conway. But there is a lot of tension between the North and the South. The Ohio River, which is the natural division between the North and the South, is a common place for runaway slaves to cross over to get to freedom.”

“I approached this novel thinking, how does a person go from being a bystander in a political movement like abolitionism to being an active participant? This question is relevant for us today,” she added.

Fellow writer Carole Bumpus, who also wrote a historical novel, applauded Conway and is eager to read Underground River. Bumpus shared her thoughts about using history to tell a story. “(Historical) facts give you structure, but also can provide pitfalls if you don’t have your facts accurate! Readers will not continue to read if they feel you have lied to them! This form of story-telling can be tricky, but also worth the challenge!”

The genre of historical fiction is something that has been going on for centuries, and is something that has been used throughout world literature. Historians cite the ancient epic The Iliad as one of many examples. They also point out that use of history to form a novel is not exclusive to our Western culture. The Tale of the Genji and Romance of The Three Kingdoms are ancient stories from Asia which provide a glimpse of life during various dynasties and eras from the 12th to the 16th Century.

Conway’s confidence and self-assuredness is undeniable, and it has been wonderful to recognize the creative changes that have occurred over the years as she has progressed and grown stronger in her writing. Yet naturally I wanted to ask...was it any easier/harder this third time? “Every novel is hard in a different way, Conway said. You think you learn the tools, and then find that with your next novel you need different tools. It keeps the process interesting.”

What did she see as the most important challenge she faced putting this novel together?

“Trying to understand how people could rationalize slavery. That was hard for me to imagine,” she said.

Any similarities with the three that she might see? “They all feature strong female protagonists who get the job done,” she said. Conway, even with that very first mystery story, 12 Bliss Street, has always had a deep and profound sense of what women bring to any situation.

I told her I saw her ability to bring up the subject of cultural/ethnic diversity within common ground. The Los Angeles Times mentioned her latest novel and its subject, the Underground Railroad was a “powerful symbol of resistance.” It is a subject that can be examined even more closely than ever before, especially now in this age of information and furthering forensic technology.

Conway said, “Yes, I’m very interested in how characters in different cultures or ethnicities relate to each other. The search for the common ground is key, This isn’t always possible. I want to show all sorts of interactions, even the failures.”

Are you more confident to write about these things now than when you began with Thieving Forest? “Yes,” she said, and by the reviews (some describing it as “a page-turner”) her audience will only grow, eager to read what more she has in store.

Bookshop West Portal is pleased with Conway’s work, as it has been selling and attracting people to reading/book signing events. Located on West Portal Avenue at the very heart of San Francisco’s West Portal neighborhood, it is among the few but vital book stores that have survived the impact of the digital/tech revolution.

Will she do a bit of genre-bending? Her readers and I among them are eager to find out. To learn more about author Martha Conway and her latest novel Underground River, visit her web site - www.marthaconway.com

Jonathan Farrell is a local journalist

July / August 2017

The Dance from the Music Hall revue at Mad Sal's Alehouse. Photo: MarkEYE

Dickens Never Fails at Christmas

Women doing business and being their own proprietors is routine these days. But over a century ago, this was an exception, especially in Victorian England. Yet even with social restrictions and a heavy caste system, there were some who managed quite well, among them Mad Sal of Mad Sal's Dockside Alehouse at the annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair in the Cow Palace beginning on November 19.

While there is no actual character in any of Charles Dickens' stories named Mad Sal, the likelihood of someone who fits her type of character would have been around in Dickens' time.

MAD SAL'S DOCKSIDE ALE HOUSE, where Pipe & Bowl Morris perform lusty traditional dances celebrating beer, flirting, and the pleasures of country life. Photo: MarkEYE

Executive Director of the Dickens Fair, Kevin Patterson, took a moment to explain how Mad Sal came into being. "The character of Mad Sal was created by my father, Ron Patterson. Ron as co-founder of the Dickens Fair was an amazing art director as well as impresario. He and my mother Phyllis Patterson did a lot of work to make the experience of a Dickens type of Christmas come to life, very much like a living Victorian Christmas card. And in researching Victorian London, Ron found a drawing of a female innkeeper with serious attitude."

So my Dad said Patterson and lead actress and improvisational diva, Judy Kory, took this vintage lithograph he had found and invented the character of Mad Sal. In keeping with the art form of environmental theatre unique to the Dickens Fair, Judy evolved the character over the next five years." He noted that a total of six actresses have portrayed Mad Sal over the 34 seasons of the Dickens Fair.

Curious to know the secret to Mad Sal's longevity, this reporter asked, what is this New Show at Sal's that everyone's talking about? What is the basis of the show? Is it based upon actual show formats of Dickens' time or an approximation thereof?

"Among the many popular shows to have appeared on Sal's stage over the years" said Patterson, "is perhaps the Music Hall. As you know, Music Hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment that first became popular in the early Victorian era circa 1850. It involved a mixture of popular songs, comedy, and variety entertainment," he said.

"And this year, The All New Mad Sal's Dockside Alehouse Music Hall Review featuring Le Can Can Bijou, with its new songs (including two never before heard anywhere) has a completely new cast. Comedic characters, singers, dancers and a bit of acrobatics, all performed by enthusiastic and talented performers – not to mention a surprisingly touching 'through line' he said, that -promises to be even better than ever!"

Violinist, Cat Taylor always wows Photo: MarkEYE

Visitors to The Dockside Alehouse at the Dickens Fair will see that it is the best, most popular bar in all of Dickens' London, fully recreated by the cast and crew of the Fair and Red Barn Productions at the Cow Palace.

"Yet, as it is in many of Dickens' stories a popular spot like The Dockside Alehouse happens to be located in the worst, most dangerous part of London" said Patterson. "And maybe that, for the wealthy who flock to it,is part of the charm. It isn't a place where one can openly 'hire' the services of a female 'companion', or engage in highly illegal opium smuggling, or a place where the shadiest and most dangerous of Dickens' characters occasionally gather to plot their dangerous and shady schemes. No, for all intents and purposes, Sal's is the go to place for drinking, singing and merriment (much like the Oom-pah-pah scene in the movie musical Oliver). But not too far off in its shadows, dark things continue to occur."

"Sal is by far the loudest, he said, most colorful, most interesting, not to mention powerful and important person in the best, most popular bar in all of London."

The annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair starts Nov 19 and continues for five consecutive weekends which includes the Friday after Thanksgiving; and then ends on Dec. 18. Tickets are now on sale. Visit the Dickens Christmas Fair web site for more details at: dickensfair.com

Jonathan Farrell is a San Francisco free lance reporter. Feedback: jonathan@westsideobserver.com

November 2016

Derailed M-Ocean View Streetcar Brings MUNI Delays

Photo Courtesy Twitter User Dustin Allen

There were only six passengers on the trolley when it derailed early Friday morning. There were no injuries or damages. The Feb. 12 derailment of the M-Ocean View car around 6:20 am at 19th Ave and Holloway endangered a very busy intersection, it is the MUNI stop for one of the City's and the State's most populated university campuses of almost 30,000 students.

When The Westside Observer inquired with SFMTA for details about the derailment, spokesman and mediarep Paul Rose, said that the exact cause is still not known. "All service resumed that same day," he noted, and "the investigation continues. We apologize for the inconvenience."”

The derailment caused delays on the M-Ocean View and K-Ingleside train lines; and for the rest of the day SFMTA dispersed replacement shuttles between the Phelan Loop, near City College of San Francisco and West Portal. This was done so that commuters could transfer to other trolley lines to go downtown.

The Golden Gate Xpress also pointed out that the derailment comes on the heels of SFMTA's announcement of new plans for a subway M-Ocean View line. Once underground, the train line would suffer less frequent delays, according to the project's lead manager Liz Brisson.

With an average weekday ridership of 128,500 passengers, the MUNI Metro system is the third busiest light-rail (trolley) system in the nation. For the past two decades, as expressed at numerous community and public meetings, SFMTAofficials have noted that much of the delay and complications in mass transit has been due to "above ground complications." Car traffic, road work, pedestrians, all can be contributing factors to delays and malfunctions to light-rail and electrified bus lines above ground.

The MUNI Metro (or the underground as locals refer to it) is a contemporary incarnation of the traditional streetcar system that had served San Francisco since the late 19th century.

While many streetcar lines in other cities, and even in San Francisco itself, were converted to buses after World War II, five lines survived until 1980, when the streetcar lines were partially upgraded to light rail with the opening of the upper level of the Market Street Subway in that year. Full daily Muni Metro service was inaugurated in 1982. Recently, as has been reported,the system has undergone expansion, most notably the Third Street Light Rail Project. That was completed in 2007. The T-line inauguratedthe first new rail line in San Francisco in over half a century. Other projects, such as the Central Subway, are underway.

When The Westside Observer inquired with SFMTAfor details about the derailment, spokesman and mediarep Paul Rose, said that the exact cause is still not known. "All service resumed that same day," he noted, and "the investigation continues. We apologize for the inconvenience."

When asked if SFMTA posted the news of the derailment on LinkedIn, he replied. "No, I would never post that." In today's tech savvy world, agencies like SFMTA have very strict rules about what is officially released to the media. Yet, social media sites like LinkedIn gave the impression that the post was issued by Rose and the SFMTA.

Any important alerts to the public are posted on SFMTA's web page, Facebook and Twitter page.

Jonathan Farrell is a San Francisco free-lance journalist.

March 2016

Is Hardly Strictly Largely Illegal?

The three-day extravaganza in Golden Gate Park known as Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this past Oct. 4 through 6th is very much like the summer music festivals in Stern Grove.

Admission was free and the music festival featured such widely celebrated artists as Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, Los Lobos, Steve Martin, Conor Oberst, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, as well as 80 other performers. Some estimates say more than the population of the City turned out in Golden Gate Park for the three-day event.

Hardly Strictly began in 2001 and exists because Warren Hellman wanted to bring his favorite acts to his hometown and share music with the City. Hellman was a private equity investor who founded his own firm. He died in 2011, but Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (HSB) Festival carries on.

Mayor Ed Lee also joined HSBG organizers, the Hellman Family, SF Unified School District middle school students, and celebrity MC Hammer to kick off the festival.

…the music gets loud," said McKirahan. He noted that it was to the point where windows rattle. "I did not mind it as much years before because it initially started out as a one-day event. Now it has been stretched to three."

“We are excited to host this magical event in Golden Gate Park for its 13th year,” said San Francisco Recreation and Parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “The festival is held in one of the nation’s most idyllic urban parks, and I know Mr. Hellman will be with us in spirit.”

Over the past three years the Bluegrass Festival has given nearly $230,000 for recycling containers and turf and irrigation repairs in the meadows, ensuring that Golden Gate Park is beautiful for the festival and park users all year long.

This year’s festival featured six stages and more than 350 musicians, with over 750,000 attendees. Even though the event was well attended and is a success, some residents and neighbors near Golden Gate Park have expressed concerns.

“I live right across the street from the Park,” said long-time resident Doug McKirahan. “Each year the crowds get larger.” He noted that while Hardly Strictly Blue Grass is not as rowdy as the Outlands Music Festival, held in summer, the noise can still get loud.

“Usually it is on the last day of the blue grass festival when the music gets loud,” said McKirahan. He noted that it was to the point where windows rattle. “I did not mind it as much years before because it initially started out as a one-day event. Now it has been stretched to three.”

McKirahan is not alone in his point of view. There are many among the residents who live near Golden Gate Park that consider these large-scale events as an over-done misuse of a man-made, natural oasis.

The major difference between HSBG and Outlands is not only the type of music, but that the blue grass festival is free. McKirahan believes that the hot-line provided for resident to complain or voice concerns is really just a venting line. “Officials claim that they are measuring the volume levels and such. But they don’t do anything about it,” he said. “Our complaints and concerns are ignored,” said McKirahan.

And, while he did reiterate HSBG festival does not get as rakish and ruckus as Outlands, the event ends at 7 pm; “people will carry on in conversations and are slow to dispurse for hours, long afterwards.”McKirahan made it clear he is not against the festival. The music is wonderful. Yet, McKirahan also said that he and other residents he has talked to are disappointed in local officials, as well as the SF Rec. and Parks Dept. It seems as if they only see the event and others like it (such as the Outlands Festival) as another revenue stream for the City and Rec. and Parks Dept.

One resident who did not want to be quoted did say she was amazed at how orderly the event was despite the extremely large and packed in crowds. Both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Richmond District Police Station noted that no crimes were reported. Richmond Station said in its blotter-report that there were “fewer complaints than previous years, and that according to their estimates “over 80,000 plus” people had attended. Some speculate the reason for the orderliness of the crowds is due to the fact that no alcohol is sold at the festival. Richmond Station thanks everyone involved in making the festival a success and said it is looking forward to next year.

Jonathan Farrell is a San Francisco free lance reporter. Feedback: jonathan@westsideobserver.com

November 2013

ChardGut Health: Navigating the Intestinal Tract

In the past few years the focus on digestive or intestinal health has increased. Many yogurt brands now have "pro-biotic cultures" to aid in a healthy digestive system. Yet with all the products currently on the market, this reporter was curious to know what is for real and what is hype? No doubt the recent recall of a popular "Greek-style"yogurt brand due to mold might have consumers wondering.

Why all this concern over intestines or "gut health" as some call it? "A healthy intestinal track is really important," said the Westside Observer's own Sharon Caron in her monthly wellness column. "Most of the problems are due to stress and poor diet choices.”

Still,the importance of a good bowel movement seems to be heard loud and clear by yogurt producers like Dannon, who since 1987 with the development of bifidobacteria have made "pro-biotic" a household phrase. Dannon is the maker of Activia, one of the most popular on the market. While many of the digestive health products are yogurt based, not everything about digestive health is dairy related.

Why all this concern over intestines or "gut health" as some call it? "A healthy intestinal track is really important," said the Westside Observer's own Sharon Caron in her monthly wellness column. "Most of the problems are due to stress and poor diet choices."

The National Commission on Digestive Disorders in the United States reported in 2009 that 60 to 70 million Americans are affected each year by digestive diseases, at a cost that exceeds $100 billion in direct medical expenses.

Conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or having too much acid or not enough acid in the body, are all symptoms related to lifestyle and diet. In her work as a natural healing practitioner, Caren believes in the use of natural essential oils as one way to help heal or restore balance.

Caren who suffered injuries from a car accident in 1977, has built her natural healing practice from the view-point of wanting to understand the process of healing and to maintain wellness naturally. Eating a proper and healthy diet was crucial. Yet, as she notes,"I realized if I wasn't eating the proper amounts of raw fruits and vegetables, I needed to supplement. This is a way the body rejuvenates itself to stay healthy and vital." Many of the supplements on the market that help with digestion and "regularity" of bowel movements are fiber based, often in a powder or granule form.

Some forms of fiber are called "prebiotics." Paul Clark is an herbalist on staff at pharmica, which describes itself as an integrative pharmacy that promotes natural products in all of its stores. There is a location not far from West portal in Cole Valley. Clark explained that pre-biotics are non-digestible or partially digestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon and thus promote better overall health. He understood the concern and curiosity as he said, "there are dozens and dozens of products out there, it is important to look at the source of the product, where does it come from? Is it reputable?"

Clark at pharmica also explained that diets full of good healthy fiber help maintain proper intestinal health. "There are several ways the human body, cleanses itself, the colon is just one," he said. "Studies have shown that the American diet needs at least 28 grams of fiber a day, whereas typically the average person only consumes about eight to 11 grams." Clark also noted that as people age, their needs change, and therefore paying attention to diet is crucial for continued good health. "There are lots of fiber products on the market, just as there are dozens of probiotic and yogurt products on the market. We here at pharmica strive to provide the best of the products."

He, Caren and others this reporter talked to admitted in today's consumer market, the ever-growing array of products seems endless. Choosing the right product can get confusing. As Clark explained, "again it all has to do with source of the product, the ingredients and what a person's needs are." Certainly there is a lot of hype out there with regards to products, even those that are labeled as "natural" "organic" "high in fiber" or even "probiotic." "All you have to remember about 'probiotic' is that it is the actual 'live-culture," said Clark. "'prebiotic' is simply the stuff that helps promote or encourage the live-culture (or good bacteria) to grow. For those who have issues with dairy, or gluten, then they should look to other foods that have probiotics in them such as fermented foods. No matter whether fiber or diary t, a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables is important."

Constipation (and other intestinal issues, like acid reflux, indigestion) is of concern if on-going. Caren pointed out that so many people are prescribed antacids, laxatives and other pills. Such pills and medications only treat the symptoms, not the causes. Caren noted people must avoid getting hooked on pills or antacids for intestinal problems. With the help of her fellow essential oil consultant Lauren Broiller, Caren provides regular workshops and informational series on the importance of "a healthy gut and healing your gut naturally."

And, of course, Clark recommended that people consult with their doctor or medical professional before buying any product. Consulting with a medical professional first can save time and money. But as Clark, Caren and Broiller pointed out, no supplement alone is a replacement for a sound health diet.

Editor's note: Sharon Caren no longer writes "Sharon the Health" for the Observer. Her informative columns are available at westsideobserver.com/columns/Caren.html

Jonathan Farrell is a San Francisco free lance reporter. Feedback: jonathan@westsideobserver.com

October 2013

New Mural Replaces Lakeside Village Eyesore

A charming enclave that seems like a little town within a neighborhood is Lakeside Village, just off of 19th Avenue on the way to Stonestown mall. The one short block between 19th Avenue and Junipero Serra Blvd sometimes feels like a "mini-Main Street USA."

In fact, many people know Lakeside Village as the stop along the M-Oceanview MUNI trolley line just before arriving at Stonestown. For years, that narrow corridor which allows passengers to step on and off the trolley almost right in the middle of that one block of Ocean Ave has been riddled with graffiti. Residents and merchants made continuous efforts to erase the markings. But, like any struggle with graffiti, re-appeared, over and over.

For years, that narrow corridor which allows passengers to step on and off the trolley almost right in the middle of that one block of Ocean Ave has been riddled with graffiti.”

One resident, Mike Ritch who works and lives in one of the buildings along that narrow stretch of MUNI track, decided to do something about it. A talented mural artist,Ritch approached property manager Harmon Shragge, and the building's owner, Michael Tobriner. With their permission and help. Ritch created an eye-catching mural. "I wanted it to be something that caused people to take a second look," he said, "especially for the passengers on the trolley as they glance out the window."

"I like the idea of bringing art into the neighborhood," said Ritch. It took him and his group of fellow artists 120 hours, or two and a half weeks, to complete. They had to work quickly because the corridor is narrow and the trolley arrives and departs in both directions about every 20 minutes.

Ritch said MUNI was helpful in his work, as trolley operators took extra efforts to slow down when moving along that stretch of track on Ocean Ave.

Our first priority is the safety of our passengers,"said Paul Rose, media relations manager, on behalf of the SF Municipal Transit Authority; "and, those who surround us on city streets. As San Francisco has a citywide commitment to improve opportunities for the Arts, moving safely around this project was a no-brainer."

The mural that fills the 12 feet of building wall along the track is called, Tigers of the Sea." Ritch noted that the mural is inspired by visits to Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Feeling a strong connection to nature, "I've always been fascinated with the strange beauty of aquariums and have been exploring the theme in my work for years." In some ways the mural allows people to be a part of it while waiting for a trolley, they blend in as if they too are at the aquarium.

When the Westside Observer talked to Ritch about the mural, he was very confident about Lakeside Village as his home. With all due respect to building owner Tobriner, Ritch considers that stretch of wall, "my building." Since 2007, "I have been the director of the Jean Henry School of Art, a small institution founded in 1962." Its side wall is among the row of structures and fences that line the track.

The John Henry School offers fine art classes for adults in various media. "Currently, I teach oil painting and watercolor classes there, and I use the space as my studio for my canvas work," he said.

"Recently, I have been very attracted to the inherent accessibility and scale mural of work," Ritch said. He recognized the community's struggle with graffiti as a way to put his artistic talent to use in service to the neighborhood. "I hope to continue to work with property owners to bring new projects into the community.

"I had a lot of fun making it," he said, "and the building owner and the neighbors have been really supportive.

To learn more about artist Mike Ritich, his murals. and his efforts to bring art to San Francisco neighborhoods visit his web site at mikeritch.com

Jonathan Farrell is a local free-lance reporter

July 2013

Especially CatsDr. Rozycki and friend

Especially Cats Veterinary Hospital and Clinic on Taraval has a new owner and staff. Long-time Vets Drs. Koral, Anne-Marie Benfatto, and Rozycki have retired and the new owner, Dr. Manprit Buttar, and his staff of Drs. Holland and Carter have taken over the practice. When the Westside Observer tried repeatedly to speak to Buttar, he would not respond to requests for interview. Only office staff members Ursula and Stan would verify that Especially Cats was sold to Buttar in June of 2012 and that previous owner Koral and her staff of Benfatto and Rozycki had retired.

This was a bit of a shock to several patrons who have been taking their cats to the well-established veterinary clinic for years. Established in 1983, for over 30 years Especially Cats prided itself on its unique focus—only cats. Cat lovers over the years praised the practice for its feline-focused approach. Benfatto had mentioned in conversation to this reporter some years ago that “having the focus only on cats makes my job as a vet much more efficient.” She had been consulted at the time for some information for an article about sweets, chocolate, and pets.

 In Veterinary school, students are required to learn about farm animals, rodents, reptiles, and the list of things we had to learn was extensive.” Benfatto mentioned that focusing just on cats allowed her to have more confidence.”

There is so much to learn in veterinary school, she said at that time. All the various animals, not just cats and dogs, is a lot. In Veterinary school, students are required to learn about farm animals, rodents, reptiles, and the list of things we had to learn was extensive.” Benfatto mentioned that focusing just on cats allowed her to have more confidence. And, just when people think they know all there is to know about cats, they will surprise you with something new.

Oh, and as for giving sweets to pets? That is not a good idea. Cats actually,” as Benfatto explained, “don’t really have a taste for sweets, whereas dogs will eat just about anything. Cats are smarter about food and (potential) toxins than dogs, she said.

It was precisely because of this primary focus and attention to cats that cat owners flocked to Especially Cats. This is why some long-time patrons were surprised when Especially Cats was taken over by Buttar. It is not clear whether or not a notice was given or formal announcements were made. Only it is obvious by some of the reviews posted on Yelp.com that long-time patrons are perplexed as to the change in ownership. Of the 137 reviews, eight expressed disappointment with the change in ownership.

One thing is certain: cats are adored at Especially Cats.

One reviewer/patron, Denise A, and others, recalled how much Drs. Benfatto and Rozycki loved cats. It was that love for cats that kept patrons returning year after year. Denise also claims that Unfortunately, Dr. Rozycki has taken a year-long sabbatical to tend to animals in developing countries.” Her post from this past August of 2012 noted that she was so pleased with Rozycki and Especially Cats she never took her cats to any other vet clinic in all the more than 20 years she (and her cats) had been a patron.

It is not clear why the former owner and staff retired and sold out so unexpectedly. Did Rozycki›s departure for a sabbatical have something to do with selling the practice? Current owner Dr. Buttar would not respond. Office staff members Stan and Ursula would only confirm that practice was sold in June of 2012 and provided no other details. Yet several reviews on Yelp.com did note that prices/rates for service had increased.

From its new website, Especially Cats notes that cats are now the most popular pets, out-numbering dogs in the United States. The web site also says we hope to lengthen and enhance the years that you can spend with your cat, by focusing on wellness care and preventative medicine through all life stages. (And this includes kitten and elderly cats too.) Under its new ownership and staff, Especially Cats Veterinary Hospital is a full service cat clinic and wellness center.  Especially Cats is comprised of a modern hospital, surgical unit, radiology department, and an on-site laboratory with a complete veterinary pharmacy.

Located at 1339 Taraval Street, Especially Cats is open Monday through Friday 8 AM to 6 PM and on Saturdays from 9 AM to 4 PM. For more information call 415) 681-5553, or visit the web site at: especiallycats.com

Jonathan Farrell is a local free-lance reporter Feedback: jonathan@westsideobserver.com

June 2013

Fleishacker Farewell Ends an Era

Fleishacker BldgsA suspicious fire caused extensive damage to Fleishacker Pool on Dec.1, 2012, causing city officials to condemn its remaining buildings’ fading remnants to be demolished on Dec. 18.

The pool was built in 1925, when most of the outskirts of San Francisco were sparse farmland and dairies. Much of what are the outer parts of the City were built in the 1920’s and early 30’s before the Great Depression. Much of what is now the Sunset and Richmond Districts next to Golden Gate Park was sand dunes.

Known as Fleishacker Pool, it was over 1,000 feet long and 150 feet wide and filled with six million gallons of salt water. A recreational compliment to the adjacent Fleishacker Zoo (which eventually became the San Francisco Zoo) and Playland-at-the-Beach amusement park, the pool served the entire City. The SF Examiner reported that at its peak, the pool and its surroundings accomodated over eight million people.

Unlike the amusement parks of today, such as Great America, Six Flags and even Disneyland, Playland-at-The-Beach was free. Yes, rides did cost a fee, yet to walk into Playland or to stroll along the boardwalk was free to all. The Fleishacker Pool, the Zoo, the Sutro Baths and all of Golden Gate Park was a way for families to have a little vacation without having to travel that far or spend a lot of money.”

The pool closed in 1971 when a water pipe in the filling system failed. Yet even more likely, it was due to declining attendance as Playland-at-the-Beach also closed during that time. Not long after its closure, Janet Pomeroy, the founder of the Recreation Center for the Handicapped, used a portion of the buildings to start her outreach work. Once established, Pomeroy eventually moved to a brand-new facility built across from Lake Merced near Skyline Blvd. The Rec. Center for the Handicapped is now officially called The Janet Pomeroy Center for the Handicapped, in her honor.damage to Fleishacker Bldgs

Since that time the massive pool, which required lifeguards in rowboats to watch over the swimmers, got filled in and the large parking lot paved over. The City hoped to make Fleishacker Pool and its once-opulent Mediterranean-style buildings part of an expanded and renovated San Francisco Zoo. But unfortunately, as the Zoo eventually became privatized in the early 1990’s, that project fell apart. With no real solid commitments to restore the pool and its compound, the entire area became a magnet for vandalism. Graffiti germinated, making the entire area desolate and forgotten.

The pool was deemed a total loss and a safety hazard by SF Fire Department officials who surveyed the fire damage. “I don’t have a lot of faith that anyone with any clout wants to save this building, but I haven’t completely given up,” Woody LaBounty, a local historian and founder and coordinator of the Western Neighborhoods Projectsaid, just days after the fire.

Gloria Rogan, SF realtor and member of the local SF Historical Society, agreed, “with all the money that flows through this City, you think it would be a worthy effort. Yet,” she surmised, “I think one of the reasons why things with real historical significance like the Fleishacker Pool get ignored or go unnoticed is because so much of the City is transient in nature.”

“I am originally from Michigan not far from Detroit,” said Rogan, “and what bothers me about this wonderful city of San Francisco is the short-sighted indifference. Back in Michigan the people there at least try to save some of the landmarks, and it’s not easy, because Michigan has fallen on hard times. Yet here in San Francisco, where money flows more readily, interest in saving or restoring falls apart.” Rogan made note of the recently completed restoration of the Dutch Windmills. But that was spear-headed a lot by private efforts, and the Dutch Government.”

Some think most of the problem with these landmarks and public park areas is that the Recreation and Parks Dept. is not able to manage so much acreage and various property holdings. Golden Gate Park itself has over 1,100 acres, plus more than a dozen recreation centers, and playgrounds. Rogan also noted that such landmarks are witness, not only to San Francisco’s civic and public recreational past, but the entire national history. “People forget that previous generations went out of their way to support and ensure that parks, pools, zoos and such were a part of the public life that everyone could share.”Assessment at Fleishacker

Unlike the amusement parks of today, such as Great America, Six Flags and even Disneyland, Playland-at-The-Beach was free. Yes, rides did cost a fee, yet to walk into Playland or to stroll along the boardwalk was free to all. The Fleishacker Pool, the Zoo, the Sutro Baths and all of Golden Gate Park was a way for families to have a little vacation without having to travel that far or spend a lot of money.

It is hard to fathom that at one time the City’s Zoo (also founded by Herbert Fleishacker), the Park, the Museum, the Academy of Science and other attractions were all managed and operated by the City of San Francisco. In the 1990’s the trend to privatize has questioned the City’s power and resources to maintain and administrate these facilities without a public-private partnership.

“As most of us know, members of the public have asked the Zoo and Rec and Park to attend to the building over the past decade with no change in approach or plan,” said LaBounty.” Between loose tigers, soccer fields, dog walkers, coyotes, recycling center evictions, beach and road erosion, financial issues and department head turnovers, the departments with jurisdiction over the site have not been able to focus any energy or, frankly, interest. I hope I’m not doing too much of a disservice to the City in guessing that it sees the fire as solving a problem, and prefers a quick demolition.”

Still LaBounty is hoping for a positive outcome despite the dismal forecast for the future of the Fleishacker Pool facilities. LaBounty called the Westside Observer shortly after the SF Examiner story was published to say, Architectural Resource Group is under contract to photograph the whole place.

“And, Rec. and Park wants to save what decorative elements they can, perhaps one of the portals whole. They are leaning on ARG and others to help with assessment of what can be preserved,” said LaBounty. “A likely scenario might be open space landscaping with some remnant and interpretive display. Yet that all depends on Recreation and Parks and the eagerness of people to help pull efforts and resources together to save what remains and is possible to salvage.”

Jonathan Farrell is a freelance San Francisco reporter.

February 2013

NEW RULES FOR TAX TIME!

Tax season is not far away and according to senior tax preparer, Susana Veamatahau Pau, it is best to file early. She is the supervising manager for Jackson Hewitt Tax Service for the San Francisco and San Mateo region and graciously answered a few questions for the Westside Observer. (Photo Susana Pau)

1. What is the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012? What does it do for the average American tax payer?

Recently approved by Congress, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 is a bill that retroactively extends many expired tax benefits for 2012, permanently patches the Alternative Minimum Tax and makes permanent most of the provisions of the Bush Tax Cuts that had technically expired on January 1, 2013.

Through the legislation, most taxpayers can now breathe a sigh of relief in having avoiding significant tax increases that would have come from the country falling off the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ had a deal not been reached.

There are many elements included in the bill, but here are three main elements taxpayers should note:

The Payroll Tax Holiday: The resolution to the fiscal cliff extended a lot of taxpayer friendly benefits into the 2012 tax year, but the Payroll Tax Holiday was not one of them, and Congress decided to let it expire January 1, 2013. This tax benefit lowered the taxpayer required Social Security tax payment by 2 percent in 2011 and 2012. With the expiration of the benefit, taxpayers’ payroll taxes increased on January 1 by 2 percent, which lowers total take-home pay.

…unemployment compensation is fully taxable, so if you were unemployed during the year, you will probably need to file a tax return. You may even be surprised to discover that you owe a considerable amount in taxes.”

The Alternative Minimum Tax: The Alternative Minimum Tax, commonly referred to as the AMT, was enacted in 1969 to ensure that individuals and corporations that benefit from certain exclusions, deductions, or credits pay at least a minimum amount of tax. The minimum income required to be subject to the tax is what was permanently ‘patched’ this year. The change protects more than 31 million taxpayers from an increase of almost $3,000 in taxes.

Other deductions impacted by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012: While the Payroll Tax Holiday was left to expire, other deductions were extended, such as the current versions of the student loan interest deduction and the credit for child care, both of which were permanently extended. Additionally, the American Opportunity credit was extended through 2017.

2. Are there any limitations or restrictions to the benefits that retroactively extends many expired tax benefits for 2012 and many of the provisions of the Bush Tax Cuts that expired on January 1, 2013?

The 2012 tax law changes were extended for two years only for January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2013

The Mortgage Debt Forgiveness was extended through December 31, 2013

The American Opportunity Credit, the expanded Additional Child Tax Credit, and the Expanded EITC rules covering married taxpayers and families with three or more children have been extended through December 31, 2017.

3. You say that it is best to Look for a local tax preparer who is knowledgeable and who has a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), which the IRS requires for all paid tax preparers. Is this an indication that tax preparation and forms are now all electronic and that this way is the way for the 21st Century? For those people who are not tech savvy, will hard copy forms submitted still suffice? Or is that completely phased out now?

The Internal Revenue Service now requires all paid preparers to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) before preparing returns.

This requirement is part of the IRS initiative to set minimum standards for practice and knowledge for all preparers, whether a customer’s return is submitted electronically or on paper.

While it is still possible to submit a paper return via U.S. mail to the IRS, most taxpayers prefer to electronically submit their tax documents. In fact, more than 113 million income tax returns were e-filed last year (in 2012), or more than 80 percent of all individual returns filed. In addition, the IRS requires all tax return preparers who complete tax returns for more than 10 people to e-file returns. Taxpayers who wish to file a paper return may still do so, even when they use a tax professional.

E-file, or electronic filing, is a method of sending your tax return to the IRS and the state via a secure computer-to-computer channel. There are several benefits to e-filing a tax return:

Speed: The processing time is faster. The IRS expects 9 out of 10 taxpayers will receive their refund in under 21 days after the IRS receives the return again this year.

Accuracy: Before your return is accepted by the IRS, math errors as well as name and social security numbers are verified. Plus, paper returns are entered by IRS employees, thereby leading to potential mistakes and inaccurate entries.

Confirmation the IRS has received your return: The IRS responds electronically once your return is accepted as filed.

4. Is it good for everyone to keep track of all their receipts and bills all the time, so that when tax season rolls around, people are ready to file and file early?

It is beneficial to designate a place in your home to save relevant tax receipts and materials throughout the year, such as a drawer or a shoe box. Many online options also exist for storing records, such as Jackson Hewitt’s MyTaxManager, at the Jackson Hewitt web site. In general, knowing where you can easily access your records will mean less time spent gathering items needed for preparing a tax return each year.

And with approximately 75 percent of taxpayers receiving a refund each year, there is no reason to wait. It can be advantageous to file early.

5. How is identity theft impacting tax returns, why is it on the rise in terms of taxes? What can people do to safeguard their tax returns from being tampered with or mishandled? How does filing tax forms early safeguard against identity theft?

A thief can steal someone’s identity by taking an unsuspecting person’s social security number and personal information, and then using it to file a tax return under the person’s name and identity — typically with fabricated information and deductions, and a resulting fraudulent refund. Unfortunately, in many cases, the victim is unaware that this has happened until a tax return is filed, only to find that a return has already been submitted in their name with fake information.

Here is what consumers should do to keep personal information out of the wrong hands as they prepare and file a return:

· Plan to file early – the sooner that your information is properly received by the IRS, the less likely it is that a thief will be able to access it.

· Make sure you e-file, or electronically file, your tax return. By e-filing, only you and your tax preparer will be handling your documents. The less people handling your information, the lower your chances are of having your personal information compromised.

· Keep important documents, such as copies of tax returns, credit card statements, cancelled checks, paystubs and similar data in a secure location like a locked file cabinet, or scan the information into a secure computer or web-based document storage program and destroy the original copies.

· Be sure to destroy documents older than four years. DO NOT simply throw them away — destroy them or at least shred them.

· Be cautious and vigilant when it comes to providing any personal information, such as your social security number, bank or credit account numbers over the phone or via e-mail, and avoid carrying your social security card in your wallet.

· Be aware that the IRS never communicates via e-mail. If you get an e-mail inquiry from someone claiming to be from the IRS, or if you get a phone call asking for you to e-mail personal information, do not provide these details without verifying the legitimacy of the request first.

· If you suspect your identity has been stolen, contact the IRS right away.

6. Do life changes that impact tax returns? In the past year or so what has been the most common life change that has impacted people’s tax returns? Has it been, buying home? (What about refinancing? Has the most common been going back to school? Having a baby or caring for an elderly parent?

Even with everything we’ve just been through with the fiscal cliff and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, nothing drives more changes to taxes than life changes.

While each person’s tax situation is different and we cannot speak to which life changes are most prominent, three of the most usual ones are having a baby, getting married (or divorced) and buying a home. There are significant tax considerations involved in each of these; be sure to speak with a tax preparer about them to ensure that you are claiming all of the benefits available to you.

In addition, apart from these, there are other life changes that can lead to a larger refund, such as a child returning to live at home after completing college, caring for an aging parent (and the parent does not necessarily have to live with you to trigger the tax benefit) or even you or your spouse deciding to go back to school.

7. How has the recession economy impacted tax returns over the past few years? Or does that matter?

Many people are still out of work, but it is important to know that there are many tax implications related to unemployment.

First, unemployment compensation is fully taxable, so if you were unemployed during the year, you will probably need to file a tax return. You may even be surprised to discover that you owe a considerable amount in taxes. If you did not have enough withheld during the year or if you did not make quarterly estimated tax payments, you may also owe an underpayment penalty.

If you collected unemployment benefits during the year, you should receive Form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments. All state unemployment benefits are taxable income for federal tax purposes and are reported on Form 1099-G, Box 1. The federal withholding amount, if any, is reported in Box 4.

Finally, know that if you started your own business during the year, or offered your services as a consultant while looking for a new job, your income is considered self-employment income. This income is reported on Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income. If you are considered self-employed and your net earnings are $400 or more, you must pay self-employment tax on the income you received. In addition, you may need to make estimated payments to cover the amount of self-employment tax and income tax associated with the income you earned.

Pau works out of the San Mateo Jackson Hewitt office on West 39th Ave. Her schedule as manager is busy often helping other offices like the one in Walnut Creek. Yet despite her busy schedule Pau and her home office in San Mateo have received five-star ratings on Yelp. There are other tax services out there like H and R Block.

For more information about tax preparations for this year contact the Internal Revenue Service or a trusted, certified and licensed professional like Susana V. Pau. To contact her or the Jackson Hewitt office call 650-349-4491.

February 2013

City College is OK

The accreditation of City College of San Francisco, which was initially reported as dire, may be overblown. Cited with 14 violations to its accreditation status by the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, CCSF was told to meet the recommendations or have its accreditation taken away.

As the largest community college in the State of California, CCSF has a collective student body of over 90,000, providing credit and non-credit courses.

Yet he (President John Rizzo) emphasized that while CCSF is mandated to present its required academic and mission statement plans by Oct of 2012, “City College is not closing, we are not even on the brink of closing,” he said.”

John Rizzo, president of the Board of Trustees for CCSF, responded to the 14 recommendations, “some are fiscal, some are administrative, CCSF has a ‘middle management issue’ which we are going to correct.” Yet he emphasized that while CCSF is mandated to present its required academic and mission statement plans by Oct of 2012, “City College is not closing, we are not even on the brink of closing,” he said. 

Emergency meetings were held, like the “Town Hall Meeting” on July 9, where over 350 people showed up to express concerns. They gathered at the LGBT Center on Market Street to rally support for the college, which has been serving the educational needs of the City for more than 70 years. 

Supervisor Eric Mar helped to convene the meeting and told the Observor that he considers the situation very serious, even though the college went through this once before back in 2006. The meeting on July 9 and “follow up meetings that were held shortly thereafter were important,” said Mar, “because the college needs to be rallied in support and helped through this crisis.”

Mar noted that as a “vital bridge to four-year universities,” City College must not let this threat of the loss of accreditation discourage students from pursuing their educational goals. Mar also noted the students, and the efforts of interim Chancellor Pamela Fisher, are determined to get through this. Mar pledged his support to do as much as he can to resolve the situation. And, Rizzo said “The State Budget has torn away 17 million dollars in funding last year. The State is systematically de-funding public education.”

Rizzo pointed out that while CCSF went out of its way to downsize to accommodate a budget deficit by cutting 25 percent of its administrative elements, the Accreditation Board “wants us to spend more money on administration,” and by that, Rizzo clarified, “executive administration.”

He also wanted to clarify that the recent reports in media such as the SF Chronicle and Examiner that City College is in a dire situation and may be forced to close, “they are wrong,” said Rizzo. But Mar disagreed with Rizzo. As a former teacher at SF State University and a school board member, Mar said he is familiar with the accreditation process and the recommendations should be taken seriously.

Whether or not the accreditation is strictly hinging upon fiscal matters, the quality of education and the standards City College maintains are very high. Other sources indicated that the issue is not about the quality of the education, or the dedication of faculty; it is about the budget. Seeking more taxation through a parcel tax, and other measures to be placed on the November ballot, are being certainly part of every discussion. 

As the largest community college in the state—with over eight satellite campuses throughout the city—a bureaucracy and budget issue is always a concern. Yet the question to ask is “why so now?” And, why take such an extreme measure? Taking away accreditation would impact thousands of students and would cause considerable hardship on a very much-needed public education system. “We are currently working on the recommendations that the Accreditation Board set forth, we will have a required plan in place, and will, by the Oct. 15 deadline have several items on the list completed.” said Rizzo, confidant CCSF will actually be ahead of schedule by that time.

Jonathan Farrell is a free-lance San Francisco reporter. Feedback jonathan@westsideobserver.com

September 2012

 

Is ‘The Arb’ In Danger Of Becoming Privatized?

Whimsically designed, painted concrete and large potted plants in bold-neon colors have replaced a peaceful sylvan meadow in the Arboretum

Just off of Lincoln Way and 9th Ave, 55 acres within Golden Gate Park contain over 8,000 species of plants. This select area is known as the San Francisco Botanical Garden (SFBG) and Strybing Arboretum. Yet some residents who treasure the natural oasis are speaking up saying that they fear the garden and arboretum is in danger of becoming privatized.

A new nursery, along with a learning center will be built at the botanical garden and arboretum at an estimated cost of about $14 million. Lobbyist Sam Lauter presented these plans January 30 to the members of the Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People (SHARP).

Sue Ann Schiff, the current executive director...was “not able to find any proof” that Helen Strybing wanted the garden and arboretum to be free to the public forever. According to Schiff, Strybing made it clear that the City was to be responsible for operating and maintaining the garden. So the City must find ways to fund the garden and charging a fee is one way to do that.”

As a non-profit entity, the SF Botanical Garden Society was founded in 1955 and has been actively supporting the garden and arboretum through fundraising efforts. The society works in partnership with SF Recreation and Park Department, which owns the land. This complicated partnership has some people in the local community very skeptical of the proposed $14 million upgrade plans.

Strybring Potting Shed

One very outspoken resident is Harry Pariser who lives within walking distance of the garden and arboretum. He provided a tour of the place for the Westside Observer, pointing out his concerns as he walked along the many paths and trails. “This has been a respite from the urban setting. Look around you,” he said, “it is as if we are not in the City anymore.”

Pariser treasures spots like the Redwood grove, where trees and plants transport visitors to a tranquil place. Squirrels and birds frolic freely as the atmosphere envelops visitors. Yet, he pointed to the redundant additions, like two signs posted to say the same thing. One is obviously much older the other a new, sleeker sign. “The old sign is just fine, probably put up in the 1970’s or ‘80’s,” he said. “But look at that one next to it,” he said, “it looks more corporate, as if this place is going to be stylized and made more like a theme park.”

Saveral days latter, lobbyist Sam Lauter said, “Harry’s point of view is exaggerated.” Lauter reassured that the new plans would not damage the gardens, only enhance it. Lauter also said the plans would follow LEED certification ecological standards.

David Eldred, also a long-time resident of the Inner-Sunset, like Pariser, has witnessed the changes. “There is a lack of vision,” he said. Eldred and others established keeparboretumfree.org. “My frustration is that we worked hard for a solution to the charging of admission fees, and it failed.” He also believes the Arboretum should be free as it has always been.

Mary Sporer, who refers to the garden and arboretum simply as “The Arb,” agreed. She too has noticed the changes. “I have been a resident since ‘69 and I have raised my children here,” she said. “Now, families with children find it difficult and expensive to live here.”

“The Arb, it was, and is our refuge from the stress of city-living. Few people visit The Arb now that the admission fees are charged,” she said. She pointed out how the official name has been subtly changed to “The San Francisco Botanical Gardens.” “The name of Strybing has been almost eliminated, in favor of a “more marketable title” said Pariser.

Advocates fear that selfish interests are trampling on the original intent of the garden and arboretum. Since the establishing of an admission fee more than three years ago, debate and opposition have been on-going. Lauter would not comment on the admission fees. He referred that question to Sue Ann Schiff, the current executive director. Schiff said she was “not able to find any proof” that Helen Strybing wanted the garden and arboretum to be free to the public forever. According to Schiff, Strybing made it clear that the City was to be responsible for operating and maintaining the garden. So the City must find ways to fund the garden and charging a fee is one way to do that.

“Helen Strybing was instrumental in establishing the garden and arboretum,” Sporer said, “she wanted the poor to benefit from this free garden,” her will stated it was part of the conditions in the Strybing family releasing the funds to establish the garden.” Eldred and Sporer both said those intentions are within the Master Plan document of 1995. So why not procuce the proofs from Strybing’s will to verify the garden’s original intentions?

SFBG reps, as well as Rec. and Park officials, claim “revenue generating” is needed to cover rising costs. Yet, the admission fee is only to pay for gardeners.

Sporer and others question the details, especially when there are things that don’t add up. “Wasn’t Prop N supposed to help pay for The Arb?” Sporer noted that SF voters approved the progressive real estate transfer tax structure initiative on the ballot in 2010. Eldred sees the situation as a “slippery slope.” that will erode the natural integrity and historical significance of the garden, as well as Golden Gate Park.

With admission fees will there be a need for more management and administration? Pariser pointed to the many weathered wooden structures and projects seemingly abandoned. “I think these will be taken down in favor of something like this,” he said, pointing to the concrete installation by designer Topher Delaney.

Lauter said the demolishing of observation decks and such were not in the plan.Pariser pointed to the whimsical design of painted concrete and large potted plants in bold-neon colors. “This was once a meadow, but now it is this,” he said. “How does something like this, made of concrete and bold neon promote a more natural setting for people?” Lauter pointed out that the garden is like a museum and each installation does not have to meet with everyone’s approval.

Maybe this is where the friction is? There are those that see the Arboretum as an organic oasis, and those who see it as “a museum,” subject to change at the discretion of the garden society. Pariser wonders, when the $14 million plans get underway, “what will be left that is as natural as the garden and the arboretum has been?”

For details on the new plans visit: http://www.sfbotanicalgarden.org/ And for details about those opposed to the plans visit: http://keeparboretumfree.org/

Jonathan Farrell is a San Francisco free lance reporter.

July-Aug 2012

Redistricting: The Final Cut

Over 100 citizens at a Redistricting meeting held at the Irish Cultural Center

With only three weeks left to the redistricting process, engaging all of the people of San Francisco to speak up is a special task. The remapping process aims at having approximately 72,000 residents in each district while keeping communities of interest intact.

Yet he pointed out, “we are still not able to reach everyone.” He mentioned the importance of making more effort to reach the “monolingual” aspects of the City’s population. A major city like San Francisco must include citizens who don’t speak English as their primary language. “Part of our report will try to capture lessons learned since we started in August this past summer,” said McDonnell.”

Balancing the populations of each district while respecting the wishes of several diverse communities in each is the challenge. Currently there are 120 distinct neighborhoods and communities of interest. Member Myong Leigh

“We have to balance out the population between 11 districts with an average of 73,203 people in each district,” said Myong Leigh, who serves on the nine-member panel, at the task force meeting held at the United Irish Cultural Center this past March 22. “We are under the average in Districts 1, 2 and 3. If we could expand the boundaries in Districts 1, 2, and 3 then we can get closer to the established average.” West Portal Ave is in District 7, yet is adjacent to District 4, which has two percent more population than District 7. For San Franciscans, the special redistricting task force assembles every 10 years to review the census data and then listen, to testimony from citizens about their particular neighborhood communities. (Photo: Myong Leigh)

Everyone who made comments praised the nine panel members for their efforts. But each person representing or speaking on behalf of a community or neighborhood was adamant that new boundary lines not divide or disrupt the cohesiveness. For example, there was concern as to whether or not the University of San Francisco belonged in District 1 or District 2. Or, should one portion of the campus belong to District 1 and the other to District 2? These types of questions are ones that the panel must address and will often debate in public.

“Selecting” or “deselecting” a line of boundary that represents a block or two could be significant. Depending upon its size and density, one city block can be as many as 300 to over 1,000 people. A consultant is always present to “clarify” helping the panel members understand what is contained in each line and point on the map they are considering.

This is why the community meetings are so important. The task force encourages people to speak up and be heard. “These meetings are useful and have had strong turnouts in each of the meetings throughout all the districts in the City,” said Jenny Lam, who serves as Vice Chair of the task force. “What all the meetings and districts share in common is an eagerness to provide testimony and share their point of view,” said Lam. “I find it very interesting,” said Kathy Howard, who as a local resident attended the March 22 meeting. “I appreciate the thoughtful deliberations of the Task Force and the considerable amount of citizen participation,” she said. Eric McDonnell, who serves as Chair of the Redistricting Task Force, told the Westside Observer that the process is going well and there has been good community input with “a good rhythm of feedback.” The meeting on March 22 had almost 100 people and other meetings held in various parts of the City, McDonnell said, were full to seating capacity with lots of representation. Yet he pointed out, “we are still not able to reach everyone.” He mentioned the importance of making more effort to reach the “monolingual” aspects of the City’s population. A major city like San Francisco must include citizens who don’t speak English as their primary language. “Part of our report will try to capture lessons learned since we started in August this past summer,” said McDonnell.

“We are close to completion,” said Lam. “Our priority is the inclusiveness and transparency in the process. We respect one another’s opinions. To be able to do the line drawing of district maps in public is very important. Having an open process is vital to the voting process, and it helps to strengthen the electoral process for all citizens.” When asked what they found most rewarding about the redistricting process, both Lam and McDonnell noted that it was the collaboration and the setting up of principles and guidelines within the framework of the SF City Charter. When asked if he would serve on the Task Force again, McDonnell took a breath and laughed a bit saying, “Ask me that question again in 10 years.” Lam had a similar response. She too sighed, took a moment, and said “yes, it would be an honor.”

The final and complete map will be submitted by April 14.

For details visit: sfgov2.org/index.aspx?page=2881

April 2012

 

$14 Million Set For Arboretom Rebuild

Executive Director Sue Ann Schiff of the San Francisco Botanical Society presented the $14 million dollar plans to rebuild the SF Botanical Gardens and Arboretum to the Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People (SHARP).

“The current nursery and green-house facility was built in 1960 only as a temporary facility and it has outlived its function,” said Schiff.

Schiff and public relations coordinator Sam Lauter reassured those gathered that the plans for the new nursery, Head-house (at 4,230 square feet), Greenhouse, (2,800 square feet) Shade-house (2,800 square feet) and Learning Court (at 2,650 square feet) for visitors and schools are “very much needed.“

They also consider many of the revenue gaining attempts as a way to commercialize the park. “The current administration setting the pace at Rec. and Park wants to train the public to get used to paying for just about everything,” Wuerfel said.

Lauter of Barnes, Mosher, Whitehurst, Lauter and Partners, a strategic communications and public affairs firm, was hired about three years ago after the SF Botanical Society encountered an out-cry of opposition to charging an admission fee.

More-than-two-dozen people showed up for the presentation. They were in unison in understanding that the outdated facility needed renovation. Yet they were interested in some of the details, especially the impact the renovations would have on the 55-acre facility’s future. “Will it retain its essential integrity as a public garden?”

Since the spring of 2009 when the botanical society and Recreation and Park Department proposed an admission fee charged to non-city residents, the debate has been ongoing. Lauter said that other cities with botanical gardens charge an admission fee and that he welcomes it as a way to help cover costs.

Eleven gardeners work the 55 acres that contain thousands of various plants and flowers from all over the world. A portion of those gardeners, noted Schiff “are City gardeners paid for by Rec. and Parks, through the non-residents admission fees collected.”

Schiff also explained that many residents might not understand that the botanical garden and arboretum is part of Golden Gate Park and is City property managed through Rec. and Parks. “The plans to renovate the botanical gardens has its roots in the 1995 Master Plan for the gardens and arboretum and is linked to the Golden Gate Park Master Plan of 1998,” said Schiff.

This perhaps conveys part of the complicated arrangement the SF Botanical Garden has with Rec. and Park. Yet, the founding of the beloved garden space has a more extensive background. Local historian Woody LaBounty later explained, “Helen Jordan Strybing, who died in 1926, left a bequest for gardens in the park in memory of her husband Christian M. Strybing. First payment was $100,000, the second, in 1939 after the death of her last heir, that was for $150,000. Some plantings were done in the 1930s, and after using Works Progress Administration (established by then president Franklin D. Roosevelt) money and workers, the arboretum officially opened in 1940 with about eight acres of plants,” he said. “Now it is at 55 acres,” added LaBounty.

Schiff said that originally, the cost for the new nursery and learning center, etc. was estimated at about $12 million. But with all the process involved costs have gone up since the initial estimate was presented more than five years ago.

“What was originally supposed to be an exotic garden with plants from around the world has metastasized into a major multi-million dollar project and the Strybing name has become secondary after the botanical society in the legacy of the garden,” said long-time Richmond-Sunset District resident, Nancy Wuerfel.

Wuerfel has served on many advisory and budget-auditing committees for the City. When this reporter asked for her perspective, she is wary of costs and plans that become elaborate. “The intent of the garden is getting fuzzy,” she said. “More buildings and pavement equals less garden and plant life for visitors to enjoy. “

Some, like inner-Sunset resident and local realtor John Barry, wondered what exactly are the capital funds and the revenue raised for the botanical gardens? And, if the SF Botanical Society is eager to proceed with the renovation plans as if private funds are available,” noted Schiff, then why did the SF Botanical Society apply for a grant?”

Schiff said that the application for a state grant was denied. Reasons for denial were not disclosed. Schiff said that half of the money needed has been obtained.

“It would not surprise me if the estimate of cost goes beyond $14 million,” said Wuerfel. She and other local advocates like Kathy Howard of the Golden Gate Park Alliance, fear the natural beauty of the park will be out of the reach of residents. Many others in the community view construction in the park as detrimental to its purpose as open space.

They also consider many of the revenue gaining attempts as a way to commercialize the park. “The current administration setting the pace at Rec. and Park wants to train the public to get used to paying for just about everything,” Wuerfel said.

The fine line between capital improvement funds available and revenue earned seems complex. Several people after the meeting while in support of renovation for the botanical gardens expressed concerns, hoping that everything about the project will be transparent. Schiff reassured that it would, saying that if all goes well in the process, “we hope all is finalized by the end of 2013,” she said.

The $14 million plans which aim for LEED Platinum certification (in environmental sustainability standards) will take about more than a year to complete, “about 14 months or so,” said Schiff.

To learn more about the SF Botanical Gardens http://www.sfbotanicalgarden.org/

#

Noir City Celebration

Crowds At West Portal Station Head for Noir City

10 days of film noir immersed the Castro Theater as the Noir City film festival celebrated its 10th anniversary.Castro Theater

The L-Taraval, M Oceanview and the K Ingleside trolley lines going through West Portal Station were perhaps the best way to arrive to the festival. Despite the rain storm that arrived as forecast on Jan. 20, “the festival had a fantastic sold-out crowd for opening night,” said local film enthusiast and writer Tom Mayer. “Eddie Muller, Noir City founder, was in fine form, cracking jokes — the audience was vocal in their appreciation of “Dark Passage” and “House on Telegraph Hill.”

Devoted Noir City fans like Morgan Von Rueden and Jenifer Strickland were not going to take any chances with the rain, “we rented a car for the evening,” said Von Rueden. He was glad they did, because seats were filled and arriving early was a must. Von Rueden noted that the audience was most excited about the 1951 movie “House on Telegraph Hill.” 

“That movie was filmed on location in San Francisco and is filled with recognizable scenes,” he said. “‘Dark Passage’ with Bogie and Bacall we have seen so many times, but the second feature opening night, ‘House on Telegraph Hill,’ I had not seen and, like the rest of the audience I was enthralled to see so much of the City as it was back then,” said Von Rueden. 

Directed by “The Sound of Music” director Robert Wise, “House on Telegraph Hill” is a suspense thriller, starring Richard Basehardt and Valentina Cortese, in which a survivor of WWII in Nazi occupied Europe takes on the identity of a fellow internee who did not survive. In assuming the identity, Cortese finds herself in a new life in a mansion in San Francisco. Yet, behind the charm and the fine living set amid Telegraph Hill, an intriguing plot of greed, avarice and murder surrounds her.

Cortese was schedule to appear for an interview with Muller. But now at age 90, traveling is not easy for her and so Cortese sent a letter to be read to the audience. 

On Saturday Jan. 21 following opening night of the festival, legendary TV and film star Angie Dickinson graced the Castro Theater stage for a live interview with Muller. On that night it was a double feature of Angie Dickinson films for the Noir City Festival. “The Killers” and “Point Blank,” which was filmed on Alcatraz, were both in color. Which for film noir is rare. Yet, the spirit of film noir is in these films and Dickinson shines in these classic cinema creations. 

It was a memorable evening as the full house audience that night cheered and gave Dickinson a standing ovation. She was thrilled and honored. She talked with Muller about her career saying that she considered herself “very lucky.” As Dickinson explained, she was born and raised in North Dakota and her life was pretty much prescribed to get married and be a housewife. Yet, when her parents moved to Burbank, California to find better opportunities during the Great Depression, Dickinson sensed there was more to life than being a teacher, nurse or secretary. 

“Those were the only roles, women back then did not have careers,” she said. Dickinson was working as a secretary when she entered a local beauty contest in Southern California. That in turn opened doors and she found her new path as an actress “accidentally.” But as she reiterated, she was very lucky. She thanked everyone for enjoying her work and for having such love for classic films and film noir. 

Jonathan Farrell is a San Francisco free-lance writer. For more info about Noir City visit: http://www.noircity.com/

February 2012

 

Great Dickens Christmas Fair: Early Ticket Discounts

The day after Thanksgiving the annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair will open and usher in the Holiday season. "Early bird tickets" went on sale this past Oct 15, and while obtaining tickets early offers significant discounts, the long-standing family-operated festival has always been a big hit with everyone associated with it. Based upon last year's attendance, according to Adrianne Biggs, publicity rep for the Great Dickens Christmas Fair, the event anticipates over 30,000 visitors.

The Patterson Family established the Great Dickens Christmas Fair in 1970 and since then, over the years, experienced many obstacles, including very tight budgets. Earlier this year in January, patriarch Ron Patterson died at age 80. He and wife Phyllis initially just wanted to entertain friends for a holiday theme party. But the spirit of the Dickens Fair theme only grew stronger each year.

"There were times we were not sure if the fair could go on," said Phyllis to this reporter in an interview some time ago. Yet, the festival goes on two generations later, thanks on behalf to the many people who volunteer much of their time to ensure the Christmas fair's success.

Ron & Phyllis' son Kevin and wife Leslie Patterson have taken over as the proprietors of the Great Dickens Christmas Fair has become a passionate commitment they maintain throughout the year. It is not an easy endeavor to organize and coordinate the Christmas Fair, but it is the Patterson family's labor of love, thankfully presented every year.

Over 700 costumed actors, acrobats, singers, dancers and musicians collaborate to recreate an authentic Victorian holiday atmosphere. Relying on research, study and months of preparation, the ever-expanding cast and crew revels in the opportunity to entertain and delight audiences. Over three acres of old London unfold to greet and delight visitors. Each exhibit, stage production, and vendor does their very best to present an authentic experience of Victorian Era London.

Each year the cast introduces new shows and themes, and since 2007 the Dickens Fair has expanded its Victorian literary repertoire to include other writers of the period such as Jules Verne and Lewis Carroll. Based upon the familiar Alice in Wonderland and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea stories, these attractions met with audience approval and since have become part of the festivities.

This year there will be six stages that will feature singing, dancing and various theatrical renditions aiming to enchant and please; including the magical West End Illusion Show. While the fair is very family orientated with plenty for children, such as the Mother Goose Story Time and the Father Christmas Parade, there is much for the grown-ups to enjoy also.

Mad Sal's Dockside Alehouse, the Can-Can Bijou and the "saucy French Postcard Tableaux Review have remained popular for older patrons as they are designed to appeal to the "nighttime entertainment" crowd over 18.

Over 100 vendors provide plenty to eat and drink for visitors and audiences to enjoy. A wide array of goods will appeal to holiday shoppers. This reporter has been to the Great Dickens Fair several times. Some of the highlights are an authentic English Tea of the period, complete with cucumber sandwiches, clotted cream and rum cakes; tree trimming and lighting, and a heart-inspired rousing rendition of the "Alleluia chorus from Handel's Messiah."

For those who wish to experience something truly original and in keeping with the holiday season, The Great Dickens Fair is the place to be. Visitors of all ages are welcome and encouraged to dress in Victorian style costume. A Free shuttle will be available from Glen Park BART station to the Cow Palace. Parking is available for $10.00 per vehicle. Group rates are available for 15 or more.

Visit web site at: www.dickensfair.com or call t 1-800-510-1558, Ext. 114.

Jonathan Farrell is a free-lance SF reporter.
Feedback: jonathan@westsideobserver.com

November 2011

 

Murphy Windmill Gets a Cap

Crowds gathered on Sept. 12 as the Murphy Windmill, now restored, got its cap placed on top with the help of a gigantic crane.

The dome-like roof was designed in Holland by Lukas Verbij and constructed separately. The "cap" is made of metal and is the part of the windmill where the "sails" or vanes are attached, allowing them to turn. The "cap" by itself weighs 64 tons and had to be lifted by professional crane with crews assisting.

The ceremony, scheduled for 11 AM that Monday, got a late start. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which winds through Golden Gate Park and ends at the Great Highway where the century-old windmill is located, was closed to cars. The intersection of Lincoln Way and La Playa adjacent to MLK Drive was blocked off until Noon. SFPD's Mounted Police unit was present, along with dozens of on-lookers all eager to watch the "cap" be set in place. Cheers and applause went out as the crane started up and slowly lifted the cap-dome in place.

San Francisco Recreation & Parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg was pleased with the turn out of people as the fog gradually cleared and sunshine eventually broke through, making the occasion a memorable event. "Murphy Windmill and the Queen Wilhelmina Windmill were instrumental in building the park at a time when there was nothing (out here) but sand," he said.

The placing of the "cap" atop the traditional tower windmill is the completion of Phase II for the Murphy Windmill restoration project. Phase III - which Ginsburg said anticipates reaching completion hopefully by the end of the year, would have the pump and motor mechanisms in place, making Murphy Windmill fully functional.

Ginsburg congratulated everyone involved in the project, like project manager Dan Mauer, designer Lukas Verbij and all the various work crews such as Roebuck Construction. He especially thanked the many groups such as the Dutch community and foundations that helped raise money to fund the restoration. Restoration of the windmill has been over a decade in the making and required the cooperation of many dedicated people.

Bart van Bolhuis, Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and staff were present at the ceremony. Bolhuis was pleased and said that the "Windmill is beautiful and the Consulate of the Netherlands and I are very grateful."

Standing at 95 feet tall (which is about a six story-level building) the Windmills of Golden Gate Park are often referred to in Holland as "the San Francisco Giants." While on the surface the Murphy Windmill is of a traditional design, Verbij later said at a gathering at the Dutch Consulate's home that the engineering was far more complex.

At the turn of the 20th Century, use of iron and steel mechanisms was advancing, surpassing what had been up until that time the traditional windmill craftsmanship of Holland and the rest of Europe.

Local resident Gary Fisher was among those gathered that Monday. "This is really cool," he said. "The windmill tells the story of how Golden Gate Park got here. Every great city has something like this," he said.

Richmond District residents Maurice Molyneaux and Richard Boswell agreed, as they told this reporter they had been watching the restoration work take shape over the last several months. "Seeing it rebuilt step by step, the scaffolding, the decks, then the shingles," said Molyneaux.

Murphy Windmill, completed in 1905, obsoleted into ruin along with the Queen Wilhelmina Windmill after decades of service pumping millions of gallons of water throughout Golden Gate Park, allowing it to grow and thrive. Ginsburg and others are hoping that the windmill's original function can be restored to promote ecologically sound energy and water management.

Jonathan Farrell is a free-lance San Francisco reporter. Feedback: jonathan@westsideobserver.com

October 2011

 

Leadership Needed at Lake MercedLake Merced Advocate Dick Morton

With a governing document called a Memorandum of Understanding from 1950 that is in need of revision, the future of San Francisco's Lake Merced is in need of not only maintenance — it needs leadership.

On September 9 the members of the Park, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee (PROSAC) met at City Hall to discuss the need for better care for Lake Merced. Part of the conflict is the coordinating of recreational, leasing and vendor oversight that San Francisco's Recreation & Parks Department has had in caring for the Lake, along with the stewardship that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission must maintain. Many in the local community see this relationship as "business as usual." (Photo: Lake Merced Advocate Dick Morton)

Dozens gathered for a community meeting at the Lake Merced Harding Park earlier this summer on July 19 — many expressed skepticism that the continued arrangement with SF Rec. & Parks would be beneficial to the Lake's overall maintenance. The members at the PROSAC meeting on Sept. 9 echoed much the same. They too were dissatisfied with the draft of the Memorandum of Understanding, which has yet to be officially revised and updated.

"This draft is a bit antidotal, permissive, and rather toothless," as far as Rec. & Parks Dept. is concerned, said one PROSAC committee member. Others chimed in agreement that the MOU had no teeth. As it is now, the Rec. & Parks Dept. manages all the vendor and rental spots along the Lake. That includes fishing, boating, as well as food sales, etc. (Photo: Asst. Gen. Manager, Steve Ritchie, addresses the skeptical PROSAC Board and interested residents.)Steve Ritchie

Residents complain that care for the Lake's recreational facilities have been in decline for years. The members of the PROSAC meeting for that Tuesday evening expressed similar doubts about the competency of the Rec. & Park Dept. to continue in the management role of the Lake's facilities and overall care.

The SF PUC has absolute authority over the Lake, tending to its environmental aspects such as water levels, toxicity reports, etc. Yet, the SF PUC continues this long-term relationship with SF Rec. & Park. Some ask why and what for?

Long-time community advocate for the lake Jerry Cadagan (Lake Merced) has been very outspoken about Lake Merced's decline over the years. He was among the first to form a group over 15 years ago, seeking to improve the care of the 300 to 600 acre watershed. He is disappointed that not much has changed for the Lake. Cadagan was not able to attend the PROSAC meeting (yes, that is the acronym for the advisory committee and sounds like the drug).

Fortunately for Lake Merced and SF PUC, Steve Ritchie, who serves as Assistant General Manager of Water Enterprises for the SF PUC is respected and well-liked. Much of the lack of care, according to Rec. & Parks Dept., is the dwindling City budget, which when stretched to meet all the needs of every park and open space in San Francisco is very thin. Some at the PROSAC meeting on Sept. 9 said that Ritchie should petition to find another entity outside San Francisco to manage the Lake's recreational and food venues. (Photo: Former PROSAC member Nancy Wuerfel)Nancy Wuerfel

Ritchie would only say that in terms of a revised MOU, "the SF PUC will be firm with Rec. & Parks when needed." Still, many were not convinced. In observing some of the details of this meeting a bit further, as well as the earlier meeting in July, the on-going complexity of this unique situation becomes clear. Lake Merced is open to the public. It is utilized by all the schools in the area. Rowing clubs and others depend upon the lake. A gun club has been at the lake for more than 75 years and has a lease with the City. Since 2004, Harding Park Golf Course at Lake Merced has upgraded to PGA status. Investment for that was considerable.

The fine details and specifics are not simple ones, which, as this reporter sees them, go beyond the rebuilding of a boathouse or the management of venues and vendors. The future environmental life of a natural resource hangs in the balance as various stakeholders claim their special interests over the Lake.

When time for public comment was permitted, people like Dick Morton spoke, saying that with the SF PUC's help, water levels at the lake have been restored. Morton commended the work. But he said that the "SF PUC should have, and exercise, full control over the Lake." Like many others Morton said that "Rec. & Parks Dept. has been absent" and that "We don't have confidence that Rec. & Park can continue to manage the lake."

Founding member of the Lake Merced Task Force, Dick Allen, agreed, saying in his comment that "Lake Merced has become an orphan between two very powerful departments." But despite the lack of confidence in Rec. & Parks, Allen said, "we do have confidence in Steve Ritchie."

Nancy Wuerfel, who is a former PROSAC committee member, spoke saying, "this struggle has been on-going. And, I don't understand why we as a community don't have a greater respect for Lake Merced as a natural resource. This watershed," said Wuerfel "is a glory for San Francisco. The MOU needs to be revised and all these issues must be resolved," she said.

Jonathan Farrell is a free-lance San Francisco journalist. Feedback: jonathan@westsideobserver.com

October 2011

 

New Technology Reclaims an Old Treasure

For decades the North and South Windmills have been mere shadows of what they once were. Often called "the Dutch Windmill" and "Murphy Windmill," the tower-style windmills with horizontal axis turn-style vanes were among the largest of their kind in the world.

Their majestic vanes (or sails) turning in the wind have been missing from our local landscape, looking more like ghostly structures from an old horror movie like 1931's "Frankenstein." Our City has so many things that are "old world" and "new" for all to enjoy. Such treasures are often overlooked and at times ignored. Among them are the windmills. At Ocean Beach you will see them at the Western edge of Golden Gate Park facing the ocean. Some travel to places like Spain and Holland, to see the traditional windmills that are landmarks. Yet, we San Franciscans forget we have two windmills right here in our own Golden Gate Park.

Both were built in the early 1900's. They pumped over a million gallons of water each day to saturate the vast sand dunes of "the outlands," helping to create the 1100 acres of Golden Gate Park.

When the windmills were in their prime, they were anchors of mechanical ingenuity cultivating and civilizing a vast "outland" for a growing City that needed a park to utilize and treasure as its respite from urban life.

Previous attempts were made to maintain and restore the windmills (once in the '40s and in the '60s, and then there was a cosmetic restoration to the Dutch Windmill in the '80s). But they were not enough to completely restore the windmills to their former glory, which, according to a report compiled by the architecture firm of Carey & Company, was from 1907 to 1935.According to that report from 2003, and from The Campaign to save the Golden Gate Park Windmills, the two windmills started to decline when electricity was established as the power behind the motors that facilitated water pumps and irrigation systems.

That, and the constant flow of strong sea winds, wet fog, and salt air, over the course of many years contributed to the windmills' on-going deterioration. As the sails or vanes dilapidated they were eventually removed, left to decay along with other exterior debris such as broken shingles, etc. along the sides of the tower structures. By the 60's the deterioration compounded the fundraising efforts and negotiations.

The North, or Dutch Windmill got a face-lift that started in 1976. Work was not actually done until the '80s; the North windmill got its wooden vanes restored. The Queen Wilhelmina tulip garden was replanted, yet the South or Murphy Windmill was untouched.

More than a decade passed before another effort was made in 2000 by the Campaign to Save the Golden Gate Park Windmills. That effort at restoration to the Murphy Windmill, was a partnership with the City through the Recreation & Parks Dept.

As of now, work crews are rebuilding the Murphy Windmill, its tower is only an outline frame and its base reveals the intricate pattern of wooden planks and beams reminiscent of 19th Century craftsmanship.

"We have been following the Secretary of the Interior Standards on the restoration of this local landmark," said project manager Dan Mauer.

He noted that, as with any historic restoration project, there is always additional work required while trying to document and salvage existing materials. "So that way we can maintain the existing design and fabric of the structure once rebuilt," said Mauer.

The project is being carried out in phases. Lucas Verbij, a contractor in the Netherlands, is working on critical parts of the Murphy Windmill such as the mechanical gears and the pump.

The windmill-keeper's cottage also suffered extensive neglect and damage over the years. It will be renovated as part of the project. The current phase is estimated at $2,435,000.

The first two phases of the project have been estimated for completion by October. Plans to convert the cottage into a café are in negotiation. Finishing phases will follow, and time-schedules for that have not been established yet, Mauer noted.

Free-lance writer Jonathan Farrell writes about San Francisco

July-August 2011

Parkmerced Edges Out Criticstownhouses/Parkmerced

The proposal to redevelop Parkmerced passed the SF Board of Supervisors on a 5-6 vote. Spokesman for the 116-acre high-rise apartment and garden townhouse complex PJ Johnston said that the redevelopment project would be a "win-win."

Parkmerced was constructed between 1941-1951. It was then and still remains the largest privately-owned single apartment complex in the City. Designed by landscape architect Thomas Church, it is one of four such places in the nation. Parkmerced's layout encompasses courtyards, gardens and wide sweeps of green space, giving residents, especially families, a sense of community and urban convenience. The proposal wants to expand the existing 3,221 units of housing into 8,900 units by demolishing the garden townhouses and replacing them with high-rises.

Once the project gets underway, demolition will eventually displace families and relocate more than 7, 000 residents. Current Parkmerced owners, under the management of Stellar/Fortress, believe this is the best plan for the future.

Parkmerced entrySF Housing Action Coalition executive director Tim Colen supports the proposal. "Population growth is anticipated to reach the size of Los Angeles or San Jose over the next decade," he said. He insists the time to prepare for the future is now. He believes density housing with high-rises is "smart housing" for the future.

"The existing towers are fine," said Colen to the members of Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People at a meeting last month. "It is the garden townhouses that have outlived their life-span," he said.

Parkmerced as envisioned by the team of Skidmore Owings & Merrill will be more transit-centered instead of car-centered. The new design challenges Church's mid-20th Century landscape design by incorporating an ecologically holistic pedestrian-focused design to create a sense of community for 21st Century needs. It will take an estimated 30 years to complete.

Speaking to Supervisor Sean Elsbernd by phone he assured that "this will be done in phases, gradually. Each phase will not proceed until the previous phase has been completed in full," said Elsbernd.

Serving Parkmerced as part of his constituency, he is confident developers will honor their agreement. Elsbernd said that with the cooperation of Stellar/Fortress, the developers promise to pay for all relocation costs. And he also said that rent control would remain for the new units.

Yet long-term Parkmerced residents like Michael Russom and Susan Suval disagree.

In return for the city's agreement to the proposal, the Parkmerced area will be re-zoned allowing for relaxing of current building height and density code restrictions.

"What will happen is a major demolition of a neighborhood," said Suval. "People don't realize that this proposed plan, if it gets its way, will create more congestion," she said. And, said Suval, "what if the relocated families stay away and do not return to Parkmerced?"

She noted that with the economy the way it is how can anyone guarantee that the new units will remain under rent control? "The developers need to make their money," said Suval. With housing the way it is now and loans hard to find, she asked, "how will families be able to afford the new units if they go on the market at full value?"

Russom, who has lived in Parkmerced for more than 20 years and raised his children there, believes that the real plan is not about creating more housing, but for greedy investors to make more money. Russom believes the City thinks it is getting a great deal by allowing the developer to build more housing to increase tax revenues.

He fears that once the proposed project gets underway, unforeseen complications will prompt Stellar/Fortress to step away from the project and hand it over to another investor/developer.Suval agreed as she said, "it is important for the City to really look at their track record. With the current recession, this is not the time to be doing this kind of project," she said.

Housing advocate and legal consultant Mitchell Omerberg said he has seen similar scenarios before. Lots of promises in the agreement but then there is a breach of contract. "This could very well end up like 'urban renewal' projects of the past such as what happened to the Fillmore District over 40 years ago," said Omerberg.

Promises of relocation and tenants and owners being able to move back after new structures were completed sounds too much like "urban renewal." As Carl Close noted in his blog article for the Independent Institute blog back in July of 2008, "with the help of eminent domain and federal funding, 4,729 businesses were forced to close, 2,500 households were pushed out of the neighborhood, and 883 Victorian houses were demolished."

SF Planning Commission Vice President Ron Miguel insists that scenario was different. Elsbernd also reassured that such a scenario could not happen. But Omerberg and architectural analyst Aaron Goodman question the judgment of the Planning Commission in its 4-3 approval to allow the proposal to go on to the Board of Supervisors.

Goodman used to live in Parkmerced and coordinated a neighborhood alliance for the complex. He said that there is no guarantee that the developer agreement with the Mayor's Office will be ironclad certain. To use this as a means to increase potential tax income Goodman sees is off balance.

Planning Commissioner Kathrin Moore questioned the feasibility of the project. "This is all speculative," she said.

She pointed out Parkmerced is along 19th Ave, one of the most congested commute corridors in the City. "It's not a city street," she said. "It belongs to the State of California, part of I-280 going south and of Highway 1 going north, the construction will go on for years," she noted. "The State and Caltrans has not even weighed in on this yet," said Moore.

Jonathan Farrell is a free-lance reporter living in San Francisco.

June 2011

Film Noir Lights Up the Castro

Lines formed down the block to enter The Castro Theater on Tuesday night Jan 25. It was the fifth evening in a week-long celebration of classic vintage films of the “film Noir” genre. This year marks the ninth year the Film Noir Festival of San Francisco has featured some of the gems of the 1940’s &’50s.

“Each year we get more people,” said Bill Arney who dressed in a suit and fedora hat of the era. Arney has been lending his voice as announcer and MC to the festival for the past five years. “Last night we had over 800 people,” he said. The Theater has a maximum seating of over 1,400.

“I used to live in Sam Spade’s apartment, which is on Post and Hyde Streets,” said Arney. Sam Spade is the main character in one of the most recognizable film noir movies of all time, “The Maltese Falcon.” Based on the novel, written by Dashiell Hammett the movie not only made Humphrey Bogart a star but firmly planted San Francisco as a legendary location for film noir movies.

Living at that place where Hammet wrote his crime and detective drama brought Arney to the festival. “That is where I met Eddie,” he said. Eddie Muller is the founder of the SF Film Noir Festival, referred to as “Noir City.” As a native San Franciscan, Muller was always attracted to the alluring elements that make San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area a great place to live.

Muller, a journalist, artist and enthusiast for preserving classic films, found his calling while attending the SF Art Institute. His love for film grew as he participated in film making and acting classes of instructor George Kuchar back in the 1970’s.

With his experience, various contacts and charm, (Muller looks outstanding in a suit and fedora), he was able to put together a film noir festival in Los Angeles. And then, in 2002 Muller formed the Noir City festival as we know it today, here in San Francisco.

Film noir is a term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas. As a cinematic description it particularly highlights traits that emphasize cynical attitudes and impulsive motives.

Muller and his staff, many are volunteers, work to bring back these films from a distinctive era. As a result Muller has reintroduced or in some instances delivered something entirely unknown to contemporary audiences.

“He is the ‘Czar of Noir,’ (an affectionate title many in the festival circle use) but I see him as the Pope of film noir preservation,” said Jeffery Friend. This is Friend’s first year volunteering at the festival. “Many of these movies you see here you will not find on video,” he said.

Friend like many who help out or attend the festival are captivated by the ambiance of the noir film. It’s use of dim light and shadow, to emphasize key aspects to a story’s intensity is a format. Seldom films of the noir style have direct lighting. It is mostly set in subtle tones to feature aspects of human nature and emotion that are lurking beneath the surface.

“I started my interest in vintage films through old horror movies and then got into detective films which lead me into film noir,” he said.

Friend mentioned that lots of film noir of the 1940’s and ‘50’s can be traced to pioneering influences in film history such as German Expressionist cinematography that can be traced back to the 1920’s.

Use of nuances and even symbolism was one way filmmakers of that time period were able to examine the deeper and complex consciousness of humanity as the world became impacted by the First World War and then a humiliating economic depression.

Moviegoers Marina Cazorla and Devin Hallett are major fans of the festival. “They have a great collection of movies here that no one else has,” said Cazorla. Hallet agreed as the couple chatted waiting in the long line for the box office to open.

“I like the glamour, the fashions, the stars of that time were stunning,” said Cazorla.

“Some of these noir films have a great sense of romance, said Hallet.

“Think of the story in “Casablanca,” said James Godsoe, as he agreed with Hallet. Casablanca is another iconic film.

Godsoe’s girlfriend bought him a season pass last year and he has been a fan of the festival ever since, inviting friends to join him.

“Yes, there is a lot of espionage and intrigue but it is the love between the star-crossed lovers played by Bogart and Bergman that people remember most,” said Godsoe.

Like Godoe, many people are season pass buyers. The line for season pass holders is as long as those buying a ticket for just one show. This years theme is “who is crazy now?” The theme again reiterates elements that makes film noir unique, hidden elements not seen at first but that dwell in the shadows of the human condition.

And like Friend, Cazorla & Hallet, vintage movie affectionado Tim Vigil discovered film noir through old movies and adores the film festival. “Growing up in San Leandro, my mom used to watch old movies on TV.”

“In those days, said Vigil there were no VCR’s or DVD’s, If you wanted to watch old movies you saw them on local television on shows like ‘Dialing for Dollars’ or a morning, mid-day or late night movie with a local celebrity hosting the program,” said Vigil.

The crowd that Tuesday night was a mixture of people, both old and young, men and women. Some were attired in clothes of the 1940’s and ‘50’s, many just donned a fedora. Smiles and conversation among patrons during intermission were plentiful. Yet whether dressed for the festival or not what drew the large crowd in was a love for classic movies.

“Old movies are great,” said Philip Fukuda - this is his third year as a volunteer. “If you work more than three shifts during the festival you can see all the movies for free,” he said.

Hal Savage has been working with the Noir City festival for all nine years. “I met Eddie in LA when he started the very first film noir festival,” said Savage. “I honestly did not think it would pack the theater, but the festival has kept growing each year,” he said.

“Sure, I could stay home and watch old movies on my VCR or DVD player but I would not get to experience the audience reaction and comradery.”

“That alone by itself is a treat, because each audience laughs or reacts on their own. It is not scripted, it’s totally spontaneous,” said Godsoe.

As Friend pointed out, “if we did not have film festivals like this, many of some of the most important vintage films would not be preserved and appreciated,” he said. All proceeds go to the Film Noir Foundation which works closely with Muller to preserve and restore classic films.

For more information about the Ninth Annual Film Noir Festival, visit the Film Noir Foundation web site at link: http://www.noircity.com/foundation.html

February 2011

Infrastructure Along Ocean Beach Needs Repair

As summer approaches, even in foggy weather, Ocean Beach and the Great Highway is an attraction for traffic and visitors from everywhere. This is why San Francisco Dept. of Public Works and a collaboration of other agencies want to work quickly to repair the bluff section near the Great Highway and south of Sloat Blvd from erosion in last year’s winter storm.

DPW hosted a community meeting to over 30 people on May 6, at the Janet Pomeroy Recreation Center for the Handicapped on Slyline Blvd not far from Great Highway and Ocean Beach.

The purpose of the meeting that Thursday evening was to alert the public that the erosion that occurred in that stretch was extensive, affecting more than 900 feet. During the past winter storms, in some spots along the bluff of the Great Highway up to 70 feet had receded.

With the assistance of the National Park Service, California Coastal Commission and the CA Dept. of Fish & Game, over 1,000 tons of debris were removed from the beach and a 425 foot rock revetment or embankment was installed.

Repair work has been in progress since January, getting the most critical portions stabilized at a cost of 1.5 million. These urgent repairs from the winter storms of 2009 were completed this past April and are considered “Phase I.”

Yet Ed Reiskin, director of DPW, told the audience that this erosion repair is only a short-term fix. “We don’t want to just throw up barricades,” he said. “We will need more detailed, long term planning.”

Ocean Beach and the surrounding coastline are vital to the environmental health of the City and Bay Area. Steady population growth and ever-changing demographics continue to make an impact on the entire coastal area.

The City’s infrastructure is of great concern, especially since the waste water tunnel and sewage treatment plant are at Ocean Beach. If that sewage treatment plant was to be disrupted or broken by further erosion, the consequences would be chaotic citywide.

“The City is in a difficult situation because it has spent millions of dollars on the sewage treatment plant,” said George Durgerian, media rep for National Parks Service.

“They have to protect their infrastructure, he told the Sunset Beacon, but they also know that you can’t beat Mother Nature,” added Durgerian.

Durgerian pointed out that “some of the techniques used in the erosion control project have met with mixed results,” (such as soil nails and piling). “In our goal to preserve the environmental integrity of Ocean Beach and the surrounding coastline we prefer the most natural means and materials used for these projects,” Durgerian said.

While the two hour presentation and discussion on May 6 was sweeping, covering many aspects, people listened and asked questions.

Representatives from several City, State and Federal agencies were present. Among them were Astrid Haryati of the Mayor’s office, Gabriel Metcalf of the non-profit SF Planning & Urban Research (SPUR), the National Park Service and District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

DPW and other agencies like the State Costal Conservancy are all working together hoping that “Phase II” of the repair work will be able to protect the Great Highway from further erosion damage. Cost estimates for the Phase II and then Phase III have not been tabulated yet.

City officials at the May 6 meeting mentioned that while estimates for Phase II and Phase III have not been tallied, there is over 2 million dollars secured for this project through previously approved bond measure funds.

Speaking on behalf of the State Coastal Conservancy, Moira McEnespy, Deputy Program Manager for SF, said, “we are very much looking forward to working with the community, SPUR, the City, the National Parks Service/GGNRA, and others to holistically address issues and opportunities at Ocean Beach,”

“We are fortunate to be able to build off previous work by the Ocean Beach Vision Council,” said McEnespy. She is hopefully anticipating that funding will be approved from the conservancy and other sources.

June 2010

Local Politician Publishes Book

Ron Dudum Accentuates the Byzantine

In 2006 Sunset District supervisor hopeful Ron Dudum lost by only 53 votes. It might be fitting to say that disappointments in local politics inspired him to write his first book, Three Paradigms of Reality: from Homer to Einstein.

“Had I not lost the election for supervisor I probably would not have finished this book,” Dudum told the Sunset Beacon as the book debuted this October. “Actually, the book took me over 15 years to write and with the help of a really brilliantly precise editor I was able to get it done after three arduous drafts.”

“My thoughts were there,” he said, “I just needed some help to really get a clearer perspective to get them all together,” said Dudum.

With the editor’s help and a few extra courses of study, Dudum was able to sort through the collective knowledge and experience of his life. Dudum recognized that the traditional Western approach to philosophy has five periods such as the ancient, medieval, modern, post-modern and then contemporary. In Dudum’s view these five periods of philosophical history can be condensed into three.

“Western philosophy history sort of skips over the Byzantine period which I think is crucial,” said Dudum. Condensing the five time-periods of philosophical thought into “Three Paradigms” of philosophy history is what he considers to be a more proper order of how to explain why so many people believe so many different things.

Born and raised in San Francisco by parents from Palestine Dudum mentioned that his life has been a mixture of Eastern and Western culture. Yet all the social and technological changes of the past 40 years have created the most impact upon San Francisco as well as the world.

In Dudum’s view there are two aspects to The City. One side is the popular that has its international flair attracting people from all over the world and the other side is that of the village. “I live in the village, as a native the City has a much different angle,” said Dudum.

“People come here to the City usually from some other place with lots of ideals, get involved with politics, make an impact and then leave to settle down someplace else.”

Dudum finds this rather frustrating because some of those political impacts cause problems. In a seemingly permissive place like SF how does Dudum keep focus of the traditional values like family, faith and community? “Commitment,” he said.

Dudum said that amid all the permissiveness and diversity that characterizes San Francisco it is interesting how people can view the same facts and interpret reality and truth differently.

On sale at Amazon.com, for more information about Three Paradigms of Reality: From Homer to Einstein visit www.threeparadigms.com.

November 2009

 

19th Ave Slated for Upgrades

Traffic on 19th Ave

Improvements to the pedestrian crossings at the intersections of 19th Avenue and Judah, 19th and Taraval and 19th Ave and Sloat Blvd is set to begin sometime before the end of this year. Traffic at all three intersections will be subject to crossing closure and detour to parallel streets. This improvement work is part of an extensive series of projects that began in 2007.

The improvement work will require vehicle-traffic detours and closure of the intersections as work progresses. Ha Nguyen of SF MTA met with Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People this past Sept. 29. As project manager she and some of her staff made a presentation to the members of SHARP at that Tuesday evening gathering.

Vern Waight of SHARP said that he was impressed with Nguyen’s presentation. “It is a very extensive and complex project and while they are working on the streets crews will also work on other utilities as well as the intersection improvements,” said Waight.

Waight who worked as a traffic engineer for many years with Caltrans also admitted that while he was impressed with the presentation in the initial plans, “It’s going to be a mess along 19th Ave for a while.”

Traffic police will be directing traffic at each of the intersections while construction is taking place, he noted. “As the work gets going people will have to get used to the inconvenience,” said Waight. “Yet, once it is done it will be better and last for quite a while, at least 30 years,” he added. With the utility work that will be included in the repairs Waight said he understood the estimated cost to be at about 18 million.

The Westside Observer tried several times to reach Nguyen and Judson True at the SFMTA for verification and clarification, but requests for further information were ignored.

Waight also mentioned that at the SHARP meeting discussion about the “rebuilding of the mess at St. Francis Circle was also presented.” This work will require detours and closure of the intersection as work progresses. Described by SFMTA traffic engineer Bond M. Yee as “the most complicated intersection in the city,” St. Francis Circle is a five-legged intersection. According to a report this past February in the SF Chronicle, St. Francis Circle, which really isn’t a circle in the traditional sense of the word, has over 40,000 motorists daily. All those cars are simply trying to get to and from nearby San Francisco State University, Stern Grove, the Stonestown Mall, Interstate 280 and the West Portal commercial district. (See the full story on page one.)

Hopefully this work at St. Francis Circle as well as the work with the three intersections at 19th Ave will go smoothly. From Waight’s perspective as a former traffic engineer, 19th Ave is a “surrogate highway” as he called it. “It was never meant to handle so much traffic like a freeway.” He also said that even with the improvement work completed at the three intersections, 19th Ave would have the same six lanes.