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It was a unanimous vote by the Planning Commission.  Congrats to Craig Young and ilana Lipset!  The public comments were across the board positive, though there was one from an undefined mid-Market “coalition” that expressed concern about the risk of “psychological displacement” as higher-income residents move into the neighborhood.

Psychological displacement.  I’m guessing this means that the Tenderloin’s poor, living in protected rooms/housing, will look at the new people moving in – their new apartments with toilets and fire sprinklers, the businesses that cater to them (the Black Cats, the Biigs), maybe the clothes they wear – and feel an immediate need for psychological counseling services?

This, by the way, is a primary reason why the arts are so important.  We want a level playing field to counteract “psychological displacement?”   Then we should invest heavily in arts facilities, public markets, playgrounds, rec centers where we all can meet, break bread, and share these fundamental human experiences regardless of our backgrounds.

Here’s my admittedly non-scientific take on the situation.  Nice people who have money will move into both 1028 and 950.  They will be neighbors and interact with the Tenderloin’s nice people who have little or no-money.   Have money, have little money, have no money – we will all be nice people together.  Of course, there are low-income, middle-income and high-income people that are jerks, but we’ll deal with them.   There will be a yellow one that won’t accept the black one, that won’t accept the red one that won’t accept the white one.  And different strokes for different folks.  And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby.

As a simple guiding principal I propose: New or long-term resident, rich or poor, you respect the Tenderloin – and its residents – or you need to leave.

Poor people are not necessarily helpless people.  Quite the contrary; in the Tenderloin you will find some of the strongest people you’ve ever met.  No psychological counseling necessary, though moving toward a healthier, more integrated community, sharing the same stuff everybody needs, would be nice.  Time for the champions of segregation to step aside.  We’re all Everyday People.  Oh sha sha.  We got to live together.

A big shoutout to Krissy Keefer and Dance Brigade on their brilliant 40th Anniversary Celebration at YBCA.  One of the most daring and life-affirming works of dance choreography I’ve ever witnessed.   Happy Anniversary!


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Krissy Keefer – creative, visionary genius behind Dance Brigade

30 Years of Luggage

January 31, 2017
The Legacy
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The Future

21 Club Reunion

January 31, 2017

Frankie, Veronica, George, John, Cookie, and of course Joanne of Jonell’s at Ellis & Jones. Many other Tenderloin old timers and residents.    The problem-bar-that-had-to-be-shut-down crowd.  Happy.  Hugging each other.  Celebrating.  The powerful and positive life-energy of the 100K+ Women’s March was palpable everywhere in the Tenderloin as the crowds streamed into the neighborhood afterward.  It was fitting to host the reunion at Jonell’s on that evening: Jonell’s run by three women who have been in the Tenderloin for ages and are not to be messed with.


21 Club icon Frankie (left) and Chef George @ Jonell’s.  Old TL theater stage hand John photobombing.


A lot of the old 21 Club crowd has since moved over to Aunt Charlie’s across the street.  I’ve moved over with them.  Aunt Charlie’s has the same “All are Welcome” vibe that Frankie’s place always had.  Joe and Barry, the barkeeps, have been there for decades. José and ninety-plus year old Bob, who has travelled the world, have been there for a mere 14 years or so.

That’s what I loved about Frankie’s.  It didn’t matter who you were, whether you had money or not, lived in a SRO or Pacific Heights mansion.  Your race, whether you did time (so long as there was no violence), who you slept with, none of that mattered.  (It helped if you were a Giants fan though.)

During 21’s last few years the corner @ Turk & Taylor got really rough.  Lots of drug trafficking and violence, culminating the night when eight people were shot outside. Frankie himself was a non-escalation Buddha master.  He had a disarming way with people.  The girls selling crack outside would come in sometimes to use the bathroom, but they never disrespected the place by trying to conduct business there.  Frankie was easy with people and loved by everyone.  He would only get irritated when the press reported shootings at the 21 that actually took place outside on the corner.

The new watering holes in the Tenderloin – the Black Cats, the Biig and the like – are fancy joints.  I’ve walked by a couple of times and have seen zero Tenderloin residents hanging out.  They’re “Uptown” establishments whereas 21 was, and Jonell’s and Aunt Charlie’s are, definitively Downtown.

Biig now occupies 21 Club’s notorious old corner.  They discuss seasonal drink concepts with patrons.  I don’t understand what’s so complicated; haven’t they heard of scotch?

I’m just kidding, I’ve had one wee dram too many  – Lagunitas 16! – courtesy of two dear friends of mine.  (I know what you’re thinking – I should be drinking Ron del Barrilito!)   I shouldn’t be a snob or hater, there’s way too much of that going around.   I have my own nostalgic inclinations that can lead to ignorance and intolerance for others. I’ll save up and stop by for a seasonal drink consultation one of these days, though I can imagine pops in heaven looking down at me and having a good laugh.   Pops, and Brooklyn/Queens Mets fans (after losing their beloved Dodgers), were Schaefer or Rheingold Extra Dry people.  (You don’t even want to talk about the Yankees.)   I remember driving by Schaefer’s giant plant each day on the way to the factory in Greenpoint.

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In the meantime, see you all at Aunt Charlie’s.  I don’t care what the plaques say – it’s in Downtown Tenderloin, and we don’t need the federal government to tell us where we are, who we are, or how important we are.

Forty-two years at Turk & Taylor.  Bon voyage Frankie.


The Glass is 63.71 % Full

January 31, 2017

I salute the organizers who pushed last year’s Proposition S campaign to near victory and in the process built a strong foundation on which the arts community’s resilience can grow, especially now that federal resources are being eviscerated.

63.71 percent and counting!  Check-in with Arts for Better Bay Area to learn what’s next.


Friends when you need them most.
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Laurie Lazer, Luggage Store Gallery




Judy Young, Vietnamese Youth Development Center




Terrance Alan, Tenderloin Economic Development Project




Darryl Smith, El Jardinero



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Debra Walker, Artist




Krissy Keefer, Dance Mission



Dig if we will the picture, of safe and affordable arts spaces.

Or do we?  What about if it takes, gasp, development?  Building?  Rebuilding?  What if it is made affordable through a bump in a height limit established forty years ago?  Or capital dollars to underwrite construction?   Or leveraging private sector investment with, double gasp, tax dollars? Or dedicating city land?  Or all of the above?

Will we protest “giveaways” for “greedy” developers?  File specious CEQA appeals that blow-up the project’s affordability?  Threaten to put the height increase – which would buy permanent affordability – on a ballot measure?

Will we spar over who’s deserving of the space?  Visual arts vs. performing arts?   “Native” groups vs. “Outsiders?”

I’ve been working on stabilizing and building new, safe, purpose-designed, permanently affordable arts space in the Tenderloin and mid-Market for seven years and have experienced this resistance in all its forms.  In my former role as director of the Tenderloin Economic Development Project I helped facilitate and support the space needs of the Luggage Store Gallery, PianoFight, the Strand, CounterPulse, SF Camerawork, Women’s Audio Mission, and Hospitality House’s Community Arts Space.  And there were big heartbreaks – Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Lorraine Hansberry Theater and Intersection for the Arts – all of which had a chance, especially Intersection.  But those are all long stories I won’t get into here.

I’m now on the board of the Luggage Store Gallery/509 Cultural Center.  Thanks to its founders Darryl Smith and Laurie Lazer, this landmark Tenderloin/mid-Market cultural institution has been providing affordable space for emerging artists for thirty years.  Luggage Store’s gallery @ 1007 Market Street just underwent a major renovation as a part of the CAST initiative that acquired and also renovated 80 Turk Street, the new home of CounterPulse.  How was this achieved?  A combination of philanthropy, New Market Tax Credits and other proven real estate development methods.  The protected space represented by these two organizations are, in effect, a desired civic goal achieved through a creative use of real estate economics and tools.

The greatest local struggle for new arts space, as many know, was for the 950 Arts and Education facility.  Over 40,000 square feet of permanently protected space for the arts.  How were we going to achieve this?  Again, by deploying a number of proven real estate development tools to underwrite the space: tax-increment financing, New Market Tax Credits, height/density bonus, capital campaign. Through these tools the 950 project raised $24 million dollars before day one of a capital campaign.  Real estate economics and tools used creatively for social ends.

As the story now infamously goes, San Francisco shuns this proven real estate economics model.  Instead it takes the laissez-faire road and hides behind “community benefit agreements,” all of which leaves city hall completely off the hook and puts projects at the mercy of opportunistic politicians playing local groups with all manner of xenophobic, NIMBY sensibilities like: “Your housing is not for “our” people,” and “That arts organization is an ‘outsider.’”   In the end, larger public interests like socioeconomic diversity, affordability and cultural resources lose big, and we are all the poorer for it.

I’m pissed – aren’t we all?  We want our goodies, like affordable residential and commercial spaces, but we want them to come magically, or through vacuous “progressive” legislation that mandates, but doesn’t provide, a mechanism to achieve them.  Mandated social goals devoid of real world tools… that’s living in laissez-faire unicorn land, not to mention a sure formula – literally – for making space less affordable for everyone, or altogether nonexistent.

Here’s an excellent, more technical but plain English translation of what works and what doesn’t to make space affordable:  Inclusionary Zoning: The Most Promising – or Counter-Productive – Of All Housing Policies.   An excerpt: New York City allows a 33 percent increase in building size.   In contrast, San Francisco offers nothing at all to offset the financial encumbrance of its IZ requirements.    I.E. We don’t get what we don’t help pay for.  That holds true regardless of whether the developer is for-profit or non-profit.

We’ve been unwittingly undermining and fist-pumping against space affordability.  We don’t like building, developing, or capitalism (unless we’re engaged in an annual or capital campaign).  We don’t like “those people,” or more people of any kind, period.  Maybe the next four years of assault from the reality-tv White House will force us to grow up and learn the basics on how space works.  Otherwise our new POTUS will just kick up his heels and let us continue to do his destructive, polarizing us vs. them work for him.

Now, as a volunteer, I’m fighting alongside the developer of 950 Market Street project to protect its remaining affordable arts space committed to the venerable Magic Theatre.   Where the larger arts center was undermined by our laissez-faire city, a dysfunctional SF Foundation, and a no-extra-height-or-tax-increment-dollars-for-arts-space attack by the usual crusty Tenderloin pillars of parochialism, the new attack is from a couple of opportunistic liars using a deplorable misrepresentation of Tenderloin history and abuse of the CEQA process as tactics.

And they’re doing it using public money! so its free or charge for them while killing housing and arts space affordability for everyone else.  CEQA abuse is a wondrous thing.   Their initial message to the developer: “Give us the Magic Theatre space or we’ll appeal your project.”   Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called extortion.   Here the “greedy” developer is being threatened by a couple of “progressives” demanding the developer displace a small and much loved nonprofit arts organization even before the space is built.   (These guys are inventing a whole new kind of displacement!)  The developer, by the way, who is effectively a community partner given their extensive and strong relationships here in the Tenderloin, continues to honor its agreement with Magic for the arts space and is holding its ground.  Check that out.

Which leads to some good news: The 950 project just received its planning approval!  There were moving testimonies from Tenderloin youth, affordable housing advocates, members of the LGBTQ and arts communities, and labor.  There are enormous living-wage union jobs, housing, human and community development benefits involved, even with a totally absent city hall (our fault, really) contributing virtually nothing.  There’s also the first new construction permanently affordable arts space to be built in the Tenderloin for nearly twenty years.  That’s a big deal, and we’re going to fight to protect every last square foot of it while building more.

With respects to dear friends lost.