FEBRUARY 2016 ISSUE
Dolores Park celebrated the re-opening of its upper half late last month, concluding a long renovation process for the park.
A celebration was indeed called for, as this was the first time the entire park has been open since lower (aka Northern) half renovations began in March 2014 — almost two years ago.
The full park is now ready to face the challenges brought on by its ever-increasing visitors (an average weekend can host up to 10,000 visitors to Dolores) that have accompanied the change in demographics in the surrounding areas over the last 20 years.
Changes to the south side of the park include new picnic areas, an off-leash dog play area and an improved overlook area at the oft-photographed spot near what is colloquially known as “The Gay Beach.”
One of the most exciting changes that all of these renovations has led to is the creation of a total of 27 toilets in the entire park. That’s a full 23 more than the four that were severely overused in the middle of the park before all the closures took place.
In addition to the 27 brick-and-mortar bathrooms the park has added, they are implementing outdoor pissoirs, which provide a safe and hygienic space for park-goers to use facilities.
After years of meeting up with friends at the park only to spend half the beautiful day in line for the bathroom, many local residents are… relieved.
Other improvements to the quality of recreation at the well-trodden park include an increase in trash capacity. In this, arguably the most popular of San Francisco parks, at least on a per square footage basis, there can be up to 7,000 gallons of trash produced on an average weekend. This means your Dolores Park Sunday Funday can cost the city up to $750,000 per year — not to mention ecological impacts.
To combat these problems is an increased capacity for recycling and compost-specific waste and even manned stations to educate and inform park-goers where their waste should go.
Although nothing can stop up to 20,000 feet and 100,000 toes tromping on the grass all weekend long, the city has improved the subterranean infrastructure so that the grass and the soil will be better able to withstand the wear-and-tear from both humans and their four-legged counterparts.
It is now up the community to keep the changes in place by actually using the many-offered public toilets and remaining on the bolstered paths rather than trampling plants and flowers.
As Mayor Ed Lee said at the park’s opening celebration that “San Francisco’s…world-class neighborhoods deserve nothing less than world-class parks.”
And it’s true that these closures, despite the ire they may have produced through their duration, have been made to create a better place for us to live, breathe, work, and play — much like efforts of the city as a whole.
It is now up to us to finish where the SF Recreation and Parks Department and Department of Public Works left off. The treasure and gift of land that is Dolores Park is fresh and ready to be enjoyed by family and friends, locals and visitors.
Garden-to-Plate Homegrown Food in the Castro
For the past several years Mary Lemmer has been growing food in people’s backyards and creating local communities around them called “foodscapes.” A foodscape could be a backyard, empty school yards, or other unused land in a neighborhood.
Lemmer is CEO of and co-founder of Foodscape.
“We’re starting a neighborhood foodscape in the Noe Valley and inviting residents of the 94114 district to join us,” she said as she showed me photos of several foodscapes.
Mary has created over a dozen foodscapes in the Bay Area. Neighborhood foodscapes like the one in Noe Valley as well as backyard farms, community gardens, and neighborhood farms are her main audience. All of these must have at least 250 square feet of land to be part of Foodscape. The teamwork in farming contributes to a sense of community that many of us seek out and enjoy.
There are many ways to get involved. Holly Arbeit and her husband, who live on the first block of Noe off of Market, have hired Foodscape to transform their back yard into a garden. Holly plans to share the vegetables from the garden with others she will meet at the distribution point.
Mary added, “I believe the world will be healthier if we eat more fresh foods, and Foodscape provides fresh food while building a strong sense of community around fresh and healthy food.”
She grew up on a farm in Michigan that grew chestnuts, walnuts, apples and peaches. Now she has a large garden with kale, greens and tomatoes that she and ten friends care for and they share the produce. “My inspiration for Foodscape came from my personal interest in eating and growing fresh fruits and vegetables,” she explained.
After college, Mary became sick from eating too many processed foods. Her body could not metabolize the foods well and she lost 30 pounds. Her doctor said she was severely malnourished and told her to start eating fresh natural foods. Within weeks, she was feeling better. This made a strong impact on her since the fresh produce brought her back to life.
After working in Zingerman’s, a delicatessen and business in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Silicon Valley for eight years, she returned to work that challenges her and has personal meaning — healthy food.
“In the next six months I talked to everyone I could including my dad and people working on farms. Foodscape was born with my co-creator, Steven Grant, but he remained in Los Angeles and I developed the business in the Bay Area,” she said.
Since then Mary has developed several neighborhood foodscapes and backyard farms in Oakland and San Francisco. Mary said the farmer and the land owner should consider what to do with the garden when choosing what to plant.
The Ribic Ranch, an urban farm in the Nob Hill neighborhood, grows vegetables including tomatoes, lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, & other greens, beets, herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon, rosemary.
Fran’s Fruit Farm grows figs, apples, persimmon, stone fruit, and citrus, depending on what’s in season. Many people who participated in these foodscapes had access to the vegetable gardens through a gate or garage while others required going through a house.
Foodscape is reaching out to a wide audience of Bay Area foodies, fans of slow-foods group and activists opposed to Monsanto and GMOs. There are several ways to get involved with Foodscape such as:
• A leader to help start a neighborhood foodscape.
• A host to let volunteers use their backyard to grow food.
• A member from the same zip code area who can buy the goods.
• A host to use an existing garden to grow food for the neighborhood.
Members of the foodscapes pay a monthly membership fee of $50 monthly. These fees are used to set up and maintain the foodscape throughout the season.
Members can get additional local food items such as eggs, meats, cheeses, and dry goods from other local farm partners. You pick up your weekly harvest at the designated local pick-up spot or order a delivery.
How a foodscape works
“The most difficult part of farming is the uncertainty with weather and pests when growing food in neighborhoods,” Mary said with a laugh.
Once you get about 10 to 15 neighbors and friends to participate in your neighborhood farm, you’ll get your own farmer, who sets up and maintains the neighborhood farm and helps facilitate harvest day. Each farmer has a background in agricultural science and is good at working with a wide variety of people. He or she helps mold the teams that develop around the care of the gardens.
The farmer knows about the sunlight and source of water for each garden and the cumulative information on all of the gardens so there won’t be too much of any one crop. She will keep you updated about planting, harvest dates and respond to your requests and questions about your food.
“We find farmers through relevant organizations with farmer members,” Mary added.
Foodscape is reaching local audiences of all ages and ethnic backgrounds through several outlets. They tell people about what they’re doing at farmers markets and partner with organizations whose members share Mary’s ideas. Many people find out about Foodscape through the local media, neighborhood newspapers and online resources. The best way to gain new members is still word-of-mouth endorsements.
An important part of Foodscape is that they measure the number of people involved and the amount of space used for growing food compared to the previous year. Also Foodscape annually measures the social and environmental impact of their work. They look at trends in these areas and make changes based on this information.
Foodscape gives urban dwellers several ways to become urban farmers. You get to smell the roses while weeding your garden and gardening seems to produce a cheerful people who have a good time.
The group hopes to be very active this month and next.
“They want to have the first crop planted by the end of March,” said Holly Arbeit.
Foodscape is hosting an information session and open house on Monday, February 8th at 6:30 p.m. at 381 Noe, Holly Arbeit’s home. Mary Lemmer, the co-founder and CEO of Foodscape, will share more information on Foodscape and how people in the Castro can help the neighborhood foodscape in the Noe Valley.
The Relevance of the Castro
Are gay neighborhoods a thing of the past?
The history of the Castro is bound up with the growth and progression of San Francisco itself, from horse-drawn teams pulling craftsmen cottages up the storied hills to the renewing waves of immigrants and gold-seekers, to the arrival of those who fought the war and those who simply sought opportunity for self-expression in this free-thinking environment. Thanks to the political work of Harvey Milk and others, in the middle of all this there developed the special gay neighborhood of the Castro.
Today we are in the midst of the latest round of rapid and intense development and change, causing some to question the future of the Castro as a gay neighborhood.
Young newcomers—gay or straight—traditionally came for the adventure, found shared housing and new friends and relationships, conserved on expenses and survived doing what one man described as “many small things.” One current descendent of a Castro Italian family still retains the distinction of belonging to the neighborhood that existed before the arrival of the LGBT newcomers, separating the “new” Italian cuisine from the “true” traditional cooking of her family.
As an observation, the older generation—sometimes described as the AIDS generation or survivors of the AIDS epidemic—are often men over 50 who say they are happiest and content with the way things are, being part of a gay neighborhood. They tend to have lived in their home, be it house or apartment, for a good number of years, and have formed relationships and been part of the Castro community, doing things with their own friends. One confessed that his favorite places to live and work were in the local neighborhood and that he really missed the Patio Cafe which, in its heyday, was his favorite hang out.
Longevity also can bring a sense of jadedness. Some years ago as an excited newcomer to the Castro, I could see the Pink Triangle at Pride from the Victorian where I was living. When I shared my interest with a ten-year neighbor, his comment was something to the effect that he used to go to Pride but hadn’t in the most recent years. Would this mean that the enormous crowds lining Market Street during the parade today owe more to Pride’s widespread if not global reputation than any coterie of jaded Castro boys?
Young people today, however, can claim to have a different experience of the Castro as a gay neighborhood than people beyond their 30s. For those in and under their 30s, so the argument goes, there is no real place to meet and socialize with others (bars are outdated), so they connect with others online. Since nearly everyone has a SmartPhone and a laptop and communicates that way, one can see many young people with their faces in them.
The result of this private one-on-one communicating is a lack of social cohesion except when there’s a shared event around which many feel the need to communicate their reaction. To sum it all up, one man in the Castro stated, “I used to go to the bar to meet people, but now it’s all online.” While the large number of people can be an issue, you have to get used to hooking up online. “The key word is Grinder,” he exclaimed. Landsakes, what did he mean?
Can we consider today’s Castro as a prototypical gay neighborhood? One writer, Don F. Reuter, was calling the gay neighborhood “a past-tense idea” back in 2007. As generations and the culture move on, the reasoning goes, gay commitment and lifestyles get accepted by the much larger non-gay community who, in many cases, no longer feel threatened by practicing gay relationships and families. These individuals point to the legal enshrinement of gay marriage and to many family practices of straight couples that have been adopted by gay families, not to mention straight families moving into formerly gentrified gay neighborhoods. And there were reactions to other indicators of change that an informal street survey encountered.
When I inquired several times over the past year and a half what people on the street thought about the preponderance of new eight-story condos seemingly blanketing the neighborhood and changing the nature of our cityscape, a frequent response was on the order of “things change and I guess you have to adapt to it.” These respondents obviously were not displaced or otherwise evicted from their apartments.
What about the armies of tourists coming to ogle Castro inhabitants? Or the commercial churn evidenced by papered-over store windows, in some cases to be succeeded by a period of emptiness or a more upscale and expensive store?
Apart from some nudists who still bore everlasting enmity towards Supervisor Scott Wiener for sponsoring anti-nudity legislation, people were generally unperturbed.
And what about those cute kids that energetic gay and lesbian couples are raising and pushing on strollers in the Castro in the Saturday afternoon sun? Isn’t the Castro as a gayborhood in danger of turning into a suburban PTA den with SUVs and soccer parents joining the bulky Apple and Google buses on our formerly picturesque streets? “Nah, we take everything in stride,” was the general reaction.
But aren’t we in danger of losing our licentiousness license as Sodomite Capital of the West? One LGBT-seeking tourist was overheard complaining that she came here looking to indulge in all that edgy sexuality displayed in the streets, only to find a fairly normal neighborhood. Another friend reported that while he was in Amsterdam some seasons back, a local guy there complained to his friend that with deviant behavior legalized by the Dutch, “let’s go somewhere dangerous and exciting, like the Castro!” Hmm. No need to wring our hands in despair just yet.
A while back when a large pop-up store opened on Market the staff consisted of several transgender women, beautifully dressed and open about how they had arrived in the Castro. One person in particular had grown up in a southern rural city and had to hide her true self. Coming to San Francisco, she recounted, was a freeing experience, much like a rebirth. As with many others of all genders who had moved here, she finally felt she could be herself. In those early days for her, seeing a same-sex couple walking on a Castro street and holding hands was still a strange and welcome new sight.
If I have to come to a conclusion about the Castro as a strong and continuing neighborhood, even if there has been something of a movement from what one observer called gay ghetto to family mentality, I see us as “not giving up on our subculture,” as another has written.
In support of this, I cite the continuing vitality (and even re-energizing and success) of our annual Pride celebration, the Castro Street Fair, and the Folsom Street Fair, to name just the largest. Then there is the permanent collection of the LGBT History Museum, which many tourists visit, and the recently announced renovation and remodeling of the LGBT Center. Certainly another strong factor is in the newly constructed San Francisco AIDS Foundation building and their innovative Strut program.
Showcasing all these is the amazing widening and beautifying of Castro Street, the special Rainbow Honor Walk, the always helpful HRC store and staff, the Harvey Milk building, and the colorful rainbow pavement at the heart of the Castro (18th and Castro). This leaves out the Castro bars, the many first rate film festivals at the Castro Theater, Most Holy Redeemer Parish as the largest gay Catholic congregation in the country, special businesses like SoulCycle, and the myriad of annual events and Meet-Up programs for senior and other special interest LGBT groups.
If anything, the Castro has become even more of a living model of the modern gay neighborhood!
Artist’s Work Featured in the Neighborhood
Kevin Woodson is an award-winning artist hailing from the Bay Area by way of the Midwest. His exquisite watercolor paintings of flowers have brought him love, community, and travels around the world. This month Kevin’s work will be appearing from February 1st through February 28th at Spark Arts, located at 4229 18th St. in the Castro. There will be a reception in the gallery on Saturday, February 6th from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., and on February 20th Kevin will be on hand all day to paint and talk with visitors, which are two of his favorite things to do.
Wendy: Your exhibit at Spark Arts in the Castro is called “Mardi Gras is Forever in Flowers.” What inspired that theme?
Kevin: There’s so much that people put into flowers. People paint them very realistically, like photographs. People paint them to express emotions, relationships. I’ve seen very depressing flower paintings, I’ve seen flower paintings that don’t look anything like flowers. I love flowers. I love how expressive they are, and I wanted to do a collection of work that is about emotion, and color, and what really is a carnival of these flowers. Obviously it’s February and it’s Mardi Gras. It’s also Carnival. “Mardi Gras is Forever in Flowers” is a carnival of flowers where every piece in the collection is colorful, happy, in motion, and hopefully expresses something about the ritual of rebirth and the reemergence of life. Here we are in the Bay Area and we get flowers forever but when you look closely we really do have seasons.
Wendy: Aside from your reception on Saturday, February 6th, you’ll be at Spark Arts two weeks later, on the 20th.
Wendy: This month you have your Spark Arts exhibit and you also will be taking part in the Pacific Orchid Expo at Fort Mason later in February.
Kevin: This is a great connection in the flowers. Painting flowers I’ve accomplished almost all of my life’s dreams. I met my husband painting flowers; I met most of my idols through flowers; I’ve travelled around the world, and painting Dahlias in the Dahlia Garden [in Golden Gate Park] I met some of the organizers of the Pacific Orchid Exposition, which is our annual orchid event. I got an invitation to be the featured artist this year, meaning I’ll be exhibiting orchids onsite in a booth at the [expo], but more exciting is I’ll be painting the whole time. I’ve been invited to paint live. Orchids are a flower that I’ve sort of left on the back burner for a number of years because all I had access to was Phalaenopsis, which is the most common of the orchids. I’ve certainly painted my share of them but there was only so far that I could go. I took the orchid expo as an opportunity to delve into orchids and species that are much less common. It’s given me a whole new world to explore. Painting orchids isn’t like painting any other flower. They’re incredibly complex but at the same time alarmingly simple. What’s exciting is that a number of the orchid paintings that I’ve prepared for the expo, I will be including some of the highlights in Mardi Gras is Forever at Spark Arts. If you can make it to the Pacific Orchid Expo or to Spark Arts, both will be great places to see orchids, as well as dahlias, and a year’s worth of flowers from San Francisco, Asia, around the world.
Kevin: Yes. My husband lives full time in Taiwan. What’s great about painting flowers is that I can spend a lot of time with him in Taiwan. I met him painting flowers in Taiwan. Flowers had already brought me to Asia to do exhibits and to explore publishing. While I was there I met this wonderful man who worked with Bach Flower essences with patients. He’s a medical doctor, has incorporated all of the homeopathic uses of flowers in his treatments, so we had a lot to talk about. Those conversations turned into a lot more than just talking; we’re spending our lives together.
Wendy: That’s so awesome. In San Francisco, every weekend during Dahlia Season you can be found in the Dahlia Garden in Golden Gate Park painting Dahlias. You also interact with the visitors to the park, of which there are many, and talk with them about your work.
Kevin: Yes. I’m primarily a plein air painter, although I’ve learned to take the paintings into the studio and incorporate more and more of my imagination into them. As a plein air painter I’ve gotten very used to children, tourists, families, people on bicycles, dog walkers, and gardeners of course, coming by and looking over my shoulder. I find by talking to people that everyone does have a connection; everyone has a message and something that I can learn from. I love talking to people while I’m painting. I love letting kids hold the paint brush; I love the connections that I’ve made; I love that I’ve been able to exchange emails with people who’ve gotten off of a tourist bus.
Wendy: Your paintings are done in watercolors. What made you choose that medium?
Kevin: Watercolors relate perfectly to flowers in a number of ways. One of the most obvious is that it’s completely ephemeral. I use the best quality paints and paper of course, but I don’t feel the need to create something that’s gonna last for the next 10 million years. I feel that watercolors really invite the spirit of the flowers to show up in the art because it’s so similar to them. I feel that things that exist in our world that are ephemeral, that’s where magic happens. I also like water because I feel the water is very related to my heart and my passion and my blood. It’s a way that I’m able to respect the flower and be more in tune with the energy of the flower. What’s equally important is there’s no pencil; there’s no cut flowers; there’s no photography involved in this whatsoever. Water is also the medium that Edward Bach used to make his flower essences. The energy of flowers just channels and flows in water.
Wendy: What led you to your fascination with the garden and what got you started in painting the flowers?
Kevin: My fascination with the garden is the story that I love telling the most and it’s my first memory in life. My mom was an avid gardener; both my parents were avid gardeners. Mom’s flowers were very much in rows; she had certain types of flowers together. Dad’s flowers were more the wild part of the yard. I feel like I grew up between both. My first memory is getting up and crawling or toddling off of a blanket that I was [on] in the back yard into a world of flowers that were tall over me. The blooms were the same size as my head. My very first memory in life is being surrounded by pink and yellow and white and purple and orange, all different colors of blooms. I must’ve been about two and it would’ve only been for an instant but it’s also timeless, because those flowers talked to me then and they’re still talking to me now. It’s a very important memory because I remember that the flowers were above my head and that was just so cool, kind of like going into a forest of flowers right in the backyard. I remember begging my mom the next year to have the same experience. We went out to the backyard and went into that patch of flowers and I towered above them. I was three. I thought they were different. You don’t realize that you’ve put on a foot, at least, of height at that age. I feel that that’s the experience that I always go for in every painting that I make. When I go into that garden I always evoke that memory. When I evaluate a painting to see how successful it is and what I still wanna add to it, I want that experience to be available to everyone.
I painted everything when I was a child. It's probably the one grounded thing that I did. My grandmother basically called it out; she said that as long as I had pen, paper, clay, mounds of freshly cut grass, mud, paint, clothes that could be piled up, you name it, I would be creating something with it. My subjects were all over the map. I love art that makes people happy and that brings people together so in addition to flowers, I probably painted every bird in the neighborhood; we had these adorable bunnies, every neighbor, relative, superheroes - mainly from my own mind. I moved up to San Francisco from the Midwest in 1991. That was a very dark time. People were dying every day and I was certain that I wouldn't live to see 2000. Yes I wanted to paint flowers, but I also wanted to do everything, anything that there was to do: performance art, I ran away with the circus, large black light installations, watercolor portraits - I did portraits at Folsom Street Fair to raise money for Project Open Hand, participated in the ritual procession of Day of the Dead, [curated the] gallery for CELLspace. It wasn't really till well after 2000 that I began to think that maybe I was gonna live. I was gonna have to focus my art and begin to uncover what it was that I was put on this planet to do and that was flowers. I think I painted flowers in the gardens for years after that, but without exhibiting them. I would give them to people I loved. Looking back on that I think, of course. I'd lost so much, lost so many people that flowers were a way that I could give something ephemeral that was deeply connected to my heart. I still feel that with every flower that I paint. Whatever gallery it hangs in, in whatever part of the world, it always seems like there's one person who's out there - it's waiting for one person who's meant to have it. Flowers sustain us; they're wonderful that way. They certainly sustain me.
Vote on Density Plan Delayed
The decision on a contentious program aiming to address the city’s housing crisis was delayed again at the Planning Commission hearing in late January, which ended with plans to resurrect the prolonged debate on February 25.
Known as the affordable housing density bonus program, the measure would allow developers to add two extra stories to their projects if 30 percent of the units are deemed affordable. While there is no question that the city needs more affordable housing, it is the definition of affordability that is at the root of the disputes.
Of the 30 percent, 12 percent must be affordable for those making about $39,000 a year. The other 18 percent must be affordable for middle-income residents, which equates to $86,000 to $100,000 a year. These scales are based on the citywide average median income (AMI).
One of the issues raised in the hearing was the displacement of minority populations as a result of this program. The neighborhoods with the most lots eligible under this program — such as Bayview and Western Addition — are home to many of the city’s minority populations who statistically earn much less than the citywide AMI.
“The AMI for the folks in these communities is less, not even on the 18 percent scale,” Planning Commissioner and long-time Castro resident Dennis Richards said. “There is very little overlap with the Asian-American and Latino communities, and hardly any overlap in the African-American community.”
Opponents of the program believe the program must be rewritten with more community input and with intentions to help those in a lower income bracket.
“We need to start with the premise that we need to help the people who are the most desperate first,” housing rights and queer activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca said. “That means the homeless, the people on supplemental security income, the people earning minimum wage, the people earning well below the AMI level.”
After seven hours of comments and deliberation, the commission decided to push back a vote on the proposal until February 25, giving the Planning Department one month to answer the many questions that still remain about the program.
Instead of scrapping the measure entirely, Richards hopes the Planning Department will come back in February with enough of a compromise for the Committee to vote on the program.
“These pieces of legislation are so incredibly complicated and the details are sometimes so arcane,” Richards said. “You can’t squeeze them into an I’m-for-or-against-it type of decision.”
The fight will not be over for a while. After the commission reviews and adds their recommendations to the measure in February, it will go to the Board of Supervisors to vote on whether or not it becomes the law of the land.
“Each district has its own issues and everybody has their own spots on how to achieve affordable housing,” Richards said. “It’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen once it goes to the Board. It will be very interesting.”
From January 22-31, the Castro Theatre held its 14th edition of the Noir City Film Festival, focusing on crime thrillers which include: Rear Window, The Dark Corner, Peeping Tom, and several others.
The Noir City film festival is the largest and most well-attended festival dedicated to the type of film known as, “noir,” which festival coordinator Eddie Muller, believes is one of the world’s only organic cinematic movement.
Muller also shared with us his involvement with the film festival and how he started.
“I grew up just over the hill from the Castro Theatre, and I saw many movies there in my younger days,” said Muller. “The theatre’s former programmer, Anita Monga, invited me to program a noir festival there in 2003 and it was a huge hit.”
Since programming that noir festival, Muller started a non-profit foundation to rescue and restore noir films by principally using revenue generated each year at the Castro.
He imagines when these films were initially released; seeing some people dressed in vintage fashions helps Muller picture a different time in the Castro.
“There is nothing like the Castro, the venue and the audiences are the best in the country,” said Muller.
Muller describes the Castro as the perfect venue because it hasn’t changed much since the heyday of the noir movement in the late 1940s.
“The appeal to many is that the Castro is still a majestic single-screen auditorium, where you can see a movie big, as they were originally meant to be seen,” said Muller. “Plus the public transportation is exceptional and the neighborhood is filled with terrific and friendly restaurant and bars. The perfect match.”
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“I like organic and to know what is going in my mouth,” explained Holly Arbeit, “The taste of the food is delicious and there are no pesticides.”
Kevin: Saturday, February 20th, I will be all day in the gallery doing painting live. Especially because people may not have read this article [by the reception date], everyone’s welcome to come by on the 20th! We’ll still have all the flowers on the wall and I’ll have a paint brush in my hand.
Wendy: You just came back from doing an exhibit in Taiwan, called The Secret Life of Flowers. Taiwan is where your husband lives.