Capt. Bill Griffin
A new captain is at the helm at SFPD’s Mission Station attempting to push back at the most recent wave of crime.
Crimes targeting locked vehicles and personal property have more than doubled this year in the Mission District, according to city data. Mission Station Capt. Bill Griffin, who replaced Capt. Daniel Pera at the end of March, said vehicle break-ins were a particular problem.
Besides being a hub for theft this year, the Mission District has also led the city in the most instances of violent crime, a figure that grew by 17 percent since the same period in 2016. (Source: DataSF, Jan.1-April 6, 2017)
He could not offer an explanation for the increase, which occurred before he took his post.
From January to April 6, thefts and larceny went up 135 percent compared to the same period in 2016 (1,325 cases to 563).
Griffin has been working with patrol officers and special city task forces to drive numbers down.
Many other station captains around the city are seeing similar property crime problems in their districts, specifically with groups of burglars coordinating multiple vehicle break-ins.
Auto break-ins aren’t usually the work of casual thieves, said Capt. Darryl Fong of Southern Station, who focuses resources on suspects with known histories of serial break-ins. “It’s an organized group of individuals who go out and commit multiple auto break-ins,” he said.
Park Station acting Capt. Arran Pera said that while “quality of life issues” like sit-lie violations make up a bulk of citations on Haight Street, vehicle break-ins continue to plague the area. “We are trying to get a handle on that but it’s difficult,” he said, adding that tips from the public often prove valuable for police.
By contrast, the Richmond District had the largest reduction in auto break-ins throughout the city from 148 incidents last year to just 88 incidents this year, and station Capt. Alexa O’Brien said traffic enforcement has been a main priority this year. “The residents just think people drive crazy here,” she said.
While thefts are the most common crimes for all 10 police stations in San Francisco, each district still faces its own nuanced challenges. For Capt. Raj Vaswani of Bayview Station, personal safety is the main concern. Vaswani said that even though stolen vehicles and home burglaries have been problems in the past month, his district has seen an overall decrease in violent crimes this year.
“Violent crime can affect someone’s life forever, so that is at the top of the priority list,” he said.
Violent crime numbers for Park Station jumped by about 25 percent through April 6, while the Mission experienced a 17-percent uptick, which includes assaults and robberies. Violent crime is also up in the areas patrolled by the Southern and the Taraval stations.
Violent crime and thefts are down in the Tenderloin and Ingleside areas.
Vehicle break-ins have been a closely watched epidemic in recent years in San Francisco, peaking in 2015 when the city took 25,899 reports, or more than 70 per day on average.
Housing Development Raises Some Eyebrows
If approved, the 10-story housing project near the BART station at 16th Street would be the largest market-rate development ever built in the Mission.
At the heart of the Mission District, blue skies and a gentle breeze bring the animated intersection of Mission and 16th to life. Tall palm trees line the sidewalk. Overhead, a mess of electrical Muni bus wires crisscross underneath lines of phone wires occupied by pigeons.
The Southwest BART plaza of Mission and 16th streets is crowded with bustling commuters, cell phone vendors and nearby residents socializing under the warm May sun. A man plays music from his boombox. A Muni bus horn honks at an Uber car parked in the red lane marked exclusively for buses and taxis.
Across the street on the northeast corner between Walgreens and Burger King, the plaza has the opposite feeling of vibrancy. The escalator access to BART is boarded up completely. The benches are crowded. One woman patiently waits for her bus. Next to her, a man is slumped over, possibly homeless. Dragging a blanket behind them, a tall, unidentifiable person with wild hair talks out loud while walking into oncoming traffic. Moments later, a pilot exits the BART elevator confidently pulling his luggage.
This eclectic intersection of the Mission District has avoided all-out gentrification, but a market-rate high rise, dubbed “Monster in the Mission” by local activists, now threatens to change the cultural landscape.
Proposed at 1979 Mission St., the 380-unit, 10-story development would attract wealthier residents who have little interest in preserving the rich Latino culture Mission District is known for.
The development project, which would take over a year and a half to build, is led by Robert Rosania of Maximus Real Estate Partners. With rents expected to be in the $3,500 to $5,000 range, the group is set to take in upwards of $1 million per unit, totaling over a third of a billion dollars, though their total expenses are not known.
The build-out would host 290 market-rate rental units, 41 middle-income condo units and 49 low-income affordable housing units, while 64,00 square feet is planned for ground-floor retail, including a market hall for food, as well as 163 parking spaces. Maximus would also enlarge the BART plaza by 40 percent.
If approved, this would be the largest market-rate development ever built in the Mission.
Plaza 16 Coalition is determined to disrupt the approval process of this construction. Founded in 2013, the coalition is made up of neighborhood residents, businesses and community organizations from the area. The group is actively fighting for affordable housing and preventing the displacement of residents at the expense of this multi-million dollar project.
Chirag Bhakta, a San Francisco native, has been a member of Plaza 16 Coalition for a couple of years. He says we know what will happen to the neighborhood if the Maximus project is approved.
“Anytime a market rate development goes into a neighborhood it becomes a displacement factor,” Bhakta said. “There are local shops and restaurants who have catered to low-income residents. When new folks come in, they are unlikely to frequent these places and those places will face displacement pressures from their landlords.”
The Coalition believes in equitable developments that create healthy, vibrant communities of opportunity. They want to see thoughtful, community-based strategies to ensure low-income communities and communities of color participate in and benefit from the decisions that shape the neighborhood development.
In 2016, Rosania and Maximus Real Estate Partners settled a lawsuit against the Jang family who owns the property. According to real estate website SockSite, Maximus agreed to buy the property for $42 million in 2013. Maximus later accused the owners of working behind the scenes, actively delaying the approval process for the proposed development in order to sell the site to an unnamed national development company based on the East Coast for $55 million.
The original sale still stands. However, the project must seek approval from the Planning Commission again.
Currently, much of the resident housing near the proposed development is low-income, including elderly housing and SROs.
“When people lose their SRO housing they’re on the street,” Bhakta continued. “There’s no place else they can go for the same price. Shared bathroom and shared kitchen happen if you’re lucky and often times the conditions are not up to code.”
Aimed at increasing the integrity of the BART plaza, a group called “Clean Up the Plaza” emerged in 2014 to increase policing and surveillance. They are in favor of the Maximus project.
According to their website, they are “a coalition of residents, merchants and visitors who use the 16th Street Mission BART Station in [their] daily travels.” They say the area around the 16th Street Mission plaza is in “deplorable condition.”
“We have lived in danger and with the blight of this corner for too long,” the website states. “Our neighborhood deserves better access to safe, clean and walkable transportation corridors.”
“Clean Up The Plaza” did not return requests for a statement.
“When rents get raised then [the small businesses] have to leave as well,” Bhakta added.
But SRO tenants and homeless aren’t the only ones who stand to lose out at the expense of the property. Marshall Elementary School on 15th and Capp Street will be left in the development’s shadow. The three proposed buildings would stand between 40 and 100 feet in height, blocking the natural light on the school’s playground.
While Marshall Elementary School would be geographically safe, many of their neighbors would be demolished during construction. Walgreens on Mission Street, and Burger King, Mission Hunan Eatery, City Club Bar, and Hwa Lei Market on 16th Street would all be displaced.
“We ramped up our neighborhood organizing and push-back,” Bhakta said. “The developer wasn’t prepared for the level of animosity they had created.”
More than 100 community organizations have joined Plaza 16 Coalition. Their proposal is for Rosania’s development company to sell the property at 1979 Mission Street to the community so it can be developed into affordable housing.
As San Francisco determines if its preference is for currency or character, the lives of many Mission residences hangs in the balance.
“We want to ramp up our pushback to ensure that development does not occur,” Bhakta said. The Planning Commission could vote on this project as early as summer.
Hunky Jesus Parade Gets Rained On But Not Out
On April 16, fans gathered in Golden Gate Park to celebrate “Hunky Jesus,” a spring rite of passage for many San Franciscans. Now in its 38th year, the event, sponsored by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence seeks to promote inclusiveness across all racial, gender, and sexuality spectrums, which culminates in a “Hunky Jesus” contest. The event started at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center, and then moved to Dolores Park, and this year at Golden Gate Park to accommodate the crowds.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is a nonprofit organization, based in the Castro, of “queer nuns,” according to their website, that seeks to be a “ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity, and spiritual enlightenment.”
According to Sister Anni Coque l’Doo, the head abbess, the event commemorates the founding of the Sisters. “There were four members who dressed in havoc back in 1979 on April 15 and wandered out to the Castro to push against the boundaries of the clones that were very prevalent in the Castro neighborhood and decided they would be a little bit irreverent and went out and had a good time,” she said.
Coque l’Doo went on to say that the event “allows the community to feel joy in rough times, but it also reminds them that we are a community. Gay straight, trans, bi, people of color, it’s a community, and we’re all here for one another,” she said.
In addition to the Hunky Jesus contest, other activities are the Foxy Mary, bonnet contest, and children’s Easter. This particular year, a Trump Exorcism took place. “We hope the energy that the community sent out provokes change and provokes thought and gets people to push those boundaries. We may live in a place of sanctuary but we need to go outside ourselves to push the boundary so everywhere is a sanctuary,” Coque l’Doo said.
Ehra Amaya took to the stage to discuss her personal thoughts about the event and the need for inclusiveness. She recently finished her tenure as Imperial Crown Princess of San Francisco, and spoke to the challenges of living undocumented in the city.
“I was undocumented for five years,” Amaya said to the crowd. “The fear was really intense for me. Just buying a cigarette is scaring me. Hearing police all over the place is a big scare as well. I felt alone here, I felt I didn’t belong here, in a city that we call a sanctuary city,” she said.
Then Amaya turned upbeat to express the sense of optimism that permeated the crowd. “My advice to everybody is to show love and compassion to each and every one of us. Show them that they belong here in the city. That this is our sanctuary. That we all fit in every pocket here in San Francisco,” she said.
Cruzin d’Loo was co-host and co-emcee of the event. “For those of us that were so damaged by the small town value... it’s incredibly liberating to have an ability to just be ourselves,” she said.
Mark Leno, former State Senator was on hand, and agreed that the weather did not “dampen the spirits one bit nor the wit of the sisters onstage.”
“I think in our public and communal lives we’ve lost our sense of humor, and also a sense of humility as we see in the political debate everyone taking their own sides and believing that we all have all the information that we need,” he said, “The Sisters themselves for 38 years now, have devoted themselves as in an order, to bring joy, to relieve people of guilt, and to do public service. It’s all selfless service in the most delightful way,” he said.
Gilbert making a lasting memory with former President Barack Obama during a White House reception in 2016. Photo: The White House
Neighborhood Affected Long After Passing of Gilbert Baker
The Castro was all rainbows last month as members of the LGBT community came together to celebrate the life of Gilbert Baker, the creator of the iconic rainbow flag who paved the way for the gay rights movement. Baker, 65, died Thursday, March 30th in his sleep at his home in New York City. The cause of the death is unknown. A candlelight vigil was held in the Castro on Friday, March 31st after news of Baker’s death on broke on social media.
Cleve Jones, AIDS activist and author of When We Rise: My Life in the Movement, announced the news of Baker’s death via Twitter:
“My dearest friend in the world is gone. Gilbert Baker gave the world the Rainbow Flag; he gave me forty years of love and friendship.”
Jones urged his San Francisco friends to meet under Baker’s flag at Castro and Market at 7 pm. He led the crowd chanting, “Long live Gilbert Baker, We love Gilbert Baker,” as mourners marched through the streets with a rainbow flag banner reading “Rise and resist.”
“The world has lost one of its most colorful and beautiful souls,” local resident Todd Elmer commented. “I will be forever grateful for having met [Baker]... And then this memory from the momentous day that the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, when I ran into him at Market [St.] and Castro St., standing just below the giant rainbow flag that he had created. Magic. The rainbow has gained an extra color today.”
Baker was born in Chanute, Kansas, and joined the US Army as a medic, according to his bio on his website. He arrived in San Francisco in 1970 to work at an orthopedic hospital where Vietnam veterans underwent skin grafts and amputations. After his honorable discharge from the military, he stayed in San Francisco and immersed himself in the gay and lesbian community. It was here that he taught himself to sew.
After the election of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, Baker created the rainbow flag. Baker and other volunteers filled trashcans with colored dye in the attic of the Gay Community Center in San Francisco and pieced together the first rainbow flags, showcasing them for the first time ever in the Gay Pride Parade on June 25, 1978.
“We stood there and watched and saw the flags, and their faces lit up,” Jones told CNN. “It needed no explanation. People knew immediately that it was our flag.”
The first flags had eight colors, each stripe carrying its own significance: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for peace and purple for spirit. The flag itself has changed since 1978, downsizing from eight colors to six. According to Baker, pink fabric was too expensive, so it was removed. Turquoise and blue were also combined into one color, royal blue.
The flag could be seen flying half-staff from Mayor Ed Lee’s balcony at City Hall on Friday, March 31st.
“Gilbert was a trailblazer for LGBT rights, a powerful artist and a true friend to all who knew him,” Lee said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with his friends and family. He will be missed. The rainbow flag is more than just a symbol. It is the embodiment of the LGBT community, and it has become a source of solace, comfort and pride for all those who look upon it.”
Those who knew him personally, as well as those around the world who admire his life-achievements and dedication to his community, will miss Baker.
Singer of Gay Men’s Chorus Died Onstage
Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus mourned the loss of after their fellow choir member, a 39-year-old Filipino named Ryan Nunez, died onstage during intermission of a performance Friday, March 31st.
Nunez was singing in the production of “Paradise Found” at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco when he collapsed on one of the risers and unexpectedly died. Nunez fainted and collapsed while standing on one of ten bleachers, approximately 15-feet above the ground. Members of the chorus that were doctors and nurses, as well as paramedics that arrived at the scene, performed CPR for an hour before Nunez was pronounced dead. The cause of his death is unknown.
“It is with broken hearts that we share this news. We have suffered one of the most profound tragedies and losses one can imagine,” Tim Seelig, the artist director and conductor of the chorus said via Facebook. “Ryan was not only a singer, but was the Administrative Coordinator on the SFGMC staff. He was our voice to the world. Filled with humor and huge hugs for all – he just took care of everyone.”
According to SF Gate, Seelig went out to the audience where he took questions and talked about his granddaughter, in hopes of keeping the crowd entertained. The second half of the show was cancelled Friday night, but the GMC sang in Nunez’s honor the following Saturday. The chorus gathered at Dolores Park, Nunez’s favorite place, on Sunday with balloons and blankets for a picnic in memory of Nunez.
“No one loved SFGMC more than Ryan. It literally changed his life — as knowing him has changed all of ours,” the GMC wrote in a statement.
Senator Scott Wiener, former San Francisco Board of Supervisor for District 8, adjourned the California State Senate meeting on April 6, 2017 in memory of Ryan Nunez. He shared a brief bio of Nunez:
“Ryan was born in Guadalupe California in 1977 and he graduated with a degree in design and visual communication from SFSU,” Wiener said. “He became a member of the SFGMC as a lower baritone, and he also worked as an Administrative Coordinator for the chorus.”
A GoFundMe account with a goal of $20,000 was created was created by Seeling to assist Nunez’s family with funeral expenses. A total of $25,318 was raised.
More than 80 bands to Take Part in Massive Front-Porch Jam Session
Rumbahía in 2016 at PAWS. SF Porchfest brings the neighborhood block party back to the city and has plans to take over the Mission on May 20 with dozens of makeshift stages and performances. Photo: Beth Gould
SF Porchfest brings community together in the best possible way. It’s completely inclusive, it’s centered around music and it’s free! Over 80 bands will perform on May 20th at mostly makeshift venues throughout the Mission, from Dolores to Harrison streets, and from 18th to 26th streets. Venues include front stoops, backyards, garages, schools, cafes, and some neighborhood venues as well. SF Porchfest’s website will be posting a map and a schedule of performances closer to the event date. Beth Gould co-founded SF Porchfest with her friend Liz Pittinos in 2015.
Wendy Oakes: SF Porchfest is such a great idea; it’s a lovely way to get the community together. I understand that it’s an event that happens throughout North America.
Beth Gould: Right. I believe that it started in Ithaca, New York, in 2007.
Wendy: You had heard about Porchfest through a friend and then made a go of it in SF with another friend that you had met at Burning Man, Elizabeth Pittinos. How long ago was it that you two met?
Beth: Liz and I met at Burning Man close to eight years ago. Marie Ghitman who started it in Jamaica Plain in Boston, she and I were college roommates.
Wendy: Did you and Liz decide out on La Playa that this was something that you just had to bring to San Francisco?
Beth: No, it was more listening to Marie talk about JP Porchfest and it just sounded really fun. I asked Liz, and she was up for it. Liz moved to Portland last year; she’s going to be here, but this year she’s not organizing it. I have some other people that are helping me: Joe and Pete Baldwin, and Scott Simons.
Wendy: You’ve done a great job because everyone’s invited: all genres, pro musicians, amateur musicians, the entire age spectrum is represented, and everyone can afford to go because it’s free! How do you enlist the artists?
Beth: This is our third year and it’s pretty much stayed the same for the three years. It started out with my friend Robert Mueller who is one of the musicians in a band called Colonels of Truth. I asked him what he thought about the idea and [asked him] if he would want to participate. Once he was on board and was excited, Liz and I felt like we could do it. The first thing was getting a Facebook page and asking people to sign up. Scott Simons did the website and now people can sign up online and register to be a venue, or a musician, or a volunteer, or just stay in touch. Musicians are pretty excited to play. Even though they don’t get paid, they seem to enjoy the opportunity.
Wendy: Everybody’s volunteering their time at SF Porchfest — the artists, the hosts, the organizers, and of course the volunteers.
Beth: That’s right.
Wendy: You’re open to all sorts of venues, from neighbors’ front stoops, to their backyards or garages, to schools, to cafes, to proper venues.
Beth: Yes. We definitely try to keep it outside; the music’s mostly outside.
Wendy: That’s liberating for people too. It’s not as big of a commitment as when you choose to go inside.
Beth: Exactly. The idea of spending a hopefully non-rainy afternoon outside in the Mission is just really fun. Some people plan their day; they have their schedule and maybe listen to some links to the bands that we have up, or a lot of people just wander upon it and are surprised.
Wendy: How many bands do you have this year? It’s grown in that regard, hasn’t it?
Beth: Yeah, the first year we had 45 or 50, and the second year we had about 65, and this year we have more than 80 sign ups.
Wendy: You have such a great variety of bands; you have The Anita Lofton Project, Say Bok, Gwai, Sweet HayaH, Burl Haggard, among of course so many other great artists. There will also be an after party happening a little later that day.
Beth: The after party is also open to everybody. We’ve had it at The Vestry for two years, and this year we’re going to have it at Revolution Cafe. It’s an intimate space. I think it’s going be really nice this year. We have four bands lined up.
Wendy: Revolution Cafe opens out onto the street, so in a way it’s very similar to walking up to someone’s porch.
Beth: I love that, and the people there are really nice.
Wendy: How do folks know who is playing where? Do they check your website?
Beth: If you go to our website on your phone you’ll be able to click to the schedule and many of the bands will have links to their music.
Wendy: You’re doing something really great for this city, bringing people together around music, and giving people from all walks of life a chance to interact, where maybe they might not have that opportunity to interact before.
Beth: The whole point of Porchfest, the whole goal, at least for San Francisco Porchfest, is to try to build community, to bring people together, and to counteract some of the divisiveness that’s become apparent in San Francisco as well as across the country. It’s amazing how many people do meet other people; they’re sharing equipment; they’re sharing gear; they meet their neighbors. It’s a pretty happy day.