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NOVEMBER ISSUE

​Supervisor Scott Wiener addresses a crowd during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 30 in the Castro. The event marked the long-awaited completion of the The Castro Street Improvement Project.

Streets Paved with Rainbows

 

Ribbon Cut for Neighborhood Improvements

 

 

The wait is finally over as the Castro proper finally revealed its brand new streets that come at the tail-end of the Castro Street Improvement Project. These changes will help to make the Castro even more of a destination than it was before, and will add to attractions such as the historic Castro Theatre, Harvey Milk memorials, and the hope of catching a glimpse of the cast of Looking.

 

Although the project was delayed slightly to allow the neighborhood tradition of the Castro Street Fair, on Thursday October 30th, the ribbon was finally cut on the project. The city and the surrounding neighborhood can breathe both a sigh of a relief and a yelp of excitement.

 

The new streets will feature the popular rainbow crosswalks, Castro history facts, and new sidewalks that will give the neighborhood’s shoppers and tourists plenty of wiggle room to enjoy what the streets have to offer.

 

Although the construction has been what some might call less than popular during its construction — prohibiting sales at local businesses and discouraging foot traffic on the most popular and famous thoroughfare of the district — local business owners are excited about the increased visits that the new streets are expected bring to the area. Although Halloween sales opportunities were unfortunately missed, the streets will be ready for the holidays, whether that means shoppers, carollers, vacationers, or those going to see their favorite Christmas classics at the Castro Theatre.

 

The event, a party as well as a ceremony, was attended by many, both local denizens as well as some of our corner’s famous friends. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were on hand to bless the new streets (always good to keep it ‘sacred’) as well as some speeches by some of the Department of Public Works figureheads that helped to make this all happen. The crowd was peopled by LGBT folk in leopard ponchos, shiny disco pants and some in nothing at all, as well as older couples in fleeces and parents dancing with their young children. The official ribbon was cut by Supervisor Scott Wiener.

 

Entertainment was there too, in the form of DJ Liam Shy, the SF Gay Men’s Chorus (a local favorite) and local-to-the-Castro acts like Gypsy Love and singer-songwriter Matt Albert. The tunes were electro-heavy with a number of tributes to the funk and disco sounds that helped to make the Castro such an important place to so many back in the 70s and 80s.

 

The ribbon that was ceremonially cut was also specially designed by Gilbert Baker, designer of the rainbow pride flag. Although it took some size for the sizable barrier to be snipped, when it finally separated it was to loud cheers from the crowd that had amassed.

 

While finishing touches are yet to be completed on the project, the party went on, at least for this night. Although the sidewalks are mostly complete and the rainbow crosswalks at 18th and Castro are bright and bold, the project will not be completed until roughly Thanksgiving time.

 

Although the party may now be over, the Castro has shown us one thing over the years — and will continue to show us for years to come — the Castro is always a celebration, whether there is a ribbon to be cut or not. And now, with these new additions to the streets which are as vibrant as the community itself, the corner looks as important as it is in the hearts of its local community and in the hearts of LGBT communities all around the world.

 

LGBT Walk of Fame Hits the Street

 

Photo: Deana Mitchell

 

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

 

 

The Giants Win!

 

 

Oct 29, 2014

 

 

At Hi Tops in the Castro

 

Photos Bill Sywak

 

 

 

 

The Mission

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

 

 

Soccer Field Scuffle Turns Attention to “Pay-to-Play”

 

 

The viral video footage of a standoff at Mission Playground soccer field between neighborhood kids and Dropbox employees has underscored the escalating tensions surrounding the gentrification of the Mission and has fueled debate over the SF Rec and Park’s “pay-to-play” reservation policy, which allows for public fields to be rented privately.

 

The youth in the Youtube video joined forces with the Latino Democratic Club in October to protest the policy at City Hall. The highly charged controversy had already led Director of Parks and Rec’s Phil Ginsberg to retreat on the issue, by making the park unavailable for adult permits. Ginsberg also folded to their request to make Sunday nights available for play, whereas previously it had been closed.

 

The video caught one of what the youth claimed were many escalating incidents during which they’d been kicked off the field, which is located on Valencia Street between 19th and 20th. In this case, it was by Dropbox and Airbnb employees, who responded to the brief youth resistance by producing a $27 rental permit for two hours of field use.

 

“How long have you lived here?” asks one of the kids in the video, to which a guy with a Dropbox T-shirt on argues “Over a year.” The video spawned particularly harsh criticism of the adults because of a comment made by an Airbnb employee. After the kids explained that they’d been playing there for years, he says, “Who cares about the neighborhood?”

 

The now debunked policy at Mission Playground had allowed for both youth and adult league teams to rent out the field, while only the adult teams had to pay. Two slots were available for adult league play – Tuesday and Thursday nights from 7 until 9 p.m. While 96 percent of the time it was still available for drop-in-play, the permitting system still blocked kids from enjoying playing hours.

 

Mynor Lopez, who plays soccer here three times a week, says he has noticed the repeated tensions surrounding these evening slots and doesn’t think it’s fair. “Everyone should be able to enjoy the pitch,” he said. “The younger people need to play too.”

 

Traditionally, the formerly asphalt covered soccer pitch had been a place where anyone could play according to a free rotation system. Many kids had been playing on the pitch their entire lives.

 

Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose district the field falls in, noted in a statement that Rec and Parks tried to strike a balance, at least “on paper,” between unstructured play time and reserved league play. Like Connie Chan, director of Public Affairs for Rec and Park, Wiener noted the scarcity of public play space in a city with increasing demand for it.

 

“But the real world is more complicated,” he acknowledged. He also stated that while he did not agree that fields should never be available for private rental, that it was unclear as to whether or not the adults in the video were even part of a structured league.

 

“The question becomes whether soccer league time should exist, when it should happen, what constitutes a league, and how best to have clear and transparent information for the community,” he said.

 

The policy came into place with the renovation of Mission Playground in 2012. The renovations included transforming the cracked and pitted asphalt into synthetic turf and installing lights, which extended playtime hours.

 

This is not the first in incident in which locals who had played on this turf for years fought back against the new policy. Just weeks after the field’s re-opening ceremony, then 35-year-old Jaime Elias submitted a petition to Supervisor Wiener regarding the new policy. As reported in October 2012 in Mission Local, Elias filed the complaint because he was surprised to find the park unavailable to the public on Tuesday nights from 7-9 p.m. It was being used by an organization called SF Pickup Soccer, which charged players between $5 and $10 per game.

 

Regarding the current controversy, Director Ginsberg issued a statement that mentioned three “well-attended” community meetings were held in June and July of 2009 during which time the park renovation was discussed. According to Ginsberg, the new reservation policy was “based on community input and recommendations from pick-up soccer players.”

 

However, documentation of a meeting flyer sent out as part of the community outreach makes no mention of a reservation policy as an agenda item. As noted by Ginsberg, the meeting was about the park renovation and invited the community to participate in discussing the restoration and park design.

 

The Mission Playground Soccer pitch isn’t the only public field or recreation space available for private use within the city. Nearly every neighborhood has a baseball diamond, a basketball court, or a soccer field that is available to rent.

 

The Castro’s own Eureka Valley Recreation Center (EVRC) sparked criticism against Ginsberg in 2011. Local activist group QUEEN (Queers for Economic Equality Now) protested against changes in the center scheduling, which they claimed prioritized fee-based classes like Zumba and Karate over free programming and drop-in hours for transitional queer youth, as reported in The Bay Area Reporter in April 2011. According to the current EVRC schedule, there are open-play hours available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

 

Not everyone agrees that the pay-to-play system is unfair.

 

“Rec and Park’s reservation process has created a more egalitarian system,” said Christopher Faust, with Friends of the Noe Valley Recreation Center. Faust found that even as a resident of Noe Valley, the Rec Center gym was unavailable to him for many years.

 

He says that before the reservation system began, the center was managed by on-site directors who played favorites and prioritized use of facilities for select churches and schools.

 

“Our concern is that the reservation system will be dismantled to revert to the entitlement system of the past,” he said.

 

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

Wiener Amasses Huge War Chest

 

Incumbent leads challengers by 250K

 

 

With just days remaining before the November 4 elections, the race for the Castro’s top politician has become a financial runaway.

 

Four candidates for District 8 supervisor are currently vying to unseat incumbent Scott Wiener, but the story of campaign contributions remains very one-sided. Wiener has raised $258,545, while Michael Petrelis, currently in second place, has only $2,931, according to data from the San Francisco Ethics Commission. In third place, John Nulty has $2,114, while both George Davis and Tom Basso show zero balances on the commission’s website.

 

Wiener, who employs a campaign manager and an accountant but does not have a paid fundraiser, attributes his campaign’s financial success to a broad support base from inside the district, something he says he has cultivated through years working within the community.

 

“I started raising money a year ago. At that time I had no idea if I was going to have one opponent or ten, if they would be strong opponents or weak opponents,” he said. “Since I began my campaign, I’ve had dozens of house parties, largely hosted by residents of the district. People have donated at those house parties after hearing what I had to say.”

 

Nulty, a native of District 8, said raising cash has been an onerous process involving complicated workshops with the SF Ethics Commission.

 

“We didn’t know it would be this hard to get money,” Nulty said. “Literally, you have to pay for an accountant because you need somebody who knows and will stand beside you if you get audited.”

 

Davis attributed Wiener’s lopsided advantage to simply being in a position of power.

 

“He lined up the money,” Davis said. “He went through his list of contributors. They want influence and he has stacked up all the money.”

 

State law requires name, address, occupation and employer information for each campaign contributor. This has opened Wiener up to criticism by political opponents who charge that the bulk of his money comes from employees of the real estate, law and architectural sectors.

 

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, an online collective documenting dispossession in the Bay Area, is one of the detractors. Earlier in the campaign, the organization put out a data-visualization graphic showing 50 percent of Wiener’s contributions coming from individuals working in real estate, law, technology, architecture and interior design.

 

Of Wiener’s 850 individual contributors listed on the Ethics Commission website, many do actually work in these sectors. Wiener said that the Mapping Project’s allegation against him is still biased and misleading.

 

“Someone who does landscaping architecture would be included in all of that,” he said. “The anti-eviction mapping project is an organization with a very specific agenda as far as going after certain politicians and not scrutinizing other politicians.” He cited the absence on its website of District 9 Supervisor David Campos, who is currently running for state assembly, as an example of a candidate who has also received significant money from individuals working in the real estate industry.

 

“It’s not the case that my contributions are primarily from realtors and lawyers,” Wiener stated. “That’s false.”

 

There is a $500 limit on direct contributions to political candidates, according to the SF Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code. There is also a ban on direct corporate contributions, said San Francisco Ethics Commission Director John St. Croix, though this does not include sole proprietorships or LLCs.

 

However, an independent expenditure committee — for example, a political action committee that pools money together outside of the control of any candidate — has no financial contribution limit, St. Croix said. This is often referred to as “soft money.”

 

An example of soft money is when, in the 2010 election, San Francisco landlord Tom Coates gave $200,000 to an independent expenditure campaign dedicated to influencing leaders of numerous city districts, including Wiener’s District 8, to vote for killing rent control. Wiener insisted that accusations of him directly taking this money for his campaign were untrue. “I was a vocal opponent of Prop 98, which would have repealed rent control,” he stated.

 

Wiener currently has an $83,980 surplus in his campaign account. He said he expects the amount to shrink in the days leading up to the election, but with his sizeable lead over the competition, it’s likely most of it will still remain unspent. If reelected, Wiener said, he could still use that money for officer-holder duties, such as sponsoring a table at a non-profit event or funding a contingent at the SF Pride parade. Leftover campaign money, however, cannot be spent on personal items that do not relate to the office.

 

There are eleven members of the Board of Supervisors. Supervisors are currently paid $108,049 per year and serve four-year terms. The boundary of District 8 runs along Valencia Street, separating it from District 9.

 

Michael Petrelis did not respond to phone calls or emails for comment.

 

More:

 

District 8 Candidates Take Big Ideas into Election

 

 

•••••••••••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

 

 

Prop G Voices Loud on Both Sides

 

Real estate speculation at heart of issue

 

 

 

On November 4th, San Francisco residents will have the chance to fight against real estate speculators by slamming them with an anti-speculation tax imposed by Proposition G. The anti-speculation tax — which would be 24 percent of the sale price if resold within the first year of purchase and drop to 14 percent if resold within five years — was the among the final pieces of legislation that Supervisor Harvey Milk pushed before he was assassinated in 1978.

 

Proponents of Prop. G say that the measure is specifically targeted at serial evictors and bad actors. Prop. G establishes a surtax that only applies to corporations, LLCs and investors who buy and sell multi-unit apartment buildings in less than five years. These speculators often make large profits by paying all cash, evicting tenants, and building luxury condos.

 

“Prop. G will put a big damper on speculation in SF, the major force that is causing so many evictions, gentrification and so much displacement of communities of color, people with AIDS, seniors, immigrants, queers, disabled people, poor and working class people, etc. Speculation also jacks up our rents and makes our city unaffordable,” community housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca explained. “Prop. G is vital to fighting the evictions, gentrification and rising rents. “YES on G is Yes on the San Francisco we all love and don’t want to lose.”

 

The measure is a result of a coalition of tenant groups that put together the series of incredibly successful conventions earlier this year. Mecca opened one of these conventions by asking how many people in the crowd had been evicted, knew someone who had been evicted, or knew someone who had been priced out of San Francisco and forced to move out of the city. When nearly every person in the room raised their hand, the groups decided that the best way to stop evictions due to flipping houses would be to impose a high tax on landlords that want to resell their properties for profit. Politicians that back Prop. G include state Senators Mark Leno and Tom Ammiano and supervisors David Campos and David Chiu.

 

Sadly, San Francisco recently lost the man largely responsible for getting Prop. G on the ballot. San Francisco Tenants Union Executive Director Ted Gullicksen passed away unexpectedly last month. Gullicksen was a tremendous advocate that made it possible for thousands of San Francisco residents to remain in the city they loved by fighting for fairness and affordability. Gullicksen was honored by friends and Prop. G supporters on October 25th at the Turnout for Ted: Rally and Precinct Walk for Affordable Housing.

 

Opponents of the measure say that it won’t solve the housing crisis and offers no protection for seniors or families who have to sell their property because of hardship. They believe that making housing in San Francisco even more expensive is not the way to make housing in San Francisco more affordable. Supervisors Mark Farrell, Katy Tang and District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener are against Prop. G.

 

“Prop. G is well-intentioned, and we all want to put an end to the speculation that leads to flipping buildings and evicting tenants. Speculation is unacceptable,” Wiener stated. “Prop. G, however, goes well beyond speculation, and it will impose this massive tax – 24% of the sale price of the building (not the profit) – on people who aren’t speculators or evictors but who have to sell within 5 years for the many reasons people sometimes have to unexpectedly sell – job loss, divorce, family illness, etc.”

 

From a realtor’s perspective, the proposed tax is unjust and downright bad for business. Together the National and CA Associations of Realtors have donated over $1.2 million to the No on G campaign.

 

“If Prop. G passes I fear unintended consequences may emerge. The unintended consequence is the overall affordability of San Francisco’s housing market both in sales and rentals,” said local realtor Cherish McClure. McClure has clients in the Castro and in other neighborhoods that she feels may be wrongly affected by the effects of Prop. G.

 

San Francisco political analyst David C. Latterman is also against the housing tax. According to his opinion column on SFGate.com, a loophole in Prop. G creates an almost irresistible new incentive for owners to keep rental properties off the market. This will make finding affordable housing to rent or buy even harder. Prop. G fails to exempt the up to 50,000 single-family homes with secondary units, known as in-law units, which provide a lot of affordable housing. He thinks this measure gives new homeowners a powerful economic incentive to keep these units off the market to avoid paying a tax levied when a property transfers to a new owner. If Prop. G passes, owners of these secondary units can escape this punitive tax by taking them off the market.

 

While proponents of the measure believe that Prop. G is a simply a reintroduction of the late Supervisor Harvey Milk’s proposal, opponents argue that it strays from his vision.

 

“Harvey Milk proposed a much different speculator tax when he was in office,” Wiener said. “He proposed limiting the tax to the profit from the sale, not the entire sale price like Prop. G does. Milk’s measure applied to sales within 3 years, not 5 years. Milk’s measure exempted seniors. And, Milk’s measure applied to buildings 3 units and greater, unlike Prop. G which applies to 2 unit buildings, including single family homes with in-law units.”

 

Regardless of what Milk originally intended, Prop. G has made it’s way to the ballot as is. If passed, the consequences will be huge. The fate of the controversial measure will be determined shortly. What will you vote on Prop. G?

 

Senior Being Evicted Is Part of Larger Area Trend

 

State Senate Passes Leno Bill To Curb Ellis Act Eviction Epidemic

 

Legalizing illegal units may not fill gaps

 

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

 

Family Claims Renovations Exposed Children to Lead

 

Duboce Triangle case underscores City Attorney’s lawsuitLocal resident Mike Missiaen points to the section of his closet recently tested for lead by the SF Department of Health. Red means lead. Missiaen, a father of two, claims the contractor and crew doing work on the building were not using mandated lead containment procedures. He complained and things changed.

 

 

 

 

 

Only after filing a complaint with the city did San Francisco resident Mike Missiaen and his wife, Gina Faiola, discover their family was surrounded by lead-based paint.

 

The couple has lived in the same Duboce Triangle apartment for seven years and now has two children: five-year-old Enzo and five-month-old Victor. When the building changed hands in 2007, they signed a lease with new owner Siuling Kong that stated: “Owner has no knowledge of lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazard in the housing.”

 

The 12-unit building at 85 Henry Street is 114 years old, according to city records. In mid-July, renovations began on two units and continued into September with work on another unit by the building’s main entrance, all done with permits. But there was something that caught the couple’s attention.

 

“There was dust everywhere and it wasn’t being cleaned up,” Missiaen said. “That’s when we began to put two and two together and realized that there was no lead containment being done.”

 

As available rental stock remains in demand and a renovated one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco can go for more than $3,000 per month, fixing up an old building is a fast way for a property owner to capitalize on the upward trend. But there is a problem: the city can’t keep up with it all. Even though the renovation of old buildings requires special EPA safety precautions, such as contractor certification for the removal of materials with lead-based paint, the City has no real-time system to track this type of complicated work, even when it is the entity responsible for issuing building permits. It takes someone to speak up.

 

According to Mackenzie Calloway, a senior clerk with the S.F. Department of Building Inspection Services, 97 percent of his department’s knowledge of lead containment issues comes from phone calls or emails from concerned citizens.

 

“We depend almost entirely on complaints,” he said.

 

Calloway said an electrical or plumbing permit could only be obtained when a licensed contractor has been identified before the work begins. But the process for general building permits is more lax.

 

“Homeowners can pull it themselves,” he said.

 

The case of 85 Henry Street highlights a broad disconnect between obtaining a permit and doing the work legally. A lax permitting system only worsens the health risks lurking within the walls, as renovations done without properly sealing off construction space are anything but safe. Above, pictures of renovations done on 85 Henry St. during the summer.

Above, pictures of renovations done on 85 Henry St. during the summer. Below, pictures from October show changes to the work site after lead was discovered in the 114-year-old building. The city relies almost solely on complaints by residents for lead containment cases.

Lead, a neurological toxin especially dangerous to young children, was federally outlawed in paint in 1978. There are two types of lead-related building projects: lead abatement and lead containment. Abatement means eliminating the hazard from the building while containment involves sealing it off to prevent its spread during construction. Since 2010, anyone who performs renovations, repairs or painting in pre-1978 housing or child-occupied facilities must be EPA lead safe certified or risk fines of up to $37,500 per day.

 

In a city where almost 90 percent of the rental housing stock was built before 1979, according to the SF Apartment Association, the lack of record-keeping means that landlords of older buildings are being trusted, not mandated, to have a certified contractor to perform potentially hazardous work. The S.F. Department of Public Health has a lead prevention program, in which agents can halt a construction project if they find that children under the age of six years old are exposed to lead, but they, too, are only called to action by a residential complaint.

 

No records existed of lead being tested at 85 Henry Street. But, according to Matt Conens from the California Department of Public Health, state law maintains that “lead-safe work practices, including containment, be used when working on homes built before 1978, regardless of whether the property owner is aware of lead in or on the building.”

 

Similar cases currently exist in the city. On October 1, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against local developer Henry Karnilowicz, alleging unlawful business practices that include obtaining permits for work illegally performed by unlicensed contractors, exposing residents and workers to asbestos and lead, and defying multiple cleanup and abatement orders from the SFDPH.

 

“Whenever you have threats to public health and safety, there is a concern,” Herrera said.

 

The lawsuit names three properties but centers on one: 250 Kearny Street, located in the Financial District. In September 2011, SFDPH found that construction at the permitted work site had caused significant lead and asbestos contamination in common areas and issued an Emergency Cleanup and Abatement Order to Karnilowicz, as the contractor of record. He denied doing the work, however, claiming subcontractors had performed it and were therefore responsible.

 

Herrera said the case was unique because it involved a general contractor using a license to get permits but not actually doing the work. He said many cases are brought about because of inspections spurred by a complaint.

 

“Everybody has to be vigilant,” Herrera said. “If you have suspicions, you should report it.”

 

On September 17, Faiola filed a complaint with the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH). Four days later, environmental health technician Sarah Saavedra, from the SFDPH, arrived at the building to take paint chip and dust samples both in the couple’s unit and the building’s entryway. According to Missiaen, during the inspection she rubbed a white chemical swab against a chipped surface in his unit’s closet, which then turned red in color. Red means lead.

 

“It was sort of by accident that we found that the highest lead levels were actually inside our own apartment,” Missiaen said. “The worst part was the time between when we realized that there definitely was lead in the air, in the dust, and in our house, and when Enzo got his blood test.”

 

The blood test on his five-year-old son revealed a low but not dangerous level of lead, Missiaen said. He said his other infant son was too young for the same test. At that point, the fear was replaced by general and ongoing frustration.

 

Faiola took pictures of the construction process that show a door left completely off its hinges and an open trash container outside the building full of painted debris that she says had been thrown out the window by workers. Another shows white dust foot tracks along the carpeted staircase in the common area.

 

The building’s manager, Lan Le, stated that she is a real estate broker who represented the owner, Kong, during the purchase of the building and became manager after Kong’s husband passed away. She emphasized that she doesn’t oversee the renovations, though her name is listed as both “authorized agent” and “designer” on four out of five of the building’s permits on the Department of Building Inspection’s website. For the contractor, it simply lists “owner.”

 

“I am not aware the Dept. of Public Health has inspected the units in the building and found the presence of lead. We have a licensed, EPA lead certified contractor and will be continuing renovations,” Le wrote in an email.

 

On Oct. 11, Lan Le sent a copy of the contractor’s lead-based paint certification card to Missiaen. The five-year license for Tonny Yee, of City Builder Company, expires on September 24, 2019, suggesting that it was issued in September of this year — about three months after construction on the units had actually begun. The certification can be completed in a one-day course.

 

Yee could not be reached for comment.

 

Since mid-October, the situation has improved on all sides. In late October, the Department of Public Health got back to the couple with a report about the lead found in their unit and has since required the landlord to hire certified painters to repaint it. What’s more, the contractors have resumed work on the other units and are now following lead containment procedures, according to Missiaen. He took pictures of the new signs with the bold heading “Lead Work in Progress” and of the meticulously taped plastic around the doorways of units under construction, a telltale sign of lead containment that had been missing in the construction over the summer.

 

“Again, this is only because we noticed and complained,” he said.

 

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

 

Lesbian Comedian Stirs The Pot

 

 

 

 

Cameron Esposito has been winning the praise of reviewers from coast to coast while touring on her album, Same Sex Symbol. Her next stop is San Francisco, where she will be appearing at The Independent on November 2nd. Cameron is touring with her fiancee, Rhea Butcher, who will be opening on the night.

 

Wendy:

 

Congratulations on your new album, Same Sex Symbol. This time out you’ve been touring with your fiancee, Rhea Butcher, who has been opening for you. How has your tour been going thus far?

 

Cameron:

 

It’s actually been amazing, which is not always true for standups. You learn to play basements or venues where you show up and there’s no seats or microphone, but this one has been rad. The album got this really big response. We have a number one on iTunes and a number three on Billboard, and crazy things that I really hoped for but that I didn’t predict. Rhea and I went to New York; I always love performing in New York, and that was Rhea’s first time doing shows there. Also we had performed in Rhea’s hometown of Akron and my hometown of Chicago, and now we’re driving a couple hours north and [doing] a show at The Independent.

 

Wendy:

 

Have you been to The Independent?

 

Cameron:

 

I haven’t been there.

 

Wendy:

 

It’s a great venue. They’re such pros; they make everything so easy; the sound system’s so good, and the space is great, all clean sight lines, plus it’s a cool neighborhood.

 

Cameron:

 

That’s awesome. I have been looking specifically at rock [clubs] for this tour and it’s been very fun to do that because it turns out that [for] people that are used to dealing with bands, standup comics are really easy. As opposed to being demanding I’m like, “Hey, could you just make sure I have a stool?”

 

Wendy:

 

As you said earlier you went to number one on itunes; you’ve been getting wonderful reviews everywhere you go, with major press. You’ve been doing television: Craig Ferguson, Conan O’Brien, but aside from your appearances with them, you’ve been doing shows for a long time that you host, like Wham Bam Pow. I’d love to hear about what it’s been like for you performing on those TV shows, and also to hear about the projects that you’re involved with down in LA.

 

Cameron:

 

One thing that’s really true is that your time on television or doing those types of spots, that’s like the Olympic race. Standup is mostly about the training. The training is all the other shows that you do that lead you to have that well honed four minutes that can work on television for a wide audience where you say all the words you mean to say, but I love live performance. It’s always been important to me to keep that focus going and there’s a show that I run here in Los Angeles that is called Put Your Hands Together. We put the show on as a podcast, unedited, except that we’ll take people’s sets out who are working on something for television or who are working on an album and they don’t want their material there, but otherwise it’s a 75-minute standup show that we put out into the world. It is unique in that we’re in LA so we can get really great talent, and also we keep the sets very short; it’s just seven minutes a comic. When we started we weren’t sure if people would feel comfortable having their material on a podcast, but it turns out [that] knowing these comics, having personal relationships with them - Rhea works on the show, I work on the show, Brian McMenamin [is the] emcee, they trust us. We’re taking care of their material; we’re not exploiting it; we’re not selling it. We’re trying to give people that live in like, Kansas City the opportunity to hear a bunch of standup comics in one sitting, because oftentimes if you’re in a smaller market you might only get one headliner at a time or maybe you only get one comic you really love once a year. When I travel people talk to me about that show a lot. People [also] talk to me about Wham Bam Pow, which is my action and scifi movie podcast. The other thing that I’m working on right now that I’m really excited about that’s not of the entertainment industry, is I have a column that I write for the A.V. Club. It’s about my work as a standup, the personal reasoning behind my responses to things that come up at work. I never would have thought that I would be a writer, outside of jokes, but it’s been one of the more rewarding things that I’ve done. What I love about live performance is that you adjust in the moment and you live in the room, and then the performance goes away. That’s amazing to share that moment with people, and the opposite side of that is to be able to create something that can live after you’re done.

 

Wendy:

 

It sounds like you’re part of a great community of comics in LA.

 

Cameron:

 

LA gets such a bad rap. One thing that’s true about LA is that everybody that is here really wants to be here, everybody who wants to do this job anyway. They understand how much you’re giving up to be here. Most people didn’t grow up here; most people are away from their friends or their families. They’ve had to adjust to a pretty brutal industry; it’s definitely an industry of choice but there’s a lot of rejection, and there’s also a lot of opportunity. One thing that’s really amazing about LA is that people are lovely generally, especially in the comedy community. And if somebody hates you, you just don’t see each other.

 

Wendy:

 

Also speaking of community, you grew up pretty much removed from the gay community until college, without too many gay role models. Do you see what you do as being something of a role model for people who are in the same situation that you were in as a kid, or as being someone that they can listen to and relate to?

 

Cameron:

 

Yeah, 100 percent. I don’t think of it in a “I’m very self-important” [way]. It’s just the fact that I exist and I’m trying to do a good job with my life and I’m trying to be happy and I’m trying to be a good person. An example of a gay person is not something that I grew up with and so, I’m happy to just be not exemplary, but an example. I’m not a perfect person but I exist and I have a dog, and a fiancee, and I live in an apartment, and I have a life, and I’m a real person. I am so happy to be able to do that. That’s one reason why my material tends to be so personal, [it] is because I want to be real for the social activism side of comedy. I know there’s people in the audience who’ve never seen a gay person before that was just living an ok life, and they might be straight and they might be gay.

 

Wendy:

 

I recently saw a photo of you wearing the same lightning bolt make up as on David Bowie’s Alladin Sane album cover. What’s your connection to Bowie?

 

Cameron:

 

It kind of goes back to the title of the album. I think of David Bowie as somebody who stretched the bounds of what it is to be sexy, like, “I am a man and I am wearing lipstick, which is really sexy,” and you know what? Nobody disagreed with him. I think that something that has happened to gay people, and especially lesbians, is that we’ve kind of been unsexed. In moving toward equality the first thing that you have to do is be like, “We’re just like you.” And to have Ellen {Degeneras) talking about her sexuality while seeming to be this kind of everywoman - it’s amazing that’ she’s a CoverGirl spokesperson, but I don’t know that many people would say that she exudes sexuality. I just think that another possibility is that you can be a gay person and actually be sexy. I don’t think that you have to play it down to make other people comfortable. I think that’s the next level of being happy about being gay. First it’s, “We’re just like you”, and then it’s, “Actually we’re not just like you. We’re into each other and that’s fine; gay people are just trying to look hot for other gay people and you should be ok with that.” You know, just always gotta kick down that next door.

 

Cameron Esposito on the Late Late Night Show

 

 

 

Photo: Mandee Johnson

 

Photos by Ted Anderson

 

© Castro Courier 2014 No part of this website or artwork portrayed may be redistributed or republished without the express permission of the Castro Courier. Opinions expressed are strictly those of the writers and do not reflect the opinions of the publisher or staff.

 

 

NOVEMBER ISSUE

​Supervisor Scott Wiener addresses a crowd during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 30 in the Castro. The event marked the long-awaited completion of the The Castro Street Improvement Project.

Streets Paved with Rainbows

 

Ribbon Cut for Neighborhood Improvements

 

 

The wait is finally over as the Castro proper finally revealed its brand new streets that come at the tail-end of the Castro Street Improvement Project. These changes will help to make the Castro even more of a destination than it was before, and will add to attractions such as the historic Castro Theatre, Harvey Milk memorials, and the hope of catching a glimpse of the cast of Looking.

 

Although the project was delayed slightly to allow the neighborhood tradition of the Castro Street Fair, on Thursday October 30th, the ribbon was finally cut on the project. The city and the surrounding neighborhood can breathe both a sigh of a relief and a yelp of excitement.

 

The new streets will feature the popular rainbow crosswalks, Castro history facts, and new sidewalks that will give the neighborhood’s shoppers and tourists plenty of wiggle room to enjoy what the streets have to offer.

 

Although the construction has been what some might call less than popular during its construction — prohibiting sales at local businesses and discouraging foot traffic on the most popular and famous thoroughfare of the district — local business owners are excited about the increased visits that the new streets are expected bring to the area. Although Halloween sales opportunities were unfortunately missed, the streets will be ready for the holidays, whether that means shoppers, carollers, vacationers, or those going to see their favorite Christmas classics at the Castro Theatre.

 

The event, a party as well as a ceremony, was attended by many, both local denizens as well as some of our corner’s famous friends. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were on hand to bless the new streets (always good to keep it ‘sacred’) as well as some speeches by some of the Department of Public Works figureheads that helped to make this all happen. The crowd was peopled by LGBT folk in leopard ponchos, shiny disco pants and some in nothing at all, as well as older couples in fleeces and parents dancing with their young children. The official ribbon was cut by Supervisor Scott Wiener.

 

Entertainment was there too, in the form of DJ Liam Shy, the SF Gay Men’s Chorus (a local favorite) and local-to-the-Castro acts like Gypsy Love and singer-songwriter Matt Albert. The tunes were electro-heavy with a number of tributes to the funk and disco sounds that helped to make the Castro such an important place to so many back in the 70s and 80s.

 

The ribbon that was ceremonially cut was also specially designed by Gilbert Baker, designer of the rainbow pride flag. Although it took some size for the sizable barrier to be snipped, when it finally separated it was to loud cheers from the crowd that had amassed.

 

While finishing touches are yet to be completed on the project, the party went on, at least for this night. Although the sidewalks are mostly complete and the rainbow crosswalks at 18th and Castro are bright and bold, the project will not be completed until roughly Thanksgiving time.

 

Although the party may now be over, the Castro has shown us one thing over the years — and will continue to show us for years to come — the Castro is always a celebration, whether there is a ribbon to be cut or not. And now, with these new additions to the streets which are as vibrant as the community itself, the corner looks as important as it is in the hearts of its local community and in the hearts of LGBT communities all around the world.

 

LGBT Walk of Fame Hits the Street

 

Photo: Deana Mitchell

 

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

 

 

The Giants Win!

 

 

Oct 29, 2014

 

 

At Hi Tops in the Castro

 

Photos Bill Sywak

 

 

 

 

The Mission

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

 

 

Soccer Field Scuffle Turns Attention to “Pay-to-Play”

 

 

The viral video footage of a standoff at Mission Playground soccer field between neighborhood kids and Dropbox employees has underscored the escalating tensions surrounding the gentrification of the Mission and has fueled debate over the SF Rec and Park’s “pay-to-play” reservation policy, which allows for public fields to be rented privately.

 

The youth in the Youtube video joined forces with the Latino Democratic Club in October to protest the policy at City Hall. The highly charged controversy had already led Director of Parks and Rec’s Phil Ginsberg to retreat on the issue, by making the park unavailable for adult permits. Ginsberg also folded to their request to make Sunday nights available for play, whereas previously it had been closed.

 

The video caught one of what the youth claimed were many escalating incidents during which they’d been kicked off the field, which is located on Valencia Street between 19th and 20th. In this case, it was by Dropbox and Airbnb employees, who responded to the brief youth resistance by producing a $27 rental permit for two hours of field use.

 

“How long have you lived here?” asks one of the kids in the video, to which a guy with a Dropbox T-shirt on argues “Over a year.” The video spawned particularly harsh criticism of the adults because of a comment made by an Airbnb employee. After the kids explained that they’d been playing there for years, he says, “Who cares about the neighborhood?”

 

The now debunked policy at Mission Playground had allowed for both youth and adult league teams to rent out the field, while only the adult teams had to pay. Two slots were available for adult league play – Tuesday and Thursday nights from 7 until 9 p.m. While 96 percent of the time it was still available for drop-in-play, the permitting system still blocked kids from enjoying playing hours.

 

Mynor Lopez, who plays soccer here three times a week, says he has noticed the repeated tensions surrounding these evening slots and doesn’t think it’s fair. “Everyone should be able to enjoy the pitch,” he said. “The younger people need to play too.”

 

Traditionally, the formerly asphalt covered soccer pitch had been a place where anyone could play according to a free rotation system. Many kids had been playing on the pitch their entire lives.

 

Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose district the field falls in, noted in a statement that Rec and Parks tried to strike a balance, at least “on paper,” between unstructured play time and reserved league play. Like Connie Chan, director of Public Affairs for Rec and Park, Wiener noted the scarcity of public play space in a city with increasing demand for it.

 

“But the real world is more complicated,” he acknowledged. He also stated that while he did not agree that fields should never be available for private rental, that it was unclear as to whether or not the adults in the video were even part of a structured league.

 

“The question becomes whether soccer league time should exist, when it should happen, what constitutes a league, and how best to have clear and transparent information for the community,” he said.

 

The policy came into place with the renovation of Mission Playground in 2012. The renovations included transforming the cracked and pitted asphalt into synthetic turf and installing lights, which extended playtime hours.

 

This is not the first in incident in which locals who had played on this turf for years fought back against the new policy. Just weeks after the field’s re-opening ceremony, then 35-year-old Jaime Elias submitted a petition to Supervisor Wiener regarding the new policy. As reported in October 2012 in Mission Local, Elias filed the complaint because he was surprised to find the park unavailable to the public on Tuesday nights from 7-9 p.m. It was being used by an organization called SF Pickup Soccer, which charged players between $5 and $10 per game.

 

Regarding the current controversy, Director Ginsberg issued a statement that mentioned three “well-attended” community meetings were held in June and July of 2009 during which time the park renovation was discussed. According to Ginsberg, the new reservation policy was “based on community input and recommendations from pick-up soccer players.”

 

However, documentation of a meeting flyer sent out as part of the community outreach makes no mention of a reservation policy as an agenda item. As noted by Ginsberg, the meeting was about the park renovation and invited the community to participate in discussing the restoration and park design.

 

The Mission Playground Soccer pitch isn’t the only public field or recreation space available for private use within the city. Nearly every neighborhood has a baseball diamond, a basketball court, or a soccer field that is available to rent.

 

The Castro’s own Eureka Valley Recreation Center (EVRC) sparked criticism against Ginsberg in 2011. Local activist group QUEEN (Queers for Economic Equality Now) protested against changes in the center scheduling, which they claimed prioritized fee-based classes like Zumba and Karate over free programming and drop-in hours for transitional queer youth, as reported in The Bay Area Reporter in April 2011. According to the current EVRC schedule, there are open-play hours available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

 

Not everyone agrees that the pay-to-play system is unfair.

 

“Rec and Park’s reservation process has created a more egalitarian system,” said Christopher Faust, with Friends of the Noe Valley Recreation Center. Faust found that even as a resident of Noe Valley, the Rec Center gym was unavailable to him for many years.

 

He says that before the reservation system began, the center was managed by on-site directors who played favorites and prioritized use of facilities for select churches and schools.

 

“Our concern is that the reservation system will be dismantled to revert to the entitlement system of the past,” he said.

 

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

Wiener Amasses Huge War Chest

 

Incumbent leads challengers by 250K

 

 

With just days remaining before the November 4 elections, the race for the Castro’s top politician has become a financial runaway.

 

Four candidates for District 8 supervisor are currently vying to unseat incumbent Scott Wiener, but the story of campaign contributions remains very one-sided. Wiener has raised $258,545, while Michael Petrelis, currently in second place, has only $2,931, according to data from the San Francisco Ethics Commission. In third place, John Nulty has $2,114, while both George Davis and Tom Basso show zero balances on the commission’s website.

 

Wiener, who employs a campaign manager and an accountant but does not have a paid fundraiser, attributes his campaign’s financial success to a broad support base from inside the district, something he says he has cultivated through years working within the community.

 

“I started raising money a year ago. At that time I had no idea if I was going to have one opponent or ten, if they would be strong opponents or weak opponents,” he said. “Since I began my campaign, I’ve had dozens of house parties, largely hosted by residents of the district. People have donated at those house parties after hearing what I had to say.”

 

Nulty, a native of District 8, said raising cash has been an onerous process involving complicated workshops with the SF Ethics Commission.

 

“We didn’t know it would be this hard to get money,” Nulty said. “Literally, you have to pay for an accountant because you need somebody who knows and will stand beside you if you get audited.”

 

Davis attributed Wiener’s lopsided advantage to simply being in a position of power.

 

“He lined up the money,” Davis said. “He went through his list of contributors. They want influence and he has stacked up all the money.”

 

State law requires name, address, occupation and employer information for each campaign contributor. This has opened Wiener up to criticism by political opponents who charge that the bulk of his money comes from employees of the real estate, law and architectural sectors.

 

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, an online collective documenting dispossession in the Bay Area, is one of the detractors. Earlier in the campaign, the organization put out a data-visualization graphic showing 50 percent of Wiener’s contributions coming from individuals working in real estate, law, technology, architecture and interior design.

 

Of Wiener’s 850 individual contributors listed on the Ethics Commission website, many do actually work in these sectors. Wiener said that the Mapping Project’s allegation against him is still biased and misleading.

 

“Someone who does landscaping architecture would be included in all of that,” he said. “The anti-eviction mapping project is an organization with a very specific agenda as far as going after certain politicians and not scrutinizing other politicians.” He cited the absence on its website of District 9 Supervisor David Campos, who is currently running for state assembly, as an example of a candidate who has also received significant money from individuals working in the real estate industry.

 

“It’s not the case that my contributions are primarily from realtors and lawyers,” Wiener stated. “That’s false.”

 

There is a $500 limit on direct contributions to political candidates, according to the SF Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code. There is also a ban on direct corporate contributions, said San Francisco Ethics Commission Director John St. Croix, though this does not include sole proprietorships or LLCs.

 

However, an independent expenditure committee — for example, a political action committee that pools money together outside of the control of any candidate — has no financial contribution limit, St. Croix said. This is often referred to as “soft money.”

 

An example of soft money is when, in the 2010 election, San Francisco landlord Tom Coates gave $200,000 to an independent expenditure campaign dedicated to influencing leaders of numerous city districts, including Wiener’s District 8, to vote for killing rent control. Wiener insisted that accusations of him directly taking this money for his campaign were untrue. “I was a vocal opponent of Prop 98, which would have repealed rent control,” he stated.

 

Wiener currently has an $83,980 surplus in his campaign account. He said he expects the amount to shrink in the days leading up to the election, but with his sizeable lead over the competition, it’s likely most of it will still remain unspent. If reelected, Wiener said, he could still use that money for officer-holder duties, such as sponsoring a table at a non-profit event or funding a contingent at the SF Pride parade. Leftover campaign money, however, cannot be spent on personal items that do not relate to the office.

 

There are eleven members of the Board of Supervisors. Supervisors are currently paid $108,049 per year and serve four-year terms. The boundary of District 8 runs along Valencia Street, separating it from District 9.

 

Michael Petrelis did not respond to phone calls or emails for comment.

 

More:

 

District 8 Candidates Take Big Ideas into Election

 

 

•••••••••••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

 

 

Prop G Voices Loud on Both Sides

 

Real estate speculation at heart of issue

 

 

 

On November 4th, San Francisco residents will have the chance to fight against real estate speculators by slamming them with an anti-speculation tax imposed by Proposition G. The anti-speculation tax — which would be 24 percent of the sale price if resold within the first year of purchase and drop to 14 percent if resold within five years — was the among the final pieces of legislation that Supervisor Harvey Milk pushed before he was assassinated in 1978.

 

Proponents of Prop. G say that the measure is specifically targeted at serial evictors and bad actors. Prop. G establishes a surtax that only applies to corporations, LLCs and investors who buy and sell multi-unit apartment buildings in less than five years. These speculators often make large profits by paying all cash, evicting tenants, and building luxury condos.

 

“Prop. G will put a big damper on speculation in SF, the major force that is causing so many evictions, gentrification and so much displacement of communities of color, people with AIDS, seniors, immigrants, queers, disabled people, poor and working class people, etc. Speculation also jacks up our rents and makes our city unaffordable,” community housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca explained. “Prop. G is vital to fighting the evictions, gentrification and rising rents. “YES on G is Yes on the San Francisco we all love and don’t want to lose.”

 

The measure is a result of a coalition of tenant groups that put together the series of incredibly successful conventions earlier this year. Mecca opened one of these conventions by asking how many people in the crowd had been evicted, knew someone who had been evicted, or knew someone who had been priced out of San Francisco and forced to move out of the city. When nearly every person in the room raised their hand, the groups decided that the best way to stop evictions due to flipping houses would be to impose a high tax on landlords that want to resell their properties for profit. Politicians that back Prop. G include state Senators Mark Leno and Tom Ammiano and supervisors David Campos and David Chiu.

 

Sadly, San Francisco recently lost the man largely responsible for getting Prop. G on the ballot. San Francisco Tenants Union Executive Director Ted Gullicksen passed away unexpectedly last month. Gullicksen was a tremendous advocate that made it possible for thousands of San Francisco residents to remain in the city they loved by fighting for fairness and affordability. Gullicksen was honored by friends and Prop. G supporters on October 25th at the Turnout for Ted: Rally and Precinct Walk for Affordable Housing.

 

Opponents of the measure say that it won’t solve the housing crisis and offers no protection for seniors or families who have to sell their property because of hardship. They believe that making housing in San Francisco even more expensive is not the way to make housing in San Francisco more affordable. Supervisors Mark Farrell, Katy Tang and District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener are against Prop. G.

 

“Prop. G is well-intentioned, and we all want to put an end to the speculation that leads to flipping buildings and evicting tenants. Speculation is unacceptable,” Wiener stated. “Prop. G, however, goes well beyond speculation, and it will impose this massive tax – 24% of the sale price of the building (not the profit) – on people who aren’t speculators or evictors but who have to sell within 5 years for the many reasons people sometimes have to unexpectedly sell – job loss, divorce, family illness, etc.”

 

From a realtor’s perspective, the proposed tax is unjust and downright bad for business. Together the National and CA Associations of Realtors have donated over $1.2 million to the No on G campaign.

 

“If Prop. G passes I fear unintended consequences may emerge. The unintended consequence is the overall affordability of San Francisco’s housing market both in sales and rentals,” said local realtor Cherish McClure. McClure has clients in the Castro and in other neighborhoods that she feels may be wrongly affected by the effects of Prop. G.

 

San Francisco political analyst David C. Latterman is also against the housing tax. According to his opinion column on SFGate.com, a loophole in Prop. G creates an almost irresistible new incentive for owners to keep rental properties off the market. This will make finding affordable housing to rent or buy even harder. Prop. G fails to exempt the up to 50,000 single-family homes with secondary units, known as in-law units, which provide a lot of affordable housing. He thinks this measure gives new homeowners a powerful economic incentive to keep these units off the market to avoid paying a tax levied when a property transfers to a new owner. If Prop. G passes, owners of these secondary units can escape this punitive tax by taking them off the market.

 

While proponents of the measure believe that Prop. G is a simply a reintroduction of the late Supervisor Harvey Milk’s proposal, opponents argue that it strays from his vision.

 

“Harvey Milk proposed a much different speculator tax when he was in office,” Wiener said. “He proposed limiting the tax to the profit from the sale, not the entire sale price like Prop. G does. Milk’s measure applied to sales within 3 years, not 5 years. Milk’s measure exempted seniors. And, Milk’s measure applied to buildings 3 units and greater, unlike Prop. G which applies to 2 unit buildings, including single family homes with in-law units.”

 

Regardless of what Milk originally intended, Prop. G has made it’s way to the ballot as is. If passed, the consequences will be huge. The fate of the controversial measure will be determined shortly. What will you vote on Prop. G?

 

Senior Being Evicted Is Part of Larger Area Trend

 

State Senate Passes Leno Bill To Curb Ellis Act Eviction Epidemic

 

Legalizing illegal units may not fill gaps

 

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

 

Family Claims Renovations Exposed Children to Lead

 

Duboce Triangle case underscores City Attorney’s lawsuitLocal resident Mike Missiaen points to the section of his closet recently tested for lead by the SF Department of Health. Red means lead. Missiaen, a father of two, claims the contractor and crew doing work on the building were not using mandated lead containment procedures. He complained and things changed.

 

 

 

 

 

Only after filing a complaint with the city did San Francisco resident Mike Missiaen and his wife, Gina Faiola, discover their family was surrounded by lead-based paint.

 

The couple has lived in the same Duboce Triangle apartment for seven years and now has two children: five-year-old Enzo and five-month-old Victor. When the building changed hands in 2007, they signed a lease with new owner Siuling Kong that stated: “Owner has no knowledge of lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazard in the housing.”

 

The 12-unit building at 85 Henry Street is 114 years old, according to city records. In mid-July, renovations began on two units and continued into September with work on another unit by the building’s main entrance, all done with permits. But there was something that caught the couple’s attention.

 

“There was dust everywhere and it wasn’t being cleaned up,” Missiaen said. “That’s when we began to put two and two together and realized that there was no lead containment being done.”

 

As available rental stock remains in demand and a renovated one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco can go for more than $3,000 per month, fixing up an old building is a fast way for a property owner to capitalize on the upward trend. But there is a problem: the city can’t keep up with it all. Even though the renovation of old buildings requires special EPA safety precautions, such as contractor certification for the removal of materials with lead-based paint, the City has no real-time system to track this type of complicated work, even when it is the entity responsible for issuing building permits. It takes someone to speak up.

 

According to Mackenzie Calloway, a senior clerk with the S.F. Department of Building Inspection Services, 97 percent of his department’s knowledge of lead containment issues comes from phone calls or emails from concerned citizens.

 

“We depend almost entirely on complaints,” he said.

 

Calloway said an electrical or plumbing permit could only be obtained when a licensed contractor has been identified before the work begins. But the process for general building permits is more lax.

 

“Homeowners can pull it themselves,” he said.

 

The case of 85 Henry Street highlights a broad disconnect between obtaining a permit and doing the work legally. A lax permitting system only worsens the health risks lurking within the walls, as renovations done without properly sealing off construction space are anything but safe. Above, pictures of renovations done on 85 Henry St. during the summer.

Above, pictures of renovations done on 85 Henry St. during the summer. Below, pictures from October show changes to the work site after lead was discovered in the 114-year-old building. The city relies almost solely on complaints by residents for lead containment cases.

Lead, a neurological toxin especially dangerous to young children, was federally outlawed in paint in 1978. There are two types of lead-related building projects: lead abatement and lead containment. Abatement means eliminating the hazard from the building while containment involves sealing it off to prevent its spread during construction. Since 2010, anyone who performs renovations, repairs or painting in pre-1978 housing or child-occupied facilities must be EPA lead safe certified or risk fines of up to $37,500 per day.

 

In a city where almost 90 percent of the rental housing stock was built before 1979, according to the SF Apartment Association, the lack of record-keeping means that landlords of older buildings are being trusted, not mandated, to have a certified contractor to perform potentially hazardous work. The S.F. Department of Public Health has a lead prevention program, in which agents can halt a construction project if they find that children under the age of six years old are exposed to lead, but they, too, are only called to action by a residential complaint.

 

No records existed of lead being tested at 85 Henry Street. But, according to Matt Conens from the California Department of Public Health, state law maintains that “lead-safe work practices, including containment, be used when working on homes built before 1978, regardless of whether the property owner is aware of lead in or on the building.”

 

Similar cases currently exist in the city. On October 1, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against local developer Henry Karnilowicz, alleging unlawful business practices that include obtaining permits for work illegally performed by unlicensed contractors, exposing residents and workers to asbestos and lead, and defying multiple cleanup and abatement orders from the SFDPH.

 

“Whenever you have threats to public health and safety, there is a concern,” Herrera said.

 

The lawsuit names three properties but centers on one: 250 Kearny Street, located in the Financial District. In September 2011, SFDPH found that construction at the permitted work site had caused significant lead and asbestos contamination in common areas and issued an Emergency Cleanup and Abatement Order to Karnilowicz, as the contractor of record. He denied doing the work, however, claiming subcontractors had performed it and were therefore responsible.

 

Herrera said the case was unique because it involved a general contractor using a license to get permits but not actually doing the work. He said many cases are brought about because of inspections spurred by a complaint.

 

“Everybody has to be vigilant,” Herrera said. “If you have suspicions, you should report it.”

 

On September 17, Faiola filed a complaint with the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH). Four days later, environmental health technician Sarah Saavedra, from the SFDPH, arrived at the building to take paint chip and dust samples both in the couple’s unit and the building’s entryway. According to Missiaen, during the inspection she rubbed a white chemical swab against a chipped surface in his unit’s closet, which then turned red in color. Red means lead.

 

“It was sort of by accident that we found that the highest lead levels were actually inside our own apartment,” Missiaen said. “The worst part was the time between when we realized that there definitely was lead in the air, in the dust, and in our house, and when Enzo got his blood test.”

 

The blood test on his five-year-old son revealed a low but not dangerous level of lead, Missiaen said. He said his other infant son was too young for the same test. At that point, the fear was replaced by general and ongoing frustration.

 

Faiola took pictures of the construction process that show a door left completely off its hinges and an open trash container outside the building full of painted debris that she says had been thrown out the window by workers. Another shows white dust foot tracks along the carpeted staircase in the common area.

 

The building’s manager, Lan Le, stated that she is a real estate broker who represented the owner, Kong, during the purchase of the building and became manager after Kong’s husband passed away. She emphasized that she doesn’t oversee the renovations, though her name is listed as both “authorized agent” and “designer” on four out of five of the building’s permits on the Department of Building Inspection’s website. For the contractor, it simply lists “owner.”

 

“I am not aware the Dept. of Public Health has inspected the units in the building and found the presence of lead. We have a licensed, EPA lead certified contractor and will be continuing renovations,” Le wrote in an email.

 

On Oct. 11, Lan Le sent a copy of the contractor’s lead-based paint certification card to Missiaen. The five-year license for Tonny Yee, of City Builder Company, expires on September 24, 2019, suggesting that it was issued in September of this year — about three months after construction on the units had actually begun. The certification can be completed in a one-day course.

 

Yee could not be reached for comment.

 

Since mid-October, the situation has improved on all sides. In late October, the Department of Public Health got back to the couple with a report about the lead found in their unit and has since required the landlord to hire certified painters to repaint it. What’s more, the contractors have resumed work on the other units and are now following lead containment procedures, according to Missiaen. He took pictures of the new signs with the bold heading “Lead Work in Progress” and of the meticulously taped plastic around the doorways of units under construction, a telltale sign of lead containment that had been missing in the construction over the summer.

 

“Again, this is only because we noticed and complained,” he said.

 

 

 

••••• ALSO IN THIS ISSUE •••••

 

 

Lesbian Comedian Stirs The Pot

 

 

 

 

Cameron Esposito has been winning the praise of reviewers from coast to coast while touring on her album, Same Sex Symbol. Her next stop is San Francisco, where she will be appearing at The Independent on November 2nd. Cameron is touring with her fiancee, Rhea Butcher, who will be opening on the night.

 

Wendy:

 

Congratulations on your new album, Same Sex Symbol. This time out you’ve been touring with your fiancee, Rhea Butcher, who has been opening for you. How has your tour been going thus far?

 

Cameron:

 

It’s actually been amazing, which is not always true for standups. You learn to play basements or venues where you show up and there’s no seats or microphone, but this one has been rad. The album got this really big response. We have a number one on iTunes and a number three on Billboard, and crazy things that I really hoped for but that I didn’t predict. Rhea and I went to New York; I always love performing in New York, and that was Rhea’s first time doing shows there. Also we had performed in Rhea’s hometown of Akron and my hometown of Chicago, and now we’re driving a couple hours north and [doing] a show at The Independent.

 

Wendy:

 

Have you been to The Independent?

 

Cameron:

 

I haven’t been there.

 

Wendy:

 

It’s a great venue. They’re such pros; they make everything so easy; the sound system’s so good, and the space is great, all clean sight lines, plus it’s a cool neighborhood.

 

Cameron:

 

That’s awesome. I have been looking specifically at rock [clubs] for this tour and it’s been very fun to do that because it turns out that [for] people that are used to dealing with bands, standup comics are really easy. As opposed to being demanding I’m like, “Hey, could you just make sure I have a stool?”

 

Wendy:

 

As you said earlier you went to number one on itunes; you’ve been getting wonderful reviews everywhere you go, with major press. You’ve been doing television: Craig Ferguson, Conan O’Brien, but aside from your appearances with them, you’ve been doing shows for a long time that you host, like Wham Bam Pow. I’d love to hear about what it’s been like for you performing on those TV shows, and also to hear about the projects that you’re involved with down in LA.

 

Cameron:

 

One thing that’s really true is that your time on television or doing those types of spots, that’s like the Olympic race. Standup is mostly about the training. The training is all the other shows that you do that lead you to have that well honed four minutes that can work on television for a wide audience where you say all the words you mean to say, but I love live performance. It’s always been important to me to keep that focus going and there’s a show that I run here in Los Angeles that is called Put Your Hands Together. We put the show on as a podcast, unedited, except that we’ll take people’s sets out who are working on something for television or who are working on an album and they don’t want their material there, but otherwise it’s a 75-minute standup show that we put out into the world. It is unique in that we’re in LA so we can get really great talent, and also we keep the sets very short; it’s just seven minutes a comic. When we started we weren’t sure if people would feel comfortable having their material on a podcast, but it turns out [that] knowing these comics, having personal relationships with them - Rhea works on the show, I work on the show, Brian McMenamin [is the] emcee, they trust us. We’re taking care of their material; we’re not exploiting it; we’re not selling it. We’re trying to give people that live in like, Kansas City the opportunity to hear a bunch of standup comics in one sitting, because oftentimes if you’re in a smaller market you might only get one headliner at a time or maybe you only get one comic you really love once a year. When I travel people talk to me about that show a lot. People [also] talk to me about Wham Bam Pow, which is my action and scifi movie podcast. The other thing that I’m working on right now that I’m really excited about that’s not of the entertainment industry, is I have a column that I write for the A.V. Club. It’s about my work as a standup, the personal reasoning behind my responses to things that come up at work. I never would have thought that I would be a writer, outside of jokes, but it’s been one of the more rewarding things that I’ve done. What I love about live performance is that you adjust in the moment and you live in the room, and then the performance goes away. That’s amazing to share that moment with people, and the opposite side of that is to be able to create something that can live after you’re done.

 

Wendy:

 

It sounds like you’re part of a great community of comics in LA.

 

Cameron:

 

LA gets such a bad rap. One thing that’s true about LA is that everybody that is here really wants to be here, everybody who wants to do this job anyway. They understand how much you’re giving up to be here. Most people didn’t grow up here; most people are away from their friends or their families. They’ve had to adjust to a pretty brutal industry; it’s definitely an industry of choice but there’s a lot of rejection, and there’s also a lot of opportunity. One thing that’s really amazing about LA is that people are lovely generally, especially in the comedy community. And if somebody hates you, you just don’t see each other.

 

Wendy:

 

Also speaking of community, you grew up pretty much removed from the gay community until college, without too many gay role models. Do you see what you do as being something of a role model for people who are in the same situation that you were in as a kid, or as being someone that they can listen to and relate to?

 

Cameron:

 

Yeah, 100 percent. I don’t think of it in a “I’m very self-important” [way]. It’s just the fact that I exist and I’m trying to do a good job with my life and I’m trying to be happy and I’m trying to be a good person. An example of a gay person is not something that I grew up with and so, I’m happy to just be not exemplary, but an example. I’m not a perfect person but I exist and I have a dog, and a fiancee, and I live in an apartment, and I have a life, and I’m a real person. I am so happy to be able to do that. That’s one reason why my material tends to be so personal, [it] is because I want to be real for the social activism side of comedy. I know there’s people in the audience who’ve never seen a gay person before that was just living an ok life, and they might be straight and they might be gay.

 

Wendy:

 

I recently saw a photo of you wearing the same lightning bolt make up as on David Bowie’s Alladin Sane album cover. What’s your connection to Bowie?

 

Cameron:

 

It kind of goes back to the title of the album. I think of David Bowie as somebody who stretched the bounds of what it is to be sexy, like, “I am a man and I am wearing lipstick, which is really sexy,” and you know what? Nobody disagreed with him. I think that something that has happened to gay people, and especially lesbians, is that we’ve kind of been unsexed. In moving toward equality the first thing that you have to do is be like, “We’re just like you.” And to have Ellen {Degeneras) talking about her sexuality while seeming to be this kind of everywoman - it’s amazing that’ she’s a CoverGirl spokesperson, but I don’t know that many people would say that she exudes sexuality. I just think that another possibility is that you can be a gay person and actually be sexy. I don’t think that you have to play it down to make other people comfortable. I think that’s the next level of being happy about being gay. First it’s, “We’re just like you”, and then it’s, “Actually we’re not just like you. We’re into each other and that’s fine; gay people are just trying to look hot for other gay people and you should be ok with that.” You know, just always gotta kick down that next door.

 

Cameron Esposito on the Late Late Night Show

 

 

 

Photo: Mandee Johnson

 

© Castro Courier 2014