All posts by Lissette Vargas

Lissette Vargas is Xpress Magazine's very own Advertising Editor. This is her second semester on the Xpress staff. She loves writing stories about the people and places that make the bay area a unique and wonderful place to live in. Her hobbies include cat cuddles, yoga, and documentary film.

Inside the tiny house movement

Future tiny house builder, Alain Despatie stands on his trailer where his tiny home will be built in West Oakland. Photo by Katie Lewellyn

A worn-down barn with chipped white paint serves as the backdrop while Alain Despatie struggles to stay balanced on his tiny two-legged folding chair. He points to blueprints laid out on the ground by his feet, displaying the plans for his tiny, future home. Despatie is just one of the many counter culturists taking part in the global phenomenon known as the Tiny House Movement.

The exact origins of the Tiny House Movement are difficult to pinpoint, but the idea of tiny living became highly popularized after the 2008 recession, according to Jay Shafer, who is considered by some the founder of the movement. Since then, skyrocketing housing prices and environmental concerns have led some Bay Area individuals to re-think traditional housing scales and take part in the evolution.

Riding on his motorcycle through the outback in Australia, Despatie had an epiphany. In the first 40 years of his life he established a sedentary lifestyle; owned a home, had a six-figure income, and started a family. However, when his family and house diminished, he embarked on a yearlong motorcycle journey across Australia. “I dropped everything,” he recalls.

For the next year his home would consist of a 3-foot tall tent and the little belongings he kept, like the tiny fold out chair he sits on today. Looking for a compromise between a nomadic and sedentary life, he discovered the house on wheels. With less than $25,000 he could build a solar-powered home from the ground up. “If you really want to live green, with little impact on the planet, you may have to give up sedentary life because that’s part of what’s breaking [the planet],” he says.

According to data collected by the Census Bureau, the average size of homes built in 2013 hit an all-time high of 2,600 square feet, almost twice the size of homes built only thirty years ago. Despite bigger homes, the average household size in America has been on a steady decline for the past 50 years, according to the data.

A tiny house is defined as a home typically ranging anywhere from 100 to 400 square feet. Due to building code restrictions, dwellings of that size are prohibited from being permanently anchored to the ground. David Ludwig, a tiny home architect who has been living in his own 212 square foot Airstream trailer for the past nine years, explains that under both the Universal Building Code and California’s state building code, tiny house builders are restricted.

Architect David Ludwig stands inside his tiny house located in Larkspur. (Katie Lewellyn)
Architect David Ludwig stands inside his tiny house located in Larkspur. (Katie Lewellyn)

The building code was designed around the idea that every home is permanently built to the ground. Their main concern is safety, ensuring that rooms fit minimum sizing requirements to host full size appliances. “Those minimum size restrictions are actually impacting the Tiny House Movement because if tiny houses were built and anchored to the ground, their rooms would be too small to meet the building code,” says Ludwig.

By putting the homes on wheels, tiny houses are exempt from building code requirements and can therefore have smaller bathrooms, kitchens, and living rooms.

About three weeks ago, Despatie traveled to Oakland from Portland with a 20-foot long flatbed trailer attached to a rented U-Haul truck. Today, the forest green trailer bed lies in the midst of blooming flower buds. Long, green grass pokes through the metal frame as Despatie jumps on top of it, animatedly plotting out his future sustainable home.

“I really believe in the idea of a nomadic lifestyle. I’m going to move this maybe once or twice a year with the seasons,” he says.

Legally constructing tiny homes is only half of the battle; the other half is finding a place to park it.

While streaming “Tiny” on Netflix, a documentary about living small, Aimee Brown began obsessing over the idea of having her own tiny house. But after an unsuccessful Craigslist post looking for land to house her shed, she joined countless of others in the Bay Area who are actively trying to negotiate the use of land.

The Tiny House Bay Area Meet Up online group was created to form a community, as well as a support group, for people with tiny homes and those interested in the idea of owning their own. The most popular discussion on the page is the idea of building a tiny house village.

The executive order, Not in My Backyard (NIMBY), gives established members of the community a political voice to say they do not want tiny house villages in their neighborhood. Ludwig sees the local code as discrimination from homeowners who believe that villages will lower their property value.

“The people that are established in the communities are fearful because tiny home communities look an awful lot like the trailer parks of the 1950s,” he says.

In the 1950s, trailer parks were notorious for housing low-income individuals who had trouble with the law, according to Ludwig.

Amy Farah Weiss, who is running for Mayor of San Francisco, is proposing a village that would house 100 tiny homes as a prototype. Her proposal will create low-cost dwellings for individuals who will pay 30 percent of their income. Weiss’ ultimate goal is to pass legislation where Additional Dwelling Units (ADUs) are allowed in backyards and bypass NIMBY.

“What we want to do is create a new understanding about what a tiny house community is,” explains Ludwig. “The way it’s different is that people in the tiny house community want a communal lifestyle, which is supportive rather than isolationist.”

Until such legislation passes, Despatie is trying to stay as low-key as possible while he begins to build his home. He was able to get his hands on basic housing plans from a designer through an online trade.“It’s hard to hide a 13 foot house on a set of wheels, but we have to build it in a way that is respectful of the neighborhood,” he explains.

Tiny house illustration by Winsor Kinkade.
Tiny house illustration by Winsor Kinkade.

“I want to make it as cute as possible, and as least offensive as possible, in order to not generate a complaint,” he adds.

Despatie has been able to find community and support from the tiny house meet up group as he begins the process of building his home. “People are really into it, they want to know what’s going on,” he says.

Unexpectedly, dozens of individuals who want to take part in the movement, but may not have the courage to do so, have offered to help Despatie build.

“I found an in between, this house on wheels that can go wherever it’s suitable and I can take off whenever I want,” Despatie says. “To me, that was the lifestyle that I needed. It took me 40 years to find out what I wanted.”

From an economic and environmental standpoint, tiny houses seem to be the wave of the future. But it’s inevitable that in America we like things BIG.

For Despatie, his future is uncertain, ready to go at a moments notice. “If the city comes and shuts this whole place down, I put everything on my bike and that’s it,” he says.

Shower on Wheels

Martin, a homeless man, post-shower, in front the Lava Mae bust at 344 Ellis Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. (David Henry)


*First names only have been used to protect the identities of the homeless/former homeless individuals interviewed for the story.

Staring out the window into a neighborhood she has seen time and again, the cab driver’s voice wakes her from a daze as he says, “Welcome to the city of broken dreams.”

For the first time, Donice Sandoval sees the city in a different light. She steps out of the cab and encounters a homeless women crying uncontrollably as she tosses and wails, “I’ll never be clean.”

The phrase resonated with Sandoval until she went home to research shower options for the homeless. For years, she had witnessed her neighbors lose their homes, live in their cars, and ultimately end up on the streets. Her research led her to the startling fact that for the 6,436 people living in San Francisco without a home, there were only eight places for them to shower. She knew she had to do something to help the homeless population, but did not know how.

In June 2014, Lava Mae launched with the help from private sectors and local non-profits. Lava Mae converts retired Muni buses to showers on wheels; delivering hygiene to those experiencing homelessness, while giving them the dignity and opportunity they deserve. Their mission is simple; everyone has the right to be clean.

For the man proudly sporting broken green reflective sunglasses, that walks up to ask for a shower, Lava Mae has been a safe haven. “I used to go to MSC South but there were always shootings and stabbings right outside,” John* recalls.

Two years ago, Leah Filler moved to San Francisco from Boston on a whim. She did not know anyone and did not know exactly what drew her to the city. Two weeks later, she stumbled upon an article about a woman who had this crazy idea to put showers and bathrooms on a bus. Like a shadow trailing only a couple feet behind her, the articles kept appearing. What impacted her most was the lack of support from people walking by the homeless on the streets.

“It breaks my heart. People are walking right over them, not even looking at them,” she says.

Knowing she wanted to help, Filler went to meet Sandoval.

To make Lava Mae happen the group of staff and volunteers, who had never worked with homelessness before, recruited help.

The decision to stay mobile was influenced by the food truck scene, explains Sandoval at The Town Hall to End Homelessness. If gourmet food can be delivered on wheels, why can’t showers? The expensive real estate market also discouraged Sandoval from establishing a fixed location, as she had witnessed nonprofits getting evicted and increased rent priced.  Having mobility would give Lava Mae the opportunity to go where the people were.

Early on in the development of the project, Sandoval read about a SFMTA Muni bus upgrade in the San Francisco Chronicle. She made it a point to get her hands on the retired Muni diesel buses being replaced by shiny new hybrids. Through the SFMTA donation program, they were granted a 1992 Gillig Phantom bus, originally used on the N-Judah line. The bus was hauled out to Sacramento where it underwent a $75,000 retrofit to become the first mobile shower unit of its kind.

The transformation equipped the 30-foot long bus with the same plumbing system typically seen inside of a residential house, including a 50-gallon hot water heater. It is sectioned off into two parts, each including it’s own digitally controlled shower, lavatory, and sink.

On a sunny March day the bright blue bus sits on the sidewalk along 344 Ellis St., in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. A volunteer with a tablet around her neck checks guests into the system. A bin of crisp white towels sits between the two entrances of the bus for easy access. A short line of people, freshly showered or waiting to get clean, are scattered nearby. The bus, connected to a white-top fire hydrant, will provide forty-two temperature control showers for its six-hour day.

Peter Transberg, 40, a volunteer for Lava Mae, washes the front shower room inside of the Lava Mae bus. (David Henry)
Peter Transberg, 40, a volunteer for Lava Mae, washes the front shower room inside of the Lava Mae bus. (David Henry)

Anyone is welcome to use Lava Mae. The organization is partnered with existing non-profits in the area that specialize in homeless services. The guests sign up through the non-profits for their shower, they wait with the organization until their turn, and then they are brought over to check in with Lava Mae. This natural filter system helps regulate the guests and any red flags are addressed before they enter the bus, explains Filler. If someone is experiencing a post traumatic stress disorder flashback, is high on drugs, or intoxicated, it is determined that it is not a good day for them to use the Lava Mae services.

Martin* has been using the services three times a week for the past four months. He walks up dressed in black baggy sweatpants, carrying a large black trash bag for his belongings. He is wearing sandals, exposing his bright green painted toenails. His fingernails and his sunglasses are painted in the same shade of green. Martin excitedly talks about recently submitting applications for dishwasher positions in many Mexican and American restaurants as he waits his turn inside the bus. Fifteen minutes later comes out a whole new man. A smile stretched out from ear to ear brightens up his face, his soul renewed.

“I feel so much better, so refreshed,” he says, in Spanish, about the experience.

After a successful pilot period, Lava Mae is transitioning to be fully operational with three additional mobile shower buses. Once rolled out, Lava Mae will provide a total of 168 showers daily. The team has met with organizations in New York, Honolulu, and South Korea who hope to use Lava Mae’s business model, plans, and support to extend to their own cities.

But providing showers isn’t all Lava Mae is here for. The staff and volunteers are here to provide the moral and emotional support needed by those who need it. “It’s about hanging out and building connections,” says Filler.

“We try to be understanding, rather than following a strict set of rules,” she says about the unpredictable nature of the job.

Although little outreach has been done to attract users, all spots are quickly filled up on any given day. “There is such a great demand and word of mouth travels quickly,” says Filler about the service.

Eric* came to Lava Mae a total mess and miserable, according to Filler. Something about him immediately stood out to her; he was highly articulate. Eric had moved to San Francisco at 18 to study sound engineering, earned two degrees, and landed a job in Seattle. He was married had a daughter. But in a flash, everything spiraled out of control. His daughter was killed in a tragic car accident, his wife picked up a drug addiction, and he was laid off from his job. He spent three years on the streets, alone.

“I kept to myself, people didn’t really mess with me,” Eric recalls. “The worse thing that happened to me was when I was sleeping,” he says as he points to the ground behind him.

“Someone kicked me in the head, threw a rock at me while I was asleep,” he adds with sadness in his eyes.

With the support of Lava Mae in the next six months he was able to get cleaned up, get haircuts, and clothes. But most importantly, he was able to get the moral support and confidence he needed to land a job in research and marketing. He is now off the streets, has a home, and visits the Lava Mae staff during his afternoon lunch breaks. Although being able to reach complete happiness is a difficult process, he says he is getting there.

For most, a shower is just part of their daily routine often disregarded as anything of importance. But to those living on the city streets, a daily shower seems nearly impossible. The United Nations and World Health Organizations define access to sanitation and water as a basic human right.  Although Lava Mae cannot eradicate homelessness, it can provide dignity one shower at a time.


A look into beer making with Method Brewing

Paul Tiplady, one out of four guys in Method Brewing, keeps an eye on the water pump and plate chiller as they transfer and cool the beer into buckets right before adding the yeast as they were making a few batches of beer in San Francisco Sunday, Feb. 22. Photos by Daniel Porter

By day, they are scientists—immersed in labs, handling cells, and manipulating sterile cultures… But when the weekend rolls around, they are debugging data on the science of brewing.

Ryan Dalton and Kenton Hokanson, graduate students of the University of California San Francisco’s neuroscience program, began homebrewing together shortly after becoming roommates.

“Essentially everyone in the life sciences seems to brew their own beer. This is like the only skill you pick up as a biologist, other than doing biology,” Dalton says.

Dalton and Hokanson began attending other people’s brew sessions and picked up on the process of beer making. Soon after, they met Paul Tiplady, a software engineer, and Robert Schiemann, a software developer, through mutual friends, and bonded immediately.

The Method Brewing team was formed from pure experimentation and have been homebrewing obsessively for the past three years. Their expansive drink list includes hundreds of unorthodox flavors not typically seen in the realm of craft brewing, including: jalapeño, coconut, mole, and yogurt.

“It used to be an afternoon social occasion,” remembers Tiplady.

Kenton Hokanson and Robert Schiemann, two out of the four guys in Method Brewing, pours in the yeast for the jalapeno IPA they just finished brewing in San Francisco Sunday, Feb. 22.
Kenton Hokanson and Robert Schiemann, two out of the four guys in Method Brewing, pours in the yeast for the jalapeno IPA they just finished brewing in San Francisco Sunday, Feb. 22.

They would get together, brew bubbly concoctions, and make a mess of the house. Shortly thereafter, they began throwing around unconventional ideas for flavor combinations, eventually brewing them all.

“We brew every recipe that we can think of to see what works and we’re not really afraid of making a bad beer–just dump it if we don’t like it,” shares Hokanson.

On Feb.11, their innovative beers made their first appearance at San Francisco’s Beer Week. Their event, BrewFlood VII, drew favorable responses from the beer community and local entrepreneurs.

Their beer recipes are created with just about anything you’ve ever had in your fridge. The idea of creating their signature Jalapeño Imperial India Pale Ale (JIIPA) came about simply; they all liked jalapeño and they all liked beer.

The five-hour process to create a 10-gallon batch begins with a culture of yeast bubbling in a flask on top of a hot plate.

Kenton Hokanson, one of the four guys apart of Method Brewing, grinds up barley for the base of the beer in San Francisco Sunday, Feb. 22.
Kenton Hokanson, one of the four guys apart of Method Brewing, grinds up barley for the base of the beer in San Francisco Sunday, Feb. 22.

Outdoors, in the shady backyard patio, Hokanson begins to mill the grain, crushing it, just enough to expose riveted sugar pellets. Behind him, fire raises the temperature of 15 gallons of water to 185 degrees. The scalding hot liquid is poured into the accumulation of grains, and as it settles, begins to bubble ferociously. The batch begins to look like a witch’s brew as Schiemann stirs it with a large wooden paddle.

The simple name of the JIIPA, sitting in one of the 23 kegs made for SF Beer Week, is enough to send beer expert Jared Funkhouser running for the hills.

“I’m a sucker for spice,” he exclaims as he picks up the imperial IPA loaded with fresh jalapeños and house made jalapeño tincture.

First, he takes a whiff. “The first thing I smell is the initial bite of the jalapeño,” he says, nervously.

Then, he takes a sip. “It’s amazing,” Funkhouser blurts out, along with a shocked expression. There is just enough spice, without being daunting. It’s nice and smooth with a settle floral note to balance out the flavors, he says.

Paul Tiplady, one out of four guys in Method Brewing, slices and takes out the seeds of jalapeno's for their jalapeno IPA they are brewing in San Francisco Sunday, Feb. 22.
Paul Tiplady, one out of four guys in Method Brewing, slices and takes out the seeds of jalapeno’s for their jalapeno IPA they are brewing in San Francisco Sunday, Feb. 22.

Two unseeded jalapeños go into each gallon of beer; today’s batch has 20 total. Tiplady remembers when they first began using jalapeño in their beer and when he used his fingers, as opposed to a spoon, to un-seed.

“It was a searing pain that lasted for days on the inside of my fingernails,” he recalls.

The beer’s spice is regulated by creating a tincture made by soaking jalapeño seeds in Everclear, a grain alcohol. This method results in a concentrated neon green liquid that is Scoville tested, a systematic spice measurer.

“We don’t try to make a pepper beer that everyone likes, we try to make a pepper beer that some people won’t like but the people who like peppers will love and kill for,” tells Hokanson.

On a recent Monday, they sit on the roof of 326 1st Street, a rundown building in between the SOMA district’s skyscrapers, and the future site of their brewery, Methodology.

The brewery, set to open after a full-blown demolition and remodel, will have a ground level bar, modeled after an industrial laboratory with their beers on tap and a rooftop beer garden that will alternatively serve as a relaxed, warm setting.

Historically, San Francisco has been underserved in terms of bars per capita compared to beer meccas like Portland, according to Tiplady. In 2014, nineteen new breweries opened up in San Francisco, and nine are currently in planning, according to San Francisco Brewers Guild. Tiplady predicts that in the next five years, local brewpubs will grow exponentially, as well as provide the freshest of beers.

“There are a lot of breweries that are doing classic styles, and a lot of people like that kind of beer. But we are trying to push out and do very experimental, very weird stuff and that’s kind of a niche but there’s no one doing that in San Francisco,” says Tiplady.

Kenton Hokanson and Rober Schiemann, two out of the four guys in Method Brewing, pour out some water that is up to temperature to mix with the ground barley to make the mash for the beer in San Francisco Sunday, Feb. 22.
Kenton Hokanson and Rober Schiemann, two out of the four guys in Method Brewing, pour out some water that is up to temperature to mix with the ground barley to make the mash for the beer in San Francisco Sunday, Feb. 22.


The taste of Method Brewing: Beer Expert Review

One of the Method Brewing guys hands a beer to a customer during the SF Beer Week event Wednesday, Feb. 11. Photos by Daniel Porter

Jared Funkhouser has been brewing beer and working in the industry for the past 10 years. He is currently enrolled in SF State’s graduate school problem working on a master’s in sustainability. Merging both his love of beer and sustainability, Funkhouser recently developed a beer education program for sustainable brewing that he has begun to introduce to bars in the area. In recent years, he has noticed an exponential growth in the beer industry and bay area restaurants, as they have started paying closer attention to their craft beer selection.

Funkhouser formally reviewed Method Brewing’s beers on February 11. Method Brewing offers a unique and innovative science-driven approach to beer making. You can read more about Method Brewing in Xpress Magazine’s Spring 2015, Issue 1.

The crowd starts small at the beginning of the night during the Method Brewing SF Beer Week event Wednesday, Feb. 11.
The crowd starts small at the beginning of the night during the Method Brewing SF Beer Week event Wednesday, Feb. 11.

Here are some of Funkhouser’s thoughts on the beer choices of the night.

IRA 6.8% ABV

A hoppy, West Coast style india red ale

Funkhouser holds up his beer glass to eye-level. Through his spectacles, he observes the bubbling clear liquid in his hand and determines it’s filtered. The red ale gives off an aroma of pine and flowers. “You can smell the sugars, maybe toffee and caramel,” he says in between sips. “I would buy a six pack of this and take it home,” he notes enthusiastically.

Best paired with? Red meat and Irish pub food.

Tiniest Green Wolf 3.6% ABV

A seasonable micro-IPA that is low in alcohol but packed with hops and flavor

“I can see myself drinking this in the sun all summer long while mowing the lawn,” Funkhouser says as he sips on the easy to drink micro-IPA. The low alcohol content and light body makes for a refreshing beer that showcases the hops and malty flavors. “There’s a bit of a danky smell, a little marijuana smell,” he mentions as he explains that hops are cousins of marijuana without containing any THC.

Best to drink? In between greasy foods to clear palate.

Paul Tiplady, one out of four guys in Method Brewing, hands a guest of the SF Beer Week they put together Wednesday, Feb. 11.
Paul Tiplady, one out of four guys in Method Brewing, hands a guest of the SF Beer Week they put together Wednesday, Feb. 11.

Noyaux Nut Brown Ale 5.2% ABV

Got a bit of a sweet tooth? This light body beer tastes of marzipan and cherries, making the beer itself a decadent dessert, according to Funkhouser. As the beer warms up to cellar temperature, the marzipan decreases and the taste of cherry and almond increases.

Best paired with? Dark chocolate cake.

Toasted Coconut Guayusa Brown Ale 5% ABV

An earthy brown ale made with toasted coconut chips and gunpowder guayusa. 

He inhales. “I can smell toasted coconut all day,” he says. This ale is not too sweet and has a toasty milk chocolate and caramel well-balanced flavor, he adds. He goes on to explain that the guavas plant is native of the amazon and is typically brewed like tea. This adds an earthiness to the flavor that is reminiscent of a musty forest. “This is s stand out to me thus far,” he says as he continues with the beer tasting.

Big Boy Imperial Porter 12% ABV

A dangerously drinkable imperial poter. Over a year old and clocking in at 12% ABV.

Funkhouser recommends drinking beer flights from lightest to darkest. He suggests to end with the most complex, which will in turn, leaves you to most satisfied. That’s exactly what he did by leaving the Big Boy to the end. The beer is slowly sipped, slower than the rest of the beers. Having the same alcohol content as wine, this beer is treated with a bit more care. It tastes of molasses and black licorice, he shares.

Best paired with? Stinky, funky bleu cheese. Chocolate Cake.

Final thoughts? “Beer is supposed to be fun, and I can tell these guys are having a lot of fun,” concludes Funkhouser.

Tom McBride takes a look at the list of beers during a SF Beer Week event put on by Method Brewing in San Francisco Wednesday, Feb. 11.
Tom McBride takes a look at the list of beers during a SF Beer Week event put on by Method Brewing in San Francisco Wednesday, Feb. 11.

The man behind The Simpsons, dead

After a two-year long battle with cancer, that was said to end his life between three to six months after diagnosis, Simpsons executive producer Sam Simon has died at the age of 59.

Fans of the show and his work went on to express their condolences on Twitter, addressing him as an “animal hero” and recalling the laughter he brought to many through his comedic writings and art.

(Twitter @TheInSneider)
(Twitter @TheInSneider)

Introduced to the art world early on due to his mother’s art gallery in Venice, Calif., Simon frequently entertained contemporary artists like Andy Warhol and Ed Kienholz. He went on to draw cartoons for his school paper during his time at Beverly Hills High School and won superlative awards including “Most Humorous” and “Most Talented.” While at Stanford University, completing a degree in Psychology, Simon’s first job consisted of creating sports cartoons for the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Palo Alto Times.

Simon’s most influential and praised work appeared in the 1989 premier of The Simpsons on Fox network. The self-taught artist is credited for co-creating the longest running animated show in the history of television, even after leaving The Simpsons after four seasons in 1993. Today, Simon is still credited as executive producer and the winner of six prime-time Emmys for his work in the series. In 1999, the show was crowned as the best TV series of the 20th century by Time.

The easily identifiable yellow characters have appeared on screen for more than 500 episodes and have graced us in the form of video games, clothes, and theme park attractions. For fans, The Simpsons family is an extension of their own family. The show provided many with with 22-24 minutes of uninterrupted laughter and intellectual recaps of current events in the evenings for the majority of their lives and still continues to do so.

The saddened statement of his death was announced today by The Sam Simon Foundation, a foundation he started in 2002 that rescues dogs from Los Angeles kill shelters and in turn trains them to be service dogs. Toward the latter of his life Simon’s fortune was distributed to charitable causes including a mobile veterinary clinic, a vegan food bank, and Save the Children, an organization that promotes children’s rights.

TMZ reported Simon died alongside his family and dog, but his legacy as a humanitarian and comedic genius will live on forever.

(Twitter @samthielman)
(Twitter @samthielman)

An exploration guide for driving down I-5

Graphic created by Lissette Vargas/Xpress. Map showing highways credit to
Graphic created by Lissette Vargas/Xpress. Map showing highways credit to

With windows rolled down and the cool California air breezing through your car, you see endless rows of green crops for miles. Car games are initiated to pass the time, and you point out the window guessing what is being grown in the fields of green. You see big tractors carrying heaps of brown and then you notice workers with sun hats and gloves picking small round objects off the trees. All of a sudden a stench begins to linger in the air, the sent is so foul that you begin to drive a tad over the speed limit to escape.

Interstate 5 highway was completed in 1979 and has since then been the quickest way to travel between Blaine, Washington and San Diego, and California on wheels. Travelers trying to reach cities like Los Angeles, Sacramento, Portland and Seattle popularly use the road, as well as truck drivers delivering goods across counties.

Next time you are driving on the 5, use this illustrated map to put the vast land in front of you into perspective and see exactly what is growing.


Graphic created by Lissette Vargas/Xpress. Cotton image credit to Freepix.
Graphic created by Lissette Vargas/Xpress. Cotton image credit to Freepix.
  1. Nunes Farms has been harvesting almonds and pistachios since 1984. They’re nuts are supplied in raw form during the warm weather, as well as dipped in rich chocolate during the colder months. 4012 Pete Miller Rd., Gustine, CA
  1. Delgado Farming was first established in 1988. The farm produces cotton for Sammy Dress, a clothes wholesaler. 27685 South Hamburg Ave., Firebaugh, CA
  1. Del Bosque Farms, Inc. prides themselves in providing safe and healthy working conditions for their workers. They have been growing organic honeydew melons and cantaloupes since 2004. Their cops also include almonds from twenty-year-old trees and produce some of the best asparagus in the country. 51481 West Shields Ave., Firebaugh, CA
  1. Blue Ridge Pomegranates is a family owned organic farm that allows you the opportunity to pick your own pomegranates for just $15 a box.17000 South Derrick Ave., Cantua Creek, CA 
  1. Harris Ranch is California’s largest beer producer with over 100,000 cattle populating the area. Harris Ranch is In-N-Out Burger’s meat supplier. The ranch is also popularly know for inspiring Michael Pollan’s book on factory faming, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. 23304 West Oakland Avenue, Coalinga, CA ‎
  1. Double D Farms is the most diverse farm on our list. Their production list includes:
  • Asparagus
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage (red, green)
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Garlic
  • Green Beans
  • Onions (red & yellow)
  • Sweet Corn
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon seeded/seedless
  • Honeydew

29191 Fresno Coalinga Rd., Coalinga, CA

  1. Los Gatos Tomato Products focuses on producing high quality and sustainable tomato paste.19800 Gale Ave., Huron, CA
  1. Paramount Farms are the producers of the “Wonderful” pistachio and almonds. They’re popular slogan, “Get Crackin America” is heard across the country. They are currently on the way to produce a billion pounds of pistachios by 2020.13646 California 33, Lost Hills, CA



“Paw-sing” to de-stress

Latin Studies major Jessica Jimenez, 20, pets a 5-year-old German Shepard therapy dog named Maggie at during a SF State Student Health Services event on campus. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)
Latin Studies major Jessica Jimenez, 20, pets a 5-year-old German Shepard therapy dog named Maggie at during a SF State Student Health Services event on campus. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)

The sidewalks surrounding the corner of 29th and Broadway in Oakland are packed with curious passersby peeping in through large floor-length windows. They peek into a cat’s paradise: scratch pads, various cat trees, teaser cat toys, and shiny frill ball toys are laid out around the room. Nine friendly cats of differing breeds and ages are spread out in the cat zone; one receiving belly rubs from a child as it’s stretched out on a lounge chair, another sits on a man’s lap. Smiles radiate from all but one person during the grand opening of America’s first cat café. She stands in the middle of the room overwhelmed by emotions. As tears begin to roll down her cheeks, she whispers to Cat Man Adam Myatt and says, “It makes me so sad that they don’t have a home.”

Upon entering Cat Town Café and Adoption Center, it looks like your average corner coffee shop. Dark-roast coffee is dripping at the counter with a wide array of cat-shaped cookies to accompany them. Cat postcards and cat pillows are available to purchase and watercolor cat portraits by artist Megan Lynn Knott decorate the walls. Through a set of double doors, the space transforms into a cat lover’s dream where you can hug, pet, and talk to fuzzy feline friends. The themed café, which opened its doors on October 25th, was created to free up some space at the already busy Oakland shelter and aid in helping find displaced cats a home.

The cat café trend, made popular in Japan since the early 2000s, is catered to urban dwellers that may not have the ability to have their own animal at their homes. Instead, they attend these cafés to escape from their busy metropolitan lifestyle and lounge in a welcoming space with free-roaming cats.

KitTea, San Francisco’s very own version of a cat café is soon set to open in Hayes Valley. The idea for the café was thought up when Courtney Hatt, a tech startup worker, found herself stressed and uncomfortable in a busy café. During that visit, she encountered an article about Japan’s cat cafés and thought the therapeutic oasis would be a perfect addition to San Francisco culture.

KitTea will be an onsite adoption center for about ten friendly cats at a time, as well as a zen tea house with sustainable teas from a partnered Japanese Farm. Hatt describes the cafe as a “cat friendly spa.”

Hatt recalls her own experience with an unintended session of animal therapy. Lying down with her chest so tight that she could hardly breathe; she was having a panic attack. Almost instantly, like a radar was sent to her cat, it hopped up on her chest at the exact moment of struggle. Listening and concentrating to the cat’s steady purr led her back to a healthy breath and moment of relaxation. She believes in the beneficial properties that can come from cat interaction. “A purr and/or clear appreciation of touch, gives me a sense of peace and love from deep within,” says Hatt.

Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi, cat behaviorist, contacted KitTea, upon hearing of their launch, to provide insight on creating a social atmosphere for cats and humans. Quagliozzi believes that KitTea will be a valuable community resource due to the stress and anxiety that humans can get caught up in.

“Cats help us slow down and live in the moment, because that’s what they do,” says Quagliozzi about their ability to help us de-stress. “The human and animal bond alone is a very powerful thing,” he expresses.

The first contemporary setting of animal assisted therapy occurred in the early 1960s, when a child psychologist discovered the benefits of animal interaction by pure accident. Boris Levinson, considered the founder of animal assisted therapy, would bring his dog Jingles into therapy sessions with a disturbed uncommunicative child. Having the dog in session, allowed for the child’s defenses to soften, which, in turn, allowed Levinson to initiate therapy. Upon the breakthrough, Levinson began to do extensive research on the subject and coined the term animal therapy in 1964.

Now, animal therapy is used worldwide to treat various mental health issues including: stress, anxiety, grief, loneliness, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to Christine Morley, health educator at SF State. For the last couple months, she has been working with the San Francisco SPCA and Therapy Dogs International to bring therapy dogs to campus on frequent basis.

“Students experience stress all semester long. I thought it would be a really great service to have them come more often because you have stress from the first day of classes until the end of classes,” says Morley.

The sessions are offered as an effort to promote overall wellness on campus including proper sleep and stress relief. Anywhere from two to four dogs and their owners will come to campus for an hour-long session. The sessions are typically held in the garden area on top of the Student Health Center on the SF State campus. Any student can walk up to hug, pet, and cuddle with the dogs for as long as they please.

On a recent Tuesday, Shelley Fineman brought her longhaired German Shepherd Maggie for a campus visit. The event attracted seventy-one students and campus staff, providing them with a stress-free break away from exams, research papers, and classes. Maggie, a retired search and rescue dog, was dressed with a red handkerchief around her neck and a yellow triangle-shaped tag that read “I am a therapy dog” for easy identification. Students smiled and giggled as they encountered the energetic pup. A student ran up saying “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life” as she bent down to hug Maggie.

Although not enough research on animal therapy has been done to determine a direct correlation between an increase in mental health and the interaction with animals, various studies show that it will decrease stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. The contact with animals will also increase healthy hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins that promote happiness.

“Being in the presence of a dog can be calming. You’re body comes to a neutral state of calmness and less stress,” says Morley. She believes the recent recognition of bringing therapy animals to college campuses is due to realizing something has to be done about how stressed college students can get.

The simple act of petting an animal can elicit a relaxation response that can lower blood pressure and anxiety, according to Morley. Cat cafés or visits with therapy dogs are being used as ways to decrease stress. “It’s an easy way to go and get your cat-snuggle fix in and not worry about anything,” she says about the cafés.

Like Hatt, Quagliozzi is intrigued about the benefits of animal interaction and hopes to see cafés of its kind everywhere.

KitTea anticipates an end of the year opening in San Francisco and other cities across America hope to follow suit. Meow Parlour in New York has a tentative December 15th opening date and The Cat Café in San Diego is working on their space.

The ever-expanding cat culture in America has helped promote the openings of the cafés, but perhaps it’s the free therapy that will keep them around.

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  • Bryce, the cat, naps on top of a cat tree on Saturday, during the Cat Town Cafe and Adoption Center grand opening. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)
  • Coffee mugs with Cat Town Cafe and Adoption Center’s logo are displayed for sale. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)
  • Crowds gather at the window to peer into the grand opening of America’s first cat cafe in Oakland on Saturday. BOTTOM: (Left to Right) Zach Melamed, 20, Andrew Wong, 20, and Kelcey Dibernardo, 22, pet a 5-year-old German Shepard therapy dog named Maggie at during a SF State Student Health Services event on campus. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)


Trade-offs for trades

SF State students battle the high cost of living and tuition by picking up trades in order to earn high wages in pursuit for higher education.

“Welcome to Taco Bell, what will you be having today?”

This is the scripted phrase Rachel Prince had to repeat over fifty times on her first day on the job.

Prince got her job at Taco Bell after she was forced to give up her cozy cashier job at SF State’s lobby shop when she was no longer able to afford her $704 room at a University Park North apartment. In just the two years of living there, Prince’s household experienced a $41 rent increase.

“We all had a difficult time with the increase,” she says about her roommates when they decided to end their lease to find more affordable living situations.

Prince packed her bags and made the forty-mile trek to Mountain View where she was able to score a room at half the cost where her older sister was living.

The move came with some sacrifices for the SF State junior.  No longer being able to keep up with car payments, Prince had to trade in her Acura for a low-maintenance bicycle. This made trips to campus more difficult, resulting in her adding more online courses to her schedule. The most difficult change was the pay-cut that brought her hourly wage down from $10.74 that she earned at SF State’s Lobby Shop to $9 at a Mountain View Taco Bell.“It sucks. If I ever seem like I don’t want to be there, I can get fired. My boss just fired someone ‘cause they didn’t want to say the whole script,” Rachel says.

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Although San Francisco holds the highest minimum wage in the nation most students do not even have the luxury to live close enough to the city to earn this wage. These low incomes make it difficult for young adults to finish school as they juggle high costs of living and an average tuition of $3,234 for SF State’s full-time undergraduate program.

Victoria Salazar, an SF State senior, was going through the same ordeal with her low-paying part-time hostess position at a local restaurant where she struggled to make ends meet.

Apart from her full course load at SF State where she was taking anywhere from fifteen to twenty units, Salazar worked evenings and ten- to eleven-hour shifts every weekend. She was already $15,000 in debt in school loans and knew she had to come up with a plan to make more money in order to be able to afford to finish her degree at SF State.

Salazar chose to enroll in the College of San Mateo’s cosmetology program due to the short timeframe of the program and its affordability. She was able to pay for the program with money raised from her hostess job, and she avoided taking out additional loans.  For thirteen months—the duration of the program—she balanced lessons in cosmetology from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and worked her part-time job as a hostess on evenings and weekends, all while still managing to remain enrolled at SF State by taking nine units of online courses.

“It was really hard and extremely time consuming,” she remembers. “Sometimes I would break down and say, ‘Oh my god I am so tired; I just want to sleep and live a normal life,’” she says.

In order to survive, Salazar continued to remind herself of her goal of obtaining a degree in social work. She now hopes that with the degree she is working toward she can get a job counseling at a homeless shelter or work with kids to aid them during their development.

She initially joined the cosmetology program to just learn the basics of the trade and be able to make money quickly. And although the process to obtain her license in cosmetology set her back a year at SF State, she has now fallen in love with hair and makeup.

“Yesterday, I spent six hours doing hair in my apartment, but I didn’t get tired because it’s something I love to do,” Salazar says

She finished the program one month ago and received her license in the mail three weeks ago. Salazar began looking for employment right away, but has yet to find a place to begin using her new skills.

“A lot of the places aren’t looking to hire, or they’re looking to pay the absolute minimum,” she says.

She is happy to know she now has a back-up in the event that her plans for social work do not work out, and although the journey was exhausting, picking up a trade was essential to have the money she needed to pay for her SF State tuition and is scheduled to graduate in 2015.

In a similar story, Sandra Maxwell dropped out of college after her first year at the University of New Mexico after her grandmother’s death. She was inspired to learn and pick up the massage therapy trade as a tribute to her grandmother who worked as a body healer.

Maxwell had grown up in a holistic household and was introduced to alternative medicine at an early age, therefore pursuing a career as a healer was a no-brainer. She moved to San Francisco and began to study massage at the World School of Massage and Holistic Healing. Maxwell eventually received her license from the National Holistic Institute of San Francisco. After working in the trade for seven years, she decided to go back to school to get her bachelor’s degree by first attending City College of San Francisco and finally ending up at SF State.

Maxwell describes the learning process at massage school as very different from what she sees as more traditional teaching methods at SF State.

“Massage therapy has a learning technique that is both physical and social, with great emphasis on hands-on training,” she says. “Massage school doesn’t require as much work or study time outside of the hours spent in the program.” Learning a trade and being able to earn over $50 per hour before fully submitting to a bachelor’s program helped Maxwell not only pay for school—it also helped her afford living in San Francisco.

“Sure, I’m busier than many of my classmates, but I love my trade. I don’t know if many of my classmates can say that they love their current job,” she says about massage therapy.

As Prince rings up crunchy tacos, she remembers her Google search of makeup certification programs at Marinello School of Beauty earlier in the day and is reminded of the perils that many undergraduate students go through as they struggle to earn their degree as they work minimum wage jobs. She hopes that picking up a trade can lighten her workload while she focuses on obtaining her Bachelor’s degree.

Drinking to get through the holidays

The smell of pumpkin spice, peppermint, and pine lingers in the air. Empty red Starbucks cups fill the trash bins, and Christmas carols are blasting from every speaker in town. It’s hard to escape the fact that the holiday season is here, so instead of hiding from it, embrace it. Here is a list of adult-friendly events to get you in the spirit this month.

View the infographic here for clickable links and a printer-friendly version to tape next to your calendar because you are not going to want to miss out on any of these events.

Caught in the crossfire of Ferguson Protests

On New Year’s Day in 2009, twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a BART police officer at Fruitvale station. On February 26, 2012, just shy of his seventeenth birthday, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. On Aug. 6, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

These occurrences took place in different cities across the US, but they all shared one too many similarities. Those killed, were unarmed Black men and their shooters were White males.

In Grant’s case, BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in county jail. In Martin’s case, Neighborhood Watch George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and shortly proved not guilty. After a grand jury hearing to determine whether a crime was committed in Brown’s shooting, the jury agreed not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

Following each case, both peaceful and violent protests erupted when the demonstrators demanded justice for those killed. The movement #BlackLivesMatter sparked after Zimmerman’s 2012 acquittal as a call to action against racism.

According to a study done by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, in 2012 at least three-hundred-thirteen African Americans were killed by police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes. The study highlighted the militarization and brutality coming from law enforcement against black people.

On Nov. 24, when the announcement of Ferguson’s twelve-member grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson made headline news across media platforms, nationwide protests flared.

I happened to be stuck in the unexpected crossfire in two different cities last week, in Downtown Los Angeles, while I was visiting my family for Thanksgiving, and in Oakland, on my way home from the airport.

Last Tuesday, I took a trip downtown to my favorite museum, The California Science Center, which I always make an effort to visit on nearly every trip home. Little did I know that a short distance away in Leimert Park, protesters began marching down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in my direction shouting, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

la protest

Later that evening, protestors would downpour on the 101-freeway, blocking traffic in both directions, and lead demonstrations in various areas across the city. That day, nearly two hundred people would be arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department, according to Chief Charlie Beck. Arrests were made on multiple violations of disturbing the peace, one assault on a police officer and a handful of curfew violations.

Peaceful protests, vandalism, looting, and rioting began within moments of the announcement to not indict Wilson and this ongoing series of protests show no signs of ending anytime soon even after his resignation from the force. Each day, an impactful protest is highlighted in lieu of justice for Brown.

On Friday Nov. 28 my plane landed in the Oakland International Airport at 10:40 a.m. I quickly picked up my bags from the baggage claim carousel and jetted to the new AirBart service that takes you from the airport to the Oakland Coliseum BART Station. I ran from the drop off point to a BART train headed to San Francisco. I did not run fast enough and missed it. As I waited at the station an announcement came through the speakers that said, “…delays system wide due to civil unrest at West Oakland Station.”

I along with the rest of the holiday travelers with confused looks on our faces boarded the next BART train, unknowing of what was actually going on. The train conductor made it clear that he didn’t know what was going on either and that we would have to get off at Lake Merritt Station.

In the meantime I opened up my Twitter feed and was shocked by what I found. At approximately 10:45 a.m., five minutes after I landed, demonstrators dressed in shirts that read #BlackLivesMatter chained themselves to BART trains at West Oakland Station. BART service was halted to and from San Francisco.

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Their purpose was to interrupt black Friday commerce, specifically to say that Black lives matter in wake of the court decision in Ferguson, according to an interview with Protester Mollie Costello by NBC.

As I waited outside of Lake Merritt Station with an overstuffed suitcase in hand, sun baring down on my shoulders and my phone with eight percent battery life, I debated whether to pay for a $50 Lyft ride home. My other option was to try my luck at hopping on a bus, in a part of town I am unfamiliar with, and a phone that would die in the next fifteen minutes.

Partially because I am cheap, I decided to wait with the hundreds of stressed out commuters and give them a listening ear. Some complained of being late to work or meeting up with friends, others worried of missing Black Friday sales.

Two hours later the announcement was made that trains were resuming and the look of worry melted off of people’s faces. As the large mass of people stood waiting downstairs for the train to approach, fourteen people in handcuffs chanting, “Black lives matter,” being led by police made their way up the station stairs.

That is when it hit me. The week before while watching Jon Stewart’s film Rosewater that showed footage of the citizen’s revolt against the Iranian government, I thought to myself, “Why can’t anything like that ever happen here?” Where a group of people standing up together and fighting for something powerful and in turn creating awareness towards something meaningful. Right before my eyes, it was happening. A tear fell from my eyes as I witnessed fourteen individuals in handcuffs walk past me, chanting and still showing signs of hope. They were fighting for the justice of one man, a man they did not know, for the betterment of an entire race and nation.

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In that moment, I remembered those from earlier in the day complaining of their ruined Black Friday plans and the negligent anger and stress they felt. That sense of anger, fear, and confusion was only a fraction compared to the families, friends, and community members who witnessed someone they loved be killed by someone whose job is to protect them.

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haha ruined

Later that evening, demonstrators broke down police barricades to protest on San Francisco’s Union Square during Macy’s tree lighting ceremony. The protest quickly escalated into a violent one; police were verbally harassed, windows were broken, stores were looted and shoppers were locked inside stores. The San Francisco Police Department announced that there were seventy-nine arrests that night. A total of five cops were wounded during the protest when passersby threw rocks and bottles, according to police chief Greg Suhr.

After watching countless of videos of the protest that night, I noticed the hate that they had against the policemen. Protestors shouted in their faces, spit in their direction and went as far as throwing things at them. Putting all cops in one category and treating them like they are all the same. This beat down on law enforcement contradicts their message to end stereotypes and racial profiling.

Just like not every cop is the same and not every person is the same, not every protest is the same. Tuesday, hundreds of protesters around the county participated in a walk out in support of Ferguson. They walked out of jobs and schools at 12:01 p.m. central time, the same time Brown was shot last month.

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Will these righteous acts make a difference? Perhaps it is too early to tell, but the nationwide gatherings are inspiring and are bringing people from all walks of life together to fight for a purpose.

San Francisco gives us a reason to feel crabby

Close up of San Francisco's famous dungeness crab. (Flickr/kevincole)
Close up of San Francisco’s famous dungeness crab. Photo under Creative Commons by kevincole

Eighteen hours before the official start date of San Francisco’s crab season, fisherman on the bay dropped their crab pots in preparation for its launch.

The San Francisco Bay is home to the Dungeness crab, one of the largest edible crabs along the Pacific Coast. For many San Franciscans, pulling out the crustacean on November 15th kicks off the holiday season and the popular dish is added to many Thanksgiving meals.

In the first month and a half of commercial fishing, 80 percent of San Francisco’s crabs are harvested. Throw on your bib and pop a bottle of chardonnay because it is now prime time for feasting on crab.



SF Dungeness Crab

Little effort, big flavor: Cooking a Thanksgiving dinner in your microwave

Most college students lack the culinary skills and proper equipment to make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. By following this simple guide you can wow your dorm room friends by cooking an entire Thanksgiving feast in your microwave. For those of you who shrieked at the word microwave, fear not, because the FDA says that microwave cooking is even more efficient than conventional ovens. Not only does it use less energy, it is also cooking your food in a smaller amount of time, which allows your food to hold on to more vitamins and minerals.


Turkey – $12.99

Yes, it is possible to safely roast a turkey in your microwave. The USDA suggests placing the turkey in an oven bag and cooking for ten minutes per pound until it reaches an internal temperature of one hundred and sixty-five degrees.

You can dress it up simply with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.

A three pound turkey breast roast is the perfect size for a microwave and can be found at Safeway for $12.99.


Turkey Gravy – $1.49

Trader Joe’s Gravy can be heated straight from the container.


Cranberry Sauce – $1.99

Combine twelve ounces of fresh cranberries, which you can find at Trader Joe’s for $1.99, with one and a quarter cups of sugar and half a cup of water in your microwave for ten minutes stirring half way in between. You can substitute the water with orange juice or add a splash of rum for a little zest.


Cornbread Stuffing -$3.99

Trader Joe’s Cornbread Stuffing Mix includes a combination of breads, seasonings, and dried up vegetables that almost tastes homemade. Heat up water  in the microwave and add to stuffing mix with melted butter until fluffy and moist.


Candied Sweet Potatoes – $4.99

Pre-cut and pre-skinned sweet potatoes in microwavable bags can be found in Trader Joe’s produce section for $4.99. Heat brown sugar and butter separately until thick and add to cooked sweet potatoes for a quick and easy side dish.


Steamed Greens – $1.99

In a covered microwavable dish combine minced garlic, salt, pepper, and butter with a bag of baby spinach on sale at Trader Joe’s for $1.99 and cook for about two minutes.


Pumpkin Pie – $4.99

It is frozen and a dollar cheaper than Trader Joe’s fresh baked pie. This is the one thing you do not have to microwave, just let it defrost while you are cooking up your dinner and you will have a pie with a smooth filling and a flaky crust for dessert.