Category Archives: Bay & Beyond

Following the Money

By: Kristen Struckmeyer

When I got out of class, a small white envelope was waiting for me on the windshield of my car. I could feel my lungs fill with dread and my face glow red as I read the parking citation, issued at 12:42 pm. I checked my phone: it was 12:46. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. But for the time being I did neither.
This overwhelming sense of crisis came from the eight parking tickets I had already received this month. In fact, the large sum of racked up costs from the tickets had prevented me from paying my pricey San Francisco rent on time; I knew that the last thing I needed was another ticket.
 
In the heat of my frustration I jumped in my car and chased down the parking enforcement officer in a most ungraceful fashion. After a few minutes of begging and justifying my way out of the $78 parking ticket, I stood in front of the officer feeling bare and helpless, palms shaking, with a look of desperation in my watery eyes.
“Just don’t cry!” the agitated parking attendant said as he ripped the parking ticket from my shaking hands. “I already had someone cry this morning and I can’t do it anymore.” He appeared to me as a weary worker, an afflicted professional, and — most importantly — a forgiving gentleman.
 
“Thank you, thank you! You don’t know how much this means to me,” I gasped as I fought the urge to give him a friendly and appreciative hug. From our brief encounter that sunny afternoon I never got his name, but I surely did not forget his simple act of kindness.
 
If you’ve ever had a car in San Francisco, chances are you’ve shared a strikingly similar experience and probably received your fair share of little white envelopes underneath your wipers. And if you’re anything like me, I’m sure you’ve been left wondering where that hard earned money went. After not being able to pay my rent that month, I decided it was imperative for me to find out exactly where the city is spending the revenue from parking and meter citations and how it was — supposedly — coming back to me. The first thing I discovered is that San Francisco has the highest ticket and meter prices in the United States. For example, a parking ticket in Boston — a city of similar size and geography as San Francisco but with a slightly smaller population — will run at $25 for an unpaid meter and $40 for street cleaning. In San Francisco that same ticket will run you $78, a rate that has shown steady increases over the last several years in order to pay for increased enforcement and maintenance. These exorbitant prices tower even in comparison to an urban hub such as New York, where a street cleaning ticket begins at $45 and, in some areas of pricey Manhattan, can go up to $65.
 
Information provided by San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) spokesman Paul Rose shows that the projected outcome in parking fees and citations will be over $311 million dollars this year. This money will go back to the SFMTA and City of San Francisco, and a large percentage of it will go toward public transportation maintenance and paying SFMTA employees.
“There’s operations and there’s capital,” said San Francisco State University Geography and Environment professor Jason Henderson, who specializes in urban politics and transportation.
 
“Operations is often the trickier part of transportation funding. There are a lot of restrictions. Like the federal government; when they allocate money to the Bay Area, the federal government will not pay for operations. They expect local government to pay for operations. So we can buy buses and build railways and things like that, but we can’t pay for our operations from the federal money.”
 
Because the local government has to find a way to pay for operations, they have used parking revenue as part of the budget since 1999, with the vote on Proposition E giving wind to a new Municipal Transportation Agency that would have greater power and control over standards and budget. However, the use of parking revenue only covers about 35% of the operations budget on average.
 
Reports provided by the City and County of San Francisco show that public works, transportation, and commerce is the largest area of spending and revenue for the city of San Francisco. The SFMTA is both the greatest source of expense at $1,067,863,751 dollars, with a revenue of $1,075,713,302. These numbers are almost impossible for most to fathom, simply put they mean that the city has generated a revenue of almost $8 million dollars from the public transportation agency within the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
 
After having a greater understanding of where and how the parking citation revenue is used, I wanted to hear from parking enforcement officers on the ground about the labor of their job and the significance of parking tickets. I sat down with Bill Kettle, a SFMTA parking control supervisor, while he and his team caravanned through the streets writing citations as a street sweeper followed behind us.
 
“That whole thing with, ‘Oh you guys have a quota’… Look, we don’t have a quota,” exclaimed Kettle as he broke down the myths of the job. “Trust me, I’d far rather not have to ticket anyone at all. But that has never happened.”
 
Considering that street cleaning is by far the biggest source of ticketing in the city, many have come to believe that street cleaning is useless and essentially a conspiracy to make the city money. Although it is fact that street cleaning tickets wind up generating a pretty penny for the city, there is some important value to be recognized in why we should have to move our cars every week for a truck to blow past as it moves around dirt and trash. According to the San Francisco Public Works office, the city’s street cleaning team covers 150,000 curb miles and removes 25,000 tons of litter and debris every year, which would otherwise wind up polluting the Bay.
 
But preserving the environment isn’t the only reason we should have to feel obligated to abide to street cleaning. Supervisor Kettle stands by the benefits of street cleaning when he explained that, “the good thing about street cleaning is that if we don’t come by the streets will fill up with abandoned and stolen vehicles. Actually we find the most stolen vehicles, because we are out here consistently.”
 
Despite my initial outrage and shock after enduring a month long ticket hail storm, I have come to some surprising conclusions about parking tickets in San Francisco. What I found is that the tickets in San Francisco, although overpriced, are not entirely unsound and in fact they may be necessary in shaping our cities local environment. That being said, I’ve found that the best way to prevent these pesky penalties is relatively obvious: be observant and cautious when parking in the city, and hold our local government accountable as part of the process to create fairer and more feasible pricing and policies.
 
And as for now, my days of parking in the city are long gone. I traded in my car keys for a clipper card and bicycle, which, I’ve found, is even more effective to avoid parking tickets than chasing down meter maids.

 

Threatened Sanctuary or National Insecurity?

By: Brandy Miceli

People from around the world gathered under the trees of Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland to share their stories of brutal violence, sexual assault, and yearning hunger during their journey to the United States from their homelands — the hot spring day complementing their zeal to be heard.

With mouths full of homemade tamales rojos y verdes, folks chanted, “Undocumented, unapologetic, and unafraid!”

This event, put on by the Immigrant Youth Coalition, Coming Out Of The Shadows (COOTS), was a place where they could express themselves in the streets of Oakland, one of over three hundred sanctuary cities across the country.

“Folks are eager to tell their stories,” Yadira Sanchez, an activist with the Immigrant Youth Coalition, said.

Sanctuary cities erupted into recent headlines following the death of Kathryn “Kate” Steinle, a thirty-two-year-old San Francisco woman, at the hands of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant. He had been deported five times, and served over twenty years in jails and federal prisons for felony drug charges and re-entry since 1991. In 2009, less than three months after his fifth deportation, Lopez-Sanchez was charged with another felony re-entry, and served five years in prison.

On March 26, 2015, the United States Bureau of Prisons turned Lopez-Sanchez over to San Francisco authorities for an outstanding marijuana charge. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requested to detain him until they could pick him up. The marijuana charge was ultimately dropped, and due to San Francisco’s sanctuary policy, the Sheriff’s department did not honor ICE’s detainer request and released him on April 15, 2015. Three months later, he was taken into custody for shooting Steinle.

Sanctuary city policy limits cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE. They’re designed to build trust between local police and immigrant communities by allowing them to report crime without fear of being deported. This policy is an aberration with completely divided views; some abhor and some support.

Steinle’s death led to a political standoff. Republicans quickly proposed a bill that would cut federal funding to cities with sanctuary status, and require a mandatory five-year minimum sentence for any undocumented immigrant who was deported and is caught upon re-entry, as part of “Kate’s Law.” Democrats swiftly blocked the bill. All republican candidates for the 2016 presidential election have vowed to end sanctuary cities, and this stance has gained support through numerous conservative outlets.

Ericka Sanchez takes part in immigrant family day at San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, April 28, 2016. Legislation has been proposed to enhance the protection for undocumented immigrants in San Francisco, making it harder for sheriffs to turn people over the the federal government. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )
Ericka Sanchez takes part in immigrant family day at San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, April 28, 2016. Legislation has been proposed to enhance the protection for undocumented immigrants in San Francisco, making it harder for sheriffs to turn people over the the federal government. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )

“When you start talking about sanctuary cities that harbor criminal aliens, then that’s just indefensible on any level,” said Joe Guzzardi, National Media Director and Senior Writer for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS). CAPS is an anti-immigration organization that works to formulate and advance policies and programs designed to stabilize the population of California, the U.S., and the world, according to its website. The organization is involved with a campaign that would eliminate sanctuary cities, blaming the policy for loss of life beyond Steinle.

“There have been hundreds of similar cases over the years that don’t merit a mention in any papers or newspapers other than perhaps the local ones,” Guzzardi said, suggesting this incident gained coverage because it happened at a popular tourist destination in San Francisco to a “ridiculously attractive” young woman. “What happened to Kate Steinle is not in any way out of the ordinary,” he said.

Francisco Ugarte, Attorney for the San Francisco Public Defender and immigration expert, suggested it’s no wonder why the event gained so much attention considering the timeliness of Donald Trump’s candidacy annunciation.

“Trump talked about them [undocumented immigrants] as rapists, as criminals, that when they come here they don’t bring their best, they bring their worst,” Ugarte said, “And I think that this case nicely fits into a hysterical xenophobic narrative.”

So much so that the court has been so far unwilling to consider the fact that Steinle’s death was unintentional. Lopez-Sanchez’s case is being charged as a murder, when the bullet fired was accidental and ricocheted off the cement.

“He handled a gun that discharged and unfortunately killed Kate Steinle,” said Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney at the San Francisco Public Defender and Lopez-Sanchez’s attorney. “If he were a caucasian college kid, if he were a U.S. citizen, if he had been eighteen years old, if he had been seventy-five years old, I don’t think he gets charged with a crime… We don’t know of there ever being a case in San Francisco of a ricochet being charged as a murder.”

Although that is seemingly critical to the case, it gained less attention than the topic of sanctuary cities. Even though sanctuary cities have plenty of democratic supporters, former San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was publicly lambasted for not honoring ICE’s detainer request and releasing Lopez-Sanchez from custody, even by Mayor Ed Lee. Justifiably, San Francisco’s new Sheriff Vicki Hennessy is necessitating reform while recognizing the benefits that sanctuary cities have on all citizens.

Demonstrators carry a sign made with chalk towards San Francisco City Hall during immigrant family day on Thursday, April 28, 2016. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )
Demonstrators carry a sign made with chalk towards San Francisco City Hall during immigrant family day on Thursday, April 28, 2016. ( Ryan McNulty / Xpress )

During San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Meeting, Hennessy proposed not to eliminate sanctuary policy, but to create guidelines by which she would communicate with ICE.

“What I am trying to do,” she said at the meeting, “is target the few violent criminals that may not be part of the community, not be working toward rehabilitation.”

The question quickly became one that Americans on both wings share: are sanctuary cities safe for the American population?

The American Immigration Council found that immigrants are less likely to commit crime than people born in the United States. Between 1990 and 2013 the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of undocumented immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.

During the same period, FBI data indicated that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent — which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41 percent, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary. This demonstrates that higher immigration is associated with lower crime rates, including both documented and undocumented immigrants.

According to Mother Jones, since San Francisco enacted its sanctuary city laws 26 years ago, homicides have fallen to their lowest level in decades.

The Public Policy Institute of California found that in California, a state with a large population of undocumented immigrants, the incarceration rate for foreign-born adults is 297 per 100,000 adults, while the incarceration rate for people born in the U.S. is 813 per 100,000 adults.

It’s difficult to conclusively say the impact that sanctuary cities have on the United States, when skewed views on sanctuary cities have muffled the truth about them. It’s true that sanctuary policy has inadvertently caused loss of life. But the complexity of this issue requires looking at the proportion of undocumented immigrants who commit murder, before threatening to deport even non-criminals as some politicians have, claiming that a disproportionate amount are criminals.

The Department of Homeland Security figures state that between 2010 and 2015, 124 undocumented immigrants were released from immigration custody and were later charged with murder. CNN Politics found that is only a thousandth of a percent of the total number of undocumented immigrants in the United States, estimated at 11.2 million, making up four percent of the United States population.

Most undocumented immigrants do not have a criminal record. They come here to seek better lives. They raise families and are contributing members to society who want to feel like part of the community.

Folks munched on pan dulce and sipped coffee under the morning sun as the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (SFILEN) celebrated their tenth anniversary with Immigrant Family Day, a day of community building activities, a press conference, and sharing of testimonies on the steps of San Francisco City Hall. SFILEN is a network of thirteen nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing immigrants with legal services to better their lives.
“In today’s political climate, it is more important than ever to celebrate the achievements of the ten years of work of SFILEN,” said Omar Ali of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. “It is indicative of the power of grassroots organizations. It is a testament of all the ways we can work together to ensure that the people feel dignified, even for some of the most undignified groups.”

San Francisco Board of Supervisors member John Avalos spoke about his proposed measure that would ban local law enforcement from notifying ICE when an individual will be released from local custody, except in very limited circumstances. San Francisco’s Sanctuary City and Due Process for All ordinance currently does not specifically forbid pre-release notifications.

“We’ve created this network of people from all over the world who are unified in protecting immigrants,” Supervisor John Avalos said, “…We’re now looking at how we can protect our sanctuary city policy and make sure we can keep people out of immigration proceedings. That’s before us at the Board of Supervisors on May 10.”

The Board of Supervisors will vote whether to implement Avalos’ proposal or to accept Sheriff Hennessy’s new guidelines. Considering that vote, in addition to Lopez-Sanchez’s trial on May 12, the future of San Francisco as a sanctuary city is unknown. What is known, is that immigrants will relentlessly fight to keep their home as it is now — a sanctuary.

 

Can’t Drag Me Down

By: Rachel Sison

She’s been performing for 35 years and she’s not worried about stopping in the middle of a performance and announcing she’s done. Though she might not have the energy anymore Collette LeGrande-Ashton is far from done for the night.

Though retirement is an option, for LeGrande-Ashton, drag queen and cocktail waitress at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, this won’t be happening anytime soon.

LeGrande-Ashton, 65, is one of the oldest drag queens in San Francisco and has been working at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge since 1998. She has been performing for over 35 years.  LeGrande-Ashton performed in her first drag show in her late teens in Santa Barbara. During 22 years of that time she was also working in customer service at AT&T  until she retired in 2002.

At Aunt Charlie’s, LeGrande-Ashton goes in every second and fourth Wednesday of the month and works every Friday and Saturday.

During an evening inside Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, a gentle pink light from the neon sign over the bar illuminates everything. Thirteen people sit at the bar while the other 30 patrons are seated at tables, enjoying their evening.

LeGrande-Ashton and Aunt Charlie’s manager, Joe Mattheisen, chat with those sitting at the bar while they fill out orders.  LeGrande-Ashton herself walks around the limited space of the lounge to make sure everyone has a drink. As the evening goes on, the lights start to dim and everyone’s attention is brought to the back of the bar, where a curtain keeps the performers out of view.

Collette LeGrand-Ashton goes into the backroom of Aunt Charlie's Lounge to talk with other perfomers during the Hot Boxxx Girls show at Aunt Charlie's Lounge in Tenderloin on Saturday March 26, 2016. (Xpress/ Aleah Fajardo)
Collette LeGrand-Ashton goes into the backroom of Aunt Charlie’s Lounge to talk with other perfomers during the Hot Boxxx Girls show at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge in Tenderloin on Saturday March 26, 2016. (Xpress/ Aleah Fajardo)

As the host of the evening, Ruby Slippers, is introduced and the first of the performers go on, LeGrande-Ashton makes her way to the back. After the first couple of performances, Slippers introduces the next act and once the music starts playing, LeGrande-Ashton emerges in a completely different outfit.

Aunt Charlie’s Lounge is one of the oldest LGBTQ-friendly bars in San Francisco. Despite the changing times the bar has remained open while the former neighboring bars have all closed. According to the manager this can be attributed to the fact that Aunt Charlie’s is owned by a single person and doesn’t.

“What’s helped us here is it a sole proprietor,” said Mattheisen. “It’s not a corporation. It’s not a partnership where it needs to bring in enough for three or four people.”

Mattheisen also contributes the bar’s success towards the fact that the bar has handled its own problems, which made getting their entertainment license easy.

“The whole time the bar’s been here,” said Mattheisen. “It’s handled its own problems.”
Their customer base is mainly regulars, but they receive a lot of out of towners who want to see the drag shows the Dream Queens Revue and the Hott Boxx Girls.

“If you’re gay or straight it doesn’t matter,” said Mattheisen. “If you’re going to be a jerk you’re not staying.”

Many of the employees at Aunt Charlie’s have been there since its opening in 1987, and most of the queens have been there since 1998 when the drag shows began. The last time this bar hired a new queen or employee was six years ago.

Collette LeGrand-Ashton takes money from guests while cocktailing inbetween her perfomaces with the Hot Boxxx Girls show at Aunt Charlie's Lounge in Tenderloin on Saturday March 26, 2016. (Xpress/ Aleah Fajardo)
Collette LeGrand-Ashton takes money from guests while cocktailing inbetween her perfomaces with the Hot Boxxx Girls show at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge in Tenderloin on Saturday March 26, 2016. (Xpress/ Aleah Fajardo)

“The drag shows really bring people in,” Mattheisen said. “Bachelorette parties and birthday parties.”

Over the course of LeGrande-Ashton’s career as a drag queen she has been Grand Duchess two times for San Francisco’s Grand Ducal Council (GDC). Becoming apart of the the GDC  similar to presidential elections, nominees put their names forward and must campaign around the city to gain votes.

The GDC is a non-profit fundraising organization that does work for various charities. Despite no longer being part of the GDC, LeGrande-Ashton continues to attend and do fundraisers for different charities.

“At Aunt Charlie’s I pretty much have a routine. We do five or six of them a year there. I’ve started most of them,” said LeGrande-Ashton. “Did one for Magnet which provides services for HIV people and stuff like that. Did another a couple of months ago for St. James Infirmary. That’s for sex workers since there’s a lot of them in the Aunt Charlie’s area.”

Not as young as she once was, LeGrande-Ashton explains that she sometimes feels un-energized but continues to work at Aunt Charlie’s and attends various fundraisers and charities when they ask her to.

Collette LeGrand-Ashton performs her number at the Hot Boxxx Girls show at Aunt Charlie's Lounge in Tenderloin on Saturday March 26, 2016. (Xpress/ Aleah Fajardo)
Collette LeGrand-Ashton performs her number at the Hot Boxxx Girls show at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge in Tenderloin on Saturday March 26, 2016. (Xpress/ Aleah Fajardo)

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of how I feel that day other than that I have to gear my mind to do it now,” said LeGrande-Ashton. “Years ago I could just do it in five minutes and think nothing of it, but now I sort of have to have a routine,” she said about getting ready for a night balancing drag and cocktail serving at Aunt Charlie’s

In addition to having lower levels of energy, LeGrande-Ashton has also developed some minor health issues, but that still hasn’t dissuaded her from going in.

“I’m developing a bit of arthritis in my feet walking the cocktails,” LeGrande-Ashton said. “But I’ll keep doing that until I fall over”

Ashton’s attitude to keep working is not too surprising. According to a survey conducted by TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies found that a majority of “sixty-somethings” and older plan on or are still working. While others plan on at least working part-time.

“Even if I don’t feel like it I’ll drag myself in there. I owe that place a lot,” said LeGrande-Ashton. “It gave me place where I made a lot of new friends and met a lot of great people. The only days I’ve ever missed at Aunt Charlie’s are days when I have an event.”

Ruby Slippers the hostess for the Dream Queen Revue has been a longtime friend of Collette and has attended various fundraisers and charities with her doesn’t believe Collette will ever retire.

“She’s not going to give up,” said Ruby Slippers. “Never. Never! I don’t care what she says, because she loves it!”

More Than A Party Drug

By: Kristen Struckmeyer

Andy Gold was on the trip of his life.

“I was completely overcome by the drug,” said Gold.

In fact it was one of the only trips of his life. He was not at a rave, not at a boisterous dance club. Instead, he was propped upon a soft grey leather couch placed beside a large window overlooking the hills of Marin County, a couch which he affectionately refers to as the “tripping couch.”

“I had never done MDMA before,” said 62-year-old Oakland attorney Andy Gold. “I’d lay there for a long time and didn’t have any effect from the drug. After a while I thought I must be on placebo – and then it hit me like a ton of bricks.”

Gold is among the first of 6 research subjects to complete a several months-long clinical drug trial, which will determine the impact of MDMA on anxiety, depression, loss, and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder caused by life threatening illnesses.

“Normal life just wasn’t the same anymore,” Gold said.

In 2004 Gold was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. He quickly entered surgery and began a  long string of chemotherapy treatments in 2005, while he had simultaneously landed the biggest case of his career. During the case Gold was bound to privacy, careful not to reveal anything about his health within his work life.

“I was living this very intense double life,” he said.

The effect of this dual identity combined with the fear of losing his life lead to a delayed emotional and psychological impact, which didn’t allow him to process the shock left by his cancer. After struggling with the long term trauma following his long battle with colon cancer, and in 2015 he decided to seek help and soon joined a clinical trial in hopes to regain his life.

The unique study led by Dr. Philip Wolfson and family therapist Julane Andries follows up on multiple PTSD studies previously created and conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The pharmaceutical research and educational nonprofit organization is now celebrating their 30th anniversary with a banquet in Oakland this April to raise funds to be used in research. According to MAPS director of communications, Brad Burge, they are currently fundraising to get 1 kilogram of pure pharmaceutical grade 3,4-methylenedioxy methamphetamine (MDMA). This is a milestone for MAPS that would allow them to conduct research that will move towards the possibility of a Phase 3 study. This study would precede approval for MDMA to become a drug to a prescription drug to be used and administered for medical purposes.

 

MDMA
Infographics by Stephanie LaRue

The preliminary studies using the drug have shown that MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy can help people overcome post traumatic stress disorder from war and sexual violence, as well as aid communication in patients with autism.

“The use of it [MDMA] increased ability for people to handle negative trauma and feelings inside themselves and to come to a more loving position with themselves and with others,” Dr. Philip Wolfson, lead investigator of the trial, said. “It facilitated dialogue and communication, so it was a very successful model.”

Wolfson is no stranger to the use of these treatments and has a long history of administering psychedelics during his sessions before the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) deemed MDMA illegal in 1985. Before then it was used by therapists in the United States & Europe as an adjunct to psychotherapy.

“It’s more of an evolutionary treatment rather than a revolutionary treatment,” Burge said. “It’s using a drug that has been kind of forgotten about for decades, combining it with modern approaches to psychotherapy and making a hybrid treatment approach.”

Once MDMA was classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which is defined as a substance with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. Subsequently, the substance, commonly known by its street name “Ecstasy,” never disappeared but instead resurged as a popular party drug that is frequently cut with other illegal substances and widely used by millions in the United States.

“Pretty much anyone can go out on the street and buy some Molly or some Ecstasy,” Burge, said. “More than half the time they aren’t going to know what they are getting. Here we have this epidemic of uncontrolled drugs and drug use that happened as a result of them being illegal.”

While MDMA and its other forms continue to grow in use and popularity, those at MAPS are hoping to encourage “scientific and rational discussion about psychedelics, whether for recreational use or for therapeutic use,” claimed Burge.

The study takes place in Marin County and is run by Dr. Philip Wolfson and his partner Julane Andries. The trial officially began in April 2015 and is expected to continue through the end of 2016. They have recently finished treatment sessions with the first round of 6 patients and have 5 new patients currently enrolled. The study is a double-blind trial in which both patient and doctor are unaware until after the second session whether the patient was given the placebo or the substance. There are weekly sessions that run for about 1-2 hours without the use of the drug, and longer sessions every 5-8 weeks involving either the drug or a placebo. These sessions can last up to eight hours and include overnight stays.

“We allow these clinical studies to proceed if they are safe and have a reasonable chance of answering questions about the efficacy of the drug for the intended use,” stated U.S. Food and Drug Administration press officer Deborah Kotz.

Though the study has not been shown to lead to any serious health issues or mental harm so far, some would argue that the somewhat radical use of MDMA would be unsafe for patients facing serious medical ailments and could cause wear and tear on the body and carry a long term effect on the brain.

“Having a very long-term view, including large numbers of people, I have not seen any long-term damage and I don’t think there is any from repeated use,” Wolfson said.

One way the use of MDMA in therapy differs from other medications frequently used in psychology is how often it is taken and the dependency that can occur. These medications are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI’s. Antidepressants and tranquilizers are SSRI’s which typically require daily use and don’t carry out a long-term effect without the medication. They are a form of treatment often used for episodic depression but can also be used by patients for decades. Instead, Wolfson’s trial aims to utilize methods taken from sessions and help patients with their everyday life without dependency of the drug or other medications. According to Brad Burge, research done in previous PTSD trials has shown that the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy has effects lasting up to 4 or more years.

“These people all have a certain measured level of anxiety, but similar to the other studies they all have depression and most often have symptoms of PTSD,” Andries explained. “So the protocol that we use very much follows the PTSD studies.”

Although Gold’s anxiety from his cancer may return, he is doing better knowing that he is well equipped to cope with his fears. He is aware that MDMA is not a cure for his illness, but assists his recovery.

“The drug is not a cure, but the drug is a tool,” Gold said. “There’s something about this drug and the way it’s used in therapy that just blows you wide open.”

“I’m in a better place,” Gold said with a long pause and hopeful tone. “And I hope I stay there.”

“The drug is not a cure, but the drug is a tool,” Gold said. “There’s something about this drug and the way it’s used in therapy that just blows you wide open.”

“Pretty much anyone can go out on the street and buy some molly or some ecstasy. More than half the time they aren’t going to know what they are getting.”- Brad Burge

“I was completely overcome by the drug,” said Gold.

 

A Change Is Gonna Come

By: Arash Malekzadeh

Riot gear hung from the tense hands of three rows of San Francisco Police Department officers, positioned austerely on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to fortify the entrance against the crowd assembling out front. The protesters facing them raised their hands high in the air – some with their fists fiercely clenched, others holding signs emblazoned with the face of Mario Woods, the 26-year-old Bayview resident who was gunned down by five SFPD officers in December of last year.

The tense atmosphere was interrupted by feedback from the loudspeaker fastened to a wheelchair laden with nothing but audio equipment. A young protester grabbed the microphone and began singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” a song recounting the racism Cooke endured during the Civil Rights Era. She glared into the eyes of a black officer, unintimidated by the army of riot police standing in her way. Singling him out amidst his white counterparts, she forced him to question which side he truly stood on. “You in the middle!” she exclaimed just before she broke into the song’s chorus, “It’s been a long, a long time coming. But I know a change gon’ come!”

Phyllis Bowie, a tenant of Mercy Housing, speaks out against the injustices against African Americans during a demonstration held by Black Homes Matter on Wednesday February 10, 2016.
Phyllis Bowie, a tenant of Mercy Housing, speaks out against the injustices against African Americans during a demonstration held by Black Homes Matter on Wednesday February 10, 2016.

In these early months of 2016, San Francisco has experienced a resurgence of activism that initially gave this city its progressive reputation. With the shutdown of the Bay Bridge on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and with the recent protests over the fatal SFPD shooting of Woods, it is clear that wounds are still fresh for San Francisco’s black community.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, San Francisco’s black population decreased by nearly 54 percent since 1970, falling to 5.2 percent in 2014. Along with the population, black homeownership is concurrently in decline. While the killing of Woods catapulted this wake of civil unrest, the outrage in the black community stems from decades of policies – from urban renewal and gang injunction lists to gentrification and violent policing  – that, according to Reverend Arnold Townsend, have targeted black people in San Francisco and perpetuated their exodus.

“Racism is in the political DNA of San Francisco,” Rev. Townsend, a local NAACP board member, said. “They [San Franciscans] never talk about or admit it, which means you can never eradicate it. You can’t fix it unless you first acknowledge that it exists.”

Minister Christopher Muhammad of the Nation of Islam speaks during a press confrence held by the Justice for Mario Woods Coaltion on the steps of CIty Hall on February 8, 2015.
Minister Christopher Muhammad of the Nation of Islam speaks during a press confrence held by the Justice for Mario Woods Coaltion on the steps of CIty Hall on February 8, 2015.

Though the black community has called San Francisco home since its inception, the city saw its largest in-migration of black people during World War II. Black families were relocating to metropolitan areas from the South to work in shipyards, taking advantage of the profitable wartime industry. The black community flourished until 1970; thereafter, the population decreased as San Francisco policy disproportionately affected black people.

“I think the most difficult thing for people to grasp when they look at the black community in San Francisco today is that we have not always been a poor community to the degree we are now,” Rev. Townsend said. “The economic downturn for blacks is the most devastating thing there is.”

The economic downturn Rev. Townsend speaks of began in the 1960s with urban renewal, the federally funded demolition of primarily poor, non-white neighborhoods in the interest of revitalizing those areas. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency claimed eminent domain on the Western Addition, eventually leveling 60 square blocks, displacing thousands of residents, and refusing to redress the community they forced out.

Thursday February 4th, Police stand against protestors seeking justice for Mario Woods outside a VIP dinner for Super Bowl 50 atheletes at San Francisco City Hall Photo by Taylor Reyes
Thursday February 4th, Police stand against protestors seeking justice for Mario Woods outside a VIP dinner for Super Bowl 50 atheletes at San Francisco City Hall Photo by Taylor Reyes

The redevelopment project destroyed the prospering black community that had established itself in the Western Addition only two decades prior, following the internment of the preceding Japanese American residents.

“There is a plan that has been in place, that began … when the redevelopment agency came up with urban renewal … which turned out to be Negro removal,” Archbishop Franzo King of the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church and Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition said. “It’s beyond a trend but a plan that the enemy of the people has put in motion. This is where the redevelopment agency began its mayhem and its attack on the black community in San Francisco.”

Decades ago, the Western Addition was known as “The Harlem of the West” and acted as the beating pulse of San Francisco, fostering a vibrant community and stimulating black culture. Hundreds of black-owned businesses – restaurants, salons, book stores, hotels, and jazz clubs – lined the neighborhood blocks. But as black people were pushed out of the city, their culture and institutions left with them.

Local artist Agentstriknine holds up a flyer outside San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 in a demonstration seeking justice for Mario Woods, a San Francisco man who was murdered by police. Photo by Taylor Reyes
Local artist Agentstriknine holds up a flyer outside San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 in a demonstration seeking justice for Mario Woods, a San Francisco man who was murdered by police. Photo by Taylor Reyes

“The places that give you a sense of community are gone, the places that give you a sense of being and belonging are gone,” Rev. Townsend said in a disapproving tone. “We do not own our own homes. We do not own our own neighborhoods. Having no sense of ownership and control … leads to a general sense of unhealthiness and instability.”

City policy ushered in displacement and uprooted people from their homes, which extracted power from the people and ultimately disenfranchised the black community as a whole. As the black population diminished, those that remained struggled to identify with their transforming neighborhoods. The black population was stripped of its autonomy; consequently, turbulence befell the community and gave way for crime to transpire.

“When I was in high school, my neighborhood … had one of the highest murder rates in the Bay Area,” said Etecia Brown, community organizer for The Last 3% of Black SF. “And so what you saw was a gang injunction list being implemented. If you’re put on the gang injunction list then you’re automatically barred from having public housing. What you saw then was a rampant rise of gentrification and displacement.”

To address the high crime rates in communities of color, San Francisco implemented gang injunction lists and divided the city by alleged gang territories. The repercussions of being on the gang injunction list extend beyond the presumed gang member; whether it be their grandmother, their sibling or their spouse, anyone directly associated with a person on the list forfeits their right to affordable housing.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, these lists inaccurately mark young people of color as gang members with no evidence or indictments to justify their claim. Those on the list are legally restricted from returning to their neighborhoods, and if they commit a crime, they face an additional seven years on top of their sentence for their presumed gang affiliation.

Thursday February 4th, Police encroach outside a VIP dinner for Super Bowl 50 atheletes at San Francisco City Hall to control a group of protestors seeking justice for Mario Woods, a San Francisco man who was brutally murdered by SFPD. Photo by Taylor Reyes
Thursday February 4th, Police encroach outside a VIP dinner for Super Bowl 50 atheletes at San Francisco City Hall to control a group of protestors seeking justice for Mario Woods, a San Francisco man who was brutally murdered by SFPD. Photo by Taylor Reyes

“Really, when you look at our community and see how much we’ve been impacted by arrests and mass incarceration, more specifically gang injunction lists that target black and brown people living in public housing, that really feeds into freeing up housing and land and property for these gentrifiers and these redevelopment agencies,” Brown said.
As black people overcrowd jail cells and policies forcibly remove them from their communities, the black population in San Francisco diminishes and space becomes available for the wealthy – for those who desire the urban areas currently occupied by the poor.

“African Americans have been dealing with involuntary relocation and displacement well before today,” said Thea Matthews of Black.Seed, the black queer liberation collective responsible for the Bay Bridge shutdown. “It is reaching a climax because of the residual, blatant disregard for black life.”
While the black population in San Francisco is nearly five percent, black people account for more than half of the county jail’s population, according to a city report issued in 2013. At times, as in the case of Woods, they do not even make it to the jail cell before they are killed.

“There was a point in which the executions of Black and Brown lives became again completely intolerable for a new generational wave of Black Americans,” Matthews said. “From Trayvon to Oscar, Alex to Mario, and countless others, these martyrs for the movement remind us of a failed U.S. criminal justice system; and the time to respond, act, and dismantle is now!”
City policy has historically debilitated the foundation of the black community; the killing of Woods was just the last straw. San Francisco’s black community is mobilizing to reclaim the power taken from its people and is refusing to let racism dwindle its population anymore than it already has.

“The sacred blood that was spilled out on the streets of San Francisco at the hands of these killer police … provided an opportunity for the community to lift their voice and for the community to unite,” Archbishop King said.

Urban Hands in Urban Lands : A Community Reclaims Public Land Through Farming

By: Priscilla Salahuddin

When Edgar Molina was in High School, he threw his food from the cafeteria onto the grass around him. He was tired of eating the same food over and over again. Molina sarcastically told his friends that the grass was going to die because of the unhealthy food they ate. To his surprise, the grass did gradually begin to die.

“You can’t really call that food,” Molina, co-founder of urban farming organization, Urban Campesino/as, said. “I realized that when you’re still developing at such a young age, food is an important thing. So we set out to change that and provide healthy food.”

Molina and other members of People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER), an environmental justice organization focused on improving the lives of people of color in San Francisco, traveled to New Mexico to network and share ideas with Los Jardines Institute. Los Jardines, an organization that builds and sustains healthy communities, was producing healthy food to feed their neighborhoods and surrounding schools. Molina was greatly inspired by this organization and wanted to bring those same traits to San Francisco; by starting Urban Campesino/as.

The Secret Garden or En Jardin Secreto is a small garden taken care of by members of the San Francisco community. (Eric Chan / Xpress)
The Secret Garden or En Jardin Secreto is a small garden taken care of by members of the San Francisco community. (Eric Chan / Xpress)

“Me and my friends realized that we’re living in one of the wealthiest cities in the world,” Molina said. “So why can’t we have that [nutritious food]?”

Molina pitched the idea of Urban Campesino/as to PODER as an initiative that would reconnect people to the earth and to their food. As a result, PODER agreed to be the umbrella organization and provide space and financial support.

“They came with a whole manifesto telling me they wanted to start this organization and we said ok,” Teresa Almaguer, youth coordinator at PODER, said.

After knocking on 300 doors and asking residents what they wanted to see done with the unused land in their communities, Urban Campesinos decided to grow real food, which they define as natural and unprocessed. Many of the surveyed answers revealed how surrounding neighborhoods wanted to use the land as a space for the community to come together and hold cultural events.

“We want it completely inclusive so no fences,” Savanah Maya, a member of Urban Campesinos, said. “Elders, children, and everything in between are welcome.”

Maya also believes that it is important to be knowledgeable about the food that people are ingesting.

“The food you consume literally makes up your flesh, so understanding what you consume mentally and physically is important,” Maya said.

Growing up she was constantly told that diabetes and obesity ran in her family, so she decided to understand how natural, healthy food can prevent those types of diseases. Maya believes that someone’s wealth should not determine their health.

Carlos Peterson-Gomez unlocks the gate to the Secret Garden on Harrison St. and 23rd St. on Tuesday, February 23, 2016. (Eric Chan / Xpress)
Carlos Peterson-Gomez unlocks the gate to the Secret Garden on Harrison St. and 23rd St. on Tuesday, February 23, 2016. (Eric Chan / Xpress)

After speaking to several garden owners for advice, Urban Campesino/as made the effort to  acquire land through the city where they were granted one acre in the Excelsior District with plans on expanding to five acres in the near future. In the meantime, they call “The Secret Garden,” a garden in the Mission, their home where they harvest fruits, vegetables and host cultural events. According to Almaguer, the organization has yet to grow anything on the land of the Excelsior District, but will be in the drafting process by the end of this year. Although there is nothing planted yet, the organization has begun to hold workshops at the site, which incorporate farming and the indigenous culture that is represented amongst their members and community.

According to Molina, there are California native plant roots in the land that go down as far as 200 feet; rather than replace or remove the roots, they leave them in the ground to cultivate a connection with their ancestors. At the beginning of each event, they open up with a ceremonial blessing.

“Most of the Urban Campesino/as are indigenous to Mexico and El Salvador, so through ceremonia we are remembering our native ways,” Carlos Peterson-Gomez, Co-founder of Urban Campesino/as, said. “All it is, is asking for the source of life, the creator, to help guide us.”

On February 20, Urban Campesino/as hosted a basket weaving workshop for the community at Lake Merced. Edward Willie, a Pomo and Wailaki tribe member, taught the attendees how to traditionally weave baskets. He explained how Native Americans predominantly used the plant tule, native to the Bay Area, for basket weaving, creating shelter and making shoes. According to Peterson-Gomez, the organization chose this workshop to teach people how to stay in touch with both their culture and nature.

Additionally, Urban Campesino/as holds a youth summer program aimed at teaching children the importance of subsistence farming.

“Kids had a hard time wrapping their minds around [the fact] that fries come from potatoes,” Molina said. ”We brought a chicken to show them … what we eat, and they were like,‘that’s what’s wrapped in the plastic and styrofoam at Trader Joe’s?’”

Urban Campesino/as recognizes that communities of color lack access to sustainable foods. With that in mind, they provide this space for the community to share and produce healthy foods.

How the Bay Area Grows

By: Tessa Murphy

Growing Up Farms, located in a once-unused warehouse in the Crocker-Amazon neighborhood, uses a developing strategy called aquaponics to grow its food.  This system combines hydroponics and aquaculture to create a closed loop that benefits both of its occupants: plants and fish.

Fish waste pollutes their water, which is why fish tanks and household ponds have filters installed.  In an aquaponic system, bacteria that occurs naturally around plant roots converts the poisonous ammonia into nitrates and nitrites – the major components of store-bought fertilizer.  With plant roots growing directly in the water, the fish get clean water and the plants get fertilizer.  In addition, this system retains most of its water as it’s not being lost in soil, which is important in California’s drought.

High school volunteers are relocating sprounting plants to help build up the soil at the Bee Farm in San Francisco. Photo by Taylor Reyes.
High school volunteers are relocating sprounting plants to help build up the soil at the Bee Farm in San Francisco. Photo by Taylor Reyes.

“Part of our model is to stay as local as possible,” Mark Hintzke said.  The farm has partnered with several restaurants in the city to provide them with fresh produce.  Among these is Mission Edge Café, a restaurant that hasn’t found fresh huacatay – Peruvian black mint – in the area for the salsa it makes.  In March, the huacatay that Growing Up Farms is growing will mature, and Mission Edge Café will receive its first order.

Local Greens is a unique operation in Berkeley that eliminates the need for chemicals or sprays of any kind by keeping its plants sterile and isolated inside a warehouse served by artificial light. Founder Ron Mitchell worked in lighting and equipment before delving into organic farming.  When he moved to Berkeley to be closer to his daughter Faye Mitchell and her family, he started Local Greens and she soon joined the company on the administration side.  The venture struck a deal with Whole Foods, and now sells to 26 of its stores in the area.

Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants in water.  Without the use of soil, growers can control exactly what their plants consume by adding more or less fertilizer to the water, and they don’t need any special equipment or extra time for cultivating the earth.  Hydroponics also conserves both water and space: water isn’t lost in the ground, plants can be grown closer to each other as nutrients can be easily adjusted, and systems can more easily be stacked vertically and take up less room on the light.  However, a hydroponics system can be difficult to set up, and any disease in the plants will spread rapidly to the whole crop.

Volunteer Gary Lea ( left ) and Director of Building Operations Steve Hunter ( right ) tend to harvesting fresh basil for Project Open Hand's kitchen in San Francsico. Photo by Taylor Reyes.
Volunteer Gary Lea ( left ) and Director of Building Operations Steve Hunter ( right ) tend to harvesting fresh basil for Project Open Hand’s kitchen in San Francsico. Photo by Taylor Reyes.

Everything that comes through the doors of Local Greens is sterilized.  The team does thorough research into the origin of the seeds they buy to make sure they haven’t been sprayed or exposed to animal activity, and they test the seeds for human pathogens and other contaminants before planting.  The water used in the hydroponic system is filtered thoroughly, as is the air coming into the warehouse. The fertilizer used in the process, which comes as compost from Sacramento State University, is autoclaved before introduction to eliminate any organisms.  Even the workers have their feet sterilized before entering the building.

Alemany Farm is a four and a half acre organic community farm that aims to educate local residents on urban agriculture.  Through several volunteer sessions a week, the volunteer group Friends of Alemany Farm seeks to inspire children and adults to create their own gardens at home, help community members develop job skills, and promote area food security, the availability of and access to food.

Alemany Farm also welcomes school, service, and corporate groups to volunteer for an afternoon to learn about food growth, give back to the community, and help build teamwork.
Project Open Hand is a non-profit founded in 1985 that provides fresh, nutritious meals to seniors and critically ill locals.  In 2013, it established an indoor hydroponic greenhouse to produce lettuce, herbs, and micro-greens for its meals.  Steven Hunter, Director of Building Operations at Project Open Hand, spearheaded the idea of a hydroponic system when the building wasn’t able to support a roof garden.

The organization remodeled one of its building’s downstairs rooms with windows facing the street, and installed two four-foot long wheels built by hydroponic company Omega Garden.  Each of these wheels has an artificial light source and rotates slowly so its 80 plants grow evenly.

Local Greens Production Manager Araab Ballard (left) and Assistant Production hand Jarod Metzger prepare the freshly cut sprouts to be weighed and packaged. Photo by Taylor Reyes.
Local Greens Production Manager Araab Ballard (left) and Assistant Production hand Jarod Metzger prepare the freshly cut sprouts to be weighed and packaged. Photo by Taylor Reyes.

“It was just a casual notion,” he said of the idea’s inception.  “’Oh, we should raise a bit of food.’”  But as plans started developing – and the project raised $30,000 in its fundraising stage – Project Open Hand was able to add two more hydroponic wheels and now grows basil, mustard greens, arugula, lettuce, and micro-greens.

What started as a small idea is now bringing passersby inside the doors of Project Open Hand to find out about the big round gardens in the window.  “They would walk in and they would just say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this before,’” Hunter said.  “It’s a pretty nice way to introduce folks to what we do at Open Hand.”

Shielded from the bustle of Highway 101 by a row of trees, San Francisco Bee-Cause is an apiary – or bee farm – tucked into just under an acre of land in Visitacion Valley.  Nine colonies of native bees sit in a horseshoe shape on one side of the lot; fruit trees and other flowering plants occupy most of the other land.

San Francisco Bee-Cause accepts but doesn’t depend on donations, and funds itself otherwise through the sale of the honey it produces.

“The whole purpose of the bee farm is to feed the bees, and demonstrate that the bees can feed us,” Karen Peteros, the organization’s co-founder, said.

Founded in 2006, San Francisco Bee-Cause aims to demonstrate the value of bees by stimulating the city’s ecosystem.  It also offers a two-year apprenticeship program free of charge for dedicated participants.

“I really wanted something that was more charitable and educational in the long run,” Peteros said.

When Life Gives You Lemons…Race Them

By: Jasmine Williams

The Sonoma sun rays shone down on squinty-eyed spectators sprinkled across the bleachers surrounding Sonoma Raceway. The car racing track tucked near the mountains of the county just 45 miles outside San Francisco was host to 24 Hours of LeMons.

The objective of the national race was not to determine the fastest fruit of the land. The name is a play on 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest sports car race, held annually in Le Mans, France.

“Lemon” is a word used commonly in the car community to describe cars that are well — pieces of shit. For two days, the LeMons race welcomes drivers of all experience levels to an endurance race of over 15 hours — in cars that cost no more that $500.

Brian Shorey (left) routes the microphone cable for David Burgoon before Burgoon's stint in the No. 75 Scuderia Limoni 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde in the 24 Hours of LeMons Sears Pointless at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)
Brian Shorey (left) routes the microphone cable for David Burgoon before Burgoon’s stint in the No. 75 Scuderia Limoni 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde in the 24 Hours of LeMons Sears Pointless at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)

Brian Shorey, now an eight-year participant of the race, stood in his white trailer in the car lot just outside the bleachers. The morning driver’s meeting had just ended. It had warned the racers to behave better than they had the previous day, when foul play resulted in a few bad crashes.

“We used up all our luck yesterday. Today, behave!” Jay Lamm, the race’s founder,  said at the meeting.

For most teams, lasting through the whole weekend was victory enough, but the more competitive racers were in it for the whopping cash prize of $601, awarded in a bag of nickels.
Shorey and his two team members, David Burgoon and Tom Sahines, did it for fun.

“For me, driving a car at that speed in a somewhat competitive environment without having to worry about speeding tickets — even if you don’t win it’s a pretty big accomplishment,” Shorey said. “I’m quite proud of the fact that as a part-time novice mechanic and not a professional race car driver — that we won a race and have been able to last this long.”

The three men joined forces in late 2011, after meeting through the Alfa Romeo Owner’s Club, a car club for lovers of the compact Italian car.

The car they raced in LeMons was a 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde, and this Sunday marked its 37th race. Its life in LeMons started back in 2008 when it was first raced at a LeMons race in Boston.

Evidence of a fuel leak that led to a black flag for the No. 75 Scuderia Limoni 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde during the 24 Hours of LeMons Sears Pointless at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)
Evidence of a fuel leak that led to a black flag for the No. 75 Scuderia Limoni 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde during the 24 Hours of LeMons Sears Pointless at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)

In 2010, Shorey brought the car to the Golden State.

The Milano was a faded black, small and weathered. Three racing stripes — painted in green, white, and red like the Italian flag — ran from the car’s hood to its trunk. A dirty rubber chicken hung out of a broken rear light and a miniature toy deer was taped to the roof.  The hood of the car was stamped with various faces and slogans.

The car was essentially gutted of its interior, and had no glass and only one seat . It was, however, equipped with a roll cage, a fire extinguisher, and a cooler built by the team to offer cool water to hydrate the driver, hands free.

The end of the morning’s meeting marked the beginning of the race and was the cue for Shorey and his team to begin prepping to get the car on the track.
After checking the tires for air, hooking up the radio, and starting up the GoPro attached to the inside of the car, it was finally go-time.

Shorey’s trailer sat in a parking lot littered with at least 100 others like it, as well as RVs, cars, and trucks. He bought the trailer in 2000 to transport his cars to the various LeMons races he participated in throughout the country.   “Alfa Romeo” was written in brick-red cursive on the trailer’s side.

Throughout the lot, white tents provided shade for lounging women in foldable chairs, while kids played tag with dogs and circled the perimeter on their bikes.  The grounds smelled of burnt rubber and motor oil.

Clouds of smoke billowed from BBQ pits; the sizzling of hotdogs and burgers on grills added to the symphonic buzz of roaring engines. The day was cool, the sun’s heat offset by a light but steady breeze. Rolling green hills stretched for miles as a backdrop to the track.

With such basic requirements — showing up in a car worth less than $500 dollars with a team of at least four people, both driver and car equipped with proper safety equipment — the turnout for LeMons was always a spectacle.

“They [the race organizers] encourage themes, so you get a few wankers out there every race,” Shorey said, chuckling, his native Boston slang showing through.

And “wankers” there were.

A particular car, Number 169, circled the lot plastered with enlarged photos of naked women with ungroomed private parts. Another, with the word “ASSCAR” emblazoned in bold on the door panel, featured a life-size , plastic rendition of the bottom half of a woman’s body protruding from its trunk. One car, read  “TRUMP” on one side, “You’re Fired!” on the rear, and had an enlarged toupee on its roof.

Brian Shorey (left) and Tom Sahines (right) help David Burgoon strap in for his stint driving the No. 75 Scuderia Limoni 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde in the 24 Hours of LeMons Sears Pointless at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. In addition to seatbelts, the driver is connected to hydration and cooling hoses and a two-way radio. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)
Brian Shorey (left) and Tom Sahines (right) help David Burgoon strap in for his stint driving the No. 75 Scuderia Limoni 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde in the 24 Hours of LeMons Sears Pointless at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. In addition to seatbelts, the driver is connected to hydration and cooling hoses and a two-way radio. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)

Meanwhile, the drivers on the track raced at their own pace, cautious of competitors, careful to avoid bumping into one another so that they wouldn’t be called to the penalty box.

A blue and yellow tow truck circled the raceway, prepared to pick up any totaled vehicles to clear the track. A few times, all cars were instructed to stop so that the track could be cleaned of oil spills.

By three thirty in the afternoon, Shorey was coming up on the final hour of the race. He had taken over from Burgoon two hours earlier.

By that time the lot had begun to empty. Loyal spectators remained in the stands to watch the final laps, while others scrambled to grab a bite from the only food truck still open.

The rumbling of the engines began to grow faint as more cars broke down or were kicked out the race altogether. A buzz from the radio told the rest of the team to prepare the trailer for Shorey’s arrival.

An exhausted Shorey drove the car into the trailer and climbed out.  The car emerged from the race virtually unscathed.  The team was satisfied.

“Well the race was awesome because we finished, the car’s on the trailer, and it’s still running,” Sahines said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

The team suffered only two pit stops during the race.  One was to fill up the gas tank, and the other to fix a fuel leak that the judges spotted.

“We actually lost 12 positions from the first unplanned pit stop,” Shorey said.

Despite the penalties and not knowing the exact place they finished out of the 147 competitors, the team left Sonoma more than satisfied.

“LeMons is really rewarding people who can work on their own cars and drive their own cars,” Shorey said.

“This is the purest form of racing.”

A Monthly Challenge: The Bay Area homeless population struggles to find access to feminine care products

Written By: Sekinat Shiwoku

 

Mary recalls crying and writhing in pain as she sat to await treatment for toxic shock syndrome at Lifelong Medical Care, a clinic in Oakland that serves low income and homeless individuals. She had contracted it when she could not afford to buy feminine hygiene products and fashioned herself a handmade tampon of wadded Kleenex tissues. The makeshift tampon got lodged deep inside of her after many failed attempts to remove it. Mary, who asked that her last name not be used, recalled the incident in a harried manner; she was ashamed of the circumstances surrounding her contraction of toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

Menstruation can be an emotionally and physically taxing experience, but one that becomes even more difficult when homeless and without access to feminine care products and shower facilities. This situation can result in a myriad of significant health concerns. One of these health issues is TSS, which is a bacterial infection that can result in kidney failure, liver inflammation and can even become fatal.

RodriguezG_HOMELESSMENST_005

“There are a list of complicated issues that come without access to hygiene and sanitation,” said Leah Filler, Director of Global Community Engagement at Lava Mae, an organization that recycles Muni buses into mobile hygiene services for the homeless in San Francisco. “On the shower side, if you can’t clean up after and you’ve had your period and soiled yourself … you’re far more at risk for infection, for infectious diseases, putting others at risk as well.”

Without proper attention and care, many homeless women throughout the Bay Area may find themselves in situations similar to Mary’s.

Thirty-three percent of the homeless population in San Francisco is female. These women face a slew of issues that come without access to feminine products and sanitation. Although there are various organizations and shelters in the Bay Area that homeless people can turn to for hot meals and accommodation, homeless women often have nowhere to turn when it comes to maintaining healthy feminine hygiene practices. Coming across a clean and safe shower or access to toilets strictly for women or menstrual products is rare.

“There are not enough shelters that cater to women,” said Michelle Myers, 57, who lives on the streets of Oakland. “We just go from place to place, and get as many [tampons and pads] as you can when you can, so when time comes you’ll have enough, and when you can’t find access to showers, you just do without. You go to McDonalds to access the bathroom. You go to Burger King, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, or somewhere.”

This is the reality a lot of women on the streets have come to accept. According to Filler, women make up about a third of the homeless population in the Bay Area. There are many resources that serve both men and women facing homelessness, but their needs are quite different. It’s not just inconvenient — it’s dangerous for homeless women to menstruate on the street without proper hygiene practices.

According to Jeb Creech, the Outreach Coordinator at the Women’s Community Clinic in San Francisco, and Heather Rose, manager of the Homeless Shelter for Women in Oakland, there are only two shelters in the Bay Area that serve homeless women without doubling as a domestic violence shelter.

“I am not aware of any other organizations around here that pass out stuff like we do on a regular basis,” Rose said. “They might get a donation of [feminine products] once in awhile but there’s not a place where these women can consistently go and get the products and service they need.”

Currently, out of 40 operating shelters across the Bay Area, only seven are drop-in centers accessible to women who do not need to live at the facility. Of those seven drop-in centers, only two were not associated with domestic violence survivors.

According to Healthline, a medical information website, not having the proper products and hygiene practices during menstruation can lead to toxic shock syndrome, vulvovaginitis, risks of reproductive health and STI infections, and HIV.

RodriguezG_HOMELESSMENST_0012

However, the effects sometimes go beyond the physical consequences.

Many shelter employees agreed that women also face psychological effects from inadequate access to resources. Creech stated that when women are not able to receive clean clothes or do laundry after soiling their clothes it brings down their confidence. Filler shared stories of women who deprived themselves of water or food so they wouldn’t have to go use the restroom and soil themselves.

According to Creech, services to homeless individuals in the Bay Area are male dominated. “There are ten homeless men for every woman,” Creech said.

Many homeless women tend to stay near shelters they know will provide them with resources they need, stay hidden, or stay with a domestic partner.

“The visibly homeless people on the streets tend to be men, and tend to therefore get public attention,” said John Lozier, Executive Director of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, a membership organization of health care providers that work together towards the betterment of homeless people. “It may well be the case that services for men are better funded than services for women.”

Because the number of homeless men is higher and because they are frequent clients of shelters, resources tend to target males. Rachel Howard, Program Coordinator of the Homeless Shelter for Women, believes that even when agencies do focus on what particular needs women have, they don’t always factor in feminine care products.

“There’s certainly a history of menstruation being viewed as something that is dirty and not a fit subject for polite conversation,” Lozier said. “And it’s reflected in all sorts of religious traditions but also in social norms. This is probably impacting support of shelters, but probably not in a conscious way, but in a subconscious way.”

Menstruation on the streets is a multifaceted issue. Many of those like Howard who are aware of the issue believe that it is in the hands of the city to make accommodations to increase those services. “I don’t think they’ve made it a priority,” she said.

 

4 Organizations on a Menstrual Mission
The Homeless Shelter for Women is a drop-in center started by nuns in the early 90s that serves 55 to 60 women a day.  The shelter is a place where women can eat breakfast and lunch, drink coffee and tea, shower, do laundry, and sleep.

Conscious Period is a company in Los Angeles founded by Annie Lascoe and Margo Lang, joining the menstrual revolution by selling comfortable tampons. Its tampons are 100% organic cotton and have a BPA-free plastic applicator. With every box purchased, Conscious Period donates a box of organic cotton pads to a homeless woman.

Lava Mae is a group that turns Muni buses into mobile hygiene services for the homeless in San Francisco. It launched its first vehicle in June 2014, and its second in September 2015. Altogether last year, it served 2,000 homeless people in San Francisco. It will also be doubling its schedule next month to serve more people in need.

Period Packages is a project created by Sidney Hood and two of her friends after learning about the crisis homeless women face on their periods. The ladies had an initial goal of raising a mere $500, but they exceeded their expectation and raised over $4,000. With the money, they were able to purchase over 21,000 tampons and thousands of pads. After a couple of weeks, the ladies completed 500 Period Packages, each containing 30 tampons and up to 8 pads.

 

Written By: Sekinat Shiwoku

From Farm to Bong

By: Brandy Miceli

The inflammation, swollen cartilage, and swollen joint linings that come with 39-year-old Amanda Reiman’s foot arthritis keep her immobile and in pain.

Refusing to put chemicals of any sort into her body, Reiman opts out of doctor recommended steroid shots in her toes and painkillers of any sort  — even Tylenol.

“I decided that if I could get away with using cannabis instead, and not see progression in the arthritis, I would do that,” Reiman said. “And it’s worked.”

Just as with most other things she puts into her body, the organic marijuana is imperative.

As Reiman’s oven timer beeped and her vegan pie crust began to brown, she said, “I want to consume as few chemicals as possible in my life. It’s the same philosophy I have about whether I choose to take pharmaceutical drugs, and organic or nonorganic foods.” Reiman uses  one specific, transparent delivery service over the plethora of medical marijuana dispensaries in her area.

A delivery service called Flow Kana is making it easy for Bay Area cannabis patients to access quality, sun-grown, organic cannabis. The company has humble beginnings, playing a different role in the farm-to-table movement. In the same time that you can have an organic meal on your table, you can have organic cannabis in your bong.

Miller_FlowKana_004

Buying pot used to mean hopping in your dealer’s luxury car, driving around the block to avoid being seen, and paying in cash — without having any idea the type of marijuana you’re smoking.

Only recently did your “dealer” pull up in a Miata, hand you your organic cannabis in a tiny Mason jar with a personalized thank-you note and a piece of chocolate, and ask, “Cash or card?”

“Ultimately, our goal is to make our products available to patients in as many channels and avenues as possible,” Adam Steinberg, Head of Sales Development at Flow Kana, said.

They established its presence through its delivery app, that allows their patients to find the cannabis that best suits them and order it to be delivered in thirty minutes or less. With a steady revenue increase of 15 percent per month, according to CEO Michael Steinmetz, its year has been a success.

Once a patient’s California ID and Proposition 215 recommendation given by a physician for legal use, are verified through Flow Kana’s system, the patient will get a confirmation text or email saying when the patient should expect a delivery. Through the app, the patient can track the driver, just as with other food delivery services.

Occasionally Joe Maddox, a delivery driver for Flow Kana, still gets “old school” clients who try to jump in his car to whisper about “the goods,” looking around cautiously to make sure nobody sees.
“For god’s sake, it’s legal!” He would proclaim reassuringly.

The company consults its legal team weekly to ensure complete state legality.

“It’s also,” he pauses, “Absolutely fire,” referring to the great quality of the cannabis.

It will continue delivering to a variety of patients: those that lack mobility, those with disabilities, and those who use cannabis recreationally. Steinberg says that Flow Kana’s marijuana and concentrated products will begin popping up in brick-and-mortar dispensary locations around the Bay Area soon.

Reiman favors Flow Kana because of the way they let their patients know exactly who grew the pot they’re smoking. “When I order from Flow Kana, I feel like I’m getting that kind of information about my product that you don’t get when you go to a dispensary,” she said.


“Instead of just an on-demand delivery service, we view ourselves as a premium cannabis brand,” Steinberg said. The company’s goals are to bridge the gap between the patients and the mystery of where their cannabis came from, and to normalize this medicine in general.

Steinmetz envisions an industry with more transparency. He saw a huge lack of that in the industry today, which is why Flow Kana shows its patients exactly where and how its marijuana was grown.
“‘Our farm is located on a sun-drenched, 3000 ft. ridgeline in Mendocino County. We run a micro-scale, 100% solar powered, diversified family farm, with roughly two acres of mixed vegetables, flowers, herbs, and connoisseur grade medicinal cannabis’,” it’s website advertises.

Growers use the terms “chemical” and “organic” to distinguish the two different production manners. We put food into our bodies that contains chemicals from pesticides and GMO’s, but inhaling the smoke from those chemicals has completely different bodily and environmental effects.

According to the Honest Marijuana Company, an organization that teaches the public about the importance of organic marijuana and how to grow it, super chemicals and specialized plant foods used to grow chemical marijuana carry chemicals and toxins that are not supposed to be funneled through our bodies.

“Smoking can create pyrolysis compounds with unknown toxicities, and inhaled chemicals enter the bloodstream without first undergoing first-pass metabolism by the digestive and hepatic systems,” according to the Cannabis Safety Institute’s Pesticide Use on Cannabis study in 2015. “As a result, inhaled chemicals are typically present at much higher levels in the body than those that are orally ingested.”

The study also shows that when chemical weed is concentrated into hash, edibles, resin, or any tinctures, the pesticides are also concentrated, leading to extremely high levels of toxins in the final product. Up to 70 percent of the toxins are left in the concentrate being inhaled.

Mother Jones says an estimated one third of America’s pot is produced indoors. Per pound of pot, this estimate would emit 4,600 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and use enough electricity to power 1.7 million homes nationwide.
Beyond the science, the comparison is in the taste.

“Organic is the most natural taste you can get,” Maddox said. “The way I’m thinking about it is, compare sweets—something to indulge in. Would you rather bite into a fresh
It’s no coincidence there are some people who would pick the latter. Some prefer organic, while others don’t care or aren’t informed about the effect of chemicals.
Louis Davis, a medical marijuana patient suffering from systemic lupus, doesn’t know the difference.

“It doesn’t necessarily matter to me,” Davis said. “If I knew the real effects behind organic versus other types, I’d probably care, but I don’t really know the differences so I can’t say whether I really care or not.”
The frail 23-year-old lies in the center of a dimly lit hospital room rating his pain at a nine. Nurses come in and out multiple times an hour to administer the various medicines needed for the side effects of his lupus. Davis describes his kidney failure, itchy lesions, and the cracked right hip awaiting a replacement.

Miller_FlowKana_005

“My reason for using marijuana is for pain,” he said. “The pain I’m in without it is not the business.”

He gets up in the morning, stiff and sore, and takes the array of pharmaceuticals for his list of health ailments. “Then I’ll smoke, and I’m able to eat breakfast,” Davis said.
When Davis doesn’t have the energy to go to a dispensary, he uses delivery services similar to Flow Kana to get his cannabis, such as Eaze, Green Cross, Green Rush, and Waterfall Wellness. He recently had a special delivery from his friend to the UCSF Medical Center, where he snuck out of his room to meet smoke outside.

“I was admitted here seven days ago and one of my friends came through while I’m on a shitload of frickin’ pain medicine and my blood pressure is through the roof so I went out to smoke a joint,” he said. “They [the nurses] didn’t know I went out to smoke, but I came back in and my blood pressure dropped dramatically. They didn’t even know why, they’re thinking it was some medicine but nah, it’s because I was smoking.”
Davis smoked a high cannabidiol (CBD) strain, which is known for lowering blood pressure.

He’s never used Flow Kana, as he favors indoor cannabis.
“Indoor is all I smoke, I don’t really touch outdoor too much,” he said. “I don’t really like the makeup of the bud, it’s sort of stringy; I’m really picky when it comes to bud. It has to look and smell potent—it can’t be some crumbly stuff.”
To each his own.

While people use different strain types to achieve different healing effects, these strain types fall under five species categories: indica, indica-dominant hybrid, sativa-dominant hybrid, and sativa. Indicas are great for sleep and pain, sativas offer a head high and energy, and the hybrids fall somewhere in between. Flow Kana associates these species with states of being: zen, chill, awe, and active. This makes it easy for people to find the species and strain that best suits them.
In addition, they offer CBD strains, which have higher cannabidiol levels than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels. These are excellent for customers decreasing pain and relaxing without getting absolutely “wrecked,” or too high.

This simple, innovative means of care-taking has been helping people with vision impairments, broken limbs, anxiety, and depression for one year now as they celebrate their foundation anniversary.
Flow Kana welcomes full legalization with open arms. In a world carrying so much suffering, getting marijuana to as many patients in pain is the true goal of anyone in the business.

The Age of Tech : While Tech Companies Create Younger Environments, The “Not-So-Young” Struggle

By: Eric Nyulassy

All you can eat food around the clock. Beautifully landscaped grass as far as the eye can see. Basketball and volleyball courts for the active crowd, and video games with big screen TVs for everyone else—there is even a laundromat. This is not your run-of-the-mill, high-priced country club. This is the environment of new-aged employment campuses in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley provides the luxury of living in an area that has a plethora of jobs that pay an average of 79,108 dollars per capita personal income, compared to the United States average of 46,049 dollars. The job growth rate is the highest, it’s been since 2000 according to the 2016 Silicon Valley Index report. However, middle-aged men and women are finding it increasingly difficult to land a job in the tech field.

In years past, issues of race and gender were prevalent in the hiring process. According to the United States Department of Labor, women are now projected to account for 51 percent of the increase in total labor force from 2008 to 2018. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 36.4 percent of the Silicon Valley community is foreign born, significantly higher than the average in California or the United States due to outsourcing firms and companies bringing in skilled workers from overseas.  The new concern for candidates actively seeking employment in Silicon Valley is age.

According to research done by Economic Synopses,  the long-term unemployment rate after the great recession has more than doubled in most cases for individuals aged 30 to 65. Long-term unemployment is described as an individual being out of work for over six months.

“A very good friend of mine was in the tech industry for many years,” Deborah Borlase, a middle-aged employee for MagnaChip Semiconductor said. “He got laid off and struggled to find work, so he resorted to teaching.”

Individuals with extensive experience in the tech industry are being over-looked for younger and cheaper workers. Resumes riddled with titles like, “Director of Sales” and “Vice President of Global Marketing” do not hold as much value to companies, as observed by Jeff Rose, a 66-year-old unemployed worker in the field.

“Companies are all about the bottom line. Somebody cheaper and younger is out there. When I left Silicon Quest International, they actually replaced my job with two people. My salary was worth the cost of two younger workers with much less experience,” said Rose.

Beyond companies looking for cheaper prospects to fill positions, the issue of cultural adaptivity creates a roadblock for middle-aged techies.

David Flor is a business development representative for Salesforce, a highly sought-after employer in the Bay Area. Going in for his interview, he remembers his interviewer stating it was easier to get accepted to Harvard than to be hired at Salesforce and for every opening there are thousands of applicants. Flor talked about his job with an exuberant amount of energy and expertise.

“Everyone wants to have fun here at work,” Flor stated. “It is a Wall Street type of attitude here. Work hard so you can play hard.”

Flor exudes the type of cultural attitude many tech companies are looking for in their working environments today — a culture that could create a problem for the older crowd of techies who have families and other responsibilities that remove them from work and their coworkers.

Staff recruiting firms that push recruits into these coveted positions are under pressure by many companies to fill these vacancies with a specific candidate. According to recruiters, the criteria for these candidates are similar across the board and detrimental to those who do not meet them. According to a recruiter from Premiere Staffing,  this shift in culture is emulated and modeled after Google by other companies and can be correlated to an emphasis on increased productivity. Both recruiters asked for anonymity in fear of backlash or potential termination by their employers for providing this information.

Companies like Google, now provide food, beverages, sleeping arrangements, dog parks, and fitness rooms that enable workers to stay at work all day. The perks are great, but older employees are more likely to have children and other responsibilities that take them away from the campus, not allowing them to dedicate the same amount of time younger prospects potentially have.

“People do not want to leave and the vibe reminds you of a college campus. Employees like to work outside on the grass, sleep in the pods and play games throughout the day,” said Gilbert Padilla, a contractor in his third year with Google.
One recruiter said that the most common response he gets from companies is that older candidates are “too experienced” and they would prefer to fill their vacancies in a competitive market with young talent who “live and breath tech.”
“Companies do not want a ‘suits and ties’ environment anymore,” he said. “Companies are going against the grain and that is inviting to a younger talent pool, which is what they want. If you are 50 years old, there is a higher probability you will have issues taking orders from a 30-year-old owner or boss and the ability to take direction becomes a concern for the employer.”

Agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) take action against age discrimination, according to The Age of Discrimination Act of 1967. The EEOC resolved 21,273 age discrimination charges in 2015, recovering 99.1 million dollars in monetary damages for charging parties and associated aggrieved individuals.

According to 2016’s Silicon Valley Index (SVI), 64,363 jobs were created between 2014 and 2015. There has also been a 24.4 percent increase in jobs titled “Innovation and Information Products & Services” since 2010 and has steadily increased every year creating a trend in a wanted field. Jobs in this growing category primarily have tech related ties.

Despite the increase in tech related jobs in Silicon Valley, many middle-aged workers cannot capitalize on the opportunities available, according to area recruiters. They are forced to become more flexible with regards to salary, creating a financial burden in an area where the cost of living has reached astronomical heights. According to a recent Trulia report, only 14 percent of homes in San Francisco are affordable to the middle-class.

However, there are still companies in the area who hire solely on merit and expertise. Symantec executives pride themselves in finding a candidate that meets their needs based exclusively on their experience and passion to succeed.

Mitch Underwood, who leads Symantec’s AMS Demand Operations team in Oregon, detailed what he looks for in a potential job candidate.

“First thing we look at is education,” Underwood said. “Does it pertain to the position we are looking for? Their aptitude; how well they articulate ideas tells us how organized they are. We are also interested in what they do outside of work. Philanthropic work and community service is another element we look at,” he said.

Many older workers struggle to find jobs in a booming industry that now places more emphasis on cultural fit and cost effectiveness than on experience. People are more dedicated to the company than the company is to the people. Workers like Jeff Rose still have fight and passion in them and wish companies would see the value in experience once again.

“We still have a desire to make an impact,” Rose said. “We are innovative and we want to show that there is still value in hiring people older with more experience.”

What’s Growing On

By: Stephanie LaRue

At 11:30 a.m., the fenced-in slope a block up the hill from the Bayview’s busy Third Street didn’t turn any heads. After a few hours of dirty work in the beating sun, patches of strawberries, dark green kale, and a booming cilantro plant are visible from the street. This corner of Bridgeview Drive and Newhall Street is home to the Bridgeview Community Teaching and Learning Garden, where its tenants are clearing out the weeds that popped up after the rain.

Joel McClure trims the growth on the chain link fence surrounding the space. The sun catches beads of sweat in his greying mustache. Joel’s wife, Mary McClure, carries a glass dispenser of ice water to a wooden bench on the first level of the terraced garden. Slices of oranges, plucked from the tree ten feet away, knock against ice cubes with sprigs of garden-harvested lavender, frozen inside.

Damiana Bruno pulls weeds with friends Oriol Codina (middle) and Daniel (Back) during Brigdeview Teaching and Learning Garden's volunteer day in the Bayview District in San Francisco, CA on Sunday February 14, 2016. (Aleah Fajardo/Xpress)
Damiana Bruno pulls weeds with friends Oriol Codina (middle) and Daniel (Back) during Brigdeview Teaching and Learning Garden’s volunteer day in the Bayview District in San Francisco, CA on Sunday February 14, 2016. (Aleah Fajardo/Xpress)

The McClures built the Bridgeview Garden in an unmaintained city lot next to their home. With help from the Quesada Gardens Initiative and other local agricultural nonprofits, they developed the space from a dumping ground to a sustainable vegetable and fruit garden in a geographically isolated neighborhood in one of the Bay Area’s food deserts. The garden serves as a teaching ground where elementary school students, medical school residents, and community activists learn the importance of access to fresh, healthy food.

When the McClures moved into their Bayview home in 2001, the city lot next to them was trashed. The slope was overgrown with weeds, and scattered with garbage and old mattresses. A cyclone fence, padlocked shut, surrounded the lot. It was such an eyesore for Joel that he would drive home from the opposite direction so he wouldn’t have to look at it.
“I can’t run away from the problem because I live right there,” Joel said, pointing up to the house that overlooks the lot. “So I decided, as I looked out the window I said, ‘Joel, somebody has to do something about it,’ and I think the window looked back at me and said, ‘Guess who’s going to do it?’”

Damiana Bruno poses for a photo near their designated spot in the Brigdeview Community Teaching and Learning Garden in the Bayview District in San Francisco, CA on on Monday February 23, 2016. (Aleah Fajardo/Xpress)
Damiana Bruno poses for a photo near their designated spot in the Brigdeview Community Teaching and Learning Garden in the Bayview District in San Francisco, CA on on Monday February 23, 2016. (Aleah Fajardo/Xpress)

Their first action was to call the city’s customer service line to send someone to clear out the lot. They were told that there was no funding for the city to provide that kind of service, but the McClures could have the keys to the fence if they wanted to take care of it themselves. For two-years, the McClures chipped away at the littered lot. Mary said every time they would go out and pull weeds, it would rain and new weeds would pop up.
In 2004, Mary said they noticed something interesting down the street. The median dividing Quesada Avenue was transforming from a neighborhood dumping ground to a flourishing garden oasis. Bayview residents Annette Smith and Karl Paige, built the Quesada Gardens, which evolved into an award-winning nonprofit called the Quesada Gardens Initiative (QGI).

The McClures asked QGI for help with the lot, and they sent it in droves. Volunteers from the University of California, San Francisco Architecture and Community Design class drew up new landscape plans and offered to help build and maintain the lot as a garden. In a neighborhood-wide vote, the plans were approved to become QGI’s next project.

The Bridgeview Garden is sustained through donations, but receives funding from QGI for any materials they need. The city sent over dump trucks full of topsoil, mulch, and broken-up concrete to use for landscaping. A nonprofit in the Presidio, Friends of the Urban Forest, donated fruit trees for the garden, and the primrose trees that now line the sidewalk along Newhall Street.

Oriol Codina helps pull out weeds during the Brigdeview Teaching and Learning Garden's volunteer day in the Bayview District in San Francisco, CA on Sunday February 14, 2016. (Aleah Fajardo/Xpress)
Oriol Codina helps pull out weeds during the Brigdeview Teaching and Learning Garden’s volunteer day in the Bayview District in San Francisco, CA on Sunday February 14, 2016. (Aleah Fajardo/Xpress)

“That’s a big expense right there,” Mary said. “If it wasn’t for them, it wouldn’t be affordable for us to have purchased the trees.”

One of Joel and Mary’s former neighbors, Roberto Vargas, remembers back when the Bridgeview Garden was in its original state. “I used to walk by here, and this was a dump,” Vargas said. “This is one of the spaces that for me is very representative of transforming a space that represented neglect, into a space that builds community and provides nutrition.”

Vargas, a resident of the Bayview for 25-years, is Co-chair of the Bayview Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Zone, which recently merged with Southeast Food Access (SEFA). He also works as a navigator of the Community Engagement and Health Policy program at UCSF. He said the neighborhood — specifically Hunters Point — is geographically isolated.

“My mother used to drive the one MUNI bus that goes in and out of that community, and she used to always tell me, ‘You know, I feel bad charging anybody! I let folks slide because it feels like an injustice that this is the only way in and out for many of these folks,’” Vargas said.

He said that the geographic isolation creates barriers to healthy food. The United States Department of Agriculture Food Access Research Atlas characterizes Bayview-Hunters Point as a low-income, low-access census tract. Areas like this one, with limited access to sources of healthy food, either by geography, income, or transportation, are called food deserts.

Compared with the rest of the city, hospitalization rates due to diabetes, hypertension, and heart failure are the higher in the Bayview than any other neighborhood, according to the San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership. These specific conditions are all directly related to poor diet. Additionally, 18 percent of the Bayview’s residents live in poverty according to the San Francisco Planning Department Neighborhood Socio-Economic Profile, which also limits the ability to buy healthy food.
The Bridgeview Garden manages to rise above the statistics, and provide solutions to the issues that plague the Bayview. The garden hosts students from elementary school to medical school to learn about the importance of sustainability and healthy eating habits.

“It’s really good because we’re learning as we’re imparting information,” Joel said. He said he remembered when a 14-year-old boy visiting the garden on a field trip learned what Brussels sprouts looked like. “He saw them in the rows in Safeway, but never knew where they came from,” Joel said.

John Kosich(left) and Sherry Scott (right) pose for a photo near the Brigdeview Teaching and Learning Garden during the garden's volunteer day in the Bayview District in San Francisco, CA on Sunday February 14, 2016. (Aleah Fajardo/Xpress)
John Kosich(left) and Sherry Scott (right) pose for a photo near the Brigdeview Teaching and Learning Garden during the garden’s volunteer day in the Bayview District in San Francisco, CA on Sunday February 14, 2016. (Aleah Fajardo/Xpress)

The garden also provides bags of fresh produce for elderly neighborhood residents on a fixed income. “Whatever we pick we want to make sure that we give them the first harvest,” Mary said. She said she didn’t think much of it at first, but the deliveries had a lasting impact on a neighbor who approached her and said the food helped her eat better and save money.

That interaction inspired Joel and Mary to keep up with the deliveries and double their crops. “We got to the point where we had so much zucchini that I would try to give it away to the neighbors and they would refuse it,” Mary said, laughing.

“This is something that brought pleasure to both my wife and I, because we were on the receiving end ourselves at one time,” Joel said, “And we’ve been blessed to have a fulfilling life, and I think that we as stewards of this garden, and also citizens of where we are, we need to share that with people less fortunate than we are.”