SF State Theater students shine with Shakespeare

Ben Landmesser lies flat on his belly across a long, blue cot towards the left of the stage, with a silver Mac at his fingertips. Play-goers file through the pitch black door of the Studio Theater in the Creative Arts building at SF State, eager to sink their teeth into Shakespeare. One of the English playwright’s earliest works, The Two Gentleman of Verona, serves as the Players’ Club’s winter show and first production of the semester. The cushioned seats of the theater fill to capacity, creating a sloping half circle of spectators around the gleaming black stage. A girl with long, swaying hair the color of straw is selling Three Musketeers, Reese’s, Kit Kats, and M&Ms. The overhead lights finally dim to a warm, glowing yellow, Landmesser is joined on stage by fellow star Michael Saarela, as Valentine and Proteus respectively, to kick off the theater department’s spring season.

The Players’ Club at SF State is a longstanding tradition that has been beloved within the university’s theater department for more than thirty years. According to members, the Players’ Club consists of, “SFSU’s finest actors, technicians, dramaturgy, theatre goers, and everybody in the Theater Department.” Together, the members strive to share quality theater with their fellow students.


At the start of this spring semester, the Players chose to tackle one of the many complex and comedic stories by the renowned playwright William Shakespeare. Directed by senior and theater major Will Hand, the cast and crew of Two Gents had an unusually small amount of time to prepare for the show’s opening during the first week of February. “The play was a deceptively large undertaking,” says Hand. “But I think it’s the closest I’ve ever come to being an artist.”

With only three weeks of rehearsal for two weeks of performances, those involved with the show had to work especially hard. “They’re the best SF State has to offer,” says Hand, speaking affectionately of his cast and crew. “They’re the Dream Team, because they know how to work hard.” Spending his winter break researching the play and preparing for the start of rehearsals, Hand says the amount of preparation astounded him. “I surprised myself with how much homework I did for this,” he says. “And how I got it off the ground in three weeks.”

The Two Gentleman of Verona is a Shakespearean comedy revolving around two best friends, Valentine and Proteus. After moving to Milan, Valentine soon falls in love with a duke’s daughter, named Sylvia. After joining his friend in the Italian city, Proteus soon forgets his love Julia, and falls for Valentine’s Sylvia, spending the remainder of the play comically plotting to win Sylvia’s heart.

Working together from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for five to six days a week during rehearsals, the cast became a close family. “It was really easy to connect with each other,” says Gabby Battista, who plays Sylvia. “We all worked really hard putting this show together.” With active theater students typically spending up to fourteen hours a day on campus, either in class, prepping, or rehearsing, one must be truly dedicated. “It takes a lot to make this a priority. A lot of balancing and multitasking,” says Battista. “We don’t sleep. We just have coffee and find places to nap. Café Rosso is our best friend.”


Those in the Club takes pride in their incredible work ethic, especially as the Club and all of its productions and events, “are completely student run in every way,” according to their President, senior Shay Wisniewski. Each year, theater students campaign and are elected into the ten leadership positions within the club. These officers then spend their time promoting and planning Players’ Club events. Receiving no school funding, the majority of their efforts are put into fundraising, “with the proceeds of each production, raised from ticket sales and concessions, thrown right back into the department to help fund future theater events and plays.” And each Players’ Club production is student directed, acted, and designed. Each event also reigns as a testament to their resounding devotion.

Along with their annual winter show, the Players’ Club also holds what is known as Shotgun each semester. Within a forty-eight hour time span, actors and directors will write, rehearse, produce, and finally act out a play based on a one sentence prompt that they pull out of a hat. “It’s the most fun and intense theater experience,” says Saarela. The final products of Shotgun are showcased in the Studio Theater at no cost for fellow theater students, or any member of the public who is interested in watching. “It’s just crazy,” says Landmesser. “People love it. People love doing it. It’s stress reliever.”

The theater department at SF State is both respected and admired by those who have had the pleasure of experiencing it. ”The theater department here at state is just amazing,” says Saarela. “The professors are brilliant, and really dedicated.” Studying theater is not just studying how to act. “At SF State, they teach you everything,” says Hand. “Ultimately you get an education in how to be a producer. You come out of State with tools you’ll need for the rest of your life.”


The Brown Bag Theater at SF State is one aspect of the school’s production department where students seem to agree that it is both special and unique. Every week of each semester, Wednesday through Friday at noon in the Brown Bag Theater of the Creative Arts building, theater students perform one hour plays free of charge for their fellow students. “Brown Bag is something very special,” says Saarela. “It’s a crucial part of the theater department here at State.” The plays produced are written, directed, acted, and completely put together solely by students. “Brown Bag is what attracted me to State,” says Brett Hunt, junior and theater major. “It teaches you methods of acting you probably have never been taught before.


SF State theater is no stranger to talent, with big Hollywood stars like Annette Bening, Danny Glover, and Jeffrey Tambor all rising from the university’s theater department as allumns. Mark Jackson, a Bay Area theater star, regularly produces shows in both San Francisco and Oakland. He is also an alumni of SF State and is currently teaching classes. Three SF State alum have also gone on to create their own San Francisco theater company, called HurLyBurLy, recently producing a play called Caligari. The show, originally produced for the Brown Bag Theater, saw two original cast members, Two Gents actors Wisniewski and Landmesser, return to star. “It’s possible in this department to really create and do your own work; it’s limitless,” says Battista.

[pullquote author=”Will Hand, SF State theater major”]“Ultimately you get an education in how to be a producer. You come out of State with tools you’ll need for the rest of your life.”[/pullquote]

This freedom of expression and the past success of those hailing from the SF State theater department are giving current students the confidence to set out on their own. Saarela would like to soon begin an improv acting troupe with other interested theater students. He hopes to make the club into a kind of class that would teach the various techniques and rules of improvisational acting, with the goal of eventually touring and performing shows. Hand too has big dreams, hoping to begin a theater production company which he has already named— Do It Live Productions. Hand considers Two Gents to be his company’s premier production. Along with his Two Gents cast member Wisniewski and assistant director Kenny Toll, Hand hopes to start directing and performing shows within the city.

As for plays at SF State, students and others can look forward to the American love story Fool for Love, House of Bernarda Alba, Barbara Seville, and The Fringe to all be performed this Spring- exact dates to be announced.

To those in the Players’ Club, as well as the entire theater department, their craft and what they do is most special and beloved. “Here there’s just a lot of people with passion; you can see it and feel it,” says Baatista. For those apart of the Players’ Club annual Winter Show this year, the hard work and effort is worth it. “Performances are the biggest payoff,” says Saarela, “Seeing people enjoy your hard work. You do it for the experience, and what you’re going to learn.”

The Vista Room

Subdued classical music resonates in the background of the airy, oblique dining room. The walls, stark white, match the freshly pressed linens that line the tables, creating an almost blinding effect when illuminated by the midday light. Polished flatware, glinting wine glasses, and napkins, folded in the shape of a pyramid, adorn the dining tables, as do crystal salt and pepper shaker sets and small glass vases, filled with stringent scarlet carnations.

Propriety aside, the aesthetic value of the restaurant is redeemed by the stunning views, for which the establishment, Vista Room, is named. Perched on the fourth floor of Burk Hall, the eatery is SF State’s little-known fine dining oasis, which started in 1995. Situated on the Northeast corner of the building, floor-to-ceiling windows contour the L-shaped room, offering treetop views of the campus, set against the city’s hillsides.
Minty green drapes encase the bright, broad windows. The school’s Ethnic Studies and Psychology building faces Burk Hall on the North and the Cesar Chavez Student Center is visible to the East. In between, Thornton Hall rises from the quad’s lush foliage, just high enough to be able to see the College of Science and Engineering building’s rooftop observatory. In the distance, Sutro Tower soars above the city, resting atop the speckled hillside.

Faculty members, students, and neighborhood folks in the know, carry on with their respective lunches and conversations, using their best indoor voices. Waiters float across the dining room, clad in long-sleeve white button ups, black ties and pants, hands clasped behind their backs, when not carrying food or drinks.
Unlike other eateries on campus, Vista Room functions not only as a fine dining restaurant to the general public, but also as a laboratory for both Dietetic majors and Hospitality and Tourism Management majors at SF State.

[pullquote author=”Yan Ng, dining room manager, Vista Room”]“It provides a real life experience for the students to understand restaurant operation.” [/pullquote]

“The experience of being servers, productions and assistant managers allow the students to be more considerate and understanding when they become managers,” he said.

The restaurant has the beneficial qualities of a symbiotic relationship: it is both a tool for students to learn the craft and a treat for diners to enjoy. “It’s an escape from your life,” Jessica Tomory, who has worked in Vista Room as a server to fulfill a segment III requirement, explains. “You don’t have to leave campus to feel like you’ve left campus,” she says.

Offering gourmet, California cuisine, prepared, served, and managed by students, eating at the Vista Room is not just a lunch- it is an experience, and a fairly inexpensive one at that.

For only fifteen dollars, diners are treated to selections from the three-course menu, which changes weekly, executed by students under the supervision of Executive Chef Daniel Honan, who has been with the Vista Room since 1998.

“For a college student to be able to have duck on their lunch menu and be able to afford it is an exceptional experience that most cannot typically afford,” Tomory, an SF State psychology major, says.

On her first visit to the Vista Room as a diner, she indulged in a radicchio, watercress and frisée salad with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. For her entrée, she ordered a meat trio consisting of grilled miniature veal tenderloin, roasted duck breast and a lamb chop (vegetarians are not to worry- at least one menu item is always meat-free). The plate was artfully decorated with a brandy and green peppercorn sauce, purple potato mushroom gratinee, and a baked mushroom-stuffed tomato. Desert was rounded out with a decadent milk chocolate mousse topped with a crunchy hazelnut crust and raspberries, again another dish that looked to good to eat- almost.
Each course is punctuated with at least one visit from the friendly wait staff, offering freshly baked rolls and beverages, while clearing the table of clutter before the next plate arrives. The fare is fresh, inventive, and oh-so-good.
A meal at the Vista Room is a complete dining experience. Between the alluring views, gourmet cuisine, and professional service, it is hard to pick a standout feature. Lunching at the restaurant transforms a typical afternoon meal into a moment in time, with the pressures of school temporarily out of mind. For students looking to escape the noisy, crowded campus, or foodies who want to test their palate, or both, Vista Room is definitely worth a look.

Vista Room, Burk Hall 401, SF State, Monday through Friday 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., by prepaid reservations only
To purchase tickets:

  • Hospitality and Tourism Management Department, Business 306, (415) 338-6087.
  • Consumer Family Studies/Dietetics Department, Burk Hall 329, (415) 405-3530

Live by the sword, die by the sword

A nervous look spreads across a young man’s face as he stands surrounded by a group of men and women, draped in what appears to be traditional medieval garb. A short, stocky, sweaty guy pulling on layers of iron armor is in the young man’s face. His barrel chest and belly are in the process of being concealed with a draping of heavy armor; his chin is pushed up by a stout neck protector that extends down to his chest and rests on his meaty shoulders. Soon there will be a fifteen pound helmet of dented metal resting upon his shoulders to complete the ensemble.

All the metal is dented with the marks of receiving heavy blows. His leg protectors operate with swivels and pivot points to allow him to move, his heavy metal gloves protect his wrists and the tops of his hands, letting him to hold his “ugly stick” and a shield in the other hand.

The new-comer keeps a nervous and excited smile on his face as he accepts pointers from this seasoned, medieval brawler. Through physical example the seasoned “heavy fighter” jabs his strong finger into the spots in which one should aim for during a battle. In doing so he catches a glimpse of discomfort in the new-comer’s eye and ensures him that in order to participate, you had better get used to people touching you and being in your space. The new-comer nods and reassures his instructor that he does not have a problem with it.

The “ugly stick” is a fierce looking piece of weaponry. A five foot piece of wood with iron fittings on both ends and two iron cross pieces about a foot from one end make it a device of detrimental pain. Re-wrapped over and over with grip-tape to conceal the chunks that have been left behind in opponents’ armor, the stick has character. And if it could talk it would probably scream.

Metal creaks against metal as the two heavy fighters make their way onto the grassy field. About 50 yards away, a swift but much more delicate swordplay is underway. Two men in fencing masks and long cloaks fend each other off with their thin swords. During battle scenarios at the events, a field can have a melee of up to fifty fighters, making these practices just a tease to what can really be done.

It is like two bulls about too ram horns as the two heavy fighters face off. A code of absolute honor is always upheld in practice and organized events. It is up to each individual fighter to recognize when he or she has been hit, and to act accordingly. The fighter who has delivered the blow cannot and usually will not claim that their blow rendered the other fighter dead or wounded.

If a fighter receives a strong blow to the leg they are required to go down to their knees as if rendered legless. From the ground they can continue to fight until they suffer a blow deadly enough to stop them fully; a blow to the head would be an example, and blows to the head do occur.

There is little holding back when doing the heavy fighting. Fighters leave with bruises all the time. Their forearms will remain black and blue for weeks and they are worn as badges of honor, proof that they can handle it. And while some practice several times a week, those bruises are rarely absent.

As the ugly sticks fly, fighters are bashed in the head, the torso, the legs, the arms; only their shield is there to protect them and when a five-foot stick with iron fittings is being thrust in a fighter’s direction, the shield doesn’t always block the momentum. It is not for the weak or the timid.

Christopher Starling, 55, has been with The Shire for almost ten years. A stout man with a round, friendly face; he sports a tie-die shirt and insists that everyone eat a piece of the lemon cake his wife provided, so that he won’t have to eat them all himself.

A few years back, Sterling was doing some heavy fighting practice with another member. Sterling delivered a solid blow to his opponent’s leg; sending him to the ground, as one is expected to do after losing a leg. As the man covered in full metal armor came crashing to his knees, his shield came down on to Sterling’s hand. Although his hands were concealed in metal gloves, the side of the heavy shield found the one small opening, the Achilles tendon of the glove if you will, and slipped right in, shattering Sterling’s thumb. It was the type of rare accident that can only occur when two grown men are clad in full armor, wielding ugly sticks and metal shields at each other.

Sterling is the senior locksmith for San Francisco’s oldest locksmith company, Warman Security, (the irony is not unseen) which has occupied the same location since 1914. Sterling realized that while he loved heavy fighting, he also loved his livelihood; and lock-smithing is a livelihood that does not go well with broken fingers. So after being a heavy fighter for several years and participating in five Crown Tournaments, he has hung up his ugly stick and switched to rapier.

Steady rotations of fighters leave and enter the practice field. Along the street, lawn chairs are out next to their parked cars and aside from long cloaks, piles of transient armor, a few bags of swords, some shields and a pile of ugly sticks; it’s just another day in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Art Mac Ceallaish sits back and relaxes between rounds of rapier. His aviators conceal his eyes and his gray hair is pulled back into a very long ponytail. A blue, homemade cloak of heavy denim drapes over his body.

Art got into Shire life over eight years ago and took to rapier. The heavy fighting interested him, but he says that with a bad back and being sixty-years-old, the reality of being beaten with an ugly stick probably is not the best idea if he wishes to continue this hobby.

Before joining another fencer on the field he slips on his mask. On the mesh face guard he has painted a somewhat ghoulish set of eyes, mouth and nose. He is tall, and holding two swords, one long for the offense and a shorter side arm for defense, squashing any stigma that might apply to a 60-year-old man. He is an intimidating figure, draped in heavy blue and wearing the ominous mask. It is hard for some of these folks to not look intimidating in their garb, but a quick chat quickly reveals they are a warm, welcoming group of people who have a passion and interest in times passed.

The Shire of Cloondara is the San Francisco chapter of a much larger organization. The Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA,is a world wide organization of over thirty thousand members, who are dedicated to studying and re-creating the practices, styles and the arts of pre-17th Century Europe.

The Shire of Cloondara falls into the domain of the Western Kingdom, which includes Northern California, most of Nevada, Alaska and the Pacific Rim. In the world of the SCA, there are nineteen kingdoms across the globe. Within the kingdoms there are the branch groups. These are broken down by size and work just as the larger kingdoms do. Aside from shires; there are baronies, cantons and colleges. Within each branch group there is a hierarchy of roles and ranks; there is a seneschal, a herald, minister of arts and sciences, marshall and chirurgeon.

From shore to shore and across all continents there is almost always some activity occurring within the society. For example, in Arizona, in the week of February 14 through the 19 was the Estrella War in the Kingdom of Atenveldt. This week-long camping festival turns into a city of nearly ten thousand participants. Goods are sold, battles are fought, songs are sang, and merriment is made.

At the same time, in Bangkok, Thailand, is the Feast of Feralia in the Canton of the Golden Playne. And it does not stop there, over the same dates there is also the Valentine’s revel in the Provence of the Silver Desert in Reno. For many, these festivals are the best part of being an active member of the society.

Battle is not the only aspect of interest for the SCA or any of their smaller chapters like The Shire of Cloondara. Total attention is paid to crafts of the medieval ages. Members are active participants in groups such as brewing (beer), leather arts, metal working, medieval encampment, wood working, textiles and weaving, culinary arts, theatre arts and even medieval gardening.

Caitlin Ayers shows up to Sunday practice with her boyfriend. They have been involved with The Shire for just over a year and appear to be fully integrated into the scene. He cloaks himself in a long green robe that is typical of rapier swordplay. He has long curly hair and is quick to offer pointers to a new-comer, who is being taught some basic points of sword fighting. In the past year Brogan—his Shire name—has become a very proficient swordsman.

While he hits the field to practice with another member, his girlfriend Caitlin hangs out up top by the cars. Short, with brown hair and a Twilight sweatshirt, she joins the others in loose conversation about Shire related and unrelated issues.

Caitlin, 25, graduated from Mills College with a major in English and a minor in book arts; a self-proclaimed book nerd. Among other things she learned ancient techniques of book binding, as well as how to operate the 100-year-old Vanderbilt Press.
“Books have been around as long as the written word and that is a long time, and that’s a long time”, she says. She quivers with delight at the idea of beautifully bound books from the medieval period.

She practiced fencing through high school and college but because of a bad knee her activities within The Shire revolve more around old fashioned book binding and sewing traditional garb. At the next Crown Tournament, she hopes to be a Lister.

A Lister is typically a female and is in charge of controlling the list of fighters during the Crown Tournaments. These tournaments determine who will be crowned the next king. All the heavy fighters wishing to participate are presented before the current court in a traditional fashion. The King and Queen sit at the head of the battle grounds and watch as fighters compete in an elimination process that gives each fighter two chances, if you lose twice you are out. The victor surfaces as the new king and will hold that title for about three months. In these events, any class of fighter may participate; you do not need to be a knight, all though the knights usually win.

Those who win the crown twice earn the title of Duke. And as the folks from the Shire say, if you become a king five times, you become an “Uber Duke.” It is one of many unofficial terms within Shire lingo. They call the current King, known as Jade of Star Fall, “the once and every other king,” because he seems to be king every other time.

There is a rumor and a myth around the Shire and among the entire SCA. With thousands of members trained in hand-to-hand combat they are a force to be reckoned with, despite their light-heated nature.

“The SCA is one of the largest private armies in the world,” says Sterling. “I’ve heard, I’m not positive that the SCA is under observation by the FBI.”

Other members have heard the rumor too. Sterling has met a member who even claims to have met an FBI agent who became enchanted with the SCA after investigating them and then continued to participate in practices and events.

“It doesn’t surprise me that he would get sucked in,” says Sterling. “That is how we get a lot of members. They stop by to check it out, then the next thing you know they’re buying swords or piecing together suits of armor. We’re funny like that.”


The television is tuned to his favorite channel, ESPN, but he stares blank at the glowing screen. His body seems to leave his mind as he is comfortably sprawled out on the couch in his parent’s living room— the same common room that has offered respite from life’s struggles so many times before. Now the living room he has known as a safe haven offers no solace, but is a constant reminder of his current state— a college graduate living back home with his parents. He cringes at the very thought.

Russ Horvath was the type of student many aspired to be. For four years the creative writing major religiously attended every class he had at SF State. He put blood, sweat, and tears into every assignment. Before he graduated last spring, Horvath could barely contain his excitement at the endless possibilities he imagined he would encounter after graduating. After all, he knew he had worked hard to foster his craft, and he felt confident he would land a job soon after graduation. However, the 22-year-old soon realized that no class or assignment could prepare him for what reality had in store.

[pullquote author=”Russ Horvath”]I managed to get out in four years with all I could ask for from both the Creative Writing and journalism programs in self-growth and finding ‘myself.’ But looking back on that moment, I would love to still be in that nurturing, heavenly womb that is college.[/pullquote]

It is common knowledge that jobs are hard to come by these days, and most students do realize just how much the failing economy can affect them after graduation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates made up more than half of the 9.8 percent unemployment rate in December 2010. The unemployment rate for college graduates, 5.1 percent is the highest it has ever been since 1970 when unemployment records were first kept. In November 2010, there were approximately 2.4 million college graduates unemployed according to government figures. Even more, many analysts predict a slow and lengthy recovery out of this hard-hitting recession.

For the majority of college students, reality really does bite. After receiving the coveted diploma, students face meager job prospects in addition to the stress of having to payoff credit card debt and student loans accrued during their college years. For many students this translates into moving back home with Mom and Dad— a proposal that makes many quiver at the mere thought. For recent and soon to be graduates, the excitement and fantasies of life after graduation have been replaced with worry and fear.

Junior, Anamarie Orgera still has a year left before graduation but says she is already experiencing the post-grad blues. The enthusiastic brunette studying Dietetics and Spanish regularly debates her plans after college that includes either graduate school or an internship. Orgera thinks about graduation “all of the time” and can’t fathom moving back home.

“Graduate school is up in the air,” says Orgera. “I think it depends on how the job market is looking and if it isn’t looking that great than grad school can be an option. Part of me stresses and part of me reminds myself to calm down because I have a year and everyone is in the same boat I’m in.”

[pullquote author=”Thomas Lin”]I’m not really worried about it and I try to stay positive. I’m probably not as stressed because I live in the same city where I go to college, and I’ll still be back at my parents house for a while.[/pullquote]

For senior Thomas Lin, graduation has become as commonplace a thought as what he will be eating for his next meal. He encounters the question of life after graduation on an almost daily basis. Although the repetitive question annoys the biology major, Lin couldn’t be more excited to graduate even though he is aware of the grim job market. Unlike Orgera, Lin currently lives at home with his parents in San Francisco, and believes this will make for an easier transition. Although Lin says he has read articles urging graduates to pursue higher education, he believes he will eventually find work.

“I have friends who graduated and have been looking for jobs for a year or two, but biology is a really wide field,” says Lin. “I’m not really worried about it and I try to stay positive. I’m probably not as stressed because I live in the same city where I go to college, and I’ll still be back at my parents house for a while.”

Like Lin and Orgera, Horvath thought of himself as the exception to the rule. Shortly after graduating, he pursued a writing career, but soon found that jobs in the Bay Area were few and far between. Although he did find freelance work, he could not fathom writing mundane subject matter for pennies on the dollar. Soon Horvath yearned for the days when he was still a student, and not an unemployed graduate.

“Oh hell yeah I was excited to graduate,” says Horvath. “I managed to get out in four years with all I could ask for from both the Creative Writing and journalism programs in self-growth and finding ‘myself.’ But looking back on that moment, I would love to still be in that nurturing, heavenly womb that is college.”

The lack of job opportunities prompted Horvath to return to his hometown of San Diego where he decided to search for a temporary job. Back home, Horvath was told he was “overqualified” when he searched for a retail job to pay the bills. Exasperated at his lack of opportunities, Horvath has decided to pursue graduate school.

“I don’t want to outright say, ‘You’re all boned,’ but to be a realist, our current place in the world involves staring directly into a black hole of employment doom. My advice is be an intern while you can to get your name in someplace, because as it seems, that’s how you get a job these days out of college: you know someone.”

22-year-old Journalism major Jamie Wells still holds hope for life after graduation, but says she is becoming increasingly worried with each passing day that is one day closer to graduation. Her worries stem from wanting to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area, but not knowing how she will afford to live in such an expensive city unless she lands a job right away, which she feels is unrealistic. Wells says she has always been excited for graduation, and although she thinks graduate school would be her best choice, it is simply not an option for her.

“I’m really excited to graduate and move on to the next chapter of my life, but I’m also terrified,” says Wells. “I’ve been waiting for this year for so long, and now it just feels weird.”


Tucked away in the corner of SF State’s campus, right on Font Boulevard and Tapia Drive sits a contemporary artifact, the exoskeleton of what was once a center of public education, but now the focal point for all of its bureaucratic runoff. The former San Francisco High School of the Arts, partially fenced off, boarded up, and dilapidated, houses the echoes of the brass in jazz band warm-ups, tapping feet to the beat of show tunes in the theater, and the trickle of water washing paint from pallet, all the while, long-gone students chatter and gossip, and some—vivid dyes embedded in the wild mess of browns and blondes hanging from their crowns—sneak off to blend in with college students and suck down cigarettes.

But these are just memories, ghosts that haunt the ignored and often forgotten facility, which has been in limbo since 2002, when the school moved to its new campus in Diamond Heights. Once a pristine, blank canvas, the interior is now covered by all kinds of graffiti, both refined and crude. Scribblings hover over stacks of desks, decade-old Scantrons and other school supplies, tattered and strewn about the floor, surrounded by broken glass and puddles of water.

Five years ago, negotiations between San Francisco Unified School District and SF State took place to transfer ownership of the building. SF State’s price, recommended by a private appraiser, was declined repeatedly, says Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Leroy Morishita. And while no university funds are spent in maintenance of the property, it continues to be monitored by University Police due to its location within the campus.

Regardless of ownership or fair appraisal, it sits there, solitary, a sometimes-home for squatters and a secluded enough spot for graffiti artists to throw up a bomb or a reckless student to explore. Buildings like these were the subjects of an anti-blight ordinance, passed unanimously in August 2009 by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, thoroughly regulating abandoned buildings.

“It could be a school, a center for arts, a center for education,” says Steve Zettler, 27, a former SF State student. At one point an unofficial resident of the abandoned high school during his time at school, he has since lifted himself from homelessness. His time living on the streets afforded him a frequently underrepresented perspective on the allocation of public space. “It could be these things, but it’s none of these things.

Neither party came to an agreement, and the vast majority of the building is unused.”
There is a significant difference in the way various cultures, governments and communities treat and understand housing, and subsequently the way they regard and deal with the people whom are without it. This also changes over time. Currently, in the USA, the use of private and public land is very tightly controlled. Even in the case of one poaching the land to utilize its unused resources, an individual convicted of even a misdemeanor trespassing charge can face up to six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine.

The idea of going to an empty, unused piece of land and squatting on it, or claiming it, used to be something that not only acceptable, but normal in this country. During the Westward Expansion, it was even encouraged by the government.

The Preemption Act of 1841 granted benefits to individuals squatting on government property, giving them substantial benefits in the purchasing of the land they once squatted, as long as it had been at least 14 months since they began their stay.

Furthermore, 10% of the proceeds of such sales went to the state governments recently admitted into the Union. This was utilized by settlers and the government throughout the 1800s as a way to unfold Manifest Destiny towards the Pacific.

“As soon as the country was under complete control and taken away from native populations, that all changed,” says Seth Wachtel, Program Director and Associate Professor of Architecture and Community Planning at the University of San Francisco.

And it did change: Congress repealed the Preemption Act in 1891 once the US had spread from one sea to the other. “Private property and governmental control came in, and people could no longer squat and take property. There’s been a huge change in that area, and the way various communities, municipalities, and individuals now tolerate, or don’t tolerate, people sitting on land.”

Having worked in community planning in India and much of Latin America, Wachtel experienced a multitude of ways to appropriate land. The context of intra-cultural property ideologies throughout time may be fruitful in understanding where we are situated presently, but an inter-cultural examination would offer greater depth.
In Mexico, for instance, the 1917 Constitution, responding to the great inequity of colonialism, included housing and property rights for its people. Resource management was community-based; that is, the occupants of the land are designated tenurial rights and responsibilities in regards to sustaining that land and what it provides to maintain their livelihood.

By the mid-1990s, many indigenous communities, such as the San Juan Nuevo village, decided to re-invest the profits and resources garnered. Profits rose thousands of percent in several years, rocketing San Juan Nuevo’s citizens’ income far beyond the average minimum wage of the region. Since then, NAFTA and similar trade agreements resulted in lowered tariffs and cripplingly low prices on US imports, as well as severe forestation. In effect, structural readjustments removed valuable resources from the community and disabled their ability to compete in a global and local economies. But when the indigenous property model was untarnished, it offered a sustainable, profitable, and equitable alternative to strict land regulation by statutes or private ownership.

There is a rich history of alternative approaches to private and community property, some that, if were accepted here and now, would subvert the ever-popular notion of restricting access to empty space. Even so, many of these, like in the case of the Westward Expansion and Mexican tenurial rights, proved beneficial for economic development.

“Now it’s all done with real-estate transactions,” explains Wachtel. “So you buy a piece of property that you see a way to improve. You build on it or fix something that’s in disrepair, and then the value increases and you sell it, or increase your capacity to borrow and do more of it. It’s more on a speculative footing now than it was before, because all property now is owned and controlled.

“Now it’s increasing value within this ownership system that we have. That of course, locks out people that don’t have. If you’re not able to join this system then you’re shut out of it. And that’s the dilemma that we have today.”

San Francisco’s anti-blight law requires that property owners, whose buildings are abandoned, pay a registration fee of $765 annually to the city. Failure of the owner to register these properties would result in unpaid fees increasing nine fold, to $6,885.

Currently, there are over 400 registered with the Department of Building Inspections.
“We have had, in recent years, particularly during the recession, a growing number of hundreds of abandoned and vacant buildings around the city,” says Supervisor David Chiu, who spearheaded the ordinance. “That has led to neighborhood blight, help to depress surrounding property values, and been the location for criminal activity, like squatters and drug users, vandalism, et cetera. This legislation was to address that situation, and in particular to require property owners to pay attention to the fact that they own these buildings that create neighborhood blight.”

Abandoned buildings, as defined by the legislation, are those that are unoccupied or unsecured and have been—for over 30 days—unoccupied and secured by boarding or other similar means, or are unoccupied and having dangerous conditions. Laws against trespassing, vandalism and property destruction exist, but this law in particular holds property owners responsible.

“My legislation requires the owners of these vacant and abandoned buildings to secure their properties, ensure that these are not properties that anyone can just walk into, and make sure that the property is properly insulated against the elements, because some buildings were literally open to the elements and deteriorating,” Supervisor Chiu continues. “There was a real city cost to vacant and abandoned buildings.When you have neglect, when you have the Department of Public Works and the San Francisco Police Department called to situations, they cost the city. Those are costs of monitoring a situation of abandonment that we are trying to recoup through the fees that are charged.”

The Department of Building Inspections posts two notices of violation to the property owners in question before they are called in for a meeting with the department, and potentially fined thousands of dollars extra. While these notices have been posted to the correct address, right on the door of the former School of the Arts, the owner is listed as a party that never managed to acquire and utilize the property in the first place: the California State University system.

Previously unbeknownst to the parties involved, the property was filed under the wrong ownership, and repeated attempts were made to collect fees from the CSU. The SF USD was unaware, according to their Real Estate Department, and also claims that the building is not abandoned, but being used for storage.

“We haven’t had this kind of situation before, with the wrong owner receiving notices,” says William Strawn, spokesman for the Department of Building Inspection. “But if the school district is using the building, they don’t have much of an argument saying they don’t know anything about the situation if the building is still in use.”

While the circumstances will need to be called into question and inspected by the department and the school district, the city’s public education system may still be liable to pay the fees and penalties, storage or not.

“All they’re storing in there is broken glass and old school materials, that have since been destroyed by vandals,” says Steve Zettler.

It is not being used for any purpose, according to Zettler, other than by those who might be there illegally. And when he was impoverished and struggling with drug addiction, the school, while a hazardous space, allowed him a temporary peace, serving what he calls “the need that we have as human beings for shelter.”

Finding ways to get people that do not have financial resources into housing, says Wachtel, is a crucial issue to tackle, and San Francisco’s anti-blight law is quite telling of the pervasive inequity that perpetuates such an issue.
“It’s fear of what cannot be controlled,” he says. “The whole blight ordinance is partly to keep what the community deems as ‘bad elements’ out. It’s also so that the property owners will improve their property, making it an asset to the community rather than an empty shell.”

Blight itself can be inactivity in a space, but also the perception of attracting degradation to a neighborhood. There are definite positives and negatives to this ordinance; such a law is definitely harmful to individuals seeking shelter, but it could also inspire investment in that space to better the neighborhood as a whole. And if individuals live on a property and establish their presence, according to Wachtel, then rights could accrue to those squatters. That poses an expensive problem for the property owner, as well as the city.

“Generally, the idea of closing off property and not allowing anybody to habitate or loiter, it’s really about real estate value in this society,” Wachtel says. “Property owners and cities want to show a face that has value, and by ‘value’ I mean monetary value. But there’s also the aesthetic value that is tied to monetary value. It’s not helpful to people who don’t have, and financially helpful to people who do have, so there’s inequity built into the system.”

Among those endangered, destitute individuals are several twentysomethings congregated around a carved-up, lopsided dinner table in a dark, abandoned building in San Francisco. The day is long gone and hours of spanging and scavenging have since passed. Ron toys with the makeshift candle he threw together from a sock, slabs of wax and an empty can of chili. His brow furrowed and bottom lip held between his teeth, he pokes his knife around the melted wax, drawing cloth up and into the flame, which, like the contents of their bottle of Southern Comfort, is ever waning.

Jake sits across the table. Where the candle fails, light emitted from his shoddy HP laptop fills the void. Eyes locked-in on the screen, the way unique to the generation that grew up on Nintendo, Jake excitedly riffs on the merits of steampunk aesthetics in the game that currently occupies his time: Final Fantasy VI.
The emulator he downloaded on his computer grants him access to a plethora of classic videogames, including every Final Fantasy before the seventh installation in the series, where the 32-bit pixilation would probably fry his overworked hard drive.

Nobuo Uematsu’s iconic MIDI score jingles and whines, floating around the dome of blue and orange light, enveloping the table in that large, otherwise empty room.
Both Ron and Jake have been on the road for several years, in California by way of Mississippi and Missouri, respectively. They have occupied this squat for a little less than a month, and hope to stay there for as long as possible, for fear of being back on the street.

“There is a lot we would like to do here, if we stay long enough,” Jake says, his dark beard reflects the flashes of light from shimmering swords and spells. “We could take all this broken glass and get it out of here, and I’d really like to get a garden going out in the back if we can do it proper.”

The pair and their squat-mates have already made considerable effort to renovate this deteriorating space. Chunks of drywall and glass swept into corners, mattresses dragged in from outside and clothes piled neatly by travel bags, this place already exudes a modest hominess. And while Jake remains hopeful for their future there, part of Ron still cannot seem to shake the trauma of street life, the life from which these rundown walls offer solace, however fleeting it may be.

“We’re so goddamn lucky to have this place,” laments Ron. “I have friends out there sleeping in the rain tonight and I can’t help but feel like shit for it. We came across this place, and we’ll stay here until we can’t anymore. I hope we can stay a long time. Sleeping with a roof over your head, it’s a privilege.”

Not all urban homeless are as fortunate as Ron or Jake in their shelter seeking. According to the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, there are 1,080 beds for single adults in San Francisco per night, but there is an average of 6,514 homeless to occupy those beds. This is an undercount, considering that families and youth are underrepresented in this statistic.

The homeless population saw an exponential boom between 1981 and 1987, when the Reagan administration cut federal low-cost housing expenditures by $25 billion, along with massive cuts to social services—including public health and drug rehabilitation centers—turning thousands of mentally ill people out onto the street. With the inadequate amount space made available, the shelter problem is complicated when coupled with moves made by the local, state, or federal governments to restrict their access to spaces, public or private, currently unused or ignored.

“It’s unconscionable that 6,000 people are needing beds and only 1,000 are available,” Wachtel says. “If there’s a desire to maintain restrictions on squatter’s rights and not be as progressive minded as some European countries, then societies like ours would need to step up and provide opportunities with beds in a public way. It’s inexcusable to restrict it on both sides at the same time. Now this enters a public debate about economics versus morality. Right now, the trend is towards what I would consider an ethically bankrupt approach to people who are in difficult times.”

The former School of the Arts is not just a dirty, dangerous home to squatters and the contents of paint cans, but a nexus point for understanding complex social relationships, along with the way that our culture understands the coexistence of property and disparity. Once a space for the artistically inclined youth of the city to thrive in perhaps the only institutionalized place they could, the School of the Arts has since hosted the likes of the desperate and broken. By the nature of marginalization, those, like the homeless or graffiti artists, are unable to fully participate in the normative practices in which most productive members of society can, and so they gravitate towards places like these.

Homeless in a society of homes, people like Zettler, Ron and Jake have to live and act within the realm of the majority, like on the campus of a major university, while simultaneously creating space for themselves. The processes of redevelopment and real-estate bargaining have left the old school building hanging in limbo, and the debate over what “ownership” and “abandoned” really mean stall any change that might take hold of this place.

The blighted building law draws a little more attention to the long forgotten school than it is used to. Its goal is to rectify the money lost in regulating abandoned and dilapidated property in San Francisco by fining their owners. But at this point, in potentially fining the school district, the city is looking at fining itself. And in entertaining our obsession with cutting the economic costs of our way of living and using resources, we ignore the human cost altogether.

What about the animals?

The housing crisis may not be the first thing that comes to mind on your list of worries as you try to balance out your class, hectic schedule and job. However, the consequences of it may be closer to you than you think. Foreclosures effect not only homeowners but also the pets who live there.

Astounding number of homeless dogs and cats has risen since the housing crisis and is continuing to affect the Bay Area. In 1994, the San Francisco SPCA and Animal Care Control teamed up through a formal pact to reduce the number of pets that are being euthanized each year. This past February is the first time the San Francisco SPCA has offered an entire month of free spaying and neutering services— which resulted to 550 altered and owned dogs and cats.

A typical afternoon in the diverse Bayview-Hunterspoint neighborhood seems lively as people plague the streets. A few hours later, when the sun comes down, the neighborhood suddenly feels like a new area as numerous residents can be seen walking their “unaltered” dogs.

“Unaltered” is the term the SF SPCA uses to describe pets that are not spayed or neutered. The reason some people choose not to ‘fix’ their pets is because the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a breed-specific ordinance that made it mandatory for any city and county dweller with a pit bull to have their pets altered, unless they obtain a breed permit.

Pit bull is defined as “an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying the physical traits of any one or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics,” according to Section 43 of the ordinance. If they do not follow the ordinance the dog owner can be fined up to $,1000.

[pullquote author=”Donna Reynolds, executive director of BAD RAP”]“In many cities, it’s nearly impossible for low or middle-income people to find a pit bull friendly rental units” .[/pullquote]

“So having to relocate forces an overwhelming number of owner to surrender [their pets],” she said.

BAD RAP is a small non-profit based organization based in Oakland that is compiled of pit bull owners, trainers, educators, rescuers and supporters. The mission of this group is to address issues facing the breed and provide support to pit bull owners. One of the ways they do this is by building trust and creating a community of dog owners.

“That trust allows us to talk about spaying and neutering as one of the many things people can do to keep their pets healthy,” says Reynolds. BAD RAP also provides free resources, including spaying and neutering.

According to Rebecca Katz, Director of the San Francisco Animal Care and Control, the number of surrendered pets varies from season to season. “Nonetheless, our records for 2010 indicate that we received approximately fifty-eight to fifty-nine owner-surrendered cats per month and fifty-seven to fifty-eight owner-surrendered dogs per month.” Katz also says it is difficult to know if a person is telling the truth about whether the animal is a stray or not.

More than 3 million cats and dogs are euthanized in this country each year, according to Laura Routhier.

[pullquote author=”Laura Routheir, Adoptions Director, San Francisco SPCA”]“Spaying and neutering is one of the most important things all of us can do to save lives”[/pullquote]

“Many animals who die as a result of pet overpopulation could have made wonderful, loving pets,” she said.

Jennifer Lu, community manager at San Francisco SPCA, says that spaying and neutering can add one to three years to your dog or cat’s life as well as eliminating the chance of cancers in the reproductive organs. She also says it is a benefit for some behavioral issues like spraying or aggression. “Eighty-eight percent of dogs euthanized are surrendered due to behavioral issues.”

This is a statement that hits close to home for Reynolds. “The city shelter labels pit bulls as a ‘high risk breed’ on their website for homeless dogs and puppies,” she says. “Language that makes anything or anyone appear different or somehow ‘risky,’ is a sure-bet to promote fear and misunderstanding among the property owners who might otherwise welcome them into their buildings.”

BAD RAP believes there are other options to a addressing behavioral issues. She also acknowledges that there are a variety of reasons, such as cultural differences, for why people do not alter their pets. Reynolds suggests a different approach of building trust within communities rather than demanding people to alter their pets because this may cause rebellion with the dog owners.

“We do this by going out to low income neighborhoods and holding events that celebrate pit bulls,” says Reynolds. “We provide free resources including spay/neuters, but more importantly, we’re supporting dog owners rather than shaming them.”

In addition, the SF SPCA is able to provide reduced services for spay/neuter surgeries to clients who cannot afford the procedure through the Leanne B. Roberts Animal Care Center. “There are several payment and charity programs which will cover the costs of these surgeries,” says Lu. In fact, the SF SPCA has declared March “Pit Fix Month” and they will offer free spaying and neutering for pit bulls and pit bull mixes.

“We are committed to reducing overpopulation through our many community service programs including Feral Fix.”

According to The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), feral cats are the offspring of lost or abandoned pet cats or other feral cats who are not fixed. “Female [feral cats] can reproduce two to three times a year and their kittens, if they survive, will become feral without early contact with people,” says Routhier. “Cats can become pregnant as early as five months of age, and the number of cats rapidly increases without intervention by caring people.”

The San Francisco SPCA supports Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs to reduce the growth of the feral population, while monitoring colonies to ensure their health and welfare. The TNR humanely collecting feral cats, neutering them and returning them to the environment where they were caught. “These animals are often unhealthy due to their exposure to the environment and the lack of vaccinations,” says Lu.

However, abandoned pets can also come from over breeding pets, which seems to follow trends according to Reynolds. “Right now the small dogs, including Chihuahuas are the most common types of dogs to become homeless,” says Reynolds. “Many predicted this trend when Paris Hilton made designer Chihuahuas popular–complete with full wardrobes and bags.”

Reynolds explains that puppy breeding is not a new source of income. “When times get tough, puppy production naturally goes up,” she says. “Right now, it’s easier to sell a litter of small dogs than pit bulls, so some of the backyard breeders are switching gears and going with a new money maker.”

This “business” is one Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue does not support. Mickaboo is a non-profit in the Bay Area that rescues neglected, abused and abandoned companion birds such as parrots, and rehabilitates them until they are ready for a new home. Last summer, other animal welfare organizations began meeting with the Animal Control and Welfare Commission to discuss a possible ban on pet sales, except for fish.

[pullquote author=”Karen Watkins, volunteer at Mickaboo in a July 2010 article on SFGate.com”]“The unwanted pet crisis is a community problem for which we need to find a collective solution.”[/pullquote]

Although, a decision has not been reached about the possible ban. Routier has similar sentiments and encourages people to adopt their next pet from animal shelter or rescue group to help stop overpopulation.

Reynolds, of BAD RAP, believes communication is key to solving issues of pet homeless, overpopulation and the spay/neuter debate. “Once we drop our agenda so to speak, we can have a two way conversation with a dog owner and learn how things are going with him and his pet,” she says. “By helping people with their more urgent challenges–housing obstacles, training, affordable vet care–we build a bridge that may prevent them from having to give up on their dog. After all, isn’t that our goal?”

SF bars that won’t break the bank

San Francisco has always been known for its eclectic nightlife and fabulous watering holes. However, it is no secret that this is one expensive city not only to live in, but also to drink in, especially for students grappling with rising tuition and an ever-expanding cost of living. Having fun unfortunately always come with a price tag, but here are a handful of affordable venues that offer a little something extra that will not break the bank and are guaranteed to be a great night out.

View SF bars that won’t break the bank in a larger map


Buckshot is a college student’s paradise located in the Inner Richmond. Not only does this place offer fabulous drink specials, but it also has a wide variety of games that are sure to bid relief from a stressful week of hitting the books and tons of good, old-fashioned fun. They also offer ski ball, shuffleboard, pool, darts, board games and an array of video games. Better yet, at Buckshot there is never a cover and there is a DJ spinning seven days a week. Happy hour lasts an astonishing nine hours daily from noon to 9 p.m. and presents three-dollar draft beers, four-dollar well drinks, and new masterpiece cocktails created daily by pro-mixologists. This neighborhood hot-spot also includes a movie night every last Tuesday of the month, where students can relax with their popcorn and enjoy great films on the big screen. Even more, Buckshot offers an array of satiating small and large plates including garlic fries, homemade corn dogs and the mouthwatering chicken fried bacon, sure to fill the most starving student. Come decked out in casual wear whether it is your favorite skinnies and t-shirt or a fun, flirty dress and fit right in— this place is truly void of all pretentiousness. “There are always people here, and there is always something to do,” says Manager Devin Calvert. “There are plenty of things to do other than just sit around, get drunk, and stumble home.”

Bar None

If you want to watch the latest games and possibly view a little eye candy on the side, Bar None is the place to go. Party-goers come fitted out in their favorite teams jerseys or dress in their trendiest duds from one of Union Street’s numerous boutiques, but no matter what you choose, Bar None is always a laid-back, casual bar. Situated on trendy Union Street in the Marina, this place boasts a multitude of plasma TV’s and features an old school jukebox where patrons decide what tunes they’ll be drinking and dancing to all night. “We hear a lot of journey in here,” says bartender, Sue Ellen. Students who have had enough of the game can partake in darts, foosball, a basketball shooting game, and board games. The weekdays feature a happy hour from 4 to 9 p.m. which offers three-dollar well drinks, two-dollar Rolling Rock, eight-dollar Rolling Rock pitchers, and half off all appetizers. Additionally, those looking to indulge can partake in their $2 Jagermeister and tequila shots from the hours 7 to 9 p.m. Those too pooped to party during the weekday needn’t fret, Bar None also offers happy hour during the weekend from noon to 5 p.m. “It is always huge in here when the Giants play,” adds Ellen. “Really after any major game it is packed. I mean, it is cheap and it is always a really, really good time, especially for the college crowd.”

Beauty Bar

Reminiscent of an old school salon, the Beauty Bar is not only a fashionable spot to drink and dance, but it also has a place where bar-goers can beautify themselves by indulging in a manicure. Beauty Bar is truly one-of-a-kind and the unique atmosphere transpires into bar-goers attire—as long as you come as yourself no matter how dressed up or dressed down—you’ll be ready to rock the dance floor. During their happy hour that is offered from 6 to 9 p.m., patrons can relax with a manicure while sipping a cocktail of their choice for only $15. This Mission Street haunt also features nightly drink specials that include PBR and a shot of whiskey offered during every happy hour for $5. Bartender David Ruiz says, “Beauty Bar attracts a crowd that is into art and music, but everyone who comes here always has a great time.” According to Ruiz, the lure of Beauty Bar is the affordability, the variety of music, and the fact that you can glam it up that makes for the perfect girls night out. “The weekends are always packed here, but Sunday nights are becoming our new big thing. Any night is a good time,” adds Ruiz.

111 Minna

Creative types looking to tantalize their eyes while having a cold one look no further than 111 Minna. According to Manager Anthony Culmer, “111 Minna Gallery is San Francisco’s haven for creative minds.” With the wide selection from local and renowned artists, it is pretty much impossible for students to get bored at this downtown destination that features an acclaimed art gallery, film screenings, DJ’s, happy hour drink specials and a wide variety of events. Located in the SOMA district, 111 Minna’s art gallery is opened every night and boasts a plethora of special events ensuring that every student will find something they’re supremely satisfied with. Upcoming events include a record release party, a showcase of live sketching, the San Francisco Derby girls, and more. Not only is the venue itself the epitome of cool with hardwood floors and an industrial vibe, but also the art changes every six weeks, guaranteeing one time at 111 Minna is never enough. Even though all eyes will be on the dramatic work, students should suit themselves up in elegant and fashion-forward attire—just like 111 Minna.


Freshman and sophomores lacking cool venues to get their party on can dance all night to the sounds of emerging and popular bands that infiltrate Slim’s every after hours of the week. This venue boasts local talents and fan favorites that all ages can sing along to. A fifteen-minute walk from Civic Center Bart, Slim’s is not only convenient but also the premier venue in San Francisco to catch a variety of music—upcoming shows include fan favorites Hellogoodbye and Andre Nickatina. Foodies can feast on Slim’s affordable dinner and bar menu that is always offered and tantalizes with tasty treats including nachos, mozzarella sticks, and cheddar and bacon potato skins. Those 21-plus looking to add a little mayhem to their night need not fret, Slim’s also has a fully stocked bar. Students looking to support their favorite band should show up in their favorite band-tee, but of course any look is permitted at this laid-back locale—just don’t forget to put on your party hat.

Talks About Social Media in the Jasmine Revolution Bloom at SF State

Farida Ezzat, a 20-year-old college student from Cairo, steps up on the back of a large truck parked in front the Union Plaza in San Francisco. She can barely be seen over the wooden pallets that run alongside the truck, which is carrying a sound system and proudly displaying Egyptian flags. The loud crowd finishes chanting, “DOWN DOWN WITH MUBARAK!” and as Ezzat adjusts the microphone to her height, the crowd quiets down. With great strength in her voice, she demands attention as she stresses the importance of informing U.S. citizens about how the United States has been funding this dictatorship. Ezzat says that longer than the twenty years she has been alive, the people in Egypt have been oppressed by a dictatorship.

[pullquote author=”Farida Ezzat”]”The main benefit of social networking and social media is the power to connect people with each other and ideas” [/pullquote]

It is Saturday afternoon and the sun is shining over Civic Center in San Francisco, illuminating the looming crowd escalating out of the BART station, getting ready to march. Multitudes of Egyptian families and others in support of the pro-democracy uprising wear t-shirts that proudly display the black, gold, red, and white of the Egyptian flag. FREEDOM boldly sits in capital letters underneath the flag. An organizer approaching a female photographer asks her how she found out about protest, and with excitement she says, “I saw there was going to be a march on February 5th on Facebook.”

The uprising in Egypt, known as the “Jasmine Revolution” cannot simply be referred to as an online revolution, but social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have greatly contributed to organizing and spreading the word about the oppression in Egypt and other Arab countries like Tunisia and now places like Algeria, Iran and Libya. The Facebook event, A Virtual March of Millions in Solidarity with Egyptian Protesters, had over 800,000 people confirmed to attend.

Google employee Wael Ghonim first created the Facebook page in response to an Egyptian activist being killed by the police. Over time, the Facebook page got half a million followers.

Hany Elhak walks towards the grass along side the crowd and stops before red carpets placed in front of him. He quietly kneels down then leans his head forward against the ground, gets up and kneels again. Elhak is praying for his family and for the people in Egypt before the march in solidarity begins in San Francisco. As he finishes, he walks back to rejoin the crowd. His wife and two daughters are with him, all wearing red, white and black.

“I think the government in Egypt didn’t really pay attention to the important role of social media in bringing the people together,” Elhak says. “They have a very strong grip on an old type of traditional media, but they didn’t really think that Twitter and Facebook and social media could really influence the people and it did.”

Today, Tahrir Square is no longer congested with the traffic of bodies and people of all ages sharing each other’s rhythmic breath. For anybody watching the choppy Al Jazeera live streams on their computers or cell phones of the uprising in Egypt that social media outlets tweeted as #jan25, it is not hard to see that real people—vulnerable flesh and bone—affected revolutionary change. However, the debate continues about how much importance people should place on the tools used to achieve these ends and how media have given credit to these tools without always acknowledging the people behind these struggles.

“Thanks to the valiant efforts of journalists and the resilience of the protesters they were there to cover, the revolution was not only televised, it was also streamed, blogged, and tweeted. During eighteen days of sustained resistance by the Egyptian people, the world was able to see what real bravery is — in real time,” according to One Journalist’s Survival Guide to the Egyptian Revolution, a MediaShift article written by Jaron Gilinsky.

In an empty classroom surrounded by flat screen Apple computers—the vehicle for which the technological tools in question have been harnessed—he smiles, looks down at his feet, and exclaims, “We’re living in revolutionary times.”

According to Justin Beck, an online journalism instructor at SF State, Facebook and Twitter are important organizing and communication tools. “The main benefit of social networking and social media is the power to connect people with each other and ideas,” he says. “Facebook and Twitter have been used as a straw man to discount the importance of their contribution, but we can’t discount these tools in mainstream media.”

Others question the obsession people have with the tools—in this case, the media’s obsession with social media, dubbing mass protests in Moldova in 2009 as the Twitter Revolution.

“Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools,” according to Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted,” a New Yorker article written by Malcolm Gladwell.

The article introduces an event that occurred in the 1960s, when four college students sat down at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, where a waitress refused service to “negroes,” triggering the massive lunch sit-ins for civil rights that crossed state lines, reaching Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee. The point Gladwell makes is that this kind of activism occurred without the help of social technology such as email, Facebook, or Twitter.

“The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism,” the article reads. “With Facebook, twitter, and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns.”

Political posters and images of controversial icons like Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara smoking a cigar, and a Zapatista mother and child are plastered on a wall near his desk. His eyes peek out from underneath his black fedora as his hand gestures match the intensity of his voice. He talks about the purpose of organizing to the digital divide to approaching debate about social media dialectically.

According to Jason Ferreira, an associate professor in the Ethnic Studies department at SF State, social networking tools are no different than important tools like the printing press, which contribute to social movement building, but are no means responsible for creating and sustaining these movements.

Organizers in the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords put out newspapers in the 1960s, which were used as a vehicle to bring people together. “Fetishizing tools like social media is the same as waiting for that great leader to come because it frees us from having to do the hard work day in and day out, which is the real sacrifice of organizing, “Ferreira says. “Social movements are built upon deep relationships… which enable us to connect with one another. Organizing was happening long before the media was covering it.”

Ferreira adds that the cause of the Jasmine Revolution was not social media, but rather oppression, and oppression for more than thirty years in Egypt.

According to Mira Nabulsi, an instructor in the Ethnic Studies department who is also involved in Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) at SF State, the primary reason people in Egypt used social media is because of government censorship on the freedom of the press and expression.

“Evidently, no movement can be solely built online, and this is usually the most classical critique of social media and its advocates,” Nabulsi says. “But beyond the clear limitations of social media one should also give credit to the exceptional role it played in the spread of calls for action and of exclusive news converges when reporters of news agencies were unable to cover events and where activists and average citizens covered and broadcasted protests and direct acts of resistance.”

In the sterile hallway of Burk Hall, Danae Martinez, a SF State graduate student and avid social media user, expresses her concerns about social media being used against “digital activists” and organizers. By citing the history of the damage caused by the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) for resistance movements in the U.S. and the ways the FBI infiltrated various organizations assumed to be engaged in subversive activities.

“Social media is a very good tool but we need be careful with it,” Martinez says.

“These tools can be used by oppressive regimes to crack down on dissent,” Beck says. “One thing that concerns me is that these tools can be used by authorities, to track people and to find them. We need to be careful because these tools can also spread misinformation and disrupt organizing activities.”

With a slight smirk, Beck adds that he is interested to see what happens if a revolution occurred in the U.S. “Facebook and Twitter are private companies and are not accountable to the public, which presents a challenge. If the revolution comes here, will social media companies be accountable to us?”

Nabulsi, raised most of her life in Palestine, is deeply interested in how Arab youth, particularly Palestine Youth, are using social media and the effects it has on organizing in those countries.

“I think the most important thing that bloggers in Egypt did is that they filled a vacuum in the traditional media,” Nabulsi says. “They decentralized the process of conventional news exchange or media use. The reason why the Egyptian model was particularly successful is because the young people, many of which are bloggers, took their online calls and demands to the streets.”

“Online activists in Egypt used social media as a platform for organizing and they successfully built trust with their readers, especially young people who are their primary audience,” she adds. “That was a tool of empowerment for many young people to speak up and participate in what we saw.”

The sun beams down on the crowd that becomes larger and louder with every chant. Organizers suggest through the microphones that those wearing red should line up to the right. Those wearing white follow, and the others wearing black also lines up behind, imitating the Egyptian flag. The adrenaline ignites from the people holding their posters and flags as the engine of the loud truck turns on, leading the protesters toward the front yard of City Hall.

Looking at the people from afar, the small mobilization that was getting ready just an hour after noon becomes a massive moving wave of over five thousand people. It is an army consisting of soldiers of every age, gender and race. From babies in strollers pushed by mothers holding posters to elders carrying picket signs that read, “Down with the dictatorship!” Cars drive by and honk in support, while pedestrians are stopped in their tracks as they watch with curiosity. Weeks later, Mubarak steps down and the people in Egypt, who days ago were protesting in frustration, cheer with happiness now that the first of many victories has been accomplished, with people armed with the tool of the century: their cell phone or laptop, communicating with social media like Facebook and Twitter.

The Tale of the Sutro Stewards

At least sixty people congregate in a parking lot hidden in the woods.  Young, old, hip, plain, flannels, jeans, back packs; groups circle around and mingle with each other.  Strangers are shaking hands, old friends laughing about good memories and new friends creating new ones.  A table is stacked with boxes of pizza, red keg cups of home brew grace the hands of many, tailgates are dropped, inviting anyone who wishes to take a seat.  It appears to be quite a party on this gorgeous, February, San Francisco afternoon.

Craig Dawson rises above the crowd, standing on the tailgate of his silver Toyota pickup. The back is full of tools, boxes of supplies, work gloves and trail maps. He calls the talkative group who are spread around the small woodland parking lot to attention. One by one people catch on and their heads turns to the man with the beard and graying hair. With the woods behind him, he is the portrait of a life-long outdoor enthusiast, and before him are his people.
“I really appreciate you all coming out this morning,” says Dawson. His eyes scanning over the crowd through his round framed glasses, admiring the turnout.

February fifth, was the first volunteer work day of 2011 for Sutro Stewards, a non-profit organization started by Dawson that commits itself to trail maintenance and expansion in the Sutro Hills above Univeristy of California- San Francisco Medical Center.

“I know it was early for a Saturday,” adds Dawson.  “But it’s a good way to sweat out a hangover and do some good.”

“Or get a hang over,” a volunteer chimes in as he raises his glass to Dawson.

Dawson started Sutro Stewards in 2006. As a native San Franciscan, he has carried on a love affair with the green oasis for most of his life, even using the woods as his commute route to and from high school as a kid.

Now he pioneers efforts to maintain those paths to ensure that the people of San Francisco have an expansive network of pristine trails that go on for miles. The ultimate goal of Sutro Stewards is  to connect the Sutro Hills with Twin Peaks while maintaining minimal road crossings and exposure to the urbanization that dominates San Francisco’s landscape.

Four hours earlier at 9 a.m. the scene in the parking lot is a bit more subdued. As the volunteers gather in the earlier hours, organizers were quick to take charge of the large turnout and ensure that their time is not squandered with excessive chit-chat. The group is divided up, tools are given out, while a short safety seminar telling people how to swing their hoes is given. Soon enough, the groups of people march into the awaiting woods, wielding hoes, pick-axes, garden sheers, shovels and rakes.

Sutro Heights belongs mostly to University of California San Francisco.  In 1998, UCSF began to work with neighbors to manage and maintain the open space preserve, developing an award-winning plan to secure the future of the 61-acre nature preserve. The aim is to improve the health of the forest, public safety and property protection, protect and expand native plants, enhance wildlife habitat values, maintain scenic quality and to improve public access.

In 2006, Dawson and other local volunteers met with officials from UCSF and proposed a stewardship program that would work to further address and act upon the points outlined in the original plan. Through cooperation and approval from UCSF, Sutro Stewards was born and began to do their work in the forest maze.  In the first year, volunteers clocked more than 5,000 man hours of work— it was a success.

On this morning, Steward organizers scramble to keep everyone busy. Rushing up hillsides, one group sets into decimating a crop of blackberry bushes that for years had gone unkempt. With their prickly, long arms reaching in all directions, the unwelcoming plant completely concealed a dramatic outcrop of Chert. Chert is a native, red-rock of San Francisco that can be found through out the area.

Revealing the aesthetic of the rocky outcrop is just one of the many missions for today’s trail maintenance. Volunteers say they want to expose the rocks so people can climb or sit on them so that they may enjoy the view of the ocean. The removal of a hundred square feet of blackberry bushes leaves volunteers with scratched forearms and a thorn or two stuck here and there, but the effect is a full hillside of large rocks that were previously inaccessible.

Bringing people from different walks of life together is  as much a goal as preserving and expanding the trails of Sutro Heights. The satisfaction and reward of working in nature and getting one’s hands dirty is something Dawson and everyone involved want to share with everyone who is interested.

Ari Van Leer, 18 and Kiana Bellinger, 19, are both freshmen at SF State. On Saturday morning many of their friends were sleeping late but they opted to try something new and volunteer their time working outside.

“I had been looking for a good volunteer opportunity,” says Van Leer.  “I heard about this through Kiana and it sounded really cool.  I like the idea of working to maintain trails for people to use and the aspect of everyone working together like this.”

Bright-eyed in her SFSU Gators sweatshirt, Van Leer explained that she is also interested in the prospect of working her way up as a volunteer and one day being more of an organizer.  She felt it would be an opportunity that could work well with her hospitality major—managing a team and seeing to it that productivity is maximized with a large group of people.

Unlike some organizations that work with the city to restore plots of land, Sutro Heights is owned by UCSF, so the stewards do all their work in co-ordinance with the school’s regulations and rules.  Dawson works hard to keep the Steward’s work in line with the original plan of preservation for the forest.
It is true that the Stewards are doing the heavy pulling, but in reality they are the muscle of a much larger machine that takes several pieces to operate smoothly.  Projects are typically coordinated with three groups on the UCSF campus.  There is the facilities management, who arranges for the work to be done.  The campus planning committee which develops plans and performs the necessary environmental analysis. And the community & government affairs committee, which arranges comments from the public and input toward project plans.

Last year a trail marker project was proposed.  In 2001, when the restoration plan was set into motion, there was a restriction put on using signs of any kind on the mountain.  The Sutro Stewards, in collaboration with the Boy Scouts of America, wanted to change that and install trail markers.  In order to do so, community and governmental relations requested community feedback on the idea.  At a public meeting, positive feedback was heard in favor of the idea and The Stewards were able to go ahead with the markers.

Maric Munn is the Director of Facilities Management for Capital Projects and Facilities Management. She acknowledges that not all projects proposed by The Sutro Stewards meet with community approval.  There are different views on how the mountain should look and what should be allowed.  The result is some often times lively and spirited public forums, according to Munn.

“The bottom line is that from my perspective, the Mt Sutro Stewards are a valuable resource in helping facilities management maintain public access areas of the mountain and I can’t express how appreciative I am of their hard work,” said Munn.

The Sutro Stewards don’t work alone.  Other organizations rally volunteers to join the Stewards on their monthly volunteer day and it is together that they work to maintain the trails that they use and cherish.

On this work day the Stewards are joined by SF Urban Riders, SF Rotary Club, Nature in the City and One Brick.  Each organization has a following of loyalists that rarely hesitate to contribute time and energy to a cause like trail maintenance and habitat restoration.

One Brick is a non-profit group headquartered in San Francisco that operates in nearly ten cities across the nation.  A network of volunteers, One Brick works to help reach the goals of other organizations by providing volunteer support.  A volunteer run organization, they provide thousands of hours of community involvement each year, helping take on a variety of causes.

Richard Hom is a One Brick volunteer team leader.  He does recruiting and training and has worked with the Sutro Stewards several times of over the past three years.

Hom joins others in ripping out a hillside of blackberry bushes.  A round face with dark hair, he is all smiles as he holds up a 10 foot length of heavy blackberry vine.  The sturdy thorns do not penetrate his volunteer-issued gloves as he wings the vine in the air, asking if anyone wants to be bullwhipped; walking the tight line between hilarious and threatening.

Once the fear leaves the eyes of anyone within range, he steps down the trail a few yards and returns with a fistful of “miner’s lettuce,” an edible plant that is abundant through out the hills.  The fresh, green bit of sustenance quickly becomes popular and work halts momentarily while troops replenish their stomachs.
“I like to get people up here to Mount Sutro,” says Hom.  “In San Francisco alone, One Brick brings volunteers to at least three to five events each weekend, and this is one of my favorites.  It’s great to see people’s reaction to this place.  Most of them never knew it was here.”

Hom works as a patent litigation lawyer in San Francisco.  He started with One Brick in 2002, took a long hiatus to go to law school and returned in 2006.  After a while it was clear to organizers that he was manager material and by 2009 he became an event organizer.

One Brick has been bringing their team of volunteers to Mount Sutro since 2006.  Their goal as an organization is to bring people from all walks of life, who have the desire to volunteer, and set them up with other organizations currently working on projects.  The idea is for their volunteers to have fun, meet new people and give back to communities.

Colin Pierce, 27, is a biology major at SF State.  With sweat on his brow and his shirt soaked through, he joins four other young men in lifting a gigantic rock that must weigh around 250 pounds.  They have rolled the boulder onto a sturdy webbed net, and are all carrying the rock up a short hill to where a trench has been dug out.  The rock is only one of about 20, all around the same size.  All the rocks are now piled up next to the trench which traces a turn in a set of switch backs on the east side of the mountain.  The rocks are then painstakingly moved into place in the trench, and then more rocks are piled, with much attention to detail, on top of the first layer.  The result is a staggered pattern that will ensure the stability of the down hill turn.  A volunteer coordinator leads the team; this is a particular project that he has been itching to take care of for over a year and so far he is happy with the results.

This is how the Sutro Stewards do things, one thing at a time.  On the other side of the mountain, more groups are busy pulling evasive weeds and cutting back vegetation that is overgrown onto the trails.  A lot of work goes into keeping the trails in good shape.

As a dad and his little girl come up the trail everyone gets out of the way to let them by.  The man thanks the volunteers for all their work and tells them it looks great.  The immediate payoff and feedback is what  makes their job worth while.


The little dive bar is dark and crowded, a man at the front dressed in a suit offers you
free popcorn, and as you walk deeper into the place you notice the sign, “Vegan Drinks.” It is vegan drink night at Martuni’s bar in the SOMA. The back room is full of vegans, or friends of vegans, crowded around little tables holding pink cocktails. The room is filled with laughter and conversation, eyes darting from tables to look at the new faces. And after a few of those delicious pink martinis you find yourself immersed in conversation with your new vegan friends. This is San Francisco, one of the best places in the world to be a vegan.
“San Francisco is a pretty vegan-friendly city. Most restaurants that don’t make explicitly vegan dishes will answer questions about whether they use milk or meat stock, and if you call ahead and explain your, situation sometimes you can get special foods, which is lovely,” says Meave Gallagher, managing editor of Vegansaurus.com. “Plus basically everyone knows what vegan means, so you don’t have to explain your specific needs every time you go anywhere.”
Being a vegan SF State student is easier than you might think. Every campus vendor hassome vegetarian options, and most will accommodate vegans affordably. To be considered vegan, food must not be an animal, or an animal by-product, such as: meat, dairy, eggs or fish.
In the student center, the shop Natural Sensations has vegan cookies, smoothies and pita wraps. Their ginger chocolate cookie has a chewy texture with a citrus and chocolate flavor. Right next to Natural Sensations is Cafe 101, which has vegan donuts in maple, blueberry, apple and cherry. It’s so fluffy and creamy one would never know they are vegan, except for the lack of sticky lard residue that non-vegan donuts leave behind. The Gold Coast Grill has breakfast tofu scrambles and their veggie burger is filling. Unlike most vegan paddies that can be dry and grainy, this one is full of veggies and brown rice, leaving it moist and sweet. Outside, Jessie’s Hot House has vegan southern comfort food, like hot and spicy BBQ tofu and collard greens, garlic fries for and grits. Cafe Rosso has vegan Indian curry, hearty lentil soup, bagels with vegan toppings, and sweet penne marinara.
Stepping off the SF State campus will lead any vegan into the wonderland of the city’s delectable vegan cuisine and activities. There are countless places to eat off campus around the city.
For fine vegan dining try Millennium Restaurant on 580 Geary Street. Located within the Hotel California, it is carnival themed, and under what appears to be a large gold and maroon tent. Once inside the loud and dirty streets of the Tenderloin are quickly forgotten under strange illuminated chandeliers covered in gold fabric. Millennium is considered the best fine dining vegan place in SF, but expect to shell out a hundred dollars for a decent meal for two. To dine on a budget order appetizers and drinks, their claim to fame. The crusted oyster mushrooms appetizer has the texture and spiciness of calamari but better because it is vegan. Their cocktails are delicious and artfully prepared. You will love the look of it as much as the taste. Attend one of their Aphrodisiac dinners on the Sunday closest to the full moon of each month. For forty five dollars per person one gets an appetizer to share, a salad, sorbet (to clean the palate), an entree, dessert and a love potion tea. And for under two hundred dollars you can have the meal and a room at the hotel.
Best overall and reasonably priced vegan spot is Herbivore in the Mission. They serve breakfast before 2 p.m. and the basil pesto tofu scramble is the best scramble in the city. It comes with potatoes and pieces of whole wheat bread and jam. Try their cevich with oyster mushrooms, cilantro and jalapeño peppers. Served chilled, the texture and spiciness is just like real ceviche. Their homemade veggie burger is one of the best vegan burgers in the city. The burger is moist and has great texture made from veggies, grains and soy protein and served with salad and thick fries. Order a side of garlic aioli and one will be in vegan heaven. And to wash it all down order a carrot, apple, ginger and spirulina green shake is so sweet and delicious, one will hardly remember the healthy benefits.
A great brunch or lunch spot is at The Crepe House. Order the grilled tofu sandwich, creamy with grilled tofu, roasted peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and spicy mustard. It comes with a side of greens topped with a spicy creamy tahini dressing and a side of spiced roasted potatoes. And do not forget to order a cup of their delicious soy mocha for $2.75, a French Illy brand.
Another savory vegan burger in SF belongs to The Hotel Utah. Their homemade vegan burger for $9, or add avocado for $1, is grilled in garlic served with thick, crispy, mouth-watering fries. Eat and enjoy open-mic nights.
Missing the texture and rich quality of real meat? Try the Loving Hut. Part of a local chain, this all-vegan location just opened shop and is a great place to get healthy vegan fast food. They offer a variety from curries, sweet-and-sour soup, spicy Thai salads and desserts. Try the Vietnamese fresh spring roll served cold wrapped with mint and served with peanut sauce, so cool and refreshing. Their hot’n sour soup is spicy, warm and filling with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, celery, carrot and tofu, great substitute for chicken soup on a cold day. For those who miss the texture of meat, try the orange sesame bites. The orange flavored textured soy protein with sesame seeds is spicy and crunchy. “The mix of Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines is sophisticated without being fancy, and if you are into fake meat they have lots of good options,” says Meave.
When craving a late night sausage Rosamunde is the place. Their smoked apple and sage vegan sausage comes with options of sweet onion, sauerkraut and wasabi mustard. Wash it down with a cold beer, they are known for their beer selection. Visit the other location at. The location on Haight is a literal hole in the wall where an eccentric German woman makes the sausage. You can take food into Tornado, the popular hipster bar next door.
For pizza, look no further than The Pizza Place. Oorder the Timmy’s Pie, a vegan pizza with pesto, roasted potatoes, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, mini tomatoes and caramelized onions. Served hot, the crust is soft yet crunchy, creamy pesto, slightly salty potatoes and sweet mini tomatoes is a mouth full of Italian perfection. On the side, order the mixed greens salad with creamy balsamic dressing served with organic greens, onions, carrots, mini tomatoes and radish, it is a refreshing and flavorful starter.
Have a sweet tooth? Maggie Mudd in Bernal Heights is the place for vegan ice cream and cakes. This little ice cream shop is always buzzing with customers, and they have a frequent buyer card which gets you a free cone. They serve cones, shakes, sundaes and cakes all lactose free, dairy-free, cholesterol free and made from creamy soy milk or coconut milk. They offer more than twenty seven flavors, from exotic to vanilla. Try their banana split in a warm freshly baked waffle, two or three ice cream flavors, banana, whipped cream, nuts, sprinkles, and any choice of sauce. Get an ice cream cone in popular flavors like creamy lychee coconut, tangy lemon poppyseed, dark chocolate tar mack, spicy pumpkin or orange cremesicle. Order a vegan cake for a special occasion.
Rainbow Grocery is a large and diverse store for vegan shopping. Rainbow is a vegan cook’s dream, they have an impressive selection of warm pastries, bulk foods, olive oils, beautifully diverse veggie selection and more vegan desserts, proteins, and substitutions than any other grocery store in the city. It is a co-op which means it is owned by the people who work there, not a corporation. They promote sustainability and biodiversity by mostly selling seasonal local produce. One of the best aspects of Rainbow is they do not sell meat (aside from pet food). According to rainbowcoop.com, “We don’t want to profit from the sale of animals at this point.”
San Francisco is home to VegNews, a completely vegan publication. VegNews started in 2000, focuses on a vegan lifestyle, read by more than 210,000 people and has up-to-date information on living a compassionate and healthy lifestyle. Also, being environmentally friendly, they print on 75% post-consumer, recycled paper from New Leaf Paper. They offer vegan news, food reviews and recipes, articles on environmentalism and sustainability, travel, and pop culture.

The blog site Vegansaurus is the best city guide to a vegan lifestyle. They target college age readers and their articles are hilarious, clever and brutally honest. On their site find recipes, restaurant reviews, events, links to every vegan blog and business in the city, and personal rants worth a read. The writers are hardcore vegans not afraid to express it. “When people are not bleeding-heart animal-rights-activist types, like all our vegan writers on Vegansaurus, I approach the subject from a ‘what you’re eating could kill you, and not just because of the cholesterol’ aspect. The animals, and animal products people eat now are not what their grandparents and great-grandparents ate, and we don’t even know the long term effects of consuming all those antibiotics and hormones. Ugh,” says Gallagher.

Everyday there are new and exciting ways to improve ones vegan lifestyle. Vegan apps are popping up for smart phones and include some really cool features.

Going out to a bar or buying some alcohol and want to know if it is vegan? Check out barnivore.com or download the mobile app, Vegan.FM, to make sure your alcohol is vegan friendly, one would be surprised by the strange stuff that gets thrown into alcohol production. According to barnivore.com, “Brewmasters, winemakers, and distillers may include animal ingredients in their products directly, or they might use them in the processing and filtration.” Everything from fish bladder to an entire chicken can be ingredients in some alcoholic beverages.

Download VegOut to help you find local vegan restaurants. The app includes a GPS feature that helps find the locations and look up menus.

When going to popular restaurants vegans can use the veganXpress app to find vegan options on a mostly meat menu. The app includes over a hundred popular restaurants. It also has a list of vegan snack food, vegan beers, and vegan wine.

Shopping for vegan clothes and personal products is easy with SmarterVeg.com’s app. You can search for over five thousand foods, drugs, personal care items, leather alternatives and cleaning supplies. It specifies if a product is GMO (genetically modified organism), chances of cross contamination and if a product is certified organic. This app is worth every penny since it makes it easy for those who wish not to do all the detective work on questionable vegan products.

Environmental Working Group has a free app called Dirty Produce. Most vegans worry about pesticides on their food and this app takes data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. With over fifty veggies listed it tells you about the twelve most sprayed foods and least sprayed.

Veggie Web has an app that acts like a pocket cookbook. It has a collection of more than thriteen thousand user submitted recipes. It makes breakfast, lunch, and dinner easy while including grocery lists.

Locavore’s app makes shopping for seasonal produce easy. It has over two hundred fruits and vegetables with links to Wikipedia pages and recipes. It has data from all over the United States and is updates from Twitter, keeping up to date on local food news.

Since it can be difficult to meet other vegans, come to Vegan Drinks. The last Thursday of the month Vegansaurus and VegNews hosts an event called Vegan Drinks at Martuni’s from 6 to 8 p.m.. Organized so vegans can meet up and socialize. “The vegan community is decent-sized. Definitely come to Vegan Drinks on the last Thursday of every month at Martuni’s, if you’re of age. It’s co-sponsored by Vegansaurus, I would recommend, if you’re feeling like you need new vegan friends,” says Gallagher.

Start cooking vegan at home by experimenting with seasonal veggies, oils, sauces and soy proteins. The Vegan Table, by Colleen Patrick-Guodreau, is a great cookbook for beginner and experienced cooks. Called the “Vegan Martha Stewart,” by VegNews, Patrick-Guodreau makes vegan cooking fun and delicious. Almost every simple recipe has a photo and takes less than an hour to make. The recipes range from breakfast to dessert and cocktails and include varieties of cultural cuisines. There sections on dinner parties and seasonal meals as well as Christmas, Thanksgiving and Passover. Try the recipe for savory polenta hearts, warm roasted asparagus and thyme soup, panini with lemon-basil pesto or pumpkin curry.

Being vegan is beneficial to ones health, mind and spirit. “If you ever need a reminder as to why you’re vegan, read the USDA/FDA recalls page Every week there are products recalled due to contamination with bacteria that only comes from animals. That’s kind of insane, but sometimes you need a slap in the face,” Meave says.

Learn more about the politics behind vegan lifestyles by watching Earthlings, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, about leather, fur and meat production. Read Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, which investigates the fast food industry and how consumers are affected.

There is no obligation to be a vegan when sampling the cuisine or enjoying the culture, and it will not hurt to expand your horizons and try something new and different. You may even find you really like it. New vegan restaurants are popping up all over the city and the variety of vegan cultures are endless. San Francisco is great city to explore and discover new experiences, especially for vegans. Next time you walk into a vegan restaurant and delve into that savory and flavorful bite of pizza, soup, burger or ice cream, remember how good it is for your body and how by eating vegan you are not contributing to animal cruelty, pollution, the spread of toxic chemicals and a corrupt food industry. It is a lifestyle choice that has a big impact.

When seeking solace in San Francisco, check out these spots

As I walk around the Mission, stressed out, homework, bills, work and so much more is on my mind. The sun is shining, but it is cool out. Perfect weather for some light hiking. I head up toward Noe Valley, but I know that the upscale shops and rich mothers will only add to my misery. I hang a left and start heading toward a little park that I hardly ever see anyone at.

On Castro and 30th Street lies Billy Goat Hill which has a great view of the city rope swing that throws you out over the edge of the hill and affords a sweeping view of the city. The swing is more like a rope with a loop in it where you can place a foot and stand up, or you can grip tight and hold on for the ride. Whenever I am in need of a clear mind and some good clean fun, I head up to Billy Goat Hill.

As I’m floating over the hill I am reminded that there are many peaceful and pleasant places in the city that offer similar delights. San Francisco is a place full of reserved natural areas that offer beautiful views of the land.

On the northwest side of town, bordering the ocean, the beautiful trails of Land’s End wind through cypress trees, around boulders, and the ocean breeze clears the air of any foul smells. This area, also known as Point Lobos, named so by Spanish explorers for the once thriving sea lion population.

Today the rocky beaches are full of oyster-hunting birds, washed-up debris, and if you look closely at low tide, you can see the shipwrecked remains of three boats that met their ends at the rocky outcroppings lining the coast at this point.

If you are daring enough to leave the main path here, there is much to be explored. Below the path and on the water’s edge, the waves crash in as you make your way over and around rocks. Some are chunks of cement with small rocks lodged in them, left over from the Sutro Baths.

“When I walk down to Mile Rock Beach it makes me think ‘Am I still in San Francisco?’ says Ben Vazakas. “There is a perfect view of the Marin Headlands.”

Vazakas moved to San Francisco just under a year ago. He has been exploring the city’s natural areas ever since. “We have so many here, why not take advantage of them?” he asks. “I go mainly to get away from the hustle and bustle. There is no one bothering you at these beautiful places.”

If you are lucky, you will even stumble upon the old bathroom, now slabs of cement with plumbing and a toilet seat sticking out. Graffiti covers what use to be the walls. While not a typical beach visit, this off-the-trail adventure is full of things to see, and lots to climb over. It is a way to explore the city’s history without roaming around its blocks. Each item washed ashore tells a story of its own, and there is no telling how hundreds of cement slabs ended up along the water’s edge.

For those who prefer to stay on the trails, or close to the parking lot near the Cliff House, 48th and Point Lobos Avenue, there is an expansive parking lot with a few trailheads. The trails are well-maintained and some are marked off with historical signposts telling of the land’s first occupants and how they used each area.

[pullquote foo=”bar” author=”Yvette Montemayor”] There’s something about hiking to the top of a hill to sit and feel secluded from the world. You can just get the hell away from it all.[/pullquote]

For many San Francisco residents Land’s End is a bus ride or two away. So, for those living southeast of the Outer Richmond neighborhood, Golden Gate Park might provide a more suitable getaway.

Golden Gate Park is about three miles long and half a mile wide. This man-made wonder is roughly 20 percent larger than New York’s Central Park. The park features a variety of activities. From walking along, admiring the shear beauty of the park, to an 18-hole frisbee golf course, to baseball fields, fly fishing practice ponds, wandering water buffalo, baseball diamonds, and open meadows with picnic tables, Golden Gate Park seems to have it all.

“Golden Gate Park is dope, because it has so many things,” says Tiffany Franklin, a long-time city resident. “There are the water buffalo near the lake, waterfalls, museums–it’s like the all-you-can-do park. I go to sit in the sun, enjoy nature, or whatever,” she adds.

On the east end, closer to Stanyon Avenue, the Conservatory of Flowers is a greenhouse that serves as home to roughly 1,700 plant species. Once you gallivant inside you can get lost among a variety of tropical and rare plants. Open Tuesday through Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free on the first Tuesday of every month, otherwise there is an entrance of $5 for students with IDs and $7 for adults.

Jaunt across JFK Avenue to the AIDS Memorial Grove and witness a tribute to all those who have felt the anguish and pain of AIDS in their lifetime. The Grove is decorated with beautiful stone memorials, sloping landscaping, and a variety of plants. If you are seeking a quite place for some reflection, the grove is a great option. Typically during much of the week, there are only a few people meandering through this part of the park.

Golden Gate Park is also home to a few man-made lakes, the DeYoung Museum, Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, and many other gardens, polo fields and plenty of paths to provide you peace of mind and an inner-city escape from cement.

“I live across the street,” says Joe Johnson, a lover of Golden Gate Park. “I go jogging there. There are a bunch of joggers so there is a runner’s community. I like to run around the polo fields.”

“I don’t have to pay to go to a gym, because there is a great parcour trail,” adds Johnson. “I like to see all the green of the trees against the blue sky, when the sky is blue of course. The air is really fresh.” Parcour is a type of obstacle course using gravity to help promote fitness.

Even further south of Golden Gate, closer to the Outer Sunset, Ingleside, and West Portal neighborhoods, another great park houses a lake amongst dog play areas and a banquet hall. Pine Lake is one of two natural lakes within city limits.

Stern Grove is also home of the Stern Grove Music Festival that takes place every summer. There are multiple entrances to the Grove, 19th Avenue at Sloat Boulevard provides foot and bike access, but you can drive down and park in a small lot from Sloat. The recreation area takes up 33 acres and stretches from 19th Avenue all the way to 34th Avenue.

Once down inside, enjoy a peaceful stroll around the lake, watch the dogs running around, and sit and consume a good book at the stone, outdoor amphitheater. There are never many people there. Fog rolling in while sun shines down through the tops of the aromatic eucalyptus creates a mystical environment you can almost feel sweep through the area.

East of Stern Grove, and close to a BART stop, Glen Park Canyon cuts through three neighborhoods to reveal the lay of the land before the steep hills and rocky terrain were poured over with concrete. In fact, the first commercial manufacturing of dynamite occurred within the canyon thanks to Adolph Sutro. He was the 24th mayor of San Francisco. The dynamite plant exploded in 1869, killing two, injuring nine, and leveling the entire facility.

The canyon is roughly 70 acres of undeveloped land that is home to the largest remaining free-flowing creek in San Francisco. On the water’s edge willow thickets provides habitat to many of San Francisco’s dwindling wildlife.

Signs warn visitors entering the park that coyotes roam the grounds. Raccoons, skunks, opossums, red-tailed hawks and great horned owls also choose the Canyon as home.

Picnic tables, a baseball diamond, and a children’s daycare center offer landing spots for all-ages at one end of the park. A couple of trails lead away from there up through tall trees, along rocky cliff paths, and down into swampy land as you get closer to the creek. Climb up the rocks and to the edge of one of the many cliffs and enjoy the juxtaposition of the natural land and ritzy neighborhoods.

For those living in the Portola, Bernal Heights, Excelsior and Mission neighborhoods, Bernal Heights Park is a fantastic spot to enjoy sweeping views of the city. On clear days you can see clearly north to the Marina and east in to Oakland.

From the Mission, hike up any street toward the top of the hill on any of the many staricases and garden paths leading to the park.

“Bernal has blackberry bushes at the bottom,” says Will Thompson. “They are fun to eat while you look at the city.” He has been frequenting the hill since he moved to the Mission over three years ago.

About halfway up, above Alabama Street, a mini-park has been constructed with benches, a dog-waste bin, and freshly planted trees. Climb the steep stairs next to beautiful homes and enjoy the expanding landscape the whole way to the top.

“There’s something about hiking to the top of a hill to sit and feel secluded from the world. You can just get the hell away from it all,” says Yvette Montemayor. She grew up living close to the hill and has hung out there since she was a young girl.

“I like to go to the park alone and sit, read, contemplate. Sort out my thoughts,” says Montemayor. “Especially parks like Bernal– that’s a good thinking park. It is off the beaten path.”

Once at the peak, take a walk around the radio tower, enjoy the panorama from the hillside, climb around some rocks, or lay in the grass. The hill is the perfect place to take in the spectacle of the city and get some perspective. Enjoy the scene as dogs frolic, hawks soar overhead, and people make new friends.

“There are all these hawks that fly around and kill rats and other birds,” Thompson recalls, “One time we saw it grab a mouse and drop it. So, we walked over and looked at it. It landed next to a tiny vodka bottle so it looked like it got wasted and passed out. But, of course, it didn’t,” he laughs. “Parks are a good place to make out with chicks.”

McLaren Park is an expansive park full of rolling hills, tall trees, magical meadows, picnic spots, and much more. Walking around this park you can encounter all types of people. There are trails for mountain bikers, families taking short strolls, lovers enjoying picnics, and a little something for everyone.

McLaren is the second largest park within city limits. The park spans 317 acres. It is a hidden gem out past the Portola district, close to the Excelsior, and Visticon Valley. Two large play areas feature tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer fields, children play areas, picnic tables, soccer fields, and seven miles of trails for hiking, jogging, and walking.

“I heard there are buried bodies there,” says Vazakas. “There are great views. Not too many people know about it. Most of the time there is no one there. I like to bike to the top and hang out at the picnic tables.”

A nine hole golf course slopes through the park, a water tower and reservoir shoots up beyond the trees. The blue tower is visible from BART and the freeways. The water tower and reservoir delivers water to the surrounding communities.

The secluded McLaren Park amphitheater is a modern reinterpretation of a Greek-style amphitheater. It is located in a natural slope in the land, allowing different leveled seating to better view the large stage. Just off of Shelley Drive, the amphitheater can hold an audience of 700. On a day the amphitheater is deserted, it is a great place to find some solitude among an ancient looking structure.

Yerba Buena Park is a perfect escape right in the middle of tall buildings, taxi cabs, and over-priced stores. Walk in to the park, take in the fountain, the small pond, and forget that you just stepped off of busy Mission Street. Relax in the park, lay in the grass, and glimpse the tall buildings that surround the open space. This small natural area is perfect for a quick lunch break or a few minutes watching the clouds pass by.

Another place to observe the clouds is between the Castro and Haight districts. Corona Heights is up some winding roads within a neighborhood full of large homes. Enter the small grassy area of the park and be greeted by dogs running around. Walk up the stairs to the right and after a steep, windy, ascent, be greeted by large boulders, handy for blocking the wind, and get an amazing panoramic view of the city. The peak of the area is 520 feet above sea level.

It is home to many of San Francisco’s native reptiles. Many beautiful butterflies can be spotted floating around the area. There are also many varieties of birds who make their nests within the park. The area is protected under San Francisco’s Natural Area Program because many areas of the park are made up of native plant communities.

“Discover a new place you might enjoy, a spot you can claim as your own,” says Vazakas. “Plus, you won’t have to see waves of people at Dolores Park.”

Besides getting some piece of mind and some fresh air, San Francisco’s parks have a lot to offer. They are the last habitats of native wildlife and plant species. For many, they are a sanctuary away from the demands of every day life in San Francisco.

Outta SF

She is sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor, leaning towards her long mirror as she carefully applies a thick coat of eyeliner. Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” is playing in her cave-like room. She grabs her black jacket, purse, and heads off for a night out with friends. She pulls her scooter from the garage to the driveway and when she turns it on, she realizes the meter is not working. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Kaela PerLee says to herself. Annoyed, she makes her last attempt knowing in the back of her head that it is not going to work. In San Francisco, this would not come as a hastle as PerLee can easily catch public transportation almost anywhere within a short walking distance. Living in Daly City however, is another story. “Walking from my house to Daly City BART takes 20 minutes, and though the actual BART ride is not long, I have to make sure I head to a BART station before midnight to catch the last train out of San Francisco.” PerLee knows it is more of a drag going out at night, so she constantly reminds herself when to say goodbye and start making the long trip home.

[pullquote author=”Kaela PerLee”]I hate the prices of everything, like rent, parking, parking tickets and taxes. I dislike traffic and the busyness of life [in San Francisco] sometimes, but I depends on where you live.[/pullquote]

PerLee moved from Santa Rosa to attend SF State University almost two years ago, and it has been a new experience living away from home, as she sometimes feels shortchanged not being able to live in actual San Francisco. With rent so high, many SF State students struggle to find an affordable place to live in the city. Whether it is Daly City or the East Bay, having to commute longer distances can get in the way of enjoying the active, lively environment of San Francisco. Some college students transfer or apply to SF State to experience the diverse lifestyle the city offers, along with its campus. Others, for certain reasons, reside outside the city. So are students really missing out on the experience of living in the city? Or is cheaper rent worth the longer walks, commutes and extra efforts?

Matthew Bacera remembers those tedious mornings when he lived in Daly City. He recalls having to walk up 87th Street, then down the long stretch of Junipero Serra where he walked over the same bridge, passed the same gas station, then the abandoned buildings and animal hospital that never seemed to be open. As the Century Theater sign got bigger, Berca felt the long walk coming to an end as he reached BART, and left the dreadful fog of Daly City behind. “Because I lived on the border of Daly City and San Francisco, there was no MUNI nearby for me and so I had to walk to the BART station everyday to take the free shuttle,” says the 22-year-old SF State student. Now that he lives in Park Merced, it takes him a swift two minutes rather than two hours to get to class. “The convenience makes my life a lot easier in so many ways as I can plan my schedule and daily routine without worrying about how to get back to Daly City, seeing as how their public transportation seem to stop running around 8p.m.”

On the other hand, Art Education major, Heather Boyer, can handle the extra hours of commuting to SF State from Fremont all in effort of staying closer to family and friends. Like Bacera, Boyer’s mornings start about three hours before class. She takes an hour to get ready, grabs quick breakfast, then walks to Fremont BART, which takes around 15 to 20 minutes. It takes a little over an hour until Boyer makes it to Daly City BART where she catches the shuttle; her final commute to State. When Boyer plans to hang out in the city, she finds ways to save money and time by staying at a friends house and driving instead of relying on public transportation. Living outside of San Francisco doesn’t stop Boyer from enjoying the city living perks, but she does however, prefer Fremont’s weather and economic living. “I hate the prices of everything, like rent, parking, parking tickets and taxes. I dislike traffic and the busyness of life [in San Francisco] sometimes, but I depends on where you live,” says Boyer.

While people choose to make a home outside the City in hopes saving some money, the cost of public transportation can still add up. Taking BART one way from any city outside of San Francisco to Powell Street is no less than $2.95, compared to the $1.75 spent commuting within San Francisco. MUNI has bus lines crossing any area within the city and offers a transfer that is valid for two hours for $2. As for San Mateo’s public transportation, the SamTrans runs only every half hour between certain times, depending on the day, and charges $2 without a transfer.

Michelle Dayrit a Fremont resident and newly transfer student spends $50 commuting from Fremont to San Francisco then to Berkeley (where she works) twice a week. But like Boyer, despite the traveling woes, Dayrit still prefers the quiet living environment Fremont offers.

Attending a school like SF State usually means that a good percentage of those commuter students do not depend on their parents, and have economic statuses where they have to work in order to pay for their own education. “I don’t qualify for financial aid and both my parents passed away, leaving me with no help from family. Therefore, I have to work full time and take out loans in order to attend SF State,” says Dayrit, 26, a communications major. “But I’m okay with it. They never said it would be easy, but they did say it would be worth it.” Having an ill father, Boyer also felt it was important to stay home to be there for her father, and help out with household expenses. When her father passed away, Boyer’s priority was to stay close to her family. Born and raised in the East Bay, Boyer does not feel the need to move to San Francisco as most of her friends and family live in Fremont while she can still commute to the city for school or to hang out.

In Bacera’s case, moving to San Francisco gave him a better opportunity to find a job, which compensates him having to spend more money. One of the greatest temptations of living in San Francisco, Bacera describes, is its vast variety of delicious local restaurants and bars conveniently located everywhere in the city. Which makes it easier for students like him to spend more money on dining out rather than taking the time to actually cook something. And even if cooking is an option, grocery shopping in the city is not cheap.

Commuting from the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge is Mechanical Engineering major, Jason Mehrens. Everyday, he spends about an hour in his car battling traffic, from Mill Valley in Marin County to SF State. For Mehrens, the disadvantage of living away from San Francisco is having to commute all the time. Whether it’s a school function or personal leisure in the city, driving is the easiest option. Mehrens lives with his parents to save money and has a tuition waiver through the Veterans Affairs office. Even with some financial assistance from the government, he still has to take out loans and work some hours in order to cover college costs, which leaves him with very little free time to spare. Having spent one year at Chico State then three years living in Santa Barbara working on his Associates Degree, Mehrens feels like he has already experienced college living. “I can’t make up my mind if I want to live in the city because I work in Marin,” says Mehrens. “If I worked in the city, then I would probably make the move, but I don’t like the feel of living in close proximity to thousands and thousands of people stacked on top of one another.” It is hard trade given the miles of parks and rich forests Marin houses, or the serene atmosphere the city has to offer, as hours can go by without having to hear the laud noises of traffic and busy city people. For Bacera, moving closer to campus has encouraged him to become an active in campus life. He is trying to join the History Students Association and now finds himself having more time to attend sporting events since he’s commute time was cut significantly. But for others, like Dayrit and Mehrens, getting away from the city’s rowdiness is worth the extra miles and longer BART rides.