Growing by the Bay

Category: community Page 1 of 2

Thank you to a twitter account called Feedspot Blogs for selecting Tom’s Garden as one of their Top California Gardening Blogs on the web.

It’s not much deserved since I have been largely inactive as a blogger for some time, but it’s still nice, and maybe will inspire me to be a little more active again. (In fact, I’m about to start a post about quick pickling pasilla bajio peppers–stay tuned.)

San Franciscans who are influential on Twitter

san franciscans on twitter

For them as cares, Twitalyzer offers a list of “the 100 Most Influential people in Twitter who say they live in San Francisco.” Gavin Newsome is number three.


Hazel White wants you to end racism

sfmoma open space: hazel white wants you to end racism

Back in the 1990s I ran a publishing company called Mercury House. One of the free-lance copy editors and proofreaders who worked on many of our books was Hazel White. I always admired her judgment and balance. Since that time she edited an edition of the Sunset Garden Book and wrote several books for Chronicle Books, as well, no doubt, as working on many other excellent projects. Now her picture will appear around town as part of a campaign to end racism. The reasons for this are explained at SFMOMA:Open Space. Bravo Hazel!


Mural house poll

mural house in san francisco

I used to work at the foot of the Filbert Steps, at Filbert and Sansome. It’s not a an area that’s famous for controversy. Should we feed the parrots was the biggest issue I remember. But now, a little farther up the hill, the mural shown above apparently is ruffling some feathers.

At least, according to SF Curbed

What once was La Torre restaurant (on the Filbert Steps, at Montgomery) is soon to be a single-family home, whose mural-covered facade is the already the nabe’s Kvetch du Jour, according to a local’s report from the Curbed SF inbox. The nabes is divided, apparently, between those who find it pleasant, and those who believe that painting the outside of one’s house is akin to playing music too loudly, or cribbing the neighbor’s electricity in order to power your Christmas display— It’s just bad business.

SF Curbed is running a poll to see how its readers fall out on the issue. At this writing “Murals: should the nabes have a say? Hell, no! Private property is private property” is winning hands down.


Thirteenth annual Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair

anarchist book fair

Frisco Vista received the following e-mail from Ken Knabb of the Bureau of Public Secrets.

The 13th annual Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair is happening this coming weekend at the San Francisco County Fair Building (Golden Gate Park near Ninth Avenue and Lincoln Way).

Due to popular demand and continually increasing turnout (last year there were over 5000 people), the bookfair now runs for two days:

–Saturday (March 22), 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
–Sunday (March 23), 11:00 am to 5:00 pm

Admission is free.

Ken Knabb (Bureau of Public Secrets) will have a table there, as will approximately 60 other booksellers, distributors, independent presses and radical groups from around the country. There will also be speakers, panel discussions, films, exhibits, kids/family space, and cafe lunches. For more information see

It’s always lots of fun — hope to see you there!

SF Bay Area Native Test

san francisco bay area native quiz results

I generally resist taking tests at OkCupid, but I figured as the webmaster of Frisco Vista I was obliged to take the SF Bay Area Native Test. It requires you to know some local advertising jingles and the like.

I knew to score well I would have to lie on the questions about Frisco and Los Angeles. San Francisco natives, bless their souls, have a handful of provencial hobbyhorses that they think are cute and cling to dearly. They don’t know the true history of the word frisco, for example, but only Herb Caen’s admonition not to use it. And they think they’re cool when they make fun of L.A., not realizing that it just makes them look small town.

But if you live here for any length of time you learn that this is what being a native is supposed to mean.

Laufer/KPFA recap

peter lauferSeveral days ago I posted some information about Peter Laufer’s dismissal as replacement host of Larry Bensky’s Sunday morning show on KPFA. The comments to that post reflect a range of views. Following are highlights; for the full comments, see the original post. (Disclosure: As editor-in-chief of Mercury House I published some books by Peter Laufer.)

  • Anthony Garrett: “No media professional should be treated the way KPFA’s Sasha Lilley treated Peter Laufer.”
  • Nancy: “Unwelcome news … it seemed to be in the KPFA tradition.
  • Mac: “Laufer’s attempts to downplay or counter the concerns, fears, anxieties, and anger that some of us have with his (to me, fascistically) chipper, feel-good drivel — the world is going to hell, but C’MON, wasn’t that sunrise this morning just gosh-darned lovely! — instead provoked me to flip the dial in disgust.”
  • Eden: “As a staff member of KPFA– though not involved with Peter’s dismissal– I thought I might be able to shed some light…. The resistance of the KPFA audience to Laufer was unanimous. Neither was he embraced by those who loved Larry, nor those who hated him.”
  • Margaret King: “I am very disappointed that KPFA apparently did not value his program as much as I did. I will be one of the many loyal listeners who switch to GREEN 960 on Sunday Morning.”
  • James loughborough: “I believe that encouraging listeners to feel empowered and hopeful and, rather than helpless and hopeless, is advantageous personally, politically and socially. I’ll be tuning in to Green 960. How can KPFA have screwed this up?”
  • Doug Maisel: “C’mon, Peter. This isn’t your first radio!… It was ever thus at KPFA.”
  • Kathryn Page: “This firing is in the new tradition of KPFA that causes me to cancel a 30-year subscription…. I too was a devoted fan of Larry’s and at the beginning of Peter’s time there I missed Larry’s curmudgeonly edge, but soon came to appreciate the power of Peter’s profound civility.”
  • Mac (2): “I found Laufer to be obnoxiously pushy and rude: interrupting guests and callers, talking over others, cutting off a caller who criticized him.”

America’s most literate cities

Dr. John W. Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, is the author of a study that attempts to rank the nation’s most literate cities. According to the study, San Francisco ranks no. 9, between Denver and Portland.

You might ask how could a study could produce results indicating San Francisco is less literate than Denver. Tat’s a good question, since the study’s report of its methodology is a little murky. But it seems to have involved counting the following factors:

  • number of bookstores per 10,000 population (SF is 2nd)
  • the population’s education level (SF is not in the top ten)
  • internet factors including number of access points, number of book orders, amount of online newpaper reading, etc. (SF is 9th)
  • number of libraries (SF is not in the top ten)
  • newspaper circulation (SF is not in the top ten)
  • number of magazine and journal publishers (SF is 7th)

In sum, the city is fortunate to have a large number of bookstores and some journal publishers. On the other hand, we have a poor daily newspaper and a population that is divided between the very highly educated and the barely educated.

Isn’t this methodology questionable? If you have a lot of local bookstores mightn’t you be less likely to buy a large number of books on the internet than if you don’t? Are these factors really indicators of the degree to which a community is literate?

KPFA fires talk show host Peter Laufer

Frisco Vista received the following e-mail, reproduced here verbatim:


BACK STORY: Berkeley, California’s KPFA/Pacifica radio station, the only radio station in America to have 10,000 of its listeners demonstrate against it, finds itself in another controversy.

After receiving what its program director said were hundreds of complaints from a segment of its “progressive” audience, KPFA abruptly, capriciously, and with no warning fired award-winning author, journalist, and broadcaster Peter Laufer from his lively Sunday morning radio talk show.

Program Director Sasha Lilley cited “negative audience feedback” and said her reasons for canceling the popular show were “intangible” but that Laufer was “just not right for Sunday.” Lilley offered to tell the public that Laufer was leaving “to go on to bigger and better things.” Laufer insisted that she better tell the public that he was fired because that was what he was telling the public. Laufer believes, based on letters and email, along with op-eds in the “alternative press”, that a group of malcontent KPFA listener-activists orchestrated a smear campaign against him because he is, as these critics wrote, “not a person of color” and because his credentials (he’s won virtually every prestigious broadcast journalism award) are “too mainstream.”

“The KPFA bumper sticker says ‘Free Speech Radio’ but apparently mob rule is more accurate,” Laufer mused from his Sonoma County coast side home, enjoying his first Sunday morning off in the six months since he inaugurated the KPFA show. “Ever since my undergraduate days, Berkeley has symbolized diversity. But today’s incarnation of KPFA wants to march in a lockstep of so-called politically correct speech. I did the show as a labor of love — the salary about paid for my bridge tolls, gas, and a Sunday dinner out. I am profoundly disappointed and concerned to see that as commercial radio continues to homogenize, a longtime bastion of innovation in the non-commercial radio world reacts with predictable narrow mindedness. If you can’t count on KPFA for tolerance of a diversity of views, what can you count on? Of course I harbor no desire to return to their airwaves after being treated in such a shabby fashion.”

Peter Laufer is author of over a dozen well-received books of social and political criticism; his most recent works probe the lives of soldiers opposed to the Iraq War and promote open borders with Mexico. A former NBC news correspondent — where he produced and anchored the first nationwide radio show on the HIV/AIDS crisis — Laufer has reported the news worldwide, and he won a Polk award for his documentary on Americans in prison overseas. In his own backyard heshared a Peabody award as a member of the KCBS news department when he co-anchored the station’s coverage of the 1989 earthquake that devastated the Bay Area. He created the “National Geographic World Talk” radio show, and is co-anchor with publisher Markos Kounalakis of the radio program “Washington Monthly on the Radio.” He guest lectures at universities worldwide on media issues and his print journalism is seen in a diverse array of publications from Penthouse to the London Sunday Times magazine. Details of his work can be seen at

Laufer sent the following open letter of protest to Nicole Sawaya, newly installed as the Pacifica Foundation Executive Director, the network of progressive radio stations that owns KPFA, and Dave Adelson, the Pacifica National Board Chair.

Dear Nicole Sawaya and Dave Adelson:

I am profoundly disappointed that your Berkeley station KPFA has given in to an orchestrated and hysterical campaign to remove me from my Sunday morning talk show. Of course I was not doing the job for the meager amount of money I received. I mistakenly believed that KPFA had a commitment to a lively and diverse approach to free expression performed in the context of creative and professionally produced radio theater. I took on the show when it was offered to me for the opportunity to practice live radio art, theater and journalism for my hometown audience.

My surprise firing was a tacky act and unworthy of the distinguished role Pacifica has played in American media. Sasha Lilley, the KPFA program director, reached me via telephone on my vacation in New York to inform me that my role was terminated.

Lilley said, and I quote from notes I took during the phone call and from a follow-up email I received from her, “I really like what you do on the air. You are certainly a team player and I have really admired what you have brought to the airwaves.” Nonetheless, with no warning, I was given my verbal pink slip. During the brief phone call, Lilley cited correspondence she had received from listeners who, she said, did not like my act. When I asked her why these letters were not brought to my attention prior to this termination call, she hemmed and hawed an apology and allowed as how that was probably a management mistake. In a subsequent call I pointed out to her what any longtime radio professional knows: were I to have known a cadre of listeners was organizing an attack on my tenure, I could easily have mustered an equal or greater response from my proactive audience of loyal Sunday morning listeners. Instead, I serenely was cranking out excellent programming, left unaware by Lilley and the rest of the KPFA management of my vulnerability.

Radio aficionados may be amused to know that only once did Sasha Lilley specifically chastise me for my performance. It came after I found an old Viewmaster abandoned in the studio just before air time one day. I clicked its shutter and was mesmerized by the familiar “ca-chunk” sound of my youth. When the show started I offered the first person to identify “the mystery sound” a prize: the book written by my first guest that day, autographed by the author. “I hate the mystery sound,” Lilley told me later, and I cancelled plans for it to be a running moment of frivolity on my otherwise serious show.

My firing came two days after I moderated a benefit for KPFA in Berkeley featuring Naomi Wolf and Daniel Ellsberg — an event that raised thousands of dollars, and where the hundreds in the audience broke into hoots and hollers of applause when I introduced myself from the stage as the anchor of the KPFA Sunday show.

As an added bizarre twist, the firing came on the eve of a feature article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Ben Fong-Torres about me and my talk radio career. In it Fong-Torres cites my seminal book “Inside Talk Radio: America’s Voice or Just Hot Air?” and reports “Laufer knows his stuff. He’s qualified to offer an update on the state of talk radio — albeit from a decidedly left-of-center viewpoint.” He notes I founded talk stations in Berlin and Amsterdam, and that my talk radio career dates back to the first-ever talk station. “Today,” he writes, “he hosts ‘Sunday’ a live program on KPFA.” But Chronicle readers who tuned in after reading the paean to my talk radio expertise heard instead Sasha Lilley herself on the air, hosting my program, with the halting explanation, “We’ve parted ways with Peter Laufer.” Firing is in her management toolbox, but apparently missing from her lexicon.

What gives in Berkeley? Is this the KPFA that I have known and loved? This bodes sour for the future of radio in America. If you can’t trust Pacifica to protect avant-garde yet highly professional radio, what can you believe in? Has the spirit of George Bush’s intolerant regime reached the trenches of Berkeley?

Sincerely and with regrets to report this news to you,

Peter Laufer

Oil spills, volunteers, and the San Francisco Bay Area

volunteer canyon, marin county

Today beaches near the Golden Gate are closed as a noxious oil spill is washing up against the shore. A large South Korean-based Hanjin container ship struck one of the supports of the Bay Bridge and released oil into the bay from a damaged tank. According to Caltrans engineers the bridge got the better of the collision and suffered no significant damage. The cause of the crash is a mystery, since the bridge is pretty easy to spot by eye or radar, even in heavy fog. The ship even had a local pilot aboard. We are still waiting to learn the extent of the environmental damage.

The most famous oil spill on the bay occurred on January 19, 197. On that date, two oil tankers, the Arizona Standard and a sister ship, the Oregon Standard, collided in the bay. Winds and currents drove the resulting spill north toward Bolinas Lagoon in Marin County. As the Point Reyes Light recalls, “The collision ripped open six of the Oregon’s 26 fuel oil compartments, dumping 840,000 gallons of oil into the bay — more than half of which ended up on beaches around the Bay Area. The spill killed roughly 20,000 birds and some seven million marine organisms, according to Bay Area researchers.”

What was most remarkable about the event was the rallying of community support for the embattled beaches. The community of Bolinas quickly rallied. Sculptor Tom D’Onofrio shared his recollections with the Light:

Drawing on his days at a logging camp in the Adirondacks, D’Onofrio felt that stringing a boom — a row of logs — across the lagoon’s narrow mouth might provide a decent barrier, and that hay could be used to soak up oil.

“It was a crude plan, but this was instantaneous thinking,” the sculptor said.

He approached neighbor John Armstrong, a boatbuilder with many logs on his property, and persuaded him to help with the boom’s construction.

D’Onofrio then drove down to Scowley’s, the local cafe and hangout (now site of the Kaleidoscope women’s craft collective) to enlist manpower.

“I went into Scowley’s and jumped on a counter and yelled, ‘This is what’s happened: there’s oil offshore and it’s coming this way,'” D’Onofrio recalled. “‘We need every able-bodied man, woman, and big child. Can we count on you?’ And everyone there yelled, ‘Yeah, we’ll do it!'” By the time the band of volunteers reached the beach, hundreds of residents had converged at the end of Wharf Road to help.

While many birds were lost a large number were also saved, and the actions of the volunteers were inspiring. A nearby canyon was renamed Volunteer Canyon in commemoration of their efforts. It is home now to an Audubon center, and is the nesting place for egrets and blue herons. The image shows a group of birders enjoying the canyon, whose preservation is due in part to the sense of community that resulted from the mobilization of the volunteers.

On their own: In Bolinas, residents struggle to keep fragile lagoon safe.
The residents were angry that such important work was left to amateurs while an international cleanup effort is under way only a few miles away.”

The Noe Valley Voice

noe valley voice

The Noe Valley Voice, in publication since 1977, seems to be a good example of a neighborhood publication. I would do some things differently from a design point of view, but the content seems on the whole to be earnest and real.

Noe Valley, which is named after one of the Spanish alcaldes around the time of the U.S. takeover, is a diverse community located on the eastern slopes of Twin Peaks, near the lower Mission. It boasts some fine Victorian houses as well as some nondescript later-twentieth-century schlock. The main commercial district is located on 24th Street. Years ago Noe Valley had a kind of granny glasses and granola image — this was probably more a stereotype than a reality — but more recently has tended upscale.

According to the Voice, a one-bedroom apartment in Noe Valley currently costs around $2000 a month, and a two-bedroom $3000. Can the community retain its character with such pricey rents?

Sites we like: Laughing Squid

Laughing Squid — devoted to “art, culture and technology from San Francisco and beyond” — is one of the best regional sites, because they have got blogging down: posts are colorfully illustrated, just the right length, and written with an engaging conversational tone. In general I’m not too fond of sites with black backgrounds. Yes, the black set off many (though not all) images effectively, but reversed-out type is just harder to read on a regular basis. Nonetheless, Laughing Squid makes it all work. They are one of the most consistent of San Francisco sites. Click the screenshot to visit the site:

laughing squid

San Francisco geeks are “best in breed”

wikipedia logoThe Wikimedia foundation — all six employees — is packing up its bags and moving from St. Petersburg to San Francisco, supposedly to “create a larger brand.” But Wikipedia is already one of the top three Google results for just about anything you search for. How can you improve on that?

San Francisco “is really the place to be,” explained founder Founder Jimmy Wales. “We’re a major internet brand and this is where a lot of the major brands are located.” Florence Devouard, chairman of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, added that the city offers “best-in-breed online talent.”

Wales said he would like to expand Wikipedia in Asian and Africa. I don’t think being in SF will help with Africa much. It’s true we’re a few time zones closer to Asia. But I thought the internet was supposed to largely negate such advantages …


Litquake is starting to roll out details of this year’s festival.

“Authors appearing this year include Dave Eggers, Ishmael Reed, Vikram Chandra, Gail Tsukiyama, Noah Levine, Ann Patchett, George Smoot,” according to the Litquake website, “and about 300 others.”

I’m one of the 300 others. I’ll be reading at Encantada Galley and shop on Valencia at 20t, Oct. 13 at, I think, 7:00, along with contributors to the new Latin American literature anthology from the Center for the Art of Translation.

P. Joseph Potocki

What has become of P. Joseph Potocki, I wonder. He produced a most peculiar Frisco (Phrisco?) blog called San Francisco Phax & Phikshun. The last post on the blog is dated October 2, 2006. I doubt that he is Joseph P. Potocki. Where has the fellow gone?

Here’s is his summary of the sixteenth century in the San Francisco Bay Area:

  • 1500’s: Nudist Natives live la-la-la-like in Bay Area Nirvana
  • 1542: Aspiring Conquistador Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo blows by Bay
  • 1579: Pirate (not yet Sir) Francis Drake plugs holes in his Hind at Point Reyes
  • 1595: His ship sinks, spices up Drake’s Bay, then Sebastian Cermeno paddles back to Acapulco
  • 1597: Nonplussed Natives yawn, resume civilized customs, until return of stinky death-cult barbarians–two centuries later

City of riches

greedEarly Chinese immigrants to San Francisco referred to northern California as “Gold Mountain.” The name, an echo of the 49ers gold rush, expressed the promise of a land of riches. Many of those immigrants were doomed to disappointment, but the land of riches, has, apparently, come to pass. According to CNN Money, San Francisco is the third richest community in the nation, with a median income of $65,497. San Jose is second, with a median income of 73,804. (And, in case you’re wondering, Plano, Texas, is first at $77,038.)

It’s hard to be sure what this means. A median is the mid-point where half of the sample falls below, and half of the sample is greater. To pull the median up and rank among the top in the country for median income you would need a lot of people at the high end. But a high median can disguise the fact that there remain many people at the low end.

According to an article in the Chronicle, Hunters View, a 265-unit housing complex in Hunters Point, received one of the worst public housing scores from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of any housing in the nation. The inspection “found shattered glass on the ground, missing sewer and drain covers, roaches in apartments, malfunctioning appliances, and mold and mildew. Perhaps most remarkably, the inspection found 64 percent of the units had missing or inoperable smoke detectors. Hunters View was the site of the 1997 fire that killed a grandmother and five children – due, a judge ruled, to the San Francisco Housing Authority not having installed a smoke detector.”

The cost of living is high in San Francisco. It’s a difficult place for people with low incomes. I believe the city has lost some vitality because it is so difficult for adventurous young people to survive here. Today, Portland or Seattle seem in many respects more like the San Francisco of the mid twentieth century than our present San Francisco does.

Image: Zasu Pitts in Erich von Stoheim’s Greed (1924), based on the novel, set in San Francisco, by Frank Norris.

“The Cancer of the San Francisco Chronicle”

Edward Champion blasts Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius as “a hack who defames journalism” and “a heartless and complacent yuppie writing very much in the thoughtless and vacant manner I used to find in that reactionary cad of a columnist, Ken Garcia.”

The city is getting worked up over one of its periodic and so far futile efforts to clean up Golden Gate Park, and Champion complains that Nevius is “entirely uninterested in coming to terms with the homeless in Golden Gate Park for his piece.”

There’s no question San Francisco’s homeless problem needs more serious attention than it has been getting. Will Champion’s heated rhetoric help? Wasn’t this supposed to be mayor Newsom’s signature issue?

UPDATE: Randy Shaw, in Beyond Chron, weighs in, 9/4/07:

While the traditional media’s role in promoting the Iraq War has become conventional wisdom, military invasions are not the only place where the press sells the public a false story. Consider homelessness. For two decades, the media has offered the public a “framing” of homelessness that focuses on problem individual behavior, rather than on the massive federal funding cuts that saw widespread visible homelessness remerge in 1982 after being nonexistent for over forty years. The San Francisco Chronicle still identifies the homeless problem as primarily caused by problem individuals such as campers in Golden Gate Park, and blames advocates, rather than the media and politicians, for the persistence of homelessness. C.W. Nevius’s August 28 Chronicle column perfectly captured how the media still “enables” the federal government’s abandonment of the unhoused, and shows why the Bush Administration – like its Reagan, Bush and Clinton predecessors – feels no pressure to act.

The Josh Kornbluth Show

Josh Kornbluth’s show on KQED television is up for a possible renewal for a third year. A show of community support could tip the balance in the show’s favor. If you would like to see it continue, consider writing to one of these addresses:

  • Office of the President: pres [AT] kqed [dot] org
  • Viewer Services: tv [AT] kqed [dot] org
  • The Josh Kornbluth Show: jkshow [AT] kqed [dot] org

You can also comment on Josh’s KQED blog.

Disclosure: I published Josh’s Red Diaper Baby. You can read about the process of designing it here.

Cleaning the Bay

bleaning the bay

This photo is from a set posted to Flickr entitled “San Francisco Bay Debris – KQED QUEST.” The photos document voluntary Bay cleanup by a group of San Francisco sailors, who were moved to action when a seaplane crashed into a telephone poll that was floating in the bay — sixty-five years ago. According to a the site, “Ever since, a group of Sausalito sailors has toiled as San Francisco Bay’s unheralded trash collectors — removing everything from floating concrete to dead bodies.”

San Francisco Bay Area Progressive Directory

I just discovered this on-line resource.

Is SF gayer than NYC?

Boinkology weighs in with an opinion.


My software shows, or tries to show, incoming blog links. I did a doubletake when I saw this one. (I’m linked as “quadrant 8” in Golden Gate Park.)

Local Church Urges Spanking

Bethel Baptist Church in my home town of El Sobrante in the East Bay tells parents that failing to spank their children amounts to “opposing God’s will.” The church hands out pamphlets to parents that recommend “using a ‘rod’ or flexible stick to swat children until their will is broken.” (The church does, however, explictly caution against the use of 2 by 4s.)

Bethel pastor David Sutton explains that “corporal punishment is not something you do to the child, it’s something you do for the child.”

Sounds to me like Sutton is on the wrong end of that flexible stick.

Via Inside Bay Area

Page 1 of 2

Some rights reserved 2022 Tom’s Garden. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via