Best of 2019: People & Places

NOBLEST CITY HALL MOMENT

Mayor London Breed Standing up for the Homeless

Quick history lesson: The Flushing Remonstrance is a little-remembered 1657 rebuke by a small Dutch community against the religiously intolerant governor of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant. Signed by townspeople — some of them illiterate men who simply left an X — it stated plainly that they could not persecute Quakers because Christianity’s insistence on loving your neighbor and freedom of conscience forbade someone from telling anyone who a person could or could not worship. About 30 villagers stuck their necks out at no discernible benefit to themselves, and some were thrown in prison for it. Some 352 years later, Mayor London Breed stood up to a hostile group of mostly affluent Embarcadero residents who were angry about the prospect of a Navigation Center that could serve up to 400 persons experiencing homelessness. Breed, who opposed 2018’s Proposition C — which would have taxed certain large companies to generate some $300 million — took flak for the decision to do the right thing this time. She faces re-election this November, but there is no one running to her left this time because she hasn’t drawn an opponent yet. It appears to have been motivated by principle, and considering the hostility and incompetence City Hall has generated regarding homelessness over the past 20 years, we have to give credit where credit’s due.

TECH HERO

Marc Benioff

Watching tech titans snipe at each other over their societal obligations on Twitter is what the medium was built for. While many corporate executives seem as though they’ve had their capacity for shame medically cauterized, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff gave millions and managed to shame Twitter and Square’s Jack Dorsey into donating some coin of his own to help San Francisco’s unhoused residents. Earlier this year, he donated $30 million toward the study of homelessness. In a better world, we would not have billionaires at all. But in the meantime, we have one who’s determined to improve the dire economic disparities in contemporary San Francisco and for that, we salute you, Marc Benioff.

BEST BUSKER

The Space Lady

What? She’s back? Well — sorta. Ever since her one-off performance at the Verdi Club this year, we’ve been smitten with The Space Lady — aka Susan Dietrich Schneider — along with songs like “Synchronize Me” and her cover of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe.” Having played in the Castro and the Haight before divorcing her hippie first husband and eventually relocating to her home state of Colorado, The Space Lady has begun performing again — winged helmet and all — only she’s touring rather than busking, and she’ll be at Oasis on July 7. Give her sweet, slightly sorrowful soprano voice a listen and you’ll see what her brand of far-out magic is all about. Are we coaxing this gentle prophetess of a hopeful future to come back to us more often? You bet we are.

BEST HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF MUSIC

Women’s Audio Mission

542-544 Natoma St., womensaudiomission.org

According to Women’s Audio Mission, “less than 5 percent of the people creating the sounds, music, and media in the daily soundtrack of our lives are women.” Committed to bringing greater equality to all fields of the recording industry, Women’s Audio Mission is home to the only professional recording studio in the world built and run by women. Over the past 15 years, they’ve also offered over 2,000 classes to 14,000 girls and women on subjects that range from electronic music production to microphone placement and techniques. The definition of the mantra to “be the change you wish to see in the world,” Women’s Audio Mission is a reflection of the Bay Area at its best — and a reason to have hope for music’s uncertain future.

MOST INSPIRING NONPROFIT

San Francisco Asian Women’s Shelter

3543 18th St., Unit 19, sfaws.org

Society has a tendency to ignore ugly truths. Instead, we prefer to hope that things will simply sort themselves out. When it comes to human trafficking and domestic violence, San Francisco Asian Women’s Shelter has rejected sheepish silence as a solution. Its efforts to assist survivors of trafficking and assault include a 24-hour crisis line and a shelter program — and its resources are accessible in more than 40 languages. While the SFAWS accepts all survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, their efforts to be a lifeline for limited and non-English speaking immigrant survivors over the past 30 years remains tragically necessary and profoundly important.

BEST POSTHUMOUS PRESENCE

Robin Williams

In 2014, the Bay Area reacted with shock to the news that beloved comic and actor Robin Williams had taken his own life at the age of 63. While some acts of posthumous recognition can feel rushed, the two landmarks that now bear Williams’ name feel aptly suited for the man that brought us Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage, and the underrated Death to Smoochy. Robin Williams Tunnel (nee Waldo Tunnel) serves as a conduit between Marin and San Francisco. This makes it perfectly suited to be named in honor of Williams, who lived in both counties for much of his life. Renamed in September, Robin Williams Meadow (formerly Sharon Meadow) occupies a gorgeous slice of Golden Gate Park. Without getting too saccharine about it, anywhere that offers locals some fresh air and joy feels like a fitting tribute to one of the Bay Area’s most cherished public figures.

BEST CENTENARIAN

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

When poet and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born, World War I had concluded only the year before (but the Treaty of Versailles wasn’t dry yet). His legacy includes publishing many seminal works of the Beat generation — although he disavows that label for himself — plus his own verse, as well as co-founding City Lights bookstore in North Beach. You rarely see writers and publishers enjoy the kind of celebration that prevailed in celebration of Ferlinghetti’s 100th birthday this March 24. There were sidewalk poetry readings, throngs of revelers, and plenty of cappuccinos, all of which were a welcome reminder of San Francisco’s identity as a literary city — not just a factory for memes and Instagram stories that take us to a post-literate society. You have to be awed by the optimism of publishing a free-associative memoir called Little Boy five days before your own centennial.

BEST VALENCIA STREET PARKLET TO WALK PAST AND MARVEL AT

Deepistan National Park

deeplet.org

A large number of Valencia Street parklets will try to lure you in to buy coffee, vegan ice cream, or free-range boba tea at their venture capital-funded third-wave coffee boutiques. But in the heart of the Valencia-and-20th-Street parklet hotbed, only one has a shrub-sculpted triceratops and makes no attempt to sell you anything. The Valencia and Liberty Street parklet called Deeplet, or Deepistan National Park, was started by a longtime resident neighborhood activist determined to see that the Valencia Corridor stays its course, Mixt be damned.

BEST INSULT-THROWING PUBLIC OFFICIAL

Planning Commissioner Kathrin Moore

Sup. Aaron Peskin gets a lot of press for his loquacious stemwinders, but a more obscure City Hall official dunks on condo plans with even more hilarious put-downs that combine the vocabulary of Werner Herzog with the subversive wit of Bianca del Rio. San Francisco Planning Commissioner Kathrin Moore routinely rags on the ugly, cookie-cutter condo plans that come before her commission, telling developers, “I think all of these buildings are totally miserable,” or “It’s a maze of corridors that reminds me a little bit of a suburban shopping mall.” A trained architect and urban designer, Moore has even taken swings at the body she sits on, saying in 2015 that “they are absolutely inept to do it. They have not been trained, they have not been mentored. They are becoming more like permit expediters.”

BEST GRASSROOTS EFFORT TO FEED THE HUNGRY

Burrito Project SF

burritoprojectsf.org

The Burrito Project SF prepares, delivers, and serves 500 to 550 hot, delicious free vegan burritos to the city’s hungry and unhoused population one night every month, making them one of our favorite homelessness advocacy projects. Burrito Projects now operate in at least 12 cities throughout North America, serving tens of thousands of meals every year and empowering hundreds of volunteers to help out in any way they can. If you want in on one of the greatest feed-the-hungry efforts the City of Saint Francis is making during the modern-day homelessness crisis, sign up to volunteer on their website.

BEST LITERAL SHADE-THROWING

The preservation of sun at Victoria Manalo Draves Park

Try as developers might to forget that actual people live in Central SoMa, meddling kids are there to remind them. Neighborhood residents have only two parks to retreat to from their cramped living quarters in a skyscraper-dense area surrounded by construction cranes. So when a planned development threatened to cast a shadow on the basketball courts in Victoria Manalo Draves Park on Folsom Street, the only genuine multi-use park in the area, community groups pushed back. In April, they made one final and successful case. Now the dozens of braces-wearing teenagers who testified for more than four hours can run free in the park, preserved sunlight shining on their faces — if the fog allows it. As a bonus, this also gives the Fondue Cowboy, Deli Board, and the queer-run dungeon space Catalyst a reprieve from demolition.

BEST VISION ZERO CRUSADER

Supervisor Norman Yee

No supervisor or high-ranking city official knows better than Supervisor Norman Yee that San Francisco streets are needlessly dangerous — disproportionately so for seniors. Yee was hit by a driver in 2006 and left unsure if he would ever work, or walk, again. So while the ball is largely in the SFMTA’s court, Yee often publicly reminds them and the general public that it’s a matter of policy, not coincidence, and can be prevented. He’s also looking to lower speed limits in parts of San Francisco — the opposite of Los Angeles — and recently called for the transportation agency to “daylight” intersections by eliminating parking spots that obstruct another driver’s view of a crosswalk.

MOST FAMOUS UNION ORGANIZER

Brace Belden

“San Francisco is a union town,” people love to say — and it very much is, with politicians wooing labor leaders whenever they’re up for reelection. But among the crowd of workers’ rights advocates, few are more well known than one Brace Belden, who helped lead Anchor Brewing’s  unionization drive earlier this year. You may have seen his name in New York Magazine or Rolling Stone, or caught it on “Suddenly Everyone’s Favorite Communist,” an episode of KQED’s The Leap that told the tale of Belden’s foray into a war zone when he volunteered with the YPG in Syria. “It comes back to solidarity,” he says in a recent HuffPost video. “Solidarity is the weapon of the world’s workers. I think it’s the duty of everyone who works for a living — who sells their labor power — to stand up for themselves.”   

BEST ATTEMPT TO DEMOCRATIZE THE PRESIDIO

Fort Winfield Scott

For the amount of land it takes up, the Presidio is underutilized. The folks in charge of the former military base thought they could change that by redeveloping its long-untouched army post full of Mission-style barracks, Fort Winfield Scott, with a civic spirit at the forefront. The Presidio Trust ambitiously called for proposals to turn the 1,491-acre park into a “Campus for Change,” which would provide a long-term space for nonprofits, bring local school kids to its restored natural habitat, and conduct research. Instead, it received one led by WeWork that analysts assessed as, well, doing none of that while also putting much of the cost on the Presidio Trust itself. It was — and still is — worth a shot.

BEST OFFICE PET WITH AN ADORING FAN BASE ACROSS THE POND

Edna the Fire Station Cat

instagram.com/fire_cat_edna

When a tortoiseshell stray cat arrived at the San Francisco Fire Department’s Station 49 in 2014, she helped EMTs and first responders hang up the adrenaline and de-stress. Soon known as Edna, she quickly became a beloved team member who deterred rodents and developed a following on Instagram. Alas, a meany with nothing to live for filed a complaint, and Station 49 was forced to give Edna up — but not before lighting a fire under her passionate fans abroad. One or two from the U.K. even came for SF Weekly for drawing attention to the small number of people who testified in person on Edna’s behalf. We bid you good day!

BEST AT SCHOOLING WHITE MEN ON TWITTER

@uhshanti

Say something stupid and privileged about tenant rights, affordable housing, Democratic Socialists, Jane Kim, or SB 50 on Twitter and you best watch out for a whipsmart response from @uhshanti. The platform is full of trolls with a hefty sense of privilege who love to spout half-baked ideas, but few are a match for this well-read and fearless lefty. She’s got a hefty list of statistics and studies up her sleeve on just about any topic — and she isn’t afraid of throwing down with the big blue-checkmark players. There are too many brilliant tweets to highlight, but this sums most of them up: “you really truly have no idea what you’re talking about.”

BEST LOCAL ANTI-TRUMP WARRIOR

City Attorney Dennis Herrera

The strongest local player in the war against the Trump administration’s ongoing violations of human rights is not a supervisor, or even Mayor London Breed, but a soft-spoken man with glasses who presides over San Francisco’s legal concerns. City Attorney Dennis Herrera has been blocking the feds left and right for years. In 2019 alone, he’s sued the administration to protect the health rights of women and LGBT folks, defeated attempts to defund S.F. based on its sanctuary-city status, and released a 32-page guide for other cities on how to defend their constituents’ civil rights. “I suggest this administration stop trying to villainize immigrants and instead read the Constitution,” Herrera says. Succinctly put!

BEST NONPROFIT HUB NO LONGER UNDER THREAT

Redstone Labor Temple

It’s near impossible to quantify the amount of people benefitted from nonprofit services that have and continue to come out of 2940 16th St. The 55,000-square-foot building — iconic for all the labor organizing that’s taken place there, such as the 1934 General Strike — was yet another institution under threat when its longtime landlord said he was looking to sell for upward of $22 million. That spelled trouble for the nonprofits that rely on this historically affordable space, including Latinx transgender organization El/La Para Translatinas. Fortunately, the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) negotiated for months to secure the Redstone Labor Temple for generations to come and in May, reached a deal to buy the building — an infinitely better outcome than another WeWork acquisition.

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