For Whom the Wrecking Ball Tolls

Flax Art & Design on the Chopping Block (For Condos, Of Course)

This again?  Yup, this again.  We here at Uptown Almanac have written so many of these stories on doomed neighborhood institutions lately, we cannot dredge up the energy to be creative about it.  But here we are: FLAX Art & Design at the corner of Valencia and Market is shaping up to be next target of condo frenzy.

The Preliminary Project Assessment filed with the Planning Department on March 28th sums the plans up nicely:

Demolish existing 60 year old 1 & 2 story industrial/commercial building and surface parking lots. Construct new 9-story residential (160 units) and commercial (4,500 sf) building with 123 below-grade parking spaces. Proposed project was designed to be respectful to neighboring buildings by providing setbacks; access is from side streets; building and main courtyard are oriented to take advantage of sun exposure and light; ground floor retail activates Market Street.

Hoodline, who broke the news of the plans, notes:

Flax Art & Design is a family-owned business that opened its first shop in San Francisco in 1938. This specific location began as a warehouse and discount retail store in 1977, and became the flagship store in 1981.

We spoke to a Flax manager on duty to ask if the company was aware of the plans, and she confirmed that they are aware of what’s going on. She said that nothing is set in stone, and if anything did happen, it wouldn’t begin for another two years.

This sounds a lot like the reaction of the owners of Elbo Room, who insisted the venue was safe despite the building owner pushing demolition plans forward.  But who knows—we’ll just have to sit back and see how this all plays out.

[Photo: Patric Butler]

Courting the Leather Vote

Kink for Campos Serves Vanilla

“Mainstreaming” is the process of making something accessible to a wider audience, which inevitably makes it less transgressive.

As anyone in the Mission will tell you, the transformative power of mainstreaming comes with costs, both real and imagined. Kink.com has played a role, both naughty and nice, in the larger transformation of the neighborhood surrounding it, and has been born of and shaped by many of the same power dynamics itself.  Nowhere was that more clear that an otherwise unremarkable campaign fundraiser put on by Kink owner Peter Acworth for State Assembly candidate David Campos at the Armory Club on Monday night.

This was no Jack Davis party: besides some shirtless bros, the fetish art and a speaker’s bare feet, there wasn’t much skin, so it was all very respectable and therefore pretty boring.  The media can be excused for some sensational coverage—local publications depend on a certain “point and laugh at San Francisco” demographic of prudes around the country for page views—but at this point, there’s not much controversy around courting the leather vote, at least not locally. Statewide or national ambitions might be another matter.

“I tend to want politicians to leave me alone,” Acworth joked to the crowded bar after the stumping was underway. “And I leave them alone.”  But Acworth could use some friends here and in Sacramento, as Assembly Bill 1576 requiring condoms in adult film production could make it more difficult or expensive to continue doing business in California.  Acworth later acknowledged personally that moving his operation to Las Vegas was a real possibility, meaning he’d want to go ahead with plans to convert the Armory building into office space.

Campos is by no means the first politician Acworth supported, just the most generously supported. By being the first to engage with Acworth “pro-actively,” the Campos for Assembly campaign has received donations from the entrepreneur in February and March totaling $1,200.  In the past, Acworth has contributed $125 to Mark Leno for State Senate in 2008; at least $500 to Rebecca Prozan for Supervisor 2010 and Bevan Dufty for Mayor 2011; while John Rizzo Supervisor got $500 from Acworth and Christina Olague got $500 from Cybernet Enterainment, Acworth’s company, when both were running for the District 5 Supervisor seat in 2012.

Leno has long been an enthusiastic supporter of the leather community, and at least among other LGBT politicians, stumping at Folsom to whip up the vote is de rigeur.  Interestingly, until 2010 Acworth listed himself as a “Self Employed” “Movie Producer and Distributor” on local election financing forms. But starting in 2011, he’s listed as the President, Web Entrepreneur or Owner of Kink.com—because there’s being out, and then there’s being out on campaign finance disclosure forms!  

Of course, none of these candidates have run for statewide office yet, so it’s too early to judge if such transparency might hurt them at the polls.  As 50 Shades of Grey crossed over, both the business of Kink.com and its physical plant were on the frontier between existing organizations catering to the community in SOMA and the influx of monied libertines, many if not most of them heterosexual, looking to have some risqué fun in the Mission.  

In his formal remarks Campos praised the city’s nightlife and entertainment industry, which he said was why he, “like so many in the LGBTQ community came to San Francisco,” and expressed his “fear that we’re going to lose the role that nightlife and entrainment play.” He then thanked Acworth and Kink for being “a very responsible partner in this community,” citing their safety efforts, fundraising drives and event hosting. “For that I want to thank you, Peter.”

But when asked afterward about the statewide condom requirement law backed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Campos assured that his position hasn’t changed, he is pro-condom.  When asked about what kind of jobs he wanted to see created by companies like Kink (or the startups that replace it when the Armory is converted to office space), he responded with his own question: “How are we sure these jobs are available to the neighborhood,” including “women and people of color?”

Kink certainly employs a lot of women as independent contractors, on commission.  But when SF Weekly columnist Matt Smith revealed to officials that full-time employees of the company were enrolled in a state-funded job training program at the Bay Area Video Coaltion, the funding was cut off.  Campos wasn’t familiar with the incident, nor was Acworth, particularly.  Even though it’s the very kind of technical training that could help San Franciscans keep up with the demands of the labor market and land those precious startup jobs.

Which suggests that while politicians might be interested in kinky votes and kinky money, it’s not clear that they’re actually willing to stand up for kink, per se. At least, not once they leave the city.

Fundraisers and Fucking

Tonight: A Booze and Profanity-Laced Dating Game at Z Space

Z Space has put on a few editions of the Z Dating Game in their basement, and now they’re moving the self-described “groundbreaking and genre-defying show that forever changed the face of comedy-matchmaking” to their giant upstairs theater.  It’s a reworked version of the 1960’s tv dating show, spiced up with neighborhood personalities, booze and profanity, and promises to get “insanely rowdy.”  Best of all, proceeds benefit the non-profit Z Space.

Here’s what they have lined up for tonight:

For the 5th installment of the show, the guys putting it together have brought in a ton of local comedy heavy hitters, including:

This is also the first time that there will be LGBT rounds on the show (a gay round and a lesbian round), the first time there will be a full house band, and the first time the show graces the Z Space main stage.

Tickets are on sale now for $10, or you can get them at the door for $15.  Starts at 8pm!

The Mission: San Francisco's Amusement Park

Urban Putt Opens Monday (And The Course Looks Awesome)

We’re been waiting for this spot to open for a while, and its time has finally come.  Urban Putt, the Mission’s latest bar—and first-ever $800k mini golf course—is set to open their doors at 22nd and South Van Ness on Monday, and the putt-putt paradise sure does look incredible:

As Inside Scoop notes:

There are more than a few San Francisco-themed holes — the Painted Ladies, Ferry Building, TransAmerica Building, Lotta’s Fountain, and even an earthquake all make cameos. There is one hole seemingly straight out of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. There is duck shooting. There is a musical hole. There is skeeball. There are many surprises, bells and whistles.

Given the construction costs and the way things are going in the Mission, we’re surprised to see a round on the 14-hole course will only set you back a fairly reasonable $12.  But if you get hungry, be prepared to shell out $11 for a grilled cheese or $14 for a burger.

[Top Photo: The Bold Italic]

Arbitrage

App Promises Drivers $150/Month For Auctioning Off San Francisco's Street Parking

Even while San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee chooses to roll back millions in revenue from parking meters on Sundays, a startup is arbitraging the difference between the city’s woefully underpriced public parking and peak demand by allowing users to auction off access to the land underneath their car.  As far as Uptown Almanac can tell, the MonkeyParking app is, actually, a thing.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You wake up somewhere on the outskirts of the Bay Area where you’re staying with a friend because your place is rented out through Airbnb. Or, you know, you’ve life-hacked your way toward prosperity by just living in your car. The point is, get your shitheap to San Francisco, where self-important people with money will pay almost any price for convenience.
  2. Drive around for a while until you find some parking in a busy, popular neighborhood. In the Mission, for instance. Preferably before noon.
  3. Now give MonkeyParking your location and wait.  A customer can offer a starting bid of $5 for someone willing to leave their spot. If no one else nearby is running the same racket, watch a while as the bid goes up. Maybe chuckle while you imagine your mark circling the popular shopping district full of pedestrians while they fumble with their smartphone.
  4. Go ahead and accept the bid when it hits $10, $15, even $20 — there doesn’t seem to be any limit!  MonkeyParking will tell the other driver where to find you.  And collect a percentage of the transaction.
  5. Now you can circle around the block looking for another spot to squat.  Maybe pick up some Lyft passengers while you’re at it!
  6. Profit.

Now if this sounds like the last time you tried to park near Union Square and someone flagged you to an empty space and then asked you for a tip, but for the cloud, you wouldn’t be entirely off the mark. Of course, that person is the kind of social undesirable like the infamous “squeegeemen” of New York City that quality-of-life mayors stretching back to Rudy Giuliani love to harass. But app-ify it, and suddenly Mayor Lee is recommending an investment in your startup to venture capitalist Ron Conway, thereby telling him how to do his job for a change.

It’s hard to believe that MonkeyParking isn’t a joke about startups, but after looking at two years of online activity, the company and founder’s pages on AngelList, conference listings, downloading the app and trading messages with the company’s Twitter account, we’re losing hope it’s all an elaborate hoax by Italian anarchists with a wicked sense of humor. Instead, it seems to be just more crazy kids with a Silicon Valley dream who don’t play by the rules and believe that they’re making the world a better place. 

The thing is, a ridiculously large portion of the 49 square miles in San Francisco is set aside for parking cars.  And what the city owns, it hardly charges enough for.  The SFPark program introduced in 2010 has used a different method to achieve goals similar to those stated by MonkeyParking, which is to assure parking availability even during busy times: By increasing the cost of the most popular spots. But that money goes straight to the SFMTA, which perpetually needs it for things like paying the Police Department millions for “security services”—as it should, because that land and the infrastructure improvements on it are public property.

To be fair, you have to admire the hustlers who’d try to sell you a public parking spot, if only because of how ridiculous the marks who get suckered must be.  And while Sunday Meters was proven to work to reduce wait times and increase parking availability and turnover, Mayor Lee took an opportunity to explain why he gutted it to complain about parking tickets and Muni passengers.  The SFPark program is currently still in effect, though in an “evaluation” phase, which means that it’s turned off the sensors under the spots, cut off most of the data available to developers and even taken its own app from Apple’s App Store.

One can only imagine what will happen if it needs Mayor Lee’s approval to move forward.  It turns out that the “Sharing Economy” group that his office took credit for putting together in an effort to persuade City Treasurer Jose Cisneros not to go after Airbnb and Uber for taxes never actually met.  Meanwhile, any Cocoa developer from around the world can show up and start literally auctioning public land off to the highest bidder—land that Mayor Lee is happy to just keep giving away for free.

The Veggie Boogie

What You Missed in Dolores Park Yesterday

While many clocked in at the salt mines yesterday, some were wise enough to call out, cut their finest work jeans off at the knee, and peddle over to Dolores.  SFist has a good run-down of the daytime action we missed (spoiler: there was lots of drinking and smoking. Weirdsies!), and the highlight is this mesmerizing carrot dancing itself into gross sweats.

Google Fuss

Activists File Lawsuit to Block Dollar Deal for Tech Shuttles

Alleging the continued violation of the California Vehicle Code and environmental review procedure, a lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court is asking for an injunction to block the deal between the city and corporate shuttle operators that allows the exclusive, private carriers the use of public bus stops at the low, low price of one dollar a stop.  According to a press release:

The Coalition for Fair, Legal and Environmental Transit, SEIU Local 1021, tenant activist Sara Shortt and labor leader Alysabeth Alexander filed suit today in San Francisco Superior Court seeking that the City’s “Commuter Shuttle Pilot Program” be set aside. The suit alleges that the project is in violation of the California Vehicle Code which prohibits any but common carriers (public buses, school buses) to pull into red zones, designated as bus stops. The suit also alleges that City abused its discretion and violated the California Environmental Quality Act by exempting the Shuttle Project from envinronmental review. […]

Alysabeth Alexander is Vice President of Politics for SEIU Local 1021. “Time and time again, we have seen a double standard from Mayor Ed Lee. He has one set of rules for the tech industry and another set of rules for the rest of us. In the last 3 years, the City issued over 13,000 citations to vehicles in red zones, but only 45 were issued to the tech buses.”

In 2006, a similar tactic was successfully employed by motoring enthusiasts to block the city-wide bicycle plan a year after it was similarly passed by the Board of Supervisors without an Environmental Impact Report. The EIR was eventually completed in 2008, certified in 2009, and the injunction was lifted in 2010.  In other words, this issue of Google Buses isn’t going away anytime soon, no matter how much folks may want it.

Of course, the suit probably won’t slow down the shuttles, which have safely ignored existing laws for years with the city’s backroom approval.

The full text of the lawsuit, below:

[Photo: Chris Martin]

Uptown Radio

Tune In As We Interview Supervisor David Campos This Afternoon on BFF.fm

We’ve written about the race to fill Tom Ammiano’s seat in the California State Assembly in the past, in which San Francisco Supervisors David Campos and David Chiu are facing off the the Democratic nomination on June 3rd.  Now we’re bringing the candidates to our weekly radio show on BFF.fm.

This week we’ll be talking to David Campos, a two-term member of the Board of Supervisors representing the Mission, Bernal Heights, and Portola in District 9.  We’ll be discussing city and district issues, his initiatives addressing housing and poverty, the race against Supervisor Chiu for the State Assembly, and what he hopes to accomplish as a member of the Assembly.

The show starts this afternoon at 4:30.  You can stream the interview live directly on BFF.fm, or on Soundtap.  And if you have any questions for the Supervisor, leave them in the comments (or send them to us on Twitter during the show) and we’ll do our best to ask them.

Save Neighborhood Venues!

Viracocha Looks to Go Legit

Despite its outward appearance, Viracocha is much more than a twee antiquary with an absolutely incredible shitter.  Beneath their wooden shop and all-star facility is Viracocha’s basement performance space, and that stage is truly a neighborhood treasure—it’s been host to almost every kind of event, from poetry, music, free university lectures, and all the way to artists like Blek le Rat doing live work.

But that venue closed at the end of December because it was a clear code violation (and lacked the necessary permits to boot).  As the SF Weekly reported:

No matter what you call it, there’s one rule at Viracocha: Keep it quiet. For the past four years, all of these events have technically been illegal, on account of fire codes, that one big staircase, and the lack of ADA compliance. No one’s allowed to talk publicly about the venue or promote its events.

But Viracocha’s venue has always been an open-secret, despite the rules.  Even the SF Fire Department is alleged to take rookies through the space as a “just in case” preparation.  And that’s exactly what got it shut down.

However, just as the owner began attempts to sell the business (and it’s hefty $10k/month lease), he’s filed for an entertainment permit to bring the venue above board—an assuredly necessary step in preserving its value and keeping the strong community Viracocha has built over the last four years.  And should you want to support their efforts, an Entertainment Commission hearing will be May 20th at 5:30pm in City Hall’s room 416.

[Photo: Kate Conger]