Wheel Rights

Have You Registered Your Bike Serial Number?

If you’ve lost a few bikes to the city over the years, you can probably be excused for your fatalism.  Chained together outside an RV parked on Shotwell next to the FoodsCo the other day were three Bay Area Bike Share bikes, all of which are reportedly equipped with GPS transponders.  If they can’t keep those bikes secure or recover them when stolen (and let’s face it, they’re not even particularly nice bikes) then what hope do you have?  

Unfortunately, even if you keep your ride locked up indoors or thoroughly secure it on the street, at best you can only hope to slow down a dedicated thief.  If your bicycle is stolen in San Francisco, you may be able to improve your otherwise dismal chances of ever getting it back by registering it with SAFE Bikes.  A project of local non-profit Safety Awareness for Everyone in partnership with the San Francisco Police Department, simply fill out the web form to add your bike to the local database.

According to Bob Mionske, a lawyer who specializes in cycling-related cases, while 48 percent of stolen bikes are recovered, only five percent are returned to their owners.  And that’s presumably just the bike thefts that are even reported, many of which aren’t. SAFE Bikes won’t necessarily help keep your bike from getting nabbed, but if the police do find it, the chances you’ll be reunited may be somewhat increased.

Even if you don’t have much faith in the SFPD, it’s a good exercise in taking care of your bike in case the worst does happen.  That includes taking photos, writing down the serial number and keeping documentation like purchase and repair receipts to prove it’s yours.  You should probably consider also sending the info to the National Bike Registry, because once a bike is stolen from the streets of San Francisco it might be shipped to another market for resale, and there’s no guarantee the police in Los Angeles, Portland or even Oakland are going to check San Francisco’s list.

Besides, you’re also going to need all that information handy anyway when you file your police report, which is often a necessary step if you want to collect on a bike lock or renter’s insurance policy.  So while it’s boring and possibly futile, consider it anyway!  Theoretically, anything that increases the risks associated with bike theft will decrease its current popularity, helping everyone hold on to their sweet rides.

Alternatively, you can try meditating for years to cultivate a sense of bemused detachment to the phenomenal world of “things” like bikes.  Might help cut down on the vain outrage inspired by loss and a sense of vulnerability!  Definitely won’t help get your bike back, though.

[Photo Diane Yee]

Workin' the Pol

Animated Leland Yee Biopic Premiers as Senators are Suspended with Pay

After a 9am meeting this morning in Sacramento where California State Senators asked their colleague Leland Yee to resign, Yee presumably refused, so the senate voted to suspend him and two other possibly corrupt senators, Rod Calderon and Rod Wright, with pay. Just in time for Taiwan’s Tomo News to release an epic summary of the events surrounding Yee’s indictment and alleged criminal activities!

The video takes some liberties with the facts—Paolo Lucchesi’s tour of restaurants named in the indictment doesn’t include a Panda Express, and an exclusive KPIX interview makes it clear that Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow isn’t actually a six-foot crustacean—but we can all agree that a panda and FBI agent making it rain on pole dancing politicians tastefully serves to illustrate the $69,800 in contributions made to Yee campaigns by undercover agents between 2011 and 2014.


Criminal Complaint Against "Shrimp Boy," State Senator Alleges Drugs, Guns, Fraud, Money Laundering & Murder-for-Hire

News broke this morning that State Senator Leland Yee was arrested along with dozens of other defendants, including Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, and homes and businesses in San Francisco and across the Bay Area raided by federal officials who found, among other things, a marijuana grow operation. This afternoon, Yee, Chow and 17 other defendants appeared before Magistrate Judge Nathaniel Cousins for an initial hearing to determine if they would be detained pending further hearings.

Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow (picture, left) was in the first group of twelve defendants for today’s initial hearing in a criminal complaint brought by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s office. Friends and family of the accused were joined in the courtroom by dozens of journalists and attorneys, eventually requiring an overflow room to accomodate the crowd.  The 133-page complaint was unsealed by Judge Cousins shortly after the hearing began. The charges, in brief, were read aloud in the court room.

Chow stands accused of money laundering and conspiracy to traffic in stolen cigarettes. Charges against the other eleven defendants, including Keith Jackson (pictured, right), a political consultant and longtime ally of State Senator Leland Yee, included gun running, narcotics trafficking and a murder-for-hire conspiracy. Each count of the money laundering charges alone could bring 20 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

Based on the affidavit in the complaint, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has spent years investigating Chow, whom it claims is the “Dragonhead” of the Chee Kung Tong, having infiltrated the organization with an undercover agent posing as a member of La Cosa Nostra—Mafia members with connections in New Jersey. However, at the hearing, Elizabeth Faulk, Chow’s court-appointed federal public defender, argued for his release citing over a decade without being accused of any crime after Chow spent much of the 80s in 90s in prison on multiple criminal convictions including racketeering.

Five of the first twelve defendants were eventually released, with the rest having their bail hearings pushed ahead to Monday and Tuesday. Shortly thereafter, Leland Yee was among seven more defendants brought before Judge Cousins, and stands accused of gun trafficking and six counts of wire fraud. Yee was somber but alert in a faded windbreaker and only slightly tousled hair, replying only “yes” when eventually asked if he understood and agreed to the terms of his release, which includes a $500,000 unsecured bond and a ban on travel outside of California.

Yee is scheduled to appear for a follow-up detention hearing at the San Francisco Federal Courthouse on Monday, March 31st at 9:30am. Jackson is scheduled for 11am that same morning. Chow will have to wait until Tuesday, April 1st. Yee’s attorney has indicated that Yee will plead “not guilty.”

As for the complaint affidavit, the pretty compelling account was written by FBI Special Agent Emmanuel Pascua. After listing the targets of the complaints and the statutes allegedly violated, Pascua begins to describe the investigation.

At some point in the last five years, an undercover FBI agent (herein “UCE 4527”) was introduced to a high-level member of the [Chee Kung Tong]. As a results of this introduction, in may 2010, another undercover FBI agent (herein “UCE 4599”) was introduced to target subject Raymond CHOW. CHOW then introduced UCE 4599 to many of the target subjects…during a meeting with UCE 4599, while seated in a booth in a karaoke bar, CHOW whispered into UCE 4599’s ear that although CHOW was no longer involved in criminal activity, CHOW knew of and approved all criminal activities within his organization.

In October of 2012, local law enforcement conducted raids on two locations which turned up two marijuana grow operations, a loaded weapon and cocaine in locations connected to multiple defendants. Meanwhile, UCE 4599 was laundering millions of dollars in drug proceeds between 2012 and 2014 along with purchasing weapons and drugs directly. Ultimately, Chow introduced UCE 4599 to Keith Jackson as a consultant for CKT. Jackson and his son Brandon Jackson, along with another suspect, allegedly sold UCE 4599 multiple weapons and bullet proof vests, fake credit cards and agreed to a murder for hire scheme suggested by the undercover agent.

In his role as principle at Jackson Consulting, Keith Jackson was busy raising money for Leland Yee’s mayoral campaign in 2011 and even hit UCE 4599 up for donations in excess of the $500 maximum allowed by law. UCE 4599 declined, but introduced Jackson to another undercover agent posing as a real estate developer, UCE 4733, who did make a $5,000 donation to the campaign. After losing the mayoral race but with $70,000 in debt outstanding, Jackson and Yee again went to UCE 4733 for money and promised to call and write the California Department of Public Health on behalf of a fictional client of the agent’s in exchange for a $10,000 donation. More requests were made by Jackson of more undercover agents, with checks made out to “Leland Yee Secretary of State” in exchange for political favors.

Yee and Jackson also promised to introduce UCE 4599 to an arms dealer who could arrange to have a specific type of weapon imported through Newark, New Jersey. Yee later explained that he had connections for weapons in the Phillipines, and introduced UCE 4599 to another defendant, Dr. Lim, who could help make a multi-million dollar arms deal, including shoulder-fired rockets, a reality. In exchange, Jackson and Yee repeatedly requested more funds for Yee’s Secretary of State campaign—which they would then break up into smaller donations in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

At one point in 2012, UCE 4599 asked Jackson to call Yee and as the senator to help out Chow because, according to Jackson (in transcripts of what was presumably a warranted wire tap), “somebody, maybe the FBI, had Chow ‘by the balls.’” Yee expressed concern about connecting himself to Chow because of the latter’s puported book and movie deals, and because “[y]ou know, some poeple still think he killed that Allen Leung guy.” Referring to money offered by UCE 4599 in exchange for Yee’s support of Chow, Yee lamented “shit, as much as I want that five thousand, I can’t do that man. Shit. Fuck. Shit.”

In 2013, Yee reportedly took meetings with another undercover agent, UCE 4180, posing as a businessman who wanted to become “the Anheuser-Busch of medical marijuana” and was looking for help changing the law in California to make it easier to do business.  Yee said that only a ballot initiative could get UCE 4180 what he wanted, and that if elected Secretary of State, Yee could help with that. Jackson then met with Yee and later provided his account information so that UCE 4180 could make a “good faith” donation in exchange for “deliverables.” In June of that year, Yee, Jackson, UCE 4180 and another undercover agent and another (unnamed) state senator all met for a coffee at a Starbucks near the state capitol in Sacramento where Yee reportedly explained that “I’m just trying to run for Secretary of State, I hope I don’t get indicted.”


Of course, this is just a summary of the most egregious charges against Yee and the connections between Yee and Chow through Jackson. Dozens of weapons, millions of dollars and kilo after kilo of drugs - all together, it sounds like the plot to some sort of violent video game that Yee wants to protect your children from. Whether or not Yee is found guilty, with Democratic party leaders asking him to resign immediately, it looks like it’s game over.


Senator Leland Yee, Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow Arrested in Federal Corruption Indictment [Updated]

This morning, the FBI searched the office of San Francisco Democrat and State Senator Leland Yee while Yee was handcuffed and driven to the federal building as part of a corruption indictment.

Search warrants are being served across the Bay Area, including the Gee Ting Kong Free Mason clubhouse in Chinatown. Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, President of the Supreme Lodge of Chinese Free Masons, has also been arrested in connection with the investigation. The infamous Chow has spent decades in prison for his role in violent, organized crime and connections to Hong Kong triads.  Of course, that didn’t prevent Mayor Lee from honoring “Shrimp Boy” for “working ‘in the trenches’ as a Change Agent” in 2012:

No details about the nature of the indictment have been released yet, but the Chronicle claims from “sources” that the raids “stemmed from a shooting about five years ago.”

Former San Francisco Supervisor and Yee campaign volunteer Ed Jew has been in, then out, and now back in jail on federal and state corruption charges since being arrested in 2007, though there’s no indication the cases are connected. Chow has publicly distanced himself from his criminal past since last being released from prison in 2003, while Yee continued serving in the state senate after losing the 2011 mayoral election in San Francisco to Ed Lee.

Yee himself has a history with legal troubles:

In 2000, Yee was arrested in Hawaii on suspicion of boosting an $8.09 bottle of suntan oil by putting it in the front of his shorts.

A year earlier, Lee was pulled over twice by San Francisco police officer who suspected him of cruising the Mission District in search of prostitutes. In both cases, police questioned Yee at the scene of the stops on South Van Ness Avenue and let him go on his way.

Yee is currently a candidate for California Secretary of State.

Update: As the search continues this morning, the SFFD was called in to help crack a safe at the Gee Ting Kong clubhouse. Investigators are also searching the Bay Steel warehouse on Davidson Street in the Bayview according to KGO’s Jenna Lane, who reports “All’s quiet at Leland Yee’s home in the Sunset.”

[Photo: John Martinez Pavliga]

The Glasstudent Becomes The Glassmaster

How to Know When You Can Call the Cops on a Glasshole

Michele Bachmann: Glasshole

Google Glass is ugly, expensive and, at best, semi-useful, but it’s also new, rare and exclusive, which makes it catnip to the inordinately entitled. Unfortunately, saying “no” to the inordinately entitled triggers their equally over-developed persecution complex. So after yet another Glasshole was kicked out of a local business because it made the otherwise warm, friendly folks at Grand Coffee uncomfortable, he suggested that Google start running television commercials to show how awesome Glass is so he won’t have to face “fear, uncertainty and doubt.”

Yes, Google customer Steven Mautone is asking the company to mount a major media campaign to educate the proles so that a handful of wealthy people with terrible taste won’t occasionally be excluded from social settings. Instead, what Google has done is create an etiquette guide which “Explorers” like Mautone may have read but which he seems to have trouble understanding.

For example? One of the tips is “respect others and if they have questions about Glass don’t get snappy.” Mautone originally wrote on his blog, Living Thru Glass, that “the first thing I asked [Grand Coffee’s] manager was: ‘Have you ever worn Glass? Do you know what it’s all about?’” But later, in a Google+ thread (naturally), he admitted to fellow Glassholes that “I honestly didn’t know what to say at first. My response was ‘are you serious?’” Certainly not the first time that a Glasshole has desperately tried to make themselves seem more sympathetic.

What Google’s guide doesn’t do is clarify anyone’s rights under the law. For instance, while it’s true that you are allowed to take photographs of anything that’s in plain view from a public space, including people, “When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which continues, “If you disobey the property owner’s rules, they can order you off their property (and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply).”

So the fine folks at Grand Coffee are completely within their rights to refuse service to Glassholes, and to call the cops if the Glasshole throws a temper tantrum.

Google also helpfully suggests that Explorers “ask for permission” before “standing alone in the corner of a room staring at people while recording them through Glass.” The fact Google has to write that down for users a year after the product was released says more about what Glassholes must be like as a class more succinctly than I ever could.

What the company doesn’t mention is that in California, standing alone in the corner of a room staring at people while recording them through Glass could land you in jail. As the Digital Media Law Project explains, “California makes it a crime to record or eavesdrop on any confidential communication, including a private conversation or telephone call, without the consent of all parties to the conversation.” They continue:

If you are recording someone without their knowledge in a public or semi-public place like a street or restaurant, the person whom you’re recording may or may not have “an objectively reasonable expectation that no one is listening in or overhearing the conversation,” and the reasonableness of the expectation would depend on the particular factual circumstances. Therefore, you cannot necessarily assume that you are in the clear simply because you are in a public place.

Over at Slow News Day, Beth Spotswood asks “is there a line when it’s cool and when it’s not?” Well, recording people at a business with a stated policy banning photography, such as at the Zeitgeist, could provide such “an objectively reasonable expectation” that they won’t be subject to electronic eavesdropping. Or maybe not! So no, there is no bright line as my lawyer friend would say. It’s decided on a case-by-case basis, so pushing the issue could take you from creepy to court proceedings faster than you can say “Glass, search for criminal defense attorneys.”

In the aforementioned Google+ thread, Mautone’s fellow Glasshole Stephen Cerutti has already suggested that someone create an app to track businesses that don’t allow patrons wearing devices on their face capable of secretly recording employees and customers. And by “someone,” I have to presume he means “someone else,” because did I mention inordinately entitled?

At Least Lust Wasn't Dragged Into It

Greed Takes On Sloth

I was walking down Valencia the other morning, wondering why no one has called for a ban on Planned Parenthood and ACLU and Greenpeace from shaking down people for money on the street, when I happened to notice this sad (and slightly dated) sign pinned up to the doorway of McSweeney’s Slothshop.  Allegedly a thief pried open the door and raided the pop-up of sloth shirts and children’s books.  Is there even a market for those?  Guess so…

Bomb Threat at Craftsman and Wolves Shuts Down Valencia

Details are light, but according to an employee of Betabrand, a bomb threat was called into Craftsman and Wolves this morning (perhaps over the cost of a muffin??), prompting SFPD to close down the block and call in the bomb squad.

We'll update if we hear more.

Update: SF Appeal is reporting that it was a “suspicious package” found on the street, not a threat.

Possible Shooting/Homicide at 24th and Shotwell

An anonymous tipster writes in about gunfire at 3am this morning:

The picture is of the scene that unfolded early this morning, a bit after 3am.

I was about to fall asleep when I heard about three gunshots and a vehicle speed off. A woman was crying out loud, so I grabbed the phone and called 911. Took 3-4 minutes for the call to get through, but they arrived as the call ended. At least one person was taken by ambulance, wasn't sure if they were alive or not.

Stay safe, everyone.

Bike Thieves Are Stealing Mailmen's Keys to Get Into Buildings

Bike thieves have long been breaking into people's garages or plucking bikes from the streets, but now it appears they're exploiting a way to get into building lobbies directly.  As one Uptown Almanac reader writes, a thief recently used a crowbar to break into their mailman's key box to gain access to his building off of of 18th Street, by the Women's Building:

A thief at 4:45am Monday morning tried breaking into my building's garage, failed, but then proceeded to break into the building's key box and used the keys to get into the hallway lobby. The thief quickly grabbed my red Mission Bicycle fixie that I had lazily stopped locking indoors.

We asked Officer Matthew Friedman, the man behind SFPD's Anti Bike Theft Twitter account, if this is a common issue and what can be done about it:

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon.  I saw this happen a few times when I worked in the Mission District.  The SFPD has worked with the US postal police to investigate this type of crime.  In the past we have also been able to help expedite with changing the locks (this should be done ASAP regardless), better securing the mailbox key, or even changing how the mailman gains access to the building (including the location of delivery).

Also consider not locking up or leaving anything in the lobby of a building.  Thieves scout out apartment buildings where they can access a security door steal property (bikes) then get out quickly.  In some cases I have discovered it is easier to gain access to a secured building lobby then a garage door.

Friedman also recommends working with San Francisco SAFE, which offers security assessments on apartment buildings and give “advice on how to overcome security issues.”

Astroturfing a Sea Change at 16th and Mission

The 16th and Mission BART plaza has gone through an incredible transformation in the last 9 weeks.  It was as only mid-September that you would emerge from the BART station and see a cast of so-called unsavory characters doing everything from drinking tallboys in paper bags to selling (probably stolen) goods rolled out on blankets.  And then there was the violence, drugs, and general loitering that put the neighborhood's more sensitive and vulnerable populations on edge.

But today? Nesquik can be found setting up a booth to give out free chocolate drink.  Even the plaza's notorious scent is wafting away.

The turnaround began on the week of September 22nd, when BART, the Department of Public Works, a private security corporation, and the San Francisco Police Department teamed up to better patrol the plaza and shift the nightly plaza wash-down to mid-day, all at the urging of the shadowy “Clean Up The Plaza” coalition.

Clean Up The Plaza surfaced on June 1st, hanging signs in business windows and launching a petition, which we then noted was “little light on details as to what they want done.”  The organization bills itself as a “grass roots [sic] effort” made up of “residents, merchants, and visitors” of 16th and Mission.  From their mission statement:

We are a coalition of Residents, Merchants, and Visitors who use the 16 Mission Bart Station in our daily travels.  The area around the Plaza on these corners is in deplorable condition. We have lived in danger and with the blight of this corner for too long.  Our neighborhood deserves better access to safe, clean and walkable transportation corridors.

Their website lists their core members, painting their bios with broad strokes such as “BART rider,” “business owner,” “property owner,” and “resident.”  However, researching the individuals behind the campaign reveal they are anything but the humble neighbors as they are so described.

Of the original core members of Clean Up The Plaza (the organization expanded their membership list earlier this fall), at least four members have downplayed their status in the community to give the petition a “grassroots” feel.  One of these members, David J. Sanchez, Jr., is described merely as a “property owner.”  However, Sanchez is deeply embedded within the bowels of the San Francisco government, serving on the San Francisco Health Commission, the Police Commission, the Board of Education, and on the board of the SF General Hospital Foundation.

Gwen Kaplan is similarly described as a “business owner,” but also happens to be the former president of the San Francisco Small Business Commission and sits on San Francisco Chamber of Commerce board.  Clean Up The Plaza also lists Gwen Kaplan's business Ace Mailing and the North East Mission Business Association, which is funded by Ace Mailing, as a member organizations without disclosing their link to Kaplan.

Clean Up The Plaza has not returned repeated emails or phone calls for comment.

On the surface, it's hard to argue with the changes happening at the plaza—cleaner sidewalks, less violence, less public drunkenness, less smell.  But the unfortunate truth is these changes are largely coming on the backs of the poor, from the homeless to the hundreds of SRO residents who use the plaza as a common space to escape their prison cell-like living conditions.

The week the “clean up” commenced, Laura Guzman, the Director of Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, told us DPW workers were going around to homeless camps in the blocks surrounding the plaza, telling the homeless that they had to pack up and move or else they would be “sprayed out” with a hose.  She went on to tell us about the strong-arm tactics she saw at the plaza:

I have seen up to five cops closely monitoring what people are doing at all times. I have been told that folks have been harassed for smoking cigarettes… I was there [on September 24th] and I was going to give light to one of [the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center's] homeless participants, and a police officer approached to see what I was doing (he probably thought I was going to smoke crack with my guy or something). Two police men where closely watching an African American lady who was shaving her man's head. It is out of a movie to see it. I also spoke to some of the old timers, who stated to me no one has come to offer not even shelter to them…

Since Guzman's report, we too have seen no less than two police officers in the plaza at any given time, handing out citations for offenses as minor as open containers—issues that easily pass in places as nearby as Dolores Park.  And two weeks ago, private security officers from Legion Corporation were spotted telling smokers outside Kilowatt to “move along” for loitering on 16th Street:

All this makes us wonder: why are people as politically connected as a former Police Commissioner and a Chamber of Commerce board member astroturfing a clean up on 16th and Mission?  Who is paying for private security officers to patrol the area?  And why do they think they need to be secretive about their affiliations?

Regardless, this is what “hyper-gentrification” looks like.