Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 42 / 19 October 2017
 

DADT foe to head California military council

Ellen Tauscher (Photo: Bob Roehr)

Ellen Tauscher (Photo: Bob Roehr)

California Governor Jerry Brown announced today (Thursday, March 28) that former Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, who fought against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gays serving in the military, will chair his newly established military council.

Tauscher, who represented the East Bay district that includes Walnut Creek for more than 12 years and was also an under secretary of state, was once the lead sponsor on a bill to repeal DADT. Tauscher left Congress in 2009. The anti-gay law was finally repealed in 2011.

“California plays a crucial role in our nation’s defense, and military bases and activities are vital to our state’s economy,” Brown said in a statement. “As federal priorities shift to cyber security and new military technology, this council will work to expand defense-industry jobs and investment in California.”

California is home to 29 federal military installations and the Department of Defense directly employs more than 236,000 people in the state. The new panel will work to protect the state’s military installations and operations amid ongoing defense budget cuts, among other tasks.

“California’s military infrastructure is critically important to national security,” Tauscher stated. “The Council will send a unified message to Washington, D.C., that highlights the value of our military bases.”

Tauscher’s position doesn’t require Senate confirmation, and there’s no compensation.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-San Francisco), stated, “With federal budgets continuing to be cut – including many defense programs – it is my hope that the Governor’s Military Council will help protect jobs and investments and attract new missions associated with California’s military presence. I also believe that Ellen Tauscher is an excellent choice to chair this council, as she brings a wealth of experience at the State Department and as a member of the House of Representatives.”

The council will convene for one year and draft specific recommendations to the governor and Legislature.

For more information, including a full list of council members, visit http://gov.ca.gov.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, March 28, 2013 @ 11:57 am PST
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Nudity still allowed at SF Pride, Folsom Street

A Folsom Street fairgoer in 2012 (Courtesy Fred Alert Photo)

A Folsom Street fairgoer in 2012 (Courtesy Fred Alert Photo)

People can still be naked at Pride and Folsom Street this year.

San Francisco’s nudity ban, which went into effect February 1, prohibits showing one’s anal region or genitals except as part of permitted parades, fairs, or festivals, such as the city’s Pride parade and celebration (June 29-30) and Folsom Street Fair (September 29).

But some people apparently became confused when the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee recently listed nudity under “prohibited activities” in its exhibitor guidelines.

According to a screenshot on nudist Mitch Hightower’s Facebook page, Pride’s rules said “City ordinances prohibit public exposure of genitals (‘Nudity’),” and said the committee “cannot tell you exactly where the line is drawn, and you draw the line too close” at the risk of being warned, ticketed, or even arrested by police.

In a comment on his page, Hightower said, “So much for fairs, festivals and parades being exempt from the nudity ban. The SF Pride website lists nudity as conduct that is deemed illegal by the City and therefore ‘NOT ALLOWED.'”

But it seems that Pride officials misunderstood the law.

In an email, Officer Albie Esparza, a police spokesman, pointed to the ordinance’s language regarding permitted festivals and said since Pride “is a permitted event, it seems to be exempt.”

Asked about the issue in a phone interview, Pride CEO Earl Plante acknowledged the exemption and indicated people working with his group wouldn’t try to make anyone put their clothes on.

“We’re not in the enforcement business,” Plante said.

Pride appears to have changed its guidelines since Hightower started spreading the word about the organization’s rules on nudity.

The guidelines now reflect reality, stating, “The City of San Francisco Nudity Ban ordinance prohibits nudity on city streets, sidewalks, plazas and other public spaces. However, it allows exceptions for street fairs, parades, including the SF Pride Parade and celebration, and other permitted public events and does not apply to children under 5 years old.”

Nudity will still be allowed at Folsom Street, too, Folsom Street Events Executive Director Demetri Moshoyannis said in an interview.

Moshoyannis said he’s heard from many people who’ve been worried about how much skin they’ll be able to show.

“This was my fear early on,” he said. He suspected “many people will not read the fine print, and therefore they will not know permitted street fairs are exempt.” Like the Folsom Street leather fest, Up Your Alley (July 28), which Moshoyannis’s nonprofit also produces, is exempt, too.

“As a matter of fact,” he said, “We’re expanding our clothes check areas to accommodate the potential increased interest in nudity at the fair.”

Moshoyannis expects more interest, at least in the first year, because “I think Up Your Alley and Folsom Street are places where people feel comfortable,” and the events “exist in part as a source of sexual expression. I think that nudity is a part of that conversation and dialogue around sexual expression. … If it’s the one place you can still do it, why not do it?”

He said that the Pride celebration has some park grounds – Civic Center Plaza – where nudity was already technically banned, but during previous celebrations, it hasn’t been enforced.

Moshoyannis issued a news release today (Thursday, March 21) in which he notes this year marks Folsom Street Fair’s 30th anniversary and says, “We are going to add new events, special fair enhancements, and bring back special features as well. … [Y]ou can come to the fair, change out of your clothes and into something else – or nothing at all.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who authored the nudity ban, says in the news release, “Events like SF Leather Week and Folsom Street Fair are vital to our commerce and our cultural development. Working with Folsom Street Events, I amended the nudity legislation to delete the word ‘buttocks’ from the final legislation so that leathermen in chaps would still feel comfortable visiting our city, whether or not they are physically inside the street fair. Permitted street fairs have been exempt since the original proposal, because we know that nudity is not only acceptable, but welcome, in the right context.”

A group of urban nudists last week filed an amended complaint in federal court challenging the city’s nudity ban. But Thursday morning, federal Judge Edward M. Chen denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, March 21, 2013 @ 1:07 pm PST
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Ex-MCC pastor gets prison in teen sex case

Brandon Lee Hamm (Photo: San Mateo County Sheriff's Department)

Brandon Lee Hamm (Photo: San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department)

A gay San Francisco man convicted of having sex with minors he met through Craigslist has been sentenced to 10 years in state prison.

Brandon Lee Hamm, 37, who had been a volunteer pastor at Peninsula Metropolitan Community Church in San Mateo, had faced 58 felony charges after police arrested him in June but accepted a plea deal involving nine counts.

At his sentencing March 18, Hamm told San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Craig Parsons that “the root of his problem was his ‘obsession with sexual activity,'” according to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s office.

Hamm said he wanted to get help through programs, and Ryan McHugh, his attorney, asked for probation, or concurrent sentences as an alternative, the DA’s office said.

Prosecutors wanted consecutive sentencing on all counts for 10 years in state prison.

Parsons agreed with the stiffer sentence, noting, “there were multiple victims, predatory behavior, [and] voluminous counts involving extensive sexual activity,” according to the DA’s office. The judge also denied probation, despite Hamm’s lack of criminal history.

Hamm accepted a plea deal in December, pleading no contest to nine charges: three counts each of meeting with a child for the purpose of a lewd act and oral copulation with a child under 16; and one count each of possession of child pornography, sodomy on a child under 16, and sodomy on a child under 18. A no contest plea is similar to a guilty plea.

In addition to the prison sentence, Hamm, who’s been in custody since his arrest, will have lifetime sex offender registration status.

McHugh didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment today (Wednesday, March 20). Deputy District Attorney Sharon Cho prosecuted the case.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, March 20, 2013 @ 3:51 pm PST
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Different Perez picked to be labor secretary

President Barack Obama today (Monday, March 18) picked a Latino official with the surname Perez to be his next labor secretary, but it wasn’t the one many in California were anticipating.

Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

As the Bay Area Reporter‘s Political Notes column had reported last month, rumors had swirled in Washington, D.C., Sacramento and Los Angeles that gay Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) could become the first out member of a president’s cabinet after the Associated Press included the Golden State lawmaker on its list of possible candidates for the high-level post.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is stepping down in order to run for a seat on the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors next year. And the news that Perez could be leaving for the nation’s capitol set off speculation in the statehouse on who could succeed him as speaker.

Those at the top of the list include lesbian Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who in December became the majority floor leader, and freshman Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), whom Perez named a Democratic whip this session. With Perez termed out of office in 2014, talk of who will replace him as speaker will only grow louder in the coming months.

As for Perez, in late 2012 he started a campaign committee to begin raising money for a potential run for lieutenant governor in 2018 when the current officeholder, former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, would be termed out if elected to a second term.

He could still end up in D.C. if he runs for Congress next year. Perez is on the list of potential candidates for the Congressional District 40 seat, currently held by Lucille Roybal-Allard. The Democratic lawmaker turns 72 this June, sparking talk she may opt to retire instead of seeking re-election.

Also among those who could jump into a race for the open seat is Perez’s close ally, gay state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles). Elected last fall to a four-year term in the Senate, Lara is also seen as a potential successor to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who is termed out next year.

President Obama announces Thomas E. Perez, his nominee for Labor Secretary, on March 18, 2013, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (Associated Press)

President Obama announces Thomas E. Perez, his nominee for Labor Secretary, on March 18, 2013, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (Associated Press)

As for the Perez who was nominated to be labor secretary, it is Thomas E. Perez, 51, who heads the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, he would be the only Latino in Obama’s cabinet if confirmed.

“In his current role as the head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Tom has fought to open pathways into the workforce for everyone willing to contribute, including people with disabilities, LGBT Americans, and immigrants,” said Obama at the news conference announcing his pick. “And he has helped settle some of the largest cases ever on behalf of families targeted by unfair mortgage lending.”

Perez, speaking partly in Spanish, thanked the president for forwarding his name to the Senate and said it was “a remarkably humbling and exciting phenomenon to be here today.” He added that the “nation still faces critical economic challenges, and the Department’s mission is as important as ever.  I am confident that together with our partners in organized labor, the business community, grassroots communities, Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike, we can keep making progress for all working families.”

The nomination won quick praise and support from LGBT groups. In a statement issued shortly after the announcement, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force urged the Senate to confirm him.

“A champion of civil rights, he represented the administration and testified before the U.S. Senate in 2009 in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would protect employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” noted the group’s executive director, Rea Carey, in the press release.

 

— Matthew S. Bajko, March 18, 2013 @ 11:28 am PST
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Petition launched to name SF street for trans performer

QoabTjRVhoCvGXA-556x313-noPadAn online petition to honor a famous deceased transgender performer by naming a street block in San Francisco in her honor has garnered close to 300 signatories.

As the Bay Area Reporter noted in January, an effort is underway to designate the 100 block of Turk Street in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood after Vicki Marlane, who died in 2011 at the age of 76 due to AIDS-related complications.

Born Donald Sterger in Crookston, Minnesota, Marlane started out as a traveling circus performer before settling in San Francisco in 1966. She underwent sex reassignment surgery in the 1980s.

Prior to her death Marlane hosted a popular drag revue show at the gay bar Aunt Charlie’s, which is located on the 100 block of Turk between Jones and Taylor. It is also where a plaque embedded in the sidewalk commemorates the Compton’s Cafeteria revolt by transgender people that occurred in August of 1966.

Last summer the B.A.R.‘s Political Notebook reported on efforts by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club to honor Marlane and suggested renaming that block of Turk as Vicki Marlane Way. Initially, Milk club members had planned to petition the city to officially call that portion of the street Vicky Mar-Lane.

But in recent weeks the club decided it would be easier, and less of a bureaucratic battle, if the street signs on that segment of Turk were altered to merely include Vicky Marlane in parenthesis under the word Turk. The decision came after several Milk members met with District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents that part of town at City Hall.

Kim, who has yet to fully endorse the proposal,  reportedly advised the Milk club member’s on how to navigate the easier route on street naming. As the SF Weekly noted this week, Kim’s move to change Lech Walesa Street, due to the former Polish leader’s anti-gay remarks, is no easy task.

“We met with her, and she has told us how to proceed,” said Milk club member Sue Englander, who is helping to spearhead the street naming campaign. “I wouldn’t say it is a formal endorsement (by Kim). She is facilitating it. Her office said it is really hard to just change the name of one block.”

By just adding Marlane’s name to the street signage, it would not impact the mailing addresses for any of the homes or businesses on the 100 block of Turk. In the past the cost of changing street addresses has proven to be an obstacle to gaining wide support for renaming one of the city’s thoroughfares.

It has been done before, such as when a segment of 16th Street was renamed after drag queen and former gay bar owner Jose Sarria. The only thing located on the block, however, was the Castro’s public library, and the renaming easily passed through City Hall.

Backers of the push to honor Marlane believe they can get it passed by choosing the simpler route of altering the street signs. In April they will be going door-to-door along Turk Street to gather support from residents and merchants.

“It is a much simpler process to get it through the Department of Public Works,” said Englander. “The people who wanted Vicky memorialized are satisfied with this.”

The hope is to unveil the new signs sometime in August for the 47th  commemoration of the Compton’s Cafeteria riots.

— Matthew S. Bajko, March 15, 2013 @ 4:19 pm PST
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Questions about assistant medical examiner raised during gay murder case

An assistant medical examiner in San Francisco was precluded from testifying in a gay murder hearing this week after questions about his reliability arose.

Whatever issues there are with Dr. Christopher Happy haven’t been disclosed publicly, and it seems unclear whether the problems will impact other cases he’s been involved in reviewing.

Happy had been expected to testify in San Francisco Superior Court Thursday, March 14 about the death of Terry Rex Spray, 60, whose autopsy he performed. Prosecutors have charged Spray’s longtime partner, Timothy Stewart, 48, with bashing in Spray’s skull August 3. Spray died September 18.

Timothy Stewart (Photo: SFPD)

Timothy Stewart (Photo: SFPD)

During Stewart’s preliminary hearing Thursday, Deputy Public Defender Danielle Harris referred to Assistant District Attorney John Rowland saying Wednesday, March 13 that he wouldn’t ask the court to rely on Happy. She said the medical examiner’s office had advised Rowland that there’s new Brady material involving Happy. That information might be helpful to Stewart’s defense. Brady refers to Brady v. Maryland, a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case.

“I became aware of the issue yesterday” and “immediately” notified Harris and the court, Rowland said during the hearing before Superior Court Judge Kay Tsenin on Thursday. Harris is trying to get the new information.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Amy Hart testified in Happy’s place about the cause of Spray’s death, which she said was “most likely” complications of blunt head trauma, and the manner of death, which she determined to be homicide.

During a break in the hearing, Harris said it “remains to be seen” how the issue with Happy might affect the case, but it was “somewhat shocking” that Hart would testify on the cause and manner of death without relying on the autopsy that Happy conducted.

Harris repeatedly questioned how much attention Hart had paid to materials that Happy produced and how much she’d spoken with Happy about the case. When she asked Hart about which materials had been “essential” in her review, Hart pointed to the autopsy photos Happy had taken, as well as information from other sources – a draft report by two of her investigators  and hospital records.

Hart said she and Happy had discussed the autopsy photos and “cases in general.”

She also said that although the autopsy’s been performed, the investigation into Spray’s death hasn’t been closed, because her office is waiting for toxicology results.

Toxicology tests hadn’t originally been deemed necessary, but Hart said there was a question regarding “a potential toxin injection.” She said she didn’t know specifically who’d requested the toxicology tests, which could impact the cause of death finding.

Approached outside the hearing, Hart said she couldn’t discuss the situation involving Happy. Happy, who was still working for the medical examiner’s office as of Thursday, didn’t respond to an interview request.

Previous questions

Tsenin said at the beginning of Thursday’s session that her understanding was that the DA’s staff had received an email saying that if they had a cases involving Happy, they should talk to Chief Assistant District Attorney Sharon Woo.

Outside the courtroom, Rowland referred questions to Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office. Bastian declined to comment.

Harris said in court that Happy has worked at six medical examiners’ offices in 10 years. He “abruptly” left his post in Milwaukee, “citing personal reasons,” although there had been “turmoil in that office during his tenure,” she said.

She said previous Brady material that had already been released was related to incidents from 2009 through 2012. At least some of the issues were related to the San Francisco and Los Angeles police departments, she indicated. Harris said there’s a protective order covering the incidents and details couldn’t be shared in an open hearing.

Outside court, Harris said, “I don’t know what the latest problem is” involving Happy, and she wasn’t permitted to discuss other issues regarding the doctor. Officer Albie Esparza, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, wasn’t able to provide information based on the limited details the B.A.R. shared with him.

An April 2010 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article says Happy resigned as the county’s medical examiner after about 20 months in the position. That year, Happy had said “conflicts with his staff were making it increasingly difficult to remain in Milwaukee,” the story says.

In an interview with the Journal Sentinel around the time of his resignation, Happy said, “I’m pretty proud of the way that I left (the medical examiner’s office). I think I even left it a little bit better than when I came.” His departure had “nothing to do with the office” and was “for personal reasons,” he told the paper.

Karen Domagalski, operations manager for the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office, told the Bay Area Reporter that she could only confirm that Happy had worked for the agency.

Happy has worked for the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office for at least a year, but according to Harris, he hasn’t officially been sworn in. In November, he testified in the preliminary hearing for Roland Pouncy, 44, who’s facing trial in the murder and robbery of Richard Sprague, 47, a gay man who was killed in February 2012.

Happy did testify in the first preliminary hearing in the case involving Stewart. In December, at the end of that hearing, Superior Court Judge Bruce Chan held Stewart to answer on the murder charge.

The trial had been expected to start in February, but prosecutors got a delay in the case as they sought more evidence, and the second preliminary hearing was set. At the conclusion of the latest hearing Thursday, Tsenin found there was sufficient evidence for Stewart to stand trial. The next court date is March 28.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 2:31 pm PST
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Castro Whole Foods project’s streetscape plan up for vote

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 6.56.16 PMThe Prado Group, the developer behind the upper Market corridor housing project that will include a Whole Foods, is seeking a fee waiver totaling $510,000 in exchange for paying for a number of streetscape, pedestrian safety, and public space improvements on Dolores and Market streets.

The site at 2001 Market Street at Dolores will include 85 units in addition to the upscale grocery store. It is set to open in late 2013.

The proposed street changes include sidewalk bulb-outs at the Market Street and Dolores Street intersection on both the southeast and southwest sides and at Dolores Street and 14th Street on the North-West corner.

A public plaza, including seating and landscaping, would be built on the southwest corner of Dolores Street and Market Street adjacent to the future Whole Foods grocery store. It is estimated to cost $29,000 to build.

The Dolores Street median would be extended to Market Street and special paving materials would be used in the crosswalk across Dolores Street at Market Street. A raised crosswalk and bulb-outs would be added to Clinton Park alley where it intersects Dolores Street on the east side.

The proposal is set to be voted on by the Planning Commission at its meeting Thursday, March 14.

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 7.19.17 PMPlanning staff is recommending it be approved, noting in a report that the enhancements will improve “the public life in this neighborhood by creating a public plaza with seating and landscaping for people to relax and mingle adjacent to the new development.”

The proposed public plaza would introduce “an urban open space to this neighborhood that would supplement traditional open spaces in the neighborhood such as Dolores Park or Duboce Park, and is consistent with other urban plazas in the Upper Market area, such as Jane Warner Plaza at Castro and Market Streets,” notes the staff report.

The project has community support, though members of the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association are opposed to seeing the removal of one vehicular traffic lane on Dolores Street for a portion of the block south of Market Street. A traffic study found that the loss of the lane would have minimal impacts.

The Planning Commission meeting begins at noon in Room 400 of City Hall.

— Matthew S. Bajko, March 8, 2013 @ 8:23 pm PST
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Bicyclist to stand trial in Castro pedestrian’s death

The bicyclist accused in the death of a man he hit in the Castro last year has been ordered to stand trial on a felony charge.

Chris Bucchere, 36, was riding his bike down Castro Street on March 29, 2012 when he hit Sutchi Hui, 71, in the intersection at Market Street. Hui died from his injuries three days later.

The preliminary hearing this week included witness testimony that Bucchere ran several red lights, including a final signal just before he hit Hui, according to the district attorney’s office and media reports.

Toward the end of the hearing Thursday, March 7, Ted Cassman, Bucchere’s attorney, said, “Chris’s heart goes out to the family” and his client is “a good man.”

Cassman sought to have the felony vehicular manslaughter charge reduced to a misdemeanor, and said, “We’ve demonstrated beyond any doubt that Mr. Bucchere did not run the red light” just before hitting Hui.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Andrew Y. S. Cheng ruled there was enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial as a felony.

The next court date for Bucchere, who’s out of custody, is March 21 for arraignment. Assistant District Attorney Omid Talai is prosecuting the case.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 7:16 pm PST
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Famed gay SF dance party Fag Fridays returns

563082_427142277368192_1216414162_nIt’s baaaaccckkkk!!!! Fag Fridays, San Francisco’s longest running weekly gay dance party, is returning in April – but with a twist.

It will no longer be a weekly affair, and instead, will be a monthly party housed at two different venues. Resident DJ David Harness is returning as well.

The event will be revived April 12 at Monarch, a newer nightspot that opened at the corner of 6th and Mission streets. Doors are set to open at 9 p.m.

Then on May 24 it will jump to DNA Lounge on 11th Street. And the plan is to rotate the party every month between the two clubs.

“We are bringing back Fag Fridays in April after a one-year absence,” said Juan Garcia, who is helping to promote the party.

Garcia said Monarch has one of the best sound systems in the city and that both clubs have late-night hours so the music doesn’t have to end at 2 a.m. once liquor sales are cut off.

“It will pop back and forth between Monarch and DNA Lounge. Both spaces go after hours so it will be neat to see if people want to do Fag Fridays the way it used to and be there all night,” said Garcia.

The party kicked off originally at the EndUp, with its indoor dance floor and outdoor courtyard. Crowds would descend there late Friday nights, and the party wouldn’t shut done until Saturday afternoons.

In September of 2007 Fag Fridays moved from the EndUp, which had been sold to new owners, to Mission nightclub Pink. A report on a website covering nightlife said the weekly parties ended in February of 2008 after a 12-year run.

“Fag Fridays was the child of partners Jose Mineros and David Peterson, born out of a conversation on the beach one day in 1996.  David was general manager of The End Up, and had recently hired Jose as promotions manager,” according to the report. “On that day they came up with the name, the concept of it as house music night, and a basic goal: as Jose put it to me once, if one couple came together on the dancefloor and formed a relationship as a result, all of their effort would be worth it.”

Over the last five years the party has come back for special occasions. It appears from the Facebook page that the last event labeled as Fag Fridays was held in July of 2011.

Peterson had hinted about Fag Fridays’ return on Facebook back in December.

“We’ve been quiet this year due to technical difficulties beyond our control. Shall we have some fun in 2013?????,” he wrote in a December 13 post.

 

— Matthew S. Bajko, @ 6:51 pm PST
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Muni bus wires snag Castro Street sidewalk widening project

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

A project aimed at widening the sidewalks in the heart of the gay Castro district has hit an unexpected snag. This time it has nothing to do with conditions at ground level but overhead.

City planners working on the project recently discovered that the changes being proposed near the intersection of 18th and Castro streets will require repositioning the poles used to hold up the high-voltage electrical wiring needed for the Muni bus lines with routes through the gayborhood.

The changes add an unexpected cost to the project and will impact how much money there is to pay for various additional amenities proposed for the streetscape, such as public seating, pavement treatments and tree plantings.

The unforeseen headache has pushed back the planning timeline by a few weeks, and partly explains the delay in scheduling the second public meeting about the project. The next town hall is now expected to be in early April rather than March.

“We hope to wrap up planning by the end of April,” John Dennis, a designer with the city’s Department of Public Works, told Castro merchants during their monthly meeting Thursday, March 7. “We are still struggling with the design plan. Next week we will know what technical details we are grappling with due to the overhead electrical system on Castro Street.”

The construction timeline has not been impacted by the design issues, however, and is still expected to begin in January of 2014 with an October 2014 completion date.

As the Bay Area Reported has reported, the city has designated $4 million from a voter-approved street bond fund to widen the sidewalks along the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street as well as install other pedestrian-friendly improvements between 19th and Market streets.

Survey responses find wide support

Castro resident Nick Perry, an urban designer with the Planning Department’s City Design Group working on the project, reported during the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro meeting that 150 surveys had been submitted and that 77 percent of the respondents “strongly liked” the plan so far, with 90 percent saying they “liked” the proposal overall.

“Of course there are a lot of concerns and ideas out there,” said Perry.

Most people said the primary focus should be on fixing the Castro and Market street intersection, followed by 18th and Castro Street. Least priority should be given to 19th and Castro Street, based on the survey responses.

Amenities that scored favorably included street trees, special paving for crosswalks and upgrading Jane Warner Plaza, a public parklet created out of a portion of 17th Street at Castro and Market streets.

The idea of turning a few parking spots into mini parklets on Castro Street – one is suggested across from the Castro Theater and a second in front of the late gay Supervisor Harvey Milk’s camera shop – is “polarizing,” said Perry, with many residents expressing support and merchants opposed.

Another concept eliciting strong reactions is having bus bulb-outs rather than bus stops on 18th at Castro, said Perry, adding it was the “most polarizing question on the survey.”

It would mean moving the current bus stops to the opposite side of the intersection so the Muni vehicles would not block traffic on Castro Street. Instead, vehicles would be stopped on 18th behind the buses while passengers boarded.

“Some liked it and an equal number didn’t,” he said.

City officials plan to present fuller findings from the surveys at the upcoming community forum, which is slated to be held sometime next month in the vacant store space at the Market Noe Center on Market Street.

— Matthew S. Bajko, @ 5:49 pm PST
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