Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Penis ‘too graphic’ for senior art exhibit in SF

A censored version of Lionel Biron's 'Sailor Boy (2006)' (Black bar inserted by Bay Area Reporter staff)

A censored version of Lionel Biron’s ‘Sailor Boy (2006)’ (Black bar inserted by Bay Area Reporter designer Max Ledger)

A gay San Francisco photographer is complaining because a photo of his that features an erect penis was viewed as “too graphic” for an exhibit at the city’s LGBT Community Center.

Lionel Biron, 73, submitted his photo – “Sailor Boy (2006)” – to Openhouse this fall. The exhibit includes work from LGBTs 60 and over and opens December 13 and goes through January 26 and benefits the LGBT center. Openhouse, which is based at the center and assists LGBT seniors with housing, is running the show.

“I’m a little disappointed that the gay community is censoring itself over sexual images when it is, essentially, though it’s been forgotten, it is a sexual movement,” Biron, who’s lived in San Francisco since 1978, said. At least, “it was when we started it back in the ’70s.”

Biron, who uses only his last name professionally, said he doesn’t use Openhouse’s services, but he submitted the photo to the nonprofit because “I am a senior, even though I don’t feel like one, so I decided to join forces with them and show my support. Little did I know.”

He’d planned to sell the photo for $800. The LGBT center would have gotten 25 percent of that.

In a November 26 email to Biron, Fairley Parson, Openhouse’s manager of community engagement, who’s overseeing the exhibit, said, “[T]here is some dissension among my curatorial team due to the graphic nature of the content of your piece – or, alternately – due to team members’ political or aesthetic sensibilities.”

She continued, “One person believes it is too graphic and would be offensive to the community,” but a “final verdict” hadn’t been reached. She invited him to submit “less explicit” pieces and said, “I hope that doesn’t offend you as an artist.”

Then, in a December 9 email, she told him the photo had been rejected but again invited him to submit more work and told him, “You are clearly quite skilled and talented.”

Biron, who didn’t send any other work, emailed Parson to ask for the specific reasons he’d been rejected.

Parson responded, “Jurors felt that the piece was too graphic for the show and didn’t fit in with the other pieces.”

In an interview, Parson was caught off guard to learn that Biron had talked to a reporter about the piece, and she struggled to explain the jurors’ decision, especially given that two other pieces that jurors accepted feature nudity.

“There are a group of volunteer jurors who all take part in the decision-making, and I have to respect where the volunteers land on things. … So this is where they landed, and after some pretty robust conversation and dialogue … It was determined it didn’t fit” in the show, she said.

“There is nudity” in the exhibit, Parson said. “It’s not the content per se, it’s not the fact that it’s a nude penis. … It’s a judgment call. It’s subjective. We do not have a hard line around nudity at all.”

Trying more to explain, she said, “It’s really more about the specific portrayal and the specific piece, because we have an abstract sculpture of a penis, and we have a nude pastel of a woman. It was really the specific, graphic nature of [Biron’s] piece that people objected to.”

Asked if the problem was that the photo is meant to be sexually provocative, Parson said, “that’s a good question,” but “I can’t speak for all of the volunteers. I think what I said best sums it up.”

There were five jurors. Parson, who said they’d asked for their names not to be shared, didn’t know what the vote had been. “I think it was more of a consensus decision-making process.”

The jurors are all LGBT artists 60 and over. She wouldn’t confirm whether Openhouse selected the jurors.

As for whether she thought the photo should be included, Parson said, “I wasn’t sure where to land on it. That’s why I rely on the community feedback and the volunteer artists to help make those decisions.”

On its website, Openhouse told applicants, “Openhouse and the SF LGBT Center reserve the sole right to decline display of any artwork, to reclassify artwork and to set location of artwork. Show will be curated by Openhouse staff and Openhouse community member artists by invitation. … Openhouse is committed to showcasing diverse senior artists, but cannot guarantee your works’ acceptance into the show. Thank you for your interest and your work.”

Biron, who acknowledged, “It’s a jury show. They have a right not to accept [the photo],” said there was “nothing in particular” he was trying to express with the piece, which he said he’s shown in Los Angeles and the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana.

Birson said he’s worked with 300 models, most not professionals, in San Francisco since 1993.

He paid “Sailor Boy,” who was from Italy, to model for the photo he submitted to Openhouse. (An uncensored version of the photo is available here.)

“I do a lot of nudes, and I do a lot of multicultural males,” Biron said. He added, “I have not exhibited in San Francisco in almost 20 years, because it’s too racist. The gay community is essentially quite racist. The Castro is a racist hotbed. Historically, I had difficulties with my mixed-race exhibitions in San Francisco, which is not an issue at all in Paris,” where he’s also exhibited work.

The Chinatown resident said he hasn’t tried showing his work in the Castro since the late 1990s.

The exhibit – “Vantage Points: A lifetime of perspective” – will be on display beginning 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday, December 13 at the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street. Admission is free.


— Seth Hemmelgarn, December 11, 2014 @ 1:25 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

Hearing Thursday on SF plan to cut HIV reductions pushed back to 2015

A photo of San Francisco City Hall bathed in red lights for World AIDS Day. Photo courtesy of Mayor Ed Lee via Twitter.

A photo of San Francisco City Hall bathed in red lights for World AIDS Day. Photo courtesy of Mayor Ed Lee via Twitter.

A hearing that was set to take place tomorrow on a plan to cut HIV infections to zero in San Francisco has been postponed until the new year.

As the Bay Area Reporter reported last month, a consortium of local health officials and city leaders have mapped out an aggressive plan to cut new HIV infections by 90 percent come 2020.

A month ago gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who is part of the working group developing the plan, had announced that an informational hearing before the Board of Supervisors’ Government Audit and Oversight Committee would take place this Thursday, December 11.

However, after checking to ensure the hearing was still taking place amid reports of an intense rain storm set to deluge the Bay Area tomorrow morning, the B.A.R. learned that Wiener and the HIV advocates had decided to wait until sometime in early 2015 to now hold the hearing.

The decision was unrelated to the rain, said Wiener.

The reason, he said, was “deciding with the advocates that January is a better time to hold the hearing.”

Dubbed “Getting to Zero: Zero HIV Infections, Zero AIDS Deaths, and Zero Stigma,” the city’s plan as of now has a three-pronged approach.

The key components are rapid enrollment in treatment for those who test positive for the virus; retention of people once they are in care; and ensuring those who are HIV-negative and at risk for HIV have access to pre-exposure prophylaxis.

Known as PrEP, the once-a-day pill marketed by Gilead Sciences as Truvada (tenofovir plus emtricitabine) has been shown to prevent HIV transmission when taken properly.

One issue expected to be discussed at the hearing is funding for the plan. It remains unclear how much it will cost the city to implement it. Backers had told the B.A.R. they expected the funds would come from various sources, including the city’s general fund and from private sector donors.

— Matthew S. Bajko, December 10, 2014 @ 4:09 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

[Updated] Man arrested in SOMA murder case

Murder defendant Antonio Dupree (Photo: SFPD)

Murder defendant Antonio Dupree (Photo: SFPD)

San Francisco police have arrested a man for allegedly killing one South of Market area man and trying to kill anotherAntonio Dupree, 36, of San Francisco, was arrested on murder and burglary charges in the death of Gary Mulhearn, 63, Officer Albie Esparza, a San Francisco Police Department spokesman, said today (Thursday, December 4).

Mulhearn, who lived at 25 Essex Street, was found dead Monday, November 24, police reported last week.

[Update Tuesday, December 9]: In a news release issued Tuesday, police said homicide investigators determined Mulhearn “had been murdered during the evening hours of Friday, November 21.” Dupree was arrested Friday, November 28. Esparza said he didn’t know whether Mulhearn or Dupree is gay [End update].

Prosecutors are charging Dupree with murder, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and residential burglary. The weapon was a belt, according to court records. It will likely be several months before the medical examiner’s office releases publicly the cause of Mulhearn’s death. (A resident of Mulhearn’s building said “the scuttlebutt” among residents is that he’d been strangled. Esparza didn’t respond to a request to confirm that’s how Mulhearn died.)

Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said Dupree, who’s in custody on $10 million bail, had been set for arraignment Wednesday, but the hearing was continued to December 17.

Bastian said Mulhearn was found in his apartment. The incident involving the second victim was separate, he said. He said he couldn’t go into details on whether Dupree or the second victim were also residents of Mulhearn’s building.

It’s “still under investigation” whether Dupree took anything and whether there are other suspects, Bastian said. He noted a residential burglary charge doesn’t necessarily mean something was taken; it can be charged any time a suspect enters a residence intending to commit a felony. He didn’t know whether either of the victims or Dupree is LGBT.

Attorney Joe O’Sullivan represented Dupree in court Wednesday and said he’s likely to be retained in the case.

Dupree “is an extremely diminutive young man,” O’Sullivan said, estimating his height at 5 foot 2 or 5 foot 3.

“He looks like a little kid.”

O’Sullivan doesn’t know if Dupree or either of the victims are gay, and he said he hadn’t yet reviewed police reports in the case.

Based on information from Dupree’s family, though, O’Sullivan said Mulhearn had been “a mentor” to Dupree. He wasn’t sure if they’d lived in the same building.

He said he appeared with Dupree Wednesday after Dupree’s family approached him. O’Sullivan said he often represents people in homicide and gang-related cases and has represented members of Dupree’s extended family.

Dupree “was like a deer in the headlights [Wednesday] in court,” O’Sullivan said.

Assistant District Attorney Todd Barrett is prosecuting the case.

According to court records, Dupree was convicted of arson causing great bodily injury in San Francisco in 1998 and served time in prison. Records also indicate he’s previously been charged with several drug offenses, assault, and other crimes.

O’Sullivan said those charges sound like “standard fare for the city,” and he said he didn’t know anything about them.

“If there’s an arson, I think it was dismissed, and it was a juvenile [case],” he said.

Dupree’s family also told him that “about 10 years ago in San Mateo County, he got a five-year sentence” for robbery, O’Sullivan said.

“I wouldn’t ask for bail … so I don’t care what his criminal history is or not,” he said.

25 Essex Street (Photo: Seth Hemmelgarn)

25 Essex Street (Photo: Seth Hemmelgarn)

In recent days, other residents at the building had little information about what had happened, and said Mulhearn had mostly kept to himself.

Scott Nassans, 45, a gay resident of the building who lives across a stairway from Mulhearn’s unit, said he didn’t know him well and had “no idea” what had happened to Mulhearn, whom he’d see him “every once in a while.”

Nassans doesn’t know if Mulhearn, who lived alone, identified as gay.

“He would bring up these young guys to his apartment, but I have no idea what that was about,” Nassans said, adding that the other men appeared to be in their late teens or early 20s.

Nassans, who said he hadn’t known of an arrest being made and didn’t recognize Dupree’s name, said he didn’t know the other men and didn’t recognize them as being other residents of the building.

Some who knew Nassans said that he’d often lend money to people.

About three weeks ago, Nassans said, he’d seen Mulhearn with another man, and Mulhearn had four to five $100 bills on the seat next to him. Nassans said Mulhearn later explained the man had owed him money.

Mulhearn was “very quiet” and he never heard any noise coming from the apartment, Nassans said.

At a small memorial service this morning another resident of Mulhearn’s building said she’d once “heard screaming and yelling” coming from his apartment.

“He had a male guest he couldn’t get rid of, the woman, who didn’t give her name, said, “I had to escort the guy out.” Afterward, she said, Mulhearn told her, “I’m sorry you had to do that.”

The woman, who declined to speak with the Bay Area Reporter, said Mulhearn had “always had a smile on his face.” She said he “always gave people money” and he “wasn’t the type to confront people or ask for it back.”

Another woman at the service, a building staff member who didn’t give her name, described Mulhearn as “very quiet and respectful” and encouraged anyone who needed “support for the things that have transpired” to use the “supportive services” available at the building.

Mindy Talmadge, a San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman, said in an email that a King American ambulance, rather than a fire department vehicle, had responded to 25 Essex when Mulhearn’s body was found. King  American requested the police and the medical examiner, Talmadge said. A spokesman for King American didn’t respond to a request for comment.

She referred the B.A.R.’s questions to a supervisor, who hasn’t responded to requests for comment.

Two residents, including Nassans, said Mulhearn is the sixth resident to die since the building opened in December. It wasn’t clear what the causes were.

The building houses the Rene Cazenave Apartments, which according to the Community Housing Partnership website “were developed in cooperation between Community Housing Partnership and  BRIDGE Housing. … The project was selected by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA), to develop affordable housing in the new Transbay Redevelopment Area. Rene Cazenave Apartments is the first of several development sites that will serve as a gateway to the SFRA’s vision of a new ‘main street’ along Folsom Street. Community Housing Partnership is the owner and property manager of the site, while Citywide provides on-site support services and counseling.”

The residence “is a mid-rise, eight-story building that includes a total of 120 apartments,” the website says.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, December 4, 2014 @ 6:01 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

Hamburger Mary’s wins go-ahead for Castro location

A Hamburger Mary's will take over the long vacant Patio Cafe space in the Castro. Photo: Rick Gerharter

A Hamburger Mary’s will take over the long vacant Patio Cafe space in the Castro.
Photo: Rick Gerharter

Hamburger Mary’s will be returning to San Francisco, the city where the burger chain was launched in 1972.

While the original location shuttered in 2001, gay Castro bar owner Les Natali won approval this afternoon (Thursday, December 4) from the city’s planning commission to operate a Hamburger Mary’s in the long vacant Patio Cafe on the 500 block of Castro Street.

The reopening of a restaurant at 531 Castro Street will bring to an end a 12-year saga that saw the storefront sit vacant as Natali battled city officials over a number of zoning issues over the years. Last summer the planning commission signed off on the last of the permits that Natali needed to open an eatery in the space.

But when he opted to team up with the owner’s of Hamburger Mary’s, considered formula retail under city rules, Natali at first fought planning officials over whether he needed a conditional use permit, arguing that the burger joint should not be considered chain retail.

After losing that fight, Natali then applied for the necessary permits, which the planning commission unanimously voted 6-0 to approve this afternoon. (One commissioner did not vote on the item because they were not present yet when the matter was first heard.)

“What will go back in there will have to draw traffic. If it does that, it will be fine,” said commissioner Michael Antonini.

Gay planning commissioner Dennis Richards, who lives nearby in the Duboce Triangle neighborhood, added, “I am excited to finally see something go in there.”

There was some opposition to seeing Hamburger Mary’s open, with Castro business owner Gary Weiss, who owns Ixia florist shop, the lone person to speak out against it at the hearing. He questioned if there was a need for another burger joint in the area as well as expressed concern at allowing a formula retailer into the neighborhood.

“We have Sliders, Orphan Andy’s, Super Duper, and The Cove. And I would venture to say the majority of the other restaurants offer burgers as well,” he said.

Natali, who attended the hearing, did not address the oversight panel and has not said how soon he will have the eatery open. His representative, John Kevlin of Reuben, Junius & Rose LLP, noted that “the project before you today will activate a long vacant space in the Castro District.”

According to a staff report about the project, the restaurant space is divided into three areas that will operate under different conditions.

The entrance area near the sidewalk features a bar and seating that will open at 6 a.m. and remain open throughout the day and night, closing at 2 a.m. seven days a week. A smaller dining area near the kitchen will be open during the same hours.

The outdoor patio seating and a second bar in the back of the space, where a retractable roof is located, will be open from 6 a.m. until midnight all week. Due to concerns about noise in the apartments nearby, Natali has agreed to close the roof each night by 9 p.m.

Two other outside seating areas not under the retractable roof will only be used between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Natali has also proposed having live entertainment at the restaurant, including DJ/VJ performances, emceed television-watching nights, bingo, karaoke and live drag performances. The live music will be restricted to the inside area of the restaurant, as stated in the staff report.

— Matthew S. Bajko, @ 6:01 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

Philz gains backing to relocate its Castro location

Philz Coffee will be taking over this space on Castro Street where David Chiu had his Assembly race headquarters.

Philz Coffee will be taking over this space on Castro Street where David Chiu had his Assembly campaign headquarters.

Local java brewer Philz Coffee will relocate its 18th Street location into a space on the 500 block of Castro Street that supporters of the move hope will help to activate what has long been seen as a pedestrian dead zone in the city’s gayborhood.

Owner Phil Jaber won support from the city’s planning commission this afternoon (Thursday, December 4) for his relocation plans in the gayborhood. The 18th Street store was his second he opened in 2004, but the lease for the small space was up so the company opted to move into a larger space on the 500 block of Castro Street.

“Approval will allow Philz to remain in the Castro community it has served for years,” said Philz representative Jody Knight, with Reuben, Junius & Rose LLP.

Jaber argued that where he puts in his coffeehouses he increases business to that area of town.

“We conduct our business in the community where we become a community, like going to grandma’s house,” he said.

The storefront at 549 Castro Street had been home to a gay-owned shoe store and was most recently leased by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) to serve as his campaign headquarters.

According to the planning staff report, Philz is restricted to having only 15 seats in the 3,634 square foot storefront. It is proposed to be open from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

As noted in a story in today’s Bay Area Reporter, Philz’s relocation plans brought to the forefront a debate over what types of retail people would like to see in the Castro business district, as complaints have grown over the increasing number of coffeehouses and financial institutions moving into the area.

It faced some opposition from operators of nearby coffeehouses. The owners of Spikes on 19th Street spoke out against Philz during the hearing.

“This is a very saturated market. There are a lot of cafes and a lot of new cafes have come out in recent years,” said Austin Miller, a barrista at Spikes, which has been open since 1990 in a space that has been a coffeehouse since the 1970s.

Longtime Castro business owner and leader Patrick Batt, who co-owns Eureka Cafe on the 400 block of Castro Street, also opposed Philz because of its transforming a traditional retail space into what the city planning code calls a limited restaurant.

“I am opposed to the change of use not because it is Philz. Philz has been a success story; I think we can all agree with that,” Batt said during the hearing, stressing Philz could pursue a different space in the area. “I have an issue with the continued bleeding of retail spaces in the Castro NCD to both formula retail and limited restaurant.”

Gay planning commissioner Dennis Richards, who lives nearby in the Duboce Triangle, did question how many cafes are needed in the Castro.

“I am concerned about the proliferation of coffeeshops in the Castro,” he said, though he added that he would support Philz moving to the new site.

Other commissioners also expressed support for Philz’ relocation plan, and the oversight panel unanimously voted 7-0 in favor of the move.

— Matthew S. Bajko, @ 5:33 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

Soulcycle breezes through permit hearing for Castro site

Soulcycle will soon be moving into this former Bank of America building in the Castro.

Soulcycle will soon be moving into this former Bank of America building in the Castro.

Soulcycle, the national chain of spin class fitness centers, hopes to welcome its first customers to its Castro location by next June now that it has won approval to open its third San Francisco location in the gayborhood.

The city’s planning commission unanimously voted 7-0 this afternoon (Thursday, December 4) to grant the New York-based fitness chain the permits it needed to take over the vacant former bank building at 400 Castro Street.

Located above the Castro Muni Station, the site had been home to jeans purveyor Diesel, and most recently, a local leather goods store. Plans to open a gay burlesque club in the oddly-shaped storefront were met with fierce opposition from the neighborhood and dropped last year.

“It is a difficult space, a prominent space. I think Soulcycle will be a welcome presence,” said gay planning commissioner Dennis Richards, who lives nearby in Duboce Triangle. “It is going to be great having people coming in and out of that building.”

Due to it exceeding 2,000 square feet, the proposed 3,634 square foot Soulcycle needed approval from the planning commission to open in the Castro location. It also needed a conditional use permit to change the zoning at the site from retail to a fitness use.

“Given that SoulCycle is a good fit for the adaptive reuse of a former banking hall structure, a space that has proven to be difficult to lease, we feel this use is appropriate at this location and for this historic building,” wrote Elizabeth Cutler, the company’s co-founder and co-CEO, in a letter to the planning commissioners.

According to the company’s website, Soulcycle has 25 locations nationwide, with plans to open 50-60 studios worldwide by 2015. Its first San Francisco location is on Union Street in the city’s Cow Hollow neighborhood, and a second one recently opened South of Market.

The company has a five-year lease for the Castro site with an option to renew it for another five years.

In order to mitigate for sound from the music played during the spin sessions, the company will build a contained sound box for the studio, as the Bay Area Reporter had noted on an earlier blog post about the company’s Castro plans. Sound doors will also be installed, and two of the windows fronting Castro Street will be closed behind a yellow and white bicycle spoke design.

Men’s and women’s locker rooms with showers will also be constructed in a new 592 square foot mezzanine. As for the facade, the company plans to clean it and paint it but make few changes. Both the colored lights and flag poles will remain.

Soulcycle does not use memberships such as those required at gyms. Classes are drop-in, and package deals for multiple classes are offered. It is expected there will be 55 bikes at the Castro location.

Classes are expected to be offered between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. weekdays and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends, according to the planning staff report.

— Matthew S. Bajko, @ 5:10 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

Police make new plea for info in trans woman’s ’09 killing; $75,000 reward offered

Mariah Qualls (Photo: SFPD)

Mariah Qualls (Photo: SFPD)

San Francisco police released a new bulletin today (Thursday, December 4) seeking information in the death of Mariah Qualls, 23, a transgender woman who was killed in her North Beach residential hotel almost five years ago this week.

As it has for years in this case, the mayor’s office is offering a $75,000 reward “for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of the suspect(s) responsible” for Qualls’ death, the San Francisco Police Department bulletin says.

Her body was found December 9, 2009 – just one week after her birthday – at the Golden Eagle Hotel, 402 Broadway Street. In the bulletin, police say it appeared that Qualls had been murdered within two days of the discovery of her body. The medical examiner’s office determined the cause of death was blunt force injury to the head.

In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter this week, homicide Inspector Daniel Cunningham expressed confidence that he’s identified a suspect, but he declined to share any details about the person.

Anyone with information in the case or who had talked to Qualls “within the last week before she was found” dead is asked to “PLEASE” contact Cunningham at (415) 553-1109 or after hours at (415) 553-1071.

People who want to remain anonymous may call (415) 575-4444 or text a tip to 847411 (TIP411). Type “SFPD” and then the tip. The case number is 091 257 989.

The B.A.R. will have a full story on the case in the Thursday, December 11 edition.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 4:52 pm PST
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Drag queen sought for HBO series

A casting call has gone out for a lead role in Mamma Dallas, an upcoming HBO series created by Mike White (Enlightened, School of Rock).

Vicky Boone Casting is looking for a man in the general age range of 25 to 35 to play Liberty Bell, who “appears to be an attractive, sexy woman with a flirty side – but she’s not, really,” the casting company says in its description for the role. “Born Albert De Lorio, Liberty is a drag queen with an ebullient, chatty, upbeat personality, but she leads an unpleasantly seedy life … a life that she plans to turn around with a little re-invention and identity theft.”

Shooting begins in March. Compensation for whoever’s cast will be at professional scale.

Those interested in auditioning should email photos to with the subject title “Mamma Dallas”.  Include name, phone number, drag experience, best contact information, and city of current residence.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, December 3, 2014 @ 4:29 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

Man found at East Bay cruising spot identified

Aquatic Park (Photo: City of Berkeley)

Aquatic Park (Photo: City of Berkeley)

The man found dead this weekend at a popular East Bay cruising site has been identified as Gary Alan Baker, 51, according to the Coroner’s Bureau of the Alameda County Sheriff’s office.

Baker, whose city of residence wasn’t available, was found at 4:12 p.m. Sunday, November 30 on the south side of Aquatic Park in Berkeley, Berkeley police said in a summary released Sunday.

The park has long been a popular spot for men who are looking for sex with other men. It’s not clear what Baker was doing at the park or whether he was LGBT.

Officer Byron White, a Berkeley Police Department spokesman, said in a phone interview today (Wednesday, December 3), “I don’t know what his intentions were for being in the park.”

Berkeley police responded to the site Sunday “to check on the welfare of a man reportedly lying on his back motionless,” the agency’s summary says. “Arriving shortly thereafter, officers discovered the male … deceased at the scene. The Homicide Detail is responding to investigate the incident. As it is too soon to determine whether foul play was involved, the incident is currently being investigated as a suspicious death.”

A coroner’s staffer said today the cause of death is pending, and she couldn’t provide more information about the case.

White said police are continuing to examine the case, but “We haven’t found any more information into this death during this investigation.”

He said police haven’t found any signs of foul play or injury, and he said the coroner’s office would have information on drug use. It’s “quite possible” Baker died of natural causes, White said.

“We’re waiting for the results of the autopsy, and that will probably complete the investigation,” he said.

White didn’t know whether Baker had a wallet and cellphone with him when he was found, and he didn’t know if he’d appeared to be homeless.

He also cautioned against calling it a homicide investigation.

“It’s more appropriate to call it an investigation into an unattended death,” White said. “There was no one there to see how the person died.”

Julian Clift, 52, of Richmond, said he used to frequent the south end of the park for sex but stopped going about five years ago.

Clift said there’s “a maze of trees and bushes,” and “alcoves where you could go and be private,” but the area had been “all fenced off.”

“They were probably trying to limit the illicit activity that was going on down there,” he said. “It’s not like it’s unreachable, because the last time I was there, I was able to get in there … you have to not mind getting your feet wet, or at least slogging through a bit of a marsh.” He added, “There was still activity going on.”

Homeless people had frequented the north end of the park more than the south, he said.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 2:14 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

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