Issue:  Vol. 44 / No. 38 / 18 September 2014
 

Three commuter shuttle stops proposed for Castro district

Protesters block a shuttle bus. Courtesy Flickr, Chris James Martin

Protesters block a shuttle bus. Courtesy Flickr, Chris James Martin

San Francisco transportation planners are proposing to designate three zones in the city’s gay Castro district to be used during a portion of the day by commuter shuttle buses.

The proposal is part of the 18-month-long citywide pilot project that began in August to deal with the numerous buses that transport tech company employees from various neighborhoods throughout the city to their employers’ corporate campuses on the Peninsula.

The idea is to allow the shuttles to continue picking up their passengers without causing delays for the city’s public transit buses or tying up vehicular traffic in the congested Castro neighborhood.

“What we are really trying to test is does this minimize impacts on Muni and other users,” said Carli Paine, a manager with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Sustainable Streets Division, during this morning’s Castro Merchants meeting.

Paine’s department is proposing the SFMTA create permitted commuter shuttle only zones in the following locations in the Castro.

One would be created on the west side of Church Street at 15th Street, in front of a plumbing store and cafe, and would be used between 6 and 10 a.m.

Two would be on Castro Street. The first, on the east side of Castro Street at Market adjacent to the Pottery Barn building, would be in effect from 4 to 8 p.m.

The second zone would be on the west side of Castro Street at 18th Street in front of the Walgreens. It would be used between 6 and 10 a.m.

The SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Division will consider the proposed three shuttle zones at its September 19 Engineering Public Hearing.  The proposal will then go before the SFMTA Board for approval.

If the Church Street/15th zone is approved, then the zone currently being used in the mornings on Church Street at Market adjacent to the Safeway will be removed.

“In the Castro it has been really hard to find acceptable locations,” said Paine, noting that “there is a large population of the shuttle riders in the Castro.”

While Castro merchants welcome seeing the shuttle stops near their businesses, they are also concerned about seeing parking spaces be taken out of service, even if for a limited time.

“I am not unhappy with the shuttle buses going through the Castro, but I am worried about the loss of parking spaces,” said Hortica owner David Gray. “I love the people getting off the buses because they become my customers. But I also don’t want to lose metered parking spaces for customers.”

Terry Asten Bennett, general manager of Cliff’s Variety, agreed that “the shuttles create a lot of foot traffic into our shops.” Nonetheless, she added that, “I too am worried about the loss of parking.”

The SFMTA’s engineering public hearings usually take place at 10 a.m. in Room 416 at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place.

— Matthew S. Bajko, September 4, 2014 @ 4:27 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Diaz, convicted in park death, released from custody

David Diaz in an undated photo. (Photo: Courtesy Public Defender's office)

David Diaz in an undated photo. (Photo: Courtesy Public Defender’s office)

Officials have released from custody the man recently convicted of involuntary manslaughter for choking to death another man in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park in 2011.

Jurors recently acquitted David Munoz Diaz, 25, of murder, but found him guilty of the lesser charge in the death of Freddy Canul-Arguello, 23. Canul-Arguello’s charred, mostly naked body was found with a melted recycling bin in the park just before 5 a.m. June 10, 2011.

Diaz was released after a Wednesday, September 3 court hearing, according to Deputy Public Defender Alex Lilien.

Diaz couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but Larry Metzger, 55, Diaz’s boyfriend, said, “I’m happy he’s out.” Metzger said Diaz was released on his own recognizance. His sentencing is set for October 7.

Metzger, who owns the Castro bar The Mix, said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen with the sentencing. … I don’t think he’ll have any more time to serve. I think he’s served all that he’s required to, from what I understand.”

During the trial, Diaz testified that he’d accidentally killed Canul-Arguello after Canul-Arguello asked him to choke him during a sexual encounter.

Jurors announced last Tuesday, August 26, that they’d also found Diaz guilty of arson, mutilating human remains, and destroying evidence.

Like Mitzger, Lilien has also said Diaz, who’d been in custody since his July 2011 arrest, may not serve any more time.

The maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is four years. However, Diaz may be sentenced to less time than that, according to Lilien. Among the factors in the time he could serve, Diaz may be able to serve time concurrently for the other convictions.

“He’s likely done all the time they could sentence him to,” Lilien said.

 

 

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 3:24 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Castro Street sidewalk project completion date pushed back into mid-October

947x500-1_343c6968ece2c5f7c6f84478bad0722f_947x500.resizedMore delays are impacting the $4 million sidewalk-widening project in the heart of the city’s gay Castro district, meaning work will not be completed prior to this year’s Castro Street Fair in early October.

City officials had hoped to wrap up the work prior to the annual neighborhood event, set to be held Sunday, October 6. But this morning (Thursday, September 4) they informed Castro business leaders that a number of items connected with the streetscape improvements will not be done until sometime in mid-October.

“A few things will slip past the Castro Street Fair,” gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener acknowledged during the montly Castro Merchants meeting. “But it is great the sidewalk is back in, that is the most important thing. Just having the wider sidewalks makes all the difference.”

After falling behind schedule in July once work resumed on the project following a two-week hiatus in June, due to the annual Pride month events that take place in the Castro, crews were able to make up some of the lost time last month and had nearly all of the new, expanded sidewalk in place prior to Labor Day weekend.

Workers were on the 400 block of Castro Street this morning north of the Castro Theater installing the remaining cement to complete the sidewalk expansion. Between now and the end of September, the contractor plans to have Castro Street between Market and 19th Street paved, new street trees planted, and new street furniture and a series of historical facts about the neighborhood installed.

Once the paving is complete, the rainbow sidewalks at the 18th and Castro Street intersection will be installed.

“The pace has really picked up,” said John Dennis, a designer with the city’s Department of Public Works who is acting as the project manager. “We plan to get as much done as possible by the Castro Street Fair.”

Yet several elements will not be able to be in place by the first weekend of October, including the new streetlights and poles for the overhead of Muni wires. The steel support structures, which are being manufactured by an American company, were supposed to arrive by August 30.

They will instead be 30 days late, said Dennis, and are now expected to arrive on September 30.

“We will not have them done before the Castro Street Fair,” he added.

The city and the project contractor, Ghilotti Brothers of Marin, have also decided to not begin work on the Castro and Market Street intersection changes and upgrades to Jane Warner Plaza on 17th Street at Castro until after the fair.

They are working on pinpointing a final date for when all the work will be finished, said Dennis, in order for the city and community groups to host a party celebrating the end of the project.

“We are hoping for an event that will attract LOTS OF MEDIA ATTENTION, to let people know THE CASTRO IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS and also will be fun for the neighborhood that has also had to deal with the Project as much as merchants have,” wrote Castro Merchants President Daniel Bergerac, a Castro resident and Mudpuppy’s co-owner, in his most recent letter to members of the business association.

— Matthew S. Bajko, @ 3:11 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Gascón ‘very disappointed’ in Diaz manslaughter verdict

District Attorney George Gascon (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

District Attorney George Gascón  (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said Thursday (August 28) that he’s “very disappointed” that the man who’d been accused of intentionally choking to death another man in Buena Vista Park in 2011 was convicted of involuntary manslaughter rather than murder this week.

“We put a lot of effort into the case,” Gascón told the Bay Area Reporter at an editorial board meeting Thursday. “We would not have charged the case as murder unless we believed it was murder.”

Jurors announced Tuesday, August 26 that they’d found David Munoz Diaz, 25, guilty on the manslaughter charge, as well as arson, mutilating human remains, and destroying evidence in the death of Freddy Canul-Arguello. Canul-Arguello’s charred, mostly naked body was found near a melted recycling bin in the park June 10, 2011.

Gascón said prosecutors are “trying to assess what else we could have done” to have gotten a murder conviction. Some jurors said after the verdict was announced that they hadn’t been convinced that Diaz had intended to kill Canul-Arguello, so they’d passed on a first-degree murder conviction. The jury also didn’t convict him of second-degree murder, another option, because they didn’t feel Diaz had shown conscious disregard for Canul-Arguello’s life, some jurors said Tuesday.

Gascón said his office had assigned one of its top prosecutors – Assistant District Attorney Danielle Douglas – to the case, and police had done a “good investigation.”

However, Gascón also didn’t want to criticize the jurors.

“They did their work and we respect them and thank them for it,” he said.

During the trial, Diaz testified that he’d accidentally killed Canul-Arguello during a sexual encounter in the park.

“We will ask for the maximum sentence,” Gascón said, but “the consequences are not the consequences we were seeking. Looking at his time served, he could be very well almost ready to walk.”

Diaz has been in jail since his arrest more than three years ago in July 2011.
The maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is four years. However, Diaz may be sentenced to less time than that, according to Deputy Public Defender Alex Lilien. Among the factors in the time he could serve, Diaz may be able to serve time concurrently for the other convictions.

“He’s likely done all the time they could sentence him to,” Lilien has said.

Diaz’s next court date is September 3, when Lilien will ask that he be released before his sentencing.

Lilien has repeatedly referred to Canul-Arguello’s death as “a terrible accident,” while Douglas insisted that Diaz had strangled him after flying into a rage.

Diaz had moved in with Larry Metzger, owner of the Castro bar The Mix, shortly before he killed Canul-Arguello and during his testimony referred to Metzger, who regularly attended the trial, as his partner.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, August 28, 2014 @ 3:38 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Man hits woman with bottle in Castro fight

San Francisco police are looking for a man who hit a woman with a bottle in the Castro Wednesday night, August 27.

The incident occurred at 7 p.m. at 18th and Castro streets when the suspect, a white male in his 30s, approached the woman, 63, “and started a verbal argument,” Officer Gordon Shyy, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, said in a summary.

The fight “got heated” and the man “pulled out a glass bottle” and hit the woman with it. He then fled east on 18th. Shyy said the woman complained of pain to her head and arm, but “refused medical treatment.”

Anyone with information in the case may call the police department’s anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444, or text a tip to 847411 and type SFPD, then the message. The incident number is 140 721 835.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 9:57 am PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Diaz found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in gay SF park death trial

David Diaz in an undated photo. (Photo: Courtesy Public Defender's office)

David Diaz in an undated photo. (Photo: Courtesy Public Defender’s office)

A San Francisco jury has found David Diaz guilty of involuntary manslaughter and other charges stemming from the death of a man he had sex with in a city park three years ago.

Prosecutors had charged Diaz, 25, with murder for intentionally choking to death Freddy Canul-Arguello, 23, during a sexual encounter in Buena Vista Park in 2011. But the jury instead decided to go with the lesser charge.

After taking a week to deliberate, the jury issued its decision this afternoon, Tuesday, August 26. The jurors also found Diaz guilty of arson, mutilating human remains, and destroying evidence.

Canul-Arguello’s burned, mostly naked body was found in the park just before 5 a.m. June 10, 2011. The medical examiner’s office listed the cause of death as asphyxia due to strangulation.

Jurors got the case Monday, August 18, three weeks after attorneys in the case made their opening statements.

Diaz, who’s been in custody since his arrest, testified through a Spanish interpreter last week that he and Canul-Arguello had met up in the Castro just hours before the death, decided to have sex, and walked to the park.

They performed oral sex and other acts on each other, and Canul-Arguello asked to be choked, Diaz said. He said he eventually agreed, then noticed at some point that Canul-Arguello had stopped moving. He unsuccessfully tried to revive him, he said.

During the trial Deputy Public Defender Alex Lilien repeatedly called the case “a terrible accident.” Assistant District Attorney Danielle Douglas said in her closing arguments that Diaz killed Canul-Arguello after he “did something that caused the defendant to go into a rage,” and then intentionally burned the body.

See this Thursday’s Bay Area Reporter for more coverage of the verdict.

— Matthew S. Bajko, August 26, 2014 @ 2:35 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Jurors ask to view bin in park death case

Jurors deliberating charges related to the death of a man in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park in 2011 asked Thursday, August 21, to take another look at a melted recycling bin that was found with the man’s charred body.

Earlier in August, members of the jury in the murder trial of David Munoz Diaz visited the scene of the crime, near the tennis court in Buena Vista Park in the Haight. (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Earlier in August, members of the jury in the murder trial of David Munoz Diaz visited the scene of the crime, near the tennis court in Buena Vista Park in the Haight. (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

David Munoz Diaz, 25, is accused of intentionally choking to death Freddy Canul-Arguello, 23, during a sexual encounter in the park June 10, 2011. Canul-Arguello’s body was found in the park just before 5 a.m. that morning. Diaz, who was arrested six weeks later, is charged with murder, arson, mutilating human remains, and destroying evidence.

After almost three weeks of testimony, jurors got the case Monday, August 18.

At about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, the bin was wheeled in to the room where the jury is deliberating at the Hall of Justice, 850 Bryant Street.

One side of the bin is almost completely melted away. Twigs and dirt are stuck to part of what’s left. The receptacle had briefly been shown in court earlier this month.

Diaz, who’s been in custody since his arrest, testified through a Spanish interpreter last week that he and Canul-Arguello had met up in the Castro just hours before the death, decided to have sex, and walked to the park.

They performed oral sex and other acts on each other, and Canul-Arguello asked to be choked, Diaz said. He said he eventually agreed, then noticed at some point that Canul-Arguello had stopped moving. He unsuccessfully tried to revive him, he said.

“I was frightened,” Diaz testified. “… I didn’t know what to do. I was really nervous.”

He said he moved the bin close to Canul-Arguello’s body and lit a fire in it to signal for help.

Deputy Public Defender Alex Lilien has repeatedly called the case “a terrible accident.” Assistant District Attorney Danielle Douglas said in her closing arguments Monday that Diaz killed Canul-Arguello after he “did something that caused the defendant to go into a rage,” and then intentionally burned the body.

Based on court testimony, the container had been on top of Canul-Arguello’s body when he was found. While discussing Canul-Arguello’s burns and other factors, Fire expert Jeff Campbell testified about the possibilities of the container having been placed on top of Canul-Arguello or near him, with the bin falling over on top of him, among other scenarios. Campbell said Canul-Arguello’s body had not been placed inside the 32-gallon receptacle.

 

 

— Seth Hemmelgarn, August 21, 2014 @ 3:11 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Police release video of person of interest in man’s death

higgins suspect

Person of interest in Higgins death (Photo: SFPD)

San Francisco police have released video of a “person of interest” in the death of Bryan Higgins, 31.

The video shows a man in a grey hoodie chasing Higgins across Church Street between Market Street and Duboce Avenue, then beginning to assault Higgins, according to Officer Albie Esparza, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department. In the footage, which was released Thursday, August 21, a black bar has been placed over Higgins.

Higgins, who was also known as Feather, was found near Church and Duboce at about 7:30 a.m. Sunday, August 10. He died at San Francisco General Hospital three days later after his family took him off life support.

Police also released an image of the person they’re looking for, who appears to be in his 20s or 30s, wearing just the red shirt that’s underneath the hoodie.

Esparza said the video came from the dashboard of a taxicab. He said he didn’t know whether the driver tried to intervene, but the cabbie turned the video into police.

Because of the camera angle, the video didn’t capture the rest of the attack on Higgins, Esparza said.

There were no obvious signs of trauma to Higgins when he was found at the scene, and it wasn’t until the footage was handed over to police that they began investigating the incident as an attempted homicide and assault with a deadly weapon. Once Higgins died, the case became a homicide investigation, Esparza said. He said he couldn’t comment on what injuries Higgins did have. It will likely be months before the medical examiner’s office releases the cause and manner of death.

Anyone with information in the case may call the police department’s anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444, or text a tip to 847411 and type SFPD, then the message. The incident number is 140 665 807.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 11:32 am PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Prayer service planned for gay homicide victim

Bryan Higgins in an undated photo. Photo: Courtesy Bryan Higgins's Facebook page

Bryan Higgins in an undated photo. Photo: Courtesy Bryan Higgins’s Facebook page

A prayer service is planned for a gay man who recently died after being found injured in the Duboce Triangle neighborhood.

Bryan Higgins, 31, will be remembered at 11:15 a.m. Monday, August 18 at the corner of Church Street and Duboce Avenue. Higgins was found on the ground at the intersection at about 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning, August 10 and taken to San Francisco General Hospital. He died after being taken off life support at 3:33 p.m. Wednesday, August 13. At that time, around 200 people gathered at Duboce Park for a vigil.

A campaign has begun http://www.gofundme.com/d2snac to help Higgins’s family with funeral, medical, and other expenses. The goal is $5,000.

Albie Esparza, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, has described the suspect in Higgins’s death as a white male in his 20s or 30s wearing a gray hoodie, based on video surveillance footage.

As of Friday afternoon, August 15, Esparza said police are still not releasing photos of the suspect, and there have been no arrests.

Esparza said Higgins’s injuries had been investigated as an attempted homicide and assault with a deadly weapon before he was taken off life support, and the case is now being investigated as a homicide.

He said Higgins “had injuries,” but he didn’t know what they were.

“There was no obvious traumatic injury” such as stabbing or gunshot wounds, he said.

It will likely be several months before the medical examiner’s office releases the cause and manner of Higgins’s death.

Higgins, who was a member of the Faerie community, was also known as Feather Lynn.

Like many people who knew Higgins, Linda, 65, who didn’t want her last name published because most people know her as “The Laundry Lady,” spoke of his kindness.

“He was a happy person, very kind to everyone,” she said. She manages a Laundromat near Higgins’s Noe Street home and had known him for about three or four years. “… He’d always say, ‘Good morning, Sunshine,’ which was really precious to me.”

Brian Busta, 50, was a close friend and neighbor of Higgins’s.

“He was just really super free-spirited” and “creative,” said Busta, who’s also known by his Faerie name, Chickpea. “He was really a joy to be around.”

Monday’s memorial is being held by the Restorative Justice Ministry for Victims and Survivors of Violent Crimes of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Julio Escobar, the ministry’s director, said part of his group’s aim is to “do a blessing of the land. We hope that somebody else doesn’t die there.” The ministry, which regularly does prayer services for victims of crime in the city, also tries to work with families to help them “in the process of healing.”

— Seth Hemmelgarn, August 15, 2014 @ 5:09 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


CA lawmakers pass Ting’s revised syringe access bill

2013 Ting Official headshot, Current

Assemblyman Phil Ting

The California Legislature has sent a bill to Governor Jerry Brown that will ensure intravenous drug users have access to clean needles through 2020.

This morning the state Assembly passed Assembly Bill 1743, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), by a 53-20 vote. The state Senate passed the bill last week by a vote of 36-0.

As the Bay Area Reporter noted in a July story, Ting added a five-year sunset to his bill to address objections raised by public safety groups. Initially, his Safe Syringe Access Act would have ended the need for lawmakers to re-address the issue.

Under current California law, pharmacists are allowed to sell up to 30 syringes without a prescription. But the legislation is set to sunset on January 1, and without lawmakers extending the law, syringe sales would remain legal in just 15 counties and four cities, including San Francisco.

The new bill does remove the cap placed on the number of syringes a person could buy at one time. The governor now has 12 days to sign it into law once it reaches his desk.

“Syringes can be bought over the counter in nearly every state because the policy saves lives without taxpayer expense,” stated Ting in a press release issued after today’s vote.  “Mountains of research and the medical community stand squarely behind this bill. We are not innovating, we are playing catch up. By signing the bill, the governor can put California in step with the rest of the nation.”

With access to clean syringes an effective tool in preventing the transmission of HIV and hepatitis, AIDS advocates have been pushing for passage of Ting’s bill. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Drug Policy Alliance are its lead sponsors.

“This bill is an exciting breakthrough,” stated Laura Thomas, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Pharmacy syringe access is a proven and cost-effective way to save lives by reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis. It has taken years of advocacy to receive such strong support for sterile syringe access inside the state Capitol.”

— Matthew S. Bajko, August 14, 2014 @ 2:07 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


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