Issue:  Vol. 45 / No. 48 / 26 November 2015

Longtime public health official joins SF AIDS Foundation

Tracey Packer (Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)

Tracey Packer (Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation announced Tuesday that Tracey Packer, who’s led HIV prevention initiatives at the city’s health department for more than a decade, will join the nonprofit as its senior director of programs and services.

In a news release November 10, AIDS foundation CEO Neil Giuliano said, “Tracey is highly-respected in the public health world, and throughout her career has made significant contributions to the city’s response to HIV. We are ecstatic to have Tracey join our team, and I am confident that her leadership will serve our staff, our clients, and the community immensely in the years to come.”

Packer, who’s a straight ally and begins her new post January 4, wasn’t immediately available for comment.

She most recently served as the health department’s director of community health equity and promotion, where she managed a budget of $17 million.

Packer also supervised more than 25 community-based organizations funded through city contracts and subcontracts, making her a familiar face for numerous local nonprofit officials.

In her new job at the AIDS foundation, which gets much of its $29 million budget from funds provided by the city, Packer will oversee HIV prevention and care programs. She’ll also collaborate with representatives from the city and state, among other duties.

Giuliano himself is leaving the nonprofit after being named in August as the president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Leadership, a business group in Arizona. A new AIDS foundation CEO hasn’t been selected.

The AIDS foundation has been set to open Strut, the gay and bi men’s health center at 470 Castro Street, this month. Andrew Hattori, a spokesman for the agency, said in an email Tuesday that he didn’t have an opening date to share, since state officials still haven’t approved a license for the center.

The Bay Area Reporter will have more on the Packer story in the Thursday, November 19 edition.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, November 11, 2015 @ 1:49 pm PST
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Local real estate firm wins community support for Castro satellite office

A real estate firm would like to open in this storefront at 2324 Market Street.

A real estate firm would like to open in this storefront at 2324 Market Street.

Despite the adoption this year of zoning rules aimed at stopping non-retail uses from moving into ground floor storefronts in the city’s Castro district, one local real estate firm has won community support to open a satellite office on upper Market Street.

As the Bay Area Reporter noted in June, Drysdale Properties, a local affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, in 2014 had planned to move into the roughly 280 square foot space at 2324 Market Street. But before it could open its doors, it was the target of neighborhood complaints for not seeking the required permits imposed on real estate offices wanting to open in ground floor retail spaces along upper Market Street.

The zoning controls, made permanent this spring by City Hall, aim to limit the number of real estate offices, as well as financial services and other non-retail uses, moving into ground floor storefronts on Market Street between Octavia Boulevard and Castro Street.

Seeking neighborhood support ahead of a hearing before the city’s planning commission, Drysdale owner Gretchen Pearson and real estate agent John Oldfield were back this morning (Thursday, November 5) before the Castro’s business association to plead their case.

“We realize the retail strategy report prefers different retail in this space. We support that report,” said Oldfield. “But it has been vacant for years. We are asking for an exception.”

He was referring to the Castro Retail Strategy released this summer that identifies the types of stores residents of the neighborhood would prefer see open along upper Market Street as well as Castro Street.

The Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District worked with the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, the Castro/Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, and the Castro Merchants group to develop the report.

The CBD and DTNA have both voted to support Drysdale Properties’s request to open at 2324 Market Street. The Castro/EVNA ended up voting against the company, while the Castro Merchants voted in support.

Years ago Drysdale had operated across the street in a space on the 2200 block of Market Street. It now wants to return to the Castro and use the storefront at 2324 Market Street as a satellite location for its main office on Polk Street.

When Oldfield and Pearson first went before the Castro Merchants group in June to present their plans, they addressed concerns that a real estate office would do little to activate the street. They noted that either an agent or a receptionist would work out of the space.

Other agents would utilize it when showing off properties in the Castro and surrounding neighborhoods. The office would be open on weekends, and Drysdale intends to install a window display of homes for sale to attract foot traffic at various hours.

Because the storefront lacks plumbing – there is access to a bathroom elsewhere in the building – Drysdale has argued it is not ideal for use by a more traditional retailer.

Yet D&H Sustainable Jewelers, which is located directly across the street at 2323 Market Street, had been interested in leasing the space in order to open a watch store. But it could not receive a response from the previous landlord for the building.

The locally-owened jewelry store’s interest to expand into the space was brought up again at this morning’s meeting. Yet Pearson countered that Drysdale is a locally- and woman-owned company.

She added that Drysdale is in talks with its landlord to lease an additional 279 square foot space on the second floor of the Market Street building. It comes with a beautiful chandelier, said Pearson, and could be used as a community meeting room for Castro groups and local nonprofits.

The city’s planning commission is expected to vote on Drysdale’s permit request to move into the 2324 Market Street retail space at an upcoming meeting.

— Matthew S. Bajko, November 5, 2015 @ 5:37 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

Medical spa company eyes long vacant Castro storefront

A medical spa company would like to open in the vacant retail space at 410 Castro Street.

A medical spa company would like to open in the vacant retail space at 410 Castro Street.

A medical spa company is eying a long vacant Castro storefront to open its second San Francisco location sometime in 2016.

LaserAway Skin Care Spa, which was founded in West Hollywood, is in talks to open at 410 Castro Street, a small storefront in an old bank building in which SoulCycle recently opened. The building at the corner of Castro and Market fronts Harvey Milk Plaza above the Castro Muni Station and had been the site of a Diesel jeans store.

The spa would like to move into a 1,270 square foot retail space fronting Castro Street. The phone company Sprint had leased it for years, but it moved out over five years ago. Its lease, however, did not expire until the end of 2013.

LaserAway Skin Care Spa operates a store on Union Street in the city’s Cow Hollow district. It specializes in Botox treatments, laser hair removal, and laser tattoo removal as well as sells its own line of skincare products and other brands.

“Our Union Street location has been open five years. It is hugely popular there, why we need a second San Francisco location,” Jessica Heckmann, the company’s regional manager, told the Castro Merchants group at its monthly meeting this morning (Thursday, November 5).

The company is owned by physicians, noted Heckmann, and its services require medical staff to administer. It would also employ sales managers at the Castro store, which is expected to draw at least 30 customers per day.

“We would love to be open up on Castro Street,” Heckmann told the association for Castro business owners.

The spa would be open seven-days-a-week. Its services can take anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour or longer to administer.

Because LaserAway Skin Care Spa falls under the city’s definition of a formula retailer – it has 20 locations already in California, three in Arizona, and one in Las Vegas, Nevada – it is required to seek a conditional use permit in order to open the Castro store.

Today’s presentation to the merchants’ group was solely informational. It intends to return in early 2016 to seek its formal support before it presents its proposal to the city’s planning commission either in February or March.

— Matthew S. Bajko, @ 4:56 pm PST
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Agency that helps sex workers raises fundraising goal

In this 2014 photo, St. James Infirmary's Executive Director Stephany Ashley, left, helps set up the needle exchange program with Dee Michel. Photo: Rick Gerharter

In this 2014 photo, St. James Infirmary’s Executive Director Stephany Ashley, left, helps set up the needle exchange program with Dee Michel. Photo: Rick Gerharter

St. James Infirmary, the San Francisco nonprofit that provides free medical care, food, and other assistance to sex workers, has raised its fundraising goal as it seeks a new home in one of the country’s most competitive real estate markets.

The organization is being forced to relocate as Mercy Housing California, the agency that owns St. James’ Mission Street building, is selling the property. The prospective owners aren’t renewing the nonprofit’s lease.

St. James, which has to be out of 1372 Mission by early January, recently launched a Gofundme campaign with a goal of raising $25,000 in 30 days. That goal was quickly surpassed, as the agency brought in more than that in just three days.

Monday, St. James Executive Director Stephany Ashley posted a note on the crowdfunding site saying that her group was raising its goal to $40,000.

“The outpouring of love and support for our relocation efforts continues to astound and inspire us,” Ashley, who identifies as queer, said.

She said that another set of donors is pledging $10,000 in matching funds.

“We now have 10 weeks left to secure a site, renovate, and relocate our operations in order to reopen without disruption to service,” Ashley said. “With those 10 weeks being right in the middle of the holiday season, it’s going to be a tight turnaround! To ensure that we can pull it off, we are increasing our grassroots fundraising goal to $40,000. This money will allow us to cover our construction and relocation costs without having to drain resources from our programs or staffing budget.”

St. James’ total budget is $750,000.

As of Wednesday, the nonprofit had made more than $30,000 through the online campaign. An anonymous donor is matching the first $25,000, bringing the total raised so far to more than $55,000.

Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project, which helps transgender people who are incarcerated and shares office space with St. James, plans to move with the group.


— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 11:15 am PST
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Police seek hatchet-carrying, gender non-conforming robbery suspect

San Francisco police are seeking a hatchet-carrying, gender non-conforming person who stole a purse from a downtown Bloomingdale’s Monday

According to a summary from Officer Albie Esparza, a police spokesman, the suspect walked into the department store at Westfield Mall, 845 Market Street, at 1:10 p.m. and took the handbag.

When security approached the suspect, the thief produced a weapon, which Esparza described as an ax or “short hatchet,” out of their bag and threatened the security personnel.

The victim, 27, backed off and the suspect fled on a bicycle.

The suspect is in their 40s, is six feet tall, and weighs less than 200 pounds.

Although Esparza described the suspect as transgender, it’s not possible to tell for sure if that’s how the suspect identifies, and if the suspect identifies as male or female. Esparza didn’t immediately respond to an email asking whether the suspect was dressed as a man or woman.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, November 4, 2015 @ 5:08 pm PST
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Man arrested in Castro arson


Photo: Rick Gerharter

A man is in jail for allegedly starting a fire in San Francisco’s Castro district Monday.

At 3:30 a.m. October 26, an anonymous caller reported that a man was “lighting a garbage can on fire” in the 500 block of Castro Street, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said in a summary.

Police arrived and arrested Raja Nair, 39, who was booked into custody on suspicion of arson of property and possession of an incendiary device.

He’s in custody on $400,000 bail, according to the sheriff’s department’s website, which doesn’t list an arraignment date. Police haven’t provided a booking photo.

A. Cabebe, a watch commander at the jail, said that Nair couldn’t be interviewed because he was in psychiatric housing and wasn’t able to give informed consent.

Court records indicate Nair has had other encounters with police in recent years.

In January, a man by the name of Raja Nair filed a $6.1 million personal injury lawsuit against the police department’s Southern station. (It couldn’t immediately be verified whether the plaintiff is the same man being charged in the arson.)

In his complaint, Nair said that in May 2014, he was in custody at the station, which was then at 850 Bryant Street, when police “negligence caused serious injuries” to him.

“The defendant’s medical technicians physically restrained plaintiff and hypodermically injected, into plaintiff’s gluteal area, right side, chemicals formulated for mental discomforts or other unknown purposes, against plaintiff’s verbal refusal, resulting in puncture of the sciatic nerve and serious injury to plaintiff,” the court documents say.

Nair says he was left with a “lack of sensation” in his right foot, lost wages, “increased risk of chronic nerve pain,” and “diminished enjoyment of life,” among other issues. He lost the lawsuit in September.

The documents list Nair’s address as 1171 Mission Street, which is the site of the city’s Medical Respite and Sobering Center. Officials weren’t immediately able to discuss Nair. According to its website, the center “provides specialized healthcare services to homeless patients” and “serves as an important discharge option for San Francisco General and private hospitals as well as a drop off point for individuals with chronic alcoholism in need of stabilization services.”

Nair’s complaint doesn’t say what case he was in custody for in May 2014 when police allegedly injured him, but court records indicate that month he was charged with two counts of vandalism. One count was for $400 or more worth of damage and the other was for $50,000 or more worth of damage. He was also charged with making criminal threats. Nair pleaded not guilty to all counts.

After a trial in April, he was found guilty of the lesser vandalism count and not guilty of the other. The criminal threats charge was dismissed, according to court documents.

Nair was ordered to pay restitution and attend groups at the Court Accountable Case Management Center. People referred to the center participate in workshops while waiting to be placed in residential or outpatient programs, according to the center’s website.

CACMC’s groups include harm reduction and “Don’t Get Mad, Get Hyphy!” anger management.




— Seth Hemmelgarn, October 29, 2015 @ 1:43 pm PST
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SF, MAC AIDS Fund put $1.6 million toward eliminate AIDS cases

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and other officials are joining MAC AIDS Fund this morning (Thursday, October 29) to announce $1.7 million in funding to make the city the first to “eliminate HIV/AIDS.”

As part of the “Getting to Zero” campaign, Lee, gay Supervisors David Campos and Scott Wiener, health department staff, and nonprofit representatives will meet at 9:30 a.m. at Lee’s office, Room 200 in City Hall, to announce the funding and outline the plan.

“Once the epicenter of the AIDS crisis, San Francisco is now a world leader in AIDS response and on a mission to be the first city to ‘Get to Zero,'” organizers said in a news release. Lee and others Thursday will announce “significant new funding and its rigorous plan to reach zero new HIV infections, deaths and stigma in San Francisco.”

Beth Cleveland, a spokeswoman for the New York-based MAC AIDS Fund, said her group is providing $500,000 of the $1.7 million. The city is contributing the rest.

City Hall is at 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Plaza.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 9:30 am PST
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Carjacking at gunpoint in Castro

A man was carjacked at gunpoint in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood this week.

According to Officer Albie Esparza, a police spokesman, the incident occurred at 12:50 a.m. Sunday, October 25 in the 2000 block of Market Street, near the Castro Safeway.

The victim was in his black BMW X5 when one suspect opened a front door and another suspect opened a rear door. The suspects demanded that the victim get out of the SUV, and the first suspect “brandished a gun,” Esparza said in a summary.

The 31-year-old victim got out and fled from the suspects, who took his vehicle.

The suspects are described as two black males between the ages of 30 and 40.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, October 28, 2015 @ 4:02 pm PST
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Judge supports charge of lax security in SF Pride shooting lawsuit

The judge handling a lawsuit that involves a shooting at San Francisco’s 2013 LGBT Pride celebration has expressed support for the victim’s claim that lax security was to blame for the incident. The case is set for trial next month.

Shooting victim Trevor Gardner

Shooting victim Trevor Gardner

In his lawsuit filed in 2014, Trevor Gardner, 25, of Los Angeles, claimed the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee neglected to provide adequate security at the 2013 event.

The committee responded through court documents that Gardner had failed “to use diligent care,” and in July, the nonprofit filed a motion for summary judgment asking for the case to be decided without going to trial.

But in an order signed Wednesday, October 14, Superior Court Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith firmly denied the Pride committee’s request, and suggested the group should require metal detectors and check people’s bags, among other measures.

“Even though defendant’s event included annual gun violence, defendant failed to sufficiently address a known and specific risk of injury of gun violence,” Goldsmith wrote. “It is not ‘pure speculation’ that defendant’s total failure to (1) establish a reasonable perimeter for their event; (2) establish secured entrances; (3) require metal detectors; (4) require bag and attendee checks; (5) provide enough security guards to meet industry standards; and (6) monitor overcrowding as recommended by the San Francisco Police Department in light of annual gun violence was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s gunshot wound.”

The judge continued that Gardner had provided “credible expert witness evidence that such security measures would lessen the specific probability of alcohol- and weapon-related violence occurring” at Pride.

“The causal link between defendant’s security failures and plaintiff’s injury is robust,” Goldsmith wrote.

Attorneys in the case weren’t immediately available today (Thursday, October 22).

No arrests have been reported in Gardner’s shooting.

At the time of the incident, gun violence had not been occurring annually at the festival, but a couple of shootings around Pride weekend had drawn attention in recent years.

In 2010, Stephen Powell, 19, was fatally shot at Pink Saturday, the annual pre-Pride festival in the Castro district that was organized by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The Pride committee wasn’t responsible for the event, which the Sisters stopped producing this year, citing concerns about violence. (The city stepped in to replace Pink Saturday with Pink Party.) No one has been prosecuted in Powell’s killing.

In 2011, several people were injured in a shooting on Market Street near the Pride celebration, but police have said that incident didn’t appear to be related to Pride.

Eric Ryan, who was also hit in the 2013 shooting in which Gardner was a victim, filed his own lawsuit against the Pride committee this summer.

A man who had just attended this year’s Pride celebration was shot near where the party had taken place, but police have said the incident wasn’t directly connected to Pride. The victim, 64, was briefly hospitalized.

Joshua Spencer, 19, who allegedly shot the man after Spencer and several other men got into an argument, has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and other charges in the case. He remains in custody on $2.5 million bail.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, October 22, 2015 @ 3:26 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

SF police investigate robbery incidents

San Francisco police are investigating robbery-related incidents that occurred in the Castro district and near the Duboce Triangle area Wednesday.

A bank was targeted in one case, while the other involved a woman who fled into a medical marijuana dispensary.

At 10:22 a.m., a man handed a note to a bank teller in the 2200 block of Market Street “demanding money,” Officer Albie Esparza, a police spokesman, said in a summary of the October 21 incident.

The teller, a 23-year-old woman, put an undisclosed amount of money in a bag for the suspect, who fled with it.

The robber is described as a 35-year-old black male.

Esparza didn’t say which bank was robbed. The only bank in that block appears to be Wells Fargo Home Mortgage at 2258 Market. No one there was immediately available by phone today (Thursday, October 22).

Also Wednesday, at 2:15 p.m. in the 500 block of Fourteenth Street, a man approached a woman in her 20s, produced two handguns, and threatened her. The woman “ran back into the cannabis club and called police,” Esparza said.

The suspect is a black male age 20 to 25. His vehicle was described as a gray four-door Nissan Maxima.

Esparza didn’t include the name of the pot club in his summary.

A man who answered the phone at the Love Shack Cooperative marijuana dispensary, at 502 14th Street, said he didn’t know about the incident.

Anyone with information related to the cases may call the SFPD anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444 or text a tip to TIP411. Type SFPD in the subject line. The incident number in the bank robbery is 150919973. The incident number for the attempted robbery is 150921213.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 10:57 am PST
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