In the News in San Francisco: 2005

"An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will."

                                                                                                                          - Thomas Jefferson


Humpback Whale
H u m p b a c k  W h a l e  R e s c u e d

Sunday's (December 11, 2005) daring rescue was the first successful attempt on the West Coast to free an entangled Humpback Whale, said Shelbi Stoudt, stranding manager for the Marine Mammal Center in Marin County.

The 45- to 50-foot female humpback is estimated to weigh 50 tons. Humpback Whales use a migratory route between the Northern California coast and Baja California. This one became entangled in the nylon ropes that link crab pots.

It was spotted by a crab fisherman at 8:30 a.m. The Marine Mammal Center was alerted and a team of divers was gathered. By 2:30 p.m., the rescuers had reached the whale and evaluated the situation. Team members realized the only way to save the endangered leviathan was to dive into the water and cut the ropes.

It was a very risky maneuver, Stoudt said, because the mere flip of a humpback's massive tail can kill a person.

Rope was wrapped at least four times around the tail, the back and the left front flipper, and there was a line in the whale's mouth.

At least 12 crab traps, weighing 90 pounds each, hung off the whale, the divers said. The combined weight was pulling the whale downward, forcing it to struggle mightily to keep its blow- hole out of the water.

When the whale realized it was free, it began swimming around in circles, according to the rescuers. It is said to have swam to each diver, nuzzled him and then swam to the next one.

Humpback Whales are known for their complex vocalizations that sound like singing and for their acrobatic breaching, an apparently playful activity in which they lift almost their entire bodies out of the water and splash down.

Before 1900, an estimated 15,000 humpbacks lived in the North Pacific, but the population was severely reduced by commercial whaling. In the 20th century, their numbers dwindled to fewer than 1,000. An international ban on commercial whaling was instituted in 1964, but humpbacks are still endangered. Between 5,000 and 7,500 humpbacks are left in the world's oceans, and many of those survivors migrate through the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Whale experts say it's nice to think that the whale was thanking its rescuers, but nobody really knows what was on its mind.

Humpback Whales hold a special place in the hearts of Bay Area residents ever since one that came to be known as Humphrey journeyed up the Sacramento River in 1985. The wayward creature swam into a slough in Rio Vista, attracting 10,000 people a day as whale experts tried desperately to turn it around. Humphrey went back to sea after 25 days of near-pandemonium and worldwide media attention.

In the fall of 1990, Humphrey turned up again inside the bay in shallow water near the Bayshore Freeway, finally beaching on mud flats near Double Rock, just off the Candlestick parking lot. He remained stuck for 25 hours, until volunteers, helped by a 41-foot Coast Guard boat, pulled him free and sent him back to the ocean. He has not been seen since.


Adapted from: SF Chronicle, 14 DEC 05

For more information on whales: Cetos Research Organization


As the owners of the 4 Star Theater face possible eviction, they are counting on a San Francisco law passed last year to allow them to keep showing movies at the theater, which has been a Richmond District mainstay since the nickelodeon days.

Co-sponsored by Jake McGoldrick, the District 1 supervisor who represents the Richmond District, and Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the 2004 law requires that any project proposing to eliminate a neighborhood theater will be subject to a conditional-use process -- meaning the owners will have to appear at a public hearing before the Planning Commission and prove that the elimination of a theater will not adversely affect the commercial district in that neighborhood, that the theater was not commercially viable and that the elimination of the theater would not result in the loss of historically significant architecture.

We do not look favorably on the death of a neighborhood theater," said McGoldrick, whose district has seen the closing of the Alexandria and the Coronet in the past two years. "The interest in losing the 4 Star is somewhere between zero and minus one."

McGoldrick, citing an "overwhelming correspondence" from his constituents, helped shepherd the bill (which was passed 10-1) because of the historical significance of the 4 Star and the theater's original programming -- aside from its schedule of second-run Hollywood, foreign and independent fare, it is the only theater in the United States that shows current Hong Kong movies, often within days of their release in Hong Kong.

Theater Law May Protect the 4-Star Theater


4 Star Theatre
See story from SF Chronicle, 10 Dec 05


Antiwar activists celebrated a victory Tuesday, November 8th, 2005. Voters in San Francisco easily passed a resolution that will make it tougher for the military to recruit soldiers from public high schools and colleges.

Proposition I, also known as the "College Not Combat" initiative, does not ban the military from recruiting soldiers on campus (that would require schools to forfeit federal funds), but it does encourage school officials to offer students alternatives to the perks that come with military service, like scholarships and job training.
Proposition I says that San Franciscans "want it to be city policy to oppose military recruiters' access to public schools and to consider funding scholarships for education and training that could provide an alternative to military service."

The referendum was drafted last year after students at San Francisco State University began protesting military recruiters on their campus.

College Not Combat protestors

photo from

Website no longer available:


Living Classroom

Heron's Head Park, 2006

Heron's Head Park sign
artist's rendition of Living Classroom
Heron's Head Park map

Literacy for Environmental Justice is spearheading The Living Classroom. It will be a self-sustaining environmental education center and demonstration greenhouse located in the southeastern corner of San Francisco at Heron's Head Park, near the base of the antiquated Hunters Point Power Plant.

The Living Classroom's primary function will be to educate the residents of the city of San Francisco, as well as visitors from elsewhere in the region along the themes of Ecology, Society and Wellbeing.

All Living Classroom activities will be affordable, cultural and age appropriate. They will address community needs and interests. Some examples of projected programs include:

  • Wetland ecology and habitat restoration
  • Ecological design (green building)
  • Solar energy and efficiency
  • Alternative wastewater treatment and water reclamation
  • Sustainability issue debates and panel discussions (culture, economy, and environment)


See story from SF Chronicle, 28 Sep 05

See story from SF Chronicle, 9 July 04 on Heron's Head Park.



  San Francisco Maritime History Unearthed  

Construction crews building a new high-rise condominium project in downtown San Francisco have uncovered a maritime mystery -- the remains of a large wooden sailing ship that probably dates from the Gold Rush. The remains of the ship were discovered last week 20 feet below Folsom Street near Spear Street.

Archaeologist Richard Everett, a curator at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, said that the site had once been the location of a ship-breaking yard owned by Charles Haer, and the ship was almost surely a relic of the Gold Rush. Haer specialized in acquiring ships that had been anchored and left to moulder away in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Cove. He had them towed to his yard at what is now Folsom and Spear streets, where he employed Chinese crews to dismantle the ships. Typically, ship-breaking yards tried to salvage metal fittings and usable timber. "It was a kind of maritime junkyard,'' Everett said.

Haer, who operated his ship-breaking business for about 10 years, had plenty of ships to choose from. More than 805 vessels, carrying passengers from all over the world, entered the Golden Gate in 1849 alone as San Francisco turned from a village into a city almost overnight. Most of the ships anchored in Yerba Buena Cove never went to sea again, abandoned as their passengers and often their entire crew left in search of gold. Some were put to other uses -- offices, stores and a hotel. One ship was even used as the city jail.

James Allan, an archaeologist with William Self Associates, the firm is cataloging the remains of the 125 foot long ship, thinks the ship was built in the 1820s, perhaps as early as 1810. Old ships like this were pressed into service to carry gold seekers to California. In many cases, it was their last voyage.

Tishman Speyer, the firm that is developing the condominium project, released a statement from its spokesmen in New York, promising to "strictly adhere'' to San Francisco guidelines for excavation and documentation of the ship.

The discovery is one of about 40 ships known to lie under the streets of downtown San Francisco. Maritime historian James Delgado, who has written a book on San Francisco's buried ships, thinks there may be as many as 75 ships under downtown, most of them as yet undiscovered. The last buried ship to be uncovered was the General Harrison, a Gold Rush ship discovered in the Financial District in 2001.

Allan said he and representatives of Tishman Speyer would meet with experts from the S.F. Maritime Historical Park to see how much of the ship could be salvaged and how to proceed.

See full story from SF Chronicle, 8 Sep 05


For more information on Gold Rush Era ships go to the website of the Golden Gate Tall Ships Society .


Snowy Plover
Leash Law Enforcement Needed to Preserve Snowy Plover

Animal welfare and conservation groups asked national park officials to require dogs to be leashed at two popular outdoor areas to prevent them from threatening plants, wildlife and park visitors.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the free-running dogs were menacing the threatened Snowy Plover when it makes its seasonal return to Ocean Beach.

The center and other groups asked the National Park Service, which manages Crissy Field and Ocean Beach as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, to act in the next two months on the request. The proposed ban would stay in effect until the service adopts a leash rule.

Story was featured in San Jose Mercury, 17 Aug 05 (no longer available via the web)

The Center for Biological Diversity is a coalition of 10 animal welfare, wildlife conservation, child welfare, and park volunteer organizations. They have filed a formal emergency petition asking the National Park Service to implement and enforce leash laws at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). Federal Regulations require dogs to be leashed or otherwise physically restrained in the National Park System. The GGNRA is the only unit of the National Park System known not to enforce leash laws throughout the park.



inside St. Bridgid's Church

St. Bridgid's Church

First opened as a parish in 1864
St. Bridgid's Church Safe - For Now

The San Francisco Archdiocese announced this week that it will preserve St. Brigid for 10 years - but won't reopen it for worshipers. This “delay of destruction” would require any buyer of the enormous Romanesque church at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Broadway to wait at least 10 years to tear it down.

The archdiocese's proposal -- which came with few details -- is an effort to get state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, to withdraw a bill that could indefinitely preserve the church as a historic landmarkSt. Brigid was closed June 30, 1994, as part of a restructuring of churches.The battle over St. Brigid's future escalated after the archdiocese announced in January that it had applied for the demolition permit. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors immediately stepped in to try to save the church. Former parishioners want St. Brigid saved and reopened, while preservationists want to ensure the church, first opened as a parish in 1864, avoids the wrecking ball. Joe Dignan, head of the Committee to Save St. Brigid, said, "If they were sincere about preserving the building, they would preserve it in perpetuity, not for 10 years." The Committee is trying to get a landmark designation for their church. The landmark designation in San Francisco is reliant on Migden's bill becoming law.

See full story from SF Chronicle, 1 July 05


International Green Day, San Francisco
Urban Environmental Accords

June 5, 2005 – Mayors from around the world signed an international treaty called the "Urban Environmental Accords" which capped the United Nations World Environment Day Conference in San Francisco. The nonbinding accords list 21 specific actions that can make cities greener.

San Francisco was the first U.S. city to host the annual conference. Much of the conference focused on global warming and what mayors can do to curb emissions of "greenhouse gases" such as carbon dioxide that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere. The accords call for policies to expand affordable public transportation coverage for city residents within a decade. They also call for increasing access to safe drinking water, with a goal of access for all by 2015. Other goals include creating an accessible park or recreation space within a half-mile of every city resident by 2015 and achieving zero growth in the amount of waste being sent to landfills and incinerators by 2040. Among the most pressing issues was a recommendation to increase the use of renewable energy to meet 10 percent of a city's peak electric load within seven years.

See full story from SF Chronicle, 6 June 05



"If we restore, they will come.''

Western Bluebird
The 7-inch birds have a soft "phew'' call, and are easy to spot with their bright dark blue hoods and warm terra-cotta breasts.

For the first time in nearly 70 years, the Western Bluebird is nesting in San Francisco. They're back in San Francisco thanks to a decade-old restoration of native dune plants in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, particularly at Lobos Creek Dunes. The 20-acre sand dune might have attracted them to the Presidio.


The dunes restoration project began in 1996, two years after the National Park Service took over the Presidio from the U.S. Army, and folded it into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Since then, with the help of the Presidio Trust, thousands of volunteers a year have collected native seeds and grown plants in a nursery. From the dunes, they pulled out nonnative invasive ice plant, mustard and radish. In their place, they planted the rare flowering herb the San Francisco Lessingia, as well as native Coastal Strawberry, Douglas Iris, lupine, Coyote Bush, Indian Paintbrush and Blue-eyed Grass. Scientists attribute the bluebird's disappearance from the city to a loss of native scrub oak and scrub dune habitat. When the nesting birds began to decline in numbers, the remaining few were prey for European starlings and the sparrows, which aggressively vied for the tree cavities.

See full story from SF Chronicle, 4 June 05


story from SF Examiner, 6 May 05, no longer available via the web

Toward the Preservation of Life

The committee overseeing the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has decided to put the headquarters of its stem cell institute in San Francisco.

The Institute will be at 250 King St. (near the ballpark).

A broad spectrum of people supported the effort, including the whole Board of Supervisors. Notable donors of time, money and energy include Steve Burrill, a local life sciences investor and head of the Mayor's Biotech Advisory Council. In addition to helping coordinate the entire proposal, Burrill, along with Zoomedia President Barbara Lavery, offered to organize an annual, international stem cell conference, which they hope will bring in around $100,000 for the institute.

The Exploratorium is planning an educational stem cell exhibit.


Chain Store Ban in North Beach

Retailers with 11 or more stores in the U.S. won't be able to move into the historic business district of North Beach under a law passed Tuesday by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Board President Aaron Peskin said the ban was necessary to preserve the neighborhood's character. The ban applies to a section of Columbus Avenue and neighboring blocks between Bay Street and Broadway and affects businesses that maintain a standard merchandise, trademark or uniform. Supporters of the ordinance argued that the ordinance would prevent retail chain stores from taking business away from neighboring shops, restaurants and cafes.

Hayes Valley last year became the first neighborhood to ban formula-retail businesses, with two other areas in and around the Haight District imposing a higher level of scrutiny when such business openings are planned.

City Lights Bookstore
story from SF Chronicle, 23 March 05


Save the Harding Theater
Harding Theater, 1942

The Harding Theater at Divisadero and Hayes was designed by the Reid brothers, who were also the architects behind the Fairmont Hotel and the 1909 Cliff House. It's empty now, but a group of local small-business owners want to renovate the 1,200-seat theater and add an art gallery and café and storefront retail. That's a far better use than high-end condos. (From: SF Bay Guardian, 8 Feb 05)

The following organizations are committed to saving the Harding Theater:

The San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation

Friends of 1800

Cinema Treasures


Coronet Theater, 2004
Coronet Theater to Close

56 year old movie house, the Coronet to close its doors. It is a grand 1,200-seat theatre in the Art Moderne style.

See full story from SF Chronicle, 1 Feb 05

Few American cities have been hit harder by the demise of single-screen neighborhood theaters than San Francisco, which has lost nearly 40 film houses since 1980. That dubious trend was noted several years ago by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, which placed the city's fast- disappearing single-screen theaters on the country's most-endangered list.

Even as the Coronet fades out, other community battles continue to save theaters like the neighboring Alexandria and the 4 Star. Showing how movie memories are hard to erase, residents near Alamo Square are even trying to resurrect the long-shuttered Harding Theater on Divisadero Street before it can be turned into another row of copycat condominiums.


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