New Technology Lets BASA Astronomer Sip Coffee While Exploring Vast, Distant Galaxies

Neighbor Clifton, Chief of Astronomical Research for the Bernal Aeronautics and Space Administration (BASA), recently acquired some new gear which significantly expands his ability to explore the far reaches of the universe from the safety and comfort of the Bernal Heights Observatory.

This new space-travel technology is called a “light pollution filter,” and it cancels out the brightness of the urban sky to reveal the secrets of the heavens hiding in space above us. It also allows Neighbor Clifton to pursue his caffeine addiction and his passion for astronomy at the exact same time:

Absolutely tickled that I’m able to pull off some astro imaging from home. It’s nice to sitting at my kitchen table sipping coffee while collecting data. Adding a light pollution filter to the camera has made a stunning difference at what the camera can see in a densely populated urban environment. I’ve been focusing on open clusters while I experiment with longer subs from my back deck.

So what has Bernal’s intrepid space explorer discovered while staring at the night sky with his fancy new gizmo? Neighbor Clifton reports:

Bernal Heights was treated to spectacularly  clear skies and astronomical “seeing” for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Your humble BASA astronomer was busy doing a survey of open clusters adorning the skies above Bernalwood.  The Bernal Heights Observatory has just acquired a light pollution filter for its imaging equipment, making surveys of dimmer and more distant objects possible.

Our imaging team’s first survey was of Cluster M35 which is prominently placed at the foot of Gemini, The Twins.  The constellation Gemini is a Winter favorite with its two bright stars, Castor and Pollux forming the head of the twins.  You’ll notice a rich star field in this part of the sky because it’s looking right into the heart of Milky Way, which does indeed exist above Bernal Heights beyond our rather powerful urban light dome:

Tweaking the focus and tracking a bit, our second object, open cluster M37 is in the constellation Auriga and is another example of an image in the Milky Way.  Open Clusters are young loosely packed star forming regions, as opposed to Globular clusters which are densely packed swarms of stars.  Globular clusters are more ancient:

Both of these objects are relatively easy binocular targets, however, it takes the photon accumulation power of a camera, now filtered with proper light pollution subtraction, to see the richness of the Milky Way from our urban observation site.  Both of these exposures exceeded 30 minutes.

For you armchair explorers at home, I’m also including a star map, which is a simulation of the Bernalwood night sky around 10:00 PM.  This should be good through December, if you would like to locate these objects yourself (once the rain and fog go away):

IMAGES: Top, M43, Orion Nebula, photographed from Bernal Heights. All photos by Clifton Reed.

RIP: Spain Rodriguez, Underground Cartoonist and Bernal Heights Neighbor

Bernal Heights just lost one of its creative greats. Underground artist Spain Rodriguez died yesterday at his home just off Precita Park.

Here’s the lede from the SF Chronicle’s obituary:

Hard-charging biker. Class warfare revolutionary. Pioneering underground cartoonist.

Loving family man.

That was Spain Rodriguez.

From his role as one of the original Zap Comix artists with Robert Crumb, to his work as a founder of the Mission District murals movement in San Francisco, Rodriguez influenced generations of cartoonists and illustrators with a gritty, in-your-face approach to urban life.

He continued to do so until his death Wednesday at his San Francisco home – inking a poster printed this week for a concert honoring the labor movement and Woody Guthrie.

Mr. Rodriguez was 72, and had battled cancer for six years.

“He was an archetypal character, somewhere between crazy artist crossed with left-wing radical crossed with working-class Latino hood,” Crumb, who lives in France, said in a documentary made this year by Mr. Rodriguez’s wife, journalist and filmmaker Susan Stern. “He had a big influence on me through his artwork.

Laughing Squid carried this statement from Last Gasp founder Ron Turner about Spain’s death:

It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing this morning of Spain Rodriguez. He passed at home with his daughter and wife at his bedside at about 7 this morning. He had been fighting cancer for a long time. He was a wonderful father, husband, and friend. His art challenged, changed and enlightened and entertained us for over five decades. His passing coincided with the penumbra eclipse of the moon, like Spain’s shadow from the outer edge of the art world’s face. Services are pending, please give the family some time.

You can listen to Art Spiegelman talk about Spain’s significance.

On Our Backs co-founder Susie Bright, Spain’s former neighbor in Bernal Heights, has written a wonderfully vivid remembrance of him.

She also points us toward the abovementioned documentary about Spain’s work, created by his wife Susan Stern:

Finally, here’s a drawing Neighbor Spain did of Sutrito Tower (long before we decided to rename it that). He will be missed:

Sutrito Tower, by Spain Rodriguez

PHOTOS: Top, Spain Rodriguez, via The Beat. Bottom, Sutrito Tower drawing by Spain Rodriguez, via “San Francisco’s Bernal Heights” by the Bernal History Project.

UPDATED: Large Tree Validates Newtonian Physics on Virginia Street

It probably wasn’t intended as a science experiment, but a big tree fell on the 300 block of Virginia during the wee hours of this morning, taking out a fence along the way. Neighbor Blair reports:

Apparently this tree fell at around 4:00 a.m. Thursday. According to neighbor, probably from lack of care, rather than due to storm.

UPDATE: The City sent a DPW crew to eat the fallen tree, and our local broadcast media decided that a fallen tree is so newsworthy that it warrants sending two satellite trucks to the scene:

“Reporting live from Virginia Street, this is Bernalwood Action News.”

UPDATE 2: KGO-TV identifies City budget cuts, rather than Newtonian physics, as the cause of the tree’s collapse:

Owner Patricia Mahoric wasn’t injured and her house sustained only minimal damage. Nonetheless, she believes the incident could have been avoided if the city had responded to her repeated calls about the tree.

She says she noticed the tree was in bad shape and appeared to be dying back in May. Since then, she says she has been calling to get the city to come out and take care of it.

A Department of Public Works spokeswoman says Mahoric is right. She says Mahoric did everything correctly but because of severe budget cuts, the city has reduced the pruning cycle and there are now only three tree inspectors for the entire city.

PHOTOS: Neighbor Blair

Bernal Heights Crime Report for November 2012: Pepper Spray Robberies, Knock-Knock Burglaries, and Finding Fugitives

Police Telephone

Your very thorough and very vigilant neighbors, Sarah and Edie, attended the SFPD’s Ingleside Station Chief’s Meeting this week, and they typed up these invaluable summary notes about the latest Bernal Heights crime trends. As always, they bring useful information on how to avoid becoming a statistic, so you are strongly advised to read the whole thing:

Captain’s Report by Captain Tim Falvey

Captain Falvey began with a review of the Ingleside, the third largest police district in the city at 6.5 sq. mi. It has 123, 980 residents and its population of 19,074 per sq mi is second only to the Taraval. There are 174 residents per police officer, and the district is broken up into 6 patrol sectors, numbered 1-6. Bernal Heights is covered by the #1 car.

In San Francisco, 55% of the crime occurs in 3% of the geography. To manage daily police patrols and other activity, the station house reviews a series of specific focal points (passing calls, crime patterns, critical infrastructure/landmarks/venues) and produces a list of specifics for police officers to deal with – this is called The Ingleside Station Daily Mission. In a Passing Call, police are asked to drive by and keep an eye on known hot spots, public events, or other areas of concern.

As one part of the solution, ShotSpotter gunshot detection and location technology has been installed in high-crime areas such as the Sunnydale, and the City intends to install more overall.

The Ingleside district uses the Fugitive Recovery Enforcement Team (F.R.E.T.), to apprehend parole violators and fugitives with outstanding warrants and check that parolees are not violating their terms of release. They also work with the Violence Reduction Team (V.R.T.), a citywide SFPD team that can be deployed in any area where problems occur.

Ingleside networks with Supervisors from District 09 (David Campos), D10 (Malia Cohen), and D11 (John Avalos), as well as D7 (Sean Elsbernd) and D8 (Scott Weiner).

The SFPD Ingleside website now has a Community Events page. If you would like a flyer or information for your event posted there, please visit the website.


Homicide: 15 this year so far, up from 8 in 2012 and 9 in 2011, though there hadn’t been a homicide for 110 days until Nov 18th, when a 24-year-old from the East Bay was shot at 3:30 am Sunday morning on Mission and Silver. Also, five of the homicides occurred at once at the Howth Street murders back in March. There have been 6 homicides in the Sunnydale, all within a few blocks of each other and within a period of 2.5 months; perhaps gang-related. Interesting to note that over the last 10 years 94% of SF homicide victims, 95% of homicide suspects, and 75% of prisoners in San Quentin are high-school dropouts. Future Grads program involves Chief talking to 8th graders about this.

Gang activity: There have been several recent incidents involving gangs in the Lakeview and Sunnydale. To manage conflict, police try to present a high profile, especially in border areas between police districts and gang areas. They use single motorcycle officers, groups of motorcycles that can go off-road/ride on trails (called “the Hondas” though now actually Kawasakis), the Gang Task Force, Violence Reduction Team, regular Ingleside patrol officers, the Ingleside Housing Unit, and the Ingleside FRET Operation.

A serious beating incident at Balboa HS focused attention and police presence there (School Resource Officers). It seemed that it was instigated by teenagers who did not attend Balboa but who stopped there on their bus route to school.

Domestic Violence: General incidents and arrests have decreased, but there’s been an increase in domestic violence. DV is hard to track, since in often happens in the home and is therefore not visible. Police will try to identify and track repeat offenders.

Robberies: There’s been an increase in the use of pepper spray to commit robberies. (Pepper spray is for sale over the counter; dog and bear repellant are also used.) One perp was a 13-year-old boy. In another incident, the license plate was reported and police located the car in the Lowes parking lot. The three women in the car still had pepper spray.

Burglaries and hot prowls have increased this past year. Recently there have been several daytime burglaries. Here’s how they do it: Burglar knocks on door. If you answer, they ask for a specific person, then leave when told that person doesn’t live there. Next they go up the street and try another house. If no one answers, they go back to their car, wait and watch till they’re sure no one’s home, then return to break down the door. So if you’re home and someone knocks, you should answer, even if you don’t open the door. If you don’t respond at all, a burglar will think your house is empty and break in. If you see someone knocking on doors, call the police (553-0123) and ask them to come by and check – provide a description of the person or a car license number. If thieves are kicking the door or climbing over a fence into a back yard, call 911. The police have gotten some DNA evidence on one or more of the burglars – there have been a couple of arrests, and they also think one person knows they’re being watched. There has been a corresponding big drop in activity.

As an aside, the penalties for a hot prowl (burglary that occurs when a resident is home) are much stiffer than for a burglary where no one is home.

A series of robberies in the Glen Park commercial area have decreased. Police put out a flyer reminding neighbors that daylight savings makes evening commute darker, and have arrested a few thieves. They are mainly interested in cell phones and other electronics. To avoid getting mugged, the captain’s motto is “If you don’t need it, don’t bring it” – ie, don’t take every one of your credit cards with you if you’re just stepping out to pay cash for a latte.

The Glen Park commercial strip had also suffered some vandalism recently – no arrests, but the activity seems to have stopped for now. In other news, drunk people make terrible witnesses. Criminals know this and target drunk people leaving bars.

The Sunnydale has seen a series of burglaries involving vacant homes. The thief breaks into a vacant house and then tunnels into the adjacent, occupied house.

SFPD is now using Leads Online, an investigative database that permits shoppers to register their electronic purchases. Police can then search for stolen property sent to pawn shops or offered for sale on eBay.

You can also check Craigslist for your stolen items, then call the police if you spot them.

ALERT the Auxillary Law Enforcement Response Team: This is a newly launched volunteer police program. During an emergency or disaster, volunteers will do well-being checks, traffic patrol, work phone lines, or be dispatchers. To participate, volunteers must pass both NERT and ALERT training courses, and can serve as both a NERT and an ALERT volunteer at the same time (ie, after a disaster). Former Ingleside Captain Lazar is overseeing this initiative. For more information on the San Francisco Police Department ALERT Program, email at, or call Program Coordinator Sergeant Mark Hernandez (SFPD, Ret.), at (415) 832-8419.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

Neighbor Offers Ten Reasons Why New Muni Bus Stop on Crescent Really Sucks

The SFMTA plans to relocate a bus stop on Crescent at Anderson, and Neighbor Ryon feels under-consulted. He writes:

Two weeks ago the MTA put up a sign to announce that the 23 line bus stop would move to a new location on Nov. 14, right in front of our house. Last week they came and painted in a coach stop sign (in the rain). Here are ten reasons why this sucks:

  1. There is a bus stop one block away and another two blocks down.
  2. There was no bus stop here when we bought our house in 2007.
  3. I wonder what our home value just dropped to; a new low no doubt, 80’s figures I imagine
  4. My small children and family are now subjected to strangers loitering around feet from our doorstep
  5. Our gate area and/or tree will no doubt become a trash receptacle
  6. People are staring at me when I look out the window
  7. Cool new sounds of busses idling noisily outside at night
  8. We just celebrated how great our block will be, only to have this nuisance kill our hope like a baby harp seal. Two doors down, Nassers Market has recently been transformed from a dangerous drug operation regularly raided by S.W.A.T. at which the former owner had been assassinated by local gang members facing robbery charges. So we are a little sensitive, yes.
  9. Our children are small and vulnerable, just thought I would mention this again.
  10. We don’t need this crap.

I promptly lodged a complaint (reference number 1659943) through 311. They were sympathetic and said they would lodge the complaint for me and would even ask the MTA to discuss it with me over the phone. Of course, that never happened.

You can probably guess neither we nor our neighbors were consulted about this, and you might also guess how far the obvious, “well we posted it for a whole week” argument would fly with us. In fact the man who put up the sign was intercepted by my mother-in-law who mentioned to him that there would be complaints to which he replied, “Oh yes, we are expecting them.” The problem is we don’t really know the right channels to go through to reverse this small tragedy. Any help and advice from the Bernal community would be greatly appreciated.

PHOTO: Neighbor Ryon