Reminder: Please Do NOT Feed the Bernal Hill Coyote

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This week Neighbor Rachel noticed that someone has been leaving dog food out for our coyote neighbor who lives around Bernal Hill.

We saw the coyote eating the dog food. It was on the southern side of the hill. I was in my car watching, and a runner came by and we both watched him eat. Argh!

Photo evidence:

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Argh, indeed. That’s not good.

Please take a moment to re-read the comprehensive Guide to Sharing Bernal Hill With Our Coyote, where you find this admonition:

Please don’t feed the Bernal coyote. Feeding breaks down the barrier that keeps coyotes wild. If they become food-conditioned — which is different from “habituation” — big problems can develop, including approaching people, which increases the chances for negative incidents to occur. Feeding coyotes also encourages them to hang around yards, where people don’t want them.

To feed the coyote is to create additional risk for the coyote and increase the chances that our co-habitation of shared urban spaces will end badly. Please, please, do not feed the Bernal coyote.

PHOTOS: Photos, and photo annotations, courtesy of Neighbor Rachel

Supervisor Campos Announces Support for Permanent Alex Nieto Memorial on Bernal Hill

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On Tuesday Supervisor David Campos announced his support for an effort to install a permanent, City-funded memorial to Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill. However, Bernal Heights neighborhood groups say they have not been informed about the proposal.

Alex Nieto was a 28 year-old Bernal neighbor who died in an officer-involved shooting in March 2014. The San Francisco District Attorney’s investigation of the incident determined Nieto had a history of clinical psychosis and behavioral problems, alleging that he pointed a pistol-shaped taser at police officers who approached him after receiving reports of an armed man acting erratically on Bernal Hill. During a subsequent wrongful death suit initated by the Nieto family, a jury ruled that the SFPD officers involved in the incident had not used excessive force.  Friends of Alex Nieto maintain his death was a byproduct of gentrification.

Alex’s parents,  Cortland Avenue residents Elvira and Refugio Nieto, appeared before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to request that the City establish a memorial to Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill. An event announcement posted on Facebook described the effort:

A resolution to establish a permanent memorial in honor of Alex Nieto, unlawfully killed by the San Francisco Police Department.

Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos will be sponsoring this noble resolution.

Press conference at the front steps of San Francisco City Hall at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 13, 2016. Board of Supervisors meeting to follow immediately. Bring your friends and family and arrive early for the lowrider caravan of justice and the danzante blessing.

WHY AN ALEX NIETO MEMORIAL?

In order to honor Alex Nieto, a permanent memorial will be established at Bernal Hill Park, the place where he was unlawfully killed by the SFPD.

Through no fault of his own, Alex Nieto, a 28 year old full-time student and security guard who had never been arrested in his life, was shot at fifty nine times and killed by SFPD officers. Even though there were many witnesses that claimed Alex had done nothing wrong and was just peacefully eating his burrito, the San Francisco District Attorney did not pursue criminal charges against officers. Then in a sham of a civil trial, the killers were released of liability by a mostly white jury that was comprised of no Latinos or African-Americans.

After Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Campos confirmed his intention to establish a City-sponsored memorial to Alex Nieto:

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Bernalwood is unaware of any public meetings that have been or will be held in Bernal Heights to consider the idea of a permanent memorial on Bernal Hill. Bernalwood also reached out to leaders of several Bernal Heights neighborhood groups, and none were familiar with the proposal. One Bernal Heights community organizer said, “No, we weren’t consulted about this, but this is the kind of thing we normally expect to be notified about.”

According to the Justice For Alex’s group’s summary of Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting:

About a dozen supporters supported the Nietos by asking the Supervisors to recognize that harm had been done to the Nieto Family and the Latino community; that altars carried cultural significance to the Latino community; that the request for a permanent and protected altar and memorial was a most basic act of restoration; that Alex’s death was tied to gentrification policies of the City that allow newcomers to arrive in droves to the Mission without understanding the cultural differences and their privileges in the communities of color they come to displace and inhabit.

Justice For Alex says Supervisor Campos committed to support an ordinance that would mandate the installation of a permanent memorial to Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill. The group says the ordinance will be introduced by D11 Supervisor John Avalos at an upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting, within the next two weeks.

See all of Bernalwood’s previous coverage of Alex Nieto.

PHOTO: Top, ad hoc Alex Nieto memorial on Bernal Hill, September 14, 2016, by Telstar Logistics

Fiesta On the Hill Cancelled as Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center Struggles With Change

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This story was reported by David Young and edited by Todd Lappin

For as long as many can remember, Fiesta on the Hill has been a Bernal Heights tradition. Organized each year by the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center (BHNC), Fiesta on the Hill is a time when Cortland Avenue shuts down to traffic to play host to a sprawling street party that fills Bernal’s main street with a colorful cross-section of neighbors, families, bands, merchants, food stalls, community organizations, and kiddie rides. Fiesta usually happens in October. But this year, it’s been canceled.

“Fiesta on the HIll was our annual fundraiser, but for the past several years the organization has actually paid out more to put it on instead of it being a fundraiser,” says Gina Dacus, BNHC’s new executive director, “Where we are as an organization is, we have to really be cognizant of our finances.”

The cancellation of Fiesta isn’t the only sign that BHNC is rethinking its priorities. Last year, BHNC executive director Rachel Ebora left the organization abruptly. This year, BHNC shuttered Gifts on the Hill, the thrift shop it operated from a BHNC-owned storefront next door to the organization’s headquarters on Cortland. Most worrisome of all, when the devastating Cole Hardware fire ripped through four buildings at the foot of Bernal Hill on June 18, BHNC was conspicuously absent from efforts to organize assistance for the fire victims — even though the fire took place across the street from Coleridge Park Homes, the BHNC-operated affordable-housing facility on Mission Street above the Big Lots store. The fire left 56 Bernal residents homeless and facing an uncertain future, until activist Edwin Lindo, the Mission-based Mission Economic Development Agency, and an ad hoc group of Bernal neighbors stepped into fill the void by organizing fundraising drives that raised $140,000 for the fire victims. (Lindo is a BHNC board member, but his fundraising effort was undertaken independently.)

Together, such incidents and absences fuel the perception that the BHNC has become a diminished organization. “Basically, what happened is that BHNC got stale,” says Buck Bagot, a longtime Bernal activist and original co-founder of BHNC during the late 1970s.

Though few are willing to comment publicly, some observers point to systemic mismanagement as root cause of BHNC’s woes, while others claim the Center failed to keep up with the times. Cortland merchants say BHNC has become disorganized and aloof. Left-leaning activists point to the gentrification of Bernal Heights as proof that BHNC’s has failed to fulfill its core mission to “preserve and enhance the ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity of Bernal Heights.” Newer Bernal residents say BHNC’s political agenda is part of the problem, as BHNC uses its resources and connections to oppose the construction of new housing in Bernal Heights.

Undeniably, however, BHNC’s most urgent concern right now is to get its finances in order. Since the Great Recession, BHNC has struggled as revenues plunged 43% between 2008 and 2014:

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As funding sources shriveled, BHNC was slow to reduce expenses, and the result was a  series of painful years during which the organization operated deep in the red.  In 2009 alone, BHNC recorded a massive net loss of $383,000 due, in large part, to a sharp decrease in contributions and grants. The steep losses continued until 2014, the most recent year for which filings are available, when BHNC managed to eke out positive net revenue of $555:

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In September 2015, the San Francisco City Controller placed BHNC on a list of nonprofit contractors receiving City funds that do not meet the City’s financial monitoring standards. With 16 such findings, BHNC ranked third on the list of noncompliant organizations, which Controller’s office says “can signal potential instability in the organizational and financial health of a nonprofit – and ultimately an organization’s ability to provide effective and sustainable services to residents in need.”

Originally called the Bernal Heights Community Foundation, BHNC was founded in 1978, at a time when some Bernal residents sought to combat City Hall neglect, market-rate housing construction, and an influx of new residents moving to Bernal to take advantage of cheap rents and inexpensive homes. In the 1980s, the BHNC began working with at-risk teens and collaborating with St. Kevin’s Church to provide services to local seniors. In the 1990s, the BHNC spread beyond Bernal by launching community-service programs in Bayview/Hunters Point, the Mission, and Visitacion Valley.

Today, BHNC operates 15 publicly subsidized-affordable housing developments throughout the City, including the Bernal Gateway apartments on Mission at Cesar Chavez, the Market Heights apartments adjacent to the Alemany Flea Market, and the Coleridge Park Homes above the Big Lots on Mission. All told, BHNC manages 369 units that provide homes to 600 low-income seniors, adults, and youth.

Along the way, the BHNC has also been a key player in Bernal’s own brand of left-wing politics, and political action has always been an integral part of the neighborhood center’s agenda. The Bernal Heights Democratic Club, which still meets regularly in BHNC’s community room, was first established in the early 1980s by BHNC co-founder Buck Bagot. Over the years, many BHNC board members and staff have left the organization to work directly in politics.  In 2011 Joseph Smooke, who was BHNC’s executive director at the time, quit to pursue opportunities in the offices of supervisors Eric Mar and David Campos. Edwin Lindo, the former Frisco Five hunger striker and D9 Supervisoral candidate (and Cole Hardwire fire fundraiser), remains a member of the BHNC board of directors. Recent BHNC board member Sheila Chung Hagen now works as a legislative aide Supervisor David Campos’s office, and the ties between Supervisor Campos’s office and BHNC remain close.

In previous decades, this mix of community engagement and political connections helped BHNC win lucrative grants and public funds. A decade ago, BHNC established youth scholarship programs and completed two then-new affordable housing projects: the Crocker Amazon Senior Apartments and the Excelsior Teen Center. In 2006, BHNC reported that its membership had topped 1,000 — a 13 percent increase over the previous year — as the organization’s total revenues hovered at $200,000. At the time, BHNC published also published its own print newspaper, The New Bernal Journal.

Then came the Great Recession of 2008. The intense downturn transformed the economic landscape for nonprofit community organizations throughout San Francisco, and BHNC was caught flat-footed. 2008 was also the year Rachel Ebora began working with BHNC. Ebora started with BHNC as a community development coordinator, before becoming director of community engagement. In 2011, when Joseph Smooke gave up his post as BHNC’s executive director to pursue opportunities in City Hall, BHNC’s board chose Ebora as his replacement.

Critics say Ebora was chosen largely because of her political credentials, but BHNC’s finances didn’t recover after she became executive director — even as the overall economy began to improve and San Francisco entered a period of rapid growth. According to IRS filings, in Ebora’s first year, total grants and contributions fell by 20 percent.

Year after year of red ink explains many of BHNC’s recent cost-cutting moves. In 2014, the New Bernal Journal, which the BHNC had published since 1987, ceased publication. By 2011, the Center’s subsidized-affordable housing development projects had stopped altogether, beginning the longest period of inactivity since BHNC was founded. IRS filings reveal that BHNC also slashed salaries and compensation, which fell from a high of $1.8 million in 2009 to $1.2 million in 2014.

As the losses continued, Ebora left with little explanation in July 2015. Gina Dacus, BHNC’s director of operations at the time, was chosen by the board to serve as interim executive director. Throughout the second half of 2015, rumors swirled that BHNC was having a hard time finding candidates with both the managerial skills required to turn the organization around and the political alignment needed to win over BHNC’s board. (Dacus’s interim executive director position became permanent in July 2016.)

Staff turnover hasn’t been confined to the executive director position. In 2014, after a brief tenure as the director of membership and development, Adam Kinsey quit, leaving BHNC with no full-time staff dedicated to fundraising. According to executive director Dacus, BHNC’s board has hired a part-time grant writer to pursue more private funding. In addition, several board members are writing grants and assisting in renewed fundraising efforts. This year, Julia Bennett also left BHNC’s board of directors. Bennett had been seen as a reformer who wanted to bring more professionalism and financial discipline to BHNC’s operations, yet after her departure she was replaced on the board by Barbara Bagot-Lopez, a veteran activist, retired UCSF administrator, and sister of BHNC co-founder Buck Bagot.

Dacus acknowledges that BHNC is trying to rebuild. “We’ve reached huge milestones in terms of our recovery process. We feel more comfortable about the sustainability of the organization.”

Still, other remain keenly aware of the challenges ahead. “I feel like, around the time that Rachel came in, the organization began to recede,” says Buck Bagot, who served as the BHNC’s executive director from 1978 to 1982, and has remained an active member and community organizer ever since. “The board became a little distant. And Rachel, in these tough times, didn’t address the tough times as well as I wish she would have. You have to keep revitalizing.”

Buck Bagot considers BHNC’s financial problems to be more of a symptom than a cause of BHNC’s difficulties. The bigger issue, he says, is that BHNC hasn’t listened to the changing needs of the community. “You can never coast, you can never stand pat,” he says. “It’s very hard to get funding these days. I’m not saying the Neighborhood Center doesn’t deserve its funding, but if you aren’t a vibrant, active organization, continually trying to tap into your community and find out what they need and do what they need with them…” Bagot trailed off, shaking his head.

Dacus, meanwhile, insists BHNC still serves Bernal Heights and its surrounding neighborhoods. “Our community looks a lot different, but we’re still meeting challenges,” she says. “Neighbors who can no longer afford to live here still find ways to come to our senior program. We still feed 350 families in the Excelsior every week. We have over 400 families living in our properties that we currently have in our portfolio.”

She also cites a string of other BHNC projects that are underway, such as a youth leadership program that provides additional career services, and expanded senior services that include a health and wellness program.

Yet in the midst of an ongoing housing shortage, and after several years of financial struggle, some Bernal residents wonder whether this is enough. For them, what is at stake is not just a organization with deep ties to Bernal Heights, but the vibrancy of the neighborhood itself. They want a Center that will not only support the basic requirements of the community, but will be a vital force in the community, as it was during its early years.

To do that, BHNC will first have to address some important questions regarding its structure, management, and funding. Dacus acknowledges this. “We’re looking to expand our community development,” she says. “That’s an initiative that we have for 2016, because this is really teaching us the importance of pulling neighbors into all the changes that are happening in the community.”

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

Neighbors Rejoice as Safety Streetlight (Finally) Installed at Coleridge Mini-Park

It took a lot of emails, a ton of phone calls, a bunch of meetings, and a lot of nagging, but a group of very persistent Bernal Heights Neighbors  finally managed to get a streetlight installed next to the lovely Coleridge Mini-Park. Their hope has been that a streetlight would help deter the nighttime carousing and petty crime that’s been a persistent problem for the park’s neighbors — and so far that seems to be working out as planned.

Neighbor Valerie writes:

A quick update on the status of the Coleridge Mini Park.

We had tried for years to get improved lighting in the park to help deter the drug dealers/users, parties and occasional overnight guests that hung out there. We, and our neighbors, were literally calling the cops to come out and check on things at least several times per week.

However, last spring, our efforts finally paid off. With a lot of assistance from Josh Arce [D9 Supervisor candidate] and Carolyn Goossen [Supervisor David Campos’s legislative aide], the right people at the City were finally corralled and a new light was installed in June.

Since that time, I don’t think there have been any issues that have required police intervention — we’d actually be curious to know if it’s possible to run a report on the number of time the SFPD had to come out to check on things in the park over the same time period over the past two years. I’d be shocked if it hasn’t dropped dramatically.

As you can see, the park is now well-lit and the Parks Dept comes out at least once a week to maintain it (Seriously – a huge shoutout to Rec and Park – they really do a great job keeping it clean!)

The new light really has made a big difference our the quality of life here on Coleridge St.

Nice work, persistent neighbors!

PHOTO: Neighbor Valerie

Action! The 2016 Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema Starts on Cortland TONIGHT

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It’s that red carpet time of year, Citizens of Bernalwood. The 2016 Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema festival gets underway TONIGHT!

Yes, it’s the time of year when the streets of Bernal Heights are paved with red carpets, as celebrities jet in to see and be seen during the world-famous Bernal Heights Outdoor Film Festival.

Check out the complete 2016 BHOC schedule for details, but here’s an overview of the events:

Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema announces its 2016 schedule of short films and videos for four nights of free screenings in a wide array of indoor and outdoor settings. The line-up features a broad selection of mini-docs, narratives, animation and comedy produced by established, emerging and young filmmakers. Live music kicks off most evenings with performances by local musicians. Here’s the 2016 Schedule:

Friday, 9/9, 7:00 pm., Film Crawl on Cortland Avenue
from Bennington to Ellsworth Street:

  • Progressive Grounds, 400 Cortland, films at 7:00, 8:00, and 9:00 pm
  • Bernal Star 410 Cortland, films at 8:00 and 9:00 pm
  • Kingman Young Photography, 416 Cortland, films at 7:00, 8:00, and 9:00 pm
  • Bernal Public Library, 500 Cortland, films at 7:00 and 8:00pm
  • Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center, 515 Cortland, films at 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00 pm
  • Inclusions Gallery, 627 Cortland, films at 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00 pm

Check the schedule for details on the films in Friday’s lineup

Saturday, 9/10, 6:30 pm: Under the Stars. Precita Park
Folsom Street and Precita Avenue. Music by Latin HEAT. Here’s the Saturday film lineup

Thursday, 9/29, 7:00 pm: Best of Bernal. Bernal Branch Library
500 Cortland Avenue. Music TBA, with encore screening of the three award-winning films: Best of Bernal, Spirit of Bernal, and Good Life Audience awards

For more information, visit bhoutdoorcine.org.

All venues are FREE. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Audience members are encouraged to bring blankets, low-back lawn chairs and warm clothing for outdoor venues.

Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema gratefully acknowledges its sponsors: Zephyr Real Estate-Noe Valley, San Francisco Arts Commission, Architect Mason Kirby, Good Life Grocery, Keller Williams Realty, Paragon Real Estate Group, Vanguard Properties, Fit Local Fit, PSAV Presentation Services.

PHOTO: Top, BHOC in Precita Park, 2013, by Telstar Logistics

Saturday: Rock the Guac at the 5th Annual Guacamole Competition!

2015 Guac-Off Champion Elle "Monster Guac" Garcia clutches her victory trophy

2015 Champion Elle “Monster Guac” Garcia clutches the coveted Guacamole Glory Trophy

It’s that very special time of year for guacamole fans in Bernal Heights.

Once again, the annual Guac-Off guacamole competition is coming this weekend. It’s free, and it’s happening on Saturday, September 10 beginning a 1 pm at the glamorous Farmhouse Mansion, at 3340 Folsom near the top of the hill at Ripley.  That means if you you want to compete, there are a few days remaining for you to beg your abuela for her secret recipe.

Here are all the guactastic details, courtesy of guacMC Luke:

Look, 2016 is a complicated time, but in a complicated world eating guacamole with your friends and neighbors is the best of all simple pleasures. As the saying goes, San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality, so for one delightfully warm Indian Summer afternoon we invite you to forget all the complications of 2016 and bask in the fact that you are not surrounded by reality, you are surrounded by avocados. Lots of avocados.

So join us on Saturday, September 10th, 2016 at 1pm at The Farmhouse Mansion for the 5th Annual Indian Summer Guac-off!

  1. Your guacamole must use at least 7 avocados.
  2. If you don’t bring a guacamole, you’re encouraged to bring beer.
  3. No matter what you decide to bring, bring your friends!
  4. We’ll provide the chips, the Guacamole Glory Trophy, and the mystery prizes.

If you’re thinking about coming we’d love for you to check out guacamole.expert (our new site!) and take 15 seconds (seriously, that’s all it takes) to fill out our totally non-committal sign-up form so we can know how many pounds of chips we need to buy.

If you’re reading this it means you understand the sacred power and magic of spending a warm afternoon with friends, neighbors, cute babies, cuter dogs and maybe even the mailman. It means that you know the delight of being shaded by lush trees in the garden of a large mansion while being surrounded by whimsical interpretations of the holy avocado.

So use this information carefully — and by use it carefully we mean tell anyone you’d like.

Guacamolingly,
Chris, Luke & Josh

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Ingleside SFPD Officers Issued New Body Cameras

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Yesterday, officers from the San Francisco Police Department’s Ingleside Station — the precinct that covers Bernal Heights — were issued wearable body-cameras for the first time.  The hope is that body cameras will help improve police accountability by providing additional information about what happens during interactions between SFPD officers and members of the public.

Vivian Ho from the San Francisco Chronicle was at Ingleside Station as the body cameras were distributed. She reports:

On Thursday, instructors from Taser International, the company that produces the Axon cameras, passed out the small, black squares that will be clipped on the chests of officers, sergeants and lieutenants. The officers eyed them warily.

Officer Kyle Wren, one of about 60 officers and sergeants who volunteered to receive the device early and assist in training, said initial hesitation is normal.

“My first week having it, you’re just aware you’re being recorded all the time,” he said. “I’ve already been used to being recorded on cell phones, but it’s on the whole time and you’re just a little bit self-conscious at first. I would say after a week on patrol, using it all the time, I got very used to it.”

Officers must double-tap the device to activate it, but like a DVR it’s always recording, so it can catch the 30 seconds before the officer turns it on, only without audio.

The camera policy, passed by the Police Commission in June, set rules for when officers must activate their devices — essentially for all public interactions except for strip searches and those involving sexual assault and child-abuse victims and confidential informants.

“The wave of the future is already here,” said Ingleside Station Capt. Joseph McFadden. “Most of the video we get is from private citizens’ cameras, but now you have the officers with body cameras on and that’s going to be able to tell the real story about exactly what went on and what the officers’ point of view was.”

IMAGE: Axon body camera photo illustration by Bernalwood