Civil Trial in Death of Bernal Resident Alex Nieto Gets Underway in Federal Court


Two years after Bernal neighbor Alex Nieto was killed in an SFPD officer-involved shooting on Bernal Hill, the Nieto family’s civil trial against the officers who participated in the incident got underway yesterday in a Federal courtroom.

The San Francisco Examiner covered the opening day of the trial:

The trial that will either convince jurors that Nieto was pointing a stun gun at officers when he was shot, as police claim, or that he had his hands in his pockets as he walked down Bernal Hill, as Nieto’s family contends.

Deputy City Attorney Margaret Baumgartner, who is representing the officers involved, aims to prove the former.

“They kept shooting at the man with the gun because he kept aiming at them,” Baumgartner told jurors during her opening statement. “It was only after they kicked the gun out of those man’s hands that they realized that gun was a Taser.”

Baumgartner said The City has physical evidence, including records from the internal clock inside Nieto’s stun gun which logged the weapon’s trigger as being pulled three times during the same time that the officers opened fire, to prove that the officers used reasonable force.

But Adante Pointer, an attorney for the Nieto family, told jurors they will hear testimony from a witness who saw Nieto with his hands down when officers Jason Sawyer, Roger Morse, Richard Schiff and Nathan Chew shot at him 59 times.

While Antonio Theodore, the witness, described Nieto as walking “pretty cool and casual” toward officers in a deposition, taken about a year and a half after Nieto’s death, Baumgartner on Tuesday said that Nieto was “marching purposefully toward them on this clear open road.”

Baumgartner also emphasized to jurors that the officers shot Nieto because they feared for their lives and were responding to an emergency call of a man with a gun.

Bernalwood has covered the Alex Nieto case closely since he was shot and killed on March 21, 2014. (You can review the complete archive of coverage here.)

We attended the tense community meeting where SFPD Chief Suhr revealed that Nieto’s taser was shaped like a handgun. We criticized the slow pace of the official investigation, as well as the unconscionable vandalism of the memorial Nieto’s family and friends created for him on Bernal Hill, and we’ve tried to describe the unimaginable anguish and heartbreak Nieto’s parents must endure since their son was taken from them.

The sad reality, however, is that without video evidence, we may never know what really happened on Bernal Hill that night. Both the SFPD and the Nieto family have strong incentives to spin the facts. While the SFPD and DA’s version of events should be approached with suspicion, it will be interesting to see how credible the Nieto family’s new witnesses are, and if they add to our understanding of what happened that night. The San Francisco district attorney’s must-read final report on the incident tells a coherent story about how the tragedy unfolded, while the family’s version of event routinely omits facts which suggest that Nieto was experiencing psychological difficulties and violent outbursts at the time. That said, it’s also not hard to imagine how the addition of just a few new facts might flip the balance of evidence in the Nieto family’s favor.

Bernalwood 2015: The Year in Superlatives


It’s the last few hours of December 2015, so let’s take a moment to review some of The Most Mostest Moments that happened in Bernal Heights this year.

Most Iconic Celebration of Marriage Equality

Marriage Equality0016

On the morning when the Supreme Court established marriage equality as the law of the land in all 50 states, Neighbor Valerie shared this magnificent photo taken atop Bernal Hill. “Love always wins,” Valerie said — and she’s so right. (June)


Most Amazing Ad Hoc Effort to Restore a Doomed Bernal Treasure


There was great sadness when we learned that the City planned to demolish the structures at the historically symbolic Esmeralda Slide Park because decay had rendered them structurally unsound. Luckily for all of us, however, Neighbors Nancy and Joan joined forces to sound the alarm, energize the City’s dense bureaucracy, and rally volunteers to restore the Slide Park and make it better than ever. Bonus Prize: In September their heroic efforts were recognized with a San Francisco Beautiful Award. (June to September)


Most Mind-Blowing Bernal Rainbow Alert in the History of Bernal Rainbow Alerts


Rainbow sightings in Bernal Heights are a blessedly common occurrence, but the Rainbow Alert that happened on the morning of Feb. 27, 2015 so uncommonly vivid and exceptionally euphoric that even the double rainbows had double rainbows.  Afterward, it took several weeks for the Citizens of Bernalwood to clean up all the unicorn glitter left behind by the prismatic barrage.


Most Inspiring Reminder That Life Is Best Lived Large


Neighbor Bernice Van Eckhardt from Cortland (at Elsie) died in January at age 99. By the time she moved to Bernal in 1972,  she’d already enjoyed several enviable decades in 20th century San Francisco — including several years spent living in a  bohemian penthouse atop the Phelan Building downtown. As we wrote in her obituary, Bernice “was clearly an expert at the fine art of living, and her decision to settle down in a Bernal Heights farm house was just the final chapter in a lifetime spent living well.”


Most Unsettling Story That Only Gets More Unsettling With the Passage of Time


In June,  San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced that the four SFPD officers involved in the March, 2014 shooting death of Cortland resident Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill would not face criminal charges as a result of the incident. There is evidence to suggest that Nieto’s behavior that evening was highly erratic and possibly violent, but nevertheless; Given everything we’ve  learned about the conduct of police in situations that result in the death of people of color — in San Francisco and elsewhere — it’s tragic that we may never know what really happened when the SFPD encountered Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill.


Most Overdue Introduction to a Bernal Institution That’s Been Here for 60 Years


Our local Mosque, The Islamic Center of San Francisco (ICSF), has  been on the corner of Crescent and Andover since 1959, but it maintains a very low-profile.  That changed this year, after Bernalwood interviewed Bernal native and lifelong attendee Zishan Safdar to introduce Bernal neighbors to our local mosque. The outpouring of welcome and neighborly cheer that resulted from the post culminated in the mosque’s first-ever Open House for the Bernal community. (September and November)


Most Depressing Discovery About the Long Lines at Our Local Safeway


The ridiculously long checkout lines at our local Safeway on Mission Street are a frequent source of complaint, but the saddest thing of all was the grim discovery that Bernal neighbors were complaining about the long lines at our local Safeway as far back as 1972. As a Bernal Journal writer wrote back then:

I am still mad – for me, and everyone around here who continually has this frustrating time waste wait at our store. The faces in the lines seem to say, “it’s always been like this; we’ve ALWAYS had to wait.”



Best Reminder That There Was Life Before the Long Lines at Our Local Safeway


Since the line situation at our local Safeway is probably hopeless, it’s soothing to visualize the scene from an earlier time, before our local Safeway was even an idea. This 1904 photo taken on Virginia looking toward Mission contains so many vivid details that you can spend lots of time exploring it — say, on your mobile phone, while waiting on line at our local Safeway. (April)


Most Over-Passionate Way to Demonstrate That Bernal Heights Is for Lovers 


They were young, and they were in love, and they were determined to consummate their affections. That’s what the SFPD learned after arresting two not-so-bright lovers who smashed through the gate on Bernal Hill to drive their car up the access road near Sutrito Tower. The summary of the incident in the SFPD crime newsletter was delightfully deadpan-hilarious. (March)


Highest-Profile Way to Turn a Local Family Feud Into a Citywide Media Spectacle


A citywide media frenzy ensued when Neighbor Deb Follingstad was given notice that the rent for her Bocana apartment was being hiked from $2145 to $8900 a month— a cruel 315% increase. But the story of real estate woe morphed into a tale of sibling pathos when KQED reporter Dan Brekke revealed that the rent increase could be traced to a long-simmering feud within the Lama family over how to divide the estate they inherited after their father passed away. (March)


Most Promising Movie By Bernal Heights Filmmakers That We Haven’t Seen Yet


Bernal filmmakers Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails first made a splash when the teaser for their film, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” won the “Best of Bernal” award at the 2014 Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema festival. In 2015 the duo focused on raising funds to turn the idea into a feature-length film, and they got off to a great start by crushing their Kickstarter goal in May and garnering plenty of national media attention along the way. Our fantasy: A gala opening night screening of “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” at the restored New Mission Theater, sometime soon. (May)


Hottest New Restaurant Opening of the Year in Bernal Heights


When we first learned that the new Old Bus Tavern on Mission near Valencia would serve house-made beer and chili, the concept sounded like standard-issue brewpub fare.  How wrong we were. Instead, founders Jimmy Simpson, John Zirinsky and Bennett Buchanan serve modern, sophisticated Southwestern cuisine that garnered rave reviews from the Michael Bauer, among many others. Added Bonus: Thrillist just named the Old Bus Tavern San Francisco’s Best New Opening of 2015,  lamenting that “the only thing we don’t like about [Old Bus Tavern] is that we don’t live right next door.” Lucky us; we do.


Funniest Indication that Bernal Heights Real Estate Has Become Completely Absurd


It was a telling reflection of our ridiculous real estate market that the video created to sell 52 Mirabel was a comedy that featured Mercedez Munro and Katya Smirnoff-Skyy — two glamorous San Francisco drag queens — serving as tour guides. But darling, who are we to judge?


Most Boneheaded Way to Address Our Housing Crisis


San Francisco faces a chronic housing shortage because we haven’t been building nearly enough new homes to accommodate our growing population. Nevertheless, D9 Supervisor David Campos spent much of 2015 trying to outlaw the construction of market-rate housing — first in the Board of Supervisors, and then with a ballot initiative called Proposition I. Both efforts failed, which was a big victory for common sense, but a big waste of time and energy for everyone else who seeks real solutions to San Francisco’s housing crisis.


Most Unexpected Indication That The Times, They Are A-Changin’


It’s hard to say if the November 2015 election results in Bernal Heights reflected the crudeness of the propositions on offer, or Bernal’s changing demographics, or some combination of both. Nevertheless, when the votes were tallied, Prop F (the anti-Airbnb initiative) and Prop I (the Mission moratorium) passed in Bernal by only very slim margins, with several Bernal precincts rejecting each. (November)


Most Unrealistic Reality TV Episode About Bernal Heights (Which Was Still Great for Our Street Cred)


In July, Bravo network’s “Million Dollar Listing San Francisco” focused on a realtor trying to sell a perfectly lovely home in South Bernal. ““We’ve got a great house in a crap neighborhood,” the realtor complained. Normally we might be inclined to take offense, but this is “reality TV” after all, so we don’t expect things to be realistic (Donald  Trump notwithstanding). Yet in a paradoxical way, Bernalwood reasoned that the high-profile dis was actually a blessing in disguise: “This week, a million Americans learned that respectable, high-achieving people want nothing whatsoever to do with Bernal Heights. Which, of course, can only mean… WE ARE FUCKING COOL AGAIN!” 


Best DIY Rescue of a Neglected Patch of City Property


When squalor overtook a neglected piece of City-owned land at the corner of  Ellsworth an Bernal Heights Boulevard, a heroic group of Bernal volunteers joined forces with DPW to clean up the mess and make the spot beautiful again. Very inspiring. (January)


Most Sociable Encounter with a Celestial Phenomenon

When a rare super “blood moon” lunar eclipse filled the night sky, several hundred neighbors gathered on Bernal Hill to laugh, oogle, peek through telescopes, and partake of the awe-inspiring celestial spectacle. The next super blood moon lunar eclipse lunar eclipse happens in 18 years, so we look forward to seeing you all again in 2033. (September)

Tonight: You’re Invited to The New Wheel’s Holiday Party


The 2015  Holiday Stroll on Cortland was wonderful (if somewhat wet), but if you missed the fun last night, you can still get a tasty taste of seasonal cheer. Tonight, Friday, Dec. 11, the fabulous New Wheel bike shop, at 420 Cortland, invites you to their glamorous, celebrity-packed Holiday Party:

We are so excited to welcome David Chiu, member of the California State Assembly, and sponsor of AB-1096 (the electric bike bill) that was successfully signed into law this year.

David will make a breif public comment at 6pm – as such we’ve moved the start time of the party forward to 5:30.

This year’s holiday party will be a chance to relax, celebrate, and eat some great food.

Don’t miss the first annual New Wheel keynote address at 7:00pm by SF electric bike champions, Brett Thurber and Karen Wiener.

This is also a chance to meet your fellow electric bike riders, The New Wheel staff and a few of our top bike and accessory suppliers.


Here’s the newfangled video invite:

PHOTO: Courtesy of The New Wheel

Tonight: Visit the Shocking Haunted Garage on Bessie Street … IF YOU DARE!


Here’s late-breaking addition for your Halloween schedule.  Once again, the spooky Haunted Garage is coming to Precitaville, and you’re welcome to visit…. if you dare. Neighbors Paul & Annelise tell us:

Hey neighbors.

It’s on again: Haunted Garage Saturday, October 31 5pm-8:30pm at 25 Bessie Street. It’s like a weird blacklight funhouse, with little kids and adults alike coming through for cheap thrills (free, to be exact). Last year we overheard “it’s like Fort Thunder!”

It’s hilarious hearing people make their way through the haunted garage: “Is that guy moving? I think there’s someone in there… you go first. No you go… there is totally someone in there. It’s gonna move when we get close…. oh shit oh shit oh shit….”

There will probably be live musical things happening inside, as well.

Our host at the front will help our guests choose the level of scariness, from 1-10, so everybody can be accommodated.


Exploding Sunset Dazzles Bernal Heights Neighbors


There have been some remarkable sunsets of late, but the one last night was a real jaw-dropper. Neighbor Dan snapped this stunning photo last night from glamorous Winfield Street.

Meanwhile, at about the same time, your Bernalwood editor was at a slightly lower altitude, crossing Cesar Chavez  just as the sky exploded. It was so intense, I stopped dead in my tracks in pure awe. Here’s an unedited, #nofilter view of the kind of landscape that makes even an AutoZone parking lot look supersexy:


PHOTOS: Top, Dan Jurafshy; below, Telstar Logistics