Archive | September, 2011

ISHI: Commemorating the Last of the Northern California Yahi Indians, a century later

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo

November, 1908: A surveyor team hired by the Oro Light and Power Company, accompanied by guide Merle Apperson traveled to Deer Creek, in the heart of Northern California’s Yana Tribes country. Assuming the country to be uninhabited, the crew went about its business with not a thought of the former occupants. Two of the group were returning to camp one day when they unwittingly stumbled upon an Indian man fishing in the creek. They hurried back to relate their tale of a “wild Indian”, but most brushed it off as nonsense. Not Merle Apperson. The following morning he led the way along Deer Creek to where he suspected there may have been a camp. The surveyors walked into the tiny village. As far as they could tell, it was inhabited by three “wild” Indians—an old man, an old sick woman, and a younger woman. The man they had seen the day before was not evident. These were Yahi Indians; the last of a nearly vanished tribe that once covered much of the northern California countryside and were part of what was once the Yana Nation of Tribes with the Yahi being the southernmost and smallest tribe of that nation. This small remnant of Yahi Indians had been hiding for years, eluding detection and capture by living in their cunningly hidden settlement like trapped animals. Their existence was depressing, with starvation, fear, illness and grief as their daily burden. The younger woman and the old man fled to hide as the intruders approached the village but the old woman could not run. She had been covered with blankets in the hope that she would not be noticed.

The men entered the hideaway and poked around, eyeing whatever goods were present. They then shook the blankets and discovered the Indian. Her mourning was obvious by her shorn hair. Her deer thong-wrapped legs were swollen and she could not walk. She was weak, sick, and in pain and she shook with fear as the strangers looked her over. An attempt was made to communicate but with no success. Incredibly, after seeing the pitiful state this woman was in, the intruders ransacked the village, taking with them everything they could carry—even the food—leaving the woman to die. According to Apperson, he alone was appalled at his companions’ actions and protested their thievery. He claims he pleaded with the others that they should at least transport the woman to their camp for care but his protests fell on deaf ears. What these men had done with such casual ease was strip four terrified, starving people of their meager possessions, including items they needed to find food. They had handed down a death sentence, with no mercy or cause to the last surviving members of a people who had once inhabited, thrived, and survived the northern California region for thousands of years. In a fateful moment brought on by the actions of callous men, the Yahi people apparently had come to an end.

After the theives departed, the Indian man seen fishing at the creek returned. No food, tools, utensils, or comforts were left. It was he and his mother— alone. The other two never returned, nor was any sign of them ever found. They were gone. Dead. Likely drowned during their escape or eaten by one of the numerous predators in the back country. Before long, even the old woman was dead and the man stood completely alone.

The lone man survived the death sentence of 1908. With no home, shelter, tools, food, or companion he somehow found a way to live. Though grieving and alone, despair never overtook this last Yahi.

Three years passed since the raid on his village and the death of his family. It had been that long since he had heard a single utterance from the lips of another Yahi. Nearly dead from starvation, and perhaps desperate for human companionship, the man made a decision. Knowing he would die if he stayed at Deer Creek, and fearing he would be killed if he left, he took a chance.He departed the Yahi world and enter the world of the aliens who had decimated his people.

On the morning of August 29, 1911, in a slaughterhouse corral, two miles from Oroville, a nearly dead “wild man” was discovered, emaciated, exhausted, frightened, and starved. The sheriff took the Indian into custody, and was baffled as to what to do next. Locked in a cell, unable to communicate with any number of Indians brought before him, the traumatized man awaited his fate at the hands of people who thought he was insane and likely dangerous.

In a carnival atmosphere the “wild man” caught the imagination and attention of thousands of onlookers and curiosity seekers. News of his discovery reached two professors of anthropology at the University of California, Alfred L. Kroeber and T. T. Waterman. Both men had an interest in the human saga being played out in Oroville for several reasons. Beyond the obvious general anthropological interest, they had been searching for the lost “wild man” that had been sited three years earlier by the surveyor crew a few miles north of Oroville—in the Deer Creek region. They wondered if this could be him.

Two days after the man’s discovery, Waterman was on a train to Oroville to assume responsibility for the “wild man” per the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs’ instructions. Kroeber and Waterman became guardians of this last Yahi. For nearly five years he lived at the university’s museum, employed as a janitor and teaching the professors whatever he was able to communicate about the Yahi people. There were no other speakers of his tongue so communication was difficult and tedious. Kroeber persevered and managed to learn and communicate in ‘conversational’ Yahi, while the man learned about life in 20th century America.

The bond that developed between Kroeber and the man was, by all accounts, a close one. They both came to depend upon one another, not only for the pursuits of study they were engaged in, but on a personal level. For the man, this relationship must have been especially precious, for he had been alone for so long. Kroeber eventually named the man “Ishi”, which is Yahi for ‘man’. Yahi tradition prevented Ishi from speaking his own name or the names of the dead.

As Ishi told the Yahi story, Kroeber became anxious to see the country he spoke of. At first, Ishi resisted, afraid to revisit the places at which he had experienced both joy and sorrow. He told Kroeber that there were no chairs, tables or beds there, and very little to eat but eventually, he agreed to go. The results of the 1914 excursion to Yahi country were invaluable. Kroeber drew maps, marking crucial sites of Ishi’s life, and recorded the place names as the Yahi knew them. There were also photographs taken of both locations and of Ishi demonstrating the Yahi methods of crafting arrow heads, arrows, bows, spears and the other tools of his daily life. Kroeber recorded the past through living history in the present for the future. It was as if he had reached back in time, pulled forth a man of another age, and asked him; “Please show me what life was like long ago.” Ishi was physically contemporary, though culturally and socially antiquated.

The tale Ishi told was grim. The Yana peoples suffered the complete loss of their lands and way of life when the Americans came during the Gold Rush. In less than thirty years the peoples who once called the region home had gone into hiding in the harsh mountains where food was scarce and the chances for survival were slim. Ishi used to refer to the time of the American arrival as “when the stars fell”. Much of his life was spent watching his people fade away like animals facing extinction.

While still a child sometime in the 1870’s, Ishi’s own father was killed in a village massacre. The boy and his mother escaped by jumping into a nearby river. The Yahi who fought to preserve their territory against unequal odds and long range rifles were slaughtered until only a remnant band of 40 or so remained. The survivors of this tiny band hid successfully for nearly forty years, undetected by the outside world. It was firmly believed, even by locals who went up into the foothills of the Lassen, that the Yahi, or “Mill Creek Indians”, were a people of the past. Gone. No record of their history, origins, culture, or language had survived until Ishi walked down from the mountains.

This remarkable man was the last repository for the culture of a people who had lived in his region for some 2000 years. The records of his beliefs and myths, ways of life and tradition and language would have vanished forever as the clean sweep of American conquest overrode the lands and native peoples and assigned them a footnote in books that described them merely as the “Mill Creek Indians” who briefly and violently resisted American expansion. If Ishi held any animosity toward the American Californians he never showed it. He seemed happy enough to find some company even among those who regarded him as a curiosity. He was painfully shy around women and soon adopted American clothing, only reluctantly posing in the skins and rags of his former days. Shoes disgusted him while a penny whistle gave him hours of childlike pleasure. However, his mind was anything but dull. Ishi was asked what he thought when shown an increasingly popular modern wonder; the airplane. He simply asked, “Is there a white man up there?” Ishi was not fazed by the novelty of the modern world.

Ishi lived the last several years of his life at the San Francisco Anthropology Museum. He made bead-work quivers, and his bows showed the greatest craftsmanship. He did this in front of an enthralled public, 3 days a week as a living exhibit there.

Ishi soon encountered health problems that became harder to overcome. Exposure to large numbers of the public and foreign pathogens that he and his people had little ability to withstand took its toll and by 1915 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which in the days before antibiotics was a death sentence. The sentence for Ishi played out on March 23, 1916 at Berkeley where he had gone to be with his friend, Kroeber. Kroeber was not there; he was trying to get funding from politicians on behalf of his friend who died before Kroeber’s return.

Ishi was autopsied at the UC Berkeley Medical School. His body was cremated ashes sent to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Colma. His brain was removed and sent to the Smithsonian Institute in 1917 by Alfred Kroeber where it stayed for over eighty years, until other Yana tribes agitated for its return. In August, 2000 Ishi’s brain made it back to his closet relations; the Redding Rancheria and Pit River Tribe. Ishi’s remains were interred at an undisclosed location and it is likely that he finally had the song of the dead sung for him.

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ISSA: “Doesn’t Need” to Represent All His Constituents

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo


As the economy sinks deeper, some people are motivated to become politically active in causes that matter to them. One of those people is Dave Peiser, who recently joined in its effort to confront mostly GOP congress members on issues that matter when it comes to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. As Peiser puts it, “We progressives believe that Republicans in general have been pursuing an agenda that destroys these “inalienable rights.”

Peiser and a Moveon group waited on Representative’s Darryl Issa in Vista on Tuesday, August 2 to protest what they believe are wrong directions that he happens to support.

The group entered the Congressman‘s office with signs proclaiming our concerns and disagreements with Republican policies and pledges. Two staff members, District Director Phil Paule and Senior Policy Advisor, John B. Franklin stood at the office entrance “and were almost cordial” in welcome. After protetors thanking Mr. Paule and Mr. Franklin for their public service, the conversation quickly turned loud and argumentative. As Peiser recalls, “Unfortunately our words to the staff were merely bouncing off them; not really being listened to as input to the congressman’s thoughts on issues. Thus, here is where the democracy lesson comes.”

A protestor reminded Franklin that Issa is in office to represent all of his constituents. At that point, Franklin let Issa’s cat out of the bag by replying that Issa “does not need to” represent all the constituents in his district. Franklin’s next line; “Issa was elected by a majority of his constituents who agree with his views and if you don’t agree, there’s an election in 2012,” summed up that Representative’s approach to both power and the public.

Going nowhere, in the usual direction of such confrontational meetings, it is hardly surprising that the protest soon broke up with nothing being accomplished; this after the usual veiled threats by staff about calling security, arrests and other expressions of naked power against individuals exercising their rights to be heard. What it says about Issa speaks volumes of the Representative’s ignorance in choosing staff with whom to interact with the public and of the Representative’s presumed views about whom he’s working for.

It is a common misconception indulged in by the dishonest and ignorant that only those who voted for a candidate matter following an election’s outcome. This idea has not found favor in the broad American history of politics for very good reason—if the concept became commonly accepted, it would bring complete anarchy to the soon-to-be destroyed system. Anyone could simply say that if they didn’t vote for an incumbent they were not bound by anything that incumbent did while in office.

It would also mean that no constituent who failed to vote for a Congress member who brought new economic benefit to his region should be able to use it, either. Didn’t support that new highway? Take the surface streets—after all, you voted against it, didn’t you?

Even a child in the third grade who had made it that far into his or her educational career by understanding how to follow rules might be expected to see the failure of that idea. It is a great and grim surprise that any staffer of any sitting Congressman should be so fantastically ignorant of basic Civics that he would say that his boss had no duty to the minority share of American citizenry from his district without first having first drunk too much gin.

Such failed concepts echo the failed ideas of a pre-Civil War Supreme Court Justice who infamously said that blacks have no rights the white man is bound to respect. A lot of changes have happened in the US since the late 1850’s and it is a mark of failure against Issa that he would tolerate anyone on his staff so backward in his knowledge of American governance and so willing to make it plain.

Never the less, the concept seems to have found growing favor among Republicans, especially since the administration of GW Bush who early in his presidency referred to his supporters as “good Americans” while ignoring others. Issa presumably follows this same idea. He did not return contacts from this newspaper prior before press time and it is perhaps likely that since its offices are not in his district he has no need to interact with anyone outside his favored circles.

We suggest to Franklin and Issa that high school was a very long time ago, and that remedial classes in American political structure are in order. No one supports anarchy and those who want a better America should be the last to champion that lost cause, even by default.

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When Cops Kill Culture

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo

ESPRESSO’ s lead story describes a conflict between the SDPD’s Vice Squad and small entertainment venues of all kinds, including the many coffeehouses inside city limits concerning the rise of fees for yearly entertainment permits. The sharp increases in yearly costs for such permits are extraordinarily high and coupled with similar permit increases for the many things a cafe’ needs to operate here, the bureaucracy-inspired gouge of small businesses is threatening to their survival. Those causing the threat intend to impose a choice on San Diegans between security or culture. What San Diegans don’t know is that those forcing the change have stacked the deck against the good guys.

When times get tight and profit is down, a common mistake made by people with no business acumen is to raise prices for what they sell. In the case of city services, regulation is what they sell and their market is captive; every business has to buy–or else. Bureaucrats take it for granted that their budgets are sacrosanct and that all businesses roll in profits so going to the goose for another golden egg to keep the wheels of bureaucracy speeding along is the natural thing to do. It’ s a good thing people who think that way have government jobs because they’ d starve in the real world, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

SDPD is one such odd-thinking entity. Its Vice Squad regulates entertainment venues and in sets the rates for entertainment permits in San Diego and its new fees for them is based on a “quote cost recovery” approach that says that businesses regulated by Vice have to cough up all the coin Vice needs for its yearly budget. Permits for entertainment are source number one for this revenue. Other sources are licenses for holistic health practitioners, second hand dealers, bars, peep shows and other businesses that might become sources for crime. Entertainment venues of all kinds are seen as by Vice as fronts for drug and gang activity. This view has been around for the last half century if not longer. Of late, Vice no longer publishes its budget. It’ s budget is whatever they say it is and since SDPD has lost its media relations person and now requires emailed questions to be sent to whomever is on the end of a phone line with the usual bureaucratic lapses in returning messages as their usual tactic, news of their budget is likely to stay secret for longer than is good for business and the customers of those venues. Those who have a passing acquaintance with medieval Italian history will recognize a Black Hand when they see one. The tactics and philosophy of paying for “service” is no different from paying for “protection” . In San Diego the practices are elegantly indirect, combined and even lawful. They’re so smooth that even the rest of media can overlook them without breaking a sweat.

At the bottom of what appears to be a mere hike in fees is a sea change in thinking by the PD on how it earns its living. Vice has changed its form from a taxpayer paid, impartial function of government to a cash hungry predator looking to its ” customers” for increased revenue. This makes real what some libertarians have long yearned for–government function paid for entirely by those who consume it. What the crackpot theory doesn’t take into account is that government—in this case the PD—can force businesses to be their captive pockets to be picked.

Small venues perform some services that often go unsung: in the case of the coffeehouses, not only do they sell the caffein that keeps the citizens going through the motions daily, but many of them also provide small stages for new performers making their way into the mainstream. San Diego’ s coffeehouses can list some stellar names among those who started here: Jim Morrison of the Doors began at the Upper Cellar for starters; Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, The Cascades, Jewel, Blink 182 and many others are some others who began in the local coffee scene and the places they play in have discovered that entertainment pays if it’ s easy, cheap and unusual. Such elements are a way to make a local culture happen and grow. Making it much harder for those small venues to provide entertainment and afford SDPD is a direct threat against the growth of culture here. Every dime that disappears into the no longer public Vice budget is a deduction from creativity, talent, good music and a more human-scale society that allows some performers to provide what they know their public wants to hear. The higher cost of entertainment fee permits isn’t just more money for the cops—it’ s theft from business and and creatives in those businesses that shape the culture. It’s the inverse of the cops’ twisted assertion that entertainment equals crime; law enforcement equals suppression of things that make a community one’s own.

This shouldn’t be tolerated. Businesses do not need to work for the PD and creatives don’t need some secret editor making their music more difficult to find. Someday, the business community that is target number one for this odious kind of thing will have to get smart enough to organize effectively and lean on politicians long enough to push back against the City. If they don’t, they’ll find what every poor schmuck finds who gets convinced to pay for “protection”— that the cost always goes up and the terms won’t just bankrupt them, but directly harm everyone around them, too.

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Art of Silence

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo

Immediately after the attack on 9/11, I had the chance to ask several influential artists in town if they would have any response to the WTC attack. None of them did. As years passed and the US invaded Iraq, established the concentration camp at Guantanamo, turned the Bill of Rights into a museum piece and went on to invade Afghanistan, those same artists—and many others like them—sat on the sidelines, mute, inert and utterly passive to world events. Not a painting, not a mural, not a graffito or even a poster issued out on the happenings of the turmoil around them.

When pressed, some said that they didn’t want to seem like they intentionally polarized issues—which is another way to say they didn’t want to become involved. In reality, few wanted to rock any boats that would turn off collectors and critics and while this is understandable from a pay-the-bills/economic reality model, it begged questions from those who wonder what talent is for and what good is it when it sits idle in the face of tumultuous times?

More recently since the Prop. 8 fiasco befell gay Californians who saw their rights stripped from them, many in the local art scene looked the other way. Though some may not be much in sympathy with gay rights it seemed jarring that the local art community offered silence instead of art as an answer to one of the most egregious examples of discrimination in California in a generation.

This inertia hasn’t stopped many in the art world from establishing themselves on their own terms in their own fields, and nowhere is it an indictment of any individual who simply does not react to current events—even as current events shape the world that may or may not support artists’ work. But it seems that so many fine artists are like lifeguards sitting on a beach, content to preen for the bathing beauties and eat fried chicken rather than keep a sharp lookout for those in distress and answer with everything they’ve got when trouble happens. It begs the question—just what are they doing with all that talent, anyway?

Is painting so dead that it cannot follow the legacy of David, who created a mythos of the French Revolution that captured the spirit of those times and explained the age to the generations that followed? Is Caravaggio so forgotten to art that no one needs to follow his powerful religious imagery that empowered the Counter Reformation even against the rise of Protestant thinking and the modern political age? Does no one care to distill the temper of these times as Remington or even Rockwell did theirs? Why not? Why are the artists on the back bench of the world and its work? Why do so many ignore their power and fail to answer the upheaval of terror, war and depression?

What is the rationalization for having talent and not using it in the contest of ideas that will shape our future?

The world has enough diversions, surely, and no one needs another Snooki, Lady Gaga, Harry Potter or other idiot du jour to take our minds off what’s going on. But it always needs art to reflect the times people live in—if for no other reason than to inspire the best in us and to remind us that it isn’t enough to merely survive; that if life is to have any meaning it must have beauty and the clarity that artists can lend it.


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“Temi Solo Dio”: The best American Response to Terror was an Italian phrase

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo

There’s an old Italian saying: Temi Solo Dio that means “I fear only God”. Italians use that phrase on anyone trying to intimidate or bully them, and saying “I fear only God” lets whomever is doing the intimidating know that his or her efforts are a failure and that the intended victim isn’t afraid of them. It’s a low-key, classy way to say “You don’t scare me,” and puts troublemakers in their place.

So it was with some swelling pride of heritage that I saw a banner hoisted over India Street in San Diego’s Little Italy on September 11, 2001 in the hours following the attack on the WTC. I thought that those who lifted that banner did exactly the right thing. They, unlike so many millions of others at every level of society had the right perspective. We were hit, but not humbled. Attacked but not broken. Sure, we had been caught by surprise and lost thousands of people in a matter of hours. And it was a direct attack on United States; the first in generations. But unlike the doomsayers in the immediate aftermath—and for too long afterward—who pointed fingers at each other and swore that the US was crippled and might be destroyed by terrorism, at least a few people in a San Diego nieghborhood issued the right kind of message to any opponent who may have been looking for a response.

“You don’t scare me,” should have been the American response to 911. We should have realized that even as bad as the attack was life went on and the country we had on September 10 was still there. We should have been smart enough to realize that our freedom wasn’t the cause of the disaster, too.

Had we been smarter—or had we leaders fit to lead, we wouldn’t have been forced to weather the dismal assault on freedom that government has inflicted on us ever since.

Americans had to adapt to a new, less free way of being; imposed by a suddenly “security” minded government that thought it wise to grope old women and children before they boarded airline flights. We made it difficult for foreign born students to continue their education here, hoping to thwart terrorists, though the box-cutter brigade that led the raid on 911 were anything but geniuses enrolled in top schools. All we got from that move was a brain drain that impeded growth in the technology we’re addicted to. We made it harder to cross the border legally with goods—and cut the heart out of billions in US – Mexican trade which has added to the impoverishment of both nations and netted not one single “terrorist” in a decade. We hobbled financial transactions and banking and slowed the economy that ultimately fed the crash we suffer from now. And worst of all, we imposed a level of fear on our people that is now a kind of norm; one of knuckling under to unelected authority and even a willingness to spy on neighbors and associates that is completely at odds with American values and individualism. Privacy is out and the odious Patriot Act is in. Americans were led astray from their heritage after a single attack. Hardly the populace of land of the free—or home of the brave.

Obviously, it takes less to scare us than some of us thought.

That legacy of 911 needs to go. We need to cure ourselves of the ten year long addiction to fear that government has run on and the second class citizenship and way of life its imposed on the American people. We need to stop attacking ourselves and each other and giving credence to the degenerate warhawks who stand to gain power and make a killing off the fear industry.

September 11 began a fiasco that we’re still paying for and that is bankrupting us. We should have learned that the United States cannot function without freedoms we’ve traditionally enjoyed—the economy and nation isn’t built to be a police state and if we impose one, we’ll wreck what its taken two and half centuries to build. The last ten years ought to be a lesson to us all that security is not only a bad trade for freedom, it breaks the bank, impoverishes the people and cripples democracy to boot.

The politics of fear have debased politics since 911, too. From rambling nutcases ranting in public about Obama being some sort of muslim/terrorist/socialist/Kenyan spy—when he’s merely incompetent, weak and clueless—to the rise of the Tea Party; nothing brings out the tinfoil hat brigade like letting fear run free. Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul all owe their unworthy rise to the wingnut fearmongers who gained ground after the WTC attack. In a less crazed decade, these candidates would be referred to the outpatient clinics where they belong.

We deserve better. And those of us not blinded by the hysteria, blaming, xenophobic grandstanding by vile politicians and odious media hacks who spun vast fortunes out of spinning fear must become a vanguard in the years—or decades—to come, working for an America that does not cower on its knees no matter what our enemies may do. The kind of fear nurtured in high places for the rest of us to swallow is beneath our dignity and if it takes a louder handful to shout down the panic stricken and the cynical speculators in chaos, then those voices ought to rise and be heard. The sane have had enough of terrorists—both foreign and domestic—and must push back against those willing to make us less than what our heritage and history taught us to be.

And that is why every American ought to learn those Italian words. Every American ought to know that fear is the deadly enemy of freedom and that acting from fear gives our enemies an unearned victory—from our own American hands. Temi Solo Dio offers a perspective that says we can fear God and the uncontrollable if we want to—the rest we can deal with on the terms we devise with our wits about us. We have faced many enemies before—Indian, German, Japanese, Fascist, Communist, Confederate—and we didn’t defeat them by fearfully going off half-cocked and selling American freedom short. We beat them with superior strength brought about by superior thinking. Those who champion fear need a quick lesson in Italian; maybe it will improve their American sensibility if they get it.


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Commemorate 9/11 in Oil

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo

Local artist Charlie Miller created a haunting image of people attempting to escape the Twin Towers after the attack. The painting is available through Picaro gallery.

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New Entertainment Fees Threaten Coffeehouse Venues

Posted on 13 September 2011 by John Rippo

On July 1, San Diego enacted a new series of fees for entertainment permits that will have serious effects on coffeehouses and entertainers of all kinds who depend on café venues for their living. Increases of over 700 percent for yearly entertainment permits is likely for some cafés and the chilling effect of high fees are likely to cut the number of coffeehouses that can afford to host musicians and profit from entertainment.

The new fees are part of a package that was voted unanimously by the SD City Council on June 23. The new package raised fees for many other permits and city services, including building permits, inspections and medical helicopter flights. Also included in the scheme to collect some $774,000 annually is a new way to fund the SDPD Vice Squad, which oversees issuance of entartainment permits to all venues, including coffeehouses.

The City claims that in tight economic times, “cost recovery” of services rendered to businesses regulated by Vice is necessary and that means that regulated venues have to pay for the Vice Squad that does the regulating. Though the City insists that previous fee structures only collected some 26% of costs, where the Vice Squad is concerned, the numbers are unknown. Vice does not make its budget public as of June 23, 2011—the day the vote came in at City Hall. The Vice Squad determines its own budget, unburdened by any oversight—and charges regulated businesses accordingly. So far, there has been no challenge to this from of cost recovery and SDPD has resolutely refused to comment on what Vice’s budget amounts to.

This will have significant and perhaps grave meaning for the businesses that face sharply increased costs. Entertainers will be affected too.

For example, the new fee structures for cafés, restaurants and clubs will see a rise in yearly permit fees from last year’s $379 to this year’s $2,383—for a place with a 100-person maximum occupancy that sells alcohol. Depending on the occupancy rate, alcohol sales and history of police calls, a place like that described could face yearly costs of nearly $4000 per year for a permit to keep entertainment going.

Smaller cafés will pay less—from the current $184 annually for a place that seats 50 or more without alcohol or dancing, to a new rate which will be $288. Places that seat fewer than 49 persons without alcohol or dancing used to pay $126; they will pay $230 this year. For cafés with alcohol and dancing, the costs will skyrocket—to $1840 for more than fifty seats and alcohol where dancing may be allowed; and to $920 for under 49 persons with alcohol and dancing.

In addition to that, many small venues will be forced—as a condition of maintaining their entertainment permit—to reconfigure their structures to the same standards as nightclubs use now. This means double doors on exits, panic bars to open those double doors, at least two restrooms and one security guard for every 25 guests. Last year, the rate was a single guard for every 75 guests. For most coffeehouses that were never built to this “nightclub” standard and whose levels of entertainment income do not allow them to afford the muscle at the doors, this will likely mean that the curtain falls on entertainment permanently.

As if that weren’t enough of a blow, new rules will force all businesses offering entertainment to stop while they reapply for entertainment permits from year to year. In effect, each business will face an entertainment moratorium for an inderterminate time on what is for some, a primary profit center. “You couldn’t ask for a better way to hurt our business,” lamented one Mission Valley coffeehouse owner. “It’s like they have a handle on the faucet and can turn off your profits as long as they want from one year to the next.”

For some, the new fees are Deja Vu all over again.

That’s because in 2000, the City tried to pass similar laws that would have made coffeehouses and other small venues 21 and up only, if they offered entertainment of any kind. The building upgrade language in the new law was there in the 2000 legislation and then, SD City Attorney and Vice publicly stated that “entertainment equals crime” since all venues served as conduits for drug and gang activity, in their opinion. The proposed law was skewered by media and hotly contested by many of San Diego’s entertainers, coffee people and others concerned that it would cripple the growth of local culture, hurt business and interfere with redevelopment in some areas.. After two hearings by the full City Council, the law was amended. Now, the baser portions of the 2000 law are back and hailed as a cost cutting measure.

Councilmembers De Maio and Zapf opposed the rate hikes until the final vote when they voted for the measure which was originally championed by Kevin Faulconer as a strong “law and order” message coupled with saving City money.

At first glance, a yearly fee of $920 does not seem to amount to much; but when coupled with high costs of hiring security guards and new construction demands, the total cost to maintain code compliance becomes unaffordable for many small venues.. As one café owner put it, “The day they do that to me, I’ll just throw parties after hours in the street. That will cost them plenty and get me no end of great press…”

The ones most affected by any change in fees will of course be musicians and other entertainers robbed of places to play. Until now, coffeehouses in particular have reported a surge in numbers from entertainment of all kinds and more venues means more money and public support for the next Jewel, Tom Waits, Blink 182, Jim Morrison and Novamenco that first got started in the San Diego coffeehouse scene. Coffeehouses outside San Diego city limits may benefit from the blockade of culture forced by the PD; and at least one La Mesa café reports that it is aggressively seeking new bookings from bands and singers forced out from San Diego cafés.

Some in the hospitality industry point fingers at the California Restaurant Association, a trade group that has long regarded “non-standard” venues as a direct threat to its members’ bottom line, for promoting the new rules.. Like the 2000 effort before it, the new rules were allegedly promoted with urging from that organization. Cal Restaurant did not respond to ESPRESSO’s questions on the matter by press time.

Others in hospitality say that the City has it all wrong when it comes to jacking fees for small venues like coffeehouses. The San Diego Food & Beverage Association has been quietly lobbying the city for a more enlightened form of permit structure that would take types of entertainment into account for purposes of regulation and also factor in occupancy and previous history. Until the budget plan was proposed by Vice, some progress had been made toward setting maximum sizes of stage and numbers of musicians with unamplified music in small venues. The current mantra of “cost recovery” coupled with dodgy Vice budgets killed that plan.


Though it may surprise some, San Diego’s Finest have long worked to undermine the growth and divergence of the coffeehouses when it came to expanding into entertainment of any kind. That’s because for the last fifty years, many in city government and the PD have looked at coffeehouses as problems in regulation and undesirable social action waiting to happen. Ever since the 1960’s, coffeehouses in the city faced opposition when they ventured out beyond the sale of coffee and into entertainment—or what some regarded as activism. Whether serving as hangouts for anti-war youth in 1968 at the once famed Blue Whale or Upper Cellar, to the stirrings of gay activism in the 70’s at The Study, to the café-cum-nightclub antics of Java Joe’s in Ocean Beach in the 90’s or to more prolix activism at Chicano Perk, the seven-year run of which was ended suddenly last year by the City for alleged zoning violations—two weeks after lectures on Socialism were offered to area youth at the coffeehouse—to the pols and cops, coffeehouses have been the square peg defying the round hole where regulation is concerned. The cops and presumably City Attorney Jan Goldsmith would like to see them limited solely to selling coffee. The coffeehouses realize that especially as times tighten, entertainment is crucial to their ability to grow. Entertainers of all kinds have used cafés to start careers, build new acts and develop their talent.

SDPD has long stated that its manpower and money resources are low and their pro-active stance toward anything that may cause a problem too hard to control means suppressing trouble before it starts. Where entertainment is concerned, it means tightly controlling how venues can operate and to some extent, what kinds of entertainment they can offer. For a half century, coffeehouses have been a traditional wild card for the PD; Vice wants to regulate them the same as bars, clubs or concert halls and calls from business owners who point out that the kinds of trouble often found in other establishments is virtually non-existent in them fall on deaf ears. Now, Vice needs to make its budget from regulated businesses entirely and this hardens their stance when negotiating with business groups for breathing room. The net result is that coffeehouse venues are threatened, the PD is enriched and entertainment—and chances for an organic, homegrown culture to arise in the cafés suffers.

The uphill battle for any change in fees is with Vice to overcome their insistence that a having a good time is likley a crime—no matter if it’s had at Lestat’s, Anthology, HOB or at the San Diego Symphony Hall. Whether that can happen now is anyone’s guess and hospitality insiders offer long odds on change. As one hospitality insider put it, “There’s no way this thing is going away. Not now.” Still, change occurred last time, in 2000 when hundreds of maddened entertainers and others threatened by entertainment permit concerns flooded the PD with publich protests and crammed City Hall twice with hundreds more people demanding change. Last time, the cafés in San Diego were lucky and found some friends in City Hall at a crucial time. Whether that will happen again without organization between the coffee tradespeople and entertainment intresests is perhaps unlikely.


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