Noe Valley Voice February 2006

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

A WALK IN THE DARK: The electricity went out in Noe Valley midday on Nov. 29. The neighborhood's clocks stopped and refrigeration ceased, though many of us didn't learn about it until we arrived home from work that evening and saw the blinking 12:00 on the radio. Of course, the cash registers stopped at the restaurants and shops on 24th Street, and unsaved computer tasks vanished on many a telecommuter's screen.

That wasn't so bad. But then the power went out midday on Dec. 16, and again on the 18th, and then again on the 30th and 31st of December. Noe Valleons started to worry as streets went dark and all the clocks and gadgets had to be reset one more time. Frozen food had to be tossed, which was an ugly sight at Bell Market, where the freezers had to be emptied. A couple of the blackouts lasted one to two hours and were on prime shopping days. What was going on?

That's what Carol Yenne, president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, wanted to know, on behalf of the many frustrated businesses on 24th Street. She sent PG&E an e-mail, demanding an explanation. Meanwhile, PG&E announced it was scheduling a planned outage from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Jan. 13. The outage was postponed after Yenne told them those hours were totally unacceptable.

Then on Jan. 23, a Monday afternoon, all the lights went out again. That was the last straw. As soon as neighborhood computers were back online, Yenne was sending an SOS via e-mail to Supervisor Bevan Dufty. "The blackouts are so infuriating, and this is driving us crazy," she wrote. "This is costing all 200 businesses money every single time it happens. It is making Noe Valley look like a third world country to our customers."

Dufty contacted the S.F. Public Utilities Commission and joined Yenne in hounding PG&E. PG&E's Jimi Harris assured them that certain planned outages were for "preventative maintenance" and that a PG&E representative would attend the next Merchants Association meeting "and make a formal presentation on how [PG&E is] improving service reliability in 2006."

That was Monday. Tuesday afternoon at about a quarter to three, boom. The power was out yet again.

By that time, the Noe Valley Bureau of Investigation, fearing our neighborhood was under domestic or foreign attack, decided to call Dufty and PG&E directly.

PG&E spokesman Paul Morano called back within an hour. He said he was aware of complaints that were coming from Noe Valley about recent power outages, and explained that the Tuesday outage in the neighborhood was caused by "a car crashing into a pole on Cesar Chavez, which affected about 5,900 customers." As for the outage the day before, he explained that "there was a cable failure at Potrero that had power down for about an hour."

Morano also said notices had been sent out about a new planned outage on Jan. 26 from 1 to 6 a.m. As for earlier blackouts, he said PG&E had a regulator problem at a substation on Nov. 29, "which caused loss of power to Noe Valley, and the Dec. 16 outage was planned to correct the regulator problem." Service restoration to one area in the neighborhood had caused power outages in other parts of the neighborhood, he said. The other three outages in December, were "related to the storms and high winds."

On the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 25, Yenne e-mailed all the member merchants about the impending early-morning blackout, saying it would be limited to the eastern end of the 4000 block of 24th Street. PG&E also sent people out to the affected area to give residents and stores a heads-up.

Yenne says PG&E will face the music at the Merchants Association meeting on Wednesday, March 1, at 9 a.m., on the second floor of the BofA building at 24th and Castro. Dufty promises, "PG&E management representatives will be in attendance, and make themselves available to answer specific questions in thorough detail."

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A TALE OF TWO POLES: Thanks to Sanchez Street Hill resident Mark Miller, who wrote a letter to the editor (see page 10) setting Rumors straight about who on the hill is having their wires undergrounded. In fact, there will be no undergrounding of wires for most of the 800 "block" (actually two blocks) of Sanchez Street, not just the so-called "lost block" (850­899) between 22nd and Hill streets. It's nearby Hill Street that is being wired subterraneously.

In a follow-up to his letter, Miller explained that there will be a partial undergrounding on the top block of Sanchez (800 to 849). The wires at the northeast corner of Hill and Sanchez will run underground from Hill to the first utility pole on Sanchez, which is toward the middle of the 800­849 block. Then the wires will go up the pole and head north aboveground to a second pole. At the second pole, the wires go underground again and then north to connect to 21st Street, which has had its wires underground for several years.

Those two poles should stand as monuments to bad urban planning and wasted resources. They probably hold up the next set of wires that'll be blown down in the next big storm, causing yet another blackout.

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THE LOST BLOCK OF SANCHEZ may have gained some notoriety in Sony television ads in Europe, however. This past summer, Sony filmed a number of local ads, one on Upper Sanchez that featured the release of gazillions of small multicolored rubber balls, which bounced down the Sanchez Street hill toward 24th Street.

The advertising campaign was produced by a Danish ad firm, and promoted Sony's Bravia LCD TV screens. They wanted to get across the message that "the colour you'll see on these screens will be 'like no other.'" Sending 250,000 superballs down the streets of San Francisco may be a strange way to do this, but that was Danish director Nicolai Fuglsig's creative vision. In any case, the color in the photos on Bravia ad's web site is pretty fantastic.

The ads, which are accompanied by Heartbeat, some great music performed by Jose Gonzalez, are featured at Click on photos and follow the bouncing balls. Keep clicking on various pictures and slideshows to get to the Sanchez Street shots.

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SCRUBBING BUBBLES: Clean streets and sidewalks have been a top priority on the agenda of every neighborhood group in Noe Valley since 1904, when the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club was first organized.

However, thanks to the efforts of the Merchants and Friends of Noe Valley, the first fruits of Downtown Noe Valley's Community Benefit District became a reality on Jan. 23, when workers appeared and started cleaning the streets seven days a week.

"We are clean and green," proclaimed a very excited Debra Niemann, Friends of Noe Valley past president and current CBD chair. "They are steaming the sidewalks now, it's just great."

Merchants President Yenne says she also is very pleased that the daily cleaning has started, and she looks forward to striding down the swept sidewalks of 24th Street.

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TELL 'EM, TODDLERS: Also being spruced up is Noe Courts Park at 24th and Douglass. At the request of park neighbors, the city has been tinkering with improvements to the children's play area, such as new fencing to keep toddlers from tumbling out of the sandbox. Lizzy Hirsch from Rec and Park presented two design options at a neighborhood meeting in January. If you'd like to look at the designs, call Hirsch at 581-2551 or e-mail

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Noe Valleyans for Community and Social Justice, together with the Noe Valley Ministry, hosted a potluck dinner Friday night, Jan. 27, at 1021 Sanchez Street. The special guests were homeless people from 24th Street.

According to Ministry sponsor Ramon Sender, the two groups had been planning this event for several months. Members went out to 24th Street and personally invited all those they thought were homeless or in need. The menu included chicken and lasagna. NVCSJ leader Peter Gabel reports they had a good turnout, with 16 attending the dinner and all enjoying the good food.

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GOOD TASTE: Pasta Pomodoro owner Adriano Paganini, who opened his first restaurant on Chestnut Street in 1994 and opened his Noe Valley branch in '97 (it was the fourth to open in the city), has recently decided to live here as well. He's bought a house on Liberty Street near Church.

"I was living in Twin Peaks, but found a great home down here in the valley. I just love the weather here and how close I am to not only 24th Street but also to the very lively Mission District," Paganini says.

Paganini, who was born in the Italian village of Solbiate Olona near Milan, now operates 27 Pasta Pomodoros in the Bay Area, of which seven are in San Francisco. There are three in Sacramento, and 11 more have opened in the last three years in Southern California. "We now have over 1,700 employees," says the enthusiastic restaurateur.

"Noe Valley has been very special to me since I met my wife five years ago right in front of our Noe Valley restaurant," smiles Paganini.

Asked why Pasta Pomodoro is so successful, he says the answer is simple: "Value: good food, reasonably priced."

In other food news, Carolyn Miller and Sharon Smith feature recipes from three Noe Valley restaurants in their new and updated Savoring San Francisco. The book showcases 100 recipes from 100 of San Francisco's best restaurants.

Representing Noe Valley are the Grilled Fuyu Persimmon and Red Oak Leaf Lettuce Salad with Candied Pears from Firefly on 24th Street, the Saffron Pappardelle with Lamb Sauce from Bacco Ristorante on Diamond, and Shaved Squash and Ricotta Bruschetta from Incanto Restaurant on Church Street. I'll have one of each.

Sorry to see Miss Millie's close its doors in January. The restaurant, on 24th above Castro, was a great source of comfort food over the past 10 years. (Search for Miss Millie's on the Voice web site, and you'll find an amazing pecan pie recipe.)

As you foodies know, owner Gary Rizzo has decided to relocate the eatery to Rockridge in Oakland (5912 College Ave.). Rizzo told the Voice that there wasn't enough trade in Noe Valley during the week to support the restaurant. He also said the business climate in Oakland was more friendly than San Francisco. In December, a transfer-of-ownership notice was posted on the window, but whoever has bought the restaurant is staying mum.

THIS JUST IN: On Jan. 31, the Board of Supes approved changes to the planning code that will allow three new restaurants or bars to move onto 24th Street. With the vacancy at Miss Millie's, that makes four potential eating or drinking establishments.

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THE WRITE STUFF: Noe Valley author, historian, and archivist Bill Yenne has just released his latest book, called Indian Wars: The Campaign for the American West.

It made the Amazon Top 100 in December. Our prolific author of nearly 80 books, according to a review in the Wall Street Journal, "does not follow a revisionist script when writing with a cinematic vividness."

Indian Wars sold out quickly in its first printing, and Yenne says that a third edition is not far away.

Local bookseller Cover to Cover reports that the bestselling book through the holiday season was The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. The top children's book was The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.

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SHORT SHRIFTS: A skin-care spa called Dermalounge has moved into the large corner storefront at Church and 25th streets formerly occupied by Nourish. It offers "photorejuvenation facials," botox, and high-tech skin treatments. Dermalounge had a grand opening party with antioxidant refreshments on Jan. 25. "We're extremely excited to be in the Noe Valley neighborhood," says Nellie Wong, speaking for owner and CEO Nicole Alvino.

A group of businesses has started sharing the space on the corner of Church and Clipper where Trends used to be. First to arrive was Wisewoman Childbirth Traditions, offering doula and midwife services. Then last month, two chiropractic doctors calling themselves More Mojo--Darci Kendrick and Kristine Hicks--moved in. A massage therapist will be joining them soon.

Vivon Chan, who had to move from her small shop on Castro above 24th, was going to reopen in Hayes Valley. Her plans abruptly changed when La Coterie, across from Bell Market, moved its services to a home business, allowing Vivon to move in there before Christmas. "I feel very lucky that I got this spot," says Vivon. Her boutique, called Vivon, sells women's clothes and accessories.

It looks like an optometrist will be opening a shop on 24th Street in the space vacated by Rose Nails, next to Martha's Coffee.

The remodel at Real Foods must be going very slow, since workers were only seen mopping up the flood of water that came through the leaky roof during the December storms.

Frisco Star, equine stablemate of Lost in the Fog, ran his first race of the new season at Bay Meadows on Jan. 26. He came in first in the six-furlong sprint, but not in record-breaking time. Noe Valley icon Harry Aleo owns the 3-year-old horse, and hopes he will follow in the Fog's hoof-steps.

Earlier that week, Aleo and trainer Greg Gilchrist accepted the Eclipse Award for Lost in the Fog, who was voted America's Outstanding Sprinter of 2005.

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SAY GOODBYE to Noe Valley artist Mark Adams, who died last month at age 75. Adams' tapestry, stained glass, oil painting, mosaics, printmaking, and watercolors made him world-famous.

You can find his tapestries at the de Young and his stained glass at Grace Cathedral and Temple Emanu-El.

Adams was a very humble man who resided in an old firehouse on 22nd Street near Noe. His wife, artist Beth Van Hoesen, survives him.

Noe Valley has also lost a longtime activist, John Brunn, who with his wife, Sally Brunn, was an ardent supporter of neighborhood causes, especially the preservation of the Noe Valley Library. After Sally died more than a dozen years ago, John remained a thoughtful and generous neighbor on Hoffman Avenue.

Elizabeth Street resident Eunice Rosenberg remembers John fondly. "John was a retired math teacher, and very modest. He loved his neighborhood, and cared what happened here," she said.

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THAT'S 30, FOLKS. See you next month.