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TERRE HAUTE – Premieres at New Conservatory Theatre Center – An interview with its stars – John Hutchinson and Elias Escobedo

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

TERRE HAUTE, by playwright Edmund White, is described as an “imagination” of the interview between author Gore Vidal and Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh – just before his execution. The characters, renamed as “James” and “Harrison”, exchange intimate details about their lives within guarded confines at the prison. An impenetrable wall separates them physically. In order for James to tell Harrison’s story effectively, he must win his friendship and trust. Harrison does not want his act of terrorism to be misunderstood nor his character polluted with conjecture and lettered falsehoods. James demands Harrison open up to him or his story will suffer. How that comes about is the stuff of White’s imagination.

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Harrison in the midst – ELIAS ESCOBEDO

Beyond imagination were my two separate interviews with the actors who portray these characters. John Hutchinson (as the Gore Vidal character, “James”) and Elias Escobedo (as “Harrison”, the stand-in for McVeigh) are separated in age by more than four decades. John earned his M.A. in Speech and Drama from Stanford University. Elias graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Dramatic Arts. They are committed artists, professional non-union performers, brilliant communicators, and captivating entertainers. As with all San Francisco Bay Area actors striving to build their résumés and advance their academic skills into the professional arenas, John and Elias are well-acquainted with the pitfalls that come with (to be or not to be) union membership and the suffering inflicted upon local performing artists as resident professional theatre companies continue their practice of importing card-carrying union members.

Enter the New Conservatory Theater Center (at 25 Van Ness Avenue) and its Artistic Director, Ed Decker. Within the past several years it has become overwhelmingly obvious that NCTC is nurturing and presenting some of San Francisco’s finest actors, singers, and directors. The plays running in any of its three theatres reflect the diversity of culture and spirituality that The City prides itself in and broadcasts to its visitors. It was my privilege to settle in for a couple of hours and interview the two gentlemen appearing in the gripping drama, TERRE HAUTE, opening last Friday evening and scheduled until May 6th.

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JOHN HUTCHINSON – as James, in Edmund White’s TERRE HAUTE

SEÁN: How did the audition happen for you and what did you do for it?

JOHN: I performed with New Conservatory three years ago in a play called KILT. I’ve gone back since then to do staged readings. There are other Gay-oriented theatres in the Bay Area, but I found New Conservatory so welcoming – especially to a person like myself. It wasn’t until I turned 60 that I said to myself – “I’ve to get serious about this / I’ve got a degree from Stanford / I’ve worked in Hollywood!” That’s back in the Stone Age now. But I quit the family business, retired, and joined Eastenders Repertory Company in Oakland. I was fortunate enough to be cast by Bruce Elsperger [Casting Director at NCTC] and I was able to get to know Ed [Ed Decker, NCTC Artistic Director] who is such a supportive, wonderfully honest and genuine person. So, I found a kind of home there. Although I haven’t performed that much there, I feel very comfortable there. Last September I was just finishing up an engagement doing “Gloucester” in KING LEAR out in Moraga.

S: KING LEAR!

J: I got an e-mail from Ed, “Don’t take any jobs. I’m going to send you a script. I want you to hold onto it, take a look at it and we’ll talk again in January.” He knew I had been busy. I’ve been fortunate to be cast in one play after another.

S: Back up a little bit. When you were preparing the KING LEAR audition what did you use for your Shakespeare monologue?

J: My Shakespeare piece is from MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Leonato’s speech:
“I pray thee, cease thy counsel,
Which falls into mine ears as profitless
As water in a sieve…[Act 5, Scene 1]

S: How was the experience of doing “Gloucester” and how long did that production run?

J: Hal Gelb was the director. He’s involved with Golden Thread Theatre that works out of Traveling Jewish Theatre. The play was a condensation put together under the sponsorship of St. Mary’s for the student body. We did it for a weekend.

S: Was it a reading?

J: No, it was fully staged.

S: And you got all of two or three performances? Was that enough to justify all the work and memorization?

J: An actor makes a decision based on so many things. In the Bay Area, it’s not what they’re going to pay you – although the New Conservatory is very generous in paying its performers. It’s about the opportunity to work with certain directors and certain people to broaden your experience and theatrical performance.

S: When Ed Decker contacted you, did he give you any indication what the role was?

J: He sent me the script and told me the role was based on the Gore Vidal character. I have always been a Gore Vidal fan. I find his essays quite witty, very cogent, and very appropriate as political commentary. I read the play. It’s all one Act, sixty-plus pages, a lot of talk. I was curious how they would handle what appeared to be a rather static situation. The audition came; Ed greeted me with open arms and said, “Thank you for hanging on.” I read for the director, Christopher Jenkins, and got the role.

S: In my position as a teacher and writer I hear all kinds of things. Only every now and then do we see a real piece of theatre that questions something, does not set out to reach absolute conclusions, allowing the viewers to process the information in their own way. The script of TERRE HAUTE is brilliant. I am amazed to come to the New Conservatory Theatre Center and witness two magnificent performances. So, may I ask how old you are?

J: Seventy. Last September. Behind my back.

S: It just creeps up one day and bites you in the ass. OK, given that, tell me about your memorization process for this two-person / hour-and-twenty-minute play.

J: You’re stepping on my Achilles heel, honey! It was tough, it was challenging. What the author Edmund White has done so successfully is to capture the rhythms of speech of two very different people. “Harrison’s” [McVeigh's] speech is so explosive, machine-gun-like, and uneducated. “James”, as the Vidal character, is smooth and articulate, honeyed, and grand in a way. I was able to capture the essence of the rhythm, the speech patterns White came up with – because, as you know, you don’t just memorize words you memorize the rhythm of a piece and its flow. Once I found that, it became much easier.

Author Edmund White establishes his rhythms, those distinguishing speech components for his “James” at the very beginning of the interview. He cajoles and wheedles information from “Harrison”, employing severe reprimands, detachment and disdain, the control of “a top”, even jealousy. Harrison counters by playing the celebrity card. He says to James that “The Unabomber” occupies the cell next to his. “Oh, really!?” replies James. At that moment, a huge glow comes over Mr. Hutchinson – as if to suggest to Harrison (Elias Escobedo) that a better and more interesting (perhaps, sexier?) interview was in-waiting just a little further down the hall. Hovering above everything else is James making it clear that Harrison must answer the probing personal questions – especially those about his sexual identity and experience. If he refuses, then Harrison’s story may prove an average one, something far less than what Harrison had hoped for or expected. James succeeds in tweaking Harrison’s vanity. The buzzer signals the end of the visiting time. Harrison must return to his cell. What if James does not come back tomorrow? How then will his story be told?

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TERRE HAUTE – By Edmund White, at the New Conservatory Theatre Center

S: Thus, the categories – the “how” of your addressing Harrison – helped in your memorization.

J: Yes, very much so. That gave it the hook – some people would use the expression “trigger” – for getting through that.

S: What was the hardest part?

J: The explosive scene, the “I’m stupefied” speech of Scene 3. It is difficult because the performer can’t give everything away. It is the one scene where Harrison confronts James in such a way as to demolish all of his pretensions and so-called education. It is a fiery outburst that leaves James suddenly exposed as Harrison – in his lack of education can no longer respond, but responds in a vicious [physical] way towards the old guy. My job was to maintain the build, to give something that Harrison can react against – a reason to explode in the way that he does. Edmund White builds that particular scene in four very brief sections. James comes to the realization that he is basically dealing with a naive and uneducated person who has some terrible ideas, and then the realization that he has been duped, seduced, allowed himself to be seduced. And then the realization that he has to somehow defend his being there, that is, James has to defend being in the room with this mass murderer. Then finally, the “coup de grâce” – when he talks about the sacred books of burning lives and all, that you can no longer use the expression of “collateral damage.” This ends, of course, in Harrison’s explosion. Each of those four segments had to be very carefully handled. The difficulty is that in the heat of the moment – as I am coming across like that – it’s really tough to stay grounded because I am getting so excited inside myself, in the character. You know as a performer, you have to distance yourself.

S: When choosing the Timothy McVeigh character, how many actors did you read with and was there a question of “chemistry”?

J: After I was cast they had me come in and read with three young men, one right after the other, in the same series of scenes. After they left, Christopher came over to me and said, “Well? What do you think?” Not that I was casting the part, but how comfortable did I feel with the person. I said, “I don’t remember anybody else – just Elias.” He came off the mark running. He was incredible, blew me away – a tremendous risk-taker, tremendously committed to the role. I don’t mean this in a bad way – he is ambitious. He knows where he is going with his art. It is so exciting to work with someone like that.

S: You have to be ambitious or it’s just not going to work. Whatever his drive, it is in total communication with you and with us. How long did you rehearse?

J: At the end of February we had our first sit-down read-through, rehearsed through the end of March – in all, about 3½ weeks. It was intense.

S: The relationship of the two characters – obviously, with a prison barrier between them – what were the difficulties in communicating “here’s what’s happening on this side of the wall for me and on that side of the wall for you”? The ultimate symbol of it being penetrated being the removal of his shirt and the first real intimacy that happens for Harrison with another human being – someone with a name. Did the two of you go through those proverbial Theatre Exercises? Was there any resistance?

J: There was good communication right off. Elias is a committed performer. He knew what Edmund White wanted and the director was inclined to a subtle approach.

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JAMES and HARRISON – The final moments, Edmund White’s TERRE HAUTE

S: It totally works.

J: My own feeling was that we owe it to the audience to show and do it this way. Not only is this the fantasy that James maintains, it is the reward that Harrison gives him, the generosity of his spirit. It is the very thing that James talks about in the closing monologue. There was a huge discussion during the rehearsal process – is McVeigh / Harrison homosexual or not? Vidal doesn’t believe there are labels. You are just sexual. What you are today is what you are today. The challenge that Elias and I faced was me probing him in such a way and him resisting in such a way that we set up a kind of inexplicable mystery about “Is he or isn’t he?” It is not the hook that the play hangs on, but it is still part of the subtext.

S: It’s not surprising that the moment happens. It’s surprising that it is so authentic. In the simple direction of Elias holding his shoulders this way, he drops his shirt that way and you both count to 10 – it radiates what it radiates and we deal with it.

J: It’s a moment in the play where neither one of us is counting. Somehow it just happens organically.

S: The timing is perfect. If it embarrasses those not expecting it – well, too bad! Theatre provokes. The act pushes a simple button. The audience knows that moment is not going any further because it can’t. Though it may be a gimmick of the author, it is not transparent. It is Theatre. Before the end of the run, do you foresee a performance with an understudy? Is there somebody that will take over if Elias suddenly has a huge attack of hay fever?

J: No! We’re it.

S: Can you envision doing this role somewhere else?

J: Oh, with great love!

S: What’s on your Calendar after this?

J: I’m doing a one-act called FRIENDS that is being booked into retirement communities and other venues. Also, a new play being written about Eleanor Roosevelt, I have been asked to play FDR.

S: Do you have a dream role?

J: I’ve done a lot of dream roles. I remember “Maitlin” in CHALK GARDEN, but many don’t even remember the play. I would love to do ALL MY SONS.

Some of us remember multi-Tony Award winning actor Fritz Weaver who created the role on Broadway and John Mills in the award-winning 1964 film version. As an ideal candidate for the role of “Joe Keller” in Arthur Miller’s ALL MY SONS, John Hutchinson can easily stand beside (while holding his M.A. in Speech and Drama from Stanford University) other interpreters of the role including Ed Begley, James Whitmore, Edward G. Robinson, and Richard Kiley.

Later that day I spoke with Elias Escobedo. As “Harrison”, the Timothy McVeigh character, Elias puts forward a frighteningly real personification of America’s dedicated terrorist.

E: When the lights come up, the first thing you see is an image of the blown-out building and me standing in the middle of it. It’s brought up again at the end. The bombing was 12 years ago. Since then we’ve had 9/11 – almost 3,000 deaths, the Iraq War – more than 3,000 deaths. I was 15 when McVeigh killed 168 people 12 years ago. When I asked my friends to come see this show, they’re saying – “Oh, McVeigh … some kind of train bomb or something?” For me, it’s so important for people to just come off the street and be reminded. For an hour I’m going off about this building, the bomb, how I set it up, how it’s left half-standing. But unless you’ve recently seen it, you may not remember exactly how destructive it was. From an actor’s point of view, when the lights come up – it’s BOOM! That’s what I did. It’s all I need to get me going. Now I have to defend what I did. It sets the bar really high, right off the bat.

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ELIAS ESCOBEDO – as Harrison, in Edmund White’s TERRE HAUTE

S: The play could have been about anybody. What if I didn’t know there was a bombing in Colorado and then an interview with this guy by a particular author. What would my reactions be to the production? I know they would be the same.

E: That’s refreshing to hear. We talked so much about the bombing during the rehearsal process. All these books! I’ve been scanning the TURNER DIARIES and ALL-AMERICAN MONSTER. There is so much literature on this guy.

S: How did you learn about the audition and what did you do for it?

E: I found out about the audition through the casting director, Bruce Elsperger, who I’ve known for about four years. Whenever he thinks I’m right for something at NCTC he shoots me an e-mail and invites me directly to the callbacks. This is my eighth production at NCTC. I’m really familiar with Ed Decker and how he runs it. I really enjoy working there. For a non-union theatre, Ed runs one of the most professional companies. That’s what makes me want to work there. So, Bruce sends me this e-mail and I thought, “Well, that’s cool. That’s different. It caught my eye and got me pumped about the audition. It’s not the traditional kind of story that NCTC would tell. I got the sides [excerpts from the script] and knew it was good. Purely from an actor’s point of view, this is meaty stuff! It’s got so much dynamic, and all these emotions and explosions and how it comes out. The sides were pretty much the most intense moments in the play. At the audition, they must have read at least 15 guys for Harrison. I’m sitting there ready to go in and I just felt good about it. I was very relaxed. When you’re relaxed you can just walk in and do your thing. I read with John. I listened to what he was actually saying in the script and it just got me going.

S: Did you see any of the other auditionees?

E: I did.

S: What was your reaction to them?

E: They all had a similar build to me. The first guy before me was in there for a long time. I think he was the first one of the evening. When you’re waiting to go in and the guy before you is in there for 25 minutes – well, they must love him, reading all these scenes over and over again – and I’m thinking, “I’ve really got to bring my chops here!” Then the guy right before me, he had a shaved head and looked dead-on like Timothy McVeigh. Still, even with those two against me, I’m going to go in there and do my thing. Those are the best auditions. It’s all about being able to stay relaxed.

S: What do you think got you the role?

E: In one word – Intensity. I took a minute – I wouldn’t call myself a Method Actor, I don’t go back into my personal experiences. But I do bring honesty to a character. The sides they were having me read, there was only one way to play them. I remember specifically this one scene – in the actual audition – where the character talks about what I’ve actually done. It’s Scene 3, when James turns on me – I’m just another Socialist wannabe slave and I’m the one who was fooled – and I explode at him because he’s saying, “Oh, think about all the lives you took and life is sacred” and all that. I just listened to what he said about all the dangling bodies and the babies … and my reaction came honest. The next thing I know I’m screaming at him! And I am into it. I just got lost in the text and lost in the character and the next thing you know I’m shouting and crying and not even realizing it. I got home and I told my friend, “That was really weird. I was so in the moment.” I brought intensity and I brought an honesty.

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JOHN HUTCHINSON and ELIAS ESCOBEDO – In Edmund White’s TERRE HAUTE

S: In the aspect of the McVeigh character that is the trained military person – the stoic look, the non-conveyance of any information when standing at attention – did you work on this prior to the audition or is all of this new to you? Because whatever it is you are intending to hide is in fact pouring out of you.

E: I hadn’t really practiced that before the audition. In the rehearsal process we really didn’t talk about his military-like behavior. It came naturally, because what I focused on was the facts, the background of this guy. Yes, he was in the military. But he’s also been in jail the last six years and most of the time he’s been in isolation. In certain areas of Death Row you’re in your cell 23 hours a day. Then all of a sudden you’re in a small room with another guy. What do you do? The first scene especially is just so awkward. Even if he was a sociable guy, after being on Death Row, you’re going to behave in a very monotone way at first. I think that’s where that came from.

S: Good! What’s on the horizon for you?

E: I have a few projects coming up. After this, I’ll be doing SPECIAL FORCES at Theatre Rhino. I think John Fisher is directing.

S: How did that happen for you?

E: Just an audition. I did his generals a year or two ago. I’m a very proactive actor. I do all the general auditions.

S: You have to!

E: You have to. I mail out my headshots. I go North Bay, South Bay, East Bay.

S: Is your goal to stay in the Bay Area?

E: I don’t have a big dream to be a famous actor in LA. I want to work and I want to make money doing stage.

S: My goal is to keep Bay Area actors in the Bay Area and to call it like I see it. There is a mythology that when actors are brought in from somewhere else, i.e., those with New York credits, that a production is somehow going to be better. All that does is to take away employment from the large body of talent that is here in the Bay Area and the level of that talent is incredible.

E: You are absolutely correct. It’s refreshing to hear it from you. I’m an “Equity must-join”. That means I’ve collected a number of EMC (Equity Membership Candidate) points. I have 60. I can work with NCTC because they are a non-union theatre. The next time I work with a union theatre, such as Marin Shakes where I will be working this summer, they will have to offer me an Equity contract. I’m in the middle of all this right now and there are exceptions to the rule. You can write a Letter of Confession to Equity saying, “Can I wait to turn Equity, etc.”. The problem with Equity – as a young actor, in the Bay Area especially – is that it can be a double-edged sword. If you’re in LA or New York – yes, get your Equity card and go. But in the Bay Area there is a handful of theatres that offer Equity contracts such as Berkeley Rep, Cal Shakes, Marin Shakes, A.C.T., Theatre Works – that group. The problem is they only have four or five Equity contracts per show. In the Bay Area there is already a circle of Equity actors they use over and over again.

S: That is true.

E: Then the Leads – the main Leads – they fly-in from New York. What I am trying to do as a San Francisco native and as a Bay Area actor is to break-into that circle. And it’s not easy. Just as you pointed out, it’s not easy in the Bay Area. We only have a handful of Equity companies. So, I’m in this must-join grey area, I’ve got SPECIAL FORCES that I think I can get a waiver on because I don’t have to go Equity with them. Then in the summer I’m doing “The Henry’s” with Marin Shakespeare Company, HENRY IV, Part 1 and HENRY IV, Part 2 – playing “Prince John”. And I have to talk to Equity about that! Prince John is a smaller character. I’m not sure they can afford an Equity contract for that character / they want me to be non-union / I don’t want to give up all my points. It gets really complicated.

S: It’s really crazy! I sailed through 20 years as a professional singer without that union-thing hanging in front of me. And now, as a professional vocal coach of 24 years, I can tell you that the jobs, the roles, the developmental things young performers need to do in order to become the Artist who can pay his bills and have a relatively comfortable life style cannot happen in the San Francisco Bay Area with this Equity-thing hanging over their heads all the time. Thus, it forces a sense of ruthlessness.

In “Harrison”, I think you have the role of a lifetime. Speaking as a singer, you are doing my favorite job – that being, me and somebody else – my accompanist – sharing the stage for an hour and twenty minutes.

E: If I was Equity, I couldn’t have gotten this role.

S: Exactly!

E: My on-line identity, my e-mail is theatredaze. It’s my life. I’m in this daze of Theatre, trying to do my passion – but also make a living. Unfortunately, the only way you can make a living in theatre is to get that weekly paycheck. But, if you turn Equity, you say, “OK! Now I can get a weekly paycheck” – and then all of a sudden these companies don’t hire you because now they have to pay you.

S: Do you have a dream role?

E: I’m a big Shakespeare guy. I would say “Hamlet” is definitely up there. Up at Marin Shakes – Bob [Artistic Director, Robert Currier] knows my work. I don’t have this desire to play “Romeo”. Too easy! I like something darker, a little deeper. I like intelligent roles. Perhaps “Lt. Daniel Kaffee” in A FEW GOOD MEN.

S: Tell me about The Shirt Scene. “Harrison” is going to take his shirt off and be a real human being. He’s going to expose himself. I shouldn’t be that hard of a thing to do, but it’s obviously unnerving to everybody in the audience for one reason or another. It’s everything and it’s nothing. What’s it like for you?

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TERRE HAUTE – Finale, JOHN HUTCHINSON and ELIAS ESCOBEDO
Photos by Lois Tema

E: The moment is a very powerful moment and it should be. It feels intense and it feels powerful. For me, it was never a question of whether the Timothy McVeigh character is, possibly, Gay. I don’t think that’s what the scene is about. As you say, it is possibly the first time he is actually making a human connection. Doing the show for an hour – with all this anger and pain the character has locked inside – there’s something about John’s character I can connect with. The eve before I’m going to be executed I can finally become vulnerable and connect with someone. My character does it for two reasons. One – to actually make this human connection before he dies; and two – to thank James. To thank him and to show, “You know what? You actually listened to me and tried to hear where I’m coming from, unlike all the other tough reporters that have come in saying that I’m just a baby killer. It’s a powerful moment. The play wouldn’t be the play without that moment.

S: I agree totally. John described the timing of the scene as being “organic”. That is, unlike the singer or the dancer in the same moment who has an assigned number of beats and then moves out of it. So, what is going through your head in that moment, while you are standing there giving us your best?

E: I am very in the moment for that last part of the last scene towards the end of the play. I get to be absorbed in the moment, because I am not talking. Finally! I’m just there with John. That last part, where I’m slowly unzipping, slowly getting him to come to the window – I don’t talk. I just breathe. And I’m very much there. I’m wrapped up in my character. Things are going through my mind – it’s hard for him. I can’t forget how hard that must be. To be in this cold, isolated cell and to be going through all those things in your mind – “You are going to be executed tomorrow.” For him to clear his head enough to experience that with the James character is remarkable.

S: During the pressures of the audition, how did you communicate to John that he needed to work with you?

E: To be honest, Christopher runs a very tight audition. You come in and do your scene – he thanks you, and then you leave. There was very little chance to even talk with John. We are in the Decker Theatre, John is already on the stage, Bruce and Christopher are sitting in the seats.
Christopher, you remember Elias. / Hey, how’s it going? / Great. / OK, let’s read.
I don’t even remember a handshake.
This is John. He’ll be reading with you. / Hey, John, how’s it going?
And that’s it! You get into it. You pour your heart out to this guy in three scenes and afterwards it ends just as quickly. It was – OK, that was a good read. / Thank you. / Thank you. We’ll let you know.
I don’t know if those were the exact words. It was a very keenly-run audition.

S: During rehearsals, was there ever a time when there was a struggle for the two of you to connect?

E: Actor to actor or character to character?

S: Actor to actor.

E: Not really. John and I just seemed to connect right off the bat. We are similar in our acting styles. We are both non-union professionals. It was very friendly. We focused on the script. I had no problems looking him in the eye and meaning it, no problems becoming vulnerable. That’s how I knew we were going to be OK. The only thing we had to work on was our lines.

S: So – just for the SAN FRANCISTO SENTINEL – what final thing do you want the readers to know?

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ELIAS ESCOBEDO – Now at NCTC, San Francisco

E: I’m lucky to have this unique opportunity. I’m an actor’s actor – I’m always looking from an actor’s point of view. This role is so unique. I’m trapped inside this box. I move five-feet by five-feet. To see someone try to express themselves when they are so limited – it’s engaging. This role is different. This play is different. Some of the things we talk about in that hour cannot be found on-line on a blog. It’s especially rewarding to see NCTC doing something a little darker and this grounded.

S: It is Quality to begin with.

E: It’s just two guys talking it out. The difference is – one of the guys blew up a building.

TICKETS ON SALE NOW
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See Seán’s recent articles and reviews:
ALTAR BOYZ – In San Francisco
PASCAL MOLAT, A Stroll Through Eden/Eden
AFTER THE WAR – at A.C.T.
Agnes de Mille’s RODEO – at SAN FRANCISCO BALLET
COLOR ME KUBRICK – starring John Malkovich

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San Francisco Sentinel’s Fine Arts Critic Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Ask him a question on AllExperts.com . If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: seanmartinfield@att.net.

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One more in critical condition

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One man is in critical condition this morning after he was stabbed outside a restaurant on 24th and Mission streets, in San Francisco’s Mission District on Saturday night.

According to a San Francisco police officer, at around 10 p.m., the victim got into an argument with another person who proceeded to stab him.

The officer said the victim is being treated for serious injuries at San Francisco General Hospital and no suspects have yet been apprehended in connection with the stabbing.

Bay City News

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San Francisco streets remain vile

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Unending loop of Fiddler tunes

San Francisco police released more information today about an early morning shooting in the Tenderloin neighborhood that left one woman dead and injured four other people.

In that attack, Sgt. Neville Gittens said that an as-yet-unknown person initiated the gunfire, which prompted a wheelchair-bound man to return shots. As a result of the ensuing shootout, a woman was killed and among the four injured, a 23-year-old woman suffered life threatening injuries.

According to Gittens, 32-year-old Walter Simon, a Richmond resident, was booked on one count of homicide and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon. The attack took place in the 300 block of Ellis Street around 12:03 a.m. According to Gittens, police believe Simon is responsible for three counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of homicide.

Police do not know who was responsible for the other victim of the gunfire.

According to Sgt. Steve Mannina, Simon was in a wheelchair when the shootings occurred. Police also took into custody a gun they believe was used in the attack.

Officers working at the Tenderloin station heard shots shortly after midnight and ran to the scene of the attack in the 300 block of Ellis Street. They found five people shot and were able to take Simon into custody.

Of the shooting victims, a 54-year-old woman was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where she died of her injuries. Her name has not been released by the San Francisco medical examiner’s office pending the notification of her family. A 23-year-old woman from Richmond suffered life-threatening injuries and was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, Mannina said.

The rest of the victims, a 50-year-old man from Oakland, a 44-year-old man from San Francisco and a 25-year-old man whose residence is unknown were all taken to San Francisco General Hospital. They are expected to survive, according to Mannina.

In an unrelated incident, a man who was shot in the arm and abdomen around 4:19 p.m. Friday in the Tenderloin neighborhood later died in a hospital. The attack took place at Golden Gate and Hyde streets, according to Gittens.

Gittens reported earlier that a suspect in that fatal shooting was taken into custody, but as of today, there have been no arrests in connection to the specific charge of homicide. Several juveniles were arrested in connection to the attack, but none of the juveniles has been linked to the homicide, Gittens said.

Bay City News

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Yeah, what else is new with Parks and Recreation Department

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By David Toerge
Sentinel Photography Editor
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

This should be filed in the “yeah, so what else is new department”.

When I arrived at the public tennis courts at Palega Park in the city’s Excelsior District for a morning set yesterday, my partner and I were greeted by a friendly crew from Rec and Park Department. They were there to install a windscreen, a much needed improvement to an area that is blasted by the 2:00 winds from Hell.

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Our tennis game resumed as they worked. If my memory is right, I believe that there were five men doing the work with four more men wearing a slightly better set of threads, walking the perimeter and appearing to be supervising. This all seemed normal, albeit, a tad excessive with the show of force.

The morning air was thick with the pungent smell of burning tar as a roofing crew plied their trade on a house directly up wind from us. There was also a man wielding a screaming chain saw on the trees that surrounded one side of the court. With the sound of the chain saw, the smell of tar smoke, and having 5 men hanging plastic netting, our tennis game was rapidly becoming an unpleasant experience.

Enter: Irony…The chainsaw wielding man wasn’t trimming the trees to facilitate the installation of the windscreen; he was removing them completely. I counted at least ten stumps and multiple truckloads of branches. Ten very nice, oxygen-producing, living windscreens — sacrificed for plastic netting.

Was the order to trim the trees lost in translation, ignored, or was it the intention of Rec and Park to defoliate the area around Palega Park and rob the neighbors of green trees?

Whatever is the answer to that question.

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When David Toerge left a career in photojournalism that had spanned over twelve years and started in a new direction of commercial photography he blended the editorial style with a more corporate look. David led the way in that new style garnering many awards for his work. Communications Arts has honored him over six times. Based in San Francisco, David shoots projects on location all over the US for various corporations and a multitude of magazines and always brings back great images. He has a keen sense of light, color, and composition and delivers to his clients assignments done with passion. He has climbed bridges hundreds of feet in the air, shot in caves hundreds of feet below, dived with sharks and driven the track with Indy drivers. He has shot earthquakes and firestorms but loves walking the streets with his camera just photographing the everyday life of his city. Visit Toerge Photography at toerge.com, email david@toerge.com, or telephone 415-730-3824.

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Ethics complaint against Sentinel dismissed

From the Ethics Commission of the City and County of San Francisco

April 10, 2007

Pat Murphy
San Francisco Sentinel
230 Eddy Street #211
San Francisco, Ca 94102

Re: Ethics Complaint No. 01-060208

Pursuant to Section V.A.3 of the San Francisco Ethics Commissions’ Regulations for investigations and Enforcement proceedings (“the Regulations”), the Ethics Commission conducted an investigation into the above-reference complaint in which you were named a respondent

The Commission has determined that there is insufficient evidence that a violation of State or City law relating to campaign finance, lobbying, campaign consulting, conflicts of interest or government ethics occured.

For this reason, the Ethics Commission has dismissed this complaint.

Purusant to the Regulations, no further action is contemplated in regard to this complaint.

Sincerely,

John St. Croix
Executive Director

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SHOT TO THE HEART – King of Cool Returns to City by the Bay

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MOVING PICTURES
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By PJ Johnston
Sentinel Film Critic
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

I’m not one to use this space to regurgitate press releases. After all, I write press releases in my day job, among other things, and by the time I sit down to work on Moving Pictures, I’m sick of the sight of them. This column is about movies, and life, and how much juice I can squeeze out of the two.

On the other hand, it would be ungracious, vile and arrogant of me to blow off press releases altogether in my capacity as film critic for Your San Francisco Sentinel – all the while expecting editors and writers at other publications to take note of mine all week long. What comes around goes around, after all.

So when an announcement of some kind catches my fancy, I feel obliged to share it with you, dear reader. And just such a press release crossed my desk this week.

Seems Steve McQueen – that’s right, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, San Francisco detective, all-time badass of all-time badasses – is returning to the city where he made his most famous movie … but it won’t be in a second-run movie theater or a San Francisco State film class.

Instead, McQueen will be brought back to life on the walls of one of San Francisco’s finest art galleries.

According to my source, intrepid biographer Marshall Terrill, Barbara McQueen’s photos of her superstar husband will make its world premiere on May 5 at the San Francisco Art Exchange, 458 Geary Street.

“The idea of having a photo exhibit has been a longtime dream of mine,” said Barbara McQueen. “And the perfect place to host such an exhibit is in the city where Steve filmed ‘Bullitt.’”

I’d love to report to you that the lovely Ms. McQueen actually told me this – but alas, I got it from Senor Terrill’s press release. I intend to actually speak to her, art-reception wine and hunks of cheese in hand, on Cinco de Mayo.

Terrill’s first book, “Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel,” was a big hit in 1993. This year he collaborated with Barbara McQueen on Steve McQueen: The Last Mile,” a 250-page photo book that, I have a hunch, just might be available at the Art Exchange show.

Terrill, interestingly enough, is noted for his biographies on McQueen, Elvis Presley and Pistol Pete Maravich, the basketball great. Even more interestingly, Terrill worked for financier Charles Keating back in the 80s. By 1989 Keating’s company, Lincoln Savings & Loan, was the poster child of the savings and loan scandal that brought down the industry and cost you, dear taxpayer, billions in bailout dough. Keating, a rich, ultraconservative anti-porn crusader who put the “critter” in hippocrit, was sent sentenced to jail and Terrill suddenly found himself unemployed. At age 26, he moved back into his parents’ home in Virginia and began his second career, as a biographer. His first subject was McQueen.

Nice choice. Who didn’t love the King of Cool? Star of countless great, half-great and okay-not-so great movies, most notably “The Magnificent Seven(1960), “ The Great Escape(1963),“The Thomas Crown Affair ” (1968),“Papillon” (1973) and, of course, “Bullitt,” the 1968 thriller that made the world fall in love with San Francisco, Ford Mustangs and Jacqueline Bisset. We San Franciscans still love to marvel at the way that green GT flew off the ground on Potrero Hill and landed in Russian Hill! Yeah, baby!

McQueen was the quintessential Hollywood bad boy and one damn fine actor. (He died of complications from liver cancer in 1980.) He lived larged, burned rubber as a motorcyclist and race car driver, and burned through a marriage with “The Getaway” (1972) co-star Ali MacGraw … and really, if you’re going to burn through a marriage, wouldn’t we all like it to be with Ali MacGraw, the Scarlett Johanson of her era?

(Incidentally, MacGraw wrote a 1991 autobiography, “Moving-Pictures-Autobiography-Ali-Macgraw” – no relation to this column.)

McQueen later married the beautiful Barbara Minty, a model with a talent for photography, and spent his final years with her.

This exhibition is a personal collection of about 40 photographs taken by Minty nee McQueen, who has remained silent about her relationship with her husband for more than 25 years. Now she’s ready to talk about their life together and her photographs, which offer an extremely personal insight into the final years of Steve McQueen.

The photos offer candid shots from 1977 to 1980 – the actor’s years in a fading spotlight. It also chronicles her times with McQueen at Trancas Beach; Ketchum, Idaho; and Santa Paula; as well as behind-the-scenes shots from the sets of his final films, “Tom Horn” and the underappreciated “The Hunter,” (both 1980)

“It will be a fun gathering of family and friends and an eclectic mix of people,” said Terrill, who is organizing the exhibit. “I’m sure there will be people from all walks of life including bikers, artists, poets, actors, accountants, writers and McQueen fans. Everyone is welcome.”

Both Barbara McQueen and Terrill will give short presentations on the photos (some of which have never been seen before) and take questions afterward.

And if I gulp enough of that gallery wine, I’m gonna ask Terrill about Charles Keating’s jowls, and how Pistol Pete might’ve fared against Kobe. No matter how much wine I put down, however, I promise to leave Ali MacGraw out of it.

The cost to attend the Barbara McQueen photo exhibit at the San Francisco Art Exchange on May 5t is free, but an RSVP is required to guarantee admittance. Contact Theron Kabrich at (800) 344-9633 or e-mail at theron@sfae.com.

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PJ Johnston is president of the San Francisco Arts Commission and a former executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission. He served as Mayor Willie Brown’s press secretary and now runs his own communications consulting firm in San Francisco. A former journalist, he has written about movies for several publications, including the San Jose Mercury News and – long ago, in a galaxy far, far away – for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Email PJ at pj@pjcommunications.com.

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Argent Hotel passersby wowed by skydancing street performers

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Startled midday crowds stopped in their tracks April 12, 2007, as a glance upward caught skydancers performing off San Francisco Argent Hotel highrise, in The City where even street performers serve up only the very best.

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By David Toerge
Sentinel Photography Editor
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

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When David Toerge left a career in photojournalism that had spanned over twelve years and started in a new direction of commercial photography he blended the editorial style with a more corporate look. David led the way in that new style garnering many awards for his work. Communications Arts has honored him over six times. Based in San Francisco, David shoots projects on location all over the US for various corporations and a multitude of magazines and always brings back great images. He has a keen sense of light, color, and composition and delivers to his clients assignments done with passion. He has climbed bridges hundreds of feet in the air, shot in caves hundreds of feet below, dived with sharks and driven the track with Indy drivers. He has shot earthquakes and firestorms but loves walking the streets with his camera just photographing the everyday life of his city. Visit Toerge Photography at toerge.com, email david@toerge.com, or telephone 415-730-3824.

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Compromise reached for Golden Gate Park Saturday auto ban

From the Mayor’s Office of Communications

Tonight at 6:50PM, supporters and opponents of road closures in Golden Gate Park, reached an historic compromise to close portions of park roadway for the summer months each year. The compromise, brokered by Mayor Gavin Newsom, ends years of acrimonious debate between park users, neighbors, and leaders of cultural attractions at the park.

“Today was a victory for our shared values. Golden Gate Park is our city’s treasure, and this proposal allows everyone to enjoy it with minimal disruption,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom.

“We’re proud of today’s compromise, which proves the dedication on all sides to increasing and improving park usage, including both recreational activities and cultural attractions,” said Rick Galbreath of the Sierra Club, Spokesperson, Healthy Saturdays Coalition.

“After marathon negotiations, this compromise achieves recreational objectives and reduces the adverse impact on the park’s cultural attractions and neighbors,” said Tomasita Medál, Spokesperson, Park Access For All Coalition.

Mayor Newsom praised Chief of Staff Phil Ginsburg for facilitating this compromise.

“Each day I start my morning by taking a run in the park,” said Ginsburg. “This is a labor of love.”

DOCUMENT OF AGREEMENT

On April 12 and 13, 2007, parties met to discuss alternatives to the current Saturday closure proposal for John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park (file number 070269). Supporters and opponents of the current closure proposal spent several hours working to identify a mutually amenable compromise on this issue.

Both parties agree to amend the current Saturday closure proposal pending at the Board of Supervisors in the following ways:

• JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park will be closed to vehicular traffic west of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive to Transverse Drive on Saturdays from the first Saturday of April through the last Saturday of September each year. This Saturday road closure shall be operative from 6AM to 6PM, and inclement weather protocols that apply to the current Sunday closure shall also apply to this Saturday closure.

• Vehicle deliveries to the DeYoung Museum loading dock will be permitted during Saturday and Sunday vehicle closure of JFK Drive. Delivery vehicles will access the Museum’s loading dock via JFK Drive with unimpeded access through the road closure.
Appropriate protocol will be developed by the DeYoung Museum that allows for unencumbered delivery access to the loading dock, while maintaining safety of individuals within the road closure. Such protocol and delivery activities will be evaluated on a regular basis by the Museum to ensure that adequate delivery access is maintained and if necessary, the Mayor’s Office shall institute methods that ensure adequate delivery access.

• Middle Drive West from Metson Road to Transverse Drive, which is already closed to vehicular traffic on Saturdays, will undergo capital improvements as quickly as possible. These improvements are intended to enhance recreational uses in this area for bikers, walkers, skaters and other park visitors. The Recreation and Park Department shall develop and implement capital improvement and programmatic plans for this area in partnership with private philanthropic interests contributing to these capital efforts, based on community input from park users and neighbors.

• This road closure proposal will not be implemented until the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Disability, in consultation with the DeYoung’s Access Division, has confirmed that adequate physical accessibility is provided throughout the Saturday closure area, consistent with the American with Disabilities Act. The Mayor’s Office will commit to implementing required access requirements that will allow this Saturday closure to begin on May 26, 2007.

• Recreation and Park Department shall develop appropriate signage for this Saturday closure to minimize any traffic disruption.

• Signatories to this agreement, as individuals and on behalf of their organizations, agree not to pursue or support additional closure proposals in Golden Gate Park nor proposals to decrease road closure in Golden Gate Park during Saturday or Sunday for five (5) years from the date of this agreement. No sunset provision shall be included in the legislation codifying this agreement.
This document summarizes the agreement reached between the parties for an alternative Saturday closure. This agreement will be codified into legislation by the City Attorney’s Office by Monday, April 16, 2007.

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It’s budget time again in San Francisco — prepare for classic theater

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NATHAN NAYMAN

Our City’s budget of almost $6 billion, serving fewer than 750,000 people, dwarfs the budgets of twenty-two states in this country. We already know the City doesn’t spend nearly enough of its $6 billion to smooth streets, pristine parks, or assure a functional infrastructure. You’ve heard this before, so it seems almost immaterial to once again mention common sense government efficiency and best practices during budget time. We go down that road each and every year and by now even the most stubborn fiscal watchdog must abdicate a reasonable approach to spending tax dollars. Perhaps it is more relevant to take a closer look at the political theater that raises its curtains every budget season at City Hall.

On with the show — somehow every year around budget time, we read that San Francisco faces yet another budget deficit. In the same breath, we hear that the City has collected record tax revenue! How can we be running consistent annual budget deficits while also taking in record revenues? What kind of mathematical theorems are used to explain this phenomenon?

Act I of this theatrical production is set within City Hall where the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have perfected ways to feed their special interests, pet projects, and ideological preferences with the unfortunate consequence of mortgaging the fiscal health of the City.

According to the Controller’s projections, the City will end the current fiscal year (FY) 2006-2007 with a $126.6 million “surplus,” largely driven by local tax revenue like the property transfer tax that has tripled since 2003 and brought the City nearly $150 million last year alone. But despite significant boosts in revenue (by the way, total tax revenue has doubled in the past 10 years) the City still faces a perennial, systemic budget deficit which at last estimate will total at least $25 and $85 million for the next two years. So what happened to that record tax revenue – that “surplus?” The reality is that there never was a surplus. This production spends money faster than it can be counted.

The use of the word “surplus” is a bit misleading. Most of us view a surplus as revenue that should be used with discretion since it is not usually counted on appearing again. In this City, however, it is typically relied upon to balance budgets in future deficit years. In fact, when the Controller’s Office projects future budget numbers, it assumes that every dollar of any “surplus,” this year totalling $126.6 million, will be available in its entirety to fund future budgets. There is no guarantee that the money will be there and even assuming none of this year’s projected “surplus” is spent and is instead made available to fund future budgets, the City still expects to be $25 million in the red in FY 2007-08 and $85 million in the red for FY 2008-09. So, every dollar of the “surplus” that they spend now will mean larger future deficits beyond the $25 and $85 million figures! Did someone say surplus?

The Controller’s projections also assume no wage increases beyond inflation for police, fire, and nurses—all of whom are currently in contract negotiations. When was the last time wage negotiations resulted in salary increases at or below inflation? Be mindful that every salary increase of only 1% adds $6.1 million to the deficit per year for FY 2007-08 and FY 2008-09, and $16.3 million in FY 2009-10. As these harsh fiscal realities come to bear in the final act of the show, the money is already spent and the City’s residents and businesses are left to pick up the tab.

Act II begins just days after the Controller announces mid-year budget projections, including any projected year-end “surplus.” City Supervisors rush like fare evaders through the back door of a Muni bus to spend the money on pet projects and “needs” that have been agreed upon in back rooms. These budget enhancements, whether legitimate or not, often have money appropriated with no sustainable funding streams. So when a Supervisor says that we now have the money to expand a program, the question remains, how will the added costs be sustained when the money is not there? If fiscal watchdogs cry foul, they are dubbed evil and told to “pay their fair share” only to hear the City announce the good news of a surplus (and future deficits).

In FY ’04-’05 Supervisors spent $8.3 million of “surplus.” In FY ’05-’06 they spent $60 million in “surplus” funds. In FY ’06-’07, hold onto your wallets and purses because once again the Chair of the Budget Committee, Supervisor Chris Daly has already proposed spending $38 million of this year’s $126.6 million projected “surplus” with other Supervisors said to be following suit in the coming days with their own spending proposals. It is only April.

In 2003 the Committee on Jobs called for the establishment of a “rainy day reserve fund” to take the city through rough economic times. With some leadership at the Board of Supervisors, the fund became a reality. When City revenue exceeds 5% from the preceding year, fifty cents out of every dollar is locked away in this fund only to be used in poor economic times when revenues fall. So as we watch the budget debate this year, perhaps our elected officials should entertain the idea that ALL “surplus” revenue be held in abeyance, in a special temporary account, prohibiting its use until the Mayor submits a budget to the Board on June 1. This way we will know how much money we actually have as a surplus and perhaps be able to make intelligent holistic decisions on its use as opposed to haphazard decisions from pressure groups and idealogues.

When leaders from both large and small businesses hear the words “surplus” and “deficit” in the same breath by politicians, we are bewildered. Unfortunately, it seems that everytime we suggest a more thoughtful and long-term approach to government spending amidst annual budget deficits, we are assigned the role of villain in this grand production. Financial ignorance or political strategy? You decide.

Nathan Nayman is a veteran observer of San Francisco, her governance, and governance impact on San Francisco business climate.

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Sensual San Francisco intertwines exotic Tuscany in local novel like upgraded Sex and The City

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THE ITALIAN CONNECTION — Author Jill St. Anne, left, surrendered to the seduction of Italian food, fashion, and handsome men twenty years ago and brings the throb to heart in release of spy thriller The Italian Connection, set in San Francisco and Tuscany. St. Anne seen last night with San Francisco book signing fans. Judy Fairchild, right, celebrated her own birthday at the event, recalling daughter St. Anne’s early years when St. Anne devoured Nancy Drew mysteries and promptly rewrote them… for improvement, at eight years of age

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By Pat Murphy
Sentinel Editor & Publisher
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

The bold, the beautiful, and the deadliest of bad guys, wage a modern day spy thriller between exotic Tuscany and sensual San Francisco now luxuriating off the pages of Jill St. Anne’s second novel — The Italian Connection.

Italians, more beautiful than they have any right to be, and San Franciscans more sensuous than the world dare utter, come to world-saving life from St. Anne’s memory of her first trip to Italy with friend Susan Jarolim who blends into leading character Christina. “Everybody thinks Christina is me, she’s not, she’s my friend Susan,” St. Anne confided to the Sentinel.

Jill St. Anne is the pen name for Jill Zajicek Wickersham, who received award for investigative journalism while in college.

San Francisco misty intrique combines with lush beaches of Tuscany to read like today’s version of Sex and The City, with Christina the modern day Nancy Drew.

“The thriller part is that the main character comes into possession with this microchip that is used to activate an arsenal of anti-ballistic missles,” continued St. Anne.

“So it’s very timely actually because this is what’s going on in North Korea, this is what’s going on in China.

“What happens is that the bad guys chase down Christina, because they know she has the microchip, knowing that if they were able to get ahold of the microchip they would be able to disarm our military.”

The seduction of both cities, and their people, intertwine with the caper.

“It is a romance but it’s very serious as well. With the cars, the food, the fashion, and the handsome men.”

St. Anne, of course, arrived in lastest model Italian Ferrari.

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Event host Claudia Ross, left, emceed the gathering with fashion connoisseur Sophie Azouaou also welcoming St. Anne’s mother Judy Fairchild, right.

Leading San Francisco Italiana were represented by Alioto clan frontliner Joe Alioto Veronese and wife Laura Veronese.

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San Francisco Police Commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese and wife Laura ushered a path by Claudia Ross, at left

Exacting bon vivants attended nodding approval.

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From left, Claude Hubert, Chip Zecher, Michael Mulcahy, and Holly Baxter

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Mark Calvano, right, makes the party in between launching men’s fashion wear for gentlemen born to center stage

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The Italian Connection is available online, cover designed by discerning mother Judy Fairchild

In the end, Christina takes a gamble that puts her own life on the line. She discovers her inner strength and learns that in love, a woman’s intuition is seldom wrong.

Last night, St. Anne captured intuition of locals who sense winners.

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Pat Murphy and Sophie Azouaou with Judy Fairchild

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Fast Pass airport security system coming to San Francisco

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SFO Director John Martin detailed faster flight boarding availability set to begin in October with prior submission to screening
Photos by John Han

By Pat Murphy
Sentinel Editor & Publisher
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

Frequent flyers, or merely those not at home with public exhibition of their socks, can look forward to less intrusive and faster security checks at San Francisco International Airport.

Starting in October, City officials projected yesterday, the hurried and the deadly shy can reduce their pre-flight gendarme once-over from some six minutes to as short as 30 seconds.

Such fast pass service, now available in five American cities, requires annual submission to a background check, retina scan or thumb print, and processing fee of $99, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom reported Wednesday.

Even now, San Francisco beats the national average for security clearance, the mayor noted.

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Mayor Gavin Newsom

Passing through SFO security checks now takes on average 2.4 minutes compared to national average of 4.2 delay six minutes, he said. Local peak time national average is 16 minutes, more than twice San Francisco average of six minutes.

Even so, with three new airlines soon to service SFO — JetBlue, Virgin and Southwest — increased passenger load could come with added security delays

Newsom and Martin met with reporters in the International Room of City hall at 12:30 p.m. to announce local fast pass availability.

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Newsom and Martin with, at left, Nate Ballard, mayoral press secretary, during roundtable presentation

Known as the Registered Traveler Program, some 4,000 flyers have signed up for the program now operating at Mineta San Jose International Airport.

See Related: ENROLLMENT STATIONS open for San Francisco flyer Fast Pass

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California voters approve of state law combating global warming

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California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered keynote address yesterday on state efforts to combat global warming. Schwarzenegger spoke at Georgetown University in Washington, DC for Newsweek’s Global Environmental Leadership Conference. The governor earlier met with federal officials to speed regulation of automobile emissions reduction.
Photo by William Foster, Office of Governor Schwarzenegger

By Mark DiCamillo and Mervin Field

California voters see global warming as a serious problem. Voters here give very negative ratings to the job the federal government is doing in handling the issue, but are not as critical of the way the state government is dealing with the problem.

There is strong support for a new state law, passed last year by the state legislature and signed with considerable fanfare by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, requiring California to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 25% by the year 2020.

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San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, left, welcomes California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to Treasure Island September 28, 2006, for signing ceremony of state legislation requiring reduced carbon emissions. Photos by Bill Wilson

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However, there is a sharp division of opinion as to the best way to achieve the goal of a twenty five percent reduction in emissions. Almost half of the public (45%) support establishing a trading system to enable companies that can’t reduce their emissions by the required amount to pay other companies to exceed their cutback totals. On the other hand, an almost equal proportion (41%) favors requiring all major companies to make a uniform, across-the-board twenty-five percent cutback in emissions. These are the findings from the latest Field Poll completed late last month.

Seriousness of the problem
Eight out of ten California voters (81%) describe global warming as a very serious (56%) or somewhat serious (25%) problem. Just one in six (17%) maintain that it is not a serious problem.

Democrats, non-partisans, liberals, middle-of-the-road voters, women, younger Californians under age 40, and voters in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area are more likely than others to say the global warming issue is very serious.

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Job approval ratings of the federal and state governments
Just one in five California voters (21%) approve of the job that the federal government is doing
in dealing with the global warming problem, while more than three times as many (66% disapprove.

Voters are not as critical of the performance of the state government in this area. At present, forty three percent approve of the state government’s efforts in dealing with this problem, while a like percentage (43%) disapprove.

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Views about the new state law reducing emissions
Last year Governor Schwarzenegger and the state legislature passed a law requiring that California reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 25% by the year 2020.

When voters are asked about this action, a large majority (79%) approves (55% strongly approving and 24% favoring somewhat). This compared to just 17% who disapprove.

Democrats, non-partisans, liberals, middle-of-the-roaders and voters in the San Francisco Bay Area are more likely than other voters to back the new law strongly.

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Trading system vs. uniform cuts?
One way to implement the state’s requirement for greenhouse gas reductions would be to set up a trading system allowing firms that can’t reduce their emissions by the required amount to pay other companies to exceed their cutback totals, thereby achieving a net 25% reduction across all companies. Another alternative would be to impose a uniform 25% cutback across-the-board for all companies. When asked which alternative they preferred, voters are about evenly divided, with 45% favoring the trading system and 41% opting for the uniform, across-the-board cut.

Unlike other elements of the global warming issue, there is not much difference in opinions by partisanship, ideology, gender or age, although more voters in the San Francisco Bay Area are supportive of the trading system than voters elsewhere in the state.

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Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) Chief Executive Office Tom King with signature on green emissions bill

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A pleased Charlotte Schultz, Chief of Protocol for both the State of California and for the City and County of San Francisco, following signing ceremony.

See Related: FIELD REPORT

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Disabled access to Golden Gate Park Kennedy Drive to be expanded

From the Mayor’s Office of Communications

Mayor Newsom and Supervisor McGoldrick today announced that disabled access has been expanded to John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park during its weekly Sunday closure to vehicles. These improvements are being made in order to comply with the American Disability Act (ADA) and legislation sponsored by Supervisor McGoldrick, passed by the Board of Supervisors and signed by the Mayor last year.

Disabled access improvements that have been made include: 1) Posting of signs outside the closure area that identify nearby disabled-accessible parking and provide directions to the underground garage below the Music Concourse; 2) the addition of 10 accessible parking spaces created adjacent or nearby the closure, and eight more parking spaces pending approval by the Municipal Transportation Agency; and 3) the establishment of car drop-off zones under Concourse garage, at McLaren Lodge and at Bowling Green Drive next to JFK Drive.

This week, the City will commence with the bid process to secure two permanent trams that will drive the length of the closure and provide access to the entire closure area for park users with disabilities. Until these trams are procured by the City, the Mayor’s Office is working to secure interim vehicles to provide near-term access to this closure.

The Mayor’s Office of Disability will monitor the completion of these improvements in the coming days and weeks.

Mayor Newsom expressed satisfaction that these accessibility improvements were moving forward quickly: “Simply put, JFK Drive must be accessible to all residents and visitors so that everyone can enjoy it equally. These state-of-the-art trams will provide a level of accessibility that can serve as a model to other cities that want to increase access to recreational street closures.”

Supervisor McGoldrick commented, “I am delighted that park visitors with disabilities will enjoy better access to the wonderful recreational and cultural activities in the Eastern end of Golden Gate Park.”

Mayor Newsom, in reflecting on discussions about alternatives to the current Saturday closure proposal said that “both the supporters and opponents of the current Saturday closure proposal deserve credit for sitting down with open minds to explore alternatives. I am committed to ensuring that any alternatives that are explored guarantee the level of disabled access that has been developed for the current Sunday closure.”

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Schwarzenegger in Washington to speed California regulation of auto emissions

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California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger delivering keynote address for Newsweek’s Global Environmental Leadership Conference today at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Photo by William Foster, Office of Governor Schwarzenegger

WASHINGTON, DC — Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today met with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson in to push California ‘s request for a federal waiver to restrict auto emissions.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling saying that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, which led the agency to take steps toward reviving California ‘s petition for a waiver.

“Last week’s Supreme Court ruling opened the door for California to move forward in setting our own strict vehicle emission standards to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Governor Schwarzenegger.

“Today, I am calling on the federal government to expedite our request for a waiver which will allow us to carry on the fight against global warming. Californians want to be free to protect the environment and we deserve nothing less.

“With technology that exists today, California ‘s vehicle emissions standards are eminently achievable — It is not a matter a technological ability, it’s a matter of political will.”

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Schwarzenegger on Treasure Island for signing of September 28, 2006, state legislation regulating carbon emissions to combat global warming.
Photo by Bill Wilson

To participate in the meeting, Governor Schwarzenegger invited former Assemblymember Fran Pavley who authored California ‘s landmark legislation in 2002 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles on which the federal waiver request is based. Linda Adams, California’s Secretary for Environmental Protection also attended.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, California has the right to set its own vehicle emission standards, and other states have the right to adopt the California standards as their own. Ten other states have adopted California ‘s vehicle emissions standards including: Vermont , New York , New Jersey , Massachusetts , Connecticut , Maine , Rhode Island , Pennsylvania , Washington and Oregon . New Mexico , Arizona and Maryland are in the process of adopting California ‘s standards.

On December 21, 2005 , the California Air Resources Board (ARB) requested a waiver of federal preemption of California ‘s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards. The waiver would allow California to enact emissions standards to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. The waiver was requested after the ARB developed regulations based on the 2002 California law. In addition to the waiver being stalled in the federal process, the law faces a legal challenge by automakers.

In letters sent on April 10, 2006 and October 24, 2006 to President Bush, the Governor reiterated the urgency of approving California ‘s request to address global warming.

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Photo by Bill Wilson

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San Francisco 49ers forecast stadium would boost Santa Clara economy by hundreds of millions

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A consultant hired by the San Francisco 49ers painted a rosy picture Tuesday night for the Santa Clara City Council about the economic impact that a stadium would bring to the city.

“A new stadium would create thousands of jobs, generate hundreds of millions in economic activity each year, and enhance the quality of life in the economy,” consultant Bill Rhoda told the council.

Rhoda’s firm, CSL International, produced an economic impact study that estimated a new stadium would generate $249 million in economic activity annually and bring $12.3 million in tax revenues to the city, Santa Clara County and the state.

Jed York, scion of 49ers co-owners Denise DeBartolo York and John York, told the council that the estimates were likely on the low side.

“The assumptions that we’re using are conservative,” York said.

Several council members were interested in the study’s assumption that the stadium would host a Super Bowl every 10 years.

“The Super Bowl once every 10 years, that seems very conservative to me,” Councilman Dominic Caserta said.

Rhoda said a Santa Clara stadium would be competing with many cities with newly constructed or soon to be completed stadiums such as Dallas, Indianapolis and Detroit. However, Rhoda said the region’s mild climate and the many attractions of the San Francisco Bay Area make it likely that a Santa Clara stadium would join the short list of cities that are regular Super Bowl sites

“When you start thinking about Super Bowls this is a location that would compete very favorably with Arizona, Miami, New Orleans,” Rhoda said.

One stadium opponent, former Santa Clara planning commissioner Byron Fleck, challenged the basic assumptions of the study saying that multiple economists have found that stadiums do not have any impact on a city’s economic development.

“These projects are losers,” Fleck said.

The council members did not take any action on the stadium project Tuesday night other than to refer the CSL study to the city staff for analysis. The 49ers are scheduled to present their full stadium proposal, including how the team plans to finance the project, on April 24.

Bay City News

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Citigroup to cut 17,000 jobs, take $1.38 billion charge

EXPENSE REDUCTION AIMED AT SAVING $2.1 BILLION, IMPROVING PROFIT MARGINS

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By David Weidner and Murray Coleman

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Citigroup Inc., which failed to fully capitalize on one of the most prosperous eras for U.S. financial services companies in recent years, today announced a sweeping expense-reduction that includes 17,000 job cuts and a $1.38 billion pre-tax charge.

The financial-services giant also will take an additional $600 million in pre-tax charges spread during the last three quarters of the year. Citigroup, which is thinning its back-office ranks and moving another 9,500 jobs to lower-cost locations, said the cuts are aimed at reducing $2.1 billion in expenses.

“This effort should enhance our capacity to grow,” said Robert Druskin, who was named chief operating officer in December and given a mandate to find waste. “There will be very little impact on client-facing functions, other than additional efforts to enhance our service levels.”

Citigroup said the expense reductions will lead to savings of $3.7 billion in 2008 and $4.6 billion in 2009. The numbers of job cuts come in the middle to high end of analysts’ expectations. Druskin said the company included cost cuts when it created a budget for 2007, but the budget did not included the charges. He also said about $1 billion of the first-quarter charge is severance costs.

The company also plans to do a better job of buying the supplies and services it needs. Citi said it will centralize 80% of its purchases by year-end and nearly 100% by the end of 2009. About 65% of the company’s purchases are centralized.

“That’s the kind of philisophical change we’re looking at enforcing throughout the company,” Druskin said.

The bulk of savings, about $1.05 billion in 2007, will come from Citigroup’s global consumer and markets and banking groups. Those units will also see $1.725 billion in annual savings in 2008 and 2009.

Citigroup expects $375 million in its technology and corporate operations groups by yearend. The bank will save $550 million each year through 2009 in technology department.

INVESTORS FACE DILEMMA

On the one hand, the pioneering international banking conglomerate retains some of the industry’s most prized assets. Its breadth and depth across the world is still considered top-echelon, if not top-dog, among U.S. bankers seeking to expand overseas.

And aiding that view is a building rampage of sorts undertaken by Citigroup.

The flip-side is that some of its key groups have come under criticism for neglect by past management teams. As a result, many domestic consumer brands have lost some of their luster.

Many money managers argue that Citigroup can no longer be considered on the cutting edge and a pioneer in world banking circles as they were for nearly three decades.

“They’ve got an advantage in terms of scale,” sid David Kovacs, co-manager at Turner Large Cap Value Fund.

“But the problem is that when you get to a certain size, it’s difficult to keep up past growth rates. So they’ve lost a lot of their nimbleness.”

Turner Large Cap Value Fund sold its long-term holdings in Citigroup last month after subprime loan scares rippled through financials. Although less exposed to types of loans at the heat of the controversy, Kovacs says the behemoth’s sheer size could hamper its ability to skate past any future bad news in subprime and related markets.

“Citigroup has grown to a point where creating a new product with enough impact to boost its entire business is much more difficult,” Kovacs said. “It has to take smaller bites out of the market these days.”

Even incremental steps can add up in a blue-chip with a market capitalization of $255.2 billion. Embattled Chief Executive Charles Prince has been trying to keep up with the company’s tradition of innovation.

But expenses have been rising faster than revenue. As a result, Chief Financial Officer Robert Druskin was tasked in December to find as much as $1 billion in cost savings within the financial giant.

“Tangible results should show up later this year in their cost-cutting program,” Lehman Brothers analyst Jason Goldberg said.

“In addition, we should start to see returns grow from investments they’ve made over the last several years in building new branches all over the world to bulking up in investment banking.”

But any impact from such moves is still at least several quarters away, he added.

“Positive operating leverage with revenue growing faster than expenses is big on investors’ minds right now, particularly considering what’s going on in the subprime mortgage arena,” Goldberg said.

Citigroup has a subprime portfolio of more than $40 billion, he added, or about 6% of its total. “It’s bigger than any other bank’s exposure to that market on a percentage basis,” Goldberg said.

Lehman Brothers has a buy rating on the stock and it has worked with Citigroup in the past.

In his most recent research note last week, Goldberg wrote that Citigroup would need to pare some 80,000 positions just to get to its competitors’ level in terms of sales per employee.

Even with drastic cuts and more revamping of operations, some investors say they won’t be impressed.

“They talk about cost-cutting and strategic planning as if they’re coming up with some huge revelations,” said Jim Huguet, chief executive at money manager Great Companies Inc. “But well-managed businesses do that just like breathing. They realize managing costs and growing revenue aren’t luxuries.”

The Tampa-based Huguet still owns some shares of Citigroup in his institutional and high net-worth clients’ portfolios. LM ) , Huguet says his firm’s money managers sold most of its holdings in the company.

“Asset management, when run properly, is a very profitable business and one that’s key to expanding the consumer side of the business,” he said. “It presents complexities to Citigroup’s current management. But some of its key rivals have been able to work through those issues.”

Prince, whose background includes serving as a lawyer, was a good choice when Citigroup was undergoing compliance issues three years ago, argues Craig Woker, a Morningstar Inc. analyst.

“He has made Citigroup much more focused on its core businesses and less inclined to try to hit home runs all the time,” he said. “But putting in-place more long-term strategic planning isn’t enough anymore. A lot of big investors are fed up and want immediate results.”

Prince needs to produce much healthier returns, Woker says. “He’s on a fairly short rope,” the Chicago-based analyst said. “He’s probably got 12-18 months to really perform. At least he should be hoping to get that much time.”

The 17 analysts polled by Thomson Financial have a consensus estimate for Citigroup’s 2007 first quarter earnings of $1.09 per share. That would be down from the same period a year ago when it earned $1.11 a share.

The company’s net income is expected to also fall slightly to $5.5 billion in first quarter 2007 from $5.6 billion a year ago.

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Pelosi message to Syria ‘consistent with Bush message’

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi

By Julia Cheever

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in San Francisco Tuesday that “there was no difference between the message the President is setting forth and the message of our group” during her recent visit to Syria.

Pelosi said at a news conference at the Federal Building, “We left our differences at home. We are unified as a country.”

The congresswoman, a San Francisco Democrat, led a congressional delegation of four Democratic committee chairmen, another Democrat who is the House’s only Muslim and one Republican on a trip to the Middle East last week.

The group visited Israel, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Pelosi was criticized by some Republicans for allegedly giving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a message that differed from President Bush’s position when she discussed an overture by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a possible resumption of peace talks.

But the speaker said, “Our message to President Assad was a very direct one and was very consistent with President Bush’s message.”

She said the group made clear that peace talks with Syria can’t begin until that country openly takes steps to stop supporting terrorism.

One of Pelosi’s critics was Vice President Dick Cheney, who accused Pelosi of “bad behavior” in her message to Assad.

Asked about that comment, Pelosi said, “I think it’s an indication of the poverty of ideas of this administration to bring peace to the region.”

Another delegation member, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, noted at the news conference that three Republican congressmen visited the Syrian president three days before Pelosi’s delegation.

Lantos said of the criticism of Pelosi, “I do not know whether it is more pathetic or more hypocritical.”

Lantos, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the trip “a magnificent visit” by a “well-balanced delegation.”

Pelosi was asked about comments in which President Bush today invited her and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to discuss a war spending bill in which Congress is seeking to impose timetables for troop withdrawals from Iraq. Bush has threatened to veto such a bill.

Pelosi said she and Reid were willing to talk to Bush, but not if the condition is that there can be no serious negotiations.

“The president wants a blank check and the Democrats don’t want to give it to him,” she said.

Pelosi asserted, “The American people have lost faith in President Bush’s conduct of this war.”

Bay City News

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FIELD POLL on status of illegal residents

By Mark DiCamillo and Mervin Field

California voters continue to view illegal immigration as a serious problem, hold some rather clear views about what should be done in many areas.

When asked their views on a number of proposals being debated among Congressional leaders and the White House, large majorities support creating programs to legalize the status of illegal immigrants who have resided here for a number of years (83%), and establishing temporary worker programs to allow immigrants to work here in the future (67%).

Large majorities also back policies aimed at reducing the flow of immigrants into the country, such as increasing the number of federal agents patrolling the border (71%) and stiffening penalties on those who hire illegal immigrants (63%).

However, there is greater contentiousness about the new policy of having federal agents round up and deport illegal immigrants, with 53% in favor and 40% opposed.

In addition, opposition is growing toward the idea of building a wall along major sections of the U.S.-Mexico border, with 59% now opposed, up from 48% last year.

These are the findings from the latest Field Poll measuring California voter opinions about the issue of illegal immigration.

Illegal immigration – how serious a problem?
Most Californians continue to consider illegal immigration a serious problem, with 49% rating it very serious and 28% somewhat serious.

Almost seven in ten (68%) Republicans describe illegal immigration as very serious, significantly greater than the 40% Democrats and 35% of non-partisans who feel this way.

Voters living in Southern California outside of Los Angeles County are more likely than residents in other parts of the state to consider illegal immigration to be a very serious problem.

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Reactions to specific proposals
Six proposals dealing with illegal immigration which have been discussed and argued by state and national leaders, as well as advocates on all sides of the issue, were posed to voters in the current survey. Most can be compared to previous Field Poll surveys conducted over the past year.

There has been a consistency of opinion on four of the six proposals. For example:

• Four in five voters (83%) continue to favor creating a program allowing illegal immigrants who have been living in the U.S. for a number of years an opportunity to stay in this country and apply for citizenship if they have a job, learn English and pay back taxes. This is similar to 80 support for this approach found last July, and up slightly from 75% who felt this way last April.

• Two-thirds of voters (67%) support creating temporary worker programs for illegal immigrants that would legalize their status and allow future immigrants to work in this country, up slightly from 60% support last April.

• Seven in ten (71%) favor increasing the number of federal agents patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border, identical to what was found last year.

• About two in three Californians (63%) advocate imposing stiff penalties on employers and individuals who hire illegal immigrants, similar to 60% support found in two previous 2006 surveys.

On the other hand, there is growing opposition (59%) to the idea of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. This is a significant increase from last year, when 48% were opposed and 47% were in favor.

In addition, one of the more contentious issues measured in the current survey is the new policy of federal immigration agents rounding up, detaining and deporting immigrants found to have entered the country illegally. When asked about this, a narrow majority of voters (53%) is supportive, while four in ten are opposed (40%).

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Differences between the views of white non-Hispanics and Latinos
Latinos and white non-Hispanics hold similar views on a number of the policy proposals. For example, large majorities of both groups favor creating a path to citizenship for long-time illegal residents and creating a temporary worker program that would legalize their status and allow future immigrants to work here.

In addition, fewer than four in ten white non-Hispanics (39%) and Latinos (30%) back the idea of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Latinos (54%) are somewhat less supportive than white non-Hispanics (75%) about increasing the number of federal agents patrolling the border, although majorities of both groups are in favor.

However, Latino and white non-Hispanic voters hold opposite positions on two other policies stiffening penalties on those who hire illegal immigrants and rounding up, detaining and deporting illegal immigrants. While majorities of white non-Hispanics (68% and 58%, respectively) favor each of these policies, among Latinos just 43% and 35% are supportive.

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See Related: FIELD REPORT

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At the San Francisco Ballet – Programs 6 continues with NIGHT, ON COMMON GROUND, and RODEO

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

Choreographer Julia Adam’s NIGHT is a fantastically imagined dreamscape. The soundscape consists of selections from the provocative “Night Grooves” by composer Matthew Pierce – including beautiful renditions of Present, Office Parks and Strip Malls, African Smile, Salvadori Dali. The music can be sampled on-line and an order placed for the next issue of CDs. Onstage, the dancers’ translation of kinetic energy into suggestions of pursuit and resistance, desire and invasion was engaging and perplexing.

San Francisco Ballet premiered NIGHT in 2000. The 30-minute ballet draws-out imagery and bursts of energy common to everyone’s dream life – those odd projections of personalities and events, the three-dimensional embodiments of combined symbols and ideas – all drifting through and lifting the mind during what should be the lull of sleep. There is never a choice of subject, but sometimes an episode to settle upon – such as the momentary whim of an armchair channel-flipper. In the midst of such visions there can be a subjective choice to join it, judge it, jettison from it, or just hang-out until it’s over….

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Adams’ NIGHT. Images by Erik Tomasson

Marking its world premiere, Helgi Tomasson’s ON COMMON GROUND utilizes nine movements from composer Ned Rorem’s String Quartet No. 4. While not a “dream”, the production does inspire a fantastical appreciation of San Francisco Ballet – its amazingly diverse company of dancers, the daring use of music never intended as dance, the frequent absence of scenery and the filling up of the cavernous space with brilliant choreography, and the incomparable talents of conductor Martin West and the Ballet Orchestra. As with the SF Symphony, jeweled solo opportunities are provided to its individual members. Cello soloist David Kadarauch lavished a fiery temperament through the rich edginess of Rorem’s point / counter-point composition. Displayed in simple athletic-type attire designed by Sandra Woodall, under the warm lighting designs of Michael Mazzola – the awesome physical strength and artistic sharpness of this uncommonly sensual collection of Classically grounded dancers invites the highest levels of artistic appreciation.

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DAVIT KARAPETYAN and LORENA FEIJOO, TINA LeBLANC and JOAN BOADA – On Common Ground. Photo by Erik Tomasson

The perennial favorite, Agnes de Mille’s RODEO, lassoes dreams and fantasies into an always welcoming round-up of trysts, trials and traditions. In the Opening Night Spotlight as “The Cowgirl” was Kristin Long, a member of San Francisco Ballet since 1990. Shining-in from the Corps de Ballet – tall and lovely Pauli Magierek as “The Farmer’s Daughter” was swept away by the charms of “Wrangler” Aaron Orza (a native of Walnut Creek and possible nominee for the Clint Walker Look-A-Like Contest).

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(Left) Pauli Magierek and Aaron Orza, (Right) Garen Scribner, Kristin Long, and Rory Hohenstein. Photos by Erik Tomasson

But Rory Hohenstein was MVP throughout the evening, appearing prominently in all three works. Promoted to Soloist in 2006, Mr. Hohenstein captured just about everybody’s heart with his stunning work in last season’s ELEMENTAL BRUBECK. In this presentation of Program 6, Rory Hohenstein proves his sensuality in NIGHT, his teamwork and compatibilities through ON COMMON GROUND, and as a nimble tapper and supporting romantic lead in RODEO. An emphatic “Yes, Sir!” pierced through the bravos at his curtain call.

The following casts have been announced for this coming Friday evening and Sunday afternoon:

Friday, April 13th at 8:00 PM
NIGHT
Conductor: Gary Sheldon
Featuring: Tina LeBlanc, Ruben Martin

ON COMMON GROUND
Conductor: Martin West
Cello: David Kadarauch
Featuring: Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets, Molly Smolen, Ruben Martin

RODEO
Conductor: Martin West
Featuring as –
Cowgirl: Kristin Long
Wrangler: Aaron Orza
Roper: Matthew Stewart
Rancher’s Daughter: Pauli Magierek

Sunday Matinee, April 15th at 2:00 PM
NIGHT
Conductor: Gary Sheldon
Featuring: Vanessa Zahorian, Tiit Helimets

ON COMMON GROUND
Conductor: Martin West
Cello: David Kadarauch
Featuring: Lorena Feijoo, Davit Karapetyan, Tina LeBlanc, Joan Boada

RODEO
Conductor: Martin West
Featuring as –
Cowgirl: Sarah Van Patten
Wrangler: Brett Bauer
Roper: Garrett Anderson
Rancher’s Daughter: Pauli Magierek

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RORY HOHENSTEIN – Kicks-up de Mille’s RODEO

To order tickets on-line to PROGRAM 6:

Friday, April 13th at 8:00 PM
Sunday Matinee, April 15th at 2:00 PM
Tuesday, April 17th at 8:00 PM
Saturday Matinee, April 21st at 2:00 PM
Saturday, April 21st at 8:00 PM

Check out Seán’s recent interviews and articles:
MANON LESCAUT – KDFC 102.1 and the San Francisco Opera
PASCAL MOLAT, A Stroll Through Eden/Eden
ALTAR BOYZ – In San Francisco
AFTER THE WAR – at A.C.T.
COLOR ME KUBRICK – starring John Malkovich

SUGGESTED DVD: WHY DANCE? A Film by James E. Manning

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San Francisco Sentinel’s Fine Arts Critic Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Ask him a question on AllExperts.com . If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: seanmartinfield@att.net.

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Golden Gate Park Saturday automobile ban recycled

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Leona Fifer, left, and Thelma Cornish back suggestion a study of traffic expected when the Academy of Sciences opens in 2008 should be undertaken before closing a portion of Golden Gate Park to autmobiles on Saturdays.
Photos by Sentinel Photography Editor David Toerge

By Pat Murphy
Sentinel Editor & Publisher
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

Partisans move to the negotiating table Thursday in the recycled saga of whether to ban automobiles from the heart of Golden Gate Park on Saturdays.

Phil Ginsburg, a former labor negotiator and now chief-of-staff to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, will mediate among park neighbors pitted against each other, cyclists led by the San Francisco Bike Coalition, and those concerned for park revenues and access for all to the park, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick said Monday.

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A subdued McGoldrick noted the new search for compromise during a hearing yesterday on his most recent Saturday autmobile ban legislation before the Land Use and Economic Development Committee of the Board of Supervisors.

Final recommendation of the Committee to the full Board will come at a later date.

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District 1 Supervisor Jake McGoldrick

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell chaired the three-person Commitee hearing comprised of Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval as well as McGoldrick.

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District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell

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Mayor Newsom vetoed similar McGoldrick legislation last year. Voters defeated two ballot measures in 2000 which mandated Saturday park auto ban.

Under McGoldrick’s current proposal the main artery into Golden Gate Park — John F. Kennedy Drive — would be closed to cars on Saturdays. A Sunday car ban on Kennedy Drive has been in effect for 40 years.

While some neighbors insist they want a park not a parking lot, others who live close to the park fear a flood of parking congestion from those unable to drive to major park attractions.

Opening of the new Academy of Sciences, scheduled for late 2008 or early 2009, will multiply automobile flow by two and a half times, reported Jim Lazarus, Senior Vice President for Public Policy of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. He suggsted a study of traffic impact by Academy opening is necessary prior to Saturday closure.

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Jim Lazarus

Opponents to Saturday closure include a coalition of seniors and the disabled as well as the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, the Sunset District Neighborhood Coalition, the District 11 Council. Some urge closure of western entrances to Golden Gate Park rather than main road Kennedy Drive.

Petitioners for McGoldrick recall from office highlight the District 1 supervisor’s leadership in Saturday closure attempts.

Proponents include park neighbors advocating a healthier neighborhood through fewer autmobiles, and bicycle enthusiasts, some raising class issues.

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MANON LESCAUT – KDFC 102.1 and the San Francisco Opera

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

San Francisco Opera and radio station Classical 102.1 KDFC have joined forces at last! On the first Sunday of every month, KDFC is broadcasting productions from the War Memorial Opera House. The program airs at 8:00 PM free of commercial interruption. Also on the bandwagon is the WFMT Radio Network in Chicago. Beginning on Saturday, October 6th at 10:30 AM, the station will feature nine works from SF Opera’s 2007 season as well as productions from Houston Grand Opera, LA Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

It has been 25 years since San Francisco Opera was broadcast on local radio. Among those fabulous presentations was the Opening Night performance of Jules Massenet’s Thaïs starring the passionate Beverly Sills as ancient Alexandria’s greatest lady of the evening. For Bay Area listeners who have been complaining about the weak signal output from the classical radio station and bemoaned the absence of classical vocals, KDFC has begun remedying the situation and gone High Definition. Check out the two HD radios available at Radio Shack – the Boston Acoustics Recepter Radio® and the Accurian Tabletop HD Radio. For those who missed the April 1st broadcast of Puccini’s MANON LESCAUT, a second opportunity is available as WFMT launches its Saturday morning series. Keeping in the spirit, I am happy to re-submit my commentary [22 November 2006] about this fabulous production.

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MANON in chains – Karita Matilla and Misha Didyk

Puccini’s MANON LESCAUT opened on Sunday afternoon at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. The City was amazingly warm, romantic and glamorous – so totally conducive for premiers of musical memoirs about Parisian boudoirs sprung from the passionate pen of Giacomo Puccini. The production’s grand sets and 18th Century costumes, designed by Frank Philipp Schlössmann, originated from the Lyric Opera of Chicago and were previously seen at the Houston Grand Opera – former stomping grounds of our General Director, David Gockley. Safeguarding this sumptuous production of Manon Lescaut and marking his directorial debut with the SF Opera, Olivier Tambosi proved himself a remarkable commandant over an amazing assemblage of fabulously diverse operatic talent.

The Puccini opera – one of three musical interpretations of the novel by wealthy and ordained romantic roué, Antoine François Prévost – has launched and nurtured many a soprano’s career from the stage of the San Francisco Opera. Licia Albanese and tenor Jussi Björling were teamed here in 1949; their complete 1954 recording with baritone Robert Merrill (re-issued on CD) still ranks among the finest. One of the Metropolitan Opera’s most enduring lyric sopranos, Dorothy Kirsten, sustained the role along with the composer’s other tragic heroines – Madama Butterfly, Mimi, and Tosca – over a remarkable career spanning three decades. A beautiful portrait of Miss Kirsten as Manon Lescaut hangs in the Press Room at the War Memorial Opera House. She deserves the honor – having packed the House during the Seasons of 1950, ’56 and ’67. Since then, San Francisco audiences have heard Leontyne Price, Mirella Freni, and Pilar Lorengar as the almost-cloistered French beauty turned courtesan turned condemned miscreant doomed to the barren Louisiana coast. Now it’s all about Karita Matilla. She is exquisite. Similar even in appearance to Dorothy Kirsten (who as Madama Butterfly, drew upon a personal library devoted to Japanese culture) Karita Matilla is a much-studied and dedicated actress, having worked with such acclaimed directors as Luc Bondy. He is as much at home with the brooding works of Beckett and Shakespeare as with the lyric complexities of Mozart, Verdi, and Britten. Matilla’s powerful voice has the same warmth and dramatic pathos of Price and Freni; her more lyrical touches, gentle phrasings, and sense of humor being the best evidence of an acquired theatrical know-how. Her characterization of Puccini’s excessively vain, frivolous and greedy Manon – brought to salvific redemption through the unqualified love of the Chevalier des Grieux – is totally supported by her leading man, tenor Misha Didyk. It is truly Puccini’s intention to have such a tenor stand beside such a Manon. We see and hear the likes of Mr. Didyk – we observe Manon’s rejection of him and subsequent downward spiral – and think, “Stupid girl!” The ecstatic and electric voice of the handsome and seething Ukrainian-born Misha Didyk set this afternoon’s collectivity of classical hearts aglow.

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KARITA MATILLA and MISHA DIDYK

For some, the operatic world is still reeling with the retirement of Luciano Pavarotti and the faded attractions of fellow tenors Placido Domingo and José Carreras. From this once-thriving trio, with many a role and canto in common – who can we now latch onto and adore? Make a date with the ultimate spinto tenor Misha Didyk. In addition to his Chevalier des Grieux, Misha’s portfolio includes Rudolfo in Puccini’s LA BOHEME and Alfredo in Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA. Given the urgency of time and smart planning, some of us are already imagining the teaming of Misha Didyk and Karita Matilla in productions of TOSCA, TURANDOT, THE TALES OF HOFFMANN, and (if Mr. Gockley can use his magic hook on baritone Dmitiri Hvorostovksy) an all-out mounting of Verdi’s DON CARLO. Under the magical baton of Maestro Donald Runnicles, this sunny Sunday afternoon opening of MANON LESCAUT revealed Misha Didyk advancing from the relative shadows of obscurity to the glorious position of a New Star. From this point on, Misha Didyk deserves the Center Ring.

In their respective roles as Manon’s self-serving brother and her foolishly wealthy betrayed benefactor, baritone John Hancock and bass Eric Halfvarson excel in their roles as Lescaut and Geronte. Again, fantastic voices matched by equally strong acting chops.

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ERIC HALFVARSON and JOHN HANCOCK – Negotiating the price of MANON

In the Up and Coming Department: tenor Sean Pannikar in the role of Edmondo. Readers of this column were alerted to his exceptional contributions during the Summer 2006 production of Tchaikovsky’s THE MAID OF ORLÉANS. [Note: This “Joan of Arc” is scheduled on KDFC 102.1 – Sunday, June 3 at 8 PM). Then a member of the Merola Opera Training Program, Sean Pannikar has since been appointed an Adler Fellow. Given his performance and training opportunities with the San Francisco Opera, Mr. Pannikar will one day bring the full realization of his beautiful tenor and already captivating stage presence to the role of des Grieux. As Edmondo, the young scene-stealing tenor of Act One, Mr. Pannikar’s stunning rendition of “Giovinezza è il nostro nome / la speranza è nostra iddia” (“Youth is ours with all it gladness / Hope is the goddess of our creed”) – might lead some first-time viewers of MANON LESCAUT to mistake him for the Leading Man. Sean Pannikar is already that good.

– COMING UP –

Scheduled for Sunday, May 6th at 8:00 PM – KDFC 102.1 will broadcast the recorded performance of San Francisco Opera’s RIGOLETTO. The cast includes Paolo Gavanelli (Rigoletto), Mary Dunleavy (Gilda), Giuseppe Gipali (The Duke of Mantua), and Greer Grimsley (Count Monterone)

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MARY DUNLEAVY (Gilda) signs Rigoletto Playbill for SEÁN MARTINFIELD
Photo by John Han

See Seán’s recent articles on:
PASCAL MOLAT, A Stroll Through Eden/Eden
AFTER THE WAR – at A.C.T.
ALTAR BOYZ – In San Francisco
COLOR ME KUBRICK – starring John Malkovich

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San Francisco Sentinel’s Fine Arts Critic Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Ask him a question on AllExperts.com . If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: seanmartinfield@att.net.

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Photography Tips: San Francisco is beauitful in early sun, shoot early and shoot late

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By David Toerge
Sentinel Photography Editor
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

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SAN FRANCISCO is beautiful, especially when it is lit by the early morning sun. This Nob Hill view of the Bay Bridge from California Street is always a constant reminder to me of how lucky we are to call this place home.

Photo Tip: Shoot Early and Shoot Late
To get better results in your picture taking you might want to consider shooting early in the morning from just prior to and two hours past sunrise. Shadows will be long and the light is soft. It is a different world at that time of day and you will see things that you would normally overlook at any other time. The same is true for very late in the day as well.

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SELECTIVE FOCUS
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Not everything that appears in the camera’s viewfinder has to be tack sharp. In fact, deciding what you want to be sharp may either make or break a good photograph.

There are several ways of achieving this but you will first of all need a camera and a lens that allows you some control. Switching the camera to auto will not yield results you are after because the point and shoot models out there try to get everything sharp.

A telephoto lens (85-105) or a similar range will do fine.

My lily photo was shot with a CanonEOS1 with a 70-200 mm 2.8 lens.

The range is of less importance than the f-stop in achieving a true selective focus photograph.

To achieve a properly exposed picture you have to balance the shutter speed and the f-stops.

The f-stop is associated with the iris of the lens and controls the amount of light that is let into the lens, meaning a larger opening. When the lens is opened wide allowing a lot of light you have to control that light using a fast shutter speed.

When you use a wide-opened lens setting like f 2.8 – very little remains in focus except the spot you have focused on.

The foreground and background will go very soft.

This technique can be effective in directing the viewer’s eye where you want them to be looking because the eye and brain will search until they find sharpness.

The two shots pictured are the exact same group of flowers.

One shot is focused on the foreground lily the second one is focused on the lily in the middle.

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See what a difference it makes.

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When David Toerge left a career in photojournalism that had spanned over twelve years and started in a new direction of commercial photography he blended the editorial style with a more corporate look. David led the way in that new style garnering many awards for his work. Communications Arts has honored him over six times. Based in San Francisco, David shoots projects on location all over the US for various corporations and a multitude of magazines and always brings back great images. He has a keen sense of light, color, and composition and delivers to his clients assignments done with passion. He has climbed bridges hundreds of feet in the air, shot in caves hundreds of feet below, dived with sharks and driven the track with Indy drivers. He has shot earthquakes and firestorms but loves walking the streets with his camera just photographing the everyday life of his city. Visit Toerge Photography at toerge.com, email david@toerge.com, or telephone 415-730-3824.

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