I was lucky enough to spend some time with the people who run the Tenderloin People’s Garden, run by the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC). Nella Manuel is the feisty new garden coordinator, and she enthusiastically tries to recruit people in the community to come down and participate. The garden is located right across from city hall on Larkin and McCallister at the old Water House, on a piece of land donated by the city. The garden is open everyday, and there is a harvest on December 15 where anyone who lives in the Tenderloin can come to harvest many of the vegetables growing in the garden to bring home and cook! I brought home some delicious lettuce and tomato that have served well in my salads.

Take a look at the gallery of images below, and the video that show more of the garden and the great people who run it and come by to volunteer. Please keep in mind that this was my first time using a real video camera, and that the experience was a product of the limited time I had with this equipment.

Garden Hours:

Monday: 10am-12pm
Tuesday: 3-5pm
Wednesday: 10am-12pm
Thursday: 3-5pm
Friday: 10am-11am

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Two people emerge from the public toilet in front of City Hall in San Francisco.

The public restroom near City Hall gets plenty of use. During business hours the units are havens of drugs and prostitution, and often filthy. Photo by Jason Winshell/SF Public Press.

This article originally appeared in the SFPublicPress on April 6, 2011
by Nina Frazier

Prostitution and drug use aren’t what San Francisco bargained for 14 years ago when it allowed a private company to install public restrooms across the city. But among the 25 freestanding units, several have been routinely closed for a week or more because they were regularly hijacked by junkies and sex workers.

Even when used by legitimate patrons, the toilets have been hard to keep up to modern sanitary standards. Most of the so-called “self-cleaning” toilets are now so filthy that even after automatic cleanings, they require one to five manual scrub-downs each day.

How messy are we talking about? One indication: Homeless people in the Tenderloin say they are so repulsed by the conditions inside that they avoid using the bathrooms, preferring to relieve themselves on adjacent sidewalks, alleyways and bushes.

“They’re disgusting!” volunteered Jim Rokas, a homeless carpenter who sells the Street Sheet newspaper, as he pointed angrily at the gold lettering above the forest green bathroom pod at City Hall that reads “TOILET.”

“We call these ‘hoe-tels,’” he said.“H-O-E-T-E-L. People use these for sex, shooting up, everything!”

Drugs are commonplace in the units, as they serve as convenient, private spaces that cannot be unlocked from the outside — ideal for getting a quick fix. In more than a dozen visits to four public restrooms over the last month, a Public Press reporter found two where hypodermic needles were strewn across the floor.

There are also clear signs of prostitution at a bathroom just beyond the balcony of Mayor Ed Lee’s office — even during business hours. At the self-cleaning facility in Civic Center Plaza, just steps from City Hall, the automatic door stayed open just long enough for one man to come out and another to go in, while a woman who remained inside entertained each for up to half an hour. (Rules posted on the bathroom limit occupancy to one adult at a time, with a 20-minute maximum.)

The toilets were installed in San Francisco by the New York-based advertising company JCDecaux, starting in 1996. Maintaining hundreds of public restrooms in Paris and London, the company spent $250,000 on installation for each facility here. JCDecaux recoups the investment by selling ad space on the outsides of the bathrooms, as well as on more than 100 kiosks throughout the city. The city receives a cut of the profits — $507,000 just in the last year, according to Department of Public Works Spokeswoman Gloria Chan.

“It’s a money-generating program for the city, and a service provided at low cost,” said Francois Nion, JCDecaux’s executive vice president.

But the network of city toilets isn’t as clean as city officials had first promised. What was intended to be a service for poor residents without access to basic hygiene, as well as a relief for tourists, has become a health hazard for undaunted patrons and the staff who clean and maintain them.

Robot janitors not enough

The facilities are designed to clean themselves during a 55-second automatic cycle in which a cleaning solution is sprayed on all inside surfaces. But the bathrooms weren’t designed for the job of cleaning up after drug users who leave needles and the other paraphernalia behind, or those who disable the doors by wedging them shut from the inside. The loads of garbage and human waste that end up everywhere often remain, soaked with detergent, until a human janitor bags them.

Public Works spokeswoman Chan insisted that the city was not responsible for the maintenance, cleanliness or safety of the facilities. Rather, it is written into the city’s 20-year contract with JCDecaux that the company must keep the facilities in a “clean, graffiti-free, safe, and first-class condition” by providing “the necessary personnel to assure the maintenance of Automatic Public Toilets.”

As a result the facilities, which frequently go in and out of service because of mechanical trouble, trash or police activity, are shuttered by the city. For residents of low-income, high-density neighborhoods such as the Tenderloin, that means the closure of the only bathrooms available to the public at night.

Crimes hard to track

Police say they can’t pay special attention to the sex and drug activities that occur in the restrooms because “there is no way to track crimes specifically at the public restroom locations,” said police spokesman Albie Esparza. Instead, they respond to crimes in progress and complaints from residents.

“The Police Department is aware that these public toilets are sometimes used by persons engaged in unlawful activities,” Esparza said. “Police officers do respond to calls, reports of crimes or suspicious persons at public toilets and take the action on any suspicious activities they may observe.”

Community activists say the filth is equally distressing. Dina Hilliard, interim director of the North of Market/Tenderloin Community Benefit District, which advocates for better public services in the neighborhood, said that in their current condition, the city’s public bathrooms are not a safe option.

“Those of us who know them don’t want to use a bathroom like that,” Hilliard said. “You don’t know who is going to be inside or who is going to greet you when they come out.”

Despite the misuse Hilliard said closing or even getting rid of the facilities would exacerbate problems: “I don’t want to see amenities removed because they aren’t being used properly.”

A dirty job

On a recent weekday, JCDecaux maintenance technician Peter Vongseni pulled his van onto the sidewalk beside the public toilet outside City Hall. Seeing the green door closed, he waited inside his van for five minutes, then walked up and gave a knock. After several minutes a bearded man in baggy black jeans and a helmet emerged, wheeling out his bike, as a middle-aged woman dressed in sneakers, dirty jeans and a faded windbreaker followed. Then they moved in opposite directions.

After working for JCDecaux for two years, Vongseni said he is practiced in this routine.

“Every time I come, there are people inside,” he said. “Today when I came there were some Chinese tourists trying to get in the bathroom, and there were three in there yelling at them to stop pushing the button.”

When Vongseni arrives each morning at the City Hall bathroom, he usually encounters broken toilet parts that need fixing, five or six drug needles and often an inexplicable amount of excrement spread everywhere.

“Every day it’s a huge mess,” he said. “There’s poop on the floor, poop on the wall.” He said the maintenance crews “get together after work and complain. We don’t know how they do it.”

Vongseni warns tourists and children not to go in the bathroom until he has been in to clean it. In fact, the sordid conditions have led JCDecaux to give maintenance workers special training on the health effects of AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and the risks of working in unsanitary conditions.

No relief in central city

The toilet at City Hall is among the most heavily used, with maintenance records clocking in just over 500 uses in two days over a recent weekend. But Vongseni said the other two public restrooms in the Tenderloin, located at McCauley and Boeddeker parks, are equally unclean.

Wedged between a small fenced-in children’s playground and the New Century strip club on Larkin and O’Farrell streets, the McCauley Park facility is frequently trashed. At 11 a.m. on a recent weekday, a pair of pink-striped children’s underwear was found stuffed beneath feces in the metal toilet bowl. The restroom receives about 70 flushes a day, and despite being serviced four to five times daily, it is constantly abused.

Because of the number of complaints of illicit activities after hours, the city ordered JCDecaux to close the McCauley Park restroom between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

“It helped a little bit, but I think it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality,” said Adam Solarzano, director of operations for JCDecaux. “The cops could help us, but they don’t.”

The other bathroom, at Boeddeker Park at the corner of Eddy and Jones streets, just opposite the Tenderloin Police Station, stayed closed for three weeks over February and March due to construction. It then reopened — only to see a return to its state of misuse.

Other public toilets, like the one at Castro and Market streets, are also messy affairs. But with a more police patrols nearby, the mess is kept to a minimum. Esparza said that while the police are aware of crimes committed inside the facilities, the bottom line is that “there is no special policy for policing Tenderloin public restrooms” and no plan to increase patrols.

Seeking solutions

JCDecaux said the city approached the company recently with several ideas to keep drug and sex activities out of the units.

The city’s food-service providers have recently begun talks to extend bathroom hours at soup kitchens, at the city’s expense.

Another proposal involves installing blue lights inside the bathrooms. That would deter drug users from locating veins, a prevention technique popular in Europe. Another is to close the restrooms at Boeddeker and McCauley parks at night, even though they are the only after-hours facilities in the neighborhood.

But Tenderloin advocate Hilliard said that eliminating those facilities would be counterproductive.

“You cannot just service the 9-to-5 part of a person,” she said. “It’s a public-health issue for the neighborhood. You can’t claim to be servicing people who are homeless and not provide this amenity for them.”

This is the second of two articles about hygiene options for San Francisco’s homeless. See Nina Frazier’s story from last week: Are food service providers really to blame for human waste in the Tenderloin’s streets?

I am a horrible blogger. Please don’t shoot. I promise to make it up to you with more in depth coverage and exciting news about the Tenderloin.

First I wanted to share a little bit of change that has happened with me personally, that will allow me to talk Tenderloin even more: the San Francisco Public Press.

If you don’t know what the Public Press is about, go check it out. Right now! It’s a commercial-free, non-profit new organization that is focused on bringing in-depth investigative pieces of journalism to San Francisco. (They partnered with McSweeny’s to produce San Francisco Panorama)
It’s mostly run by volunteers and reporters that feel passionately but aren’t paid much, and I’m excited to be a part of a growing and inspiring journalistic team.

Since I’ve been at the Public Press, I have been working on a piece about something that really stinks… public bathrooms. Now for most of you that live in the Loin, you know what I’m talking about, and for those that don’t- your in for a real surprise on tonight’s article, which I will share on my Twitter and post here a few days later, (Thanks to the Public Press for being cool with shared content) This story will hopefully kick off what will become my “beat” for the next three or so months while I am at the Public Press. I am partnering with another reporter, and former Street Sheet writer, TJ Johnston, to focus on a beat that covers housing and homelessness in the Bay Area. Our goal to to create meaningful relationships with sources and the community to cover information not being covered anywhere else. If your welfare check got cut and your still out of housing, or you know about a something affecting your neighborhood, I want to hear about it.

So for a slow introduction, I am putting up this short audio piece that I did last week. I went out with my trusty recorder and asked people on the street: “What do you like most about the Tenderloin?” and was somewhat surprised at the immediate response…

Hope you all survived that blustering weather, don’t put away your rain boots yet. We get our worst weather in about a month. Mark my words.

Stay tuned!

After being lucky enough to make my first trip outside the country this summer it left me wanting to try new foods in a way I never would have expected. As a girl who grew up with her Mexican Nana slipping giblets and menudo into dishes without notice, only to become horrified at what I’d eaten later, I became someone that didn’t want to eat something unless I could identify every ingredient (visible or not). Somewhere along my travels in France I realized that I actually like giblets and would eat just about anything on the menu… yes, even the snails. (Although I think their goodness is a credit mostly to that delicious garlic butter they’re baked in)

So all this left me itching to apply my new found nerve straight to my favorite Vietnamese deli, Saigon Sandwich, where I cannot identify 90% of the goods sold.

After several attempts (on multiple days) at deciphering the name of this dessert that the women behind the counter tried to help me identify in vein, I said ‘what the hell, I love all desserts, and if I knew what it was maybe I wouldn’t be so excited’. So I buckled up and pulled one from the fridge, hoping no one else would ask, “OH, What’s that!?”, leaving me to tell the line-full of people I had no idea what I was about to consume.

Verdict? YUM. This coconut milk dessert is GOOD. But I still don’t know what the hell the rest of it is. Anyone that knows, enlighten me!

A place to cut and frame your artwork? Check. FREE Studio space? Check. Grand Piano? Also check! These are just a few of the services and spaces that the Community Benefit District has available at its art center in the heart of the TL.

I spent Saturday at their first weekly artist meet-up, which will be every Saturday from 12 to 3, hanging out at the Community Benefit Districts’ (CBD) art and gallery spot at 134a Golden Gate (at Post) and had a great time talking with the coordinator and curator of the place. The only problem? I was the only one there!

A full size grand piano awaits the talented fingers of local Tenderloin artists.

A full size grand piano awaits the talented fingers of local Tenderloin artists.

Granted I left an hour early, so maybe another guest or two slipped by without notice.  Still, this place is just too colossal and awesome too not be crawling with artists and art lovers alike. I mean, there’s even a huge hallway under the sidewalk that was used through the 30’s as a place to store old film reals, now turned painting space.

CBD has created this artist-run space to showcase, brainstorm and create art by Tenderloin artists. CBD says one of it’s main goals is to promote art that puts the neighborhood in a positive light and keep the space for, “artists of all skill levels, experience and expertise, to come and gather to exchange ideas about art and community.” Currently, the gallery and showroom features 36 pieces from four countries by 24 different artists.

The space even has a lush garden in the back to hang out in.

The gallery is part of CBD’s outreach to the community. They’re responsible for a lot of those commissioned murals around the neighborhood, including the “Three Faces of Fear”, the huge anime’ style neon faces that cover the entire building as you walk down Golden Gate to Market. Rick Darnell, the curator and coordinator of the project exposed me to the meaning behind this mural and I’ll always look at it differently. The first (green) face, is supposed to be the Tenderloin resident, fearful of the neighborhood he lives in and upset about what goes on in the street. The second (pink) face, is the prostitute, fearful of getting beaten by her pimp, and the last (blue) face, is the cop, getting ready to face the streets that day.

The program coordinators Wilton Woods and Rick Darnell are both passionate about the neighborhood. Darnell is a guy overflowing with life, you won’t be able to escape getting into a long discussion of art, politics, and even the history of the neighborhood itself. While Woods is more laid-back, you get a balance, and I immediately feel like part of the gang.

Curator, Rick Darnell browses the Tenderloin Art Lending Library

They are always looking for artists to submit art for a gallery show or to donate to the Tenderloin Art Lending Library (TALL), a new program that allows residents to browse through local art and choose a piece to take home for up to three months. It’s fairly easy to borrow, all you need is an ID card, and it’s intended to be easily borrowed to encourage the neighborhood to participate. Other donated art is displayed in the lower level space, along with some of Elaine Zamora’s personal collection.

Rick Darnell showcases ready-to-borrow art from a local Tenderloin artist

Rick Darnell showcases ready-to-borrow art from a local Tenderloin artis

Art featured in the gallery show rotates six times a year. The current show, features portraits of Tenderloin residents that would not have normally gotten a portrait taken. My favorite one was of a notorious local woman who came in with a huge black trench coat and hood that was then made to look like a off-the-shoulder dress. The crisp portraits reveal a hidden aspects of the characters usually framed by a negative light. This show will end on December 10, to make way for the “Uncharted Territories” exhibit, which is accepting submissions through Dec. 5. The theme focuses on, “blueprints for the inner workings of new civilizations, as envisioned by artists of various disciplines. Maps of imagined cities, countries, worlds, and even entire solar systems will expose created landscapes that await the occupancy of a post-apocalyptic society.” The best part? CBD charges no fee or commission rates. So hurry, you’ve still got time to get your art in the show!

Welcome! If you’ve found me here, it means you’ve already gotten to the new site. Make sure you update your bookmarks, and  if you’re new to the site, welcome!

Nothing’s changed but the URL, so that people can actually find it instead of having to remember my weirdly spelled name. SO, you can still expect to hear about what’s going on in the TL. And do look back at the old blog in a few weeks to stay up to date on my other reporting and photography projects.

I found this on the ground yesterday. I’m going to ignore the circular reasoning and go straight to the irony that the last bit of advice is, “Please, do not litter!”

Everyday when I walk home through the TL I am always irked at myself for being a bad photojournalist and not having my camera attached to my hip 24/7. Although, there is only so much I can carry before I start to look like a bag lady, which I usually avoid (or accomplish?) by stuffing everything in one large sack that I had sewn with the original intent of making a large pillow. Running around with a pillowcase full of electronics like Santa isn’t always the brightest idea, no matter where you are in the city.

So yesterday I went out with the express purpose of documenting Hyde Street, my main thoroughfare to the Civic Center BART station. I ditched everything but my camera, a few lenses and a tripod starting at Bush St. continuing down to Market.

"Oops" was my first word. Maybe it was this guy who dropped this paint can's last...

Sure carrying your camera around the TL can be dangerous, but it can be just as dangerous in other parts of the city. My experience, for the most part, has been that people don’t mind photographers out on the street, they’re usually just interested in whatever you’re taking a picture of, and wary of anyone pointing a camera (especially a huge professional DSLR) in their face. This explains why the iPhone is great for capturing images discreetly, albeit with far crappier quality. When people do mind, I would advise it’s best to walk away from the situation than to start an argument based on some law about where you legally can and cannot take a photo. When it comes down to it, you’ll be outnumbered 100,000 to 1. People in the loin have got each others back.

The biggest thug on the block, this pigeon was the only thing that tried to attack my camera.

The average Tenderloinian does not want to be photographed, until they get to know you. Walking up to people and shoving a camera in between the shoulders of their crack deal is not going to help you make friends. Trying to sneakily shoot those people from a distance might land you getting your camera snatched, or worse. Talking to people is always a good idea, the most interesting people I have ever met have been on the streets of the Tenderloin, or working in neighborhood soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

So for my experience, I tried to capture the street itself and some of the permanent fixtures that have been changed over time by their environment. For those that love the charm of the old neon signs and rusted fire hydrants, these are for you.

Check out the slideshow to see all of the photos.

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Fans gathered at the Civic Center Plaza leap to catch one of hundred of orange flags distributed to the crowd before the parade began Wednesday morning.

If there was ever a city to celebrate breaking a 52 year curse, it’s the city of San Francisco.

In case you missed the third straight day of mayhem over the Giants winning the World Series, you might have been one of the lucky ones that caught more of the action at home on your TV.

Reports estimated over a million people, and BART saw an extra 72,000 riders on the morning commute trying to get to the Parade Wednesday morning. People working downtown were seen scrambling through the crowd, which was unswayed by one woman’s plea, “I’m just trying to get to work!”, shouting her down chanting, “Keep her here!”

The realization that the ill-placed speakers made hearing anything impossible for people who got closer than 200 yards, made the people waiting in front of city hall since 7a.m. less than satisfied. Two girls began a fight and the crowd again rising up to eject the offending party singing in unison the classic Steam song: “hey, hey, heyyyy, goodbye!”

The crowd was more than restless by 12p.m. It wasn’t surprising that some were tired, after all most were fighting for one of millions of orange towels passed out to the crowd as if it were free pot. And after an hour of straining to watch the parade floats on two projectors and at least four hours of Coors light and, “the smell of Prop 19 in the air,” as Giants closer Brian Wilson put it, there was a definite funk in the air as the crowd began to demand the Giants come out. It didn’t help that fans kept jumping the barricades, delaying their arrival on stage even longer.

Prop 19 was indeed in the air, as this gentleman smoked a blunt tucked into a water bottle.

By the time the Parade arrived at Civic Center, a wave of excitement rushed from the corner of Larkin and McAllister toward city hall where people raged like it was the new millennium. Yet, many put-off by the lack of sound cut out before most of the players even made their speeches.

Grown men cried, children in strollers looked more bewildered than the parents who made the choice to push double-wides through a crowd, and a deaf woman with a sign reading, “Marry Me Buster Posey!” made it an eclectic San Francisco event.

If you were one of the many people unable to get a copy of the Chronicle, like myself, you can get the World Series Package on SFGate. It includes the three extra editions and the Nov. 2 paper.

The Examiner distributed a special “Souvenir Edition” on the day of the Parade in which they matched each player up with a neighborhood in SF. Our Giants rep for the TL (and my personal favorite Giant) is Freddie Sanchez. The paper said, “Have you seen his batting stance? He can barely stand still, so he will fit right in with the tweakers.” Funny, but I’d like to think he’d fit right in with the rest of us too.

In case you were one of the people at the parade, and missed everything, you can catch it here on SFGate’s culmination of fan footage. Look below for the photos I was able to capture while I was squished like a sardine in the crowd from 8 a.m.


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If your in the TL and need a place to get totally shitty watching the Giants win Game 5 and the World Series look no further than these three great spots to catch the game and stay off the over-beaten path on Polk. I heard people are already lining up outside the bars there, and were 45 minutes from the first pitch.

The Outsider: 894 Geary (@ Larkin)

They have a pool table but who gives a shit about that tonight? It’s all about the BBQ outside, HD TVs and $3 well and draft beers during the game.

Owl Tree: 601 Post (@Taylor)

Did they say free hotdogs?! Yes, and its good they’re free because it’s these ate te inky are the only acceptable conditions for eating one of those things. Also $3 Blue Moon until the tap runs out.

Aces: 998 Sutter (corner of Sutter and Hyde)

This is where you’d find me if I was able to be out watching the game, it never hurts that it’s right around the corner from my place and they have $3 well and domestics til 8p.m. Plus you gotta support a local joint that survived last weeks fire.