Legal

Bohemian Bridges

Slipcase_Bohemian_BridgesA2016

 

The good people at Guardian Stewardship Editions have included my piece on housing rights/squat activist Steve DeCaprio in their new anthology, Bohemian Bridges, which collects writing on American (especially Californian) social, cultural, and political change. I’m honored to be a part of the project.

Articles
California
Legal
Politics
punk
San Francisco

Comments Off

Permalink

Bummer Beach

mtnsbeach

A few years back, the Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla bought the land surrounding Martins Beach, a lovely little cove just south of Half Moon Bay. He then closed the only access road to the beach. Trouble is, all beaches are open to the public under California law. In this month’s San Francisco magazine, I wrote about the legal battle between Khosla and a group of surfers for access to the beach.

Early on the morning of October 21, 2012, five surfers pile into a Chevy Suburban in Half Moon Bay and drive south on Highway 1. Just past the city limits, they pull off the road at the entrance to Martins Beach, a beautiful little cove frequented by generations of fishermen, beachgoers, and surfers. It’s a typical coastal morning: damp, chilly, the sky a latticework of fast-moving clouds. They shrug off their hoodies and suit up.

From the highway a single road—the only way in or out—tumbles toward the beach past hay fields, weathered bungalows, and stands of wind-sculpted cypress. The road, which runs over private property, was open to the general public for almost a century. But an automatic metal gate installed by the property’s new owner now bars the way. Signs hang from the gate: “Beach Closed, Keep Out” and “No Trespassing.”

The signs make the surfers a little nervous, sure. But they had read the California Constitution the night before, saving screenshots of the relevant portions to their smartphones just in case. Article 10, Section 4, it seems to them, is pretty clear: “Access to the navigable waters of this State shall be always attainable for the people thereof.” In other words, the public owns all of California’s 1,100-mile coastline.

Shortly after the group hops the gate, they are confronted by an older man in an SUV who yells, “The cops are on their way!” before driving off. Jonathan Bremer, the leader of this group of unlikely dissidents, shoots back sarcastically: “Good morning! Thank you for allowing us to access public lands!”

The road bends in on itself, and the beach comes into view: a natural amphitheater framed by sheer 75-foot cliffs, Mediterranean in its color palette. Jutting out of the waves is Pelican Rock, a postcard-ready formation that bisects the cove. The group paddles out. It is far from an epic day—the peaks are shifty and windblown—but at least they are making their point. Bremer, a 28-year-old vehicle engineer, grew up near the coast in Bellingham, Washington, and moved here three years ago. His manner is intense, at odds with surfer stereotypes. “I really don’t like it,” he says, “when people tell me I can’t go places that I’m legally entitled to go.”

Then, as they sit in the lineup, their boards rising and falling with the swell, the cops show up.

Articles
California
Legal

Comments Off

Permalink

Housing a Movement, redux

utne31The current Utne Reader features a condensed version of my story about Steve DeCaprio, Oakland’s punk-rock squatter guru. I remember Utne from way back–what liberal doesn’t?–so it’s pretty cool to see my work in there. (Here’s a pdf, by the way, of the uncut version that ran in California Northern a few months ago.)

Articles
California
Legal
Music
Politics
punk
San Francisco

Comments (0)

Permalink

Death to the Penalty

death1This month’s San Francisco magazine runs my piece on a legal challenge that could bring California’s death penalty law crashing down. The decision is expected this fall, but no matter which way the judge goes we can expect appeals stretching to the horizon. Ultimately, though, it’s hard not to see this challenge as yet another step on the road to abolition.

One way or the other, members of the defense community are cautiously optimistic that the death penalty’s days are numbered. “It’s like pushing a boulder uphill,” Zimring says. “But things are changing.”

Articles
California
crime
Legal
Politics
San Francisco

Comments (0)

Permalink

On the Block

tap1I’ve got a piece in the new issue of the American Prospect, on some innovative anti-crime efforts in Oakland that actually work. In the most messed-up parts of the city, police action alone can’t do the job; nor can well-intentioned community groups. The key, as it turns out, is to get them working together. Easier said than done–community policing schemes have come and gone (and come again) in Oakland. But this new push, which is harder-edged than community policing but has many of the same aims, looks awfully promising.

It’s been raining and the San Francisco Giants are on TV, so the streets are quiet. We’re cruising through East Oakland, one of the most violent parts of a violent city. A knot of drug dealers loiters in front of a housing project, and crackheads sit in folding chairs on the sidewalk. Two teenagers in hoodies saunter by; another weaves back and forth on a small bike. Anthony DelToro gestures toward them: “When you see youngsters like that, all in black, the majority of the damn time they got guns.” He pauses. “This is Oakland — everybody got a gun.”

Read the whole thing here.

Articles
crime
Legal
Uncategorized

Comments Off

Permalink

DNA’s identity crisis

Everybody knows that DNA doesn’t lie, right? That’s what CSI has taught us: Just “follow the evidence,” as Gus Grissom says, and you’ll find your perp. Well, what if the statistics we use to convict suspects (those one-in-a-million odds we hear in the courtroom) are off by orders of magnitude? What if some DNA “matches” are nowhere near as airtight as we’ve come to believe? Bicka Barlow, a San Francisco defense attorney, is asking just these questions–and the government is stonewalling her. I explore these questions in “DNA’s Identity Crisis,” a story that took me months to report and write, in the latest issue of San Francisco magazine.

Plus: “Anatomy of a DNA Match: Why finding a criminal through DNA testing is a much dicier process than you’d think.”

Articles
Legal
San Francisco
Science

Comments (0)

Permalink