Noe Valley Voice April 2000

Rumors Behind the News:
Noe Fool's Day

By Mazook

AS MOST OF YOU KNOW, the first Noe Valley Town Hall of the 21st century was held on April 1 in Latvian Hall on Hoffman Avenue. The historic meeting was called to order at 7 p.m., and the first order of business was, of course, parking.

Complaints about where to park led to a "too many cars" debate, and from there to a heated discussion about SUVs and their potential victims. Somebody pointed out that we all should be driving smaller cars with no more than four cylinders. Honda is working on a three-popper, they said. Then the conversation swerved to gas prices in California, the global energy crisis, our dependence on foreign oil (there was a warning from the balcony that Congress is going to renew Alaskan oil exploration -- met by a chorus of "boos"), and finally to doomsday scenarios about pollution and global warming.

The mood of the crowd got downright revolutionary. Everyone began attacking the internal-combustion engine, once the driving force of the 20th century and now clearly the root of all evil.

Someone even started singing the words from Tower of Power's big hit: "There's only so much oil in the ground." And soon the whole place chimed in.

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ASSEMBLED WERE representatives from more than a dozen clubs and associations, including the Friends of Noe Valley, the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, Upper Noe Neighbors, the Duncan-Newburg Association, the Noe Valley Democratic Club, the Dolores Heights Improvement Club, and the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club. There were block groups from Liberty Hill, Cesar Chavez Street, Sanchez, and Fair Oaks. Also pres-ent were the Friends of Glen Canyon Park, Advocates for Upper Noe Rec Center, and the Noe Valley Neighborhood Parks Improvement Association.

According to the Noe Valley Bureau of Investigation (NVBI), there were 2,368 Noe Valleons who registered at the door and another 5,000 outside on Hoffman, watching to the meeting on TV monitors provided by KQED.

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SPEAKERS EXHORTED THE CROWD: "We've got to choke off our gas consumption," said Upper Noe Neighbors chief Vicki Rosen, "and let's get rid of methyl tertiary butyl ether [MTBE] while we're at it!"

Dolores Heights spokesperson Amy Powell urged everyone to "get out of your cars and walk, walk, walk. It'll be good for your health, too."

A group of seven Sanchez Street residents held up a placard that read: "Oil is the heroin of Western civilization." Another banner said simply: "Use Trains!"

Then Friends activist Harry Stern came in the door waving a piece of paper and shouting, "We have been in communication with the Board of Supervisors tonight, and they have agreed in principle to electrify all public transit in the neighborhood, give us a fleet of minibuses, and rebuild the Castro Hill cable car!

"Muni is on board, too," Harry continued excitedly. "They've promised to support our Noe Valley ban and expand services in the area, and they think this 'exclusively electric' idea will catch on all across the city!"

At that point, the crowd both inside and outside the hall burst into applause.

Bob Roddick, head of the Noe Valley Merchants Association, stepped to the microphone: "If we ban the gas guzzlers, there may no longer be a parking problem in Downtown Noe Valley," he said. "However, we believe that many Noe Valleons will acquire electrically powered vehicles. So I've got just two words for you local residents: golf carts."

East & West Club president Paul Kantus also pointed out that a lot of money might be needed for the changes. He then proposed boosting his club's dues, now $4.20 a year, "to something that would be more lucrative. How about four thousand dollars and twenty cents? -- for only those who could pay, of course. We'll donate most of the money to the cable car stops, but we might keep a little to cover the postage on our newsletter," Paul joked.

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THEN THINGS STARTED to get serious. Some of the newer Noe residents called for financial commitments from the crowd. They grabbed a Giants baseball cap and passed the hat around the hall and through the windows of the many Mercedes parked outside. By the time the cap returned to the podium, it had raised over $37 million in pledges.

"This money can be used to fund some sort of 'buy-out' plan," suggested a young man in a sweatshirt. "We'll buy all the cars with internal-combustion engines owned by people living within the impacted zone. And we'll make sure there's enough so that those who want to can afford to buy a small electric car," he said.

Next, Noe Valley Bureau of Investigation chief Jose Noe (a direct descendent of José de Jésus Noe, the last alcalde of Mission San Francisco) reported that the last census had identified 11,357 gas-powered vehicles in our neighborhood but only one car (on Jersey Street) powered by electricity. Jose seemed quite upset about that fact, and said he lamented what had happened to his family's farm over the past 100 years.

Perhaps if people started using bicycles to get around Noe Valley instead of cars, he said, "we'd have cleaner air to breathe for our kids, our animals, and the trees and the flowers."

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AMAZINGLY, after a sizzling, four-hour debate, the Town Hall adopted a resolution calling for a total ban on the internal-combustion engine in Noe Valley! -- effective Dec. 31, 2000.

That means all cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, motorized lawnmowers, and leaf blowers will be prohibited west of 20th Street from Guerrero to Grand View, then south to 30th Street, east to San Jose, and north back to 20th Street.

By midnight, Latvian Hall was quiet and empty. More than 7,000 exhilarated attendees folded their chairs, swept the floor, and carried their clipboards and water bottles down the hill to 24th Street to celebrate.

What an April Fool's Day it was.

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SO MUCH FOR FICTION. Now let's have a reality check.

Noe Valley lost a very familiar face recently: Art Schembri passed away in February. (Art was in his late 70s, and had cancer.)

The headline in a May '94 Voice story about Art Schembri read: "Meet a Barber, Blacksmith, Buggy Maker, Horn Player, Horseman, and History Buff." That about sums it up.

Art bought the building on the corner of Church and 25th streets in 1962, started a barbershop in the storefront, and lived upstairs. He retired from 55 years of barbering in 1985. (The shop was operated by Roger Camira until 1993, when Stephanie and Jerry Holstein took the reins. Stephanie's dad, Mike Skoufas, a.k.a. "Mike the Barber," later took over the third chair in the shop.)

Noe Valley native Paul Kantus was sad to see Art go: "Art was a familiar fixture on 24th Street every morning (except when he went to Marin County to visit his two horses). In the summers he would take his horses and wagon to the county fairs for children to enjoy hayrides behind real horses."

For those of you who remember Art's fabulous old photos of Noe Valley that hung on his barbershop walls, you can still see them. Art donated much of the memorabilia to the Noe Valley Historical Archives housed at the Noe Valley ­ Sally Brunn Library.

"Art was also a longtime member of the East & West of Castro Improvement Club," says Paul (its president), "and we'll miss him."

By the way, East & West, as you oldtimers know, was founded in 1904 and has continuously served this community ever since. Membership dues are in fact $4.20 per year, and you receive a newsletter every month, complete with drawings and photos from the good old days.

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LAST MONTH'S REALTY CHECK had to be the sticker price on a house up on Sanchez Street, billed as a "beautifully remodeled Liberty Heights Victorian home with 4 bedrooms/3 baths." When it went on the market the first week of March, the asking price was $1,095,000. (That figure was already $300K more than what the house sold for last summer!)

Everyone attending the open house was asked to remove their shoes and given a paper bag to put them in and carry around whilst they inspected the premises. All the furniture in the house was rented and brought in specially for the sale. The carpet was very white.

The brochure said, "...[L]ocated in the prestigious Liberty Heights area of Noe Valley, this Eastlake style Victorian delights in luxurious elegance accented by a designer flair." At the bottom was the line, "Offers accepted March 9, 1 p.m."

Well, the rumor is that the house sold almost instantaneously (by Herth Realty), and that the lucky bidder paid $1.75 million. That's no joke, folks.

And I am not kidding when I say that the furniture and furnishings were all props. Did any of you see an article in the New York Times (Feb. 9) by Patricia Leigh Brown, which described how realtors are hiring "home stagers" to "bring out the good features of a home"?

One of the people Brown interviewed for her story was Noe Valley real estate wiz B.J. Droubi: "Ms. Droubi," she wrote, "tries to steer buyers to houses that aren't staged, so they won't get into a bidding war on overpriced properties. 'A staged house evokes an emotional response -- people will usually pay whatever it takes to get it,' she [Droubi] said. 'I will tell them to try and see past the dirty orange shag carpet.'"

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TO END ON A HAPPY NOTE, I'd like to plug a local folksinger's latest CD. That would be the Sapphire Blue Birthday Album by none other than Jewels and the Gems.

For Julia "Jewels" Blagden, who recently moved up the hill from Church Street to Diamond Heights, this represents her second children's album. Her first, The Ruby Red Album, was a hit in 1997 and landed her in the 1997 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as a honey bear on a Mother Goose float that was playing her songs.

Sapphire Blue has 13 original birthday songs, fully orchestrated for children, and a bonus track with everybody's party favorite, the Musical Chairs Medley.

I hope it goes platinum for ya, Jewels.

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THAT'S THIRTY and then some. Before I go, I just want to say that I nominate for President the guy on Jersey Street who drives the electric car. Bye, kids.