Category Archives: Communities

Neighborfest success

By Wei Ming Dariotis

Neighborfest volunteers
 On Saturday, October 29th, the weekend of Halloween, a block party for the neighborhood was hosted on the 1700 block of Quesada Avenue!

Despite a few sprinkles and a bit of wind, neighbors gathered all day long, enjoying such highlights as the Bret Harte Elementary School dance troupe, singing and musical performances by several neighbors and a wonderful barbecue. We also had a smoothie shake maker, a taco truck, a bounce house and free popcorn and games with prizes.

                                                            Dancers from Bret Harte Middle School

Proceeds from the raffle and a neighborhood yard sale held in conjunction will go towards neighborhood emergency preparedness. The Neighborhood Emergency Network (NEN) sponsored the event to help and encourage neighbors to come together and learn about each other’s strengths and skills so that we can be prepared to work together in case of a disaster such as an earthquake.

The event’s core organizer was Maxine Kraemer, who was just amazing. There were about twelve main organizers from the neighborhood and others who volunteered on the day of the event to make sure things ran smoothly. People donated time and money, skills and community connections to make the event come together. The effort involved brand new neighbors and people who have lived on the block for over thirty years. It was a very diverse group, and we had a great amount of fun putting it together.

My favorite thing was how many people just hung out all day and talked to each other. I met so many new people, including folks who just live a block or two away, all of whom were grateful to have an event they could enjoy with their children. The talented Bret Harte kids who danced and sang really formed the heart of the event as they reached out and brought joy to everyone watching.

The event was so successful we have already started planning next year’s event.

QGI forges relationships with intrepid volunteer groups

By Shane King

Quesada Gardens has gone through many changes over the years. But one constant has been the great feeling newcomers get when they first hear the Quesada Gardens’ story and then get to do some work in the place they just learned about. On Sunday, November 22nd, two great relationships between the Quesada Gardens’ community and outside organizations were forged.

It took months of back and forth with various groups to settle on dates and times and tasks that would work for everyone. But now new volunteers have been oriented to the project and are eager to come back and help.         

Event planning included Craig Cannon’s renting of a truck that would take debris to the dump multiple times during the day.

The work party started as they have for over a decade now: neighbors and visitors meeting in front of Jeffrey’s house. Craig, Liz Skow, Shane King and Jeffrey Betcher talked with young people from the Student Conservation Association. Three high school students and two youth leaders arrived in the pouring rain, heard a bit about the history and mission of QGI, grabbed tools and got to work. It felt a little crazy to be working in the middle of one of the hardest rains we’ve had this year, but everyone was willing and, in fact, worked really hard.

The first task was to load the pile of debris that has been sitting across from Lisa’s house for the past eight months. Then we set our sights on the Founder’s Garden at the top of the hill wanting to give it the love it’s been needing. The pounding rain finally stopped about an hour into the work, and we could take off our hoods and see how much we’d gotten done.

Volunteers in Founder’s Garden. Photo: Jim Gatteau

Carlos Davilla joined us at the top of the hill where we finished loading up the truck and then said goodbye to our first group of volunteers for the day.

Craig, Carlos and Shane headed off to the dump and unloaded a very packed truck before returning to the gardens just in time to meet our second group of volunteers. The group is known as “Blue,” a Palo Alto/Oakland-based set of families with a deep commitment to community and service.  It included about 30 people, ages 1 to 60, each as hard-working as the last.

Shane King tells a story to a group of volunteers from Palo Alto known as “Blue.”  Photo: Carlos Davilla

Their eyes lit up when they heard the Quesada Gardens’ story, and most of them gravitated towards the dirtiest, most difficult tasks of weeding and pruning in the Founder’s Garden. These people seemed determined to do hard work, and thrilled to have had the chance to work outside for the greater good.

Along with these amazing volunteer groups, neighbors Jeffrey Betcher, Shane King, Carlos Davilla, Craig Cannon, Liz Skow and Danny Kim with his intrepid kids DJ and Emma accomplished Herculean tasks:

  • We took two truckloads to the dump for a total of 1800 pounds.
  • We filled 38 tall compost bags for DPW to pick up.
  • We filled two larger garbage bags with bottles, shoes, litter and other junk.
  • We disposed of one huge, unsightly pile of debris.
  • We introduced 35 people to the inspiring story of what a community with unity and purpose can do.
  • We renewed our faith in humanity after what was, for many of us, a very disappointing election.

Our next scheduled big volunteer day will be March 4th with a group from Habitat for Humanity.

Look for another group, ARC, in the garden, too.  These folks have been coming every Thursday, and have been planting native plants and other vegetables and flowers across from 1771 Quesada.

Pokeman Go gamers discovering Bayview


By Wei Ming Dariotis

Zubats! Goldeen! And Pidgeys, oh my!

Visitors to Quesada Gardens may now be coming not just to smell flowers and look at beautiful murals, but to catch Squirtles, Pidgeys, Zubats, and a few Sycthers — or, the latest craze: Pokémon Go, a mobile app update of the Nintendo game classic. In just a few short weeks, Pokémon Go has become a global phenomenon, enticing adults as well as teenagers and kids to get outside and explore.

What I find most exciting about playing the game is the feeling of being on a scavenger hunt. It makes you feel like you are on an adventure. It is a game that encourages communal playing, and social groups of co-workers and friends, and even families, are organizing PokéWalks to PokéStops and PokéGyms.

Pokémon Go has reshaped players’ relationships with the urban landscape. Bayview, like the Mission, provides an important cluster of PokéStops, many of which are places of artistry, like our community murals or Founders’ Memorial. These are often places that might be passed by, or are located in obscure locations. But, as they are marked on the PokéMaps people follow on their phones, these places are made more visible.

Both the Quesada Gardens’ Community Mural, at the Quesada turnaround, and the “Bayview Is…” Mural on Newhall just under the Bridgeview Garden are PokéStops. At a PokéStop, players can collect items like PokéBalls, which are used to capture or collect the seemingly infinite variety of creatures. (Pokémon is short for “pocket monster.”)

In a form of augmented reality, players can see the Pokémon superimposed on their lived environment through their phones’ cameras. It can be quite exciting to see the fish-like Goldeen gently waving its fins among the flowers you can see in front of you in real life, or the Pidgey jumping up and down on the hood of your car (while you are safely parked, of course!). It blurs the line between the virtual and the real. Using GPS, the game tracks players and gives bonuses — like specially hatched eggs — to those who make the effort to walk. (Driving or riding a bike does not unlock the Pokémon eggs.)

Not only can players collect important items at PokéStops, or battle other Pokémon at PokéGyms, but they can also find specific types of Pokémon in environments that draw that particular variety. For example, Ocean Beach is the place to go for water-type Pokémon. This aspect of the game has encouraged notoriously neighborhood-bound San Franciscans to venture forth beyond neighborhood boundaries in order to collect a wider variety of Pokémon. (There are over 150 in Pokémon Go and hundreds more in other iterations of the game.)

After less than a month of being active, Pokémon Go already has more users in the United States than Twitter. The Pokémon world includes card games, collectible stickers (in gum packets), television series, movies, and video games for various gaming platforms (handheld, console, arcade, etc.), as well as stuffed animals and other toys, but Pokémon Go is already the most successful version of the franchise. It is so revolutionary that it will reframe how video game apps will be developed from now on, and it may just pave the way for other forms of interactive, place-based entertainment.

Innovative traffic-calming at Quesada Gardens

Images by Shane King

John and friend

Shane King lives on the upper side of Quesada Avenue, which has a speed limit of 15 MPH, and he’s tired of seeing and hearing cars whiz by his house.

A speed bump was installed, to little avail. So King, Co-Chair of Quesada Gardens Initiative, brought up the idea of traffic calming cutouts shaped like local children and pets. He thought that putting up cutouts of the people and pets who actually live on the block might make speeders think about who lives here. Maybe they will slow down.

“I thought of this solution for three reasons,” King said “It’s a reminder that speed limit is 15 MPH on the street, it’s a way to show speeders who’s lives they are risking, and it is a way to show all the kids on the street they are honored members of our community.”

kids cutoutsThere are nine kids under ten on the 1700 block of Quesada. The cutouts should be finished and placed by mid-August. They will be placed in the garden in view of drivers.

If you have an idea for our community and would like to get involved, Quesada Gardens Initiative welcomes you to join us at our community building meetings the first Thursday of each month at 6pm. All community members are welcome.


A different kind of neighbor conflict

Jeffrey Betcher

I came back from some travel to find a limb from my street tree had broken off and was weighing down a cable attached to the Kim home next door. I was on the sidewalk, talking with another neighbor, Shane, about what could be done when the Kim family pulled out of their garage and told us they’d already called PG&E who would send a crew that evening.

I’ve been thrice blessed with neighbors in what is now the Kim house. Woodrow Young introduced me to just about everyone in the early years after I moved to Bayview.  The Harrison’s, family member after family member, became friends and involved in the life of Quesada Gardens. And now, the Kim’s!

In another place, neighbors might argue about who should do what when a street tree threatens electricity, or worse internet connectivity, to another neighbor’s house. Not here.

PG&E did pull the tree limb down, and left it beside the Kim’s front steps. I pulled it into my driveway only to find it back at the Kim’s place the next day.  When I found Danny Kim and his kids breaking it down for compost, we compared notes and discovered that we had been in a tug-of-war over who might save the other from the task.

Thank you, Danny. It may be just one more Quesada Gardens “How lucky am I?!” story, but my gratitude for life in Bayview, and the persistent feeling that, blessedly, I am cared for here, whether from on high or next door, are stronger than ever.

If you want an “How lucky am I?!” story of your own, you might find it this weekend at Sunday Streets.

Sunday Streets 5-1-2016This Sunday, May 1st, 3rd Street will be devoted to community and play instead of the usual traffic mayhem.  A Community Livability Pavilion is planned at Quesada, and the Quesada Gardens will be open as always.  Come by for a visit!  I hear the day will also include a fun wine crush hosted by Barbara Gratta, the winemaker Bayview has been developing a crush on for years, and free dental services for those who need them.

More info at Sunday Streets online and Bayview Footprints.

Related note: The long-awaited Quint Street Rail Bridge replacement is happening!  This weekend, from today through 5 am Monday morning, expect construction activity and increased noise levels and traffic.  Caltrain will have altered transit services.

More info at Caltrain online and on Bayview Footprints.




Jeffrey’s cancer and community journey

Mango Baby-eating panda by Rhonda Winter
Mango Baby-eating panda by Rhonda Winter

Jeffrey Betcher

The further from home my cancer journey takes me, the more I land right back at the gardens in Bayview.

While visiting Lex in Florida last week, I tried to sketch a panda which turned out no better than if a panda itself had done it.  When I returned home, a letter from Rhonda Winter, Latona Garden co-founder and now German resident, was in my mailbox.  It was exactly what I had pictured in my meditations about a mythical animal keen to eat a mango sized tumor stuck up my butt.

(Visit www.caringbridge/jeffreybetcher for gory (gorier) details. Point is, this daily sort of community synchronicity happens all the time.  It’s like dependable magic.

The connections between my unwieldy journey with cancer and the place I live, people I live near and others who have come through my life by way of the gardens emerge every day.

The experience so many have, that Bayview Hunters Point’s environmental and social history have bequeathed chronic and sometimes terminal health problems, has roots in reality. At the same time, I hope the internal strength of the social and cultural fabric here serves to make us healthier: a sort of karmic balance between adversity and folks coming together because life is just easier and more joyful that way.

In my reading about cancer and treatment, I’ve stumbled on serious studies and anecdotal evidence that social connections, like those that form around positive activities, can prevent disease and dramatically help those dealing with it.

Just across the Bay, in Alameda, a study by Peggy Reynolds and George Kaplan makes a case that people with the fewest social ties were three times more likely to die over a nine-year period than those who reported the most social ties. I’m not sure what that means about my getting this cancer, but it sure makes me value my neighbors as I deal with it.

And it makes me happy to share a bit of promising news with you, my neighbor near or far.  After a September diagnosis of a Stage IV “incurable” cancer, I’ve just met with researchers at UCSF Mission Bay who are conducting a clinical trial that simply didn’t exist that short time ago.  I’m not in the study yet, and there’s no guarantee (in life or cancer), but it’s hopeful.

For those of you who don’t know, Mission Bay is just up 3rd Street from where I live at Quesada Gardens, and includes a premiere cancer hospital that opened just in time to serve little ole me.  I’m privileged, and I’m grateful to be part of a caring community that is beautifully unavoidable.

Equinox Celebration at Quesada Garden

By Wei Ming Dariotis

Spring Equinox: Rainy Renewal!

Neighbor Maxine Kraemer carried a basket of sunflowers, each carrying the message, “Welcome, Spring!” As neighbors joined the group, Maxine gave each one a sunflower to carry like scepters as we marched slowly up Quesada from Third Street to Newhall, inspecting the garden we share along the way.

Spring came quietly, muffled by gentle rains. We gathered intrepidly, despite an all-day drizzle, to witness together the transition between seasons. Sunday, March 20th was officially the day Winter released its hold and gave way for Spring to enter, with new growth on dead-looking twigs, spring greens everywhere, and a riot of weeds in the garden.

Rithy Chan and Sharon Bliss had hosted several “Weeding Meetings” in the weeks before we gathered, ensuring plenty of bare, freshly disturbed earth to receive the seeds we scattered. A dozen adults and kids, covered by orange and red umbrellas, flung orange California poppy and purple lupine seeds into the center median garden, each person deciding where they would like to see spring flowers emerge from the winter showers.

We finally reached the top of the hill just before 7 pm. The rain was starting to come down harder, but we stayed in a circle together just long enough to share the Winter things we wanted to let go of to make room for the Spring things we wanted to let in. We let go old ways of seeing ourselves to make room for how our bodies are now; bitterness and negativity for a more positive outlook; mourning for hope.

Some expressed a simple joy in seeing new things growing. Our newest neighbor shared a belief in having been drawn to the block purposefully to join our community. We looked around and were grateful for everyone who came out despite the rain to share an ancient ritual of renewal and rebirth with people who are in their lives just by being neighbors.

Some expressed a simple joy in seeing new things growing. Our newest neighbor shared a belief in having been drawn to the block purposefully to join our community. We looked around and were grateful for everyone who came out despite the rain to share an ancient ritual of renewal and rebirth with people who are in their lives just by being neighbors.

Gardener’s guide to setting up a home office

Karl Paige's office was the Quesada Garden. Not much writing, but a whole lot of accomplishment. Photo: Footprints
Karl Paige’s office was the Quesada Garden. Not much writing, but a whole lot of accomplishment. Photo: Footprints

By Elizabeth Skow

I’m setting up a new office in my home to bribe my lazy muse. Setting up an office is easy. Here are directions in simple steps:
#1 Paint the room a lovely peachy color after filling in dents, holes and divots, sanding and smoothing them.
#2 Leave the paint to season for about a year – the only remaining furniture belongs to your cats (they love their new sun room). Your yoga mat sits in a corner collecting dust and claw marks.
#3 Spend spare moments for at least a month or two, browsing your favorite online stores for office furniture you can’t afford or even justify, really…. You will need a nice sleek desk for all those imagined future hours toiling away at the laptop… and a mint colored filing cabinet on casters that slides perfectly underneath.
Add a sofa bed and chest of drawers, ’cause you know, you can’t really have a room just for your office, right? I mean when’s the last time you actually made any money writing-or even wrote anything?  At least now you have a guest room.
Your budget (snicker … “budget.” Who are you fooling?)  Your quarterly taxes (ok you never really pay quarterly taxes) ruptured on the desk, chair and minty filing cabinet.
#4 Re-work your “budget” several times to see how soon you can afford the couch, dresser and printer cart. Think how cavemen used red ochre and cave walls, and their muses seemed to think they were just grand.
#5 Receive delivery of desk, cabinet and chair. Assemble them all in a hurry and then realize you’ve put the legs on backwards. Re-attach legs correctly. Find optimal position for desk. Set up printer, laptop, stapler and envelopes. Look at overall effect to see if it seems inspirational. Sit down on chair, open laptop …look out window the garden needs weeding. Go make coffee. Sit back down with coffee. Look out window…realize it’s a gorgeous day. Shut laptop.
#6 It’s a gorgeous day, go weed in the garden. Play some old funk and R&B, wave and smile to your neighbors, think how lucky you are to live here and how cool it is that you actually have some neighbors you like, and pull out weeds for several hours until you’re too tired to move, let alone write.

Realize that petty resentments, slights, real or imagined, all melt away when you are pulling weeds from the ground, shaking off the dirt, throwing them in the pile. Pulling weeds from the ground, shaking off the dirt, throwing them in the pile. Hmmm…maybe your muse likes gardening!

Walk up Bayview Hill with your incredible little dog, given to you by the lady who used to sit on your stoop (she was really nice!). Look at the beautiful view and think again how lucky you are to live here. Find a good walking rhythm.

Think about the garden. Think about all the new people in the neighborhood and all the people who have been here awhile. How much things have changed since you moved to the block seven (!) years ago, how much has stayed the same.

Realize that change is inevitable, always hard and drives people crazy. But change brings growth, and usually that’s good.

Think about the garden…the way it drew out Annette Smith and Karl Paige to tend it. The way they inspired their other neighbors…Jeffrey Betcher and Shane King and Edward Allen and James Ross and Linda Pettus to name just a few, and more and more people joined.

People in and around Quesada Gardens planted and lovingly tended this movement. It grew like the roots of trees, flowers and vegetables…to Bridgeview Garden and Latona Garden…throughout Bayview.

It all starts and ends with the garden. Let’s keep that in mind. THAT is what “COMMUNITY LOOKS LIKE.”

#7 Sit down inspired and write for a couple of hours. Your office has arrived!

Getting to know the neighbors: Rithy Chan

By Wei Ming Dariotis

Some people mishear his name as “Ricky,” but it is pronounced “ri-T.”

He was born in Battambang, small little town in northwestern Cambodia, in 1968. Rithy’s wealthy family was targeted by the Marxist Maoist-nationalist Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian genocide. Rithy’s parents and most family members were killed, leaving his older sister to take care of all their surviving siblings.  

WMD: How do you feel about being Cambodian American?

RC: How do I feel about my Cambodians roots? I guess when you are born somewhere you always feel connected to the place you were born. I love my culture and my roots, I am very proud of Cambodian heritage and culture, but at the same time, I am happy where I am now. Like my nephews, even though they were born in California and Hawaii, they are drawn, like I am, to go to see their family’s original roots.

Being Cambodian American to me means being my own person. We are such a minority and there are only one or two families in San Francisco that I know personally. I’m not so involved with the Cambodian community here. I try to blend in with my neighbors. I have gone to temples and community centers and I feel a little left out. I prefer diversity and integration. Since we moved to America, we settled in the middle of Harlem and lived there for two years with no other Cambodian families around and we integrated with many different ethnic groups all the time.  Surprisingly, I do still speak perfect Khmer, or “Cambodian.” When I come back to the US after speaking Cambodian for two weeks I can’t speak English because my tongue muscles won’t switch over.

English is an interesting language to me because it is non-hierarchical. “You” in English is just “you”—not upper or lower class “you” just direct simple “you.” That’s why when I speak to Cambodians who speak English I prefer to speak with them in English. Cambodian derives from the two main root languages of Sanskrit and Bali from India, where there was a caste system. So the language is hierarchical, like the society is hierarchical.

Being Cambodian means a lot to me. The culture dates back over a thousand years. For Southeast Asia, Khmer culture, art and architecture is as the Greek and Roman cultures are to Western culture. Everyone in the region tries to identify and associate with it and preserve it. Classical Khmer art and architecture were extraordinary achievement for any society, in any era. We have “golden proportion or ratio” just like the western world. I did a study and analyzed Angkor Wat, which was built in the 1100s, and the golden proportion or ratio is everywhere. Being Cambodian means a lot of different things. Even the Khmer Rouge [note: the nationalist socialist regime that massacred over a million Cambodians in the genocide often referred to as the Killing Fields] —it was a bad thing, but what I got out of it was that living through that drove me to be a better, tougher, stronger person and to have more tolerance.

My family was wealthy, but during the massacre both of my parents and two of my siblings were killed. In 1979-1980 was a desperate time. I begged people for food. We would go to the jungle where the Khmer Rouge was with land mines to pick fruit then walk for miles to the market to trade it for a little rice to survive.

My family escaped to Thailand and spent three years there in the refugee camps. We were the first ones there and almost the last ones to get out.  We waited for my older sister to be old enough to become our guardian.  We did not want to be split up to orphanages. My older sister is my hero, role model and also like a mother to all of my siblings.  She is so amazing and to this day, over three decades later she is still the most successful one. She is a single mom living in a brown stone in Park Slope, New York City. 

WMD:  You are working on a body of drawings; how would you describe your artistic style?

RC: I guess right now it is pencil: realism combined with surrealist and imaginary images. I don’t want to say just surrealist—maybe fantasy/Escher-esque. “Tricking the eye.” To me, artwork doesn’t have to be realistic because for that you can take photos–so you might as well have fun with it.

WMD: How would you describe the themes in your art?

RC: The stories usually involve figures in universal themes. For example, in the latest piece, the single figure is trying to help all the others stranded together below, but he is holding on to broken brick balloons, which don’t exist; they don’t make sense. The people below are being oppressed or massacred, and he can’t do anything to help them. Like the UN which was supposed to stop massacres after WWII.

A lot of times I try to juxtapose images that are transcendent—between the planes of this world and those of another world.

Humanity repeats itself all the time—look at San Bernardino recently—or Paris. It’s like WWII, Rwanda, or the Khmer Rouge all over again. This kind of trauma doesn’t seem real to the population at large, so I try to put it into my artwork. It’s an abstract concept until you have experienced it yourself. For example, what Donald Trump says about immigrants and refugees shows that he hasn’t experienced that kind of trauma.

For each person it’s different; I was younger than my older sister when we survived the Khmer Rouge. So, compared to her, it is much easier for me to talk about it because it seemed normal to me to see people getting killed. From the eyes of a kid, you think it’s normal and natural.

If you grow up in the ghetto, you would think that is normal life, too, unless you move beyond it. Some of my friends can’t understand why I live here in the Bayview, but I love it. I won’t say I’m not scared—I’ve been on the street when there have been gun shoot outs and it doesn’t matter who you are—Black, White, Asian, Muslim, Buddhist, rich or poor, you can get hit. Bullets don’t discriminate.

WMD: What do you like most about living in the Bayview?

RC: I love the weather, and the diversity of the community. All the houses are separated and you get a big garden.

WMD: Have you always been a gardener?

RC: No, after coming from Cambodia, our family lived in New York City; I never had a garden before. When I came to Quesada Street I saw the palm trees and they were the main draw. I love the palm trees and lots of wild life here and I especially love the parrots. And then I found out the neighbors were very diverse, which is a major plus that I didn’t know before. In my mind, since I knew I was going to make it my home, I just planned to get to know my neighbors anyway, so the diversity was a nice bonus. It is like a little paradise in the city.  

But it a paradise with garbage—I picked up three bags of garbage this morning because the people that come here to buy drugs just throw trash out of their cars. But even if you paid me to live in the Sunset or Richmond I wouldn’t live there—the summer is just depressing.

WMD: What do you think you’ve learned about yourself from living here?

RC: How to be tough and kind to the neighbors at the same time. It’s a balancing act. You have to respect the people you live next door to, and at the same time, some people are doing certain things that are destructive. I have to negotiate to make sure people respect my space like I respect theirs.

I also learned how to garden.  It’s a lot of physical work but it is sort of meditative for me. Weeding, I can let my mind go instead of thinking of the stress of the city. Seeing plants produce fruit or vegetables, taking care of them, seeing some plants succumb to disease—its all very challenging. It’s fluid—it’s the relationship between life and death. It’s like anything else—you have to take care of it to keep it surviving. For example, this year we really cut back water and a couple plants died. We learned what can survive in these drought conditions.

This yin and yang is also reflected in my artwork. You have bad people and good people working to balance each other. No matter how it is resolved, I think everyone has good intentions.

I wish we had better services—like a gym. Better stores. More restaurants. But on the other hand, house prices are lower because of that so I can’t complain. It would be nice for your neighborhood to be walkable. Homelessness in this city is just growing, and it makes me sad to see that.  It is one of the richest cities in the US and yet, the disparities are growing rapidly and the gap is getting wider.
Overall I feel lucky to have ended up in this neighborhood and community – the Quesada Gardens Initiative and the people here are unique and special.