Friends Remember and Mourn Bernal Neighbor Mary Atchison

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Before she died one week ago, Neighbor Mary Atchison was active with the Miller Dogpatch Community Garden in northeast Bernal Heights.  Since then, her garden plot has become a focal point for her many friends to memorialize her life and mourn her passing.

Bernalwood visited Miller-Dogpatch last week, as two of Mary Atchison’s fellow volunteers were on hand to tend the  garden. She was always a ray of sunshine, they said. She had been involved at Miller Dogpatch in its early days, “before urban gardening was a thing.” She was a huge fan of the Giants and the 49ers, and she loved to wear extravagant boas and paint her fingernails in team colors. She didn’t like tomatoes, but she grew lots of them — mostly to give away to friends and colleagues at work.

There was a notebook tucked under a vegetable plant in Mary’s garden where friends have been mourning her. A sample from inside:

Thanks for always being the warmest and kindest person in the office. “Babes Who Bike” will never be the same without you. I always appreciated that you were so passionate about bikes and bike advocacy. Rest well, Mary.

Another:

My forever friend. I don’t know what happened, and I never will. All I know is I love you, my birthday girlfriend. Oh God, No. Love you forever.

One of Mary’s friends at Miller-Dogpatch expressed frustration that it will be a long time until they learn more about what happened. “We won’t really know until the trial,” she said, and that won’t be for quite some time. Mary died from blunt force traumatic injuries, and according to the SF Examiner, her boyfriend, Jules Sibilio, will be in court today for arraignment on homicide charges.

Heather Mayer Fakouri lives in Concord, and she was Mary’s longtime friend. Heather wrote to Bernalwood to share these thoughts:

I am a friend of Mary Atchison. We attended Carondelet High School and San Diego State together. Her death has hit all of us hard. I wrote a piece and was wondering if you would be kind enough to post it, in regards to her death and all those that suffer from domestic violence:

The piercing slap, the pain from the blow…oh the agony I endure! I cry out, but no one listens. I am strong, he loves me! Things will change, he had a bad day. I must go on!

I keep it to myself for the Shame and embarrassment let’s me deny the truth of the reality. I can’t tell too many my anguish. For what would they think? I’ve always endured, why can’t I now? I have too! I will go on.

I am no one’s burden…I suppress the darkness that falls upon me with amusement, laughter and drink. I hide. I must go on.

He loves me! It’s not that bad. Maybe I deserved it. I love him. How could I leave this life we created? I hurt though, inside and out. I mask it with gardening… bringing peace to my planet. I hide it though, with a drink that soothes my thoughts and numbs my pain.

I must go on.

Look Lord, I tried! I kept my love strong, but it wasn’t enough. Enough!! Enough! He went further than I ever thought. This time the pain is deep. Lord my wounds won’t heal this time. Did I do something so wrong this time? Why can’t I mask it one last time..he will change! Am I not able to go on?

Wait something is different. I feel no pain. My heart isn’t bruised. I am at peace. I am with you! Thank you for letting me see the light!

Heather also shared this photo of Mary from their last girls’ night out. That’s Mary, second from the left:

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PHOTOS: Garden memorial, by Telstar Logistics. Girls Night Out, courtesy of Heather Mayer Fakouri

 

Meet Joseph McFadden, the SFPD’s New Top Cop at Ingleside

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Neighbor Sarah, Bernal’s valiant liaison to the San Francisco Police Department, was unable to attend this month’s community meeting at Ingleside Station. In her stead, your Bernalwood editor attended the meeting to take notes as a (vastly inferior) substitute.

But that wasn’t the big news. The big news was the debut appearance by Capt. Joseph McFadden, the brand-new captain at Ingleside. Capt. McFadden used the meeting to introduce himself to a packed room of curious community folk, and my notes that follow summarize his presentation.

SFPD Ingleside Community Meeting
19 Aug, 2014

SFPD Captain Joe McFadden presiding (for the first time)
Captain’s email: joseph.mcfadden@sfgov.org

Mc Fadden is the new captain at Ingleside; he started in early August.

BACKGROUND:
McFadden grew up on 24th Street in the Mission. Third generation San Franciscan. His father was a doctor in Noe Valley, and he’s one of 10 children. He still lives in San Francisco, “about 8 minutes from this station.”  Hobbies: Football, boxing, hiking.

McFadden requested Ingleside because of proximity to his home, his familiarity with the area, and good diversity of people — It’s the “most diverse in the city by far,” he said. “It’s a great melting pot of San Francisco. Being here feels like being back home. I want to stay here for a while.”

SFPD CAREER HISTORY:
(McFadden blasted through this, so I may have missed or munged a few details.)

Started in 1989, trained at Northern Station, then Taraval for his probationary period. Then served at Ingleside from 1991 to 1994, working undercover at Alemany street projects and Sunnydale. Then Violent Crime Suppression Unit. Then went to Mission, and SWAT Team  Became a sergeant, and went to Tenderloin undercover unit. Then domestic violence crime unit for 9 years. Then Internal Affairs for 4 years, including duty as the officer involved shooting coordinator. Then headed up the Film Coordination Unit (which manages street logistics for film crews). Made Lieutenant, then went to Bayview to lead their Station Investigation Unit under Greg Suhr At Bayview, Suhr emphasized community outreach. Then did Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) and some Homeland Security. Became a Captain, and lead the Major Crimes Unit. Then went to Special Victims Unit.

POLICING PHILOSOPHY
Most of McFadden’s career has been focused on investigations. He is very investigations-focused. Says he also brought one of the City’s best investigators to Ingleside as his lieutenant.

McFadden says he is “adamant” about working with the community. He’s a big fan of Project SAFE.

Recidivism rate shows that about 5 percent of people commit 80 percent of the crimes. Main focus will be bringing down violent crime and robberies. Actively tracks violent crime arrests, to keep tabs on who will be coming out of jail in a year or two, to familiarize officers with the individual’s MO.

There are lots of young officers in the SFPD now, following a big wave of retirements. Several rookies in Ingleside. McFadden  always reminds officers that they are all on video now — tells them to live their lives like they are always on video. Wants them to always follow through on investigations — especially if they wrote the reports. Very focused on report-writing as a way to encourage ownership of an incident. Ingleside will be a learning station for many of the new officers.

Says that one of the ways he will measure his own success will the length of the list of officers requesting duty at Ingleside.

INGLESIDE CRIME TRENDS
Current high priority is Visitacion Valley robberies. Reaching out to Asian-Pacific Islander associations to educate and train up the neighbors in the area. Establishing Safe Haven programs with local merchants to enable people to find shelter when they feel threatened.

Keeping an eye on auto burglaries, with plans to conduct decoy operaitons, etc. “One thing about criminals, they work an area until they get caught,” he said. “If you arrest one or two people, it will often take down a large percentage of people who are committing the crimes.”  Wants to help establish bloc-by-block neighborhood watches (via Project SAFE), esp via neighborhood organizations.

Keenly interested in Ingleside’s gambling houses. Aware of them, and wants to close them, but it’s hard to do. Coordinating with DA’s office on this. For example, 4837 Mission Street, the gambling hall in the City Business Center. Several gambling halls have closed recently, such as NetStop and Cybertimes. But City Business Center has not closed. Court cases are in progress, but the law is in flux at the moment. This is a citywide issue, but very prevalent in Ingleside. A new hotshot DA is also on the case. This is very high on the priority list.

Other concerns: crime hosues, drug houses, grow houses.

Regarding car break-ins: This is often the very same people, over and over again. Police try to get the guys who are saturating an area. Again, there’s an active effort to review parolees who are returning to the neighborhood, since criminals tend to continue in the same area of crime. If you have surveillance videos that show a crime, make copies and send to SFPD, so officers can familiarize themselves with the suspects. Familiarity with criminals on the street is very powerful, and videos do a lot to help with that.

Now that school is back in session, paying attention to traffic and safe schools, and assigning units to problem areas.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
Wants to hear about officers who are rude, as well as officers who are especially good. Knowing when officers do a good job is just as important as knowing when they don’t. Giving recognition for exceptional behavior is a very powerful incentive. It really matters when good behavior gets recognized in a daily station line up — goes a long way toward encouraging more of the same.

If you see a cop on the street, introduce yourself — “Tell them Capt. McFadden told you to do it.” (McFadden said this several times during the meeting) You will see that officer again; policing works best when two-way relationships exist.

At CSI, McFadden learned that one of the biggest trends in contemporary investigation is the importance of the phones people now carry with them: Pictures, video etc., “Video is gigantic.” The video camera’s in ATMs and so on are incredibly important tools to determine where a suspect was, and where they went, etc. Even a bad video can be very useful.

IF YOU SEE SOMETHING…
Evidence from the community has become increasingly important , and it’s important to know how to be a good witness. Wants to train-up the community to be proactive. If you see something, write it down immediately. Note clothing, facial hair, scars, license plates, etc. Specifics, as much as possible Unique features. Note the shoes — criminals can shed a shirt or a jacket, but they can’t change their shoes. Document everything, with as many details as you can get.

When in doubt call 911 — “I’d rather get the call than not get the call.” No response from police? Follow up again. There’s power in numbers. Call your neighbors; have them call 911 too.

QUESTIONS FROM THE COMMUNITY

QUESTION: What are your strategies for strengthening relationships between youth and police ?
MCFADDEN: A big emphasis on approachability. McFadden encourages all officers to carry “junior officer stickers” for kids at all times. Hates to hear when officers are rude. Wants officers to be polite. Special focus on kids in Middle School; very important to reach out to teens. Encourages police participation in BBQs, community activities, etc.

QUESTION What If you find a item that was used in a crime?
MCFADDEN: Don’t touch the stuff. Photograph where you found it, in place. Get a wide angle and tight shot (to capture the whole scene, and the specific location.) Wear gloves if you have to touch it, to avoid contamination of evidence. Put it in a bag.

QUESTION: If you could get one thing done at Ingleside, what would it be?
MCFADDEN: I’ve always been better as a strategist than an analyst, but that’s changed a bit as I’ve gotten older. For my station people, I want everyone to return here. For the community, I want everyone to trust in the officers here, and to have lots of people to know me like I’m the mayor of this place. I’m a firm believer in foot-beat officers, and encouraging officers to be outgoing. Wants his people to get to know the community, and the community to know the officers. Wants cops to bond with the community.

PHOTOS: Capt. Joseph McFadden, by Telstar Logistics

Science Says Awesome Neighbors Have Fewer Heart Attacks

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There are many good reasons to be a fantastic neighbor, not the least of which is that fantastic neighbors are fantastic. Not coincidentally, Bernal Heights is famous for being fantastic, in no small part because Bernal Heights has a long tradition of highly engaged neighborliness.

That’s great for Bernal Heights, of course. But it may also be good for you. A new study suggests that people who feel more connected to their neighbors are less likely to experience a heart attack.

Writing for The Atlantic, James Hamblin explains:

According to new research published today from psychologists at the University of Michigan, I’m less likely to die of a heart attack than I would be if I gave in to my more introverted tendencies.

Social connection at the neighborhood level has long been known to be associated with good mental health, and some aspects of physical health. But this is the first study to look specifically at neighborhood social cohesion and heart attacks, which hit more than 700,000 Americans every year and cost everyone billions of dollars.

“There’s evidence suggesting that negative factors of the neighborhood, things like density of fast food outlets, violence, noise, and poor air quality impact health,” lead researcher Eric Kim, a psychologist in his final year of doctoral work at the University of Michigan, told me. I’d add broken windows. One 2003 study found that “boarded-up housing” predicts high rates of gonorrhea in a neighborhood, as well as premature death due to cancer or complications of diabetes. (And murder.) More recently, researchers from University of Pennsylvania looked at the health detriments associated with vacant land. By their understanding, abandoned buildings lead to isolation and erosion of social relationships, mutual trust, and collective efficacy, which leads to poor physical health.
Kim’s team is focusing on the other side of things: the positive elements of a neighborhood that “might perhaps be protective or even enhancing of health.” For a young scientist, Kim is precociously well versed in the language of hedging.

The study du jour, published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, is based on assessments of social connectedness in 5276 adults in urban, suburban, and rural areas. The subjects rated how strongly they agreed with the following four prompts:

  • “I really feel part of this area.”
  • “If [I] were in trouble, there are lots of people in this area who would help.”
  • “Most people in this area can be trusted.”
  • “Most people in this area are friendly.”

The responses landed the participants on a seven-point Likert scale. And then they were followed. Four years later, 148 of them had experienced heart attacks.

“On the seven-point scale,” Kim explained, “each unit of increase in neighborhood social cohesion was associated with a 17 percent reduced risk of heart attacks.”

“If you compare the people who had the most versus the least neighborhood social cohesion,” Kim continued, “they had a 67 percent reduced risk of heart attacks.”

Citizens of Bernalwood, you now know know what to do.  Sally forth, be fantastic, be neighborly, and live longer.

PHOTO: Fantastic Elise Street neighbors in 2011 demonstrating how to reduce the risk of heart attack. Photo by Adrian Mendoza

Sad and Shameful: Alex Nieto Memorial on Bernal Hill Plagued by Vandalism

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For those who knew Alex Nieto, the young Bernal resident killed during an officer-involved shooting on Bernal Hill last spring, the last few months have been unrelentingly sad — and at times, deeply alienating.

Bernalwood recently described how the official investigation into Neighbor Alex’s death seems unlikely to provide much factual insight or emotional closure — ever. Which is horrible. Yet more immediately, the family and friends of Alex Nieto have been infuriated by multiple instances of vandalism targeted at the ad hoc memorial to Alex constructed at the site where he died on the north side of Bernal Hill, just west of the Folsom gate.

(Preemptive Sidebar: In the recent Bernalwood update on the Nieto investigation, some readers were unhappy about the presence of this private memorial on the public land of Bernal Heights Park.  Bernalwood reader Adam K. very graciously and compassionately addressed this by placing the memorial within the Latino tradition of creating temporary memorials to honor those for whom death has come suddenly and unexpectedly. Adam’s comments are consistent with Bernal values in the best possible way, and are highly recommended.)

The first report about vandalism of the Nieto memorial appeared on the Justice for Alex Nieto website on July 13:

We are sad to report that in the past two days the memorial altar to Alex Nieto has been vandalized. Someone first took the banner that said “No Más Violencia de la Policia” (No More Police Violence) and last night, the cross (with his portrait) set close to the site of his death was removed. Alex’s parents —Elvira and Refugio Nieto— tirelessly refresh flowers and maintain the banner and altar. Yesterday, knowing about the mysterious loss of the banner, we gathered with Windsong (a City College student, a Bernal Hill dweller since childhood, and the original designer of the banner) to design another one that we intended to place again today. We suspended any judgement about why the banner disappeared, but with the loss of the cross, it is a clear malicious act.

The damage was quickly repaired, but the memorial was vandalized again on July 22, and yet again on the 23rd. A vigil was started to keep watch over the site, but during a lapse in coverage during the early morning hours of July 26th, the memorial was vandalized a fourth time. The vigils resumed, and with them came a stronger sense of solidarity — and community:

In the wee hours of Friday July 27th, Maria and Adriana [from the Justice and Amor for Alex Nieto Committee] watched the sunrise over the Bay. By 6:30am Refugio Nieto arrived with La Gorda (the 3 year old family blue pitbull.) They drank coffee made by Adriana and chatted and chatted. Harried dogwalkers of all sorts began to roam the hill. La Gorda whined for the other dogs to come visit her, and they often obliged. We began laughing about how everyone, even little old ladies, looked suspicious to us. We have our favorite suspect (one who seemed to be holding a can of spray paint).

There comes a moment during the morning on Bernal, when the stream of dog walkers and joggers becomes continuous and the Memorial is kept by the same life on the hill.

The last weeks on Bernal have been illuminating. We have learned that we have countless of anonymous supporters among the daily walkers on the hill. Even before the vigils began, while we were on the hill repairing the site, pedestrians often stopped to thank us for keeping the Memorial alive: Russell expressed how much he loved the Hill for its diversity and neighborliness, and expressed his sorrow at Alex’s shooting. Homeboy Reynaldo stopped to stay he’d be happy to cover Alex’s Story in cholo magazine. Adriana and Maria even met one of the last people to have seen Alex alive on the hill. (Don’t worry, he already gave his witness statement.) All in all, the more time we spend on the hill, the more people who come around respectfully and curiously to ask us questions and learn about Alex’s Story.

Yet once again, on July 29th, the site was vandalized, as someone removed the photo of Neighbor Alex that hung on the memorial cross.

Last weekend, Justice and Amor for Alex Nieto Committee posted photos and a video of a man whom they believe may be responsible for the vandalism. They seek community input to help identify the alleged vandal.

Yet to anyone who may have defaced the Alex Nieto memorial on Bernal Hill, we would simply say this:

Stop.

Please.

Just stop.

The death of Neighbor Alex Nieto brought immense pain to his family, his friends, and our community. Let the grieving run its course. Let the healing commence. Let it be peaceful, and let it remain undisturbed. Please. Just stop.

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ALL PHOTOS: Justice and Amor for Alex Nieto Committee

Tonight: Bernal’s Own Emperor Norton Will Be on TV

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As you may recall, the (in)famous Emperor Norton, self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States, lives in Bernal Heights. Or, his modern-day doppleganger does. That is, when he’s not taking tourists on San Francisco walking tours.

Now, he also rules the small screen, because tonight our own Emperor Norton will appear on the Travel Channel’s “Monumental Mysteries” show:

Don Wildman inspects a bizarre acorn-shaped sculpture that commemorates an otherworldly event; explores the world’s smallest skyscraper that was once at the center of an outrageous scam; and investigates an engineering wonder inspired by an eccentric figure.

HINT: That “eccentric figure” is Emperor Norton, and the engineering wonder is the Bay Bridge.

Tune in tonight at 9 pm to watch Neighbor Emperor Norton tell the tale.

PHOTO: Emperor Norton, during a recent sighting at 331 Cortland. By Telstar Logistics

Bernal Neighbor’s Research Links Smarter Brain to Longer Life

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This story slipped between the cracks a few weeks ago, but fortunately it’s as timeless as life itself…

In early May, a team of UCSF researchers published published an article that identified a gene which enables both high cognitive functioning and unusual longevity. In other words, there’s a gene that that makes you smarter and live longer — and vice-versa. And science now knows this because the research was organized by none other Neighbor Dena from Banks Street!

Off-hill, she’s known as Dr. Dena Dubal MD,, Ph.D., and she leads the Dubal Lab on Aging and the Brain at UCSF. Here’s what the Chronicle had to say about her recent conclusions:

A gene variant that scientists already knew to be associated with longer life also seems to make people smarter, and may help offset the effects of normal cognitive decline in old age, according to a team of San Francisco researchers.

The findings, published [on May 8] in the journal Cell Reports, are encouraging news for the roughly 1 in 5 people who have the genetic trait, which is a variant of the klotho gene.

Beyond that, scientists hope the findings will help them develop tools for retaining, or even boosting, intelligence in people who have suffered cognitive losses, either from disease or through the normal course of aging.

“What we’ve discovered is a cognitive enhancer,” said Dr. Dena Dubal, an assistant professor of neurology at UCSF and lead author of the study, which was done with researchers from the Gladstone Institutes. “This may represent a new way to treat problems of cognition in the brain.”

You can read lots more about Neighbor Dena’s research, or, in this glamorous video, you can watch as she explains it herself:

“Graffiti Bandit” Eliminates Graffiti, Keeps West Bernal Sexy, Needs Your Help

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There’s an anti-graffiti warrior on patrol along Bernal’s western frontier, and Neighbor Jaime Ross with the North West Bernal Alliance tells Bernalwood he could use your support:

North West Bernal has a one-man graffiti abatement program.

His name is Joe (shown above), and until recently he wasn’t willing to let anyone know about him, for fear of reprisal from taggers. And he went out under cover of night. But now he has no choice but to go public. He needs your donations to continue the never-ending job of keeping our neighborhood free from graffiti.

Here’s the back story:

In 1989, the top concerns at the North West Bernal Alliance meetings were graffiti and safety.

All the buildings along the Mission St corridor, from Cesar Chavez were vandalized. The property owners didn’t seem to care, so Joe (a member of the NWBA) decided to go out and get rid of as much graffiti as he could. That’s how the NWBA Graffiti Abatement program started.

Joe worked hard at it, and after several weeks he painted out all the graffiti from Chavez to Randall. But new graffiti appeared almost daily. It was an enormous job just keeping that area clean.

It took almost 3 years to get to a place where he was able to remove graffiti quickly. Then he was ready to tackle Mission Street from Randall to the 280 overpass.

Some days it took 10 hours to clean that area, but he was determined to get rid of all of it.
Once that removal became routine, he moved on to Glen Park.

By 1997 he was covering about 25 miles a day working 6-8 hours a day. He had some help but still it was a huge undertaking.

Joe depended on sporadic donations from grateful merchants and a few grants from SF Beautiful. He’s getting some money from a Community Challenge Grant, formally the Beautification Fund, The Department of Public Works donates paint for city trash cans; telephone poles; traffic call boxes and postal furniture, but it doesn’t nearly cover the cost for all the other paint and supplies Joe needs, so he’s using his own money.

Joe’s daily route consists of 36 miles, and Mondays he covers an additional 7 miles for a total of 43 miles of graffiti abatement.

We’d be grateful for your support to keep our neighborhood free from graffiti with a tax deductible donation. We’ll be happy to send an acknowledgment letter on our letterhead for tax purposes.

Please go to our website and click “Donate” on the right

Or you can send a check to:
North West Bernal Alliance 
 PO BOX 40989
San Francisco, CA 94140-0989

PHOTOS: North West Bernal Alliance