Best of the Bay 2009: Local Heroes

Our celebration of Bay Area people and organizations who strive to make a difference
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ANGELA CHAN

As staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, Angela Chan has been at the forefront of a yearlong effort to ensure that all undocumented juveniles have the right to due process in San Francisco.

That effort began last summer, shortly after Mayor Gavin Newsom, who had just decided to run for governor, announced that undocumented juveniles henceforth would be reported to federal authorities the minute they are booked on suspicion of having co

mmitted a felony — and before they can access an immigrant-rights lawyer.

These changes primarily affect Latino youth, but Chan, whose Cantonese-speaking parents ran a restaurant in Portland, Ore., sees the broader connections to other immigrant communities.

"I grew up in an immigrant community in a white working-class neighborhood," Chan explained. "I saw the barriers — language, culture, racism, xenophobia — and I realized that there was not a lot of power and awareness. I learned to appreciate civil rights."

As a teenager, Chan was determined to become an attorney. The temporary passage of California Prop. 187 — prohibiting undocumented immigrants from using social services, health care, and public education — intensified her determination. Chan graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, and has been able to focus on this particular juvenile justice battle thanks to a Soros Justice Fellowship and the ALC's "innovative, fluid, creative, and client-centered vision."

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"I've tried different ways of challenging inequality — direct confrontation, anger — but I've found the best way is through policy, and being very educated and strategic," Chan said.

She said she's hopeful that Sup. David Campos has the votes this summer to pass veto-proof amendments to the city's undocumented-youth protection policy. As she put it: "People are starting to understand the difference between the juvenile and adult justice system and the issues around due process." (Sarah Phelan)

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JULIAN DAVIS

Take a look at just a few of the things Julian Davis has done: He ran the 2008 public-power campaign. He's on the board of San Francisco Tomorrow. He's president of the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center. He's a founder of the MoMagic Collaborative, which fights youth violence in the Western Addition. He's on the board of the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation. He's been appointed by the Board of Supervisors to serve on the Market-Octavia Citizens Advisory Committee. He's a founder of the Osiris Coalition, which is working to ensure that public-housing tenants have the right to return to their homes after renovations. He's hosted countless events for charities and political campaigns.

Then think about this: he's only 30.

Davis grew up in Palo Alto, and moved to the corner of Haight and Fillmore after getting bachelor's and master's degrees in philosophy from Brown University. Philosophers weren't exactly in demand at the time, so he wound up "playing my guitar on the streets for burrito money" while starting a PhD program at Stanford.

He also saw three people shot to death on his corner. "And I realized," he explained, "that the academic life wasn't going to be for me."

Davis started organizing against community violence, and, inspired by Matt Gonzalez's mayoral campaign, ran for supervisor in 2004. That got him started in local politics. He's headed to law school at Hastings this fall, and it's a safe bet that he'll be a leader in the progressive political community for years to come. (Tim Redmond)

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DAVID SCHOOLEY

"He's a visionary. He's very determined. He never gives up."

That's how Ken McIntire, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch, describes David Schooley, who founded the Mountain Watch nonprofit four decades ago.

"For many years, David led every Sierra Club hike, organized every restoration party, and even took the bus to community fairs up and down the Peninsula so he could set up a table and distribute fliers about San Bruno Mountain," McIntire recalls.

Now snowy-haired and allegedly semiretired, Schooley, 65, remains as nimble as a goat when it comes to hiking across his beloved mountain, which rises and cuts across the Peninsula just south of San Francisco in San Mateo County — and whose ecosystem has been identified as one of 18 global biodiversity hotspots in need of protection

Schooley's love for the mountain — which is covered with low-growing grasses, coastal sage, and scrub year-round and is dotted with wildflowers each spring — led him to found SBMW in 1969 and fight the expansion of the Guadalupe Valley Quarry and the growth of nearby Brisbane. Both were threatening to destroy the biggest urban open space in the United States and the habitat of rare butterflies, including the San Bruno elfin.

As Schooley explains, while the mountain is often hit with strong gusty winds and enveloped in thick fog, it is a great butterfly habitat and the last fragment of an entire ecosystem — the Franciscan region — the rest of which has been buried beneath San Francisco's concrete footprints.

Two years ago, Schooley had the pleasure of once again finding the tiny raspberry-colored elfin caterpillars on some sedum (its host plant) on the north-facing upper benches of the quarry.

"It's a miracle," Schooley told me at the time, delighted by this living example of nature's ability to overcome human-made damage on the mountain.

At the time, Schooley was hoping the state park system would annex the property where the elfins were found. That hasn't happened yet. But as McIntire says of Schooley (who dreams of a wildlife corridor that runs from the bay to the ocean), "David is always pushing for more open space around the mountain, for more nature and less development, and trying to reach a bigger audience." (Sarah Phelan)

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SAN FRANCISCO MIME TROUPE

The San Francisco Mime Troupe is the conscience of the city, our proudest export, and — as it celebrates its 50th year — perhaps our most enduring sociopolitical institution. That's a lot of kudos to heap on an artists' collective, particularly one that delivers its theatrical social satire with such over-the-top comedy and music, but it isn't a statement that we make lightly.

The SFMT embodies the very best San Francisco values — limitless creativity, a hunger for justice, courage under fire, an uncompromising commitment to creating a better world, and a progressive missionary zeal — and offers a powerful and entertaining reminder of those values every July 4, when it presents its new show in Dolores Park.

After it sings (and preaches) to the progressive choir of San Francisco, the troupe hits the road, visiting such less-than-enlightened outposts as the Central Valley and rural Northern California, delivering important messages to audiences that need to hear them most. "First of all, it's humorous, so that breaks down a lot of barriers from the get-go," SFMT general manager Jenee Gill tells us.

But even here in the early '60s, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission tried to use obscenity laws to ban the SFMT from performing in public parks. The troupe successfully fought the commission in court, setting an important free speech precedent. Modern San Francisco has grown up with the SFMT showing us the way forward with its uniquely high-stepping, knee-slapping, consciousness-raising style, and we're a better city for it. (Steven T. Jones)

All local heroes photos by Pat Mazzera

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