Remembering Steve Giardina

Steve Giardina, a good friend and one of our area’s most gracious, energetic and enterprising residents, died this week after a long and courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. We are heartbroken and our love goes out to Steve’s wife, Cindy, and their children, Jessica and Eric.

Shannon and I first met Steve around 2015 after he and Cindy bought the former Cirinos restaurant building on Broad Street in downtown Nevada City, and they lovingly restored it into a craft cocktail lounge with a “golden era” theme.

“We enjoyed some great lounges in larger cities serving craft cocktails and wanted to bring the same experience to our community,” Steve told me for a 2016 cover story in our FoodWineArt magazine. “The combination of location, building, craft cocktail expertise, hospitality and community won us over.”

The Golden Era has been a labor of love for Steve and his family, and our town has benefited. During the building’s extensive renovation, I’d often stop for an impromptu visit, and Steve (who personified the word “ebullient”) would enthusiastically describe one of his latest “finds.” These ranged from the handsome wooden bar that was made in the mid-1890’s in Chicago to entertaining relics, such as an “Old Maid” card game from the late 1800s.

A passion for history

When opened, the Giardina’s lounge harkened back to the Gold Rush era, with a decorative gold tin ceiling, chandelier, Edison lights, and polished wooden floors — all a testament to Steve’s passion for history. A fireplace glows in one seating area, Gold Rush-era artwork hangs on the walls, and a fresh rose adorns each table. Cindy and Jessica’s talents are showcased in the inviting interior design and decor.

As a tribute to the Giardina’s efforts, the Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission erected a plaque at the site of the Golden Era lounge. It reads: ”309 Broad St. was landmarked by the Commission in 2017 and has served as a saloon or bar since the Gold Rush era. It was masterfully renovated by Steve and Cindy Giardina, who reopened it as the Golden Era lounge. It has many historical features.”

Eric and a friend created the Golden Era’s bar program. They worked for Future Bars of San Francisco, known for stellar bars such as Bourbon & Branch, Rickhouse and Devil’s Acre. Esquire has named Bourbon & Branch one of America’s best bars. 

These master “mixologists” created the Golden Era’s “Miner’s Punch” (pisco, lime, pineapple syrup, Dubonnet and bitters); “Nevada City Swizzle” (rum, pisco, lime, raspberry syrup, Peychaud’s Bitters and seltzer); and “Grass Valley Girl” (gin, lime, orange syrup, cucumber, seltzer and orange bitters) cocktails, among others.

Thanks to the Giardina’s passion and hard work, the Golden Era has become a premier destination in the Sierra Foothills for handcrafted cocktails, regional wines, award-winning local craft beers, along with delicious appetizers. 

The lounge also has helped reinvigorate our historic downtown. During the pandemic, the Golden Era has remained open as an outdoor venue, with a heated patio, entertainment, and socially distanced tables, another testament to the Giardina’s imaginative nature.

A “people person”

Steve was a dedicated father, husband and friend. He also epitomized the “people person.”

I lost my dad in 2007, but Steve helped fill that role with some sound advice. He also offered valuable career advice to our son, when he was accepted at Johns Hopkins University as a biomedical engineering major last year.

Steve’s career was in healthcare technology. He was responsible for and participated in numerous new product innovations in nuclear medicine and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) over his 20 years in the field. More recently, Steve was responsible for the establishment of over 100 wound healing centers nationally with the firm Healogics. 

In 2017, Steve was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After surgery and chemotherapy, he went into remission. Eight months later Steve’s cancer metastasized, and he was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He was told that additional surgery wasn’t an option.

Steve started to look for ways to ease the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy, and he discovered a medical approach that included medical cannabis. 

Telling Steve’s story

“The Hill Witches of Nevada County” is a documentary that tells Steve’s story. It explores the emotional roller coaster of cancer; Steve’s evolution from abstaining from to embracing medical cannabis; and the guidance he and his doctor received from a specialist in cannabis cultivation.

“Our dear friend passed away today,” filmmaker Rick Beaty wrote earlier this week. “I know he was holding on for the film’s premiere but as Cindy says, the Rainbow was too inviting. 

“Our documentary has now become a tribute to Steve. He was extremely proud of the film and wanted everyone to see it, not because of his involvement but because of the message. In honor of Steve, we will continue with the premiere’s showing as a celebration of his life.”

The documentary, titled “A Journey of Healing,” will premier this Sunday at 4 p.m., online via Zoom, in an event sponsored by The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley.

Rest in peace, Steve. Thank you for your contributions as a family man, entrepreneur and friend. We will miss you but remember you always.

(Photo: Kial James for Sierra FoodWineArt magazine)

County District Attorney Cliff Newell to retire

This statement appeared on Facebook and the local media:

“It’s a wrap. I had a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish,” says Cliff Newell with a wry smile. “One by one, my exceptional staff and I addressed each challenge over the years. My work is complete. It’s time for someone with a new list.”

Cliff Newell was elected as Nevada County District Attorney in 2006, following the footsteps of Mike Ferguson, who also served as the DA for 16 years. “What stands out most about Cliff’s long service to the people of Nevada County is his empathy and understanding of what truly constitutes justice.  Whether you were the family of a crime victim or the family of a defendant, you could trust Cliff to be, above all, fair,” said Joe Alexander, Eldorado County Assistant DA, and Cliff’s former Assistant DA. “I am honored to have worked for Cliff and lucky to have him as a friend.  I wish him all the best in his well-deserved retirement.”

At 64 years, and the father of four adult children, Cliff plans to stay in Nevada City with his wife Katy.

Beloved longtime local Madelyn Helling has died at 95

Madelyn Helling, a beloved resident who helped create a “sense of place” in our community, died Tuesday. She was 95.

“If you are a lover of Nevada County’s libraries, you owe a debt of gratitude to Madelyn Helling,” as KVMR once summed up. “She came here from San Francisco in 1974. Under her leadership as county librarian, Truckee’s library became a reality, the public voted to finance the county library system with three tax measures, and the sumptuous Nevada County Library that carries her name was opened in 1991.

“For decades she has volunteered for scores of nonprofits and is a champion of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, where she is president emeritus.” (A wonderful interview with Madelyn on KVMR, which sums up her ebullient personality and numerous contributions, is here).

Madelyn’s volunteerism included leadership roles with the Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, the Nevada County Historical Society, and Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, as well as involvement with the League of Women Voters of Western Nevada County and local American Association of University Women, The Union recounted in its report that she had passed.

Madelyn also was a recipient of the distinguished Col. William H. ” Bill ” Lambert Award, presented annually by the Famous Marching Presidents of Nevada City to recognize outstanding contributions to Nevada City and its way of life.

A special place in our heart

When my parents died in 2007, in their obituary in The Union and San Francisco Chronicle, we asked that donations be made to “their grandson’s” (AKA, our son’s) favorite charity — the Railroad Museum — to help build a real “Little Engine that Could.” That “little engine” (known as Engine 13) was built in 2007-2009, thanks to community-wide contributions.

As the sophomore class president at Ghidotti Early College High School, our son decided to combine some of his favorite childhood memories as a class outing: A showing of the movie “The Polar Express” in Caboose #1, a replica of a 1937 caboose that is located in the rail yard of the Museum.

All the teenagers enjoyed the “journey.” They also toured the museum, thanks to curator Grover Cleveland, Madelyn and the staff. It was a memorable local experience for all of them, and a reminder of the “sense of place” that comes with living in our community.

According to The Union, Helling mentioned to a friend years ago that she did not want a funeral, as she felt she had been recognized and honored enough during her life. There are no plans for any public memorial service.

Rest in peace Madelyn, and thanks for your immeasurable contributions.

This photo of Madelyn, holding a stack of library books, was submitted to The Union.

Stephen Bechtel, 95, dies; led family’s big S.F. engineering firm

I read in The New York Times this morning that Stephen Bechtel Jr. had died at age 95 on Monday. Just last month, I had written an obit on George Shultz, who had been one of Bechtel’s presidents, as well as a longtime U.S. diplomat, of course. Shultz died at age 100.

The passing of Stephen Bechtel Jr., as with Shultz, brings back memories of a bygone business era in California — long before the “FANG” stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google). I covered Bechtel when I was a business writer at The San Francisco Chronicle in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, and the construction and engineering firm was a giant in the California business world (and the world, for that matter).

It was a tough but fascinating assignment, because Bechtel is private, even “secretive,” some would argue. I won the trust of the senior executives, however — including Stephen Bechtel Jr. — and was granted some rare interviews. Some of the stories were controversial. One of them focused on a book called “Friends in High Places”: a “substantive, if flawed, piece of reporting,” as a Los Angeles Times book reviewer put it.

The reviewer concluded: “Bechtel sometimes seems damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. No major corporation could undertake foreign operations on Bechtel’s scale without some cooperation from the U.S. government.”

Another controversial Bechtel project was the “Big Dig” in Boston, with its well-documented cost overruns. “Maybe there’s room for some grudging appreciation,” an article in The Boston Globe concluded after some tough reporting on the project for years. Bechtel’s links to Saudi Arabia also have drawn fire in the past. More details here.

Under “Junior,” as insiders called him, Bechtel’s sales grew 11-fold, its worker population five-fold and major projects from 18 to 119 under his tenure. It marked an era when San Francisco was home to other corporate giants, including Chevron, Bank of America, and Crown Zellerbach. Bechtel is now headquartered in Reston, Virginia.

Bechtel’s notable projects under Stephen Jr.’s leadership included the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) of San Francisco; many first-of-a-kind North Sea oil and gas platforms; LNG plants in Algeria, the UAE, and Indonesia; nuclear power plants throughout the U.S.; the Jubail Industrial City and King Khalid International Airport in Saudi Arabia; and the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France, according to Bechtel. 

The New York Times obit is here, the Wall Street Journal’s is here, and the San Francisco Chronicle’s is here.

Reading “The Code Breaker” by Walter Isaacson

I am starting author/journalist/professor Walter Isaacson’s latest book “The Code Breaker,” and it is a win-win for me. When I worked at TIME in the late ’70s in the summers while I was going to UC Berkeley, I met Walter, who was a political correspondent and later became the magazine’s editor.

Walter has written some great books since then (biographies on Steve Jobs, Ben Franklin, etc.), and his latest book is about Jennifer Doudna, a professor at Cal, graduate of Pomona College and Nobel Prize winner who is known for her pioneering work in gene editing (all in our Golden State of California).

Walter is an author/history professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, but Jennifer lives in Berkeley. More details here and a Times’ book review.

Report: More Bay Area residents settling in Sierra

“New research released today by the nonpartisan California Policy Lab finds that contrary to suggestions about a mass exodus from California, most moves in 2020 happened within the state,” according to a press release from the organization.

“’While a mass exodus from California clearly didn’t happen in 2020, the pandemic did change some historical patterns, for example, fewer people moved into the state to replace those who left,’ explains author Natalie Holmes, a Research Fellow at the California Policy Lab and a graduate student at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. “At the county level, however, San Francisco is experiencing a unique and dramatic exodus, which is causing 50% or 100% increases in Bay Area in-migration for some counties in the Sierra.”

“Key Research Findings
1. The share of movers that leave the state has grown slightly since 2015, from 16% to 18%, a trend that continued in 2020 with no marked increase.
2. Historically, the number of people leaving California tracks the number of people entering California, but this pattern deviated in Q4 2020, when 267,000 people left the state and only 128,000 entered.
3. There is no evidence that wealthy households are leaving the state en masse. Their rates of exit track trends in less wealthy areas.
4. Net exits from San Francisco from the end of March to the end of the year increased 649% as compared to the same period in 2019, from 5,200 net exits to 38,800.
5. About two-thirds of people who moved out of San Francisco remained within the 11-county Bay Area economic region, and 80% remained in California.
6. Counties in the Sierra Nevada mountains and other parts of northern California saw huge increases in entrances by former Bay Area residents, with 50% and in some cases 100%+ more in-migrants in 2020 as compared to 2019.”

Pfizer vaccine may offer strong protection after first dose, Israeli study finds

“The Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech produces a robust immune response after just one dose, according to a new Israeli study of vaccinated health care workers at the country’s largest hospital,” as NBC News is reporting.

“The research, published Thursday in the medical journal The Lancet, followed 7,214 staff members at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, a government-owned facility, who received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination between Dec. 19 and Jan. 24. Scientists from the medical center found that the vaccine was 85 percent effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 within 15 to 28 days after the shot was administered.

“Experts cautioned that more research is needed before broad conclusions can be drawn, but the results do provide some evidence that robust immunity is generated after one dose and that the second dose could be delayed beyond the three weeks prescribed by Pfizer in order to ease distribution and supply constraints.

“The timing of the second dose has been the subject of much recent debate, with some countries such as the United Kingdom opting to delay it as a way to speed up the country’s rate of immunization. In the United States, where the vaccine rollout has been bumpy and winter storms over the past week have hampered some states’ ability to administer shots, similar questions have emerged.”

The rest of the article is here.

Cruz travels to Cancun, MX, as Texans remain without power amid historic winter storm

“Sen. Ted Cruz and his family flew to Cancun, Mexico, he confirmed in a statement to CNN, as a winter disaster in his home state left millions without power or water,” as CNN and others are reporting.

“Cruz, a Texas Republican, said in the statement he flew down for a night because his daughters ‘asked to take a trip with friends.'”

“The trip was immediately criticized, including by Texas state Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat representing southwest Houston, who tweeted a photo of Cruz aboard a flight, saying Cruz was flying south ‘while the state was freezing to death and having to boil water.'”

The rest of the article is here.

Parler, a social-media platform for the far-right, is back online with Mark Meckler as interim CEO

“Parler, the preferred social media platform for the far-right, announced Monday that it was back online after it was dropped by an Amazon hosting service on January 11,” as Business Insider and others are reporting.

“The site became a haven for pro-Trump extremists ahead of, and during, the Capitol insurrection. Amazon Web Services (AWS) found that it ‘poses a very real risk to public safety.’

“On Monday, the company announced that site was up and running with a Tea Party co-founder serving as interim CEO. Mark Meckler, an attorney, political activist, and founder of the Tea Party Patriots, replaced former CEO and co-founder John Matze, who was fired by the company’s board earlier this month.”

“In a statement Monday, Meckler said, ‘Parler was built to offer a social media platform that protects free speech and values privacy and civil discourse,’ highlighting the platform’s focus on freedom of speech. ‘Parler is being run by an experienced team and is here to stay. We will thrive as the premier social media platform dedicated to free speech, privacy and civil dialogue,’ the statement said. 

The rest of the article is here

Senate acquits Trump again

“Former president Donald Trump was acquitted Saturday of inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, becoming the first president in U.S. history to face a second impeachment trial — and surviving it in part because of his continuing hold on the Republican Party despite his electoral defeat in November,” as The Washington Post is reporting.

“That grip appeared to loosen slightly during the vote Saturday afternoon, when seven Republicans crossed party lines to vote for conviction — a sign of the rift the Capitol siege has caused within GOP ranks and the desire by some in the party to move on from Trump. Still, the 57-43 vote, in which all Democrats voted against the president, fell far short of the two-thirds required to convict.

“The tally came after senators briefly upended the proceeding by voting to allow witnesses — only to reverse themselves amid Republican opposition and following hours of negotiations with House Democrats and Trump’s defense team.

“The decision in the end to forgo testimony set the stage for Trump’s acquittal without a full accounting of his actions on Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters who believed his false claims that he had actually won the election stormed the Capitol and endangered the lives of lawmakers, former vice president Mike Pence and hundreds of staff and police officers. Five people died in the melee.”

The rest of the article is here.