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Joel Pomerantz → writer bio


updated 2022

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Joel Pomerantz is a writer and natural history educator recognized for his work in historical waterway research, local journalism, public art and community service. Joel's work centers on community-based exploration of our curious world and often results in cartographic or nonfiction publishing related to San Francisco, his home and place of residence.

Through his Thinkwalks, Joel offers a wide variety of in-person, print and virtual explorations of how San Francisco came to be what it is today. His water mapping is called Seep City, and is currently available as a poster or handmade highly detailed shower curtain art. Joel's research has helped put today's beautiful chaos into the context of economic, cultural and natural history.

It only takes a short stay in San Francisco to be more of an old timer than the majority in the fast-changing population of this serial boom-town. As one cell in the institutional memory bank of his city, Joel has been invited to share his enthusiasm and discoveries with hundreds of formal and informal groups such as Coastwalks, the Wigg Party, the employees of Whole Foods and the volunteers who provide City Guides walks. He often works in collaboration with educational institutions such as the San Francisco Estuary Institute, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, The Exploratorium, scores of schools and universities and the Randall Museum, where he was responsible for arranging a natural history speaker series. A little farther afield, Joel helped create Musick Creek Confluence, a nature preserve and educational community 30 miles south of Yosemite National Park.

Aside from Seep City maps, Joel has produced various small publications such as a photo card series exploring Mona Caron's Duboce Bikeway Mural (3rd ed., 2013). The first edition in 1999 prompted the mural's prominent inclusion on the widely used SF Bike Map. (After well over a dozen map editions, it's still there.) Joel also provided content (2012) for a pair of pioneering exploration apps, which didn't last very long despite being a fun collection of 132 geography explorations researched and annotated in a subversive personal style, called Everything Explained and Local Nerd!.

Joel's research obsession in the new millenium was the previously hidden and unprecedented storm sequence of 1861–62. It inundated the entire western U.S. nearly continuously for months and has still not be covered adequately by the literature. His discovery that the popular song "Oh My Darling Clementine was almost certainly written as a result of the 1862 weather and his discovery of a previously uncharted (temporary) 25 acre lake that existed near the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park are among the results of this sleuthing. Joel back-burnered a book project on the storms for fear of becoming an expert on doom and gloom, especialyl since others with greater expertise and fortitude are continuing this research.

Joel's work has contributed to a 2011 revision of the 2007 Creek and Watershed Map published by the Oakland Museum of California for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Joel occasionally assisted Christopher Richard of the Oakland Museum with research that debunked San Francisco's origin myth. The adage that SF was "founded on the shores of a now-vanished fresh water lake" turns out to have been largely mistaken—skewed by mistranslation, wishful thinking and bad parsing of an explorer's journey.

In addition, Joel has written occasional fiction, including an illustrated book called Twice Just to be Sure (2011). Joel composed music to accompany this heart-warming 48-page tale. Authorship on his fiction works is under the pen name Uncle Pea—as a sort of "band" name, in this case working with illustrator Lance Jackson and designer Amy Conger.

Joel has participated in the San Francisco Chapter of the Awesome Foundation since 2011, after being solicited to apply for a grant, which he received to teach sidewalk natural history in various public spaces. Since 2013 he has helped organize the board that decides which projects will receive no-strings-attached $1000 Awesome microgrants.

Spanning a varied career, Joel's purpose has always been to cultivate informed democracy and public access, and to build non-profit, celebratory and widely empowering community decisions.

As co-founder of various bicycle events and organizations including the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (early 1990s), Joel played a major role in planting seeds for the culture of bicycling that has undergone an ecologically essential worldwide resurgence since the 1990s. With his work at Media Alliance (1988) and his desktop publishing storefront enterprise, EpiCenter (19921996), he was a pioneer in creating access to new publishing technology when the use of personal computers was first gaining ground. He was involved in formative stages of the organic foods movement and egalitarian collective workplaces. He organized many public art murals in San Francisco, including the acclaimed Duboce Bikeway Mural and recruited renowned artist Mona Caron into the world of muraling.

Joel designed and developed, as founding co-editor (with Peter Meitzler), The Tube Times (SF Bicycle Coalition). He reëstablished The Antioch Record newspaper after its 1984 collapse and was editor of The Haight Ashbury Voice and numerous other community print media and feels excited by the renewed interest in print throughout the creative community in the 2020s. He designed and produced major resource manuals and outreach systems for the Smithsonian Institution, Antioch College, Media Alliance, the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, the San Francisco Folk Music Club (a project for which he was honored by fan mail from Pete Seeger, one of his personal heroes) and for many other grassroots efforts and small businesses.

Joel has lived and poked around in San Francisco since 1981, when he first came to work at the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. He also spends time canoeing in rivers and the Bay, hiking on and off trails in remote places, camping and generally exploring. He deeply enjoys meeting people both city and country.