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Joel Pomerantz → writer bio


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Joel Pomerantz is a writer and natural history educator recognized for his work in waterway research, local journalism, public art and community service. Joel's work centers on community-based nonfiction 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. Joel's research has helped put today's chaos into the context of economic, cultural and natural history.

It only takes a couple decades in San Francisco to be more of an old timer than the majority in the fast-changing population of this tech 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 also with the volunteers who provide City Guides walks. He often works in collaboration with educational institutions such as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, The Exploratorium, scores of schools and universities and the Randall Museum, where he is responsible for arranging natural history speakers for a monthly series.

His latest print release was an updated exploration of 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 thirteen map editions, it's still there.) Joel also published (2012) a smartphone collection of 132 geography explorations researched and annotated in a subversive personal style. It's available as a pair of apps called Everything Explained and Local Nerd!.

Joel's current research obsession is the unprecedented storm sequence of 1861–62. It inundated the entire west coast nearly continuously for months and now floods his brain daily. His discovery that the popular song "Oh My Darling Clementine was 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 incredible results of this sleuthing. His work has contributed to a 2013 revision of the 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 (released 2011). Joel composed music to accompany this heart-warming and thinky 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, when he was solicited to apply for a grant. Since 2013 he has sat on the board that decides which projects will receive no-strings-attached $1000 micro-grants.

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, Joel played a major role in planting seeds for the culture of bicycling that has seen a worldwide resurgence since the 1990s. With his work at Media Alliance and his desktop publishing storefront enterprise, EpiCenter, 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 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 also offers social justice public art explorations as part of Thinkwalks.)

He designed and developed, as founding co-editor (with Peter Meitzler), The Tube Times (SF Bicycle Coalition). Joel reëstablished The Antioch Record newspaper after its 1984 collapse and was editor of The Haight Ashbury Voice and various other community print media. 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) and for many other grassroots efforts and small businesses.

Joel has lived and poked around in San Francisco since 1981. 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 urban and rural.