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News + PoliticsDeal to replace art space with luxury condos has...

Deal to replace art space with luxury condos has a glitch

There are also tenants living in the building — and they don’t want to leave

Jade Miller and John Kitchen tell reporters that they are fighting their eviction
Jade Miller and John Kitchen tell reporters that they are fighting their eviction

By Tim Redmond

JULY 22, 2015 – A deal between two art-space operators and a developer who wants to turn an entire block in the Mission into condos has run into an unexpected glitch:

There are people living in the building, and they aren’t willing to leave.

The building at 2050 Bryant has been at the heart of debates over the future of the Mission since developer Nick Podell bought the property (and everything around it) and decided to evict everyone and build luxury housing.

Opponents call it the Beast on Bryant, and argue that the last thing the neighborhood needs is more high-end housing – and that the city’s commitment to preserving blue-collar jobs and community art space is in the balance.

But Podell has cut deals with some of the industrial tenants and with the owners of InnerMission, which used to be Cell Space; he promised InnerMission that he would help find a new place for the operation, and would subsidize the rent for five years.

That caused the two InnerMission owners, Mike Gaines and Eric Reid, to drop their opposition to the project.

But apparently nobody was paying much attention to the fact that the arts space was also a living space, and had been a living space since at least 2002. Evicting commercial tenants is one thing; throwing out residents is another. The rules are very different – and the current tenants are not ready to move.

That creates a dilemma for Gaines and Reid: They have been accepting rent from their tenants, which makes them the landlord – and now they and the developer are proceeding with an eviction action.

It won’t be easy – in San Francisco, tenants can only be evicted for “just cause” – and while the building will eventually be demolished, the project approvals don’t go before the Planning Commission until September, and the process could drag out much longer.

“We weren’t part of the agreement,” Jade Miller, who has lived in the building for about two months, told me.

Under city law, anyone living in a place for 30 days is legally a tenant with rent-control and eviction protections.

Reid told me that he had allowed the tenants to live in the space with the express understanding that they would have to leave at the end of June, when the commercial lease InnerMission had expired.

He said he had given them “a roof over their heads” because he thought it was a temporary situation, and that the handful of tenants were just there while they found another place to live.

It was, he said, “a mistake.”

And yet the building that has been described largely as a production, distribution, and repair space with arts tenants was also for a long time a living space.

“The building’s owner knows there are people here,” Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a tenant advocate with the Housing Rights Committee, said.

And the rules for evictions of residential tenants are different than the rules for commercial spaces, which can be evicted for any reason when a lease runs out.

At a press conference this morning, tenants said they see this as a battle for the future of the Mission, and that they would like to see some version of the old Cell Space remain in the property.

They also said that they were under the impression they could stay until the very end: “We were told we could be there until they come to knock it down,” Miller said.

Reid and Gaines posted a letter in the window urging reporters to ignore the press conference.   “We were fooled by these imposters once we opened our doors and hearts to them out of good community will,” it stated. “They are attempting to hijack the space to serve their own agenda.”

A letter from the InnerMission owners tells reporters to ignore the plight of the tenants
A letter from the InnerMission owners tells reporters to ignore the plight of the tenants

Although Reid and Gaines say all the tenants are short-timers, one – John Kitchen, who goes by the name Johnny Knuckles – has been living in the building for nine months. And legally it doesn’t matter: After 30 days, a tenant is a tenant.

Reid told me that InnerMission still has a lot of valuable stuff in the building, and was planning to move it out slowly over the next few months. “But now we are forced to do this eviction,” he said, “and we all have to go now.”

The landlord’s eviction notice names InnerMission as well as the residential tenants, who say they were never served with the notice.

Reid also told me that he offered the tenants thousands of dollars to move out – but Mecca said that buyout offer was never registered with the city, as the law now requires.

This is all, of course, part of a much-larger issue: Should valuable PDR space in the Mission be turned into more high-end housing (which does nothing to help the current housing crisis?) Is this project a good idea in the first place — even if the developer has cut deals with some of the previous tenants?

Why should an entire city block on Bryant Street become housing for the rich — and how wil that impact the rest of the neighborhood?

The Planning Commission hearing on the developer’s permit is in September.

I ran into Jon Youtt, who built and operated Cell Space (as a nonprofit) for many years at the press conference. He told me that the place had always been live-work space for artists, and that the previous owner knew that and approved of it.

The pending evictions, he said, were frustrating: “They are pitting artists against artists. If the developer wants the tenants out, he should be responsible instead of making InnerMission do his dirty work.”

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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