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City to aid artists in struggle with landlord

By Chris Nichols, Daily Planet Staff
Saturday June 01, 2002

For Don Donahue, leaving the “Warehouse” at 2750 Adeline Street, a south Berkeley artist’s cooperative, would be a challenge. If an eviction dispute is not resolved, Donahue faces the task of moving an immense collection of art and more than 26 years worth of underground comic books.  

As a publisher of alternative comic books, poetry and literature since the 1960’s, Donahue, along with many Berkeley residents and city officials is concerned that too many local artists are being forced out of the city. 

“A lot of people have come and gone, artists, musicians. Somehow I’ve always stayed here. Every time I almost moved out I always ended up staying,” reflected Donahue. 

Despite the fact that they have all been issued eviction notices, the residents at 2750 Adeline Street hope that theirs will be a success story.  

According to Natasha Shawver, a resident of the building for the past 19 years, the city of Berkeley has taken notice of the cooperative’s situation and shown support. “I never thought in a million years the city would listen to us,” said Shawver. “They’ve shown a lot of effort. They’ve really backed us up.” 

The City Council voted unanimously in April to temporarily waive thousands of dollars in fees if the artists are able to buy the building, and temporarily waive the retrofitting timeline on the site.  

According to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, a supporter of the cooperative, the City Manager has assigned several people to assist the tenants in their communication with the building’s landlord, Sasha Shamszad. “Several city departments including the housing department are working on this and we hope for a ‘win-win’ situation,” says Worthington. 

Shamszad, the owner of Ziba Photographics in Berkeley and San Francisco, did not comment on the case, citing instructions from his lawyer. 

“This is not an isolated instance. There is a pattern of artists being forced from their studios. We need to get the landlords and the tenants to work together,” added Worthington. 

The city is currently examining a number of tenant buildings which face similar eviction cases, specifically in the arts and crafts district in west Berkeley. 

A collection of old pinball machines, original artwork and comic books greet visitors as they enter 2750 Adeline Street, representing the unique and creative personalities within the house. 

Residents at the cooperative emphasize that their building is a part of the larger community. Shawver, who’s toy store was open to the public for 10 years until 1996, says she has a relationship with the community. “I’m connected to the community. I see people at the grocery store and around town and get their feedback. There hasn’t been one person who hasn’t been supportive of us,” said Shawver. 

“We’ve seen people grow up here,” said Donahue. 

According to Rosita Fogelman, a graphic artist originally from Israel and resident of the cooperative for the past four years, a creative vein runs throughout the building. “It’s a great place to get inspiration, once you’ve got it just comes out,” says Fogelman.  

Fogelman, who was attracted to Berkeley’s reputation as a center for art and culture, says she hopes an agreement can be reached between the residents and the current landlord. “We want a deal to work out. Our hope is to keep this place and to keep it open to the community,” says Fogelman. 

Fogelman notes that the previous landlord, Tim Baker, worked hard to keep the building affordable for the tenants. “He wanted artists who would participate in the community. If we had more owners like that we’d have a happier town,” says Fogelman. 

Residents of 2750 Adeline Street plan to run a series of art shows outside the building this August and be included in the Berkeley Art Festival. According to Shawver, the cooperative hopes to include an eclectic and funky display of artwork at the shows and focus on involving community participation in the shows. 

According to Shawver, the remaining six residents do not want to vilify their landlord. They hope, rather, to work with Shamszad to find a middle ground. 

“We feel we have an insight into the community, that we have a unique opportunity to be helpful,” said Shawver.