Public Comment

The City is Still For Sale

Joan Holden
Saturday April 11, 2015 - 02:52:00 PM

Editor's Note: Joan Holden, the author of this letter, grew up in Berkeley. She was a longtime member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe collective, and wrote most of their best plays, including in the 1990s "City for Sale", an early depiction of how real estate speculation in the Bay Area was destroying small businesses and low-cost housing. It's only gotten worse since then, and has now come to Berkeley. If you live or work in San Francisco, or just love the city, you might want to go to the meeting.

The Academy of Art University is all over this town. You see its logo everywhere in downtown, North Beach and South of Market, on dozens of former office buildings, stores, & industrial sites that it has turned into classrooms and studios. What you don’t see, because no signs proclaim it, is the FOR-PROFIT school’s impact on the city’s vanishing stock of affordable housing. As high rents displace longtime residents in droves, the AAU is gobbling up apartment buildings, motels, artists’ live-work buildings and single-occupancy hotels to house its mainly transient young students, a third of them recruited from abroad via the school’s giant marketing operation.

The AAU evicted the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. To date, it has taken over 15 apartment buildings, two artists-live work buildings, a downtown hotel, and motels on Lombard St. and Van Ness Avenue—conservatively, 1000 dwelling units. In contrast to the Arts Institute and the Conservatory of Music, both of which have announced plans to build student housing, the AAU plans NO new units: its growth plan calls only for “acquiring housing", in the city’s most-marketable neighborhoods. 

On Thursday, April 16 beginning around 1 PM, the San Francisco Planning Commission will hold a required hearing on the environmental impact of the AAU’s plan. The California Environmental Quality Act allows economic and housing impacts to be considered. 

Five of the Commission’s seven members are new: they haven’t heard previous testimony on the AAU; they weren’t here for the late-90’s fight over phony live-work lofts, and they are unfamiliar with artists’ issues. They may know that something is being done for artists: studio and rehearsal space being created mid-Market. But they DON’T know how many in our community can’t find housing. 

If anyone receiving this email was directly displaced by the AAU, your story would be invaluable. But any low-to-moderate income artist in any discipline who has struggled to stay in San Francisco has something to teach the Commission—and the public: the hearing will be covered by the press and media. Please come, and sign up to tell your story. Ask the Commission to make the AAU build new housing instead of devouring the little we have left. You’ll be allowed three minutes, but they‘ll love us if you can say it in one. 

AAU is #8 on the agenda; 1 PM is an estimate. If earlier items drag on and you can’t stay, please sign up for public comment on #7: “2014 Housing Inventory”. The issues are the same.