Tenants of the community live work space Station 40 took to 16th Street Bart Plaza Monday to publicly call out their landlords for evicting them from a building at 16th and Mission. The collectively run space, which houses about a dozen people, has been in existence for 11 years at 3030B 16th Street.
Joined by housing activists such as the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and Housing Rights Committee, the tenants were specifically calling on the landlord Emanuel Jolish, along with his wife Ahuva and son Barak Jolish, to take a deal from the Community Land Trust to buy their building and turn it into a collectively owned building.
“Our position in this has remained the same: if the Jolish family wishes to sell this building, they should sell it to the Community Land Trust,” read a Station 40 tenant who only identified himself as Carlos from a prepared statement Monday. “The offer from the land trust would make it possible to maintain and even create more housing for working-class and struggling people.”
The building’s owner Emanuel Jolish, however, doesn’t want to sell the building and said he never had any intention of selling it. Furthermore, the units occupied by Station 40 members were never meant to be residential units.
“We built it as commercial space,” said Barak Jolish of the building his parents purchased in 1997, and added that it been vacant for decades prior and needed major reconstruction. “It was a very raw space…We rented it out as an arts space.”
Roughly two weeks ago, the tenants in Station 40 received an unlawful detainer for illegally inhabiting the space. In their statement to the press Monday a Station 40 representative explained: “We have lived here for over 11 years, it is zoned for residential use, and we therefore have all the just cause protections to tenants, and Ahuva and her family know this.”
Finn Finneran, one of the Station 40’s members, denied the Jolishes’ claim that they did not know people were occupying the large, open two story unit above a dollar store on 16th and Mission. Finneran said the Jolishes forgave several months’ rent when the space’s original residents spent their own money in the renovations in 2004.
“The same people involved in turning it into housing are evicting us now,” said Finneran.
Records of the building’s permits indicate that in 2004 the second floor bathrooms had been remodeled and new electrical systems had gone in, but office space was listed as these project’s use. The Department of Building Inspection received an anonymous complaint in 2009 that “people were living in commercial space,” but records indicate that the property owner never responded to this.
The Jolish family, which owns several other buildings in the Mission, say that they first discovered people were living in the unit last year when they approached Station 40 about their lease expiring. At that point, Barak Jolish said, they all came to an agreement about transitioning the space from a residential one into a commercial one. Lawyers were supposed to figure out the details.
“For four months we didn’t hear from them,” said Emanuel Jolish. “They put us between a rock and a hard place.”
Finneran, who has lived in the building for eight years, said the tenants approached the Jolish family about a year ago when they heard the building was up for sale. The San Francisco Community Land Trust along with Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), which helped tenants at the Merry-Go-Round buy their own building and turn it into a collective in 2014, said they could purchase the building at 16th from the owners so the tenants could stay.
“The relationship had been fine,” said Finneran of their relationship with the Jolish family prior to the eviction. That changed when Station 40 approached the Jolish family about the Community Land Trust taking over the space, “They blew us off.”
“We gave them a verbal offer on building” said Tracy Parent, the land trust’s organizational director. Parent wouldn’t comment on what the land trust offered, but explained that “the family said that they’re not interested in selling the building at this time.”
“We don’t think that it’s practical,” said Barak Jolish. “We’re just not ready to sell.”
An expired real estate listing from more than a year ago shows that the 16,520 square feet parcel of land that encompasses 3030 16th Street as well as its three neighboring properties—all owned by the Jolish family—was on the market for some period of time.
Barak Jolish said the family had been in talks with some potential buyers, but it wasn’t anything serious. The listing existence was due more to an “over enthusiastic realtor” than any concrete plans to sell.
“I had no intent to deceive anyone,” said Emanuel Jolish, “I did tell them at one point, I’m reaching 70, eventually I will retire and I would eventually sell.” But he said it wasn’t anytime soon.
The tenants at Station 40 don’t buy this.
“The truth is the Jolish family stands to make millions off the fact that 16th and Mission along with San Francisco as a whole are being flipped for the benefit of the rich, while devastating those who have called the place home for decades,” read Station 40 member Guillermo Martinez from their statement at Monday’s rally.
In addition to the buildings at 16th and Mission, the Jolish family owns several properties throughout the neighborhood. They’re landlords to Alley Cat Books on 24th Street and the artist workshop the Secret Alley on Capp Street.
This isn’t even the first time they’ve been the target of a heated neighborhood debate, although the politics have flipped somewhat. In 2011, when the Jolish family wanted to use the former Buddhist monastery on 15th and Albion to build supportive group housing for parolees, neighbors rebelled. (After a lengthy compromise process, it’s now student housing.)
Emanuel Jolish, who immigrated to San Francisco from Israel in 1969, said the latest backlash feels especially intense. Fliers around the neighborhood include personal family photos labeling his family as profiteers. Some say simply: “Fuck the Jolishes.” He said activists have banged on the door of his home at 6 a.m. only to run off when he called the police.
Will the Jolish family be able to compromise now like they did in 2011?
“I can see that they’re really stressed and that’s why they’re using these tactics,” said Barak Jolish of the protests and unwanted visits at the Jolish family’s homes. “But the relationship has really deteriorated.”
As Station 40 said in their statement Monday: “This is our home and we’re going to fight tooth and nail for it.”
Station 40 is located on 16th Street near Mission, at the virtual ground zero of the tech-boom-fueled galloping ruin of San Francisco’s once predominantly working class Mission District. People involved with Station 40 boast that they have held “hundreds of anticapitalist oriented events” at their space. Over an almost two year long period from around 2010-2011 into 2012 I tried to get the “crew” at this self-styled “anti-capitalist” subcultural identity space to either let me organize or themselves organize a meeting about the then-accelerating gentrification of SF’s Mission District.
And by a meeting, I meant a meeting open to working and low-income people in the neighborhood at large, and not just the usual sheepish scenesters and posturing consumers of subjectively insurrectionary dogmas. No such meeting ever took place — not a single one. Station 40 person Cindy Milstein told me to my face that the Station 40 “crew” were not interested in hosting or organizing a meeting about the gentrification of San Francisco’s Mission District.
NowStation 40 falls victim to the larger social forces that they were too terminally self-absorbed or a-political to oppose at a much earlier phase of the problem. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.
The loss of Station 40 is no loss for the overall working class character of San Francisco’s Mission District. Working people and renters in the Mission owe Station 40 the same level of interest and engagement in their current plight that Station 40 has shown the Mission District. This “anti-capitalist” social center has had a long-term passively parasitic relationship to the Mission. The loss of Station 40 is no loss for working people and renters in the Mission District. Kevin Keating