A major development on Bryant Street has turned artist against artist as the owners of Inner Mission, who earlier struck a deal with the developer, have run into resistance from three sub-tenants who refuse to leave.
Developer Nick Podell plans to turn 2050 Bryant St. and its block into 232 market-rate condos and 44 below-market-rate units. Podell struck a deal earlier this year with Inner Mission co-owner Eric Reid to find the artist’s space a new place in the neighborhood and pay for relocation expenses, any required remodeling or re-permitting, and the difference in rent for a period of five years.
“We also got him to help replace the auto body shop [on the block] and find them a new location, and another business to help find [them] a new location,” Reid added. “That legal partnership was based on his ability to help us move and invest in the long term.”
That deal, however, now faces a new hurdle from Inner Mission’s sub-tenants.
The three sub-tenants, who share a unit upstairs at 2048 Bryant St., held a press conference Wednesday at noon to protest their eviction, saying due process was not followed and that they want to save the historic CELLspace building. The building was rented by Inner Mission in 2012 shortly after the dissolution of CELLspace as an arts non-profit.
“We’re on a mission, in the Mission, to save the soul of San Francisco,” said Jonny Knucklz, whose real name is John Kitchen. He has been a sub-tenant in the building for nine months, well after it was purchased by Podell. The other two sub-tenants have been there since the end of May.
The sub-tenants occupy a unit that has been used to house artists from CELLspace since 1992, and they argue that this decades-long tenancy of artists is a legacy threatened by Inner Mission’s relocation agreement with Podell. Preserving arts centers should be a focus of the city, they said, not building “luxury condos.”
Though there were also technical arguments against the eviction: Tommy Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee said that there had been no eviction notice and there was no just cause to evict.
Reid, however, said Knucklz did receive a written eviction notice on May 31, giving him 30 days to vacate, and had known for months that the move-out date was June 30. The other two sub-tenants, Reid said, moved in after May 31 knowing they could only stay for a month, though that arrangement was not in writing.
After June 30, Podell served Inner Mission and its sub-tenants with an unlawful detainer notice for staying past the agreed-upon date. If this is not contested in court the tenants face forcible eviction.
“Now it’s on our backs, because we sublet it to Jonny and we’re responsible for him,” said Reid.
Knucklz, however, denies being served with any eviction notice.
“What? Are you serious? Wow,” he said when asked. “I have no idea what he’s talking about, straight up. No, no.”
Knucklz acknowledged that various dates had been agreed upon throughout his nine-month tenancy, but said he had no recollection of June 30 in particular.
“When I first moved in, they said some things and I said some things,” he said. “But I don’t remember saying that particularly, no.”
Without agreement on the eviction notice, the legality of the unlawful detainer is in question. Just cause for the eviction, however, does seem to exist given the building’s imminent demolition, said attorney for the Eviction Defense Collaborative Carol Bettencourt.
Reid is frustrated by the ordeal and says that the sub-tenants have taken his “generous effort, gesture, and swapped it around.”
“We feel like we’re being hijacked,” he said. “We notified everyone that our lease as Inner Mission was up by June 30. And we told everyone in the building that they had to leave, but we had also kept them informed along the way of what the progress was. We wanted to keep the spaces available to the artists as long as possible. Then June 30 came and all of the sudden they aren’t leaving.”
Reid explained that the agreement with the two other sub-tenants was done as a favor to Knucklz with the understanding they could only stay for that month.
“[Jonny] entered into this agreement with us under false pretenses,” Reid said. “He was really the only one left in June when he invited two other people in. The month before we were to leave, he asked us [about] two friends who need a place to stay for a month, [whether] they could stay here for another month that would really help them out, and we said sure.”
The two other tenants, Jade Miller and Erik Saldana, both said they’d been living there for 52 days and had paid rent for June. They also say they were told to be out when demolition began, but say they received conflicting dates about when that would be.
“My impression was that the space was still being deliberated upon,” said Saldana. “We had until after [demolition] began.”
They also take issue with the deal made between Inner Mission and developer Podell to relocate.
“We as tenants never agreed to do that,” Miller said. “We weren’t a part of that agreement.”
Reid called Miller’s stance absurd, given the short length of their residency.
“How do they get a fucking seat at the table?” he said of Miller and Saldana. “They haven’t bleed and sweat like we have, I mean come on.”
The tenants were also offered a buy-out of $6,000 each, which Reid said came from a “personal loan for $20,000,” which is all he has “to give out of [his] pocket.”
All three say the offer was confusing and that they thought it was only $6,000 split between them.
Regardless, Knucklz says he would never take a buy-out.
“I wouldn’t take a buy-out for $6 billion dollars,” he said.
Knucklz says he’s put in “two to three thousand hours” of volunteer work at CELLspace “over the course of nine years” and that he often greeted the artists coming in to work.
“I was the first face they saw,” he says.
Reid, however, doesn’t believe the apparent magnanimity and says Knucklz is being “self-serving.”
“Jonny says that he wants to stay, he says he represents the artists,” he said. “But the fact is he doesn’t. We represent 140 artists. We give jobs and employ them throughout the year. We have held this together for three years. For him to hijack this conversation, to say that he’s trying to support the artists — In which way is he supporting the artists? Does he have any financial backing? Does he have any vision at all other than I’m going to squat and I’m going to make a point?”
Despite the vitriol, Reid is disappointed that the situation has deteriorated.
“It hurts, it hurts pretty bad,” he said. “It caused this horrible situation that didn’t have to be horrible.”
Knucklz, however, is adamant about his goal.
“I want to save the building. I intend to save the building. Stop the Beast on Bryant and save this cultural institution,” he said at the press conference.