Tenants and community organizers at a July press conference at 2050 Bryant Street. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

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.

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4 Comments

  1. Some reporting needs to be done to see if Johnny if being paid by another source to be the squatter. This is the problem with development in this city in a nutshell. Looney idiots hold up the process causing the cost of building to go up higher than need be. This causes rents and housing prices to be dramatically higher than other areas.

    This guy is not a long term tenant getting kicked out. He had an agenda from the day he went to move there. What a shame.

    1. Hey John, why don’t you come talk TO me before you talk ABOUT me? Let’s grab a snack and have a chat, cousin 🙂

  2. My Dear Mr Knucklz…
    yes! you ARE standing up for artists everywhere and art INCARNATE, in the tradition of Ai WeiWei!–And Tommy Avicolli Mecca… you’re a godsend precisely because you know how to play their games and use the “technicalities” against them that they use against us so cavalierly to slaughter us.

    I was skeeved when I heard Reid sold everyone out. That’s only saving art in San Francisco for the tourists. Ew.

    Art is fighting these creepy condos in the FIRST place.

    And I love that you guys were only there a short time. Brilliant. Beautiful. And i know you were “let in” because everyone’s trying to make a dime to the end by even subletting to you.

    Thanks for being the only REAL and TRUE fighting artists there. The ones who got there in the nick of time.

    A lot of us on the bottom are jumping on the fault lines to see it all blow. Hold on as long as you can.

    It’s very, very savvy of you guys to also use not only technicalities, but you’re using their own greed and short-sightedness against them when they were using your need for artist space.

    Hang on…

    Things are already starting to crack. And the more we see TRUE rebellions that aren’t merely holding out for another dollar…

    It’s like things started turning just a little bit with Pigeon Palace and the Halprin eviction debacle.

    Hold on. Reid sold out fast and easy.

    And if you guys are doing this for a dollar, shame on you. You’d be peeing all over your own existential crisis in an era where babies are trained and expected to be hustlers.

    I hope you all are for real.

    Like Tommi Avicolli Mecca. he looks the same age as when i moved here 22 years ago, but his eyes saw the hell that was coming and they’re not as bright now that it’s HERE.

    Besos and blessings to you. It makes a stomach hurt with true Life and Excitement to piss everyone off and rebel.

    Don’t listen to the personal attacks. Beaurocratic type greedy thinkers will use your humanity against YOU but not account for their own.

    I love this. Even if you get booted out on your ass, what a story to die old to. Selling out never ages well in your own conscience if you’re lucky enough to even still know the difference. As Reid didn’t.

    Yeah. I expect a lot out of people. But i LIVED this life and have paid for it with blood and beatings and poverty. I resent others blithely asking me for the flowers i’ve grown from my own eviscera. i’ll share… but don’t TAKE.

    thank you for being more like american Ai WeiWeis. we’ve got nothing left. Capitalism has killed everyone dead. Look at what they did to the INDIANS. we’re toast without real heroes who remember what it looks like NOT To sell out.

    i’m glad you were only in there subletting a few months. it’s perfect. the greed turns on itself and howls.

    Beautiful canaries you all are.

    x

    erika lopez
    hampshire st.

  3. omg move out already….you are renting the property. Doesn’t mean you own the property forever if you are paying just rent and taking a buy-out fair and square.

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