Meditating for world peace wasn’t without consequences for Saytar Kamdar, who lives across from Dolores Park in one of four condos that were once a 100-year-old church. The site at 651 Dolores Street is now called the Light House, a seemingly appropriate name for a meditation space, but not according to the city planning department.
Just days after the Ghost Ship fire killed 36 people at a party in an Oakland warehouse, Kamdar got an email from the department about a meditation event he had hosted at his home on Sept. 24, the autumn equinox. The problem was that the event – the Great Silence – was publicized on Facebook, a move that in the eyes of the city turned a private affair into a public event.
Kamdar summed up the email:
“I think what they were saying was like ‘Hey you are hosting free meditations at your space. We told you that this wasn’t an events space.’”
“I’m like, it’s not an event space, it’s my house,” he said. “I myself as a person am allowed, I think, to have people over at my house and we can do whatever we want.”
Even though it is Kamdar’s house, the city has rules on how residential units can operate.
Its zoning means “non-retail sales and services (such as charging for workshops, meditation services, utilizing the unit as an office space where the tenant does not live in the unit etc.) are not permitted/allowed,” planning department spokesperson Candace SooHoo wrote in an email.
The meditation event was part of a project to get people worldwide to meditate at the same time. He doesn’t deny the city’s allegation of meditation gathering; he just doesn’t see what the big deal is.
“One of my friends was like, ‘We’re doing this world peace meditation day. Do you mind if I invite some other people outside our friend circle?’” said Kamdar, who agreed to host his friend’s event. “I didn’t think that it was a problem, but apparently the city wasn’t happy with it.”
He said 15-20 showed up at for The Great Silence event. According to the Facebook event, 55 people said they did attend.
The complaint about the meditation event also alleged that Kamdar was using his residence as an office space for people who do not live there, which is not allowed under the city’s current residential zoning laws.
Kamdar said he does not use his home as an office space for others, and the city hasn’t produced any evidence to the contrary.
Sometimes Kamdar’s co-workers come over for lunch, and a couple times a week they have meetings there, he said. Kamdar is the chief operating officer at Hive, which is an “impact investing fund that invests in companies creating a better world,” according to its website. They have leadership training conferences for social entrepreneurs at the Innovation Center at the Palace of Fine Arts.
Kamdar says he says that he gets it – the city was probably just checking up on all potential code violations in the wake of a horrific tragedy.
His home is up to code, and, well, he was just meditating with friends.
The city’s next step will be to send a code enforcement team to Kamdar’s condo to investigate the complaint. If the violation is confirmed, and if Kamdar is not cooperative and doesn’t correct the problem, he could be fined $250 a day.
The city has had problems with Kamdar before. In the time since he has lived at the Light House, the city has opened two cases on Kamdar for code violations, including the meditation gathering.
Kamdar’s residence first came under the city’s scrutiny back in May when he held an event, and then in June he hosted a workshop call “Prototype Thinking Workshop” for SF Design Week, an event that charged $30 at the door. In addition to the workshop, the city discovered through an Eventbright account that Kamdar was planning to use another unit in the Light House he was leasing as a “co-working space, co-living space, hotel rooms, event space, classrooms, yoga/fitness studio, juice bar and a healthy restaurant,” according to the complaint.
Kamdar said it was a legitimate mistake. He didn’t know it wasn’t allowed. The city told him to never do it again and he said no problem, Kamdar said. The city closed that case in November after the Eventbrite account was taken down, but made it clear that such events and commercial activities are illegal.
“They are not to host any events or have anyone work at the space that is not a resident of the unit,” SooHoo of the Planning Department said in an email.
Here is an excerpt from email sent to Kamdar from an investigator regarding his leased unit and Eventbrite account:
“Please do not host any other commercial events at the site and do not allow for anyone to work at the space, who does not live there. If I do receive a complaint in the future for the same activity, I will have to go straight to Notice of Violation, where fines and penalties could accrue.”
Kamdar no longer leases the other unit. He is content for now in his condo having private meditation groups with his friends. “I like, very privately, have people come over and meditate like once a week,” said Kamdar, 31, who has lived at The Light House since March. “I thought that’s what I could do in my house.”
Kamdar never meant to ruffle the city’s feathers or cause any problems in the neighborhood.
“I hope that people wouldn’t be upset that I have people over to meditate. We’re meditating dude,” said Kamdar. “It is a church – seems like a good place to meditate.”