Nancy Nadel to artists: move.

Wow. So I had a post for today about the industrial land-use policy that the Council approved on Tuesday. I figured it was mostly ready, but just needed a little AM editing. Then I read this. Did the reporters and I watch the same meeting? It certainly doesn’t sound like it. They sort-of got the basic idea right, which was that the Tidewater Area was exempted from the proposal, while West Oakland wasn’t. But beyond that…I don’t even know what to say. Now I have to entirely rewrite my blog, and I don’t know when I’ll be getting to that.

In the meantime, let’s look at another, related, issue. The whole reason we’re talking about this at all is because Oakland is riddled with abandoned, or at least underutilized, industrial buildings. This is depressing for Oakland, but good for one segment of our population. The exodus of industry from Oakland has left us with plenty of spaces where artists and craftspeople can find affordable rents, ample room to work, and three-phase power.

Many (most) of these buildings don’t meet current building codes. Many are in areas the City has designated solely as industrial. Some currently posses what is called “legal non-conforming” status. Others are simply illegal. Next week, the Community and Economic Development Committee will consider a zoning code that will strictly limit live/work uses and cement use restrictions for industrial areas.

For the artists and craftspeople who live and work in currently illegal spaces, planning staff’s reassurances that they don’t have the money to enforce the zoning code should be cold comfort. One resident is now attempting to convince the City Council to add language to the code next week that will protect the artists and craftspeople currently living in illegal spaces from displacement. He spoke to this concern when the Council considered the industrial land-use policy:

(A transcript of both videos is available here (PDF!).)

You’d think that Nancy Nadel, of all people, would jump at the chance to help protect struggling artists from greedy and unscrupulous landlords, but no. Her response? Move.

Seriously. She says that they should just move. Apparently, there’s plenty of empty warehouses in areas zoned HBX, too.

Then, and this made my jaw drop (although I really should be used to this type of condescension by now), she tells him that if someone is living in a building that does not conform to zoning, it’s their fault. Apparently, we need to all be taking responsibility to find out how the zoning code applies to the spaces we rent. I wonder how many of my readers made that little trip to City Hall before signing a lease. (This attitude is particularly ironic, given that Nadel’s own home is currently in violation of city codes.)

I have been trying to tell people for two years that Nancy Nadel wants to kick the artists out of West Oakland and nobody would believe me. Well, now you have it on video. I told you so.

16 thoughts on “Nancy Nadel to artists: move.

  1. voteforanyonebutnancy

    This is just appaling, but unfortunately not incredible.One of the reasons I moved to West Oakland was because it has an amazing diversity, and artists, craftspeople etc are an integral part of what makes our neighborhood tick. Nancy regularly makes her feelings about artists and the middle class known, and in her opinion West Oakland should remain a toxic, economically disadvantaged, underdeveloped area. It’s time for Nancy to go – PLEASE VOTE IN THIS SUMMER’S CITY COUNCIL ELECTIONS AND MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN!!

  2. dto510

    It’s very unfair of Councilmember Nadel to now demand that artists check the legal status of a building before they rent it. Oakland’s been loosey-goosey with use for years, and it’s difficult for younger people to understand why they can’t live and work out of abandoned buildings, or why what they’re doing isn’t considered commercial by the city. These buildings aren’t just warehouses, whose historic layouts can make them unsuitable for contemporary industrial use, but also storefronts and small office buildings (I know someone who lives in an old dentist’s office). Additionally, some spaces may be “legally nonconforming.” Of course, there is also a residential neighborhood caught in the General Plan’s industrial map. The task of clearing parts of West Oakland of residents is going to be messier than Ms. Nadel seems to think.

  3. Max

    Wow, V. Thanks for putting me up there. I think I’m going to have to take a public speaking class though. I got a little stuttery and um-ish at the end there.

    Everyone who’s reading this and who’s as bothered as I am about the situation: send an email to me at and I’ll tell you how you can help.

  4. Max

    Hey, also, I’d like to add that half of my mission isn’t really covered in V’s post.
    I really want the hybrid spaces we occupy to become incubators. I want the artists to get to know their neighbors better and integrate into the fabric of the city. I want to give back. This stuff is actually more important to me than saving my own ass. Unfortunately we have to deal with the crisis before we get to the good stuff.

  5. scottpark

    I think you do need to at least somewhat consider the public safety and public health reasons for the City of Oakland to have an interest in setting rules as to who lives where and what they’re doing. I know it’s super cool for hipster artists, but I would argue that the greater damage done by lax building enforcement is to tenants in shitty housing and overcrowded conditions. I do not suspect that anyone here would use the desirability of artists in quirky buildings as an argument in favor of unsatisfactory building inspection and enforcement, but I would be careful and explicit that that’s not the point.

  6. oranges are orange

    As usual, this blog presents a disingenuous view of the industrial land issue.
    “The whole reason we’re talking about this at all is because Oakland is riddled with abandoned, or at least underutilized, industrial buildings.” Really? A glut of abandoned buildings is what has spurred Oakland businesses and residents to call for the protection of industrially zoned land? How about the incursion of market rate housing development, and thus fresh NIMBYs, into the scarce industrial zones that provide for a diverse local economy and good-paying blue collar jobs? At first I was surprised that VSmoothe would get on the other side of the “business community” on any issue, but then I remembered that her loyalties are mostly to housing developers and downtown BoBos who would like to see the abolishment of zoning altogether. So I guess it makes sense.

  7. Max

    scottpark, my proposal addresses safety. And it’s not about hipsters. It’s about working artists, musicians and craftspeople. We make the cool stuff. Hipsters are the ones who show up and appreciate it.

    Here’s my proposed language, for everyone who’s interested.


    To achieve the the goals of:

    • Encouraging the retention of Oakland’s vital community of artists and small entrepreneurs–a tremendous economic and cultural asset which is addressed in the General Plan;
    • Preventing displacement, wholesale evictions, or unnecessarily harsh code enforcement actions directed at this valuable and important constituency;
    • Formulating definitions of the different types of flex space–including but not limited to work/live–that can be regulated, encouraged and located as appropriate throughout the city, including within industrial districts;
    • Encouraging and facilitating the purchase by tenants from willing sellers of buildings that are presently legal or are undergoing legalization, with the goal of creating long-term affordable space for artists and small entrepreneurs in which to primarily work, and secondarily to live.

    The following text (as well as the goals above) shall be added to the adopted industrial zones:

    Both Zoning and Building Code enforcement policy towards existing illegal work/live and live/work occupants shall be one of accommodation, adjustment, and preservation, shall encourage feasible upgrades for physical safety, and shall provide a reasonable grace period for existing occupants of illegal residential conversions to bring their premises into compliance with enforcement policy. Relaxation of building codes shall be considered, but only for conversions that are designed so as to prevent reversion to residential-only status. All of these accommodations shall be incorporated into an orderly process.

    In the development of future flex-space regulations, the city’s zoning staff will seek out existing flex-space users, owners and tenants, as well as designers specializing in this building type. Analysis of currently non-legal flex space shall aim to determine the utility, safety, and impact of such space, as well as its economic and community contributions. Within preserved industrial land, flex space possibilities with integral industrial and other high impact use shall be considered. When flex space within preserved industrial areas includes an accessory residential component, such a component shall explicitly designed and regulated to avoid creating any influx of any pure residential use.


  8. V Smoothe Post author

    oranges are orange –

    I don’t think my presentation was disingenuous at all. Proponents of industrial preservation, such as Nancy Nadel, agree that our industrial properties are not being used, and claim that this is why we need the policy. They assert that the reason for underutilization is the uncertainty created by the possibility of market-rate housing development. These issues merit a blog post of their own, so I won’t get any more into it than that for now.

    For the record, I do not see myself as on the side of either housing developers or the business community. I advocate results-oriented legislation, public access to information, and policies that provide the greatest benefit to the residents of Oakland.

    And I’m afraid I don’t know what a BoBo is.

  9. Tom

    There are groups and issues with which artists and small business work/live tenants share common cause, and there are those with which we don’t. Artists don’t complain about industrial activiity around them. They make things too. The presence of of industry prevents gentrificaton in many cases, so it is in artists’ interest that there be distinct industrial districts. But they are a PART of it and should not be excluded. Residential reversion of so-called work/live to residential only, and inappropriate incursion by residential developers into industrial areas are both problems, equally for instrialists and artists. We share common cause there.

    The industrial policy adopted, and the zoning that will largely implement it as proposed and as coming before council on the 11th and 18th of this month have nothing to do with safety or building codes, as implied in one post. We all want safe, affordable space that we can’t get kicked out of. It is true, however, that buildings legalized to today’s code often become too expensive for most artists.

    As Max has stated elsewhere, the passage of laws to outlaw true work/live in indsutrial areas will displace artists, they will harm Oakland, and they will create a black market in illegal work/live space. The likely end result: a tragedy somewhere–a collapse, a fire, a toxics incident.

    There is a better way:

    • Informally assess the safety of illegal builidings and give them an official path to legalization.
    • Linked with this, make it possible for artists to buy their buildings from their landlords, in exchange for a pledge to keep them affordable for some time.
    • Come up with further relaxed building codes for true work/live, combined with unit types that are unlikely to gentrify, such as six living/working space units with common kitchens and bathrooms. No yuppie would buy one of those!

    I could go on…

  10. Max

    Oranges are Orange:

    If you look at my proposal, you’ll see that I’m trying to avoid residential NIMBY gentrification.
    If you look at my presentations to council and the planning commission, you’ll hear me repeat a little talking point:

    Artists are often accused of being the shock troops of gentrification, but we don’t want to be that. We move to industrial areas so we can do things with a heavy impact, to make noise, to load trucks and such. We don’t want to be followed by NIMBY yuppies. As a matter of fact, I often point out the cruel irony that West End Commons was built across the street from an artist space that is called NIMBY.

  11. Andrew

    It’s indeed ironic that artists, who are the last best hope forOakland, stand to be hounded out of town by these ridiculous new regulations. The city should be embracing the artists, craftspeople, and small-scale entrepreneurs that are moving into the empty shells created by our hollowed-out economy, and saving these neighborhoods from utter abandonment and desolation. But instead – at whose bidding?- they are faced with eviction, which is, of course, all for our their good, according to a group of people intent on squashing any upstart renaissance of creativity so bold as to take up space, to make room for the ghost of an industrial base that has long since departed these shores. This reminds me, sadly, of the struggle our government formerly put up against Asians, using restrictive covenants, repressive statutes, and ghetto zoning to thwart what has ultimately proved to be the most vibrant sector of our city.

  12. Nancy Nadel

    I think it is important to note that the industrial land policy that passed allows existing artists in the industrial area to remain in place. As an artist myself, I have always worked separate from where I lived; often that is healthier depending on your medium, but I’m willing to look for policies that will actually preserve land that artists can afford. The only permanently affordable live/work project in Oakland is in West Oakland, Adeline Lofts, which I was instrumental in getting funded. The policies that were being proposed wouldn’t have protected the price of the land and thus would have pushed out artists as it would push out small business and low income people.

    As a councilmember I have had artists who lived in lofts illegally, come to me very upset with the fact that there was a toxic sump below their living space, one woman had a miscarriage, etc. Yes, I think we have to take some responsibility when we dole out money to a landlord, to find out if indeed the document the landlord signed was legal for him/her to sign and living is indeed legal in the building.

    Lastly, it has since been made clear to me that the fellow who was making all the noise about artists living in the industrial area is a bit of a developer himself and is supporting Sean who is financied by the developers who want all the industrial land to go to upscale housing. This will remove all the possibilty of reasonably priced land for artists or other businesses.

    Look at the sources – look at his FPPC statement and you will see the contributions from Kathy Kuhner, Betsy Costello, Peter Sullivan, Bruce Beasely, etc.

    The final decision was not the conversation on the tapes included here. The final decision on the actual zoning was in April.


  13. Max Allstadt

    I am the fellow who made all the noise about artists living in industrial areas.

    Calling me something of a developer is a bit of a stretch. I bought a lot four months ago in a non-industrial area, with money from my family. I used up everything I was given on closing costs and am struggling to come up with tax money for it. I’m more of a carpenter for a living than anything.

    My aim is to “develop” or rather “build with my own two hands” a house. I intend to use it to host a non-profit where top graduate students from creative fields can live together, incubate ideas, and teach and tutor people in West Oakland. I’m hoping to make teaching a mandatory requirement for residents. I am prepared to lose or give away equity in order to realize this dream.

    The dream is to get energetic young artists, musicians, architects, teachers, dancers, writers, multimedia geeks and filmmakers living together and cross pollinating. The dream is to get young people in creative fields to contribute and engage in West Oakland. I feel I am a part of a generation that isn’t giving enough back. I feel that because I was born into fortunate circumstances, I have more of an obligation to give back than many other people.

    So yes. I guess that makes me a developer. I am hell bent on developing something that is going to be goddamn wonderful and which will ideally contribute to this City in a positive, meaningful, joyful way long after everyone who reads this board has been cremated or composted.

    Nancy, I really don’t want to fight with you. I also don’t want to put artists in harmful living space. Nor do I want to see wholesale yuppie condos all over West Oakland. I’ve been carefully trying to craft language that defines work/live clearly and unambiguously and closes loopholes which big developers might exploit. My motives are genuine.

    I chose to support Sean because I find him to be kind, engaging, open minded and practical. I don’t discount much of the good work you’ve done. But I also believe that you’ve done some very impractical things, and I run into people very frequently who seem more than a little put off by encounters they’ve had with you. Not developers. Ordinary working people.

    I also disagree with Sean on a number of things. I’m supporting him because I think he’s a better choice. Not because I think you’re the devil and he’s jesus. If he wins, he can expect me to come before him at council and speak my conscience and you can expect the same if you keep your seat.

    As I said in my email to you earlier today, Nancy, I expect to be an engaged and positive force in this city whoever wins the district 3 seat. I also think representing Sean as supporting irresponsible development is inaccurate. If we went through your donor list we might be able to concoct an accusation or two ourselves. I’m not going there. Simply put, I’m voting my conscience.

    It is true that the final decision on this matter isn’t from these tapes. This is an old post. Artists got the protection they needed and the vote was unanimous.

    Alright. I’m tired of typing. Questions and rebuttals are welcome.

  14. V Smoothe Post author

    Nancy –

    As with all newsmedia, posts here are dated. I have blogged repeatedly about the work/live issue, including writing about the resolution the day after it was decided, something I believe no other media outlet covered.

    To clarify what happened – the Community and Economic Development Committee, in response to the large number of artists who came to protest the proposed code, requested changes to the code that would allow conversion of existing buildings for work/live upon the granting of a conditional use permit. Nancy Nadel did not like this at all:

    Eventually the Council compromised and adopted a policy that would allow already existing residents to remain and apply for conversions, but not permit any new work/live conversions until new work/live rules are drawn up, something that will allegedly happen in 6 to 8 months. I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re referring to when you speak of protecting land prices. Nobody, as far as I’m aware, has ever proposed land price caps.

    Honestly, it has never ever occurred to me when I’m renting an apartment to take my lease down to City Hall to check the zoning. I find it so strange that you seem to expect people to do this.

    I am certainly no expert on the number of permanently affordable live/work projects in Oakland, but I can tell you for certain that the Adeline Lofts is not the only one. The Noodle Factory, built by the Northern California Land Trust, offers permanently affordable work/live units to low-income artists. Being that the project is in West Oakland and has actually received quite a bit of media attention, I find it very curious that you were apparently unaware of its existence.

    I suppose Max is technically a developer, since he owns a small piece of land in a non-industrial neighborhood which is frankly, desperate for private investment, and I believe he intends to build something there. But as I understand it, he is primarily a carpenter who considers work/live an affordability strategy.

    As for the campaign contributions, I have listed the developer contributions for both you and Sean Sullivan as of the latest reporting period. Interestingly, you have received more money from developers than Sean.

  15. Jimmie

    Zoning and building use as intended has a lot to do with public safety.

    Consider this: When someone dies in a building fire or other disastrous failure
    and the facts come out that the building was not zoned for the actual use
    such as it was not intended or equiped for resisdence or did not have
    have proper fire safety nor protection equipment installed…

    Everone will blame and sue the city for allowing, or turning a blind
    eye to “improper” use of the building. Cries of lack of enforcement.
    Meanwhile everyone here is crying
    about they want to live and work in any old tin pot or concrete shed.

    And by the way, I live in a “semi” converted warehouse that is not designed
    approved nor intended for habitation. Just do what I do: Pay your rent early
    and keep your mouth shut. Don’t blame anyone when it falls down around you.

  16. Max Allstadt

    Jimmie, this legislation was not about building codes or fire saftey. It was about banning all residence in large swaths of the city. A very very different situation.

    I think work/live should have a relaxed building code, but more in terms of comfort than in safety. Fire safety is hard to negotiate a compromise on, but there are a few ways to ease compliance and help cut costs.

    This whole thread and epic (which continues by the way, the city is rewriting the rules) is more about new conversions and new construction than illegal conversions. As it stands, a long-inhabited illegal conversion can drag out it’s existence for a long long time, even if it is caught.