In his Haight apartment, now teeming with stored sculptures, Truong Tran ponders how his life has changed. One of scores of artists displaced from the Mission’s Redlick Building, Truong has now lost not just a space in which to make art, but, more importantly, a community of support in place for the past four years.
Last spring, the California Institute for Integral Studies launched a new gallery space with Truong’s solo exhibition, “Framed Targets” (photo above). The work explored the plight of artists and other displaced communities in San Francisco. Video.
This displacement was documented last summer, when the San Francisco Arts Commission sent out a survey, with about 600 artists answering. This survey found that over 70 percent of the respondents had been displaced or were being displaced from their workplace or home–some from both. As for the 30 percent who were not being displaced, most expressed fear that could happen in the future.
According to Truong, when the Redlick Building was purchased in 2013, the displacement of tenants quickly began.
First evicted was In the Works, an activist group that was feeding people in the neighborhood. Truong explains, “In the Works was told that it was illegal for them to be preparing food in the building. Seems like that fact superseded the charitable work they were doing for the Mission’s underserved community.”
Then there was the Homeless Children’s Network, a nonprofit with the mission “to decrease the trauma of homelessness and domestic violence for children, youth and families.” Truong heard that the group was told that it was illegal for the organization to have kids on the fourth floor. While the owners helped the nonprofit move to the Bayview, the Homeless Children’s Network is no longer near the community they were serving–impractical for clients.
Most interesting of all is Truong’s assertion that the artists were advised they needed to leave their spaces on the upper floors because of a required seismic retrofit. They were also advised that they could not come back in the building once that work was complete. While the artists were told they needed to leave, Truong noticed that tech company PlanGrid–which, ironically, makes construction apps–did not have to vacate their space, adjacent to the artists, and are now taking over the entire fourth floor of the building.
The owner did make a few spaces available on the second floor, but the ventilation is poor and the ceilings are half the height of the 15-foot ceilings on the upper floor.
“The second-floor spaces are not ideal, especially for painters because of the lack of ventilation. I guess I could have made it work, but I was not comfortable competing against my fellow artists for spaces,” laments Truong.
Action in the community
Seeing dire issues in the community, such as the egregious displacement of artists from the Redlick Building, the Cultural Action Network (CAN) sprung up about six months ago. The organization’s goal is to defend arts, cultural and light-industry space, while working to cease the displacement of mom-and-pop businesses and working-class jobs.
“The Redlick displacement is a huge gentrification bomb dropped in the North Mission,” explains Peter Papadopoulos of CAN, who is also co-artistic director of the Mojo Theatre.
Papadopoulos says that the Planning Commission has approved what is basically an eviction blueprint. The building owners claimed they would abandon the building if they did not get what they want, threatening the City.
The proposal, as approved by the Planning Commission, legalizes 47,000 new square feet of office space, mostly for tech offices, in a working-class, commercial corridor. These spaces that appeal to tech companies also appeal to artists, but the latter have little leverage in a city of escalating commercial rents.
CAN has argued a couple of major points with the Planning Commission. One is that this Redick approval of tech offices in a Neighborhood Commercial corridor is unprecedented and should not have been done without further study and community input, including a formal inquiry by the Planning Department, which typically issues a Letter of Determination in such changes to zoning interpretation.
The second concern voiced by CAN and community allies is that the Redlick proposal was passed with incorrect zoning built right into it, ignoring violations of Trade Shop requirements by one of the current tenants. When adjusted for corrected zoning, the Redlick proposal actually contains 53,000 square feet of office space; therefore, the proposal needs to be resubmitted as a Large Cap office project, rather than the Small Cap project that received approval.
With no artist spaces to be found in San Francisco, sculptor Truong will now be taking the 71 MUNI bus to the Van Ness BART station for a lengthy ride over to Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. This is where Truong eventually located a new art space at Norton Factory Studios, a former warehouse.
CAN knows it has an uphill battle in the current economic climate, but vows to tackle these issues to save the soul of San Francisco, working to hold the City accountable for displacement of residents. The group is pushing for a Cultural Impact Report to be included in all future building projects, not just an Environmental Impact Report, so that a project’s effects on the community would be considered in planning decisions, rather than simply the project’s effects on things such as traffic.
Truong saw this lack of accountability when he attended hearings on the Redlick Building.
“It begins and ends with the City. They don’t even implement their own policies,” Truong concludes.
Truong said that one commissioner had a solution for the artists: he counseled them to save their money to buy their own building.