Like too many organizations and individuals in San Francisco these days, the SFBC is searching for a new home. Real estate speculators have purchased the Grant Building, which houses the SFBC and a dozen other social service and activist nonprofits. The new owners, Seligman Western Enterprises, from Detroit of all places, plan to evict all tenants to renovate the building so they can charge top-tier rents. This is just the beginning; the company's aggressive business plan is to buy more office buildings in San Francisco's hot real estate market.
Fortunately for us, the Grant Building is full of seasoned activists who know a good fight when they see one. We quickly formed the Grant Building Tenants Association, whose steering committee includes the SFBC, Shaping San Francisco (a radical history multimedia project), Greenaction (the Bay Area descendants of Greenpeace), and the Agape Foundation. We went to rallies, testified to the Board of Supervisors, and garnered news articles about our plight.
The response has been promising, at least in the short term. Supervisor Michael Yaki introduced two pieces of nonprofit protection legislation. One piece provides $.5 million in short term rental and relocation assistance and $2.5 million for long-term assistance such as building purchases and additions to existing buildings. The second is an emergency, one-year zoning amendment applying to a few specific neighborhoods where nonprofits congregate that would prevent the conversion of nonprofit office space to for-profit use. It would help for you to dash off a short note to Mayor Brown telling him how important these ordinances are to the survival of organizations critical to the quality of life in this city.
The new landlords responded predictably: "You guys did a good job stirring up some attention." said Dan O'Leary, the owner's representative. O'Leary's promised some financial assistance finding new space, but whether it's enough is to be determined.
The long-term prospect is downright exciting! It's just an idea at this point, but let's declare it now: let's build a new Center for Appropriate Transportation (CAT) near Octavia Boulevard on the land formerly occupied by the Central Freeway. What a perfect use of the space! What a perfect location for a CAT! This vision realizes a dream first inspired in 1993 when the SFBC and the Auto-Free Bay Area Coalition sent more than 20 organizers on a fact-finding trip to the CAT in Eugene, Oregon. That was an amazing trip, which inspired similar efforts in Santa Cruz and Berkeley. It's time we have a CAT right here at home.