A nonprofit art supplier is intent on remaining in its Bayview District digs despite a number of permitting and safety violations that place it at risk of eviction, and has enlisted the help of a “Do It Yourself” group whose sole mission is to save vulnerable community spaces.
SCRAP, a four-decade old reuse center and educational nonprofit, has banded together with the Oakland-based Safer DIY Spaces. The coalition of architects, engineers, contractors and artists formed to assist live-work space tenants in DIY communities in the wake of the deadly fire at Oakland’s Ghost Ship warehouse in December 2016.
For nearly half of its life, SCRAP has been housed in a warehouse at 801 Toland St. owned by the San Francisco Unified School District. The school district has allowed SCRAP, which provides employment and educational opportunities to the SFUSD community, to use the space with no rent.
But the nonprofit was cited in an October inspection for fire safety violations, as well as for operating a storefront selling discarded materials to the public without permission for a mercantile occupancy — a practice that was ongoing for years to the SFUSD’s knowledge, according to SCRAP’s leadership.
SCRAP employees were warned that an eviction was likely coming, as upgrades to the warehouse and permitting adjustments were estimated to be substantial and costly, as previously reported in the Examiner.
But Safer DIY Spaces insists it can help bring SCRAP into compliance. The all-volunteer group provides consultation, technical assistance and guidance on navigating city permitting processes.
“We disagree with the assessment that there was a change of use in the building,” said David Keenan, of Safer DIY Spaces.
SCRAP Executive Director Ben Delaney said he believes the recent citations were also fueled by the Ghost Ship fire, which “sensitized local government and fire departments” and has triggered stringent enforcement in warehouse spaces throughout the Bay Area, including at SCRAP.
“We have been doing this in this building for 19 years — suddenly, the Fire Department noticed,” said Delaney. “Everyone is pointing fingers and doesn’t want to be responsible for something like that happening again.”
Keenan co-founded Safer DIY Spaces a week after the Ghost Ship fire, and last November the group received a substantial grant from the Gray Area for the Arts Foundation.
“Code enforcement and fire prevention was working 24/7, ripping through buildings and issuing hasty notices of violations,” he said. “They were trying to cover The City’s liability and didn’t really care if that meant voiding leases.”
In the past year, the group has successfully worked with some 75 warehouse and live-work spaces where tenants were threatened with displacement throughout the East Bay and in San Francisco. In most cases, it has worked free of charge.
Keenan said he became familiar with planning and building code while working to legalize his own 22,000 square foot Oakland-based warehouse, which houses the Omni Commons collective. Upon hearing of SCRAP’s potential eviction, he offered to help bring the nonprofit’s warehouse into compliance for free.
“Not only do I love SCRAP, but it’s a place that caters to low-income artists, school teachers and educators,” he said, adding that several of the citations “didn’t pass the smell test for me.”
“We will get them through this,” he said.
Others have also pledged their support to SCRAP — Delaney said the school district is “diligently looking for ways to make our safe legal and safe.”
City leaders, including supervisors Malia Cohen and Jane Kim, who is a mayoral candidate, have offered to step in, according to Delaney.
“I am working with SFUSD to figure out what we can do to keep them on site,” said Kim.