Oakland measure against cannabis-fueled displacement

Posted on March 13th, 2018 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , .

OaklandOakland's city council has passed an ordinance protecting tenants from being evicted by cannabis businesses in the city's "Green Zone." Artist housing in post-industrial areas is especially at risk. Oakland is committed to a policy of "cannabis equity," in which the cannabis economy is daylighted with a sense of social justice. But this does point to the dilemma of cannabis-fueled displacement—a phenomenon also reported from places like the more freewheeling Denver, which are less committed to principles of equity.

The Oakland City Council on March 8 unanimously approved a measure that protects existing tenants from being evicted by cannabis businesses. Although the ordinance awaits a second reading before actually becoming law, this should prove no obstacle. The legislation was sparked by complaints from residents of one of the 25 "live/work" buildings—former industrial spaces opened up to artists and craft workers over the past two generations—within the city's "Green Zone." This is a strip of mostly industrial areas following the waterfront that in May 2016 was officially designated for the burgeoning cannabis industry.

A City Council staff report called to study the issue noted the vulnerability of artists in the Bay Area's harsh housing squeeze: "The lucrativeness of the cannabis industry poses a threat to other land uses in the designated Green Zone, particularly Work/Live spaces that provide space for Oakland's small business, arts, and maker communities."

The two amendments passed by the Council “prohibit...cannabis businesses seeking to operate in spaces currently occupied by Work/Live or residential uses," while permitting "shared use of the same property between cannabis and Work/Live, provided each uses its own section of the property." The ordinance was introduced by council member Rebecca Kaplan and supported by Mayor Libby Schaaf.
Speaking to KQED, Kaplan hailed the measure as an example of "responsible regulation that both brings the cannabis industry into effective legal use while also protecting community needs."

The push for the measure came from residents and business owners at the Oakland Cannery, a converted factory in East Oakland that has been a live/work space for artists since the 1970s—the city's first. Cannery tenants urged officials to protect their spaces after a Denver-based canna-biz purchased the building and made clear its intent to evict them in order to turn it into a commercial cannabis facility.  

"Profits do not require displacing people from their homes; there's plenty of other non-residential space available for cannabis investors," said Cannery resident Rebecca Firestone in City Council testimony, as reported by the East Bay Times. "There is another way, and that is for us to co-exist peacefully together."

The legislation may ultimately be in the enlightened self-interest of the cannabis companies in terms of winning good will from Oakland residents. The company in the Cannery case, Green Sage, had clearly aroused ire. Cannery tenant Alistair Monroe complained to San Francisco's KPIX of "carpet-baggers from Colorado that are coming in and swooping up real estate left and right and bulldozing, and they just do not care."

But it isn't just "carpet-baggers" that have been accused of displacing artists. One former tenant at the Cannery, Brett Amory, says he was evicted from his ground-floor commercial studio last year by Harborside—Oakland's flagship dispensary, which briefly owned the space as part of its ambitious expansion plans. "We were being evicted through Harborside. Anyone with a commercial lease on the ground floor got served a notice," he told KPIX.

Oakland is officially committed to a policy of "cannabis equity," in which the new industry is to be shaped in the city with principles of social justice. But legal cannabis will pose the same social pressures as any other capitalist sector, and this is clearly a long-term dilemma.

The Cannery case may also point to a cultural chasm between Northern California and Colorado. The specter of cannabis-fuled displacement is already well in evidence in Denver, if a December 2015 report in Revolution News is to be believed.

The correspondent wrote: "The situation in Denver has long passed the tipping point; since recreational marijuana was legalized in 2013 it is estimated that over 10,000 people a month are moving to this city... Unlike other cities that have seen massive gentrification there are no rent control laws in Denver... so landlords can essentially do whatever they want. It was not uncommon for renters in Denver to see their rent go up from 30% to 100% from 2013-2014. This displaced countless working people and caused the homeless population to skyrocket."

Hopefully, the win-win solution that was approved in Oakland can provide an example for other areas of the country where the cannabis economy is being daylighted.

Cross-post to Cannabis Now

Photo: Calwest



Marijuana money goes to homeless in Denver

Bill Weinberg's picture In what can be seen as an effort to mitigate the effects of cannabis-driven gentrification, Denver has raised the local tax on cannabis to 5.5%, with funds going toward affordable housing. (Cannabis Now)
Comment by Bill Weinberg on Sep 13th, 2018 at 1:42 am

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