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Get outta town: startup offers workers $10,000 if they ‘delocate’ from Silicon Valley

Offer from Zapier comes as high-paid tech workers in Bay Area have complained about the cost of living in a region that suffers from a major housing shortage

A Silicon Valley startup is paying employees $10,000 to leave Silicon Valley.

Zapier, an automation company founded in 2011, has announced that it is offering new recruits a hefty de-location package if theyre willing to move away from the Bay Area, an unusual perk that offers yet another sign of the worsening housing crisis in northern California.

Zapier, where all employees work remotely, recently announced that if current Bay Area residents were interested in improving their familys standard of living by relocating, the firm would provide $10,000 in moving reimbursements. Since CEO Wade Foster posted about the package last week, the uptick in applicants has been dramatic, he said in an interview.

A lot of folks just have a difficult time making the Bay Area a long-term home, he said, noting that the firm heard from roughly 150 job applicants over the weekend, including 50 who specifically mentioned the de-location offer. Housing is really challenging.

The offer from Zapier comes as high-paid tech workers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley have increasingly complained about the high cost of living in a region that suffers from a major housing shortage. Tech workers earning between $100,000 and $700,000 recently spoke to the Guardian about their real estate struggles, and one study suggested that for some engineers, more than 50% of their salary goes to rent.

By many measures, San Francisco has the priciest real estate in the country.

The housing crisis has had devastating impacts on low-income neighborhoods, particularly communities of color, as the growth of companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter have helped spur mass evictions, homelessness and displacement.

Wade Foster, Zapiers CEO: A lot of folks just have a difficult time making the Bay Area a long-term home. Photograph: Zapier

But middle-class and wealthier tech workers have also spoken up about their difficulties buying homes and raising families near their jobs, leading to articles about the next Silicon Valley emerging in regions across the US, including Texas, the Pacific northwest and the Midwest.

Foster said he wanted to take advantage of tech workers desire to leave the Bay Area by offering a competitive package to those on the fence about staying in the region.

The Bay Area is a great place to live. Its fun to be here, said Foster, 30, who lives with his wife in Sunnyvale, a city located near the Facebook and Google campuses. At the end of the day, if you cant make the money side of it work, folks seem to be looking elsewhere.

Foster said he got the idea after two recent hires decided to move out of the Bay Area to Florida and Pennsylvania to be closer to their families. Weve basically just flipped relocation assistance on its head.

The $10,000 offer from Zapier a platform that connects apps to automate tasks and now employs 85 people bucks a number of trends in Silicon Valley hiring.

Facebook faced criticisms for accelerating gentrification and worsening the housing crunch when it offered employees $10,000 to leave near its Menlo Park campus. In 2013, Yahoo made headlines when it banned employees from working at home, arguing that communication in an office setting was critical.

Foster said he has long embraced remote working and that more startups should consider the model given how many talented workers want to move away from the epicenter of the industry.

Weve seen the technology advance to a state where people can legitimately work anywhere in the world, he said, noting that his staff is global, with clusters of employees in Austin, Portland and the Bay Area.

Foster said he enjoys living in Silicon Valley, but he doesnt know how long hell stay either. As we start to think about a family ourselves, its a decision were weighing.

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Berkeley’s liberal image in question amid homeless crisis: ‘The soul of our city is at stake’

Recent deaths challenge citys identity as a bastion of humanitarian values and injects urgency into debate on how to address homelessness as rents are soaring

One morning in mid-January, after days of intense rain, Tom White trudged to the back of an empty, muddy lot he owns across from Berkeley high school. He noticed a mound against the fence, next to some old tarps.

At first I thought it was another pile of garbage someone had dumped, White said. Then he looked closer. I realized thats human hair, thats a human shape. I just stood there and noticed there were no signs of life.

Outside in America

A woman, clad in layers of sweaters, was soaked and doubled over in a squat. She held an empty bottle. White called 911 and the body of the woman, later identified as 55-year-old Laura Jadwin, was taken away by the coroner. She was one of at least four homeless people to die in the past few months on the streets of Berkeley, California.

The deaths, in the middle of one of the coldest, wettest winters in years, have challenged Berkeleys idea of itself as a bastion of progressive and humanitarian values. They have also injected fresh urgency into a bitter debate over how to address homelessness when rents are soaring and affordable housing is vanishing.

Literally the soul and the character of our city is at stake, said Jesse Arreguin, Berkeleys recently elected mayor. Homelessness, he said, is a humanitarian crisis and its increasing every week. We have to address this issue more effectively.

For years, Berkeley has been known to locals by one of two nicknames: the Peoples Republic of Berkeley, birthplace of both the free speech movement and the Symbionese Liberation Army; and Berzerkeley, a time capsule of hippies and head shops. A festival named How Berkeley Can You Be?, now defunct, encapsulated the milieu: it brought together naked people, anti-circumcision activists and fire-breathers.

Yet today, Berkeleys values are clashing with unyielding economic realities. In recent years, its downtown has exploded with pricey restaurants and upscale apartment buildings catering to young technologists and researchers. Nearly 900 units are now under construction or approved.

Berkeley median rents have soared more than 40% in the past three years, to $3,483 a month, according to real estate firm Zillow. Meanwhile the homeless population has grown from 680 in 2009 to probably more than 1,000 today, according to the mayor. Strikingly, this is around 1% of the citys population.

There is a direct association between how fast rents are growing and how much homelessness there is in cities, said Svenja Gudell, Zillows chief economist.

A memorial in Berkeley for 55-year-old Laura Jadwin. Photograph: Rob Waters for the Guardian

White, the man who found Jadwins body, said he has been discouraged by the nimbyish attitude of some of his fellow Berkeleyans.

They say, Why do we have to build more housing in Berkeley? They can go live somewhere else. But I dont think thats going to address the problem of homelessness. We cant build a wall and say, Go live in Nevada. Were going to have to have a community approach.

While nearly everyone in Berkeley agrees that housing costs are out of control, discussions on homelessness are among the most contentious to come before the city council.

In 2012, a measure to bar people from sitting or lying on downtown streets at night was placed on the ballot by political moderates then in control of the council, backed by business groups. The head of Berkeleys downtown association argued, approvingly, that the measure would shoo homeless people away from the citys main commercial districts.

But the so-called sit/lie measure outraged civil libertarians and progressives, who denounced it for scapegoating the vulnerable, criminalizing poverty and being out of step with the citys history. After a rancorous campaign, it lost by a slim margin.

Three years later, following complaints from residents about aggressive behavior and unsanitary conditions, the council passed new measures aimed at homeless residents that opponents quickly dubbed anti-poor laws. They restrict to 2 square feet the amount of sidewalk space that can be taken up by peoples belongings, bar public urination or defecation, and require people who keep their possessions in shopping carts to move them every hour.

In response, a band of homeless activists known as First They Came for the Homeless set up a protest camp dubbed Liberty City in front of Berkeleys old city hall. It grew to about 50 people before police evicted them after a two-week stay and arrested several campers. The group has since been ejected from several more sites.

A band of homeless activists known as First They Came for the Homeless set up a protest camp. Photograph: Rob Waters for the Guardian

Mike Zint, a spokesman and organizer, said the encampments provide a way for homeless people to protest being treated as criminals because were poor. They also offer a dignified alternative to crowded shelters, where, Zint said, peoples possessions are stolen, they are exposed to infections, and they sleep poorly before being kicked out at 6 in the morning with all your gear.

Early this year, the group set up a new camp with about 20 tents on a grassy, city-owned parcel. So far it has been tolerated by authorities. The camp is a mix of newcomers such as Ariah Inlerah, 33, a transgender woman who fled anti-gay violence in Bloomington, Indiana, and longtime Berkeley residents such as Brett Schnaper, a 55-year-old former cook who has been homeless since he lost his rent-controlled, $1,100-a-month apartment early last year.

Here, I have a place to keep my gear and some reasonable hope it will still be there when I come back, he said, sitting in a canvas folding chair outside a tent.

To be fair, many Berkeleyans have great empathy for the citys homeless residents. In December, as the weather was worsening, Arreguin and a progressive majority took control of the city council and began pushing for change. The city set up an emergency operations center to coordinate crisis housing and opened a 47-bed winter shelter, for instance.

But a fight is likely looming: any proposal to provide more services is likely to provoke backlash from residents who argue they will draw more homeless people to the city.

Clearly we need fewer services, not more, said someone who wrote on Nextdoor, an online forum where residents post about neighborhood issues, under the name Eric Friedman. We need robust enforcement of our laws and criminal prosecution for violators. No camping. No crapping in public.

The contradictions inherent in liberal Berkeley are exemplified by Patrick Kennedy, a developer of luxury housing whose company donated $10,000 to support the sit/lie measure four years ago. Now he wants to build tiny studio apartments for the homeless modular units the size of shipping containers that can be stacked like Legos and sees no inconsistency in his stance.

Brett Schnaper, center, and Mike Zint, right, at the First They Came for the Homeless encampment in Berkeley. Photograph: Rob Waters for the Guardian

Its a two-pronged approach, he said. I supported the ordinance because you cant have people camping out on your sidewalks and maintain the businesses and other social activities. But I also support the city actively doing something to address the problem.

However compassionate Berkeley tries to be, some obstacles are insurmountable. Take the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, which is dispatching staff members armed with tablet computers to talk to homeless people and assess their needs.

Since the beginning of last year, the agency has placed 54 homeless people into housing, said Sharon Hawkins Leyden, the groups director of client services. Yet only three have been able to stay in Berkeley, she said. The rest have been offered homes in Oakland, Stockton and even Sacramento, a city almost 80 miles away.

Berkeley rents, Hawkins said, are just too high.

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Scraping by on six figures? Tech workers feel poor in Silicon Valley’s wealth bubble

Big tech companies pay some of the countrys best salaries. But workers claim the high cost of living in the Bay Area has them feeling financially strained

I didnt become a software engineer to be trying to make ends meet, said a Twitter employee in his early 40s who earns a base salary of $160,000. It is, he added, a pretty bad income for raising a family in the Bay Area.

The biggest cost is his $3,000 rent which he said was ultra cheap for the area for a two-bedroom house in San Francisco, where he lives with his wife and two kids. Hed like a slightly bigger property, but finds himself competing with groups of twentysomethings happy to share accommodation while paying up to $2,000 for a single room.

Families are priced out of the market, he said, adding that family-friendly cafes and restaurants have slowly been replaced by hip coffee shops.

Silicon Valleys latest tech boom, combined with a housing shortage, has caused rents to soar over the last five years. The citys rents, by one measure, are now the highest in the world.

The prohibitive costs have displaced teachers, city workers, firefighters and other members of the middle class, not to mention low-income residents.

Now techies, many of whom are among the highest 1% of earners, are complaining that they, too, are being priced out.

The Twitter employee said he hit a low point in early 2014 when the company changed its payroll schedule, leaving him with a hole in his budget. I had to borrow money to make it through the month.

He was one of several tech workers, earning between $100,000 and $700,000 a year, who vented to the Guardian about their financial situation. Almost all of them spoke only on the condition of anonymity, or agreed only to give their first names, fearing retribution by their employers for speaking publicly about their predicament.

The American dream is not working out here

Complaints from well-compensated tech workers will sound like chutzpah to many of the other 99% who are struggling to get by on a fraction of their income. But there appears to be a growing frustration among tech workers who say that they are struggling to get by.

Facebook engineers last year even raised the issue with founder Mark Zuckerberg, asking whether the company could subsidize their rents to make their living situation more affordable, according to an executive at the company who has since departed.

The cost of housing is a common complaint among Bay Area techies. Engineers can expect, according to one analysis, to pay between 40% and 50% of their salary renting an apartment near work.

Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One Apple employee was recently living in a Santa Cruz garage, using a compost bucket as a toilet. Another tech worker, enrolled in a coding bootcamp, described how he lived with 12 other engineers in a two-bedroom apartment rented via Airbnb. It was $1,100 for a fucking bunk bed and five people in the same room. One guy was living in a closet, paying $1,400 for a private room.

We make over $1m between us, but we cant afford a house, said a woman in her 50s who works in digital marketing for a major telecoms corporation, while her partner works as an engineer at a digital media company. This is part of where the American dream is not working out here.

The prospect of losing her job and not having health insurance is a particular concern, given that she had cancer a couple of years ago. If Obamacare goes away and I lose my job I am deeply screwed, she said.

Michelle, a 28-year-old tech worker who earns a six-figure salary at a data science startup said her only chance of buying a home would be if she combined income with a partner. For all the feminist movement of you can do it all, the concept of home ownership is really truly out of reach, she said. For me thats disheartening.

Another tech worker feeling excluded from the real estate market was 41-year-old Michael, who works at a networking firm in Silicon Valley and last year earned $700,000. Sick of his 22-mile commute to work, which can sometimes take up to two and half hours, he explored buying a property nearer work.

We went to an open house in Los Gatos that would shorten my commute by eight miles. It was 1,700 sq ft and listed at $1.4m. It sold in 24 hours for $1.7m, he said.

Although he said his salary means he can afford to live a decent life, he finds the cost of living, combined with the terrible commute, unpalatable. Hes had enough, and has accepted a 50% pay cut to relocate to San Diego.

We will be unequivocally better off than we are now. He said he wont miss some of the more mundane day-to-day costs, like spending $8 on a bagel and coffee or $12 on freshly pressed juice.

Michael isnt the only tech worker considering leaving Silicon Valley in search of a better life. A Canadian IT specialist in his late 40s, earning more than $200,000, has a similar plan. When I came to the Bay Area the amount of money they were going to pay me seemed absurd, he said. However, the cost of rent and childcare, which cost more than I paid for my university education in Canada, has been hard to swallow.

Sam, 40, lives with his wife and three kids in San Jose, earning around $120,000 a year at a multinational software company. I get paid a very good wage, but I have three kids, childcare is ridiculously expensive so my wife mostly takes care of them, he said.

He feels pressure being the sole breadwinner. Ive got no safety net, he said. I have credit cards, but this is not sustainable. If something bad happened Id be out of the house in a month.

Glaring inequality

Fred Sherburn Zimmer from San Franciscos Housing Rights Committee agreed that housing is too expensive in the Bay Area, but points out that there are much graver consequences for people not working in tech.

For a senior whose healthcare is down the street, moving might be a death sentence, she said. For an immigrant family with two kids, moving out of a sanctuary city like San Francisco means you could get deported. She described a building in San Francisco where there are 28 people living in studio-like closets in a basement, including a senior and families with children.

For their part, many well-paid tech workers complaining about their own predicament say they also sympathize with the plight of people on more ordinary incomes.

We think a lot about how people with normal jobs afford to live here, said the Canadian IT specialist. The answer is: they dont. They commute from farther and farther afield.

The digital marketer added: During the first dotcom boom we had secretaries commuting three hours into work Its happening again. It was absurd then and its absurd now, she said, adding that she and her husband both know what its like to be poor.

A man walks by a homeless woman sleeping on the sidewalk San Franciscos Tenderloin district. Photograph: Gabrielle Lurie for the Guardian

Sam, who works at the software company, isnt optimistic about the future. The only solution I see is a huge reset and weve already done that once in the last decade. It was really painful for a lot of people, including myself, he said, referring to the dotcom crash in the early 2000s.

Some tech workers expressed a sense of guilt about their complaints when so many people are worse off, including San Franciscos desperate homeless population.

You are literally stepping over people to get to your job to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Michael. How do you go about your daily life as if it doesnt matter?

He suggested venture capitalists should stop investing in stupid applications and funnel some money into solving real societal problems like homelessness.

You are caught in this really uncomfortable position. You feel very guilty seeing such poverty and helplessness, added Michelle, the 28-year-old on a six-figure wage. But what are you supposed to do? Not make a lot of money? Not advocate for yourself and then not afford to live here?

Sam agreed. The whiny millennial snowflake type would say youre a terrible person making things worse for us. The truth is, if I gave up, what would I do? Should I knit sweaters and trade them?

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More than one-third of schoolchildren are homeless in shadow of Silicon Valley

Tech economy is drawing new inhabitants and businesses but is contributing to dislocation, leaving families, teachers and even principals with housing woes

Every night for the past year or so, Adriana and Omar Chavez have slept in an RV parked in East Palo Alto, a downtrodden community in Silicon Valley.

On a recent morning before sunrise, they emerged on to the empty street. Omar showed his phone to his wife: 7.07am. Shall I wake up the girls? he said, his breath visible in the freezing air.

He headed inside to rouse their three daughters, huddled together in the low-ceilinged bed just above the drivers cab, and ready them for school.

In most places, the Chavez family would be an exception. But in the school district that includes East Palo Alto, located amid the extraordinary wealth generated by the tech industry, their plight is not uncommon.

Remarkably, slightly more than one-third of students or 1,147 children are defined as homeless here, mostly sharing homes with other families because their parents cannot afford one of their own, and also living in RVs and shelters. The district is being squeezed from every side: teachers, administrative staff and even principals have housing woes of their own.

The circumstances of the crisis are striking. Little more than a strip of asphalt separates East Palo Alto from tony Palo Alto, with its startups, venture capitalists, Craftsman homes and Whole Foods.

You used to say youre on the wrong side of the tracks. Now youre on the wrong side of the freeway, said Gloria Hernandez-Goff, the hard-charging superintendent of Ravenswood City school district, which has eight schools and a preschool.

The Chavez family lost their home after Omar was injured, which prevented him from working. Photograph: Alastair Gee for the Guardian

East Palo Alto has traditionally been a center for African American and Latino communities. Its suburban houses are clustered on flat land by the bay, sometimes with no sidewalks and few trees, but residents say the town boasts a strong sense of cohesion.

Yet as in the rest of Silicon Valley, the technology economy is drawing new inhabitants and businesses the Facebook headquarters is within Ravenswoods catchment area and contributing to dislocation as well as the tax base.

Now you have Caucasians moving back into the community, you have Facebookers and Googlers and Yahooers, said Pastor Paul Bains, a local leader. Thats whats driven the cost back up. Before, houses were rarely over $500,000. And now, can you find one under $750,000? You probably could, but its a rare find.

Hernandez-Goff, who worked as a community organizer and in schools in northern California before becoming superintendent three and a half years ago, gives tech firms some credit.

Facebook recently announced it had committed $18.5m for affordable housing in the area. Meanwhile, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by pediatrician Priscilla Chan and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, her husband, has funded programs in the Ravenswood district including literacy and leadership initiatives, Hernandez-Goff said, adding that she meets with Chan or her staff monthly.

For all that, Hernandez-Goff thinks the systemic problems housing shortages, wage stagnation, inequality are beyond her. Her focus is on the immediate needs of families.

She wants to open a school parking lot to cars and RVs at night, so families with children can sleep without being disturbed; she thinks lack of sleep and stress are contributing to her districts low test scores. And she would like to install washing machines in schools for those without homes.

Gloria Hernandez-Goff thinks the systemic problems housing shortages, wage stagnation, inequality are beyond her. Photograph: Alastair Gee for the Guardian

The Chavez family lost their home after Omar was injured, which prevented him from working and then faced the areas exorbitant rent costs. Average one-bedroom rents in East Palo Alto are above $2,200, according to the city, and money is tight for the couple. Adriana earns only $11 an hour at a day care. Their tired-looking RV, with its $1,000 price tag, seemed the most logical option for them and their kids.

For them at the beginning, especially the youngest one, it was scary, Omar said.

With the dawn sun only a gleam on the horizon, he turned on a generator so his daughters could use the lights. Soon after, a very small child came to the doorway. Her jacket was zipped up and she held a blue hair clip. Ariel, six, had been watching Zootopia on the TV inside.

The RV has almost no free space. The main cabin has two beds one for the girls, and a second that converts into a table where the children do their homework. Omar cooks in a tiny kitchen, but because the refrigerator is broken there is no way to store fresh food. Bags of clothing are heaped on the floor, and the windows are sealed with aluminum tape for warmth. Omar sleeps in a back room crowded with belongings.

The shower is here, but we turned it into a closet, said Luna, five, pointing at a door. Instead, the family washes at a YMCA. They try to use the RV toilet as little as possible because the tank fills quickly.

The couples third daughter, Lannette, 15, was still in bed under some blankets. She was sick with what she thought was an ear infection. Its difficult, she said of the living situation, but at least I have somewhere to sleep.

Several homeless families whose children attend local schools told the Guardian that they had considered moving to cheaper real estate markets, such as the agricultural Central Valley, but there were no jobs there.

One man shares a single room with three children, in a house where three other families each have a room. Another woman lives with her partner and five children in a converted garage.

Even teachers are not immune to such difficulties. Ten of the staff who work on early education programs one-third of the total commute two or more hours each way a day because they cannot find housing they can afford.

Amanda Kemp, 47, is the principal of an East Palo Alto school. Based on her income, she says she has no option but to share a home with three other educators. I was done with roommates in college, she said. Not once did I even think I would live with others unless it was a significant other.

Hernandez-Goff hopes to build apartments for staff on land owned by the school district. She speaks of her students and employees as an endangered species, on the verge of extinction.

Their predicament is not abstract to her. I love this place, she said. I wish I could buy a house here.

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A family resists Google’s campus sprawl despite an offer to buy farm for millions

The Martinellis try to preserve their family history and the agricultural spirit of the valley that is now surrounded on all sides by the tech company

A Bay Area family is holding on to its ramshackle farmstead in the heart of Googles sprawling headquarters despite reason to believe it has been offered $5m to $7m by the tech giant for the tiny patch of land.

The land which is home to battered pickups, a crumbling ice house, and a handful of renters is now surrounded on all sides by the tech companys more than 25-acre campus in Mountain View, California.

Measuring less than an acre, the property is also home to fig, tangerine, avocado and ancient pepper trees, many of which were planted and harvested by the late patriarch of the family, Victor Molinari, who died five years ago.

His surviving relatives appear disinclined to sell.

Right now were living, said Leonard Martinelli, 49. We dont need the money. Right now its not for sale. His sister, Sandra Martinelli Bilyeu, 43, added: If we keep it, we keep our history.

But it is not only the familys history that is being preserved.

Silicon Valley may now be synonymous with tech behemoths such as Google, Apple and Facebook, but not so long ago it was miles of lush farm fields where plums, cherries and tomatoes grew in abundance.

Although Silicon Valley has been generous to the point of extravagance in preserving its own history the massive Computer History Museum is almost exactly one mile away from the farmstead the industry and its supporters have been less enthusiastic about memorializing anything before the advent of high tech.

I dont think anyone sees any historic significance in the property, said Mountain View city councilman Leonard Siegel. Eventually all these properties are going to go. Theres nothing unique about them.

Its not as if the Golden Era of Mountain View was when it was agricultural, added Siegel, who describes himself as a professional environmental advocate. Silicon Valleys strength is its permanent sense of evolution.

That sentiment was called unfortunate and not surprising by Brian Grayson of the valleys preservation action council. The fabric of a community comes from what happened here. Newcomers have no connection to why we came here except for more jobs. Thats it for them.

Those newcomers have transformed the agricultural land south of San Francisco into one of the most expensive swaths of real estate in the world, and the Martinelli family has witnessed the value of its land rocket.

That land is worth probably $5m-7m, according to Myron Von Raesfeld, a leading real estate expert in the valley and former president of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors. I have reason to believe theyve been offered that kind of money from Google.

Google declined to respond to inquiries about the attempted purchase of the property.

A Google employee bikes in front of the Martinellis property at 1851 Charleston Road, in the middle of the Google campus. Photograph: Ramin Talaie for the Guardian

The Martinelli clan no longer reside at the farmstead, which has been gradually surrounded by the tech giants campus, known as Googleplex, which provides offices for about 20,000 employees.

Instead, it is now home to a handful of eclectic renters such as Mihail Kivachitsky, a self-described artist who declined to be interviewed but makes a living as a carpenter.

Victoria Martinelli, 79, one of the elders of the Martinelli clan and the late Victor Molinaris sister, remembers working the vegetable rows and learning to drive on a tractor in the fields during childhood summer vacations. She gave the Guardian a recent tour of the property.

She glanced at a weathered shed, recalling how, about 70 years ago, her family built it and a now ruined barn. The latter included a place to keep the produce cold before trucking it to the San Francisco produce markets.

That was in 1946, maybe 1947, Victoria Martinelli recalled. Thats where they washed the fruit before it went on the truck. The shelves are where we stored the onions.

While her children appeared reluctant to let go of the familys farm, Victoria Martinelli was more ambivalent. We dont know, she said, noting that there were lots of grandchildren and endowing them with financial independence deserves consideration.

Should the family change its mind and relinquish its farmstead, Google would extend its formidable imprint on Mountain View resigning to history the bucolic fields that have since turned to concrete.

Its a pretty much amazing-looking place right here in the middle of all this, said Rob Carr, a young Google software engineer walking by the old farmhouse. I can see the value in saving it. But I also believe property should be used.

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Oakland warehouse fire is product of housing crisis, say artists and advocates

At least 36 died at a Ghost Ship party but survivors are among those who say communal spaces should be cherished in a city where rents have gone sky-high

A devastating warehouse fire that killed at least 36 people has shone a harsh light on a housing crisis in Oakland and its consequences for artists and low-income residents.

The fire, which broke out during a party at the Ghost Ship warehouse on Friday night, sent shockwaves through the underground arts and music scene in the northern California city where rapidly rising rents have forced people to live and make art in shared and sometimes hazardous spaces.

Some reports have cast blame on the artists and residents associated with the warehouse where so many people died, trapped in a building that lacked basic fire safety mechanisms.

Long-time Oaklanders and tenants rights activists, however, said the tragedy was a symptom of a major affordability crisis and the long-term failure of urban housing policy to protect the most vulnerable people.

Grieving artists many still waiting for official news about friends who went missing in the fire said on Sunday the city must find a way to ensure that underground performance spaces, live-work warehouses and overcrowded homes were safe, without shutting down venues and evicting tenants.

The scope of the loss is terrifying, said Sarah Carlberg, assistant director of a local book festival. She was priced out of Oakland last year and had friends who were at the Ghost Ship party.

Each one of these people were only at that venue by virtue of the fact that they were very engaged artists the people who make Oakland what it is.

Vital to the fabric of Oakland

Oakland sits across the bay from San Francisco, the most expensive city in the US. Experimental musicians and independent artists have long made use of its unconventional venues and cooperative living spaces.

Warehouse parties have been a central part of Oakland for decades, said Nihar Bhatt, a DJ and record label owner who survived the Ghost Ship fire.

The citys underground spaces, which may lack traditional permits or business licenses, are particularly vital for LGBT artists and people of color often excluded from the mainstream industry, dominated by white men, he added.

Theres a movement in Oakland of experimental black and brown and queer people who dont necessarily want to be in a bar or a club, Bhatt said.

Russell Butler, a musician who was outside the venue and witnessed the fire, said in an email interview that underground venues were vital to the fabric of Oakland, not only because of the opportunities they provided for under-represented artists, but also because many functioned as welcoming spaces for marginalized people who felt unsafe in licensed clubs where they may be harassed or assaulted for just trying to live their lives.

People place flowers and notes at a makeshift memorial in Oakland, near the site of the devastating fire. Photograph: Nick Otto/AFP/Getty Images

Sometimes the buildings have not been inspected and are not up to code. The consequences can be fatal. In 2015, a fire killed two artists in an Oakland live-work building and displaced two well-known publishing organizations.

But when residents raise concerns about dangerous conditions, the results can be devastating in other ways. Earlier this year, dozens of renters lost their homes in an Oakland warehouse space after the city deemed it unsafe for habitation.

When the city determines a living situation is hazardous which can often happen when an industrial warehouse is not permitted or built for residential living it can create a pathway for real-estate developers to remove a low-income arts community and replace it with more profitable, market-rate housing.

Thats a slumlord landlords best-case scenario, said Tarik Kazaleh, a long-time Oakland musician who feared the Ghost Ship tragedy could lead the city to close other spaces. Theyll just get a tech firm and get more money.

A life or death choice

Fires and city shutdowns are not the only threat to the underground art scene. Many artists simply cannot afford to live here any more.

Oakland has some of the fastest-rising rents in the US, and activists have been increasingly concerned about gentrification and displacement caused by the technology boom in nearby San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

The spaces that make up Oaklands thriving DIY arts scene have been vanishing, as artists have moved away.

The best spaces have been wiped out, said Jonah Strauss, a recording engineer who was displaced in the 2015 fire that killed two people. Lack of affordable living spaces is the single greatest threat to Oakland arts and music.

Some people refuse to leave, said Mara Poblet, executive director of Causa Justa, a housing rights group. She said she was upset by the way some people were blaming the victims of the fire.

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Venice’s black enclave buffeted by police pressure and tech-driven gentrification

The Oakwood area of Los Angeless coastal resort is changing fast on the back of the Silicon Valley boom and a gang injunction some say amounts to harassment

African Americans helped to build Venice a century ago, gifting Los Angeles a coastal resort, but were banned from owning homes along the boardwalk and canals, which were reserved for white folk.

Instead a one-square-mile cluster of streets a mile inland, away from tourist view, was set aside for black residents. It was called Oakwood and became a tight-knit community with vibrant street life, neighbours saluting each other from porches.

Its nickname, Ghost Town, possibly alluded to life in the shadows. It was one of the only enclaves for blacks, and later Latinos, close to the ocean on the entire US west coast.

These days Ghost Town has a new meaning.

All the people that used to live here have moved out, said Charles Williamson, 84, a retired clerk. Took the money and run. Or couldnt afford to live here. Or got harassed out of it.

Venice, a chameleon that has been an oil town, bohemian idyll, crumbling ghetto and tourist mecca, is adopting a new guise: tech citadel.

Tech-driven gentrification is also transforming San Francisco, Oakland and other California cities but in Venice there is a twist. A police gang injunction is allegedly accelerating the process by hounding black and Latino residents.

A drastic measure adopted in 1999 to contain gang violence has endured even though Oakwood is now largely peaceful, with gang members dead, retired or dispersed. The injunction covers parts of adjacent Abbot Kinney Boulevard, a parade of chi-chi boutiques, cafes and restaurants which GQ dubbed the coolest block in America.

Members of Oakwoods dwindling population of colour allege police use the injunctions extensive powers to harass them while turning a blind eye to infractions by white arrivals.

Donald Coulter, centre, playing dominos with friends in Oakwood park, Venice. Photograph: Rory Carroll

We dont feel welcome here. Wrong complexion, said Donald Coulter, 61, a lifelong resident, who was playing dominos with black friends in the park.

Another man in his 60s, who declined to be named because he felt targeted by the injunction, said he could be detained just for greeting a friend in the street while whites rode bikes without lights and walked dogs off leashes, trivial-seeming violations that underlined racial inequity.

Robin Rudisill, a former neighbourhood council member, shook her head when asked about gentrifiers. Gentrifuckers, she corrected.

Census and city figures show that since 1980 the proportion of black residents has almost halved from 9.6% to 5.4%, a trend probably amplified by the current real estate boom.

Soaring property values Venice is pricier per square foot than Beverly Hills, Bel Air and San Francisco have tempted many to cash in on properties inherited from parents and grandparents. Some have moved to other parts of LA, others out of California altogether.

Jataun Valentine outside her Venice home, built by her grandfather in 1925. Photograph: Rory Carroll

Jataun Valentine, 79, who lives in a house her grandfather built, said long-term neighbours and the wooden bungalows they called home were vanishing, giving way to high fences and mansions of steel and glass. The new neighbours are all hiding. You never see them. Everything is like a fortress.

Ira Koslow, president of Venices neighbourhood council, said sellers were just as culpable as the buyers who replaced airy bungalows with monster homes. Its heartbreaking. But its an economic issue not a race issue. This is capitalism. People who have owned property since forever got a huge bonus.

The gang injunction, however, injects an additional factor. A civil court order, it imposes parole-like restrictions on suspected gang members, for instance socialising with other suspected gang members, including relatives. Or wearing colours associated with a gang. Violators can can be charged with contempt and jailed for six months.

LA has used such injunctions since the late 1980s when the city became a byword for drive-by shootings. Homicide rates in LA County have since plunged from 2,589 in 1992 to 649 last year, and LA is now one of the USs safest metropolises. But the injunctions endure.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit last month to stop the enforcement of 46 separate injunctions against approximately 10,000 people covering 75 square miles, or 15%, of LA. The suit complained authorities often obtained an injunction against a gang, not individuals, but that police were then free to slap restrictions on anyone.

Jataun Valentine viewing family portraits in the Venice house her grandfather built. Photograph: Rory Carroll

Those who have been on the injunction for decades feel like theyre under constant scrutiny. Its used as a tool of harassment, said Catherine Wagner, an ACLU attorney who specialises in policing in southern California.

Melvin Hayward, a gang-prevention activist with the Helper Foundation, called the Venice injunction obsolete and unjust. We call it blanket suppression. Affected people could not leave home together, even if related, he said.

The harassment fuelled gentrification, Hayward said. Definitely a connection. Youre seeing black and brown being targeted.

Josh Green, of the not-for-profit Urban Peace Institute, cited one man, out from jail, who was returning home from his job as a security guard when police stopped and detained him because his cousin was giving him a lift. He was sent back to prison.

Whether or not it was an original tool of gentrification, Green said, it became a component. People feel fear about being in their communities so they work very hard to stay out of sight or just move out.

The LAPD did not respond to an interview request for this article.

Matthew Royce, an architect and neighbourhood council member who has built property in Oakwood, said there was bias against residents of colour but that crime remained an issue. While living in Oakwood I heard shooting several times. Pop pop pop.

A hooded man shot and killed a traffic worker in August.

For Mark Ryavec, head of the Venice Stakeholders Association, the notion that police act as gentrification agents is a bunch of radical bullshit.

Residents complain that they are harassed by police while white newcomers transgressions, such as failing to control their dogs, are ignored. Photograph: Rory Carroll for the Guardian

Residents, he said, were cashing in on soaring property values and resettling in comfortable homes in cheaper areas. A large population of black Americans who may have owned from Abbot Kinneys time voluntarily took their equity and left, he said, referring to the tobacco baron who conceived Venice.

Oakwoods transformation unfolds largely unseen by the 150,000 tourists who throng the carnivalesque boardwalk of buskers, drum circles, painters, bodybuilders and exhibitionists every weekend.

Guests at the Airbnb properties which now sprinkle Oakwood can see the building blitz but the glass and steel stucco boxes are indistinguishable from the others popping up across Venice.

Either from temptation or pressure the slow-motion exodus seems set to continue.

The tech cash wave fuelling property prices and a homelessness crisis hundreds sleep in Venices doorways and on the beach is about to become a tsunami. The social media company Snap, which hosts 600 employees across Venice, is expected to debut on the stock market next year with a $25bn valuation.

How much longer Oaklands ageing African American population clings on is anyones guess.

Some, like Ricky, 54, a low-income housing resident on disability benefit, who declined to give a last name, are philosophical. Most days he sits on a porch, watching the new buildings go up. Were getting used to the white folks, he said. Blacks are moving out all the time. You have to change with the times. Thats the way life is.

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‘Learn English’: LA landlords allegedly harassed Latinos to get richer tenants

Exclusive: lawsuit paints disturbing picture of company that targeted Latinos, low-income tenants and those with mental disabilities in illegal eviction scheme

The Latino families all got the same threat posted on their doors: if their children played in the apartments hallways, they would be evicted. When the Spanish-speaking parents asked the Los Angeles property managers for help reading the notices, they were told: Learn English.

According to a federal discrimination lawsuit filed Thursday against a major California real estate investment firm, when four mothers inquired about the notices, management threatened to call immigration, social services and the police.

I was in shock, said Carmen Castro, one of the mothers. That really created a fear in us.

The complaint against Optimus Properties paints a disturbing picture of a company that has targeted and harassed Latino residents, low-income tenants and renters with mental disabilities as part of an illegal eviction scheme to replace them with wealthier, younger people.

Civil rights advocates said the suit, filed on behalf of 15 tenants and advocacy group Strategic Alliance for a Just Economy, provides a window into the tactics of profit-driven real estate investors who are aggressively purchasing and flipping older buildings, accelerating gentrification, displacement and income inequality in cities across the US.

Hilda Deras, 76, has received baseless eviction notices and faced harassment from her landlords, according to the federal lawsuit. Photograph: Joshua Busch

The allegations come at a time of increased anxiety for Latino families and immigrants tied to the surprise victory of Donald Trump. The president-elect has called Mexicans rapists, has threatened to deport millions and in the 1970s was accused of discriminating against African Americans at his real estate properties.

The lawsuit, filed by the not-for-profit groups Public Counsel and Public Advocates, covers five buildings with a total of 150 units in Koreatown, a gentrifying neighborhood that has historically been affordable to working-class people, with a high concentration of Asian American and Latino families.

The complaint alleged that Jerome Mickelson, Optimus director of construction and multifamily asset manager, along with a number of his affiliated real estate companies, have systematically targeted tenants protected by rent control.

For this population, new landlords are barred from raising rents beyond small annual increases and cannot evict them if they continue to pay rent, but the laws havent stopped Mickelson, according to the complaint.

In an email to the Guardian, Mickelson strongly denied the allegations. We take these allegations very seriously and categorically deny each and every such allegation, he said. He added that the lawsuit was filed without proper analysis and investigation and that the companies look forward to working with the Plaintiff to educate them about the real facts and if need be, to exonerate ourselves at trial.

Residents are treated with respect at all stages of their tenancy, he added.

However, according to the complaint, property managers in the buildings allegedly filed a series of illegal eviction notices and have created a hostile and threatening environment for tenants.

The landlords in one building allegedly told tenants that the new managers dont want to rent to people with mental disabilities, that they should move, and that they belong in group homes, the suit said.

Landlords have additionally told Latino tenants that their food smells disgusting and foul and that the tenants need to learn to read English since they are in America, according to court records.

Tenants targeted for eviction have struggled to get management to address infestations of rodents, roaches and bedbugs, broken heaters and bathtubs, plumbing problems, leaks, peeling drywall, mold and other maintenance problems, according to the complaint. Photograph: Joshua Busch

Utilizing a practice that activists say is common for real estate investors who flip buildings, Optimus has also allegedly allowed for uninhabitable living conditions in the apartments with rent control while providing freshly renovated units in good and sanitary condition to new tenants who are English-speaking.

Tenants targeted for eviction have struggled to get management to address infestations of rodents, roaches and bedbugs, broken heaters and bathtubs, plumbing problems, leaks, peeling drywall, mold and other maintenance problems, according to the complaint.

Optimus has advertised a Koreatown strategy in its marketing materials, explicitly stating that it is focused on value creation by investing in old buildings and renovating units as they become vacant.

Deepika Sharma, attorney with Public Counsel, said these kinds of campaigns against tenants are not unique.

It is wide-scale, she said, adding that tenants fears of racial discrimination have escalated since Trumps victory. Even before this election, our clients experienced this racism that threatened their ability to live in their homes.

Arthur Rivera, a 67-year-old tenant with a disability, has received numerous unlawful eviction notices, the lawsuit alleged. Photograph: Joshua Busch

Demetrius Allen, a 45-year-old African American tenant who has a mental disability, was chronically homeless before he moved in to the Koreatown building in 2012. He has received more than a dozen eviction notices since Optimus purchased the property all of which were illegal, according to the complaint.

Im completely overwhelmed, he said. Every day of the week its always something.

An on-site manager allegedly told Allen that the landlords planned to rid the building of persons with mental disabilities, the suit said.

When he first moved in, he said, It was a sanctuary. But he said the nonstop threats from management and the fear that he may be homeless again have taken a severe toll on his mental health.

Its really destroyed my peace of mind. Youre always angry or paranoid. You never know whats going to happen next.

Castro, 31, whose sons are ages five and 11, said that she doesnt know how her family could find another affordable place if her landlord successfully pushes her out. We would end up homeless, out on the streets.

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‘Anarchy on Sunset Strip’: 50 years on from the ‘hippie riots’

In November 1966, the birthplace of the hippie movement was shaken by a confrontation that was an early salvo in the culture wars to come

Fifty years ago this week, a riot took place on Los Angeless famous Sunset Boulevard. Bemused reports appeared in the days that followed with headlines like Long Hair Nightmare: Juvenile Violence on Sunset Strip, and Anarchy on Sunset Strip. All of them speculating on why middle-class, mainly white, youths should riot on a street better known for elegant Hollywood nightspots. Although the street cuts through Los Angeles, from Figueroa Street to the Pacific Coast highway, the riot, AKA the hippie riots and the Sunset Strip Curfew Riots, occurred right in its heartland, in and around 8118 Sunset Blvd, just off Crescent Heights. The focal point was Pandoras Box, originally a jazz club but since 1962 an independent music venue and gathering place for long-haired and mini-skirted youths in search of music, recreational drugs and casual sex.

From the perspective of local bankers, restaurateurs and real estate moguls, the alcohol-free, purple and gold Pandoras Box, located on a mid-boulevard traffic island, had become a magnet for an unseemly, ie cash-strapped, possibly subversive, crowd. Business leaders railed against the newcomers, claiming they were causing late-night traffic congestion. Their answer: remove the island, widen the road, put in a three-way traffic signal and turn the locale into a high-rise business area. To facilitate their plan, local businesses pressed the city council to pass ordinances that would ban loitering, establish a 10pm curfew, and demolish the building once and for all.

For those who congregated in the area, their soundtrack consisting of Dylan, the Byrds, Frank Zappa, Buffalo Springfield, Love and the Doors, the curfew was nothing less than an infringement of their civil liberties and right to gather in public. This exacerbated by the fact that over the previous months police had arrested thousands of young hippie-types, most of them guilty of nothing more than hanging out on particular streets. Which is why on 12 November, the Fifth Estate coffee house, located a block from Pandoras Box, printed and passed out flyers that read, Protest Police Mistreatment of Youth on Sunset Blvd. No More Shackling of 14 and 15 year olds. Written by two teenagers, the flyers called for a peaceful protest that night in front of Pandoras Box. Local radio disc jockeys announced the event as well. That night about 3,000 teenagers showed up carrying signs with slogans like Cops Uncouth to Youth and Give Back Our Streets. Also in attendance was a smattering of hip Hollywood, such as Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda.

The Sunset Strip curfew riot AKA the hippie riots, outside Pandoras Box. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Faced with a multitude of protesters, the police realized enforcing the curfew might only make matters worse, and so tried to stay calm and out of the way. But when a scuffle broke out, the result of a minor road accident, 155 LAPD officers and 79 sheriffs deputies moved in with teargas and batons, turning what had been a relatively peaceful gathering into a something far uglier. Ordered to disperse, the crowd responded by hurling rocks and bottles at the police, smashing windows and overturning vehicles.

The areas pro-business county supervisor, Ernest Debs, called the youths misguided hoodlums. While Captain Charlie Crumly, commander of the LAPDs Hollywood division, insisted that leftwing groups and outside agitators had organized the protest, going on to say that there are over a thousand hoodlums living like bums in Hollywood, advocating such things as free love, legalized marijuana and abortion. No doubt such statements contributed to the sporadic disturbances that continued on the Strip over the next few months.

Dissatisfied with coverage in the local press and use of the term riot to describe events on the Strip, the Byrds manager and Elektra record producer, Jim Dickson, teamed up with the Beatles and Beach Boys press officer, Derek Taylor. With support from the Woolworth heir Lance Reventlow and Gilligans Island actor Jim Denver, they formed Community Action for Facts and Freedom (CAFF), which, among other things, organized a benefit concert to raise bail money for those arrested and help pay for damaged property. Although the Strip was somehow able to maintain its status as an unofficial counterculture zone, a number of licenses were withdrawn and clubs closed. Later in the month the city council acquired Pandoras Box. It was the same month in which Ronald Reagan was elected governor, an propitious start to his rise to power. The following year saw the demolition of Pandoras Box. These days what was Pandoras Box is nothing more than a triangular concrete slab, while the sleazy appeal of the Strip has been replaced by corporate logos and pay-to-play venues.

American Graffiti. Photograph: Everett/REX/Rex Features

Looking back, one might say that the November riot was influenced by the infinitely more important Watts insurrection of a year earlier. However, it was probably closer in spirit to the wave of generational and predominantly white challenges to authority which, during the 1950s and 1960s, centered on the right to inhabit the street at night. These came from various quarters, like the cruising subculture, which, in that era of cheap gas and wide roads, took the form of driving down main thoroughfares, as in American Graffiti, and drag racing, as in Rebel Without a Cause. Challenges also came from that eras surfing subculture, whose young legions were set on garnering what freedom they could within relatively restrictive boundaries. For either, occasional confrontation was inevitable. Though the riots on the Strip couldnt compare to the 11 riots that took place in a six-month period in 1961, disturbances that stretched from Zuma Beach, where 25,000 teenagers showed up to pelt the police with sand-filled beer cans, to faraway Alhambra, Rosemead and Bell, prompting articles in the press to the effect that such confrontations must surely have been communist-inspired.

With curfews commonplace in many towns and cities, these disturbances were, whatever the instigating complaint, about who controls public space and the right to congregate in those spaces. At the same time, such events did much to politicize many of their participants, graduating as some would from adolescent disrespect for arbitrary authority to larger issues, such as protesting against the war in Vietnam and supporting jailed Black Panthers.

How important was the Sunset Strip riot? With business interests on one side, and peace and love advocates on the other, it was, if nothing else, an early salvo in the culture wars, a battle which continues to this day, with conservatives continuing to blame societys ills on what they perceive as the permissiveness of that era.

Perhaps the riots most lasting effect had to do with the music that came out of that event. At least when it comes to Buffalo Springfields For What Its Worth, now heard ad nauseam in beer adverts, movies, TV shows, plays and just about any film footage depicting a confrontation between police and demonstrators. But there were other, lesser known, songs, like the Standells ridiculous Riot On Sunset Strip, the hilariously sincere S.O.S. by Terry Randall, the equally fervent Open Up the Box Pandora by the Jigsaw Seen, the plaintive Scene of the Crime by Sounds Unreal, the bathetic Safe In My Garden by the Mamas and the Papas, and, arguably the most interesting of the lot, Frank Zappas Plastic People. There was also the kitsch B-movie, Riot on Sunset Strip, directed by Arthur Dreifuss (whose career went from directing Brendan Behans The Quare Fellow to exploitation mishaps like The Love-In and The Young Runaways), which includes footage of the riot, and, incredibly enough, was released within four months of the original disturbance.

Eventually, business interests would find a way to profit from the peace and love market, exploiting its music and fashion, while co-opting its language for political gain. Within a couple of years a street that had been a fairly benign, even innocent, meeting place had mutated into a mecca for dropouts, acid casualties, bikers, consumers of bad speed, exploitative entrepreneurs and sexual predators. Be that as it may, the Sunset Strip riot is best thought of as a statement regarding the right to congregate, part of a protest movement that continues to this very dayand includes such diverse sites as Stonewall, Zuccotti Park, Tahrir Square and the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Maybe what was happening on Sunset Boulevard, as the song says, wasnt exactly clear, but it was certainly part of a process to own the night, reclaim the streets and say no to arbitrary authority.

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Oakland’s ‘mega-evictor’, the landlord who filed over 3,000 eviction notices

Pro-tenant group says a landlord who has a seat on Oaklands housing cabinet is also the top evictor in the city, where a housing crunch has reached crisis levels

Leketha Williams was out of options. When the Oakland, California, mother was evicted and became homeless in May of 2010, she had just enough money to book a hotel for her and her two sons, then aged seven and 12.

In the following weeks, she worked to get her children to school on time each morning before carrying all of their belongings from one temporary home to the next, often forced to make dinners for the family out of hotel microwaves.

Williams had fallen behind on rent during a difficult financial period and had begged her landlords for mercy, writing in one handwritten letter: Please let us stay for at least a week because my boys do not have anywhere to go Do it for the sake of my boys.

But records show the sheriff ultimatelyforced her to surrender her apartment.

It was horrible, Williams, 47, recalled in a recent interview. I was very shocked They didnt give us no time.

Its possible that Williamss story could have turned out differently had she not lived in a building managed by William Rosetti. A review of public records by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, a pro-tenant group, suggests that the Bay Area real estate executive, through his expansive portfolio of property companies and investments, is Oaklands number one mega-evictor.

The organizations research and an analysis by the Guardian reveal that in Oakland, Rosetti and his business firms have filed more than 3,000 eviction notices, which are the first step in removing a tenant. The data, along with accounts from evicted tenants, paint a picture of painful displacement and rising income inequality in Oakland, a city that is rapidly gentrifying amid the tech boom of nearby San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

These evictions and the rent increases are part of an ecosystem thats leading to a massive demographic shift of who can live in Oakland, said Erin McElroy, co-founder of the mapping project and co-author of a new report on displacement in the region.

Evictions arent the only way Rosetti may be having an impact on Oakland. The researchers were particularly shocked to discover that the apparent top evictor has a seat on Mayor Libby Schaafs housing cabinet, a body dedicated to promoting equity and affordable housing in an increasingly unaffordable city.

I watched the gentrification

Williamss story is a familiar one in the Bay Area, where black residents have been displaced at alarming rates. By many measures, the housing crunch has reached crisis levels in Oakland, which has been deeply burdened by the migration out of San Francisco, the city across the bay known to have the priciest real estate in the country.

Leketha Williams said the eviction trapped her in a cycle of financial hardship. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

I actually watched the gentrification, said Mario Benton, 51, who lived in one of Rosettis buildings for more than 15 years and said there werent many black residents left when he moved out a few years ago.

Oakland now has one of the fastest-rising rents in the US and the countrys fourth most expensive rental market, with a median rent of $2,280 a month for a one-bedroom.

As some of the worlds largest technology corporations continue to prosper in Silicon Valley, making the region unaffordable to many and leading to mass evictions, activists have grown increasingly worried about the negative effect of tech in Oakland, where Uber is planning a major office development.

While Oakland rents have nearly doubled from 2011, the median income of residents has increased by only 11%, leading some to suggest that it has the worst affordability crisis of any major US city.

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, which studies Bay Area displacement, collected data from the local rent board and found that landlords have filed about 50,000 eviction notices since 2008 (though the city failed to provide data for 2009 and 2010).

The statistics largely refer to three-day notices to pay or quit, the first step in an eviction when a tenant misses a payment, and the cases generally cover buildings protected by rent control, meaning older properties where landlords are limited in how they can raise the rent.

The group also uncovered that dozens of the obscure limited liability corporations (LLCs) listed on the documents traced back to thousands of Rosettis units, with properties scattered across the city. The Guardian was able to confirm that more than 3,000 notices included in the rent board database were tied to his companies.

Rosetti told the Guardian that he has been in the business for 40 years and that his companies currently have a total of roughly 1,200 units, mostly in Oakland.

Oakland evictions

On one of his websites, he touts his work in San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s, saying he was at the forefront of the condominium conversion business, a process that removes rentals from the housing stock and can lead to large-scale displacement of tenants.

For some Oakland renters evicted by Rosetti, the consequences were devastating.

It does something to you mentally

Terry Braggs said that when he lost a restaurant job in 2011, the management at his Rosetti building refused to negotiate with him.

I remember saying, Im really good for it, I just need a little bit more time. I lost my job, the 33-year-old chef said in an interview.

But his landlords moved forward with an eviction, andBraggs said he had to leave Oakland and move back in with his parents 30 miles away from the Bay Area restaurant scene where he was trying to build his career.

Terry Braggs said he had to leave Oakland and move back in with his parents in a suburb 30 miles away when he was evicted. Photograph: Courtesy of Terry Braggs

It was overall stress and a little bit of depression, he said. Being evicted and forced to leave a place where you live, it does something to you mentally.

Braggs said it also has been an ongoing battle to secure housing now that he has an eviction on his record. Owners see that and its like youve got a disease It is an extremely hard process to get back on your feet.

Sascha Illyvich, a Rosetti tenant who faced two eviction lawsuits for missed rent payments, said he felt targeted since he and his girlfriend at the time frequently spoke up about maintenance issues and other problems. During the second case, he said they decided to leave. They were trying to do anything to get us out They didnt like the fact that we complained and knew our rights.

Williams, the mother who became homeless in 2010, said the eviction trapped her in a cycle of financial hardship. Paying nightly fees for hotels, she couldnt save enough money for a deposit on a new apartment, and the many challenges of homelessness made it impossible for her to have a steady job.

We had to start all over again, she said.

Todd Rothbard, Rosettis attorney who handled the three cases, said management was patient with those tenants, gave them opportunities to pay owed rent and granted their requests for additional time before they were forced to move out.

In Williamss case, Rosetti claimed the mother was given multiple warnings and had missed several rent payments, though court filings show she was only behind by one month when his company moved to evict her.

Its difficult to know how many of Rosettis eviction cases end in displacement. The mapping project also analyzed court records and found that over the past 10 years, Rosetti has been associated with hundreds of eviction lawsuits (the next step after filing a notice).

Many of the thousands of rent board notices from Rosetti may not have resulted in formal eviction cases in court. But activists note that in general there are numerous ways in which tenants are pushed out without lawsuits.

Some may leave when they get a notice in an effort to avoid having an eviction on their record, some may not know their rights, and some may face harassment from managers, advocates said.

Pretty much industry standard

Rosetti and his lawyer strongly disputed allegations that he is a major evictor, arguing that the three-day notices are standard filings when tenants fall behind, and that his companies work with tenants to help them stay. Indeed, the Guardian interviewed several of his tenants who were given second chances after missing a payment.

Leketha Williams: We had to start all over again. Photograph: Sam Levin for the Guardian

We dont evict unless its somebody who is absolutely egregious, Rosetti said, adding in a later email. An eviction is a major tragedy in anyones life and when a resident loses the ability to earn or provide sufficient money for shelter it is a societal failure.

Presented with specific documentation on the number of notices, Rosetti said he could not comment on the veracity of the data.

He also claimed that he gives tenants many chances to pay debts, which is why he might have a high number of individual notices, and further noted that he filed a much higher rate of eviction lawsuits during the foreclosure crisis 10 years ago. This year, he said, he has had fewer than 20 cases.

Rothbard argued that the eviction numbers are simply a result of Rosettis large volume of units and claimed that many of the buildings have marginal tenants who struggle to keep up.

Its pretty much industry standard, he said. The fact that hes had to serve that many notices shows you the quality of tenants hes dealing with.

Mayor Schaaf said in an interview that Rosetti has not influenced any specific policies while on her housing cabinet and said it was useful to have executives such as him involved in a group that brings together developers and housing activists.

He is certainly the type of person we would want to influence, she said. If he is in fact the largest evictor he is exactly the kind of person you want in the room.

Finding ways to stem the tide of displacement is her top priority, Schaaf added. Im concerned with the total number of evictions, period It is horrific and it is damaging to this community.

Rosetti argued that the solution to Oaklands housing crisis was to build more housing and raise the wages of low-income and middle-class people.

Housing is the number one crisis in Oakland, he said.What we all need to do is work together to create more affordable housing for everybody.

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