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People Who Work in Glass Houses ... 

The Bay Guardian has railed for years against the illegal use of live-work lofts. So guess who's using a loft as an office?

Wednesday, Jun 27 2001
News stories in the San Francisco Bay Guardian regularly damn the "yuppie" owners of live-work buildings that have "invaded" the Mission District. Guardian editorials rebuke "dot-com engineers" who run businesses in live-work lofts without living in the space, as well as nonartists who live in the lofts, which are legally reserved for working artists. The Guardian wants business services to be prohibited in live-work lofts and for these spaces to be reclassified purely as housing.

In an April 11 news story, for example, the Guardian reported that the "live-work ordinance was intended to create inexpensive space for artists" and pointedly reminded readers that any other use is, in fact, illegal.

The Guardian, it turns out, has unclean hands. According to public records and interviews with the Guardian's landlord, the alternative weekly newspaper has been operating part of its business out of a live-work loft at 520 Hampshire St. for several years, even as the newspaper's publisher, Bruce B. Brugmann, rails publicly against the practice.

In 1988, the San Francisco Planning Code was amended to allow only working artists, such as painters, photographers, and dancers, to live and work in industrial buildings. Loft owners are exempt from paying full school taxes and meeting handicapped access and parking requirements. Live-work developers do not have to provide an affordable housing unit for every 10 units built, as must other residential builders.

In 1991, the Guardian moved into new digs at 520 Hampshire, a renovated warehouse owned by Fred Snyder of the David W. Allen Trust. The newspaper runs most of its operations in 14,000 square feet of commercial space on the basement and ground floors, which it leased for 10 years for about 70 cents a square foot -- less than $10,000 a month. The Guardian's low rent included the cost of repaying the $300,000 that Snyder spent to build out new offices for the newspaper.

It was a sweet deal with a cherry on top.

The top two floors of the building contain 10 live-work lofts, inhabited by artists who work in them, and one large 1,745-square-foot loft, which was leased to the Guardian in 1991 for $1,705 a month. According to Snyder, the Guardian sublet the loft to a music business for several years. In 1998, the newspaper started using the loft as an office and archive.

The Guardian's leases for the loft state that the "premises shall be used and occupied only for live-work studio." The most recent lease was signed by Brugmann on May 8.

In an interview, Brugmann admitted that the live-work loft is used for business purposes. An out-of-town business consultant he employs occasionally bunks in the loft. He said that he sees no discrepancy between the Bay Guardian's editorial stance and its business practices.

Debra Walker, a member of the Live/Work Task Force appointed by the Board of Supervisors, said that it is hypocritical for the Guardian to use the loft for business purposes. The law should be universally enforced, she added, but not by singling out the Guardian.

About The Author

Peter Byrne


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