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Radically Sharing Temescal

A group of artists, hackers, and other creative people have launched Omni Commons, a new community resource center in North Oakland that they hope will be an antidote to gentrification.

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Yet despite the sense of hope articulated by members of the commons, there is also an air of unease. "Is it really going to be inclusive or will it be just a club for white people?" said Serfati, further explaining that this one of the "stakes" in her film. "It's important to be honest with ourselves that we're a majority white group in Oakland, and that there aren't flocks of people from other communities and cultures and background knocking on the door. And we can be seen as part of the process of gentrification."

"It's super important to be critical of ourselves and ... examine our own privilege," Shelley added.

Keenan of the Bay Area School loses sleep over the thought. "If it just ends up becoming just another apolitical hipster mall that's just about lifestyle politics, or just another art center without the overtly political missions ... that keeps me up at night," he said.


The window of the Temescal art gallery Smokey's Tangle displays a series of paintings that depict the changing neighborhood. Some show recently closed small businesses, such as The New Ho Ho Restaurant and the yarn store Article Pract. Some are of the sites on which the Nautilus Group will be developing, such as the building that was once Global Video. There's one of the Temescal obelisk. And there are three paintings of Rise Above Graphics: one of the gallery's entrance, one of its shop window displaying the eviction notice, and another of the Seibold and Laz's mural portraying Rise Above's demolition. There's another of Omni Commons.

The owners of Smokey's Tangle fear it's only a matter of time until their gallery shutters, too. The gallery now has a new landlord and it isn't protected against rent hikes, according to co-owners Brian Brooks and Emily Wick, who also co-founded the Temescal Art Hop in 2010 as a way to promote the neighborhood's galleries. "The good news is the building was sold to a local resident who lives nearby," Wick wrote to me in an email. "[But] given the trajectory of the neighborhood, we may not be able to stay much longer."

She and Brooks were featured in a 2007 Wall Street Journal article as exemplars of the creative — albeit "yupster" — transformation of Temescal. "Our gallery was funded with money we saved by living frugally and not having a car," Brooks wrote. "We did not open the gallery as a way to make money, and quickly discovered that the best part about having the space and promoting the art nights was the community we discovered."

But he and Wick worry that this could soon be changing. At a community feedback meeting hosted by the Nautilus Group, the gallery owners asked officials from the Nautilus Group whether they'd consider excluding chain stores from the new developments. But according to Brooks and Wick, the Nautilus Group is only interested in renting to small businesses if they're able to pay as much as a corporate retailer.

Brian Caruso, a senior project manager with the Nautilus Group, said that, although rent prices for storefronts of the new developments will be market-rate, the company is being very selective about the businesses it plans to include, although he didn't give any details on which businesses Nautilus will be selecting. "We're interested in finding the right fits for the neighborhood," he said. Caruso said that the Nautilus Group's community outreach has been "extensive."

The Nautilus Group's plans for its sites include the construction of up to 301 housing units and approximately 44,700 square feet of retail space. The previous owner of the sites, Roy Alper, received approval from the city to build the projects in 2006, but because of the economic downturn, the development never broke ground.

After purchasing the properties in 2013, Nautilus is now proposing to amend the design of the buildings to include a more "modular" modern look, with glass and resin composite exteriors. Nautilus is also proposing to expand the development on 51st and Telegraph to add a 20-foot "retail podium" beneath the residential levels, which will include 40,000 to 50,000 square feet of retail space, according to Randy Miller, President of the Nautilus Group. Most of this space is to be taken up by a grocery store, Miller wrote to me in an email, and a portion (7,000 square feet) will be dedicated for smaller retail businesses.

City approval for the new designs will depend on what Nautilus gleans from ongoing community feedback meetings, as some community members were unhappy with the modern-looking redesign, according to officials from the Oakland Planning Department.

All three developments are to be five stories tall. The one at 47th and Telegraph, where Rise Above is now, will have 48 housing units and roughly 4,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. The development on 48th and Shattuck will have 43 units and roughly 700 square feet of commercial space. And the one at 51st and Telegraph will include 186 to 211 housing units. Miller said Nautilus is proposing rooftop greenhouses for the development on 51st. Officials from Nautilus also noted that 10 to 11 percent of the total number of units (14 to 16 units) will be affordable with some designed for "very-low income" people, Caruso said.

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