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As Gloria Poore read through a redevelopment plan for National City’s Westside region, portions promoting the creation of live-work lofts for artists piqued her interest.
Artists like her have long struggled to find places they can legally work and live. They often end up in old warehouses and other funky, sometimes unsafe spaces in order to save money. Poore herself lived illegally for years in an industrial building in the East Village, a former warehouse district that’s now home to high-priced high rises.
When Senate Bill 812 passed in 1980, it allowed cities to relax building standards for commercial and industrial buildings redeveloped as artist’s live-work quarters. The legislation paved a path to legitimize some of the live-work arrangements artists had created. After the bill’s passage, Poore successfully advocated for San Diego to craft a clear live-work ordinance that made living in those spaces easier. She eventually earned herself the nickname “The Mother of the East Village” for her work.
By 2014, Poore felt like the arts vibe in the East Village was officially dead. She sold her property — a historical Victorian house near the ballpark — and purchased a 4,400-square-foot industrial warehouse on Wilson Avenue in the heart of National City’s Westside, in large part because of the city’s plan for the region. She thought she had found the perfect live-work space — perfect except for one issue she thought she had the expertise to resolve.
“It was disclosed to me that the previous owner built upgrades inside the building without permits,” she said. “But I thought I could cruise down to the planning department, pull a few permits, get it inspected and get everything approved.”
She planned to add a few fire-safety upgrades, like a stairway from the bedroom to the back door, and thought that would be sufficient. But quickly realized there was no permit to pull for artist live-work quarters.
Instead, the city told her the construction inside her warehouse was illegal and she would likely have to tear it out and start over. She was also told she could no longer live in the space and an official “Unsafe to Occupy” notice was posted on her door, informing entrants of the building’s code violations and safety hazards.
Poore refused to make any building improvements until the city drafted clearer rules for live-work spaces and at a meeting with city and planning department officials in September was told the city would look into it.
Poore’s retired. She said she no longer has the energy to fight the same, years-long battle she did decades ago in San Diego to get the live-work ordinance on the books. Instead, she put the National City warehouse up for sale and bought a house in Michigan, where she lives most of the time.
Brad Raulston, National City’s deputy city manager, said the city is still researching a possible live-work ordinance, but has so far found that writing one wouldn’t help Poore or anyone else in a similar situation.
“Planning does currently allows for these live-work units in this area,” he said. “But we can’t create an ordinance that supersedes California state building and fire codes.”
Raulston said he had hoped Poore would have been willing to rebuild the living quarters inside her building and turn the old industrial warehouse into a safe loft. The city, he said, does want to attract artists like Poore to the region.
Poore’s warehouse is one of about 100 spread throughout what was historically a neighborhood filled with single-family homes. To encourage economic development after World War II, the city added industrial uses. But now neighbors don’t like the industrial spaces, especially those occupied by businesses like auto body shops that work with toxic materials and pollute.
The city is working on a plan to identify the neighborhood’s industrial businesses that don’t fit the future plans and eventually relocate them. Raulston said he hopes some of the old warehouses will then be repurposed as live-work spaces for artists. “Maybe there are certain things we can do to help facilitate that better.”
New legislation related to live-work spaces for artists is making its way through the California Legislature. The language of Assembly Bill 565 is still being finalized, but it would likely give cities and counties more power to adopt alternative building regulations for the conversion of commercial or industrial buildings into live-work quarters.
Raulston said he’s keeping his eye on the bill. “I think everyone would support that idea as long as we’re addressing the safety issues.”
You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.
• Dana Springs surprised many last week when she announced her resignation as the executive director of the Commission for Arts and Culture, a city agency that funds local nonprofits and directs the city’s public art program. Springs didn’t offer specific reasons for her departure, but some arts leaders I talked to think it could be related to projected budget cuts and other mounting pressure.
• The Human Rights Watch Film Festival is happening this week at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. The lineup of documentaries tackles topics like domestic abuse, police shootings, capital punishment and more. (LGBT Weekly)
• This 51-year-old Oceanside resident said he hit his head on a rock and the injury left him with an overwhelming compulsion to make art. (Union-Tribune)
• Director Herbert Siguenza talks with KPBS about New Village Arts’ production of Jose Rivera’s surrealistic play “Cloud Tectonics.”
• Master dyer and weaver Porfirio Gutiérrez will be at the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park this week holding a trunk show, doing a weaving demo and giving a lecture.
• Broadway San Diego announced its new season, which includes “Wicked,” “The Book of Mormon” and more. (NBC7)
• San Diego Theatre Week is back. Happening Feb. 15-25, the annual event introduces the city to a wide range of theatrical offerings. (Union-Tribune)
• Local author Sally J. Pla is back with a book for young adults featuring a protagonists on the autism spectrum. (CityBeat)
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• Larry Baza, a well-known San Diego arts leader, was elected vice chair of the California Arts Council, a state agency that promotes and funds arts and culture.
• Experience Tijuana artist Roberto Romero Molina’s sound installation and hear music by Art of Élan at a special San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park concert Tuesday night.
• Works by a student and professor at the University of California San Diego were selected for the prestigious Humana Festival of New American Plays.
• Art Walk’s fifth annual Artie Awards were presented last week to gallery owner and artist Patric Stillman as well as artists and store managers Chantal Wnuk and Tracy Ann Thalo. (LGBT Weekly)
• Sound and science merge at a special concert this week hosted by the Association for Research in Otolaryngology.
• The “Full Monty” is still as funny and lively as it was when it debuted in San Diego 18 years ago. (Union-Tribune)
• San Diego artists Steve Gibson and Tom Hatton both had their first art exhibitions in 1972 at Southwestern College. This week, Gibson and Hatton return to the college art gallery for a show that will show the breadth of their last 46 years of work. (ArtWeek)
• Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and critic Hilton Als will be in San Diego this week for a conversation with Gentry Patrick, a UC San Diego professor of neurobiology.
• February is Museum Month in San Diego, which means y’all can enjoy half off admission at dozens of local museums and art institutions.
• A new sculpture is going up in downtown San Diego.
• VOSD Podcast Network show Cura Caos is hosting a live conversation with women who’ve helped shape the cross-border music scene.
• Famed Tijuana-born author Luis Urrea will be in town for a talk Thursday.
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• Next Tuesday, bands made up of restaurant employees and chefs will compete battle-of-the-bands-style in an event benefiting the domestic violence awareness efforts of the Center for Community Solutions nonprofit.
• If you haven’t been to Chula Vista’s Aqui es Texcoco restaurant yet, you should go. I’m a fan of the corn mold. The San Diego Magazine says they also have an off-menu grasshopper taco that’s “worth chirping about.”
Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with arts and culture news and tips. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.