The Omni/FAQ

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This draft FAQ comes from an April 2014 message on the sudo-discuss email list.

Contents

Draft

Who is the Omni Collective?

An association of the following collectives:

  • Sudo Room (hackerspace!)
  • Bay Area Public School (BAPS / free school)
  • Counter-Culture Labs (CCL / citizen science)
  • Food Not Bombs (FNB / feeds us regularly)
  • Timeless, Infinite Light (TIL / print resource center: OccuCopy meets letterpress beautifulness)
  • Live Space (dance collective including SALTA dance collective)
  • Oakland Nights Live (ONL / live civic talk show!)
  • Black Hole Cinema's Labs (Sweet Tooth's movie film development lab)
  • HackerSpa (wellness center providing space for body workers in our community)
  • La Commune bookstore-cafe (is what it sounds like :)
  • Creative Empowerment Project (CEP / Kazoo's screenprinting & vocational training studio)

Why are there so many groups?

Because the building we are currently looking at is huge - I mean huge - and really unique: almost 22,000 square feet.

What is Omni trying to do?

The idea is, we all move in together to a single location in order to:

  • help amplify one another's work through a shared vision of social justice and solidarity, within our already-imbricated communities of interest and the public, in a way not possible when physically distant and spread out across the Bay Area.
  • The idea was born out of how Sudo and BAPS currently share space in a way that benefits not only both of these groups, but our community as a whole, more than it would were we apart. To this end think of a way bigger, better space for Sudo and BAPS.. and with room for others who already regularly host, attend, schedule, and benefit regularly from events, classes and meetups at our space. The idea is a bigger, more beautiful, more collective, more effective version of 2141 Broadway at an unprecedented scale for all involved.
  • We will radically share space, equipment, and talents, ideating and productively collaborating with one another and our community in ways that will be unprecedented. This will be a huge win for our communities in common and the underserved needs of Oakland to a measure that frankly dwarfs what we can achieve independently, on smaller scales.
  • We will provide free or subsidized space for vital community groups and members of the public without adequate financial resources to meet and work elsewhere (such as FNB), much as we Sudo/BAPS already does. I personally hope we can get as many community groups in to use unused, affordable space as possible - I am thinking of Critical Resistance, Justice Now, and others in that vein.
  • We will lease with the option to buy the building we are looking at, at a preset price - to take it off the market and preserve it for community use FOREVER, in concert with a Land Trust, with whom we are in negotiations. The whole idea from the start is we buy a building. Meaning we will not have to keep chasing low rents. To start with, we rent it, locking in as a condition of the lease a purchase price.
  • The idea can be summed up: Omni is a Commons with a roof. Full on. That is the idea.

What else about the Omni collective?

Beyond the above goal, the point of the Omni collective is NOT to function as any sort of governing body for the groups involved in any general sense. There are no senators. Its only and sole point is to administer the space, pay bills, make group decisions about the shared space, resolve any conflicts between the groups in the space, interface with the state, banks, authorities, etc. Logistics and bureaucracy: That's it.

Where / what is this Omni building?

It's an amazing, vast building on Shattuck and 48th. It's an old rock club, before that, a Scavenger Worker's Leisure Club (Ligure Club).. that was also in all functional terms a collective, when they built the building.

It features:

  • a huge ballroom / event space about 2/3 the size of GAMH
  • an industrial kitchen & walk-in freezer (needs fixing up)
  • a massive back room with ability to build out lofts/rooms
  • 55'-ish ceilings
  • massive basement with windows above street level (currently blacked out)
  • a separate room that used to function as a disco (with lighted floor)
  • a warren of odd little rooms, a stage, lots of bathrooms

Ok.. Wait though. Isn't that area gentrified? Are we serving the right community? Good point.

One block on the other side of the freeway from this building, it is most definitely not gentrified at all, for a long, long ways. I haven't run the stats, but ride your bike around MLK and you will see the residential density there is greater, or at least as great, than the radius around 22nd/Bway. In terms of proximity, we would, I believe, stand to serve a larger underserved community than where we do now, or at least as large.

Now - the actual block the Omni is on? Yes - hella gentrified. It being just on the other side of the tracks, literally and metaphorically.

What is the argument for moving into a gentrified block? Personally, after living through waves of gentrification in multiple cities, and as a skater (and I guess, all but getting a degree in this at school but whatev) I personally believe that if Sudo and BAPS moved into the middle of a depressed neighborhood we could easily function indirectly as the shock troops of gentrification, regardless of our politics or will to the otherwise.

In fact, I would argue, and this is just me, but I think that we are indirectly part of a process of gentrification already at 2141, even though I hate that. This awareness has been brought up innumerable times over the last year by members of BAPS and Sudoers as well. Its also from what I've heard, from multiple people, a major reason for the Holdout's demise. Like all of you most likely, I've been through many agonizing discussions about gentrification, because we realize it can appropriate the very fact of our presence, even as we hate that it can. I mean we have First Friday events which is indelibly a massive gentrifying force for that neighborhood for example.

Developers would like nothing more than for Sudo to move into a depressed area / block, and help culturally and economically 'revitalize' it. This is the signature of Capital behind all the good intentions of the folks trying to fix up 8th & Alice - not at all like an evil plan, more like just the systemic replication of exploitation that is inherent to the current system. The fact is economic 'renewal' 99% displaces those invisibilized communities that are already there. So, I dunno - wouldn't be nice to not be a part of that?

If anything, the Omni as envisioned intends as much as possible to function as an instrument de-gentrification and reclaim that neighborhood for a community in need of all we endeavor to provide. For me this is a part of what makes the project radical and unparalleled in some respects - this is a taking back, a restaking of space away from the forces of development. The entire issue of gentrification is obviated by the fact that it already is gentrified, so we're not fucking up the neighborhood. But we do get to help those who could benefit from a DIY space, who live right nearby.

I know not everyone will agree with this argument - I know maybe something better and more utopian may come by - but are we really going to wait forever for the perfect building on top of a bart station? It's not perfect, but I'm not down for waiting for utopia. I'm down for hacking one together, which is what this is.

Shouldn't we be closer to BART / PT (@Phil)?

It's true, the Omni is 8 blocks from MacArthur BART, so, 5 whole blocks longer than we currently walk.

Although MacArthur BART now has plenty of parking unlike 19th St, and a bus line runs regularly along Telegraph a block away so it is readily accessible 24/7 by public transit. And it is right by the 51st/MLK fwy exit, of course.

Is the time cost of 5 extra blocks mean a 'fraction' of those who now come to Sudo will come to the Omni?

I actually think - know - far, far more people will be coming by Sudo at the Omni, than at our current space. Because a lot more will be going on at the Omni than our current space, but mostly because our current space, as a space, really sucks in more ways than I can count (which is why we're trying to move) in spite of the fact that it is closer to a bart station. I have heard countless times how people wished Sudo and BAPS were located in a less oppressive-feeling space. The Omni inverts that entirely..

But the main answer to this line of thinking about BART proximity specifically, is that the building itself is fucking amazing..it is worth the 5 blocks, in my view. I don't know how else to put this. What we can do together in this building is just... well in my view it is simply worth an extra few minutes of ambulating. It's that good. Would you rather have awesome-r digs, or be closer to bart? After a year at 2141, and seeing the Omni, I am telling you, that particular decision is an easy one for me at least.

What about foot traffic (@Phil)?

This neighborhood has a ton of foot traffic. Foot traffic in front of this particular building on this block, right now, while in fact probably more than at our current 22nd entrance that people actually use, is relatively low compared to a block up on Tele because basically the building is half a block long and and never open, so no one goes by there.

You need only go one block up to Telegraph to see that foot traffic is at least as prevalent as on Broadway. The Depot for Creative Reuse is caty-corner across the street. I think if you walk around there you'll see that foot traffic in that neighborhood is not a huge concern.

What about neighbors (@Phil)? Aren't they residential? Won't they hate us and not let us do anything we wanna do?

  • Neighbors to the north, east and south are not residential, they are businesses. Nobody above or below (standalone building).
  • In terms of noise, adjacent the north, east, and south are empty space (street, parking lot).
  • Also the east side double-doors (ballroom entrance) is extremely, professionally soundproofed, to the level of meeting city codes for a rock club, so I don't think that's an issue there for Sudo events and BAPS lectures, etc.
  • Neighbors to the west down 48th are residential, for that one block up to the freeway. They do not face the entrance/front of the building, and no one will really walk down 48th from the Omni to anywhere, so there should be minimal foot traffic. In addition they are putting in 2hr stickered parking soon, so there will be less incentive to park there for the Omni.
  • I have been informally talking to neighbors, both residential and commercial, and have gotten only positive responses so far. I have yet to present to them formally, precisely because we have to have discussions like this internally, before I do that.. now is the time.
  • In every way the Omni neighbors are farther away, and there is far, far more sound insulation, in terms of barriers and distance, than in our current digs at 2141. If you have ever gotten noise complaints from our current landlord, or downstairs from the Pan Theatre, that organizers typically get, I think you would agree.
  • Our current co-tenants on the floor on 2141 are much closer to us than any other business or residence, with the exception of a house immediately west of the Omni. This house is insulated by two thick load-bearing external walls. Concern for them is certainly a legit concern, but not a strong one in my view. They probably hear more sound from people on the sidewalk, but they are located far from the entrance to the building.
  • In terms of holding events and any attendant ruckus, we are already in a FAR better place legally, structurally and spatially to do this at the Omni than we ever will be in our current space. Do we have CUPs for public assembly? Do we have a cabaret license? Do we pull permits for events? No - it's not even a fair comparison; if anything the Omni offers us a fair shot to do that legitimately, which we don't even do now. And I have run this by the peeps at the planning department, by aides at the city, by 2 architects, a commercial real estate lawyer and a real estate broker specializing in cooperative spaces, and of course everyone whos ever come to meetings about this..

What about parking (@Phil)?

First of all, if you think parking around 2141 is easy, then you will have no problem parking around the Omni.

Because, I personally think parking around 2141 is terrible. Having countless times at both places, I can tell you, honestly, it is at least as bad at the Omni. It might even be better around the Omni actually. But regardless this is a legit concern.

Re: Omni parking, there is a big empty lot behind Frazee's paints that is slated to become a parking lot. I've talked to City people about this lot. We could have some of these spaces - even re-rent them, or ask those who drive in to the Omni to pay.. just as we often have to do for street parking around 2141. Personally I would like to encourage people not to drive. To this end an aspect of our plan is to provide indoor bike parking. If and when we can afford it, to also provide an Omni shuttle to and from bart, maybe even a pedicab service.. (that's speculation obviously, but was actually suggested to me by an aide at the city.)

Are external signage possibilities limted? (@Phil)

This is funny actually, because existing codes for the the last business use of the Omni actually mandate that there be big external signage, to notify the neighborhood of upcoming events.. so, no I don't think that's a concern :)

Is the building at risk of having landmark status (@Phil)?

No. Both myself and the building owner have recently talked to the woman at the planning department who handles historic buildings. We are in good shape. She is supportive of the project and actually offered to help us!

Noise, smog re: Freeway proximity (@Phil)?

I don't really hear the freeway when I'm there.. but maybe I was not paying attention, but it isn't really noticeable to me. I didn't notice any particularly bad air quality, but it seems fine - I suggest you stroll around there and check it out. I haven't heard this concern before so I don't think it's something people who have visited the building and been around there are worried about. So to me, this is not a concern.

Okay.. But can we all actually pay the freaking rent (@Matt)?

In short, yes. Unless Sudo backs out. In which case, no.

Can we prove we can pay the rent, with concrete information (@Matt)?

Yes.. but, I'm actually not sure how to do this on a public listserv? I can say the following:

  • We presently have a combination of donations and a long-term no-interest loan by people in our community that will cover first months' rent and deposit (move-in costs).
    • This is in addition to the month-to-month rent commitments made by the collectives (and their delegates) themselves. We knew the barrier to entry in the form of move-in costs would be a big burden on us. But you know, this is what we have been fundraising for, again, for months. This did not materialize overnight. It was the result of a lot of hard work.
  • Rental amounts have been discussed by member collectives and delegates for months in most cases, at every meeting. These amounts have fluctuated to reflect reality of what members can afford. Everyone knows what is at stake. This is not just a fairytale dream.. well heck, it is a dream, but a dream we have all worked hard to bring to the brink of reality. Does it involve a level of trust? Yes - of course. Do I have any doubts that we won't pull through? At this point? No.
  • Am I expected to dump suitcases full of cash onto the conference table Wednesday, or.. Anyone who wants more details on this please email me offlist or just ring me?

What are the terms of the lease (i.e. the full contract)?

Ok - the proposed terms of the lease are finally just now starting to be negotiated, in that we are finally starting to actually make counterproposals. Why has this taken so long? Purely in terms of negotiating, we were for a long time in a position where we could not negotiate further with the owner until we were approaching the ability to actually write a check, and that is approaching fast. There were other complicated phases of the process that slowed it down, that I'm not going to get into here, but would be happy to discuss in person.

I am just uncomfortable detailing this ongoing negotiation on a publicly archived, searchable listserv while we are talking about the best terms. Not that I will not tell anyone who asks me via email or in person - I will! - but not on this list, is all.

We talk about the money openly at every Omni meeting, to which anyone can attend. This stuff IS transparent folks, but I just don't want it googleable on a public forum, right now, because it can put this whole project at risk. We already know the owner peruses our sites. Right? Possibly, probably reading this as soon as its up. If that makes things clearer?

That said - I can say the terms have already come down significantly, and:

  • We can collectively afford our rent as is, at least for the first year. I will show you the spreadsheets.
  • We will have the first+deposit covered by donations and interest-free personal loan.
  • Sudo's part would be $2K/mo.

Lease length (2 years, 3 years?) (@Matt)

We can sign a 2 or longer year lease. Up to us. Less than 2 years would be a hard sell. More than 2 years is easier.

Landlord in or out? (@Matt)

Up to us entirely: If he can stay there for ~3 months while he moves, the rent will be a lot lower for those months. If we don't want him to stay, he'll vacate in 30 days, but then we dont get a break during those first ~three months.

Rent-to-own option or not (@Matt)?

Currently we are planning rent with an option to buy. This means:

  • Owner can't sell the building during the duration of the lease
  • Owner agrees to sell us the building at a set price at any time up to the end of the lease term; ie to come up with the downpayment for the mortgage.
  • 100% owner-financed loan for purchase means no banks / pre-approval, just his approval.

We can do either rent-to-own or rent-with-an-option-to-buy. They both amount ultimately to much the same thing in the end, it really depends on how much we want to pay each month. If we want to pay into a mortgage on top of rent, we rent-to-own - this costs us more per month. If we want to minimize our monthly expenses, we pay rent, save up the money for a mortgage downpayment on our own, then make that downpayment when we have it. In this case our funding drive for the downpayment would be 2 or 3 years - the duration of the lease.

What are the terms of space usage? (@Matt)

In the current envisioning, Sudo would have to itself:

  • Half the bocce ball court room (giant back area), shared with CCL in the other half
  • This area is handicapped accessible, with handicapped-accessible bathrooms, & street access.
  • This area has massive, 55ft(?) ceilings with ample space to make add'l rooms, lofts, balconies, etc

Shared areas:

  • numerous little rooms around the building for meetups
  • part of the large basement area for heavy making
  • shared/scheduled use of the ballroom for events, meetups as needed (as we currently do with our common area). This area is way bigger than our current common area by multiples
  • A cafe/bookstore to hang out in
  • rooftop access (could be made easier to access) above disco room for garden, mesh, everything

Who moves where? (@Matt)

All groups: have use of shared space BAPS: mobile units - based out of a balcony room in the ballroom, having classes in unused space around the building as needed CCL: Half bocce ball court room, part of basement area SR: Half bocce ball court room, part of basement area FNB: Shares basement industrial kitchen & food storage area with cafe-bookstore, hopefully serve food too upstairs to the community - either in the cafe, or the ballroom, etc TIL: 2nd floor, Balcony room above bar, on corner of shattuck / 48th (NE corner) Live Space: Disco room in back (NW corner) ONL: Uses ballroom area for performances, some storage in the building somewhere Black hole labs: would use part of the basement to jumpstart their celluloid film development lab for local filmmakers HackerSpa wellness center: Cluster of rooms between bar and bocce ball court room La Commune bookstore-cafe: Bar area CEP: Part of basement (screenprinting gear)

We need to go over the floor plan, but point being - we do have a space for everyone that people are good with.

Which areas are exclusive (private) or inclusive (common)? (@Matt):

Shared areas:

  • Ballroom (scheduled mostly as per current Common room)
  • Parts of the basement
  • numerous small rooms around the building that are currently unused - ie 3 in basement, probably like 5 elsewhere in the building
  • big ol cafe to hang out in
  • much more space than Sudo currently has [lol]

Private:

  • (as described above)

What is the protocol for conflicts and concerns between (or across members of) Omni Oakland sub-collectives?

To some extent re: how the delegate structure works, see: https://sudoroom.org/wiki/The_Omni/2014-04-03#The_Omni_Oakland_Collective

In terms of conflict resolution, that has come up several times and we are working on that now - we are looking at the terms Sudo uses that (from what I understand) were originally cribbed from Noisebridge. This is an area we need to work on - we have been mostly focused on the financials, apportioning space and accruing the will to come together and do this.

We also have to work more on our articles of incorporation and association. We are working actively on that.

Additionally, what rights and responsibilities do members of the public (or as I usually say for sudo, which I think applies here, "prospective members" of any of our collectives) have? (@Matt)

In broad terms - my view:

For the entire space, members of the public have a responsibility to abide by the accepted rules of the space assented to by all the collectives within it, which will be akin to the safe space policy Sudo currently has in place @ 2141, and although we haven't voted on it yet, a conflict resolution policy in line with what Sudo already has.

Each collective additionally maintains its own subset of rules for itself and members of the public in its own localized dedicated area within the building, that are not in conflict with rules and values for the whole space.

Its conceivable that the public may not be allowed free reign over 100% of the space and its materials all the time. For example, I can imagine if there are dance rehearsals, Live Space may not always want that public. If there is film development going on in a darkroom, its possible they may not want the door open randomly. If TIL's letterpress machine is in the basement, the public may need to be trained on how to use it before using it. The same way that not everyone has access to root on Sudo's Mediawiki off the bat - there are conditions. CCL may have machines and rooms that not everyone in the public is able to just freely use unless they have the requisite knowledge. Stuff like that. Make sense..?

Can one be affiliated and pursue membership rights and responsibilities in the space without being a member of an existing collective or pursuing a new collective to add to the Omni Oakland body? (@Matt):

Any person can propose a collective to be accepted by the existing collectives into the project. It's not guaranteed that every person or collective will jive with what we are building or be a good fit. Thats not exclusionary, thats just building the right collective on the basis of cultural affinity. At some point free space will also be a consideration. This is really no different than the current existing state of how things run already at BAPS and Sudo to my knowledge.

We are actively seeking groups and collectives to build our community and make it even more awesome. We are looking for people who share our values.

The entire point of the effort is to transform a building into a commons for civic and public use, and change the way we work together and work to help our community. In general, it is as public-focused as Sudo and BAPS already are.

Do the member collectives' pledges of payment hold water? (@Matt)

To my knowledge, yes. We've been planning this for months and discuss this every week.

For existing member collectives can we start collecting rent contributions immediately (to be paid forward to rent after any agreed-upon contract is signed)? (@Matt)

This has been discussed obviously. We will start this forthwith. Remember we have donations and a loan that forms the basis of the barriers to entry. We just received paperwork of our CA NP status, so we can open a bank account just for the collective. Partly we're also waiting on Land Trust fiscal sponsorship which will make things easier on donors. But the money is there, with or without that.

Concluding Remarks

I want to say one last thing and that is we can come up with a million reasons why every T wasnt crossed or that we aren't uber-prepared. We're not. We're doing very best we can, with what we have, where we are. Which is what hacking is, to me. It's not a perfect situation. Not every contingency has been thought of. There is risk, yes. We're not trying to plan our way into imaginary utopias or wait for the perfect situation or building or set of circumstances. We're trying to hack something crazily ambitious into life, with all the love we have.