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A Victory for Artist Live-Work Housing in Oakland

Updated: Jul 19, 2023 13:18
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Editor’s update: In the below story, there was uncertainty regarding the final vote of Oakland City Council on updating an ordinance adding in live-work to where it’s prohibited to conduct any Cannabis Cultivation. We can now confirm that on July 18th, the mentioned ordinance did pass successfully.


This week, we had a huge win for artist live-work housing in Oakland. Tuesday afternoon, an update to Oakland’s Cannabis Ordinance underwent its second successful vote within Oakland City Council. Currently, it is prohibited to cultivate cannabis within 300 ft of any residential property. The ordinance update will now include live-work properties in Oakland. When the initial ordinance was established, the implications for live-work buildings were overlooked by city officials.

While there is one more vote ahead on the matter, there is optimism that this change will help protect the housing of artists in Oakland. The initial oversight of the implications for live-work buildings in the original ordinance is now being rectified.

On June 13th, the Community & Economic Development Committee unanimously voted to update the ordinance. Then June 20th, the zoning update went to its first City Council vote. It was approved and the next step is to formalize and make it law after the second vote in July. Administration for the City Council meetings has said it is unlikely that the change to the ordinance will not be approved in its third and final vote before becoming law.

Here’s the legal jargon around about the update to the city ordinance: “Prohibiting Cannabis Cultivation Approvals On Parcels With Work/Live Or Residential Uses From: Economic And Workforce Development Department Recommendation: Adopt An Ordinance: (1) Amending Section 5.81.150 Of The Oakland Municipal Code To Prohibit The Approval And/Or Permitting Of Commercial Cannabis Cultivation At Locations: (A) Where “Work/Live” Type Uses, As Defined In Chapter 5.81 Of The Oakland Municipal Code, Existed As Of June 1, 2023 Or (B) Where Residential Uses Existed As Of June 1, 2023; And (2) Making California Environmental Quality Act Findings”

The Oakland Cannery with air conditioning units on the first floor

The Oakland Cannery

Why does this matter?

A small tiny little change in the wording of an ordinance can make a huge difference in the lives of artists who often feel their housing is threatened by larger companies coming in and taking their housing away. With housing costs always on the rise, it’s sometimes more economical for an artist to have their home also be where they work. When done well, live-work spaces can help to provide long-term, affordable spaces.

As far as why it’s important for cultivation to not be permitted near live-work housing – well, maybe it’s obvious but there are also known health risks associated with being constantly exposed to cannabis cultivation (which is why the ordinance already states that cultivation shouldn’t be near residential housing).

During the Oakland Community & Economic Development Committee meeting on June 12th, we learned that there are 25 known live-work residences and around 300 cannabis companies within Oakland. How many of those residences are impacted by cultivation operations? The answer was – as far as they know, just one – The Oakland Cannery*. “As residents we are just not properly “zoned” as residents because it’s a live/work space,” said resident Alistair Monroe.

black and white photo of man who stands in painting studio with arms crossed

Oakland Cannery resident, Alistair Monroe – photo by Kirk Crippens & Torre McQueen

The update to this ordinance will hopefully put to rest the unstable living situation which has plagued Oakland’s first-ever live-work building housing artists, The Oakland Cannery. Previously, toxic diesel generators had been run 24-7 at the Oakland Cannery warehouse thanks to their landlords trying to sublease 100k square feet of the property to cannabis-related businesses.

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Although the generators have been removed, the toxicity of the situation has threatened the health and wellness of artists living inside The Cannery. A federal court even sided with residents and the Environmental Democracy Project in stating clear violations of the Clean Air Act. The shady cannabis landlords ended up having to sell the warehouse and essentially default on their 55-million dollar loan. This battle between Cannery residents and Green Sage has been ongoing since 2018. The industrial generator's hooked up to the first floor of The Oakland Cannery

The industrial generator’s hooked up to the first floor of The Oakland Cannery – now since removed thanks to state intervention

What are the next steps?

At the end of the day, updating the ordinance to include live-work residents is bigger than what is going on at The Cannery. It helps protect all live-work housing for artists in all of Oakland. The next steps involve the third and final approval of the update to the ordinance by City Counsel in a July meeting. If this item doesn’t end up on the agenda in July than it will wait until the end of summer or early fall. Finally, it seems that city officials are looking to find new solutions, as we had hoped back when we first started covering this story and I personally have high hopes that this small change will make a huge difference towards protecting artist housing.

Proceedings such as the one on the 13th and 20th of June are both public record and are recorded. You’re welcome to watch the full recording here if you’d like to listen to all sides of the story for both the June 13th meeting as well as last Tuesday’s city council meeting.

The journey to this point has been a collaborative effort. Various organizations have been helping The Oakland Cannery move through the system to get this ordinance re-worded. Subsequently, they’ve helped to keep what’s happened at The Cannery happen again to any other artist housing in Oakland.

Just some of the organizations involved, include:
The Oakland Cannery Collective
Oakland Impact Fund – Commercial Real Estate Developer
Creative Development Partners – Affordable Housing Group
CAST- Community Arts Stabilization Trust– Non-Profit Real Estate Developer
Designing Justice + Designing Spaces – Architecture and real estate development non-profit
Environmental Democracy Project
Center For Environmental Health (CEH)


*One interesting fact is that The Oakland Cannery is Oakland’s first live-work housing for artists – created in the 1970s. Green Sage, The Cannery’s smarmy cannabis developer that had to default on their 55-million dollar loan which was “among the largest single-asset real estate financing packages in cannabis industry,” according to an article on The Real Deal about the purchase.


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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy is a professional smiling machine raised in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.