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An anonymous letter from the VBI Past projects / Art Inspection / anonymous letter
Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2000 11:35:41 -0400
From: San Francisco <>
Subject: City Live/Work Inspectors to turn themselves in for forgery and defacement

[Note: Do not reply to this e-mail. Transmission of this message is being provided as an anonymizing service to the VBI.]

Dear Bill Wallace, Bonnie Hitch, Rob Morse, David R. Baker and other San Francisco reporters,

Please allow us to introduce ourselves. We are the official Volunteer Building Inspectors (VBI), overseeing live/work loft usage in formerly working-class San Francisco neighborhoods. (See the Aug. 18 Chronicle article for more.)

We have waited a month since word of our action got out to see if, in response, the Department of Building Inspection would start doing its job. But alas it has not, and the live/work rip-off continues. So now, since the City wants to prosecute us, we will turn ourselves in.

But first, some background on VBI.

As we are sure you are aware, the great majority of the live/work loft units in San Francisco are in flagrant violation of City law. (Specifically, Section 102.13 of the San Francisco Municipal Code, passed in 1988 to protect artists living in their work spaces, and stating that "a live/work unit is a structure... with an integrated work space principally used by one or more of the residents"--NOT a market-rate apartment for wealthy dot-commers.)

What's more, the residents of these sham artist spaces are exempted from paying school development fees, from having to provide 10% of units as low-income housing, and from various costly construction restrictions, all of which would apply to normal residential apartments.

The City has thus created a growing class of rich people who do not pay their taxes, and who give nothing to the community in which they live... because they are PRETENDING TO BE ARTISTS. They are ROBBING millions of dollars in school taxes and low-income support from the City, while the real artists (who DO pay their taxes) are displaced to make way for the wealthy.

Exasperated citizens that we are, we decided to do the City a favor: since City officials are clearly not doing their job, we tried to at least make it LOOK like they were doing their job.

We meant it as a favor to you as well. We know it's hard to write stories about important issues when politicians refuse to provide lively quotes. Since almost no San Francisco politician besides Ammiano wants to discuss the FAKE ARTISTS milking the city for millions through the live/work loft scam, it's been very difficult for you to write stories about it. So we brought you something better than a quote: we brought you CRIME!

But whose?

Prosecute us for forgery for obvious political speech? Nail us for "defacing" property that stands in blatant violation of City law? How complex, how confusing!

On the other hand, the law concerning live/work lofts is CLEAR and UNAMBIGUOUS, and all live/work developers and almost all new live/work residents are violating it.

So, to determine whose crimes are real, we make the City an offer: inspect the live/work lofts for violations of the City's municipal code, and we will TURN OURSELVES IN. We will VOLUNTEER to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

This is a great deal for the City: they get to nab an underground collective of criminal property defacers and forgers with no effort or taxpayer expense, and all they have to do in return is THE JOB THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DO ANYWAY.

We will watch the news for a reply. Meanwhile, we will keep making the City look as if it were doing its job.

Until soon, we remain sincerely yours,
The San Francisco Volunteer Building Inspectors (VBI)

P.S. The Aug. 18 Chronicle article can be found at Section 102.13 of the San Francisco Municipal Code can be found at the city web site. And more information can be found at (with whom we are in no way associated).

P.P.S. While Rich Rovetti thinks that our notices were put up with "some kind of adhesive cement," they were in fact done with regular old wheat paste, the same stuff behind almost every other poster in our city.

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