Save Neighborhood Venues!

Viracocha Looks to Go Legit

Despite its outward appearance, Viracocha is much more than a twee antiquary with an absolutely incredible shitter.  Beneath their wooden shop and all-star facility is Viracocha’s basement performance space, and that stage is truly a neighborhood treasure—it’s been host to almost every kind of event, from poetry, music, free university lectures, and all the way to artists like Blek le Rat doing live work.

But that venue closed at the end of December because it was a clear code violation (and lacked the necessary permits to boot).  As the SF Weekly reported:

No matter what you call it, there’s one rule at Viracocha: Keep it quiet. For the past four years, all of these events have technically been illegal, on account of fire codes, that one big staircase, and the lack of ADA compliance. No one’s allowed to talk publicly about the venue or promote its events.

But Viracocha’s venue has always been an open-secret, despite the rules.  Even the SF Fire Department is alleged to take rookies through the space as a “just in case” preparation.  And that’s exactly what got it shut down.

However, just as the owner began attempts to sell the business (and it’s hefty $10k/month lease), he’s filed for an entertainment permit to bring the venue above board—an assuredly necessary step in preserving its value and keeping the strong community Viracocha has built over the last four years.  And should you want to support their efforts, an Entertainment Commission hearing will be May 20th at 5:30pm in City Hall’s room 416.

[Photo: Kate Conger]

Comments (25)

This is the perfect time for a benevolent rich person in the tech industry to pick this up and provide it to the care of a non profit composed of strange people in the community. That will keep this place and the awesome shows it had, continuing. We all know this could easily turn into a $125 a head restaurant that has shitty music or entertainment downstairs, with an overpriced cocktail lounge above it.

Tech tech tech tech why does it always have to be tech?

Why not a benevolent rich doctor or lawyer or trust-funder? 

Maybe instead of having some rich benefactor give Viracocha to your hypothetical non-profit run by strange people, you could have this non-profit crowdsource Viracocha’s rent. You find 500 people who care about Viracocha and ask them to pay $20 a month to keep it alive. In exchange, these people get in free to shows. You want to keep these places alive, it’s going to take a community who actually cares about their existence, not handouts.

Seems like they already did one fundraiser in December. Did you contribute? 

Here’s another idea, maybe if Viracocha actually SOLD stuff, they could make their rent?

I understand your point, but it’s not the outrageaous salaries paid to doctors, lawyers and trustafarians that are dramatically changing the climate and culture of the neighborhood… it’s tech tech tech.

I don’t really understand how any business can exist on Valencia at 10k a month.

I remember the good old pre-tech days when shops based on unusual business models never, ever faced financial trouble or went out of business.

Betabrand pays $30k a month and Thread Lounge pays $10k a month, both fairly new businesses on my block.  It’s insanity.

I anticipate a wave of “whoa, we’re in way over our heads” closings in the next few months. Of course, I’ve been saying that about “Fine Arts Optical” at 20th since it opened …

i got my only pair of prescription glasses there!  i never wear them though :(

Explain, exactly, how it is the salaries paid to new tech employees which are changing things, versus the salaries paid to new medical/legal/etc employees. Doctors make much more starting out than tech kiddos and there is currently a massive hospital building boom. Even if you were to argue that “Well, there’s more new tech people than new medical people” (and I have yet to see that statistic), then you are still selectively focusing on one group. 

I submit an article worth reading which may (or may not) change your perspective on where the blame lies (hint, its really really complicated and not nearly as myopic as everyone makes it out to be): (it’s really long)

This one, also:

As for businesses not being able to afford rent on Valenica, I agree. It’s turned into a fancy-schmancy food court and moustache-wax apothecary and 24th street and Mission are next on the chopping block. 

I think the conventional wisdom (i.e., my impression) of tech as a root cause has to do less with tech salaries, which may be lower than those in some other industries, than with tech valuations and IPOs. When Twitter went public, it was bandied about that it created a thousand instant millionaires. Now, (a) I don’t know if that’s true, and (b) I don’t know when it vests, but if it is and has, that’s a highly unusual economic event for a city - a huge influx of cash to enough people to absorb pretty much all the available housing stock - at any price - in desirable neighborhoods. And Twitter is just one of many companies with employees awash in equity. The WhatsApp people could buy the entire Mission with their payout.

People making millions in tech IPOs don’t use their millions to rent, they buy.  The people who pay huge rents are usually people with high salaries but not a lot of cash in the bank.…

“Sixty percent of all people who sell their homes in The City are leaving San Francisco after they sell, according to a survey of real estate agent sales over the past 12 months.”

“And in a nod to the tensions surrounding evictions and the influx of tech workers, the survey found that 47 percent of homebuyers work in the tech industry.”

So tech employees make up less than half the people who are jacking up home prices and rent… where’s the ire towards the other half (the majority)?

Should we blame homeowners for selling out for $$$? Or the people paying that money? Similarly, should we blame new people coming to the city (doctors or techies,etc) for being able to pay $3k/month for a 1br or the landlords who are happily ejecting people from their homes to cash in on newcomers?

As for companies awash in IPO money (Twitter), they are few and far between. Yes, the impact of 1000+ fresh millionaires is crazy, but they are a minority in the SF tech community. Also, WRT to Twitter, I believe most of them haven’t vested and their stock is currently nose-diving. Hard to sustain that kind of momentum when your company doesn’t turn a profit.

As for the ridiculous WhatsApp buyout, let’s hope that is the signal of the end of the boom?

Well, in a city of more than 800 thousand people, if 1 out of every 2 houses being sold goes to someone in a particular industry, thats pretty impressive to me.  I’m not sure what number would impress you.

That said, I don’t blame anyone, San Francisco is a visually amazing city, freer than any other big city (though mildly less so recently with nudity bans and such), has great weather, very distinct neighborhoods, walkability without it being oppressively crowded like Manhattan.  It’s no secret why people want to live here.

I would guess that in the future people of means are going to gather in cities and cities will be uniformly unavailable to lower and middle income people.  Not all cities of course, I can’t picture Detroit suddenly becoming expensive though who knows.    But London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, large cities in Africa, India, it’s actually a well known but not frequently discussed issue, e.g.,…

Now, part of this has to do with density.  It’s difficult to expand the population of SF without incurring a lot of cost.  Seattle is another tech city, less dense but still dense as far as US cities go, and has been experiencing significant increases in rent.  Portland is much less dense and can expand outwards, or build 4 story buildings and somewhat keep pace.  That said their rent is rising I believe 10% year over year.  The rents in Austin are rising dramatically also, at least in downtown and East Austin where hip people like to live.  That said Austin is the least dense of all, and has a huge amount of room to build housing which will help limit the rising cost of rent for the city ‘as a hole’, not specific neighborhoods.   

I’m not really convinced there’s anything that can be done, except maybe to point out that a city like Portland is actively building apartments at generally the same height limits of SF, which is 4x denser.  I can’t fathom why we have height limits set at 40 - 55 feet in large sections of the city.  

Just to add, the Guardian did a whole series about this:

The days of Paris as an artists haven in the early 20th century are long dead, and I can’t see coming back.  I haven’t heard any persuasive arguments about what to do with this situation.  That’s why personally I think a benevolent rich person that is interested in buying up 10 or so properties and deeding them over to a trust to keep them as specific places, e.g., band rehearsal space, artist studios, music venue, whatever else, is such a romantic idea.  Though not a terribly realistic one.

Maybe the tooth fairy will come to the rescue. Absent that, artists will need to make it happen for themselves. The ones who create unity instead of divisiveness will have the best chance.

There are lots of cities in the US that people could move into - they’re just not the fashionable ones that people want to move into. Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh remain affordable and accessible to many. Perhaps we just don’t have enough capitals of culture to go around at the moment.

doctors have massive loans to pay back, and they don’t start earning money until they’re almost 30.  tech folks often start at 22, and they can immediately begin investing their salary.  an extra 8 years of compound interest often make them quite wealthier than doctors.

also, doctors save lives.  the more of them, the better.

Plenty of doctors make incredible amounts of money on things that have nothing to do with life-saving. And they have lobbied (via tha AMA and other groups) for more restrictive licensing simply to restrict the supply of available doctors, which increases the cost of becoming a doctor and reduces the availability of health care.

Some of my best friends are MDs (as they say) but doctors, as a class, are overrated.

While both interesting articles they don’t answer your question. Reverse the issue for example. What if tech left (or imploded)? We’d have less fancy restaurants, and less need for lawyers who specialize in IPOs and less need for sommeliers, rents would plateau then dip, etc…in other words, the tech is only 6% claim is playing with numbers and vastly under estimates the economic effect of a group of people whose median income is $140K. 

People who base arguments from this stat to minimize tech’s impact are either being deceptive or lazy. 

Now, your idea above about community support is an excellent idea and way better than asking for the benevolence of a TwitPrince. Like you said it would actually build community and prevent it from becoming one more place for the rich to play and the poor to work on Valencia street. 

Yea, I’ve even been known to buy stuff too

They do sell things (as the linked Mission Local article points out, a set of couches nets them two months rent).

I love Viracocha and have attended events downstairs many times, but I don’t see how it could possibly get permitted. The exit to the only external stairway has literally been bricked over, and the only way out in a fire is a VERY narrow staircase. There are no windows. Or maybe they’ve done some construction to open up an emergency exit?

Yikes. That description of the space would make me really nervous to attend a crowded event there.  When  a space has only have one exit, that exit can get blocked (either by the fire or by the panicked mass of people fleeing the fire) -  and then bad things happen. 

SF has a lot of dumb & overly restrcitive building ordinances - but having a secondary fire exit isn’t one of them. 

Viracocha’s venue is an amazing space. Hopefully they can find an affordable way to bring it up to code. There really is nowhere else like it, especially when you take into account the people involved.