Emeryville’s Poet Laureate Sarah Kobrinsky victim of Planning Commissioner owned property rental hike

Published On April 21, 2015 | By Rob Arias | Commentary, Community Voices, In the Neighborhood, Neighbor Spotlight, News & Commentary

The month of April will be declared National Poetry Month in Emeryville at tonight’s April 21st City Council meeting. Emeryville’s Poet Laureate Sarah Kobrinsky will kick things off with a special reading inside chambers. Ironically, Kobrinsky will be commuting to Emeryville after a $500/38% rental increase sent her packing for Richmond last month. More concerning is that the house that Kobrinsky was renting from is owned by an Emeryville Planning Commissioner and Housing Advisory & Appeals Board member where, ironically, their duties are to oversee complaints about potential violations of the housing code.

Kobrinsky was renting from Planning Commission Vice Chair Kairee Tann who owns the two-unit lot where she lives with her own family. Kobrinsky has lived with her Husband and four year-old-son in a 1.5 Bedroom duplex for the last five years. After being “good tenants”, Kobrinsky and her husband were served with a 60-day notice of the drastic increase. Legally, if the rent increase is more than 10%, a landlord must give the tenant 60 days notice according to The California Department of Affairs (30 days for anything less).

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Photo Credit: Doug Oakley, Bay Area News Group

The increase brought their rent from $1300/mo to $1800. Now $1800 might actually sound reasonable in today’s ridiculous market, but that’s part of the problem. When you have “reasonable” rent, it puts you in a vulnerable position where you don’t want to “rock the boat” and will often forgo sub-standard living conditions or not demand things you are legally entitled to avoid putting yourself in the crosshairs of a landlord looking to capitalize on a hot market. “It wasn’t an eviction, but it was clear they weren’t going to do anything to offset the rent increase. We might have been able to come up with the money, but it came down to the principle.” Coincidentally, the upper unit was recently vacated by the two proprietors of Scarlet City Espresso Jen St. Hilaire and Susanna Handow. When Jen & Susanna moved out, the rent was raised a reported $1100 for the new tenants. This was foreshadowing of what was to come for Sarah & her family.

The story is unfortunately all too common in today’s rental market and only newsworthy because it involves two high-profile people in the city. A story that seems to be pitting the “creative class” against the wealthier “coding class”. “These are the people who are suffering the most” noted Kobrinsky in a recent interview. “Young, creative people. If you’re not lucky enough to secure a favorable situation in the Bay Area, you can’t stay”. Sarah’s husband whom she met in Minnesota and are both from the Dakotas is a ceramic artist and Berkeley small business owner. “These are the people who Emeryville is losing. People that are doing interesting things. Artists, Poets, Photographers … what’s going to happen? There’s not going to be any artists left. We need to protect our community”

It should be noted that what Tann and her husband did was not illegal, they followed all the rules … but was it unethical? Should City affiliates be held to a higher standard? Is there a conflict of interest here with someone who’s both on a committee and board whose duties are partly to defend the interests of residents? That’s for the reader to decide. The response from Tann through The Bay Area News Group was placid as best. She referred to the hike as “standard operating procedure” and that she and her husband were not “aware of any issue regarding the rent increase.” The Tann’s also own property in Berkeley and Santa Rosa. Tann’s three-year term ends in June.

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Kobrinsky’s former Landlord Tann (R), is a Planning Commissioner & Housing Board member

Emeryville’s tenant protections are weak compared to our neighbors and City Staff has been tasked with bringing options to the table at the direction of Council for the upcoming May 5th meeting but there’s really not too much that can be done with Emeryville and the States current set of tools. Ironically, there was also a proclamation recognizing the week of 5/8 – 5/17 as the 19th Annual “East Bay Affordable Housing Week.”

With few tenant protections in our city, Kobrinsky and her family had no recourse in this fight and opted to move on. The transition has not been easy as she’s had to explain to her four-year old the displacement. “Every night for the first two weeks he woke up in the middle of the night saying  ‘I want to go home’ and I had to explain to him that this is home now. It’s very confusing to him. It doesn’t feel good when it’s not your choice to leave”.

Kobrinsky is under contract with the city throughout the end of the year and has expressed interest in finishing off her term that she gets paid an honorarium of $750/year … she’ll just have to do it remotely. And what should be expected for tonight’s reading? “I will most certainly be reading a piece about displacement/gentrification” noted Kobrinsky through email.

One of Sarah’s first poems as Poet Laureate titled “Shellmound”:

The refuse of life well-lived piled high at the water’s edge
In a hundred years time, what will we have left behind?

Kobrinsky’s appointment can be watched on Ken Bukowski’s EPOA YouTube Channel:

Further Reading & Resources:

Rent Increases: Basic Information for Tenants: Legal Guide LT-2 | DCA.CA.GOV
East Bay Housing Organizations
E’ville’s Poet Laureate launches “Poems on the Emery Go-Round Program
KQED’s Priced Out series exploring the high cost of living and doing business in the Bay Area.
Planning official uses huge rent increase to boot city’s poet laureate | CCTimes.com
Tenants Together: California’s Statewide organization for Tenants’ rights

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

4 Responses to Emeryville’s Poet Laureate Sarah Kobrinsky victim of Planning Commissioner owned property rental hike

  1. Anonymous says:

    When costs increase, people who can’t afford to stay go. No surprise there.

    Make a place expensive and only those who can afford the expense will live here. Get rid of the manufacturing jobs, the service jobs, the artists workshops, and the entry level jobs, and Emeryville is the new Piedmont (no offense Piedmont…you’re nice, but you’re just not us…at least not yet).

    Sadly, the new Emeryville will be a gentrified Emeryville.

  2. Nicole Gruen says:

    Guess the commissioner wants to have her cake and eat it too. I wonder how she would react, if her health insurance, school, tax – you name it, would increase by 38%. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s right.

    We rent in Emeryville and our rent is great. Realizing that we have no protection really does scare me.

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