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Zoning – Who Defines Culture?

Ultimately, there is a process by which we could be zoned and permitted to assemble for cultural events in our space on a regular basis.  When we moved into NIMBY2 we started on this process, but have become stuck in an odd way.

NIMBY is located in an “industrial,” zone, ideal for our use of making large-scale art.   A zoning variance is required to allow for group assembly in our building.  Currently, we cannot have more than 49 people in our 64,000 square foot space.  Large projects with construction crews of over 50 people, video shoots, art-openings and events all require that we have a permit for group assembly.

When we moved here, city officials advised us to submit a pre-application to the zoning department for a minor variance for group assembly for “cultural” activities.  We did.  The application was reviewed and given a favorable recommendation, meaning the subsequent full application was likely to be approved.

We then submitted the complete application and paid a several thousand-dollar fee.  After 30 days of review our application was deemed incomplete.

To complete the application we must demonstrate that every instance of group assembly at NIMBY would be for a “cultural” activity and not for “entertainment,” “education,” or “sporting.”  In the zoning code these latter three activities would require a far more expensive variance application.

HOWEVER, the zoning department does NOT have a definition of “cultural.”

How can we prove our activities are “cultural” if there is no definition?

Wikipedia says this:

The word “culture” is most commonly used in three basic senses:
* excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture
* an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning
* the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.

As members of the NIMBY community we work with our hands.  We are innovators.  We do-it-ourselves.  We work together in a tight-nit community.  We all attend the same events.  We are the artisans that bring the large-scale pieces to the Maker’s Faire, Burning Man, Coachella, The Crucible Fire Arts Festival and City of Oakland events.  When we gather for an event in our own space to enjoy each other’s artwork, music and company – we are celebrating a vibrant culture that our own community defines.

By this, and any other widely accepted definition of the word “cultural” – we are highly qualified.

How can we demonstrate to the City of Oakland zoning department that our activities are “cultural” when the zoning department has no definition for the term?

Again, we are stuck in bureaucracy and no one will show us the way out.

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