Unpoetic Justice: Emeryville Planning Official Boots City's Poet Laureate With Huge Rent Increase
By Doug Oakley Staff Writer EMERYVILLE -- If the story of rising rents and the exodus of artists from Bay Area communities could be told in verse, Emeryville's poet laureate has one for you.
Appointed to the poetry post in 2013, Sarah Kobrinsky was forced to pack up her family and leave town recently when her landlord, who also happens to be a city planning commissioner, suddenly raised her rent 38 percent.
But her housing trauma -- she, her artist husband and their 4-year-old son are now residents of cheaper digs in Point Richmond -- inspired a new poem Kobrinsky calls "Aftershock."
In another time and place,
we are better people.
No one lies. The Earth
we are stronger still --
When we say we are sorry,
we honestly mean it.
As an artist, Kobrinsky said she understands the Bay Area rental market benefits some at the expense of others. But she expected more from her landlord Kairee Tann, a city official who votes on development proposals that directly affect the housing market including single family homes and apartment buildings.
Tann also is on the city's Housing Advisory and Appeals Board, which hears complaints about potential violations of the housing code.
Kobrinsky's rent in Emeryville went from $1,300 to $1,800 a month for a 1 ½-bedroom unit. Even though she lived on the same lot as her landlord in a separate unit, she said when she was notified of the increase there was no conversation, just a certified letter.
"It was just shocking because as a member of the planning commission, she clearly has a bias for landlords, as opposed to tenants," Kobrinsky said. "It felt really gross that it happened so suddenly. I would have understood if they tried to increase it incrementally or something. But we were essentially muscled out."
Still, she plans to continue writing poems for Emeryville through the end of her two-year term as laureate, for which she is paid $750 a year.
Since starting her term in 2013 she's composed verse for the ribbon cutting at Temescal Creek Park; oversees submissions for the Poetry in Motion program on the Emeryville commuter shuttle; conducts poetry workshops in Emeryville schools; the senior center and library; and reads at a minimum of four city events a year. She also maintains her own blog called Poet Laureate of E'ville.
She will be reading Tuesday when the City Council introduces a proclamation celebrating National Poetry Month.
Tann called the rent increase, in which she gave Kobrinsky 60 days notice to pay or leave, "standard operating procedure" and added that she and her husband were not "aware of any issue regarding the rent increase." Public records show she and her husband own properties in Emeryville, Berkeley and Santa Rosa.
Emeryville Mayor Ruth Atkin said she is glad Kobrinsky will continue writing poems for the city, and she sympathizes with her.
"It's terrible what happened to Sarah," Atkin said. "The rental market is completely out of control. The city is caught up in some macro economic conditions. These market influences can and do hurt people. When Sarah's situation came to light, we on the City Council decided to grapple with some kind of tenant protections. We're quite concerned about that."
Atkin said rent control would be difficult in Emeryville because the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act prohibits it on units built after 1995, and much of the city's housing stock was built after that. The city could, however, codify a process for landlord-tenant dispute resolution, Atkin said.
All that is fine, Kobrinsky said, but it won't bring the poet laureate of Emeryville back to Emeryville.
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