Strangers With Parties: Raves Take Over Vacant SoMa Space

Earlier this month, commercial leasing agent Hans Hansson started receiving bizarre complaints. Neighbors of a Howard Street property whose owner he's representing were hearing noise and loud music at odd hours — bizarre, considering the property, a warehouse-slash-workshop space with 18-foot ceilings that's a holdover from SOMA's more blue-collar days, is vacant.

When Hansson swung by the property to see what was up, he was greeted at the door by a tired-looking man, standing in front of a host of professional sound equipment.

“He asked, 'Who are you?' ” Hansson tells SF Weekly. “I said, 'I'm the owner's representative — who are you?' “

Hansson gave the mystery man an hour to clear out. While he waited, Hansson noticed the care the man was taking to clean up.

“It looked like a professional, paid event,” says Hansson, who double-checked with his clients to see if they'd rented the space out without his knowledge.

They hadn't — apparently, somebody had gained access to the building, hired the musicians, and advertised the place as a party venue on social media. And the man on hand was hired by the party organizer to clean up and return the property in proper condition.

“That was the unbelievable thing,” Hansson says. “It wasn't like they broke in and ransacked it. They were renting it responsibly.”

Hansson says he has no idea who gained access to the space. A number the cleaner gave him for the organizer was fake.

(The parties, advertised on social media including the “San Francisco Bay Area DJs and Dancers” Facebook group, appeared to be popular and well-attended. “Howard Street is popping!” one partygoer wrote, in a post that has since been deleted. The poster, who used a pseudonym that means “Fuck You,” did not respond to a request for comment.)

But whoever it was, they are both industrious and persistent. A few days after Hansson changed the locks, irate neighbors started calling again. The dance music was back. The ravers had made their way back in.

This time, he called the police. The ravers were chased out and the space boarded back up. But nobody was arrested and no charges were filed, says Hansson, who says police blamed criminal justice changes like Prop. 47 for the slow response and lack of action. (San Francisco police did not respond to requests for comment.)

And Hansson is worried the raves will happen again — if not at his space, at someone else's.

Right now, there's high demand for spaces like the 4,000 to 5,000-square-foot open floor plan space on Howard — but most of it is illegal. According to city building inspectors, there are 1,200 buildings zoned for “PDR” use – “production, distribution, and repair,” meaning old-school, blue-collar use — that are instead being used for tech offices.

Some owners of these have already received notices to evict the offending office space — which, coupled with a slowing market for these spaces, could mean ample opportunity handy for stealthy ravers.

Unless the warehouses are put to another use, one which neighbors might not prefer to raves.

“The government blames tech for [the PDR issue], but it's not really tech's fault,” Hansson says. “Most of these spaces in the city have been turned into weed grows.”

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