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Save The Establishment

A local community needs your help to survive

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The Establishment, "The Stab" for short, or sometimes just "the house," has been evolving into what it is today since about 1968 when it served as a de facto Cal Poly architecture student house. The big green house, located at 1703 Santa Barbara Ave. in San Luis Obispo, has 19 bedrooms, four bathrooms, four fridges, two stoves, and a stalwart coterie of characters who breathe life into its old walls. If you hop on by, expect to see someone watering the garden, people reading in the den, lively conversations in the kitchen, and ramshackle collages showcasing denizens of old.

The house provides an affordable, high-density community for people of all walks of life, something that San Luis Obispo, and California more broadly, are in desperate need of. The current owners have decided to sell the house on the open market for an asking price of $2.2 million, thus putting the community at risk of dissolution. Former tenants and current friends and allies of the community are mounting an effort to collectively purchase the house. If they succeed, this will ensure the continuation of the ethos and character of the intentional community. If they fail, this could be yet another story of property investors running roughshod over an established community in their profit-seeking attempt to gentrify a neighborhood by refurbishing a home into a bed and breakfast that caters only to bourgeois tourists.

I've gotten to know The Establishment community over the past two years. My partner is a longtime dweller. What struck me most about the community is that long-ago tenants, affectionately referred to as "Stabbies," remain ancillary friends or even central figures in its culture decades after their tenure with the house is through. Tech bros live alongside woo-woo astrologists. Scrappy handymen meet put-together professors. If we want a more cohesive society with broadly shared civic values, communities such as The Establishment are essential.

"It's changed my life, and I want other people to have that same opportunity," said Jenn Yost, a former Stabbie and the current leader of the community effort to purchase the building. Those words could have been said by any number of others whose lives have been touched by the house.

The Establishment is a hub of neighborly activity. Stan the Avocado Man from down the street brings over boxes of extra avocados. Phyllis drops off her special culinary experiments with little notes explaining the ingredients. Monday Movie Nights happen every week on the street beside the house, open to whoever passes by. The house hosts soirees with likely attendees ranging from local luminaries such as old-timers Eric Greening and Mark "Gizmo" Grayson to young college students and no-name street kids.

A few years ago, a local houseless man living out of his car, John, was invited in by the community as his health was declining. He spent some of his last days there, with the community doing what they could to assist him with his day-to-day tasks.

The house has also served, not coincidentally, as an incubator for local businesses and influential community events. From Sam DeNicola's Bread Bike bakery, to "Gizmo" leading the Thursday night Bike Happening, you can find the larger community's cast of familiar faces out and about, making their city a more vibrant place.

Hundreds of people have lived at The Establishment and thousands more have been touched by its presence. It is now time for the community to stand in solidarity and protect itself. Acting individually is not enough. The Establishment must be sold to the group that is organized specifically to preserve the function and character of the current community.

Collective ownership of the house is not only our best shot at continuing the community, it is a model of housing that is inherently much more democratic and equitable for the stakeholders. A single property owner holds far too much power over tenants. So long as housing is not treated as a human right but is instead subject to the pressures of capitalism, tenants will be unequal. They will be giving over their livelihoods to property owners while acquiring little to no wealth for themselves. Shared ownership of housing spreads the wealth around and ensures that power does not reside with any one person.

We are looking for more people to help fund the collectivized purchasing of the house. If you'd like to know how else you can get involved, you can visit the house's website at theestablishmentslo.com. Or just stop on by!

Given the utter inability of our capitalist government, our liberal nonprofits, and our "best and brightest" billionaire oligarchs, our only hope of sustaining any semblance of organized human society is to create and foster independent, collectivized communities that operate outside of the existing structures.

Given the uprooting of our social bonds and the staggering enforced inequalities perpetuated by the worst of corporate capitalism, independent communities operating under a philosophy of mutual aid are more important than ever.

We need your help to make this happen. Together we can carry on a model of community living that stands in stark contrast to our individualized and disempowered society and culture. Δ

Kody Cava lives in SLO and grew up in Templeton. Send a response through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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