by Ethan Stewart
It looks as if Aikido of Santa Barbara (pictured) on East Cota Street is the latest in a rapidly growing list of local businesses that are being forced out of their longtime locations due to rising rents and a big-money real estate market. According to the dojo’s sensai Christine Wong, the nonprofit school of martial arts was served with eviction papers in early June, despite having what she characterized as a “good relationship” with the building’s owners for nearly 15 years and a current three-year lease that isn’t set to expire until July 2008. “The owners want to sell the property and I guess they think they can’t sell it for what it’s worth with us still in it,” Wong explained.
But a simple change of venue for the center — which caters to more than 100 students, young and old and from all walks of life — may not be a reality either, according to Wong. Although the center’s owners were able to survive in the face of prior rent hikes, they always had the luxury of a below-market rate on their lease, something which allowed the self-described “hand to mouth” nonprofit school to survive. “We are looking around, but everything is so expensive. It’s beginning to seem that if we get booted out, we might be lost for good,” lamented Wong.
The school has fundraised a minimal legal defense fund and is scheduled to have a court hearing in Santa Barbara Superior Court on August 21 with the building’s current owners Bill and Lynn Bradick; if things don’t go in their favor they could be out on the streets within seven days. In a perfect world, Wong wishes the school could stay through the end of their current lease. But she is also more than willing to find a compromise with the owners. “We have tried to settle with them — you know, find something we can both agree to — but they won’t talk with us other than to say that they want to kick our asses out,” Wong said.