Mountain View Voice

Opinion - February 3, 2012

City ends stand-off with Hacker Dojo

Thanks to an 11th hour deal, the city and Hacker Dojo appear to at least have a path to the necessary permits for the cooperative space for programmers to operate.

Facing a Jan. 31 deadline set by the city to install a list of major improvements or face being red-tagged and closing its doors, Dojo organizers have wisely decided to attempt to raise funds for numerous upgrades at the 140 S. Whisman warehouse that serves as a haven for budding technology-driven entrepreneurs who need an inexpensive place to do their work.

The Dojo is close to the ideal home for these programmers, given its Mountain View location and reasonable price — $100 a month. Some 300 members call the Dojo their home base, where they work on their own computers and occasionally attend classes.

But the good vibes at the Dojo just about came to an end earlier this week when it appeared that the directors could not find a way to meet the city's deadline for installing a fire alarm, fire sprinklers, accessible restrooms and other improvements that could cost more than $200,000. Without the necessary funds on hand, the Dojo's future looked bleak.

Then on Monday, an agreement was announced that gives the Dojo until early March when an administrative law judge will decide if enough progress toward correcting the code violations has been made.

With work progressing on installing a fire alarm, City Attorney Jannie Quinn said the city felt the Dojo was "acting in good faith," which was enough to pull back the Tuesday deadline to close the operation.

Katy Levinson, a Dojo director, was optimistic, saying the group began a drive on Monday to raise the $250,000 needed to install the remaining improvements that will give the Dojo a clean bill of health from the city.

Despite the tug-of-war with the Dojo, the city and the programmers finally were able to reach a compromise and develop a plan to save the facility, which is highly popular and is filling a real need in Mountain View. In addition, when it installs sprinklers and American Disabilities Act-compliant restrooms, the Dojo will be able to seek a permit to be an assembly space and hold large events. Currently, it is an office space, which allowed only 49 participants at any event, a serious handicap for the Dojo. If they can obtain the proper permits, the cooperative will be able to host large conferences and classes which will help them stay afloat financially.

It appears that the Dojo's directors were not well-versed in the city's permitting process, which in many cases are based on national or state codes and cannot be changed, even if the city officials wanted to. Perhaps the lesson learned here is that there are some rules even hackers have to follow.

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