[Name] Janelle Orsi
[Areas of Expertise] Law, Food/Urban Agriculture, Co-housing
[Hub Berkeley Memory Lane]
“At our launch event, we had 130 people coming so we had a lot of food donated from local farmers. Crystal Bay Farm had donated a ton of winter squash to give out as party favors. The elevator broke that day, and Jeff and Santiago immediately jumped in and helped us carry 250 lbs of squash up four flights of stairs!”
“That was heavy food,” Janelle remembers, “but that’s how the Hub staff is– they’re just so nice!”
Janelle Orsi, practicing attorney and Co-Director of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, came to Hub Berkeley in the midst of initial construction in Fall of 2009. The Hub team had come across Janelle’s book The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community (Nolo 2009). Intrigued about her ideas about co-working spaces, they invited Janelle to visit the nascent Hub community that was rapidly taking root inside Berkeley’s brand new David Brower Center.
At a time when Hub Berkeley was merely an empty space with some dreams sketched across posters hanging on the wall, the founders– inspired by what they had seen in London– clung to the hope that some bright and idealistic people would be willing to put their faith in the space’s potential to become the vibrant center of activity that it is today.
Janelle visited the Hub and liked what she saw. Though the space left a lot to the imagination, she liked the idea of meeting people at events and in a shared working space.
“There aren’t a lot of physical spaces out there to do networking,” she explains, “mostly there are a lot of ‘shmoozing’ events that a lot of people dread!”
The Hub was close to public transportation and had a lot of good energy, so Janelle took the leap; she joined the Hub at $25 a month in order to having a workspace where she could flesh out some ideas she had brewing around shared economies. “Immediately,” she remembers “they were asking me ‘how can we help you achieve your goals?’”
Janelle describes herself as a sharing lawyer; her clients are primarily shared housing groups, co-working spaces, cooperatives, community gardens, and car sharing groups. However, when Janelle first began practicing law, she found it difficult to answer certain questions that kept coming up surrounding shared land and resources– legal questions that were “outside of the box” and difficult to answer quickly because they took so much research.
That’s when Janelle decided to co-found the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) with Jenny Kassan (www.cuttingedgecapital.com), another Hub member and attorney focused on social enterprise. SELC specializes in legal research and advocacy surrounding the creation of more sustainable local economies, focusing on questions related to cooperatives, shared housing, community-supported enterprises, local currencies, urban farming, and so on. “The Hub was the space around which we built and launched SELC.”
Janelle does holds many of her meetings here at the Hub. “The Hub’s been really generous with us,” Janelle explains, by giving discounted memberships to interns and allowing SELC to use the Hubble and other meeting spaces for free at first before they had a lot of income. Last summer, SELC had four interns who loved the Hub for its proximity to Bart and its energy.
“I have another office in West Berkeley, but I don’t really use it that often. It’s boring and quiet– I would feel awful making an intern come there! The Hub, on the other hand, has a lot of energy to it and our interns love it!”
The Hub has generated a lot of interest in SELC through its extensive member network. “Promotion for events is huge– any event you host gets blasted out of a network of tons of people, and people just show up– our events have all been packed… That’s the power of the Hub network.”
In exchange, Janelle and SELC have produced valuable events and expertise for Hub members and the public. The workshop they hosted for urban farmers last summer drew over 60 people to the Hub, and the SELC launch party was attended by over 130. Prior to the workshop, SELC provided hour-long clinics for free legal advice for urban farmers.
Nowadays, Janelle spends about half of her time running SELC. With the help of eight interns, each of whom works on a different legal question for SELC, she also has time to consult on ecovillages and shared housing, pursue her interest in small-scale food issues (read about Baker’s Bill or Cottage Food Laws), and run a busy law practice.
If you’re interested in barter, co-housing, urban agriculture, or anything else that involves sharing, look for Janelle at the Hub, pick up a copy of her book (available in the Hub Berkeley library), or find her online at http://janelleorsi.com.
Thanks for reading!Samantha, Your Hub Stories Correspondent