By Ben Gruber
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As shares of California-based Snap Inc began trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday, two dozen residents of the company's adopted home of Venice Beach protested outside its offices, accusing the growing tech company of spoiling their seaside community.
Their chief complaint is that the maker of the popular mobile messaging app Snapchat is turning the stylishly funky beachfront neighborhood of Los Angeles into an office park, driving up real estate prices and displacing working-class residents.
"I'm here because Snapchat has been growing like a cancer here," Bradford Eckhart, 47, a 20-year resident, said as demonstrators carried signs with slogans such as "Snaprat," "StopSnap" and "Venice Beach is not for sale."
"They are really affecting the heart of this community. If they stayed just in the office buildings it would be OK, but they're not," he added.
Snap, part of the so-called Silicon Beach movement that has seen high-tech firms flocking to Southern California's coast, occupied a single seaside bungalow at its inception four years ago but has since expanded to multiple properties within Venice and adjacent Marina del Rey.
The protesters accuse Snap of buying up whole blocks of real estate and illegally using many properties zoned for residential use as office space. Locals also have complained that Snap's private security service often blocks off public streets.
"I would rather see them get a campus," said Venice Beach resident Barbara Londale, 36. According to her, Snap has purchased 30 properties up against the Venice beachfront sidewalk that harbors various eateries, bars, shops and the neighborhood's famous bohemian stretch of outdoor vendors.
The company issued a statement on Thursday insisting that it has worked "closely with local schools and nonprofits to be a good neighbor."
"We don't just have our headquarters here; many of us also call Venice home," Snap spokesman Kevin Galvin said. "No one could have anticipated how quickly we've grown, and we have already begun focusing our future growth outside of Venice."
Snap raised $3.4 billion in its initial public offering on Wednesday and its shares popped up 44 percent on the first day of trading on Thursday, giving the company a market value of more than $28 billion.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Bill Rigby)