Oakland mayor seeks to minimize evictions while improving safety in post-Ghost Ship order

 

OAKLAND (BCN) — Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued an executive order today to address the political climate after the Ghost Ship fire last month, when 36 people were killed during an unpermitted party at a warehouse illegally converted to a living and event space.

The order is designed to help bring warehouse spaces where people are illegally living into compliance with safety standards while avoiding evictions. Following the fire, reports have surfaced throughout the Bay Area and even around the country of artists living in unpermitted live-work spaces being suddenly evicted by landlords newly concerned about liability for safety hazards there.

When city inspectors find such a space, Schaaf has directed them to give the landlords and master tenants 60 days to come up with a plan to bring the space into compliance, as long as there is no immediate threat to the tenants’ lives.

If the space is not zoned for residential use, city staff are directed to assist the property owner to secure any zoning approvals necessary.

In the case that evictions are necessary to bring the spaces up to code, tenants must be informed of their rights according to city law, including their right to relocation assistance from the landlord and their right to return.

Schaaf also today called on the City Council to hold a special meeting next week to consider upping the relocation assistance to tenants displaced due to city code violations.

City law already provides some assistance to tenants, but a proposed ordinance by Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan would increase it to $6,500 for a one-bedroom unit, $8,000 for a two-bedroom and $9,875 for a three- or more bedroom unit, a substantial increase that would make assistance for code enforcement evictions the same as for evictions under the state’s Ellis Act.

Schaaf is urging the passage of Kaplan’s amendments as an emergency ordinance to take effect as soon as possible.

“Buildings in Oakland should be safe places to live, work and play,” Schaaf said in a statement. “In the wake of the Ghost Ship tragedy, unpermitted living, assembly and work spaces are under heightened scrutiny We must unite as a City to improve the safety of non-permitted spaces while also working to avoid displacing vulnerable community members.”

In addition to the new inspection procedures, Schaaf is urging an overhaul of the special events permitting procedures in an effort to bring performances and parties in warehouse spaces into greater compliance with fire safety codes.

She also ordered a review of existing tenants rights law to determine if any changes would strengthen protections for warehouse spaces.

The city is still working on a community risk assessment and reduction plan, taking a census of structures, determining their fire safety risk, and coming up with a plan to improve safety while minimizing displacement.

The mayor’s fire safety task force, announced shortly after the fire, is also working on creating a shared database to improve communication between departments.

The Ghost Ship, a sprawling warehouse on 31st Avenue near International Boulevard, was in many ways an exceptionally dangerous case: it has been described as a maze of art, furniture, instruments and collectibles, with wood everywhere and a second floor accessible only by a rickety staircase.

Those who died had been attending an electronic music show on the second floor and were already trapped by the time they were alerted to the fire.

But as one of the most deadly fires in the history of the county, it drew intense reactions as landlords reportedly ordered tenants in similar living situations out and flaws were exposed in the city’s inspection process
as different agencies didn’t know if the other had ever been there.

No fire inspectors had been there in over a decade.

“We will never forget those lost in the Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire and we will learn all we can from this horrific tragedy to make Oakland a safer and more resilient community,” Schaaf said.

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