THE FINGER POINTING following the Oakland CA fire that claimed at least 36 lives has begun.
Who was responsible? The building owner? The building’s lessee? The artists and squatters?
None of the above – or perhaps all of the above and more.
The blame rests primarily on the Oakland and Alameda County governments.
By all accounts, the local governments were aware that
(a) The building was unsafe for any use OTHER THAN AS A WAREWHOUSE.
(b) The building was being occupied as living quarters by squatters; had there been any safety inspections the squatters would (should) have been told to relocate.
(c) The building was used by artists as a studio; some of the artists are/were painters and painters use flammable materials; other artists worked in wood; had there been any safety inspections the artists would (should) have been told to relocate.
(d) The electrical wiring failed to meet code; had any electrical code inspections been performed recently, the building would (should) be shut down until the building was in compliance.
(e) Access to, and egress from, the building’s second floor was limited and reportedly unsafe. Had the building recently been inspected, the second floor could (should) have been sealed off, especially since there was no alternate means of egress – specifically an outside fire escape.
(f) The building failed to meet fire safety codes; it could (should) have been shuttered until it met code.
I suspect the six points above are just the tip of the iceberg of reasons why the building should have been inspected for code violations and closed.
Granted, there is more blame to share. The owner of the building allegedly refused to get the wiring fixed. The lessee allegedly fixed the problem but failed to get code enforcement signoff. As this is keyed, the exact cause of the fatal fire has yet to be established.
According to a New York newspaper,
- The fire tore through a two-story structure called the Ghost Ship, in the Fruitvale neighborhood, which was used as a live-in and work space for a loose tribe of striving artists.
Images of the interior captured before Friday showed it cluttered with art, antiques and musical instruments beneath exposed wooden rafters.
The building had a permit to operate as a warehouse, but not a residence or party site. It had been under investigation for code violations.
CNN reports that
- A criminal investigation team from the Alameda County District Attorney's Office is on site, working alongside law enforcement, the Oakland Fire Department and federal investigators to ascertain criminal liability, and, if so, who could be responsible, District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said.
"It is not clear right now and is too early to speculate," she said of the circumstances of the fire that broke out late Friday. "We will leave no stone unturned."
California is a strange state. The San Francisco Bay area has for a long time — dating at least back to the 1960s — been home to a “unique” culture of hippies and three-piece suits.
San Francisco is one of the nation’s most expensive cities in which to reside; Oakland, across the Bay from San Francisco has a relatively lower cost of housing, yet — according to reports — housing is scarce, ergo the number of squatters in the warehouse.
For all that, the local government must bear the lion’s share of the blame for the deaths — 36 “and rising.” The governments plainly failed to perform the jobs they are charged to perform; they failed to protect the citizens — taxpayers or not, residents none-the-less — by knowingly allowing a situation to exist that could — and eventually did — cost lives.
The condition of the building and the occupancy of the building apparently were well known to the local government agencies; that knowledge makes the local governments culpable.