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Oakland Making Progress On Warehouse Safety, But More To Be Done

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The Ghost Ship in Oakland

The tragedy surrounding the Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland in 2016 brought to light unsafe conditions in warehouses being used as housing throughout the country. The city has made progress by hiring more inspectors, revising building codes and increasing enforcement on illegal activities, but more changes are in the works.

Some criticize that reform has been slow and few landlords have implemented changes due to confusion over building codes and the high costs of upgrades.

Of the two dozen warehouse operators with residents in Oakland, only one has formerly agreed to upgrade in exchange for gaining legalization as a residency, according to the East Bay Times. Some landlords have decided to sell their properties instead.  

Here is what has changed so far:

  • Oakland has hired four fire inspectors within the last few months. The Fire Department has hired a permanent leader, promoting Darin White, who was second-in-command, in October.
  • More problematic properties have been identified and city leaders are working on how to improve these sites and new ones that are discovered.
  • Additional training has been put into place for firefighters about how to shut down buildings that have safety issues without displacing residents.
  • New procedures are in place to report illegal parties and special events.
  • Oakland is updating its loft laws to make it less expensive and easier to convert commercial buildings to residential. The revisions are expected to be finalized in early 2018.

Here is what is in the works:

  • The city is in the process of rolling out updated software and communicating with multiple agencies about which properties need further review. This new system is expected to roll out in early 2018.
  • Oakland has yet to formally update building codes for live-work warehouses.
  • Mayor Libby Schaaf called for landlords to work with the city to bring their properties to code, but not evict artist tenants. Regardless, some evictions have occurred. About a dozen tenants were evicted from a warehouse 10 blocks from Ghost Ship after it was red-tagged following a small porch fire.
  • The city is streamlining special events permitting, but a website will not be launched until 2018.
  • A committee was formed during the summer to create updates for Oakland’s warehouse conversion law for live-work and communal warehouse living. The updates will be ready in 2018.
  • The city still has to inspect 1,000 commercial properties, and 21 of 32 buildings that were deemed to have potentially unauthorized uses remain noncompliant, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. This backlog is a reduction from the 4,000 properties Alameda County said the fire department had not even inspected in 2014. The city plans to hire another contractor as well.