How an understaffed Oakland fire department could play into warehouse oversight

We've been told some folks living in illegal art communes are getting eviction notices as their landlords look at potential scrutiny and liability in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire.  This "run for cover" reaction that may literally leave a lot of people out in the cold.

The apparently illegal live/work artist commune on 18th Street and Magnolia, sadly ended up becoming a "Deathrap." Unlike yesterday, no one was talking to us today after we aired a story stating that the City of Oakland says this facility is not legal as residences.

Throughout Oakland, experts say there are many similar illegal set ups, but finding them, let alone inspecting them is a task, provided the city has enough building code and fire inspectors to find them weekdays and weekends.

"We certainly need to elevate the number of staffing for enforcing the building codes, fire codes, planning codes because right now, the growth in Oakland, there are many warehouses that are being converted from manufacturing into housing," says Councilman Noel Gallo who represents the district where the Ghost Ship Warehouse is located.

Example, we say a large empty warehouse in West Oakland that is available. But neighbors tell us it was recently occupied by many young people who were evicted, but only after an insurance representative found out. "And, it's one of those "catch me if you can: attitudes," remarks the Councilman.

Right next door, this building, according to neighbors is or was an illegal live/work set up. No one answered the door, but, one man who was visiting it. told me it was simply a series of rented workspaces with no one living in it. Yet, another place, in the middle of crowded Jack London Square, sitting above produce stands, is called the Salt Lick. Tomorrow, the owner of nearby Everett and Jones Barbecue will hold a news conference demanding that the city do something about what several people in the area tells me they believe is a live/work/rave enterprise combined.

A union officer for Oakland Firefighters pointed his finger at the fire chief.  "We are worried that the Fire Chief has dangerously under-invested in the Fire Marshal's Office. 

We've been without a Fire Marshal for most of the last five years. We've been without an Assistant Fire Marshal for most of the last five years. These are budgeted positions that the Fire Chief has decided not to fill," says Zac Unger the Oakland Firefighters Union Vice President. Even though Oakland currently has a Fire Marshal, Unger says an Assistant is still absent along with not nearly enough inspectors to seek out, inspect and close firetraps. "Dramatically understaffed in terms of inspectors. We have about one-half to one-third as many inspectors as comparable cities of our size," says firefighter Unger.

This week the City Council is expected to ask for a disaster declaration so it can access state and Federal emergency funds. 

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