Local Builders Concerned About Possible Arson

- In the wake of Oakland’s fourth major construction fire in the last year, local builders are worried for the safety of their projects. Although the cause of the fire has not been determined, there is concern by officials and the public of a possible anti-gentrification arson spree.

Athan Magganas is the property manager for the construction site at 317 Lester Avenue. It burned in October 2016 and was considered to be a suspicious fire. After seeing Friday’s fire on Valdez Street he told 2 Investigates he feels he’s under attack.

“We live in fear, in terror as well. You can just call around and see how [builders] are. They are afraid of another fire,” said Magganas.

A year ago in July, an arson fire damaged a construction site on San Pablo Avenue. Later in October, a suspicious fire destroyed the property Magganas manages. Then last May, at the same Emeryville construction site, there was a second arson fire.

Fire investigators have not determined the cause of the Valdez Street construction fire. If it is related to an anti-development arson spree, it would not be a new phenomenon. In New York, an arsonist torched seven new homes in 2015. In San Diego environmental activists took responsibility for burning a huge housing project nearly 15 years ago.

“These are unusual circumstances. We need to do something about it. We need to be here to protect our houses,” said Magganas.

At a press conference, 2 Investigates asked fire and city officials how they’re approaching this bigger issue.

“We have the Alameda County Arson Task Force working alongside ATF and local fire investigators within the Oakland Fire Department. It certainly concerns us, so moving forward as the investigation continues … I’m sure that information will be helpful to determining the cause of this,” said Acting Oakland Fire Chief Darin White.

In the meantime, Magganas said he will do all he can to protect his project from being the next victim. He said he feels the city needs to allow builders to know more to protect their projects.

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