Oakland's Ghost Ship Promises: 2 Investigates

- In the weeks and months after the Ghost Ship, Oakland city officials vowed to address key problems exposed by the deadly fire. These were problems regarding a lack of communication between departments, dangerously low staffing levels and flawed inspection protocols.

As a result, Mayor Libby Schaaf released an Executive Order calling for an overhaul of the city’s fire safety inspection process. Leading up to the Ghost Ship anniversary,  2 Investigates requested public information and interviews with top city leaders to find out if officials have been delivering on some of their major promises or if there is still work to be done.

Promise: Hiring a Permanent Oakland Fire Chief

In a news release dated March 21, 2017, Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth announced they took steps to accelerate the recruitment process for a new permanent Fire Chief. Former Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Reed faced public criticism after she went largely unseen after the Ghost Ship fire. In October, the City of Oakland stayed true to their promise and swore in longtime Oakland firefighter Darin White. 
Promise: Doubling Oakland’s Inspection Staff

In the same March 21, 2017 news release, city officials said they would “fast [track] requisitions to hire six additional inspectors as quickly as possible, doubling the size of the inspection staff in the Fire Prevention Bureau. Oakland has made progress, but none of the additional inspectors are on the job just yet and the total number of them falls short of doubling the 2016 staffing figure. 

Around the time of the Ghost Ship fire, Oakland had eight fire code inspectors and eights building code inspectors. By December 2017, the city said they’ll have six more for the fire department and three additional for the building department. 

Promise: Identifying Hazardous Properties

According to a Ghost Ship progress report released to media this week, city officials have identified 135 “priority properties.” These are properties inspectors have determined have multiple hazards. Of those, 32 of the unpermitted buildings had occupancies or assemblies. 

When asked if she was confident these are all unpermitted building in Oakland, Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio said, “I’d be naïve to tell you we’re confident. We’re not confident at all, and we know there are other building, and we have to be diligent and again identify them. Get them an avenue to correct it.”

Promise: Implementing an Inter-departmental Database for Code Inspections 

The City of Oakland has made significant progress on this front, but the database system is still in the process of being implemented. After both the deadly Ghost Ship and San Pablo fire, it was clear there was a dangerous lack of communication between different Oakland departments about problem properties. The technology is supposed to address that.

“[The new system] creates efficiencies for our staff, and they’re able to go out and do inspections,” said Fire Chief Darin White. “They don’t have to do our former methodology of a form completed by pen or pencil. We’re able to enter data on a mobile device.”

The program called Accela will cost $500,000 to create a new database system. City officials said it is slated to be completed by December 2017 and live by the first quarter of 2018. They said inspectors will also be equipped with digital tablets to enter and access inspection information in real-time. 

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