The director of Oakland’s Planning and Building Department had few answers for 2 Investigates about why inspectors never followed up on serious safety complaints just weeks before a fire at the Ghost Ship artists’ collective that killed at least 36 people.
2 Investigates revealed that the City of Oakland had evidence of safety issues at the property and issued a violation Nov. 13, after a complaint was submitted by a neighbor. But inspectors never fully investigated those claims, according to the city’s own records.
Photos obtained by 2 Investigates that were submitted by that neighbor to the city three weeks before the deadly fire show trash, debris, and an apparently homemade structure on the property.
The complaint describes the property as piled with trash and "hazardous" debris. "The yard became a trash collection site and the main building was remodel for residential," according to the complaint.
Records show that an inspection was scheduled for Nov.17 but according to the city planning department, the inspector was not able to gain access to the property for unknown reasons. A follow up inspection was never scheduled or completed according to department notes.
2 Investigates asked Darin Ranelletti, the director of the Planning and Building Department, why inspectors never returned to the Fruitvale property.
"There's a lot of questions we're trying to answer,” Ranelletti said. “We want to get it right."
When pressed about why he could not provide the reason inspectors could not gain access to the Ghost Ship warehouse on the day of the scheduled inspection, Ranelletti would only say, "There's a lot of interest in getting those answers as soon as possible. We just want to make sure when they go out that they're accurate."
An investigation was also opened by the department after the neighbor's initial complaint to look into claims that someone was living on the property, which was only permitted as a warehouse not a residential property, according to city officials.
Yet another inspection was due by Nov. 21 in that case, but according to city records, that inspection was a never marked as complete as well.
The building owner has received at least three violations since 2005 for blight, according to city records.
Meanwhile, KTVU is learning more about the man who leased that warehouse and lived with his family there. Derick Almena is on probation until 2019 after pleading "no contest" in a stolen property case.
Separately, he was named by two men who wanted restraining orders against him.
They claimed Almena and his staff attacked them when they tried get back equipment after a New Year's Eve party two years ago.
The restraining orders were denied.
KTVU has also learned Almena requested a restraining order against a woman who he claimed was a squatter in the warehouse.