OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - What was supposed to be a news conference of concern over an alleged illegal work-live and artists' space in Jack London Square, turned into a confrontational shouting match on Wednesday.
Many people in the East Bay live in illegal communes or spaces by sacrificing some privacy for low or no rent. As we saw last Friday in the Ghost Ship fire, some sacrificed their lives.
The fire has cast a spotlight on similar artists' colonies around the country that offer cheap housing but have raised safety concerns among neighbors and city officials.
This morning we heard from Dorothy King, second generation owner of the Everett and Jones Barbecue Restaurant in Oakland's Jack London Square.
"As a matter of fact: about 25 years ago, I lived in a warehouse," said Ms. King. Ms. King called the media in to express concern about a nearby work-live art space called the Salt Lick, perched atop some wholesale produce businesses, that, if it caught fire could destroy her business and kill people.
That drew the ire of some in the so-called underground artist community. "The whole reason all of you reporters are here is completely uncalled for and completely out of line," said B.G. Anaraki a man who says he's a friend of some of the fire victims.
Mr. Anaraki said Dorothy King is simply looking for publicity. "We want to have what we had but have it be safe so nothing like this ever happens again," says Anaraki.
In fact, Ms. King's message was to call on the city to help the artists to get just that. "The city would come in and help, not shut it down. Take these warehouses, invest money into it, get the proper permits and that's all were saying is, save lives," says Ms. King.
King also says she didn't file a formal complaint because of the city's poor response track record in resolving such complaints.
Instead, King says she's talked directly to the mayor about the many problems she sees with the Salt Lick.
"The building next door has housed a number of people. I know for a fact, there's only one way in and one way out. I can come here on a Friday or Saturday night and there's people lined up all the way around the block and I already know, it's not licensed. I'm trying to get it licensed."
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the city will look to strengthen regulations for smoke alarms and exits and clarify city employees' responsibilities to monitor unsafe structures.
She said the city wants to engage the arts community in the review to ensure any changes don't jeopardize their access to affordable housing and work space. She said she would not conduct a “witch hunt” and that she would not scapegoat city employees in the aftermath of the fire when it comes to placing blame.
But Anaraki, The man who claimed King was doing this for publicity, finally drew the ire of King's daughter. Several artists tried to shout her down, accusing her of launching a "witch hunt" that could result in artists' collectives being shut down.
Here's how that exchange went::
Mr. Anaraki: We think the way you are going about it is wrong; that you are wrong. Our friends died. We think you are going about it wrong. You should say, I'm sorry. You should have not done that.
Mrs. King's daughter: We have tried and tried to work with other people you don't know.
Anaraki: Your sympathy is weightless to me because you are hurting us.
Mrs. King: OK I'm sorry.
Anaraki: You should have waited longer.
King: You don't tell me what I should have done.
Anaraki: My Friends died. They died in an un-permitted, non-sprinklered, non-residential zoned death trap.
KTVU attempted to reach out to people affiliated with the Salt Lick and asked for access to have an "expert" assess the condition and legality of the space. We were unable to get a response or comment from them. They did however release a statement on Twitter late Wednesday morning.
The statement refutes Ms. King's claim that there is only one way out, adding that there are multiple ways out including a fire escape.
The statement continues to say that no one involved with the Salt Lick has interacted with Ms. King and that they have reached out to her by phone and that she has yet to respond.
The statement adds: “King’s behavior typifies what many journalists and observers call the wrong response to this tragedy, an example of what will only marginalize the people who gravitate towards spaces such as Ghost Ship because of economic and cultural forces.”
The statement was released from the Twitter account of Sam Lefebvre, an Oakland-based freelance writer and contributor to the East Bay Express.