A group of more than 1,000 local artists, many saying they were friends of those killed in a deadly warehouse fire earlier this month, have signed a letter calling on the mayor of Oakland to stop landlords from evicting warehouse residents in the wake of tragedy.
Three artists -- Nihar Bhatt, Sophia Kim and Carolyn Valentine -- say they collected the more than 1,000 signatures and comments from the local artist community in the past 24 hours. They sent the letter to both the mayor and media outlets.
"We believe that as the music community that lost so many of our own (most of the people who died were in attendance of the event being thrown there and do not live there), our perspective is critical," an email from Bhatt stated. "One thread that keeps on being lost in press coverage is the difficulty promoters have faced in creating permitted events in the city of Oakland. This is a very critical part of how this fire occurred, and we believe our statement is one of the only ones that addresses it in our fourth demand."
Bodies were still being pulled from the wreckage when warehouse music venues in Philadelphia and Baltimore were shut down after operating for years. Locally, venues and "warehomes," where artists live and work, such as Richmond's Burnt Ramen, were shut down in recent days; in Burnt Ramen's case, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt had identified the space as potentially being "the next Ghost Ship." (Richmond City officials have yet to provide a list of violations to the owner of Burnt Ramen to justify the space's closure.)
"The media frequently seeks to mischaracterize our collective spaces as hedonistic playgrounds. This is a gross distortion," the letter to the mayor states. "They are sacred spaces that allow us to survive, organize, and flourish in the face of a mainstream culture that often shuns our very existence. Shuttering the spaces that allow us to safely congregate is tantamount to extinguishing our livelihood."
In Berkeley, the city's rent board has been working to pass a law similar to New York City's loft law, which guarantees the right of first refusal to residents of warehouses after they're brought up to code.
"We should also consider an amnesty program similar to the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) one last year in order to legalize units, in part to allow for habitability inspections that do not result in mass evictions," Jesse Townley, Berkeley Rent Board member and punk singer, wrote in a letter to Berkeley City Council.
This story will be updated when new details are learned.
Read the letter to Mayor Schaaf in its entirety below:
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf,
We are survivors of the Friday, December 2nd Ghost Ship fire, as well as dear friends of the deceased and committed participants in the underground music scene represented by the event. We have suffered a shattering loss, and in order to avoid further devastation to our community in the long-term, we have the following demands:
(1) Announce an emergency eviction moratorium. Out of panic or opportunism, property owners are rashly ousting tenants throughout Oakland.
(2) Publicly pledge to offer a clear path forward for artists’ spaces to address safety concerns without risking expulsion.
(3) Reassess the housing policies that lead people to live in unsafe residences.
(4) Reassess permitting policies that exacerbate unsafe performance spaces. Do so with input from the music community that just lost so many of its pillars.
The importance of this last demand is illustrated well by the case of 21 Grand - a venue that did everything it could to legitimately host experimental music but was stymied at every point by an arduous city bureaucratic process. This is the context in which people adopt unsafe performance spaces. The vast majority of the victims of the Ghost Ship fire did not live at the residence, but were attendees of the event that was thrown there.
It is no coincidence that so many victims of the fire were queer, trans, and/or people of color. The media frequently seeks to mischaracterize our collective spaces as hedonistic playgrounds. This is a gross distortion. They are sacred spaces that allow us to survive, organize, and flourish in the face of a mainstream culture that often shuns our very existence. Shuttering the spaces that allow us to safely congregate is tantamount to extinguishing our livelihood.
In the aftermath of the fire, developers and landlords have ramped up the systematic displacement of individuals residing in warehouses and other such improvised homes. As artists, we have been greatly impacted by their actions; however, we understand that these recent threats to our housing are but a facet of the broader context of gentrification that has long displaced marginalized citizens of Oakland, including people of color, queer individuals, the disabled, the elderly and other low-income residents outside of our arts communities. Continuing to shutter and penalize collective spaces at this time will only exacerbate displacement; it teeters the housing-insecure towards the streets.
You have publicly expressed your desire to defend Oakland’s diverse artistic and musical community. You have the chance to prove your commitment to this goal by acting upon each of our aforementioned demands.
Over 1000 people from our community have signed onto this statement in the last 24 hours. They also left impassioned comments regarding the impact of this fire. Please click here to see the detailed responses: