Oakland Mayor Issues Order Protecting Tenants of Unsafe Warehouse Spaces

Oakland, California, firefighters inspect a warehouse the day after a fire there killed 9 people on Dec 2.  (Virginie Goubier/AFP/Getty Images)

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued an executive order Wednesday intended to increase safety at unpermitted live-work spaces while not displacing their tenants, a move designed to calm the artist community in the wake of the deadly Ghost Ship fire last month.

"Executive Order 2017-1: Improving Safety of Non-Permitted Spaces While Avoiding Displacement" requires the owners of existing buildings that are not permitted for residents and or don't conform to codes must make a plan with city officials within 60 days to correct the space's issues. Owners are also asked to not displace tenants in those buildings if none of its code violations are life-threatening.

“Buildings in Oakland should be safe places to live, work and play. In the wake of the Ghost Ship tragedy, unpermitted living, assembly and work spaces are under heightened scrutiny,” said Mayor Schaaf in a statement on the city's website. “We must unite as a City to improve the safety of non-permitted spaces while also working to avoid displacing vulnerable community members.”

On Dec. 2, a fire inside a two-story warehouse space called the Ghost Ship killed 36 people who were attending an experimental electronic show in the upper level of the building. In the aftermath, a large community of artists living in similar spaces express concerned that property owners could use the incident to force out their tenants, leaving them homeless. In the wake of the fire, residents of warehouse spaces (also known as "warehomes") were evicted in Richmond, Philadelphia and other cities.

With this order, it appears Schaaf is trying to appease the local artist community who have been calling for action, but warehome residents like journalist Sam Lefebvre (a KQED freelancer) said they're not convinced the order is strong enough.

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"Seems to direct owners of unpermitted residences to enter into compliance plan w city w/o actually safeguarding against resultant evictions," Lefebvre tweeted.

The mayor also called for a special meeting of the Oakland City Council for Jan. 17 -- next Tuesday -- to approve amendments to the city's Code Enforcement Relocation Program, which provides assistance to residents displaced by their landlord's code violations.

The order also follows the mayor's $1.7 million-pledge to create and sustain affordable, safe spaces for local artists and organizations. The mayor proposed the "Keeping Space" initiative less than a week after the fire, to help groups facing displacement with financial and technical assistance. The program will also provide grants to help those same organizations acquire property.

This story will be updated with more details as we learn them.

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