Father of Ghost Ship Victim: State Needs More Performance Spaces

Workers and emergency responders look at a warehouse in which a fire claimed the lives of at least thirty-six people on Dec. 5, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

To prevent tragedies like the deadly Ghost Ship fire last year, California needs more affordable housing and performance spaces for artists, the father of one of the fire's victims told state legislators in Sacramento Wednesday.

Edwin Bernbaum's son Jonathan was one of 36 people who died last December when the Ghost Ship, an unpermitted live-work space in Oakland, went up in flames. Bernbaum spoke at a hearing of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee aimed at finding ways to prevent similar tragedies.

"This is something Jonathan would have loved to have seen done," said Bernbaum. "It was something that was a great concern to him and I think it would be a great way to honor the victims."

Jonathan Bernbaum in 2013
Jonathan Bernbaum in 2013 (Photo: Beau McGavin)

Bernbaum's son Jonathan was a visual projection artist who grew up in Berkeley.

Bernbaum says he's started an organization to raise money for safe spaces for artists to live and work. The group is called Vital Arts, "because the word vital is something that’s alive and essential, and we see an innovative, vibrant, alive arts community as being essential to the vitality, health and well-being of society at large."


Wednesday's hearing was organized by State Sen. Mike McGuire, the chair of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, who wanted to "identify obstacles and possible reforms needed to ensure residents are kept safe and that local governments in California are properly equipped to inspect buildings and enforce building and fire codes."

“The Ghost ship is a wake up call to all local governments," McGuire said. "This devastating event may have occurred in the great city of Oakland, but we know this tragedy could take place in any number of localities across the Golden state. In fact we believe there are hundreds, if not thousands, of buildings similar to the Ghost Ship up and down California.”

Lawmakers plan to set up a working group to look at how the state can keep safety a priority while creating more flexibility in enforcing certain building and fire codes.

Tara Siler contributed to this report.