On Friday, Aug. 17, Grumpy Green was busy installing a group exhibition at the East Oakland art space known as Trash Palace when they heard loud knocking at the door. As soon as they opened it, fire inspector Miguel Villanueva planted his foot in the doorway. Green said Villanueva told them the art and furniture temporarily staged in the hallway posed a life-safety risk, giving him “probable cause” to enter the building without their permission.
Green and another artist involved in the show, Daria Lourd, debated Villanueva and another official until he decided to call his supervisor. “I asked for documents, and they said they didn’t need any,” Lourd said, adding that the landlord hadn’t notified the tenants of the pending inspection. “They said we were actually on some kind of list.”
Two more officials soon arrived, as well as the space’s leaseholder, Anthony Walter, who consented to the inspection. “They came in and took pictures of everything and threatened to red-tag the place,” said Green, calling their tone accusatory. “They even stopped to take pictures of a pair of boots that had ‘all cops are bullies’ written on them.”
Villanueva, who didn’t respond to an interview request, left the tenants with a two-page report, reviewed by KQED, listing “deficiencies” related to fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide detectors, exposed electrical fixtures, and “housekeeping,” as well as orders to change the building’s “use or occupancy,” writing that it’s “not permitted for assembly.”
Billed Are You Comfortable?, the art show Green had been setting up before the inspection originally featured 16 artists “exploring queer sanctuary,” according to its flyer. The visit by Villanueva, and a fear of officials or police returning during the event, inspired the organizers to relocate the show, and they spread word of a “renegade location” to be announced the next afternoon. On Saturday at 5pm, they shared a map with a line leading from Grand Avenue to the Lake Merritt bandstand.