December 5th, 2016

Tragedy in Oakland

The Oakland fire death toll rises. It is almost unutterably sad when young people die, and death in a fire is so horrific it is hard to even contemplate.

I grieve for all the people lost, and for their families and friends.

So, what happened and why? We don’t know yet. But here’s some information:

The structure was last permitted for legal use as a warehouse, officials said, and it did not have the permits necessary for people to live in the building, known as the Ghost Ship.

Shelly Mack, 58, a former tenant who lived at the Ghost Ship for several months two years ago, described it to The Associated Press as a ramshackle structure where water and power were sometimes siphoned from neighbors and where a generator once exploded.

Mack said that she was told to describe it as a 24-hour work space for artists — rather than a dwelling — and that when inspectors dropped by, tenants hid their belongings…

In a Facebook post, a musician who said he had performed at the Ghost Ship said such spaces were the product of artists across the country being “pushed to the periphery, if not wholly exiled, by real estate speculation.”

“Artists will perform in the few spaces made available to us, and audiences will go to those spaces they feel comfortable, even if those are spaces are totally dangerous,” the post said.

In a city like San Francisco, Oakland used to be an affordable (although crime-ridden) place. As San Francisco became mostly unlivable for anyone except the very rich, Oakland has been gentrified and real estate and apartment prices are now astronomical there, too, by all but San Francisco and New York City standards. Those of you who aren’t familiar with Oakland may not realize how vibrant and attractive much of it is, but I’ve spent many a happy hour there and am quite fond of it.

You might say that people—artists or otherwise—who can’t afford to live in a place shouldn’t be living there. But these are young people and aspiring artists, who aren’t necessarily the practical types and want to be in a happening place and are willing to live in a certain amount of squalor. Who among us didn’t take risks when we were young? I know I did, and I’m not one of the world’s biggest risk-takers.

From what I’ve read so far, I don’t think the majority of the dead were living there, I believe they were just at the concert. Plus, a lot of people who attended this concert probably thought that the city had inspected the building and that safety standards were in place; I think I would have assumed it, as well.

Rescuers are being put at risk, too:

For us as firefighters, working under a wobbly, potentially collapsing exterior wall is extremely dangerous,” said Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton. “We will not put our firefighters in danger at this point and we will not put Alameda County sheriff’s [personnel] in the precarious situation with us.”

Thirty-six bodies have been recovered, but officials halted recovery operations just after midnight when a crew that was surveying the destruction from a neighboring rooftop noticed that the front wall was leaning 3 inches toward the center of the building, Drayton said. Most of the bodies have been recovered in the center of the building…

Kelly said the Alameda County district attorney’s office has sent a team of criminal investigators to work alongside the sheriff’s arson task force and the Oakland Police Department…

The investigators, including a property and land-use expert, are working to uncover any potential criminal activity that may have led to the blaze…

Officials have said the warehouse had been the subject of a city code enforcement investigation at the time of the fire due to complaints about health and safety issues. Some former residents described it as a cluttered “death trap” lacking fire sprinklers.

I imagine there are other places in Oakland like this. And not just in Oakland, either.

[ADDENDUM: The place was a maze. No wonder people had trouble getting out. (Hat tip: Althouse.)]

31 Responses to “Tragedy in Oakland”

  1. Artfldgr Says:

    Raves feature illicit behavior

    (like GHB use, which by the way tastes so bad you cant use it as a date drug as they claim..number 1 date drug is alcohol!!! other things are so rare as to be almost myths in real use. not saying they are not used, but most of the tests done when people think they are, come up negative)

    some of the illicit behavior can be drug taking, open air sex to music, group sex… then there are noise issues, permit issues, liability insurancve and on and on….

    usually the rave is in a location where you dont have permission, ie. its abandoned and they do it there till they are caught and move..

    in other things like this, its a way to get around all the very expensive laws and regulations that make it so hard to do something you do it illegally or not at all.

    after all… anyone know how hard it is just to set up a legal version of a huge format club? its so onerous that this is what happens.

    ie. when you make the laws and permits and such so onerous that only the connected and elite can do things, dont be surprised if they just ignore the laws in total and go do it.

    which is the point for making rational reasonable laws for other than voting games, state blackmail and control, etc.

    from liquore licenses, to permits, to liability insurance, inspectors to be paid off because you wont get it, party affilaiont or you wont get it, and on and on..

    ie. the people who make the laws to fix this are the ones that cause it…

    on top of this are laws that in combination make something not profitable… for anyone but the state and so on…

    even worse… it favors foreigners who can set things up and not be held responsible over citizens who want to, but cant cause they are responsible.

    its just a bigger badder form of the harlem house party where they try to get around the clubs that over charge and so on, and make a bit and have a party

    think of a rave as a house party so large you need a warehouse to have it.

    in queens its about $25 a square foot per year

    manhatten can range to 100 to 1000 a square foot a year

    how are young people supposed to get together in such areas when rents are so high for good places?

    its a shame, but it wont stop because the people creating the problem are not seen as the creators but the fixers.

    notice how well they fixed welfare, healthcare, worforce participation, etc.

  2. Artfldgr Says:

    Vibrant arts scene helped re-energize Oakland, but fire spreads fear of crackdown

    the poor give a place culture and so on

    then wealthy move in, but arent as frugal in their attempt to be part of what they are not part of and feel the mood of the area

    then the artists and such move to horrid digs until some other section of the city is down and they can fix it up…

    gentrification is natural..
    but its what it is.
    Astoria ny is going through this now that dumbo is full

  3. DirtyJobsGuy Says:

    Looking at this differently, fires have long been right up there in high fatalities with transportation (Titanic, TWA Flight 800 etc.). But our current distorted views of safety and risk which place outsized fears on chemicals and foods blind people to real risks.

    Relatively simple things minimize fire risk such as exits, lighting and smoke detectors and for forest fires keeping trees away from your house. Even the structure in Oakland could have been pretty safe with better doors, lighting and a limitation on people inside, while still being edgy and artsy. Ad a couple of sober managers to keep things under control and the outcome would be quite different.

    You don’t even have to apply for a permit to keep it safe yourself, just be responsible for the lives of others you invite.

  4. Vanderleun Says:

    In 1971 (?) I lived in an “illegal” Oakland loft down on 10th avenue in what was then a chinatown and which has become, officially, “Chinatown.” The building survives to this day and has a bunch of “artiste” paintings and graffiti on the exterior.

    My loft was a full floor with three big windows fore and aft…. It was above an autoparts store and was entered via a freight elevator. I had to put in a shower and a loft bed. The rest was open.

    We were never bugged by the authorities since Oakland in and around Chinatown in those days was neither sketchy or non sketchy… it just didn’t register. There were a couple of Chinese stores around and a restaurant with stunning wor wanton soup.

    Other than that it was a full mile to the nearest laundromat and other normal services.

    It had brick walls and wood beamed ceilings and heavy wood beamed floors.

    Dangerous? A fire hazard.

    Except for the two large electric pottery kilns my girlfriend ran not much… I don’t think.

    We could have had a rave there. We just didn’t think of doing it. In those days our raves were human be-ins in Golden Gate Park.

    Rent for the loft space in downtown Oakland… probably about 2,500 square feet? Less than $100 a month, but the Chinese landlord wanted cash.

  5. Richard Aubrey Says:

    The owner was criminally negligible.
    My recollection of that age was that the artistic types believed that rules–local codes, gravity, hazards of all types, didn’t apply to them.
    Such rules, it seemed to me, were viewed as something bourgeois society devised to handicap the Special People.
    Now, I don’t think people like that consciously believed that gravity was a brainchild of Richard Nixon. But they acted as if they did. Almost showing off.
    The location had to have been known to authorities, but I suspect that the quest for “vibrant” meant leaving something like this alone while searching for recalcitrant Christian bakers.

  6. Cornhead Says:

    This horrible case represents the Culture of Lawlessness that the Left has embraced. City of Oakland officials knew about this law breaking for years and did nothing. Taxpayers will pay millions for the City’s negligence.

    The zoning and fire code violations would not have gone on for six months in Omaha.

    If we don’t have the Rule of Law in this country, then we have nothing. We end up like Mexico.

    I blame liberalism and the California Dem party for these deaths. I will be interested to see if the MSM covers this tragedy honestly. There is major negligence here by the government and it needs to be exposed.

  7. Ann Says:

    The local newspapers seem to be on the case — an informative article in the East Bay Times here, in which we learn this:

    Just three weeks before Friday’s deadly fire, city building inspectors had launched an investigation into “illegal structures” built inside the converted warehouse dubbed the “Ghost Ship,” but officials conceded Saturday they had been unable to gain access during an inspection visit and it appears they did not follow up. …

    Officials had cited the building’s owner for blight on Nov. 13 after neighbors complained of “a ton of garbage piling up” in the adjoining lot. They next day, city records show officials began an investigation of an alleged “illegal interior building structure.”

    When inspectors returned on Nov. 17, they couldn’t get in, Darin Ranelletti, Oakland’s interim director of planning and building, said at a news conference. He didn’t say why or explain whether they had tried later to return.

    But City Council member Noel Gallo told the Bay Area News Group on Saturday that nobody had answered the door when inspectors visited the building, and they apparently had not tried again.

    Family members waiting for word about loved ones were furious when Mayor Libby Schaaf told them that the city had tried to inspect the warehouse last month but couldn’t get access. …

    Gallo said what was going on at the warehouse was an open secret and that the city had ample chances to shut it down before the fire. He’s been complaining about the warehouse for years, he said, but inspectors were slow to react.

    “We need to get our act together,” he said of the city. “It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragedy like this for us to realize that we have to do something.”

    He said there are similar industrial buildings with people living in them in the neighborhood.

  8. blert Says:

    Good grief, it’s another Coconut Grove.

    I’d go after the key ‘players’ for manslaughter.

    No, not the musicians.

  9. DonKeyhoti Says:

    Our son-in-law is an Oakland firefighter and his engine was the second one on the scene. He said the fire was so intense when they got there less than 10 minutes after the first call that it drove them back. It melted one of their aluminum ladders put against the building to get to the second floor.

    The intensity of the fire was attributed to the explosion of many acetylene tanks used by welding artists along with an incredible about of trash and debris in the building. Pianos, paint, paper and all types of junk acted as accelerants.

    At one point for a short time they thought they had been lured there by terrorists as the gas bottles were exploding. Early Sunday he said when they started to recover bodies, many of those on the first floor had literally exploded because of the intense heat. Those up on the second floor looked more like roasted turkeys done in an oven. Grim and graphic stuff I know but this is the dark underside of being a firefighter.

    Several friends of theirs sent pictures of their missing kids asking him to look for them. He did find one of the kids but he was dead. By law, he cannot pass on this info to the parents. He was devastated. He said it’s like a war zone.

  10. FunkyPhD Says:

    Amen, Cornhead. In California, the rule of law means you can’t get a plastic bag at a supermarket, but hippies may squat wherever they want, so long as they present the requisite Bohemian bonafides. After living there for half a century, I left California eight years ago. Now I don’t even like to visit. Want a glimpse of the future under the Democratic party? Ecce California!

  11. AMartel Says:

    Oakland has a Code Enforcement bureau that should have shut this place down immediately. The owner is on the hook for failing to police his property but I think the City, having assumed a policing role, with punitive and revenue-generating options, with regard to code violations in structures, should be as well. “Oh darn, the building’s locked, there’s nothing I can do” would not fly from the owner and is similarly a lame response from the City.

  12. neo-neocon Says:


    Thank you for the report from your son-in-law, but that is horrible.

    Dreadful for the firefighters, too.

  13. Ripple Says:

    There are dozens of these sketchy live/work/performance warehouse spaces in certain parts of Oakland and San Francisco. Some are storage for the massive sculptures and other art installations at Burning Man. If the PTB were sane there would be a major crackdown, but I expect nothing will happen given the jokers who are in power.

  14. SLR Says:

    The real estate speculator talk is just nonsense. A group of minimally employed artists couldn’t afford rent even if it were 1/4th the current going rate. I know people that know some of the people that lived there. They’re complaining they residents are finger pointing and not owning up to their complicity in the tragedy… typical irresponsible ‘artist’ stuff…

  15. Yankee Says:

    Right here in Maine, the landlord of a rental property was just acquitted of six counts of manslaughter, for the six people (all under 30) who died in a fire about two years ago. The landlord was, however, sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $1000 fine for code violations, and he still faces civil lawsuits.

    There was an even worse fire in 2003, in nearby Warwick, Rhode Island, caused by indoor pyrotechnics in a nightclub, where the band Great White was playing. One hundred people died there, with a couple hundred more injured, either from smoke, burns, or trampling in the crush to get out.

    Multiple things went wrong in the latter event for so many deaths to result.

  16. Ben David Says:

    So which “oppressive laws” caused this tragedy?

    Are you really arguing that the sprinklers, alarms, exit stairs, etc. required for a building that hosts large groups is “oppressive regulation” that precipitated this tragedy?


    The only other law in effect here is the natural law of supply and demand – which no legislature can repeal.

    In the 60s and 70s hippies in communes threw off “oppressive” laws and conventions – and hospitals starting seeing cases of mange, thrush, scroff and other diseases so old their English names had to be dredged up from history.

  17. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Ben David. I remember that. Also, subjecting newborns to zen macrobiotic diets resulted in permanent brain damage.
    But talking about it was fascist of something.

  18. Sgt. Mom Says:

    The man who was managing the place is a real piece of work – the star of his very own counter-culture move.
    I’m sure it was a trendy, and exciting place – the pictures of it look very fun and funky … but no smoke alarms, apparently no working fire extinguishers, and the exits not marked – save for one brave soul who found his way out and stayed by it, shouting to guide others…
    It’s as if all these people assumed that the laws regarding building safety didn’t apply to them.

  19. Surellin Says:

    I read an article a few months ago suggesting that the depopulating small towns of the Rust Belt would be the next homes for artists and such. Hey, cheap real estate, good infrastrucutre, etc. And I can tell you they sell Winsor & Newton paints in Ohio, too, not just in New York City.

  20. Cornhead Says:


    At least one artist bought a school in rural Nebraska and converted it to a home and studio.

  21. Esther Says:

    A resource to help artists self help on dangerous venues is here:

  22. AMartel Says:

    A bunch of adult babies who had no common sense or understanding about consequences and lived/partied in a highly flammable death trap.
    A landlord who was only interested in the money coming from his real estate.
    A property manager who was only interested in appearances and collecting money from the tenants.
    A government that sleep-walked through the motions of protecting citizens.

  23. Richard Aubrey Says:

    AMartel (may I call you “Hammer”?).
    My recollection of those days is that lacking common sense and understanding consequences was a point of pride.
    So when the fire marshall shows up, it’s “Oh,man. They just can’t stand a hint of free thinking. Repressive fascists.”

  24. neo-neocon Says:


    Oh, so when you were 19 years old you checked the fire compliance of every venue at which you attended a concert? I sincerely doubt it.

    I am pretty sure that most of the deceased were young people attending a concert. Since this building was in Oakland, and Oakland has building codes that cover fire regulations, they had every reason to assume those regulations were followed.

    I fail to see the point of blaming the victims in this terrible tragedy. The owners? That’s a different story. And if the city failed to properly enforce its own fire laws in the building, that’s also an example of possible negligence.

  25. Richard Aubrey Says:


    There were three groups. Owner, tenants, audience.
    The first two did know, should have known, didn’t care or, as I have recollected, may have gloried in their refusal to go along with The Man.
    The audience doesn’t figure as anything but victims. You have to be older, or a veteran, to start looking for exits the moment you enter a public venue.

  26. OM Says:

    Situational awareness, a learned behaviour.

  27. AMartel Says:

    Oh, come on! I can’t tell the truth because it’s hurtful?
    There were some teenagers who died but a lot of the deceased I’ve seen written about were in their late 20s and 30s.* Could somebody maybe have said something? Nobody did, though. Why? The idiot property manager/grifter was 46. I put him in the same category as the rest of the adults who lived at this “Ghost Ship.” He was on TV have a meltdown about being asked questions about his responsibility in the matter. 46 years old and simply UNABLE to face responsibility (and lacking the common sense to keep his mouth shut). It’s sad, but also ridiculous, that any of these people died.


  28. AMartel Says:

    If you want to call this a tragedy, then I’m identifying the tragic flaw that created the tragedy. Think of it that way.

  29. Steve57 Says:

    In a Facebook post, a musician who said he had performed at the Ghost Ship said such spaces were the product of artists across the country being “pushed to the periphery, if not wholly exiled, by real estate speculation.”

    Hardly. Housing is unaffordable precisely because of the leftist authoritarian impulse to dictate rather than rely on markets. If you want unaffordable housing, implement rent control. In SF landlords can only increase rents when a tenant leaves. Given that tenants stay for ten or twenty years, subletting the rent-controlled apartment even if they do move away temporarily, the landlord has to guess what that apartment will rent for in a decade or two to cover costs.

    And of course only an idiot would build new “affordable” rental properties. So the leftists engineer a housing shortage as well.

    And then blame the free market, here scorned as “speculators,” for the inevitable result. Chavistas in Venezuela operate the same way. They introduce price controls, and inevitably there’s not even toilet paper on the store shelves. Naturally they blame whatever is left of the market for their own failure.

    Fortunately the Venazuelan Bolivar has become so worthless that it’s only real use is as toilet paper. But other commodities are harder to replace.

    You can’t even call these unintended consequences since the actual cause is so well known, yet the rent/price/wage controllers keep causing them despite the fact the consequence follows like night follows day.

    The name slips my mind, but as one British politician said in the 1950s, “Britain is an island of coal in a sea full of fish. It takes a socialist to engineer a shortage of both.”

  30. OM Says:


    Here is the citation:

    Thanks for pointing out this gem!

  31. Ymarsakar Says:

    Woodstock audience and musicians were starving and dehydrating. It took the masses, the normal families, to give them sustenance.

    A similar thing happens to people who live in city controlled by Democrat fiefs or slaves or those on welfare. They get used to somebody else taking out the trash or putting out the fire, and begin to ignore those issues.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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