Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf Wednesday announced a series of measures her administration will take to try to prevent future tragedies such as the fire at a warehouse in Oakland’s Fruitvale district on Friday night that killed 36 people.
Schaaf said at a crowded news conference at the city’s emergency operations center:
“This has been a devastating tragedy but it would be another tragedy if we didn’t learn any lessons and take the opportunity to make improvements and make the city safer.”
Schaaf said she and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth have engaged the help of the National Fire Protection Association to focus on the safety of buildings, the safety of events and making improvements to complaint systems.
She said new regulations could require that buildings have smoke alarms, carbon monoxide monitors and stronger emergency exit systems and more closely monitor event permits and illegal events.
The fire at the “Ghost Ship” warehouse at 1315 31st Ave., which was used as a live/work space by an artist collective, sparked at about 11:30 p.m. Friday during an electronic music show which didn’t have a permit from city officials.
Schaaf said she and other city officials will also work to clarify the responsibility of city employees to properly report and analyze dangerous living conditions or illegal events along with a clear process for doing so.
In addition, the mayor said the city will work to expand the Oakland Artist Housing and Workforce Task Force that she established in the summer of 2015 to continue engaging with the arts community in creating safe, permanently affordable homes and workspaces.
Schaaf said, “We will learn from this tragedy and make this city safer with a thorough, methodical review.”
But she added, “We will not let our emotions lead to hasty decisions or witch hunts.”
In response to a question from a reporter, Schaaf said she doesn’t know the last time city inspectors went inside the warehouse, which allegedly had dangerous living conditions, but said, “I don’t need to know that information to know that we need to improve.”
In response to a question from another reporter about the Alameda County Grand Jury criticizing the city in 2014 for flaws in its fire prevention and inspection procedures, Schaaf said she beefed up resources for inspections and changed procedures when she took office in 2015.
But she added, “I’m not satisfied with those changes and that is an area where we will do a full analysis about how we can improve. I commit to you that will be done.”
Later in the news conference, Oakland’s interim Planning and Building Director Darin Ranelletti said inspectors in his department haven’t been inside the warehouse for 30 years.
Ranelletti said an inspector went to the warehouse site in 2014 to investigate an anonymous complaint that a new building was being erected without a permit but he said the inspector didn’t see any evidence of new construction so he closed the case.
Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio acknowledged that, “It would be good to have a regular inspection program” for buildings such as the warehouse that have been converted to new uses.
Cappio said many such building conversions have taken place in Oakland in the past 15 years.