Records reveal officials visited Oakland warehouse before deadly fire

March 3, 2017

Recently released documents reveal that police officers responded to complaints of an illegal rave at a California warehouse almost two years before the tragic fire at the venue that killed 36 partygoers in December 2016.

The documents, released by the city of Oakland, also revealed that police and other city officials had responded to multiple complaints before the December 2 “Ghost Ship” fire. Almost 70% of warehouse injuries involve well-trained employees, but many warehouses in Oakland have been turned into underground housing, often in direct violation of city laws and building codes.

One Ghost Ship tenant reported to an officer as early as February 2015 that the building was an unlicensed residence and that there were people actively residing there. Meanwhile, officials previously reported that they had no record or knowledge of the building being used as a residence.

The more than 600 pages of documents released upon request from The Associated Press have revealed that was absolutely not the case. Instead, the AP reports that despite multiple resident and neighbor complaints, the issue of illegal housing was never addressed or resolved even though officials were made aware of it.

Mayor Libby Schaaf said that improving city department communication is one of the highest priority reforms the city has been working on since the fire, which was the worst the city had seen in over 13 years.

In addition to a lack of communication between city departments, records show that inspectors didn’t take stock of the building’s interior conditions until after the fire had taken its toll. Unfortunately, there are many such illegal warehouse residences in Oakland still in operation.

Why Were People Living in the Ghost Ship Warehouse Anyway?

Chor N. Ng, the building’s owner, had only been previously cited for the condition of the sidewalk and front lawn of the dwelling. It wasn’t until after the fire that Ng was cited for “unapproved alterations” within the building.

As reported on the website Oakland Planning History, “Between 1981-88, Oakland lost 12,000 jobs in the traditional industries of utilities, transportation, manufacturing, and communications. And by the eighties, major retailers were abandoning the city.”

One major factor in these losses was the automation of the manufacturing sector, which traditionally provided thousands of jobs in cities like Oakland. The cost of carrying inventory in a warehouse is typically about 27% lower in automated environments, but the rise of automation has also left many empty warehouses across the United States.

In Oakland, many artists have adopted these abandoned warehouses as performance and living spaces, a practice that seemed like an innocent response to high rent prices before the Ghost Ship fire.

After the Fire, the Flood: The Scars of the Ghost Ship

Now the area is facing another issue, as recent storms have covered the area in floodwater. The pools of stagnant water around the charred and discarded debris clearly have a chemical sheen over them, but city officials still aren’t sure what caused the sheen in the first place.

ghost ship warehouse fire

“I’m sure there’s probably dangerous material in this stuff that probably shouldn’t be stored so close to the Bay,” said Darold Leite, a former Ghost Ship resident, during a visit to the site with KPIX 5.

Cleanup crews wore protective gear for the initial cleanup operation, but debris was left uncovered even with a children’s soccer field in the immediate vicinity.

The Ghost Ship fire may have been back in December, but residents are still feeling the impact of that tragic night more than three months later.

Image Source: Jim Heaphy