A December 2nd fire at a West Oakland warehouse called Ghost Ship tragically killed 36 people attending a concert. The destruction of the building, which also housed an artist commune, has left locals wondering exactly what happened, and has led to a crackdown on other similar venues across the US.
Almost immediately after the fire, attention was turned to Ghost Ship landlord Derick Ion Almena and warehouse owner Chor Ng, who owns several other properties in the area. Arson has now been ruled out, and investigators have instead blamed the fire on the building’s complex electrical network — wires lined its walls and crevices, and allegedly siphoned energy off an adjacent property belonging to Ng.
Ghost Ship’s interior workings were also part of the problem. It had only been approved as a storage or working space, not as a residential or event space, but according to the Los Angeles Times, “no building code enforcement inspector had been inside the warehouse in at least 30 years.” Inside structures, including a disastrous wooden staircase that trapped people on the second floor of the building once the fire began on the first floor, were built outside of code.
Since the fire, many have questioned why people would choose to visit and even live at Ghost Ship. One key reason is that the Bay Area is home to three of the five most expensive cities in the US to rent a one-bedroom apartment: San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland. In its latest report, Zumper says that median rent for a one bedroom in Oakland was $2,200 a month in November — the majority of the people residing in DIY living spaces at Ghost Ship were in creative industries, and simply could not afford to pay so much for rent.
Ghost Ship isn’t the only Oakland warehouse used as a living and working space for artists, and after the fire a slew of residents in those other spaces were served eviction notices. East Bay Express reports that even warehouses up to code, with proper sprinklers, smoke alarms and clearly marked exits, are nervous about giving personal information to the media in case of being targeted by city officials.
And, as mentioned, the crackdown on DIY venues and living spaces isn’t only happening in the Bay Area — in the last few days, Denver’s Rhinoceropolis and Baltimore’s Bell Foundry have also been shut down.
Some members of the DIY community are calling the closures a “witch hunt,” and have spoken out against them. “We’ve been in the shadows for a long time for a reason … and it worked really great for a lot of people for a long time until this one incident,” the Los Angeles Times quotes an Oakland photographer as saying. “Right now the spotlight is on us.”