By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large
On December 2, a large fire took the lives of 36 people attending a concert in a warehouse known as “Ghost Ship” in Oakland’s Fruitvale District. The victims were artists, teachers, students, entrepreneurs, family members and friends from all walks of life—loved by many and lost too soon.
In the wake of this tragedy, community members and City of Oakland employees are mobilizing immediate and long-term relief efforts.
Last Thursday, Oakland City Council declared a Local Emergency, which makes the City eligible for California Disaster Assistance Act funding. Earlier that morning at the Rules and Legislation Committee, my colleagues and I directed the City Administrator to return to City Council with an informational report examining ways the City can address resident displacement while addressing building safety.
From online fundraisers, to benefits, to vigils, to government advocacy, to the dedicated hard work done by our firefighters and other responders, the community has come together to mourn this tragedy and demand that we take preventative measures to protect our friends and neighbors. Oakland has long been a haven for the artistic community, and we must ensure that it continues to be for years to come.
As we honor the lives we have lost, we must also make sure to protect our communities going forward. The community that has been impacted by this fire includes a disproportionate number of LGBT people, and many who have struggled to find housing they can afford. For artists, teachers, and many more, housing in Oakland and the Bay Area has become increasingly out of reach. We must strengthen enforcement of renter protections, and expand the supply of affordable housing throughout the Bay Region.
Many artists and other lower-income renters are now living in fear of growing evictions. Let us come together to provide fire safety—without mass evictions. The level of fire danger at “Ghost Ship” involved very specific dangerous conditions, such as a hand-built staircase of untreated wood, which created issues going far beyond compliance with zoning codes. Mass evictions are not the solution, and would cause further suffering to an already-hard-hit community.
Let us work together to focus inspections on life safety issues, and allow for fire safety upgrades without mass evictions, and continue to push to expand our supply of housing for all income levels. We as Bay Area residents have a moral responsibility to protect everyone in our community, so let’s make this a regional effort.
To learn more about the “Ghost Ship” Fire, including resources and opportunities to donate, please visit: http://www2.oaklandnet.com/OAK061753
Oakland City Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012, and again in 2016. She is working for safe neighborhoods, for local jobs and for a fresh start for Oakland. Councilmember Kaplan graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, obtained a master’s degree from Tufts University and a Juris Doctor from Stanford Law School.