The Bay Area suffers from a severe housing shortage. But that can’t be an excuse for the deaths of at least 36 people in the infamous Ghost Ship warehouse fire — or for winking at other dangerous living conditions in the name of art.
As the search goes on for human remains in Oakland, a narrative grows among some in the arts community that this horrific tragedy was inevitable — and that any attempt to crack down on illegal dwellings will only put more people on the streets.
We already have too many homeless. But tolerating places like the Ghost Ship, with its exposed wiring, propane heaters, wire-covered windows, makeshift stairway and inadequate egress, is no answer.
This was a disaster waiting to happen, and it happened in a matter of minutes a recent Friday night. There is no excuse for it. The Ghost Ship should have been shut down by the city, as should anyplace else like it before more people die.
Think of the young children who lived in the Ghost Ship. The underground music fans, some as young as 17, who turned out for the party Friday night. The firefighters who fought the blaze, knowing people were dying inside, and now sift through the ashes.
District Attorney Nancy O’Malley’s criminal investigation is a first step toward accountability. The probe should include the owner of the property, the mastermind tenant who created Ghost Ship, the concert organizers and promoters, the city inspectors who had been warned, and the elected leaders who knew but didn’t speak out.
Some should go to jail. Some should lose their jobs. Some will face civil liability, for whatever cold comfort it can bring survivors.
Even the artists who lived there bear responsibility. They describe horrific electrical hookups and other fires-in-waiting. Yes, reporting those conditions likely would have cost them their homes, but it might have prevented the city’s deadliest fire.
Property owners gripe about building codes and permit costs. Maybe some are excessive. But the Ghost Ship is precisely the worst nightmare that building standards and concert venue requirements are supposed to prevent. The rules are the reason we have fewer massive casualty fires than a century ago.
This tragedy should give leaders of the underground concert scene pause. Setting up paid events isn’t some hide-and-seek game. Profiting from bringing people to places like this is appalling.
Oakland has an exciting arts scene, and the Bay Area benefits from the arts. Boosters tend to romanticize places like the Ghost Ship as part of a Bohemian vibe. But artists need safe places to live and work. As cities and counties grapple with the affordable housing shortage, this needs to be part of the mix.
There’s nothing romantic about sifting through the ashes.
From The East Bay Times, Walnut Creek, California.