Oakland’s warehouse communes - a failure to govern

Among Oakland’s dozens of artist warehouses is one called Deathtrap


It’s called Deathtrap.

A fire inspector knocked on the door of the graffiti-splattered warehouse in West Oakland on Monday afternoon and told a tenant that the city was taking steps to prevent another “terrible tragedy” like the one that happened just five miles away at Ghost Ship.

He was there, he told The Chronicle, to look into a complaint filed about Deathtrap, a 6,600-square-foot warehouse on 28th Street that, its Facebook page showed, was converted into a live-work art studio. Facebook photos showed that Deathtrap’s interior looks strikingly similar to that of Ghost Ship, with wooden steps and dangling strings of lights, and that the place has served as an underground music venue. And, public records show that the city was aware of the place.

The last open complaint on the Deathtrap property was filed with the city’s building inspection department in March 2011 for unpermitted alterations and damage from a vehicle. A subsequent filing shows the vehicle damage was repaired that September.

It’s unclear what city officials did to respond to the unpermitted alterations. Clearly the place has operated for years. The tenant who spoke with the fire inspector declined to talk with The Chronicle. And the “Deathtrap Events” Facebook page — which listed a history of public events ranging from concerts to classes — was removed Monday.

For city inspectors concerned with fire, health and safety code violations, however, Deathtrap is one of dozens — perhaps hundreds — of live-work warehouses and buildings in the city where artists crowd together in often dangerous conditions like those found in the Ghost Ship warehouse at 31st Avenue and International Boulevard, where at least 36 people were killed in Friday’s fire.

The inspector who showed up Monday at Deathtrap told the tenant he was educating property owners about their duty to bring buildings up to code, and warning tenants about unsafe living conditions. The city, he said to her, is trying to hold owners to “a higher standard” and to “empower tenants, not displace them.” He spoke to the woman for 20 minutes as a Chronicle reporter and photographer listened nearby. He never went inside the building. The place, he told The Chronicle, was his second stop that day. Oakland officials have kept largely mum on whether they plan to change the city’s code enforcement processes as a result of the Ghost Ship fire.
Comment: Clearly looking  the other way is unconscionable. Source of victims images

Image source. Updated on 12/7 with top image. Source
Update on 6/5/17: Two arrested


  1. A failure to police, but simultaneously a failure to realize that with container shipping, the need for warehouses wasn't coming back, and the city council would have done well to rezone it. I guarantee you that the hippies that were running it would not have been able to afford it if developers had been allowed to make it into apartments or commercial buildings.

  2. It's also an effect of the lack of actual [legal] affordable housing in that area...

  3. Tobin: a big part of the lack of affordable housing out there is zoning. I stayed at a hotel in Jack London square nearby when my brother got married, and there are a LOT of properties in the area that could be redeveloped if zoning were right. Thomas Sowell, who lives right across the Bay in Palo Alto, writes a lot about this.

    And it sounds like the owners, as well as a significant portion of the city building safety department, need to spend some serious time in the graybar hotel. Blowing off obvious safety issues is manslaughter. 36 counts adds up.


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