Oakland, Berkeley, And East Bay News, Events, Restaurants, Music, & Arts
I totally empathize with the marginalized community. I own a loft a few blocks down. Few times I rented my space to local artists for a show but I also put safety before money. I have working sprinklers, I don't allow people to go to the second floor, I have two emergency exits and I always make sure that the person putting the event together hire 3 or 4 friends who will not drink or use drugs to patrol the party in order to make sure that people don't intentionally set the fire or assault another person or women. I make people sign a contract that use or drugs is not allowed at any time inside the loft. I also don't allow more than 40 people and people under 21. In the contract it says that if any of those rules are broken I can stop the party any time. I've never had any problem. I expect people to act professional and they always did. I may not have too many bookings and I don't give a damn but safety first!
one of the saddest ironies is that there is literally ACME Fire Extinguisher store less than 100 yards away from this "tinderbox" that apparently no one at this warehouse ever patronized
There is always a tug of war between city regulators and those who push the envelope and ignore city citations. It is therefore incumbent on the city to take action to prevent situations like the fire. Citations don't do it. When human lives are at stake you can't count on cowboys to respond forthrightly. Why didn't the City bureaucrats haul the operator in front of a judge. Or shut down the facility. 20 20 hindsight is easy, I know, but the violations were going on for a long time.
I add this comment in response to the accusation that I am "high and mighty" for recognizing the liabilities in the absolute tragic failure and terrible consequences of the Ghost Ship event space rent party fire. As someone who has participated in the "underground" event economy for three decades, I am appalled at the fact that several of those that profited from this type of activity were initially worried about their "gear" and possessions they had "worked" hard for, while their attendees died in agony. Have many of the events I've promoted or attended been overcrowded at times, or dangerous? yes... but were lives lost? NO. At Klub Komotion the sparse decor may've included a few ratty couches, but hallway was well lit and wide. After some initial skirting of regulations in the late 80's, eventually (and oft under duress and great expen$e) we cooperated with authorities, to keep the place operating until eviction in the late 1990's. During the the time I was involved, we actually went down monthly to Mission Station and obtained permits from the police on a per event basis, and operated as an actual 501-c3 non-profit with offsite office for several years . We were not a residential compound and never actually bribed the fire marshall as was hinted to us, but still managed to have hundreds of safe events. We had someone get a rock thrown at their head and I've had irresponsible "burner" types insist on using torches in the dark crowded enclosed spaces against my physical and verbal protestations, but fortunately we all survived, and to my knowledge not one ambulance was ever called. At another warehouse party I was involved with last year, someone collapsed and hurt their head, but this was due to a medical condition, not furniture set in their path. I just want to say, it takes effort to hold an event and safety is a very serious and oft hard to manage goal. The obvious lack of serious consideration for fire is apparent in the decor of the Ghost Ship which was densely filled with wood and fabric with electronics intermingled. Many people have referred to that space as the Death Trap long before Friday's fire took so many lives. To cast aspersions in my direction because I am upset at the obvious failings on the part of those that abused their responsibilities is misguided at best. I love underground events, and understand that people need places to perform and gather outside the commercial venue circuit, but there are spaces that are better than others, and repercussions for doing a poor job of mitigating the safety considerations, and it is not something to be taken lightly. Don't blame the economy, or the government, or your parents, as ultimately there is no justice, just us. Do the right things and you won't ever be sorry... that is all.
Most people who live in buildings like this don't know the building code and don't know how dangerous they might be. Otherwise why would they be living there? There are tons of places like this that lots of us go to for art openings or music shows and the venues are fine and we all love the fact that they exist until a tragedy happens. I wouldn't get all high and mighty, Mike, and go blaming anyone involved until we find out what really happened. I'm an architect and I know that if we all built everything perfectly up to code fire-safety-wise only the very rich would be able to afford hosting entertainment venues. That's the reality in the Bay Area. Mike, was Klub Kommotion up to fire code? Probably not, it didn't stop us from going or working there.
***Sorry if this isn't Twitter-length worthy, but maybe people need to develop attention spans beyond Donald Trump's temperament***
We grieve, we dread the announcement of our friends' names, and we also dread the coming months - for we are already seeing how this unimaginable tragedy is being deployed in an attempt to crush the very culture and lives that are suffering. Talking heads and politicians on major media outlets are actively calling for the cops and fire marshals to shut down ALL non-sanctioned living and art spaces in town immediately, heedless of their individual circumstances or displacement impacts. To help accomplish this, the likes of Tom Vacar (KTVU anchorman) have called for the use of hypermilitarized public-private "partnerships" (modeled after nightmares like Urban Shield) between cops, fire departments, and military contractors to use SWAT team tactics on suspected illicit living and show/art spaces and their residents. In Libby Schaff's neoliberal vision of Oakland, one in which she wants to see the city become as much like Walnut Creek as possible as quickly as possible, this has a strong chance of becoming reality.
Many of the comments on Sam's article, and in threads I am seeing, are infuriated at the mention of "safe spaces" and marginalized people (particularly when it comes from marginalized people themselves), and there are a lot of accusations from the more troll-y of these commenters of this being a "politicization" of something that should be a "simple public safety issue". While the codes and misconceptions inherent to these commenters' views may seem obvious to many of us, it bears repeating overall that the mention of safe spaces isn't about the physical safety of the building's infrastructure. It is about the lack of aboveground (i.e. well-funded) gathering+living spots for marginalized people that allow them to exist and better-control their existential circumstances, with a lowered fear of assault and/or economic ruin, coupled with a relatively-exclusive promotions policy that is mainly extended to those who are coming from a similar place to them philosophically and socially.
This RELATIVE safety (there is no such thing as a truly "safe space") is something that many creative people, especially POC/queer/trans+/mentally-divergent people, etc., do not get to have in the more-legit bar/business and condo/apartment spaces that are about making $$ first and foremost as a necessity of staying in business, particularly in an insanely high-rent region like the bay area. The vast majority of these "legit" venues and housing (including bars, overpriced "artists' live-work" spaces, big halls, etc) do not take attendees'/residents' poverty into account and do not prioritize the needs and concerns of marginalized people in their business practice because they are all about filling vacancies and/or packing in as many people as they can, heedless of the intrapersonal conflicts and individual alienation potentially implicit in that. Until there are better options that are accessible to marginalized people, they will continue to need to live, gather, and perform in places that are safe(r) and accessible to them.
The particular circumstances of this incident, and the terribleness of the person running the particular space and the way he ran it, don't seem to be a matter of much dispute. However, it is important to recognize that the increasing volume of calls for all independent spaces (living and performance/art) to be shuttered will result in increased homelessness and a lack of community options for marginalized people who rely on such spaces for their sanity, community, and lives. Oakland is not Walnut Creek, nor should it be. If there are better options, many of us would love to hear them, but until the cities and overall culture take a true advocacy stance towards the physical space needs of marginalized people+artists (there are semi-successful examples in some cities in Europe, particularly in Germany), I suspect all that will be offered as a band-aid for destruction of the underground is more capitalist garbage that will do nothing to address the root issues.
BTW, I should note that four friends are still missing from this fire, one is confirmed dead, and I am completely in shock. I doubt any of them would want to see the culture they lived and thrived in to be crushed in response to their tragic (and avoidable) deaths.
Why is everyone so upset about the transgender/people of color comment? Is it sooo bad to acknowledge diversity? No one is saying white/straight people don't matter. I'm wondering why this is so triggering for everyone. Also, the blame game is a bit sickening. Obviously, the space was unsafe. At this point, however, the focus should be on the victims and their families.
I urge those who have posted things like "moron" and "greedy", especially those who have no direct link to the artist community in the east bay area. In your heart of hearts do you think it is kind or appropriate to be calling people names and passing hard judgments right now? People grieve differently and there is going to be a lot of anger but make sure your anger is justified in your relation to the tragedy and propels change for positive and not just being a judgemental outlast.
I also do not like a couple of things in this article, or rather I think they were poorly worded and not the point right now. I think adding the comment of race or sex in this is it too early, is provoking, and should be discussed in a more calmer platform once we have all had a chance to grieve and think straight.
To give some outside people perspective, there are many artists who live in these warehouse spaces because they can't afford to live alone or if they did it would be outside the city, disconnected, and probably in a shoe box appt. These are people that works together and share supplies and resources as the rent continues to increase in urban settings. The bay has always been expensive so that's why these places have been around for so long. Yes it also is an ideal for many outside of practicality but the fact that more legit safe spaces are beyond their reach financially still remains. The over all understanding of everyone is that in community we find a more meaningful life and often takes big risks to keep our community alive and strong. Those who are directly involved are not just loosing their individual friends but a large chunk of a community we regard to family. For some people REAL family.
I've been going to underground parties for a long time and I can think of many spaces I've been to that are unsafe. In our 20's full of blind fearlessness we don't really think about these things as hard as we should. A culture is based around these gatherings and remain an integral part of our scene. I can play out lots of horrible scenes in my head in hind sight of places I've been to. There was even one recently I refused to go to anymore because I didn't want to be there if things go bad but I'm also older now. Paying rent to keep these spaces open does play a factor in why the limits get pushed, which is negligent to safety, but it's understood from attendees that if it weren't for these spaces there would be no or very very few gatherings that we all basically live for. There's were some really young kids though who I feel for deeply as they may have been a lot more naive as far as the situation they were walking into and expect their families to want justice.
It is very difficult to find legit venues to host these events becaude A) Commercial venues are mainly not open to hosting the music and performances we do. For some or many depending on the act, it's weird, hard to understand maybe, and even sometimes disturbing to a lot of the general population. It's not very profitable because it's not simplified or polished down enough to be commercially marketable. it's in its rawest form. We make the sounds larger commercial artist rip off or borrow. Artist playing to artists. B) We like to go later. There's very few commercial venues that's go till 4am-6am. C) We can't afford to buy into a venue. Venues cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 from my experience. The way we are able to pay for the talent and the space is by having undergrounds, supplying our own space and systems. People also grow attachments to spaces so that helps perpetuate their existence.
There's always that small bar that understands and can make money off alcohol enough to be worth their time. While we can't go late in these bars we know we can book an international artist and that the show will still go on and not get busted and have had someone fly out for no reason. There's also a larger issue of the need to have an autonomous space. One where we can be free to express ourselvss openly without someone governing what we can and can't do or say and feeling exposed or out of place. Like you probably wouldn't throw a hip hop show in a line dancing country bar.
Even with all those reasons and even some listed above in the article, it is our scenes' responsibility to hold ourselves accountable, to ourselves and our friends, and the danger we put all of us in. This particular venue was being very negligent in my opinion with the pallet stairs. It bothers me the owner did not say for even a moment "I'm so sorry. We should have fixed the stairs." or something like that taking some kind of responsibility. Or maybe he did and it didn't get into the article?
One thing is for sure. Everything will be different in our community from now on and I hope things will not be done the same way we've been doing it.
Please remember to be kind and respectful as people morn and cope.
Kelley. Skilled people like you do need to come together to help some venues and educate promoters, patrons, performers, etc., but the Ghost Ship was so below safety standards that only a padlock on the door was the safe solution.
SO MAKE them safe!!! I am an environmental, health and safety auditor and would be more than happy to come and see these sites and give folks the information they need to prevent tragic events like this from happening! email me if you want HELP!!!! firstname.lastname@example.org
Really? Nobody should be punished? Depending on how you look at it, it's murder, and even if the law doesn't look at it that way, In my opinion at least somebody should sure as hell better be punished, unless these kids lives didn't mean anything, but I think do, and I don't want to see it happen again. I experience this writer as wanting to take off any responsibility that might cause him to feel grief or guilt. I'm sorry but if you ever went to this venue and saw how unsafe it was and didn't do or say anything, then yeah, you are responsible. You suggest that the underground music scene isn't to blame because marginalized people need a place to gather, so the answer is to stuff them in a building that's a fire hazard? Is that a good answer to that problem? Let's not try and find another way? Yes space is at a premium, so your blaming the city landlords for being greedy for these kids dying? In a away we are all responsible, being responsible is different than blame. Now, building and illegal second story with wooden slats leading up to it, that's irresponsible, just because it was built without a fire code examination doesn't mean that who ever put it up couldn't have thought to him or herself, maybe a sprinkler and a fire exit or two would be a good idea. It's sad to me that this persons response to this tragedy is wanting to not blame people who really are responsible and to worry that other venues might be effected by it. What about the victims and their families and friends. And one other thing, in order for a place to be "safe", external safety does counts, sure these people might have felt safe in that to a certain degree they felt loved and accepted, but they were not safe. If people are going to have a venue they need to make the safety of the people who come a priority otherwise all that love and acceptance is just an illusion. I understand you probably do care about these people,we all need to look at how this happened, and come up with a solution, so people aren't putting their lives in danger. And yes the people in the underground music scene need to be part of that. That's the best way I can think to honer their lives.
Angela Talbot, some people will miss the point of an article on purpose to support their confirmation bias. I am guessing you are one of those people. Communities gather in underground spaces because they are made to feel unsafe and are unsupported in above-board venues. Safety is a fluid concept, and does not always refer to physical danger. While I am mad as hell that people died here due to the profoundly dangerous conditions, the mere fact of the tragedy will not obviate the need for friendly, supportive, and non-traditional creative spaces. The expected crackdown on illegal venues will only force this community further underground. My hope is that the people in charge of creating these events will find a way to place more of a premium on the physical safety of attendees, and not replicate these conditions.
I don't think my heart or gut will ever get used to the rush to blame, the judgment and the scapegoating that instantaneously follows tragedies like these. There will be lots of time to find the meaning and sort out the distribution of blame. It doesn't have to happen today or tomorrow.
I've never been to this spot. But I've been to probably 50 similar spots in cities all around the US and a few in Europe. They are often death-traps. But this the first time I've ever heard of one actually burning down.
Since around the turn of the millennium and for many reasons, spaces like these have kept a very particular part of the counter-culture alive. There will be endless mockers of statements like this one, but I believe it's true. Sure, there were aesthetic or perhaps even sort of entitled reasons why kids and young adults chose to live, work and party in spaces like this one but there are also profoundly legitimate economic ones. We all know the basic story - wealthier people have returned to cities long after the period of white flight. Cities are once again associated with status and prestige. As a result, what we used to admiringly call "Bohemia" has been displaced.
Much of the America that is not connected to this world mocks it; sees it as a choice to be poor, etc and does not value the commitment to art. Many don't care about the 23 yo white girl from a privileged background who chooses limited means and income in order to make electronic music and populate her Instagram feed. This is a bit of a weird historical anomaly - in the West, it is somewhat new that elites devalue the artistic/bohemian/creative class.
It would be great if American cities began following the model of some European ones and froze rents when gentrification moved too quickly and ensured arts funding and spaces for its production. If zoning had been relaxed, the operator of this space (however culpable he may be) might have been amenable to an electrical inspection without feeling the world he had created was threatened by working with the city.
Apparently 40 lives may have been saved.
"Bhatt and Butler wanted to emphasize in their interviews with the Express that the local underground music scene isnt to blame. The counterculture scene gravitates toward these potentially unsafe and illegal venues because of the mercenary local housing-market and the premium on space."
I understand passion for one's craft. But nothing is owed and nothing is guaranteed as far a place to live, or a place to perform. SAFETY must be of primary importance. It is ultimately the responsibility of individuals to make a risk assessment for themselves and leave an unsafe place.
But in a community, it is imperative that people putting on these concerts, people who manage places where these concerts are held, people who rent these places, and the city that monitors public safety, insure that places are SAFE. People who take responsibility for others - by having a place, by renting a place, by promoting a place, and by those who regulate a place have to live up to their respopnsibilities and avoid blaming others. Or expect others to do what the responsible person or entity should do. It's time to think of ways to work with the larger community and the regulatory agencies to make sure this never happens again.
We all live in situations not totally of our doing or our control, but when lives are at risk, it makes common sense to work within those situations. It's abhorant to read in this article that people are saying these concerts will continue even in unsafe places. Very disappointing. Very irresponsible. It's not worth it to those who lost their lives, who lost loved ones, and caring people in the communnity to say life is so unimportant. Those in positions of responsibility need to asssure their community members and all the people around the world who are concerned and saddened that they will work, and work hard, that this never happens again.
My condolences to all affected by this tragedy. I pray people in places of authority learn from this tragedy. Be safe. Peace. Om.
The young, the poor and the rebellious have been using unsafe spaces since A/E left the Garden. How many children will die this year in Christmas tree fires? If the city boarded up all of the unsafe spaces there would be an outcry from the street and the landlords.
Where possible the community needs to take things into their own hands to save themselves. Who in their right minds looked at that staircase and thought it was acceptable? I've done events. What a b**ch to do things right. This was not even close.
The transgender people and people-of-color comment seemed ridiculous, this fire was not about any of that. I have to say that it hurts to read of such a tragedy, I have a niece who is a singer songwriter in the Berkley, Oakland area and know how much having a venue means to young artists, but it's unfathomable to me that you can have a space like this that's touted as safe and inclusive emotionally yet be so dangerous physically. If this is Oakland's answer to safe spaces, then something needs to be done to fix what is clearly broken. My condolences go out to those affected by this tragedy, and may those we lost rest in peace...
Ken C, North Carolina
" Sadly, some of the dozens of attendees who remain unaccounted for are transgender people and people-of-color. " weird. what does that have to do with anything? people are not accounted for because they are still trying to access and ID the bodies. Why are we bringing race or sexuality into this? They are human victims who lost life. Its all these labels that hurt society as a whole
"Sadly, some of the dozens of attendees who remain unaccounted for are transgender people and people-of-color."
Does this infer that happily not all the victims were transgender or people of color? Who cares what their gender or color was! The tragic death of anyone is sad! All of us whoever we are have the same emotions and dreams as well as family and people who love us. What the hell was this line doing in the story? This is a tragedy not another chance to drive a wedge between humans!
RIP to the people who passed from this tragedy and I'm so sorry to friends victims and families.
What a horribly written article.
I agree with you Bruce. I am upset that so many young people had to die for no reason other than neglect of safety concerns. I grew up in the Bay Area, but haven't lived there since 1975,before most of you were born.
I now live outside the USA for personal reasons, but a think this was a tragedy and not the first to occur at at a large gathering of young people looking for meaning in their lives and just trying to enjoy themselves. People are dying all over the world in wars and other causes, but it hurts me to think that a tragedy like this could happen in my beautiful Northern California.
I hope that some people will learn from this event to be more careful about where they are going to spend their time, even if only for an evening. My empathy is for the people who lost friends and lovers in this tragedy. I just hope that lessons have been taken by those who might benefit from them.
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