Fire and Fortune 

A year after a fire killed four people at a San Pablo Avenue building for low-income people, many of the former residents are still suffering. The owners of the building? Not so much.

Page 7 of 8

"The flames were coming too quick," Mark Doleman recalled. "I didn't even have time to grab my wallet. I had nothing."

Sheila Doleman was one of three people who went to the hospital. She was treated for smoke inhalation, which had aggravated her asthma.

Eliza Anderson, who lived on the third floor, was woken up by a neighbor she calls her "Auntie" banging on her door. "You got to get out of here!" Auntie yelled. "It's on fire!"

Anderson's children — who were 14, 8, and 6 years old at the time — are hard sleepers, so she hit them in the face to wake them up.

She looked into the hall and it was black. To the right, at the end of the hall, she could see a few orange flames, like off a barbecue grill. Anderson dropped to the floor, crawled to the fire escape, and made her way down with her children. Outside, she waited for hours until the Red Cross showed up at 10 a.m. or 11 with snacks and covers, she said. She and her children didn't have coats while they waited. Some people didn't have shoes.

Reporters camped outside the building all day waiting for news. The fire burned throughout the morning. It took until the next day to find all the bodies.

Most of the residents who survived stayed in a crowded shelter at the West Oakland Youth Center in the days after the fire. There were 71 people there at first but that number dwindled to 11 a week later. Richard Myers was one of the people who stayed in the shelter until it closed. "From there you went to wherever the hell you could," he said.

He stayed with his family, and then with his wife in a hotel for seven months before he finally got an apartment with the help of $9,000 in relocation assistance from the city.

The assistance came from a fund Oakland created in 1993 to help tenants displaced due to code compliance repairs. By law, the landlord is required to pay the assistance, but the city has the option to pay the tenants itself and then seek reimbursement from the landlord through the city attorney's office.

At the time of the fire, the city's fund had only $118,275 available, so, at the urging of Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, the council voted to allocate the $700,000 necessary to provide assistance to all the eligible tenants. City officials said the city distributed more than $600,000 to 66 families, and Keith Kim has yet to reimburse the city.

In a statement released a week after the fire through public relations specialist Sam Singer, Keith Kim said he had assisted one family — to help pay for funeral expenses. Singer referred questions to Keith Kim's attorney, William Kronenberg, who did not respond to a request for comment.

While some former residents have been left to live in tents or on couches, the relocation assistance helped some families find housing. Eliza Anderson initially found an apartment for herself and her three kids that was far more than she could afford — $2,275 a month plus a deposit three times the monthly rent — but eventually located a more affordable home in Oakland. "I was just really stressed out," she said. "I know I can't pay this rent. Me and my kids were going to be homeless."

Mark and Sheila Doleman said they initially went to live in another of Lowery's buildings, at 8801 International Blvd., but that building was infested with rats as well. Eventually, they found an apartment on Foothill Boulevard, but having survived two fires in five years, they're traumatized. "We lost everything, and we damn near lost our life," Mark Doleman said. "That was our second time losing everything. It happened two times, and we didn't have nothing to do with it."

Meanwhile, seven lawsuits are proceeding in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of 65 former residents and their families. All the lawsuits name Keith Kim, DCSI Holdings, Lowery, and Dignity Housing West as defendants. Some of the plaintiffs have also named the city of Oakland as a defendant, arguing that it failed to act on the well-documented code and fire safety violations in the building.

In December, DCSI Holdings was removed in state records as a partner in 2551 San Pablo Avenue. Keith Kim's address was listed as the $1.6 million home that DCSI Holdings purchased two months after the fire — in the gated community near San Ramon. DCSI Holdings still owns the Piedmont home that Keith Kim stayed in when he was bankrupt and another property next to Hahn Kim's private residence in Montclair that Keith Kim listed as his home address in 2015.

In January, Keith Kim sold 2551 San Pablo to WJS Property, a company registered in October by San Leandro dentist William Choi, for $700,000. In the process, Keith Kim loaned Choi $600,000 toward the sale, according to county property records. It has raised concerns among attorneys suing Keith Kim that he may be attempting to hide his assets.



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