Ignored building codes at center of Oakland warehouse fire talks

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A woman places flowers at a makeshift memorial near the scene of a fire in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California, U.S. December 3, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam - RTSUJGH

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ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Devin Katayama of KQED News in San Francisco has been covering the story and joins me now from Oakland.

Devin, for people unfamiliar with this area, this part of Oakland, can you describe what the community is like there?

DEVIN KATAYAMA, KQED NEWS: Sure, I mean the Fruitvale neighborhood is really cherished here in Oakland. It’s a big Latino neighborhood. It’s been neglected by a lot of the development that some other parts of Oakland are seeing, a lot of parts of Oakland are being highly gentrified. Fruitvale has not really hit that level yet.

It’s also an area that some people feel dangerous. That it’s right on International Boulevard is right where the building is off of and 31st Avenue, and so, there is crime in that neighborhood as well. There’s also a lot of artists who live in that neighborhood but also congregate in — obviously in warehouses like you saw over the past day and a half.

It’s a part — it’s partly because of the rent is cheaper in that neighborhood as well.

STEWART: The building’s been the focus of complaints recently. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

KATAYAMA: Sure, and I want to be very careful about how I speak to these complaints at this point because the city and officials have made it very clear that this is something that they have been investigating but right now, they are focusing on the people. From what we understand, the building was permitted as a one-story warehouse, not permitted for entertainment, not permitted for people to live in — both things that have reportedly come out that this warehouse was being used for.

Obviously, a lot of people are looking for somebody to blame. A lot of people are wondering who these owners are and who was throwing off this event, and why there were so many people in a building such as this building for a party.

Now, I think something that’s important to know about Oakland is that these kinds of spaces are actually part of what gives Oakland its character. When you speak to a lot of people they speak to these warehouse parties and it is a part of Oakland’s culture. So, these spaces exist. And in many ways, these spaces are places where people who you know feel like they don’t have any other outlet may be able to go to, to be entertained, to have parties like this.

Now, certainly, there are questions raised about how many of these spaces exist and how close of an eye this city is keeping on these spaces. And that’s going to be coming out in the next days, months, however long it takes.

STEWART: And also the issue of whether the people are using the space as possibly as residences or places to stay for short periods of time, right?

KATAYAMA: Certainly, we’ve heard stories about people having live there. We’ve heard stories about people who may have been homeless who were served by this community as well. You speak to — you hear from a lot of people that this was both a beloved community, this group of folks who spent time in this building, threw parties in this building and then you hear a lot of people who are really angry at the people who either throw these parties or own this space, saying that, you know, they have been warned before.

Now, again, these are all reports so I can’t confirm any of this but I think that’s what we’re going to be looking for in the coming weeks.

STEWART: Yes, story still developing.

Devin Katayama from KQED News — thank you so much for sharing your reporting.

KATAYAMA: Thank you.

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