SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Artists appealed to Bay Area city leaders Wednesday as concerns over warehouse evictions and safety continued to rise in the wake of the deadly Oakland Ghost Ship fire.
Artists are afraid they’ll be kicked out of their homes if their buildings are found to be unsafe. Those artists are signing a petition asking San Francisco and Oakland officials to delay fire inspections as they come up with a plan.
- Residents Protest Closing Of Richmond Punk-Music Warehouse
- Tenants Fearing Eviction After Oakland Warehouse Fire Meet With Civil Rights Attorney John Burris
- New Group Fights For Bay Area Creative Spaces After Oakland Warehouse Fire
City building inspectors from a task force on Wednesday were visiting spaces in Bernal Heights, checking out several warehouse spaces in the neighborhood.
A city official told KPIX 5 it has been years since they’ve been inside these spaces. Following the Ghost Ship fire, there is a greater emphasis on checking these buildings out.
A notice was sent to the landlord and tenants of these buildings nine days ago, warning people of this visit.
A slew of city officials are here performing checks for the city departments of plumbing, electrical, fire and health.
KPIX 5 spoke with performance artist Nathan Wilkinson Cottan, who said his landlord evicted him a week ago. That was when his landlord called the city.
“If we lose this, I can’t imagine finding another place that’s comparable to what I can afford in the city,” said Cottan. “I don’t anticipate finding something else.”
Cottan lived in an artist collective known as the Bernal House in Bernal Heights located at 950 Peralta. Eight people rented space there, but it is not permitted for residential use.
A KPIX 5 source who works from the city said that many of these buildings are not permitted as residential spaces. They are currently only recognized as commercial and shopping spaces right now.
Continuing Coverage: Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire
The sister of an artist who lives in San Francisco in a space similar to the ones being inspected Wednesday is worried the city will toss artists out on the street without giving them a chance to get their buildings up to code.
On Wednesday, Julie Mastrine spoke on behalf of her twin sister Amy, who lives in an art community in San Francisco.
“She always says that it’s a shame that we’re encouraged to create as children, but when we get older, we’re expected to fall into line and put the paintbrushes down,” said Mastrine, who works as media manager for the online petition website, Care2.com, which has posted the petition to stop artist evictions.
Following the Ghost Ship fire, Mastrine says artists like her sister are scared they could face eviction without any notice.
“By forcing inspections onto artists’ warehouses, you’re conducting witch hunts,” said Mastrine. “You’re breeding fear and stress by causing evictions.”
The petition asks the building inspection commission to:
- Immediately cease unsolicited artist building inspections until more resources are in place for artists.
- Not be so heavy-handed in inspections and enforcement that result in evictions.
- Waive permit fees associated with building upgrades.
The initial feedback offered by the president of the commission surprised Mastrine.
“In response, I’m an artist and live in an art space and I agree 100 percent with this and so does our Board of Supervisors,” said SF Building Inspection Commission President Debra Walker.
“It’s nice to know there’s some sympathy there,” said Mastrine. “I was not expecting the level of sympathy that I received.”
Walker said an outreach program has been around for more than 20 years to make work and living spaces safer for artists and prevent evictions, but more could be done.
Still the question remains: is living in a potential fire trap worth it?
“I think something that’s important to remember is that this isn’t common,” said Mastrine. “Right now there’s a lot of fear and what happened is an absolute tragedy, but this is not something that happens all the time.”
Next month, the Department of Building Inspections will release details of a new program. They say they will be working alongside the fire and health departments to make warehouse safer for artists.