OAKLAND (KCBS) – Oakland police officers visited the warehouse where the Ghost Ship art commune was house 19 times over a 10-year span before a deadly fire roared through the building, killing 36 people who were attending a music event, according to documents released by the City of Oakland Wednesday.
The fire was the deadliest at a music venue in the United States since 100 died in the Station nightclub fire in 2003.
KCBS and many other news agencies filed multiple public records requests seeking this information and the Bay Area News Group threatened to sue.
In response, Oakland delivered more than 600 pages of records Wednesday from the departments of planning and building, police, fire and public works, as well as emails.
It took two months for the city of Oakland to release the documents.
The records show in the years before the fire, the property was visited more than a dozen times by city agencies.
The information confirms that the fire department never inspected the Ghost Ship warehouse or its adjoining vacant lot.
Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed has been criticized over the lack of inspections. She currently is on leave from the department tending to a sick relative, according to a fire official.
There also was no mention of a building inspector having ever physically entered the actual warehouse structure for an inspection.
The records revealed there were three code enforcement complaints for the warehouse — dated November 2005, September 2014, and October 2014 for parking and homeless camping on a vacant lot, pallets and construction materials blocking the sidewalk and constructing a house/structure without permits.
The documents do reveal that Oakland police were there 19 times in the last 10 years, responding to – among other things – a stabbing, an illegal rave and felony assault.
The police also responded to complaints of loud parties, threats and abuse.
City officials say they did not know people lived in the warehouse, but the documents show at least one call to police reporting it as a residence.
On Feb. 2, 2015, a person called police after claiming to be locked out of the warehouse, telling the officer who showed up to the site “this is a warehouse that is also an illegal shared housing.” The person also said the landlord had “a shotgun in the house.”
The officer reported the issue was resolved and he left.
On March 1, 2015, an Oakland police officer was flagged down at 1:34 in the morning by somone in the neighborhood who said there was “an illegal rave with drug and alcohol sales” inside.
The next five paragraphs on the document are blacked out.
But the officer did not cite anyone and apparently did not stop the party, because at 2:35 a.m., police got a call saying more than a dozen people were being held inside the warehouse and they could hear sounds like a Taser and threatening remarks.
Police officers again responded and “stood by while everyone left the warehouse.”
Later that day in the afternoon, a man called police asking officers to stand by at the warehouse while he retrieved his belongings.
The officers returned and again, stood by.
There were also two calls for suspected child abuse or neglect, consistent with what artist Danielle Boudreau, close friends with Ghost Ship lead tenant Derick Almena and his family, told KCBS about the conditions in which he was raising his kids there.
“There was rotting food. There was cat feces. The smell was so … I mean, it smelled like death,” Boudreau said.
The details of those child abuse calls are being withheld. Recordings of the 911 emergency and dispatch calls from the December 2 fire have also not been released.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office is conducting a criminal investigation of the inferno, whose official cause has not yet been determined.
Noel Gallo, the Oakland City Councilman who represents the district where the Ghost Ship fire happened, addressed the release of the documents Wednesday.
“I was not aware and, just like you, I saw them for the first time today,” said Gallo. “Certainly it’s disturbing what I’m reading in terms of how many incidents we had our public officials were at the site.”
Gallo said city departments are meeting on a weekly basis to discuss properties and several buildings and homes have been shut down for code violations. And, if he has his way, Oakland will be hiring more building and fire inspectors.
“To make a long story short, we at the leadership and Oakland got to get our act together and better serve the community and be more active as opposed to just responding to one incident after another,” said Gallo.
The official address of the Ghost Ship warehouse is 1315 31st Avenue, but it appears police routinely wrote down 1305 31st Avenue when responding to calls at the location. That might have caused some of the confusion between departments.