The Party's Too Lit
by Daniel Chekal
The warehouse on 1305 31st Avenue in Oakland, California, known as the "Ghost Ship" to artists who use it as a haven to escape the insane rent prices, was set ablaze last Friday, December 2, and is recorded as one of Oakland's the most devastating fires in recent memory. As the death toll continues to rise, we can't help but ask questions such as what happened, how could've it been prevented, and so forth.
The owner, a 46-year-old artist named Derick Ion Almena, was reportedly not at the location after renting it out for a dance party. With multiple records of citations of hazardous trash and debris surrounding the property as well as complaints of illegal construction, he is one to be not only familiar with the local law enforcement but also the community. Typical among life-work warehouses that house many people, they are frequently able to bend the law without getting caught because people tend to be afraid of making a starving artist lose their home or their own house may be in jeopardy. Like the saying goes, "Snitches get stitches", many were afraid of not only making others' lives harder but also about what they would do to them if they were exposed. Therefore, since Almena was able to manipulate what he did with the warehouse as long as he provided housing and work space for artists, conditions were ripe for a problem to increase tenfold something were to happen.
The devastation caused by the fire could have been largely dwarfed if Almena stuck to the law. With the building being last permitted as only a warehouse, people shouldn't have been able to live there in the first place. Furthermore, he took advantage of that fact and only provided two exits with no evidence of a sprinkler system, further worsening the situation. This may have kept the rent down but at what cost? With the increasing death toll currently at 33, officers are unable to enter to check for more due to the precarious location but are certain the number will climb significantly higher.
With a vigil that was attended by more than 40 people, many mourned the passing of many artists and innocent people. Due to its novelty and the tight-knit community of the arts in Oakland, everyone in the area apparently seemed to know someone at the party or who has been there for a different occasion. However, the saddest part about the whole situation seemed to be Almena's reaction to the horror. Instead of mourning the loss of 30+ lives, he mourned, in a Facebook post on Saturday, for all of his belongings that were destroyed and didn't mention the people. He was thankful his family wasn't hurt but was lamenting over how he was now "... standing in poverty of self-worth."
Currently, there are no criminal charges against Almena but who know what the future holds and how people will cope with the devastation that could've been prevented by investing more in the livability of his property. This goes to show that cutting corners will ultimately magnify the slight mistakes to become disasters.
*Disclaimer: This title isn't meant to offend anyone. Our hearts go out to the people affected by this tragedy.