Artists Call for End to Oakland Evictions

Oakland fire warehouse (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)
Eric Risberg / Associated Press

Three Bay Area residents say they have collected over 1,000 signatures from local artists and have penned a letter calling on Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to stop landlords from evicting residents of warehouses similar to the “Ghost Ship” where 36 people perished in a deadly blaze earlier this month.

The letter, penned by three artists — Nihar Bhatt, Sophia Kim and Carolyn Valentine —and acquired by Bay Area public radio station KQED, begins: “We are survivors of the Friday, December 2nd Ghost Ship fire, as well as dear friends of the deceased and committed participants in the underground music scene.”

The letter makes four demands, among which is for Schaaf to “[a]nnounce an emergency eviction moratorium.”

The letter also states that many victims of the warehouse fire identified as queer, trans, and / or people of color, and suggests that “the media frequently seeks to mischaracterize our collective spaces as hedonistic playgrounds,” which the authors believe “is a gross distortion.”

The authors refer to these warehouses as “sacred spaces that allow us to survive, organize, and flourish in the face of a mainstream culture that often shuns our very existence. Shuttering the spaces that allow us to safely congregate is tantamount to extinguishing our livelihood.”

Several warehouses have been served with eviction notices, as crackdowns to prevent future tragedies have taken place throughout Northern and Southern California. This week, just over 10 miles away from Oakland, in Richmond, artists protested outside a city council meeting against the closure of the legendary underground punk venue Burnt Ramen, which they referred to as their “safe space.”

Mayor Tom Butt previously referred to Burnt Ramen as the city’s “own Ghost Ship.” and said of the warehouse, “artists don’t deserve special treatment.”

Benjamin Valis, one of the artists who signed the petition sent to Mayor Schaaf, wrote that he was recently evicted from the Lobot Gallery space at 18th and Campbell, a warehouse in west Oakland. “Since then, my life has become incredibly housing insecure and tenuous, living in vessels and vehicles and crashing with friends and partners … I work full time, but cannot afford housing in the current market in Oakland. So please understand that evictions equal homelessness, stress and mental anguish for the residents affected.”

Another signer, Judith Balmin, wrote, “[i]f you care about health and safety–make buildings safe. No more evictions. We’ve suffered enough.”

Members of the artistic community in Northern California have increasingly sought out places like the Ghost Ship as affordable, though sometimes dangerous, alternatives to traditional living accommodations in the face of skyrocketing rents.

Some argue that the housing crisis is a partial consequence of the booming tech bubble. Google and Facebook are among companies that are trying to make a symbolic effort to tackle the issue.

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter and Periscope @AdelleNaz


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