An online petition, which as of Wednesday had garnered 10,000 signatures and is now up to 13,000, was delivered to San Francisco's Department of Building Inspection on Wednesday by 25-year-old SF resident Julie Mastrine, and it asks that the department, as well as the San Francisco and Oakland Fire Departments, cease doing surprise spot-checks of artists' warehouse spaces and prompting "reactionary" evictions following the Ghost Ship fire. "This is obvious and should not need to be said: the Bay Area has a crisis in affordable housing," Mastrine writes. "Conducting fire inspections that result in evictions is NOT the answer in this environment."
Many have argued in the last three weeks that Oakland turned too much of a blind eye to illegal live-work dwellings like the Ghost Ship warehouse and the Chronicle reported on the "eerily prescient" March 2015 warehouse fire on 24th Street in West Oakland that killed two people, where regular inspections had in fact occurred. The tragedy three weeks ago, which claimed the lives of 36 people, has prompted a nationwide uptick in the inspection of such spaces, sometimes resulting in evictions.
As Mastrine tells the Chronicle, she was inspired to launch the petition effort because her twin sister, Amy, is an artist whose warehouse dwelling in Potrero Hill was recently the subject of a surprise inspection, and she is worried about being evicted. (But, as the Examiner points out, Julie Mastrine also happens to be the Activism Marketing and Social Media Manager for Care2, the company that hosts petition drives like the one she posted.) Amy and her warehouse-mates were cited for illegal construction and several fire code violations, all of which they were given one day to fix while being asked to evacuate the premises in the meantime.
The Mastrine sisters and the petition signers are asking that fire inspectors "Not be so heavy-handed in inspections and enforcement that evictions result." Or, the petition asks that inspections cease altogether until such time that "resources are in place for artists to either 1) bring their buildings up to code in an affordable way OR 2) access new affordable housing."
Last week the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection said they were spot-checking about 10 warehouses that they believed were being used as illegal dwellings, and one of those was a warehouse on Peralta Street in Bernal Heights where the artist inhabitants received an immediate eviction notice from their landlord. A famed punk venue and artists warehouse in Richmond called Burnt Ramen was red-tagged last week and saw its residents evicted something that "dozens" showed up to protest at a city council meeting Tuesday night, per KQED as ABC 7 reported. Meanwhile Oakland is taking a less reactionary approach, with Mayor Schaaf saying in the wake of the fire that this was not cause for "witch hunts."
One of those residents, Nathan Cottam, tells CBS 5 that he has seven co-tenants in the space, and "If we lose this, I can’t imagine finding another place that’s comparable to what I can afford in the city. I don’t anticipate finding something else.”
Cottam told the Chronicle that their space got their inspection at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, and that it went "as well as it could have."
A spokesperson for the SFFD, Lt. Jonathan Baxter, tells the paper that notices of violation do not typically lead to immediate evictions, and he says as long as progress is being made there is usually some leniency. "We’re not going out and saying, ‘Here’s your violation. Fix it. If it’s not fixed within this certain parameter of time, we’re going to go to the next step,’" he says.
But Amy Mastrine insists to the Chronicle, despite the results of the recent inspection, "My space is safe. We took the fire seriously, without any bullying. ... My strongest point, I think, is that we can take care of our own, and we really don’t need to be policed in this way.”