Renowned local PR fixer Sam Singer has a new client in Keith Kim, the property owner of the reportedly run-down residential building at 2551 San Pablo Avenue that went up in flames in a major fire last Monday, claiming the lives of four people who lived there. Initial suspicions of arson were squelched when investigators concluded that the source of the blaze was a candle in one resident's room, however Kim's name was quickly dragged through the media mud last week, in particular with this Chronicle piece detailing his financial woes of the past several decades.
In December, Kim had initiated eviction proceedings against primary tenant Urojas Community Services, a non-profit that had been managing the building and filling at least two floors of it with tenants since 2012. Kim now says in a press release from Singer, "We were trying to protect the residents and improve the management of the building by removing Urojas as its manager and operator," clarifying that he had no intention of evicting the tenants themselves. Kim says that the eviction proceedings began when he discovered that Urojas had allowed conditions inside the building to deteriorate, and had failed to pay its East Bay MUD water bill for over three years. He further claims that he had "worked to broker a deal with the City [of Oakland] and [Alameda] County and other non-profits to remove and replace Urojas Community Services... and its leader Pastor Jasper Lowery, but Lowery reneged on the agreement."
Furthermore, Kim wants the world to know that he was an understanding landlord, and when the previous tenant, a battered women's shelter called the East Bay Community Recovery Project, had lost some of its funding, he lowered their rent to help make ends meet. And, he adds, "unlike Urojas," they "kept the building in excellent condition for over 18 years."
Kim has owned the building for 25 years, and says "We are in shock at this tragedy. I am heartbroken by what has occurred. We grieve for the four lives lost and for the residents, family and friends who are impacted by the tragedy." He adds that he has already offered to cover the funeral expenses for the family of one of the fire victims.
The blame game is sure to continue in the wake of this tragedy, much the way it has with the Ghost Ship fire, as the city of Oakland attempts to prove that it did not drop the ball in inspecting this property, and as Kim continues to direct blame away from himself.