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Oakland mayor issues executive order to safeguard DIY spaces

on January 12, 2017, 6:50pm

Cities across America have cracked down on DIY venues in the wake of last month’s Ghost Ship warehouse fire, but the city where that tragedy occurred is taking a more constructive approach. As Thump points out, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced an executive order on Wednesday that aims to protect residents of the city’s DIY spaces from eviction while providing more time for them to make crucial safety upgrades.

Subtitled “Improving Safety of Non-Permitted Spaces While Avoiding Displacement”, Executive Order 2017-1 seeks to ensure tenant rights without jeopardizing the safety of those who wish to attend unregulated events. In the order, Schaaf writes, “We must take additional steps to protect physical, cultural, and artistic assets and workspaces in the community while making necessary changes to improve life safety, provide for safer public events and improve standards and procedures for evaluating and assuring compliance.”

Many will undoubtedly see the order as an olive branch to Oakland’s robust DIY arts community, which has experienced both unspeakable tragedy and unwanted attention in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire. The fire claimed 36 lives and cast a spotlight on the dangers of unregulated show spaces, leading some to suggest that all such spaces should be shut down permanently.

But Schaaf’s recommendations offer a significantly more lenient solution, including a grace period to allow building owners to make necessary improvements to comply with housing or fire codes and zoning requirements. Rather than simply kick tenants out for violating these requirements, a Building Official or Fire Marshal will have 60 days to “work in the spirit of cooperation with property owners, tenants and master lessors to correct code violations that are not deemed to be an imminent life safety risk.”

In a rapidly gentrifying city in which resident displacement is a constant issue, Schaaf hopes that the executive order will demonstrate the Oakland government’s willingness to work with vulnerable residents rather than against them. Last month, Schaaf announced a $1.7 million investment aimed at “preventing displacement, growing the capacity of the city’s artists and cultural organizations, and enhancing municipal resources for the cultural sector over the long haul.”