Is Oakland Special Event Permit Redesign Task Force Protecting Next Warehouse Fire Location?

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In the wake of the tragic Oakland Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire that took 36 lives on December 2, 2016, The City of Oakland has still not taken any meaningful action to make sure that such an event does not occur again, save for one policy change: allowing Oakland Police Officers to tell the City about unpermitted events.

This effort is also part of a survey that’s under way and established by an inner-City-of-Oakland group called the Special Event Permit Redesign Task Force. Don’t worry if you’ve not been informed about it as an Oakland resident; only City of Oakland staffers sit on it, and that’s a bad idea.

The Special Event Permit Redesign Task Force includes “Greg Minor and Nancy Marcus in the City’s Administrator’s Office, Kelley Kahn in the Mayor’s Office, Jim MacIlvaine in the Cultural Affairs Office, Sgt. Andy McNeil in the Oakland Police Department, Assistant Fire Marshall Cesar Avila in the Oakland Fire Department, Tim Low in Building Services and Aubrey Rose in the Planning Department, (and) has identified several barriers that discourage compliance, as well as strategies to combat these obstacles.”

But on the survey page the task force does not explain what those “several barriers that discourage compliance, as well as strategies to combat these obstacles” are.

The problem is what we in planning used to call “Analysis Paralysis” – or “the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.”

For example, the survey has been in existence for several months now, and no release of information from it has happened. Moreover, the survey itself lacks a way to determine the location of any venue that may be the focus of the response. There’s a reason for this, if wrongheaded.

Greg Minor, in The City’s Administrator’s Office, said in an email to me that…

“The special event permit redesign survey did not include a question regarding the specific venue(s) associated with the survey respondents in order to protect the anonymity of the survey respondents, many of whom have expressed concern about either being displaced from their place of residence/assembly or having the venue shut down. In turn, this anonymity should maximize the amount of information the City receives from those currently holding unpermitted events.

In terms of the task force composition, it only includes staff members but has and will benefit from the expertise of those involved in the entertainment community. For example, the task force conducted a listening session with a focus group of event holders earlier this year, met with the sf entertainment commission director, is currently reaching out to the public via the survey, and will circle back with the entertainment community as it moves forward with implementing the suggestions put forth by the public.

Given that today is now September 23rd, 2017, and that email was just sent to me on September 14th, and the Warehouse Fire happened on December 2nd, there has been plenty of time to do that, and to take more meaningful action.

Like what?

If I were to put on my economic development hat, I would call a real estate broker who specializes in warehouse development and go around the City with that person, making an inventory of warehouses – used and not used. I got this idea from a project I worked on as an intern in the Oakland Office of Economic Development.

In 1987, it was my job to find a way to relocate pipes owned by East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD). My boss, Oakland Assistant City Manager Ezra Rapport, did not give me a road-map to use – he expected me, the Berkeley City Planning grad, to come up with the method myself. So I did.

I found a site, and went about the task of relocating the pipes, stopped only by EBMUB, who’s property manager had no idea Ezra put me up to the task.

But if I can do that, then, 30 years later, what the hell is going on with the City of Oakland that it does not have staff members who take effective action?

Rather than just posting a survey online, the task force should be expanded to include Oakland event producers like my friend Lionel Bea, and actually make a list of places that events have been held or could be held, and determine what’s right and wrong with them via a combination of site visits, phone calls, emails, and information provided by organizations that have held (for example) art gallery tours.Then, draft a resolution for the Oakland City Council, and then get to work selling the plan to the City Council.

And on the matter of Mr. Minor’s concern about protecting “ the anonymity of the survey respondents, many of whom have expressed concern about either being displaced from their place of residence/assembly or having the venue shut down” – work can and should be done to identify and to help brings those persons and places into code compliance. That’s what good economic development and planning work does.

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