a gentle look at codes


Oakland is Everywhere

It’s been a tough week here in Northern California. 36 people died in a fire during a party at a local warehouse. Family and friends are reeling and the artist community is in great pain. This fire occurred in a warehouse that was illegally converted to studio and living space. And the couple who converted the warehouse claim these parties are one of the ways that they raised money to pay rent on the warehouse.

People are beginning to point fingers and assign blame.


Before we start assigning blame, and I’m sure there is plenty to assign, there’s a bigger issue here. Why were people living in a space that was not built for habitation? A couple of reasons come to mind:

  • Like-mindedness: people enjoy living near others who share their interests, schedules, affinities, lifestyles.
    • You are an artist who works days to pay the bills and spends nights painting. But your roommate has to be up at 6 to head to their tech job. No, you can’t play music while you work. And why is there paint all over the bathroom sink you share? And that’s just a ridiculously simplistic scenario.
  • Cost: in an area where average rent for a studio apartment tops $1600 per month without utilities, many people are priced out of the ‘legitimate’ housing market.
    • So let’s say you’re a young artist working at a local coffee shop to pay the bills and purchase art supplies. You make (generously) $15 per hour. You work 30 hours per week. You gross under $2000 per month. You definitely can’t afford that studio apartment if you plan to clothe yourself, eat, bathe, heat. And if your art requires studio space there’s that rent as well. It doesn’t take long to figure out why people in the arts are left to find ‘alternative’ housing styles.

As the Bay Area continues to grow, and as costs continue to reach stellar heights, we need to think about the many communities that are being shut out. Art is important. Artists are important. Teachers and musicians and writers and chefs are all important. We need them here. We need to find a way to make ‘here’ attainable for everyone.


My life work revolves around codes. Fire codes. Life safety codes. Health codes. Accessibility codes. Energy codes. Building codes. These codes are all in place for a reason and many of these codes keep us safe in our built environment. However complying with all of these codes costs money, which drives up the cost of housing. So people build without permits, ignoring codes, and creating hazards. The result is they can charge less rent.

a way forward

There is a two way street here. We need to have safe housing stock and we also need city departments to do their part in keeping that housing stock affordable. A paradigm shift is in order where citizens can trust their local jurisdictions to treat them fairly, apply minimum necessary code enforcement to keep them safe, and eliminate anything that resembles a ‘money grab’. This won’t originate with local building and fire departments….it will require the involvement of local governments to relax some of the laws around compliance.

The us versus them dynamic is destroying the ability of lower income individuals to remain in the Bay Area. Or in the worst case scenario we saw last weekend, it is literally destroying the lives of artists, teachers, musicians, writers, students. Continuing to lose these creative and vibrant people, whether by flight or as we did last weekend, will suck the very soul out of the Bay Area. We can’t let that happen. Not in Oakland, not in San Francisco, not in Marin, not on the Peninsula, not in the South or East Bay. Oakland is everywhere.


If you want to step up and help the victims of last weekends devastating  fire, below are a few ways I’ve found.

12/10-11: Scott’s Jack London Square is giving all proceeds from its clam chowder to the Fire Relief Fund for Victims

12/12: Duende will donate 100% of sales to the Fire Relief Fun for Victims of Ghost Ship Oakland Fire

12/14: Oakland United concert Noise Pop and Another Planet Entertainment, along with Paradigm Agency’s Oakland office present Oakland United – a night of remembrance and community. There will be performances and stories from musicians and journalists, all of which have connections to the Bay Area music scene. All proceeds for the benefit will go to the Gray Area Foundation For The Arts Oakland Fire Relief Fund.

12/14: Shakewell will donate all happy hour proceeds (4pm-6pm) to the Ghost Ship Fire Relief Fund

12-19: Cream stores in Berkeley, Oakland, and Palo Alto will donate 25% of sales to victims of the Ghost Ship fire

Encuentro will be donating a portion of their profits until next Tuesday ( for friends, neighbors and loved ones affected by the Ghost Ship fire

Peet’s will match up to $10,000 in donations made at any of its Northern California stores to the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts

Drakes Brewing Company released a new beer called ‘Oakland Love’ at both locations. 100% of sales of this limited Double IPA will be donated to support the victims of the Ghost Ship fire

Fire Relief Fund for Victims of Ghost Ship Oakland Fire Fire Relief Fund for Victims of Ghost Ship Oakland Fire is a fundraiser organized by Gray Area Foundation for the Arts

Oakland A’s and Oakland Raiders Matching-Funds Fundraiser Assistance and relief to the victims and families of the Oakland warehouse fire the night of Friday, December 2nd. Funds are matched up to $50,000 by the Oakland A’s and the Raiders.

Ghost Ship Fire: Residents Support All donations to this fund will go to the residents of Satya Yuga, aka Ghost Ship, directly funding supplies and materials needed to support their livelihood

Resources to Support Ghost Ship If you can’t spare a cash donation but are able to help in other ways, this Google doc lists people who are able lend support and resources to those affected by the fire

Oakland Firefighters: Random Acts of Kindness The psychological toll on firefighters searching through debris for victims can be intense. The Random Acts of Kindness fund helps Firefighters mitigate feelings of hopelessness by providing them with the funds needed  to help the people they encounter.

Keep in touch, take care of each other and be safe,