Proprietors of Everett & Jones BBQ and residents of a neighboring artist warehouse met over the weekend with a message of unity and mutual aid as they paid tribute to the 36 lives lost in the Ghost Ship fire earlier this month.
Dorothy King, owner of the Jack London Square restaurant, organized a “candlelight vigil of love” on Sunday to honor those whose lives have been taken too early in Oakland and to show the public that solidarity exists between the two neighbors.
“The vigil was to honor the 36 lives lost in that horrible fire. It was also to honor other victims such as LoEshe Lacy— we unveiled a “Love Life” banner—and to honor Oscar Grant,” King told the Post.
The night before the vigil, King hosted a fundraising concert that was put together by residents of Salt Lick, the neighboring warehouse, to raise money for safety improvements to bring the warehouse and other unpermitted spaces up to code.
Recently, King brought awareness to what she believed were unsafe living conditions next door that she thought would lead to more lives lost if the city did not take responsibility for bringing Salt Lick up to code.
Her announcement was initially met with misunderstanding by her neighbors who feared that King’s actions would lead to their eviction. Yet, once they all came together to talk, they quickly realized they shared the same goals and intentions.
According to Sam Lefebvre, who works at Salt Lick, the two sides have teamed up to figure out how to ensure that people are living in safe conditions without losing a roof over their heads.
Their conversations have allowed artists, many of whom are newcomers, to see what they have in common with Oakland’s longtime Black community.
“Right now, artists are rightly becrying the fact that they are being targeted while not acknowledging that the same thing has been happening to Black people in Oakland for decades,” Lefebvre told the Post.
“We started plotting how we could create a public gesture of mutual aid and unity. One of the results was this weekend,” he said.
Yet, since the Ghost Ship fire happened, dozens of residences and local businesses have been served eviction notices or told to cease and desist their work.
The response from the city and property owners has been counterproductive and opportunistic, says King.
“One of the things we’re talking about is how we can get a moratorium to stop the evictions,” she said. “These landlords and artists need to work together to bring places up to code and not evict. The main purpose should be not to evict people.”
“The city should be working to define a path for illegal residences or work spaces to become safe without their tenants risking expulsion,” Lefebvre said.
“Right now, the city hasn’t given artists or the warehouse community much of a reason to come out and ask for help.”
Councilmember Noel Gallo, who attended Sunday’s vigil and in whose district the fire occurred, told the Post that he agrees with an eviction moratorium as a temporary solution.
“We do not want to displace tenants at their expense, otherwise they’ll end up in the street,” said Gallo. “We need to make up methods to work with property owners to make necessary property improvements while at the same time allowing tenants to keep a respectable rent.”
Gallo says he continues to see more people living in unsafe conditions or who are homeless in Oakland, including seniors, immigrant families and disabled residents.
Mayor Libby Schaaf did not respond to questions from the Post asking how the city would ensure that people are living in safe conditions without risking their evictions and whether she would support an eviction moratorium.
Tulio Ospina is the assistant editor of the Oakland Post and editor-in-chief of El Mundo.