(KRON) -Oakland police and other city officials went to a cluttered warehouse converted into an illegal residence dozens of times in the several years before 36 people died in a late-night fire, according to documents released by the city Wednesday.
The records, requested by The Associated Press and other media outlets more than two months ago, detail complaints from neighbors, residents and visitors of the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse about safety problems, loud parties and other issues with the dilapidated building converted illegally into a living area.
Over the past 30 years, Oakland code enforcers received at least 22 complaints about the warehouse and surrounding properties. They referenced blight, abandoned cars, trash, old tires, rodents and transients living on the property.
Despite officials’ claims that they did not know people were living in the space zoned for commercial use, the documents show at least one call to police reporting it as a residence.
On Feb. 2, 2015, a person called police after claiming to be locked out of the warehouse, telling the officer who showed up that “this is a warehouse that is also an illegal shared housing.” The officer reported that the issue was resolved and he left.
No citations were issued. But Ghost Ship operator Derick Almena was charged with possession of stolen property two years ago. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and agreed to pay restitution.
The fire broke out Dec. 2 during a dance party and quickly ripped through the cluttered warehouse, which had been converted to artists’ studios and illegal living space. Officials have yet to announce the cause of the blaze.
Former residents said the warehouse was a death trap with few exits, piles of driftwood and a labyrinth of electrical cords. Photos of the interior showed a hodgepodge Bohemian scene of Tibetan prayer flags, Christmas lights and scores of wooden statues of Buddha, the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, elephants and dragons that sat atop pianos and turntables.
The ground floor had RVs and other nooks used as living spaces that were rented out to tenants, while the upstairs had space for concerts.
Most recently, city inspectors received complaints on Nov. 13 about the warehouse being remodeled into residences and on Nov. 14 about an “illegal interior building structure.” A building inspector who went to the warehouse left after being unable to get inside and later sent a request to the owner to gain entry.
Almena, who rented the space, did not respond to emails or phone calls from The Associated Press to phone numbers associated with him Wednesday.
Acquaintances and local authorities described repeatedly confronting Almena about what they saw as unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the warehouse.
The Alameda County district attorney has launched a criminal investigation.
The city did not release 911 recordings or dispatch calls that were requested by the media outlets.