Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

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Archives

    ‘Deplorable’

    Neglected Oakland building burns down, killing four and displacing dozens

    A firefighter sprays the remains of 2551 San Pablo Ave. in Oakland, Calif., on March 28, 2017, after a flare-up began billowing smoke out of the top of the building. The fire the day prior killed four people and displaced dozens. (Brian Howey/Tower)

    By Brian Howey

    The charred skeleton of an apartment building stands smoldering and empty as emergency crews look on, waiting idly in the mist of a fire hose.

    This is the aftermath of the deadly March 27 inferno that gutted the building at 2551 San Pablo Ave. in West Oakland and took the lives of four people.

    “One lady got trapped in the building and called [out] while she was in flames,” said Anthony, a Laney student who described the fire.

    An employee for The Workforce Collaborative, Anthony, who wished to withhold his real name, claims to have lost nearly $10,000 in equipment when his office inside the building burned.

    Over 100 people were displaced by the fire, some of them squatters, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. At least 15 were rescued by the Oakland Fire Department, according to the Chronicle. Some of those rescued tied sheets together to lower themselves out of third-story windows.

    “Everyone just ran out, they just got out,” said Mika King, a Laney student who lives next door to the building that caught fire.

    The Oakland Police Department cordons the area surrounding the intersection of San Pablo Ave. and Milton St. after a fire broke out in the early morning of March 27, 2017 at 2551 San Pablo Ave., in Oakland, Calif. The building contained a rehabilitation facility and low-income housing, and had recently faced eviction pressure from the owner. (David Hiltbrand/Tower)

    King, along with her infant daughter and mother, were standing behind police tape near their house, awaiting the go-ahead from the Oakland Fire Department to return home.

    “They’re afraid that the second floor is going to buckle and fall onto our building,” said King’s mother, Rev. ToNiya Scott-Smith, also a Laney student.

    The Alameda County Sherriff’s Office Twitter page identified two of the victims of the fire as Edwarn Anderson, 64, a resident of the building, and Cassandra Robertson, 50, also a resident.

    As of press time, San Pablo Avenue was still partially blocked off to traffic and plans for the demolition of the building were still unknown.

    Eviction Battle

    The building, owned by Keith Kim, was being rented to Urojas Community Services, a transitional housing non-profit headed by Dr. Jasper Lowery.

    According to several sources, Kim had spent months trying to evict Urojas and their clients living in the building.

    Atty. James Cook of John L. Burris Law Offices, who represents Urojas, said that Kim had served the tenants a three-day notice to vacate shortly after the Oakland Ghost Ship fire killed 36 people in December.

    However, Cook found the eviction notice to be a fake.

    “I called the attorney [listed on the eviction notice] and asked her about it. She said that she didn’t represent Kim and…wasn’t sure if they had represented them before,” Cook said.

    Anthony, who said he assisted Kim in serving eviction papers to Lowery, claimed that both Kim and The Workforce Collaborative had been trying to “get rid of” Urojas for months.

    Violations

    Earlier in March, Urojas tenants were served a 30-day notice to vacate, this one legitimate. Urojas and Cook contested the eviction due to sub-par conditions in the building.

    “The building was in such disarray in some areas, we couldn’t just sit there and keep accepting that and paying rent,” Dr. Lowery said.

    Anthony disagrees, saying that the conditions inside the building were “bad,” but still livable.

    A firefighter stands on a fire escape platform after inspecting the building for burning debris at 2551 San Pablo Ave. in Oakland, Calif. More than 100 people were left homeless by the fire. (Brian Howey/Tower)

    But according to The Mercury News, the city received numerous complaints on the building that burned — 18 in the last five years — reporting electrical problems, caved-in floors, leaks in the roof, and numerous other issues.

    During a walk-through with local police, Cook said the conditions inside the building were “deplorable,” describing exposed wires, overflowing toilets, and piles of garbage throughout the first floor.

    Nearly four months after the Ghost Ship blaze, the San Pablo fire adds four more to a rising death toll which begs the question: How many more people have to die before the city starts addressing these violations in a timely manner?

    It took a month for a fire inspector to enter the San Pablo Avenue building after a city firefighter issued a warning of unsafe conditions inside, the East Bay Times reported.

    Ten days after Kim served Urojas the 30-day eviction notice, the building caught fire.

    “Now some people have died. It was unnecessary,” Cook said.

    He told the Tower that he is referring families impacted by the fire to the Wortham Briscoe Law Office to pursue legal action.

    A large number of those displaced by the tragedy were staying at the West Oakland Youth Center, the SF Gate reported.

    The center and other organizations, such as the Red Cross and First Presbyterian Church of Oakland, are requesting donations for the victims.

    Many children have been displaced, and the First Presbyterian Facebook page has asked for donations of new school supplies and children’s clothes.

    Further information can be found below.


    Donations Contacts

    Red Cross
    1. Go to
    www.redcross.org
    2. Under Donate (Top of screen), click on “Home Fire Campaign”
    3. Scroll down, click on “Donate”
    4. Comment that the gift is for families impacted by the 2551 San Pablo Ave./Mead Avenue fire in Oakland.

    First Presbyterian Church
    2619 Broadway Ave.
    (510) 444–3555

    Upperkutz Barber Shop
    1498 7th St.
    9AM-2PM

    Wood Assembly Church
    767 Pine St.
    3–7PM

    West Oakland Youth Center
    3233 Market St.
    (510) 595–3223


    Brian Howey is a Tower Staff Writer. Contact him at [email protected].

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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