Mayor of Oakland warns against ‘scapegoating’ lavishly paid city employees who failed to inspect deathtrap warehouse in 30 years

The Ghost Ship warehouse/artists’ colony fire makes for a compelling drama.  And everyone knows that for a drama, you need villains, especially when a tragedy is as vivid as the horrible deaths of 36 mostly young adult creative explorers.

The mainstream media found a ready-made figure in Derick Almena, the man who rented the warehouse and set up the colony, whose solipsistic tweets focused on his own suffering, not the fire victims’.

His appearance on The Today Show could be a textbook example for P.R. consultants to use in warning their clients who have just experienced a disaster.

But now that the news is out that this obvious firetrap, complained about by neighbors, was never inspected in the last 30 years, people, including many Oakland residents, wonder why the city government allowed this predictable tragedy to unfold.

Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf is understandably concerned about being perceived to have dropped the ball:

“I want to be clear that we will not scapegoat city employees in the wake of this disaster. What we will do is give them clarity and support that they deserve,” Schaaf said.

Support?  Let’s start with financial support.  Our own Michael Bargo, Jr. looked up the pay lavished on the senior officials who should not have allowed this to happen and found some shocking information:

 … in 2015, Craig K. Chew, the assistant chief of inspectors, made $362,211, $147,000 of which was "benefits."  The Alameda County administrator Susan Muranishi made $729,162 in 2015, of which $313,503 was in "benefits," which included bonuses. 

The Alameda County sheriff, Greg Ahern, made $627,935 in that one year.  

For that kind of money, and that kind of job security (notice that nobody has whispered a word about firing or even disciplining the “public servants” who allowed this travesty to happen by failing in their basic job duty for decades), can't we expect a level of commitment to duty above and beyond the ordinary?

So how did they do, these one-percenters?  The East Bay Express reports:

Last Saturday morning, as first responders began to enter its smoldering rubble in search of victims, several Oakland Fire Department employees looked up the warehouse’s fire-code inspection history. But when they attempted to pull records for 1315 31st Avenue from their own fire-prevention bureau’s files, they discovered nothing.

“It's not even in the system,” one firefighter said (he asked not be identified for fear of retaliation from the city for speaking out).

Since the tragedy, he and five other firefighters have explained to the Expresshow the department's building-inspection program, which should be the front line of fire prevention and safety, is dangerously under-staffed and disorganized. 

In fact, there are just six fire inspectors for the entire City of Oakland, left to investigate more than 4,200 commercial and residential properties each year.

These firefighters also blamed Oakland Fire Chief Theresa Deloach Reed for failing to hire for key leadership positions in the fire prevention bureau.

For years, the OFD also has been chronically under-funded. Firefighters told the Express that they’re made to work long, grueling overtime hours, because there are too few emergency responders to adequately protect the city without extra shifts. 

Maybe it is understaffed because it pays the second banana inspector $362,000?  I wonder if really good assistant managers might be available for half that amount?

But what about all those other hardworking city employees, the ones down in the trenches?  CBS SF Bay Area reports:

… it has become clear that while both child protective services and even Oakland police officers had been inside the Ghost City warehouse, no one had contacted building inspectors about what they saw.

It’s the old “that’s not on my job description” mentality.  I have noticed over the course of my life that this attitude, related to the “work-to-rule” tactic often adopted by public employees who are unable to strike, is limited to public employees and also workers at large, bureaucratic organizations on their way to decline and bankruptcy, unless revived and culturally changed by someone like Mitt Romney.  It is a very common cultural pathology of rigid, ineffective bureaucracies.

I would really like to know if Mayor Schaaf thinks the police and child protective workers who saw the interior of the death trap and did nothing should not be “scapegoated.”

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