Artists Respond to Fire Safety Crackdown By Calling on the Fire Department

By and missionlocal – excerpt

In the wake of the tragic fire in Oakland that claimed 36 lives and the city crackdowns that resulted, the founder of a Mission District arts space will bring together firefighters with managers of both underground and above-board arts spaces to help improve fire safety.

Spike Kahn, a prominent housing activist who has also been active in a fire safety advocacy group, is spearheading the effort that will allow owners and tenants in legal and un-permitted spaces to learn how to make the spaces safer.

In fact, Kahn says, she wants the city to more tightly regulate people like herself.

“I’m a landlord… I did not have a fire extinguishers because the law does not require it, but I am trying to get the city to require them in every kitchen that has a gas stove,” she said…

Together with the Fire Department and representatives from the Department of Building Inspections, Kahn will host a workshop at the Brava Theater Center on January 3 to educate managers of artistic spaces and live-work spaces on how to improve safety…

Debra Walker, a building inspection commissioner who responded to the petition with enthusiastic support last Wednesday, emphasized that the purpose of the workshop will be to give people who live in and run arts spaces the tools to improve safety, not to scrutinize them…

“I know that everybody is freaking out that the [building inspection] department is going to come down on buildings, and I don’t think that’s the case,” Walker said. “I think we’re trying to be thoughtful and conscientious about this and respect people’s homes.”

Walker herself lives in an artist live-work space, Developing Environments. When artists first moved into the space, she said, residents hung parachutes to separate their spaces. Now she pays 1200 a month for two units, one to live in, and one where she works. She has no plumbing in her unit and must share a bathroom and water with other residents in a common area.

The creation of city ordinances governing live-work spaces and “accessory uses” helped bring the space into compliances, Walker said.

But Kahn said legal or not, many spaces have fire safety issues…

Artist live-work spaces can be done safelly – Walker named Project Artaud, the Goodman Building, and Developing Environments as examples of what works. She noted that these spaces began as illegally occupied art studios before securing city approvals that allowed them to carry on and make improvements.

The fire safety workshop will be held Tuesday, January 3 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Brava Theater Center on 24th Street…(more)

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