Ghost Ship fire results in lawsuits and legislation

A person holding a "Hugs Here" sign hugs another person during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Ghost Ship artist warehouse fire, at Lake Merritt in Oakland, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016 (George Morin/ Xpress).

The fire from Ghost Ship was put out nearly two months ago, but finding a solution and way to prevent a similar tragedy has just begun in the form of lawsuits and legislation.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office still has an open criminal investigation for the fire. Of the 36 victims, the families of five and have filed lawsuits in civil court as of Friday .

Mary Alexander represents the family of Michela Gregory, an SF State student who died in the fire. The family filed a civil lawsuit against the building owners, event organizers and promoters.

“These families want to hold the people who caused this accountable,” Alexander said. “They want justice for the loss of their loved ones, and they also want to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Alexander pointed out the historical precedent that many new fire regulations and codes have resulted from this kind of tragedy, and is hopeful that good legislation will come in response.

The Gregory’s have also filed a claim against the city.

“There’s evidence that the fire department actually had an event there beforehand and that they were planning an event there. They knew about it,” said Alexander. “The fire department is 100 feet away – they knew, or should have known, what was going on in their neighborhood. I say they knew.”

Alexander is worried that many of the families who lost loved ones in the fire may be unaware that although they have time to file a civil lawsuit, claims against government can only be made within six months of the incident.

In wake of the fire, the Oakland City Council met in a special meeting Monday night, and unanimously passed two ordinances.

A person holding a “Hugs Here” sign hugs another person during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Ghost Ship artist warehouse fire, at Lake Merritt in Oakland, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016 (George Morin/ Xpress).

The first was an emergency ordinance that goes into effect immediately and lasts for 90 days, unless the council passes more permanent legislation before then. It addresses the legislation and investigation of living spaces similar to Ghost Ship and also includes tenant protection from eviction.

The second ordinance designates December 2 as Ghost Ship Remembrance Day.

Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo, who represents the district where the fire took place, saw the warehouse daily. He lives nearby and even met the owner a couple times to discuss complaints about trash being dumped in the street.

“Sadly it took a tragedy like Ghost Ship to get the city of Oakland together to address the issue of safety and livability,” Gallo said. “That’s the way government works sometimes – we react after the fact.”

The Oakland City Council will be writing and voting on permanent legislation that will last beyond the 90-day emergency ordinance and will also be meeting to allocate a budget for it. Gallo says that this is the start of a long process, but that all eight councilmen are working together to see it though.

As for when the families will see the end of their lawsuits, Alexander said, “I don’t want to put a number on it but, years.”