Tom Butt
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  Burnt Ramen Protest
December 22, 2016

The protest by several dozen people at the December 20, 2016, City Council meeting regarding the red tagging of the Burnt Ramen (111 Espee Street) was carried by the Associated Press and distributed to hundreds of media worldwide. As well as being covered by local media such as the East Bay Rxpress. The speakers accused the City of unfairly targeting artists and musicians and maintained that the building wasn’t actually unsafe.

You can read the 111 Espee Notice and Order yourself and reach your own conclusion.

The Notice and Order describes a large number of violations, but it is critical to note that several are the same as those that have been identified as causing or contributing to the 36 deaths at Ghost Ship:

·         Burnt Ramen has the same non-removable window grills that trapped people at Ghost Ship.
·         The Burnt Ramen building was entirely “off the grid,” with no electrical or gas service, no heat and no hot water. The electrical system, such as it was, is unsafe. It was the electrical system that apparently caused the Ghost Ship fire.
·         The stairways at Burnt Ramen did not meet code and are unsafe. The substandard stairway at Ghost Ship has been identified as playing a role in trapping people.

In spite of the criticism directed at me, I have, fact, reached out to Burnt Ramen, providing the following information that might help them achieve compliance.

·         I provided the contact information for two fire code consultants who are retired Richmond fire marshals.
·         The property the Burnt Ramen occupies is zoned RM-2 (High Density Residential). If several people owned or rented it to live in and were just roommates, it would not only be a zoning code-conforming use; the City would not have any reason to even inspect it.
·         If the owner charges rent to anyone, it comes under RMC Chapter 6.49 Residential Dwelling Unit Inspection and Maintenance Ordinance and has to be registered with the City and inspected periodically. The owner also has to have a business license to be in the rental business.
·         Under the current zoning ordinance that went into effect December 15, 2016, residential is an allowed use, as is an art studio. A musical entertainment venue, called in the code a "theatre" or  "cultural facility" is not an allowable use.
·         The previous zoning, which predated the current owner's acquisition of the property, was C-2, General Commercial District, where residential uses were allowed, and "live entertainment" was also allowed with a conditional use permit. The problem appears to have begun when the current owner established both a recording studio and a live entertainment venue without obtaining a conditional use permit. He took out a business license for one year in 2002 for a "recording studio," but a business license. A business license is, ironically, not a permit to engage in a business, but simply a tax. The business license was never renewed.
·         An argument could made that the recording studio and/or the live entertainment venue is an "existing non-conforming use, "commonly referred to a "grandfathered in." But since it was conducted illegally, that argument may fall apart.
·         I am considering having  the Mayor's Office sponsor a community workshop in the near future to explain how zoning and safety codes work and how to navigate the system.

The City also provided the Burnt Ramen owner with information about how to appeal the order, and typically, the City is willing to work with people to achieve code compliance. What the City is probably not going to do is:

·         Write a check to pay for the corrective work
·         Provide detailed plans and specifications.
·         Provide code exemptions not provided to others.

I support the arts, and I know how important art, including music, is to society. But I do not believe that anyone, including artists, musicians, restaurateurs, cobblers, baristas, grocers, or marijuana dispensers should have some special exemption from safety laws.

For Burnt Ramen and similar venues, the best course of action would be to:

·         Acknowledge that they are a problem and stop blaming others for their misfortunes.
·         Acknowledge that artists and musicians (and their audiences) do not have any special exemptions under the law.
·         Focus on fixing their violations.

As I have pointed out previously, these basic safety requirements come state codes, not local ordinances. A City’s requirement to inspect is in a state statute, not local ordinances. California state law (Health and Safety Code 13146.2) requires annual fire inspections of non-residential structures.

Health and Safety Code 13146.2.
(a) Every city or county fire department or district providing fire protection services required by Sections 13145 and 13146 to enforce building standards adopted by the State Fire Marshal and other regulations of the State Fire Marshal shall, annually, inspect all structures subject to subdivision (b) of Section 17921, except dwellings, for compliance with building standards and other regulations of the State Fire Marshal.

(b) A city, county, or district that inspects a structure pursuant to subdivision (a) may charge and collect a fee for the inspection from the owner of the structure in an amount, as determined by the city, county, or district, sufficient to pay the costs of that inspection. A city, county, or district that provides related fire and life safety activities may charge and collect a fee for the inspection from the owner of the structure in an amount, as determined by the city, county, or district, sufficient to pay the costs of that inspection.

(c) The State Fire Marshal, or his or her authorized representative, who inspects a structure subject to subdivision (b) of Section 17921, except dwellings, for compliance with building standards and other regulations of the State Fire Marshal, may charge and collect a fee for the inspection from the owner of the structure. The State Fire Marshal may also charge and collect a fee from the owner of the structure for related fire and life safety activities, such as plan review, construction consulting, fire watch, and investigation. Any fee collected pursuant to this subdivision shall be in an amount, as determined by the State Fire Marshal, sufficient to pay the costs of that inspection or those related fire and life safety activities. (Amended by Stats. 2008, Ch. 760, Sec. 6. Effective September 30, 2008.)

Such inspections and compliance are not discretionary; they are mandatory. A public official who makes a decision not to comply could find him or herself in deep trouble. Where there is a change in occupancy of an existing structure, the structure must be fully brought up to code requirements for the new occupancy (California Fire Code A 102.3), such as when a storage structure is converted to a workplace or residence. Section 109 of the California Fire Code makes the owner responsible for correction of violations and provides a range of remedies to the fire code official including legal penalties, civil orders, mandatory vacation and disconnection of utilities.

The Ghost Ship master tenant’ s lawyer is now claiming his client is innocent and that the City of Oakland is responsible because they did not inspect it or order it closed before the fire: “Attorneys for master tenant Derick Ion Almena at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland where 36 people died in a fire Dec. 2 issued a statement Monday saying he didn't engage in criminal misconduct and alleging that government agencies are responsible for the fire.”

Residents protest closing of California punk-music warehouse

Warehouse Party Fire
Scott Strazzante

In this Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016 photo, a group of supporters of a warehouse and punk-music venue k...

The Associated Press
Posted 11:26am on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016

RICHMOND, Calif. Residents and supporters of a San Francisco Bay Area warehouse and punk-music venue known as the "Burnt Ramen" protested its closing after a deadly fire at an illegally converted warehouse in Oakland.

A few dozen supporters of the Burnt Ramen carried protest signs to a Richmond City Council meeting Tuesday night, asking for time and guidance to fix safety and other code problems.

"They're not letting us fix our home," former resident Brandon Bailey, 29, told the San Francisco Chronicle at a small rally before the meeting ( ).

Richmond officials closed the warehouse last week and evicted its six residents. Fire officials say the problems included people living in crawl spaces and bars and chicken wire covering windows.

City Manager Bill Lindsay said authorities were willing to work with the venue's owner to make the building safe and legal.

"I do hope that things happen expeditiously and responsibly, so we can get this facility back to occupancy," Lindsay said.

The Dec. 2 fire that killed 36 people at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland prompted the crackdown on the Burnt Ramen, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said.

Similar steps against unpermitted warehouses used by artists have been taken around the country since the Ghost Ship fire, which was the nation's deadliest building fire in more than a decade.

Information from: San Francisco Chronicle,

Burnt Ramen Punk House Residents Thought City of Richmond Would Help. Instead, They Got Evicted.

Tenants Still Fighting Red-Tagging of the Nearly 20-Year-Old Underground Music Institution.

By Jonathan Riley, East Bay Express

An 'unsafe to occupy' notice on Burnt Ramen's front door this past Friday.
Jonathan Riley

An "unsafe to occupy' notice on Burnt Ramen's front door this past Friday.
JONATHAN RILEY - An 'unsafe to occupy' notice on Burnt Ramen's front door this past Friday.

  • Jonathan Riley
  • An "unsafe to occupy' notice on Burnt Ramen's front door this past Friday.

After more than a week of frantically calling lawyers and building code experts, installing fire extinguishers, and making renovations — all while still grieving friends lost and injured in the Ghost Ship fire — Burnt Ramen's tenants felt defeated this past Friday: The city of Richmond "red tagged" the underground punk venue and living space, which meant all residents would need to move out immediately.

Those who lived in the space, some for more than a decade, felt that the city didn't hold up its end of the bargain. "They came in here solely with the intent to shut the place down," said Burnt Ramen tenant Brandon Bailey. "We decided to be friendly and let them in, because we were assuming that that's how they were going to be."

In a conversation with the Express prior to the inspection, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt certainly gave the impression that the city's visit would be amicable. "The city does not necessarily come in, find a property that's got some current issues, and just shut them down," he said. "The more typical thing is to meet with the owner, and say ... 'We want to work with you. ... We're not trying to ruin your life."

But that's exactly what happened on December 16.

Mike Malin, a.k.a. Mykee Ramen, owner of the space, said on Friday that he planned to sleep in his van after the red-tagging of his home of 18 years. Other tenants dispersed throughout the Bay Area to sleep on couches and floors where they'd been granted temporary refuge.

Malin says the inspection involved eight inspectors and a police officer, although there was no search warrant. "We allowed them into our house," Malin told the Express. "We could have retained the right to say, 'No, you must have a search warrant to come into our house.' We were under the impression that they would be willing to work with us to correct violations and give us some time and be able to live in our house."

Bailey says that, instead, inspectors cut one lock and basically went around the house snapping lots of photos, while not saying much of anything. "They were really weird about everything," he said.

Malin said that, after the inspection, he did not receive any documentation, or sign anything. "They just said we couldn't live in our own house anymore," he explained.

He added that inspectors said they might have a list of necessary improvements to meet compliance requirements ready by Wednesday — but, given many government departments' tendencies to largely shut down for the holidays, he wouldn't be surprised if it's next year before he hears anything.

David Keenan, who has helped out numerous DIY spots after Ghost Ship with safety and compliance issues, described the Ramen red-tagging as "the most punitive" inspection that he's seen since the tragedy on December 2. "It's far from the most-dangerous place that I've seen, in my opinion," he told the Express.

Keenan says he's witnessed several of the evictions and red-taggings since Ghost Ship. "It's a bad situation. I've watched people crying, leaving buildings, not even given 24 hours to vacate."

Malin doubts other buildings are being targeted so aggressively. "It's a political thing," he said. "It's political pressure by the mayor, and probably some of those workers were not too pleased with what they had to do. I don't think they even wanted to be there, a lot of them."

After the building was red tagged, Bailey said he saw two of the inspectors snapping photos and laughing. "I don't know if they were laughing at us or not," Bailey says, "but either way it just sucks."

The former Ramen resident organized a protest and march against how the city handled Ramen, which was scheduled for early Tuesday evening. A "Save Burnt Ramen" GoFundMe campaign has also been set up. He and others also fear that, based on city policy, the building that housed Ramen could be demolished.

Malin said the city needs to re-examine its priorities, pointing out that many other buildings in the neighborhood also likely violate building codes. He also pointed out that someone was shot five times right across the street from Ramen in the past couple weeks. "There are real issues that Richmond has to deal with," Malin said.

Additional reporting by Nick Miller.