Open Letter to Oakland City Council: Response to Ghostship Tragedy

Dear Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland City Council,

I write to you today as a mother, homeowner, and resident of Oakland (District 3). I ask that you and the city council show more understanding and alliance with those who live and work in warehouses throughout our city. I love West Oakland and feel grateful to reside in this area. My husband and I consider the murals, street art, studio spaces, underground music venues, and sculpture gardens pluses and not minuses. We didn’t want a sterile, cookie-cutter neighborhood, we chose to live where we know our neighbors are creating art, music, and dance. Today, I write to ask you to protect my community both for profit and underground.

I am a 45-year-old mother that may not fit your perception of a warehouse dweller or underground supporter. But I’ve personally survived and thrived due to the vibrancy of underground world and was re-born by art and music. I’ve lived in and attended events in warehouses since I was 17-years-old in and played punk rock in these creative spaces into my mid-thirties. And to be honest, I need this underground world now more than ever. The days after our recent election, my first inclination was to find my musician friends who welcomed me with hugs and loud punk rock. This week I will again find solace in this same community. I am what Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the President of City Council may call “lawless” or even “anarchist” (her words not mine). Because I admit I want to protect these DIY and free-form spaces where underage music lovers, yes eventually even my own daughter, can listen to music and dance till the break of dawn, without oppressive laws and punishment. I want real community, openness, and freedom, these are better terms than anarchy and lawlessness. To enjoy music till late night has sadly become a luxury, we have less space for this type of energy and life. Also consider this, many of the mainstream acts who now sell out The Fox Theater and Oracle arena started off in this world of free expression and experimentation. Dry up this world now and you won’t have music in the future and you’re revenue streams will diminish too. I’ve danced in legal nightclubs and underground warehouses till sunrise in amazing cities like New Orleans and New York, this is not a lawlessness, or strangeness, or even fringe! It’s fun, invigorating, life and happiness, and I contend Oakland needs this more than ever.

I also support these ideas shared by Jesse Townley in Berkeley, (I added the last bullet):

  • We need to pass an emergency law allowing right of return for warehouses/live-work spaces that are non-compliant with fire codes in Oakland, Berkeley, San Leandro, Emeryville, San Francisco.
  • We also need some sort of amnesty for unpermitted living units similar to the ADU (Accessory Dwelling Units) amnesty last year.
  • We ask that building codes are re-zoned using examples from the NY Loft laws, this could also help alleviate barriers to find housing for unhoused residents as well.
  • We ask that the Oakland City council shows unity with warehouse dwellers and provides safety training, subsidizes materials such as exit lights, fire extinguishers, and other safety needs.

I ask you to please consider what happened at Ghostship as a freak accident and not a systemic issue, I would like to hear you use more specific language pertaining to this event. It’s becoming increasingly clear that a confluence of bad decisions, lack of oversight on all counts, including the City of Oakland, the landlord and the leader of the collective lead to this tragedy. There have been well run and safe underground warehouses in Oakland for decades. Oakland and other cities have never had to respond to a mass casualty event because they haven’t happened. Don’t vilify a whole community to show you’re doing something about safety. I know that my community of friends have already begun to self-regulate and are diligently working to improve safety, please support these efforts. This community all have their own codes, laws, and rules, it’s not lawlessness, on the contrary, these rules are there to protect the community! Ask them first hand how they run co-ops and build cities in the desert. You will be surprised at the number of rules they’ve created that apply to their specific needs.

And finally, please, please don’t let the deaths of 36 people, who lived and loved music and underground spirit, die in vain! Please don’t let their deaths give you and the city permission to tear apart a community that is grieving. The beautiful souls we lost on Friday would want their fellow artists to be protected, not trampled upon by knee-jerk enforcement. So, I demand that you stop evictions, protect residents and artists and listen to their needs! Please show good faith that you will continue to protect underground arts, not just city-funded projects, or nightlife in legal venues, or live work lofts for wealthy individuals. The diversity and vibrancy of a city come in many forms.


Anita Singha
Resident of West Oakland
PS: I personally ask and implore that Lynette Gibson McElhaney stop thinking that warehouse residents embrace lawlessness and that some are anarchists. I know you’ve apologized but as of today you still choose to use this language and it’s concerning. You may have heard these words from a small minority but this doesn’t give you permission to paint a broad brush on a large majority of the community. If you want to show good faith and work with the community I know those words are not useful for coalition building.

I also ask as my councilwoman in West Oakland that you work to create a measured and helpful response to protect arts AND tenancy rights. I send this to you as a plea to understand that free expression is not the same as lawlessness. Again, reach out, attend an event, ask about how they run warehouses. For example, here is a well thought out response from Burning Man leadership, many of this community are very deeply entrenched in West Oakland and could provide answers.

The Modernist’s Weekly Miscellany


I share a lot of articles, podcasts, books, TV, and movies on social media. I share because I crave discussion. I share because I love to read, watch and listen. I share when something inspires, enlightens and comforts my mind. It is with this intention that I plan to share a weekly collection of the very best that tickled my fancy—it may have made me laugh, gasp or cry—but most of all I hope you enjoy.

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Excerpt from The Lady’s Weekly Miscellany, New York, Saturday, April 30, 1808

Lucretia Greenville.
The following extraordinary account an attempt made by Lucretia Greenville, to assassinate the tyrant Oliver Cromwell, copied from a European Magazine, is a remarkable trait of female revenge. As it is probable very few of our readers are acquainted with the particulars, we believe it will be generally acceptable.

This exalted female was betrothed to Francis, Duke of Buckingham, at the time that he fell in a battle by the hand of Cromwell himself, and upon receiving intelligence of the melancholy event, she swore to avenge his death on the murderer. During the three succeeding years, she exercised herself with pistols in firing at a portrait of Cromwell, which she had selected as a mark, that she might not be awed by the sight of the original; and as, soon as she found herself perfect, she sought and opportunity of gratifying her revenge. But Cromwell seldom appeared in public; and when he did, it was with such precaution, that few could approach his person.

An occasion at length occurred; the city of London resolved to give a magnificent banquet in honor of the Protector, who, either from vanity or with a political view, determined to make his entrance into London in all the splendor of royalty. Upon this being made public, the curiosity of all ranks was excited; and Lucretia Greenville resolved not to neglect so favourable an opportunity. Fortune herself seemed to second her purpose; for it so happened, that the procession was appointed to proceed through the very street in which she resided, and a balcony before the first story of her house yielded her full scope for putting her long premeditated design in effect.

On the appointed day she seated herself, with several other female companions, in the balcony, having on this occasion, for the first time since her lover’s death, cast off her mourning, and attired herself in the most sumptuous apparel. It was not without the greatest exertions that she concealed the violent emotion under which she laboured: and when the increasing pressure of the crowd indicated the approach of Cromwell, it became so strong, that she nearly fainted, but, however, recovered just as the usurper arrived within a few paces of the balcony.

Hastily drawing the pistol from under her garment, she fearlessly too her aim, and fired; but a sudden start, which the lady who sat next to her made, on beholding the weapon, gave it a different direction than was intended, and the ball striking the horse rode by Henry, the Protector’s son, it was laid dead at his feet. The circumstance immediately arrested the progress of the cavalcade and Cromwell, at the same time, that he cast a fierce look at the balcony, beheld a singular spectacle; about twenty females were on their knees imploring his mercy with uplifted hands, whilst one only stood undaunted in the midst of them, and looking down contemptuously on the usurper, “Tyrant! it was I who dealt the blow; nor should I be satisfied with killing a horse instead of a tiger, were I not convinced that, ere another twelvemonth has elapsed, Heaven will grant another that success which it was denied to me!”

The multitude, actuated more by fear than love, was preparing to level the house to ground; when Cromwell cried aloud with the most artful sang froid, “Desist, my friends! alas! poor woman, she knows not what she does,” and pursued his course; but afterwards caused Lucretia to be arrested, and confined in a mad-house.

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The Other France, New Yorker, August 31, 2015.

“To many Parisians, the 93 signifies decayed housing projects, crime, unemployment, and Muslims. France has all kinds of suburbs, but the word for them, banlieues, has become pejorative, meaning slums dominated by immigrants. Inside the banlieues are the cités: colossal concrete housing projects built during the postwar decades, in the Brutalist style of Le Corbusier. Conceived as utopias for workers, they have become concentrations of poverty and social isolation. The cités and their occupants are the subject of anxious and angry discussion in France”.

line breakNeuroTribes’ Examines the History–and Myths–of the Autism Spectrum, Fresh Air, September 2, 2015.

“So I think that society really needs to do a bit of soul-searching about how we’re dealing with autism. And we need to get over our obsession with causes because we’ve been researching the cause of schizophrenia for decades, and we still don’t know what causes schizophrenia exactly.”

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The San Francisco Hipster is Dead Y’All, 48Hills, September 1, 2015

“The days of being able to be willfully obscure, outrageous, awkward, artistic, pretentious, and poor are long behind us. I never thought I’d miss greasy asymmetrical bowl-cuts and fake American Apparel oversized glasses as much as this, but I kind of do.”

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Down by the Riverside, Sister Rosetta Tharpe 

I feel so bad in the morning
I feel so bad in the middle of the day
I feel so bad in the evening
that’s why i’m going to the river, to wash my sins away

I’m gonna lay down my heavy load, down by the riverside,
Down by the riverside, down by the riverside
I’m gonna lay down my heavy load, down by the riverside,
I’m gonna study war no more

I ain’t a gonna study war no more,
I ain’t a gonna study war no more

I ain’t a gonna study war no more,
I ain’t a gonna study war no more

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Oakland has it!

My favorite thing about Oakland its a place that is always misunderstood. A bit iconoclastic, a bit rebellious, of course sadly violent and always filled with diversity.

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