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Ghost Ship: Demolition and a Long December

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Wednesday’s news that the Ghost Ship warehouse may be soon headed for demolition prolongs an already emotional month for the family and friends of the 36 people who died there.

Dec. 2 marked the two-year anniversary of the Oakland warehouse tragedy that has become simply known as the Ghost Ship fire. Less than one month ago, memorials and vigils were held at the 31st Avenue site to honor those lost at the once vibrant artist collective. NBC Bay area reported Wednesday that the warehouse owner, and civil case defendant, Chor Ng requested a permit to demolish what’s left of the place. Ng, who escaped criminal neglect prosecution, was court ordered to preserve the unsafe building and shoulder the cost of 24-hour security. Attorneys representing the victims’ families are trying to prevent Ng from selling the property and profiting from what is an asset to her but a place of mourning to so many others.

Lead attorney Mary Alexander told KTVU that an agreement was reached in civil court Tuesday whereby the building demolition could proceed but that parties were still negotiating plans for a permanent memorial at the warehouse site. It’s been reported that the Ng family supports the proposed memorial “in principle.”

Ng remained elusive and at times seemingly dismissive in the wake of the fire where it is alleged she ignored safety concerns and knowingly allowed tenants to live and sublet in unsafe conditions. While she was set to receive an over $3 million insurance payout, two men, Derick Almena and Max Harris, who ran the warehouse and lived there with several other artists were facing criminal charges for neglect that led to the deaths of 36 people. 

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Nothing is yet settled about this case, or any of these cases for that matter. Chor Ng is still battling in civil court alongside the city of Oakland and PG&E, and the fates of Almena and Harris have yet to be determined as the criminal case has taken a winding and surprising path through the courts. This is a story where landlords and institutions have so far shirked responsibility and families still seek closure, and behind bars are still two very different men charged with the same crime. It’s against this backdrop that the New York Times published a long-form reflection of defendant Max Harris on Dec. 12, sparking sympathy from readers nationwide and complicating intense emotions of people here at home.

The article focused on his artistic and spiritual side, the long-time vegan who believes every life, down to the smallest bug, is precious – it narrated his life as a tragedy of circumstance. That may be the case, but for families and friends of the 36 victims, it’s not the easiest thing to hear, especially not this month.

As it stands two years later, the building is headed for demolition, all parties are headed for court and accountability is still a moving target. Let’s hope closure comes soon, at least by next December.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.