The warehouse where 36 people died earlier this month is just 500 feet from Oakland Fire Station No. 13.
Yet despite much community grumbling in recent years about the grim conditions of the building, Oakland fire officials said Tuesday that they had received no complaints in their records about the warehouse and that fire officials had never been dispatched there in the last 12 years
The revelations increase scrutiny on officials over why the warehouse was able to operate as an illegal housing complex for artists without inspections or action from the city.
Last week, officials said building code enforcement inspectors had not been inside the warehouse in at least 30 years despite the fact that the property had been the focus of nearly two dozen building code complaints or other city actions.
Neighbors and former residents have told The Times that they had contacted the city about trash and debris piled outside the warehouse as well as other concerns about unsafe conditions inside.
Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said a review of city records showed that the Fire Department never had any triggers to inspect the property because it never received any complaints.
A source in city government told The Times on Thursday that the address for the warehouse was not in the Fire Department’s database of buildings requiring inspections.
The city’s Fire Prevention Bureau is required to conduct annual inspections of all commercial buildings and multi-family residences, according to city ordinance. Officials have yet to release any fire inspection reports regarding the warehouse.
The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that some firefighters in the area knew the building had problems because of incidents they responded to nearby. But as far as the source knew, no firefighter had ever had reason to go inside. When the fire broke out, some firefighters alerted fellow first responders that the warehouse was dangerous, the source added.
The Times tried to speak to firefighters at Fire Station No. 13 on Tuesday but go no response at the front door.
Oakland City Administrator Sabrina Landreth said city officials are still gathering and reviewing Police Department records for any officer calls to the structure in recent years.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that there is some kind of disconnect between city officials and some residents over the warehouse’s problems. Several former tenants as well as neighbors have said they complained to various city agencies about filthy conditions as well as unsafe structural and electrical systems. It’s unclear why these complaints did not prompt more aggressive action.
At the time of the fire, Oakland building officials had an open investigation of the warehouse. They said an inspector attempted to examine the interior of the building but could not get in.
Questions about the competence of Oakland’s building inspection agency arose five years ago. An Alameda County Grand Jury in 2011 released a scathing report accusing the city’s building services division of mismanagement and having haphazard policies about conducting building inspections.
The grand jury found that agency was riddled with “poor management, lack of leadership, and ambiguous policies and procedures.” It added that the agency had inconsistent standards on code violations and that the violation notices sent to property owners were late and hard to understand. In addition, inspectors treated property owners in an “unprofessional, retaliatory and intimidating” manner, the grand jury report said.
Federal investigators on Tuesday said they are still working to determine the cause of the deadly fire.
Jill Snyder, special agent in charge of the San Francisco office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, said “no final determination” of the cause of the fire has been made. Snyder said the building’s electrical system is part of the analysis. Investigators have focused on the rear of the 1st floor as the potential initiation point. Snyder said all findings will be given to the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.
7:10 p.m.: This story was updated with background and new details.