Artists in an illegal downtown Oakland live/work space known as "Salt Lick" fear their occupancy of an old warehouse near popular Jack London Square is coming to a close.

The Salt LIck's three current artist residents say they were handed 90-day eviction notices last month and are seeking legal help to try to stay in their homes, according to the East Bay Times newspaper in Oakland. The evictions come in the aftermath of the disastrous Ghost Ship fire in December that destroyed a crowded but illegal live/work warehouse in the city's Fruitvale district,killing 36.

The Ghost Ship fire destroyed a two-story warehouse and killed three dozen people who had crowded into the building for a concert. Sponsors of the show did not have proper city permits and likely would not have been able to obtain them because the building did not fire alarms or illuminated fire exits. The 36 who perished were apparently overcome by smoke after the building's lights went out and they could not find the way outside.

Tighter rules

Oakland officials have been hinting at a crackdown on illegal artist spaces since that blaze, and rumors of impending evictions have been rampant throughout the city's underground art community. The live/work spaces are illegal because they are in areas not zoned for such activity.

But efforts to evict illegal tenants have been tempered by city government policies aimed at preserving existing rental housing in the face of rapidly escalating real estate prices in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Concern about gatherings

Attention had focused on the Salt Lick, at 411 Second Street near Broadway, after owners of a nearby business raised safety concerns about public gatherings being held there.

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A report prepared for Oakland's mayor, Libby Schaaf, concluded that there were 18 buildings in the city being similarly used for live/work activities.

The report prompted Schaaf to order city staff to develop plans to bring each property owner into compliance with zoning rules "in the spirit of cooperation," while taking care of any looming safety hazards.

“While immediate life safety determinations rest in the sole professional judgement of the Fire Marshall or Building Official, these officials shall utilize problem-solving skills and tools … to maximize both safety and housing security,” the order said.

Resident disappointed

But Salt Lick resident Sam Lefebvre said he was disappointed in how uncooperative the city had actually been in its dealings with tenants, saying it "flies in the face of language from the city about passionately working with" tenants in similarly illegal living situations. “It’s not like we’ve heard from anyone in the city in any kind of spirit of assistance,” Lefebvre said.

Judy Chu of the Oakland Produce Square Partnership, which owns the Salt Lick building, told the newspaper that her consortium was working with the city on bringing the warehouse up to code or evicting the tenants if necessary.

"We are having a conversation with them,” Chu said of Oakland officials.

But the city cannot force a landlord to comply with building codes, a high-ranking official told the newspaper.