Power outages were common at the Ghost Ship live/work warehouse in Oakland in the years before a catastrophic fire killed 36 at a musical performance last year. That's what a former resident testified Thursday (Dec. 7) in Alameda County Superior Court. A report by the San Francisco Chronicle provided a lot of the facts in this piece.

Woodworker Jose Avalos' testimony came on the second day of a preliminary hearing to determine whether the leaders of the Ghost Ship collective, Derick Almena and Max Harris, should stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charges.

Both men have pleaded innocent to all charges.

Frequent outages

Prosecutors allege that Almena, 47, and Harris, 27, rented living and working space in the building despite knowing that the Fruitvale district property was not zoned for habitation and the building did not have fire alarms or sprinklers. They say Almena was the master tenant who leased the property from Chor Ng of Oakland, and Harris acted as his assistant.

“There was a long period of time we didn’t have steady power,” Avalos testified in the hearing before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. “There were times it happened day after day.”

Cause undetermined

Local and federal investigators who pored over warehouse debris were unable to conclude why the fire started, even though the building was powered by a jury-rigged connection to the business next door and individual living spaces at the Ghost Ship were powered by a web of extension cords.

Under questioning by defense attorney Curtis Briggs, who was representing Harris, Avalos said he never felt unsafe inside the building.

Harris has been mentioned in court filings as the person who set up the fateful music performance on the night of Dec. 2, 2016. The fire broke out during the performance and apparently tore through the first floor of the warehouse, which was cluttered with makeshift living spaces, and rising smoke overwhelmed concertgoers.

There were only two exits from the performance space, one a makeshift staircase that collapsed in the fire and the other apparently obscured by amplifiers set up for the performance.

Collective community

Another former resident, Leah Danielle Vega, testified that the warehouse community was a collective and that nobody was in charge.

She said she stayed at Ghost Ship when she had no other place to go. “The building was not intended for humans,” she said.

But prosecutors contend that Almena and Harris were responsible for the warehouse and collected rents that ranged from $350 to $1,400, the newspaper said. Defense attorneys maintain that the warehouse functioned as affordable housing and working space for artists who could not otherwise afford Oakland's rising rents.

The hearing is scheduled to resume Monday (Dec. 11).