"It can't happen here?" (PUBLIC COMMENT)

Larry Bensky, LBensky@igc.org
Monday December 05, 2016 - 10:10:00 AM

Dear Jesse Arreguin and Berkeley City Officials,

As we in the audience began to descend the narrow, difficult staircase into the performance space at LaVal's Subterranean Theater (1834 Euclid Street) Saturday night, news kept being updated on our portable phones. More and more people had died the previous night in the "Ghost Ship" fire; the death toll, by the time our event ended, was over 20, and has since risen to 36.

The event they had been attending was a close relative of the (excellent) performance by the Bay Area Zeta Players that we were watching. Artists of all kinds, and members and supporters of our East Bay creative community had come together as best they could to celebrate their lives, creativity, and connections.

How many of us realized that what had happened a few miles away could quite possibly happen to us, too?  

There is no way that in an emergency more than a few people could get back up that staircase, or find a backstage exit (probably in the dark!). And we were in a basement under large pizza ovens (the noise of whose operations could be clearly heard). Should anything go wrong, most, if not all, of our lives were at risk. 

I notice that a wide range of "permitted" activities are allowed in this space : 

"Live/Work, Exhibition, Studio Art, Meeting, Reading, Screening, Video/Film Shoot, Photo Shoot, Audition, Class, Rehearsal, Performance" 

A question for you is: who "permitted" these uses? What information did/does the City of Berkeley have about not only the LaVal's site, but other hard to access performance/work/living spaces in Berkeley? 

What alternative to such spaces can the City of Berkeley provide? 

There seems to have been a seriously irresponsible, if not criminal, deficiency in Oakland's relationship to the "Ghost Ship," whose dangerous condition should have been obvious. 

Can it happen here? 

I urge you to look into this matter immediately. 


Larry Bensky, LBensky@igc.org