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Building Inspectors Hadn't Been Inside Oakland Ghost Ship For 30 Years

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was on the defensive Wednesday after it was discovered building inspectors hadn't been inside the Ghost Ship warehouse for 30 years.

Schaaf says the city will look to strengthen regulations for smoke alarms and exits and clarify city employees' responsibilities to monitor unsafe structures in the wake of a warehouse fire that killed 36 people.

Schaaf said Wednesday she will engage the arts community in the process to ensure any changes don't jeopardize their access to affordable housing and work space.

"This fire has been a devastating tragedy but it would be another tragedy if we did not learn the lessons and take this opportunity to make decisive and immediate actions to make resident safer," Schaaf said.

Still, five days after the deadly fire the mayor was still unable to say when the last time the Ghost Ship ware house had a fire inspection.

Continuing Coverage: Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire

"I do not know the answer to that question and I don't need to know the answer to that question to tell you that we can improve on our fire inspections and prevention process," Schaaf said.

The fire broke out during a dance party Friday night at a warehouse that had been converted to artists' studios and illegal living spaces.

"I want to be clear that we will not scapegoat city employees in the wake of this disaster. What we will do is give them clarity and support that they deserve," Schaaf said.

In addition, the mayor said the city will work to expand the Oakland Artist Housing and Workforce Task Force that she established in the summer of 2015 to continue engaging with the arts community in creating safe, permanently affordable homes and workspaces.

Schaaf said, "We will learn from this tragedy and make this city safer with a thorough, methodical review."

But she added, "We will not let our emotions lead to hasty decisions or witch hunts."

In response to a question from another reporter about the Alameda County Grand Jury criticizing the city in 2014 for flaws in its fire prevention and inspection procedures, Schaaf said she beefed up resources for inspections and changed procedures when she took office in 2015.

But she added, "I'm not satisfied with those changes and that is an area where we will do a full analysis about how we can improve. I commit to you that will be done."

Later in the news conference, Oakland's interim Planning and Building Director Darin Ranelletti dropped the bombshell about the last time inspectors in his department had been inside the warehouse.

"In terms of the building and planning inspector, our records didn't show that an inspector had been inside the building in the last 30 years," confirmed Darin Ranelletti, the Interim Director of the Oakland Planning & Building Department during a related press briefing.

Ranelletti said an inspector went to the warehouse site in 2014 to investigate an anonymous complaint that a new building was being erected without a permit but he said the inspector didn't see any evidence of new construction so he closed the case.

As more details have emerged about the property, it has become clear that while both child protective services and even Oakland police officers had been inside the Ghost City warehouse, no one had contacted building inspectors about what they saw.

Mayor Schaaf wants to make sure those people report trouble next time.

"I want to immediately clarify the responsibility of all city employees to properly report any observations of dangerous living conditions or events along with a clear process for doing so," said Schaaf.

Oakland city councilman Noel Gallo however had a comment on the shortage.

"It's extremely, extremely. Disappointing," Gallo said.

City and state officials fielded complaints for years about dangerous conditions, drugs, neglected children, trash, thefts and squabbles at the warehouse, raising questions about why it wasn't shut down.

TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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