After more than a week of frantically calling lawyers and building code experts, installing fire extinguishers, and making renovations — all while still grieving friends lost and injured in the Ghost Ship fire — Burnt Ramen's tenants felt defeated this past Friday: The city of Richmond "red tagged" the underground punk venue and living space, which meant all residents would need to move out immediately.
Those who lived in the space, some for more than a decade, felt that the city didn't hold up its end of the bargain. "They came in here solely with the intent to shut the place down," said Burnt Ramen tenant Brandon Bailey. "We decided to be friendly and let them in, because we were assuming that that's how they were going to be."
In a conversation with the Express prior to the inspection, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt certainly gave the impression that the city's visit would be amicable. "The city does not necessarily come in, find a property that's got some current issues, and just shut them down," he said. "The more typical thing is to meet with the owner, and say ... 'We want to work with you. ... We're not trying to ruin your life."
But that's exactly what happened on December 16.
Mike Malin, a.k.a. Mykee Ramen, owner of the space, said on Friday that he planned to sleep in his van after the red-tagging of his home of 18 years. Other tenants dispersed throughout the Bay Area to sleep on couches and floors where they'd been granted temporary refuge.
Malin says the inspection involved eight inspectors and a police officer, although there was no search warrant. "We allowed them into our house," Malin told the Express. "We could have retained the right to say, 'No, you must have a search warrant to come into our house.' We were under the impression that they would be willing to work with us to correct violations and give us some time and be able to live in our house."
Bailey says that, instead, inspectors cut one lock and basically went around the house snapping lots of photos, while not saying much of anything. "They were really weird about everything," he said.
Malin said that, after the inspection, he did not receive any documentation, or sign anything. "They just said we couldn't live in our own house anymore," he explained.
He added that inspectors said they might have a list of necessary improvements to meet compliance requirements ready by Wednesday — but, given many government departments' tendencies to largely shut down for the holidays, he wouldn't be surprised if it's next year before he hears anything.
David Keenan, who has helped out numerous DIY spots after Ghost Ship with safety and compliance issues, described the Ramen red-tagging as "the most punitive" inspection that he's seen since the tragedy on December 2. "It's far from the most-dangerous place that I've seen, in my opinion," he told the Express.
Keenan says he's witnessed several of the evictions and red-taggings since Ghost Ship. "It's a bad situation. I've watched people crying, leaving buildings, not even given 24 hours to vacate."
Malin doubts other buildings are being targeted so aggressively. "It's a political thing," he said. "It's political pressure by the mayor, and probably some of those workers were not too pleased with what they had to do. I don't think they even wanted to be there, a lot of them."
After the building was red tagged, Bailey said he saw two of the inspectors snapping photos and laughing. "I don't know if they were laughing at us or not," Bailey says, "but either way it just sucks."
The former Ramen resident organized a protest and march against how the city handled Ramen, which was scheduled for early Tuesday evening. A "Save Burnt Ramen" GoFundMe campaign has also been set up. He and others also fear that, based on city policy, the building that housed Ramen could be demolished.
Malin said the city needs to re-examine its priorities, pointing out that many other buildings in the neighborhood also likely violate building codes. He also pointed out that someone was shot five times right across the street from Ramen in the past couple weeks. "There are real issues that Richmond has to deal with," Malin said.
Additional reporting by Nick Miller.