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Sunday, July 29, 2018

City of Emeryville Makes Police Station Fire Trap Legal by Proclamation

Building Official Promoted to Fire Official Proclaims Formerly Illegal Fire Hazard OK

City Manager Says it's "Less Than Ideal"

Public Safety Still at Risk at Police Station

Unidentified employees at the Emeryville Police Department, operating without authority and in secret, purposely altered their building's approved design by adding locks to a set of public fire escape doors and in so doing permanently blocked legal egress, putting public safety at risk over the last six years.  Such is the City's finding according to James Holgersson, Emeryville's City Manager as presented at Tuesday's City Council meeting.  With the untoward and eyebrow raising official version of the facts, the City finally provided answers to some basic questions in the slow rolling police station scandal.
Left unanswered at the City's revelatory mea culpa meeting however is why in 2012, after the building received final signed off approval from the Building Department and the Fire Marshall following a major remodel, the police felt it necessary to place locks on the doors, taking away the only emergency escape from the second floor public lobby.  Regardless, the City Council failed to act to return the public fire egress on Tuesday, citing a legal technicality freeing them from forcing the police to unlock the doors.

For their part, the police on Tuesday cited unspecified "changes in Police Department security policy functions" in 2012 as the reason for their unilateral locking of the fire doors.  The City Council notably,  didn't bother to ask what the "changes" were that necessitated such a drastic move by the Police Department.
The City Manager reported inexplicably the police might have been "unaware" the locking of the public fire doors would put public safety at risk and that regardless, the Building Department is "rarely notified when such changes are made" (even though by law it is required to).

For the record, it is illegal in Emeryville and other cities to perform unauthorized work on buildings, including work that impacts a fire escape path of egress without permission from the Building Department.  Mr Holgersson is alleging the work performed by the police was not authorized.  Police personnel are not given powers to interpret the fire code on their own and any unilateral claim made by them that they would escort people out of a public lobby in the event of a fire is not recognized by law.  Only a city's fire official could render such a judgment.  Such a judgement for Emeryville's police station didn't exist for the first six years of this scandal.

The findings presented to the City Council included the admission that the police operated without permission from the Building Official or the Fire Marshall and that the locked doors violated the California Fire Code and left the public with no legal fire escape for six years.  The City Manager revealed that a correction to the violation only occurred starting sometime after July 1st of this year when the City Council elevated the chief building official, Victor Gonzales to include the title of Emeryville Fire Official.  Mr Gonzales, with his new title subsequently ruled the locked doors OK because he says, the Police Department has given their promise to escort the public to safety in the event of a fire.  The State grants the Fire Official of any municipality authorization to so ignore the Fire Code it was noted.

"Less Than Ideal"
The City Manager, James Holgersson told the City Council that although the locked fire escape doors at the police station are now legal by proclamation from Mr Gonzales (as of July 1st), public fire safety there is still not good; a condition he called "less than ideal".  The Alameda Fire Department agreed with the City Manager; an Emeryville representative calling the condition "less safe" than the California Fire Code's provision that the public be able to vacate a building on its own in case of fire.

The City Manager, after noting the less than ideal public fire safety at the police station recommended the City Council approve one of three solutions that would comport with the Fire Code. Mr Holgersson's recommendations were not popular with the Council who said NO to all three citing Mr Gonzales's new ruling that the law doesn't mandate such a public fire escape.
The three fire escape choices offered to the City Council Tuesday included a new exterior stairs added to the building, moving of the public lobby downstairs and the construction of a new ground level public lobby addition to the building.  Of the choices offered to the Council, inexplicably left out was the cheapest and easiest; the simple return to the previous condition; that being taking the locks off the fire doors.

New 'In House' Fire Official
On June 21st, before Victor Gonzales was elevated to Emeryville Fire Code Official (on July 1st), when he was serving only as the chief Building Official, Mr Gonzales told the Tattler, regarding the lack of a fire escape,"Mistakes were made and we're working on a fix."  The City of Emeryville is now maintaining the "fix" is to make Mr Gonzales the Fire Code Official and then deem what was formerly illegal, now legal by proclamation by this in house fire official.  Notably, an independent fire official, as Emeryville had prior to July 1st, might have ruled in favor of the California Fire Code version of a fire escape, causing the City embarrassment and costing money.  In that case, Mr Gonzales himself would have been on the hot seat as chief Building Official owing to his failure to act to protect the public over the six years, warned as he was about the situation.

The City Council failed to act on Tuesday and did not indicate a plan to cure or correct the "less than ideal" public safety situation at the Emeryville Police Department building regardless of the still lingering questions the public has a right to know the answers to.


  1. Your second to last paragraph about Victor G tells us the real reason for this ongoing bit of nastiness. Good job Tattler ferreting out the truth and keeping them honest.

  2. It's all about priorities. Emeryville city hall cares more about not being embarrassed then the public being burned to death.

  3. Less than ideal means they should fix it. We don't pay them to perform at less than ideal.

  4. So people of color are in Peril on the streets and the general public is in Peril in the police station?