The attorney for a nonprofit group that leased space at a West Oakland apartment building where four people were killed in a four-alarm fire last week said Friday that he doesn't think the building owner's statement of grief about the tragedy was sincere.
Reacting to a statement issued on Thursday afternoon by spokesman Sam Singer on behalf of Keith Kim, the owner of the three-story, 43-unit property at 2551 San Pablo Ave. where the fire occurred on March 27, James Cook, the attorney for Urojas Community Services, said, "Mr. Kim waited a long time to show remorse."
Cook said, "I don't believe that hiring a publicity coordinator is a genuine way to show remorse" and he thinks that Kim is only engaging in "damage control."
The statement said Kim has "expressed his family's deep sorrow and mourning for the four people who lost their lives."
Kim said, "We are in shock at this tragedy. We grieve for the four lives lost and for the residents, family and friends who are impacted by the tragedy."
Singer said Friday that Kim didn't make any comments to the news media in the days after the fire because, "He's been dealing with insurance companies and the Oakland Fire Department, who needed access to the building."
Singer said in the statement that Kim has owned the building for about 25 years and never had problems until Urojas, which runs transitional housing and social service programs, became the master tenant several years ago.
Singer said the master-tenant agreement called for Urojas to perform repairs and maintenance and alleged that Urojas "had failed to pay its East Bay Municipal Utility District water bill for three years and had allowed the living conditions to deteriorate."
Singer said Kim began eviction proceedings against Urojas in December, after he discovered the problems at the building.
But Cook said Friday that the building's lease agreement indicates that that its master tenant was Dignity Housing West, an affordable housing developer, not Urojas.
Cook said Urojas had some responsibility for the building's upkeep because it was a tenant but that Kim, as the building's owner, was responsible for electrical issues and other problems at the site.
Cook said he believes Kim used the Dec. 3 Ghost Ship fire at a warehouse in Oakland's Fruitvale district, where there were unsafe conditions, as an excuse to evict Urojas from the San Pablo Avenue building. He said Kim issued the eviction notice only a week after the Ghost Ship fire.
The San Pablo Avenue building housed between 80 and 100 residents and most of the survivors remain displaced.
Oakland officials said the fire has been deemed accidental and was caused by a candle.
Only three days before the fire an Oakland Fire Department inspector visited the site and found 11 safety problems, according to city records.
The apartment building also had a history of code violations, according to city records.
Singer insisted Friday that Urojas was the building's master tenant and alleged that, "Mr. Cook has some issues with the facts."
Singer said, "They [Urojas] were responsible for the conditions there and are the responsible party for this tragedy."