The Oakland City Administrator’s office sent an official warning letter to Everett & Jones BBQ on Dec. 28 for hosting a fire safety fundraising event without a permit, threatening to close the cornerstone Black-owned restaurant if it fails to obtain a cabaret permit next time it holds events.
The letter from Administrative Assistant Nancy Marcus was brought to the public’s attention by Rev. Cheryl Ward from Cheryl Ward Ministries at Wednesday’s community forum on safe and affordable housing solutions at City Hall.
“(The city) sent this letter because (Everett & Jones) held a fundraiser for the artist community and particularly for the Salt Lick warehouse next door to her so that they could raise money to bring buildings up to code,” said Ward on Wednesday.
Since the Ghost Ship fire that claimed 36 lives in early December, community members have been fearful that the city would respond by cracking down on unpermitted living spaces, which would force massive evictions of people already struggling to stay in Oakland.
After the fire, Dorothy King, owner and founder of Everett & Jones, and members of the warehouse neighboring her restaurant came together to create a taskforce to address the eviction crisis of longtime Oakland residents and its artist community.
One solution they came up with was to hold monthly fundraisers at the restaurant to raise money for do-it-yourself spaces to make necessary safety improvements in order to avoid being red tagged by city inspectors.
To many in the community, the letter by the City Administrator’s office to Everett & Jones is indicative of the response they feared the aftermath of the tragedy would spur.
For Dorothy King, whose restaurant has served Oakland since 1973 and is one of the few Black-owned businesses in the city, the letter represents deeply-rooted issues in the city government’s leadership.
“It just resonated with, ‘Dorothy, you’re Black,’” King told the Post.
“You really feel the racism here. You think you broke through barriers but you haven’t. It really hurts,” she said.
King told the Post that her restaurant has been holding fundraisers for over 20 years, “for just about anything.”
For Rev. Ward, the city’s response also reflects a disconnect between the city’s administrative branch, which is led by Mayor Libby Schaaf and run by her appointed city officials, and the city’s residents.
“Saying that the (administrative) department needs to be overhauled is an understatement,” said Ward.
“They are busy not doing their jobs. Just like they should be focusing on addressing building violations instead of evicting people–they are wasting our taxpayer dollars by writing letters like these.”
Meanwhile, here is an Oakland resident who is doing the work that the city should have been doing to help those who are marginalized and is being punished for it, Ward said.
King was planning to host another fundraiser later this month and says that despite the threat, she is going to go through with the event.
Assistant City Administrator Karen Boyd told the Post that the letter is a standard courtesy notice “advising the property owner of the violation and the appropriate departments to contact” to be in compliance in the future. Everett & Jones’s event was not shut down, and the restaurant was not fined, she said.
Tulio Ospina is the assistant editor of the Oakland Post and editor-in-chief of El Mundo.