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The February 2015 email exchange between Kai Ng and Almena was not the first alert the Ngs received about the inadequate electrical system in their buildings on the 1300 block of 31st Avenue. An invoice for electrical work by former tenant Ben Cannon, an unlicensed contractor, sent to Kai and Eva Ng shows that the landlords were made aware of an unreported small electrical fire in the adjoining auto body shop in 2014 likely caused by a “catastrophically overloading” power system, emails show. Cannon subleased space from the auto body shop.
Power flowed into the Ng properties from a PG&E utility pole to a transformer in a crawl space above a cellphone store on the corner of 31st Avenue and International Boulevard, The electricity traveled to a second transformer in the back of the auto body shop next to the Ghost Ship, From there, wires took electricity through a hole in the wall and into the artists’ collective, One electrical meter served all three Ng-owned locations, “We need a second transformer because the building is split in half power wise, I’ve already replaced that first transformer (we had no power when it went up in flames), but the second one is too small for the loads on it ivory lace ballet shoes as well,” Cannon wrote in an email to Kai Ng in January 2015..
That second transformer was never replaced, according to a number of former Ghost Ship residents. Cannon proposed installing a less-expensive transformer that would be used “a little bit differently than standard,” he wrote. State records show Cannon’s last contractor’s license expired in 2008. He does not have a state certificate to do electrical work, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations. Cannon denied in an email having done “any work in the Ghost Ship building itself” but would not discuss what he did in the adjoining businesses. He declined to comment further, citing pending litigation. Court records show that Cannon is not named as a defendant in a slew of wrongful death lawsuits over the deadly Dec. 2 fire. The District Attorney’s Office is investigating Cannon as part of its probe, sources said. Its spokeswoman, Teresa Drenick, declined to comment.
But Cannon wasn’t the only ivory lace ballet shoes person who worked on the Ng’s electrical system before the 2014 transformer fire, Robert “Jake” Jacobitz, a former Ghost Ship tenant, said in December that he performed electrical work inside the arts collective before Cannon replaced the ruined transformer in the auto body shop, Jacobitz is not listed as having an electrician certificate, according to state records, In a series of tenant emails over a nearly two-year period, the Ngs were alerted to code violations in the adjoining buildings, and emails reveal they knew of work Cannon did that Oakland Planning Department records show was not permitted..
Reading this on your phone? Stay up to date with our new, free mobile app. Get it from the Apple app store or the Google Play store. And just two months before the December blaze, Ghost Ship resident Max Harris emailed Eva and Kai Ng more warnings about “overexertion” on the electrical system. Harris said they blew off his concerns. “Kai Ng totally sidestepped my expression of needing stability,” he said in a phone interview. “I said it was terminal and was getting worse, and he just asked for more money.”.
A fire and explosion investigator said it ivory lace ballet shoes is clear the work Cannon described in the emails and invoice should have only been attempted only by a licensed electrical contractor who first obtained the proper permits, “It would be negligent to perform such work without engaging a licensed contractor and a certified electrician in the State of California,” Dan Rapperport, the forensic fire expert and president of a Massachusetts-based firm who reviewed the emails and invoice for this news organization, wrote in an email..
The 36 victims were attending an electronic dance party on the second floor of the labyrinth-like collective when they were overcome by thick, black smoke. Investigators quickly focused on the building’s electrical system — a spider web of breaker boxes, extension cords and transformers — as the possible cause of the fire. In late 2014, about a year after Almena signed a lease for the warehouse, a transformer burned up inside the auto body shop and the power was shut off. No one called 911. Cannon soon began repairing the electrical system, records show.
He found that the three businesses — the cellphone store, the auto body shop and the Ghost Ship — had been placed on a single 7.5-kilovolt transformer meant for lighting, and that it had been overloaded, according to an invoice he sent to Ghost Ship residents and property manager Kai Ng, In that invoice, Cannon wrote that he found that subpanels ivory lace ballet shoes – also known as breaker boxes – were improperly installed with no grounding, and “deferred maintenance dating back decades requiring immediate intervention to avoid additional fires … every piece of wire downstream of main panel (was) improperly installed, illegal and dangerous.” Cannon installed a 25-kilovolt-amp transformer, breakers, distribution panels, conduits and cable boxes, documents show, and later asked the Ngs to pay for it..