Arsons vex residential construction projects in Oakland area

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The fire that consumed an apartment and retail complex being built near downtown Oakland on July 7 wasn’t the first to rip through a half-finished housing development in the area in recent years, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. It was the fifth.

According to the report, while the cause of the most recent blaze is unknown, all four of the previous fires — including two at one site on the Oakland-Emeryville border — have been ruled arson by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said agency spokeswoman Alexandria Corneiro.

That has prompted concern among city leaders coping with a housing shortage, as well as developers who have responded by beefing up security at construction sites and residents shocked by images of flames and billowing smoke. All want answers, but there have been no arrests.

Among previous projects destroyed by arson, the $35 million Intersection development under construction in downtown Emeryville on the Oakland border has burned twice in the past year in fires that were so big they damaged nearby homes and businesses.

oakland site before fire
The Oakland construction site before the recent fire. Several projects have been destroyed by arson in recent years.

The developer, Rick Holliday of Holliday Development, has told The Chronicle the fires were an “attack on housing.” The ATF has not commented on a possible motive.

Another massive fire on Oct. 31 last year gutted a three-story apartment complex under construction east of Oakland’s Lake Merritt. And in June 2012, “a blaze that authorities said was deliberately set tore through a construction site for the Red Star senior housing complex near the West Oakland BART Station, shutting down BART service for 12 hours and causing an estimated $25 million in damage,” the Chronicle reported. The project at Fifth St. and Mandela Pkwy. has not been rebuilt.

Laura Zaner, a spokeswoman for property owner the Michaels Organization, said the company had given up on developing the project and was shopping for a buyer. She said the company was “devastated by the fire,” which halted the building of affordable housing units for senior citizens.

The complex was about two months from opening when it burned down, she said.

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