Shipyard Letter

The letter below from Chicken John is being circulated widely. Wide-eyed libertarian tendencies aside, I express skepticism that this situation can be resolved rationally given the part I highlighted below. That’s not to say Jim can’t pull something out of his sleeve. Heck, he’s been doing it for 5 years and rationality doesn’t have to enter into it because, after all, this is Berkeley.

(note, it’s long)

—– Forwarded message from jim mason <> —–

if you have yet to see this, here’s chicken note elaborating on the shipyard situation and how we might respond. in short, chicken proposes action; both to try to recover the shipyard after the summer, as well as prevent further over zealous actions by the govt of
berkeley against art spaces. the line is long of art spaces recently
run out of berkeley on dubious “life safety” claims, as well as other local political intrigues. the problem is systemic, not shipyard specific.

we encourage you to write and express your thoughts on these matters, directly to the people who have doen this. info on how to do so is below.


———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Chicken John <>
Date: May 15, 2007 7:19 AM
Subject: CHICKEN: Shipyard art space and the natural beauty of infidelity…

OK< as many of you know by now the Shipyard, Jim Masons’ zero emissions off grid art space and alt/power research facility has been shut down for building code violations. In Berkeley. Can you hear the laugh track? The City of Berkeley shut down the zero emissions art and tech facility for a building code violation. Did you hear it that time?

So. It’s time to RAIN DOWN LIKE DEATH. Roll out the machines of death, we are going to war. Again. It seems like we have to do this from time to time. I think it may be good. Get a little exercise, lube the cannons, oils the door on the war room. But man, there is no funnier templet. It’s like a Rodney Dangerfeild joke set up: “So the City of Berkeley shuts down the zero emissions art space, no respect I tell ya, we artists get no respect….”

First thing is first, we are going to win. So lets not make this too humiliating for them. We do not need to rub it in or gloat or whatever. We will have to continue to see these people at the coffee shop and someone has to be there to fix the streets and take out the garbage and stuff. So remember that everyone has their place, even city officials who say that a steel shipping container is a fire hazard because it’s not a building material, so it’s not a building and can’t be built and not “habitable”, even for someone to store some simple hand tools and a few puppets. That, of course, is illegal. You can go to jail for that.

So let us refer to the following phrase and spread it around:

Make puppets in a shipping container, go to jail. art and alt/ fuel
is illegal in Berkely

Build a hydrogen car that runs on garbage, go to jail. art and alt/
fuel is illegal in Berkely

That should be made into a bumper stickers. Someone get on that…

So the actuality that is happening here is the same one that happens
elsewhere: they *say* they like what your doing. They *say* that they just want you to comply. You ask what is needed to comply, they tell you to do this and that. You do it. Then, there is this other thing.
And now that they thought about it for a while, there is this other thing and what about that thing and I forgot that thing. Pretty soon you start adding it all up and you would have to spend twice as much then if you were building a brand new building. And since you can get a loan to build a brand new building on the make art out of junk business model (last time I checked) well then you just walk away in disgust.

But not this time. There are too many of us. If corralled against a common enemy, well there is certainly no obstacle that we can not overcome. there are a hundred thousand of us that have gone to Burning Man. And that’s just Burning Man. That’s not all the other artists and all the other people who champion our liberties and who have stores of distain for beurocracy to no end other then mediocrity. There are more people in Oakland California who write the word “artist” on their tax returns then any other city.

So. First thing is first. You fire a shot across the bow.

Copy and send this to your lists far and wide.

Then, let these people know that you think it’s funny that the facility that build a car that runs on garbage last month that has zero emissions got shut down for a building code violation. You could say something like: “Stop it, your killin’ me….”. But the comedy is too rich. Here is a list of the comedians:

[list redacted by Lee]

In the end the emotion that really come forward here is embarrassment.
You should be embarrassed. Berkeley is a stantion of hope in a world gone mad, and that they are pulling the endless list of things to make it safe like Disneyland thing is intolerable. I will now sum up what has happened in a few short sentences:

Shipping containers are not a rated building material. Like sheetrock, for example. Since they are not a building material, you can not build with them as a raw material without proving that they a structurally sound. Like, that they will not crumble to dust or twist like a pretzel in an earthquake. They need engineering calculations to abide by a certain standard. And they need to be fire rated. 5/16 thick steel needs to be proven that it is a 2 hour fire wall. Basically, they want to not have any liability. Just in case metal can catch fire or building containers twist into pretzels or turn to dust or something. Oh yea, they also don’t like our illegal kitchen which is a sink and a stove in a corner stacked up and not hooked up to anything.
They claim that all the work was done without any permits. True. But you can not get a permit. The electrical is done far beyond any code, there is no safety hazard. But it’s unsafe, because it doesn’t have a permit. And the shipping containers are unsafe, because they don’t have a permit. And the bathroom is unsafe. Anything without a permit is unsafe. Here is a communication I had with the City Planning


This is a great place for arts uses. The issue here is not the location, but that minimum fire and life safety issues be observed.

Mark Rhoades, AICP
City Planning Manager
Berkeley, CA
—–Original Message—–
From: Chicken John []
Sent: Monday, May 14, 2007 12:05 PM
To: Rhoades, Mark
Subject: a quick question regarding the Shipyard

Hello there Mark. I’ve been thinking about how to mediate and where and how to parcel energy to the best advantage to eveyrone involved in this thing. I’m a Shipyard guy. I just have a quick question that might save everyone a lot of time here. Excuse my terse tone, but here it goes:

Your title on you email sig-file is City Planning Manager, does the city of Berkeley have any plans for a location that would attract a place like the shipyard, or are things like the Shipyard not something that you have plans to try to attract? Has the city any plans for an ‘art zone’ or something? Is there any information along these lines that we do not have?

It will help us in our re-organization. There are many of us that are Berkeley residents who love it here and wish to stay, but maybe moving to Oakland would be a better idea. We really thought that Berkeley would want a zero emissions art production place that makes steam powered Victorian Recreational Vehicles, and we still do. Things likely should have gone down differently, sure. But it was all a great improv. We are happy for the time we spent there, but if you could take a moment of your time and either quell my thinking in this area or maybe shed some light on some information that I don’t have it would be greatly helpful in this tuff time for us.

I thank you for you time and consideration.



So there it is right there…. life safety. Notice there is no extra information or any nudge twards cooperation or whatever. Just follow the law. It’s written down in this book. Read it. You ask them what they want you get referred to a book that you can not read: the code book. You ask them what their intention is they say that they just want to make sure everything is safe. They string you along and make you write it all down and submit it, then they shoot it full of holes and make it impossible.

It makes you wonder if there is any anselary agenda? And the fact that Joan has shut down so many art spaces makes me wonder if she’s just not out to get the art spaces. I wonder if she’s a patron? I wonder what her aspirations were as a student? Maybe this is her way a being an art critic? If she doesn’t like soemone’s work she makes them leave Berkeley? That would at least be funny, no?

There is no way to get a permit to build something with an unrated building material. So the building department needs to do a building material “equivalent”. Compare it to something else. Easy. But they chose not to. Instead, they want us to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars paying engineers to ‘test’ shipping containers for seismic load. Ridiculous. The fire stuff is nothing, but without the containers being legal, we can’t get an electrical permit. So that’s the fire thing. It’s all really just one thing, actually…. it comes down to the following questions:

Is a shipping container a reasonable place to store puppets? Put a table and weld some junk together? Make a steam powered car? Build a wind sculpture? Build a gasifier the goes in the bed of a pick-up truck that burns garbage and propels the vehicle with zero emissions?
Is a shipping container a great solution to a million little problems?

Yes of course it is. Is it a good place to store things? Yea. It’s metal. It can’t catch on fire. They are air tight, so even if I fire happens in one, you just close it. No air. Duh. And welding in a metal building seems pretty smart. Duh. For steam power and things under pressure, metal walls…. seems pretty safe. Mobile, flexible. And here is the kicker: they’re green. They already exist. You don’t need to manufacture anything. Nothing to buy, no power spent building them.
they exist. They are here. It’s a building with a door that you pick up with a forklift and throw on the bed of a truck.

But they are not a building material recognized by the City of Berkeley. At this time. Please, let us bring that time to a close.
Please help the City of Berkeley through this uncomfortable actualization that a building container is their friend. They may need a little hand holding, and maybe something firmer down the line.

In the end, the comedy is brutal. There are basicly no buildings on the site, and they shut us down for not having a building permit. I wonder how many injuries were sustained at Berkekely city hall in the last 6 years? There have been no injuries at the shipyard at all.

Please feel free to contact the City of Berkeley and gently let them know that you support the Shipyard. And that you support art for all purposes. If they won’t listen to logic, then our next step is performance art. Which can be quite fun, as you well know…..

here we go again,

chicken john

more info here

Chicken John
San Francisco, California

If I get it right, the City Planner is saying, “Go ahead and work on your shit. Just make it safe.”
And the response is, “Why is he working against us instead of with us?”

To address the shipping container habitability concerns. Googling for ‘”shipping container” habitable” finds a lot of allies; I don’t think they have been tapped yet…

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