Artist's rendering of Jim Mason's Mechabolic project
By Steven T. Jones
For the last two weeks, Berkeley bureaucrats have been clashing with The Shipyard's countercultural artists and engineers, ordering facility owner Jim Mason to shut the place down or jump through some difficult hoops to bring it up to code.
Mason had threatened to follow in the Crucible's footsteps and leave Berkeley for what he saw as more hospitable environs next door in Oakland. But first, he had a meeting yesterday with Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates that by all accounts went well. The upshot: Bates told city fire, building, and planning officials to find a way to let the Shipyard stay.
This is far from done and Mason's crew still has some perhaps insurmountable obstacles to overcome, but it's a hopeful temporary reprieve.
"They want very much to keep us in the city, both the art use and the alternative energy use," Mason told us. The latter reference was to Mason's latest project: Mechabolic, a gasification system designed to turn trash into usable fuel. Mason -- long known as one of Burning Man's premier mad geniuses -- has been fighting for four years to get the city to fully accept his ragtag artists' collective and still has a ways to go.
Berkeley Fire Chief David Orth and other officials that have been pushing The Shipyard to get up to code or get out say that Bates has asked for their cooperation. "A request has been made to see what can be done to keep the facility there but bring it into compliance," Orth told the Guardian.
But that means proving to the city that steel shipping containers are acceptable building materials (even though Planning Director Dan Marks flatly told me, "We don't allow shipping containers to be used as building materials.") and bringing the jerry-rigged electrical system and other DIY features up to something that the bureaucracy can validate.
"He has done much of the required work and will have to continue moving in that direction," Orth told us.
More to come...