Arson investigators deployed to examine “Suspicious” Weekend Intersection Project Fire

2 mins read

Saturday’s fire at 3800 San Pablo hadn’t even been contained before suspicions of arson began circulating throughout the community. The comment threads of our Facebook page and Nextdoor were filled with theories and speculation. “A lot of people aren’t happy about these new expensive apartments popping up in the area” noted one commenter whose sentiment was reflected by many others.

Many neighbors expressed sadness for the community, remorse for the developer and appreciation for the emergency responders. Fire crews spent most of the weekend extinguishing hot spots and disassembling the construction crane that threatened to collapse. PG&E crews were also on hand to restore power to the neighbors who were impacted by the 5-alarm blaze.

The timing was incredible as the project was at a similar stage of development to the previous July 6th fire. Developer Rick Holliday joined the speculation by offering his take in The SF Chronicle; “This is obviously arson,” he said, frustrated. “This is an attack on housing.”

Observers of the construction site this time around noted the use of fire-resistant plywood sheathing although clearly this was ineffective. The site also employed two armed security guards and twelve video surveillance cameras.

Holliday indicated they would rebuild yet again but the damage and costs this time around have not yet been assessed. Any structural damage to the original historic “MAZ” building has also not been determined. “Just every fiber in my body says we’ve got to finish,” Holliday was quoted in this ABC 7 news story.

The incident has had to put developers of ongoing construction projects on edge and they would be wise to ramp up their own security measures.

But what would the motives be for arson? A grudge against the developer? Were there anti “gentrification” motives as some have speculated? Some advocates were upset with the project gaining approval as it was mostly market rate studio apartments. The Emeryville Tattler opinion blog was especially critical of the project comparing it to a “Men’s Dormitory” in this 2013 piece after it was approved. The writer of the blog is interestingly enough the current Mayor Scott Donahue’s brother. Both are founding member of the political group RULE (Residents United for a Livable Emeryville).

The project was approved prior to the city’s recent adoption of a Development Bonus System that applied height limits to development projects. The rules effectively offer to increase this height limit that would allow for more units in exchange for the inclusion of “Family-Friendly” and affordable units and other community benefits.

The Alameda County Fire Department has again enlisted the ATF to investigate the cause of the blaze although they still have not concluded their investigation from the first fire where fireworks were suspected. “As you can imagine, with a fire in the same location within a 10-month period, the investigation team has its hands full,” noted ACFD spokesperson Aisha Knowles in the below KPIX 5 video segment.

Feature Image: @AlamedaCoFire via Twitter

Arson Investigators Search Wreckage Of 5-Alarm Emeryville Fire

Federal arson investigators have joined the effort to discover if a 5-alarm fire that raged through a massive Emeryville apartment complex construction project over the weekend was intentionally set, authorities said.

It was the second time since July 2015 that the site has been the scene of a major fire. That has brought agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives back to the scene.

Read More on CBSLocal.com →

Investigators treating Emeryville fire site as “crime scene”

Cleanup continued Monday in Emeryville where Alameda County Firefighters and the ATF are investigating a fire at 39th and San Pablo for the second time in the last 10 months. Investigators say they are treating the area as a crime scene until they can confirm otherwise.

Developer Rick Holiday calls it deja-vu.

“Never had an insurance claim until 10 months ago and to have two in one year of this magnitude is kind of hard to describe,” said Holliday.

Read More on ABC 7 News →

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.


  1. Wow, you’re a genius. Why hire investigators when we have you? Brian Donahue, and RULE. I bet no one else has made that connection – they expressed dismay that the entire project is market rate, and then the building burns down, twice! VERY fishy …

  2. Donahue clearly has a motive and is kooky enough to do this, but I think it’s unlikely. He’d definitely be on my short list of people I’d question as it seems he runs in circles with other political radicals like that police terror group. Whoever did this is definitely a disciple of The Tattler and his RULE ideology.

  3. Brian does have the motive and would be someone to talk to about the incident. Interesting thing is he is a contractor and would know a thing or two about construction.

    One other thought is why is Scott’s wife (Lillian) defending him regards to this matter.

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