Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills spurred by Berkeley balcony collapse

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Amanda Hart/File

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Gov. Jerry Brown signed California SB 721 and SB 1465 this week, which were propelled by the 2015 balcony collapse in Berkeley that killed six people and injured seven.

The bills, which passed in the California Legislature in August, aim to increase the safety of structures such as decks and balconies in multifamily residences and improve the oversight of construction contractors, according to state Sen. Jerry Hill, who co-authored the bill with state Sen. Nancy Skinner.

“The new settlement reporting requirement for contractors mandated by SB 1465 and the statewide inspection and repair standards set by SB 721 will help us prevent tragedies like the Berkeley balcony collapse,” Hill said in a press release.

SB 721 will require 15 percent of California balconies and decks to be inspected every six years at the owner’s expense. SB 1465 will require contractors to report settlements of more than $1 million to the Contractors State License Board, or CSLB, when they involve construction defects on multifamily residences.

The CSLB determined that poor construction methods and dry rot caused the balcony collapse in Berkeley. The lead contractor of the apartment building, Segue Construction Inc., had paid $26.5 million in settlements for construction defects in its buildings during the three years before the balcony collapse.

In response to the balcony collapse, Berkeley City Council unanimously adopted amendments to housing codes that required inspections of weather-exposed structures every three years.

The tightened building standards and safety inspection laws in Berkeley were followed by legislation on the state level. In 2016, SB 465, co-authored by Hill and former senator Loni Hancock, increased the oversight of contractors, according to a press release.

Although the legislation is set to increase the safety of structures statewide, Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said the bills will not affect Berkeley much because the city has already been heading in the direction of the bills and doing more inspections.

“This is a good additional backup,” Worthington said. “A lot of these companies work in multiple cities, so it ensures that problems do not reoccur elsewhere.”

According to Hill, the statewide legislation owes much to Jackie Donohoe, the mother of one of the students killed by the balcony incident. She has testified repeatedly within the California Senate about the importance of stronger laws to prevent similar tragedies from arising.

The Donohoe family attorney, Eustace de Saint Phalle, said the bills are a first step and there is still a large number of buildings that are not subject to the bills’ requirements.

“Anything that can be done to add transparency should be done,” de Saint Phalle said. “The reporting requirements to prevent secret settlements related to negligent construction work should be broadened.”

Contact Yousef Al Refaei at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @RefaeiYousef.