Berkeley construction regulations have improved 1 year after balcony collapse

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A year after the collapse of a balcony on the fourth floor of the Library Gardens apartment complex, where five Irish students and one California resident fell to their deaths, the city of Berkeley has implemented safer construction regulations and formed stronger relations with Ireland in the wake of the tragedy.

“The people of the United States extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families, friends and loved ones of the students who lost their lives or were injured,” said Kevin O’Malley, the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, in a public statement Thursday.

On Wednesday, a remembrance ceremony took place at the U.S. Embassy in the Ballsbridge area of Dublin, Ireland. At the ceremony, the U.S. Embassy staff planted an apple tree in the Embassy’s front courtyard with a memorial plaque intended to “serve as a living tribute to those affected by the tragedy,” O’Malley noted in the statement.

This summer, many Irish students on J-1 working visas are coming into Berkeley, just a year after the collapse.

“I personally don’t think it affected other students wanting to travel to the area,” Adam McKenna, an incoming Irish student this summer, said in an email. “It might have made some think twice just.”

A U.S. Superior Court ruled in April that victims of the balcony collapse accident may press for punitive damages against the building’s owner, manager and Segue Construction Inc., the company responsible for constructing the balcony. Surviving victims and family members of those who died in the collapse have already filled 13 separate lawsuits seeking punitive damages and compensation for the accident.

Three additional women, who rented a fourth-floor unit connected to the balcony, also sued the firms for punitive damages.

UC Berkeley law school professor Mark Gergen said it will be important how the jury assigned to the case decides to assign responsibility and liability among the defendants.

Investigations conducted by the city of Berkeley concluded that the cause of the collapse was the rotten wooden beams that supported the balcony.

Ray Kirby, a consultant at Childress Engineering Services, reviewed the original construction of the apartment complex and found that there were no flaws with the design, which had satisfied requirements of the building code.

Since the accident, the city of Berkeley has responded by implementing stricter building construction regulations and enforced inspections on existing buildings, said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko in an email. The new regulations, Chakko added, are targeted to create ventilation for potential moisture, refrain from using materials that retain less moisture and require inspections of exterior structure in multi-unit buildings every five years.

Chakko noted that he was very touched by how relationships formed between the city’s police and fire departments and citizens of Ireland after this unfortunate event.

“The memory of the students is certainly with us in creating a safer city and all the right laws to build a safer city,” Chakko said.

Prompted by the collapse, California state senators Loni Hancock and Jerry Hill introduced a bill April 25 to require contractors to report lawsuit settlement cases to the Contractors State License Board. The bill, according to Hill, will evaluate the credibility and professionalism of contractors.

He added that the balcony collapse brought “international notoriety” and “worldwide attentionto the lack of knowledge of settlement agreements by contractors. Hill remains hopeful that the bill will move forward even though it was initially met with strong opposition from the construction building industry, which denied to have full disclosure of all its legal settlements, he said.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Assembly Business and Professions Committee on Tuesday at the State Capitol.

Contact Roann Pao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @roann_pao.