California Building Standards Commission approves emergency construction regulations

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The California Building Standards Commission, or CBSC, approved emergency regulations to accelerate the adoption of higher construction standards Jan. 27, in response to the tragic 2015 Berkeley balcony collapse.

The regulations call for moisture-resistant building materials and proper ventilation for exterior elevated elements, or EEEs. Examples of EEEs include balconies as well as exterior stairways and walkways.

“We are very pleased that the changes are being made with regard to balcony structures and construction work,” said Eustace de Saint Phalle, attorney for Jackie Donohoe, whose daughter was a victim of the 2015 balcony collapse. “There is more work to be done related to changes that are necessary to help try and prevent such a tragedy (from) occurring again.”

The emergency rules come several months after the passage of SB 465, a bill that gave CBSC and the Contractors State License Board, or CSLB, more oversight over building contractors in an effort to prevent another tragedy. According to the CBSC’s Finding of Emergency published Jan. 17, one of the EEE subcommittees presented CBSC with an update of its study on recent EEE failures in California on Dec. 13, 2016, which prompted CBSC to accelerate the regulations through emergency measures.

When emergency regulations are filed with the California Secretary of State, they immediately become active within the California Building Code. According to a press release from the California Department of General Services, if the new rules had been adopted through the normal legislative process, they would not have been able to be utilized by local municipalities and EEE designers for another three years.

According to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, these statewide regulations are similar to the ones proposed by the city of Berkeley a week after the balcony collapse occurred. He added, however, that the regulations differ in EEE inspection regulations.

“Even though the tragedy of that day will always be with us, we are glad that people throughout California will have safer buildings thanks to the changes we made in Berkeley,” Chakko said. “We proposed these changes within one week of the collapse and we implemented it at the very next council meeting at an emergency basis.”

The regulations will impact residential occupancies, hotels, state-owned buildings and public schools, according to the press release.

Mia Marvelli, executive director of CBSC, was optimistic about the impact the emergency regulations would have on the California community.

“California’s building codes serve to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of the public — the code’s very essence is the protection of life and property from hazards,” Marvelli said in the press release. “We are hopeful that today’s action can bring some small solace to the families and friends of the victims of this terrible tragedy.”

Contact Justin Sidhu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @dc_justinsidhu.