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Officials Target Berkeley Balcony Firms

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

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Five contractors that worked on a balcony that collapsed in Berkeley, CA, last year could face suspension or revocation of their contractors' licenses, according to state licensing officials and reports.

The collapse, last June, killed six college students and injured seven more. The East Bay Times reports that general contractor Segue Construction and four subcontractors face citations for alleged substandard work.

Soon after the June 16 collapse, evidence began to mount that moisture and rot were factors in the failure of the balcony. Through the course of the investigation, officials determined that contractors failed to safeguard the building materials from rain during the building’s construction, and applied waterproofing to wood that was already wet, trapping moisture in the wood, the San Jose Mercury-News reports.

In addition to Segue, the firms facing enforcement action are: Etter & Sons Construction, North State Plastering, R. Brothers Waterproofing and The Energy Store of California.

Probable Citations

The California Contractors State License Board has yet to determine the exact penalty the firms will face—they could lose their licensing completely or face other consequences. Its investigative report is currently being reviewed by the California Attorney General's Office, CSLB officials told Durability + Design News.

Specifically, the CSLB alleges that all five contractors violated the Business & Professions Code section 7109(a), which is willful departure from accepted trade standards for good and workmanlike construction.

There’s an additional alleged violation against Etter & Sons, for Business & Professions Code section 7111.1, which is a licensee failing or refusing to cooperate in a CSLB investigation.

At this stage of the investigation, however, details included in CSLB's report remain confidential, according to Rick Lopes, chief of public affairs for the licensing board.

Lopes says the goal has been to determine if any of the parties veered from accepted trade standards, leading to latent defects that compromised the integrity of the balcony.

Deadly Collapse

The building that suffered the collapse was part of the Library Garden apartment complex, built in 2005 and 2006, and opened in 2007.

After an extensive criminal investigation, in March, the Alameda County District Attorney declined to file charges, citing a lack of evidence that the contractors could have foreseen the deadly consequences of their actions. However, the building’s owner and management, and some of the contractors, have faced civil suits over the matter.

One civil suit alleged that residents of the apartments had observed mushrooms sprouting from the wooden balconies years before the collapse, according to Berkeleyside.

On Monday (April 25), California lawmakers held a hearing regarding the Berkeley collapse, addressing matters including the reporting of settlements related to the incident.

Many of the victims in the collapse were students from Ireland, visiting on J-1 student visas, according to various media reports. They were celebrating a 21st birthday party at the time of the tragedy. The balcony that collapsed was on the fifth floor of one of the buildings; the victims fell about 50 feet to the ground.


Tagged categories: Building codes; Laws and litigation; Residential Construction; water damage; Waterproofing; Wood coatings

Comment from Monica Chauviere, (4/26/2016, 9:51 AM)

There is STILL no mention of whether the wood was exterior grade (treated to prevent rot) or not. But of course, California probably prevents use of wood with that toxic chemical in it. Seriously, the MATERIAL itself is an issue. Why can't they recognize it?

Comment from M. Halliwell, (4/26/2016, 10:41 AM)

Definitely an issue, Monica, and something that needs to be clarified. That said, conditions and service environment play a major factor too. I've seen stainless steel acid pumps (in an industrial chemical plant setting) reduced to scrap metal in a matter of a few hours operation thanks to a little water. Both parts are necessary to identifying how such tragedies can be prevented in the future.

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