The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) of California announced this week that its ongoing investigation of last year's deadly balcony collapse in Berkeley, CA, is nearing a close. The investigation is focused in part on five construction companies that were involved in the building of an apartment complex where the balcony collapsed on June 16, 2015, killing six students and seriously injuring seven others.
The nine-month investigation is nearing completion, with a determination if administrative actions will be recommended against the contractors expected shortly, says the CSLB, which operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs and licenses and regulates approximately 290,000 contractors in California.
“The main questions we’re trying to answer are if the various contractors involved followed the architectural plans for the balcony, including the use of the proper building materials, and whether workmanship standards were followed.” said David Fogt, CSLB’s Chief of Enforcement, in a recent press release. He says if the contractors did not follow correct plans and procedures then it is "a clear violation of the law," pointing to Business & Professions Code section 7109.
If CSLB’s investigation determines the licenses should be revoked, cases will be submitted to the California Attorney General’s Office, which will prosecute the cases in the state’s administrative court, said the CSLB in the news release.
A month after the tragic collapse, the city of Berkeley implemented a series of new construction ordinances "to prevent future such events." According to a June 23 report released by city's Building and Safety staff, the 4th floor structural collapse of the cantilevered balcony was caused because "the deck joist ends protruding from the exterior wall appeared to be severely dry rotted."
City inspectors, along with structural engineers from Miyamoto International and WJE Engineers, Architects, Materials Scientists, observed at the accident scene that the joists had completely sheared off approximately 16 to 20 inches from the exterior building face, and they found a torn bituthene membrane hanging over the joist ends.
The five-story, 176-unit Library Gardens apartment building where the balcony failed, was built in 2007.
Based on a June 23 city inspection of the collapsed balcony, the Berkeley City Council on July 15 unanimously approved a series of ordinances for all current and future city buildings. The changes make new balconies and other sealed areas exposed to weather subject to stricter requirements on materials, inspection and ventilation. In addition, the regulations require regular maintenance inspections for all such spaces for future buildings as well as those units already built.
Eric Angstadt, Berkeley planning director, told me in July that with the passage of these resolutions, "Berkeley now has local requirements that not only improve the design and structure of future balconies, but existing properties will also be subject to thorough inspections."
The new rules state that projections exposed to weather - balconies, landings, decks, stairs and floors - shall be constructed of naturally durable wood, preservative-treated wood, corrosion resistant steel, or similar approved materials.
Other changes to local building codes include laminated timbers and supporting members of permanent fixtures. Glued laminated timbers that form structural supports on a building and are exposed to weather will now have to be pressure treated with a preservative or be manufactured from naturally durable or preservative-treated wood. And wood members that form the structural supports of buildings, balconies, porches or similar permanent building appurtenances that are exposed to the weather must be made with naturally durable or preservative-treated wood.
The new regulations also stipulate that weather exposed enclosed assemblies "shall have cross ventilation for each separate enclosed space by ventilation openings protected against the entrance of rain and snow."
Berkeley spokesperson Matthai K. Chakko also told me in July that the new ordinances set up an inspection system where balconies will be inspected every three years by certified and qualified individuals, licensed general contractors, structural pest control licensees, licensed architects and engineers.