Sunday 11 December 2016

California Senate passes new construction law after Berkeley balcony collapse

Published 01/09/2016 | 10:38

The California Senate has passed a new law for the construction industry following the devastating Berkeley balcony collapse.

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The bill, which passed in the senate last night with an unanimous vote of 37-0, aims to address the accountability gaps revealed by the Berkeley tragedy and will "bring more oversight to the construction contractors' industry".

The balcony collapse, which occurred in June 2015, resulted in the deaths of six students and severe injuries in seven others when the balcony of a Berkeley apartment building plummeted to the ground during a birthday party.

A statement released by the California Government read; "The tragedy reverberated across the Irish community in the United States and abroad as all but one of the students who were killed and injured were visiting from Ireland.

Berkeley survivor Aoife Beary.
Berkeley survivor Aoife Beary.

"The sixth fatality was a 22-year-old Irish American student from Rohnert Park, California."

The bill, which was put forward by Senator Jerry Hill and Senator Loni Hancock, will now be reviewed by Governor Jerry Brown.

Survivor Aoife Beary (right) and her mother Angela at the hearing this week in California on a new bill to make construction safer Picture: AP
Survivor Aoife Beary (right) and her mother Angela at the hearing this week in California on a new bill to make construction safer Picture: AP

The governor has until September 30 to act on the Senate Bill.

“SB 465 [the bill] is in response to last year’s tragic balcony collapse in Berkeley that killed six students and severely injured seven others,” Hill said Wednesday evening in asking for his colleagues’ aye vote.

Workmen inspect the Berkeley balcony after the tragedy Picture: AP
Workmen inspect the Berkeley balcony after the tragedy Picture: AP

“It ensures that the state agencies tasked with overseeing the construction industry are taking appropriate steps to identify bad actors and improve building standards.”

According to the senator, the legislation requires contractors "convicted of felonies or crimes related to their work" to report that information to the Contractors State License Board (CSLB), which regulates the industry.

The bill also requires the CSLB to determine whether receiving construction defect settlement information would be useful for them to fulfill their mission of protecting the public.

Finally, SB 465 requires the Building Standards Commission to look at improving their safety requirements for balconies and other outdoor structures.

The senate's statement continued: "Shock over the tragedy that struck during a birthday party became outrage when it was discovered that the builder of the apartment complex had a history of construction defect settlements with payouts totaling $26.5 million."

At the moment, state law does not require contractors to report defect settlement cases to their licensing board, even though such disclosures are routine for doctors, engineers and architects.

Earlier this month, survivor Aoife Beary was praised by Senator Jerry Hill for sharing her story at the California State Senate.

He said there "wasn't a dry eye in the room" as the young woman told her story.

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