Monday 20 November 2017

Berkeley council passes strict new building rules following balcony collapse tragedy

Police tape blocks off a section of Kittredge Street in front of the apartment building where a balcony collapsed in Berkeley, California (AP)
Police tape blocks off a section of Kittredge Street in front of the apartment building where a balcony collapsed in Berkeley, California (AP)

David Kearns

Berkeley City Council have passed strict new building rules following last month’s balcony collapse that killed six Irish students and injured seven others.

Following a unanimous vote by council members, the emergency ordinance takes effect immediately and mandates all existing balconies, decks, stairs and other weather-exposed elements of properties in Berkeley to be inspected within six months.

The new laws requires repeat inspections every three years, and enforces new safety standards, which include that all balconies, and other weather-exposed elements, in the city to be properly ventilation in an effort to safeguard against dry-rot.

Read More: Aoife Beary (21) to join fellow Berkeley survivors as Irish student gets 'stronger every day'

The proposed legislation was drafted by city staff who concluded the collapse was likely caused by dry rot in the wooden joists of the cantilevered balcony at the Liberty Gardens apartment complex.

The findings stated that the number of people on the balcony at the time was not an issue.

The tragic collapse that killed five Irish students and one Irish-American student occurred around 1am on 16 June. Several other Irish students were injured.

Read More: Berkeley tragedy: Thumbs up from survivor Jack Halpin as he continues treatment in California

At the meeting on Tuesday, Berkeley councillors rejected a request from the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California's for a delay in introducing the new regulations.

Councilman Jesse Arreguin deemed the balcony collapse "one of the worst tragedies in Berkeley history" and said that after consulting with structural engineers he thought the staff's proposal should go further.

"We have learned that there are clear deficiencies in our existing building code," Arreguin said.

Read More: Irish student at Berkeley party said balcony was 'sloping downwards' before tragic collapse

Several council members wanted to see new requirements on developers and contractors, forcing them to declare if they have been involved in any lawsuits or settlements relating to other developments.

The council also decided to form a task force, which will feature structural engineers and other experts, to more thoroughly examine Berkeley's building codes.

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