Deadly Berkeley balcony collapse leads to new law
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Thursday aimed at providing more oversight of the construction industry to stem future tragedies like the balcony collapse that killed six college students last year in Berkeley.
On June 16, 2015, a fourth-floor balcony on the Library Gardens apartments collapsed, killing 22-year-old Rohnert Park woman Ashley Donohoe, her 21-year-old cousin Olivia Burke of Ireland and four of their friends, all from Ireland.
“This bill is an important step toward preventing another tragedy,” Brown said in a statement.
Ashley’s mother Jackie Donohoe said in a statement that she and others are happy that Brown signed the bill, but it’s only one step and more needs to be done. She said legislation is needed to address other issues.
The law signed by Brown today requires the state’s Department of Industrial Relations and its Division of Occupational Safety and Health to tell the Contractors State License Board when it takes action against a contractor.
It also authorizes the licensing board to make agreements with other state and local agencies to receive information about actions taken outside of California against California contractors.
Licensed contractors must report to the licensing board within 90 days any criminal convictions against them that would affect their work.
The law authorizes the state licensing board to study whether reports on the outcomes of judgments, arbitrations and settlements of claims related to defects at rental homes will allow the board to protect the public better.
The law also creates a working group to study recent failures of balconies and other elevated elements on the outside of buildings that might require changes to the California Building Standards Code.
Both the working group and the state licensing board must present their findings to the state Legislature by Jan. 1, 2018.
“The new law provides the Contractors State License Board with the tools to take action against bad actors in the construction industry,” state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, the primary author of the bill, said in a statement.
The company that built Library Gardens, Segue Construction of Pleasanton, had a history of questionable work and construction defect settlements of $26.5 million, according to Hill’s office.
The state licensing board for contractors was not aware of the settlements and had no way to collect such information. Also, licensed contractors are not required to report the settlements, as doctors, lawyers, architects and engineers are, according to Hill’s office.
A spokesperson for Segue Construction could not immediately be reached for comment.
State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, whose district includes Berkeley, said:
“It is my fervent hope that this measure brings at least some comfort to the families of the young people killed when this balcony collapsed.”
The other four students who died were Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh. The collapse also injured seven other Irish students.
State, local and Irish officials, including Minister of State Joe McHugh of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, attended today’s signing.