Wednesday 26 October 2016

Bid to change building regulations in US after Berkeley balcony tragedy


Workmen examine the damage at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California
Workmen examine the damage at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California
Clodagh Cogley

US politicians are to be again asked to back new construction oversight regulations to avoid any repeat of the Berkeley balcony tragedy in which six students died.

The California State Senate refused by a single vote to pass new oversight regulations last month - but it has now emerged a new revised bill will be brought forward next January.

Six students - five of whom were Irish - died when a fourth-storey balcony collapsed in the San Francisco suburb of Berkeley on June 16.

Seven other Irish students were badly injured when the timber-supported balcony at the Library Gardens complex collapsed during a 21st birthday party, throwing 13 students onto the concrete pavement below.

Six timber balcony support beams failed due to dry rot, despite the fact that the complex was only built in 2007.

Central to the proposed new California regulations will be the mandatory reporting of all claim settlements by construction firms and sub-contractors.

Three separate investigations are now under way into the June 16 tragedy.

There are twin-track civil and criminal investigations by Alameda County District-Attorney Nanci O'Malley. Meanwhile, the Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB), which regulates California's 300,000 building firms and operators, is also reviewing what happened.


The proposed new mandatory State reporting regulation is linked to the fact the CSLB were unaware that Segue Construction, which built the Library Gardens complex, had paid out €23m ($26.5m) in lawsuit settlements linked to construction complaints over the previous five years.

California State Senator Jerry Hill has said it was clear construction review regulations introduced in 2001 were not working as intended.

His Democrat Party colleague, Loni Hancock, vowed to continue to work on the proposed regulatory overhaul.

However, the Assembly Business and Professions Committee in the California Senate were concerned that the proposed regulation was being brought forward before the results of the investigation had been published.

In addition, the new oversight measures attracted vehement opposition from powerful construction industry lobby groups.

The California Building Industry Association (CBIA) - one of the most influential construction groups in the US - warned against a knee-jerk reaction to the Berkeley tragedy.

CBIA official Nick Cammarota said any use of construction settlements as an possible indicator for problematic construction firms was misleading, given that many issues arise from sub-contractors and not the firm listed in the legal papers.

"You think in voting for this bill you are doing something to help public safety, but you are actually protecting bad actors," he said.

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