Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Berkeley Proposes Tougher Balcony Standards


Inside Bay Area reports:

BERKELEY -- City planning and building officials are proposing a package of safety-related urgency ordinances in response to the June 16 collapse of a fifth-floor balcony at a downtown apartment complex that killed six young adults and injured seven more. A city councilman, meanwhile, is proposing tougher building and inspection standards for balconies.

The City Council is scheduled to consider the proposals on July 14.

An inspection by Berkeley building official Alex Roshal and Senior Building Inspector Steve Messinger on June 16 found the cantilevered joists of the balcony, at the Library Gardens at 2020 Kittredge St., completely shorn off about 16 to 20 inches from the exterior building face, with a torn waterproofing membrane hanging over the joist ends, according to a report from Roshal. The deck joist ends protruding from the exterior wall appeared to be severely dry-rotted, the report stated.

The rotted wood beams that held a balcony jut out from side of the residential apartment building on Kittredge Street in Berkeley on June 17, 2015. Six people died and seven others were seriously injured when the balcony collapsed. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

Planning and Development Director Eric Angstadt proposes adding several sections to the city Building Code.

One would mandate cross-ventilation for enclosed assemblies of balconies, landings, decks and stairs.

Another would require naturally durable or preservative-treated wood, corrosion-resistant steel or similar approved materials for the floors of balconies, landings, decks, stairs and other projections.

Angstadt also proposes requiring inspection and certification by a licensed expert of balconies and other weather-exposed areas within six months, and thereafter every five years.

Urgency ordinances require a seven-ninths vote of the council and are effective immediately upon approval.

Councilman Jesse Arreguin wants the city to move toward requiring steel reinforcement for all balconies in new developments, and proposes to send a letter to the California Building Standards Commission urging it to update the state code to require steel in balcony floors.

"Unlike wood, steel is less likely to deteriorate over time, is better able at withstanding the elements, and is a stronger material," the proposed letter reads in part.

"As we develop more housing in the city of Berkeley, it is of the utmost public importance to ensure that balconies that are built are to the best safety standards to prevent another tragic loss of life," Arreguin said through a spokesman Tuesday.

"While ventilated, treated wood is an improvement over the design and materials implicated in the recent balcony collapse, corrosion resistant steel provides superior strength, and durability, he said, adding that the increased cost of galvanized steel "is well exceeded by its higher degree of assurance."

Moreover, he continued, experts advise that "it is just as important, if not more, to inspect and certify weatherproofing and other elements prior to completion as post-completion inspections when structural components are enclosed."

Arreguin also wants periodic inspections of balconies in multiunit rental properties, with a time frame yet to be worked out.

Additionally, he wants written disclosure requirements for owners of rental properties and homeowner and condominium associations with balconies that are not steel-reinforced, and the posting of signs in the balcony area specifying the maximum weight capacity.

The regular July 14 City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. in the Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

The June 16 balcony collapse killed Olivia Burke, Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster and Lorcán Miller, all 21 and from Ireland, and Ashley Donohoe, 22, of Rohnert Park.
Courtesy Inside Bay Area. 

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