Berkeley balconies inspected in response to deadly collapse

More than 400 balconies and decks in Berkeley inspected since a deadly collapse last June need corrective work, according to city documents released Thursday.

The city-mandated inspections of all residential elevated outdoor structures over 30 inches tall following the June 16, 2015, collapse at the Library Gardens apartment complex at 2020 Kittredge St. that killed six people and injured seven others. About one-fifth -- 402 of 2,176 structures inspected -- were found to need work, according to the city.

The 13 people, many of whom were visiting Irish students, were dumped from the fourth-floor balcony during a birthday party in the early morning hours when the joists inside failed.

Subsequent inspection of the fourth-floor balcony found the wooden joists had decayed from water intrusion. Lawsuits filed by the victims' families in the following months alleged that there were numerous warning signs that the balcony was unsafe, including mushrooms growing on it and it leaning with weight.

The City Council passed emergency legislation about a month later requiring immediate inspections of all outdoor balconies over 30 inches tall on buildings with more than three apartment units. The emergency ordinance
also set new stricter construction standards for materials and design for new balconies and required regular inspections every three years.

Next week, the City Council will take up several amendments to that legislation, including a less rigorous inspection schedule and raising the height requirement.

Under the amended ordinance, inspections would be required for only decks and balconies more than six feet tall. City staff initially picked the 30 inches threshold because that is the height that guardrails are required and there wasn't time for a more in-depth analysis.

"If a deck or porch that is 30 inches high collapses, it would be unlikely to cause loss of life," city staff wrote in the report.

The less frequent inspection schedule was requested by the Berkeley Property Owners Association, but once initial repairs are completed, the repaired and/or inspected elements are unlikely to deteriorate rapidly
enough to present a collapse hazard within a five year period," city staff argued.

The City Council is scheduled to take up the proposed amendments on Feb. 23.