Berkeley City Council passes stricter building code amendments in wake of balcony collapse

BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU) -- In the wake of the fatal balcony collapse that killed six people and left seven injured, the Berkeley City Council late Tuesday voted to add new amendments to the city building code in an effort to improve safety and prevent another tragedy.

A crowd packed the City Council meeting to testify about the proposed amendments.

City inspectors say the fourth floor balcony of apartment #405 at 2020 Kittredge Street appeared to have severe dry rot.

The City Council approved recommendations by the city manager to require immediate inspection and certification of exterior balconies, decks, staircases and other exterior structures on apartment units within Berkeley. The inspections will have to be completed within six months and be followed by subsequent inspections every three years afterwards.

The City Council also passed amendments requiring ventilation of balconies, stairs and other structures to prevent moisture buildup and stricter requirements for durable construction materials.

"The city council needs to protect tenants, to protect students, to protect anyone who comes to Berkeley by making sure not another life is injured or lost." said UC Berkeley student Blumaro Vicente during a news conference prior to the meeting.

City Council member Jesse Arreguin held the news conference to announce he was proposing his own set of amendments.

"We've learned there are clear deficiencies in our existing building code and that additional requirements are needed to make sure that balconies are being built to the strongest safety standards," Arreguin said.

His proposal for inspections every three years was incorporated into the final amendments, instead of the original five-year inspections that the city had originally proposed.

A group of builders, architects and other design professionals attended the meeting to express their concerns and desire to cooperate with the city in formulating safety standards.

Attorney Eustace de Saint Phalle -- who represents the family of one victim Ashley Donohoe -- got up to testify, saying the family had sent the city a letter calling the proposals inadequate. They say building experts have found that fungus can grow quickly and wanted to have annual inspections put into place.

A city spokesman says the new building code amendments will take effect immediately and impacts about 6,000 apartment units in the City of Berkeley.