Bill to Step Up Oversight of Building Contractors Signed by Governor Brown

September 15, 2016

Governor Brown Signs Bill to Increase Oversight of Building Contractors in
Private Ceremony Attended by Bay Area Family and Irish Dignitaries
Representing Berkeley Balcony Collapse Victims

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Thursday, September 15, 2016) -- Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 465 in a private ceremony this morning attended by the family of the Bay Area student who died and Irish dignitaries representing the five exchange students killed and the seven others seriously injured when a balcony of a Berkeley apartment building collapsed.

“This bill is an important step toward preventing another tragedy,” said Governor Brown in a statement announcing his signing of SB 465, authored by Senators Jerry Hill and Loni Hancock, into law.

The new law, which takes effect January 1, is aimed at closing the gaps of information revealed by the tragedy on June 16, 2015, that killed 22-year-old Ashley Donohoe of Rohnert Park, her cousin, Olivia Burke, 21, of Ireland, and four of their friends. Seven other students from Ireland, including Aoife Beary who had been celebrating her 21st birthday, were hospitalized for weeks after the balcony gave way and sent them plummeting five stories to the ground.

The firm that built the apartment complex had a history of questionable work and construction defect settlements that amounted to $26.5 million. But the agency that licenses and regulates California’s construction industry was not aware of the company’s track record, and had neither the mechanisms nor requirements to collect such information. Also, unlike other licensed professionals, such as doctors, architects and engineers, licensed contractors aren’t required to report such settlements.

“The new law provides the Contractors State License Board with the tools to take action against bad actors in the construction industry,” said Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. “My colleagues in the Legislature and I are deeply grateful to Jackie Donohoe, Ashley’s mother, and Aoife Beary and her mother, Angela, for their testimony on behalf of SB 465 and their courage in sharing how their families’ and friends’ lives have been forever changed by a preventable construction failure.”

“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,” said Senator Hancock, D-Oakland, whose district includes the City of Berkeley. “Perhaps knowing that this law will help prevent similar tragedies for other families will ease their pain.”

Jackie and George Donohoe, Ashley Donohue's parents; their daughter, Amanda, Ashley’s younger sister; and Dermot Burke, Olivia Burke’s uncle; attended the signing ceremony in Governor Brown’s office. Jackie and George Donohue are also Olivia Burke's aunt and uncle.

“We’re grateful to you,” Mr. Donohoe said to Governor Brown.

“I would like to express my sincere thanks to all those involved in the signing of this very important bill, which is aimed at ensuring more robust building standards in an effort to ensure that the tragic balcony collapse which occurred last year will never happen again,” said Minister of State Joe McHugh of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in a statement. “In particular, I deeply commend the selfless courage of the families of those injured or those who lost lives in the passionate pursuit of this outcome today.”

McHugh and Ronan Gargan, director of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department’s Irish Abroad Unit, traveled from Dublin for the ceremony. Joining them were Consul General Philip Grant of the Irish Consulate in San Francisco, who had testified at legislative hearings about the tragedy’s far-reaching impact. Celine Kennelly, president of the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center in San Francisco, California Government Operations Agency Secretary Marybel Batjer and Alameda County Chief Assistant District Attorney Kevin Dunleavy also attended.

Starting January 1, the new law:

  • Requires California’s Department of Industrial Relations and the Division of Occupational Safety and Health to transmit information to the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) about any actions taken against CSLB licensees.
  • Authorizes the CSLB to enter into agreements with other state and local agencies in order to receive information about any actions those agencies take against licensed contractors.
  • Requires licensed contractors to report to the CSLB within 90 days any convictions for felonies or any other crimes substantially related to their qualifications, functions and duties.
  • Directs the CSLB to study judgments, arbitration awards and settlements of claims of construction defects at rental residential units and report to the Legislature, by January 1, 2018, whether requiring licensees to report such dispositions would enable to the board to better protect the public.
  • Directs the working group formed by the California Building Standards Commission to study recent failures of elevated elements on the exterior of buildings in order to determine whether statutory changes or changes to the California Building Standards Code are necessary. The commission’s working group must submit its report on findings and recommendations to relevant legislative policy committees by January 1, 2018.

The City of Berkeley has already approved tighter building standards for balconies and other elevated exterior elements on structures with three or more residential units.

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Resources:

Letter to the Governor from Senators Hill and Hancock:
http://sd13.senate.ca.gov/sites/sd13.senate.ca.gov/files/LettertoGov-SB465-9-9-16.pdf

Governor’s news release:

https://www.gov.ca.gov/news.php?id=19542

Senate Bill 465 Fact Sheet:
http://sd13.senate.ca.gov/sites/sd13.senate.ca.gov/files/SB465_UpdatedFactSheet_08-31-2016.pdf

Senate Bill 465:
http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB465

Contacts:
Leslie Guevarra, Office of Senator Hill, 415-298-3404 cell, leslie.guevarra@sen.ca.gov
Ray Sotero, Office Senator Loni Hancock, 916-651-4009 office, ray.sotero@sen.ca.gov

Note: Updated at 4:23 p.m. September 15, 2016, to clarify family relationships described in seventh paragraph.