Governor Signs Bill by Senator Jerry Hill to Require Inspections of Apartment Balconies in Response to Berkeley Tragedy

September 17, 2018

For Immediate Release – Office of State Senator Jerry Hill – September 17, 2018
 

Governor Signs Bill by Senator Jerry Hill to Require Inspections of Apartment Balconies, Decks, Outdoor Stairs and Elevated Walkways in Response to Berkeley Tragedy

Governor Also Signs Hill Legislation to Ensure That Ratepayers Benefit from Utilities’ Corporate Tax Savings

SACRAMENTO – Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation today setting requirements for periodic inspections of balconies and other elevated exterior elements at apartment buildings and complexes.

Senate Bill 721 will help save lives,” said Senator Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, who authored the legislation with Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. “We can prevent tragedies like the Berkeley balcony collapse with the statewide inspection and repair standards set by this bill.”

Under SB 721, 15 percent of the load-bearing, elevated exterior elements at apartment buildings and complexes with three or more units must be inspected every six years. The load-bearing outdoor elements subject to inspection are balconies, decks, porches, stairs, walkways, and entryways that extend beyond the exterior walls of a structure, are six feet or more above the ground, and rely on wood or wood-based products for stability and support.

A birthday party at a Berkeley apartment building in June 2015 ended in horror when a fifth-story balcony tore away from the structure, killing six young people and severely injuring seven of their friends. Investigation showed that the poorly sealed balcony had become infested with dry rot and that the contractor had a history of construction defect lawsuits. The calamity led to greater scrutiny of local and state building standards and state laws on construction contractors and the balconies they build.

The process has been closely watched in California and in Ireland, which regards the balcony collapse as a national tragedy. All the victims, college students or recent graduates, were of Irish descent, and all but one were visitors from Ireland.

“I am deeply grateful to Jackie Donohoe who made it her mission to prevent others from enduring the shattering grief that struck the families of those who died or were injured when the balcony in Berkeley collapsed,” said Senator Hill. “Jackie’s daughter, Ashley, and her niece, Olivia Burke, were among the six who were killed. Since then, Jackie has traveled from her home in the Bay Area to Sacramento to testify at every legislative hearing. She has been a fierce and undaunted advocate for change.”

Soon after the balcony collapse, the city of Berkeley tightened its building standards and safety inspection laws. In 2016, the Legislature passed and Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 465 by Senator Hill and then-Senator Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, to increase oversight of contractors. In 2017, the California Building Standards Commission adopted stricter regulations aimed at preventing a repeat of the Berkeley disaster.

Senate Bill 721 is one of two bills by Senator Hill this year to address further safety and oversight issues raised by the Berkeley balcony collapse. The second bill, SB 1465, was passed by the Legislature and is being reviewed by the governor. SB 1465 would require contractors who settle construction defect lawsuits that involve load-bearing portions of multifamily rental residential structures for a million dollars or more to report those deals to the Contractors State License Board. The reports would be confidential unless the board pursues disciplinary measures.

The general contractor that built the Berkeley apartment complex where the balcony failed paid $26.5 million to settle construction defect cases in the three years before the collapse – information that was not known to regulators until it was discovered and disclosed by news reporters.

Governor Brown’s deadline for signing or vetoing 2018 legislation is September 30.

SB 1028: Extending Utilities’ Corporate Tax Savings to Ratepayers

On Friday, the governor signed SB 1028 to ensure that ratepayers benefit from the savings that privately owned utilities enjoy as a result of the recent federal tax break for corporations.

The bill provides clear direction to the California Public Utilities Commission that any changes to utilities’ taxes be adjusted for in rates so that if utilities receive tax savings, customer rates will be lowered.

“This is the only fair thing to do,” Senator Hill said.

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Media Contact: Leslie Guevarra, 415-298-3404, leslie.guevarra@sen.ca.gov