Faulty bal­cony de­sign un­likely in fall

An out­side ex­pert says the Berke­ley plat­form should have held those on it if prop­erly built and main­tained.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Paige St. John, Javier Pan­zar and Rong-Gong Lin II

BERKE­LEY — The de­sign of the apart­ment bal­cony that col­lapsed here ear­lier this week, killing six peo­ple and in­jur­ing seven oth­ers, con­tains no ob­vi­ous de­fects, an in­de­pen­dent engi­neer who looked at the bal­cony’s ar­chi­tec­tural plans said Thurs­day.

Gene St. Onge, a civil and struc­tural engi­neer in Oak­land who is not con­nected to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said the bal­cony should have held the 13 peo­ple if it was built ac­cord­ing to the plans and was prop­erly main­tained.

“It was not over­loaded,” St. Onge said.

Many ex­perts be­lieve the bal­cony failed be­cause the wood beams sup­port­ing the deck had rot­ted be­cause of ex­po­sure to wa­ter.

The bal­cony was de­signed to keep wa­ter out of the sup­port beams, St. Onge said. That leaves the ques­tion of whether con­struc­tion work­ers did not com­plete the work ac­cord­ing to the de­sign draw­ings, or whether there were de­fects in the ma­te­ri­als used. If the build­ing was con­structed ac­cord­ing to the draw­ings, then there’s a ques­tion of whether im­proper main­te­nance con­trib­uted to the weak­en­ing of the bal­cony’s wood beams.

“Ac­cord­ing to the draw­ings, it looks as though it was pro­fes­sion­ally done. Whether it was com­pletely done, whether there’s some­thing miss­ing that could’ve been missed in the field — I don’t know,” St. Onge said.

A 57-page city in­spec­tion re­port does not in­di­cate whether in­spec­tors checked for wa­ter­proof­ing be­fore res­i­dents be­gan oc­cu­py­ing the Li­brary Gar­dens com­plex on Kit­tredge Street.

“The city went to great lengths to check any­thing on struc­ture, fin­ishes, elec­tri­cal, me­chan­i­cal — quite a num­ber of things,” St. Onge said. “But noth­ing re­lated to wa­ter­proof­ing.”

St. Onge said wa­ter­proof­ing of­ten gets less scru­tiny. “This is the kind of thing that tends to slip through the cracks,” he said. “It’s just not reg­u­lated the

way a lot of im­por­tant things are.”

City spokesman Matthai Chakko said the bal­cony would have been in­spected at var­i­ous points dur­ing con­struc­tion and be­fore oc­cu­pancy, but the de­tails of those in­spec­tions would not nec­es­sar­ily be in­cluded in the in­spec­tion history re­port.

Hous­ing in­spec­tors across Cal­i­for­nia typ­i­cally check to make sure wa­ter­proof­ing is done cor­rectly dur­ing con­struc­tion, but not af­ter res­i­dents move in, said Rachel Flynn, Oak­land’s di­rec­tor of plan­ning and build­ing depart­ment.

A res­i­dent would have to com­plain of wa­ter in­tru­sion, for ex­am­ple, for the city to check the seal­ing again.

“Once you get your cer­tifi­cate of oc­cu­pancy, it’s up to you to main­tain your prop­erty prop­erly,” she said.

A lawyer who rep­re­sented Berke­ley in a Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court case over its rent con­trol law said the city’s in­spec­tors should have caught any con­struc­tion de­fects be­fore al­low­ing ten­ants to move in.

“It’s up to the city to do the proper in­spec­tion so wa­ter doesn’t seep in and cause dry rot,” said My­ron Moskovitz, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Golden Gate Univer­sity School of Law.

If in­spec­tors missed a con­struc­tion de­fect, he said, “There’s no ex­cuse for that, es­pe­cially on some­thing like a bal­cony.”

Mean­while, fam­ily mem­bers were mak­ing fu­neral ar­range­ments for the six peo­ple killed in the col­lapse.

A joint fu­neral will be held in Rohn­ert Park for vic­tims Olivia Burke and Ash­ley Dono­hoe, who were cousins. Dono­hoe, 22, a res­i­dent of Rohn­ert Park, will be buried in the Bay Area, while Burke, 21, will be laid to rest in Dublin, Ire­land.

Burke and four of the other peo­ple killed were vis­it­ing the Bay Area from Ire­land for the sum­mer and work­ing on tem­po­rary J-1 visas.

The Alameda County coro­ner has con­firmed that the cause of death for all six peo­ple was blunt force trauma.

Pho­tog raphs by Jeff Chiu As­so­ci­ated Press

WHAT IS LEFT of the bal­cony that col­lapsed in Berke­ley, killing six peo­ple and in­jur­ing seven oth­ers, can be seen as crews work on the apart­ment build­ing. Ex­perts be­lieve the bal­cony failed be­cause the wood beams sup­port­ing it had rot­ted be­cause of ex­po­sure to wa­ter.

A BERKE­LEY CITY OF­FI­CIAL said the apart­ment bal­cony would have been in­spected at var­i­ous points dur­ing con­struc­tion and be­fore oc­cu­pancy.

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