Berke­ley bal­cony passed muster

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Paige St. John

The f ifth- f loor Berke­ley apart­ment bal­cony that col­lapsed two weeks ago, killing six and in­jur­ing seven, passed muster with in­spec­tors hired by the com­plex’s own­ers less than a year ago, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments re­leased by the city Mon­day.

A pri­vate struc­tural in­spec­tor check­ing the Li­brary Gar­dens apart­ment com­plex in Au­gust 2014 marked the bal­cony sup­ports as be­ing in “good” con­di­tion, along with bal­cony decks, rails and sof­fits, in­spec­tion records show.

The records do not in­di­cate how thor­oughly those struc­tures were an­a­lyzed or whether the check went be­yond vis­ual in­spec­tion.

The in­spec­tion found bro­ken seals in nearly two dozen win­dows and cracked f loors as the 8- year- old stucco- over- wood build­ing set­tled, the records show. The re­port noted that those

cracks needed to be sealed, a com­mon step to pre­vent in­ter­nal dam­age from wa­ter in­tru­sion.

The in­spec­tion com­pany that pro­duced the re­port was not named. The re­port was pro­vided in Oc­to­ber 2014 to a prop­erty man­ager at River­stone Residential Group, the na­tional com­pany that man­aged Li­brary Gar­dens at the time, the records re­leased by the city Mon­day show.

River­stone was bought last year by Greystar, another na­tional apart­ment man­age­ment firm.

A Greystar spokes­woman did not com­ment on the 2014 struc­tural in­spec­tion but said Greystar hired en­gi­neer­ing ex­perts to eval­u­ate the build­ing af­ter the bal­cony col­lapse.

“The safety of our res­i­dents and their guests is our high­est pri­or­ity.... The ex­perts have con­firmed that the build­ing is safe,” the com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tive said in an email late Mon­day.

A sec­ond in­spec­tion, con­ducted in Septem­ber, cited Li­brary Gar­dens man­agers for fail­ing to rou­tinely in­spect each of the com­plex’s 176 apart­ments.

Berke­ley city engi­neers said last week that dry rot had weak­ened the beams of a can­tilevered bal­cony over the front en­trance of Li­brary Gar­dens, but they did not de­ter­mine how the fun­gus de­vel­oped.

Thir­teen peo­ple, most of them stu­dents from Ire­land at­tend­ing a late- night 21st birth­day party, were on the bal­cony when it col­lapsed, plung­ing more than 40 feet to the pave­ment.

The latest records show Li­brary Gar­dens’ man­agers were un­able to pro­vide proof to Berke­ley that they com­plied with the city’s re­quire­ments that all apart­ments un­dergo a safety check ev­ery year — a crit­i­cism also made in the Septem­ber 2014 River­stone in­spec­tion.

In­stead of the re­quired an­nual safety check­lists, Greystar last week pro­vided Berke­ley with copies of “walk- through” checks con­ducted on a lit­tle more than one- third of its apart­ments. Those forms of­ten noted the need to re­paint walls or re­place miss­ing car­bon monox­ide de­tec­tors.

The forms do not in­clude safety checks re­quired by Berke­ley, such as ex­tin­guish­ers, ac­cess to fire ex­its, vent­ing of ap­pli­ances and shut- off valves and se­cure fas­ten­ing of handrails and guardrails.

The Septem­ber 2014 walk- through for Apart­ment 405, the lo­ca­tion of the failed bal­cony, found the apart­ment was in “good” con­di­tion — miss­ing a car­bon monox­ide de­tec­tor and hav­ing a beep­ing smoke de­tec­tor.

The Li­brary Gar­dens records do not meet the re­quire­ments of Berke­ley’s rental safety pro­gram, city hous­ing in­spec­tor Brent Nel­son wrote in a June 24 let­ter to Greystar’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor in San Fran­cisco.

Nel­son then gave Greystar another week — un­til Thurs­day — to pro­vide full safety in­spec­tions for all 176 apart­ments at Li­brary Gar­dens, “or po­ten­tially be sub­ject to penal­ties and fines.”

A Greystar spokes­woman said the com­pany is com­plet­ing apart­ment in­spec­tions in ac­cor­dance with city re­quire­ments.

As a re­sult of the col­lapse, Berke­ley of­fi­cials will con­sider a pro­posed or­di­nance on July 14 to re­quire rental prop­erty own­ers to pay for pri­vate in­spec­tions of all bal­conies in the col­lege town. Mayor Tom Bates said Mon­day there “are not that many” bal­conies. “The builders don’t like them,” he said.

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

ENGI­NEERS AS­SESS dam­age and look for an ex­pla­na­tion as to why a bal­cony at the Li­brary Gar­dens com­plex in Berke­ley col­lapsed, killing six.

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