An emotional Jonas Jusay, who lost his parents and his sister in the tragic Aug. 20 fire at 2160 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, gave a stirring plea to the City Council Tuesday in support of a resolution from the Associated Students of the University of California asking the city to regularly inspect apartment buildings and rent houses to ensure compliance with building codes.
The speech, which moved members of the audience and several councilmembers to tears, came on the same day that the Fire Department announced that its investigation into the presence of a smoke detector and openable windows in the bedrooms where the Jusays perished – as required by city and state fire codes – was determined inconclusive.
“We need more stringent and better procedural processes to inspect buildings,” Jusay told the council. “I have to wake up every morning and wonder where my parents and sister are. Something as fundamental as a smoke detector may have saved their lives.”
Backed by ASUC President Teddy Liaw and External Affairs Vice President Nick Pappas – who authored the resolution – Jusay told the council how he wanted his calamitous experience to be the last of its kind in Berkeley.
“I believe the city of Berkeley will take the opportunity to make this city a safer place, and will not wait,” Councilmember Kriss Worthington told Jusay and the audience.
In an interview Wednesday, Worthington told the Daily Planet that Jusay’s speech was “the most touching moment I’ve experienced since I’ve been on the City Council,” and said the council has placed the item on next week’s agenda to refer the ASUC resolution to the Housing Commission, the housing director and the city manager.
The resolution points out that the many regulations governing the condition of rental apartments and units to ensure their safety can be enforced only after tenants contact the city to investigate. It notes that many renters fear that they may be evicted if they contact the city. The lack of enforcement leaves many Berkeleyans living in unsafe conditions.
“People have to realize that there is an inspection service for this,” Worthington said Wednesday. “And that (renters) are protected from eviction by the Just Cause Act.” Worthington said the Fire Department and code enforcement will come for a free inspection if called.
Worthington also explained the act passed by voters in 1980 as part of rent control, protects renters from landlord retribution if they were to point out code violations to the city in a unit they rent.
The ASUC resolution asks that the city expand the existing mechanisms to include regularly scheduled inspections of apartment buildings to ensure compliance with building code regulations.
Liaw said that the ASUC fears, however, that if there is a violation, then it is already too late.
“Many students and residents don’t know how the complaint system works,” he said.
“The point is that there are smoke detectors that don’t work, or none at all, in many homes in Berkeley. We would like to see the city make periodic or random inspections to these apartments and make the landlord accountable.”
The two-story, wooden house where the Jusays perished was last inspected in September of 1995.
“The day that Berkeley can promise that the homes and buildings are up to code is the day that Azalea and her parents memory can really be appreciated,” Liaw said.
Daily Planet Staff Reporter Josh Parr contributed to this article.