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Legislature passes contractor oversight responding to Berkeley balcony collapse

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday September 02, 2016 - 02:32:00 PM

Both houses of the California Legislature have unanimously passed a bill that would bring more oversight to the construction industry by requiring contractors to disclose felony convictions for shoddy work.

State Sens. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, wrote the bill, SB 465, in response to the collapse of a crowded balcony at a Berkeley apartment building during a party in the early morning hours of June 16, 2015, in which six young people died.

Five of the six were visiting from Ireland and the sixth was 22-year-old Ashley Donohoe of Rohnert Park.

On Wednesday, the state Senate passed the bill 37-0 and the state Assembly passed it 74-0. Gov. Jerry Brown has until the end of the month to decide whether to sign it.

Hill said in a statement that the bill "ensures that the state agencies tasked with overseeing the construction industry are taking appropriate steps to identify bad actors and improve building standards."  

Authorities said the balcony that collapsed at the apartment building at 2020 Kittredge St. in Berkeley had extensive dry rot damage that was caused by water that was trapped in the structure.  

Several lawsuits have been filed in connection with the collapse but Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley declined to file criminal charges in the matter.  

Hill said the legislation requires contractors convicted of felonies or crimes related to their work to report that information to the Contractors State License Board, which regulates the industry.  

He said it also requires the board to determine whether receiving construction defect settlement information would be useful for them to fulfill their mission of protecting the public.  

In addition, the bill requires the state Building Standards Commission to look at improving its safety requirements for balconies and other outdoor structures.  

Hill said the shock over the tragedy that struck during a birthday party became outrage when it was discovered that the builder of the apartment complex, Segue Construction of Pleasanton, had a history of construction defect settlements with payouts totaling $26.5 million.  

According to Hill, the chief of enforcement for the Contractors State License Board said at a hearing earlier this year, "Had we known about the suits and the underlying reasons for them, we would have absolutely taken action."  

Hill said state law currently does not require contractors to report defect settlement cases to their licensing board, even though such disclosures are routine for doctors, engineers and architects.  


Jackie Donohoe, Ashley Donohoe's mother, said in a statement, "We hope that this bill will ultimately force contractors who build defective structures to publicly disclose their settlements. Secret settlements only help contractors hide their negligent conduct." 

Donohoe said the balcony collapse could have been prevented. She said, "We are now one step closer to the action that could help prevent this tragedy but we are not done yet" until the bill is signed and implemented.