When he moved into the Legends at Willow Creek apartments in Folsom a decade ago, retired Air Force veteran Bob Garrity, 82, was excited by the spacious walk-in closets and the resort-like setting, including a sparkling pool, outdoor spa and picnic areas.
But he said Wednesday that another feature disturbed him: When it rained, water often overwhelmed the roof gutters of some buildings at the complex, splashing onto outdoor stairwells and breezeways.
“When it rained hard here,” he said, “it looked like Niagara Falls.”
In June 2014, a stairway collapsed in the 14-year-old complex, where one-bedrooms start at $1,275 a month and spacious two-bedrooms fetch up to $1,885. No one was hurt that time.
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Then, last Friday, another staircase failed. A visitor to the apartment community, Shun Xiang Yuan, 26, of San Francisco, was killed when a second-floor riser of concrete steps collapsed beneath him. A lawyer for the family said another staircase fell on top of him, crushing him.
Now with construction and engineering crews accelerating work to inspect and replace all 32 staircases in the 200-plus unit complex, residents expressed grief and frustration that the problem wasn’t solved earlier.
“I’m predicting there will be a lot of lawsuits,” said Garrity’s wife, Nancy, 83, who says she has no plans of being a plaintiff herself. “They knew of this more than a year ago. We were aware of it. You could see the rust in the iron” where staircases attach to buildings “and the rotten wood behind it.”
On Wednesday, the city of Folsom released records showing that contractors had received 19 building permits to fix dry rot and other problems on stairways since July 2014. Of those, only three of the permits have been approved as completed projects.
Larry Kamer, a spokesman for the apartment building manager, Gerson Bakar and Associates of San Francisco, said the company is trying to determine why the work was not completed sooner. “That is something that certainly the owners and the managers want to know,” he said.
The company switched contractors in April, replacing JAD Construction of Rocklin with ALCO General Contractors of Rancho Cordova. Kamer was not available Wednesday afternoon to explain the switch. A woman who answered the phone at JAD Construction declined to comment, and a message left at ALCO was not returned.
Kamer said Legends at Willow Creek hopes to have all the repair work done within the next two months, with staircases rebuilt and mounted into heavy-duty metal bracing, not merely bolted into wood that can deteriorate from moisture.
Folsom’s chief building official, Steve Burger, said temporary bracing has made the stairways safe for now. He said a city structural engineer and a consultant hired by the city reviewed the stairways after the company put up braces.
On the day of last Friday’saccident, Legends at Willow Creek property manager Trina Gross had notices posted on residents’ doors announcing that “a visitor to our complex lost his life.” The “dear resident” letter went on to say that the complex was working with city building officials and “expediting our efforts to get this work completed immediately.”
Meanwhile, the letter told residents: “Your safety and security is very important to us. So we urge you to exercise proper care as this work is being done.” It went on to say that residents should “be sure there is only one person on the stairs at a time, and always use hand rails.” Tenants were also told to contact maintenance staff first if they intended to carry any heavy items on the stairs.
Another letter to residents, on Sunday, announced that temporary structural bracing was to be added to all staircases in three-story buildings at the complex.
The supports that have been installed include 4-inch by 4-inch wooden posts. They are braced to ground-level concrete and extend to the base of first floor staircases. Additional temporary wooden beams are attached between first- and second-floor staircases and second-floor and third-floor risers.
According to the Sunday letter to residents, the additional supports were only needed in several three-story tall buildings on the site. The letter said the staircases in two-story buildings didn’t need the same repairs because they had originally been constructed with a metal support column.
Kamer said the metal supports in the two-story buildings were an added design feature because the two-story buildings, while lower in elevation, had longer, heavier stair risers extending from floor to floor.
Residents said crews had recently repaired another staircase in the same three-story building where last Friday’s accident occurred.
“It seemed like the construction was going on and everything was going well,” said resident Blake Martin, 17, who lives in the building with his father. “And then, I guess, they didn’t get through everything and, sadly, a life was lost.”
Despite the “freak accident,” Martin said he feels safe at the apartment complex. He said he believes that management is working determinedly to correct the problem. “They’re definitely working to save another life,” he said.
Kamer said “a small number of residents” approached apartment management with concerned questions such as “Is it safe here?” and “Can I move?”
He said the apartment management company temporarily put up one distressed resident in a hotel and is considering providing relocation assistance to others who may want to move.
“We are certainly talking to everybody who has come to us with their concerns,” Kamer said. “We want to do right by these residents.”
In a Monday letter to residents, Gross said a licensed therapist will be on hand Thursday to meet with residents wanting “to discuss any issues or emotions you may be feeling in light of the accident that occurred last Friday.”
Yuan, a master’s student at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, was visiting a friend at the complex. Mary Alexander, an attorney in San Francisco, has said she plans to file a civil claim on behalf of Yuan’s family.