Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Berkeley balcony collapse prompts push for stricter building standards

A worker measures near the remaining wood of the Berkeley apartment building balcony that collapsed, killing six college students and injuring several others, in June.
A worker measures near the remaining wood of the Berkeley apartment building balcony that collapsed, killing six college students and injuring several others, in June. The Associated Press

A balcony collapse in Berkeley this past June caused international shock waves when six Irish students visiting the United States on short-term work visas tumbled to their deaths during a birthday party. California officials are still debating an appropriate response.

The Berkeley City Council, after discovering that rotted wood had failed to support the victims’ weight, quickly passed new regulations on the construction and inspection of external structures.

But a bill that would have required the state licensing board to be notified when building contractors are convicted of felonies or settle a significant claim involving professional wrongdoing promptly stalled in a legislative committee. (The construction firm behind the balcony had paid $26 million in settlements over the previous three years, which licensing board members said would have prompted an investigation into suspending or revoking the company’s contracting license, had they known.)

Now the California Building Standards Commission is considering another proposal from the Berkeley council to update the state building code to require corrosive-resistant steel in balcony supports. In a letter sent in July, the city argued that steel is a stronger material than wood, less likely to deteriorate over time due to the elements.

No specific action is planned at the building standards commission meeting, which begins at 10 a.m. at 400 R St., but members of the board will discuss the Berkeley letter and whether to follow up on its suggestions.

BUSY BEES: The California Legislature won’t be back in session for another two-and-a-half months, though you’d hardly know it from the full slate of hearings scheduled around the state today. The Transportation Infrastructure Conference Committee, which launched last week to deal with unresolved funding shortfalls, will hold its second meeting, 9 a.m. at Ontario City Hall. A joint hearing of several Senate and Assembly committees, 10 a.m. at UC Santa Barbara, addresses oil pipeline safety in the wake of last year’s Refugio oil spill. The Assembly Budget Subcommittee on State Administration will review California’s new film and television tax credit, 10 a.m. at the Van Nuys City Council Chamber. And the Assembly Select Committee on Women in the Workplace will hear about San Francisco’s push to create more predictable shift schedules for retail workers, a priority of labor unions, 10 a.m. at the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building in SF.

HONOR ROLL: It’s a lucky organization that can draw such big names for its first fundraiser. Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, honored for their work on civic engagement, will speak at a reception for the Foundation for Democracy and Justice, 5:30 p.m. at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco. The nonprofit formally launched this spring to provide civic education programs throughout the state.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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