Lawmakers in California have approved a senate bill that will require contractors to disclose to their regulator any convictions they’ve faced for poor workmanship and will also require state studies on the need to ensure balconies are safer in the future.
Senate Bill 465 was passed last night by the California State Senate, a little over a year after the Berkeley balcony collapse that killed six Irish and Irish American students, gravely injuring seven others. It is now under review by Governor Jerry Brown.
Action was taken soon after the tragedy to change the state laws that meant contractors convicted of shoddy workmanship were not required to declare it to the Contractors State License Board, an oversight that meant the construction company responsible for the Berkeley balcony--Segue Construction of Pleasanton--could work on this apartment complex in 2007 despite having previously paid million of dollars in settlements because of flaws in their work.
The new bill will require all California contractors to declare felonies related to their work to the CSLB within 90 days of conviction. It will also instruct the board to study whether contractors should be required to report any settlements or judgments related to faulty work. The study will be expected to report to Legislature by January 2018 as to whether the state should compel license contractors to report judgments, arbitration awards and settlement payments for construction defects that exceed an amount that is to be set by the board.
Also under SB 465, a second study will be asked of the Building Standards Commission on the possible need to update the building standards for balconies in the state. This study is also to be expected by January 2018.
Despite initial claims that too many people had been on the balcony at the time of the collapse in Berkeley, dry rot was later found to be the cause of the fall, a result of the construction company's failure to properly seal the wood to protect against water damage. It was also later revealed that the firm which built the apartment complex had a history of construction defect cases and had previously paid $26.5 million in settlements.
Last month survivor Aoife Beary gave testimony to a US State committee in support of the bill accompanied by her mother Angela Beary and the mother of victim Ashley Donohue, Jackie Donohue.
Beary, now aged 22, was celebrating her 21st birthday in their summer-rented apartment at the Library Garden complex, 2020 Kittredge Street, Berkeley, when the apartment’s balcony collapsed, killing five Irish students on J-1 visas--Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcan Miller, Niccolai Schuster, and Eimear Walsh--and Olivia’s American cousin, Ashley Donohue.
Seven further Irish J-1 students were injured in the collapse, including Beary who had to be placed in an induced coma in order to recover from her injuries.
In an emotional testimony, she told the State Capitol Assembly Appropriations Committee of her injuries and the long-term effects the accident has had on her life, urging them to pass the bill, which will bring more transparency to the construction industry in California.
"I miss my friends so much,” she said.
"I’ve known them since we started school together at four years of age. We had grown up together and now my birthday will always be their anniversary."
Local senators Jerry Hill and Loni Hancock had initially attempted to introduce stronger legislation regarding transparency in the construction industry but it failed to pass amid industry opposition.
Hill believes that the new Bill will go some way towards making a difference, however.
“This ensures state agencies tasked with overseeing the construction industry are taking appropriate steps to identify bad actors and improve building standards,” Hill said.