The city of Berkeley has ordered the property owner of a downtown apartment complex to remove a balcony that collapsed early Tuesday, killing six, and follow up with a structural assessment of the remaining balconies on the property within the next two days.
In a statement released at 11:30 a.m., city spokesman Matthai Chakko reported that building inspectors visited 2020 Kittredge St., between Milvia Street and Shattuck Avenue, early Tuesday morning to examine the scene at Library Gardens. The complex has two separate buildings with about 160 one- and two-bedroom units.
Authorities received reports beginning at 12:40 a.m. regarding a fifth-floor balcony that had collapsed in the apartment complex. (Editor’s note: Initially authorities said the balcony was on the fourth floor, because it was on the fourth residential story in the building.) There have been six confirmed fatalities of young people from Ireland reported to be living in the Bay Area for the summer. Seven others were critically injured.
The people who were injured were taken by ambulance to Highland Hospital in Oakland, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, and John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. The city has not released the names of those who were killed or injured “Due to privacy concerns.”
The Alameda County coroner’s office is expected to release the names of the deceased after their identities have been confirmed and next of kin have been notified. A number of those affected by the incident were visiting students from Ireland, the city of Berkeley confirmed.
According to the city statement, staff from the police and fire departments, as well as workers from the Building & Safety division of the Department of Planning & Development “have been responding to the incident and taking all necessary steps to safely secure the area and investigate the cause.”
Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong said the city has been “inundated” since the incident occurred, as news of the tragedy spread around the globe.
According to the city, the fifth-floor balcony for the affected unit, as well as the three other similar balconies in the building, have each been red-tagged, prohibiting access to those areas.
“The City has ordered the property owner to immediately remove the failed balcony and to perform a structural assessment of the remaining balconies within 48 hours,” according to the statement.
The balcony appears to have been constructed to hold 13 people at one time, so its collapse was probably caused by water damage, said Gene St. Onge, an Oakland civil and structural engineer who is basing his assessment on pictures he has seen of the balcony.
“All water has to do is get in there and start seeping into the joint and into the wall,” said St. Onge. “In a short time it can rot the wood, which can give away.”
St. Onge said, if bad waterproofing was the culprit, the responsibility may lie with the architect, who might not have detailed the balcony design correctly, or the contractor, who might not have installed it properly.
“This is a progressive thing,” said St. Onge. “It didn’t happen after one or two rains. This happened over time.”
Berkeley City Councilman Jesse Arreguín, who represents the downtown, said he was “deeply saddened” by Tuesday morning’s tragedy.
On Facebook, Arreguín blamed the property manager for having “a history of not properly responding to tenant requests for repairs. This structural collapse makes us wonder if this whole tragedy could have been avoided with proper attention and maintenance.”
Arreguín said he looks forward to finding out the results of the investigation by city inspectors “to learn what the real causes were and to make sure this does not happen in the future. This tragic incident highlights the challenges we face in keeping tenants safe by addressing housing safety. No one should feel unsafe or have their lives ended suddenly due to unsafe housing.”
The city is also working with the Consulate General of Ireland, which has established a crisis line for families seeking information: 011-353-1418-0200.
Sinead Loftus, 21, a work study student from Ireland who lives near Library Gardens, described the Irish community in Berkeley as very small.
“It could be anybody. I’m just in complete and total shock,” she said. “We’re all in the same boat here.”
The building was completed in January 2007, according to the city. It is now owned by Granite Library Gardens LP, which is the third largest taxpayer in Berkeley, according to the Alameda County treasurer’s office, with assets of $66 million. It appears to be a subsidiary of BlackRock.
Greystar, a large apartment developer and manager, leases and manages the building. Berkeleyside has been unable to reach Greystar on Tuesday, but will continue trying.
The city is expected to release additional information at 1 p.m. Stay tuned to Berkeleyside for continuing coverage.
Update, 4:50 p.m. See the property records related to 2020 Kittredge St.
Berkeleyside will continue to update this story as more information becomes available. Tracey Taylor, Lance Knobel, Emilie Raguso and Emily Dugdale contributed to this story.
Berkeley balcony collapse leaves 6 students dead (06.16.15)
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