By Emilie Raguso and Frances Dinkelspiel
Two days after a deadly balcony collapse in downtown Berkeley killed six and injured seven others, city officials have released a slew of planning documents related to the apartment complex where the tragedy took place.
The city of Berkeley has been doing its own investigation into what went wrong at 2020 Kittredge St., where a fifth floor balcony broke off a top-floor unit at Library Gardens, an apartment building that was completed less than a decade ago. That inquiry most likely won’t be completed in the next few days, said Matthai Chakko, city spokesman. Building officials are examining the plans for Library Gardens, how those plans were executed and what has happened since the building was completed, he said.
“What were the factors that went into the failure?” said Chakko. “We don’t know what happened at what point that led to failure.”
Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.
Experts who have reviewed photographs and documents from the accident have said wood rot appears likely to have played a significant role in the collapse. Segue Construction Inc., the company that built Library Gardens, has been sued multiple times in recent years in relation to problems with waterproofing and the resulting property damage.
As part of the city of Berkeley’s investigation, officials have been working to make planning documents related to the Kittredge Street property accessible to those who are interested.
“The documentation is extensive on the building, whose plans were first submitted in 2002 and which completed construction in 2007,” the city said in a statement released Wednesday. “The City will push to digitize as many records as possible to allow access from anywhere in the world and to as many people as possible at one time.”
Those documents are now online, split into folders related to building inspection and zoning files.
According to the city, “These materials include the architectural plans for 2020 Kittredge as submitted to the City during the building permit application process, and documents associated with the review of the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), such as Environmental Impact Reports and documents furnished to City review commissions such as the Zoning Adjustments Board.”
The city also made the original architectural drawings and revisions available to the news media for review. The drawing were only available in hard copy because the city cannot reproduce them without the explicit approval of the architect, Chakko said.
Chakko has fielded calls from at least 100 reporters who want to look at the architectural and structural plans. Journalists started to examine them around 9 a.m. Thursday morning and appointments are booked throughout the afternoon.
While there are detailed illustrations of the balcony that collapsed, to an untrained eye (which is how many of the reporters in the room characterized themselves) there was no evident “smoking gun,” that could explain why the balcony failed.
Two items of interest did pop out: The architect appeared to specify two types of waterproof membrane for the structure, Grace’s “Fire and Ice,” and Grace’s Bituthane 3000. A photo of the balcony shows that the contractor did use a Grace Bituthane product, but it is not possible to see which type.
It also appears that in addition to Berkeley building inspectors, an outside firm, Linhart Peterson Powers Associates of Citrus Heights, California, reviewed the plans. It is common for cities to outsource building reviews.
In addition, the original design for Library Gardens, submitted to the city in 2001, had balconies in other locations but did not have stacked balconies facing Kittredge. The stacked balconies, one of which failed, were added to the design later in response to a critique by the Design Review Committee that said the massing on Kittredge was too big. The DRC suggested it be broken up to be more aesthetically pleasing. The design of the façade facing Kittredge changed considerably in the review process, according to city documents.
Berkeleyside will review the online documents as closely as possible.
However, three days into our coverage of this terrible tragedy, our small team is struggling to stay on top of the story. We invite our readers to look closely at the documents and share their observations in the comments section below. Those who wish to reach us privately are welcome to email email@example.com, but we encourage observations in the comments section so others can learn from them as well.
Readers can also help the Berkeleyside team by alerting associates with expertise in structural engineering or architecture to our request for assistance. As a community news site with very limited resources, we truly rely on our local network in the course of our news gathering.
Many readers have contributed valuable insights to the discussion during the course of the week, and we look forward to seeing that continue.
Update: 3:23 p.m. This story has been updated to say that Berkeley building inspectors, as well as an outside firm, checked the architectural plans. Previously the story said Berkeley planners had not checked the plans.
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