By Francesca Paris
In the wake of a balcony collapse that killed six Irish students in Berkeley this week, a small group gathered on the steps of City Hall today to ask that the city put a moratorium on commercial construction in Berkeley until it is clear that buildings are being inspected correctly and that codes are being enforced.
Holding placards that read “Safety 1st! No new bldgs,” “Inspections now” and “Berkeley is in mourning,” the seven protesters say that all new construction should be halted until the city can “review its procedures,” according to spokeswoman Margot Smith.
Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.
“Given the level of this tragedy, we have to go forward beyond a perfunctory investigation,” she said. “It’s the city’s responsibility to see that buildings are safe and that they remain safe. We need to see if codes are being enforced.”
Smith said the group is primarily concerned with the city’s enforcement of building codes set by the state, which the group does not believe has been performed satisfactorily. She said they appreciate the city’s efforts to make planning documents available to the public, but do not believe the city has fulfilled its responsibility to ensure the safety of all buildings.
Documents released by the city on Thursday show that the building at 2020 Kittredge St., where the balcony collapsed, appears to have been built according to code. The design for the balconies and their connection to the building appear to have been done correctly.
The protesters, many of whom belong to the group that has been fighting the sale of the main Berkeley Post Office, said they wanted to know why the rot that apparently caused the collapse was not detected upon inspection.
At a press conference held on the day of the tragedy, city spokesman Matthai Chakko said the building was last inspected fully in 2007. Any inspection since then would have related to tenant improvements.
Today the city released more documents the 2020 Kittredge site, including a chronology of the building’s housing code inspections, as well as the files for each tenant complaint case.
Harvey Smith, author and specialist on the New Deal, who was part of the group of protesters, said he considers Tuesday’s accident to be “just the tip of the iceberg.” He sent a letter to Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates on June 17 on behalf of the group, calling for a moratorium on construction projects, as well as a memorial event, and a criminal investigation.
“Many are viewing these young people as victims of the current wave of greedy and grotesque development in Berkeley and elsewhere. Balconies have been built for millennia. How did these developers and/or property managers get away with this? Have large sums of developer money clouded our city’s prioritization of truly affordable, safe and sustainable housing?,” he wrote in the letter. “We need an external, independent review of construction standards, inspection process.”
He compared halting construction during this review to grounding all models of an airplane after a crash. (Read the letter in full.)
Speaking on the steps of City Hall, Harvey Smith said he believes many building flaws in Berkeley are a result of outside, private investors gravitating to the area to make money. “Outside investors are flocking into Berkeley like flies to honey,” he said.
At a press conference held on the day of the collapse, Bates described the tragic accident as “a wake-up call” as far as building inspections in the city, though he said city staff are already careful about safety inspections as it is.
“We’ll get to the bottom of what this one is,” Bates said. The mayor described the tragedy as “a really shocking set of events,” adding, “We’re now trying to recover… and understand what we can do to ensure that things like this don’t happen in the future.”
“It’s unthinkable that the balcony could fall off a building in just seven years,” Harvey Smith said, pointing out a balcony across the street from the City Hall that had stood for at least a hundred years. “I want to make sure that we don’t face another tragedy, not just from a balcony but from anything.”
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