Board Says Builders at Fault in Balcony Fail

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Poor workmanship and waterproofing contributed to a deadly fifth-floor balcony collapse in Berkeley and five contractors could have their licenses revoked, California officials said Friday.
     After a nine-month investigation into the collapse that killed six college students this past June, the California Contractors License Board concluded that the apartment building’s contractors likely deviated from trade standards and compromised the eight-year-old structure.
     “We are at a point where our enforcement staff have determined that a probable violation of law has occurred that would lead to either the suspension or revocation of the licenses of the five contractors involved in the construction of the balcony,” board spokesman Rick Lopes said in an email.
     Lopes said the board’s investigation will be given to the state Attorney General’s office to decide if the state will prosecute lead contractor Segue Construction and four other contractors in administrative court. The contractors could face temporary suspension to permanent revocation of their licenses.
     The board’s specific charges and other details from the report will not be released until the state Department of Justice determines if it will prosecute the contractors.
     Thirteen people, six of them Irish exchange students, plummeted more than 40 feet when the rotted balcony at the Library Gardens complex near the University of Berkeley campus collapsed during a birthday party on June 16, 2015. Six students died in the collapse.
     Survivors filed a wave of lawsuits in November in Alameda County Court against the apartment owners, property management firm and the contractors. The lawsuits name 39 defendants and blame the deadly collapse on Segue Construction and its subcontractors’ failure to perform adequate waterproofing work.
     The victims’ families also claim that the property managers ignored the residents’ reports of large mushrooms growing from the weakened balcony.
     Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley also launched a criminal investigation into the collapse. She determined last month that there was insufficient evidence to pursue manslaughter or criminal-negligence charges.
     Segue Construction has been sued several times prior to the Berkeley collapse for “water penetration” issues, and settled with the owners of a Millbrae condominium complex in 2013 for $3.5 million. According to state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, Segue paid more than $26 million to settle lawsuits involving balconies over the last three years.
     Hill introduced legislation in 2015 that would have required contractors to report settlements in fraud and construction defects lawsuits to state regulators. Senate Bill 465 passed the Senate unanimously but stalled during its first Assembly vote.
     Hill claims that because of a current disclosure loophole, the board was unaware of Segue’s past settlements until after the Berkeley incident.
     Along with primary contractor Segue Construction of Pleasanton, the other contractors named in the board’s investigation include Etter & Sons Construction, R Brothers Waterproofing, Northstate Plastering and The Energy Store of California. The contractors performed a range of work on the apartment building including waterproofing and framing.

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