While families and friends continue to mourn the loss of six Irish students in a Berkeley balcony collapse last month, the city has moved forward in an effort to rectify building regulations. A month on from the tragic deaths in the California city, the victims continue to be honored, including at last weekend’s vigil and Tuesday’s exhibition match between England’s Manchester United and Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes.
New regulations approved by Berkeley city legislators will see all existing balconies, decks and stairs inspected in the next six months, and subsequently once every three years. Despite a concerted effort from building sector representatives, who spoke openly at the mid-July council meeting, city officials chose to pass the new ordinances.
The passing of the rules is a direct result of the lobbying of family members of those students killed when the balcony they were standing on collapsed. Local investigators have pointed to dry rot as a key reason for the incident. Now, contractors and property owners will be required to create ventilation openings on balconies that are exposed to the weather and which are sealed below.
There will also be stricter regulations on materials as well as construction design.
Berkeley’s mayor, Tom Bates, told the Guardian that he believes the new measures are for the betterment of the city. “Although nothing we do can erase the horrible tragedy that occurred … I believe that the strict new regulations for balcony construction and inspections adopted by the city council last week are an important step toward our goal of doing everything we can to make sure this never happens again.”
The tragedy has resonated with those familiar with the young Irish student community in Berkeley. Eoin Marsh, who, like the victims killed on 16 June, had previously held a J1 Visa in the Bay Area, understands the sadness families and friends are feeling.
“The Irish community here has done a tremendous job in rallying around the victims’ families and indeed the survivors. Forcing full accountability from those who allowed this to happen will be a challenge but it’s something we must demand,” said Marsh, who returned to the Bay Area in January to start a new business venture.
The company that built the Berkeley apartment building where the students died, had previously been accused of constructing faulty balconies. Segue Construction, of California, paid $3.5m to settle litigation over alleged defects in a condominium development in Millbrae, south of San Francisco, after a homeowners association sued, the homeowners’ lawyer said.
The incident is also part of criminal and civil investigations by the Alameda County district attorney, Nancy O’Malley, and the California Contractors State License Board.
After the deaths, a spokesperson for Segue Construction said “[our] hearts go out to the families and loved ones who died” and defended its safety record over thousands of units it had created.
The Irish students killed were Olivia Burke, 21, Eoghan Culligan, 21, Niccolai (Nick) Schuster, 21, Lorcán Miller, 21, and Eimear Walsh, 21. Ashley Donohoe, 22, held joint Irish-American citizenship.
Now, weeks on from the tragedy, families, friends and the Berkeley community are looking to move forward and Bates believes the togetherness and warmth that people showed the victims and their families has touched him and others.
“I have been deeply moved by the tremendous outpouring of compassion and support – both locally and abroad – for the injured and for all the families and friends impacted by this terrible ordeal,” he said.