Six dead kids, and life-threatening injuries in others

I heard the noise it made, last night, and the sirens. I’m balanced on that awful edge between horror and anger. The fuckers. the damned corrupt fuckers, they’ve managed to kill six kids. For stupid bloody profit, a quick buck. As you can see here, the folks that built this travesty took their money and ran long ago:–By-Richard-Brenneman

So now it’s corporate shell game time! Trace the money, Lay the blame! Find the culprit! The original developer here:

“DeClercq said a top-notch contractor built Library Gardens and used “the best steel guy in California.” DeClercq couldn’t immediately remember the name of the contractor (he was in shock) but said the company was located in Point Richmond and used union labor.”It was a reputable local general contractor. They hired the best steel and concrete subcontractors. It was a very strong team.””

I’m not really sure where those best steel and concrete workers did their thing, though, since the photos of the fallen balcony show rotted wooden beams that simply broke off. It shouldn’t have been built like that; it should have been better maintained, but, heck, our Planning and Permit department is funded solely by developer fees, and this thing made a lot of money for a lot of people. The guy who headed Planning when this went through retired, and he now contracts with developers to “help” them get their projects okayed by the city. The only rein on development here is citizen outrage, and the city is pretty good at ignoring that. Enforcement is a joke: there’s an unpermitted, uninspected, and totally illegal wooden rooftop deck atop a three-story house a block from here that zoning knows all about. It’s been there about four years now. I hope it doesn’t just slide off one of these days – and that builder is working on literally a half-dozen other projects – Planning loves his stuff. It’s the wild west.

The comment sections on the news articles – god help us – abound in blame for the silly students. Thirteen of them out on a balcony, obviously just asking for it. Welp, the thing was 5 X 10, according to the BBC, and it had French doors opening out onto it. Silly them thinking it was solid and meant to be used. Guess that’ll learn ’em! Because, god knows, an eight-year-old balcony in an EXPENSIVE building can’t be expected to hold anything more than a stored bike, I guess.

Some of the comments also assume the students were dancing or jumping – though I think most likely they were out there smoking. Yes, the building manager did say he thought perhaps the balcony had fallen because maybe the kids had been jumping or something. But that was just an idea he had. He wasn’t there; he saw and heard nothing; he knew nothing. I mean, he is a paid manager, and there was a party there loud enough that the police were called, but he hadn’t gone to deal with it. He had no special knowledge of what was happening before the thing fell. Because lousy management is a complete package – all complaints – noise, maintenance – are equally ignored. That guy was just talking through his hat, trying to imagine what could have made a piece of his building fall off. He might as well have said sunspots. But just tons and tons of comments blaming the kids. People just suck sometimes.

Our fearless leader mayor hasn’t made any comment yet, not even a simple condolence. I guess it is all difficult, given that he is totally committed to making Berkeley more like Manhattan – what a great idea! He’s announced a news conference for later today, but for now he’s been busy with other concerns:

Berkeley city officials have shut down access to public records regarding the construction of the apartment complex, which was completed in January, 2007. Normally, they would be viewable upon request but zoning office staff cited a pending police investigation and request by the Berkeley city manager that the records not be made immediately available.” [L.A. Times]

The guy’s gotta have priorities, you know. Quick, a broom! Lift the rug! We should be able to cover up all this crap if we get right on it. I mean, what the hell did they build this thing from anyway? A neighbor remembers seeing the OCB supplies sitting out in the (pre-drought) rain, and being concerned that they were going in already waterlogged. Now I’m wondering whether the whole thing will just collapse into a pile of sludge if we ever get regular rains again. I guess that’s why the developers sell these things as fast as they can – hot potato time – cash out before it falls apart! Dang, these things make the 1960 crackerbox buildings look solid by comparison. The thing is, they’ve been throwing up dozens of these crappy buildings all over town – hundreds and hundreds of units. And lots of the buildings have pretty little balconies and other decorative outcroppings.  I’m wondering how many deathtraps are out there right now.


10 responses to this post.

  1. What a horrible disgusting waste of young lives. It really is all about the money everywhere.


  2. I remember a very similar incident happened in Chicago several years ago. Again it was college students, 13 of them, who were standing on the balcony during a weekend barbecue. The city inspectors discovered the balcony was just toe-nailed onto the side of the building, the way you might hang a decorative shelf on a living room wall. The building’s owners were forced to “upgrade” subcode construction, but I have noticed that many balconies on apartment buildings are hung along the sides in this manner. It’s why I won’t stand out on a balcony unless it’s set on a solid support, like columns or a portico.

    I saw the early headlines for this story on my phone this morning, and it made my heart sink. I don’t know why people blame the students for a balcony that couldn’t support the weight of six people—and yes, this was a large balcony with the appearance of being able to hold more than a couple. Maybe there’s some latent contempt for college students—“they’re privileged rich kids!” “what kind of people party on a Monday night? that only proves they’re irresponsible!” I envision many of these commenters are embittered middle-aged and retired trolls who were party-hearty types in their late teens and early 20s. (One reason why I refuse to join Facebook: a guy I knew in high school, a known frat boy with a pack of Marlboros rolled up in his t-shirt sleeve who drank his way out of school, is now a ranting Fox News grandpa.) They hate what they used to be, or deny what they were when they were young enough to get away with it.


  3. The comments really amaze me.
    At this point the city inspectors are saying, explicitly, that the balcony should have been able to hold them.
    And if you look at the photos, they look solid as hell.
    People are a bad lot.


  4. Such a tragic loss! My thoughts go to their families – such a unnecessary tragedy.


  5. I “liked” this post only because of your observations, not because of the tragedy.


  6. Here’s our mayor, Master Bates, as we call him.
    Because Tom and I are really just that immature, yep, we are.
    We’re even still crabby about that time he stole all the student newspapers out of the kiosks on campus and dumped them in the trash on election day because the paper had endorsed the other candidate.
    He won anyway, and paid like a $200 fine.

    Anyway, Mayor Bates on KPFA about the Balcony disaster 6/16/15:

    MB: It’s a wake-up call. We have all these buildings that are under construction and we want them to be built perfectly and we want them to be solid; we want them to hold up and we certainly don’t want this kind of thing to happen, but we do inspect. We do a good job looking over and so we’ll get to the bottom of what this one is but I don’t think it’s necessarily going to stop what’s underway here. I think there are 13 buildings currently under construction in Berkeley right now, so obviously when we go to inspect them, we’ll probably make sure we do a really good job of inspecting.

    Radio host: Mayor Bates was asked about the rumors that the property management company for the Library Garden apartments had a reputation for being unresponsive to tenant complaints and allegations that the beams supporting the balcony had been subject to dry rot just seven years after construction was completed.

    MB: There have been a lot of allegations. Some people have said the property managers are not responding to problems. I don’t know that to be the case. So we really just have to get to the bottom of it. We have to make sure that the accusations are correct and then we need to look at what the remedies are. Obviously people have remedies, right? They can sue; there could be charges made if they were appropriate.


    See, they do to inspect. And I’m so glad to hear they’ll probably do a really good job inspecting in future. That’s really reassuring.

    And he’s right, let’s make sure those pesky tenant complainers aren’t just making silly allegations about unresponsive management. You know, I’m guessing that balcony just dropped off on its own, right? Because certainly some corporate management run out of Texas is really on top of repairs and all. And remember, if tenants don’t like something, HEY THEY CAN ALWAYS SUE. Especially summer workers like these who are there for, what, three months. And undergraduates who are way informed on their rights, and what they should expect in a landlord. Nothing exploitative to see here, folks.

    And don’t you just love the use of the passive voice in the last sentence? This is the mayor, and he has an overwhelming majority on the city council. He can, and does, do pretty much just as he pleases. (Like gerrymander the district I used to live in in an attempt to get rid of one of the few non-machine council members….) Anyway, “changes could be made, if they were appropriate,” way to take responsibility and show some leadership, guy! I guess he doesn’t want to piss off any of the corporate investors dumping big bucks into the city coffers for the privilege of looting the municipal commons.

    God forbid this little incident should put a crimp in the development boom, right? I mean, who told those kids they could open the French doors and use the balcony anyway?

    Oh, recently mentioned in the local news. It is possible that not all 13 were on the deck when it first started to go. It may be that some fell trying to help others from inside. Because, nice kids, you know. We’ll all know more eventually.


    • Any candidate who would throw away student newspapers because they endorsed an opponent has the mind of a kid in high school. Or junior high school. It reminds me of one city council race in Minneapolis, where the sign we put out on our front lawn was repeatedly vandalized, as were our neighbors’. Much later, we found out the opponent’s 14-year-old son had damaged the signs: we didn’t realize they lived just two blocks away from us. Nothing was done, even though this sort of behavior is a misdemeanor with a $250 fine. Because “he was just a kid….” Though your mayor is, we suppose, not a kid.

      College students are easy to rip off, and many sleazy management companies know that. A 22-year-old isn’t likely to go to small claims court after he’s done with his studies, even if it’s to get back a $1200 deposit which was likely placed by his parents anyway. My younger daughter was lucky to have a landlord who was both kind and honest: she got her deposit back before she even moved out, which enabled her to find another apartment in San Diego. Her Thai classmate wasn’t so blessed. He had to be out of the country in three months after his student visa expired. After he moved back home, his landlord still hadn’t returned his deposit, and from what I know, may never have given it back. Because he doesn’t know how to mail a check for $1500 to Bangkok, I guess.


    • I read about that as well. It’s absolutely horrible. The way the city seems to be handling it is even worse. It reminded me of a bill that (thankfully) died here a couple of months ago that would have made it harder for homeowners to sue for construction defects. I really hope you guys don’t have anything like that floating around, either on the books or proposed…


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