Berkeley building under scrutiny before balcony collapse

A balcony at Library Gardens in downtown Berkeley collapsed Tuesday, killing six. Photo: David Yee
A balcony at Library Gardens in downtown Berkeley collapsed Tuesday, killing six. Photo: David Yee

In a series of stories, Berkeleyside examines the building where six people died and seven were seriously injured Tuesday after a balcony collapsed. Part 1, below, looks at a history of complaints by residents. Part 2 examines potential issues surrounding the balcony construction, and Part 3 looks at some of the issues faced by the company that built the apartment complex where Tuesday’s tragedy took place.

The downtown Berkeley property at 2020 Kittredge St. where a balcony collapsed early Tuesday morning killing six students — five from Ireland — and injuring seven others, was the subject of complaints by many of its tenants.

The property, called Library Gardens, was built from 2005 to 2007 and underwent numerous inspections during construction (to see the property’s inspection history, click here).

Since its completion, city building officials have mainly inspected its tenant improvements rather than its structural integrity. Due to the balcony collapse, the city of Berkeley has ordered the owner to evaluate the building’s integrity and will be performing its own independent inspection.


The balcony that collapsed early June 16 was taken off the structure and will be examined by the city.Photo: Emily Dugdale
The balcony that collapsed was removed and sat, wrapped, on a truck Tuesday. The city of Berkeley will examine it. Photo: Emily Dugdale

“We have inspectors who have been on-site almost as soon as we heard of the event, and they’ll be looking into this,” said Matthai Chakko, city spokesman, at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

The city has taken possession of the balcony that collapsed and will examine it and other parts of the structure as part of its investigation, said Chakko.

Officials from Greystar, which manages Library Gardens, pledged to cooperate with the investigation.

“The safety of our residents is our highest priority and we will be working with an independent structural engineer and local authorities to determine the cause of the accident,” a Greystar spokesman said in an email.

The building has been the subject of numerous complaints, both through the city and online. The most recent official complaint, submitted in February to the Berkeley Rent Board, listed missing or broken stairwell lights, missing handrails on stairwells, holes in the walls of public spaces, expired fire extinguishers, and peeling floor material that posed a tripping hazard.


See complete coverage of the balcony collapse.

The property’s Yelp page averages two stars, with 22 reviews by current or former residents. Five one-star reviews are from Tuesday and reference the balcony collapse, but the negative reviews stretch back to 2009. Themes in the comments included unreliable and negligent management, dirty facilities and high rent for small, noisy apartments.

Inspectors appeared to be examining the collapsed balcony at Library Gardens late Tuesday morning. Photo: Emily Dugdale
Inspectors examine the collapsed balcony on Tuesday. Photo: Emily Dugdale

Councilman Jesse Arreguín posted a statement to Facebook on Tuesday saying “the property management had a history of not properly responding to tenant requests for repairs” and that he looked forward to the results of the investigation to make housing safer for all Berkeley residents. He did not return a request from Berkeleyside to elaborate on that statement.

An independent engineer in Oakland speculated Tuesday that water had gotten in between the balcony and the building, causing dry rot. The rot may have weakened the cantilever section holding up the balcony, according to Gene St. One, a civil and structural engineer in Oakland.

After the balcony was taken off the building, a number of observers noted that rotted wood that lay underneath.


The Library Gardens complex is made up of five buildings of 176 one- and two-bedroom units. The complex has frontage on Kittredge Street and Bancroft Way. One part of the project was completed in 2006 and another in 2007, according to John DeClercq, who worked as a senior vice-president for TransAction Companies, the original developer. DeClercq also served for a few years as the co-chair of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce.

DeClercq and other investors sold their stake in Library Gardens in June 2007 to BlackRock, a real estate investment trust, he said. BlackRock, one of the world’s largest investment companies, appears to have put the structure into its own partnership called Granite Library Gardens LP. BlackRock bought the property for $76 million, and is the third largest taxpayer in Berkeley, according to the Alameda County treasurer’s office, with assets of $66 million.

Greystar, a Houston-based real estate management company, manages Library Gardens as well as four other structures in Berkeley, including Berkeley Central on Center Street, Hillside Village Apartments at 1797 Shattuck Ave. in the Gourmet Ghetto, Telegraph Commons Apartments at 2490 Channing Way and the soon-to-open The Varsity at 2024 Durant Ave.

“Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the deceased and those injured in this tragic accident,” a Greystar spokesman said in an email.

Three other units at Library Gardens have balconies similar to the one that collapsed, Chakko said during the press conference, and all of them have been red-tagged and are under investigation by the city.

“At the time that the building was built, it was subject to the 1998 building code,” Chakko said, which required that balconies have a capacity of 60 pounds per square foot. There are no requirements about posting balcony weight limits, as elevators are required to do, as far as he knows.

Police Chief Michael Meehan reported that there was no evidence of foul play, though due to “an abundance of caution,” Berkeley police have and will continue to investigate the site.

Correction: This story was corrected after publication to clarify that Library Gardens does not have frontage on Milvia Street.

Eden Teller, a junior at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is a Berkeleyside summer intern. She is majoring in media and cultural studies and minoring in geology.

Related:
Six students killed in Berkeley balcony collapse identified (06.16.15)
Berkeley orders balcony removal after tragedy kills 6 (06.16.15)
Berkeley balcony collapse leaves 6 students dead (06.16.15)

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