Author Archives: Frances Dinkelspiel

Berkeley balcony survivor is making ‘great progress’

Clodagh Cogley's family posted this photo of her, noting she had a new hairstyle.
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The family of a 21-year-old Irish woman who was seriously injured in the collapse of a fifth-floor balcony at the Library Gardens apartment building in Berkeley has posted photos of her progress on a Facebook page.

Clodagh Cogley was one of 13 people who fell nearly 50 feet to the ground after the balcony failed on June 16. Six of her friends were killed, and she and six others were seriously injured.

Cogley suffered two collapsed lungs, a broken shoulder and broken knee, five broken ribs and a broken spinal cord, according to her Facebook page. She is making “great progress,” according to the Facebook page.

Cogley said on Facebook last week that chances were “bleak” that she can use her legs again. Yet the Trinity College, Dublin, student showed an amazing determination to look on the bright side of the accident.

“Life is short and I intend to honor those who died by living the happiest and most fulfilling life possible,” Cogley wrote, as Berkeleyside reported last week in an update about the conditions of all the survivors.

Cogley has moved to a rehabilitation facility in Santa Clara, one, she excitedly reported on Facebook, with dog therapy.

     Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.

Her family has launched a fundraising campaign to adapt their Dublin home to accommodate a wheelchair. So far, in just four days, people have donated 15,000 euros, or nearly $17,000. The goal is 25,000 euros, or nearly $28,000. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley balcony passed inspection before collapse

A balcony at Library Gardens in downtown Berkeley collapsed Tuesday, killing six. Photo: Emily Dugdale
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The fifth-floor Berkeley balcony that collapsed June 16, sending six people in their 20s to their deaths, was inspected less than a year before the accident and found to be structurally sound.

The Aug. 15, 2014, inspection report attesting to that was included in a slew of documents that Greystar, the management company for Library Gardens at 2020 Kittredge St., released in recent days to the city of Berkeley. The documents also include the record of a Sept. 30, 2014, visual inspection of unit 405, the two-bedroom apartment where the balcony collapsed. In that instance, two employees found that the window seals in the unit were “good,” but that the apartment was lacking a carbon-monoxide alarm, and one fire alarm was beeping. … Continue reading »

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Library Gardens builder seeks to stop DA from examining Berkeley balcony without it being present

A balcony at Library Gardens in downtown Berkeley collapsed Tuesday, killing six. Photo: David Yee
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Segue Construction, the company that oversaw the building of Library Gardens, scene of an accident that killed six earlier this month, plans to ask a judge today to prohibit the Alameda County district attorney’s office from examining the balcony that sheared off the fifth floor June 16 unless one of its representatives is present.

In a three-paragraph press release, Pleasanton-based Segue pledged to cooperate with the DA’s investigation into the cause of the collapse that killed six students and injured seven others. But the company plans to seek a temporary restraining order “to ensure no evidence related to this tragic accident is altered, inspected, tested, or destroyed without allowing Segue to observe and participate in that process,” the company said.

Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.

Teresa Drenick, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office, said early Tuesday that she could not comment yet on the news. She was not even sure that the DA’s office had been served any papers yet. … Continue reading »

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No ‘smoking gun’ in Berkeley balcony design

Reporters from the Associated Press, Bay Area News Group and the San Francisco Chronicle pour over the architectural drawings for Library Gardens in the Berkeley Planning Department on June 18, 2015. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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City of Berkeley officials on Thursday released the architectural and structural renderings used to construct Library Gardens at 2020 Kittredge St., and there was no “smoking gun” that revealed a design flaw that might have led to Tuesday’s balcony collapse that killed six people and injured seven others.

The design for the balconies and their connection to the building appear to have been done correctly, according to Gene St. Onge, a civil and structural engineer in Oakland who reviewed the drawings.

“There is no question in my mind it was designed properly,” said St. Onge.

Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.

The expert hired by the San Francisco Chronicle to review the documents said the balcony that collapsed was designed to hold near two tons – much more than the weight of the 13 people who crowded on it before its collapse. … Continue reading »

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Coroner releases autopsy results on balcony victims; first responders sought help for shock, stress

Irish Consul General Philip Grant praised the first responders for their compassion. Photo: David Yee
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The six young people who fell to their deaths Tuesday when a balcony snapped off the fifth floor of Library Gardens in downtown Berkeley died of multiple blunt injuries, the Alameda County coroner’s office said Thursday.

Four of the youth died from “multiple blunt injuries,” one died of “blunt trauma to the head and brain,” and one died of “multiple blunt traumatic injuries,” according to a coroner’s spokeswoman. But the varied designations are just the way the different coroners described the injuries, she said.

Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.

The six students who died, and the seven who were seriously injured in the collapse, fell about 48 feet to the street below. Four were pronounced dead at the scene and two died later. They were Ashley Donohoe, 22, from Rohnert Park; and Olivia Burke, Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster and Lorcán Miller, all 21 years old and from Ireland. … Continue reading »

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As Berkeley orders removal of second balcony, questions over quality of construction at Library Gardens

Remnants of beams from removed balconies show contrast between the condition of the wood from the collapsed balcony and the balcony it fell upon at the Library Gardens Apartments, in Berkeley, on Thursday, June 18, 2015. Six people died and seven were seriously injured in the early Tuesday morning accident. Photo: David Yee ©2015
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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 looks at a history of complaints by residents, Part 2, below, 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.

Crews planned to take down another balcony at Library Gardens on Wednesday, after the city of Berkeley on Tuesday ordered it to be removed. Inspectors determined that the fourth-floor balcony “was structurally unsafe and presented a collapse hazard endangering public safety.”

The small balcony is directly underneath the fifth-floor balcony that collapsed early Tuesday, sending six young college students to their deaths. The fifth-floor balcony was removed Tuesday for analysis by the city. (Initially the city said the failed balcony was on the fourth floor, but later revised this description.)

Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.

The removal was done on behalf of the owners of the 176-unit complex. Other balconies in the building have been red-tagged, according to city spokesman Matthai Chakko.

The finding that yet another balcony in Library Gardens may have been in danger of collapsing is focusing attention on the quality of the construction of the complex, which was built from 2005 to 2007 by TransAction Companies, designed by Thomas. P. Cox Architects of Irvine. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley balcony collapse leaves 6 people dead

An injured person is placed into an ambulance at the scene of a balcony collapse at the Library Gardens Apartments, in Berkeley, early Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Photo: David Yee ©2015
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A fifth-floor balcony at an apartment complex in downtown Berkeley collapsed early Tuesday morning, sending six Irish students to their deaths and injuring seven others critically.

The balcony, at Library Gardens, collapsed around 12:40 a.m. according to Officer Ethell Wilson, a spokesman for the Berkeley Police Department. Police had received a call about a loud party at that address, at 2020 Kittredge St., around midnight, he said. (Note: Initially authorities said the balcony was on the fourth floor, because it was on the fourth residential story in the building. They later reported the balcony was on the fifth story.)

As many as 13 people may have been on the balcony when it collapsed. Four were declared dead at the scene and one died later, according to Wilson. A sixth was reported dead shortly after 7:30 a.m. Seven others are in serious or critical condition at area hospitals, said Wilson.

See complete coverage of the balcony collapse.

The city of Berkeley has red tagged the three other balconies in the 9-year-old building as a safety precaution, according to Berkeley Police Officer Byron White. Berkeley has ordered the property owner to remove the damaged balcony and do a structural inspection of the other balconies within 48 hours.

As of about 10:30 a.m., the Alameda County coroner’s office said names of the deceased victims have not yet been released, but authorities plan to release additional information at 1 p.m. at a press conference at the Public Safety Building.

The balcony appears to have been constructed to hold 13 people at one time, so its collapse was probably caused by water damage, said Gene St. Onge, an Oakland civil and structural engineer who is basing his assessment on pictures he has seen of the balcony. “All water has to do is get in there and start seeping into the joint and into the wall,” said St. Onge. “In a short time it can rot the wood, which can give away.”

Continue reading »

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Berkeley council meeting ends abruptly during testimony

City officials moved the city council meeting to the auditorium of Longfellow Middle School because they anticipated a crowd. The room was full for much of the night. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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The Berkeley City Council meeting ended abruptly Tuesday night after officials could not agree to extend deliberations until midnight.

The meeting at Longfellow Middle School shut down at 11:30 p.m. in the middle of a lengthy discussion about regulating short-term rentals. Many of the people standing in line to speak expressed incredulity that council could leave the issue hanging without explaining what was going on. Presumably, council will pick up the discussion at its next meeting on June 23.

The bizarre end was, in some ways, a reflection of a meeting that was ruled by incivility. Members of the audience repeatedly shouted out catcalls and slurs at council members, interrupted their discussions and expressed contempt. One speaker, Rozalina Gutman,  twice turned her back on the council to address the audience directly, saying she had no faith in Berkeley’s elected representatives. And, after Mayor Tom Bates told her twice that her time was up, she turned to him (though she had vowed never to talk directly to council again) and told him his time as mayor should have been over long ago. … Continue reading »

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Wireless carriers sue Berkeley over phone radiation law

Please destroy cell phones before entering: A front gate in Berkeley, Calif. Photo: Fragmentary Evidence
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A wireless trade association filed suit against Berkeley on Monday, claiming that the city’s new law requiring notification of possible radiation from cellphones is a violation of the First Amendment.

CTIA The Wireless Association filed the federal suit in the Northern District of California court.

“Berkeley’s Ordinance violates the First Amendment because it will require CTIA’s members to convey a message to which they object, and which is factually inaccurate, misleading, and controversial,” the lawsuit contends, according to The Hill, a Washington D.C.-based website that covers Congress, politics, and political campaigns.

One of the attorneys representing the wireless trade group is Theodore B. Olsen, who successfully argued to overturn California’s Prop 8 that banned gay marriage. … Continue reading »

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Mentally ill man who killed Peter Cukor of Berkeley is committed to Napa State Hospital for 33 years to life

Andrea Cukor, whose husband Peter Cukor was murdered by a mentally ill man in 2012, speaks to reporters after the sentencing. Behind her, her son Alexander Cukor listens to her comments. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
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Daniel DeWitt, the mentally ill man who bludgeoned Peter Cukor to death in his Berkeley Hills home in 2012, was committed Friday to 33 years to life at the Napa State Hospital.

Judge Paul Delucchi handed down the long sentence after listening to the impassioned testimony of Cukor’s widow, Andrea, his son Alexander, and his close friend Percival Banks. Delucchi described the case as one of the most tragic and serious he has ever seen in his court, the result of “a remarkable, almost unbelievable, sequence of events.”

“I won’t sit here and guarantee that this won’t happen again,” said Judge DeLucchi, looking at the Cukors and about 20 of their friends sitting in the courtroom. “I can guarantee Mr. Dewitt won’t do it again, but that comes at an incredible cost.”

Read more on the Peter Cukor case in Berkeleyside’s coverage.

DeWitt had been in and out of mental institutions before the killing, which happened on Feb. 18, 2012. … Continue reading »

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Short-term rentals are squeezing out Berkeley renters

The owners of this rent-controlled apartment complex at 3100 College Ave. are renting out three of its apartments on Airbnb. Berkeley law does not allow rentals shorter than 14 days. Photo: Melati
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This is the first story in a Berkeleyside series on housing. Read the second story on rental rate increases here

In late January, Daniel Moore came home to his apartment in a 12-unit complex on College Avenue to find there was a new keypad lock on the front gate.

Moore, who had been living at 3100 College for 12 years, didn’t have the combination to the keypad. He was locked out of his own building.

That was just the first of a series of mysterious changes to the apartment complex, alterations that his landlords never told him about. Suddenly, washer and dryer units were installed on every landing. New couches appeared in the hallways.

Then Moore started hearing loud noises from the unit above him. It appeared as if a family of five had moved in suddenly and the kids were stomping on the new stone kitchen floor. That family moved out, but was replaced by others, people who stayed up until 3 a.m.

It turns out that three units in Moore’s rent-controlled building had been converted into short-term rentals through online rental company Airbnb.

“Airbnb has replaced our quiet environment with noise, anxiety and the nuisance of a steady flow of transients who have no investment in living here,” Moore wrote in a letter he sent to the City Council and the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board.” … Continue reading »

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Artist Rich Black gives Berkeley’s UC Theatre a new mural

Rich Black mural 5/22/15 Photo: Melati Citrawireja
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Rich Black, the artist and muralist known for his high-impact art, has spent the last few days painting an eye-catching mural on the front of the UC Theatre at 2036 University Ave.

Black, who is probably best known for the murals adorning the front of the Ashby Theater (on Ashby and Martin Luther King Jr. Way), spelled out “SUPPORT” in huge yellow letters against a black background at the emerging UC Theatre. He interspersed the phrases “Employment,” Education,” and “Music” in between the letters.

Black is the creative force behind all the marketing material, programs and literature produced by Berkeley’s Shotgun Players who are based at Ashby Stage. (Watch a Berkeleyside video about Black made in 2011.) He paints the entire wall of the theater every time it puts on a new production — adapting a design he has devised to promote the play to fit the large expanse of the building’s façade. He is also the author of the flipbook, “Futura, L’Art d R. Black”
Continue reading »

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Berkeley council says affordable housing, union labor should be priority community benefits

Speakers at the May 5, 2105 city council meeting on community benefits could pick up a number of signs that represented their point of view. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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The Berkeley City Council took its first steps Tuesday to prioritize which community benefits it will require from developers, and affordable housing and local union jobs were the top priorities.

Council members said other priorities could include ensuring that businesses impacted by the 18-story apartment building proposed at 2211 Harold Way, particularly Habitot Children’s Museum — which says it will have to relocate — receive some sort of remuneration. They also want a better understanding of the profits developers stand to make so the city can recapture some of the increased value that comes from up-zoning land to allow for taller buildings downtown.

The council discussion came after close to 90 residents talked for three hours about their concerns and hopes for three tall buildings now proposed downtown. They include the Harold Way project, an 18-story hotel proposed at 2129 Shattuck Ave. at Center Street, and a 120-foot-high condo complex, L’Argent, proposed at Shattuck Avenue and Berkeley Way. UC Berkeley is also planning to build a 120-foot building on Berkeley Way but, as a government entity, local zoning laws do not apply. … Continue reading »

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