Firm that built Berkeley complex has been fined, sued

Two balconies were removed from Library Gardens after a deadly accident Tuesday. Photo: Emily Dugdale
Two balconies were removed from Library Gardens after a deadly accident Tuesday. Photo: Emily Dugdale

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 examines potential issues surrounding the balcony construction, and Part 3, below, looks at some of the issues faced by the company that built the apartment complex where Tuesday’s tragedy took place.

The construction company that built the apartment complex in downtown Berkeley where a fifth-floor balcony collapsed Tuesday during a birthday party, killing six and injuring seven, has been fined and sued in connection with its work in other locations, according to documents reviewed by Berkeleyside.

But Sam Singer, a spokesman for Pleasanton-based Segue Construction Inc., said Wednesday that the company has a long track record of safety and quality, and that lawsuits are “commonplace” in the construction industry.

Read complete balcony collapse coverage on Berkeleyside.


Singer also said safety-related fines assessed of Segue have been minimal, and that the company has been sued just once in relation to balcony work and water issues. That lawsuit, which related to a San Jose apartment complex, involved balconies Singer described as very different in design from the Berkeley balcony, at the 176-unit Library Gardens apartment complex, that collapsed Tuesday, with deadly consequences. Segue reportedly settled that case for $3 million.

As it turns out, however, there was also a $3.5 million settlement after a neighborhood association filed a lawsuit in Millbrae in 2013 related to waterproofing and wood rot. And, that same year, Trestle Glen Associates, in Colma, filed a breach of contract lawsuit, still underway, against Segue related to “water intrusion causing tangible property damage.”

Segue, which previously was based in Richmond, California, has built more than 6,000 multifamily units in the Bay Area since the company formed in 1992. It has about 30 employees.

“Segue has an excellent reputation in the construction industry,” Singer said. “Segue has never had a balcony collapse or had anyone injured in one of its working apartment buildings.”

The company did settle a lawsuit after developer the Irvine Company LLC sued in 2010 over work Segue did at North Park Apartments in San Jose. According to the lawsuit, Irvine alleged that faulty work by Segue led to water damage on elevated decks and windows. The documents also reference defects related to the waterproofing of breezeways and private balconies. (See the initial complaint.)

Last year, the parties settled for $3 million, according to court documents. As part of that settlement, it was noted that Segue was the general contractor for the project but did not itself complete the disputed work.

In addition, the company was named in a $3.5 million settlement agreement after a neighborhood association filed suit, in 2013, against the owners of a 109-unit complex completed three years earlier in Millbrae. In that case, too, waterproofing is alleged to have failed, damaging wood used for balconies and other construction. Segue, the general contractor on that job, was one of six parties named in that settlement agreement, according to Tom Miller, CEO of The Miller Law Firm, which represented the Park Broadway neighborhood association in that case.

(Singer did not comment on the Millbrae or Colma cases Wednesday afternoon, when he said the San Jose lawsuit was the only one of which he was aware.)

Singer said the Berkeley balconies, at 2020 Kittredge St., were of a cantilever design, which sticks straight out of the building. The San Jose balconies were a “catwalk design,” he said, supported by wood or metal from the ground up. He said that the company had not otherwise been sued in relation to its balconies, decks or water-related issues.

Construction workers who visiting Library Gardens on Wednesday said, of the fatal balcony collapse, "This shouldn't have happened." Photo: Emily Dugdale
Workers who visited Library Gardens on Wednesday said, of the fatal balcony collapse, “This shouldn’t have happened.” Photo: Emily Dugdale

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Segue about $11,000 since 2006 for worksite-related safety violations linked to 13 different investigations. (One of those fines was reduced from $900 to $75 after a settlement.) Serious violations were listed in 2013 and 2008, though the nature of those violations was not specified.

Singer said, given the amount of work Segue has done, those fines were “pretty minimal,” and related to issues he described as minor: “The company prides itself on both the quality of its work as well as ensuring the safety of the people who work for it.”

Singer said Segue contacted the city of Berkeley immediately upon hearing of the balcony collapse Tuesday to offer its assistance. The city is completing its own investigation into what caused the accident, and has ordered the removal of both the balcony that failed, as well as a balcony that was directly beneath it.

“We do not know what caused this incident, but we will do everything we can to be helpful to investigators,” Singer said.

The city of Berkeley has had inspectors on-site since shortly after the Tuesday morning collapse. They determined that the second balcony “was structurally unsafe and posed a collapse hazard that endangered public safety.”

Two other balconies at 2020 Kittredge St. have also been red-tagged, according to the city, meaning access is prohibited, and those balconies will also be scrutinized.

What appears to be rotting wood can be seen on the remains of the balcony that collapsed at the Library Gardens Apartments, in Berkeley, on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Photo: David Yee
What appears to be rotting wood can be seen on the remains of the balcony that collapsed Tuesday. Photo: David Yee

The city of Berkeley, as part of its investigation, has been working to make public documents accessible to those who are interested: “The documentation is extensive on the building, whose plans were first submitted in 2002 and which completed construction in 2007. The City will push to digitize as many records as possible to allow access from anywhere in the world and to as many people as possible at one time.”

The city plans to make those records available Thursday, and will post instructions online for how to access them.

Singer disputed the contention that the balcony that failed in Berkeley had been meant for decorative purposes only, which was reported by other Bay Area media outlets. He said the balconies were “designed to be used as decks” for the units that had access to them. (The city has said the complex had four balconies.)

Singer said representatives from Segue visited Library Gardens on Tuesday and is in discussions with the city of Berkeley to provide whatever information the city needs for its investigation.

“We’re trying to focus on that right now,” Singer said Wednesday. “But our hearts and souls go out to the deceased and their families, and the injured: to all of Berkeley and all of Ireland.”

This is Part 3 in a series of stories, in which Berkeleyside examines the Berkeley building where six people died and seven were seriously injured Tuesday. Part 1 looked at a history of complaints by building residents, and Part 2 examined the possibility of problems with the property’s balcony construction. Don’t miss complete Berkeleyside coverage of the balcony collapse. This story was updated after publication to include information about the Millbrae and Colma lawsuits.

Related:
Support springs up for families, friends of deceased (06.17.15)
As Berkeley orders removal of second balcony, questions over quality of construction (06.17.15)
Berkeley building under scrutiny before balcony collapse (06.17.15)
Mayor, consul general, lay wreaths to honor 6 killed in Berkeley balcony collapse (06.16.15)
Six who died in Berkeley: Young students in their prime (06.16.15)
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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[Editor’s Note: This story was updated June 30 after Segue released a statement disputing earlier reports that it had been sued in connection with the Millbrae case. The Miller Law Firm sued the developer of the Millbrae apartment complex but Segue — as the general contractor — was named in the $3.5 million settlement agreement that resulted from that case. The story has been updated to reflect this.]