Update on SEAOC Involvement with City of Berkeley on Balconies and Decks

By Kelly Cobeen, SE, SEAOC President-Elect and Kate Stillwell, SE, SEAONC President

Following the June collapse of an apartment balcony in Berkeley, the City of Berkeley developed recommended changes to new construction, and requirements for inspection of existing decks, balconies, stairs, and other weather-exposed elevated walking surfaces. These recommendations were drafted as urgency ordinances and considered for adoption at the July 14 Berkeley City Council meeting.

Prior to the city council meeting, SEAOC and SEAONC formed a multi-disciplinary coalition with representatives from AIA - East Bay and ICC - East Bay Chapter. The coalition wrote a letter to Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, the Berkeley Building and Planning Departments, and the City Council Members, volunteering the coordinated technical and building code expertise of our respective associations to, in collaboration with the City of Berkeley, form or participate in a task group with the objectives of 1) systematically considering proposals for improvement prior to passing ordinances, 2) developing guidelines for the proposed inspection program, and 3) helping to educate and inform designers and builders as to the intent and implementation of any new ordinances and programs.  
 
SEAONC President Kate Stillwell and SEAOC President-elect Kelly Cobeen spoke on behalf of SEAONC and SEAOC at the Berkeley City Council meeting on July 14 to draw attention to the letter and to reiterate our collective recommendation that a task group be formed by the City to review the proposed ordinances prior to passing them.  While the council chose to pass the ordinances rather than waiting for further development, based on the recommendations of several councilmembers, City staff has formed a Task Force and has invited individuals and various entities including SEAONC, SEAOC, AIA-EB and ICC East Bay Chapter to participate.  

SEAONC/SEAOC was invited to have two representatives on the City’s Task Force. These representatives will be supported by a special SEAONC/SEAOC working group. Because this is currently a local government effort and because frequent meetings with the City of Berkeley are anticipated to occur, the representatives meeting with the City of Berkeley Task Force are drawn from SEAONC members: Jeff Taner and Randy Collins as the official delegates and Terry Egland and Mark Gilligan as the alternates. The SEAONC/SEAOC working group will include several other SEAONC members, as well as involvement from the other three SEAOC member organizations, because we anticipate that the discussion will in the future extend up to the state level, and possibly the national level.  If you would like to participate in the SEAONC/SEAOC working group, please contact your local president.

The City’s Task Force is being asked to provide forward-looking assistance on ordinances related to construction and inspection of weather-exposed building elements such as stairs and balconies. Initial discussion at the July 23 first meeting of the Berkeley Task Force focused on the city’s short term needs to formulate programs that they are being asked to quickly put in place. Future meetings of the Berkeley Task Force will further define the work that the Task Force will be taking on.  

The ordinances passed on July 14 address elevated (not supported directly on grade) walking surfaces framed with wood, steel, or other metals, where the walking surface is exposed to weather. This is applicable whether the supporting structure (sheathing, joists, beams, etc.) is fully exposed to weather, partially sheltered, or fully enclosed in finish materials. New construction is required to be of preservative treated wood, wood of natural resistance to decay, or steel. Venting and access hatches for condition inspections are required to be provided where the framing is enclosed. Existing structures in R-1 and R-2 occupancies are required to be inspected every three years. Where framing is fully enclosed, access openings will likely need to be provided to allow inspection. We also understand that the City of Berkeley is requiring special inspections for installation of waterproofing for these weather-exposed structures.

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