Contractors, Balcony Collapse Victims, Families Find Common Ground on Oversight Bill

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SACRAMENTO -- Survivors and family members of last year's Berkeley balcony collapse spoke to Legislators Wednesday, urging them to pass SB 465.

"A traumatic brain injury, open heart injury, broken arms, hands, pelvis and jaw, along with losing all my teeth," Aoife Beary said.

Those are just some of Beary's injuries. She is one of the lucky ones. She survived.

"I miss my friends so much. I have known them since we started school together at four years of age. We had grown up together. And now my birthday will always be their anniversary," Beary said.

On June 16, 2015, Beary was celebrating her 21st birthday with her closest friends.
But six of them fell off an apartment balcony in Berkeley and died. Seven people, including herself, were severely injured.

Most of the victims were young Irish exchange students like Beary, sent off by their parents.

They chose their new home online.

"Some friends of theirs stayed in Library Gardens previously. The location was central. Berkeley students used it. It seemed safe. But how wrong we were," Aoife's mother, Angela said.

Investigators found rotten wood was to blame.

"The contractor that constructed that building had $26 million worth of lawsuits in the last three years," Senator Jerry Hill of the Bay Area, said.

Unlike doctors, engineers, and architects, current California law does not require contractors to report on their defect settlement cases.

Since the tragedy, Senator Hill had been working on SB 465 - a bill that would require contractors to report their work-related felonies and defect settlements. But industry lobbyists shut down previous versions.

"The main reason they don't want these reforms to go through, is so they can do secret settlements, and hide their negligent construction when they get caught," Jackie Donohoe said. Her daughter Ashley was the only American citizen who died in the tragedy.

But after months of negotiation, and emotional testimony, industry representatives announced their change of heart.

The Assembly Appropriations committee has until Friday to move the bill forward.
The bill will then move to the Legislative floor, and if it passes, it will go to the Governor's desk