State Board Investigates Contractor in Wake of Berkeley Balcony Collapse

Workers inspect a balcony that collapsed at an apartment building near UC Berkeley on June 16, 2015, in Berkeley. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The agency that oversees California building contractors says it's investigating the firm that built a Berkeley apartment complex that was the scene of a fatal balcony collapse earlier this month.

Pleasanton-based Segue Construction has become a central focus of the investigation into the collapse, which killed six people and seriously injured seven others early the morning of June 16. Berkeley building inspection officials found that parts of the wooden framing designed to support the fifth-floor balcony showed signs of extensive dry rot.

Contractors State License Board spokesman Rick Lopes said in an email Friday that the agency is joining with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office and Berkeley building officials to determine whether the Library Gardens apartment complex, completed in 2007, was built to state code.

Lopes said the investigation will include a forensic analysis of the wood used to build the balcony to see "if it was appropriate for the job." The contractors board can take disciplinary action against contractors up to revocation of licenses.

Despite many media reports that Segue has paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits alleging construction defects in Bay Area residential projects, the company's entry on the contractors board site shows no complaints or civil actions against the company.

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The San Francisco Chronicle's Jaxon Van Derbeken reported in a story published Sunday that Segue has paid $26.5 million in settlements in just the last three years.

But the Chronicle notes that the contractors board knew nothing about those settlements or others that go at least as far back as 2004 because state law requires only formal, court-imposed judgments to be reported.

From the Chron:

“We didn’t know — that’s a problem,” said David Fogt, the board’s enforcement chief, who said his agency found out only after the June 16 collapse that Segue had a long history of construction-defect lawsuits.

“Somebody has to let us know about it,” Fogt said. “It’s troubling that we didn’t. We had no prior complaints. There is nothing in place that would notify us of a lawsuit ..."

... As a result of the Berkeley collapse, Fogt said, he will press for changes that would mandate that contractors report settlements for construction defects to the board within 90 days.

“This is a good example of why we need to fix it, so we can get notice sent to us,” Fogt said. “Perhaps this horrible tragedy will make that happen.”

Segue's comment to the Chronicle: It's cooperating with all investigations.