Rohnert Park parents on hand as Governor Brown signs Berkeley balcony collapse bill

Jackie and George Donohoe of Rohnert Park were in Sacramento Thursday watching Gov. Jerry Brown sign a bill aimed at preventing another tragedy like the Berkeley balcony collapse that killed their daughter, their Irish niece and four other people last year.

Ashley Donohoe, 22, a Rancho Cotate High School graduate and a student at Sonoma State University, died along with the Donohoes’ niece, Olivia Burke, 21, when the balcony they were standing on gave way.

The women and 11 others attending a birthday party at a Berkeley apartment complex were on the balcony that fell 50 feet to the street below.

Building inspectors concluded that dry rot created by water damage weakened the balcony, and the state license board blamed “poor workmanship.”

In a photo commemorating the bill signing, the Donohoes sat on both sides of the governor, with their surviving daughter, Amanda Donohoe, and others standing behind them. Olivia’s uncle, Dermot Burke, also attended the bill signing ceremony.

The tragedy prompted Sens. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, to sponsor the legislation, SB 465, requiring contractors to disclose to regulators within 90 days any work-related criminal convictions. It also requires a working group to recommend potential changes to the California building code.

In a statement emailed by her attorney’s office, Jackie Donohoe said she hoped the new law would lead to “changes to the building codes and require stricter standards for balcony construction.”

The Berkeley tragedy was not an isolated incident, she said, citing other cases in California and around the country, including the collapse of two back porches that injured 31 students at Trinity College in Connecticut on Saturday.

The law stopped short of the Donohoe family’s goal of requiring public disclosure of settlements paid by contractors related to defects in residential structures. The bill requires the Contractors’ State License Board to study the matter and report its findings to the Legislature.

“While we are now one step closer to the action that could help prevent this tragedy we are still not done yet,” Jackie Donohoe said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457.

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