Tragedy Inspires Fire-Safety Resolution

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In an effort to ensure that residents have safe, as well as affordable, housing, the Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a measure Tuesday night to support an ASUC Senate resolution.

The resolution stemmed from the Aug. 20 death of UC Berkeley student Azalea Jusay and her parents in a Berkeley apartment. After the incident, fire officials found the apartment had not been inspected in years and uncovered no evidence of smoke detectors. According to city officials, more stringent enforcement of city regulations could have prevented the death of Jusay and her family.

Since then, the ASUC has taken action by creating a bill in support of safe housing, which Councilmember Kriss Worthington subsequently adopted into the council's agenda.

"I think it is great that the ASUC is trying to advocate for improved fire safety in city buildings," Worthington said. "I would say there are many (apartments that violate building code regulations). The city of Berkeley has a complaint-driven system. We assume everything is fine unless somebody complains."

Worthington added that the city needs to publicize the availability of inspection services, so that people are not scared that their landlords will evict them if they complain.

"It is amazing how many people are afraid," he said. "In many cities, including Oakland, if you complain, your landlord can just evict you without giving you a reason. Berkeley has a 'just cause' policy where the landlord has to have a reason to evict you."

At the council meeting Sept. 19, ASUC officials addressed council members on how critical it is to work together on safe housing.

"This is not an issue of convenience, or wanting more (regulations)," said ASUC President Teddy Liaw at the meeting. "We really do need more."

On the verge of tears and choking up several council members, Jonas Jusay, who lost his sister and parents in the fire, spoke adamantly to the council.

"It is something that should not have happened," he said at the meeting. "This is something I don't want anybody else to go through. I wake up every day wondering where my parents and sister are. My sister is the only one who looked out for me - now she's gone too."

Fire officials have not concluded whether the apartment contained a smoke detector. The window could not be opened and prevented escape.

If the city had conducted regular inspections of the apartment, the deaths could have been prevented, Jusay said.

Now ASUC officials and the city, alarmed by the Jusay tragedy, are overcoming a history of tense relations and working to implement the resolution, which will make sure more buildings comply with code regulations.

"(The fire) hit home," said Nick Papas, External Vice President of the ASUC. "When we had something that was this glaring, we realized we had to step up our efforts."

According to city officials, the city council recently requested information from the fire and housing departments to investigate the resolution further.

"I think a maintenance issue is always extremely important to monitor on a yearly basis, given the vacancy rate that occurs once UC Berkeley students get out," said Carlos Romo, supervising housing inspector for Berkeley.

Romo added that many students take down their smoke detectors for various reasons, such as when they cook.

"If the landlord doesn't take care of any violations when notified they exist, tenants can come to the Rent Board and apply for rent decreases until the landlord does do what he is supposed to do," said Randy Silverman, chair of Berkeley's Rent Stabilization Board.


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