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Millennium Tower Goes on Trial

Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim call for hearings; mayor assures Senator Feinstein sinking, leaning building is OK.

 

Leaning, sinking Millennium Tower, the luxury condo skyrise that couldn't, is already San Francisco's most compelling metaphor. And now it'll have its first inquiry.

Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim have called for a public hearing on September 22; if several key Department of Building Inspection figures do not attend, Peskin said the city attorney is already working on subpoenas. 

At a late morning press conference, Peskin stood in front of poster-size blowups of just two of 1,600 pages of documents recently unearthed regarding the approval process for the 60-story tower, which has sunk more than a dozen inches in the past decade and is also now leaning at a slight tilt. Communications within the trove, Peskin says, reveal that both the city and developer knew by 2009 that the building was sinking—but permits were issued regardless, and sales of the high-end units within continued unabated. 

"I believe—and I know this is a very serious allegation—there was some level of political interference with the individuals whose day-to-day duty is to ensure buildings in this seismically prone area we're living in," Peskin said. "They were not allowed to do their jobs." 

Peskin highlighted a series of letters penned by DBI principal engineer Hanson Tom questioning the performance and abilities of the tower—which abruptly ceased in April 2007. He said subpoenas could be readied for, among others, then-DBI head Amy Lee; Tom; and the project's permit expediter, Patrick Otellini, who is now the city's chief resiliency officer. 

The supervisor questioned how the tower's building design, which originally called for a steel structure, morphed into a concrete design. The resulting structure is 50 percent heavier than the earlier conception—and, critically, does not reach bedrock on an area built on fill. 

Despite the 1,600 pages worth of records, Peskin bemoaned "huge gaps" in the record. "There are repeated letters from Hanson Tom, but no responses," he said. The poster-size blowup behind Peskin "raises eight questions about differential settlement, but there's no response on the record.... The responses to city officials' questions are either not in the records of the city and county, or they did not produce them—in which case they are going to produce them. Or they're missing, or have been destroyed. In which case, we've got a problem, Houston." 

The troubling material in the record and the perhaps even more troubling gaps in that record did not seem to render Mayor Ed Lee ill at ease. San Francisco has obtained a letter he penned to Senator Dianne Feinstein earlier this month in response to her concerned communiqué regarding the leaning tower. The mayor assured the former mayor that the design and permitting processes were on the level and that this and other buildings not built upon bedrock were earthquake safe. With regard to the sinking, leaning 60-story concrete structure, Lee notes that the Department of Building Inspection has suggested that "the building's Homeowners' Association make corrective actions." 

The hearing is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. on September 22, during the Government Audit and Oversight Committee. 

 

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