San Francisco Subpoenas Developers Over Sinking Millennium Tower

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The developers of a towering skyscraper that is sinking in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood were served with a subpoena Tuesday as city officials investigate whether owners of the building’s luxury apartments were told about the structural issues as required by state law.

In a letter accompanying the subpoena, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera wrote: “I have serious concerns that the disclosures required by state law pursuant to California Civil Code Section 1102 et seq. did not contain information about the settling of the Property, and as such, did not accurately inform purchasers of the more than 400 units of the conditions at the Property.”

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The 58-story luxury high-rise at 301 Mission St., which was completed in 2009, has sunk as much as 16 inches and is leaning around 15 inches to the northwest at its peak. Current projections suggest it could ultimately sink more than 30 inches.

Meanwhile, the developers of the high rise, Millennium Partners, on Tuesday blamed the building’s excessive settlement on groundwater pumping at the neighboring Transbay Terminal construction site.

Speaking at a press conference in downtown San Francisco, founding partner Christopher Jeffries said what he called “reckless behavior” on the part of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority has caused the Millennium Tower to sink more than was originally projected.

Jeffries said that groundwater pumping started at the Transbay Terminal project a full year earlier than officials have previously stated and has caused groundwater in the area to drop a “staggering” 20 feet.

The authority agreed before construction started to strictly limit and monitor any effects on groundwater in the area around the Transbay Terminal site. However, when it became clear those limits had been exceeded it refused to act and instead blamed issues on the design of the Millennium Tower and stopped responding to requests for data, Jeffries said.

“There’s been a lot of talk and speculation about what people think the problem is,” Jeffries said. “There is only one issue here. TJPA’s dewatering is the issue.”

Transbay Joint Powers Authority officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but have previously blamed the Millennium Tower’s settlement issues on the fact that it was designed with a concrete slab foundation and piles into sand rather than bedrock.

A lawsuit filed in August by lawyers representing homeowners alleges that the decision to not drill down to bedrock was in order “to cut costs.”

The lawsuit also names the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, and alleges that excavation on the Transbay Terminal project next door has contributed to the Millennium Tower’s subsidence.

The authority has argued that the building, which was completed in 2009, had already settled more than anticipated by 2010, before construction began on the Transbay Terminal site, and that other buildings in the area have not shown similar issues.

Millennium Partners officials on Tuesday argued that the building’s foundation is of the same design used by most current buildings of its size in the city, and that drilling down into bedrock is not normal practice.

While they acknowledged that the building had sunk more than projected by 2010, they said the amount was well within design limits.

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin said documents show that city officials were raising concerns about the structure as far back as 2006, and asking questions about the settlement of the building in 2009 just months before signing off on the final certificate of occupancy that allowed Millennium Partners to begin selling units. He said there were troubling gaps in the record, however, that left it unclear how the developer had responded.

“It is incontrovertible that the Millennium Corporation knew before they sold their first unit that the building was sinking more than they projected,” Peskin said. “I have contacted individuals who own units, they were not informed of the fact that the Millennium Corporation knew and should have discussed that the building was sinking.”

Peskin said he believed there was some level of “political interference” in the decision making process of the Department of Building Inspection, but did not specify who might be responsible.

P.J. Johnston, a spokesman for Millennium Partners, has maintained that the building remains safe and that its settlement had remained within projected limits until the Transbay Terminal project began construction in 2010. He rejected the suggestion that political influence played any role in the building’s approval.

The company is working with the homeowners to make any necessary fixes, Johnston said.

© Copyright 2016 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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