By John Ramos

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — The expert who signed off on the plans for the Millennium Tower told San Francisco city supervisors on Thursday said his review did not include whether the plans would work.

The tower has sunk about 16 inches since it was built, but a recent city report has concluded that it’s still safe to live in.

University of California, Berkeley structural engineering professor Jack Moehle chaired the panel that determined the skyscraper’s foundation was up to code and met all seismic requirements.

Moehle was a paid consultant for the Millennium Tower’s developers when he signed a letter okaying the building’s design.

The tower has what’s called a prescriptive design which means it strictly follows current building codes without actually determining whether those will work. As a result, no study of the soil under the site was required.

And now, as the Tower continues to sink, Moehle says he was only verifying that the building itself met structural codes and was not referring to the foundation or the ground beneath it.

But Supervisor Aaron Peskin says the city relied on Moehle’s verification, especially since he was supposed to be part of an independent peer review of the project.

Moehle told the board that the builders never brought in a separate geotechnical expert to look at potential complications, like the bay mud it’s built on.

“I’m writing here that the foundation design is compliant with the requirements of the code. I’m not saying that the foundation design has been reviewed by me and that I have determined that the foundation is going to work, etc. It doesn’t say that. I’m not qualified to do that,” Moehle told the supervisors.

Peskin said, “The role of a peer reviewer is to sound some alarm rather than, at every turn, say, ‘yes it complies with your code, yes it’s gonna be fine’…well, look here’s the reality…it’s not fine.”

Peskin says the City will pay for its own peer reviewers in the future.  And he doesn’t expect anyone involved with Millennium Tower to admit responsibility at this point.

“It just kind of makes a mockery of what peer review is supposed to be…,” Peskin said.

But Moehle placed the blame elswhere saying, “The responsible party may be the Earth that God gave us…”

“Hey, it’s probably not a good time to say ‘I may have made a mistake,'” said Peskin. “There’s hundreds of millions of dollars on the table.”


Comments (3)
  1. Jack Bolly says:

    There’s a nice cottage industry for folks who put legal language and unneeded complexity into code books and then get paid to decode it to those of us that must live by them.