by Abigail Sterling and Max Darrow
SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Building officials gave the green light Thursday for limited work to resume on the fix for San Francisco’s leaning Millennium Tower after ongoing work to straighten the luxury high-rise was halted after making it worse instead of better.READ MORE: Structural Expert: Repair Work On San Francisco's Leaning Millennium Tower Should Stop
The building is now tilting 25 inches to the northwest, towards the heavily-traveled corner of Mission and Fremont streets. In an exclusive interview, we spoke to one former condo owner who says he’s glad he got out.
Andrew Faulk remembers it like it was yesterday, the day five years ago when he and hundreds of other Millennium Tower unit owners were called to an important meeting where they got what would become life-changing news.
“Well, the best I remember is, the building is sinking. And tilting,” said Faulk.
Homeowners learned the building had sunk more than a foot and was leaning to the northwest.
“What they said was, this was not a big problem,” said Faulk.
Later, Faulk’s husband Frank Jernigan rolled a marble on the floor of their $4 million, 50th-floor condo that confirmed for them that the problem was all too real.
“The marble turns around and picks up speed as it heads in the direction that the building was leaning. We were surprised, and we were a little shocked,” said Faulk.
There was denial at first.
“We thought, ‘Oh, this can’t be a big thing,’ you know? This is a building in downtown San Francisco,” said Faulk. “It has to be safe!”
Then the couple started connecting the dots with things they had noticed soon after they moved in. There had been a problem with the pool that straddles the Millennium’s two structures that had to be fixed. “The flooring between the two levels, one sank and one didn’t,” said Faulk.
There were also growing cracks in the sidewalk. But he says the most shocking was what they discovered when visiting the lowest part of the garage. Water appeared to be seeping through the concrete walls and huge chunks of wall seemed to have crumbled away, even though the building was only seven years old.
Faulk says building management never disclosed anything about the sinking when he purchased the unit.
“No. That was really disappointing because we learned later that the sinking had actually already begun when they were showing the unit to us,” said Faulk. “Looking back, I feel comfortable in saying it was deceptive.”
“It was deceptive,” he repeated.READ MORE: UPDATE: Despite Warnings, Repairs on San Francisco’s Millennium Tower Caused Additional Sinking
“There was really a lack of transparency in the early days,” said David Williams, a structural engineering consultant and deep foundation expert.
In 2017, other concerned unit owners hired Williams as a consultant.
“There was evidence of a lot of places with water intrusion,” said Williams.
Williams also noted extensive water damage in the garage and a spider web of cracks, marked with stress gauges, on the walls of the Millennium Tower’s basement. But he says the floor of the basement exposed what appeared to be an even bigger problem: It was dipping in the middle, something referred to as dishing.
“The dishing of the floor there, which is the dishing of the ten-foot-thick mat, was significant,” said Williams. “Clearly, it had been distressed.”
According to Williams, the Millennium Tower was originally designed as a much-lighter steel high-rise. When the design changed to 58-floors of heavy concrete, he believes the foundation became inadequate.
“They must’ve decided to either risk it or convince themselves that it would work for the much-heavier building. But clearly, they pushed it past its limits,” said Williams.
Williams believes the decision led to a problem that he says may not be fixable.
“It’s possible that you cannot find an acceptable solution,” he said. “Hopefully not, but it’s possible.”
That is something that’s also been on San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s mind.
“The building today is not in any imminent threat of structural failure,” said Peskin. “The question that has not been satisfactorily answered as far as I’m concerned is at what point is the point of no return.”
Peskin has now scheduled hearings on the matter at City Hall.
“The city must demand that there is a well-thought-out plan for retreat and dismantling of that building should we ever, god forbid, get there. I mean, putting that building up was complicated enough, taking it down is profoundly more complicated,” said Peskin.
Faulk and his husband were among the first to sell their luxury condo in the Millennium Tower back in 2017.
“The anxiety just grew and grew and grew until we decided, well, you know, it’s clear if there’s a quake we felt unsafe,” said Faulk. “And so we got our luggage out and packed our luggage with the things that were most important to us and clothing and we left.”
They’ve moved on. Faulk is focusing instead on a memoir that was just published of his life as an HIV doctor during the AIDS epidemic. But he hasn’t forgiven.
“We’re left with this feeling that this whole thing was unfair. it’s not fair to sell people these units and not disclose what was going on. And we know that’s illegal. But they got away with it,” said Faulk.MORE NEWS: Warnings About San Francisco Millennium Tower Repair Plans Raised Before Work Began
The Millennium Tower Homeowners Association sent us a copy of a letter from a contractor that is working on a leak repair design for the garage. According to the contractor, the ongoing water intrusion problem in the building’s garage, which is separate from the Millennium’s main tower, does not pose a life-safety concern.