Is there a real-life San Francisco tower of terror? Smack dab in the middle of earthquake country, the Millennium Tower, a 58-floor luxury condominium high-rise, located in the posh Financial District of San Francisco is rapidly sinking on one side. While contractors, engineers, and local government are each pointing fingers of blame at each other, terrified residents, that paid up to $10 million dollars for a single condominium, cannot get answers as much of the email and paper trail are suspiciously gone. Meanwhile, engineers are currently perplexed as to how they are going to solve the impossible problem of the “Leaning Tower of San Francisco.” Is the luxurious Millennium Tower in San Francisco really leaning into a horrific disaster? Is it possible that this is karmic payback for the controversial gentrification of the city by the bay?
— Roy Kim (@drroykim) October 24, 2016
As San Fransisco has been become increasingly gentrified, buildings like the $350 million dollar Millennium Tower were swiftly constructed for the ever increasing need for upscale condominiums. Crafted in a sleek design and located in a prime location, the luxurious 58-story Millennium Tower is quite extraordinary, standing at 645 feet tall, making it the tallest reinforced concrete structure west of the Mississippi. No luxury pad can ever be complete without a 75-foot indoor lap-pool, spa, health club, in-house cinema, and an exclusive restaurant and wine bar run by none other than celebrity chef Michael Mina. So, it is no surprise that the building attracted such high-profile residents as football great Joe Montana and Giants’ outfielder Hunter Pence to move into these spectacularly swanky digs.
Yet, all was not right.
Six years ago, when Pamela Buttery, a resident of a 57th-floor condo, was playing golf, she noticed that the ball always went to one corner of her living room. She was unaware that even before she even moved into her place, one corner of the building had already sunk six inches.
Now, the New York Times has reported that the building has sunk on one side an astounding 16 inches and is leaning six inches towards a “neighboring skyscraper.” There is now speculation that the building could sink over 30 inches.
It appears that the developers knew about the problem way before the 419 units were even sold. KCBS reported that not only did the developers know, but the city officials knew as well. Supervisor Aaron Peskin also stated that in the decision-making process of the Department of Building inspection, he believed there was some level of “political interference.” Yet, Peskin has yet to name names.
In addition, most of the paper/email trail is gone as it is not legally required to hold onto any of this information, so there is no indication who knew what and when.
A representative for the homeowners, Charles Goodyear was concerned that a public agency set up to protect homeowners, particularly in an area with high seismic risk, wanted to keep this sinking problem a secret.
“The Association also finds troubling—as should the public—the allegations that a public agency sought to keep secret the building’s condition.”
Now, homeowners have filed a lawsuit alleging that the building was built on a concrete slab with piles in the sand, not into bedrock in order to “cut costs.” The builders have contended that they did not go down into the bedrock as it was not required. Instead of going down to at least 240 feet to strike bedrock, the Millennium Towers builders used piles driven 60 to 90 feet into the less stable landfill. This seems rather careless, as it is well known that the Financial District is built on sand and debris including old sunken ships and is built in an area known to be at high risk for earthquakes.
The irony? On the building website, they list nine separate awards for the Millennium Towers including the SEAOC for “Excellence in Structural Engineering.” Obviously, a close inspection was never made.
Next door, where Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the new transit authority was being built, they pumped out gallon upon gallon of water, which is what Millennium Tower developers claim caused the sinking in the first place.
Currently, there is evidence of physical damage to the structure. The five-floor underground garage, where residents park their expensive rides, sports huge stress fractures from the uneven foundation, many of these cracks are from floor to ceiling. What must also be distressing to residents is that the cracks are bracketed by stress gauges, to motion and measure any changes. It must be incredibly unsettling for residents driving in and out of the garage to see this physical damage on a daily basis.
— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) October 24, 2016
What may be distressing is that no one seems to know when the building will stop sinking. The AP spoke to Jerry Dodson, who owns a two-bedroom apartment on the 42nd floor of the Millennium Tower and cannot get answers. Conveniently both an engineer and an attorney, Dodson purchased in 2009, paying a cool $2.1 million. Despite his duel occupations, even he cannot get answers on when the building will finally settle.
“When is this building going to stop sinking? That’s something that no one has been able to answer.”
The actual tilting is part of a bigger problem that continues to worsen. Engineers have concluded that if the building tilts any further, the high-speed elevators will not function. Also in crisis are the sewage connections. If they become damaged, surely this building will, for all intents and purposes, be deemed unlivable. Dodson said that right now, the situation is at a “critical point.”
“City officials have said it’s at a critical point right now.”
— San Francisco News (@SFnewsnow) September 14, 2016
Yet, in the midst of this highly-publicized leaning tower news, two condos at the Millennium Towers have recently sold, and for more money than the original purchase price. The San Francisco Business Times used a pun in reporting that “the only things rising at Millennium Tower are the prices of these two condos.”
— Riley McDermid (@rileymcd) October 13, 2016
The report also states that perhaps those who currently live in the leaning tower should not believe that their investment is now worthless. They also state that those now purchasing these condos are seeing this as their “only chance” to move to such an exclusive property.
It seems rather odd that such a sale can occur when there is so much uncertainty about the building and what will happen next. At a City Hall meeting, Nina Agabian, another resident expressed concern about their safety. She appears justified in being worried about the lack of swift resolution in this matter.
“We are all living there and wondering about our safety. We’ve been told it’s going to take years to solve this, and I don’t think we have years.”
With the prediction that the sewage system and elevator will fail if the leaning does not stop, Agabian is absolutely right. There is no time to argue. This is time for action, before an unthinkable disaster of Hollywood horror movies occurs.
Would you still live in the Millennium Towers if you knew it was sinking 16 inches?
[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]