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Sinking Skyscraper In San Francisco causes dispute

The developers of San Francisco’s 58-storey Millennium Tower claim to have laid out the building’s risks in precise detail when its apartments were put on the market seven years ago.

A disclosure statement warned that the interior decorating might not be “completely uniform”, the surrounding streets could be noisy, and landscaping in the public areas was subject to change. The document did not, however, mention that by the time the Millennium Tower was completed in 2009, it had sunk over eight inches into the soil.

The building, which is being touted as the tallest reinforced concrete building in the western U.S., has now sunk an estimated 16 inches and has acquired a six-inch tilt. The situation has become a public scandal and inspired questions about whether or not the city authorities were properly monitoring the city’s tall building spree.

Former San Francisco mayor, Senator Dianne Feinstein, contacted incumbent mayor Edwin M. Lee about the number of buildings that, like Millennium Tower, are not securely anchored in Bedrock. Mr Lee replied that he had requested an amendment to the earthquake safety plan to require a mandatory review of soil conditions during property sales.

San Francisco’s building spree has mostly occurred in an area that used to be part of San Francisco Bay.

One Millennium Tower resident, Mr. Jerry Dodson, is organizing the owners of the 400-plus units in the building to demand compensation from Millennium Partners, the developers.

Mr. Dodson expressed concerns that if the building continues to sink, its sewage connections may no longer work and the entire elevator system may fail. Over time, he said, Millennium Tower could become unlivable.

Specialists in Construction Insurance

After a long period of silence, Millennium Partners confirmed that the initial sinking of the building was caused by their own groundwater removal system, but subsequent sinking was attributable to digging at an adjacent Transbay Joint Powers Authority next door.

At a recent series of hearings, city officials were asked about the disappearance of all correspondence with engineers of the Millennium Tower project. One official explained that keeping such documents was not required.

San Francisco principal engineer Hanson Tom said that at the time the tower was being built, Millennium Partners had not consented to have outside experts review the soil conditions or building foundations, and there was no law to compel them to do so.

Officials said that the city was not prepared to evaluate the structural soundness of the Millennium Tower because it was one of the first skyscrapers to be built in the business district. Now the city calls in outside experts to confirm the structural integrity of proposed buildings because it lacks the technology to review the computer models that developers use.

The recent hearing did not shed any light on why San Francisco city officials had declared Millennium Towers to be safe for occupancy despite the issues with the foundation. The inquiry is scheduled to continue during the coming weeks.



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