Fire Hazard Added to List of Problems at SF’s Millennium Tower
San Francisco building inspectors have scheduled a March 6 division hearing to address the apparent fire safety risk at Millennium Tower, the city's tilting and sinking luxury condo high-rise.
After complaints of ongoing odor issues, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Allana Buick & Bers tested the soundness of the structure in 2016. The report of those tests, delayed in full release by Millennium Tower Homeowner Association for a year, found that smoke from bombs set off in the basement traveled through passages in the walls to upper floors. It showed that “curtain wall gaps were found and that…these openings represent a breach in the fire and smoke barrier.”
The city notified the attorney for the HOA, Vision Winter, a partner at O’Melveny & Myers, on Dec. 15, directing the association to “engage a licensed civil and/or structural engineer and to submit a comprehensive engineering report on the building’s curtain wall system” by Jan. 15. As of Feb. 12, no report has been received and a division hearing has been set for March 6. William Strawn, spokesperson for San Francisco Department of Building Inspection, says the delay could lead to an order of abatement from the city’s code enforcement division, which could impact the ability to sell. Winter did not return requests for comment.
According to periodic monitoring of settling of the building required by the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection, as of July 2017, the 645-ft-tall building has settled 17 in. and tilted 14 in. at the top to the northwest since completion in 2009, according to an engineering report from technical experts Gregory Deierlein, Marko Schotanus and Craig Shields. The report concluded that settlement due to shifting sands under the foundation has not occurred uniformly, “causing a distortion and tilting of the mat foundation, along with a lean of the building…the settlements have not compromised the building’s ability to resist strong earthquakes and have not had a significant effect on the building’s safety.” Engineering estimates predict that the building could sink an additional 15 in. at a rate of 1.5 to 2 in. a year.
Some 40 homeowner lawsuits have been filed in the last year against the development company, claiming Millennium Partners knew this as early as 2008, but didn’t tell potential buyers, and Transbay Joint Powers Association. Also named as a defendant is Transbay Joint Powers Association, which is building a transit center next door and was required to monitor the building and notify authorities if any settlement occurred. No cases have gone to court yet.
Numerous fixes have been proposed while cases to determine liability work their way through the courts. Engineering firm Arup proposed drilling 50 to 100 piles into bedrock 200+ ft. deep from the concrete building’s basement to reinforce the 80-ft piers now supporting the foundation in soil that is largely compressed fill and rubble. Other proposed solutions include permanently freezing the ground and removing 20 stories to reduce the building’s weight.