Millennium Tower

Civil Engineer From UC Berkeley Testifies to SF Leaders in Millennium Tower Sinking

The UC Berkeley professor embroiled in the Millennium Tower quagmire stressed in testimony Thursday that he simply concluded the foundation met code before the structure was built and did not assert that the design would actually “work.”

Jack Moehle, a licensed civil engineer hired in 2004 by the developer of the Millennium Tower, appeared before the government oversight committee to be questioned by Supervisor Aaron Peskin after months of delays triggered by Moehle’s refusal to appear without a subpoena.

During his testimony, Moehle stressed to Peskin that his role was limited at the start to assessing the seismic performance of the tower structure.

“This project, the peer review was simply focused on and limited to what was going on upstairs,” he said, not the foundation. Later, however, Moehle did write a report and assess the foundation of the building, which has sunk 16 inches and is tilting.

Peskin repeatedly pressed Moehle as to why in all his communications, he never told anyone in the city about any need to account for a major underground structure, the Transbay transit terminal, slated to be built next door to the tower. It is that structure that the Millennium developer now blames for the tower’s recent sinking problems.

Peskin also asked Moehle why he did not raise a red flag or object to the fact there was no geotechnical element to the building review.

“Professor,” Peskin said at one point. “I find this to be a little bit troubling.”

Later, Peskin pressed Moehle about his January 2006 letter about the foundation, which concluded: “On the basis of my review, it is my opinion that the foundation design is compliant with the principles and requirements of the building code, and that a foundation permit can be issued for this project.”

Moehle used some of that language in explaining his rationale for writing the letter.

“The foundation design is compliant with the requirements of the code,” Moehle told Peskin. “I’m not saying the foundation design has been reviewed by me and I have determined that the foundation is going to work. And it’s separate. It doesn’t say that. I’m not qualified to do that.”

After the hearing, Peskin concluded that no matter what he says now, the letter Moehle wrote is proof that he supported what turned out to be a faulty foundation. “The city relied on him,” Peskin said. “He’s basically saying, you shouldn’t have relied on me ... that’s what we heard today. It’s more than frustrating; it’s just embarrassing.”

Outside the hearing, Moehle insisted that he didn’t know whether there should have been an independent geotechnical review of the project.

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