Questions Mount on City’s Knowledge of Millennium Tower’s Sinking

San Francisco officials certified the sinking Millennium Tower as safe for occupancy in 2009 despite apparently unanswered safety questions about the troubled building.

“They are asking questions about life safety systems, and they are getting absolutely inadequate answers,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said. “I want to know what the city knew and when it knew it and what it did about it.”

Peskin is referring to an exchange between city officials and the engineering firm for the building that dates to February 2009. In a letter on Feb. 2, Raymond Lui asks DeSimone Engineers about the extent of the sinking and possible life safety considerations.

The response is not in city files. But the developer provided it to Peskin and NBC Bay Area. “What’s amazing is that this was not in the city’s file,” he told NBC Bay Area.

In their response, Millennium engineers acknowledged the building has sunk 8.3 inches and could sink another 4 inches. Millennium officials also say they were “aware of” any uneven or differential sinking.

That uneven sinking soon showed up in the monitoring data compiled for the nearby Transbay terminal project, which planned to build a protective wall to protect Millennium.

Peskin said the city should have done more in light of Millennium’s responses.

“This should lead the city to say: 'Boy you need to have ongoing monitoring regimen and some correction action,' but instead they issue the certificate of occupancy and completion,” Peskin said.

It is unclear, he said, if the city did anything or even got the letter before issuing the final certificate in August 2009

“Did the city every follow up on this letter at all?” Peskin asked. “Did the city ever get this letter? What was the city’s response to this letter?”

He noted that the city asked about the possibility that the sinking could undermine life safety systems of the building, but the developer’s engineers did not address that possibility in their reply.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Millennium spokesman PJ Johnston said that at the time the building’s sinking was “within the revised predicted safe ranges that the developer had reported to the City.”

It was only after the construction on an adjacent wall built by the Transbay terminal project, he said, that the tower “settled more than originally anticipated” due to Transbay’s construction activities. Transbay officials have blamed Millennium for not anchoring the building to bedrock.

Peskin, who says he suspects political meddling in the city’s review process on the Millennium project, plans to press for answers at a hearing Sept. 22.

Millennium’s representative, meanwhile, called the accusation of such interference “outrageous.”

Rhys Williams, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, told NBC Bay Area: “I have no idea what Aaron Peskin is referring to.”

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