Dubious Peskin questions inspectors over Millennium Tower

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin grilled members of The City’s Department of Building Inspection Friday on why the design of the Millennium Tower was not reviewed more rigorously when the department first approved the design back in 2004.

During a hearing at City Hall this afternoon, building inspection officials were forced to answer questions about the building’s design for the second time since September.

Peskin said:

“Frankly, the September hearing didn’t go quite as well as I had hoped. … I was disappointed with the lack of transparency, document retention policies and follow-up from our Department of Building Inspection and throughout the hearing was frustrated by contradictory responses… as well as the overall hands-off approach by the department as to anything outside of an autonomous complaint, which is still a little bit baffling.”

The 58-story luxury high-rise at 301 Mission St., which was completed in 2009, has sunk as much as 16 inches and is leaning around 15 inches to the northwest at its peak. Current projections suggest the tower could ultimately sink more than 30 inches.

Building inspection officials maintained they followed standard procedures when approving the design for the building, which Peskin noted, was the heaviest building in the U.S. west of Chicago.

Peskin however said building inspections officials could have taken action in 2010 to investigate reports of the building’s structural problems when the construction began on the neighboring Transbay Transit Center but didn’t simply because the department hadn’t received any complaints.

Peskin said:

“There seems to be a culture that if you don’t get a complaint, you will do absolutely nothing. … What’s the matter with the culture at the building department that it does not affirmatively look out for things like this?”

The department allegedly took formal action to investigate the building’s settlement and tilting on Aug. 16, after an anonymous complaint was called in to the city’s 311 line from a neighbor of the building.

Peskin has previously said he believes city officials and the developer, Millennium Partners, were aware that the building was sinking more than expected as far back as 2009, but failed to notify buyers of the building’s more than 400 units.

During the public comment portion of today’s hearing, resident Frank Jernigan, who lives on the building’s 50th floor said the tower’s structural problems were beginning to become hard to ignore:

“We know of units in the building which have cracks in the ceiling and other places; we know of some owners who say their closet door is now sticking and didn’t stick before. … But my question to you is what can The Ciry do to force the developer to fix the problem that they created for us?”

Jernigan implored Peskin:

“Because we can’t wait another six months, or another year or another five years until maybe there’s an earthquake and then who can fix anything at that point?”

A lawsuit filed in August by lawyers representing homeowners alleges that the building, which sits on landfill, was built using a concrete slab and piles into sand rather than into bedrock “to cut costs.”

The lawsuit also names the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, and alleges that excavation on the Transbay Terminal project next door has contributed to the Millennium Tower’s subsidence.

Officials with the Department of Building Inspection were not immediately available for comment.

Department spokesman William Strawn said last month the department had only positively became aware about the building’s settlement in July, when it began receiving media inquiries, and sent a team out to conduct a visual inspection. However, that team apparently found no cause for concern at that time.