Tuesday's press conference by Supervisor Aaron Peskin in which he vaguely pointed fingers and said that "political interference" of some kind may have been a factor in the approvals for the sinking Millennium Tower eight years ago, has set off further alarms and prompted a new statement from the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. Also, we now learn via the Examiner who the first city officials will be to testify before the Board of Supervisors' Government Audit and Oversight Committee: current and former members of the Department of Building Inspection.
"We are going to find out who knew what and when they knew it," says Peskin, and at the hearing, scheduled for September 22, Peskin will be calling and subpeonaing, if necessary then-acting director of the department Amy Lee, DBI principal engineer Hanson Tom, Patrick Otellini who expedited the permit for the tower, now serving as the city's Chief Resilience Officer, DBI spokesperson William Strawn, and DBI inspector Daniel Lowry.
In a letter preparing for the hearing, Peskin addressed current Building Inspection Director Tom Hui, asking about, in particular, a 2009 letter he found in a trove of documents obtained via NBC Bay Area reporter Jaxon Van Derbeken, from former DBI deputy director Raymond Lui asking about the continued settlements of the tower, saying "What is the rate of settlements? Are the settlements still continuing?" There's no evidence yet of a response from the tower’s consulting engineering firm, but Peskin is saying loud and clear now, "One thing is incontrovertible there’s enough evidence that clearly shows Millennium Partners absolutely knew before they sold their first unit in the building that it was sinking."
Whether or not city officials will be called to task for expediting the building's occupancy permits or ignoring the settlement issue due to some political pressure remains to be seen.
The Chronicle's Matier & Ross got a statement from then mayor now Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, implying that he may get dragged into this, too. Newsom simply said, "Frankly, I don’t have any idea what he [Peskin] is suggesting. As a consequence, I can’t respond to it."
Peskin says that some 400 condo purchasers in the tower "have arguably been defrauded,"
Millennium Partners, who continue to point the finger at the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) for causing the excess settling and tilting of their tower due to digging next door for the new Transbay Terminal, issued a response to Peskin's claims via spokesperson PJ Johnston, who said, "To suggest that Millennium Partners asked for or received any inappropriate treatment by city agencies, at any time in this process, is simply outrageous."
The TJPA, who has also apparently been implicated by Peskin, writes in a two-page statement, "Reports that the [TJPA] agreed to withhold data showing the tilt and excessive settlement of the Millennium Tower are incorrect." They had agreed to monitor the Tower's behavior as they began excavation work for the terminal, under an easement agreement they signed in October 2008. They insist "the TJPA never intended that its monitoring reports would be confidential," and they say they issued one such report in January 2010, eight months before construction on the terminal started, "that the Millennium Tower had experienced excessive vertical settlement and tilt to the northwest, away from the Transbay Terminal."
The Authority says they knew they would be blamed for the tower sinking and tilting as of February 2010, and they knew it would likely sink further "due to its defective foundation." So, "the TJPA suggested to [Millennium Partners (MP)] that the parties agree in advance to limit the TJPA’s exposure to potential litigation by MP" by signing a confidentiality agreement in March 2010.
What the TJPA seems to be avoiding liability for and perhaps something that Peskin will be addressing next week at the hearing is the keeping confidential of a monitoring document from 2008 that talked about the tower's settling. No further monitoring reports were kept confidential, they say, and "Indeed, the TJPA provided nearly 30 monitoring reports to MP after , up to and including the last report in June 2016, none of which were labeled confidential."
Peskin points also to questions raised by city officials as early as 2006, the responses to which from the Millennium development team are not in the record.
The TJPA and Millennium Partners are both named in lawsuits by homeowners, and in a class action suit seeking $500 million in damages.
The tower, as the public first learned in August, has settled 16 inches since it was completed in 2009, a full 10 inches more than was initially predicted a problem attributed to the fact that developers sunk foundation piles only 80 feet into what's SF Bay mud, instead of 200 feet down to bedrock, which would have been more costly. The tower is expected to settle, potentially, another 15 inches in the coming years.
Johnston reiterated that a recent study by an expert "determined the settlement has not significantly affected the seismic performance of the building, and does not represent a safety risk." The issue, mainly, is with perception, and how current condo owners in the building will fare as they try to resell their units now that everyone in town knows the tower has some major, dramatic sounding flaws.