A Cal professor who worked as a paid consultant on the Millennium Tower claimed to city supervisors yesterday that an additional expert would have been needed to look at the building's geotechnical complications, such as the bay mud, rather than bedrock, on which the tower rests. Jack Moehle, a structural engineering professor at UC Berkeley, emphasized the limited scope of his work appraising the designs of the $350 million building, whose unexpected sinking and leaning discovered last year have fingers pointing and lawyers filing suit. According to coverage of his testimony by CBS 5, Moehle testified that his job was just to verify that the tower's design met current building codes, not to verify whether those codes were suitable for the specific site of the tower project.
Moehle and his peer review colleague Hardip Pannuhad originally declined to speak last November before the Board of Supervisors regarding the sinking tower of San Francisco, which he had certified after being hired by DiSimone Consulting Engineers. Back in 2006, according to the Business Times, Moehle wrote that "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." He was later subpoenaed to testify, as he did yesterday.
“I’m not saying that the foundation design has been reviewed by me and that I have determined that the foundation is going to work, etc." Moehle told Supervisors. "It doesn’t say that. I’m not qualified to do that,” Moehle told the supervisors.
A spokesperson from Millennium Tower backed up Moehle in a statement to the Business Times."It was clear from Professor Moehle’s testimony that Mission Street Development met and in fact exceeded the requirements of the city." The developer continues to claim that dewatering of the ground beneath the tower led to the unexpectedly deep sinking.
Moehle's claims appeared to incense Supervisor Aaron Peskin, however, a persistent critic of the project. “The role of a peer reviewer is to sound some alarm rather than, at every turn, say, ‘yes it complies with your code, yes it’s gonna be fine’"
In the end, Professor Moehle sounds like he sleeps easy, and according to one quote from the proceedings, his structural engineering classes at Berkeley might deserve to be cross-listed with ones in the religion department. “The responsible party may be the Earth that God gave us," Moehle reportedly said during his testimony.
Those in the tower can take solace in a city report reported on Chronicle does claim the Tower is perfectly safe to live in. But the prospect of diminished property values and the multiple lawsuits in the works, as filed buy homeowners and the City Attorney, might make for sleepless nights in the Millennium Tower.