Six San Francisco “window failure” incidents in a two-week span have the mayor, supervisors, and the DBI vowing a safety crackdown, but it’s unclear any of them understand why so many buildings are having their windows shattered, cracked, or even falling to the ground.
The month of March brought wind storms for the ages, with gusts reaching 77 miles per hour here in San Francisco. That led to a frankly terrifying rash of incidents where a glass panel flew off 555 California Street, a window flew off the Millennium Tower, and the 350 Mission Street building known as Salesforce East saw two broken window incidents in a week, for a total of six incidents that the SF Department of Building Inspection (DBI) charitably calls “glass failures.”
UPDATE: 555 CALIFORNIA— SAN FRANCISCO FIRE DEPARTMENT MEDIA (@SFFDPIO) March 14, 2023
2 WINDOWS DAMGED 1 IS COMPLETELY BROKEN OUT AND THE OTHER IS CRACKED CREWS SECURING HAZARD
ALL PREVIOUS SHELTER IN PLACE AND EVACUATION ORDERS REMAIN IN PLACE
VIDEO SHOWS BEGINNING PHASE OF INCIDENT pic.twitter.com/s27miuQJ2H
In fairness, this is happening in Oakland too. But that’s no comfort to Mayor Breed, the SF Board of Supervisors, or the DBI, whom the SF Business Times reports are all introducing new inspections and building regulations to hopefully put a halt to all these windows flying off buildings.
That seems reassuring, except that beyond the high winds (which cannot be prevented), no one seems sure yet what exactly is leading to these dangerous window mishaps. “I mean this is not happening in Singapore with typhoons. This is not happening in Chicago, the windy city. Why is it happening here?" Supervisor Aaron Peskin said to KTVU after the March 22 storm. "I expect to introduce [window] legislation on April 4th as well as call hearings to bring national and international experts.”
That April 4th board meeting is in progress as of this writing, so we’ll know more about what he’s requesting later today.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed is requiring inspections of newer high rises after recent storms caused windows to break at several buildings. STORY: https://t.co/5cmlTHYyCf pic.twitter.com/HCpkIlTz8L— KRON4 News (@kron4news) April 4, 2023
For her part, Mayor Breed announced new safety requirements Tuesday morning. “The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) will now require accelerated façade inspections for San Francisco buildings that are 15 stories or taller and built after 1998,” Breed’s office said in their announcement. “Owners of these buildings will now be required to provide a licensed architect or engineer evaluation of the entire building façade to ensure the safety and stability of all façade elements, including windows.”
HEAVY winds downtown San Francisco broke multiple windows at 555 California. The police and fire departments has several blocks closed for the public’s safety. pic.twitter.com/nDbnPz52jK— Sara Stinson (@SaraStinsonNews) March 14, 2023
Again, very reassuring language, but KRON4 points out an obvious oversight here. “Of the six buildings that experienced glass failure during the storms, three are less than 30 years old,” that station points out. So if the incidents are split evenly between older and newer buildings, it seems arguable whether this “built after 1998” clause is addressing the real problem here.
We should split hairs here on that “six buildings” description: KPIX details that five SF buildings had glass failures March 14-28, yet two of these incidents happened at 350 Mission Street (completed in 2015, so a newer building) for a total of six incidents. But even prior to that wild, windy two weeks of March 14-28, we saw glass fly off Fox Plaza on January 4, and wind ripping panels off the SFPUC building in February. So determining a pattern here may not be easy.
Just now part of a building at Polk and Golden Gate fell off and landed on these cars. pic.twitter.com/avFZPAwqXl— (((BrokeAssStuart))) (@BrokeAssStuart) February 22, 2023
And just to address the unspoken elephant in the room… Do we really trust San Francisco DBI to identify and correct these window hazards? That agency’s reputation is in the toilet right now over bribes and kickbacks sometimes granted for permitting shoddy work. Regrettably, they’re the only DBI we have. And while no one has been significantly injured yet by these “glass failures” yet, we are faced with the unsettling prospect that if high winds continue, we may be putting our lives in the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection’s hands.
Image: via Swinerton