SAN FRANCISCO, 23 de septiembre.- Los funcionarios del Departamento de Inspección de Edificios San Francisco, ciudad de terremotos, no abrieron hasta el mes pasado una investigación sobre los problemas estructurales en la Millenium Tower (Torre del Milenio, "la torre para millonarios") que ya se hundió 40 cm, esto a pesar de la evidencia que se remonta a seis años.
En una audiencia de tres horas el jueves ante un comité de la Junta de Supervisores, los funcionarios no pudieron explicar por qué los fallos en la más prominente torre residencial en la costa oeste no fueron examinados hasta semanas después de los informes de problemas publicados por primera vez en The Chronicle el mes pasado.
El supervisor Aaron Peskin dijo que llamó a la audiencia para averiguar "quién sabía qué, cuándo lo supieron y lo que hicieron al respecto."
El diario The San Francisco Chronicle reportó este viernes que la Torre Millennium, de 58 pisos, se ha hundido 40 centímetros (16 pulgadas) desde que fue terminada de construir en el 2009.
Entonces, se calculó que el edificio se hundiría en total apenas entre 10 y 15 centímetros (4 y 6 pulgadas). El diario reporta que además, la estructura se ha inclinado en 5 centímetros (2 pulgadas).
|(Jim Wilson/The New York Times)|
Los inspectores de construcción dijeron el jueves a la Junta Municipal de San Francisco que no iniciaron una investigación sino hasta cuando un vecino de la estructura llamó a la entidad el mes pasado. Ello a pesar de una carta en el 2009 en la que un ex funcionario advirtió que la estructura estaba descendiendo.
En el rascacielos viven más de 400 residentes, algunos de los cuales pagaron más de dos mdd por un apartamento de dos recámaras.
La nota en el San Francisco Chronicle
Officials at the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection didn’t open an investigation into structural issues at the sinking Millennium Tower until last month, despite evidence going back six years that the 58-story luxury high-rise was sinking more than expected.
In a three-hour hearing Thursday before a Board of Supervisors committee, those officials seemed at a loss to explain why the issues at the most prominent residential tower on the West Coast weren’t scrutinized until weeks after reports of problems were first reported in The Chronicle last month.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin said he called the hearing to find out “who knew what, when they knew it, and what they did about it.”
“There is no question but that the city and the developer knew as much as six years ago that the building was sinking much more than anticipated,” Peskin said at a hearing of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee. “I am interested in knowing why the city did not disclose that to the public or to the over 400 individuals, families and entities that purchased units in the building.”
The building, which is just north of the new Transbay Transit Center, at 301 Mission St., has settled 16 inches, much more than the 4 to 6 inches project engineers anticipated over the life of the building. It has also tilted 2 inches to the northwest.
Developer Millennium Partners has blamed the tilting and sinking on soil dewatering next door at the Transbay Transit Center. Millennium says the water table beneath its tower has dropped 20 feet, weakening the soil under the foundation. The Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which is building the $4.5 billion transit center, counters that Millennium erred by building a foundation with piles 66 to 91 feet in length, rather than the 200 feet that would have reached bedrock.
The hearing Thursday did nothing to provide clarity as to who is to blame for the tower’s structural deficiencies or what exactly is causing the sinking. It made clear, however, that city building officials were more bystanders than decision-makers a decade ago as Millennium Partners and its team of engineers and architects made the calculations that determined the structure’s foundation and building safety systems.
Four Department of Building Inspection officials, including the current director and deputy director, testified at the hearing, painting the picture of a building that was unusual for its height and weight — its concrete frame makes it heavier than a steel structure — but that was mostly treated with the same level of scrutiny as other less complicated or tall buildings. The developer agreed to fund an additional review by a two-person peer committee that looked at the building’s seismic safety — that examination did not include a review of the foundation and pile system.
Department Deputy Director Ron Tom said his agency has three roles: checking plans to make sure they comply with city code, making sure work is done as permitted, and — once a building is completed — investigating complaints.
Tom said the department relies on the expertise of the engineers and designers overseeing individual projects. If a plan is a “prescriptive design,” meaning it conforms to building codes, as the Millennium Tower was, it is approved without any outside review. Most of the other tall, new downtown buildings in San Francisco, however, are “performance designs” — their design includes some departure from city code — and since 2008 have required a full peer review of both foundation and seismic safety.
Department officials also said their investigations are driven by complaints and that they didn’t launch an inquiry into the Millennium until a neighbor called the city’s 311 hot line on Aug. 16, two weeks after The Chronicle’s report. Inspectors then visited the property and issued a corrective notice — essentially a request asking the building owner to compile a report detailing the building’s performance.
“It blows my mind that you have to call 311 to have somebody come out to look at a 58-story building that is tilting,” Peskin said.
Much of the questioning Thursday focused on a 2009 letter from then-assistant department director Raymond Lui. The letter raised questions about the rate the building was settling and whether the developers’ engineers expected it to continue. The letter received a terse response from Millennium Partners’ engineer, downplaying the concerns. On Thursday, Lui said he couldn’t recall how he was made aware of the structural issues or what motivated him to write the letter.
“I have no idea,” Lui said. “I can only speculate. I’m pretty tight with a lot of engineers. Maybe one of them mentioned it?”
Peskin said he was shocked that such a seemingly important letter disappeared with such scant impact.
“There is no follow-up to the letter that says, ‘Gee, we are going to get an independent, third-party review so we know why the building is not performing as expected’?” he said.
About 20 Millennium homeowners attended Thursday’s hearing at City Hall and said in a statement they share Peskin’s “desire to understand why we find ourselves in this predicament today and hope that all those called to participate do so in a spirit of cooperation and truthfulness.”
“As everyone knows, the homeowners of the Millennium Tower are in the unfortunate position of trying to go about their lives as if nothing has happened, while attorneys work to learn the facts and assign responsibility,” the homeowners group stated.
The association said it is conducting its own independent investigation.
“We are all living there and wondering about our safety,” Millennium homeowner Nina Agabian said. “Nothing we have heard today has instilled any confidence.” (J. K. Dineen)