Millennium Tower 2016

The San Francisco City Attorney, Dennis Herrera, has filed suit against Millennium Partners, alleging that the development team knew, and didn’t adequately disclose, that the 58-story Millennium Tower at 301 Mission Street was sinking further and faster than expected prior to opening its sales office.

According to an investigation by the City Attorney’s Office, the development team knew that the tower had already settled almost 6 inches by the time it was completed in early 2008. And by early 2009, the tower had settled 8.3 inches and was starting to tilt.

The tower has since settled a total of 16 inches with a two-inch tilt. A settlement of six inches, over the lifetime of the tower, was the maximum originally predicted by the project’s geotechnical engineer.

All that being said, there are no indications that the tower is unsafe and Millennium Partners is pointing the finger directly at the Transbay Joint Powers Authority and adjacent Transbay Transit Center development, which broke ground in 2010, for accelerating and exacerbating the tower’s settlement.

Homeowners at 301 Mission Street filed suit against the Transbay Joint Powers Authority and the City and County of San Francisco on August 17. Today’s suit is a cross-complaint, with the city seeking damages from the developer, “as the court deems appropriate.”

66 thoughts on “SF Suing Developer of Sinking Tower”
  1. To clarify a few things about this —

    A large number of condo owners sued the City and other government agencies for “inverse condemnation.” This is a type of “takings” claim where some government action (here, construction that caused the building to sink/tilt) causes you to lose property. They did not sue the developers.

    This is just a routine cross-complaint by the City against the builders to make sure all parties that may have contributed to the problem are brought into the litigation. The claim is for indemnity, meaning that if City is found liable but the developer is responsible in whole or part for any of the damage, they will have to kick in. The City is not actually seeking “damages” (although the city attorney incorrectly used that term in the cross-complaint) but just reimbursement for any monies the City might have to pay to the condo owners. This was a defensive action, not an offensive one.

    [Editor’s Note: As reported above with respect to the suit to which the City’s cross-complaint was attached, “Homeowners at 301 Mission Street filed suit against the Transbay Joint Powers Authority and the City and County of San Francisco…”]

  2. Uh, the case is JOHN ENG VS. MILLENNIUM PARTNERS I, INC. ET AL. The et al is the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which is not a city agency.

    1. The City’s cross-complaint was filed with respect to Laura S Lehman vs. Transbay Joint Powers Authority et al, not the John Eng suit which targets the development team.

    1. I feel like this is where their own liability insurance kicks in. Most professionals are covered by some sort of liability insurance (Obtain personally or though the company they work for) for whatever lawsuit that can be levied on them.

      1. Yeah, that’s what I’m referring to. The reason you pay all that money to get a professional engineer to sign (literally sign) your drawings is because it’s a good defense against later civil actions. So somewhere there is a civil matter between Millenium and their engineers.

  3. Guess the only sure thing at this point is that this litigation and cross litigation will go on for years.

    Is an effort being made to stabilize the building? Is it possible to do so? The building does not pose a hazard now, but if it can’t be stabilized who knows what could happen years down the road.

    Is there any indication as to how this has impacted values? Is anything for sale in the building or has any unit sold since this became widespread knowledge early this year?

    Assuming the building can be stabilized I’d guess the values would still be depressed from what they would have been given this stigma. Insurance would not cover lost value I assume,

    1. That building is not going anywhere but possibly a few more inches down. A very much ado about not so much beyond the hype.

        1. Those idiots are undercutting their own interests (property values) by voicing unfounded concerns about the building’s security/future.

  4. That fact that nearly two years before the Transbay Terminal broke ground the tower had already settled more (8″) than the original lifetime prediction (6″) should exonerate the Transbay project as a culprit.

    The best plan would be for the Millennium developers to own this mistake and start on mitigation. Tying this up in the courts is just a waste of money and delays real physical resolution.

    1. At a minimum it will mitigate The City’s liability, as will The City’s point on the developer’s lack of disclosure. But if this doesn’t turn out to be solvable then mitigation will probably never happen and this will be in the courts for years and years.

    2. The problem is that is not yet clear what, if anything, needs to be mitigated, or how. And if it is necessary, it could run $100s of millions or in excess of a billion. And California follows proportionate liability – even if the developer is at fault, someone else may have contributed to or exacerbated it. Then you have insurers, etc. to deal with. Nobody is going to claim all that unless and until some court tells them they must.

    1. The Chronicle is actually a few months behind. Wells Fargo stopped lending in June, well before the paper’s August report, and prior to which First Republic had already pulled the plug.

  5. I have a sofa table for sale that I built myself – the legs are slightly longer on one side, but I think that I have found a market for it :o)

  6. I’m curious how this plays out on just a day-to-day functional level (no pun intended): I assume the building lobby was originally @ street level and is now 16″ down…so is there a little step ladder w a sign “CAUTION STEP DOWN” @ the entrance ??? And isn’t there a (once trendy) restaurant in the building….is it now a Rathskeller or such ??

  7. I mean, like can you actually see or feel the tilt once inside? Does it fail the marble test? (Put yer marble on the floor…does it readily roll in one direction?) Cause it don’t look like the leaning tower of Pisa from the outside. If these condos drop some serious coin in value, could be a good deal.

    1. The vertical distortion (“lean”) is essential imperceptible – it’s equivalent to a person leaning 1/50″. But the problem would worsen greatly if the building began to settle (more) unevenly – which would not only worsen the tilt but stress the structure – and there’s the basic fact that the building , obviously, isn’t on firm soil – at least not firm enough to support the load – so there is, I would think, a question about how it would respond to seismic forces (i..e. amplification).

      1. Essentially imperceptible I would say! The building’s over 600′ tall and 2″ inches out of vertical. Barely detectable with even a surveyor ‘ s transit.

      2. I think your estimate of the lean is off by an order of magnitude. The Millennium’s 2 inch lean is measured at the ground. It has 5 floors subterranean. That’s about 60 feet of building that is off by 2 inches. An equivalent of that 2 inches over 60 feet for a 6 foot person would be one-fifth of an inch, not one-fiftieth. Of course most people don’t have another ten people standing on top of their head as they lean ever so perceptibly.

        I wonder if the total lean at the top is about 2 feet. And increasing.

        The deeper issue is that by leaning the building is putting additional weight on the low edge or corner, like carving the edge of a snowboard into powder or digging the heel of a crampon into soft ice, or in this case steel reinforced concrete into muck. Probably straining the entire concrete substructure. Bowing it like an unbalanced and overloaded seesaw. Concrete doesn’t bow well.

        Wonder if they have triangular bracing in the basement or just right angles because they expected even settlement (no one could have predicted…). Would be a pity to have to sacrifice some of the parking to cross brace. Why is it always the most wealthy that must suffer?

        And this is all under roughly static conditions. The dynamic loads of the cars driving around in the 5 floors of garage and the wanderings of the eminent inhabitants is tiny compared to peak ground velocity of a major quake or several major quakes over the hopefully eternal life of such an iconic symbol of the age.

        BTW, you can see the damage this has done to where the pavement meets the building’s corner by Mission/Fremont. You can see it in person or google streetview or photos online.

        Reportedly, 163 owners have petitioned for reduced property assessments for tax (avoidance) purposes: “In their applications, homeowners had to estimate what their units are worth now. Forty said zero, $1 or $2. The rest said somewhere between $400 and $6.1 million. The owner of the unit assessed at $12.6 million said it’s now worth $4 million.”


        1. Always thought that if you want to reduce a property valuation by arguing your property is worth less, you have to offer to sell at the challenge price. The city should then accept the challenge or put in a pool in which, say, 5% of the remaining properties with disputed valuations would be randomly purchased by the city every year at the owner’s attested price. Then the city can immediately turn around and sell them. The buyer would need to pay the transfer tax.

          This would have the effect of:

          1. discouraging owners from under-valuing a property
          2. discouraging the city from over-valuing a property
          3, add much needed liquidity to the market and aid price discovery
          4. discourage nuisance challenges

        2. Your example is clear as mud. What are the relative reference points by which “tilt” is measured.

          It would seem a 2 inch declination from plumb measured at the base would produce an arc much greater than 2 feet at 600′ above.

          1. Well, it is clear to all those with their (barney) google eyes open: “2-inch tilt to the northwest at its base” was reported months ago. As to how that affects the tippy top, well this building isn’t the monolith from 2001 (or is it?). It has a complex not crystalline lattice that we should all hope is more resilient than your response.

            The attention to the base and below is cause that is where the action is, the slow continuing act of self-immolation, of concrete shearing off of shear walls, exposing rebar, of the delicious juices of Mission St fresh squeezed through cracks into the Millennium’s debasement. The LA Times story has a picture, as was mentioned by “Pac hts dweller” yesterday below.

            Too bad this building wasn’t built to self-level as it sank. The sinking is more than desired, but it is the tilting that is causing the owners’ tilting. Oh well, think of all the money the developer saved. Modern (value) engineering is not the preserve of the masses.

          2. Yeah, well thanks for the “explanation.” Now, could you please describe what “a 2 inch tilt… at its base” means in terms of point A relative point B? What/where are the planes in question?

          3. It is an odd way to measure, but if the building has a 2″ tilt at the surface from the base which is 60′ underground, the top of the 645′ building would be 10.75″ out of vertical as compared to the ground surface.

            You usually wouldn’t measure the tilt at the surface – rather you would measure tilt at the top or how much more the building has settled on one corner compared to the opposing corner.

            The floors on the ground floor will have the same grade of tilt as those on the top floor for those that want to do the marble test – simple geometry.

          4. I sit corrected: “an estimated two to four inches at the structure’s base and 14 inches at the top” …well, half corrected, as this would come out to 1/600 or ~1/10-1/8″ for a 6′ person; I would still say this degree of lean is imperceptible (in the context of whether/not one can “feel” or detect it directly).

            But I wholeheartedly agree with Jake that this points out the peril of building in San Francisco’s “notoriously bad soil”; and if it doesn’t bring about a return to sensible height limits – IIRC the post 1906 limit was 100′ – then at least it should bring a moratorium to all these calls for “higher! higher!!”

          5. A two inch tilt measured at the base means if you drop a plumb bob off of the roof of the tower the point of the bob will be 2 inches further away from the building at the sidewalk.

          6. Normally that would be what it means, but reading thru the various (not always consistent) news articles, apparently it means the building has a horizontal displacement of 2″ (from its original construction) at its base, and 12-14″ at the top.

          7. “A two inch tilt measured at the base means if you drop a plumb bob off of the roof of the tower the point of the bob will be 2 inches further away from the building at the sidewalk.”

            Thanks – that makes a lot more sense; maybe various journalists didn’t know that? Also, that is a very tiny tilt…

          8. a horizontal displacement of 2″ (from its original construction) at its base, and 12-14″ at the top

            That’s odd, no? If it leans 2″ in the 60 subterranean feet, why would the lean in the above-surface 600′ not be ten times (60 x 10 = 600) the subsurface lean?

          9. It’s not clear what is meant by tilt at the base. Perhaps it’s that the X axis (the horizontal line) at the “base” of the building (the sidewalk) is no longer level. In other words the sinking is not an even 16 inches but rather 15 inches at the high corner and 17 inches at the low corner of the building. This would mean that the ground floor (the base) is 2 inches out of level. With that as the starting point the tilt would magnify as you go up.

          10. “That’s odd, no? If it leans 2″ in the 60 subterranean feet, why would the lean in the above-surface 600′ not be ten times (60 x 10 = 600) the subsurface lean?”

            You’re assuming the building was built absolutely vertical in the first place. It’s possible it was – indeed the implication is it had to be – either intentionally or accidentally NOT so built; the torre in Pisa, for example, was built in somewhat of a banana shape since the builders became aware of the list early on and tried to compensate for it.

          11. Folks, I think you are over thinking this and getting some of it backwards or upside down. This building isn’t a perfectly rigid box (2001 monolith). It flexes by design (wind…seismic….). How displacement at the ground translates to the top depends on complex aspects of the construction that none of us are going to know from “news” reports.

            The units of the measurement we’ve been given are distance (inches) of displacement. What if the building had no displacement for the first hundred feet above ground and then leaned over at a fixed angle? That is why measuring the “tilt” by a dreidel dangling from the roof to the ground would tend to measure displacement or “tilt at the top” not “tilt at the bottom”, though the term is not fully specified and thus ambiguous.

            Besides the technical/scary issue is what is happening to the foundation and what would happen during the next few big ones. Maybe it is just fine with some extra maintenance costs, and I should cash in my junk bonds on Trump Tower Toronto for this once in a lifetime opportunity. There’s always money in a building standing in a shape like a banana.

            Even if it is safer than the hundreds of soft story buildings in SF, a legal issue could be made over why wasn’t the developer/sales on the level with these fine people that can no longer trust their indoor putting greens.

          12. @Jake, now I think you’re over-explaining it.

            Thanks, Anon. I think I get the picture and agree that a 2″ deflection of the foundation measured at the surface would translate to a “tilt” of at least 14 inches at the top.

    2. Given that banks are no longer writing loans on the building, it wouldn’t surprise me if insurance companies are not writing new policies either. Making this maybe not such a good deal even at a reduced price.

      1. May or may not have anything to do with the overall building lean. The floor plate itself could be a bit out of level.

        If they did the same marble test on 10 different floors, spaced by at least 3 floor between tests, and the marbles all followed the same trajectory, that would be more convincing.

        Easier just to get a good totalstation (theodolite) and directly survey the lean.

  8. The tilting is causing shear stress on the concrete and rebar foundation which is creating cracking, crumbling, and allowing water to seep in which is rusting the rebar and causing further deterioration. Have you seen the pictures of the walls in the garage from the LA times article? If not you should reserve judgement until you see those pictures. The foundation walls are crumbling and that will only accelerate with water intrusion and continued shear stress. Even if you could drive piles to bedrock now and then attach them to the existing structure to halt the sinking, the reality is the foundation is already too far gone to be salvaged and the building is too heavy to shore and replace the existing foundation. In the long run this building is going to be torn down – no one is ready to accept that yet.

  9. *Grins* Somebody will open up the scalping auction business to sell for the other cities’ current 6 story high apartments to scrap off the kitchen sinks,refrigerators and give them proper dents for making them used,marble,wood flooring out of this tower in the coming years. *Shamelessly pragmatic*

  10. The city is suing the developers? My God, Everyone should be suing the city!!! City inspectors were all over this project every step of the way during construction often times consulting with specialist from around the country before signing off on each phase of this project. When an event such as this occurs it’s easy to point fingers, i am simply pointing out that the city itself played a pivotal role in the advancement of this project and should share in the responsibility of rectifying the issue as well as participating in any claim of damages. It was your building department inspectors who signed off on every phase of every project relating to the build of the Millennium Tower. The city wants to sue? what the hell are the damages to the city in comparison to the damages that may be sustained by the residents?

  11. I’ve read that it’s expected to sink an additional 15″ over the building’s lifetime, putting it at a total sinking distance of 30″. That’s over 2 feet!

    How does that work with lobby and ground floor shops? Will they eventually be below ground?

  12. Here is a semi-technical explanation of the problem that has been referenced elsewhere: “Imagine driving a broomstick into beach sand–you can only go so far before there’s enough broomstick in contact with the sand to put up fearsome resistance.”

    Also references the Fisher Building in Chicago, which evidently has a swagger lean of 6″ – 8″ over the sidewalk.

    1. That’s sort of my point– all this brouhaha will die down in a few years and in the meantime there may be some prime distressed assets available to all-cash vultures (ahem, buyers!).

  13. I for 1 as a resident say SF is #1 accountable, followed by STATE (transbay agencies), then DEVELOPER!

    SF DBI certified it for move in and SF allowed NORTH SOUTH EAST WEST (all 4 sides) to be excavated like a castle tower wrapped around by a moat (which factors in all new developments on all tower sides).

    I say–to settle the score– SF better pay up over $1 billion if it stays standing, and over $100 billion if it falls!

    1. By SF paying you mean that every single resident of SF should be taxed to pay for the problems with some private residences? SF’s money doesn’t come out of thin air.

  14. Yup, SF as a city must be accountable and its residents must hold officials accountable. So be it, for generations to come, SF will pay for this BIG UNSAFE MESS!

  15. The article states there are no indications the tower is unsafe so an independent structural engineering analysis has been done?

    Along that line, is there any indication a formal analysis has been done to determine if the building can be stabilized going forward? And how much would that cost? Not even getting into who would pay for it – that probably waits on the outcomes of the lawsuits.

    This has to be wrecking havoc with the homeowner association fees – hiring engineers to evaluate the building and hiring lawyers for the class action suit against the TTC.

        1. If anything has been completed, I don’t think it’s been made public, has it?

          It’s going to be fascinating, at least for those of us who don’t live there. You’re right about the homeowner fees. They had to be high before because of the kind of building, but I can’t imagine what they must be now

      1. Actually, there is no dispute that that building is going somewhere: down and to the north-northwest, IIRC. We all await the findings of millions of dollars in to-be-done engineering studies to determine how far, to what effect, and requiring what remediation. And the lawyerly fun and gamesmanship enrolling, literally and numerically, a cast of thousands: residents, politicians,….all tilting at the leaning tower of the Tar Flat.

        Can anyone recommend an industrial-sized popcorn maker fit for an operatic comic tragedy due for a loooong run? Self-leveling please.

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