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Millennium Tower: ‘60 Minutes’ shows series of cracks in sinking building

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Sinking high-rise’s resident gadflies speak about building woes. seismic and otherwise.

San Francisco's Millennium Tower Tilting And Sinking Into Ground Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

There are two things that San Francisco’s Millennium Tower can’t seem to stop doing: slowly sinking, and making headlines.

60 Minutes, which has won 20 Peabody Awards over the course of nearly 50 years, put the spotlight on the troubled tower with a profile that aired on Sunday, in which Millennium residents gave reporter Jon Wertheim a close-up look at the building’s woes.

Wertheim spoke with Pat and Jerry Dodson, tower residents on the 42nd floor, who have shown up in the news almost as often as the building itself.

Jerry is a lawyer representing both himself and other tower residents in one of the many, many lawsuits now leveled against the decidedly non-level luxury high-rise.

“The Millennium Partners did not build to bedrock, and that’s the cause of the problem,” Pat Dodson told a reporter the same day San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross broke the story, firmly cementing the couple’s argument against the building and their own role in coverage of it.

Millennium Tower in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena neighborhood. Photo by Patricia Chang

On Sunday, the Dodsons talked up the former Millennium appeal that led them to invest $2.1 million in their condo.

“It’s a wonderful location,” Pat Dodson acknowledged, saying that, at time of purchase, she believed it was “the best building in San Francisco.” Live and learn.

For those who have followed the story since it broke in late 2016, the 60 Minutes piece was largely review; however, the investigation does highlight some current and former residents’ fears about the tower’s seismic integrity.

Per the accompanying text piece on the 60 Minutes site:

Some residents have already sold their units. "We don't know if this building's going to stand up in an earthquake," says Frank Jernigan. "And so I became severely frightened of that."

His husband, Andrew Faulk, adds, "And we got out. We left really most all of our belongings. We just left," he tells Wertheim. They say they lost between 3 and 4 million dollars when they sold their apartment earlier this year.

(Note that the San Francisco Recorder’s Office does not register any sales at 301 Mission Street this year, although it’s possible the records of Faulk and Jernigan’s sale haven’t updated yet.)

The report also provides a highly dramatic look at the most visible structural damage of the building’s 17-inch descent: What Jerry Dodson refers to as a “spiderweb of cracks” visible in the building’s interior columns. Yikes.

For the record, despite cracks and homeowners’ fears, the building passed a July safety review of its seismic integrity. According to the report submitted to the city administrator:

It does not appear that the settlement has affected the ability of the foundation piles to support the structure under earthquakes.

[...] The settlements and lean have caused only minor changes in the loads experienced by the Tower’s structure and no appreciable change to the Tower’s capability of resisting major earthquakes.

The SGH study has further demonstrated that in its current condition, the structure generally meets the performance-based design criteria for the seismic design of new tall buildings using non-prescriptive seismic-design procedures.

While the Dodsons fault the building’s foundations, developer Millennium Partners insists that the foundation is working as intended and alleges that construction of the nearby Transbay Transit Center caused the land under the tower to sink. The parties are presently involved in litigation.