San Francisco's 'Leaning Tower' Has Residents Fuming A luxury high-rise in San Francisco is sinking. The Millennium Tower has sunk more than a foot since its completion in 2010. It's also tilting, which makes life difficult for residents on high floors.
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San Francisco's 'Leaning Tower' Has Residents Fuming

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San Francisco's 'Leaning Tower' Has Residents Fuming

San Francisco's 'Leaning Tower' Has Residents Fuming

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

They call it the Leaning Tower of San Francisco. It wasn't always that way. This luxury skyscraper was billed as State of the art when it opened a few years ago. People paid millions for condos there.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now it's sinking and tilting about six inches to one side. Residents and the city are suing the developer. From member station KQED, Stephanie Martin Taylor reports on the troubled Millennium Tower.

STEPHANIE MARTIN TAYLOR, BYLINE: When I first enter Pamela Buttery's home on the Millennium Tower's 57th floor, I'm not sure which direction I'm facing. But I get a sense the room is tilting slightly to my left. Turns out it's true. To show me, Buttery tosses a golf ball straight ahead toward the window.

PAMELA BUTTERY: So there it goes rolling.

TAYLOR: The ball takes a sharp turn left toward the direction of the tilt.

BUTTERY: And it kind of picks up speed.

TAYLOR: It ends up in the northwest corner of her living room. Buttery bought this unit as the tower was being completed in 2010, but documents obtained by the city show that as early as 2009, developers and city building inspectors knew the tower was settling faster than expected. Buttery and other residents were not told until May of this year, and by then, the building had sunk more than a foot and was leaning six inches to the northwest.

AARON PESKIN: San Francisco has been in the midst of an unparalleled building boom, the largest building boom we've had since World War II, arguably since the Gold Rush.

TAYLOR: That's San Francisco supervisor Aaron Peskin.

PESKIN: And we need to make sure that we're building buildings that are safe, that people's investments are safe.

TAYLOR: Peskin is leading what is likely to be a long series of investigative hearings on the troubled tower. Some key questions - should the city require high-rise developers to drill their foundations into bedrock? Also, why is the building's frame made of concrete instead of steel? Concrete is cheaper, but it's also much heavier.

And what about the massive new train and bus terminal being constructed right next door? Millennium spokesperson P.J. Johnston says workers there have been pumping out huge amounts of water as they tunnel through the soil. Johnston says that process, known as dewatering, is destabilizing the ground.

P J JOHNSTON: We need to stop the dewatering, work together on any remediation that needs to be done to fix any damages, and then we'll sort out all the liabilities later.

TAYLOR: Still, that leaves perhaps the biggest question of them all - how to fix the tower or at least keep it from leaning even more. Some solutions include pouring a concrete collar around the foundation or building a buttress. Millennium resident Pamela Buttery, who is 76, says so much for her peaceful retirement.

BUTTERY: I've moved on into depression about it, so it's a gloomy feeling.

TAYLOR: Even her favorite pastime, putting golf balls, doesn't give her the same joy it once did. No matter which way she hits them, they all end up in the same corner. For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Martin Taylor in San Francisco.

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