By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Gerald Dodson, a retired litigator and owner of San Francisco’s now infamous Millennium Tower condominium, filed a lawsuit this month against the Tower’s developers, Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA),San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection (DBI), and the City Attorney’s Office.
The lawsuit, brought on behalf of 19 unit owners, alleges conspiracy by concealment of facts, and failure to disclose known defects and life safety issues to condo buyers. Dodson has provided evidence that the defendants engaged in a Confidentiality Agreement in 2010, signed by the City Attorney, in which all parties agreed not to divulge information discussed about Millennium Tower’s sinking and tilting.
The complaint alleges the following:
DBI approved a construction permit for Millennium Tower, despite the developer’s plan to forego extending underground support columns to bedrock. In 2004, DBI had previously denied a permit to another condo tower – smaller than Millennium Tower – for precisely that reason. DBI claims it had required a peer review of Millennium Tower plans prior to issuing a permit. However, the evidence reveals, according to Dodson, that DBI did not require independent review by a geotechnical engineer. Instead, it accepted reviews by two structural engineers, at least one of whom worked for the developer. The sole independent engineer who reviewed the project was not asked to consider pending construction of Transbay Terminal in its evaluation.
City Engineers knew as early at February 2009, prior to sale of any units, that the Tower had already sunk more than 8 inches, which was substantially more than anticipated by engineers prior to issuance of the construction permit. At that time, a letter from a DBI engineer, outlining safety concerns, was emailed to the Developer’s engineer team. Satisfactory responses to several pressing questions were never provided to DBI, yet DBI did not follow up, nor did DBI require any corrective action by Developers.
The Developer’s representative on the Condo Association’s board also knew of the defects as early as 2009, but did not disclose the facts to condo owners.
TJPA knew that Millennium Tower was sinking in 201o. They also acknowledged that their construction activity – building a major transportation terminal adjacent to the Tower – might exacerbate the problem. The suit alleges TJPA’s construction activity did indeed result in further sinking and damages to the Tower.
In February 2010, a Confidentiality agreement was signed by developers, TJPA, DBI, and the City Attorney. All agreed not to disclose sinking and tilting of Millennium Tower.
Owners were not told about the problem until May 2016. As of that time, it was verified that Millennium Tower had sunk 16″ vertically, and was tilting 15″ at the top of the tower. The building continues to sink and tilt. When a tower shifts to this degree, cracking of the foundation, unlevel floors, cracking of windows, and misaligned doors result. But the most critical danger is that the Millennium Tower is at high risk for catastrophic failure or collapse in an earthquake, a very real risk, due to its proximity to fault lines.
Approximately 1,200 people reside in Millennium Tower.
Allegations are most disturbing, in that two trusted public agencies and the City Attorney appear to have willfully conspired to conceal the truth from condo buyers, owners, and residents.
But what concerns me most is that the case of Millennium Tower could just be the tip of the iceberg. How can consumers and taxpayers be certain that similar cover ups are not taking place in their own city or town? And what if information is being intentionally withheld from buyers and residents of modest means, low household incomes, or the disadvantaged?
Multimillionaires and retired attorneys are at a distinct advantage, in terms of access to justice. They can afford a protracted legal battle and can hire the best litigators in the industry. Most hard-working American home and condo owners cannot afford to fight against wealthy developers and the local governing agencies that have betrayed their trust.
City Attorney Targeted in Leaning Tower Suit
Ben Hancock, The Recorder
SAN FRANCISCO — Retired Bay Area IP litigator Gerald “Jerry” Dodson on Friday followed through on a threat to sue the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office—among other defendants—in connection with the sinking and tilting of the Millennium Tower, the luxury high-rise where he now lives.
In a complaint filed at San Francisco Superior Court, Dodson and 19 other families that own units in the tower allege that lawyers at the City Attorney’s Office knew as far back as 2010 about the sinking of the tower but signed a confidentiality agreement to keep that fact secret.
Dodson alleged the same in a prelitigation claim filed in November against the city and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which is overseeing construction of a transit center adjacent to the tower. But on Friday, Dodson said both parties had rejected the claim as untimely.
“It is unconscionable that city and Transbay officials would now make the argument that the claims were not brought soon enough when their own fraud by concealment was the reason for delay,” he said in a press release. The plaintiffs collectively own $75 million worth of property, according to the release.
Dodson’s compliant filed on behalfof 19 owners at Millennium Tower