Campus professor issued subpoena to testify at Millennium Tower hearing

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A campus structural engineering professor who was involved with the design of the Millennium Tower was issued a subpoena to appear before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to testify about the building’s design and approval process.

As of a unanimous vote held by the board Thursday, the subpoena stipulates that UC Berkeley campus professor of engineering Jack Moehle must attend a Government Audit and Oversight Committee meeting Jan. 12 to provide information and records about the Millennium Tower project.

The building project, on which Moehle served as a consultant and structural peer review adviser, now leans two inches northwest and sinks 16 inches into the ground. Moehle must also appear to testify to his review of the nearby but rejected project at 80 Natoma St.

“Mr. Moehle and his counterpart on the Millennium Tower review panel paid for by (its developers) Millennium Partners, Hardip Pannu, both signed off on the safety and design of the (Millennium Tower) project, even though it was a similar foundation to the 80 Natoma Street project that was ultimately denied,” stated the board’s subpoena motion.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who sponsored the motion, was unavailable for comment as of press time.

While most peer reviewers are hired by building owners, they typically report to the city, said campus structural engineering professor Stephen Mahin in an email. Mahin added the peer review process only provides technical advice and the city approves the final design.

Moehle said the problems currently affecting Millennium Tower were not under his jurisdiction as a structural engineer. Instead, he looked at the structure’s earthquake resistant design to see if it satisfied the building code requirements at the time.

“I didn’t recommend the foundation’s approval. That would require someone who is trained as a geotechnical engineer,” Moehle said. “For reasons I do not know, the city did not require a geotechnical review of this building.”

While working as a structural engineering consultant for Millennium Partners, Moehle said he was approached by the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection to be a part of its review panel as well.

“I expressed some concerns since I was already working with the developer and structural engineer and wondered if that was appropriate, but they wanted me to keep working on it,” Moehle said.

Although Moehle said he was initially receptive to attending the committee hearings, the ensuing legal battles dissuaded him from coming forward because of the non-disclosure agreements that he signed, which prevented him from providing information about the projects.

“(Peer reviewers) are often contractually bound not to say anything outside of the official permit approval process without the permission of the owner, as their work is the property of the entity paying for it,” Mahin said in an email.

Moehle expressed his willingness to attend the meeting once the city serves him with the subpoena papers.

“As a matter of protection, I would not testify at (Peskin’s) hearings until he required me to,” Moehle said.

Contact Fionce Siow at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fioncesiow.