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SF taxpayers face steep legal bill over sinking, leaning skyscraper

By Nicholas Sakelaris

Oct. 3 (UPI) -- San Francisco's Millennium Tower is quickly becoming a boondoggle for city taxpayers, who may have to pay millions more to fix the sinking skyscraper.

The residential tower has sunk 18 inches and leans more than a foot to the side since it opened in 2009 -- physical changes the building's owners blame on the Transbay Transit Center across the street.

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Taxpayer money will pay for Jones Day, an attorney defending the city from claims by the developer and residents that the Transbay Transit Center construction caused the 58-story luxury high-rise to tilt.

Nine lawsuits have so far been filed by parties to the case.

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"It's a lot of money -- I'm surprised it is so high," said Greg Harper, who represents AC Transit on the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. "But it's the top construction law firm in the country and ... they charge a lot of money and they are billing a lot of hours."

The money came from a $300 million loan the Transbay Transit Center received from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission after it went over budget. Most of the money has gone to mediation to determine who is to blame.

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Officials say the tower is safe, and it houses a number of residents.

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In addition to the sinking and leaning, the Millennium Tower also recently showed a crack on one of the 36th floor windows -- which was a mystery until Wednesday.

A report concluded the crack was caused by some exterior impact, not a construction problem. It could take several months to replace the window.

The Transbay Transit Center, which has been renamed the Salesforce Transit Center, was closed after cracks were discovered in a steel beam. Officials are still trying to determine what caused them.

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Jacks are in place now but they will be replaced with a temporary shoring system to relieve stress on the beams. Officials said that will allow the city to re-open Fremont Street, which has been closed since the cracks were discovered.

"I'm very disappointed for myself, for my agency and for the city," said Mark Zabaneh, executive director of the TJPA. "As dire as the situation is, it's a blessing that we're able to catch it."

Samples from the steel beams will be taken to a lab for tests.

Earlier this month, a drone inspecting the Millennium Tower lost its GPS signal and crashed to the ground.

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