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San Francisco Mission Bay Sidewalks Sinking But City Won't Fix 'Private Property'

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) - Just a few blocks away from San Francisco's tilting Millennium Tower something else is sinking. KPIX 5 was the first to report on the problem a year ago and it's only getting worse. But it's not a building that's sinking, it's the sidewalk.

Ask most locals in San Francisco's Mission Bay neighborhood and they'll tell you: The sidewalks all over the neighborhood here are sinking.

"You are like 'wow,' these are really enormous cracks!" said longtime resident Jeannette Revel-Mauro.

The neighborhood is brand new, barely 15-years-old, built on top of an old rail yard on landfill by the edge of the bay. Original residents say the sinking started gradually but is getting worse faster than anyone expected.

"We have lost on the north side, I would say, probably anywhere between 3 and 4 inches," said Revel_Mauro.

"We are in a situation where the whole perimeter of this building, the sidewalk has slipped away," said Lee Dixon, also a longtime resident.

They, and others in the neighborhood, say sidewalks on some blocks have sunk four to six inches, even as much as a foot. Some sidewalks are also buckling.

"We see so many people coming and going to games tripping. And we run out of our units with bags of ice!" said Revel-Mauro. "Definitely a big safety concern," said newer neighborhood resident Anisa Jones.

Geotechnical engineer Lawrence Karp explained to KPIX what's going on.

"These buildings, they can't sit on that ground. It's weak. So they are on piles. The sidewalks and the curbs are not on piles and neither is the street. So the street keeps going down and the sidewalk keeps going down," said Karp.

He says the drought is making it worse.

"When you look at the old maps of Mission Bay you can see that the drainage comes down from Twin Peaks. And if it hasn't rained, there's no drainage or there's a lot less drainage," said Karp. "When there's a loss of groundwater the soil will condense, it will consolidate. And a couple of years can make things really bad."

For now, property owners don't have too many options.

"You can't put concrete on top because that is just going to sink it even further," said another longtime resident Lee Dixon.

As KPIX 5 observed, they are resorting to band-aid approaches like ramps and raised sidewalks. All the repair work is taking a toll on local businesses, like Kwanua Robinson's personal training studio Powerplay SF.

"Our customers had to actually use a back entrance. If you didn't know about us you would think this business was totally shut down," said Robinson.

Even worse for property owners: Under state law they are responsible for keeping their sidewalks safe and have to foot the bill for repairing them.

"The cost to repair this is exorbitant. We would have to have probably special assessments, quite serious special assessments. It's going to probably cause our property values to decline. I think the onus is on the city," said Dixon.

But Rachel Gordon with the Department of Public Works says that's not the city's problem. Sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owner.

"We don't want to point the finger at anyone saying you know you should have known this, but that is the situation, that the city is not going to be fixing sidewalks for private property," said Gordon.

She says changing that would set a dangerous precedent.

"If we fix a sidewalk in Mission Bay, are we going to get asked to fix the sidewalk in the Mission and the Richmond district and North Beach?" said Gordon.

She says DPW's job is just to make sure the fixes get done in order to keep the streets safe. The DPW shared data with KPIX that shows there have been 342 calls for service for sidewalk repair in Mission Bay over the last 12 years. She says 306 of the cases or 89% have been closed.

But the backlog is growing, with 36 calls for service still pending, one from way back in 2016 that just got fixed.

"Sometimes it's taken a long time because it's not as simple as just replacing a sidewalk square," said Gordon.

Longtime Mission Bay locals say that's no excuse.

"They provided sidewalks, but they didn't provide sidewalks that are sustainable. Why is that? They're sustainable everywhere else in the city. Why is Mission Bay sinking?" said Revel-Mauro.

"To me there's some joint responsibility. Are we going to do this over and over and over, or are we going to try and find a longer term solution so that we don't just, every ten years, have to redo all the sidewalks," said Linda Hawkins.

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