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San Francisco Explores Strict New Codes For Tall Buildings Following Millennium Tower Flap

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- San Francisco is calling for stricter building safety codes focusing on making high rises safer during earthquakes.

The new guidelines, formally known as the Tall Building Safety Strategy, are the first of their kind in the country, triggered by a high-profile building flaw.

It's something the city has been trying to address since the Millennium Tower in the city's South of Market began sinking and leaning two years ago.

On Thursday, City Administrator Naomi Kelly announced a new plan to make sure current and future tall buildings are safe in case of an earthquake.

"Well, this started, two years ago when there was a huge attention to tall buildings. And so, as a result, we want to make sure that there's trust in government, trust in our regulators," said Kelly. "We want to make sure that we are able to stay and live here in San Francisco."

The Tall Building Safety Strategy guidelines developed by experts at the nonprofit research organization Applied Technology Council has 16 recommendations - and recommendation number one: tighten up the rules for building foundations.

"Geotechnical and foundation design tend to be less prescriptive in the building code than design of other components," said Stanford University professor Greg Dierlein.

The Millennium Tower has been criticized for not anchoring into bedrock, but Dierlein says only three or four of the most recent tall buildings in San Francisco actually go into bedrock.

"In many buildings, there's no reason to do that," said Dierlein. "It would be, number one, a waste of resources to do that in every case. But there's also even more environmental impacts when you're going down to those depths."

Still, for all the problems at the tower, it did force San Francisco to do what no other city has done: look at the resiliency of all its tall buildings.

"Doing these sorts of things could be replicated and probably should be in different cities on the West Coast," said Senior Principal of structural engineering firm Magnusson Klemencic Associates.

Among the other guidelines proposed, requiring that current buildings that change ownership are put through a full earthquake readiness assessment.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is eager to get the new recommendations into the building code and plans to start looking at them on October 17.


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