SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – A few blocks from the tilting Millennium Tower in San Francisco, something else is pouring out. KPIX 5 was the first to report the problem a year ago and it is only getting worse. But it’s not a sinking building, it’s the sidewalk.
Ask most of the locals in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco and they’ll tell you: the sidewalks all over the neighborhood are sinking.
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“You’re like ‘wow’, those really are huge cracks!” longtime resident Jeannette Revel-Mauro said.
The neighborhood is brand new, barely 15 years old, built above an old marshalling yard on a dump by the bay. Original residents say the sinking started gradually but is escalating faster than expected.
“We lost on the north side, I would say, probably between 3 and 4 inches,” Revel_Mauro said.
âWe’re in a situation where the whole perimeter of this building, the sidewalk has slipped,â said Lee Dixon, also a longtime resident.
They and others in the neighborhood say that the sidewalks in some city blocks have sunk four to six inches, even up to a foot. Some sidewalks are also deformed.
âWe see so many people coming and going to games stumble. And we run out of our units with ice packs! said Revel-Mauro. “Definitely a big safety issue,” said Anisa Jones, a new resident of the neighborhood.
Geotechnical engineer Lawrence Karp told KPIX what was going on.
âThese buildings, they can’t sit on this floor. It is weak. They are therefore on stilts. Sidewalks and curbs are not on stilts and neither is the street. So the street keeps going down and the sidewalk keeps going down, âKarp said.
He says the drought is making the situation worse.
âWhen you look at the old maps of Mission Bay, you can see the drainage is coming down from Twin Peaks. And if it hasn’t rained, there is no drainage or there is much less drainage, âsaid Karp. âWhen there is a loss of groundwater, the soil condenses, it consolidates. And a few years can make things really bad.
Right now, owners don’t have too many options.
âYou can’t put concrete on it because that will only sink it in even more,â said fellow longtime resident Lee Dixon.
As observed by KPIX, they use dressing approaches like ramps and raised sidewalks. All repair work places a heavy burden on local businesses, like Kwanua Robinson’s personal training studio, Powerplay SF.
âOur customers actually had to use a back entrance. If you didn’t know us, you would think this business is totally closed, âsaid Robinson.
Even worse for homeowners: Under state law, they are responsible for the safety of their sidewalks and must foot the bill to fix them.
âThe cost of repair is exorbitant. It would probably require special assessments, some pretty serious special assessments. It will probably lower the value of our properties. I think the responsibility lies with the city, âDixon said.
But Rachel Gordon of the Department of Public Works says that’s not the city’s problem. Sidewalks are the responsibility of the owner.
“We don’t want to point the finger at anyone who says you know you should have known, but this is the situation, that the city is not going to fix sidewalks for private property,” Gordon said.
She says changing that would set a dangerous precedent.
“If we fix a sidewalk in Mission Bay, are we going to be asked to fix the sidewalk in Mission, the Richmond neighborhood and North Beach?” Gordon said.
She says DPW’s job is just to make sure the fixes are done to protect the streets. The DPW shared data with KPIX which shows that there have been 342 sidewalk repair service calls in Mission Bay in the past 12 years. She says 306 of the cases or 89% were closed.
But the backlog is growing, with 36 service calls still pending, including one in 2016 that has just been resolved.
âSometimes it takes a long time because it’s not as simple as just replacing a sidewalk space,â Gordon said.
Longtime Mission Bay residents say that’s no excuse.
âThey provided sidewalks, but they did not provide sustainable sidewalks. Why is that? They are durable everywhere else in the city. Why is Mission Bay sinking? Said Revel-Mauro.
âFor me, there is a common responsibility. Are we going to do it over and over again or are we going to try to find a longer term solution to not having to redo all the sidewalks every ten years, âsaid Linda Hawkins.