SF supervisor calls for all downtown buildings to be inspected after windows shatter at 5 high-rises

ByAmanda del Castillo and Liz Kreutz KGO logo
Thursday, March 23, 2023
SF supe wants buildings inspected after storm shatters windows
Sup. Aaron Peskin is calling to mandate engineering reports for all downtown buildings after several windows were shattered from the past two storms.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Picturesque from a distance, but problematic from down below. San Francisco Fire confirms Tuesday's high wind storm caused windows from multiple high-rises to be damaged.

The Department of Building Inspections says four buildings in downtown San Francisco had glass failure during yesterday's wind storm:

  • 1400 Mission (one broken window)
  • 50 California (one broken window)
  • 301 Mission, Millennium Tower (one broken window)
  • 350 Mission (one broken window on every floor from 11 through 30)

If you include 555 California, the Bank of America building from last week, that means a total of five buildings had glass failure over the course of the two storms.

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It is fair to say that Tuesday's storm was unprecedented. ABC7 News meteorologist Drew Tuma explains the Fujiwhara Effect here.

Shards of glass were still scattered across Mission Street on Wednesday morning.

"You never know what's actually going on up there right now," San Francisco resident Yaritza Vasquez said. "And the winds might actually be stronger and it still could hit something, might fall on somebody again and it's just not safe."

Vasquez works at Equinox. She was out Wednesday morning, surveying the damage. Sharing her surprise no injuries were reported.

"More of my concern is just there's a lot of people who aren't paying attention to what's going on around them and their surroundings," she said.

There was plenty of morning foot traffic, as people were weaving through Public Works barriers and caution tape. Some looking up, others stepping over glass on the ground.

Live storm updates: See all the latest info from the Bay Area storm

"I don't want to be hit by glass, but also odds feel low. So I'm not super worried," resident Russell White told ABC7 News. "But you know, fingers crossed. I kind of assumed it'd happen once, not again."

White said the shock of a second day of falling glass isn't enough to change his behavior.

Last Tuesday, glass fell from the 43rd floor of the high rise at 555 California Street. Investigators believe wind likely caused that window to break. Inside, people say they heard windows creaking and felt like the building was shaking all day. White was fascinated by the wind's force.

"Cool, and crazy and terrifying," he said. "Depends on how close you are to where it landed. How crazy it was."

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Flying couches, crushed cars and high surf. That's just a part of the chaos Tuesday's deadly storm caused across the Bay Area. Here's a look at just how powerful the system was.

SF DBI confirmed 301 Mission Street sustained a broken window on 49th floor. At 350 Mission Street there were broken or cracked windows -- one on each floor between levels 11 and 30. Then at 50 California, a window was broken between the 13th and 14th floor.

They've directed building managers to immediately secure impacted windows, and to get a professional to go out to survey the damage and confirm all buildings are safe, stable and secure. Reports are expected within 14 days.

There are questions now about how and why this happened -- and what's being done to prevent it from happening again.

"We need to get to the bottom of why these failures are taking place," San Francisco supervisor Aaron Peskin told ABC7 News.

MORE: At least 5 killed, SFPD sergeant hurt in powerful Bay Area storm: officials

Peskin said he is calling on the city to mandate comprehensive engineering reports for all downtown buildings. It comes a week after windows also shattered at the Bank of America building at 555 California Street. Shards of glass came raining down onto the sidewalk.

"Some of these buildings are modern buildings. Some of these buildings are over 50 years old. There seems to be no pattern here," Peskin said.

Patrick Hannan, a spokesperson for the city's Department of Buildings and Inspections, said one window shattered at each of those high-rises except for the Salesforce East building, where at least 19 windows broke. One window broke on every floor between the 11th and 30th floors, he said.

Hannan said that the Department has issued notices of violation to all of the buildings. That will require them to secure the broken windows, replace the glass as soon as possible, and have all of their windows evaluated by a licensed engineer within the next 14 days.

He said that the San Francisco building code does not have one singular wind speed requirement for windows. Instead, he said, it's based on the location and wind tunnel test done at each building.

While the incident on Tuesday did not lead to any serious injuries, people in the area at the time did get hit by falling glass.

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Edwin Young was one of several people walking on Mission Street Tuesday afternoon when glass fell from above.

"I was like, oh s--t. This umbrella actually saved," Young recalled on Wednesday. "I thought this was just hail. I realized afterwards it was glass."

But not everyone had the protection of an umbrella.

Mary Chestang, who is an employee at ABC7 News, says while on her way to work, her hand was cut by a small piece of glass that fell from building at 50 California Street.

"I start feeling a stinging sensation on my hand and I looked down and it's bleeding," Chestang said. "The scariest part for me was I was two minutes behind most of the glass falling."

MORE: Deadly Bay Area storm leads to evacuations, hundreds of toppled trees and thousands without power

"It is a miracle that nobody was seriously injured or killed," Peskin added.

So, how did this happen? Civil engineer Steven Viani, who owns Viani Engineering, speculated that faulty seals on the windows combined with pressure from the winds could be factors.

"Maybe the seals weren't in as good as condition as they should have been, or maybe not even properly set in there," Viani said.

He says these buildings should be designed to withstand strong winds.

On Wednesday, more than 24 hours after the glass broke, parts of the streets around the buildings were blocked off and pieces of glass were still seen on the ground.

Fujiwhara Effect: Here's why the wind was so intense in San Francisco

As for what's next, with another potential wind storm coming next week?

"I don't have an answer to that," Peskin said when asked if anything is being done to prevent more glass from falling next week. "I don't think anyone has an answer to that."

Hannan with the Department of Buildings and Inspections said these were unusual and isolated incidents and the people should go about their normal business next week.

Peskin, meantime, warned people to be more cautious until more inspections can be done.

"My advice, and I am not in the field of emergency management," he said, "In high-wind events in downtown, stay indoors."

He is planning to hold a hearing next month to discuss the issue.

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