Federal judge blocks masonry building warning signs
A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction preventing Portland from requiring owners of unreinforced masonry buildings post signs warning that are dangerous in earthquakes.
Oregon U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge John Acosta ruled building owners demonstrated they will probably win their lawsuit claiming their federal free speech rights will be irreparably harmed by the requirement. The preliminary injunction prevents the city from enforcing the requirement until the case is concluded, which could take years.
"A preliminary injunction is necessary because Plaintiffs have demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on their First Amendment Claim and enjoining enforcement of the Ordinance is necessary to prevent violations of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights. Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they will suffer imminent irreparable harm if they are required to comply with the Ordinance, and that the balance of equities tips favors Plaintiffs and it is in the public interest to prevent the violation of Plaintiffs constitutional rights," Acosta wrote in his Thursday, May 30 ruling.
"I would hope this injunction will give the city the time to pause and reflect and pull in the owners who know more about their buildings than anyone else and solicit their ideas about how to make them safer and preserve the character of Portland," said John DiLorenzo, one of the lawyers representing the Masonry Building Owners of Oregon, which filed the suit.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, who became the requirements' most vocal advocate after Saltzman left the council, did not immediately comment. Chief Deputy City Attorney Karen Moynahan, who helped argue the case, said, "It's a lengthy opinion, and we're going to take some time to review it and discuss with our client prior to deciding what steps we will take next."
Many building owners objected to the requirement before and after it was approved last year, saying it will discourage people from entering their buildings and reduce their value. They also said an agreement the city is requiring them to sign and record with their deed is an encumbrance that could affect their ability to sell or borrow money against their buildings in the future.
The requirement pushed by former Commissioner Dan Saltzman passed on a 3-to-0 vote with commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Nick Fish absent. After Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty succeeded Saltzman on the council in January, she pushed to delay its enforcement. The council agreed and postponed the requirement for privately-owned buildings until November 2020 and waived the recording requirement, but said new leases would have to include warning language. The owners argued both future requirements would violate their free speech rights against being compelled to say something they did not believe by government. Acosta agreed.
You can read the ruling here.
You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue here.