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Three commissioners come out against requiring owners of unreinforced masonry buildings to post earthquake warning signs

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: ZANE SPARLING - The Portland chapter of the NAACP and other groups protested the requirmentA majority of the City Council has now come out against requiring owners of unreinforced masonry buildings to post placards warning they may be unsafe in major earthquakes.

On Monday, Commissioner Nick Fish told the Portland Tribune he does not support the requirement.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly's office told the Tribune she supports Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty's decision to direct Portland Fire & Rescue to not enforcement the requirement.

Hardesty, who oversees PF&R, made her announcement Thursday.

Fish and Eudaly were both absent when the council passed the requirement last October, before Hardesty took office in January. The vote was 3-0. Voting in favor were Wheeler and commissioners Amanda Fritz and Dan Saltzman, who Hardesty replaced.

"I do not support placards, or any new mandate, until we have an agreement on a comprehensive solution to the problem. And that has to include incentives to help offset the costs for small property owners," Fish said Monday.

"We are at risk of promoting demolition through government mandate, which I do not support," he continued.

But, in response to Hardesty's announcement, Wheeler said the requirement is still the law.

He oversees the Bureau of Development Services, which also enforces it.

"I stand by City Council's decision to pass an ordinance requiring the placement of placarding on unreinforced masonry buildings," Wheeler said Friday.

Many building owners have objected to the requirement before and after it was approved, saying it will discourage people from entering their buildings and reduce their value. They also say 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.

Some owners have sued in federal court to stop the requirement, arguing it violated their free speech and due process rights. Those supporting the lawsuit include the Portland chapter of the NAACP, which says such placards would discourage attendance at and decrease the value of many African-American churches. Hardesty previously served as its president.

In all, about 1,500 buildings in Portland with unreinforced masonry are affected by the law. In addition to the churches, the requirement affects dozens of music venues in the city, including the Crystal Ballroom, Dante's, Keller Auditorium, Kells Irish Pub and the White Eagle Saloon.

A number of groups — including MusicPortland, the NAACP, tenants' rights organizations, Save Portland Buildings and the Council of Churches — protested outside City Hall on Jan. 5 to highlight what they said are flaws in the requirement.

The development services bureau has released a schedule of potential fines for not posting the placards that range from $257 per unit per month for buildings with one or two units to $515 per unit per month for buildings with 20 or more units. That means the owners of a 60-unit building that does not post the warning could be fined $38,350 per month.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue at https://tinyurl.com/y8ex84m9.


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