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UPDATE: Federal judge schedules hearing after being notified the City Council will consider changing the requirement before the start of a lawsuit in his court to block it.

CITY OF PORTLAND - Examples of warning signs Portland is requiring owners of unreinforced masonry buildings to post.A hearing on Portland's unreinforced masonry building warning sign requirement has been scheduled in federal court Thursday.

Oregon U.S. District Court Judge John Acosta scheduled the 1:30 p.m. hearing after being notified that the City Council will consider changing the requirement next week.

The council voted to require URM building owners to post signs they could be harmed in them during a major earthquake last October. That prompted some business owners are sue to block the requirement, arguing that it violated their First Amendment and Due Process rights.

An evidentiary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 26. But Acosta scheduled the Thursday afternoon hearing after being notified that Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has introduced an ordinance to delay and eliminate some of the requirements.

The requirement is scheduled to take effect for owners of commercial buildings on March 1.

As introduced, Hardesty's resolution would delay the posting requirement for commercial buildings from March 1, 2019, to Nov. 1, 2020. It would also eliminated the requirement that a signed agreement to post the signs be filed with the deed to the building.

The legal sparring is just the most recent twist in a controversy that stretches back years. There are approximately 1,800 URMs in Portland. Of those, 1,640 are believed to have not been retrofitted to survive an earthquake. The council discussed requiring owners to bring all of them up to current earthquake codes, but felt the cost — an average of $105 per square foot — is too expensive.

But now a majority of the current council has come out against the posting requirement, which was only approved by two of its current members, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

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.

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 the proposed ordinance here.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue here.


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