Council gets earful from unreinforced masonry building owners
Owners of unreinforced masonry buildings complained about the city's handling of the earthquake warning requirements during a sometimes emotional City Council hearing on delaying and changing them Thursday.
Most of the owners criticized the council for passing the requirements last October. They charged the requirements — which include posting warning signs and filing a letter with the city agreeing to file them with their deeds — would reduce the value of their buildings and result in many of them being demolished for redevelopment.
Many of the owners also faulted the administration of the program by city staff since then. They complained about poor record-keeping, inadequate communication and finger-pointing by Portland employees charged with enforcing the requirements — which includes posting warning signs the buildings could be dangerous in earthquakes.
The ordinance introduced by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardest would postpone the posting requirement until Nov. 1, 2020, and repealing the filing requirement. She said a committee will be recruited and appointed to review all of the requirements and recommend changes before the proposed new deadline.
Hardesty said business owners know their buildings may not be safe in an earthquake, but cannot afford the cost of bringing them up to current earthquake standards.
"When this URM requirement was passed, we did not do enough to earn the trust of the people who need to do these upgrades," said Hardesty, who was not on the council when the requirements were approved last October.
Commissioner Nick Fish agreed on the need to delay the requirements, saying they could lead to many demolitions.
"I think we will all benefit from a reset and additional time to get it right," said Fish, who was absent when the requirements were approved last year.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, who voted for the requirements last October, said he understands the concerns of the owners, but that something must be done.
"There is a demonstrable public health and safety issue we cannot ignore," Wheeler said.
Many of the owners urged the council to repeal the requirements instead of delaying them. Hardesty said that would remove the pressure on the council to solve the problem of potentially unsafe building, however.
Walter McMoines, president of the Masonry Building Owners of Oregon, faulted the accuracy of the city's current list of more than 1,800 URMs, saying it was not based on inspecting the buildings on it. He said some of the buildings on the list have already been reinforced, including one he owners, while others are not on it.
The council did not act on the ordinance, but a vote could come as realy as next week. A federal judge has issued a 60-day injunction preventing the city from enforcing the requirements on commercial buildings scheduled to take effect on March 1. Enforcement now cannot begin until May 1, at the earliest. A hearing in the lawsuit brought by some building owners is scheduled for April 25.
Building owners and supporters rallied outside City Hall before the hearing, including members of the Portland chapter of the NAACP, which believes the requirements would lead to more gentrification in Northeast Portland.
"This action drives the nail in the coffin of gentrification of the African-American community, which is a continued insult to our people," said Rev. E. D. Mondaine, the NAACP chapter president
"It stigmatizes my building," URM building owner Tim Holmes said. "The other thing is, it makes people look at my building, see the placard and then look at the building right next door and think it's perfectly safe when in a 9.2 earthquake, (but) it's not going to be safe."
You can read an earlier Portland Tribune story on the issue here.
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune and contributed to this story.
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