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Only city-owned unreinforced masonry buildings must now post warning signs by March 1 as city considers options for private owners.

PMG ILLUSTRATIONPortland's City Council voted to delay and change controversial earthquake warning requirements for unreinforced masonry buildings on Wednesday.

The council delayed requiring that owners of URMs post signs warning they may not be safe in a major earthquake from March 1 to Nov. 1, 2020. The only exception are city-owned buildings, where the signs are still required.

The council also eliminated a requirement that the owners file a letter with the city agreeing to post the signs with the titles to their buildings. And the council eliminate a requirement that owners notify their existing tenants of the potential danger.

The vote on an ordinance introduced by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty came after many owners complained for months about the requirements, which were approved last October. They said the requirements would reduce the value of their buildings, making it difficult to rent and refinance them, and prompt many to be demolished for redevelopment.

"No one wants buildings to fall down and hurt people during an earthquake, but we don't want to hasten demolitions of buildings, either," said Hardesty, who explained the delay will give city officials time to develop incentives to encourage owners to strengthen their buildings against earthquakes.

CITY OF PORTLAND - Examples of the earthquake warning signs required to be posted on unreinforced masonry buildings.Some owners have also filed a lawsuit in federal court to block the requirements. A federal judge issued an injunction before vote preventing the city from enforcing the requirements until May 1. A hearing in the case is scheduled for April 25.

Hardesty was not on the council when the requirements were approved. She succeeded Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who voted for them, in January. After Saltzman left, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Amanda Fritz were the only members of the council to still support them.

The vote was 3 to 1, with commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Nick Fish supporting joining Hardesty in support of the ordinance. Fritz voted against it, and Wheeler was absent.

The Bureau of Emergency Management, which Hardesty oversees, is recruiting a task force to study and make recommendations on the issue. The Office of Management and Finance is creating a work group to propose financial incentives to encourage URM building owners willing to do the upgrades.

You can read an earlier Portland Tribune story on the issue here.

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