A new committee to study and recommend alternatives to the risks posed by unreinforced masonry buildings will also be considered on Wednesday.

CITY OF PORTLAND - Examples of the city required warning signs.The City Council is expected to repeal the requirement that owners of unreinforced masonry buildings must post signs warning that the structures are dangerous in earthquakes on Wednesday.

The council will also consider repealing a requirement that URM building owners include the warning in their tenant leases, too.

Following the repeals, the council is expected to appoint a new URM Workgroup to research and recommend other approaches to addressing the potential problem at its Oct. 23 meeting.

Repealing the two requirements will settle a federal lawsuit brought by owners of some masonry buildings who argue the required warnings violate their free speech and due process rights. The federal judge hearing the case issued a preliminary injunction against the city enforcing the requirements on May 30 after finding the owners would likely win their suit if it goes to trial.

The workgroup is charged with evaluating reasonable seismic retrofit support, incentives, and voluntary program standards. It will present its findings, including both majority and minority reports as appropriate, at a council work session within one year of its first meeting. After that, the council shall hold a hearing to direct further program development.

The workgroup will have two subgroups, one for buildings owned by for-profit companies and one for buildings owned by non-profit organizations. Each has representatives of buildings owners, financial institutions, tenants, preservationists and community members. They are designated in the council materials.

Save Portland Buildings, an advocacy group representing some owners, does not believe the workgroup is well balanced. It posted a message on its website saying, "We take no pleasure in reporting the staggering conflicts of interest of the proposed committee and the recruiting tactics city staff used while denying that they recruited."

Many building owners objected to the requirements before and after they were approved in 2018, saying they will discourage people from entering their buildings and reduce their value. In addition to free speech issue, 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 requirements championed by former Commissioner Dan Saltzman originally passed on a 3-to-0 vote with commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Nick Fish absent in late 2016. 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 continued with their lawsuit, arguing the future requirements would violate their free speech rights against being compelled to say something they did not believe by government.

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

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