Council poised to pay $350,000 to URM building lawyers

Civic Affairs

Legal fee payment will settle lawsuit that prevented Portland from enforcing earthquake warning requirements

Twenty-four years ago, Rejuvenation Hardware founder Jim Kelly spent more than $1 million upgrading the company’s landmark headquarters building in Southeast Portland to better withstand earthquakes. It does not meet current standard, however. (PMG Photo Jaime Valdez)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The City Council is poised to approve paying $350,000 in legal fees to the attorneys who fought the earthquake warning signs on non-reinforced masonry buildings.

The attorneys represent a group of URM building owners opposed to the warnings. The council repealed the required signs and other warnings in October after the attorneys obtained a preliminary injunction against their enforcement from a federal judge.

An ordinance to pay the fees is included on the consent agenda for the council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 20. The payment will finalize the settlement.

“Based on the successful outcome of the suit, plaintiffs are entitled to their reasonable attorney’s costs and fees,” reads the ordinance.

URM buildings are those without structural support behind brick or other stone facades. Such buildings are considered to be at high risk of partial or full collapse in the event of an earthquake.

The owners argued the warnings would reduce the value of their buildings and violated their federal free speech and due process rights. When he issued the injunction, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Acosta indicated the owners were likely to win their lawsuit to permanently prevent the city from enforcing the requirements.

When the council repealed the requirement, it also passed a new plan to form a committee to deal with the nearly 2,000 non-reinforced masonry buildings in the city. The Bureau of Emergency Management hope its new proposal will lead to an incentive program that will sweeten the pot enough to convince building owners to fork out the money to retrofit their buildings.

The council vote was 4-0. Mayor Ted Wheeler was not present.
A total of 70 people applied to be on the committee. Their work group meetings will be open to the public and five owners of non-reinforced masonry buildings are on the work group.

The bureau is expected to provide quarterly updates throughout their process.

“We are very pleased and look forward to a better process that is inclusive of the owners of these buildings as opposed to just city staff and those in the retrofit business,” said John DiLorenzo, a Portland attorney representing local building owners, who had previously obtained an injunction in federal court preventing the city from enforcing the requirements.

You can read the ordinance at https://www.portlandoregon.gov/auditor/article/747237

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner

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