Lawyer: City Council will repeal seismic placard warnings

Civic Affairs

Lawsuit filed over unreinforced masonry sign requirements

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PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — The City Council will consider repealing the requirement that owners of unreinforced masonry buildings must post signs warning that the structures are dangerous in earthquakes on Oct. 23.

According to attorney John DiLorenzo, who is representing some URM building owners in a lawsuit against the city, the council has agreed to repeal the requirement to settle the suit. Oregon U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge John Acosta issued a preliminary injunction preventing the city from enforcing the requirement on May 30 after ruling the building owners will probably win their suit, which claims the requirement will irreparably harm their federal free speech rights.

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

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“The City opted to NOT appeal the decision by the Federal Court. Instead, they will fully repeal the ordinance, which eliminates the placard and disclosure requirements for ALL buildings,” DiLorenzo wrote in an Oct. 8 email to the members of Save Portland Buildings, which advocates on behalf of URM building owners.

In the email, DiLorenzo say the council is expected to approve the repeal at a second hearing the following week on Oct. 30. If not, DiLorenzo said, Acosta will require Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is in charge of the Bureau of Development Services, and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who is in charge of Portland Fire & Rescue, to appear before him.

“If City Council fails to work toward repeal, Federal Judge Acosta has ordered Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Hardesty to appear in-person on October 24th and or 31st. If City Council repeals, as promised, those court appearances will be cancelled,” wrote DiLorenzo, who is representing the Masonry Building Owners of Oregon, which filed the suit.

Following the repeal, the city is expected to appoint a committee that will recommend alternatives for warning people that URM buildings may be dangerous in earthquakes.

Many building owners objected to the requirement before and after it was approved in 2018, saying it will discourage people from entering their buildings and reduce their value. 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 requirement championed by former Commissioner Dan Saltzman passed on a 3-to-0 vote with commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Nick Fish absent. 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 argued both future requirements would violate their free speech rights against being compelled to say something they did not believe by government. Acosta agreed.

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