Earthquakes

Portland City Council may pause seismic placards

NAACP fears signs would lead to more gentrification

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) -- The City of Portland may be about to hit the pause button when it comes to publicly identifying buildings that could collapse during a major earthquake.

The City Council on Wednesday heard from several building owners who are strongly opposed to the signs. And from what happened at the Council meeting, the seismic placard rule may be put on hold when they vote next week.

In late 2018, the City Council passed an ordinance that would make all owners of unreinforced masonry buildings put up a sign that declared them unsafe in an earthquake. That would also be noted on the property titles.

Overall, about 1,600 buildings would have to post the signs.

City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty -- who joined the Council after this ordinance was passed -- proposed changes that include removing that mark on the property tax records and to move the enforcement date for the signs to 2020.

But the NAACP of Oregon and several building owners want the ordinance completely repealed. They say it will hurt property values and cause more historic buildings and history in the city to be demolished.

"This action drives the nail in the coffin of gentrification of the African- American community, which is a continued insult to our people," the Rev. E. D. Mondaine said.

There is already a court injunction in a case filed by some building owners against the city and the ordinance. 

"It stigmatizes my building," Tim Holmes told KOIN 6 News. "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 it's not going to be safe."

Another building owner suggested the city is at fault, too. 

"Building owners here have been called liars and cheaters for not retrofitting," said Walt McMonies. "How can that be when your own city buildings are not retrofitted?" 

Those who testified Wednesday shared widespread support for a committee proposed by Hardesty to come up with a better ordinance to address possibly unsafe buildings.

Commissioner Nick Fish seemed to indicate he supports taking more time to do this, but Mayor Ted Wheeler doesn't think more time is necessary.

But doing nothing in the threat of an earthquake and public safety is not acceptable, Mayor Ted Wheeler said. 

The council will vote next week on pushing the sign ordinance enforcement to next year.


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