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Seismic placard law shakes Portland building owners


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Staff at The Crystal Ballroom was preparing early Friday for an expected sold-out show for JJ Grey & Mofro. About 1400 people will fill the historic and iconic music venue.

But the Crystal Ballroom is among about 1500 buildings in the Portland area that are designated to post placards alerting people the building may be unsafe in a major earthquake because of its unreinforced masonry.

Jimi Biron, the director of music and entertainment for McMenamins — which owns a number of music venues that would be affected — said they don’t object to the idea of a sign but “it’s just that it’s not being enforced equally. It’s only targeting certain types of buildings.”

Below:  Read the press release — McMenamins appeals URM inclusion

The Portland City Council passed this placard requirement about seismic upgrades in December, before new Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty took her seat. 

This is the kind of sign buildings in Portland that are not earthquake-ready would be required to post under a new law, January 4, 2019 (KOIN)

On Thursday, she directed Portland Fire & Rescue, which she oversees, to pause enforcing the requirement, which is set to begin taking effect on March 1.

That put her at odds with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler who said the requirement is still the law. He oversees the Bureau of Development Services, which enforces it.

“I stand by City Council’s decision to pass an ordinance requiring the placement of placarding on unreinforced masonry buildings. We voted to take a small but important step to be transparent about identifying buildings that are at risk in an earthquake. These signs share basic information to the public about the safety of a building,” Wheeler said Friday in a statement to KOIN 6 News.

Biron said there are 4 different classifications of unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings in the city. A building that is mostly, partially, or not reinforced receives the same placard.  

“Many businesses have done significant retrofitting and the placard itself doesn’t do anything to demonstrate to the public, really, what level of safety that building has been brought up to.”

He noted the placard is not required “in any other areas, liquefaction zones, areas that are of high impact and very dangerous in the case of an earthquake,” such as the bridges, Portland International Airport, Northwest Portland industrial sites.

These areas, he said, “are equally if not more dangerous in the case of an earthquake. They’re just putting them on a subset of brick buildings.”

In the case of the Crystal Ballroom, for instance, Biron said they did “a significant amount of retrofitting” before they opened in 1996. “Then again in 2006, we had a 10-year plant to get fully compliant. So in 2006 we finished the work. We’re fully compliant. The city signed off.”

He added they’re appealing the location’s inclusion on the URM list.

McMenamin’s “voluntarily went beyond what was required just for the permit to open. And we are always on track to make the places safer and safer,” he said, adding they’ve recently repaired the roof at the Mission Theater and did “a ton of work” at the Crystal Hotel.

He said he’s glad Hardesty is trying to delay the implementation of the placard requirement.

“Everybody is for safety. We’re safety first. We just think it’s an unequal representation,” Biron said. “It’s targeting specific venues. … It just doesn’t seem like it’s particularly well thought-out. There was definitely a rush to push this through.”

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, January 2, 2019 (KOIN)

In her Thursday statement, Hardesty said, “No one is interested in putting our residents at risk, but we need to look at ways to better support businesses and non-profits in seismically upgrading their buildings. A placard is a band-aid for a much larger problem. Until we have better support in place, especially in the form of funding assistance for these projects, I want placarding enforcement on hold for businesses and non-profit organizations.”

Hardesty’s support for businesses and non-profits was music to Biron’s ears.

“I think it’s really important,” he said.


Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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