Brick building owners sue city over earthquake signs

(KATU Photo)

In October, Portland city commissioners voted to make the owners of old masonry buildings that hadn't been retrofitted to better withstand earthquakes put a sign on the building saying so.

But a lawsuit filed this week claims the owners shouldn't have to; in fact, attorneys representing the Masonry Building Owners of Oregon claim the city ordinance is unconstitutional.

In the lawsuit, John DiLorenzo says the ordinance violates the 14th Amendment because the city didn't follow due process and the ordinance is too vague.

And DiLorenzo claims the ordinance violates the 1st Amendment, because not only do people have the right to say what they want, but they can't be forced to express what the government tells them too.

The signs, which will be required to go on more than 1,600 buildings in the next few months, read, "This is an unreinforced masonry building. Unreinforced masonry buildings may be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake."

Debbie and Kelly Hendryx are building owners. They see both sides of the sign issue.

"There are concerns about bridges, buildings, etc.," says Debbie. "And we haven’t been hit with a large earthquake yet, but it could happen anytime. So, I feel like it would be important to just have that sign on the wall."

Her husband doesn't see it the same way.

"For one, after a while people would just ignore it," says Kelly. "Also, quite probably, just because the age of my building and the way it looks from the outside, I’m probably going to show up on that list, even though it doesn’t qualify for that."

Portland's Bureau of Emergency Management isn't commenting on the lawsuit, but is standing by what it told KATU in October when commissioners approved the ordinance.

"It’s all about transparency and making sure that people have the information to make a decision for themselves. I think a lot of people are unaware that they live or work in one of these buildings or they’re going into one," says Dan Douthit who is with the bureau.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is named directly in the lawsuit along with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, responded to the lawsuit with this statement:

“It is disappointing that owners of reinforced masonry buildings are paying for overpriced lawyers pursuing frivolous lawsuits instead of working with the city and their tenants to make their buildings safer in an earthquake.”

The lawsuit isn't asking for any financial gain, just for the city to toss out the new ordinance.

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