City to consider delay in ordinance requiring quake warning signs on vulnerable buildings

(KATU Photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland city leaders will consider delaying the deadline for owners of unreinforced masonry buildings, or URMs, to put a warning sign outside their building.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty introduced the ordinance last week. Council will hear it on Wednesday.

“I am asking for changes to the URM ordinance because building owners have told me loud and clear that they don’t understand the new rules and they don’t see how retrofitting will be possible for them financially,” Hardesty said in a statement on Friday.

The ordinance would extend the timeline for posting a warning sign for all privately-owned buildings to November 2020. The original URM ordinance set March 1 as the deadline.

Friday, a federal judge filed a temporary injunction against the city, which will prevent them from enforcing the original ordinance till May 1.

There are more than 1,600 URMs in Portland. Many of them are black churches and music venues.

Pastor Marcus Irving from Albina Christian Life Center told KATU News putting a placard on their building would be devastating.

Irving says the initial ordinance caught them off guard, along with several other churches.

“We weren't able to organize, we didn't know anything about it,” said Irving.

Since, he says they have focused more on the original placard ordinance and less on helping their community. They don’t have the money to retrofit their church.

“The whole process will eventually turn to us losing our building,” Irving said.

Irving said a delay can help them figure out what they want to do next. Ultimately, he says he wants the city to leave them and their building alone.

There are more than 30 music venues inside URMs, according to Meara McLoughlin, the executive director of Music Portland, an advocacy group for all things music.

“The music venues are head-down trying to create community and civic engagement. They are our secular churches. They are places where people gather. To kill both the churches and the music venues, and the community centers, what's left of Portland? There is nothing left,” McLaughlin said.

When asked if delaying enforcement of the ordinance would be a good thing, McLaughlin said it is “absolutely not acceptable.”

Instead, she is calling for a full repeal.

“I don't want to give them 18 months to debate a bad law so we are deferring the work that needs to be done,” she said.

Mayor Ted Wheeler still supports the idea of placing placards on the building, according to his spokesperson, Eileen Park.

“These signs share basic information to the public about the safety of a building,” Park said in an email Sunday afternoon. “We have to come to grips with the reality that we live in a city, due for a catastrophic earthquake.”

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