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Portland ponders seismic upgrade mandate; building owners fear financial burden

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Building owners spoke at a council meeting Wednesday afternoon, voicing their fears of the financial burden new requirements could impose. (KPTV photo). Building owners spoke at a council meeting Wednesday afternoon, voicing their fears of the financial burden new requirements could impose. (KPTV photo).
PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

It's not clear when it will hit, but an earthquake in the Pacific Northwest is looming.

To prepare, Portland is discussing a resolution that would direct city staff to start work on a mandate that would require certain buildings to have seismic upgrades of unreinforced masonry buildings.

Many of those building owners spoke at a council meeting Wednesday afternoon, voicing their fears of the financial burden that these requirements might impose for the more than 1,650 building owners the city says will need upgrades.

That included Bill Eastman, owner of Auto Sports Inc., an auto shop in southeast Portland.

“Now, what they’re worried about is in the big shake that that beam is going to fall off the pilaster,” Eastman said, showing KPTV the structure of his building.

His shop was built in the 1950s with cinder blocks. He says he's not sure what he’ll do to pay for the upgrades.

“There’s not just going to be new strict rules, but they’re mandated, and there’s nobody to pay for it,” Eastman said. “So, that leaves the personal property owners wondering–just exactly who’s going to make that deposit?”

Eastman says he and many other business owners feel blindsided and left out of the process, something the city’s been talking about for four years.

The roof and sheer wall would need reinforcing and possibly other upgrades Eastman says would cost more than $300,000.

The issue is one of transparency–are they going to involve us in the process, collaboration, and then fairness, because this is not going to happen if each individual property owner has to reach into his pocket and pay for it," Eastman said. "Most people don’t have that kind of money."

Eastman and many others showed up Wednesday afternoon to the city council meeting to voice their concerns as commissioners talked about the resolution.

The council deliberated over which building classifications would be required to implement upgrades and whether there could be financial incentives, which could be some kind of loan fund or tax exemptions for building owners.

“How can we ensure that we as a council are not asking property owners, private property owners to do something which the city isn’t going to do,” Commissioner Amanda Fritz said.

Meara McLaughlin, the executive director of Music Portland, which is an advocacy group, was also at the meeting.

She says the mandate could devastate the music industry in the City of Roses, as many couldn’t afford the upgrades and would have to shut down.

“The economic impact, the cultural impact, and the society impact I think would be a terrible, terrible thing to lose," McLaughlin said. "We need to do something to make buildings safe absolutely I’m just hoping that city sees venues and the whole music industry as a collective ecosystem."

The council should vote on the resolution in the coming weeks.

A mandate wouldn’t go into effect for another year, with potentially an implantation period that could give building owners time to get the work done in time.

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