There is a bizarre controversy in Portland, Oregon after the city began to put up notices on buildings that it deemed unsafe for possible earthquakes. The city is trying to prepare for “the big one” — a massive earthquake that is now overdue. It is identifying older buildings susceptible to collapse with public signs. However, it is facing a challenge from the NAACP of Portland which has declared the signs to be the embodiment of “white supremacy” and racism. There is also a challenge for building owners.
The NAACP declared that the policy to warn the public “exacerbates a long history of systemic and structural betrayals of trust and policies of displacement, demolition, and dispossession predicated on classism, racism, and white supremacy.” The reason is that many of the older buildings are owned by African Americans that that the posted warnings will make it difficult for them to rent space or sell the property.
Rev. E.D. Mondaine, a pastor at Celebration Tabernacle Church in north Portland and president of the Portland NAACP chapter declared that “We will no longer allow the same principles that have driven us out again. We will no longer allow these things that have driven us from our community.”
Given the projected 50 percent chance of a massive earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Oregon coast in the next 50 years, one would think that the racist act would be not to warn occupants of the danger. Otherwise, these buildings will remain until they are likely to collapse on the occupants.
The new law requires the posting of the signs and the filing of a record of compliance. The warning reads “This is an unreinforced masonry building. Unreinforced masonry buildings may be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake.”
The warning signs for some 1,600 buildings must have an 8-by-10-inch plaque must go up on public buildings this month and on other buildings by March 1. The warning on them says: “This is an unreinforced masonry building. Unreinforced masonry buildings may be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake.” The law further requires:
- The building owner must notify existing tenants that the building is an unreinforced masonry building, and unreinforced masonry buildings may be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake
- In addition to a placard, every lease or rental agreement entered into or renewed after the timeline for placarding noted below, must contain a statement that: “This Building is an Unreinforced Masonry Building. Unreinforced Masonry Buildings may be unsafe in an event of a Major Earthquake”
- Building owners must record an agreement not to remove the placard and acknowledgment of compliance with tenant notification requirements
- The ordinance requires URM owners to post a placard according to the following timeline:
An actual legal challenge has been filed by brick building owners who recently filed a lawsuit seeking to block the ordinance on the grounds of violating their free-speech and due-process rights. The challenge maintains that the signs for private owners to “broadcast the government’s message instead of their own.” It is equally hard to see the merit in that challenge. The ordinance forces disclosures tied to public safety. That is neither uncommon or unconstitutional so long as there is a rational basis for the disclosure.