Elliot Njus, Oregonian, January 3, 2019
The Portland branch of the NAACP is jumping into a fight over a city policy that will require owners of brick buildings to post public warnings that the buildings could collapse in an earthquake.
The civil rights group said Thursday it would hold a rally Saturday on the steps of City Hall urging the city to drop the ordinance, which affects about 1,600 buildings throughout the city. Its leader said the policy, approved by the City Council in October, would reinforce gentrification in historically black segments of North and Northeast Portland.
The policy “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 Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said in a statement.
Leaders of predominantly black churches affected by the ordinance castigated the city in June as the City Council discussed requiring seismic upgrades over a 20-year timeline. Pastors said then that they had been left out of talks while the ordinance was drafted, and the NAACP said the black community was similarly were left out of the discussion over the placarding ordinance.
“It speaks to our houses of worship and everything about the black presence in the North-Northeast area,” said the Rev. E.D. Mondainé, president of the Portland NAACP chapter and a pastor at Celebration Tabernacle Church in North Portland. “As usual, the African American community is the first affected and the last informed.”
The ordinance would require building owners to prominently post signs with the disclosure: “This is an unreinforced masonry building. Unreinforced masonry buildings may be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake.”
The NAACP and other building owners have said the compliance record will make it difficult for building owners to secure loans, discouraging investment in the structures. Ultimately they would be forced to sell, the group argued, and the buildings would likely be demolished and redeveloped.
City officials say disclosures in property records aren’t uncommon and that lenders are already aware of buildings that are vulnerable in a quake.