Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Federal Judge Unimpressed With City of Portland's Argument Justifying Unreinforced Masonry Placards

Closing arguments on the City of Portland's ordinance requiring placards on unreinforced masonry building took place yesterday, and the judge appeared skeptical of the City's reasoning.

Judge Acosta spent much of the City Attorney's time asking questions, offering his counter-argument, and expressing concern over the City's ever-changing ordinance.

A ruling is expected in the case by the end of next week.

In a two-day trial last week, unreinforced masonry building owners learned in testimony by Mike Haggerty how buildings were placed on the City's "official" URM list.

  • From 1990 to 1993 the City of Portland had a total of 3 Portland State University students conduct the survey over the course of three summers 
  • The students were not the same students each summer and conducted their official survey on foot 
  • The areas only included downtown and the exact perimeter is unknown
  • The city did not survey buildings on the east side, Multnomah Village, St. Johns or other areas
  • The students eyeballed a building and checked a box 
  • They did not know that the list would be used 27 years later as the City of Portland's official list, and they did not know that by accidentally checking the wrong box they could impact real people 
  • They had no significant training for the job and there was no field manual 
  • Their work was "spot checked" by an actual engineer
  • The project had no budget
Shelly Duquette, a Structural Engineer at the City of Portland Bureau of Development Services was integral in the update and maintenance of the old URM database according to the city's website, She previously provided the public with this information about the city's unreinforced masonry list.
"The URM database was established in the mid-1990s.Trained City staff, in collaboration with Portland State University (PSU), surveyed all commercial buildings in the City of Portland using procedures developed by American Technology Council (ATC) to identify different building types. This survey was based on site visits and visual inspections of building exterior combined with research of existing building records and permit history. Based on this survey of buildings, buildings that were identified as URMs were listed in a URM database." ~ Shelly Duquette
In addition, during trial testimony, the City revealed it is developing a new version of retrofit standards for 2021-2023. 

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