Candidates Forum

Question 2

It is widely known that Portland is at a high risk for a major earthquake that in particular could impact thousands of older and historic buildings throughout the city. Over 6,000 housing units are unreinforced masonry buildings, which are prone to collapse, and many of Portland’s 145,000 single-family residences have not been retrofitted with foundation tie-downs to prevent collapse.

Aaron Fancher, Commissioner Position 4 candidate

As a candidate for city council I will do my best to find away to make room in the budget for residence wanting to earth quake there house as lots of home owners today don’t have the extra money for the cost of retrofitting on hand.

Mingus Mapps, Commissioner Position 4 candidate

The City should help property owners prepare for earthquakes. At the same time, the City must be mindful of the impact its policies have on historically disadvantaged communities and historic buildings. For example, many of Portland’s black churches meet in historic buildings that have not been reinforced to withstand a significant earthquake because these congregations cannot afford to retrofit their properties. That is why when I am on City Council, I will urge the City to develop programs that help the owners of historic buildings fiance safety upgrades.

Sam Adams, Commissioner Position 4 candidate

We need to prioritize the inventory of seismically reinforced buildings based on the greatest historical value and work our way down the list with building owners that are willing to engage in a public/private partnership in an open and transparent way.

For example, the city could backstop private loans that are contractually guaranteed to be paid off if the building is sold.

Julia DeGraw, Commissioner Position 2 candidate

This is a huge issue. If the City Council passed the ordinance that requires owners to pay out of their own pockets to retrofit unsafe structures, we can anticipate a lot of demolitions of beautiful historic buildings. I am interested in figuring out how to create low- to no-interest loans to help those property owners retrofit (perhaps by partnering with Craft3 and Prosper Portland), and create local jobs while we’re at it, prioritizing hiring women and minority contractors and with strong apprenticeship opportunities. I am also interested in exploring other public-private partnerships to fund these retrofits that will make these buildings safe and preserve our architectural heritage.

Demolishing and then building new structures has a hefty environmental footprint and is often unsustainable, even though it is often more cost effective. While demolition and building new creates jobs, I would rather create jobs without the negative environmental impacts and unsustainable practices. We need to consider whether the labor (job creation) and environmental benefits, as well as the historical and aesthetic values of preserving old structures, make the conservation of historic buildings the better option––as it will create jobs as well as reduce environmental impacts, and preserve historic buildings. We also must ensure that tenants, residential and commercial are not displaced by the retrofit process.

During the tight economic times we now live in, this problem gets even more challenging to solve. However, it is unacceptable to allow tens of thousands of people to live, work, and worship in buildings that could be death traps when a big earthquake hits. I am committed to finding ways to help fund the needed retrofits so we don’t let this deadly problem continue to linger.

Sam Chase, Commissioner Position 2 candidate

Portland needs to wake up and truly acknowledge the dangers of an inevitable earthquake. I’ll bring leaders together from Portland and the region to identify essential measures that must be taken and how to do so. A strategic plan for addressing the seismic and other preparedness is long overdue. We have assessed the vulnerabilities, but we have not identified a path to solving them. It will take capital resources that repair our historic infrastructure, venues, residences, and such tremendous dangers as the oil fields north of the St. John’s bridge.

Terry Parker, Commissioner Position 2 candidate

This is an especially tough question in that economic recovery from the Coronavirus Pandemic is likely to take a long time. Likewise, homeowners and landlords of modest means didn’t have the financial resources for retrofits even before the pandemic became apparent. Adding a universal tax, bond measure or even putting up signs on buildings is not the answer. Self-sufficient working class families with modest incomes and senior citizens on fixed incomes are already having more and more of those incomes reduced with new and increased taxes. The following are two possible suggestions for raising financial support for retrofits, both of which would go into the same fund that would make grants available to homeowners who make less than the median income, and make no interest or low interest loans available for small business rentals and other small business income producing properties. The first idea would be to charge a fee similar to a system development charge on the new construction of large commercial buildings, luxury hotels and luxury housing. “Luxury” would need to be defined. The second idea is to charge a real estate transfer tax on the same types of structures including single family homes that exceed 125% or 150% of Portland’s median home price. Not including a transfer tax on lower priced homes and apartment rentals keeps housing more affordable.

Aquiles U Montas, Commissioner Position 2 candidate

This is a tuff situation with the current crisis that the focus and resources will go to the immediate needs of the people. One Idea I have is to raise private funding to support protection of historic buildings. It is unrealistic to think we can fix all units, private and public. Maybe working with the architectural, construction industries to find planning ways and cost.

Diana Gutman, Commissioner Position 2 candidate

This issue has been brought up multiple times during City Council meetings. I was disappointed when Portland Council postponed mandatory quake fixes for old buildings. Some steps have been taken and others proposed, but during a time of crisis the City will not have the luxury of hindsight. We know that these buildings need to be enforced. We know that they are not up to code, and anyone inside one of these unreinforced buildings is potentially at risk. These are not phantom threats. Action is being delayed because nobody wants to foot the bill. But when the day comes… and it will… All the money in the world will not replace human lives.

Tera Hurst, Commissioner Position 2 candidate

I know first hand how challenging it can be to do city budgeting because I have done the hard work of pouring over budgets to make sure we are spending our dollars as best we can when I was Chief of Staff to Mayor Hales. With the city facing a revenue crisis coming out of COVID-19, it is critical that we have leadership with experience with both the programming that the city does as well as with the budget itself to ensure that we are continuing to support our most critical programs. COVID-19 has shown us that we cannot afford to delay investments that will protect our most vulnerable in times of crisis. I view disaster preparedness as one of those investments. It’s not a question of if but when.

The City of Portland’s Unreinforced Masonry Building Policy Committee has made good recommendations on how to prioritize resources to protect the most essential buildings first. I think that city leadership needs to make sure that the city does not lose sight of our goals when it comes to making our city safe.


Corinne Patel, Commissioner Position 1 candidate

I would like to see programs to connect nonprofits, small businesses, residents, and retrofitters with financial resources and each other, sterner regulations on landlords to update properties (possibly by adding this issue to livability codes), and a program to assist people in identifying if their property needs upgrades and what those upgrades are.

Teressa Raiford, candidate for Mayor

A mark of a truly sustainable city is its ability to withstand and recover from a major disaster. I am concerned that such a natural disaster could compound our ability to reinvent ourselves post Covid 19. I live in an un-re-inforced multi-family masonry structure in NW Portland. For the owner of my rental to make seismic upgrades I would become homeless. I hope that after Covid-19 our city becomes affordable for all renters.

145,000 single-family homes need to be tied down. The city has to take steps to plan and improve resiliency not handing out disaster kits with TP. Seismically strengthening homes in Portland isnt unattainable. Building owners tell me that upgrades for automatic gas shut off valves should be required whenever there is a change of ownership as a requirement of sale. A home’s structural integrity will help to ensure the safety and well-being of our families and community. Someone else claimed that the real damage in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake was from the “ham and egg fire” not from the earthquake’s force but the crack in a chimney. A simple breakfast costs hundreds of people their homes. I learned that the hardest hit in 1906 were the poor concentrated in the city’s Chinatown. We should slow down development and assess our current foundations and the city should invest in older rehabs and maintenance. I believe the current movement of demolishing in Portland adds to the threat of collapse, because it destabilizes the foundations around the development. Other ways to fund seismic upgrades including; revolving loans as well as state property tax abatement programs. (Cannabis tax dollars may become a resource.)

Mark White, candidate for Mayor

This is such an important issue. The last time I ran for elected office, the Director of Emergency Planning told me I was the only candidate out of all three races that came to speak with her at that point, which was pretty close to Election Day. I hope to greatly expand our emergency planning efforts and turn that lack of interest completely around.

Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, I can’t give you a definitive response at the moment. Our existing long term debt will zoom past $4 billion dollars and the $500 million currently being paid annually to service that debt will be significantly increased with the addition of funding needed for the new water treatment plant we are being forced to construct by the feds. And we are very likely to have a massive drop in tax revenue from business taxes and other tax revenue streams because of COVID-19. Needless to say, the City will be in an incredibly dire financial state very soon. I will need to have a comprehensive review of where we are financially prior to taking office before work can begin on most anything. When we have a better understanding of our financial position, I will probably want to start with structures that are most likely to cause the most deaths, injuries, and/or damage in a catastrophic earthquake first. If there is no priority list of this already in place, I will ask emergency planning to have it ready by the time I take office. Input from AHC will be incredibly important as we move forward.

Sarah Iannarone, candidate for Mayor

If I had been elected mayor in 2016, we would be better prepared today for the COVID-19 crisis as well as the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake that could still happen any day now. Disaster readiness will be most efficiently, effectively, and equitably achieved through the merger of several existing city bureaus and civic functions under an Office of Community Resilience. If elected mayor, I am committed to bringing this idea to fruition within my first 100 days in office.

Undergirding this effort will be a comprehensive economic strategy like that proposed in my Green New Deal for Portland ( The ongoing economic crisis has already resulted in record low interest rates and the Federal Reserve Bank taking the unprecedented step of securing municipal bond investments, meaning (perhaps counterintuitively) that it may be one of the best possible times to make large municipal investments in a more sustainable future.

We can put people to work with good union jobs building the public infrastructure we need to reduce carbon emissions and seismic vulnerability while improving accessibility, equity, and resilience. Similarly, the city has a role to play in securing the economic viability of the small business sector by ensuring low or capped commercial rents, making small business grants and loans available during the crisis, and assisting entrepreneurs in starting new small businesses once the COVID crisis has subsided.