Dozens of people spoke at city hall Wednesday regarding a contested plan to retrofit more than 1,500 city buildings that may not withstand the damage during a major earthquake.

City councilors want to mandate the safety improvements, which would save lives, they say. Others argue it’s not clear who would pay for the expensive modifications.

At issue are approximately 1,600 buildings that have been identified as “unreinforced masonry buildings”, or URMs.

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Some of the structures, which include historic churches, schools and businesses, date back to the 1800s. The cost to fix the buildings could range anywhere from 20 to 80 dollars a square foot.

The city is working on financing options for business owners, such as tax exemptions or a loan fund.

Many, however, still worry the mandates would put them out of business or force them to sell to developers.

“We haven’t been given any understanding as to how much all of this will cost,” Matt Henessee, a pastor at Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church, said. “All we know is our churches have ended up on a list somewhere without any understanding as to why and how much it will cost.”

Councilors Wednesday morning voted to approve amendments to the mandate. The amendments include putting placards on the URMs to tell people they may not be safe in an earthquake.

Councilors hope the placards incentivize the businesses and nonprofits to make improvements to the buildings.

At this point, it will take at least a year for the mandates to go into effect.

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