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Apply sprinkler rule across the board

My View: City Council is unfairly targeting certain businesses


I have to disagree with the City Council’s effort to target 14 Portland nightclubs, discos and dance halls to be retrofitted for automatic sprinkler systems. This is unfair.

The city has 85 schools, but only eight of them have sprinklers, and the city says it’s OK because the cost of sprinklers is just too much. Well, how do they expect these clubs to afford the expense?

Looking at the city’s own report, officials claim that (permits) will generate between $800 and $1,100 per location. That’s not true. The cost of a system begins with $12,000 to $20,000 in permits to the city, and they know they are getting $280,000 in fees just from the 14 bars listed, plus appeals to enable the construction, then another $60,000 to $100,000 to install and retrofit, and more fees associated with that.

The code also states that when you make improvements over $25,000, you must also meet new 2013 codes. That triggers an additional 10 percent of all improvements to use for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) upgrades and, beyond, there will be the need to add more bathrooms, update earthquake retrofit codes and so on.

I recently built a 2,000-square-foot bar for a client. While it had two existing ADA bathrooms, the city made the requirement for four ADA bathrooms — men, women, enlarged handicap and transgender — and this would have taken up nearly half the available space. This is how the city works. You end up with seating for 20 in 2,000 square feet. After paying for multiple appeals and stopping and starting work multiple times, the city finally relented and allowed the reduction of bathrooms back to two.

At the same time, I note where the city has made exceptions for movie theaters and other large corporations and political action groups so I have to assume the city does not pick a fight with those with deep pockets.

Let’s make other comparisons. A nightclub with six exits staffed with security, clearly identified, and with clear access — does it really need sprinklers? And how about a movie theater with two exits and no sprinklers? And let’s see just how quick you can get out of Powell’s books downtown.

Beyond that, how many fires at nightclubs do you recall? I can recall more school fires than nightclub fires here in the Northwest. Perhaps that’s because our Fire Bureau in Portland does a good job of keeping clubs safe. This is Portland, not Brazil.

It appears that the city is micro-targeting a small group of businesses on the grounds of safety while allowing, in the absence of sprinklers in the schools, that children have no value and should die and burn to death in their buildings with sealed windows and unbreakable security safety glass. This compares with a handful of bars and clubs that are required to have push-bar exits and clear egress to all exits.

Another argument for these sprinkler systems is that pyrotechnics are all over these clubs. Again, not true. You are not allowed to have any fire or pyrotechnics whatsoever unless your club currently has sprinklers and also a sign-off from the fire marshal. That rule has been a long-standing one in Portland.

Many of these places will not survive this move by the City Council. The idea of nightclubs just adding a few bucks

to the price of drinks to cover the cost

is absurd. This will happen when you see $32 school lunches to pay for their sprinklers.

I suggest this new city rule should apply to every place that has an occupancy of more than 100 people, including every church, yacht club, public building, train/bus station, flea market, clothing store, etc., and not just a few select businesses. If all the above do not comply and install sprinklers within the one- or two-year deadline, shut them down.

Philip Ragaway is a Portland nightclub operator.