Unfair, Subjective “Smell” Standard by Portland needs to end

Greg Astley, Director of Government Affairs, ORLA
By Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association

(Portland, OR) – The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association (ORLA) is demanding the City of Portland review its subjective, unfair “smell” code immediately and cease targeting small restaurants and their owners, many of whom are people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“It’s come to our attention the City of Portland is issuing citations to certain restaurants for ‘smells’ based on anonymous complaints,” said ORLA President & CEO Jason Brandt. “For other code violations, such as noise, vibration and even glare, there are measurable, objective standards but surprisingly, the City’s code written for ‘odor’ violations is entirely subjective.”

According to the zoning code (33.262.070), “The odor threshold is the point at which an odor may just be detected” by an inspector’s nose. No equipment of any kind is required.

A recent complaint by an anonymous neighbor has resulted in at least one Portland restaurant closing its doors. As reported by Willamette Week, Pho Gabo Vietnam Kitchen recently had to shut down operations because one neighbor has repeatedly complained they “can’t stand the smell of the grill and the meat.”

“It’s unbelievable that an anonymous person’s repeated complaints about an odor can shut down an entire restaurant, potentially displacing its workers and causing the operator irreparable financial harm,” continued Brandt. “There are a number of factors that contribute to Portland’s air quality (and livability) but forcing restaurants out of business does not seem like the most constructive way to address the problem.”

Suggested solutions from the City of Portland, including installing scrubbers to prevent the odors from traveling outside the restaurant are extremely expensive and at best, would only mitigate the smells, not eliminate them.

ORLA is calling for the City of Portland to immediately cease these unfair and subjective citations and review its policies on code violations.

For more information on ORLA’s advocacy efforts in Portland, read the Advocacy Blog at OregonRLA.org/portlandblog.

About ORLA — The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association is the leading business association for the foodservice and lodging industry in Oregon, which is comprised of over 10,220 foodservice locations and 2,000 lodging establishments. As of December 2023, the Oregon Employment Department reports the Leisure and Hospitality workforce totals 208,700 with a total economic impact of over $13.8 billion in annual sales for Oregon.

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