Portland Audubon Opposes Water District Initiative
Vote no on Ballot Measure 26-156.
May 2014 Update: Ballot Initiative 26-156 went down on a vote of 71.5 percent opposing to 28.5 percent supporting. Voters sent a resounding message that Portland cares about its environmental programs.
The Audubon Society of Portland urges you not to support Ballot Measure 26-156, the Portland Water District Initiative, which will be on Portland's May 2014 ballot.
The initiative would take control away from the City of Portland of the Bureau of Environmental Services and the Water Bureau, including the $15 billion in public assets they oversee, and place these bureaus under control of an obscure new district.
The initiative is backed by industrial water users and corporate polluters who have a long history of opposing the City’s most important environmental programs. The same core group that backs this initiative sued the City in 2011, arguing that virtually all of the City’s core environmental programs - including Superfund, regulatory programs to protect the Willamette River, and restoration programs such as tree planting and greenstreets - are illegal.
While this initiative masquerades as a populist revolt, it is in fact a corporate initiative that perpetuates longstanding attacks on environmental programs and would make our public utilities more vulnerable to corporate takeover.
The following are some of the specific concerns associated with this initiative.
This initiative will reduce accountability and transparency: Residents of Portland may not always agree with the decisions made by the Portland City Council, but the public is able to track and weigh in on important decisions through regular public hearings, strong disclosure rules, an extensive budget process, and ultimately through elections. Recent budget hearings attended by hundreds of people stand as a case in point. Special district boards by comparison are typically much more obscure, remote and faceless. Few people track the activities of special district boards, they receive virtually no media coverage, they meet relatively infrequently, and they are typically not included in media endorsement pages or in watchdog group scorecards. Creating a special district to run our public utilities is a recipe for takeover by corporate interests as well as less transparency and public oversight than exists today.
This effort will undermine Portland's most important environmental programs: This effort is backed by large industrial water users like Siltronic Corp. and the Portland Bottling Company, and is being funded through a right-wing fundraising machine. Backers include some of Portland's biggest polluters, and many of these groups have worked in the past to roll back Portland's environmental protections. Their current lawsuit against the City of Portland directly attacks the City's most important environmental programs at the Bureau of Environmental Services. Among the City programs that initiative proponents have claimed are illegal are the city’s Superfund cleanup program, regulatory programs to protect the Willamette River, tree planting programs, greenstreets, invasive species control, natural area restoration programs and acquisition programs to protect stream corridors.
Attacks on Portland Bureau of Environmental Services are misguided: Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services has been doing an outstanding job for Portland. It recently completed the "big pipe," the largest public works project in Portland history, on time and on budget. That project, which has removed raw sewage from our rivers, has resulted in higher water rates. However, many U.S. cities that waited to address their combined sewer systems are now being forced to begin projects that will cost far more than Portland's project. Portland’s effort was proactive, well managed and cost effective, and as a result, our river is far healthier today than it was a decade ago. At the same time, Portland has been leading the country in converting from pipe-based stormwater strategies to greener strategies such as planting trees, building greenstreets and protecting flood areas and stream corridors to address urban stormwater. These efforts have improved our environment, created jobs, increased neighborhood livability and saved the City tens of millions of dollars over traditional pipe-based approaches. Communities from all over the world are traveling to Portland to learn about the successes of our green stormwater strategies -- something the lead proponents of this district initiative would like to see abandoned.
The Water District Initiative is riddled with serious flaws: A Multnomah County judge who reviewed the ballot title language ruled that the backers of the initiative failed to include East Portland (representing 25 percent of Portland’s population) in the new voting districts that would elect the Water District Commissioners. The judge was unable to propose a remedy for this omission, meaning that East Portland could be permanently excluded from the new water district. She also found that the new district would be removed from oversight by the city auditor, one of our most important accountability mechanisms. Finally, she found the provisions in the initiative that focused on privatization and co-mingling of water to be functionally meaningless and removed them from the ballot title. In addition to the judge’s ruling, serious concerns have been raised about the potential costs of this initiative. Specifically, proponents of the initiative have not provided any information about the costs associated with creating a new governmental entity and also have failed to assess potential impacts of the initiative on the two bureaus' currently outstanding bond ratings. As it stands, this initiative excludes a significant portion of Portland’s population, removes critical accountability mechanisms, and could add significant unnecessary costs to the operation of these bureaus.
Audubon Society of Portland
East Portland Action Plan
League of Women Voters of Portland
Sierra Club Columbia Group Executive Committee (Represents Portland Metro Region)
WaterWatch of Oregon
Lents Neighborhood Association
Friends of Trees
Trust for Public Land
Northwest Environmental Advocates
Coalition for a Livable Future
Urban Greenspaces Institute
Oregon Environmental Council
Oregon League of Conservation Voters
Sandy River Basin Watershed Council
Coalition of Communities of Color
OPAL Environmental Justice
Food and Water Watch
Friends of Gateway Green
Portland Firefighters Association
Oregon Consumer League
Oregon State Council for Retired Citizens
Northwest Biocarbon Initiative
Friends of Baltimore Woods
Hayden Island Livability Project
LIUNA (Laborers) Local 483
Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC)
AFSCME local #328
AFSCME local 88-Multnomah County
AFSCME local 3580-Metro
AFSCME Local 189
PTE Local 17 - City of Portland
DCTU City of Portland (District Council of Trade Unions)
Portland Solidarity Network (advocates for the rights of workers and tenants)
Common Cause of Oregon
Democratic Party of Multnomah County
Oregon Progressive Party
Oregon Nurses Association
Portland Police Association
Oregon State Council for Retired Citizens
Elders in Action
Jobs with Justice
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48
Tryon Creek Watershed Council
- Read a statement from environmental, environmental justice and community groups opposing the Water District Initiative
- Read the lawsuit brought by initiative backers attacking City of Portland environmental programs and discounts for low income housing (highlighted in yellow on pages 5-6)
- Read the ruling by Multnomah County Judge finding that the initiative excluded voters in East Portland
- Audubon Society of Portland statement regarding public funding
Editorial Boards Opposing Measure 26-156
- The Oregonian | "Say 'No' on water district measure: Editorial endorsement"
- Portland Tribune | "Our Opinion: New water, sewer district is not answer"
- Willamette Week | "Don't Piss It Away"
- Street Roots | "Improvements welcome, but new water bureaucracy is not"
Articles Related to the Water District Initiative
- "Busted Bottles: Portland Bottling faces allegations it ripped off ratepayers while championing a measure to lower water bills" (Willamette Week, June 2, 2014)
- "Community groups oppose Portland water measure" (Gresham Outlook, April 1, 2014)
- "As Portland's largest water users bankroll utility district campaign, opponents question who benefits" (The Oregonian, March 28, 2014)
- "Why does Siltronic need $2 million worth of water?" (The Oregonian, March 28, 2014)
- "A look back at Portland's surging water and sewer bills" (The Oregonian, March 28, 2014)
- "Lane County Fight Continues Over GMOs" (About initiative backer John DiLorenzo lobbying on behalf of the pesticide industry for the ironically named Oregonians for Food and Shelter -- a pesticide and logging advocacy group) (Eugene Weekly, March 6, 2014)
- "Portland shouldn’t gamble with its water resources" (Sustainable Business Oregon, February 18, 2014)
- "Another Water Vote Coming in May" (Portland Mercury, February 8, 2014)
- "Improvements welcome, but new water bureaucracy is not" (Street Roots, February 6, 2014)
- "Portland doesn't need a utility district: Guest opinion" (The Oregonian, January 13, 2014)
- "Portland Water District petition flawed, confusing: Guest opinion" (The Oregonian, December 21, 2013)
- "Who Could Run For Potential Water Board?" (Portland Tribune, November 7, 2013)
- "Trust Issues: Portland's Other Water Effort Could Make Us a National Model" (Portland Mercury, November 6, 2013)
- "Complaints Against Water Measure Petitioners Rolling In" (Portland Mercury, November 5, 2013)
- "Water District Draws Its First Formal Complaint, Complains Right Back" (Portland Mercury, November 4, 2013)
- "Word is Bond: Why a New Water District Might Not Save Cash: Higher Interest Rates" (Portland Mercury, October 30, 2013)
- "Water District Backers Attracting Property Management, Industry Money, Not Much Else" (Portland Mercury, October 29, 2013)
- "Environmental Activists Split from Water District Campaign, Launch Second Ballot Initiative" (Willamette Week, October 27, 2013)
- "Election Complaint Filed Against Water District Signature-Gathering Campaign" (Willamette Week, October 22, 2013)
- "Water District Backers Seeking Signatures: But ballot initiative language doesn’t solve East Portland problem" (Willamette Week, October 10, 2013)
- "Who Will Represent East Portland on Proposed Water District? Judge Doesn’t Know" (Oregonian, October 10, 2013)
- "Mystery Man Revealed: A Legendary and Controversial Timber Executive is Funding the Attack on Portland Water Bureau" (Willamette Week, October 2, 2013)
- "Water District Initiative Using Mitt Romney’s Oregon Fundraiser" (July 19, 2013)
- "Labor Wary About Public Water District" (Labor Press, August 9, 2013)
- "Oregon lawmakers weigh bills on genetically modified food" (About initiative backer John DiLorenzo fighting against labeling of GMO food) (Associated Press, March 21, 2013)
- "Steve Duin: Magical, mythical jobs in the city" (About how initiative funder Siltronic - $55,000 as of April 2014 - was exempted from river protection regulations in return for jobs they never delivered) (The Oregonian, February 6, 2013)
- "How Loud Should Money Talk?" (About initiative lead backer, John Dilorenzo’s efforts to oppose campaign finance reform in Oregon) (Willamette Lawyer Magazine, fall 2012)
- "Oregon Water Demand Opens Door to Special Interests" (On initiative lead proponent DiLorenzo's efforts to take Columbia River Water for Big Agricultural Operations) (c, April 26, 2009)
- "Salem's Lot: Five Days that Rocked the Rotunda" (Regarding initiative backer John DiLorenzo's efforts to shift the cost of Superfund to taxpayers) (Willamette Week, June 13, 2001)