Water District Backers Seeking Signatures

But ballot initative language doesn't solve East Portland problem.

The campaign to wrest Portland's water and sewer bureaus out of City Hall control can start asking for your signature this weekend.

But it may have some explaining to do to East Portland voters.

A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge on Wednesday issued a ruling (PDF) on disputed language on the ballot initiative to create a Portland Public Water District. As The Portland Mercury reported today, that means once the campaign gets its signature forms authorized by the elections office tomorrow, it can start asking for your John Hancock.  

"We are hitting the streets," says Kent Craford, campaign director of Portlanders for Water Reform. "We're pumped. By early next week, you should see signature gatherers in all the usual places."

The campaign debuted its website this afternoon.

But as reported earlier today by The Oregonian, the judge's ruling creates a political problem for the campaign: It leaves open the possibility that the new utility board wouldn't have any East Portland representation.

The language the campaign originally submitted called for an "independently elected" board with district boundaries matching those of the Portland Public Schools board. But PPS doesn't extend into East Portland, leaving most neighborhoods east of Interstate 205 unrepresented.

Craford and reservoir activist Floy Jones had challenged the wording. But Judge Leslie M. Roberts didn't patch up the problem.

"[T]he ballot title states what the ballot title would mandate: boundaries approximately those of the Portland School District zones with no explanation of what happens to the areas not in the Portland School District," Roberts writes in her ruling. "In public debate the consequences of the problem can be discussed."

WW reported Wednesday that the water district's largest financial backer—soft-drink packer Portland Bottling, which has given $25,000 to the campaign—told Mayor Charlie Hales it would back off if the city met its demands for reform.

Tom Keenan sent the city those conditions—including firing top Water Bureau staff—in an email Sept. 30 after meeting with Hales and and City Commissioner Nick Fish.

"Mayor Hales and I visited Mr. Keenan, seeking common ground," Fish told WW. "I now have renewed sympathy for the President as he negotiates with House Republicans."

WWeek 2015

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.