Water and Sewer Spending Lawsuit Heads to Court in February

DIRTY DEEDS: The city pays a contractor $14,566 annually to clean each loo, like this one at Southwest Naito Parkway and Taylor Street.

The trials of the Portland Water Bureau are headed for a courtroom.

A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge will hold a summary judgment hearing Feb. 12 on four items in the $127 million lawsuit filed in 2011 over Portland's water and sewer bureau spending.

The timing of the first hearing is a key piece of political theater: It provides plenty of opportunity for attorney John DiLorenzo to showcase how City Council used ratepayer dollars, before a May special election that could remove city control over the utilities.

"It's a great time to be a ratepayer," says Kent Craford, the co-petitioner for the May ballot initiative to create a public water district. "The spotlight brought by this initiative and this lawsuit is a giant antiseptic to the slime that's been oozing out of City Hall for too many years."

The suit, filed in November 2011 by ratepayers including former City Commissioner Lloyd Anderson, challenges city spending on dozens of projects, including large swaths of the Bureau of Environmental Services' green-infrastructure programs.

But the first portion of the lawsuit to go to court Feb. 12 focuses on high-profile and controversial spending: voter-owned elections, the purchase of the River View Cemetery, moving utility lines along the downtown Transit Mall, and marketing the Portland Loo to other cities.

The city has "no conceivable basis to support the use of water funds to peddle the public toilets to other jurisdictions," DiLorenzo writes in a memorandum asking for the return of $618,078 in Loo marketing money.

Craford says the water district campaign is nearly finished gathering signatures, and will have more than enough to qualify for the May ballot.

A second water-reform initiative, filed by a group of environmental activists, is moving more slowly: The Portland Mercury reported Friday that petitioners have rewritten their proposal.

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.