Paid petition gatherers recently hit the streets of Portland gathering signatures of registered voters to support a petition to move the Water and Sewer Bureaus away from our Portland government and instead give control to an obscure elected board. The proponents claim that passing this measure will lower water rates by cutting out wasteful “pet projects” including green infrastructure and street tree planting initiatives. They also claim that it will prevent future privatization of Portland’s water supply or mixing with other water supplies. We urge you: DO NOT SIGN THE PETITION.
Friends of Trees recognizes that some projects paid for by water and sewer funding might be questionable. This new petition doesn’t seem to solve that problem – it just puts different people in charge – people who are less transparent and less accountable to the citizens. The effort is being funded by some of Portland’s biggest water users who are protecting their corporate bottom line. It appears that this is a self-serving effort on behalf of big industrial water users to lower their water bills.
Grey versus Green
Green Streets capture stormwater before it goes into the combined sewer.
Proponents are being honest when they say our water rates have gone up. However, this is mostly due to federally mandated projects to protect our drinking water and clean up our rivers. Most of these projects are “grey projects” – underground concrete tanks and huge pipes. For instance the East Side Big Pipe CSO Tunnel cost $450,000,000 – and was financed with bonds whose debt needs to be repaid.
The current city council has also invested in Green Infrastructure. Trees, bioswales, green roofs and other natural solutions that are more cost effective, and provide many more benefit than stormwater reduction alone. These natural systems absorb stormwater at the surface, reducing the current and future cost of grey infrastructure. Have you ever sat in the shade of a sewer pipe? How about watched a butterfly on the flowers of a sewage pumping station? As the trees grow, they provide more value each year. The proponents have not shown interest in these green infrastructure programs – they think of them as “pet projects.”
Out of touch with Portlanders
The position of the petitioners does not reflect the population of Portland. We want safe drinking water. We want to be able to swim in the Willamette. We want to sit in the shade of a tree. These are Portland values, and we elected a city council based on those values. We do not need to create an obscure board to control these bureaus, especially one that is being funded by big corporate interests. It’s worth noting that the average contribution to this campaign is over $9,000 – hardly a grass roots effort. The members would be elected annually, making the process susceptible to special interests.
Tunnel Boring Machine similar to the one used to dig Portland's "Big Pipes." (note people at top of photo.)
The $1,300,000,000 Combined Sewer Overflow project was expensive, but worth it. It has nearly eliminated sewage overflows into the Willamette and Columbia rivers. But we need to continue to repay this debt now that we have completed the project.
It should be noted that no large environmental nonprofits in Portland have sided with the petition gatherers. If enough registered voters sign the petition, Portland’s citizens and environmental groups will be forced to spend resources fighting at the ballot. And we already know that the big industrial water users that proposed this change have more money than our nonprofits and citizens.
Misleading petition gatherers
Some of the paid petition gatherers have been using underhanded tactics to get Portlanders to sign the petition. So far, we have heard “stop Nestle from taking over Portland’s water.” Nestle is trying to build a plant in the gorge – a project that is opposed by the environmental community. But Nestle has nothing to do with this petition. We’ve also heard that “Friends of Trees and Audubon support this petition.” That is the opposite of the truth. We’ve also heard that “this will help poor people.” The financial impact is unclear, but it’s worth noting that people east of 92nd Ave would not be able to vote for the new elected board, disenfranchising a large portion of lower-income Portlanders.
To sign or not to sign?
We hope that you won’t sign the petition based on these facts. And we hope that you spread this message to your friends, families and coworkers.
Click here to see the actual text of the proposal.