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Sources Say: Neighbors ready to bring attorneys into water fight

Southwest Portland residents opposed to the sale of Water Bureau property to a developer are raising funds to hire an attorney.

The residents have been unsuccessful in their efforts to convince the City Council to cancel the sale of the so-called Freeman Tank property outside of Multnomah Village to Renaissance Homes. Now they are gathering funds through the nonprofit Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. to mount a possible legal challenge to the sale.

Neighbors of the property argue that the bureau did not adequately publicize the sale and sold the site for less than the fair market value. City Commissioner Nick Fish, who is in charge of the Water Bureau, says the public notification process was inadequate, but the city has a legally binding contract that it cannot simply break without facing financial consequences.

The controversy has been especially vexing for Fish because he was absent when the council voted to sell the property and was not in change of the bureau when the contract was signed. Despite that, some area residents are blaming him for the deal, which they say will harm an environmentally sensitive greenspace adjacent to a publicly owned natural area.

Suddenly, Merkley doesn’t feel so invincible

Oregon’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley is considered one of the 15 most vulnerable senators up for re-election next year, according to the newest rankings of the National Journal Hotline. That’s because of the botched rollout of the federal and Oregon health care exchange websites.

Before that, Merkley was considered safe in his seat, in large part because of the state’s history of voting Democratic. But on Nov. 7 the Journal wrote: “One of Merkley’s GOP challengers is pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby, who has no political experience but could appeal to voters on the issue.”

Merkley has co-sponsored legislation to allow people to keep their existing insurance policies.

You can also keep this state website

Meanwhile, Cover Oregon suffered more embarrassment when the federal government claimed to have fixed its troubled health exchange website before the state one got up and running. Oregon has spent $43 million so far to build its website and $21 million to publicize it with “Portlandia” style TV spots, but it has yet to register a single person online, as the Eugene Register-Guard noted in a Nov. 29 editorial.

“The ads are offering a service that is not available; the state might as well be selling subscriptions to Newsweek magazine,” said the paper.

Ironically, Gov. John Kitzhaber is a doctor who has made insuring more state residents one of his top priorities. Although Kitzhaber has yet to say whether he will run for re-election in 2014, some of his potential Republican opponents are making an issue of the the flubbed Cover Oregon website.

And now, the Free Speech Petition Act

by: COURTESY OF KNUTE BUEHLER - Dr. Knute Buehler is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit trying to overturn the state's petition signature gathering rules.Dr. Knute Buehler, who plans to run for the House seat held by state Rep. Jason Conger of Bend, is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that could overturn Oregon’s rules governing how petition signature gatherers are paid.

Attorney Ross Day of Portland filed the lawsuit Nov. 8 in federal court on behalf of Buehler and Douglas Paul Stanford, another initiative activist. State law says anyone gathering petition signatures must be paid by the hour, rather than by each signature he or she collects. The lawsuit claims that state petition-signature payment rules adopted by voters in 2002 through Measure 26 violate their free speech rights. They’re asking a federal judge to throw out the rule and allow them to pay petition signature gatherers by the signature, something they say would make signature gatherers more productive.

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is the lawsuit’s defendant. No court date has been set for the lawsuit. Brown and the state have not filed an answer to the suit.

Buehler announced this week that he would seek the Republican nomination for the House District 54 seat. Conger is seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Merkley in 2014.

Buehler is a chief petitioner on the 2014 Our Oregon Signatures Count initiative, which would change the rules for disqualification of petition signatures. Stanford is a chief petitioner on three ballot initiatives: the Oregon Cannabis Amendment, which would legalize marijuana; the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, which would regulate the

sale of marijuana; and the Natural Individual Rights Initiative, which says people have more rights than corporations.

In the lawsuit, Buehler and Stanford claim that state rules forbidding payment for individual signatures violates their First Amendment rights to free speech. They also claim a possible $100,000 fine for violating the rules “serves to chill a reasonable person from the exercise of their free speech rights.”

Attorney Day wrote in the complaint that the state’s efforts to block per-signature payment wasn’t narrowly tailored to remedy any real problem, so it should be overturned.