OPINION M26-219: Charter change would boost transparency
Measure 26-219 is a common-sense proposal to allow limited public access on publicly owned Portland Water Bureau properties outside the Bull Run Closure Area, for uses such as community gardens, greenspaces and picnics.
This measure won't raise your taxes or your utility bill. Limited and incidental public use of Water Bureau properties can be accommodated within existing rates.
There will be a public process led by the Portland Utility Board to specify incidental uses that must be set in City Code, after a public hearing and Council vote. Then, an annual report of all Water Fund expenditures to the Portland Utility Board and City Council with a public hearing and vote is required each year. Assertions that the measure allows unlimited and frivolous waste of ratepayer dollars are untrue scaremongering — simply false.
There are multiple checks and balances built into the process. The people of Portland, ratepayers, the Portland Utility Board and the elected City Council should make decisions about appropriate uses of Water Bureau properties and funds, not affluent lawyers who have taken millions of taxpayers' money via lawsuits.
Measure 26-219 improves transparency and accountability. In the past, individual City Commissioners chose to spend ratepayer dollars on expenses many Portlanders opposed, with no public process. This measure would change that to require the City Council rather than the commissioner-in-charge to approve spending to support appropriate public use of Water Bureau properties. It will protect both the general fund and ratepayers from inappropriate expenses related to public use of Water Bureau lands.
Currently, if a Water Bureau property such as a site with a water tank or pump station is fenced off from public access, ratepayer dollars pay for maintenance such as mowing the grass. If the fence is removed and a picnic bench placed on the grass, the general fund must pay to mow. The general fund is needed for housing and campsite cleanup, public safety, parks and community services. Using Water Bureau funds to maintain Water Bureau properties is reasonable regardless of whether the site is fenced.
Measure 26-219 would allow ratepayer dollars to be invested on federally mandated Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements, so that all Portlanders can equitably access and enjoy public lands open for public use. This compliance work can also be accommodated within existing rates. The benefits of improved community health, environmental health, food security and the capacity to make social connections in safe outdoor greenspaces should be available to more Portlanders, especially those in areas underserved by parks and community gardens. Allowing any public use without ADA compliance is illegal, indefensible and wrong. Allowing limited public use with required ADA improvements is the request asking for your approval in Measure 26-219.
Transparency. Accountability. Accessibility. Equity. And turning areas that are currently fenced off and a burden to the neighborhood into a public benefit as gathering spaces — in addition to continuing to deliver safe, delicious drinking water for less than a penny per gallon. That's why Measure 26-219 was referred as recommended by the Portland Utility Board by unanimous vote of the Portland City Council, and why 14 environmental and social justice organizations signed on to the Audubon Society of Portland's Voters Pamphlet statement to support it.
Please join former Commissioner Mike Lindberg and me in voting yes on 26-219.
Amanda Fritz is a Portland city commissioner.
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