Friday, January 29, 2010

Not Your PURB Anymore

After being criticized for a recommendation that seems to ignore years of substantive public input (representing countless hours contributed by thousands of citizens), PURB*1 has decided to give the public 2 hours. In March, forty Portlanders can have 3 minutes each to say their peace regarding a recommendation formed without citizen input,*2 that urges massively expensive changes to the city’s drinking water system. First, Portlanders will listen to a panel of presenters which, remarkably, doesn’t include a single citizen-based stakeholder group.*3 Then, if the panel doesn’t drone on too long, citizens can have a few sentences, and that’s it. Seemingly, PURB will consider their job done and the pesky public finally dispensed with on this controversial topic. (UPDATE: the March PURB public hearing on the reservoirs is now set for Wednesday, March 3rd from 5:30 - 8:00 pm in Room C on the second floor of the Portland Building; across the street from City Hall.)

The current PURB water subcommittee recommendations, for Portland’s reservoirs and for Bull Run, are a complete reversal of the last PURB’s recommendations regarding the community’s water system (issued August 2004), and they seek aggressive changes to that water system. Not only is the PURB now advocating for reservoir closure, but members employ language indicating PURB may aggressively support a new treatment plant at Bull Run. When I asked PURB members what new data they have seen, that the last PURB had not seen, that would in turn cause them to reverse major water system recommendations, one PURB member (Marks) replied that the PURB has new people that simply take a different position on the same data. New people, but no new data. (One might note here that all of the newest PURB members seem to have been appointed through the office of the Commissioner in charge of the Water Bureau.)

Another PURB member (Johnson) confirmed that the 2009 PURB, “did not do any comparisons to prior PURB positions.” New people, no new data, and a conscious effort to ignore the historical knowledge offered by a previous PURB whose members were both 1) well versed on local water topics and 2) actually present when most of the “public process” surrounding the reservoirs took place in this community (Scott Fernandez and Frank Ray as examples).

The current PURB water subcommittee recommendation on open reservoirs presents two supporting documents, both written by the Bureau for which this PURB is supposed to be providing independent oversight. PURB is presenting to Portlanders the case Portland Water Bureau presented, with seemingly very little examination of the range of alternatives. When Mayor Adams asked PURB subcommittee members (Jan 12 Council Work Session) if they’d consulted the well-educated stakeholder groups (like Friends of the Reservoirs) before making their subcommittee recommendations, Dave Johnson asserted that while he’d attempted to contact those stakeholders, he hadn’t succeeded. This PURB water subcommittee did not interview Friends of the Reservoirs representatives – by far some of the most water-system versed people in the city -- before issuing their recommendation. And, when Friends of the Reservoirs (FoR) attempted to share its organization’s research with PURB members during recent PURB meetings, FoR representative F. Jones was reportedly rebuffed with comments that suggested her presence was a nuisance (one PURB member wondered aloud why Jones was there to badger them, another pressed that they’d heard it all before).

The prior PURB recommendations about Portland’s water system issued in August 2004 were an outgrowth of a period of intense public discussion, and they were influenced by the exhaustive work of other groups like the Reservoir Independent Review Panel. In fact, one of the previous PURB members, Frank Ray, sat on both the PURB and the Independent Review Panel, which means he provided the PURB first hand participation in an intense public process that took place 3 hours every week for 3 months. The previous PURB also had Scott Fernandez, a microbiologist with water quality expertise and an unusually sophisticated understanding of Portland’s water system. Fernandez no longer serves on the PURB, after officials inexplicably denied his reappointment in 2008. None of the previous PURB members that were active in the public part of the discussion surrounding our water system are associated with the 2009 PURB.

If the 2009 PURB is devoid of participants active in the era of public process for these issues, and if the 2009 PURB rebuffs historical knowledge available through community groups long-active in this decade long discussion, then isn’t the 2009 PURB a bit like a judge and jury that arrives after the trial is finished… they’ve missed the airing of the arguments, the points and counter points to both sides of the case, they’ve arrived in time for one side’s closing, and that’s it. This begs the question: can the current PURB offer advice the citizens will find legitimate?

End notes:
*1 – PURB = Portland Utility Review Board

*2 – PURB members Wickham and Johnson reported that, “they interviewed several citizens, stakeholders, and Portland’s federal delegation to gather information on the LT2 issue.” Wickham and Johnson have not publicly disclosed interviewee names, or the dates interviews were conducted. At the June 2009 PURB meeting they were pressed to do so. The June 2009 meeting minutes report that Wickham “said they cannot list individuals because several asked that they not be identified.” I have also directly asked for this disclosure, and not received it. June 2009 PURB meeting minutes available online:

*3 -
PURB Public Hearing on Open Reservoirs

Proposal for meeting format
January 20, 2010

Public Hearing Proposal
The public hearing must comply with Oregon public meeting law requirements and will be recorded.

Propose a two and one-half hour Public Hearing to be scheduled in the evening between March 2nd and March 15th regarding the LT2 open reservoir rule and Portland’s in-town open reservoirs. The opportunity for public testimony was requested of the PURB through the Portland Water Bureau subcommittee on January 12th by Mayor Adams and Commissioner Fitch.
The Hearing Officer should be a professional contracted by the City of Portland to conduct the hearing and provide a summation of the testimony and findings of fact.

A 30 minute overview will be provided prior to receipt of public testimony. The overview should be presented by:

David Shaff, Water Bureau (invited)
Gary Oxman, Health Officer Multnomah County Health Department (invited)
David Leland, Oregon State Drinking Water Program (invited)
Senator Merkley Office, (invited)

Testimony will be taken by those who sign in for this purpose in the order of sign in. Testimony will be limited to three minutes per person. The duration of the public testimony will be limited to two hours. Written testimony may be submitted in lieu of verbal testimony. Anyone testifying must also provide a written copy of their testimony. A summary, prepared by the Hearing Officer will be published on the PURB website consistently with the public hearing requirements of the State of Oregon.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Clearwire problems in Florida; residents here and there work together

We’re not the only City discovering problems with Clearwire’s wireless-internet equipment. Residents of Tampa, Florida, are organizing to protect their own neighborhoods. I recently received an update from Tampa residents, Marlin Anderson and Carrie Grimail.

In Tampa, F&L Towers LLC wants permission to exceed local height codes by 88% -- they’re seeking an adjustment on the height code, taking it from 80 ft max to 150 ft max. From Anderson and Grimail:
The proposed tower is 150 feet tall ... and just a little over 80 feet from the Sunset Park condominiums. A typical lot is 50 feet in our area, so imagine this tower being less than two houses away from your property line. … At 150 feet it will be almost as tall as a 15 story building….
F & L Towers also plans to ask Tampa’s City Council to adjust the distance required from a tower to a residence. Anderson and Grimail write:

The minimum distance from the tower to the boundaries of a residence is the height of the tower. With a height of 150 feet, the tower would need to be located at least 150 feet from the boundaries of Sunset Park condominiums. The distance is only 83 feet, and a waiver is being requested to reduce the required distance from 150 feet to 83 feet. ... It’s to be battleship gray to "blend in" with the surroundings. But it won't blend in. Remember, the tallest nearby building on Henderson Blvd is just 3 stories ...
This is where Clearwire enters the story; F&L Towers revealed at a community meeting last week that the first lessee on this new tower will be Clearwire. Anderson and Grimail raise a number of interesting points we should all keep in mind:

Clearwire is a new 4th generation wireless service, and their competitors will be Verizon and AT&T. From recent newspaper articles, it appears that all of the towers that Verizon and AT&T will need to roll out their 4th generation wireless service were installed in Tampa during 2009. However, Clearwire has a much weaker signal than Verizon and AT&T, and consequently would like to install towers every 1500 hundred feet all over our city.
Clearwire has succeeded in some other cities in getting permits to install pole extensions onto pre-existing light poles and other utility poles. With these permits, they can install new poles without a land use review, because they are using the poles as if they were a utility. The pole extensions in Portland are 60 feet high, and
Clearwire has already installed 50 or 60 poles or towers in Portland , and they
want to install even more. These poles are being installed in residential neighborhoods, on residential streets, right in front of people’s homes.
(Note from S. Stewart, one such extra tall pole is proposed in the Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood in Portland, visit to learn more about it.)
Once granted, these permits give Clearwire the rights and access of a utility. However, unlike our power and telephone lines, they are not providing universal service, but instead only to some members of the community who sign up for Clearwire’s service. And unlike cable companies who only have to run wires, the proliferation of pole extensions will have a major negative impact on the aesthetics of our neighborhoods and our city.If they were to receive this permission in Tampa, this would result in a grid of poles throughout our residential neighborhoods. If we allow this to go forward, you will soon find noisy "boxes" on tall poles outside your homes and all over your neighborhood. … Furthermore, it is not known if Clearwire will be able compete with Verizon and AT&T, and could go out of business, leaving us stuck with tall poles in our neighborhoods all over town.

To sum up, we shouldn’t be allowing a company to profit at the expense of our neighborhoods by harming our aesthetics and reducing our property values. We shouldn’t allow this proposed cell tower at Henderson and Manhattan , and, if necessary, we need to oppose efforts to install poles or pole extensions in residential neighborhoods in the City of Tampa.

Clearwire wants TALL towers

Residents of the Beaumont/Wilshire Neighborhood found out recently that Clearwire wants to install new, very tall poles near homes. Because of our own long ordeal with a noisy Clearwire device, we've warned the folks in Beaumont/Wilshire to look through Clearwire’s application for any equipment that might have moving parts (especially a cooling fan). Neighbors are concerned about health issues associated with the electromagnetic waves emitted by wireless technologies. To learn more about the case in the Beaumont/Wilshire neighborhood, visit

On January 13, Beaumont/Wilshire neighbors held a public meeting with Clearwire and city reps. It sounds like it got heated. Their next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, January 28th from 7-8 pm in the Beaumont Middle School library - the neighborhood will decide what position to take at this meeting. George Polas, one of the Mt. Tabor residents that has had to live with a noisy Clearwire device since it was installed in October 2008, attended the first Beaumont/Wilshire meeting on the 13th. Here is an excerpt from his report afterwards:
There were about 80 people there [at the Beaumont-Wilshire meeting], and they were very vocal. Reporters from some local newspapers attended, and I was interviewed by one of them. I also testified about the 14 month ordeal I experienced with Clearwire and their noisy equipment. I think I opened up some eyes to this problem that others are going to experience in various neighborhoods. The Clearwire rep. was mentioning a small noise problem on 50th and Burnside and some other false sayings regarding what they are doing in Portland. When I spoke, things were considerably cleared up regarding what is true or false with this unwanted company. He didn't realize I was in attendance. He had no counter arguments to what I presented.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Letter to Ombudsman regarding incident at PWB Jan 11

From: S.Stewart
Sent: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 1:31 PM
To: 'Mills, Michael (Ombudsman)'Subject: bad experience with document request

Dear Mr. Mills, City of Portland Ombudsman –

I had a distressing interaction this week while accessing public records at the Portland Water Bureau. You may have read about this incident in the Daily Journal of Commerce’s blog or on Jack’s Blog.

You can read my full accounting on my blog. I hope you will read the entire entry on my blog, as it was a complicated experience that unfolded over the course of 2 months and culminated with a surprising confrontation in a PWB conference room. The net is PWB had a staff person “supervise” me while I read two bid proposals and the corresponding evaluation sheets (clearly not records posing any security issues) and then charged me for that supervision. Which, in essence means they charged me for the time it took me to read the public records (2 hours = $55). I fully understand that PWB was within their rights to charge me for the staff time associated with supervision, but I take issue with their application of supervision.

This incident raises multiple questions, that need addressing to insure fair access to public records.

1) Are there objective perimeters established for the insistence of “supervised” reviews? In my case, I do not understand why PWB would pull a staff member off normal duties to watch me read the particular documents I was reading. They posed no security risk, and there was no danger that I could irreparably damage them. The application of “supervision” seems vulnerable to abuse, and could potentially be employed to undermine the public records access policy from which it is sourced. If a citizen can no longer read a public record without being charged by the minute for the time it takes her to sit and read it, then citizen access is in danger.

2) Are there guidelines for City staff to follow, outlining how Bureau staff should notify citizens when the records they seek will require a “supervised review”, and thus incur an hourly fee for reading time? In my case, I contend there was no notice that I was entering a “supervised” review. The bulk of the communication preceding my reading made no reference to any staff time other than that required to retrieve the records. The one email that indicated other staff time, mentioned only that a staff member would be assigned to “assist” my review, not “supervise” my review.

3) Is there a specified, predictable process by which custodians make decisions regarding fee waivers “in the public interest”? My constituents have long understood that non-profit organizations (particularly those offering the citizenry broad access to information), news organizations, and neighborhood associations (also typically offering information to the broader community) normally qualify for access fee waivers, with their “public interest” service being their ability to further disseminate information to a large number of citizens. However, my organization’s fee-waiver requests were all denied in the last 12 months. Additionally, the organization (Friends of the Reservoirs) that originated the records request associated with Monday’s incident has had most (if not all) of their fee waiver requests denied in 2009 and 2010. The sporadic blessing and denial of fee-waiver requests also appears vulnerable to abuse, potentially providing greater access to those organizations favored by Bureau managers and the Commissioners overseeing them, while potentially limiting access to those organizations that have fallen out of favor with management and elected officials.

I am not challenging the fact that Bureaus have a right to charge fees, that they have a right to supervise reviews, or that they have a right to deny fee-waiver requests. I mean to raise questions regarding the potential for abusing each of these measures, and how that abuse might harm citizen access to records.

Stephanie Stewart
MTNA Land Use Co-chair

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Portland Water Bureau doesn’t wear gloves?

Why wouldn’t Water Bureau staff wear gloves when they sample our water system? When taking a sample of just about anything, isn’t the goal to get just the sample, and nothing from the sampler? The following excerpt from a letter from former PURB member and microbiologist, Scott Fernandez, leaves me wondering what PWB’s definition of “professional” is.

…Last March Randy Leonard and Dave Shaff were notified of improper water samples taken on March 5, 2009 ~9AM at 59th and Lincoln. The person taking the sample was bare handed, working without gloves during the water extraction process. This violates standard water sample methodology protocol. During media coverage of the reservoir 3 E. coli event, the Oregonian pictured a Portland Water Bureau employee taking drinking water samples, once again without gloves.

Because of bacteriological contamination risk, data obtained using methods not conforming to strict aseptic technique protocol and guidelines are not reliable and therefore not usable in drawing any conclusions or assigning cause. Gloves are an important part of aseptic technique in drinking water sample methodology.(1, 2)
My graduate work was based on designing, implementing, and executing a drinking water safety program in rural eastern Washington. Microorganisms were analyzed, as was chemical water contamination from fertilizers to determine risk for methemoglobinemia, nitrites, and nitrates. I also had to deal with closed reservoirs (cisterns), located on high points of the property to provide gravity fed water as

Randy Leonard and Dave Shaff have made it policy to arbitrarily contradict the scientific comments I make. Shaff tells me, and others, I have no credibility or expertise in drinking water microbiology and chemistry. His response to not having gloves was only “ Water Bureau employees are professional”. …

Scott Fernandez - M.Sc. Biology / Microbiology

1. EPA Total Coliform Handbook- 2006
2. Colorado Department Public Health – 2008 (2008 closed reservoir bacteria death)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The “P” in PURB is not for “public”

In August 2004, the PURB published two issue papers: “ Additional Treatment of Bull Run Drinking Water” and “Burial of Water Storage Reservoirs in Mt. Tabor Park and Washington Park”. (Available online in the PURB 2004 Annual Report: .) The PURB reviewed the work of other committees organized around these issues, including that of the 2004 Reservoir Independent Review Panel (IRP) and the Unfiltered Systems Working Group (USWG doc referenced in PURB paper is available on the Friends of the Reservoirs website: ). The PURB papers came after a period of extensive public discussion about Portland’s drinking water. One PURB member at the time, Frank Ray, actually served on the Independent Review Panel and was thus active in the public meetings (3 hours per week, for 3 months) held to discuss all concerns related to our open reservoirs. Both of the August ’04 PURB position papers were unanimously supported by all eight PURB members.

This week, a 2 person subcommittee of the PURB made another recommendation regarding Portland’s reservoirs that is a complete reversal of the previous PURB recommendation issued August 2004. This subcommittee has yet to get the support of the full PURB regarding their new recommendation. These two people offered no citation list of the reviewed data, papers or interviews on which they based their reversal. I have directly asked both subcommittee members for a citation list, specifically highlighting (but not limited to) any new data that led them to reverse the PURB’s previous recommendation. As of today, my committee has serious questions regarding the efficacy of the PURB Water Subcommittee’s recommendation regarding our water system. As to my inquiry about the citation list, which I believe should be available to the public – only one of the PURB members responded, and he suggested we meet in person. That doesn’t sound open to the public to me.

PURB = Portland Utility Review Board

Monday, January 11, 2010

Drowning in Water Bureau Debt?

Four years of over-estimated consumption & deficit spending
are not what PURB would expect from leadership focused on running a lean, tight ship.
– 2009 PURB statement regarding Portland Water Bureau’s finances

The Portland Water Bureau is drowning in debt and they’re poised to take residents and businesses down with them. In the middle of the country’s worst recession, and as most companies are digging deep to cut costs, the Portland Water Bureau (PWB) has levied a 17.9% rate increase on water volume charges, a 19.6% increase to the “base rate”, a 6.9% increase to sewer rates and a 6.7% increase to storm-water disposal charges.*1 And they plan similar rate hikes every year for as far into the future as we can see. PWB won’t share rate increase projections further than five years out, but current spending projections could create major rate increases for a decade, and even longer if they keep adding projects like the Special Armed Law Enforcement Unit to their wish list. This means combined water/sewer bills will double in four years. What is now a $180 bill for an average family of three will be a $350 bill in 2013. It could be over $600 in eight years, and almost $900 in 12 years. But, rate hikes alone won’t be enough to keep PWB afloat. The Portland Water Bureau just took out a loan for $75 million (bond approved Dec 9, 2009, final Council vote January 2010 *2). This inconceivably large loan will just get them through the year. *2A

Reportedly, in 2009, 40% of PWB’s budget was consumed with debt and interest payments.*3 PWB is spending significantly more than what it makes. This month alone, PWB plans to ask for new spending on a special Law Enforcement Unit (Chief Sizer estimates PWB would need to quadruple its security budget to cover this*4); and they’ll begin the Request for Proposal (RFP) process for a new emergency alert system they’d like to acquire*4A (this system may cost, “an arm and a leg,” according to PWB Administrator David Shaff and will in some ways duplicate the traditional Emergency Broadcast System municipalities already have in place). During budget season this past Spring, the mayor asked every office for a budget with 5% cuts. What about cuts at the Water Bureau? The Portland Utility Review Board (PURB) rather sternly noted this year that the Portland Water Bureau seems unaware a “cut” should be an actual reduction in current spending and not just a trimming of the wish list. According to a community stakeholder group, five years ago the Water Bureau had 535 employees; the Bureau has ballooned to approximately 650 employees today (+ 21%).*4B

Reviewing PWB budgets and related documents is a bit like falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Budgets are broken down into different units with every new document, making these figures onerous to track and compare from one proposal to the next. Income projections are based on demand levels that are not substantiated, perpetually fostering budget shortfalls, deficit spending and debt.*5 Recurring, critical expenditures are seemingly, routinely funded with borrowed money and accounted for as if they were one-time capital expenses. Spending on new, large projects climbs while PWB neglects 50% of the maintenance projects required annually to keep pace with the deterioration of infrastructure.*6 New capital projects are favored by the argument that these projects will act as “locally funded stimulus”; despite the fact that there aren’t local funds for such stimuli so they’d have to be borrowed, thus increasing rates and debt-load on a population that can’t take an increase in either.*7

The most publicly discussed projects this past year were those mandated by LT2. *7A Although the mayor, the city commissioners, PWB and their constituents agree that LT2 mandates will not increase the quality or security of the water system and that the first action priority should be to press for legislative or regulatory relief from the unfunded EPA mandate, the initial design of a treatment system has begun. PWB has set aside $24 million to spend on the design of a UV plant before relief efforts have a chance to succeed. They’ve also “fast-tracked” two projects relating to LT2 compliance: the buried tanks at Powell and Kelly Buttes, asserting these tanks will build capacity to meet demand 50 years from now and help Portland attract large industries. One might question the logic in taking on the maintenance of a storage tank 50 years before we need it, when PWB lags in maintenance of the existing system. Portland’s water rates are already high. Large water users have been fleeing the Portland area for a decade because they can’t afford our water (Steinfeld’s Pickles, Blitz-Weinhard and Alcatel are examples).*7B

Recent estimates place the cost of an LT2-mandated UV plant at $100 million ($200 million with debt service) and the cost to disconnect the open reservoirs and build buried tanks at $400 million ($800 million with debt service). Note that no projection considers the operation costs of a UV plant (estimates place electricity alone at $16 million a year); the construction costs of a “pre-treatment” plant (i.e. ozonation) that might accompany the UV plant; or the costs of converting the open reservoir sites to something more attractive than giant concrete holes. Undertaking projects that double water bills in four years will hurt business, not attract it. When a big employer that uses 40 million gallons a year sees its annual water expenditures grow from $100,000 to $200,000 in just four years, Portland’s ability to support growth of new business is in jeopardy. *8A

Reportedly, PWB has more storage capacity than it needs even during periods of peak consumption. As drinking water is a perishable product, there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to stock piling it in large, new tanks. Neither of the Powell or Kelly Butte tanks should be on an accelerated implementation schedule with PWB finances the way they are. These tank projects would seem to imply the citizenry and Council have agreed to 1) abandon LT2 relief strategies, and 2) move much of Portland’s water storage further away from the population center. Securing a Waiver or Variance is clearly the most cost-effective approach to LT2 and leaving our highly functional system intact is the community supported strategy. It seems at best inconsistent and at worst irresponsible to spend $24 million to design a UV plant and $34 million on site-prep for tanks when the community expects PWB is working to avoid building these items.

Where is the Portland Utility Review Board (PURB) in all of this? The PURB is supposed to be a citizen and business ratepayer advocacy group providing checks and balances for the PWB budget process. In truth, PURB recommendations have no binding power at all. While PURB members have repeatedly hammered PWB staff for their illogical business practices -- like imposing large rate increases in a terrible economy, *9 or planning spending which increases a crippling debt, *10 or habitually projecting income based on obviously inaccurate estimations of demand *11 -- those criticisms seem to be confined to written correspondence alone. They don’t appear in a form that would serve to sound an alarm for the rate-paying public. Reappointment was denied to one PURB member in good standing after he publicly questioned PWB modus operandi. *12 The most recent PURB appointees all appear to have been recommended by the commissioner in charge of the Water Bureau, putting into question PURB’s ability to be a public oversight group. In fact, at the October 20, 2009 Council work session, a PURB member declared that his group was not a ratepayer advocacy group but rather a research arm of the Council. *13

PWB is currently more than $350 million in debt and they project their debt will double over the next 2 years.*14 A local reporter recently wrote about the count-down clock that sits on PWB administrator David Shaff’s desk . It ticks away the days until the EPA’s deadline for LT2 projects. Perhaps PWB administrators would better serve this city by setting aside this countdown of a manufactured emergency to focus their attention on the real crisis before us. It's a fiscal one.

End Notes:

*1 – Figures derived from calculations on an actual PWB customer’s bill. All calculations confirmed with a phone call to the PWB customer service line. An excel spreadsheet with 12 years worth of projections of bills for the typical 3 person and 5 person household, available here. Projections made with rate increases similar to the one issued July 09.

*2 – Non-emergency ordinance, Council Agenda Item #1675 from Dec 2, 2009.

*2A – In January 2009, PWB managers predicted they will need to issue/sell bonds each of the next 4 years in the following increments: FY 2010-11 $91,030,000; FY 2011-12 $147,500,000; FY 2012-13 $135,575,000; FY 2013-14 $133,425,000. This year, PWB will sink almost $24 million dollars into debt service. Forecasts for the next 5 years worth of debt service payments are as follows: FY 2010-11 = $28,985,504; FY 2011-12 = $34,498,586; FY 2012-13 = $46,031,999; FY 2013-14 = $56,634,228; FY 2014-15 = $67,071,228. Note: figure for FY 2014-15 places debt service payments about equal to PWB’s 09/10 operating budget. Figures taken from Questions for FY 2010-11 Budget Process, available online:

The Office of Management and Finance hosts an Annual Disclosure statement regarding PWB finances. The 2008-09 Annual Disclosure (Feb 15, 2009) is here:

*3 – PURB 2009-10 Rate Testimony; available online:

*4 – In a letter dated Oct 19, 2009, from Chief Sizer to Dan Saltzman, Sizer writes, “The Water Bureau currently employs 23 Security Specialists and one Security Supervisor at an annual cost of $979,650 FY 08-09 (salary only). Research on a comparably sized Oregon law enforcement agency (approximately 25 sworn officers) shows an annual budget of $4 million.”

An industry rumor places cost at $20-40 million dollars in unidentified funding:

*4A – RFP:

*4B – employment figures from Water Bureau website

*5 – Retail water demand for 2003-2013, actual vs forecast. Released at budget meeting Dec 9 2009; available online at:

*6 – PURB Comments on 2009-10 Financial Plans; available online:

*7 – PURB Comments on 2009-10 Financial Plans; available online at:

*7A – LT2 is a Federal mandate to build certain water system facilities that Portland’s water system does not need. LT2 emphasizes construction over protection; the Portland system is engineered within a substantial framework of protection, and LT2 forces Portland to abandon its highly successful and sustainable approach to water purification in favor of a highly consumptive build/treat/pump model. These projects won’t provide Portlanders any additional public health benefits, and return very little for their hard earned dollars.

*7B – Former Director of the Portland Water Users Coalition testifies before Portland City Council about large water users being driven from Portland; July 29, 2009. Minute 175, video available here:

*8A – July 15, 2009 letter to Dan Saltzman from Sebastian Pastore, Kurt Widmer, and Rob Widmer of Widmer Brothers Brewing Co., Craft Brewers Alliance.

*9 –
“…We believe that this budget proposal is excessive and inappropriate given the current economic situation where many businesses are cutting expenses and families are stretching reduced incomes to make ends meet. We believe with appropriate cost cutting the bureau could reduce its requested rate increase.” Quote from: PURB 2009-10 Rate Testimony; available online at:

“…The current budget proposal represents an increase in spending (from 6% to 13% depending on how you calculate) with a projected retail rate increase of 17.9%. This is excessive and inappropriate in this current economic environment. … The operational budget for next year should be significantly less than the budget for the current year. Nearly every business served by the water bureau is being forced to reduce spending; the bureau needs to do the same and the current budget proposal still requests spending increases rather than decreases.” Quotes from: PURB Comments on 2009-2010 Budgets; available online at:

“…While large rate increases are probably inevitable (without Federal stimulus support) for the LT2 work over the 5 year timeframe of the financial plan, the rate increase for FY 2009-10 needs to be in single digits.”
“… Proposing an 18% rate hike (after including OMF’s mandated budget cuts), seems out of sync with the economic recession that has hit the country.”
“… It is PURB’s understanding that the bureau’s 18% rate request occurred before the OMF request for 5% cuts, but in January the bureau’s budget included the OMF changes but still required an 18% rate hike.” Quote from: PURB Comments on 2009-2010 Financial Plans; available online at:

“…While the phrases “ratepayer revolt” and “sticker shock” never were said by members the discussion centered around the unsustainability of yearly rate increases that greatly surpass inflation….Average rate increases should be in line with current inflation and cost of living increases… In our opinion it is inappropriate for the bureaus to continue internal business as usual and to increase their rates to cover their spending.” Quote from PURB Annual Report 2007-2008; available online at:

*10 –
“… The water bureau is spending more than the revenue it generates (it is spending down cash reserves). The water bureau is taking on new debt faster than it is retiring old debts (debt service is growing). These conditions have nothing to do with LT2 or any other extraordinary program/expenditure. These 3 characteristics remain for the FY2010 proposed budget. This seems like a bad situation.” Quotes from January 2009 correspondence from a PURB member to WB staff regarding PWB budgets (obtained via Oregon Public Records Request)

“…The Bureau needs to look at making deeper and more genuine cuts to their spending proposals…”
“… PURB believes it has been a mistake to allow the bureau to operate with levels of spending that can not be supported by the customer revenue stream.” Quotes from: PURB Comments on 2009-10 Financial Plans; available online at:

*11 –
“… The current bureau retail demand forecast of 28M ccf is overly optimistic. For each of the past 5 years the water bureau has over estimated retail demand, resulting in deficit spending and crisis cuts to departments. It is imperative that the bureau become more conservative with its demand forecasts. … PURB will oppose any financial plan/budget proposal based on higher consumption assumptions because it will over estimate revenue and result in more deficit spending.”
“…The water bureau’s financial health is closely tied to accurate predictions of water consumption because of the mismatch between the rate structure and the water bureau’s cost structure.”
“…During the past 5 years the bureau has over estimated water consumption by an average of 6% each year. Leaving the bureau with insufficient revenue (~ $4M short on average) to meet spending plans in each of those years.”
Quotes from: PURB Comments on 2009-10 Financial Plans; available online at:

“…The bureau should be more conservative in its financial planning assumptions. Over estimating future revenue could result in unexpected rate increases.” Quote from PURB 2009-10 Rate Testimony; available online at:

“… Given the tough economic times & your minimal cash reserves, I think it is high time to become more conservative in your consumption forecasts. Much better that your forecast be 93% of actual demand than 108%.” Quote from January 2009 correspondence from a PURB member to WB staff regarding PWB budgets (obtained via Oregon Public Records Request)

*12 – Scott Fernandez, biologist specializing in ground water assessment and surveillance.
“In May 2008 Scott Fernandez was denied re-appointment to PURB. This was the first time that a PURB member with excellent attendance was denied re-appointment.” Quote from PURB Annual Report 2007-08; available online:

An article on the front page of the NW Examiner (Jan 2010) discussing PWB’s historically confrontational behavior towards citizen activists and how PWB has targeted Fernandez and others:

“MP3 Audio File: Hear Scott Fernandez talking about Portland's contaminated well field water on the KBOO show Monday on the Environment on 5/5/2008. Thank you to the show's host, Scott Forrester. Scott Fernandez is now a former member of the Portland Utility Review Board. (PURB) He was removed from that position after many years, by Commissioner Randy Leonard, shortly after this show. or Click here to listen to the 29 minute show. (27MB audio file)” Quote from the website of a community stakeholder group:

*13 – Informative video of this work session between PURB and City Council available online:

*14 – “Total Outstanding Debt at Year End” is projected to double in 2 years. Outstanding debt grows as follows, if PWB does not add additional projects: FY 2010 = $353,845,000; FY 2011 = $511,086, 000; FY 2012 $741,017,000; FY 2013 $869,063,000; FY 2014 $939,490,000. Figures taken from FY 2009-10 Five Year Preliminary Financial Plan, January 2009; available online:

Water Bureau doesn't want to give me access

I had a bizarre experience with the Water Bureau today. I’m still a little shocked by it all, not even sure where to begin.

The net is PWB just handed me a bill for $57.72 for 8 little copies. Copies I won’t get until I pay this bill, never mind the 2 hours I spent downtown today sitting in a PWB conference room reading through binders to find those 8 pages. But therein lies the rub = 2 hours. They had someone sit and watch me read the documents that whole time. I was “supervised”. Supervised while reading two bid proposals and some score sheets. All of what I had in front of me was public information, and none of it would appear to pose a security issue… so why was I supervised? I don’t know.

I’ve noticed it isn’t easy to get public information from the Water Bureau. No matter what Randy Leonard claims (on April 11, 2009 , Leonard stood in front of 175 people at Glenco Elementary and said that all anyone has to do is pick up the phone to get documents from PWB; two weeks later PWB instituted a formal request policy with fees). But this really takes the cake. The whole experience was, bizarre. Here is how it went:

  • I was invited, by F. Jones of the Friends of the Reservoirs to accompany her on a visit to PWB to read some documents. Jones invited me because she thought it would be a good chance for me to see the PWB document library, as I may need to pull documents on behalf of MTNA someday. Jones had requested electronic copies of the documents in question (I’ve got something to say about this, later) and she was denied that request. She inquired about physical copies, and was told she’d be charged for staff time to pull and copy the documents ($171) and charged 25 cents each for the actual copies (# of pages undisclosed to her, but now that I’ve seen the material I can guess that the roughly 500 pages would have cost her upwards of $125). Jones made a plea for a fee waiver, a request based on the fact that her non-profit organization makes documents available to thousands of citizens. Request denied. So, Jones asked if she could just be given a chance to sit and read the documents down at PWB. They granted that request, a date was set, and I was invited.
  • We were not put in the document library, we were put in a conference room with 3 small binders and a handful of loose papers, all related to the contract that was recently awarded for the design of the new tank at Powell Butte (Powell Butte II). Kristen Small escorted us into the room and then sat down. When Small left for a few minutes at one point, Jones and I wondered aloud why we were being watched, woefully unaware that PWB was charging us for Small’s time to “supervise” us. On previous occasions, citizens like Jones were allowed in the library, on their own, for whatever time they were willing to dedicate to being there.
  • Within the first few minutes, Jones noticed she wasn’t given any of the names of the people on the panel that reviewed the bids for this contract. Jones had specifically requested the names of the people involved in the review panel/contract award process, so we asked Small if she could help Jones get that piece of information. Small was told by Mike Stuhr (head engineer) and Annette Dubishinsky that PWB was not authorized to disclose panel member identities, by city code. Jones corrected staff -- city code prohibits the disclosure of reviewer identities only until the point when the contract is awarded. The contract for Powell Butte II has already been signed. (Brownie points to Jones for being able to quote city code.) Shortly thereafter, Mike Stuhr appeared with the names. The seven panel members were as follows: 1) Jerry More, PWB; 2) Michael Angerinos, PWB, 3) Crystal Yezman, PWB, 4) Stan VandeBergh, PWB, 5) George Lozovoy, Parks Bureau, 6) Tamra Dickson, citizen, 7) Teresa Elliot, PWB. Notice that PWB does not seem to be following the City Auditor's report on consultant contracts, which advises against loading bid review panels with Bureau staff. (Update: I've posted the PTE Contract sheet that lists names and the money awarded with the contract.)
  • I learned that the panel members saw 2 bids: one from CH2MHill for $5,586,884; the other from Tetra Tech for $8,683,882. That's a $3million difference, and the panel favored CH2MHill. But, before the contract was signed and presumably after the panel's review, CH2MHill raised their bid to $8,455,246.
  • We read and read and read. When we finished, we asked for 8 pages to be copied, and we were told they’d be mailed. Our pages were only marked with these little sticky notes and I could imagine all sorts of mishaps that could occur between the conference room and the envelope that arrived at my door… what if a sticky fell off and they sent me one less page than what I’d hoped for, would I have to go all the way back downtown to find that page? “Can we just take the 8 copies now, I’ve got cash to cover the copy fee?” I pleaded. Small said she wasn’t “authorized” to give us copies, but she would see what she could do. TWENTY minutes later, we asked the front desk to check on Kristen. She reported that, “Kristen is furiously making those copies for you.” A total of 40 minutes later, Jimmy Brown approaches us with no copies. Instead he had a bill for $57.72 and a copy of the city policy on which he highlighted the passage that allows PWB to charge us for the “supervised” review.
  • I asked Jimmy Brown if he would send me a written bill, itemizing the $2 worth of copies and the $55 worth of supervision. I didn’t think anyone would believe this story without proof. PWB is restricting access to public information to “supervised” visits only, at a rate of $27.86/hr. That’s right, if you want to see any of the documents I saw, you can’t have them electronically (even though the RFP specifically stated that all bids were to be supplied in multiples of 12 hard copies PLUS an electronic copy), and you’ll have to pay to even so much as breathe on them.
  • If a citizen can't read a public record without being charged for the time it takes her to read the public record, citizen oversight is dead.
Update Jan 12
When I asked Jimmy Brown yesterday why we weren’t told at the start of the session that we’d be charged for the “supervision”, he replied something to the effect that the City policy was public information, and it wasn’t his fault if I hadn’t read it. I guess that’s true. I had read the policy, I just didn’t understand that the language could be leveraged to limit transparency.

I’ve now looked over the emails that led up to this misunderstanding. I think Mr. Brown could have been more clear.  Here is a chronological summary of the emails exchanged:

October 30, 2009
Jones made her request for:
“An electronic copy of all documents associated with the Ch2mHILL Powell Butte II reservoir design contract related to the selection committee and their ranking of the corporate proposals.”

November 5, 2009
Her request was acknowledged, and she was told it would cost $177, and that she would need to pay 50% up front.

Floy countered that she was looking for electronic copies, not paper copies. That the documents related to the panel selection committee should be in the 40 page range, not the 400 page range PWB was charging her for. She lobbied for a fee waiver based on FoR’s community information sharing mission, and she offered to make a site visit to read the documents.
November 6, 2009Brown responded to several people regarding Jones’ request, but failed to include Jones on that response. Brown detailed out the charges included in the PWB bill sent the day before. It reflects that Brown was also planning to copy and send the bids (roughly 300 pages), which Jones didn’t request. Brown asserted that the only way to get an electronic copy of the bids (which Jones didn’t ask to have) would be to pay PWB to scan them in (even though the RFP stated bids were to be supplied electronically).

Brown also wrote this: We would be willing to provide you the opportunity to come in and review the document(s) you've requested. Please note, per Public Records Policy there will be a charge for staff time associated with gathering the material. If there are pages that you would like to receive there will be a charge for a) scanning into a .pdf, and sending those documents electronically -- $.25/per page scanned; b) if copies of documents are made to give to you the charge is $.25/per copied page.
Note that Brown indicates there will be a charge for gathering the material for Jones to look at, but he does not say she will pay for the time it takes her to read it.

November 8, 2009
Jones presses again for a fee waiver. She also asks for an appointment to view the documents at PWB. Brown doesn’t respond for almost a month.

January 4, 2010
Brown responds with this:
Your request for a fee waiver has been denied.

The Bureau would like to afford you the opportunity to review the hard copy documents at its office, 1120 SW 5th, 6th Floor. In your review you may request that certain pages be duplicated. Bureau staff will make copies as requested, assessing a $.25 per page fee. Payment for copies must be received by staff prior to release.
The Bureau will make the hard copy documents available on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 1:30 PM. Please acknowledge via email that you are available on that date and time.

This would have been a good place for Brown to mention the fee for “supervision”. Note he only mentions the copy fee.

January 5, 2010
Floy counters with a new time, so that I can join = Monday, Jan 11 at the same time.

Brown responds with this:
Thank you for the confirmation. I will let folks know that you are available to review documents on January 11 at 1:30, not January 12 at 1:30. A PWB staff person will be assigned to assist you in the review process. Please meet at the 5th Floor, Portland Building and ask to speak with Kristen Small. We will provide a room for you to review the documents.

This is the first time anything is said that might indicate we were going to be babysat. But honestly, I didn’t understand that from Brown’s text.
January 11, 2010We show up. No one says anything about fees associated with Kristen Small’s “assistance”.

Here is the bill I was sent:
The amount is: $57.72
A. sub-total: staff time (document retrieval/supervision) - $55.72
(2 hours X $27.86/hr.)

B. sub-total: copies of marked documents - $2.00
(8 copies X $.25/copy)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Noise of Clearwire's Wireless-Internet

Clearwire promises to blanket our city in wireless internet connectivity. They appear to be blanketing our city in noise.

In October of 2008, Clearwire installed a wireless internet device about the size of a refrigerator on a telephone pole on a quiet residential street in the Mt. Tabor neighborhood. (The telephone pole's address is 44 SE 50th Ave.) The residents on this street no longer live in quiet. The Clearwire device has a noisy cooling fan, that cycles on and off 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It clicks on and off, day and night. While it is on it produces noise audible within the homes nearby. In hot weather, it turns on more often and stays on longer -- which means neighbors have to live with this noise in their bedrooms all summer, or they have to close their windows and live without Portland's wonderfully cool night air.

Not long after this device was first installed, KATU did a short story about it, which you can see here:

The amount of noise this device makes has fluctuated throughout the past year as neighbors, MTNA, and Paul Van Orden with the city's noise office have harangued Clearwire officials for improvements. Every request was met with a slow response from Clearwire, and on at least one occasion their efforts made the noise get louder and stay that way for months. The first technical readings of the noise produced by this box revealed this device was violating noise codes. When the city's noise officer investigated the technical specs of the device (as supplied by the manufacturer) we discovered it was designed to make more noise than Portland's noise codes would allow.

After more than a year of communication between Clearwire, the City, the neighbors and MTNA, Clearwire finally produced a fix in early January 2010 that makes this one box meet Portland noise codes. I have not seen Clearwire offer to bring the other 50+ boxes located around this city into compliance, and I have not seen them offer to make this "fix" a part of every new box that gets installed.

But, the problem is not gone. I am sad to report that the neighbors closest to this device can still hear the noise it makes, and all of its cycles, inside their homes. It is quieter than it was, but not quiet enough to return the neighborhood to what it was before this box was installed. I draw two conclusions at this point:

1) The noise codes as written are not adequate for items being installed in residential Right-Of-Ways (ROWs). A device on a telephone pole is in a unique position to project noise in all directions and effect many neighbors. The allowed decibel level should be reduced to something that is effectively inaudible to residents sleeping with their windows open in nearby homes.

2) Seemingly, Clearwire is sourcing cheap, noisy fans for their wireless internet products. Portlanders should insist on better, quieter fans, or this city will be blanketed in noise. This box just might appear on a pole outside your bedroom.

Solarize Portland

In May of 2009, Tim O'Neal from Southeast Uplift and Stephanie Stewart from MTNA (that's me) launched Solarize Portland. With incredible support from the folks at The Energy Trust of Oregon (thanks Lizzie Rubado!), the project really took off. In a big way. Like nothing we could have expected. Whew.

If you are interested in solar panels for your home, look at the Solarize Portland projects. I built Solarize Portland its own website, so I'll let you go there to learn more about it:

A sample of the press coverage given to Solarize Portland:

Oregon Live:
The Examiner:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Behavior Unbefitting a City Bureau

An article on the front page of the latest NW Examiner (January 2010) -- discussing the Portland Water Bureau’s historically confrontational behavior towards citizen activists and how PWB has targeted Scott Fernandez and others:

Friday, January 1, 2010

Watch City Council meetings

While I think it is a good idea to show your face at any City Council hearing covering a topic important to you (audience numbers indicate public interest, public interest can elevate Commissioner attention spans), don't forget you can watch video of older sessions, right from your computer.

From a member of the Reservoir Independent Review Panel

I hear a number of complaints from the community about the “public process” that goes into various City bureau decisions. Dave Mazza, a member of the 2004 Reservoir Independent Review Panel, wrote a rather candid first person account of the IRP process you can read here: . I found it worth the read.

West Side Boil Alert Update

By now I hope you’ve heard the E. coli found in water samples from Reservoir 3 over the Thanksgiving holiday was non-infectious; meaning it was harmless to human beings, and just one of the many types of innocuous bacteria we encounter in our normal environment every day. (Water Bureau press release available here: )

In reading data at the State’s Drinking Water Program website ( ), one can see that E.coli detects happen in all parts of our water system, not just in the open reservoirs. In fact, Conduit #4 (a buried pipeline) has had repeated E.coli detects this year -- boil alerts are not issued with these E.coli detects because, reportedly, regulation does not require them to be issued (case report for Conduit #4: ).

I find any suggestion that the City should spend $400 million (cost to bury reservoirs, $800 million with debt service) an inappropriate reaction to a harmless bacteria. Covering your drinking water does not prevent debris from getting into it; as long as there is an inlet and an outlet there is an entry point for contaminants. Water managers contend with environmental contaminants, whether they are running open or closed systems.

Read this EPA white paper to learn more about debris in water storage facilities: . Interestingly, all of the cases cited in this document where illness and death occur as a result of contamination were from incidents in covered storage facilities. The authors speculate that debris should be an even bigger problem in open reservoirs, but I cannot find an EPA citation supporting that speculation.