Mayor Charlie Hales and his colleagues on the Portland City Council have decided to drop Portland’s seven-year fight against a federal mandate to cover and/or replace its cherished—and notably clean—open-air drinking water reservoirs, announcing the city's decision in a letter made public this morning.
The white flag marks a pragmatic capitulation on a project that's both massively controversial and expensive. After several attempts to persuade the feds and state that covering Portland's historically pure reservoirs would be overkill, including one last request for a delay last month, Hales is clearly refusing to spend any more of his political capital on a debate that's tangled up both of his immediate predecessors.
“Faced with no other legal options and with deadlines looming, the city will move forward to meet the compliance timeline,” Hales explained in the letter (pdf). The decision was first reported late Friday by Willamette Week.
But the city council letter was missing something very curious: a signature from Commissioner Amanda Fritz. It's hard to miss. The Oregonian reported today that commissioners were given a chance to edit the letter before signing on. I can tell you that Fritz tried to work Hales' office on changes before it was clear they couldn't reach an agreement and Fritz decided not to sign.
Fritz's office declined to comment on behalf of the commissioner who, apparently, has been turning down interviews today.
It's the third instance in recent days in which Fritz went "rogue" and stuck a finger in the eye of Portland City Council's preference for unanimity. As I detailed last week, Fritz voted against Hales' budget last week—giving Portland its first non-unanimous budget in years—with a dramatic speech that upset and perplexed some of her colleagues.
She also sent a "private" letter to Senator Richard Devlin expressing her dissatisfaction with HB 2963, the now-dead attempt by the Portland Business Alliance to help bring back something like the city's unconstitutional sit-lie sidewalk rules. That letter was revealed by the Oregonian's editorial board in a piece imploring the Senate to pass the bill (they didn't; it died—something I'm not sure ever appeared in the O's news pages). Hales' office runs the city's legislative lobbying team, which felt undercut by Fritz's move. Also, it's been noted that the city council decided not to address the bill in its legislative lobbying agenda.
Fritz declined to provide a copy of that letter.