Once More into the Fray 

The Ex-Commissioner Who Sued over Utility Spending Doesn't Want a Water District

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LLOYD ANDERSON is a relatively difficult man to interview.

His number's not listed, for starters, and his attorney won't call back when you ask for help reaching out. Then, when you do get ahold of Anderson—a former Multnomah County planning director, Portland city commissioner, and director of the Port of Portland—he'll only agree to answer questions via mail. (Want to avoid postage costs and delay by dropping a letter off at Anderson's Sellwood houseboat yourself? You'll be stymied by the gate at the Oregon Yacht Club.)

But there are good reasons to keep trying. Anderson, now 89, is still affecting city policy from the depths of retirement. He's one of the litigants in an ongoing lawsuit charging the city with flagrant misuse of millions in sewer and water funds. That suit recently spurred a Multnomah County judge to chastise the city for using utility money on publicly financed elections and Portland Loos.

And yet—despite his anger over the expenditures—Anderson says the answer to Portland's ongoing debate isn't snatching the utilities away from city council, a move some of his allies in the lawsuit have managed to put before voters in May. He tells the Mercury he opposes that effort, fearing it could imperil the city's ability to borrow money for utility projects.

Anderson's been thinking about these subjects for decades. As a newly appointed public works commissioner in 1970, he pushed for new sewer fees to combat pollution—a provision that laid the groundwork for giant projects that have helped keep sewage from Portland's rivers (and pushed rates higher).

He's perhaps best known, though, as a leading player in Portland's 1974 decision to scrap the Mount Hood Freeway—a landmark victory in the city's land-use history.

The Mercury corresponded, and subsequently chatted, with Anderson about what the city's done wrong, how policy has changed over the years, and why he doesn't support the Portland Public Water District.

MERCURY: How did you come to be involved in the lawsuit?

LLOYD ANDERSON: I believe strongly that the water and sewer funds should be used for water and sewer purposes, as was intended. Several actions by the council caused me to shudder about the use of those funds outside of that commitment. I heard about the possible lawsuit and indicated a willingness to participate. I hoped that the suit would make the council more cautious in what the funds could be used for.

You've been involved in high-level Portland policy discussions for decades. Is there a notable change in how the City of Portland handles and spends water, sewer, and stormwater money today?

The money available from the general fund for various city needs is scarcer now, so the council has taken money out of the water and sewer funds for general fund uses to help relieve the pressure. Some of it may be legal, some may not. But legal or not, the council has been involved in mission creep that has the water and sewer ratepayer acquiring land, and constructing facilities that should be financed by other means.

Not that the city was rolling in money in 1970 when I was commissioner of public works. The sewer rates at that time were fixed at two-thirds of the water rates. The city was dumping primary sewage (settling out the solids and chlorinating the outflow) into the Columbia River and had no money to upgrade the system. I recommended that a citywide vote be held that allowed the sewer rates to be independent of the water rates. The vote was authorized and passed by the voters in May 1970. That led to the building of the secondary treatment plant and the financing of the multitude of the other improvements up to now. With the rates what they are (high) and the continuous need to maintain a system that is aging—some of it well over 100 years old—the prudent use of the sewer and water funds is in order.

What use of ratepayer funds have you found most egregious?

The use of ratepayer money for the Rose Festival building, the building of a section of sewer that others beside the city (TriMet) should have paid for, and the acquisition of park land. All of these efforts have merit. But the water and sewer ratepayer should not be anointed to finance them.

You're frequently noted for your role in helping kill the Mount Hood Freeway project. Are there similar things at play here in terms of wise/unwise use of public funds? Or are the issues completely separate?

I believe they are separate for the most part. The change in values about transportation, neighborhood values, and leadership brought the Mount Hood Freeway to an end.

Given your criticisms of the city's stewardship of ratepayer money, do you support the current push to create an independent Portland Public Water District (backed by many of the same people who filed the lawsuit)?

No, I do not support the effort. The council has changed, and its look at the issues involved is more prudent. I believe they should be held accountable and the change should occur at the council. I also believe a public review of the mission associated with the water and sewer funds should be clearer and developed with substantial open public input. We'll see what happens.

So the matter needs to be handled within city council?

Yes. One of the problems, and it's going to be a legal one, is that the new district has as its boundaries the Portland school district. That excludes part of the City of Portland, but includes areas outside the city. You've got a kind of lawsuit potential. If in fact it occurs and the city needs to then sell more bonds to finance its facilities, the bond buyer has a very real possibility of saying, "Well, I'm going to wait until any lawsuits are settled before I buy."

Were you asked to sign on to the Portland Public Water District campaign?

At the time I indicated that I was willing to enter into a lawsuit opposed to the city taking money out of the water and sewer funds for other purposes, I made it clear that's what I was doing and not anything more.

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