A proposal to take the city's water, sewer and stormwater utilities away from Portland City Council qualifies for the ballot, county elections officials have found.

After a sampling, officials say the so-called Portland Public Water District campaign submitted enough valid signatures last month to spur an official vote May 20. The campaign needed 29,786 valid signatures, and turned in an estimated 50,213 on January 21.

County Elections Director Tim Scott just sent this to the city:


The qualification isn't much of a surprise. We reported yesterday that City Elections Officer Deborah Scroggin said the petition looked "pretty clean" compared to some that have been turned in.

But it looks like the campaign wisely overshot the requirements by more than 20,000 signatures. According to numbers the county elections office provided [pdf], it appears the sampling was confident between 32,858 and 33,819 were valid (I'm still waiting on an explanation of what all that means).

Update, 4:07 pm:

The auditor's office just posted this on its site: "Auditor's Office received statistical sampling reports from Multnomah County Elections Office. Petition is estimated to have 32,858 valid City of Portland registered voters and therefore qualifies for the ballot."

Here's the official certification.

Kent Craford, chief co-petitioner in the effort, said he hasn't heard from the city regarding the findings. "You're breaking the news to me," he said.

Now that the measure's made the ballot, expect to hear more about it. Supporters have amassed tens of thousands of dollars from local industrial ratepayers and property management companies. And some of the city's environmental groups—to say nothing of the folks in City Hall—are dead set against the idea.

If passed, the measure would create a seven-member elected board to preside over the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services. The group would set water and sewer rates, make decisions on infrastructure projects and new debt, and control many of the city's environmental protection efforts (something groups like the Audubon Society of Portland and Friends of Trees decry).

But there are still sizable questions about just how the water board would work, and those might have to be settled via a court case if it passes.

The campaign's signature-gathering effort was fairly controversial. A chorus of complaints rolled into the Oregon Secretary of State's Office late last year—many from foes of the effort—alleging petitioners were telling lies and half-truths to convince people to sign. Secretary of State spokesman Tony Green said yesterday the office is still investigating those complaints.

In the mean time, the petition's apparent success means Portland will have a contentious vote over its water supply for the second May in a row. It'll be ugly. Let's just hope it doesn't get fluoride ugly.

Update, 4:45 pm:

Craford just called back—he says it won't get fluoride ugly.

"I don't know that you should expect a city hall, fluoride-like campaign," Craford says. "I don't expect it to be a million-dollar campaign. But we'll mount a good campaign."

He also lauded the campaign's signature gathering firm, Encore Political Services, which was paid a hefty sum to carry out the work. (The state's campaign finance website is down, so I don't know how much. And Craford wouldn't say. Over $100,000 though.)