Mt. Tabor Reservoir Independent Review Panel
The following letter was sent from the Friends of the Reservoirs to Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office on December 16, 2003.
December 16, 2003
Dear Commissioner Saltzman,
The Friends of the Reservoirs were pleased to learn of your decision to reexamine the decision to bury Portland’s open reservoirs by considering the alternatives and that you have the support of other council members in this decision. We applaud this action and support the reexamination of this issue.
As you are aware, we have advocated for an open public process for over a year. All of our literature of which the Water Bureau and the City Council has copies, speak to this as a primary focus of our group. We believe that citizens must be equal partners in setting the terms of any legitimate open public process.
While we agree that an independent review of the options is necessary, we are concerned about the proposed composition of the panel. How can this panel be fair and unbiased when it appears to be composed of the same government officials who testified for the City at the February 19, 2002 City Hall meeting?
The testimony of State Health Department, FBI, and emergency services representatives all supported the burial decision without providing any evidence of first thoughtfully researching the viable alternatives. The February 19 City government panel was not able to persuade the 200 plus citizens in attendance nor KINK, the primary media covering the event who reported that, "The critics of the plan clearly won that debate... the City has not proved to the public that it has really tried to come up with creative engineering solutions that could add safety and maintain the reservoirs above ground."
We are also concerned about the impartiality of a Park Board member appointment. Park Board members were placed on the “What Goes on Top” reservoir panel without being identified as such. They were designated as Citizens at Large, but were a part of the minority opinion of that group opposing an “independent analysis of alternatives, and full and open discussion of those findings.” In their 8-27- 03 Memo to Council, the majority stated, “ We maintain that the decision to bury the reservoirs was made under a false sense of urgency, without proper public process, and that creative alternatives were not considered.” Given the Park Board members’ public opposition to an open public process and their active promotion on this panel of soccer fields, their bias is already a matter of record.
In the spirit of a legitimate open public process starting with citizens having a voice in the terms of that process, we propose a Citizens’ Jury made up of a panel of citizens drawn totally at random from the voter lists of the last city council election. The panel members would not be paid for their participation, but they would be able to hire a project coordinator/meeting facilitator, and be provided resources for independent research. Both the Water Bureau and citizens who have independently researched creative alternatives, would be given equal time to present their cases to the Jury.
As an alternative, we request that Friends of the Reservoirs, citizens who have in good faith independently researched this issue over the last year have an equal place at the table. If the panel consists of 12 members, we believe that those who have independently researched creative alternatives and have become knowledgeable about this complex issue, should have several representatives on that panel. Friends of the Reservoirs did not start out in opposition to this project; we were simply seeking an understanding of the necessity of the project and in our research discovered that viable, less costly alternatives did exist. We have examined both the City’s documents and sought out independent information.
Land use appeals of both your Washington Park and Mt. Tabor use determinations are pending before LUBA and the Court of Appeals. These appeals seek conditional use review under the zoning code. ORS 197.763 establishes the rules for evidentiary hearings on land use reviews. We believe that the procedural safeguards of this state law should set the minimum due process standards for the panel review you propose. Anything less will be automatically tainted as not meeting the state law standards.
Finally, we believe that as a starting point, the panel should recognize these reservoirs as valuable historic resources unique to this city, fully functioning within a park setting. The panel should start its work from the perspective that these reservoirs should be preserved as functioning open reservoirs if at all possible and only if at the end of the process it is determined that they cannot remain as functioning open reservoirs should other alternatives be considered. We have proposed and supported safety and water quality improvements, some of which are directly in line with the City’s stated proposals, but thus far no action has been taken to put them in place. Installation of new fully functioning shut-off valves is one example. The City had advised that installation of this safety feature would take place last April. That start work date was then moved to summer 2003 and finally to late fall 2003. Thus far the City has done nothing despite the claim that doing nothing is not an option.
In any event, we believe the following questions should be answered for the public. We would appreciate a response prior to the official appointment of the review panel.
Transparency in Government Questions
Regarding the Review Panel:
The community has the belief that the burial project has been placed on hold for 90 days, but we would like clarification of what that means, as much of the project work appears to be continuing on course.
Regarding MWH Reservoir Contract # 34980
Regarding the Natt McDougal Washington Park Cover contract
Again, we thank you for taking this step and we look forward to working with you in coming up with the best solutions for Portland’s water system.
Friends of the Reservoirs Executive Board
Cc Mayor Katz