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Battle lines drawn in water and sewer lawsuit

The long-running civil lawsuit against the City of Portland for misspending water and sewer funds took a major sep forward Thursday when lawyers representing ratepayers filed their motion for summary judgement with the Multnomah County Circuit Court.

City attorneys filed their motion to dismiss the suit several months ago. The plaintiff's motion asks the court to rule in their favor on four specific appropriations approved by the City Council. They were chosen by both sides as test cases to determine how the court views the City Charter provision governing the use of water and sewer ratepayer funds.

In the motion, ratepayer attorney John DiLorenzo argues the charter limits the use of water and sewer funds to core missions of the Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services, which operates the city's sewer system and storm water management programs. In their filing, city attorneys argued the council has the authority to determine how the funds can be spent.

The four appropriations are:

• Slightly under $1 million in water and BES funds spent on the former public campaign financing program called Voter Owned Elections.

• Around $600,000 in water funds spent on the public toilets known as the Portland Loos.

• $6 million in BES funds spent to help acquire an undeveloped portion of the River View Cemetery, which DiLorenzo argues is now a city park.

• $3.9 million given to TriMet to relocate underground water pipes during the renovation of the Transit Mall.

A status conference on the suit is set for Monday. Oral arguments could be presented to the court as soon as February.

DeLorenzo is representing three city residents, Lloyd Anderson, Paige Craford and Millard Christner. The suit is supported by some of the same parties supporting the current initiative petition drive to place a measure on the May 2014 Primary Election ballot to move control of the water and sewer bureaus from the council to an elected board.