Rant – Disillusionment in Portland

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Rumors are Rarely True

 

When I was young I used to think that Portland, Oregon was the perfect city, and I know I’m not the only one. People in other cities seem to think the same thing, but just like my initial experience with the ‘progressive, accepting population of a truly Green metropolis’, they haven’t seen the underlying filth and grime that Portland tries so hard to hide. It seems the longer I live here to more I hate this place, and after a long, hard fight in trying to retain my affection for it I just don’t have the energy to deal with its flaws anymore. For over six months now I’ve been developing plans to move back to my real home (where people can really experience ‘the organic lifestyle’ because you’re in the middle of the woods), but there are certain aspects that have restrained my retreat, so here I stay, at least for now. There are still several advantages to living in Portland, but there used to be several more, so much so that I didn’t even notice the downsides. Slowly, over the last few years, those pros have eroded away, and I’m stuck watching what used to be a great mass community become just like any other large city.

 

My Buttons are Breaking

 

My discontent has had a long time to develop, but it was one recent public scare that finally pushed me to write my frustrations out. Some of you may have heard news reports about the boil water alert that was issued to everyone in Portland yesterday, but if you don’t live here there’s a good chance that you didn’t hear the whole story on the matter. There’s an interesting chain of events leading up to the alert that is too coincidental for my taste, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time politicians had pulled a fast one on the people they’re supposed to serve. Some people might just write off my suspicions, claiming I’m some sort of conspiracy chaser, but that isn’t the case with me. Typically, most of the conspiracy theories I hear sound ridiculous to me, though I will grant that some of them are quite logical, and even probable. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that I tend to be an objective sort of person, only basing my conclusions on pure, unadulterated, indisputable facts. I have the mind of a scientist, that’s for certain, and I’ve always enjoyed the process of researching a topic, going beyond Googling something and only reading the first result. It takes a lot of evidence, and it has to be from reliable sources, to convince me of something.

Here’s a brief timeline to give you an idea of what my suspicions are based on:

Public Distrust Steadily Grows

Over the past few years, the City Council of Portland has continually pissed off the residents in their jurisdiction by squandering the money they’ve received from the ubiquitous water utility fees that everyone must pay. And, of course, the backlash of their poor decisions and misappropriations fall back onto the communities in the form of steep rate hikes, instigated by those same ‘leaders’ in an attempt to make up their loses. Because they’ve continued the same pattern for so long, and the people they work for, the citizens they’re supposed to listen to, haven’t taken a strong stand against their frivolous actions, this ridiculous predicament has snowballed into a real problem.

As of last Thursday, May 22nd, 2014, the City Council authorized yet another increase in water fees, set to take effect July 1st and bring the average cost for water and sewer services to $94.79, which soars over the typical bill people pay in Phoenix, AZ ($37.75 for water, $20.71 for sewer). That calculates to a 64% increase compared to the rates from just 10 years ago. Granted, the water in Phoenix tastes horrible (at least, it used to when I lived there in the 90’s), but all it takes to fix that is a good filter. Some like to claim that the City Council’s haphazard projects and alleged slush funds aren’t the cause of the rate increases, that they’re simply the result of updating our systems to comply with federal regulations, but I don’t think that’s wholly true. Sure, we’ve caught the City Council behaving badly, and we’ve made them pay for it, but I’m certain there’s more problems out there that we never realized. I mean, what are the odds that we’ve discovered every disaster they’ve committed under the Water Bureau? It’s never that simple or easy, and I’m fairly positive that there’s plenty more where the revealed mishaps came from.

One Man Takes a Stand, But His Major Supporters Make People Nervous

Generally, it seems most people have too much to worry about in their daily lives to have the time to call out our leaders on their poor decisions, but one man, Kent Craford, has fought for reform, off and on, for several years. When he felt that the cooperation offered from the current City Council to be lacking, he and other like-minded individuals decided to take a stand. Eventually, they created Measure 26-156 and rallied support for it through petition signatures, which called for major changes and would have withdrawn all administration responsibilities over water, sewer, and wastewater from the City Council, transferring everything to a new, independent board. Unfortunately, there were inexcusable flaws in the measure, and on top of that, the three largest financial supporters behind Craford’s campaign caused most voters to question their altruism since they all happened to be related to corporations that required huge amounts of water. Of course, the financial backers that opposed the bill were just as suspicious, but that uncertainty, the large risk involved, eventually dissuaded so many people who the measure failed in a ratio of almost 3-to-1 against it.

One thing that Craford and some of his proponents stood for rubbed me the wrong way, which involved the continued use of the open-air reservoirs (which we just had a big problem with) Portland has drawn its water from for over a hundred years, and they also didn’t want to build any protective covers over them. This is a problem, not only because of the high risk from contamination (a few months a ago some kid urinated in one of the reservoirs, causing it to be shut down entirely), but also because of the federal regulations against it, which were put in place as a defense again cryptosporidium (a nasty little parasite similar to E. coli, but more dangerous at times). Refusing to comply with those regulations brings federal displeasure down on all of us, and their law makes complete sense. All we have to do is secure the water source; we don’t need to build new reservoirs as long as we take common-sense approach to the problem. So, if planned properly, this issue could be resolved efficiently without costing a ton of cash. It seemed to me that I wasn’t the only person who disagreed with Craford’s views, and I think some of them probably felt that if Measure 26-156 had passed that it would somehow give him enough power to complete his goal, but I that would have been unlikely.

One of the best, and worst, parts of the measure was that it restricted candidates who could be elected to the board. This is good because it would have prevented anyone with a conflict of interest to take power and later bend the board for personal or corporate gain, but the writers of the measure didn’t stop there. They proposed that board members not be paid any sort of salary or wage, thus ensuring that only people who really wanted to benefit the system would try for a spot. That idea is a solid one, but it could easily backfire. That aspect I could deal with, but they took it too far by insisting that anyone who actually did get appointed to the board not hold down any other job. So, basically, they would’ve been expected to work for free and wouldn’t be able to seek a stable income from another career. I understand that they were only trying to ensure that the most dedicated are granted responsibilities, but that kind of requirement only ensures that very rich people, with large amounts of money stored away already, can hold the position, and I really don’t like the sound of that.

If they’d only thought the wording of the measure through a little more I think it could have been successful, but now we’re still stuck with the same old song and dance from the City Council. And yesterday, only two days after the elections ended, the plot intensified.

Crap! No, really, crap!

As I said before, a boil water alert was issued yesterday morning because four samples taken from a few different reservoirs came back positive for signs of E. coli, but it isn’t very cut and dry. First off, some experts were saying that the suggestions broadcast to the public were overkill, which included boiling any and all tap water intended for ingestion for at least 2 minutes and dumping any and all food or drinks made with tap water on or after last Tuesday. With the Rose Festival set to kick off at Waterfront Park that very day, the contamination scare couldn’t have come at a worse time, and food vendors were required to throw away masses of food because they’d prepared it with tap water. Health officials had commented to reporters that it was unlikely anyone would actually get sick from the water in its cold state since the amount of chlorine discovered during testing should have been sufficient to kill off the bacteria before it reached consumers, but administrators weren’t taking any risks, and the alert ended up being the largest boil notice in Portland’s history, affecting about 670,000 people.

People rushed to stores as soon as they found out, buying as much bottled water as they could get their hands on, their panic causing just about every store to sell out by the afternoon. Because of this ordeal, two huge reservoirs have to be drained completely in an attempt to discover the source of the contamination, but just like the previous two boil alerts in 2009 and 2012, it’s doubtful that they’ll actually find any evidence. Businesses like coffee shops and restaurants had to shut down completely, costing them a good deal of revenue, and the cost of the work to be done on our water sources will be high.

But here’s the kicker: this whole crappy situation actually supports and discounts both sides of the Measure 26-156 debate. Here’s how each group has lost face because of this mess:

 Measure Supporters

It is a fact that open-air reservoirs benefit from the exposure to sunlight, which assists in the purification process, but leaving a water source that supports over half a million people isn’t the brightest idea. Sure, E. coli is only a severe threat to young children, elderly people, and those with compromised immune systems (it can actually kill people in those categories through dehydration alone), and most people get a few stomach cramps, a small bout of diarrhea, then move on if they catch it, but there’s a lot worse threats out there than simple bacteria and mild parasites. The federal government is also concerned about the vulnerability to terrorist attacks that open reservoirs offer, and a whole slew of other substances could easily end up in the water. Yes, birds and other animals have defecated in that water ever since the system was built, and the likely hood of something really serious entering the water is small, but I still don’t think it’s worth the risk, all things considered.

City Council

A lot of angry question have been tossed around ever since the public found out a shocking bit of information: the city first detected signs of E. coli Wednesday morning, but didn’t even attempt to notify the public about it. In stead, they waited until more testing was completed because the regulations didn’t require them to say anything until Friday. By Friday morning, three different reservoirs had tested positive for the bacteria, and the Oregon Health Authority finally told the water bureau to write a press release and activate the reverse 911 system (which is very unreliable and not very expedient anyway). By the time they let us know what was going on people had injested the tap water long enough to begin getting sick. It’s not like the emergency rooms got slammed or anything, but people are beginning to come forward and admit that they had experienced symptoms long before the alert was broadcast.

I get that E. coli isn’t a crazy, extremely life-threatening contagion, but I think people deserve to be informed, as soon as possible, when signs of fecal mater have been detected in the water they pay so much for. To be blunt, it isn’t the marginal health risks that irked me, but the fact that the government held back on us, and so soon after a vote that helped them. What’s interesting is that I could have absolutely sworn I’d read an article yesterday on a local news website that said they’d known about the problem on Tuesday, but now it’s mysteriously missing. I know I read that somewhere, and the source was trustworthy. I’m not the only one, either, because several people have hinted at suspecting a cover-up and some have openly declared that they wish they could have changed their vote on Measure 26-156. The backlash from this really isn’t helping the City Council in any way.

 

Nothing But Disappointment

 

No matter which way I look at it, this whole business with the water supply disappoints me, and both sides are to blame. That’s all there is to it. But, in comparison, I think the City Council has come out of this looking a lot worse than Craford and his partners.

 

 Anyway…

 

This is only one of the irritants that have caused me to adopt my Little Miss Rant’n’Raver persona lately. I’ll probably end up writing plenty of articles about this area. If you’ve actually read all the way through this, thank you for your patience. I don’t really expect anyone to love this kind of work, and I’m only making it for me, so I won’t feel bad if you didn’t care for it. I certainly feel a lot better after getting that off my chest.

Thanks!

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