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Clackamas Review

Is Clackamas County's PUD DOA
David Stroup - 11/3/2003

Backers of a Clackamas County Peoples’ Utility District (PUD) say their plan still has a fighting chance — despite the overwhelming defeat of a similar proposal in Multnomah County.

Measure 26-51, which would have allowed a public takeover of PGE, was defeated by a more than 2-to-1 margin Nov. 4. Opponents spent almost $2 million fighting it. Some analysts say the defeat in relatively liberal Multnomah County means a PUD will have an even harder time in more conservative counties — including Clackamas.

But Clackamas County PUD backer Tom Civiletti isn’t giving up. “Personally, we’re disappointed,” he said. “As far as our campaign goes, it really doesn’t change anything for us. We’re going ahead — and we expect to be able to win…. If Clackamas County is the only PUD, I think it’s still a good idea.”

In fact, backers of the public-power proposal in Clackamas and Washington counties just announced that they have enough signatures to call for a local election on the PUD issue. An election on a Clackamas County PUD will likely be held in May 2004.

The just-failed Measure 26-51 would have started the process of forming a PUD to take over PGE’s assets in Multnomah County, then running them as a public utility. It would have charged homeowners a small fee — which supporters said would be less than $1 per household — to pay for an engineering study to determine whether the public takeover of the utility would be practical.

The Clackamas County proposal is structured similarly: If it’s approved, it would ask for a one-time fee of 25-75 cents from most homeowners to pay for an engineering report on the handover.

The Multnomah County proposal drew fierce opposition, much of funded by PGE — which is owned by Enron. A massive media campaign told voters that the plan would be costly and could cause rates to rise. By contrast, backers of the measure reportedly spent about $30,000 promoting 26-51.

Civiletti makes his case

Votes on PUDs are expected in Clackamas, Washington and Yamhill counties. In addition, the City of Portland itself could still try to buy out the utility.

Civiletti said several things will be different when the issue comes to a vote in Clackamas County — likely in May of next year. “The Enron creditors are very unhappy right now,” he said. He also charged that Enron’s restructuring plan is “ambiguous…. They needed to keep the voters in Multnomah County from knowing what was going on.”

PUD backers have claimed that Enron will sell off PGE’s assets to unregulated outside companies; Enron officials have denied that they have any plans to do that. Civiletti, however, believes the company will have to start doing that before the May vote — possibly pushing voter opinion in favor of a PUD.

In addition, Civiletti said, a controversial phrase in Measure 26-51’s title won’t be on the ballot when the PUD plan comes before Clackamas County voters. The Multnomah County measure was required to bear a notice that it could cause property taxes to rise by more than 3 percent — even though the actual increase was reportedly a fraction of that.

Civiletti said that legally mandated phrase has been found to be “misleading” in circuit court — but because that decision was appealed, the ballot wasn’t changed. Civiletti believes that the 9th Circuit Court will hear that case — and that judges will agree that the “3 percent” claim is misleading — before May.

Civiletti said the vote to form a PUD would be only the first step in a longer conversion process. He likened his proposal to insurance against what Enron could do with PGE — “and insurance is usually a good idea,” he said.