City plows through a pile of issues
After a couple of months of reduced meeting schedules for the holidays, the Portola City Council hunkered down during January meetings to tackle a number of serious issues affecting the cityís future and, at the same time, deal with a series of snowstorms that hobbled city residents.
Snowplowing issues were at the forefront of the Jan. 27 meeting, beginning with public comment from school bus driver Bob Morton who said, ìThe streets in the city were just fabulous, especially the ones leading to the schools.î
Morton noted city crews were out plowing when he was out driving the bus at 6:15 a.m. and still plowing 12 hours later when he worked on his home driveway.
ìIím happy and I thank you,î he said.
Council member William Weaver complimented city staff as well and Mayor Larrieu summarized, ìTheyíre hardworking, and we want them to know that theyíre appreciated.î
The topic of snow removal continued to be a theme that wove throughout the meeting. Later, council member Curt McBride added his wife was also a school bus driver and she, too, was pleased with the snow removal.
ìOur city crews are using antiquated equipment and doing the best job they can,î he added.
In his City Managerís Report, Jim Murphy thanked those in attendance for their kind words and complimented Public Works Director Todd Roberts for ìan incredible job.î He announced that the city now had three new transmissions guaranteed for three more years, since all of the equipment had failed during the snowstorms.
In preparing for the snowstorms, Murphy said city staff had posted and handed out flyers warning residents of impending weather and predictions, and included a warning from the city. ìThe city of Portola will strictly enforce parking and snow removal regulations during this weather event. Vehicles parked on any city street will be towed. When removing snow, do not deposit it on city streets and rights of way.î
ìWe did what we thought was a good thing, but it turned out to backfire on us,î said Murphy.
He proceeded to paint a dismal picture of city staffís experiences in the past week.
Business owners called and worried customers could not come to their stores; customers called and worried that they could not go to stores. People called and complained, usually in angry tones.
Out on the streets, it was worse. There were confrontations between the community service officer, Plumas County deputies, other city staff and various residents. In some cases, there was a great deal of profanity.
A man ran alongside a snowplow, beating at the windshield with his snow shovel and attempting to smash it.
Another resident followed the snowplow for two hours, yelling and driving erratically.
Still another inebriated pair ran in front of the snowplow, attempting to prevent it from berming their driveway with slush.
Probably never a popular ordinance, the snowplowing regulation with its snow removal towing provision has been in effect since 1970, and was re-established in 1985.
Murphy said it was essentially the same across Plumas County in Greenville, Chester, Crescent City and in South Lake Tahoe.
Murphy emphasized that after the street had been plowed, residents could return their cars to the streets, but if another storm threatened, they would have to repeat the procedure.
City policy is to begin clearing streets as soon as there is approximately four inches of snowfall. Snow removal crews follow a prioritized plan for removal.
In residential areas, Murphy said the city was making an effort to notify people in advance, and in the evening CSO Leah Turner would place yellow cards requesting the car be moved. Towing operations would not begin until the following morning. More complete guidelines are available at City Hall or can be requested from the CSO.
At the end of Murphyís managerial report, Weaver requested Murphy read a complaint from Portola resident Georgia Marks, who reacted badly to her vehicle being towed. Murphyís response was identical to the discussion that had already taken place at the council meeting.
Council member Bill Kennedy thought it was time to show support for city staff and employees by demonstrating to the public that the city council was in full support of the snow removal ordinances.
Murphy suggested they place the current ordinance on the next agenda for review and renewal. Council members agreed.
As that drama played out between city government and its constituents, many other reports and updates interrupted the flow, if only briefly.
Temporary rest stop
Larrieu reported progress had been made with Caltrans regarding ìtemporary rest stopî signage during the period the rest stop between Portola and Beckwourth was under construction.
The city has offered to find local alternatives for travelers, and Larrieu reported Caltrans was enthusiastic and gave permission for its signs to be covered with replacement signs.
Community Service Officer program
McBride reported on a League of California Cities dinner he attended with City Manager Jim Murphy and council member Weaver. The city of Biggs, population 1,800, paid $600,000 for its police department to do what Portolaís CSO does.
Murphy added that the CSO program cost a little over $100,000. Biggs was interested in knowing more about the program.
ìBringing that program to life has been a godsend to Portola, and now other cities our size and smaller want to copy us,î McBride said.
Murphy discussed a problem area in CSO relations with parents picking up children at the high school, as well as student parking while school is in session.
Parents complained of CSO harassment of students parked there and unfair ticketing, but Murphy said only two tickets had been handed out in the past two years.
Increased enforcement of the yellow zone has reduced the number of traditional parking spots. Murphy said the city, school officials and Acting Principal Sara Sheridan were working together to install a student parking area on school grounds and would move two modulars to make space. Unfortunately, it was too late in the season to implement the changes.
Sheridan, for her part, said parents had been very receptive when she asked them not to park on the streets during snow removal and she had no complaints.
Mayor Larrieu reported that he had attended the meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco, which he described as a very official meeting, with a judge and a clerk-recorder.
He testified that in years past, Portola had had more reliable electrical service because there was a portable generator that switched on during outages.
ìThe judge gave an order to all of the people there to come up with a plan for reliability of power to this area,î he said.
Larrieu reported the hearings and meetings would continue until November. For the moment, the judge ordered the parties to meet and come up with some sort of conciliation, to avoid the long sequence of meetings.
He planned to attend the next meeting in Reno, Nev., Feb. 4, with the same attorneys, Calpeco, Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative and others. He added, ìThe settlement has to include reliability of power for the city of Portola and I think thatís really key.î
In his managerís report, Murphy gave an update from Wade Associates regarding this yearís plans for the Woodbridge development.
They intend to continue new construction of Woodbridge Road past the courthouse and construct 12 dwelling and retail units and a small coffee shop next to the courthouse.
They also hope to complete preparation work and grading for the next step expected in the construction.
In addition, Wade included a long list of tasks they and city staff needed to accomplish to keep the paper stream moving along.
In a related construction topic, Murphy announced that beginning in 2011, new fire standards would require fire sprinkler systems in all new housing.
ìDo you think that will hinder construction of new housing in this area?î Murphy asked rhetorically.
ìItís even worse for commercial buildings,î Roberts said.
The announcement elicited considerable comment from council and staff.
ROP house on Fifth Street
Murphy also reported on the progress of the new house to be constructed by the Regional Occupation Program students. The council waived building and impact fees for the project (twice actually) and the ROP representative had proposed a completion date already past.
Currently, the ROP construction project manager agreed to purchase a modular home, currently stored in Delleker, from Doug Auer who has a development on West Street.
McBride cautioned Murphy about the modulars, saying the modulars stored outside in Delleker have been out in the weather for several years and were not usable. Murphy said the school district was planning to inspect it before agreeing to a contract.