All members of the Portola City Council were present for their regular meeting Aug. 22, with a full agenda and decisions to be made. After the meeting opened with the usual moment of silence and the Pledge of Allegiance, Mayor Pat Morton asked for public comment.
Larry Douglas expressed his appreciation for what the city council is doing, and hoped that there would be more community action in the future.
Members of the council then reported, with Phil Oels noting his continued Firesafe work, engagement with the Transportation Commission, and his work on the handmade wood swing that will be the prize in a drawing at the upcoming Portola Railroad Days.
Bill Powers noted his participation with the Transportation Commission, with the topic of a potential senior evacuation plan for the senior apartment complex in Portola a large focus. Powers also said that it had been the first day of school for Plumas Unified School District, and that up at Portola Junior-Senior High School, it was “a rodeo.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tom Cooley and Mayor Pat Morton both reported attending LAFCO. Tom Cooley will serve as the new chair and Supervisor Michael Sanchez is to serve as the vice-chair. Morton also noted that there is to be a merger between Sierra Valley and Eastern Plumas hospital districts in the days ahead, with “a lot of work to be done.”City Clerk Melissa Klundby said nominations for city council seats had closed, with some commenting that the 2018 election race looked to be interesting due to the number of individuals in the running.
Interim City Manager Leslie Chrysler covered a number of topics, from the progress with weed abatement to the focus on community development. Chrysler spoke briefly about abandoned vehicle abatement, stating that “the county really needs to get contracts in place,” so that the city may deal with vehicle abatement effectively. Chrysler also spoke of the need for a senior apartment evacuation plan, stating that at a citywide evacuation plan is in place, but nothing specifically geared toward seniors.
Next up on the agenda, the council approved the minutes and claims, as well as resolution 2364, a resolution requesting collection of taxes on the tax roll.
The council then reviewed the history and status of the city’s planning commission. The commission was established for the second time in 1997, and according to the staff report, only met when a project required approval. The commission only met once in 2016 and once in 2017, with four members at each meeting and one vacant seat.
Since then, three of the members of the commission vacated the seats, leaving Bill Mainland as the only active member.
Chrysler said, “Essentially, we don’t have a planning commission right now.” Staff recommended that the Portola Municipal Code Section 2.36 be amended, allowing for a provision stating that in the absence of a planning commission with a minimum of three commissioners, the city manager, director, or zoning administrator, or his/her designee would be authorized and empowered to carry out the duties of the planning commission. This would, in turn, allow the council to hear and decide any appeals that may be made to the actions of the city manager, director or zoning administrator.
The entire system would be organized to give citizens the right to apply for items such as conditional use permits, as well as giving a mechanism to appeal.
Council members discussed this item, with Oels noting that he would like to see the amendment happen as a stopgap measure. Cooley stated that he wanted maximum flexibility. Powers noted that perhaps there was an increased interest in local government, and invited those interested to inquire further into joining the planning commission.
Chrysler then noted that the item should be marked as an urgency ordinance, and that revisions would be brought back before the council. The item was approved and staff was directed to continue work on the urgency item.
Property owner Charles Gardyn applied for a conditional use permit regarding the commercial property located at 108 Commercial St. Gardyn put in a request that would allow a residential use in a core commercial zone, with the second story and rear of the building to be used residentially. A debate ensued regarding the logic of allowing a residential use in a commercial zone, but after further discussion, the permit was approved on the condition that it would remain non-transferable.
Code compliance officer
The council then reviewed the job description and compensation put forth by staff for a Code Compliance Officer. Chuck Brashear recently vacated the position. “This is a tough job to fill,” Chrysler stated. “We have had some interest already shown, however.”
Council members looked at the proposed job description and advertisement, noted small changes to be made, then approved it unanimously, directing staff to put it in the local paper as soon as possible.
Council wrapped up the current iteration of the city’s personnel policy, which had been the culmination of many, many hours of work and many meetings, according to City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett.
Scarlett noted that the policy had been the result of meetings between city staff and the Finance and Administration (F&A) Committee, and after extensive review, all sections have been updated to meet all applicable legal changes, with IT policy a headliner on the list.
City Attorney Steve Gross brought up a landmark case in San Jose that has impacted the way that public agencies are allowed to maintain public records. All employees should remember to conduct city business on their city-provided devices, and, in the event of a request for public records, individuals would be allowed to produce records that may be on their personal devices to preserve their privacy and yet maintain public records, complying with the Public Records Act.
Scarlett touched upon some of the other changes made to the policy, including the fact that Portola employees receive benefits from the start of their employment, as well as working out details in employee pay grades and changes to longevity increases. Scarlett noted that the policy was a “living, breathing document, and can be edited in the future at any time.” After a roll call vote, the changes to the policy were approved.
Council then reviewed a request from the League of California Cities to support a letter that would oppose new regulations proposed by the Bureau of Cannabis Control. The proposed regulations would authorize cannabis businesses to deliver in any jurisdiction, in addition to reducing the amount of time that the city would have to determine the validity of a cannabis business license.
“These regulations would undermine the local controls that were assured in Proposition 64,” Chrysler noted. “The state stated that local agencies would have control, and we don’t want that taken away from us — we would like to retain local control.”
If unopposed, the proposed regulations would take the city’s response time for licenses down from 60 days to 10. If no local response were issued in that timeframe, the state could override local jurisdiction and issue the permit. Council unanimously agreed that they would rather retain all local control and approved the letter to oppose the regulations.
The final item on the agenda was the proposed OHV staging area, brought before the council Jan. 24 by Susan Jacobson of Sport Success Inc. as a potential project. Council received a timeline of the OHV Grant application process Feb. 28 that showed that the final grant application would be due May 7, with a staff report indicating that requesting an acquisition grant for the project would be the best option.
The project was described as a “two-phased project,” with a CEQA study being the first phase and property acquisition via lease/option with Eastern Plumas Health Care being the second. The report also noted that matching funds totaling 25 percent of the grant was required — a number estimated at $72,676.
According to Chrysler, the matching funds were never included in the budget, however, and it raised concerns for staff and the council. “We have three years to accept the grant which was awarded on July 5 in the amount of $218,028, as well as having three years to acquire the property,” Chrysler clarified.
It was also noted that once ownership of the property is taken by the city, the 30-acre parcel would need a deed restriction that ensures the property would only be utilized for OHV recreation, and the City would be responsible for maintaining the entire parcel.
Chrysler added that the city would later have to apply for grants for planning and engineering, with the lengthy process expected to take from four to five years, with all phases requiring a 25 percent match.
Chrysler noted, “During the CEQA process, other agencies will be asked to provide comments. I spoke with Steve Townley of the USFS, who is working on the Beckwourth Peak Recreation Project, and the trails for the project are proposed for non-motorized use. He indicated that he did not feel that the USFS would be supportive of the city’s OHV project so close to their trails. He noted that there would likely be an enforcement issue to keep the two uses separate.”
Powers stated that the grant opportunity was compounding itself far beyond what the grant monies will cover, and he didn’t feel that he could support the project. Local Larry Douglas also spoke against the project, stating, “This does nothing for the city.”
Elaine Frank of Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Department stated that the OHV area could potentially cause an increased need for medical response as well. Local Bob Morton also commented, stating that he felt the city could not afford the liability and maintenance of the proposed project, with items such as roads, bathrooms and other maintenance taking up time and funds.
Joleen Cline, another local, stated that she was in support of the project, reasoning that there was “clearly a funding stream on programs like this.” Kevin Walsh, another attendee of the council meeting, spoke to both sides of the conversation, noting the potential pitfalls and expense, but also pointing out the potential benefits and impact on controlling where riders go. “It’s a complex issue,” Walsh said. “There is a lot to look at, but I’d keep the door open and study this further.”
Councilmember Oels agreed, stating that he felt inclined toward further study, and Powers noted that he felt the project was low priority. Mayor Pro Tem Tom Cooley said, “In view of what we have already invested into this project, I don’t want to just throw the grant opportunity away without knowing all of the sure facts.”
Chrysler was then tasked by the council to look into a few items, including a written position from the forest service, input from the Rim Trail Stewardship, and to provide a complete area map with all parcels and ownership of surrounding parcels noted and clarified. Council then moved to table the item for further discussion at a future date.
The Portola City Council welcomes all to the regularly held meetings on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. Interest and participation is encouraged. For more information, contact the city at 832-6803 or visit cityofportola.com.