Despite recommendations from city staff to abandon plans for a playground and a disc golf course, the Portola City Council decided to pursue the projects, focusing first on the playground near the Little League ball fields.
Project backers filled council chambers June 27, voicing support for the projects as well as pledging volunteer labor to make them a reality.
These two recreation projects, as well as more that will be considered by the city council tonight, July 11, were initiated under then City Manager Robert Meacher. He has been succeeded by Interim City Manager Leslie Chrysler, who told council that the city has neither the staff nor resources to manage such projects and still address the council’s stated priorities of roads, blight reduction, water and sewer.
Part of the problem is Chrysler’s time, which is limited because her retirement plan caps the number of hours she can work — at this point that is 18 hours per week.
Most of those who addressed the council spoke in favor of the projects, noting that they were key to the city’s economic development.
Susan Jacobson, executive director of Sport Success, the entity that the city contracted with originally to spearhead the projects, spoke as each topic came up for review, but also made a general statement during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I am here tonight, as a Portola resident of over 15 years, to remind you of the importance of staying the course that the city council began two years ago this meeting, to fuel the economic recovery by pursuing an events-based tourism model to position Portola as the Gateway of the Lost Sierra and jumpstart the many income opportunities through adventure-based tourism.”
Her words were echoed when Teal Stetson Lee provided the council members with information about the impact of the Lost & Found Gravel Grinder bike race held in the city June 2. She talked about the 1,300 registrants, the sold-out camping in downtown Portola, the successful after party, the money donated back to the city, and the positive impact it had on local businesses.
Council member Phil Oels agreed and said, “Every restaurant was super, super busy. Let’s do a whole lot more of it.”
The city received a grant to help pay for equipment for a playground near the Little League fields, but the city would still be responsible for $9,000 of the equipment’s cost as well as site preparation.
City Manager Chrysler said that she wasn’t sure Little League supported the playground and listed a number of obstacles including the cost, possible environmental documents, ADA access, the need for waste receptacles and more. Audience members countered her concerns.
Ron Jacobson read an email from the Little League president who was unable to attend the meeting, but said that the League “100 percent supports building the project at the ball field.”
Olivia Thayer, a teacher at C. Roy Carmichael Elementary, discussed her late father’s passion for the ball fields. “He worked really hard with Susan (Jacobson) to make this possible,” she said. He was a coach and a youth sports official, and Thayer said that she would help raise funds for the project. “I think this goal is attainable,” she said. “The kids need a place to play.”
That sentiment was echoed by Tim Kreth, who described himself as an “older millennial” and said, “Our kids are doing this stuff. One is playing T-ball and the other needs something to do.”
Currently, that “something” is usually running off into the woods.
The planned playground equipment is baseball-themed with a giant mitt to climb on among other items.
Lost Sierra Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Audrey Ellis said that recreational amenities such as these are important when individuals inquire about relocating to the area. “On behalf of the chamber, we support this,” she said.
As for some of Chrysler’s concerns, Susan Jacobson listed a number of individuals who had volunteered to assist in the project.
“I would like to see it move forward,” said Phil Oels, one of the council members.
It was decided that the effort would continue with the council receiving information about timelines, final costs and commitments from volunteers.
If successful, this project could provide direction for how the disc golf course could also move forward.
“This is the exact same thing,” Chrysler said of her concerns about the disc golf project, and cited money and staff time as issues.
Tim Rhode was one of the first to speak in favor of it. “”This is all part of the big picture,” he said. “We need the people who were here for Gravel Grinder on a regular basis.”
Rhode also talked about the significance of the disc golf course designer John Houck. “Houck is a big deal; we could bring in thousands for a disc golf tournament.”
“A disc golf course built by a legend; people will come to play on a Houck course,” said Tim Kreth.
One attendee said that the course wasn’t just for visitors, but to provide a recreational opportunity for local youth.
As she did in addressing the playground, Susan Jacobson outlined the resources that have stepped forward to assist in the project, as well as funding that could be available.
While most of the speakers supported the project, some were concerned that the city should not be encouraging visitors to come to the area, until the stage was set, including the city manager’s husband, Cal Patterson.
“I’d like to see green grass, paved streets,” he said. “We’ve got to clean up this damn dump. This town is a trash pit.”
And Terry Woods, a Portola resident and former candidate for council, said that the council needed to “be realistic” about its priorities.
After the council closed public comment on the topic, Mayor Pro Tem Tom Cooley said, “It’s a great project. How can we get there?”
In other recreation and entertainment news, it was announced that the free Portola Friday night outdoor summerconcerts, sponsored by the Lost Sierra Chamber of Commerce, begin July 20 and run each Friday evening at 7 p.m. through Aug. 24, at Portola City Park on Gulling Street.
Following is the lineup:
July 20: Jack Danny
July 27: Michael Barclay
Aug. 3: Blue Haven
Aug. 10: Michelle Lambert
Aug. 17: The Back 40
Aug. 24: Family Affair
Attendees are encouraged to bring their favorite beverage, as well as a blanket or lawn chair to enjoy the evening of music.