The City Council meeting held Wednesday, Aug. 9, drew a full house.
Mayor Pat Morton opened the meeting, asking for a moment of silence, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. Morton then briskly went about each order of business, beginning with public comment.
Local Larry Douglas took the opportunity to express his thoughts and strong feelings regarding the topic of “getting the city back on track,” and speaking to the need for the City to become self-reliant.
This was followed by City Council communications, with Councilmember Bill Powers noting that aside from the cannabis meeting held Aug. 2, there hadn’t been too many meetings lately. “They’re all coming up next week,” Powers smiled.
Councilmember Phil Oels stated that he had attended the Cannabis Working Group meeting on the draft Plumas County Cannabis Ordinance, and had been putting in more hours toward fire safety in ongoing efforts toward Portola becoming a Firewise Community.
Mayor Pro-tem Tom Cooley went over the two meetings of the Finance and Administration Committee that he attended, with the current principal work in the area of reviewing and updating city personnel policies. He also attended the cannabis ordinance meeting.
Morton reported that she had also attended the two meetings of the Finance and Administration Committee, attended two Railroad Days planning meetings, in addition to attending two cannabis ordinance meetings.
City Manager’s report
City Manager Robert Meacher reported, “I have some important news for the city. We’ve had a couple of important meetings for the city. We’re talking with the hospital about potentially purchasing the 30 acres that the hospital has decided that they will not utilize. We’re in the preliminary discussions.”
Meacher spoke about the potential for the OHV grant to be used on that property, with a staging area and RV parking.
“It could be quite the economic engine, as it would provide access to not only the Rim Trail, but also jeep and dirt bike trails up by Beckwourth Peak,” Meacher noted.
Meacher then talked about efforts spearheaded by locals interested in beautifying the community, as work progresses on cleaning up the vacant lot left bare by the bowling alley fire.
“Perhaps there might be art themed venues on the property in the future — the process continues to move forward.”
Meacher went on to discuss the 2014 Housing and Urban Development Community Development block grant program, which would fund nine community sewer upgrade projects statewide, with Portola’s application coming in 10th pace.
City staff has been trying to restructure and find a new funder to determine the scope of work for technical assistance and the completion of the $2 million sewer upgrade project from the city’s 2014 CDBG application.
When Meacher last reported to the council, he stated that staff had been on a call with the State Water Resources Control Board Technical Assistance Division to determine the scope of the project.
The week of Aug. 7th had been set aside for a “field trip” for state and city staff to look at the various projects, including, but not limited to, the CDBG sewer project, the Arsenic Wellhead treatment plant project, the Golden Springs connection project and The Joy Way Vault project.
The state preliminarily determined that the technical assistance application of the grant, the construction and administration of the grant would be completely funded by the state with little cost to the city other than some staff time.
“The folks from California State University in San Bernadino are under contract with the State Water Resources Control Board, and under Prop. 1, they reach out to disadvantaged communities to make sure that they can access funds for water and sewer repairs, upgrades, improvements, etc. They flew up from Southern California yesterday, met with city staff, and looked at the old CDBG grant application,” Meacher said.
“Apparently, after sitting down to look at the sewer grant, they said, why aren’t we doing the water as we do the sewer? And that started a conversation, which now includes the Arsenic Wellhead, Joy Way Vault and Golden Springs.
“The uniqueness about this is that they will do all of the environmental work, the grant applications, engineering, bidding, construction and grant administration.”
The cost to the city would be next to nothing, due to the city’s severely disadvantaged status. The group that is potentially taking on this massive project for the water and sewer in Portola is also working with SWWG, the Sierra Water Working Group.
“These groups are looking at a $1.3 million funding piece to determine who is going to do the outreach to these communities, to find out what their needs are. Meacher continued. “Overall, this was a great meeting. We started out talking about sewer and covered about six other items. At this juncture, I don’t think that this is too much of an ‘if’. One way or another, this is going to happen — definitely the sewer and probably the water.”
Meacher then pulled out a section of old pipe to show what the inside of the local water mains looks like.
“This piece of pipe came from behind Sierra Energy,” Meacher explained, walking it around the room for display.
“It’s kind of scary,” Meacher said. “That’s the inside of the main — this is how aged the infrastructure is. What happens is that when you spring a leak, you can’t even put a clamp on it. It collapses the whole line. So this is what we’re trying to fix.”
Meacher also noted that he had spoken to FEMA and efforts to repair storm damage are in the works, with potential to even pave the roads.
City Council vacancy
Cooley reported, “After advertising for the vacant City Council seat in the Portola Reporter, five letters of interest were received. These letters were from BJ Pearson, Debra Reynolds, Angela Hagman, Michael Rush and Bill Adamson; all interested in filling the seat vacancy, for a term that would expire in November of 2018.” Four of the five were present.
Candidates exited the chambers and then returned one by one to answer two questions, with the first being: “Briefly describe your interest in serving on the Portola City Council,” followed by “Briefly describe some priorities you think the City Council should address for the city of Portola.”
Debra Reynolds answered first, and with Cooley timing her responses.
“First of all, I am interested in serving on the council because there are not many people of my age demographic involved in city affairs, and now that I have more time, I want to bring more young people into actual involvement,” Reynolds commented.
“I’m looking forward to a brighter community and would like to bring that brightness back.” When it came to her priorities, Reynolds said that area youth were her top priority. “There’s really nothing here for kids under age 18,” Reynolds said. “If there’s nothing to do, the kids get into trouble.”
Reynolds also spoke about obtaining grants for a potential youth center, which would be a safe place, with potential homework help and literacy program.
Candidate Michael Rush, who served as a Portola City Council member from 2002 to 2006, followed Reynolds. Rush focused on his opinion that Portola has been stagnant on a few projects, and that he saw a need for more economic development and a need to go after larger grants.
Rush went on to explain that the previous mayor, John Larrieu, had been the person to interest him in politics, and that Larrieu had been a mentor to him throughout high school.
Rush said his experience with economic development and the budgetary process would be an asset to the city and went on to close with a memory of Larrieu, stating, “John Larrieu was amazing to me. He had a very kind reverence about him.”
Next up was Bill Adamson, who shared the fact that in the years since he had left the city council following six years of service, he had not stopped being a citizen of Portola. “The passion to serve has always been there,” Adamson said. “My desire is to come back and see if I can lend assistance to City Council.”
Adamson said it was important for the city to revisit the concept of building a future for Portola, stating, “Perhaps it’s time for a Vision of Portola in 2040? I see Portola as a place that could be an educational center, if it’s done properly.”
Candidate Angela Hagman had an unavoidable conflict in scheduling and due to her inability to attend the meeting and be interviewed, Hagman could not be considered for the vacancy.
The final candidate to be interviewed was BJ Pearson, who opened with comments about the fact that just as in the last 60-odd years, he cares deeply about the city and the people in it, and that he felt strongly that something must be done economically to keep young people in the area after they graduate from high school.
Pearson stated that the council must describe and discuss what is feasible “right now” to spur economic growth. He then went over some of his past experience as a county supervisor and his many fruitful trips to Washington D.C., where he garnered financial assistance for city projects after meeting with Congressman Doolittle.
“The skills I have learned can really be beneficial,” Pearson said. “My interest is the city of Portola, and I have so many ideas. I can put them to work. Somebody has to get started.”
At this point, the room was opened to public comment, with a few questions for the candidates from local constituents. After some discussion, the council voted 3-1, to name Debra Reynolds the newest member of Portola’s City Council.
Reynolds repeated the oath of office with City Clerk Melissa Klundby and took her seat among the other council members.
Portola 192 Development Agreement
The Portola 192 Development Agreement came up for annual review with John H. Hodgson II, President of The Hodgson Company, in attendance.
The City Council had three options for the annual review: approve the annual review as complete, affirming that it demonstrates good faith compliance with the terms and conditions of the original agreement initially made Jan. 8, 2003; continue any action to approve the annual review and seek additional information; or reject the annual review for development, citing specific deficiencies that exist between the progress made by the developer and the provisions of the agreement.
The council raised concerns regarding whether the 192 Development would affect the well water of those living in the area, whether the development would be considered as a part of Portola and therefore would be on city water, and concerns about the need to clear the property of fire hazards associated with trees badly needing to be cleared.
Hodgson, a partner in the 192 Project, said he felt that things were going along pretty well and that fire safety concerns were valid and would be addressed. He also reminded the council and room at large, “We are the land developers, not the home builders.”
Talks revolving around the issue of water supply took up the majority of the discussion, with the ultimate decision being to approve the annual review, with Hodgson set to address the fire and water related issues.
At this point, the meeting had reached into the evening hours, and Morton and council members elected to table the last two items on the agenda for the next meeting.
Details, minutes and more are available to the public at Portola City Hall. The council regularly meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. Interest and participation from the community is welcomed and encouraged by the council. For more information, call 832-6803.