Last call for comment on Portola General Plan updateDiana Jorgenson
Portola citizens have until Jan. 11 to comment on the city’s update to its General Plan and the proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) to its environmental review of the changes.
Public review of the EIR documents began Nov. 30 (with comment taken at the Dec. 14 meeting) and will culminate at the public hearing scheduled for the regular meeting of the Portola City Council at 7 p.m. Jan. 11.
Prior to the public hearing, citizens may bring letters of comment to City Hall. The General Plan is on the city’s website, but interested parties must come to City Hall to review update changes and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) documents.
Updating the city’s 2001 General Plan was a two-year process of review — first by the Planning Commission, then by the City Council — of each element in the General Plan.
Portola’s General Plan has 10 elements: land use, community design, circulation, economic development, public services and facilities, safety, conservation and open space, noise, and air quality.
Many of the changes in the update were typographical in nature; others indicated changes in terminology, like a switch from city administrator to city manager.
Other changes were meant to clarify the boundaries of the planning document: to keep it policy-oriented rather than detailing specifics.
For instance, requirements for signs along Highway 70 are the prerogative of Caltrans, so corrections to the General Plan now redirect to that agency.
Similarly, city engineering requirements for streets are detailed elsewhere, and the city decided that that level of detail did not belong in a planning document.
City officials also crossed off tasks and goals they considered completed, like the sign ordinance and an annexation policy.
A couple of times, city planners eliminated fantasies from bygone times, like planning to expand the downtown business district into the street behind; creating a pretty and more clearly defined corridor to the railroad museum; and deciding what trees would line city streets.
Some changes to the 2001 document were historical additions to bring descriptions up to date. It was noted that the Lake Davis Treatment Plant was built, but not online.
Woodbridge was added. The new courthouse was added.
The most recent developments in the landfill closure saga were narrated.
Some changes reflect changes in state or federal requirements. Planners included the new Plumas County Fire Safe Council recommendations under the wildfire safety section.
The change with the greatest impact comes from the state-mandated amendment of a change in the High Density Residential and Commercial Mixed Use zoning category from eight – 12 units per acre to eight – 15 units per acre.
At the City Council meeting July 13, the council directed the city planner to finalize preparation of the environmental document and to begin the public review process associated with CEQA.
City Planner Karen Downs brought the completed environmental impact report to the Dec. 14 meeting and summed it up this way: “The mitigation measures that came out of this is preparing a Climate Action Plan.”
Downs reported that the change in density required by the state would not require extensive review because Portola is already built out to a large degree and much of the remaining terrain in Portola is steep and unsuitable for high-density development. So only a small number of parcels, including parts of Woodbridge, are zoned “high density” and are affected by the state mandate.
Downs estimates that the maximum increase in density under full development and redevelopment to affected properties are projected to be 125 units, a 5.3 percent increase in development capacity.
However, any changes in density have the potential for changing the air quality element, the only one of the 16 items on the CEQA checklist that Downs considered “less than significant with mitigation incorporated.”
In choosing the “less than significant with mitigation” option, Downs points out in the CEQA document that “these impacts would occur whether or not the city adopted the proposed amendment to the General Plan, since vacant sites are already zoned for development and continued redevelopment is already permitted under the existing city of Portola General Plan.”
The air quality element has been under review by the EPA, and Plumas County has recently been borderline in meeting new air quality standards in particulate matter, with most of the problem centering on Portola’s monitoring stations.
Preparation of a climate action plan (CAP) is intended to alleviate air quality issues as well as satisfy state mandated goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
For Downs, the new verbiage on greenhouse gases, mandated by the state, is the most distressing.
The state will require monitoring of local carbon dioxide levels, as well as a number of other gases not beneficial to the environment. Portola would then have to monitor and test not only residential traffic but pass-through traffic as well.
Some of this is beyond Portola’s technical capabilities at the moment, but preparing a CAP in accordance with state guidelines will identify a reduction target for the city and sent forth goals, policies and ordinances that will achieve the target, wrote Downs in the MND.
“The CAP will ultimately help the city achieve the statewide greenhouse gas reduction goals established by Assembly Bill 32.”
City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett reminded the council that $25,000 had been budgeted as an add-on item to the budget for producing a CAP. The subject would be revisited when budget discussions for the next fiscal year began in early spring.
In a second agenda item at the Dec. 14 meeting, the council voted to hire consultants to review and update the General Plan’s safety element and to create a local hazard mitigation plan.
Downs announced that the city had already been awarded a Disaster Recovery Initiative Community Development Block Grant in the amount of $140,000 to prepare planning documents.
A request for proposals went out Oct. 4, 2011, and two responses were received: one from Wood Rogers, out of Reno, and one from Sacramento-based Robert Olson Associates.
The council voted unanimously to authorize a contract with Wood Rogers.