After all the questions were answered at the City Council candidates’ forum last week, League of Women Voters moderator Lori Simpson thanked the candidates and commented, “That was a very pleasant experience.”
And so it was. The three candidates — John Larrieu, Curt McBride and Juliana Mark — were very much in agreement, and more likely to expand on one another’s responses than refute them.
They agreed there didn’t seem to be any problems in the interactions between Portola’s wealthier citizens and Portola’s poor. They all thought the City Council should be in direct communication with the Board of Supervisors and participate in discussions on activity concerning the entire county.
They thought children should stay in school and get a good education and the best way to involve young people in their government was to teach it in the schools.
They all agreed the Wehrman sign was probably not a landmark or of historical significance, but it had sentimental value and people seemed to like it.
They even said they were all happy with the coverage of the city by the Portola Reporter and commended it for accuracy and truthful reporting.
Incumbents Larrieu and McBride as well as newcomer Mark were unanimous in naming “quality of life” as the defining characteristic making Portola a better place to live than say, Reno, Nev., or Quincy.
“Small-town living is a way of life and some of us really love it. I couldn’t live in Reno. Even Quincy’s too big for me,” said Larrieu.
The three candidates were equally stumped by the voter apathy apparent in the forum turnout: Fewer than a dozen people were in the library meeting room, including the candidates.
Mark suggested that if city leaders expressed enthusiasm, perhaps the people would get excited themselves.
Larrieu added, hopefully, “I’d like to believe that it means they’re not unhappy about things.”
They all agreed the beautification of the city was the first step in economic development by attracting businesses to locate there.
McBride credited Woodbridge with funding the Gulling Street improvements and announced improvements along Highway 70 would likely begin the following year.
Larrieu felt the city was hampered by a small population base and larger cities nearby, so things like the stoplight, Riverwalk and “rocks, fences, plantings – it’s the best thing we can do.”
Mark was all for an agreeable first impression, but expressed concern about empty houses and how they look with weeds around them. She also would like to see local tourism groups like Graeagle Plumas Alliance and the chambers combine their energy.
Re-vitalizing downtown also came up for discussion. Larrieu pointed out that filling empty storefronts was a concern, and Mark said redirecting traffic downtown was behind her offer to refurbish the Wehrman sign on Gulling Street and Highway 70. She also thought a steady, coordinated stream of events in the area would increase tourism downtown.
McBride had just attended a conference on re-vitalizing downtown areas and made contact with four or five companies who give ideas to cities.
“That’s all they do,” he said. He thought renaming the portion of Gulling Street from Highway 70 to Commercial Street to something like Old Town Avenue would redirect traffic and suggested renaming Commercial Street itself “to something more inviting.”
Candidates were asked how they would deal with development in Delleker and along Highway 70.
Mark spoke first, “It’s a two-edged sword. I do believe that controlled growth is going to help our community, and I think that having economic growth there is also going to be a challenge.”
She thought research of every idea was key as was listening to the community. “It will take creativity to have the growth we need without overburdening the area.”
McBride has been in business in Delleker for 16 years; he said there has been debate between the city council and Delleker for years. He explained his understanding of Local Agency Formation Commission events and potentially overlapping spheres of influence.
“It comes down to the citizens. The citizens of the Delleker area have made their voice heard: They do not want to be part of the city. They want to stand alone and do what they want to do out there.
“I would love to see that area developed and it is moving along very well right now. We’ve got the MRF (materials recovery facility) coming up and the 10-inch waterline coming in and then, hopefully, the building moratorium will be lifted,” McBride said.
Larrieu said, “One of the big issues has been the appearance of that area as you come into the city. The city would like to have some kind of say as to what this area might look like as it approaches the city. We’ve been trying for years to do some cooperative planning with the county so there would be organized planning, not piecemeal projects.”
He also said, “It’s not city land, it’s not part of our city limits, but it has an effect on the city and an effect on the people coming into the city. It could easily be solved by having some cooperative planning between the city and the county and the local residents here.”
Another question concerned the railroads: “Union Pacific re-routed trains out of Portola. What is your opinion of this and how it affects the city of Portola?”
Mark admitted to being a “foamer” — somebody who just loves trains. It was part of Portola’s draw for her and her husband. She expressed sadness that train traffic has been cut in half. “I think the city grew because of railroads and the re-routing has hurt the city.”
McBride said moving freight out of the Feather River Canyon was a business move and he felt UP was now deciding that it was probably a bad move.
“They’re not moving out of Portola; they’re not leaving and they’re not going to abandon that line.”
He added Portola had lost motel traffic from engineers and conductors going through, as well as shopping, gas and visitation from out-of-town people. “It’s impacted the city quite a lot,” McBride said, “but they’ll be back.”
Larrieu said his son was a conductor for UP, now running out of Sparks, Nev., but his son commuted and refuses to move from Portola.
“I personally think the railroad is not going away. It’s going to grow and we will have trains going through here again. I personally miss the whistles at night. I always thought they were comforting.”
Another question wondered why the Lake Davis treatment plant was still not finished.
Mark begged off and said she did not know.
McBride said it was because the state had run out of funds. Faulty valves and a cold snap during last December had caused damage, but the Army Corps of Engineers is currently working on it. “We’re hoping it will be up and running in the next four to five months.”
Larrieu toured the plant the previous month and called it “an incredibly high-tech operation. It’s not just a little thing that runs water through a filter.”
He said officials were not going to start up the plant until all the things listed on the contract were complete and done right. He expressed concern for the fact that there were large ponds but no fencing around them.
“If elected, what specific issues would you work on with the community?”
McBride: “Economic development. We need some economic development. We need a way to help promote the businesses we do have and help promote more businesses coming into the area. Economic development is my number one.”
Larrieu agreed economic development was foremost and added that he hoped the city would continue its path for beautification. He also hoped it would receive federal funding or find alternative funding to do some road repairs. “It would be wonderful to do that but we’re never going to be able to do it on current funds.”
Mark also pinpointed economic development as her primary concern, but saw a different area of need. “I would love to see some of those (empty) homes filled with families and young adults. I’ve looked into Habitat for Humanity and they have some great programs for foreclosed homes, empty homes. I’d like to see that. I’d like to see jobs for younger adults, and I would really like to see the businesses prosper.”
Mark was prepared to listen to the community.
In their summations, the candidates again agreed: they all want the job.
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