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Although neither the water/sewer rate increase nor the proposed recall of Portola Mayor Dan Wilson was on the Aug. 10 agenda, discussion of the two topics took up nearly half the meeting.
The public comment period provided the community an avenue for feedback on recent events. Community member Pam Gill led: “What will be the cost to the city and to the citizens of Portola if a recall is enacted and a special election follows?”
City Manager Leslie Tigan responded, “$8,000 to $10,000.”
Citizen and local Realtor Earl Morrison sought information on behalf of the citizens group and asked how much water came from Willow Creek Springs. He requested that the information be presented in “acre-feet” to be consistent in format with other information they were reviewing and that the city report figures going back 10 years.
Tigan promised to get exact figures from Todd Roberts of Public Works and to convert the figure to acre-feet.
Next, resident and fellow Realtor B.J. Pearson asked to receive information about two programs available to the public for financial help with paying water bills. He requested to know the program names and the requirements for receiving benefit, as well as the fund balances available.
Citizen Bob Morton, who is at each and every council meeting, commented on the recall intent, and particularly addressed the issue of the council not listening to the people of Portola.
“In my opinion, this is way wrong. The City Council has actually been begging for comments about the water situation as far back as six months ago.”
He believed that the council took the second vote to implement the rate increases because the “ad hoc committee did not make a compelling enough argument to delay it any further.”
He felt that they had made the right decision and objected to the inference that Wilson was an obstacle to reaching council members Curt McBride and John Larrieu, who made the motion and the second to implement the increases.
“I don’t see any action by the mayor that should be singled out as him being the head of any group trying to subvert the city or to take over its government or to impress his opinions on people. That’s just my opinion and I’m not for the recall,” Morton commented.
Larry Douglas expressed his feeling that all three council members should be recalled, if any. “It’s my feeling that rescinding the rate increase is the top priority.”
Although Douglas was one of the signers of the request to circulate a petition for recall, he had since changed his mind and parted ways with the citizens group. “I disagree with their priorities, strategy and intent,” he said.
He felt that Wilson had followed his own convictions, but that the attitude of the entire council, including Wilson, had to change.
“The viable alternative is to cut costs,” Douglas said, targeting city wages and pension benefits in the process.
Council member Juliana Mark put in her “two cents’ worth.” “I see both sides of this. I see the community and understand their financial struggles. I understand the decrease in occupancy and the potential for further loss if rates increase. I also understand Mayor Dan’s commitment to the city.”
She commended Wilson for making the public’s health and the city’s budget priorities.
“Both of these are good things and I do commend you for standing on that,” she said, “I also commend the community for looking further into possible ways to offset the rate increases.”
Mark said she hoped there was a way to reconcile their differences. “I think the recall is focusing on the wrong thing. You’re investing a lot of energy into a recall. You’re investing a lot of money when spending money is actually what our issue is. I would like to ask the community to consider that. I would also like to ask Mayor Dan if he would consider holding off on the rate increase.”
She asked him to consider not implementing the rates for two months, saying that the community might find out “that there’s no other alternative but to raise the rates.”
Wilson reminded Mark that she could put anything she wanted the council to discuss on the agenda.
In a follow-up phone call to Mark for clarification of her remarks, she was asked if she was requesting that Wilson reinstate the ad hoc committee, since that is the only special privilege he has as mayor. Mark said no, she thought that while the committee had proven useful in coalescing the citizens into a working group, she thought that full council participation was more useful at this point.
Asked why, then, had she pinpointed Wilson with her request, she responded that it was because he had been targeted for recall, but she admitted it was a question that should have more properly been directed to the council as a whole.
Public comment continued with an observation from Bob Nally, a former Portola resident now living in Reno who tapes council proceedings and airs them on television. “Do you really believe that people are leaving Portola because of the water rates? Because, seriously, I want to know where they are going to get it cheaper.”
Nally said water rates in Reno were double that of Portola’s and while he could see that people might leave Portola because of a lack of jobs, he did not see how water rates, which were probably higher where they were going, could cause them to leave.
Mark, whose business includes renting U-Hauls, agreed that the lack of jobs was the main reason people moved, but increased costs might just be “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for those struggling to hang on.
Gill suggested that reports from the citizens group be made a regular part of the agenda so that the public could follow what was going on with less room for confusion and frustration. She also suggested a completion date be targeted for the group’s review of alternatives to increasing water rates.
Council member John Larrieu broke into public comment at this point, saying that this was not on the agenda. “We’re getting away from public comment and into discussion and it’s not legal to do that.”
One final public comment came from resident Kim Tibbedeaux. He said he felt fortunate that he had a job with the railroad which would allow him to absorb the rate increases but expressed concerns for the future: “I am more concerned about attracting people and jobs to Portola or we will be getting into a worse situation than we are in right now.”
In 200 words or fewer…
Portola Mayor Dan Wilson responded formally to petitioners lobbying for his recall last week. Recall protocol requires that his response be fewer than 200 words.
“I have not refused to consider the concerns of the people of Portola. On the contrary, my focus has been to make sure that all residents have a long-term, reliable, safe source for drinking water and a sewer system that will fit the needs for years to come. Budget cuts have been implemented, particularly in payroll, but state mandates continue to be an issue in increasing the costs of city government. Changes to the water rate structure and rates promote conservation and are responsive to the state of California green standards. I do not want to postpone the financial responsibility to future generations.
“As to the ad hoc committee, I did form it and I did disband it, as I did not think it was acting in the best interest of the citizens. I prefer that future discussions be heard by the entire City Council and taped for the public.
“I have no personal agenda. I have spent countless hours learning the reality of city government and the issues in providing water and sewer utilities. I have, and will continue to have, the best interest of the citizens in mind in all decisions, even the difficult ones.”
The petition filed with the city stated the following as grounds for circulating the recall petition:
“You have refused to consider the concerns of the people of Portola regarding the water and sewer rate hikes. You patronized the people, calling them ‘disgruntled citizens who refused to listen to facts or reason.’ You offered EPCAN food distribution as a viable and ongoing option for those hardest hit by the rate hikes. You have offered no other options or ideas, choosing instead to ignore the question of affordability. You thwarted the efforts of the ad hoc committee you formed, and used a technicality to bring the issue to vote without the foreknowledge of the people of Portola. Even after the vote, you refused any sort of compromise or show of good faith. You have failed to respond to the citizens’ needs and wishes and are refusing to work in their best interests, thus creating an atmosphere of mistrust that has permanently affected your ability to work productively for the city.”
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