At Portola’s regular city council meeting held Wednesday, April 12, an array of topics came up for discussion, from dodging potholes to planning for the upcoming Gravel Grinder bike race.
Woodstoves and blight
The council meeting opened with a public comment from Julie Ruiz of Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District, with an update on the Greater Portola Wood Stove Change Out Program and an invitation to the community.
“We feel that we are on track to meet our goal of changing out 600 wood stoves in the city of Portola, with 124 installations already completed,” Ruiz said. “I would also like to extend an invitation to our annual wood stove fair, which will be held in the Veterans Hall parking lot in Portola on Friday, April 21, from 2 to 6 p.m.”
Council members then went on to report on recent activities, with Phil Oels stating that the “Gravel Grinder” bike race planning stage was cruising along. Council member Pat Morton also spoke, touching on the recent HRRT — Hospitality, Recreation, Retail and Tourism — meeting that she attended, praising the concept.
City Manager Robert Meacher discussed the recent meeting held between the mayor of Reno and Portola city staff to discuss blight abatement and prevention, saying, “It was a very productive conversation, and late last week, Reno reached out to Portola to continue talks on fighting blight.”
Meacher then went on to speak about the pressing issue of the proposed fire protection and emergency response tax measure that will be appearing on a mail-in ballot as Measure B on May 8, which proposes a raise in taxes to additionally fund Portola Fire.
“As odd as it may seem, in this situation, we have put a measure on the ballot, but cannot promote it,” Meacher stated. Legal clarification came from California Government Code section 54964, which “prohibits an officer, employee, or consultant of a local agency (which includes cities) from expending or authorizing expenditures of any city funds to support or oppose a ballot measure.”
The special election to vote on the ordinance approving the fire and emergency tax, Measure B, is clearly an initiative in the eyes of the law; therefore, the city cannot spend any taxpayer dollars to advocate voters to approve the measure.
Legally, the city council may go on record at a public meeting in support or opposition of a measure, and may spend public funds to study an issue and to draft a ballot measure. However, once the council approves a resolution to call for an election on a measure, the city can no longer spend funds to advocate or oppose the measure.
A major issue on the agenda regarded the massive amounts of storm damage to the city, with two declared disasters during the winter of 2017.
“This has been an unprecedented winter in Portola,” stated Meacher. “Local damages have exceeded $5,000,000, and city staff has been diligently seeking state and federal assistance funds from FEMA and CalOES.”
That’s where things get a little sticky. Currently, CalOES is estimating that it will be months before the City will see any storm-related financial assistance, and even longer before the city will be able to make permanent repairs to damaged infrastructure. It is anticipated that the process will be time consuming and arduous.
City staff and the public works department have been working on storm cleanup in culverts, parks and roadways, but many residents in Portola are still wondering why the ever-growing potholes are still lurking on roadways.
“The issue is ultimately that if we start the process of permanent repairs now, FEMA would not reimburse the city for any portion of the cost of repairs,” Meacher stated.
“The question that Todd Roberts and I have for the council is essentially, how far should we be going on repairs with the funds that we currently have available, in light of the fact that any reimbursements from the state are not a full guarantee and will not be available until a much later date.”
Council members discussed the situation, with council member Oels noting that the ground is heavily saturated at this point, making some infrastructure work difficult, and Mayor John Larrieu coming to the conclusion that public works should continue to do emergency repairs on what is needed for public safety.
“We want to mitigate hazards for the citizens of Portola, but we also need to have a more thorough understanding of the assistance FEMA and CalOES may be willing to provide,” Larrieu stated.
Meacher also noted that there will be a kickoff meeting with FEMA and CalOES by the end of April, and until then, there are still many unknowns.
Rising Portola pool fees
City staff recently reviewed the current Portola pool fee schedule and made comparisons to the fees charged by the Pioneer Pool in Quincy.
The council designates the pool as an asset to the community; however, the pool continues to operate at a cost to the general fund. Larrieu mentioned this, saying, “Historically, the city pool has been a huge drain on the budget, but we also view the pool as an asset.”
The proposed fee increases still will not cover operational costs, but they would contribute to the successful continuing operation of the pool.
“This agenda item is solely to seek approval of the updated pool fees, but in the future, we will be having further discussion with Jennifer Condliffe, city pool manager, to determine specific fees for usage by the newly organized Penguin Swim Team,” Melissa Klundby, city clerk, noted.
The new fee schedule still undercuts the charges for pool usage in Quincy, and raises all current daily swim fees by 50 cents. Season passes for youth and adults will go from $40 to $50, with seniors going from $40 to $45. Family season passes will rise from $110 to $125.
Lost and Found Gravel Grinder Bike Race
Phil Oels and Bill Powers remain busy as ad-hoc committee members for the upcoming nationally acclaimed bike race through the high Sierras, and Oels reported on their progress.
“Things seem like they are just falling into place,” Oels said. “This is going to be a major event this summer, and it looks like it will be a really great boost to local tourism.”
Tickets for the race are flying off the shelf, with hundreds snapped up as soon as the event went live on Eventbrite, and tickets for city camping are already being sold as well, with area campgrounds already booked to capacity.
“It’s shaping up to be a lot like a big festival,” Larrieu said. “Economic development of the city is key in our plans, and this should be a major economic driver for Portola.”
In regards to questions asked about the camping that will take place in Portola city limits, Meacher said, “We are not going into the business of campgrounds in Portola. The fact of the matter is that race promoters reached out to the city for assistance with overflow camping.”
There are many events lined up in Portola during the event weekend, June 3-5, including PVFD pancake breakfasts and evening BBQs, live music, a wet bar hosted by the Chamber of Commerce with wine and hard alcohol, and free admission to the Western Pacific Railroad Museum.
More updates on the Gravel Grinder to come soon, and for those that would like to participate or receive updated information, visit lostandfoundbikeride.com.
The Eastern Plumas Chamber of Commerce was represented by Audrey Ellis, who requested that the festival fee permit for the 2017 Concerts in the Park series be waived. Council members were prepared to do so, as they have traditionally done in past years, but council member Tom Cooley had a suggestion.
“I would like to suggest that we (the city) accept payment for the festival fee from the Chamber of Commerce, and that we in return would then go on to make a donation to the Chamber in the same amount, so that it is memorialized on the books of both organizations,” Cooley explained.
There were no objections to this suggestion, and the council moved to approve the alternative to simply waiving the festival fee.
Copies of staff reports or other written documentation relating to items of business discussed on council agendas are on file in the office of the city clerk and are available for public inspection.
The city of Portola welcomes the public to regularly held city council meetings, on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. The interest and participation of the community is encouraged and welcomed.
For more information, call 832-6803 or visit cityofportola.com.