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Air quality a priority in city

The Portola City Council held a regular meeting on the evening of March 27, with a brief agenda.

All members of the council were present, with Mayor Tom Cooley attending remotely via telephone from Michigan.

Mayor Pro Tem Phil Oels led the room in the Pledge of Allegiance and moved into public comment.

NSAQMD talks air quality, woodstove fair

Julie Ruiz of the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District focused on a few key topics, beginning with the new information that CalFire is now utilizing an online application process for burn permits in areas outlying Portola. Residents in the city will have no change at this time.

Ruiz also noted the upcoming Wood Stove Fair at the Portola Veteran’s Hall on Saturday, April 6, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“Presentations will begin at 11 a.m. We still have a big amount of grant money to spend on the wood stove change out program, and thus far we’ve got a little over 300 done out of the 600 that we need to complete over the next year and a half,” Ruiz said.

“We got a little behind over the last six to nine months, and our air quality is not improving as much as we had hoped it would with the change-outs, so we have called the Air Resources Board, and will be speaking to the EPA tomorrow.”

Ruiz went on to explain that the EPA would “really come down on us pretty hard” due to the recurring non-attainment in healthy air quality.

NSAQMD is looking at a variety of options to help Portola reach attainment in air quality, with Ruiz noting her full support in discussions of banning outdoor open burning in the effort to minimize the particulates (PM2.5) caused by wood burning.

“We need to get people to the fair, because if we don’t get applications, we can’t change out stoves,” Ruiz added. With a timeframe of a little over a year to accept applications, this is vital to the Wood Stove Change Out Program.

Council questioned Ruiz on various details such as qualifications for the program, as well as the ongoing exceedances in PM2.5. “There are a lot of different potential consequences to not reaching attainment,” Ruiz responded to one question.

“We’re considered non-attainment right now as a Federal EPA designation, because of our annual design value. Over the course of a year, the particulates are high enough, mostly from the winter, that we’re out of attainment,” Ruiz explained.

“If we can back into attainment, everything is fine, but if not, then things like withholding federal highway funds for projects can happen. Rick Ross of IMD (Intermountain Disposal) has talked about a potential gasification plant in Delleker, and that probably wouldn’t happen if we were non-attainment. Essentially, anything that adds emissions to the air could not get approved or permitted.”

NSAQMD and the EPA continue to look at the issue, with contingency measures being discussed.

Council and staff communications

Council members then gave their reports, with Pat Morton stating that she has been keeping an eye on the river, with heavy mixed rain and snow bringing the river farther up the banks.

Stan Peiler noted his ongoing plans to work closely with Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District.

Bill Powers noted that he and Phil Oels and Susan Scarlett attended the most recent Transportation Commission meeting, as well as his attending an open house for behavioral health.

“Concerns were raised by community members and parents over youth — there is a lot of ‘virgin shaming’ and ‘slut shaming’ going on in our youth from the ages of 12 to 13 on up,” Powers said.

Powers also noted that he and Phil Oels had attended the Fire Wise community meeting, with talks about air quality and proper outdoor burning practices.

Mayor Pro Tem Phil Oels reported that he had also attended a Fire Safe meeting in Quincy with a focus on grant opportunities, as well as topics ranging from assistance for the elderly and disabled, as well as how to deal with absentee property owners that are not treating their land.

Mayor Tom Cooley then commented that despite his absence, he had been staying quite busy with the budget process for Plumas LAFCO, working on the next year’s budget.

Interim City Manager Leslie Chrysler closed communications with her report, noting the increase in scam emails and warning all to be vigilant in their digital communications.

Chrysler also spoke about the city’s involvement in the planning of the upcoming Active Shooter Full Scale Exercise (FSE) at Portola High School on Wednesday, April 24.

“The city is very involved in the planning process,” Chrysler said.

In regard to project updates, Chrysler said that she had received an email that day from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) representative, which explained the delayed but ongoing effort to get Portola’s water and sewer projects married, as well as forward movement being made with studies, and that the CWSRF representative plans to be present at the April 10 meeting of city council.

“I also spoke with the Boating and Waterways group that we’ve interacted with in the past regarding a grant, and they’re waiting for engineers for data and they said that there would more information in a couple of weeks,” Chrysler noted.

Chrysler reported that the Safety Element and General Plan continue to be polished and will also be on agendas in the near future. She also noted that City Public Works Director Todd Roberts is looking into the potential of putting in tanks to utilize water from Golden Springs to cut the cost of keeping the parks watered in the city.

Roberts also reported to Chrysler that the street sweeper is “on its last legs,” but that he would continue to use it until it dies. Roberts also reported the use of a new product that, when applied, sealed the outside of a manhole against water effectively. Chrysler then closed wryly, “I have nothing to say about the roads.”

Council then moved on to approve the consent calendar minutes and claims by unanimous roll call vote.

Ordinance 353

The council considered the introduction and waiver of the second reading of Ordinance 353 and adding Chapter 8.16 to the city’s municipal code, providing for the abatement of weeds and rubbish.

The draft would streamline the process of enforcing weed abatement for Portola residents, providing the city with the ability to send notice to properties requiring abatement be completed within 10 days of receipt of the notice.

Chrysler interjected that the draft ordinance currently had three options to notify property owners: via certified mail, in person and posted on the property itself. Staff felt that there might be room for a fourth option — a written notice to be sent to the property owner at the last known address on the tax assessor books, along with a proof of service that would need to be filed.

“Whatever we can do to get voluntary compliance, I support,” Cooley commented. “Public education on this is going to be so important as we implement the change. We want people to be aware.”

The changes to Section 8.28.040A in the Portola Municipal Code, as well as subsections C and D, would mean that the draft ordinance would have to be brought back at a future meeting.

After some discussion around verbiage and legal constrictions specific to the ordinance, council directed staff to make the needed changes to the draft and bring it back to the agenda.

2019-2020 fiscal year budget preparation

City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett reported that the time had come for the first of two opportunities to take public comment on the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget, which is currently under preparation.

Finding no public comment, Scarlett then went on to introduce an item that had come in too late to put on the agenda.

“Mayor Cooley had asked Jennifer Stephenson (Plumas LAFCO Executive Officer) to get in touch with me last fall because of what the city has been working on with our pay down on LAFCO,” Scarlett said.

“LAFCO has actually already done the fresh start that you might remember, the 15-year fresh start, so they’re not on the 30-year schedule at the moment, but what they’re presenting in this memo is whether both entities (the county and the city) would be interested or willing to pay down the unfunded liability sooner, for the interest savings that are involved.”

There are some specifics regarding options to do a five- or 10-year pay down, or to pay off the whole unfunded liability, which is currently estimated to be about $60,000.

This would mean that both entities, the city of Portola and the Plumas County, would pay out $30,000 each and would save about $36,000 in interest.

Scarlett mentioned that there were many variables to think about, but highlighted the question, what will this do for both budgets in the future?

“The city and the county both put right around $50,000 a year into LAFCO, so if that unfunded liability was paid down, and right now it’s just under $7,000, is that budget going to be cut back by $3,500 on both sides? Some things like that that I think the council would be interested in thinking about, as well as do we ever think special districts will ever come in and pay a share?” Scarlett stated.

Scarlett went on to add that the topic would be brought back as an agenda item at the next meeting, and that Portola’s 2019-2020 budget would be up for public comment once more April 10, and that a budget workshop is scheduled for May 8.

With that, the meeting was adjourned. The City Council welcomes the public to regularly held meetings on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. Community interest and participation is encouraged and welcomed.

For more information, call City Hall at 832-6803 or visit cityofportola.com.

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