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City addresses air quality

The Portola City Council held its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday, July 10, with a light agenda and a full house.

The meeting opened with public comment and local Larry Douglas began by speaking on the topic of past water projects, and his concern that the state is in another water crisis. He spoke of the need to become self-reliant in water resources.

Josh Hart, local resident and spokesperson for Plumas Residents for Safer Wireless, then commented on the group’s concerns regarding wireless infrastructure.

“This is really serious stuff, and we hope that the city of Portola will consider a strong telecommunications ordinance,” Hart said. “Without an ordinance, we are vulnerable to telecom facilities in close proximity to homes and schools.”

Hart described a variety of instances in which wireless technology has negatively affected others and went on to express his hopes that Portola will avoid unknown wireless frequencies and look into fiber-optic options from Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative.

“I also support the city of Portola taking recognition of the climate crisis, and to strengthen that resolution,” Hart said. “Climate damage is violence towards the most vulnerable, as will be more obvious as time goes on.”

Multiple residents of the Senior Portola Apartments returned to bring concerns regarding the fire hazards to the council once more, saying, “It’s really dry, and there’s a lot of debris that has been sitting there for four years. I am concerned that if there was a fire, we would not be able to get all 50 units out of that complex, and they don’t seem to be taking it seriously. We don’t know what else to do.”

Local Bob Morton expressed a wish for detailed reports from Code Compliance Officer Kevin Sankey in the future, and another resident also spoke on concerns related to wireless infrastructure.

City communications

City council member Pat Morton reported that she had been at work with the climate change ad-hoc committee, and Council member Stan Peiler reported that CalFire has now suspended all residential burns. Peiler also noted his enthusiasm to continue to face the challenge of caring for weed abatement in the city, 0especially concerning areas such as the senior apartments.

Council member Bill Powers noted that in addition to his work on climate change with the ad-hoc committee, he had attended a United States Forest Service Resource Advisory Committee meeting.

“We gave away $278,000 to local ideas and grant applications, such as the Firewise council and other forestry projects around Plumas County,” Powers noted. “This is federal funds that used to be called payment in lieu of taxes, when the timber industry changed their focus.”

Mayor Pro Tem Phil Oels commented that he had been coordinating with Dave Rudolph to organize a Firewise event for the July 13 weekend.

Mayor Tom Cooley noted that he had been participating in work on the cannabis ordinance with the related ad-hoc committee, and that the committee would become more active in the future with reports to come.

Cooley then made a proclamation of the city of Portola, pledging support of Portola’s Firewise Community, stating, “Wildfire significantly impacts Portola’s environmental, economic and social well-being,” as well as that residents of fire-prone communities need to accept responsibility for living in high fire-hazard areas, and prepared to survive wildfire by ensuring proper management of vegetation surrounding the home.

“Residents must prepare to survive wildfire by practicing evacuation from their homes and communities and ensure good access in and out of their community for emergency responders,” Cooley stated. “The city of Portola supports the efforts of Portola Firewise as a means for education and a call for residents of the city to take action now to reduce the wildfire threat and prepare their homes, families, and community for wildfire.”

Staff communications

Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District Chief Bob Frank reported that over the month, there had been 17 medical calls, two burn pile calls, and that the AED program is moving forward. “The AEDs are ready to be placed as soon as I get the CPR classes done,” Frank stated.

Frank also noted that there would be a children’s safety day at the Portola Branch Library on July 30, with the department focusing on outreach with youth.

“Today at 7:30 this morning, we responded to a structure fire on Samantha Drive,” Frank said. “We had four of our engines and one from Beckwourth Fire, 10 personnel from EP and two from Beckwourth. We managed to contain that to the bedroom without structural damage to the house and no injuries on either side.”

Frank also noted that he had been working with the CCO on the topic of weed abatement with the goal of compliance attainment. Frank also reported that he had met with the management at the Portola Senior Apartments to address concerns, and that there had been no progress as of yet with the apartments.

Interim City Manager Leslie Chrysler noted that HDC approved the grant housing element, and also that July 27 would be the Portola High School’s alumni picnic.

Chrysler reported that over 100 letters related to weed abatement had been sent out with 25 percent compliance thus far, and that work would continue. With that, the council approved the minutes and the consent calendar, moving on to the two items on the agenda.

Beckwourth Peak Recreation Project

Greg Williams, executive director of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, presented a bit of history on the project, explaining that the planning process for this project began in 2009.

“We got support from the city and Beckwourth Ranger District, got funded, and later found out that we couldn’t build new trails without a funding source, so we had to give all of the money back,” Williams explained.

Meetings to collect public input on identifying a priority trail were held for several months, and after maps and input had been collected, they were then formed into a draft map, which was brought to community meetings.

“Beckwourth Peak was identified as the number one priority,” Williams said. “Since then, in the last few years, Portola City Council adopted a resolution of support for the Beckwourth Peak Recreation Trail on Jan. 17, 2017, and by Sept. 26, 2017, public comments were solicited with 188 comments in total, and the majority in support of the trail.

Greg Williams, executive director of Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, explains the Beckwourth Peak Rim Trail project timeline at City Hall on Wednesday, July 10. Photo by Lauren Westmoreland

In March of this year, the Gold Mountain Board of Directors voted to approve the connection between the community of Gold Mountain and the Plumas National Forest and trail, and on June 8, SBTS contracted with Chico Environmental to perform the NEPA and CEQA environmental reviews needed for the proposal.

The first wildlife surveys were conducted on June 10, and on June 21, SBTS received written approval to locate the trail along Eastern Plumas Health Care property, connecting the City Park with the Plumas National Forest and providing a trail head. “This would be a great gift for the community,” Williams said.

Williams went on to explain that currently, SBTS is going for the Statewide Park Development and Community Revitalization Program grant for around $522,000 to complete a nearly 20-mile project.

“These grants are for severely disadvantaged communities,” Williams said. “These grants are also really extensive.”

Williams also noted the goal to create local employment through trail crews, as well as noting that a map is available on the forest service website.

If all goes to plan, the trail is “shovel ready” for Spring 2020, according to Williams, with the hope that the location of the trail head will create an economic model to start and stay in town. “The views are world-class,” Williams added.

The trail will be multi-use, but non-motorized, so hikers, bicyclists and equestrians will have access to a trail that has been 10 years in the making.

Dan Gallagher, president of the Gold Mountain Home Owners Association, soon to be called the Nakoma Community Association, and Nakoma’s vice president of development, thanked Williams and the Stewardship.

“We’ve been involved in this process from early on,” Gallagher said. “We’ve been really appreciative of this, because on the resort and real estate side, as we’ve seen the golfer demographic kind of flatten out and decline a bit, we’ve seen it replaced by the outdoor rec demographic and very much the mountain bike demographic. This thing really completes us as a recreation destination.”

Woodstove ordinance

On Feb. 13, the city council received a presentation regarding various issues related to the fire department, and one of the issues raised was the implementation of a ban on backyard outdoor burning, with the exception of ceremonial, cooking and recreational fires.

With residents now having access to green waste collection services provided by Intermountain Disposal, the problem of removal without burning has been eliminated.

Since that time, the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District (NSAQMD) requested two changes to the current woodstove ordinance, No. 354, which came through the direction of the EPA.

Julie Ruiz of the NSAQMD spoke briefly about the changes, saying “Portola is in Federal Non-attainment according to the EPA, and we have lots of onerous requirements on us to figure out how to get the air back into attainment.”

Those requirements include a contingency measure, which means, according to Ruiz, that if air quality does not improve to NAAQS/EPA standards, starting in 2021, there would be mandatory non-burn days for wood stoves. The only exception would be for EPA certified stoves. “If you have an old, uncertified stove, you can’t burn it,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz explained that the NSAQMD is continuing with the woodstove change out program for those that still may be burning in uncertified stoves over 20 years old, saying, “We don’t have exceptions, we want to replace your stoves.”

In regard to EPA requirements, the contingency measure would also extend the time frame in which there already exists a four-month November to February mandatory no-burn to include an extra four months, going from September to April.

Ruiz added, “The National Ambient Air Quality Standard says 35 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter is the limit; you can’t go above that. As the ordinance is written now, if it’s suspected that air particulates are 30 or higher, the no-burn can go into effect.

“With the new standards set by the EPA, if we don’t reach the standards for clean air, it drops it down to 20 micrograms, which is pretty substantial. That one actually has some ramifications, but the whole idea with the ordinance is to clear the air in Portola to the point that we won’t need to call no-burn days to keep particulates low enough,” Ruiz said.

Funds for the woodstove change-out program are available through August of 2020 under the current grant, leaving a little over a year to take advantage of the program. For more information, call Julie Ruiz at 832-0102.

With the conclusion of the presentation of information and minimal discussion, council introduced the woodstove ordinance, waived the second reading, and asked staff to put it on the agenda for adoption by roll call vote.

The Portola City Council regularly holds 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, contact City Hall at 832-6803 or visit cityofportola.com.

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