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City discusses organic waste bill, budget amendment for code enforcement services

Lauren Westmoreland

The Wednesday, Feb. 9, meeting of the Portola City Council opened with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a roll call with all present.

Public comment

After clarifying which items should be commented upon by the public and noting that all commenters must identify themselves for an accurate record of the meeting, Mayor Pat Morton noted, “If you do not identify yourself, you may not be able to comment.”

This follows several recent meetings of city hall in which attendees have spoken during public comment via Zoom, refusing to identify themselves.

Resident Ashlee Sims then gave her public comment, saying that she would like to congratulate Mr. Kennedy on his new position. “Hopefully he will be part of the solution in this community,” she said.

Council member communications

Mayor Pro Tem Tom Cooley attended a meeting of the infrastructure committee, stating that results would come before council at a future date.

“I also attended the unveiling of new signage at the disc golf course,” Cooley reported. “I would also like to report on the interim city management pre-employment background check of financial, criminal and DMV records, which has come back clean on Jon Kennedy.”

Councilmember Phil Oels has also attended the recent disc golf course sign presentation. 

Councilmember Stan Peiler commented that he had recently had residents of Portola ask him about standardizing the colors of buildings throughout the city of Portola. “Another resident brought up the possibility of a mural on the new Hub gym wall,” Peiler added.

 Councilmember Bill Powers said, “It is the season to start booking bands for the summer concerts. This year the plan is to break up the series a bit, starting after the July 4th weekend, with a break for the fair which will be early this year.”

Powers went on to note, “The organizer of the Portola Swim Team and I spoke, and the team will sell drinks and snacks again as well. This year we plan to have a food truck, so we can advertise having food and a bar there.”

Fire chief report

Gay Miller with Beckwourth Fire District (BFD) reported that the fire chief was currently at a three-day seminar for fire arson.

She also noted that BFD received $10,000 for a water tender that was surplus equipment and sold.

“To improve response time, a number of take-home vehicles have been issued,” Miller also noted. “Also, from here on out, I will be reporting out at the first meeting of each month only.”

City manager report

City Manager Lauren Knox first reported that there had been a water main break in area of Portola Heights, west of West Street on Tuesday, Feb.  8. “Noticing went door-to-door to residents in the affected area, and testing showed no contamination,” Knox said. “We did have a boil water notice go out.”

Knox also reported recent discussion with the Infrastructure committee and Intermountain Disposal regarding some issues in addition to details of the new side loader.

“Jon and I are now working through transition pieces, and we made our way through my very long list, so welcome Jon. I am excited for Jon to be here a breath of fresh air. It’s going very smoothly,” Knox said.

The city presented Knox with a certificate of appreciation and small gift to Knox for all of her work for the city. “Thank you all for your support, you have been an amazing council to work with,” Knox said.

Council then adopted the budget and consent calendar after a brief correction in regard to a voided check in accounts payable.

Authorizing Submittal of a Notice of Intent to Comply with SB 1383

In 2016, the California legislature approved, and Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1383.

The legislation seeks to reduce emissions of methane from dairy and livestock operations and solid waste landfills as a means of combating climate change. SB 1383 tasked the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) to write and enforce regulations.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, SB 1383 regulations require cities and counties to collect organic wastes from all residential and commercial generators in California and deliver those wastes to a composting facility, thus avoiding landfill disposal. There is a carve-out for rural jurisdictions to waive the organic waste collection requirement for up to five years.

On Nov. 10, 2021 the city council approved Resolution No. 2490, which exempted the city from the organic waste collection requirement through Dec. 31, 2026.

The exemption was approved by CalRecycle on January 13 of this year.

“There are other requirements of the SB 1383 legislation from which the city is not exempt,” Knox explained. “This year, the city needs to establish an edible food recovery program, amend building code and outdoor water use ordinances, purchase post-consumer content recycled paper, establish an education and outreach program and routinely document all of the above to the satisfaction of the state. We also need to amend our Solid Waste Ordinance and prepare a report of our progress implementing the above by April 1.”

There is a grant fund program available from CalRecycle to subsidize the city to help meet the regulatory requirements. Staff has applied for $20,000 in grant funds. If approved, the city may receive the funds in April.

In recent discussions at city hall, it was made clear that the SB 1383 regulations are complex and burdensome on most California jurisdictions to implement. Failure to meet the requirements can result in substantial administrative fines.

Through lobbying from cities and counties both large and small, Senate Bill 619 was passed. That legislation allows jurisdictions to apply for a waiver of administrative fines in 2022 for failure to meet SB 1383 regulatory deadlines. To obtain a waiver from administrative fines in 2022, the city council needs to approve a resolution establishing the city’s intent to comply with the SB 1383 regulations. Once approved, the resolution, number 2498, must be submitted to CalRecycle by March 1.

Powers asked Knox about anything as far as “water concerns that might also be coming down the pipeline.” City solid waste consultant Tom Valentino answered that there was nothing regarding water in SB 1383 at this time.

“The state just finalized these regulations in December of last year, and this waiver protects us from administrative fines and gives us more time to comply with solid waste procedures,” Valentino explained.

Without further discussion, council went on to unanimously approve the resolution by roll call vote.

Budget Amendment – CSG contract

At this time, council entered into a review and discussion of an increase in the contract amount for CSG Consultants for code enforcement services. In June of 2021, Council approved of a contract with CSG consultants for Code Enforcement Services.

“Irma Gowin has been providing this service to the city with favorable results,” Knox said. “At the time of the initial contract, we were unsure what it would take to get the Code Enforcement program reorganized. The initial figure included in the contract was for an amount not to exceed $45,000. At the time, it was discussed that the figure may be low. Staff is requesting that the figure be raised an additional $20,000.”

Knox went on to state that it was important to note that the previous Code Compliance Officer (CCO) position, which was eliminated during a restructuring of positions in exchange for a more traditional Code Enforcement role, would have needed a budgeted amount of approximately $73,791 factoring in administrative overhead costs and benefits.

The additional amount requested for the CSG Contract brings the total to approximately $65,000, which is still under the amount that would need to be budgeted for the previous CCO position. “Another item to note is that the $73,791 figure does not include the other expenses that would be associated with the CCO position, such as training, vehicle maintenance and repair, materials and supplies, and fuel, all of which are no longer expenses to the city when we contracted with CSG Consultants,” Knox went on. Staff estimates that these costs would typically be around $5,000 to $10,000 annually, bringing the total for the previous CCO position closer to $80,000, as a conservative figure. “Staff recommends the approval of the amended contract,” Knox concluded.

Resident Ashlee Sims opened public comment with questions on Gowin’s work schedule, and a request to see complete records and a year over year comparison of what had been done in the area of code compliance before and after engaging in the contract with CSG Consultants.

Another woman stated that she felt the contract was a “short-term solution for a long-term situation.”

City Clerk Tara Kindall then read a letter from city resident Leah Turner, which raised concerns around the proposed contract increase and asked what had been accomplished with the funds spent thus far.

Councilmember Stan Peiler asked if Gowin was efficient with her time, and Knox responded that she had done some case comparisons between previous Code Compliance Officer Kevin Sankey and current Code Enforcement Officer Irma Gowin, noting that “Irma has 54 cases, equivalent to code enforcement related issues.”

Knox went on to highlight, “These are two different types of positions, the former CCO was tasked with more, including assisting fire, which Irma does not deal with.” Knox stated that in terms of cases over an eight-month period, they do compare.

Leah Turner then asked if Gowin is doing “reactive rather than proactive work.”

“The role is complaint driven,” Knox responded.

“I would like to meet with Gowin and see what she has done,” Turner said.

Cooley noted that the city has gained a “very positive organization of the position, and standardized reporting which will allow the job to be passed off in future if needed.”

He also recognized that there is a significant difference to overseeing the work of an employee and the work of an independent contractor before recommending the council approve the contract amendment. This was passed by unanimous roll call vote.

Discussion of goals for the fiscal year 2022-2023 budget

Knox turned the meeting over to Interim City Manager Jon Kennedy at this time.

“I am looking forward to coming up to budget goals for the city, and I was pleased to have the opportunity for this transitional period with Lauren,” Kennedy said.

“I did ask to review the last budget goals from February 2021, along with the general plan update. I would like to ask that instead of listing more goals at this time, maybe we can revisit this in a few months after we have addressed some previous goals that have already been set in the past.”

Without any further public comment, Powers agreed with Kennedy on clarifying goals that are yet to be met before making new ones.

“I agree with the idea to take stock of what needs to be done and revisit,” Cooley said.

The Portola City Council welcomes residents to its meetings which are regularly held the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. Interest and participation is encouraged and welcome.

For additional information visit the City of Portola Web Page: www.cityofportola.com.

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