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City hears tenant issues and tackles transparency, block grants and fire

By Lauren Westmoreland

All concerned citizens claimed to be members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, or ACCE, in the six emails sent into council for the public comment portion of the meeting.

“Today I am here to support Ashley and tenants in the City of Portola. Everyone deserves to have a place to call home. Everyone deserves to have a safe, habitable, and affordable place to rest their head at night,” each email read.

Each email asked the question of council members, “What are you doing in the City of Portola to ensure that tenants are protected from eviction post-pandemic?”

Tenants in the city urged the council to bring attention and action to the matter, also requesting that it be a topic brought officially to the agenda soon.

Fire feasibility study updates

Council member Tom Cooley went into an overview of recent updates on the fire study group during city council communications. “If you’ll recall at our last meeting, we adopted a resolution in support of the fire study group proceeding to engage a consultant for a feasibility study,” Cooley said.

Recent updates include the adoption of commitments to proceed with the first phase of a fire district reconsolidation feasibility study to potentially go from six fire districts into one.

As of April 28, Gold Mountain Community Services District (CSD), Sierra Valley Fire Department and Beckwourth Fire Department had all adopted resolutions and made financial commitments toward this next phase.

Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District (EPRFPD) took the resolution under consideration at their last meeting in April, postponing action until the May meeting. “There is a concern that there wasn’t enough information available,” Cooley explained, after attending the EPRFPD meeting. “They felt that they were operating in a vacuum.”

Cooley went on to review reports that have been forthcoming from the fire study group to each of the six agency boards involved. “The 2019 Plumas County Grand Jury report included a finding that fire agencies in the county should evaluate restructuring and evaluate the benefits that might come from that restructuring,” Cooley said. “The study group was formed and solutions to the common issues and identifying a path forward for sustainable fire protection and emergency medical response is what has come out of those meetings.”

Cooley hopes that all agencies can move ahead to begin the feasibility study, with the expectation that the study cost around $45,000. “That is all that resolution is about at this point,” Cooley stressed. “We want to find out if this is, in fact, feasible for our specific set of circumstances. More importantly, what would the budget for a new agency be? All of that comes out of a feasibility study, and anything before that is simply speculation, even if it is well-intended or well-informed.”

Cooley then addressed the specific concerns that were raised at the April 14 meeting of city council by a citizen around the topic of emergency response time by Beckwourth Fire Department (BFD).

The ad-hoc fire committee discussed the comments raised and requested that the city manager contact Eastern Plumas Health Care (EPHC), the hospital in Portola. “We want to assure everyone that we take the public comment very seriously and we believe that we have fully investigated the concerns, and do not see a reason to make any changes to the way that the services are being provided today,” Cooley concluded.

Music in the Park updates

Mayor Bill Powers reported on the status of the upcoming Music in the Park live summer music series, with the good news that thus far there were three bands in the lineup, beginning Friday, July 9. Powers went on to explain that with the city responsible for selecting the bands this year, the full $6,000 available for hiring bands should go a little further.

“If the state opens up without restrictions, with beverages and food allowed in the park, then the Lost Sierra Chamber of Commerce will come in under separate contracts with either a bar or food vendors,” Powers said. “At this point, I’m still chasing that elusive Dixieland band.”

Thus far there will be blues, rock and roll, country music, and a Motown band. “Things are looking good!” he said.

Staff communications

Melissa Klundby of the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District (NSAQMD) reminded everyone that May is free green waste disposal month for residents in Portola.

Beckwourth Fire Chief Bret Russell reported that during March BFD responded to 30 calls, with nine of those in Beckwourth, and 21 calls were responded to in Portola, of which 19 were medical related.

Russell explained that there were ongoing trainings and classes, and that there are also plans in the works for a future community pancake breakfast. “It will be an outdoor and socially distanced event,” he said.

It was also reported that Auxiliary Team Leader Debbie Hyde is designing a “Support Your Local Fire Department” T-shirt that will be available to the public. “I can’t thank Debbie enough,” he said.

The development of a future Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, was discussed, which will be a volunteer program that teaches residents how to prepare themselves and their community for disasters.

In response to the same concerned citizen that Cooley earlier referenced, Russell said, “We absolutely encourage this type of dialogue,” he said. “I have an open-door policy.”

He addressed the topic of tiered response, stating that the concept would serve to limit unnecessary resources being sent in to calls they aren’t needed on. “This is a protocol that big brother and big sisters’ departments are using, and it won’t happen overnight,” he said. “We’re absolutely responding to each and every call that we are paged out to.”

Russell also addressed the concern of response times and did a diligent independent investigation with all involved stating that there were zero complaints at this time.

Russell also reaffirmed that the department would continue to respond “with the cavalry” to any needed mutual aid calls. “We have never been left uncovered during a mutual aid call,” he concluded.

City Manager Lauren Knox congratulated Chief Russell on becoming a Certified Arson Investigator, stating that it was an asset to the community and to the county.

City Manager response to transparency concerns

Knox spoke to the recently raised concerns over fire service transparency in city finance, specifically regarding the city-owned fire stations. “I think there was a little bit of misinformation that I would like the opportunity to correct,” Knox said.

Knox explained that there was a belief that the city has spent close to $50,000 making improvements to the fire halls, and equipment that the city has had to purchase. “That $50,0000 figure isn’t accurate,” she said. “It’s not close to that mark. I also want to be clear and re-state that the work done on the south side fire hall was really deferred maintenance as well as safety issues that really needed to be addressed.”

This included a water leak that caused walls and floors to rot in the south side fire hall, which also leaked into a storage room about a foot away from the electrical panel. There were also OSHA related items such as exit lighting. Floors were also in need of refinishing.

“All of these are standard building maintenance items that got put on the back burner to allow for other projects to continue forward,” Knox said.

Regarding statements made that the city has been purchasing equipment, radios, or turnouts, Knox said, “I’m not sure what this is referring to as we have not made any purchases to date. We may attempt to assist Beckwourth Fire with purchasing a pair of turnouts for a member of the Beckwourth Fire Department, Portola division, because we gave EPRFPD a turnout that was being used by one of their members. Now Beckwourth has one less set of turnouts that they can use.”

In response to the reach out to EPHC, CEO Doug McCoy stated that the hospital had no complaints with response times from Beckwourth fire.

In a note to all residents, it is asked to please not flush wipes of any kind, such as baby wipes, as the city system is currently inundated in both the south and north sides of the community with blockage made of wipes that do not break down.

CDBG update

Knox gave a brief update about the Community Development Block Grant, or CDBG, Coronavirus allocation, which would be $285,000 if able to develop an appropriate project or program and go through the application process.

Council discussed previously that CDBG programs have in the past been notoriously difficult for Portola’s resources to be able to accomplish.

At the last meeting, council directed Knox to let the opportunity pass for the time being, but in the interim, Knox was approached by the Plumas County Administrator who has found a group that will apply for and run an entire program for that allocation. They have asked if the city wanted to be a part of this as well.

“I have responded with a variety of questions, including what is really needed from us,” Knox said. “What I do know is that we’ll need to develop an agreement if we do end up following along with this, but I haven’t spent much time on this after council’s last direction.”

Armed with new information, council briefly discussed the potential of joining up with the county as a sort of joint mutual funding source, with Peiler stating that he was all for it, and Cooley agreeing with Peiler. Oels demurred, stating that he would prefer to have more information on the time and money available, and more clarification on what has changed since the council last spoke on the topic. Morton said that if the county has an outside source willing to do the work, she is agreed, and Powers agreed with Morton.

Knox was directed to please share future communications with council, as council members were amenable to moving ahead based on the current information available.

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

The city council meeting is accessible to the public via live streaming at https://zoom.us/j/3583067836or by phone at 1.669.900.6833; Meeting ID 358 306 7836.

Any questions may be submitted via email to City of Portola City Clerk Tara Kindall at [email protected]

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