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City makes effort to save nearly $600,000

In a move to save $592,000 in interest, the Portola City Council is making a lump sum payment of $400,000 to its CalPERS obligation, and refinancing it from a 30-year to 15-year payment schedule.

City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett presented the figures to the council during its Oct. 24 meeting.

The unfunded accrued liability for CalPERS is currently at $766,152, but as Scarlett explained, the figures “are just a snapshot in time” as variables contribute to the fluctuating number. CalPERS is the California Public Employees Retirement System.

What is known is that if the city doesn’t take action, its payment would continue to increase, reaching as much as $100,000 per year.

“We have had this unfunded liability for some time,” Scarlett said. “And we are not alone.”

Scarlett said that the city has the money available to make the $400,000 lump sum payment to reduce the unfunded balance and recommended that the council do so.

“You’re crazy if you don’t do this,” said Leslie Chrysler, the city’s interim manager.

The three board members present — Tom Cooley, Pat Morton and Debra Reynolds — voted to make the payment and proceed with the 15-year payment schedule.

Municipal codes

The city is updating its municipal codes — including a host of items from signage to temporary RV occupancy, to outdoor storage.

According to the city’s contract planner, Karen Downs, city staff has maintained a list of miscellaneous municipal code proposed amendments based on input from the planning commission, the city council and the public.

During the past year, the council and staff have carefully reviewed the codes, and during the Oct. 24 meeting, Downs listed the codes that the council wanted further clarification on and provided the information they sought.

For example, when it comes to signage, no free standing bracket signs or feather signs (those that look like a feather and are usually made out of plastic or fabric) will be allowed on street corners or away from building entrances.

As for temporary RV occupation — a recreational vehicle, trailer, coach or mobile home —may be used as a temporary residence to accommodate visitors for a period of time not to exceed 14 days on a continual basis or 30 days on an intermittent basis in a calendar year on land owned or leased by the host where there is a permanent dwelling occupied by the host. The property owner or host must obtain an administrative permit prior to occupancy.

A lot of time was devoted to outdoor storage. Under the proposed amendment, outdoor storage is not permitted on an undeveloped lot unless it is adjacent to and under the same ownership as a developed lot.

Outdoor storage must be screened on all sides through building design, dense landscaping at least 6 feet high, and/or solid screening such as a fence.

Operable and registered vehicles, boats, RVs, etc. aren’t considered outdoor storage that must be screened. Nor is firewood for personal use.

Other changes include approving 8-foot fencing via an administrative permit, rather than by the planning commission; open air vending has been redefined to include mobile vending and farmers markets; and short-term rentals such as VRBO and Airbnb will be allowed everywhere, subject to collecting the transient occupancy tax and obtaining an administrative permit. The latter also contains a variety of standards that must be met.

For a full list of all municipal code changes visit city hall or visit the city of Portola’s website; a link to the changes is prominent on its home page.

An ordinance regarding the changes will be prepared for the Nov. 14 council meeting and is scheduled to be adopted during the council’s Nov. 28 meeting, following a public hearing.

Project 192

The city council received an update about the status of the Portola 192 project from developer John Hodgson.

An effort began in 2003 for the development of 198 single-family residential lots and approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial retail. Since that time an annual review of the project’s progress has been presented.

Hodgson described the year’s biggest disappointment — the unsuccessful attempt to receive state funding for a proposed workforce apartment housing project.

The projected cost for the 72 one- and two-bedroom units was approximately $18 million. “The funding application would have supported both the housing project as well as numerous transportation related improvements throughout the City and region,” Hodgson said in a written update to the board.

He said funding would also have assisted with the city’s water and sewer systems.

“We spent a lot of time on this,” Hodgson told the council of his and city staff’s work as he presented the report. “We made a Herculean effort.”

The application was one of 125 submitted for the funding.

While that bid was unsuccessful, the city obtained valuable information and was able to update its Housing Element Plan as required by the state.

Hodgson went on to describe a successful project at the site. “Most significantly the Portola 192 ownership funded fire hazard reduction work on 20 acres of its property that was identified as high risk,” he wrote in his update.

Hodgson praised the work of Councilman Phil Oels in spearheading the project.

No interest

During her report to the board, Chrysler told the council that no one has expressed an interest in serving on the city’s planning commission.

She also provided an update on the selection of a code compliance officer and said a candidate had been interviewed who was “very promising.”

Meeting schedule

The Portola City Council’s monthly meeting schedule will be as follows for the remainder of the year: Nov. 14 and 28, and Dec. 12.

Historically, the council cancels its second meeting in both November and December due to conflicts with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but since Thanksgiving falls early this year, it allows the council to meet and thus keep its timeline to adopt the zoning ordinance.

The new council members will be sworn in during the Dec. 12 meeting.

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