The Portola City Council met Wednesday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. via Zoom.
The meeting opened with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a roll call with all council members present.
Josh Hart, spokesperson for local nonprofit group Plumas Wired, spoke first.
Hart strongly encouraged council members to readdress the planned project to build a Verizon cell tower near the Portola campus of Eastern Plumas Health Care (EPHC.)
“We encourage safe and reasonable internet use and we have seen a pattern of Verizon putting health and safety at risk, now in Portola,” Hart said. “This Verizon tower threatens to pose a serious threat to helicopter access, patient care, response times, and emergency night flights to reno renown, at night-time especially when many serious accidents take place.”
Ron Walter, executive director for REMSA Health/Care Flight, sent an email on the subject to Eastern Plumas Health Care (EPHC). It read in part, “Care Flight and our aviation operator, Med-Trans, have been monitoring the 5G issue over the past 18 months and have made emergency helicopter operational changes based on the guidelines presented by the FAA.
“As everyone is aware, the 5G signal has an effect on the radar altimeter when aircraft are in close proximity to 5G towers. Since HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Services) predominantly operate outside of airports, HEMS operators need to be aware of 5G towers in their operation area and develop operational procedures that conform to FAA guidelines.”
How will the Verizon 5G tower located next to the hospital affect Care Flight operation?
“The 5G signal once in operation does add some restrictions to our normal operations…Care Flight will need to conduct daytime test flights into the hospital with each of our four aircraft, once the tower is operational, to determine if the 5G signal does affect the radar altimeter.”
Walter went on to explain that if there is interference, Care Flight will only be able to use the hospital’s designated landing zone during the daytime.
Night operations will require transporting the patient to another location outside the 5G interference zone.
Care Flight is a VFR (visual flight rules) program and utilizes NVG (night vision goggles) for night operations. The FAA requires a functional radar altimeter for night operations. This would prohibit Care Flight from landing at the hospital-landing zone after dark.
Local Ashlee Sims then commented briefly on whether anonymity should be upheld when commenting at public meetings.
City council communications
Councilmember Stan Peiler reported that as the snow melts in the city, he has been assessing road conditions to note the priority of street repairs.
Councilmember Bill Powers reported that he attended a Firesafe meeting last week.
Mayor Pat Morton attended the Beckwourth Fire District (BFD) annual budget meeting.
City manager report
Interim City Manager Jon Kennedy then briefly updated council on his first few weeks in the position.
Some priorities included work on determining when the city can update its water and sewer systems, deal with code enforcement issues, get a handle on the public records request system and timing, and discuss the future of the disc golf course.
“We’ve got at least 40 hours in just general public records requests, and we don’t have a public records clerk here,” Kennedy noted. “There is a lot more to work on.”
Kennedy noted that he had also met with Beckwourth Fire District Chief Bret Russell, saying that they had talked about the contract with the city and what the department is accomplishing.
After that, council moved on to accept the consent calendar by unanimous roll call vote and moved on to the first order of business.
Lost and Found Gravel Festival 2022
Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) Executive Director Greg Williams introduced the next item, a request for a cost share in the amount of $16,847 from the city for the portable infrastructure needed for people to camp at festival.
“The Lost & Found Gravel Festival 2022 Bike Race is in the planning stages. The day of the race is Saturday, June 4,” Williams explained.
This year the permit for attendees maxes out at 2,000 people, with Williams noting that SBTS is looking to sell out after two years off due to covid. “We just finalized the route with the forest service, and we will be starting road maintenance next to get everything cleaned up after the Dixie Fire,” Williams said.
“2019’s event sold out and having the Portola City Park as the venue was a great success. The plan for 2022 is to expand the race to include 2,000 racers and an added e-bike category to allow for greater participation. The race will again start and end in Portola with a “bigger and better” after-party there.”
Williams explained that the event brings in a “significant number of people to Portola” and the hope is to not only boost tourism during the event, but also highlight Portola so that event goers will come back to enjoy the area in the future. “A key strategy to be successful in doing this is to enhance community engagement so that overall awareness of the event is heightened,” Williams said. “It will be important to promote the event to local businesses and residents, so they are aware of the benefits to them and Portola. This is an opportunity to build a great annual event that everyone looks forward to.”
A few of the requests for this year’s event are more road closures on South Gulling Street, more traffic control on the bridge during the race, maintaining adequate shower temperatures at the pool, expanding camping, having the City manage the porta-pottys (making sure they are clean and well stocked), and the incorporating of kids’ races to be coordinated by the city.
“We’re trying to market and position Portola as the gravel hub of the west,” Williams said.
Interim City Manager Jon Kennedy commented on SBTS, stating, “Not to take away from any other efforts in the county, but I have worked with Greg for many years, and I’ve got to say that in terms of true economic development in this county with actual, measurable effort, I don’t think there’s any organization more effective than Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship.”
At this time, an anonymous woman attending via Zoom heatedly demanded proof of the event benefiting the community financially.
“We’ve put this race on for seven years successfully, with a total of well over 50 professional events,” Williams said. “You can check out our website, past news articles nationally and internationally.”
It was also noted that in 2017, there were 88 registered campers in the City of Portola during the event, raising $1,600 for the city.
In 2018, revenue from campers increased to $5,400. By 2019, the number of campers in the city went up to 392, bringing in $11,800 in camping fees to the city.
“This is a very consistent track of significant increase, and I support the funding request for the promotion of this event,” Mayor Pro Tem Tom Cooley said.
Councilmember Stan Peiler said that he also supported the request, but asked what would happen if covid mandates were to arise again at the time of this event.
“We’ve delayed this for a couple years, and this is outdoors and spread out. We will have extra measures for sanitation and the like, but we will revisit the subject if we need to at that point,” Williams responded.
Powers added that some of the revenue that came in couldn’t be measured, adding that at the last event “the restaurants actually ran out of food. I think we can increase the commercial side of things all the way through this thing. I agree completely with Kennedy.”
Oels also agreed that the city should participate in the event once more. The request was then unanimously approved by roll call vote.
Financial update to mid-year information
City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett then very briefly updated council with financial information that was not available when she did the mid-year review.
“It’s really a reflection of a check we got from the county for $349,252, as you know we get our property tax in three installments by July or August,” Scarlett said. “Everything looks on track at this time.”
Scarlett went over the tax categories, noting that there was payment to the county for administration of the property taxes.
Josh Hart commented that he noticed that “local governments have a lot of property tax revenue generated by the public, and it’s really important that our officials do not alienate the public and that our officials are glad when the public gets involved. That’s a positive thing. Good public officials are transparent about their meaning.”
Resolution No. 2500- COVID remote meetings
Council went on to review Resolution No. 2500 which re-ratifies the proclamation of a state of emergency and re-authorizes remote teleconference meetings of the legislative bodies of the City of Portola.
“I challenge the need for this agenda item, actually,” resident Ashlee Sims said. “We cannot observe the local body of government at all, which is a key requirement. I would like for the public to be able to observe as it is a requirement for this bill, AB361.”
It was clarified that there was no requirement for the public to view council meetings, only that the public be able to participate.
The anonymous woman then went on to argue the point, escalating to the point that she was muted by council. It was then strongly clarified that the public was not allowed to be belligerent.
Council agreed to adopt the resolution unanimously by roll call vote before adjourning.
The City of Portola City Council welcomes residents to its meetings which are regularly held the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. Community interest and participation is encouraged and welcome.