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City of Portola approves new concept to clean up trash; hears about cell tower

By Lauren Westmoreland

After opening with the pledge of allegiance, the City of Portola City Council held a regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, March 23 at 6 p.m.

The meeting moved into public comment first, opening with Portola resident Ashlee Sims: “I wanted to let you know that I appreciate the documents provided in tonight’s agenda packet, and also advise you to pay attention to what Josh Hart has to say tonight regarding the cell tower and wish to request that he make a presentation to city council in the next 60-90 days.”

Josh Hart then made public comment, adding to the conversation around the cell tower topic. “Liberty Energy is currently setting up lines to the tower as of today,” he said.

Hart went on to make three points; stating that Verizon purchased the so-called “C Band” for billions of dollars to be used for 5G. “This is directly adjacent to the frequency used by flight altimeters and night vision goggles used by pilots to detect how close to the ground they are in low visibility,” Hart said.

Hart also mentioned the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the Federal Communications Commission wireless exposure guidelines do not adequately protect public safety. Last, Hart noted that the issue of 5G flight interference became a major news story, with airlines refusing to fly into certain airports with 5G towers nearby.

“The issue is of great concern to med-evac flight companies,” he stated.

City Manager Jon Kennedy noted that there were also over a dozen emails with similar concerns that had come in just hours before the start of the meeting.

After a complaint was raised that the emails are  not being read aloud, it was clarified that AB361 provides that the comments submitted in writing may or may not be read during the meeting, but will be submitted into the record.

One resident then commented that it was her impression that the tower was not 5G.

“You are correct, it is a 4G tower,” Mayor Pat Morton said. “We’re not sure where these people are getting their information from.”

“We did receive today more than a dozen emails on this topic,” Kennedy said. “I feel that it would behoove council to agendize this topic to let Josh speak and clarify some things to the public.”

Council agreed to put it on the next agenda for further discussion, as there could be no real discussion or action taken during the public comment period.

City council communications

Mayor Pat Morton attended a recent Beckwourth Fire District meeting and a meeting of LAFCo.

Councilmember Phil Oels attended a county Firesafe Meeting, and started working on his property. “Everybody says it’s going to be a long, hot summer and fire season is going to start early. Grab a rake and get to work now creating defensible space,” Oels recommended.

Mayor Pro Tem Tom Cooley attended the Plumas County Firesafe meeting with Oels, and the LAFCo meeting with Powers and Morton.

Councilmember Bill Powers attended a LAFCo meeting, as well as getting five bands booked for the summer concert series in the park.

“I’m hoping that I will be able to line up food trucks that said they were interested,” Powers said. Powers also reported that he had asked the Portola Rotary if they might want to do a kiosk.

Public Comment – 2022/2023 Budget Preparation

City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett stated that each year, there are multiple opportunities for the public to speak up about ways they would like to see the budget used. Without any comment, the meeting moved on to the next item.

Agreement to extend term of MOU regarding reorganization of the fire and emergency services

“The existing Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU that went into effect in January of 2020 needs to be extended to continue the process between partnering agencies,” Kennedy said.

Due to delays caused by last year’s wildland fires and COVID-19 restrictions, in addition to the overall complexities and time-consuming tasks regarding these efforts, the existing MOU has essentially expired and needs to be extended. “All of the other agencies are reviewing this currently as well,” Kennedy added.

Cooley expounded that “there are no changes to any conditions to the MOU,” and that the request is for two years.

Ashlee Sims commented and asked that all past, present and future LESSG minutes be given to her, and also requested that a specific end date be added to the extension of the MOU as an ad-hoc committee.

Powers moved to approve the two-year extension, seconded by Oels. Roll call vote. Yes all.

Credit card policy update

The city’s existing credit card policy is approximately 16 years old and needs various updates to reflect current conditions.

The updated credit card policy has been prepared to address requirements of the city’s auditors and various other state agencies.

“This one rose to the top due to Ashlee Sims’ public record request at the last meeting,” Kennedy said. “One of which was the credit card policy, so we have worked to update that policy.”

The policy states in part that a city credit card shall be issued to employees for the purpose of making small-dollar purchases, securing reservations, paying travel expenses, placing phone orders, and doing city business in the most efficient manner.

Morton noted she that wanted more specific language in terms of wanting physical receipts of each transaction added to the policy.

Cooley moved to adopt the policy as amended with all unanimously agreeing by roll call vote.

Concept to clean up Portola

This agenda item asked council to consider the implementation of a one-time neighborhood / blight clean-up program using Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

“The city currently provides some form of abatement, hazardous clea up, and waste haul. The city will be using ARPA funds to address highly impacted properties that affect economic activity, opportunity, and well-being of the residents- we have identified 38 properties on the north side so far,” Kennedy said.

“This will also include non-abandoned properties, and other properties on the south side. We are proposing sort of an amnesty program working with IMD to get dumpsters around town for those who want to participate. We are working on the details, and this will be part of the deal to enforce cleaning up our city first before we can move on to better things,” Kennedy said.

This will also be on a voluntary basis at first.

The budget will vary per house, and homes are being identified by city staff physically driving around and looking, according to Kennedy. “Hopefully the public will help call in properties that need help. We know that IMD will be involved,” he added.

Susan Scarlett noted that there would be around $460,000 total to work with on this project.

Cooley asked about the timeframe and when the expenditures could begin. “Anytime, with December of 2024 being the completion date,” Scarlett said.

Sims commented that she thought this was an excellent program for the community.

Hart commented also to thank the city for their effort to provide these services to the community. “We also need the provision of services to make people’s homes fire safe, such as financial assistance to replace roofs, shingles, siding- if we have a critical mass of homes that are not defensible, our whole community is at risk,” Hart said. “The top priority should be community defense, defensible space- the USFS says that they are thinning the forest nearby, which may give false reassurances to people who think they don’t have to create defensible space.”

Hart also noted that trust is really important to have between the public and the city for any programs to succeed and stated that he felt that “there had been a feeling of hostility toward the public in recent times since the departure of former city manager.”

Another resident spoke to clarify whether public dumping trash on the street in front of their house is an uncommon occurrence. “There’s trash dumps all over the place, mattresses, out in the woods and in front of my house,” he said. “I don’t see how this will be addressed in the future if this is going to be a recurring issue.”

Kennedy said that there would be a dent made in the city blight with the concept and added that “hopefully the community members will appreciate this effort and take some pride.”

Powers asked about the potential to supply bear-resistant trash receptacles, and Kennedy noted, “We anticipate not having to spend that full amount, so we should be well in the budget to handle this first phase and come up with more ideas to spend the funds to effectively make Portola better.”

Oels commented that perhaps the funds could be better spent on elderly and disabled.

“We’re looking for direction to know if the council is ready to march forward conceptually. If so, we will try to put together a plan quickly and bring it back in the near future,” Kennedy said.

Oels made a motion to approve the concept, and with a unanimous roll call vote, it was approved, and the meeting adjourned.

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