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City of Portola approves open flame ban ordinance and talks disc golf

By Lauren Westmoreland

During public comment, local resident Brian Attama spoke about the concept of fire department consolidation. “Volunteerism has been declining for some time,” he said in part. “Is it time to consolidate in this area? Many of us believe it is. Should we question the need, cost, or how long it will take before it’s even determined if it is feasible in our area? Probably not. What is for certain is that the departments in this area need to function well together — that’s why Tom Forrester started the Plumas Fire Chiefs Association back up in the area. To encourage uniformity in response, training and on scene operations. One thing is for certain, now is not the time for petty differences and proud attitudes to disrupt us.”

City Clerk Tara Kindall then read a letter to council from local Ashlee Sims that was received via email before the meeting, calling their attention to a “substantial violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act.”

The alleged violations include a lack of public accessibility to Local Emergency Services Study Group (LESSG) meetings through the past year, with no access via Zoom or in person.

“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created,” the letter stated.

Council communications

Councilmember Tom Cooley has been active at the disc golf course doing fuel reduction work and reported that he also attended a meeting of the LESSG.

“At that meeting, the study group received two proposals in response to its request,” Cooley said. “Both were from very capable firms, but the committee re-interviewed one of the firms and unanimously decided to recommend that Planwest Partners should be selected as our consultants for the feasibility study.”

Mayor Pro Tem Pat Morton reported that she had also attended the LESSG meeting, as well as a sheriff contract ad-hoc committee meeting.

Councilmember Phil Oels reported that he has made 12 benches for the new disc golf course. (See more on disc golf later in the story.)

Staff reports

Beckwourth Fire Department Chief Bret Russell reported that over the month of September, BFD responded to 43 calls total, with 28 from Portola and 15 calls from outside the city limits.

“We’ve been looking at finances for mandated planning,” Russell noted. “We have a retired Southern California fire marshal coming up to look at inspections, and we also now have a program through a company called APX to document everything via smart device, which will help us in the event of any major emergencies.”

Russell also shared that the department has finally picked up their “new-to-them” Type 1 fire engine from the city of Sparks, and they hope to have that in service in about one month. He also reminded council that the department has been awarded a FEMA regional grant, and they are in the stages of mitigating the “ins and outs of the grant program,” deciding what will work best for the local fire departments.

“We started a monthly officers meeting at BFD which is held just prior to our monthly business meeting to revamp all policies, procedures, and standard operating guidelines across the board. We are getting everything up to the twenty-first century,” Russell said. The department is also in the planning stages of the annual Washoe County Regional Training Center burn box. “We did that last year, and it was a huge hit amongst the county departments. This year, we are looking to make it bigger, better, and more in depth, and that should be happening between November and January.” Plumas and Sierra county departments will be invited.

Plumas County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Tom Klundby reported that between September 13 and October 13 they had responded to 122 calls for service in City of Portola.

Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District (NSAQMD) Air Pollution Control Specialist Melissa Klundby then reported that with some of their grant funding, NSAQMD will be sponsoring an additional green waste day at Intermountain Disposal for city residents only on Oct. 30 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with lunch from 12-12:30.

City Manager report

City Manager Lauren Knox reported that PHS homecoming is coming on Friday, October 22 and there will be a parade on that day.

“I have also had conversations with NSAQMD for enforcement of wood burning stoves,” Knox said. “We had discussed this last year as well, and starting Nov. 1, curtailment begins, and we will be discussing this at a council meeting in the near future.”

After approving the consent calendar, council went on to the first item, re-ratifying the proclamation of a state of emergency by the Governor of California Executive Order, amended into N-42020. Council also discussed and approved the re-authorization of remote teleconference meetings of the legislative bodies of the City of Portola for the period of Oct. 13, 2021 to Nov. 13, 2021 pursuant to Brown Act provisions.

Local Emergency Services Study Group Contract

Lauren Knox gave background on the agenda item, regarding the commitment in good faith that the city is obligated as a participating agency in the completion of a feasibility study, and that the City of Portola is obligated to its share of the cost of such study, as mutually agreed to by all of the participating agencies through the completion of the feasibility study.

“The LESSG has gone through the RFP process and has chosen Planwest Partners as the group to conduct the study. As part of the city’s role as contracting agency for the LESSG group, the council is recommended to make a motion to authorize the city manager to execute the contract and authorize staff to make payments for the contract from the funds received from the participating agencies on deposit with the City, in an amount not to exceed $30,000 total,” Knox explained. Council was also asked to consider designating the city manager as the City’s Representative per Section 7 of the contract.

Powers thanked everyone for their hard work and a motion was made to approve the recommendations made by staff, which was then approved unanimously by roll call vote.

Disc Golf Update

Knox opened onto the topic of updates from the disc golf course. “There are a few items that I wanted to discuss one by one with you,” Knox said. The first item touched on was the course opening. “With council approval, the course is set to have a “Soft Grand Opening” on Oct. 23,” Knox said. “At this point, the idea is that the course will be open to the public with everything needed for play in place, but with the understanding that there is still some “polishing” that is needed, as well as finalization of some of the signage.”

Powers said that he saw no objection to the opening and the rest of the council agreed.

Knox then moved on to the topic of a tournament.

“The Portola Disc Golf Club would like to hold a tournament on that day starting at 8:30 a.m., if council is amenable to the allowance,” Knox explained. “Though the course will be open to the public to play for free, it should be noted that the Portola Disc Golf Club would like to charge a fee to those who wish to join the tournament. At this time, the event is anticipated to have less than 60 people present, and the Disc Golf Club is looking into acquiring event insurance for the event.”

A small “ribbon-cutting” type of ceremony will take place directly before the tournament, which council members are invited to join. Council agreed that it was a good idea, and Knox then moved on to the topic of the name and logo of the course.

“Many are already dubbing the course as the “Portola Riverwalk Disc Golf Course,” Knox said. “As the course is on City property, Council should discuss and approve of a name for the course.”

Additionally, a community member developed a logo for the course, and city staff have contacted the artist, William Marquette, to find out whether he would allow the city to own the logo and name. “It appears that he is amenable to this idea,” Knox added.

Knox went on to explain that although the logo has already been in use, council should approve of the logo if allowed by the original artist, as well as approve of its use in marketing and other items related to the course. Also, due to the linked relationship with the Portola Disc Golf Club, council talked over whether or not it would like to give permission to the club to use the logo if the logo is approved.

Donations were the next topic for discussion, with Knox expressing that many community members have graciously donated time, resources, and money to the disc golf course.

“Another item that staff would like direction on is whether or not money received above what Mr. Rhode has stated would be the City’s “reserve” fund for future expenses or maintenance, can be used for bettering the course if short term needs arise,” Knox said. “For reference, Tim Rhode stated that the goal was to have $7,500 in reserves for the city.” Council discussed reserving a contingency fund for future expenditures, and that if money is sent to the city above that amount, whether it could be spent on incoming expenses that might be incurred for the course in the near future; for example, for additional wood for signage, or a tool that might make course development easier.”

“It should also be noted that, initially, Mr. Rhode developed a sponsorship program, modeled off of other similar activities, and very quickly was able to acquire sponsors, which helped tremendously in determining how much of the course development could occur and at what level,” Knox added.

Initially, the sponsorships were written to the City of Portola. As the Portola Disc Golf Club started to formalize a bit more, the club became the beneficiary of the sponsorships as well in order to help fund some of the current needs that couldn’t be met by the city, as there has been an agreement to not exceed $15,000 on the course.

The club, in turn, plans to utilize money received to develop the course as best as possible. For example, the club paid for the cement and cement installation materials, after cement use was approved by the council.

“The request to use additional funds gathered over the $7,500 will help to ensure that donated money is used now in course development, as well as reserved for future costs associated with the disc golf course,” Knox concluded.

Knox’s recommendation was to approve a set aside reserve of $7,500 to be used for the course in the future, including a potential redesign, maintenance, and anything else that may arise relating to the course, and approve of staff spending funds donated above that amount for any current needs if any arise.

There are a variety of items that will need to be addressed in a more formalized manner, including use of the course, a discussion about entities who may want to use the course to hold tournaments, a donation policy, discussion of the sponsorship program and a donation spending policy by the city, an outline of the special relationship between the city and the Portola Disc Golf Club, as well as other items that may arise relating to the course.

Councilman Stan Peiler asked if it was possible to research and reach out to other disc golf courses to see how they handle tournaments, so as to have a basis of comparison. Knox affirmed that it was, and council agreed that it would be best to reach out before developing future disc golf course policies.

During public comment, area resident Josh Hart soberly commented on his view of the disc golf course.

“I had a chance to see the Riverwalk this evening, and while I understand that good intentions may have been possible, I am actually quite angry,” Hart said. “The devastation is almost complete along the Riverwalk, and it is really not correct that there has been no environmental impact. Now it’s more like a damaged dirt lot, or industrial site.” Hart noted that he had observed “near complete damage to the habitat and compacted soil,” and added that to him, it seemed that the project had not been thoroughly reviewed or thought through, citing damage that will last generations.

Hart added that there was a tremendous amount of resentment forming amongst disillusioned residents around this project. “The sponsors of this course should stop all work immediately and begin an exhaustive restoration effort – misguided fire clearing does more damage than it prevents. The forest is not an enemy to be beaten back – this is obviously a CEQA violation.”

Ashlee Sims also spoke, thanking Josh Hart for his comments and adding her concerns around the city’s financial choices on the course.

Council then created a motion to approve the course opening, tournament on the day of the opening, the name and logo, approval for the club to use the logo in their marketing and a set aside in a minimum amount of $7,500 to be used for the course as needs may arise in the future, and last, to provide staff with written instructions on future policies at the course. The motion was approved unanimously by roll call vote.

Open Flame Burn Ban Ordinance

Knox closed the meeting with a brief review of draft ordinance No. 360, prohibiting open flame burning from wood and charcoal fires during fire restrictions.

“At the September 22, 2021, Council meeting, City Council introduced and waived the second reading of draft Ordinance 360,” Knox said. Ordinance 360 aims to amend Section 15.10.026 of the Portola Municipal Code (PMC) by restricting certain open flame fires, during times when a burn restriction is in place.

Council adopted the ordinance unanimously by roll call vote before adjourning the meeting.

The City Council welcomes all to its meetings which are regularly held the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6:00 p.m. Community interest and participation is encouraged and welcome.

City Council meetings are accessible to the public via live streaming at https://zoom.us/j/3583067836 or by phone at 1.669.900.6833; Meeting ID: 358 306 7836.

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