City of Portola prepares for fire season as normal activities resume

By Lauren Westmoreland

Council member Phil Oels reported that he had been heavily engaged in work on a right-of-way project on the end of Virgilia Avenue. “I’ve spent about 50 hours on my right-of-way project so far, and we’re about halfway through,” Oels said.

Council member Tom Cooley reported that he had attended several meetings, including a CALAFCO University session on the topic of financial health indicators. “I’m happy to report that the items that Susan is bringing to us on the budget tonight are very much in line with best practices,” Cooley said.

Mayor Pro Tem Pat Morton had attended the recent Memorial Day ceremony held at the cemetery in Portola, as well as various ad-hoc committee meetings.

Mayor Bill Powers began by saying, “I would like to give a shout out to Josh Hart and his crew for the wonderful job they did cleaning up the city this weekend. I don’t know if they measured volume, but it was quite a bit, and we’re all quite happy about that.”

Powers had also worked with Cooley to meet with several concerned residents in the community in the past two weeks, saying, “They all brought up many questions, and so we reported back to staff and we will have a good answer soon.”

Beckwourth Fire report

Beckwourth Fire Department representative Gay Miller reported that Chief Bret Russell and the Beckwourth Fire Department strongly urge all area residents to follow all burn ban rules and regulations to keep our community safe, because fire season is here.

“Beckwourth Fire is in full preparation mode for this upcoming fire season,” Johnson read from a letter penned by Chief Russell. “If you have not cleared your homes to provide defensible space you are behind the curve.”

Those unable to clear their homes are asked to contact Chief Russell who will direct them to a company that can do that work.

During the month of May, the department answered a total of 36 calls, with nine in Beckwourth and 27 in the city of Portola.

Johnson noted that the department is in the process of getting all four stations up to OSHA standards after a recent walkthrough, and that Beckwourth Fire would be hosting an interdepartmental fire drill on June 26 in Portola.

Chief Russell is also in the process of establishing a local arson investigation task force which will include members of various agencies, such as sheriffs from both Plumas and Sierra counties, as well as staff from various fire departments and the United States Forest Service.

The fire department auxiliary team plans on hosting their first community pancake breakfast in Portola, pending state covid regulations.

Johnson added that the department had also been able to do a very successful presentation at C. Roy Carmichael Elementary, and planned to do so ongoing into the future.

City manager report

City Manager Lauren Knox reported that Plumas County Sheriff’s Office Sargent Klundby had been assigned to coverage of the city and would be officially reporting in July in that role.

Knox also reported that city staff had been busy working with the county to get all of the area addressing correctly matched and updated to standard, with protocols being added to keep the records clear for future use by entities such as emergency services.

In 2019, city staff was approached by Bobby Magee regarding a memorial bench donation in honor of Heidi Fredette, to be placed in the Portola City Park. Heidi Fredette was a resident of Portola who was abducted from her home and murdered in 1984 at the age of 13. The bench was due to be placed with a ceremony last year, but due to the pandemic, the event was postponed. With California set to soon exit the tier system, the ceremony is now tentatively scheduled to occur prior to the Portola High School Alumni event on the morning of Saturday, July 31, at the city park.

Knox also reported on the ongoing talks between Portola Disc Golf Clubs’ Tim Rhode, designer John Houck, and the Joy family regarding land owned by the Joys that is adjacent to the Riverwalk and planned Portola disc golf course.

The Portola City Pool will be opening as planned on Saturday, June 12, with further information to be made available online at the city website and Facebook page.

Knox also anticipates that city hall will reopen to the public on June 15, in accordance with state guidelines.

2021-2022 budget talks

The 2021-2022 Fiscal year budget began in January with the calendar for the budget schedule.

There have been opportunities for public comment thus far at the March 24 and April 19 City Council meetings, and council held a budget workshop on May 19.

The budget went up for comment again during this meeting, and local Ashlee Sims voiced strong opposition to the budget, which no longer included a line item for Code Compliance Officer (CCO) Kevin Sankey.

Sims stated that in just the past five days, she had collected 105 signatures of concerned citizens that oppose the elimination of the CCO’s position on May 19.

“Our county has the funds, and there are grants that can be applied for from the State of California,” Sims said. “I would like to point out that a hearing comes before an approval, which makes the May 19 decision void. City ordinances are made to be followed, and currently they are not. If the people of the city have to follow ordinances, so do you. Lead by example please.”

Mayor Powers responded to the comments made by thanking Sims and stated that the personnel matter being discussed would have a definitive answer that would be more forthcoming in the near future.

“Why do you want to contract with someone else when we have qualified personnel in the code compliance officer position currently in the community?” Sims asked. She also commented on her opinion that Knox was not qualified to guide the position correctly, and that she felt Sankey should not lose his position due to that matter.

“I understand your position, and we will have an answer for you forthcoming,” Powers said. “We probably don’t agree with everything you said, as far as legitimacy and legal, and will likely ask our city attorney to address some of this. Thank you for your time. You may submit your petition to us.”

City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett noted that there were a few items of note to point out, with the budget reflecting a 1.7 percent COLA, or cost of living adjustment, for all full-time employees, and that the reorganization of the code enforcement position is now reflected as well.

“There is now $15,000 in the budget for the qualified contractors that the city is planning on using for code compliance enforcement,” Scarlett said.

There will be no rate change to the water and sewer rates, and there will be a reduction of one dollar per month for solid waste fees.

Another reduction is in the landfill closure fees, which will also be a dollar less per month.

Local emergency services study group update

At the April 14 meeting of city council, a resolution for the city to participate in a feasibility study for fire district consolidation was formally adopted.

Since that time, C Road fire district has elected to withdraw from the feasibility study, stating to the city, “We do not think it is a good fit for us.” Due to that determination, all participating entities involved in the feasibility study will now need to review an updated resolution that reflects the withdrawal of C Road as a participating entity.

The City of Portola adopted the updated resolution unanimously by roll call vote.

Asphalt bid

Council wrapped up the meeting with an item that would allow for the request for proposals for the purchase of hot mix asphalt concrete materials. The asphalt will be used for projects such as resurfacing the Riverwalk in Portola and various street maintenance projects. All council members approved the request and concluded the meeting.

The City of Portola welcomes all to regularly held meetings on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. via zoom. For those with any questions, contact City Hall at 832-6803, or visit cityofportola.com.