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City of Portola talks open flame ban ordinance and looks at budget

Council member reports
Councilmember Phil Oels reported that he had attended a transportation meeting which was focused on housekeeping. “I also attended the recent Firewise meeting, and only two people attended it,” Oels commented.

Councilmember Tom Cooley had attended several meetings of the fire study group since the last meeting and had met with the Ad-hoc Sheriff Contract Committee.

Mayor Pro Tem Pat Morton was excited to announce that the first Angel Tree meeting had been held, with the Christmas season not far away, and had attended an Ad-Hoc Sheriff Committee meeting also.

Mayor Bill Powers reported that he had attended a Transportation Commission meeting.

Staff communications
Gay Miller, director at Beckwourth Fire District, reported on behalf of Chief Bret Russell that the department is now cleared from duty on the Dixie Fire. “Thankfully, we were awarded a big FEMA self-contained breathing apparatus grant, which will do great thing for all our departments,” Miller read, before noting that the grant went out to Beckwourth Fire District, Long Valley Fire, and Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District.

Melissa Klundby, air quality management specialist at the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District, encouraged all to check out myairdistrict.com to check out their new blog. Free chimney sweeps are also still available for EPA certified stoves in the city of Portola.

City manager report
City manager Lauren Knox reported that she had been at the Plumas County Board of Supervisors meeting on September 14, with the city’s contract with Plumas County Sheriff Office up for discussion. “We will need to have conversations and negotiations,” Knox said. “The board of supervisors is clearly wanting a significantly higher amount.” She explained that the ad-hoc committee is in communication with the county administrator, in what she termed “a pretty big conversation.”

“The Dixie fire is also 94 percent contained, which is good news,” Knox said. “I want to remind everyone that we are still in peak fire season, it’s been rough, and we don’t want any more incidents.”

She noted that a skateboard clinic was held over the past weekend at the Portola skate park, “which went pretty well from what I understand,” Knox said, before continuing, “The Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District and I have been discussing the enforcement of our wood burning stove ordinance, and that discussion will come up relatively soon.” The minutes portion of the consent calendar was then adopted unanimously by roll call vote.

Financial Update and Budget Amendments
City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett reviewed the budget for the city 2020-2021 fiscal year. “The SB2 grant was approved in 2019 originally, and we are still trying to get the invoice paid that we sent to the state because they are lagging,” Scarlett said. Scarlett also went over bad debt, with liens on unpaid utilities not collectable due to the pandemic.

“In terms of clean up items, our sales tax came in quite a bit higher than expected and we also received $50,000 in coronavirus relief funding,” Scarlett said. “TOTs were also higher than expected. Interest income went the other way, and snow was higher due to state controller’s office allowing the city to take the trucks and plows in full. Our only problem is that we did not spend as much, due to our very dry winter last winter.”

“It’s an interesting situation due to increase in snow removal money versus the dry year we had. We budgeted $296,000 to cover additional costs and only spent $126,000,” Scarlett went on. “I’ve never seen that happen, it’s very unusual.”

The city is in the black for the first time in the category of solid waste and the landfill closure.

After some further discussion, all council members approved the motion to approve budget amendments, asset agreements and deletions as presented by Susan Scarlett by unanimous roll call vote.

Open Flame Burning – Ordinance 360
Knox opened, “At the September 8, 2021, Council meeting, city council was made aware of a concern expressed over the allowance of certain types of fires, particularly with the fire danger and increased threat from the Dixie Fire.”

At the meeting council determined that an appropriate course of action would be to have Mayor Bill Powers, acting as the Director of Emergency Services, establish an emergency rule or regulation pertaining to open flame burning in relation to the Emergency Proclamation in place for the Dixie Fire.

It was discussed that following an emergency rule, work would be done to establish a more permanent solution through an ordinance amendment.

Soon after the meeting, the threat of the Dixie Fire to the Portola area was reduced, making an emergency rule no longer appropriate. Work still continued in relation to a more permanent solution, and at a September 15 special meeting of city hall, council was updated on this matter, and it was discussed that the next path would be to introduce an ordinance addressing this situation.

A posed solution to the matter was presented as draft Ordinance 360 for council’s consideration and review. The draft would include an amendment to Section 15.10.026 of the Portola Municipal Code (PMC). The ordinance prohibits open flame burning from wood and charcoal fires during times of fire restriction.

Enforcement of this provision was also mentioned as a concern. “For reference, PMC 15.10.100 discusses violations of this specific chapter of code. This section essentially refers back to Chapter 1.10 of the PMC, which addresses the administrative citation process,” Knox said. “The administrative process is in place. If a call regarding an open flame takes place, the local department goes out and puts it out, and the report from fire department or PCSO is sent to the city for citation process.”

All council members agreed that they approved of the new ordinance, during such extreme fire conditions as have been experienced through the summer. A motion was made to move forward with the new ordinance, waive the second reading of the Ordinance and direct staff to agendize the Ordinance for adoption on Wednesday, October 13.

Regular meetings of City Hall are held on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. and are being held on Zoom at this time. For more information, call 832-4216 or visit cityofportola.com.

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