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City prepares for Gravel Grinder, talks utility liens

The Portola City Council held its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday, March 11.

The meeting opened with public comment from Larry Douglas, who spoke about his belief that there is a water crisis in place. Douglas gave his thoughts on the sustainability and local autonomy of the state of the long-term water supply for the city of Portola from the Feather River.

This was followed by city communications, beginning with City Council.

City communications

Mayor Pro Tem Bill Powers reported that Portola Junior/Senior High School senior Margaret Canseco and a group of students would be cleaning up in the area as a part of her senior project April 4.

Powers reported on his attendance at RCD meetings, citing concerns over lack of rain. Powers also commented on a spike in juvenile arrests in Plumas County, adding that there wasn’t any certain pattern to the arrests in terms of which community they were from.

Powers also noted the need for local foster parents since children in the foster care system are currently being placed out as far as Utah.

Councilmember Tom Cooley reported that he had been actively engaged in ad-hoc fire safe activities.

Mayor Phil Oels reported that he had gone to the coordinator meeting for Firewise in Quincy, and that there had been a lot of good information to bring back to Portola, both at City Hall and at Firewise meetings.

Staff communications

Susan Scarlett reminded the room that the meeting planned for March 25 would be the first in which the city would introduce the budget to the public. “If anyone has an idea, come on in and tell us,” Scarlett invited.

Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District Captain Elaine Frank then gave a report on behalf of Chief Bob Frank on the recent activities of the department.

“Since the last update, Eastern Plumas has handled 14 medical calls, one fire at the railroad and responded to one fire alarm in the city of Portola,” Frank said.

In response to a query about how the fire at Western Pacific Railroad Museum started, Frank stated that there were still no confirmations, although it is speculated that it may have been started by a transient.

City Manager Lauren Knox then gave her report, opening with the statement that city staff has been closely monitoring Covid19.

“Obviously, we are not the health department. We rely on the Plumas County Public Health Agency and the California Department of Health and CDC guidelines,” Knox said. “We are working to ensure that all of the city infrastructure such as water and wastewater will continue running as usual, with many precautions being taken to sanitize the office which is a public place.”

Knox also noted that there were quite a few ordinances that should be expected to start trickling into the agenda, after work from staff. “We’re finding things that we can improve upon,” Knox said.

The consent calendar was passed unanimously by roll call vote, and council moved on to a presentation by Kristi Jamason, Feather River Land Trust Executive Director Shelton Douthit and Jeff Bue with Feather River Land Trust.

Feather River Land Trust update

The presentation revolved around the exciting release of information on their work to enhance the visitor facilities and trails at the Sierra Valley Preserve, as well as the festivities planned there April 4.

Douthit spoke about the work being done at the Sierra Valley Preserve, which consists of more than 2,500 acres of habitat.

“The land trust has been around since 2000 in three counties,” Douthit said, giving a bit of background on the work of the trust. “We work to create conservation easements, and occasionally purchase lands to allow for restorations as well as access, such as the Old Olsen Barn, which is also used as a Learning Landscape for students.”

FRLT is now working on building infrastructure to encourage the public to utilize the area as a resource for education and recreation, due to the arrival of needed grants.

Showing slides, Douthit illustrated the extent of the Sierra Valley Preserve, and explained how work has been undertaken to build trails.

“We’ve gone in for a use permit application, which would allow us to build more trails and operate as a more uniform public resource,” he said.

On the A-24/Maddalena entrance to the Sierra Valley Preserve, there is now a clean Porta-Potty, with access to the wetlands. “We are trying to create a few more opportunities for artists to have outdoor venues through viewing platforms,” Douthit said.

On the west side of A23, the trust is building a new parking area and trailhead, a project that has been underway for months. The West Entrance gate-opening celebration is set for Saturday, April 4, at 10 a.m.

The West Entrance of the Sierra Valley Preserve is located near Beckwourth on A23 (also known as the Beckwourth-Calpine Road), and is approximately 3 miles south of the Highway 70 junction.

“We’re really trying to make it all fit with the Sierra Valley historic ranch aesthetic,” Douthit explained. He also noted the addition of a new boardwalk, as well as a new ADA accessible trail. “If you know anyone in a wheelchair that would like to get out, bring them out there,” he invited the public with a smile.

Plans for a future year-round visitors center were also shown and Douthit added that there was definitely a demand for it with increasing numbers of annual visitors to the valley each year. He noted that there had been plans for a visitors center in Sierra Valley since 1989.

“We hope it will generate an economic boost for the region,” Douthit said. The center is still in the design phase, with plans to get building permits in line by summer.

“We will also be planning and building interpretative exhibits to display local history,” he added. “We will need volunteers out there as well to patrol the property. The goal is to have it all open by spring 2022.”

Holsinger Annexation property tax split

In July 2014, city staff was researching some property tax issues and reviewing the AB8 factors supplied by the Plumas County Auditor’s Office.

It was discovered that TRA 001-002, which is just one parcel (APN 126-010-012-000), showed zero dollars coming to the city for property tax and 7.13 percent of property taxes going to Eastern Plumas Rural Fire District.

After further research it was found that this parcel was annexed into the city in 1979, the first annexation following incorporation in 1946.

The annexation was called the Holsinger Annexation. The timeframe of the annexation coincides with the implementation of Proposition 13.

It seems that the combination of Prop. 13 and the first annexation from the county to the city led to the property tax split never being finalized.

The city has all resolutions and documents to show that the annexation was completed through all entities including the Board of Equalization.

The city is not and never has received any property tax from that property. City and county staff met approximately five years ago to try and resolve this issue and although all were in agreement that the property tax was not being applied appropriately, the process was stalled.

At the time of those meetings there was consensus that how this happened was not as important as correcting it going forward.

More recently, city and county staff, along with two city council members and two county supervisors met in December 2019 and agreed to attempt to resolve the issue.

The meeting had a positive outcome and both the city and county wanted to move forward with rectifying the issue.

In order to do so, both the city and the county must pass resolutions, which ultimately transfers the real property tax increment on the approximately 248.69-acre site in the amount of 49 percent to Portola and 51 percent to the county.

“This is consistent with the adopted formula for apportioning property taxes from city annexed lands,” Knox explained. “On March 3, the Board of Supervisors held a public hearing and approved a nearly identical resolution to the one you all have, to address this issue as well.”

After minimal discussion, council moved to adopt Resolution 2420, transferring the real property tax increment revenue as described via unanimous roll call vote.

Lost and Found Gravel Grinder 2020 funding request

The Lost & Found Gravel Grinder 2020 bike race is already in the planning stages. The event will begin Wednesday, June 3, with camping available. The day of the race is Saturday, June 6.

City Public Works Director Todd Roberts touched on a variety of items related to the upcoming event. “Last year’s event sold out and having the Portola City Park as the venue was a great success,” Roberts said.

The plan for 2020 is to expand the race to 2,000 racers, which is 500 more than the attendance cap last year, 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.

This 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 event goers will come back to enjoy the area anytime.

“A key strategy to be successful in doing this is to enhance community engagement so that overall awareness of the event is heightened,” Greg Williams of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship 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, additional traffic control on the bridge during the race, finding a way to maintain adequate shower temperatures at the city pool and to expand camping.

Other items on request include having the city manage the Porta-Pottys — making sure they are clean and well stocked — increasing community engagement and that the city be the co-applicant with SBTS for a needed Caltrans permit.

The SBTS asked the city for a financial commitment of $16,080 as an 80 percent contribution, with total expenses coming to $20,100 for bands, stage equipment and lighting, dumpsters, Porta-Potties, wash stations, and CHP lead-out and course marshalling.

“This is our biggest event, in terms of participants,” Williams said. “We’re trying to dial in from what we learned last year.”

Roberts noted that a lot of high profile, competitive racers would be in attendance at this year’s event, which should add to the excitement of the race for racers and spectators alike.

After further discussion around logistics and the need for volunteers for the event, council unanimously approved via roll call vote.

Manhard Consulting contract

The agenda item took a brief look at updating the contract with the Portola’s consulting city planner through Manhard Consulting, Karen Downs.

“The contract is for one year, due to the contract and rate schedule, with minor tidying up in the document,” Knox explained.

Council unanimously approved the contract in a roll call vote before moving on to the final item of business.

Proposed Ordinance 355

City Attorney Steve Gross introduced the item to the room, explaining a bit of background on the proposed ordinance which would impose a property lien for certain delinquent service charges, such as water and sewer.

The city’s current utility billing policy states that the city of Portola may place a lien on a property for unpaid debt resulting from utility charges.

In order to do so, California Government Code Section 54354 requires that the city “declare in the resolution or ordinance prescribing or revising charges for services or facilities furnished by the enterprise that delinquent charges and all penalties thereon when recorded with the county recorder shall constitute a lien upon the real property served.”

Ordinance 355 would meet the aforementioned section of state law and allow the city to place a lien on properties, in which a delinquent utility bill is present.

Without this in place, Portola does not have the ability to collect unpaid utility service bills, some of which are currently tens of thousands of dollars.

If the ordinance were to be approved, Section 13.12.075 of the city of Portola Municipal Code would be amended and restated to allow the city to place a lien on real property for delinquent charges and penalties.

With minimal discussion in the public hearing portion of the item, council unanimously agreed to introduce the ordinance, waive the second reading of the ordinance and direct staff to place the ordinance for adoption on the agenda for the March 25 council meeting.

The City Council welcomes interest and participation in all regularly held meeting, which occur on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m.

For more information, contact City Hall at 832-6803 or visit cityofportola.com.

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