City talks cannabis, climate change

The Portola City Council held its regularly scheduled meeting July 24. In a unique twist, there was no public comment.

Council member Pat Morton reported that she attended several climate change meetings with fellow council member Bill Powers, as well as the Firewise work day July 13. “Unfortunately, not enough people attended to do work with,” Morton noted.

Powers reported that he had indeed worked on climate change, as well as attending the Transportation Commission Meeting with City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett.

Both Morton and Powers attended the Friday night Summer Concert in the Park series, and Powers also noted that he had attended the Firewise work day, and that there was serious work to do with Firewise.

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Mayor Tom Cooley reported that he had attended several ad-hoc meetings since the last meeting of city council, some on the cannabis ad-hoc committee with Powers and Interim City Manager Leslie Chrysler.

Mayor Pro Tem Phil Oels said he was greatly disappointed at the lack of attendance at the Firewise event.

Cooley added that he participated in a City Manager Search Committee meeting to deal with contract details in regard to the new city manager.

Fire chief and staff reports

Chief Bob Frank of Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District gave his report, stating that over the month, there had been 23 medical calls and one illegal burn.

“When it comes to my AED program, Monday I will be installing one at K&S, two at Gold Mountain, and one at City Hall,” Frank said. “The AEDs are put in a display box that is mounted on the wall.”

AEDs, or automated external defibrillators, are used to help those experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. It’s a sophisticated, yet easy-to-use, medical device that can analyze the heart’s rhythm and, if necessary, deliver an electrical shock, or defibrillation, to help the heart re-establish an effective rhythm.

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Frank added, “As the fire chief, I greatly support the burn ban that is on the agenda tonight.”

Interim City Manager Leslie Chrysler then spoke, starting with her attendance at the recent concert in the park, saying, “I really felt like it was well attended — I love that event.” Powers noted that the attendance was somewhere between 84-200, and the room laughed. “I still think that’s one of your best events in town,” Chrysler added.

Chrysler reported that she worked with CFO Susan Scarlett, as well as attended a meeting to discuss vehicle abatement in the area. She noted updates to the billing programming, providing stronger digital support for the city. “I’ve been spending a lot of time with the staff getting ready for Melissa’s departure,” Chrysler said.

Chrysler closed with the fact that Sierra Nevada Journeys is preparing to buy the Grizzly Creek property, and that they had requested a letter of support from the city, which Chrysler did. “We’ve done a lot of work in the past with Sierra Nevada Journeys, and it’s a good venue, and I think the whole camp program is really good out there,” Chrysler added.

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“It is really a part of our economic development,” Cooley said.

With the consent calendar approved and minutes adopted unanimously by roll call vote, the meeting moved on to the next order of business.

Public hearings

The first public hearing related to Ordinance 354, which amends chapter 15.10 of the City of Portola Municipal Code, providing for regulation of wood stoves and fireplaces, and the prohibition of open burning of yard waste.

The ordinance was introduced at the last meeting of city council and brought before the public the fact that burning yard waste would be prohibited. “This does leave the ability to have a little fire pit for a ceremonial fire, but they have to be very small,” Chrysler said.

Local Bob Morton asked for clarification on attainment dates for air quality as indicated by the EPA, and Chrysler answered that it would be Jan. 1, 2021 if the attainment was not reached.

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Another local stated that she had been speaking with residents in the community, and that there was overwhelming support in favor of the burn ban. Cooley then closed the public hearing, and with a unanimous roll call vote, Ordinance 354 was adopted.

The public hearing for the sixth cycle housing element update and Resolution 2404 brought Karen Down of Manhard Consulting telephonically, and she stated that on the agenda was the final version of the element that had been brought before council in the past.

“We’ve received a letter of approval on July 10 from The California Department of Housing and Community Development,” Downs said. With no public comment, and many thanks to Karen Downs for her work on the project, council moved to approve Resolution 2404 unanimously by roll call vote.

Code compliance officer report

Code Compliance Officer Kevin Sankey gave a report on his activities, saying, “Six months ago when I first started in this position, I had to first review the papers and old cases in my office. Then I needed to put things into storage that were no longer pertinent.”

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Sankey went on to note the fact that he set up all of his files in a new, backed-up electronic filing system, with updates to the file monthly.

Sankey went on to note that he had also been attending several classes in California Code Compliance, with the aim of becoming a certified California code compliance officer. “The county officer is doing the same thing,” Sankey explained.

Sankey then went on to report that he initiated a community awareness program in February, achieved mainly by initiating conversation around the community and said he found the response to be “really good.” These conversations generated requests for assistance.

To date, Sankey stated that he has generated about 80 complaints that range in topic from animal control to abandoned vehicles, and Sankey added, “To this date, I’ve had 95 percent compliance, without having to take actions. It’s all back to basic communication. Most people are very willing to comply.”

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Sankey spoke about weed abatement, stating that he had sent out over 140 letters, and had over 40 percent voluntary compliance. “The program is moving forward nicely.”

Sankey also reported that he would be working together with Eastern Plumas Fire to gain better communication and said that he had been working on any event that occurs in the city that concerns fire or non-medical issues. “When he gets called out at 9 o’clock at night, it’s likely that I will be there with him,” Sankey said.

Sankey also noted that he has begun to work with Deedee Clark at Eastern Plumas Health Care to strengthen communications between the hospital and the city.

As to future goals, Sankey hopes to work on vehicle and weed abatement, and continue the awareness program, getting to know the community in an attempt to work with everyone.

Questions on vehicle abatement led to further discussion on the logistics and funding of removing abandoned vehicles, and it was emphasized that the issue is something that is being addressed county-wide, not just in Portola.

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Cannabis ad-hoc committee

Mayor Tom Cooley and Council member Bill Powers, members of the cannabis ad-hoc committee, reported, with Powers opening the presentation. “We are waiting to do things right,” Powers said. “Cannabis is legal, and many municipalities across California have instituted regulations.”

Powers went on to state that they wanted to ensure that citizens would not be put into a position where the only source for medication might be illegal.

According to the report, the ad-hoc committee conducted research and gathered information through participation in a workshop presented by the League of California Cities; a tour of a well-established cannabis micro-business located in South Lake Tahoe, including interviews with its manager, compliance officer and horticulturist; studied the text of the Bureau of Cannabis Control Regulations, and reviewed cannabis ordinances enacted by other small California cities.

“We want all of the information before we do anything,” Powers said. Cooley reviewed the history of the topic, after City Council had directed staff to research and investigate the cost and process associated with moving forward with the consideration of a tax for marijuana product sales, and an ordinance which would allow for dispensaries in the city limits, conditioned on the passage of a cannabis product tax.

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Cooley went on to state that the proposal would not change anything. “This is giving opportunity for the community to respond,” Cooley added.

Cooley read from the committee report, highlighting processes, statistics and business operations. “The workshop hosted by the League of California Cities on Cannabis Regulation: Best Practices for your City provided experience from representatives of cities who have practical experience,” Cooley said.

“A recurring theme of advice is to structure the local regulations, especially taxes and fees, in a manner that is most likely to enable the permitted business to be successful from day one. Several cities have already reduced their excise tax rates in order to permit licensed businesses to attract customers who may otherwise continue in the illicit marketplace.”

The committee recommends that council direct staff, with assistance of the ad hoc committee, to draft an amended cannabis ordinance for presentation to and consideration by council.

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The amended document will provide for retail cannabis sales by one storefront retail outlet as well as one micro-business enterprise, and that the ordinance provides mechanisms to establish related zoning, or land use, and public health and safety standards (regulatory standards).

Like any development agreement, the document would allow for the city to receive and evaluate applications from interested parties, establish development agreements with the chosen candidates, condition final acceptance and continuing operation upon licensing in good standing with the State of California Bureau of Cannabis Control, and provide for recovery of the city’s related costs through application, development agreement, permit and licensing fees.

Powers stated that his intent as a council member is to do what is in the best interest of everyone in the community and said that there was no harm in exploring the topic, asking the hard questions for the public.

“In South Lake Tahoe, a couple things came to mind — there was absolutely no odor at the microbusiness, where they were growing on-site. There was no residual wastewater leaving the plant,” Powers said.

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“I also looked at security, and this is a product that is scrutinized from seed to final consumer. We know exactly who purchased it through rigorous security measures, and I couldn’t find anything to object to with the objections I went in with, and the objections I had two years ago.”

It was noted that allegedly, state regulations appear to have overridden Prop. 64, with a current lawsuit ongoing between several cities and the state. Per current California law, any commercial delivery licensed by the state may deliver cannabis anywhere, both recreational and medical, regardless of local regulations.

Discussion continued around statistics raised in the report, comparisons to other communities relative in size. Chrysler said, “I think the takeaway from this report should maybe be that it is something worth looking into again. Shouldn’t we have some control and understanding of what we’re dealing with here?”

Locals commented on the viability and palatability of going in the presented direction, with one voicing an opinion that those who wanted or needed this type of medication could travel to Reno or South Lake Tahoe, with others arguing that the length of such a trip would bring undue hardship on those needing access.

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“We have to use what’s presented in front of us and capture some funds,” said local Alex Lester, who went on to use a dispensary in Arnold as an example to defend the concept, “but to dismiss it outright, is to dismiss the potential for Portola,” he said.

Cooley noted that it was a complex situation and ordinance, and any direction to move forward would mean more staff time researching and the authorization of funds.

Peiler stated that he felt it may be best to hold off and wait to see how things play out before proceeding on the matter, and Powers explained that state regulations are still changing, and said, “We have been very careful. We wouldn’t railroad something through the city like that. I think government is supposed to come up with the best possible facts, put them together and see if it floats. I think that’s what we’ve tried to do.”

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Morton asked if Portola would have the space required for a microbusiness, and Cooley answered that the South Lake Tahoe location took up 2,500 square feet.

Peiler reaffirmed his personal thought to hold off on any decisions, and Morton agreed. Council then directed the dissolution of the ad-hoc committee, with the decision not to move forward at that point.

SB 266 opposition

Chrysler moved on to speak of the request from the League of California Cities to send a letter opposing Senate Bill 266 to the Governor’s Office.

SB 266 would require public agencies to directly pay retirees and/or their beneficiaries retirement benefits disallowed by CALPERS using general fund dollars.

“The city of Portola has objection rooted in policy, operational cost, and legal concerns that will inevitably face virtually every local government agency should the measure be signed into law,” Chrysler said.

With the letter needed by Aug. 12, Cooley authorized the action to approve the letter of opposition and it passed unanimously.

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Climate change

The final item on the agenda brought Powers and Morton, members of the climate change ad-hoc committee, to speak on progress.

“They have presented council with a draft resolution to see if council would like to make changes or not tonight,” Chrysler stated.

Powers spoke about his time at a Climate Action meeting in Quincy and stated that jurisdictions across the world have formulated a resolution of one kind or another on the subject of climate change.

“The Oroville resolution was too technical for the city, and it didn’t represent our own struggles and our own preparedness,” Powers said.

“We felt that was important for any resolution we created.” He went on to say that they were looking for public comment and emphasized the need to personalize the resolution to Portola.

Looking at the draft document as written, council would endorse the policies set forth in H.R. 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, as introduced into the House of Representatives on January 24, 2019 and calls on Congress to pass the legislation.

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Council directed staff to bring the item back to the next agenda, and with that, the meeting adjourned.

The city of Portola City Council holds regularly scheduled meetings on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. Public interest and participation is encouraged. For more information, call 832-6803 or visit cityofportola.com.