By Lauren Westmoreland
The City of Portola held a regularly scheduled meeting on the evening of Wednesday, March 24, with a fast-paced agenda and all council members present.
Each council member spoke briefly about recent activities, with Councilmember Phil Oels mentioning Firewise activities and work that is hoped to commence in the next few days on the north side of Portola.
Mayor Bill Powers spoke about the recent Tri-Counties meeting that he had attended, with the organization able to distribute nearly $500,000 to disadvantaged groups to serve the community.
Mayor Pro Tem Pat Morton attended two emergency services committee meetings.
Council member Tom Cooley attended the recent Plumas LAFCo board meeting, and council member Stan Peiler strongly encouraged the community to join in on the City of Portola budget planning meetings.
City staff reports
With no representatives from the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office present, it was reported that Beckwourth Fire Department Chief Bret Russell was attending an arson investigation training, and that the chief “continues to raise the bar in trainings for staff,” with a recent example being a training for ice rescue that had taken place at Lake Davis.
Melissa Klundby with the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District, noted nine days exceeded the daily National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) of 35 micrograms per cubic meter for particulate matter (PM2.5) during February in Portola, compared to five days above the standard in February 2020.
“This is the highest number of exceedance days for February since 2016,” she added. Klundby also reported that the annual wintertime burning curtailment program ran from Nov. 1, 2020 to Feb. 28, 2021, with 11 curtailment days in February.
Klundby then went on to explain that the district is sponsoring the green waste carts curbside pick-up program for City of Portola residents for four months this year, as well as the free green waste program during May for city residents.
“All are asked to separate loads before going to the site this year,” Klundby said. Intermountain Disposal is requiring that green waste dropoff be separated into primarily pine needles or woody waste. A flyer with further details will be sent out with residents’ bills in April.
City Manager report
City Manager Lauren Knox then gave her report, starting with recent community input meetings related to the City of Portola General Plan. “Brown bag meetings have been ongoing, but we are really trying to encourage community involvement in this process,” Knox said. “I want to reiterate what Stan said, and say to the community that we need you to please join in on this process.”
Knox reported that she was hoping to bring on the new accounting technician soon at City Hall, and noted that she had been able to give tours of the updated South Side Fire Hall to council members in the past week.
“We’re shifting our public works department focus to things related to spring, such as the Little League field, and we have hired the pool manager who is now working on developing a site-specific covid plan,” Knox said. The city is hiring lifeguards for the summer season, with more information and applications available online at the city website.
Knox also spoke to a recent ad-hoc disc golf committee meeting, as well as touching on the potential for the city to obtain grant funds.
Mayor Powers noted that Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) representatives would be attending a council meeting in April to give a presentation on its project to connect area communities through a network of world-class trails. “This includes our very own Beckwourth Peak Rim trail,” Powers said.
Council then unanimously voted to adopt the consent calendar by roll call vote before moving to public comment in relation to the 2021/2022 budget preparation for the city.
2021/2022 budget talks
With no public comment nor written correspondence regarding the budget, city Chief Financial Officer Susan Scarlett noted there were still opportunities coming up to speak on the topic.
“There will be another opportunity for public input and comment at the next city council meeting held on Wednesday, April 14, and we also welcome any thoughts via email,” Scarlett said.
“As part of an ongoing discussion, staff would like to provide the Council with an update regarding the Covid-19 pandemic situation,” Knox said.
Every 60 days, council is required to revisit the topics of utility billing, whether city hall would remain on an appointment-only basis, and whether the city would continue the emergency proclamation initially ratified on March 20, 2020.
Currently, the assessment of late fees for City utility bills has been put on hold to assist residents during this difficult financial time.
Additionally, per Governor Newsom’s orders, utilities cannot be shut off due to nonpayment. In general, many account holders that become delinquent, often do not pay until a shut off notice is provided.
With the Governor’s order in place, it is unclear whether re-instating late fees will be effective in ensuring that utility bills are paid. Council briefly discussed the matter, and all agreed to continue the hold on late fees.
“In order to keep City employees safe, and maintain our ability to provide vital functions, city hall has been open on an appointment only basis, as you know,” Knox reviewed.
“Staff is still in the building working, staff is still available to answer phone calls and emails, and the drop box is available for payments. Since city hall has been open by appointment only, we have only had a few instances for an appointment, and it was often to simply provide or receive paperwork that could not be acquired through other means,” she added.
Council members noted that the county was currently in the orange tier, with hopes that Covid-19 numbers will continue to trend downwards so that the county can ultimately leave the tier system altogether. “I think that we should take a look at it when the construction inside is finished,” Oels said.
Council agreed to approve the continuation of all measures, including extending the emergency proclamation for another 60 days, approved by unanimous roll call vote.
The city council welcomes all to its meetings, which are regularly held the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. Community interest and participation is encouraged and welcome.
The City Council meeting is accessible to the public via live streaming at: https://zoom.us/j/3583067836 or by phone at: Phone Number 1.669.900.6833; Meeting ID: 358 306 7836.
Any person desiring to address the city council on any item not on the agenda may do so during public comment. Public comments made during a regular council meeting may be recorded.
Public comment will be accepted via email or chat on any item on the agenda at any time beginning at 6 p.m. and ending at the close of public comment on the item.
Please direct any comments to Deputy City Clerk Tara Kindall at [email protected] or access the chat function on the Zoom meeting platform during the live stream. Members of the public may also submit their comments in writing to be included in the public record. For more information call 832-6801.