The Wednesday, January 26 meeting of the City of Portola city council opened at 6 p.m. with the pledge of allegiance.
The meeting first opened to public comment.
Josh Hart, resident of the Portola area, commented that many of the speakers at the last city hall meeting were “quite disrespectful of council members” and that “we all need to respect the fact that all city council members are committed to our city,” and noted that he felt manufactured anger wastes everyone’s time. “Have your policy differences, but don’t swear at them,” he said.
Hart then addressed issues that have changed since the city’s approval of the Verizon cell phone tower in April 2020.
“The key points are that the cell tower that has been approved to be near Eastern Plumas Health Care (EPHC), over the objections of the hospital board is a real risk to human health and safety,” Hart said. “Verizon and AT&T have also treated FAA concerns about altimeter interference with disdain, which is of great concern to the EPHC helicopter. Also, a DC Circuit Court ruling against the FCC in August 2020 undermines the very foundation of Verizon’s claims of safety, upon which your Conditional Use Permit, or CUP approval, was based.”
Hart went on to state, “In August, the DC Circuit Court ruled that FCC RF exposure guidelines ignored volumes of scientific studies showing non-thermal harm and that its RF “guidelines” are “capricious, arbitrary and not evidence based, in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).””
Hart closed with a request for council to please read the letter that had been sent to them with all of the pertinent information carefully, adding, “It’s not too late to stop this new type of tower in a dense residential neighborhood next to the hospital. Allowing this would set a precedent for other carriers to come in and build more towers.”
Another woman, Carol Mirrow, then spoke as well, adding to Hart’s concerns on the cell tower. She stated in part, “Please do give the most urgent and close attention the risk for everyone at EPHC and in our small town. We feel it is really imperative for the CUP to be examined again by our council members.”
Another woman, who refused to identify herself, asked about the future reconfiguration of Highway 70 through Portola, and was concerned about it being brought forward transparently before the community. The anonymous woman then went on to repeat allegations and concerns from a previous meeting on the topic of Jon Kennedy becoming the City of Portola interim city manager, asking after his background and questioning city officials’ transparency of Kennedy’s qualifications for the position.
Another caller, Heidi Hart, voiced her full support of a “road diet” or road conversion, as an asset to the community. “I have no doubt that Caltrans will take into consideration all of our needs, and will definitely improve traffic flow and safety though town, especially for all of our seniors and pedestrians on foot,” Hart said.
Councilmember Bill Powers attended the most recent Transportation Commission meeting, with most actions centered around other parts of the county, such as a monument structure being built in Chester.
City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett noted that they had been working extremely hard to get up to speed on the new finance software at the city. “Please bear with us while we work on getting to know the reporting for this software,” Scarlett asked.
City Manager report
City Manager Lauren Knox reported that she had spoken with Tom Valentino, City Solid Waste Consultant and he had reported that he had just put in application for the CA SB-1383 waiver.
“In his conversations with CalRecycle, its very clear that the state will be pushing this on all entities regardless of size in the future,” Knox explained. “we have the waiver for now, but we need to get to work on how we will be dealing with the many requirement that will be coming.”
Knox noted that there is a non-competitive grant with a minimum of about $20,000 on offer, which Valentino will apply for by February 1 to help the city begin the implementation of the process. “Now is the time to try and utilize the money on the table,” Knox said.
Last, Knox reported that she was trying to ensure the smooth transition of incoming city manager as quickly as possible.
Air quality report
Melissa Klundby of the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District, or NSAQMD, reminded that “we are in the wintertime curtailment period through February,” and all residents can check www.myairdistrict.com for updates and pertinent information.
Unless you have an EPA certified wood stove, it is against city ordinance to burn on curtailment days. “We are looking forward to getting more applications for free EPA certified stoves,” Klundby said. “The full cost of replacement is available.”
Council then reviewed Resolution No. 2496 which re-ratifies the proclamation of a state of emergency and re-authorize remote teleconference meetings of the legislative bodies of the City of Portola.
Josh Hart briefly spoke during public comment to state that he supported the remote teleconference meetings. “Portola has been through the wringer with deaths and illness, and this is even more accessible to the public than the physical meetings, actually,” Hart said. “I really appreciate you handling the call ins well, Lauren, and we all wish you well in your future. Thank you for your work in the city- we wish to give the new interim city manager the benefit of the doubt.”
Hart also expressed his frustration with those who continue to disregard the serious nature of Covid-19 and urged council to take action before more lives are lost.
Carol Mirrow then commented again to echo her agreement with Hart’s comments on covid and how it is impacting the nation. “We don’t want to overwhelm our small rural hospital system here,” she said.
Council unanimously voted to renew the resolution after closing public comment.
Council moved on to a renewal of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District (NSAQMD) that relates to the wood stove change out program.
“This MOU allows for grant funding to come from U.S. EPA to grant the city the authority to purchase new EPA stoves and properly destroy the old stoves,” Knox explained.
The permit and final inspection fee are paid to the city by the retailer or installer. “The system is already in place, it just needs to be renewed,” Knox closed.
Without public comment, council approved the renewal of the resolution unanimously by roll call vote.
Mid-Year financial update 2021-2022 and draft budget schedule
City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett then gave a brief review and update on financials.
Scarlett said, “Most of our revenue doesn’t come in until later, so some of the things I try to give you this time of year such as property tax are just not here yet.”
Some highlights were the $2,903,975.45 in total cash and receivables, which Scarlett explained was important for “large projects that we may need funds for up-front rather than floating a loan.”
Scarlett also noted that the trends from end of June 2017 show that the city has paid the general fund back from the solid waste fund/landfill closure.
Scarlett noted that the City Fund 215 (CDBG) has been going down because “the goal here is to continue to spend this on economic development projects.”
It was reported that the water fund is healthy and has stayed healthy, with Scarlett adding, “Luckily we have not had to raise those rates, or rates for the sewer.”
All landfill closure money is being set aside for future landfill issues to be addressed in a couple of years, Scarlett noted. “We will have to talk to the state and see what requirements are at that time.”
Scarlett also noted that the city had just written a check for $30,000 for contract snow removal.
“We also have money set aside to address streets and potholes,” she added. “Overall, there is nothing too surprising for this time of year.”
Last, Scarlett shared that the time was nearing to begin work on the draft 2022-23 budget schedule.
“For this year, rather than a separate goal setting meeting, we will talk about the budget during our city hall meeting on Wednesday, February 9,” Scarlett said.
After that, there are plans for public comments to council on budget preparation on March 23 and April 13, with May 18 and May 25 set aside for city council budget work sessions. The public hearing for the proposed budget is scheduled for June 8 at this time, with the adoption of the final budget projected for June 22.
Council took a brief moment to review the emergency proclamation ratified by council on March 20, 2020 as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Knox reminded that this item has been up for review every so often through the pandemic, and that this was the time for council to talk about any changes to covid response at city hall.
“The drop box has been working extremely well and all follow health precautions here at city hall,” Knox said.
“Another item attached to this piece is utility bills, and the moratorium on shutoffs which have been released by the state. We have had meter-reading issues, some ice and snow related, or software related, and we want to work all of that out before we head down that path.”
“SB998 water protection shutoff has never been implemented, and will need to be factored in,” Knox went on. “We also want to ensure that all utility account holders are very aware so it’s not a surprise or shock to anyone, and we are willing to work with people.”
Council asked for additional information before moving to public comment.
The proclamation was extended by unanimous roll call vote before council went into closed session.
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 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 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 your comments to Tara Kindall, Deputy City Clerk via email at [email protected] or access the chat function on the Zoom meeting platform during the live stream. Members of the public may submit their comments in writing to be included in the public record.