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Summer events on topic at City Hall

The Portola City Council had exciting updates about upcoming summer events, as well as discussion that led the council “into the weeds” a bit on the topic of medical and recreational marijuana within city limits at its regular meeting Wednesday, March 22.

Opening Comments on CalOES

City Manager Robert Meacher spoke about a subject that has been on his radar as winter storm damage continues to mount — assistance from CalOES, or the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

“We have been in contact with OES regarding the funding of storm repairs, and the fiscal breakdown is ultimately 75-25-6. Seventy-five  percent of funding would come from FEMA, and CalOES would then pay 75 percent of the 25 percent left over, leaving the city with a fiscal responsibility of about 6 percent. The good thing is that in-kind volunteer work to repair storm damage can be recorded and will count toward that 6 percent,” Meacher explained.

Keeping careful records of all storm damage is a top priority for city staff as they reach out for financial assistance to repair the storm damage in the area.

Meacher also noted that he would be meeting with Reno’s city manager at the end of March to discuss a possible pilot program for blight prevention and control, based on the blight control program that Reno is currently utilizing.

After Meachers’ report, Audrey Ellis of the Chamber of Commerce gave a brief presentation, thanking the city for its generous support in assisting the chamber to attend the recent Travel & Adventure Show to share local tourism information with travel enthusiasts.

Forest Learning Landscape

U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Matthew Jedra and wildlife biologist Debbie Bliss gave a brief presentation on the Kids Creek Forest Learning Landscape near C. Roy Carmichael Elementary School.

“We’ve got a great outdoor learning area set aside, with 145 acres fenced in,” Jedra said. “We also have really nice wooden signage to designate the area, and it all looks really good.”

There are some issues that have arisen at Kids Creek Forest, however. There have been acts of vandalism at least three times through the winter season, with fences being cut and one of the wooden signs stolen.

The city council discussed possible ways to protect the space from future vandalism, with Meacher suggesting speaking to the Sherriff’s office on the topic of “beefing up patrols.”

Bliss chimed in, stating that the Forest Service law enforcement department has also been made aware of the situation and is currently investigating.

“There is a senior at Portola High School who is working on creating the first trail on the property as his senior project,” Jedra said. “Things like this are great. They bring more awareness to the community of this great natural resource and remind us that it is something that we all need to work together to protect.”

Council members agreed to keep a close watch on the situation and stay in communication with law enforcement agencies to protect the Learning Landscape.

Lost and Found Bike Race

Council member Phil Oels spoke about the upcoming Lost and Found Gravel Grinder bike race on June 3, stating that all parties involved in the organization of the event are working together smoothly and that “the pieces seem to be falling right into place.”

Oels also spoke about the city’s additional participation in the event this year, with Portola approving the use of parks in city limits as overflow campgrounds.

Meacher mentioned that the city is putting together rules and regulations for campers at the upcoming event, with the festival permit as a template.

“We have to have everything set in stone before we go live with camping reservations in city limits,” added City Attorney Steve Gross. “We want to ensure that all of our bases are covered, from parking to security and sanitation.”

Oels noted that at this time last year, 400 participants had signed up for the race. “This year looks like it is going to be a record-breaker,” he said. “We’ve already got 600 riders registered as of the morning of March 23.”

The Western Pacific Railroad Museum is on board as well, as the event grows rapidly to involve the city.

“WPRM will be open for the days of the race with free admission,” Oels added. “We all want to see this come together and boost tourism in our area.”

Marijuana in Portola

The council discussed the topic of regulations on medical and/or recreational marijuana within city limits after the passing of Proposition 64, and the fact that unless the city submits regulations to the state on Jan. 1, 2018, the city would have to abide by state regulations by default.

“The purpose of raising this topic at this meeting is not to get into weeds, so to speak,” said Mayor John Larrieu. “The point is to open the topic up for discussion by the citizens of Portola, and to decide where we want to take the city on this matter. We don’t want to be an island in the county on this topic, but we definitely will need citizen input.”

Regulations will need to be put in place regarding growing in city limits, addressing such questions as whether commercial grows are acceptable, if the city will allow lab testing of product in city limits, and other topics within the scope of Prop. 64.

Susan Jacobson commented,  stating she works with youth to advocate for healthy choices, and expressed the fact that, “The marijuana is here, and it is time to make safe and responsible decisions about it.”

Jacobson had three key points to make on the subject, “First, keep in mind that there isn’t likely to be a huge financial windfall for the area if we follow the example of places such as Colorado. The majority of the extra tax dollars coming in would mainly need to go towards enforcement measures. Second, we are in a small town. There aren’t really many places that the kids of the community won’t walk by, and so it raises the question of where it would even be safe to grow while keeping it out of the hands of kids.”

Jacobson went on to note that models for appropriate display and marketing should be looked into. “Ultimately, we do not have the law enforcement levels needed to enforce regulations on home grows at this point. These are things that should be taken into account as the process goes on with deciding upon city regulations.”

A current ordinance prevents medical marijuana dispensaries in city limits, with only one parcel zoned for an outdoor marijuana grow, located behind EPHC. The land is currently held by the city.

Meacher commented, “In speaking with Sheriff Hagwood on the subject, his advice is to be proactive, not reactionary, when making these decisions.”

District 1 representative for the Plumas County Cannabis Working Group, Kim Scott, was in attendance at the meeting, and informed the council that when the discussion opens up in the future, she is willing and able to bring information to the table.

“Ultimately, I think that we all want to keep the regulations in the hands of the local citizens,” Larrieu stated. “We need to start by getting the issue into the community and opening up constructive conversation.”

The council agreed that the sooner the issue is addressed and the regulations created, the better. More discussion on the topic will follow at future city council meetings as the Jan. 1, 2018 deadline approaches.

The city council welcomes all community members to attend and engage in regularly held meetings 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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