The official video recording from the City of Portola (purposely?) leaves out public comment on the issue of removing the ability to comment remotely at meetings. Luckily a local activist recorded the entire meeting, posted above. You can hear the convoluted explanations from the council on why eliminating remote public comment is “necessary.” Funny if it were not so tragic. Below is our letter to the editor regarding this issue. An open and transparent government is a prerequisite for an informed public, healthy community and a protected watershed.
At the April 26th Portola City Council meeting, the council decided unanimously to prohibit remote participation that has allowed people to engage with meetings from home (or work) for years. Why would the council choose to limit public participation rather than encouraging different options for people to comment? This move is possibly contrary to state law and will not prevent critics of the council from speaking out, as it is clearly intended to do.
What it will do is prevent public participation by those who are older, people with disabilities, people with children or no childcare options, those working night shifts, those who can’t drive (or can’t drive in the dark), those with serious chemical or electrical injuries and sensitivities, those concerned about respiratory diseases as well as caregivers of ill residents (who may not be able to physically appear at the council). Basically, normal, everyday people.
Portola City Council is moving in the wrong direction under the new city manager. Remote participation has become a standard option for local government meetings in the past several years. At last night’s meeting, roughly 45 minutes were spent discussing this distraction. How many more minutes and hours were spent behind closed doors, over email, during closed session, etc., on this non-issue? Why is the council spending so much time and energy on limiting participation (which is already minimal at best), when there are far more important issues affecting Portola’s residents, visitors, and environment?
The excuses the council gave for this action were pathetic. Meetings running to midnight? When has that ever happened? Perhaps members of the council (which has seen very little change in ten plus years) are burnt out after years of service. We need other residents of Portola to get involved, speak out, and run for office— those who genuinely want to hear from the people, even when it is difficult. It seems that from the council’s perspective, the public’s role is voting them into office, and then getting out of the way and deferring to the council to make all decisions without broad input.
Yet, the Portola council clearly needs input from the public as it neglects critical public safety issues right on its doorstep:
– This morning, two, 2 foot wide pipes (directly adjacent to a major entrance and walkway) near the bridge in the city park stood open and filled with water that a child could fall into and drown. The large openings could injure any person or animal walking into this hazard (reported by my wife to city staff). An incident could bankrupt the city, not to mention being an unspeakable tragedy.
– A non-standard, hazardous sewer grate on Gulling right in front of city hall that could easily trap a bicycle tire and cause a deadly head-over-handlebars crash, including at the upcoming Lost and Found race (grate is yards from the start line). We have informed the council about this danger for years without any action.
– At least hundreds of gallons of untreated sewage was reported to have leaked into the Feather River from city sewers in recent months
– A profusely leaking water tap in the park not getting addressed for at least two years (has it been fixed?). City sprinklers running in the middle of the day, flooding into the street, during past severe drought years.
– As far as we know, the council is neglecting to prevent the threat of large amounts of micro-plastics washing into the Feather River from the new fake (plastic) tree cell tower near EPHC, as these cell towers have done near Lake Tahoe.
Meanwhile, we wonder what it cost tax payers to install CCTV cameras inside the park and outside of the City of Portola offices. Has there been a direct threat to the building or to members of the council to warrant this expense? This should not be a higher priority than keeping our public park and roadways free of direct hazards. The public, who funds the city, needs to ask the council: What are the priorities of this council and how are they set? How, and in what priority, are *our* tax dollars being spent?
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the council should focus their time and efforts on resolving critical safety and health issues for the community (including on its doorstep!) rather than on restricting and attempting to silence public input. Believe it or not, members of the community may even have important safety information to share!
And, in a comment that also applies to the county government in Quincy, if you are an elected official or staff and feel “uncomfortable” with critical feedback from the community, the appropriate response is to look honestly at the criticism and maturely respond to concerns, not try to tamp down comment, silence the public, and start false rumors about individuals who respectfully voice criticism. Quite often, the public process is uncomfortable and messy, but it is essential to community health and mutual trust that we all listen to each other. My feeling is that both city and county governments are currently failing to do their jobs, risking public safety, declining to pay employees a living wage, and embarking on distractions designed to silence dissent rather than deal with it honestly and openly when it is raised.
It is not the council or city manager’s role to determine which comments are acceptable and which are not. It is their job to listen to the public. Do any of us who have been watching the shift of the council to a darker and more authoritarian character over recent months believe that if they could get away with eliminating public comment entirely that they would not do so? Luckily we have state laws that protect the public’s right to speak, and we need to use those rights.
A privileged, out of touch council who look down their noses at the people of Portola, and a city manager who writes outlandish, poorly researched and false assertions in the newspaper (insisting that non-profits should follow the Brown Act—which the city manager himself loudly complains about following!), and who consistently lies to make himself appear more reasonable, is not what Portola deserves. The public deserves better.
People can get more involved by signing up to receive city council agendas by submitting a request to email@example.com, as well as joining Feather River Action! (to help look after our beautiful mountain environment and hold elected officials accountable) by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
We have consistently stood up for public access to public meetings when it has been threatened over the past few years in Plumas County. In 2021, when COVID prevented many people from attending the county board meetings (including to speak against the Portola Sand Mine and Asphalt Plant) and Plumas was one of only a few counties in the state to prohibit remote comments, our public pressure for access is what turned the tide. Sup. Engel was the only one voting against remote public access but the other supes voted for it and Plumas County continues to offer remote access to this day, unlike the City of Portola (COP). Too many times elected officials forget their number one responsibility is to the public. It’s not about them, it’s about us.
Thanks for reading my long letter. Though the local political situation is sad, if all those of us who care about this place band together, I have faith we can turn it around.