Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part story about Tuesday’s Council meeting. Look for a story about the Sierra Meadows Subdivision public hearing in Friday’s edition
Tuesday’s meeting of the Porterville City Council had some emotions running high as the New Porterville Rescue Mission’s (NPRM) Conditional Use Permit (CUP) was up for a six-month review. Although this item was not scheduled as a public hearing, several of the mission’s residents addressed the Council during oral communications.
The first to speak to the Council from the mission was Tracy Parks, the mission’s case manager. Parks said that she has been with the mission for the past 18 months, and outlined her responsibilities as a case manager.
Jenetta Sousa, a resident at the NPRM, told the Council her story as well. Sousa went to the rescue mission as an addict, but found the Lord at the mission and is now sober. Sousa did say that she resides in a tent on the mission’s property, but has found the place she calls home after searching for a long time for a place she belonged.
Fred Beltran approached the stand to address the Council on the NPRM. Beltran stated that he does social work, and the the mission is solely funded by the generosity of the community.
Beltran also touched on the new Navigation Center that will be coming into the city soon, and stated that while the Navigation Center may do some good for the community, it will not have the same success rates as the NPRM does. He urged the Council to consider using funds from the city’s budget to help the mission and other non-profit organizations around town. He also suggested that the Council and City Staff regularly meet with the local non-profits to stay up to date on how the organizations are doing.
Esther Ramirez, the director of the NPRM, was the last to approach the Council during oral communications regarding the mission. She was very emotional at the stand and stated that the mission is very personal to her. She said that she needs the city’s support for the mission, and that the work that occurs at the mission should speak for itself. She stated that she hopes the NPRM and the city can work together in the future.
Ramirez informed the Council that she has been in contact with several contractors in order to bring the NPRM facility into compliance with the CUP, and that the tax-default that had been placed on the property was cleared. She spoke of the biblical story of David and Goliath, and related it to her own situation by stating that the city was her “Goliath” at this point in time. She also urged the Council to take a personal interest in the mission and requested that the city allow more time for the mission to be brought into compliance.
When the time came for the Council to discuss the mission during the scheduled matters portion of the meeting, Jenni Byers, the city’s Community Development Director, opened the discussion with a brief report on the current conditions of the NPRM facility.
Byers stated that the mission is located in a residential area and that complaints have been filed by residents in the area regarding the tents that are erected in the mission’s parking lot. Byers also stated that the restrooms at the facility are not ADA compliant and that there is no ADA access into the facility. She stated that the mission is also in need of the proper cooking equipment for their kitchen as they are not allowed to cook anything that will let off grease laden vapors, and that the mission is currently cooking most of the food they serve outside. Byers stated that City Staff had yet to receive a timeline for the improvements that need to be made in order for the mission to come into compliance with the CUP.
Council member Milt Stowe questioned how many of the requirements of the CUP had been met, to which Byers answered that the life and safety issues of the facility had been addressed, and that the proper sprinklers and smoke detectors had been installed.
Mayor Martha Flores asked about the required timeline for the additional requirements and what hasn’t been met to comply with the CUP. Byers answered that the only requirements that have been met are the life and safety items, but the mission has still failed to come into ADA compliance on their entire facility. Byers also stated that the city is a direct witness to a violation of the mission’s CUP, as tents are not taken down at the beginning of each day.
Council member Virginia Gurrola stated that the Council was not looking at the services and programs provided at the NPRM, but was instead focusing solely on the facility itself. Gurrola stated that they are working with a deficient site, and that the facility must meet the ADA requirements. She stated that she has driven by the NPRM several times and expressed concern about the children who stay at the mission with their parents. She clarified that ADA compliance is not a city requirement, but a state mandate.
Council member Daniel Penaloza added to the discussion when he said that he is concerned about the city’s liability in this situation. He stated that the Council has worked with the mission in the past, but is concerned about the lack of improvements that have been made since last August. He questioned how much more time the Council could give to the mission and requested that the mission provide a timeline for the remaining improvements in the near future. He stated that he loves the work that mission does, but is very concerned about the compliance issues.
Council member Monte Reyes echoed Penaloza a little bit, but also stated that numerous good deeds does not equal CUP compliance. Reyes was adamant that the mission must follow up on their CUP requirements.
Gurrola questioned as to who sat on the mission’s Board of Directors and if any contact had been made with the board. Reyes also questioned the mission’s Board of Directors, and stated that he can’t find a Board of Directors for the mission when he searches for it online.
Gurrola repeated that the Council is looking at this matter from a facility stand point only, and that the mission needs to submit a plan to the city as soon as possible.
The City’s Attorney, Julia Lew, made a few suggestions to the Council on how they could proceed. She recommended that City Staff meet with mission staff to discuss a timeline for improvements at the facility. She also stated that the mission should identify their Board of Directors. Gurrola made it clear that the discussion at that meeting should only revolve around the facility, and not the mission’s services, programs or resident stories, and that the meeting must be held before the next meeting of the City Council. The other members of the Council agreed, and the discussion ended.