While there was a handful of items for the Porterville City Council to discuss at their regular meeting on Tuesday night, the majority of the conversation revolved around the Tulare County Board of Supervisors (BOS) decision to override the public health order and reopen the county through Stage 3 of the Governor's plan, despite the Governor specifically stating that Tulare County should remain closed due to the rise in COVID-19 cases.
When the time came for the Council to discuss extending their declaration of local emergency because of COVID-19 many concerns were raised by the BOS decision and how the decision will impact the residents of Porterville. Council member Virginia Gurrola stated that the Council does not have direct jurisdiction on whether businesses are to reopen or remain closed. She stated that there is nothing for the Council to do in this regard, and that the BOS made the decision to advance through Stage 3 despite the continued rise in the number of positive cases throughout the entire county. Her advice was that residents should remain vigilant in protecting themselves by continuing to wear masks and stay inside as much as possible.
Council member Daniel Penaloza echoed Gurrola by stating that the Council has no authority over reopening local businesses. He also stated that the BOS made the decision with no public input, as the BOS took action despite the Governor's orders. Penaloza did question why big brand stores like Target and Walmart are allowed to continue operating, when smaller, local businesses cannot. He stated that the city is doing the best they can at the moment.
Council member Monte Reyes stated that the BOS is taking the liability of businesses reopening and redirecting it onto the businesses owners themselves by allowing businesses to decide if they want to open or not. Reyes also stated that business owners and consumers need to educate themselves on all possible outcomes before they make any decisions on their own.
Council member Milt Stowe was audibly upset when he spoke about the decision made by the BOS. Stowe stated that he doesn't understand the decision and that he doesn't want the city to open yet. He stated that the city should stick to state protocol, and that the BOS is in violation of the state's orders. He finished by saying that the city, and the county, need to protect their community.
Mayor Martha Flores stated that the BOS directly violated the Brown Act by making the decision to override the public health order. She stated that the item on the BOS agenda was strictly informational only, and it was not listed as an action item.
In a 5-0 vote, the Council decided to continue the declaration of local emergency, despite the BOS deciding the county can reopen completely.
On Tuesday's agenda, in addition to the declaration of local emergency, the Council was asked to discuss the possible formation of a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) with the Tule River Tribe in order to develop wastewater and recycled water systems facilities in conjunction with the casino relocation project. This is the first of several future agreements between the city and the tribe regarding the water facilities, but was brought to the Council in order to establish a new entity. The JPA would be a collaboration between the city and the tribe with a focus on how they can reduce the water usage with the creation of the water treatment facilities.
The proposed plan splits the cost 2:1, with the city carrying most of the cost. This is because once the facilities are paid off they will be transferred to city ownership. The facilities will be used to supply water to the relocated casino, as well as use of the water for irrigation at the Sports Complex. The Sports Complex is estimated to use twice the amount of water as the casino, which is how the 2:1 share originated. The Council approved the creation of the JPA, and the cost share, with a vote of 5-0.
The Council also approved, with a 5-0 vote, the creation of a five-year plan in order to apply for available funding through the California Department of Housing's (HCD) Permanent Local Housing Allocation (PLHA). The City of Porterville is in the position to apply for $342,754 in housing funds, but in order to apply they must create a five-year plan that outlines how they will use the funds if approved. Ten potential uses for the funds were outlined in the PLHA guidelines, and it was clear that the city was leaning towards using the funds to support the Navigation Center and for rental assistance. The item will have to be brought back to Council for a public hearing that is set for the Council's second meeting in June. The deadline to apply for the funds is July 27.
The next meeting of the Porterville City Council is scheduled for June 2. The Council will stream the meeting live via the city's YouTube channel.