The Sonora City Council took some initial steps on Monday toward providing portable toilets for people who live in camps off the north side of Stockton Road.

Greg Popovich, who owns a building off Stockton Road, said the proposal felt like “the beginning of the solution” to problems in the city associated with homelessness and urged the council to provide funding.

“This has to happen,” he said. “Something has to start happening.

The council voted 5-0 at the public meeting to pursue a possible one-year pilot program for providing three portable toilets that would be cleaned twice a week.

City Attorney Douglas White was directed by the council to draft a contract for partnering with Give Someone a Chance, a Jamestown-based nonprofit organization that provides aid to the homeless in Tuolumne County.

Quotes gathered by Councilwoman Colette Such showed the total cost would be $5,236 for a year to rent three toilets from A&A Portables, based in Modesto, which also includes the cost to service them each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Such suggested the city fund a third of the cost and convince the county to fund another third because the camps on the north side of the road are just outside of the city limits. The other third could come from an organization like the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency, she said.

One of the reasons Such said she got involved with the effort was out of concern for the spread of hepatitis in the camps.

Earlier in the meeting, Popovich addressed the council during public comment and talked about how he’s recently had to replace windows that were broken out of his building at 759 Stockton Road.

Popovich said he’s caught homeless people sleeping in the back patio of his wife’s office twice in the past week.

He offered to work with the city on turning his 16,000-square-foot building into a homeless shelter with on-site services, or he would contribute $100,000 toward the first year of operating a designated camp for the homeless off Stockton Road.

It was the third time Popovich has addressed the council at a public meeting in the past couple of years to air grievances with the lack of action on the issue.

“This is a start,” Popovich said of the portable toilets. “If you can do it with or without the county’s help, it’s impacting the city more than the county.”

Hazel Mitchell, co-founder of Give Someone a Chance, said the organization could accept the funding as a donation and would assume liability for the toilets. She also said they would pay to replace them if they get damaged.

Mitchell also talked about the progress her group has made in recent years to work with the residents of the camps at cleaning up the area and helping them make improvements in their lives.

“This would give them some dignity and keep them out of the city,” she said, adding that she and her husband have a vested interest in keeping the city looking nice as downtown property owners.

The Mitchells own the building that houses the Candy Vault and The Naked Frog bath and soap shop.

Mitchell said the people at the camps have learned to respect what they say and listen to them, which has meant having to exercise some “tough love” when necessary.

Give Someone a Chance has also started a program in which people can earn tokens through cleaning up trash and trade them in for items ranging from batteries to bicycles.

“We’re trying to do that program to help the homeless people think differently,” she said.

Barbara Dresslar, of Sonora, also spoke in support of the city helping to fund the portable toilets. She noted how the camps are located right next to a creek.

“I can’t imagine a downside of having raw sewage contained,” she said. “I applaud the city for taking this on.”

Councilman Matt Hawkins, who serves as mayor pro-tem, also expressed support for the idea.

“Anything to improve public health,” he said. “And at a cheap cost like this it’s definitely worth it.”

City Administrator Tim Miller said the council would have to approve a budget amendment and contract at a future meeting before the city would be able to provide the funding.

On Monday, the council also voted 5-0 in the first step of approving the city’s second medical cannabis dispensary. The council will have to approve the ordinance a second time at its next meeting for it to become official.

The dispensary would be owned by Raphael “Ralph” Calderon, a Valley Springs cannabis entrepreneur.

Calderon was at the meeting on Monday and answered questions regarding where the cannabis being sold at the dispensary would come from, which is governed by California law that requires tracking of the product at every step “from seed to sale.”

All the cannabis sold at the dispensary would be tested for mold, pesticides and levels of THC, the intoxicating ingredient in the plant, which is also required by state law.

The city attorney also explained how there are financial incentives to prevent operators from skirting the rules because doing so would put their costly and highly valuable state licenses at risk.

Calderon praised the city for being “extremely helpful” to him throughout the permitting process, which he described as seamless.

“I’d like to thank the City of Sonora and its residents for being so progressive and opening the doors to us and other cannabis businesses,” he said in comments to The Union Democrat after the meeting.

The city approved a three-year pilot program in January 2018 that would allow up to two medical-only cannabis dispensaries initially. They are currently not allowed to sell cannabis to anyone who doesn’t have a valid doctor’s recommendation for the drug.

Calderon’s dispensary would be located in a historic foundry building at 10 Calaveras St. He anticipates investing between $500,000 and $600,000 on building renovations alone.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.c om or (209) 588-4530.

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