Paso Robles City Council held a virtual meeting Tuesday night. Fire chief and Emergency Services Director Jonathon Stornetta gave an update on the latest city, county and state figures on the coronavirus, as he does each meeting.
Colonel Charless Bell provided the council with an update on the US Army Garrison Fort Hunter Liggett about ways the Army base and the city can work together.
The council discussed an agenda item added Tuesday afternoon. It addressed the council’s decision on Business Viability and the Governor’s Regional Stay at Home Order. City Manager Tom Frutchey talked projections for cases in California, saying that a coronavirus model developed at the University of Washington indicates that cases will reach 80,000 new cases a day, putting a strain on ICU inventory in the state. Frutchey said that despite the decision made at the Special Meeting last Thursday, businesses in the city need to comply with state guidelines, including park-lets. He says restaurants can continue to offer outdoor dining. He also defined an “egregious violation” which is anything that is conspicuous/flagrant, intention/unashamed and serious. Frutchey says the city has a responsibility to enforce the state regulations, particularly if someone is flaunting the violation of the regulations. Frutchey defined the sequence for people who complain about violations. It includes a complaint going to dispatch, then to the Chamber of Commerce. If compliance does not result, a Community Service Officer would visit business and encourage them to comply. If the violation continues, then a sworn police officer would visit the business and talk with management.
Councilman John Hamon asked how the ICU bed usage has grown from seven on Thursday to 14 on Tuesday, December 15th. An officer explained that many families had recent holiday get togethers and that led to increase the ICU bed use.
Fred Strong asked if the city were only going to use the chamber in communication. Chief Ty Lewis said it’s a collaborative effort, and everyone needs to work together. He said that the chamber would begin the process to try to address noncompliance.
Council member Steve Gregory and Mayor Steve Martin had no comments.
Several members of the public spoke. Dale Gustin said that the city needs to be reasonable, and that the city council should not ignore the 54 people who called in last Thursday night urging the council to be reasonable.
Jeff Weisinger said that tourism is definitely down in Paso Robles. He said dining or shopping in downtown is not dangerous, but that the family gatherings are a great risk.
Brad Daugherty of Cider Creek Bakery told the council that he appreciates how the council is handling the situation, but he’s concerned that the council is backpedaling. He says that people are confused and wondering what the city is doing.
After public comment, John Hamon said he’s in favor of moving back to the purple tier, and that he’s suspect of the data. He says, “We made a statement last Thursday based on compliance. If you have people who are flagrantly violating the rules, then they should be cited. To me, we’re still good with the decision we made last Thursday night.”
Fred Strong said, “I share a lot of what John Hamon had to say. I personally checked with the county and they confirmed that the article in the daily paper was accurate, although it came out of San Luis Obispo.”
Maria Elena Garcia said, “We need to talk about the weather. Just because of the confusion, we shouldn’t call it the purple tier and just give more clarity on what activities are appropriate.”
Steve Gregory said, “We are self-governing but there are some things that require a state license, and people must comply.”
Mayor Steve Martin said, “Our decision last week was an attempt to provide equity. Obviously, in a pandemic, things can happen quickly, and we need to change. But we need to be consistent.”
Police Chief Ty Lewis presented a plan to encourage businesses to follow appropriate guidelines in compliance with the Purple Tier. The council approved his plan, but then city Manager Tom Frutchy asked for clarification related to the compliance with state laws and the position they were taking.
Ultimately, the council agreed to proceed with the motion by Steve Gregory implementing a program to encourage safe operation of local restaurants with sensitivity to their continued operation.
The council also got a report on the COVID-19 Business Assistance and Economic Recovery Program. The program includes the K-Rail barriers which allow restaurants to operate outdoors. Councilman John Hamon suggested the city buy the K-Rails to save money. Freda Berman of the City said there are 156 K-Rails the city has rented, but the city could buy some. Councilman Fred Strong raised the issue of where the K-Rails could be stored. Berman said there is currently no room. Councilman John Hamon said there’s plenty of room at the Dry Creek property which the city recently purchased, but he was silenced.
Gina Kirkpatrick of the Chamber of Commerce said she hoped the Business Assistance Program would be opened up to other businesses besides restaurants.
Councilman John Hamon said he felt the city would be better off to buy them than rent them.