By Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno
“Atascadero is a beautiful and authentic city of outdoor recreation, culinary adventures and welcoming hospitality. It’s a safe place where the arts and history thrive and the diversity of experience, generosity of spirit, and small-town ambiance are here to be enjoyed by visitors and residents alike.”
This is the ten-year vision that in 2014, the City Council, business community and residents came together to create. Four years in, we’ve made much progress as a community. Downtown has more restaurants and shops, with minimal vacancies. I was excited to head up the task force that brought BridgeWork to Atascadero, the first co-working space in North SLO County. The La Plaza project and Bridgewalk Hotel are in the works which, when completed, will bring tremendous energy to neighboring businesses and encourage further investment in our town. The City now hosts several large events, where thousands of residents and visitors experience our unique offerings. And what outdoor enthusiast doesn’t love the Three Bridges Trail?
While we are on the road to that vision, there is still more to do. During strategic planning in early 2019, the Council along with City staff, the business sector and residents will come together as we set priorities and determine how to reach our vision. And with a new Council, it’s possible the vision may slightly shift. Over a day and a half, we will look at our strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and challenges, and decide on our key priorities for moving Atascadero forward. It’s an opportunity for the community (that means all of us!) to provide input as we set our compass for the coming two years.
My goal with strategic planning is to develop a small number of key priorities on which we can focus and to which we can hold ourselves, and each other, accountable. The risk any organization faces is setting too many priorities, thereby outstripping its capacity. To quote our former Community Development Director, “we can do anything, we just can’t do everything.”— certainly not all at
the same time.
Atascadero is often referred to as a bedroom community but if we want to thrive that must change. We literally cannot afford it when confronted with increasing state and healthcare costs, necessary infrastructure improvements and a growing population in need of services. Economic development is not simply about improving business for business’ sake or to have a few more shops. The things that we want as a community cost money. Growing our local economy is one way we pay for those things.
That does not mean we strive to be a “little Paso.” We are uniquely Atascadero! What it does mean is that we must create a diverse local economy, one where the number of jobs — especially head of household jobs — is on par with our housing supply. People tend to shop, eat and use services in close proximity to where they work. The more jobs we attract to Atascadero, the more successful our retail and restaurant sector, which encourages even more businesses to locate here. More jobs mean less people on the freeway. More jobs mean a better quality of life for our residents.
Downtown traffic calming has the opportunity to increase safety and provide a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere to draw more people into our businesses. As we assess the El Camino corridor to identify opportunities for development, we can work with landowners to come together to optimize use of their parcels. We must learn to better market the many assets of our city to attract the businesses we
need and want.
Like other cities throughout California, Atascadero faces the challenges of homelessness, transients and mental health issues, and Atascadero has numerous groups working to meet these needs. Loaves & Fishes offers sustenance to the food-insecure individuals in our community, while the El Camino Homeless Organization operates a 50-bed shelter along with caseworkers to help people get back on their feet. It’s exciting to see the expanded services ECHO expects to provide that have the potential to offer better support to their clients and resolve some of the ”
Transitions-Mental Health Association has a good presence in the North County and operates the 60 NOW program that provides shelter and wrap-around services to 60 of the most vulnerable in our county. We know drug and alcohol abuse can often lead to homelessness, and North County Connection is very active in Atascadero, providing drug and alcohol counseling services. The City continues to be involved with these and other organizations that provide in-patient care, sober living and other
We will continue to participate in these types of partnerships and at the department level — public works, community development, police and fire — to address these issues at a community-wide level. We are also cognizant that enforcement is needed and we will continue to take appropriate measures when required. We are committed to working with local business owners and residents about their concerns and to addressing problems in the most beneficial manner for all parties involved.
My favorite thing about Atascadero is the people. We have a community that pulls together to do important work and I will continue to champion that spirit and forge the partnerships that make things happen. Atascadero is not an “I” community, it’s a “we” community, and I’m honored to serve as your mayor.