Council contemplates development of new retail and dining at Sunken Gardens

ATASCADERO — Atascadero City Council met on Tuesday, Sept. 14, for their regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m., following a closed session with nothing to report.

Regular session was called to order at 6:02 p.m., and the agenda was approved 5-0.

Peter Williamson SLOCOG made a short presentation inviting the public to take the “confidence quiz” on the rideshare website and win prizes like a $250 sweepstakes, a $750 pizza oven, or a zipline adventure. Learn more at rideshare.org/confidence

Getting through this together, Atascadero

Williamson also announced that Oct. 6 is “International Walk to School Day.” For questions about rideshares, contact info@rideshare.org.

The Consent Calendar was approved 5-0, and City Manager Rachelle Rickard presented Updates.

Rickard highlighted this past Saturday’s Patriot’s Day Commemoration for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, which was a special and patriotic evening in which community members gathered at City Hall and Sunken Gardens to honor the thousands of lives lost 20 years ago. Rickard offered “a very, very sincere thank you” to the pilots of the Estrella Warbirds’ freedom flight with a poignant “missing man.” Rickard personally thanked Bob Kelly, who piloted the lead plane in the formation; Wayne Rice, who piloted the left-wing; and Former Police Chief John Couch, a Vietnam Veteran who piloted the right-wing.

The event featured a patriotic performance of The Star-Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful, as well as musical performances by Painted Red Music and Unfinished Business.

Saturday will be the final Summer Concert Series at the Atascadero Lake Park Bandstand from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Rickard offered a big thank you to Kiwanis of Atascadero for their graffiti clean-up volunteer work and Sherwin Williams and Terra Paint for donating paint for the clean-up project. 

“We are grateful for their efforts to keep our community beautiful,” said Rickard. “They do such a great job… This is what makes Atascadero great!”

Rickard announced the “shots for shows” COVID-19 vaccine clinic, in which free concert tickets to a variety of shows will be given away to those who choose to take the emergency use COVID-19 vaccines. Both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be available at the Lake Park Pavilion this Friday, Sept. 17, from 2:30 to 6 p.m.

Rickard announced the upcoming Cornhole tournament on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 17 and. 18 at The Ravine Waterpark in Paso Robles. The proceeds from this event benefit the Boys and Girls Club and Boy Scout Troop 51.

The Creek and Salinas River clean-up day will be this Saturday, Sep. 18, from 9 a.m. to noon. For information, contact the Public Works Department.

The Art, Wine, and Brew tour will happen on Friday, Sept. 24, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advanced and $25 at the door.

John Neil from Atascadero Mutual Water Co. and the Groundwater Sustainability Agency presented an update on work being done for Atascadero Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).

Neil shared the goal of the Atascadero Basin GSP, which “is to continue the sustainable management of groundwater resources for the benefit of Basin stakeholders and to avoid undesirable results throughout the 20-year Sustainable Groundwater Management Act implementation horizon and beyond. In adopting this GSP, it is the express goal of the GSA to balance the needs of all groundwater uses and users through effective management actions and project implementation.”

If the public has questions, they can go to atascaderobasin.com and use their communications portal.

Mayor Heather Moreno opened the meeting up to public forum, in which a caller named Greg Gurell stated he was happy that Atascadero became a separate basin but is “still concerned with the fact that Atascadero Water Mutual and other agencies want to sue the constituents that live around them in the other parts of the basin, and I’m unhappy with the fact that Paul Sorenson, who was one of your witnesses that worked for Todd Engineering and other places claimed what our water was.”

The caller continued, saying, “we had 94,000 acre/feet of safe annual yield in the Paso basin, and you guys have 16,400 in your basin, and finally, they separated those this last year with the annual reports. I’m really concerned with the fact that I think a lot of parts of the agencies were more interested in getting grants and claiming we had a problem when we didn’t have a problem or claiming we didn’t have the usable water. Paso Robles wastes 5,000 acre/feet of water in the last four years, every year, so 21,000 acre/feet they’ve wasted that they could have used from Nacimiento instead of pumping from the basin…when we’re talking about all these different factors that deal with what water is available, and what water we are saving, I don’t understand why the Nacimiento water isn’t being used first. I don’t understand why Nacimiento water isn’t being used first. I’m happy that Atascadero was made a separate basin…but I’d really like to see this thing come to an end between all the other agencies who are suing the people that live in the rural area, you’ve spent well over $9 Million collectively, and that money could have been put to better use instead of paying lawyers.”

City Attorney Brian Pierik advised council members and Mr. Neil, “it appears to me that to respond to the comments we just heard might be going beyond the scope of what’s on the agenda, but I’ll just defer to Mr. Neil on whether or not that would be the case.”

“I don’t want to get into the quiet title action—that’s not what we’re here for,” Neil stated. “This year, we started taking (water from) Nacimiento in May, we’ll shut that off in the end of September. We’ve taken over 2,000 acre/feet a year…and that’s our attempt to basically offset our pumping in the Atascadero Basic—and again, that’s one of the main tools we have to maintain sustainability here.”

Public Works Director Nick DeBar made a presentation on the striping of Morro Road, in which he addressed the confusion expressed by residents and Council members alike. The section between Atascadero Ave. and Portola Ave. seems to be the portion of the project causing the most confusion.

“CalTrans is still not done with the painting,” said DeBar, “which has added to some of the confusion.”

DeBar explained that the empty “buffer” spaces had been left open for potential landscape buffers to be added at a future date. He also stated that HWY-41 was designed as a four-lane highway, but studies have shown that residents don’t want a 4-lane highway.

The conversation revolved around the universal confusion around exactly where to park and that the public has been almost invariably parking in the wrong spots. There was a clear focus on making sure the public knew that they would not be ticketed for incorrect parking, at least in the short term, until people get the hang of it. DeBar stated that California Highway Patrol will not ticket cars here and that it is Atascadero Police Department’s responsibility. It was suggested that educational flyers would be produced and distributed to incorrectly parked vehicles instead of tickets.

DeBar attributed the confusion to the striping being completed in portions, suggesting that if it had been painted it all at once, people likely would have understood the intent, but since it was completed in portions—and is still unfinished—it’s been a bit confusing.

Mayor Moreno opened the subject up to public forum, and caller Deborah McCrell stated that she was “so delighted” with the state of HWY-41. “What a huge improvement and benefit to our town.”

The caller then shifted to address the confusion. “It is a little crazy, and I’m familiar with the road, and I’m married to a traffic engineer, and I’m still confused, so I think education for the public is going to be really important.”

The caller suggested public announcements and signage. “It’s not normal at all the way they have that. Those bike lanes should absolutely be colored green like in San Luis Obispo because otherwise there’s no knowledge for people to know that those are bike lanes.”

Geoff Auslen also called in and stated that the painting “is definitely happening way too slow.” He pointed out the problem that members of the public really do not understand where they are supposed to park. He also emphasized that the bike lanes impede into the roadway and that residents have actually lost parking in front of their houses. “It’s not a pleasant experience for those who have lost their parking.”

Auslen also pointed out the fact that the parking lot in front of McDonald’s had been lost due to the project. “This is a tax revenue concern for the City,” said Auslen. If you can’t park the bus in front of McDonald’s any longer, then maybe they don’t eat in our town, such as the Football Players that are visiting our town or volleyball players.”

Auslen also expressed concern that the City is going to have to do maintenance for the bike lanes. DeBar clarified that while the painting of bike lanes would be the City’s responsibility, the rest of the construction is the responsibility of CalTrans.

Eric Daniels then called in to explain to the public why they are seeing so many outages lately.

He stated that PG&E is upgrading safety protections to reduce the likelihood of PG&E being the cause of wildfire in the event of an object coming in contact with power lines. However, he explained that while this makes the system safer, it also results in more outages and longer restoration times.

Another caller expressed concern for zoning issues regarding accessory dwelling units specific to his neighborhood.

Geoff Auslen called in once more to remind the public not to run generators in an enclosed area because CO2 is lethal. Generators should be run outside of the home and not in a garage or an enclosed area.

Next, an ordinance to amend title 11 of the Atascadero Municipal Code related to Dedications, Tentative Maps, Parcel and Final Maps, and Subdivision improvements was opened up for a public hearing. There were no council members or members of the public who wished to speak on the item, and the meeting moved on to Management Reports.

The first report was the East Mall at Centennial Plaza vacant lots study session presented by Atascadero Community Development Director Phil Dunsmore, in which he presented options for the development of five vacant lots on East Mall and how the Council might direct the development of these lots to best meet the City’s economic development goals for the downtown area.

There was an emphasis on developing the area surrounding the downtown to ensure that the space is shared by the whole community, provide for a strong and distinctive downtown area, and promote downtown as the City’s cultural, entertainment, and commercial center.

Several possibilities were presented as options, including the possibility of using the space as a parking lot which could add 30-40 parking spaces. The possibility of public restrooms was also presented, but concern was raised that while they could be beneficial, they could also attract criminal activity if not properly kept up and surrounded by constant foot traffic and events. The possibility of opening up the space was presented in order to hold larger events and stage food trucks.

The option the Council found most attractive was the idea of working with private developers to create a retail space with restaurants, nightlife, and boutiques to attract after-hours foot traffic, entertainment, dining, and shopping.

Director Dunsmore recommended that the Council consider creating a Planned Development (PD) Overlay Zone to really customize the zoning and the design that can happen and make the properties available for someone who wanted to design a restaurant or a mixed-use commercial/residential building that would stand out and attract the public.

There is one existing structure on the lot that has been determined to be not salvageable. It has been assessed and found to have water damage and dry rot. Dunsmore stated that it needs to be removed regardless of decisions made for the use of the properties.

Members of the Council expressed a strong desire for public outreach in order to get a better idea of what the public would want to see go into these properties.

There was also talk of the adjacent lot, which is privately owned and is too small to be feasible in developing a commercial space. Dunsmore stated that the owners of the lot have expressed interest in acquiring the adjoining lot owned by the City in order to make their property large enough to develop.

There was talk of offering up the properties for free in order to incentivize developers and to release the City from having to upkeep them.

Whatever the intended use, the State-mandated Surplus Land Act process takes six months and mandates that the City must first offer the property over to affordable housing. Dunsmore stated that in conversations with developers, it would seem affordable housing developers do not have interest in the property, especially if the PD Overlay stipulated restrictions on such things as parking lots and residences on the ground floor, at which point he anticipated it would then be passed back to the City to decide what to do with the properties.

The issue was opened up to public forum, and a caller named Deborah said that she would like to see open space remain with bathrooms and picnic tables, along with possibly a restaurant.

A second caller, Christina Azdel-Cisneros, stated that she never had problems parking, even during colony days and other big events, and asked the Council to please consider bathrooms in the design.

The Mayor asked for an informal consensus from council members, and the general consensus was to pursue public outreach in regard to private development—restaurants in particular—with hopes of incorporating bathrooms, and to develop a PD Overlay for the property as well.

Mayor Moreno said that she agrees with moving down the PD Overlay Process. She stated that she has heard for decades from residents who want retail and restaurants around the Sunken Gardens.

The conversation then turned to the look and feel of the buildings, and all of the council members emphasized their desire for the buildings to adopt a look and feel that compliments both City Hall and La Plaza while still remaining unique.

The next item was to correct a typo in ordinance 646 — section 4 of the Planning and Zoning Text Amendments Annual Code Update. The correction was approved 5-0.

Councilmember Dariz announced that this past weekend, “Atascadero lost one of our great community members and a personal friend.” Jimmy Quinones passed away last Saturday. Quinones was a past Atascadero Citizen of the Year. He helped regularly with El Camino Homeless Organization, delivered birthday cakes to the elderly every month, and was an active member of Atascadero Kiwanis Club. “He will be sorely missed,” said Dariz.

Councilmember Bourbeaux announced that a resolution passed today for the county to withdraw from the Joint Powers Agreement that makes up the Integrated Waste Management Authority.

The meeting adjourned at approximately 10:16 p.m.