Zoo, City Hall, closed to public; essential services, parks still up and running

ATASCADERO — On Tuesday, the Atascadero City Council met for the first time since a countywide shelter-at-home order was issued this past week. With only Mayor Heather Moreno and Mayor Pro-Tem Charles Bourbeau in physical attendance, along with a small handful of City employees, the majority of the seats at the head of the room were empty, as were the seats normally occupied by members of the public audience. 

Joining the meeting via telephone, the disembodied voices of council members Susan Funk, Roberta Fonzi and Heather Newsom echoed off the chamber walls as they came through a set of loudspeakers. Members of the public were invited to watch the proceedings via television, radio or a live stream on the website slospan.com and to provide comment via telephone. 

“We are making every effort we can to make sure the public can participate along with the Council and City staff,” Moreno said. “Please be patient, speak slowly and give others space to respond.” 

Moreno began the meeting with an announcement that anybody who was planning to rent City facilities for an event that has since been canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak will be able to receive a refund rather than the normal operating procedures of only allowing them to rebook the date. 

Getting through this together, Atascadero

“We are allowing refunds for organizations and individuals who need to cancel out of their agreements with the city if they’ve had to do that because of the COVID-19 outbreak, we didn’t want them to be penalized,” she said. “It does take a little bit out of our budget but we wanted to do that.”

City Manager Rochelle Rickard provided an update on how the City is operating under the threat from COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order. Rickard said that some City workers deemed essential continue to work from the City’s Emergency Operations Center at City Hall while practicing social distancing and others are working from home. Essential City services such as the fire and police departments and the public works department are also still operating.

Rickard said that the police department continues to enforce laws and respond to calls but the department’s physical location at 5505 El Camino Real is closed to the public. In an emergency, residents should continue to call 911 and for non-emergency police business, residents can call (805) 461-5051. Likewise, the fire department is continuing its normal operations responding to emergencies but local fire stations are not open to the public. Rickard said that the red phone located outside of the stations will continue to work on an emergency basis but non-emergency fire department businesses should be addressed by calling (805) 470-3300, including calls about the department’s wood chipping program.

“All of our normal fire lines are being answered at this point,” Rickard said. 

City Hall is also closed to the public although it is open for business via the web and telephone. City staff is continuing to process building permits and plan reviews while working at home but Rickard said that inspections for home remodels and repairs have been halted for the time being. 

“We are not completing inspections on home remodels or repairs until we receive county guidelines, to protect both the inspectors and residents,” she said.

The Colony Park Community Center is closed but employees working at home are developing a “virtual recreation department,” that will include fun activities and videos for children. All Colony Park Community Center events, activities and programs have been canceled for the foreseeable future. 

Atascadero’s Charles Paddock Zoo is closed to the public and zookeepers are keeping busy caring for the animals and practicing social distancing, Rickard said. 

Although local playgrounds have been shut down to prevent the spread of the virus, parks and trails are still open. Rickard encouraged residents to make use of the outdoor facilities in a safe manner, while staying at least six feet away from other people. 

“The parks remain open but we are monitoring them and if we start to have problems with people not maintaining social distancing, we will have to shut them down,” she said.

Rickard said that COVID-19 resources and updates are being published on the City’s website and facebook pages but that residents seeking the most current information should visit the county’s website at readyslo.org or call their information hotline at 805-543-2444. 

“It is the best place to go for current updates and accurate information,” she said. 

Rickard said that since the stay-at-home order was issued, she’s pleased to see that “most Atascadero residents are doing what they should be doing — following state guidelines and practicing social distancing.” 

“We’re likely to be in this extremely unusual situation for a while and we can’t go back to normal until the curve is bent,” she said.