A Look Back at the Biggest Local News Stories of 2019

2019’s First Baby Born New Year’s Day

First reported in the Jan. 4 edition of the Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press: James Fazio of Atascadero and his wife, Katherine welcomed their third baby, Micah James who was born on a special day — News Year’s Day. 

“We are delighted to introduce our first newborn of 2019 here at Twin Cities Community Hospital. Katherine and James welcomed their baby boy at 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2019, and are happy to share this memorable moment with the community,” said Krista Deans, spokesperson for Twin Cities 
Community Hospital. 

When asked how it felt to have a New Years baby, James Fazio said, “It was awesome.” 

Atascadero Disolves Parks & Rec Board

First reported in the Jan. 11 edition of the Atascadero News: At their first regular meeting of the year, Jan. 8, the Atascadero City Council voted to accept a management report with a draft ordinance to abolish their Parks and Recreation Commission. 

Work Begins on La Plaza Project

First reported in the Jan. 8 edition of the Atascadero News: After two years on the drawing board, work started on the mixed-use commercial project in Downtown Atascadero known as La Plaza. 

While most locals greeted the signs of progress on the site positively, Zoe Zappas, a project manager with the Zappas family development firm Z Villages, said there was a tinge of sadness for some locals as the old Jack in the Box building was torn down. 

“It was vacant for a long time, but people still had a lot of memories tied up in the building,” she said, noting that people had been coming to the fenceline at the edge of the property asking for bricks and other mementos.

Masia named Roblan of the Year

First reported in the Jan. 18 edition of the Paso Robles Press: The Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce announced Matt Masia as 2018 Roblan of the Year and Cava Robles RV Resort as the 2018 Beautification of the Year recipients. Both were honored at the Chamber’s Annual Gala being held Jan. 26 at the Paso Robles Inn Ballroom. 

Tamale Festival Draws Thousands 

First reported in the Jan. 25 edition of the Atascadero News: The City hosted its 4th Annual Tamale Festival Jan. 19 without a hitch. There were 32 tamale sellers and 80 total vendors. 

Unofficial attendance was estimated at 15,000 to 17,000 people, although sales records from tamale vendors may refine that number, Deputy City Manager Terrie Banish said. 

PRWCA Tabs Peterson as Leader

First reported in the Jan. 25 edition of the Paso Robles Press: Joel Peterson was named the new executive director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, bringing nearly 15 years of marketing experience in the beverage industry to the nonprofit, member-based association dedicated to the promotion of the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area. Peterson replaced Jennifer Porter, who stepped down at the end of 2018. 

Paso Regulates Short-term Rentals

First reported in the Feb. 8 edition of the Paso Robles Press: The Paso Robles 
City Council took what they characterized as a “good 
first step” in regulating short-term rentals.

None of the four councilmembers were completely satisfied with the urgency ordinance they passed, 4-0, but realized something needed to be done and expect to make changes later in the year. Councilman Steven Gregory recused himself from the agenda item due to a conflict of interest as he owns and operates vacation rentals in the city. The matter took up two hours of the entire council meeting.

Arnold Announces 2020 Campaign

First reported in the Feb. 8 edition of the Atascadero News: San Luis Obispo District 5 County Supervisor Debbie Arnold announced her campaign to retain her second district seat in 2020. 

“I feel like I’m becoming an old hand at running these [campaigns],” she said, but added that it does take significant additional time and energy while still holding the office, “the first ballot is in just over a year and we do tend to give people a break, wind it down, around Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s only two months to get the word out again next year.”

County Libraries Drop Late Fees

First reported in the Feb. 8 edition of the Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press: As of Feb. 1 no new late fees will be racking up on library materials due back at Atascadero and other branches of the San Luis Obispo County Library system. They’ll still charge a lost item fee after a reasonable waiting period, said Regional Librarian for the North County Jackie Kinsey, but the change comes after a period of discussion on how best to serve the community, and with the understanding that fines have never been a significant revenue source for the system. 

“The goal has always been to not have barriers to people’s access to library services,” she said. “Often in the past, we’ve worked with people to clear their accounts so they could come back to us.” 

PRHS Principal Announces Resignation

First reported in the Feb. 8 edition of the Paso Robles Press: Paso Robles High School Principal Eric Martinez announced that he would be leaving the district at the end of the school year, saying that due to personal reasons he will be moving closer to his 
family network.

PRJUSD Lays Out Plan to Cut $2.1M

First reported in the Feb. 15 edition of the Paso Robles Press: The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District laid out its plan to cut $2.1 million from the 2019-20 budget.

“This is just the first step on our road to recovery,” Chief Business Officer Brad Pawlowski said. “The list that is presented, we have focused on areas that have minimal impact to the classrooms. 
We continue to stay focused on protecting the core 
academic programs.” 

Peschong Announces 2020 Campaign

First reported in the Feb. 22 edition of the Paso Robles Press: San Luis Obispo County District 1 Supervisor John Peschong announced he will be seeking re-election in 2020. 

With the move of California’s 2020 primary to March 3, three months sooner than usual, people are having to ramp up their campaigns sooner than in years past. Filing for 2020, will officially open later in 2019. . 

“They moved everything up,” said Peschong of why he was announcing now. 

And, “there are some things I would like to get finished,” he said.

Man Charged With Double Murder

First reported in the March 8 edition of the Paso Robles Press: A Paso Robles man was charged with two counts of murder following the stabbing death of his longtime pregnant girlfriend and their unborn child. 

Daniel Rodriguez-Johnson, 31, of Paso Robles, was also charged by the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office on March 3 with carjacking, evading a peace officer, theft of a law enforcement vehicle, resisting arrest, and exhibiting a deadly weapon. 

Rodriguez-Johnson was jailed after stealing a patrol car when deputies found the body of Carrington Jane Broussard, 27, of Paso Robles, in the Heritage Ranch home where they lived, SLO Undersheriff Jim Voge said during a press conference Monday afternoon. 

“This is a double-murder because of the 9-month-old fetus,” Voge said.

Red Panda Exhibit Opens

First reported in the March 8 edition of the Atascadero News: On March 1, the Thelma Vetter Red Panda Experience opened to visitors at the Charles Paddock Zoo. The exhibit, featuring animals from the Indo-Burma region is the second time that red pandas have been on display, and Zoo Director Alan Baker has extensive experience with them. Palpably cute, the little ailurus fulgen possess a more striking resemblance to a raccoon or primate than to the giant black and white panda bears, as they climb a frame of branches in search of succulent bamboo. 

Beraud Announces Supervisor Run

First reported in the March 15 edition of the Atascadero News: Former Atascadero City Council member and onetime mayor Ellen Beraud publicly announced her candidacy for San Luis Obispo County 5th District Supervisor. 

Now marking her second decade living in Atascadero, Beraud serves as a Clinical Dietician at Atascadero State Hospital and the Facilities Chief Steward for the labor union at the hospital. 

Joy Playground Opens

First reported in the April 12 edition of the Atascadero News: The City of Atascadero and the Parents for Joy nonprofit organization held a grand opening on April 5 for the new ‘Joy Playground’ behind the Colony Park next to the Community Center, at 5599 Traffic Way, featuring a barbecue accompanied by classic Americana with the Swing for Joy Sax Quartet, and food provided by the Atascadero Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.

Paso Assistant City Manager Steps Down

First reported in the April 12 edition of the Paso Robles Press: Paso Robles Assistant City Manager Jim Cogan did not go into the specifics of why he was leaving but confirmed his last day would be April 19. Cogan was nearing his one-year anniversary on the job. He began his tenure with the City on May 7, 2018. He replaced long-time City Assistant Manager Meg Williamson, who retired on Dec. 29, 2017, after more than 30 years of serving the community. 

“I love Paso Robles,” Cogan said. “My family loves it here. We have made Paso our home. We are very much enjoying the community. I have enjoyed working with the community on some pretty controversial issues and have been so impressed with the way community members respond, provide positive feedback.”

Reneau to Lead Atascadero Chamber

First reported in the April 12 edition of the Atascadero News: The Atascadero Chamber of Commerce announced Emily Reneau as its next CEO and president. 

“I am thrilled to work with people who care about the community and enhance the fabulous work that is already in place,” Reneau said. “Atascadero has so much to offer and I look forward to empowering OUR business community.”

Reneau is a longtime Central California local, having lived in the area for 23 years. She most recently was working with HM Holloway in the role of Business Development Associate.

Greybots Win World Championship

First reported in the May 3 edition of the Atascadero News: For the third time since 2011, the Atascadero High School Greybots returned home from competition against some of the brightest robotics teams in the world as better than the rest. The Greybots were once again named the robotics world champs after winning the World Championships in Houston, Texas over Easter weekend. 

“We are overwhelmed by the success that the kids have had,” Atascadero Unified School District Superintendent Tom Butler said. “And we are so impressed with their work ethic and their character and we can’t say enough about them. Three-time world champions, that is over the top isn’t it!” 

Dubost is New PRJUSD Superintendent

First reported in the May 10 edition of the Paso Robles Press: The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District has been filling its top vacancies with candidates close to home. 

The home-grown trend continued May 7 when the district announced the hiring of Curt Dubost as its next superintendent. 

“I am very proud of the confidence they have in me,” Dubost said of the Board’s decision to offer him a three-year contract. “My commitment to students has shown in all the districts where I have worked, and I plan on people seeing my commitment to students in Paso Robles as well.”

Lawsuit Filed Against Apartment Owners

First reported in the May 10 edition of the Paso Robles Press: A lawsuit was filed against the owners and manager of a Paso Robles apartment complex, claiming they knowingly allowed tenants to live in slum conditions. 

San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation and the Hutkin Law Firm filed the class-action lawsuit on May 7 against the owners and manager of Grand View Apartments in Paso Robles. 

The Grand View Apartments, LLC is owned by Santa Barbara County residents Ebrahim and Fahimeh Madadi, according to the complaint. 

The 35-page lawsuit alleges that tenants lived in uninhabitable, vermin-infested conditions for years in the apartment complex at 202 Spring St., on the corner of Spring Street and Niblick Road in south Paso Robles. 

Koski Announces TUSD Exit

First reported in the May 31 edition of the Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press: For the first time in nearly a decade, the Templeton Unified School District began searching for a new superintendent after Joe Koski announced that he would not be pursuing a contract extension. 

In a letter addressed to Templeton school parents and staff dated May 23, Koski stated, “I believe it is time for the district to make changes to the composition and structure of the leadership team. In order to pave the way for those changes, I notified the Trustees that I will not be pursuing a contract extension beyond June 30, 2019.” 

Council Bans New STRs in R-1 Zones

First reported in the June 7 edition of the Paso Robles Press: There were no cheers as Paso Robles Mayor Steven Martin cast the final vote that put a ban on any new short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods in place. 

There were smiles and congratulatory hugs and handshakes exchanged between some of the 20-25 people who had seemingly gotten what they wanted — removal of non-hosted STRs from R-1 zones in the City — after the conclusion of the five-hour City Council meeting. Thirty-eight people spoke at the meeting. People were split with equal amounts wanting a total ban of STRs in R-1 zones and the other half being OK with the proposed cap of 100 by the tasking force and planning commission. 

Vacations rentals can still operate in all other zones in the City, but in addition to a business license will apply and pay for a permit.  

Johnson-Rios Named New Paso Asst. City Manager 

First reported in the June 21 edition of the Paso Robles Press: The City of Paso Robles announced the hiring of Sarah Johnson-Rios to the position of Assistant City Manager on June 18. 

Johnson-Rios is currently the Housing and Neighborhoods Department Operations Administrator for the City of Raleigh, N.C. As such, she oversees three units responsible for affordable housing preservation and production. 

Gong Charged with Taking Band Funds

First reported in the July 12 edition of the Atascadero News: San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow announced that charges had been filed against Sherry Gong, alleging that she embezzled funds from the Atascadero High School Band and Pageantry Booster Club. 

Gong, 47, is the wife of San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong. The criminal Complaint alleged that Gong stole a total of $32,554 between July 2017 and April 2018 while she was treasurer for the booster organization.

Council Settles on STR Rules

First reported in the July 19 edition of the Paso Robles Press: After 31 public meetings over 4-plus years, called by the short-term rental task force, the planning commission, and the Paso Robles City Council itself, the Council on July 16 held first reading of an ordinance that permits home shares in all zones, permits non-hosted short-term accommodations in single-family residential neighborhoods, and grandfathers existing non-hosted accommodations in the R-1 zone.

Cardi B Comes to Mid-State Fair

First reported in the July 26 edition of the Paso Robles Press: The first week of the California Mid-State Fair was stacked with star-studded talent, including two sold-out shows in the Chumash Grandstand Arena. 

Fans took advantage of the cooler-than-normal temperatures and flocked to the grounds on both nights to support rapper Cardi B and country singer Blake Shelton. 

Homeless Numbers Up by 32 Percent

First reported in the Aug. 2 edition of the Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press: The number of homeless people counted in San Luis Obispo County on a single day in 2019 increased by nearly 32 percent compared to 2017 numbers, according to a report released by the SLO County Department of Social Services. 

A one-day census in January 2019 found 1,483 homeless persons throughout SLO County, an increase over the 2017 census, which counted 1,125 homeless persons. 

Paid Parking Begins in Paso

First reported in the Aug. 9 edition of the Paso Robles Press: The City of Paso Robles announced that it would be implementing paid parking downtown on Wednesday, Aug. 14. 

The first week of July, the City began installing 34 pay stations and signage. 

Gong Pleads Guilty

First reported in the Aug. 23 edition of the Atascadero News: Sherry Gong, the wife of San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong, entered guilty pleas to three felony counts of grand theft by embezzlement, the SLO District Attorney’s Office reported. This comes a month after Gong, 48, entered not guilty pleas at which time the case was continued to August.

Pioneer Day Royalty Named

First reported in the Aug. 23 edition of the Paso Robles Press: Pioneer Day royalty was officially announced Aug. 18, at the annual dinner at the Paso Robles Golf Club. Milene Barlogio Radford was named Pioneer Day Queen and brothers Lawrence Duane Moore and Thomas Hardin Moore were named co-marshals.

Scovell Arrested After Chase

First reported in the Aug. 30 edition of the Atascadero News: Following a high-speed chase and lengthy standoff, former Atascadero mayoral candidate Charles Scovell was taken into custody when officers made entry to his motel room. Scovell was transported to Twin Cities Community Hospital for injuries sustained during the incident. He was booked at the San Luis Obispo County Jail on suspicion of evading a peace officer, resisting arrest and other related charges.

Mattsons Adopt Local Newspapers

First reported in the Sept. 18 edition of the Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press: Nic and Hayley Mattson announced their asset purchase of the Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press newspapers, folding the publications into their existing company, Colony Media — publishers of Paso Robles Magazine, Colony Magazine and the Central Coast Traveler. The purchase included monthly publications Morro Bay Life and Avila Life and Vino Magazine, which will be incorporated into the Central Coast Traveler. 

Mechanics Bank Acquires Rabobank

First reported in the Sept. 18 edition of the Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press: Signage at Rabobank was replaced with signs for Mechanics Bank. The acquisition was announced back in March and since then Rabobank customers received notifications of the changes. 

Based in Walnut Creek, Mechanics boasts of 114-year-old full-service community with over 40 branches throughout California and more than $6 billion in assets. The much larger nationally chartered Rabobank, N.A. was comprised of 100 branches and over $13 billion in assets. The purchase included Rabobank’s business banking, commercial real estate, mortgage, and wealth management businesses. On the same day of the agreement, Rabobank announced that it plans to transfer the food and agriculture loan portfolio from its California retail banking operation, Rabobank, N.A., to Rabo AgriFinance. 

Locals Participate in Climate Strike

First reported in the Sept. 25 edition of the Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press: A couple of hundred students from across the North County skipped classes and gathered in downtown Paso Robles and Atascadero, joining the worldwide strike to put the spotlight on climate change. 

The high school and college-age students were joined by people of all walks of life from 9 a.m. to noon at Downtown City Park in Paso Robles and from 1 to 3 p.m. at Sunken Gardens in Atascadero, both locations are within earshot of their respective city halls. 

Organizers estimated the global turnout to be around four million in thousands of cities and towns worldwide. 

It was the first time that children and young people had demonstrated to demand climate action in so many places and such numbers around the world. 

Paso Completes Wastewater Plant

First reported in the Oct. 2 edition of the Paso Robles Press: On Sept. 17 Paso Robles Wastewater Division Manager Matt Thompson informed the City Council of the completion of the City’s Tertiary Treatment Facility, one of the largest infrastructure projects in the City’s history. 

“The City has a master plan to capture wastewater it has disposed to the Salinas River for many decades and turn it into a new supplemental source of water we call recycled water,” Thompson said.

Kiwanis Mark 50th Anniversary

First reported in the Oct. 2 edition of the Atascadero News: Atascadero Kiwanis celebrated its 50th year of serving the community. Member Jack Scott spoke on the changing times and the countless hours the group has donated for the betterment of the city. The local chapter represents the international organization whose mission is to empower communities to improve the world by making lasting differences in the lives of children. 

AHS Principal Announces Retirement

First reported in the Oct. 23 edition of the Atascadero News: After nearly three decades of working in the educational system, Atascadero High School Principal Bill Neely announced his retirement. Not one to toot his own horn, Neely agreed to be interviewed only at the urging of his wife of 35 years, Jeanne. 

One would be hard-pressed to find someone whose whole life revolved around the Atascadero High School more than Neely’s. Playing the part of student, coach, teacher and finally principal, Neely is an icon in the school’s history.

Colony House Museum Closes

First reported in the Oct. 30 edition of the Atascadero News: In October, due to a rash of incidents involving drug activity, vandalism and aggressive behavior from the homeless population, the Atascadero Historical Society temporarily closed the Colony House Museum, located at 6600 Lewis Ave., Atascadero. President Jim Wilkins said that after several incidents the organization suspended museum operations until security measures can be put in place. 

“The homeless that congregate around the area tore apart our 104-110-year old fountain,” said Wilkins listing some of the damage the transient population has done to the facility. 

Crime Hits Downtown Atascadero

First reported in the Nov. 13 edition of the Atascadero News: The City of Atascadero’s downtown area is experiencing vandalism, drug abuse, and vagrancy, and there is no consensus on how to solve the problem. A nonprofit closed its doors for fear of the safety of its docents, prolific drug use has been found on private property and a local business owner posted a warning on social media telling parents to keep their children away from an area the City spent millions of dollars to encourage economic growth and quality of life. 

Dodge Named Veteran of the Year

First reported in the Nov. 13 edition of the Atascadero News: On Monday morning hundreds of local residents, elected officials and veterans from all around the region provided a standing ovation as Leroy Dodge was named the Distinguished Veteran of the Year. Dodge was instrumental in the founding of the Atascadero Faces of Freedom Veterans Memorial Foundation and the construction of the monument itself.

Overcome with emotion, Dodge attempted to give credit for the memorial to other foundation members present at a Veterans Day ceremony at the Faces of Freedom Memorial but he had trouble forming the words through his tears. 

“The people who built this did one whale of a job,” he said.

Paso Passes First Noise Ordinance

First reported in the Nov. 13 edition of the Paso Robles Press: The City of Paso Robles took its first steps in joining the ranks of the sound police. The council held a public hearing and voted 5-0 on the first reading of the City’s first-ever noise nuisance laws at the Nov. 5 Council meeting. 

According to staff, the ordinance “will provide measurable standards for allowed noise levels, which can be enforced to eliminate noise problems affecting the community.” 

PRJUSD Won’t Make Audit Items Public

First reported in the Nov. 20 edition of the Paso Robles Press: Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees settled in closed session Nov. 12 on three items to have an outside audit firm to investigate, but chose not to make them public. 

After meeting behind closed doors for nearly two hours, Superintendent Curt Dubost said it was a tough decision for the board. 

“I can state unequivocally that it was the preference of the board to reveal these but we thought it was dumb not to follow the advice of the firm that we hired,” Dubost said. 

City to Raise Fees For High-Traffic Businesses

First reported in the Dec. 4 edition of the Atascadero News: In an effort to protect its infrastructure and promote more stay-and-play businesses, a new policy by the City of Atascadero may have high-traffic generating businesses looking elsewhere to set up shop. 

Instead of banning drive-thrus like the City of San Luis Obispo, Atascadero City Council voted 5-0 to put in place a policy that directs staff to implement the City’s existing “alternative cost per single trip method” for calculating impact fees for businesses such as gas stations, coffee shops, car washes and other congestion-building business. 

“Drive-thru and fuel station businesses are considered incompatible with future corridor goals and will reduce the ability of other retail, lodging, or job producing land uses to locate there due to potential traffic impacts,” the staff report stated. 

Tobin James Donates Land for Park

First reported in the Nov. 27 edition of the Paso Robles Press: Long-time winery owner Tobin James of Tobin James Cellars purchased the empty lot at the corner of 18th and Spring Streets in 2017 intending to turn the barren patch of land into a small community park. 

The first step toward that goal was taken Nov. 21, when James and City of Paso Robles officials went public with the plan. 

“Paso has been good to me,” Jame said. “My four kids were born here. I love Paso. It’s the center of my universe. There is nothing more than I would love to see than good Paso Robles people enjoying this park and smiling.” 

Donn Clickard First-Ever Member of CSBA Hall of Fame

First reported in the Dec. 11 edition of the Atascadero News: When Atascadero resident Donn Clickard heard about his nomination as the California School Board Association Board Member of the Year for 2019, his first thought was “you’re crazy.” The award was the first of its kind, representing the best of California school boards. 

Clickard accepted the award at the San Diego Convention Center with fellow Atascadero Unified School District trustees as well as superintendent Tom Butler.

New Paso PD Unit Takes to the Streets

First reported in the Dec. 25 edition of the Paso Robles Press: In a new approach to address social challenges, the City of Paso Robles authorized a police-run Community Action Team in July. On Nov. 1, the four-person unit began its mission to build relationships with displaced and at-risk people and direct them to available resources. 

CAT operates under the premise that law enforcement alone is not the solution to social problems. Across the state, police departments and instituting CAT programs to address issues that are specific to their area. For example, Paso Robles has a large displaced population residing in the Salinas riverbed. Therefore officers must be equipped to venture into the riverbed and be well-versed in dealing with homeless individuals. 

City Councils Divvy Up CDBG Money

First reported in the Dec. 25 edition of the Paso Robles Press and the Atascadero News: The City Councils for Atascadero and Paso Robles made preliminary decisions on where to portion out incoming federal funds from a Community Development Block Grant. 

 Atascadero Public Works Department estimates the City will receive $163,833 in 2020, however they have received $600,000 in grant applications. Paso Robles estimates receiving $236,185 in CDBG funding in 2020. Paso Robles received a total of eight grant applications.