Heather Moreno, Josh Donovan and Jerry Tanimoto participate in Chamber Of Commerce virtual event

ATASCADERO — The Atascadero Chamber of Commerce held a Thursday night forum between incumbent Mayor Heather Moreno and her two challengers Josh Donovan and Jerry Tanimoto.

The forum included three minutes for introductions for candidates, five questions and five minutes for closing remarks. The forum began at 7 p.m. and was held virtually via Zoom.

The forum was moderated by Chamber of Commerce Chairman Tom Jones, who opened the event stating that the questions were generated from the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce membership, the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce Diversity Council, and Legislative and Economic Council.

This was the third and final forum in a series the Chamber held in 2020. In January, they had a forum between District Supervisor candidates Ellen Beraud and Debbie Arnold, and on Oct. 25, they hosted the five candidates for the Atascadero City Council.

The forum opened with each candidate giving their opening statements and making their case for why they should be the next mayor of Atascadero.

Jones opened the question-and-answer portion with the same two questions asked in the City Council candidates forum and then dove into what are considered three of Atascadero’s top topics of debate — cannabis, homelessness and the upcoming one-cent sales tax increase measure.

In their opening statements, each of the candidates provided the viewers with background information on their lives and desires for the mayor’s position. Jones opened the forum questions with an obligatory one surrounding the most significant needs in the City, and each candidate briefly stated their platform and ideas for improvement.

Moreno opened the answer portion stating economic development continues to be Atascadero’s most pressing issue and provided how she and the Council helped steer the City in the right direction.

Tanimoto spoke about the City’s need to address the homeless situation first and foremost. He talked about increases to police and public safety budgets to help as well as enlisting the assistance of potentially interested interns from Cal Poly that are working toward a future in mental health.

Donovan, who spoke last, agreed that economic development and homelessness were important issues but stated that the primary issue is the COVID-19 pandemic and opening local businesses.

Two questions later, Jones asked the candidates if the City should change its policy that currently only allows residents to order deliveries of cannabis rather than establishing a dispensary or retail shop, in the name of generating revenue.

Both Moreno and Tanimoto were in favor of the talking point and making it a discussion but ultimately feared it might not be best for a variety of reasons, including compromising values of the City and some that live within it.

“We have to decide what kind of community we want to be, what are we going to look like as a City,” Moreno said. “Because this decision forever imprints who we are, it doesn’t get undone.”

Donovan argued for the change, stating Atascadero voters have already twice voted in favor of cannabis and that it should be an option explored for economic growth.

“If our constituents have already asked for access to the product, and we are already allowing that product to come into Atascadero,” Donovan said. “It’s really hard for me to reconcile why we aren’t pursuing retail locations.”

The next question surrounded the proposed 1% sales tax increase on the Nov. 3 ballots. Again, Moreno and Tanimoto agreed, this time supporting the measure the City Council placed on the upcoming ballot while Donovan provided his reasons against it.

“I support the measure because our City has been using their reserve funds to pay all the bills and keep Atascadero City afloat,” Tanimoto said. “Yes, we need more police and more firemen, and this particular tax would help generate that kind of revenue. There are so many services in our City that have had to be cut back because we haven’t been generating enough revenue.”

Both Moreno and Tanimoto touched on the fact that Atascadero currently generates less tax revenue than any other city in the county, which has led to skeleton police crews and deteriorating firehouses.

“This is being painted as an emergency services tax that is going to go toward our police and fire, and I am very much in favor in that,” Donovan said in response to the needs of public safety. “I want them to get that funding, but I don’t believe this tax is the answer.”

Donovan stated his issue with the sales tax measure is that there is no guarantee that the money generated will go directly to police and fire and will end up being spent on other city matters.

As the current mayor, Moreno addressed why the tax isn’t solely dedicated to public safety in her answer to the question.

“If we are tight in the police department can you imagine that it is probably the same way in community development, public works and across the entire city,” Moreno said. “…Not one public safety employee asked to have it dedicated to public safety because they know this is a City-wide need.”

Following the final question, each of the three candidates ended the forum with their closing statements before logging off. To view this forum in its entirety, go to the @Atascaderochamber Facebook page and look for the video posted on their wall.

Getting through this together, Atascadero