On Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for more extreme measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, including self-isolation for people over the age of 65. Heeding the governor’s advice, Arcata Mayor Michael Winker and Vice-Mayor Paul Pitino, both in their 70s, are staying home and the Arcata City Council will hold its meeting via teleconference on Wednesday.
Winkler and Pitino — both reached on the phone by the Outpost yesterday — wanted to reassure the public that neither of them has coronavirus symptoms or have knowingly been exposed to the virus. They are simply following the governor’s guidelines and trying to set a good example of taking preventative measures.
“Acting sooner rather than later can have the greatest impact on minimizing people infected,” Winkler told the Outpost, adding that he strongly urged the council to hold the meeting electronically. “Because we’re in an outlying area, we’ll probably be hit slightly later than other areas. We need to make the best use that we possibly can of that extra time.”
Although many social events and meetings have been canceled in an effort to promote social-distancing, until Sunday the Arcata City Council still planned to hold an in-person meeting. But when the governor’s recommendations became more stringent and two council members could no longer be physically present, the council and city staff knew they would need to come up with another plan. (The council has only four members at the moment, following the resignation of Councilmember Susan Ornelas last week.)
Gov. Newsom also temporarily waived sections of the Brown and Bagley-Keene Acts, which required the physical presence of government officials, staff or the public to participate in public meetings, authorizing state and local bodies to hold meetings by teleconference.
Though it is good news that the council has a way to still hold the meeting, Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer told the Outpost that this method certainly presents a challenge for staff. Several council members have teleconferenced into meetings when they were unable to physically attend. But this will be the council’s first attempt to have all members communicate through the online platform.
Staff is also still working out how to allow members of the public to participate through the teleconference system. Diemer said that city council chambers in city hall will be open during the meeting and there will be a way for people to watch and participate. But staff is still sorting out the kinks figuring out exactly how that will work. Staff and the council will be testing the system today, to be sure it is ready for tomorrow’s meeting, Diemer said.
Members of the community can also send in their comments to Arcata City Clerk Bridget Dory, either in a written letter or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Diemer recommends email as the easiest and safest way. In order to be read during the city council meeting, all comments must be submitted by 5:00 p.m on Wednesday, March 18 — one hour before the meeting.
In addition to ensuring the council meeting can take place, Diemer said the city is working on ways to maintain other essential services, while refining safety and health measures. Except for the council meeting, all other meetings have been canceled, along with all city-run recreation programs and activities and some facilities have been closed including the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center.
Arcata City Hall will remain open, though Diemer requests that the public communicate via phone or email and pay all bills online, if possible. The City will not shut anyone’s water off due to non-payment, for the time being.
The Arcata Farmers Market on the Plaza will continue to operate, Diemer said, determined to provide an essential service. It is important for people to have access to fresh food, Diemer said, adding that locally produced food could be safer because it has been handled by less people. Also, because the farmer’s market is smaller this time of year and outdoors, it should be easy for people to practice good social-distancing.
One of the city’s biggest concerns right now, Diemer said, is the effect social distancing is having on the local economy. The city is working with the chamber of commerce to figure out ways to keep local businesses open. Diemer recommends that small business owners check out the online resources available, including info on small business loans.
“If we all can comply, hopefully we can shorten the duration of this event so business can get back up and running,” Diemer said. “I want to thank the public for stepping up and doing their part to keep everyone safe.”
The council will be discussing the City of Arcata’s COVID-19 response at the meeting on Wednesday, March 18 at 6 p.m, along with the Arcata Community Health Center project, the Creekside Homes project and other important issues.
Again, public comment can be submitted by Wednesday at 5:00 p.m to the Arcta City Clerk Bridget Dory either in person or by email at email@example.com.