City Council rejects state’s strict order, votes to return to ‘Purple Tier’ restrictions
‘I will not criminalize a business owner,’ says Councilman John Hamon
–The Paso Robles City Council held a special meeting Thursday night to discuss just one issue: “Business viability and the Governor’s new stay at home order.”
City Manager Tom Frutchey outlined the issues and the council began a lengthy discussion. After each council member weighed in on the matter, the council took almost 50 phone calls from citizens who commented on it. Most of those who called in described the desperate financial situation facing many small businesses in the city. Restaurant and winery owners, hair salons, and many other business owners and employees described how damaging the shutdown has been to their livelihood and future.
After four hours of public testimony and council discussion, the council made its decision. Mayor Steve Martin made a motion:
“I move that we maintain purple restriction levels in the City of Paso Robles and that we support the redesignation of our county, moving it out of the LA statistical area for the purposes of COVID evaluation; that we continue our course of empathy and education using our chamber (of commerce) partners with local businesses; that we allow our public health officer at the county level to designate what indeed is egregious or flagrant, and let us know of those instances. I don’t think that we need our officers in the field making those decisions. And finally, I think that as far as the length of the course of action, I think this would stay in effect until a review is needed based on local developments or new state mandates. That would be my motion.”
Councilman Steve Gregory agreed with the mayor’s motion, saying, “Second, that’s perfect.” The council then voted unanimously, 5-0, in support of the motion.
The state’s order had caused closures of various sectors, including indoor and outdoor playgrounds; hair salons and personal care services; wineries, bars, breweries, and distilleries, and restricted hotels to only hosting essential workers. The practical effect of the city’s motion on Thursday is that the city will not be enforcing those orders.
During the discussion, Councilman John Hamon said the city should roll back to the purple tier, follow the rules strictly, be respectful and “keep our businesses alive,” adding “I will not criminalize a business owner.”
Councilman Gregory said, “We should keep an eye on the bed count, but I think we need to go back to the purple tier.”
The city will encourage and enforce the stipulations outlined in the state’s Purple Tier. The city will ask County Health Director Penny Borenstein to advise them of any “egregious or flagrant violations” occurring in the city.
Of the dozens of local business owners and community members who called in, only a few supported the governor’s new order. Those speaking in support of the city taking action included Gina Fitzpatrick of the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce, Norma Moye of the Downtown Paso Robles Main Street Association, attorney Dale Gustin, Jeffry Wiesinger of Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ, Justin Hansen of Hansen Enterprises, Ryan Paine of Lazer Star Lights, Tony Bennett of the Alchemists’ Garden, Brandon Stier of PRotect Paso, and Brad Daugherty of Cider Creek Bakery.
Gina Fitzpatrick of the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce said, “Our business community is fatigued – employees are anxious and concerned about their employment status and business owners are reaching indescribable levels of stress. We appreciate the city’s interest in assisting our local businesses and providing support where needed. We commit to continue working with you and city staff to address these needs.” The chamber of commerce has worked with the city in responding to complaints against local businesses by offering in-person visits to discuss state guidance and ask for voluntary compliance.
Norma Moye of the Downtown Paso Robles Main Street Association said if authorities needed to arrest someone for keeping businesses open, “You can put me in jail, I don’t care!”
Stacie Jacob of Solterra Strategies, speaking for Travel Paso, said hotels are looking at very bleak occupancy numbers going forward, as low as 20-percent. She also asked the council to think about fairness and equity in how regulations are applied. She later added that she does not support a rebuke of the state’s lockdown.
Ryan Paine of Lazer Star Lights said, “Going forward, staying open, keeping our businesses open, keeping our community safe, we are doing it. You guys just need to have our back, because we already have yours.”
Mayor Martin said the city’s efforts should be focused on empathy, education, and counseling. Using law enforcement is not a viable option, he said. “When someone calls me and says someone is not wearing a face mask, send a policeman, I say, ‘there are not enough police in the world for that’.”
He said the city supports and will work with the three counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura who are asking the state to remove them from the Southern California region of COVID-19 restrictions and create a separate Central Coast region.
The motion to maintain Purple Tier restrictions comes at the 4:00 mark in the audio recording below:
Following the city’s decision, Brandon Stier with PRotect Paso posted to social media, “Christmas came early, the City of Paso Robles passes 5-0, we stay open as in Purple Tier! Huge win! Great job Paso, your voices made a huge impact tonight! We will take all of the wins we can get. Keep at it, and keep doing what’s best for your business.”
Tony Bennett, a co-owner of the Alchemists’ Garden, said, “I’m happy that they are supporting our business. This was a huge step for us, as many of us wouldn’t have made it through to next year with this closure, and I’m not sure if they knew that. Very happy our community is behind us as well. It was refreshing to hear our fellow locals supporting stay home or go out and understand the risks involved.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Stacie Jacob of Solterra Strategies does not support a rebuke of the state’s shutdown.