Police department focuses on responsibility and cooperation

NORTH COUNTY — On Mar. 31, the City of Paso Robles informed residents that it plans to enforce the closure of businesses deemed nonessential. The statement follows a unanimous decision (5-0) to adopt urgency ordinance that affirms orders given by the County of San Luis Obispo Officials in response to the COVID-19. The adoption of the law provides the City an official avenue of enforcement.

Pine Street in Paso Robles. Photo by Nicholas Mattson

The City of Atascadero Officials stated that they have not officially adopted the SLO County’s urgency ordinance.

“We haven’t had an issue in Atascadero with nonessential businesses being open, and we are very supportive of businesses that are both essential and nonessential,” Public Information Officier Terrie Banish wrote in an email.

Galaxy Theaters in Atascadero. Photo by Nicholas Mattson

A quick drive down Atascadero’s main thoroughfare showed nonessential businesses are still open, including car lots, a hairdresser, custom framing shop, and a pawn shop.

Banish told the Paso Robles Press that Atascadero is following the County’s guideline for essential and nonessential businesses and will enforce the urgency ordinance.

“Nonessential businesses are not allowed to be open,” Banish clarified in a phone interview.

Banish said that noncompliant businesses have not been a problem in Atascadero. However, she said people should call police dispatch at (805) 461-5051 to report infractions.

Quiet El Camino Real in Atascadero. Photo by Nicholas Mattson

In contrast, the City of Paso Robles is using its administrative citation process outline in the municipal code 1.03.010 (Ord. 932 N.S. § 2 (part), 2007). Code enforcement officers can issue a citation. However, fines can be waived if the violation is corrected within 15 days.

“If a business chooses to stay open despite a determination that the business is not essential, there could be administrative fines and sanctions,” PRPD Chief Ty Lewis said, “I certainly don’t want to go down that road, and hope everyone understands the position they’ll put themselves and my officers in if they don’t comply.” 

The municipal code states that administrative fines continue to increase based on the number of citations received. The maximum penalty for the first violation is $100 and then doubles for the second violation. Infractions after the second violation could cost the business $500 each. Companies can appeal citations, but the municipal code warns that the City may collect any past-due administrative citation fine or late payment charge by use of any and all available legal means. However, a hefty fine may not be the only price paid for business owners refusing to close their doors temporarily. Officials say that the City reserves the right to revoke business licenses.

12th Street in Paso Robles. Photo by Nicholas Mattson

“Of course we are hoping for cooperation,” Paso Robles Emergency Public Information Officer Angelica Fortin said. “Our Chief, Ty Lewis, is focusing on people, trying to ensure that people are being responsible and cooperating with the City.” 

Business violations in Paso Robles can be reported at (805) 237-6464 or through the County Enforcement Line at (805) 788-2222. County officials said that a multitude of calls have already come in reporting violations. SLO County Employee Cody Sheel that the hotline received over 50 calls in one day. Calls are public record, but callers are not required to give their personal information when placing a complaint.

A list of essential businesses determined by SLO County can be found online at https://www.emergencyslo.org/en/businesses-that-may-remain-open.aspx.

To view types of businesses opened for limited service, go to https://www.emergencyslo.org/en/businesses-open-for-limited-service.aspx

Both Paso Robles and Atascadero lead the County in reported cases of COVID-19, with Paso Robles at 22 and Atascadero at 15. Templeton reported six cases as of Thursday, Apr. 2. Measures to flatten the curve include physical distancing and refraining from nonessential business activities. Overnight, from Wednesday to Thursday, Paso Robles and Atascadero reported no new cases, while the rest of the County increased with eight new cases.

Entrada Avenue in Atascadero. Photo by Nicholas Mattson

For more information regarding COVID-19 or to report large congregations of people, call the County Phone Assistance Center at (805) 543-2444.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles