Friday, September 25, 2020

State bans sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits in stores

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2020 at 4:44 PM

“Adopt don’t shop” is becoming more than just a catchy slogan coined by animal rights activists. It’s slowly becoming state law.

Just a day before “Puppy Mill Awareness Day” on Sept. 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill effectively banning the retail sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits in California pet stores. Under the new restrictions laid out in Assembly Bill 2152, pet stores will be able to partner with animal shelters and rescue organizations to hold adoption events, but will not be allowed to accept any compensation for the adoptions.

“In California, we are putting an end to the cruel puppy mill industry for good,” Newsom said in a Sept. 18 press release. “I am proud to sign this legislation to advance California’s nation-leading animal welfare protections and help more pets join loving families.”
PUPPY PROBLEMS One of many puppies on display at Animal Kingdom’s Santa Maria location in 2019, this Havanese/cocker spaniel blend was being sold for more than $1,500 and was acquired from Bark Adoptions Rescue, according to the information posted in the upper right corner of the window. - FILE PHOTO BY KASEY BUBNASH
  • FILE PHOTO BY KASEY BUBNASH
  • PUPPY PROBLEMS One of many puppies on display at Animal Kingdom’s Santa Maria location in 2019, this Havanese/cocker spaniel blend was being sold for more than $1,500 and was acquired from Bark Adoptions Rescue, according to the information posted in the upper right corner of the window.


AB 2152 is part of a long-running effort to reduce demand for animals that are irresponsibly bred in poor conditions and large numbers—often referred to as “puppy mills”—while increasing demand for the millions of already available shelter animals that are often killed if not adopted. The new bill builds upon an existing law that went into effect in 2019 and requires pet retailers to obtain dogs, cats, and rabbits from animal shelters or rescue groups, and prohibits stores from sourcing directly from breeders.

Although animal rights activists considered that law a step in the right direction, many say it didn’t go far enough, and pet stores across the state—including now-closed local pet store Animal Kingdom—were accused of buying animals from mass breeders disguised as shelters.

In March 2019, animal rights groups Bailing out Benji and Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Animal Kingdom and a shelter it was using to obtain animals, Bark Adoptions, claiming the organizations circumvented state law by selling commercially purebred puppies falsely labeled as rescues.

In San Diego, stores that listed Bark Adoptions as a sourcing shelter were fined hundreds of dollars per pet after an investigation concluded that the "shelter" had not received nonprofit status and was likely a front for mass breeders hoping to get their animals into stores. San Luis Obispo County Animal Services found similar issues with the dogs from Bark Adoptions available at Animal Kingdom but Animal Services Manager Eric Anderson said in a 2019 interview with New Times that the store was able to provide the county with proof that Bark Adoptions had received 501(c)(3) tax exemption status.

Still, Animal Kingdom closed its stores in Santa Maria and Pismo Beach in April 2019, citing revenue losses related to the changes in state law and lawsuits filed against the store and Bark Adoptions. A few months later in July 2019, Animal Kingdom closed its last remaining location in Grover Beach.

Neil Trent is currently the CEO of Woods Humane Society, but before that he worked alongside animal control departments in Southern California when the initial pet stores law went into effect at the beginning of 2019. Trent said he helped conduct raids on a number of pet stores that were “clearly” selling puppies from puppy mills that had gained nonprofit status to pose as shelter and rescue operations.

He’s not sure how the new law will impact Woods—which takes in about 3,000 animals per year, usually from other shelters and animal control operations with lacking capacity—but he’s glad the state is cracking down.

“We were very pleased to see that the governor has moved forward to try to shut this loophole down,” Trent told New Times. ∆

Solvang begins creating design guidelines for continued Copenhagen Street closure

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2020 at 1:48 PM

Solvang’s Branding and Design Committee prioritized outdoor items to fine-tune as it establishes a design guideline for businesses utilizing Copenhagen Street to serve their customers.

At the committee’s first official board meeting and community workshop on Sept. 23, the committee created a list of items that businesses have been using to build a space for customers to dine outside.

LOOKING FOR COHESION Solvang’s new Branding and Design Committee nailed down a priority list to create an outdoor decor guideline for businesses during the continued Copenhagen Street closure. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF SOLVANG
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF SOLVANG
  • LOOKING FOR COHESION Solvang’s new Branding and Design Committee nailed down a priority list to create an outdoor decor guideline for businesses during the continued Copenhagen Street closure.

According to the staff report, the purpose of the Copenhagen Street closure was to allow businesses to expand into the outdoors and increase the number of visitors Solvang could safely accommodate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting was about design guidelines, but several business owners spoke against the continued closure of Copenhagen street during public comment.

Michael and Diane Bron, owners of Pebble People, said the Solvang City Council made the decision without speaking with business owners and didn’t feel that was right.

“We took it upon ourselves to speak to businesses, and spoke to several who had varying opinions, understanding what we needed to do to get through COVID-19 as far as restaurants and eating but not understanding of keeping the closure going as long as was approved,” Diane said.

Michael urged the committee to put their priority list on pause “until the new council comes in, because we have so many businesses today who want no part of this.” Solvang’s mayoral seat and two City Council seats are up for election this year with none of the incumbents seeking reelection.

To ensure that businesses using the outdoor space are using items that are cohesive throughout the street and align with the overall Danish style of the city, the committee made lighting, shading, street barriers, furniture, signage, seating enclosures, and planters/pots a priority.

Given the state guidelines for reopening or shutting down sectors of the economy depending on the number of COVID-19 cases in the county, City Manager Xenia Bradford recommended planning to maintain the closure through June 30, 2021.

The committee directed staff to bring the committee a polished set of guidelines and cost for the businesses and city to its Oct. 8 meeting. ∆

—Karen Garcia

Thursday, September 24, 2020

SLOCOG to host virtual meeting on commuter rail transit study

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2020 at 3:41 PM

There hasn’t been a study on the feasibility and necessity of commuter rail services on the Central Coast in 28 years. But now the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) and the Coast Rail Coordinating Council (CRCC) are teaming up to do just that and more.

In March, SLOCOG and CRCC started work on the Coast Rail Corridor Study, which is aimed at identifying viable ways to increase and improve rail transit options across the Central Coast.

ALL ABOARD On Sept. 30, the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) and the Coast Rail Coordinating Council (CRCC) are hosting a virtual meeting on the Coast Rail Corridor Study. - FILE PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • FILE PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • ALL ABOARD On Sept. 30, the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) and the Coast Rail Coordinating Council (CRCC) are hosting a virtual meeting on the Coast Rail Corridor Study.

“To explain our study in the simplest terms, we have two areas of focus,” SLOCOG Project Manager Anna Devers told New Times. “One will coordinate intercity bus and rail service so that long-distance travel through the Central Coast area is more seamless and provides better options for connecting throughout the state. And the other will look at whether implementing a regional rail system in SLO County and Northern Santa Barbara County is feasible.”

The “regional” portion of the study will evaluate the feasibility of improved commuter service between work hubs like Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Maria, which Devers said could help relieve congestion on Highway 101 at peak travel hours, an effort that will prove more important as the region continues to grow. Needed technologies, service levels, schedule options, necessary rail infrastructure and equipment, and potential funding sources will all be evaluated in the study.

The study—which is being funded by three grants that add up to $650,000 total—is just in its beginning stages and Devers said it should be completed by next summer. Now, SLOCOG and the CRCC are looking for public input on the project.

An online survey will be open until Oct. 2, and at a virtual meeting on Sept. 30 from 5:30 to 7 p.m., the Coast Rail Corridor Study project team will discuss intercity and commuter rail service options and gather feedback from the community. To attend the meeting, please register at: bit.ly/SLOCOG_CRCS_Public_Meeting. ∆

—Kasey Bubnash

Santa Maria seeks input on Active Transportation Plan, applies for state funding

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2020 at 9:30 AM

After nearly two years of public outreach, identifying best practices, and drafting, the city of Santa Maria is in the final stages of its Active Transportation Plan update.

The guide will direct the city in its efforts to make Santa Maria a more accessible place for bikers, pedestrians, those with disabilities, and other car-free commuters.

FINDING FEEDBACK Santa Maria sought public engagement throughout its drafting process for the now complete Active Transportation Plan, including at Open Streets Santa Maria in 2019. A virtual town hall is slated for Sept. 30. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF SANTA MARIA
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF SANTA MARIA
  • FINDING FEEDBACK Santa Maria sought public engagement throughout its drafting process for the now complete Active Transportation Plan, including at Open Streets Santa Maria in 2019. A virtual town hall is slated for Sept. 30.

Dubbed Active Santa Maria, the city is seeking public comment for the plan at a virtual town hall on Sept. 30 from 4 to 5 p.m., and the deadline to comment on the draft is Oct. 31.

Christopher Petro, a Santa Maria Public Works/Engineering Division engineer and Active Santa Maria’s program manager, said the plan is a step forward in making Santa Maria a strong applicant for the state’s highly competitive Active Transportation Program grant funding.

“We have been attempting to receive grant funding for many years now,” Petro told the Sun. “They’re very competitive, with a small pot of money. Those who are able to receive the funding already have an Active Transportation Plan in place … so we realized we needed to have a plan on the books.”

The guide includes project recommendations to improve the city’s accessibility, create dedicated paths for walking and bicycling, increase the safety of school routes, add amenities like seating, shade, and water fountains, and more.

The primary aim, Petro said, is to allow bicyclists and pedestrians to move across Santa Maria with as few high-stress street crossings or connections as possible.

“Level of traffic stress” is a relatively new methodology used in transportation engineering, Petro explained. It rates a road segment or crossing based on the level of traffic stress imposed on bikers. The ultimate goal is to create what Petro called a “giant strip across town” that would use “only low stress connections all the way from the north of the city to the south.”

Now that the plan is drafted, the city can begin acquiring the funding it needs to bring projects to life.

Petro said the city just submitted its application for the current cycle of Active Transportation Plan funding on Sept. 23 and will find out whether it receives the funding in six to eight months.

If funded, Santa Maria would receive a multi-million dollar grant, the largest the Public Works/Engineering department has ever applied for, Petro said. He’s hopeful that the new and improved Active Transportation Plan will make Santa Maria a strong contender in a competitive pool of applicants.

Petro said attendees at the virtual town hall on Sept. 30 can expect a “rundown of the project from start to finish.” The city will record the meeting for those who cannot attend in real time.

Petro hopes that the city will hear from a diverse array of voices.

“We care about every single socioeconomic status coming to us on this,” he said. ∆

—Malea Martin

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Some businesses can reopen indoors as SLO County progresses into red tier

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2020 at 11:06 AM

San Luis Obispo County moved out of the state’s most restrictive set of COVID-19 regulations on Sept. 22, allowing indoor spaces at restaurants, gyms, places of worship, museums, zoos, and aquariums to reopen with restrictions.

While the changes are effective immediately, local health officials warned that they could be quickly reversed if the community sees another surge of cases.

SAFER OUTDOORS Public health officials continue to endorse outdoor spaces as the safest place to conduct business, even as the state allows some sectors to reopen indoors. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF PASO ROBLES
  • FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF PASO ROBLES
  • SAFER OUTDOORS Public health officials continue to endorse outdoor spaces as the safest place to conduct business, even as the state allows some sectors to reopen indoors.
“While we celebrate this small success, we must stay vigilant,” SLO County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein said in a press release. “Our progress depends on each person in SLO County.”

State Department of Public Health data showed on Sept. 22 that SLO County and four others—Alameda, Riverside, San Mateo, and Solano—had progressed into the red tier of the state’s four-tiered Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

In red tier counties, the spread of COVID-19 is considered “substantial”—an improvement from “widespread” in the lowest purple tier where SLO County had been listed for weeks.

Under red tier rules, most businesses with indoor operations that were closed may reopen at 25 percent capacity. Indoor gyms can only reopen at 10 percent capacity.

Bars, breweries, and non-essential offices must remain closed.

If SLO County continues to lower its case and positivity rates even further, it can move to the orange tier, where offices, entertainment centers, and bars may reopen, and other sectors may grow their indoor capacity.

But if the county posts higher rates, it can also backslide to the purple tier again.

In order to move up tiers, a county has to be in its current tier for three weeks and also meet the metrics of a higher tier for two consecutive weeks. To move backward, those metrics must fall below a county’s current tier standards for two consecutive weeks.

In its press release, the SLO County Public Health Department underscored a recent spike in new cases and delivered a warning about potentially see-sawing between tiers.

“If we see an increase in the spread of COVID-19 here, we will move back to purple, and most indoor operations will close again very soon,” Borenstein said.

One challenge, county officials said, is that the state evaluates COVID-19 data on a delayed basis. For example, SLO’s move to the red tier is based on two weeks of data from Aug. 30 to Sept. 12.

Since SLO County tracks many of its COVID-19 metrics in real-time, it knows generally whether or not it’s meeting state targets.

What worries officials are days like Sept. 19, when SLO reported 42 new cases, more than double the minimum daily number needed to remain in the red tier.

But Michelle Shoresman, a county spokesperson, said that the state relies on a two-week case rate average that’s adjusted based on overall test numbers.

“A blip of a day here or there,” she said, is not necessarily a cause for alarm. On Sept. 22, SLO County reported a more modest 15 new cases.

“What we don’t want to see is a consistent increase in case numbers daily,” Shoresman said.

In the department’s release, Borenstein endorsed businesses continuing to use outdoor spaces over indoor spaces—even with the more relaxed rules.

“Outdoor operations remain the safest environment to slow the spread of COVID-19 and should be supported whenever feasible,” she said. ∆

—Peter Johnson

Monday, September 21, 2020

SLO, Santa Barbara counties see largest unemployment rate decrease since April

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2020 at 3:23 PM

With each month that passes, unemployment rates in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties continue to head toward pre-pandemic levels—but both counties still have a ways to go.

The California Labor Market Information Division released preliminary data for August on Sept. 18, according to the Workforce Development Board of Santa Barbara County. August’s unemployment rate in Santa Barbara County dropped to 8 percent, as compared with July’s rate of 10.3 percent.

BACK TO WORK Santa Barbara County unemployment rates dropped from July to August. - GRAPH COURTESY OF WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT BOARD OF SANTA BARBARA COUNTY
  • GRAPH COURTESY OF WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT BOARD OF SANTA BARBARA COUNTY
  • BACK TO WORK Santa Barbara County unemployment rates dropped from July to August.

July’s rate has been adjusted since Aug. 27, when New Times reported it at 10 percent. California initially reports employment numbers based on preliminary data, often revising the information later. Santa Barbara County’s preliminary unemployment rate for August, 8 percent, is subject to change.

According to California Employment Development Department data, at this time last year, Santa Barbara County’s unemployment rate sat around 3 percent.

August marks the largest month-to-month drop in the unemployment rate since the start of the pandemic, when Santa Barbara County’s jobless residents spiked from 5.7 percent in March to 13.9 percent in April.

Similarly in San Luis Obispo County, the unemployment rate continues to decrease from its pandemic-related high.

The rate spiked from 3.8 percent in March to 14 percent in April. Since then, it has consistently dropped about 1 to 1.5 percent each month, similar to Santa Barbara County. Return to the labor force ramped up in August and SLO County’s unemployment rate dropped down to 7.8 percent, a 2.2 percent decrease from July. SLO County’s unemployment rate was 3 percent in August 2019 and 2.5 percent in September 2019. ∆

—Malea Martin

Arata’s attorneys to challenge charges on First Amendment grounds

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2020 at 1:55 PM

Local activist and protest leader Tianna Arata appeared in a second virtual San Luis Obispo County court hearing on Sept. 17 and for the second time entered no plea for the 13 misdemeanor charges filed against her.

Arata’s defense attorneys Patrick Fisher and Curtis Briggs asked to continue the arraignment to allow them time to file a demurrer and challenge Arata’s charges on First Amendment grounds.

COURT PROCESS Supporters stood in solidarity outside the SLO County Courthouse for local activist and protest leader Tianna Arata's first virtual court hearing on Sept. 3, but were not present for her Sept. 17 hearing. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • COURT PROCESS Supporters stood in solidarity outside the SLO County Courthouse for local activist and protest leader Tianna Arata's first virtual court hearing on Sept. 3, but were not present for her Sept. 17 hearing.

During the hearing, Briggs said the charges filed against their client were “unconstitutional and most did not add up to a crime.”

A demurrer is a written response that pleads for dismissal on the point that even if the facts alleged in the complaint were true, there isn’t a legal basis for a case. Some demurrers contend that the complaint is unclear or omits an essential element of fact. A hearing before a judge will be held to determine whether the demurrer is valid.

Arata was arrested hours after a July 21 protest in which she and other protesters marched onto Highway 101 and blocked traffic. Protesters had two incidents with vehicles—one occurred on the highway and is under investigation by the California Highway Patrol.

Arata was released in the early morning following her arrest. The San Luis Obispo Police Department recommended she be charged with five felonies and three misdemeanors, however SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow is charging her with 13 misdemeanors.

The misdemeanors included unlawful assembly, disturbing the peace, six counts of obstruction of a thoroughfare, and five counts of false imprisonment.

Arata’s next virtual court hearing is Oct. 22. ∆

—Karen Garcia

Friday, September 18, 2020

SLO County slows down COVID-19, could reopen more business sectors next week

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2020 at 5:09 PM

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the date range during which SLO County met the state's metrics as of Sept. 18.

Indoor spaces at restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, and places of worship could reopen again as early as next week due to declining levels of COVID-19 in San Luis Obispo County.

Between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5—and for the first time since July—SLO County met the state’s metrics to progress out of its most restrictive set of rules and closures imposed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

PROGRESS SLO County could move into the next tier of the state’s reopening plan next week if the current COVID-19 numbers hold. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • PROGRESS SLO County could move into the next tier of the state’s reopening plan next week if the current COVID-19 numbers hold.

Over the past week, SLO County averaged 6.3 cases per 100,000 residents and reported a 2.9 percent positivity rate. If those numbers hold through Sept. 22, the county will move into Tier 2 (the “red tier”) of the state’s four-tiered Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

Counties must meet those benchmarks for two consecutive weeks to move forward. They can also move backwards if they don’t meet them for two weeks.

“We are optimistic that SLO County will move forward into the red tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy next week,” SLO County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein said in a Sept. 18 press release, “and that more businesses will be able to open indoor operations. To get there, we need every person in our community to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19. We must stay vigilant.”

Under the red tier rules, stores and shopping centers can grow their capacity to 50 percent (from 25 percent) and sectors that were barred from operating at all indoors may reopen with restrictions. Those sectors include restaurants, personal care services, museums, zoos, and aquariums, places of worship, movie theaters, and gyms.

Schools may also reopen for in-person instruction if the county can stay in the red tier for at least two weeks, according to the state blueprint.

While SLO is poised to make progress on the blueprint, Santa Barbara County isn’t. As of Sept. 15, Santa Barbara County averaged 9.1 cases per 100,000 residents—two cases higher than the needed threshold. ∆
—Peter Johnson

Santa Barbara County narrows applicant pool for redistricting committee

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2020 at 4:32 PM

Nearly 200 Santa Barbara County residents applied to serve on a citizens' commission responsible for drawing the lines that will define the county’s five supervisorial districts for the next 10 years. Only 11 of those applicants will be chosen to serve.

When Santa Barbara County voters approved Measure G in 2018, they enabled the creation of the Citizens’ Independent Redistricting Commission, a group of 11 Santa Barbara County residents who will use data collected during the 2020 U.S. Census to adjust the boundaries of the county’s supervisorial districts. The process is an attempt to create districts that will better represent the county’s current population.

It won’t be an easy job, according to county Communications Manager Gina DePinto. She said the chosen commissioners, who won’t get paid, will be charged with digging through and analyzing in-depth Census data, conducting massive outreach on the issue throughout the county, and eventually developing the new district map.

“There will be a minimum—minimum—of 14 public hearings before there is a final map,” DePinto told New Times.

But before all of that, commissioners have to be chosen. On Sept. 15, the county announced that its Elections Office had narrowed it down to 45 of the most qualified applicants, who are divided into pools based on their districts. At a Board of Supervisors meeting on Oct. 20, the county District Attorney will randomly select an applicant from each district to appoint to the commission. Those five commissioners will then be tasked with interviewing the remaining candidates and filling the rest of the seats.

That process will be carried out through October and November and will include a public hearing, DePinto said. The Citizens’ Independent Redistricting Commission has to be finalized by Dec. 31. ∆

—Kasey Bubnash

Pismo Beach begins prep for possible mudslides after Avila Fire

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2020 at 9:28 AM

When the Avila Fire ignited on June 15, firefighters were able stop it after just a few days and 445 acres burned. No homes or lives were lost, but Pismo Beach city staff worry that the loss of vegetation in the scorched hills surrounding Pismo could lead to another emergency: mudslides.
PREPARING FOR THE WORST Bright green seeding on the fire-scorched hills around Pismo Beach is part of an effort to prepare for and prevent mudslides in the area during the coming rainy season. - PHOTO BY KASEY BUBNASH
  • PHOTO BY KASEY BUBNASH
  • PREPARING FOR THE WORST Bright green seeding on the fire-scorched hills around Pismo Beach is part of an effort to prepare for and prevent mudslides in the area during the coming rainy season.

“Obviously we don’t know that we will have them,” City Manager Jim Lewis said at a Pismo Beach City Council meeting on Sept. 17. “But we were very successful in working with fire, police, and public works to mitigate a major fire in the community in June, and now comes the continued discussion. And so I know this council is very focused on emergency preparedness, very focused on public safety and protecting your residents, and so the staff is rising to that challenge, and I have appointed a committee of experts from that staff and others to prepare for mudslide prep.”

Pismo Beach Management Services Director Jorge Garcia is a part of that team, which he said is already hard at work creating emergency mudslide evacuation plans, mapping out what areas of the city are most likely to be hit, and installing preventative fixtures in the hills that were burned by the Avila Fire.

While Garcia said Pismo Beach has been planning for a wildfire emergency for years, mudslide prep is largely new territory.

“So historically speaking we have not really had mudslides,” Garcia told New Times. But, he added, “we have not had fires significant like this.”

The roots of trees and other plants help keep loose soil from running down hillsides, so mudslides are common in hilly and mountainous regions that lack significant vegetation. It’s unclear how much moisture Pismo is expected to see this winter and how likely it is that a mudslide will occur. But after the 2018 mudslides in Santa Barbara—which killed 23 people and happened in hills that had been hard hit by wildfires weeks earlier—Garcia said Pismo isn’t taking any chances.

The city is working to install guard rails and fencing along especially vulnerable roads and neighborhoods, along with swale drainage systems that can catch and direct mud and water along the hills.

But Garcia said the city doesn’t actually own much of the impacted hillside. Some of the land is SLO County property, some is owned by homeowners associations, and other portions are part of a private ranch. The city can’t force those entities to do the work necessary to prevent mudflow, but it’s in contact with them. Some of the homeowners associations have already responded to the city and recently started laying seeding in hopes of growing some vegetation before the rainy season.

“This is not something the city can do alone,” Garcia said. ∆

—Kasey Bubnash
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