Government employees are working, but officials are taking extra precautions to limit interaction with the public as the coronavirus pandemic continues to claw at the nation.
“In an abundance of caution and in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the Planning and Development Department is closing the public service counters at the Santa Barbara and Santa Maria locations from Tuesday, March 17 to April 3,” county offiicals stated.
Officials are encouraging the submittal of materials electronically via email or through other digital platforms. The county rescheduled all of its in-person appointments to telephone, Go To Meetings, or Skype.
The city followed suit. The City Council on Tuesday declared a local state of emergency, ordering movie theatres, live performances and entertainment venues, gyms and fitness centers to close to the public. The order will begin Wednesday, March 18 and last through April 7.
Nina Johnson, assistant to the city administrator, said all counters in the city are closed to comply with “social distancing” orders.
The city also encourages people to pay bills, submit plans, renew library materials, and request services online. Johnson said city offices continue to run as usual.
Libraries throughout the county and cities are closed, but people can still check out digital books and videos.
The city’s parks and recreation department has also closed Los Baños del Mar swimming pool, the Carrillo Gym, and the Carrillo Recreation Center. All outdoor organized sports, spring break camps and beach volleyball classes are canceled. Only golf at the Santa Barbara Golf Club will be allowed, as long as players are six feet apart.
The Westside Neighborhood Center, Franklin Neighborhood Center, Louise Lowry Davis Center and Parque de los Niños will stay open for food distribution and brown bag pickup programs only.
Santa Barbara’s traffic cops will continue to work. Timed parking on city streets will still be enforced, but officials have temporarily halted street sweeping so cars won’t have to move to avoid a ticket.
The shutdown has also impacted the Santa Barbara County Public Defender’s Office, which is asking people who have pending criminal cases to contact their public defender’s office so a deputy public defender can make court appearances on their behalf.
“Our goal is to assist the Public Health Department in implementing the recommended social distancing measures,” Public Defender Tracy Macuga said. “Unfortunately, our courtrooms are often standing room only. As always, our primary commitment is to our clients and, right now, ensuring their health and safety is paramount. In order to slow the transmission of COVID-19, we must reduce foot traffic in and out of our courthouse.”
In Goleta, all public counters are closed. Stow Grove Park reservations are canceled with no new reservations through April 30. Special event permits issued for the months of March and April are canceled and no new permits will be issued through April 30.
Tuesday’s Santa Barbara City Council and Santa Barbara Unified School District meetings forced attendees to remain six feet apart. The school board limited public attendance to no more than 10 people. The city of Goleta on Tuesday night instituted the same rule.
Even elected officials don’t have to attend meetings. Gov. Gavin Newsom relaxed the state’s open meetings law to allow board members to participate and for public comment to be taken remotely.
Solvang, Buellton and Guadalupe also closed their public counters. Guadalupe shut some city services altogether.
“To protect our community, we need to take serious action now to suppress the spread of COVID-19, which will require temporarily limiting access to City Hall and other city facilities,” City Administrator Todd Bodem said. “We will continue to provide services, such as public safety, that our community relies on during these difficult times and will utilize technology to continue to be available to answer questions and provide information.”
In Santa Maria, all government events have been canceled, but employees are still working.