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Petaluma declares coronavirus emergency

Petaluma council members ratified an emergency declaration Monday night, further shutting down government operations to only essential services in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

It’s one of a handful of otherwise extraordinary measures the city is taking to address the public health crisis and attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, amid successive orders issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom and a Tuesday evening shelter-in-place order putting Sonoma County on lockdown for three weeks.

The decision to offer only essential services came in response to suggestions made during Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Sunday press conference, and was later reaffirmed by the county’s shelter-in-place order that requires local governments countywide pare down their operations to comply with the mandate.

All public-facing city facilities, including City Hall and the Petaluma Community Center, are closed to the public through April 7, per the shelter-in-place order issued by Sonoma County. The April 6 city council meeting is canceled, as are committees and other public meetings. The April 20 council meeting is still on the books, but is subject to cancellation should state or county orders change.

Emergency services such as fire and police will continue to operate in the city, and Petaluma public transportation bus and paratransit routes continue to operate on regular schedules. The public works and utilities department will continue delivering water, collecting and treating wastewater and addressing traffic and road safety repairs, and the city’s Economic Development office is answering questions from the business community.

Although the city will continue to operate on this slimmed down model, city manager Peggy Flynn said basic needs will continue to be met.

“Resident can rest assure that we’re here, all the city’s essential services including things like water, public safety, even building inspections and some online permitting are continuing,” Flynn said. “We’re keeping things moving.”

To further encourage social distancing, the city introduced a call-in service allowing members of the public to stay home and while participating in public comments at Monday night’s council meeting. The new feature is likely to become a staple in the coming weeks after health officials continue to advise against gatherings larger than 10 people and Petalumans settle in to the county’s shelter-in-place order.

Councilman Gabe Kearney, an employee of the state’s emergency operations wing Cal OES, called in from Milbrae Monday night himself, taking advantage of a state order allowing officials to participate remotely.

Council members Monday immediately expressed unanimous urgency to address halting eviction orders to protect individuals in the city who are suffering from a rapid economic downturn and the forced closure of numerous businesses, especially restaurants and bars. Flynn said Petaluma is working with the city attorneys of other Sonoma County cities to explore how to best take advantage of Gov. Newsom’s announcement Monday giving local governments the power to stop landlords from evicting tenants unable to pay rent.

“We need to see where the state is going, but we do have real concerns about our business community and our lower income residents,” Flynn said. “As the economy is slowing down, it will affect everyone, but especially our workforce and lower income families and small businesses.”

Mayor Teresa Barrett said she urges people to remain safe and rely on information released by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, cautioning against the spread of disinformation during a rapidly evolving situation. Updates on city services are accessible through their website, as is contact information for individual departments and a list of available services.

“Even though our facilities are closed our staff is here to serve the community, we will continue to stand with the people of Petaluma,” Flynn said. “We ask for people’s patience, flexibility and to stay connected during this emergency.”

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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