How the City of Petaluma is working in the ‘new normal’

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In the slightly more than three weeks since shelter in place (SIP) has defined our lives, a new normal has taken shape. Most of our city’s residents are either working from home or not working at all. Our students’ spring break transitioned to into distance learning from home and online. The meaning of “essential” has been legally redefined.

Our city staff and community have leapt into action with the same determination and dedication we have shown in the past when Petaluma provided shelter, food and comfort for our neighbors burned out of their homes and neighborhoods. This time is different. This time we are all profoundly affected.

This time, our city is working with a skeleton crew — the essential workers needed to keep us going, to provide our residents with essential services during this pandemic. It isn’t easy, but under the determined leadership of City Manager Peggy Flynn, those few workers are getting the job done while addressing new concerns brought on by the SIP order.

Staff has started an electronic bulletin, Daily Update, in English and Spanish, presenting coordinated civic, economic and health related guidance and information to our community. It just gets better every day. It is available as an email, on social media and on the city website.

We have also pivoted to virtual city governance. While the operations of our city’s government have moved online, it is imperative that we maintain transparency in our decision-making. We have a legal requirement and an ethical commitment to ensure that the public is informed of and able to participate in the decision making process.

This virtual governance is new for all of us and we are committed to a process that informs, includes and serves the public. Please be part of this new phase. Let us know what is working and how we can improve.

This new normal will end. We will be back in City Hall for meetings and back in our community together. Until then, it is critical that at every level of government, no controversial or irreversible decisions go forward without full public vetting. We must protect the public’s right to weigh in on decisions that affect our community.

We don’t know for certain how long SIP will be in place. It is realistic to assume SIP will continue beyond the May 3 date. But, we can do this. SIP slows the spread of the virus, and it is the best support we can give our courageous medical and public safety workers.

We are watching things run their course and yet our first line responders continue to be on duty as COVID19 evolves around us. This includes our fire and police officers, but also, our public works department workers who need to address essential city services.

I know we all feel great appreciation for them as they stay on duty. We must all do our part to help keep our first responders safe. Our local grocery store employees also deserve an appreciative Petaluma “shout out.” Where would we be if we couldn’t get food?

And some people can’t. So I am always grateful, and quite honestly proud, that Petaluma has a history of taking care of those in need in our community. We have the infrastructure in place to do it: Petaluma People Services Center, COTS, our interfaith food pantries and our service clubs work together and provide for others when there is need.

Now, more than ever, we must help those organizations do this work. People who have never needed help before will need it in the coming weeks and months. We must be certain that help is here. If you can, donate to one of these organizations, you will be helping someone you know.

The one scientifically proven action we know that each of us can and must take to slow down the spread of coronavirus and save lives is staying home. This is the most direct route to getting back to work or together with friends, enjoying the Butter and Egg Days Parade, sports, or a day around town.

Stay strong. Stay connected. We are resilient. We are in this together.

(Teresa Barrett is the mayor of Petaluma.)

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