Pleasanton City Manager Nelson Fialho, speaking to the Pleasanton Men’s Club last week, remarked that the city senior staff routinely does emergency drills once or twice a year, but those focus on natural disasters such as floods, fires and earthquakes. A world-wide pandemic is new and what’s even more challenging is there’s no timeline for return to whatever is normal.
In his talk, Fialho went back 14 months to put some perspective on the situation. Pleasanton celebrated its 125th anniversary in June 2019 and wrapped up the fiscal year June 30 with a nice surplus and a healthy budget. Unemployment was less than 2 percent and reflected a healthy economy that was humming along.
That continued until the pandemic hit and the lockdown took effect. That reaction/shutdown phase resulted in most city staff working from home from mid-March until September when city leaders started working to help in the recovery.
Fialho was particularly proud of the partnership the city developed with Stanford ValleyCare to operate a drive-through test site at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. He said he believed without the city’s initiative there would not have been a site in the valley. About 1,000 people are tested each week and it ran without any county financial support until September. The cities of Livermore and Dublin also came on board.
It was one of the pandemic-response items that he said he could never have imagined. The same goes for developing a short-term program to house homeless people. That resulted in the city renting hotel rooms. Residents were served one meal daily by Open Heart Kitchen and CityServe provided toiletries and case management.
Hie estimated the cost at $3,150 per resident per month, very efficient compared to San Francisco’s program that is costing $8,000 per month. I volunteer with Miracle Friends, a program of Miracle Messages, that pairs a volunteer with a homeless person sheltering in a San Francisco hotel so I knew the San Francisco cost. That program is scheduled to wind up Dec. 21. The Pleasanton program ran for 3 ½ months and wound up when the shutdown order was modified. Residents worked with CityServe and other providers on transitional housing.
It was this program that Fialho said he could never have imagined Pleasanton operating, but that’s how the pandemic changed what was normal. In response to a question, he said he participated in the one-night homeless count two years ago. That showed that most of the homeless people in Pleasanton were living in their cars and then going to work and returning in the evening to park behind a building or in a parking lot. It counted about 80 people.
Fielding a question from the audience about Oakland’s thought of housing homeless people from there at the fairgrounds, he said the city has flatly told the county officials no. The city’s agreement with the county specifies that any non-fair use on the fairgrounds must have city approval.
The city staff members who had been working from home now have returned to the office in a hybrid schedule that divides departments in half so half of the team is in the office at any one time. And last week, the library re-opened with limited hours and a grab-and-go approach.
As you would expect some revenue streams—hotel tax—have driveled up, while others such as property tax (the largest single revenue source) remains strong. He noted that people continued to buy cars that helped the sales tax, which took a hit because the mall and other retailers were either shutdown or limited in hours.
Fialho said he expected the weekend closure of Main Street to become an annual event from spring into fall. He said the restaurants love it, while the retailers don’t like it all. It wrapped up so the retailers could have a break during the critical holiday season. It will be up to the City Council next year to decide whether to move forward with it.