Hosted by the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce with CEO Steve Van Dorn giving opening remarks, the one-hour virtual event on March 9 was also attended by public officials such as the entire Pleasanton Unified School District Board of Trustees, as well as representatives from the offices of State Senator Steve Glazer and Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley.
Brown, who was elected mayor in November after serving eight years on the City Council, delivered her 37-minute speech remotely, the theme of it being "'we are in this together, and we are stronger as a team."
"There is no question as we reflect on this past year, that the pandemic and its impacts continue to be the primary challenge faced by our city," Brown said. "As a councilmember and now as mayor, I have had the privilege of witnessing how the entire Pleasanton community has come together in response to this deadly virus."
Brown summarized how the city spent much of the time since March 2020 providing essential resources and services to its most vulnerable residents, including delivering over 100 meals a week through the Meals on Wheels senior lunch program, offering rides to medical appointments and grocery shopping trips through the senior paratransit program and sheltering unhoused residents.
"We had already seen a rise in food insecurity, and an increased need for housing, mental health resources and access to health care. COVID-19 has only amplified those community needs for our most vulnerable residents," Brown said.
The city and Alameda County Fairgrounds also created a food distribution site with the Alameda County Community Food Bank, Tri-Valley Haven and Open Heart Kitchen, serving more than 2,600 Tri-Valley residents each week. Many city staff members helped in preparing meals at Open Heart, as well as packing and delivering groceries to seniors, and providing free child care to local front-line workers at Gingerbread Preschool.
Recognizing the increased need for help during the pandemic, the city also fully funded more than $1.2 million in grant requests last year to local nonprofits like Open Heart Kitchen, Tri-Valley Haven and CityServe of the Tri-Valley, as well as Axis Community Health, Hively, NAMI Tri-Valley and Sunflower Hill.
Brown added, "These important organizations are frequently looking for volunteers. I hope you will join me and volunteer."
Though most local businesses have "showcased their resilience and creativity" and managed to stay afloat by adjusting their business model, such as switching to takeout, delivery or curbside pick-up, or offering outdoor classes or virtual sessions, some "have struggled to stay afloat due to restrictions imposed by the pandemic."
"As you know all too well, this pandemic has impacted every aspect of our community, including our Pleasanton businesses," Brown said.
To support the business community this past year, $3 million in COVID business loan assistance was allocated by the city for Pleasanton businesses. Individual loans for up to $21,600 have been granted to some applicants, and the city has also loaned more than $1.25 million to help 109 local businesses with business expenses such as payroll, supplies and protective equipment. Brown noted that the program is still open and accepting applications.
Another $100,000 was also matched by the city through the Alameda County CARES Grant program, which issued another $200,000 to more than 100 local businesses.
Demand for food and grocery delivery grew while residents sheltered in place, which led to local businesses that use third-party delivery services such as UberEats and DoorDash being charged up to a 30% surcharge. Calling the fee "excessive," Brown lauded the city's approval of a temporary 15% cap on such services until the local emergency is lifted.
During summer and early fall, the city and Pleasanton Downtown Association created the "Weekend on Main" program, which closed off Main Street from vehicle traffic from Fridays through Sundays.
"Many of our residents told me how much they enjoyed downtown during the street closures, and I am pleased to announce that we are working on bringing 'Weekend on Main' back again this spring and summer," Brown said.
By temporarily waiving permit fees, local restaurants were also able to make use of outdoor areas such as parking lots and on-street parking spaces for expanding their outdoor dining capacity.
Brown added she is "so happy to see people having fun dining downtown again -- although many are wearing parkas."
"We know that when we sustain our local businesses, we support our entire community. Working together, we will succeed as a more resilient Pleasanton," Brown said.
Though resilient, Brown added that "without question the pandemic has greatly impacted the local economy and the city's budget."
Property taxes are up $1 million, according to a report received by the City Council the other week, but the city is also facing a current $9 million shortfall, "of which a significant portion is a result of reduced hotel taxes due to the global decline in business and leisure travel."
The city's income has been reduced due to curtailing its spring and summer recreation programs, but by making short-term reductions and "drawing on budget reserves that were set aside for rainy days just like this," Brown said the city "is poised to weather this shortfall and recover with minimal impact to essential services."
Adding to the good news, Brown announced the city currently has "approximately $45 million in its 115 Pension Trust that is available to pay down the city's pension liability."
Recognizing that "struggling businesses result in hardships for their employees" as well, Pleasanton also "took it one step further" after the state and county implemented rent deferment and an eviction moratorium by partnering with CityServe to create an "Emergency Rental Assistance Program."
To date, more than $630,000 in grants have been issued to help 207 households in Pleasanton pay their delinquent rent due to the health crisis. The city also waived late fees on delinquent utility bills for many residents.
For Pleasanton's unhoused population, which has increased in recent years, the city's homeless outreach team has two dedicated officers that have helped approximately 25 individuals find temporary or permanent housing by working with local community organizations and service providers.
There was still "business as usual" that needed to be handled this past year, and city staff were praised for shifting to remote operations quickly in order to keep the city running smoothly, using digitized submittal and review processes and conducting virtual building inspections from smartphones and other devices "to ensure the safety of the applicants and the city inspectors."
The pandemic commanded much of the city's attention and resources in 2020, but other important issues also took center stage. When the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last Memorial Day sparked worldwide protests, riots and demonstrations, Pleasanton was no exception.
In addition to working to create a safe route for organizers of local peaceful protests, the Pleasanton Police Department and city leadership hosted a series of community conversations on policing in Pleasanton "to listen directly from residents, and to learn how we can best serve the Pleasanton community together." Discussions centered around additional de-escalation training, evaluating the city's DARE program, and the role of resource officers at PUSD sites.
Shortly after receiving public feedback, a Police Chief's Advisory Board composed of community members was approved to advise and provide direct input to Police Chief David Swing, as well a mental health pilot program.
The SCU Lightning Complex Fire also challenged the community in late summer, delivering hazy skies darkened by thick smoke during an inopportune heat wave and forcing residents to take cover indoors during what was "definitely a scary time."
"If the pandemic was not enough, Northern California was ravaged in 2020 by heat waves and arguably the worst wildfire season in California's history," Brown said. "Some of our Tri-Valley neighbors and friends were forced to evacuate their homes. Without fail, our heroes in the fire department quickly reacted to ensure fire containment, while also sending our own (Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department) firefighters throughout the state to assist with other wildfires."
As the saying goes, not all heroes wear capes, and Brown said the Pleasanton Library and Recreation Department "emerged as a leader" during the pandemic, taking initiative to create a virtual library and recreation center that has been providing local youths and adults with creative online activities such as a weekly storytime, virtual book club, and a student learning center offering free tutoring and academic resources.
Brown announced that residents could look forward to the Pleasanton Library reopening for indoor service this week, with limited capacity and some modifications including social distancing and wearing face masks.
Ahead of the day, staff "will continue to use enhanced safety and cleaning protocols in our city facilities, which now include a high-tech UVD robot," Brown said. "Our new robot does an excellent job of disinfecting surface and airborne particles against COVID-19."
Other examples of how workers have been preparing quietly in the background for Pleasanton to eventually reopen include operations services staff doing "a fantastic job" maintaining the city's 44 community and neighborhood parks, and over 24 miles of trails, as well as resurfacing more than 4.2 million square feet of local streets during the city's annual summer pavement management program.
The work should be "a welcome benefit for anyone who drives through our city," Brown said, adding that "less cars on the road helped to make the process easier."
Celebrating the city's work with the county to open the COVID-19 vaccination site at the fairgrounds in Pleasanton, Brown said the location "is critical" when it comes to inoculating the region's essential workers including teachers and childcare providers, as well as seniors.
Closing out the online event, Brown called it "an honor and a privilege to serve as mayor of the city of Pleasanton, but I know we are not completely out of the woods yet."
"There is still much more to be done. We will continue to get through this pandemic, and we will restore the health of our residents and our economy," Brown said. "We are in this together, and together we are making history with our resilience and our positive attitude."
This story contains 1727 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.