Will your council keep virtual meetings? More SLO County cities are returning in-person

For two years, most San Luis Obispo County city governments have held their meetings almost entirely onlinea amid the pandemic.

Though the Paso Robles City Council has been holding in-person meetings since October, other agencies were somewhat more hesitant to meet as two different COVID-19 variants caused local case numbers to skyrocket.

Now that case numbers locally are waning, almost all other local agencies are planning a return to in-person meetings.

“I am excited to return to in-person meetings again,” Arroyo Grande Mayor Caren Ray Russom told The Tribune. “It’s just the best way to have an open public meeting.”

In February, Arroyo Grande announced it planned to return to in-person public meetings starting March 8 with the scheduled City Council meeting. This will be the first time since July that the city has held in-person meetings (the city briefly began meeting in-person again that month, but the rise in the delta variant forced them back online again).

According to a news release, the city will “continue to utilize Zoom webinar video/teleconferencing as an option for public participation virtually,” and the meetings will also still be broadcast on Arroyo Grande Cable Channel 20 and streamed online.

Ray Russom said the hybrid meeting format makes “getting involved even easier, especially for those who can’t find the time to come in person, but have something they want to share or watch.”

“They can care for their families, or relax after a hard day’s work and participate from the comfort of their home with the camera off,” she said. “I am grateful for the leap our city made in making meetings more accessible by permanently adopting Zoom as a normal part of open meetings.”

SLO County cities hold meetings in person and online

Other local city governments are also jumping on the hybrid bandwagon.

Pismo Beach city spokesman Jorge Garcia said meetings will return to in-person, with virtual participation also available, with the March 8 City Council meeting being the first.

“Governing is best performed in-person in a participatory manner,” Garcia wrote in an email to The Tribune. “It is important that we return to the Council Chamber to do the people’s business and allow for members of the public to engage with their elected leaders and city staff.”

Garcia added that the hybrid meeting format “allows for everyone to engage in their community.”

“While hybrid meetings have their challenges and limitations, participation in local government is paramount to a successful democracy,” he said.

The Atascadero City Council will also begin hybrid meetings on March 8, while Grover Beach will hold an in-person meeting on March 7, and San Luis Obispo will hold one March 15, according to various city managers and representatives.

Meanwhile it may take a bit longer for Morro Bay to return to in-person meetings given its usual meeting spot, Veterans Hall, is still being used as a COVID-19 testing facility.

Morro Bay City Manager Scott Collins said the city will likely stay with remote meetings until sometime in April.

“We need to provide them sufficient time to consider other locations and move out before other functions could be held at the Veterans Hall facility,” he said.