For the first time ever in its 102 years of incorporation, the public was physically barred from attending a Ceres City Council meeting because of the statewide “shelter in place” order prompted by the coronavirus scare. Monday’s meeting was accessible via YouTube live streaming only with all council and staff sitting feet apart so as to not potentially spread the virus. Vice Mayor Linda Ryno joined in from a remote location on the internet.
Only about 16 people joined in the internet gathering.
Public comment was allowed by emailing the city clerk or commenting on the live stream but the only comments received pertaining to sound quality issues. Ryno commented that she could not hear the response of certain councilmen and city staff. City Manager Toby Wells said those issues can be worked out as it’s likely the statewide order will continue for up to an estimated two months. He also noted that future meetings will likely be hosted as virtual conference meetings on Zoom.us which will offer better service. Meetings will continue to be streamed on YouTube.com
The agenda was light and the meeting only lasted about 25 minutes. In that time, Ryno pulled consent items relating the appointments of Leticia Dias as Finance Director and Aaron Slater as director of Human Resources. Ryno had delayed the items on March 9 but on Monday explained why she opposed the two appointments.
Ryno said she felt Dias was doing “a really good job as the deputy finance director” but said the city needs a “knowledgeable, experienced” director to manage the city’s money. She wanted to see the city recruit someone with more experience. “She wasn’t given any responsibility greater than the accountant,” said Ryno.
Councilman Bret Durossette said he disagreed, saying Dias is doing a good job.
“From what my understanding is in having talked to some of the department heads she’s doing a good job and I think even more so today with this terrible thing that’s attacking the entire world that we’re going to need this position now, not in a recruitment that’s going to last months and months and months,” said Durossette.
The council voted 4-1 on Dias’ appointment.
Dias replaces Suzanne Dean who resigned last year.
Ryno also opposed Slater’s appointment, and said the job description calls for “five years of increasingly responsible human resources experience.” She said Slater did not meet that nor did he meet the educational requirement.
“I understand again that there’s been comment that we should promote from within but I also think if we’re not meeting the job description that we have out there that I don’t think that’s fair to all the other employees that we have job descriptions but we aren’t necessarily going to follow them,” said Ryno.
The council voted 4-1 to appoint Slater.
The third item discussed by the council centered on rescheduling a public hearing on a proposed commercial project abutting to River Oaks Golf Course driving range north of Hatch Road. The hearing was originally set for April 27 but Councilman Channce Condit recommended rescheduling out of consideration of those who want to participate but can’t because of shelter in place orders. He suggested delaying the matter until society returns to normalcy.
The council agreed and decided to delay the hearing until June 22 in the hopes that the coronavirus scare is over. The city plans to speak to those involved to see if the new date works for them.
The Ceres Planning Commission approved a Vesting Tentative Parcel Map and a Specific Plan Site Plan entitlement involving the subdivision of a 2.16-acre commercially zoned site into three parcels with a new commercial building proposed for each parcel. River Oaks’ owners have appealed that decision.
The owner of the commercial project is seeking the rezoning of the property at the northeast corner of Hatch Road and Golf Links Drive to modify the existing “MX-2, Mixed Use – 2” zoning designation to a CC (Community Commercial) zoning designation within the Mitchell Road Corridor Specific Plan.
At the end of the meeting Mayor Chris Vierra talked about the unprecedented times facing Americans.
“I can’t stress enough the shelter in place (order) and encouraging people to limit and stay indoors,” said Vierra. “We have a little ways to go but to the easiest way and quickest way to get through this is by limiting exposure. If you don’t need to be out please don’t.”
Durossette mentioned how the crisis has adversely affected business in Ceres.
“There are takeout places that you can go and get your food and try to spend as much money as you can here because we’re losing a lot of money because of this situation,” said Durossette.
On Thursday the city of Ceres announced that it is urging residents to follow Stanislaus County’s recommendation that all county residents stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The request came before Thursday’s evening’s enactment of a statewide stay in place order by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom directed that all non-essential employees stay at home. Most businesses have closed with the exception of restaurants that limit service to take-out and delivery meals only.
By urging people to “shelter in place,” the city asks that residents:
• Stay at home and only leave their homes for grocery shopping, necessary medical appointments, picking up meals at a restaurant, caring for a friend or relative, or traveling for essential job functions.
• Residents who wish to walk or jog in public places are strongly encouraged to practice social distancing and keep a distance of six feet from one another.
• Local restaurants are free to provide take-out food and make deliveries.
This action follows the declaration of a local emergency, closure of City Hall and other measures taken earlier this week in efforts to combat the global pandemic.
The city will provide regular updates on its website, www.ci.ceres.ca.us, as new local information becomes available. Or visit www.stanemergency.com for updates. The state also has a new website covid19.ca.gov
In effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Ceres City offices are closed to the public until further notice. All recreation programs and rentals of facilities have been suspended until the end of April. Part-time recreation staff has been laid off sot hey can collect unemployment, said Wells.
Residents who would like to make a payment on a Utility Account may use the drop box located on the corner of Second and Magnolia streets, or bills may be paid online at www.ci.ceres.ca.us by clicking the “Pay My Bill” icon on the top of the page.
Those requiring staff may be reached at the following phone numbers:
Business License: 1-866-240-3665.
Public Works: 538-5732.
Human Resources: 538-5747.
Building and Planning: 538-5774.
City Clerk: 538-5731.
City staff will continue to be available at the above listed phone numbers from the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and appointments may be available for certain transactions.
All essential city services will continue without interruption. The city will continue to assess the risk and will keep the public informed of any future changes related to COVID-19.
Ceres Police Records Division is also closed. To call the Records Division: 538-5777, 538-5714, 538-5715 or 538-5608.
To call the Dispatch Center: 538-5712 or 538-5713.