I want to address the community understanding that COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on our community for the past few months. We have seen many Counties in our state move to phase 2 and we are eager to join them.
Good afternoon and welcome to the June 3 Mayor’s Briefing. Today I want to address the community understanding that COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on our community for the past few months. We have seen many Counties in our state move to phase 2 and we are eager to join them.
The Governor outlined new guidance for how each county will move phase by phase through his safe start plan. Our County’s Public Health Department and Unified Command works daily, sometimes hourly to evaluate the status and impact of COVID-19 in our community. The City is closely monitoring this crisis and are involved in constant communication, and partnerships with local stakeholders to respond to this public health crisis.
Right now we find ourselves in this awkward agonizing waiting time. Awaiting a response from the state. The County sent another application to the State for a variance that would allow our County to move to phase 2 on Monday afternoon. We have been under the Stay Home, Stay Health order since March 23. Many of us have grown fatigued. I yearn for normalcy like many of you and our continued efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 will help us get there.
As this pandemic has changed the way we live our lives, we at the City have remained determined - doing the work that the City needs to keep moving forward. We continue to focus on street improvements, our Shoreline Master Program and the Critical Regulations Update, New Depot Restrooms, supporting a thriving maritime industry, and our partnership with the Port of Anacortes, the Grand View Cemetery Expansion, and a continued commitment to a safe water and waste water utility. This is only a few examples of the work that keeps this City moving every day. Thank you for doing your part and staying healthy and staying home, we are all eager to get back to work and start dialing up our economy.
Safe Start Washington
At the City we have been closely monitoring the Governor’s plan to reopen businesses and modifying social distancing measures. Right now our County remains in Phase 1 of the Safe Start Washington plan. We are not so patiently waiting for a response from the Governor’s Office.
Safe Start Phase 1
Phase 1 Business Activity Guidelines have been issued for, Car Washes, Construction, Curbside Retail, Landscape Services and Outdoor Maintenance, certain Outdoor Recreation including Golf, Pet Walking, spiritual drive-in services. These business can operate in a limited capacity according to the Governor’s guidelines during phase 1. We are eager for our business to be able to take advantage of the expanded guidelines in Phase 2.
Beginning June 8 regardless what phase a county is in, all employees will be required to wear a cloth facial covering, except when working alone in an office, vehicle, or when the job has no in- person interaction. Employers must provide cloth facial coverings or employees can choose to wear their own facial coverings at work.
At the City we continue to strengthen connections between business and the community by working with downtown merchants and restaurants, on ideas to help assist their economic recovery and offer our residents a way to reconnect again soon.
Phase 2 Variances
Skagit County applied for a variance to enter into phase 2 on Friday and was denied. The Governor and the Department of Health set standards allowing for variances in the safe start recovery plan. The State as a whole will stay in phase 1 and the move to phase 2 will through a county by county approach.
The County resubmitted an application Monday based on the updated metrics by which the state evaluates applications: COVID-19 Activity, Health System Readiness, Testing, Contact Tracing, and Protecting the Vulnerable.
Our county has robust public health infrastructure that has been in place long before COVID-19. Residents can trust that our health care system is prepared, and we continue to formulate our decisions based upon science and data. The new guidance requires that a County has less than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14 day period. In the letter submitted to the state the Public Health department cites 5.4 per 100,000 for the most recent 14-day period in the County.
We have confidence in our robust contact racing and testing and is prepared to track and control any outbreak or surges in cases in the county. The application has support from the local health officer, the local board of health, local hospitals, and the county commissioners.
In the application the county has capacity at local hospitals, and adequate PPE supplies to keep health care workers safe. The request to the Governor is based data, confidence in our health care infrastructure, commitment to physical distancing and our concern for the impacts on our economy. We look forward to hearing a response from the State soon.
Safe Start Phase 2
Business Activity Guidelines for industries allowed to resume or expand services in phase 2 have been issued for construction activities, professional photography services, the pet grooming industry, and personal services including cosmetologists, hairstylists, and others. Real Estate activities, and limited In-store retail as well as manufacturing operations. Religious and Faith Organizations can host up to 25% of their capacity or 50 individuals, whichever is less, as well as conduct in-home services of five people.
Once we enter Phase 2, Fitness and training activities can resume, limited to groups five trainees or less. Professional services such as office-based occupations, certain outdoor activities in small groups, as well as limited non-essential travel, and Higher Education activities can resume in a limited capacity. Traditional dine-in restaurants, and public houses, will open at less than 50% capacity, with table sizes of less than 5, and no bar seating.
Safe Start Means We All Do Our Part
Please closely follow the new protocols and procedures being issued by the Governor to assure we get back to business safely. Currently the Governor’s office still recommends staying home, if you go out please wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart, and continue to wash your hands regularly. We must still be cautious as we move through phase 2 of the safe start plan.
Safe Start Phase 3 and 4
Phase 3 will happen at least three weeks after we enter in phase 2. This phase will bring a partial reopening of our in-person city services at Anacortes Library, Museum, and City Hall. We are working on installing Plexiglas shields at public facing counters area and way to assure that both the employees and the public are able to once again enjoy City services in-person. Non-essential travel will fully resume and nearly all other business activities will resume. Outdoor sports activities with less than 50 people, as well as an increase in services at restaurant, taverns, and movie theatres.
Phase 4 is a full return to public interactions, and while I know that this situation has been extremely difficult, and we all look forward to seeing our friends, and family soon it is important to know that physical distancing and good hygiene practices will continue through this phase.
Our City employees are the cornerstone behind our essential services, and while many of our facilities remain closed such as the Library, the Senior Center, the Museum, and City Hall we are working on ways to reach you virtually and prepare for our return to in person city services.
The Anacortes Senior Activities Center will reopen in phase 4, the Center is working on ways to increase outreach and communication with the community during phases 2 and 3. On June 30, the City will be seeing the retirement of Sally as the Director of the Senior Center. Her commitment and devotion to the Center has made it a cornerstone of our community and we are grateful for her many years of service.
The library is gearing up for Summer Reading, which will include a virtual program, teen workshops, and fun reading goals and crafts. Sign-ups begin on June 15th. Tonight I hope you'll join me for a special Mayor story time at 6pm. Then we'll go under the sea at 7pm and join our very own Public Works Director Fred, scuba diving alongside our city attorney, Darcy as they explore Rosario Beach in the library's Together We Discover episode this week.
As we move into phase 2 our Library willstart offering curbside pickup so books can get to you while the library is closed. The library staff are already working on a plan to offer this service, and with state guidelines now in place the library is excited to start offering this service in the next few of weeks. Check the library website and social media for details coming soon. We're all eager to get new books, and the library is working to get them to you safely and as quickly as possible.
Access, Anacortes Fiber Internet and the Anacortes Public Library have also partnered to provide drive-in Wi-Fi at the Anacortes Public Library facility. This free public broadband internet access to available at no charge. This is part of a statewide initiative in response to the impacts of COVID-19, to provide Drive-In Wi-Fi Hotspots with free temporary, emergency internet access for Washingtonians to be used for job searches, telehealth, telework, unemployment filing, and census participation.
The Parks Department has been thinking about how our services will change when we move into Phase 2. We are preparing to reopen some of our park amenities while reminding our residents and visitors that physical distancing is necessary even as we begin to reopen some activities.
Parks: Phase 2
They have been working diligently to organize a reopening that is in line with the Governor’s Safe Start Plan. In phase 2, we will see the Washington Park Campground reopen with limited capacity, picnicking will be able to resume, the ball fields will reopen with a limit of 5 people gathering for activities. Pickleball and Tennis Courts will reopen with a limit of 4 per court, and Basketball courts will reopen with a limit of 4 per court. The Parks Department also continues to plan out what a phased reopening will look like through phase 3 and 4.
Please continue to practice social distancing. Per the Governor’s phased plans, as we move into phase 2 there should not be gatherings of more than 5 people do engage in outdoor activities.
The City’s Parks Department continues to work hard on several projects during these unprecedented times. Work at the Grand view Cemetery is in progress, we are still waiting for the Conditional Use Permit process to go before City Council following an opportunity for the public to comment on the expansion. This proposed expansion will take place on 5 acres of the 11.5 acre cemetery creating room for an additional 2,800 grave sites.
The boxcar has been removed and the Depot Restroom has been ordered, and we are awaiting engineered drawings so we can start the next phase of the project. We intend to complete the project by the end of October.
Anacortes Fire Department
Our Emergency Services staff provides medical care to our residents in fast, reliable, skillful and compassionate way. Prior to responding on each emergency call, these EMS professionals put on facemasks, face shields, gowns, gloves and shoe protection and immediately following each call, the entire ambulance is cleaned and decontaminated, the diligence of these outstanding men and women is something we continue to be grateful for.
The Fire Department continues its Community outreach efforts and as we move through the phases we will be available to our business community as well as our citizens & educational groups in order to promote fire safety and prevention. Thank you to our front line medical workers for their dedication and providing the lifesaving services during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Anacortes Police Department
The Anacortes Police Department responded to approximately 9500 calls for service in 2019 and has continued to see a steady number of calls throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The Police Department continued its’ strong partnership with the Anacortes School District through our School Resource Officer program. Officer Travis Dotzauer has built positive relationships with students, faculty, and parents and he looks forward to seeing students back in school once in person classes resume.
Our Auxiliary Patrol volunteers continue to serve our community through their generous donation of time and commitment to public safety. They logged almost 4000 volunteer hours in 2019, and this is a wonderful reminder to me of all the ways that community pitches in to help ensure the safety of our community and also show that Anacortes cares.
Public Works is continuing to provide services in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Safe and reliable drinking water; collection of trash, recycling and composting, wastewater processing, maintaining and improving our street system and providing street cleaning are among the many areas where things remain business as usual for the City and its residents.
The Public Works Department also continues its annual plan to slurry seal neighborhood streets with this year’s work beginning July 13. Streets to be done this year will mainly be near D Avenue in the center of the city. The city has contracted with Asphalt Quality Sealers of Anacortes to perform repair work in preparation for the slurry sealing 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday through June 30. A schedule of the specific streets being slurry sealed on specific days will released in the near future.
As you can see, our public works department hasn’t slowed down. We have just adjusted how we do business as usual to provide essential services for our community.
Local Fiscal Impact
Utility Billing customers continue to take advantage of paperless opportunities with the City. In the month of May our accounts payable department processed 80 autopayments compared to 41 in May of last year, and in May 60 paper checks were processed compared to 150 last year in May. In utility billing, 285 customers have signed up for autopay since March 1st, with 107 of those signups in the month of May alone. If you haven’t signed up for utility billing autopay yet, you can do so on the City website, or give us a call to sign up.
Over the next several months the City will start developing the next biennial budget for fiscal years 2021 and 2022. There is a great deal of uncertainty in the economy at this point, and we are still waiting for more data to use to develop revenue projections, which we will use to build our city’s budget. Over the next 2 months we will receive revenue information that will be instrumental in providing us a basis to create a budget, and I will work closely with the Finance Director and other department heads to take our first steps in the budget process.
This past Monday night on June 1, City Council adopted ordinance 3071, which authorizes a credit from the State back to the City to be used for Affordable Housing; this, along with the voted 1/10th sales tax increase that goes into effect on July 1, will provide funding that will be used to fund 3 affordable housing projects. These projects are being developed by the Anacortes Housing Authority and the Anacortes Family Center.
The City will start seeing those revenues in September of this year and will work with the Housing Authority and Family Center over the next several months to develop agreements for the use of the money to provide housing for vulnerable populations such as those at risk of being homeless, veterans, senior citizens or other groups as described by the state.
Planning, Community and Economic Development
This week the City will be doing an initial review of applications received for the Small Business Stabilization Grants to ensure eligibility. Next week committee of Anacortes Business Representatives will review those application. We received 47 applications from small businesses across the City. These grants will help with the cost of starting your businesses back up again soon. To be eligible for these grants of up to $10,000, you must be a business located in Anacortes with not more than 30 employees.
While these remain uncertain times, the City has remained steadfast in their work on both the Shoreline Master Program and the Critical Areas Update.
City Staff is currently running a video open house presentation on the Shoreline Master Program update on the Planning, Community and Economic Development webpage as well as working with our consultant and Department of Ecology to prepare for when we can start public meetings up again. Staff continues to respond to question over the phone or by email.
Staff is also currently working on a video presentation for the Critical Areas update that will soon be uploaded to our City’s website as well. We are continuing our preparation for the upcoming public hearings and comments on the Critical Areas Regulation Updates.
Maritime Industry Update
The City values the partnership with the Port of Anacortes and is happy to report that the continued collaboration between the port and the City goes on even during these uncertain time. Just yesterday, the Port/City Liaison committee met to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the community and ways to continue to support the maritime industry.
With everything going on it reminds us how important it is to have a more accurate count of our communities—so that local, state, and federal governments know where resources are needed in urgent situations like COVID-19. It is your right to complete the census, because we ALL count. I am extremely proud that Anacortes has a 71.2% response rate. It is not too late if you have not filled out your census you can still do so at my2020Census.go .
In other community news, I have been sharing many cancelations of summer events and I want to share a message from Meredith McIlmoyle regarding the Arts Festival in Anacortes.
The Anacortes Arts Festival Board has chosen to cancel this year’s Festival. A September postponement date was considered however, the risk factor of the unknowns are too high. This was not an easy decision. The Arts Festival has a 59-year history in our community and is so important to the artists, local businesses and our community. The Arts Festival is already working on ways to support art in our community during- and post-COVID. They are looking ahead at the creative ways to support artists and art programs until the 2021 Anacortes Arts Festival – on August 6 through 8, 2021.
Slowing the Spread
Globally there are 6.2 million cases, the total deaths worldwide near 375 thousand. 1,129 people have died in Washington State from COVID-19. As we navigate a way forward for our community we have to acknowledge the gravity and devastation of this virus. In Skagit County there are a total of 435 cases and 15 deaths and 51 hospitalized cases. The curve is flattening in the county and across the state. However, please remain vigilant, wearing a mask is not a substitute for physical distancing. Please remain six feet apart from others.
By the numbers
Island Hospital has tested – 1,229 people and currently reports – 29 positive cases. The total positive hospitalized cases is 7 and there have been no deaths. Island Hospital currently maintains more than 20 percent surge capacity, and has the ability to care for an increase of
suspected or confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations. Island hospital also has a greater than 14 day supply of PPE and N-95 respirators, surgical masks, face shields, gloves and gowns.
Skagit County’s high volume drive thru testing site has been operating rapid testing in the parking lot of Skagit Valley College. This is a critical system in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Our health care workers are tirelessly working to test anyone who wants to be tested can now be tested anytime between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. There have been over 3,652 total tests conducted with 79 total positive tests as of May 29.
Questions and Answers
- Why didn’t we start phase two on June 1st?
On Friday, the Governor announced that transitions to phase 2 would be on a County by County basis. This means in order to move into phase 2 our county had to submit an application that is being reviewed and awaiting approval by the state’s health department.
- Can the Mayor do anything to get Anacortes into phase two before the rest of the county?
The Governor has created the parameters by which communities can move into phase two and it is by county. We are a part of Skagit County and for this phased reopening process all of the communities in Skagit County must be united in their efforts in order to move through the phases as quickly as possible. Island Hospital is playing a critical role in helping the county show our preparedness for meeting the needs of residents of Anacortes. I talk to the health department several times a week including this morning, and I today I jointly wrote another letter to the Governor requesting that we immediately move to phase 2.
- How are people supposed to behave during protest and demonstrations? Can you be in the street? How are people supposed to behave when there are people in the road and there are cars trying to get through?
The City supports and protects citizens’ rights to peaceably assemble. Public places will always be open to peaceful demonstrations and the City will always support the public’s first amendment rights. Out of concern for public safety, the City asks that protesters not gather in City streets and do not block access to private property or a business.
If groups wishes to use City streets for demonstrations, the City has a process to request a parade permit, which will allow groups to exclude vehicle traffic from the street to avoid accidents and injury. We hope that drivers will be patient and if they see people in the streets please turn and find an alternate route. We do not want to further exacerbate the situation as there are many voices in the community that are fearful and angry. Please show grace and kindness in the face of this very difficult time and be respectful.
City leaders value the voice of the people that make Anacortes a community - and know that demonstrators, City administration, and law enforcement can all work together to shape a brighter future for Anacortes.
- How is our police force trained so the officers can cope with stressful situations? What training does the Police Department receive on racial bias?
Our officers receive annual ongoing training that includes non-biased policing training, critical incident and de-escalation training, and crisis intervention. The Basic Law Enforcement Academy now teaches a 40 hours block that focuses a de-escalation, non- biased policing, and cultural awareness. The law enforcement profession in our State receives more training in these topics than most other professions. We continue to support our Anacortes Police department as they protect and serve our community.
- Have you considered moving some police funding to alternative emergency response programs to deal with homelessness, mental health and similar issues? Do the police currently receive training on how to interact with these vulnerable populations?
While there are others who would be more suited to work with the homeless such as social workers and mental health professionals, in most communities, the police are the first point of contact with the homeless. Our Parks staff also has interactions with our homeless and draws upon the support of the Anacortes Family Center and their professionally trained staff. They are available to assist us when interacting with the homeless in parks and other city land as needed. Our Parks, Police and Community organizations are working as a team so support the vulnerable homeless population in our area.
In the past year we have had specific training about recognizing and assisting people with mental health issues. The primary role of the police is to investigate and prevent crime. We would love to see more resources for mental health support, so that our Police can work to keep the community safe from crime.
I want to address the sadness and the outrage many of us are feeling over yet another black person’s life lost in a senseless act of violence, systemic racism is alive and well in our society, and we all need to do something to address this. As a white person in this country, I cannot fully understand racism, I have not lived it. But I have tried to the best of my ability to learn about systemic racism and how our society is impacted by this.
I want to let individuals of color in Anacortes know that we respect you, and we recognize your stories of trauma, inequity, and derision. These deaths have brought our country collectively to the point of despair and hopelessness. A light has been shined on the racial injustices in this country.
We support all community members and are prepared to do the work required to examine our interpersonal and institutional racism and work towards directly confronting the systems of inequity and enduring racial injustices that traumatize people. In the coming days, and weeks, I will be working with City Staff, City Council, and the community, to identify training to increase our awareness and understanding of racism and to identify additional positive actions we can take to address this.
We at the City strive to be a voice of unity and the people of this community care. I want to state unequivocally that we are reinforcing our strong commitment at the City to confronting racism in our community. We hold ourselves to the highest standards of professionalism and integrity and we are prepared to ask the difficult questions of how we can hold ourselves accountable for dismantling systems enabling racism. I encourage all of you to expand your understanding of systemic racism and concepts of social justice. We must hold ourselves to the highest standards.
I fully support the right of each and every person in this country to peacefully assemble and exercise their right to free speech. To the all members of this community, I ask you to come together to combat injustice. I applaud all those in our community for standing up for what they believe in. Many have gathered recently to protest the unjust and tragic death of Manuel Ellis, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd - I understand that everyone has the right to peacefully assemble to demonstrate. I hope that those who do so are safe and have respect for the already struggling businesses and people suffering from sickness or loss due to COVID-19.
The recent killings of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd highlighted within our country the persistent and harmful racism experienced every day by communities of color. I want to acknowledge and honor the many African Americans who have lost their lives in extrajudicial killing across the country. I am heartbroken.
In closing I say, I feel gratitude every day to be able to work for you and with you. We have an amazing community of caring and compassionate individuals. My wish is that as a community we will continue to find ways to build understanding, address inequities and provide hope. Thank you for all of you being you.