Friday, October 23, 2020

Santa Barbara Together Fund provides relief for local businesses

Posted By on Fri, Oct 23, 2020 at 4:47 PM

The Santa Barbara Foundation announced an additional cycle of the Santa Barbara Better Together Fund Small Business Grant Program in partnership with Santa Barbara County and the city of Santa Maria.

Santa Barbara County's partnership with the Santa Barbara Foundation will support grants of up to $7,500 per grant to qualifying small businesses located within the unincorporated portions of the county as they reopen and adapt to operating under COVID-19 public health guidelines.

RELIEF Businesses within the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County and the city of Santa Maria may be eligible for $7,500 in grant funds to assist with reopening. - IMAGE COURTESY OF SANTA BARBARA FOUNDATION
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF SANTA BARBARA FOUNDATION
  • RELIEF Businesses within the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County and the city of Santa Maria may be eligible for $7,500 in grant funds to assist with reopening.
Santa Barbara Better Together Fund board chair and 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said many small businesses that “shape the character of our community” are struggling during this time.

“The county of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Foundation want to help these businesses with a local, small business grant program to provide some financial relief during the pandemic,” Hart said in a statement. “Let’s all do our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 so that we can safely re-open additional businesses at the earliest opportunity.”

The grant funding must be used for items that are necessary to operate safely under current public health guidelines, including but not limited to signage, personal protective equipment, items to accommodate outdoor seating or service.

Rent and utilities may be considered if the need is related to lost income due to the pandemic. The funds may not be used for ineligible expenditures, as described in the Coronavirus Relief Fund Guidance for State, Territorial, Local and Tribal Governments updated on June 30, 2020. The deadline for submitting an application is Oct. 28.

Santa Maria also partnered with the Santa Barbara Foundation to support grants from the Santa Barbara Better Together Fund of up to $7,500 per grant to qualifying small businesses within city limits. The city committed $125,000 to the effort.

This grant program is geared to help businesses as they reopen with public health and safety guidelines in mind. Applications are due by Nov. 2. Grant funds are available until funds have been exhausted. ∆

—Karen Garcia

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

PG&E project in Santa Maria to last two months, could cause traffic delays

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2020 at 4:56 PM

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Company began a two-month-long project on Oct. 19 to upgrade equipment along a four-mile section of the company’s Mesa-Santa Maria transmission system circuit.

The project, which is expected to be completed by Dec. 19, will increase the height of nine transmission towers—the tall structures that support power lines—and may result in minor traffic delays while the project is underway.

POWER UPGRADE PG&E began a two-month project to keep its power lines in compliance with state and federal standards along the Mesa-Santa Maria transmission system circuit. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • POWER UPGRADE PG&E began a two-month project to keep its power lines in compliance with state and federal standards along the Mesa-Santa Maria transmission system circuit.
“PG&E performed an aerial survey of its electric transmission lines and observed that gravity and age had impacted required ground-to-wire clearances on this portion of our Mesa-Santa Maria 115 kilovolt (kV) transmission system circuit,” PG&E Marketing and Communications Representative Mark Mesesan wrote via email. “Safety is PG&E’s most important responsibility, and we immediately began efforts to address this issue.”

PG&E self-reported the issue to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which then sent a formal request for the project’s completion, “as is their process,” Mesesan wrote. These improvements will allow the transmission system to remain in compliance with California Public Utility Commission and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission standards.

Mesesan wrote that the “reliability of our electrical system is another priority, including identifying issues such as this one.”

PG&E doesn't anticipate any electric outages from the project, although he said “it will require some switching to ensure seamless operations.”

“Naturally, if we do encounter an unexpected issue, including an outage, our crews and contractors will work diligently to minimize any inconvenience to our customers,” Mesesan wrote.

A small portion of the project requires helicopter operations, which are expected to be conducted between Oct. 26 and 28 “in an agricultural area just west of Highway 101 in Nipomo,” a PG&E press release stated.

“That section of work area is agricultural property, so helicopter noise should be minimal,” Mesesan wrote. “Helicopters are not expected to be needed or used once the project work moves to the PG&E transmission corridor along Railroad Avenue in Santa Maria starting on or about Wednesday, Oct. 28.”

This portion of the project will begin where Railroad Avenue intersects with the Santa Maria Levee Trail and will move south toward West Cook Street. Residents can expect traffic control measures in place, as well as occasional lane closures and no parking zones.

“Electronic signs also will be used to provide traffic warnings,” Mesesan wrote. “Motorists should plan for the possibility of delays when traveling on Railroad Avenue where project work is being conducted.” Δ

—Malea Martin

Oceano Dunes to open to street legal vehicles on Oct. 30

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2020 at 4:39 PM

The Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) is partially reopening to vehicles on Oct. 30 after a near seven-month ban on vehicle entry, but the phased reopening plan is a compromise that neither off-roaders nor conservationists are happy about.

On Oct. 20, State Parks announced plans to reopen the Oceano Dunes to vehicles in three phases that are “designed to support a safe and healthy environment for employees, visitors, and natural resources such as the endangered Western snowy plover and California least tern.”

REOPEN FOR BUSINESS State Parks announced plans to reopen the Oceano Dunes to vehicles in series of three phases starting on Oct. 30, when street legal vehicles will be allowed into the park in limited numbers. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • REOPEN FOR BUSINESS State Parks announced plans to reopen the Oceano Dunes to vehicles in series of three phases starting on Oct. 30, when street legal vehicles will be allowed into the park in limited numbers.
Starting on Oct. 30, both the Oceano Dunes SVRA and Pismo State Beach will be open daily from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. for day use walking, biking, and “street legal” vehicular use. While street legal vehicles will be allowed on the dunes during the first phase, off-highway vehicles and overnight camping will remain prohibited in the Oceano Dunes until the second phase of reopening, a start date for which has yet to be determined. Entry will be limited to 1,000 street vehicles a day in both parks during the first phase.

SLO County residents Lea Rigo-Hensley, president of Freedom Ropes, and her husband, Dan Hensley, are among the many off-roaders who have been pushing State Parks to reopen the Oceano Dunes SVRA for months. Although they’re glad to see some progress, they said the phased plan is still overly restrictive and unclear, especially compared to those at other campgrounds and state parks, many of which have been bustling for months.

“Yes, it’s better than nothing,” Lea told New Times. “But it’s a little bit strange, the phased approach.”

The Oceano Dunes SVRA has been closed to vehicles since March 26, when State Parks closed the park in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Despite budding reopening plans in the summer, State Parks agreed to keep the Oceano Dunes closed to vehicles through Oct. 1 in a consensual cease and desist order with the California Coastal Commission.

In the order finalized on July 7, State Parks agreed to halt a number of development activities that the commission claimed were unpermitted and possibly harmful to snowy plovers. Without vehicles in the area throughout the spring, snowy plovers built nests outside their "seasonal exclosures"—designated breeding areas that are off limits to vehicles and visitors—and State Parks had attempted to prevent plovers from nesting in those areas in preparation for reopening.

Since then, the Hensleys said there have been a number of reopening false alarms. State Parks hinted at a coming reopening date, Dan said, and people would plan camping trips, businesses prepared for customers, and then the big reopening never happened. Now, he said, there’s at least an official date for the first phase. But he wonders if the other phases will ever really happen, and how the Oceano businesses that rely on off-roaders will survive.

“It really feels like they’re just playing games with us,” he told New Times. “They’re making it really hard.”

But conservationists say the ban on vehicular recreation provided an unusual opportunity to see what the SVRA could look like without off-roading. Brad Snook, chair of the San Luis Obispo chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an organization that works to protect local oceans and beaches, said a lot of community members liked what they saw.

“This is an opportunity lost,” Snook told New Times, “because they’re going to bring that heavy equipment out and start re-grading to make the beach a parking lot again.”

Conservationists and environmental organizations on the Central Coast have long complained that activities performed and allowed by State Parks at the Oceano Dunes SVRA are not in compliance with the California Coastal Act. Snook said this ban on vehicles gave the Coastal Commission the upper hand, and he and others had hoped the Coastal Commission would use it as a leveraging tool to force State Parks into compliance with its various permitting issues.

But, he said, it doesn’t look like that will happen.

Jeff Miller, a Los Osos-based senior conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, echoed those concerns and said State Parks shouldn’t be allowed to reopen the dunes to vehicles without a valid coastal permit.

“Although they do not have a valid coastal permit and have not yet finished their long-promised Public Works Plan, State Parks has already started grading the beach illegally,” Miller wrote in a statement to New Times. “They must obtain a separate coastal development permit before starting any re-grading work at Oceano Dunes. If they embark on major grading without a permit, the Coastal Commission should slap them with another cease-and-desist order.” ∆

—Kasey Bubnash

Pirate’s Cove parking lot and management project gets permit

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2020 at 12:53 PM

San Luis Obispo County is a step closer to implementing its latest plan to clean up and manage Pirate’s Cove beach.

On Oct. 16, SLO County issued its Parks Department a permit to carry out what it has described as a bare-bones project to restore the popular clothes-optional beach to its natural state and improve a deteriorated parking lot at the end of Cave Landing Road.

NEW ERA? SLO County hopes to add signage, trash cans, and bike racks to Pirate’s Cove and make improvements to its parking lot. - FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • NEW ERA? SLO County hopes to add signage, trash cans, and bike racks to Pirate’s Cove and make improvements to its parking lot.
If it survives any appeals, the permit would allow the county to clean up garbage and graffiti throughout the property, flatten out the parking lot, and add trash and recycling receptacles, signage, and bike racks to the site.

The goal of the project, according to SLO County Parks Director Nick Franco, is to manage Pirate’s Cove like a natural area, and not a full-blown park.

“The idea is let’s go in and essentially restore it to its natural condition,” Franco said. “Right now, the property is kind of in no man’s land. It’s a county-owned vacant land. What we’re trying to do is bring it into the parks system.”

Franco said the county has no intention of changing the beach’s clothing-optional status. A maintenance plan would add a new daytime park ranger to monitor the area. Alcohol consumption would still be permitted, but not “out of control parties” or underage drinking, Franco said.

The project is SLO County’s second crack at reining in Pirate’s Cove since it took over ownership of the area in 2008. A more robust prior proposal, which would’ve closed the parking lot at night, among other changes, faced local opposition and ultimately was rejected by the Coastal Commission in 2014.

Franco said that the new scaled-down project is the result of extensive public outreach. He believes it strikes the right balance.

“My hope is there aren’t any appeals,” Franco said.

If it moves forward, the improvements could be complete in about a year, Franco said. ∆

—Peter Johnson

Monday, October 19, 2020

Proposition 19 would fund fire protection by limiting property tax savings on inherited properties

Posted By on Mon, Oct 19, 2020 at 5:28 PM

As explained by the California Voter Guide, Proposition 19 expands property tax savings for certain homeowners. Those over the age of 55, disabled people, and victims of wildfires or disaster would be allowed to transfer the tax base of their current home over to a replacement residence. Right now, that tax portability is far more limited.

TAX DISPUTE Opponents of Proposition 19 say the measure will increase property taxes, but proponents say the measure is closing a tax loophole and directing increased revenues toward much-needed fire protection. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SANTA BARBARA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF SANTA BARBARA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT
  • TAX DISPUTE Opponents of Proposition 19 say the measure will increase property taxes, but proponents say the measure is closing a tax loophole and directing increased revenues toward much-needed fire protection.
However, the proposition would also limit property tax savings on inherited homes. Currently, California law allows those who inherit property to continue paying the taxes that the previous owners paid. If passed, inherited residences would now only be eligible for these property tax savings if the property is used as a primary home or farm by the inheritor.

Proposition 19 is different from Proposition 15, which, if passed, would tax certain commercial and industrial properties based on their fair market value.

The property tax revenue increase expected if  Proposition 19 passes would be used to establish a fire protection services fund, and would also benefit local governments and school districts. That’s why some local elected officials and firefighters support this property tax measure.

On Oct. 14, Santa Barbara County 1st District Supervisor Das Williams, Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo, and local firefighters held a press conference to urge support of Proposition 19.

“[Proposition] 19 will create a historic fire fund that cannot be rated,” Williams said. “This will help many communities in the Central Coast by providing firefighters with resources that are desperately needed.”

“More than that,” Murillo added, “Prop. 19 will also generate hundreds of millions of dollars for local governments and school districts.”

Murillo emphasized that the fund for wildfire response and local governments is “generated not by implementing a new tax on Californians.”

But opponents of the proposition disagree. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association wrote in a “No on Proposition 19” document that the measure “takes away important taxpayer protections that have been enshrined in the State Constitution since 1986.” Howard Jarvis takes issue with the fact that some inherited properties would now be met with increased property taxes, calling this “a massive tax increase on families.”

Murillo argued that this is not a tax increase, but rather, the closure of “an unintended loophole that has cost local governments and schools and California taxpayers billions of dollars over the years.”

Chris Mahon, vice president of the California Professional Firefighters 2nd District representing Santa Barbara County, also spoke in support of the proposition at the press conference.

“The funding generated by Prop. 19 will be extremely beneficial,” Mahon said. “This increased funding is extremely important to us because we’re primarily funded by property taxes, so the opportunities to secure increased funding are limited.” Δ

Special Districts continue to be left out of COVID-19 relief

Posted By on Mon, Oct 19, 2020 at 4:36 PM

The U.S. House of Representatives released an updated version of The Heroes Act on Sept. 29, addressing some of the needs that have developed since the bill was passed in May. However, that update didn’t include the changes that special districts have been advocating for.

The updated version of the bill proposes $2.2 trillion to support small businesses, create additional assistance for airline industry workers, funds to bolster education and child care, and maintains key priorities from the initial legislation. Those priorities include supporting testing, tracing, and treatment for the coronavirus; a second round of economic impact payments; ensuring worker safety, restoring unemployment benefits, and bolstering housing assistance.

California’s special districts are anticipating a $1.26 billion impact through fiscal year 2021, according to Charlotte Holifield public affairs field coordinator for the California Special Districts Association.

The financial impact, she said, is causing 54 percent of districts to be uncertain or likely to reduce their essential services and 46 percent to be uncertain or likely to reduce their workforce through June 2021.

Special districts have been largely left out of relief funds because under the Cares Act for the Coronavirus Relief Fund, the U.S. Department of Treasury doesn’t consider special districts to be a local unit of government. Local units include cities, counties, parishes, towns, and townships. But special districts often provide unincorporated communities with services such as water and sewer, health, parks and recreation services, and emergency response.

San Luis Obispo County has 15 community services districts and nine special districts, which are categorized as health, tourism, services and safety, and environment districts. Six of those districts submitted letters in support of House Resolution 7073—Special Districts Provide Essential Services Act. The resolution would ensure that fire, sewer, water, and public utilities, flood control, and public health special districts are eligible to receive future federal coronavirus relief.

Holifield said HR 7073 would allow a portion of resources provided in future COVID-19 relief appropriations to be directed toward special districts. The bill would also enable special districts to use the Federal Reserve’s Municipality Liquidity Facility program as a tool to access capital during an economic downturn, she said.

“Without access to federal resources, special districts will continue falling into economic distress, deferring maintenance, delaying capital projects, reducing staff, and cutting services to our communities,” she said.

The Special Districts Provide Essential Services Act was introduced in the House on June 1 and referred to the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Committee on Financial Services. Further action on the bill has not yet been taken. ∆

—Karen Garcia

Saturday, October 17, 2020

2020 Census ends abruptly after Supreme Court ruling

Posted By on Sat, Oct 17, 2020 at 9:50 AM

After an unusual year, the 2020 U.S. Census count is officially over.

A Supreme Court ruling on Oct. 13 put an end to an extensive legal battle over this year’s census count schedule and how long the survey should remain open. 
THE END After a recent Supreme Court ruling the 2020 U.S. Census count ended on Oct. 15. - IMAGE COURTESY OF THE U.S. CENSUS BUREAU
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF THE U.S. CENSUS BUREAU
  • THE END After a recent Supreme Court ruling the 2020 U.S. Census count ended on Oct. 15.


The Trump administration initially proposed an extension of the census deadline in April in response to unforeseen challenges and delays in the count brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. But after the administration abandoned that plan in July and attempted to move the deadline up to Sept. 30, a federal judge ordered on Sept. 24 that the census activities resume through Oct. 31.

Hours after the Supreme Court suspended that lower court order on Oct. 13, ruling in favor of the Trump administration, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it would stop accepting responses to the once-a-decade survey online and over the phone on Oct. 15 at 12 p.m. Hawaii time. Oct. 15 is also the postmark deadline for mailed paper forms and was the last day for door-to-door collections.

“It basically is just over now,” San Luis Obispo County Administrative Analyst Kristin Eriksson told New Times.

The count’s abrupt end was both concerning and expected among many Central Coast officials. This year’s census was shrouded in political battles before it even started. The Trump administration’s 2019 push to put a citizenship question on the survey led to concerns that hesitancy to respond among immigrant communities could lead to inaccurate counts. Then in March, COVID-19 hit, which Eriksson said brought all the usual in-person outreach activities to a halt.

In-person counting in SLO County didn’t start until August and then on Sept. 25, U.S. Census Bureau closed its Central Coast regional office in Ventura, leaving the area with few, if any, census workers to canvas local neighborhoods.

Some neighborhoods, especially in Santa Barbara County, are difficult to count. Santa Barbara County Complete Count Committee member Joni Maiden said that language barriers and a lack of internet, computer, and phone access can make it challenging for some Santa Barbara County residents to complete the survey online.

Santa Barbara County did what it could to pivot at the outset of the pandemic, but Maiden said an undercount is quite likely. Communities that are undercounted could lose federal funding and legislative representatives for 10 years.

As of Oct. 16, data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that roughly 69 percent of SLO County residents self-responded to the census this year, up slightly from 2010. Roughly 72 percent of Santa Barbara County residents self-responded to the 2020 Census.

“There’re just so many things that are based on the population count,” Maiden told New Times. “That’s why it’s important to get a true count.” ∆
—Kasey Bubnash

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Santa Barbara County nursing facilities continue to battle COVID-19 outbreaks

Posted By on Wed, Oct 14, 2020 at 4:07 PM

Five skilled nursing facilities in Santa Barbara County are currently under investigation for COVID-19 outbreaks, though only one of the facilities is experiencing an outbreak among residents as of Oct. 14. The others have just reported positive cases among their health care workers, according to Santa Barbara County’s reporting page.

Santa Maria Post Acute currently has the most severe skilled nursing facility outbreak in the county with 41 positive residents and 23 positive health care workers.

CONGREGATE SETTINGS Country Oaks Care Center had a severe COVID-19 outbreak in July, during which 11 residents died. Now, Santa Maria Post Acute is suffering from an outbreak with more than 60 residents and staff infected so far. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • CONGREGATE SETTINGS Country Oaks Care Center had a severe COVID-19 outbreak in July, during which 11 residents died. Now, Santa Maria Post Acute is suffering from an outbreak with more than 60 residents and staff infected so far.
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reports that less than 11 residents have died at the facility. The county only reports the exact number of infections or deaths at skilled nursing facilities once that number exceeds 10.

At a virtual press conference on Friday, Oct. 9, Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg reported that, “one resident had to be hospitalized briefly, and unfortunately, one resident died.”

Santa Maria Post Acute did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

Previously, Country Oaks Care Facility in Santa Maria experienced a large outbreak that was cleared in July, during which 11 residents died. Over the course of the pandemic, 29 residents have been infected at the facility. Right now, the facility is under investigation for positive cases among staff, but no residents are reported positive at this time.

Ansorg said that, while the county has experienced a downward trend in its case and testing positivity rates since late September, a combination of the Santa Maria Post Acute outbreak and “reduced vigilance with mask wearing and social distancing” contributed to a recent slight uptick or leveling out in county metrics.

“Everybody, please understand that opening up businesses does not mean that mask wearing and social distancing has become unnecessary or optional,” Ansorg said. “In fact, quite the opposite is necessary. The more people are out and about, the more important these measures actually are.”

Ansorg said the Santa Maria Post Acute outbreak began about two weeks ago, and that the county’s “Public Health Medical Operations and Disease Control teams are collaborating with the facility to manage this outbreak, improve infection control protocols, and, together with the state agencies, help to secure appropriate staffing needs.”

Alto Lucero Transitional Care (Santa Barbara), Marian Extended Care (Santa Maria), and Valle Verde Health Facility (Santa Barbara) have also reported positive COVID-19 cases among their health care workers, but none among residents. The county reports that these facilities all have less than 11 positive cases among health care workers with no deaths.

Buena Vista Care Center in Santa Barbara is the skilled nursing facility most recently cleared by the Public Health Department after overcoming an outbreak. The facility was cleared on Oct. 5. Other facilities like the Lompoc Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitative Care Center and the Samarkand Skilled Nursing Facility (Santa Barbara) were cleared of COVID-19 outbreaks in mid- to late-September. Δ

—Malea Martin

Chumash marine sanctuary nomination stays alive for five more years

Posted By on Wed, Oct 14, 2020 at 9:17 AM

After receiving nearly 15,000 public comments, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) decided to continue to nominate a Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary off San Luis Obispo County’s coast.

The proposed 140-mile sanctuary, intended to offer protections and management for marine resources between Cambria and Santa Barbara, was in jeopardy after it had not advanced from the nomination phase to the designation phase in five years.

STILL ALIVE The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration decided to renew its nomination of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary (pictured) for five more years. - MAP COURTESY OF NOAA
  • MAP COURTESY OF NOAA
  • STILL ALIVE The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration decided to renew its nomination of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary (pictured) for five more years.
But NOAA’s five-year review of the application concluded that the sanctuary still meets the criteria for nomination. It was renewed to October 2025.

“There are still significant threats to the area; it is still an area of national significance, and there is still broad community support for the nomination remaining on the inventory of possible designations,” NOAA wrote in its Oct. 1 notice in the federal register.

In deciding to renew the nomination, NOAA officials cited “new scientific information” that backed up the “national significance” of the coastline and the threats its resources face.

Local elected officials and indigenous tribal leaders celebrated the news in a press release on Oct. 13.

“I am thankful this five-year extension was granted, and I urge NOAA to move forward with designating this area as a sanctuary to protect it for future generations,” U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) said in a statement. “Marine sanctuaries play an essential role in protecting California’s sensitive marine and coastal areas from further oil and gas development. Designating this unique region on the Central Coast as a National Marine Sanctuary will help preserve our natural environment and cultural heritage while also helping to fight climate change.”

Fred Collins, chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, which was the organization behind the application, said that a sanctuary would make “all things connected, all things dreaming together for the abundant life of Grandmother Ocean—for fishermen and fisherwomen, tourists, and all that dwell on the shining, magical, mysterious, majestic coastline of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.” ∆

—Peter Johnson

Monday, October 12, 2020

Santa Barbara County hospitals allow for visitation with restrictions

Posted By on Mon, Oct 12, 2020 at 5:11 PM

Cottage Health announced in a recent COVID-19 update that it resumed limited visitation for the public to see patients.

Depending on the unit location, most hospitalized patients will be permitted one or two visitors during the day, and one overnight by request.

VISITATION RESUMED Northern Santa Barbara County hospitals, such as Cottage Hospital in Santa Ynez, now allow for patient visitation, with restrictions and limitations. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SANTA YNEZ VALLEY COTTAGE HOSPITAL’S FACEBOOK PAGE
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF SANTA YNEZ VALLEY COTTAGE HOSPITAL’S FACEBOOK PAGE
  • VISITATION RESUMED Northern Santa Barbara County hospitals, such as Cottage Hospital in Santa Ynez, now allow for patient visitation, with restrictions and limitations.
“To protect patients and staff, visitors will be asked to wear a face mask at all times, and enter and leave only once per day,” the announcement stated. “Hospital cafeterias and waiting areas will remain closed to visitors.”

Cottage Health added that visitation allowances may shift depending on changes to the community’s COVID-19 spread.

Cottage’s COVID-19 webpage lists specific visitation guidelines for the hospital’s three locations (Santa Barbara, Goleta Valley, and Santa Ynez Valley). Visitors will need to remain in the patient’s room for the duration of the visit, the guidelines add.

As of Oct. 12, Cottage Health is caring for six patients in isolation with COVID-19 symptoms across its campuses. Three are confirmed COVID-19 positive, and four are in critical care.

Other North County hospitals also allow for modified visitation.

“Following the end of the most recent surge four weeks ago, Marian Regional Medical Center revised its visitation policy to allow at least one care partner per patient,” Dignity Health Central Coast Division Director of Marketing and Communications Sara San Juan said via email. “Additional visitors may be requested on a case-by-case basis.”

San Juan said that the hospital’s visitation decisions are made “in coordination with the Santa Barbara County Department of Public Health direction and health orders, along with physician and hospital leadership to assure the safety of our patients, staff, physicians, and visitors.”

She added that visitation allowances are based on the “clinical condition of the patient.” This, of course, impacts the ability for COVID-19 patients to have visitors, but also other patients who have certain conditions, San Juan said.

“Currently, visitors are permitted for COVID-19 positive patients on a case-by-case basis,” she wrote.

Similar to Cottage and Marian, Lompoc Valley Medical Center (LVMC) Public Relations Coordinator Nora Wallace said that the hospital’s visitation allowances follow “the guidelines of the county's Public Health Department Health Officer orders.”

“We now allow two ‘designated’ visitors per patient per day—no random visitors,” Wallace wrote via email. “Obviously no active COVID-positive visitors [are allowed] or those who believe they may have been exposed.”

LVMC does not allow visitors younger than 13, and the visitation hours (a new addition during the pandemic) are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. However, Wallace added, “there are also exceptions for patients nearing the end of life. Specific requests in those instances will be addressed by the nursing administration or hospital supervisor of the day.”

As of Oct. 12, no in-person visitation is allowed at LVMC’s skilled nursing facility, the Comprehensive Care Center, however the hospital can arrange for remote visits.

As of Oct. 9, LVMC has no hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Oct. 13 Update: Santa Ynez Cottage Hospital is now allowing for overnight visitors. Cottage Health recently updated its website with the updated visitation information. Δ
—Malea Martin
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