Mayor Victor Gonzales began the discussion with a preliminary overview of plans in place for city facilities, such as the Pflugerville Parks and Recreation Center and Pflugerville Library.
“It’s become an education process for all of us, a learning process and understanding of how we can impact our community," Gonzales said.
Gonzales confirmed the city is giving extensions to recreation center memberships during the coronavirus shutdown and will not resume normal activities until further notice. City staff are also considering reduced hours and occupancy for when the center reopens and will continue offering virtual classes, Gonzales added.
All group activities and senior programming has been suspended until further notice, and city staff are considering whether to host its 2020 summer camp given the current pandemic. The city will not resume normal pool operations, including splash pads, until further notice, and closures at Lake Pflugerville and 1849 Park will continue.
“The predominant objective is to keep our city and community safe as best we can," Gonzales said.
Beginning May 1, the library will begin offering curbside pickup services under a retail-to-go model, and public Wi-Fi will be accessible in the library's parking lot for residents, Gonzales said. Gonzales added that city staff are considering vulnerable population hours at the library along with limiting the number and space of patrons allowed in the facility at a given time.
The Pflugerville Recycling Center will resume its full operations beginning May 1 while still practicing social distancing measures. IDs will be checked through closed windows, and the city's curbside chipping services will resume monthly pickups as opposed to its previous biweekly schedule.
For Pflugerville's municipal court, Gonzales said staff are tentatively working toward plans for June dockets, or lists of cases awaiting trial, dependent on state and county orders. Gonzales said that there are 15 cases currently scheduled in June, which both he and City Manager Sereniah Breland said was not a significant number and could be delayed until a later date, as necessary.
Pflugerville's utility billing lobby remains closed and will continue suspending late fees and disconnections until June 15. As that mid-June date approaches, Breland said she and staff will re-evaluate and consider a further waiver on late fees, if needed.
Gonzales said he and city staff will be closely evaluating the next two weeks before moving onward to an additional reopening phase. He added that based on current projections, a return to relative normalcy is more so several months away.
"I do think that we certainly will have and be under pressure to open up certain facilities," Gonzales said.
A central discussion point held by council April 28 was the status of Lake Pflugerville. While the city is not opening the facilities up to the public yet, Breland addressed the levels to reopening the lake—its boat ramp, bathrooms, playground facilities, trails and bank fishing—and asked for input from council.
Mayor Pro Tem Omar Peña said the safety of city employees is "paramount," adding that their security needs to be a top priority. For solo activities such as fishing, Peña said he is in favor of opening that up to the public, but added that city staff need to be extremely specific in directions given to citizens and the enforcement of their behaviors.
“All of this said is moot if the citizens just really don’t pay heed to our advice and our warnings," Peña said.
Peña added that his concerns lie mainly on citizens' end of upholding these safety measures. He said he has not seen as many people adhere to social distancing practices or wearing face masks in recent weeks—a sentiment echoed by Breland. She said that both herself, as well as police officers, have not seen people following safety protocol and predict it will only get worse come May 1.
Council Member Doug Weiss said he struggled with the idea of selective enforcement at this time. Weiss said that if the city were to allow fishing or solo kayaking at the lake, open parking lots could entice more residents to trickle in and start using the beach or trail system. He added that unless the city is going to fence off the beach or pavilion, opening the lake could lead to issues involving enforcement and cost.
Council Member Rudy Metayer, regarding the lake, said there are a lot of unknowns involving the virus but added the city needs to take initial steps to try out some reopening measures. If the public does not practice social distancing, Metayer said it is within the city's jurisdiction to close facilities once again.
Council Member Mike Heath echoed similar ideas to Metayer's, adding that within how small of a percentage Pflugerville's confirmed cases is compared to the rest of the Austin metro, he found it hard to justify "some of the draconian actions" currently being implemented.
“We’re going to let the genie out of the bottle, but we’ll try to stuff it back in as best we can," Heath said.
The concern with those confirmed case numbers, Metayer said, is that residents are not being tested at nearly as high of a rate as necessary. Weiss said that prematurely reopening facilities could not only risk public health, but could also cause further anxiety and paranoia if facilities are closed again. Weiss cited a 7% increase in coronavirus cases in Pflugerville on April 28, adding he wants to understand what metric city staff would use to close facilities again should reopenings and correlated spikes occur.
“I think a false start is probably the worst thing that we can do," Weiss said.
Following the discussion, Gonzales said that Breland her staff will come back with recommendations on their process for reopening some city amenities. Council Member Jim McDonald suggested council revisit the item at its next meeting, adding that members can then see the impact of the governor's May 1 phased reopening and see if any flare-ups in cases have occurred.
“As we all know, the next few weeks are going to be critical," Gonzales said.
Editor's note: While suggestions have been made to not host the city of Pflugerville's summer 2020 pfun camp, no formal decision has been made. More information regarding the status of the summer camp will be relayed on the city's website.