Mayor Johnson addresses parking confusion, sanitation changes, social distancing

In a regular briefing last Tuesday, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said he is pleased that local citizens seem to be doing a better job observing social distancing.

“I want to thank those who are taking social distancing seriously,” Johnson said.  “However, there were some gatherings, some stores, some businesses that still do not seem to get the point.”

Specifically, he cited “local seafood establishments and neighborhood discount dollar stores” as sites where a lot of violations are occurring.

Johnson had been so incensed by widespread disregard that at last Tuesday’s briefing, he threatened a citywide curfew if things didn’t improve quickly.

Johnson thanked Walmart and other big box stores for amending policy on how many people can be in a store at a time. That move came after a viral video of a large brawl in a Walmart on the Southside — which Johnson himself was coincidentally able to witness in person.

Johnson admitted that there have been “mixed messages” on the issue of City parking, with citizens unsure of whether it’s the first hour that’s free, or whether parking is totally free.

“We messed that one up,” he said, vowing to fix the confusing communications issue. “Everybody has to know what the game plan is.”

City Manager Pat Monahan said there was never an intention to make on-street parking completely free, as many citizens were either told or understood.

“The problem with free on-street parking is folks don’t park in the parking garages,” Monahan said. “But any citations issued Monday and today will be forgiven.”

Monahan confirmed that ONLY the first hour of parking is free downtown.

All other parking violations will be ticketed as usual, he said.

Johnson reiterated that City sanitation services are at reduced staff to allow for safe social distancing of truck crews. There will only be two crew members on each truck for the time being.

“We want to practice what we preach,” he said.

This also means that services are reduced, however. Only regular trash will be picked up — NO items will be taken to recycling, NO yard waste and NO bulk items will be picked up.

Mayor Johnson said that you can use your yellow recycling bin to put regular trash in — which will not be recycled — but asked that citizens fill up the regular bins first.

You can take your recycling, yard waste or bulk items to the Dean Forest Road Landfill or Bacon Park Transfer Station.

Johnson confirmed that the only legal shelter-in-place protocol current in effect is the Governor’s recent and controversial executive order.’

On an unrelated but timely note, Johnson encouraged Savannahians to take advantage of whatever extra time they might have on their hands to fill out the U.S. Census.

“It takes less than five minutes, took me only four,” he said. “At this critical time every Savannahian needs to count.”

Johnson said less than 40 percent of City residents have been counted so far. 

CAT changes

Chatham Area Transit is implementing additional bus schedule reductions, including shorter operating hours, as staffing levels decrease following the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new service reductions went into effect on Monday, April 13.

The revised bus operating hours are 5 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sundays until further notice.

Customers are encouraged to review the new modified route schedules in advance when planning trips. The new modified schedule for each of the routes is available online at https://www.catchacat.org/modified-bus-schedules/.

 CAT Mobility’s operating hours also will be reduced to match the modified operating hours of fixed-route service.

 CAT continues to urge fixed-route and CAT Mobility customers to only use the services for essential trips, such as medical appointments, grocery shopping and work. 

In addition, customers are encouraged to use cloth face coverings if they are not wearing masks while riding mass transit.

“We are asking the public to join us in helping to keep customers and employees safe as we continue to provide services to people who need them,” said Michael J. Brown, interim CEO/Executive Director. “We all must do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The additional service reductions come after CAT implemented reduced schedules on March 26. CAT also is operating buses at 50-percent of their capacity to allow passengers more room to spread out and adhere to social distancing requirements.  

CAT is waiving fares to minimize operator and public contact. Customers should get on and off the bus using the rear entrance unless they have disabilities that require them to use the front door with its kneeling function and wheel chair ramp. 

The CAT board is scheduled to consider whether to continue the reduced service levels and waived fares at their meeting on April 28. Prior to that meeting, CAT may need to adjust service levels further as the situation or staffing levels dictate.

Primary election postponed until June 9

Georgia’s statewide general primary and presidential preference primary election has again been postponed due to the pandemic, this time until June 9.

“This decision allows our office and county election officials to continue to put in place contingency plans to ensure that voting can be safe and secure when in-person voting begins and prioritizes health and safety of voters,” said Ga. Secretary of State Brad Raffenberger.

Current models anticipate the pandemic’s peak in Georgia around April 24, which would have been only days before in-person voting was scheduled to begin.

The voter registriaton deadline for the June 9 election will be May 11.

Early voting will begin on May 18.

Absentee ballot applications will continue to be accepted and processed even if the application said May 19, the last previously scheduled date for the election.

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