Living in Pismo Beach – Jim Lewis

Living in Pismo Beach, where we connect you with some of our favorite people who live and work on the Central Coast. Those community and business leaders who make living on the Coast such a unique and diverse experience.

Episode #2

Jim Lewis
City Manager of Pismo Beach, CA

Jim Lewis the Pismo Beach City Manager joins Ashlea Foster Boyer, Shannon Bowdey & Jordan Hamm on Living In Pismo Beach.

Ashlea Boyer:

Hey, guys. It’s just another gorgeous day here on the Central Coast, and we’re looking even more appropriate today with our Keller red on because of our fun morning. Nice headband, Jordan.

Jordan Hamm:

Thank you. Yeah. We participated in Red Day today. It’s the Red Day 2020 quarantine version, but every year, Keller Williams participates in Red Day, and it is a day that we get to serve our community, and work together in whatever way we can to help those in need.

Shannon Bowdey:

Yeah, and this year we chose the food bank as our charity of choice, and our office all got together and donated money, and our office matched some of the funds, and we donated a big check to them today. The amount was $3,300, and that money will feed a family of four for five years.

Ashlea Boyer:

That’s just incredible. We always do an amazing job and it always makes me so proud, and this year was no different. Even though we couldn’t do something with our hands, like we’ve done in the past with building builds for Habitat for Humanity, or blood drives, but we did an amazing thing, 12,000 meals. It’ll really go a long way when the food bank really needs it. So yay us!

Shannon Bowdey:

Yay!

Ashlea Boyer:

So I’m excited for another episode of Living Pismo Beach. And today, we have the city manager for Pismo Beach, Jim Lewis, joining us. He’s been in that role for seven years, coming from previous positions with the City of Atascadero, and the City of Claremont, where he demonstrated his passion for public service and building sustainable organizations efficiently.

Jordan Hamm:

Yes. In all of these positions, Jim was successful in transforming downtowns and building pride and positive relationships among business owners, community groups, neighborhoods, and the city.

Shannon Bowdey:

Jim also serves as president of the League of California Cities, City Managers Department. He has served as president of the Municipal Management Association of Southern California, and he is currently an active board member on the Rotary Club of Pismo Beach Five Cities. On a personal note, Jim is a winemaker, and a husband and a father of two cuties.

Ashlea Boyer:

All right, well let’s have him join us.

Shannon Bowdey:

Well, let’s jump right in. It’s great to see you, Jim. Can you tell us a little bit of your history, and how you chose city management as your career path, and what led you to Pismo Beach?

Jim Lewis:

Sure. Thanks, Shannon. I really appreciate being part of your show, and I really appreciate the service you all give to the community.

Shannon Bowdey:

Oh, thank you, Jim.

Jim Lewis:

You each do some great things, and so I’m grateful.

Shannon Bowdey:

Yeah.

Jim Lewis:

Being a city manager isn’t something people usually grow up and say they want to be when they’re young or when they’re more mature, for that matter. But I was bit by a bug pretty much at the age of 18. So I thought I wanted to be a doctor, and I was admitted to the University of Southern California; premed, and that was where I started my studies. But right before I graduated from high school, we had something called a Youth in Government Day. And so, I was raised in Torrance, California, and all four high schools came together, the student councils, and I was the student body president of my high school. That shouldn’t be a surprise.

Shannon Bowdey:

Oh.

Ashlea Boyer:

No.

Jim Lewis:

And I really enjoyed leadership, and serving, and bringing people together. And so, we went to this session, and the mayor came out and talked about the mayor, and then some of the department heads came out and talked about what a fire chief does, and a police chief, and the last person to speak was the city manager, and I’d actually never heard of that.

And funny thing, my mother was a public servant. So she was an administrative secretary in the Water Department, and the Building of Safety Department, and in the Police Department. And so, I would spend my summers, I was kind of a latchkey kid, both my parents worked, and I didn’t have anywhere to go. So I would go to the public library and read, because there was no internet back then and no smartphones, and so I’d immerse myself in books. And then when I got done with that, I’d walk back over to City Hall where my mom worked, and wander the halls and pester people. And I’d always end up in the mayor’s office, because there was a candy bowl on the mayor’s desk.

So I knew nothing about a city manager, it was probably because most people don’t. And so, when the city manager [inaudible 00:04:31] at this Youth in Government Day, and started talking about how they were the CEO of the city and the leader of the organization, and they got to work in politics and business, and really got to be the person who crafted the policies, and really implemented the council’s vision for their city, it bit me right then and there, I said, “That’s what I want to do.”

Shannon Bowdey:

Wow. That’s wonderful.

Jim Lewis:

And so, I went to USC, and yeah, and started in premed studies and just kind of lost my focus. And so, I transferred to public policy and management as a freshman, and I wanted be a city manager ever since.

Jordan Hamm:

Oh, I love that.

Shannon Bowdey:

Oh, wow. That’s a good story. Wow, thank you.

Jim Lewis:

It’s very rare. How I was led to Pismo, obviously I love this community. My wife and I felt a real stirring in 2004, we were working in the city of Claremont, which is a college town, beautiful college town, quaint downtown, just East of Pasadena. And we had everything, we had great friends, great church, great home, and we just both felt this stirring, it was time to go. It was like, and the wind blew us.

And so, we came up here on a weekend trip like most people do, went to a few wineries and fell in love with this place. Six months later, a professional opportunity opened up as assistant city manager and director of economic development for Atascadero. And so, I was there for eight and a half years, and I’m very proud of the work we did there getting the Galaxy Theatre open, and the new writing center, and just some of the downtown going, the Carlton Hotel opened, the bridge, just so many things that we were able to do up there.

And I knew very much of Pismo Beach, obviously who doesn’t? It’s a wonderful place. And when the city manager announced his retirement, he gave a year notice, believe it or not. And so I thought, “Man, that’s an opportunity I don’t want to pass up. I hope they’ll accept me.” And so I did throw my hat in the ring. And from the moment I met the city council and my interview, and this was a different city council back then, this was eight years ago, really felt it connect. And I’m very pleased that they appointed me to be their city manager.

Shannon Bowdey:

Wow. That’s a great story. Thank you, Jim.

Jordan Hamm:

So are we.

Jim Lewis:

Thank you. It’s very nice.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah, and correct me if I’m wrong, Jim. It’s pretty unusual for city managers to transition with full council changes like that too, right? I mean, a lot of times it’s not necessarily a personality thing, it’s just new people want new ideas or new blood or something like that, right?

Jim Lewis:

Yeah. So a city manager serves at the pleasure of the City Council. I could be released within 24 hour notice. And so while the city manager has a lot of authority and decision making ability, and for some who may not know, the city manager oversees all city employees. So the police chief, the fire chief, they execute the laws, they minister the government, but you’re very accountable to the council. Because I like to say that the city manager is hired help. I’m the butler of the community and the council’s the owner; it’s their home, I’m their help. And when I get askew, if the council wants a different butler or wants a different garden, then that’s it for that butler.

And so to your point, you’re right. The council though had had a manager for nine years and he retired and they appreciated that manager and they hired me. What’s interesting is the council, as you say, very quickly, my term, within a period of two and then four years changed that majority. But I would like to think it’s a testament to, I don’t get involved in politics. I don’t take stances on development. I work really hard to listen and craft collaborative policies and we’ve built an organization that’s really service oriented. And so regardless of what a council’s politics should be, I would hope that I build that trust and transparency in the city government, that they appreciate my service and to date they have, and I’m thankful.

Jordan Hamm:

Yeah, absolutely. We heard about your achievements in Atascadero. Can you tell us just your favorite achievements you’ve made as unit city manager in Pismo?

Jim Lewis:

What I’m proudest of, may not be what people would think. And I think that the best thing we can do is what we do to people. And I’m proudest of the organization we have. I’m proud that we have a organization that isn’t siloed anymore, departments work together, they collaborate together, they rally behind each other. People who work here really are committed to a service ethic. They call it legendary service that our employees give service so good, that people can’t not talk about it. They want to tell their friend. “Oh my goodness, when I was dealing with the city employee today, can you believe?”

And that extends to our water worker and our park worker and the person at the counter. And that’s something we as an employee family come together, and I say family, we’ve really built a great unit of a team here. We meet once a year and we call it Because We’re Pismo, where we really talk about how we serve the community, how we serve each other, how we care for each other. We’ve come up some very innovative recruitment processes, some onboarding processes, some recognition and retention programs that are very unique for cities. And I’m very proud our council supports those things.

And so I think we’re a very fun loving, hardworking, play hard organization that reflects our community. And so I think I’m proudest of that. Our retention is through the roof. We’ve hired great people, we have recruitments, our positions are very demanded. People want to work for our city. And so I think that’s what I’m proud of stuff.

Now, I can’t just leave it at that. So I’m going to have to break that question a little bit. The other thing I would say, I’m proudest of our team and our people. But the one thing I would say is, we have really invested in the physical place. Placemaking is what cities are about. When you think of where you’ve been and what’s special about a city, you think of places. You think of the place you sat with your partner near a fountain, or you think of something you ate as you looked at a family.

And so I think I am proud that we’ve been able to create amazing places, whether that was our new pier or the Shelby Streetscape project finishing up, or the Plaza, or some of the other, or the new playgrounds, we’ve really spruced up the community the last seven, eight years; tens of millions of dollars in improvements. And getting it preserved, is when Preserved opened, on and on and on. And the quality of life in this community has been great. And I’d like to think we have raised property values a little bit for you and for the people who live here.

Shannon Bowdey:

Oh, that’d be nice.

Jordan Hamm:

Yeah, definitely.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah.

Shannon Bowdey:

You sort of answered that in my next question, but if you have anything else you want to add to it, what can we look forward to when we can return to enjoying the downtown after our phase reopening?

Jim Lewis:

Well, gee, won’t that be nice? I think health and safety is so important and I know people are frustrated. And let me just say, because I know you have a lot of people that watch this. And first of all, I’m really frustrated how people are leaving our town after they’re here for weekends. And so I want to speak to the people who are watching this, that your city hasn’t left that unnoticed. And we are redoubling our efforts on trash and cleanliness and getting groups to help us with beach cleanup. And if we don’t take care of our town, and our pier, and our beach and our clean water, what do we have left?

And so a lot of my time this week has been spent on how do we keep our town and clean and working with the business community. Government can’t do it all. It’s amazing to me what people want government to do and what they don’t want to do. We have to count on the private sector and our nonprofits to help us. And so I really spent a lot of time this week talking about the cleanliness of our community.

But to your question, when it’s open and when we really can come down and enjoy, I did leave some details out. Because I thought you might ask this question. So our plaza has 18 restrooms in it. And get this, there’s twice as many restrooms for women than men.

Ashlea Boyer:

Nice.

Jordan Hamm:

Yay.

Shannon Bowdey:

Yay.

Jim Lewis:

Because as we have events and programs, we recognize that we need to make that accommodation. We also have five family restrooms. And so for family, when I have a young family and when your kids has to use the restroom, you want to be in there with them and get it all taken care of. And so we really tried to create a restroom building that is more functional, it has more used and it’s not right in the darn center of the downtown alley.

Our new restaurant moved shifted over, it’s attractive and has the same architecture as the neighboring new hotels. You’re going to see pebbles you can sit on, you’re going to see game tables where you can play chess. You’re going to see concrete corn whole, where people can check out bags and have a corn hole round out by the flag pole.

But that’s not all. You’re going to see this amazing seven foot wall, Pismo Beach letters. That’s a great selfie spot, you can take a picture in front of. You’re going to see a cool kind of a interpretive area, with a gray whale from Scandinavia. It was imported from [inaudible 00:12:59] kids can crawl through. There’s little surfboards on springs you can bounce around on, and there are slides to the beach. Now let me tell you, you can slide down to the beach. That is going to be cool.

So the Plaza is going to be amazing. We’re also going to have a hall area that’s programmable for concerts and farmer’s markets, has power. And then we have beautiful palm trees are uplit, and the lights, believe it or not, are LED and can change color by season. So we can actually have green and gold lights at St. Patrick’s Day or other amazing … red, white, and blue at 4th of July. So the new plaza is going to be really something.

Ashlea Boyer:

That’s awesome, sounds so fun. I can’t wait. The team has to go take a picture sliding down that slide.

Jordan Hamm:

Yes.

Jim Lewis:

For sure.

Ashlea Boyer:

All right. So it kind of goes hand in hand with what we’ve been talking about with the transition and then reopening. I haven’t listened to every city council meeting, but has any plan been made to address all of the events that we have in the city? We have such a robust event schedule in the city. Or have we talked about walking blocks, like the Santa Monica Promenade or something like that, to keep the events going, virtual events or anything like that?

Jim Lewis:

So that’s a great question. Events are what drive us, right? And so even before the pandemic that we’re experiencing, you’ll see at the next council meeting on May 19th, I did work with our Special Events Committee because we were getting seasons where there was so many events, they weren’t enjoyable on the impact and quality of life. And then we’d have seasons where we should have events and we’d have none.

And so we worked the Special Events Committee and that gave us to be on the agenda May 19th, the try and spread out the events throughout the community and throughout the year where they made sense. And so we’re introducing the concept of some legacy events that we’ll always have, the 4th of July, the Clam Festival, things like that. And then we’re creating kind of caps on certain areas, particularly July, August, September, October; it’s very difficult. And trying to open some opportunity for events in April and May.

And so now that aside looking at the pandemic, what we’ve tried to do, Pismo Beach, we’re a very small, dense downtown, right? With a few streets are tight. And so that makes things very troubling as far as when we need to keep distance from people. And so we did look at closing off streets or trying to do one way, sidewalks. And one thing we’ve learned is that people are just doing what they’re going to do. And it’s frustrating from a public health standpoint, but it can be more confusing if you try and control these movements when people are going to do what they’re going to do.

So we have tried to create areas where businesses can mark on the sidewalk to create six foot intervals for people so they can choose safely. We’ve tried to put some additional tables out, so families can sit together, separated from other families, and so that’s been helpful. For some of the events, 4th of July, that was a hard decision to cancel the fireworks show, but under the governor’s order and the governor is in charge and he’s laying out all the rules we’re following, you just can’t have groups like that. There’s no way to keep people safe.

And so we are putting plans together for events of 10 or less and 50 or less when we can and how we can do those safely. I’m not going to speak in detail about that, but we are prepared for that. And we are looking at ways we can have events downtown, cornered or quartered, so we can help separate people when we’re able to do that. So we are trying to talk about some of those things, but I think we’re a few weeks away.

Ashlea Boyer:

Right. Right. And then of course the hot button issue of the past week has been the mask ordinance and where everyone falls on that. So I think you have some breaking news about what might be going on in that department.

Jim Lewis:

I do. And your viewers will be the first to see this, I think. That’s pretty exciting. Yeah. So the council obviously is very concerned about our community, our residents, our employees, they’re concerned about people coming into the community and perhaps bringing COVID-19 with them. And so they’ve really been concerned. And one of the things the city’s councils felt strongly about was some sort of a face covering or a mask ordinance. Really, how can we get people to cover their face when they’re going to be shopping, when they’re in tight quarters, when they’re in public around people. And so the council did introduce an ordinance. They did want to try and have an urgency ordinance, so the face covering would go into effect immediately. That required four votes and it didn’t have four votes. And so an ordinance was read for the first time.

I think, as people started reading that language and saying, “Wait a minute, this ordinance means that if someone’s in my business and not wearing a mask, it’s on me to tell them. And if I don’t or I don’t serve them, I could get cited. That doesn’t seem right.” And so there was a lot of discussion in the community. I went back and talked to some of the council members and the council members, they’re very open people, they’re wonderful people. They’ve been listening, their email and phones have been ringing off the hook. And we really tried to find, is there a way we could get this implemented again, as soon as possible, but that’s reasonable and really protects our employees and our people?

And so today, the council did direct me to a special meeting. We come back with another urgency ordinance for Tuesday that does a few things. One, it does require a business to put up a sign that says, “Show respect, wear a mask.” And it sites the ordinance number. And we’re hopeful that our visitors will wear masks when they’re in our community. They’ll see these signs and they’ll recognize, “Before I do business, I should put on a mask to be considerate of the employees who are working in there, that are our neighbors and friends.” And so one, it requires that.

Two, it requires that employees to be provided masks and that if they cannot keep more than six feet away from a person and it’s in a public space, the employee needs to wear a mask. And so those are the two main components of it. It no longer says that if you have a person in your store that’s not wearing a mask and you ask them to and they say, “No, thanks,” you can serve them and they can go about their way. And so, we cleaned that part up.

Now, if someone is in the store, and we hope stores will encourage and require masks, that’s up to them. It’s not ordained in the ordinance, the sign and the employee protection is. But if someone gets nasty, if someone says, “Can you please put a mask on?” And they say, no. And then the business person says, “Well, I’d prefer you leave my store. I want you to wear a mask,” and they don’t, we will respond to that. The city will respond. That’s a disturbing the peace, it’s potentially trespassing if a business person asks you to leave the store.

I hope we don’t get to that. Let’s hope we all get through this together, we all decide to wear a mask. It’s not a big deal when we’re doing business, we’re in closeness with each other. And the sooner we do these things, the sooner we beat this and we can move on with our life. And so that would be my message to people is, that we just need to care for each other and be respectful of each other. And it’s easy to get caught up and frustrated. But the ordinance now, going to the councils and urgency ordinance again, just requires me sign this thing, we encourage each other and we protect our employees.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah. I think that’s a fantastic move on the part of the council and yourself. So that sounds like it’s more than reasonable in my humble opinion.

Well, I really appreciate you taking the time out of what is, can only be an crazy busy schedule now with all of this. I can’t even imagine. I mean, you must be Zooming all day long. So thank you so much.

Jim Lewis:

All day long. Starts about 6:30 and ends about 7:30, 8:00.

Ashlea Boyer:

Oh my gosh.

Shannon Bowdey:

Wow.

Jordan Hamm:

Thank you for your time.

Ashlea Boyer:

Yeah, and then you’ve got little kids at home you’re homeschooling with your wife too. That’s just amazing.

Jim Lewis:

Thank you.

Ashlea Boyer:

So, well, anytime you want to trade the elementary school children though, for my 13 year old, I will gladly drop him off.

Jim Lewis:

Fair enough.

Ashlea Boyer:

All right. We appreciate you taking the time very much, Jim. Thank you so much.

Shannon Bowdey:

Yeah, thank you.

Jim Lewis:

It was great to be on your segment and thank you guys for the service you do in the community. It’s nice that we’re all working together.

Shannon Bowdey:

Oh, thank you.

Jim Lewis:

Thank you.

Jordan Hamm:

Thank you.

Shannon Bowdey:

Definitely. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

Ashlea Boyer:

All right. So that was a great episode. I very much enjoyed hearing all things Pismo Beach from Jim Lewis and stay tuned, we will have another exciting episode next week on Fridays at noon. So, this is Ashlea Boyer.

Jordan Hamm:

Jordan Hamm.

Shannon Bowdey:

And Shannon Bowdey.

Ashlea Boyer, Jordan Hamm & Shannon Bowdey

With the Pismo Beach Homes team.

 

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