Bouquets and Brickbats: Welcome start to restoration of building

In just a matter of weeks, work will begin on rebuilding the Atascadero Administration Building, the beautiful structure that has stood empty since the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake damaged it. We’ll hold off awarding a rose garden full of bouquets until the project is done, but the coming start of the work is exciting nonetheless.

A case can be made that the Administration Building, with its rotunda top, is one of the most distinctive buildings in the county. It opened in 1918, giving it a healthy dose of historical import. While the missions in San Luis Obispo and San Miguel have more history and cultural significance, their designs are much simpler by comparison.

The reconstruction work is expensive — $43 million — and will take until 2013 to finish. But when it is done, a real jewel will once again grace Atascadero’s downtown. So good luck to city leaders and work crews on this high-profile project.

Road project stifles business in Grover

It is a laudable goal whenever a city seeks to beautify itself, as the result is usually better for residents and visitors alike.

But getting there can be painful, as a group of small business owners in Grover Beach know all too well.

What began as a beautification project on two blocks of West Grand Avenue has stretched into the waning weeks of summer. Delays caused by the rainy winter caused the start to slip from January to late March. The work is still not done; city officials hope things wrap up by the end of the month.

But that won’t keep ice cream shop owner Leticia Soria from having to dip into retirement funds to pay rent. Nearby restaurant owner Ken Voss is looking at a loan to stay open. And Katie Baldwin, an employee at Shell Beach Floral Design, said, “We’re just ready for it to be done. We’ve grown tired of the noise and the dust.”

According to the business owners and employees, customers are intimidated by the work, too, and they are staying away. To its credit, the city offered rent assistance to help the businesses get through. And city funds were used to pay for promotional ads and signage telling shoppers the stores are open.

Still, we hammer a scheduling brickbat onto the construction calendar for this project. Summer is the high season for tourism at any beach community, and it just seems city officials should have found a work-around to help the small merchants out.

Forum draws a strong response

Crowd estimates aren’t exactly our strong suit, but we would say that at least 300 people attended a Friday night forum for state Senate candidates at the South County Regional Center.

The Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business — was the main sponsor. Because COLAB’s executive director, Andy Caldwell, is a strong supporter of Republican Sam Blakeslee, there was speculation that it could be a hostile atmosphere for Democrat John Laird. Not at all.

If anything, Blakeslee got the loudest negative reaction of the night, when some members of the crowd yelled “Answer the question!” to his rather vague response to a question about gay marriage.

Overall, the crowd was respectful and engaged — and we’re impressed that so many people would show up for a forum on a Friday night. We toss liberal (and conservative) handfuls of red, white and blue rose petals to the organizers, the moderators, the attendees and, last but not least, the candidates.