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By Collin Breaux | Email: | Twitter: @collin_breaux

It used to be normal to go on haunted history walks in downtown San Juan Capistrano, have a seat at Hennessey’s Tavern on Friday mornings for Coffee Chat or file into City Hall for a city council meeting.

That was before the coronavirus pandemic caused event cancellations and prompted residents to stay indoors. People are still finding new ways to enjoy social activities online and over the phone, though.

Zoom, social media and online streaming are becoming the predominant platforms for traditional activities in the physical distancing era. Haunted Orange County, which previously held paranormal history walking tours in San Juan Capistrano and other events in Orange County, is posting live videos and online articles in lieu of neighborhood walks.

“While some tour companies have decided to go dark and do what they can to survive, we wanted to take a different approach and use it as a time to thrive and grow another part of our business which we had not focused on, and that was our social media platforms, which include Facebook and Instagram,” said Ernie Alonzo, Creative Director for Haunted Orange County.

Haunted Orange County had free online events the first week the California stay-at-home order was in place, including paranormal lectures and interviews with paranormal experts and television personalities.

“We’d be foolish to miss out on this opportunity to fill a much-needed void right now. There are volumes of on-demand free content out there,” Alonzo said. “What we want to provide is a livestream event that is well done, and will keep you coming back for more. We’ve had a blast doing it, and we’re confident that many of these new eyes will convert to future ticket buyers once the current crisis is behind us.”

Coffee Chat, an open community discussion regularly held on Friday mornings in downtown San Juan Capistrano, is also going digital for the time being. In-person gatherings were canceled for the remainder of March after the announcement of the Swallows Day Parade postponement, but the group eventually came back together in a different way.

Ann Ronan, who frequently participates and co-hosts Coffee Chat, reached out to other co-hosts and suggested they needed to find another way to stay connected. Ronan and Erin Beyer, another frequent participant and co-host, started by posting short video updates as Ronan learned how to manage the Zoom platform with many participants. They held a live session on April 10 with 22 participants and plan to continue to do so weekly until they can meet in person again.

“Coffee Chat attendees care about city matters and each other. For some folks, it may be one of the few times they connect with their neighbors each week,” Ronan said. “Continuing online allows us to check in with each other and celebrate the generous spirit of our restaurants, nonprofits and corporate sponsors who are providing food and other resources for those in need. It also allows us to keep informed about city council items that are still moving forward during this time.”

The San Juan Capistrano City Council has also transitioned to the new world. The April 7 meeting was the first entirely teleconferenced meeting, and the public was not allowed to attend in person. However, the meeting was streamed live on the city website, and residents were able to call in with comments or email them in advance.

“We’ll continue to enhance the call in procedures, but overall the meeting format was successful in allowing for public participation while also doing our part to promote public health by limiting gatherings,” City Manager Ben Siegel said. “We’d also like to note that building permit processing and plan check are now handled via email or over the phone, city inspectors are conducting video inspections, and a wealth of information and resources are available on the city’s website.”

For residents without Internet access, the city has created resource flyers in both English and Spanish, installed citywide signage, and partnered with community organizations to distribute information. They are also providing resource materials directly to their majority senior communities.

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