Our government has long underestimated the importance of our small business community. Small business is the number-one employer in this country and many San José residents rely on mom-and-pop establishments to provide a reliable source of income.
But during our city's shelter-in-place (SIP), most discussions around relief efforts excluded our members. When small businesses are excluded, their employees are as well. Now is the time for city leaders to come together to preserve the substantial economic benefits of our diverse small business community.
In East San José, small businesses are our foremost employer, and most of our employees live within the city boundaries. Pre-Covid-19, our Alum Rock-Santa Clara Street Business Association members along the Alum Rock Corridor were lucky enough to provide more than 325 jobs to the community. Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused several of our businesses to lay off staff and, on several occasions, were displaced altogether.
On behalf of the 200-plus small businesses we represent along the corridor, The Alum Rock-Santa Clara Street Business Association's leadership has a list of 4 initial recommendations we would like our city leaders to take action on.
1. Halting or deferring financial burdens placed on small businesses
For impacted small business owners, the need to pay utilities and licensing costs poses a significant threat to their ability to stay in operation. The city of New Orleans announced waiving fines, fees, interest, and penalties on sales tax payments. Cities around the country, including New Orleans, St. Louis, and Phoenix, have ordered utility companies to keep business’ lights on and water running while the public health crisis persists.
We call on our city leadership to wave and defer utility and licensing costs for small businesses that have experienced an impact from the Covid-19 pandemic.
2. Establishing a small business relief fund
The city of San José can take multiple approaches to provide direct financial relief for small businesses. San José should move fast by creating funds through a combination of city resources, philanthropic dollars or by redeploying state Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to small businesses.
The City of New Jersey has redirected CDBG funds to match grants awarded to small businesses, resulting in up to $10,000 per business. In the City of Philadelphia, the city announced a $10 million Covid-19 Small Business Relief Fund to provide grants to impacted businesses.
We call on the city to put a total of $10 million of general fund dollars aside to give relief to small businesses in highly affected communities.
3. Establishing localized and community-specific business assistance programs
As our city considers providing support for businesses, we ask that it be strategic in allocating resources. There should not be only one community-based organization responsible for providing technical assistance to businesses throughout the city. Resources should be split into multiple organizations based on targeted demographics and region.
We want to make sure that our city entrusts organizations that have existing relationships in our communities. The organizations should have a track record of working well with other service providers and have the capacity to provide culturally competent services. There should not be outside consultants obtaining Cares Act funds to do work local community organizations are better equipped to provide.
4. Investing in city-funded mediation between merchants and property owners
Due to limitations on operations, the SIP order has resulted in many small businesses falling behind on rent. California has issued a moratorium on evictions for small businesses; however, many small business owners remain confused about what is accurate. There have been bad apples within the property owner community that have exploited this confusion by raising the rent on our members and evicting small business tenants.
We ask city leaders to invest in mediators who can bring everyone to the table to discuss options that are beneficial for both tenants and property owners. We also ask that the city provide property owners incentives to encourage negotiating in good faith with our business owners. If the city fails to take action, we fear that mass displacement will occur, resulting in vacant properties popping up across the city.
We look to our leaders at the city of San José and ask for action to address our community's concerns. By answering our call to action, the city would be taking a significant step in providing much-needed relief to our members. Now is the time for action, and we ask our city leaders to identify further steps they can take at the municipal level to keep our local economy from collapsing.
The mission of Alum Rock-Santa Clara Street Business Association is to be an advocate and provide the necessary tools and resources to small family businesses to contribute towards their growth, stability, and economic development.
Peter Ortiz is the Policy Advisor for the Alum Rock-Santa Clara Street Business Association. Connie Alvarez is the president of the Alum Rock-Santa Clara Street Business Association. Mimi Hernandez is the strategic advisor for the Alum Rock-Santa Clara Street Business Association. Opinions are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].