Op-Ed: The Case for City-funded Small Business Relief in San Jose

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].


  1. Thank you for writing this article and Rolando Bonilla who is on the Planning Commission has been on our local news advocating for relief for the businesses on Alum Rock and the eastside. He started a relief fund and recently on Channel 7 advised he asked the Mayor and city to buy some of the buildings on Santa Clara Street and Alum Rock and rent these businesses out to the small business owners who because of covid lost their leases. When many community leaders join together things get done. I wish in my community we had people like you and the other organizations that work hard to improve residents lives. I read about downtown core receiving so much financial help and this is not a bad thing but too many areas get neglected.

  2. Rolando Bonilla has done nothing but used people and their platform. The buying back business was Jesse and ARVAC idea he just stamped his face and took credit. The relief fund was prosperity labs and used them for P.R. Thank the right people who did the work everything he has done has been the work of other organizations and groups.Rolando P.R with his company voler. He just finding where to stamp his name. I want solutions that are long term. As a business owner Rolando has done nothing all the sudden he shows up because he is running don’t believe the hype. Please do you hmk he comes from campos clan who hurt a lot of businesses and blackballed others who didn’t agree with her camp.

  3. Wow this is a great article thank you everyone for everything you do. We need concrete solutions and this is a plan with details. Mr. Ortiz is a great example of grassroots leadership.

  4. We need more money and they need to prioritize small businesses if they want economy to flow. Small business are the backbone of working families. I’m so glad this article brought light to this subject. So many business have bankrupt or closed due to this pandemic. What else besides money do they need well maybe structure. Would love to see a follow up to this article very interesting. I am intrigued to find out what else he is planning to do. I’ll be following these articles thanks inside.

  5. What is a Campos Clan? I think my point is people need to work together and issues need to be brought to light no matter who says what. The hard point is getting people to act on issues and if Rolando brings this to the media power to him and others. I am tired of hearing about problems in my neighborhood and the same people always at the same table with city leaders and yet nothing gets done. We need new leadership and people working together seriously and not fighting against each other. You don’t have to like someone to get things done just do the job and have a plan. The devil is always in the details and unfortunately we never hear details about the ideas thrown out.

  6. Being in the media is not an action it’s noise. You are right we need a solution and we need to weed out the corrupted politicians. I’m here for new leadership with no history of corruption. Rolando just makes a noise he has not done anything but use others to take credit and that’s not leadership. I’m here for new leadership with actions and solutions. I’m here for authentic ideas from leaders who can structure a plan and execute it. Anyone in P.r R and who is investigated with Nora Campos is a no for me. We can’t just jump when a man is acting like he did something. Let’s see who runs for city council but Rolando is a big No for me look it up online you will see his history and he isn’t new leadership he is corrupted leadership that needs to go away.

  7. free money from government doesnt help small business, getting out of the way does

    how many hoops and leashes will this money require, how will the city pick? will it be by race?

    this is a pub stunt and likely a waste of time

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