Downtown task force pushes San Jose to help businesses survive post-coronavirus
Businesses and storefronts remained boarded up to protect from potential looters on Thursday, June 4. Photo by Janice Bitters

    Downtown San Jose community leaders this week gave city officials a to-do list to help the groups limping back to an economic equilibrium following the coronavirus shutdown.

    The nine recommendations, compiled by a 40-person coalition of downtown business, arts and community organizations, ask officials to create a new marketing program, extend free parking in the area and turn public areas into outdoor retail space. The group also pushes city and county leaders to follow other counties by immediately reopening personal service businesses, like hair and nail salons, gyms and tattoo parlors.

    “Every day that one of our establishments remains closed or is struggling to operate, is another day that our livelihoods are at risk,” the group wrote in a letter to city leaders this week. “As small business owners and organization leaders, we have long stood by the city through all its economic ups and downs. We hope that the city will now in turn stand by us.”

    The group, called the Greater Downtown San José Economic Recovery Task Force, was championed by Councilmember Raul Peralez, and met over five weeks to drum up the recommendations. Their ideas will be discussed at the city’s Rules and Open Government Committee Wednesday.

    The task force also wants the city to reduce fees for certain events, offer compliance support to help businesses navigate social distancing rules and a new multilingual information hub.

    “Santa Clara County was a leader in flattening the COVID-19 curve, but as the numbers show, the shelter-in-place orders devastated our local economy,” Peralez, who represents the city’s downtown, said in a statement Tuesday. “Our small business community has spoken on what they need and our role in local government is to listen to those whose livelihoods have been affected.”

    Indeed, the City Council on Tuesday was scheduled to vote on a parking measure to reduce or waive parking fees in the downtown, moving forward one of the goals set out by the downtown group.

    The city’s newly-adopted budget also includes $100,000 for efforts to help downtown businesses stay afloat and another $92,000 that would go to the San Jose Downtown Association to assist small businesses with outreach efforts and reopening support.

    Those are heartening moves, said Scott Knies, executive director for the San Jose Downtown Association.

    “This suite of nine recommendations, we really see it as a package,” he said. “Each one of these recommendations comes from the businesses and arts groups, and is based on the boots-on-the ground, real need that’s out there.”

    Both Knies and members of the downtown task force say the recommendations could serve as a model for the entire city as companies reopen and adapt to a new normal.

    “The geographic focus of this task force may have been on the greater downtown area, but many of the recommendations could be applied across the city for broader impact,” said Wisa Uemura, executive director of San Jose Taiko and a co-chair of the task force. “It’s my hope that the council and public will receive these recommendations in the spirit of collective goodwill and inclusivity that it was intended.”

    Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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