This month marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic arriving in Santa Clara County, but this March looks very different than last. We have many reasons for optimism in 2021 that we did not have in 2020 because of the enormous sacrifices and tenacious work that has been undertaken by our entire community to fight back – with vaccines, with testing, and through the support of each other.
While our beautiful and diverse communities were shouldering the tremendous burdens and pain brought by COVID-19, we have fought to ensure that every facet of our community received the support they needed to deal with the pandemic. Last month, we partnered on extending hero pay to the people who work in our large retail and grocery establishments. We have now come together on what we consider to be the other side of this equity story. We need to get relief to our small businesses, many of which have been crushed by the pandemic and the necessary restrictions to contain it.
Our communities—from the East Side to Gilroy, from Sunnyvale to Palo Alto, from downtown Willow Glen to Japantown—are made up of small businesses that not only employ our residents and provide them with goods and services but also are pillars of their individual neighborhoods. They are involved in and give back to these communities that they have called home, often for multiple generations. Sadly, this pandemic has forced so many of them to close, some temporarily but others permanently.
A recent county report notes that 2,600 food facilities are currently inactive and 1,000 have closed permanently. Temporary permit applications have decreased by 75% since the beginning of the pandemic. Those numbers represent the destruction of lifetimes of hard work and passion, of careers that have been ended neither through market force nor fault of their own.
Each of these businesses represent lives and livelihoods, and while we can’t reopen them, we must do everything in our power to ensure that the number stops growing.
Our plan is simple. Reduce or waive all county fees for businesses with fewer than 50 employees that remain impacted by the COVID public health orders (for example, grocery, restaurant, body art, and some indoor swimming facilities) located anywhere in Santa Clara County.
Just as we should be paying more to employees who work for large, national chains that, quite frankly, have profited from the pandemic, we now must bring relief to their local, smaller competitors that have been closed or restricted in operations.
States and localities across the nation have taken different approaches to this pandemic, each with pros and cons. However, our residents and our local businesses have paid an enormous price to achieve that health outcome.
It is just and equitable to share sacrifice whenever possible. We will urge our colleagues on Tuesday to take this critical step to assist our smallest local businesses get to the other side of the pandemic. The county can bear the loss in revenue far more easily than they can and we must shoulder this responsibility so we can all move forward – together.
Susan Ellenberg and Cindy Chavez are Santa Clara County supervisors.