Khamis: Lessons from COVID-19 can make business more efficient
Offering more aid to small businesses is one option the Santa Clara City Council is considering. Photo by Katie Lauer.

It has been five weeks since Santa Clara County leaders issued the first shelter-in-place order and asked all nonessential workers to stay home. I applaud their efforts that are successfully, and dramatically, slowing the spread of the deadly coronavirus, and I welcome their continued expertise on how to keep us safe.

It is clear that times of challenge come with important lessons.

What I have learned is that the government cannot continue to spend money to stabilize our economy and make up for huge job losses, especially since local and state governments depend mostly on business-related taxes to provide services. While they can be helpful for some, in the short-run, subsidies are often given to those most adept at dealing with the government and help may not get to the small businesses and micro-enterprises most affected. Hence, we must find new, hygienic and efficient ways to return to work sooner rather than later.

We must use some of the new tools we have been acquiring, like teleconferencing, to provide flexibility for our workforce. This is why I am calling on county and state health officials to look for safe ways to put people back to work as soon as it can be done safely.

Public health leaders must assess risks and look for ways to mitigate them, one job classification at a time. Many jobs could resume with the right protections and procedures. I think of outdoor jobs that do not typically require interpersonal interactions or that naturally meet the social distancing requirements — jobs like pool and lawn maintenance, as well as many aspects of construction work.

If we do not take a thoughtful, science-based approach to getting people back to work, no amount of government subsidies will revive our workforce or rescue small businesses and micro-enterprises.

We have learned a lot in the past two months on how to work from home and to conduct our affairs more safely.

I am proud of the San Jose planning department, for example, for implementing video inspections. This approach will revolutionize the planning department because it creates safety and efficiency while improving customer service. For restaurants, we have temporarily allowed them to deliver alcoholic beverages, as long as they are delivered with meals. This has allowed some struggling restaurants that used to be full service to stay open and eke out a living. These lessons and policies must be carried forward when we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We should also not miss the opportunity to rethink local and state policies so we can meet challenges more quickly, such as by reforming CEQA, investing in online learning and reconsidering employment laws to help small businesses and the self-employed. We had big challenges around issues like a housing supply that failed to keep up with demand and the crisis of homelessness, well before COVID-19 struck.

Temporary changes in CEQA and contracting laws have sped up emergency and permanent housing development. If we continue to innovate when it comes to local and state policy, we will be able to meet the challenges of the current and post-COVID-19 landscapes.

Johnny Khamis is a San Jose councilmember first elected in 2012 to represent District 10, which spans Almaden and Blossom valleys.

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