Lopez: How we can help Silicon Valley’s small businesses survive the pandemic
An employee at Tony and Alba's prepared a pizza Tuesday evening. They are open for business for delivery or pick-up customers only. Photo by Katie Lauer.

In 2007, my family owned our own business, a local restaurant. It was supposed to provide the funds to fulfill my family’s dream of allowing me to be the first to graduate college.

Instead, in the wake of the ensuing recession and financial crisis, it became our ruin. As business dried up, we struggled to hang on, and eventually lost the restaurant. Having taken out a second mortgage to get the start-up cash necessary to open up the restaurant, we lost both our business and our home.

Today, my heart breaks as I see history repeating itself, with downtown corridors and Main Streets across the South Bay at risk of going dark as local businesses shutter. No family should have to go through what we went through, and the COVID-19 health crisis threatens both our entire local business community as well as the workers they employ.

Small businesses comprise the vast majority of new jobs, driving the engine of our economy. In some small South Bay cities, such as Campbell, they also supply the majority of local jobs. That’s why we have to join together as a community to support small businesses, the lifeblood of our community.

Many resources already exist for small businesses. State Treasurer Fiona Ma has compiled the most comprehensive list of resources for California small business owners with more forthcoming, and the governor’s office has also compiled its own list. Corporations like Facebook and Verizon are stepping up to offer cash grants to small businesses. And the federal Small Business Administration is also providing low-interest federal disaster loans to our state.

Loans, however, will not be enough on their own.

That’s why I called on Campbell Congressmember Anna Eshoo to request that small business relief in the form of grants be included as part of a federal disaster relief package. The bill passed last week by Congress is a good first step which looks to offer some grant assistance, but does not offer nearly enough.

When Congress next considers COVID-19 legislation, increasing small business relief must be a part of the package. Additionally, I called upon the federal Small Business Administration to ramp up staffing in order to process loan requests in a timely fashion. I encourage all South Bay residents to do the same by writing or calling their own representative. We can’t afford to bail out big business and leave our small businesses behind.

As a candidate for public office, I’m also calling for our cities to exercise the power granted by Gov. Gavin Newsom via executive order to impose a moratorium on evictions at the local level, applying it to local businesses as well. In fact, this is the time for cities to get creative and use every tool at their disposal. A regional lens is essential: cities can look to one another to share best practices, and should coordinate resources across the municipal and county level.

The governor’s office, which recently announced mortgage relief for homeowners, is currently working on extending financial relief to small businesses as well, and cities ought to build on these protections to the greatest extent possible.

Meanwhile, all of us can support local businesses during this time by ordering pick-up or delivery (and while you’re at it, make sure to tip your delivery driver for helping keep us all safe). Some business owners, such as Randy Musterer, owner of Sushi Confidential, are getting creative by finding ways to amplify and support other businesses as well. These stories are worth sharing and supporting.

I remain hopeful that this time will be different than the last Great Recession. Unlike during that previous downtown, pent-up consumer demand may be greater, since there are less options for shopping during the current public health crisis, keeping sales artificially low. However, more immediate relief will be needed for the businesses in danger of shuttering, and the workers who would lose their jobs if those businesses were to collapse.

All small businesses take a risk by opening their doors. That entrepreneurial spirit is what helps give the South Bay its vibrancy.

But when circumstances outside of any one entrepreneur’s control impose themselves, it’s incumbent for our leaders to step up to the challenge to support them. Those circumstances don’t reflect a moral or personal failing on the part of our local business owners. In fact, the most responsible act we can all take right now is to obey public health officials and practice social distancing.

Yet no business should be forced to close its doors for being responsible and putting the health of the community first. That means that all of us must do our part to support them.

Sergio Lopez is a nonprofit leader and candidate for Campbell City Council. He serves as director of development for the Junior State of America Foundation, a national civic education nonprofit, and sits on the Board of Directors of the Campbell Historical Museum Foundation. He graduated from Yale University. You can reach him at [email protected].

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