Small businesses in East San Jose struggled more than most during the pandemic, but a new plan aims to invest in the community and support local merchants.
Representatives of San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco’s office and small business leaders announced the East San Jose Rescue Plan Friday outside Infante Wireless, a family-owned smartphone business along Alum Rock Avenue. Carrasco did not attend due to an illness, representatives said.
The plan is a partnership between Carrasco’s office and the Alum Rock-Santa Clara Street Business Association.
“We’re excited about the prospect of delivering an economic development plan that will produce a vibrant, prosperous, culturally-rich corridor that everyone can enjoy,” said Omar Torres, Carrasco’s deputy chief of staff. “Investing in the east side is investing in all of San Jose… To leave us behind is to not recognize what we have done for the whole region.”
Leaders tout the plan as instrumental in making sure East San Jose small businesses are able to thrive post-pandemic.
Torres told San José Spotlight that no specific plans exist yet for how funding will be doled out for businesses, but said funding would be “in the millions.” Most of the money will come from the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package. He said Carrasco is working with the city’s Office of Economic Development to make sure recovery money will be pumped into the east side.
San Jose will receive $212 million from the American Rescue Plan.
The East San Jose Rescue Plan is welcome news for Oswaldo Moreno, owner of Gala Events, an event planning business on East Santa Clara Street. Moreno said he’s lost 90% of his business due to canceled events because of the pandemic, which forced him to lay off 20 workers.
Moreno told San José Spotlight he’s approximately $90,000 in debt and won’t be able to turn a profit for at least two years. He hopes the plan will help him and his neighboring businesses with grants or loans.
“It’s been really difficult to survive and pay the rent,” Moreno said.
East San Jose businesses and their families experienced some of the worst economic instability in their lifetimes during the pandemic.
“Too many East San Jose businesses that have operated for generations have closed their doors for good because of this pandemic,” said Peter Ortiz, public policy advisor for the business association who also serves on the Santa Clara County Board of Education. “As leaders of this community, we cannot continue to allow this to happen to our small business owners and to the residents of San Jose.”
Mayor Sam Liccardo reinforced investment in East San Jose in his budget message released earlier in the week. He asked for the allocation of no less than 40% of Small Business and Manufacturing Initiative grant funding and matching dollars to support small businesses and business district development on the east side.
“The pandemic has inflicted a disproportionately severe human and economic toll on East San Jose,” he said. “Our city’s equitable recovery depends on the ability of our families, our arts organizations and our small, immigrant-owned businesses to stabilize and thrive.”
Small business owners and leaders at Friday’s news conference encouraged residents to tune into Tuesday’s City Council meeting, where officials will discuss the city’s proposed budget for next fiscal year. They hope to push the East San Jose Rescue Plan forward through pressure from small businesses and residents.
Planning Commissioner Rolando Bonilla spoke out against the plan and said the city and its elected representatives left East San Jose to fend for itself during the pandemic. In March, he asked for as much as $6.5 million to help small businesses on the east side. Prior to that, he created a COVID-19 fund for small businesses after catching the virus himself.
“The East San Jose Rescue Plan is not rescuing anyone other than political reputations seeking to erase the pain of the last year and a half,” Bonilla said in a statement Friday. “For this to truly be an economic recovery plan, the total budget allocation needed is a minimum of three times the current number.”