San Jose adopts measures to help businesses amid coronavirus closures
A sushi boat at Kazoo sushi bar. Owner Sean Yang says lots of rolls such as this one have been thrown away because they go uneaten in the wake of decreased business caused by coronavirus. Photo by David Alexander.

    As cancellations, school closures and mandatory quarantines ramp up, San Jose leaders are scrambling to help the city’s most vulnerable residents, fearing devastating economic consequences for residents and local small businesses that are losing income.

    Following last week’s call to place a moratorium on evictions for residents who can’t pay rent because of lost income, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved extending the ban to small businesses as well as establishing a relief fund to help those shops cover employee wages, rent and other fixed costs.

    The temporary moratorium, which will be in effect for 30 days with the possibility of an extension each month, is meant to protect residents who cannot make rent on a home or business by prohibiting landlords from evicting them. Lawmakers enacted the moratorium Tuesday, and approved applying it to small businesses. The City Council will return in three weeks to vote on enacting the moratorium to businesses.

    “This period of self isolation eventually will pass but if we’re unable to sustain our small business community…once the immediate danger has passed, I feel the recovery of rebuilding a vibrant city will be a very long road ahead,” said Councilmember Lan Diep, who drafted the city’s direction for helping small businesses.

    He added that it’s important local lawmakers urge the Trump administration for federal assistance and ask the governor’s office to prioritize resources for Santa Clara County as the region is experiencing some of the country’s highest rates of confirmed coronavirus cases.

    As San José Spotlight reported last week, many local businesses — especially those in the food-service industry — have been hit particularly hard, especially those serving Asian cuisine and San Jose bars, clubs and breweries after the state’s order to close them.

    City officials said there are more than 50,000 estimated small businesses in the city. At least 60 percent of small business owners are people of color and nearly 51 percent are immigrants. Many councilmembers said the city needs to step up its efforts in preventing small businesses from closing, especially in low-income communities.

    “We need to figure out how we’re going to help them keep their doors open,” Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco said.” I recognize and am fully aware that some of those doors will never open again. I don’t have the heart to tell them that they may not survive this tsunami that’s coming.”

    The city announced its partnership with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to create the San Jose Strong fund to help San Jose residents, small businesses and nonprofits economically affected by the coronavirus pandemic, according to city officials.

    “To fill the gap, we look to philanthropy,” said Michelle McGurk, assistant to the City Manager’s office. “The fund will help fill the gap. Now is the time for all of us to partner together — this is the time to work in partnership.”

    The city will also look to corporations in San Jose such as Google, Cisco, Adobe and Apple to generate money for the fund. The fund is modeled after Amazon’s response to supporting small businesses in Seattle, providing grants to businesses struggling to stay afloat during the crisis.

    The city also announced Tuesday it will temporarily suspend parking enforcement on parking meters and garages during the crisis. To further help small businesses, the city will explore deferring utility bills and the collection of business taxes until February of next year, while also providing no-interest loans. City leaders also implemented a “shop local campaign.”

    “I am supportive of our families that have established businesses — they are the backbone of our economy,” said Councilmember Sylvia Arenas.

    The lawmakers also approved Carrasco’s and Vice Mayor Chappie Jones’ call to create an “Office of Small Business” or hire a full-time employee that can provide assistance, resources and advice to small businesses during emergency situations.

    “We need to have that laser focus to support small businesses and that’s why we wrote in our memo for a dedicated person who wakes up every day to dedicate their time to support our small business partners,” Jones said.

    Small business owners can refer to the city’s website, which has resources available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese for more information on receiving support. Donations for the city’s San Jose Strong fund can be made online to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. 

    Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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