Update: Santa Clara expands small business program, swears in police chief
Chief Pat Nikolai was sworn in Tuesday, after winning an uncontested March primary race. Photo by Katie Lauer.

Santa Clara leaders on Tuesday approved an additional $300,000 — for a total of $800,000 — in city funding to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The city’s Small Business Assistance Grant Program, which began April 15, was set to distribute $500,000 to small companies experiencing financial hardship due to the impacts of the coronavirus — double the amount initially recommended by staff at the suggestion of Mayor Lisa Gillmor.

The move to increase the pot comes after city officials received more than 200 requests for help within 10 minutes of accepting applications. As of Tuesday, around 600 companies had submitted applications.

Distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, shuttered nonessential businesses can receive $10,000 in one-time funds, while essential businesses will receive $5,000 since they can stay open.

The funds are for establishments with at least one, but fewer than 25 full-time employees, have a physical storefront in Santa Clara, are in good standing with the city and can demonstrate losses due to the shutdown from COVID-19. The money must be used to cover either payroll costs or lease payments.

To date, 64 businesses have been approved for funds totaling $460,000. That list encompasses a wide range of sectors, including youth coding educator Makaboom, restaurant Gogo Pho, Off the Wall Soccer, the San Jose Art Academy and Blinky’s Lounge Inc., which operates thirsty.bar in Franklin Square.

Tuesday’s decision will support an additional 30 to 60 businesses.

Assistant City Manager Ruth Shikada said businesses that have been approved for funds can expect to be contacted by staff on Wednesday or Thursday of each week, with dollars distributed that Friday.

She also said they are still accepting applications, especially with the hope that the city will find additional private funding once the $800,000 is spent as neighboring cities reach out to learn about the framework to craft their own programs.

“To know that the region around us is looking for guidance in creating the same program in their city, I think it’s a wonderful reflection that Santa Clara is taking care of its own,” Councilmember Kathy Watanabe said.

At least two nonprofits have also applied without realizing they are required to have a business license, which ensures a fire inspection of facilities. But Gillmor directed city staff to allow those groups to still be eligible for the grants and keep their place in the queue, as long as they apply for that license.

“We have a lot of nonprofits out there that are doing a lot of good in the community, especially now,” Gillmor said. “Those are the types of businesses we’d really like to help.”

The assistance program will be funded in part with $100,000 from the City Council Contingency Fund, $100,000 from City Manager Special Initiatives, $12,000 from Miss Santa Clara and the City Manager’s Office expenditure savings of $315,540, according to city documents.

New police chief takes oath

The Santa Clara Police Department’s head role is officially filled — at least until December.

Chief Pat Nikolai was sworn in Tuesday and will serve until at least December. He’ll need to run again in November to keep the title in the New Year. But in March he earned 19,564 votes in the uncontested March primary election for the seat after former Police Chief Mike Sellers retired Sept. 1, more than a year before his term ended, leaving the city to either appoint a new chief or hold two elections for the position in 2020.

The 48-year-old Nikolai was endorsed by Mayor Lisa Gillmor, the Santa Clara Police Officers’ Association and the Santa Clara Firefighters’ Association. He also unsuccessfully ran for the position in 2016.

But Nikolai told San José Spotlight in July that he’d run in both races this year. Assistant Chief Dan Winter, who has been acting chief for nearly eight months, did not run in the primary, citing concerns that the race would turn contentious and cause a rift in the department.

“To the residents of Santa Clara, I am honored to be your police chief,” Nikolai said Tuesday. “As my yard signs used to say, ‘Neighborhoods First.’ Regardless of what is going on in this world, the Santa Clara Police Department will continue to ensure that you are safe in your homes, and when things return to normal – whatever the new normal is – Santa Clara PD will be protecting you every step of the way.”

Pedestrian safety

Residents running errands on foot in the Santa Clara Town Center off El Camino Real will have another level of safety, after the City Council approved the installation of a High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk beacon on Scott Boulevard at Harrison Street.

A petition with more than 50 signatures from neighboring residents was initially presented to City Hall on July 22, 2019. Resident Natalie Guzzetti included a letter detailing how drivers often speed through the area and do not see pedestrians. She said someone drove past her while she was in the crosswalk that day.

“I wish I could say that this was the first time, but this is my experience every time I cross,” Guzzetti wrote. “This evening, I walked door to door to my neighbors who live in this area and only heard similar stories … We need and are pleading to see something done about this.”

That area, a few blocks east of San Tomas Expressway, hosts multiple businesses, including Target, Chipotle, Walgreens and Sprouts Farmers Market. After researching plans with the city’s Public Works department for nine months, Guzzetti said she was grazed by a car in that same crosswalk on March 11.

The design, construction and maintenance of the project is estimated to cost $750,000, which will be pulled from traffic impact fees paid by development projects. Completion is projected for summer 2022.

Street racing and commercial cannabis

The council officially adopted an ordinance that makes it illegal to street race, engage in sideshows or knowingly watching those activities.

The city can pursue criminal or civil action, in addition to issuing administrative citations ranging from $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for the second and subsequent violations in a three-year period. The ordinance will take effect 30 days from Tuesday, following San Jose’s crackdown on racing and car shows last year.

Santa Clara leaders also approved an ordinance banning both medical and recreational cultivation, possession or distribution of commercial cannabis. The ordinance extends to Feb. 28, 2021.

More than 55 percent of Santa Clara residents supported 2016’s Prop. 64, known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which would have allowed cannabis activity in the city. But the council adopted a temporary ban in May 2019 to give city officials time to create regulation and a policy framework. That ban went through June 30, but has now been extended.

Cities of similar size to Santa Clara generated much less tax revenue than initially projected — estimated at $1.2 to $2.4 million locally — and the city would be negatively affected by added costs of regulation, city officials said.

The initial approval of the ban was voted on in February. Cannabis deliveries originating from outside of Santa Clara — as well as legal use and personal cultivation — are not prohibited.

Follow along with San José Spotlight’s real-time coronavirus coverage on our LIVE BLOG here.

Contact Katie Lauer at katie@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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