The Fresno City Council voted to provide COVID-19 financial relief for small businesses at an emergency meeting Wednesday.
Businesses with 25 or fewer employees will be eligible for 0% loans. If the business remains open for one year, the loan will be forgiven.
In a separate vote, the council allocated $750,000 for the “Save Our Small Businesses Act.” Of that, $500,000 is funding previously allocated for a senior center; $250,000 is from the city attorney’s budget.
The council also made changes to an emergency amendment covering a variety of issues approved last week.
The most significant change allows bars to reopen and provide curbside or delivery service of alcohol, provided their permit allows for such action.
Helping Business Will Help Tax Base
“We can help (small businesses) stay in operations and protect those jobs and also protect our sales tax base, which supports essential functions like public safety and our roads and our parks.” — councilman Mike Karbassi
Councilman Mike Karbassi created the act along with councilmembers Esmeralda Soria and Luis Chavez
Karbassi is concerned about the fallout of city tax revenue in relation to businesses closing because of COVID-19.
“We can help (small businesses) stay in operations and protect those jobs and also protect our sales tax base, which supports essential functions like public safety and our roads and our parks,” Karbassi said after the meeting. “We’re trying to mitigate the fallout from the (emergency) order.”
The act will also reserve 20% of the funding for businesses with five or fewer employees.
“This will give immediate stimulus to ensure that business survives the emergency and also incentivizes to reopen and reemploy staffing that is laid off due to this emergency order,” Soria said.
Of the $750,000 allocated, two-thirds of the funding is from a senior center fund, a long-sought-after project.
“Our seniors are the most vulnerable population we have and we’re making a lot of sacrifices to protect them as we should,” Karbassi said. “But our businesses are unfortunately bearing the burden of that. Small business is the biggest employer in this country. We have to be responsible in this state of emergency to mitigate the impacts on those families as well. This is the most balanced approach we can find.”
Funding will also come from private contributions.
To qualify for the loan, a business must:
— Be a business located in Fresno.
— Operating viably for at least one year prior March 4, 2020 (the date Gov. Newsom declared a state of emergency).
—Demonstrate a loss of 25% of revenue because of COVID-19.
— No tax liens or judgments against the business
— The owner must personally guarantee the loan.
Chamber Supports Loan Program
“This funding could go a long way in helping these businesses keep their doors open — or in many cases — reopen, and most importantly, keep people working.” — Nathan Ahle, Fresno Chamber of Commerce
The “Save Our Small Businesses Act” drew praise from Fresno Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Nathan Ahle.
Bars Can Reopen for Booze on the Go
The council amended its emergency ordinance permitting bars to offer curbside service or delivery of alcoholic drinks, if their license and state law allow it.
The first emergency order issued March 16 closed bars and wineries outright.
The new council action applies to liquor stores as well.
Other changes made by the council:
— Non-essential businesses that remain open in violation of the emergency ordinance will first receive a warning. Then, fines escalate to $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 with each subsequent violation.
— Fines collected by the city for businesses violating the anti-price gouging ordinance will go to a COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.
— Public Records Act requests will still be accepted, but may be delayed during the COVID-19 emergency. Prior language implied fulfilling the transparency measure would be suspended, along with other non-essential city services.
— Clarified the language placing a moratorium of evictions due to nonpayment of rent for residential and commercial tenants because of COVID-19 hardships. The only substantial change is that tenants have 10 days to provide a landlord documentation of such hardship, up from seven. Also, no interest, late fees, or penalties can be added.
All votes for Wednesday’s actions were unanimous.
Sporting Good Stores Allowed to Reopen
The city deemed sporting good stores as an essential business and so they will be allowed to reopen.
Garry Bredefeld, in a news release, said the stores would be allowed to sell guns and ammunition.
“We’re very pleased that these businesses are now able to reopen and serve the community. We’re also thrilled that many of our citizens will be able to return to work,” Bredefeld said.
The ban on non-essential businesses is through March 31, unless extended.
One New Emergency Order
Also on Wednesday, City Manager Wilma Quan — acting as Emergency Services Director — issued Emergency Order 2020-007 which goes into detail about rules for employees who work from home.
Mainly, the order says workers still need to log their hours and use city equipment for city work.
X Marks the Spot
A big X marked each of the socially distanced seats inside council chambers. With a listed capacity of 248, only 70 seats were available. The doors to the rarely-used second-floor seats were locked.
This is the first time the city has used this seating method.
The Fresno Board of Supervisors similarly blocked off seats at its Tuesday meeting.
— David Taub (@TaubGVWire) March 25, 2020
Four councilmembers attended in person: Miguel Arias, Bredefeld, Karbassi, and Soria. Paul Caprioglio, Chavez and Nelson Esparza phoned in.