Frustrated by last minute government orders to close businesses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, California chambers of commerce and other business associations have organized the Coalition for Safe Re-Opening to push for a more methodical approach.
The West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has taken the lead in forming the coalition. Its members include restaurants force to close on March 16 that Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on May 29 could re-open the next day for indoor dining, and then on July 1 ordered them to halt indoor dining because of an uptick in COVID-19 infections. Bars that followed strict safety protocols were allowed to re-open on June 18 and then ordered to close ten days later.
Nick Rimedio, chair of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and general manager of the La Peer Hotel, described the changing orders from the governor and local and public health officials as ” well-intentioned, but economically devastating public policy.”
In the announcement of its formation, the Coalition said “the recent order to close restaurants to indoor dining has created a volatile and toxic environment as restaurants were given no notice to open in L.A. County on May 30, only to be ordered shut two days later due to curfews and protests. Businesses then began to reopen in the middle of June, with the average investment in the tens of thousands of dollars between staffing, training, food product, and the supplies and equipment needed to comply with the county reopening orders. Now, after only two weeks of operation, they were ordered to close again with less than 12 hours’ notice, and no data showing that ‘indoor operations & dining’ has any correlation to the spike in coronavirus cases.”
“Businesses require stability and predictability, and the public needs confidence and certainty,” the Coalition said. “Simply put, the economy cannot survive in an environment of ‘open one month, close it down the next month’, which is a dangerous precedence that threatens to impact all businesses under the guise of the ‘New Normal’.”
Paul Little, CEO of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, echoed those concerns.
“We all appreciate and understand that health concerns have to take a priority,” said Little. “But our businesses, especially our restaurants, need stability to operate. Being allowed to reopen only to be told a few weeks later they must close immediately which took significant investment on the part of people to create a safe environment for patrons and staff only for it to be flushed it down the toilet. How can we expect anyone to invest in reopening when they could be ordered closed less than two weeks later? We need to see a coherent, long- term plan for reopening. One that we can be confident will remain in place.”
Holly Schroeder, president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation, Hollywood Chamber President/CEO Rana Ghadban, and Colin Diaz, president and CEO of the Culver City Chamber of Commerce, made similar statements.
“We understand that there are bad actors in the business, as there are with some individuals.,” said Diaz. “These businesses should be held responsible for their actions and neglect. But this sweeping policy that punishes the responsible business owners, many of whom have spent small fortunes bringing their businesses up to an extremely safe environment, further creates hardship and will continue to have drastic consequences beyond what we have already seen. We will lose a great deal of our small businesses with every round of closures that our government imposes on the business community.”
The Coalition is proposing adoption of a “Three Point Economic and Public Health Recovery Plan” before any more business shutdowns. It includes the following measures:
1.) Require the state to use emergency funds to supplement funding for county health departments and enforcement divisions that oversee adherence to reopening regulations. That would include authorizing counties to grant immediate reopening for all restaurants and bars that demonstrate compliance with that county’s reopening regulations, in accordance with state regulations.
2.) Create a California COVID-19 Emergency Business Interruption Fund to provide grants to businesses to cover expenses related to safe reopening in June 2020, as well as all losses including displaced revenue related to the July 1 closure order and future unanticipated closures.
3.) Create a Safe Re-Opening Task Force that would work directly with state and local officials in the implementation of mandatory testing and creation of recovery centers as alternatives to shutting down segments of the economy.
The Coalition is urging local and county governments to support the effort. It also is asking that the state must pass legislation to fund the California COVID-19 Emergency Business Interruption Fund to cover losses related to all government and health department orders including forced closures, social distancing requirements, and gathering limits.
To date the Coalition has 36 members, including chambers of commerce in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, the San Fernando Valley and Venice, and BizFed LA, the L.A. County business federation, and the California Restaurant Association.