This is the first of eight questions WEHOville presented on Aug. 18 to the candidates in the Nov. 3 election for two seats on the West Hollywood City Council. The questions are based on suggestions from West Hollywood residents — the citizens of WeHo. A new question, and the answers, will be published each of the next seven days.
The City of West Hollywood has done a lot to help local residents during the COVID-19 pandemic (eviction moratorium, rental assistance, etc.). And it has taken steps to help local businesses. But is there more that you think the city could do to help small-scale local businesses ?
I’m a small business owner of the Block Party retail shop located in the heart of the historic Boystown district in West Hollywood. We are a community serving business and Winner of the 2019 Creative City Business Award. Since Day 1 of the pandemic we mobilized to offer essential masks for residents to help stop community spread while City Hall waited for county instructions. The first question relates to what we can do to help small business, and I’m doing what I can each day to survive and protect one of our city’s most visable LGBTQ businesses.
At the Chamber of Commerce we have had weekly meetings with local businesses in every sector to move this city through COVID. I have been involved with our Chamber of Commerce since the pandemic hit. It is important to give Genevieve Morrill, president and CEO of our chamber, incredible credit for how she responded and kept ideas and information flowing. In all our chamber meetings during this entire pandemic since March, I do not recall one other candidate attending any weekly meeting.
This question relates to “can the city do more to help small business.” We are just beginning to see the implementation of thoughts and ideas discussed weeks and months ago. The k-rails in some business districts, and bringing business out on the street, helps to expand the footprint for many of our restaurants and other businesses to help them survive. This pandemic has brought many in our business community together, but on the other hand we have already lost too many cherished small businesses. One of my ideas for a mediator at City Hall to help bridge the gap between landlords and tenants was adopted by the City Council. We are at the point of implementing our program and monitoring its effects. There are more ideas moving forward as we stay vigilant and on top of needs. I feel the pain of many of my neighbors and come to work everyday to keep some life in our downtown business district. When Gym Bar closed it was heartbreaking. When Flaming Saddles closed I had tears in my eyes as I went to sleep. We will rebuild our community village. But we need you. Eat Local, Shop Local, Think Local.
The city should offer comprehensive small business loans at low interest rates; waive or subsidize membership fees for Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) for the smallest businesses that don’t always participate, even with sliding scale fees; evaluate how the city could support local businesses through social media campaigns. They could even have a separate loan program for remodeling or reconstruction costs for everything from a visible overhaul design to upgrade a space to needed building repairs.
Turning the insides out. This has been the key to getting our small businesses up and going again. My colleague John D’Amico and I initiated a program early in the pandemic to have our economic development team work with individual businesses in taking their operations outside. We have allowed small businesses to expand into the public right of way in order to increase their turf to accommodate social distancing. COVID 19 is going to be with us for the foreseeable future. We need to move retail, restaurants, resident serving businesses outside into open air/space. Why? Because you much more likely to get exposed to COVID 19 in indoor spaces than outside. Aerosols of COVID 19 linger in enclosed spaces. They do not do the same thing when outdoors. Government should not try to run private enterprises. Instead, we need to cut red tape and get out of the way to allow them to right themselves again and be prosperous.
Providing direct rent relief, to both our renters as well as small business owners who have been financially impacted by the pandemic must be a priority. It is key to making sure our city stays afloat and residents and businesses survive this global pandemic. We must protect our residents throughout this pandemic in every way that we can, and think outside the box. The city has taken a proactive approach to requiring facemasks as well as extending our eviction moratorium past the date that the City of Los Angeles has established. We need to continue taking an incremental approach to tackling the COVID-19 crisis and do all that we can to ensure that residents and business owners, who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, will not be further burdened by debt or the inability to pay back rent as a result of not having a job due to the pandemic. We need to be advocating at the state and federal levels for relief funding for our residents and push for changes in laws that prevent us from addressing – such as the repeal of Costa Hawkins.
Long-term, we must continue to innovate and encourage innovative companies to be a part of our city and its recovery. West Hollywood is the Creative City and we must double down on that reputation to combat this crisis AND come back from it better than before. We must remain a desirable location for both residents and businesses that fuel our economy. We must do all we can to bring about real opportunities for residents that affirm human life, provide dignified and livable wages, and make us proud of the work that we collectively accomplish to uplift every individual as well as our city as a whole.
West Hollywood has been working with local businesses throughout the pandemic. We have deferred fees and extended time periods where appropriate. We worked with the Chamber of Commerce and local banks to help businesses understand and apply for federal financial assistance. We provided funding for mediation services to assist businesses and landlords negotiate regarding the terms and conditions of leases.
We have been promoting local businesses and encouraging residents to support local restaurants by ordering delivery or food to go. When businesses were permitted to reopen, we worked with businesses to help them conduct business in private or public open areas. We also have been sharing information about County regulations and safety protocols. Our City Manager has been meeting virtually with local business leaders from the beginning of the pandemic. We continue to work with businesses to adapt to the constantly changing regulations from state and county public health offices.
As the state and county allow more business activity to resume, we will need to continue to develop individualized and creative solutions to the problems the businesses are experiencing. Different businesses and different business types have different needs. We can’t solve the problems of local business with a one-size-fits-all approach. Until the pandemic is over, we need to have dedicated staff members who serve as ombudspersons to work with local businesses to address their concerns. We also need to make individualized contact with all businesses in the city to makes sure business owners are aware of available resources and the make sure we are aware of the needs of individual business owners.
Small businesses are the heart and soul of West Hollywood, and it’s heartbreaking to see the struggles they have been facing. These are unprecedented times and small businesses have had to adapt and change their business strategies to survive during this pandemic. We need to make sure that our once thriving community is not replaced by empty storefronts. West Hollywood officials and residents need to do everything we can to help our small businesses stay open, survive and once again thrive. Our focus must be on the long term. We must continue to work with building owners to prevent businesses from being evicted, and we also need to ensure that building owners will provide fair rents during what will surely be a long recovery process.
I want to make sure we extend relief measures for local businesses until we are truly through these uncertain times. Even after the pandemic, we must encourage people to open new, diverse businesses in West Hollywood, providing assistance and guidance in the process. I also propose creating a West Hollywood local business app that lets users search local businesses by category or name, directing them to essential information, special offers, digital coupons and other incentives that will drive business. Once we are able to be in social situations again, this app could sponsor events and festivals that feature our local businesses. Now is the time for our entire city to rally around and support West Hollywood’s small businesses.
I’m really happy to see the outdoor space extensions that have been happening for restaurants, using parking spots in order to give the opportunity to have them thrive. I was at the Design District meeting and we spoke about having the opportunity for bars to get food trucks to serve outside to have them open as well, and consider for this outdoor spaces to be permanent. The businesses have spend quite a bit of money to make this happen and the city has to step up to help them maneuver creative ways for them to make a profit during this time.
Small and local businesses are the backbone of our economy and employ many of our residents. West Hollywood is one of the most walkable cities in America and a world class tourist destination. Many of our long-time small businesses have closed down over the past few years, and COVID-19 has and will negatively impact our small businesses drastically. When small businesses suffer so does the community and our economy. As an owner of two small businesses, I know the highs and lows of running a small business as well as the importance of a successful business to a thriving economy. I will work with our small business owners and the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to create robust solutions to help our small businesses thrive. Here are some of my proposals for boosting our small businesses during this economic downturn:
My Community SHYNE Plan for Small Businesses includes:
• Create new incentives for residents to open small businesses in the City of West Hollywood through our local Chambers of Commerce and City Council.
• Establish a Small Business Navigator program to chaperone potential or current small business owners through City Hall bureaucracy, minimizing red tape and risks for small business owners while adhering to environmental and labor standards.
• Formation of a small business committee made up of local business owners to create an Economic Blueprint for West Hollywood that would bring all stakeholders to the table to provide consistent and ongoing input on issues related to small business, business recovery and policy recommendations to support our business community.
• Work with local trade unions to provide job training programs for green jobs including solar installation that can never be outsourced or automated, implementing tested models similar to those in San Francisco and Richmond as well as job training for the new emerging digital media industry.
Mark Farhad Yusupov
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the global economy, but our city has been especially hard hit due to its heavy dependency on the hospitality and tourism businesses. Small businesses that serve our residents as well as tourists are vital to rebuilding the economy in the short term and are instrumental to diversifying our economy in the long run. Right now, there is no pandemic relief funding available at the city level to assist the small businesses that were affected, and therefore the city is beholden to state and federal grant funding. Often small business owners are unaware of the resources that are available. It is important that we create a community business leadership council consisting of diverse specialties of business. Together with this council, the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce (WHCC) can provide support for our small businesses. They can assist businesses to go after these state and federal grants, as many other local city organizations and agencies have successfully done.
In order to create a “win-win” situation for WeHo’s businesses, business owners, landlords, tenants, business experts, financiers, investors and all stakeholders that have expertise to contribute need to work together to pull ALL of WeHo out of the ditch. Each business owner fending for themselves will not be effective as this pandemic continues. We must begin to cease thinking of COVID-19 as a temporary situation, but rather plan for this virus to be living amongst us in some fashion for years to come.
In addition, we should create a small business help center that would provide support and guidance in accessing the various state and federal funding, as well as providing free business consulting assistance to small businesses for negotiating/renegotiating real estate leases and resolving any outstanding pandemic related issues or disputes.
Finally, as we look toward the future, WeHo could create a local relief fund for small businesses with a blend of financing options which are vital to preserving economic success for the community of West Hollywood.