EL CAJON STARTS SMALL BUSINESS GRANT PROGRAM, ALLOWS BUSINESSES SUCH AS BARBERS, SALONS AND RETAILERS TO MOVE OUTDOORS

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City also weighs possibility of allowing city parks, such as Prescott Promenade (photo) downtown, to be used for outdoor faith services and business operations

By Kendra Sitton

July 14, 2020 (El Cajon) -- El Cajon City Council today unanimously approved a plan to allocate almost $2.5 million for a Business Grant Program benefitting primarily nonessential businesses forced to close during the pandemic.

The city also took action to help many businesses and activities move outdoors, after the state shut down many indoor operations due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Business grant details

Nonessential businesses will receive 70% of the funds in grants up to $30,000. Restaurants will receive 10% of the funds with grants up to $10,000 and essential businesses which lost more than 50% of sales will receive the remaining 20% of the funds with up to $15,000 grants.

The money from the federal CARES Act, distributed through both the state of California and San Diego County, must be spent by September 1 so the city is on a tight schedule to distribute it quickly. The application for the grant program will go live Wednesday, July 15 and be up for two weeks. A new Business Grant Committee, made up of nine El Cajon individuals who are business owners, faith-based leaders and a former city manager, will then decide which businesses to allocate the money to by the end of August.

To qualify for the program, businesses must have a business license, be within city limits and not have current code violations. Hundreds of businesses were already contacted by city staff and business groups doing outreach and have expressed interest in receiving a grant. The grant is meant to be used for payroll, rent and utilities.

El Cajon is facing competing interests in how it allocates the grants: helping as many businesses as possible while still making the amounts meaningful. If all businesses that apply receive the maximum amount, only 114 businesses will receive grants. Funding more businesses, however, could have resulted in cash infusions too paltry to be meaningful for many recipients.

In total, the grant program means El Cajon will have spent $3.1 million from the CARES Act. Earlier CARES Act funding went mostly towards rental assistance programs and to help homeless people.

Opening outdoors for temporary business operations and more

The city is also helping small businesses in another way.

As California returns to stricter lockdown measures, businesses like hair salons, barbers and retailers that are prohibited from operating indoors can now apply for a permit with no fee to move their business temporarily onto the sidewalk or into a parking lot, similar to how many restaurants have moved services outdoors.

But the state board of Barbering and Cosmetology has warned salons and barber shops that their licenses are only valid inside their businesses, throwing a monkeywrench into plans to move outdoors.  The industry is asking Governor Gavin Newsom to issue an executive order temporarily waiving that regulation, but it remains to be seen whether the Governor will do so.

Officials are also watching a vote in Poway on a proposal by Poway Mayor Steve Vaus to determine whether city parks and other properties can be leveraged to host faith services, events and businesses.

Sewer fee shift approved

El Cajon Councilmembers also unanimously voted to approve the sewer tax roll fees report on which parcels will receive fees for sewer use and the size of those fees. HOAs and a few other exceptions were able to work with the city to better determine those service fees. People also have the option to pay the fees monthly rather than annually if they contact the city.

While the City Council voted together to accept the report, several people took issue with the change in how sewer services will be billed to consumers, including realtors who said including the fees on property tax bills will mean people will need a higher income in order to qualify for a home loan.

Kendra Sitton is a local editor at San Diego Community Newspaper Group who also serves as the editor of San Diego Uptown News and Downtown News. A freelance reporter for ECM and other publications, she has won awards in 2019 for her articles on San Diego Police Department policies regarding transgender civilians and other LGBTQ issues. She holds a degree in mass communications with minors in sociology and global cultural studies at Concordia University Irvine.Her coverage for ECM has included border, immigrant and refugee communities, land use issues, local government actions and the recovery of Deerhorn Valley ten years after the Harris wildfire.

East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the Facebook Journalism Project for its COVID-19 Relief Fund grant to support our local news reporting including impacts on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: #FacebookJournalismProject and https://www.facebook.com/fbjournalismproject/.

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