In response to the difficulties local businesses are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and issues some have with federal assistance efforts and the state and Los Angeles County recovery plans, the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is pushing for the adoption of its own small business recovery plan.
That plan has been embraced by other members of the Westside Chambers of Commerce and has been sent to U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff and U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein in the hope that they will use it to take action to fix problems with the federal government’s current business support efforts. The chambers also will be lobbying state legislators.
“All the Westside chambers are struggling to make sense of this,” said Genevieve Morrill, CEO of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, in a reference to the state’s four-stage recovery plan and L.A. County’s five-stage recovery plan. Those plans vary slightly in the way they are written, which is likely to add to confusion for business owners.
Part of Stage Two of each of those plans is being implemented today. It allows the opening (for curbside pickup only) of bookstores, florists, music stores, toy stores, apparel retailers, sporting goods stores, and car dealerships. Golf courses and hiking trails also can re-open, however Runyon Canyon will remain closed.
Those businesses must require physical distancing of their employees and customers and that cloth face coverings be worn. Currently only “essential” businesses, which include grocery stores and pharmacies but also hardware stores and cannabis shops, are allowed to serve walk-in customers. Restaurants can only offer meals for take-out or delivery.
Restaurants offering in-door dining, shopping malls such as the Beverly Center, car washes and some office buildings might be able to open relatively soon in the L.A. County Public Health Department can provide evidence to state authorities that the spread of COVID-19 infections has stabilized. They also will have to prove that they have adequate testing (L.A. County has rapidly expanded its testing sites) and hospital beds and are able to quarantine people with the virus, and trace who they have contacted.
Before reopening, all retail businesses will have to create and implement a complex plan to protect customers and employees.
The county Health Department’s Stage Three, for which a date hasn’t yet been set, includes the opening of higher risk businesses such as massage parlors, bars and nightclubs along with movie theatres, bowling alleys and schools and colleges. The county’s Stage Four would allow the opening of large convention areas, sporting and spectator events and entertainment venues. Implementation of that stage would allow the re-opening of financially strained nightlife businesses such as the Comedy Club, The Troubador, Delilah, and the Abbey that are an important part of West Hollywood’s tourist and nightlife economy. However, Gov. Gavin Newsom has said that Stage Four won’t happen until treatments for the coronavirus have been developed.
The Plan the Chamber is Pushing
Major elements of the Chamber’s plan include:
-Ensuring that businesses cannot be held liable for damages for COVID-19-related claims filed by customers or employees so long as they comply with local health and safety regulations. The Chamber also wants a cap in business liability insurance costs, which Morrill says have gone up during the pandemic. And it wants the state to set a limit on damages for businesses that don’t comply with regulations.
-Extending the current two-year deadline for a business to repay a loan received from the federal Payroll Protection Plan to five years. The federal Small Business Administration will forgive that portion of the loan that is used to cover the first eight weeks of payroll, mortgage interest, rent, or utility payments. The Chamber is asking that the SBA extend its current eight-week deadline for using the recently disbursed loans to the end of this year, with an option to extend the deadline again to June 30, 2021 if a business sees this year’s revenue decline by 50% or more over 2019 revenue.
-Having the federal government fund required COVID-19-related testing and or/training of a business’s workers.
-Having the federal government cover losses that businesses experience from complying with government and health department orders that a business must close and must enforce social distancing rules and regulations regarding the number of people who can gather at a place or event.
-Having the government cover the costs of any interior or exterior modifications of a business to comply with COVID-19 regulations.
Defining the New Normal
Morrill said a major issue that local businesses are struggling with is what will happen if they are allowed to reopen this summer but must be shut down again if there is another surge in infections this fall.
To deal with that, the Chamber is proposing that there be public COVID-19 testing stations operated by the state or city governments. Those stations would issue a digital card to people who take the test, which a customer would have to present to enter public venues. The government could mandate daily or weekly tests.
It also is proposing the creation of “safe recovery centers” where people can quarantine themselves outside their homes or if they don’t have a home. That would include using existing buildings that are abandoned or underused such as malls, office spaces and hotel rooms. Access to a safe recovery center would include food and other personal care. The Chamber’s proposal would make employees who are quarantined eligible for sick pay.
Morrill credited Nick Rimedio, general manager of the La Peer Hotel and chair of the Chamber’s board of director, for much of the work that went into creating the recovery plan. She also called out Chamber member and former chair Keith Kaplan, a realtor with Sotheby’s, who Morrill says has suggested that restaurants with outdoor seating areas be allowed to open for dining earlier because they will find it easier to enforce social distancing.