Supporting Local Businesses
The struggles of businesses in Palo Alto have long been discussed, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now we see a growing number of vacancy signs around the city with temporary or permanent closure of our retail, restaurants, and local businesses. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all businesses and has caused many to be greatly affected. Keeping our residents safe is an important step to allow our economy to recover.
Palo Alto has over 7,000 businesses employing thousands of jobs across all different sectors. Although support from the federal government is crucial, local governments can greatly aid the survival of many small businesses. An article released by the National League of Cities highlights the five ways local governments are supporting small businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Palo Alto faces two economic challenges. The first is the pain felt by residents, businesses and the city budget from the slowdown resulting from measures to contain the virus. The second is the set of economic pressures facing Palo Alto that started before the pandemic. This includes small business closures from the rise of online shopping and the high cost of doing business and the restaurant, retail and office vacancies that resulted because Palo Alto stopped being a place that welcomed small businesses. The city can also play a role in helping residents. Some residents are already donating to restaurants so they can hire back staff and provide meals at no cost to health care workers at Stanford and the downtown food closet. I believe the city can provide a place where residents can connect with more businesses that want to make meals for needy residents as well as connect residents with local nonprofits helping needy residents.
Additionally, I believe actions should be taken by the city that efficiently deliver assistance to both residents and business owners. At the June 8th, 2020 Council meeting, I urged that speed is of the essence in order to provide support for local businesses. Before the meeting, I had met with different business owners on the best ways to support them during this pandemic. We also spoke with many community members to consider and understand the different benefits of the Summer Streets program as well as keeping the streets convenient to the community.
Researchers at the University of Illinois, Harvard Business School, Harvard University and the University of Chicago conducted a 2020 study which estimated more than 100,000 small businesses have permanently shut down since the pandemic began. Businesses need the support of federal and state programs. However, relief funds from the local government are an important additional source of support to these businesses.
Solutions for the dual crises of public health and economic recession are complex. Relief programs at the federal, state and local level are desperately needed. Other tactics, such as installing parklets and continuing the summer streets program will allow restaurants to continue outside dining services under Santa Clara County safety preparedness regulations. Study should consider the possibility that our lives and ways of doing business may evolve in response to the crisis now underway. Changes may include: more telecommuting and online shopping, less travel, reduced automobile and transit utilization, cleaner air, distance learning, video conferencing. There may be reduced demand for commercial office space as people work from home. The hospitality,restaurant and travel sectors will see reduced demand, as will traditional retail. The extent and nature of potential changes will become more visible as we regain control of public health.