Help is coming to Chula Vista businesses.
The City of Chula Vista Council on Tuesday approved a $1.5 million grant program, allowed businesses along Third Avenue to build outdoor patios on public parking spaces, and approved weekend vehicular closures of Third Avenue to allow pedestrian access and business use.
All of these actions are meant to help businesses struggling to survive through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As COVID-19 cases surge again, these economic relief measure were critical to help our community members hardest hit by the pandemic and economic crisis,” said Councilman Steve Padilla after Tuesday’s vote.
The business grant program is available to businesses in Chula Vista that were directly impacted by COVID-19-related closures and that employ fewer than 10 full-time employees. Eligible applicants can receive up to two months’ rent or $6,000, whichever is less.
Eligible businesses include hair salons, barber shops, restaurants that provide dine-in service, bars, breweries, nail salons, bowling alleys, batting cages, event venues, nightclubs, or tattoo parlors.
Ineligible businesses are those that weren’t required to close because of COVID-19, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, pet stores, auto supply shops, hardware stores and home improvement stores.
Over 4,000 businesses in Chula Vista meet the eligibility requirements to qualify for this $1.5 million grant program. However, there are only enough funds for less than 10 percent of them.
“There will never be enough, but we do have to help the businesses that really need this,” said Mayor Mary Casillas Salas. “I think it’s just really imperative that we do what we can to help our small businesses stay open and be able to survive this mess.”
The council’s other two pro-business actions largely concern the Third Avenue commercial corridor in downtown.
There, businesses will now be able to get a temporary building permit to place outdoor structures on parking spaces in front of their doors. Those temporary spaces can be used to expand business operations now that indoor services are limited.
“This will allow business owners on Third Avenue to be able to better serve their customers while we have social distancing,” said Councilman John McCann.
There was some pushback from Councilman Mike Diaz, who said it wasn’t fair that this option was only available for businesses downtown and not other parts of the city, including his district in the southwest part of town.
“There’s an equity issue here,” he said. “I think this maybe should be expanded. What are we going to do with the restaurants in other parts of the city?”
Deputy City Manager Eric Crockett pointed out that the city already has a “Right of Entry” permit that allows businesses to occupy public spaces for outdoor dining and queuing. The only difference in Third Avenue is that businesses there will be able to install temporary structures such as outdoor patios.
The structures on Third Avenue will need an engineering review and must be able to be taken down within 30 days.
The “temporary” structures could stay up for as long as a year, given how uncertain everything is surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, Crockett added.
“I don’t see a fix coming any time soon, so I would say ‘temporary’ today is maybe 12 months from now,” he said.
Finally, the City Council approved a framework that would allow a local business association to shut down Third Avenue between E and Center street to vehicular traffic on the weekends.
The resolution allows the Third Avenue Village Association, known locally as TAVA, to close the street from 4-10 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays from July 15 to January 15 2021.
This does not mean the streets will be closed every weekend. It simply means the business association can close that part of the roadway.
There was a bit of controversy surrounding this item because the majority of businesses that belong to TAVA did not support the street closures, but the business association’s board unanimously approved the closure plan anyway.
In a joint survey between the city and the business association, two-thirds of the 70 respondents said they did not support the closures.
Councilman McCann had personally heard from several of them.
“There clearly is a disconnect,” he said. “It is overwhelmingly a big, big concern for the retail folks.”
However, the Council ultimately approved the road closure plan, saying they have confidence in the business association’s ability to make the right decisions.
“If TAVA had not endorsed it, I think I would not support this,” Diaz said. “But I think because TAVA is the association representing the downtown district there, I am going to allow them to be the masters of their own destiny.”