November 25, 2020

Coronavirus: Alameda looking to set up fund for small businesses

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ALAMEDA — The city is looking at setting up a special fund that the public can contribute to as a way to help small businesses, renters and local organizations that have been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft put the proposal, which calls for the fund to be tax-exempt and to be matched with grants or donations, before the City Council on May 5, when it got unanimous backing.

“I think this is an excellent idea,” Councilman Jim Oddie said. “And I for one would like to go on the record supporting it.”

Details about the plan still need to be worked out. City officials are expected to offer a proposal at the May 19 council meeting.

City Manager Eric Levitt told the council that the city could possibly partner with a nonprofit foundation, which in turn could receive donations and then distribute the money to those in need.

But Levitt also said the city would need to make sure safeguards were in place so that the funds reach those intended by the donor, and that a record would exist of who made the donations and where the money went.

The council’s move follows the city launching a $600,000 grant program last month to help small businesses, those with less than 25 employees, that the coronavirus has hit hard.

The mayor’s proposal is aimed at being a way to generate funds outside those from the city, such as through private donations.

Among the requirements to receive a grant through the city was that a business must show at least a 20 percent drop in income since February, when the virus was known to have started spreading in the United States.

Alameda’s emergency program will provide approximately 80 one-time grants of up to $7,500 each. The deadline to apply for that program was Thursday.

Grants will be awarded by lottery; those receiving help will be announced May 21.

Debbie Potter, the city’s community development director, said the city had received 196 applications as of Tuesday. The applications included 49 from restaurants, 17 from shops and six from businesses that provide child care services, with the rest coming from what Potter described as service and health-care related businesses.

“It’s tough,” Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said. “There’s no easy way to say ‘no’ to some and ‘yes’ to others.”

Councilman Tony Daysog noted that the money funding the grants is coming from taxpayers and that some businesses that will receive help still might go under.

“It’s my opinion, though, that it’s a risk that’s worth taking,” Daysog said. “Given the amount of responses we have gotten (for the grant program), I think it’s a good indication that Park Street, Webster Street and all the other business communities are really struggling.”

The City Council will meet at 7 p.m. May 19 at City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. The meeting likely will be held via teleconference because of the coronavirus pandemic. Members of the public who want to participate can go to www.alamedaca.gov for information.

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Author: Peter Hegarty

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