Just hours after City Manager Steve Mermell ordered all sit-down restaurant service in Pasadena suspended immediately in the latest strategy against the spread of the coronavirus, City Councilman and mayoral hopeful Victor Gordo on Monday afternoon sat down with five prominent local restaurateurs to discuss a wide range of measures the city might take to aid all small businesses, not just eateries, as the economic impact of the outbreak continues to mushroom.
Gathering at Cameron’s Seafood restaurant on East Colorado Boulevard, the five restaurateurs (including one former restaurant owner), brainstormed a range of ideas with Gordo — and Gordo said he will bring up those ideas on Tuesday as the council meets in emergency session beginning at 11:40 a.m. at City Hall.
Already on Tuesday’s agenda is a moratorium on evictions for residents and business owners who can document that the COVID-19 situation has created financial hardship for them.
The other economic relief measures that will be discussed Tuesday, Gordo said after conferring with the local business owners, include:
* A possible moratorium on the upcoming minimum-wage hike to $15 in the city — planned for July 1, two years ahead of the state’s move to that level.
* Property-tax relief.
* Utility relief.
* Sales-tax relief.
* Rent relief.
* Relief regarding the cost of health licenses and liquor licenses.
* Technical support for businesses, particularly restaurants that for the foreseeable future will be in the take-out business exclusively.
* Easing parking restrictions.
Gordo said he would be looking to see if the city can dip into its emergency-reserve fund – which he estimated sits at around $70 million – to help finance any possible relief measures for local businesses.
“I’m going to ask if the emergency reserves can be used to cover some of these costs, like rent support for small businesses, utility costs for small businesses, so that the city would absorb them at least for the next foreseeable month or so … (and) an eviction moratorium for small businesses, again using some of the emergency reserves,’’ he said.
“We have about $70 million in reserves. If we set aside a few million of that to help cover utility, to help cover rent support, to help cover some of the sales tax implications – and we are able to do that — I think that we should look at it closely.’’
Whether the council can is still being explored, Gordo said.
“That’s going to be the question – one, legally can we do it?’’ he said. “And two, is it something we should do? I think it’s something we should look at very, very carefully and consider it.’’
Gordo said he would also be reaching out to L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger later Monday, to explore whether the county can also aid local small businesses in regard to sales-tax relief.
Pasadena gets only a percentage of sales taxes charged in the city, and controls only that percentage it receives. Further sales-tax relief would have to come from a similar move at the county level.
“Maybe we should ask the county to look at it also, and the state,’’ Gordo said.
Besides Gordo, Monday’s discussion group included Pete Gallanis, owner of Cameron’s Seafood in Pasadena, Giuseppe’s in Montrose and the Slider House Glendale; Gregg Smith, owner of the Parkway Grill, Arroyo Chophouse and Smitty’s Grill; Michael Hawkins, owner of the Green Street Restaurant; Armando Ramirez, owner of El Portal and Yahaira’s Café; and Robin Salzer, former owner of Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ.
Each of those owners reported that, since the coronavirus crisis, their businesses have fallen off by between 65 percent and 80 percent.
During the meeting Monday, only a handful of diners ate in the 9,000-square foot Cameron’s Seafood – and those would be the last sit-down meals served there for the foreseeable future.
For now, those restaurateurs are all exclusively in the take-out business – which they all stressed would remain open.
Earlier Monday, Mermell had declared “a local state of emergency to empower the city to more effectively respond to the novel coronavirus disease.’’
“In doing so,’’ Mermell said, “all bars, gyms and fitness centers, private social clubs and sit-down restaurant service in the city will be closed to the public immediately, with the exception of take-out and delivery services.
“These new restrictions are necessary to stop large numbers of people from gathering and staying in close proximity. The restrictions will be in effect until further notice. Those businesses and employers not covered by the closure order are encouraged to find ways to maximize social distancing including reducing hours and voluntary closure.’’
Mermell went on to say, “We know how difficult these restrictions will be on small businesses in Pasadena, but public safety is our top priority. This is a serious situation, and the time for bold action is now. We have an obligation to act in the best interests of our community.’’
Tuesday morning’s emergency council meeting was expected to be open to the public. Mayor Terry Tornek, however, is visiting Pasadena ‘s African sister city, Dakar-Plateau, Senegal, and might participate by phone, as he was scheduled to return on Thursday.
District 3 Councilman John J. Kennedy, who accompanied Tornek to Senegal, returned Monday and, according to Gordo, was expected to be on hand for the council meeting.