The city of Tracy will use some of its Measure V money to help small businesses affected by COVID-19 shutdowns.

The program that the Tracy City Council approved on Dec. 15 provides one-time grants of $5,000 for local businesses that employ 20 or fewer people and have a physical location in Tracy. The city is making the money available with $500,000 in Measure V revenue, provided through the half-cent sales tax approved by Tracy voters in 2016.

On Tuesday, the first day that the city accepted applications for the grants, the city received enough interest to account for the entire $500,000. Assistant City Manager Andrew Malik said that 105 applications came into his office by 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. He said that the city could leave the application process open for a few more days. The grants will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis, pending review of each application.

“We’re hoping within the next couple of weeks to verify eligibility,” Malik said, noting that businesses could have the money in-hand by early January. The grants will go to small businesses that demonstrate that COVID-19 has affected them with a decline in revenue of 20% or more. They also cannot have received assistance already through the city’s Small Business Forgivable Loan Program.

He added that the program didn’t require extensive publicity. The city first sent a letter out to businesses that could be eligible, using addresses from the list of business licenses in the city. The city also posted availability of the grants on social media.

The Tracy City Council approved the allocation of Measure V money on a unanimous vote last week. Malik told the council last week that the city expected to use $2.5 million from Measure V to balance the city’s 2020-21 general fund budget, but it turned out that enough money was available through the city’s general fund reserves that not all of the Measure V money was needed.

On Dec. 15 the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors also approved a local relief package totaling $15 million, including $10 million for small businesses in the form of $25,000 grants to pay for rents or mortgages, and $5 million for people who have become unemployed or had their incomes reduced, also to play for rents, mortgages or other household bills.

That’s in addition to federal coronavirus relief funds, with a $900 billion package approved by Congress earlier this week and awaiting the president’s signature.

Local businesswoman Jass Sangha, owner of Nirvaana Banquet and Event Center in Northgate Village, told that council that all help is appreciated, considering that she did not receive grants from the city or state.

“When something like this comes up it shows that the city does care,” Sangha said. “It does makes a difference. It doesn’t matter how small the amount is.”

Heather Smiddy, owner of Chapter 2 restaurant at 10th and B streets in downtown Tracy, told the council that businesses are still awaiting further city action, like creation of a committee that could brainstorm strategies for reopening businesses like local restaurants, which cannot have customers for indoor service under COVID-19 restrictions.

She added that with only about 100 businesses benefitting from this action, many businesses still won’t get these grants, and even if they do, the money won’t sustain them.

“Obviously this handout won’t last long and we see no end in sight,” she said. “Instead of shushing us with a handout that functions only as a band-aid, we’re asking you to please let us work. Let us run our businesses safely like the others get to in our city and nationwide.”

Tracy’s council is still considering declaring Tracy a “sanctuary city,” allowing businesses to operate in defiance of state-mandated shutdowns of some types of businesses in response to the growing number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

City Manager Jenny Haruyama cautioned that such action would put the city under scrutiny regarding its use of state and federal money, and also creates a risk that the city might become ineligible for the new relief package that Congress has considered in the past week.

Newly-elected Councilwoman Eleassia Davis agreed with the business people who have come to the last three council meetings urging a full reopening of city businesses.

“I appreciate that we’re offering some money, but what Tracyites, what our constituents are asking us, is not for handouts. They’re asking us for help, so that they can help themselves,” she said. “While $5,000 is a good amount of money to help, it’s not going to go very far, and as one of the callers mentioned, in some cases it’s not even enough to pay rent.”

Davis added that large big-box retailers in town have been able to stay open through the pandemic, but small businesses have fallen victim to shut-downs.

“Everybody can get through this pandemic by sacrificing a little, but no one should be expected or forced or mandated to sacrifice it all, and the only ones that I see being asked to sacrifice it all in this community are small businesses.”

The council agreed that even if more is needed this is an action that the city can take now to help.

“We definitely have a responsibility to our community, to our businesses, to do something,” Mayor Nancy Young said. On a motion from new Councilman Mateo Bedolla the council unanimously approved the appropriation of $500,000 of Measure V revenue for the relief package, with the expectation that the city would eventually reimburse its Measure V account for that $500,000.

• Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com, or call 209-830-4227.

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