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September 29, 2020

Businesses pressure Santa Clara County to reopen

County loosens some restrictions

The Gilroy Chamber of Commerce is leading a charge of business owners who are petitioning the county to reopen establishments shuttered by the Covid-19 shelter-in-place order.

Santa Clara County, meanwhile, loosened some restrictions on its order May 18 that allows stores to offer curbside pickup.

On May 14, the chamber urged businesses and other members of the public to send an email to each of the county supervisors as well as county executive officer Jeff Smith to “convince the County Health Officer, Dr. [Sara] Cody, to reopen the county’s economy now.”

“According to information provided by her office, businesses located in Santa Clara County are quite capable of implementing social distancing protocols and other safety measures to protect the public,” the email reads. “The consequences of a continued shutdown will be incalculable and the effects will surely be felt for years to come, but they will continue to worsen every day our businesses are forced to stay closed. The extended shelter-in-place order is devastating small businesses, workers and our community. Let us get back to business.”

Mark Turner, president/CEO of the Gilroy Chamber, said businesses should be allowed to reopen if they have all necessary social distancing protocols and safety measures in place to keep workers and customers safe. Restaurants, he cited as an example, should be allowed to provide outdoor dining as well as limited indoor dining.

Turner said that it is in the “best interest” of merchants to apply safety precautions.

“It comes down to this: If the public doesn’t feel a merchant is doing everything necessary to keep the customer safe, the public will not frequent that merchant,” he said.

Turner said Gilroy businesses have either laid off or furloughed roughly 1,000 employees since the shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 17. He added that he is aware of at least one store that has permanently closed, as well as several others contemplating when they will shut down. Others that were looking to open a new establishment here have decided otherwise, he said.

According to state filings, which apply to businesses with 75 or more employees, at least 177 employees were laid off at stores in the Gilroy Premium Outlets since early April.

“I have heard from a number of our members and others in the business community who are frustrated, concerned and fearful they may not survive,” Turner said. “Their frustration comes from having no end date in sight. The county’s target to ‘reopen’ is continually moving and changing. Now, as other counties move into Phase 2, local residents are choosing to shop and dine at locations in other counties.”

Chris Vanni of commercial developer Vanni Properties participated in the campaign.

“It’s high time to start moving into both phases of Phase 2 and beyond,” he wrote in a follow-up email to the county’s liaison officer Tony Filice. “It’s time for some realism and a balanced approach. If the county is unwilling to bend, then give authority to each of its cities to move through the phases. Not all cities are experiencing the same.”

In an email, Filice stressed the importance sheltering in place has had on slowing the spread of Covid-19.

“Our plan is to go slow, learn all that we can, and continue to work across sectors and all levels of government to rapidly stand up the systems that we need to chart the best path forward, to protect and preserve the health of the residents that we all collectively serve,” he wrote. “If we move too fast to ease restrictions, the potential for exponential spread could have grave impacts to the health and wellness of our residents as well as to our economy.”

Turner said the email campaign shows that local businesses want a “fighting chance to survive.” The day after the Gilroy Chamber announced its campaign, the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce launched a similar effort. The Silicon Valley Coalition of Chambers, which represents 18 chambers, also sent a letter to the county, said Turner, who co-chairs the coalition.

“We hope this campaign will only be necessary for a short period of time,” he said.

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