The San Fernando City Council will use $136,373 in federal funds to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to households and businesses throughout the city, as well as make food vouchers available to low-income residents.
A proposal to use some of the money to hire a consultant to help businesses maneuver their way through the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath — as well as a proposal to provide small businesses assistance grants — failed to gain enough support to pass.
The decision on disbursement came on a 3-2 vote during the council’s May 18 meeting, with Councilmembers Mary Mendoza and Robert Gonzales dissenting. Both supported using some of the money to provide a consultant for businesses.
Details for executing the disbursement plan still need to be worked out by the City Manager’s office and an update is expected at the council’s next meeting on June 1, Mayor Joel Fajardo said.
The council at the May 18 meeting tentatively decided that from the total sum of money, $100,000 would be used for food vouchers and the remainder be used to buy PPE such as masks and sanitizer.
There were eight proposals presented to the council on how to spend the money. Council members began their discussion on the matter at their May 4 meeting. The funds come from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and are provided through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES).
In addition to spending the money on PPE and food vouchers, other proposals included:
— Distance learning and enrichment programs for youth;
— Short term rental assistance funds which would result in direct payments to landlords on behalf of residents for up to three months;
— Direct payment of grants to small businesses;
— COVID-19 testing for residents;
— Using the funds to supplement the senior meals program. And;
— Hiring a consultant to assist businesses with such matters as loan applications, strategies for reopening to the public, compliance with social distancing requirements and marketing strategies to enhance business activities.
Christina Bernal, president of the Mall Merchants Association, was disappointed in the allocation of funds by the council.
“I think the money could have been better spread out,” she said. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have masks and gloves at this point — or at least a mask.”
She supported the idea of giving food vouchers to low-income residents, but hoped that they would be used at local businesses.
“You still have to put the money back into the city somehow,” she said.
Bernal added that she had hoped that the City would give grants to businesses and hire a consultant to help businesses reopen. For instance, she said, restaurants need help in designing new layouts for their seating so that there is proper social distancing.
In an interview with the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, Fajardo defended City officials spending money on PPE. He said giving PPE such as masks, gloves and sanitizer to businesses is directly helping them defray some of their costs on items that they are going to continue to need for some time to come.
“I think that having a strategic reserve of cleaning supplies and masks would be helpful, especially if we are confronted by the grim reality that there could be a second outbreak this fall or winter,” Fajardo said.
He added that he is not opposed to the idea of giving grants to businesses, but there are logistical problems.
“We might not have the infrastructure to carry out such a program,” he said. “It might be challenging to verify the documentation (for the grants) that comes in.”
Fajardo said he personally supports the idea of a consultant to help businesses, but it needs to be a neutral third party hired by the City. He also floated the idea that the consultant could perhaps come from within the ranks of city staff.
He said he wanted to have a final discussion with the rest of the council on the final disbursement of federal funds. A discussion of the matter has gone through an “evolution,” he said, and there will be much more to talk about in the coming months concerning how to respond to the pandemic and its aftermath.
“I think that one of the hot topics in the upcoming four weeks, both in San Fernando and other communities, will be how restaurants are reconfigured and what provisions are made to allow outdoor dining,” Fajardo said.
City Manager Nick Kimball said that if the City used CDBG funds to hire a business consultant, that person could only be used for things such as helping businesses apply for loans.
He said a consultant could also probably be used for helping businesses reconfigure the inside of their establishments to adhere to social distancing guidelines. They could not help with any marketing.
Other San Fernando business owners had some other ideas of how the City could help businesses moving forward.
Magaly Colelli, owner of Magaly’s Tamales, said extra PPE would be helpful as businesses move forward and fully reopen. She also suggested that the City help business owners by buying protective shields to be installed at cashiers and other areas in stores and restaurants as well as thermometers to check the temperatures of employees and customers. She added that hand sanitizer stations should be installed in businesses.
Theresa Granados, owner of Sweetness Cakes and Café, said she hoped some of the $100,000 that is being tentatively allocated to go toward food vouchers could be given to businesses to help them reopen even if it is just for additional bulk purchases of PPE.
Every business’ needs are different and many businesses that weren’t deemed essential have been closed for two months and may not have enough PPE supplies, Granados said. She said food drives in the city and the area’s food banks have stepped up to help low-income residents with some of their needs.
Councilmember Gonzales said that whatever the final disbursement of the federal money turns out to look like, it needs to help the city’s small businesses.
“As far as the food voucher program, I wanted to make sure we included our small businesses,” Gonzales said
Fajardo said that he hoped the food vouchers could be used at markets and restaurants.
“My hope is that it would be for both (markets and restaurants) and if there is a provision to allow it for restaurants that it be used exclusively at San Fernando restaurants,” he said.
Fajardo said he expected further discussion at the council’s June 1 meeting.