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COVID: Martinez Council Pursues Small Business Microgrants, Backs Cap On Food Delivery Fees

MARTINEZ (CBS SF) – A microgrant program to help Martinez small businesses and offering support for a Contra Costa County-wide cap on what food delivery services like DoorDash and GrubHub are among the measures Martinez leaders hope to approve this month.

On Wednesday, the City Council discussed possible updates and expansion of existing measures to help small businesses ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief among those steps was creating a microgrant program, using $350,000 to $400,000 from the city's "economic uncertainty" reserves.

Council members noted $350,000 would allow 70 local businesses -- small "mom and pops" with 25 or fewer employees, according to one suggestion -- to each get $5,000 to help them survive.

Mayor Rob Schroder said such grants would help not only the individual business owners, but the greater city as well.

"We worked hard for years on revitalization (of the downtown area) and we don't want to lose that," said Schroder, who with other council members added that the money would be given to small businesses who could prove financial damages by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council asked to have a specific proposal to vote on at its next regular meeting, scheduled for Jan. 20. Details including who would qualify, and what information would have to be provided, will follow.

"This is the rainy day that we've been saving for," Councilwoman Brianne Zorn said.

Council members also said Martinez should support an effort now in process to set a temporary countywide cap -- perhaps 15 percent of a meal's cost -- on third-party, app-based food delivery businesses. Such fees, especially during the pandemic, have been as high as 30 percent in cities where temporary caps are not in place.

Cities including Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Berkeley, San Francisco, South San Francisco, San Leandro and Fremont have already established temporary 15 percent caps to help their struggling restaurant communities.

A countywide cap on those food delivery fees hasn't yet been publicly introduced.

Council members also suggested boosting marketing efforts to let more people know about local businesses -- efforts that already have been expanded over the past year. Zach Seal, a senior management analyst with the city, said the city over the past year also has established a Small Business COVID-19 Resource Center, offering connections to resources (including state loans and grants), establishing 26 "curbside pickup" parking spaces near local businesses to help them get goods to customers; and closing some downtown streets on weekend days to accommodate outdoor dining and retail displays.

Council members did not warm Wednesday to the idea of closing parts of Main Street -- half the street, requiring one-way traffic on that thoroughfare -- semipermanently, to let restaurants and other businesses have more room to operate outdoors. The idea has been considered before, too, but too many downtown merchants have said they would miss foot traffic, and their parking spaces, likely needed under that plan.

Corey Katz, owner of the Bar Cava Wine Whiskey and Eatery downtown, said he wishes microgrants and other programs had been instituted months ago. While he supports these newly posed suggestions, he would have welcomed them more months ago.

Katz said his problem lies more with health officials from Contra Costa County and beyond.

"What business owners want is to open up outside dining and not listen to all the other BS when we don't really know what's going on and who to believe," Katz told the council.

Council members said they know they must move fast now.

"We do need to move quickly on this, as time is a-wastin,' " Councilman Mark Ross said.

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