Keep businesses open to restore our economy and sustain cities

By Marcel Rodarte

Marcel Rodarte is the executive director of California Contract Cities Association.

For Californians weary of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s ample reason these days to be optimistic for the future. Experts tell us the end of this nightmare is within our grasp, and we could soon be back to the normal lives we all deeply miss.

However, the pandemic devastated our state and our city’s economy, and we need to start taking steps now to ensure that it can thrive in the future.
The most important way to sustain California’s economic future is to allow businesses to remain open and paying their employees. Businesses are the engine of every great economy, and with their help the Golden State’s will be shining once again.

A year ago, when COVID-19 first entered our communities, our leaders made the difficult call to shut down some businesses in an effort to protect public health. The virus was historically deadly and unlike anything we’d ever faced, so it was wise to be cautious.

However, these shutdowns had their own devastating consequences, especially here in Los Angeles. At one point, one in five Angelenos were out of a job, lines at local food banks swelled and small businesses shuttered. It shows that, while necessary short-term, economic shutdowns are unsustainable both for the business community and for the municipalities they serve.

The shutdowns that were implemented last year could also have devastating implications for local city budgets. LA is already facing a budget shortfall north of $750 million and ongoing business closures could make that worse. Key properties like offices and retail have seen their property values plummet, which means tax revenue vital to citywide funding is likewise falling drastically. If more shutdowns were enacted, this crisis would only grow, meaning critical programs go unfunded and city employees are laid off en masse.

Thankfully, Governor Gavin Newsom and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti have lifted the strictest restrictions, allowing businesses to operate under common sense guidelines. This is a smart move that recognizes how far we’ve come since the first round of shutdowns.

A year ago, we knew very little about how to handle this virus, but that’s not the case today. Businesses have adapted to our new reality with proper PPE for employees, social distancing measures, and thorough cleaning techniques. It doesn’t make sense to shut down these businesses anymore, considering they can now adequately follow CDC guidelines protecting customers and staff.

Put simply, we now know that all businesses – not just those that were originally deemed “essential” – can operate safely. While those standards helped guide our shutdowns a year ago, we know enough now to keep them open with the right precautions. To institute additional lockdowns now or in the future would ignore this reality and leave millions of people suffering.

We should certainly not ignore the ongoing spread of COVID-19, but we should recognize that the situation isn’t as dire as it once was. Since mid-January, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths have plummeted in California and across the country. Vaccines are going into arms faster than anyone predicted. Additionally, President Biden’s American Rescue Plan will bolster our fight against the virus even more.

Instead of locking down our economy any further, our leaders should continue allowing businesses to reopen safely in accordance with CDC guidelines – especially as case numbers hopefully fall further. This will allow businesses to hire more Californians in need of work, and ensure that cities and municipalities in Southern California and elsewhere avoid an immense budgetary crisis.

This has been a challenging time for our state and our country, but hope springs eternal, and there’s a lot to be optimistic about. The end of the pandemic is coming, and we have a chance to build our state back quickly. To do that will require an understanding that when businesses thrive, we all thrive. To thrive, businesses need to stay open. There is no reason to believe we can’t keep businesses open while also keeping our residents safe.

Marcel Rodarte is the executive director of California Contract Cities Association.