With November’s mayoral election soon approaching, Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly and his challengers shared their views on Elk Grove’s economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also running for mayor are Elk Grove School Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen and Brian Pastor, a first-time political candidate and 15-year resident of Elk Grove.

Ly told the Citizen that in approaching the issue of economic recovery from this pandemic, the city has sought ways to cut its own operating costs, such as retaining job vacancies for city positions.

“We’re going to keep on doing this until the economy improves,” he said.

Mayor shares his recovery plan

Ly said that from the “business standpoint,” he has a five-part economic recovery plan for the city.

The first part of that plan is continuing to make sure that vital information will be made available to the public. To meet that need, the city partnered with the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce to launch the Coronavirus Rapid Response website, RapidResponse.MetroChamber.org, and the Rapid Response Business Hotline. That number is (833) 391-1919.

Ly identified the second part of his plan as “to quickly address the needs of Elk Grove restaurants.

“That’s one of the things that contributes to tax revenues is restaurants,” he said. “A quick response to that is to address temporary outdoor dining areas. This allows many restaurants to maintain a steady source of revenue (and) keeping employees on the payroll.”

The mayor identified the third part of his economic recovery plan as providing financial assistance to small businesses through two programs.

“The first program is the emergency investment relief program,” Ly said. “(That program) was established with a partnership through Lift Investing, and that’s to provide low, flexible loans for Elk Grove businesses. This program allows community banks to receive deposits from public agencies for the sole purpose of redistributing them back to local businesses.”

Another portion of Ly’s recovery plan is the small business recovery grant program, in which the city allocated $750,000 in federally funded grants to assist small businesses.

“These two particular programs are ones that will provide a direct support to local businesses, which I’m real proud of,” he said.

Ly noted that the fourth part of his recovery plan is the launching of programs such as the “Why Buy Local?” campaign, which specifically highlights Elk Grove businesses.

The fifth part of Ly’s economic recovery plan is placing a moratorium on evictions for tenants.

“I thought that as a City Council, we needed to be attentive,” he said. “I was very fortunate that the City Council – although initially, they were against it – came around and supported (this moratorium).”

Ly summarized his plan for economic recovery.

“If our residents are hurting, we as a city will be suffering,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. The most important part during these certain times, we have to make sure that we do everything possible to support the businesses and to support the residents.”

Singh-Allen’s economic recovery plan

Singh-Allen told the Citizen that she has a three-part economic recovery plan.

“I definitely have an economic recovery plan, which I call, ‘Reopen Elk Grove,’” she said. “The goal is really to use a collaborative approach to develop a citywide economic recovery plan.”

In describing the first part of that plan, Singh-Allen said that “economic recovery begins today.”

“It has to start today, and that includes a dedicated city staff with resources to conduct a needs assessment to find out really how many jobs have been lost, how many landlords and tenants are in jeopardy, how many homeowners and renters are in jeopardy,” she said.

“Where were we hurt? We need to be able to identify the impact and have a plan to address and mitigate it.”

Singh-Allen added that she believes it is important to “catalog COVID-19 and the recession impacts.”

“Say there’s a (COVID-19) cure tomorrow or the numbers are where they need to be, we need to hit the ground running to be able to get our community back on its feet,” she said.

The second part of Singh-Allen’s three-part approach is to launch an economic recovery task force, featuring business and nonprofit leaders, banking institutions, labor leaders, the healthcare industry, top CEOs of major companies, the city manager and some city staff.

She noted that the mayor and City Council would also be a part of the task force, but in a quorum setting to avoid Brown Act violations.

“The goal is to address immediate and long-term needs as part of the task force mission,” she said.

Singh-Allen mentioned that the third part of her economic recovery plan is to assess “where the city and the mayor’s office came up short.”

“What were the missed opportunities?” she asked. “What were the communication gaps? What I’ve explained to you in this three-pronged approach is a snapshot of today, tomorrow, as well as (a) reflection of the past.”

Singh-Allen told the Citizen that within the past few weeks, she has spoken to more than 20 Elk Grove business owners, and that none of them were notified about the availability of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, and personal protective equipment through the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) or from the city.

“They just weren’t aware,” she said. “So, it’s just not enough to have something available on a website. You really have to leave no stone unturned.

“Businesses are suffering and a lot of them are minority owned businesses. They don’t have the luxury of going to websites. They need to know, and the sad part is that other cities have been doing this proactive work in helping directly.”

Singh-Allen added that she actively worked to fill in the holes to bring those CalOES resources to more Elk Grove businesses.

“I just got approved through my partnership with CalOES and the tourism and hospitality side of things to secure over 25,000 face shields, over 38,000 (disposable) face masks, and over 1,700 16-ounce hand sanitizers,” she said.

Singh-Allen noted that she plans to distribute these items to restaurants and hotels in Elk Grove.

Pastor promotes further use of city’s General Fund

Pastor told the Citizen that he would like the city to use some of its General Fund to assist small businesses. The majority of the city’s General Fund consists of sales and property taxes.

“I would also redirect a portion of the general funds, such as community service grants, code enforcement and government to small business recovery,” he said. “These funds would be 5% of the General Fund, which is approximately $4 million.

“We could use those funds for covering up 30% of the lease costs for small businesses (for) up to six months. We can establish low-interest relief loans with local banks, to cover other overhead costs incurred by other small businesses.”

Pastor also desires that the city provide free COVID-19 testing and free or low-cost delivery for locally purchased goods.

To recover city funds, Pastor recommends a one-time commercial real estate fee that would be assessed after the local economy recovers.

Although Pastor would like the city to offer more assistance to small businesses, he also encourages those businesses to figure out their own ways to acquire emergency resources.

“This is not going to be our (last) pandemic,” he said. “We don’t know when the next one will be, but after this dies down, we can be prepared for another natural disaster or financial crisis. Regardless, these businesses will be well-prepared.”

Pastor mentioned his desire for the city to be less reliable on the federal government during pandemics.

“We have to think about the city first and then not rely on what the federal government will provide for us,” he said. “Instead of expecting federal help, we have something in place for our city where we can be sustainable during these times.”

Pastor added that his proposals are designed to work toward “preventing a 2008 recession caused by (a) natural disaster.”

“I want to protect our families, small businesses, make sure that families are secure,” he said. “They could also seek any type of financial help from being evicted. We could do that locally with the General Fund. It all intertwines again with the General Fund.

“I believe it’s 37% of the General Fund that comes from sales tax and then I think 25% to 27% comes from property tax. So, if we can avail of (a portion of those funds), we could stimulate small businesses, we could stimulate protection for evictions and people who are falling back on their mortgage.

“So, if we protect our families in our community and our businesses at the same time with the General Fund, prior to looking for federal help, we can be more prepared without waiting for these eviction notices, these foreclosures. At least we have a protection first.”

EG mayoral candidates’ debate coming Sept. 29

The Citizen and the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce’s Political Action Committee will host a debate for Elk Grove’s mayoral candidates on Tuesday, Sept. 29. Incumbent Steve Ly and challengers Bobbie Singh-Allen and Brian Pastor will be featured.

This debate will be held at 6 p.m. online and the public can view it by registering at the Chamber’s website, www.ElkGroveCA.com. Registration is free.