Officials attempt to answer questions on COVID19 during Elk Grove town hall meeting

Elk Grove's director of economic development Darrell Doan offering what could be best described as realistic advice to small business owners during the COVID19 town hall meeting. | 

Several local public officials attempted to answer a variety of questions during a COVID19 town hall meeting last night. The meeting, which was scheduled for one hour and ran slightly longer was hosted by the city of Elk Grove on Zoom.

Along with several Elk Grove city officials led by city manager Jason Behrmann, also participating were Sacramento County Health Department's Dr. Olvia Kasirye, Chief Michael McLaughlin of the Cosumnes Community Services District and other officials from the CCSD. Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly and Cosumnes Community Services District Board President Orlando Fuentes offered introductory remarks. 

As with many of the questions, Elk Grove officials said they have no leeway in offering variances and must follow state and county orders. It was also emphasized that cities and counties can have stricter standards than imposed by the state but are not allowed to set more lenient rules. 

While many of the small business owners were concerned about their closures, there were also inquiries about financial assistance. As widely reported, the Payroll Protection Plan funds were distributed to larger businesses ranging from the Los Angeles Lakers and national hamburger restaurant Shake Shack, both of which returned the money, but most small single-location businesses have not qualified.

During her remarks, Dr. Kasirye noted as of April 28, there were 1,053 COVID cases in the county and 41 deaths. Kasirye said there was an increase of eight cases over the previous daily report.

"When you look at Elk Grove, we've had 86 cases reported in Elk Grove, and three deaths," she said. "And actually those numbers have remained stable for a while." 

Kasirye added, "all of these indicators show the numbers that  actually we are headed in the right direction."

During the session, which was moderated by Elk Grove city clerk Jason Lindgren, many of the initial questions were from small business owners. They uniformly expressed frustration on the mandatory closing of their businesses after being classified as non-essential, while bigger chain businesses such as the Home Depot and nursery Green Acres remain open and drawing large crowds of customers.

One of the questions and commentary Lindgren read was the unnamed co-owner of Switch Fitness in Elk Grove. The co-owner said it was unfair to their business to be classified as non-essential given they believe they could maintain social distancing requirements during their workout sessions.

The comment, read by Lindgren included "I am unclear why some businesses are allowed to be open, while I am forced to be closed down. I am not sure not sure how much longer I'll be able to survive this shut-down." The co-owner wrote that they were near profitability, and opened the business in a space that they said has been vacant for 16 years.

Kasirye said the county determined what defines essential businesses, which are exempt from closing, by following federal and state definitions. Kasirye also acknowledged small business owners' concerns. 

"I do hear the frustration and I do appreciate your patience as we work through this," she added.

Regarding small business financial assistance, Elk Grove's economic development director Darrell Doan fielded inquiries on what the city or county can do to aid those in need.  Doan said the city is trying to assist businesses to navigate the various federal programs but added the city has limited means to be of direct financial assistance.  

"The simple answer is we are doing everything we can to help our local businesses, and the more complex answer is we can't do everything," Doan said. "And I know that is not a very satisfying answer."

Doan did say his department has established a page on the city's website that provides information and links to other sources of small business assistance and noted the establishment of the LIFT Investing program in conjunction with Sacramento-based Region Business. That program, which has not yet been administratively finalized, will funnel $2.5 million from Elk Grove's general fund deposits to regionally-based banks who will then loan to qualifying Elk Grove small businesses.

A comment posted on the Zoom platform during the meeting noted the restrictive nature of the LIFT program. Below is the comment and Doan's response. 

Participants also posted questions on issues ranging from homeless people near the new District56 facility to when bulk garbage pick-ups can resume. Answering one inquiry if certain crimes were increasing was Elk Grove Police Chief Timothy Albright. 

Below is the question and Albright's response.

As the session closed out, Behrmann thanked the participants and promised answers to all the questions that were not immediately addressed during the session.

"We hope to have other opportunities to do something similar," Berhmann added. 

The entire audio of the session is below.  

Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2020. All right reserved.


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