Free parking and to-go alcohol among ideas to keep business alive in downtown San Jose

A coalition of more than 55 San Jose businesses is pushing local and state policy recommendations to help the once-thriving downtown core survive the pandemic.

Lawmakers at the city’s Rules and Open Government Committee voted unanimously Dec. 2 to bring 15 new policy recommendations to the San Jose City Council for discussion and approval.

“As we consider solutions for economic recovery, it is vital that we leverage the expertise of our local business community and elevate their voices — these recommendations do exactly that,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez, who spearheaded the group known as the Greater Downtown San Jose Economic Recovery Task Force.

Businesses ranging from small restaurants to art organizations and tech giants such as Adobe, called for city-backed grants and tax relief programs for businesses that were forced to spend extra on safety and outdoor equipment due to COVID-19. They are also championing an ordinance at the city level to cap third-party delivery service fees at 15%.

“We believe third party companies like Doordash, who are currently valued at $16 billion and recently contributed to passing a $204 million ballot measure, can afford to reduce their fees to support our mom-and-pop businesses,” the task force wrote.

Nate LeBlanc with the San Jose Downtown Association said helping businesses get grants for tents and canopies to survive the winter helps temporarily, but capping fees will help businesses salvage their income in the long run.

The coalition is also urging the city to support to-go sales of alcohol to help food establishments make up for lost bar revenue. If the state allows for to-go sales, the task force suggests a pilot program that would allow monitored open container consumption.

The task force said free parking has been particularly helpful in Japantown and the East Santa Clara business corridor. It recommended expanding free parking to areas that surround the downtown core where parking garages are not as prevalent and making existing parking at the Convention Center free. These steps would help promote traffic downtown, it said.

Businesses also agreed the city needed to strengthen its public safety messaging and highlight local art during the pandemic.

As of Nov. 9, small-business revenue in San Jose has decreased by 39.2% from January, according to a memo by Peralez. But consumer spending has dropped only by 4.1%. This means people are still spending— just not in the downtown area.

This is the second round of policy recommendations by the task force. The first set of recommendations, adopted by lawmakers in June, asked officials to extend free parking downtown, convert public areas into outdoor retail space and reopen personal care businesses such as hair salons, nail salons and gyms. The task force asked that the city follow up on these recommendations and continue offering free parking downtown.

“I’m proud of the work done by the Task Force and believe that we did what we could to make sure San Jose businesses and organizations from all sectors were heard,” said Dalia Rawson, executive director of New Ballet SJ and task force co-chair.

Wisa Uemura, executive director of San José Taiko and co-chair of the task force, said the second phase will focus on areas that are under rigid restrictions and cannot reopen, especially now that Santa Clara County regressed into the most restrictive purple tier of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan.

As COVID-19 cases spike to historic levels in Santa Clara County, health officials two weeks ago closed indoor dining and limited nonessential retail indoors to 10% capacity.

Many businesses have been able stay afloat thanks to programs such as San Jose Al Fresco, which paved the way for outdoor dining and operations. But these programs, according to the task force, are not sustainable. One of the task force’s first recommendations is to beef up the city’s outdoor dining capabilities.

“The city is going to continue to exist, the civic structure is going to continue to exist,” LeBlanc said. “But there’s no guarantee that these businesses — especially these linchpin businesses that we all think of when we think of our downtown — just might go out of business if we don’t take active steps to save them.”

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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