Laguna Beach OKs $1.1M relief program for small businesses, nonprofits

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Signs outside Laguna Beach City Hall direct visitors to check-in at the Council Chambers amid a COVID-19 case surge. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

The Laguna Beach City Council approved a $1.1 million relief package on Tuesday for small businesses and nonprofits to help alleviate the financial hardship created by the regional stay-at-home order.

Starting Dec. 23, Laguna Beach restaurant and bar operators can apply for a single $5,000 grant per establishment. Similarly, personal care businesses like hair salons and gyms, which have endured a hard shutdown, could each apply for a $3,000 grant. Retailers that have seen the occupancy limited to 20% of maximum capacity can apply for $2,000 grants.

Applications will be available at lagunabeachcity.net.

The so-called LB CARES program proposed by Mayor Bob Whalen, signals that city officials are interested in shoring up local organizations facing an unprecedented dip in revenue during what is typically a highly-productive season.

“The relief programs are intended to help avoid business closures, promote the long-term health of our local businesses, nonprofits and cultural arts organizations and provide some ‘bridge funding’ until further county, state, and federal grants and loans become available, which could be several months from now,” Whalen wrote in a staff report.

The program budget earmarks $650,000 for grants to restaurants and bars, $200,000 to retailers, and $250,000 to local nonprofits. The City Council is expected to review both programs in January or February and assign a subcommittee to review applications.

City Council members agreed to increase the appropriation for bars and restaurants to allow locally-owned franchises and some hotel restaurants to apply. There are 122 restaurants with a Laguna Beach business license, Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said, meaning the city would be able to fulfill all grant requests if all of the city’s restaurants apply.

“Quite a few of our businesses are owned by residents,” Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf said. “We’re trying to keep our economy going and our community safe. We’re doing the best we can.”

The current city budget has a $13.2 million General Fund reserve, which represents about 20 percent of the City’s General Fund expenditures.

There is a list of qualifications and terms for applying businesses:

  • The applicant must be a restaurant, bar, or retail store located in Laguna Beach
  • Hold a current Laguna Beach business license
  • Must be in compliance with, and pledge to continue complying with state and county health orders.
  • Must confirm financial hardship dude to COVID-19 closures.
  • Qualified businesses don’t include those that are part of a national chain
  • One in-house restaurant from each hotel can apply
  • City employees, elected and appointed officials, and their immediate family members aren’t eligible.

If the funding is approved on Tuesday businesses can file applications from Dec. 23 to Jan. 5. That deadline could be extended to Jan. 19

For the nonprofit sector, Laguna Beach will move up its annual Community Assistance Grant Program to March 2021. Normally, the program is funded by rent revenue collected from the Festival of Arts—but the city hasn’t collected any rent from the festival this year because it was forced to shutdown in-person events. In 2019. this program awarded $257,000 in grants to 40 Laguna Beach nonprofits, ranging from $500 to $24,000, according to a staff report.

At the request of councilmembers Toni Iseman and George Weiss, Laguna Beach will also contribute $300,000 to the Laguna Beach Community Foundation to support grants for needy Laguna Beach residents and employees. Whalen said he hopes the city’s contribution will attract matching donations from residents.

Weiss encouraged councilmembers to support a $500,000 donation to equally support struggling residents. However, City Manager John Pietig said donating half this amount was “reasonable and prudent” considering the financial uncertainty created by the pandemic.

Earlier this year, the Laguna COVID-19 Relief Fund distributed emergency assistance mini-grants in the form of VISA gift cards of up to $1,000 available to 862 individuals for rent, food, medical bills and other basic needs, said Bob Mister, a fund co-chair and Laguna Beach resident. On Tuesday night, it wasn’t immediately clear when or how much money per applicant would be distributed after this latest round of funding.

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