Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

The Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce is pushing for businesses across the county to safely reopen in a recovery plan published last week, meant to help restaurants, retail, and other small businesses to recover from closures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Chamber of Commerce, which represents the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Carpinteria, interviewed 163 members and held 12 focus groups over six months to gather feedback from different business sectors to chart a course for recovery and reopening, according to Chamber Chief Development Officer Cortney Rintoul. 

“We knew that businesses needed more certainty and guidance, and we saw how enthusiastically they were working to operate safely and lead our recovery,” Rintoul said. 

The Roadmap to Recovery includes a five-step safety method recommendation for all businesses, including a mask requirement “until at least June,” strict cleaning procedures, social distancing of at least six feet apart, proper ventilation, and use of barriers such as plexiglass or plastic curtains to add extra protection and enforce social-distancing requirements. 

Guidelines and enforcement should come from the county and local level instead of the state, the plan argues. Under the plan’s recommendations, businesses should be allowed to calculate how many customers they can accommodate while maintaining a six-foot distance, “rather than a confusing set of percentages and guidelines.” 

Under Governor Gavin Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, retailers in Santa Barbara County are only allowed 25 percent capacity indoors. Santa Barbara County is currently in the purple tier, meaning that the coronavirus is still widespread with a positivity rate above 8 percent. 

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The Chamber is pushing for data on unemployment and revenue loss to be included in county decisions about reopening. The Chamber has also asked the Board of Supervisors about presenting economic and job data once a month and to add a “jobs and education impacts” update following Public Health coronavirus updates. 

Business closures from the coronavirus pandemic, including the stay-at-home lockdown instituted across Southern California in December, led to significant revenue loss over the holiday season, the most important time of the year for retailers. Now amid retail’s “slow season” from January to March, the plan encourages the county to put reopening guidelines in place now so that businesses can operate normally as soon as possible. 

The plan also recommends that the county addresses the issue of homelessness in retail corridors such as State Street, where they say homelessness is “the 2nd largest barrier for business growth” after mandated business closures. 

A key part of returning to business as usual is bringing the tourism industry back to Santa Barbara. The county experienced a 37 percent drop in visitors last year, according to the Roadmap for Recovery, which in turn impacted other nonessential industries like restaurants. Under the plan’s recommendations, travel should be allowed for small business meetings, weddings, and other gatherings by the end of May, as long as businesses follow the plan’s five-step safety method.

The plan connects school reopenings to the success of businesses, recommending that school districts should reopen in the beginning of March. The Chamber is encouraging the Santa Barbara and Goleta Unified School Districts to reopen under a hybrid model similar to Carpinteria, Cold Spring, Hope, and Montecito districts. 

The Roadmap to Recovery also encourages Santa Barbara County to implement clear reopening guidelines for the arts and culture sector, such as live performance venues and museums to encourage consistent operations. 

By the end of April, all community members “that want to get vaccinated” should have access to the vaccine. The plan notes that this is “an ambitious goal,” considering that Santa Barbara County currently receives a limited number of vaccines and is only vaccinating healthcare workers and people age 75 and older. But while vaccinating the community is vital to bringing businesses back to full capacity, the Chamber does not support changing reopening plans for businesses or schools based on changes in the vaccine timeline. 

“While the State of California has the daunting task of creating strategies to minimize the spread of the virus, it appears economic health has been ignored as the focus has solely been on human health,” the plan reads. 

“It is our responsibility to broaden that focus to include maintaining the health of the economy.” 

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