DATE: May 3, 2020
T0: South Lake Tahoe City Council
El Dorado County Board of Supervisors
CC: Chamber Members & All local South Lake Tahoe Businesses
The South Tahoe Chamber of Commerce would like to offer encouragement and support of a revival of the local economy, while continuing to keep the health and safety of our residents in mind. Cases of COVID-19 have remained low in our region when compared to other more populated areas around the State and Nation. We applaud the quick action taken by the County and City that has helped us keep the case count low.
The recent announcement by El Dorado County stating they are removing their stay-at-home order was very encouraging to see, as well as the request to the California Governor asking to be exempt from the Statewide stay-at-home orders along with a few additional rural counties. The creation of the South Lake Tahoe Recovery Task Force by the City Council has also shown promise and our Chamber is grateful to the City for including us in the group. Our Task Force has already put forward ideas for helping locals and businesses in the short term, which were discussed at the recent City Council meeting.
Our Chamber feels now is the time to start the process to slowly open things back up and allow our local residents and businesses to start to recuperate their recent income losses. We acknowledge that this reopening process should be taken very carefully and should not be just a flip of the switch and everything is back to normal. Normal will take a while to achieve. But the process does need to begin soon.
While we would defer to the City and County judgement on timeframes that fit within the Federal Guidelines for “Phased Re-Opening”, we have the following suggestions to get the process of re-opening started in our community.
- BEACHES – First thing is to offer some happiness to our locals who have been stuck at home. Please work to open all of our beaches. This is something that our chamber has been asked many times… when will the beaches be open for locals to use. While we understand the city has said their beaches are open, the parking lots appear to be blocked off still. Locals are asking for ALL beaches to be opened, including the USFS ones. We thank those at the City who pushed the USFS for a May 15th end date to the beach closure and would hope that date does not get extended so our locals can enjoy the lake with the warmer weather.
- RE-OPENING REQUIREMENTS – Provide our businesses with a set of standard requirements based on CDC safety recommendations. This should include a breakdown of requirements based on the type of business. Restaurants will have different requirements than a florist. Each category or type of business should be able to look at the set of requirements and easily understand which ones apply to their business. This information should be provided to businesses ASAP to allow them time to start the process of modifying their businesses to accommodate the new requirements.
- PROVIDE ASSISTANCE TO MEET RE-OPENING REQUIREMENTS – Since many of our businesses haven’t received any income in over a month, they will most likely need assistance to get the new requirements implemented so they can re-open safely. The City and County should work together and do a bulk purchase of items needed for most businesses to re-open, such as masks, gloves, sanitizing products, social distancing signage, and so on. By purchasing in bulk, it will make the total cost per item much lower than if each business had to do their own purchase order for the same items. The City and County could then choose to resell the items at cost to businesses in their respective jurisdictions, meaning they would break even.
- BUSINESS LOAN & GRANT PROGRAM – As was brought forward by the South Lake Tahoe Recovery Task Force at the last City Council meeting, there is an abundantly clear need for additional financial assistance to many of our small businesses. The Federal programs through the Small Business Administration have helped some businesses, but unfortunately many have not received any funds from those programs and are still in dire need of assistance. When the Task Force sent out a survey of local businesses, one of the questions was “Have you applied for an SBA loan?” and less than 8% of respondents said they had applied and received funds, 52% said they had applied but had not yet received funds, and 40% said they had not applied yet. If only 13% of those who have applied for SBA loans have actually received funds, this shows a massive hole in the process that is hurting local businesses.
That same survey also asked “Is your business currently operating?”. The results were that 46% said they were completely shut down, 32% were partially open. This means 78% of our local businesses are not fully open currently. So only 8% of businesses are getting the funding from the SBA loans, while 78% of businesses are in need of the funds.
This is why the Task Force brought forward to the City Council an idea for a loan and grant program. We understand the large amount that was asked for, $5 million dollars, may be to much for the City to take on at this time with potential budgeting shortfalls due to lack of TOT and other things. But our Chamber feels something still needs to be done. We are working with some local and regional groups and individuals to create a local program that can accept donations that will go toward grants and/or low interest loans to our businesses in South Lake Tahoe. We would ask the City and County to participate in a business loan and/or grant program, even if it is only to offer some seed money into a third party group that can then manage the funds and get them where they are needed.
- BUSINESS LICENSE RENEWAL FEES – Allowing businesses to defer their business license renewal fees for a couple months will offer some help and we applaud the City Council for making that decision, realizing that funds are tight or non-existent for many businesses at this time. But we want to remind the City that many business license fees are only around $100, so in the whole scale of things that isn’t much help and won’t be something that keeps a business running over the next few months.
- BRINGING BACK TOURISTS – As we all know, tourists are the driving economic force in our community. They make up close to 75% of our local business’s income in South Lake Tahoe. So, letting our businesses open while keeping tourists out of town will be difficult. Many businesses will not be able to be fully open if they are going to have to rely solely on local consumers. We do understand the Counties position and reasons for keeping travel to Tahoe banned at this time, since it would most likely open the flood gates as people from around the State and Nation will want to come to Tahoe to have a change of scenery after staying in their homes for over a month.
With all of that in mind we do want to suggest a phased and slow reintroduction of tourists into South Lake Tahoe. Having a toll booth at the top of Echo Summit is always the locals go-to option it seems. But we all know that isn’t possible. What could be implemented is a soft opening by only allowing hotels, motels a maximum of 30% occupancy. For vacation rentals you could say there needs to be at least 3 days vacancy in between all rental dates, or potentially modify current permits to reduce total occupancy allowed by half. This would limit how many tourists can stay in Tahoe, in addition to limits due to social distancing at local beaches and the casinos. If it looks like that is working after 2 to 3 weeks, depending on if we see a jump in positive COVID-19 cases, you could then open the spigot a little more and allow up to 50% occupancy, with another 2 to 3 weeks afterward to give time to check for virus spread before opening it even more. If at anytime during this process you see a jump in virus cases or if there are issues with social distancing not being followed, you could tighten the spigot back up and lower the flow of tourists again.
A good first step in this regard would be to allow second homeowners to come to Tahoe to their properties without fear of getting a $1,000 fine. This would be a welcome gesture that could calm anxious nerves from owners who have been banned from properties they pay taxes on and contribute to the community by shopping locally, hiring local housecleaners, grounds keepers, tradesmen and so on.
No matter what you decide regarding letting tourists back into Tahoe, you need to make sure there is uniform messaging getting out to everyone, so they know the rules and how to follow them. This can be doing interviews on Sacramento, Bay Area, and Los Angeles news stations as well as the posting of signage at all entry points (Meyers, Stateline, Camp Richardson) and throughout our town at the tourist hot spots.
As mentioned at the beginning of this letter, these are only our suggestions. We do not presume to have all the answers or know exactly what is best for everyone in our community. But we do want to help our local businesses, especially the small ones, as much as possible and will continue to offer our input and services to assist the City and County come up with plans that benefit our residence and businesses.
On a personal note, I wanted to let our local businesses know they are not alone. I too am a small business owner who has had to shut down since the stay-at-home orders were put into place. While I can do work from home and have kind of enjoyed the challenge of doing Zoom meetings while having my cats climb in front of my laptop screen and block the camera, my work is limited and does not bring in any income at this time. I too have applied for an SBA PPP loan and am still waiting for the funds. I too am wondering how long it will take my business to pick up once things open back up. Will it be another 3 or 6 months before I see a normal income again? All any of us can do is take things one day at a time, while trying to plan for the future as best as possible. May all of us come out of this pandemic safely without any long-term financial burdens.
Please feel free to reach out to me directly at the email listed below if you have any questions or comments.
Amanda Adams, President
South Tahoe Chamber of Commerce