Shuttered restaurant in Linda Vista
A shuttered restaurant in Linda Vista. Photo courtesy Noli Zosa

“We’re all in this together” is one of the most popular phrases heard from elected officials when talking about the coronavirus pandemic that has afflicted every single San Diego family and business.

The one thing that every elected leader gets and almost no one else gets is a guaranteed paycheck. The vast majority of San Diegans do not have the luxury of guaranteed paychecks because they work for small businesses. As a restaurant co-owner, the struggle to keep our doors open through this tough time is real.

The federal Paycheck Protection Program and local assistance programs are only a band-aid for those small businesses that were lucky enough to receive the benefit. It is of limited help to restaurants because the loan must go towards payroll. Since restaurants are only doing delivery and take-out, the majority of them cannot afford to keep a lot of the staff employed.

The number of unemployed in San Diego is currently 27% which exceeds the 25% unemployment rate during the Great Depression. That doesn’t include those who can’t even file for unemployment or the underemployed.

Our leaders have done a good job protecting the public on the health and safety aspect of this crisis. But it is increasingly frustrating watching many of these officials continue to make head-scratching decisions during this pandemic regarding our economy.

Our Governor has announced he will allow businesses like toy stores, music stores and bookstores to open for curbside delivery. Newsflash…hardly any of those businesses exist anymore — they’ve moved online. Moreover, isn’t the purpose of going to a store versus shopping online so that a consumer can browse before they buy?

The government is arbitrarily picking winners and losers during this shutdown. The winners have been the big box chain retailers like Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, and major grocery stores. The losers are the small locally-owned stores and businesses that they tagged as “non-essential.”

Isn’t government supposed to be looking out for the little guy? There is no reason why these small businesses cannot be open and adhere to the same guidelines that big box retailers follow: limit capacity, require all employees and customers to wear masks, install protective shields in front of cashiers, and require strict daily sanitary protocols.

Noli Zosa

The shutdown isn’t just impacting the private sector. Nonprofits and local governments are being severely impacted. Every day that we keep our small businesses closed, millions of dollars in critical sales tax revenue is lost for our city and county.

This will result in San Diego making deeper and deeper cuts in funding for our parks and libraries, making it more difficult to retain critical city employees like firefighters and police officers, fix our crumbling infrastructure, and pay for much needed neighborhood support.

The ramifications of this shutdown will be felt for years to come and there is still no clear end in sight. I speak with my fellow small business owners and most have only enough operating capital to last for two months. On May 16, we will reach the two-month mark for the shutdown.

We’re entering into make or break time for us small business owners. I hope and pray that our leaders realize this and make the right decisions for small business that will keep our city prosperous for years to come.

Perhaps our elected leaders should agree to not receive a guaranteed paycheck as long as they continue to handicap the main financial resource for their paychecks. Then they can honestly say “we’re all in this together.”

Noli Zosa is a partner in Dirty Birds Restaurant Group and a candidate for the San Diego City Council in District 7.

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