Fresno County Supervisor Buddy Mendes spoke at a news conference at Fresno City Hall Thursday. Photo by Edward Smith

published on September 17, 2020 - 3:19 PM
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Flanked by business owners and officials from across Fresno County, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand Thursday presented a letter he sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom requesting restaurants within the city be allowed to open for business.

The mayor’s office sent the letter outlining the negative impact to restaurants from forced closures in response to the pandemic.

“Restaurants have been very productive partners with you, and they need your help desperately. They have risen to the challenge since the outset of the epidemic at incredible personal cost and loss of lifelong dreams. We have a moral obligation to help them get to the other side of this crisis,” Brand said in the letter.

Of the 1,300 restaurants within city limits, 600 could be closed by the end of the year if nothing changes, estimated Chuck Van Fleet, president of the Fresno Chapter of the California Restaurant Association.

“We need to make sure that all businesses are open, but that restaurants are open safely,” said Van Fleet. “If we’re not open safely, we’re going to have some problems.”

The letter comes as Fresno County prepares to move into the next stage of Newsom’s color-coded tier system, which allows indoor services for restaurants, gyms and churches, among others, at 25% capacity.

Van Fleet, however, said that even at 25% capacity, only a few additional businesses would survive from his estimate of 600 closures.

At 50% capacity, when combined with outdoor dining, he said that most restaurants can “stop the bleeding.”

While the letter did not specifically state a goal, Brand in the conference urged that restaurants be allowed to operate at at least 50%.

Fresno County Board of Supervisors Chair Buddy Mendes said that the Fresno County Health Department would work to “help businesses and not hurt them” if allowed to reopen.

For their part, Fresno City Councilmembers Mike Karbassi and Luis Chavez have proposed a Businesses Essential to Local Economies Act, enacting an eviction moratorium as well as a mandatory rent forbearance for tenants and landlords.

Brand said he wants to hear a response from Newsom’s staff as early as next week.

More than 150 businesses in Fresno County have considered opening regardless of the state or city rules.

But Chavez asked those businesses to “work with the city.”

“Please do not jeopardize your [Alcoholic Beverage Control] License, your [conditional use permits],” Chavez said.

The announcement of the letter comes on the same day the Fresno City Council decided to postpone Fresno City Council Member Garry Bredefeld’s resolutions to allow businesses to operate within the city.

Bredefeld expressed his doubts that the governor would respond positively to the letter. Brand said that even before sending the letter, he had received a response from the Governor’s office saying they were anticipating its arrival.

“I can’t guarantee anything but this is a strong first step,” Brand said.

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