Many business owners and representatives in Morgan Hill are increasingly voicing the fear that small businesses might not survive the Covid-19 pandemic and related shutdowns. At the May 20 City Council meeting, council members and city staff discussed a wide-ranging plan to facilitate the reopening of businesses when the county lifts more restrictions.
The vast majority of businesses in Morgan Hill are small businesses, Morgan Hill Economic Development Director Edith Ramirez said. “We’ve got to do more to help our small businesses. They are the backbone of our community,” Ramirez told the council during the online meeting.
Council members agreed that city staff should pursue implementing most of the key aspects of a proposed citywide reopening plan that focuses on marketing, providing more space for social distancing and expediting some permitting processes. Specific aspects of the city staff’s proposed reopening plan include:
• Reconfiguring Monterey Road in the downtown to “repurpose” a traffic lane and on-street parking on each side to “create more space for retailers, restaurants, pedestrians and cyclists.” City staff will present a detailed proposal on such a downtown street configuration at the June 3 meeting.
• Formalize a preliminary review of conceptual commercial and industrial developments.
• Review City policies on conditional use permits, Planned Developments, Curbside Pickup, telecommunication requirements for commercial and industrial developments, placemaking and landscaping opportunities that will support branding. Includes possible signage policies that will support existing and new retail development.
• Consider partnerships with community organizations to develop events that will meet new distancing requirements. These may include art fairs, outdoor art galleries, murals and temporary art projects.
• Work with partners to implement a “buy local campaign” to encourage local spending.
• Develop opportunities to activate vacant windows and create non-brick and mortar retail opportunities, either with sidewalk activation or with temporary markets.
• Apply for a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to enhance telecommunications capacity in Morgan Hill.
Council also asked city staff to come back with more details on a policy to freeze impact fees for certain developers as a financial incentive for new development. Council member Larry Carr also urged staff to consider a moratorium on the rezoning of industrial properties while the economic development reopening plan is in effect.
The council members also pushed back against residents who commented during the meeting that City Hall isn’t doing enough to push back against the county’s shelter-in-place orders that continue to prohibit most “non-essential” businesses from operating anywhere near their typical capacity. The council members explained that the city is at the county’s mercy until the health officer deems the Covid-19 situation safe enough to reopen, as the council does not have the authority to override the restrictions.
Council member John McKay asked the public and business community to continue offering feedback.
“We’ve got some really good people working hard on this. Let’s keep the ideas coming,” McKay said. “But we have an obligation to our community to stay safe.”