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Laguna Beach City Council approves $1.4 million in financial relief for businesses and community

A block on Main Street in Laguna Beach
The Laguna Beach City Council approved the “LB Cares” grant program for financial relief for restaurants, bars and retail businesses at a special meeting Tuesday night.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Laguna Beach is reaching into its general fund reserve to provide financial assistance to local businesses and the community.

The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously approved the appropriation of $1.4 million from the city’s reserves, a decision focused on providing relief for those facing hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A grant program referred to as “LB Cares” allows the city’s 122 restaurants and bars to apply for $5,000 grants. Local retailers that had to close due to protocols instituted because of the coronavirus can receive $3,000, and those that have had to operate at reduced capacity can apply for $2,000 in aid.

If money remains available after Jan. 5, the deadline to apply for a grant could be extended to Jan. 19.

In order to receive the city’s financial assistance, the applying establishments must be in compliance with all state and local health orders and make a pledge to continue to be so. The grant program is not accessible for city employees, elected and appointed officials or members of their immediate family.

Local franchises are eligible for the city’s economic aid, and one restaurant per hotel may receive grant money.

Details on the “LB Cares” program and how to apply can be found at lagunabeachcity.net/LBCares.

The "LB Cares" grant program will provide economic relief to restaurants, bars and retailers impacted by the pandemic.
The “LB Cares” grant program will provide economic relief to restaurants, bars and retailers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“The Economic Assistance Program approved by the City Council [Tuesday] provides an essential lifeline to our local businesses who have been severely impacted by the pandemic,” Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen said in a statement. “A direct assistance program like this is a first for the city but these are unprecedented times demanding new approaches and decisive action. Our objective in approving this program is to help keep our restaurants and retailers going until they can apply for additional assistance through county, state and federal programs in early 2021.”

In discussion, Councilman Peter Blake advocated for local franchises and small businesses that had previously received financial relief to be eligible for this round of grants.

“It’s not like they received millions of dollars and that money is sitting in their bank accounts,” Blake said. “That money was supposed to be used within three months to employ people, and that’s what they did.”

Council members George Weiss and Toni Iseman both expressed a desire to come up with an economic relief package for struggling residents, and such a plan was put together during the meeting.

When asked to weigh in on the city’s ability to provide economic relief for its neediest residents in addition to the proposal to help out local businesses, Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig indicated that he felt matching funds was the way to go.

Pietig added that he believed it was “reasonable and prudent” to set aside money to support the community. He estimated the city’s general fund reserve to be about $9 million when factoring in the economic relief that was being considered for restaurants, bars and retailers.

The "LB Cares" grant program will provide economic relief to restaurants, bars and retailers impacted by the pandemic.
The “LB Cares” grant program will provide economic relief to restaurants, bars and retailers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“We’re at the point where we need to help the community as much as we reasonably can,” Pietig said. “I certainly could support $250,000. I suppose an argument could be made to go up to $500,000.”

The council agreed to a matching grant program of up to $300,000 in community donations to help residents who have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Those funds would go to the Laguna Beach Community Foundation. A method for dispersing the funds will be determined by the foundation, Laguna Beach Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said.

“This is the time of year to be generous,” Weiss said. “We’ve been generous to the businesses, I think as much as we can be, and I think to be equally generous to residents would be a really big thing. I think it would be well received by the community, and we do have the money.”

Iseman also noted that donations made to the Laguna Beach Community Foundation would be tax deductible.

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