In dire straits, restaurants plead for break on fees, a move that could cost Long Beach millions

Already battered by the coronavirus, Long Beach restaurants are asking the City Council to extend a break on licensing and inspection fees to help keep them afloat.

The city previously but a moratorium on business fees to help ease the pain of the pandemic, but the measure is set to expire. At Tuesday night meeting, council members talked about fast-tracking a renewal to avoid hitting companies with a potentially backbreaking bill on Aug. 30.

Restaurateurs say the quick action is needed because the situation is dire, with restaurants operating at reduced capacity with complicated new COVID-19 rules heaped on top.

“The full-service restaurant industry has taken a major hit this year,” Michael Dene, owner of Michael’s Restaurant Group, told the Post. “We could lose as much as 50% of the restaurant industry here in Long Beach if we don’t continue to get his help through grants and other relief packages.”

A break on fees would be substantial.

“Annual licenses and permit fees for a full-service restaurant in the city of Long Beach typically range from $3,000 to $5,000 when you total up business license, fire permit, health permit, public occupancy permit (for sidewalk seating), and entertainment permit fees,” JADE owner Rod Frontino said in a letter sent to the council.

But waiving those fees could cost the city somewhere between $2.7 million and $3 million annually, according to City Manager Tom Modica. That’s on top of a $30 million deficit Long Beach is already trying to make up in next year’s budget through furloughs and cuts to city services.

If the city keeps giving restaurants a break, Councilwoman Suzie Price asked that the policy extend to all businesses, specifically noting personal care services like nail and hair salons have also been hit hard.

“I understand that all our restaurants are operating at less than full capacity and doing their best to try and make it, but all kinds of businesses continue to stay closed,” said Price, who owns a lash salon with her husband in Belmont Shore. “They shouldn’t have to pay taxes and fees when they can’t even open.”

The council asked for a report to analyze its options, but it might have to schedule a special meeting at the end of the month to extend the fee waivers should the report not be prepared by that time.

Councilman Daryl Supernaw, while supporting both the report and the extension to all businesses, defended the need to suspend the fees for now until the report is returned.

Restaurant owners are also asking for a cash infusion from the city. A consortium of them, the recently created Long Beach Restaurant Association, is petitioning to get a share of the $40.3 million in federal aide Long Beach has received via the CARES Act.

The association’s petition, with more than 700 signatures, urged the council to give a portion of these funds to full-service restaurants, including a guaranteed $25,000 grant per full-service restaurant with more than 15 employees.

“More and more closings mean less and less sales tax to the general fund,” lobbyist Mike Murchison noted in his letter to the council accompanying the petition.

City Council members didn’t immediately act on that suggestion either, but it directed the city’s Economic Development Department to work with the restaurant association to fine-tune details to ultimately achieve what they are seeking.

“They agreed to work on solutions and creative methods while acknowledging we are in dire straits,” said association member and The 908 owner Ciaran Gough. “But they also recognized that not all restaurants have been affected equally so the association will provide color and qualifiers to help flesh out what we’re seeking.”

Long Beach Post reporter Jason Ruiz contributed to this report.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 19 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.
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