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Santa Maria asks businesses about COVID-19 impacts, 53% have had revenue loss of at least 25% in last 30 days
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Santa Maria asks businesses about COVID-19 impacts, 53% have had revenue loss of at least 25% in last 30 days

The city of Santa Maria is seeking further data about local COVID-19 cases and how the virus impacts businesses, in order to better respond to the virus, officials said at a City Council meeting Tuesday. 

Glenn Morris, CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber will begin conducting monthly surveys of local business owners to identify the financial impacts of the virus, with the first survey conducted this month.

More than 900 businesses in the Santa Maria Valley were surveyed via an online form with questions about impacts on revenue, business needs and optimism about the local economy, Morris said. 

According to the survey, 53% of businesses have experienced a revenue loss of at least 25% in the past 30 days, with 23% experiencing a revenue loss of at least 75% in the same time period. 

Morris said navigating the drastic drops in revenue is what concerns him most. 

"That’s the concerning piece long-term, how long can they continue to sustain in that environment?" he said. 

Some of the top impacts on business revenue, according to the survey, have been increased mitigation expenses, cancelled events and modified business hours. 

Not surprisingly, the top need identified by business owners was increased cash flow, along with information regarding best practices for remaining open and information about stimulus programs and grants. 

Results also showed that while 54% of respondents believed their businesses would improve in the next six months, 71% were unsure about the status of the regional economy in the near future. 

"What we hope to see is that those trends move in the direction of optimism and success, and move away from concern and risk," he said. 

'Tangible data'

While data regarding impacts on local business is being actively collected by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber, city officials said they are experiencing greater difficulty obtaining in-depth data that could shed light on the spread of COVID-19 cases in the city.

Santa Maria has led Santa Barbara County in cases for the past few months, with 2,327 cases confirmed as of Tuesday. Requests for further data regarding the city's cases have been rejected by the county Public Health Department, which tracks all case data in the county, said city Deputy Fire Chief Todd Tuggle.

Specifically, the data is being requested for use by the city's COVID-19 task force, which includes the police department, fire department and Santa Maria Valley Chamber, as well as the city's media outreach, emergency management, mapping and code enforcement offices, according to City Manager Jason Stilwell.

Although the city was presented with an analysis of Santa Maria's cases at a July 7 city council meeting, which highlighted the disproportionate rate of cases among the Latino community and concentrations in high-density neighborhoods, Tuggle said the city is still waiting for more in-depth data.

"Thus far, we have not received anything with regards to any deeper analysis beyond what we can all get on the Santa Barbara County Public Health web page," Tuggle said. "We’ve received nothing in terms of tangible data or analysis to help guide the efforts of our task force." 

City Attorney Thomas Watson has shared similar frustration regarding a lack of information from the county, stating on July 7 that the Public Health Department had not provided adequate resources or information despite asking the city to increase enforcement of health codes. 

"It’s diffused through the community, but if there are hot spots then obviously we have an interest in enforcing. We’re willing to enforce as necessary, but Public Health so far has not shown the necessity of doing that," Watson said.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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