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More money will be coming to hundreds of small businesses in Newport Beach struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic through grants with funds courtesy of the County of Orange.

That’s if the applicants meet a list of requirements first.

City Council members voted unanimously at their Tuesday night meeting to use $290,000 given to the city by the county to finance a grant program for small businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

“It’s not a good news story, our businesses are suffering. Small businesses are suffering throughout the state of California,” Councilwoman Diane Dixon told the Voice of OC in an interview prior to the meeting. “They need all of our help — not only financial help — but patronage.”

Councilman Will O’Neill said prior to the meeting while some businesses have been “crushed by the shutdowns” others have done well.

“We see some sectors of our city with open vacant storefronts and fortunately some of our businesses were able to adapt quickly to the changing environment,” O’Neill said.

In December, members of the county Board of Supervisors decided to take $10 million from the county’s general fund and divide it equally amongst their five districts to support businesses. The $2 million for district two – which includes Newport Beach – is being allocated to the cities on a per capita basis.

This is the third grant program started in the city since the pandemic gripped life last March and is expected to assist around 58 businesses with $5,000 each.

However, there are several conditions.

For business owners to be eligible for the grant they must prove the need for financial assistance due to a loss of commerce caused by the pandemic or subsequent state-issued stay-at-home orders.

The business must also have been active for six months, in a commercial or industrial space within city limits and must be independently owned. Businesses in homes or operating through a sublease will not qualify and neither will establishments that had more than 50 full-time employees on March 1, 2020, according to the staff report included in the agenda.

The applicants must also be up to date with license fees or their payment plans for those fees. Businesses must not currently be in violation of any city laws and must have an average annual gross receipts of $15 million or less in the last three years.

They must also follow state and county guidance on reopening.

The first grant program launched in June was funded by over $2 million in federal coronavirus relief money and provided grants for over 291 businesses in the city before ending in December.

“That focused primarily on brick and mortar storefronts, to ensure that the small businesses that had actual physical storefronts were able to offset the costs of PPE (personal protective equipment) and the government shutdowns,” O’Neill said before Tuesday’s meeting.

The second program started in August also funded by federal coronavirus relief Community Development Block Grant dollars totaling almost $470,000. Three hundred businesses have applied for the grant but 75 have been reviewed by the city so far and nine have been approved and are in the process of being paid.

Eligibility requirements for Community Development Block Grant funds are strict and are creating a time consuming review and process, according to the city staff report.

Applicants looking to receive the $5,000 grant from this year’s program must disclose if they received any financial assistance from the state, county, city or through a disaster loan or payment protection program.

The businesses that haven’t received a city grant in the past year will be prioritized.

Newport Beach has sought other ways than grants to help small businesses in the city during the pandemic. 

Last May, the council unanimously approved an emergency ordinance to allow businesses to extend into public property like sidewalks and parking lots through temporary use permits to expand curbside service and outdoor dining for restaurants.

Dixon said the city will see “a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Hopefully with the vaccines, we could start lifting the black veil and get our businesses and our communities up on their feet again and people living normal lives. We’re not too far away from that. Fingers crossed,” she said.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam

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