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Riverside City Councilmember Ronaldo Fierro On Small Business Relief, Eviction Moratorium, And More

With the coronavirus pandemic closing many small businesses, some owners of those businesses are asking politicians for help. But what about when a politician is a small business owner? 

Ronaldo Fierro is a Riverside City Councilmember representing the 3rd Ward. He owns the cocktail bar W. Wolfskill and the restaurant The Salted Pig, both in downtown Riverside. Due to the coronavirus and the governor’s stay-at-home order, the bar is closed, and the restaurant is only offering take-out.

Fierro: “Anybody who's not from the restaurant industry has this perception that food delivery is a silver bullet to save the industry and unfortunately that lacks the proper understanding of the intent, the cost involved in running the restaurant and the fact that the margins you make are so small to begin with and they're predicated on alcohol sales, they're predicated on you know large price per head and all that goes away when you deliver so we're probably covering our costs or it's costing us a little bit of money to stay open right now but that's our prime directive, we serve people food, we take care of people, I want my staff working. So as long as we can cover our costs we’re going to try to stay open and keep trying to run our business.”

Fierro says to help people during the coronavirus, he and other councilmembers proposed a ban on utility shut-offs.

Fierro: “So the city of Riverside is lucky enough to own its own public utility so therefore we have the flexibility to ban those shutoffs due to non-payment for situations related to covid-19 or the coronavirus. When we did that, the idea was that we would give 90 days of relief to small businesses and to low-income residents to say hey, you guys are being forced to shutter, you're being forced to shelter in place. We want you to have the flexibility with your budget to be able to not pay your utility bill without fear of it being shut off. To add to that, we suspended the collection of all fees owed to the city. So that was not limited to, but included toll enforcement fees, parking tickets, you know, street sweeping bills, business license fees, any bill owed to the city we said basically take a beat, hit the pause button, take 90 days, pay whatever bills you have to so if you need to buy groceries for your family, if you're a small business and you have your last payroll payment to make, make those. Deprioritize these payments for now, you know, your local government wasn't going to reach out its hands and ask for money now when it could easily ask for it later.”

The councilmembers also proposed an eviction moratorium for the city of Riverside.

Fierro: “As we're rapidly approaching April 1st our goal was to propose this eviction moratorium, or basically an eviction shutoff for 60 days to allow people essentially the same flexibility we're trying to offer when we passed our other bill, which was you have x amount of dollars in your bank account and when you're staring down possible unemployment, when your small business is being forced to shutter by government order, you know, those dollars in your bank account become the most precious assets that you have. So, any flexibility we can give people to move those dollars around for the next 60-90 days, to plan for their families, to plan for their small businesses is going to be crucial. So next Tuesday our city council will deliberate and we'll be discussing and hopefully voting in favor of a 60-day moratorium on all evictions related to the covid-19 virus, for small businesses and for residents and to possibly put in place 4 months forbearance of when those payments are owed, after the local emergency is lifted. So once the local emergency is lifted, everyone will have four months to work out payment plans with their landlords to get back to even, to get back straight with them.”

Fierro says there’s been some pushback from landlords and companies on this moratorium, but that he feels it’s fair.

Fierro: “So the reason that we didn’t rush this onto the last agenda was that we wanted to take time to talk to landlords and talk to property owners and get their perspective on this issue and although there has been a certain amount of pushback clearly, this is their business, this is the way they make money and obviously it's a concern for them if the government is getting in the way of the tools they usually use to collect rent you know. The unfortunate side of that is that eviction is so often a weapon, a threat to make sure people pay on time and our goal was to essentially remove that weapon from the equation because people are in uncertain times and don't know what's going to happen next. Those threats amplify and people begin to think irrationally in making choices that maybe aren't best for their family or best for their businesses, instead they're emptying out their bank account to pay this last payment out of fear.” 

The eviction moratorium will be voted on at the council’s March 31 meeting.

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