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Bay Area Headlines: Thursday, 5/7/20, PM


California’s Impending Budget Shortfall / State Restrictions Loosened / Fremont’s Minimum Wage Postponement / San Francisco Addresses Homeless Crowds

California’s Impending Budget Shortfall 

New estimates from Governor Gavin Newsom's administration predict a massive budget shortfall of $54.3 billion because of the coronavirus crisis. The projections released today estimate a deficit nearly three-and-a-half times more than what the state had saved for an economic downturn.

“So when you see those numbers, they should get your attention. And understandably so. But what may not get as much attention, and I think deserves your attention equally, is we’re better positioned to deal with this shortfall than we have shortfalls of the past.”

Newsom said deficits in 2003 and 2009 both exceeded this one as a percentage of the state budget.

California has been under a mandatory stay-at-home order since March 19th. The order closed nonessential businesses and prompted more than 4 million people to file for unemployment benefits, though the governor announced today that the state will lift some restrictions. Newsom plans to reveal a new budget proposal next week.

State Restrictions Loosened

Governor Newsom has issued the broadest loosening of his stay-at-home order so far, allowing some retailers to reopen but not have customers in stores. The announcement Thursday was the result of improvement in battling the coronavirus, and it moves California into the second phase of a methodical four-step process to full reopening. It covers only a sliver of retail businesses as well as manufacturers' warehouses considered low risk for the virus. Stores that will be allowed to open with curbside service if they meet other safety requirements include bookstores, clothing stores, florists and sporting goods stores. Higher-risk businesses like hair salons and gyms, offices and dining in restaurants will come later.

California restaurants have drafted a plan to guide the industry's reopening. The recommendations obtained by The Associated Press envision a changed world within dining rooms. An industry built on face-to-face contact is seeking ways to safely conduct business and avoid spreading the coronavirus. The plan from the California Restaurant Association will be submitted to the governor on Thursday. It suggests servers wear masks, recommends eliminating buffets and salad bars, and calls for far more cleaning. Newsom predicted Thursday that eateries in some counties could be open as soon as a week or so, after the state issues guidelines Tuesday.

Fremont’s Minimum Wage Postponement

Fremont lawmakers might postpone a scheduled increase in minimum wages set to take effect this July. They’re meeting next Tuesday to hash out the details.

Minimum wage workers in Fremont were supposed to receive $1.50 more an hour beginning this July. For those working at businesses with more than 25 employees, this would mean earning $15 an hour. For smaller businesses, $13.50. But lawmakers are considering a delay to help ensure that their local economy can recover from the economic destruction wreaked by the coronavirus.

Fremont Vice Mayor Rick Jones floated the proposal at this week’s city council meeting.

“I know there have been federal stimulus loans and those kinds of things that are supposed to be available, however those are not really coming through.”

He pointed to Hayward, which last month went ahead and delayed its mandated wage increase.

Some city council members and the public weighed in to oppose the proposal, citing the cost of living. 

City council members narrowly voted to move forward to further examine the proposal next Tuesday. City staff will come back with details on how the plan could work and its potential impact on local businesses. 

San Francisco Addresses Homeless Crowds

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has announced her plan to address the ways homelessness and crowding in the Tenderloin have gotten worse during the citywide shutdown. Tenderloin residents have been raising alarm bells about deteriorating conditions in their neighborhood. And yesterday, the mayor responded. 

“We know the conditions remain particularly challenging, and we sadly have seen a significant increase of the number of homeless people on the street.”

Citywide, the number of people sleeping in tents has grown by 70 percent. But in the 49 blocks of the Tenderloin, that jump is a staggering 285 percent since January. 

The mayor notes that the neighborhood faces pre existing issues that COVID-19 has only exacerbated. And she hopes her plan will address weeks of complaints and a lawsuit that was filed over the poor conditions and alleged threats to the health and safety of residents. 

The problem will be addressed block by block, tailoring the deployment of additional washing stations, restrooms and 50 more “community ambassadors.”

Officials are also looking into shutting down more streets and converting unused spaces into shelters, that includes the now-closed Great American Music Hall.