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San Diego Launches Small Business Assistance Program to Recover From COVID-19

A help wanted sign at the Tin Fish restaurant on Imperial Beach Pier, Sept. 12, 2020.
Alexander Nguyen
A help wanted sign at the Tin Fish restaurant on Imperial Beach Pier, Sept. 12, 2020.

San Diego this week began the Small Business and Restaurant Assistance Program with the intent of supporting the economic recovery of small businesses and restaurants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was announced Thursday.

Through SBRA, qualified local businesses can access support to navigate the city's planning requirements and permitting process, expediting construction projects and improvements that can give businesses a boost and help grow their operations.

Mayor Todd Gloria's "Back to Work SD" budget plan, unanimously approved by City Council last month, provides funding to establish the program, operated through the city's Development Services Department.


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"This small-business concierge service, provided by the SBRA Program, will help equitably jumpstart the city's economy by targeting those that need assistance the most," Gloria said. "Our permitting process is complex and it can be difficult to navigate, especially for new or small businesses.

"This service will give those business owners a direct line of support and make it easier for them to complete upgrades and improvements to help their businesses thrive in our great city," he continued.

Many small businesses and restaurants with 25 or fewer employees — including restaurants, retail shops, home offices and businesses, gyms, catering facilities, and hair and nail salons — qualify for the SBRA program.

For a complete list of program qualifications and exclusions, go to


To get started, business owners are encouraged to search the city's Open Counter Business Portal to identify requirements and fee estimates for their project. Then, applicants can schedule a virtual counter appointment to go over their application and make sure that it is complete, and then apply for the building permit. Once a permit application is submitted, the project will be placed into review and a DSD project manager will work directly with the applicant to resolve any conflicts or questions.

"COVID-19 was devastating to our local small businesses and restaurants," said DSD Director Elyse W. Lowe. "As small business owners research online what is needed to remodel, repair or undertake a new construction project, DSD reviewers and planners will be available to guide them through the ins-and-outs of the process."