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Finally In The Red

Cover image for podcast episode

Above: An outdoor dining area at Claim Jumper Restaurant in the Embarcadero sits empty in this file photo from Dec. 13, 2020.

Alexander Nguyen

As of today, San Diego county is finally moving back into the less restrictive red tier. That will allow limited indoor operations of businesses such as restaurants, movie theaters and gyms. Plus: the next installment in our “Pandemic Life: One Year On,” series takes a look at the devastating toll the pandemic has had on small businesses.

If you listen to this podcast, consider supporting it by becoming a KPBS member today. www.kpbs.org/support

Good Morning, I’m Kinsee Morlan sitting in today for Annica Colbert….it’s Wednesday, March 17.

>>>>

The devastating toll the pandemic has had on our small business community.

We’ll have that story next, but first... let’s do the local headlines….

***
Finally...
The news lots of business owners have been waiting for...
SAN DIEGO COUNTY IS MOVING BACK INTO THE LESS RESTRICTIVE RED TIER TODAY.
THAT WILL ALLOW LIMITED INDOOR OPERATIONS OF BUSINESSES LIKE RESTAURANTS, MOVIE THEATERS, AND GYMS.
The COUNTY'S TESTING POSITIVITY RATE is now AT 6.8 PER 100-THOUSAND RESIDENTS -- which is low enough to move us out of purple after months being stuck in the state’s most restrictive tier.

***

The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed yesterday to ask the state to let a local school that houses and educates foster youth to stay open for a bit longer.
The San Pasqual Academy in Escondido is slated to close in October due a change in state and federal funding and declining enrollment.
Described as a first-in-the-nation residential educational campus designed specifically for foster youth, county supervisors said they will ask the state to keep the school open through June of 2022.
***

So, in case you missed the news, California on Monday opened the coronavirus vaccine to those with high-risk medical conditions, including those who are overweight.

And San Diego County's definition of overweight is far more liberal than the state’s definition….which means lots of San Diegans now qualify for the vaccine.

Basically, if you go online, search for a BMI calculator, and input your weight and height and get a result that is higher than 25, you qualify.

Honestly, folks, a BMI of 26 or 27...you probably don’t even look overweight, so, even if your ego is standing in the way, you might want to just run the numbers and double check. I know a lot of people who’ve got their first shots this week through San Diego’s loose definition of overweight.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who are overweight have an increased risk when it comes to COVID-19.

**

From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

<<>

As part of our series “Pandemic Life: One Year On,” KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser tells us about the devastating toll the pandemic has had on small businesses.

She says business closures mean lost jobs, lost family wealth and a frayed community fabric.

PAN Business Podcast Script

NAT POP
“My grandfather started it in 1941, and those days it was a small appliance store where he sold radios and phonographic records and all kinds of small appliances.”

A&B Sporting Goods had been in Gregg Schloss’s family for 80 years.

Gregg Schloss
A&B Sporting Goods Owner
16;05;10;01
“And I've worked there for 40 years...16;05;30;24 I was I think 22 when I started working there.”

Photos from here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1V6fY74cYr64H6fBDfJmwHAtWriRSnjmU?usp=sharing
The store was in good shape heading into 2020. It had orders from youth sports teams, including the entire North Park Little League.

16;10;22;29
And then the pandemic hit and I knew I was in trouble immediately. The local little league played one game and then canceled the rest of the season. All the high school sports were closed and I knew I was in trouble but I tried to keep a positive attitude and work my way through it. But, I knew that I was going to have to make a difficult decision.

UT front page or broll
In January, he closed A&B’s doors..

Broll of El Torro or Nola?
Stories like Schloss’s have become all too familiar during San Diego County’s pandemic year. Thousands have closed for good while countless others are barely holding on as they ride a roller coaster of openings and closings.

COVID-19’s final toll on San Diego’s economy will take years to calculate, says Eduardo Velasquez, the research director at the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.

Eduardo Velasquez
San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation
SOT 00:07:04:09
“We may not know for a long period of time how big those losses will be, how permanent closures will be, how many job losses we will sustain.”

But, he says, a few trends are already clear: retail and hospitality will be impacted the most, and small businesses are more likely to fall into those sectors.

SOT 00:10:52:07
“An in depth study from the JP Morgan Chase Institute found most small businesses only have enough cash on hand to cover 14 to 15 days. So if they have to shut their doors for more than two weeks, they’ve burned through their cash reserves, and all of a sudden they’re behind on every bill that they have to pay.”

This, of course, means massive job losses. Since February 2020, 580 businesses have notified the San Diego Workforce Partnership of layoffs or furloughs, accounting for 90,000 employees. In a typical year, the Partnership receives 100 to 150 such notices.

And the closure of businesses goes beyond the financial impact, says Rachel Merfalen, the nonprofit’s director of business services.

Rachel Merfalen
San Diego Workforce Partnership
SOT 00:17:04:14
“It’s a relational and emotional decision. We hear from owners who are sacrificing things on the family side to save a business, who are making personal investments to keep the business running.”

NAT POP?
That’s true of Veronica Densey, who owns the massage business Nola San Diego in the East Village.

Veronica Densey
Nola San Diego Owner
SOT 10:53:46.807
“I'm a disabled veteran right now using my disability to try to pad my business, just so that I wasn't $20,000 in back rent. I was dying a little every time I wrote that check because I was wondering if I was throwing this money away and I didn't even know if we would ever open again. I've got three daughters, and I had to dip into their college fund a little bit. And I'm just like, OK, well, this has to stop because I can't bankrupt my family with no other answers.”

NAT POP?
And Maribel Estrada, who owns El Toro Grill Taqueria in City Heights. She says she’s barely holding on, but wants to keep the business to pass on to her children.

Maribel Estrada
El Toro Grill Taqueria Owner
SOT 00;15;58;17
“So they can grow up with the business and continue having something. It doesn't mean they have to be in the restaurant all the time and not getting a career, but they have something already so they can start.”

More El Toro broll
Family businesses are a big source of generational wealth, particularly for immigrants and ethnic minorities, says Juan Pablo Pardo Guerra, an associate professor of sociology at UC San Diego.

Juan Pablo Pardo Guerra
UC San Diego Sociologist
SOT
“Family businesses are particularly efficient at accumulating wealth and social mobility because they are better at spanning local networks, attracting customers on the basis of connections families have made and don’t require massive capital investment. 00:06:44:18 Part of the advantages of small businesses become assets, they can be passed on to other generations. And that’s not the same as employment, working for someone else, because you can’t leave your jobs to your kids.”

More Nola broll?
And like with so many of the ills brought by the pandemic, businesses owned by people of color have suffered disproportionately.

GRAPHIC
Business Ownership Drop During Pandemic
Black Owners ↓41%
Latino Owners ↓32%
White Owners ↓17%
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York

A nationwide study found that since the onset of the pandemic Black and Latino business ownership dropped by 41% and 32%, respectively. Meanwhile, white business ownership dropped by 17%.

SOT
“Businesses owned by minorities are more likely to have less resources, so they’re more likely to fail.”

Wide shot of El Toro?
When businesses like Estrada’s City Heights restaurant close, the impact on the neighborhood goes far beyond the services they provide, Pardo Guerra says.

SOT
“It has potential to reshape the city. Because of the longstanding division in neighborhoods in San Diego, 00:13:42:18 neighborhoods with more businesses owned by Black and Hispanic people are more likely to fail, and that means less services in those neighborhoods, less employment, worse educational outcomes, and worse career opportunities.”

The pandemic and its massive upheaval of small businesses should be a wakeup call and a chance for regional leaders to show they value those businesses, says Enrique Gandarilla, the director of the City Heights Business Association.

SOT
“If we want dynamic communities, we need to support small businesses. We forget small businesses are the backbone of the economy, and losing them means undermining our entire economic system.”

For Schloss, the owner of A&B Sporting Goods, it’s too late. He was unable to get a PPP loan because he didn’t have any employees, and while he got $3,000 in a city small business grant, that covered less than one month’s expenses. His store in North Park now sits vacant, and he’s left wondering what to do next.

Gregg Schloss
A&B Sporting Goods Owner
SOT 16;17;01;14
“I thought that I would feel like there's a huge weight being lifted off of my shoulders, and it has been financially, but as far as knowing what's next for me, I still feel like I'm floating around in a boat to a certain extent. It is hard because I'm a routine oriented person. I went to the store every day at 7:30 in the morning for 40 years. So that's that's a difficult routine to stop all of a sudden.”

And that story from kpbs investigative reporterClaire Trageser.

Claire also teamed up with KPBS video journalist Nic McVicker to produce a collection of really powerful first-person stories from local business owners.

Today we hear from Veronica Densey (den-SEE), an Army Veteran who owns the massage therapy business Nola in San Diego’s East Village.

NOLA

10:34:49
During a deployment I was injured and that injury pretty much ended my career.

10:35:13
So a friend of mine was like, well, come on, let's do yoga because yoga fixes everything else, like, OK, let's do yoga. So I did it and I struggled through the entire class and I was upset and angry. And the yoga instructor comes outside and he was like, you know, I'm also a massage therapist.

10:36:26
I was seven and a half months pregnant and I came home one day and I looked at my husband and I'm like, we're starting a business. And he was like, what? When, where? And I was like, Now I'm finding a place today.

10:38:05
We got all our stuff in here. We moved in here. Everything was perfect and then the world stopped.

10:38:51
that first shut down, you know. No, no, no debate for me, you know, on it. No problem. Not a big deal. I mean, it ended up being a really big deal, it was like seven or eight months. Right. So that was rough. And then we got like a glimmer of hope around Thanksgiving.

10:39:35
Christmas is a huge time for us. And then, you know, with Valentine's Day around the corner, it's huge, huge, huge time. So we invested thousands of dollars to prepare for Christmas. Big old tree. You know, it's made the office super...Instagram worthy... You know, it was amazing. And we were open three days in December.

10:40:59
I feel like overuse the word essential, but massage is essential for people. I had clients calling in tears, crying, you know, please, please come to my house, you know, do something because they live with chronic pain.

10:43:29
I don't know that me being a black owned business makes a difference to like my nonblack clients. You know, I think that we build a good enough rapport with them that they just want to be here. You know, to my black clients, I think it makes a huge difference, to be honest. It's it's about it's just about trust. It's about people understanding.

10:53:49
I'm a disabled veteran right now using my disability to try to pad, you know, just so that I wasn't like 20000 dollars in back rent you know, because I had the hope of being able to open back up one day and doing that. I was dying a little every time I wrote that check because I was wondering if I was throwing this money away and I didn't even know if we would ever open again. And then it got to a point where maybe once or twice I had to, like, dip into like my kid's college fund. I've got three daughters, you know, and I had to, like, dip into their college fund a little bit. And I'm just like, OK, well, this has to stop because I can't bankrupt my family with no other answers.

Tomorrow, we continue our series on the one year anniversary of the pandemic with a story about how the virus will impact transportation in San Diego…..in the both short and long term.

***
So, as I mentioned in the headlines….as of today, San Diego is finally out of the purple tier and into the red tier…

That means less restrictions and more openings...

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman talked to local businesses about the shift and their hopes for the future.

Red tier evening edition

It's a lifeline. I think, uh, it's an opportunity to. Um, least stay afloat. Ted Capitol narrows owns the old townhouse restaurant, which has been a staple in ocean beach since 1973.

It's my family's legacy. And, uh, it's, it's, it's my passion and I really care about the business. So I think about the business day and night, it's a part of me and I, I don't want it. I would never want it to go away, but starting a year ago, the pandemic changed everything. It's been devastating. We're down by.

Like two thirds, uh, we've been struggling to stay afloat. Kaplan Harris has put some tables outside and he says, moving to takeout was not easy. Moving to the States, less restrictive red reopening tier now means that his dining room can reopen at 25% capacity. I'm looking forward to serving customers and, um, to seeing the same people that we used to see.

Leaving the purple tier also means that gyms can, once again, move back indoors at 10% capacity, we are hopeful that that all happens tomorrow. Um, our members are amazingly excited cause obviously we have this very vast, beautiful space, right? Welsh as general manager of point Loma sports club, which has more than 20,000 square feet of indoor space.

Our intent was to take this year and just make sure the doors stay open. Make sure members are safe. The club has adapted during the pandemic, adding this outdoor workout space that members have really grown to enjoy. But recent winter storms have presented some challenges, things you wouldn't think of, but wind storms and rain storms, planning to reopen indoors this week while still keeping the outdoor setup feels like it's optimism in the air.

And I feel like between the vaccinations and kind of really targeting vulnerable populations. Um, it's working. It's not just gyms and restaurants. When was the last time you went to a movie theater? They too are allowed to reopen indoors at a limited capacity. Moving to the red tier also means a more schools will be opening in San Diego.

And if we keep on the current trend after April 1st theme parks and stadiums can once again, start welcoming guests at a limited capacity. That means fans in the stands at Petco park, San Diego, Padres officials say they have been making preparations to welcome people back and expect to do so for the upcoming season.

That's now just days away,

***
A San Diego judge says the state of California cannot enforce rules limiting school reopenings.

KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne tells us what this means for the school districts involved.

School suit

The judge agreed with parents who sued the state over its reopening guidelines. Scott Davidson I'm a Carlsbad parents association says parents were in tears after Monday's ruling.

You know, sadly, we were surprised to see, you know, the finally somebody, you know, agreed with us and, and it had to come to the point where we had to ask a judge to make that ruling. The lawsuit said the state framework was arbitrary because elementary students could go to classes while middle and high school students could not.

The judge agreed. Now those middle and high school students will be allowed on campus part time starting this week, or grateful that they're opening up this week, as soon as they can for these, you know, hybrid models for one and two days of instruction. Um, but that they immediately need to be planning to bring kids back to campus for several more days than that, you know, we talked to one parent involved in the lawsuit who wanted to remain anonymous.

She said, she's nervous about what's to come from the school district. I'm hopeful. I noticed a huge win or as parents, we parents, um, I don't trust the school district. I am very, very, very bitter. I'm very, very bitter and very bitter about the teachers not wanting to go back. I.

I don't trust it. The districts still have to make a plan for having students on campus full time. They have to go back to the judge again this month with an expanded plan offering the same options for all grade levels. That'd be a challenge is that they're going to have to work a little bit of overtime.

And, uh, and get these plans ready, you know, certainly within the next two weeks before this next hearing to kind of show the judge that they have developed a plan and here's how they're going to implement it. And here's how quickly they can do it. The districts are scheduled to present their plans on March 30th,

***

Coming up….asylum seekers camped out at our border…

That story, after a quick break.

<<>

Almost a month after the Biden administration launched a program to process some asylum seekers along the Southern border, Hundreds of people are now camped outside of the San Ysidro port of entry.
KPBS reporter max Rivlin Nather spoke with people there as they waited for their chance to claim asylum...then he sat down with KPBS Midday edition host Maureen Cavanaugh to unpack the story.
TJCAMP_MIDDAY
Speaker 2: 00:18 Marjorie Rosella has been living in Tiquana for a year after fleeing Honduras with her daughter almost a month ago, she told me she would stay outside the Santa seizure, port of entry for as long as it took for the Biden administration to allow her to claim asylum in the U S last Friday, she was still there.
Speaker 3: 00:38 [inaudible]
Speaker 2: 00:38 She said it's been tough because of the rain. Her clothes are now wet. There's been freezing temperatures at night and in the morning
Speaker 3: 00:47 [inaudible]
Speaker 2: 00:47 Is not alone. Hundreds of other asylum seekers are now camped out at El Chapo at all, uh, Plaza on the Mexican side of the Santa seizure, port of entry. There's some of the thousands of asylum seekers stuck in Tijuana who have been prevented from applying for asylum in the United States because of a Trump era rule, barring their entry. The Biden administration for the most part has kept that rule in place citing the pandemic that leaves thousands of asylum seekers, many who don't qualify to be processed under the Biden program without any idea of when there'll be allowed into the U S and camping out, waiting for information,
Speaker 3: 01:22 Uh, those that have decided to remain to stay. Uh, I want you to remain until they have answers.
Speaker 2: 01:26 Ian Philabaum is with innovation law lab, which advocates on behalf of a silent
Speaker 3: 01:32 In the absence of a coordinated dissemination and distribution of information about what that might look like is the number one reason that this cap currently exists
Speaker 2: 01:46 On Friday morning at the camp, there was a flurry of activity. The kitchen was distributing. Food doctors from Tijuana were looking into the health of migrants. And school was in session being led by asylum seekers who been teachers in their home country. 26 year old, Evelyn Sanchez is one of the teachers
Speaker 3: 02:05 [inaudible].
Speaker 2: 02:05 She said, she feels that the children experienced stress because of the situation they're living through and to wait for them to relax in school. She said, they're not necessarily going to learn to write, learn letters or numbers. They're going to share with their fellow classmates. They share their life experiences.
Speaker 3: 02:23 He that she feels that
Speaker 2: 02:25 People like her are common in the camp. People with something to provide
Speaker 3: 02:33 [inaudible],
Speaker 2: 02:34 They're educated people with principles, with values, and what they want for themselves is what they want for their children. And if they're there in Mexico, they're not just a nuisance or society's garbage, they're simply migrants, and they have rights rights, the same as everyone else. In the first few days of the camp, security was an issue as provocateurs and traffickers spread misinformation. Now, the campus watched over by a group of volunteers, including Marco Garcia, also from Honduras.
Speaker 1: 03:04 Uh [inaudible].
Speaker 2: 03:06 He said that when he came to the camp, he saw the need that no one was taking care of them. So we took initiative and got a safety vest and put it on. When people saw he was helping, they joined in well, many asylum seekers in the camper from central America, especially Honduras. There are people from across the world, including many Haitians, some of whom have recently arrived in Tijuana. As the political situation in their country continues to deteriorate. Jean-Claude. Jean spent five years in Chile after being targeted by organized crime and Haiti. He told me that his mother had already been killed by people looking for him. For that reason. He came to Tijuana. If he arrived in Haiti today, tomorrow he'd be dead.
Speaker 2: 03:50 Right now, the Biden administration is focused on finding shelter for the rising numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at the Southwest border. I asked Marjorie [inaudible], who wants to be at the port of entry. The second change in policy is announced if she would ever think about sending her young daughter, Angie ahead, without her. That's why she's here. She told me to be legal. She's asking for help. And she's asking that Biden help her, her daughter, and every one of them there. She thinks that her daughter and her are in danger in Honduras and are very afraid of going back. She tells me she wants help or just some sort of plan to come soon.
Speaker 1: 04:27 Joining me as KPBS reporter max Revlon Nadler, max. Welcome. Good to be here. Now, the woman you profile in your story, Marjorie [inaudible] is now living in a camp by the San Ysidro border. Where had she been living in Tijuana before this vigil?
Speaker 2: 04:43 So she had been living in a series of shelters. She had been selling ice cream on the street. It was a very marginal and insecure situation, but she had given that up over three weeks ago now to come to the border under the impression that she would be able to apply for asylum or at least get on a list that would help her apply for asylum. That had been the informal way that people had gotten online to wait for asylum before the Trump administration effectively closed the border, uh, a year ago,
Speaker 1: 05:15 I think the status of the Biden border reforms is confusing. At this point, there are some asylum seekers who've been allowed entry into the U S isn't that right?
Speaker 2: 05:26 Yeah. And it sounded like confusing to us. It's confusing to asylum seekers as well. So the only people right now along the Southwest border, who can apply for asylum are people who have been sent back under the remain in Mexico policy. This is ironic because the remaining Mexico policy actually effectively ended asylum for a lot of people by saying that they had to stay in dangerous border cities while their core cases were processed in the United States. So only those people can apply. And right now the numbers are still pretty low. Um, just a couple hundred people have been at the San Ysidro port of entry, and there's still thousands and thousands more that are waiting to be processed. People who are not put in, remain in Mexico and people who have asylum claims that basically have never been interacted with by customs and border protection. They're not eligible right now to apply for asylum because the border is still closed under this thing known as title 42. So a lot of the people that are at this camp have never applied for asylum before,
Speaker 1: 06:25 Right? And then instead of the administration's attention being at San Ysidro or towards asylum seekers right now, it seems to be finding a way to house the increased number of unaccompanied children at the border. Can you tell us about that situation?
Speaker 2: 06:39 Right. So one of the major changes that the byte administration has already done is that they are no longer under title 42 returning the vast majority or a good number of unaccompanied children back to Mexico under the Trump administration under title 42. If you were a child, no matter what age, the vast majority were just turned back to Mexico or turned back in other parts of Mexico right now, a lot of children are getting through. The big issue is that border patrol does not right now have the facilities to house this many children. So a lot of attention is being paid to the conditions once again, where it seems year after year, uh, there was a surge of children at the border and border patrol says they're not ready for this situation. And this has a lot of people asking questions. Why don't we learn from the last few times that this happened over how we can surge resources to the border to allow for accommodations for children?
Speaker 1: 07:30 There has been criticism about how those children are being sheltered, comparing it even to Trump era cages, right?
Speaker 2: 07:38 So there are certain rules that really dictate, uh, and settlements and court rulings that dictate the treatment of children in border patrol custody. They're not supposed to stay there for longer than three days. They're supposed to be given shampoo. They're supposed to be given, uh, cleanli product. Um, and a lot of times that doesn't happen because a lot of times these are outposts deep in the desert and border patrol actually has misused funds that were given to border patrol to, uh, work with children, to, to give them necessary equipment, um, and spending it instead on things like ATVs and, and kind of gizmos and gadgets for border patrol agents. So that was direct funding that Congress had given them that they misspent. So now these children are staying in these border patrol facilities that aren't equipped, and then they're there right now. The Biden administration is trying to find a way to get them out of that sooner because for a lot of these kids, if they're eight, nine years old and you're get asked, Hey, where's your family in the U S it's going to take a while to figure out how to reconvene you with your family or get you to a sponsor.
Speaker 2: 08:40 And you're going to have to be in government, um, custody for much longer than 72 hours.
Speaker 1: 08:46 Now, when it comes to the people now waiting in the migrant camp, near the San Ysidro border, is there really no us plan right now to accept these asylum right
Speaker 2: 08:56 Now there isn't. And this is unprecedented because the right now asylum effectively is closed at the U S border. And that's something that the department of Homeland security has said. It says the, the Fronterra is closed. The border is closed. So there is no plan right now. And a lot of these asylum seekers just want to be given a timeline. But right now the focus is on children and processing people who had been returned to Mexico.
Speaker 1: 09:18 Now your report max gives us a glimpse into the lives of individuals waiting in this camp. These are human beings with talents and skills who have had escaped terrible situations. Do you think that reality usually gets lost when we talk about migrants at the border?
Speaker 2: 09:36 Absolutely. I think in terms of reporting, we need a lot more focus on why people are leaving and how this has really impacted every part of civil society in many of these countries, not only central America, but Cameroon. These are global situations that the U S is intimately involved in. If you look at central America, uh, you know, you can trace back a lot of the reasons why people are leaving to climate change, you know, governments that have been supported by the United States. This is a kind of a nuanced view of why people are leaving, as opposed to people are just coming here for work, or, you know, they think that they can make more money in the West. People are leaving for safety and opportunities and opportunities, basically that they're being deprived of by not being able to apply for asylum at the very least to have their claims looked at. Because right now there is no process for them.
Speaker 1: 10:31 I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, max Rivlin, Nadler, and max. Thank you. Thank you.

And that was the one and only Maureen Cavanaugh...she hosts KPBS Midday Edition, which, by the way, is another one of our podcasts. Get it for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.
And that’s the show. Thank you so much for spending time with us and look, word of mouth is still the best way for people to find out about podcasts. So, if you appreciate this show, do me a big favor and text one or two people right now and tell them about San Diego News Now. Thanks in advance.

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