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Report Outlines Restaurant Recovery

After nearly 10 months of disrupted sales and government-mandated lockdowns, Pasadena’s restaurant industry faces a long road to recovery. California Lutheran University graduate student Gregory Sefain has identified several first steps city officials can take to help the struggling sector.Sefain, who is working towards a master’s in public policy and public administration at the Thousand Oaks school, published a report in November analyzing how certain action by Pasadena officials could bolster the city’s restaurant economy, prevent permanent closures and boost consumer spending.The report, titled “The City of Pasadena and the Economic Recovery Strategy for the Restaurant Industry,” serves as Sefain’s capstone project for his degree.

“The university wanted to try something new (with) a capstone project where students work with nonprofits and city organizations to begin to use the tools they use in class in real life scenarios,” he explained.

When the coronavirus hit last year, Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell reached out to Cal Lutheran to see if students or faculty could “help us in our thinking.”“The school is good a resource for public policy work,” he said.

Sefain jumped at the opportunity.“I saw from the get-go that restaurants were really the ones that were suffering,” he said. “Finding a way to help them in any capacity was my goal.” Sefain surveyed hundreds of local restaurants and interviewed community stakeholders to analyze the needs of business owners and consumers. He also considered historical context, namely how the restaurant industry fared through and recovered from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. He used that information to form a series of policy suggestions.Among them are extending waivers for health fees and business licenses; discounting on-site dining to incentivize customers to return once allowed; issuing “dining bonds” as another incentive; and starting a relief fund for restaurants by applying a temporary surcharge on the customer for off-premise sales.

“He’s got some interesting ideas,” Mermell said. “Fundamentally, (the report) points to the notion that small businesses are in desperate need of financial support, and there are a variety of ways to offer that support.”He said the city’s economic development team plans to extend fee waivers and is considering how to make temporary programs, like the setup of al fresco dining tables in roadways and parking lots, into permanent ones.Mermell said shoring up direct financial aid would be a challenge.“As a local government, we are stressed as well,” he said. “We’ve lost a tremendous amount of our own revenues, particularly sales tax revenue, people aren’t paying their utility bills (and) we’re too small to receive any of the federal CARES Act money. … Finding a way to provide that support and still provide services to our residents – that’s the challenge.”

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