By GWEN MURANAKA
Rafu English Editor-in-Chief
As Metro begins construction on the Regional Connector transit line, some relief for Little Tokyo small businesses is on the way. On Monday, Mayor Eric Garcetti handed out the first checks totaling $66,310 to small businesses as part of the Business Interruption Fund pilot program.
The Metro board has authorized up to $10 million annually for the fund that will award grants of up to $50,000 to businesses within the affected area that can prove that they’ve been negatively impacted by construction.
The pilot program is only the second in the nation to directly compensate small businesses affected by transit construction projects. Besides the Regional Connector, under construction at the intersection of First and Alameda streets, other zones eligible for grants are businesses along the Crenshaw/LA Transit Project and Purple Line extension.
“The Business Interruption Fund will help ensure that businesses impacted by construction are able to thrive despite any temporary inconveniences to customers and employees,” said Garcetti, who is also chair of the Metro Board.
Other city officials on hand for the presentation included L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas and Metro board member Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker.
Gil Carrillo, owner of 1st Choice Driving and Traffic School, received $44,480 from the program.
“This grant will help my business stay up to date on expenses,” said Carrillo.
He described conditions along Crenshaw Boulevard during construction that have hurt his business.
“There’s no parking. It’s been hard, my customers don’t want to walk so there’s no foot traffic,” Carrillo said.
The fund will be administered by Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Corporation (PCR). PCR has so far identified 250 businesses in Little Tokyo that may be eligible for the program.
Qualifying businesses must have fewer than 25 employees and be up-to-date on their taxes. Business owners will have to prove that they have experienced financial losses because of the rail construction.
Angela Winston, PCR vice president and program manager, said that she and members of her staff would be coming to Little Tokyo next week to meet with local businesses and community leaders.
“We want to make sure we understand the area of impact and are able to address it,” Winston said. “We’re happy to come out and conduct any kind of workshops, we love the one-on-one contact because we want to know what happened, what the business loss is. Help us help you is what we ask.”
Ellen Endo, president of the Little Tokyo Business Association, said she was “cautiously optimistic” about the new program but was waiting to find out more details.
Since Metro announced plans to build the $1.42 billion Regional Connector, locally owned stores and restaurants in Little Tokyo have been vocal about their concerns that they will not be able to survive the construction phase of the rail line, due to be completed in 2020.
Endo said LTBA would join in efforts to assist small business owners who need help documenting their losses to qualify for the business interruption fund.
“We have to either conduct some seminars on how to document the changes between what the business is doing today, versus what can happen during construction,” Endo said. “Photographs, statistical information, so yes we have some work to do, not just LTBA but other organizations will be involved in this.”
Chris Komai, representing the Little Tokyo Community Council, said he hopes that PCR will administer the fund in a way that looks to help as many businesses as possible.
“The question for us as Little Tokyo is as they look at eligibility, are they going to do it in the spirit in which this was created, which is you need to help people. Or are they going to do it in a strict way which cuts out people who want to apply for this fund,” Komai said.
Marilyn Brown, owner of Design Studio 27, a business along the Crenshaw corridor, urged small business owners to apply for the grants. A longtime salon owner, Brown received $9,800 to compensate for losses caused by construction.
“I want to let other business owners know it is in their best interests to move forward with this program,” Brown said. “I was taken through the process step-by-step. It’s an example to others to go for it because there is success there.”
To apply for financial assistance through the business interruption fund, visit www.pcrcorp.org and click on the Metro icon and follow the instructions. Applicants can also contact Angela Winston at (213) 739-2999, ext. 223.