Disaster relief may be available for local businesses

Folio Gallery in Solvang Photo contributed

By Raiza Giorgi

Even though the Thomas Fire’s flames didn’t reach the Santa Ynez Valley, local businesses felt the heat when highways were shut down and smoke and ash filled the air.

“The first two weeks of the fire slowed our business a great deal, and we were down 50 percent over the same time period last year,” said Z Jiroutova, owner of ZFolio Gallery in Solvang.

Solvang Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tracy Beard said she has spent hours working with City Manager Brad Vidro, Ryan Toussaint and other City Council members, state Assemblywoman Monique Limon, and even Gov. Jerry Brown’s office.

“Without tourism, our city is impacted big time. Our retail shops and restaurants rely on foot traffic. Even our hotels, even though were full of firefighters and crews we are so thankful for, it was at a discounted government rate,” Beard said.

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President Trump declared a state of emergency for the wildfire, which automatically authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate the disaster relief efforts.

“This action will help alleviate the hardship and suffering that the emergency may inflict on the local population, and provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Ventura,” according to a press release from the White House.

“All businesses in the valley that were affected should contact their insurance carriers to obtain information about what coverage your policy provides for damages resulting from loss of revenue, power outages, and ash and smoke cleanup. Every policy is different, and you should first consult your insurance professional regarding your coverages,” Beard said.

Beard added that businesses affected should document a year-over-year sales comparison demonstrating fire-related sales loss starting on Dec. 4 when the Thomas Fire broke out.

“Businesses should also document the costs of cleaning up ash, cost of cancellations of hotel rooms, restaurant reservations and all discounts provided to government personnel,” she added.

Also relevant are costs of employees being unable to work, and economic loss due to the power outage from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Dec. 13. Small Business Administration emergency loans may be available, but businesses must be prepared to show financial statements if applying.

Beard said anyone interested in learning how to navigate these issues can contact her at the chamber at 688-0701 or tracy@solvangchamber.com.

No one has contacted either the Buellton or Santa Ynez Chamber looking for help, but the Buellton Chamber is also willing to help anyone who asks. The Santa Ynez hasn’t heard of any of their members directly affected, other than possibly having slower sales.