Elected officials rarely hear praise when they construct a meaningful program that makes sense, but the Pendleton City Council deserves to be lauded for its Save Our Amazing Restaurants program.
The original aim of the program was to earmark more than $450,000 for four-month grants to help restaurants in the city’s urban renewal district. Qualifying restaurants can get up to $5,000 per month to stay afloat during the COVID-19 shutdowns.
Last week, the council voted to add another $140,000 to the program to cover eligible restaurants outside the urban renewal district.
The $140,000 will be derived from the city’s community development fund, which secures $50,000 a year from industrial land lease revenue and was used in the past for economic development ventures.
Usually when government steps up to pour taxpayer money into private business, it is a bad idea. Yet, when framed against the unprecedented crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city’s idea is not only a good one but probably long overdue.
Small town restaurants are very much the lifeblood of a rural economy and if there is an opportunity to save them, then elected leaders should act in a decisive manner. That’s exactly what the city council did and while they may take criticism for the decision, their move showed courage and foresight.
Of course, the decision in Pendleton really shines a narrow light on a larger problem that, except locally, doesn’t seem to be solvable. Small businesses across Eastern Oregon continue to suffer and even close their doors, locked inside a confusing COVID-19 matrix created by state officials. Double standards proliferate with the matrix. For example, restaurants in counties with high rates of COVID-19 cannot be open for inside dining. But they can let people in to play lottery machines — if they wear a mask.
While a minor double standard, it exists and not only raises the proverbial eyebrows, but leaves residents with an uneasy feeling. The state has — for the most part — done a solid job trying to cope with the COVID-19 crisis, but there are rules and regulations regarding the pandemic that do not seem to be based on logic, let alone science.
The point is that the Pendleton City Council got it right by creating a program to help area restaurants. But soon state officials must review the COVID-19 restrictions regarding inside dining for restaurants in high-impact COVID-19 areas.
At the least, residents should see clear and specific data that shows it isn’t safe to dine inside but it is safe to play lotto machines.