The San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District's Board of Directors recently voted to extend its fee waiver of annual operating permits for small businesses for an additional year.
The move comes as small businesses and the rest of the community continue to grapple with the already tangible impacts of the pandemic, as well as uncertainty about what its persistence means for the community and its economy.
"When we walk in the door to inspect a small business, we don't want the person looking at us and thinking 'here's another invoice or another bill,'" SRVFPD Board President Matthew Stamey said in a statement.
Stamey cited the move as consistent with the district's goals: to serve the community by simply doing the work of fire suppression and prevention in the most effective way possible. To this end, he emphasized the importance of extending the fee waiver, in order to keep small businesses comfortable and up-to-date with fire safety mandates.
"We want to remove the barriers between a good relationship between the fire district and the community members we serve," Stamey said.
The permit fees will only be waived for small, local businesses, and not for government agencies, utilities or large companies.
Stamey described the distinction as a way of seeking to thank small businesses specifically, and their role in keeping people close to home during the pandemic. It is also meant to help offset the outsized stress facing small business owners, who have suffered outsized economic blows with business closures and reopening restrictions.
"Not only was business down but the mental anguish of the business owner and what their future was going to be was something we noticed as well," Stamey said.
SRVFPD will continue to perform inspections of small businesses, and will continue to mandate fire safety. However, small business owners will be spared the permitting and inspection costs that they generally come to associate with such visits, according to the district.
The SRVFPD board initially voted for the fee suspension in June 2020, several months after the pandemic first hit the United States. The extension means that fee waivers will continue through the end of June 2022.