Benny and Susan Mosqueda are planners, the kind of people who don’t rush into things. As career restaurant workers with some 40 years of experience between them, they’d spent years dreaming about owning a restaurant and saving money. Benny’s uncle and Susan’s mom chipped in. His grandmother died, and left them some money, bringing their total nest egg to $75,000.
That, combined with the equity in their Seaside house, put them in a position to qualify for a 10-year loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The day they got the call that they’d qualified for a $320,000 loan was a celebration with dinner and drinks in Phoenix, where they were visiting Susan’s mom. “It was the best high, like we can’t believe this,” Susan says.
They gave notice at Crown and Anchor, where Benny worked as a bartender until Dec. 30 and Susan’s last day as manager is Feb. 1. They’d signed a lease to move into the Nifty 50 Cafe spot on Fremont Boulevard in Seaside on Jan. 7, with contractors lined up to tear everything out, repaint and modernize it into what will become The Butterhouse. All they needed was a signature from the SBA and a money transfer.
But parts of the federal government, including the SBA, shut down on Dec. 22. “Due to the lapse in government funding, SBA will remain inactive until further notice,” the agency announced that day.
At first, the Mosquedas were a little nervous; they’d seen this happen before. Then the shutdown stretched on and on, becoming the longest-ever in the history of federal government shutdowns. “We just want to scream,” Susan says on day 29 of the shutdown.
U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, shares that frustration, even while he and his staff remain at work during the shutdown. Panetta says he’s open to a border wall – President Trump’s starting point for negotiations – but he wants to wait to address something as complex as border security and immigration policy.
“If you start negotiating to get the government open, you are rewarding some pretty petulant behavior,” he says. “Dammit, open up the government, and then let’s have serious negotiations.”
About 380,000 federal workers remain on unpaid furlough, while another 420,000 employees – deemed “essential” – continue working without pay, though they will receive back pay once the government reopens.
Among those working without pay are the federal Transportation Security Administration staff at Monterey Regional Airport, where General Manager Mike La Pier reports there has been no slowdown in passenger screenings. “Our TSA officers deserve a huge thank you,” La Pier says.
Same goes for about 35 active-duty members of the U.S. Coast Guard stationed in Monterey. Most of their duties, like search-and-rescue, are deemed essential and ongoing – unpaid.
Among those who are out of work are employees of Pinnacles National Park, which is closed. (Campers who had pre-existing reservations are still being allowed to enter from the east side of the park, but have access to limited amenities.)
The nonprofit Pinnacles National Park Foundation is helping to keep some essential functions going – paying GPS tag fees for condors, for instance – but without park staff to supervise volunteers and contractors, work has ground to a halt.
A rockfall in early December blocked access to the Balconies Cave, and a drill team was set to remove it in early January. “That will be a top priority once the park reopens,” says Jennifer Westphal, executive director of the foundation.
She’s especially concerned about fencing meant to keep feral pigs out. With recent heavy rains, there might be some damage to the fence, allowing destructive pigs to return. There’s also ongoing restoration work, like removing Italian thistle, that’s now on hold.
“These are projects that have 10 years of work behind them that are jeopardized by personnel not being there to monitor them,” Westphal says. “Morale was already low within the Park Service and is continuing to decline. We are just in a holding pattern and trying to figure out how we are going to address the backlog of work.”
Non-federal agencies are also feeling the pinch. The planned expansion of Imjin Parkway to four lanes, a project that’s been in the works for years, has stalled: Before it can move forward, its environmental review needs a sign-off from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a process that has halted.
“The shutdown is costing us all in terms of how fast we get projects done, and how much service we can put out to the public,” says Debbie Hale, executive director of the Transportation Agency for Monterey County, adding that the project will likely get delayed six months and not begin until spring 2020.
It’s an example of how far-reaching the impacts of the shutdown are, and that’s just one project – the pain for Monterey-Salinas Transit could be much greater.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” MST General Manager Carl Sedoryk says. “We’re plugging the holes as fast as we can, and we’re taking on water.”
Typically, Sedoryk says, the agency is reimbursed money it’s owed from the federal government in December – after a federal budget is approved in October – but that now, it appears MST won’t get the approximately $8 million until spring, and will have to burn cash reserves in the meantime.
There’s also additional federal funding in limbo – Sedoryk estimates it’s $14.5 million all told – that could lead to a reduction of services. “It’s a mess,” Sedoryk says.