The temporary relocation of thousands of Porter Ranch residents following the Aliso Canyon gas leak is hitting some area businesses hard.
By Monday, the Southern California Gas Company says it had placed more than two thousand Porter Ranch residents in temporary housing and was in the process of placing another three thousand more.
“It’s a ghost town,” said Michel Schoucair, the manager at the Mediterranean Bistro, a restaurant in a Porter Ranch shopping center. “All the restaurants are empty now. “
It was the beginning of what would normally be the lunch rush on Tuesday, but only eight people had been seated in Schoucair's restaurant. A few more parties of two or three would trickle in over the next two hours, but the 80-seat establishment never even got half full.
The weekend, Schoucair said, had been even worse. Saturday and Sunday evenings are usually very popular at the Bistro, and while he expected the weekend after Christmas to be slow, this one went beyond that.
“We were completely dead,” he said. “Barely we had four to five people served. So we closed at 8 o’clock instead of 9 o’clock.”
On Sunday, he said, he only scheduled four employees to work, rather than the usual 12. “We hate to do that,” he said. “Especially now, the people need the money. They need the extra hours.”
Just a couple doors down in the shopping center, it was clear why Porter Ranch residents aren’t really in the mood for a good meal. SoCal Gas has opened a community resource center where Porter Ranch residents can inquire about their options for temporary housing and air purification systems for their homes. The line outside the center can be long – a dozen or so people waiting – though two staff did their best to help keep the line moving.
“It’s bad,” said 75-year-old Gail Lawson, while waiting in line to ask about temporary housing for herself, her husband and their dog. She was covering her mouth and nose with a cloth. “I have a very sensitive nose, and I can smell it all the time. I’ve been very sick to my stomach and bad headaches.”
Some business owners would not speak on the record about the impact of the gas leak. Some wanted to wait until well after the holidays to measure the real impact.
The owner of nail salon nearby also declined a request for an interview but had added an air-purification system in recent days that sat prominently in the waiting area.
The Chatsworth Porter Ranch Chamber of Commerce has posted updates about the gas leak on its web site, giving a phone number at SoCal Gas that business owners can call to make a claim if they believe the gas leak has hurt their bottom line.