March 26 2014 10:21 AM

Ten bucks an hour just ain't enough

Todd Gloria
Photo by David Rolland

On Monday, by a vote of 2-1, the San Diego City Council's Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee voted to have the City Attorney's office draft an ordinance that would allow the council to place an initiative on the November ballot that would raise the minimum wage and mandate five sick days per year for all workers within city limits. Good for City Council President Todd Gloria for leading a fast-moving campaign to push this proposal forward.

Also, good for Councilmembers Marti Emerald, Myrtle Cole and Sherri Lightner for being on board. If you're wondering why Councilmember David Alvarez's name isn't listed, so were we. Gloria didn't ask Alvarez to be part of the campaign because five council proponents would have violated the Brown Act, which governs public meetings in California, and Alvarez was occupied with his campaign for mayor when the movement to raise the minimum wage was started, a spokesperson for Gloria says. A spokesperson for Alvarez assures us that he's strongly in support of raising the minimum wage.

We don't yet know exactly how much of an increase will be proposed. Currently, the statewide minimum wage is $8. That will rise to $9 this July and $10 on Jan. 1, 2016. But that's not enough to live on in San Diego. In his State of the City speech in January, Gloria cited data that said a person needs to earn at least $30,000 a year to make it in San Diego, which translates to $14.42 per hour. His proposal to the Economic Development Committee on Monday talked about a livable annual single-person income of $27,655, which would be $13.09 per hour.

Therefore, $13 per hour could be the starting point when it comes to settling on a figure, which will likely be subject to behind-the-scenes talks with groups pushing for a wage hike and groups representing small businesses, restaurants, hotels and motels that are nervous about an increase.

Just as the state increase is phased in, Gloria is suggesting a phased-in raise. But unlike the state, the local proposal is to index the minimum wage to an annually updated cost of living; the minimum wage at all levels of government should rise gradually along with the cost of living.

City Councilmember Mark Kersey was the lone Economic Development Committee member to vote against telling the City Attorney's office to draft an ordinance. Concerned particularly about the impact on small business, Kersey wants to see an independent study of a wage increase's impact on the local economy. He also said he believes the minimum wage should be a state issue, not a local issue.

"A minimum wage increase isn't a silver bullet for an issue as complex as poverty," he says in a statement provided to CityBeat.

No, but it's the obvious place to start. And, yes, it would be awesome if the state's lowest wage was enough for a full-time worker to live on. It's not. We'd like Kersey to imagine life at $8 to $10 an hour. This week, the National Low Income Housing Coalition released a report that said a person needs to make $26.04 per hour to comfortably afford a two-bedroom apartment in San Diego, which, according to the study, is exactly representative of California overall (assuming 30 percent of gross income is spent on housing and utilities). Not everyone needs a two-bedroom place, but you get the idea—one-bedroom apartments aren't a whole lot cheaper.

We're all for a comprehensive study of the economic impacts and benefits. Certainly, it won't be a piece of cake for many small businesses, particularly independent restaurants—we know some that are owned by people who think the minimum wage should be higher, but they're worried nonetheless. Their voices should be heard.

Local business groups lately have been playing the unfamiliar role of obstructionist—the Barrio Logan Community Plan, the affordable-housing fee increase—but the defiant stance amid those issues has been expensive, and they can't keep going back to the same donors for campaign money, right? Convincing a general-election electorate that $10 is plenty could be pricey.

A representative of the California Restaurant Association who spoke at the Economic Development Committee meeting on Monday said the group wasn't reflexively opposed to a wage increase, instead remaining neutral at this early stage. We hope that's a sign that these groups will be more cooperative on the minimum-wage issue.

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