June 18 2014 10:30 AM

Checking with Blanca Lopez Brown's (and T.J. Zane's?) alternative minimum-pay proposal

T.J. Zane is backing Blanca Lopez Brown
T.J. Zane is elusive about why he’s backing Blanca Lopez Brown’s minimum-wage proposal.
Photo illustration by John R. Lamb
    "No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country."

    —Franklin D. Roosevelt

    The pitches being tossed around in San Diego's debate over a higher minimum wage for this sprawling city would have had the late, great Tony Gwynn seeing double. Spin Cycle spent some time digging into the subject and has come to the useless conclusion that it's one confusing mofo. It doesn't help that the numbers and players keep changing as frequently as Lady Gaga's wardrobe.

    Monday's pitch from Council President Todd Gloria, however, may have finally brought the conversation out of the ivory towers. Slicing $1.59 an hour from his originally proposed $13.09 minimum wage by 2017 certainly pricked up many ears, save for those attached to the usual naysayers among Chamber of Commerce allies whose lexicon these days appears devoid of the word "compromise."

    Erik Bruvold, the puckish president of the National University Institute on Policy Research, jokingly suggested that he'd have to turn in his "right-wing nut card" when he told Spin that the new $11.50-an-hour proposal was "more doable than thinking about" a hike to $13.09.

    That's not to say that Bruvold, an economics researcher by trade, doesn't still worry about the consequences for smaller businesses that provide character to communities. "I worry about how it affects my favorite genre bookstore here in San Diego, Mysterious Galaxy, because they already have to compete with Amazon," he said.

    He also wonders how people might shift their shopping habits should they live or work close to a community with a lower minimum wage. "Moving it to $11.50 might make it less of an issue, but we've found that nearly a quarter-million San Diegans and about 50,000 jobs are located within a mile of a San Diego border," Bruvold said.

    "Out on El Cajon Boulevard and the 94, you've got this weird situation where one wage would be paid on one side of the block, and retail businesses on the other side of the block would be paying lower," he said. "There's nothing separating them. It's not like San Diego and Del Mar, where you've got a lagoon."

    It is the fate of these kinds of small, independently owned businesses that worry Blanca Lopez Brown the most. A Democrat who twice ran unsuccessfully for the San Diego City Council District 4 seat now occupied by Myrtle Cole, Brown said that while on the campaign trail, she heard from many small business owners—barber shops, nail boutiques, family-owned restaurants and markets—who may operate with only two or three employees and would have to cut staff or raise prices.

    "They were very blunt about it, pointing at things in the store and saying, ‘That's going to go up in price by this much' and ‘See that person over there? Now one will do the job of two,'" Brown told Spin. "That's the reality, and I don't think the council took the time to go talk to small business owners."

    Spin talked to Brown prior to Gloria announcing his revised number Monday and could not reach her afterwards. Brown has taken some arrows from progressive ranks for initiating a petition drive in April that could lead to a competing ballot measure in November that would eventually raise the city minimum wage to $12 an hour, but Gloria has blasted that proposal because he claims it would exempt 93 percent of local businesses.

    Brown laughed at that figure but could not provide a counter number. She's heard the jabs— that she's the front for more nefarious political players in town hell-bent on confusing voters come November with competing minimum-wage measures.

    But Brown said her aim is true. "When I heard what was initially proposed, I said, ‘No, let's put something out there and hope that maybe the council will come to the table. Let's bring business owners in District 4 and 8—the people who will be hardest hit with this—into the negotiations.'" 

    A couple of signature gatherers Spin spoke to recently said Brown's petition—requiring nearly 68,000 verified signatures— had been pulled from circulation. Brown disputed that, saying only that certain locations were removed from canvassing. "Oh, it's very much alive," she said.

    She also said others have taken up the cause, as well, most notably the San Diego County Prosperity Institute, which on its website is described as a "nonpartisan, non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the public on the issues."

    The institute's chairman is Thomas J. "TJ" Zane, who until recently headed up the conservative Lincoln Club of San Diego County, purveyors of some of the more controversial campaign mailers in recent elections.

    Organizing papers filed with the state show that at one time the institute was operated by Zane (chairman), former City Councilmember and current congressional candidate Carl DeMaio (president) and Felipe Monroig (treasurer), former DeMaio chief of staff and current deputy chief of staff to Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

    Zane, in an email, said that DeMaio and Monroig resigned from the organization in May 2013 when DeMaio jumped into the race against Rep. Scott Peters and Monroig took over the reins at the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

    Zane said his institute "doesn't really have a formal role with the petition drive, per se." He acknowledged "some understandable confusion" because he set up an independent committee in his other role as a political consultant to help finance the drive.

    Brown said "absolutely" the Prosperity Institute is involved, adding, "I don't have conversations with them because I'm going about this my way, and if anyone else is interested, you do what you want, thank you."

    Asked if she's concerned that her motives with the petition—to get folks to the table—might be different than others who have taken on the cause, she laughed, "I wouldn't be shocked or surprised if that ended up being true.

    "Look," she added, "if the council is open to dialog, I am all for it. Todd Gloria, the sooner you call me, the quicker this one can be put away. "

    Got a tip? Send it to johnl@sdcitybeat.com or follow John R. Lamb on Twitter @johnrlamb.


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