July 16 2014 10:38 AM

Bold move means low-wage workers will have a little extra coin

for web
Todd Gloria
Photo by David Rolland

Wow! Did you see that? The six Democrats on the San Diego City Council went big and bold Monday evening, rejecting a public vote to raise the city's minimum wage and instead doing it themselves. And it was made possible by the election of Kevin Faulconer to the Mayor's office. How ironic.

After Faulconer, a Republican who opposes the wage increase, won the special election in February, the City Council appointed Ed Harris, a Democrat, as his temporary replacement, giving the nine-member council a short window of time with a super-majority of Democrats—March through November. Current District 6 Councilmember Lorie Zapf, a Republican, will take over Harris' District 2 seat in December. There's a good chance Republican Chris Cate will win the November election in District 6, leaving Democrats with a slim 5-4 council majority in 2015. That's important because Faulconer can veto council ordinances and it takes a six-member super-majority to override a mayoral veto. The minimum-wage issue has fallen along party lines every step of the way.

The Monday vote was a victory for low-wage workers who've rarely had champions in elected office, but it was also a victory for democracy. As we saw with the maddening defeat in June of the sensible Barrio Logan Community Plan at the ballot box, when important issues are put to a public vote, they get run through a gauntlet of lies and distortions, and the side with the most money has the loudest voice in the debate. Representative democracy, in which we trust the people we elect to make decisions, is far from perfect and surely vulnerable to the influence of money, but there's a better chance that results will be based on intellectually honest debate.

In any case, the lowest allowable wage in San Diego will rise to $9.75 on Jan. 1, 2015; then to $10.50 on Jan. 1, 2016; and then to $11.50 on Jan. 1, 2017. Future increases will be tied to the Consumer Price Index staring in 2019. For comparison, the state minimum wage is now $9, and it'll go up to $10 in 2016. Additionally, the ordinance mandates five paid sick days a year for workers.

Advocates for raising the wage wanted more, and for good reason: It takes far in excess of $11.50 an hour—$23,920 per year for a 40-hour work week— to afford a basic living in San Diego. City Council President Todd Gloria, who spearheaded the effort along with the liberal think tank Center on Policy Initiatives, initially proposed $13.09 per hour. Given that the primary complaint from opponents is that the higher wage will put San Diego businesses at a competitive disadvantage against companies in neighboring cities, the more modest increase was smart. Should opponents try to overturn the law, Gloria and Co. can say they came way down on the dollar figure while the other side wasn't willing to compromise at all.

Speaking of the other side, have you noticed that whenever progressives try to enact policy, business-favoring conservatives say something like, "That's a laudable goal—we all want to reduce poverty—but this is not the right way to do it." Why is it that we never hear them proposing anti-poverty policies until they feel threatened? Could it be that they don't care?

We understand that small businesses are afraid of the unknown. Running an independent company is scary and stressful. We get it. But we can't let fear keep us locked down in a status quo that isn't working. The rich have been getting richer, the poor have been getting poorer and the middle class has been shrinking. Something has to be done. As Gloria has said, raising the minimum wage won't fix it all. In fact, we don't claim to know exactly what will happen. But we believe, as Gloria does, that it's a step in the right direction.

CityBeat wins a big award

Saturday was a grand day for CityBeat. That day, in Nashville, Tennessee, we took home a first-place award for investigative reporting given out by our national trade organization, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN).

The honor went to associate editor Kelly Davis and former staff writer Dave Maass for their outstanding coverage of the high mortality rate in San Diego County jails, which began in 2013 with a five-part series, "60 dead inmates," and is ongoing. In fact, the coverage continues in this issue with Davis' interview with Dr. Alfred Joshua, chief medical officer for the Sheriff's Department's Detentions Services Bureau.

This is a big deal for us. We bested entries from excellent papers across the country, and an investigative-reporting plaque is our journalism holy grail. We couldn't be prouder of Davis and Maass.

What do you think? Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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