City Council committee wants draft of minimum wage hike ballot measure

SAN DIEGO - The City Council's Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee cleared the way Monday for Council President Todd Gloria and the City Attorney's Office to draft a ballot measure that would raise the minimum wage in San Diego faster than planned state hikes.

Gloria wants to place before voters in November an initiative that would provide a "meaningful" increase in the minimum wage for all people working in San Diego; tie the pay rate to a cost-of-living index that would be updated annually; allow a phase-in period that gives more time for small businesses and nonprofits to raise pay; and give five days of earned sick leave for all employees, regardless of industry or business type.

"Nobody who works full-time should have to live in poverty," Gloria told the committee members. "And yet more than a quarter of full-time workers in San Diego find themselves in that very situation."

Gloria has not specified an actual amount of pay that he prefers.

The minimum wage in California is $8 per hour. The state plans an increase to $9 an hour in July and $10 an hour in two years.

The Center on Policy Initiatives, which supports a wage increase, estimates that a single person living on a stripped-down budget needs to make a $13.09 hourly wage to live in San Diego. Around 300,000 households in the region have incomes too low to meet basic expenses, according to the CPI.  

The committee voted 2-1 to have Gloria and the city attorney return April 30 with a more detailed ballot proposal.

"It's the right thing to do and San Diego will be a better place for it," said Bill Freeman, who is representing the teachers union.  

Others are not so sure. Chris Duggan, who is with the California Restaurant Association, said, "An increase of 25 percent will be very hard for most to absorb."

Gloria, who favors raising the minimum wage, cites the city of San Jose who approved a raise to $10.15 an hour.

"They've actually seen a 2 percent reduction in unemployment because of this," he said.

Councilman Mark Kersey, who cast the dissenting vote, called for an impartial analysis of the economic impact of a faster rise in the minimum wage. He said he was concerned about the effect large hikes in labor costs would have on mom-and-pop businesses.

"I'm not exactly sure where that money will come from," Kersey said.

Those types of businesses could flee San Diego for neighboring communities, he said.

"Setting minimum wage is what the state should do, not the city," said Kersey.  

Mark Arabo, who represents the Neighborhood Market Association, agreed.

"Make it a level playing field,” said Arabo. “If the state raises the minimum wage, then it applies to everyone instead of a select few like family-owned markets who cannot afford it."

A representative of Mayor Kevin Faulconer also called for an independent analysis of any proposal.

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