City Council overrides Faulconer's minimum wage veto

SAN DIEGO - The City Council Monday overrode Mayor Kevin Faulconer's veto of an ordinance to increase the minimum wage in San Diego and give workers five paid sick days, setting up a showdown with opponents in the business community.

With six votes needed to override the veto, the council voted 6-2 in favor, with Councilmen Mark Kersey and Scott Sherman dissenting. Councilwoman Lorie Zapf -- who opposed the ordinance when it was passed on July 14 -- did not attend the special meeting.

The minimum wage is set to go up to $9.75 on Jan. 1, $10.50 in January 2016 and $11.50 in January 2017. Beginning in January 2019, the pay scale will be indexed to inflation.

"This City Council is standing up and demonstrating that we value honest work and fair pay," said council President Todd Gloria, who authored the ordinance. "With 38 percent of the people in this city who work ... not earn(ing) enough to make ends meet, something must be done."

Gloria said 172,000 San Diegans will receive higher pay, and a quarter-million will get paid sick days that they didn't have before.

Sherman, who interrupted a fishing trip to Mexico to attend the meeting, said the higher minimum wage won't help much in the fight against poverty.

"It will raise prices and it will cost jobs, but it won't raise people up -- $1.50 more won't raise people out of poverty," Sherman said. He said people aren't meant to stay at a minimum wage job all their lives, but prove their worth and earn more money.

Faulconer said the City Council has made it more difficult to create jobs in San Diego.

"Forcing higher wages on top of the statewide increase that just went into effect creates unique costs that make it more expensive for San Diego small businesses to hire hardworking San Diegans," Faulconer said. "It appears the citizenry will have to take action to overturn yet another council ordinance that will hurt our economy."

That action will come in the form of a prospective referendum that would try to place the issue on the ballot, or force the council to rescind the hike.

"The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, together with the business community, is prepared to qualify a referendum that will allow this important measure to be decided by the people," said Jerry Sanders, the chamber's CEO.

"We are all sympathetic to people who are struggling to make ends meet, particularly in a national economy that is still recovering from a recession," the former mayor said. "But this is the wrong decision."

Sanders called the wage hike a tax on all residents because, he said, businesses will have to raise prices.

According to Jason Roe of the San Diego Small Business Coalition, a drive to collect the necessary 34,000 petition signatures could begin as soon as Wednesday.

"California's 25 percent increase in the minimum wage was implemented just last month," Roe said. "While small businesses struggling to survive are dealing with that, the City Council now wants to go even further by increasing that to 44 percent with automatic annual increases. Our small businesses just cannot afford that steep of an increase."

Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who made the motion to override the veto, described the opposition's numbers as "wildly inflated." She said the first increase would be 75 cents an hour, and with the state minimum wage going to $10 in 2016, the subsequent city increase would be 50 cents above that.

Business interests have succeeded in two recent referendum efforts.

One measure that qualified for the ballot and was passed overwhelmingly by voters sought to update zoning guidelines in Barrio Logan, but a buffer zone created to untangle residential and industrial land uses was opposed by the area's shipyards.

The other also qualified, but the council opted to repeal an increase of a levy on commercial construction that funds affordable housing projects. Business leaders and the San Diego Housing Commission have since reached a compromise, which is under review by city staff.

If the minimum wage referendum qualifies, the City Council could repeal its approval or schedule a public vote, either in the next scheduled citywide election in June 2016 -- it's too late to qualify for this November's ballot -- or in a special election. The ordinance would not be in effect until after the vote.

Gloria and other supporters of the wage hike, meanwhile, are gearing up for their own campaign to urge San Diegans not to sign the petitions.

Supporters of the sick leave requirement said it will keep employees from showing up for their jobs while ill, infecting the public and their co-workers.

Kersey participated via phone from Lancaster, Ohio, while Councilwoman Myrtle Cole -- who cast a vote in favor of the override -- took part via phone from Duluth, Ga. Both are visiting family.

The next scheduled City Council meeting is Sept. 15.

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