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City Council to Study Hiking Minimum Wage in San Diego Without Public Vote

By James R. Riffel

The debate over whether to raise the minimum wage in San Diego took a new turn today when a City Council committee asked for details on whether the pay hike could be enacted without a public vote.

City Council President Todd Gloria's original proposal was to place a measure on the November ballot  to increase the compensation for the lowest- paid workers to $13.09 an hour over three years. San Diego currently recognizes the state minimum of $8 an hour, which is due to climb to $9 in July and $10 in two years.

On a 3-1 vote, the council's Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee voted to have Gloria work with the City Attorney's Office to continue work on developing a ballot initiative. But the committee also instructed Gloria and the city attorney to provide details on how the City Council could approve the increase without putting the proposal to a public vote.

The idea to have the hike approved via ordinance was brought up by Councilman David Alvarez, who lost to Kevin Faulconer in the February mayoral runoff election.

Alvarez said his parents worked for minimum wage when he was growing up, giving him "a shot" to get ahead.

"I don't think that exists today," Alvarez said. "Those opportunities that I had of two hard-working parents -- one at a fast-food restaurant and one as a janitor -- gave me the opportunity to stay in school, go on to college and make something of myself. I don't know if that same opportunity exists today, even for those working two jobs."

Councilman Mark Kersey, who cast the dissenting vote, said he didn't have enough data on how the proposal would affect San Diego.

He said he was "sympathetic" with those who are paid minimum wage in high-cost San Diego, "but I'd hate to see people potentially lose their jobs or, more likely, see their hours cut back or their benefits curtailed -- as we heard from the first couple of speakers -- because we got out ahead of the rest of the state."

Faulconer and business interests say they don't want San Diego to put itself in an uncompetitive economic position, but supported the state and proposed federal minimum wage hikes. The nationwide plan, however, failed to pass the Senate today.

An overflow crowd appeared at the first public vetting of the proposal by Gloria, who said he was willing to make adjustments to his plan based on the feedback. His proposal also includes providing workers with one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Suggestions from the public included excluding employees who receive tips, because strapped employers would then cut health benefits for other low- paid workers; waiting to judge the impact on business of the statewide increases; spreading smaller raises over a longer period of time; and exempting home healthcare providers who would otherwise have to pass on the pay hikes to seniors.

Gloria and the City Attorney's Office were asked to report back to the committee on June 11.

—City News Service

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