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Effort Begins To Reverse San Diego City Council Override Of Minimum Wage Veto

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Photo by Nicholas McVicker

City Council President Todd Gloria talks about the minimum wage ordinance passed by the San Diego City Council on July 14, 2014.

The San Diego City Council voted Monday to override Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s veto of the ordinance increasing the minimum wage.

The vote was 6-2, with Councilmen Mark Kersey and Scott Sherman voting no. Councilwoman Lorie Zapf did not vote during the special recess meeting because she was camping with her family at Lake Tahoe and did not have internet to access the livestream of the council meeting, her spokeswoman said. Kersey and Councilwoman Myrtle Cole were not at the meeting but voted over the phone.

The council needed six votes to override the veto. It originally passed the ordinance 6-3.

"This City Council is standing up and demonstrating that we value honest work and fair pay," said Council President Todd Gloria, who drafted the wage increase ordinance. "When 38 percent of this city who work do not earn enough to make ends meet, then something must be done."

Gloria added that he is disappointed Faulconer chose to veto the "reasonable and common sense measure."

With the override, the hourly minimum wage in the city is scheduled to rise from $9 to $9.75 on Jan. 1 and require employers to provide five earned sick days a year. Wages would increase again to $10.50 on Jan. 1, 2016, and to $11.50 on Jan. 1, 2017. In 2019, the minimum wage would be tied to inflation.

After the meeting, a spokesman for the San Diego Small Business Coalition said the group is planning to collect signatures to force a referendum, which would require voters to approve the ordinance. Jason Roe said the group will send out signature gatherers starting mid-week.

"This is a very, very significant change in policy for the city, and there's a great deal of risk that it puts the city in," Roe said. "So we believe voters should have an opportunity to weigh in on this."

They will have 30 days to gather 33,866 signatures, according to the city clerk. That would place a referendum on the wage increase on a future ballot, either in the next citywide election in June 2016 or in a separate special election called by the City Council.

If the referendum is accepted by the city clerk, the minimum wage increase would be postponed until after a public vote.

Roe said while it would normally cost $100,000 to $200,000 to run a signature-gathering campaign, more will need to be spent to counteract an opposition campaign announced last week by Raise Up San Diego. Former San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mel Katz, who is leading the campaign with Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, said the group has so far raised $300,000 to urge voters not to sign the petitions to repeal the minimum wage increase.

"That will certainly create some challenges for us in getting the signatures, so we're going to have to do a few things to increase the number of people we have out there to get over the harassment hurdle," Roe said. "It's hard, if you're a voter walking into Target and someone asks you to sign a petition, and some union thug starts yelling at you and heckling you, well, you're not going to probably want to sign that petition.

"So we've got to figure out a way to interfere in their ability to harass voters. I don't know that we know a perfect solution to that," he said. "It's a free country and people can say what they want, but we're going to try to do what we can to keep the situation civil and not let voters be intimidated by this bullying tactic."

Robert Nothoff, a policy analyst for the Center on Policy Initiatives, said Raise Up San Diego does not believe in harassment and will be working to educate people before they sign petitions.

"We want to make sure a small minority of folks aren't able to come in and hijack the local democratic process, and to make sure that we're not taking away the ability of 200,000 hard-working San Diegans to make basic ends meet," he said.

Nothoff said he believes petition gatherers lied to voters when collecting signatures to overturn the council's decision on the Barrio Logan community plan update, and said this time his group will stand with petition gatherers to correct misstatements.

"We want to make sure folks understand what that means when they put their names on the line," he said.

Nothoff said "a little bit of funding" for Raise Up San Diego is coming from labor unions but "this is not a labor union thing."

He said the group will be funded by local foundations and nonprofits.

The San Diego Small Business Coalition is funded by small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as national trade associations "that have taken an interest in this battle," Roe said. The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and its CEO, former Mayor Jerry Sanders, are also supporting efforts to gather signatures for a referendum.

Roe said he is amused by claims that the opposition is backed by U-T San Diego owner Doug Manchester or big businesses such as Walmart, "because they not have done anything to help us whatsoever."

"People are acting as if this is a position of greed, where business owners don't want to share the wealth with people who are struggling to get by, and nothing could be further from the truth," he said. "We're all very sympathetic to some of the stories we’ve heard about people who are struggling to make ends meet."

But he said the ordinance's wage increase on top of the recent state increase in the minimum wage to $9 an hour is too much for businesses to absorb.

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Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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