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Don’t Sign It’ Campaign Counters Petition Drive To Overturn Minimum-Wage Hike

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Photo by Claire Trageser

City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner and Raise Up San Diego organizer Norma Rodriguez gather at the "Don't Sign It" campaign launch to discourage voters from signing petitions to force a referendum on the minimum wage increase.

One day after the official start of the effort to overturn the city of San Diego's minimum-wage increase, a group backing higher wages countered with their own "Don't Sign It" campaign.

A group called Raise Up San Diego, with help from the left-leaning advocacy group Centers on Policy Initiatives, is trying to discourage San Diego voters from signing petitions that would force a decision on the wage increase to the voting booth.

Special Feature Have You Seen Signature Gatherers in San Diego?

KPBS wants to know if you've seen signature gatherers with petitions to overturn San Diego's minimum wage increase. If so, what they are saying?

"We have out-of-town interests and corporations funding (the referendum) with petition gatherers that are out of the city, trying to overturn and change what has already been passed in San Diego," said Norma Rodriguez, a Raise Up San Diego organizer. "It's time for folks to not have to make hard decisions about whether they should stay home sick and take care of their child or go to work and have to leave them home."

At the start of the week, the City Council voted to override Mayor Kevin Faulconer's veto of the minimum-wage ordinance that would raise the minimum wage paid in the city from $9 to $9.75 an hour on Jan. 1 and require employers to provide five earned sick days a year. Wages would increase again to $10.50 an hour on Jan. 1, 2016, and to $11.50 on Jan. 1, 2017. In 2019, the minimum wage would be tied to inflation.

The council's 6-2 vote, with all six Democrats voting yes, started the clock on the referendum effort. A group called the San Diego Small Business Coalition is working to gather 33,866 signatures in 30 days, which would trigger a referendum on the increase 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.

Robert Nothoff, a policy analyst for the Center on Policy Initiatives, said Raise Up San Diego will be sending out people to stand next to signature gatherers and ask voters not to sign their petitions. He said those people will be a mix of paid workers and volunteers, and did not know yet how many people Raise Up San Diego will send out.

City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner said at the launch that signature gatherers will lie to get people to sign.

"If they tell you lies that the petition is to support the minimum wage proposal, don't sign it," she said. "If they tell you lies that the public must weigh in via petition, don't sign it. If they tell you lies that small businesses will close and people will lose jobs because of the measure, don't sign it. If they tell you lies that this is a job killer, don't sign it."

Jason Roe, owner of Republican consulting firm Revolvis, is acting as spokesman for the San Diego Small Business Coalition. He said his group wants voters to have their say on the measure.

"We think this is the right thing to do, just as Todd Gloria thought a referendum was the right thing to do when he first proposed it," Roe said.

Roe called Raise Up San Diego's plan a voter-harassment campaign.

"We're disappointed that they have very brazenly come out and told San Diegans they plan to harass anyone who wants to sign this referendum," he said. "They're trying to disenfranchise people who want to participate in the democratic process."

But Robert Nothoff, a policy analyst for the Center on Policy Initiatives, said Raise Up San Diego workers will be working to ensure signature gatherers don't misinform voters, as he said happened during the signature gathering efforts to overturn the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update.

City Council President Todd Gloria posted a video on Instagram Thursday showing a signature gatherer asking him, "Have you signed the petition so the state can't force the city of San Diego to increase the minimum wage yet?" The state, in fact, has nothing to do with the city's ordinance.

Roe said that worker likely got his script backwards, but said he could not provide a copy of the training materials.

Martha Beck, a resident of Rancho Bernardo, said a signature gatherer outside a local library branch told her that Council President Gloria had started the petition but its time expired.

"She showed me what she said was a copy of a petition Todd had done before the City Council ever voted," Beck said. "She said it expired on Aug. 18 and that this was just a continuation of what Todd Gloria started."

Beck said the reported the incident of false information to Gloria's office.

A petitioner filmed by KPBS outside a Vons in Normal Heights on Thursday evening said he only needed one more signature to fill his sheet.

"Sir, would you sign the last one, it's just to support small businesses and let the voters of the city of San Diego decide yes or no on minimum wage," he said accurately. "We're just asking the voters to put it on the ballot."

Crystal Page, a spokeswoman for the Center on Policy Initiatives, said there weren't many "Don’t Sign It" campaigners out this week, but they will be out in full force on Monday.


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Photo of Claire Trageser

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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