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San Diego City Council Votes To Raise Minimum Wage

Council opted not to put question on November ballot and just OK’d on its own

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The San Diego City Council voted Monday to raise the city's minimum wage as an ordinance, meaning it won't go to a public vote.

The San Diego City Council voted Monday to raise the city's minimum wage as an ordinance, meaning it won't go to a public vote.

The council voted 6-3 to pass the ordinance, which will raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017. Council members Mark Kersey, Scott Sherman and Lorie Zapf, who are Republicans, voted against the measure. The six council members who approved the measure are all Democrats.

City Council President Todd Gloria, who drafted the proposal, said the council's vote made history in San Diego.

"We are raising up San Diego in a meaningful, responsible way that benefits our lowest-paid neighbors, our economy and our city as a whole," Gloria said. "San Diego is standing up and demonstrating that we value hard work and fair pay."

Minimum Wage Laws

At least 10 other U.S. municipalities have enacted minimum wage laws, according to a report by UC Berkeley researchers. They are:

1) Albuquerque, New Mexico

2) Bernalillo County, New Mexico

3) Montgomery County, Maryland

4) Prince George's County, Maryland

5) San Francisco

6) San Jose

7) Santa Fe, New Mexico

8) Santa Fe County, New Mexico

9) Washington, D.C.

10) Richmond

Under the ordinance, the minimum wage in San Diego will rise to $9.75 an hour at the end of this year, then grow to $10.50 an hour on Jan. 1, 2016, and then $11.50 an hour on Jan. 1, 2017. The proposal includes no exemptions for any industry or business, according to Gloria's office.

The City Council will now develop an enforcement ordinance "to ensure the adopted workforce strengthening measure is met," according to a statement from Gloria sent after the council's vote.

The current minimum wage in San Diego is $9 an hour after a state-mandated increase this month. The state wage will rise to $10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2016.

In a statement, the mayor's office reiterated its opposition to the increase:

“Mayor Faulconer believes San Diego thrives through its entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses that help everyday San Diegans put food on the table and provide for their families. As mayor, he is committed to helping San Diegans succeed and create opportunity. He has been very clear that he will not put the brakes on our recovering economy by placing a hindrance on local small businesses that will force them to cut jobs or hire fewer people."

San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Jerry Sanders also said he was disappointed with the council's decision.

"Raising San Diego’s minimum wage and sick leave above and beyond what the state has already mandated puts San Diego at a competitive disadvantage compared to nearby cities," the former mayor said.

Sanders said the chamber is evaluating its options and will soon make a decision on how it will respond.

Kersey, who voted against the measure, said he worries the increase will encourage businesses to move outside the city.

"If I'm a business and I'm looking to either expand, or maybe my lease is up and I'm looking to see what my options are, and I'm a retail place where the margins are thin, you can bet I'm going to consider all the costs and all the ways I can save a little bit of money given the thin margins in retail," Kersey said.

"Just because I have a tough time supporting this, it's not because I don't care about people. It's not because I don't want people to make a better living," he said. "It's because there are a lot of complex factors at play here, and it's not as easy as just saying we're going to lift people out of poverty by raising the minimum wage."

While Gloria originally wanted to raise the minimum wage to $13.09 an hour by 2017, he compromised after talking with Faulconer, other council members and small-business owners who feared it would hurt San Diego's economy to have a higher minimum wage than the rest of the state.

"I've heard loud and clear from many of the small businesses that I am tremendously honored to represent that they needed to go a little bit lower over a little bit longer period of time," Gloria said at Monday's meeting. "This isn't all that you wanted it to be, but this is what you're supposed to do, which is listen to both sides of the issue and develop a balanced response, good public policy that really makes sure that both sides of the ledger are taken care of."

At Monday's meeting, the council had the option to put the minimum wage proposal before voters in November or pass it as an ordinance. City Councilman David Alvarez made the motion to pass the increase as an ordinance, and City Councilwoman Marti Emerald seconded it.

"It's long overdue, and I feel privileged to sit here tonight to support this motion, to support this effort and to hit a button and make this a law in the city of San Diego," Emerald said.

Faulconer, a Republican, could veto the council's action, but the council can override a mayoral veto with a 6-3 vote.

KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane and Peggy Pico contributed to the Midday and Evening Edition segments

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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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