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Menlo Park: Minimum wage ordinance on hold

 
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In spite of the urging by some to act sooner, Menlo Park's City Council has put on hold until next year plans to consider a citywide minimum wage ordinance.

City Manager Alex McIntyre, citing the departure of the city's entire staff (of two) dedicated to housing and economic development, told the City Council during a Sept. 11 discussion that the work staff started has been lost and other priorities need to be addressed.

"We had a great plan and we were going to do this. But we lost the people who were going to carry the torch on this for the city," McIntyre said.

At least two members of the public urged the council not to delay putting together a minimum wage ordinance.

Many other area cities have adopted such ordinances to accelerate implementation of more livable wages; the state has passed a law phasing in a $15 hourly minimum wage by 2022.

Statewide, the minimum wage is $10.50, and after 2022, will increase up to 3.5 percent per year, based on increases in the Consumer Price Index, an indicator of the cost of living.

In the cities of Palo Alto and San Mateo, the minimum wage is currently $13.50 per hour and will rise to $15 per hour Jan. 1, 2019, with provisions for increases based on Consumer Price Index increases in subsequent years.

In Redwood City, where an ordinance was adopted in March, the minimum wage will rise to $13.50 per hour in January 2019, and to an hourly $15 by January 2020, with increases based on the Consumer Price Index in following years.

In some cases, the market has already dictated higher wages for workers, according to Rayna Lehman, director of community services at the San Mateo Labor Council and a Menlo Park resident. If most of the places that people who earn at or near minimum wage can live are across the Bay, and they have to pay for gas and bridge tolls just to get to work, there will be a certain amount in wages that workers must earn to make it worth the cost of the commute.

In May 2015, Facebook announced its contractors would earn a minimum wage of $15 per hour.

East Palo Alto resident Andrew Boone asserted that the ordinance could easily be drafted by using legal language from any number of neighboring cities that have already passed such ordinances.

McIntyre and City Attorney Bill McClure insisted it wouldn't be that easy.

While it would be simple enough for Menlo Park to develop a draft ordinance, getting public feedback and consensus on the matter is a more substantial undertaking, McClure said.

(The city's Chamber of Commerce President Fran Dehn gave a knowing nod to that comment, signaling, "Yes, local businesses will want to weigh in.")

Developing a plan to enforce the ordinance would be another challenge. The city of San Mateo and cities in Santa Clara County contract with the city of San Jose for enforcement.

In Palo Alto, some restaurateurs have said that the acceleration to a $15 hourly minimum wage has strained their businesses, which are already hard hit by the difficulty in recruiting staff due to the high cost of housing.

Lehman said she was involved when the city of San Mateo considered its minimum wage ordinance. "You know, none of those cities did it lightly, or did it without a lot of consideration for long-term ramifications, and the long-term impacts on local businesses, the local workforce and the economy," she said.

Today, she said, business owners who opposed the ordinance and who predicted the end of their businesses are still in business.

She told The Almanac that she also participated on a county-appointed group to consider a living wage ordinance for contractors with the County of San Mateo. They ended up agreeing on a $17 per hour minimum wage for low-wage contractors who work with the county, to be implemented July 1, 2019.

"We want workers to get paid enough to be self-sufficient," she said. "If anything, raising the minimum wage stimulates local economies."

People who work at or near the minimum wage threshold, she asserted, tend to spend their dollars nearby. "They're not going abroad and traveling around," she said. "They're spending them locally."

Developing the ordinance, she said, "should be done in partnership with our Chamber (of Commerce) and our businesses and our community partners. I feel that it's much more effective when we do all come together and move forward together on something like this."

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