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Minimum Wage Hike Proposal Shot Down by City Council

Councilmember Schneider Tried in Vain to Jump-Start Increase
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The South Pasadena City Council closed the door on a local accelerated minimum wage increase when it voted at its last meeting against including the hike in this year’s strategic plan.

At the council’s May 1 meeting, four councilmembers voted against including the local minimum wage increase in the strategic plan while one councilmember abstained.

A group of residents, led by So Pas resident John Srebalus, have been pushing the council for several months now to increase the minimum wage in South Pasadena by July 1, 2019, to $14.25 and to $15 by July 1, 2020. The minimum wage now is $11 as it is throughout California. South Pasadena does not have a minimum wage ordinance for the city, according to officials.

The state, however, has already put in place a minimum wage hike that takes place over a longer period of time. Srebalus’s proposal would speed up the implementation of the hike by about two years.

The state’s minimum wage increase takes effect incrementally over the next five years. As an example, a business with 25 employees or less pays $11 per hour now; Jan. 1, 2020, it goes to $12; Jan. 1, 2021, $13; Jan. 1, 2022, $14; and Jan. 1, 2023, $15. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

The May 1 meeting started with City Attorney Teresa Highsmith briefing the council on two accelerated ordinances in Pasadena and Los Angeles that are already in existence. She told the council that the Pasadena ordinance, which was enacted in 2016, had a lead time of nearly three years before businesses were required to comply. Pasadena residents, who were instrumental in getting the Pasadena ordinance passed, however, disputed Highsmith’s representation saying the ordinance was in place and ready to go within months of the 2016 passage. So Pas councilmembers did not attempt to clarify the conflicting messages.

There were 10 people who spoke about the minimum wage hike during public comments. Nine were in favor and one was opposed.

So Pas Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian limited the time each person could talk about the minimum wage from the regular three minutes to two minutes. Khubesrian said it was to exercise “time management.” There were no other time limits placed on public speakers on other subjects.

Khubesrian voted against including the minimum wage increase in this year’s strategic plan along with Mayor Pro Tem Robert Joe, councilmembers Michael Cacciotti and Diana Mahmud.

Councilmember Dr. Richard Schneider lobbied hard for the increase to be included in the plan and even tried to get the council to support creating an ad hoc committee for the increase. There were no takers. Then, instead of voting in favor of including the wage hike in the strategic plan, Schneider abstained without explanation.

The city’s strategic plan designates priorities the council will address for the upcoming year and lays out six broad goals.

“The goals are broad statements of citywide aspirations in delivering services to the community; they are both quantitative and qualitative in nature,” according to a report presented to the City Council. “The plan identifies strategies and initiatives to support the core goals. Implementation of these strategies and initiatives is the way in which a shared vision of a vibrant and sustainable quality of life for South Pasadena residents and stakeholders is sustained and improved.”

The goals include developing and implementing strong fiscal policies to ensure a resilient financial future; creating and implementing a strong economic development strategy to strengthen the local business districts; developing a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan to ensure public safety through active response and recovery efforts; enhancing community sustainability through investment in infrastructure and environmental management programs; planning for affordable housing to comply with state mandates; responding to community needs; and enhancing customer service through innovation to more effectively respond to community priorities.

City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe has said that if the minimum wage increase is to be included in the strategic plan this year, another goal would have to be dropped.

The goals were decided upon during recent planning sessions and the minimum wage hike did not make the cut.

“The strategic plan, as drafted from the March I retreat (attached), maximizes the use of staff time for priority projects. It does not include capacity for the addition of another complex policy issue requiring considerable staff research, analysis and reports, including a robust community engagement program, as would be required for the minimum wage issue,” according to a staff report explaining the need to drop one item to make way for the wage hike. “Should the council vote to add this item to the strategic plan another issue of similar complexity would need to be removed from the plan to free up the appropriate staff resources. Those items could include work on revenue enhancement strategies, economic development, affordable housing initiatives or seismic safety.”

Khubesrian has said the city doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to have a local minimum wage increase.

“The City of South Pasadena does not currently have the function or the infrastructure to enforce a minimum wage ordinance,” she said in an earlier email. “We rely of the State’s role to monitor and enforce wages as do 85 out of the 88 cities in L.A. County. We simply do not have the resources to create an 18-month wage increase acceleration management function at this time.”

Schneider said that the hike should not replace any of the other goals. It should be in addition to the other goals. He said the work had already been done by the group advocating the wage increase and that would ease the burden on city staff.

That’s when Schneider at the May 1 meeting tried to get the council to “at least” support the creation of a citizens’ committee that would do all the required work, thus alleviating any extra time on city staff. Schneider could not get a second and the motion died. However, it was said by Highsmith and other councilmembers that a citizens’ group can be created without the council’s involvement.

After the meeting on May 1, Srebalus said the ad hoc committee is not necessary because the work has already been done and presented to the city.

“What they are asking for has already been provided,” Srebalus said outside council chambers after the hike was shot down. “Over the course of the last five months, we gave them a printed volume and an electronic volume of 600 pages worth of studies on this issue from both sides. It’s become clear that they didn’t think they were going to have to address this at all. Therefore, they didn’t look at these materials. For two weeks now they’ve had a lot of questions that could have been answered by reading the materials we’ve been submitting for the last five months.”

Srebalus summed up his disappointment by saying there is talk but no action regarding those that are struggling to make ends meet.

“I think it’s a shame,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of talk up there about compassion and concern for low-income people but no action.”

Srebalus, although recognizing defeat, is not prepared to give up because he wants to see if the ad hoc committee is real or political cover. The work is already done and could be presented again, he said.
“The next step I think is to get a better picture of whether this is for real,” he said, referring to the ad hoc committee. “Or if they are just stringing us along. Four members of the council don’t seem at all interested in that. Dr. Schneider has been a champion of ours from the get-go. So, I want to find out if this is for real or if this is a charade. If this is a way to appear amenable to our concerns or whether they actually are going to be willing to do something meaningful in time.”

A nine-page proposed draft ordnance has already been written by the Srebalus group as well as a three-page research paper that includes a digest of supporting studies, along with other analysis and studies about the minimum wage.

In a letter dated Feb. 18, Srebalus wrote to Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian and the City Council explaining why this issue is vital to South Pasadena.

“Because this is urgent policy effectively covering only 18 months as the state minimum catches up to the higher minimum proposed here and adopted in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Santa Monica and unincorporated Los Angeles County, we proponents ask that you give this your immediate attention. We don’t accept that this is an issue for consideration at the upcoming strategic planning meeting. The strategic plan is a place for broad objectives for the coming fiscal year; our proposal is for urgent, straightforward legislation with regional precedent and strong local support. A higher minimum wage clearly falls under ​current​ fiscal year objective … as it supports the local economy and enhances opportunities for live, work and play. Low-wage workers are an essential part of our local economy and deserve the same opportunities for live, work and play as anyone else. At their current wage they can work, but neither live nor play. And their income is income to be spent in our local economy. To send our proposal to strategic planning is to bury it where it doesn’t belong. It also suggests there is time to lose. Regional increases (and thus our proposed increases) are scheduled for July 1, and our businesses need time to plan. The research is in, Pasadena has affirmed. For our city to dig in its heels at this time sends a message at odds with the type of brand it seeks to build and maintain. Let’s do this.”

The council’s next meeting is May 15. The council meets in the Amedee O. “Dick” Richards, Jr. Council Chambers at 1424 Mission St. The meetings are recorded live and are replayed on two cable channels – Time Warner Cable Channel 19 and AT&T Channel 99 for cable customers who reside in South Pasadena. City Council meetings are also web streamed and are available for six months online. DVD recordings of the meetings are available at the City clerk’s Office. 

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Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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