Minimum Wage Hike Pushed at City Council Meeting

John Srebalus addresses council. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The South Pasadena City Council sat quietly this past week while speaker after speaker expressed support for an immediate hike in the minimum wage within city limits during public comments at its last meeting.

Nine speakers addressed the council during its March 6 meeting about increasing the minimum wage forthwith to $14.25 by July 1 of this year and $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.

“On February 18th my group of concerned residents presented a draft ordinance to raise South Pasadena’s minimum wage to that of Los Angeles, Pasadena and other areas, applicable only to larger businesses with 26 or more employees,” John Srebalus told the council on March 6 during public comments. “This figure is important; it means that only 14 members of the 270 in the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce will be required to pay higher wages. Four, if you include only locally based businesses.”

The council did not respond to the numerous members of the community that spoke during the public portion of its meeting on March 6 in support of an expedited hike in the minimum wage along the lines of Pasadena and Los Angeles.

So Pas Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian responded later in an email to The Review, saying the city is not equipped to monitor or enforce a minimum wage ordinance for South Pasadena.

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

The mayor also applauded the residents for making their case in front of the City Council.

“The City Council applauds the spirit of civil activism as we have seen recently with proponents of raising the minimum wage for low wage workers,” Khubesrian said. “A living wage in general is one component of an overall strategy to help people trapped in a cycle of poverty. The evidence shows that the best way to help people break the cycle of poverty is through funding good public education, vocational training, and access to affordable health care. We have seen increasing income disparity between the well-off and those who despite working a low-wage full-time job, struggle to make ends meet in this Country. California has one of the most progressive minimum wage laws in the States with mandates to increase the current $11/hour for businesses with 25 or less employees and $12/hour for those with 26 and more employees by $1 each year until the minimum wage reaches $15. The Federal Minimum wage is only $7.20. Three of the 88 cities in LA County have adopted ordinances mandating even more accelerated wage increases to reach the $15 about 18 months sooner. These are cities that are considerably larger than us and have existing infrastructure and staff to enforce their acceleration ordinances.”

Meanwhile, the state has already passed an increase of the minimum wage that takes effect incrementally over the next five years. As an example, a business with 25 employees or less pays $11 per hour now; on 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 Srebalus group advocating an expedited increase in the minimum wage here want the hourly rate to go to $14.25 on July 1 of this year and $15 on July 1, 2020. On July 1, 2022, and thereafter, the rate will increase based on the Consumer Price Index, according to a proposed South Pasadena Wage Hike ordinance.

Srebalus also said he has prepared a nine-page proposed minimum wage ordinance for South Pasadena to consider.

“The majority of this council is refusing to debate our ordinance in a public forum, some members not wanting to go on record for or against,” Srebalus told the council at its March 6 meeting. “But this is a democracy, and in democracies we vote. In democracies, constituents get to see where their representatives stand, and cast their next vote accordingly.

We’ve made this very easy for you. We wrote the ordinance, we’ve gathered the studies… You say you want to prioritize policy according to the concerns of residents. Well, here they are. Our ordinance can be studied and agendized by the time of the next council meeting, and ultimately administered with a bare minimum of staff resources. It’s doing the right thing of the most convenient and cost-neutral kind. It’s in the book. It’s in the votes and kind hearts of South Pasadenans. Please give it a fair hearing.”

Srebalus also told the council that the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce was “lobbying against our wage increase.”

Not so, says Laurie Wheeler, Chamber President and Chief Operating Officer.

In a letter dated Feb. 25, Wheeler states the chamber has no position at this time.

“It has come to my attention that there is an initiative in South Pasadena to introduce an ordinance to raise the minimum wage for workers in the city,” Wheeler states in the Feb. 25 letter. “All employers are currently complying with the State of California minimum wage, which increases annually, reaching $15.00 per hour in 2022 (for companies with more than 25 employees) and 2023 (for companies with 25 or fewer employees). These stepped increases began in January, 2017. The Board of Directors of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on this issue at this time. If and when the city determines that a local minimum wage is an issue that our City Council intends to study, the Chamber is prepared to survey Chamber members and the business community to get their input and feedback. Following that, the Board of Directors will determine whether to take a position on this issue.”

The minimum wage ordinance proposed by Srebalus was presented to each councilmember on Feb. 19 and calls for immediate action.

“Attached is our proposed ordinance establishing a higher minimum wage for businesses in the city with 26 or more employees,” Srebalus states in his letter to Khubesrian and the City Council. “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.”

Khubesrian said during a recent planning session that a public forum on the minimum wage was not a priority.

“At our Strategic Planning session, which was open to the public, we discussed priorities for the coming year,” Khubesrian said in an email to The Review. “The Council will be presented with the outcome of that session and share the list of many critical priorities that we need to tackle next year at the April 17 City Council meeting. An accelerated City minimum wage goal did not rise enough in priority in the discussion to bump off other goals and make it to the work plan list for the coming year. At this time there are no plans for a public forum sponsored by the City.” 

Srebalus is not dissuaded by what he perceives as the council’s apparent lack of attentiveness to the issue. He said the public wants this and deserves to be discussed in a public forum.

“We are going to keep doing what we are doing,” Srebalus said outside the council meeting. “We are going to keep raising the point that was raised tonight, I thought very well, and that is this is something that deserves a public forum. Show us where you stand on this. It’s important and the public wants it.”