City Council members voted Tuesday to trim down a proposed raise in pay for themselves, expressing fear that residents wouldn't approve of a boost that would bring it up to minimum wage.
At the April 22 meeting, the council decided to have city staff draft a measure for the November ballot to raise council member pay from $600 a month to $1,000 a month -- not the previously proposed $1,200 -- effective January 2015. For the first time, council pay would rise annually to reflect rising costs of living, tied either to the consumer price index or city employee cost of living adjustments, whichever is lower. Because of a 1984 ballot measure, the city's charter prevents council members from approving a raise themselves, so the city's voters must decide.
Council members want what is effectively a decrease in pay compared to years past. If adjusted for inflation, Mountain View's 1968 council pay of $250 a month would be $1,697 today; the $500 a month that voters approved in 1984 would be $1,137, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' online calculator.
Though they will leave the council before the raise goes into effect, members Jac Siegel, Margaret Abe-Koga, Ronit Bryant joined John Inks (who will remain) in blocking a higher raise for the council, including the three new council members to be elected in November. Siegel was the swing vote in the compromise amount of $1,000 a month (a raise to $800 was also discussed.)
Citing concerns that those who work regular jobs can not afford to be on the City Council, council members had previously said they want a pay raise to make the job attractive to a wider range of candidates. In November of last year, council members voted 6-1 to begin drafting the raise, which council member John Inks opposed.
"A group visiting us from Italy a few years ago asked how much we were paid and I told them they were shocked," said Bryant last November, advocating for the pay raise that she ended up wanting to trim down. "They said, 'How do you get anyone who doesn't either have money or is retired to run for City Council?' I said that's a very good question my husband supports me."
Council members have complained that they are paid less than minimum wage, but the raise to $1,000 a month would mean a jump from $5 an hour to $8.33 an hour, based on an average of 30 hours of work per week. That's how much work council members Ronit Bryant, Jac Siegel, Margaret Abe-Koga and Chris Clark told the Voice that they do in a typical month.
Council pay would still be less than the state's minimum wage, which increases to $9 an hour in July and $10 an hour in 2016. Council pay would have been $10 an hour at $1,200 a month.
Council members cited the fact that voters rejected a tripling of council pay to $1,500 a month in 2006 by a 4-percent margin, though there was no campaign to explain why it was needed. Resident Don Letcher pointed to an editorial in the Daily Post questioning why the council deserved a "doubling" of their pay, a sound bite some members may want to avoid. Council candidate Jim Neal also spoke against the raise, saying that "asking for a 100 percent increase, I think, is unconscionable."
"We didn't run for City Council because of the pay," said council member John McAlister. "I'm not trying to make money, I'm just trying to cover my costs. Look at what we do, look at the time we put into it before you say you don't deserve this."
Bryant said she had "lost a lot of money" by giving up work as a technical writer to focus on being a council member, but said another $600 a month "would not make a difference for someone who absolutely needed to have the income."
Mayor Chris Clark disagreed.
"It does give someone a little more ability (to be on council) if they wanted to have some sort of part-time position or have a spouse with another income stream," Clark said. "It does make it a little more doable."
The lack of compensation may be why renters make up the majority of the city's population (58 percent in 2010) but have not been reflected in the council's makeup for many years. Mountain View's City Council is composed of a business executive (Mayor Chris Clark), two retired business executives (John Inks and Jac Siegel), two members supported by their husbands (Margaret Abe-Koga and Ronit Bryant) and two business owners (John McAlister and Mike Kasperzak). All of them are homeowners, relatively insulated from the effects of the current housing crisis and skyrocketing rents. Rising housing costs have been blamed on an avalanche of job growth and limited housing growth, reflective of a land-use pattern that most of the council members have supported over the years.
Without voter approval of a raise, council members would have to wait until the city's population doubles to 150,000 to see a raise to $700 a month. That's because voters in 1984 tied raises to a state standard for charter cities.
"To have to wait for city to get to 150,000 people before we receive any change in pay, I think is unreasonable," McAlister said.
When it comes to calculating pay per hour, it varies from member to member and week to week. McAlister says he works as many as 35 hours a week, while member Mike Kasperzak said it as high as 25 hours and Inks said he ranges between 30 and 60 hours a week. Council members can easily spend 10 hours a week in meetings alone, plus many more at events, talking to residents and city staff members and examining city staff reports before making decisions that have wide-ranging impacts on the city, from negotiating with Google for leases on city land to reining in relentless real estate development and figuring out how to pay for core city services like police, the library and parks.
"I support increasing the salaries of City Council members," said Michael Fischetti, as he spoke in favor of increasing the city's minimum wage for all employees within city limits at the start of the meeting, noting that even the city's Day Worker Center members are paid between $12 and $17 an hour. "I think you are working very hard to try to negotiate the 21st century."