Mountain View Voice

News - May 2, 2014

Council thinking about minimum wage hike

Action might come in concert with other Peninsula cities

by Daniel DeBolt

On Tuesday night all but two members of the City Council expressed interest in raising Mountain View's minimum wage, possibly working with neighboring cities to bring the sort of increase seen in San Jose to more of Silicon Valley.

With members John Inks and John McAlister opposed, council members directed city staff to look at how the city could implement such an increase by the end of the year, possibly working with Sunnyvale, where the issue is being studied by city officials, and other neighboring cities.

"I think part of the process should be that we reach out to our neighbors," said Mayor Chris Clark, who expressed concern about Mountain View "going it alone."

"I think there are very few cities ... our size that are setting the minimum wage," Clark said.

At the April 22 City Council meeting, it was noted that there are also few cities as expensive as Mountain View.

"The least expensive studio apartment I can rent in Mountain View is $1,500 a month," said resident Joan MacDonald. For many people on a minimum wage there is "no money left for food, clothes, health care, transportation or education," she said.

The new minimum wage advocated for Mountain View ranges from more than $15 to $10.15 an hour, San Jose's new minimum that was enacted as the result of a 2013 ballot measure and a campaign by San Jose State University students.

The state's minimum wage is set to go to $9 in July and $10 in 2016, where it could remain for years. San Jose's new minimum wage is tied to a consumer price index and may rise annually, something advocates want for Mountain View as well.

Council members expressed support for considering the raise, along with several other proposed goals for the year on Tuesday, even though city staff say they are stretched to their limits trying to manage unprecedented growth.

"We hope that this first step is followed by actions that will make a raise in the wage in Mountain View a reality for people who struggle every day to pay their bills, feed their kids, and put a roof over their heads," Meghan Fraley, one of the leaders of the campaign to raise the minimum wage in Mountain View, said on Wednesday.

In San Jose, businesses have found various ways to absorb the increase and some have found benefits for attracting workers and saw increases in sales, according to recent reports. Some business owners now support it, including the owners of Philz Coffee and the Pizza My Heart chains. Council member John McAlister, who owns Mountain View's Baskin Robbins, is not a supporter. He said going to $15 an hour would be detrimental to "mom-and-pop" small businesses and would mean he'd have to lay off many of his teenage employees who he says often have their first jobs at his ice cream shop.

"If the city of Mountain View did it by itself, it would not be a level playing field," McAlister said.

Dozens of people raised their hand at the April 22 City Council meeting when asked if they supported a raise of Mountain View's minimum wage to $15 or more.

Only one speaker opposed a possible increase, saying it was an "exercise in futility" because it would only raise the cost of goods and services. Others disagreed, saying that research into minimum wage increases showed that "the net effect of a higher minimum wage is to shift costs back to employers" while increases to the wage boost the economy because consumers have more spending money. Advocates have also pointed to boosts in employment following the increase in San Jose, where there has been a rising number of downtown businesses.

MacDonald asked the council to research economist Robert Reich's views on the minimum wage, who said that lower wages also means more workers rely on government assistance such as food stamps.

"The rest of us make up for what their employers are unwilling to do," Reich says in an online video on the topic.

One such worker spoke to the council April 22, saying, "I don't make enough money to feed my family without government assistance" while working for a fast food chain. "Imagine having to decide between eating or having money to take the bus to work."

Paul George, director of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, noted that the writers of the country's minimum wage law went out of their way to allow cities and states to increase the wage to better reflect local costs of living.

"California's state minimum wage effectively asks us to treat a Mountain View worker on an equal par with a worker in, say, Fresno or Bakersfield, yet costs of living are higher by 30 percent or more (in Mountain View)," he said.

Local attorney Gary Wesley put some blame for the situation on the City Council. "The reason we have soaring rents in town is you have participated in adding jobs without adding housing."

"Many people are worried. People in our community are being displaced by rising rents," said resident Mike Fischetti. "A couple working full time (for) minimum wage, after taxes, takes home $2,000 a month."

"I went to the Mountain View Day Worker Center over the weekend and I was astounded to find out the average wage paid to day workers by the people who hire them is bit under $15." Fischetti said. "The minimum is $12 and $17 is the max. In our community there are people who believe in a just and fair wage."

City Attorney Jannie Quinn said the city staff members were tracking a study of minimum wage increases in Sunnyvale, to be presented to its City Council in May. Members said they wanted to see about possibly taking some kind of action by the end of the year, which could mean asking voters to approve a raise or the council taking the action itself.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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