A plan to hit the pause button on Mountain View's minimum wage increase was swiftly shot down at the Tuesday, Dec. 4, City Council meeting. The proposal died without a motion that would have brought it to a vote.
It was discussion that harkened back to three years ago, when Mountain View was in the vanguard of Silicon Valley cities raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour, an attempt to keep pace with the surging cost of living.
That 2015 push was hugely successful -- eight out of Santa Clara County's 15 cities pledged to gradually notch up their base wage. After reaching $15 an hour, all those cities committed to keep increasing the minimum pay by the cost of inflation.
Yet there was a problem for Mountain View and Sunnyvale: both cities were slightly ahead of the curve. As the first two cities to approve the plan, they scheduled their minimum wage to hit $15 an hour in 2018. Meanwhile, other cities decided to wait until 2019.
It was a situation that would leave Mountain View and Sunnyvale perpetually one year ahead of the six other cities, explained Councilman John McAlister. At the Tuesday meeting, he presented plans to postpone Mountain View's minimum wage increase for one year to align it with the rest.
"We've been talking about protecting small businesses. Well, here's an opportunity," he said. "Let's take a pause and then make sure that everyone else comes along."
In effect, McAlister's plan would call off the inflationary increase to raise the minimum wage to $15.65 an hour, scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1. Waiting one year would prevent Mountain View from becoming a higher wage "island," putting its small businesses at a disadvantage, he said. Faced with the same situation, Sunnyvale's city council decided to stay the course.
It was a plan that found no support among McAlister's colleagues on the Mountain View council and public in attendance. Several speakers pointed out the timing was last-minute, coming just a few weeks before the wage hike would take effect. In fact, city employees had already printed materials to announce the higher wages. Some opponents went further.
"I consider this wage theft, pure and simple. We promised something and then we're taking it away," said Mayor Lenny Siegel. "We have employers who can't hire people even at the minimum wage because it's so expensive to live here."
Speaking to the Voice, McAlister pointed out that Mountain View's minimum wage has increased more than 40 percent since the wage hikes were enacted. It's a breakneck pace of increase for small businesses, he said, especially when several nearby cities declined to enact any wage increases at all.
These South Bay cities are still paying a minimum wage of $10.50 an hour: Campbell, Gilroy, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Morgan Hill and Saratoga. At that wage, a full-time worker can expect to earn about $21,000 annually, which is well under the lowest poverty level for Santa Clara County.
Councilman Chris Clark expressed some sympathy for the idea that Santa Clara County cities should be consistent in setting base wages. It's bad policy to have a patchwork of different minimum wages across the South Bay, he said.
As the discussion tapered off, Clark was asked if he would second McAlister's motion to call off the minimum wage increase. He declined.
"This is not the hill I'm going to die on," Clark said.