San Diego City Council chambers. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
San Diego City Council chambers. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Updated at 3:30 p.m., Oct. 16, 2014

Opponents of San Diego’s move to incrementally increase the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour collected enough valid signatures to force the City Council to either repeal the ordinance or place the issue to an upcoming ballot, City Clerk Elizabeth Maland announced Thursday.

Whichever direction the council chooses at a meeting on Monday, the first of the scheduled hikes in the city’s lowest pay rate — set for Jan. 1 — won’t happen.

The wage increase was passed on a 6-3, party-line vote in July. It would have reached the hourly rate of $11.50 in 2017. Beginning in 2019, the minimum wage would have been indexed to inflation.

The state of California’s minimum wage is $9 an hour, with a $1 hike scheduled in two years.

Besides raising the minimum wage in San Diego, the ordinance also required employers to offer their workers five paid sick days annually.

“Our successful effort to qualify the referendum proves that voters find this issue important enough to combat aggressive blocking from the opposition to make sure that City Council knows they don’t agree with this bad policy,” said Jerry Sanders, the former mayor who is now the CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“An increase in the minimum wage of this magnitude would be detrimental to San Diego jobs, the economy and small businesses and would put our city at a competitive disadvantage as compared to nearby cities not affected by such an increase.”

He said if the City Council doesn’t rescind the ordinance, the voters will.

Ann Kinner, a proponent of the referendum to overturn the wage hike and the owner of a nautical book and supply store in Point Loma, said the increase was “extreme” and was “too much for small businesses to absorb.”

City Council President Todd Gloria, who authored the ordinance, said he was confident the minimum wage will go up in the future.

“It is disappointing that big businesses have used their money and misinformation to block thousands of San Diegans from receiving a pay raise in January that would help them keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table,” Gloria said. “I will ask my council colleagues to place this measure on the June 2016 ballot and am confident voters will approve this necessary and common sense increase to the minimum wage and the provision of five earned sick days.”

He said the council will consider the issue Monday, during the session slated to begin at 2 p.m.

Rabbi Laurie Coskey, part of a group called “Raise Up San Diego,” which pushed for the wage increase, released a statement that said, “Dr. Martin Luther King taught us that the arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends towards justice. When the Sick Leave-Minimum Wage Law goes into effect — when, not if — (it) will help lift up more than 200,000 San Diegans who are struggling to make ends meet on poverty wages. We’re confident, when faced with the choice, San Diegans will step up and do the right thing. Come June of 2016, justice will prevail.”

Maland said the county Registrar of Voters went through nearly 43,000 signatures to come up with the almost 34,000 names required to qualify the referendum.

Around 56,000 signatures were submitted last month.

If the council members choose to place the issue before voters, they will either have to call a special election — which would be expensive — or wait until the next regularly scheduled election, which is the June 2016 primary. Implementation of the ordinance would be suspended until election results are certified.