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

Updated 4:21 p.m. Oct. 20, 2014.

The City Council voted unanimously Monday to put an incremental hike in the minimum wage in San Diego before the public on the June 2016 primary election ballot.

Last week, the City Clerk’s Office reported that opponents of the wage hike had collected enough petition signatures to force the council’s hand on the minimum wage issue. The council members could have repealed the ordinance themselves or scheduled an earlier, but costly, special election.

The three-stage hike would have resulted in the lowest pay in the city being set at $11.50 an hour by January 2017. The ordinance, adopted on a 6-3 party-line vote in July, also required employers to offer five annual days of paid sick leave.

Opponents contended that raising the minimum wage above the state standard would make San Diego’s businesses less competitive with enterprises in neighboring cities.

Jerry Sanders, the former mayor who is now head of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, called for the repeal of the “bad policy, which will make it harder for our 45,000 unemployed to find jobs, drive up the cost of goods and services, and make it more difficult for the very businesses that we rely on to create jobs to succeed.”

The City Council needs to “fight for San Diego’s job creators, or at minimum, listen to them,” Sanders said.

City Council President Todd Gloria, who first raised the issue back in January, called the wage hike “a necessary, common-sense measure” to help the estimated 38 percent of San Diegans who can’t afford to make ends meet without government assistance.

“It’s disappointing that big businesses have used their money and misinformation to block thousands of San Diegans from receiving five earned sick days and a pay raise this January,” Gloria said.

Councilwoman Sherri Lightner blamed a “loud, disingenuous and well- funded opposition” for blocking implementation of the ordinance.

An opponent of the wage hike, Councilman Scott Sherman, pointed out that Gloria’s original plan was to put the issue on an election ballot. However, the majority on the council later decided to approve the plan themselves. Now it’s too late for the public to vote on the issue in the Nov. 4 general election, which Gloria had originally targeted.

“This has been a very divisive issue, and quite frankly, I think it’s designed to be that way — that’s politicians playing politics,” Sherman said.

The action to wait until the June 2016 election raised two major questions that need to be resolved.

First, the voters will decide on the language of the ordinance when it was passed, which calls for the first of three raises and the sick days to be effective Jan. 1, 2015. Sherman questioned whether employers, if the ballot measure passes, would be on the hook for paying the difference retroactively.

Also, a representative of the mayor’s office asked that if the state of California scheduled its 2016 presidential primary election earlier than June, as it sometimes does, whether the minimum wage vote would take place at that time or be set for June 2016 no matter what.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said both issues would be studied.

—City News Service