Councilwoman Georgette Gómez. Photo by Ken Stone

Builders who receive city money for affordable housing and public works projects would be required to hire skilled, local workers and pay them a prevailing wage under a proposal advanced by a City Council committee Wednesday.

Councilwoman Georgette Gomez’s “HireSD” program would aim to lift people out of poverty by requiring developers in certain projects to hire workers who have completed apprenticeships or other training because those workers are paid a higher wage. The resulting demand for skilled workers would create an incentive for economically disadvantaged people to complete that training as a “pipeline to middle-class jobs,” the councilwoman’s Chief of Staff Dominika Bukalova said.

The plan would also require developers of certain projects to hire local people and pay a prevailing wage, a minimum wage currently paid in certain public works projects.

The rules would apply to projects that receive money from the city’s affordable housing fund and a business subsidy program. Part of the proposal is an expansion of a 2013 prevailing wage ordinance that applies to public works projects.

The Budget and Government Efficiency Committee voted 3-1 to send the proposal to city staff for further study. Gomez said she will also meet with industry groups and other stakeholders to further refine the plan before it goes back to the committee, likely in the fall.

“While I recognize there are many concerns surrounding the potential cost impact of this proposal, I hope we can also get behind the tremendous impact HireSD will have on our workforce and our families,” Gomez said.

Gomez’s plan was indeed met with pushback from some construction industry groups on Wednesday, who said additional requirements for building projects will come with added costs and could negatively impact the construction of affordable housing units.

“It’s a fact when you mandate prevailing wage your construction costs go up,” said Matthew Adams of the Building Industry Association of San Diego. “When something costs more to build you get less of it because it’s more expensive to build.”

That line of thinking was supported by Councilman Chris Cate, who cast the four-person committee’s lone no vote on the plan.

“I get the fact that we’re trying to reduce poverty in San Diego,” he said. “I don’t think this gets us to that point.”

But Carol Kim of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council said she believes it is smart to leverage public dollars to increase public benefit in a way that would create conditions for residents to become economically successful, rather than doing it as cheaply as possible.

“When we’re building affordable housing we shouldn’t be creating more of a demand for affordable housing,” she said.

—City News Service