S.D. Council Adopts Blue Print Including Self Sufficient Wages

KPBS News, 3/11/08 |

The city of San Diego now has a new blueprint for its growth over the next two decades. After five years of public workshops and discussion, the city council voted to approve its General Plan Update. Included in the document is a commitment to generate good jobs that pay self sufficient wages. But that commitment didn’t happen without a struggle. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more.

Workers and labor advocates rallied outside San Diego City Hall before the council meeting. The Reverend Richard Lawrence of the Affordable Housing Coalition lobbied for language in the new General Plan to define economic prosperity.

Lawrence: That’s what we mean by economic prosperity — we should be able to support our families and not have to work two and three jobs in order to do it.

Inside council chambers, Murtaza Baxamusa of the Center on Policy Initiatives recited now familiar statistics on how, in San Diego, low paying jobs are growing faster than any other kind of jobs.

Murtaza: Why are wages in San Diego not keeping up? We have all these programs in place and the wages keep falling. The answer is we are focusing on growth and not on qualify of growth.

But Councilman Brian Maienschein worried about specifying policies in the General Plan to promote jobs with “livable” or “self sufficient” wages.

Maienschein: What does the term self sufficiency mean? If it’s just a general term, that’s one thing, but is it the equivalent of the Living Wage Ordinance, or is it just the lower case livable wage or self sufficiently? I don’t understand that.

The city’s Living Wage Ordinance mandates city subcontractors to pay workers $12 an hour or $10 plus health insurance.

Kate Hansen, Director of the San Diego chapter of the California Restaurant Association said that would cramp growth in the restaurant industry altogether.

Hansen: This would add about a million dollars per year to existing payroll and it would be very difficulty for a new restaurant to come into San Diego and complete with the existing market or for a any existing restaurant to expand.

And Lani Lutar of the San Diego Taxpayers Association argued that imposing a wage higher than the minimum wage in city wide businesses would simply result in a vicious cycle of inflation.

Lutar: It’s without a doubt that the costs will be passed on to the consumer and if we’re trying to improve the quality of life its hard for me to understand for these working families why we couldn’t be concerned about the costs of inflation that’s going to be passed on that’s going to harm their quality of life.

But others argued that low paying jobs leave taxpayers on the hook to pay for health care, food stamps and subsidized housing for people who can’t live on their wages.

Councilman Ben Hueso was impatient with the bickering over terminology.

Hueso: Is self sufficiently the new politically correct terminology, should I stop using livable wage?

Pressed to define what the term “self sufficient” wages means in the General Plan, Council President Scott Peters said this:

Peters: We didn’t put a number in particular or tied to living wage but we said self sufficient wages pay enough for families and single adults to achieve a modest standard of living and make ends meet without assistance from public programs.

That seemingly modest goal is not so easy to meet in San Diego. The latest analysis from the California Budget Project suggests a single adult in San Diego needs to earn more than $13 dollars an hour to make ends meet, while a two parent family with two children and one wage earner needs to earn nearly $24 an hour.

The Council won’t be mandating minimum wages but it has adopted a challenging blueprint to guide its job creation priorities over the next two decades.