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Minimum-wage supporters signal compromise

One day after Mayor Kevin Faulconer praised the San Diego City Council for its bipartisan and 8-1 passage of a city budget, the council is likely to return to its traditional battle lines Wednesday when it launches into a debate over whether to raise the local minimum wage.

A draft proposal floated in May by Council President Todd Gloria at the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee suggested that the wage should increase from the state's current $8 per hour to $9 on July 1 to as high as $13.09 by July 1, 2017 ― a rise of nearly 63 percent in three years.

In addition, Gloria proposed that local workers be allowed to earn up to five days per year of paid sick leave.

But recent shifts in the political landscape ― including the results of last week's municipal elections ― may lead to changes in the proposal as it goes through a second reading by the economic development committee before going to the full City Council on July 14.

Gloria said through his spokeswoman last week that the draft proposal was for discussion purposes only, hinting that the version being introduced to the committee on Wednesday may differ.

Council President Pro Tem Sherri Lightner sounded the same conciliatory note.

"By the time the proposal gets to the council, there may be some steps to mollify the opponents," she said. "Everything is up for discussion, including how much time is needed to phase it in, the dollar amounts of where the wage would end up and the amount of days that workers might be paid for sick leave. We've already heard from a number of people and we're likely to hear from more."

Democrats on the council, following the example of San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., are pushing for a sharp increase in the minimum wage to help workers keep up with San Diego's high cost of living and a provision that would allow them to earn paid sick leave.

Republicans, on the other hand, argue that such restrictions would put the city at a competitive disadvantage against neighboring cities that stick with the statewide minimum and don't pay for sick leave. And they argue that raising the wage so fast might push some local businesses to lay off workers or cut their hours and benefits.

But since then, new political realities have set in.

In last week's election, the Democrats failed to lock up their 6-3 supermajority on the City Council, which could have protected a sharp hike in the wage from an expected veto by the mayor.

With Lorie Zapf taking Faulconer's former District 2 seat and Chris Cate ― a former head of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association ― with an apparent edge for her District 6 seat, the division on the council could possibly return to its previous 5-4 split. Cate gained 47 percent of the vote compared to a combined 44 percent for his two closest opponents.

At the same time, the defeat of Propositions B and C signaled the local business community's growing willingness to use the ballot box to overturn council provisions that they do not like.

The shipyards managed to raise $1.4 million to defeat the propositions, aided by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, versus $70,000 raised by supporters.

The Chamber also funded a referendum campaign that has so far stalled the City Council from raising a fee requiring developers to support affordable housing. And it has been a key critic of the minimum-wage hike.

Lightner says she hopes that if the council agrees to raise the minimum wage, the Chamber will not launch a referendum drive against it.

"But a lot depends on how we choose to move forward," she added.

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