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Council panel backs $13.09 minimum wage

A San Diego City Council committee on Wednesday passed a proposal to hike San Diego's minimum wage to $13.09 per hour by 2017, which would be one of the highest rates in the country after Seattle, San Jose and possibly San Francisco.

The proposal now moves to the full City Council, which will begin discussions on June 16 whether to adopt it as an ordinance or add it as a public referendum to the November ballot.

The proposal was passed after dozens of minimum-wage workers complained about the challenge of making ends meet at the statewide minimum of $8 per hour, which is slated to rise to $9 on July 1.

A number of workers said they had to hold down two or three jobs at once -- or move to Tijuana for cheaper rent -- in order to make ends meet.

But a large number of local businesses said that such a fast wage hike, rising nearly 64 percent in just three years, could cause them to freeze hiring, cut back working hours and benefits, and possibly lay off workers.

Home health-care agencies said a $13.09 minimum wage would set wages too high for their bed-ridden elderly patients to keep up with.

"They won't be able to receive the care that they are currently being provided," said Linnea Goodrich, owner of FirstStat Nursing Services.

Craig Ghio, owner of Anthony's Fish Grotto, said that while he supports the idea of raising the minimum wage, the restaurant workers who would benefit most would be foodservers, who already make well above the minimum because of tips -- which can't be taken into account under state law.

Their wage hikes would keep the benefits from going to "back room" workers, such as dishwashers, he said.

Council President Todd Gloria -- who has taken the lead in shaping the proposal -- said it would "make a meaningful difference" to an estimated 285,000 people currently making less than $13.09 per hour, as well as improve the local economy by giving workers more money to spend on local goods and services.

But he reiterated -- as he has done a number of times in recent days -- that the proposal could still be modified before or after it hits the council.

"If talks [with the public] generate modifications to this proposal, I will ask my council colleagues to consider the best proposal possible,” Gloria said.

The move comes as 22 states and a growing number of major cities are hiking their wage rates in order to reflect changes of the cost of living, following several decades in which the national minimum wage was allowed to languish.

Seattle intends to raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2017 for most large businesses and by 2021 for smaller businesses and tipped workers.

San Jose has targeted a $13 wage by 2016 and San Francisco, which currently has the nation's highest minimum wage at $10.74, has just added a referendum to its November ballot calling for a raise to $15 by 2017.

Despite fears that a minimum-wage hike would create job cuts among restaurants, hotels and other businesses that rely on low-wage workers, those businesses have kept growing in San Francisco at a rate similar to nearby areas in Alameda County and Silicon Valley.

But Sean Karafin -- who heads the San Diego County Taxpayers Association -- noted that San Francisco's 59 percent raise in the minimum wage occurred over 10 years, beginning in 2004, rather than the three years being proposed for a 64 percent hike in San Diego.

A longer timeline would give businesses a better chance to adapt to the hike, he said.


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