In a dramatic meeting Thursday evening, Mountain View's City Council approved a new minimum wage law based on San Jose's, increasing the city's minimum wage to $10.30 an hour starting July 1, 2015, and made it a goal to hit $15 an hour by 2018.
The council chambers was packed with people pushing the council to adopt a higher wage than San Jose's. There were few opponents - developer Don Bahl told the council not to be "touchy feely" and sympathize too much with the stories of the city's working poor, and representatives of two downtown restaurants, including Xahn, expressed concerns about being able to make a profit unless tipped employees were exempted.
Over 50 people attended a rally to "raise the wage" before the meeting in Civic Center plaza, and nearly everyone in the crowded room stood up when asked if they supported a higher wage, some holding signs saying "We stand with you."
Despite the unusually large amount of support for a wage approaching $15 an hour, council members were hesitant to go above the $10.30 the San Jose's wage is expected to hit next year.
"I'm willing to go beyond what San Jose has done but it's important we do it in a fair and prudent manner," said Mayor Chris Clark, who pointed out that the city had conducted only one outreach meeting and needed to reach out to more businesses. "The right way is to build a coalition like Mayor Murray did" in Seattle, which has approved a complex $15-an-hour ordinance. "I see us taking the first step and saying, 'We're willing to help lead on this.'"
Clark said he thinks there's a desire for similar ordinances in neighboring cities.
Council members first indicated their interest in raising the wage on May 2, with members John Inks and John McAlister opposed.
McAlister owns Mountain View's Baskin Robbins, which isn't a conflict of interest, according to City Attorney Jannie Quinn, though some residents clearly felt otherwise and shouted at him, "Recuse yourself."
Members voted 6-1 in favor of the increase to $10.30, with the goal of working towards $15 an hour in 2018 in collaboration with local businesses and other cities.
Council member Mike Kasperzak suggested a name for the effort:"$15 by '18."
Member John Inks was opposed to both the increase and moving towards $15 an hour, claiming that most people work minimum wage jobs only temporarily.
Under the new law, the city's minimum wage would increase every January 1 based on inflation. The amount of the raise will be announced every October.
When it was clear that the council wasn't going to do more than copy San Jose's minimum wage law, many people appeared to leave the meeting in protest, or at least, frustration. One audience member told the council they were acting out of fear.
"I can't afford to live on what I'm making now -- right now, I'm homeless," said Mountain View Walmart employee Pam Ramos during the rally. She said many of her coworkers are on food stamps and work two jobs.
Other workers who spoke included Posh Bagel employee Guadalupe Garcia, who said she works three $12 an hour jobs and still can't afford rent in Mountain View, and Google janitor Braulia Flores, a who said her fellow janitors start at $11 an hour, which is "very, very low to work at company so wealthy."
"The reality is that there is a new norm," said Scott Myers Lipton, the San Jose State University sociology instructor whose class proposed the San Jose's minimum wage law. "Ten dollars was great when few were advocating for a minimum wage increase. Today, people are zooming passed San Jose. I humbly ask you to do so as well. Matching San Jose is not visionary, matching Richmond or Seattle is."
There was no support on the council for a motion by member Margaret Abe-Koga to automatically increase the minimum wage by $1 a year so as to reach $15 by 2019. That would have bumped up annual pay for a full-time worker by about $10,000 a year, going from $20,800 a year before taxes (at $10 an hour, 40 hours a week) to $31,200 (at $15 an hour).
The council instead approved a motion proposed by City Manager Dan Rich, to "make it a goal of the City Council to get to a $15 an hour minimum wage by the year 2018, working in cooperation with our neighboring cities and regional organizations as well as get input from the community, and staff will return to council no later than April on where the issue is regionally an get direction on how to proceed," Rich said.
It was noted by city staff and council members that Sunnyale's City Council is voting on a wage increase on Oct. 14 and that 13 of 15 Palo Alto City Council candidates support a higher minimum wage in Palo Alto.
"I hope they move forward quickly because this is what people want," said campaign organizer Meghan Fraley after the meeting. "This is as close to consensus as it gets on any political issue."
The lack of opposition to the wage increase has been unusual for something with such wide impacts. The city's plastic bag ban drew many more opponents to city meetings. During a public input meeting on the proposed ordinance, no one spoke against it. The California Restaurant Association's Javier Gonzalez spoke against the raise to $10.30 on Thursday, noting that the state has already approved a 25 percent raise of the old $8 minimum wage to $10 an hour in 2016. He said the raise would cause "a very challenging wage compression between the front end and back of the house," for restaurants, hinting that it would drive up wages for other restaurant employees, not just wait staff on minimum wage.
Advocates had said they hoped the lack of opposition was due to reports that San Jose's economy, and downtown restaurant industry, has been thriving since its 2012 increase to $10 an hour.
Council member Mike Kasperzak said he didn't want a "hodge-podge" of different wage ordinances in various cities. He asked Ken Jacobs, chair of U.C. Berkeley's Center for Labor research and education, to describe the best method for solving "pragmatic issues" of a small business owner who does work in several different cities in the county. Jacobs described the situation at Valley Fair mall in San Jose where most of the mall is in San Jose and a small part is in Santa Clara, which didn't raise the minimum wage. "Employers who didn't raise the wage started losing workers," Jacobs said, adding that those employers had to provide some other benefits to retain workers. He said when one city raises its minimum wage it causes a "race to the top" between cities and employers. He said it was similar to how cities impose different taxes on businesses. "Cities do this on daily basis on a wide range of regulations. The best outcome would be if cities get together and move in the same direction."
Jacobs also noted that workers who make just above minimum wage will also benefit from the increase. "People right at and above the minimum wage also tend to get a raise to maintain some wage differential," Jacobs said.
Leaders of Mountain View non-profits also spoke in favor of significant wage raise: Tom Myers of the Community Services Agency and Monique Kane of the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC). CHAC provides free and low cost counseling to residents.
"The children of the working poor in Mountain View suffer a great deal emotionally," Kane said. Because parents are working multiple jobs to pay escalating rents, children "are lonely, they are depressed. It probably takes away a child's chance to be with their parents, and they miss out on the positive role models they could have. Kids are ostracized socially, which make them depressed even more. Many do not have computers, or their families can't afford the Internet, and they don't have transportation to the library. The parents care that they do well but they have no time to help because they are working all the time. Children are raising children in our community. A child sleeps on the living room floor and mom has four roommates. The TV is on until late. Is it any wonder this child comes to school exhausted? There's a lot of poverty and it's really hurting out children. I hope you can lead and go to $15 an hour."
The California Apartment Association's opposition to rent control makes it an unusual ally to the working poor, but on Thursday CAA's Joshua Howard supported the increase. He recalled the experience of one of the landlords he represents when San Jose passed its wage increase. "He could tell difference in his residents' quality of life and their outlook on life, they would pay rent on the first of the month. If it worked in San Jose, it will work here as well. We don't oppose the idea of raising the minimum wage. Ideally, we don't have piecemeal legislation (in different cities).
"What better way to help so many so quickly in our entire city and than raising the minimum wage?" said Mike Fischetti, one of several residents to say a significant increase to the minimum age was a moral obligation of the council. He called the council's move towards $15 an hour a "great victory."
"I hear stories of people who can barely pay the rent of buy food," said Foothill-DeAnza Community College District board member Laura Casas. "I would like our working people to get bonuses like the ones my husband used to get just for doing math correctly. They need to be part of the economy. If you put that extra money in their pocket, they are going to help the economy in the long run, that is capitalism."