Members of the Long Beach City Council outside City Hall before its August 11 hearing where it approved a minimum wage study. Photo by Jason Ruiz.
With the anticipated deadline of the minimum wage report commissioned by the city manager’s office looming, the Economic Development Commission (EDC)—the group charged with providing recommendations to the city’s elected officials on a possible wage hike—entered into preliminary discussions on what that direction might be at its meeting Tuesday night. A consensus was reached among the commissioners, with the overwhelming sentiment being they need more time and data to fairly weigh such a momentous decision.
Concerns about the “unintended consequences” of a wage hike and lack of basic information resulted in the EDC voting unanimously for the board’s chair to draft a letter to Mayor Robert Garcia asking for an extension to their original deadline of November 24 to arrive at their final recommendations regarding possible action on the city adopting a higher minimum wage.
The letter will request that Garcia extend the timeline until sometime in the first quarter of the new year, which would then postpone the council’s anticipated hearing of the item in December.
“I look at these dates, yes, but I also want to get more information,” said EDC Chair and former third district councilman Frank Colonna. “That’s what I want to sink my teeth into. What have we got and who’s giving it to us. Because if we need the time then we say ‘we can’t make a decision tonight’. We need more time.”
Colonna was also outspoken about a need to draw distinctions between the costs of living in individual cities and whether or not it necessitates a $15 per hour minimum wage. He said there remains a difference between what a dollar buys in Long Beach versus what it can buy in Los Angeles, and questioned how the city arrived at the $15 figure. Colonna added that LA’s Mayor Eric Garcetti has shown reluctance to back a possible statewide ballot initiative even after he supported raising the minimum wage in Los Angeles.
In an article published in the Los Angeles Times last week, Garcetti waffled on his support for the so-called Fair Wage Act that is expected to gain the necessary signatures to appear on the November 2016 ballot. Garcetti initially stated that “geography mattered” when considering a higher minimum wage but then clarified through his spokesperson that he would in fact support a statewide initiative. His hesitance was attributed to not wanting to alienate voters, as he might have his eye on the governor’s seat.
“[The August council meeting] was quite emotionally charged and there were certain council members [who] would’ve voted that night to have passed mimicking the Los Angeles agenda without really, in my opinion, understanding how we live, work and survive in our city,” Colonna said. “And where does a dollar go in Long Beach compared to where a dollar goes in Los Angeles.”
The city council voted unanimously in support of the study at its August 11 meeting, directing the city manager’s office to request the report be carried out by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), the same firm that carried out the report that preceded the decision to raise the minimum wage in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County earlier this year.
Multiple council members made remarks during the hearing and before the meeting that indicated a majority of the council would support raising wages in Long Beach. The remarks were made while addressing a group of protesters outside city hall who supported a higher wage.
“We have gone on far too long with wages that are depressed, that are compressed and that are not fair to workers,” Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga said to the crowd of protestors. “What we’re doing here tonight is we’re going to get a study done. Actually, I wish we could make a decision tonight, and I think we should make a decision tonight to raise wages because we’ve been long overdue in regard to paying our workers below poverty level.”
Several members of the commission referenced those sentiments in their deliberations Tuesday night, with some being more direct in their assessments of the task charged to them by Mayor Robert Garcia after the council’s vote earlier this Summer. All commissioners agreed that more time would be needed to responsibly dissect such an important study before making any recommendations to the council, but some were open about their beliefs that it might all be for show.
“Call me cynical, but it’s a ruse because the decision has already been made, so we’re just jumping through hoops,” said Commissioner Blair Cohn, who also serves as the executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association. “I hate to be a sourpuss, but you can go from one to nine [of the council members] and pick out the five votes.”
The scope of the Long Beach report was to include data on the feasibility of implementing a minimum wage hike in the city, the potential risks to businesses in the city and proposals for possible tax breaks or incentives to assist businesses in complying with a possible minimum wage hike.
The study was to take into account certain factors exclusive to the Long Beach economy, like its lingering unemployment and poverty numbers, proximity to competitor cities that some fear would absorb lost business forced out by a wage hike and the number of local workers employed by local businesses.
It’s estimated that there are some 15,000 businesses in the city’s bounds that provide over 140,000 jobs. However, many of those workers live outside the City of Long Beach, with city figures estimating about 75 percent of the jobs in Long Beach are held by workers from neighboring cities.
The EDC’s meeting Tuesday marked the halfway point of a community outreach timeline devised by the city to gain public and stakeholder input on the issue before the LAEDC report was finalized and presented to the city in early November. Four more public meetings are scheduled between now and the November 24 deadline that the commission is hoping Mayor Garcia will extend. The next meeting is an early morning meeting on the campus of Long Beach City College on Thursday, October 29, where the city’s Economic and Development Finance Committee will hear public testimony and comments from the LAEDC.
Michelle Molina, managing partner at Millworks and recently-elected chair of the Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA) board called for the requested extension to be drafted, both to give adequate time for what she said was the biggest decision the city would make this year, but also for the sake of transparency.
Addressing Cohn’s earlier comments that the commissions’s recommendations served merely as a formality, she said extending the deadline would give all parties a fair amount of time to review the details of the LAEDC study, and the commission a fair amount of time to make responsible recommendations.
“The last thing our community wants is to believe that this decision is already made and all of this was just a show and smoke and mirrors,” Molina said. “I don’t want to serve on a commission when this was already decided in the first place. I don’t want to believe that and I don’t want anyone to believe that about me either.”
The Economic Development and Finance Committee meeting is scheduled for October 29 at 7:30AM at the LBCC Liberal Arts Campus inside Building T, room 1100.