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Well, that escalated quickly
If I had a dollar for every time I heard an elected official refer to the “Long Beach Way” during my career covering city hall, I might have enough to book a night at Hotel Maya, the luxury hotel that is at the heart of the city’s “Hot Labor Summer” where striking workers are seeking higher wages.
The “Long Beach Way” typically involves lots of pilot programs, studies, market analysis and civilian task forces to suss out the safest way forward.
The “Long Beach Way” was a big reason it took nearly four years and a vote of the people to re-legalize cannabis sales in the city after the council banned the industry, then spent over a year studying it before trying to limit its reemergence in the city in 2015.
Thanks to the “Long Beach Way,” other cities adopted pay increases for employees before this City Council adopted a $13 per hour minimum wage for Long Beach workers in 2016.
But the “Long Beach Way” has gotten significantly more expedient in recent months.
This City Council has always boasted about being “data driven” when making big decisions, but this week it appears it’s ready to let its hair down and YOLO (You Only Live Once) a hotel workers wage hike onto the March 2024 ballot.
In June, the city requested a market study of what the $25 minimum wage ($30 by 2028) would do to the local hotel industry if it were implemented. But this week, a council committee was told that all the firms the city typically uses for these kinds of studies turned down the contract because it wasn’t enough time to conduct a meaningful analysis.
The same thing happened in August 2022 when the council received a rushed report on how a proposed $25 minimum wage for health care employees in the city could affect the local economy. Because of the time squeeze, the report didn’t analyze how the raise would affect access to health care or the cost of health care in the future.
Council members voted to adopt the health care wage hike as an ordinance, but it will now be on the March ballot because of a successful referendum effort led by the health care industry. On Tuesday, the city could begin the process of putting the hotel worker raise on the March ballot as well.
This of course is set amid the backdrop of the city’s difficulty in hiring workers, with low pay being cited as a factor. The dearth of trash truck drivers led to trash days being skipped earlier this year; these workers start at $19.73 an hour. Ambulance operators—one of whom crashed into a pole after falling asleep at the wheel in April—start at $17.09 per hour.
For those of you who might be asking why the council is in such a hurry to approve these increases, the answer could be in the age-old “follow the money” line.
Both Unite Here Local 11 and the SEIU chapter representing local health care workers gave lots of money to a political action committee supporting Mayor Rex Richardson and two new council members (Megan Kerr and Joni Ricks-Oddie) in last year’s election.
In total, the two labor unions contributed $260,000 during last year’s election cycle. Their parent organization, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which controlled the PAC, kicked in another $144,000 in “non-monetary” contributions.
Before and after council members were seen on the picket line with workers calling for a boycott of the Maya, our newsroom asked twice if this was a possible conflict of interest.
The Los Angeles City Attorney warned its council members it might be, but City Attorney Dawn McIntosh said she hadn’t issued any guidance and added that voters would decide, not the council.
“They do not have any personal or professional benefit at stake that I am aware of which would trigger conflict restrictions,” she told my colleague Brandon Richardson last month.
Putting the hotel issue on the ballot is a huge favor to Unite Here. Signature gathering is expensive, and Long Beach currently requires about 27,000 verified signatures for an issue to qualify for the ballot.
While the city isn’t going to conduct its own study, it did point to the city of Anaheim, which concluded its analysis of a similar proposal led by United Here earlier this year.
That study concluded there could be a short-term boost to hotel tax revenue, but eventually those numbers would drop and could be joined by job losses in the hotel industry and potentially affect future convention business and the economy at large because of higher hotel rates that will likely be charged to guests.
What could the effects be for Long Beach? You and I are both in the dark on that one. But perhaps more troubling, so is the City Council.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS WEEK:
If you haven’t already, go read Jeremiah Dobruck’s story about the head of the city’s Convention and Visitor Bureau and allegations of retaliation and reckless spending of public funds over the course of his long tenure at the CVB. This is the kind of important journalism that you help fund when you become a member of the Long Beach Post. The months of combing through public records and conducting dozens of interviews helped shed light on the allegations at the CVB. However, it appears that an effort to shield the organization from future public records requests is well underway, as noted in the story. Expect a follow up story soon.
PAY ATTENTION TO THIS NEXT WEEK:
I’ll be out of town for the next few weeks on vacation—but don’t worry, we’ve got a newsroom full of reporters who will be covering the city to make sure that you’re getting the news you need to know. While I’m in Greece, the birthplace of one of the first forms of government, make sure to keep an eye on ours here in Long Beach.