Archive for July, 2014

City Debates Minimum Wage Increase

By Ken A. Epstein

While some members of the Oakland City Council are lining up behind the November ballot measure to raise the minimum hourly rate for low-wage workers in Oakland, others are concerned that the way the local ordinance is crafted would

Libby Schaaf

Libby Schaaf

jeopardize small businesses and the jobs of many workers the measure is supposed to help.

Supporters of Lift Up Oakland, which gathered the signatures to place a measure on the ballot, came out in force to Tuesday’s Community and Economic Development Committee meeting to show support for the measure that would raise the minimum wage in Oakland to $12.25 an hour on March 2, 2015 and provide for paid sick leave.

Supporters of the wage increase spoke passionately about their desperate conditions, how they cannot wait any longer for a wage increase. They are people who have to work three jobs to barely survive, have to walk rather than take a bus to their jobs, have to go work when they are too sick to stand up.

On the other side are small businesses and nonprofits, owners who wash dishes, clean floors and do the books to make ends meet. They said they do not oppose wage increase but that a sudden, large jump in salaries cannot be absorbed quickly because their profit margins are slim – they cannot cover the wage increases by raising prices and will be faced with the need to cut hours or lay off workers and perhaps shut down or move out of the city.

Lynette McElhaney

Lynette McElhaney

Members of the council who share concerns about these negative impacts are considering putting up ballot measure in November that would moderate the impact of the Lift Up proposal.

The alternative proposal, instead of raising the minimum wage to $12.25 an hour less than five months after the election, would raise the minimum to $13 per hour over the next three years. This proposal also provides sick leave and has provisions that would protect small restaurants and exclude youth internship and trainee programs and employees who provide social services for fixed reimbursements.

Both sides cite reports that bolster their arguments. A study by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, released in June, said the Lift Up measure would raise salaries for 25 to 30 percent of workers by about $2,700 a year. Most of these works are in their twenties or older.

According to this report, operating costs would go up 0.3 percent for retail businesses and 2.8 percent for restaurants. Restaurant prices would go up 2.5 percent, a 25-cent increase on a $10 meal.

Another report, the Hausrath Economic Impact Assessment that was commissioned by the city, is less optimistic about the effects of the Lift Up wage increase on small businesses.

This report projects on increase in labor costs of 2-11 percent of total revenues, while profit margins are estimated as 4 percent of revenues. “Therefore, some businesses will likely charge higher prices or reduce hours or employment in order to offset their higher costs in the short term,” the report said.

The report says that a “longer phase-in period or grace period” for small businesses and non-profits with less ability to pay higher wage costs would allow these businesses time to absorb costs in a “sustainable manner.”

The current minimum wage in California recently went up from $8 to $9 per hour.

Backing the Lift Up measure at Tuesday’s meeting, Councilmember Libby Schaaf said, “The City Council must put the Lift Up proposal on the ballot, and it will pass.”

“To small business and nonprofit people, sometimes doing the right thing is hard. It is going to be hard, but it is the right thing,” Schaaf said, adding that San Jose and San Francisco raised their minimum wage without negative consequences.

Councilmember Lynette McElhaney said she would support a compromise, which would deal with the real pain that workers feel but at the same time does not contribute to gentrification and displacement by driving out small and minority owned businesses from the city.

“In San Francisco the diversity of businesses, including Black-owned businesses, has declined,” she said, adding that part of the reason nonprofits and small businesses are moving to Oakland is that they are being driven out of San Francisco.

“It really feels troubling to me. I’m concerned about unintended consequences, “ she said. “I don’t want to do this at a scale and pace that will have the unintended consequence of shutting businesses down.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 11, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Two More Measures on November Ballot? Why Not Police Accountability?

By Ken Epstein

When a community coalition sought the city council members’ approval recently to put a police oversight commission on the November ballot, most of them opposed it.

Rashidah Grinage

Rashidah Grinage

The opinion on the council seemed to be that putting the $22 million a year public safety tax – the successor to Measure Y – on the ballot trumped all other issues.

They said any other ballot measure would be a distraction and confusing to the public and jeopardize funding to pay for 60 police officers and programs for crime reduction and youth.

Council members also said they could not vote to put the issue on the ballot because they did not have time to discuss and modify it, and staff did not have time to analyze it.

Therefore, supporters of police accountability noted with surprise that council members voted Tuesday night to put Councilmember Libby Schaaf’s charter amendment, an Independent Redistricting Commission, on the ballot.

Councilmembers also may be prepared to add a second charter amendment to the ballot at their July 15 meeting: an enhanced Public Ethics Commission that would cost $900,000 a year, backed by Councilmember Dan Kalb.

Neither of these measures has gone through the council’s committee process, nor were they analyzed by staff for their budget, legal and policy implications, which was cited as an insurmountable obstacle to the police measure.

Lynette McElhaney

Lynette McElhaney

“Different strokes for different folks – Both Kalb’s and Schaaf’s ballot measures were written by them, and ours was written by the community,” said Rashidah Grinage, a spokesperson for the coalition that had written the police accountability measure.

“ It’s OK for them to skirt the process, but it’s not OK for the community,” she said.

“The implication is the they know what they’re doing, and the community doesn’t.”

“I promise that if you poll the community, police oversight would come up as the number one issue, compared with the priorities of the council,” said Grinage, adding that the she was not sure the council has still had time to reconsider the police measure.

Councilmember Noel Gallo, who had championed putting the police measure on the ballot, said he has no problem backing a ballot measure that encourages citizen involvement and allows the public to vote.

Libby Schaaf

Libby Schaaf

He also noted that the redistricting measure will have no impact for six years, and is author, Libby Schaaf, is a mayoral candidate.

“I have no problem getting the citizens to engage and letting the public vote, and

Libby is running for mayor,” he said.

Councilmember Lynette McElhaney is chagrined by her fellow council members’ double standard as to what ballot measures are considered legitimate.

She told the Post that she strongly backs putting police accountability on the ballot in the future but remains convinced that nothing is more important than passing the successor to Measure Y at this point.

“I think it was the height of hypocrisy and insensitivity to bring (the redistricting measure) forward,” said McElhaney, adding that Schaaf made powerful arguments in the Public Safety committee against allowing the police measure to go forward but took the opposite position on her own ballot measure.

“She wanted to ramrod this measure that has no life or death consequences to it through the City Council,” she said. “This is something that doesn’t even apply until 2020.”

McElhaney is also concerned that putting a measure on the ballot costs between $350,000 and $400,000, which was not discussed or budgeted at this week’s council meeting.

When the council polled the public’s concerns, public safety was a top issue, she said, but, ”There was a very low response on public ethics reform, and redistricting never shows up.”

“I am going to ask council members to reconsider the (redistricting) measure,” she said. “There are considerable flaws in how the measure was drafted.”

To support police oversight “is a hard vote but a right vote,” McElhaney said. “This redistricting measure is a wrong vote.”

“I don’t know how we can look at the faces of the people who came to council to ask for the police oversight commission.”

Councilmember Desley Brooks says she has nothing against a measure that would create an independent commission to redraw council districts but questioned the rush to adopt a ballot measure that appears to be ill considered.

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

“If you say you’re doing this for the benefit of the community, why don’t you take it the community and discuss it?” She asked.

First of all, the names of people who are interested in being part of the commission would be reviewed by a retired judge, a law student and someone from a good government nonprofit. “Why these people?” Asked Brooks.

“The measure says there be ‘robust outreach’ to find members of the commission, but the proposal does not explain what that outreach would be,” she said.

After that, names of potential members of the commission “would be dropped into a hat and drawn,” she said. “This commission is supposed to be representative – people of color, low-income people, people from different parts of the city. I don’t know how that happens on a random draw.”

“This is very serious – it’s about voting rights,” added Brooks. “Be wary and leery before you vote for something just because it calls itself good government.”

Post Publisher Paul Cobb said he agrees with the questions being raised about the redistricting measure by Brooks and by Mayor Jean Quan at Tuesday’s council meeting. “I think these questions are serious, and that means the measure should be postponed,” he said.

“However, I agree with the ethics issues addressed by the public ethics commission measure and the police oversight measure. I think these two ethics measures should be joined and placed on the ballot.”

At press time, Councilmember Schaaf had not responded to the Post’s questions.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 3, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)