In a unanimous decision Tuesday night, the Santa Barbara City Council voted to let next year’s council decide the future of the Living Wage Ordinance.
The ordinance, which would raise the hourly pay of city workers to either $11 per hour with benefits or $12.25 without benefits, was first brought before the council in June of this year. In September, the council decided to send the proposal to an ad-hoc committee for study and consideration.
Last night, the subcommittee recommended that the council defer the decision until the new council takes over in January, based on the current economic state of the city, which the committee said has declined since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Santa Barbara City councilman Tom Roberts said the recently adopted 2002 budget does not provide for the costs of a living wage ordinance.
“Contrary to what people may have read, the subcommittee’s decision was not based on anyone’s campaign funds … or anyone’s lack of care about economic justice … When the council agreed to consider the living wage in June, we had just adopted a financial plan,” he said. “Since then, things have changed. Our revenues as a city are declining, they’re not what we thought they were three or four months ago, and we don’t know where we’ll be in three or four months.”
Das Williams, consultant for CAUSE, the Coastal Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, has worked on numerous living wage campaigns on the Central Coast.
“People say the economy is bad, and that’s a reason to wait. I think it’s a reason to go forward. It’s the government’s role in a time of recession to help stimulate the economy in a way that will get more money into the hands of consumers,” he said. “There is no population in Santa Barbara that is more likely to spend money than those who are the poorest … They spend because they don’t have a choice but to spend it.”
Steve Cushman, who was representing the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, said he would not support a living wage because it could also apply to workers employed by city contractors and city-funded non-profit organizations
“I have no problem raising the wages of city employees. But if you do that, you will pay for it. If you require me to pay more, I will charge more or reduce the amount of services by reducing my work force. If we require you raise wages, we can’t afford to do it,” he said.
Living Wage Coalition member Walter Hamilton said the ordinance would only apply to new contracts with the city.
Caesar Garcia, a 15-year Santa Barbara resident, said he has owned a business for 12 years and has never been asked to contract with the city.
“I feel what workers earn doesn’t reflect the cost of living in Santa Barbara, including some of the workers that are subcontractors [with the city],” he said. “Based on my own experience, the wages that people currently receive working full-time don’t allow them to pay rent.”
The living wage debate will continue in January when Santa Barbara mayor-elect Marty Blum and the new city council take office.