It’s possible to get the Santa Barbara City Council to care about the cost of living for city employees, but only if said employees are making about $190,000 per year.

On Tuesday, the City Council postponed any decision on a so-called Living Wage Ordinance for part-time employees until next year, more or less sending it to sleep with the low-income fishes. The living-wage plan would have forced the city to pay all its employees a minimum wage of $11 per hour with benefits or $12.25 without benefits – about $24,500 per year, if you work full time without benefits.

A certain cross-town, gazillionaire-owned newspaper deemed the living-wage proposal damn near socialist – this in a town where a home costs, on average, $413,640 and a one-bedroom apartment costs $625 per month (if you can find an apartment). The living-wage folks, a motley assortment of painfully poor immigrants and painfully sincere college kids, countered that people should be able to live in the city where they work.

Up until now, the City Council was split on the issue. But now the recession is being called a recession, the city’s $207.7 million budget looks like it might shrink and tough choices have to be made. Tough choices, as they must be in these trying times, are defined as those made by rich people for people who can’t afford to run for city councils.

This is not to say the City Council doesn’t believe in a living wage, oh, heavens no. When it was hiring a city administrator this September it raised the job’s pay by $42,000 to about $190,000 per year (for any socialists keeping score, that pay raise is nearly twice the entire salary the living wage would have meant per person). The raise was needed, everyone agreed, because it’s so darn expensive to live in Santa Barbara. Heck, it’s so expensive here that the city administrator gets a monthly car allowance. And since the poor devil would have to buy a house, they offered him a low-low-interest loan of $500,000.

The new city administrator, James Armstrong, declined the loan. The new police chief, Cam Sanchez, was feeling a little more put upon at only $150,000 per year and accepted the same loan.

Times are tough, you know.

Besides, men like Armstrong are dedicated and valuable civil servants. Granted, he’s not one of those civil servants who would put out a fire in your home or lay bricks for a school near it, but he’s so much more. For starters, he makes three times as much as a firefighter and nearly nine times what anyone would have made under the living-wage proposal. Plus, he’s more important. He moves the paper so that other people can put out fires and such.

The City Council figures a man who bravely risks thumb and forefinger battling paper cuts for Santa Barbarans ought to be able to live here. Even in tough times, it’s important to understand his plight.

Because, after all, aren’t the rich needy? When the chardonnay is middling, is their brie not ruined? If only the painfully poor could see the city’s compassion.

The city of Santa Barbara does believe in a living wage, just not if you’re poor.

-Brendan Buhler