A month before the issue is scheduled to come back before the City Council, battle lines are once again being drawn over Pasadena’s minimum wage.
Local restaurateurs have been meeting with council members hoping to garner enough support for a pause in the city’s increased pay schedule or a move to the state schedule.
Currently, Pasadena’s minimum wage is $13.25 for businesses with 26 employees or more. The state’s minimum wage increased to $12 on Jan. 1 for businesses with 26 employees or more.
“We want the city to be in line with the state,” said Gregg Smith, who owns Smitty’s on South Lake Avenue, and Parkway Grill and Arroyo Chop House on Arroyo Parkway. “The state is two years behind Pasadena. They will get to $15 an hour in 2022.”
Councilwoman Margaret McAustin said she has been approached by a number of business owners “who are concerned about the impact of the minimum wage increase on their businesses.”
McAustin told the Pasadena Weekly she is anxious to see the data that staff is compiling to explain the economic impacts of the minimum wage increase on Pasadena’s local businesses and workers.
The council is scheduled to receive economic impact reports from consultants from UCLA and UC Berkeley later this month. After reviewing those documents, the council could approve an amendment to the local ordinance increasing the wage to $14.25 by July 1, and to $15 next year. Conversely, however, the council could roll it back to match the state minimum wage, said Mayor Terry Tornek, who supports the increased minimum wage at its current level.
“The only discussion is do we roll back to the state schedule. Frankly, what they adopted is what we studied and rejected,” Tornek said. “It’s not just the restaurants that have been impacted. Nonprofits and even the city have been affected, but the restaurants have been the most vocal. It’s an important step we took. Glad we are going to have a midterm review. We should do that more often.”
The city’s Economic Development Department (EDD) has posted a 10-question survey on the city’s website, focusing on the impacts the minimum wage has had on Pasadena employees. EDD Director Eric Duyshart said he hopes the survey will provide the council with some context.
“It is a difficult topic,” Duyshart said. “Employers have a strong opinion on wages and employees have a strong opinion if their hours are being impacted or they are receiving raises.”
It was not immediately known how many people have taken the survey so far.
Since the City Council unanimously voted to pass the increase in 2016, employees and employers have been hit with dire circumstances, including rising real estate costs and rising prices.
To make matters worse, many analysts say the economy could cool down by 2020.
Local restaurant owners have also been hit with a ban on Styrofoam containers and a statewide plastic straw ban, the latter going into effect on Jan. 1.
Councilman Tyron Hampton said he is looking forward to seeing the consultant’s data.
“I have met with business owners and employees,” Hampton said. “I asked for the pause so we could get an analysis on the impacts of the increase. I have not seen the data yet.”
Since the ordinance passed, commercial and home prices have skyrocketed in Pasadena. According to Peter Dreier, a local activist and a professor of political science at Occidental College, some two-bedroom properties in Pasadena are now renting for over $3,000 a month.
In a previous poll, “Seventy-four percent of the voters supported a minimum wage increase,” Dreier told the Pasadena Weekly. “There is nothing that indicates public opinion has changed.”
That poll, conducted in late September by EMC Research Group, which conducted a similar poll in Seattle when the issue came up there, also found that people opposed exemptions for restaurant owners and nonprofits.
Results of the poll revealed that 80 percent of voters in the city’s affluent District 6 favored a wage increase. The lowest support was found in District 7, where Mayor Terry Tornek and Councilman Andy Wilson reside. But even in that affluent district, nearly two-thirds — 63 percent — said they were in favor of a $15 minimum wage.
In District 4, 78 percent supported the increase, followed by 77 percent in District 1, 76 percent in District 5, 75 in District 2 and 71 percent in District 3.
Dreier said he is concerned about the lobbying due to a conversation he had with a council member during the holidays.
“The council member said they were concerned about what they are going to hear from the business community,” Dreier said. “I didn’t hear the council member say they were concerned about what they would hear from hard working families trying to make ends meet. That worries me.”
In April 2015, Seattle became the first city to establish a path to a $15 minimum wage after nearly two years of discussions and studies. After that ordinance was passed, some restaurants increased prices and instituted no-tip policies. Unemployment decreased from 6.3 percent to 5.2 percent.
Several restaurants did shut down, but those business owners said that the ordinance did not play a part in their considerations and instead associated location with their decisions. Six months after the ordinance passed, officials in Seattle were still issuing about 25 permits a month for new restaurants.
In Pasadena, the minimum wage issue moved extremely quickly through the administrative process at City Hall.
The issue first came up in 2014 as part of mayoral candidate Jacque Robinson’s campaign. During his successful election campaign, Mayor Tornek said he supported the idea of increasing the wage but wanted to wait to examine ordinances passed by the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
After that, several public hearings were scheduled to allow proponents and opponents to make their cases before the council’s Education and Technology Committee.
But local restaurant owners claim they never got their chance to make their case on the issue.
“We were told we would have a meeting,” restaurant owner Smith said.
The increased minimum wage was opposed by members of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. The council received about a dozen letters from restaurant owners and officials at local nonprofits also opposing the increase.
Although leaders with several local nonprofit organizations supported the $15 an hour increase, others did not. Critics claimed the increase would hurt their programs if they had to pay staff more money.
“When the City Council approved the sales tax increase,” said Dreier, “they didn’t include a sunset clause in there and say we are going to reevaluate it. If they are going to be consistent, they should increase the minimum wage. It’s a question of fairness.”