After spending half a million dollars to halt San Diego’s minimum wage hike by forcing it onto the June ballot, business groups might not spend much at all persuading voters not to approve it.

They didn’t change their minds on the policy – they still don’t like it. They just aren’t sure trying to win over voters will amount to anything but throwing good money after bad.

“I’m not sure there’s enough money to win,” said Sean Karafin, executive director of policy and economic research at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. “People are assessing the chances of winning, and obviously that’s going to dictate where our resources go.”

The move to overturn the City Council’s decision – which would initially raise the minimum wage to $11.50, tie future increases to inflation beginning in 2019 and give workers five sick days per year – was financed by a committee called the Small Business Coalition. Its largest donors were the Chamber, statewide restaurant groups and national and local hotel associations. They spent $545,000 on the effort in 2014.


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Now, the coalition is getting together to decide how much it should spend campaigning against the June measure.

Informing those talks are polls that suggest the measure is not only broadly popular, but that people aren’t really willing to change their minds on the issue.

An internal poll conducted by the Center on Policy Initiatives, a local liberal think tank, showed 63 percent of voters support the citywide increase. Perhaps more importantly, 47 percent of voters said they were strongly in favor of the measure, while just 24 percent were strongly against it.

Karafin said that’s consistent with the polling he’s seen: People like the idea of raising the minimum wage, and it’s hard to convince them otherwise.

That means waging a campaign to win over hearts and minds would cost a good bit more than the coalition spent to get the measure on the ballot in the first place.

Still, Ann Kinner, who as owner of Seabreeze Nautical Books and Charts in Point Loma was something of a public face against the wage hike back in 2014, said she was dismayed when she learned the coalition was considering letting the increase pass without a fight.

“It’s a disservice to those of us who stuck our necks out,” Kinner said. “We put in a lot of time and effort; to just drop it doesn’t sit right at all. I don’t recall any conversations that said we were going to get it on the ballot and just see what happens. Waiting two years, to see it go down the tubes? It makes no sense at all.”

There will likely be some funding to oppose the increase. It’s just not clear how much.

“There will be something,” said Jason Roe, a political consultant and spokesman for the coalition. “It remains to be seen if we’ll have enough to win.”

He said he expects to form a committee that could raise money for an opposition in the next few weeks.

Despite the discouraging polling, Chris Duggan, director of San Diego government affairs for the California Restaurant Association, said the minimum wage increase would hurt his organization’s members, and they won’t shy away from making that case to the public.

“How much we’ll spend – I don’t know,” he said. “But we’ll be in the media, educating the public no matter what.”

Even if the coalition fails to overturn the increase – or to even mount a substantive campaign to do so – it will have nonetheless managed to delay for nearly 20 months the series of wage increases outlined in the ordinance.

Another wrench for minimum wage opponents: California’s Service Employees International Union is currently working on two different statewide measures to increase the minimum wage to levels above what San Diego’s would be even if it wins. It’s expected that one of those two measures will end up on November’s ballot.

Roe said the coalition will have to consider the extent to which a state measure would obviate the importance of San Diego’s increase, but emphasized that there are other elements of the local measure – like the paid sick days – that aren’t part of what the state’s considering, so they’d still have reason to oppose it.

Councilman Todd Gloria, who was Council president when the increase passed and who emerged as its most outspoken champion, said he and other supporters are operating on the assumption that they’ll have a well-funded opposition over the next three months.

He acknowledged that the coalition’s decision to send the minimum wage increase to a public vote might have had an effect beyond the city’s minimum wage, too.

The referendum initiative capped a tense year between Council Democrats and the city’s business leaders.

With Gloria as its president, the City Council In September 2013 approved new land use restrictions for Barrio Logan that were opposed by the shipbuilding industry in the neighborhood. In November 2013, it voted to increase a fee charged to developers to help pay for low-income housing. In July 2014 it raised the minimum wage.

Business groups raised money to collect enough signatures to give voters a say on each of those decisions. Voters in June 2014 sided with business groups against the new Barrio Logan plan. The City Council in March 2014 undid its decision on the affordable housing fee, rather than take the issue to voters. The Small Business Coalition got the minimum wage increase to the ballot in October 2014.

Since then, the City Council – which still holds a Democratic majority, but has a new Council president in Sherri Lightner – has gone silent. Did the repeated success of challenging Council decisions with signature-gathering campaigns have a chilling effect on the Council, keeping it from even attempting to pursue a progressive agenda?

“There is a marked difference in the posture of the City Council since 2014,” Gloria said. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find bold, groundbreaking legislation that’s been initiated since that time.”

    This article relates to: Minimum Wage, Must Reads, Politics

    Written by Andrew Keatts

    I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

    13 comments
    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    This whole minimum wage fight is hilarious. People who are not corporate types or wall streeters or foreign investors have no idea what they are grousing about. This fight is about a very small awakening among our citizens to the uncomfortable fact that we have all been sold a bill of goods. The economy that emerged after WWII, with some glaring exceptions, lifted most people to prosperity that had never existed before.  Things were great for G.I.'s, for the elderly, and for everyone else because jobs, good paying jobs were abundant. Things went honkey dorey until the wheels fell off the wagon in 1965 when the American people began to doubt itself. What changed? We lost a war. And, the American people have been doubting themselves ever since. So, in all those years, and to this day, we have been pointing our fingers at each other blaming ourselves over and over again. We have the largest economy on earth, but it is built on very tenuous sand. Going forward, we need to treat ourselves nicely and pay ourselves what we are worth. Think about it. Your son, your daughter will be strapped with the cost of a mansion in Texas for the price of going to school. How do you think they will be able to pay for that on an entry level IT position of $35k a year?  A decent car, used or otherwise is $15k.  An apartment anywhere where there are decent job prospects(NYC, S.F., San Diego, L.A., Chicago, Boston) will set someone back $1.2K per month. No. People that emerged from WWII didn't have to go through this. And, the now retiring baby boomers didn't have to go through this. So, who's to blame? Ahem, ahem, we the American people are to blame. We bought into "trickle down", into long hair and alternative lifestyles as anti-American, and that begging for a nickel raise was ok. The "picking ourselves up by the bootstraps" had nothing to do with what government was and wasn't doing. It had to do with survival pure and simple in the years prior to 1942. 

    No. The baby boomers are the last generation that will benefit from the prosperity of post WWII. Baby boomers got a college education and a safety net. Who paid for that? We all did. Now, that has all changed because the money grubbers, changers, and manipulators have taken away the basis for all to launch themselves and their families to a decent life. The American Dream is dead. Who let that happen? The American people. We have doubted ourselves. So, where do we go from here? Well, we take stock. We need to look at the structure we have created against ourselves. Teddy Roosevelt didn't fear the "robber barons". So, why should we? And, today we have plenty of "robber barons". These money people are NOT going to improve our society.  These money people only want.... you guessed it...money!

    You know, most of the "third world" functions in a patronizing way; daddy knows best. Well, that's not how I learned about America. We, the people, know best. And, we can change everything.  If you are one of those that think that joining Amway was going to help you achieve prosperity, you are already on the remaining road to perdition. Because the sell job of that organization left most Americans by the wayside: "I'll just get mine... forget anyone else".  

    We all forgot what our teachers taught us in kindergarten....share.  

    Immigration? We didn't have a problem before 1952. Taxes? Families didn't have to worry until 1980 and businesses paid what they were supposed to. College? WWII soldiers and their families could go easily and help make America strong. Housing? Not a problem until a few idiots were given free reign to "clip" home buyers after 1995. Jobs? Not a problem until Reagan gave it all away to other countries because he hated unions. 

    Where have we gone wrong? Our strength has been our diversity, contrary to the thinking of the power elite. We easily forget that some our greatest citizens came from somewhere other than North America. 

    So, what else do we need to overcome? We need to overcome skin color, religion, culture, and life style. Right now we are still the envy of the world...but not for long. Oh, and a healthy America is a very strong America.

    William Charles
    William Charles

    A hike in the  minimum wage for employees with minimum skills will only raise the cost of living for everybody in San Diego.

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    Eating out is one of the easiest discrentionary expenses to cut. The restaurant price increases since the last two minimum wage hikes have led me to pack a lunch to work and to buy more frozen food. I remember when the $6 burger was considered expensive.

    Brian Edmonston
    Brian Edmonston

    @Sean M This is the exact outcome we want.  

    At current federal minimum wage workers are entitled to all sorts of welfare benefits including obamacare and foodstamps. So, the employer is not paying all the social costs for these workers and taxpayers are subsidizing your $6 burger.  

    At $15 the benefits are substantially lower, although still not zero.  If there is no market for food prepared by workers at an unsubsidized wage then it is better that you prepare your own food at home.

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    Interesting point @Brian Edmonston. I am not totally up on the rules but to be employed and collect food stamps you need to have kids. It's debatable whether every individual's wages should be mandated as sufficent to feed a family.

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    Censors didn't approve my comment yet. It's pending. So I'll change one word to see if it goes through.

    Pure jerkitude on behalf of the Chamber, hotel, and restaurant industry. What happened to the Small Businness Coalition? Oh, wait! It was big biz all along! And the poor Point Loma bookstore owner, the face of their anti-worker campaign, ends up getting shafted by them. They never cared about her business. She was just a pawn in their political game.

    Barrio Logan residents may have gotten screwed by business interests (and duped citizens who bought their lies) but at least our minimum wage earning residents will now get a raise at the local level and state. And mark my words: Barrio Logan will get the community plan we want.

    bgetzel
    bgetzel subscriber

    I will be starting a signature gathering campaign to put a measure ont he ballot that prevents patrons of local eating establishments from ordering more than one drink or ordering desert.

    Bill Stoops
    Bill Stoops

    Government action to set wage and price controls violates individual rights.  There is no morally justifiable role for government in interfering  in the market place between those that offer employment, or those that seek it.  Each party to the exchange is capable of making the value for value decision, and to set a minimum wage allowed is to price some employers, and hence some employees, out of the market without the individuals being free to make their own decision.

    Rick Smith
    Rick Smith subscriber

    @Bill Stoops So you are against child-labor laws, the 40 hour work week, and workplace health and safety laws?

    Brian Edmonston
    Brian Edmonston

    @Bill Stoops


    You are confused.  Businesses are not individuals.  The government regulates what may, and may not, be placed in contracts all the time. No rights whatsoever are being violated.

    I will just add that the business community (including the chamber of commerce) has lobbied for decades to bring in cheap labor. That lobbying was successful and that labor is here.  These workers are now voting for liberal and (supposedly) anti-business policies.  The business community is getting exactly what it deserves.  I only wish minimum wage was bumped up to $15.00/hour; $11.50 is far too low.

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    Since when is the market moral? If businesses can't afford to pay their workers a minimum wage then they shouldn't be in business.

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    Pure assholery on behalf of the Chamber, hotel, and restaurant industry. What happened to the Small Businness Coalition? Oh, wait! It was big biz all along! And the poor Point Loma bookstore owner, the face of their anti-worker campaign, ends up getting shafted by them. They never cared about her business. She was just a pawn in their political game.

    Barrio Logan residents may have gotten screwed by business interests (and duped citizens who bought their lies) but at least our minimum wage earning residents will now get a raise at the local level and state. And mark my words: Barrio Logan will get the community plan we want.