El Cerrito looks to bump minimum wage

Taking cues from several Bay Area cities, the El Cerrito City Council is looking to raise the city’s minimum wage and may even go one step further by drafting a policy that can be used as a model county-wide.

While most wage increases have been in large cities with big business centers, the county would be trying a new approach by focusing on a more diverse, geographically dispersed population – possibly making it one of the first counties in the nation to do so, said Mariana Moore, Director of the Ensuring Opportunity Campaign to Cut Poverty in Contra Costa, a county-wide coalition.

The council has scheduled a study session on the topic during its regular meeting Tuesday evening.

Although the Richmond City Council already increased the city’s minimum wage last year, El Cerrito presents an ideal opportunity to draft a law that can be replicated across the county because its authors have the benefit of hindsight, Moore said.

With minimum wage laws differing city by city, Moore said there’s a need to draft a policy that systematizes and simplifies the policies across the region.

For business owners who operate in multiple cities and for cities looking to enforce the law, a universal minimum wage makes sense, said El Cerrito Mayor Mark Friedman.

“It’s very confusing for employers and makes enforcement more difficult also,” Friedman said. “The importance of some consistencies regionally can’t be overstated.” Minimum wage ordinances approved last year in Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville and Richmond were “important steps forward” in creating a countywide model, Friedman said.

But, Friedman said the El Cerrito City Council will be looking at a minimum wage of around $15, which is slightly higher than most its neighbors.

At the council’s June 2 meeting, members of the El Cerrito Democratic Club urged the council to draft a minimum wage law mirroring Richmond’s, which increased the minimum wage to $13 by 2018 followed by annual adjustments based on the CPI.

Club president Carla Hansen said the group ultimately chose that standard because they were looking at what other city councils had approved and wanted to be on par with El Cerrito’s closest neighbor.

“A minimum wage of $15 would be amazing, but we wanted to do what felt right for our community at this point and we didn’t know if $15 was too high or too low,” Hansen said. “As a volunteer club, we didn’t have the research capacity to do that. Also, we didn’t want to create a ceiling, we wanted to create a floor.” Over the past several months city staff has been researching minimum wage ordinances in other cities, El Cerrito Assistant City Manager Suzanne Iarla said.

The city has also been working with regional organizations, including the University of California at Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy in addition to the Ensuring Opportunities Campaign to better understand the issue both locally and nationally, Iarla said.

The study session will offer an opportunity for council members to hear about some of the best practices from across the country, Moore said.

It’s also a chance for the council to tell staff exactly what they’d like to see in a minimum wage law, Iarla said.

The city plans to hold community meetings in August and September to gather the public’s thoughts on the proposal, Iarla said.

So far, Friedman and Hansen both said business owners they had spoken to were receptive to the idea. El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce President Mark Figone echoed their comments but said the chamber had not yet taken a formal stance.

“We are aware of the proposal but have not had the opportunity as a board to sit down and discuss it and take a position one way or the other,” Figone said, adding the chamber board’s first opportunity to do so would be at its meeting on Sept. 1.

Hansen expects most of the push back to come after a draft ordinance is proposed, which Iarla said would likely come in October at the earliest.

Hansen said:

“Once the language is written, that’s when you see most of the opposition come out because the devil is really in the details.┬áThe details are what start to get people anxious … That’s when the conversation really starts.”

Hansen is hoping the council will be able to enact a minimum wage ordinance by Jan. 1 next year. Even though the timeline is tight, Hansen said there’s no time to wait:

“The Bay Area’s high cost of living is the reason why cities are pushing for this higher minimum wage. … We really are seeing this huge gap in income and we can’t wait on the state to do something.”

In order for the policy to be enacted countywide, Moore said each city must approve the plan, along with the county Board of Supervisors.E