SAN JOSE -- San Jose hotel owner and Bay Area sports titan Lew Wolff spoke out Thursday against a ballot measure that would raise the minimum wage in the city.
Wolff, who owns the Fairmont and whose son owns the St. Claire, two of the city's downtown crown jewels, said he's not against uniform higher wages. But Measure D would let hotels in neighboring cities undercut San Jose prices and weaken its economy and tax revenues.
"Every city that surrounds San Jose has got to be happy if San Jose increases the minimum wage," Wolff said over breakfast at the Fairmont. "If everyone had the same minimum wage, it wouldn't be a factor. Everyone would be in the same ballpark."
Measure D on the Nov. 6 ballot would establish a San Jose minimum wage starting at $10 an hour -- $2 higher than the current statewide minimum -- with automatic future increases pegged to inflation.
The measure is being heavily promoted by labor unions who argue it's a moral necessity in pricey Silicon Valley, one of the country's most expensive areas to live.
Elisha St. Laurent, a 23-year-old single mother of a 6-year-old boy, said wealthy businessmen like Wolff don't know how hard it is for low-wage earners to get by.
"It's appalling," said St. Laurent, who is studying behavioral science and sociology at San Jose State University where she makes minimum wage as a diversity advocate. "Someone who's a multimillionaire doesn't understand how hard it is for single mothers. He's forcing people to depend on government assistance."
Business groups including the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce and the San Jose Downtown Association are opposed, arguing Measure D will only reduce jobs in a city still struggling to kick its economy into gear. Employers, they say, will have to either raise prices to consumers who may decide to shop elsewhere, or cut staffing, employee hours or benefits to keep prices competitive.
Wolff also owns Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes and Major League Baseball's Oakland A's, a team he has been trying since 2009 to move to San Jose over the San Francisco Giants' territorial objections. That matter remains unresolved, and Wolff would not discuss it Thursday other than to say his team and the Giants are still awaiting a decision from Major League Baseball.
But Wolff said his Measure D minimum wage concerns are more a factor for his hotel business than the sports teams, which don't have competing franchises in the nearby areas.
"I'm more concerned where there's competition," Wolff said.
Both sides of the minimum-wage debate have pointed to studies they claim support their argument that such measures reduce employment or have no measurable effect.
Wolff couldn't say offhand what effect the measure would have on his hotel if it passes -- "I can't say I'll drop three people." But he said it would surely hurt the hotel and its staff.
While hotels like his luxury Fairmont used to be able to compete based on high ratings, room rates have become the deciding factor in a depressed economy where consumers and corporate booking agents have instant access over the Internet to comparative prices, Wolff said.
"The economy is weak, and access to information is instantaneous," Wolff said. "It used to be you stayed at hotels because of points. But that pales to sites that tell you instantaneously where you can get a better price."
Few cities have enacted their own minimum-wage floors. Nationwide, only San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and the New Mexico cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe have them, according to Washington, D.C.'s National Employment Law Project, a minimum-wage advocacy group. Many states don't allow individual cities to set minimum wages, the group noted.
California is among 18 states with hourly minimum wages higher than the $7.25 federal requirement; the state last raised its minimum wage in 2008 from $7.50 to $8 an hour.
Wolff said he has no problem with the state raising its minimum wage.
"I'm not against the minimum wage being any number," Wolff said. "But if you increase the minimum wage, it should be statewide."
Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.