The push to further boost the state minimum wage merits serious discussion as wages of the lowest-paid among us lag behind what's reasonably needed to financially survive in most of California.
The statewide increase signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown was a good start. Now a ballot proposal by wealthy and conservative Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz and a legislative plan by liberal state Sen. Mark Leno, D-Dan Francisco, deserve thoughtful consideration.
But individual cities' efforts to raise the wage floor only create a patchwork of standards. While some like San Francisco and San Jose that have become magnets for business can get away with it, the Richmond effort makes no sense. City officials there should let the state take the lead.
Unfortunately, it's doubtful they will. After all, Richmond tried to tax soda on its own and uniquely use eminent domain to try to help a small group of homeowners refinance their mortgages.
For some reason, Richmond council members, led by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, think they can set the statewide policy agenda. Yet, voters defeated the soda tax at the polls, recognizing that Richmond is not a retail island. On the proposed use of eminent domain to seize mortgages, the city has yet to find a partner or figure out how to avoid huge legal liabilities, yet it has already felt the pain of financial investors who now won't risk buying the city's bonds at market rates.
Now comes minimum wage. After talking about a possible ballot measure, the council last week, without warning, and without any analysis by city staff, skipped the voters and simply gave initial approval to an increase. Not just any increase, but to what could be the highest minimum wage in the state, $12.30 an hour, by 2017. Formal adoption is slated for next month.
To be sure, the Leno statewide legislation would go higher, $13 an hour by then. Some in Oakland are talking about $12.25 an hour and San Francisco is discussing as much as $15 an hour; at least those would be put before voters in an election that would spark public policy debate. Berkeley is looking at an increase, but only after, in true Berkeley tradition, in-depth review by one of the city's commissions.
In case city officials in Richmond haven't noticed, tourists aren't flocking to their city and businesses aren't tripping over themselves to relocate there. Maybe, just maybe, Richmond council members might want to rethink their approach. Let others take the lead, hopefully working toward a uniform statewide solution.